I failed my brown belt grading.
In fact, all three of us senior adults failed. It was harsh. It was painful. It was public. And the 7th dan sensei who presided over our grading made sure to give us each personal and direct feedback on our particular failings. No kid gloves. As he said: “I’m not going to go easy on you because you’re older. If you’re going to achieve this, then I’m sure you want to know that you deserve it, right?”
We failed because of a variety of form and technique issues, e.g. stances not low or stable enough, foot positions not right, lack of explosive power and kime (focused power and energy). For a karateka, these things are a big deal. They form the very foundation of your karate. And if you’re not doing these things right at this level, then you’re not doing your karate right. Ouch.
But he was not wrong.
As painful as it was to hear this on the night, it was also what I needed to hear. Sometimes, you need somebody to hold up a mirror so that you can see yourself objectively. It’s why we have agile coaches who come in and observe the way supposedly Agile teams work together. It takes somebody from the outside to call you on the bad habits and short cuts you’ve been taking. Because so often, we think that we’re doing brilliantly at “doing agile”, while not recognizing that we might be implementing the practices and ceremonies, without actually transforming the way we work through the deeper principles of Agile.
Similarly, somebody had to pull me up short to make me realize that I was going through the motions, and not living my karate physically and mentally. Karate, like Agile, is deeply transformative. That is, if you let it transform you.
Playtime is over.
I have realized now that if I am serious about pursuing karate, and ultimately achieving my black belt, I have a lot more work to do. Although I’ve come a long way in the last few years, and I’m fairly fit and strong, I haven’t been focusing my training on the specific functional and athletic requirements of karate.
A little bit of running here and there, and the odd conditioning class at the gym is not going to cut it. I have to become more purposeful, more targeted, in my training, focusing on the type of activities that will hone my karate skills and strengthen the right muscles, in the right way.
It’s not about quantity, but quality of training. It’s also about knowing my body and its particular strengths and weaknesses, and molding my training to my particular needs. It’s also about taking ownership of my karate training in a more personal and directed way, and seeking ways to improve outside of the dojo.
Karate is not just going to classes twice a week. It’s everything that happens in-between as well, just like continuous improvement will just remain talk if there is no follow-through on the actions identified during Retrospectives.
And just like it’s not the Scrum Master’s job to do everything for the team, it’s not my sensei’s job to make sure I’m strong and fit enough to do karate. It’s my job.