I’m looking around, trying desperately to see who this girl is yelling and pointing at.
“Stay the f**k away from me!”
She was talking to me.
And that’s how my day began, word-for-word, as some crazy surfer girl tried to scare me away from “her waves” this morning at beautiful Waikiki Beach in Honolulu.
(Yeah bro, I’m in Hawaii. Didn’t I tell you?)
Surfing is hard.
And drama queens don’t make it easier.
But I’m trying to learn.
If you haven’t been to Hawaii before, let me tell you something: It’s basically a mix between Okinawa, California and Thailand. Both culturally, socio-economically and gastronomically.
In my first week I’ve already been cursed out by this crazy surfer girl, roundhouse kicked in the leg by a Polynesian thug on the street, approached by a… uhm… “geisha”, split a bottle of Japanese rice wine with three gay guys at an all-garlic restaurant (long story), learned Karate from world champion George Kotaka, overheard several convos between drug dealers (“Watch out, five-o creepin.”), met MMA legend BJ Penn at his gym, got pulled over by the cops, snorkeled with gigantic turtles at a black volcano sand beach, stargazed from the world’s highest mountain (Mauna Kea), eaten amazing food (brown rice sushi!), seen Hawaii’s tallest waterfall and much more.
And I’ve only been here a week!
But I digress.
Now back to today’s topic.
Or, more specifically, what my journey as a beginner in the art of surfing can teach you about the art of Karate – straight from the action-packed beaches of Hawaii.
I’ll keep it brief, so read carefully:
#1: No swim? No surf.
The first thing any surfer needs to do is swim.
In order to get out to the sweet spot, where the big waves form and you can actually start surfing, you need to lie down on your board and swim like a mofo – against the frickin’ waves.
- Yes, you will swallow gallons of water.
- Yes, you will flip over.
- Yes, your shoulders will ache.
- (And yes, you might even get run over by other surfers.)
But that’s the price you pay to get to the waves and finally surf.
Just like Karate.
See, before you can truly enjoy the thrills of challenging your physical and mental capabilities in Karate – whether at a grading, tournament, friendly sparring or even the notorious street – you have to put the hours in at the dojo. Thousands of them. You have to go through the struggle of swimming against the waves in order to effortlessly ride them later on.
Because nothing in Karate comes free.
Training, training and more training. Swimming, swimming and more swimming.
Against the waves.
Against your opponent.
The cost? As high as you’re willing to go. As hard as you’re capable of pushing. As far as you’re willing to swim. You pay with blood, sweat, tears, and the occasional bruise. The occasional splash of salt water in your eye. The occasional kick to your ribs, and blow to your ego.
It will hurt, and it will take time. And there’s no escaping it. You might not have signed up for it, but it’s part of being a Karate-ka.
Is it worth it?
There’s only one way to find out.
(Surfers say “bro” all the time.)
#2: Forget the “perfect” wave. Perfect is now.
You’ve managed to swim all the way out to the calm spot where all the beach boys float around on their boards. Great. You’ll be doing that about a million more times, but for now, feel free to give yourself a pat on the back. You’re awesome.
Now you wait.
For the perfect wave.
Waves come. Waves go. Some people decide to go, some decide to stay. But after a while, you notice that everybody are gone. They surfed! And you’re all alone.
Because you just sat there, hoping, wishing, waiting for the perfect wave to come and gloriously schwoosh you to the beach like a boss.
It’s not going to happen.
Just like in Karate.
The only perfect wave is right here, right now.
See, when you tell yourself that you’re going to do a “perfect” kick, score a “perfect” point, do a “perfect” kata, or tie your belt in a “perfect” knot; you’re subconsciously putting so much pressure on yourself that you’re unknowingly setting yourself up for failure before you’ve even begun.
Indeed, you can literally wait forever for that “perfect” moment to catch your opponent off guard and nail a “perfect” counter – but more likely you’ll get nailed fifteen times yourself in the process – with “barely perfect” techniques from your opponent.
In fact, most of the time, “perfect” will take you nowhere.
Except to Disappointmentville.
So seize opportunities. All of ’em. No matter how small, insignificant or imperfect they may seem at first. It’s easier to say “bro, that wave was perfect!” in hindsight, rather than saying “bro, I’m gonna surf the perfect wave now!” in foresight.
Karate was made to be used right here, right now.
True perfection always happens in the moment, and should be considered a gift.
That’s why it’s called the “present”.
(Cheesy, I know.)
#3: You shouldn’t ride every wave.
Catching waves is a skill.
But catching the right wave is a whole other skill.
If you want to get the most of your surfing experience, you’d better choose your waves wisely, bro.
See, you need to surf waves that are just outside of your comfort zone, but not too far in your danger zone. Waves that are big enough to literally lift you higher and take you further – but small enough to not crash down on you.
You need waves that fit your skill level.
Just like in Karate.
There are far too many people around the world who spend their precious dojo time going through the same motions with the same partners with the same mindset – week in and week out – like zombies. They never consider dipping their toes outside of their comfort zone. Because, quite frankly, many of them are afraid of progress (and the consequences it brings).
But as sensei Einstein once so famously told us:
“Insanity is doing the same thing over and over, expecting progress.”
(By this definition, many Karate people are insane.)
Small waves won’t elevate you.
Big waves won’t either.
Thus, one of the most important tasks facing any surfer who enters the beach – any Karate-ka who enters the dojo – lies in identifying which waves – which battles – are worthy of choosing today.
Nobody says they have to be bigger than yesterday’s, or bigger than somebody else’s.
They just have to be big enough for you – today.
And that’s three lesson surfing taugh me about Karate, in my first week on Hawaii.
Hopefully it taught you something too.
I’m off to climb a big-ass volcano now.
Wish me luck, bro.