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.

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.

You Need Grit

I am enjoying the book Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance by Angela Duckworth. She makes the case for grit as the determining factor in success in several areas. I believe her book applies to karate and life at the dojo as well. In the second chapter the author addresses one of my misconceptions in a chapter called “distracted by talent.” Have you ever been lured into thinking someone had “talent” and that was the only reason they were good? And I am sure, like me, you went on to say, I do not have the talent, therefore, I will never be that good.

As we progressed in karate we learned that talent is not a defining differentiator between who becomes a black belt, or even a yellow belt (the next step up in rank from white belt in our dojo) for that matter. It is something more.

  • None of us joined karate only to have the dojo stand back and say, “Where have you been? You have talent.”
  • I initially looked to talent as the easiest explanation for someone’s good performance.
  • Now that I am practiced I know that it is not just the effort or practice that produces a black belt candidate.
  • We have shared a few times that success was not talent on my part, rather, it was that intangible desire to see myself completing the course I began when my son asked me to join him in karate.
  • When I was a white belt, I looked at people who were black belts (now, like me and Sensei Mae) and thought that they are good. They have talent. I hope I have enough talent to get to their level.
  • I may have some talent, but after reading this book I likely have only grit and some practice time.

GritOur sensei says that obtaining a yellow belt in our dojo is much harder than obtaining a black belt. What he means is that coming to the second

 

class is often an act of courage. Working on a new process, such as karate, later in life was initially hard for me as the movements were so foreign to my daily movements. I likely made it to black belt as a result of grit or determination to succeed as my goal was firmly set on that accomplishment. I even participated in several sparring rounds to get better as part of the test is fighting.

This drive to succeed applies to everything we do.

  • In Grit, chapter three is titled “effort counts twice.” The author demonstrates that talent does not equal improvement. She indicates that the end result is not extraordinary but is the accumulation of actions performed consistently and correctly.
  • So, in karate, when we become a black belt, it is a result of the small accumulated actions we practice and perform daily or weekly.
  • In our dojo, we have a rigorous test for black belt. It is only available after you pass through several belts and have the accumulation of effort that it takes to pass those belts as well.
  • We count execution on the test, not effort. However, it is the effort prior to the test, the years of training, that count on the black belt test and all others.

The talented do not always learn the lessons like I have. I had to ask a lot of questions and be shown techniques several times. Other, who were “naturals,” did not get the same repetition or understanding and did not have the same depth of knowledge. In her book, Duckworth announces a theory to explain the process. I liked the theory: “Talent x effort = skill. Skill x effort = achievement.”

Coming to the dojo a second time requires grit. It is when you do not show back up that your skills stop improving and we stop producing anything with the skills we have learned up to that point. It is the consistency of the effort that counts. I was the only one of four second degree candidates who saw the program straight through. My consistency of effort made the learning of the material simpler. The other three had stopped the training at various times after becoming a black belt and as a result worked harder to re-learn the skills that my consistent effort already knew. It was about the only thing in my favor on the day of the test.

How about it, do you have grit? Are you determined to see your goals through to the end? See you in class soon.

You can follow Sensei Mae  @letstalkkarate on Twitter.