Recently, I finished reading a book about Dr. D.S. “Doc” Ping titled The Legend of Doc Ping. Doc, a former United States Marine and Vietnam veteran, mentored me for a near-decade from my adolescence through early adulthood. As I was reading this book, I could not help but reflect on my time training with him, and the lessons I learned from “Ping’s Dojo,” especially as they pertain to my journey in medicine.
Doc is a Shihan in Jishukan Ryu Jujitsu, a Japanese combat-based martial art, and received his degree in Eastern medical practices. His presence is like that of a silverback gorilla, and he can be a physically intimidating man. (His back and chest resemble forty-plus inch concrete blocks, and his hands — fingers included — are as dense as bricks.) Although he is the only person alive who has successfully instilled the “fear of God” in me, Doc’s heart is full of love and benevolence, and his passion for health ignited mine.
While I was playing football, in both high school and college, “Ping’s Dojo” was a staple of my summer conditioning. I pushed myself as hard as I could whenever I trained with Doc because he would always remind me that proper preparation prevents poor performance. Now in my final year of medical school, I am reminiscent of this mindset. If it were not for my consistent perseverance, I would have not been able to pass all my exams thus far.
The virtues of “courtesy,” “sincerity,” and “guiding kindly” are central to the dojo, which I began training in at age thirteen. Throughout my development, Doc helped me learn how to be a leader, integrating these virtues into my being. By age fourteen, he entrusted me with guiding professional football players in his conditioning program as they prepared for their upcoming NFL (National Football League) training camps. Every summer, the program got harder. Doc continually introduced us to new exercises that challenged not only our physical bodies, but our minds and spirits, too.
While medical school is difficult, it does not compare to the arduousness and tenacity of Doc’s “House of Pain” (this is the phrase we used to describe his summer workout program). The very first day I trained in the dojo, we began class by performing one-thousand “squat kicks” (five-hundred with each leg/foot) to warm up. I will never forget that next morning: I could not get off the toilet after sitting down on it, and my legs gave out as I was walking down a flight of stairs. Since we trained in dojo Monday and Wednesday nights, too, we did another one-thousand squat kicks two nights later (as well as hundreds of other kicks, punches, and hand-fighting drills). No matter how sore and tired we were, there were no excuses in the House of Pain. Don’t tell me about the storm, Doc would utter, just bring the ship to port.
While Doc intentionally would throw all sorts of new challenges our way, he would frequently remind us that there are no surprises; expect nothing, be ready for everything. This lesson reminds me how important it is that medical students and doctors undergo vast and rigorous training to ensure that proper care towards any patient in any circumstance can be met appropriately.
In the dojo, respect is reflected in proper etiquette, hence courtesy. For example, students and instructors would bow at specific moments during each class. Before and after practicing a form with a classmate, both students would bow to one another, showing appreciation towards each other and the form itself. In medicine, we must be courteous to our patients, because each patient comes from a unique background, and showing proper etiquette as physicians demonstrates respect towards their sufferings.
Regarding sincerity, Doc would always say that the road to heaven is not through a path of roses, but a bed of thorns. To be a successful student in any outlet (Jishukan, football, medicine, etc.) requires a great deal of hard work, desire, and grit. Sometimes, my best was not good enough in the House of Pain, and I would need to repeat certain forms, lifts, and sprints, to ensure that they were done correctly before proceeding to the next workout. The path to becoming a successful physician is also one of thorns, not roses, and requires sincere dedication. Many doctors and medical students, I am sure, would agree with me on this matter.
Finally, the virtue of guiding kindly is multi-faceted. It emphasizes putting your arm around another’s shoulder when one time is necessary, while being able to confront that same person face-to-face and demand better of him or her at another time. We used to do a triple block-triple punch drill that exemplified this. It often left my forearms bruised and bloodied, but no matter how much they hurt, my instructors would spiritedly encourage me to finish the drill because they knew I could. Somehow, they — especially Doc — were always right.
Guiding kindly illustrates mentorship, whether it be in the dojo or in an academic medical setting. Regardless of one’s stage in medical training, certain errors in patient management will be made…this is part of the learning process. It is the role of the mentor (i.e., attending physician to resident, resident to medical student, attending physician to medical student) to help identify these errors, determine their causes, and work through solutions, while being cognizant of the educational level of the learner.
Through all the chaos of the House of Pain, Doc would remind us to find calmness, controlling our breathing and minds. Above all, he encouraged us to pursue good health as good health precedes good life. If the House of Pain was a blacksmith, then its teachings are the forged, intangible swords I have gained to become a better man and future physician.
To Doc, and to all my instructors in Ping’s Dojo: ありがとうございました (“arigatōgozaimashita”, or “thank you” in Japanese).
Casey Paul Schukow is a medical student.
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