Saturday, September 27, 2008

*The fans in the stands noticed he wasn't living up to his potential and booed.

People knowledgable in baseball knew he could be a great hitter, but in his third year in the big leagues in Japan, he wasn't even being average.

His hitting was getting worse, the boos louder.

His perceived potential was large enough that he had a hitting teacher for himself in addition to the team batting coach.

His batting teacher tried many things-- having him work on his downswing, having him watch akido classes run by the man who invented akido, comforting him insulting him.

"Maybe if the ball was as big as a basketball, you could hit it."

His teacher didn't have him actually do akido, just watch the classes, because his teacher said, "Martial arts and injuries are one and the same."

Watching akido classes made him think much and differently about how he held his body and made him think about where his center of power was--about two inches below his belly button. And think about blending with the energy of the situaion and then changing it, which is the basic akido approach.

Thinking like that probably helped him when his batting teacher told him right before a game to stand on one leg in his batting stance as he waiting for the pitch.

He did. The fans hooted.

He hit a single and a home run in that game. The fans learned to love what they called "flamingo hits" and "flamingo home runs."

He didn't have the raised leg anything like flamingo high, just off the ground a bit, but it was definitely different than anything seen before in baseball at the level and it definitely worked.

From his first flamingo hit game, he went forward in a straight line to become the greatest hitter in the history of Japanese baseball.

He still had much work to do in many different ways, under his teacher, but he was not longer spinning his wheels, the work he did worked worked in a direct immediate way to make him hit better.

He worked on budo, the tradition use of the samarai sword, which teaches concentration and taking responsibility--since the original idea was to kill and be responsible and aware while doing so--and also has one motion which is similar to the hitting a home run motion. It's not the usual baseball book that would note that one can kill a person with a gun and barely be aware one has done it, but with a sword one much notice, and samarai training helps you notice what is happening with the sword.

Oh was using old ways to really notice and make powerful the swing. As this kind of training all happened after his flamingo breakthrough, it worked and flowed and he just kept getting better. (Better use of killer swing developed over centuries.) So you can think of traditional things in your culture that physically hurt folks and think of how they can help people be skillful in a non-injury sort of way.)

Sadaharu Ho ended up hitting 868 home runs in his career in baseball in Japan.

In United States baseball, Babe Ruth hit 714 home runs. Hank Aaron hit 751. Barry Bonds hit 762.

868 is a lot.

Different leagues, different countries, but 868 is a lot.

The night before Sadaharu Oh stood on one leg waiting for pitches, he thought about quitting baseball.

He pictured telling his batting teacher he was quitting. He pictured telling his teammates he was quitting. He tried to picture living his life without baseball bit he couldn't.

After the home game that night, it rained, and Oh wasn't prepared. He waited for a cab to go home, and cab after cab drove by him as he got wetter and wetter. It was that kind of night.

When he finally got a cab and got home, he comforted himself with the thought that the game the next day would be rained out and he wouldn't have to play baseball.

When he woke up, it was a sunshiney, glorious day. It was also noon, and he should have been at the ballpart hours ago.

When he got there, he found there was to be no batting practice because the grounds crew was working to make the soggy field playable.

His batting teacher came up to him and said he should wait for the pitches standing on one leg, put his leg down as he swung.

Oh thought about how dumb that would look.

His teacher said, "I order you to do it."

At those words, Oh froze, bowed his head, and when the game started, he did it.
Single, home run, miracle feeling events.

He and his teacher, Hiroshi Arakawa, had gone through a standard breakthrough sequence.

1. Really want to solve the problem

2. Try many solution that don't work.

3. Give up.

4. Find the unexpected solution that works

Oh and Arakawa went through the sequence as a team. Oh gave up. Arakawa thought of the solution. Oh did the solution in a way that worked. In the oft told creative breakthrough story, Oh getting rained on would lead to Oh waking up with the great new idea. What happened was as good as that, with two people, they divided the job up. Oh gave up, Arakawa had the breakthrough solution, Oh did the solution and made it work.

On a one person creativity search, you must yourself hear the odd idea from within and get over how funny it might look on your own. 868 is a lot.

--information and quotations from Chapter Six of "Sadaharu Oh: A Zen Way of Baseball" by Sadaharu Oh and David Falkner.