Friday, September 30, 2011

Pushing the limits

It was ten, then twenty, then thirty. It kept increasing by ten until we had hit one hundred push ups at one time. At some point I lost feeling in my arms, but I kept going. When the class was finally over I realized several things;
1)push ups can be very difficult.
2) I was exhausted.
3) Any perceived limitation I thought I had regarding the execution of hundreds of push ups was shattered.

Every time you set foot in a training hall you should push some kind of limit. Whether that limit be physical or mental, you should aspire to move forward or upward, each time. Why should we attempt to push our limits, aren't they in place for our well being? In some cases I would agree. Limits can serve as a governing structure to prevent harm. For example, I don't attempt to jump over moving vehicles accelerating at me in the street. It is a limit of mine, it keeps me safe and intact. This is not to say I haven't thought about it, or haven't seen it done. I have done both, but my internal limit advises me that it is not a prudent course of action, for me.

Pushing your limits forces growth. When the limit is physical it is only matter of convincing your body that you can do whatever it is you seek to do (provided the skill set is present, please don't try and jump moving vehicles) and usually the body follows suit. As in the example above about push ups, I did more than I thought I could ever do. It meant that my body was more than capable of churning out push up after push up far past what I thought was my limit.

Which leads to the other and more important aspect of limits, the mental side. My students constantly hear me say " The moment you quit in your head, your body follows."
This mental aspect is by far the hardest to acquire, it has been called fortitude and heart. It has been defined in various ways by many people. It boils down to not giving up, not giving in and pushing past any limit you may harbor. This is difficult, but not impossible. All of us have internal censors or voices that tell us we can or cannot do something. When you push that limit, you must dictate that you can, despite what anyone else is telling you, sometimes despite what your own body is telling you. This translates directly into your life from the dojo. One of my other favorite sayings is- The only limits that exist in your life-are self imposed. The second you think you cant do something, you cant.

This is why I stress the pushing of limits. We have a tendency to avoid discomfort, to the extent that we create a "comfort zone" and very rarely decide to leave it. Pushing your limits means you have to break out of the comfort zone. It means doing whats necessary, not convenient. It means taking the hard path most of the time. It means discovering how far your body can go taking it to that edge and then further. It means developing mental fortitude and not succumbing to the doubts. It means total commitment.
Is it difficult? Yes very much so, some days it will feel impossible, but it isn't. Is it worth it? Absolutely.
What limits have you pushed today?

strong spirit-strong mind-strong body
Sensei Orlando

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Our Dojo Kun

After a brief hiatus (the month of August and September, we had a spectacular summer program!), I was eager to get back to this blog, especially at the prodding of the many people who faithfully read these pages. I wanted to spend some time on our dojo kun.

So the most obvious question is what is a Kun (pronounced coon)? According to Wikipedia Dojo kun is a Japanese martial artsterm literally meaning dojo rules. They are generally posted at the entrance to training halls or at the "front" of the dojo; and outline behavior expected and disallowed. In some styles of martial arts they are recited at the end of a class.

A better definition for me would be the code of conduct that governs a school or training hall. It means that it governs behavior inside and outside of the school. For each student it is the guiding principle of their practice. Do I think it’s important? Absolutely. When a school lacks a kun, written or otherwise its very much like a large ship without a rudder, large, powerful and directionless. New students can look to the kun and see if the seniors embody it. Seniors can look to it and see if they are upholding its ideals, using it as a mirror. When schools lack a code of conduct, it means that any behavior is hypothetically acceptable. It gives room to ego and behavior inappropriate to a dojo.

As schools are made up of people, and people are flawed, it underscores the importance of the code of conduct. We all make mistakes, but when we do rather than try and save face or overcompensate for being embarrassed, we can allow our code of conduct to dictate our response. It allows us to maintain grace under pressure, to push ourselves when we would rather give up. It calls us to be supportive and selfless rather egocentric. Can this occur without a kun in place? I would like to think that it can, but I also know that our default way of being can be rather unpleasant.

A dojo is not a gym or a social club it is a special place where we go to train, grow and confront our flaws and shortcomings. As such it requires that we behave in a manner reflective of the vulnerability this entails. This is what a dojo kun enables. It sets the parameters for the behavior that is appropriate to the dojo. The next time your school recites the kun, really listen to the words and reflect if you are living the ideals it is stating.

strong spirit-strong mind-strong body
Sensei Orlando