Monday, September 02, 2013

Shodan Essay: Perseverance


By Christopher Danello

Charles Swindle said, “Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you respond to it.” This is the concept behind the Kishaba Juku rule: “Fall 7, Rise 8.” That rule has become a mantra for me. I keep it as a sign on my desk. Whenever I find myself running into a wall – which is often – I remind myself to fall seven, but rise eight. Perseverance is defined as a steady course of action despite obstacles. Life puts up walls. Survival of the fittest is not so much won by the strongest or the smartest. It’s more often won by the more dogged and relentless. The one that continues to rise.

One of the things I found while searching for the Perseverance Kanji, was that it is often associated with the Kanji for Patience. This is no accident as Perseverance teaches the hard lesson of Patience. This is one of the main lessons I have learned through Karate. It’s easy to get frustrated with the very slow and difficult uphill climb in learning Kishaba Juku Karate. I have heard this mentioned over the years from other members who came from other disciplines. This is not a quick fix study. It’s not a place for Rank Collectors. It is a long, slow, methodical process that will only take time. It’s easy to walk away when the walls appear. This is where you must cultivate the Patience to Persevere. From what I’ve heard, Kishaba Juku is structured for just that purpose. It’s no accident that Kishaba Juku deemphasizes the rank of colored belts; having just the four from white to black. I think back to the story I heard that the Kishaba Juku belt is really the same belt that has worn and stained over the years. First turning green from tumbles outside. Later to brown as the stains age and new ones are added. Then finally to black as stains and age compound. The underlying theme of that story is that Kishaba Juku takes time. It takes Perseverance.

One of the obstacles I’ve experienced in Kishaba Juku is constant challenge; the constant sense of starting over. One way this has manifested is in my lack of experience. Most of the people I’ve come to know in Kishaba Juku, came to this study from another discipline – Shotokan being the most prevalent name I’ve heard. I have no previous background in any form of martial art. I came to Kishaba Juku completely wet behind the ears. Watching others adopt styles and moves (seemingly) with ease has been hard at times. Again and again, I found myself frustrated because it didn’t seem to come to me “so easily”. I had to remind myself that it’s not coming to them so easily to them; and it hadn’t in the past. They are on a different path than I am – or at least a different part of the path. So again, it comes back to time and Patience. Another way I‘ve seen constant challenge is in the fact that nothing is ever truly conquered. Nothing is ever complete. That’s a hard pill to swallow. No kata is ever truly “mastered”. There are always refinements to be made. Or the kata changes in subtle ways. Or when I reach a comfort level in one kata, there’s a new one to learn – each one making me feel like a novice all over again. There’s never really a point where you cross the finish line and think “There, I’m done.”. Like many, I think I came to Kishaba Juku believing Shodan was the end goal. Over time, I’ve learned how far from the truth this is. It’s not an end; it’s a signpost to the next part of the journey – with more Falls to Rise from. As I approach Shodan, I realize I don’t have the Grand Knowledge I thought I’d have at this point. Instead a I have a grasp of how much more I have to learn. Always at these times, I remember the Peaceful Warrior saying, “Shodan is when you start learning.”. I now see Shodan much more as a new beginning and new growth; the next phase. Again, it comes back to time; which comes back to Patience and Perseverance.

Another obstacle I’ve faced (and this has really come out in Karate) is myself. So much more than the running or weight lifting, Karate is where I see that I need to learn how to get out of my own way. One way this manifests is in me is in self fulfilling prophecy (psyching myself out). I’ve noticed that often the truly easy moves have tripped me up every bit as much as the really difficult ones. I remember early on, that I just could not get the move in Fukyugata Ichi after the second high block turning into the series of reverse punches. I could never set my feet properly. I literally couldn’t figure out what move preceded that series. Finally one night, Mike saw me struggling and said, “Hey man, you’re over thinking it. You just shift your right foot over; that’s it.” But I had convinced myself that there had to be something more complex there. It couldn’t be that simple. And yet it was. A similar move tripped up in Gojushiho as well. That scenario has replayed itself time and time again through the years. It has revealed a weakness in me and demonstrates how Perseverance is a lesson I continue to need. I continue to convince myself that I just can’t do it; that it’s too hard. In the absence of walls, I put up my own. Another lesson in getting out of my head has been in learning to see failure as a part of the process. Like Shodan, failure is not an end point. It’s an opportunity for improvement. That too has become a favorite saying of mine as people who’ve taken my classes will attest. Failure was often been the ultimate wall for me. Walking away became a skill of its own. More than with other endeavors, Karate has taught me that failure is a stepping stone. It’s literally a chance to step back and say, “Why didn’t that work? Where to next?”. That is the lesson of Perseverance; not breaking the walls or ignoring them, but find the way around them through relentless pursuit. And it’s a lesson I’m still learning.

Probably the main way Karate and the lesson of Perseverance has influenced me in other parts of my life would be the weight loss. This was a classic example of an area where I allowed the walls to turn me back. Time and again I gave up because it was too hard, and took too much effort for what I saw as too little result. I wanted it right away, just like I wanted Shodan right away. However, while learning this process of Patience and Perseverance in Karate, I began to apply those principles to diet and nutrition. I stopped trying to find the magic bullet or the grand effort that would turn my life on a dime. I instead began to focus on the gradual collection of methods and moves; adding new techniques to earlier learned techniques, the same as we do in Kishaba Juku. Friends talk about my weight loss as if it was a night and day thing. But I tracked the entire process. The chart stretches across two years. It is a slow gradual downward slope which is riddled with little turns back upward (failures where I had to reassess). That was the trick all along, time, Patience and Perseverance. I had to see the end goal of someday. I had to accept that where I was now was where I was now. There was nowhere else to be. I was on a path and had to keep walking. This is by far the biggest thing I’ve picked up from Kishaba Juku; all things in time. Arguably, this same lesson is what led to success with running – this notion of building on successes and learning from failures. No one just up and runs a marathon. I tell people you have to build up. Start with running this distance. Then try adding this much. That’s a lesson I learned from Kishaba Juku. First this move. Then add this one. Now put them together in this kata. Small moves. People tell me how ‘disciplined’ I am, but to me, that is the other side of the coin for Perseverance – Patience on one side, Discipline on the other. And it’s a lesson I’m nowhere near done learning.

So where does the path lead? If Shodan is a signpost, where to next? I find myself entering a more creative phase in my study of Kishaba Juku. Much like learning music, learning to play the instrument, eventually, you have to make the song your own. It has to become a part of you and your own expression. I feel the same with Karate. I must now learn to make these moves an extension of myself and not just motions I memorized. I need to find, not what they mean, but what they mean to me. Again, this is how I interpreted the Peaceful Warrior’s statement, “Shodan is when you start learning.”.

And as Kishaba Juku Karate has influenced other aspects of my life, I’m hoping this lesson on Perseverance will influence other creative endeavors. This is the main reason I chose to draw the kanji for Perseverance. It was miniature lesson in Perseverance. Drawing has never been a strong suit for me. However it teaches the needed lessons of Patience and Discipline. It teaches Perseverance. This is something I have never had in my own preferred creative endeavor, Fiction writing. I must have a file of no less than 4 dozen half-written short stories, novel ideas, movies, entire serials; all stopped before the finish. I have tended to walk away when something got too bogged down or to tedious or when I just couldn’t figure it out. Sound familiar?! Most everything for me in Kishaba Juku Karate has been too hard, tedious or something I just couldn’t get. Time and again, there have been kata I just hated; mostly because I couldn’t get my head wrapped around them. And time and again I have eventually begun to wrap my head around each one and usually the ‘most hated’ has become my ‘favorite’. Lately, I’ve been asking myself more and more, “Why can’t I apply this same method to my fiction?”. Everything I need for Fiction is there for me in Kishaba Juku: structure, building on small concepts, putting things together, learning from failures, learning Patience, learning Discipline, learning Perseverance. I read an article where the narrator was speaking to a writing class and asked them, “How many of you want to be Writers?”. Many enthusiastic hands. He looked around, then said, “Now. How many of you want to Write?”. Hands crept down in slow descent. And there it was, wanting and doing are two different things. I would have been one of the descending hands. People want the short route whenever possible. In Kishaba Juku, there is no short route. It must unfold in a natural progression. It unfolds slowly and gradually, but it does unfold. I need to bring the lessons of Patience and Discipline – Perseverance to my fiction world. That is the fan to ignite the sparks that I’ve to often stared at thinking, “What if?”.

I find myself looking at Kishaba Juku with a sense of rebirth. I now see a path that stretches further into the distance than I had realized before. The journey is truly just beginning. I have at least a glimpse of how vast this terrain really is and how much more there is to learn. That’s what I’ve picked up in Kishaba Juku. The lesson is never truly complete. There is always somewhere to tweak, a variation of a move, a new way to look at a kata, the resurrection of an old way. There is always somewhere else to take it. Perhaps perpetual motion is the essential definition of Perseverance – never stopping.

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