It’s October and the Pens AAA Elite have their rings, the Sioux Falls Stampede have their Clark Cup polished and tomorrow night the St Louis Blues will raise their first banner. With hockey season starting up, things here at the Victorious Hockey Company have been getting really exciting.
So Coach Littler decided he wanted to share more from Joshua Medcalf’s “Chop Wood and Carry Water” This is the story of John's journey to achieve his lifelong goal of becoming a samurai warrior. John comes to realize the greatest adversity on his quest will be the challenge of removing his own self-defeating processes.
One Eye For the Journey
After the excitement of the first few months had started to wear off, John began to get frustrated. The monotony of chopping wood and carrying water every morning and every evening had begun to wear on him.
He was only allowed to practice archery for four hours, during the heat of the day. What frustrated him the most, was that he was only allowed to shoot at a straw roll that was only seven feet away from him. He and the other apprentices were also required to attend weekly workshops where they learned life skills and lessons through stories.
One day he approached Akira and asked, “Akira-sensei, how long will it take me to become a samurai archer? I have dreamed my whole life of being one, but it feels like it will take forever.”
Akira stopped what he was doing and said, “In the West, you want everything instantly, but here you must learn to fall in love with the process of becoming great. Now go chop wood, and carry water.”
John was confused, but he went back to his normal daily activities.The months passed, and before he knew it, an entire year had gone by. During the first year ‘acclimation period’ apprentices are not allowed to speak with their family and friends. When John was finally able to have a Skype video call with his family, he was disappointed to share with them that he hadn’t moved past shooting at a target only seven feet away from him, and that the rest of his time each day was spent chopping wood and carrying water.
As John talked about his daily routine, his father got a big smile on his face. He asked John who his favorite basketball players were growing up. John replied, “That’s easy: Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan.”His dad then told him how Phil Jackson had just released a book, Eleven Rings, and how he was constantly telling the guys on his teams about the necessity of “chop wood, carry water.” No matter whether you are winning or losing, the point was to focus on the process and neither get too high or too low, but instead to control the controllables.
After the call, John’s spirits were much better. It was especially hard being away from Jordan, and just seeing him was encouraging to John.
A few months went by, and as John practiced, his muscles began to learn the familiar motions of drawing and releasing, and his shots grew more accurate. He began to feel very confident with his bow and hitting the seven-foot target.
One day while he was practicing, Akira walked over and John asked again, “Akira-sensei, I am getting better and better each week. How long will it take for me to become a samurai archer now?”
Akira smiled, and told him it would take ten years.
John was furious. “Ten years? Maybe if I didn’t have to spend so much time chopping wood and carrying water then I would be able to reach my goal much faster!”
Akira replied, “If you don’t chop wood and carry water, then it will take you twenty years to become a samurai archer.” Then he turned and walked away.
John was even more confused, and he questioned whether or not he should quit. Would it really take him ten years? He wasn’t sure this investment was worth it, but decided he would try even harder.
More time passed, and John’s shots became more accurate and more powerful. He came to love the sound of the arrow slamming into the target. THWACK!! THWACK!!
Soon, he was certain that he could become a samurai archer in less than ten years.
So one day, as they were carrying water back from the well, he pulled Akira aside and asked, “Akira-sensei, I am more accurate now and my shots are more powerful than ever. How long will it take me to become a samurai archer?”
Akira smiled. “You know the answer. It is still ten years.”
John kept pressing, “But what if I devote every waking moment to becoming a samurai archer? No chopping wood or carrying water, just archery.”
But Akira only shrugged. “Then, it will take thirty years.”
John had reached his emotional breaking point. He blurted out, “But I don’t understand!” Akira looked at John with compassion, “You will learn, young John, the reason it takes longer is because with one eye on the goal, you only have one eye for the journey.”
He then went on to tell John stories of people who climb ice mountains, and how if they are focused on the top of the mountain they will not know where to step in front of them. They will slip and die. The key to ice climbing is to focus on one solid step at a time. “No man climbs a mountain all at once. He climbs it by making one solid step at a time.”
John nodded, he understood now. He would try to focus on doing his best at archery, chopping wood, carrying water, and letting go of the result.
Nothing is a Test
But try as he might, John kept unconsciously slipping back into his old habits. Growing up, he had always succeeded in sports and school by focusing on proving himself. Some of his coaches even told him they liked the way he played with a chip on his shoulder, and even in the peaceful environment of the samurai community it was hard for him to shake those instincts of seeing life as one test after another to prove his worth.Without realizing it, he began to pride himself on completing each drill and archery movement the fastest, and even made sure that he chopped more wood and carried more water in less time than the other apprentices.
One day, he was so focused on this that he filled his buckets well above the normal level. Walking briskly toward the community house, his foot caught the lip of an old root buried in the ground, and the weight of the water in his buckets sent him toppling over! He slammed to the ground, soaked to the bone.
But just as he opened his mouth to shout in anger, he noticed Akira watching him. The old sensei had seen the whole thing, and as John picked himself painfully up off the ground, Akira pulled John to his feet, picked up one of his buckets, and walked with him back toward the well.
“You were carrying quite a lot of water, weren’t you?” he asked.
John shrugged, trying to play it off. “I guess. I don’t think about it. I just try to carry the most that I can.”
Akira saw through this, asking quietly, “The most that you can, or just more than any of the others?”
John reddened, caught, as Akira went on. “John, you keep getting in the way of your own potential, because you keep seeing everything as a test. The secret is to understand that nothing is a test, but only an opportunity to learn and grow. Many people never fulfill their potential, because they look at every situation in life as a test.
If you look at something as a test, then you will focus only on passing the test instead of maximizing your growth through the experience. Over time, the person who is simply focused on maximizing what they can learn and how they can grow will become much greater than the person who sees life as one continual test to prove themselves.”
John nodded, struggling with that wisdom.
“Don’t fall for the trap, John. Even tests in school are not tests. Nothing is a test, it’s only an illusion. Everything is an opportunity to learn and grow, because remember, you are building your own house.”
Are you making the most of your opportunity to learn and grow? Are you with a new team this season? Did you get cut by the team you had hoped to make? If you are sitting on the bench wondering when the coach is going to start you then maybe you are too focused on the wrong aspect of your journey. Maybe it’s time to take what you had been viewing as a setback or disappoint and start looking at it as an opportunity to learn and grow. Breakdown your own game. Find your strengths, find your weaknesses. Use the opportunity to refine what you can and seek out help to refine what you cannot.
In life, the only people who get it right the first time, do so by accident. It takes persistent effort, it takes several failures and it takes the will to work to become great. Have you ever seen the videos of Connor McDavid training as a child? He was relentless. He wanted to be in the NHL. So he worked every day on his weaknesses until he could call them strengths. Two days ago the NHL Network listed McDavid as the top player in the NHL.
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