I’m sure we all have seen signs of this in nature and in life, for me one of the most vivid visual representations of this is when I see a tree or a plant trying to survive in an extreme situation. One of the extreme situations that I remember was when years ago a friend of mine bought several junked cars. One of them a Packard, was sitting outdoors and in between the back bumper and the car body a tree had grown up. This tree grew up from the grown and was about 6 inches in diameter below the bumper and above it but narrowed to an inch or so in between the bumper and the body and then flared back out again. Another time I was taking pictures for a photography class when I happened upon a tree that was on a fence row and it had grown around the barbed wire so that the barbed wire looked like it was absorbed by the tree.
If the trees had the tendencies of humans it could have come across the obstacle and just decided it wasn’t worth the struggle and given up. In the first example the tree ran into a car and all it had was a narrow place to grow towards the life saving light that it need to grow. I’m sure if the tree had feelings it could have felt bad for itself, it could have whined and complained to the other trees, it might have even filed a lawsuit claiming it was disadvantaged and it needed the car moved so it could grow unimpeded. But the tree didn’t have human tendencies, it didn’t think it just did what it needed to survive and it grew being squeezed in between the bumper and the car and then expanded to form a functioning tree and having a healthier life.
Likewise in the second example the when the tree ran into the barbed wire; the tree if it was human, I’m sure would have been tempted to give up. Life and dealt it an unfair deal, something was holding it back, something strong and painful; there was a barrier that it couldn’t break through. Now it too could have given up but…. Being a tree it didn’t have that choice, it didn’t have those thoughts it couldn’t analyze the situation it did what any tree would do it continue to grow. So much so that it ended up ultimately absorbing the barbed wire and it ultimately outlasted the fence row, because when I took the photograph the fence was gone but the tree with the barbed wire still in it was still there.
So why did I entitled this blog post Grow or Die, and what does these stories of trees have to do with the martial arts? I believe that in the martial arts as in life we either grow or we die. I don’t mean a physical death, although that could happen. I don’t mean a mental or spiritual death, although that too could happen. Rather I mean a death in your study of the martial arts.
Like a tree when we first get started in the martial arts we grow, we shoot towards the light. However many times as in the first example something in our life takes place that all of the sudden we are squeezed; a job change, a life style change, or a life event such as a marriage or a child being born. Times get tough and unlike the tree we give up, we give into the pressures of life and we die. We take out the stake place it on our chest and grab the mallet with the other hand and beat it into our chest.
Other times in life we run into barriers, sometimes these barriers are very real and they do hold us back, however we can still grow if we don’t give in. A very real barrier is the mental one that comes with the feeling that I’ve learn all I can from this art or this teacher. “Oh well I’m done, I’ll go onto something else.” Another barrier could be an instructor, or classmates that for whatever reason has determined that you should be held back, that you are unworthy to progress. Other barriers could be ones we imposed on ourselves such as “I will train until I reach black belt (or insert rank here ___________)”.
I venture to say that anyone who has ever been in the martial arts for any length of time has run into barriers in their practice of the martial arts. Those that have stayed with the martial arts are the ones who have persevered in their study of the martial arts; who even though life is squeezing them, continues to grow, even though they run into barriers and obstacles they learn to grow around them even to the point of absorbing them. For those of us who have been in the martial arts for a long time, barriers and life events can be painful and there are struggles but like the trees we just continue to grow through them it is just the natural order of things.