Osu! Sempai Mary here, making a guest appearance on Sensei Bob’s blog. I am a black belt, 2nd degree, in the Phoenix Karate-do Association. I am marking my eighth year with Phoenix; which, may be the focus of another post in the future, if this one goes well.
I’ve recently had the chance to slow down and spend some time reflecting, and I’ve found my thoughts drawn to the idea of excellence. Take a second, look up from your phone, tablet, or laptop, and think – what is excellence to you? What does it mean to you? Do you look for it in others? Do you look for it in yourself?
For myself, excellence is not a something a person has, it is the quality of someone who strives. I cannot be excellent because that implies excellence is a stationary target. Instead, I think of excellence like I think of the five stars on the sleeve of my dogi – always just beyond my reach. I want to be always striving for excellence, even when I fail, even when it’s hard, and even if no one around me seems to be trying to attain that same level.
This is in line with my practice of budo karate. To follow the budo way is to strive. Kyokushin karate in particular demands grueling physical training that challenges the body and mind every day we step into the dojo. In my experience, the Phoenix Karate-do Association is an increasingly rare den of men and women of all ages, from all walks of life, striving for excellence. We are, by no means, perfect. But we keep walking into the dojo, we keep stepping into the ring, and we keep trying to be better than the last time. This indomitable spirit is the essence of budo karate. But life is not all budo karate.
It is frustrating to be in a situation where people you expect to demonstrate excellence do not. It is maddening and discouraging to realize that the people you expect excellence from do not care about striving for it; but you will encounter these situations in all aspects of your life. Maybe a friend isn’t quite there in the way you expected; maybe a boss or teacher sets a complacent standard. What do you do in these situations? It is the easiest thing to see someone slacking and follow suit – be it at school, at work, at home, in the dojo, or elsewhere. When in these situations, I’ve found myself wondering why I should be expending so much of my energy and effort to achieve a higher standard when others do not share my diligence. The answer struck me, much like a well-placed punch to the diaphragm:
Striving for excellence is simply the right thing to do.
This led me to another thought: striving for excellence is not about what others think or do. It is about me, and my journey. Only I know if I’m truly striving for my best; so it follows that I need to look within for role models of excellence, instead of waiting for someone else to set an example for me.
So get out there in the world! Start small, in the dojo or at home; then try at school and at work. Make your own excellence. Be the example – be your own example.
The new school year is back in full swing which means kids are bringing "stuff" home in the way of runny noses, strep throat, and the usual ailments. It seems like a lot of folks I know come down with something around this time of year, which means that I'll be answering the same question a few dozen times over the next few months: Should I train if I'm sick?
Most of the time, yes. A runny nose or a little cough isn't enough to miss training. A general rule that I've followed for over a decade now is that if I'm sick from the neck up- I train...without question. If I'm sick from the neck down, there are other questions I should consider. Often though, folks ask about training while sick because they're looking for permission to stay home. In my years teaching in the dojo, I've only ever sent one person home because they were too sick to train. I still remember that day...the teenage student was crushed. Pretty awesome experience that he and I still joke about...
Obviously, if you're too sick to go to school or work, then you're probably too sick to train. If anything is explosively leaving your body, please don't bring it into the dojo. If you're a little sick, come train. You may actually feel better afterward. Oh, and don't feel like it's necessary to let me know you're sick and try to explain your performance and why it might be less than normal. I know, and more than anything, I appreciate you being with us and training, especially when you're not 100%
You've heard the expression, if you're the best in the room...you're in the wrong room. Well, yesterday a dozen of us from the dojo found the "right" room as we had the opportunity to train with the legendary founder of Enshin Karate: Kancho Joko Ninomiya.
The three hour seminar was much like trying to take a drink from a fire hydrant. So much was covered that it was impossible to really let much soak in. We did walk away with some interesting principles and insights that we can begin applying immediately. It was a great experience that was also incredibly humbling. One of the main differences, that I perceive, between Kyokushin (my style) and Enshin, is that Enshin allows for grabs, sweeps, and throws in a way that we don't really allow in competition. So, since most of the techniques we practiced yesterday were initiated with a grab, immediately my "karate IQ" dropped like a hot rock.
Yesterday was a blast. I don't know if I would have been in a place when I was younger where I could put myself into a situation like yesterday and only see all of the positives. It was humbling for sure, but it's really only through humility that we learn what we need to work on, which builds confidence.
So, from the last post, was there any difference in the scissors in the two scenarios that were presented? Were they evil in one and righteous in the other, even though the end resulted in the loss of human life? If you think for a second that there was anything different with the tool, then I've got some bad news for you.
The tool was exactly the same in each scenario. Why then do we label the actions of the attacker as wicked and the actions of the young mom justified? It wasn't the tool, it wasn't the scissors that we demonize, it was the purpose or intent of the person holding that tool. It's the purpose that you give to a tool which is judged and it's the purpose that you give to that tool that can quite literally save your life.
There is, without a doubt, one tool that is more important than any other, and it's something that we all have and can train to a higher level...the mind!
More to come.
In so many ways, violence is similar to a hammer, a blade, or a shovel. They're all tools, and tools in an of themselves are not inherently good or evil. I think we would agree that it is the one wields the tool that brings any moral value to the tool. Consider these two scenarios, which are inspired by Tim Larkin's When Violence Is the Answer. Let them bother you for a day or so, and then I'll share more thoughts. Seriously, be troubled a bit, try to picture both scenarios clearly and carefully in your mind...let it simmer, and I'll share more considerations tomorrow.
Scenario #1: A young mom, Jean, is preparing dinner with her toddler son taking his late-afternoon nap. Veggies are cut, ground beef is browning on the stove top. Without warning, a pair of hands grabs Jean from behind and she immediately realizes these are not her husbands hands. She is forced against the countertop. All Jane can think about is he young son asleep upstairs. She must react, she has to do something, but the man behind her is much bigger and much stronger than she is, so Jean does the only thing she can think of and she claws deeply into her attackers face: gouging his eyes and causing blood to flow almost immediately from his open wounds. Angry, the attacker looks around and finds the kitchen scissors on the counter that Jane had used to cut her vegetables. The large man grabs the scissors, plunges them in to Jean's neck and she dies, in a pool of her own blood, with her toddler still asleep upstairs.
Scenario #2: A young mom, Jean, is preparing dinner with her toddler son taking his late-afternoon nap. Veggies have been cut, ground beef is browning on the stove top. Without warning, a pair of hands grabs Jean from behind and she immediately realizes that these are not her husbands hands. She is forced against the countertop. She must react, she has to do something, but the man behind her is much bigger and much stronger than she is. Jean notices the kitchen scissors still on the counter that she'd used to cut her vegetables for dinner. She grabs the scissors and waits until she feels space between her and her attacker. Immediately Jean feels the opportunity, she turns and plunges the scissors into the neck of her attacker. The large man dies, in a pool of his own blood, with Jean's toddler still asleep upstairs.
QUESTION TO CONSIDER: Were the scissors any different in the two scenarios?
Yesterday I successfully extended my streak of surviving the first day of school to 33 consecutive years. It's weird to think about it sometimes that, either as a student or a teacher, I've been in school since I was 5 years old.
Do you know what teachers say about September...well after the tearful goodbye to summer at least? Septembers are for new beginnings. For teachers, it's a time for us to try things that are new or new techniques/practices that we've been putting off for too long. For students, September represents an opportunity for a fresh start...a chance to shake a reputation or to work with a new team of teachers.
For all of us though, September can be both things. As we transition from the heat of August to the lovely temps of September, why not use that natural opportunity to branch out and try something new that you've been putting off? While you're at it, reflect on the people in your life. Is there someone that could really use a fresh start? Most of us are a little sad about summer coming to an end, but we can't fight it. Embrace the change and use it for an opportunity to make some memorable changes!