I borrowed the topic for today from the military environment – ‘Who Packed Your Parachute?!’
I am visualizing that a few eyebrows might probably get raised at this subject – the obvious question – ‘What does this have to do with your Pursuit of Excellence odyssey or with the practice of Karate per se?!’
Let me explain! From time to time, I am going to talk about persons I regard as mentors to me – persons who had a such a significant influence on my life’s direction through their wisdom – gained from decades of experiences, observations, encounters, disappointments, failures, successes – that it motivated me to set my personal standards and objectives as high as possible and is still pushing me to this day to aim and go higher!
Someone who nudged us, calmly but non-negotiable, unconditionally, in the right direction and provided us with renewed energy from time to time to adjust our direction in pursuing excellence!
In this metaphorical scenario – ‘Who Packed Your Parachute’, we are imagining a well-trained operator or soldier about to jump from an airplane to perform a task – the task can only be fulfilled if the person makes it to the ground safely, therefore an extremely vital – seemingly insignificant – component determining the success of this whole scenario, is the person who packed the parachute!
Although I have been pursuing excellence focussing completely on my craft, Traditional Karate, I have mentioned in previous podcasts, that there have been various persons, situations, and experiences outside of Karate which has had a huge influence and bearing on my direction in pursuing my craft! Someone, who just did or said something at some stage when you needed direction, which had an impact on you and gave either a new direction and approach to your way of thinking about and approaching your Karate training or reinforced the direction that you had originally set out on but was unknowingly maybe deviating or drifting away from!
In my case – apart from the unbelievable Karate Senseis that I have had and still have – I have also been extremely fortunate to have crossed paths with unbelievable persons outside of Karate who contributed in a major way to keep me on the road that I have travelled and is still travelling on!
Of course, I can start off with my parents, as I described briefly in the podcast on Why I Started Karate – the encouragement of my parents and their support in making it possible for me to pursue my dream! In a later episode, I will describe taking my mother to Japan in a later trip and introducing her to my Japanese mother – Mrs Fukazawa!
The first person I am going to talk about, could come to you as a big surprise – my Fishing or Angling mentor! Some of you might have seen the photographs of fish that I had caught in my younger days on my Facebook page!
We are talking Rock and Surf Fishing here – from the shore and reefs and I need to explain the difference between Angling and Fishing!
‘Angling’ goes hand in hand with a couple of beers, sitting in the shade or on a boat and waiting for something to happen at the end of your line, whilst ‘Fishing’ means using one’s knowledge and skills to actively search and work to find fish and then actually catch fish!
You needed to figure out or calculate where the fish could be – based on your own knowledge of prevailing weather conditions, tides, stages of the moon, time of the year and the territory where the type of fish you were looking to catch, would most likely keep! In other words, you needed mind and physical skills to make it happen!
I need to take you back to the late 1960’s – long before Television, Mobile phones and the Internet in South Africa – there were no ‘Apps’ or electronic aids then!
So, for planning, sources were very limited! Basically, we had weather maps in daily newspapers, where you could observe cold or warm fronts and high- and low-pressure systems approaching, which would influence wind patterns, which would influence the ocean movements, etc.
One could phone a lighthouse in the vicinity to enquire about the conditions, or some other anglers who might have been out recently, but the most important one was to go outside and look up at the sky, observe the wind direction, cloud formations and frontal movements, and make your own call!
I can still to this day, relatively accurately predict the approaching weather in my area by looking at the wind direction, cloud movements, etc.
Rock and Surf fishing also meant that you rarely fished from the side or beach sitting down – you waded out through the water on foot to reefs in the ocean not too far from the shore, mostly invisible during high tide. Depending on the tide, you would wade out from knee deep to hip deep to get to the reef and coming back, usually with the water up to your chest, sometimes neck – tiptoeing back with a rising tide pushing you!
You dressed in a ‘long john’ diving suit covering your legs to your chest, an oilskin jacket with closable pockets where you kept your tackle and bait and a belt around your waste with a stringer to string the fish onto which you caught. Carrying your rod on one shoulder, a staff in the other hand used as a walking stick to help you keep your balance wading through the water and rocky surfaces underneath – the staff was usually a gaff –a big hook on the one end with which you secured larger fish when you played it to close to you.
Before going out, you studied the water, knew the time scale of the tide coming in or out, the colour of the water, the temperature of the water, and the movement of the water – movement causes the food of the fish to move around, and therefore the chances of seeing and taking your bait, would be better! But movement in the water also meant that you needed to be alert 24/7 out on that reef, as a freak swell could take you clean off the reef and out to sea with a back draught!
My mentor I am discussing today, my fishing ‘Sensei’ – was Willie Morries. 30 Years+ older than me, an extremely interesting and tough character – mentally and physically!
He was WWII veteran – as a policeman, he went to war with the South African Police Battalion, was captured at the disastrous battle of Tobruk, became a prisoner of war and attempted to escape seven times, the last time succeeding!
The Police Battalion was subsequently withdrawn from the war, so he joined the Cape Town Highlanders Regiment and went back to the front lines! Was part of the invasion of Italy from North Africa!
After the war, he was a policeman again, stationed as the sole policeman at a very tough fishing town on the east coast called ‘Gansbaai’ which he ‘sorted out’ man alone and fishing whenever he was not on duty! He went into business by himself successfully, worked himself to a standstill and was fortunate to retire in his mid-forties and just lived his passion from there on daily -fishing!
I was barely 20 years old when we met, fishing alone one day from the beach in a remote are, he drove past me on the sand in his old Landrover, said ‘Hello’, we talked a bit, he recognised me from newspaper articles and remarked that I was wasting my time at that spot and that I should come along with him to another spot, where we caught nothing and it was becoming twilight, so we went home.
On parting, he told me to meet him the next day at the spot he showed me, at early dawn – 05h00 the next morning! It was a weekend, but I was there at 05h00!
Hereafter followed a very interesting ‘old man and the boy’ relationship! He was a loner when fishing and, in the years to come, many fellow anglers remarked that they never knew of anyone that he would mentor or anyone that stuck it out with him!
Little by little over the following years, he showed me all the skills required to be successful, but – no spoon-feeding! It was ‘look and learn!’. No helping me when I had a overwind on my reel from wrong or rushed casting technique or giving me of his tackle if I had the wrong stuff with me – I had to learn the hard way what to have with me for every possible scenario!
To determine, firstly, what specimen I was going to fish for, depending on the season and the current prevailing weather conditions – you also had to consider the weather the previous few days for a possible build-up of conditions!
Where and how to collect my own bait, which varied from digging for mussels or scallops, pumping for small prawns, wading deep out to collect red bait not seen from the side, when and where to catch small fish to use as bait.
We have a species of fish, called white steenbras – a delicious eating fish that feeds mainly on small sand prawn and a type of worm called bloodworm. Both had to be pumped standing in water up to your waste, using a suction pump, emptying it into a small, inflated scooter or wheelbarrow inside tube with a small net inside it – the sand goes through, the prawn or worm stays – it was before tubeless tyres!
The bloodworm was found only in an estuary about one and a half hours drive from where I lived, called Uilenkraalsmond, so if the steenbras was biting, we would leave at 03h30 in the morning, drive and hour and a half to get there, pumped like mad until about 07h30, drove back and was on the reefs back home by about 09h30 at the latest! It happened sometimes time that I came straight from a campus party to go, so the next day would be long – but the fish was biting!
Lastly – the type of equipment to use and how to take care of it – different reels, lines of different dimensions and strengths, different weight sinkers or casting weights, different size hooks – it is surprising what a difference a small adjustment could make between success and failure!
You can also now start to understand why, between Karate and Fishing – it took me six years to get a Bachelor’s degree at university!
I want to conclude with this experience:
One day, we were fishing for a very popular eating fish called Galjoen – unfortunately, now on the endangered list because of overfishing and poaching.
As a university student, I did not have the funds to get a proper ‘long john’ wetsuit to cover my legs and waist up to my chest – I would wade out to reefs in a pair of rugby shorts and non-slip shoes with an oilskin jacket to keep my body warm at least.
It was late winter, which meant it was cold. We waded out to a reef very far out in a place called Gordon’s Bay. It took almost 20 minutes to get to the reef, wading through gullies between the reefs to eventually get to the furthest point to the open ocean we could go.
With his first cast, Willie picked up a Galjoen, while I was still shivering and shaking trying to bait my hook! My trace was the same as his, I used the same bait as he and was casting within one meter of where he was casting, but no luck – I just felt the fish taking of my bait, and I could not strike one to land!
Willie had about four Galjoen by now, so he nonchalantly asked me what hook I was using – I replied ‘a No 1/0’, to which he remarked ‘You need to use a No 1!’ He then asked me ‘Do you have no 1 hooks?’ I replied ‘Yes, in my car’ to which he replied, ‘Go fetch some, otherwise you will catch nothing!’
I could not believe this – he had enough No 1 hooks on him, I saw it, but I waded back 20 minutes to my car, cursing the old man all the time, trying to establish if I had any feeling left in my legs, which were frozen by now – got the No 1 hooks, waded back still cursing and freezing, got back on the reef and caught a total of four fish – in comparison with Willie’s 14! (There were no bag limits in those days – the world was wide open!)
When the tide forced us off the reef, we waded back, and I stood for about ten minutes just shivering and changing into dry pants. Willie left with a ‘See you tomorrow, same time!’
I still cursed him as I shivered all the way home with my VW van’s heater on full blast on my legs, but the next morning, I was there with enough No 1 hooks, conditions remained and the shoal of Galjoen was still there, and I caught eleven fish!
Never, ever since that day, did I go on a reef or wherever, without having enough tackle to be able to switch tactics if needed – in fact, if I needed 20 hooks to be safe, I would take 25! I was always prepared for any challenge from that day on and it spilled over little by little, into my being to this day and of course my Karate!
At that young age, my angling experiences and adventures with Willie had taught me some of the most valuable lessons needed to get to and stay at the top in anything in life, including life, but especially my craft – Traditional Karate!
First, you needed passion – if you do not have passion, your motivation and drive fades! But passion alone is not enough – you need a mindset to enhance that passion – a mind strength to ‘Never give up’ more important to ‘Never become impatient!’
Many times, we caught nothing, in spite of everything being favourable. I would sometimes then not go the next day, just to get a phone call from Willie that evening starting off with ‘You should have been there today -it was crazy I caught… blah blah blah…..!’ Back to ‘Mo Ichi Do!’
Secondly – you need a ‘Map’ – you have to put time aside to study every element and detail of your activity in order to become more than just another ‘Also Ran!’ It applies to Karate like a glove – as I state at so many Gasshukus and classes –‘The ’Essence is in the Detail!’
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