GUEST AUTHOR: Syed Asad Hussain has trained in Shotokan for one year and has also become a Goju Ryu student. Syed’s dojo website is karatestcatharines.com and his Sensei is Bob Toth.
Karate, literally meaning open hand, is one of the most popular martial arts in the world. Developed in the Ryukyu kingdom prior to the Japanese invasion of the 19th century, Karate has its origins in India through Bodhidharma who was a Buddhist saint that brought Martial Arts to China. Although Karate has many styles and different philosophies, they all teach the same thing: self-expression, confidence, courage to stand up for yourself, and the most important of all how to become a better person.
The most important thing I have learned through Karate is how to take everything in academically and to open myself to new ideas and not limit myself. As Bruce Lee said, “to have no limit as limit”. My Sensei has taught this to me and this is one lesson I will keep with me always. I have also learned that cross training is very important and that each Martial Artist should know what to expect from a different style. I will remember one thing my Sensei said to me when I was training, it’s not just about punching and kicking. How true this statement was. Learning to control yourself while learning this violent thing, finding the harmony between the inner peace and the violent being we all have inside us, to be able to express ourselves and feel like we belong to something much bigger and greater than ourselves. There is a point in your training when you realize that this thing has grown beyond physical and is trying to reach for the spiritual plane and that is where your true training begins. You start following these warrior ethics and codes you never knew existed and you become an artist of life, as quoted by Dr. Richard Kim, master of Goju Ryu.
I hope each Martial Artist shares this dream with me, to become as strong as you can both physically and mentally and being able to control ourselves in the toughest of situations and be role models for society.
The other day I revisited a cartoon I used to watch as a kid. After about 10 minutes I realized I was gritting my teeth and wondering what the heck was going on.
The plot was nonexistent and the voice acting made me want to find the mute button in a hurry. Nevertheless, when I was young this cartoon made all the sense in the world and I loved it.
Was I wrong as a kid to hold it up as greatness? Am I wrong now for seeing it differently? No. I simply have a different mind today than I did all those years ago.
Of course, growing out of a cartoon isn’t a very monumental personal development. But there are more subtle examples of how the mind can develop year to year, week to week, and day to day.
Books, in general, are read once and then filed away. Every now and then one stands out to each of us in such a way that it demands closer inspection. Most prudent martial artists have a few specific books about the arts that they deem exceptional, and have revisited them from time to time.
The important thing about special books isn’t the raw information but the complexity of the concepts; the depth of the insight that reveals more over time, and improves as the reader’s experience improves.
The cartoon of my childhood was entertaining, but it lacked depth. On the contrary, I can watch certain movies that I grew up with and experience them like they are brand new, filled with powerful emotion and drama.
I’m not suggesting you should go reread old books (although you should). Nor am I suggesting you should revisit old movies (although you could). What I’m saying is that every day you have a new mind. Sometimes the difference between yesterday and today is infinitesimally small. But of course, the depth of that development is entirely on you.
Every time you step into the dojo you are bringing a new set of experiences, a deeper wisdom, and a broadened outlook. Just how much of that growth you supply is dictated by your desire to learn new things and keep an open mind.
This reality is critical when practicing the fundamentals of your system, sometimes called “basics” or “kihon”. Every time you execute a technique you have a chance to see it in a new light with new context. Your mind today can see with better potential than you could yesterday. Of course, not every repetition will result in spontaneous enlightenment, and if you get entirely lost inside your own mind you’ll soon feel mental fatigue. As in all things there should be balance. Indeed, sometimes quieting the mind through pure physical expression can be more valuable than analysis. Regardless, the decision should be conscious and aimed at higher goals.
If you find yourself settling for “knowing enough” or going through the motions, then you’ve allowed yourself to become stagnant. Participation without thought and emotion is a waste of Today’s Mind, and a disservice to yourself.
After a hard evening’s workout, a sweat drenched student approached her instructor. She shuffled her feet for a moment, then asked, “Sensei why do we always do our blocks the same?”
The sensei replied, “Because that is how my sensei always taught them. We are carrying on tradition.”
The girl asked, “But why did he do it that way?”
The sensei replied, “Because that is how his teacher taught him! You know, I’ve explained the fundamentals of our blocks, the physics of our movements and how each block compliments our stances. I’m surprised you don’t know all this already! Certainly by your rank you should know.”
The girl responded, “Yes, but I was just wondering if there is no better way to do it. Are we sure we are doing it the best way?”
The sensei replied, “Yes of course. This way has always proven effective for me and those that have gone before me. Are you doubting your own system?”
The girl responded, “Not doubting, just curious.”
The sensei learned a valuable lesson that evening.
Marge Simpson: “Homer, is this another one of your get rich quick schemes?”
Homer Simpson: “No, no…this scheme is SURE to make us rich. And quick!”
One of two things is going to happen in this post – either I’m going to reveal some fantastic money making secrets, or I’m going to use ‘getting rich’ as an analogy for training. You take a guess.
There are all kinds of ‘brilliant’ ideas people create to get rich quick. The most famous is the pyramid scheme. These ill-conceived concepts crop up because it can be very arduous building up money. Heck, I know if I could get $100,000 tomorrow I’d look into it. It’s also the reason why we play the lottery (and ignore the mathematical improbability of winning).
Sadly, the same is true when it comes to martial arts. Instead of financial pyramid schemes we see promotional pyramid schemes, where groups of ‘experts’ get together and promote themselves to extremely high ranks. I’m still waiting to hear about the world’s first 20th dan…it’s bound to happen. More harmful are the schemes where instructors ripoff their student body through inflated monthly fees, testing fees, belt fees, etc etc.
But lets focus more on the training side of things.
At home I’ve got this gigantic glass jar where I keep all of my loose change. You’ve probably got something similar, yes?
I’ve put a ton of coins in there and have been storing up for years and years. Despite that, the damn jar looks virtually empty!
Also, the bb gun hole wasn’t my fault.
It was a great day when I first realized I could no longer see the glass bottom of the jar because I had saved up enough change. But since then, I’ve gone on autopilot. I no longer really watch the level of the coins rise because it’s such slow progress. I know I’m putting money in, but to constantly fret over how much (or how little) is in there would be wasted energy.
Martial arts training can be very similar. How many workout sessions can you think of where you really thought to yourself, “man – I’ve improved by leaps and bounds today!” If you’re anything like me, those occasions are few and far between. Most of the time training seems like a struggle against futility, improving skills so slowly that it barely seems like any progress is being made at all.
At first, I watched my progress in karate like a hawk. I was really pleased about things I could do and opined about things I couldn’t. But since then, I’ve gone on autopilot. I’ve simply done my best when either stepping onto the dojo floor or exploring martial arts on my own. The journey in itself is becoming more and more the goal.
So to you I say keep dropping that change in the jar! I know it doesn’t seem like a lot. Whether you’re in top form and toss in fifty cents each time, or if you’re struggling and only have five cents, remember – you’re building the total and one day you’ll take a peek at the jar and wonder where all that money came from!