“There is nothing noble in being superior to your fellow man; true nobility is being superior to your former self.”
– Ernest Hemingway
I began training in the Bujinkan in May of 2008. As a young man of twenty-three years of age, I was fairly confident that I knew a decent bit about martial arts – I had watched all of those Bruce Lee movies, after all! Thirty seconds or so into the warmups of my first class, however, I was given the beautiful realization that I knew nothing.
Why do I call this realization “beautiful”? It certainly doesn’t sound very glamorous – realizing you are woefully ignorant when it comes to a subject you have treasured throughout your life – but it is one of the greatest things that can occur to you during your training. It is nothing short of a gift! To understand your flaws is to take the first step toward improvement.
There are many pitfalls along the way, however, that make it all too easy to fade into complacency, not the least of which being the tendency to feel like you have “figured it out”. I wish I could go back and count the number of times I have said to myself, “I finally understand!” Even now, as I write this, I wonder how silly the things I’m saying will seem to me in a couple of years looking back. “Oh, look at that!” I might say, “I thought I knew what I was talking about!”
Leland Cseke Sensei addresses this issue often, telling us that if we ever feel as if we have “made it”, then we are training wrong. In truth, one should never stop improving! Sensei also likens this process to the act of polishing a stone. Even if you have been polishing a stone for years and have reached a brilliant shine, it is not safe to stop. You might say to yourself, “My stone shines so brilliantly, and is brighter than everyone else’s, surely my work must be complete.” Perhaps you will even place your stone in a well list case, so that all who walk by may see how wonderful it looks. The sad truth, however, is that as soon as you have put this stone away and stopped working toward its perfection, it has begun to grow dull.
So in my limited understanding, I am forced to turn my attention toward myself and realize, over and over, that my stone needs constant polishing; and, if I am training correctly, it always will.