Thursday, November 6, 2014

Your Experience is Your Truth

I can remember watching Israel “Chino” Rodriguez fight. He held several kickboxing titles regionally as well as nationally. I wasn’t really scouting him out but I had attended a few cards that he fought on. I knew the odds of us fighting at some point were good. He was knocking guys out left and right and I couldn’t understand why. Sure he was crafty but he didn’t seem to have a big punch. When I received the contract to fight him at Yonkers Raceway I was excited. My corner? Not so much. One of them asked if I was sure about this but all I heard was “Asim, don’t take this fight”. Of course I was confident. I was training at Morris Park Boxing Club and had the best sparring possible: New York City Golden Gloves Champions, up-and-coming pros. My conditioning was always on point. That was the one thing I could always control. I vowed a long time ago not to let any opponent outwork me in the gym or on the track. Still when your own team questions your decision to take a fight, sometimes—just sometimes—a bit of self-doubt can develop in your inner sanctum, that holiest of places in your mind. That is the place where you steel your will through rigorous, physical and mental training. I’m talking about the type of training that instills confidence because you have weathered conditions and obstacles that ordinary folks would never endure.
A few hours before our bout, we saw each other at ringside. He and his team had on matching red track suits. I was wearing my typical baggy grey sweats. He looked at me and gave me that official New York City head nod saying ‘sup. I gave it back. He looked at me in a patronizing way, as if he was about to school me in a little while. That all changed when I entered the ring.  As I took off my robe, I saw his face. It was just a moment because he quickly caught himself and turned his back but in that instant I saw a bit of self-doubt in him. I was bigger, more cut than I had looked in my sweats. It caught him off guard.
As the first round began he caught me with a few shots. Nothing hard, but I figured he was holding back. He might have been trying to lure me into a false sense of security before dropping a bomb. I remained active but cautious. I didn’t want to press too hard but I wasn’t passive. At the end of the round he tagged me with a right hand; looked like he turned it over. Still no damage done. In my mind, the round was even. As I sat in my corner, my team was telling me to step it up. I knew I had to, but that bit of self-doubt, caution, trepidation…whatever you want to call it…was telling me to be careful—Asim, are you sure about this?
A few seconds into the second round we end up in a corner— I’m pressing, he spins out and catches me with a quick right hand. Still nothing. Now I realize, he wasn’t holding back. This is all he has. So now I step it up. I decide to press hard, keep him backing up. I’m hitting him with kicks to the body, hooks to the body, and keeping a jab in his face. By the third round, I can hear him breathing hard and now I know I’ve got him. I’m in shape, already have my second wind. I time him and drop him with a foot jab to the chest. He takes a standing 8-count. Now he has to press because he knows he’s losing at this point. I slip a shot and catch him with a flush right hand. You could hear the impact rows away. Now I’m trying to end it and I’m all over him. All Chino can do at this point is try to tie me up and hold, which he did well. I was unable to land a clean shot, but the pressure was enough.I ended up winning a unanimous decision to become the first USKBA Lightweight Champion. More importantly, I learned a valuable lesson that I’ve never forgotten, which is that feeling is believing. Sure Rodriguez had over 15 ko’s by the time we fought but he hadn’t fought me. Once we allow the experiences of others to control our thoughts and emotions we’ve lost. We can’t allow others to project self-doubt or their own experiences as universal truth upon us. We each come with a unique background that will play into our own interactions. The result will be a very personal experience.
In aikido practice, it is through the act of direct transmission (physical contact from one person to another), that we embrace our own understanding of things. When I hear stories about the great feats of particular martial artists, I remain cautiously optimistic until I can feel these things for myself. Too many times I’ve heard how martial artist X did such amazing waza (technique) only to be extremely disappointed when I put my own hands on them. This doesn’t mean that the martial artist in question wasn’t competent, good, or well-versed; it simply means that my experience with that person did not leave me as impressed.We are each looking for something unique and personal in our aikido practice. This is why I’ve chosen the kanji for Dao (path) as a logo for my Ottawa dojo, Capital City Aikikai. It will be through our practice that each person will eventually find his or her own path.  Our path should be one that fosters continued physical and spiritual development but that will mean different things for each of us. Just as a piece of art will evoke a unique experience for each of us, so will each aikido interaction.  Just as I cannot force my own understanding of aikido on someone else, I cannot expect others to share the same experiences in their practice as I do. Aikido is a personal endeavor practiced in a supportive group setting. Each person in the dojo sacrifices a bit of themselves to help the other in their journey along the path. Keep this in mind throughout your practice. Think about this as you bow in.