first place

Hearing my coach shout from the side of the mat, "Two hands on! Get two hands on!" during my first Judo tournament, made me suddenly realize what he meant. Aside from the obvious plea of getting my mitts onto the Judo gi of my opponent, he was telling me: Be first. Suddenly, the realization that this was what he had been trying to drill into my brain during all those months of practice came flooding forth. Ah, now I get it. I wanted to turn around and let him know that I understood what he meant, but my opponent's industrious attempts at being first, himself, made me think the better of it.


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Be first. It's an old maxim that I believe can first be attributed to boxing, at least that is the first place I heard of it. Hit your opponent first. Get in there. Score first. Attack! The applications to all martial arts should be obvious, but the concept also applies to life.

Sitting in a sales meeting, in a warm room, I remember drifting off to the velvety sounds of quarterly projections by my manager and then being abruptly stirred upon hearing, "It's best to get something on the board right away. It will help you get your momentum going for the month!" Well, it was something like that, anyway. After all, I had just woken up. Regardless, it was another example of being first. And it was an application far away from the mat.

Most people will likely agree: it's better to be ahead than to try to come back from a deficit. Once the momentum is going in your favor, for some reason, it seems easier to keep it up. My unscientific opinion is that it is easier to build on success than failure, though as many readers will attest, we have to know how to work equally with both.

It is when lessons learned through martial arts are applied to our lives that we begin to see their power. Punch first. Hands on first. Get the sale on the first day of the month. Be proactive. Be industrious. Be first.

That a director of my city's opera company would call me seemed a little odd. There are probably some monkeys who know more about opera than I do. But the director was inviting me to lunch, so of course I went.

It turned out the company was producing a performance of Madame Butterfly, the Puccini opera that tells the story of a doomed love between a French military officer and a geisha in early 19th-century Japan. The opera has come under fire for its stereotyped, utterly fanciful depictions of Japanese culture. The local company was trying to anticipate such criticism, and the director asked me, since I serve on the board of some organizations related to Japanese culture, what I thought.
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