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.

Beach Time Improves Your Kata

Our karate and kata style comes from Okinawa. The Okinawa main island has over 100 beaches. Karate started with the notion that defenders needed a solid footing to repel invaders. If you lived on an island, you would have plenty of beaches and need to learn how to defend in the sand.

We just came back from our travels out to San Francisco. Even though we may not generally associate the beach with San Francisco they do have a few. Practicing kata on the beach while on vacation is always a joy. We do get a few looks and people tend to move away from your area. In San Francisco where it was likely in the mid 60’s while we were at the beach, not too many were just lying down and sunning themselves.

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Kata on the beach!

The sand and water offer their own unique challenges.

  • The fresh air and bird songs are good for your emotional well-being.
  • Sand is constantly shifting and changing, demanding various muscles in the body to come into play that might not normally engage on a dojo floor workout.
  • The sand is on different levels, and you have to adjust to that difference, which brings a new element to our kata and really checks the balance.
  • Jumping is much easier on our joints in the sand.
  • I loved the spray of sand when I kicked as it kept my focus on good technique.
  • The water was cold and kept filling in my marks.
  • Grounding is a theory that electrical energy from the earth can be absorbed through your feet when you walk barefoot leading to multiple health benefits. We have between 3,000–7,000 nerve endings in each of our feet so let them loose every now and then.

One big visible benefit of the beach is that the sand leaves a pattern of our kata for us to review. We reference our feet when performing kata. The sand impressions let us know how well we are doing. In wet sand you need a little more pressure to leave your mark and in the dry sand, with no wind, you can easily see the referencing.

Our challenge this week is to take some time off and find a local beach, any sand will do for the sensation. Practice your kata on the sand and find what else your kata can teach you while you are enjoying a relaxing time on the sand. I know that my practice session on the beach helped me with my kata.

Going to the beach this summer? Please let us know in the comment section below. See you in class soon.

 

How Taking a Day Off Will Improve Your Karate

I can just hear it now. “Sensei Glen, it is so enjoyable for me to go to class each and every day and I just have to keep active and cannot miss a day of working out.” I have said the same to my teacher as well. Connecting with my karate family at the dojo gives me a place to talk to like-minded people and does help me deal with daily stress. I am always making new friends at the dojo. Yes, I encourage you to come often to the dojo. The main point is to take the time needed to build stamina for classes at your belt level.

Glen Last Day at Fido

The picture in today’s blog is of me on one of my last days in the office as I have retired from corporate life. I did not go into work every day and I am sure you took vacation as well from your job or school. The goals of these vacations are to relax, reconnect, and rejuvenate ourselves so we can come back to our jobs and continue to be productive.

  • Part of our karate training is a continuous build up to black belt and once at the black belt level to continue to improve through consistent training.
  • Beginners and exercise enthusiasts (could be me) sometimes forget that our bodies naturally need rest and recovery.
  • A consistent pattern of training will push you to your goals with proper resting in-between. If you are planning on taking off one or two days from training per week, the results will be good. If you train for a month non-stop, as I have, and then stop for a month, the re-start is harder on your body than the consistency of the training.

Sensei Glen, how do we reconcile a day off with Funakoshi Precept #11: “Karate is like boiling water, if you do not heat it constantly, it will cool.” Here is how, we do need a day off once in a while. We are still committing to consistently training. The benefits from that training require 1-2 days off per week to keep improving.

In my training plan, we look to a few fundamental principles to keep us at our best. Here are the top three reasons to take a day off from training.

  1. Rest between practices is a key to growth in strength training. We need to listen to our bodies when we exercise.
    • Karate can place relatively high stress on the body. Think back to our last kick class. We could go up and back on the floor and not stop the activity. We are better off walking back to the starting position and having a moment of recovery and to bring our heart rate back down.
    • The same principle of an interval between activities applies to our overall active schedule.
    • For our children at the dojo who are still growing and developing, too much of anything, even karate, is likely to result in injury, burnout, or poor performance.
    • We need to take a day of rest. In the Bible, Genesis 2:2 says that God rested on the seventh day.
    • Failing to rest at regular intervals, I need to force myself to take the weekly 1-2 days off from working out, which can mean all the benefits I am hoping to achieve from my hard work is counterproductive without the day off. I have seen it in myself that my performance actually decreased when I do not take a day to recover.
    • Just prior to the black belt test, I had a slightly pulled calf muscle. Nothing was going to stop me from testing. I did have to take a few days off from training and had to re-think how to train. I ended up in a pool practicing no impact kicking and katas. My kicking and kata looked better on the test due to the rest and alternate training then they would have if I had just followed through on the initial, non-stop training plan.
  2. The proper amount of rest or sleep is critical; this is the rejuvenation process
  3. Coming to class on a regular basis allows us to reconnect with our fellow martial artists and create the family of support many of us are looking for to keep us sharp.

As some of you know, our blog is designed to improve the lives of those who come to the blog using lessons learned from the dojo. I was recently teaching an adult class with and a new yellow belt asked where the main sensei was.

  • Apparently, we had not met, and our main sensei had never been absent from any of his classes.
  • I introduced myself as this was prior to class and his next question was “So, is class cancelled?” “Of course not” was the answer.
  • As a result of the question, I had the good fortune of meeting a new friend and was able to teach some really good lessons at class.

My challenge for you is to sketch out your week and find the intervals when you are not training. When you adopt this new schedule of less than seven days of training you will find that your performance will actually improve. Put a comment below and let us know your intention as well as how the new training went.

See you in class soon.

How do You Practice?

Several students at the dojo are getting ready to have a belt test. The question being asked is how is your practicing going? Answers vary from “not well” to “I ran my kata 4 times today.” The question I want to ask is how do you practice?

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Sensei Mae Practicing Kata after class at the dojo

I recently heard the story of Ben Hogan and his remarkable career in golf (you can read the story by clicking here). My Dad had Ben Hogan golf clubs and I had no idea who he was until after I heard this story. When you read the story, you learn he was a pro golfer who served in WWII, came back and was at the top of his career. Tragedy struck and his car and a Greyhound bus collided leaving him close to death.  He not only learned to walk again after the accident, he won the triple crown of golf within four years of the accident.

How does this relate to the question of how do you practice? The article from the Ben Hogan museum says, “Hogan was known for his demanding practice regimen.” Of course the movie version of his practice regime was skipped as it is highly repetitive, full of discipline and focused work. That makes me wonder what our legacy of karate will be. Will we be able to say (your name) was known for his or her demanding practice regimen? Or more likely, “they said they wish they had spent more time practicing prior to the test”?

Here is an outside view on practicing from Ernest S. Williams in his preface to The Secret of Technique-Preservation, a book for trumpet players. In that book he wrote:

  • “All practicing should preferably be done when the performer is fresh and alert; but there should not be any ‘let down’ of the daily routine, even if some mental or physical fatigue is felt.”
  • “The first moment of the daily practice period must be devoted to ‘finding the technique anew.’”

To paraphrase Ernest S. Williams, his final advice is to practice when you perform and perform correctly when you practice.  He would have made a good karate sensei.

I am practicing for a test as well. I know that my effort is unlikely to equal Ben Hogan’s or even what it should be. Yes, I am working to pass the test. I practice daily. I have been practicing with intensity for the last month or so. As I have stepped up the intensity, the one thing that has struck me is that the more I practice, the more I discover about my kata and how the kata relates to other aspects of the test and karate. Pass or fail, the practice has been good for me.

I am interested in hearing how you go about practicing. Here is what I have been doing for the last month or so. I have a membership to a local LA Fitness and in the morning I spend quality time on the gym floor with some mirrors and several heavy 110 pound bags running kata.

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Getting ready to practice kata!

Here is my routine:

  • I generally run, warm up the arms and legs similar to our normal class structure, and lightly stretch.
  • I have a favorite blocking drill that I went over with one of the classes today that daily reminds me of how to execute blocks and strikes. I have to discover how to block and punch daily!
  • Then I run the katas needed for the test. I generally pick a different direction after running all of the test katas in succession to run them again.
  • When I make a mistake or need to improve, I stop, rehearse the “broken” section and then re-perform the whole kata.
  • The weapon katas are run using a small stick, a towel or anything else I have at the time. I do not bring my weapons to the gym. When the weather is nice, I do run the weapons outside and indoors I use some of the weapons to ensure my wrists are in the proper shape.
  • At the heavy bags I perform my 100 punches and practice self-defense by hitting the bag at the appropriate time.
  • I vary the speed of the workout from fast to slow to examine how and what I am doing when running kata.

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Getting ready to hit the bags.

Please let us know your routine for practicing when you are getting ready for a test and when you are just working on your karate. Post your comments in the section below.  See you in class soon.

Have You Hit Something This Week?

Baseball season has begun and this is not what our Sensei was on fire about. Karate is the way of the empty hand. This means we are striking, or hitting, or in some way using our hands to defend ourselves and well, I can say, attack others after they attack us. Gichin Funakoshi has on his gravestone this quote, “Karate ni sente nashi” or “There is no first strike (attack) in karate.”

As karate practitioners, we hit things! It is what we do. That was the point Sensei was making for us all in class on Tuesday.  We started with a simple reverse punch and moved to a front punch. We did combination strikes front and reverse punch. It was a lot of fun after a long day of working to punch a bag. We did have a go at my favorite, back fist. It felt good to do back fist drills.

Sensei Glen with a back fist as part of the ten strikes for the day.

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This is the first class this year that I recall us focusing on striking. Our Sensei shared with us that we are a karate dojo and we hit. He then listed some of the other martial arts:

  • Taekwondo emphasis is on kicking
  • Judo is designed to grapple and throw
  • Aikido has an emphasis on throwing
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Sensei Glen hitting the bag. Have you hit yours today?

The point for all us on Tuesday was that we needed to go back to the bag and ensure we were hitting and striking daily. He gave us the 10 hit a day challenge: each day punch a bag or other object ten times with each hand to improve our strikes. I am happy to report that so far I have participated every day and met this challenge.

In studying for our black belt test we had a series of over 100 strikes to perform both standing still and moving. It was a challenge to master all of the different strikes. It is interesting how many of them we use in our various katas. The next point that was made on Tuesday was that our katas all have strikes in them. Not just blocks. We need to work on both. Even with no first strike in karate we need to know how to strike properly.

Have you noticed that katas begin with a block? Take a look at the kata you like the best and let us know if you see that as well. I am sure our Sensei would also like us to make good punches in our kata. Block, punch is a basic winning formula for a good kata. Yes, we have the occasional kick as well. When we teach striking, we use our bodies, not just our fists. Throwing our hips and weight into a punch makes it land better.

At our dojo, we incorporate the best of martial arts into our teaching. We are a karate dojo and we also teach kicking, grappling, throwing and weapons. Our teacher is real. He worked as a bouncer at a bar and tried out the material he teaches us to ensure it worked. Besides the confidence that comes from learning a new technique or drill, we want to ensure that it works. What if, like the Music Man, you used the “think system” to learn any drill. In the movie, the boys to learn to play via the “think system,” in which they simply have to think of a tune over and over and will know how to play it without ever touching their instruments. That is not what I want for me and my family. We want the real deal.

I know that I am practicing my strikes and here is our challenge for all of you. How are you doing on your strikes? Could you make 10 strikes a day for the next ten days beginning the day you read this? Follow us on twitter and you will hear how we are doing #10strikestoday. Put a comment on Facebook or on this blog post. We are interested in how you are doing.

See you in class 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!

Ancient Drills

Do you know any ancient drills? I am surprised that I do know some. Of course I was not aware that I knew any until we were in the middle of a blocking exercise and our Sensei said “you know that this is from an ancient drill…” Of course we did not know. We did appreciate Sensei asking the question.

I am not sure what it is about the thought that the “ancient” practitioners of karate did the same drill we were learning that makes it so thrilling to be associated with that particular drill. The sensation of doing the same exercise that made someone else great was part of the emotion I felt as he said that we were performing an ancient drill.

Our Sensei was able to teach an ancient blocking exercise that brought home the circular movement of good blocks and the truth behind all blocking. Here it is: properly performed, all blocks are shedding blocks. Of course we do not mean shedding like a Golden Retriever! We know that when someone is holding onto us a big part of defending ourselves is to shed the hold.

Our dojo knows self-defense and we have numbers associated with each of our various self-defense techniques to ensure we pass along our knowledge in a systematic way of learning. We had already learned how to block and perform self-defense moves. Included in these lessons was the shedding of holds, especially in number 3. This ancient drill teaching put a cap on the knowledge about blocking and self-defense for me and several others who were with me in class that day.

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Sensei Mae and Sensei Glen performing the ancient drill

Thinking back on my karate journey I know I have learned other ancient drills. How is it we have modern material or why not just learn the ancient ones? How have modern drills improved the ancient drills? Due to the infrequency of “ancient” drills being taught, are we right in assuming that karate is a modern art? Our Sensei says that all knowledge is open for discovery. He has learned, through practice, effective methods of teaching and essential truths behind moves. When our system was formed, he took the best of what worked and taught us that material. If it was ancient and did not work, we did not learn it at the dojo. Of course, ancient drills that work are an essential part of our curriculum.

Being a researcher, I looked up ancient in the dictionary (having been in existence for a very long time).  I found that we could argue that karate is “modern” or we can say a long time is 100 years making it ancient.  We live today in a modern world and we are learning a traditional martial art. I like the tradition in its best form.

Much of karate is shrouded in ancient mystery being practiced in secret societies or by the very wealthy. I had never given it too much thought. Of course it was the wealthy who studied karate, because who else in ancient times could hire a private teacher or even write it down.  Karate is said to have originated in some form prior to 1,000 AD. My experience comes from Funakoshi (the father of “modern” karate) through my Sensei in the last several years as I journeyed to black belt.

The point of our ancient drill is conditioning for our arms. The “ancients” were likely well off and required toughing up to succeed in the martial arts. The ancient drill we learned fit perfectly into Middle America where we are not working the land with our hands to earn a living or hitting a blacksmith’s hammer to fashion metal. Like the ancients, we also need to toughen up our bodies.

So, what is an “ancient drill?” One explanation is: if we can imagine Funakoshi taught the drill as an “ancient drill” or one pre-dating him and likely with no known school or author, then that would appear to qualify the drill as an ancient drill. Please leave me a comment below with your thoughts on what qualifies as an ancient drill.

Are you excited like I am to learn an ancient drill or exercise? Let us know in the comments below. I think that it does not make a difference how ancient is ancient to a newer student of the martial arts. It does influence how it makes me feel when our Sensei says we are performing an ancient drill.

It has always been exciting for me to imagine myself doing the same drill that the “ancient” practitioners of karate performed. Sensei Mae and I will continue to work on our conditioning and we are looking forward to the next ancient drill being taught.

What ancient drill or exercise are you practicing? Leave us a comment below. See you in class soon.