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Next Time

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 (Courtesy of Richard Levitt)

His routine is punishing. And yet, Richard Levitt keeps it up. Just what is he getting out of this?

At home after a rough night of martial arts training, I began my pain-management ritual: a couple analgesics, ice for my lower back, and a glass of port. I laid across the couch, put my legs up on a stack of pillows, and groaned.

Karen sat down next to me. “Why do you do this to yourself?” she asked, truly concerned. She has asked this before. I started to wonder the same thing.

Throughout 40-plus-years of martial arts, I’ve been punched and kicked, thrown to the ground and pinned. I’ve pounded canvas bags and smacked a wooden dummy. My knuckles have been mashed, elbows tweaked, and shoulder dislocated. My knees worn raw, forearms struck until they were bruised from elbow to wrist.

It’s uncomfortable. And it’s humbling. Yet I persist.


It’s been proven that the perception of risk triggers arousal. Some say we have evolved to take risks in order to survive. More subtly, maybe we take risks because we want to know them, embrace, and dismiss them. Once we’ve exceeded a perceived limit, fear dissipates.

But what about the pain?

Well, it is a signal from the body. But our perception of pain is relative. Your first sliver could be horrifyingly painful. To a carpenter, it’s nothing. If you’ve never done a forward bend, it can feel like torture. To an athlete or yogi, it’s natural and enjoyable.

Discomfort and difficulty are guaranteed in our lives, so it’s beneficial to face them with equanimity and awareness. Then maybe next time, it won’t be so hard.

Next time. That’s it, isn’t it? It’s why we persist, why we endure. Because there is a next time, and with practice and patience, next time it’ll be easier.

The founder of Aikido, Morihei Ueshiba O Sensei said, “Iron is full of impurities that weaken it. Through forging, it’s transformed into a razor-sharp sword. Human beings,” he said, “develop in the same fashion.”

Discomfort, I think, is the price life exacts for growth.

With a perspective, I’m Richard Levitt.

Richard Levitt is an East Bay writer and third-degree Aikido blackbelt.

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