10 Things about Kendo (from a Beginner’s Point of View)

“When was the last time you did something for the first time?” This thought-provoking question unfailingly prompts me to take stock of the things I have done. Thankfully, 2014 has been a year of a few firsts for me including crossing off what has long been in my bucket list – Kendo. In the past months that I have practiced it, I could not help but think about a lot of things like:

1. You’re either committed or you’re not.
Commitment is tested early on. The ones who stick after giving it a few tries are the ones who have likely come to terms with the demands of learning it. It may seem boring to some who prefer constant variety. There are only few techniques to learn unlike some martial arts or sports. You repeat the same basic drills over and over again. And it is not something that you just do at the dojo. Taking care of your kendo-gi, hakama, shinai, and bogu likewise takes time. You have to be prepared to devote the time required for it. It is either you are fully into it or you are not. Half measures will not get you anywhere near to learning what you need to learn.

2. Forget easy.
It is not going to be easy if you are doing it the right way (read: as properly as a newbie can). There are no shortcuts to progress in Kendo – pretty much like in life. And that means taking the long road that does not guarantee swift and smooth going.

3. Listening will get you far in inching forward.
You do not advance by leaps and bounds. Instead, you painstakingly inch forward day by day or every keiko depending on how often you practice in a week. I have read that there are even those who have been at it for 50 years who still consider themselves as beginners.  Listening to what our teacher says has helped me a lot. I also noticed that in a group of beginners, those who actively listen usually get better at it more quickly.

4. Start with a clean slate. Think tabula rasa.
Emptying the proverbial cup applies big time. Forget what you think you know. Or retain what is useful and get rid of the rest that could get in the way of learning. Prepare to be a beginner for years. And that includes refraining from teaching others techniques that you have barely learned well yourself.

5. Focus. Be aware. Be present.
Focus and awareness may sometimes seem like contrasting ideas. Focusing tends to drown out a lot of things around you, which is good when you want to block the distractions. But in the months of practicing Kendo, I realized that focus and awareness should go hand in hand. You work at strengthening your focus while still being aware of what is happening around you. Maintaining awareness without losing your focus is tricky. But it allows you to be fully present in every moment. It will help you respond appropriately to whatever comes your way.

6. It’s okay not knowing what you don’t know.
Humility is one of the many things Kendo cultivates. It teaches you that it is alright not to know what you do not know. The faster you acknowledge it, the faster you absorb whatever it is your sensei is trying to teach you.

7. Respect
You learn to breathe and live respect in Kendo. I used to think that I am a respectful person. But I quickly realized that I still have much to learn about it. One of the challenges for me is to genuinely feel respect for people who show disrespect. I used to believe that respect is earned. From what I understand so far, rei is unconditional. I am not quite there yet, but I am working on it.

8. Mindset
Your mindset will define you as a kendoka. It will influence everything you do moving forward.

9. Make every keiko count.

“You want to know how I did it? This is how I did it: I never saved anything for the swim back.” ~ Vincent Freeman, Gattaca (1997)

This is one of my favorite film quotes. You probably would have to watch the movie to fully appreciate the impact of that statement. I watched it the same year I became part of the national team in my other sport and it has helped me since. It taught me that the only way to improve in my sport or at anything in life is NOT to hold back. The moment you make every practice count, you give yourself the chance to become better.

Two hours of keiko is no joke, especially once you transition to bogu class soon after the basic drills. It can be tempting to take it easy to save energy for what you think is the hardest part of the training. But doing so robs you of the chance to stretch yourself past your current limits. If you want to improve, you have to make every practice count by giving it your all every step of the way. Realistically though, it would be hard to be at 100% all the time, especially when you are a newbie. It is also difficult when you are recovering from an injury or illness. This is where knowing yourself can be very handy. Understanding your abilities and your limits help you learn to distribute your strength and power to help you last as long as you need to without sacrificing intensity and quality.

10. At the end of the day, it’s all up to you.
I think how far you go is ultimately up to you. Your sensei, senpais, kouhais, and the level of training you get can only steer you towards the direction you need to go. What you learn and how you use it is all up to you.

Guts and Grit – On Ice and in Life

I am one of the newest yet biggest fans of 2014 Winter Olympics Men’s Figure Skating Champion Yuzuru Hanyu. Unlike his other fans who have followed him since he was a child, I have only found out about him a few months before the Sochi Olympiad. I learned about him while following the news about our country’s sole bet to the Games – another talented teen who has shown a lot of potential in his performances during the Olympic qualifying events.

The first Hanyu performance I watched was nearly flawless to my uninitiated eyes. It was a mesmerizing display of skill and grace. It looked like a perfect execution of a routine that must have taken a lot of time and hard work to master. It was awe-inspiring to say the least. Since then, I try to watch figure skating events or check uploaded videos of his performances.

Yuzuru Hanyu delivered as expected during the SP at the Sochi Olympics. His FS was not as good as it could have been, but he pulled it off well enough to secure the top spot. He accomplished what many other Asian figure skating men before him were unable to do – win an Olympic Gold.

Last November, he was involved in an accident during the free skate warmup at the Cup of China in Shanghai. He collided with the China top skater Yan Han. It was what Yuzu did after that made me admire him even more. It may have been risky given the impact and effects of the collision, but it reminded me that it takes a lot of determination to do what he does and accomplish what he has already achieved. He went on to win the ISU Grand Prix Final in Barcelona only a month after the COC warmup incident and the All-Japan Championships last December 27 (see vids below).

I fancy myself doing the exact same thing he did if it were me out there. But at the back of my mind, the question remains, “Will I really be able to step up like he did?”. It takes plenty of guts and steadfast grit to carry on. Falling down and getting back up to continue performing is not easy even without any injury. Imagine how hard it would be to continue on bloodied and all.

To quickly pick yourself up if and when you fall. To keep moving forward regardless of the roadblocks. To drown out the distractions. To deal with the mistakes by pushing on harder than ever. These are just some of the reasons why I am deeply drawn to this young athlete. I have seen him perform at his best and at his worst in the months since the Olympics. Regardless of the results, he serves as an inspiration and a reminder of how far guts and grit can take anyone who embrace challenges like treasured friends.

Yuzuru Hanyu “It has been a year of many experiences” — Comments at the close of the Men’s event of the 2014 Japan Figure Skating Championships

Post-First Kendo Practice Thoughts

I’ve wanted to learn Kendo for years now. I even made inquiries early this year from the club manager of the dojo in Manila if there’s Kendo club in Davao. Unfortunately, there was none at that time. So I decided to wait. I have always believed that something worth pursuing is worth waiting for.

About a few weeks ago, the same club manager contacted me. He said that a Davao Kendo club is already being formed. He then gave me the link to the Facebook page and that was how it all started for me. I missed the club’s first practice session. But I was finally able to join last night.

Trying something new is without a doubt one of the most edifying experiences anyone can have. Doing Kendo for the first time last night made me think about a lot of things. And here are just some of them:

Metaphor for life. Sports and martial arts are a metaphor for life. Practicing Kendo reminded me of that. I was particularly struck by what our  teacher said about the importance of always looking at our opponent’s eyes. He emphasized the importance of never, ever taking our eyes off the target or turning our heads away even for an instant. It made me think that whatever it is that tries to bring us down, whether an enemy or life itself, we should face it with courage regardless of how we feel in that given moment.

Never go down without a fight. Samurais face each other not always knowing how the confrontation would turn out. Every fight could essentially be to the death. So you stare at your opponent’s eyes and try to anticipate his next move and act appropriately. It takes unflinching resolve to keep on fighting to the end when the stakes are at their highest.  You have to enter any fray with a mindset that you will never go down without a fight.

Strength of spirit and will matters big time. Kendo is probably the noisiest sport I have tried. As a former water sport competitive athlete, I’m used to making a lot of noises myself (i.e. exhaling and grunting loudly, shouting while catching a breath at the end of the finish line, etc.). I think most of my athlete friends from other sports do it, too. But usually, not everyone in the boat with me does it. In Kendo though, it seems like every kendōka shouts everytime he or she wields the shinai (bamboo sword) or bokutō (wooden sword) to strike. Our teacher said that is like an expression of the warrior’s spirit or will, which is essential in any battle. The one with the stronger spirit and will has a better chance of winning.

Intense focus. There’s something meditative and intense about Kendo practice. I realized a few seconds into the basic training that I can’t afford to lose concentration if I want to do it right. The drills looked simple while I was watching the others do it. But it was far from easy when I was already doing it. I noticed that the more I focused, the more I could execute them correctly. I felt my mind emptying itself of other thoughts leaving me so deep into every moment. While I am used to focusing, there was something about the experience that was totally new to me.

Some of the many other things I learned include the importance of mastering the basics and staying relaxed while doing the routines. These are familiar concepts that I am sure anyone who has played a sport or martial art would know. But it was a great experience to learn them again.

I have to admit that my first Kendo practice was a most challenging one. I love being a beginner again, but it does not change the fact that it can be painful at times. The two-hour session was mentally and physically demanding for me. I’m not sure if it was because I have been sedentary for some time now or if Kendo itself is by default that difficult to learn in the beginning.

But all the hard work was worth it. It was both tiring and motivating. It was also a humbling experience. Because no matter how much I think I know about a lot of things, there are still more I need to learn. It was a good reminder to me that cultivating the important teachings I learn over time and being in the look-out for more would help define me as a person.

I’m seeing Kendo and its practitioners in a whole new light right now. And I’m so loving this sport/martial art already.

7 Reasons Why the Aioi Asian Dragon Boat Championships Rocked

This is a post that took over a decade for me to write. Blogging has not yet gained traction, at least as far as I knew, in 2002. And most of my time then was taken up by daily training that I rarely use a computer unless for emails or writing letters and reports. With no smartphones and social networking sites, much of what happened were mostly imprinted in my memory and captured by a few photographs. I managed to store some good images in my head along with several unforgettable experiences that came with them. So here’s an attempt to recall some of the reasons why the 5th Asian Dragon Boat Championships in Aioi in 2002 was a most memorable time for me:

1. The long road to Aioi

Funding was scarce during my time as a member of the women’s national dragon boat team. Priority for the budget always leaned on the men’s team’s favor. After all, they were formed in 1991, which was well ahead of the women’s team’s inception in 1997, and had several achievements already under their collective belt. So the men’s team was always first on the line-up for international competitions. As for us ladies, we were first on the chopping block if a team has to be disbanded for budgetary reasons.

The team during the Opening Ceremony
The team during the Opening Ceremony

When I heard about the invitation for the 5th Asian Dragon Boat Championships in Aioi, I was so excited because I’ve always wanted to compete in Japan. I lobbied for a women’s crew, at least for the mixed team event, to be included despite knowing that it was likely to be rejected. But no amount of pleading could budge our head coach then.

After repeated rejections, part of me wanted to just let what seemed to be a lost cause go. But I think a bigger part of me just did not want to give up that easily. BECAUSE JAPAN. And Asian Championships. So it was probably out of desperation that I did something that was not usually done by the national team before. I sent feelers by email to some club team paddlers I knew. To my surprise, I got positive responses from some who seemed quite interested to be part of what I had in mind.

Women's crew uniform
Women’s team uniform

Thirteen women, including myself, eventually came together. Four of us from the national team and the rest from three other club teams. But forming the group was just the first challenge hurdled. I talked to our head coach about my plan to have us women participate in the mixed event out of our own expense. Since food and accommodation will be shouldered by the organizers, we just had to shell out for our airfares. And everyone was willing to do so. I remember our head coach being skeptical about it. It took a while before he relented albeit on the condition that we had to do everything, including the training, on our own. It was a compromise I had to make. After all, I understood our coach’s misgivings. A typical national team training program is much different with the clubs’. He was not taking any chances of having non-national team athletes disrupt the men’s team’s training and momentum. More so since there were less than two months left before the competition.

At the bus going to the race venue
At the bus going to the race venue

So we trained on our own. But there were days that we were lent a trainer, especially nearing the competition dates. It was a great time despite the hardships. Mainly because the team that we formed was a bunch of the awesomest people I have met. With the exception of us four full time athletes, each of the ladies were busy career women, one was a businesswoman, and one a university student. But they tried their best not to miss training even on days that typhoons made it impossible for us to venture out on the water. And majority pulled through together during the many crunch times. I remember one day we huddled at the parking lot after training discussing how we can pool money for the airfare of two of our athletes. Somehow we managed to get the plane tickets by lending or contributing whatever amount we can. I also remember days we were busy with meetings, uniform designs, etc. while the men’s team just focused on their training. We were on our own and each of us gave each other strength at that time.

The day of our departure, the men’s team left on a PAL flight to Kansai airport a few hours ahead of us. The 13 of us women traveled via Thai Airways. For the superstitious, the number 13 doesn’t exactly inspire confidence. But I clearly recall thinking when we were at the airport that I felt that luck was on our side. And judging from what happened since we came together, it was not a mistake to think so. I had since considered 13 as a lucky number.

2. Grandpa

Grandpa was the owner of the small inn where our team stayed. I think each country was assigned to different inns across the city. Grandpa told us that he volunteered to take us in as soon as he heard that there was a team coming from the Philippines. He said he had been to the country before and had some really good memories about it. He immediately struck me as a kind and sincere person. While it was natural for hotel owners and innkeepers to be hospitable to their guests, he seemed genuinely happy to have us there. He went out of his way to make us feel comfortable. And he was always present during meals, bringing in the food, sitting and sharing stories with us. It went on like that throughout our stay. He also took the time to watch our competitions with some of his family members.

3. The Inn

It was small hotel with modern amenities blending with traditional comforts. It was the type of inn where you have to change to indoor slippers and leave shoes in designated racks. I was happy to be in a traditional room with tatami mats. There were also beautiful yukatas for us to use. The bathroom was compact. I was amazed how such as small space could hold a toilet, a bathtub, shower, and a sink. It was the smallest but efficiently designed bathroom I have seen thus far.

Outside the inn with the team
Outside the inn with the team

4. The people, especially the volunteers

I have so many good memories of the people I met there. The organizers, the marching band who played the Doraemon theme song at the opening ceremonies, the spectators, and the volunteers were kind, efficient, professional, and generally fun to be around. Our liaison officers really took good care of us. Community elders likewise volunteered to keep the venue clean. I remember them taking the segregation of trash seriously. They also made sure that participants throw waste in their respective assigned containers.

5. The city

Quiet and charming is how I remembered most of the places I had been to in the city. It definitely had none of the noise and hectic pace of heavily populated Manila. I remember being amazed by how silently cars glide along clean and traffic-free roads. There was one time we were sitting at a bus stop near the inn and a car quietly came to a stop in front of us as the traffic light turned red. It was the only car we saw at that time in that stretch of road. It just stayed there, the driver patiently waiting for the light to go green. It was noteworthy for us who were used to some Manila drivers who beat traffic lights even on busy roads. It was the hallmark of the discipline Japan’s so famous for among other things.

Race about to start
Race about to start

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6. The food

The food served at the inn and the packed meals at the venue were mostly simple fares. But they were immensely satisfying. And then there were the shops that sell whatever food we fancied during our rest times. The grocery was a source of constant fascination with the variety of treats, some of which we tasted and thoroughly enjoyed.

7. The experiences

A lot of good things happened to us in that trip. Maybe it helped that we did not have much expectation to begin with. I think the women’s crew really just wanted to compete in Japan as best as we could given the circumstances. Since we did not spend much time training with the men’s team who were busy with their own training, we were really surprised and happy when we bagged our first silver in the mixed team event. I think it was then that our head coach began to acknowledge that bringing us along may not have been a bad thing after all. We ended up snagging 6 silver medals, 3 for the men’s and 3 for the mixed team events. And we did it by giving the China team a good fight with only a few precious milliseconds of difference in most of the races.

It was a happy time with people I grew to respect even more as our training progressed. After we came home from Japan, I took a chance and asked our association president if we could reimburse the airfare we spent for the trip since we did manage to place second in all three of our events. The president supported us by signing the request and the Philippine Sports Commission approved it. So we eventually got our money back and paid back those who lent extra for our two teammates.

The women's crew
The women’s crew
Post-event courtesy call at the PSC Chairman's office
Post-event courtesy call at the PSC Chairman’s office

There were many lessons I learned from that experience. But perhaps one that really stuck with me was to never give up on a goal that truly matters to you. I dreamed of going to Japan and to participate in an Asian Championship. Despite the odds not being on the women’s team’s favor, it turned out way better than we expected. Because I and the rest of the team believed. And we made it happen.

Running “easy” on the pathways of Shinagawa

(Posted on November 8, 2007 in my old blog)

163896_1762887876325_3309450_nI spent my first morning in Tokyo running on the streets and pathways of Shinagawa. The crazy part was, not only did I run for one hour, which I usually do only when I register for a 10K fun run, but I ran with Ani who is a national team triathlete/coach.

I first thought that we would somehow separate after we leave the hotel. I mean, I know how triathletes train and I was thinking there is no way I can keep up with her. I have not been running for what seems like ages. I took up jogging again once a week last month and only logged between 2.5 to 3K tops each run.

So there I was at 7:00 AM, walking out of the Grand Prince New Takanawa hotel with Ani and thinking how stupid I was not to have thought of wearing a jacket. The air was crisp and I was feeling cold by the time we turned the first corner. Then Ani told me that we could run together since she will just do “easy” training. She said we will run for an hour then we will go back.

Cool, I said. And then we ran. In less than 10 minutes I did not feel cold anymore. I actually began to enjoy looking at the scenery around me. Thirty minutes into the run I began to question the logic of what I was doing. I was still feeling good, but this was when I started thinking that a triathlete’s “easy” pace is different from an ordinary person’s definition of it.

But I was really having fun running with Ani by the time I began feeling the discomforts that I resolved to try stick to the plan and finish it with her. I mean, I knew that she was really setting a very relaxed pace by her standards so I thought I should just do my best to keep up with her.

Fortunately, I was able to quickly slip into my force field and focus on the task at hand. I am really glad I did not listen to those tiny little voices in my head telling me that I cannot do it. My resolve is such that I felt a lot of feelings that brought me back to another time, another life (back when running is part of a daily routine and exercise is not just a whim). I am happy to realize that somehow, that part of me is still there and that I can draw a lot from it when and if I have to.

7 Lessons from 47 Ronin

Writing film and book reviews is just one of the many things I’m not good at. While I enjoy watching movies and reading as many books as I can, I can’t even begin to understand just how prolific critics churn out interesting and insightful reviews.

47 Ronin is another case in point for me. I learned about the film early last year through a friend who’s into swords and sword training. I immediately fell in love with the trailer. As a Japanophile and anything-Samurai fangirl, the movie strongly appealed to me.

So it was a bit of a letdown when I came across a review weeks before the movie was to hit local theaters. I opted not to read the entire article after seeing the first two lines since I already knew what the critic had to say. It basically summed it up to the movie being a mess. This was why I didn’t have much hope about it although I was determined to watch it no matter how bad it turns out to be. Because Japan. And Samurai. And Keanu.

The lack of expectation (of the positive kind) is probably one of the reasons why I was happy with the movie. It has its flaws, which I can’t really expound on seeing that I don’t have the makings of a good critic. All I can say is that I was deeply into it that I mined some lessons worth learning (and relearning) – in no particular order:

  • Honor – A person who lives with honor doesn’t allow fear to get in the way of doing what needs to be done.
  • Loyalty – The depth of loyalty honorable men can give knows no bounds. But it is earned not with big words but through acts that sometimes hardly create ripples at the onset. And once loyalty takes root, it flourishes even in the absence of the person that inspired it.
  • Courage – True courage is not about the confidence of having the skills to fight. It’s about moving forward despite the distinct possibility of failing. It’s like willingly going into a fight with one foot hovering near the edge of the deepest pit of immeasurable loss or grief.
  • Love – Maybe a good question to ask anyone would be, “Can you love someone deeply and unconditionally even if there’s no slightest chance of being with that person?”. Perhaps those who can do that are among the few who truly understand what love can be.
  • Patience – As what’s been often said, all things happen in their own time. Even justice sometimes have to wait before it can be extracted. To suffer injustice with patience is never easy. A patient man knows how to wait despite the turmoil such waiting gives.
  • Will – An indomitable will is one of the most powerful weapons a person can have. But it has to be cultivated. Once wielded, it can spur a man to do great deeds and perhaps repeatedly surprise even himself.
  • Acceptance – The Samurai’s stoic acceptance of their fate can be a bitter pill to swallow if you love happy endings. But their brand of acceptance teaches me one thing – that the ability to accept what life gives, even the prospect of death, makes it easier to let go of attachments and thus move on more easily to what awaits next.

JDrama wisdom

Mamoru-san.1

Mamoru Hoshino’s Father: Do you understand, Mamoru? A woman is a being who can talk about inconsequential things forever to her husband who came back home after work. If your wife begins talking about meaningless things, then, count the stations of the Yamanote line in your head. And when you get to terminal stations, alternatingly say, “I see” and “Indeed” in a pleasant manner. If you keep doing this, by the time you return to Tokyo station, your wife should have completed her story. ~ 独身貴族(Dokushin Kizoku)

~ ^_^ ~

I enjoyed watching this drama. I initially thought that what his father said was sexist. But I sort of get where he’s coming from. After all, meaningless chatter is something that a lot of people have to suffer through, regardless of the gender of the person(s) they’re talking to.

And I love how the story played out. Lots of relatable moments with Mamoru-san (ably and endearingly played by Tsuyoshi Kusanagi). The “Yamanote line” and “personal space” got me.

Cheesy in some parts, but realistic and romantic enough to make me fall in love with the idea of love again.

A Door To Anywhere

“If you could open a door to anywhere, where would you go?”

I saw that post in my Tumblr dashboard and immediately thought of these three places, among the many, where I’d really love to go:

Shirakawa-go

The Historic Villages of Shirakawa-gō and Gokayama are one of Japan’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The site is located in the Shogawa river valley stretching across the border of Gifu and Toyama Prefectures in central Japan” (Source: Wikipedia).

Shirakawa-go has long been a dream destination for me. I first saw a picture of it in a magazine I was thumbing through while looking for materials for my vision board years ago. The place seriously looks surreal to me, and I mean that in the most flattering ways. It reminds me of the stuff I see in digitally enhanced movies except that I know it’s real.

I still can’t decide as to which season to see it best. Probably all. It’s the kind of place that looks breathtakingly beautiful in every season in all the photos I’ve seen. But if I were to choose, I think I’d love to see it in autumn, winter, and spring.

I don’t see Shirakawa-go as perfect. It just has this beauty that gnaws at my heart in a good way. I imagine myself walking in its streets and pathways, sipping hot tea inside one of those farmhouses, and soaking in as much sights and sounds that my stay there would allow me.

Ghibli Museum 

I enjoy visiting museums. I recall happily looking around the Edo-Tokyo Museum when I got the chance to visit Tokyo a few years back. But there was one that I truly regret not being able to visit when I was there – the Ghibli Museum in Mitaka. I can say that I probably felt as bad as some of my new-found friends at that time who weren’t able to squeeze in a Tokyo Disneyland visit in our schedules while we were there.

Like most kids across generations, I grew up with Disney movies. But Ghibli films moved me in ways that the tales of princesses and romances didn’t. I’m amazed and in awe of Hayao Miyasaki’s talents and works as well as those of the people behind Studio Ghibli.

So if I could open a door to anywhere, one of the places I really want to end up is at the Tokyo bus stop with a sign that says “Ghibli museum”, get on the bus, enjoy the ride, and have fun roaming around the museum.

The Hague

To be more specific, I want a door that leads to the third floor flat near the Peace Palace in The Hague. It would be nice to sleep in the bed next to do wide windows, wake up seeing the tree that stands between the building and the clock tower, and worry at times for the birds that somehow end up crashing into the window glass.

Shirakawa-go, Ghibli museum, the flat next to the Peace Palace at The Hague. Three doors for a start wouldn’t be so bad for the gazillion doors-to-anywhere that I want. 🙂

Jiro Dreams of Sushi: The Long Road to Mastery

Jiro Dreams of Sushi is a stunning documentary film in so many levels. The subject, treatment, soundtrack, and visual style are just some of the things that stand out for me. I wonder how could such creative diversity achieve mesmerizing and thought-provoking simplicity. I see talent, from Jiro Ono and his apprentices to the director and his crew, manifesting in different forms to create something of great depth and value.

Fresh Look to an Age-Old Wisdom

“The Japanese word shokunin is defined by both Japanese and Japanese-English dictionaries as ‘craftsman’ or ‘artisan,’ but such a literal description does not fully express the deeper meaning.  The Japanese apprentice is taught that shokunin means not only having technical skills, but also implies an attitude and social consciousness. … The shokunin has a social obligation to work his/her best for the general welfare of the people.  This obligation is both spiritual and material, in that no matter what it is, the shokunin’s responsibility is to fulfill the requirement.” ~ Tasio Odate

Jiro Ono exemplifies the life of a shokunin. One that is dedicated to focused, consistent, persevering pursuit of excellence and self-improvement. People from other cultures may call it by a different name, but the essence would probably be the same. There exists a mindset focused on continual, self-driven passion for mastery that transcends perceived limitations. Great martial artists, artisans, and craftsmen seem to share that spirit.

Director David Gelb brings to fore an age-old wisdom that is getting fewer committed following. Achieving mastery in any craft is an ancient pursuit that has survived thousands of years. While it may not be a new concept, there seems to be a dwindling number of people who devote their lives to it. I think it is admirable how the documentary puts a spotlight to an inspiring philosophy.

“Ultimate simplicity leads to purity.”

Sukiyabashi Jiro does not serve appetizers or other courses except for the standard 20-piece sushi meal. Anyone who wants to eat at the restaurant will have to make reservations at least one month before and expect to shell out a minimum of 30,000 yen.

Food writer Masuhiro Yamamoto’s remark on how “ultimate simplicity leads to purity” probably captures much of the essence behind the restaurant’s success. By removing other food offerings except for what it serves best, Sukiyabashi Jiro lets its clients fully experience every serving of sushi.

Perhaps achieving simplicity entails allowing peripherals to melt away. In food, as in life, absolute enjoyment to a singular event or experience could be the form of purity that many things seem to lack. Simplifying by chipping away the non-essentials or peripheral thoughts focuses all energies. It paves way for creating a purity of skill.

Falling in Love in with Work

“Once you decide on your occupation… you must immerse yourself in your work. You have to fall in love with your work. Never complain about your job. You must dedicate your life to mastering your skill. That’s the secret of success… and is the key to being regarded honorably” ~ Jiro Ono

Probably not many can fall in love with their work early in life like Jiro Ono did. Some may find a subtle or marked divide between a job that pays the bill as opposed to work related to a dream. The sushi master’s words may after all not be true for everyone. But it does bring to mind the importance of finding that work worth falling in love with.

A work that can be loved gives reason to stay regardless of how long and difficult the road to success may be. Maybe the lesson really is to make sure to find that work worth suffering for. Because as the film highlights most, there is no shortcut to mastery and greatness. It is important to latch on to something that would make every sacrifice worthwhile.

Tapping into Attributes that Lead to Greatness

The concept of apprenticeship as shown in the film provides an insight to the amount of dedication and determination needed in aspiring for greatness in one’s craft. Spending ten years as an apprentice under a sushi master is a considerable amount of time. But the joys of being acknowledged by the master make up for it. Masuhiro Yamamoto lists attributes great chefs commonly share. Characteristics that are relevant to anyone who begins with the spirit of apprenticeship.

  1. They take their work very seriously and constantly perform to the highest levels.
  2. They aspire to improve their skills.
  3. Cleanliness.
  4. Impatience. They are better leaders than collaborators. They’re stubborn and insist on having it their way.
  5. [They are] Passionate.

I admit that I did not have much interest to start with watching the film. But any reservations were immediately blown away at the first few minutes. Among the many takeaways from this movie, Yoshikazu Ono sums up one for me.

(image source: http://tonsoftime.com)
(image source: http://tonsoftime.com)

It reinforces my belief that one can neither be too old nor too late to dream. And that aspiring for mastery is always a lofty goal.

Hello, 2013!

(click image for source)

Well, hello there, 2013! I love the lightness you bring. It was an inexplicably smooth transition a few hours ago. One that’s filled with gratitude for a year gone and anticipation for one that’s beginning.

This year’s goals aren’t as many as the previous years. After all, it’s going to be a time for lean but mean aspirations. Everything will be about focus, perseverance, determination, discipline, and positivity.

I don’t know yet what you have in store for me, but I have a strong feeling I’d be able to take them on with everything that’s in me. So I welcome you with a brave heart filled with big dreams. I’m sure we’ll get along splendidly, 2013.

In the meantime, let me leave here this list I found earlier. I think it can be a useful and excellent guide to purposeful living this year.

Benjamin Franklin’s list of thirteen virtues (The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin) ~~ (click image for source)