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.


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.


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.


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.




Have You Hit Something This Week?

Baseball season has begun and this is not what our Sensei was on fire about. Karate is the way of the empty hand. This means we are striking, or hitting, or in some way using our hands to defend ourselves and well, I can say, attack others after they attack us. Gichin Funakoshi has on his gravestone this quote, “Karate ni sente nashi” or “There is no first strike (attack) in karate.”

As karate practitioners, we hit things! It is what we do. That was the point Sensei was making for us all in class on Tuesday.  We started with a simple reverse punch and moved to a front punch. We did combination strikes front and reverse punch. It was a lot of fun after a long day of working to punch a bag. We did have a go at my favorite, back fist. It felt good to do back fist drills.

Sensei Glen with a back fist as part of the ten strikes for the day.


This is the first class this year that I recall us focusing on striking. Our Sensei shared with us that we are a karate dojo and we hit. He then listed some of the other martial arts:

  • Taekwondo emphasis is on kicking
  • Judo is designed to grapple and throw
  • Aikido has an emphasis on throwing

Sensei Glen hitting the bag. Have you hit yours today?

The point for all us on Tuesday was that we needed to go back to the bag and ensure we were hitting and striking daily. He gave us the 10 hit a day challenge: each day punch a bag or other object ten times with each hand to improve our strikes. I am happy to report that so far I have participated every day and met this challenge.

In studying for our black belt test we had a series of over 100 strikes to perform both standing still and moving. It was a challenge to master all of the different strikes. It is interesting how many of them we use in our various katas. The next point that was made on Tuesday was that our katas all have strikes in them. Not just blocks. We need to work on both. Even with no first strike in karate we need to know how to strike properly.

Have you noticed that katas begin with a block? Take a look at the kata you like the best and let us know if you see that as well. I am sure our Sensei would also like us to make good punches in our kata. Block, punch is a basic winning formula for a good kata. Yes, we have the occasional kick as well. When we teach striking, we use our bodies, not just our fists. Throwing our hips and weight into a punch makes it land better.

At our dojo, we incorporate the best of martial arts into our teaching. We are a karate dojo and we also teach kicking, grappling, throwing and weapons. Our teacher is real. He worked as a bouncer at a bar and tried out the material he teaches us to ensure it worked. Besides the confidence that comes from learning a new technique or drill, we want to ensure that it works. What if, like the Music Man, you used the “think system” to learn any drill. In the movie, the boys to learn to play via the “think system,” in which they simply have to think of a tune over and over and will know how to play it without ever touching their instruments. That is not what I want for me and my family. We want the real deal.

I know that I am practicing my strikes and here is our challenge for all of you. How are you doing on your strikes? Could you make 10 strikes a day for the next ten days beginning the day you read this? Follow us on twitter and you will hear how we are doing #10strikestoday. Put a comment on Facebook or on this blog post. We are interested in how you are doing.

See you in class soon.

Getting out of a Slump. Sensei Mae’s Five Steps to Happiness

Hi! How’s your week going?

Sensei Mae here. I want to talk about getting out of a slump.

Even though I love karate, sometimes life just takes me away from the dojo.  And when that happens I fall into a slump.

Come on Sensei Mae. Lets get up and kick

Sensei Mae in a slump!

So now I’m getting out. And here’s how you can too.

1) Do something.  My teacher always says “to do something is better than to do nothing”

So get up and do something. Even if it’s just a few kicks, one kata or a few punches, something is always better than nothing.  So right now as you’re reading this get up and do something. I’ll wait. The more you move the better you will feel.

Lets keep kicking

Sensei Mae loves to kick. Just get up and do one thing!

2) I just did some punches and kicks and I feel better. Don’t you?

Remember why you got into karate in the first place. I got into it for self-defense, so that’s what I’m practicing next.

3) Call your karate buddy. Who do you look forward to seeing at karate? Give them a call. Even if you haven’t trained in years just reach out. Just talking about karate is great.  Talking about the fun you had together can rekindle the love you have for this great art.

4) Everyone gets slump. But not everyone overcomes it. The difference between a white belt and a black belt is that a black belt never gave up.  The Black belt comes to class, respects the teaching and diligently practices.  At my dojo, some black belts take breaks and that’s ok.  They come back refreshed and ready for more.  They are some of the most technically accurate and caring black belts.

5) Set new goals, and have a plan to achieve them. Goals are no good without follow up.   My goal is to test for 2nd degree. So I called my karate buddy and I have a plan of attack.


Not time for class to end yet!

What do you mean the dojo is closing? I have more kicking left!

So get out there, practice the art you love.    And then tell me what you did on twitter or Facebook!

Tension at the Dojo?

How could there be tension? No, we do not mean gossip or intrigue. We do mean that we are not relaxed while training at the dojo. Of course, stress is another word for tension. Sensei Glen here to tell you that there is stress in my life and it comes with me more often than it should onto the dojo floor. I am working on being better in leaving my outside world outside when I enter the dojo.

When we enter the dojo, we look forward to the tension of our life disappearing. The stress from our day has been building and we are looking forward to doing fun things at the dojo. Regardless of our situation, taking a math test or having to grade the test, the dojo is a fun place to go. We know we are likely to get to hit something or maybe someone!  Just kicking a bag releases tension for me and then I am fully into the lesson at the dojo.

If we know about stress we know that psychologically there are two types of stress. The one no one at work discusses “good” stress called Eustress (pronounced U-stress) which can be fun, exciting and energizing, especially in the short-term.  And the “bad” stress or distress. This bad stress is what we often think about and discuss with our cronies.

So, how is it that we have tension or distress at the dojo? When we enter the dojo we bow and should recall that we are leaving the outside world (and our street clothing, shoes & socks) behind and that the time in the dojo is ours. It is not that easy to leave the tension of the world behind.

We are in a new home for our dojo. While we were in our temporary dojo, we may have forgotten why we bow on the way into the dojo and how we need to release the cares of this world. We bow at the entrance to the dojo to show that we are leaving the world at the door, all of our cares and worries are left outside of the door like our shoes. The time at the dojo is for training and not compiling a list of things to do next.


Bow and release the tension when entering the dojo

At the beginning of our training we kick or punch and our Sensei is just trying to get us to kick or punch. As we progress on our karate journey we begin to have some tension in our body. We tighten and muscle up. During training I sometimes think  “let’s execute the perfect kick, I am so going to nail this and then be promoted two belts and not just one, based on this kick alone!” Okay, it may be an ego thing for me. You never would think that about yourself. So what do I do for that “two belt kick?” I tighten or muscle up and launch the “winner” which of course, you know, never works.  This is the opposite of how we should practice and execute techniques. This is also one of the reasons Sensei Mae was a black belt one year before I was.

Of course employing distress or tension is a mistake. We have all made a mistake and mistakes are great at the dojo! What did you say? Yes, we said it is great to make mistakes and to have your Sensei see them! When we work with a qualified Sensei they will correct us to the right form as well as the correct tension.

This week’s blog Japanese word is “Ima” meaning the present time or now.

  • Ima is pronounced ‘ee-mah’
  • When we are in the dojo our mind should be on the here and now of the training and in the moment, not the past or the future. This is hard for me. How about you?

In karate we are often told to relax. We should practice Ima and be in the moment when at the dojo. Our Sensei reminds us to relax as we fight. We may be thinking to ourselves, “Let me watch and coach while this guy comes breathing fire at you!” It is hard to train ourselves to relax. Sensei will tell me or other students to relax my jaw or breathe deeply to help us relax. During fighting we are encouraged to smile. Not necessarily to distract our opponent. Most importantly we smile or even laugh to breathe and relax our tension and carry out the drill or exercise.  If we can smile, we are experiencing Ima during the fight. Can you smile and fight? I know from experience when I can, my fighting is better.

Let’s agree to do better at the dojo next week and release all of the tension and pick up some Eustress to have fun with and focus our training. How can we achieve Ima when we enter the training floor? Encourage each other to bow on the way into and out of the training space. Our shoes, socks and tension will wait until after class to be put back on! See you in class soon.