5 Annoying Habits Which Will Ruin Your Black Belt Test

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

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Are you ready for the test?

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

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

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

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

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

Do You Have What it Takes?

Do you have what it takes? I read a story recently about Muggsy Bogues, the shortest man, at 5 feet 3 inches, to play basketball in the NBA, where he played for 14 years. This is a league where the average player is 6 feet 7 inches tall. How do you overcome that disadvantage? A high achiever chooses to do uncommon things. They actually practice and work on overcoming obstacles to winning.

Ready to climb the lader

Are you ready to climb the ladder of success?

When our sensei asks black belt candidates how long they are practicing for the black belt test on a daily basis, we could predict the success or failure rate from the student responses.  The successful candidates put the time in each day to make a difference in their karate career. One of the reasons they practiced daily was their strong desire to succeed and pass the test.

When it was time for my test, I was not satisfied with remaining a brown belt, especially when my daughter, Sensei Mae, was already a black belt. I had a fire within me to work hard and not miss the opportunity to succeed on the test. In addition, I was much older than many of my classmates and I did not have the luxury of failing and becoming a long-term brown belt. No, I wanted to pass this test and the next. My desire was high; I found opportunities in my day that I had not ever considered. I made some sacrifices to concentrate on this one goal. I wanted to reach my black belt potential and fulfill my dream of becoming a black belt.

The effectiveness of your desire and training plan will determine your likely chance of doing well at a tournament or passing your belt test. What matters is how strongly your reasons are for achieving a goal. That is what will drive you to complete that goal. To determine if you have what it takes, find your desire level on the chart. If you have a high desire you are much more likely to meet the goal.

Desire-type

Last week was the Commonwealth of Kentucky AAU karate tournament, held at our dojo. The tournament was a big success for those who participated in the event. People that have reached the gold medal in this tournament did not get there by chance. They did not put “common” or “going through the motion” effort into their achievements. These athletes did uncommon things that you may not see. They practiced and worked in a way that their competitors did not. They put in the effort to make themselves distinguished. And they had a high desire to succeed.

Muggsy Bogues had a high desire to succeed, despite his height disadvantage. He loved to play basketball and learned early on that he had to disrupt the play of taller players and make them not even want to dribble the ball near him. He practiced a lot and worked on his game daily.  How is your desire to succeed? Are you focused in on the goals that will achieve success for you today and in the future?

See you at the dojo soon.

Are You Ready to Finish Strong?

My challenge for you is to look back at your goals from the first of this year. How are you doing? Are you on track with your goals? I recently took a look at mine, and I have some work to do to ensure I finish the year strong.  At the dojo, we have 6 or 7 black belt candidates looking to test the first weekend in December. Each of these candidates is trying to accomplish one of their goals for the year—earn their black belt in karate. Finishing strong begins with something as small as a habit. Habits are not those little creatures from the Lord of the Rings. Those are Hobbits. Habits are routines of behavior that we repeat regularly. I like to keep this in mind when we develop new (good) habits:  “First it’s a struggle; later it’s a habit.”

As we look back at our goals, we may need to change our behaviors positively to achieve the results we are looking for to finish out this year strong. Experts tell us that we develop new habits in 21 days of repetition. My schedule for training for the black belt test was a 100 day challenge. The hardest part of the challenge is to get ourselves to the point where it is more painful not to change than to change. That moment came for me when we took my first pre-test for the black belt test. In our dojo, about two weeks prior to the black belt test we have a pre-test, which covers several of the test elements. At the end, we are either ready for the test or we are sent back for more training. I do know that I was unprepared although I did not know it at the time. I was confident when I arrived for the pre-test and open for training and a plan when I left. It was another six months before the next black belt test, and I was determined to be ready for that test.

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All that kicking practice paid off and we finished strong!

To engage new behaviors, like actively preparing for the test versus just showing up to class twice a week, I went through this exercise called “5 why’s and one how” and it goes like this:

  1. Why can’t I perform all of the kicks?
    • Because I do not know them all; who knew there were over 100 on the test!
  2. Why don’t I know them?
    • Because I didn’t get a lesson with an expert on what is needed.
  3. Why didn’t I get a lesson?
    • Because I was confident that coming to class regularly was enough to pass the test.
  4. Why didn’t I get enough kicking practice in class?
    • Because I had too many things to do and just going to class was easiest.
  5. Why did I have so many things to do?
    • Because I did not systematize my practice schedule into daily actionable tasks.
  6. How can I set a practice schedule to pass the next pre-test and earn my black belt?
    • Ask for assistance, or read this blog…

All of us are different in what is holding us back from accomplishing our goals. This simple exercise gets to a possible root cause of why I failed my black belt pre-test. As a result, I did ask for additional one-on-one training from our senseis at the dojo, like Sensei Mae.

Here was my system, a little over 3 months (100 days) out from the test.  Our test covers six basic elements: Kicking, striking, kata, weapons, self-defense, and fighting. The only way to prepare for fighting was the drills we learned in class. The last element I worked on was to improve the number of push-ups I could do in one day. I created the one-hundred day push-up (PU) challenge. I did one more each day, until after 100 days I was able to knock out 100 pushups like I would when I come to every black belt class.

Log from BB test

 

I started prior to the 100 days to ensure I knew each element of the test come testing day.  My advice:  find out what is on the test so you can practice. Ask for help. Get private lessons.

My key to success was the daily increments that moved the practice from a struggle to a habit. It took a daily log for me to see how well I was doing, and I could easily look and see what I left off for the day or the week. Try this with your karate goals and let me know how you are doing as we are getting ready for the end of the year. Let’s finish the year strong together!

See you in the dojo soon!

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.

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Thank you in advance for your valuable input.

See you in class soon.