Thursday, October 28, 2010

Board Breaking as a Metaphor for Life

My kids take martial arts classes. The instructor is an amazing orator, almost a minister.  His class any day of the week is 50% technique and 50% life lessons.  I am a follower of this unique religion that's not really intended to be a religion at all.  I particularly like making karate and board breaking analogies when talking with my kids about doing their best in school, but also find these lessons to be particularly applicable to writing as a profession. 

Always Believe in Yourself 
If you let any negative thoughts enter your mind, you won't break the board.  Instead, your mind will fixate on NOT breaking it.  Visualize breaking it and it will break. 

This is true about everything in life.  If you think for a second that you can't get all A's in school, that you will be horrible on your job interview, that you aren't the best poet you could be, or that you are mediocre at whatever it is you do, there is no way you will do your best.  To succeed, you should pause, take a deep breath, and imagine yourself writing the best poem in the world, writing an amazing software application, getting an A in class, passing the certification exam, or whatever your goal is.  You have to believe in yourself or you won't have a chance.  You have to see the virtue and perfection inside of you and believe in it.

Be Enthusiastic
In martial arts class, you are expected to always cheer on other people in class and give them your positive energy.  Positive energy is contagious as is negative energy.  You are expected to enthusiastically participate in class, answer loudly, and give it your all.  If you are not enthusiastic about crushing your board or others around you aren't giving you encouragement and positive energy, it is not going to go as well as it could.

In life, the same is true.  The energy you give to an activity makes a difference, whether that's schoolwork, writing, work, or parenting.  Enthusiasm shows others you care.  If you are enthusiastic in school and raise your hand to participate, your teacher will give you the benefit of the doubt if there's a time of doubt, and other people will likely follow your lead and participate too - school will be more fun.  Unless you are insincere about it, nothing bad can come from being enthusiastic and supportive to yourself and fellow writers, to your spouse and your kids, to coworkers and bosses. 

Drive Through the Board
Don't stop when you hear the board crack.  Go through six inches.  Try your best to kick the person behind the board.   Imagine your goal is to kick through the board and hit the person behind it.  That way you will be sure the board will break. 

In life, don't stop when you think you have done the minimum to achieve your goal.  In my children's school, a lot of the teachers are scornful toward kids that try too hard.  They call them overachievers as if that were a bad word and try to embarrass them.  Be an overachiever.  If your goal is to write a short story and have it published, write two or three to improve your chances.  Take a writing class, ask people for feedback, read great short stories.  Give it everything you've got.  You only have control over what you do to improve your chances for success - take control.

It Only Takes One
In board breaking, you are normally given a set number of misses.  You don't have infinite tries - there are other people in class after all.  The motto of my children's instructor is "It Only Takes One" - only one kick to break it.   If the board doesn't break and you have a retry available, take it.  Everyone misses.

This also is true in life to some degree. You only need one job offer.  You only need one college to accept you.  You only need one editor to agree to publish your manuscript. You only need one person to say, "I do" (OK, I needed two).  Keep working on it until you get the one you need.

If You Fall Down, Get Back Up and Try Again
At my children's martial arts center, belt testing involves many activities that you get scored on: 
  1. Form - a smooth sequence of moves that simulates a fight
  2. Applications - breaking the form into pieces to demonstrate specific fighting techniques as an attacker and a defender 
  3. Kicking Combinations - demonstration of good technique of particular kicks done in the air, often multiple kicks combined together into one complex one
  4. Sparring - free-form fighting with another person or more than one person
  5. Board Breaking - breaking a board with a hand technique and one or two with leg techniques depending on your level.  If you are old enough or skilled enough, you are expected to break two boards at once.  
During the belt test, the board breaking is last, and it is usually the deal breaker.  You get a set number of misses for all of your breaks combined.  So if you are required to do three board breaking techniques, you only get two misses for all of them combined.  If you miss twice on the first board and then break it, you have no additional opportunities to miss on the other two techniques.  Life is hard that way sometimes.  If you don't break your board, you don't get your belt.  No exceptions even if you aced the other parts of the test.  That is why board breaking is last. 

If you fail, you have the opportunity to come back next month and try again.  You will pick yourself up and try again.  You will want it more and will be stronger for others that made it through on the first try. 

To me this is the most important lesson in life.  It is a lesson I so wish I had learned when I was a child.  I was very talented in many things but always gave up if I wasn't successful on the first try. 

In life, you will not always pass the test on the first try.  You will not always be the first pick for the job.  You will not always score the winning goal.  There will be days when your boss thinks you are a complete idiot.  Your job is to pick yourself right back off the floor and try again.  You are never a failure for trying and giving it your all.  Never give up on anything that's important to you.

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