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?

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.

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.”

Paint the fence

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?

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.

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.

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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
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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.

Looking Forward to Training on Mats?

Yes, I for one am looking forward to getting back on the dojo floor training mats. We used to train exclusively on mats in the former location. While at our temporary dojo we have had the opportunity to work out and train on carpet and on a gym floor (I hope you did not miss that training session!). Of course, outside of a few weeks on the “old mats” we have spent most of our time training on carpet. The new dojo will again have training mats and it will be an almost new experience getting used to training on mats.

I practice at home on carpet and at the gym on wooden floors (after racquetball I run kata on a gym floor). Each time I switch surfaces, I notice that I have to stop and pay attention to some of my moves as my feet transition differently on each surface.

In the most generic terms, floors seem to come in two broad categories:  hard or soft.  Harder training floors are generally faster but lack padding.  Softer floors have more padding but are sometimes squishy and generally slower. For the recent black belt test the candidates kicked and performed kata on the carpeted concrete floor in the temporary dojo; this was a “hard surface.” We also used a double layer of mats brought in for the purpose of self-defense and fighting; this was our “soft surface,” and it was better being thrown on this surface than the carpet!

Looking forward to these mats at the new dojo!

Red mats at the former dojo

The carpet system in our temporary home has some advantages. We will not always meet opponents on dojo mats or gym floors. This is good training in multiple settings. In addition, the one foot squares appeal to me during kata and other drills when I am looking for square edges and marks on where I am going. Today in kick class we worked on skipping from one square to another and the students liked the drill on the carpet patterns.

We have a lot of room in the temporary carpeted dojo. As we move to a smaller space, are we going to lose something? Do our temporary large surroundings give large quality skills?  No, those skills we learn are not from the room or even the floor. We learn skills from our quality instructors. I am sure that if we would travel to Okinawa we would not see roomy, fancy, well-appointed facilities. It is likely that the opposite is the case and most, not all, would be small and dimly lit. That would not diminish the karate teaching.

So, Sensei Glen, are you saying we need Spartan surroundings to produce Spartan warriors? (I did graduate from Michigan State University, home of the Spartans.)  No, Spartan surroundings do not make Spartan warriors. I am positive the new dojo will have what we need to become successful.

Success comes from the inside and not the floor covering. I am still looking forward to seeing the training mats as a part of the new dojo. How about you? See you in class soon.