My sons’ karate dojo had a guest instructor last week. This sensei is cancer survivor and attributes his remission to the discipline and mental toughness that karate instilled in him. Now he works with wounded warriors and uses karate to help them adjust to their post-service lives. Needless to say he was a great motivational speaker and the students and parents were both intent on listening as he spoke to the dojo. He taught the students what might be my favorite new phrase: 

Saru Mo Ki Kara – Even Monkeys Fall From Trees.

At first the visual image of a monkey falling from a tree made me giggle a little. Then, as I thought more about it, I realized that of course monkeys fall from trees. People trip while they walk all the time! Of course, that is not what this simple allegory is meant to convey. The meaning of the phrase is the even experts will fail.  The sensei was trying to get across the idea that even black belts need to train, that they will make mistakes, that they might lose a fight; however, as I’ve been participating in chats, working on plans for this year’s my classroom game, and being with my kids during summer break, I was hit with  the realization that there are many school applications.

First, from the teacher’s point of view, we often see ourselves as experts in the classroom. Certainly, at least, as professionals with most of the answers. This is not an experience thing either. I have seen young teachers come in thinking they have all the answers as often as I’ve seen 25 year veterans scoff at criticism. Saru Mo Ki Kara can teach us teachers though that we are going to make mistakes. More importantly, I think it should remind us that if we never fall it means we’ve never tried to reach a new branch or never tried to swing out past our comfort zone. Being stuck in the same metaphorical tree for 30 years might bring a paycheck but it will never bring fulfillment.

Secondly, as teachers and (for me anyways) as a parent I need to stop expecting my students or my sons to achieve perfection on the first try. If even an expert can expect to fail at a simple task occasionally I need to be more patient and more forgiving when mistakes are made. Then I need to be more supportive when they try to reach beyond their grasp. To let them take a few risks – ones where the fall will sting but not harm. 

Such a simple phrase, Saru Mo Ki Kara, but with so many layers!