Can You Really Do That Thing You’re Scared Of?

Like me, any other perfectly normal person feels weak and powerless when we are in new situations. When I joined karate, I knew I had seen martial arts movies and well, how hard could it be to become the next Bruce Lee?

Mark Twain said “Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear, not absence of fear.” So we can thank Mark Twain for allowing us to remain with fear and still overcome that fear. I am not suggesting that we are doing anything heroic. Just that when we overcome fear or something that scares us we are exhibiting courage.

Extinct

I am getting older. This is a birthday card I received. Aging requires courage.

When I am looking to prepare myself to do something that scares me, I work at thinking back to things I’ve already done that took guts like fighting another adult for an AAU karate medal, stepping in the ring twice on my black belt test fighting two black belts at the same time. If could be easier items such as moving to a new city or a new house. Whatever the case is for me, it will be different for you. What is it that has you scared?

 

Most people are flexible and adaptable much more so than they may give themselves credit for.  To prepare yourself when you are scared, I will ask you to think of times when you exhibit flexibility. Do you speak to your sensei the same way you do your friends or others at the dojo? Do your interactions with your in-laws take the same form as those with your friends from school? Probably not. That means you can adapt to new situations and overcome your fear with a variety of people. This does not mean you can fly or have super human strength or stop bullets. That is Superman and we are not Superman. Also, we are not advocating or encouraging reckless or dangerous tasks.

Strech

Class participation = courage and overcoming fears to get on the floor with a black belt!

In karate, if we focus on the skills and strengths we already have, it can give us the courage to do new things.  Just stepping onto the dojo floor is a testimony to your courage. As we grow older and become smarter, we develop knowledge and “expertise” that can serve us well as well as cause our minds to become closed to new ideas and information. Karate is a new input and one that I did not take up until I was over 50. I had a lot to learn and more to un-learn prior to moving up in the ranks.

As a self-professed expert, the fear I had was couched in “I do not need to learn karate.” My son was taking karate and loving the time spent. When he asked me to join, my only response was yes. I know that much. I needed to unlearn more than I initially learned. I was afraid and still have fear in certain moves and being in a fight. I need to pay attention to the fear and have the courage to overcome it, and even on the second degree test I can tell you it never goes away.

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We did it! A courageous group!

Nike would say, “Just do it.” And we know it is not that simple. Here are a few thoughts to help us on our journey.

  1. We are not as smart as we think we are. We all have fear and it is hard to get in the ring. Courage is not for the weak. We need to realize that others know more than we do, and we should be always open to the teaching.
  2. Asking questions and listening is a good way to discover what is going on. When we speak up in class that this or that is how it is done, we would be good to say “tell me more about…” I have described techniques incorrectly, I am human. When we ask questions and listen for the answer, we often learn and grow.
  3. We should observe the process and imitate the Sensei. When we learn we are over 80% visual. When our youngest white belts learn, they watch much more than they listen. We should be no different as we strive to improve ourselves.

How about it then? Are you ready to face your fears and join me in the next class? Yes, I will have fear as well. I am looking to you for courage as well as within myself. Let’s become the master of fear and not allow it to master us.

See you in class soon.

 

 

 

Small Steps = Big Improvements

Our family is moving to a new house soon. We are downsizing. Not to worry, we are still near the dojo.  We are losing some of our at home training space and gaining a right sized house for us. One of the first things I did prior to putting an offer on the house was to run our white belt kata in the finished basement. Our rule of thumb is that if we have enough room for that kata, we have enough room for all of the others and can move into the house. Do you have a similar measurement or wish you did prior to moving?

Kata in a new house

Practicing kata while house hunting. This one fits!

As we are getting ready to leave our current house, we are taking a critical look at what we possess and asking if it comes to the new house.  We have looked and included some items as transitional, meaning they are coming until we purchase a replacement. Other items are being restored. My grandfather was a carpenter and put together a night stand for me when I was a child. That one is being restored and coming to the new home. Other pieces are being sold on Craig’s list or eBay.

As you look at your kata, does it need the same critical eye applied? In studying for my second degree black belt test, I found that the kata sometimes spoke to me and some of the technique I thought I knew needed abandoning and other techniques needed restoration to their correct form. Of course it was a constant question at the dojo the week prior to the test…”Where is the kiai in this kata and tell me again how does that move go?”

The week prior to the test, our Sensei was focused on our technique. In performing an opening move for one of our advanced katas, our Sensei took 10 minutes to explain the first several moves. We had looked at them as the opening sequence and it turned out that there was more to the story. When we went to the test, I participated in a bunki exhibition with another candidate on the same opening moves and he had yet another interpretation of the same sequence. Wow, that was fun and opened us up to a better kata performance during our test.

A simple word of caution, please do not plan on completely gutting and renovating from scratch your kata. It will become overwhelming.  The world has so many options; limit yourself to a one or two so you can make improvements.  When it all feels overwhelming, and it will, stop and just make little choices (see the blog post testing today? and chunking) because one by one added up they will give you a completed and updated kata.

A good sensei will work with you on the frequent, small do-able steps so you not get overwhelmed with the task itself. I am glad my Sensei did not tell me everything to improve, as I would become overwhelmed. Instead, he focused on one or two points to create or restore me back to a great kata.

Our sensei coaching model says that in the beginning, we break down tasks into small improvements. All of the improvements at once, as I just noted, is overwhelming. A coaching session prior to the testing should occur a few months in advance and be followed up with other senseis or the same one in a few weeks so the refinements continue and the practice is sharpened.

Every day we are all “renovating kata,” whether that is in the form or learning a new skill or accomplishing our entire kicking task. We are constantly doing things that can overwhelm us if we let them. If you meet me in the next few months and I look a bit frazzled, it won’t be because I am doing small incremental tasks, it’s going to be because I am trying to renovate an entire kata. I will come back to the advice I’ve received about breaking my kata down, time and time again, it’s what will keep me sane. If you’d like to learn more about preparing for your next test and getting recommendations about breaking down tasks for your kata, we’d be happy to help you at a private session. Ask us after class. We are happy to assist.

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Sensei Glen after passing the second degree test.

Just a note to congratulate Josh, Emily and Cathy who, along with me, passed the test for their second degree black belt last Saturday. Well done! Of course, we applied the little bits together and made big improvements in our kata and techniques. 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.

 

 

What Are You Doing to Improve Yourself This Week?

We were challenged this week in class to make ourselves better in the coming week. When I thought about the challenge I asked myself what I would do to become better. More sit-ups, pushups or exercising will sculpt the body. I could join my son and lift some weights—no, that was not for me. My thought was to improve my self-defense.

Often on walks I have to remind myself to have good posture. I do sit at a desk all day (just as I am now…) typing. When we are all slouched over with poor posture we look like a victim to others. When we stand like a tall tree, as our head Sensei would say, with good posture we project confidence. So, practicing good posture is self-defense training.

 

Quiet Place--see the tall trees?

See all the tall trees?

In response to the challenge, I am going to try to walk a little more and of course practice my self-defense while walking by standing as much as possible like a tall tree.

  • If you are not exercising much now, walking is the simplest form of exercise that almost everyone can do.
  • The great thing about my walk at the office is that is a free activity.
  • It does help me maintain a healthy weight.
  • Walking is great for your heart. It enhances your circulation, helping to lower blood pressure. Studies have shown that walking briskly for just 30 minutes a day is enough to improve heart health.
  • The moderate, low-impact nature of walking is enough to lower pain and improve function for most. (Just be sure to consult your doctor before beginning any exercise program.)

It is spring in Northern Kentucky where I live. It has been wonderful, in between the rain, to take walks during the day to enjoy nature. On the walks while at the office, I have looked for a place of solitude to work on my self-defense. I have discovered a few places where I can go. I have also noticed that just walking there puts me in a good frame of mind.

While walking on the way to my “quiet” place I start to relax, smile and begin imagining the self-defense moves in my head. Yes, I am fortunate to have a place near the office that is well maintained and nice.

 

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Quiet place for Self-Defense

We never know who is around the next corner, so I also try to imagine walking along and being attacked and what my reaction would be. What better way to get into the frame of reference for self-defense?

Our Sensei tells us that we can work on self-defense when we are alone. I was telling the white belts today that our family would go through the moves together. Of course in the busy days of getting ready for the black belt test, we could not always find a time together with a partner so we would practice alone. I would wake up and go through the moves and then move on to other activities. Practicing with others is much better. My wife and son were practicing with me for the same test. I did find that the solo time cemented my learning and allowed for faster recall when we practiced together, and I believe the benefit of practicing together and alone made it easier on the test.

Have you ever looked in the mirror and performed your self-defense techniques? I know I did that too during the “drive” to black belt. It was great to see if my arm was straight or bent in various moves. And yes, it was not always where it should have been. I remember practicing with Sensei Mark P. on the beginning moves for our self-defense and him telling me to keep my arms straight.

What are a few ways you can carve, sculpt and mold a better you in the coming week? Are you able to keep your technique fresh and alive by finding a quiet space away from the busy day to spend 5 minutes going back over the techniques that may save your life? How about we all go for a brisk 30 minute walk and practice standing like a tall tree?

Even the dojo can be a quiet place

Even the dojo can be a quiet place

Remember, at the end of the day even the dojo can be a quiet place for reflection. You are looking good! See you in class soon. Please join me in standing like a tall tree.

Sensi Mae Posture

Sensei Mae has good posture!

What is Your Favorite Strike?

Today we did open hand strikes in class. Sensei Mae and I probably enjoy a good back fist more than any other strike. It was great that we got in several back fists today and kept alive the streak of participating in the 10 strikes a day challenge. We were practicing referencing and moving up and down the dojo floor with the back fist.

Sensei Mae Backfist Prep

Sensei Mae getting ready for her favorite strike

Of course the reason to have a favorite strike or strikes is to use it in self-defense or fighting. I have worked on a two strikes and one kick combination for sparring so I would always have a “go to” move. Like our self-defense on the tests at our dojo, this repetition allowed us to relax more in a fight. When I am more relaxed in a fight (which is not too often) I fight better. Having a favorite strike or two really is a benefit to my martial arts career.

Sensei Mae Backfist

Sensei Mae lands a back fist on the bag as part of the 10 strike challenge.

Today we did open hand strikes including ridge hand and shuto. Our sensei reminded us that the open hand strikes were the most dangerous. We used Muay Thai pads in class today as a part of the drills. Ridge hand is very dynamic and we enjoyed using the pads. We always learn how to block a strike when holding the pad for our partner in the drill. It was a great lesson in the techniques we practiced today.

We were reminded that in a fight, the open hand strikes may be deadly, so please be careful when practicing on your friends. A good pad holder for the drill makes the drill a success. After several rounds of ridge hand and shuto, we performed them in combination. Our sensei shared with us that we could first break the opponent’s weapon, like their arm…and then attack the body. The combination techniques were fun to execute with our partners.

How are you doing on the 10 strikes a day challenge? In last week’s post we were challenged to get back to the roots of karate. I have met my daily quota for striking; it was easy to make 10 once I was at the bag, so I added more strikes than the challenge called for each day. Karate is fun! It is great to go home after work and in a safe place be challenged to hit things.

In my week with the challenge I have begun to notice that my kata is getting better when I need to throw a punch. This may have been what sensei had in mind when he issued the challenge. Of course our strikes in kata are not on the bag as the challenge has us practice. I can see the benefit for my kata in the challenge by concentrating on my strikes. How about your kata practice? Did it benefit from the challenge?

In class today I was instructed, I instructed others and I watched others perform. At the class prior to the adult class, several of our kids were performing a complicated bo kata with varying levels of proficiency. It is so great to see the kids’ progress and learn almost in front of us as the class progresses. I look at them and know that I look like the class participants in learning my most recent kata. We all go through this process of learning a new skill.

Hope you had a good class. I know that I enjoyed the class today. Please let us know your favorite strike in the comment section. I wanted to say hi to our Sensei Mark P who is with the Army stationed in Germany. I know he has a favorite strike. How about you?

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!

Are You Pursuing Mastery?

Are you taking karate to learn a few tricks or are you out to master a skill or technique that will save your life? I recently finished reading Daniel Pink’s book Drive, and he challenged me to think about my karate. Am I pursuing mastery?  And if so, what should I be doing to achieve that goal? And, what does it mean to become a master at anything?

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Am I pursuing mastery? And if so, what should I be doing to achieve that goal?

To answer the question what is a master, the dictionary has multiple definitions of master for us to ponder.  If you click the link above, one of the definitions in the dictionary is “an artist, performer, or player of consummate skill.” This is the definition that I believe Daniel Pink is discussing in his book.  As a martial artist, I would like to have that consummate skill.

Okay Sensei Glen, so I want to master the back fist. What are the steps to achieve mastery and how will I know when I have arrived?

Great questions. As a practicing martial artist, I have learned that mastery is not something we ever fully achieve. What I mean is we can learn to spell and add numbers. I have mastered “2 + 2 = 4” and I imagine you have as well. In his book Daniel Pink writes that “Mastery is an asymptote”. He says that we learned the word asymptote in algebra.  While that may be true, I did not readily recall the definition and had to look it up to confirm what he wrote. Here is what I found on the website math is fun: “An asymptote is a line that a curve approaches, as it heads towards infinity.”

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An asymptote is a line that a curve approaches, as it heads towards infinity.

So, if you are still following along, we are pursuing becoming a master in karate.   It always eludes our grasp as we get closer and never quite reach the line of mastery. In a prior blog post I wrote that you are not art. As we think about our last roundhouse kick in our last fight we cannot duplicate that like we can “2+2 = 4” and have the same result, even with the same opponent at the same dojo. That is what we mean by pursing becoming a master. We get close to the point of perfection and never attain that point of perfection.

Does this mean we should not practice? Of course not! When we practice we should be deliberate in our practice toward mastering our technique. We discussed practicing in depth in prior posts learn, practice, and apply and then how do you learn that new skill?

This week our focus on practice moves to mastery. We have discussed learning the back fist, applying and using it in a fight or drill. The main focus today is deliberate practice. Our practice works best when we are challenged to learn a technique that is matched with our abilities. Daniel Pink refers to this as “flow”; it works well. He indicates that when we are in flow, we are so in the moment we can lose track of time. That is one stop on the journey to mastery.

The second area from the book Drive in the discussion of mastery is the concept of hard work or grit. He tells the story of what separated the students that finish the first year at West Point from those who dropped out. It was not academics or physical abilities, it was grit. Daniel Pink defined grit as “perseverance and passion for long term goals.” The determination to see the task through to the end, like moving from white belt to black, requires grit.

The final area from Drive for mastery is the concept of a growth mindset. At the dojo, we believe that you can learn new techniques and memorize forms. We do not just take students who show an aptitude for karate. We do not require our white belts to pass a coordination test. We have the mindset that the abilities can be learned and the skill level improved through the concepts on practice we have discussed.

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Our practice works best when we are challenged to learn a technique that is matched with our abilities.

The Harvard Business Review published this in July, 2007 from the article The Making of an Expert by K. Anders Ericsson, Michael J. Prietula, and Edward T. Cokely: “When most people practice, they focus on the things they already know how to do. Deliberate practice is different. It entails considerable, specific, and sustained efforts to do something you can’t do well—or even at all. Research across domains shows that it is only by working at what you can’t do that you turn into the expert you want to become.”

Did you catch that? Deliberate practice works on the uncomfortable aspects. The article goes on to explain how when you learn to play golf, you improve a lot. Once you learn the game, just playing the same course does nothing to improve your golf game as you are at the same skill level. No growth is happening.

The article related this story of Ben Hogan, a golf master who worked to improve his shots and his powers of concentration. He sounds like he could have been a karate sensei. The authors make the point our Sensei makes about practicing. Physical practice is just one aspect. We also need the mental practice that comes with concentration.  And of course this article articulates that it takes time. The authors pick the 10,000 hours in ten years with intense training to become an international champion.

Just showing up for class for ten years and not deliberately practicing will not get you on the path to master. It is the deliberate practice that sets apart the individual on the path to mastery. The Harvard article ends with a nod to our culture in thinking about genius. Many know some of the story of the talented Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. What we forget was his teaching (learn, practice and apply) began before the age of 4 from his father who was a composer and music teacher. Mozart had deliberate, supervised practice.

I am looking now to pursue mastery in my practice. I know our students look to the senseis as masters of technique. How about you? Are you on the road to mastery?

See you in class soon.