Though the memory of it is now ephemeral and almost surreal, there was a time when I was fit enough to take extended mountain bike rides (sometimes on my own) deep into the Malaysian wilderness. These rides would be usually day-trips, but overnighters weren’t that uncommon. Occasionally they’d be impromptu, on-my-bike-and-go type of things. But most of the time, they were planned with almost military-like precision. Whichever kind they were, they used to fill a part of me like nothing else could – including sex.
Now that I am too old for mountain biking (and also sex), I look back to all those strenuous hours of sweaty huffing-and-puffing with a great deal of fondness – and perhaps a little sadness, too. But what strikes me the most is that, every time I get to where I want to be – after having achieved the intended goal – one question never fails to slap me in the face: “Is that it? There’s nothing here!” (Although some would argue that there is little difference, here I’m talking about extended mountain bike rides – not sex).
It was the same, too, when I earned my first black-belt in karate. Instead of doing cart-wheels all the way from the dojo back to my flat off Harrow Road, all that came to mind was, “Is that it?” Come to think of it, “Is that it?” has been a common thread in all of my so-called successes: everything from learning to zip-up my own pants, right up to getting my first – er… never mind. Once I had reached the destination, I invariably found that there was absolutely nothing there.
By saying all this, I run the risk of sounding like an arrogant ingrate; I assure you, I am nothing of the sort – at least, I hope I’m not. But why is it that when I achieve anything – which, by the way, isn’t very often – there is hardly ever any fireworks going on in my brain? I’ve struggled with this question for long enough that I’ve justified giving up on it.
Then, this morning – as I lay dying after giving it my all in completing sit-up number 3 – it finally came to me: sit-up number 3 is not anywhere as important as the fact that I was prepared to go through hell in order to achieve it.
Indeed, to some people, three lousy sit-ups may not account for much, and probably amounts to something that is quite laughable. And they are right. The achievement is not that I completed those three ruddy sit-ups. My achievement had been that I had given everything (and perhaps even more) in the process of getting those three sorry-assed sit-ups.
Twenty five years after my sensei said these words, I have finally found their meaning: “The journey, Bangkai-san, is far greater than the destination.”