Thursday, August 03, 2006

Don't Be A Victim

My second motto for living is "Don't be a victim."  I adopted it in the early nineties when a mob of anti-gunners was pushing to disarm peaceful, law-abiding U.S. citizens.  I'd heard about the experiences of people who had been disarmed in other countries.  After their guns were turned in, they became instant cash machines for hoodlums.  Burgling, robbing, and mugging went from being very risky stints (as in risking one's life for each attempt) to highly profitable enterprises (as in raking in cash with no resistance).

So I figured if anti-gunners had their way, predators would automatically assign me the rank of "victim."  That assessment could only be confirmed by my physical appearance -- female, 5'3", 120.  While the fight over gun rights raged for months, I had plenty of time to contemplate my potential future as prey.

Though laws of this land can brand me as prey,
they can't make me choose to give up or give way.

I decided to join a karate class -- Shorin Ryu, the toughest class in town.  I figured if the laws of this land branded me as prey, the least I could do is make a predator regret the attempt to exploit that situation with me.

I learned a lot during that year with Sensei Kutcher.  There was let-it-drip training, where I learned to let sweat drip down my face without losing focus, without moving a muscle, except perhaps winking away a salty drop.  This may not sound like much, but it brings consciousness to your chosen priorities.  What's more important -- wiping away that inconvenient trickle or remaining vigilant for your opponent's next move?  What's more important -- exercising discipline by letting it drip or giving in to habit/impulse/urge and bringing ten pushups on the class for your lack of self-control?  Let-it-drip-training demands mind over matter in a way that your whole being appreciates.

Training was more than just sweaty-skin-deep, however.  During arm-toughening, I learned to handle more pain than I'd ever experienced by registering continuous blows not as "pain" but as "sensation".  I found previously unknown tolerance for bone-bruising hits and then found previously unknown resilience to push further, always further.  (These were very handy things to know during childbirth a few years later.)

There was always the choice of quitting, of leaving, of allowing myself to feel overwhelmed.  Looking around and seeing the other students continue, though, I knew that I would be consciously choosing to be overwhelmed because my body was reporting that it was not yet overwhelmed, not quite.  It could take one more hit, throw one more punch.  My body could do it -- but would my mind choose discipline over the urge to surrender?  What became unavoidably clear to all of us is that surrender is a choice of the mind, as is discipline.

Every training maneuver, every rule of the dojo, every command from the sensei, was based on a simple fact of life and our chosen path:
(1) Victimhood is a choice.
(2) Don't be a victim.

When you go through a class like that, truths are driven deep into your muscles and bones.  Your mind and body are introduced to your power of choice over your reactions to circumstances.  Circumstances, like inconvenience or shock or pain, are various arrangements of elements in your environment.  Circumstances are stimuli, they are catalysts, but they do not control your responses.  You alone have power over your responses... if you choose to use it.