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Sunday with Sensei's Journal

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Weekly Reflections on the Traditional Martial Arts
from Hanshi Tony Annesi © 2017

Why I Dislike Surprises

While it is appropriate to train in a way that recognizes the need for a well-fitted hate-helmet, the civilian martial artist must also train in a way that allows him a utility belt of options from helmet to bandana to light perspiration. As important as is owning a hate-helmet is managing the state of surprise.

As a young martial artist, in trying to manage my emotional states like a good samurai, I disappointed a couple of friends who had traveled a few hours to surprise me with a visit. I welcomed them, but had not appeared surprised.

For several years, students would plan to surprise me with a gift for our dojo-anniversary-cum-my-birthday party even though I had explained to several of them that I did not like surprises. More times than not, they had presented me with something I did not especially like and thus had to phony-up my response in order to express the fact that it was their thought that really mattered to me. They saw through the less-than-enthusiastic acceptance and, in planning future gifts, learned to ask for a list of things that might please me. Some however felt I was a buzz-kill. I assume that was because they missed the thrill of my being surprised. No one ever asked me why I didn’t like surprises.

When I was a kid, since my birthday occurred a couple of weeks after Christmas, two of my aunts would get together to buy me a holiday-birthday gift, thus saving themselves money, time, and the effort of figuring out what you get a 10-year-old. I guess they figured that my math skills were still developing because never was the gift as valuable as four smaller gifts would have been. I got a large model gas station instead of the Edgar Allan Poe or Robert Louis Stevenson anthologies I would have asked for. Worse, it was the second gas station in two years. They probably had confused me with my cousin (also an Anthony) who was 2 years younger. I guess they wanted to surprise me with the cost and size of the item, but not having asked what I would have wanted, the surprise felt like more of an insult. Not only would I not be able to read The Purloined Letter and Kidnapped, but I would also have to trip over the pressboard gas station on my way to my bedroom closet. Why had they not simply asked what I might enjoy receiving? Because they wanted to surprise me! Seeing me surprised had been more valuable to them than seeing me pleased sans surprise.

When I am surprised, occasionally I am also pleased and the surprise has no negative consequences, but often when surprised I feel I have to react in a way that is both disingenuous and has to be mustered up without preparation.

Do you remember when a boy/girlfriend broke up with you? If you had a chance to discuss the issues, work on the problems, and try to find a mutually acceptable denouement, it was much easier to deal with the eventual separation. In fact, I still consider several past partners as friends because our separations happened without a sudden single surprise. Conversely, the break-ups that manifested suddenly left large emotional scars. Those “partners” had used surprise to skew everything their way, so that for me there would be no negotiation, no discussion, and no way out.

Certainly surprises can be good, fun, enjoyable, but if I were to choose, I would prefer no surprises, thank you. Too often, the very shock of the surprise feels negative to me. Surprises too often feel like attacks.

Why is it that sudden physical or even psychological pains are considered “attacks”? If you suffer a “panic attack”, even though there is no Mr. Panic actually attacking, you feel helpless and debilitated because the feeling came out of nowhere—that is, it was a surprise.

As civilian martial artists, we train to react to sudden single attacks, many of which could be sneaky, egregious, nasty actions meant to debilitate us by catching us unaware. So shouldn’t I be able to deal with surprises by now?
More on this subject next time.

Aiki DVDs, Karate DVDs, Sogo Budo DVDs

Hanshi Tony Annesi

• Advisory council, Nippon Kobudo Renmei (NKR)

• Steering Committee, International Society of Okinawan/Japanese Karate-do

• Member of 3 Martial Arts Halls of Fame

A martial artist since 1964

9th dan, Takeshin Aiki

Aiki DVDs, Karate DVDs, Sogo Budo DVDs

8th dan, Takeshin Karate

6th Dan, Shotokan Karate

2nd dan, Judo

Hanshi, International Society of Okinawan/Japanese Karate-do

ISOK Hanshi

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