What Karate Has Taught Me
A couple of weekends ago, I spent 11 hours in a hot, sweaty, packed gym with hundreds of kids and adults running around, doing something that I absolutely love: karate. I've been a martial arts fanatic ever since I was nine years old and have never looked back. Over the past 15 years I've experienced an incredible journey of self-discovery, hard work, and pure joy. Its amazing how one activity can have such a monumental impact on almost every part of your life. Recently I've found myself playing the introspection card and, not surprisingly, karate was dealt in a few hands. As I have examined my life, I can see how my experiences and training in karate have taught me so many things about who I am and who I want to be. So, I decided that for my next few blogs I would focus on a few areas of my life besides architecture that have helped mold and shape me into who I am today.
To begin with, karate has taught me the art of timing. Notice I intentionally refrained from saying the word "patience" because I believe that patience is only half the picture (the half that I personally prefer to overlook). While the art of waiting is extremely important, especially in today's society of expedited service and split second gratification. However, I have come to find that the beauty is found in the balance of waiting and acting, tension and release. When performing "kata" or forms, we like to call this highs and lows. One applies highs and lows in their forms to exude speed and power when necessary, but one will surely lose the power of their form if they do not create deliberate pauses, gaps you might say, in order to highlight the dynamism of the other moves. Another application of this idea is the utter importance of the rests, or quiet parts, in music. Sometimes it is the void rather than the substance that truly makes the masterpiece. I've come to discover that this truth is universal and applies in so many aspects of my life. If I cannot learn when to be bold in my speech and when to bite my tongue, I will surely damage or destroy my relationships. Passion in my profession can quickly become a massive flurry of overwhelming deadlines and expectations if I cannot learn to take time to stop, and simply be. In this sense the art of balance is truly about more than standing blindfolded on one leg like a circus act.
Karate has also taught me the beauty of humility. I'll never forget the words my instructor's instructor Grandmaster Royce Young spoke when we had the privilege of training with him many years ago. When discussing all of his years in the martial arts and all of the things that he has learned, he summed it up by saying, "The more I learn, the more I learn I don't know". In my opinion, this is the reflection of someone truly great. Humility seems to be the best kept (unintentionally so) secret of today. Our gods of music and sports today speak of glory and their greatness, as if their duly noted high level of ability in their field or art is what makes them great. While these self-proclaimed kings and queens may win oscars and super bowls, the truly great leaders are the ones who demand not praise and adoration but rather humbly offer the gifts they have so graciously been given. Some of the greatest experts on leadership, including but not limited to Jesus of Nazareth, John Maxwell and Stephen Covey share a common theme in many of their writings: the servant leader. I look back in thankfullness as I see how my instructors saw my vanity and pride early on and helped me to overcome that weakness while simultaneously training me in my physical and mental capabilities. It was a gift I will never forget and hope to pass on to my own students and those around me.
Finally, karate has taught me the necessity of sacrifice. The summer before my freshman year of high school I found myself at a crossroads where I had to make a decision, karate or soccer. It was only a few short months before my black belt test and I knew I would need to fully commit to achieve this goal of mine. On the other hand, I had played soccer since I was five and, while not the most skilled player, was an avid lover of the sport. As you can probably assume, I chose to give up high school soccer in order to give the proper time, attention and drive to the sport that had won my heart. It is said that if you try to catch two rabbits, you catch no rabbits. Attention divided is no attention at all, and I knew that I could either half-heartedly pursue both passions (and probably end up more exhausted) or I could sacrifice one for the other. This is a painful lesson for many who's passion for life, profession and everything in between makes it hard to say no to anything, but it is a necessary choice if one desires to truly maximize the effectiveness of their gifts and passions. In his book The Five Levels of Leadership, John Maxwell makes the point that the most influential and iconic leaders are so focused and selective that they typically limit their choice of activities to 1-3 things, but they do them extremely well. This requires great sacrifice, an essential part of all martial arts. Ironically, this lesson given to me by karate has majorly influenced my decision to invest less time in the martial arts now as I pursue my dreams and goals in my career of architecture (don't worry though, I still get my kick on).
I find it truly amazing the way that aspects of my life that I once might have considered independent are in reality synergistic in nature and have worked together to form me into who I am today. Karate has shaped so much of my life and it continues to do so. Years ago my mother made me a scrapbook filled with pictures and memories of my experiences in the martial arts and in the back she included this note: "I don't know if you've grown into who you are because of nine years of martial arts or if you are a 2nd dan black belt because of who you are beneath that. Somehow I think they both are true." (That basically sums up how wise my mom is right there). So what are the character builders of your life? I encourage you, if you haven't already, to truly examine the parts of your life that have molded you and seek to understand the ways they have affected you. If you find something interesting I would love to hear your own story! Life is too incredible not to be fully and completely explored, navigated, and experienced.