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

April 16, 2015

Jack of All Trades – Master of None

Without focus and purpose to our karate training, I think that’s where we end up – knowing a little about everything, but not being great at anything.  About a year ago, I solicited feedback from many of my karate friends, from beginners through those with higher rank, about reasons why they train.  As you might expect, the reasons varied widely and covered a large spectrum of knowledge, skills, and abilities. 

Many of these reasons were not specific to any particular activity, but rather folks have been able to work toward these goals for themselves through karate training.  This won’t be an exhaustive list, but some of these include:
  • Physical fitness, health, coordination, flexibility, balance, strength, stress relief, etc.
  • Self-confidence, problem solving
  • Enjoyment of spending time with our “karate family”
  • Self-improvement, always something new to learn, life-long process and challenges
  • Mental training, concentration, focus, discipline, etc.
  • Philosophy for living life – constant improvement, Dojo Kun applies to everyday life

I personally find most, if not all, of these as things that I get out of karate training.  And I think that’s part of what keeps me coming back for more.  But there are many activities that we could participate in that could address these motivations. 

Where I start to become conflicted, particularly as an instructor, is in the reasons for training that are activity specific, particular in their requirements, and often contradictory with each other.  Some of these reasons may include:
  • Fighting ability
  • Self-defense
  • Attaining Rank
  • Success at tournaments
  • Passing on a tradition

When I started training, and even when I started teaching (actually, until fairly recently), I honestly thought that what we did in training would prepare us for all of these things equally.  Now I know better, and that presents a dilemma for me as an instructor.  I know that I have students who fall into each of these categories with respect to their motivations.  But each of them requires different things from training, and different things from me as an instructor.  And some require much more time and effort than others to be successful. 

I have always been a person who aims to please, and I think that we have been trying to be all things to all people.  But by trying to give everyone what they want, no one is actually getting what they want.  Training time is precious, and it feels that we’re spread too thin and don’t have time to address all of these goals adequately in training.  Perhaps more importantly, it seems to me that focusing training on some goals requires contradictory training methods to focusing on others. 

I don’t have a good answer right now about how to solve this problem.  The only thing I do know is that if we always do what we’ve always done, we’ll always get what we’ve always gotten – and I don’t think that what we’re getting is an optimal solution.  I feel like I’m doing a disservice to myself and my students by trying to do everything, because we’re not able to really focus training effort and skill development in any given area when we’re trying to address all areas. I think I need to accept that I can’t be all things to all people, and focus our time and efforts on a smaller subset of these training goals.  As Funakoshi tells us in the Niju Kun, “Always create and devise”.   
Submitted by: Kimberly Baran, Sandan