Last week in the dojo I had each of us go through a significant, physically demanding trial. Simple, but extremely challenging.
Pushups. Squats. Crunches.
How many? All of them! We performed as many repetitions as we could without stopping. Pushing ourselves to that point where the mind was willing, but there was nothing left in the muscles...man it's always tough.
We all pushed to our breaking point and then, once we were finished, we continued with more normal training.
After about a half hour, I presented the real challenge. Take your numbers from the first set of pushups, squats, and crunches and do 150% of the reps. Sure, breaks we allowed this time and while it was definitely an exercise in mental toughness, we were all pushing our bodies to a new limit.
We don't do that often enough. I am amazed some times at how much our bodies can do...that our bodies WANT to do...we just ask so little.
I'll never forget years ago talking with my wife and trying to explain what a Pistol Squat was. To this day, I still cannot do one. The envy that I felt when Amy said, "Is it like this?" before executing a perfect Pistol makes me smile to this day.
Our bodies are stronger. Much stronger than you think. Demand more and you'll see what you're capable of. Continue sitting on the couch, and you'll never tap into that greatness inside. Test yourself. Do one more rep. Run for one more mile. Do. One. More.
And get to the dojo.
"Samurai should, as a matter of course, engage in contests of strength. If you do not then your muscles will become slack."
The Hundred Rules of War
For as long as I can remember, I've been a fan of the bad guy. Whether I was cheering for Mum-Ra, or COBRA, there was always a bit of disappointment when the bad guy lost. I never really understood why until I began reading more about myths and the origins of stories.
What draws me to the bad guy is the fact that, unlike their superhero counterpart, the villain is never able to overcome their one character flaw. They don't push through tough situations and typically fail to embrace failure as a chance to learn and grow. They're great at blaming others.
Stop running from your faults. Start working on your weaknesses.
And don't wait until tomorrow because, frankly, that's not guaranteed to us.
Stop running and confront that part of yourself that you've been ignoring. Confront your arrogance. Squash your ego. Quiet the quitter inside your heart by doing something challenging.
Stop running. Take 2 minutes, right now, to think about that one area that you need to work on.
Oh, and get to the dojo.
Returning to The Hundred Rules of War:
"When entering a confrontation, Samurai should neither look back on the path travelled, nor what is off to the left of right."
Most of us will never enter battle, and many of us avoid confrontation like a plague. I think that's why, when we enter into a confrontation (an argument, a discussion, or a physical altercation) we've got no idea what to do. Panic sets in. We become overwhelmed with everything going on around us and lose focus of the task at hand.
Focus on what's ahead and drive through it. Don't allow yourself to be distracted.
I see this a lot as a teacher. High schoolers in particular might see the confrontation as a big assignment that needs to be completed. Some (more these days that i've noticed in the past) become overwhelmed with details and other happenings that simply don't matter and are not relevant to the assignment.
Do you remember the last time you did something distraction free? It really is an amazing feeling. Each morning I get to work a little early, shut the door, and read (usually something nerdy) for 15 minutes. No phone. No e-mail. No worries about the day ahead. Just pure, uninterrupted, focused reading. Focus=freedom. Enjoy some of it today.
It's not that I have a ton of keys, my problem is that several of them (about half) look almost identical. I've had to take a marker and color code them at times before learning their place on my keyring. Before doing that, I remember a couple of times where I'd gotten flustered; needing to get into a room quickly, but not remember which was the magic key.
Many of us start the week of with good intentions of making some positive change. Good intentions will only get you to the starting line, but aren't really helpful in getting the show on the road. I think a lot of the struggle comes from people wanting to do too much.
Rather than become overwhelmed with your list, just shorten it. Seriously shorten it...down to one action item that you can commit to each day.
The only thing on my list for this week is to get up 15 minutes earlier. So far, so good...although I barely made it this morning!
What's your one thing going to be? A 30 minute walk each day? Reading for 15 minutes before going to bed? What are you going to commit to?
Listening to a podcast this morning, I had to rewind several times in order to get this quote down; word for word. This is one professor's interpretation of Soren Kierkegaard:
"There will come a time where we will have so much security and comfort that what we will want more than anything else is deprivation and challenge."
As a school teacher, I'm confronted with this every day...and have been for the last 17 years. What might grind your gears is that, while certainly not unique to boys, this is an issue that particularly effects boys in the middle and high school years; primarily because of the way in which most schools are run and the overprescription of ADHD medication, but there are other factors as well. From a physical and neurological development aspect, boys need the challenge. They need to have some of the unnecessary comforts stripped away and pushed into doing hard things; things they may not initially want to do, but are hardwired to need this challenge in order to thrive.
That's the problem, but what's the answer? I don't know. What I certainly do know is that if we continue down this path, we will continue to raise a culture of "boys who shave" and "men without chests."
One way to push your own sons in this direction is to ensure that they have opportunities to be challenged, not just physically, but cognitively, spiritually, and even morally. Give them regular chances to struggle and grow.
Get your son involved with a martial arts program...a challenging one...one that demands hard work and personal growth on a daily basis.
What's at stake is significant, and we're seeing a lot of it already. We're not losing a generation of boys. No, it's a heck of a lot worse than that. By not pushing them from late elementary through the high school years, we are ensuring that the boys get bigger, but never really grow up. Think on that for a moment, seriously consider the implications. If that doesn't scare the hell out of you, then I'd say you've got a bit of reading to catch up on.
My job (as a teacher and instructor) is not to make your son feel good about himself by throwing unwarranted praise in his direction. My job is to present him with a challenge that, once accomplished, unleashes the pride from within his own soul. Who knows though, I could very well be wrong.
Hello and Osu, internet! I’m Sempai Matt, assistant instructor at the Forge and our resident jovial curmudgeon, and I’m here today with a question.
Do you want to be a Black Belt, or do you want to be a Sempai?
If you answered Black Belt, then I have good news! Getting a Black Belt is CRAZY easy. Open a new tab, and type “www.amazon.com” into your browser. Search for like, I don’t know, “karate black belt,” and BOOM. They’re like 10 bucks. You’re welcome.
We don’t train “black belts” at the Forge. We train Sempai.
“But what does that mean?” you ask, in a grating mewl. Slow your roll, hypothetical-question-asker. I was just getting to that.
Sempai (or senpai) is a Japanese word that means “senior.” If you were a first-year at a Japanese high school, any second- or third-year student would be your sempai, and you would be their kohai, or “junior.” You would be expected to show deference and respect to them at all times, and even sometimes run errands or perform menial tasks. These relationships exist at all levels of schooling and in the workplace as well.
Being a sempai sounds pretty sweet, right? But it’s not all fun and games. As a sempai, you’re expected to care for your kohai. You’re responsible for guiding them and setting a good example. If your kohai screw up, it’s you who are held accountable. You’d even be expected to treat them to food or drinks every now and then (assuming a personal relationship of course).
This type of give-and-take relationship is what we strive to cultivate in the dojo. Becoming a Sempai and earning your black belt isn’t just a free ticket to yell at kohai and make them do push ups (although that part is pretty fun). It’s a responsibility to be an example to your kohai. To teach, lead, and support them.
“How can I do that?” Excellent question, hypothetical-question-asker - I like that you’re catching on. There are any number of ways to be a good Sempai. You can, of course, strive to be a better teacher in the dojo. But if teaching directly isn’t your thing, you can still teach by example. You can strive to be an excellent fighter. You can make sure you know every stance and technique. You can be a pillar of courtesy, respect, and discipline. You can be a voice of encouragement during a grueling conditioning session (but please don’t, everyone hates that guy). My point is that anyone can be a Sempai, as long as they put in the work. And I can personally say that if you do, your new give-and-take relationship with your kohai will be well worth it.
If that sounds like something you’re interested in, our dojo is the place for you. We’ll do everything we can to help you get to that level.
If you just want a black belt? Well, there’s always Amazon.
I'm not a preacher or theologian, so I'm sure someone will take issue with this. I was just thinking through the Lord's Prayer this morning and got stuck on the line "I shall not want." It's taken me a while, but I've come up with a new way of thinking about that phrase that, in just a few hours, has reshaped my thinking.
I shall not want. What if we took it as a command, rather than a suggestion? What if we accepted the imperative to look at what we have, rather than search out all of the things we don't? While we're busy complaining about what we don't have, we're missing the blessing of those things (and experiences, and relationships) that we do have. If we would embrace that, I believe it would radically change our lives in a way that would ripple outward into our communities.
Each day this week, write out 5 things, or experiences, or relationships that you're thankful for. Read over that list when you wake up the next morning. Let's try this and see where it takes us.
Monday in the dojo we were practicing a certain technique and I noticed that a couple of students were making the same mistake. It's a mistake that we address every time we practice gedan barai...the placement of the pre-blocking hand/arm.
White belts are still learning how to move...I've got a lot of grace and patience for them. Once you put on a black belt though, my patience wanes quite a bit.
So Monday, I made a promise that if I caught one of our black belts making that mistake, we would all crank out 100 burpees. Surely, we would make it through at least a month with a heavy price like that placed on a small mistake. Nope. Last night, about 20 minutes before we would bow out and head our separate ways, we had to crank out 100 burpees.
Is it fair that the entire group is punished for one person's mistake? Seriously, I'd love some feedback from other coaches, instructors, students...if you've ever led a group or been part of a group, I want to hear from you!
Today is a big one for us here in Gaithersburg. It was on this day, 8 years ago, that the first formal class of the Gaithersburg Dojo was held. While I'd taught some seminars and summer camps in the few years prior, it took time (and a lot of encouragement) to get classes started.
In the past 8 years, we've had classes in back yards, basements, public school gyms and all-purpose rooms, and a private school wrestling room. We've trained on tennis courts, in the woods, and in parking lots. The more I've trained with the dojo here, the more that I learn that the dojo is more than the physical space that you practice in...the dojo is wherever that place is that you're practicing. Practice kata in the kitchen? Well, for that time, your kitchen is your dojo.
The dojo, to me, is also the community of people you are training with. I wouldn't trade these people for anything. I appreciate everyone...every single person who has even tried a single class at our dojo. It takes courage to try something new and even more courage to stick with it.
Did you know that in the 8 years that our dojo has been around, we've had about 500 people try a class? Now, in our area, that's a pretty small number. I think that speaks to the challenge of our style...it take a certain kind of toughness (not just physical) to come try a class. But of that 500...how many do you think have gone through the ranks to earn a black belt? 100? Too high. 50 then? Still too high. Out of the 500 people who have visited the dojo, four have gone through the ranks to earn the rank of shodan. Again...I think something shows here about the difficulty of our style.
Those four on a regular basis welcome being presented with their weakness and accept the challenge of working through them. Yeah, they can all fight. Yes, they're physically strong. But that isn't what makes a warrior. Those four, and so many who are following the way, are forging strong convictions and spirits. THAT'S why I love running this dojo. Changing bodies...making weak people strong and strong people unstoppable, that's fun. But it's so much more fulfilling to see people change for the better.
So 4 out of 500 earned an awesome accomplishment...I can say that all 500...every person who came into the dojo...they all leave better people than when they came in.
Eight years of investing in people. Here's to eight more!
I cannot wait for Avengers: Infinity War to come out. I've always loved superhero movies and still remember watching the original Superman with Christopher Reeve and loving it. Then came Michael Keaton...and as the years went on, the heroes became more grand.
My first favorite superhero though...Wonderwoman. I had a pair of Wonderwoman socks when I was a kid and there was a little (huge) part of me that was so excited to learn that Linda Carter lives just a short drive from my house.
We love heroes. Deep down, there's a part of us that wants to be that hero...and that is where our key for an awesome week comes in.
Every superhero, at some point in their journey, by definition will challenge fear. So, what are you afraid of? What can you tackle this week that you've always been hesitant to do? Have a tough conversation? Start a business? Talk to that girl or guy you've been thinking about? Try a new class (like mine)? What have you been afraid to try?
Now, more importantly, WHO can you ask to join you on this journey? Who is going to be your sidekick or, who will you be the sidekick to? I'm so proud of the boy in the picture above. In our last board breaking class (a few months ago) he struggled. He's young. He's small. It was understandable. However, those of you who are good at breaking know that a lot of it is in your head, right? Enter the black belt that is standing right there. I suspected that her presence would have a magical effect on him and asked her to join us at our most recent breaking class last Friday. Sure enough, having Senpai Lianne there gave this young boy the confidence of a superhero.
Find a goal. Find the help. Make it an awesome week.
It's Monday, and good night I hate hearing about "the Mondays" like they're some kind curse. You know what Monday is? Monday is your opportunity to start an entire week off doing something awesome.
Get fit. Lose weight. Learn more. Save money. What do you want to do that you're not doing? More importantly...why haven't you started yet?
Are you waiting for the perfect time? Guess what...this is it. Waiting for a written invitation? This is it. Don't waste your Monday. What are you going to do today that will setup success for the week?
Stop waiting. Go.
On Wednesday, my Aunt Rhonda passed away after a heroic fight against cancer. This was my mom's little sister; and the youngest daughter of my Mawmaw; the same grandmother who had to bury her husband five months ago.
Honest to goodness, Aunt Rhonda was one of the nicest human beings you would have ever come across. Always smiling, always cheerful. Sacrificial. Loving mother. It's incredibly sad how much we take people like that for granted...assuming they will always be around...that we can send a photo or a text tomorrow. We aren't guaranteed a thing, especially more time.
I do not believe that death was part of the initial game plan for us. I do not believe that it was intended a natural part of this cycle we now find ourselves in. I believe that death crept in, like a bandit and is now the ultimate enemy.
You believe that too, even if for different reasons. You eat healthy and take your vitamins. You exercise and try to live a relatively safe life. You do that to prolong this life for as long as possible...to hold the enemy at bay; but, in the end, death will come for all of us.
One of my favorite lyrics, to one of my favorite Pearl Jam songs goes like this:
"Yeah I'm a lucky man
To count on both hands
The ones I love
Some folks just have one
Yeah others they got none"
If you're lucky like I am, make sure those people know.
From Tsukahara Bokuden's The Hundred Rules of War:
"You should know that Samurai who prefer thick handles and thicker scabbards for their swords are, frankly, not very adept."
Basically, if you want "the big one" just because you think it will make you better...you're a moron.
Aside from swords, I see this warning every day with vocabulary. Don't you love it when someone uses big, fancy words...and it's clear they're not using them properly? Now, I'm all for taking risks, but there needs to be wisdom and humility there too.
In my career as a teacher, I've often got young children commenting on my size. They want to be as big as me one day. Sure, being huge has some real, practical benefits but it also has it's drawbacks. Being a physical "big guy" I:
- often scare small children
- appear to be angry, unless I'm smiling
- continue on my 38 year journey to find a pair of pants that fit properly
- same with shoes
- and long-sleeved dress shirts
- cannot hide in a crowd
- stand no chance at hide-and-seek with my kids
- have hit my head on numerous doors, ceiling fans, lights, etc.
- HATE visiting Colonial Williamsburg...I don't fit in those old buildings
- have found that my actions are more likely than not, interpreted as being more aggressive because of my size
Wanting the newest "thing" because it's supposedly the biggest or best is silly. All things have drawbacks. Be wise and careful what you wish for. Instead of wishing to be big, wish rather, to be the best you-sized-you possible.
It's simple. Get to the dojo and train.
Want to have a strong week? Get to the dojo.
Want to have a fulfilling week? Get to the dojo.
Want to improve balance and posture? Get to the dojo.
Want to get fit, or at least start? Get to the dojo.
Want to work on focus? Get to the dojo.
Want a work off some steam? Get to the dojo.
Want to learn how to throw a punch? Get to the dojo.
Want to learn how to take a punch? Get to the dojo.
Want to feel proud of yourself? Get to the dojo.
It's seriously that simple...getting to the dojo will help you create a pretty amazing week!
It will quite literally change your quality of life!
I played a lot of baseball growing up. Admittedly, I wasn't nearly as good as my brothers, and none of us could hold a candle to our dad.
In Tsukahara Bokuden's The Hundred Rules of War we read that "Identifying a bad sword by the sound and vibration it gives off when cutting is something that a Samurai must learn to do."
In the fight game, you know when you've landed a good technique. It feels different; sweet even. There's a different sound to landing a solid punch compared to one that's just a little "off".
And oh the sounds of the fight game! The wheezing of your opponent when you knock the wind out of them. The deep thud from a solid leg kick. Music to a sensei's ears!
Learning the difference between the sound and feel of solid technique comes after many repetitions. It takes a lot of practice and effort. In today's culture of wanting immediate success, learning the sensations of great technique requires the one thing we least desire to offer: time. It's a sacrifice, but oh so worthwhile!
Ever watch a baseball game and noticed how a batter seems to know when they've hit a homerun the moment the bat meets the ball? That comes from practice folks. Get to the dojo, and train.
I've almost made it to Spring Break of my 17th year as a teacher. Every year I'm reminded of those awesome teachers that invested in me when I was a younger knucklehead. Odds are, you've had at least one awesome teacher that you can still hear with one of their "isms".
This week, I want you to write a letter to that one awesome teacher who made an impact on your life in a real way. WRITE a LETTER. Don't type an email. Don't send a text. Get paper and pen and get that thing in the mail!
Expressing gratitude is a tremendous blessing for both the giver and receiver. Be a blessing this week. Receive a blessing this week. Take 10 minutes to get this done, and I can almost guarantee that your week will be an awesome one!
Had trouble falling asleep last night. The winds were crazy and I kept having thoughts of various debris flying around the neighborhood. About 2am I realized something...I was friggin hungry.
I hadn't eaten since dinner on Wednesday and there was definitely a rumbly in my tumbly. This scene, from one of my favorite movies, came to mind in that moment:
If you read my post on Monday, this week has been about “going without”. What’s it like for someone to go to bed hungry? A kid? How does a kid, who regularly goes to bed hungry function in school? Are they afraid of their stomach making noises in class? Are they embarrassed? I can only imagine. I can choose to go hungry for a while.
Trying to explain it to some people is like talking to a brick wall. Some think I’m crazy or full of crap. I’ll ignore them.
Why am I taking some time to go hungry? I want to know and feel and experience what people around me experience on a daily basis. Me being hungry isn’t about me. It’s about connecting with people around me who live the situation.
So what have you gone without this week? Your car? A coat? Electricity? (Oooh that might be my next one). Whatever you’re doing, make it meaningful. Pursue going without as a means to build your character but also, more importantly, to build relationships with those around you.
Have an awesome weekend!!!
"Bigger is not always better when it comes to bowstrings. However, if it is too thin then your arrowheads will not stick in anything." Tsukahara Bokuden, The Hundred Rules of War
Most of us aren't running around with bow and arrow on a regular basis, so how in the world is this applicable today?
Read the quote again and replace "bowstrings" for "character" and "arrowheads" for "words".
Let that simmer for a bit.
Want to see a change this week? Go without.
Folks who know me well know that I practice intermittent fasting. I'll bore you with all of the details later if you want, but it's not always for nutrition/fitness...
Sometimes I'll go 24-48 hours without eating because I can. No, I'm not being a tough guy or anything like that. What I mean by "I can" is this:
I live in a affluent nation where I can choose to go a day or two without food.
I can go a day or two without food because I know that when I'm ready, I can find something to eat.
I can choose to go to bed hungry.
I can choose to wake up hungry.
I can choose to go to work hungry and I can choose to train in the dojo hungry.
I can choose to do this. For literally millions across the globe, the idea of going to bed hungry or going to work/school hungry is a way of life...not a choice. So sometimes I like to put myself in their shoes (as much as I can) and feel what it's like to go without.
Note...I'm not a doctor so I can't recommend you to fast for an extended period of time; especially in our litigious culture. However, I can say that going without (food, or technology, or your car, or something) can be a deeply emotional and spiritual endeavor.
Is there something that you can go without, for just a day or two this week that would be a meaningful sacrifice?
You know the answer is "yes".
Let's have an awesome week!
For a relatively short week (had Monday off) it sure seems like a doggone marathon. Haven't always been grateful, but I:
- appreciate the small group of men that sacrifice sleep in order to faithfully meet together each Friday morning.
- am thankful for the way that two of my students took criticism as a means to positive change.
- am thankful for my health, and the ability to train regularly.
- am indebted to my family for their sacrifices which allow me to run the dojo.
- have been overwhelmed by the generosity of others.
- am incredibly proud of the hard work, and positive attitude that my students show day in and day out.
- have been consistently reminded of how blessed I am.
That's just a start. What's been going on this week to spark gratitude in you? Have you shared that thankfulness with others? It's not too late!
Oh, I'm also thankful that the weekend is just about here. Hope yours is a great one!
"It does not matter whether you are firing at an enemy near you or an opponent some distance away, you should be adept at selecting the the best arrowhead." The Hundred Rules of War
This one builds nicely on the topic from last week in that, for the vast majority of us, our words are our greatest weapon. We use different speech for our closest friends; our inner circle, than we typically use for casual acquaintances. Whether the conversation is encouraging or corrective, we have different words for different folks.
Think you don't have enemies? Deep down inside, how do you feel or respond when criticism is brought to you? How do you react when someone shares a corrective observation? Maybe it's just me, but I take it as a personal attack. Not bragging. In fact, it's one of my many great flaws. Historically, I've not done well with choosing the best arrowhead when responding at times like that. It's something that I definitely need to work on.
This literally just crossed my mind:
What's the difference between a good friend and a vile enemy sharing the same criticism? Intent. That's it. The friend means to build you up. The enemy means to tear you down. It's all in the intent...and THAT is exactly where I mess up. How about you? Do you find yourself assuming the intent of the person speaking to you? Emailing you? Texting you? If they're a close friend, shouldn't we always assume that their intention is to make us better? If that's the case, let's try to choose the perfect arrowhead (word) as our response.
Let's keep it simple. One key to make this week one of the best ever. Let's also keep it simple by revisiting a key from a few weeks ago.
This week, be obnoxiously grateful. Express that gratitude to others. More important...express your thankfulness FOR others.
The more I train, the more I believe that stretching is what keeps me functional throughout the day. A quick stretch routine early in the morning has been helpful!
Trying to "be there" more. It's definitely a struggle to change habits and mindsets that have developed over the months and years. I've tried, with limited success, to unplug and have found that when I do, my presence is more felt.
As far as poetry reading has gone...I keep going back to an old favorite: Ozymandias. It helps keep me humble, realizing that when I'm gone, I won't be able to take anything with me, but odds are a few of my words may be remembered.
Have an awesome, wacky weather weekend (for my DC Metro friends).
"When selecting arrowhead, long thin ones are best because these will pass out the other side of the target they strike."
Each tool has a specific purpose. When we use them for their intended purpose, great things happen. With the rule for this week (from The Hundred Rules of War) we are reminded to choose our tools carefully.
In a fight, each technique should have a purpose. The more techniques, or tools, you have, the better.
Truth is, we're always in a fight. Except most of the time we're not worried about which punch to throw. No, in the daily grind the fight is more about choosing the right words, or posture, of facial expression.
Words, like arrowheads, can go right through your target, or they can stick. Combine the wrong word with a lack of eye contact, and you've got a recipe for disaster. I'm honestly terrible at this. The hardest part is that recovery from an ill-timed word often takes a lot longer than an ill-placed punch. Oi! Some days I'd rather just get back in the ring with Anatoly Polyakov or Bazooka Joe and get beat up again.
But, we keep fighting.