Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, And sorry I could not travel both And be one traveler, long I stood And looked down one as far as I could To where it bent in the undergrowth.
- Robert Frost (1915)
I have in the past posted articles about time of transition as it related to my life in Iaijutsu – such as making a transition between a student and teaching. Again, I am here writing about another major transition in my life, this time my last post.
I have always seemed to walk a road many around me did not follow. My directions and choices in life always seem to go against the stream of friends, family, career, etc. I don’t have anyone in my family that ever practiced martial arts, I am not a cradle Buddhist and I have no friends that are, there is no one in my upbringing that had any experience on any of the roads I have found myself. I had to constantly and actively seek these paths out.
Many years ago, when I was a freshman in High School, I ran with a less then upright crowd. It landed me in some trouble at school (after missing my entire week of finals – choosing instead to drive around for days with my friend and a car full of girls, going to parties and drinking). The counselor at the school told my parents I “had energy that I needed a constructive outlet for.” Since I was not into team sports, but had been an avid fan of Kung Fu Theatre (late nights on Saturday), I choose the Martial Arts. I also had been studying and voraciously reading books on eastern philosophy. I saw these things to be inextricably tied together – the philosophy and the practice and I saw this as the path that would allow me to find them.
Over the first few years I started in Kickboxing, but it was all fighting and no philosophy. I moved to another style, and another, eventually finding Aikido which I studied two to three nights a week for almost a decade. At some point, I wanted more and found Iaijutsu, diving into that study as hard as I could.
An interesting thing happened along this time. The original reason I was involved in martial arts took on a life of its own. Along with those hard hours training, I also found myself diving into my spiritual world. After a few times considering the move, I eventually entered the Buddhist Seminary. I travelled to South Korea in the fall of 2010, spending time at a monastery while undergoing novice training and at the end, ordination as a Samanera (junior monk).
So here I find myself 28 years after my first step into a dojo, again walking a new and different path.
It has become apparent to me that it is time for me to focus my full attention on my spiritual side and walk that road where it will lead. I have decided to retire from the martial arts, or better yet, leave that road, make a turn and walk a different direction.
During the last class I taught in November, I suggested a few things to my students that I had learned over the years. Of all the small points I won’t mention here, the one main point I would like to leave you, the reader, with is simply this: training in martial arts, is really training in something else.
It will be different for everyone, but the vehicle of training is designed to change you. You can determine if that is a positive change, or negative change. I have seen training bring out ego and reinforce it, I have seen it raise people up from 0 self- confidence to being outgoing personalities. I have seen great buried emotion come out as anger, as laughter, as tears. I have seen egos humbled, I have seen amazing transformations. The vehicle aside, the transformation is often overlooked. It appears in our lives outside of the dojo, so the connection is harder to make, but it is there if you take the time to look.
So, as I leave to walk a different path as a monk, from someone who has undergone tremendous change himself, through this vehicle and this particular art, I can only say: Thank you for allowing me to walk behind you (my teachers), allowing me to walk beside you (my friends) and to walk in front of you (my students). I hope to see great things from you all.
With a bow,
Ven. Bup Chon Sunim
(Brent Eastman – Gento)