Kicking Through the Board
“Now focus on the board! Take your time and kick THROUGH the board, not AT the board!”
Sweat dripped from my brow into my focused eyes and onto the red and blue karate floor mats upon which I had spent countless hours training in order to get to this moment. A mere three quarter inch slab of (hopefully) dry pine wood held firmly in place between two pairs of hands was now the last thing that stood between me and my next belt rank.
These are the words I remember hearing my karate instructors speak to me countless times as I would stand in front of dozens of people, all watching and waiting in anticipation to see if I would break the board. To this day I’m thankful I had the wisdom of my instructors and all of these “board-breaking” opportunities in my life to teach me about how the importance of follow-through both in karate and in life. If I’ve learned anything from breaking boards, it’s this: kicking AT the board is very narrow-sighted…and painful. What I mean by that is that if you lack the commitment within every fiber of your mind, body and soul to truly break through that obstacle, you will not succeed. Kicking AT the board comes from a mindset of not thinking that you can actually break the board. Kicking THROUGH the board, however, represents a paradigm shift. When one switches from kicking AT the board to THROUGH the board, it is essentially the empowered mindset, the belief that one can indeed break that board, that results in success. In fact, kicking at the board is far worse than not kicking it at all because the only thing that approaches brokenness is your foot!
"When one switches from kicking AT the board to THROUGH the board, it is essentially the empowered mindset, the belief that one can indeed break that board, that results in success."
There are two distinct paths that lead to an “at” versus “through” the board result, though for much of the journey they are indistinguishable. Both of these paths traverse the grounds of good intentions, ascend the hills of training, and even skip in tandem through the fields of motivation. However, they part ways when the paths split into what I like to call “grit” versus “quit”. It is this pivotal point in the journey that one might say will predict whether the board or the foot will reign victorious. I like to think of “grit” as a high level of perseverance necessary to endure through struggles, whereas its counterpart “quit” is the lack of perseverance. I have found that it is the accumulation of grit over an extended period of time that is often the best indicator of future success or failure. My journey in breaking that wood board did not begin when I stepped on the mat that day for my belt test. Instead it began months, or at times years, prior when I encountered my first fork in the road, the first trial in which my mind and my body screamed at me "Quit!" but my spirit instead chose to respond with grit. Each and every repition I did of that kick during training, regardless of how tired or how bored of the kick I was, proved to be but another tiny step further down the trail of grit.
Author Eugene Peterson wrote a book titled “A Long Obedience in the Same Direction.” While I will admit I have not read the book, I’m in love with the title! It speaks volumes to me in the realm of follow through and consistency. We live in a society that prefers not to do anything in the same direction for any period of time, instead choosing to allow our insatiable desires to bounce from endeavor to endeavor, accepting that it’s okay not to finish because surely something else “worthy” of finishing is just around the bend. We say to our friends, “I think I'm going to write a book!”, only to quit in the second week when we realize that such a feat would be too much work or that we’re not actually “qualified” to write a book. We commit to serve with a local organization or group we believe in only to back out when we realize we've overcommitted ourselves. We talk about our deep desire to travel the world and make a difference only to find ourselves working the same unfulfilling job ten years later.
"It is the accumulation of grit over an extended period of time that is often the best indicator of future success or failure."
Why is this?
Like I said, there is very little difference between the two paths throughout the majority of the trip. If you were to watch two martial artists as they prepared to break a board, one with an “at-the-board” mindset and the other a “through-the-board” mindset, you would probably notice very few differences between the two, but it is exactly those few, miniscule differences that would set up one for success and the other for failure. The focus is different, and there is a certain rigidity and sense of fortitude in the “through-the-board” martial artist that is lacking in his comrade. Perhaps the differences between those who are known for follow through and those who aren’t share similarly minute yet powerful distinctions. I’ve seen countless possible world changers act in what appears to be a determined and focused manner only to find them kicking at the board and not through it.
I find it amazing what placing your feet one inch closer to your target can do in preparing yourself to break a board. If you think about it, it would seem that such a trivial adjustment to one’s board breaking strategy would produce minimal results in the final outcome, yet it is a physical manifestation of the switch from kicking at the board to kicking through the board. That miniscule inch is where the path splits between “grit” and “quit”. It is the space where one is forced to decide whether they will choose to muster up their inner strength and grit or instead allow their "at-the-board" mindset to win out. It is where one chooses to let nothing stand between them and turning that board into firewood.
(PS: Writing this blog was difficult for me because there was so much I wanted to say! That’s why I’m going to continue the conversation in my next blog by talking about my process for “ideating” and how I choose what to pursue and what to deny or save for later. Stay tuned for more!)