Don’t Confuse Niceness for Weakness

throw2A certain football coach has been at the forefront of the news lately.  The overwhelming majority label him as a “nice guy”.  However, the context and tone of the phrase leads me to believe that when they say “nice guy”, it is not actually a compliment, but almost a character defect.  It is as if the coach will not be able to perform his duties or rise to greatness because he is “nice”.  This is a cultural myth perpetuated by the media and movies; that if you are nice, then you are somehow weak, uncompetitive, and do not “have what it takes”.  Nothing could be further from the truth.

This idea starts from the notion of “tough love”; common in sports and athletic endeavors.  This idea is that you have to be hard or harsh to a student for their own good – to make them take the step to the next level.  On the same thread, a student must develop a strong mental attitude to overcome the inevitable hardships and setbacks one must endure to get to the next level.  They also must have a strong mental attitude to face their competition.  Often, an opponent can mentally derail a fellow competitor with trash-talk, jibes, insults, etc. so that they do not perform their best.

Where this notion has gone wrong is the next idea that a competitor/athlete must therefore become “mean” in order to be tough enough to face the competition.  By extension, a person who is not “mean” must not be tough enough to excel in athletic endeavors.

In martial arts, courtesy is taught right alongside lethal and joint-destructive techniques.  The most terrifying people I know are the ones who will smile, say hello, and then take you out,  without so much as a hint.  These people have nothing to prove, they are confident in their own abilities, and they will not provoke or insult, because there is no need to provoke.  They have the greatest desire to excel; to become constantly better than their opponents, and themselves.

So you can then, have courtesy, and be nice without compromising your competitive spirit.  Trash-talk, insults, and being “mean” is about trying to prove something to someone else.  It has nothing to do with being an excellent competitor, improving your abilities, developing a tough mental attitude, and being strong, mentally and physically

Integrity – Its What You Do When No One Is Watching

 

GambatteAs an Instructor, I often move about the martial arts mat making corrections to techniques, and offering advice.  Even with Adults, I often notice that the student will adjust their technique if they think I am watching them. For most students this is an unconscious action, but even so, I still ask the question “Why”?  What are you trying to change now that you think I am watching?  If you are changing, then which is the “real” technique, when I am watching or when I am not?

Most of us are social creatures; we interact and respond to the people that are around us.  Have you ever acted differently because you knew someone was watching you?  Have you ever been singing in the car to a great tune, only to stop  when you see the guy laughing at you in the car next to you?  We are often embarrassed in social situations when we perceive others are judging us or mocking us.

However, as I tell my students, eventually you must become comfortable with yourself as a person; what you say, what you do, what you think.  The term I would use for this is Integrity.  Integrity is the steadfast dedication to the truth, be it scientific truth, historical truth, or personal truth.  There is an easier way to think about it, however.  Integrity is what you do when no one is watching you.  You sacrifice your integrity every time you change your behavior for others.  In order to take your character (and your training) to the next level, you must find a way to become a person of Integrity all the time; 24 hours a day / 7 days a week.   Find the person that you are when no one is watching, and make that person who you are in all situations.  You will be one step closer to becoming a more happy, comfortable, fulfilled person.  A person of Integrity.

The “Art” in Martial Arts

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In any athletic endeavor, there is a progression of understanding  as to how to perform.  In our martial arts school, my instructor taught that you started by learning;

  1.  the form of the technique (or movement)
  2. the function of the technique (or movement)
  3. the effectiveness of the technique (or movement)
  4. the art of the technique (or movement)

I believe that this applies to all athletic endeavors, from yoga to football.  The progression of form to function to effectiveness seems self-explanatory.  We must work to make our movements more efficient, more effective, with less thought, whether its blocking an incoming attack, or returning a tennis serve.  Where then, does the “art” phase come in?  We all have seen the “art” in watching games or performances in which athletes went “beyond” themselves.  But what did they actually do?

I tell my students that hopefully, if I train them properly, someday they should be able to walk in to another martial arts school and perform their techniques the way that school performs them.  Why?  Because I did not teach them techniques; I taught them how to move.  Thus, if I taught them how to move properly, they should be able to instantly adapt to the new movement they are seeing.

The art of the technique, then, is the ability to perfectly move in any given encounter.  This is not easy.  It requires precision, timing, and an understanding of oneself, and the environment that one is placed in.  But when you see the perfect tackle at the goal-line, the perfect lay-up in basketball, the perfect serve in tennis, it is because the athlete has moved beyond technique, and has entered into the essence of movement.

Look for the “art” in your chosen field.  Practice until you can move exactly the way you want.  Remember, it may take years of practice until you move with this kind of precision.  Work on your techniques, but ultimately, find the essence of the movement.

Learning’s Just the Beginning

Aikido 468Article provided by Dave Lehnert, 3rd Kyu

I read quite an interesting article on the web the other day. It had to do with learning through practice, and why it’s important to keep practicing even after you’ve ‘learned’ whatever it is you’re trying to learn. The author cites research involving manipulation of a robotic arm, and applies the findings to music performance and playing tennis, but she could just as easily have discussed the implications for the practice of Aikido as well.

It’s no big surprise to hear that when we first try something new, our initial efforts are usually awkward and full of hesitations and mistakes (remember the first few times you tried Katatetori Ikkyo?). As we repeat the task, it becomes less awkward; we smooth out the hesitations and correct the mistakes. Eventually, the task that at first seemed difficult and strange becomes familiar and easy. Instead of a jerky, barely-controlled careening toward the mat, the tenkan becomes a graceful, swooping circular descent around a firmly established center. We feel we’ve learned the task: “OK, I know this one now. What’s next?”

The research the article discusses, though, suggests that once you’ve ‘learned’ the task, the real learning is just beginning. When we learn a new movement, our brains start setting up neural pathways – the article calls it a “sensorimotor map” – to help us execute it a little better, and more efficiently, as we repeat it over and over. The more we practice the movement, the more the brain “updates the map,” and the more efficiently we move. The technique requires less and less effort (less and less muscle). You finally reach a point where your physical effort is about as efficient as it can be: executing the technique “feels effortless.”

Here is where the article became especially interesting: the researchers found that even after maximum physical  efficiency had been achieved, energy use in the brain continued to drop. The brain, apparently, isn’t satisfied with mere metabolic efficiency: it makes its own neural processes more and more efficient, too, after the motor skills have been mastered. And if your brain is spending a little less energy doing one thing, that means there’s a little more energy available for something else: lightning-quick calculations of the speed and angle of an incoming yokomenuchi, say, or being aware of everyone’s position during jiyu-waza.

This is why it’s not enough merely to learn the exercises and the techniques; we must overlearn them. Continue to practice over and over and over, even if you think you’ve already got the moves down pretty well, and don’t just “go through the motions.” Pay attention to what you’re doing, even if you’ve done it a thousand times before. The final paragraph of the article sums it up beautifully:

“The message from this study is that in order to perform with less effort, keep on practicing, even after it seems the task has been learned. We have shown there is an advantage to continued practice beyond any visible changes in performance.”

In other words: You’re getting better and better, even when you can’t tell you’re improving—a thought to keep you going through those long hours of practice.

The Power of “Thank You”

Za Rei - saying "thank You"If you just came in off the street and sat down at Aikido of Nebraska, you would probably say to yourself that the students say “thank you” to the instructor and to each other a ridiculous number of times.  Why does anyone need to do that?  Is it some power-game of the instructor? Some constant need of the students to stroke their self-esteem?

I find that I myself say “thank you” much more than I used to in everyday life.  Yes it can be a non-thinking habit, little more than any other habit that you do mindlessly, such as brushing your teeth, or hitting the turn-signal. But for me, saying “thank you” is still in the forefront of my mind.  It reminds me that I live in a society that does a vast amount for me personally everyday.  It reminds me that everyday people do things for me that they didn’t necessarily have to do.  If I have any success in life, it is a result of finding that success through other people.

In martial arts training, people train to get certain benefits for themselves, but at least at our dojo, they help others as part of their training.  Thus, it is important to say “thank you” for every last thing another person does for you.  They did not have to give to you; or they did not have to give to the extent they did.  Saying “thank you” for all these “gifts” makes you realize of the thousands of little things that people do for you every day- whether you pay for them or not.  It allows the student to gain 2 new character traits; 1)Humility, and 2) Gratefulness – character traits which will go a long ways to having a happy life.

What No Student Wants to Hear – Your Rank, Your Belt, Mean Nothing

There are a lot of people in the martial arts world who love titles.  Sifu, Sensei, Shihan, Master, Semapi etc., are all valid titles depending on which kind of martial art you practice.  And prospects often come to the school and tell me what rank they made it to before they quit their previous martial art – yellow belt with black stripe, black belt, green belt, etc.  While I respect the time and training that anyone has put in to their chosen art, I remind my students not to get caught up in what belt or rank they are, because ultimately, their belt or rank MEAN NOTHING.

Don’t get me wrong, we use a system of ranking and belts at our school as well.  It is helpful to the student to see what his/her short-term and long-term goals are, and how they are progressing through the curriculum.  But ranking and belts are an arbitrary system, and arbitrary systems are, well, arbitrary.  They have no connection to the real world.  They are “made up” for our benefit.

For example, even students in the same art, but from different schools, will have a different ranking system.  Some schools have 4 progressions before black belt, some have 10.  How can I get students from these 2 schools to work together at the same level? The answer is I really can’t.

Do you think the Samurai cared about what “rank” they were?  No, they cared about one thing – not dying on the battlefield.  They trained relentlessly, because many times, there was no way to quantify how much they knew, or if they were better than others.  If they were better, they survived, if not, they never got to review their training again.

We all like the feeling of being competent, and many like the feeling of having junior students look up to them; to see them as the “top dog”.  It is easy to become arrogant, and tell yourself how good you are, just because you have such-and-such rank.

In order to keep our skills progressing, we remind ourselves to keep the mindset of the japanese concept of Mushin.  Mushin means “beginner’s mind”.  It means that no matter how much you know, you can always learn more.  It reminds us not to get caught up in rank, or belts because once you “know it all”, learning stops and you become complacent – which means death on the battlefield.

Mushin reminds us to look at every technique like you have never seen it before – to do every technique like you have never done it before.  Mushin reminds us to be careful.  If I allow myself to “know ” a technique, then I will stop trying to learn its subtle nuances.  With Mushin, I remind myself to keep learning, no matter what my rank, no matter what my belt.

As for rank – forget it, it means nothing anyway.  All that matters is what you know, and what you can do, right now.

A Center to Hold On To: My Relationship with Aikido

By Genevieve Ellerbee, 5th Kyu.

I discovered Aikido during a miserable year. I was sixteen, heading into my junior year of high school – a time when emotional ups and downs are routine. But I was also living in the Philippines, missing my friends, struggling through advanced classes I wasn’t really prepared for, and watching my parents’ marriage fall apart in slow motion. (A bout of chicken pox probably didn’t help matters.) I was completely at sea, but had no real idea why, or what I could do to fix it. Outwardly, I did my best to look like the dutiful eldest daughter I was supposed to be, but inside I was confused and lonely.

It was my math teacher who suggested I try Aikido. I hadn’t heard of it before, but he was encouraging, and it was probably partly the crush I had on him which made me agree to give it a try.  The dojo was in an athletic club near my house, so I bought my gi, tied my belt on (incorrectly) and was dropped off to start my first class.  I remember standing outside the door to the dojo, dodging the exiting kendo students who used the space first, and wondering whether this was going to work. I had studied Taekwondo as a little kid, but aside from a few photos of my six-year-old self throwing determined punches, I hadn’t retained anything from my first foray into martial arts.

What I found was a space where I could be reassured by an orderly world, which then permitted me to feel safe about attempting more and more. I had never been any sort of athlete, or attempted to discover what my body could do when I pushed myself. The formal courtesies and expectations of the dojo gave me an anchor, and feeling secure gave me the confidence to try doing things that I had no notion I could ever accomplish. My fellow students were kind and supportive, and although I rarely saw them outside of the dojo, there was a strong sense of fellowship. My sensei was a blend of gravitas and good cheer, which meant that I tried to do my best but wasn’t locking up at the possibility of failure. And the feeling I got when I did a technique correctly, when I felt how it was all supposed to work, when class was over and I was tired and sweaty and happy – it was incredible. It made me feel alive in a way I didn’t expect, and it gave me a center to hold on to.

It didn’t last very long, unfortunately. Our family returned to the US after a year, and I was soon caught up in my senior year of high school, applications to colleges, reconnecting with friends. I attempted to find another dojo that gave me what I had to leave behind, and couldn’t. None of them had that feeling of fellowship, and it seemed like Aikido was one of a dozen martial arts offered, salad bar style. Many of them had cultivated a weird machismo that made me uncomfortable, especially since there didn’t seem to be any women around. The dojo that came closest to what I wanted was too far away for me to get to classes on time. Eventually, I gave up looking. I made sure that my gi and weapons were always safely stored, but I wasn’t sure I’d ever have the chance to use them again.

Nearly twenty years later, I finally managed it. I was in my thirties, married, living in the Midwest. At some point, I noticed that there were several dojos in the area, and it occurred to me that if I wanted to study Aikido again, I could make it happen. I picked a dojo more or less at random, telling myself that if this was the wrong place, I could move on. Squashing down my nerves and clutching my weapons awkwardly against me, I walked in and asked if I could start training. By the end of the first lesson, I knew that I had found the right dojo.

Training as a 36-year old is, unsurprisingly, quite different from training as a 16-year old. My body creaks a lot more, and my knees ache, and there’s a lot more huffing and puffing. But the important things still remain. I have the good companionship of my fellow students, who keep me going forward. I have a sensei who guides the dojo with humor, calmness, and expertise, who helps me when I struggle and tells me when I’ve succeeded. And I have a space where I can enter, shed some of my preoccupations, and focus down on my self, my body, and my mind, hopefully learning something and carrying it with me when I leave, tired, and sweaty, and happy.

Courage in Everyday Life

One of the things that martial artists do is take warrior concepts, such as honor, duty, courage and discipline, and try to make these concepts more concrete so that they can be used in everyday life for “average” people.  Just because most people do not have to face life-or-death decisions everyday in modern society, does not mean that they have no use for courage and discipline. In no where is this there a more important example than the recent Penn State scandal.

As I tried to come to terms with the information coming out from Penn State , I tried to understand what I was most upset/angry about.  I came to the conclusion that , oddly enough, I was not most upset at the main suspect.  Don’t get me wrong; if the allegations are true, I view him as a monster that should be put away forever.  But you can only get so angry at a predator that does what predators do; prey on the young or the weak.  I realized that I was much more angry at the others involved in the scandal.  I was angry at the good people who did not have the courage to do the right thing.  I was angry at the people who stood by and did nothing, to the detriment of several little boys.  They did not understand the concept of courage.

Courage has many definitions, I’m sure, but the definition that is most useful for me is; courage is taking action in the face of fear.  Courage is doing the right thing when fear tells you not to.  Those other people involved in the Penn State scandal were (and are) good people.  They pay their taxes, they work hard at their jobs, they take care of their families.  But when faced with a criminal act, they knew what they were supposed to do, yet didn’t, because they were scared of the consequences.  They justified it by saying to themselves, “I didn’t commit this crime.  Why should I have to suffer the consequences of reporting it?”  So, they either did nothing or the bare minimum, and tried to ignore it ever happened.

This lack of courage has catastrophic consequences for society.  When good people do nothing when they see crimes against humanity, it allows ever-increasing atrocities to occur.  It is this mentality that allows countless wives to be beaten, that allowed slavery as a way of life, that allowed the Nazis to commit horrible crimes.  One can quickly see that not having the courage to stand up and report wrongdoing damages us all.  It certainly did not save the Penn State staff from consequences.  Karma always comes around.

Here is the question you must ask yourself right now.  I am willing to bet that you are a good person.  Do you have the courage to report wrong-doing?  There will always be criminals and crime.  But good people who do not have the courage to do the right thing make criminals 10X more powerful.  It is very difficult to know what to do when you are in the middle of the problem.  Remember, courage is taking action even though you are scared. So, get a hold of your fear,  go ahead and do the right thing.  Not only will you be able to live with yourself better, society will benefit as well.

Competitive martial arts training: “What you get, what it costs,” by Robert

Reprinted unchanged from blog.aikidojournal.com

We just received this well-thought out comment in response to an article we published a few months ago titled “Martial arts practice and the deceived mind,” by Stanley Pranin. It is a succinct description of the various categories of training for competition and their applicability in real street encounters.

 Sparring is a form of training like any other form of training. Even the most brutal MMA matches are not fights. They are sparring.

As with any form of training, the questions are: What does it get you? What does it cost you?  Every kind of sparring, from light to no contact “tag” to MMA matches serves a purpose.

Tag type sparring (light to no contact)
What you get: You learn control. You learn to put your fist or foot or elbow where you want it to go.
What it costs: Very little.
The non-physical dangers: But the student has to be certain they understand this is far, far from any kind of actual fight. So don’t get cocky because you’re the school “tag” champion.

Kickboxing
What you get: You improve your stamina and strength. You learn range, speed, combinations, positioning and…you learn to take a heavy hit (or several) without stopping.
What it costs: You can expect to always get bruised up, and occasionally there will be more serious injuries.
The non-physical dangers: For safety reasons there are lots of rules with kickboxing. These limitations on what you (and your opponent) can do make this EXERCISE a very unrealistic imitation of a fight. As before, don’t get cocky because you can do this well.

Grappling & ground fighting
What you get: Practical experience and a “feel” for grappling, joint locks, throws and so on, for people of different weights and sizes.
What it costs: Like with kickboxing, expect bruises and abrasions. And, unfortunately, the occasional injury.
The non-physical dangers: Some Jujitsu consider themselves to be the toughest guys around. That doesn’t count for much if you’re ground fighting your assailant, but his friend is kicking you. As will all sparring, it’s an exercise.

With any of these exercises (and many other variations), always remember what it gets you, what it costs you and remember the non-physical danger that you might start to think that’s how fighting works.

Whether any of these is worth the risk, that depends on each practitioner, and how prepared they want to be if they’re attacked, and what risks they’re willing to take for that level of preparation.

In many cases the more dangerous kinds of sparring can be done for a while, until those particular lessons are learned, and then one can move on.

Early on, one of the most valuable things that a beginner can learn in sparring is that you CAN continue even if you have the wind knocked out of you or a charlie-horse. That is a critical lesson to learn for self defense. If you don’t learn it, should someone unexpectedly hit you hard in real life, you’ll crumple. You won’t know if you are hurt badly or not. All you’ll know is that you’re hurt more than you’ve ever had to deal with before. And when your life depends on it is NOT when you want to learn to handle that.

Once you HAVE learned that (painful) lesson, there’s no need to continue getting the stuffing beaten out of yourself.

As for sparring competition, that’s another matter. It’s not a bad thing to spar for sport. No worse than playing football or rugby. But it’s not about preparing to defend yourself. It’s just a different animal.

Mind Body Spirit Revisited

A prospective student came in one night and was observing class.  I asked him if he had any questions. He asked “what kind of mind-body-spirit improvement will I get if I train here?  What specifically do you do that improves mind-body-spirit?”  What a wonderful and complicated question.  I believe the student was right to ask such an important question, but I also believe he was looking for a one-sentence answer.  Silly Student.

Most martial arts schools pay lip service to the mind-body-spirit idea, but many do not deliver.  For many the concept is too esoteric, and it is left up to the student to “find” it within his/her training.  Actually I believe it boils down to a relatively simple concept – if you want to strive for mind/body/spirit improvement in your life, you must strive to become perfect at your chosen endeavor.

I had the privilege of watching the “Yamato” taiko drummers give a performance in Lincoln last weekend.  It was phenomenal.  They received multiple standing ovations.  The audience could tell at once that is was more than just a good drum performance.  It was athletic.  It was graceful.  It was transcendent. It was beautiful.  I read that the drummers all live together on the road, so they can pick up the nuances of each other.  Their daily routine consists of a 10K run, followed by weight lifting ( which was definitely required judging from their performance) until noon.  They practice drumming together in the afternoon, and individual practice continues until they go to bed at night.  They are on the road 10 months a year in foreign countries, and either prepare, perform, clear, or travel from their performances.

The Yamato drummers are a clear example of striving for perfection, and the mind-body-spirit is manifest in their performance. “Wait,” you say, “my mom used to say nobody’s perfect”.  That may be true.  But that does not mean you cannot strive to become perfect.  The struggle is what is important.

Do you want to find the mind-body-spirit connection in your Aikido training?  Excellent.  Strive with every fiber of your being to execute your techniques perfectly.  Strive to develop perfect awareness.  Become perfectly calm in your mind.  Will you ever become perfect?  Maybe not, but your training and your life will be taken to a whole new level.  The level of mind-body-spirit.

What is the Ideal Aikido Student? #LNK

What is the Ideal Student?Some visitors who came in to observe an Aikido class one night, noted the adult students starting to clean the dojo, like they always do after class.  “Why do you make them clean the dojo?”  the visitor asked.  I answered, ” I don’t make them clean the dojo.  They are free to leave at anytime.”  The visitor looked at me like “Yeah, right.”, but didn’t say anything.  The visitor was correct in thinking that I did have something to do with the students cleaning up after class.  But the visitor obviously considered cleaning as a punishment, or “beneath” the students.  This misunderstanding is common, and begs the question; what is the role of an “ideal” student?

As a new student, I must understand that, in terms of the martial art, I know nothing, and accepting this is difficult for Americans.  All of us want to feel “competent” in whatever we are doing, even when we are just starting out.  But this is the very first step in learning how to extinguish our ego; our arrogance that we “know something”.  Once we accept that we know nothing, it becomes liberating.  We stop worrying about how we are perceived by others, and concentrate on learing what we are excited to learn.

But even this is not the primary requirement to becoming an “ideal” student.  What makes the ideal student is; the student is willing to learn whatever is required  in order to become a better person.  For example, when the student cleans the dojo, the student is learning to respect and appreciation for the surroundings that allow them to become a better person.   When the student says “thank you” to their partner each time, they are learning that their partner is assisting in their own self-improvement, and this must be recognized.

This willingness to learn whatever is required is not easy.  It requires great trust in the instructor to guide the student in their self-development.  It requires the student to give up their ego, and their own control, and allow others to help them.  However, the benefits from this mentality becomes priceless.  The student starts to excel past his peers, and become a person of power and integrity.

So, at least during class, give up your control, and allow others to help you become a person of power and integrity.  Become the ideal student.

“I Don’t Want to Hurt Anyone” #LNK

You can learn Aikido with harming othersThe martial arts sometimes attract  the kind of people who enjoy doing harm to others.  They want to be “ass-kickers”, and they want to make sure that if they are attacked by someone, that they can “take them out”.  Often, without proper discipline, this annihilate -your-opponent idea gets these people into trouble.  They attack and destroy on little provocation, and wind themselves up in legal battles or in jail.  For this reason, instructors must select worthy students to learn power comes with responsibility.

At the other end of the spectrum, the majority of martial artists enjoy the self-development aspect of training, and do not like the idea that they may cause harm to attackers. It is not that the attacker “deserves” to have mercy upon him/her, it simply is about what kind of person the martial arts student wants to be.  Most of us do not want to be the kind of person that inflict injuries on others, provoked or not. Yet, how can we learn to protect ourselves at the same time?  It would seem like we cannot do both.

Aikido is a martial art that lends itself well to those who wish to not harm others, as it is purely a defensive art.  But  I tell my students at Aikido of Nebraska, with a surprisingly small amount of training, you can readily hurt someone, even in Aikido.  Hopefully a good instructor will also teach you to use only the amount of force required to control the opponent.  Even in striking arts such as taekwondo, or karate, students can be taught to “pull” their punches, so that they can deliver varying amounts of force.  That is why true martial artists learn their art over years; it takes this long to have the control required to use only the minimum force necessary.

There will be rare times when martial arts students will have to use destructive techniques to control a situation, namely when someone’s life is at risk.  But for most, this will happen rarely, if ever, in their lifetimes.  So, it is possible to learn the martial arts and specifically learn to not harm others.  Don’t let “I don’t want to hurt anyone.” as an excuse not to learn Aikido, or any other martial art for that matter.

Do What is Important; Not What is Urgent #LNK

Students often get sidetracked in their training.  They stop going to class because “life gets in the way”.  They stop going because of pressure from work, problems with family members, or they are just “tired”.  Sometimes new students stop coming because the initial excitement and “newness” are over, and going to class seems more “routine”.  These are the same students that tell me they joined the school because they needed to improve their health, manage their stress, improve their well-being, protect themselves, etc.  Where is the disconnect, then?  It is because we are programmed to take care of the problem right in front of us, without regard to its long-term consequences.  We do what is urgent, not what is important.

Have you ever been in a very important face-to-face conversation with a loved-one or friend, only to answer your cell-phone when it rings?  Why?  Because you are programmed to do what’s urgent (answer the phone), instead of what’s important (talk with your loved one).  We all do that from time to time.  But it is important to remember that as we become more and more programmed to do what is urgent, we become a person who just “puts out fires”, who solves short-term problems by sacrificing long-term goals.

We will all continue to have problems in life; this is not the question.  The question is; how do we attack those problems and still reach the goals that we set for ourselves?  By stepping back, taking a larger perspective, and solving those problems for the long-term, not the short-term.  Often this will create more work and problems in the short-term.  Nevertheless, when the problem is solved, it is solved; you will not have to revisit again down the road because you only put a “band-aid” on it the first time.

A famous speaker once said “A successful life is nothing more than a string of successful days put together.”  You do not want to look back on your life and realize that you accomplished nothing because you were someone who just “put out fires”.

Did you join the martial arts because you truly wanted to improve your life?  Great.  Come to class.  Do what is important, not just what is urgent.

Self Defense Concepts #78 – Read Your Opponent

Have you ever wondered how warriors and Martial Artists develop that “sixth sense” that allows them to anticipate movements of their attackers, and choreograph strikes and techniques with 4 or 5  attackers?  I’ll let you in on a little secret.

It’s not magic.

They just pay attention more than you do.

“Reading” people is a time-honored skill, and is useful in all types of endeavors, from poker, to business, to martial arts.  What does “reading” someone mean?  It means that you pay attention to all the information coming to you from that person; how they hold their posture, their facial expression, how their weight is placed, where they focus their eyes, how they are reacting to you and the people around them, etc.

Seriously,  when was the last time you noticed which way someone’s toes were pointed?  Good Martial Artists notice those things.  It tells them which way your adversary might move or strike, whether the will use their feet, hands or with a weapon.

Like anything else, learning to read people is not a skill most of us were blessed with;  it requires patience and practice to master.  As you become more attuned to reading opponents, you will find yourself evaluating people as they walk down the street toward you.  Hone that skill.  It will serve you well in all aspects of life, from music concerts to business meetings.  The more you can learn to read people, the more successful you can become in your own endeavors.

The Law of Presence – You Only Really Have this Moment

Presence - Standing on Kilimanjaro

Martial Arts students often try very hard to push themselves and learn all the techniques required of them.  When it comes time to get ready for testing, many have difficulty, because it requires a new mindset.  They no longer have the luxury of analyzing their mistakes, as they are making them.  They want to “run the projector back” and rehash what went wrong.  Has this ever happened to you?  Have you ever listened to a speaker in person or on the radio, and been tantalized by the speaker’s idea, only to miss the next two ideas because you were thinking about the previous one?  While this kind of mental analysis is beneficial, and aids in the learning process, there are times where you must learn to “stay in the moment”.  If this idea is explored further, you start to realize that you really only have this moment to live.

Margaret Bonnano once said “It’s only possible to live happily ever after on a moment-to-moment basis”.  Although you can project your mind in to a previous time in the past or the future, you can only live in the present, in this moment.  We “indulge” ourselves by projecting our mind into the past or future, because we are fascinated with the possibilities. Nevertheless, we can only take action right now, in this moment.

So, when confronted by an assailant, you have only now to make decisions and take action.  You cannot afford the luxury of analyzing the event as it happens.  Although horrifying, this kind of event still fascinates us.  Allowing ourselves to analyze the event can cost us our health or our life, however.

So, when testing, the students must stay in the moment, act and react.  There will be time for analysis later.  This proves to be a very difficult lesson in life, and requires patience and persistence to master.

So, avoid the “paralysis of analysis”; stay in the moment.  It is really the only place you can ever be.