Kau kizu tsubo 買う傷壷 literally means “buy the scratched pot” — and understanding why we’d ever want to buy a damaged pot, and what the implications are for our daily lives, is one of the fundamental keys to achieving advancement in our own personal growth, and in accomplishing the goals that we set out for ourselves.
Further, kau kizu tsubo 買う傷壷 highlights the dangers in pursuing perfection at all costs, and the even greater danger of achieving perfection.
Kau kizu tsubo 買う傷壷 is pronounced “kow key-zoo t-zoo-bo”
Waiting for Perfection
At first, the idea seems both silly and counter-intuitive. Who would buy a scratched pot? Shouldn’t we buy the nice new shiny pot? And shouldn’t we strive to keep it nice and new-looking, unscratched and pristine? Let’s wait until we find a new, shiny, perfect pot to hold water, shall we?
But what if we can’t find one that’s perfect? What if, in fact, such a thing doesn’t exist. Or perhaps, such a perfect pot does exist — but will we forego having water today for the promise of having a perfect pot hold our water tomorrow? Is it worth going thirsty today for the promise of the perfect vessel to hold our water tomorrow?
No, it is not.
And not only isn’t it “worth it” — the pursuit of this kind of perfection harms us.
We experience this phenomena on a broader level in our lives. We’re unhappy in our current job, but “the time isn’t right to start looking around for something else.” We don’t like where we live, but “its hard to find someplace to live where I’d be happier.” And so, we cycle through our days, until they become weeks and months and years, and sometimes lifetimes, filled with “wait until tomorrow.”
Within this context, “tomorrow” never comes. And the reason that the perfect tomorrow never arrives is because it doesn’t exist.
We set goals for ourselves, and build elaborate plans… but somehow the time to put that plan into action isn’t quite right today. And further, we “need” to wait until certain things fall into place, because then, we’ll have the perfect opportunity. Or worse, we don’t even have a plan to reach our goals; we’re still “working on our plan” — it’s not quite perfect yet.
Surely, we should design good plans for our goals. Surely, we should wait for the best time possible to execute those plans.
But waiting for perfection oftentimes becomes a paralysis. A paralysis of inaction, and excuse for doing nothing. If instead we accept the imperfect plan, become executing when the time is almost right — we have a chance at success. If we do nothing, paralyzed by waiting for the “perfect pot” we have a guaranteed outcome of failure.
Do not avoid planning, because you don’t have a perfect plan. Do not avoid action, because the time isn’t perfect to act.
Set goals that might not be fully formed. Make plans that might be imperfect. Begin acting now, not tomorrow, even if tomorrow might be a slightly better time to act.
Accept the scratches on your pot, and buy it. Fill it with the water of your day, and get to work… today.
Perfection as Happiness
Kau kizu tsubo 買う傷壷 also speaks to the notion of perfection as a substitute for happiness.
We know, for instance, from our own lives that there is some level of built-in disappointment in striving for, maintaining, and even seeking that kind of perfection, especially among our material possessions.
Our brand new cars stay brand-new for only short periods of time, and despite our buffing and polishing, eventually will age. And yes, of course, we care for our possessions responsibly and with pride, and we will keep our new (but now aging) car clean and as shiny as possible. But if we were to base our happiness on keeping that car in its original state of newness, surely we will find ourselves disappointed.
How many times have you set a goal for yourself (lose twenty pounds, get a 10% raise in salary, reach the next kyu or dan ranking in your karatedō) and then found that, upon reaching your goal, you weren’t as happy as you thought you’d be? In some ways, we set ourselves up for disappointment because we invest our happiness in the form of reaching some ultimate goal — not on the processes that we have to setup to get us to that point.
In other words, we pin our hopes of happiness on the pot remaining unscratched by use and by the passage of time.
If instead, we focus on building the processes that will help us reach our goals into our day (perhaps if we want to lose weight, we create processes to exercise and for better nutrition), and take our happiness and satisfaction in doing those things, we don’t invest all of our joy in an event that is far into the future. In other words, we are happy today that we have exercised, and we don’t “wait” to be happy months from now when we have lost twenty pounds.
This part of Kau kizu tsubo 買う傷壷 speaks to the notion that the journey of our life is the reward we reap, not the myriad destinations that we aim for.
Perfection as Balance
There is another side to Kau kizu tsubo 買う傷壷, however.
Perfection is something that we can maintain, if we ever achieve it, for only a small amount of time. It is a carefully balanced point at which we can only exist briefly. And because of this, sometimes we expend enormous — disproportionally enormous — amounts of effort to try to continue maintaining perfection.
This is a stultifying state of being: to chase perfection in this way will push out all of the other things we can be doing to accomplish goals in other aspects of our lives, and is a waste of our energy and resources. And worse, it is a path to unhappiness — a path we need not travel.
Should we strive for perfection? Absolutely. But should we obsess over it, to the detriment of other goals and other activities (and even, other people) in our lives? Absolutely not.
The cracked pot holds water. The near-perfect life is near-balanced, and is infinitely more maintainable then the idea of the perfect life.
Action, Happiness, and Balance
There are three lessons that Kau kizu tsubo 買う傷壷 teaches us:
First, do not allow the quest for the perfect to keep you from achieving your goals. Make the best plans you can, and act on them in the best way you can. Do not wait for the perfect plan, or the perfect moment. It is likely neither exist, and the act of waiting for them will paralyze you.
Second, value the process of perfection. Pursue our goals, not because of the goals themselves, but because of the person we must grow to become in order to pursue them. The process of achieving the goals is, in some ways, more important than the goals themselves. Traveling the road to those goals will bring you much more happiness than the goals themselves.
And lastly, strive for balance by accepting and expecting imperfection. Do not stake your balance on the need for perfection, and do not forsake long-term balance in your life for the chimera of short-term perfection.
The cracked pot that you purchase today will hold water almost as well as the perfect pot, and infinitely better than the perfect pot that you won’t get until tomorrow, if even then.
The cracked pot will hold water, and the water you have today will nourish you and help fuel your body. It’s worth it to have the cracked pot not because you will own a pot, but because you’ll have water.
The cracked pot is imperfect, but having it will fulfill most of your needs to store and transport water. It’ll do the job you need almost as well as the perfect pot, and it won’t present you with the unbalanced and troubled spirit that the constant quest for the perfect pot will.
Buy the cracked pot, and live your successful, happy, and well-balanced life.
As a concept in karatedo, Kau kizu tsubo 買う傷壷 is classified as a yojijukugo 四字熟語 — it is a four-kanji idiomatic concept (i.e., the literal meanings of the kanji do not express fully, or sometimes, not at all, the actual meaning of the phrase as a whole).
**Kau kizu tsubo 買う傷壷 was chosen as the Kagami Biraki message for 2017, and presented in a lecture on January 14, 2017 at the Goju Karate shibu in San Francisco, California.