Monkeys Falling From Trees Like Crazy

16 Dec

“It’s OK; everyone has a bad day.”

There I am on a Saturday morning, having set up an agility course for students in the family class (all ages) at my Taekwondo dojang. An agility ladder. Some orange cones. Some 12″ banana steps.

At 52 years old and 19 years of Taekwondo (and Hapkido, and Kumdo) practice, I consider my footwork to be better than it’s ever been. So, to my chagrin, I demonstrated the course, and proceeded to catch the ladder with my toe several times, knock down a cone, and tip a hurdle. Not only once, but during a repeat demonstration. I gacked (imagine that sound) and noted to the youth, teens and adults to do as I’m saying, obviously not as I’m doing.

It was at that point that a 7-year-old girl, a Purple-Trim belt (of about two year’s experience) reassured me with her declaration. God bless her. Yes, I chuckled, everyone does have a bad day.

Different class. Youth students practicing kicks on rebreakable plastic boards. A skilled, upper belt student lines up in front of an easy-grade board and attempts to break it with a basic side kick. Thunk. No break. His face shows the surprise and frustration. I smile and remind him, “Even the monkey falls from the tree.”

I’d brought that Korean proverb to the attention of students in the past, but often have to explain it over, depending on the group. Even an expert will screw up sometimes (particularly, it seems, when they think they can’t). So what?

Well, it’s not that fact which is so revealing. What is revealing is people’s expectations and reactions to actually screwing up, or even fearing they might.

In classes, I observe some students, particularly youth, “miss” up and they cannot focus the rest of the class because of embarrassment. Some students are particularly hard on themselves, and then cannot relax and focus well after a mistake, so things just get harder. Some students mess up regularly and never really push themselves to a higher level of application, perhaps avoiding the disappointment of failure by never applying themselves more fully to see of what they are capable.

I particularly relate to this last scenario. When I was a kid, ranging from chubby to fat in any given year, I told a summer camp friend I wanted to learn karate. His reply: “You’ll have to lose a lot of weight to do that.” I never started. Fast forward 10 or 12 years. I started martial arts training a few different times. However, after three or four months, I’d quit, before things got more challenging and I’d risk failing. Or, perhaps, I was reluctant to find if I would succeed, because that might entail certain expectations. Finally, at age 33, pulled by the interest of my then 4-year-old son, I kept to the path, willing to push, to continue, to succeed, to fail, to fall and get up again, and again, and keep along the path.

I am so tremendously moved by any new student starting their martial arts training, because I know, regardless of who they are and what seem to be their capabilities and limitations, that they will, over time, accomplish amazing things and become more than they ever realized. In fact, the hardest task most potential students face is actually starting. I receive regular calls from people who say they have always wanted to practice a martial art or become a black belt, and who even schedule a time to visit and observe a class, yet never show up. Fear of the unknown. Fear of falling from the tree before they even see it.

I am disappointed by any student that quits, for any reason, but particularly in cases when I sense that they are getting out before the going gets tough. What they don’t realize is that they’ve already taken the boldest step in starting their training. The rest is more or less just continuing to show up (Woody Allen was right to some degree).

Whatever tree you’re looking at, climb! Yes, you will slip and fall. Even the monkey will fall from the tree from time to time. Of course you will, too. Climb! If you want to see what the monkey sees, you must climb. You’ll be amazed at how high you can get over time and at what you’ll discover in the canopy. For pete’s sake, start: reach out, grab hold, step up. Climb.

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