An Unexpected Path
My bare feet tap a gentle rhythm on the soft dirt trail, the pat, pat, pat lightly beating like a distant drum. It’s Thursday morning, a couple of hours after sunrise, and I am on my daily 6-mile barefoot trail run through the woods near the Arkansas River. Today, like most days, it’s just me and the birds, squirrels, and deer. I have no way of knowing what I’ll find on the path ahead, but it will be unexpected and beautiful, of that I’m sure. And as I connect to the earth and the world falls away, it doesn’t take long to empty my mind and open my heart, the reason why I’m here.
It’s for this same reason that I’m here with Cuong Nhu.
I started Cuong Nhu when I was forty-three. It wasn’t to get in better shape, or learn self-defense, or earn a certain belt. Those are all fine reasons to start, but they were not mine. Instead, it was beauty and balance that originally led me to Cuong Nhu.
I had taken my two daughters to the 2011 IATC in Atlanta. Honestly, it had never dawned on me to take Cuong Nhu myself, but as I sat mesmerized watching the masters and senseis demonstrating through their forms the merging of hard and soft with a grace and power that took my breath away, I realized that this was what I wanted, and needed, in my own life: this giving and receiving, this hard and soft, this yin and yang. I started training as soon as we got back.
As I have progressed in Cuong Nhu, beauty and balance are still what I work toward daily, and always will. However, I am now starting to understand that the path to this is in emptying my mind and opening my heart.
In the physical training, I’ve found that the more I train, the quieter my thoughts become as I try to forget in order to re-member. Also, the concepts of emptying and opening are present throughout like gentle reminders: opening the door, emptying the space, open-hand soft-style techniques, empty-hand katas. Even the word “karate” itself has within it the message: kara (open) te (hand).
In the Cuong Nhu spiritual training it’s the philosophies, the giving of self, and the connections I’ve made with others that remind me to empty my mind and open my heart. O’Sensei’s simple yet profound philosophy of “Open Mind, Open Heart, Open Arms” now resonates on a deeper level, as openness leads to oneness, both within and without.
This idea of emptying my mind and opening my heart has spread out into other aspects of my life, too. Since starting Cuong Nhu I have been through some major life changes, including getting divorced and closing a business. Through my training at the dojo, I have been able to use some of the fundamental concepts of emptying and opening, like flowing with instead of resisting, or being soft instead of hard, to stay centered and make decisions based on love instead of fear. This has not only helped me but everyone involved. And this grace spirals out far beyond my own life.
Like barefoot trail running, Cuong Nhu has taken me down an unexpected path filled with beauty and balance, emptiness and openness, grace and love, reminding me of the oneness of everything. But then again, that’s where all trails lead, don’t they? With an open mind, open heart, and open arms, I am sure that they do.