One of the best things I learned while studying karate as a kid was to be observant. I don’t mean in the sense that martial arts teaches you to be aware of your surroundings or that mystical, meditative calm that some claim to achieve while performing kata. For me, the former is a passive skill I’ve developed, and the latter is an enlightened moment seldom experienced.
I’m referring to something much more practical. My sensei seldom discussed the history of our style, Japanese names for things, or what was going on in the greater martial arts community. Instead he told us to “read the walls.”
What this meant was for us to study the articles on his bulletin boards, the magazines in the sitting area, and the posters on the walls. And there was a lot to read on the walls. Over time, I absorbed tenets of the philosophy of Uechi-Ryu, its founding, the ranks. I learned about the masters of karate. I learned about the fighters they influenced like Benny “The Jet” Urquidez, Bill “Superfoot” Wallace, and, of course, Chuck Norris. I picked up some great one-liners I still repeat, like “everyday in every way I will get better and better.” (Émile Coué)
I’m a school teacher now, and with the onset of ADD and its over-diagnosis, I’m used to watching kids look everywhere but at the lesson I’m teaching. Though much of the time they’re looking without seeing, I try to put stuff up in my classroom they may retain–like throwing pasta on the walls of their minds to see what might stick. One of the ways sensei made sure we were doing our homework was to include questions about what we learned in our kyu tests.
Maybe next week I’ll test my students’ powers of observation.
What are some of the most important, but less obvious, lessons you learned at the start of your martial arts journey?
PS – Holler back if you think I rocked the puns.