“Men acquire a particular quality by constantly acting in a particular way.”
A few days ago I found myself in the position of explaining the concept of “cutting corners” to a group of four, five and six-year-olds.
This group of young students was warming up with some laps around the Dojo, stopping periodically to work our hand strikes and blocks. Many of these young warriors – as kids do in their hurry to get the next spot as quickly as possible – were literally cutting the corners of the track that we had laid out for them. Show me a person who thinks getting an entire group of young children to stop doing this by telling them just once or twice, and I’ll show you a person who probably doesn’t spend much time with young children. But we as instructors persevered, the kids all started running true, honest-to-God laps, and we had an opportunity to have a little “Mat Chat” about why the easiest thing often isn’t the best thing to do.
Moving around corners instead of cutting them takes extra time and energy. It can be really tiring, making sure we’re adhering to all the tiny details we need to observe in order to truly do something that needs to be done. And for us parents and teachers, getting our little people to observe all these little rules can be downright exhausting.
But the payoff is there, even if it takes a while to fully manifest itself. The child who constantly says “please” and “thank you”—even if they do because they’re constantly being reminded by their parents – becomes a polite person. The athlete who always pushes themselves as hard as they can becomes strong and fast. The player who regularly adheres to every rule of the game, and who demands of themselves the best they know they are capable of becomes a person of true integrity.
Live in the present,
launch yourself on every wave,
find your eternity in each moment.
-Henry David Thoreau
It’s about this time of year when I start to hear people wonder aloud “where has summer gone?” Talk about time slipping away, and less carefree times looming ahead.
Among the qualities we strive for through our Dojo training is the ability to occupy no other place mentally than the present moment and the present place. For a warrior, that is a crucial life-preservation skill. But preserving life is only the beginning—the full living of life is our true goal.
So let’s take some time to remind ourselves that Summer is still very much with us, and so should we be very much with the season.
“People who avoid failure also avoid success.”
It took me a long time, but I have come to accept the fact that no matter how much I want it, no matter how hard I work towards it, not everyone who walks in our Dojo doors will one day be a Black Belt. No matter how fervently I try to pass on my own passion for the martial arts, not everyone will share it and live it. No matter how important it is to me, not everyone will develop the skills and the will to prevail over any threat they might encounter. I’ll keep trying, but I’ve come to accept that the world won’t necessarily bend to my will.
But if you asked me if there was one single thing that I would like everyone who walks through our doors to possess when they walk back out, it’s a willingness to fail. That, to me, is the single biggest lesson we can pass on to our children. For a child, the fear of failing means missing out at any number of chances to explore and grow. Kids that learn to pick themselves up and dust themselves off, meanwhile, become far more adept at recognizing and availing themselves of opportunity.
But this form of spiritual paralysis isn’t limited to kids. Some people make it well into adulthood without taking the chances necessary to reaching their full potential. Other grown-ups, having become successful in their communities and chosen fields, lose their willingness to step outside the sphere of comfort they’ve worked so hard to create.
So I’ll be willing to fail, but I’ll try as hard as I can not to—especially when it comes to passing on the lesson that failure isn’t final, just an important bit of pavement on the road to success.