Welcome to our conversation on karate. Please join in!
Do you have what it takes? I read a story recently about Muggsy Bogues, the shortest man, at 5 feet 3 inches, to play basketball in the NBA, where he played for 14 years. This is a league where the average player is 6 feet 7 inches tall. How do you overcome that disadvantage? A high achiever chooses to do uncommon things. They actually practice and work on overcoming obstacles to winning.
When our sensei asks black belt candidates how long they are practicing for the black belt test on a daily basis, we could predict the success or failure rate from the student responses. The successful candidates put the time in each day to make a difference in their karate career. One of the reasons they practiced daily was their strong desire to succeed and pass the test.
When it was time for my test, I was not satisfied with remaining a brown belt, especially when my daughter, Sensei Mae, was already a black belt. I had a fire within me to work hard and not miss the opportunity to succeed on the test. In addition, I was much older than many of my classmates and I did not have the luxury of failing and becoming a long-term brown belt. No, I wanted to pass this test and the next. My desire was high; I found opportunities in my day that I had not ever considered. I made some sacrifices to concentrate on this one goal. I wanted to reach my black belt potential and fulfill my dream of becoming a black belt.
The effectiveness of your desire and training plan will determine your likely chance of doing well at a tournament or passing your belt test. What matters is how strongly your reasons are for achieving a goal. That is what will drive you to complete that goal. To determine if you have what it takes, find your desire level on the chart. If you have a high desire you are much more likely to meet the goal.
Last week was the Commonwealth of Kentucky AAU karate tournament, held at our dojo. The tournament was a big success for those who participated in the event. People that have reached the gold medal in this tournament did not get there by chance. They did not put “common” or “going through the motion” effort into their achievements. These athletes did uncommon things that you may not see. They practiced and worked in a way that their competitors did not. They put in the effort to make themselves distinguished. And they had a high desire to succeed.
Muggsy Bogues had a high desire to succeed, despite his height disadvantage. He loved to play basketball and learned early on that he had to disrupt the play of taller players and make them not even want to dribble the ball near him. He practiced a lot and worked on his game daily. How is your desire to succeed? Are you focused in on the goals that will achieve success for you today and in the future?
See you at the dojo soon.
The secret to move from up from white belt is to show up at class consistently. The next thing you will want to know is how do I obtain my black belt? Of course for that you need a plan, a good teacher and commitment to a goal. Each dojo is different and has different colors for their belts. As you advance to the (generally) higher and darker colored belts, the plan is what we can help with the most on Let’s Talk Karate.
My friend has come for a few weeks as a new karate student and is really enjoying his white belt experience. It has been good for him to get out and take out some frustrations that are best not left in the house. As a white belt, all the training he is receiving is fundamental knowledge. It has been good for me to see again what it means to be a brand new student of karate. Our sensei has a plan for all students, the number of expected weeks between belts, the skills, weapons and kata required. Besides regularly attending classes, the element that got our family to move up from white belt was a plan. Do you have a plan for the coming year on your next steps for your training plan? Now is time to think about next year.
One of your first actions should be the development of a training plan. A well-developed plan will encourage you to keep showing up and suiting up to progress. It will also clarify the goals you have for the training program. Here are the five common mistakes to avoid in developing your karate plan of action for next year:
- Not honestly reviewing your current year performance. Improvement begins with an accurate evaluation of your baseline performance. Ask yourself these questions
- What skills or drills did I avoid?
- What goals did I fail to achieve?
- What were my greatest strengths during the year?
- What were my most significant weaknesses during the year?
- Overall, how do I feel about my karate performance?
- Failing to set measurable and time-bound goals. We all set goals, especially at the start of the year, to do things like lose weight or stop some habit. The best goals have two key ingredients; they are measurable and time bound.
- Measurable goals include items such as I will achieve a (fill in the color) belt. You either do the work for the belt or you do not. It is easy to measure. Or, it could be I will practice my kata twice daily.
- Time bound means by when…so, by Tuesday I will practice my kata 14 times or by the end of April I will have passed the (fill in the color) belt test or become a (fill in the color) belt.
- Failing to set both outcome and process goals. As I explained last week, our dojo has both outcome goals as well as process goals.
- Getting a belt by specific testing date is an example of an outcome goal.
- A process goal is something like, having performed 1,000 kicks in January in one class to kick off the New Year. Another process goal is to run kata daily in multiple directions.
- Setting goals too high or too low. Your goals should be both challenging and realistic.
- Setting goals too high generally means you will fall short and be disappointed. You will not likely be the first one to begin a karate program without a proper understanding of the training commitment involved with the program.
- Setting your goals too low, you may achieve them and at the same time feel dissatisfied. “Karate is so easy—I became a (fill in the color) belt in only one year,” which may not be very challenging.
- Try to find a “goldilocks” goal, where goal attainment is difficult but possible.
- Not modifying your goals when circumstances change. Prior to the black belt test, I had to be out of the country for two weeks. My training goals and daily achievements were not possible with air travel and staying in a foreign country. I modified my training plans and borrowed equipment from my in-country friends to stay on track.
If you would like assistance in working on your training plans for the coming year, please let us know. We are working on our goals for the coming year as well. Our local tournament is this weekend. Try to find one to challenge yourself and see how well your training is going. See you in the dojo soon.
To progress, most of what you need is to suit up and show up to the dojo on a consistent basis. If you fail to suit up and show up, your skills become stagnant and you are no longer growing on your karate journey.
When we signed up for karate, we looked for three things, probably the same as you:
- Location, a dojo near the house
- Classes that fit our timing, day of the week and times we could regularly attend
- An initial fee and ongoing cost that fit our budget.
As good shoppers, we had the kids attend a week long karate camp in the summer. We were interested in ensuring they could learn and wanted to attend. We also discussed with some of our friends where they sent their kids.
We have stayed suited up and showing up for three main reasons:
- We are always learning.
- Every class we attend at the dojo, we learn something to include in our notebooks or to pass along to others.
- I helped teach today and learned several great new drills and ways to teach—and I only helped for the first couple of classes.
- We have tested our skills and found them excellent.
- We have both competed in the AAU karate national tournaments and found that the instruction we receive from our sensei at the dojo is equal to or better than other dojos. It is because our competition teams routinely win top honors in competitions that we know how well our instruction methods stand up nationally.
- We have put the program to the test, and the program has come out on top. Other dojos can also make that claim. See if yours does.
- We are growing and progressing in our martial arts journey. I have learned that preparation determines outcomes.
- We are prepared and follow a planned progression of ever building skills as we advance in the ranks.
- We believe in showing up and suiting up. Our instructor challenges us each class. I showed up to class consistently as a part of the program to pass the second degree black belt test. The test was more to show to the panel that I paid attention and practiced. Suit up and show up consistently to pass the test.
All of this is to say that if you find yourself in a dojo and you are not consistently learning and growing as well as advancing, you may want to look around for a different instructor in martial arts. My guess is this is a rare occurrence when we are in our first few years of training.
The point about testing our skills is to do so in structured ways, not going out to fight random strangers on the street. Our recommendation is to go to clinics and tournaments. At clinics and tournaments you will be able to see your training in action against students outside of your dojo. In a clinic, you will learn from other masters. I would not say that losing a fight is due to poor teaching. I have lost fights and know I have a very good sensei. It is looking at the whole work being performed at the dojo.
As a white belt, my son encountered some different fighting skills and lost a few rounds early in a tournament. Was our teaching bad? No it was not. We did not know how much work or effort was needed to become a champion at our first competition. We had never been tested outside of our classmates. So, the next time we encountered students from the same school we did better and won more rounds as we worked on new skills. On the whole, our dojo students win more than they lose. Of course we have never been 100% in the win column. I lost the gold medal fight in the AAU national tournament. It was my lack of skill and not the coaching from our sensei. It was a close fight, and a loss. I was able to learn from that experience to become a better fighter.
Your preparation does indeed determine what you will achieve from any program, and karate is no exception. You will continue to learn and grow as long as you continue to suit up and show up at the dojo door. See you in the dojo soon.
My challenge for you is to look back at your goals from the first of this year. How are you doing? Are you on track with your goals? I recently took a look at mine, and I have some work to do to ensure I finish the year strong. At the dojo, we have 6 or 7 black belt candidates looking to test the first weekend in December. Each of these candidates is trying to accomplish one of their goals for the year—earn their black belt in karate. Finishing strong begins with something as small as a habit. Habits are not those little creatures from the Lord of the Rings. Those are Hobbits. Habits are routines of behavior that we repeat regularly. I like to keep this in mind when we develop new (good) habits: “First it’s a struggle; later it’s a habit.”
As we look back at our goals, we may need to change our behaviors positively to achieve the results we are looking for to finish out this year strong. Experts tell us that we develop new habits in 21 days of repetition. My schedule for training for the black belt test was a 100 day challenge. The hardest part of the challenge is to get ourselves to the point where it is more painful not to change than to change. That moment came for me when we took my first pre-test for the black belt test. In our dojo, about two weeks prior to the black belt test we have a pre-test, which covers several of the test elements. At the end, we are either ready for the test or we are sent back for more training. I do know that I was unprepared although I did not know it at the time. I was confident when I arrived for the pre-test and open for training and a plan when I left. It was another six months before the next black belt test, and I was determined to be ready for that test.
To engage new behaviors, like actively preparing for the test versus just showing up to class twice a week, I went through this exercise called “5 why’s and one how” and it goes like this:
- Why can’t I perform all of the kicks?
- Because I do not know them all; who knew there were over 100 on the test!
- Why don’t I know them?
- Because I didn’t get a lesson with an expert on what is needed.
- Why didn’t I get a lesson?
- Because I was confident that coming to class regularly was enough to pass the test.
- Why didn’t I get enough kicking practice in class?
- Because I had too many things to do and just going to class was easiest.
- Why did I have so many things to do?
- Because I did not systematize my practice schedule into daily actionable tasks.
- How can I set a practice schedule to pass the next pre-test and earn my black belt?
- Ask for assistance, or read this blog…
All of us are different in what is holding us back from accomplishing our goals. This simple exercise gets to a possible root cause of why I failed my black belt pre-test. As a result, I did ask for additional one-on-one training from our senseis at the dojo, like Sensei Mae.
Here was my system, a little over 3 months (100 days) out from the test. Our test covers six basic elements: Kicking, striking, kata, weapons, self-defense, and fighting. The only way to prepare for fighting was the drills we learned in class. The last element I worked on was to improve the number of push-ups I could do in one day. I created the one-hundred day push-up (PU) challenge. I did one more each day, until after 100 days I was able to knock out 100 pushups like I would when I come to every black belt class.
I started prior to the 100 days to ensure I knew each element of the test come testing day. My advice: find out what is on the test so you can practice. Ask for help. Get private lessons.
My key to success was the daily increments that moved the practice from a struggle to a habit. It took a daily log for me to see how well I was doing, and I could easily look and see what I left off for the day or the week. Try this with your karate goals and let me know how you are doing as we are getting ready for the end of the year. Let’s finish the year strong together!
See you in the dojo soon!
On a recent flight, the flight attendant started the safety briefing by insisting we should be selfish in order to assist others. You have heard the same speech if you have been on a flight anytime in the last 20 years. The announcement says the following when discussing oxygen: “If you are traveling with children, or are seated next to someone who needs assistance, place the mask on yourself first, then offer assistance.” We take it as a matter of course that we need to help ourselves in this situation so we can offer assistance. Does this apply anywhere else in our lives?
If we only care for others and not for ourselves, we may think we are doing well. We would do well to heed the flight attendant’s advice to take care of ourselves first and then offer assistance. I was teaching class last Saturday, and a fellow black belt stepped in with his black belt son to the dojo and offered me a break. I did not think I needed the break; I am strong! I went to bed early the night before and was up early and ate a great breakfast. It turned out that the brief rest was much needed and appreciated, once I stepped off of the floor for a few minutes. The rest was important and restored the energy I needed for the last two classes of the day. My fellow black belts are currently in training on leading classes and have done so periodically over the course of several months. The students were in good hands. The lesson here is that my fellow black bets took care of their time and training so they could help others with theirs. Their teaching one class was a win for me and for the students.
When was the last time you thought about your role in helping yourself?
- With proper rest and recovery, you can learn a new kata or routine. Your mind is fresh and ready to tackle any new karate challenge.
- Daily practice of karate keeps your mind sharp and you in shape for the times when the skills are needed. As a side bonus, if you look like you are in good shape you are less likely to be harassed by bad guys who prey on those who are weaker.
- Once you know the drills and have practiced them, you are then able to assist others or become the role model for the dojo. It is only when we know the material that we are able to teach the material or to model the behavior asked for in class.
We have all heard the maxim made popular by Ben Franklin, “early to bed early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise.” Is Ben Franklin also saying for us to be selfish? Yes, I believe he is talking about us as individuals needing to take care of ourselves first. Several studies on sleep back up Ben Franklin’s claim about early to bed and early rising. We have also discussed the importance of rest and sleep. Proper rest and nutrition are keys to being healthy. Taking a “train ourselves first” attitude will enable us to be the role model our dojo is looking for in all of us. What about you—are you being selfish enough with your training and your time?
See you in the dojo soon!
When we think of ceremonies we often think of weddings or graduations.
- If we think about a Japanese ceremony, it is generally the tea ceremony we think about.
- What is an “American” ceremony that others would recognize outside of our country? In America we do not have many ceremonies. Of course, if you have seen any event, you will notice a ceremony or celebration of some sort. When you google “American ceremonies” you will notice several Native American ceremonies. At the beginning of sporting events, we have a ceremony with the National Anthem. At the start an American football game, we begin with a coin toss, part of the ceremony to open the game.
- In karate, we bow in to start the class; this is part of our on-going ceremony to unify our sport and discipline. All the bowing at the beginning of class is an important reminder for us to leave the outside world outside of the dojo.
Ceremonies are often more than just a ritual we do daily or in class. Good ceremonies have a clear purpose and enrich the meaning and mood of the event. We recently had a black belt tie-on at the dojo. It was a fun event. It is a celebration of the accomplishments as well as the public recognition of the change. We celebrate by breaking boards and performing kata. More than that, it is a public acknowledgement to the dojo and to the rest of us that we have passed the test and belong.
At my second degree ceremony, it was about recognizing my fellow students who passed the same testing that I did as well as that self-recognition that now I am a second degree black belt at the dojo. My outlook on who I am changed after the belt was tied around me by our sensei.
I was able to bring a new white belt to the dojo on Tuesday. As a part of his first day at the dojo, he was transformed by the subtle ceremonies we have at the dojo:
- First he changed into a uniform and added a new white belt to the uniform. He now looked like the other students in the dojo.
- We bowed prior to entering the dojo (see prior posts) to show that we are leaving the world behind.
- He learned our phrases in Japanese that we say when we bow into the class. All this was new, and sometimes I just take for granted that yes, this is what we do.
- He learned some basic skills and wants to come back for more.
Seeing the ceremony through the eyes of my friend was refreshing for me. I was reminded of the first time I brought my son to the dojo and how strange it all was. The ceremonies and routines were not mine. Now that I have some experience with martial arts, I sometimes find myself bowing on entering rooms or responding to a question with Yes (“hai” or sometimes the word “oss”). Have you ever done that? Sensei Mae has as well!
How about you, have you been to a black belt tie-on ceremony? We need more ceremonies to celebrate the accomplishments we have achieved. Passing a black belt test should have a well thought out ceremony, and I am pleased to say we have that at our dojo.
- We may be tempted to sometimes skip the formal event as it requires planning and work on our part to organize the ceremony. At our house we have a “celebrate plate.” It is just a plate with the word “celebrate” on it and when we do something well in the family, we get the celebrate plate for the evening meal to recognize the accomplishment. Not too much work once we had the plate.
- The ceremony appropriately finishes off the prior level and we celebrate that we have moved onto the next step. We need more celebrations and ceremonies in our lives.
What ceremonies do you participate in on a regular basis? Can we add more for enhancing our daily lives and celebrating our wins on a regular basis? See you in the dojo soon for that next celebration or ceremony.
Americans watch on average more than 5 hours of TV per day. Our biggest obstacle to living healthy lifestyles appears to be the chair or couch we sit in to enjoy our leisure time.
- Researches in Australia found that “watching TV or videos for an average of six hours a day could shorten a viewer’s life expectancy by almost five years.”
- When originally designed, the TV was sold as a tool for teaching us new and exciting things. It still delivers on that promise, especially if you want to watch others sweat or find out about the lives of people you may never meet.
- The actual watching is not the issue; the sedentary lifestyle of sitting down and not moving is what they are commenting on in the research.
It takes effort to do something other than to come home from work and relax in front of the TV or your favorite video game. When my favorite teams are playing, I will often watch to see how they are doing and because I get up early in the morning, I generally have to watch the highlights the next day as I cannot stay awake to see the entire game. I have also missed several games because I am at the dojo or somewhere else being active and not glued to my seat, like I am now while I am writing this blog.
Here are three steps to overcome our biggest obstacle:
- Make a commitment to do something more than you are today. Coming home and being entertained prevents us from becoming happier with our lives.
- Getting up and trying something will actually improve our lives.
- According to the studies, teenagers actually spend more time investigating life and being active than adults.
- Retirement age adults spend the most time avoiding activity and watching TV.
- Learn something new daily.
- Karate exposes you to opportunities to learn. In class we are constantly being challenged to perfect ourselves and get in shape.
- I hope to daily reclaim time from inactivity by cutting down on the time I spend idle and committing to the next belt and the karate program.
- Apply the learning to change your world.
- All change begins with us, the one in the mirror in the morning.
- All of us are going to fall at some point in our lives. The older we are when we fall, the harder it is to get back up. One of the fundamental skills we teach is how to fall and get back up.
- As we age, we need to get back on our feet and shut out the negative influences in our lives.
How about you? The next time you sit down at the TV or computer take note of the time you sat down and the time you got up. This blog writing has taken me 45 minutes to complete. Track that time for a week and let us know in the comment section how long you are idle on average each day. Can you reduce that time?
A friend of mine who recently retired is planning on joining me at the dojo for a first class in the next week. I am looking forward to helping him keep in shape while he sharpens his body and mind. When we are training, we no longer have time to sit and be inactive. I am looking forward to seeing you in the dojo soon!