My Fiercest Enemy Yet

Do you ever just have one of those days? …. No, not that kind – the other kind.  Well, I’m having one of those. The fiercest, most terrifying enemy I have ever faced stealthily approaches.  I can feel it even if I cannot yet see it.  I feel the rage, frustration, fear, and helplessness all bubbling up inside me.

Is the enemy a person who physically threatens me or my family? No.  My Sensei teaches me effective skills to first avoid, and then, if all else fails, to confront such threats.  Hmmm……  Oh, I’ve got it.   My fiercest enemy must be inner demons then, right?  Not exactly.  Light cannot exist without darkness.  Studying the martial arts is helping me learn to embrace the darkness as part of who I am and use it in a productive way to fuel the light.

What then? What is the fiercest, most terrifying enemy I have ever faced?  I figured it out this morning.   In retrospect, it was last Saturday at about 12:45 pm when the fiercest, most terrifying enemy I have ever faced rose up and revealed itself to me.  There it was standing in the middle of the ceremony held to promote karateka to new ranks in our dojo.  If you dare, read on.  But prepare yourself.  The fiercest, most terrifying enemy I have ever faced is …

Well to be completely honest, the fiercest, most terrifying enemy I have ever faced is …



You met Bridezilla and Rump in a previous post (

Add, the player we’ll call “Blades” to the mix and you have the Triad of Terror. You see, Bridezilla, Rump and Blades are among my favorite members of our dojo. Bridezilla and Rump are affected by the horrible disease known as cystic fibrosis.  The Cystic Fibrosis Foundation describes the disease in the following manner:

Cystic fibrosis is a life-threatening, genetic disease that causes persistent lung infections and progressively limits the ability to breathe.

In people with CF, a defective gene causes a thick, buildup of mucus in the lungs, pancreas and other organs. In the lungs, the mucus clogs the airways and traps bacteria leading to infections, extensive lung damage and eventually, respiratory failure. In the pancreas, the mucus prevents the release of digestive enzymes that allow the body to break down food and absorb vital nutrients.

Bridezilla and Rump also suffer from a severe case of debilitating cuteness and charm.

Blades is also a remarkable young person.  She has a fabulous parent who is currently doing battle with cancer. Blades is emerging from being a shy young one filled with uncertainty to a confident young woman.  She will be well served by what she has learned when she navigates adolescence in a few years. She has a remarkable sense of humor and is one of those people you cannot help but like and care about.

As a senior member of our dojo, I am very protective of my fellow karateka.   But how do you help protect against an invisible enemy who attacks with impunity and cannot be brought under control consistently by the world’s best and brightest?  How do you stand and be counted as a practitioner of the Way of Karate to aid those who are suffering when there are no known means to combat the cause?   I don’t understand why martial arts require me to live and teach a lifestyle of integrity, respect, courage, honor, compassion, honesty and sincerity, and duty and loyalty when none of those qualities or skills will impede the fiercest, most terrifying enemy I have ever faced, let alone stop it.   I don’t understand how to help these kids or to whom to turn to learn how.  I don’t understand how to make the rage I feel at my own ineptitude and ineffectiveness go away.   I don’t understand who or what else to be angry at or to punish for what I see as an injustice.   I don’t understand how the world can be so cruel to those who least deserve it.  I DON’T UNDERSTAND!

And then a little voice inside my head whispered an old Zen proverb:

“If you understand, things are as they are.  If you do not understand, things are as they are.”

To be honest, it wasn’t a little voice.  It was kind of more like the booming voice of James Earl Jones.  (Hey, would you want to mess with Darth Vader.)  Substitute just about any emotion or feeling for “understand,” and the wisdom still applies. Whether you are angry or frustrated or feel that life is not treating you fairly, “things are as they are.”

When the time comes for you to face the fiercest, most terrifying enemy – that is, the foe that cannot be controlled by any means available to you – what should you do? What would you do?  I asked Sensei a version of this question once.  His response was short and to the point:

“Tai sabaki”

Tai sabaki, or change body in our system, is a crucial and central tenet to our style of self defense. The general idea is that we shift our body positioning off the line of attack of the aggressor, usually at a 45 degree angle.  As a result, our vital areas are protected while providing  a direct line of counter-attack targeting those of the opponent.

Sensei was absolutely right. I had never really thought about change body as an effective response to a non-physical dilemma.  I am not a biochemist, respiratory expert, or oncologist, so I will never discover the cure for CF or cancer.  I am not a billionaire, so I cannot buy any involved the best medical care that exists.  Yet, I ignored such facts and chose to meet the direct line of attack of an uncontrollable adversary with a head on attack of my own.  No wonder I was getting pummeled.  No matter what I did or felt, “things are as they are.”

So what can I do against the unbeatable foe?  Change body, or in this case, shift my perspective.  I will never be able to control the diseases of which I write.  I can, however, control my responses to the people that such diseases affect and do my part to alter the environment in which the enemy operates.

In the case of Bridezilla, I avoid scooping her up and hugging the stuffing out of her.  That would just freak her and her folks out.  Instead, this Saturday, May 20, 2017, I will again participate in the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation’s Annual Great Strides Walk for the Cure (  Bridezilla’s and Rump’s team can be found at

If any reader would like to stand and be counted as part of the fight against this disease, please consider donating a few dollars through the Donate to a Team Member link.  If you can give even a dollar, I would appreciate knowing that my attack on CF and my support for Bridezilla and Rump is helping at least a little.  Donate under any team member listed.  My name is Shawn Roberts if you wish to indicate you donated after reading this post.  If you cannot, or choose to spend your own resources elsewhere, I respect that.  After all, “things are as they are.”

Similarly, while I know I cannot cure CF for Rump, I can help make the environment in which he lives as positive as possible.  He is one of the youngest members of the Brown Belt Class in our dojo.  I try to joke with him and make him feel comfortable as much as possible.   To me, it is important for him to know that we train hard at the dojo, but that it’s okay to be a kid as well.  Plus, developmentally, I’m pretty much at the same emotional/psychosocial level as he is.  Rump has an awesome sense of humor.  A few weeks ago, I asked Rump if he had brought me a pizza as he came into class.  Without missing a beat, he responded that he had.  So I asked him where it was, only to be told it was in his athletic bag at the back of the dojo.  Not to be outdone, I told him, “gross.  I didn’t order one topped with your smelly gym socks.”  Rump told me to make my own next time if I didn’t like what he brought.  Clearly outmatched, I conceded.

And finally, Blades seems to be kind of a private person.  I need to express care not to confuse my need to be supportive with what Blades may need, if anything.  So, for Blades, I try to help make our dojo as normal an experience as possible.  Sometimes when we face something beyond the everyday person’s normal life experience, it is nice to have a place to go where life is predictable.  I am enjoying watch Blades grow emotionally and physically.  Support her current course and stand ready to take on a more or less supportive role if asked.  Her Mom is a great lady who deserves our support as well.   For any who want to be more involved, the American Cancer Society offers guidance on how you can help at

The simple truth is this: no matter who you are or how awesome you may be, no one owes any of us, anything.  None of us are immune to having uncontrollable, negative events enter our lives.  When adversity presents itself, whether you understand it or not, whether you are angry, sad, indifferent, things are as they are.  But don’t despair, sometimes with a change in approach and perspective, you can become a positive entity within another’s realm of uncontrollable things.  After all, you are the only controllable aspect of the universe of things.  Choose to wield such power wisely and with purpose.


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