Elephants, Lions & Kihon

What do you do on the evenings?

And I don’t mean when you train, but after training. Like when you have eaten dinner, and you have some time left to relax before you go to bed.

Most – if not all – people watch television at that time.

Now I’m going to give you an alternative:

If you read 15 minutes each evening, rather than watching television (or after watching television), you will complete about 15 books in a year.

If you, for example, read in the great classics of English literature (for 15 minutes each evening) in seven years you will have read the 100 greatest books ever written.

You will be one of the best-educated and most cultured people of your generation.

And you can accomplish this just by reading 15 minutes each evening.

Now, what do I want to say with this? Well, imagine if I had just told you “You should read the 100 best books ever written, it’s good for you”. Then you wouldn’t have cared – Because you wouldn’t know how, or where, to start.

It’s like trying to eat an elephant!

It just seems like a too big project.

But, when you know that you can accomplish it by reading just 15 minutes a day, it suddenly seems almost childishly easy!  And that’s how you accomplish great things:

By doing it a little, many times.

Now, if there is something we do many times in Karate, then it has to be kihon, the basics.

In Japan and Okinawa, kihon is like a part of the warm-up. By that I mean that they do it every time, with no exception, just like the warm-up. The “real” training never starts before the kihon is done.

A little kihon, every training, eventually leads to success.

They never think “Should we do kihon today, or should we skip it?”. That thought doesn’t exist. It’s never an option. The kihon has to be done before other things can be trained.

Every time.

I wonder what John D. Rockefeller, at one time the richest self-made man in the world, knew about kihon when he wrote “I do not think there is any other quality so essential to success of any kind, as the quality of perseverance. It overcomes almost everything, even nature.”

By the way, isn’t that the reason to why many people quit training? They can’t stand doing the same thing every training. They get frustrated, and just want to get the kihon out of the way, for the “fun” stuff!

Those people will never read 15 minutes each evening…

Anyway, back to the topic.

The founder of Goju-ryu Karate, Miyagi Chojun, had a favorite saying:

“Raion wa gake kara omochite sodatsu mono dake ga sodatsu.”

The meaning is that the lion only raises the cubs that can climb up the cliff (that the lion drops them from). If the cub can’t climb back up, then it will be left to die. The lion cannot waste time on raising weak cubs.

I don’t know it that is actually true (sounds horrible), but it’s exactly the same with Karate.

Chojun Miyagi himself only let his students do the Sanchin exercise over and over again, week after week, month after month, outside, in his garden.

The weak students eventually got bored and quit.

The students who were left were taught “the real” Karate – they had climbed the cliff of kihon.

That was many moons ago, but today it’s no different. For example, some people wonder how all Karate students of Japanese teachers can be so good, and I did too for a while. Then I found the answer: The lazy students quit a long time ago, because they couldn’t stand doing the basics, kihon, every single training.

So what’s left is a bunch of students with the lion spirit.

And a little kihon every time (added to the lion spirit) eventually leads to success, like we know.

You just have to endure.

Another famous person, though not a Karate-man, was Winston Churchill. He is considered by many to have been the greatest statesman of the 20th century, and throughout his life he was known – and respected – for his courage and persistence.

In the later years of his life, Churchill was asked to hold a speech for a class at his old school. They asked him if he would share with the young students what he believed to be the secret of his great success in life.

He stood before the assembly, leaning on his cane, shaking a little, and said with a strong voice: “I can summarize the lessons of my life in seven words:

Never give in. Never, never, give in.”

He would have been a great lion.

I bet he read a lot of books too.

Because in the end, it’s not about doing everything perfectly from the beginning – It’s about enduring, and doing it little by little, day by day. Eventually, it will add up, and you will reach your goal.

Successful men and women are known for their incredible persistence and by their refusal to quit, no matter what. The one quality that seems to absolutely guarantees success in Karate, business, music, getting rich and every other field you can imagine, is this determined willpower and eagerness to continue when you just want to rest or go and do something else, like watch TV.

So, finally, how do you eat an elephant?

One bite at a time.


  • Matt "Ikigai"
    Very cool site here! I just found you so i'll definitely have to go back and look at some of your content. Great setup!
  • Hi "Ikigai" Great, thanks a lot!
  • ridan heavenly. real name: Nadirah
    jesse, my fave topic ever! reminds me of the song 'one step at a time' by jordin sparks :-D
  • @Ridan (Nadirah!) I'm glad you liked it! The hard part is doing it... :)
  • Batman
    This has to be one of the most inspiring and relevant (I've only been doing karate a very short while) entries I've read, excellent work man
  • Carissa
    What do I do in the evenings? Read your articles. :D

Leave a comment