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July 5, 2024

I Have Always Wanted to Play the Harp

Nick Mavrick

I Have Always Wanted to Play the Harp

“I’ve always wanted to play the harp.”

I don’t think that it matters what comes after “I’ve always want to…” I don’t think that it matters at what point in your life that you say it, either. Young or old, it should be a sign what your next move is

It seems to me that “I’ve always wanted to…” has this wistful nostalgia attached to it, until it’s too late. Then it has all of the desperation of the two-minute warning of a football game that — mathematically speaking — is just out of reach. I know that I don’t want the final chapter of my life to be filled with “I wish that I would have’s.”

“Time to take a lesson,” I say. “Getting better every day in one way or another is what human existence is all about…I think.”

Image: Collin Perryman.

As I batter down the door to Middle Age, and as my body begins to fail me (I sometimes ask unreasonable things of it), something else happens. My mental acuity and the wisdom of my accumulated experiences [read: mistakes] go up in yet another of life’s hilariously anachronistic and ironic trade-offs.

I see benefit, though. It’s evident everywhere in my life but pronounced in my Jiu Jitsu training. Mental mastery is physical mastery. It may just not take your preferred form, but it will be the right form.

Nearly a decade ago, I relied very heavily on the confidence instilled in me through years of traditional martial arts training — most of which proved largely inapplicable. I also relied on quickness (which fades) and force. 

Not The Force. That would have been awesome, though.

I relied heavily on physical attributes that I perceived in myself, and this slowed down my progress in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. I didn’t learn proper body positioning, timing, finesse or the iron-clad techniques stressed and pressed by the coaches and professors whose cumulative experiences I could not assimilate. My understanding of conceptual Jiu Jitsu suffered because of my fear.

[The Five Spirits of Japanese Budo]

Image: Collin Perryman.

Oh, I wasn’t afraid to get on the mat and roll with someone who I knew was much better than I was. I refused to let anyone think that I wasn’t at least game for a beating.

I was afraid to feel stupid. I was afraid to be bad at something for a while before I started to get good at it. I was afraid that people would judge me. I was afraid to ask for help, to look vulnerable. I was afraid that I might give it my best effort and still not be good at it.

When my life started to fall apart off the mats, I was forced to be uncomfortable. I was forced to do things that hurt me in order to do right by others. I had to admit things to myself that didn’t feel very good, but ultimately it saved me. I had to walk through the worst to get to the best.

Then I got free of those things. Life got better. I realized that pain was the way to growth. It became so clear to me that I must go through what feels like humiliation; through shame; through a whole lot of uncomfortable shit to get to a place of true, redemptive improvement.

Then I realized that this principle extends to all parts of my life…particularly on the mats.

[The Truth About Failure]

I had to break myself of feeling embarrassed or like I somehow missed a whole section of Fundamentals. It felt like there were gaping holes in my game because there were. (Not that I’ve closed them all now.) I had to admit to myself that the best place for me for a while was back in beginners’ classes.

Image: Collin Perryman.

I still did advanced class, too, but I started hitting one or two Fundamentals a week and the holes started to shrink. I admitted to myself and anyone who cared to hear about it that I had to take it back to the drawing board. 

You know who judged me? You know who even gave it a second glance or a moment’s thought? Nobody. Not one person.  

Being horrible at something is good for us. Approaching a task with humility and drive and focus (sometimes forcibly renewed focus) keeps us vital. Striving for improvement keeps us young. Struggle feeds our spirits.

It was my mom who lamented via text message her persistent inability to play the harp.

I will encourage her to get out there and make that wistful intention an actuality before it has a chance to become a regret…but only because she won’t try Jiu Jitsu.

The Mindset Problem


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