What does it mean to be a life long martial artist?
Often times I am asked, "how long until I have my black belt", "how long until I can be effective on the street", etc...
These are all worthy goals; one should not diminish the achievement that they represent. However, we sometimes focus so much on the goal that we forget why we get on the mat day after day for so many years.
Fall down 7 times, get up 8.
Why does it sometimes take longer to get your black belt than a graduate degree at a major university? Another question that we sometimes balk at, but should seriously think about because these are the things that our students and communities consider.
One of my favorite Judo sensei's was Yonezuka Sensei. Classes would often be 2 hours, with the first being Ne Waza (ground grappling - think Brazilian Jiujitsu) and the second, Randori (standing bouts - think Olympic Judo). During Randori class he would routinely line those of us who had black belts up in front of him and throw us in succession. Mind you, we were not "letting" him throw us like when you are learning technique or demonstrating; we were actively trying to resist at 100% (sometimes more when frustration seeped in). He had this way of counting to three using 'Kiai' (spirit yell) that you knew exactly when he was going to throw you - still, he would take your balance (Kuzushi), set himself up (Tsukuri), and throw you to the mat (Kake). These experiences shaped much of how I view martial arts training to be - a struggle, not to defeat an opponent, but to overcome your frustration and get up until you learn something that forces your opponent to change tactics.
To win is nice when young - when older, winning and losing often damages the spirit.
True martial artists train their entire lives (which means that none of us can truly claim to be lifelong martial artists until we are regarded as such posthumously - this is a technicality as I think we would all agree there are those who clearly have and will continue training until their last breath). This means that even to call yourself a martial artist, requires lifelong commitment simply to be considered for the "title" after you die.
Morale? You may join the dojo for various reasons (black belt, efficacy, winning, etc...), but true martial artists "fall down 7 times and get up 8" until their last breath.
See you on the mat,