The other day, I was pondering on my reflections of the horrific images of the 2011 earthquake and subsequent tsunami, that befell Northeastern Japan. Amidst the chaos and terror, one image vividly stands out. It was the perplexing footage of a highway, packed with cars, headed away from the rear approaching tsunami. From above, you could clearly see the empty, unpaved median, which would have been easy to cross, with a desolate, other lane, designed for those going the opposite direction.
At the time, I thought it was very odd. I stared and questioned why these people would just sit there, inviting a literal tidal wave of death sentences, while they could easily jump the median, take the other side, and escape to safety.
Just one hour of reflection can save one from wasting years of stubbornly consistent misguidance, because a closer examination leads to a more clear conclusion. It couldn’t have been any other way, and that honor in death was/is better than greed, at the expense of others.
One of the key elements of the Japanese character, and a reason for their success as a nation, particularly at times of strife, is their almost innate, disciplined nature to conform, to work as group. The concept of “I” does not exist, and if it does… the entitled “I” learns to quickly submit, and quell his desires for the greater good. As the saying goes, the nail that sticks up, gets hammered down. And for good reason.
Imagine for a second, if in 2011, someone decided to “do their own thing” and skip over to the other side of the highway and make a run for it. I guarantee you, that by the time the sixth car decided to follow suit, pandemonium and chaos would have ensued, ensuring the complete destruction of the organized escape plan…and further, poisoning the the well of trust and order for generations to come. One man’s greed and selfishness, at the expense of everyone else. Can you feel the distaste? The abhorrence of such destructive narrowmindedness? How it tears at the fabric of everything? If one person does it, it emboldens the next, and the next, until nothing is left but an insignificant scattering of material gain, usurped by lowly means.
There is also another side to this. I am not saying that one must conform or follow the masses in their collective, negative, slanted, agenda pushing-thought. I am speaking of conforming when one chooses to; for the Greater Good. For religion. For tradition. For Love. For family. For others. For your Sensei.
Perhaps there could have been another way. Perhaps someone could have crossed the line to protect their family and created some kind of order in an attempt to help the others escape safely. I don’t know why anyone didn’t cross. I just know that as I consider it, I am using it metaphorically to explain this idea of selfishness, greed, “I’m going to do it my way, because I know better,” and how my actions affect others, is of no concern, mentality.
Karate-do is a Japanese art. It is an art of discipline with a minor outward physical goal, and a more lofty, understated objective to perfect the character of those who choose this austere and arduous path. As with all things Japanese, it begins with an understanding that one has chosen, and is willing to submit to the way, the “do”, the untransmuted “do,” handed down from generation to generation, for centuries.
This proven path to perfection of character, begins on the first day of entering one’s karate practice and the physical dojo. One agrees to give up the “I” or “me”, to trust their sensei, and as Yaguchi sensei says, to “give up body” for the greater good. When choosing karate as a way, one forgoes any notion of self, in order to sacrifice; be that time, blood, sweat, ego, or whatever it is that your chosen sensei sees fit to exercise. Without accepting this premise wholeheartedly, and without giving up of the “I,” the objectives of karate-do become moot. Anything short of that, and I mean anything, makes the karate practitioner, that one guy who thought he/she was more deserving than others. He is the one I am guessing would jump the median and drive the other side of the highway, not looking back or having any concern for the lives of the ones left behind.
So, if you were a student and casually trained whenever you felt like it, whenever it was convenient for you; once every six months, once every month, once a week, whatever; you didn’t sacrifice. You took advantage. You were that guy mentioned above. Worse yet, if you came to the dojo and did your own thing, consistently; if you came to the dojo and thought “I” want to stretch My way, “I” want to do kicks my way, “I” want to do something different than what my sensei is instructing me to do, “I” want my kime and kiai to be “my” way, or not at all even when asked, then what are you doing in my dojo? You do not take any responsibily for your actions. You only blame everyone and everything else. You are not the victim you portray yourself to be. There is no “I” in “do.” You took advantage. Your selfishness poisoned the well and affected others. Your disrespect spoke more truth about your character than your, “consistency.”
These are all examples of nails sticking up; requiring a collective, hammering down. Typically, it’s the hammering of a few for the benefit of the many. In extreme cases, where the lack of self discipline and awareness spreads its cancer, it becomes a case of hammering the many for the benefit and safeguard of the deserving few, and more importantly, for the preservation of the way.
Alas, for the unaware “me” minded, karate is a material transaction devoid of the beauty and richness, of the beginner’s mind that could have led to perfection of character. Sadly, their transaction has only netted them ego and some diminishing physical tricks.
I am so grateful for this clarity. I shall continue on carrying out the tradition and legacy of those before me, particularly of my Sensei, who truly had this mind I am speaking of; in it’s purest form. He didn’t have tolerance for the ones who weren’t committed, present, humble, grateful. He demanded respect, but even more so, demanded purity in heart and attitude. His time, was just as valuable as yours. He would give you everything of himself, if you would only show him that you possessed this humble willingness to learn, to give up self. Contrarily, he would kick you out, if you showed anything less.
I stand firmly beside him, and those placed on my path, who choose to respectfully follow me, as their Sensei. The emptiness of the empty hand way, is far different for those who continually strive with the purity of Shoshin, beginner’s mind.