Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Apathy: The Fog that Kills

Recently when I was talking to my Dad about my decision to go into the Army, he told me something interesting about his own basic training for the Navy. Dad told me that his instructors got two big open tanks filled with jet fuel and taught the recruits how to put out the fire using ordinary water. I gave him a look because ordinary water doesn't put out jet fuel.

Fog: Surrounding

My father then expounded. "We used specially shaped nozels to spray a thick blanket of fog into the base of the fire." The fog choked the fire out by depriving it of oxygen. A direct stream of water wouldn't do because it doesn't cover enough area. Fog envelops the fire. It cancels out the "breath" of the reaction and the "body" of the reaction dies. No special technique, no chemicals, just plain old common sense- if you can't breathe, you die.

Fog: Blanketing

As Dad explained all this to me, I thought of the other ways that fog can be dangerous. For me, I hate driving when it's foggy because I can't see more than a few feet in front of me, but I am completely addicted to velocity. It turns a thirty minute drive into an exercise in patience and perspective. Where I live, there are a lot of accidents when it is foggy precisely for that reason: drivers don't want to slow down, they want to speed up! The thick fog that covers the road blinds their eyes and nothing else; they alone are responsible for the way they respond to it.

Fog: Damp Thief

Fog does something else that is quite interesting; fog steals heat. The next time it is foggy out, go for a walk. You will notice that the air is a bit chill, but not terribly uncomfortable. You don't notice it, but the air around you is so thick with moisture that it clings to your clothes and hair and cools your body significantly. Prolonged exposure to fog can lead to shivering, then more extreme symptoms of heat loss (purple lips, purple finger tips, and "goose flesh").

Apathy: Fog of anti-enthusiasm

In the life of a martial artist there are storms, there are clear days, and there is fog. The storm is quite obvious; life gets hecktic, the karate moves are hard, the challenge is great to continue and excel. Storms rage and demand everything from us. A student who doesn't properly prepare for a test or a tournament will most definitely know what is missing from their performance. Karate is hard.

Karate isn't all about storms, however, there are also days where you may end a kata or a fight or a practice with a big goofy grin on your face. The sun is shining, you remembered that move you had been working on and all is right in the world. Karate is good.

It is fog that I am most afraid of. Fog comes when specific conditions are met. The utter "plainness" of the routine. Everyone goes to a tournament, no one wants to get up at seven a.m. to go jogging and practice kata. The student begins to reason within himself saying "I don't have to get up every morning," they begin to come less and less regularly and suddenly they have vanished into the fog.

Another condition where fog exists is the challenge of the "real world." Students feel the weight of school or their jobs or social "obligations" and begin to pick and choose days that they want to show up. They cannot see the real benefits afforded by regular practice. The promise of health and mental clarity don't seem to appeal as much as another night at the drive-in with the gang. Karate can be lonely.

Interestingly enough, at a distance everything looks kind of foggy. Go out on a boat in the middle of the ocean and look around. You can't see a crisp "end" because there is a point where details begin to get fuzzy and things "vanish." To the karate-ka, the "impossible" distance between their current rank and some arbitrary belt color or status can rob them of their enthusiasm and nip their promising martial future in the bud. They fail to see the immediate rewards of the martial arts and cease believing in the long term benefits. Karate is a long process.

Burning off the Fog

How can one escape the intangible grip of apathy? My advice is to start by caring!
1. set goals- take time to write down specific goals and the dates you plan on completing them. Make sure that your goals are attainable and measureable. If you have larger goals, make "step" goals that will lead to completing the task. If you want to do better at kata for example, you may set the goal that in one month you are going to learn the katas you need for the next rank advancement. Then assign each kata a week in that month and practice hard to learn them!

2. get involved- it is easy to sit back and let things happen, it is quite another to be a part of the process. Talk to your sensei about specific ways you can help out. If it is something like sweeping the mats after use, make sure that you do your task promptly. Find ways to get more out of your own training, too! If you are attending classes only twice a week, you might consider practice three or four times a week. Also, set aside time on your own to practice.

3. spice it up!- there is no reason to have a boring practice. If you are working on basics, use your mind to improve your technique and your attitude. A simple kicking drill can be made interesting and fun by aiming carefully and assuring yourself of hitting your imaginary target every time. Practice kicking with the image of someone your own size on the receiving end. Imagine yourself performing the move in a dark alley.

4. take it to the next level- if you're getting bored with the "slow" way things are going, try going beyond what you are comfortable. If you're jogging, try jogging faster. If you are doing pushups, try a few more and don't let yourself stop until you do. Try practicing the more challenging moves and work up a good sweat doing it!

5. see the fog for what it is- If you're feeling discouraged, re-evaluate your situation. Are you doing everything you can? What kind of life changes can you make to promote your training? If you find that you are having trouble catching your breath during class, it may be time to consider a diet change or to quit smoking. If your friends don't give you enough time to practice, are they really your friends? If you are their friend, why haven't you taken them out to karate so they can enjoy the benefits. Your karate practice, if you are diligent in your pursuit of the way, will yield benefits that you will appreciate for your entire life.

6. Rise above it!-Fog kills, don't stick around in it! If you stick to it, you will find that it will become easier for you to practice. Not that the practice is easier, but that your ability to practice will become greater. Be loyal to yourself and your art.


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