Every now and again someone says something that really gets my attention. It ignites my mind and pulls me into the present away from the musings of my inner dialogue. Yesterday it was when my wife told our son that ‘Daddy used to have a six-pack’ (Oi, it is still there but now it just has a thermal blanket).
There is an old Japanese saying that states;
"when the student is ready, the teacher will appear".
This was one of those statements that I heard or read years ago and has marinated in my mind ever since. Initially I related it to those significant Sensei that have helped my development throughout the various stages of my karate career. Keith Richards said that ‘everybody starts by imitating their heroes’ and I struggle to think of any character who has evolved into a truer expression of themselves than him.
Recently I have grown to appreciate that I have learnt equally from the performance and experience of my students as-well as the countless mistakes I make in teaching them. As a parent I have learnt from watching my kids play and how they explore the world around them with a spirit of discovery.
I believe that initially as a karate student the focus is physical and so are the rewards. Then for a student to continue to grow (regardless of their vintage) they need to allow constant inspiration to find them. I have opened myself up to learning at every opportunity and am really trying to be present in the moment and absorb everything that is useful or interesting for my karate and life. One of the ways I am exploring this is by resisting technology. (I know this is ironic as I am sharing this in an internet blog, but hey-ho technology is useful in moderation).
In September 2019 I abandoned my I-Phone and bought a basic mobile. It has limited internet access and most importantly no Social Media. The modern world is a very stressful place and pressure and stimuli are abundant. We can choose to separate ourselves from many of these pressures by deciding to be intentional with our use of technology. Without a phone to scroll through I find I read a lot more, I am a better listener, I play with my kids more, I am present in the moment and not distracted by a ping or vibration. I have accepted that to answer emails I have to plan times and computer access to do so. It has helped me feel free.
Over the last ten years the guidance of my wife and love for karate has ensured I haven’t become a workaholic (I have still come close). Karate allows the student to come out of their heads and into their bodies, it is the best form of mindfulness and stress relief I know. When I train I feel that I truly live in the moment with sincere focus and intent. Removing the phone has helped me to emulate this in life.
So where am I going with this? Well, I mentioned earlier about teachings being ever present when the student is ready. Without the distraction of my phone I have found that I watch more documentaries and most importantly listen with intent, especially to music. Suddenly I hear and contemplate lyrics and seek to interpret, understand and challenge their meaning. When I was at School, I was not cool. Imagine a pimply Harry Potter wearing his Dad’s Aviator glasses. Likewise, I was in no way current with my music taste.
Back then I liked whatever my Dad liked so I was more into The Beatles than Nirvana or NWA. Many of my friends at College listened to Thrash Metal! My good friend from my Saturday job loved Metallica. Like teenagers do we used to go out for drives in his Yugo, a car with speakers bigger than it’s engine. We would listen to the Black album, I would listen, but I have realised recently that I was not hearing the lyrics.
One of the reasons I love documentaries about bands is that I believe to make great music in a band you need to truly collaborate. The challenges of a team dynamic, creative differences and the ups and downs of an individual’s circumstance reflects the work we undertake as the principle instructors for the AKA. Life imitates art and as Oscar Wilde said the self-conscious aim of life is to find expression, and art offers it certain beautiful forms through which it may realize that energy.
Metallica’s back catalogue was the last place I expected to find inspiration for my karate. Recently I watched on Prime the documentary on how the band produced the Black Album. The song that really fascinated me was Nothing Else Matters. It was Metallica’s first real ballad and consequently unsettled some of their fans. It wasn’t fast paced or angry, instead it is reflective and melodic. It was written by James Hetfield who at the time was an onstage beer-drinking, flem-spitting, frequentswearing embodiment of masculinity. He wrote the music while doodling on the guitar during a phone call and stumbling across an amazing tune. The heart-felt lyrics were about a then girlfriend and the challenge of a long-distance relationship. He never intended to share it with the band, it was personal and not aligned to his image or reputation. But it was true to the Authentic James, so he shared it with the world. It is my favourite song on the album. For me the song isn’t about a girlfriend or love. Instead it is about devotion to a cause or pursuit. It is about how I will currently choose to study karate. The following verse is how I will (try) to approach my studies:
‘Trust I seek and I find in you. Every day for us something new. Open mind for a different view. And nothing else matters’.
This intention helps me frame the direction I intend to take my karate in for the foreseeable. It may change in time, but for the moment it feels right so it is what I will do. To always enjoy karate it is essential that a practitioner continues to grow. Some grow quicker than others, often we grow in different directions. Without growth we suffer atrophy, so the direction is essential.
My advice to all karateka who feel lost with their studies or just demotivated is to be present in the moment and be open to inspiration at any time from any source. Question what you know and what you don’t. Be authentic to your own appreciation of the art and grow accordingly. It will be difficult not to feel energised when training if you approach it this way. As Oscar Wilde wrote: ‘Be yourself; everyone else is already taken’. After all nothing else matters.