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.

Improvise, Adapt, Overcome

The black belt test was a success last week and we had candidates pass the test. During the last part of the test, the fight, I was reminded of the Army Ranger, Green Beret core belief “improvise, adapt, and overcome.”  The Army Rangers are a group that spends a lot of time drilling and preparing for situations. Hand in hand with the Green Beret belief is this quotation on planning: “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.” This was said by Mike Tyson, a well-known champion boxer. This week we will look at how you can apply either the Green Beret belief or Mike Tyson’s in your next training, tournament or test.

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Black belt’s who have Improvised, Adapted, and Overcome!

For my black belt test I prepared for the last part of the test as best I could. I survived the fights, which is about as well as we can expect when fighting two other black belts at the same time. Looking at the test from Saturday, and hearing Sensei Mae tell the candidates prior to and during the fights to use their training and demonstrated skills, I realize that all of the candidates, myself included, had the skills needed to do better than just survive. We were all highly trained; we just showed we knew more than 100 kicks, strikes and several blocks. We also showed we knew several katas that have direct applications to fighting. Prior to my test, one of the senseis had us practice fighting by using unique moves only from our katas. During the practice time we could not repeat moves until we drilled for one minute. That was a great drill; I recommend it when preparing for a test with fighting.

Here are some thoughts on how the Green Beret core belief improves our fighting:

Improvise: The dictionary has a few definitions for this verb:

  1. to compose and perform or deliver without previous preparation; extemporize
  2. to make, provide, or arrange from whatever materials are readily available
  • When the first definition says “without previous preparation”, it is not saying we should show up to the fight without any preparation. When our candidates came to the test, they were all well prepared, including wearing clean Gi’s. The first definition goes back to Mike Tyson and fighting, in that we do not know what our opponent will do during the fight, test or situation. As a result we must make do with the material we have available.
  • When we make do with the materials that are available, it has a big impact on our success in fights, tests, tournaments or similar situations.
    • In the test, the material we have is all of our experience to date, our practice time, and our demonstrated skills.
    • Just as a carpenter brings a toolbox not knowing the specific tool required, we bring to the event our toolbox of training and look to pull out the correct kick, strike or block at the proper time.
    • We cannot improvise without practicing and planning for some encounter. The situations we encounter are unlikely to match any we drilled and practiced for in our training. The improvisation will work if we have our toolbox to fall back upon.

Adapt. Here the dictionary defines this verb as: “to adjust oneself to different conditions, environment, etc.”

  • We have seen from improvisation that we need to pull out of our karate toolbox the tools needed for test we are facing. We have been hit and now need to react to the situation. Adaptation is an adjustment based on the conditions of the day.
  • We require the agility and nimbleness to move in lockstep with our surroundings. Being in shape is paramount to success in a fight. The candidate must arrive to the test in fighting shape on the day of the test. Our test is an endurance challenge as well. Saturday’s test started at 3 PM and ended at 8 PM. This is a mental and physical test for the candidates. The black belt fighters warmed up during the self-defense portion of the test as they were thrown by the candidates and were ready for the fight. The black belts were fresh, relatively speaking, to the candidates.
  • As a black belt candidate, I had a plan and it hardly survived the first kick and strike. Just like the candidates from the most recent test, I had to adapt and adapt fast to the situation.
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Black belt fight with Sensei Mae cheering on the brown belt candidate

Overcome: The dictionary defines this verb as: “to get the better of in a struggle or conflict; conquer; defeat.”

  • At the end of the black belt test we call time and do not declare a winner. Our objective is to look for the candidates to display a black belt spirit. They need to come to fight despite the odds being stacked against them. We want the candidates to show that they will get up eight times if they are thrown down seven.
  • In all tests, we need an unwavering commitment to results by remaining focused on the desired outcome and doing whatever it takes to deliver by improvising and adapting after that first punch comes. Can we afford to do anything less? The candidates came with the singular focus on their top level goal of winning their black belt. They overcame the hours of practice required and criticism they received when they were not meeting standards.

To obtain your top level goal, are you getting the better of the struggle against yourself? Are you ready to improvise—to adapt in order to overcome after the first punch in the mouth? How have you used this lesson in your life? What obstacle are you looking to overcome? See you in the dojo soon.

 

Your Journey Needs These 3 Steps

A journey without a destination is pointless. Why begin? If you can cruise down the interstate at 70 MPH and are going west when your destination is east, it is efficient (look at how quick we are traveling!) and not effective. We all know the difference between efficient, done quickly, and effective, done well. How often do we apply that to our karate? Last week we discussed journey and destinations; take a look and think about your personal enjoyment.

In practicing kata recently, I forgot the opening sequence to one of my new katas. I was not at home and did not have my notes or any recording of the sequence. I could still run the second half of the kata, I just could not remember how I got there. So, I ran the second half a few times and moved onto the next kata. Later that day I did recall, thankfully, the beginning sequence. Of course I had to drop what I was doing to run the entire sequence, and then write it down. This was not efficient; it was effective for me and I now know that kata better as a result.

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Three steps

1: Effective journeys require a clear destination.

  • Without a destination, any journey will do.
  • If we do not have a reason to do something, we will not improve or we may just abandon the journey all together.
  • When we succeed at arriving at our destination (or achieving a goal), it is generally because we have a focus on only one destination.
    • When the car is going down the highway can you travel both east and west?
    • Therefore, the effective journey flows toward one clear destination.
  • We are in favor of trying new things, like taking up karate.
    • Initially we may start with a friend or just because.
    • We agree that it is a great destination. Do you have other destinations that you can think of along the way?

2: Effective journeys require a time element or a “when” statement. Eventually, if we are to have a successful karate career, we will need some time pressure to reach our destination.

  • For many, the destination is black belt.
  • This destination, paired with a when statement, will improve the focus along with the enjoyment of the journey.
  • It could be “in 5 years, I will have successfully passed the black belt test.” That statement is measureable and will lead to action on your part. Do you have an actionable “when” in your destination?

3: Effective journeys require execution on a plan.

  • Knowledge of kata or karate is useless if we are not growing and translating these activities into deeds. But before springing into action, the effective martial artist needs to plan his course. I am not talking about getting into random fights…We are looking for a growth in the sport plan.
  • We are likely to have side journeys on the way to the main destination as we get interested in the main topic. These are great and we need them, as long as we look back at our destination and “when” statement and ensure it is getting us in the right direction, to our destination.
  • We all need to think about desired results (learn a kata), future revisions (class and lessons with Sensei), check-in points (belt tests along the way to black belt), and implications for how we will practice on the journey.
  • The action plan is a statement of intentions rather than a commitment. It must not become a straitjacket. It should be revised often, because every success creates new opportunities. So does every failure.

Please let us know how your journey is going and where you are on that journey. I am happy to have passed the second degree black belt test and am now working with Sensei Mae on that same goal. See you in the dojo soon!

You can follow Sensei Mae  @letstalkkarate on Twitter.

 

 

 

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?

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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.

Lessons from the Karate Kid

It was the last Saturday class at the temporary dojo and our Sensei pulled out a technique made famous from the movie the Karate Kid. He called the technique “ura,” a technique that deviates an incoming strike, or as the movie called it: “wax on, wax off.”

If you are not familiar with original Karate Kid movie, the main characters Daniel (a/k/a the karate kid) asks Mr. Miyagi to become his karate teacher. He agrees and puts Daniel to work at his house.  After four days of performing seemingly irrelevant and arduous tasks, such as waxing the car, sanding the floor, and, painting the fence, Daniel loses his temper and confronts Mr. Miyagi. Mr. Miyagi responds simply, “Not everything thing is as it seems.” To which Daniel replies, “Show me.”

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Sensei Mae demonstrating Paint the fence

Mr. Miyagi positions himself in front of Daniel and asks him to demonstrate “wax on, wax off.” Daniel performs the circular arm movements. This is the same technique we learned in class. As Daniel demonstrates wax on, wax off, Mr. Miyagi unexpectedly moves to the attack using straight punches that are harmlessly deflected away. When we performed this in class, it worked just as it did for Daniel in the movie. Fun!

As one of the students in class, I was impressed by the knowledge and the detail that went into the teaching of this technique as well as the teaching for our class. This is teaching from Okinawa, and the circular nature of the technique was effective. Sensei went on to demonstrate other techniques from the sequence and showed the moves in various katas as well.

I will be practicing the ura technique with circular motions. As we had several students at the class, we all took turns attacking and defending.

  • One aspect the students liked best was when we hooked the punch and then pulled down our attacker.
  • We also appreciated how the technique blocked a follow-up punch from the attacker.
  • It was tricky to mirror the hands and we were encouraged, just like Daniel in the movie, to go slow at the beginning and perfect the technique.

This movie was well done in teaching this unconventional way.

  • It is much easier for me to stop into the dojo rather than practice waxing several cars in one day.
  • Of course, I do not have a bad guy from Cobra Kai stalking me.
  • The karate kid, original cast is coming back on the small screen. Youtube is starting a new series titled “Cobra Kai,” the fall of 2017. It will be interesting to see where it lands.
  • Will they use the ura technique in the sequel? Stay tuned…

Have you learned this technique? Are you interested in learning similar fun drills? I know I will look to use this technique in my next fight.

  • Sensei knows us well enough not to throw too much at us at one time.
  • Later in the movie Daniel wants to learn the kick he sees his teacher performing. A wise teacher knows when the timing is right for the teaching, and in the movie the kick is learned after a foundation of knowledge is passed along.
  • In the dojo we see upper belts performing fun kicks or kata and have to learn patience that we, too, will learn that technique when the time is right –when we have the foundational skills or muscle development. We can harm ourselves without the right foundation.
  • Daniel learned the virtue of patience and life lessons in karate along with sprucing up the house for Mr. Miyagi.

Please let us know in the comment section below. We are interested in your feedback. 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.

 

Small Steps = Big Improvements

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

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Practicing kata while house hunting. This one fits!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Sensei Glen after passing the second degree test.

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