Sunday, March 29, 2009

Stay Hungry

In the koryu (classical) martial arts, trophies and rank - with the exception of a teaching license - are decried as egoic trappings, or at the very least unnecessary. In modern martial arts, goals such as these are important only as catalysts. That is, achieving the goal, ultimately, pales in comparison to the rigor and spirit that is required to get you there in the first place. This is why the concept of -do, the Japanese equivalent of the Chinese Tao, is so important in the martial arts. Tao loosely translates as The Way, but another definition is path. When we're on the path, it's the journey that counts, not rushing to cross some preconceived finish line. This should be the mindset in training. Training is a means to improve, we train to maintain skills, but also training should be regarded as an end in itself.

What's best about competing is not coming home with a trophy that will barely fit into the backseat of your car. Just getting ready for a tournament is another matter. I've gone out to compete plenty of times, but I've lost more than I've won. Still, the preparation required for these events took my training to unprecedented levels.

In a recent article, Krista de Castella ponders the effects of grading on training. The day I received the rank of ikkyu, the possibilities of achieving that coveted black belt became a reality. For the next nineteen months I trained like a man possessed. It's often said that the first black belt simply marks a new frontier. So the real trick is to keep that passion after the big promotion. Holding onto that fire isn't easy, though.

What keeps your fire lit?

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Blogger Charles James said...


3:36 PM  
Blogger Sue C said...

I think you can stay hungary because martial arts is a meal you can safely consume for a very long time since it doesn't have a sell by date. This means that at what ever age you take it up you don't have to rush and you can just savour the meal. I'm sure, like a fine wine it improves with age.

Sorry if that sounded a bit cheesy with all the food analogies...I'll go now. Bon Apetite.

9:33 AM  
Blogger Krista de Castella said...

Great post.

Your last question is I think an especially poignant one... What keeps our fires buring?

I think for me, I feel inspired and indebted to my seniors and sensei. When they take the time to teach me and make corrections, I owe it to them to give 100% and to not make the same mistakes twice.

Beyond that? Maybe it's learning, self-mastery and discovery as Charles said. There's something kind of beautiful in studying an art that one can never perfect. There's always something new and interesting to learn about martial art and ourselves.

I suppose that's where in researching and sharing our experiences through discussions like these we can help keep each other 'hungry' so to speak.

10:12 AM  
Blogger Cameron Spearman said...

My original instructor once told me right before I got my black belt that getting the black belt doesn't mean you've gotten there; it means you've earned the right to get there. That's probably the one main thing that's kept my fire lit.

8:04 PM  
Anonymous Ikigai said...

Teaching has always been a big motivator from me. The unknowning of what students will bring to the table and what they will see that I didn't see.

12:35 AM  
Blogger John Vesia said...


I hear that. The thing is, without teaching there's little to motivate most people (who teach) to keep showing up over the long haul. How many practitioners stay in this game more than ten years and don't teach? Few if any. Really, how many longtime teachers even train anymore?

5:56 PM  
Anonymous Ikigai said...

Those are good questions. It's very easy to fall into that rhythm of teaching where you just go in, teach for two hours, then call it a day.

I know I've had to catch myself getting complacent from time to time.

10:38 PM  
Anonymous serpentstaff said...

Teaching is indeed the deep well. Students provide endless challenges, surprises and gifts. They also push me. Perhaps there's a bit of ego here, but at times I feel the need to live up to their high opinion of me and my skills. So I can't slack off. And teaching forces me to consider practicing what I preach. I often tell students they need to step up and do the things they most want to avoid. Well, I have to step up, too. Maybe take up working with kids, though I'd rather not; or do a public demo, though I prefer a low profile. Learn a crazy new weapon, like 3-sectional staff--be a clumsy "beginner" at my "advanced" age. And I'm lucky to be surrounded by inspiring colleagues who provide many opportunities to learn.

4:20 PM  
Blogger John Vesia said...

Well put, Serpentstaff. Doing the things we "most want to avoid" can indeed be a daunting task, but it's the prelude to real growth. Thanks for stopping by.

6:10 PM  
Blogger Blackbeltmama said...

I needed this post today. After being 1st kyu for so long, and having it look like it's going to be even longer, I need to remind myself that it's the journey, not the destination.

What keeps my fire lit? I think I'm a better person when I'm training consistently.

6:25 PM  
Blogger John Vesia said...


1st kyu is rough. Lots of expectations, although that basically goes at every level of development.

As for training, ditto. Training gives me a sense of accomplishment and inner peace.

11:47 PM  
Blogger Miss Chris said...

I'm instilling in my daughter that it's not the winning that's important, it's the training. She may only be 11 but she gets it. She'd still rather win but when she sees how far she's come with all the extra training she realizes that mom was right after all. :)

11:42 AM  
Blogger Hack Shaft said...

Colors are touch points to me, a reminder that I am on a journey.

But colors are not destinations.

What keeps me going is a passion for quality.

Oh, and I also aspire to teach some day!

5:16 PM  
Blogger John Vesia said...

Hi Miss Chris.

11 is a good age to be instilling these values, you're doing a good job. Great to hear from you again, Miss Chris.

Hack Shaft:

One of the best ways to learn anything is to teach it. Good luck on your journey.

5:28 PM  
Blogger Mathieu said...

What keeps your fire lit?


I just go. Everything else becomes noise for 2 hours straight.

Every day, I have to account for 14 people and make sure all their jobs are well done. Then, I have to write procedures and control points. Then, I must support user of a certain IT program. And finally, I have my job to do.

For 2 hours, It's just me moving without thinking too much.

Pure bliss.

I just go to train. Whatever the training is.

10:23 PM  
Blogger John Vesia said...


Somebody once said discipline is just getting to the dojo - especially while balancing the rigors of a job. Training can be therapeutic that way.

10:55 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

What What keeps my fire lit.. Well I guess it's the thought of always discovering something new about myself..


4:07 PM  

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