Black Belts Are Role Models

Where are all the role models? In life there are dozens of people to look up to. Siblings, Sunday school teachers and Martial Arts instructors can be positive influences in our lives. As a Martial Artist, it is your responsibility to be aware of these people and to learn from the knowledge they impart to you. It’s time we paid attention to everyday heroes. These aren’t always the people in the news. They are people you see in your everyday life, living in a way that improves the lives of people around them. In your life this might be a bus driver who always greets you with a smile or a joke. Perhaps it’s an instructor at your Dojo who always lends an ear when you have a question. It could even be a stranger who took the time to return the wallet you dropped on the street. When you live your life with an awareness of the people and events all around you, you begin to notice the small kind deeds and heroic acts that happen everyday. You learn that a person doesn’t need to live a perfect life to have a positive effect on other people. In fact, you may find that the people who have dealt with difficult situations – even situations they created – can help you the most.

Be open to the lessons being offered by people who have traveled before you. When they can say "I’ve been there" about a problem you are facing, maybe they can share an insight with you on how best to hand your situation. It’s easy to look at the news and say, "there are no role models today." But if you do, you will be closing your mind to the gold mine all around you. Open your mind instead – be aware of the everyday heroes all around you, and strive to match every small kindness you see with one of your own. Soon you will discover that there are many role models right under your nose.

Connecting With Your Inner Self

Dealing with rough spots in your life can often be a trying process. The Martial Arts not only emphasize the physical, but always stress the importance of the whole person. When you are going through a challenging time or experience, it is important to be in balance with yourself emotionally and psychologically.

One useful practice involves we can use to work on our inner self is meditation. In Japanese, the word Zen means natural. Meditation is a natural process that does not have to be connected with any particular religious doctrine to be beneficial. Just as our philosophy at the karate school is practical, that is it depends upon our actual practice, so Zen is a simple and natural method for using our breathe to bring our emotions and our mind into harmony with our body. It focuses on retreating within yourself to allow the answers that "lie within you" to be revealed.

Practicing Zen requires that you not impose your personal will on any scenario. You must be willing to have confidence in the process that sustains your life from within, with every breath you take. As Martial Artists know, discipline is a process of self discovery. In difficult times many people can find comfort in their particular religious beliefs or practices. At the same time, as Martial Arts practitioners, whatever our religious beliefs, we can learn to stay in touch with our inner self. While religion or spirituality are things that we turn to in times of need, remaining in touch with your inner self on a regular basis can improve the quality of your daily life. It can also help you through difficult times and situations, by offering a practical method for maintaining a sense of balance and inner peace, while struggling to understand the meaning of life’s challenges. Just as you must be disciplined in your physical training, you should also be disciplined in your efforts to maintain emotional, and psychological balance throughout the day. This will make it easier to cope with major life events when they arise    

How good do you want to be?

When prospective students come into the karate school for the first time, they often ask the question, "How long does it take to learn karate?" These folks probably expect an answer like "six weeks", or "six months", or "six years", because we are used to thinking in this limited fashion. Most people, after all, graduate from college after four years of study having previously graduated high school after the twelfth grade.Karate, however, is a different process which is not merely academic and intellectual, but also physical and psychological with contextual emotional involvement. Therefore, although the curriculum required for the attainment of Black Belt is quite specific in defining the criteria to be met physically, the emotional and psychological elements concomitant in this process seem extremely abstract and fall into the area of experiential knowledge.

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Placing this kind of process within a time-frame with any degree of accuracy is extremely difficult. One of the best analogies I can think of when considering the question of martial arts press involves a comparison with musicianship In this case, the karate practitioner is the instrument and the player simultaneously. Like the musician, the kareteka must learn the physical basics of the instrument including maintaining the correct tuning (balance) and learning all the basic notes (technique) from which chords (simultaneous movements) and runs (combination techniques) can be formulated. Just as even master musicians must keep their instruments in tune and practice their scales, so the karateka must maintain flexibility and balance and practice the basics of the art. Where the musician may practice a set piece, the karateka practices kata. Where the musician practices improvisation, the karateka develops Free Sparring abilities. If you go for piano lessons and expect the teacher to give an answer the question, "How long will it take to play the piano?", the answer might be the same as I would give the pupil who asks "How long will it take to learn karate?" That answer could be "How good do you want to be?"

In reality there is no limit to how good a musician can become, and the same is true for a martial artist. When you become one with yourself as the instrument and attain oneness with yourself as the player, you will experience the perfection of the eternal present, and, in that moment, stepping beyond time and space, all questions about how hard it was or how long it took will evaporate in the joy of self-awareness. This is the real answer.

Only the practice of perfection can lead to the ecstasy of fulfillment. If you want to be good, then practice correctly. In order to perfect your practice, you must persevere. Persistence is the main quality necessary for success in the martial arts--- and in life!

Sensei Robert Heale Mason c1989