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.

 

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.

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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.

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All that kicking practice paid off and we finished strong!

To engage new behaviors, like actively preparing for the test versus just showing up to class twice a week, I went through this exercise called “5 why’s and one how” and it goes like this:

  1. Why can’t I perform all of the kicks?
    • Because I do not know them all; who knew there were over 100 on the test!
  2. Why don’t I know them?
    • Because I didn’t get a lesson with an expert on what is needed.
  3. Why didn’t I get a lesson?
    • Because I was confident that coming to class regularly was enough to pass the test.
  4. Why didn’t I get enough kicking practice in class?
    • Because I had too many things to do and just going to class was easiest.
  5. Why did I have so many things to do?
    • Because I did not systematize my practice schedule into daily actionable tasks.
  6. How can I set a practice schedule to pass the next pre-test and earn my black belt?
    • Ask for assistance, or read this blog…

All of us are different in what is holding us back from accomplishing our goals. This simple exercise gets to a possible root cause of why I failed my black belt pre-test. As a result, I did ask for additional one-on-one training from our senseis at the dojo, like Sensei Mae.

Here was my system, a little over 3 months (100 days) out from the test.  Our test covers six basic elements: Kicking, striking, kata, weapons, self-defense, and fighting. The only way to prepare for fighting was the drills we learned in class. The last element I worked on was to improve the number of push-ups I could do in one day. I created the one-hundred day push-up (PU) challenge. I did one more each day, until after 100 days I was able to knock out 100 pushups like I would when I come to every black belt class.

Log from BB test

 

I started prior to the 100 days to ensure I knew each element of the test come testing day.  My advice:  find out what is on the test so you can practice. Ask for help. Get private lessons.

My key to success was the daily increments that moved the practice from a struggle to a habit. It took a daily log for me to see how well I was doing, and I could easily look and see what I left off for the day or the week. Try this with your karate goals and let me know how you are doing as we are getting ready for the end of the year. Let’s finish the year strong together!

See you in the dojo soon!

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.

 

 

 

Best Time to Practice

Have you ever come back to class a week later and asked your classmate how to do that new skill we all thought was so fun from last week and found out that neither of you knew? How do you best practice a new skill or something you have learned? We are always receiving new material in class; do you have a set time to practice that new thing you just learned?  Today, I will reveal the secret of the best time for practicing.

I try to always attend class on Tuesday. It is where I learn the most new material and have the most entries in my karate notebook. Even though I learn a lot while teaching, I receive new material on Tuesdays.

  • Often on Tuesday when I get home I am able to share with my black belt wife the lessons from the class and go over the basics we learned that evening.
  • On Wednesday, I make a point of going to the gym and practicing the same techniques we learned the evening prior.
  • At that point I can see the gaps in my knowledge that were “cemented” the evening prior.
  • Going home, I check my notes and then at the next class opportunity, ask for clarification on the points that I stumbled over when practicing on Wednesday at the gym.
When to practice

Learn @ class => practice @ class =>make notes =>read and recreate => practice soon

Here is the secret formula for the best time to practice a new skill:

  • Try out the new skill when taught. This is one of the main class activities.
  • Make hand written notes as soon as possible after the teaching and practice.
  • Read the notes and practice prior to leaving the dojo; this is the best time to clarify and cement your understanding. Your classmates may be able to fill in any gaps and your Sensei may be available to assist as well.
  • Here is where the test for understanding comes in—practice at home or the next morning when the information is fresh in your mind.
  • Have an established practice time specifically to review the last class. Scheduling the practice session is just as important as going to class.
    • It needs to fit in with your schedule.
    • You see mine is set already as I am committed to the class and practice schedule.

How well are you retaining your new karate knowledge? Our challenge to you is to record and reflect on the class immediately after the class is concluded. Yes, it is great to talk with your karate family, and this is the perfect topic for the discussion. Please let us know in the comment section below how well you are doing.

The time to record and reflect is an important after class activity. Practicing the new skill will keep your mind on what you just learned. Practicing immediately at home or the next morning will make a difference in how well you retain the knowledge from class to class. See you in class soon.

 

Why You Need Dojo Etiquette

Sensei Mae here! I wanted to talk about Dojo Etiquette. We are a traditional Shotokan Karate dojo, so respect is very important to us.   One of the most important rules of etiquette is behavior.

Since by nature we all learn by trial and error, many things will be forgiven in a dojo, but bad behavior is definitely not one of them. This rule applies to every student within the dojo society regardless of their rank, in fact the higher the rank, the less tolerance there is for any breach of etiquette whatsoever. It is very important to remember, however, that correction for acts of misbehavior always come from the top down, not the bottom up.

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In our blog post on Dojo Protocol, we discussed how to enter the dojo. The point is that we should bow each time we enter and exit the dojo and teach fellow students to follow the same pattern. Maybe like me, you sometimes inadvertently bow entering other places.  Bowing (rei) comes from our roots and it was rule number one for Funakoshi. “Karate-do begins with courtesy and ends with rei.”

Even the Japan National Tourism Organization explains that “In the Japanese bow, the bower expresses appreciation and respect to the person being bowed to by bending at the waist.” It is part of who we are in our karate dojo; we bow.

  • Clear your mind when you bow at the door.  When you walk in, relationship stay outside. 
  • Even when training with my family, I am always careful to address them with the respect they deserve.

Karate is an art about courtesy, manners, etiquette and attitude. In the dojo, regardless of your belt color and ability, as long as you work hard and show a determined commitment, you will always receive praise. However, if you show disrespect to anyone in the dojo, or to the dojo itself, you will be admonished and possibly asked not to return.  Upon joining a karate dojo, you will find that no one gets special treatment as everyone starts as a white belt. I did not start at a belt higher than my younger brother. Everyone starts at the bottom.

So now that you know some basic cultural differences, please understand that a traditional dojo will strive to mimic the training in Japan. That includes the way kata is taught and how a student should greet their instructor.

Let’s talk about the black belts. Black belts are a rank all to their own.  They should always be treated with the utmost respect.  A few quick tips—it is disrespectful to:

  • cut in front of a black belt
  • photograph a black belt without their permission

In Japan, it is forbidden to watch the black belts train. This applies to us at the dojo as well if we are looking to learn courtesy.

  • For example, if there is a class right before back belt class, you should never stick around to watch them train. This is because to become a black belt, much work is required. Then, when a black belt is achieved, we learn secret techniques. It is dangerous to try these techniques if you have not had proper training or correct supervision.
  • It is good not to know what the black belts do in their classes. It will keep you safe.   Even within the rank of black belt, we do not watch the higher black belts train.
  • If a first-degree black belt cannot watch a second-degree black belt train, why should a red, yellow or brown belt watch a black belt train?
  • Respect is essential in karate.  All black belts must be treated with the utmost respect, regardless of how you feel about them outside of the dojo.

In addition to respecting all black belts, senseis merit a certain respect. For example, bowing to your senseis when they pass by is always a good idea. While training, be sure to respond with a “Yes, Sensei” or “yes ma’am”, “no, sir”, etc… whatever your Sensei prefers.

Each belt rank is special. In my dojo it goes from light colors to dark beginning with white and progressing to brown then black.   Each belt gains more respect because of the time it takes to earn.

  • In addition to respecting the belt grade, one should respect the belt itself.
  • You are clearly a stellar human being for taking up martial arts so you should treat your belt appropriately.
  • Not just anyone can obtain a belt.  For that reason, my belt, obi, is never left on the floor.
  • There are some pretty cool things that you can do with your belts as you progress. Several people I know have belt racks to display their success.
  • Regarding the traditional uniform itself, sometimes during class it can start to come undone.
    • When this happens, you should turn around (away from your Sensei) and adjust yourself quickly and without drawing attention to yourself.
    • In addition to being rude to adjusting your uniform during class, it can make you appear distracted and undisciplined.

One thing that I really enjoy about karate is that it allows me to leave the outside world, well, outside.  It is peaceful that way. In the dojo I am not a boss, a daughter or a sister. I am simply a student.  This allows me to be completely relaxed and focus on learning.  If you are having a problem, take it off the floor. Do not come back onto the floor until you are able to learn.  This is healthy for you, and respectful to others around you.

Remember the dojo is here for you to learn. Ask questions, get a karate buddy and have fun!

Hope this has been helpful to you. It was helpful for me to write it. It is always good to go over dojo etiquette.

Have a great week!