The Obstacle Course A True Fable

By Joe Maurantonio

A long time ago, there was a young man who was deeply commited to his martial training. So dedicated in fact, that after leaving his city home, he travelled thousands of miles, and began life anew in the manner of the warriors of old. His mentors sought to teach him how to hone his body, perfect his skill, develop his breathing and provide him with the insight to live in accord with the grand scheme of things...

Now, this may sound like a fable, Little Ones. But it's all true, your uncle was there and I saw this with mine own weary eyes. I was young at the time, and oh how my eyes were sharp. And though it was long ago, I can see it in my mind like it was yesterday. It's all so clear...

The angry thicket was scratching his arms to shreds as he ran through the forest on that hot summer day. The temperature was so warm that the teacher provided the students with lots of breaks to practice proper breathing and time to drink fluids; something he rarely made time for in the daily training.

Well, our Young One -who was a friend of your uncle- he kept on trying his hardest to maneuver through the thicket so as not to get terribly scratched up. There were others he was running with and they too were getting srcatched. What were they to do? Their mentors had told them to run through the thicket by moving left to right, right to left and dodging the thorns as they made their way to the other side of the grove without getting cut up. "It can be done," the most skilled of their mentors told them. And if he said it, then they knew it COULD be done. All they had to do was put their hearts and minds into the spirit of the lesson.

So, your uncle's young friend ran, dodged, and shuffled through the grove trying to escape unscathed. But it wasn't happening. In the three times he'd been through the area he'd managed to mark up his inner and outer forearms quite nicely. Oh, I'm sure it hurt Little Ones, and I can remember that there was a bit of blood dripping down his arms, too. It didn't seem to discourage him though. He knew that there was a way through the grove in which the thicket could be by-passed and it was only his own limited thinking that was stopping him from protecting his forearms. The mentor addressed the group again. "You're all fighting your way through the thicket and getting scatched up to boot. There's a lesson here. Some of you are faster than the others but that just seems to be getting you cut up all the more. There's a mystery here, a riddle of sorts. And the answer lies in the fact that nature isn't something you fight. You have to move with it."

My city-grown friend knew that there was a bit of power in the words his mentor was saying; there was a secret to unlock. And he knew that the secret lay on the surface of his own thoughts. It was easy, so easy that they were all missing it. So, --and I remember this clearly because he and I talked about it afterwards, Little Ones-- he closed his eyes, let his mind focus on the thicket's thorns, let his mind see them very clearly and watched himself traveling through the thickets as his mind played out the scene. And then --and this is the good part, Little Ones-- he let it all go. No worry, no chastising himself, no trying to look good in front of his training partners or trying to prove to his teacher that he was worthy. His head had been so full of TRYING to do his task that it couldn't simply do what it knew.

As he opened his eyes --there was an answer in them I can tell you-- it was like he was waking up from a dream. Like the first time a little child eats cotton candy at a county fair. [What do you mean, "What is a county fair?" They no longer have these things? Ah, what the world has come to my little ones, what the world has forgotten. A county fair is a place where games of chance are played, a variety of flavor-filled foods are sampled, scary rides are enjoyed and where family share the joy of wonder. But I will tell you tales of this another time. Let us finish the story of the "city-boy."]

He knelt down on one knee, and pulled forth from his hip pack a few pieces of leather that he carried when training out in the forests by the river, where this thicket lay. He cut the right arm off the jacket that he was wearing, cut the sleeve open and stabbed three holes into the cloth and placed the middle three fingers of his right hand through these holes. Then he wrapped the cloth around his right hand, behind his knuckles and over his wrist and forearm. It covered the area from his knuckles to elbow. The rest of his arm was protected by his heavy short-sleeved shirt which lay beneath the jacket. My city-friend wrapped the leather around his hand once, then around the wrist and tied it about his forearm once.

Well, your uncle noticed his friend doing all this redecorating work about the arm, and I can remember thinking to myself how silly it looked, and -- boy, were the others gonna make fun of him. Yeah, he could see a few of them smirking already. But it was time for another go at running the thicket and there was no time to think about how silly anyone looked. There was a lesson to learn and WELL, we were gonna learn it if it killed each and every one of us. But it didn't kill anyone, lads and ladies; you know Uncle wouldn't tell a story without a proper ending.

As we're moving through the thicket, going as fast as we can I see a figure on my side bolt past me... and you know who it was? My friend, the city-boy! Oh, he wasn't much faster than your old uncle was, but that day he was moving his shoulders from side to side, letting one make way for the other . You know, Little Ones, come to think about it I seem to think that the thicket looked almost like it was parting before him, making way for his run. When I made it to the other side of the groove I looked at the few others that had made it there before me. There was our mentor, two others and city-boy, who stood there looking back at the grove.

Funny, he wasn't smiling at all. Just stood there staring at the thicket plants. Seemed like he was all ready to make the return trip through to our starting side. I looked at his "decorated arm" and there was some thorns sticking into the cloth. I remember thinking, "that isn't so funny now that I want to do it." I nodded his way and he nodded back. "Almost ready for the return trip?" You know something, Little Ones? He wasn't breathing too heavy either. Now, your uncle here was breathing a little harder than normal. But I'm not ashamed to say that because there were lots of our friends that were breathing much harder then me. But it was the fact that my city-boy friend was all calm. Guess that was bothering me a little bit.

Then the time came and we ran back through to where we'd started from, where our water and food was stored. Well, I have to be honest and tell you all that I took a foot or two head start over my friend. I wasn't cheating or nothing, I just wanted to get there fast and maybe have a chance to watch what was going on from the other side as everybody came out of the thicket after me. But it didn't happen that way. As I was midway through the grove, my buddy came boltin' by me, less than a foot away; scared the heck out of me. His shoulders were dancing side to side as he went through, around, over and between the thorny plants. His right hand kept shooting low and forward to help part his path.

When we got to the other side he was breathing a little heavy and looking like he was gonna crack a smile. I knew what he was thinking though. Cause your old uncle had thought it a thousand times, too. He was thinking, "I can do this. I have finally done something right. Maybe, I can make it through the training." See, somedays you doubt your own abilities and it takes a good day like this to remind you that everything is possible if you have the will.

So, we all stretched out for a bit to make sure our muscles wouldn't be cranky and tight the next day. And as we did, our mentor gave us a little talking-to. He told us we ought to practice relaxing more as we were running. Thinking less and making our bodies move according to nature. Said we ought to "adapt" to the land around us. "Look at him... he's got the idea of what I'm trying to teach you," our mentor said pointing out my friend (with the stuff wrapped around his right arm). "And he's a city-born-and-bred lad. What's wrong with you country folk?"

As we was all sitting there drinking our water and peeling our fruit, I remember looking up at my city-friend and seeing him staring at the thicket while biting into a bit of dried papaya. I walked up to him and said, "Good job." And he turned to me and smiled. "Thanks. Think we're gonna run it again?" And, if I remember correctly, we did.

Uncle's Point: Well, your Uncle here just wanted to add that there was a point to this story here and in case you missed it, he wants to make sure that you don't walk away with out the "secrets." First off, things ain't as hard as they seem. They are only as hard as we make them. Second lesson is that you have to learn to relax, 'cause when you do, everything becomes easier. And finally, number three, don't be so hard on yourself. We all have good days and bad. Remember both but don't put too much weight to either. Just keep training and growing. Okay, now off to bed with you.