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!

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Can You Do The 12 Day Karate Challenge?

Have you been practicing in December like you were the last 11 months? We have not been practicing as much this month either. To get us back on track, Sensei Mae and I came up with the 12 day Challenge. We are going to make a game, based on a familiar Christmas song, of this challenge. It is Christmastime here and we are going to play some board games. I am sure when you and your family and friends get together you will play games as well. It may not be any of the titles we have on the table ready for the choosing here.

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Let us know your favorite game

When we have class at the dojo we will often play games with the kids. I have found that the adults like the games as well. Games make learning fun and engaging. When I think about practicing and discipline, I think please pass the cookies and let’s play another game. When I think about playing a game, my face lights up and I become competitive, ready for the challenge—and now I am ready to do what it takes.

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Playing games at the dojo

Consider joining Sensei Mae and me as we participate in the 12 karate days of Christmas. We are beginning the day after Christmas and will work into the first week of the New Year. Each day we have a challenge for you to open. Of course, just like the song, as each day goes on, you will need to repeat the prior day’s challenge as well as the current day. Are you ready?

  1. On the first day of the karate challenge, my sensei challenged me to perform one horse stance for 30 seconds.
  2. On the second day of the karate challenge, my sensei challenged me to perform two runs of my most challenging kata and one horse stance for 30 seconds.
  3. On the third day of the karate challenge, my sensei challenged me to perform three perfect down blocks, two runs of my most challenging kata and one horse stance for 30 seconds.
  4. On the fourth day of the karate challenge, my sensei challenged me to perform four sets of 10 punches in a punching drill, three perfect down blocks, two runs of my most challenging kata and one horse stance for 30 seconds.
  5. On the fifth day of the karate challenge, my sensei challenged me to perform five perfect pushups, four sets of 10 punches in a punching drill, three perfect down blocks, two runs of my most challenging kata and one horse stance for 30 seconds.
  6. On the sixth day of the karate challenge, my sensei challenged me to perform six sets of 10 kicks in a kicking drill, five perfect pushups, four sets of 10 punches in a punching drill, three perfect down blocks, two runs of my most challenging kata and one horse stance for 30 seconds.
  7. On the seventh day of the karate challenge, my sensei challenged me to perform seven self-defense moves, six sets of 10 kicks in a kicking drill, five perfect pushups, four sets of 10 punches in a punching drill, three perfect down blocks, two runs of my most challenging kata and one horse stance for 30 seconds.
  8. On the eighth day of the karate challenge, my sensei challenged me to perform eight punch-kick combinations, seven self-defense moves, six sets of 10 kicks in a kicking drill, five perfect pushups, four sets of 10 punches in a punching drill, three perfect down blocks, two runs of my most challenging kata and one horse stance for 30 seconds.
  9. On the ninth day of the karate challenge, my sensei challenged me to perform nine different strikes, eight punch-kick combinations, seven self-defense moves, six sets of 10 kicks in a kicking drill, five perfect pushups, four sets of 10 punches in a punching drill, three perfect down blocks, two runs of my most challenging kata and one horse stance for 30 seconds.
  10. On the tenth day of the karate challenge, my sensei challenged me to practice one kata 10 times, nine different strikes, eight punch-kick combinations, seven self-defense moves, six sets of 10 kicks in a kicking drill, five perfect pushups, four sets of 10 punches in a punching drill, three perfect down blocks, two runs of my most challenging kata and one horse stance for 30 seconds.
  11. On the eleventh day of the karate challenge, my sensei challenged me to review the last eleven months of training to see my progress, practice one kata 10 times, nine different strikes, eight punch-kick combinations, seven self-defense moves, six sets of 10 kicks in a kicking drill, five perfect pushups, four sets of 10 punches in a punching drill, three perfect down blocks, two runs of my most challenging kata and one horse stance for 30 seconds.
  12. On the twelfth day of the karate challenge, my sensei challenged me to write out my plan to achieve my karate goals for the next twelve months, review the last eleven months of training to see my progress, practice one kata 10 times, nine different strikes, eight punch-kick combinations, seven self-defense moves, six sets of 10 kicks in a kicking drill, five perfect pushups, four sets of 10 punches in a punching drill, three perfect down blocks, two runs of my most challenging kata and one horse stance for 30 seconds.

The time we take to prepare for the coming season now will pay off as we begin to achieve our goals. Writing them down and reviewing them daily to see how we did and what we need to change will make a difference in the coming year when we reflect next year on this year’s accomplishments.

Join us as we play games and then join our challenge. Day one is easy! All you have to do is show up and practice; I know it will be fun for you and me. Post your comments on how you are doing on the karate 12 day challenge.

See you in the dojo soon.

12 christmas game days

Learning the Right Way

We all want the quick fix, the silver bullet, the one thing we can do to skip practice and still become the best. I loved that scene in Captain America where Steve Rogers is injected with the formula and grows several sizes in strength. Never mind that we have all learned we cannot have our cake and eat it too.

This week Sensei Mae shared with me a video on self-defense. We are not commenting on the quality of the technique. We have not tried the technique used in this video, and it is not part of our teaching. We are open to learning new things, however, we are not recommending anything other than our proven system.

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At the dojo we practice modeling a technique.

We all know that the internet is full of videos like this one. The basic appeal is to get us to buy something. The marketing appeals to our instinct that if we watch the video, we will be safe. Just remember the technique and you will be able to overcome any obstacle. I do want to believe that I can have my cake and eat it too!

I am sorry to say that we cannot determine if a technique will work simply by watching a video on Facebook. As a kid, when I learned in biology class about osmosis, I set my biology book under my pillow in hopes of the material leaching through the pillow and into my brain for an effortless, unconscious assimilation of the knowledge from the book. All I received was a sore neck and no additional knowledge about biology. We will not have the time to search the web for the correct technique to learn when we require our self-defense skills, let alone be able to evaluate their validity.

At the dojo we teach self-defense, often from the very first class. This is one of the many reasons people take up karate. We do not think we will get into a lot of fights. Most of us believe we are possible victims requiring some self-defense training.

At the dojo we practice modeling a technique to our students and then letting them experiment with it. In a recent class, I taught several of our basic techniques. It was important that the students get hands on experience with it working and not working for them. We also ensure they take notes and practice the techniques. On the black belt test the candidates must show it working on black belt attackers. As an attacker, the student only passed if they knew the technique. We would not fall for improper technique.

In class, we start with the most basic self-defense techniques to ensure all white belts have enough to save themselves from basic situations. We cannot cover every experience in class as time is always limited. We do know that we have a proven method for our teaching. As the students progress in training, we add techniques that people are less likely to encounter and are more difficult to learn. Of course, our best advice is always to avoid the situation and be aware of your surroundings. We only incorporate techniques that work all of the time. Even these techniques will only work if they are practiced and worked on by the students. It is great to have passed the black belt test. However, unless I am still practicing the techniques, I will not be able to call upon them when needed as my skills will have diminished.

We are working on teaching our students that to master the technique, they must train hard. This is similar to the work that psychologist Robert Eisenberger, at the University of Houston, is working on with his experiments. He has noted that when we learn to work for our reward, we perform better than those who do not have to work as hard for their reward (See his work [1992]. Learned industriousness. Psychological Review, 99, 248-267).

Dr. Eisenberger’s conclusion implies that we are more likely to learn new things when our initial learning experience was hard. Our push then for learning something new, like a cool new self-defense technique, is something we can struggle with and learn. My theory is that by struggling to learn a technique, we are more likely to recall and use the technique because we were forced to master that technique during training.  So, just watching the technique will not help. Pairing up and working the technique is a great start to our journey toward mastery. Working hard for the goal is an effective way to learn. Maybe Sensei Mae and I will need to watch some videos and try them out.

We need to put in the hard work to achieve our goals and improve ourselves. What are you doing to ensure you are practicing hard (and not hardly practicing!) in order to achieve your goals? Keep in mind that you cannot learn self-defense from a video or a blog post. This is the time of year to review and reflect on what worked in the past and what should change in the future.

See you in the dojo soon.

Progress by Avoiding These 5 Mistakes

The secret to move from up from white belt is to show up at class consistently. The next thing you will want to know is how do I obtain my black belt? Of course for that you need a plan, a good teacher and commitment to a goal. Each dojo is different and has different colors for their belts. As you advance to the (generally) higher and darker colored belts, the plan is what we can help with the most on Let’s Talk Karate.

Class Notes

Let’s go over that plan

My friend has come for a few weeks as a new karate student and is really enjoying his white belt experience. It has been good for him to get out and take out some frustrations that are best not left in the house. As a white belt, all the training he is receiving is fundamental knowledge. It has been good for me to see again what it means to be a brand new student of karate. Our sensei has a plan for all students, the number of expected weeks between belts, the skills, weapons and kata required. Besides regularly attending classes, the element that got our family to move up from white belt was a plan. Do you have a plan for the coming year on your next steps for your training plan? Now is time to think about next year.

One of your first actions should be the development of a training plan. A well-developed plan will encourage you to keep showing up and suiting up to progress. It will also clarify the goals you have for the training program.  Here are the five common mistakes to avoid in developing your karate plan of action for next year:

  1. Not honestly reviewing your current year performance. Improvement begins with an accurate evaluation of your baseline performance. Ask yourself these questions
    • What skills or drills did I avoid?
    • What goals did I fail to achieve?
    • What were my greatest strengths during the year?
    • What were my most significant weaknesses during the year?
    • Overall, how do I feel about my karate performance?
  2. Failing to set measurable and time-bound goals. We all set goals, especially at the start of the year, to do things like lose weight or stop some habit. The best goals have two key ingredients; they are measurable and time bound.
    • Measurable goals include items such as I will achieve a (fill in the color) belt. You either do the work for the belt or you do not. It is easy to measure. Or, it could be I will practice my kata twice daily.
    • Time bound means by when…so, by Tuesday I will practice my kata 14 times or by the end of April I will have passed the (fill in the color) belt test or become a (fill in the color) belt.
  3. Failing to set both outcome and process goals. As I explained last week, our dojo has both outcome goals as well as process goals.
    • Getting a belt by specific testing date is an example of an outcome goal.
    • A process goal is something like, having performed 1,000 kicks in January in one class to kick off the New Year. Another process goal is to run kata daily in multiple directions.
  4. Setting goals too high or too low. Your goals should be both challenging and realistic.
    • Setting goals too high generally means you will fall short and be disappointed. You will not likely be the first one to begin a karate program without a proper understanding of the training commitment involved with the program.
    • Setting your goals too low, you may achieve them and at the same time feel dissatisfied. “Karate is so easy—I became a (fill in the color) belt in only one year,” which may not be very challenging.
    • Try to find a “goldilocks” goal, where goal attainment is difficult but possible.
  5. Not modifying your goals when circumstances change. Prior to the black belt test, I had to be out of the country for two weeks. My training goals and daily achievements were not possible with air travel and staying in a foreign country. I modified my training plans and borrowed equipment from my in-country friends to stay on track.

If you would like assistance in working on your training plans for the coming year, please let us know. We are working on our goals for the coming year as well. Our local tournament is this weekend. Try to find one to challenge yourself and see how well your training is going. See you in the dojo soon.

Suit Up, Show Up

To progress, most of what you need is to suit up and show up to the dojo on a consistent basis. If you fail to suit up and show up, your skills become stagnant and you are no longer growing on your karate journey.

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Suit up, show-up consistently!

When we signed up for karate, we looked for three things, probably the same as you:

  1. Location, a dojo near the house
  2. Classes that fit our timing, day of the week and times we could regularly attend
  3. An initial fee and ongoing cost that fit our budget.

As good shoppers, we had the kids attend a week long karate camp in the summer. We were interested in ensuring they could learn and wanted to attend. We also discussed with some of our friends where they sent their kids.

We have stayed suited up and showing up for three main reasons:

  1. We are always learning.
    • Every class we attend at the dojo, we learn something to include in our notebooks or to pass along to others.
    • I helped teach today and learned several great new drills and ways to teach—and I only helped for the first couple of classes.
  2. We have tested our skills and found them excellent.
    • We have both competed in the AAU karate national tournaments and found that the instruction we receive from our sensei at the dojo is equal to or better than other dojos. It is because our competition teams routinely win top honors in competitions that we know how well our instruction methods stand up nationally.
    • We have put the program to the test, and the program has come out on top. Other dojos can also make that claim. See if yours does.
  3. We are growing and progressing in our martial arts journey. I have learned that preparation determines outcomes.
    • We are prepared and follow a planned progression of ever building skills as we advance in the ranks.
    • We believe in showing up and suiting up. Our instructor challenges us each class. I showed up to class consistently as a part of the program to pass the second degree black belt test. The test was more to show to the panel that I paid attention and practiced. Suit up and show up consistently to pass the test.

All of this is to say that if you find yourself in a dojo and you are not consistently learning and growing as well as advancing, you may want to look around for a different instructor in martial arts. My guess is this is a rare occurrence when we are in our first few years of training.

The point about testing our skills is to do so in structured ways, not going out to fight random strangers on the street. Our recommendation is to go to clinics and tournaments. At clinics and tournaments you will be able to see your training in action against students outside of your dojo. In a clinic, you will learn from other masters. I would not say that losing a fight is due to poor teaching. I have lost fights and know I have a very good sensei.  It is looking at the whole work being performed at the dojo.

As a white belt, my son encountered some different fighting skills and lost a few rounds early in a tournament. Was our teaching bad? No it was not. We did not know how much work or effort was needed to become a champion at our first competition. We had never been tested outside of our classmates.  So, the next time we encountered students from the same school we did better and won more rounds as we worked on new skills. On the whole, our dojo students win more than they lose. Of course we have never been 100% in the win column. I lost the gold medal fight in the AAU national tournament. It was my lack of skill and not the coaching from our sensei. It was a close fight, and a loss. I was able to learn from that experience to become a better fighter.

Your preparation does indeed determine what you will achieve from any program, and karate is no exception. You will continue to learn and grow as long as you continue to suit up and show up at the dojo door. See you in the dojo soon.

 

Are You Ready to Finish Strong?

My challenge for you is to look back at your goals from the first of this year. How are you doing? Are you on track with your goals? I recently took a look at mine, and I have some work to do to ensure I finish the year strong.  At the dojo, we have 6 or 7 black belt candidates looking to test the first weekend in December. Each of these candidates is trying to accomplish one of their goals for the year—earn their black belt in karate. Finishing strong begins with something as small as a habit. Habits are not those little creatures from the Lord of the Rings. Those are Hobbits. Habits are routines of behavior that we repeat regularly. I like to keep this in mind when we develop new (good) habits:  “First it’s a struggle; later it’s a habit.”

As we look back at our goals, we may need to change our behaviors positively to achieve the results we are looking for to finish out this year strong. Experts tell us that we develop new habits in 21 days of repetition. My schedule for training for the black belt test was a 100 day challenge. The hardest part of the challenge is to get ourselves to the point where it is more painful not to change than to change. That moment came for me when we took my first pre-test for the black belt test. In our dojo, about two weeks prior to the black belt test we have a pre-test, which covers several of the test elements. At the end, we are either ready for the test or we are sent back for more training. I do know that I was unprepared although I did not know it at the time. I was confident when I arrived for the pre-test and open for training and a plan when I left. It was another six months before the next black belt test, and I was determined to be ready for that test.

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All that kicking practice paid off and we finished strong!

To engage new behaviors, like actively preparing for the test versus just showing up to class twice a week, I went through this exercise called “5 why’s and one how” and it goes like this:

  1. Why can’t I perform all of the kicks?
    • Because I do not know them all; who knew there were over 100 on the test!
  2. Why don’t I know them?
    • Because I didn’t get a lesson with an expert on what is needed.
  3. Why didn’t I get a lesson?
    • Because I was confident that coming to class regularly was enough to pass the test.
  4. Why didn’t I get enough kicking practice in class?
    • Because I had too many things to do and just going to class was easiest.
  5. Why did I have so many things to do?
    • Because I did not systematize my practice schedule into daily actionable tasks.
  6. How can I set a practice schedule to pass the next pre-test and earn my black belt?
    • Ask for assistance, or read this blog…

All of us are different in what is holding us back from accomplishing our goals. This simple exercise gets to a possible root cause of why I failed my black belt pre-test. As a result, I did ask for additional one-on-one training from our senseis at the dojo, like Sensei Mae.

Here was my system, a little over 3 months (100 days) out from the test.  Our test covers six basic elements: Kicking, striking, kata, weapons, self-defense, and fighting. The only way to prepare for fighting was the drills we learned in class. The last element I worked on was to improve the number of push-ups I could do in one day. I created the one-hundred day push-up (PU) challenge. I did one more each day, until after 100 days I was able to knock out 100 pushups like I would when I come to every black belt class.

Log from BB test

 

I started prior to the 100 days to ensure I knew each element of the test come testing day.  My advice:  find out what is on the test so you can practice. Ask for help. Get private lessons.

My key to success was the daily increments that moved the practice from a struggle to a habit. It took a daily log for me to see how well I was doing, and I could easily look and see what I left off for the day or the week. Try this with your karate goals and let me know how you are doing as we are getting ready for the end of the year. Let’s finish the year strong together!

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!