We all have our crosses to bear in life. We all face our own unique stresses, pressures and frustrations. Sometimes they are small enough that they can be muted when we step into the dojo and set about our training. On other occasions they creep out against our will, sometimes in startling dramatic fashion, but facing our demons is a good exercise for the martial artist and an important part of our mental development.
Demons Come in All Forms
Our demons, whether they are challenges in our jobs, our relationships, our bodies, our minds, etc, can lead to challenges in our training. Sometimes we have more trouble paying attention because we’re distracted by our demons. Other times, we have trouble getting our body to do what we want it to. We can feel more irritable losing patience with oursleves and others. On a really tough day, we can completely lose control of our emotions and break into tears when put under pressure physically or emotionally in our training, or even just from a kind gesture that opens our emotional flood gate. I’ve seen all of these happen in some form over the years. (more…)
This past week, I ran a test in which I was testing a woman who was even smaller than me for yellow belt. At one point, I switched up her partner to give her an attacker who was close to twice her size to see how she’d fare. And when faced with the additional pressure, she rose to the challenge. I couldn’t help by smile inside my mind as I checked off the technique from the sheet.
The day before the test, I went to parkour class in which we were told to do a vault of some sort and land into a full sprint. I did a kong vault, but took off a little too close, clipping my knee on the hard wood apparatus as I did so. It made a big bang, which I reacted to with a grunt of pain, but somehow still made it over and landed in the requisite sprint. While there were other people who cleared the obstacle much more elegantly than I did, somehow I inspired cheers from the whole class that weren’t there for anyone else.
We all do this. Unless we have a vested interest in a particular party, if given a choice of who to root for, we usually pick the underdog. We love underdogs because they represent triumph over a struggle. Truth be told, we all feel like underdogs at various things in our lives, so when we see someone give it their all, struggle through the effort, yet emerge triumphant, it encourages us in our own endeavours. We can believe that if we make the effort that we too may triumph over our own struggles.
The people who seem to achieve things easily, even if they had gone through their own struggles in the past, don’t usually give us this reminder. But we should strive to remind ourselves; the people we exalt most in life were probably underdogs who kept at it. Few people in the world possess what we call “natural talent.” What appears as natural talent that came out of nowhere is usually someone who just quietly put their nose down and set about working on a particular skill, failing a thousand times in the process, but failing forward, eventually achieving the skill that receives recognition they are now afforded. But at some point, they were that underdog. At some point they had a low level of skill and experience and and to push past boundaries, falling flat on their face once in a while, to get where they are today.
Find inspiration in every person’s efforts on their own journeys seeking excellence. Admire the underdog who keeps at it without the string of previous successes to keep them encouraged. Admire the people at the top of their game who keep up their training because they are the example of that hard work paying off and continuing to pay off. Apply the lessons we learn from these people on your own path toward success. We’re all underdogs at something, but it’s the way we frame ourselves and our journeys that keep us reaching for excellence on our own journeys.
The first time I saw a Fitbit on a student’s wrist in class, I reminded the student that jewelry was not allowed on the mats. He apologized, but also pointed out that it wasn’t simply a bracelet, that it was a fitness tracker that helped him monitor all their physical activities. I thought it was an interesting device, but ultimately asked him to take it off, as that was the rule. Since then, a couple of other students have stepped onto the mats wearing one, saying that they just forgot about it because they’re so used to having it on, as they hurriedly removed it and returned to their training. (more…)
The weather here in Vancouver this May has been amazing. It’s made me want to train outside more, rather than in my dark basement gym. So instead of doing my typical HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) workout going back and forth between stationary biking and burpees, I decided to take it outside.
For this particular workout, all you need is a hill. I happen to live right next to a park situated on a hill, surrounded by natural forest. The forest cover offers the perfect amount of shade to keep things cooler too. To use the hill for my workout, I simply run uphill during my high intervals and walk downhill during my low intervals. Hill running is really intense, working out all the muscles in your legs. I still use my typical timing for my workout, 4 minutes warm-up, 8 cycles of 90 second low intervals and 30 second high intervals, followed by a 2-minute cool-down. (more…)
It’s good to take the time to appreciate the little moments that make teaching such a pleasure. I had such a moment this morning. I received a text from one of my students, Ivette, who just received her yellow belt last night (she killed it by the way). I had used her as my demonstration partner last night, having delivered a knee strike to her lateral femoral motor point. The text she sent me today said this: “I’m so happy to have gotten my first belt… 😀 So excited still for some reason. I’m looking forward to learn new things. Also, I have a really good reminder of last night’s class… Every time I walk, I get reminded of what it’s like to get hit in the lateral femoral… hehe. So that’s two 1st timers from you, (being hit in the) solar plexus and lateral femoral… lol.” (more…)
When it comes to long-term practioners, martial artists can be a peculiar breed. When one falls in love with the martial arts, and you do it for years, you can’t help but want to give back in some way through your training, to share that which you love so much with the world. The ones who REALLY love it, try to find some way to make a career out of it. This is not an easy thing. Martial arts skills are highly specific and not in huge demand in a variety of fields. The obvious choice is to open a martial arts school, but if you don’t have other teachers to support the school, or you’re not interested in teaching children, it’s challenging to make a living solely from teaching martial arts. There are a number of natural career paths though that draw in martial artists, however. Ones that can complement teaching, even running a dojo. Here are a few: (more…)
In Jiu-jitsu, there is a lot of close contact in our training. We’re always in each other’s personal space, which can be uncomfortable for people just starting out. Just yesterday, I was demonstrating a defense in which I was prone on my belly while my attacker was kneeling between my legs, holding my wrists down with his body weight pinning my torso. Oh and my demonstration partner was over 200lbs too. For most people, this would feel uncomfortable between the invasion of their personal space and the feeling of being immobilized physically. But if we’re to learn how to defend ourselves, it’s absolultely vital to become comfortable with being uncomfortable.
If you let the feeling of discomfort take over, it can create a panicked state, a desperate desire to get out. In this state of mind, it’s hard to focus and see opportunities that can help facilitate your escape. Without the ability to think critically about the best options for escape, you’re more likely to flail about using all your strength up in the struggle. If you’re bigger and/or stronger than your attacker, this may work out, but if you’re at a strength disadvantage, you’re more likely to tire yourself, further limiting your ability to escape. (more…)
One of the challenges of teaching children is that they are still learning how to cope with and express difficult emotions. As adults, we sometimes take for granted our ability to subdue strong difficult emotions until we are ready to deal with the causes of them in a productive manner. Because young children haven’t learned that ability yet, they often resort to disruptive expressions of the emotions like crying, yelling, sulking, etc. As a teacher, this can often be distracting and disruptive to you and your students. It’s important to have a solid strategy for helping children understand and deal with challenging emotions, which teaches them an important life skill while also helping your class run more smoothly. Here is the process I use with my own students:
1) Identify the cause of the emotion. If you have multiple instructors on the mat, it’s best if one of them can bring the child to the side so they can talk without distractions. In my classes, I usually take on this role. I then ask the child, “What happened that made you upset?” This past Saturday, I asked one of our Tykes who had gotten upset and he told me that one of the other students kept getting in his way when they were playing ninja dodge ball with the instructors and because he couldn’t see, he kept getting hit by the ball. He thought the student might have been doing it on purpose too. If the child is too upset to listen and speak, I might also take a few moments to guide them to take a few deep breaths to help calm down.
I have a lot of friends who have children. Every one of them loves their children and what being a parent has brought to their lives. At the same time, not one of them said they felt 100% perfectly ready to have their child when they first got pregnant. They all pretty much said that there would never be a perfect moment of readiness, particularly for their first child because they couldn’t know everything they needed to know about all the challenges their particular child would bring. This is also true when it comes to taking up a martial art.
While there are some challenges that are obvious and controllable, like finances and scheduling, fitness level should never be the thing that holds a person back, unless it’s related to injury recovery or care. Most people want to take up martial arts training because they want an interesting activity that will help them stay fit. There is absolutely no need to hold off starting one’s training to get in better shape first. Training WILL get you in better shape, especially if it’s something you enjoy. A former student of mine named Rick started training with us as an out-of-shape 63-year-old. He struggled through his first few months but made so much progress in that time that he lost 70 lbs. Read his story here. Pride can be a factor for some, but in the right school, you’ll have all the support and encourage you need to work on your fitness as you train. (more…)
I’ve been reading a book called The Slight Edge by Jeff Olson (see links below for more info). It’s a personal development book based around the concept that our success in anything, in our careers, relationships, fitness, skill acquisition, in life, is based on the little things we do or don’t do every day. The idea is that making big gains usually involves working toward a goal incrementally over a long period of time. The good thing about this is that these increments are small and easy to do on an ongoing basis. The bad thing is that they are also easy NOT to do.
When you make the time to do the small incremental task on a day, you don’t immediately see some massive change. Change is happening, but it’s so small that it’s unnoticeable. On the other side, if you don’t do the task, you don’t immediately see any negative side effect, making it easy NOT to do. You can easily justify in your mind that not doing it one day is not such a big deal. But according to the author, there is no such thing as coasting along with no change. You’re always either moving toward greatness or away from it, however small those movements may be. I recently experienced an example how powerful these small incremental movements can be if you keep them going.