We Need More Ceremonies

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.

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Ready for the Black Belt Ceremony

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.

Tie On

Tie on for second degree!

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.

 

Three Steps You Can Take to Overcome America’s Biggest Obstacle

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.

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Are you on the sideline or active?

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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!

 

Do You Have Courage?

It takes courage to walk into the dojo for the first time. Vince Flynn described his hero Mitch Raap in the book “Act of Treason” peering into a dojo and seeing the eight students practicing sanbon kumite (3 step fighting drills) with the sensei walking between the students complementing or correcting students. Who would want to walk into a dojo and participate in fighting action? It takes courage to walk into the dojo the first time.

I met a first time student last week. He has a cousin who is an active student at our dojo. I was so excited to see him prior to his first class with a notebook! I know he was ready for the first lesson. This student had courage and the support of a friend which is a great combination to overcome adversity. When I first went to karate, it was to watch as my son participated. I did not plan on joining. I of course did when asked as I already had the support of my son who was in the program. Which of you would turn down a request by a teenager to join them in an activity?

 

First day student

Courage and a notebook!

 

We all have little examples in our day-to-day life of courage. Showing up to train at the dojo is displaying courage. In class this week, one of my fellow black belts told us a story of courage that eventually made the symbol of the Okinawa flag. The three tears on the flag (each swirling toward each other) are symbols of “death before dishonor.”

The story goes that three envoys went to the king to plead for the people who did not have enough rice to feed themselves, due to a drought, let alone pay the taxes owed. The king was upset as not only did they not bring the rice, but they had the courage to still come and ask him to excuse their debt.

The king ordered his samurai to kill the messengers, but they were skilled in karate and easily defend against the attack of the guards in the room. The king had other samurai come in to assist in their capture, and the numbers eventually proved too much. The king ordered the immediate execution of the three envoys by having them thrown into a huge caldron of boiling water. When they screamed out, the envoys were pleading not for their own lives but for the lives of the people. Hearing their screams for the king to save the people even as they were boiling to death moved the king to open his mind to the suffering of the people.

When he finally realized the extent of the of their plight, he expressed solidarity to those people and not only accepted their excuses for not paying tribute but had his men carry a cargo of rice to them to ease their hunger and suffering. In return for his generosity, he requested that the masters of the art of karate come to teach his men the fighting techniques he had observed that had defeated his warriors. The value and courage of those three warriors initiated a new period of relations between the two kingdoms and eventually led to the cooperation and friendship of both peoples. That took courage.

Do you have enough courage to come to class this week? We will be there encouraging you, and we hope you too bring a notebook. See you at the dojo soon.

You Need A Flexible Mindset

We sometimes have a fixed mindset versus a flexible mindset. What this means at the dojo is:

  • We are open to beginning every new task as a white belt devoid of knowledge (a flexible mindset) or
  • We are caught in our thoughts that talent is the only deciding factor and we have a limit on what we can learn (fixed mindset).

Karate is a journey leading toward a destination of mastery of a technique or a belt or even a rank after obtaining black belt. The question today is “Are you getting the correct encouragement for your karate flexible mindset?” I know that I receive the proper encouragement from my sensei on continued growth in the art of karate. I hope to always provide the proper encouragement to others as well.

Flexible Mindset

You need a flexible mindset for weapons

When I first began class as a white belt, our sensei taught us to kick as high as our face. My teenage kids were not as impressed with themselves as I was being over the age of 50! We warmed up, stretched and learned the four basic moves in a kick. Then, with great coaching, by the end of class we were able to kick face high with a front kick. Wow! Have you experienced a great coach or sensei? If so, you know these basic encouragement principles. I am writing them down so I remember to use them the next time I have to teach a class.

In the book Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance by Angela Duckworth, she makes the point that happiness (a positive mental outlook on our part as the student) is a possible cause for success and not just a result of achieving a goal. Of course, reaching a destination does make us happy.  For a foundation as a student, we should look to have a positive mental outlook when we begin our day at the dojo. When we enter the dojo all of our cares and worries are left outside of the door like our shoes. We could first put on a smile and relax and enjoy the time learning karate.

Here are some ways we can promote the flexible mindset taken from the book Grit (page 182)

  • “You’re a learner! I love that.” The emphasis is on the skill of learning new ideas and getting the student to look for future flexible mindset opportunities to show off that he is a learner.
  • “Great job! What’s one thing that could have been even better?” The emphasis is on continual improvement and increased flexibility. In art we always have room for improvement. Karate is a martial art, and our next punch or kick may not be as good as the prior one if we do not look for the improvements.
  • “I have high standards. I’m holding you to them because I know we can reach them together.”

The focus is not on the missed technique but on improving weaknesses in the student. I have heard this many times on the dojo floor.

  • We can learn to kick face high, and I am holding every white belt student to that high standard for their front kick.
  • Because of positive coaching, we did reach that goal and many others.
  • I had never, up to that point, thought of myself as a kicker. I do now, thanks to the coaching from our sensei in white belt class.

Our recommendation is to have the flexible mindset.

  • I know that in learning that next kata I am always a beginner and will have some difficulty with the new sequence.
  • Keeping at karate, we have a bigger reference library of kicks and punches. So, some parts of a new kata will be easy and some will be difficult. This is especially true when a move is completely new.
  • In a fight, if we are fixed on how we fight we will generally lose the round or match as fighting requires a flexible mindset.

Our challenge to you is to enter the dojo floor with a flexible mindset. Also, find someone this week and give them encouragement to keep going by using some of the phrases above. Try to maintain that flexible mindset with yourself and with others.

See you in the dojo soon!

Your Journey Needs These 3 Steps

A journey without a destination is pointless. Why begin? If you can cruise down the interstate at 70 MPH and are going west when your destination is east, it is efficient (look at how quick we are traveling!) and not effective. We all know the difference between efficient, done quickly, and effective, done well. How often do we apply that to our karate? Last week we discussed journey and destinations; take a look and think about your personal enjoyment.

In practicing kata recently, I forgot the opening sequence to one of my new katas. I was not at home and did not have my notes or any recording of the sequence. I could still run the second half of the kata, I just could not remember how I got there. So, I ran the second half a few times and moved onto the next kata. Later that day I did recall, thankfully, the beginning sequence. Of course I had to drop what I was doing to run the entire sequence, and then write it down. This was not efficient; it was effective for me and I now know that kata better as a result.

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Three steps

1: Effective journeys require a clear destination.

  • Without a destination, any journey will do.
  • If we do not have a reason to do something, we will not improve or we may just abandon the journey all together.
  • When we succeed at arriving at our destination (or achieving a goal), it is generally because we have a focus on only one destination.
    • When the car is going down the highway can you travel both east and west?
    • Therefore, the effective journey flows toward one clear destination.
  • We are in favor of trying new things, like taking up karate.
    • Initially we may start with a friend or just because.
    • We agree that it is a great destination. Do you have other destinations that you can think of along the way?

2: Effective journeys require a time element or a “when” statement. Eventually, if we are to have a successful karate career, we will need some time pressure to reach our destination.

  • For many, the destination is black belt.
  • This destination, paired with a when statement, will improve the focus along with the enjoyment of the journey.
  • It could be “in 5 years, I will have successfully passed the black belt test.” That statement is measureable and will lead to action on your part. Do you have an actionable “when” in your destination?

3: Effective journeys require execution on a plan.

  • Knowledge of kata or karate is useless if we are not growing and translating these activities into deeds. But before springing into action, the effective martial artist needs to plan his course. I am not talking about getting into random fights…We are looking for a growth in the sport plan.
  • We are likely to have side journeys on the way to the main destination as we get interested in the main topic. These are great and we need them, as long as we look back at our destination and “when” statement and ensure it is getting us in the right direction, to our destination.
  • We all need to think about desired results (learn a kata), future revisions (class and lessons with Sensei), check-in points (belt tests along the way to black belt), and implications for how we will practice on the journey.
  • The action plan is a statement of intentions rather than a commitment. It must not become a straitjacket. It should be revised often, because every success creates new opportunities. So does every failure.

Please let us know how your journey is going and where you are on that journey. I am happy to have passed the second degree black belt test and am now working with Sensei Mae on that same goal. See you in the dojo soon!

You can follow Sensei Mae  @letstalkkarate on Twitter.

 

 

 

Destination or Journey?

We just returned from Boston and had a great time. We did not go to see the city; although it is very nice…we went to see people as a part of our journey. While the destination let us know that we had arrived, it was the journey visiting with friends along the way that made the visit special.

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Need a bo staff –Lowell MA

I am amazed at movies like Rocky where they show a person who is new, or lacking the training to take on the champ, and then they get into a practice routine, focus on only one thing and the journey that takes months or years is condensed into a scene that takes about 3 minutes. I appreciate the hard work that it takes to become a champion and of course the championship fight in Rocky is fun to watch. A movie, like Rocky, focuses on the championship fight to ensure we will watch the movie. The destination is the title fight. We breeze through the training journey on the way to the fight and walk away with the impression that in 3 or so minutes, or possibly days, we, too, could take on the heavy weight boxing champion.

You likely know all about the Boston tea party. A few men dressed up and protested a tea tax by dumping sea into Boston Harbor. Over 100 participated in dumping tea after a meeting with over 5,000 who met to protest the tax on the tea. We remember the destination, the party, and not the journey.

  • As a part of the journey, the almost bankrupt tea company owned by the British government needed some help against smugglers who were undercutting the monopoly tea price.
  • I have no sympathy for the tea company, and my ancestors may have been among the 5,000 who met to protest as they served in the war that followed.
  • Each action along the journey, some mentioned here, takes us to the tea party destination.
  • If we just look at the tea party heroes who began to fan the flames of revolutionary fervor, we start to see the journey and not just the destination. The destination makes for a good story, the journey engages us daily.

Are you ready to take a journey for your karate?

Journey or destination

Ready for a karate Journey–my bag is packed!

We discussed Rocky and the Tea Party as both destinations and events. While the fight in Rocky (one) was great, Rocky did not win the fight, nor was the Revolutionary War decided by the tea party. They were a part of the journey. This is the same kind of thought process we need to have in order to fulfill the goals we have as we train. The journey can be fun and full of adventure, sometimes more so than the destination.

When I first saw Rocky, I saw an overnight success. He was a top fighter on the way to success, assisted by the champion.

  • Sometimes, we only notice Rocky because he participated in a destination event—the championship fight.
  • We do see the training in the movie where he runs by several who do not know him and we experience the days when inevitably he does not want to train.
  • The great part of the Rocky story that we often overlook is the one of the Coach or Sensei who trains Rocky for the championship fight.

 

No matter what we are about in our training journey, it always appears to me that our Sensei has already been down the road we are on. He reached the destination and is reaching back to us to help us train and practice to get to the same spot. This is why we should seek out the great masters and ask them to train us on our journey. Who knows, we may even find a different destination than the one we set out to tackle when we began as white belts.

Mastery requires us to focus on where we are going on our journey and pay attention to the details. We are unlikely to be a professional fighter or be the one to fan the flames to a revolution. The journey to mastery of technique in either tea parties or karate does not take us along the same paths and we should end up in different destinations.

How about you, are you only thinking about the destination and not the journey? Our journey to Boston was a lot of fun and we enjoyed the time in Massachusetts. Keep going on the journey. See you at the dojo soon.

You Need Grit

I am enjoying the book Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance by Angela Duckworth. She makes the case for grit as the determining factor in success in several areas. I believe her book applies to karate and life at the dojo as well. In the second chapter the author addresses one of my misconceptions in a chapter called “distracted by talent.” Have you ever been lured into thinking someone had “talent” and that was the only reason they were good? And I am sure, like me, you went on to say, I do not have the talent, therefore, I will never be that good.

As we progressed in karate we learned that talent is not a defining differentiator between who becomes a black belt, or even a yellow belt (the next step up in rank from white belt in our dojo) for that matter. It is something more.

  • None of us joined karate only to have the dojo stand back and say, “Where have you been? You have talent.”
  • I initially looked to talent as the easiest explanation for someone’s good performance.
  • Now that I am practiced I know that it is not just the effort or practice that produces a black belt candidate.
  • We have shared a few times that success was not talent on my part, rather, it was that intangible desire to see myself completing the course I began when my son asked me to join him in karate.
  • When I was a white belt, I looked at people who were black belts (now, like me and Sensei Mae) and thought that they are good. They have talent. I hope I have enough talent to get to their level.
  • I may have some talent, but after reading this book I likely have only grit and some practice time.

GritOur sensei says that obtaining a yellow belt in our dojo is much harder than obtaining a black belt. What he means is that coming to the second

 

class is often an act of courage. Working on a new process, such as karate, later in life was initially hard for me as the movements were so foreign to my daily movements. I likely made it to black belt as a result of grit or determination to succeed as my goal was firmly set on that accomplishment. I even participated in several sparring rounds to get better as part of the test is fighting.

This drive to succeed applies to everything we do.

  • In Grit, chapter three is titled “effort counts twice.” The author demonstrates that talent does not equal improvement. She indicates that the end result is not extraordinary but is the accumulation of actions performed consistently and correctly.
  • So, in karate, when we become a black belt, it is a result of the small accumulated actions we practice and perform daily or weekly.
  • In our dojo, we have a rigorous test for black belt. It is only available after you pass through several belts and have the accumulation of effort that it takes to pass those belts as well.
  • We count execution on the test, not effort. However, it is the effort prior to the test, the years of training, that count on the black belt test and all others.

The talented do not always learn the lessons like I have. I had to ask a lot of questions and be shown techniques several times. Other, who were “naturals,” did not get the same repetition or understanding and did not have the same depth of knowledge. In her book, Duckworth announces a theory to explain the process. I liked the theory: “Talent x effort = skill. Skill x effort = achievement.”

Coming to the dojo a second time requires grit. It is when you do not show back up that your skills stop improving and we stop producing anything with the skills we have learned up to that point. It is the consistency of the effort that counts. I was the only one of four second degree candidates who saw the program straight through. My consistency of effort made the learning of the material simpler. The other three had stopped the training at various times after becoming a black belt and as a result worked harder to re-learn the skills that my consistent effort already knew. It was about the only thing in my favor on the day of the test.

How about it, do you have grit? Are you determined to see your goals through to the end? See you in class soon.

You can follow Sensei Mae  @letstalkkarate on Twitter.