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Our Only Opponent

Everyone serves as an example to others, or an excuse for others, at all times. As martial artists, we are actively sharpening each other, helping each other face our fears, and pulling out the best from one another. When every student approaches the training floor with this understanding, they cannot help but be their best. When they face each other, bow, and kumite, the only opponent we face is ourselves.


Society encourages us to obsess about status, and it defines status exclusively in relation to other people. We want to have the highest salary at work. If our neighbor’s TV is 50 inches, ours needs to be 55 inches. Social media is an endless fray of comparing our lives to the lives of others – and we better be more #blessed than the next person. In an environment like this, it is almost impossible not to internalize the idea that progress in life lies in superiority to others.


In Tumfo Tu, we only consider progress to be growth if we are better than our previous selves. The only opponent we face on the training floor is ourselves – our thoughts, our fears, and perhaps most of all, our own egos. The ego is gratified whenever we land a blow and can revel in success. Our egos thrive on believing we have advanced in the pecking order of life. Conversely, when we feel like we have failed, our egos amplify the weight of defeat. When we get hit, we are rushed by frustrations over not being as competent as we thought we were. The blow causes pain, but the physical pain is usually not as powerful as the pain our egos feel. Physical bruises heal in days, but a bruise to our ego, if properly nursed, can last a lifetime.


Success and failure are everything when we measure our humanity against other people. Every success validates us, and we are encouraged to run from failure. An ego-centric concept of progress precludes the possibility of actual progress. Actual progress is rooted in understanding that our task is not to be better than other people but rather to know ourselves. When we learn how to be ourselves, we learn how to express ourselves, and that expression is free and powerful. Every experience that brings us closer to meeting ourselves and facing ourselves is a growing opportunity. From this mindset, success and failure are really the same thing: an experience for us to enjoy.


We are all our own most formidable opponent. Try, just for a day, to be perfect. Every move you make, make it perfectly. Form your foot correctly when you take a step and make sure your foot falls exactly where you meant it to. Drive perfectly on the way to work. Make sure every word you speak is a genuine response rather than a rash reaction. As soon as you fail, note how you feel. Did your body tense up with frustration? Or did your breathing relax with acceptance? When we operate in ego, we brace ourselves for failure. In Tumfo Tu, we have a saying: knowing is doing. When we don’t know ourselves, we can only fall back on ego. When we know ourselves, all we can do is express who we truly are.

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