“The past is a foreign country. They do things differently there.”
No matter how much we try to keep things the same, we change. Even if the syllabus and pedagogy of your martial arts club has undergone no changes in the decades that you might have been training with them, the nature of your own training will have changed because you are not physically or mentally the same person that you once were and neither are the people around you. The differences may be subtle, they might be profound, but they will be there.
If I look back along my own training timeline this is very true. I am not the white belt with the broken wrist in a fibreglass cast practicing his basics on the spot on his own every night after class because he felt that everyone else in the new club was better than him. I’m also not the 19 year old who would run 2 miles six mornings a week, lift weights three times a week, and attend 17 hours of karate lessons a week in addition to fitting in his own training in a fierce desire to be stronger, fitter, faster and sharper. I’m also not the 30 year old reluctantly saying goodbye to his Aikido training because on moving to a different part of the country he could not find a local club with a similar practical ethos.
I was all those people, but I do not let the student that I was define the student that I am now. I not only train in a very different way but I also know so much more, and I continue to learn or understand more every day. While I may have some regrets for time that I didn’t use as well as I could, or exercises that I wish I had moved on from earlier, I recognise that I have those regrets with the hindsight of greater experience. I do not regret time spent in training exercises that I no longer use because that training improved my aerobic fitness, my flexibility and my health and brought friendships and fun into my life. Those training lessons and mistakes have helped make me what I am today, but they do not define me. While others may benefit from what I have written or taught or videoed in the past, I choose to define myself by what I do now.
Most of the time we have the ability to recognise our growth. We can gain pride and confidence from past achievements even while accepting that we may no longer be able to repeat those feats now. At the same time however it can be all too easy to let past negative experiences haunt us and limit our perception of who we are now and who we have the potential to become.
We do not define our ability to write by the work we produced in our first year of school. We do not define our ability to use a computer by the first time we ever used a keyboard. We do not define ourselves as martial artists by what we could do in our first class. We move on. In the same vein we need to acknowledge that the person we were in the past is not actually the same person we are now and the memories we hold of that past self can be a weight holding us down, a foundation to bury but build upon anew, or perhaps a springboard for a brighter and different present and future. We have the ability to change and we need to set aside, store away or throw out past memories and perceptions that might hold us back. Most people have these negative or self-limiting memories or perceptions; many can be more horrific, scarring or deeply entrenched than others, and some may require help and support from friends, family or professionals for us to leave them behind – others may never truly be gone – but they happened to the person you were, or were things said and done by the person that you were, not the person you are now or whom you can become.
Our memories mould and make us, but they are only a part of who we are. They are unreliable, distorted by perception and repetition, and we can be poor collectors for our own mental health when it comes to which we keep and what we manage forget; we do not recall every success and forget the many mistakes, and we do not cherish every bright day and throw out each dark moment. We can focus on what will help us. We can sit down and create lists of the good things that we have done, the good things that have happened to us, the things we have achieved, and the enjoyment we have had and make the choice to identify and highlight the positives in our lives. We have the ability to act, to create new memories, and to recreate who we are. The past is who we were, but we should not let it hold us back.