Kyoshi's Technique of the Week

August 17th, 2014

From Sensei John Robbins, Ueshiro Midtown Karate Dojo

Finding Inspiration from Other Warriors

Onegai-shimasu, Hanshi, Kyoshi, Sensei and Sempai,

This past Memorial Day, Admiral William H. McRaven, ninth commander of U.S. Special Operations Command, delivered an inspiring commencement speech at the University of Texas. A Navy SEAL, Adm. McRaven illuminated the process of prevailing over physical and mental challenges, building indomitable spirit through basic SEAL training, and indulged the crowd with stories of commitment to training basic technique, perseverance and teamwork. Each of these virtues are shared in Shorin-ryu karate training, as brought to us by Grand Master Ueshiro and reinforced today by Hanshi Robert Scaglione. These virtues carried Adm. McRaven through the rigors of SEAL training, a program that leads to many more dropouts than commissioned Navy SEALs, just as these same virtues develop superior human spirit in the dojo. Shorin-ryu training is difficult; however, the lessons that Adm. McRaven learned during SEAL training should serve as inspiration to us as deshi in our lifetime of training and growth, and remind us that we can look to other warriors for inspiration.

I encourage you to read (and re-read) his speech transcript or watch the related video here:


“If you can’t do the little things right, you will never do the big things right,” a conclusion Adm. McRaven derived from making his bed daily (see his first lesson). The Shorin-ryu parallel is learning and refinement of basic technique, through practice. Hanshi instructs us to step first, one of many fundamental principles we learn as white belts, and repeat again and again as we progress to experienced black belts. The purpose is vital: technique is the foundation of our development as warriors. Waza training preserves our technical proficiency. Similarly, it is the exhausting and repetitious training of basics that transform soldiers into SEALs. We take pleasure in performing Fukyugata Ichi daily over many years, and in doing so, we may ultimately become proficient at other kata as well. There is no alternative. Consider the SEALs’ routine as inspiration, and train to perfect the basics.

SEAL training is demanding, designed to test physical and mental fortitude, to eliminate those without supreme strength and courage. Those few that succeed do so through perseverance. Adm. McRaven’s class of 150 fell to 42 through attrition. The parallel within Shorin-ryu is eloquently described by Hanshi in the “Red Book,” page 9:

"The manifestation of any challenge besetting the karateka must be met and conquered, whether the challenge be a physical confrontation, a stressful job, a psychological situation or an unattainable goal. Once presented, all challenges will be swiftly dealt with through one’s spirit, strength and character. This is the objective and reward of dedication to karate. This is Master Ueshiro’s philosophy. This is our philosophy. This is our Shorin-ryu system."

The concept of perseverance is consistent throughout Adm. McRaven’s speech. The impossible standards of physical excellence, experienced in stages of high stress and at high frequency, develop the SEAL candidates to surpass their self-perceived limitations. This is common to the marathon workouts we enjoy regularly in our Shorin-ryu training. Katathons, countless knuckle pushups, held stances and deep knee bends in difficult conditions confront us with our perceived limits. The core strength (tanden) we develop shows us we can take another step forward or complete another kata at full speed. Above all, we “Just do it,” often with the support of our training partners.

Teamwork is the hallmark of SEAL training success. Equivalently, our Sensei promote the virtue of training partners. I owe much of my progress to my training partners, with their sprit and dedication as sources of strength to test and surpass my anticipated limits. Our partnership is forged from sweat earned together on the deck. Adm. McRaven, in his ninth lesson, describes an exercise of SEAL “Hell Week” when SEAL candidates are submersed in freezing cold mud for up to 15 hours. The misery and resignation of trainees were defeated when a voice raised in song, “with great enthusiasm. One voice became two, and two became three, and before long everyone in the class was singing.” We have all experienced a moment in a marathon length workout, near exhaustion, when we have looked around to observe maximum effort expended by our training partners. That effort is our source of strength from which we draw, our “singing” in SEAL parlance. “If you want to change the world, start singing when you’re up to your neck in mud.”

Our chosen lifetime marathons are difficult, but not unique. Within the dojo are many sources of inspiration to elevate and carry us through. External sources of inspiration are available and we can leverage the experience of our Navy SEAL warriors to develop our warrior spirit. Start with Adm. McRaven’s commencement speech, and keep training!!!

Domo arigato gozaimasu,
Sensei John Robbins, Ueshiro Midtown Karate Dojo