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Sweep the Floor
Sifu David Lumsden on Discipline
© 2012 David Lumsden
Editorial Note: I have been astonished over the years to note that few martial arts and boxing programs require the students or fighters to clean their training area. In the early 1960s this is why Casius Clay stopped training with Archie Moore; because Clay was too good to sweep the floor, and Moore did not want to train a man without character. Today nearly every martial artist I know is a Clay; a super fighter too good to maintain his training space. The exception in my circle is the fighters at Sifu Tom Clark’s Practical MMA; a man introduced to me by David, the author of the piece below. So I emailed David and asked him for this article. David now has the honor of possessing the most anachronistic opinion on this site.
-James laFond, 12/28/12
Sweep the Floor
The first time I saw my karate instructor I was in awe. There was a gentleness that masked an overwhelming resolve and veiled an expert display of martial technique. He had an emotional strength that was comparable to his physical attributes.
Although quite the traditionalist, Sensei Steve Remsky was a also a fighter in every sense of the word. He was an educator in the martial way. I knew he would train me to be a functional and practical fighter. At the naïve age of seven, however, I had no idea that he would give to me the greatest attribute of all. This is the attribute of discipline.
“Sweep the floor.”
Those were the words for the white belts from our master. It seemed funny to me that either myself or my brothers were always the students that were sweeping the floor. I used to think this was just some game he was playing with us to be difficult. He was being the dragon to his tigers and somehow we were supposed to find the pearl through this simple task.
Sensei would politely ask, “David, would you sweep the floor?”
Like my brothers I assumed this responsibility as any neophyte would. It was always with a certain degree of fear and an immense amount of respect. Yet, I remember cherishing the day that the other “new” students would assume this task. Hmmm, “this task?”
Well, the belt colors changed and the time passed. Yet, somehow I was still the one sweeping the floor. Sensei seemed to have his select few that were given this mundane and simple chore. A good majority of the time the floor was fine and did not require cleaning. Like the others, however, I did not question my Sensei, but I often wondered in self-doubt whether I was doing something wrong. Why was I always the one sweeping the floor?
Like most masters who always know more than they divulge, Sensei allowed this exercise in discipline to continue. I was forever chasing the pearl and just sweeping it away with a dirty old broom. I just did not know it at the time.
Thirty years later I now understand the broom, the pearl and the act of sweeping the floor. How wonderfully interesting it is that the martial arts can offer the practitioner so much that we often do not see it till much later in life. As students we often miss the developmental process when we seem to be lost in such meaningless tasks as sweeping the floor. Sometimes we forget to just live in the moment.
Fr. Tom, a priest at Archbishop Curley once said, “If you can’t do the simple things in life how can you ever be expected to do the hard things.”
The good father was referring to picking up a piece of trash at the time, but I remember that statement even today. If you cannot do the simple things how can you ever be capable of conquering the difficult tasks that emerge throughout your personal life’s journey? It seems that the good father and my Sensei knew so much and were indeed wise men.
As an educator, coach, physician and martial arts student and instructor I often consider this the greatest lesson and the one of most importance. I know I would never have become the person I am had it not been for my Sensei and his lesson in discipline.
Even as a senior student I still assumed the responsibility of sweeping the floor. I don’t know why I did…it just seemed to be the thing to do. Sensei no longer even asked; nor did I question.
Now I am a teacher in one form or another. I try to remain a tiger in search of the pearl with everything I do. In so doing, I honor my teacher by transferring his dragon ways to my students. And now they teach me. And yes I still sweep the floor.
I am steadfast in my belief that students, particularly children and adolescents are begging for discipline. Discipline is love. It is caring. It is the dragon becoming the tiger all over again. It is forgetting about the pearl to better understand our path and journey…and to more easily catch the pearl. It is just living the moment and ultimately being just like water.
Discipline is a focus but a free open mind towards our own development. It is a self-discovery of your ego, your limits, your abilities and your inner “self.” You have to be free of ego and open to do this. It is doing the simple things with all your heart, mind and soul. It is doing what is right when the right thing to do is ever so difficult. Discipline is about doing the little things like bending over to pick up a piece of trash, or saying “thank you,” or making that extra effort, whether in training to fight, or for a simple benign task.
Without question it is cliché, but the martial arts are magical in the development of a person becoming a better person…of becoming so simply human. It is no surprise that discipline as an attribute is displayed in a quiet calm by so many good people…by so many truly human people. A warrior is disciplined in every action, thought, and motive.
Like many others I have trained with great instructors. Although the martial arts do not have a monopoly on teaching self-discipline, the principles of martial philosophy transcend to everyday life. Thus, it is not unusual to see this confident discipline displayed by so many trained martial artists. They seem to always be at peace with themselves and whatever they are doing, even if it is a simple task as sweeping the floor. Like a child they are living in the moment, of no mind, but of all mind. This is true discipline. It is a mind so open and free that it is supremely focused on the task at the moment, done to perfection, regardless of how unimportant it may indeed be.
My students will sweep the floor and much more. Perhaps in our distorted world and society where focus and discipline are so greatly lacking, teachers will recognize the benefits of exercises in discipline. I surely do. And sometimes I think that pearl is getting just a little closer. Actually, I can see it ahead. It is right behind the broom.
“David, would you sweep the floor?”
“Yes Sir, I would be honored!”
“Good, I think I will join you.”
And the tiger looked at the dragon and smiled. The dragon smiled in return as the pearl neatly rolled along in its own way, just smiling back as the student and teacher bowed to one another and continued on their journey. The sun rose and set. The moon lit the night sky and slightly caressed the pearl giving it a light blue hue. The pearl just looked back and kept rolling along. The pearl was in full bliss basking in all the heavenly glory and flowing along smoothly; just like water. The pearl was like a child at play, just having its way with the tiger and dragon in the moonlight. Meanwhile, the tiger and dragon both had their own floors to sweep.
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