Paying attention…

Most people can’t afford to and the people that can won’t even bother because its outside their paygrade. My martial arts mentor is really into hats, Fedoras in particular. There was always one on his head when he stepped into the dojo before he changed into his Gi to train. One day, after training as we were changing, he finished up by showing me one and explaining the overly complex anatomy. (yes there is one) The leather sweatband, the depth of the dent, the beaver fur, the year it was made, how it was made, why it was made in this particular way. And yes, even the feather. He became increasingly excited with each detail he almost sprouted a hair on his impeccable bald skull. But honestly...who gives a shit? At the time I quite frankly couldn’t care less. It didn’t matter to me, at the time it wasn’t helpful, it was useless information that was worth less than the cheap martial arts membership I was paying. With my patience wearing thin I naively asked; Sensei why do you need to know every little detail about hats? He replied, it’s not just hats…

It dawned on me randomly years later as I was training a client attempting to explain something that at the time seemed “complicated.” It wasn’t “what” he was talking about it was “how.” We continued to train in the dojo, I guess I had taken something for granted that was being shown to me regularly. The habitual and to some degree ritual pattern of paying attention to everything was not exclusive to his comprehensive hat collection. He understood not just what was on the surface of whatever he pursued but everything underneath that allowed the surface to be there in the first place. There was clarity, and there were no holes to fill except the excessively deep ones he would dig for me during the training. The price tag for this type of knowledge is simultaneously subtle but also steep.

Fast forward 10 years, I now own a gym, I train people regularly and Sensei is still bald. I had received a phone call from him and halfway through to my utter surprise we had now switched rolls; he was asking, and I was telling. The subject of conversation was primarily focused around his current unhealthy condition. While it had initially started as a conversation it eventually had the same amount of mutual resistance as one of our training sessions. He was stuck in 1985 and I was waiting for him in 2019. It’s a subtle trap that everyone, including myself too often and subconsciously fall into. How could we not? We are comparative by nature and our instinct is to identify with ourselves when we were at our “best” which is why I needed to establish that what worked at 23 was not transferable at 53. Eventually we got somewhere between the self-loathing and admitting that his presently plump condition needed to change. I gave him some advice, nothing “secret” or “special” and no not even magical. An honest admission will tell you that I wasn’t expecting much, after all he wouldn’t be coming into train with me at all, and I had no control over his behavior especially what he was eating. I was not prepared for what would happen over the next 7 months…

As the weeks progressed so did his line of questioning and I began to see how his curiosity became the lever that needed to be pulled for understanding. The wide lens that he was looking through began to narrow, homing in on what was useful and what was useless. How many calories transitioned into percentage breakdowns of macros, which then quickly turned into how many individual grams of each. The arbitrary training methods with 3 sets of 10 changed into specific training program that corresponded towards a specific objective. A gym was non-existent, neither was a coach or a fancy app to track how many steps were taken, just a daily subscription to pay attention. It must have been difficult, physically taxing and mentally exhausting, I guess his previous Bi-lateral laparoscopic hernia surgery, right knee meniscus surgery, three herniated discs in his lumbar spine, hip replacement and partially torn rotator cuff didn’t get the regularly scheduled email reminder.

It finally became completely apparent to me as this whole experience came full circle. With limited resources and hair follicles he was able to lose 50lbs in 7 months. The hats, the martial arts and everything else was approached in the same exact way. That the pre-requisite to study the “thing” was contingent upon careful consideration and appreciation for all its individual parts. Every link in the chain was strong, yet it is only until one tries to break the chain do we truly feel the weight of each link. While used very loosely and inappropriately today I can’t think of a more appropriate person to have earned the title of Sensei as its literal definition means “one who has been there before.” Maybe this is what he was trying to teach me; That awareness creates the clarity to guide you down the path, maybe I should have paid attention…

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Photo and Video by Andrew Minarik Photography




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