A Sharp Sting
Sparring is a part of a life in the dojo. To the shugyosha it becomes second nature to test his skills with an opponent in a controlled environment, letting his bruises mark next weeks lessons in improvements. When we face our senior, the shodan or above, the infamous black belt, we expect that the senior might take certain liberties with the rules of sparring in order to give lessons not provided by the usual sparring session.
After a long session of sparring, many years ago, I traded partners and ended up sparring with a black belt. I was very fatigued at this point and had trouble maintaining a proper guard. He repeatedly warned me to raise my hands. Just in time I would block the punches that were launched at my shoulders. Again the warning would come. Again I would agree, but fatigue countered. Finally the black belt had seen enough. Faking to the side and waiting for me to inhale, he struck me squarely on the forehead, followed by the words, "I said, keep your hands up."
There are those who feel victimized by this sort of treatment and turn inwards, not learning the valuable lesson. Others know that practice prepares us for a time when our life may be on the line and second chances are not an option. A sharp sting on the forehead may be what it takes to keep the hands up no matter how bad the lungs are burning, how full the legs are with lead, and the mind whispers to give in. I never let my hands down again.
And now, after many months off the goban, I am ready to begin again, stone against stone. There will be many losses. What I can be sure of is that there will be a sharp sting, a lesson that, while it may hurt, will serve a greater purpose. The teachers are gracious in there punishment. Most will show us the lessons in our failure. We are all just fellow shugyosha on the path.