I just launched the In Pursuit of Excellence podcast, where I share insights, lessons, and stories from my journey of almost six decades of pursuit of excellence in the mastery of my craft, the martial art of traditional current day.
So, why I’m doing this is straightforward. I love karate, since my very first lesson, I decided to get totally involved in this incredible traditional classical martial art, no matter what.
And because I love it so much, I would like to see next generations of serious karateka approach the martial arts journey in the correct way to be able to get the life-changing experience I got, tori. I need to explain that mediocracy has never been an option to be in anything I’ve seriously attempted. If I ever decided to get involved with something that I thought was important to my being, I would get completely involved, whether it was an activity, project of lifestyle. I would go all out, unconditionally and regardless. That’s why my credo, or motto has always been, a quest to be in pursuit of excellence.
An incident that had a very big influence on this way of approaching life happened in my high school years. I was a pupil at the well-known Paul Roos Gymnasium. A boys’ school in the picturesque town of Stellenbosch. It was a custom at the school to invite guest speakers to address us on a monthly basis during assembly, where the whole school was present. These speakers would be from all spheres of life, usually highly successful and accredited persons in their various fields. I remember one of these delivering an enthralling talk on how he made it to the top in a highly competitive field. His closing words being, “Remember one thing, there’s always room at the top.” These words have stuck in my mind from that day on and still guides my thinking. Since my very first karate lesson in 1963, it never occurred, or mattered to me, how long that perfection road could be.
But even at that young age, I realized that it could mean sacrifices, disappointments, but also smiles that came with success. So, after the first couple of years, I began to realize and appreciate that continuously pursuing excellence, demanded a lot more to get to the next level. It implied that I would need to get to know myself intimately, realize my own weaknesses and strengths, that it will be an up and down road, but I would need to work through the downs and serve the ups, never ever stopping. I also realized that a bull in a China shop approach would not get me anywhere. That was a dead end road. And I could end up by battering my body and mind. I would need a roadmap, a strategy, and a plan. Now we must appreciate that even to this day, not much has actually been empirically documented and recorded about karate since its origins more than a century ago in Japan, via India and China, because it was practiced secretly, mostly underground.
And the transfer of knowledge was restricted to the teacher, to student, a closed circle. A lot of research had since been done, but only emerging in the past 10 years or so, and still very much controversial and political in a lot of ways. I am very skeptical by nature. So, for me to really understand and appreciate what I’m getting into, I would need concrete, factual information and not mystical vague stuff. So, in 1967 after my compulsory military service year, I enrolled at Stellenbosch University and got a Bachelor’s degree in Physical Education, or Human Movement Science. This enabled me to a more updated scientific approach on the physical dimension of karate techniques, and what is needed technically to lift the quality of my karate to the highest and most effective level possible. I should also qualify the name art, as in martial art. In Japanese, the terminology is budo, bu means martial art and do, means the way. The way of the warrior or martial artist.
An art is the manifestation of the popular slogan, “It’s not a destination, it’s a journey.” In an art you can never reach total perfection, but striving towards perfection brings the excitement and the passion. The last two words are absolutely the foundation of my philosophy, passion and excitement. I can tell you now that anything you attempt in life that does not have these two words embedded in your efforts will not necessarily fail, but it can leave you empty inside, thinking to yourself, “What am I busy with? What am I doing? Why am I unhappy?” For the past 58 years my life comprised basically of karate, but also prioritized quality family time. It is very important at this stage to mention the fact that throughout my karate career barring the past 22 years, when I’ve been on pension, I have always had a permanent non-karate income.
So, not dependent on money from teaching karate. I was never in a position where I had to compromise my beliefs and standards in teaching karate to get food on the table for my family. My personal life has been unbelievably blessed with self-growth due to my karate pursuit. Apart from running my own school or dojo since 1967 and being chief instructor for South Africa since 1982, I have traveled and taught karate seminars in 28 countries to date. This brought me in contact with so many different cultures and helped me understand so many human behavioral tendencies. So, to conclude my motivation with this podcast is to share this unbelievable journey of my life with similarly minded persons, serious, as opposed to curious persons. And my main objective would therefore be to provide them with a rough and adaptable roadmap of the real budo journey.
To your pursuit of excellence,
Sensei Bakkies Laubscher