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.

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.

 

IMG_0083[1]

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!