You Need a Big Picture Focus

Do you begin with the end in mind? Do you know what success looks like prior to beginning a new technique or kata? The teacher begins with a picture of success looks like. They have already seen a technique or kata performed and have performed it themselves. The student hears the picture and may even see their sensei or another higher ranking student perform the technique or kata and it looks wonderful. Then, we get our first shot at the new technique or kata and it looks nothing like the picture originally presented or shared with an example. What happened?

We need to know where we are going—the big picture—in order to know if we have arrived. However, when I am leaning a new technique or kata, I just need the first and sometimes second move. I have been working on a weapons kata using Kama. The first time I saw it performed, years ago in a competition; I was amazed by this kata. To perform the kata, you hold a weapon in each hand with a sharp blade and perform cutting motions. It looked like fun to perform and I am sure that when I learn this kata it will be. At this point, I know the shape of the kata and have a fuzzy picture of what it will look like.  My finished picture looks nothing like my teacher’s picture or even the one I recollect from the tournaments and from my classmates who know the kata.

FL kata on the beach

kata on the beach

We do not have a communication problem. My image of the kata in my head does not resemble my ability to execute the kata as it is not in focus. Looking at my kata and my mental picture:

  1. I do not have detailed instructions on the sequence of moves. My teacher has shared them and I have not yet internalized these instructions. My limited understanding has prevented me from learning most of the steps as I am still learning how to use the weapon.
  2. My picture does not match my teacher’s picture of the completed kata. I know from my own experience that when I learn a kata it is hard to look back at a time when I did not know that kata. It is often a short kata after I have learned the kata and a very long kata as I struggle to learn that kata. That does not even count the time needed to add a weapon to the training. I have not put in the deliberate practice required to achieve the mastery of this kata that is required.
  3. I have spent several weeks at the dojo going over the basic moves and I am starting to see the pattern of the kata emerge. One of the reasons I liked Taikyoku Shodan is that I could see it making a block capital letter I for a pattern. I generally look for that pattern, and that tells me I am getting the details correct and my picture and that of my sensei will begin to merge.

 

Take a moment with me on this. Are you focused on the details here?

  • I am working on listening in class to obtain the details and writing down what I have heard and worked.
  • Practicing at home allows me to see if my picture fits my sensei’s picture. When I then practice at home, I generally have notes to check and that is a check on how well I write out the details in my notes.
  • When I am back at class, I am asking questions to obtain the missing details. This often adds to my notes. With anything new I find that there is too much to absorb in one class.

I have sometimes thought to myself, I should be able to pick up this skill quickly and then have a good reason why. Of course my baseline motive is to look good in class, impressing my sensei and my fellow students. When we are too obsessed with looking good in class, we fail to pick up on the subtle details in the teaching because we stopped being open to learning. It’s being open to learning the little details that will make all the difference when performing that new kata later on, after the class. I generally need to take a step back and observe what’s happening and need to re-draw my mental picture and compare it to the big picture being shared. Once I do, I will try to fit what I know into what I believe is the big picture.

After I write down what I think I know of the sequence of a kata and practice it at home, I begin to see the whole picture. If you are like me, you will also see where your knowledge is incomplete. If you skip the step of writing down after class you will have a much harder time when you are practicing at home. Without writing down after you initially learn something new, you are denying yourself the opportunity to grow and merge your picture with that of your teacher.

Once I have practiced at home and come back to the dojo, I am ready for instruction on the complete picture. Our sensei tells the story of his teacher who would share the first few moves of a kata and no more. The next week he would come back and declare he was ready for additional moves. The teacher would ask for a demonstration of what he had learned and correct and always say, go back and learn these moves before you learn more. When the initial moves were mastered, more were added. This technique helps cement the basics of the kata, and they are then internalized.

How about you, are you seeing the big picture of the skill you are looking to learn? Does your picture match that of your teacher? Take a look at your notes; do you have the details in them that are needed to answer your questions without assistance from someone else? When we sow small seeds in our kata garden, we sow them meaningfully and we gain a large harvest. When we are hasty and try to skip out on the details, our picture is incomplete and we fail to master the kata and move forward in our goals.

See you in the dojo soon!

Are You Selfish Enough?

On a recent flight, the flight attendant started the safety briefing by insisting we should be selfish in order to assist others. You have heard the same speech if you have been on a flight anytime in the last 20 years. The announcement says the following when discussing oxygen: “If you are traveling with children, or are seated next to someone who needs assistance, place the mask on yourself first, then offer assistance.” We take it as a matter of course that we need to help ourselves in this situation so we can offer assistance. Does this apply anywhere else in our lives?

Tie On

In order to help others we first need to work on ourselves.

If we only care for others and not for ourselves, we may think we are doing well. We would do well to heed the flight attendant’s advice to take care of ourselves first and then offer assistance. I was teaching class last Saturday, and a fellow black belt stepped in with his black belt son to the dojo and offered me a break. I did not think I needed the break; I am strong!  I went to bed early the night before and was up early and ate a great breakfast. It turned out that the brief rest was much needed and appreciated, once I stepped off of the floor for a few minutes. The rest was important and restored the energy I needed for the last two classes of the day. My fellow black belts are currently in training on leading classes and have done so periodically over the course of several months. The students were in good hands. The lesson here is that my fellow black bets took care of their time and training so they could help others with theirs. Their teaching one class was a win for me and for the students.

When was the last time you thought about your role in helping yourself?

  1. With proper rest and recovery, you can learn a new kata or routine. Your mind is fresh and ready to tackle any new karate challenge.
  2. Daily practice of karate keeps your mind sharp and you in shape for the times when the skills are needed. As a side bonus, if you look like you are in good shape you are less likely to be harassed by bad guys who prey on those who are weaker.
  3. Once you know the drills and have practiced them, you are then able to assist others or become the role model for the dojo. It is only when we know the material that we are able to teach the material or to model the behavior asked for in class.

We have all heard the maxim made popular by Ben Franklin, “early to bed early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise.” Is Ben Franklin also saying for us to be selfish? Yes, I believe he is talking about us as individuals needing to take care of ourselves first. Several studies on sleep back up Ben Franklin’s claim about early to bed and early rising. We have also discussed the importance of rest and sleep. Proper rest and nutrition are keys to being healthy. Taking a “train ourselves first” attitude will enable us to be the role model our dojo is looking for in all of us. What about you—are you being selfish enough with your training and your time?

See you in 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!

Why You Need Dojo Etiquette

Sensei Mae here! I wanted to talk about Dojo Etiquette. We are a traditional Shotokan Karate dojo, so respect is very important to us.   One of the most important rules of etiquette is behavior.

Since by nature we all learn by trial and error, many things will be forgiven in a dojo, but bad behavior is definitely not one of them. This rule applies to every student within the dojo society regardless of their rank, in fact the higher the rank, the less tolerance there is for any breach of etiquette whatsoever. It is very important to remember, however, that correction for acts of misbehavior always come from the top down, not the bottom up.

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In our blog post on Dojo Protocol, we discussed how to enter the dojo. The point is that we should bow each time we enter and exit the dojo and teach fellow students to follow the same pattern. Maybe like me, you sometimes inadvertently bow entering other places.  Bowing (rei) comes from our roots and it was rule number one for Funakoshi. “Karate-do begins with courtesy and ends with rei.”

Even the Japan National Tourism Organization explains that “In the Japanese bow, the bower expresses appreciation and respect to the person being bowed to by bending at the waist.” It is part of who we are in our karate dojo; we bow.

  • Clear your mind when you bow at the door.  When you walk in, relationship stay outside. 
  • Even when training with my family, I am always careful to address them with the respect they deserve.

Karate is an art about courtesy, manners, etiquette and attitude. In the dojo, regardless of your belt color and ability, as long as you work hard and show a determined commitment, you will always receive praise. However, if you show disrespect to anyone in the dojo, or to the dojo itself, you will be admonished and possibly asked not to return.  Upon joining a karate dojo, you will find that no one gets special treatment as everyone starts as a white belt. I did not start at a belt higher than my younger brother. Everyone starts at the bottom.

So now that you know some basic cultural differences, please understand that a traditional dojo will strive to mimic the training in Japan. That includes the way kata is taught and how a student should greet their instructor.

Let’s talk about the black belts. Black belts are a rank all to their own.  They should always be treated with the utmost respect.  A few quick tips—it is disrespectful to:

  • cut in front of a black belt
  • photograph a black belt without their permission

In Japan, it is forbidden to watch the black belts train. This applies to us at the dojo as well if we are looking to learn courtesy.

  • For example, if there is a class right before back belt class, you should never stick around to watch them train. This is because to become a black belt, much work is required. Then, when a black belt is achieved, we learn secret techniques. It is dangerous to try these techniques if you have not had proper training or correct supervision.
  • It is good not to know what the black belts do in their classes. It will keep you safe.   Even within the rank of black belt, we do not watch the higher black belts train.
  • If a first-degree black belt cannot watch a second-degree black belt train, why should a red, yellow or brown belt watch a black belt train?
  • Respect is essential in karate.  All black belts must be treated with the utmost respect, regardless of how you feel about them outside of the dojo.

In addition to respecting all black belts, senseis merit a certain respect. For example, bowing to your senseis when they pass by is always a good idea. While training, be sure to respond with a “Yes, Sensei” or “yes ma’am”, “no, sir”, etc… whatever your Sensei prefers.

Each belt rank is special. In my dojo it goes from light colors to dark beginning with white and progressing to brown then black.   Each belt gains more respect because of the time it takes to earn.

  • In addition to respecting the belt grade, one should respect the belt itself.
  • You are clearly a stellar human being for taking up martial arts so you should treat your belt appropriately.
  • Not just anyone can obtain a belt.  For that reason, my belt, obi, is never left on the floor.
  • There are some pretty cool things that you can do with your belts as you progress. Several people I know have belt racks to display their success.
  • Regarding the traditional uniform itself, sometimes during class it can start to come undone.
    • When this happens, you should turn around (away from your Sensei) and adjust yourself quickly and without drawing attention to yourself.
    • In addition to being rude to adjusting your uniform during class, it can make you appear distracted and undisciplined.

One thing that I really enjoy about karate is that it allows me to leave the outside world, well, outside.  It is peaceful that way. In the dojo I am not a boss, a daughter or a sister. I am simply a student.  This allows me to be completely relaxed and focus on learning.  If you are having a problem, take it off the floor. Do not come back onto the floor until you are able to learn.  This is healthy for you, and respectful to others around you.

Remember the dojo is here for you to learn. Ask questions, get a karate buddy and have fun!

Hope this has been helpful to you. It was helpful for me to write it. It is always good to go over dojo etiquette.

Have a great week!

 

 

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.

 

 

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?

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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.

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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.

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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.