During the Crossing the Pond Martial Expo last month Al Peasland made an off the cuff comment to a group of participants. Al’s comment made me think of a moment when my martial arts training changed. I paraphrase Al here; “Martial arts should be enjoyable and when it’s not you shouldn’t do it.”

Sitting in the back of a car on a dim winter afternoon three of us were heading off to our once a month mandatory workout at the regional dojo.

These workouts had begun as a get together, work technique, standardize some things, and have fellowship. All of those things were good things but the tone had changed, the head instructor now called them, “Mandatory Meetings.”

Leaning forward from the back seat I listened to the conversation from the two other black belts. I can’t tell you the whole conversation, but one phrase absolutely gut punched me. The driver who I respect for his intelligence and insight said, “Mandatory, there’s nothing mandatory when it comes to my karate. I do this because I like it not because I’m told to.”

The metaphorical gut punch made me sit back into the darkness of the back seat. I wish I could say that, at that moment, I came to an epiphany but I didn’t. All I had was the realization that I had given away my sovereignty.

I felt the fool.

I had considered myself to be in charge of my own destiny, however the realization that I had this enormous blind spot didn’t sit well with my ego one bit.

Over the next couple of months I came to the conclusion that I was not going to give up my sovereignty anymore. I decided I would engage in the martial arts on my terms. I was going to say, “No thank you.” more often. My training was now going to be totally my own I was going to be responsible for what I worked, what I studied, and let the chips fall where they may.

Call it boundaries if you like.

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