About 21 years ago I had a small child enrolled in my dojo. He was around 10 years old. During the conversation with his parent about why she wanted him to learn Karate it became apparent he had no self esteem and felt worthless. This child was shy, never could look anyone in the eye and rarely would answer questions. All of his teachers at school basically gave up on him. The principals gave up on him. Everyone told his mom that he was not going to amount to much if “he” didn’t change.
About four months into his training we were doing push ups for class warm ups. He never did more than 10 and would just drop on the floor acting like the world was coming to an end. During the push ups I dropped down in front of him and began doing them with him. I pushed, I pulled and I demanded he keeps his eyes on me and does them with me. The entire time I was telling him that he has this, that there is a power inside of him that he needs to learn to let out and control. That he is capable of anything he wants to do in life, be in life BUT HE MUST WORK FOR IT. We did 29 push ups together and the entire time he cried but never gave up.
Flash forward two years later and here is this 12 year old kid that is smiling whenever he walks into the dojo. He had excelled at his training, came out of his shell and was getting passing grades in school. He was working hard in the dojo and doing great. Sadly he never made it to black belt and moved away about a year later. Over the years I lost touch with him but I always wondered how he was doing, which is the case with many of my students that wonder away. About five years ago I got a phone call at the dojo and it was a voice I didn’t recognize but it was his.
During our conversation he told me had finished school and was now in the US Army. He wasn’t just a soldier either but became an officer. We talked for what seemed like an hour or longer but towards the end he asked me if I remembered the “push up incident” when he was 10. I smiled and said yes I do. He said “I just wanted to thank you for that. That day, what you said, how you pushed me has always been on my mind. It was that day my life began to change and I thank you and Karate for that”.
Over the many years I have been teaching Karate people know me as a serious teacher, one who never accepts excuses. I don’t tolerate half hearted effort in my dojo either. The reason why is because I believe in every single student that comes through my doors…even if they don’t believe in their own self. Through teaching, and training, in Karate I have seen even the most awkward, shy and withdrawn person (regardless of age) become confident, strong and focused. The changes that come through being pushed outside of one’s own comfort zone are needed to build strong character.
In a society where most people are coddled and babied this concept is more important than ever. We can’t run from obstacles in life. We can’t hide when things get tough in life. We need to have the spirit built through training in Karate so we can think clearly, accept challenges in life and run them over like freight trains in order to become who we have always wanted to be. The real challenge lies in being able to accept the changes, and the coach, Sensei, teacher or parent who is pushing the child to grow. We all are here to raise children and, as the famous saying goes, “It takes a village to raise a child”.
We, Karate teachers world wide, are more dedicated than ever to helping people of all ages to grow in their Karate. You will be challenged. You will be tired. No one will tell you are doing great when you aren’t trying and no one will accept half effort in the dojo…a good dojo that it is (yes I realize there are some dojos that just want you to “feel” great so you will keep paying them called a mcdojo). Your Sensei was there, where you are. We have failed thousands of times and had a Sensei pushing us to excel beyond being common place. The art of Karate is not just mere physical defense. It is an art that changes the person. It will build your health, increase your focus, strengthen your resolve and develop your character into a well balanced person. When you find this balance you will achieve anything in life…but you’re going to have to WORK FOR IT.
When I was a teenager I went through a long and very tough brown belt test. During the exam the tears came flowing and I was sure I couldn’t do it…I was going to fail. My Sensei just kept pushing me and pushing me to keep going. No matter what excuse, what I felt, there was no way I was going to be allowed to give up. It was that challenge that changed my life and gave me a strength I never knew existed. Over the years I have seen people of all ages break down in the dojo when it got really tough. I always quote Mr. Miyagi and say “It is ok to lose to opponent but it is never ok to lose to fear”. Fear of failure is what fuels the tears in most people. They simply don’t believe they can keep going, that they can do it…so, we as your Sensei, push you through it never accepting failure as the outcome.
Have people failed in my dojo? Yes…as I have too when I was training for black belt. It is alright to fail. It just means you weren’t ready for the next step and need more time to prepare. It is okay to cry in the dojo, in your training but it is NEVER okay to just quit. Every single person that you meet who achieved anything in their Karate, be it rank levels, teaching licenses, titles, championship wins, whatever it is has failed. We have all cried, we have all wanted to quit, we have all thought there is no way we can do this. So how did we make it through that? Simple…we just trained, worked harder and understood that we are human. No one is perfect. That, my friends, is the secret to achieving success in anything you want to do in life. Now, get to the dojo, train hard and work hard so you can achieve great things in your Karate and in life!
Steven Franz, Rokudan
Shorin Ryu Shorinkan