After eleven years of study and training, my wife finally received her first degree blackbelt in karate called a shodan in Renbukai karate. It was a proud achievement, but in the oriental tradition, the shodan merely indicates that she is now ready to be a serious student of the art.
In this respect, I notice a big difference in learning approach between Western and Oriental culture. In general, the Western Culture exults achievement while Oriental culture tends to exult the process.
In practice, this means that getting the black belt from a Western standpoint is the destination or the end of the journey whereas from the Oriental standpoint it is a milestone in a life-long process. I often thought that the multi-coloured belts were designed to give Western students a sense of accomplishment as they proceeded up the ranks. In Japan, for instance, judo students either have a white belt or a black belt. In many cases, a Judokan with a white belt might have ten years of serious experience. Woe to the Canadian blue belt who underestimates his or her white belt opponent.
Both viewpoints provide important philosophical lessons. Yes, set goals and take pride in getting to the next level, but when you get to the next level, it is also time to let it go. The goal has served its purpose in motivating you to reach that level. Now it’s time to reach for higher levels.
It takes a wise person to find the balance between the process and the outcome. Having reffed many a minor league soccer games, I can tell that some coaches care only about winning and hence verbally abuse their team. Then there are the coaches that understand it’s more important for their kids to learn about fair play, teamwork, and emotional control.
The Canadian Olympic Team exemplified another aspect of why we shouldn’t measure all performance by outcome. Did you notice that we won less medals than we anticipated, but also won more gold medals than any country has ever won in the Winter Olympics? Why?
I think it’s because when athletes go for gold, they are pushing themselves that little bit harder. In an event like skiing, that extra push may send them careening off the course or alternatively, that little push might just be a new world record. I respect those champions who would rather go for a new personal record than play it safe and win a medal.
So consider, where in your life are you trying to get to a destination, but not focusing on life-long process of learning? Are you taking on progressively more difficult challenges in key areas of your life? It may not be possible to be Olympians in all areas of our lives, but we can try in some.
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