Destination or Journey?

We just returned from Boston and had a great time. We did not go to see the city; although it is very nice…we went to see people as a part of our journey. While the destination let us know that we had arrived, it was the journey visiting with friends along the way that made the visit special.

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Need a bo staff –Lowell MA

I am amazed at movies like Rocky where they show a person who is new, or lacking the training to take on the champ, and then they get into a practice routine, focus on only one thing and the journey that takes months or years is condensed into a scene that takes about 3 minutes. I appreciate the hard work that it takes to become a champion and of course the championship fight in Rocky is fun to watch. A movie, like Rocky, focuses on the championship fight to ensure we will watch the movie. The destination is the title fight. We breeze through the training journey on the way to the fight and walk away with the impression that in 3 or so minutes, or possibly days, we, too, could take on the heavy weight boxing champion.

You likely know all about the Boston tea party. A few men dressed up and protested a tea tax by dumping sea into Boston Harbor. Over 100 participated in dumping tea after a meeting with over 5,000 who met to protest the tax on the tea. We remember the destination, the party, and not the journey.

  • As a part of the journey, the almost bankrupt tea company owned by the British government needed some help against smugglers who were undercutting the monopoly tea price.
  • I have no sympathy for the tea company, and my ancestors may have been among the 5,000 who met to protest as they served in the war that followed.
  • Each action along the journey, some mentioned here, takes us to the tea party destination.
  • If we just look at the tea party heroes who began to fan the flames of revolutionary fervor, we start to see the journey and not just the destination. The destination makes for a good story, the journey engages us daily.

Are you ready to take a journey for your karate?

Journey or destination

Ready for a karate Journey–my bag is packed!

We discussed Rocky and the Tea Party as both destinations and events. While the fight in Rocky (one) was great, Rocky did not win the fight, nor was the Revolutionary War decided by the tea party. They were a part of the journey. This is the same kind of thought process we need to have in order to fulfill the goals we have as we train. The journey can be fun and full of adventure, sometimes more so than the destination.

When I first saw Rocky, I saw an overnight success. He was a top fighter on the way to success, assisted by the champion.

  • Sometimes, we only notice Rocky because he participated in a destination event—the championship fight.
  • We do see the training in the movie where he runs by several who do not know him and we experience the days when inevitably he does not want to train.
  • The great part of the Rocky story that we often overlook is the one of the Coach or Sensei who trains Rocky for the championship fight.

 

No matter what we are about in our training journey, it always appears to me that our Sensei has already been down the road we are on. He reached the destination and is reaching back to us to help us train and practice to get to the same spot. This is why we should seek out the great masters and ask them to train us on our journey. Who knows, we may even find a different destination than the one we set out to tackle when we began as white belts.

Mastery requires us to focus on where we are going on our journey and pay attention to the details. We are unlikely to be a professional fighter or be the one to fan the flames to a revolution. The journey to mastery of technique in either tea parties or karate does not take us along the same paths and we should end up in different destinations.

How about you, are you only thinking about the destination and not the journey? Our journey to Boston was a lot of fun and we enjoyed the time in Massachusetts. Keep going on the journey. 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.

Best Time to Practice

Have you ever come back to class a week later and asked your classmate how to do that new skill we all thought was so fun from last week and found out that neither of you knew? How do you best practice a new skill or something you have learned? We are always receiving new material in class; do you have a set time to practice that new thing you just learned?  Today, I will reveal the secret of the best time for practicing.

I try to always attend class on Tuesday. It is where I learn the most new material and have the most entries in my karate notebook. Even though I learn a lot while teaching, I receive new material on Tuesdays.

  • Often on Tuesday when I get home I am able to share with my black belt wife the lessons from the class and go over the basics we learned that evening.
  • On Wednesday, I make a point of going to the gym and practicing the same techniques we learned the evening prior.
  • At that point I can see the gaps in my knowledge that were “cemented” the evening prior.
  • Going home, I check my notes and then at the next class opportunity, ask for clarification on the points that I stumbled over when practicing on Wednesday at the gym.
When to practice

Learn @ class => practice @ class =>make notes =>read and recreate => practice soon

Here is the secret formula for the best time to practice a new skill:

  • Try out the new skill when taught. This is one of the main class activities.
  • Make hand written notes as soon as possible after the teaching and practice.
  • Read the notes and practice prior to leaving the dojo; this is the best time to clarify and cement your understanding. Your classmates may be able to fill in any gaps and your Sensei may be available to assist as well.
  • Here is where the test for understanding comes in—practice at home or the next morning when the information is fresh in your mind.
  • Have an established practice time specifically to review the last class. Scheduling the practice session is just as important as going to class.
    • It needs to fit in with your schedule.
    • You see mine is set already as I am committed to the class and practice schedule.

How well are you retaining your new karate knowledge? Our challenge to you is to record and reflect on the class immediately after the class is concluded. Yes, it is great to talk with your karate family, and this is the perfect topic for the discussion. Please let us know in the comment section below how well you are doing.

The time to record and reflect is an important after class activity. Practicing the new skill will keep your mind on what you just learned. Practicing immediately at home or the next morning will make a difference in how well you retain the knowledge from class to class. See you in class soon.

 

Beach Time Improves Your Kata

Our karate and kata style comes from Okinawa. The Okinawa main island has over 100 beaches. Karate started with the notion that defenders needed a solid footing to repel invaders. If you lived on an island, you would have plenty of beaches and need to learn how to defend in the sand.

We just came back from our travels out to San Francisco. Even though we may not generally associate the beach with San Francisco they do have a few. Practicing kata on the beach while on vacation is always a joy. We do get a few looks and people tend to move away from your area. In San Francisco where it was likely in the mid 60’s while we were at the beach, not too many were just lying down and sunning themselves.

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Kata on the beach!

The sand and water offer their own unique challenges.

  • The fresh air and bird songs are good for your emotional well-being.
  • Sand is constantly shifting and changing, demanding various muscles in the body to come into play that might not normally engage on a dojo floor workout.
  • The sand is on different levels, and you have to adjust to that difference, which brings a new element to our kata and really checks the balance.
  • Jumping is much easier on our joints in the sand.
  • I loved the spray of sand when I kicked as it kept my focus on good technique.
  • The water was cold and kept filling in my marks.
  • Grounding is a theory that electrical energy from the earth can be absorbed through your feet when you walk barefoot leading to multiple health benefits. We have between 3,000–7,000 nerve endings in each of our feet so let them loose every now and then.

One big visible benefit of the beach is that the sand leaves a pattern of our kata for us to review. We reference our feet when performing kata. The sand impressions let us know how well we are doing. In wet sand you need a little more pressure to leave your mark and in the dry sand, with no wind, you can easily see the referencing.

Our challenge this week is to take some time off and find a local beach, any sand will do for the sensation. Practice your kata on the sand and find what else your kata can teach you while you are enjoying a relaxing time on the sand. I know that my practice session on the beach helped me with my kata.

Going to the beach this summer? Please let us know in the comment section below. See you in class soon.

 

Making Karate Practice Fun

Happy Father’s Day! One of the many lessons I learned from my dad was how important it was to plan for fun. Cool thought and follow-up from my childhood. I trust you are planning for fun when you practice; I know that I am.

Glen and Dad 2006

Happy Father’s Day!

Both of my parents were teachers which meant we had the whole summer off of school. Back in the old days my dad wrote letters and received answers, maps and information in the mail, and we made our summer vacation plans from that information. The internet had yet to be invented. With some input from all of us, my dad mapped our intended fun vacation day by day and event by event. We even practiced the fun of an overnight event with our pop-up camper to ensure we could use it. These were fun practice sessions for us as we got away for the weekend. Continue reading

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.

Extinct

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?

Kata in a new house

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.