The other day I was watching an episode of Naruto and it inspired to write. If you don’t know the story, Naruto is a young boy who has harbors a secret power that even he doesn’t fully understand. This power was linked to the deaths of many villagers, including his parents, just before he was born. Having this destructive power sealed inside of him makes him the subject of relentless ridicule. Naruto later goes on to become an incredibly powerful great hero, the like of which his village has never seen, overcoming all odds.
There is an episode of Naruto where a character named Rock Lee (a ninja with no ninjitsu powers whatsoever) fights a super-naturally gifted boy named Gaara (who can literally control and manipulate sand) . This episode is memorable, because we discover that despite Rock Lee having no powers, he is a “genius of hard work.” Rock Lee doesn’t win (sorry for the spoiler) but he puts up an epic fight. Throughout the entire match, Lee dominates his naturally-talented opponent and only loses when he no longer has the stamina to continue.
Although this is just a cartoon, having a strong work-ethic is a real-life lesson that I respect and identify with. I actually used to teach karate in the United States. When I was teaching, it was always so fascinating to see how students transform. I remember seeing kids walk in with little or no physical prowess to speak of. It was these same mediocre kids would ultimately decide to commit themselves to their training. It was these very same mediocre children would then go on to acquire incredible gifts…enabling them to do things that even their teachers couldn’t.
I also remember being equally amazed by those kids who walked in, and from the moment they step on the mat, they’re better than many of their peers. They naturals are significantly more powerful, or have sharper kicks, or better timing, or are even better at evading (or in some rare cases a combination of all of these). Sometimes, because they are better, they don’t have to work as hard and can still do amazing things. Of course when kids like these decide to commit, they become unstoppable.
Personally, I was never the quickest of fighters, nor the strongest, and my timing was average at best. I remember having a period where I plateaued…I didn’t think I could do any more to improve, that I reached my limits. I was just teaching. But when I honestly committed myself to training…hard, when I surrounded myself with people who were faster and stronger than me, and who worked just as hard (if not harder)…it inspired me to work harder. The hard work allowed me to win more matches (point karate) than I ever had.
But in the dojo, when I would spar, there were always those students who seemed to give me more trouble than most. The naturals…martial artists were just naturally fast, had lightning-fast reaction time, or punched like they had bricks in their gloves.
I think the same rule applies from field to field (business to music to art) and from country to country. Last year I began my karate training anew when I started taking Kyokushin Karate, a full-contact style (it’s so different than the point karate I’m used to). I’ve seen the exact same relationships: there are children that start really young and are naturally faster, stronger, and sometimes even more flexible than their peers. I was really inspired to train harder when I watched (and even sparred with) some of these kids. One of the main instructors, Ajima Sensei, was one of the kids who was probably a natural and stuck with it. I think he’s in his early 20s and simply put, his karate is amazing. I’ve done some light sparring with him and I am pretty sure, if we got into an all-out karate battle today…I’d probably be picking up my teeth at the end of that match.
Because I’ve had to work for the talents I have (if you can even call them that), I have a soft spot for hard work. I think work ethic is the most import thing, not only in karate, but anything you plan to be great at.
Which do you think is more important? Talent or a hard work?