Kingdom of Dust

by Piotr Masztalerz

translated by Isabelle Procner-Michelin



b1270f17d6ead4c02105796b787d0a10„The last thing a client wants is a cure. He doesn’t want to get cured, he wants relief. Eric Berne, one of your great psychiatrists here in the United States, put it very graphically. He suggested you imagine a client who is up to his nose in a cesspool, okay? Yeah, he calls it liquid excrement. And he’s going to the doctor, and you know what he’s saying to him? He’s asking the doctor. „Can you help me keep people from making waves?”
Anthony de Mello

This is a world of dreamers. Of boys playing with wooden sticks, pretending to be knights. A world made up of magic and big words. A world of love, harmony, respect, and many other words that sound nice but most often are void of meaning. This is a world in which you become the good guy. A world in which you are the one fighting with evil, phantoms, zombies, rogue aliens, and Nazis. A world of childish illusions which are cultivated over years and decades. It is both a refuge and a fantasy, where we hide away from the real world.
In reality, we are weighed down by loans, paperwork, insurance, advertisements, and weaknesses. You are not a samurai, just another cog in the machine, an old geezer to your children, a nagging nuisance to your wife.
Nothing is completely black or white. Everything is gray. Nothing is completely good or bad. Every day we make decisions, none of which are perfect-and then we must live with the consequences. We are not as good as we wish we were. We all become poisoned, by small or greater sins. And different shades of gray inevitably creep in.
On the other hand, at the dojo, you can change into white clothes and, for a couple of hours a week, transform into a chubby nymph, skipping around in an idyllic flowery meadow. In those fleeting moments, you are not just another Excel prince, tapping away at a keyboard like a woodpecker caged in one of the millions of anonymous cubicles. You are special, exceptional. I still do not know if and when I should wake my students up.When should I to start treading on their dreams? When should I to grab them by the hair and drag them out of this illusion? If what we do is supposed to make us better people, it is only through consciousness. Or should we create an alternative, fictional world in which grown-ups metamorphose into overgrown children armed with plastic swords, soaring on the wings of some absurd fantasy?

Bam! Bam! „Did I hit you?” „No, because I’m holding an invisible shield!”
This is the nightmarish side effect of the popularity of what we do. Nobody wants to be the King of Excel because there are millions just like them. Everyone wants to wear a black belt, but nobody wants to get hit with a black belt.
We willingly choose to keep living in an illusion. We hold an amazing tool in our hands, yet we never actually put it to use. Practice has a way of stripping it all away. Like it or not, you bring to the mat everything that you’re made of. Only by accepting this and confronting yourself will you have the chance to become free of your burden.
resilience-flower-in-concreteWhen I began to build a permanent dojo, I started the tedious process of eradicating my childish imaginings. Each day, my tolerance for illusion slipped away, irreversibly, mercilessly. After about five years, every last bit was gone. On the inside, the dojo is a living being-imperfect and non-anonymous. I should know how to peddle dreams. For rent money, a new bathroom or toilet paper. For a long time, I even did know how, but I don’t anymore. It is the uchideshi who see this. After a month or two, they come out of their shell and see what I do.
The dojo has two faces. One is a shallow illusion-people who come and train twice a week are on the outside looking in. They roll around for a couple of hours, break a sweat, wipe the kamiza, maybe even vacuum the hall and then they go home.
Uchideshi are like church mice. They live here. They take in this place and the atmosphere with every fiber of their being. They absorb it and it becomes a part of them. And slowly they begin to discover a different world. It doesn’t matter if they clean today; tomorrow they will have to clean the same mess all over again. It’s almost as if chaos were something completely natural. Uchideshi have to deal with leaking toilets and people who don’t know how to wash a coffee mug after themselves or leave the toilet seat clean. They are either too cold or too hot. They are always exhausted, sleepy and sore. On the mat, they have to fight with the „masters”-people who come one or two evenings a week to flaunt their skills and throw some poor, bedraggled uchideshi around.
They slink down the corridor amongst shouting children awaiting their classes. Half dazed, they do their best to conserve strength for the next training, collapsing for a short rest whenever possible. It always results in them stating incredulously:
„These people, they don’t understand anything. They don’t know what really goes on in here, what this place looks like on the inside. They don’t realize what life in the dojo means, or just how little they actually bring here. So they only just experience it from the outside? What kind of sense does that make?”
I look him or her in the eyes and respond: „You’ve been here for a month and you’ve only just noticed this? In a month you’ll be gone and I’ll still be here.”
That’s when they begin to feel indignation. When a relationship is genuine and honest, strong emotions begin to appear. Every day becomes a true experience. Just as a piece of meat or a squash is nourishing food for the body and a cookie is not.
I once asked Chiba Sensei about this. „I can’t understand it. I am sacrificing so much and most of the people don’t even notice this. What they do is merely a shadow of what they are capable of. I just can’t comprehend it.”
„I try to see the good in people,” hereplied, avoiding the point somewhat.. „And be grateful for it.”
This didn’t answer my question, nor did it suit his personality. At that time, I constantly saw Chiba Sensei yelling at us and I wasn’t willing to believe that he was searching for the good inside of me.
Years passed, and one day a young man from Chile sat in front of me on the mat. He had sold everything he had, to be there. Every day he pushed himself past his limits, spending at least six hours on the mat. He had already broken his nose twice and was experiencing knee and back problems. He didn’t have money for a return ticket and was furious at his own exhaustion and limitations. Next to him sat a Polish guy who was about the same age. He hadn’t been at the dojo for practice the week before because he supposedly had to study. But his parents told me that he’d gotten himself a new video game and was playing it for hours each night.
I used to believe that every person possessed the same potential. Now I know that there is a different animal living inside of every person. A lethargic sloth, a ravenous wolf, a timid mouse, or a frenzied Tasmanian devil. I cannot compare a teenager on the path of self-discovery to a weary doctor who shows up for training after delivering six babies. For each of them, Aikido, the dojo, and I are entirely different tools.
I still do not know how Chiba Sensei coped with all of this. He was solemn, yet his words only truly made an impact on the individuals who had put an invisible leash on themselves. We were ready for death. We were a sect, kamikaze. We desired our own blood on our hands. I would return from these months-long trips to Chiba Sensei and hit a brick wall talking to other people. They did not understand me. There was no hope. I was outnumbered. And they were just as right about it all, as I was. Every person is entitled to their own approach. This the beauty and simultaneously the curse of what we do. This is where it all begins and ends: with passion and its role in our life.
A while back, I was giving a lecture about having passion in life to a coaching group. The audience was made up of small company owners and corporate business sharks. In short, people with jobs that I had spent my entire life avoiding. I had been preparing for that speech for a long time, mainly convinced that I didn’t really have much to say—aside, perhaps, from trying to define the act of blindly following what I believed to be true. That was when I realized that passion and dreams are completely different from one another. Passion is a curse, because you discover who you really are. Dreams are an escape from what you don’t want to do and yet find yourself doing. The worst thing students can do to themselves is to chase their dreams, in an attempt to evade real life. This behavior is agonizing for me, their families, and them. Dreams are an escape from real- life problems. Passion, on the other hand, is inescapable. It is a curse which can destroy your life, your family, and relationships with other people. Passion and obsession are closely related.
Most of the people who followed Chiba Sensei as uchideshi around the world did not have strong ties with their families. We were not married, didn’t have children. We didn’t have homes or anything to call our own. This didn’t matter to us because we were exactly where we wanted to be. We have all settled down now and have families. We’ve found our place in the world. There is a time for that, too. There is a time for being a student and a time for being a teacher. Blessed are those who found the right teacher at the right time, who understood and made use of that.

(an excerpt from Kingdom of Dust by Piotr Masztalerz)