Friday, 27 March 2015


I hope to keep today’s post short.  Who knows how that is going to go?!  Before I start, I write this article light heartedly, though it may sound like a bit of a rant.  If it does, it’s not, think of me laughing whilst typing.

A number of years ago I was in the hombu and I remember Sensei Obata took the time to take me to one side and told me about this one kanji he had hanging on his wall.  The kanji he explained was of “yoshin’.  This kanji had been sent to him, from Japan, by one of his old teachers.  The meaning he explained was very important.

Yoshin he explained essentially relates to the idea of, how far can I go before I give up.  In combat, or a fight, often the person who wants to win the most, is the person who does.  It becomes very interesting that it’s most simplistic, combat is often won by the person who wants to win the most rather than the person who has the best technique.

Sensei explained to me, in the dojo, when he was an uchi-dachi, they would often run classes where the desire was to absolutely destroy yourselves.  These types of classes were designed to break you down to make you realise just how far you could go.  All these years later I continue to find this idea rather fascinating when reading the diaries of prisons of war.  Many recount how they would live off virtually nothing and be torchered all day and yet still survive.  The key point they would often recount is that they themselves were surprised at just how far they could go.

The act of learning yoshin becomes interesting for me.  My grandfather used to have a saying, “you have plenty of time to rest when you die”.  At his mid 80s he still gardens daily and goes out for 4 hours drivers at a time (and not at a slow speed either).  His vitality is in itself fascinating to me.  He would explain to me, life is short, live an action filled life.

It is perhaps with these two role models in mind that I have always strived to full every opportunity in my life.  I am still trying to find where my limits lie and I am perhaps famous for filling my time up to overfilling capacity.  It is this attitude, I would say, that has helped me gain 5 black belts, 3 degrees and 2 professional qualifications before I was even 30!

As I’m now getting older I begin to wonder what is up with the younger generation.  Do they not have the same role models to learn off as I did?  To explain, often students call in and tell me that they are unable to attend class, often for various reasons.  One year one student went through 51 weeks of excuses, a total of 102 excuses over the year - attending one week out of the whole year!  At the end of the year our analysis of the excuses revealed that the person had an injury to nearly every body part (more than once), had moved house 4 times, 4 grandmothers had died (don’t you just have the two?!) and a host of other drivel.

I remember being a kid and hearing a story from my then Karate teacher.  He told me that one year, when he was a kid, he went to Japan to train but broke his big toe in the first week.  Rather than miss out he trained on a broken toe through out the rest of his time there.  This never really made much of an impression on me until I was much older, abroad in the hombu dojo and suffering my own injuries.  Like my Karate teacher, I resolved to just put up with it rather than miss out.

The above story some times make me chuckle when I get calls saying, I’ve stubbed a toe, got a cold, have a headache and as a consequence cannot attend class tonight.  Did you know that England apparently has the weakest necks in Europe because of our whiplash motor claims compensation culture (search Google to verify).  Perhaps we should add to that, the least able to deal with minor afflictions.  I say this very light heartedly as I believe that the British are in reality some of the toughed SOBs in the world.  How do I know this?  Because we conquered half the planet at some point.  I am proof of that, being from the colonies!  So is this perhaps a cultural shift afflicting the young only?

Of equal propensity is the surprise I get when some tell me, I’ve just got in from work and can’t come to tonight as I’m tied, or I have an exam/assignment and am unable to make class tonight.  Now I am by no way shape or form advocating that anyone mess up exams for class.   That would clearly highlight an issue with priorities, which I could not agree with.  I do however sometimes wonder how so many are able to cope with so little.  When I was in university, studying full time, I also worked full time.  When I was studying my masters degree full time I also worked, ran all my classes, planned a wedding and an international Shinkendo seminar - all at the same time.  Yeah, it was tough, but I got through it and it taught me that doing all that was still not my limit.

At this stage in my life I am still learning my yoshin.  Last year I lost someone dear to me and it made me realise, life is short.  All of a sudden I didn't feel so young anymore and it made me think, how much time do I have left.  This year, I myself, have been ill for nearly 3 months and am only now just recovering.  One thing all this has taught me is, live a filled life and use up every second of your time.  Understand your limits before you die.  Know that at the end I could not have lived a more actioned packed life than I have, I’ve never made excuses and I’ve done far more with my time than others.  Isn’t it funny how much Sensei Obata and my grandfather truly knew.  They all tried to tell me - if only I had listened to them earlier, how much more could I have accomplished?

Having a son, who one day will sit back and look at my life critically, one of the things that drives me now is, if I expect my son to do better than me (a desire of every father) then I’ve got to set the standard really high.  All I can do is aim high, live a filled life and continue to discover my breaking point.  Once I’ve discovered it, I need to conquer it and raise that bar again.  In doing that hopefully one day that bar will be set super high, and in the act of exceeding me hopefully my son will achieve something great.  In a way I think this is exactly what my role models did for me.  I often feel it is my duty to pay that forward and so I attempt to continue to do so.  I would challenge the rest of you to join me in this pursuit as hopefully together we can all edge each other forward.

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