Adrift with Amnesia (A Break From Training)

After several years of doing martial arts as many days a week as I could, I stopped. I stopped for several reasons, not the least of which was that my teacher moved his school to the other side of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge and, without reliable transportation, it was increasingly difficult to get to class. I also stopped to pursue my education and, frankly, I needed a break. My teacher was larger than life and his presence was, at times, overwhelming. I was young and trying to figure out who I was. There was a part of me who needed to do that away from him. I loved him and respected him enough to tell him that I was taking a break and that I did not know how long I would be gone. The break lasted more than five years.

It would be easy to feel regret about lost time, in both training and friendship, but those are not feelings I entertain, at least not with regards to this. It was necessary. The strange thing about those five plus years, however, is that I do not really remember who I was. I know what I did, who I was with, and the places I went, but I do not recognize the person who I was during that time. It is as if it was not me. It is as if I was sleepwalking, like I was living in a daydreamy haze and could not wake up. I was lost in the woods and am still trying to find my way back to the path I was on prior to that hiatus.

Martial art training, for me, has always been more than simply a physical pastime. It added a sense of purpose to my life. It allowed me to dedicate myself to something outside of myself, something bigger than myself. My hiatus was almost entirely selfish and, while I did a lot of fun and interesting things, it lacked purpose and focus. It was all about me and something was missing. Walking into the dojang (Korean training hall) always had a re-centering effect for me and, with only one or two notable exceptions, I have never left training feeling worse than when I walked in the door. Taking that away from myself left me adrift on open seas with no paddle and no compass. At the end of my break, I was alone and confused, as if I had just woken up from a coma. When I walked back into the dojang, I felt at home, like I knew who I was again and where I was supposed to be.

 Robert Van Valkenburgh is co-founder of Kogen Dojo where he teaches Taikyoku Budo and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

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