Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Karate: from hatchling to Eagle

No one likes to be the "new kid" at anything. Especially no one likes to be "the new karate kid" because there is a strong feeling of respect toward people of higher rank and you don't feel like you can live up to their expectations. This feeling of unease can often lead students to leave a dojo before really getting a "taste" of what karate is all about.

the Martial Clique

I recently had the educational experience of joining a martial arts club that was teaching a certain kind of aikido that is a little unconventional. The fact that the art was a little obscure and the amount of time that the group spent studying together (more than ten years for the most junior of them) helped them to forge a strong bond between each other. However, this bond inadvertently intimidated others and made them leave the dojo after very brief periods. Once the sensei said that most people drop in, do a few classes and then leave.
It was difficult for me and my wife to train there. While we were very interested in learning, the group spent most of their time talking about things not related to the martial arts. When they did get "down to business" they would review the same four skills for weeks at a time. Often they wouldn't say more than two or three words to us and always in the attitude of correction. I like to consider myself a hard trainer (kyokushin helps build that kind of thing) but these guys gave us a cold shoulder from day one to day one hundred and on.
I am sure that it was an unconscious thing on the part of the sensei and other students to be so exclusive, but it was odd to hear them talk about how most people didn't stick around and that suited them just fine. In my past experience, martial artists had been people who wanted to spread the knowledge of their particular art and wanted to help people do that. After six frustrating months trying to deal with the egoes involved (my own included!) I left that dojo and have tried to apply what I learned there in a positive way.

The Unexpected Lesson

While I learned valuable techniques studying with that group of aikidokas, the lesson I didn't think to learn is the one that I feel is most important: we are not "karate kids" or "novices" or even "beginners" when we start practicing a martial art, we are hatchlings! The new karate student is a fragile and wonderful thing. The new karate student is vulnerable to good and bad influences. The new karate student doesn't know much about karate or the way or why people are wearing their pajamas to class. The new karate student only begs with mouth wide open for the nutritious food that sensei will give him.
If we look at each new karate student as a member of the nest and not just some bum who wants to get some exercise in, the new karate student will feel that association. Perhaps it will not be a recognizable thing to them, at first. But practice after practice with everyone pitching in to show them the ropes, encourage, and challenge them, the new karate student- the karate hatchling will begin to grow into an eagle.

Where Eagles Only Dare

Eagles are the single most noble birds that I know of. They fly highest and among birds exhibit extraordinary perception and are known to have keen eyesight. A properly trained karate-ka can be likened to an eagle because they practice techniques and philosophies and methods that go far beyond the other students who choose not to achieve those levels of excellence. Students who only push themselves in time to make the next rank may be likened to the chicken who satisfies himself by scratching the ground and flying only on rare occasion. Other students find dojos that "hand out" belts or have annual advancement for attendance and can be likened to the penguin, who can only waddle and swim; instead of flying, they find ways around. Worst is the ostrich who buries his head, those who choose to leave the arts and pretend that they cannot do them or trick themselves into believing that the martial arts aren't "for them."
In the word "excellence" we find the word "excel" which means to go beyond. Karate students who go beyond are those rare eagles that everyone loves to see in flight. The rest fondly look up from their mcdojos or from the sand and say "if only I had more time," and "if only I had been born with longer legs." The eagle has risen above petty excuses.

Return to the Nest

The other thing I like about eagles is that, like most birds, they are nesting animals. The karate student who has truly excelled wants to share what they can with others and accepts the hatchling gingerly into the the nest with the words: Welcome to the nest, little hatchling, you are in good hands.


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