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.