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!

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.

 

Your 5 Keys to a Good Class

We all have specific interests that led us to sign up for karate lessons. It may have been a cool movie or television show we saw where martial arts were on display.  We know that we have had a good class when we discuss any aspect of it the next day. I know for our family, good classes were discussed at dinner for a week. We walked away from class with new knowledge or an appreciation of a technique from a particular class. That always gets me to thinking, what are the elements of a really good class?

Class Fun

Sensei Glen about to teach a fun striking drill.

My karate journey began when my son asked me to join class. My thought was that when a teenager asks you to join, you join, and my advice is to take them up on the task. Step out of the comfort zone.

  • I grew up watching David Carradine in the TV show Kung Fu. I wanted to practice karate as a kid. Maybe for you it was the karate kid.
  • As a dad, I thought the days of training were long over and I still joined and am so happy that I took the chance on myself.
    • As I get older I have come to realize that no one else thinks about what you do or how you dress. Do not worry about that—I may blog more on that in the future.
    • Do what you think is right.
  • On our journey to black belt we had many favorite classes.
    • Most of these were classes that we were ready for and did not realize we were ready for the learning.
    • We were often pushed out of our comfort zone by a new kata or technique. Looking back, the most difficult kata is always the next one you learn.

Your top 5 keys to a good class:

  1. Take notes–a good class is one you have to record in your notebook.
  2. Be open to learning a new skill or technique. We do not always know when our studies are at the point to learn the next technique. We have to be ready to step out of what we know to grasp new concepts and ideas.
  3. Be prepared to have fun, not joking, just be ready to enjoy the moment and having a smile on your face.
  4. Put your full effort into the class. Why hold back? Class is the time find out how hard you can kick or punch. Who cares about anyone else? Leave your thoughts of the outside world at the door when you bow and enter the dojo.
  5. Pay attention. Watch the sensei and the other students. Model the teacher’s behavior and be respectful.
  6. A bonus point—make coming to class a continuous practice. Not practicing or sharpening the skills will allow the skills you worked hard to perfect to decay and die. A lifetime habit allows you to maintain the results you worked so hard to achieve.

Our challenge this week is to have fun in class. No matter the topic taught, embrace the teaching and have fun with it. Go all in with your attitude and your participation. Last week I told the class they were not yet having enough fun with their kata. They not only stepped up the fun, they performed better on the kata.

This is the last week for our survey. Please help us improve. We would like to get your feedback on how we are meeting your needs. Please take 3 minutes and complete the Let’s Talk Karate user survey by following this link: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/P7TCRPR

Thank you in advance for your valuable input.

See you in class soon.

 

George Washington Can Improve Your Karate Today

Happy Independence Day! George Washington, founder of our country and general of the American Revolutionary war, is the leading martial figure from our American history.  Many of the stories we know about Washington and the Revolutionary War are ones with the army fighting against a superiorly trained force with bravery. George Washington employed one of the rules taught in our dojo on day number 1 of self-defense class: the best fight is the one avoided. Many times in the early part of the war, a battle was avoided as the British had superior numbers and the Americans came at a time advantageous for their victory.

GW- Metroplitan Museum of Art

George Washington from the metropolitan Museum of Art.

Like some of you, I have relatives that served in the revolutionary war. They were not trained warriors. They were farmers and people that worked with their neighbors for a living. I can only imagine that George Washington looked on his new soldiers, or white belts as we would call them, and wondered what it would take to train that group.

When we visited Valley Forge, our family was fascinated to learn about the great history of the revolutionary army at that time and location. As you remember the story, it was a time when almost all hope was lost. Yes, we all remember some stories about the winter and lack of food. Seeing firsthand the huts that housed the soldiers was moving. We have a hard time imagining how so many soldiers were together in one bunk house trying to stay warm and fit for duty.

Like all great senseis, General Washington was always learning and open to new ideas and methods. That winter the army needed to fix its problems with training and discipline.  In February 1778, the Baron von Steuben arrived at Valley Forge as a new volunteer from Prussia. Von Steuben formed the first American version of the drill, teaching the fundamentals of warfare to the Americans at a time when it was most needed.

At Valley Forge, the soldiers learned the fundamentals of the way to be an army and had the confidence that came from mastering a fundamental technique.  Von Steuben was in part responsible for the success of the army after Valley Forge as a result of the fundamentals he taught.  Think about how you learned your first punch. We teach, as it does in our book recommendation, how to form first a fist and then throw a punch.

Our challenge for you, as we prepare to celebrate Independence Day, is: Are you practicing, or drilling, the fundamentals so you can call on them when needed?

Please help us improve. We would like to get your feedback on how we are meeting your needs. Please take 3 minutes and complete the Let’s Talk Karate user survey by following this link: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/P7TCRPR

Thank you in advance for your valuable input.

See you in class soon.

 

 

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.

bb-grad-7-15-_010212

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.

IMG_0247

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.