Oct 26, 2021

My Intro to Kaizen

“Tu veux une baguette au beurre?”

“Tu veux une baguette au beurre?”  

I heard the words coming from the mouth of my new French host father and I realized that it was a very simple question he was asking but, at the moment, my brain was overwhelmed by the multitude of new sights and sounds that I was experiencing…so I couldn’t quite register what he was saying.  I was 17 years old and I had just arrived from the very first flight of my life, which was a non-stop, 8 hour trip from Atlanta.  It was August, 1995…a more simple time in the world and a full 6 years before the tragedy of 9/11.  I was awarded the Youth Ambassador Scholarship from Rotary International to spend a year abroad, in France, with 4 different host families.  This year would eventually prove to be the most pivotal year of my life and would change the direction, goals, and destination to something that I never imagined. 

“Tu veux une baguette au beurre?!”  

Pierre repeated a little louder in hopes that, perhaps, I just didn’t hear him.  Certainly there’s no way that this young American has come to France and doesn’t understand when someone’s asking if he wants some buttered bread.  I snapped out of my reverie and replied, “Oui Monsieur!”

We were just outside the famous Louvre museum when he bought the bread and a ticket to enter the former Grand Chateau. We walked around for hours in the immense halls when he finally asked me if there was something specific that I’d like to see.  I responded, “La Joconde!”  This is the French name for the Mona Lisa.  But by the time we made it to the section where it was held, however, the area was closed.  This would foreshadow many disappointments that I experienced with my 1st host family, but let me save those stories for another time.

All of the other 3 host families were amazing! In fact, while living with my 3rd host family, I was finally able to begin studying martial arts at a nearby gymnasium.  As a kid, I had always dreamed of learning one or multiple styles when I would watch one of the dozens of classic martial arts movies from the video store my family owned.  The gym down the street from my 3rd host family offered the choice between Judo and Sumo Wrestling.  Interestingly enough, despite the fact that I was only about 130lbs, I seriously considered Sumo Wrestling!! This was due to my love of the ritualistic Japanese spectacle and my childhood passion for America’s “Professional Wrestling”.  But I ended up studying Judo and, at the time, France was well-known and highly ranked for their Judo prowess.  

While training in Judo, I was intrigued by the subtle usage of physics through misdirection of a person’s balance and energy.  I was impressed by the benefits of the martial arts that went far beyond physical fitness and self-defense.  The work ethic, discipline, and character development that came from continual training was unlike anything I had ever seen!  I was fascinated by the founder of Judo, Jigoro Kano, who was a rather small man but was able to easily throw men 2 or 3 times his size.  He didn’t try to resist against their force.  When they would push him…he would go with it or pull.  When they would pull him…he would go with it or push.  Some people said that sparring with Jigoro Kano was like “fighting an empty jacket”.  This taught me to be more “in flow” with the situations around me in life, and less reactive.  

The most important concept that I learned from my Judo instructors was the Japanese concept of “kaizen” (pronounced with a long “i” as in “Ki-Zen”).  This is the idea of continuous improvement through sequential progression.  It’s the opposite of innovation!  Innovation tells us to change a lot of things at once or to change things quickly.   The Kaizen approach is more gradual and implements small adjustments.  The analogy that I like to use that of a rubber band.  Imagine that you have a cold, rubber band.  Now, if you were to pull that band too hard and too fast, what would happen to the band??  You guessed it…the band would break!   However, if you were to warm that band and gradually stretch it out, then the band would be able to open much farther.  

This idea of “kaizen” has been the guiding principle of my life since those times as a teenager in a French Judo class.  It’s the virtue of PERSEVERANCE or the simple concept to keep progressing despite the size or the number of obstacles.  It is, in essence, what led to my business motto of “Always Moving Forward”.  Through many of life’s trials, whether physical, mental, emotional, or professional…KAIZEN has given me the spark of hope to constantly learn from my mistakes, adjust, adapt, and progress with ongoing improvement. 

Stay tuned with these blog posts and you’ll see how “KAIZEN” can help you REDUCE your PAIN & discomfort in the different areas of your life, IMPROVE your PERFORMANCE, and TRANSFORM yourself into someone who is ultimately motivated by PERSONAL MASTERY.