Remarkable Lessons from the Amazing World of Dojo

Within 22 seconds, I lost my gold medal during my first ever interschool Kumite competition.

I was thirteen and shattered.

It took me more than a couple of minutes to process the defeat.

However, it didn’t take more than a couple of seconds for my 13-year-old brain to conveniently blame the defeat on my relative inexperience and most importantly, our Sensei who was absent during the entire competition.

As a matter of principle, our Sensei never used to accompany us for any of the tournaments.

And we always felt very strongly about his choice of not joining us.

It used to hurt us seeing “the master” of our opponents standing right beside them for guidance.

And we used to wonder why a master would not come for a tournament to boost up its students’ morale and guide his pupil in executing the effective counter-strategies against opponents.

Perhaps, the only moral boosting that we got from our sensei, while we — the participants — were leaving for the tournament was his words of wisdom: —

Even if you are lucky to have all the requisite skills, it doesn’t mean the world has an obligation to deliver you a medal on a platter. You need to earn it by executing your skills inside the dojo (the arena where the bouts take place).

Fortunately, there was a federation rule to record the last sixteen bouts in each weight category.

Our Sensei used to go through those tapes and then share his insights on bouts with us. But we could never lay our hands on those tapes to self-analyze our performance.

After the tournament when we were scheduled to meet our Sensei, I was hopeful of receiving some praise from my master for winning a silver medal in my very first tournament. I was proud of my performance except for those 22 seconds in the final, especially when no one had given me even an outside chance to reach the quarterfinals in the tournament.

Subsequently, I was fortunate to learn 3 vital Lessons from our Sensei that I am proud to share with you.

Lesson #1: Resist the urge to overthink

When Sensei was reviewing the tape, I was all pumped up — too excited to hear some words of appreciation from our revered Sensei. Instead what we got was Sensei’s words of wisdom. This is what our Sensei had to say,

Do you know the reason why I don’t allow you to see those tapes?

Let me explain.

Some of the greatest athletes in any sport can’t fight the need to overthink.

They study all the tapes, watch the same replays over and over and over, break down every move to analyze and prepare the right response to different situations.

That’s good, but learning how to react to someone else’s action, waiting for the right moment to respond is never the best strategy.

* What if that moment doesn’t arrive?

* What if the opponent does the unexpected and comes up with an unanticipated move?

The athlete can become completely determined to recognize something he saw on film, waiting for that specific situation, trying to remember all the right answers.

Instead of playing his own game, he’s playing the other guy’s game. Reacting instead of acting. Overthinking. Overanalyzing.

That’s how you lose the natural ability.

Some know all the moves, but they watch so many tapes that they have no personal perspective of what’s actually happening on the floor.

They can tell you every nuance of what they see on the video, but when a real game gets out of hand, it’s as if they’re playing Xbox without a controller.

No video to rely on, no instincts, no chance for success.

When you become too focused on what’s going on around you, you lose touch with what’s going on deep inside you.

Those are the guys who are perfect in practice but blow it when it counts.

They can’t find the Zone, they’re distracted by their own thought process, and they end up distrusting themselves.

They’re thinking about everything that can go wrong, thinking about what everyone else is doing, thinking instead of executing their best countermoves.

Lesson #2: Know your limitations

The explanation made perfect sense, but I couldn’t resist asking, “How do we prepare for an opponent who is more skillful”?

Sensei had a half-smile across his face. And mind you, pulling a half-smile on Sensei was quite an achievement in itself.

After taking his own sweet time, Sensei unleashed his next pearl of wisdom.

The competition is never about your opponent, it’s always about you.

And we were like,…sounds good, but what does that even mean?

Sensei explained,

“There is no way you can prepare every possible countermove for your opponent. So the better alternative is to keep practicing your move till you get complete mastery over them. There are four benefits of this —

1. You know your limitations.

2. You are not in a hurry to showcase your moves.

3. You wait for the opportune moment to display your mastery.

4. You force your opponent to play your game.

And mind you, making your opponent fall for your game is half the battle won”.

And we were like…Wow. It can’t get simpler than this.

Lesson #3: Be like water

And Sensei continued,

As far as your opponent’s unseen moves are concerned, there is no way you can prepare yourself, but you can teach yourself to be like water.

Now we all were looking at each other…water?

Be like water.

Learn to move around an obstacle — just like water.

If you observe, no matter how hard you strike the water, you couldn’t hurt it.

The nature of water is to stay low, not to struggle, and to take on the shape of its container. Thus, nothing is weaker than water. Yet despite such weakness, it can bore through rocks — by sheer persistence.

Two of the striking nature of water are —

1. Formlessness and

2. Adaptability

Everyone can learn to emulate the true nature of water by practicing the “art of detachment,” which involves emptying your mind and relaxing.

The reason people know this but don’t put this into practice because they love strength and hate weakness.

Yet it makes more sense to be like water, love weakness rather than strength, and be soft and yielding rather than brutal.

Once you’re inside the dojo — Be very clear about the objective of your fight — You are not there to crush your opponent; you are creating an opportunity to score points.

That’s it.

And while doing this, you should respect your opponent’s skill because respect can never be a weakness.

I was too young to appreciate everything that was shared by my Sensei. However, with time, I could appreciate those insights more, especially when later in my life, I had to come up with my own written philosophy of life. Not an elaborate essay; just three or four pointers to keep reminding myself about how I ought to have a more mindful experience during the journey of my life. And as they say, it has made all the difference.

— Thanks for Reading!

Originally Published on Medium

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