One of my earliest memories is going to the cinema with my Dad to watch Return of the Jedi. For any child of the 1970’s (I know its hard to believe…. I only look 24) It was an essential right-of-passage.
I have always been fascinated by the original Star Wars trilogy and even studied the Production Designers illustration techniques when I was at college.
For me, the films are a work of genius. George Lucas (their creator) had a vision ahead of its time that pushed the boundaries of special effects and changed movie making for ever!
Recently I returned to my interest on the creation of the movies and how Lucas had been inspired and then conceived the stories themselves.
I discovered that Lucas is a student of Joseph Campbell the author of The Hero with a Thousand Faces. In this book the author identifies and formalises ‘the Heroes journey’ having studied myths and folklore from around the world.
The best definition I could find online of the Heroes Journey is as follows:
‘the hero is called to adventure, which they—or a loved one—resist. This is followed by some kind of aid from beyond their normal experience, the crossing of the threshold from known reality to an unknown world, an initiatory road of trials through the unknown, a big ordeal that results in ego-death and a new elixir, a return journey, struggle at the return threshold, resurrection of a new self, and the eventual delivery of the life renewing elixir, which redeems a wasteland’.
I think appreciating this mythical construct is an extremely valuable tool for understanding the motivations of our students and indeed ourselves in our karate journeys. (Forgive me if I sound a bit ‘Strictly Come Dancing’ - but I do love the show after all).
Throughout my personal Karate Career, the ‘aid from beyond’ my normal experience has been those I have sought out and chosen to regard as my personal Sensei. My call to adventure has perhaps been karate itself, while competition and starting my own dojos could represent the road of trials. (This is getting spooky now!)
Previously I would have thought that a period of ill health culminating in Bells Palsy and temporary paralysis of my face would have been my big ordeal. But I now realise that my turning point was the loss of my Dad, the person who took me to see Star Wars and so started me on this route to understanding. (Blimey!)
One of my favourite lines from Return of the Jedi is one that I (and my equally nerdy friends) still repeat now. As Luke battles Darth Vader he avoids an attack and leaps to the higher ground. Vader quips
‘Obi-Wan has taught you well!’
(I challenge you not to repeat that without attempting Vader’s voice 😊).
When I think of this line, I suspect that Luke is extremely proud to hear it. It validates his role as a dutiful student and recognises the skill of his teacher. Personally, I have always enjoyed reference made to my influences when I have exhibited their teachings in my performance. Even in my mid-forties it makes me proud to represent my Sensei (assuming I do them justice of course).
One fantastic period of discovery for me was between 2001 and 2004. I was craving extra training and wanted to maximise my opportunities. My teacher Mervyn recommended that I train at the Lovedean dojo with Sensei Brian Smith who was then a 5th dan.
Sensei is an extremely hard task master and very consistent in his expectations. He quite simply expects you to give 100% every time you train. I trained there most Mondays for 4 years and remain extremely grateful for the experience. Sensei never accepted a penny from me for any of the classes I trained in.
I represented his Dojo in team kumite and formed some life-long friendships with members of his dojo (Matt Smith and Terry Oliver included). I remember some of my Seniors commenting that I was sharper, faster, and more aggressive as I trained with the team at Lovedean. I was proud to hear that.
Sensei Smith had taught me well!
As my career progressed and I met my now wife time became more of an issue. Unfortunately, I did not communicate these pressures well and gradually slipped away from this extra training that was so formative and valuable.
Thankfully, some years later I created some artwork for Sensei, and we had the opportunity to talk. Older and more mature I was able to explain why I had stopped training at his club, but I still wish I had talked more at the time.
In all honesty back then, I simply felt ‘I will get there next week’.
One thing that lockdown has taught me is that next week is never guaranteed. We need to value and maximise opportunities when and while we have them. I also try to ensure I communicate my appreciations better.
As I have grown more Senior at Karate my influences have changed and developed. I once asked Sensei Hazard who he sought or studied for influence and inspiration after the passing of Enoeda Sensei. Sensei explained that he looks outside of karate and studied the movement of Dancers and Athletes. I have tried to do the same ever since!
Presently I am studying the work of Neil Peart the late drummer of the Canadian Rock band Rush. For many Neil will always be the greatest Rock Drum technician of all time, he was an exceptional talent and arduous perfectionist.
To quote Jack Black his timing was correct ‘to the atom’.
Neil presently represents the ‘aid from beyond my normal experience’ that offers insight and provocation for growth. I am studying rhythm; time signatures the effect of being ‘off-the beat’. I think this is all very-interesting and relevant for the cadence of combat and controlling conflict.
I discovered Neil in the documentary Beyond the Lighted Stage (available on Netflix) and was most inspired that even when at the top of his profession he sought to improve. In-fact in chapter ten of the documentary he seeks out the ‘Yoda of Drums’ and reinvents his playing style. What a legend!
With the importance of our own mentors acknowledged and the part we as Sensei ourselves must play considered. I wonder if we could contemplate our teaching throughout Lockdown as the ‘struggle at the return threshold’?
If so, then we can continue forward with the confidence that we shall prevail and reinvigorate our students and communities.
As teachers we are responsible for the next generation and it is our privilege to offer
“From first to last, the peak is never passed. Something always fires the light that gets in your eyes.” ― Neil Peart