Slow and Steady

“I am a slow walker, but I never walk back.”

-Abraham Lincoln

 

The year 2018 is almost upon us and life seems to move at an unbelievable pace these days.  Speed seems to be everything and the pursuit of “faster” is never ending in all areas, especially with the exponential growth of technology.  However, has this aspect of the 21st century led us to forget a simple truth?  As the famous fable of the tortoise and the hare teaches, slow and steady prevails and ultimately wins the race.

This aspect is certainly true in all areas of life and indeed in the study of the martial arts.  Yesterday, I found myself beating on a “drum” of sorts at the dojo while instructing class. Reminded of the many hours of musical practice with a metronome, I could not help but instill in my students the importance of slow, steady and rhythmically accurate practice.  More importantly is the ability to focus this slow, steady and rhythmically accurate practice over an extended period of time.  For the beginner, this might only be for a few minutes of a particular class…not a bad place to start.  However, many beginners fail to realize that the advanced ranks that they attain to achieve have only been realized by students that have proven this ability to focus over months, years and decades of training!

As is true in music, rhythm is fundamental to the martial arts.  Rhythm is the foundational basis to the proper execution of kata.  The proper execution of kata is the fundamental basis of being a functional karateka.  Therefore, the study of rhythm should never be forgotten from the beginner to the master.  Have patience and be the tortoise with your training.  Work hard, work tirelessly, focus your mind on the task at hand and in the end you will win the race!

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No Small Thing (2 Perspectives)

Teacher Perspective:

It is 7:42 p.m. and my final class for the day has completed its standard warm-up.  As the previous week was culminated by Black Belt Testing, I am (of course) reset to focus on what really matters in the martial arts…BASICS!  I ponder where to begin as I scan across the room of intermediate and advanced students.  So much to do and so little time, I decide to focus on what might possibly be the most fundamental aspect of the martial arts.  A forward stance of course.  The foundation and most commonly found stance in kata.

I am tired and it has been a long day, but I strive to instill the importance of this stance to my students with various explanations and exercises.  Some are more engaged than others, but I forge ahead.  Although the student may not realize it, this is what they need. Practice.  More practice.  And then more practice…

We often times see individuals engaged in a particular activity that is their forte and admire their fluidity, skill and flawlessness.  However, we should never forget the hours upon hours that any individual must invest in “perfect” practice to become “perfect”.  We tend to see only the big picture and fail to remember that the big picture is comprised of struggle for perfection of the minutia.  And this…is no small thing.

 

Student Perspective:

It’s 7:56 p.m, and I’ve been standing in a forward stance for the past 10 minutes.
The class is small tonight. Ranks from green to black. Kids and adults. This is the way I like my karate classes — a blend of abilities and ages. And typically these evening sessions are my favorite. They are my deep breath at the end of a long day.
But tonight is different. Tonight I’m struggling.
My body is tired. My mind is restless. And I’m weary of all that’s involved in moving from one forward stance to the next.
My eyes wander the room for a moment and then move back to Kyoshi Palmer. He is dissecting the anatomy of a forward stance. Legs one-and-a-half shoulder widths apart. Feet facing forward. Toes gripping the mat. “Lean into that front leg as you move forward,” he says. “Let it pull you.” And then he demonstrates fluidly and flawlessly, his white gi snapping as his back leg locks into place.
Now it’s our turn to try.
I mentally check off each reminder and proceed to c-step my back leg ahead of my front. I frown. My front foot is moving. It’s not supposed to do that. I try again, my toes holding the mat a little tighter this time. My foot still moves.
“It takes practice to keep that front foot from moving,” I hear Kyoshi say on cue.
And so that’s what we do. We practice. Back and forth. Forward stance to forward stance. Over and over again as 7:56 turns into 8:06, and I realize we’re going to be here for a while.
I sigh inwardly. But as I do, it suddenly hits me —
This is the part of karate that is easy to sigh about. Especially when I’m tired and restless. This is the part of karate that can become dry and monotonous. And even in a small class, this is the part where I can paint my face with a look that says “I’m interested,” while my mind shuts completely down, slipping quietly out the dojo door.
Yet here, at 8:07 p.m., as I obediently move my leg back and forth, I’m starting to realize something. This may be the part of karate that matters most.
The details. The small things. The minutia. This may be where the difference is truly made.
And not just because I want my foot to stop moving. With enough practice, I know that will eventually happen.
No, the difference is felt here, in the small things, because the small things force us to, well … be. To be here. To be present in the journey. When we give ourselves to details, we give ourselves to process. Not just product. Yeah, embracing process can be hard. Especially when it’s 8:07 p.m., and you’re ready to go home. But embracing process is incredibly necessary. Because when our only goals are defined in years and are the kind we mark off on a calendar? Well, that’s when we miss what’s right in front of us.
And what’s right in front of us is all that’s promised.
The small things. They train our eyes to focus on what is instead of solely on what will be. Kind of like a child steering his mother’s face toward his own. Look at me, the small things say. Learn what it means to apply yourself in the moment. To dig deep. To stay when you feel like running. To just be here.
It’s 8:10 p.m. now.
Class will be ending soon. In a moment, we will bow out, untie our belts and head off into a world that calls us to its many responsibilities. Karate will become one more item on a list of that day’s activities. And when it does, I can take a break from forward stances.
But for now, I still have five minutes.
And for the moment, I am here. And while I am, I will practice. My mind and my body both helping out this time. Back and forth. From forward stance to forward stance. Over and over again as 8:10 ticks slowly toward 8:15.
Yes, we’ve been here for a while.
But that, I finally understand, is no small thing.

 

 

A Chance Encounter

As Ashleigh and I wrangled our kids down an escalator at Oak Park Mall, heading in the opposite direction I saw an old familiar face from the “early days” of Olathe Karate Academy.  “Wait…wait…I’ll come back down!”  It is not uncommon for us to run across old students or family members, but on this day (after a few hours at the mall) I was not really in the mood for a “stop and chat”. However, as this elated father of a very fine former student reached out his hands toward my outstretched hand, I felt a certain warmth outpouring.  His now almost 20 year old son, Andrew, had started training with me nearly a decade ago.  Now a sophomore in college, I was definitely speaking with one proud father.  He filled me in on recent activities and accomplishments, but what happened next took me by surprise. Among the words of praise for his son, he choked up about how influential the martial arts had been in his development.  “More than kicking and punching…you taught Andrew to think and I can not thank you enough.”  We conversed a bit longer, said our goodbyes and headed on our way.

This encounter might not have had such an impact on me, but for the fact that the evening prior I celebrated the promotion of fifteen of the finest Olathe Karate Academy students.  Friends and family gathered to honor the hard work and dedication demonstrated by all.  Dinner was enjoyed, promotions were awarded, speeches were given and tears were shed.  It was a great evening.

A black belt test tends to bring out the best in everyone and emotions run high.  I was humbled by the kind words of many as to the impact Olathe Karate Academy had in their lives.  However, it was not until my chance encounter the next day that I truly realized that the many speeches of the previous evening were not simply due to the moment.  Lives have truly been impacted and changed.  I suppose in the day to day grind, I sometimes forget this.  Many students come and go.  Such is the curse for a business owner/instructor.  Time and energy is devoted and then the student is gone and it seems that it was all for nothing.  However, this weekend has reminded me that the fruit of many might simply need longer to harvest.  Wether I am there to see it or not is rather inconsequential. The strength and perseverance of character that Olathe Karate Academy strives to instill in its students truly does matter.   The martial arts is not just another sport.  It is a way or path that can affect every other aspect of life.

I am grateful to my long-time instructor and the other master instructors he has introduced to me as an influence in my life. They have all shaped the “spirit” of the Olathe Karate Academy. Our dojo would not be the school that it is today without traditional and fundamental aspects of the martial arts at its core.

Congratulations to all that received a promotion this weekend.  I am grateful to each and every one of my students and honored to be called their instructor.  And so our path continues.  We will again set goals, persevere and succeed.

Sincerely,

James R. Palmer, Kyoshi

If you think you can!

“If you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right.”

-Zig Ziglar

2015 is upon us!  As the new year begins, so do New Year’s resolutions, goals and dreams.  These great words by Zig Ziglar are hard to beat. So simple, yet so true.

As my class lined up yesterday to practice breaking techniques on re-breakable boards of various difficulties, it was very interesting to see this concept of believing in oneself.  From five year olds to fifty year olds, those who believed they could succeed more than likely did succeed.  Obviously, there are many aspects to striking a board correctly and successfully  breaking it, but belief that it is possible must be at the heart of it all to drive the student to improve on all of the physical and technical aspects needed.  This is one of many truths that traditional martial arts teaches and I am honored to lead a school and be part of organization solid in these fundamentals!

So as the year begins and we renew our goals and dreams, belief that we can must be our mantra.  We can reach our physical goals, we can reach our intellectual goals, we can reach our family goals, we can reach our social goals, we can reach our financial goals, we can reach our career goals, we can reach our spiritual goals!  Will we always succeed?  Of course not, but believe in yourself and you might be surprised at what is possible.

Happy New Year!

Sincerely,

James R. Palmer, Kysohi

Budo vs. Bujutsu

Budō is a compound of the root bu, meaning war or martial; and dō, meaning path or way. Specifically, dō is derived from the Buddhist Sanskrit mārga (meaning “path”). The term refers to the idea of formulating propositions, subjecting them to philosophical critique and then following a ‘path’ to realize them.  Dō signifies a “way of life”. Dō in the Japanese context, is an experiential term, experiential in the sense that practice (the way of life) is the norm to verify the validity of the discipline cultivated through a given art form. The modern budō has no external enemy, only the internal enemy, one’s ego that must be fought.

Similarly to budō, bujutsu is a compound of the roots bu, and jutsu, meaning technique. Thus, budō is translated as “martial way”, or “the way of war” while bujutsuis translated as “science of war” or “martial craft.” However, both budō and bujutsu are used interchangeably in English with the term “martial arts”. Budo and bujutsu have quite a delicate difference; whereas bujutsu only gives attention to the physical part of fighting (how to best defeat an enemy), budo also gives attention to the mind and how one should develop oneself.

I take no credit for the text above, it was simply taken from our good friend Wikipedia.  Nonetheless, the words ring of truth for the traditional martial artist.  Recent events in my life have reminded me of these concepts and the delicate balance that I try to maintain in my dojo between that of budo and bujutsu.

So many martial arts schools lose sight of Budo and solely focus on Bujutsu.  Both are obviously important, but the delicate difference can not be lost for true longevity in the arts.  Claiming to be the best kicker around, the ultimate fighter to be beat, the toughest grappler, striker, etc..is simply an immature approach to the true martial spirit.  There will always be an opponent bigger, faster and stronger.  And the opponent that shall never be defeated by any karateka is that of time.  Time shall see no defeat and we will all eventually fall to her unrelenting pursuit.

This past Thursday we hosted our monthly rank promotion test/ceremony.  This was a smaller test than usual for our school, but large in spirit and heart.  All of the students eligible for promotion did an excellence job relative to their age, rank and experience.  However, one of my students showed loyalty toward our group of testing karatekas in a way that demonstrated the true strength of our extended martial arts family.  Coming directly from the hospital after a two to three hour surgery (under anesthesia), this black belt showed true Budo spirit by being in attendance for her fellow students.  Her faithfulness, loyalty and support was truly inspiring.

“The greater the loyalty of a group toward the group, the greater is the motivation among the members to achieve the goals of the group, and the greater the probability that the group will achieve its goals.”

—Rensis Likert

Sincerely,

James R. Palmer, Kyoshi

Price of Success!

“I know the price of success: dedication, hard work, and an unremitting devotion to the things you want to see happen.”

-Frank Lloyd Wright

Today is a good day.  Fifteen years ago, Olathe Karate Academy officially opened its doors, opened its mat and opened itself to the instruction of traditional martial arts.  Many students have come and gone since those early days, but the mission remains.  Instilling the core principles and values of success are a fundamental aspect to the dojo.  I was reminded of that today.

Hanshi Dan Kennedy hosted the bi-annual USKK Elite Martial Arts Tournament today.  As I watched all of the competitors, I was pleased to be a part of an event not only promoting good competition, but also good sportsmanship and respect.  Although everyone can not come away with “The Gold”, everyone should be reminded of the price of success: dedication, hard work, and an unremitting devotion to the things you want to see happen.

The things you want to see happen…this might be the most interesting part of this concept of success.  Many people have the dedication, do the hard work and possess unremitting devotion.  However, is their vision clear as to what they want to see happen?  The martial artist uses the word “focus” in many ways and it is perhaps the most fundamental concept for success in the dojo.  Focus of the mind both internally and externally, focus of technique, focus of your opponent, focus of the situation, etc.   And as is always true with traditional concepts of the martial arts, the lesson is transferred to day-to-day living.  It would appear that clear vision (focus) of what you want to see happen is what fuels a person to have true dedication, to do the hard work and maintain unremitting devotion leading to success.

I was proud of everyone today.  Proud of students.  Proud of instructors.  Proud of supportive friends and family.  Regardless of the standings, competing in and of itself was a success.

I am proud of Olathe Karate Academy.  I am proud of my wife and business partner.  I am proud of my team of instructors.  I am proud of all of my students from white to black and more so honored that you choose OKA as your home.  An extended family we are!

Congratulations on 15 incredible years.  What do we want to see happen in the next fifteen?!?

Sincerely,

James R. Palmer, Kyoshi

A Great Experience

If you do build a great experience, customers tell each other about that.  Word of mouth is very powerful.”

-Jeff Bezos

In three days Olathe Karate Academy will celebrate fifteen years of serving its community.  Fifteen years!  When I think back to that day when the ribbon was cut and the doors officially were opened, it is hard to imagine all that has transpired since.  Owning and operating a small business is not an easy task, but I am blessed to have had the opportunity.  I have witnessed the ebb and flow of gaining new students, seen many come and go, developed meaningful friendships and even met the love of my life in these past fifteen years.  I have had the joy of bringing children into this crazy world of ours and witnessed the circle of life first hand with the passing of my parents.  Life is definitely not a snapshot, but rather a filmstrip that for one thing never stays the same.

Along my path of running a business and pursuing my own growth in the martial arts, there have been many ups and downs.  Some days have been better than others and I have made more mistakes than I care to admit.  All along the journey, I have had to remind myself that failure doesn’t come from falling down, failure comes from not getting up.  Anyone who has trained in the martial arts long enough knows this lesson first hand!

In the end, I have always tried to create a great experience for my students and I am thankful for each and every one of them…old and new.  Advertising is a necessity of all businesses, but no advertising compares to a friend telling another friend of a great experience.  Small businesses are the backbone of our society and when we are served well, sharing that experience is priceless to the growth of our community.

So, as the next chapter begins I am reminded of the many incredible people that have helped Olathe Karate Academy since the early days.  I am grateful to all of the kind words that have helped OKA succeed in the past fifteen years and I look forward to the next fifteen.  The filmstrip plays on and I am excited to see how the story unfolds!