The Archer

A long time ago when I learned martial arts my master used to use stories to teach me lessons. Some people might see it as sappy but, I loved them. More than that though, I remembered the lessons that each story was about. Years later when I taught martial arts I also told my students these stories. Now I will say that I most likely did not get them exactly, word for word the same and may have added a wee bit of flourish and my own style to them. The lessons though stayed the same.

So the other night I was going through and sorting some old documents on my system and I came across the lesson of the archer. It is a detailed account of all the work it takes to make a bow and then the work to make each arrow and fletch it. The point of it is to emphasize the amount of preparation so it is wordy and long and I will not rewrite it here so you don’t fall asleep on me. After all that preparation in making the bow and the arrows it talks about the process of shooting an arrow, the allowing the breath to escape as you aim until you are fully calm and steady and then you loose the arrow.  Then you don’t sit there and watch it go because there is nothing you can do once it is fired. You grab another arrow and shoot that or the enemy army will just run up and then you are kind of screwed cause, you know, you got a bow and not a sword.

The point was to teach students that once they throw a kick or a punch in a competition to not focus on it. If the kick sucked, it’s ok. If the punch failed, don’t worry about it, move on. The time you spend fussing over the botched kick or punch is the time that you should be continuing the fight and the time the opponent will use to beat your ass because you aren’t paying attention.

Then it hit me. This lesson that I was taught over 30 years ago and I had memorized to such a point that I was able to bore many sets of students with its retelling over and over, was a lesson I never thought to put outside the context of martial arts and yet, it is the exact lesson I needed to hear.

Sometimes when I write I get caught up in my own wordiness and try and get a turn of phrase just right or a description just perfect on the first draft. I can get bogged down on it and it just stops my flow of thought. That section consumes my thoughts and getting it perfect becomes more important than getting it down on paper. I need to let it go. I need to let the words fly and then grab the next handful of them and toss em at the screen and keep writing. Editing and second drafts are the times to fuss over exactness. First drafts are the fight, the kicks and punches you just keep throwing and striving to make the next better than the last. You get it done and worry about the clean up later.

It is humbling to realize that the solution was in my head and I never stood back far enough to see how it fit into other aspects of my life. I’ve known what I needed to do for over 30 years and I swear I could hear my master’s voice saying “duh” when I finally figured it out.

I can be kinda slow that way sometimes.

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