5 Annoying Habits Which Will Ruin Your Black Belt Test

This guidance came out of a conversation on how the candidates for the black belt test today were preparing for their test.  It started with one annoying thing that candidates do, and quickly grew. The sad thing is that most candidates don’t even realize that they’re engaging in these behaviors or that they are so damaging.

IMG_1724 (2)

Are you ready for the test?

  1. Someone else wants the belt more than you. You have to want the belt enough to earn it. A lack of desire by the candidate will show up on the test. Your sensei and your parents will not be taking the test, you will. This is a classic case of desire. Our dojo promotes the students who pass the test. The parents do not get a vote.
    • The best students want the black belt so bad that they can taste it. They are practicing and begging their parents for additional training, like they would when they ask for a new puppy at Christmas.
    • For the parents who read this, find out what your child wants and challenge them to achieve their goals. Yes, they should take the test when they are ready. Our youngest son was not convinced a few months prior to the test. It turned out that all of our practice (both parents) got him in such good shape for the test that helping us pass the test pushed him over the top and gave him the confidence and desire to take and pass the test.
    • Lesson: You have to judge your desire. The more you want the black belt, the more you are likely to properly prepare for the test and be motivated to take the test yourself. Of course, having a friend or a training partner will push you toward your goal and help with your own motivation.
  2. Envy of someone else’s demonstrated skill. Thinking that (name of student here) is a natural and I will never be as good as them so I will not try. I have been surprised that some of the best martial artist I know did not pass the black belt test on their first try and some their second. You would not be testing if you were not capable.
    • In sharing with my students last week, we are looking for what they are capable of performing. If you can make the effort and practice consistently, you will likely do well on the test with, of course, proper fundamentals and proper technique. Please, do not give up on the effort required prior to the test unless you are looking to fail the test.
    • Lesson: Practice consistently to improve. Take lessons or seek help; ask for “mini” evaluations after class on areas that you may be unsure about. You are competing against your best self, the dojo standards and not anyone else.
  3. Belief that prior success will carry them through the test. The best score on the black belt test was achieved by a student at our dojo who failed the pre-test and took more than six months to come back and prepare. Several students have won gold medals at tournaments for kata and fighting and not prepared for the test, only to find out they were not ready and their prior success would not earn the belt.
    • When the pretest came around and I was judged as not prepared, it was a shock that the time in class, and little preparation for the test on my part, would not even pass the pretesting phase of the black belt test.
    • Lesson: You have to bring the black belt skills to the black belt or any other test. We do not give life experience belts at our dojo. You need to put in the practice time and have expert advice in order to succeed.
    1. Glen Sarah and John National Champs!Winning a medal is nice. Preparing for the test counts!

    Approaching the test with fear or lack of confidence. We have seen the candidates who come to the test and go through the motions. Yes, the kata was nice. This is a battle for your belt. I was a little scared to take the test and fearful of my ability to perform for several hours. I trained hard and that training showed during the test. I had a fighting spirit that said to the panel judging me that I was more than ready to be one of them.

    • We are looking for the candidates to demonstrate a warrior spirit. If you cannot defend yourself in the ring during the fighting or throw down the bigger student during the black belt self-defense portion, we will not pass you along. You need a fighting spirit. After the test, we will all go out for dinner and have a great time. During the test it is another story. You have to fight for your black belt.
    • Lesson: We are looking for our black belts to have a warrior spirt. Yes, black belts are nice people who have a warrior spirit. Try not to provoke us to show that spirit when we are in the process of judging your performance.
  4. Lack of respect during the test for the panel. The black belt test, like other athletic events, is a judged event. Failing to show those who are already wearing a black belt the respect and courtesy they deserve is a way to show the panel that you lack a black belt understanding and will therefore need additional training.
    • We do coach the candidates to not talk when others are performing and they are resting. We also consistently coach in class proper dojo etiquette. If you are adjusting your gi or belt without permission or in front of the teacher, that is just bad form, especially during the test. If you show up with a wrinkled, sweaty, smelly gi, we will not feel respected.
    • Lesson: Show respect to the panel. Know your dojo etiquette. For the test, wash your uniform, use deodorant, brush your teeth, and skip the cologne and perfume. You’re going to a martial arts test, not a dance. Show up to your test like it’s a first date with the most important person you will ever date. Look sharp and be sharp.
Blk Belt_00429

More board breaking

These irritations loom large for black belt candidates because we only have the test results to go on when deciding if you have what it takes to be on par with the other black belts. It’s easy to avoid them.

Be prepared in every sense and your test performance will be significantly better.  See you in 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!

Best Time to Practice

Have you ever come back to class a week later and asked your classmate how to do that new skill we all thought was so fun from last week and found out that neither of you knew? How do you best practice a new skill or something you have learned? We are always receiving new material in class; do you have a set time to practice that new thing you just learned?  Today, I will reveal the secret of the best time for practicing.

I try to always attend class on Tuesday. It is where I learn the most new material and have the most entries in my karate notebook. Even though I learn a lot while teaching, I receive new material on Tuesdays.

  • Often on Tuesday when I get home I am able to share with my black belt wife the lessons from the class and go over the basics we learned that evening.
  • On Wednesday, I make a point of going to the gym and practicing the same techniques we learned the evening prior.
  • At that point I can see the gaps in my knowledge that were “cemented” the evening prior.
  • Going home, I check my notes and then at the next class opportunity, ask for clarification on the points that I stumbled over when practicing on Wednesday at the gym.
When to practice

Learn @ class => practice @ class =>make notes =>read and recreate => practice soon

Here is the secret formula for the best time to practice a new skill:

  • Try out the new skill when taught. This is one of the main class activities.
  • Make hand written notes as soon as possible after the teaching and practice.
  • Read the notes and practice prior to leaving the dojo; this is the best time to clarify and cement your understanding. Your classmates may be able to fill in any gaps and your Sensei may be available to assist as well.
  • Here is where the test for understanding comes in—practice at home or the next morning when the information is fresh in your mind.
  • Have an established practice time specifically to review the last class. Scheduling the practice session is just as important as going to class.
    • It needs to fit in with your schedule.
    • You see mine is set already as I am committed to the class and practice schedule.

How well are you retaining your new karate knowledge? Our challenge to you is to record and reflect on the class immediately after the class is concluded. Yes, it is great to talk with your karate family, and this is the perfect topic for the discussion. Please let us know in the comment section below how well you are doing.

The time to record and reflect is an important after class activity. Practicing the new skill will keep your mind on what you just learned. Practicing immediately at home or the next morning will make a difference in how well you retain the knowledge from class to class. See you in class soon.

 

Testing Today?

I recently heard that you have no pressure to perform on the day of the test. Is that your experience? It has not been mine. My test is later today and I am nervous about performing well. So I wanted to write for me and share with all of you on how to become the pressurized kata and self-defense performer you want to become.

Imagine this: you are performing kata in front of the Sensei board and the special guest 9th degree who has flown in for a 5th degree test and is watching and evaluating your test as well. You are performing all the kata that you know and everyone is watching to see if your feet and hand positions are where they should be. They are also watching all of your movements. Any pressure? Yes!!! Of course they are not evaluating me like they just did the 5th degree candidate, are they?

Arbitrator

Representative arbitrators of the test

The test means a lot to me on my karate journey. I have thought that teachers (senseis) should be more than just a first degree black belt. I looked up to Sensei Mark P. and Andy who were both second degrees. My idea of a great sensei is that I should be a second degree to even teach a white belt. Of course that has not stopped me from being a sensei and teaching white through brown belts in our dojo. I have even judged in our state AAU tournament.

I do take comfort in the knowledge that several of our current black belts and high ranking black belts have failed to make the cut on a test and have come back and passed the test. That is not my ideal outcome.

The question is how do I become the pressurized kata and self-defense performer? How do I look the 9th degree, or 8th degree and the others on the panel who have put in more work and time than I have and demonstrate that I am ready? Here is what I did on the black belt test and here is my plan for the second degree test. Pass or fail, I am going to concentrate on the task: each individual move of the kata or the self-defense works.

Back Stance Shuto

Practicing back stance–one move or task at a time

I am going to focus on the task: throwing the punches and kicks as I have practiced. I am not focused on the outcome. I am convinced that by focusing on the task, as I mentioned last week, I will practice and perform in the same way. One step at a time is my focus through the katas until they are done. My judges will go off and decide if I demonstrated enough to pass the test. My focus is on what I can do.

I am not thinking about the outcome, just the task. That is how the pressure is off of me, and I know each and every task in detail. I have been running my kata daily for months, multiple times each day. I just let my muscle memory lead the demonstration of skills. Since I have performed each of the katas and each of the moves within the katas thousands of times, I will perform on the test in the same way. It is just another one of the thousand moves that I have been making for months and in some cases years. The task is easy and routine, and on the test I have very little pressure on a punch or kick. I cannot think about the consequences of making or missing the mark, that is what puts on the pressure. Instead I am focused on the task and each step. Just a simple focus on the task and I am not crippled by the outcome.

It is baseball season, and I read a quotation from hall of fame pitcher Greg Maddux:  “What has benefited me the most is learning I can’t control what happens outside of my pitching.” As I think about how this applies to karate and taking test, I realize that we can only control ourselves. We cannot control what happens after we kick or punch. The judges will judge and we need to do our best. Greg Maddux also challenges all of us to improve our “game” so we can control what we should be able to control, like our kicks and punches.

From the book From the book Crunch Time: How to Be Your Best When It Matters Most by Rick Peterson and Judd Hoekstra:

Everything that happened to the ball after it left his [Greg Maddux] fingers was beyond his control.  The mental discipline of focusing on only what he could control served him well.

The book goes on to share about focus.

An effective strategy for reducing the perceived difficulty and corresponding threat is chunking. Chunking refers to the process of breaking down a seemingly overwhelming goal [like a karate test] into bite sized pieces…by creating a series of simple, short term, bite sized process goals [step by step in the kata!] linked to a larger outcome goal, you recognize success more frequently.

 Keep focusing on the task, one step at a time. Control what you can control and enjoy your next test as it is just one step at a time like your last practice. Please let us know if this message helps you to become the pressurized kata and self-defense performer you want to become in the comment section below.

See you at the dojo soon.

 

 

Getting out of a Slump. Sensei Mae’s Five Steps to Happiness

Hi! How’s your week going?

Sensei Mae here. I want to talk about getting out of a slump.

Even though I love karate, sometimes life just takes me away from the dojo.  And when that happens I fall into a slump.

Come on Sensei Mae. Lets get up and kick

Sensei Mae in a slump!

So now I’m getting out. And here’s how you can too.

1) Do something.  My teacher always says “to do something is better than to do nothing”

So get up and do something. Even if it’s just a few kicks, one kata or a few punches, something is always better than nothing.  So right now as you’re reading this get up and do something. I’ll wait. The more you move the better you will feel.

Lets keep kicking

Sensei Mae loves to kick. Just get up and do one thing!

2) I just did some punches and kicks and I feel better. Don’t you?

Remember why you got into karate in the first place. I got into it for self-defense, so that’s what I’m practicing next.

3) Call your karate buddy. Who do you look forward to seeing at karate? Give them a call. Even if you haven’t trained in years just reach out. Just talking about karate is great.  Talking about the fun you had together can rekindle the love you have for this great art.

4) Everyone gets slump. But not everyone overcomes it. The difference between a white belt and a black belt is that a black belt never gave up.  The Black belt comes to class, respects the teaching and diligently practices.  At my dojo, some black belts take breaks and that’s ok.  They come back refreshed and ready for more.  They are some of the most technically accurate and caring black belts.

5) Set new goals, and have a plan to achieve them. Goals are no good without follow up.   My goal is to test for 2nd degree. So I called my karate buddy and I have a plan of attack.

 

Not time for class to end yet!

What do you mean the dojo is closing? I have more kicking left!

So get out there, practice the art you love.    And then tell me what you did on twitter or Facebook!

Is this your Best?

My dad always said to me, “If a job is worth doing, it is worth doing correctly.” So, you must know that I did not always complete my work well, as I was reminded often of this saying. In the same way, Steve Jobs asked his employees, “Is this your best?” and as a result got better work and ideas from his workers. To keep pushing myself, I am hearing my dad and Steve Jobs asking that question of me. “Hey Sensei Glen, was that your best class or your best kata?”

dont-settle-steve-jobs-quotes

Is this your best?

Are you now asking that question of yourself?  In order to improve and give our best, we first need to know where we are. To be the “best” at anything, we need to know the standard we are comparing. Competitors in the Olympics know that they are the best when they win the gold medal. This is true for us even when gold medals are not given out during a regular class. When we give our best for ourselves, we can answer that question, “Yes, that was my best today.”

Glen Sarah and John National Champs!

Yes, that was my best today. National AAU Champions 2013.

We all come to karate as white belts. I freely admit that I almost always compare myself to others. It is something I do to see how I fit in with the other students. As white belts, we soon find out where we are in the ranks of other belts. I am still amazed at what other people in class have learned to do. They know all the moves in the kata I am struggling to learn.  The benefit for my competitive self is that it made the seemingly impossible task appear possible. In karate it is very rewarding to get our first colored belt. At that point we know where we are in our learning journey. We have white belt as a baseline and we sometimes say, “Well, that is a white belt kick, so I should know that kick.”

So, when we are asked, “Is this your best?” we need to remember our best in context. Our best kata may be our only kata. As a white belt, my best kata was my only kata. I was proud of my ability to perform it and did it well for a white belt. In context, the answer to the question can only be given if we know how you have been trained and then practiced that training.  Our senseis have spent hours teaching us and going over material they have long ago learned.

For some of us, we leave the dojo and move right into other areas and have lost our edge in learning the move we were just taught. We have not learned, practiced and re-learned the kata. We often skip the practice part as we are too busy. We learn and re-learn the kata.

In order to demonstrate that this is our best, we need to have time to practice and polish the rough spots in our kata. When we look at a map and see the “you are here” spot, we know where we are.  In that way we know which way to move to get to our destination. When we practice, I can imagine a “your kata is here” mark, and it is only when we continue to practice that we get to our best. Can we become our best without practice?

I agree that we can become better just by regularly showing up at the dojo and going through the floor drills and exercises. I have seen students and have at times been the student who just showed up. As you already know, with that approach we do get better due to the repetition. And we never really become our best with this approach.

Is there a better way? My thought is yes. The answer to the question, “Is this your best?” may be yes at all levels as the best for a beginner is unsatisfactory for the intermediate level. The better question for us to ask of ourselves is, “Are you satisfied with this being your best?” I believe this is why my dad always said to me, “If a job is worth doing, it is worth doing correctly.” We should still show up and be present even if we have not had time to work on all of our moves. Of course we are looking to set aside time during the week to practice outside of class. How about you? Do you ever ask yourself “?”

Looking forward to seeing you in class soon and hearing you say, “This is my best.”