Billy And The Banana – Karate’s #1 Rule

A while ago we held an advanced instructors course at out main dojo, open for all instructors and assistant instructors of our club(s).

If I remember correctly, we were maybe fifteen people present.

So anyway, this thing happened during a break.

We were all sweaty and happy, drinking water and cooling off before the next session, when our head sensei decided to give a banana to a junior instructor who looked a little worn out.

Let’s call this junior instructor Billy.

To give you some perspective, Billy is only fifteen years old. But his physique begs to differ – He’s strong as an ox, runs faster than Usain Bolt on a sick day, kicks harder than Chuck Norris and never gives up when training.

He’s also very interested in learning, and often asks intelligent questions.

Simply put, he is your dream student.

So anyway, back to the story. Where were we?

Oh, that’s right, our sensei just gave him a banana. So Billy takes the banana, and says “Thank you!” while we’re all sitting there, chatting to each other. Nothing special about it, it’s just a banana. I ate one too.

Well, thats when we hear it:

Billy: “Umm… excuse me, sensei, but how do you open it?”

Sensei: “Open what?”

Billy: “The banana.”


Everyone stopped the small talk and turned their heads. What did he just say?

Billy: “My mom always opens them for me.”

[even more silence]

We couldn’t believe our ears. Billy, this young, gifted, smart athlete couldn’t O-P-E-N a banana. Because he had never done it before.

Now, you might think this is fun, but it wasn’t.

It was scary.

Nobody even laughed. We just looked at each other like “Is this for real? Is he serious?”

And, of course, he was.

This strange experience will probably be in my mind forever, because it is such a good reminder of a lot of things, like responsibility.

Billy wasn’t some fat kid who sat behind his computer all day, never eating fruits and vegetables, but a sporty kid. Yet he had never taken his responsibility when it came to feeding himself. His mother had apparently always done that, and that made Billy think “Wow, my mom does this food thingy really well, so I can just ignore learning any of that!”

Yeah, well Billy, newsflash: Your mom won’t always be around when it’s time to eat.

And that goes for all of us.

We could all take some wisdom from this old Arabic proverb, which goes something like:

“Trust in Allah, but always tie your camel”

Interestingly, our favorite legendary samurai warrior (Miyamoto Musashi) said the exact same thing i his 21 Rules (“The Dokkodô”, which I wrote about here), but in other words:

“Respect Buddha and the gods, without counting on their help”

Karate is not a martial art.

It’s a smartial art.

We need to take responsibility for our own training, and our own learning, without relying on a teacher or instructors yelling at us all the time. It’s different from your average fitness class where you have somebody screaming “C’mon, one more push up! Just one more! You can do it!”

We don’t have that.

We don’t have a big surround sound system blasting out upbeat music, so that we can keep up the pace. For god’s sake, we don’t even have shoes!

Because that’s not how we do it.

Not in Karate.

Karate, the king of all smartial arts (there are a few more), makes the practitioner take responsibility for their own training. All the way. There is nobody there who’ll peel your banana. I mean, sure, they’ll gladly teach you how to do it, but they won’t do it for you. Because you won’t benefit from it.


Trust me.

By the way, do you know what I’ve been hearing lately?

For a few weeks now, students have been telling me “It’s soon time for grading, but you’ve never taught me this, or that. Why haven’t anybody taught me this kata, or that kumite? How am I ever supposed to make it to the next belt?!”

And I’m sick of it.

That’s not how it works. Maybe, just maybe, if you would have trained this hard five months ago, and not just three weeks before the grading, you would have known your kata and kumite for the grading. But no.

Just like our athletic friend Billy who never cared for learning how to open a banana, some students simply don’t care about their own progress in Karate, until they are actually forced too.

But no worries, these students are the ones who quit when they realize what Karate really is:

A martial art where the teacher is there to push you, not drag you.

A martial art where the next belt doesn’t mean that you have a new color to put on, but more hours to put in.

A martial art where technique, strength or speed doesn’t really matter when comparing a seasoned black belt to a whiny orange belt, but the ability to take responsibility and never giving up learning, does.

A smartial art.

Karate is a way to condition the body, cultivate the mind but above all, nurture the spirit.

And sometimes all it takes is a banana to realize just how important this truly is.


  • Diego Romero
    you DO realize you are now morally obligated to bombard billy with banana-related pranks for the est of his life, do you? also now you know that every single break should be recorded for posterity :D in all seriousness though, a very good article, and those three phrases about what karate is were awesome (particularly the push/drag one)
    • Diego, thanks! And believe me, I would if I could (duuh!), the problem is just that I don't see Billy that much these days :(
      • Diego Romero
        maybe send him an e-mail with the dancing banana animation and a witty phrase?
  • Tommy
    I'm really interested in what actually happened to Billy. Did someone open the banana for him, did someone teach him to do it or even better did someone force him to "just try it man"? And in response to the "how am I going to get my next belt if you haven't taught me"-thingie, it's simple. If you don't know your stuff then you are not ready for the new belt. That's it! Plain and simple. You shouldn't get the next belt just because everyone else is, you should get it when you think you CAN. It's not a race.
    • I think somebody finally got tired of that akward silence and just broke the banana in two or something... :P
  • Tobias
    I just came up with the evil master plan of all times! You should give Billy a fruit basket for his next birthday...which ONLY contain bananas MOUHAHAHA...
  • Peter
    to access the soft internal interior student must learn to remove rough exterior skin
  • Buddy
    Give a man a banana, he'll eat for a day... Show him how to peel one and he'll eat for life.... =) Very interesting, Jesse!
  • NewBudo (Frik Willemse)
    The irony of it all! I chomped down THREE bananas while reading this post! And I peeled them myself! My favourite fruit ;-) Trust Jesse-san to do such a cool post about such a cool fruit. Anything on peaches? Hahahaha! Thanx For another great post Jesse-san.
  • Gerry
    It's obvious to me Billy's mother just hadn't taught him yet the super-secret family technique (handed down through generations) of banana peeling. Maybe she was saving it for his 18th birthday?
  • Just as a slightly off-topic FYI: If you open the banana in the non-standard way - not from the "handle" but from the other end - you can avoid dealing with all those pesky "strings." Yep, there are different ways to open a banana and Billy had something to gain from getting some guidance on this subject... ;-) On-topic: Teachers have an obligation to guide students, not just tell them what to do and push them to do it repetitively. And students have an obligation to analyze the information presented to them and create their own opinions.
    • Daniel Handler
      Also very off topic but oh well: I always open the bananas from the side without the "handle" because, aside from there not being strings, when the banana is almost completely eaten and there's onlu a little left, it's very easy to hold the banana by the handle.
  • Graziela
    Until I was in 3rd grade, I didn't know how to tie my shoelaces. I knew how to tie an easy one that gets taught to kids in kindergarden, but that one doesn't hold up that well. Because when I needed a strong one, my parents, sisters or friends were there. But that one time in sports class that year, my friend was sick and she couldn't tie them, so I had to do it all on my own, because I was too shy to ask anyone. And that was the moment when I learned it! When I was 8 or 9 years old! Sometimes, an "emergency" will make you do things. Imagine Billy would be all on his own on an island and his only food is a banana! Hopefully, Billy learned it later that day from his mom.

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