Are You Doing Hard Things?

Are you pushing yourself hard enough? Have you been practicing the 12 days of karate? One of the benefits of attending our dojo and most dojos I know about is we teach discipline and respect. Now that you have worked on the challenge and are back at the dojo, do you have a hard thing rule? In the book Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance by Angela Duckworth, she describes her hard thing rule (page 241):

  1. Everyone in the family has to do one hard thing, described as requiring daily deliberate practice. Karate would be an example.
  2. You can quit after you finished what you started; in other words, when your sensei yells at you or makes you do pushups is not the time. Ms. Duckworth is looking for natural ending points, like the end of a season and not in the middle of a test.
  3. You get to pick your hard thing.
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A family working on the hard things

We worked with our kids; we ensured that all of them had at least one after school activity in high school each semester. It could have been track, band, or debate or any other after school club. We followed a rule similar to the one outlined in Grit In our case, the activity (hard thing) became karate because our kids chose karate. When they were younger, yes, we signed them up for certain sporting activities and allowed then to quit after the season was over if that is what they wanted. They always had to finish the season or the commitment. As an adult, we find that we still pay attention to this hard thing rule. Is this something you can add to your goals?

Discipline and high expectations is what we expect for every class. It begins when we arrive at class early and bow when entering the dojo. It continues with bowing to the sensei at the beginning of class and standing in line, no wiggling allowed, by age and belt. We notice when techniques are improperly executed and repeat drills to ensure they are learned properly. Our sensei demands a response from his teaching, and when we give that response we feel part of this select community.

It is easy to just let a class lapse into having fun without a path to follow. Of course, no instructor would want that for their students and no student, after experiencing that environment, would go willingly back to that environment. Think back to your favorite teacher. Mine was my high school physics teacher, and no, I did not study physics in college. He was demanding and expected us to push ourselves. Looking back, he expected more of us than almost any other teacher in the school. The work was not impossible.

To progress and grow we need to resist that easy path, the one without discipline and high expectations. Yes, it is more work. If we take the path of most resistance, we will push ourselves out of mediocrity. When we push ourselves out of mediocrity, we find ourselves in the area where we are challenging ourselves to be the best we can be. We want to achieve excellence. When we speak about the black belt test at our dojo, we often speak about endurance. We train for the test because we know that it will be a long test. The elements of the test are known and should be part of our regular practice. It takes a while to build up endurance. It turns out that endurance, or perseverance, is about 90% of the martial arts. Will power (determination or grit) is required to accomplish what is considered impossible by a white belt or other students in karate.

When we are on the path of most resistance, we want to compare ourselves to the people around us.  This is an application of the hard thing rule in action. You may be tempted to say “Compared with the rest of my belt peers, I’m doing great.” Of course you can always say, “(name of your hero) has the same 24 hours that you do.”  The only comparison we should do is with ourselves and not with others. Take a look at what would happen if, for example, if you compared yourself and your skills to your hero, how well would you compare?  No matter who they are, they have the same 24 hours that you do.  The change that is required is with the person we see in the mirror, me included. I need to step up and slowly practice that new kata and work out my mistakes.

The person who has “made it” to black belt put in the time and the hard work. They showed respect for the dojo and their sensei. When our sensei goes to teach class, he does not compare himself with other senseis or dojos. He is looking at what the best experience should be and is constantly and consistently improving those things for us. Do you have high expectations of yourself and what you are doing in your karate practice? Does your teacher have high expectations for you and the rest of the class? Are you doing work in your practice that challenges you? The foundation of this teaching is the high expectations and relentless focus on the best teaching for martial arts he can find or invent. Go and sign up for your own hard thing rule.

See you in the dojo soon!

Quiet Place--see the tall trees?

If we take the path of most resistance, we will push ourselves out of mediocrity.

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Improvise, Adapt, Overcome

The black belt test was a success last week and we had candidates pass the test. During the last part of the test, the fight, I was reminded of the Army Ranger, Green Beret core belief “improvise, adapt, and overcome.”  The Army Rangers are a group that spends a lot of time drilling and preparing for situations. Hand in hand with the Green Beret belief is this quotation on planning: “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.” This was said by Mike Tyson, a well-known champion boxer. This week we will look at how you can apply either the Green Beret belief or Mike Tyson’s in your next training, tournament or test.

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Black belt’s who have Improvised, Adapted, and Overcome!

For my black belt test I prepared for the last part of the test as best I could. I survived the fights, which is about as well as we can expect when fighting two other black belts at the same time. Looking at the test from Saturday, and hearing Sensei Mae tell the candidates prior to and during the fights to use their training and demonstrated skills, I realize that all of the candidates, myself included, had the skills needed to do better than just survive. We were all highly trained; we just showed we knew more than 100 kicks, strikes and several blocks. We also showed we knew several katas that have direct applications to fighting. Prior to my test, one of the senseis had us practice fighting by using unique moves only from our katas. During the practice time we could not repeat moves until we drilled for one minute. That was a great drill; I recommend it when preparing for a test with fighting.

Here are some thoughts on how the Green Beret core belief improves our fighting:

Improvise: The dictionary has a few definitions for this verb:

  1. to compose and perform or deliver without previous preparation; extemporize
  2. to make, provide, or arrange from whatever materials are readily available
  • When the first definition says “without previous preparation”, it is not saying we should show up to the fight without any preparation. When our candidates came to the test, they were all well prepared, including wearing clean Gi’s. The first definition goes back to Mike Tyson and fighting, in that we do not know what our opponent will do during the fight, test or situation. As a result we must make do with the material we have available.
  • When we make do with the materials that are available, it has a big impact on our success in fights, tests, tournaments or similar situations.
    • In the test, the material we have is all of our experience to date, our practice time, and our demonstrated skills.
    • Just as a carpenter brings a toolbox not knowing the specific tool required, we bring to the event our toolbox of training and look to pull out the correct kick, strike or block at the proper time.
    • We cannot improvise without practicing and planning for some encounter. The situations we encounter are unlikely to match any we drilled and practiced for in our training. The improvisation will work if we have our toolbox to fall back upon.

Adapt. Here the dictionary defines this verb as: “to adjust oneself to different conditions, environment, etc.”

  • We have seen from improvisation that we need to pull out of our karate toolbox the tools needed for test we are facing. We have been hit and now need to react to the situation. Adaptation is an adjustment based on the conditions of the day.
  • We require the agility and nimbleness to move in lockstep with our surroundings. Being in shape is paramount to success in a fight. The candidate must arrive to the test in fighting shape on the day of the test. Our test is an endurance challenge as well. Saturday’s test started at 3 PM and ended at 8 PM. This is a mental and physical test for the candidates. The black belt fighters warmed up during the self-defense portion of the test as they were thrown by the candidates and were ready for the fight. The black belts were fresh, relatively speaking, to the candidates.
  • As a black belt candidate, I had a plan and it hardly survived the first kick and strike. Just like the candidates from the most recent test, I had to adapt and adapt fast to the situation.
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Black belt fight with Sensei Mae cheering on the brown belt candidate

Overcome: The dictionary defines this verb as: “to get the better of in a struggle or conflict; conquer; defeat.”

  • At the end of the black belt test we call time and do not declare a winner. Our objective is to look for the candidates to display a black belt spirit. They need to come to fight despite the odds being stacked against them. We want the candidates to show that they will get up eight times if they are thrown down seven.
  • In all tests, we need an unwavering commitment to results by remaining focused on the desired outcome and doing whatever it takes to deliver by improvising and adapting after that first punch comes. Can we afford to do anything less? The candidates came with the singular focus on their top level goal of winning their black belt. They overcame the hours of practice required and criticism they received when they were not meeting standards.

To obtain your top level goal, are you getting the better of the struggle against yourself? Are you ready to improvise—to adapt in order to overcome after the first punch in the mouth? How have you used this lesson in your life? What obstacle are you looking to overcome? See you in the dojo soon.

 

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.

Three Steps You Can Take to Overcome America’s Biggest Obstacle

Americans watch on average more than 5 hours of TV per day. Our biggest obstacle to living healthy lifestyles appears to be the chair or couch we sit in to enjoy our leisure time.

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Are you on the sideline or active?

It takes effort to do something other than to come home from work and relax in front of the TV or your favorite video game. When my favorite teams are playing, I will often watch to see how they are doing and because I get up early in the morning, I generally have to watch the highlights the next day as I cannot stay awake to see the entire game. I have also missed several games because I am at the dojo or somewhere else being active and not glued to my seat, like I am now while I am writing this blog.

Here are three steps to overcome our biggest obstacle:

  1. Make a commitment to do something more than you are today. Coming home and being entertained prevents us from becoming happier with our lives.
    • Getting up and trying something will actually improve our lives.
    • According to the studies, teenagers actually spend more time investigating life and being active than adults.
    • Retirement age adults spend the most time avoiding activity and watching TV.
  2. Learn something new daily.
    • Karate exposes you to opportunities to learn. In class we are constantly being challenged to perfect ourselves and get in shape.
    • I hope to daily reclaim time from inactivity by cutting down on the time I spend idle and committing to the next belt and the karate program.
  3. Apply the learning to change your world.
    • All change begins with us, the one in the mirror in the morning.
    • All of us are going to fall at some point in our lives. The older we are when we fall, the harder it is to get back up. One of the fundamental skills we teach is how to fall and get back up.
    • As we age, we need to get back on our feet and shut out the negative influences in our lives.

How about you? The next time you sit down at the TV or computer take note of the time you sat down and the time you got up. This blog writing has taken me 45 minutes to complete. Track that time for a week and let us know in the comment section how long you are idle on average each day. Can you reduce that time?

A friend of mine who recently retired is planning on joining me at the dojo for a first class in the next week. I am looking forward to helping him keep in shape while he sharpens his body and mind. When we are training, we no longer have time to sit and be inactive. I am looking forward to seeing 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?

 

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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.