Interesting Variation on “Chop Wood Carry Water”


I recently looked through my posts and noticed that I had a draft post that i started writing in 2009, shortly after my friend Linda Eskin took her 6th kyu test (LInda is now 2nd kyu).  It had to do with a conversation between her and myself.  The context was right after her test and the question was essentially “well now what do I do?”

I had a nice online conversation today with Linda Eskin. She is a friend on twitter and facebook and she just took her 6th kyu test today. you can view it here:

linda eskin 10:40 PM
Aaughh… Yeah. That’s the hard part.
mark anthony de souza 10:40 PM
you’ve heard the story about chop wood/carry water?
linda eskin 10:40 PM
I’m really good at knowing how things are “supposed” to be.
I know the book title… not sure about the story. Short enough to share?
mark anthony de souza 10:42 PM
sure… basically, a young monk asks what types of things he needs to do whilee he works on attaining enlightenment. The abbot says, “chop wood, carry water.” He asks the abbot, “well what about after I attain it?” The abbot responds, “chop wood, carry water.”
linda eskin 10:43 PM
Love it.
Feed donkeys, water trees, around here.
mark anthony de souza 10:43 PM
so… you will do shiho nage as 6th kyu. You will do shiho nage as 1st kyu. You will also do it when you are 4th dan, or shihan.
linda eskin 10:43 PM
mark anthony de souza 10:44 PM
it may change, it may improve, it may give you insight to other techniques, but there’s never going to be a time where you aren’t going to do it as you go about your practice.
so, the “long way to go”… i would hope you have a long way to go. If you don’t have a long way to go, then your time is coming up.

This is relevant to me today for a couple of reasons.  Last month I took my shodan test and kind of had that same “so now what do I do?” question.  We trained hard the prior couple of months both physically and mentally to take our tests and then… it was over.  “So now what do I do?”  The answer is simply, train.  Katate tori ikkyo, ryote dori tenshi nage, taino henko, kokyo dosa.  Train.  Train in the spirit of Aiki.  Train softly, train hard, help those less experienced, learn from those more experienced, learn from those less experienced, help those more experienced.  So I got that.  And I can do that.  And I’m happy to do that.

Unfortunately, the reason I wanted to finish writing this is not for the above reason.  I said I had “a couple of reasons”.  Reason number 2… well, kinda sucks.  Over the weekend I hurt my knee.  I don’t know how I did it but it started really bothering my Saturday after morning class.  We didn’t do anything two strenuous.  It was a light weapons class.  But somewhere between class, Target and Pier 1, my knee got blown out.  This is the same kind of pain I felt when my knee was at my worst.  This was the same pain I had that made me hobble instead of walk.

The significance of this is kind of tragic.  I worked really hard for a year, (yep… it was a year since March of 2011) to overcome pretty much the same type of pain I’m now experiencing.  Physical therapy, stretching, exercises that I was told to perform everyday.  I got to the point where I was virtually pain free for the last 2 or 3 months.  I was able to take my test, and felt that I performed gracefully.  Sensei told me that of the things he liked watching, was my knee work, Probably not because I moved like a big stocky gazelle, but more because he knew what I went through and saw the progress I made.

But, that all got erased.  The wood that I chopped fell off and rolled hither and thither to the bottom of the hill, and the water I carried, well… spilled as I dropped the wood.  This was a big pile too.  And I had a lot of water… So, I guess I have two choices. I can belly ache about this, or I can simply rest a couple of days, and then start all over again.   I think that the point being is I can choose.  I can choose to be attached to my helplessness, or I can choose to say that this is something that happened and I will need to address it.  So, stretching, physical therapy exercises, being easy on myself.

So this is kind of how I process.  I have two ideals I put forth.  Venting/writing/processing about this, putting this out there for the world (or the 2 or 3 readers… cmon, who do I think I am… ) to read, kind of holds me accountable in a sense.  But more so, it just let’s me examine my thoughts in a public and open way.

I’m not quite sure what I am going to do.  I know the choices laid out in front of me.  Yesterday I chose to wallow.  Today, I’m choosing to write/process/write/process.  I think that that is ok.  I think that it’s ok to realize that I have choices.  Yesterday, not so much.  Today, maybe a little bit more so.  Tomorrow?  Hopefully, one day I’ll get to the point where  I can not look at something and say, “this is good” or “this is bad”.  One day I would like to get to where I can simply say “this happened and I need to do something about it.”  I’m not there yet.  But by understanding my choices I am closer.  So, progress, not perfection is a good thing.


2 Comments Add yours

  1. “Progress, not perfection, is a good thing.”

    Feel better.

  2. Rob Appelman says:

    Mark, thanks for this story. I didn’t know the story of the chopping and the carrying, nice one to remember. Sorry to hear your knee went bad (again), there is one advantage over last time, at least now you what’s coming. Rest, exercise and stretch.
    I’m sure you’ll make the right choice.

    Take it slow and heal well

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