Halcyon Repose

That Competitive Fire

by on Nov.08, 2005, under Fencing

Hardly anyone can live in America and not be constantly bombarded with sports figures in the media. In this day and age of Corporate America, people are spending 60+ hours a week at work so that their position doesn’t get outsourced to X third world country. These people turn towards sports for entertainment, and since so many people are willing pay for a short break away from their lives, sports is a big industry. The players get paid for their efforts, and the owners rake in the dough. It is no wonder that in order to survive and thrive in that industry, you have to have a strong competitive drive to stay above the waterline. A drive that pushes them to excel in what they do, and raise the bar higher and higher. Since this is such a large part of modern sports, you are constantly being reminded that they have this burning drive, this fire, that helps them succeed. A fire I have never really had.

For all of my adult life, I have dedicated a large chunk of my time to some form of martial arts or another. At first it was Shao-lin. As much as any martial art, it is about self defense, but for me it was also about pushing myself. Learning and growing as an individual and being physically active in the process. There was very little competition in our school beyond the occasional sparring match, which really didn’t require a lot of competitive spirit, seeing as how we rarely kept score. When I made the transition to fencing to help with my movement and footwork, I found myself in a sport that was all about 1 vs. 1 interaction. I could progress as fencer, learning new techniques, but at the end of the day, my success was measured on the strip.

I won’t say I was a prodigy at fencing, but my previous training and my natural ability did allow me to progress fairly far rather quickly. I continued to learn and grow as a fencer, and I even grew to enjoy the 1 on 1 of the sport. I read articles and books about how to push oneself to your limits, how to get into the competitive mindset, the one-mind, and I felt that I actually understood the basic premises covered therein. It all made sense and I constantly strived to perfect the techniques, so that my game could become the best that it could be.

But that was part of my problem. It was always about MY game. In kung-fu everything is very self-centered; it is all about learning how to control yourself, your body, and your mind. I always knew that my mentality on the strip was too self-centered, that if I didn’t win the bout, it was something I did, or the other fencer was just plain better. I felt that if I improved my game then next time I met that person on the strip, the better fencer would win. But even as I practiced the techniques and the physical actions, I continually met people who would tell me that I was technically the better fencer, but yet they would still trounce me when the time came to keep score. I recognized the fact that they had the “burning desire” to win, and that allowed them to step up their abilities and perform on a level higher than their pure technical skill allowed. Even as I recognized this fact, I accepted that I just didn’t have that burning desire to win, and I was happy with that. I work to better myself, and with enough practice I would be able to trump their enthusiasm with practiced skill.

Now we come to the present. This past week has been a crazy week. The stress was on at work at the beginning of last week, and as I approached the gym I knew that by physically exerting myself, I would be able to better control my stress levels, and with that thought in mind, I threw myself into my workout. I felt that the closer I came to physical exhaustion, the more mentally straight I became. Somehow I felt that this cleansing was but the first step on the road my self realization.

The week progressed as normal, but by the end of it I found myself in an all too familiar depression. When I was younger, I was always happy, I enjoyed every day of life, and lived it to the fullest. After a few events in my life showed me some of the darker aspects of life, I found that I would occasionally find myself in the midst of a depression. Nothing too bad and nothing that lasted for more than a few days, but these bouts still came far more often than I would have liked. I found that a majority of the time, these bouts were brought upon by money issues or lack of a relationship. The money problems have thankfully ended for the moment, and I hope that they are gone for many many moons to come, but the relationship issues continue to haunt me. The ins and outs are a matter for another entry in and of themselves, but needless to say that the fact that I have not had a date since I moved to California is pretty darn depressing, and we’ll leave it at that for now.

When ever I did get depressed, I would basically try to shut out the world as much as possible. Every little thing seemed to grate on my nerves, and I kept my mouth firmly shut lest I lash out at someone for doing something that wouldn’t even bother me on a better day. Typically during the day, I could lose myself in my work, forgetting my own problems, but once work ended they would come crashing back. At the fencing center, I would grunt my way through as many social interactions as possible and silently curse those tasks that built an invisible cage around me. Skipping those nights at the fencing center would have probably done wonders towards lightening my mood, but of course, being the guy that I am, I had to show up and help out. I couldn’t skip out of the center just because of some personal issues, so I would trudge along.

I would also avoid fencing during these times, as my fencing game would quickly spiral downward. I wouldn’t fence well because I was distracted and moody, and I would get even more moody and down on myself because I wasn’t fencing well. All in all it was a counter productive effort, and one that I would avoid. I would much prefer to lose myself in a game or a good book where I didn’t have to think about my life.

This past Friday was different though. In the midst of my depression, I decided that the one thing I needed to do, was work it out. So I took to the strip at the center, and faced each of my opponents with a recklessness that I have rarely shown or felt. I fenced not to win or better myself, but I fenced for own my mental stability. The results were astounding. Without the baggage of myself that I typically took to the strip, I was able to actually fence. I didn’t try to second guess my opponent and plan 4 steps ahead of myself till I found myself back at the same place I started from. Instead, I saw openings and I attacked. If I didn’t see an opening I forced my opponent to give me one. In the midst of it all, I felt a fire in my belly. I had no thoughts beyond the present, and the more I fenced, the hotter the fire burned. I made mistakes of course, but I didn’t let them stop me, I kept plowing through them and eventually came out the end of the night in a better spiritual state than I started.

As I drove home, I tumbled what I had learned around in my head. I do that sometimes, not actively analyzing it, but looking at the night from various views, and just sort of soaking up the results. I was hopeful that I was on to something, but I didn’t want to claim anything without working through it some more. This Sunday proved a good opportunity to test out what I had experienced. Since my depression was what sparked my original fire, I looked to that to rekindle it. It wasn’t that hard (still single.. that hadn’t changed), and I started my first bout of the day with a fire in my eye.

My first bout was with a teammate, and as much as I wanted to encourage him, I knew that if I went halfway, I would fail. My second bout was with a guy that I seen around the tournaments, but whom I had never talked to. We talked for a while and joked around before our match, but once I was back on the strip, I cleared everything from my mind and fed my fire. I cleared all my pool bouts undefeated. I was floating on air, every time I performed a move exactly as planned and received that reaction that I had planned for, I felt another piece of the puzzle click into place. If anyone has done anything to challenge themselves, I am sure they are aware of the click I am talking about. It is the click of understanding, or the click that what you know intellectually just made since on a more primal level. I clicked many times that day and on many levels.

The tournament started at 9am and at 5 we were still fencing the direct eliminations. I had battled my way to the round of 8 (the tournament started with 66 fencers), and I had started dragging on my previous bout. When I faced off against my next opponent, I found that I was totally overwhelmed. Why did I fail? Why did my new found fire smolder out against an opponent that I had never lost too? Part of the reason might have something to do with fact that I had NOTHING to eat the entire day. I had woken up late and I had not had time to grab a banana and meal replacement bar that was my typical fencing tournament fare. Due to the on and off again nature of the tournament, I never had time to break for lunch, and by 6pm I was running on fumes and I felt it to the core of my being. It also could have been that I psyched myself out for some reason. I am no stranger to that, but regardless of the reason, I still lost my drive as well as the bout. I still looked back over the days events, and was entirely proud of myself. I didn’t go all the way, but I feel that I had made progress on my mental game if nothing else.

Now I stand in the aftermath wondering how this new found fire will affect me. There are definitely downsides to it. I found that I was very irritable with others, and if a referee made a bad call, I was immediately voicing my opinion(s) to them. I even had to have my coach calm me down over a bad call that made no sense to me what so ever. I of course apologized to my opponents (and refs) at the end of the bout if I felt that it was appropriate, and there were no hard feelings, but still the fire not only burned in my stomach, but also in my blood.

When I saw the movie Wimbledon it immediately struck a cord in me. As a competitive fencer, I sympathized with how one bad mistake or wrong move could totally ruin your game and your confidence. Paul Bettany’s character meets Kirsten Dunst’s, and in the course of their relationship, he finds a new a confidence in himself and rediscovers the game that he had thought lost to him. As much as I identified with Paul’s character, it was Kristen’s character that seemed to come out in me on Sunday. Argumentative and caustic on the court, she explains that she has to be that way to play her best.

If it ended there, I could probably over look it all, but even after my loss on Sunday, I found that my fire was still burning. And the burning embers seemed to color view even today at work. Our department moved to a new building today, and in the course of the move, some of my items were lost. Normally this would hardly bother me. I would find a temporary chair to last till mine was discovered or replaced, and I would work with the one monitor I had, after all I didn’t HAVE to have two monitors. But today I found myself blowing up and cursing the movers for the first half of the day till things were sorted out. Every little thing that was wrong caused a new slew of explicatives to spew forth from my mouth.

Even though I feel that my loss of temper was not typically the way I would have handled the situation, I also wonder if this was not the more healthy way to go. Recognizing my feelings and even acting them out felt somehow right. It’s not like I was throwing stuff across the room or demanding to see the individual who was responsible for the mix up, I simply vented my frustration to those co-workers who happened to be (unlucky enough to be) around me at the time.

On some level it seems wrong that after such an outburst, I should feel even more peaceful and relaxed. I can still feel the fire burning in my gut, but I also feel a peacefulness that makes everything feel balanced out and even. As if I had made peace with myself on some level, and who knows, I maybe have. I have always tried to be the calm and tranquil river running through the forest. In all of the movies you see the reflective monks who have mastered themselves and who project their inner peace to others in an almost palpable sense. But now I wonder if not every aspect of their being is that calm, if they are only able to keep their composure because they recognize and acknowledge the fire that burns so brightly within them.

I don’t know, I but I feel that I still many things to explore down this path. I don’t know if it is ultimately the right path for me, but unless I try it, I will never know.

Music: Aqua – My Oh My

No comments for this entry yet...

Leave a Reply

Looking for something?

Use the form below to search the site:

Still not finding what you're looking for? Drop a comment on a post or contact us so we can take care of it!