Sometimes you learn the most valuable lessons in the most unexpected situations.
In driving school for instance.
At least I did.
Let me tell you.
I was driving along with my driving supervisor (a nice lady) on a long, narrow deserted road in the middle of nowhere.
It was early autumn, and the nature surrounding us was basically brown and orange. At least in my memory.
If I remember correctly we were practising countryside driving, which would explain the setting (in the middle of nowhere). We had been driving this narrow dusty road for maybe ten minutes, making sure I don’t hit or run over any rabbits, foxes or unlucky ninjas, since I wasn’t that experienced in driving (yet).
Finally we came to a big “normal” highway. It was what’s called a T-intersection.
It looked something like this:
Except a little bit narrower.
Anyway, here began what I today refer to as Driving School’s Accidental Karate Lesson #1, which somehow has been stuck in my mind since that day.
Probably because I immediately made a connection to Karate when I learned it. I have been thinking about it occasionally for some years now, and I feel it’s time to put it in print.
So, as we slowly approached the big highway, and I practised shifting gears, breaking, checking the mirrors and all that other stuff you need to think about, my driving teacher started to tell me:
“Look closely at your surroundings, slowly begin to deccelerate, and notice the sign that says ‘STOP'”.
I did just as told of course, and slowly approached the white line painted on the ground, next to the ‘STOP’ sign.
Me: “Umm, excuse me.”
Driving teacher: “Yes?”
Me: “It feels kind of silly to stop here.”
Driving teacher: “Why? What do you mean?”
Me: “Well, we can clearly see that there are no cars on this road. Neither to the left, nor the right side, for miles.”
It was a very good road with perfect visibility to both sides.
Driving teacher: “Well, we have to stop anyway. That’s what the sign tells us.”
Me: “Yeah, I realize that, it’s just…”
Driving teacher: “I know what you mean. You think it’s unnecessary to stop, since there clearly are no other cars visible. I often think that myself.”
Driving teacher: “Yes. And to be honest, I don’t always stop, in a situation like this.”
Me: “What?! You break the law?”
Driving teacher: “Well, I have been driving for over twenty years. My experience has taught me that sometimes you don’t need to stop, like if there’s very good visibility to both sides, and no other cars on the road. However, you must always stop.”
Me: “But I could have safely driven without stopping.”
[As you’ve probably figured out by now, we had passed the ‘STOP’ sign already and were driving on the highway]
Driving teacher: “I’m sure you could have. But my job is to teach you how to drive according to the rules. You can’t break the rules before you have learned them. I know the rules, I know their purpose, so I know when it’s appropriate to “bend” them. When you understand the rules you will also understand when to follow them, and when not to follow them. Now let’s make a left over there and head to the driving school.”
Did you read that? Read it again.
Basically, it was my driving teacher instructing me in how to break the law.
And that was the lesson.
Unaware of it, she had just taught me something about Karate.
I trust you are clever enough to figure that one out yourself.
Let’s go to the next accidental Karate driving lesson…
This is a steering wheel.
For those of you that don’t have a driver’s license, this is what you use to turn the car.
(Okay, now I’m just being mean.)
Anyway, later that same autumn, still in driving school with the same teacher, she once remarked that I should change the way I grip the steering wheel.
Me: “What? Change the way I grip? I’m not holding tight enough?”
Driving teacher: “No, it’s not that. It’s where you grip.”
Me: “I don’t understand.”
Driving teacher: “Right now you are holding your hands at 2 o’clock and 10 o’clock…
What she meant was that I was holding my hands like this man:
Driving teacher: “…and that’s fine, you can still do that, but that’s the old way. Today, we usually recommend that you should hold at 3 o’clock and 9 o’clock.”
Like in this picture:
Driving teacher: “That way, if you should crash and the air bag should explode in your face, your hands won’t risk hitting yourself in the face.”
Me: “Oh, I see. How come they didn’t teach that in my handbook then?”
And here came the second lesson.
Driving teacher: “Well, that handbook of yours is pretty outdated, to be honest. At that time, air bags weren’t as common as they are now. Most people still drive that way, but things have changed, and we need to change with it. The old way worked then, in those conditions. Of course it works today too, but it’s not optimal. Just moving your hands down a little on the steering wheel will be much safer should you ever crash. It’s just a small detail, but still an important one.”
That lesson was so true for Karate, in so many ways, that I wondered if my driving teacher actually wasn’t some disguised zen monk super ninja warrior from Okinawa, sent here from the world gaijin sokeship educator council.
But she wasn’t.
She was just a regular driving teacher.
And I was just a “white belt with too many questions”.
Who still remembers what driving school taught him about Karate.