Memory Loss

I want to pick up a little bit with what I talked about in my last post…

So if you follow the calendar at all you’ll know I just came out my 1st busy season at my new job.  Last week I talked about my experience with self-doubt, or really the lack-there-of due to having very little time even for something as simple as conscious thoughts.  This weekend as I led our congregation on our most important day I had a similar yet different experience that also relates to experiences I’ve had with martial arts (particularly with high pressure situations).

My senior rabbi (think of this like the Grandmaster of the synagogue) asked me after we finished on Friday night to debrief the service with him.  I found myself at a complete loss for words.  The truth was that the entire thing was so overwhelming that I really only remembered the point at which we started and the minute at which we ended.  I knew we had done ok and I had even had a few moments throughout that I had found particularly powerful but the overall service was…well I can’t even say it was a blur because I didn’t experience it as such…it just…was.  On the one hand, this was a good thing.  It meant that everything flowed relatively well, that there were no outstanding breaks or disasters that had taken me out of the zone, I was fully able to concentrate on the words I was saying and the material I was delivering.  On the other hand, I thought this was sort of sad.  I lamented the fact that I couldn’t really remember the experience.  This was, after all, my first major “performance” (I use that terms extremely loosely!) and I wanted it to be memorable and also something I could learn from, and yet, alas, it was not to be.

I have had the same sort of “memory loss,” in martial arts.  In high pressure situations, like a promotion exam or our Big Bad Black Belt Bash (a huge demo that we used to put on), I have often found myself returning to my place after say, demonstrating a form, with absolutely no recollection of doing the form (all I remember is starting in chunbe and ending in chunbe).  I’m not really sure what this means or how it is significant but I believe it has to do with mindfulness practice, adrenaline, and few other things.  I’m very curious about this phenomenon and I will continue to pay attention to it and how it affects both my work as well as my martial arts practice.

On a slightly different but related note, the concept of self-doubt which I had discussed earlier could be understood another way (particularly in light of what I mentioned above).  When I lived in Cincinnati I had a trainer who was an ex-NFL’er – he played for Pittsburgh and Dallas until a knee injury forced his early retirement.  Whenever I had a bad session with him, he used tell me that when he played football he had to have a really short memory.  That whatever happened one week had to to be completely forgotten in time for the next; a good player never carried thoughts of past victories or losses into a game with him.  This idea is part of martial arts practice as well, is it not?  Does a good kyudoka shoot his second arrow while still thinking about the flight of the first?  Does a good martial artist approach every technique by thinking about what happened the last time he executed it? No, of course not.  We can’t carry such thoughts or be so attached to one experience or memory that we are unable to concentrate on the next.

This idea of “short memory” is amusingly illustrated in the following story about Tanzan (A Zen master) and his disciple Ekido.  The story comes from an Anthology on Japanese Literature from a course I took as an undergrad.  I apologize I don’t have a better source for it. But I’m sure you can Google it!

Tanzan and Ekido were once traveling together down a muddy road.  A heavy rain was falling. Coming around a bend, they met a lovely girl in a silk kimono and sash, unable to cross the intersection. “Come on, girl,” said Tanzan at once.  Lifting her in his arms, he carried her over the mud.  Ekido did not speak again until that night when they had reached a lodging temple.  Then he could no longer retrain himself.  “We monks don’t go near females,” he told Tanzan, “especially not young and beautiful ones.  It is dangerous.  Why did you do that?  “I left the girl back at the crossing where I set her down,” replied Tanzan.  “Are you still carrying her?”

“…they met a lovely girl in a silk kimono and sash, unable to cross the intersection.”

Requirement fulfilled,


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