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.

 

 

How do You Practice?

Several students at the dojo are getting ready to have a belt test. The question being asked is how is your practicing going? Answers vary from “not well” to “I ran my kata 4 times today.” The question I want to ask is how do you practice?

IMG_0210[1]

Sensei Mae Practicing Kata after class at the dojo

I recently heard the story of Ben Hogan and his remarkable career in golf (you can read the story by clicking here). My Dad had Ben Hogan golf clubs and I had no idea who he was until after I heard this story. When you read the story, you learn he was a pro golfer who served in WWII, came back and was at the top of his career. Tragedy struck and his car and a Greyhound bus collided leaving him close to death.  He not only learned to walk again after the accident, he won the triple crown of golf within four years of the accident.

How does this relate to the question of how do you practice? The article from the Ben Hogan museum says, “Hogan was known for his demanding practice regimen.” Of course the movie version of his practice regime was skipped as it is highly repetitive, full of discipline and focused work. That makes me wonder what our legacy of karate will be. Will we be able to say (your name) was known for his or her demanding practice regimen? Or more likely, “they said they wish they had spent more time practicing prior to the test”?

Here is an outside view on practicing from Ernest S. Williams in his preface to The Secret of Technique-Preservation, a book for trumpet players. In that book he wrote:

  • “All practicing should preferably be done when the performer is fresh and alert; but there should not be any ‘let down’ of the daily routine, even if some mental or physical fatigue is felt.”
  • “The first moment of the daily practice period must be devoted to ‘finding the technique anew.’”

To paraphrase Ernest S. Williams, his final advice is to practice when you perform and perform correctly when you practice.  He would have made a good karate sensei.

I am practicing for a test as well. I know that my effort is unlikely to equal Ben Hogan’s or even what it should be. Yes, I am working to pass the test. I practice daily. I have been practicing with intensity for the last month or so. As I have stepped up the intensity, the one thing that has struck me is that the more I practice, the more I discover about my kata and how the kata relates to other aspects of the test and karate. Pass or fail, the practice has been good for me.

I am interested in hearing how you go about practicing. Here is what I have been doing for the last month or so. I have a membership to a local LA Fitness and in the morning I spend quality time on the gym floor with some mirrors and several heavy 110 pound bags running kata.

IMG_0204[1]

Getting ready to practice kata!

Here is my routine:

  • I generally run, warm up the arms and legs similar to our normal class structure, and lightly stretch.
  • I have a favorite blocking drill that I went over with one of the classes today that daily reminds me of how to execute blocks and strikes. I have to discover how to block and punch daily!
  • Then I run the katas needed for the test. I generally pick a different direction after running all of the test katas in succession to run them again.
  • When I make a mistake or need to improve, I stop, rehearse the “broken” section and then re-perform the whole kata.
  • The weapon katas are run using a small stick, a towel or anything else I have at the time. I do not bring my weapons to the gym. When the weather is nice, I do run the weapons outside and indoors I use some of the weapons to ensure my wrists are in the proper shape.
  • At the heavy bags I perform my 100 punches and practice self-defense by hitting the bag at the appropriate time.
  • I vary the speed of the workout from fast to slow to examine how and what I am doing when running kata.

IMG_0206[1]

Getting ready to hit the bags.

Please let us know your routine for practicing when you are getting ready for a test and when you are just working on your karate. Post your comments in the section below.  See you in class soon.

What is Your Favorite Strike?

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

Sensei Mae Backfist Prep

Sensei Mae getting ready for her favorite strike

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

Sensei Mae Backfist

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

See you in class soon.

Have You Hit Something This Week?

Baseball season has begun and this is not what our Sensei was on fire about. Karate is the way of the empty hand. This means we are striking, or hitting, or in some way using our hands to defend ourselves and well, I can say, attack others after they attack us. Gichin Funakoshi has on his gravestone this quote, “Karate ni sente nashi” or “There is no first strike (attack) in karate.”

As karate practitioners, we hit things! It is what we do. That was the point Sensei was making for us all in class on Tuesday.  We started with a simple reverse punch and moved to a front punch. We did combination strikes front and reverse punch. It was a lot of fun after a long day of working to punch a bag. We did have a go at my favorite, back fist. It felt good to do back fist drills.

Sensei Glen with a back fist as part of the ten strikes for the day.

backfist.jpg

This is the first class this year that I recall us focusing on striking. Our Sensei shared with us that we are a karate dojo and we hit. He then listed some of the other martial arts:

  • Taekwondo emphasis is on kicking
  • Judo is designed to grapple and throw
  • Aikido has an emphasis on throwing
strike.jpg

Sensei Glen hitting the bag. Have you hit yours today?

The point for all us on Tuesday was that we needed to go back to the bag and ensure we were hitting and striking daily. He gave us the 10 hit a day challenge: each day punch a bag or other object ten times with each hand to improve our strikes. I am happy to report that so far I have participated every day and met this challenge.

In studying for our black belt test we had a series of over 100 strikes to perform both standing still and moving. It was a challenge to master all of the different strikes. It is interesting how many of them we use in our various katas. The next point that was made on Tuesday was that our katas all have strikes in them. Not just blocks. We need to work on both. Even with no first strike in karate we need to know how to strike properly.

Have you noticed that katas begin with a block? Take a look at the kata you like the best and let us know if you see that as well. I am sure our Sensei would also like us to make good punches in our kata. Block, punch is a basic winning formula for a good kata. Yes, we have the occasional kick as well. When we teach striking, we use our bodies, not just our fists. Throwing our hips and weight into a punch makes it land better.

At our dojo, we incorporate the best of martial arts into our teaching. We are a karate dojo and we also teach kicking, grappling, throwing and weapons. Our teacher is real. He worked as a bouncer at a bar and tried out the material he teaches us to ensure it worked. Besides the confidence that comes from learning a new technique or drill, we want to ensure that it works. What if, like the Music Man, you used the “think system” to learn any drill. In the movie, the boys to learn to play via the “think system,” in which they simply have to think of a tune over and over and will know how to play it without ever touching their instruments. That is not what I want for me and my family. We want the real deal.

I know that I am practicing my strikes and here is our challenge for all of you. How are you doing on your strikes? Could you make 10 strikes a day for the next ten days beginning the day you read this? Follow us on twitter and you will hear how we are doing #10strikestoday. Put a comment on Facebook or on this blog post. We are interested in how you are doing.

See you in class soon.

Back to the Fundamentals

We have discussed of Learn, Practice, Apply and worked on answering the question How Do You Learn That New Skill?  Last week we asked Are You Pursuing Mastery? Today’s blog is about what to practice.

We had a great class today at the dojo. It was all about the fundamentals of karate. The youth as well as the adult classes concentrated on the basic elements of karate. Our head Sensei often says, “All power comes from a good stance.” And today we worked on perfecting our stances.

front-stance-1

Front stance. See the knee?

Vince Lombardi, the world class football coach, famously began the first practice of the season holding a football and saying, “This is a football.” That is really getting back to the fundamentals. Similarly, John Wooden, the legendary UCLA basketball coach, began every college season with a lesson on the correct way to put on socks and tie basketball shoes. After I began attending classes, I would have benefited from another class on how to tie belts!

The two coaches mentioned above always went back to the fundamentals of their sport. They also had teams that performed the fundamental tasks well. Of course both coaches are mostly remembered for their teams’ winning records.  What does their focus on fundamentals have to teach us? They knew the power of applying fundamentals and reinforcing them in regular practices. They employed the power of small, daily, fundamentally correct practices with their athletes to get the best performances from the athletes that they coached.

We are a Shotokan dojo and have our roots in Okinawa where the soil is sandy.  We can only imagine how difficult it is for a warrior defending his home country from foreign invaders on horseback. Now add to the situation that you have to be rooted in a good stance to defeat this foreign invader in the sand. You would have to know the fundamentals and have practiced them to make your stance. History is always written by the victor in a battle. So we know the answer. The warriors in Okinawa practiced the fundamental elements of the stance and did them well.

Today we performed very simple drills, just moving up and back on the dojo floor performing simple strikes. I know I was sweating about half way through the adult class. At random intervals we were stopped and our stances checked to ensure we had the proper fundamentals. When stopped, our Sensei pushed on us to see if we were in a good (or bad) front stance and if we were able to stand our ground. This was a great class–very technical for us with each stance and strike as well as very engaging as we had to think again about how to move in front, back and horse stance. We even had a bo staff check on our posture and knee position in our stances.

front-stance-2

Front stance fundamentals

Of course today we did not learn a new kata or technique. I would imagine all who were in class today relearned lessons that were first taught to us when we were white belts. Sensei was kind enough not to start each class today saying, “This is a front stance…” We did review the basics, and if you wrote notes like I did, your fundamentals are going to be just that much better. This was an easy class from a material standpoint. It was also a fun and challenging class.

If you did not make class today the question for you is, “How is your front stance?” When you move forward are you in embusen? [Quick definition: Performance line, the floor pattern of a given Kata. Also, the head height, do you bob up and down?  All Shotokan Kata will start and finish on the same spot.]

I know that I will work this week on the drills we did in class. I will pay attention to my feet referencing and how well I move backwards in a stance as well as forward.

February has been our month focused on practicing. We began focused on the three part method of Learn, Practice, Apply. We shifted our focus to answering the question How Do You Learn That New Skill?  And last week we asked  Are You Pursuing Mastery?. This week’s wrap up with the class on fundamentals capped off a great month for us at the dojo. We trust you are learning the fundamentals, practicing them and applying them. If you would like assistance, Sensei Mae and Sensei Glen are happy to help with the fundamentals as well as the more advanced skills. Remember, the basics done well make everything else look easy.

See you in class soon. You can follow Sensei Mae  @letstalkkarate on Twitter.