Burning the grit

When I attended my very first gashuku, it was the experience of my dreams. I had long yearned for a camp where I could train for hours every day in the martial arts, conditioning my body and practicing useful martial concepts. Yet it challenged me deeply, too. Never before had I experienced such exhaustion, had I pushed myself so hard. On that first morning run, I distinctly remember envisaging a petrol tank within myself and running completely out of petrol. In desperation, I started burning the grit at the bottom of the tank, and somehow I burnt enough of it to complete the half hour run. I had never put myself through that kind of challenge and pain before, and it scared me deeply. Doing it the second morning was equally painful, and it taught me to fear the discomfort and challenge. Not enough to deter me from training, but enough to make my stomach clench at the thought I might have to push myself so hard again in the future.

I talked to a good martial artist friend about it, and he told me that he had teachers who used to yell at him to do ridiculous physical tasks (like a thousand squats or a hundred repetitions of a sequence). He would hate them for it, but he would do their tasks anyway and it made him stronger.

That is not the advice I needed. If I could go back in time and have a conversation with my 20-year-old self, this is what I’d say:

“Xin, that sucked. That was so hard for you, and I totally get why it scares you. Don’t worry though; that’s probably the hardest you’ll ever push yourself, and it was the hardest because you’ve never done it before. Speaking from experience four years on, you’ll never get quite so empty and have to keep going for quite so long as you just did. What you’ve accomplished is remarkable, and I understand why you’d never want to do it again. It’s okay though, because you get stronger, you get fitter, you get more used to challenging yourself when you want to back down. Go little by little, and each step will take you further on your journey of ten thousand miles; you don’t have to get there on a single tank of gas. You’re perfect, just as you are, and you will continue to be perfect no matter what you do. Keep your chin up and your heart strong.”

Finding my wings

When I was 12, I used to imagine that I had a pair of wings that nobody else could see. They were as tall as I was, the kind that rose to a peak just above my head and curved gracefully to a point near my ankles. These wings were feathered, white and pure. It never occurred to me to use them for flying; I just wore them about my shoulders like a cloak. I felt as if my feathery mantle was impervious to harm, and that I could tuck myself up in it and be completely safe. I also felt that I could flex my wings and move them about me, and even wrap them around those standing nearby.

In a recent update of Guild Wars, they released the wings from my childhood as wearable outfits for avatars. I couldn’t help but buy myself a pair, and I’ve started imagining they’re there again. It sounds ridiculous because they’re obviously not tangible, yet I found myself acting differently today, as if I really were striving to be worthy of wearing them. I’m not too sure why I wrote this, other than to say that they bring me both comfort and strength.

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