Real Life Lessons From The Dojang

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Keeping your eye on the way

on MAR. / 23 / 2011 | 0 comments

by Jeremy M. Talbott

I want to start this month’s issue with a famous Zen story.  This particular story has been told many different ways.  This particular version was taken from “Zen in the Martial Arts” by Joe Hyam, one of my favorite martial art books written.
“A young boy traveled across Japan to the school of a famous martial artist. When he arrived at the dojo he was given an audience by the sensei.
“What do you wish from me?” the master asked.

“I wish to be your student and become the finest karateka in the land,” the boy replied. “How long must I study?”

“Ten years at least,” the master answered. 

“Ten years is a long time,” said the boy. “What if I studied twice as hard as all your other students?” 

“Twenty years,” replied the master.

“Twenty years!  What if I practice day and night with all my effort?” 

“Thirty years,” was the master’s reply.

“How is it that each time I say I will work harder, you tell me that it will take longer?” the boy asked. 

“The answer is clear. When one eye is fixed upon your destination, there is only one eye left with which to find the Way.””

I recently chatted with a friend on Facebook about the topic of people who were getting swindled by the “get rich quick” schemes.  It seems more and more that our American society is allowing the ‘something for nothing’ and ‘instant gratification’ mentalities to invade our way of life.  At the dojang, more times than not, I have had parents wondering how soon it will be to become a black belt or when is the soonest their child and promote to the next level because they are becoming bored at the current level. 

I have explained many times that I understand that they may be temporarily bored, but we are laying a strong foundation for their next level of learning.  Just as a school teacher would teach you to add and subtract, before you learn to multiply.  We all want our students and children to succeed in what they do, but do we sacrifice quality of the lesson in lieu of quantity?

Some of the best Presidents and leaders of companies that I have met knew every minute detail about their business.  They learned all the intricacies step by step as they grew in their established role as a leader in their chosen occupation.   Not one of them applied for a job and then was just given the position of power.  They had to work hard, persevere no matter how bored they may have become at some point. The instant gratification and something for nothing mindset needs to be obliterated.  Focus on the task at hand and perfect it.
Perseverance is a major key to success not only in martial arts but in our everyday lives.  If we were to simply push them to the next level without proper preparation, then they will not only fail at the next level but, when push comes to shove, they may not even be able to defend themselves properly on the street. 
Work smart and hard and before you know it, success will be yours.

Change the focus

on MAR. / 23 / 2011 | 0 comments

by Jeremy M. Talbott

There are going to be those times that you feel the burn out of training.  Everyone, even the most dedicated of us go through it.  It is that time where you feel that you are doing the same thing over and over or you feel that you are no longer learning anything new.  This will inevitably lead to the question of why are you still practicing martial arts after all this time?  What am I really getting out of it?  At this point one of two things will happen, you will either quit or you will try to drudge through the feeling in hopes that something will change.

I have hit this wall a couple of times myself.  What I have learned is that your instructors are not always going to “hold your hand” or do individual motivational techniques to keep you in the school.  There comes a certain time when you have to take responsibility for your own training and make it exciting for yourself. 

For example, find a motivation point that will allow you to keep going and set some goals.  Ask yourself what is it that you want to get out of martial arts?  When I was 9 years old, I wanted to learn to defend myself.  As such I constantly practiced my one step sparring, escapes and basic techniques.  When I was 14 I wanted to compete in fighting.  I would work constantly on my fighting combinations and techniques.  Once I was doing well in that I wanted to expand into winning weapons and forms division so I would focus on that aspect of training.  These types of goals always tend to keep me interested in my training because even the most basic of technique would somehow help me in my pursuit.
Let’s say there is no competitive goal to reach. You could play a game of how many kicks could you can throw out in a minute.  Regardless, there are many ways to make time in class exciting and challenging for yourself if you feel is becoming a bit monotonous.   

This type of mindset will help you in those times when school or work start to weigh in on you.  At work start setting small goals to help you get through the day.  Make some sort of game for yourself, for example, if you are a developer, challenge yourself to write so many lines of code in a day.  See if you can meet the goal and if you can beat your score the next day.  If you are a student, try to see how many math problems you can get done within a ten minute time frame.  These little goals, or games, can take a somewhat boring situation and make it into a bit more exciting while helping you accomplish what you need to do anyway.

What Motivates You?

on MAR. / 23 / 2011 | 0 comments

By Jeremy M. Talbott

There was a boy that I would teach who, for the longest time, just did not like showing up to class. The parents kept pushing him to show up and I had the pleasure of trying different ways to motivate him to enjoy the class. Now if you ever had any student like this, you know that it can be quite a challenge. I found it frustrating because I could not comprehend that somebody just does not like practicing martial arts. I mean personally, I have always loved practicing martial arts since I first stepped onto a mat…or did I?
To be honest, martial arts was not always my favorite thing. When I first started, I hated going to classes. The teacher was mean, the classes were hard and I always got hurt fighting. I could not wait for our two year contract to be up so I could quit. It was not until my very best friend joined another school that I finally got motivated to practice again. Now I had someone to do Karate with outside of the school. Eventually he quit but by that time I was hooked and there was no turning back.

When I reflected on this it got me wondering about the student that just could not get motivated. I talked to the parents and they could not understand why he was not into it. He loves to play sports so they could not understand why he does not get into doing martial arts. I suggested they sign him up for the next tournament and see if that might help. Sure enough, when he found out he was going to be in a competition, he could not wait to come to class to practice. He even began to stay a bit later in order to practice specifically for the upcoming tournament.

The tournament came and went and he ended up placing 7th place out 10 competitors. When I thought he might get discouraged, he was even more motivated to participate at the next tournament. When he found out we had a competition team, he asked to be on it.  Little by little he became what we affectionately call a “dojo rat” (a person who spends all of their free time at the school). Before I knew it, he was well on his way to grabbing his 3rd consecutive national title.
Every person has something that motivates them to succeed. As an instructor it is our job to dig deep to find out what that something is for the student. As a student we need to discover within ourselves what that something is. This also spills over into everyday activities of work and school. Everyone needs to find that little spark to push them through another day. This can be done through goal setting or even a reward program that you set up for yourself. Once you figure which path to choose, you must enforce that little lesson of self-discipline that you learned in your classes to help keep you on the path to success. 

Physical to Mental

on MAR. / 23 / 2011 | 0 comments

by Jeremy M. Talbott

When I first began this column nearly two years ago I had but one goal in mind; to show that the most basic of happenings in the dojang can be turned into a lesson in your everyday life.  It should go without saying that the physical aspects, when taught properly, can be applied in a real life situation of self defense.  I believe that this is the core of martial arts.  Unless you live in a high crime area or work in an occupation where physical confrontations are high possibility, the average person will experience very little to no physical confrontations at all.  Your martial art training is pretty much like auto insurance, you hope you never have to use, but if needed, it is there for you. 

When we train our bodies physically we train to perfect the technique so that when we have to use it we do it properly.  So at what point does physical training become mental training?  To help in this matter there is a three step process to operate in learning something new.  First step is when learning a new technique or form you need to simply go through the motions. Mirror what the instructor shows you and eventually you will get the gist of what is going on.  The second step is being consistent with its execution so that you can execute it without little or no thought.  Once you reach that level you begin the third step to make the technique or form a part of you.  You mentally look at ways to change the process so that it fits your specific range of motion or strength or speed.  You then make those changes in order to not only perfect the technique or form, but do it in a more efficient way. 

These steps are not just confined to the dojang.  Utilizing this type of patterned learning can help you achieve a higher level of learning in school or even help you find more efficient ways to allow you to do your tasks at work in a more efficient way.  Example, if you start a new project or job you go through the first step going through the motions of what the duties will contain.  You learn the ropes and eventually get a steady routine on how to execute your responsibilities reaching the second step. It is here that you begin the third step of finding more efficient ways to perform.  Hopefully these steps will help lead you to promotions or bonuses or simply a job well done.

A martial art at its core is about fighting.  We train ourselves to punch, kick, throw, lock and break so if attacked, we can fight and defend ourselves.  Any trained monkey can kick and punch, check out YouTube and you will see proof of that.  Eventually philosophy has to come into play and with it some deeper lessons that will help us achieve a higher level of learning and execution.

If I Gave You a Hundred Dollar Bill

on MAR. / 23 / 2011 | 0 comments

by Jeremy M. Talbott

One of my biggest pet peeves as an instructor is watching kids not working to their full potential.  Case in point is this girl, who we will call Jane Doe.  Jane Doe is fourteen years old.  She is the type of girl who, when she works at it, does a phenomenal job. But alas, she just does not put it in the effort really needed to get to that next level.  For the longest time we tried positive reinforcement and negative reinforcement, but nothing seemed to get this girl going.  It was not like she was bad at what she was doing; it was the fact that she did just enough to get by.

After watching her in class one day, and grinding my teeth in frustration, I decided to approach her and discuss the matter.  I directly told her that I was disappointed in her performance in class and that I knew she could do better.  She, of course, gave me the expected answer of “Yes sir”, accompanied by the wounded puppy eyes.  When the reply came I told her to wait there.  I went into the locker room, grabbed my wallet and took out a hundred dollar bill. A quick side note on this story.  I do not usually carry hundred dollar bills.  I just happened to get paid for a group of private lessons that day.  Now back on with the story.

I went back to where she was and showed her the hundred dollar bill.  I asked her if I gave her the hundred dollar bill, what would you do with it?  Her eyes lit up and she quickly told me all the different things she could do with it.  I then verified with her that if I gave her the money that she would use it.  “Yes!” she said.  I then asked her “Would you just wad it up and toss it in the trash?” “Of course not!” she responded.  “Then why do you that with your talent which is infinitely more valuable than this hundred dollar bill?” She was at a loss of words.  I explained that each time she came into class and just did the very minimum it takes to get through class, she was basically taking her natural talent and throwing it away.  Soon after that talk I saw a significant change in her attitude and progress during class time.  She still has her “get by” days, but they are not as often as they were before.

Every person has the potential of greatness in any avenue of life her or she may choose.  While some people are naturally gifted and may find it easy to reach their goals, others may have to work hard for the same achievement.  Regardless of which side of the coin you may be residing on, if you do not push yourself to excel and settle only for mediocrity then you are doing nothing more than wadding up that hundred dollar bill and throwing it away.

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