Spirit of First Beginnings

There is a Japanese proverb that says, “Never forget the spirit of first beginnings.” For me it was in 1988 at a little YMCA under the instruction of a very old school Sensei. The class was mostly all advanced adult students who had probably been with him for years.  It was a very intimidating setting for a kid who didn’t know how to tie his new white belt correctly, but it was also invigorating too.  Sensei Gene Orr was a strict disciplinarian and his expectations for his students pushed us to a new level of excellence. That level of excellence was very individual and meant something different to each student, but under his instruction you felt that you wanted to please him and give him your very best. In return you became the best you could be.  I remember those early classes frequently and it motivates me to continue my training and push my limits.  Sometimes our  training, can become boring and mundane and that is when we must look back in the mirror to where we came from and remember why we started. Take time to reflect on what motivated you to train to begin with and those little words of encouragement that you held like a treasure from your teacher. If you dig those old memories up you’ll find plenty of motivation there, like discovering a gold mind of memories, they will enrich you and propel you forward towards your new goals. They will renew your, “spirit of first beginnings.”



The World’s Fastest Round Kick

Gichin Funakoshi, founder of the Shotokan school of karate, once said, “Karate is not only the acquisition of certain defensive skills, but also the mastering of the art of being a good and honest member of society.”   Our society could use more good and honest people and the dojo is a great place to develop them.  Karate is simply a tool, or method that we use in our dojo to develop the whole person.  Originally karate was called a jutsu, which means an art, or simply a method of skills for fighting and self-defense. Then with the fast moving transitions that came with the twentieth century, karate was not excluded in those changes.  With the modernization and westernizing of Japan many of the “old ways” were considered obsolete, but for karate to remain relevant the masters of the art had to adjust with the times.  This meant altering the purpose of karate training and its name. On October 25, 1936 karate’s new name was made official.  A group of well respected karate masters of the time got together at the Showa Kaikan (meeting hall) on Naha, Okinawa. It was a gathering of some of the most prestigious Okinawan masters of the time which included Chomo Hanashiro, Chotoku Kyan, Choki Motobu, Chosin Chibana, Kiyoda Juhatsu, Chojun Miyagi and Gusukuma Shimpan. At this meeting they officially renamed karate, “Empty Hand” and with that it received the kanji on the end of “Do” (pronounced dough) which means “way” or “method”. Karate was no longer just an art of fighting, it was now a “Do” and would from then on be known as “karate-do” or “way of the empty hand”. Karate still possessed its devastating self-defense skills, but it became something more. The new improved karate-do was now not only a method of self-protection, but also a method to develop the whole person body, mind and spirit. The body, mind and spirit are connected and to receive the most benefit from your martial training you must address all three.  The new and improved karate-do would accomplish this and it would be propagated by the likes of great masters such as Kenwa Mabuni, Gichin Funakoshi, Hinori Ohtsuka, Kanbun Ueichi and many more.  Karate-do is like an empty cup. What you poor into it is exactly what it will give you back.  If you poor hard work, discipline and dedication into it. It will give you back those things.  In karate-do we learn kata, meaning form, which are empty exercises of prescribed offensive and defensive techniques a student performs for mastery of the art. Kata is empty, like karate-do, until the person fills it with his own unique experience and challenges to make them what they are.  Everyone may do the same kata, but not all kata are performed the same.  The same can be said of karate-do as well. Different body types, different challenges, different needs that we all have come out in our training and if pursued intently, will in the long run make us not only better at self-defense, but better people. The ultimate aim of karate-do is not to develop the worlds fastest round kick, but to build well rounded world class students who contribute to society.


Prime Your Karate Pump


Karate is like a well of water and you are like the old pump used to pull the water up.  At first to get any water out you must begin to pump and you’ll find yourself working very hard in the beginning with little results.  A little water starts to trickle out of the old pump and you feel some encouragement.  Likewise after a lot of work on learning karate you’ll notice some little improvements.  It’s enough to keep you going, so you pump even harder. The problem that most people run into when it comes to priming the old pump to get water out is the same problem most new students run into when learning karate.  That problem is them.  They give up way to quickly.  And if they give up what ends up being the results is that they put a whole lot of work into priming the pump, or learning karate with very little results.  But for those few students who continue to prime the karate pump and work diligently without giving up, like the old water pump, in time they will discover that the pump will begin to flow and then gush fresh water with very little effort at all.  The hardest part is in the beginning when you work the hardest with very little success.  Don’t quit!  Keep on pumping and working hard and in time the knowledge, like the water, will flow.  Just keep pumping!

Pine Trees Make Good Bonsai: Not Good Karate Students

Pine trees are very beautiful to see in nature with their flowing trunks and cascading branches and they do very well growing alone, standing strong against the elements of nature.  Pine trees make good bonsai, but not good karate students.  Karate Students need others to grow strong and the same is true of every individual regardless of their chosen field.  It has been said that there are no Lone Rangers in leadership.  Even the Lone Ranger had his trusted friend Tonto.  The Karate student is more like the great Redwood trees.  They need each other to grow tall and strong.  Redwood trees grow in small clusters and they have a massive root system and the roots of all the trees intertwine, making them stable and keeping them upright as they reach towards the sun and grow for generations.

To reach a big goal like black belt, or any goal for that matter, we need others to join us on the journey.  The Redwood trees all share the same common goal, to grow and survive for centuries, and by sharing a common foundation of a strong root system with the other Redwood trees they accomplish their objective.  It is the way God made them and it is also the way God made us to work in a community with others.  In the dojo we too have a common goal and that is to become a black belt and then go beyond.  It is the commitment we make to become a black belt that creates community and fosters unity within the ranks.  True we can attempt to go it alone like the mighty pine, but win the first wind hits us, it can often blow us over and it can be very difficult to recover and we will never be able to grow to our full potential alone.  But if we train together and have strong roots in the foundations of our values as students and black belts we can grow tall and strong. Like the Redwoods, when a challenge arises we will have the support of a strong foundation of community and shared values with our teachers and fellow students to help us weather the storm.  By having strong roots in community, like the Redwoods, we too can grow for a lifetime.

The Power of Self-Confidence


Born during the era of the roaring twenties came one of the greatest athletes of all time.  With a boxing record of 49 wins and 0 losses and 43 of those wins coming by the way of knockout  it would be safe to say that this boxer was one of the greatest of any generation.  He was born on September 1, 1923 in Brockton, Massachusetts to his immigrant parents, who recently came to the USA from Italy.  After dropping out of high school when he was in the 10th grade he got a job working on a delivery truck prior to being drafted to help in the war effort in 1943.  He began boxing in the army and carried an average record of 8 wins and 4 losses before being discharged.  He quit boxing for awhile and tried out for the Chicago Cubs minor league team, but was cut. But he didn’t give up on himself and went back to boxing, this time professionally in 1947 and won his first fight by way of knockout.

That would be his first professional win of 48 wins to follow before retiring in April of 1956 as the first person to be the world heavyweight boxing champion who carried the title for over three years and went untied and undefeated throughout his professional career.  Before going 49-0 though, he had his share of losses. The key was that he had self-confidence and didn’t give up.  He was willing to believe in himself when no one else would. If Rocco Francis Marchegiano would have given up on boxing, the world never would have known, Rocky Marciano, one of the greatest heavyweight champions of all time.  Rocky’s feats in the ring were legendary and inspired many, including Sylvester Stallone’s character Rocky, who was named after Marciano, in the 1976 movie, based on an underdog fighter who refused to give up.  After Retiring Marciano was asked if he thought he could beat the then heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali.  His response is telling of his self-confidence when he replied, “I be conceited if I said I could and I be lying if I said I couldn’t.”  Self-confidence means you are willing to believe in yourself regardless of the odds.

The Warrior Within


“The warrior doesn’t train for others to see him.  He trains because he is a warrior and perfecting his spirit is his lifetime objective.” That is a quote by author and martial artist Forrest E. Morgan.  Why do you train in the martial arts?  For me when I was a new karate student I had a warrior within that I needed to develop to be tested and to be trained.  I think this is true of every young man.  The karate dojo provided me with an adventure and a place to polish my spirit.  Author John Eldredge says, “Adventure requires something of us, puts us to the test.  Though we may fear the test, at the same time we yearn to be tested, to discover we have what it takes.” As a young man I longed to be tested, to see if I had what it took and the dojo provided the right atmosphere I needed to challenge me.

Those same skills that I learned to develop in the dojo, to be able to face my fears and win, I still use everyday.  The dojo was a place where I could develop the warrior within me.  It was a place where I could develop Tokun, my fighting spirit.  In any endeavor in life you must learn also to develop Tokun, it is a prerequisite for success in whatever you wish to accomplish.  The good things in life are never easy and the easy things in life will never develop your inner strengths.  Karate master Richard Kim once said, “He who conquers himself is the greatest warrior.  This is the highest of platitudes for the karate master.” In the dojo our training partners our ultimately not the ones we wish to conquer, but ourselves.  If we learn this lesson of fighting the enemy within, by fighting the doubts that can plague our minds with every new challenge we face, then we can be victorious in our daily battles.  Most students will never use their karate skills on another person in self-defense, but the attitude and the spirit it takes to win in life that they learn in the dojo they can use everyday.  No matter how many cool self-defense moves you may know, if you don’t develop the warrior within you and hone your fighting spirit you’ll never win in any endeavor.  This fighting spirit is something that transcends the dojo and can impact every area of your life. Some people are born with a fighting spirit and the rest of us must develop it.  That is where the dojo can be a great asset.  The proper dojo atmosphere can provide the right environment that will cultivate that spirit within the young boy and girl and ultimately help them be more successful in every area of their life.

What is the right dojo atmosphere?  It is an atmosphere where you will be nurtured and pushed.  The proper dojo culture is lead by a sensei who cares for his students and also challenges them to be there very best.  It is a place where we are tested and encouraged at the same time.  Every boy has a warrior within that longs to be developed, tested and trained.  It is within our nature as men.  Give that to your sons in a good martial arts school with a good Sensei, one who has not only knowledge and skills, but also has a good heart and you will see your child flourish. And one day they will thank you for the opportunity you gave them.  I write this primarily with boys in mind,  although of course boys and girls alike can benefit from the martial arts, but it is important to recognize that every little boy is a little man growing up who longs to be tested and to prove himself a man. Author Stephen Mansfield says, “We live in an opulent blandness-overfed, overtended, overentertained, and overly preoccupied with ourselves. But men need aggressive physical lives.  They need contest and conquest, strain and struggle.” A good dojo provides this special place.  A place for young men and young ladies to develop their warrior within.  Give that to your sons and daughters and one day they will thank you for it.

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Reignite Your Passion



When I was young and just starting in the martial arts I was excited and enthusiastic about my training.  I loved to practice and I loved to show anyone who would be a willing audience, or better yet my student as I shared with them my newly acquired knowledge.  I just couldn’t get enough of it.  I was pulled by my passion.  When you love doing something you’ll do it because you love doing it and not because you must.  Passionate students don’t have to be reminded to practice. They practice, because practice itself is their reward.  When students lose their passion, it usually isn’t because they don’t love training anymore, but more because they forgot how much they loved it. They get distracted by everyday things as they practice less and less. Eventually their progress slows and they get discouraged.  If this trend continues they will inevitably give up and quit.  The secret to longevity in karate or anything else you love to do is to reignite your passion.  Reflect regularly on why you started in the first place.  What motivated you to begin training.  I personally find a renewing of my passion by watching specific movies related to my training, listening to certain songs and reading my favorite motivational books.  They remind me why I love to do what I do.  Try it and it will reignite your passion too.