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.

Blk Belt_01042

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.
bb fight

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.

 

5 Annoying Habits Which Will Ruin Your Black Belt Test

This guidance came out of a conversation on how the candidates for the black belt test today were preparing for their test.  It started with one annoying thing that candidates do, and quickly grew. The sad thing is that most candidates don’t even realize that they’re engaging in these behaviors or that they are so damaging.

IMG_1724 (2)

Are you ready for the test?

  1. Someone else wants the belt more than you. You have to want the belt enough to earn it. A lack of desire by the candidate will show up on the test. Your sensei and your parents will not be taking the test, you will. This is a classic case of desire. Our dojo promotes the students who pass the test. The parents do not get a vote.
    • The best students want the black belt so bad that they can taste it. They are practicing and begging their parents for additional training, like they would when they ask for a new puppy at Christmas.
    • For the parents who read this, find out what your child wants and challenge them to achieve their goals. Yes, they should take the test when they are ready. Our youngest son was not convinced a few months prior to the test. It turned out that all of our practice (both parents) got him in such good shape for the test that helping us pass the test pushed him over the top and gave him the confidence and desire to take and pass the test.
    • Lesson: You have to judge your desire. The more you want the black belt, the more you are likely to properly prepare for the test and be motivated to take the test yourself. Of course, having a friend or a training partner will push you toward your goal and help with your own motivation.
  2. Envy of someone else’s demonstrated skill. Thinking that (name of student here) is a natural and I will never be as good as them so I will not try. I have been surprised that some of the best martial artist I know did not pass the black belt test on their first try and some their second. You would not be testing if you were not capable.
    • In sharing with my students last week, we are looking for what they are capable of performing. If you can make the effort and practice consistently, you will likely do well on the test with, of course, proper fundamentals and proper technique. Please, do not give up on the effort required prior to the test unless you are looking to fail the test.
    • Lesson: Practice consistently to improve. Take lessons or seek help; ask for “mini” evaluations after class on areas that you may be unsure about. You are competing against your best self, the dojo standards and not anyone else.
  3. Belief that prior success will carry them through the test. The best score on the black belt test was achieved by a student at our dojo who failed the pre-test and took more than six months to come back and prepare. Several students have won gold medals at tournaments for kata and fighting and not prepared for the test, only to find out they were not ready and their prior success would not earn the belt.
    • When the pretest came around and I was judged as not prepared, it was a shock that the time in class, and little preparation for the test on my part, would not even pass the pretesting phase of the black belt test.
    • Lesson: You have to bring the black belt skills to the black belt or any other test. We do not give life experience belts at our dojo. You need to put in the practice time and have expert advice in order to succeed.
    1. Glen Sarah and John National Champs!Winning a medal is nice. Preparing for the test counts!

    Approaching the test with fear or lack of confidence. We have seen the candidates who come to the test and go through the motions. Yes, the kata was nice. This is a battle for your belt. I was a little scared to take the test and fearful of my ability to perform for several hours. I trained hard and that training showed during the test. I had a fighting spirit that said to the panel judging me that I was more than ready to be one of them.

    • We are looking for the candidates to demonstrate a warrior spirit. If you cannot defend yourself in the ring during the fighting or throw down the bigger student during the black belt self-defense portion, we will not pass you along. You need a fighting spirit. After the test, we will all go out for dinner and have a great time. During the test it is another story. You have to fight for your black belt.
    • Lesson: We are looking for our black belts to have a warrior spirt. Yes, black belts are nice people who have a warrior spirit. Try not to provoke us to show that spirit when we are in the process of judging your performance.
  4. Lack of respect during the test for the panel. The black belt test, like other athletic events, is a judged event. Failing to show those who are already wearing a black belt the respect and courtesy they deserve is a way to show the panel that you lack a black belt understanding and will therefore need additional training.
    • We do coach the candidates to not talk when others are performing and they are resting. We also consistently coach in class proper dojo etiquette. If you are adjusting your gi or belt without permission or in front of the teacher, that is just bad form, especially during the test. If you show up with a wrinkled, sweaty, smelly gi, we will not feel respected.
    • Lesson: Show respect to the panel. Know your dojo etiquette. For the test, wash your uniform, use deodorant, brush your teeth, and skip the cologne and perfume. You’re going to a martial arts test, not a dance. Show up to your test like it’s a first date with the most important person you will ever date. Look sharp and be sharp.
Blk Belt_00429

More board breaking

These irritations loom large for black belt candidates because we only have the test results to go on when deciding if you have what it takes to be on par with the other black belts. It’s easy to avoid them.

Be prepared in every sense and your test performance will be significantly better.  See you in the dojo soon.

Do You Have What it Takes?

Do you have what it takes? I read a story recently about Muggsy Bogues, the shortest man, at 5 feet 3 inches, to play basketball in the NBA, where he played for 14 years. This is a league where the average player is 6 feet 7 inches tall. How do you overcome that disadvantage? A high achiever chooses to do uncommon things. They actually practice and work on overcoming obstacles to winning.

Ready to climb the lader

Are you ready to climb the ladder of success?

When our sensei asks black belt candidates how long they are practicing for the black belt test on a daily basis, we could predict the success or failure rate from the student responses.  The successful candidates put the time in each day to make a difference in their karate career. One of the reasons they practiced daily was their strong desire to succeed and pass the test.

When it was time for my test, I was not satisfied with remaining a brown belt, especially when my daughter, Sensei Mae, was already a black belt. I had a fire within me to work hard and not miss the opportunity to succeed on the test. In addition, I was much older than many of my classmates and I did not have the luxury of failing and becoming a long-term brown belt. No, I wanted to pass this test and the next. My desire was high; I found opportunities in my day that I had not ever considered. I made some sacrifices to concentrate on this one goal. I wanted to reach my black belt potential and fulfill my dream of becoming a black belt.

The effectiveness of your desire and training plan will determine your likely chance of doing well at a tournament or passing your belt test. What matters is how strongly your reasons are for achieving a goal. That is what will drive you to complete that goal. To determine if you have what it takes, find your desire level on the chart. If you have a high desire you are much more likely to meet the goal.

Desire-type

Last week was the Commonwealth of Kentucky AAU karate tournament, held at our dojo. The tournament was a big success for those who participated in the event. People that have reached the gold medal in this tournament did not get there by chance. They did not put “common” or “going through the motion” effort into their achievements. These athletes did uncommon things that you may not see. They practiced and worked in a way that their competitors did not. They put in the effort to make themselves distinguished. And they had a high desire to succeed.

Muggsy Bogues had a high desire to succeed, despite his height disadvantage. He loved to play basketball and learned early on that he had to disrupt the play of taller players and make them not even want to dribble the ball near him. He practiced a lot and worked on his game daily.  How is your desire to succeed? Are you focused in on the goals that will achieve success for you today and in the future?

See you at 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.

BB test 6-13-15 _001329 (2)

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!

We Need More Ceremonies

When we think of ceremonies we often think of weddings or graduations.

  • If we think about a Japanese ceremony, it is generally the tea ceremony we think about.
  • What is an “American” ceremony that others would recognize outside of our country? In America we do not have many ceremonies. Of course, if you have seen any event, you will notice a ceremony or celebration of some sort. When you google “American ceremonies” you will notice several Native American ceremonies. At the beginning of sporting events, we have a ceremony with the National Anthem. At the start an American football game, we begin with a coin toss, part of the ceremony to open the game.
  • In karate, we bow in to start the class; this is part of our on-going ceremony to unify our sport and discipline. All the bowing at the beginning of class is an important reminder for us to leave the outside world outside of the dojo.

Ceremonies are often more than just a ritual we do daily or in class. Good ceremonies have a clear purpose and enrich the meaning and mood of the event. We recently had a black belt tie-on at the dojo. It was a fun event. It is a celebration of the accomplishments as well as the public recognition of the change. We celebrate by breaking boards and performing kata. More than that, it is a public acknowledgement to the dojo and to the rest of us that we have passed the test and belong.

Blk Belt_00005

Ready for the Black Belt Ceremony

At my second degree ceremony, it was about recognizing my fellow students who passed the same testing that I did as well as that self-recognition that now I am a second degree black belt at the dojo. My outlook on who I am changed after the belt was tied around me by our sensei.

Tie On

Tie on for second degree!

I was able to bring a new white belt to the dojo on Tuesday. As a part of his first day at the dojo, he was transformed by the subtle ceremonies we have at the dojo:

  • First he changed into a uniform and added a new white belt to the uniform. He now looked like the other students in the dojo.
  • We bowed prior to entering the dojo (see prior posts) to show that we are leaving the world behind.
  • He learned our phrases in Japanese that we say when we bow into the class. All this was new, and sometimes I just take for granted that yes, this is what we do.
  • He learned some basic skills and wants to come back for more.

Seeing the ceremony through the eyes of my friend was refreshing for me. I was reminded of the first time I brought my son to the dojo and how strange it all was. The ceremonies and routines were not mine. Now that I have some experience with martial arts, I sometimes find myself bowing on entering rooms or responding to a question with Yes (“hai” or sometimes the word “oss”). Have you ever done that? Sensei Mae has as well!

How about you, have you been to a black belt tie-on ceremony? We need more ceremonies to celebrate the accomplishments we have achieved. Passing a black belt test should have a well thought out ceremony, and I am pleased to say we have that at our dojo.

  • We may be tempted to sometimes skip the formal event as it requires planning and work on our part to organize the ceremony. At our house we have a “celebrate plate.” It is just a plate with the word “celebrate” on it and when we do something well in the family, we get the celebrate plate for the evening meal to recognize the accomplishment. Not too much work once we had the plate.
  • The ceremony appropriately finishes off the prior level and we celebrate that we have moved onto the next step. We need more celebrations and ceremonies in our lives.

What ceremonies do you participate in on a regular basis? Can we add more for enhancing our daily lives and celebrating our wins on a regular basis? See you in the dojo soon for that next celebration or ceremony.

 

Is Sleeping the Key to Great Karate?

Prior to my most recent karate test, I made sure I had a good night’s sleep. As I am sure you know, common advice prior to taking a test is to get plenty of rest the night before the big event. That general wisdom got me thinking about sleep and the impact on athletic performance. Several studies have shown the benefits of a good night’s sleep related to improved athletic performance.  A sleep study was run on the NCAA men’s basketball team from Stanford University and showed improved athletic results for the entire team. Here is a link to the ESPN article: http://www.espn.com/blog/collegebasketballnation/post/_/id/32692/study-stanford-players-need-more-sleep

Image result for pictures of sleep study patients

Sample sleep study room

I have a habit about when I go to bed each evening. You may be thinking, only when I was a child did I have a bed time. My experience is different in that I am better prepared for the day when I hit my regular bed time. I am more focused and alert with a regular schedule. I generally get up a few minutes prior to the alarm clock. We are an interesting society that uses an alarm clock to set a wake-up process versus allowing the sunlight in our rooms to wake us up. Of course we could always reverse the process and set an alarm to go off at night to get us to our bedroom and get ready for bed.

Prior to the black belt test, I took a few minutes after warming up and stretching to shut my eyes and concentrate on the moves for kicking and striking as well as the katas I would perform. That focus really assisted. I also had a good night’s sleep and slept in prior to driving to the test site. This practice of a good night’s sleep did improve my karate result as I kicked higher and was more relaxed during the test than I had been during the pre-test the week prior.

Karate is like any other sport. We work on coaching the fundamental techniques and practicing them. As our team prepares for the AAU national tournament in another week, should Sensei Mae, one of the instructors, focus in on sleeping as one of the key target areas for improvement in the skills? I believe the answer is yes. We should always practice like we plan to perform.

It is easy to get excited prior to a big event.

  • A consistent sleep pattern designed to maximize performance will relieve some of the pressure for performing on the big stage.
  • Maintaining that sleep pattern is no different the night prior to the tournament. Perfect practice makes perfect.
  • I believe that the regular pattern of sleep has led to improved results for me when taking the karate tests, as the sleep the night before is just an extension of my normal pattern.

If we get up in the morning refreshed, we can exercise harder and with less effort and that will lead to us meeting our goals. Also, a proper sleep pattern may even lead to proper weight maintenance. Web MD has an interesting article on sleep and weight loss. The two elements are related. The article stated that being overtired leads to poor eating decisions. “Plus, when you’re overtired, your brain‘s reward centers rev up, looking for something that feels good. So while you might be able to squash comfort food cravings when you’re well-rested, your sleep-deprived brain may have trouble saying no to a second slice of cake.”

Here is a conclusion from The Effects of Sleep Extension on the Athletic Performance of Collegiate Basketball Players study: “The results of this study strongly suggest that the less frequently considered approach of extending total sleep time may perhaps be the one with the most potential for positive impact on athletic performance. For an athlete to reach optimal performance, an accurate knowledge of one’s nightly sleep requirement and obtaining this amount should be considered integral factors in an athlete’s daily training regimen.”

So, our challenge for all of you is to measure your sleep for the next week. Once you find that pattern, let us know in the comment section below. My goal nightly is 8 hours and I achieve that on a fairly consistent basis.

If you are competing in the upcoming AAU national championship, consider an extension of your sleep to maximize your potential performance while competing, and best wishes for success at the national tournament!

Please help us improve. We would like to get your feedback on how we are meeting your needs. Please take 3 minutes and complete the Let’s Talk Karate user survey by following this link: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/P7TCRPR

Thank you in advance for your valuable input.

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.

IMG_0247

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.