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Try and Fail...

Something I tell my children is that it is OK to try and fail, but not OK to fail to try. I couldn't remember where I learned or heard this saying, and actually thought I might have made it up. But I Googled it and found that it is attributed to Stephen Kaggwa who said “Try and fail, but don't fail to try.”

I was speaking to one of my sons recently about becoming skillful in Karate. I have three sons and they all became shodan at the age of 17 because they had trained from the time they were little kids. My son said, "The main reason we became skillful in Karate is because we are athletic." I would agree that they are athletic, especially compared to me. In a Western sense I am a real geek because I never played any team sports or even individual sports. Since the age of 8, all I did was martial arts.

My sons are definitely more athletic than me, but if I have an advantage it is that I am more determined than them when it comes to Karate training. I really believe in Chotoku Kyan's saying that "if he trains three times I will train seven times." I feel that I can make up for my lack of athleticism by practice, practice, practice.

I will try, try, try, and if I fail at least I would have tried my best. I would feel good about it. And I tend to believe that people who try hard do succeed, not just because of their effort alone but because their effort attracts people who will help them. In my case, I have been fortunate to be "adopted" by truly fine Sensei and I think this has to do with my effort because it certainly was not because of my ability.

People who try hard are rare in any art, sport, or endeavor. Most people just try until they are bored or tired or interested in something else. A person who would literally move a mountain to reach his goal is very rare.

If a student can learn how to try, he can apply this to endeavors other than Karate. He can try hard at school, at work, with his family, etc... A person who can try hard in Karate can try hard in everything.

It is OK to try and fail, but not OK to fail to try. Even an athletic student will fail at Karate if he quits or just trains weakly. But a non-athletic student who trains hard for a long time will almost certainly succeed.

I should add that while I am more determined than my sons when it comes to Karate training, my eldest son was just as determined in Kendo training, my third son is just as determined in Ju Jitsu training, and my second son is catching up to me in Karate determination. And my daughter is just as determined in dance training. So maybe children and students can learn or be influenced by determination too.

I would also add to the saying about "to try and fail" with another saying, "fall down six times, get up seven times." Even if you try and fail, you can get up and try again. In Japan, the Daruma doll is an example of this saying -- no matter how many times it tips over, it rolls back up. The public usually only sees a person's success, not how many times he failed before he succeeded.

"If you fall off the horse, you have to get right back on it." Of course, I don't ride horses so this saying is a bit foreign to me. But falling off a horse seems a lot more traumatic than just tipping over like a Daruma doll.


Charles C. Goodin