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?

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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!

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.