HOW can one person slice through three four-inch thick ice blocks with his bare hands?

Two martial arts experts hosting a TV show were visiting Japanese karate masters to film them demonstrate such prowess with ease. Was it the muscle strength in the arms? Was it constant training and practice? Was it mental concentration, a case of mind over matter?

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After observing a hulking karate master use just one swift motion of his arm to split the blocks into half in seconds, the experts realized the secret: the karate master?s commitment.

Despite knowing the pain that was about to come to his hands upon impact, the karate master did not flinch nor hesitate. From the start of the motion to the end, he committed himself to the act. Had the karate master stopped or paused at any point while his hand is still going through the ice, his strength, training and mentality would not have been enough to finish the act. He would have failed in cracking the ice blocks into half.

A few weeks ago, I realized that one of the gray Mary Jane shoes that I like wearing to work had started scuffing. Permanent footwear dandruff right at the toe of the shoe. I thought about going to a shoe repairman or to dye the shoes a darker shade of color. After all, the structure of the shoe is still sound. Besides the white stuff, nothing else is wrong with it.

However, I decided to chuck it. Throw it out along with its unblemished partner and just buy new shoes. After all, the pair survived more than a year with me, so I should probably just let them go. At least that was the decision before I saw that TV show on the Japanese ice-block destroyers. And the point on commitment made me remember my first pair of rubber shoes.

I grew up with a mother who constantly reminded me that money did not grow on trees and kept telling me about how when she was a student she would walk to school in her ratty old shoes, that even when holes appeared on the soles and the front gaped like a thirsty dog, she would just tape things up and continue wearing the same shoes to school.

My mother always accompanied our shopping trips to Kerr Shoe Center with that lecture. It got pretty tedious, but I guess the message sank into my prepubescent subconscious because when I got my first imported pair of shoes -- a pair of white high tops with pink laces -- I needed little reminding that I should value them like precious diamonds.

But more than not wanting to be yelled at, I did love those shoes. It was not that they were imported or more expensive than my other shoes. It was more because those were the first pair of shoes that I chose for myself, the first pair of shoes I had my mother buy for me because I wanted them, not because I had to wear them for school or church.

I loved those shoes so much that even when the pink shoe laces faded into dirty gray, I still kept on wearing them. Even when I had to use Touch and Go to make the dark spots turn white, I still kept on wearing them. Yes, even when holes appeared at the soles and the front gaped like a thirsty dog, I still kept on wearing them. While I still could, while the shoes were still able, I wore them. I used that pair for five years and refused to buy new rubber shoes even when they were plenty of newer models available.

And when my pink-laced high tops became too tight I couldn't wear them anymore, I still held on to them for a little while more. I took pride in telling people how long I had those shoes, proud that I had not replaced them so easily. Guess you could say I was really committed to those shoes.

Years and countless pairs of shoes later, I am now willing to throw away a perfectly good pair of Mary Janes just because one had scuff on it. Of course material possessions should not be valued too much or be made life's priority. It's more the question of whether anything counts so little now that I do not hesitate to throw things away when the slightest problem arises. Why find cost-effective, environmentally-friendly solutions when I could just buy more shoes? Why try to fix the problem when I could just make it disappear? I guess now money grows on trees. Ironically, not valuing my things enough made me hoard more things, filling my life with material nonsense.

If what the karate master did mattered little to him, he would have thought more of his own comfort and would not have gone through the painful act of cutting through the blocks of ice. But he did value what he was doing, and thus he practiced again and again, underwent pain again and again just to overcome the challenge. He was committed, and the result of the commitment was success.

*****

Jocy L. So-Young teaches at Davao Christian High School.