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This is the Way

It’s not the destination, it’s the journey. And if you guys can understand that, then what you’ll see happen is that you won’t accomplish your dreams, your dreams won’t come true; something greater will.

“It’s not the destination, it’s the journey. And if you guys can understand that, then what you’ll see happen is that you won’t accomplish your dreams, your dreams won’t come true; something greater will, and if you guys can understand that, then I am doing my job as a father.”

Kobe Bryant spoke these words to his daughters in his jersey retirement speech while pacing the Staples Center floor for the final time in 2017.

I have found that this focus on process or the way that one does something permeates the Japanese culture and every individual. The idea of a Shokunin, or craftsman, made popular to westerners by the film “Jiro Dreams of Sushi” is prevalent all over Japan

From a young age, there is a common theme that we all are told countless times: make goals and accomplish them. Take the test, ace it. Find the finish line, cross it. I was always told that standing atop the pedestal would bring joy and I could reflect in awe on all the hard work that was done to get there. While this theory of happiness had its moments, I had soon come to realize that this form of happiness was seemingly temporary. As the goals got loftier and more ambitious, the struggles became more adverse, yet the reward less sweet.

With a sense of accomplishment evermore fleeting, I chose to look at different philosophies of happiness and what other people thought were the catalysts for lasting happiness.

That is when I came across the Japanese idea of “michi” 道 or “dou.” Michi literally translates to "path" or "street," but has come to also mean “the way of.” In Japanese culture you will often see the onyomi (Chinese pronunciation) of michi paired with other words and used as nomenclature for various cultural arts, such as Chado 茶道 tea ceremony, which is a combination of “Cha”, meaning tea, and “do,” meaning “the way of.” There is also Kendo剣道, the way of the sword, Shodo 書道, the way of writing, and Judo 柔道, the gentle way. There are many other combinations of words that utilize “do” or michi to describe the way a particular act is done.

While this theory of happiness had its moments, I had soon come to realize that this form of happiness was seemingly very temporary.

One cultural art that I came across during my travels in Japan was Kyudo 弓道, the way of the bow. While touring a high school campus to experience a day in the life of a Japanese student, I was fortunate enough to attend the meeting of the school’s Kyudo club. While having spent some time during summer camps around recurve and compound bows, I thought my experience would come in handy and it would be an opportunity to show off some Legolas skills. Then, I saw the first club member shoot.

Her gi was pristinely white as she positioned herself at the shooting line. In her stance, her feet seemed way too spread out and the bow that she was using was comically large. Her approach to shoot was turtle slow, as was her draw back on the bow. Her release point was much higher than I was typically used to and her hand flailed back as it released the arrow, which I was always told is a cardinal sin of archery. She released the arrow and missed the target. All that build-up for a missed shot. I scanned her face for a wince or a look of disappointment, but there was no emotion.

With the same stoic face, she repeated the process two more times and ended with a final target hit count of 1 of 3. She politely bowed and simply walked away from the shooting line. Her teacher expressed how well she did, and explained that she has practiced for several years at this art and was one of the club’s highest ranking members. I was perplexed at how someone who had been practicing this art for several years was unable to get 3 target hits and how she was at the top of the club’s rank list.

The club teacher then explained what Kyudo actually focuses on and explained that hitting the target is not the most important thing in the art of Kyudo. He explained how the art that they practice is the process in which they deliver the arrow to the destination. The art focuses on the perfection of the process, breathing, clearing the mind, and being present in the moment of shooting, rather than distracted by the want or need to hit a bullseye. In fact, there are no bullseyes, and participants are simply scored on whether they hit the intended board or not. The art of Kyudo believes that if the body, mind, breath, and technique all come together as one, the arrow will then find the target. I was intrigued by the idea which focuses on refinement of the process, not on the goal itself, to ultimately produce the result you want.

I have found that this focus on process, or the way that one does something, permeates the Japanese culture and every individual. The idea of a Shokunin, or craftsman, made popular to westerners by the film “Jiro Dreams of Sushi” is prevalent all over Japan. In the film when Jiro asks what his ultimate goals in sushi making are, he simply replies, “All I want to do is make better sushi”. To accomplish this he rides the same train, in the same seat, on the same schedule to go to the same fish market, to make sushi from the same position everyday. He has mastered his process and therefore mastered his craft. From McDonald employees to billionaire CEOs, this idea of focusing on the process to improve the result is seamlessly intertwined within the Japanese culture and lifestyle.

From a westerner’s perspective, we are constantly focused on the goal and result. Perpetually grinding to get to the next step to get a little further in life. Frequently, at least for myself, I fall short and am filled with disappointment. Deterred, I often dare not try again. The few times I have accomplished something, the payoff was seemingly far less sweet because the process was so taxing and I was constantly questioning if it was worth it.

Changing my perspective and shifting the focus onto the process rather than the result has profoundly altered how I approach both short and long term goals. I find myself being more present and focused on the now rather than the past and the future. Every day I work on my process. Every day I focus on being a better version of me than the day before. No matter if I hit the target or not, I focus on drawing back slowly, clearing my mind, breathing slowly, and then seeing if the arrow finds the target. This is the way.

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March 2022
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