Real Life Lessons From The Dojang

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When in Charge, Take Charge!

on MAR. / 23 / 2011 | 0 comments

by Jeremy M. Talbott

Perhaps one of the greatest books on leadership I have ever read was Richard Marcinko’s Leadership Secrets of the Rogue Warrior. It was the first book on the topic that made me realize that I was robbed of a very precious lesson in life during school: what it takes to be a leader. As I reminisced on my classroom days from elementary all the way up to high school, not once did I recall being instructed on how to be a leader. We were taught about great leaders, and evil leaders, we were asked to volunteer to be a group leader, but at no time were we properly instructed on how to be a leader.
Don’t believe me? Then simply sit back and reflect on how many lessons your teachers taught you on how to be a good leader? When you learned about a historical leader in our society did your teacher ever take the time to teach you about that leader’s traits that helped form the skills needed to be the leader? I would gander to say no. There are, of course, exceptions, but the fact of the matter is your class never delved into that aspect of the lesson. Sure, you were told of their great accomplishments, but you were never told about the methodologies or philosophies used in order to accomplish their goals. 
Before we go any further, let’s run a quick scenario that has happened to me a couple of times as I was coming up in the ranks: It is six o’clock. Your Karate class is supposed to begin but the teacher is not there yet. In fact there are no black belts available at all. Three of you are the next highest rank out of the twelve that attended. So what do you do? A) Step up and take the class over? B) Sit back in hopes that one of the other two will get the class going? C) Or better yet, will you idly stand by while someone else of a lower rank takes the reins? 
Right now your pride is telling you that you would choose A without a doubt. But are you really being honest with yourself? I have found more times than not that a vast majority of people fall into the realm of B. So don’t feel bad if you would have chosen B. Instead you should feel angry. You have been programmed since elementary school to choose B. Does this sound familiar? “Do well in school so that you can get a good education, land a great job and work for a good company.” This concept has been spoon fed to us since we started our schooling.  Bottom line, you were never really taught to be an alpha.
Martial arts provide us the opportunity of having an equal playing ground to learn leadership skills. Regardless of your age, sex, race, religion or sexual orientation, you have a chance to learn how to be a leader, simply by running the warm up exercises or taking some new students and showing them basics. You may not feel comfortable in this position but that is to be expected. Prior to this moment you were never taught how to be comfortable. However, this practice of being in charge enables you to figure out what works and does not work. So the next time you are given the opening to lead, take it. The real world needs real leaders. Just remember the golden rule that I once heard from General “Stormin’ Norman” Schwarzkopf who lead the Coalition Forces in the Gulf War, “When in charge, take charge!”

Prepare of Success or Prepare to Fail

on MAR. / 23 / 2011 | 0 comments

By Jeremy M. Talbott

The one thing I am very proud of is the fact we have a lot of talented kids in our school. They practice very hard and have gone on to be national and world champions. This has, of course, helped attract newer students to sign up. One student in particular signed up so that they could compete in tournaments and his goal was in fact to be a world champion. 

He is a hard worker and was well on his way to achieving his goal when I noticed lately he was becoming more complacent in his progress. Instead of running his forms and weapons, he was doing more acrobatics and messing around with weapons that he had no business using. I simply asked him if he was going to use what he was doing in his forms and he replied no and then I asked him if he had practiced for the upcoming tournament. A non-surprising answer came from his mouth. No, I already know what I need to do. The tournament came and went and he ended up getting a fourth place behind competitors that he would usually beat, had he practiced like he should. This resulted in him losing his overall first place standing for the year. That resulted in him having to now push even harder to try and regain that place.

After the tournament, he was saying how he could not understand why he lost. I told him that answer was simple. Since he did not prepare to succeed, he automatically prepared to fail. I reminded him on how he spent his time doing things that were fun to do, but did not in any way prepare him to meet his goal. I explained that while it is ok to have some fun, you still have to keep your priorities straight in order to meet your goals.

It is easy to get complacent in what we do, be it school or our jobs, but how many of us are just content to be a white belt in martial arts? As martial artists we are always practicing for the next rank or the next competition, so more times than not we are preparing ourselves for success. That is the same mindset we must invoke in ourselves in everything we do. Instead of being happy in just doing your day to day tasks, you need to figure out how you can exceed the expectations and prepare yourself for the next promotion at work or that next ‘A’ on your math test. There is always something you can be doing to better yourself and draw you closer to your goals. Remember if you are not preparing for success, you are preparing to fail.

Go beyond the competition floor

on MAR. / 23 / 2011 | 0 comments

by Jeremy M. Talbott

This month I had the pleasure to witness and participate in the 2nd Annual U.S. Open Hanmadang. This was a magnificent event put on by Grandmaster Kim, Ki-hong and the United States Taekwondo Committee. What made this particular event special for me is that it was the first time I stepped into a Taekwondo tournament in over 10 years. While my Taebaek was a bit rusty, my enjoyment for competition and the camaraderie of competitors was not.

Each person I had the pleasure to meet was just as eager as I was to make new friends and connections. While competition is supposed to pit your skills against opponents, it does so much more. First and foremost it teaches us our weaknesses and our strengths. It builds our character to graciously accept both victory and defeat. It helps us grow as a martial artist and as a person.   Plus, it motivates us to push our practice regime a bit more so that we can be the best that we can be at the time we compete.

What I have learned through martial arts competition is that I had only myself to rely on once I stepped into that ring. Once inside all the training that my instructor gave me and all the times I practiced boiled down to that moment. Win or lose did not matter as long as I stepped out of the ring knowing  that I did the best that I could. Martial arts competition has given me a new perspective on self confidence that my regular training did not. Utilizing the confidence learned, I have been able to go into meetings with clients, make presentations to CEOs and give public speeches in the classroom with a more aggressive and positive attitude than before.

As much as we would like to deny it, everything we do in life is a competition. When we go to work we are competing to be the best that we can be so that we do not get replaced. At school we are competing to be good students so that we might achieve a scholarship. It is an unavoidable truth that we have to deal with. Within the realm of competition in the martial arts, we can adapt to compete in the outside world with more confidence, focus and discipline. Just figure this; if you can step out into a ring with hundreds of people watching you perform a form or have another individual try hit you, then giving a presentation to your fellow students or colleagues at work should be a breeze.

Failure is Not an Option…It is a Choice

on MAR. / 23 / 2011 | 0 comments

By Jeremy M. Talbott

In the summer of 1982, I experienced one of the worst things that could ever happen to me in the martial arts; I failed my blue belt test. I still remember the feeling of being disheartened. At age 11, this was the first time I actually felt like I failed. I left the school wanting to cry. As I got into the car, my mom told me what a great job I did and that I will just have to try harder the next time. Hmph! The next time? Forget it! I was never going to go back to Karate again. I just proved that I was not cut out to do Karate because I could not do it right the first time.

I went into the school the following week and Master Rollands asked me to step into his office. He knew that I was discouraged because of the test. He simply asked me one thing, “How did you learn to walk?” I was very confused by the question. He followed up by asking me, “Did you walk the first time you stood up and took a step?” I answered no. “So you fell a couple of times before you were able to do it correctly, right?”

“Yes sir,” I answered.

“What if you just gave up the first time you failed?”

“I wouldn’t be able to walk, Sir,” I replied. 

“So why do you feel you can no longer do Karate just because you didn’t pass one test?” He did not say another word and dismissed me from the office. I went back to class with a different outlook. The next testing session came and went. I am happy to say I passed.

We are all ready to accept victory in all that we do, but can we truly accept defeat? When failure arises in our lives we are forced to figure out what type of person we truly are. From that we set the path to our future. The incident of my failing the belt test came and passed 28 years ago, but the lesson of indomitable spirit that I learned has always stayed with me. Failure is not an option, it is a choice and when you choose to stop trying you choose to fail. 

How Long?

on MAR. / 23 / 2011 | 0 comments

By Jeremy M. Talbott

If there was ever one universal question that was asked of every instructor in the world I would bet that question would be “How long does it take to get a black belt?”  It seems that when friends, family, or people in general have never had any exposure to the martial arts, except of course though Jean Claude Van Damme, Steven Segal, and Chuck Norris, and we all know how realistic that is, they feel that a black belt is the number one goal for all martial artists.  Now for some that may be their goal, but for a vast majority there are multiple reasons for joining a school.

One major rule to keep in mind is that when you focus on only one aspect of the martial arts, you lose so much more.  A martial artist must be well balanced in all areas to achieve any goal that he or she may be seeking.  While there is nothing wrong with specializing in on area or another, you should always try to keep the other areas up to part for your own knowledge as well ranking.  For example, my areas of interest tend to lie in the forms and self defense part of my training.  However I do spar once in a while to keep my fighting techniques in shape.  If I were to let sparring slip, I would lose actual application of techniques.  This is just one consequence of narrow focus on training.

Have you ever applied for a job and then asked the potential employer, how long before I can be a CEO of the company?  I would hope not.  That would be one of the quickest ways to hear them yell “NEXT!”  I had an incident once when I worked at a dojang and a potential student came in and asked “how long until I get a black belt?”  I simply told him that it could take him a life time to achieve a black belt.  After a couple of seconds of looking at me as though I should be locked up, he stated that another school said he would a black belt in two years.  I told him that if that is his main goal, then that school is probably the best choice.  Sensei John Sharkey once told me he wish he could just hand out a black belt to everyone who signed up that way they would just focus on the training and the color of the belt would be moot. 

We all know that in order to achieve a high position in martial arts as well as in school or work, you have to be diligent in your duties.  You have to focus on the take at hand and master that task and then move on to the next one.  Not only that, but you need to also be aware of other tasks that are relevant to your position and not neglect them because “that’s not my job”.  Martial arts teach these traits in our everyday training.  As a martial artist we must keep up with all aspects of our training even though we may not like all aspects.  In the end we must never look at the black belt as the meaning of martial arts but as a symbol of achievement.

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