What you practice

I can teach a student to kick and punch, to knee someone and do awesome hammer fists, giving them the tools they need to defend themselves. But I cannot give them them spirit. That comes from within and is the key component to successful self defense. That spark that resides in them, that fuels their passion and is aided by adrenaline coursing through their bodies – I cannot give them that. Each of us must dig deep and discover our own spirit, incorporating it into their daily attitude.

Unfortunately, as I’ve explained to students, what you do in class is all you have when it comes to defending yourself. If you fling your arms out, without using your body effectively – hip action, body rotation, etc. – then all you’ll have are arms and legs flailing about. They won’t land on their target with sufficient force to deflect an attack. Bringing spirit to class is the difference between a student who labors through every single belt and one who appears to breeze through the classes. Sure, other factors come into play, such as coordination and general athleticism but spirit can help every student rise above those things.

What you practice is what you become. Muscle memory takes over in a time of crisis and need. What will you bring to the fight? Don’t wait until you need it, start honing and using your spirit now. Remember. Spirit first. Everything else will follow.

In the Stillness

There are moments when my passions intersect, unexpectedly and deliciously. Today, one of those collisions occurred, bringing me another step forward in my karate training. Let me back up and explain, just a little bit. Last night, I was teaching my creative writing class, explaining to students the value that stillness brings when you’re trying to create tension. The story zooms along this thing and that happening to your hero and then, in the quiet, the reader absorbs it all and tensions are amplified. For example, the phone rings in a horror movie. We all scream “don’t answer it,” but of course, the actor does. Tension has started mounting in us but doesn’t come to fruition until the “hello” is met with silence. Who’s there? What’s going on? Tension mounts.

And poof, I went from thinking about this to an instructor I used to know. He ran around the room bellowing at the top of his lungs, a constant barrage of words assaulting the students. The words bounced around, deflected, creating a false sense of energy, none of it generated by the students. Oh, believe me, I know and appreciate the value my voice can bring to a class. That’s actually my point. Ramping up the energy, getting the students to move and respond. I can be as loud as the best of them. But I also need to give my students moments for their energy to fill the void. To let them settle into the stillness, reflecting my words. To do the best karate they can do. In the stillness.

Some of the hardest classes I’ve ever taken have been a quiet study of techniques. Holding them for long periods of time. Studying the hip movement associated with a solid punch, the hip vibrations, as the punch settles on its target. Inside blocks. Outside blocks, all the same thing. Up blocks, the twisting and turning of the torso to maximize power. These moments come when I focus on me. Not on the instructor. They happen in the stillness.

An instructor who fills every atom of space with their voice demands the attention be on them, instead of focused on the karate. The best karate happens in the stillness of time and space, when the student becomes one with the technique. That’s how I see it, anyway.

To Be Sincere and Honest

Once again, the dojo kun reaches into every aspect of our lives. Being a martial artist isn’t just about kicking the hardest or throwing the most powerful punch. It is so much more than that. Ask yourself this. Are you sincere and honest? Not just sometimes but in every aspect of your life. Each day I strive to be as sincere and honest as possible with all I meet and I do that to be a good human being, and the best black belt I can be.

Personally, I think humility is tied into this part of the dojo kun and being humble is an aspect of the martial arts which isn’t talked about enough in my opinion. Humility and sincerity go hand in hand. We’ve all seen them – the black belts who have to show off before or after class, trying to impress others. Especially the junior students. Look at me, their antics scream as they cavort about on the training floor. What lesson are you teaching if you do that? Certainly not humility and I’d hazard a guess that the black belt isn’t sincere and honest, either.

Being a black belt means always being on the path to learn. Sure, we teach what we’ve learned to others, but we don’t brag about how much we know. Humility and sincerity of spirit keep us in check, reminding us how much we still have to learn. If the show off were being honest, he or she wouldn’t be so braggadocious.

So many parents put their children into the martial arts to learn how to throw punches. I wish more understood the qualities karate instills into them. Qualities that will carry them through their lives, setting them apart from others. I’m proud to say all five of my children trained and learned the most important things. To be sincere. To be honest. To be humble. Being a good person is the key to a great life. At least, that’s what I think.

Spirit First

Today, as sadness ripples through the world with the bombing of Manchester fresh in our minds and thoughts, spirit is the word that comes to mind. Spirit first. Technique second. Someone told me that once, relative to training. I’m struck today by how many times in our lives that can same concept can apply.

Let our spirits be strong today in the face of adversity and pain, knowing evil lurks waiting to hurt innocent children. Spirit first as we stand up and say this must stop. Spirit first as we tell each other –  human to human –  we all matter.

Spirit – that indefinable something separating us from every other living thing. We can channel it, and control it and use it to make a change. As I hold the citizens of Manchester in prayer my spirit screams into the universe – no more of the madness. Let your spirit speak and walk alongside your words. Make a difference in the world. One person at a time.