January 2011: Learning from the master: Miyamaoto Musashi

Learning from the master: Miyamaoto Musashi

I have always been a perfectionist. For many years, it was a constant struggle to be content with anything, from my academic writings to my skill as a pool player. However, many years of karate have taught me that perfection is infinitely beyond my grasp.

Just eight years after I began practicing karate I was sitting with a group of senior students as they told their epic tales of battles fought, injuries sustained and the weird and wonderful characters that had graced our dojo (training hall).

Then they told a story that related to me. “You,” it began, “were the worst beginner we have ever had…” While striving for perfection in every movement I had revealed that I had no natural coordination, no fitness, no ability to remember the moves and a natural gift for turning the wrong way at every opportunity. This news came as I was preparing to take my black belt exam.

Striving for perfection

While working towards my black belt, I trained at least twice a day, six days a week. I maintained this for more than five years in an ever-present bid to attain that elusive perfection of movement. Now, after 23 years of karate training, I understand this: what I have learned about perseverance, self-acceptance and facing my fears is so much more valuable than attaining the perfect punch.

Over the years, as I nursed bruises and broken bones, I would read and re-read Miyamaoto Musashi’s The Book of Five Rings. My favourite passage is this:

‘…determine that today you will overcome yourself of the day before, tomorrow you will win over those of lesser skill, and later you will win over those of greater skill.’

Now I am striving to help people who are living with the aftermath of life changing illness I find myself trying to become an expert in every avenue, striving to anticipate and understand every possible outcome, researching every area, speaking to every expert and … I have to keep reminding myself that I can strive for perfection but I have to accept my limitations.

Striving to become more

I am trying to create apps and videos to support people with communication difficulties, I have shared research about less common therapies for stroke rehabilitation and I am about to begin creating ways to help children cope with the new life that awaits them when a loved one has a life changing event. I cannot promise that I will cover every possible option or guarantee to produce an app or solution for every problem. What I can do is promise that I will continue to work tirelessly to help people living with conditions such as stroke, brain injury and dementia, and their families. With the essential help of my small, but excellent, team I will keep working and trying to make a difference.

What I discovered through my practice of karate has been confirmed in my search for new ways to help my husband Steve and others like him. There is a desire to get it right first time, but true progress takes commitment and perseverance. Every blow teaches me something, every success encourages me to strive harder and every day is a new opportunity to be more than the person I was yesterday.

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