The Art Within The Art

Essay Written for Black Belt graduation


“In the martial arts there are two times when you are a beginner: first

when you are a white belt, and then again when you are a black belt."

Source unknown


When I was 54 years of age I said to myself, "I am an older man now". What prompted this little piece of honesty with self? I think it was when the neighborhood kids were playing "house" and they wanted me to be the grandfather! Yes, grandfather! 1 was immediately crestfallen, but of course I agreed. Could they not, I wondered, have asked me to be the dad, or the uncle, or better still, the older brother? Well, looking in the mirror, the gray beard does rather loudly speak "grandfather", I must admit. Oh, those children and their honesty!


It was a quick change from "I am an older man now", to "I will be an old man sometime soon", like in twenty years. For a young man twenty years may seem a lifetime; but when one has passed 20 years more than two and a half times, the next passing can seem more imminent.


I have seen in my neighborhood some pretty sad looking examples of old and older men. Barely creeping along with the assistance of a cane or, worse yet, a walker, these guys do not inspire me to highly value the transition from being older to being just plain old. Yet, being old should be a glorious time of life! One need only have wisdom, something for economic survival, and good health. Wisdom being knowledge and experience gathered over the passing of time, one must of necessity be old to have wisdom. [But being old does not guarantee being wise.] While being retired with a small pension ensures economic survival, oldness without healthiness is not desirable.


The next thought: “What can I do now that will improve my chances of being vital

twenty years hence? I was already an enthusiastic in-line skater, but that was not enough. There were some other choices. I had in the past enjoyed swimming and weight training, and I tried racquetball at a health and fitness club; but I hated the locker rooms! Anyway, there I was painting and dry-walling and whatever in my nephew's martial arts school.


"This looks interesting!"


So I made my choice and here I am, five and one-half years later. Now there are but 15 years left before the onset of oldness! Ah, would that time creep by like some of those old guys with their walkers; but rather, it races by like a child challenging old dad to a race around the block.


1 began with two goals: to be the best I can be in twenty years hence, and to work toward a black belt by my 60" birthday. As time passed and I continued my training, I still wanted to be the best I can be when those two decades have passed by. But now what I strive for is to just make my life better, to find something called peacefulness.


This is what the art within the art means to me: a path to peacefulness. So my goal has changed from something concrete to something abstract; from having a thing to achieving a state. Perhaps this has something to do with wisdom.


I try to create peaceful places around myself. My home is a peaceful place, created

especially for myself with the assistance of an architect and an interior designer. My meadow is a peaceful place created with the assistance of many people: a landscape designer, a farmer, growers and suppliers of native plants, and more. My nature photography, beautiful portraits of Ontario wildflowers, creates a peaceful gallery in my upstairs hallway. A field trip for the Mcliwraith Field Naturalists, experiencing Woodcocks or Whimbrels in the spring, is a peaceful place. Even my motorcycle is a peaceful place, at least for myself.


These are all wonderful, peaceful places: but what I am really working to achieve is inner peacefulness.


Try this: find a quiet place, no noise [TV, traffic, whatever]; no sound either [ voices, music, whatever]. Sit or lie comfortably, quietly. Close your eyes. Breath slowly; more slowly. Feel your breathing; feel your heartbeat, feel the sensations in your skin. Clear your mind of thoughts. Feel the blood flowing through your veins and arteries. What does it feel like inside? This is where I want to feel peaceful.


To many there may seem to be a contradiction here: "Punching and kicking is a path to peacefulness?" one might reasonably ask. "It sounds more like a path to violence"!


But consider what happens as we practice our Ps and Ks. We become more physically fit. We become more knowledgeable of ourselves. We come closer to our spirituality. It is like the magic in tying a child's belt: it seems so simple until that last twist. How does that happen? Even the parents are at first unable to duplicate it. By a similar magic, or so it seems, life becomes better as we continue to train; and for each person, it becomes better in whatever way that individual needs. It is like an old fashioned elixir that cures whatever it is that ails you.


The really important question is "How does this happen"? What is the mechanism by which martial arts training makes one's life better? And just how does it make each person's life better in an individual way? It really is not magic, you know.


My answer to this question is that it is the process of working toward a goal that makes life better. It is the process of formulating a goal, of working individually to achieve that goal, of working together with family and instructors and training partners to achieve that goal. In martial arts training this process is constant.


In the almost three score years of my life there are certainly some things I would change if I could restart. But, in the main, I consider my life so far to have been a success. Some elements of this success are: earning the most badges and being selected to be a "sixer" in cubs; earning some university degrees; being a photography instructor; being president of the field naturalist club; being a published author; being chosen as program coordinator by my peers at the college; and being a retired professor. As I look back on it now with this new wisdom, this perspective on goal setting, I can see how that success is a result of

constantly working toward some goal.


Earning those badges as a cub is the earliest example of working toward goals that I can think of just now, but the most influential example began when I was about 10 years old. I got a job selling New Liberty magazines door-to-door in my neighborhood. Each month I went looking for new customers. I saved coupons until I had enough to exchange for a chemistry set. That started me into a hobby that lasted throughout my pre-teen and teen years. This hobby taught me basic investigative science; but more importantly it gave me a life-long goal to work toward: being a scientist; and it gave me the motivation to succeed in school. Working toward this goal became the foundation of my life.


In the end I became a computer scientist rather than the chemist [white lab coat, bubbling flasks, etc] that I had envisioned as a boy. This speaks to an important characteristic of goals: they are moving targets. So as a final comment, I would like to emphasize that it is not the achieving of specific goals, or even of goals in general, that is important. It is constantly working toward goals that makes life better.


So this for myself is the art within the art, this is what it means to me: a path to

peacefulness. And it is the constant formulating of and working toward goals that is the process by which it works.


Mike Dawdy

May, 2002