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!

 

Can You Really Do That Thing You’re Scared Of?

Like me, any other perfectly normal person feels weak and powerless when we are in new situations. When I joined karate, I knew I had seen martial arts movies and well, how hard could it be to become the next Bruce Lee?

Mark Twain said “Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear, not absence of fear.” So we can thank Mark Twain for allowing us to remain with fear and still overcome that fear. I am not suggesting that we are doing anything heroic. Just that when we overcome fear or something that scares us we are exhibiting courage.

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I am getting older. This is a birthday card I received. Aging requires courage.

When I am looking to prepare myself to do something that scares me, I work at thinking back to things I’ve already done that took guts like fighting another adult for an AAU karate medal, stepping in the ring twice on my black belt test fighting two black belts at the same time. If could be easier items such as moving to a new city or a new house. Whatever the case is for me, it will be different for you. What is it that has you scared?

 

Most people are flexible and adaptable much more so than they may give themselves credit for.  To prepare yourself when you are scared, I will ask you to think of times when you exhibit flexibility. Do you speak to your sensei the same way you do your friends or others at the dojo? Do your interactions with your in-laws take the same form as those with your friends from school? Probably not. That means you can adapt to new situations and overcome your fear with a variety of people. This does not mean you can fly or have super human strength or stop bullets. That is Superman and we are not Superman. Also, we are not advocating or encouraging reckless or dangerous tasks.

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Class participation = courage and overcoming fears to get on the floor with a black belt!

In karate, if we focus on the skills and strengths we already have, it can give us the courage to do new things.  Just stepping onto the dojo floor is a testimony to your courage. As we grow older and become smarter, we develop knowledge and “expertise” that can serve us well as well as cause our minds to become closed to new ideas and information. Karate is a new input and one that I did not take up until I was over 50. I had a lot to learn and more to un-learn prior to moving up in the ranks.

As a self-professed expert, the fear I had was couched in “I do not need to learn karate.” My son was taking karate and loving the time spent. When he asked me to join, my only response was yes. I know that much. I needed to unlearn more than I initially learned. I was afraid and still have fear in certain moves and being in a fight. I need to pay attention to the fear and have the courage to overcome it, and even on the second degree test I can tell you it never goes away.

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We did it! A courageous group!

Nike would say, “Just do it.” And we know it is not that simple. Here are a few thoughts to help us on our journey.

  1. We are not as smart as we think we are. We all have fear and it is hard to get in the ring. Courage is not for the weak. We need to realize that others know more than we do, and we should be always open to the teaching.
  2. Asking questions and listening is a good way to discover what is going on. When we speak up in class that this or that is how it is done, we would be good to say “tell me more about…” I have described techniques incorrectly, I am human. When we ask questions and listen for the answer, we often learn and grow.
  3. We should observe the process and imitate the Sensei. When we learn we are over 80% visual. When our youngest white belts learn, they watch much more than they listen. We should be no different as we strive to improve ourselves.

How about it then? Are you ready to face your fears and join me in the next class? Yes, I will have fear as well. I am looking to you for courage as well as within myself. Let’s become the master of fear and not allow it to master us.

See you in class soon.

 

 

 

Small Steps = Big Improvements

Our family is moving to a new house soon. We are downsizing. Not to worry, we are still near the dojo.  We are losing some of our at home training space and gaining a right sized house for us. One of the first things I did prior to putting an offer on the house was to run our white belt kata in the finished basement. Our rule of thumb is that if we have enough room for that kata, we have enough room for all of the others and can move into the house. Do you have a similar measurement or wish you did prior to moving?

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Practicing kata while house hunting. This one fits!

As we are getting ready to leave our current house, we are taking a critical look at what we possess and asking if it comes to the new house.  We have looked and included some items as transitional, meaning they are coming until we purchase a replacement. Other items are being restored. My grandfather was a carpenter and put together a night stand for me when I was a child. That one is being restored and coming to the new home. Other pieces are being sold on Craig’s list or eBay.

As you look at your kata, does it need the same critical eye applied? In studying for my second degree black belt test, I found that the kata sometimes spoke to me and some of the technique I thought I knew needed abandoning and other techniques needed restoration to their correct form. Of course it was a constant question at the dojo the week prior to the test…”Where is the kiai in this kata and tell me again how does that move go?”

The week prior to the test, our Sensei was focused on our technique. In performing an opening move for one of our advanced katas, our Sensei took 10 minutes to explain the first several moves. We had looked at them as the opening sequence and it turned out that there was more to the story. When we went to the test, I participated in a bunki exhibition with another candidate on the same opening moves and he had yet another interpretation of the same sequence. Wow, that was fun and opened us up to a better kata performance during our test.

A simple word of caution, please do not plan on completely gutting and renovating from scratch your kata. It will become overwhelming.  The world has so many options; limit yourself to a one or two so you can make improvements.  When it all feels overwhelming, and it will, stop and just make little choices (see the blog post testing today? and chunking) because one by one added up they will give you a completed and updated kata.

A good sensei will work with you on the frequent, small do-able steps so you not get overwhelmed with the task itself. I am glad my Sensei did not tell me everything to improve, as I would become overwhelmed. Instead, he focused on one or two points to create or restore me back to a great kata.

Our sensei coaching model says that in the beginning, we break down tasks into small improvements. All of the improvements at once, as I just noted, is overwhelming. A coaching session prior to the testing should occur a few months in advance and be followed up with other senseis or the same one in a few weeks so the refinements continue and the practice is sharpened.

Every day we are all “renovating kata,” whether that is in the form or learning a new skill or accomplishing our entire kicking task. We are constantly doing things that can overwhelm us if we let them. If you meet me in the next few months and I look a bit frazzled, it won’t be because I am doing small incremental tasks, it’s going to be because I am trying to renovate an entire kata. I will come back to the advice I’ve received about breaking my kata down, time and time again, it’s what will keep me sane. If you’d like to learn more about preparing for your next test and getting recommendations about breaking down tasks for your kata, we’d be happy to help you at a private session. Ask us after class. We are happy to assist.

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Sensei Glen after passing the second degree test.

Just a note to congratulate Josh, Emily and Cathy who, along with me, passed the test for their second degree black belt last Saturday. Well done! Of course, we applied the little bits together and made big improvements in our kata and techniques. See you in class soon.

Is this your Best?

My dad always said to me, “If a job is worth doing, it is worth doing correctly.” So, you must know that I did not always complete my work well, as I was reminded often of this saying. In the same way, Steve Jobs asked his employees, “Is this your best?” and as a result got better work and ideas from his workers. To keep pushing myself, I am hearing my dad and Steve Jobs asking that question of me. “Hey Sensei Glen, was that your best class or your best kata?”

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Is this your best?

Are you now asking that question of yourself?  In order to improve and give our best, we first need to know where we are. To be the “best” at anything, we need to know the standard we are comparing. Competitors in the Olympics know that they are the best when they win the gold medal. This is true for us even when gold medals are not given out during a regular class. When we give our best for ourselves, we can answer that question, “Yes, that was my best today.”

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Yes, that was my best today. National AAU Champions 2013.

We all come to karate as white belts. I freely admit that I almost always compare myself to others. It is something I do to see how I fit in with the other students. As white belts, we soon find out where we are in the ranks of other belts. I am still amazed at what other people in class have learned to do. They know all the moves in the kata I am struggling to learn.  The benefit for my competitive self is that it made the seemingly impossible task appear possible. In karate it is very rewarding to get our first colored belt. At that point we know where we are in our learning journey. We have white belt as a baseline and we sometimes say, “Well, that is a white belt kick, so I should know that kick.”

So, when we are asked, “Is this your best?” we need to remember our best in context. Our best kata may be our only kata. As a white belt, my best kata was my only kata. I was proud of my ability to perform it and did it well for a white belt. In context, the answer to the question can only be given if we know how you have been trained and then practiced that training.  Our senseis have spent hours teaching us and going over material they have long ago learned.

For some of us, we leave the dojo and move right into other areas and have lost our edge in learning the move we were just taught. We have not learned, practiced and re-learned the kata. We often skip the practice part as we are too busy. We learn and re-learn the kata.

In order to demonstrate that this is our best, we need to have time to practice and polish the rough spots in our kata. When we look at a map and see the “you are here” spot, we know where we are.  In that way we know which way to move to get to our destination. When we practice, I can imagine a “your kata is here” mark, and it is only when we continue to practice that we get to our best. Can we become our best without practice?

I agree that we can become better just by regularly showing up at the dojo and going through the floor drills and exercises. I have seen students and have at times been the student who just showed up. As you already know, with that approach we do get better due to the repetition. And we never really become our best with this approach.

Is there a better way? My thought is yes. The answer to the question, “Is this your best?” may be yes at all levels as the best for a beginner is unsatisfactory for the intermediate level. The better question for us to ask of ourselves is, “Are you satisfied with this being your best?” I believe this is why my dad always said to me, “If a job is worth doing, it is worth doing correctly.” We should still show up and be present even if we have not had time to work on all of our moves. Of course we are looking to set aside time during the week to practice outside of class. How about you? Do you ever ask yourself “?”

Looking forward to seeing you in class soon and hearing you say, “This is my best.”

 

Are You Pursuing Mastery?

Are you taking karate to learn a few tricks or are you out to master a skill or technique that will save your life? I recently finished reading Daniel Pink’s book Drive, and he challenged me to think about my karate. Am I pursuing mastery?  And if so, what should I be doing to achieve that goal? And, what does it mean to become a master at anything?

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Am I pursuing mastery? And if so, what should I be doing to achieve that goal?

To answer the question what is a master, the dictionary has multiple definitions of master for us to ponder.  If you click the link above, one of the definitions in the dictionary is “an artist, performer, or player of consummate skill.” This is the definition that I believe Daniel Pink is discussing in his book.  As a martial artist, I would like to have that consummate skill.

Okay Sensei Glen, so I want to master the back fist. What are the steps to achieve mastery and how will I know when I have arrived?

Great questions. As a practicing martial artist, I have learned that mastery is not something we ever fully achieve. What I mean is we can learn to spell and add numbers. I have mastered “2 + 2 = 4” and I imagine you have as well. In his book Daniel Pink writes that “Mastery is an asymptote”. He says that we learned the word asymptote in algebra.  While that may be true, I did not readily recall the definition and had to look it up to confirm what he wrote. Here is what I found on the website math is fun: “An asymptote is a line that a curve approaches, as it heads towards infinity.”

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An asymptote is a line that a curve approaches, as it heads towards infinity.

So, if you are still following along, we are pursuing becoming a master in karate.   It always eludes our grasp as we get closer and never quite reach the line of mastery. In a prior blog post I wrote that you are not art. As we think about our last roundhouse kick in our last fight we cannot duplicate that like we can “2+2 = 4” and have the same result, even with the same opponent at the same dojo. That is what we mean by pursing becoming a master. We get close to the point of perfection and never attain that point of perfection.

Does this mean we should not practice? Of course not! When we practice we should be deliberate in our practice toward mastering our technique. We discussed practicing in depth in prior posts learn, practice, and apply and then how do you learn that new skill?

This week our focus on practice moves to mastery. We have discussed learning the back fist, applying and using it in a fight or drill. The main focus today is deliberate practice. Our practice works best when we are challenged to learn a technique that is matched with our abilities. Daniel Pink refers to this as “flow”; it works well. He indicates that when we are in flow, we are so in the moment we can lose track of time. That is one stop on the journey to mastery.

The second area from the book Drive in the discussion of mastery is the concept of hard work or grit. He tells the story of what separated the students that finish the first year at West Point from those who dropped out. It was not academics or physical abilities, it was grit. Daniel Pink defined grit as “perseverance and passion for long term goals.” The determination to see the task through to the end, like moving from white belt to black, requires grit.

The final area from Drive for mastery is the concept of a growth mindset. At the dojo, we believe that you can learn new techniques and memorize forms. We do not just take students who show an aptitude for karate. We do not require our white belts to pass a coordination test. We have the mindset that the abilities can be learned and the skill level improved through the concepts on practice we have discussed.

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Our practice works best when we are challenged to learn a technique that is matched with our abilities.

The Harvard Business Review published this in July, 2007 from the article The Making of an Expert by K. Anders Ericsson, Michael J. Prietula, and Edward T. Cokely: “When most people practice, they focus on the things they already know how to do. Deliberate practice is different. It entails considerable, specific, and sustained efforts to do something you can’t do well—or even at all. Research across domains shows that it is only by working at what you can’t do that you turn into the expert you want to become.”

Did you catch that? Deliberate practice works on the uncomfortable aspects. The article goes on to explain how when you learn to play golf, you improve a lot. Once you learn the game, just playing the same course does nothing to improve your golf game as you are at the same skill level. No growth is happening.

The article related this story of Ben Hogan, a golf master who worked to improve his shots and his powers of concentration. He sounds like he could have been a karate sensei. The authors make the point our Sensei makes about practicing. Physical practice is just one aspect. We also need the mental practice that comes with concentration.  And of course this article articulates that it takes time. The authors pick the 10,000 hours in ten years with intense training to become an international champion.

Just showing up for class for ten years and not deliberately practicing will not get you on the path to master. It is the deliberate practice that sets apart the individual on the path to mastery. The Harvard article ends with a nod to our culture in thinking about genius. Many know some of the story of the talented Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. What we forget was his teaching (learn, practice and apply) began before the age of 4 from his father who was a composer and music teacher. Mozart had deliberate, supervised practice.

I am looking now to pursue mastery in my practice. I know our students look to the senseis as masters of technique. How about you? Are you on the road to mastery?

See you in class soon.

How Do You Learn That New Skill?

Each time I come to class I learn something new. Sensei Mae and I are open to the uncomfortable feeling that accompanies learning new things. How about you? Do you know that you have to leave the comfortable behind to learn new things?

As teachers we know that students have to be open to learning new things. We are also student at the dojo and we do not always want to learn new things. I am sometimes uncomfortable in trying a new technique or kata. It may be just as simple as you want me to move how? Of course, I am thinking that others are watching me…and I am not doing it correctly. When we are learning a new thing we should keep in mind what Helen Hays said, “The expert at anything was once a beginner.”

Last week we discussed Learn, Practice, Apply . This week we are diving into the practical aspects a little more, how we learn and then how do we practice. My comfort zone is to do what I know and practiced. Of course, I only know what I have practiced. I sometimes like being able to show off my skills. This never has ended well for me. I just want to share with the world that at the very least I believe I am good at something. For me it is great to have acknowledgement that I mastered a technique. The avoidance of criticism or thoughts on how the technique could improve every now and then is a good feeling.

Learning a new skill, like gyaku-zuke (reverse punch) is best done slowly little pieces at a time. The sensei on the floor teaching the technique will usually explain it and then demonstrate how it works. Every time I see and hear a new technique I am amazed how easy it looks for the one who mastered the technique. So just picture me in class learning gyaku-zuki for the first time. I had punched bags and I had a brother, so hey—I have hit things before. This training was unlike hitting a bag or my brother. I was shown how to perform the technique correctly and allowed to make mistakes hitting the bag and then with our Sensei holding a pad for us to hit.  Performing this part slowly and under supervision moved me along rapidly in understanding the gyaku-zuki.

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Performing this part slowly and under supervision moves you along rapidly in understanding.

Being in a karate family was a great assistance. We all went home and showed off to each other how this technique worked. Of course we all picked up this simple technique slightly differently. When I ask the question, “why didn’t you tell me this?” the answer from our teacher may be we were not ready or more likely, I did not listen to the whole explanation.

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How good are my notes? It was easy with Sensei telling me. Now I have questions!

In my example, “how much do you rotate your hand” or “where does it start from?” and even a question on “where does the punch end?” were items we did not fully write in our notes after the first time we learned this simple technique.  Of course none of us could agree on the spelling for gyaku-zuki in our notes.

We tried it out at home and came back to the next class with questions that were readily answered by our Sensei. Now we wanted to fill in the gaps in our notes. We practiced some more on the dojo floor and came back home with the basic concepts corrected and even learned how to spell gyaku-zuki for our notes.

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What can you apply from this simple process to your learning and practice?

What can you apply from this simple process to your learning and practice? Here are some of my thoughts

  • We can perform techniques if we are open to getting out of our comfort zone
  • Sensei needs to supervise initial practice at the dojo and follow-up after you have tried it home to see if you are beginning to learn the new technique
  • Practicing and note taking is a key part of the process to learn new skills
  • The sooner a correction is made the easier it is to make the change.

I am happy to say that we learned gyaku-zuki and it made learning other punches easier with the foundation of knowledge we had on that first reverse punch. You too can do it! Be open to the teaching, practice slowly to master the skill under a sensei who knows the technique, try it out at home, come back and receive refinement and help others. Remember to Learn, Practice, Apply. Continue to monitor even the most basic skills and you will keep adding to your learning and understanding.

See you in class soon.

Learn, Practice, Apply

Happy February. How are your resolutions going? Are you spending time practicing or working on your karate? Did you promise yourself that you would do more karate practicing this year? Now is the time to take up our challenge to practice more.

Of course we do not mean the satirical reference we had when looking at our dojo’s Facebook page this week. We saw a posting “from” Bruce Lee asking if you had practiced enough. Of course the schematic followed the trail to encourage us to keep practicing. It is great to practice, and Sensei Mae and I believe you should be practicing. All of us know we should practice more than we do today.

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Did Bruce Lee really say you should get back to practicing?

Here is my schematic for the cycle, not just constant practice as advertised by Bruce Lee, but learn, practice, apply, re-learn, practice, apply…

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Not just practice. Learn, practice (take notes) and apply!

Learn

Before we practice, we should learn the move or activity and write it down in our notes. We recommend pen and paper. Take a look at Sensei Mae’s blog post about taking notes. A good journal helps keep things straight. I often find that in writing it down it shows the gaps in my understanding and knowledge. If I can write it down, I know that at home I can practice.

Practice

After we have been taught an activity or move, we should practice that activity or move. Helen Hays said, “The expert at anything was once a beginner.” To get the most out of practice, we should begin as slowly as the move allows and build up speed as we determine our technique is correct. Our head Sensei demonstrated a jumping move in black belt class last week. He jumped and come down pretty quickly. Here is the reference back to the notes; if you have a karate friend, asking them to watch you pays off for the both of you.

Apply

After you have learned and practiced the move or activity, you are ready to apply. In the application stage it may be running kata for your Sensei or using the move in a fight at class. Whichever the application after the execution, you will receive feedback. The move worked in the fight and your classmate was impressed, or the move did not work and you will need some refinement. I know in my journey I have learned several katas, and they are never perfect–they require refinement and re-learning.

Re-Learn, practice and apply again (and again…)

As we grow in our martial arts practice, we will follow the learn, practice, apply, re-learn…sequence on several techniques and activities. Part of the joy in karate and moving up in the ranks is working on perfecting a “simple” technique. We all learned a front kick as white belts. When I was practicing for my black belt test, I was still refining the front kick to ensure my foot and ankle placement was correct.

If you want to grow as a martial artist, the timeline of only practicing shown at the beginning is incorrect. Of course we must practice. Proper practice occurs after we receive proper coaching and receive feedback on how well we have learned and applied our martial arts. Keep practicing. If you would like feedback on your technique, drop us a line here at the blog or reach out to Sensei Mae on Twitter @letstalkkarate.

See you in class soon.