Black Belt and Writing

I’ve written about writing and martial arts before. I’m rather fond of the Writer as Martial Artist post I did at SF Novelists almost three years ago, where I proposed a belt ranking system for authors.

This past weekend, I received my shodan (black belt) in Sanchin-Ryu during our weekend retreat/workshop. There was the requisite joking about learning the secret boot-to-the-head technique and mastering the way of the ninja, but in many ways, this feels like a beginning. I am not in any way prepared to go toe-to-toe with Jet Li or anything like that. But after 4+ years of study and practice, I feel like I’ve established a foundation.

I feel a lot like I did when Goblin Quest came out from DAW, actually. On the one hand, having a novel out from a major publisher was a goal I’d been working toward for a long time, and it felt awesome to have arrived. On the other, once that first book comes out, you start to realize just how much more there is to learn and how much more work awaits.

Rewarding work. Exciting work. But work nonetheless.

Last night I entered my regular dojo wearing a black gi and belt for the first time, and it was different. A little intimidating. A little overwhelming. I’ve instructed groups before, but last night there were more questions, more bows, and in my own mind, more pressure. At one point I was tempted to say to a brown-belt friend, “You realize I’m the same guy I was a week ago, right? I don’t suddenly have all the answers or anything like that.”

It’s very much like having that first book show up in the bookstores. People treat you differently, even though you’re the same writer you were before. You still mess up. You still crumple up drafts and start over. You still get stuck.

As a kid, I never considered the “art” piece of martial arts. I didn’t get it. But there are so many parallels between writing and Sanchin-Ryu, and each one has given me a great deal of insight and understanding into the other.

I wonder if this is one reason so many of my writer friends study martial arts. Writing tends to be a sedentary occupation, so it’s important to have something that gets you out of the chair and makes you move. But for those authors/martial artists reading this, do you also find a resonance between the two? I feel like my study of Sanchin-Ryu complements my study of writing, and vice versa.

Neither a black belt nor a published novel suddenly change who you are. I still go to classes and practice at home when I can; I still buckle down every day during my lunch break to work on the book. But both belt and book represent a next step, and sometimes it’s important to stop to recognize how far we’ve come … and how much farther we have to go.

As with that first book, I feel like shodan needs an acknowledgments section. I’ve received a tremendous amount of help and support from Master Cataline and the other masters and senseis who’ve given me so much of their time and attention. I’m also grateful to all of the other Sanchinkas (students) I’ve trained with. And finally, thanks to my family for their support, especially as we struggle to sort out our various busy schedules.

In closing, I’d like to share one of the most important lessons I’ve learned: both promotions and publications are best celebrated with ice cream.