Real Life Lessons From The Dojang

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RealLifeLessons

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Back to Basics

on MAR. / 23 / 2011 | 0 comments

by Jeremy M. Talbott

There have been many times in my martial arts training that I felt out of sorts.  No matter what I tried, I just couldn’t get focused and accomplish the form or technique that I was trying to achieve.  I ran across this situation a couple of years ago when I was getting ready for a competition.  I explained my frustrations to Sensei Sharkey, my instructor, and he told me about a similar situation with another student of his who ran into the same type of wall.  This student, who was a top competitor, just didn’t seem to be performing at his best.  The result, naturally, was that he ended up losing his divisions.  Frustrated, he asked Sensei to meet up with him and look over his form to see if perhaps he had some advice on how to improve.

The student performed a very intricate advanced form and when he was done Sensei nodded that it looked ok.  Then Sensei had him run our system’s most basic form: Taikiyoku Ichi.  This form is extremely basic in that all you do is an ‘I’ pattern executing only low blocks and low punches.  Nothing fancy and no fluff, just a basic form taught to all of our beginning students.  He was asked to run it hard with a lot of focus and a lot of power.  He did this several times and at the end was exhausted.  He was then told to do his competition form again.  To the student’s own amazement he found that his form felt more comfortable and he was more focused.  Afterwards the student was back on the winning track again.  Many of you may know him as, Mike Chat, multi-world champion and developer of one of the most popular martial arts programs, XMA.

There are many times in our personal or business lives that we will run into the same type of scenario.  It could be as simple as trying to write a report to something a bit more dramatic such as starting a new business or perhaps something very complicated such feeling unmotivated or unsure as to which direction to take to better yourself.  Regardless of the severity of the scenario the solution is still the same, return to basics.  When writing a report go back to focusing on the subject itself, and then move on to writing structures that will help convey your idea clearly.  When opening up a business, focus on what the product or service is and why you felt a need to offer it in the first place.  When trying to refocus your life, go back to what it is that makes you, you.   What is it that you truly want and what is it that truly makes you happy.  When you go back and redevelop firm basics, the rest will begin to fall in line. 

 As martial artists we should all know that in order to achieve higher levels you must have a strong foundation in the basics.  They are the building blocks of our success. Whenever you can’t seem to reach higher levels you are striving for, it is essential that you get back to the basics and focus on the building blocks once again.  You will find that a lot of what may be missing can be found there.  It’s like Mr. Miyagi said, “When you feel life out of focus, always return to basic of life...”  

To Build True Confidence

on MAR. / 23 / 2011 | 0 comments

by Jeremy M. Talbott

It has been five years since I first began learning the Shorei-ryu system of karate under Sensei John Sharkey and there was much excitement and tension when I was finally able to take the black belt test for shodan (1st degree black belt).  I knew all the requirements for that was expected of me and was even putting in some extra time just to make sure that I had everything was down.  When test day came, I was a nervous wreck and it showed.  It seemed like my techniques were not up to par nor did I run my forms well because I kept making mistakes in the simplest of moves.  It quickly became disheartening.  However, at one point I was asked to demonstrate my highest sword form from my kumdo background.  Now with a little over two decades in practicing kumdo and kumsul, I carried out my form like it was second nature to me.  I knew that each technique that presented in the form was correct and that my cuts were clean and strong.  When it was finished one of the examiners asked why I wasn’t showing the same confidence that I just displayed in the sword form in the rest of what I was doing to earn my belt. 

When the examiner made that statement I realized that, unlike my sword demonstration, I was so worried about being right or wrong that I doubted myself and it showed.  After my sword demo, there was a feeling of rejuvenation because I came to realize that I did know the material that the test was comprised of.  The only thing that truly needed to be done was demonstrate without the fear of right or wrong.  Now this does not mean that the rest of the test from that point on was flawless but regardless if what I did was right or wrong I was confident in what I was doing.  In the end, I am happy to say, I achieved my goal and earned the rank of a shodan in Shorei-ryu karate.  When I reflect on that test I am constantly reminded of the beginning of our Student Creed; “To build true confidence through knowledge in the mind, honesty in the heart and strength in the body.”   For over 5 years I have been reciting this during my class time and teaching it to others, but I did not truly appreciate its meaning until that day. 

Confidence is a big selling point for many schools that are trying to reach the youth demographics when advertising for students.  After all what parent does not want their kid to be confident?  Martial arts are a great way to build that confidence but, while many schools advertise that they teach confidence, perhaps what they should advertising is that the student will learn to be confident.  Confidence is not something that is taught directly by the teacher, but learned indirectly through trial and error by the student.

Sparring, Life’s Unsung Teacher

on MAR. / 23 / 2011 | 0 comments

by Jeremy M. Talbott

It is inevitable that if you participate in martial arts, you will, at least once in your martial art life, do some sparring.  Sparring is an interesting “moment of truth.”  As you step on to the mat and bow to your opponent you can begin to feel your heart race and your adrenalin pulse throughout your body.  All the countless punches, kicks and blocks that you spent hours on doing will now be put into action.  You are now set in a situation where you must think and react quickly, and instinctively, and a split second could make the difference between victory and defeat.

Sparring is probably one of the most important training methods in the martial arts and, unbeknownst to some, life itself.  Not only does it allow you to utilize your techniques in a live situation, but it teaches you how to think and react in a high stress situation.  As your opponent moves in to attack you have to quickly find a way to block or dodge and the parry and then get ready for the consequences of your counter attack.  There are many people who face, almost on a daily basis, situations where fast, crucial decisions must be made on projects that may affect deadlines, revenues and sometimes jobs.  When utilizing sparring skills in this matter they are able assess the situation in short amount time and decide the best way to proceed as well as figure out the consequences, good or bad, on the decision made.  This will help in figuring out a counter strategy if things go awry.

Moreover sparring teaches us how to control emotions in high stress situations.  A good fighter never allows himself or herself to become overly emotional if they feel things are not going according to plan.  They do their best to keep a clear mind that allows them to think about a better attack or counter plan to achieve victory.  Becoming overly emotional will cloud judgment and inevitably lead to an unsuccessful ending.  How many times have you argued or debated with a stranger, friend or loved one?  How many times have you allowed emotions to take over causing you to either say something you regretted or say something that was, well, just plain stupid.  Emotions cause you to read more into something that someone is saying than what it really being said.  When that happens, your reaction is skewed because you do not look at the logic behind their words.  What proceeds from there is that you choose words that no longer help you in achieving your goal in the discussion, but rather you choose words that seek to hurt or demean the other person.

Finally, sparring is one of the best ways to test our character.  What happens when you get hit or when you lose?  What happens when you hit someone or when you win?  Your reaction to these situations helps form your character.  When you get hit do you start to give up?  When you lose do you just quit?  When you hit someone do you gloat and dwell on the small victory or do you prepare for what happens next?  When you win do reflect on just the victory itself or what you could do to be just as successful, if not more successful, the next time?  When taught, learned and applied to your life properly, you will find that your sparring knowledge can improve your decision making skills, your emotional well being and your overall character.  So the next time you step on the mat and bow to your opponent, just think of the great life lesson you are about to receive.

See, Hear, Do

on MAR. / 23 / 2011 | 0 comments

In martial arts it is a necessity to implement the lessons that we learn in class right away in order to progress in our chosen system. This is not as easy as it may sound, simply because change is something that most of tend to resist. We are, by nature, creatures of habit, yet in class we know we have to change how we perceive things in order to succeed at our goals. Lessons such as proper breathing, foot positioning, eye contact, shifting your body in a certain way to achieve maximum power, have to be learned and implemented or else we will not grow in the martial arts. At first, it is awkward and takes a conscious effort to do correctly, but as time moves on, that conscious effort eventually becomes habit and to do it any other way would seem, well, wrong.
 
Martial arts teach us that the best way to learn is to do. You don't listen to your instructor on how to do a front kick and then just instantly know it, nor if you see your instructor throw several great front kicks will you instantly have the knowledge to do the same. In order to make that kick work for you, and work well, you have to do the front kick. Only through actual action of the lesson will you understand what it is you need to do. This is no different than initiating lessons on how to be successful. Many people read books or go to seminars and they get very excited, yet they never actually put forth the effort to employ the lessons in their everyday life.
 
Not too long ago I read the book, How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie. This book outlines different ways to handle people positively, to not only help you achieve your goals, but help them achieve their goals as well. I enjoyed the reading mostly due to the usage of anecdotes to describe how the lesson worked in a real life situation. Just as I have done in martial arts, I quickly utilized the lessons from the book into my regular habits. At first, they were awkward because I have grown accustomed to handling certain situations in certain ways, but slowly they became habits. Those habits started to become unconscious efforts, which began to net me the results I desired in everyday transactions in my life.
 
It is important to remember that inactions speak just as loudly as actions. Reading books and watching other successful people may put you in the right mindset of success, but it is the consumption of those words you read and those actions you see, and changing your ways to include these lessons, which will help you be successful.
 
"I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand." -(Confucius)

Two Ears and One Mouth

on MAR. / 23 / 2011 | 0 comments

by Jeremy M. Talbott

I have had the honor of being the “fly on the wall” in several important meetings where the organizations or individuals conducting the meetings felt they were going to impact the martial arts world on either a local level or a national level. Now, needless to say, not all of these meetings were fruitful. In fact, I’d say maybe two ever amounted to anything of any worth. What I did notice, however, was that the leaders in both of those successful meetings, one being Sensei John Sharkey of the American Karate Association, and the other being President Sang Lee of the United States Taekwondo Committee, had a common trait. Both of them sat and listened 90 percent of the time and advised only 10 percent of the time.

Let us take President Lee for example. When I first met him, it was during a dinner meeting concerning the first U.S. Hanmadang. He was very courteous and made me feel as if he and I had known each other for a long time. In short, he is just a very approachable person. During the dinner, I noted four different conversations taking place, including mine. Two were about the upcoming Hanmadang, one was about the upcoming Korean trip and the other was about the importance of rank. I noticed President Lee would sit back and stare. At first I thought either he was tired or just not interested in what they were saying. Then, after awhile, he began to address everyone within their own conversations. With each conversation he knew what was happening and had the exact advice needed to help.

When I was with Sensei Sharkey, the same thing happened at his meeting. He sat and listened and then when people needed the answers or guidance, he was right there in each individual conversation advising them on the different avenues they could take, as well as the consequences, good or bad, for taking them.

The big difference between their leadership styles and the style of those whose meetings went nowhere, was that those two listened and then spoke and when they spoke it was advice based on their experience, not demands based solely on what they wanted from others. The other leaders seem to just demand what they wanted from the others and barely listened. The result? Their ideas never came to fruition because they never understood the needs of the individual, whereas President Lee is about to embark on an historical undertaking of having a U.S. Hanmadang in Chicago, Illinois, in June of this year and Sensei Sharkey continues to run a successful organization which holds one of the longest running tournaments, the AKA Grand Nationals in the United States, which will also be held June of this year in Louisville, Kentucky. 

After having these experiences with both of these leaders, I tried my best to listen more and speak less. Yes, simple in concept, difficult in execution. The martial arts do not teach us to run our mouths and just predict what will happen. We are taught to listen carefully and be mindful of the situation we are in and react accordingly. This should be applied in all aspects of our lives, from attending a business meeting to something as simple as listening to what type a day your kids had at school. We were given two ears and one mouth; it is our duty to use them in the right ratio.

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