January 15, 2014

Efficiency and Effectiveness

Most of my adult life has been spent thinking about, studying, and applying the concepts of efficiency and effectiveness.  Starting in college, the field of Industrial Engineering appealed to me because of the chance to optimize processes and do things better.  The quest for quality always leaves room for improvement, and constantly striving to enhance a process appeals to me.  The additional appeal of data-driven decision making led me to my dual Masters degrees in Industrial Engineering and Operations Research.  And in my current job, some of my most exciting days and most fulfilling moments are those days when we can use data to make informed decisions to improve the lives of faculty, staff, or students.  My colleagues joke with me that conversations about office procedures often start with me saying “why are we doing this?” or “why are we doing it this way?”  It is a blessing and a curse to never be satisfied with the status quo, and to always be looking for ways to do things better.  This attitude and mindset definitely carries with me into my karate life, both as a student and as an instructor, and I find this sentiment echoed in the 20th of Master Funakoshi’s Niju Kun, “Always create and devise.” 

A necessary part of this endeavor to do “better” is to answer the question – what does better mean in this context?  An article that came across my desk at work earlier this week that has me thinking about defining this problem in karate.  The article, “Doing the Right Things Right” discusses from an institutional context what is meant by effectiveness (doing the right things) and efficiency (doing things right).  The importance of enhancing effectiveness before efficiency is also emphasized, and this makes perfect sense.  We could work tirelessly to try to figure out the best way (efficiency) to screw together two pieces of wood with a hammer, but it would be more effective to use a screwdriver.  The focus on effectiveness first and efficiency second is obviously essential.  This article also introduces the tool of Activity Based Analysis.  Considering the questions posed as part of this analysis, such as “Why are things done the way they are?” and “What would we change if we were starting from scratch?” have been integral to the way I think and approach problems at work and in training. 

To apply this same thinking to karate, we need to define the goals of our training.  Matt did a great job in his last post (Why I Train) talking about some of the common reasons for training in a martial art.  Each of these various motivations would bring with it different goals of training.  While there are certainly some overlapping goals (as well as objectives, strategies, and tactics) among several of these categories, it would be impossible to effectively and efficiently focus all of our effort into doing all of these things.  With such limited training time, I feel that it is important as both a student and instructor to understand what my goals are for training, and then to make sure that everything that happens in class is effectively and efficiently moving me and my students towards those goals. 

As part of this approach, it becomes necessary to define goals, objectives, strategies, and tactics for training.  While there are many different definitions of these terms, a set of descriptions that I like are:
•    A goal is a broad aim toward which your efforts are directed. 
•    An objective is a specific and measurable milestone that must be achieved in order to reach a goal.
•    A strategy is a plan of action designed to achieve an objective.
•    A tactic is a specific action step required to deliver on a strategy.

As we move down the list to finer details, the number of items increases.  In other words, there are many objectives for each goal, many strategies for each objective, and many tactics for each strategy.  To help put this into context, let’s take one example relative to karate training and define one item for each of these terms from that perspective. 
•    Goal: Learn to defend oneself against violence.
•    Objective: Increase ability to generate power.
•    Strategy: Learn to generate power in striking motions through hip rotation.
•    Tactic: Repetitions of impact training of teisho uchi.

Every stance, kick, block, strike, punch, and movement in training should be contributing to one or more of our goals.  If it is not, then it should be eliminated to allow time for activities that help us achieve our goals.  Even for activities that do contribute to our goals, we should ask if there might be other things that we could do to get there more efficiently and/or effectively. 

Much of my life focuses on analytical thinking and striving to optimize processes, and I feel that my training and teaching have benefited from applying those same principles to karate.  Within the elements that I can control, I find that applying these principles to my own training results in moving from a technique-driven syllabus to a goal-driven syllabus.  And while there is a lot of overlap in what is actually done in training for the two systems, I find that the focus on goals helps me ensure that everything has a purpose and that each moment in training is helping me and my students to achieve our goals.     

Submitted by: Kimberly Baran, Sandan

January 9, 2014

Why I Train

I pour an enormous amount of resources (time and money) into the martial arts through books, DVDs, seminars, dues, memberships, and training and traveling time.  Naturally, I spend a fair amount of time wondering why that is.  Some of the reasons that are commonly given for martial arts as a recreational activity include (in no particular order):

•    Fighting Ability
•    For fun / For a challenge
•    Physical fitness
•    Self-Improvement / Spirituality / Inner Peace
•    Learn about another culture
•    Sport / Competition
•    Practice a movement art

It’s difficult to remember accurately, but I think I first came to karate to learn how to fight.  I think I viewed fighting ability in the same light as learning to cook or drive a car: spend a little time and acquire a skill.  However, I think my apparent interest in physical fighting was actually deeply rooted in a desire to understand and address human conflict.  Subconsciously I wanted to gain more control in chaotic situations, perhaps driven by a vague feeling of powerlessness or weakness.  At any rate, I had no appreciation for the complexity of human violence which I was trying to address.  After reading Rory Miller and Gavin de Becker, I have gained a little perspective and a lot of focus for the conflict resolution goal of my training.  Now I at least have a language to express how karate fits in to the various types of violence, and at what stage in the conflict it fits in (if at all).  There is a ton of information to tease out there in the future…

Learning how to fight is the engine that drives the other elements of my training, but I never would have stuck with it if training itself wasn’t fun.  Specifically, I enjoy the company of the people I meet through karate.  I also enjoy overcoming the challenges that karate training throws at you.  And on a very direct level, I enjoy the endorphins that get released after a good exercise session.

Exercise itself is a good reason for training, and karate can improve strength, endurance, flexibility, coordination, and balance to a good degree.  This works well for me because I think karate is fun, and I don’t think running, biking, or swimming for exercise are very fun at all.  Interestingly, physical self-protection has increased my interest in general fitness, so I now supplement my karate training with weight lifting, stretching, and (less than I should) cardio routines to support my karate.  I also recognize the much more likely scenario of needing to defend myself against old age, and I see it as a form of self-protection to set the stage for healthy aging.

Another element of training that I consistently apply to my life outside the dojo is self-improvement.  I believe this can be derived from any challenging activity, and karate is my model for applying introspection and perseverance to overcome life’s challenges.  The challenges in karate can be physical, like gaining a level of coordination or flexibility to efficiently execute a technique.  They can be psychological, like creatively devising new ways of training or accepting constructive criticism to guide your training.  And they can be social, like appropriately interacting with other members of a karate club to share your knowledge at the right time, accept knowledge at the right time, and allowing your training partners to do the same.

The cultural heritage of karate is important to understand the context and reasoning behind our practice.  Although I was unaware of the historical aspects of karate as a beginner, training has led me to appreciate the importance of the historical and cultural context of karate.  As an instructor, I think it is immensely important to look for the themes and principles of our martial art that have transcended generations.  The cultural heritage of karate informs the reasons for our practice and guides us on how to effectively improve our training while staying true to our martial art.

The sport of karate is not a training goal for me, but a challenge or test of my training.  For me, karate competition is a test of tenacity, mental resolve, and physical aspects of my training such as reaction time, timing and distancing of techniques, and physical execution under pressure.  In my training I view competition as a test of my ability in one limited context, and I refuse to modify my training solely to improve my competition results (although competition may expose flaws relative to my other training goals).

Karate as a movement art is another training goal that I do not apply to myself.  In a movement art, the kihon, kata, and kumite are done for their physical beauty or for the inner joy of movement.  Contrary to that view of training, I use kihon, kata, and kumite as tools to achieve one of the other training goals.  I would swiftly sacrifice the beauty of a technique to increase its effectiveness in a fight.  However, a technique executed with brutal effectiveness may be beautiful in its execution.  While I do enjoy the physical movements as a coordinated, whole-body exercise, I see no reason to separate the joy of movement from the practical purpose of the movement.  This is a subtle difference in mindset where my focus is on the utility and not the enjoyment of movement – even though I do enjoy moving.

It has taken me quite a bit of training and thinking to flesh out why I train in any significant detail.  It never satisfied me to say, “I want to learn to fight”, or “It’s fun”, or “I train for self-improvement”.  Transforming those simple statements into meaningful goals helps me train more effectively and explains the unique position that karate holds to fulfill my goals.  Hopefully my thinking out loud here will give some hints as to why you train as well.

Submitted by: Matt Baran, Sandan