Blending The Physical And Spiritual

Robin and Greg Chow, dojo

Robin and Greg Chow in the dojo | Jay Sakashita photo

In Oriental religion, 道 is way or path of spiritual cultivation. It is pronounced “dao/tao” in Chinese, such as in Daoism/Taoism, but “do/to” in Korean and Japanese, such as in taekwondo, aikido or Shinto. Moreover, the place (場) where one trains in this path is called “dojo” (道場).

Martial arts in the East Asian traditions often have the suffix “do” attached to their name to signify that the path of physical training one embarks on is also a way that cultivates the spirit. This distinguishes martial arts from street fighting, as developing strength of character within is as important as responding to physical threats from without.

The way, then, consists of complementary powers and ideals — the physical and mental, confidence and humility, student and teacher — that interact to produce something dynamic, balanced and whole. One side of the equation refines the other. Thus the body cultivates the spirit, mastery engenders discipline, and what was once rigid and tough is subdued by a way that is fluid, even gentle.

Judo (柔道) is the gentle way, yet Greg Chow’s voice is anything but. A judo sensei at Hawaii Tenri Judo and the head coach for Punahou judo, his vocal presence is unmistakable at judo tournaments. Opposing judo players (judoka) — and their coaches and parents — who compete against Tenri or Punahou judoka may find the volume and zeal of his voice disconcerting and even slightly annoying, but his judoka listen for his voice and draw confidence and even calmness from it. As one judoka told me, “I know he is there for me. Sensei Greg gives his best for me so that I can do the best for myself.”

This judoka may not always win but never feels lost.

A path is defined by its two sides, and though Robin Chow may not be as vocal as her husband, her judo accomplishments speak volumes. A judo champion in her own right, she competed at the highest possible level and was a gold medal winner at numerous national and international competitions. Her adept coaching skills guide the beginner judoka and instill confidence along the way, while her sharp insights are a valuable source of strategy and understanding for the experienced practitioner. Together, Greg and Robin have produced many talented judoka. Indeed, their three children — Daniel, Chrissy and Mindy — are members of the Hawaii High School Athletic Association (HHSAA) Hall of Honor, having won multiple state championships in wrestling and judo.

The way is open to all, or it should be. Whereas some coaches favor certain players — especially if their own child is on the team — and give them the most playing time or the best playing positions, the Chows treat their judoka the same. They expect the best from everyone once they step onto the mat. Corrections and critiques, shouts of encouragement and friendly banter are freely dispensed to all, no matter the skill level of the judoka or personality flaws of their parents. Parents appreciate this.

The way is not only associated with the religions of East Asia, but extends to Christianity as well, where one of the early designations of the faith was “the Way.”

The Chows are Christians. The dedication to their faith is evident not in outward displays of religious pretension, like those who have the need to boast with T-shirts and car decals, but in the adornment of the inner self with a lasting and gentle spirit that is pleasing to God. They sacrifice their weekends and what little free time they have (Greg is also an orthopedic surgeon and was deployed to Iraq, Kosovo and Afghanistan to serve his country) to help their judoka. Theirs is an example for people of all faiths to follow.

The path doesn’t end. Robin likes to remind the judoka that a black belt is simply a white belt that didn’t quit. The attributes learned in judo — mental discipline, persistence, self-confidence — can be applied beyond the judo mat and lead to success elsewhere.

In short, Greg and Robin Chow make a lasting difference in the lives of their judoka by guiding them to find success on their own path, and in their own way.