A friend of mine turned 50 on Saturday, March 16 th , 1996. A successful businessman, and once an extremely aggressive tournament competitor, it had been almost two years since I saw him last. With my birthday just two weeks after his, we used to celebrate our birthdays together, but haven't in a lot of years. At any rate, I, like many of the ‘old guard' from the club, looked forward to the surprise party his wife had arranged that evening. But I could never have anticipated what I would come away with.
It seemed everyone was there. Almost all the black belts that came through the ranks at our club over the past twenty-five years came to celebrate. Guys I hadn't seen in ten, eleven, even twelve years. It made me look at my life and just how far I'd traveled, and how much a few good men had once meant to me.
I suppose most of us just got busy and lost touch. We all have families now, and we've moved on in our careers, and some to distant cities. But looking into the grinning faces of my old sparring partners, guys that once delighted daily in exchanging glove leather in the ring with me made me feel like it was only yesterday that we'd trained together then went out for a couple of beers because we deserved them.
As my wife, Rhonda, and I moved through the room, it was joyfully apparent that shaking hands for some of us just wasn't good enough. There were plenty of hugs to be had, and when the words failed, smiles told the story. My old friends were just as happy to see me, as I was to see them, and each other. We'd traveled far and gotten older, and our lives are as diverse as anyone can imagine, but the one constant that remains is martial arts.
It was fun to listen to how attitudes had changed. Some of the hard-liners softened, and some of the lenient were now just a little stricter. We spoke of past injuries just now creeping up on us, and laughed at each other for things we ourselves had long forgotten. It's really a wonderful feeling having been a part of something grand and spending time with those who share the same history.
So what does all this have to do with one's mental edge? Let me tell you.
What is your motivation? What is the driving force that keeps you in the dojo, training to the point of physical exhaustion day after day, year after year? I don't know, but it has to be more than just the desire to learn how to beat someone up. Perhaps when I was a young teenager not old enough to drive a car that might have been my motivation. But on this Saturday night, after a nearly 30-year love affair with martial arts, I've discovered what it truly has meant to me, and what kept me coming back. It was my friends. Friends and a million memories.
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