Words of Encouragement

May 1, 2023, El Al flight 290, Venice - Israel


Sitting on the plane, in particular in Business Class, is a time to reflect. There are no distractions, there are no e mails to answer, no phone calls. Thank God there is no Wi-Fi here, thank God no one can reach me, nothing to disturb the peace. And the mind wanders, sometimes to the future, sometimes to the past. 

I lean back and suddenly I am once again a beginning student at the Oyama dojo, the year is 1986, I am unsure of myself, young, with the future unwritten. I get up early every morning, eager for another training session before my work at the bank. Most will drop it, most will train for a few months and then be gone, forever. But I am sitting here on the plane about 35 years later, and I am still active, training, teaching, I am the tiny percentage that "made it". And I look back and reflect. In the quiet moments of the plane ride, while all is still, quiet, a cup of coffee fills the air, and I remember. I remember the words that made a difference, words of encouragement, not words of rebuke, words of praise, not Bad Ass put downs. A kind smile, an understanding heart. Everything is real, the past lives within me. Time is only relative.

The words of my teacher Sensei Romero still ring in my ears, all these later. Can he know? Could he have known that a few kind words would make such a difference. Teachers beware, your words have impact, for decades and generations to come.

Sensei Romero changed my self-perception. I believe that is a key element in a student's development. Like many students I came in and saw the other students. They were kicking and punching, they looked skilled and powerful. They were muscular and their karate techniques were sharp, and fast. To a beginner this can be very intimidating. Most will take a look, say, "I can't do this, I will never fit in", and leave. I stayed, and I worked hard, and those words of encouragement helped. 

I always felt a sense of comraderie at the Oyama dojo, there was never a sense of higher belts looking down on lower belts, there was no pecking order. We were a united group. There was a very positive training environment. In martial arts this is certainly not a given.  I have seen many schools were tension and competition were the rule, where bullying of various types took place. Here it was all for one and one for all. I trained early each morning with the Uchi Deshi, the live in students from Japan. We did pushups on our knuckles and endless sit ups. To see our teacher smile brightened the early morning. 

Often the New York cold would blow in from the open windows, alternatively the humidity in summer, but it did not matter, we trained and our teachers encouraged us. I only recall positive reinforcement. I still have my dojo T shirt, and my old uniforms, they are old and tattered but contain great memories...and now I am sitting in Business Class, it has been a long journey.

I share this not to boast, but to inspire, not to create jealousy but camaraderie. We are all in this together. Those words all those years ago, or was it just yesterday, are still with me, in my ears, in my heart, in my soul. When the new shirts and jackets came out Sensei Romero asked if I would be purchasing one, but I declined saying I did not yet feel worthy of wearing these and representing our dojo, I will never forget his words, "You are a fine representation of this dojo." I had been training for only 8 weeks.  

Dale Carnegie said, "give a dog a good name", i.e., call someone by a good name and he will live up to it, call him a loser and he will live up to that as well. I had good role models, well, some...

The years have passed, or have they? Do we live only in the present or does our entire life live within us? Is time relevant or constant? How do we relate to Time and Space, to the Living and the Dead? Is there a dimension where the reality is not only what we see but what we feel and remember. Is this the dimension of imagination or of a different reality? 

I am in the dojo, ich, nee, san, shi, go, Mawashe geri, (round kick) Mai geri (front kick), Saiko Shihan is still walking up and down the rows of students and encouraging us, fixing our stance, looking on at his students. 

Is time as we observe it? Can two events take place simultaneously but yet separated by time and space? What is our reference, and where are we?

I am sitting on an El Al plane on the way home, the seminar was a success, I pass on the lesson of my youth to the next generation. Yes, I have come a long way, but yet I am still where I was, a student standing in line, Ich, nee, san, one two three, make sure your stance is balanced, make sure your focus is sharp. The past, the present, the future, is it simultaneous or separate? Perhaps that is for each of us to decide.

Time to reflect, I sip my coffee, I lean back. There are aches and pains, am I still 26 years old? or am I 62 years old? Can one be both at the same time?



Moshe Katz, 7th dan Black Belt, Israeli Krav Maga. Certified by Wingate Institute. Member Black Belt hall of fame, USA and Europe.

Understand the Israeli Fighting Mentality - Israel a Nation of Warriors by Moshe Katz


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