Are You Ready to Finish Strong?

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.

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All that kicking practice paid off and we finished strong!

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:

  1. 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!
  2. Why don’t I know them?
    • Because I didn’t get a lesson with an expert on what is needed.
  3. Why didn’t I get a lesson?
    • Because I was confident that coming to class regularly was enough to pass the test.
  4. 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.
  5. Why did I have so many things to do?
    • Because I did not systematize my practice schedule into daily actionable tasks.
  6. 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.

Log from BB test

 

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!

Are You Selfish Enough?

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?

Tie On

In order to help others we first need to work on ourselves.

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?

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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!

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.