The Value of Struggling

In the science-fiction movie “The Matrix,” the main character’s brain was connected to a computer and he was thus able to learn anything almost instantly.

“I know Kung Fu…” he gasped, astonished.

“Show me,” the leader of the humans challenged him.

The two mens’ brains were hooked up to a computer and a fantastic battle ensued in the virtual world.

Most of us don’t like hard work if we’re doing something we’re not at all passionate about.  This was evident in a conversation between two boys after class one night.

“How do you like Karate?” an orange belt (low rank) boy asked a new beginner.

“I thought we’d be learning cool stuff.  This is boring,” the new beginner boy griped.

Get this – we’d been learning take-downs that evening.  Take-downs are cool.  I’d taught the new beginner boy every third class for a few weeks so I already knew he liked the idea of being able to do Karate but he wasn’t willing to put any effort into learning it.  I hope someday he’ll be doing something for the sheer joy of it, even if it’s difficult to learn.

What if we could hook up our brains to a computer and instantly bypass all the boring, difficult things that come with learning a skill?  I know I’d choose to be a house flipper, a jeweler, an actor, a singer, a flautist, and a harpist.  But what if learning could be instant and two thirds of the world’s population became professional harpists?   I wouldn’t be anything special.  No one would go to concerts.  The value of the skill would be diminished.  Let’s narrow the scope a bit.  What would it mean for me personally to not have to struggle to learn something?

Notice I didn’t say I’d learn a martial art instantly if I could.  I’ve learned lessons from struggling that I wouldn’t have otherwise.  If you’ve been reading my blog and/or training with me, you’ve seen the lessons I’ve learned from sweat, tears, injury, frustration, embarrassment, fear, and even dyslexia.  I’ve had to re-build techniques and even calisthenic exercises from the ground up because I found out I need to fix something.  Yes – starting over from scratch as if I were a white belt (new beginner) again, stumbling all over myself trying to incorporate that one little change that will improve my Karate, practicing until whatever it is I’m working on becomes second nature.  The pride of accomplishment is my reward, but there is also a lot of satisfaction in the process itself.  I know I’m growing in skill, but more importantly, my character is being molded and shaped.

What would I lose by being able to learn Karate instantly?  I’d miss out on all the lessons in perseverance.  I wouldn’t have been lifted up by the encouragement of quite a number of people.  Leadership skills and learning how to be a teacher depend on other people – those wonderfully unique people who are your mentors, peers, and students.  Respect is so much more than saying “Ossu!” (“Yes Sir!”) and knowing who comes up from a bow first.  Respect is relational and grows over time.

Perhaps the biggest thing I’d miss out on are the lessons in empathy.  I need to be aware of what my kohai (plural – lower ranked students) need from me because I too once struggled (and maybe am still struggling) with the same things they are.  I need to be aware that my sempai (plural – higher ranked students) and sensei (plural – black belts) have some very awesome skills but they are still human and need appreciation and encouragement just like everyone else.

No computer or, if you prefer, magic wand could give me these very human lessons.

Author: Joelle White

I began training in Karate in June of 2014 after a 27 year hiatus.

4 thoughts on “The Value of Struggling”

  1. “What would I lose by being able to learn Karate instantly? I’d miss out on all the lessons in perseverance. I wouldn’t have been lifted up by the encouragement of quite a number of people.”

    Great point. Perseverance and empathy – the latter is something that I feel is sorely lacking in the world.

    Happy Holidays, Joelle!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *