"Before I was enlightened, I carried my water…"


“Before I was enlightened, I carried my water and gathered my rice…” When I was still actively teaching martial arts, my favorite moment was always promoting new Black Belts. To me, that was pay day––the day that all our efforts were focused on. This is the culmination of all the hard work, all the study and practice––all the water carrying and rice gathering. Receiving the Black Belt is one of those rare moments that can never be repeated. It’s like a first kiss, the day you’re married or a college graduation. But there is a strange twist to the occasion… It’s a tremendous achievement. Considering my past as a drug abuser and dropout, it was without question the best day of my life. It was the first meaningful achievement I’d experienced. At the same time, it’s just a beginning…

It’s a moment that marks that you’re now truly prepared to learn, grow and further develop. Many Black Belts will go on to higher ranks, just as many college graduates will pursue advanced degrees and enjoy great achievements in life, business and leadership. Still, no matter how high you climb, you just can’t repeat the original feeling of accomplishment that belongs only to that single moment––the first time you tie on your Black Belt. The trick is to keep that feeling close, to appreciate the journey and at the same time to embrace the idea that there is always much more to learn, understand and experience. Too often people ascend to a rank, title or position of authority and fall prey to the false idea that they’ve “made it.” It’s fine to enjoy a moment of achievement, but it’s also essential to keep one’s eyes, ears, mind and heart open to new opportunities for growth, learning and development. To help our new Black Belts keep this mindset––this sense of genuine humility, I shared with each new generation of “Shodan” this powerful bit of wisdom: “Before I was enlightened, I carried my water and gathered my rice. “Now that I’m enlightened––I carry my water and gather my rice.” To reinforce the point, we always had a ceremonial vessel of water and bowl of rice in front of the candidates as they tied on their belt for the first time. The best, most effective leaders embody this philosophy. They understand that the true mind of the Master is “Beginner’s Mind.” This means approaching each new day with a sense of wonder and curiosity––with a commitment to continual self-improvement, learning and cultivation. And the more you embrace this ideal, the more effectively you will inspire and motivate others to learn, grow and strive for excellence too. It’s certainly appropriate to celebrate your accomplishments. It’s also important that you continue the good work that got you to this moment. This work becomes the discipline that will take you even higher.

As long as you continue to carry your water and gather your rice!

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