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When I was in my late teens, I tried  a couple different martial arts. I did a few classes in Judo and then I went on to study Kung Fu – in particular Wing Chun.  I studied for about a year before moving on to study Shotokan karate. I stuck with Shotokan for about 8 years until my divorce (at which point, as you read, my life went for a serious shit spin). The reason that I mention this is that this was my first experience with meditation.

In most karate dojos (schools) the class will start with bowing when entering the dojo, kneeling, and then closing their eyes for mokuso (meditation or literally “silent thoughts”) http://www.karatebyjesse.com/the-true-meaning-of-mokuso-karates-essential-mental-tool/ The exercise was a way to turn off the outside world and turn on the world within the dojo. Inside the dojo, there are different rules. My ex-wife’s uncle was my Sensai as well as my employer at the time. I could talk to him in a certain way on the jobsite but, when we were inside the dojo, I made it very clear that he was my master instructor. The same held true for the sempai or senior students. There was a certain hierarchy within the dojo based on the bank rankings of the students. Respect was shown throughout the dojo and this often carried on as a catalyst towards respecting others outside the dojo.

A training session always started the same. We would come in and mill around. Then, when Sensai arrived, the most senior student would call the other students to attention and we would all bow and welcome Sensai. Then we would continue on. Often, I was the senior student so I would chat with Sensai about his goals for the training session and my part in his plans. When we had finished chatting he would tell me to get everyone lined up in order of ranking. Then, he would move to the front and center of the group, and kneel down to the shrine that we would place at the front of the room showing respect to the founder of the style and to our association. Then the rest of the class would kneel down and we would begin mokuso.

The meditation would last for a couple of minutes and would involve deep, cyclical breathing. I learned as my career progressed how to use this time to let go of all the stresses that had plagued me during the day and to gain focus on the upcoming training.

For those of you that have never taken a martial art, I’ll try to explain what typical training is like.

  1. You enter into a situation where you are asked to move your body in ways that do not feel natural. This involves doing a series of movements over and over and over again.
  2. You sweat and get bruises. You feel like your body will fail sometimes, but your mind wins over the fatigue and you carry on
  3. Just when you feel like you have mastered a series of moves, you are taught some new moves and you, once again, feel like you know nothing. You then do this moves, in addition to the previous moves, over and over and over until they become second nature.
  4. Then, when these movements begin to feel natural, you add some other combinations and series of movements and, once again, feel like a beginner.
  5. And so on, and so on, and so on.

The key to the success of any martial arts is the step by step training. No one has ever walked into a dojo knowing it all. Every person that has ever worn a black belt started out wearing a white belt and felt like they knew nothing. Every black belt spent hours upon hours doing the same basic techniques over and over again. Each time they did them, they would try to prefect them a little bit more. Karate itself isn’t that hard. What I think is hard is the mental discipline behind what karate stands for. And, in my opinion, this is why each session started with mokuso – it was the signal to the brain to turn on the switch to “grind”.

I regret that I did not return to karate. At the time of this writing, it has been about 20 years since I set foot in the dojo. I had the best intentions of returning when my life “settled down” and when it finally did settle, I had other excuses – I was too fat, not limber enough, it was too far to go.  My sensai is in his 70s now and was diagnosed two years ago with advanced cancer throughout his body. They gave him about 6 months to live but his daughter was going to have a baby so he refused to let go. Then another daughter was also having a baby, so he held on some more. He’s still alive and, although the cancer can take him at any time, he lives life to the fullest each day and told me during a Christmas dinner that it was one of the best gifts that he could have ever received – to live life on purpose and to be conscious of the life around him.  I love him. He is one of the most inspirational influences in my life. He has some faults just like all of us do but, when I am in a position where I feel like I may fail because my mind is telling me that I’m too tired, or too weak, or too sore, I think of those years in his class and I think of how he could inspire me, all of us, to push past the limits. Then, I’ll close my eyes and do a quick mokuso and attempt the task again. If I am running, I begin to count in Japanese and imagine that I am working my way across the dojo floor. I imagine him counting as my steps move across the roadway.

At the end of every training session, we would repeat the dojo kun. http://www.shotokankarate.ca/dojo%20kun.htm  A Dojo Kun is a verbal affirmation that is recited by all of the students, usually at the end of each training session.

 

The purpose of the Dojo Kun is to remind all of the students in the dojo, regardless of their rank, that the physical, mental, and spiritual growth that they enjoy as a by product of their karate training, must also extend beyond the dojo’s walls.

 

We would say it in English although other dojos I attended said it in Japanese. I preferred the English version because I could carry the meaning out into the world with me. Here is the translation

Seek Perfection of Character

Hitotsu! Jinkaku kansei ni tsutomuru koto.

(To strive for the perfection of character.)

 

Be Faithful

Hitotsu! Makato no michi o mamoru koto.

(To protect/defend the paths of truth.)

 

Endeavor to excel.

Hitotsu! Doryoku no seishin o yashinau koto.

(To foster the spirit of effort.)

 

Respect others

Hitotsu! Reigi o omonsuru koto.

(To honor the principles of etiquette.)

 

Refrain from violent behavior

Hitotsu! Kekki no yu o imashimuru koto.

(To guard against impetuous courage.)

 

At the end, we would also add this final phrase

 

KARATE-DO IS A LIFETIME STUDY

 

I think that it is important for every person to find their personal mantra – that saying or phrase that helps a person to overcome adversity. During the years of my divorce, my mantra was the song “I will Survive” by Gloria Gaynor. I’d play that song over and over. When my life started coming together and I began to regain focus, I was reminded of the power that I felt I had when I was in karate and I have since adopted those feelings and words as my mantra.  I work towards living by the dojo kun. These are part of my core values. I also rely on the breathing exercises (mokuso) daily as well as counting in Japanese when I am running and my mind begins to get in my way. I have other core values as well. These are:

 

Be open to possibilities, development and learning

Have authentic connections and accountable intentions

Create a community of trust

Share and celebrate in every success

Be honest and fair with myself and with others

Do everything with integrity

 

What is your dojo kun? If you don’t have one yet, now would be a great time to develop it. What are the core values that you want to live by?

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