Dog tired, I slogged into my home dojo. I’d been training three days straight at sister dojos and my body wasn’t used to the intensity yet. I remembered I’d promised to get equipment out of the storage closet and to grab the newly instituted attendance roster from the office. That ate up some time. I stretched and that got me through until the start of class. Normally I practice kata for a bit before the start of class, but that night, I didn’t feel like it – not one bit, and I love kata. I made it through warmups. Then Sensei started us on a sparring drill with partners. I confess I shlepped my way through the first rounds of that drill.
Sensei called a halt. I wasn’t the only one dragging. Sensei upped the ante and made some rules involving pushups for penalties. Suddenly I remembered a drill I’d done earlier in the week that I knew would be of great help in this drill. Between the challenge of not getting pushups and the realization of exactly how I could do better, I began to have fun. My partner caught my energy and we really pushed each other hard. I felt what I call, “the fierce joy.” I even laughed as I did my pushups (and I’m not fond of pushups).
After all of us completed our pushups, Sensei said, “Now that was a lot more exciting to watch!”
Wait – didn’t I say I was dog tired? What about the sore muscles I came in with? All that was lost in “the fierce joy.”
I know many of my blog posts have been about the fear and anger I’ve been facing down. But from time to time – and these times are getting more frequent – I feel “the fierce joy.” It’s hard to describe this emotion. It’s a wild sort of calm. I know I perform better under the influence of “the fierce joy.” Every successful technique brings elation, and every unsuccessful attempt at something puts a fire in my heart to do better. I’ve felt this “fierce joy” in tournaments, while practicing kata, in seminars, during drills, and even when I sparred with, er, well, truth be told I played the role of “mouse” in a game of “cat and mouse” with someone who is vastly better at Karate than I am and has the rank and trophies to prove it. I’d love to feel “the fierce joy” every time I set foot in a dojo.
Sometimes I find “the fierce joy” when I’m exhausted. The other day, a senior student at another dojo said, “When you reach that place – when you’re so tired that you’re at the point of ‘fight or flight,’ it’s a bestial thing but there’s a kind of purity there.”
Bestial – I suppose scientists could put electrodes all over my skull and tell me exactly which parts of the brain are activated when I feel “the fierce joy.” They’d probably tell me the more “primitive” areas are lighting up like Christmas trees. Purity – yes, there’s nothing duplicitous about the fierce joy. It comes straight from the heart and spirit (and maybe a cocktail of hormones too). The fierce joy lives in the moment and therefore is undiluted by the baggage of our past or the worries about our future.
“The fierce joy” is the opposite of panic. “The fierce joy” takes the bull by the horns, pushes through fear and doubt, and exults in triumph. This is a gift for us fighters – I know I learn better when I’m in that place. Yes, “the fierce joy” can be quenched. Pain, a reprimand, an injured comrade, or a fire alarm can end it very quickly – and that is a good thing because sometimes it is vitally important to switch modes of operation! But on the whole, “the fierce joy” is a fantastic emotion that helps me push beyond where I once thought my limits were.
How often do you experience “the fierce joy?”