Consistency: How Martial Arts Makes You More True

For the month of June we’re focusing on the concept of consistency. This is more complicated than it seems. Consistency implies diversity, for one thing. Consistency assumes a divergence of paths, possibilities, varieties. Consistency doesn’t assume a universal, a consecrated truth. It assumes a truth that is argued, debated, fought for, won.

How does martial arts teach the value of consistency? Some of the means are simple and obvious. Every time students enter the school, they bow. They bow when stepping onto the mat. They bow to instructors. To their partners. To their opponents in sparring. They bow to the computer camera when taking classes online. Bowing is a consistent practice that reinforces respect and focus. No matter how frustrated you feel, no matter how angry, how down, you bow. You shed those hurtful feelings in the process. You’re ready to win.

Your instructors bow, too, and the consistency that they embrace in that act of humility reflects and reinforces yours. You experience a wide range of emotions in your life and your martial arts training; it should come as no surprise that your instructors–fellow and flawed human beings, like you–experience a range of emotions as well. A benefit of consistency in martial arts teaching as well as training is the bowing in. It aligns the mind of a karate instructor as much as the student.

There’s a classic story of consistency that bears down on the martial arts mentality. It’s the tale of The Little Engine that Could. If you don’t know it, here’s a summary.

A train with toys and yummy snacks for all the happy kids is headed over the mountain. The train breaks down, and begs a passing train for help. That train says “well, I’m way too shiny and cool to pull you. Sorry.” It glides off.

Another train approaches. It’s really small and old. “I’m too weak to pull you. Sorry.” The train putters off down the track.

A third train comes. It’s small too. Puny even. “I know you need help,” it says to the broken down train. “And I’ll help you.”

The little train hitches on and says “I think I can, I think I can.” [SPOILER ALERT] It makes it up the mountain, pulls its load on over, and exhausts itself in making sure the train with all its goods makes it to town.

Black Belt instructors do a similar thing. There are all kinds of students. Those eager to get stronger, learn forms, do battle. Those shaky ones, hesitant to get in uniform let alone get on the mat. Instructors are consistent. They’re disciplined. They’ve been through the gauntlet, they’ve learned it, and they live it. They’re there to get you to black belt (and beyond), and they’re consistently telling themselves I think I can, I think I can, I think I can.

Consistency is truth. It’s recognizing that we’re all different, that we’re all flawed, and that we can overcome what holds us back to pull through and deliver. Together.

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