On Teamwork

This post will seek to cover some of the merits of teamwork, which seems like a lofty goal.  The subject of not going it alone is so broad and so critically important that it’s hard to even touch on it and do it well.  I’m tempted to leave it here by saying:  Make sure you have a team.  Period.  Full stop.  ‘Nuff said, kind of thing.

But because it is so important, I’ll attempt a few words on why we cannot afford to do this martial arts journey — or any other worthwhile endeavor in life — without a team at our backs.

My thoughts are swirling this nucleus this morning because last night was our dojo’s annual student appreciation BBQ.  We met at a local park, braved ferocious winds, and chilly temperatures, and huddled in our jackets in order to come together outside of class.  I stood alone in the crowd for a few minutes, internally smiling, an introvert moment, just watching the mingling.  Over on the side, in an open area of the park, the teenage boys were engaged in a football scrimmage; the girls were talking around a park bench and watching the boys; the adults were feeding toddlers, manning the grill, and trying to keep all the loose plates and cups from blowing away.  Individuals were difficult to pick out underneath the layers of coats and hats, especially when it’s the first time I’ve seen some of them wearing street clothes rather than a gi.

These are a few defining moments in my life when I think, These are my people.  It happens with my book club, with a handful of close friends, definitely with my immediate family, spouse, kids…  And it happened last night with my martial arts team.

These are my people.  These are the people I train with, sweat with, mess up in front of, struggle through warm-ups and bag drills with.  That’s the guy who taught me the importance of breathing with full lung capacity; that’s the one who always wins when we go head to head in sparring; she’s the girl I would like to have on my side, no matter the circumstance.  This one here has the tendency to tear up under pressure, but still keeps coming back for more.  That one rarely smiles, which makes it all the more a victory when I cause one to flash across his face.  And that one over there, the smallest guy in the group, is the one who is always chosen to work with new people because of his incredible patience.  I know which ones are my favorites to partner with and which ones don’t have enough personal control yet for me to be comfortable rolling with them. I have seen them at their best and maybe even at their worst, coming through a difficult test or a sparring session.  I’ve seen them with injuries, I’ve seen them giving each other high fives, I’ve seen them multiple times a week for the past few years.  These are my people.

We cannot afford to go it alone.

I need this group to inspire me, to challenge me, to keep me coming back for more.  I need them to show me technical moves, to make me laugh when I just want to quit, to remind me that this martial arts pursuit is as social as it is individual.

Large parts of what make up my martial art are solitary.  I am not in competition with anyone else, I progress at my own pace, I don’t have to put anyone down in order to rise. And yet, as the backdrop of all those single accomplishments, there is a group, my team, providing the camaraderie and the support necessary to master the craft.

Don’t go it alone.  Find a team.  Invest in them.  Struggle, sweat, laugh, and train with them until they become your people.


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