In a Kyokushin karate dojo, especially this one, you're going to get hit. You're going to take punches and kicks and knees and elbows, but you'll grow to love it. I cannot adequately express in words the satisfaction of taking a shot (a punch or kick) that would have floored you just a few weeks ago...all with a smile on your face.
A friend of mine (Marco, thank you!) inquired as to when exactly I let students start taking contact. From what I understand, in some schools, students aren't allowed to take contact until they get to a certain level or they've been training a set amount of time. Some martial arts schools don't allow sparring until a student has been training for six months. Personally, I think that's a bit much.
So, at The Forge Dojo, when do my students start training leg kicks and body punches? Typically within a half hour of walking into class. While I've got a few reasons for this, they all branch off of this following belief of mine:
Learning how to take a punch or kick makes you tougher...mentally. We have a toddler at home...and toddlers fall down a lot. Ever notice how little ones will fall and then almost immediately look around for their parents? They're trying to figure out how to respond. You freak out, the toddler freaks out. You stay calm...that's right, the toddler stays calm.
The longer you train, the more likely you are to have the wind knocked out of you. That isn't meant to be threatening...it's just the way things go. I can always tell when one of my students has gotten the wind knocked out them for the first time, and my advice is usually the same: "I know you think that it hurts, but it doesn't. This doesn't hurt. You feel uncomfortable and it's scary, but you will be fine." From there, we try to get breathing back on track and within a minute or so, we're all back to training. What happens the next time that student takes a punch or a kick and has the wind knocked out of them? MOST of the time, with a smile on my face, I watch them push through...never stopping, staying calm and working through the trial.
The confidence that you build by gradually building up a tolerance to discomfort or pain is amazing. It is empowering. It's the primary reason that folks usually receive some level of contact on their very first day in the dojo! Why would I want to withhold this kind of experience from a student (or potential student) for weeks or months? No way...we're going to start growing right away.
About a year ago I was having lunch with my younger brother and we were talking about children...specifically what you need to do in order to be "ready" to have kids. Were any of us ever really ready? Sure, you can read books and watch videos and talk to other folks who've been there and done that, but are you ever truly ready? I don't know many folks who would say it's possible.
I get the question, or concern, a lot when it comes to training. Folks will come and ask what they can do to get ready before they come train in my dojo. Maybe it's just my dojo (I hope not), but it doesn't matter how in-shape or out-of-shape you are...it's going to be tough. Some days are more physically taxing, while others tend to strain the mind, but it's always going to be a challenge; regardless of where you're at in your journey.
One Monday evening, over a decade ago, I walked into the old Rockville Dojo as an unhealthy, overweight, and out-of-shape guy. To be clear...at that time I was over 100 pounds heavier than I am right now. If I had waited until I was in decent shape before starting my training I would have never made it to a single class. It was the dojo and the training and my amazing instructors that gave me the direction to begin forging a much stronger Bob that the fat guy who initially walked through the doors. In fact, looking back, even if I had taken six months to work out and get in better shape, it probably would have been demoralizing to see how challenging the training still was. See, if you do this right, if you find the right instructor and the right group, you'll notice that the training (especially the conditioning) is terribly challenging for everyone in the room.
So here's the simple truth: If you've been thinking about starting some form of training, then you're ready. You probably already know an instructor or a student that you trust. Ask them questions. Find out if a school you're interested in offers free trial classes...MOST of them do.
There are exceptionally few people who are able to push themselves to the limit on their own. A group, and a good instructor, will almost always push you to do more than you think possible. Find the right instructor/trainer/coach and jump in with a humble attitude. It could honestly be one of the best decisions you'll ever make.
This week I'm going to take some time to respond to a few of the questions and comments that I've received through various social media outlets. Before I get the first post out there, I want to make one thing painfully clear: I am not an expert or a genius. When I share my thoughts, I'm sharing my personal experience as a student and as a teacher. There are other, better students out there; just as there are other, better teachers/instructors out there. I'll be the first to admit that I've got a ton to learn. When I write these responses, I like to think that I'm using the same thoughts, tone, and vocabulary that I would with my own students. I add that in so that you would give me the benefit of the doubt, particularly if you don't know me well, that I mean my words to be encouraging. That being said, I'm not perfect, and I acknowledge that I will sometimes pick the wrong words/phrases...after all, in this day and age, we can't make everyone happy right?
So, I'm no genius, but I think that's a good thing. While I'm not a globetrotter who has trained in a dozen different countries, I can assure you that my thoughts come as a guy who:
- has been married to his sweetheart for 15 years
- is raising four children with that sweetheart
- once lost about 100 pounds in a year (and made it into Men's Health magazine for that accomplishment)
- has worked as a certified personal trainer
- just finished his 16th year as a teacher
- has been training in Kyokushin karate for over a decade (hence the weight loss)
- is a dedicated instructor in real, budo karate
- has a proven track record for helping people forge the strongest version of themselves
So...I'm not perfect, and I'm not the best, but I'm the real deal.
School is out, which means summertime is finally here! Historically this means a more relaxed schedule for families. Maybe a few days at the pool each week after sleeping in a little. For our dojo though, we're actually going to ramp up our Kids Kyokushin program a bit by introducing our first annual Samurai Summer.
Beginning July 3rd, we will focus each week on one of the principles of Bushido. In all, we will be dedicating 17 consecutive classes to studying the traits that made the samurai famous...after all, they were much more than amazing warriors.
So, how will this be different than our regular Kids Kyokushin classes? Well, for starters, there will be homework! There will assignments given out at the end of each class...assignments for students AND for their parents! Another summer switch will be in the way of attendance. It will be the responsibility of each student to check-in to class each time. Don't worry, I'll be showing them how to do just that in each of our classes during the next two weeks. This will be important because all students and parents who complete 100% of the homework assignments and attend at least 14 of our 17 Samurai Summer sessions will earn a free Forge: Samurai Summer t-shirt and sling bag!
But wait there's more! I'll also be leading a Samurai Summer "camp", through Covenant Life School, in the dojo during the week of July 10th. To learn more about that opportunity, check the link here: http://covenantlifeschool.org/student-life/karate-camp. This camp will spend one intense week training in the principles that will help us to grow in : justice, courage, mercy, politeness, honesty, honor, loyalty, and self-control. It's also a great opportunity for students who currently train with us to introduce a friend or sibling to what we do in the dojo on a weekly basis!
One of the clearest memories I have from the Phoenix 50 is this punch from Sempai John Kidd; it was... uncomfortable to say the least. By the time I fought in that round, it was getting late into the event and my body was pretty banged up. My mental game was going strong here, but it wouldn't last much longer. So how'd I do it? How'd I finish all fifty fights successfully? Simple...I embraced the suck.
Simple, but not easy. The Phoenix 50 for me in a real way was my swan song to competitive fighting. It was the culmination of over a decade of tournaments and other fighting events. I'd spent years training a "firm and unshakable spirit". However, I spent the year long prep to train spiritually...but what the heck does that mean?
Let me be clear, and honest. When I say "spirit", I'm not talking about the religious idea of the soul; even though that is something that I strongly believe in. By fighting spirit, I mean the willingness to compete and do things that are difficult...in the case of the Phoenix 50, the most difficult thing I've ever done.
So, how did I train a fighting spirit? Here you go:
1. I set very high expectations for myself. In the physical preparations, I would weekly set up a challenge that was meant to be darn near impossible to complete. I remember setting up my timer to run 100 rounds that I'd complete with a 40 lb weighted vest. I didn't finish...and I was fine with that because I was alright not meeting the mark every once in a while, only because I knew that I was demanding so much.
2. One more. Always one more. One more round. One more rep. One more combination. "One more Bob" was constantly going through my head. It was a grind for sure. I remember reading about a principle that the Navy SEALS use called the 40% rule. This guy explains it beautifully:
3. Never quit. Honestly, once the baby was born, this made things easy. Sure, the sleep thing went out the window, but since that boy came into our lives, the never quit mentality has never been so deeply etched into who I am as a person. There were two times after he was born that folks asked if I still wanted to attempt the Phoenix 50. The thought of NOT doing it never crossed my mind. For this, my wife is my hero. Man...through fear, uncertainty, discomfort, and physical pain and recovery, she always fought through it. I've said it before, and I'll say it again, she's tougher than I am.
So can YOU develop a strong fighting spirit? Sure! Set high expectations for yourself, always look to do one more, and don't stop. Never quit. Never ever give up.
For a year, in preparation to challenge the Phoenix 50, I trained my body to be stronger, more flexible, and more conditioned. I knew, at some point during the event, that my body would fail me. This is precisely why I spent time during that year training my mind. I would read books and articles. I would study video of other karateka who had completed similar challenges. I spent time visualizing fifty consecutive fights without distraction. I meditated. I created a plan, a strategy, breaking down the fifty fights into five-fight blocks; each with a slightly different focus.
There was one thought that continues to stand as a foundation in my training..."just one more". For those who know me well, you know that last year was a very difficult time for our family. My wife fought heroically through a high-risk pregnancy; eventually needing a complicated c-section in order to keep her and baby safe. Everyone was healthy, but baby needed a couple of weeks in the NICU before he was ready to come home. It's been a tough test, but "just one more" has helped so much.
Just one more day/night.
Just one more round.
Just one more mess to clean up.
Just one more appointment.
Just one more phone call.
Nearly my entire year of training for the Phoenix 50 was full of "just one more"...which made the actual event just a thing I had to do. Honestly, had my family not gone through such a trial...I don't know that I'd have had the mental toughness to do as well as I did. Seeing my wife and all of my sons in the crowd (including our littlest one) surely made the struggle more bearable:-)
So, for you...just one more. Break your challenge into smaller chunks. For those runners out there, you do this well. If you're at work...just one more hour until a break. For those in school today...just one more class until summer break is here. Set up smaller goals and crush them.
Just one more.
I'll also say in very plain talk that my wife is a hell of a lot tougher than I am.
The year long buildup to the Phoenix 50 was a grind to say the least. From day one though, I decided to keep things as simple as possible. No part of the training was easy. Every single training session, every run, every deadlift or pull-up or round on the heavy bag was designed to get my body through the challenge. But, as hard as each session was, they were all painfully simple.
Let me back up for a minute. In an effort to simplify my Phoenix 50 training, I decided to target the "big three" aspects that would get me the successfully complete the fifty fights. Sure, my body was in there...and my body went to the hospital after...but I knew from the get-go that if I only trained my body, I'd fail miserably. So, with that kind of thinking, I created a plan to train mentally and spiritually as well. After all, it wasn't just my flesh and bone in the ring...I believe it was much deeper than that.
Anyway, back to training the body. I knew that there was no way to make it through the event without getting beat up a good bit and being physically drained. I mean, there are basic principles of biology and physiology at work in an endeavor like the Phoenix 50. I knew my body would begin to fail me, and in retrospect, I was pretty accurate as to when it would begin to slow down considerably. So how did I train against that? Simple, very simple (yet effective) combinations. In our dojo we have "the basic 4". These are four basic combinations that we have literally drilled thousands of times. In fact, there have been times outside of the dojo where I'll hear someone say "one" and I'll immediately think "jab to leg kick". Thousands of times drilling the very basic will make those skills automatic...almost instinctual.
I just finished my 16th year as a school teacher. Through my research during my Master's degree work and my experience in the classroom and the dojo, I know that when we are tired, upset, stressed, weary, or experiencing any other strong emotion, we tend to go back to those skills that we learned first or those skills that we know best. It was that knowledge that drove my physical conditioning during my Phoenix 50 year.
You know...that knowledge works for everything...and that should give you a megaton of hope. Strong, positive change will always...ALWAYS be hard, but it's also dreadfully simple. Just a touch of vision and a whole lotta discipline will build new skills that will replace your old skills (or thoughts, behaviors, habits).
All that being said...I'm pretty sure my body died in the ring somewhere around fight 44. In a day or so I'll tell you about the mental preparation for the Phoenix 50.
Schools are letting out which means summertime is here. If you had any doubt, check the weather forecast for today. It's going to be HOT, which means there's a very strong likelihood of training outdoors.
It's hot. Start dealing with it now. If you know you'll be training outside from 6:30-8:30, plan for it now. That means, right now, put your phone down or walk away from the computer and down a glass of water. So much of taking care of ourselves in the heat is about hydrating hours before training.
On these warmer days, think ahead. Speaking from experience (Phoenix 50), dehydration is a monster.
Training for the Phoenix 50 was actually a continuation of a decade of competing in Kyokushin, Enshin, kickboxing, and Muay Thai events. From fighting on tatami mats in the World Sabaki Challenge to events in an elevated boxing ring like Muteki Kyokushin’s Ring Wars, I’ve been blessed to have a lot of different experiences and in that time, fortunate enough to register a highly successful fight record.
Since 2006 I’ve been training for one event or another and have had to adjust my training many times over the last decade depending on the event. Take the World Sabaki Challenge for instance. I had to prepare for up to 5 fights in one night and, to further complicate things, needed to be ready to fight in the Mile High City of Denver, Colorado. Preparations for that tournament were much different than my training for a Muay Thai fight, which would be anywhere from 3-5 rounds and involve techniques not legal in Kyokushin; namely punches and elbows to the head and face. There have been short training camps of one month, to longer camps; like the one to prepare for my USKA Amateur Muay Thai Heavyweight Championship fight, but nothing…nothing came close to the training involved to get ready for the Phoenix 50.
The Phoenix 50 isn’t like the 50-man Kumite that we read about or watch online. This ultimate test of the Phoenix Karatedo Association, Kyokushinkai International, doesn’t consist of rounds of hard contact dojo-level kumite. Rather, the unfortunate soul who commits to this challenge does so with the expectation that they will encounter fifty fights…fifty people who are trying to win. None of the fighters in the Phoenix 50 want their name to be put down as losing a round to the challenger. In my mind, and from what I’ve read and seen, this trial is more intense. I say that hesitantly as I’m not attempting to lessen the accomplishments of others in any way. My perception of their events cannot possibly be accurate and I can only speak to what I’ve personally experienced and I can attest to the legitimacy of the Phoenix 50…being only the second person to attempt the challenge in our Association’s 35 year history.
In 2011, the Shihandai Dan Ryan, from our Associations’s branch in New Jersey, became the first person to attempt the Phoenix 50. As the Dai Sempai of the Association at that time, I was tasked with helping to select and organize the participants for the historic event. What transpired that afternoon in July 2011 was awe inspiring; and I immediately knew that I would want to make the attempt at some point in my training.
So…when did I start training for specifically for the Phoenix 50? I distinctly remember the conversation that kicked off the training. At our Summer Gashuku in 2015, Kancho Soller asked, “Sensei, when will you retire from competitive fighting?” to which I replied, “When you let me try the Phoenix 50”. By the end of our training weekend, my destination was set…in July 2016, I would become the second person to attempt the grueling Phoenix 50.
With the destination set, I needed to sit down and plot out the course of training. I was able to pull from a lot of my different training camps from my decade long fighting career, but for this one I had to call in some of the big guns. My great friend, and long time training partner, Sensei Jason Franklin was able to give me a lot of helpful direction. With his background, Jason was able to share the science behind what I would be going through during the Phoenix 50 and helped me to prepare my body in the months of training leading up to Summer Camp 2016.
Training was incredibly challenging, but at the same time painfully simple. Over the next few days I’ll be sharing the three pillars of my Phoenix 50 preparations which I honestly believe will lift your own training to a completely different level.
We've all got one...you know, that one thing that we are so into that we can talk for hours about it...and it would be easy to do just that! Whatever that "it" is, it probably brings you a megaton of joy and satisfaction right? In fact, you find so much joy, that you wish EVERYONE would jump right in with you!
That "thing"...that's your light. Hopefully a smaller light than your family, but it still brightens your day.
Well guess what! Not a soul is going to join you if you don't ask. You can talk about how awesome your "thing" is, but without inviting your friends or coworkers, or whomever, you can't get upset.
You've got something good going on...we all do. Don't keep in to yourself. Invite someone to join in the fun and find the same satisfaction that you do! I've been teaching and training long enough to say that you seriously NEVER know who is interested until you start talking and inviting people out!
Sure, nobody saw that terrible squat form yesterday, and I wasn't there to laugh at the ridiculous pushups with a sagging back. No one can confirm that you only took 175 paces during the Farmer's Carry when you were supposed to do 200, but it's all good. In the end, the iron...the work...it doesn't lie; it's just you.
Your fitness (mental, spiritual, and physical) is a debit account. You can only withdraw what you've invested and when it comes time for a trial or a test, that's when your half-assed performance will catch up with you.
When I worked as a personal trainer in a local gym, I would be amazed at clients who would come up with all kinds of excuses for why the weight wasn't coming off. They would swear that they were sticking to the plan and giving it their all in the gym and, more importantly, in the kitchen. The fact of the matter is...many of those folks just weren't committed. They wanted the easy way out...and you know what, I'm cool with that, just don't lie about it.
Invest sweets and fried foods regularly...that's what you've got to withdraw from in your time of testing. Invest sub-par effort in training...that's what you've got to rely on during your next physical trial. Look ahead. So much of this is just looking ahead at what's coming...and prepare for it.
Whatever you choose, own it. Don't lie to yourself about the quality of the work you're putting in...and certainly don't lie to anyone else about it.
Just an hour or so ago I was sitting one of the benches outside, watching an ant struggling mightily to bring a dried up worm back home to his worm wife and little wormlings. The size difference was impressive...that little guy was putting in some serious effort. As I sat there watching him fight to get his prize over the next piece of mulch, I noticed that occasionally the ant would let go and then wander around a bit. I don't know, but it looked liked he was searching out the best route to take...who knows, maybe his jaws just needed a break.
And then I ruined his day.
See, in my infinite wisdom, I thought I'd do the kind thing and remove all of the large chunks of mulch between the ant and his home. No more mountains for chopped wood would mean an easier and fast trip home right? Wrong. I my effort to make his day a little easier, I actually ended up giving him an impossible task.
See...the ant could dig in to the mulch pieces, but the fine stuff underneath was too loose and he just flailed around losing his footing. Eventually he wandered off...and didn't come back. He left his prize there in the mulch.
We do that to each other a lot don't we? As parents, teachers, and friends it's hard to watch people struggle isn't it? So in an effort to help, we remove the struggle.
I tell folks all the time that "struggling means you haven't given up." By removing that obstacle from our students, children, or friends, we're actually taking away an opportunity for them to grow and change into something better. We learn from our struggle and failure much more than we do from our successes.
Maybe I'm a weirdo, but I love watching my little one year-old struggle at home. To see him fail to pick something up a hundred times isn't great, but that one time...the time where he "gets it"...man that's priceless. Don't rob others of those priceless moments.
Don't be so quick to look for someone to get your out of those hard times either. Afterall, you can't forge a blade without a lot of heat and hammering! Embrace the struggle...they never last forever.