A lesson in Humility

When I sit down to write a weekly post, I always try to reflect upon the week that has passed and think about what’s the most memorable martial arts experience or insight I had during that week.  Some weeks are easier than others.  This week, one experience while training at the YMCA stands out for me.

Blackbelt class had just finished.  After chatting a bit with some of the other students and doing quick reviews of what had been covered in class, Mr. Alessi and I headed off to the second floor multi-purpose rooms (the only place safe from basketball players) to continue our training as we usually do after blackbelt classes.  As I said in my last post, I always look forward to training with Mr. Alessi.  We generally have less than an hour to train together since our class gets out an hour before the YMCA closes, so we try to make maximum use of the time that we do have to train.  Something different happened this last time that took up some of our training time.

When we went up to the only available multi-purpose room, we found that someone else was already using it.  At first I felt dismayed that we might not get to train tonight, but upon a second look I observed that the person using the room was a man practicing Tai Chi by himself.  ‘Ah ha,” I thought, ‘surely a fellow martial artist will not mind us quietly training on the other half of the room. ‘  We asked him if it were alright, and he kindly replied that it was, and we all quietly went about our practices.

I peeked over at the Tai Chi guy several times while Mr. Alessi and I were practicing.  Though I know only a very small amount of Tai Chi, I could tell this guy was experienced.  His movements were elegant and confident and the techniques were well beyond what one would see in introductory Tai Chi classes.   After some time, the Tai Chi guy finished up practicing and made to leave.

I was curious about this fellow martial artist who we had encountered, so I asked him, “Your Tai Chi looks good. do you take classes somewhere nearby?”  The man was friendly, and began to explain who he studied from and how he had come to study from that instructor.  He kept going on though. He proceeded to talk about his past experiences with martial arts training, the differences between the various arts he’s studied, how Tai Chi does things diffrently, so on and so forth.  Mr. Alessi and I were probably standing there for more than ten minutes listening to this guy on and on about his martial arts life story.

Despite my best efforts, I began to grow a little impatient.  On the one hand, the Tai Chi guy seemed very passionate about martial arts and had over 25 year experience in Tai Chi and other arts.  On the other hand, I had only asked him where he trained, and now he was going on and on about everything he thought about martial arts while the time went by; time that Mr. Alessi and I could have been training together (because of our schedules, Thursday nights are the only nights we can train together). Besides, this Tai Chi guy was talking as if we had never heard of using our whole body for a technique before.  That annoyed me too (because I was being egotistical which is bad).

Man, this guy’s been talking forever. Doesn’t he know I’ve already done a lot of martial arts? (yeah my ego was way out of line)

In an attempt to not be too rude, I casually looked up at the clock a couple of time try to show that I was being mindful of the time.  He got the subtle hint, and wrapped up.  We shook hands, said parting goodbyes, and he left.  I looked up at the clock.  Half our training time had been taken up by this guy’s life story about martial arts.  I was annoyed.

I turned to Mr. Alessi to see if he felt the same I did about the encounter.  “That guy sure said a lot of stuff,” I started to say.  Then Mr. Alessi said with full sincerity, “Yeah, I really learned a lot from listening to him.  That Tai Chi guy had an interesting perspective.”  Then I felt really guilty.  I had been very impatient and annoyed by the Tai Chi guy’s long story and had honestly tuned a fair amount of it out.  However, here was Mr. Alessi who is more experienced and higher ranking than I am, and instead of being annoyed that the Tai Chi guy was just lecturing and not conversing, Mr. Alessi heard the guy out.  By patiently listening and putting his ego aside, Mr. Alessi had not only enjoyed the experience but had felt that he had learned something.  I, on the other hand, had allowed my ego to get the better of me, and had spent most of that time just silently fuming.

It’s always hard having an experience like that which really shows one how improperly one was carrying one’s self. However, it’s good to know where improvements need to be made.  I hope that I might have the chance meet that guy again and have a talk with him in which I am actually receptive to the things he is saying.  This experience has helped me to strive to be more humble and receptive towards others.

What do you think?

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