What makes you nervous?

Last week I had the unique opportunity to play golf with my wife on our dream vacation. We’ve been planning a trip to Pebble Beach for the last ten years.  If you’re not a golfer you probably can’t appreciate the significance of that but a trip to Pebble Beach for most golfers is truly a once in a lifetime event.  I’ve been playing golf since I was a young teenager.  While I’m certainly not an accomplished player I have played more rounds than I can count and I’ve hit probably hundreds of thousands of golf balls on the range. Interestingly, when I teed up on the first tee I found myself feeling nervous.  This nervousness forced me to remember for myself one of the major talking points we share with our students at every exam.

There are really only two things that make us nervous.  The first one is that we’re not prepared.  In the case of a student taking an exam, especially a beginner student, I remind them that we would never test a student unless we knew they were prepared for the exam. So they shouldn’t be nervous because they’re not prepared.  The second reason we’re nervous is because it’s important to us and we want to do well.  I think this is a good kind of nervousness.  It can help you focus better if you realize that the feeling of nervousness is there only because what you are doing matters to you.  In fact, I believe you have to learn to like that feeling.  It goes along with expanding your comfort zone.  If we stay where we’re comfortable then we don’t give ourselves an opportunity to grow.  But if we expand our comfort zone and allow ourselves to feel the discomfort that comes from being a little nervous then we’ll come closer to fulfilling our own potential while continuing to challenge ourselves.

In the case of my golf game at Pebble Beach I knew I was as prepared as I was ever going to be.  I had practiced a lot before the trip.  I had studied the layout of the course.  I knew I was nervous because I had looked forward to the opportunity for such a long time and I was excited to get started.  That nervousness went away as soon as I hit that first tee shot and began walking the course.  If I was taking a math test I’d use the same approach.  I’d study the required material and prepare as much as I could.  That might include asking questions or asking the teacher for extra help so I knew I was fully prepared.  After that I might be nervous when the test started but I’d be able to perform my best and even embrace the challenge of the test after I got started.  I’d also know that I couldn’t control the outcome at that point.  I’d just trust my preparation and do the best I could.  That’s an approach that we can use for almost any situation or challenge we might be facing.

In case you’re wondering – I shot a 90 that day at Pebble Beach and enjoyed a great day playing golf with my wife.  I’ll take that.

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Call the auto club – Triple A

This weekend I was traveling to a competition in Sparta, Illinois.  After about two hours of driving in unfamiliar territory I found myself stopped by a police barricade due to a flooded roadway.  There was a police officer tasked with the job of stopping every car and explaining the situation.  When my turn came I asked him if he could suggest an alternate route to Sparta.  He just smiled and said “I guess that’s the big question isn’t it?”.  He didn’t have anything other than that to offer.  Lacking any other obvious solution I just called the auto club – Triple A.

No, I didn’t call the guys you’d call for a flat tire or a dead battery.  Triple A in this case stands for Accept, Adapt and Act.

First, I had to Accept that I couldn’t control that the road was closed.  I certainly couldn’t control the onslaught of heavy rains that were continuing to fall or that the police officer couldn’t provide me with any other options.  Was I upset?  Maybe a little.  Was I worried about what to do next?  Yeah, maybe a little.  I learned a long time ago that the best way to combat worry was to ask myself “What’s the worst that can happen?” , and then I figure out what I’d do if that happened.  Once I have a solution I tend to worry a little less.

I knew I had to Adapt to my situation.  In this case I really only had two options.  I could either turn around and go back home or find another path.  I chose to try and find another path.  Once that decision was made all that was required of me was to Act.

I turned around and drove back to the previous town.  It was about a ten mile trip through the flat farmlands of western Illinois.  That gave me plenty of time to formulate a plan.  I decided to find the closest gas station and pull over to spend a few minutes with MapQuest to see if I could find another route.  If I had trouble with that I’d just ask a local for help.

After a forty-five minute detour I was checking in at the hotel desk in Sparta.  Was the trip more stressful than I had planned?  I’d be lying if I didn’t say that it was at least a little bit. Everything worked out fine though and it was nice to be able to call the auto club when things didn’t go as planned.

Have you ever known someone that everything always seems to work out for?  Maybe they’re just really good at Accepting the things they can’t change, Adapting to their situation and then not being afraid to take Action.

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Go to the heart of danger…

…for there you’ll find safety.  This is another lesson from the Pendekar.  If you want to defeat a boxer, you have to first learn how to box. To defeat a grappler you must first learn how to grapple.  In order to be a complete martial artist its important to recognize our strengths and weaknesses.  We of course need to take advantage of our natural gifts and talents but greater development comes from admitting, and then strengthening, our weaknesses.  It is so easy to focus on or strengths, the things we’re good at, and stay in our comfort zone.  Its when we expand our comfort zone though that we truly begin to grow as martial artists.

In a broader sense this applies to all areas of our lives.  The easy stuff doesn’t make us grow.  It’s when we face our challenges, admit our weaknesses, and go to that uncomfortable place where we realize we have work to do that makes us better or provides a solution to a problem.

Its equally important to realize that you can’t always face those challenges alone.  You may need education, instruction, guidance, counselling, or just the support of a friend.  Asking for help in a difficult situation is often the most uncomfortable part but it may be the most important thing to do.

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“Little Feet”

I was very fortunate to have had the opportunity throughout the 1980′s and into the early to mid 1990′s to train with a number of some of the world’s most influential martial artists. I had an apprentice instructor-ship under Guru Dan Inosanto.  Through Mr. Inosanto I had the opportunity to train with the likes of Chai Sirisute, Pendekar Paul de Thouars, Larry Hartsell, Terry Gibson and a few others.  Three of these men are no longer with us but I remember many of the lessons I learned from them.

Some of these lessons were about physical technique or a specific martial art, some were more about how to teach or even run a school.  Sometimes I even learned how not to do things.  All of these men, like all of us, had their flaws too.  As human beings we’re all terribly flawed and we make our mistakes.  The key is to learn from them.  I teach our young students that if we’re working hard and doing our best then mistakes are okay.  If we make a mistake though, we have to admit it, fix it if we can, and then move on.

I’ve always been a note taker.  Most of the classes I had with the men mentioned above were done in a seminar format.  You might receive up to six months of instructional material in a sixteen hour weekend of classes.  The only way to remember, and eventually put into practice the things you learned was through your notes and sometimes through the magic of video.

By the end of a second eight hour day in a weekend, or the fortieth hour of a full week, I’d be feeling mentally and physically exhausted. Even then, when other students might be scrambling to write down an explanation of the techniques covered, I’d often be writing something more philosophical that the instructor might have said.  Today I have a notebook full of these ‘golden nuggets’ as I like to call them.

Pendekar Paul de Thouars was an especially good source of these nuggets.  I had a unique opportunity one time to spend an entire afternoon and evening sitting with him in an airport waiting for a delayed outbound flight.  What was great was that it wasn’t just another moment in the student/teacher relationship.  It was an opportunity for an older, wiser man to share his thoughts on life.  We of course talked about the martial arts a lot.  We also talked about life, Faith, teaching, learning and people.  He was an interesting man.  He was a Dutch Indonesian, merchant marine, devout catholic, wonderfully gifted teacher of his art of Pentjak Silat and as mentioned before an admittedly flawed human being.  Over the next couple of weeks I’ll share a few of my favorite sayings from the Pendekar.

My favorite one of these nuggets comes from the very first seminar of his that I attended. My training partner and I, Scot Metzger, were having trouble figuring out a particular technique.  Silat is a very complex and scientific art.  I doubt anyone gets it right away. Over all the years I had the opportunity to train with the Pendekar, and in the years that have followed, I realize that I still don’t really get it yet.  His response to our question at the time was “Little feet, little feet”.  It still makes me laugh, because he was not only trying to tell us to make smaller movements with our footwork but also to be patient and continue working on what we were doing.  What he was trying to say was “Baby steps, baby steps”, but had he actually said that I doubt it would have stuck with me in the same way.  When I get anxious about things or when I see myself being impatient with my own progress or the challenges that I might face as a teacher, business owner, or even as a parent or in any other of the many relationships and life experiences that occur, ‘Little feet’ reminds to be patient, stay the course, and remember that its the challenges that really help us grow – and that it sometimes takes a little time.

As a side note on the art of Pentjak Silat – It is said that it takes fifteen years to complete the system.   I trained in Silat in this seminar format for about eight years – so I guess I know enough of the art to realize how little of it I really know.  I think a lot of things in life are like that.

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The 3 ways we learn

The three ways we learn is a regular topic in our Little Ninja classes.  As part of the class the students have to memorize and recite the three ways we learn.  The class goes something like this -

ME: “What are the three ways we learn?”

CLASS: Usually there are a couple students in the class who remember this from before “Watching, Listening and Doing”

ME: “Repeat After me – Watching”

CLASS: “Watching”

ME: “Listening”

CLASS: “Listening”

ME: “Doing”

CLASS: “Doing”

After repeating that three times I then have the students individually tell me the three ways we learn.  It almost always works.  It’s important for all students to learn the mechanics of how they learn.  We reinforce to them the value of watching, listening and doing.  The goal is for that to become one of their learning habits.  Rather than teaching someone just a specific thing there’s more value in teaching them how to learn.

As parents and teachers though, its also important for us to understand how our student or our own child learns.  Watching, listening and doing is a simple way to explain it.  While this certainly applies to teenagers and adults I’ll use young children as an example.

If our child is a visual learner, a watcher, then we need to make sure to use visual cues in our teaching. Most children are visual learners to some degree.  Very often in class we’ll have a number of visual learners that may need different visual cues.  Sometimes there’s a student who needs me to stand directly in front of them so they can see and understand what to do.   Other times I need to face them and show a mirror image or maybe even be right beside them.  On exams with the older children I’m usually sitting at the testing table in front of the students.  I’ll often mirror image the techniques from my chair as I’m explaining what to do.  It’s a little thing but I know it helps.

A child who learns by listening is an auditory learner.  This child needs for you to create an auditory ‘picture’ of what you’d like them to do.  This is where you have to be very descriptive in your teaching.  As a drill for our new instructors I’ll sometimes have them teach a portion of the class while sitting down.  The goal is to teach the students by creating the picture of what to do while only using their words.  When your teaching style combines both visual and auditory pictures then it makes learning more successful for the student.  As a bonus, a child who has success at learning will be a more focused and more confident student.  It’s no coincidence that the secret to focus is also based on the child’s watching and listening skills.

The doing part of learning in its simplest form is based on repetition.  The more we do things the more they become ingrained in our habits, but doing is also about feeling.  The technical term is kinesthetic learning.  A kinesthetic learner learns by feel.  Often times I may have to help a student put their hand or their foot in the right position so they can feel it.  It’s important to ask them if they feel that position and then to tell them they have it correct in order for them to begin to understand better, and then they need to successfully repeat it many times.

I am direction challenged.  It’s a big joke in my family.  I can ride in the car to a location many times and still not know how to get there.  It’s only after driving there myself several times that I can make it to my destination without help, and even then sometimes its a challenge.  Like most people, I know that my particular learning style is based on all three ways we learn.  You can show me where to go and tell me the directions, but unless I’m allowed to get there on my own I still won’t get it.

This last thought is the most important to remember when teaching our children.  When they’re having difficulty learning something maybe its not them.  Maybe it’s the way we’re teaching them that’s causing the challenge.  We have to make sure we’ve given them the visual cues they need, we need to make sure we’ve created an auditory picture for them, we may have to help them feel it the right way, but most importantly we have to give them the opportunity to repeat it on their own many times.  That repetition also includes letting them make some mistakes, then positively correcting those mistakes, again making sure to allow them to watch, listen, and then feel themselves doing it correctly, and then repeat it on their own some more.

From a martial arts perspective that means consistent class attendance two to three times a week and encouraging good practice habits at home.  The real idea though is to use the same learning techniques as it applies to school work and sports practice as well daily habits and responsibilities at home.  Interestingly, these same skills will transfer over to our adult lives too, whether it’s training our employees, working with others, or just helping a friend.

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I love watching baseball, baseball at any level.  One of my favorites is the College World Series.  There are so many stories within the game.  One year, many years ago, there was a player who was facing a team coached by his own father.  This of course had the potential for a lot of distraction.  In an effort to keep his focus on the game, and more importantly on his role in the game, he wrote the letters T-P-T-M on his bat.  It stood for This Pitch This Moment. I always thought it took a mature thought process to come up with that.  In an interview, he explained that his goal was to only concentrate on one pitch at a time during the game.  He said he couldn’t control what had happened on the previous pitch anymore than he could predict what would happen one pitch from now.  He could only control how he responded to what happened one pitch at a time.  His goal was to focus on This Pitch This Moment. Even as a young man of probably 20 or 21 years old he knew the simple fact that he couldn’t change the past, and while he could maybe plan for the future, he certainly couldn’t control it.  The only thing he could do is be prepared to respond to the moment at hand, one pitch at a time.

I think it’s a great lesson for all of us.  I have a bat with the letters T-P-T-M written across it that I used to use as a teaching aid when I coached little league baseball.  I also use it sometimes when I have a speaking engagement.  This lesson can be applied to how we choose to respond to a lot of the moments we have on a daily basis.  Next time you find yourself dwelling on the past or worrying about something in the future maybe try focusing on one pitch at time – This Pitch This Moment.

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The Purpose of Martial Arts

This past weekend we promoted twelve new black belts. As part of the exam we often talk about the purpose of training in the martial arts. I thought this was a great opportunity to share some of those thoughts with you.

General Choi, the founder of modern day Tae Kwon Do, once wrote that the purpose of the martial arts was “to eliminate fighting by discouraging the stronger’s oppression of the weaker with a power that must be based on humanity, justice, morality, wisdom and faith, thus helping to build a better and more peaceful world.” He wrote this sometime around 1945. It’s interesting how much that still applies considering how much the world has changed since then.

A martial art is a fighting art. There should be both a fighting component as well as an ‘art’ component. In that regard, learning to fight in order to defend oneself should be a part of any martial arts study. To earn the rank of black belt every student should develop at least some degree of skill in the fighting aspect of the art they study. Every student is different though. We all have our own physical strengths and limitations. While not everyone has the physical, mental and emotional attributes to be a high level competitor it is possible to develop the skills necessary to protect themselves to at least some degree of effectiveness based on their own individual abilities.

Developing the ‘art’ side of the martial arts is also a part of the students overall training experience. The techniques of the art should have a certain aesthetic appeal. In order for the techniques to be effective they should be performed cleanly and efficiently. The forms or patterns, if they’re an integral part of the art you study, should have a certain look to them. The coordination of movement, breathing and execution of technique is a worthwhile challenge. It teaches us to focus, it teaches the value of repetition and discipline.

I often tell people that the martial arts are really just a tool that allows us to teach what’s really important. Obviously, being able to defend yourself would be very important should the need ever arise. Keeping your body and mind strong and healthy through physical activity is of course of significant value as well. What matters most as a martial arts student though is the art of how you choose to live your life. Most every martial art has similar tenets that are the foundation of the art. We use the five tenets of Courtesy, Integrity, Self-Control, Perseverance and Indomitable Spirit.

Courtesy – Courtesy is simply how we choose to treat the people in our lives. We use the common courtesies, please, thank you, you’re welcome, yes sir, yes ma’m, no sir, no ma’m etc… Remember the golden rule. Treat others the way you’d like to be treated.

Integrity – Integrity is knowing the difference between right and wrong, and doing the right thing no matter what anyone else thinks, or says, or does.

Self-control – This isn’t as simple as it sounds, but self control is really nothing more than controlling your body and your behavior.

Perseverance – Life is full of challenges. These challenges are often uncomfortable. That can actually be a good thing. If we stay where we’re comfortable then we don’t have the opportunity to get better and improve. When we expand our comfort zone, when we don’t give up, then its through those challenges that we truly being to grow.

Indomitable Spirit – This one is always the hardest to explain to younger students. Breaking it down, its a spirit that won’t be dominated. It’s like perseverance, only bigger. No matter what the odds are against us, no matter how extreme the challenge, we just keep going. This could appear as a physical challenge related to an injury or illness, it could be a challenge in our personal or professional lives that is out of the ordinary. We will all face these types of challenges, and our experiences from the past will help shape how we adapt to these challenges.

Yes, a black belt should be able to defend him or herself to a certain degree. Yes, a black belt should have good quality technique and be in strong physical condition. Most importantly though, a black belt should be someone who lives their life in a manner that is appropriately respectful and suitably humble.

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What is Monday Inspiration?

I started Monday Inspiration many years ago as a way to stay in contact with a group of Black belts whose lives had taken them away from the St. Louis area.  Wayne Johnson and Don Smith were two black belt instructors who were instrumental in mentoring me in the early days of developing my teaching philosophy and style.  They retired and moved out of the area at about the same time that Mike Krakauskas, Rich McDonald and Rob Matthews moved out of town for career related opportunities.  Mike and Rich both ended up in parts of Colorado and Rob went to San Francisco.  These three men had been students of mine since they were teenagers or young men.  They had grown from young students whose lives I had at least some measure of influence on to some of my best adult friends. At about the same time Major Bob Scott, one of our other long time black belts and a respected leader, was transferred to the Pentagon in Washington D.C.  Bob eventually retired to Florida at the rank of Colonel in The United States Army.

While Monday Motivation might have had a better ring to it I chose the name Monday Inspiration because I’ve always felt that motivation came from inside an individual and inspiration came from outside influences.  I don’t think you can really motivate someone else but I do believe you can inspire them to motivate themselves.

As a way to stay connected to these black belts I just started sending a weekly email to the six of them titled Monday Inspiration. The rules were simple.  Any one of us could send a message at anytime if we felt it was inspirational in some way.  It could be a favorite quote, an anecdotal story, or just something that we had experienced in our daily lives that we wanted to share.  It didn’t need to happen every Monday and it didn’t need to even be sent on a Monday.  Any day was fine and anything that anyone wanted to share was fine as long as it was purposeful.  It could be martial arts related but it didn’t need to be.  Sometimes long discussions were spawned that went in any number of directions, and sometimes not. It was a great way to continue teaching and sharing.  Over the years other members were added to the list and Monday Inspiration continued on in various forms for over ten years.

Monday Inspiration is now being reborn.  I’ll be using this space from time to time to share things that I think may be of value to all of our students.  If you like it please share it with your friends.

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