There was a tournament this year at my martial arts school’s annual gathering. Not only did we perform the ceremonies to respect the masters past and present, but in the afternoon those students and trainers who were interested challenged themselves by stepping into the ring while the rest of the family watched, cheered, and shouted advice. I say family, because that’s what we are - a massive family of different backgrounds all connected by a common pursuit of this martial art. And that family spirit was never so evident as this year. The annual gatherings at my martial arts school are always family affairs. Students and trainers begin showing up from early hours to prepare the venue and set everything up, often with their own families in tow. Many hands make light work and there is plenty of joking, laughter, and reconnecting along the way. It never feels rushed or hectic. While the official ceremony takes place, couched in generations of tradition, an atmosphere of togetherness and connection hangs over the space. And of course the food is always good and there is always enough, as people tend to arrive bearing fruit or snacks or other bits to add. And then it was tournament time, and we all gathered around to hear the structure and the rules. While his older students organized and judged the tournament, our master presided over it all, watchful. After each match, the winner was declared, a spontaneous tired but genuine hug happened, and then both fighters went together to sit at the feet of the master as he praised and instructed them on their strengths and areas for improvement. You see, this tournament was above all an opportunity for personal development and growth. It was about individuals challenging themselves and testing their own skills and mettle. And, ancillarily, it was about family. While it would be obvious to talk about tournament fighters stepping into the ring, we don’t actually have a ring. Bouts were held in the main training space, which has a solid but padded floor. And the ring? That was us, the family, sitting around in a rough oval, cheering and supporting our brothers and sisters. Along the way, matches would often see the pair approaching the edge of the ring of family - often with one contestant retreating off balance. That is when the family sprung into action, raising hands to hold and push the contestant back into the ring and keeping them from falling head first into windows or out doors. For smaller weight classes, the family did this from a seated position. But for the higher weight classes and taller fighters, we stood as they fought, our outstretched hands holding them, reassuring them, keeping them safe, and keeping them in the ring.
And this is one of my favorite parts of in-house tournaments. I love watching my brothers and sisters test themselves and show their best effort. And I love watching the family take care of them along the way. And I think about how our families, the ones you choose, keep you in the ring of life. They support you, they cheer you on, they watch out for your safety, and they keep you in the space where you fight and give your best effort. And when it’s time for you to rest, you take your place around the circle and support someone else in their best effort. There is a quote from Theodore Roosevelt that has more recently been a big part of the work of Brene Brown which goes like this: “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
(Theodore Roosevelt, The Man in the Arena, delivered at the Sorbonne (Paris) on April 23rd, 1910) Yes. And also, that person doesn’t get to the arena or stay, striving, in the midst of it all without their chosen family supporting them. And so, here’s my haiku from the tournament. Let’s connect with our chosen family today and support each other to stay in the ring. Family gathers Laughing, joking, supporting Keeps us in the ring