“I don’t know what your destiny will be, but one thing I know: the only ones among you who will be really happy are those who will have sought and found how to serve.”
On September 13, 1973, I took my first class in the martial art of Tae Kwon Do.
I clearly remember this day as it was my brother Danny’s 5th birthday, and I had a begged my mom to let me miss his party to attend my first class.
Like many boys my age, I was inspired by the television show, Kung Fu. In it, David Carradine played the Shaolin monk Kwai Chang Caine, who was roaming the Western United States. The consummate reluctant hero, he would enter a small town and be harassed and eventually attacked by a band of bag guys. He would then “take care of them” using his Kung Fu. As a 10-year-old, it was the coolest thing I had ever seen in my life.
I remember my first class like it was yesterday. I was simply mesmerized by the amazingly powerful movements of the instructor and students. I felt like I came home.
Little did I know that this event would mark one of the most profound events of my life. It not only would set me on a life-long path of studying, learning, growing, and teaching the martial arts, but outside of my faith, it would become the most integral piece in forming the man I would become and the work I would do in the world.
As this auspicious anniversary in my life journey has approached, I have done much in the way of reflecting on my life and the immense role that martial arts has played in my life.
Clearly, after 50 years of practice in any one endeavor, there must be lessons learned and insights realized, during that time. Here are mine, coming from the last 5 decades of training and teaching the martial arts.
1) Do What You Love – While I know I am somewhat unique in knowing that I wanted to have a professional martial arts school at the age of 11 (I have the autobiography 5th grade project to prove it), I believe we are all born with a dream inside of us that is here to be expressed and shared. Our job is to recognize it, embrace it, and then take action to bring it to fulfillment. Whatever it is for you, whatever makes your heart sing, go for it. It may not become your profession as it did for me. It may take an array of forms, like hobbies, volunteering, or simply through life experiences. But whatever it is, when you truly love and embrace it, and then decide to share it, it can become the foundation of an incredibly satisfying and impactful life.
So, what is it for you? What do you love? What are your is your gift? And how can you share it in the world?
2) Challenge Yourself – I believe that it is part of the human condition that we are constantly in search of comfort, to make things easier in our life and to reduce our struggles in achieving what we want. You only need look at today’s modern technology to see how we have committed ourselves to overcoming obstacles and make our lives more comfortable.
While I appreciate all the modern aspects of our lives today, I can truly say that I have found that my life is at its best when I am working towards some project, endeavor or goal that not only excites me, but also challenges me. My career as a martial arts practitioner and teacher has proven to be a constant source or challenge in my life. Whether it was looking to perfect a physical technique, increase my knowledge and effectiveness as an instructor, or expanding my role as a leader, martial arts has served as a beautiful laboratory for these experiences.
Sometimes challenges are unwanted, and while experiencing them, we want nothing more than for them to be removed from our lives. But in my recent reflections of the past 5 decades, I find most of us are happiest when we are challenged, yet not overwhelmed. We also look back with great pride regarding our ability to overcome the challenges that life has brought us when we find ourselves safely and triumphantly on the other side.
What is your next challenge and how can you use it to grow and expand in your life?
3) Practice Diligently – In their book, Ikigai, authors Hector Garcia and Francesc Miralles share how the people in the areas of the world known as Blue Zones (most specifically in islands off the coast of Okinawa), have the highest life expectancy of any place on the planet. These areas have the highest percentage per capita of “super-centenarians” (those who live well beyond 100 years old). While many of these people eat a healthy diet, enjoy the companionship of healthy communities, move their bodies daily, the most consistent aspect of their life is that they diligently practice their “reason for being” or ikigai.
In my many decades as a martial arts practitioner and instructor, I have had the honor of teaching literally thousands of students. I have oftentimes found that the best students/Black Belts I have developed throughout the years did not start out as the most gifted or talented. Rather, they were the ones who overcame their lack of physical skills through diligent practice and a commitment to just “keep showing up” despite personal physical, mental, or emotional challenges. When they became committed to the ongoing and continuous process of their martial arts practice, positive change resulted.
What are you committed to diligently practicing in your life? Not only for the result that it brings, but also for the joy of committing yourself to something where you can get completely present and lost in the process. This is the birthplace of mastery.
4) Give Back – Learning, practicing, and achieving skill in any endeavor can take you only so far. As physical and mental skills decline, and we are no longer able to perform at the levels we did earlier in our lives, this is where we can gain even greater satisfaction in sharing our knowledge and wisdom with others and assisting them on their paths, just as so many other have supported us.
When training my students and staff, I often channel my inner “Uncle Ben” from Peter Parker/Spider-Man fame when I share, “with great power comes great responsibility.”
I have always had instilled in me and have adopted myself, that acquiring our own levels of physical proficiency and character development is only half of the martial arts journey. The other half comes in our ability to share what we have gained with others, so either through our direct instruction, or through our mere presence in situations, we look to make the world a better place.
5) Be Grateful and Savor the Moment – Recently, I have been reflecting on the incredible of array of people who have assisted, guided, and accompanied me through my martial arts journey. In thinking about them, I have been reminded on how special these people and the times I have spent with them has been in my life. While I can look back and appreciate them now, I wish in the past, I would have been more present at truly appreciated the “good old days” when I was experiencing them – savoring the moment.
As I oftentimes share with my students, nobody gets to Black Belt by themselves. There are multitudes of people who impact us on our path. Here are some of the people I wish to recognize, honor, and thank, who have walked with me on my martial arts journey and profoundly impacted my life.
And finally, to the tens of thousands of students I have been blessed to teach, especially the +1,800 I have had the honor of promoting to the rank of Black Belt and beyond, I say THANK YOU!
Here's to another 50 years!
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