April 22, 2015

12 Tips for Success

It has been over a decade now that I have been teaching karate, and several years longer that I have been training.  In reflecting on that time, I have had many ups and downs to my own training, and have observed many successes and failures of my students and fellow karateka.  In trying to look back and summarize what have been consistent contributors to success across all those various experiences, I have come up with the following list.  I hope you find it useful in your own training.
  1. Make training a priority, and keep training.  Show up to class and train, even if you don’t feel like it.  You can always find a reason not to train, and it’s easy to justify to yourself why it was ok to miss class today.  As soon as you start justifying reasons for yourself to miss, those excuses become the pattern.  Make showing up to training the pattern that you want to enforce.  And if you have direct conflicts and you can’t make class (class conflicts, work conflicts, travel, etc.), then don’t allow that to be a reason that you miss training – make time for yourself to train on your own.
  2. Always assume the instructor is talking to you.  In many seminars and even in every day training, the instructor will give feedback and instructions to the class in general, rather than to individuals.  Always hear that as if the instructor is talking directly to you.  Never assume that you’re already doing what they want.  Make a conscious effort to change or tweak what you’re doing to reflect the information that is being given to you. 
  3. Focus on yourself and your training.  Allow the instructor to give comments and correct others, unless you are specifically told to do so.  When you’re in training, worry about yourself.  You can’t simultaneously focus on yourself and others.  If you’re looking outward to what others are doing, then you’re not doing the best that you can to improve yourself, and you’re not getting the most that you can out of training.  Spend your time and energy on being the best that you can be. 
  4. Acknowledge and celebrate the progress that you’ve made.  We often get bogged down in the constant struggle to be better, and we’re always looking for more that we could have done.  But we also need to acknowledge how far we’ve come and celebrate our successes.  Be proud of your accomplishments, and allow them to motivate you to continue to improve.
  5. Accept that you’re not perfect, but never stop reaching for perfection.  There will always be something that we can do better, or something else to improve upon.  Let go of your ego, and never allow yourself to think that what you’re doing now is enough, or is the best that you could ever do.  Keep pushing to improve and to be a little better today than you were yesterday, and a little better tomorrow than you are today. 
  6. Expect more of yourself than what others expect of you, and then work to exceed even your own expectations.  Don’t allow yourself to get complacent – keep pushing your boundaries.  Your partners in class will give back the level of effort and intensity that they see from you, so don’t give them any reason to not also give their best.  Do things that might scare you or make you uncomfortable – maybe certain drills in class, attending seminars with unknown people, taking a test, competing in a tournament, etc.  Make it hard on yourself – choose the hard opponents in class whenever you get the chance, and work to conquer your fears.
  7. Seek to understand before passing judgement.  If you get advice that you don’t quite comprehend, then reflect on it and try to gain understanding before dismissing the ideas.  Avoid gut reactions and immediate rejection of ideas.  Many times, you will get advice from your seniors that comes from years of experience, and you may not recognize its brilliance at first.  Spend time reflecting and actively trying to integrate their advice into your training, and then come back with questions if you still don’t understand.  They will be happy to give you further advice if they see that you have been taking the time on your own to reflect and trying to incorporate what they have told you.    
  8. Learn from the past, but don’t get stuck in it.  Respect your seniors, and absorb as much as you can from them.  Appreciate their experiences, and learn from them so that you don’t have to repeat their failures.  But don’t forget that we’re all human.  Never be afraid to question what you’ve been told (but remembering #7!).  Don’t assume that what we’ve always done is the best or only way to do things, and take time to explore and try to develop and grow.  None of our seniors or the past masters were satisfied with the status quo or stagnating in what they were given, so we can best pass on the tradition of our art by passing on the desire to improve.   
  9. Remain calm, and focus on what you can control.  If you’re emotional about problems, it’s harder to solve them.  We all have things that affect us or our attitude in training.  You might have a physical limitation (injury, inflexibility, strength, etc.) on what you can do, or you might come across an opponent that scares you, or any other number of obstacles.  Don’t dwell on the problem or make excuses, but seek to find a solution.  Concentrate on the elements of the training or the engagement that you can affect – focus inward rather than outward to solve the problem, because you can only control yourself. 
  10. Don’t assume that you can get everything you need from one place.  You need to get out and train in different places and with different people.  Attend camps and seminars.  Take every opportunity to get to train with different partners and learn from different instructors and hear different perspectives.  Interact with people with different backgrounds and who have trained in different styles or systems and learn from them. 
  11. Continue your training outside the dojo.  Training in the dojo isn’t enough.  We have precious little time in the dojo, so we need to extend our training outside the dojo to really improve.  Find little ways to train on your own – sit in stance while you’re brushing your teeth, practice your punching distancing with your curtains, or run through the movements to your kata (in your head) while you wait in line.  Supplement your training with any strength or flexibility training that you might need.  And be sure to train your mind – read articles or books, watch videos, and engage in conversation about karate with others.
  12. Enjoy yourself!  Take the time to get to know the people you train with and form a bond with them outside of class.  Take advantage of social functions.  It will make training more enjoyable, and will help motivate you to come to class and to do well.  The better you know people in training and the more comfortable you are with them, the more you are able to push them in training to be their best (I’ve never seen anyone push each other harder in class than spouses training with each other).  Most importantly – have fun.  If you really commit to training, you will spend a lot of time practicing and thinking about karate, so you should enjoy doing it! 
Submitted by: Kimberly Baran, Sandan