Life is a lot easier if you just do what you’re told. Before you get your panties in a bunch, I’m not saying that we should all follow blindly, particularly when we are asked to do something immoral or unethical. I’m talking basics here like:
In my science classes, I encourage and foster curiosity. Science has always been driven by curiosity, therefore I allow for a mega-ton of questions; both practical and philosophical. However, there are also those times where you just do what I ask you to do. I’ve got a whole presentation that I walk through on the first day of school listing out our procedures; and while I could go in and explain why I use each procedure, I don’t. First, it takes too much time. I’ve spent 17 years teaching and have developed my thinking over that time. I’m not going to use a half hour of my classroom instructional time to discuss best practices for bathroom breaks in a middle school science class. But the bigger issue is that I need my students to trust me.
There’s an element of trust there that I don’t see as much anymore. I would say we’ve lost it as a culture, or hopefully that we’re just losing it, but I don’t think that’s accurate. I think we are giving it away…the relationship between trust and obedience. When Mr. Smith asked or told me to do something, I did it. Why? Well first, because he was my teacher, but really, it’s because he was a standup kind of guy. I knew he had our best interests in mind. When Shihan Melanson or Kancho Soller tell me to do something, I do it. I don’t ask why. I don’t ask for their reasoning. I don’t need to understand; I trust that they’ve got our best interests in mind.
I’ve written before, paraphrasing Eric Metaxas, that we live in a society that is constantly looking for the worm in the apple. Almost immediately after someone is presented as honorable, we begin the witch-hunt, searching for the skeletons in their past, or the deeds they may have done decades ago. We have cultivated a culture of distrust and in doing so, we’ve built a legacy of disobedience. I’ve seen it. I’m seeing it. I’m a teacher after all. In the classroom and in the dojo, I’m on the front lines of this aspect of the culture war. We aren’t going to win unless we can prove ourselves to be trustworthy.
There you have it. While obedience is the fruit that we can observe, it is very often rooted in trust and the trustworthiness of the relationship. As my legs will tell you right now, budo karate does aim at strengthening the body, but we are more concerned with building strong people. Through our training in the dojo, we are building the kind of character worthy of being trusted. We are forging character that is capable of leadership.
Obedience is about “them”. Trust starts with you. You need to work on you.
Get to the dojo.
Everyone that I worked with during the 2017 Kyiv Experience was a living testimony to hard work. From my brief, limited experience in Ukraine, it appears as if everything is more of a challenge and therefore, there is a sense of pride in what you do that I don’t see as much, particularly with our young people, here. Now don’t get me wrong…the kids over there liked fun and games in training as well, but they didn’t seem to “need” those activities to be motivated. Interesting.
Years ago I was introduced to a local soccer coach, a man who would become a friends and mentor. I noticed in his team the same things that I noticed with our experience in Ukraine. His players didn’t “practice”; they “trained”. Everything was taken very seriously and the proof is in the pudding. Coach Polon took a small, relatively unknown program in the DC Metro area and turned them into a name; while himself earning All-Met Coach of the Year…unprecedented for a small, private school! Polon often talked about pride with his team. “Not that egotistical, self-serving pride,” rather he instilled in is team a joy and anticipation on looking back on what you’ve worked through and accomplished…relishing the journey over the destination. To date, I’ve never coached against a team quite like SSFS, and I credit a great deal of what they are to the efforts of Eduardo Polon.
Going back to Ukraine…they’ve got that same pride. Clearly the instructors over there are instilling those admirable, budo qualities. There is a joy in accomplishment; not for ego or self-inflation, but because that is what is expected! Hard work is an expectation, NOT an exception, unlike here where every kid gets a trophy or medal for trying. I witnessed honor given to excellence not participation. Man, imagine what life would be like here if we could get away with such convictions!
This is why I love teaching budo, Kyokushin karate. We are a community of people who embrace the challenge. Who see struggle for what it’s worth: an opportunity to push past and through limitations. When you are daily breaking down barriers, who wouldn’t be proud? When you regularly find yourself doing what was once thought impossible, why wouldn’t you take pride in that? My friends in Ukraine work very hard. I’m thankful to be part of an organization (Phoenix Karate-do Association, Kyokushinkai International) that works across oceans to hold the same, high standard not just for technical expertise, but character development as well.
Training in Ukraine involved quite a bit of travel. For me, it involved two plane rides, the Ukrainian metro system, rental buses, and the amazing/terrifying driving of my good friend Sensei Anton. Still, for me coming from the United States, the travel time was shorter than some of our incredibly dedicated Ukrainian students. Some students and their instructors took 9 to 12 hour train rides in order to participate in the training sessions!
Now, adults are perfectly capable of sitting on the train for that amount of time. Teens can do it too…but one boy, on the 12 hour train ride, couldn’t have been 10 years old. When I asked the boy (through one of our helpful translators) why he took such a long trip, his response was a simple, “That’s what you do”.
THAT thinking, from that young boy personifies the Ukrainian way of training. You do what you’ve got to do because you know the training is worth it. You know the community around you is worth it. You know that the sweat and the pain…it’s all worth it and so you do what you have to in order to attend and train.
Dedication requires sacrifice. Saying “yes” to one thing means saying “no” to others. Dedication requires you to put off what feels good now for what IS good long-term. From my perspective, a lot of the sadness and emptiness that we see around us stems from people having no real cause to which they’re dedicated. It’s hard work and, like I said, requires sacrifice…but dedication and sacrifice build community and THAT is why the Phoenix Karate-do Association is so strong. It is full of likeminded people who are dedicated to hard training, personal improvement, and perfection of character. It is a community built around dedication to a Way that isn’t easy, but it’s worth it.
What are you dedicated to? More importantly...is it worth the sacrifice?
Enjoy the weekend. I’ll post again on Monday.
One of my goals for 2017 was to be almost obnoxiously thankful; and set out with a modest daily goal of saying “thank you” at least 5 times (to different people) each day. It’s sad, embarrassing even, that I’ve got to think of things and experiences for which to show thanks. At times I can be so self-focused that I missed countless blessings going on around me.
Like most things though, the longer you focus on improving in an area, the better you get. My new friends in Ukraine helped to teach me that gratitude can be expressed in words, but there are often other, better ways. Smiles, hugs, handshakes and (for us Kyokushin karateka) a well-timed punch or kick all can show thanks. I will remember this. I will remember that a smile full of thanks is better than empty words. I’ll remember that a deep, rich smile can show gratitude in a way that absolutely crushes language barriers. I’ll remember the gratitude shown to us during our visit and, hopefully, model it here at home.
Gratitude shows humility and fights back against the entitlement culture, which is pervasive in the States. Gratitude accepts. Entitlement expects. We can’t expect from others that which we are unwilling to do ourselves. We can’t expect our family, friends, and neighbors to express gratitude if we’re not modeling that type of behavior. Man…my friends in Ukraine were textbook models of gratitude.
I get this picture in my head of a bonfire, and that bonfire represents the spirit of thankfulness and gratitude that our Ukrainian friends modeled so well for us. In that bonfire, I imagine plunging the end of a touch, lighting it with the same fire and bringing that lit torch back to the DC Metro area. The fire in the Ukraine is still going strong…they’ve just shared it with us here, through those who traveled to Kyiv. The picture continues though. I imagine that from that torch brought here, other torches will be lit. Think of The Lord of the Rings when the warning beacons of Gondor were lit…big movements start with individual people who are passionate about making a change. Who will join me in lighting fires of gratitude?
After all was said and done, I think we got home around 8:00 last night. The Ukraine Experience was wonderful and, hopefully, life-changing. Today it's back to work in a very different culture than what I was immersed in for a full week. I hope that the lessons learned while training in Kyiv and Bucha will spur others on here. My Ukrainian friends taught me a lot...a lot that we need here in the States.
Over the next week, I'll be writing a bit on each of the seven lessons that stuck out to me as I reflect on the trip. I've already touched on some of them in the daily updates, but will elaborate more on these areas:
- Work Ethic
Looking forward to sharing and growing together.
Today has been emotional as our trip comes to an end. After another amazing breakfast, we set out to tour the Ukrainian monument for World War 2. Definitely a different spin on things. I appreciated the way that the monument honored everyone who participated in the war efforts. Very neat to see the sculptures and military history.
On the way back to the hotel, we stopped and looked at souvenir shops. I really wanted to get the big fur hat, but I found something that I think Amy will like instead. I didn't realize that this would be our final activity with two of my new friends: Sensei Yuriy and Sensei Tanya. Saying goodbye was hard and for those may have been tears in my eyes as I walked away. Those two are amazing people.
Dinner was quite the experience today...the Kyiv interpretation of an Irish pub is...interesting.
After dinner we we had to say goodbye to our host, Shihan Natalie, and there may have been a few more tears. She has in one week, single handedly helped me to understand the way of gratitude and hospitality. I want to be more like her in the years to come. We would all be better people, and our world would be a better place, if we each had a Natalie in our lives.
There's a ton going through my mind right now. I'll need time to really process this entire Kyiv Experience before I can share clearly. Learned a lot for sure. Very thankful for all who played a part in organizing this trip; especially Kancho Soller, Shihan Melanson, and Shihan Codispoti. Most thankful right now to Amy, who I miss dearly, for supporting me going on this adventure and caring for our small army of children back home.
So...more to come in the days and weeks ahead. For now though...I'm ready to go home.
This experience has been eye opening. Spending time with our Ukrainian students, in their homeland, has been insprational. Again, the level of kindness and hospitality that I've experienced is amazing. Just tonight, I experience things that will change the way that I look at the world forever. I wont write about it online...if ever, but the lessons that I've learned here will hopefully transform my community one person at a time when I get home.
Today we we had some very tough training. VERY tough. Obody complained nobody whined. Everyone was thankful for the opportunity to work hard. EVERYONE. There were children who took a train 12 hours...there were 22 year olds who took a train 9 hours...there were instructors who took a cab/metro 2 hours...just for the opportunity to train, work hard, and improve themselves.
Its difficult to not be judgmental right now of the way that Western kids are "soft". For those who've never been here...these kids are tough and they come to work! It's been such a blessing to work with them and I pray that, in some small way, I can honor their warrior spirit when I return to the US on Tuesday and begin talking with and working with the people closest to me.
Busy day began with a walking tour of Kyiv. It was amazing to visit a few churches that are older that the United States. Hearing more of the history of Kyiv helped me to understand a bit more about the culture here. This is a neat place for sure.
During our tour I was in awe over how clean the city is...there are very few trash cans but absolutely no litter on the ground. Washington DC is shameful by comparison. I'll have to observe more and maybe see if there are any practical ideas I can takeaway that will help keep things more tidy.
Also, nobody is walking around on their cell phone. I love it. Even on the subway ride to our training location tonight, there were few people on their phones. Again, something I'd like to copy when I get home!
Training was brief, but terrific. Tomorrow will be the longest day of training for sure...but that's why we're here!
Man, I feel like a fish out of water. Being in a place where my cash is pretty much useless, and so is my language, is humbling. What is reassuring for me are the multitude of things that a the same on both sides of the Atlantic:
Today was primarily about getting here and getting settled. Tomorrow we will spend the morning walking around the city and seeing the sites that I viewed from the car ride today from the airport before we begin training in the early evening. More pics to come!
Before I head off to bed I want to thank a few very special people:
- my amazing wife for taking on so much in order to let me have this teaching experience.
- my oldest son, Caleb, for stepping up in a tremendous way while I am out of the country
- my 12 year old son for sacrificing in the midst of his baseball season
- my 10 year old son for sacrificially working extra hard on his Cub Scout project while I'm away
- my baby boy
The day is finally here! In just a few hours Sempai Matt and I will be meeting up with Kancho Soller and Shihan Melanson for what's bound to be an adventure in Kyiv, Ukraine. But first, we'll be meeting up in Frankfurt, Germany with a teach from out New Jersey branch; led by Shihan Codispoti,
It's going to be an interesting time for sure!
Where's the farthest you've trained from home?
Training...REAL training...it's not supposed to be easy. It's not pretty either, and it shouldn't be. Training is all about take you from where you are and turning you into something better...something stronger. It's messy and it's hard, and at times it's discouraging. In the end though, it's all worth it. You have to get messy. You've got to sweat...and mental/spiritual sweat counts...or it's not worth it because without the struggle, without the sweat, without all of the ugliness of training...you'll never change.
Our culture is obsessed with the beautiful and the strong. Flip through any magazine if you need a reminder of that fact. What we don't see often enough is the struggle. To get from A to B takes work...it takes effort. You can't make an omelette without breaking a few eggs.
Next week a small group of us will be traveling to Kyiv, Ukraine to participate in a special training camp with our dojos in that part of the world. It's going to be a quick, focused trip with a lot of awesome training.
To say that I'm excited about the opportunity is an understatement. Training in another land, with another language and culture has been a dream of mine for years now. I'll be posting daily reflections of the trip here, as well as sharing all of the photos on Instagram. Be on the lookout!
There's the 1000 Kick Workout, and then there's the monstrosity we experienced in the dojo last night. What. A. Grinder! One of the nice things about training in community is that we push one another...I call is a proper application of peer pressure.
There were several times last night when I wanted to wipe my brow or shake the sweat off of the tip of my nose...but I didn't. I wanted to keep my focus on the task at hand and ignore those little distractions. There were times I wanted to take an extra break. Those times when we want to quit, but don't...they empower everyone around you. Odds are, you're not the only one feeling that way, but persevering like that is like shining a light in a dark room. You give a way, an example, for those around you to follow.
Really, anytime we do something challenging, we are a light to those around us. Almost like one of those awesome lighthouses on the coast of New Jersey, we can offer hope and direction to a lost ship. In my opinion, that's one of the points of budo karate. We train incredibly hard in order to make ourselves better, strong people...not for our own sake, but so that we can be a blessing to others. Perfection of character through hard training for the benefit of our families and communities...that's what we are looking for!
Be a light today.