The Dojo

Sensei Kendall's Blog

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Excellence in Martial Arts

If you aren’t in over your head,
how do you know how tall you are?
T. S. Eliot


We are now in week four of our semi-annual Black Belt Boot Camp – or, as it is more commonly called among participants, Black Belt Boot Camp (Woo Hoo!) – and I’m pleased to say this Fall’s candidates are all both succeeding, and failing.  Just what we, their instructors, hope for.

It’s a heck of a thing, BBBC (WH!).  We take dedicated martial artists who have successfully risen from White Belt through the various degrees of Brown Belt, who have successfully passed a comprehensive pre-test, and then we test them to failure.

“Failure Testing” is a manufacturing term described on the web site “Business Knowledge” as such:

“a way to ensure that you are producing a product and service that will not fail under different circumstances and situations of stress, weather, temperature, and so on and so forth. Continual failure testing, even after a product is developed, will help you ensure that your manufacturing processes are as optimal as possible and that you are continually improving your products and your services.”

For a product of manufacturing, “failure testing” means running it through its uses over and over again in increasingly conditions until something goes wrong.  For a martial artist it means….. well, the same thing.   Good at defending yourself against a punch?  Great, do it with your non-dominant hand.  Skilled at disarming an attacker with a knife?  Alright, try it when you’re on your knees.  Do pushups to you drop, run until your legs feel like jelly, then run some more.  Fail.  Fail some more.  Fail until you don’t.

There are people utterly confused by this concept, who wonder why anyone would possibly subject themselves to such rigor, who would actually continue deeper and deeper until they found themselves over their head.  Our brave candidates at BBBC (WH!) do get it.  Every week they are learning more about themselves, finding out just how tall they are.  And, I can promise you, when this is all over they’ll be walking taller than they ever have before.

Posted: September 19, 2017 | In: Uncategorized | Leave a comment
“Change has a considerable psychological impact on the human mind.
To the fearful it is threatening because it means that things may get worse.
To the hopeful it is encouraging because things may get better.
To the confident it is inspiring because the challenge exists to make things better.”
-King Whitney Junior
Spring may be Nature’s time of renewal, but for me, it’s Fall.  Twenty years since I’ve been in school, and I still get that “time to start something new” feeling when September rolls around.  Part of that, of course, is the kids.  Gareth joins Autumn in high school this year, and we’re very pleased that both of them are looking forward to the new year with lots of excitement and optimism.  A lot of our friends are watching their kids go off to college.

Fall is also the time that we get a lot of new students in our dojo.  That’s exciting for me, especially since I can remember every one of our instructors back when they were White Belts taking their first step onto the martial arts path.  A future leader of this dojo might walk through their doors for the first time in the next couple weeks.

It might be hard to imagine, when you see the confidence and commitment that our Black Belts show, but every one of us began our martial arts journey with a certain sense of uncertainty mixed in with the excitement of new possibilities.  In my experience, there is never hope without also a little bit of fear.

Confidence, I believe, is born out of both hope and fear.  It comes with taking on a change that scares us, and coming out on the other side.  It is strengthened when we can imagine a tough situation getting better.

Whatever change this season brings you, may you be able to overcome your fear, and may you hold on to high hopes for the outcome.  Most of all, please find the confidence to actively take the steps that will quench your fears and make your hopes a reality.

Posted: September 9, 2017 | In: Uncategorized | Leave a comment

“Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes.
Don’t resist them; that only creates sorrow.
Let reality be reality.
Let things flow naturally forward
in whatever way they like.”

― Lao Tzu

People close to me have lately been asking me, with varying degrees of concern, how I’m going to be this coming week.  It’s the week, you see, that Caroline and I take Autumn to college in Michigan, the week that our daughter starting out a new life for herself 900 miles from home becomes more than just an abstract idea.

So, how am I going to handle it?

I have no idea.

So far, there have been moments of excitement for her, and great pride in the enthusiasm that she is showing for embarking on a new adventure.  I’ve been feeling optimistic.  There have also been moments, stealing up on me from nowhere, of stinging eyes and hitched breath.

I have no fundamental problem with crying.  Not in a misplaced machismo sense, anyway.  You ever want to see some waterworks, sit down with me to watch “War Horse”, or “Glory”.  Or “Babe”, for that matter (I must have seen it a dozen times, yet I still dissolve every time at the end when Farmer Hoggert says “that’ll do, pig….. that’ll do”).

Please give me a moment.


As I was saying, I don’t have a problem with tears, in principal.  I have, however, long held the belief that tears are of limited use beyond the occasional catharsis.  Why let our vision be blurred at the very moment when we need to be looking ahead with clear eyes at the best way to move forward?  My philosophy, born largely from my years of martial arts training, is largely one of growth and forward motion.  As much as I loved the years when my little girl play with stuffed animals for hours, was always up for an Easter-egg hunt and could be scooped up easily into my arms, it would be absurd to expect her to stay that way.

A warrior reacts to the situation with which they are faced, not to the circumstances in which they wish they found themselves.  And the warrior I aspire to be tries very hard not to dwell on sadness and disappointments, but rather look for ways to grow from them.  In the case of my daughter, it’s not too hard.  The fact is, for as much as I miss that little girl (and I really do), I am absolutely blown away by, and crazy in love with, the young woman she has become.   In that way, my daughter has taught me every bit as much about life as my time in the Dojo has.

And one more warrior’s lesson I’m learning, as I prepare to see her off to her life half a country away: reacting to the challenges facing you at any given juncture in life, is not about fighting like nothing hurts you.  Just like I would never let one of my students to totally ignore an ache or pain warning them to rest a part of their body.  A warrior’s presence of mind – true living in the moment – demands we acknowledge the hurt, even if we’re not going to let them slow us down.

I still don’t know the answer to my friends’ question.  I am not trying to picture what that moment will be like, when it’s time for me and Caroline to drive away from our daughter’s new home.  But I am resolving to give the heartache a place right next to the pride and the love.  I think I’ll be the better warrior for it.

Posted: September 3, 2017 | In: Uncategorized | Leave a comment