Note: Some of these scenarios are real, some are fictitious. I’ll leave it up to you to decide which I’ve seen happen to others, which I’ve experienced directly, and which I’ve simply made up.
He is a new beginner who has to work hard to overcome the weight of his own body. His opponent is shorter but lighter, faster, and three belt ranks higher. He moves as best he can, never quitting even while his lithe opponent darts in and out, running circles around him. NOT FAIR!
He learns to anticipate his opponent’s next move and lands a solid punch.
Two tournament divisions are too small, so they are combined. Ladies with only three or four years of training are competing against women with a decade or more of training. One of these more advanced ladies has won medals in international competitions. NOT FAIR!
They learn they are ready for the pressure of their next belt test.
He is three ranks above her, is stronger, faster, and a little taller than she. They are sparring. He grabs and holds her gi sleeve while pummeling her face (but with enough control so that it doesn’t leave a mark). Such an act is against tournament rules. NOT FAIR!
After class he teaches her how to get out of that situation. This could happen in the ring, in class, or even in the street. She learns something useful.
After warm-ups, she is not needed in her role of assistant instructor, nor has she been given an order to work on her own kata while the instructor evaluates the beginner class’ grasp of basic material. She hurried directly from work to class to help teach, and now she’s just standing there. NOT FAIR!
She spends the time silently pretending she’s the instructor. She notes who needs help with what. She watches for trends in the class as a whole. She moves around quietly if she needs to see something better. Whenever the instructor gives feedback, more often than not she noticed the same things. The next class day, the instructor’s car breaks down. She teaches class. The students work on exactly the things they needed to improve on.
He has an injury and can’t do the drill. NOT FAIR!
He and his partner modify the drill and their instructor approves. Both learn something. The instructor learns something too.
The instructor is sick, so a senior student teaches the beginner class. After class, the parent of one of the students complains that he paid for a third degree black belt to teach and asks the front desk staff to refund the cost of that class. The senior student happens to walk by and hears everything. NOT FAIR!
Unbeknownst to that parent, the child had a breakthrough during that class. The next class day, the instructor comments positively on the child’s improvement and the senior student smiles with pride.
There’s been a disturbing trend in parenting for the last twenty five years. I stubbornly resisted it while raising my own daughters. Everyone has to feel good. Everyone gets a trophy. Everyone gets showered with praise even for deliberately weak performance. We have to be “fair” to everyone. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve learned from this movement. I am more ready with praise than I would have been otherwise. I am more patient and more willing to see how I can help someone become better. But I have a problem with the attitude that everything should be easy and “fair.”
We learn a lot of life lessons on the mats. The biggest lesson is how to fight oneself. Our egos take more of a beating than our physical bodies. I know very well what it’s like to have a little voice inside me screaming, “NOT FAIR!” News flash: that thug on the street won’t play fair. Self defense is one of many reasons why we train, right? Sure we learn the physical skills to shatter joints and damage internal organs. More than that, we learn the mental discipline that it takes to deal with situations that are not fair. If we can’t face those situations on the mats, how are we supposed to deal with life itself?
Life, more often than not, isn’t fair. I’m two years shy of half a century spinning around on this planet, so I know what I’m talking about. The dojo is a place where we are put under pressure and we come face to face with our strengths and weaknesses. We face a lot of “unfair” situations and, if we’re persistent, we come out better for having been through them. Quite often, someone will come alongside to help. Sound familiar? Yeah, sounds like life.