What can we learn from the past?

I try not to look back or dwell over the past, thinking about “what could have been?” Perhaps it’s a self defense mechanism to help me live in the present. As for thinking about the future, Covid-19 showed us how helpless we are at predicting anything. But as I say goodbye to 2020, I join the rest of the world who are fortunate to say “I am so happy I made it to 2021.”

At the end of 2019, one of the worlds most prolific and enduring Karate masters passed away at the age of 88, Soke Hirokazu Kanazawa, 10th dan. He was one of the earliest members of the JKA and a student of modern Karate founder, Gichin Funakoshi. On a personal note, Kanazawa was one of my Karate teachers when I moved to the USA in 1990. I would travel across the states to participate in many of his seminars. In April 2020, a few months after the death of Kanazawa, Teruyuki Okazaki, 10th dan, also passed away, a victim of Covid-19. Like Kanazawa, he was a student of Shotokan founder Gichin Funakoshi, and was also significant in the development of Shotokan Karate in America. I was fortunate to have met both Kanazawa and Okazaki many times.

Jon Braeley of Empty Mind Films with Teruyuki Okazaki, 10th dan, 2002

When I began work on my first martial arts documentary, The Empty Mind in 2002, Kanazawa and Okazaki were the first two martial art masters I turned toward. In fact, Okazaki is featured in the opening sequence of the movie, and says in our interview, “Karate training is a lifetime to develop yourself to be a good human being. I am training now for over 55 years but I am still not good enough. That’s why I have to challenge myself to be a good human being and then show my students this as an example.”

Kanazawa appears later in The Empty Mind. During a break in teaching a seminar, I interviewed Kanazawa and he said, “Throughout our life, we humans have many objectives. And as you move closer to this ultimate goal, you must remain satisfied with yourself and try not to have too many disagreements on the way. You must try to be humble in your attitude, and in the spirit of Budo we call this ‘Mushin’, meaning an empty mind. It is a state of control so that you can arrive at your objective in life. It is the mental attitude you need in your journey to find success.”

I try to live my life using both of these quotes from two legendary martial arts masters who sadly, are no longer with us. There are other masters that I have been fortunate enough to meet while making movies, who have also passed away. I think of them all as a lasting legacy, because nowadays I do look back. It reminds me that great people will pass, and we should be grateful to have lived and shared the same time with them, even the year 2020. So I will not forget this last year because it will help me to live a better life in the coming year, happy that I made it to 2021.

Have a Happy New Year,

Jon Braeley, Empty Mind Films

Jon Braeley with Hirokazu Kanazawa, 10th dan, 2001.