Commitment and Discipline

Commitment and Discipline

I know that when I consider these two words, they spark feelings of accomplishment, pride and satisfaction. Commitment means to hold faith; it is an opportunity to act honorably. It is often used when describing nebulous ideas like patriotism and family. It is alluded to when faced with a long, arduous journey, especially one that has the power for self-improvement or service to your community. Commitment to self, commitment to a cause or ideal, and commitment to see a thing through – all of these ideas engender the spark of self-confidence and the glow of a job well done.

Discipline is a closely related word. It certainly takes a level of discipline to see a thing through. You must make time for it, create a strategy for successfully navigating the path to fruition of a goal or action. It takes discipline to go to a gym and train every day. It takes discipline to see your way through college. It takes discipline to keep your anger in check when faced with harsh criticism or violence. To embody this word is a badge of achievement, and it brings with it a standing in your community and within yourself that sets you apart from those who lack drive and spirit. So much self-esteem tied up in these two words!

When I see commitment in my life, I envision my plans and the path to see them through. Now in my mid-50’s, commitment has become far easier to embody.

After years of starting and stopping different paths in an effort to know myself, commitment comes at the end of your search for self, as well as the beginning. Once you know what it is that you are here to do with your life, you at least know what it is that you want to commit to; indeed, this is the most crucial aspect of developing commitment in yourself, only superseded by your commitment to be committed to finding your path – this is where discipline comes in. Discipline allows you to commit to your actions and ideals. Discipline gives permission to seek the integrity of matching words and actions in your life.  But I think that the greatest gift of discipline is freedom. Freedom from doubt, freedom to choose that path that resonates within your being, the freedom to relentlessly pursue your path.

As a teacher and community-builder, I am often seen for these attributes. They are attractive traits, and to the outside perspective they are desirable. I often receive feedback about how impressive the twin feats of discipline and commitment resonate within my words and actions; I can certainly see how these things must look to everyone from the casual observer to students that I share a great deal of time with. I have found that it leads people to think that I have achieved something desirable and noble; something worth having. While it is true that discipline and commitment can take you far in life, there is one other ingredient that must be present for these traits to bestow their positive affects upon those who pursue them – balance.

Commitment without balance is a dangerous thing. When searching out the meaning of your life, you can stumble upon that which triggers passion, joy, connection and growth. We have all encountered something in our past that has fueled these feelings within ourselves, only to find later that it was temporary – or possibly through our own emotional needs, we imprinted upon them a level of importance that is difficult to walk away from. I think it is especially difficult when this new-found experience not only resonates all of those positive emotions, but there is community and connection involved. There is a call to serve, and to be of service. All of this can create such a strong connection that there may be a loss of agency when surrendering to the whole. This is how cults can thrive; through creating the illusion that the individual needs the group when really the group derives its strength from the individual. When members cease to function as individuals, the needs of the group seem to outweigh any personal needs; when mixed with the commitment that arises out of the discovery of something powerful, this can further lead to confusion and discomfort.

Discipline without balance is also a dangerous beast, probably more so than commitment. When looking at history, discipline to see a thing through without the moderating forces of balance has been a recipe for tyranny and fascism. Some of the most unhinged world leaders that followed a fanatical philosophy with great discipline have arguably created most of the world’s pain and suffering. With the unfettered will and determination to see a thing through, people have committed acts of atrocity in the name of an ideal. This may seem like an extreme example, but it is an apt one. Without balance to see how your idea holds up to the rest of your life, discipline can be your undoing. The question that arises out of all this – how does one apply the moderating force of balance to the enviable qualities of discipline and commitment?

All things Dojo-related must have this aspect of balance as an integral component in their creation, execution and objectives. This is encompasses everything from the execution of a simple technique to managing a big fundraiser for our kids program. The reasons for balance in a technique should be obvious; without a balanced approach, the technique ceases to function. It cannot be integrated in to combinations with other techniques; at least not in a functional way. Our blocks are not simply there to stop a punch; they are designed to intercept, interpret, and forecast what that punch is doing. There is a deep sense of understanding the force presented within the block and subsequently building a response that incorporates all of this information in to a usable strategy. Balance within the movement evokes a balanced connection to other movements.

Everything we do in the Dojo needs to reflect this concept and embody it to our fullest abilities. Without this striving for balance, we are not actually pursuing martial arts; we may still be going through the motions, but this component is essential for understanding application, efficacy and usefulness of our training in the way that it really counts. No, I’m not talking about getting attacked by a band of ninjas in Chinatown (although that might be cool…). I’m talking about how we use the tools developed on the Dojo floor to enhance and understand our lives.

This concept of balance must be extended in to our entire lives, not just when we step on the mat. Indeed it is our striving for this context that actually brings the meaning of our training in to focus. At first, this may seem contradictory; isn’t it best when struggling for mastery to devote more time to that which we seek? The answer lies in context and perspective; for without the ability to understand how your training sits within all that your life represents, it cannot be mastered. One of the foundational qualities of balance is its ability to bring life in to focus. When a toddler finally learns to stand up without falling, they are now free to explore their world that is no longer spinning out of control.

In the Dojo, there is a constant call to arms. Our Dojo is a community-run organization, and volunteers are the life-blood of our efforts. When students are constantly being asked to participate, help, donate and work in an effort to keep the Dojo growing and accessible, it can seem overwhelming. Students should keep in mind that there are literally hundreds of people involved in our dojo now – If one person cannot help, there will always be someone else who steps up. If a student fails to bring the principle of balance to their life, it will also be absent from their training. When balance is missing from martial arts, it is no longer effective.

One thing that can be confusing is when witnessing others in the Dojo relentlessly pursuing their martial arts. They may be rising in rank faster than others; they seem to be at the Dojo all the time and they are always present at every turn. For some, martial arts is the thing that brings them balance; for others, it is the balance that martial arts brings that allows them to find what they are truly passionate about. It is an easy thing to be confused about; the thing that brought clarity and purpose may be the thing you need to leave behind once you find what it is that truly rings your bell. Never be afraid to stay and train; but never be fearful of walking out the door. It is an equally unbalanced position to over-train, leading to burn out or injury. The Dojo is an open door; one that goes both ways. There are many paths in life, and there are many other ways to stay connected to friends and community. At Quantum, we help to alleviate this by creating and hosting external events; street fairs, art projects, awesome stage shows, movie outings and parties – all are ways of staying in the warm circle of friends without the need to practice. The door to a Dojo is always open – there is no karate season. These are all crucial elements of creating a clearer idea of balance within the Dojo.

Life in a Dojo is a balancing act to be sure; there is equal difficulty in balancing a training schedule to include all of the different kinds of classes offered. If a student only shows up for sparring, they are missing crucial information designed to help keep themselves and others safe. If students try to give more than is possible while maintaining balance, they will cease to be of service. That lack of balance will find its way back to the Dojo and will affect others. This can cause unhappiness and suffering, causing a feedback loop that will bring this lack of balance back in to everyday life. Many find that in their eagerness to belong they end up over-extending themselves. While commitment is admirable, it is misplaced if it doesn’t embody balance thereby diminishing its power to help others. There will always be a sense of accomplishment in the discipline earned by seeing a thing through to the end; but again, if that discipline is not tempered by balance the outcome will cease to reflect intent, instead playing out through cultivated unbalanced actions.

Strive for balance, in and out of the Dojo. Efforts should be used wisely, time and energy spent in a sensible way that wastes nothing and provides the greatest return. Isn’t that the very definition of technique?

What Makes a Dojo?

I’ve spent the better part of my life in a dojo; more accurately, I’ve spent a good deal of time in many different dojos. There are numerous attributes that each of these training halls had in common – and some glaring differences. It was only after accumulating thirty years of retrospective data that I truly began to appreciate each one of these places and their impact on my life and my training. I might even say that the dojo itself left just as indelible a mark on my journey through the martial arts as some of my teachers or training partners.

So What is a Dojo?

Literally translated from Japanese, “Do” could be interpreted as many different English words; Art; Way; Method; and Path to name a few. The word “Jo” is a little less complicated; it simply means “Place.” The Dojo is “The Place of the Way.” When looked at in this light, it almost takes on a mystic quality, invoking misty mountains with cypress trees and a narrow winding path leading to a temple with upturned Pagoda roofs and a Shaolin Master sweeping the front step. This kind of imagery has always appealed to my identity as a seeker, and I have an almost archetypal relationship with many aspects of this mythical place.

Shaolin Monastery

There are many different kinds of Dojos in the world; you’ll notice that there is no mention of “martial arts” in the translation, so the “Place of the Way” could be any place where you pursue yourself. This could be a music studio; a writer’s desk; a pottery wheel; a meditation pillow; the inner space of your mind. Any place where you are finding your craft is a dojo, and that place has a direct impact on the way your craft is formed.

Finding your craft requires a great amount of letting go; releasing preconceived notions and old matrices in favor of a new paradigm previously unknown. This can be frightening work, to say the least. At best it involves deep encounters with your sense of self; essentially finding ways to re-write your story in the unfolding fable of your life. Finding yourself in unpalatable surroundings can have a profound effect on your ability to hone your craft – which for many pursuits is commonly done through the crafting of tools with which to pursue the art. Think of the painter; she doesn’t simply start painting masterpieces; she spends years refining tools to paint with. There are brushes, pots of paint, empty canvas awaiting a new idea to come to life; each part of the experience beckons something previously unknown to spring out of the painter’s mind and on to the canvas. Indeed, art is the concept of coaxing something new out of nothing; making tangible and visceral that which was previously ethereal and nebulous. It is the act of creation.

Add to this the all-important muse along with the artist’s study and the stage is set for the masterpiece of a lifetime.

Painters Studio

This same concept can applied to martial artists; but the end product is not something necessarily tangible to the casual observer. The thing that is teased into existence is not a painting or a sculpture; it is not a piece of music, but is in fact a new sense of self. With all art forms a new sense of self is realized upon the creation of any piece of art; something that transforms the artist from that point forward. Once the picture is done, it becomes part of the canon of the individual artist; a marker along the way to finding what comes next; which in turn becomes another marker.

Martial artists also encounter this sense of newness; but with the martial artist, the act of creating art is one and the same to the journey; in essence, the martial artist becomes the art. The tools needed for the culmination of this journey are not unlike the tools necessary in other art forms. But since the martial artist’s movement is the art, the quality and availability of their tools affect the martial artist in a profound way.

Snowy Dojo

The dojo is a blank canvas; every day you come to train, you step out onto a blank canvas. This is not to say that you erase the previous picture that was there; rather, that picture becomes a permanent marker along the journey. Instead, there is a new layer added every time you enter the dojo. Creating an environment that facilitates this journey in a real way can have a profound effect on the possibilities that are pursued within the context of your training; this is why the dojo should look like a blank canvas. The floor, ceilings, and walls are all blank, creating space for  the mind to open to new possibilities of the picture to be painted today.

The pursuit of the martial way is a group activity. You cannot learn martial arts alone – you must have others to push off of. That said, it is an incredibly personal experience, one that involves your search for the authentic self. This is why there are mirrors everywhere in the dojo; self-reflection will be clearly seen in the mirrors while self-reflection is experienced pushing off of others. Mirrors are not only a valuable training tool, they are revelatory in their function as an unveiler of integrity; you may think that you’re standing up straight, but the mirror will tell you the truth.

As humans, we unconsciously cultivate our tendencies toward self-delusion; sometimes it seems to be necessary to withstand the rigors of this world. Our collective inclination to color our experience with half-truths is likely propelled by the need to balance our perspective with what we already know to be true. This is akin to balancing Newtonian and Quantum Physics; there is no way for these two concepts to exist side-by side; yet they both tell a part of the truth. From the perspective of each theory, each professes to tell the whole truth; and yet there are times when each theory completely fails to explain the natural world. The search for integrity is on par with ferreting out your fears and preconceived notions; they are what block you from seeing the truth. Mirrors allow you to compare your inner experience with what you can empirically observe.

This brings me to the last component of a dojo – the training surface itself. Again, having a vehicle for unadulterated feedback brings perspective. Nature provides one of the best surfaces to train on; it is alive, and responsive. You get feedback from the ground all the time. But without the appropriate framework, there is no way to decipher the information that you receive. Nature is expansive, unbridled; connecting to the ground is literally just that – connecting to the ground. When I built the floor in the San Francisco dojo, I was looking for something to emulate just that – something that provides an echo; something resilient and alive; something that moves when you move; breathes when you breathe. The compression active floor not only provides the safety that we all crave, but also provides important feedback to the practitioner.


A floor that invites active participation is one that beckons you to train. I knew I had a piece of the puzzle right when we were visited by two 3-year-old girls. They walked in the dojo; stopped, mouth agape. They looked at each other, and without nary a word, proceeded to kick off their shoes and run on to the floor and proceed to fling themselves into what they perceived as an obvious play-space. Their raw and genuine response rolling on the padded floor, jumping to see the floor spring back invoked a deep sense of play in both of them, and they ran themselves in circles until they fell over in exhaustion, laughing and giggling.

This is the training partner I want to spend time with. A partner that can help me see myself; one that has nothing but a genuine response to me and all that I do; one that encourages me to look for the truth; one that allows a new picture to be painted every day. This training partner is the dojo.

Come and discover your true passion.