When we think of improvement, we typically think of a steady upward trajectory, getting objectively better at something until we have reached a level of mastery. While we often express the desire to improve our abilities or performance, there is usually a tangible outcome in mind that we are striving toward. When we can look past the outcome as our goal, we can explore the value of kaizen, or "continuous improvement”.
Continuous improvement reaches far beyond achieving a defined milestone. A desire for continuous improvement means doing something for the intrinsic value of doing it – the pleasure that discovery and practice bring, rather than the explicit reward. It is the domain of those with an unquenchable thirst for experience, who push their bodies and minds to be ever more, ever different and ever better. It is for those who wish to know their every capability and to become closely acquainted with the impact of each one. It is likewise for those who wish to uncover new insights into people, nature and life that remain hidden from most.
When kaizen is our focus, it trains us to look harder at all we do so that we can see new angles and dimensions in familiar movements and perspectives. Always trying to uncover something new in a concept we’ve known for ages or a technique we’ve applied a thousand times gives us new ways to adapt our reactions and responses. Kaizen encourages us to stop thinking of repetition as such, and to perceive it rather as a state full of potential for discovery. This is how we can keep ourselves in a state of
humility and eagerness, always deepening our sense of possibility and expanding our sense of opportunity.
Opportunity presents naturally with time and improvement follows naturally with effort. When we get frustrated by obstacles in our development or distracted by worldly concerns, we need only to remind ourselves that time and effort are all we need to ensure kaizen. It is as much a mentality as it is a physical journey in our budo; when we maintain that there is always more to experience, another way to move, another unique situation that will impact us in a different way and another potential
experience to prepare for, we ensure we are always on the path to improvement.
The path to improvement is not always consistent. There are often places where we backslide and must revisit old skills before we can perceive any advancement. Because our aspirations are constantly shifting to reconcile our evolving expectations with our developing abilities, it can sometimes feel like reaching the next plateau in our training, where we must start climbing all over again, is setting us back rather than moving us forward. In such instances, we must adjust our attitudes so that we look forward to renewing our beginner’s minds rather than viewing each reset point as an impediment. While the benefits of each reset are not always salient, they are still crucial to our development.
If we maintain a will to learn and apply each lesson we take, then continuous improvement will happen naturally over our budo path. Pursuing kaizen, we appreciate the power of time and experience, and the way they shape us into who we are and who we want to become. This pursuit gives us something to look forward to as we move from one stage of our training to the next. So long as we are training, we
are unfinished, and as in life, so with kaizen: it is about the journey rather than the destination.