At the higher Kyu grading last week, one of the Senpai from Dojo dai Ni, who, like me, was there watching the proceedings, made the observation that, we (karate-ka) are very hard on ourselves. I couldn’t agree more. When our goal is perfection (and there isn’t anything wrong with aiming high), we are always going to fall short; that’s life – we are, after all, only human. What is important is to put things in perspective.
In Karate, as with pretty much everything I do, I want to do it properly (or at least aspire to doing it properly), or not at all. However, Rome wasn’t built in a day and I really need to learn to be patient with myself when I am learning something new. I need to (and do) embrace the process of polishing things until they shine, and then keep polishing until they shine more (etc). Mr Miyagi and the “wax on wax off” idea, suddenly becomes even more poignant when you think about this concept, doesn’t it? I do this sort of polishing when I make music, so the concept is far from new to me.
Karate is (at least partly) about self defence. Sure, you need to learn how to not get beaten up physically and learn how to take a few knocks, and that’s why we drill blocks, tai sabaki (essentially getting out the way), bunkai (practical application of form exercises) and do conditioning exercises etc. but an important (and perhaps overlooked) part of the process of “self defence” is defending yourself against yourself! By this I am referring to defending against things like emotional onslaughts, internal self flagellations and over-thinking or ascribing intention to what other people say or don’t say to you.
I have the pleasure of learning Karate from 3 different instructors. They all have different teaching styles and different ways of inspiring the best in people. Some give overt feedback and some don’t. Some will show me how to make things more effective and others will show me why what I am doing isn’t effective (which in the long run gets the same results). Some give feedback when I succeed with things and some don’t. Some say seemingly inflammatory things which then just make me more determined to succeed. It is a fluid process though. I am an adaptive learner and I get the feeling they are adaptive in their teaching. I am not afraid to give respectful feedback and to communicate my learning needs.
Part of my development as a learner (with respect to receiving feedback), has had to be around the “no news can be good news” concept (ie No positive feedback or overt positive feedback at least does not necessarily mean no good). Part of my development has been around asking for clarification of positive feedback (ie if I did a “good job” which part(s) of it was / were working so I can “click on save”, so to speak.). By far, the biggest part of my development, though, (and, like the other parts, it is a continuum), has been dealing with my toughest critic; myself.
Advice to myself about defending against myself:
1. Always believe you are doing your best; chances are that is the truth.
2. Always believe your best is better than you think it is.
3. If you don’t know what to make of external feedback (or lack of it), respectfully ask for clarification; never guess.
4. If in doubt, practice and then practice some more; if nothing else it will calm and reassure you.
5. Relax, keep your eyes and ears open, but most importantly, keep your mind open.
Is it always easy for me to follow my rules? Um….NO! Am I going to let a little thing like that stop me? No way!
When I was little, my Grandmother always told me: “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. My Grandmother was a wise woman and gave sage advice. As her spirit lives on in my memory and her name lives on in my little one’s name, her advice will always be carried around near my heart.