Miyagi: You remember lesson about balance?
Daniel: Yeah.
Miyagi: Lesson not just karate only. Lesson for whole life. Whole life have a balance. Everything be better. Understand?

In the years and months before I began my feeble study of budo, as I became increasingly out of shape, there was one thing that really had started to bother me about my fitness level: my lack of balance.

At the risk of sounding like the middle-aged guy who’s constantly living in the past & reliving “the glory days”, there was a time when I was in good physical condition & had fantastic balance. As a rock climber, I quickly learned that balance and technique were much more important than strength. We devised games and feats to show off our balance: slack-rope walking, hopping from stanchion to stanchion at the Ahwahnee hotel, and my favorite, walking on the tops of soda bottles. So when I found myself approaching 40 and increasingly tripping over my own feet, it was troubling. And dangerous! When I lost my balance on uneven ground & fell while carrying a friend’s baby, I luckily managed to avoid hurting the baby, but did end up with a torn rotator cuff & months of physical therapy.

So it was with considerable satisfaction that I recently realized how much my balance has improved since I started in my aiki class last fall. The fat white guy who fell into a rack of bokken during his first few weeks of training can now usually rise in and out of seiza with a passable level of grace (creaking knees notwithstanding) and perform the footwork for the gokyu waza (first 6 techniques) without wavering toooooo badly.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m not back to coke-bottle-balance, and may never be, but I haven’t almost killed a baby lately. (Well, at least not due to a lack of balance.) My technique isn’t perfect, it’s not even good, and it isn’t graceful… But it’s better. It’s moving in the right direction.

And that’s how we should be, both in and out of the dōjō: always striving for “better.” Just like Mr. Miagi Said, “Lesson for whole life. Whole life have a balance. Everything be better.”

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