Friday, November 20, 2009

Passing the torch, but keeping the light

One of the recurrent themes in hero based mythology is not just the archtypical journey taken by our main protaganist in search of adventure (and this is a metaphor for examining oneself, but that of the young hero replacing the old. What always follows is a tale riddled with tension and dramatic conflict. Witness King Arthur and Lancelot, Menelaus and Paris in Homer's Troy. Or King Saul and David.

At the heart of this intergenerational warfare is the aspect of an old man who's power and influence is on the wane and there is a young buck rising to challenge the incumbent for the seat of power. It is more or less apparent in the martial arts as well. How many times have we heard ridiculous stories of the Old Master getting more dangerous as he grows older, because his 'chi' or whatever increases proportionately with age

I suspect such tales are generated to secure the position of someone who already knows the plain truth: You will die someday and after peaking, your martial skills are not going to get better. They will only decline as your physical body ages. That's a brutal medical fact

A few weeks ago, I got a taste of this in Malacca when I visited a Judo dojo with a contingent from the Bangsar Judo Club. It quickly became apparent that 40 is not the new 20, or 30 for that matter. The calesthenics blew our best fighter out the water, and he's only 28. Most of us could only look miserably as their young, fit competition fighters did exercise after exercise.

Then when it came to the 'friendly' matches, it quickly became obvious that I was aging too gracefully. After some initial attempts to do judo in a calm, zen sage like way; I realised that this was a recipe for getting my satori butt handed to me in a heartbeat. So I did what any mature adult who has held a responsible managerial position in work did; I unleashed my inner young punk. It worked for a while, except..

I wasn't young anymore

It was as if the ego couldn't take some young whippersnapper intruding in on my territory. Plus, he was making me look bad! No way this old dog was going to roll over and play dead. So, I put my game into overdrive but like most machines when you do that, baaaaaaaad stuff happens

My body knew and wanted to say "No mas!" but my mind refused to accept it. Here's a tip. Mind over matter is B.S. Pretty soon, the body will just say 'Well, fine, you wanna play Mr Macho..I'm not going along for the ride'. And it caves. That's how I fractured my toe.

Of course while the adrenalin was pumping, I was still talking trash worthy of a bratty MTV watching teen. After it stopped..well, the hurt began. And it really hurt. Really.

So I learnt an important lesson that day - you can't stop the tide of time. If you've had a good run, be grateful that you had the chance to do so. It's not your time anymore - it's theirs.

With as much class as possible, accept your new role now as adviser, coach, wise teacher, class comic relief or whatever. Anything except trying to be the World's No.1 bad-ass fighter. That time has pass and you'll never, I repeat - never, get it back again.

And then maybe you'll avoid the nasty endings that befell the various old codgers in mythology who didn't step aside and retire peacefully into the night when the young 'uns came-a-knocking on their door. They either died violently or looked like absolute idiots trying to hold on to power like water in a hand - eventually, it slipped through

I guess in that context, I'm lucky to get away with just a fractured toe :-)

You have to pass the torch to the next generation, but the light that you got from holding that for a while..well, that's inside you now. You can keep that and it's far brighter than the one coming from the torch because this one comes from the Heart

See you on the tatami!