Real Life Lessons From The Dojang

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Show Your Pride

on MAR. / 23 / 2011 | 0 comments

by Jeremy M. Talbott

When I was around ten years old, I remember getting ready to go over to my friend’s house for a sleepover. I quickly grabbed a shirt off my floor, which looked to be the site of a tornado gone wild, some muddy jeans and pretty much did not even brush my hair that day. Your typical ten-year-old boy stuff. As I was running out the door, I felt the cold hand of reason grabbing me from behind; my mom. She quickly turned me around and told me that before I was going anywhere, my room had to be clean and I needed to change my clothes and brush my hair. With a heavy sigh, and an attitude of “What’s the big deal?,” I reluctantly did so.

As I began my march back to the bedroom, I heard some words that, at the time, did not really mean much to me, but now I stress in my everyday life: “Have some pride in your appearance and surroundings. They tell more about you than you think.” 

Now usually when I write this column, I do my best to take lessons that I have learned in the school and apply them to everyday life situations. However, this month I wanted to change things up a bit and apply an everyday life situation to school. I briefly address school owners here because for the most part they do have pride in the school and its appearance. So let us just briefly touch up on the main question; when you look around your school at the beginning of the day, can you honestly say, this school screams professionalism? Does the place look, feel and smell clean or does it have the look of a ten-year-old boy’s room as mentioned earlier? If professional is not the adjective you can use, then you need to change some habits. Make a chore list that you have to check off each day so you know things are getting done. Perhaps once every three months, have a G.I. Party.  This is where you get all the students together and just clean the heck out of the school from top to bottom. Remember, the first impression a prospective student has is when they first step into the school.   

As for the students, I would bet that not many of them will take the same pride as the owner. This is not to say that they do not like their school, but when it comes down to it, you will not find many of them volunteering to take out the trash or clean the bathrooms. But there are other ways that they can show some pride. Simple things like picking up trash that they see on the floor, or making sure they are well-groomed when they come into the class. Even if they are on the floor training, but not in full uniform, are they wearing some sort of school t-shirt? What are their attitudes on the mat while no class is going on? Do they train or do they goof around. Again, when a prospective student walks through the door, what does your students’ behavior say? 

I know all of this is just common sense and probably sounds nit picky, but sometimes the most basic rules of success get overlooked. If you have guests come to your home, do you want them to see dirty dishes or laundry out everywhere? Of course not, so why would you not hold that same pride towards your school?

What Have You Contributed?

on MAR. / 23 / 2011 | 0 comments

By Jeremy M. Talbott

After a class is finished, it is not unusual for a student to come talk to me about how things are progressing. I enjoy these talks because it gives me time to provide positive feedback, as well as give my views on what they need to work on in terms of physical and mental applications. I give them tips on what they can work on at home to improve, and more times than not, they go home and practice. For every student I have like that, I also have at least two that the only time I see them after class is when they come up and wonder why they have not been promoted yet. My first, and sometimes only answer to this is, “What have you contributed to your studies outside of class?”

I also enjoy this time because often they will start making up excuses to why they cannot practice outside the school. I just had an example of this happen. We had a promotion test where one student was promoted to his next rank. When he received his belt, I had a mother of another student, who started the exact day as the promoted student, come up to me complaining as to why her child did not get to promote. I told her that the child had not been to any of the review testing and that I had not seen him at class at least a week prior to the testing. I then, of course, asked my favorite question, “What has he contributed to his studies outside of class? She explained the reason for the absences, but as expected, she really did not have any reason for him not to practice at home. I could see she was upset, so I asked her if she would be upset with his math teacher if he was not progressing because he did not do his homework which resulted in bad test scores. She naturally said no. So I asked her how she can be upset with me for the same reason.

Effort in class is important, but it is the effort that you place outside of class which will be the key factor in progressing. If you go to your job and just do the required work, you will get by and occasionally you may get a promotion or raise. However, if you make an extra effort to do more than the requirement, you will find that you are promoted a bit more often along with other praises and raises. School is the same. You can learn your assignment in class and do the basic homework and you will be okay. It is when you do extra problems or study ten more minutes, that you will find a better progression in your learning. Martial arts are no different. The more you put into it, the more you get out of it. No one is asking you to be a workaholic or have your life revolve around school, nor are you being asked to dedicate every waking moment of free time to your martial arts. It just takes a small amount of extra effort to go a long way. Your teachers, bosses, coworkers and instructors can only contribute so much to your growth. For you to reach that next level, you must be the one to make the extra contributions. So, the next time you are not progressing, just ask yourself, what have you contributed? 

If You Think You Can’t, Then You are Right

on MAR. / 23 / 2011 | 0 comments

By Jeremy M. Talbott

During my younger years in training, I was instructed to perform a specific jump spinning technique that, at the time, was a bit difficult for me to perform. I told my instructor “I can’t do it.” 

My instructor did two things upon hearing those words come from my mouth. First, he asked me how many letters are in the sentence “I can’t do it.” When I told him, he asked me to do ten pushups for every letter in that phrase, including the apostrophe. After that, he told me with no uncertainty: “If you think you can’t, then you are right,” and walked away.

I finished with my pushups and got up. I stood there bewildered and started wondering why, instead of encouraging me to push harder, he just more or less encouraged my affirmation of not being able to do it. Not only did he do that, but after that moment, he did not ask me to try the technique again. Frustrated, I began practicing the technique over and over, falling on my butt more times than not. I would then get up and try again. That technique became my obsession for the next week, whenever I had free time, I would practice. Finally, I got it down and was quite excited to impress him with it. I remember demonstrating the technique with a very proud look on my face. Instead of jumping up and down with excitement of my accomplishment, he simply replied, “I already knew you could do it. You just had to figure it out for yourself that you could.” 

UGH! How frustrating. Where was my pat on the back? Where was my “atta boy” speech? Nope, all I got was an “about time” look. However, that look and those words turned on a light bulb in my head. I figured out what he meant by “If you think you can’t, then you are right.”

The mind is a very powerful tool. It can propel you to new heights or simply destroy you at your core by choosing one of two answers, “I can” or “I can’t.” He already knew in his mind that, with enough practice, I could accomplish the technique if I tried, but I felt it was an impossible feat. As much as he wanted to encourage me, he also knew that there are some lessons a student has to learn on his/her own. 

In any type of battle, be it combat, schoolwork or day-to-day business, we pit ourselves against our worst adversary, ourselves. We can make or break our accomplishments simply by the mindset we put ourselves in. Saying “I can’t” is a self-fulfilled prophecy of certain failure. For those who have read this column from the beginning, they will remember my view on failure; you only fail when you stop trying. It is natural to feel self-doubt, but the difference between those who succeed and those who fail is the determination of pushing past the self-doubt.

The world is your oyster, which makes any goal you set, your pearl. In order for you to get that pearl, you will be met with challenges. Success in meeting and beating those challenges relies simply on remembering this: “If you think you can’t, then you are right.”

Much Ado About Nothing

on MAR. / 23 / 2011 | 0 comments

by Jeremy M. Talbott

It seems nowadays that you can’t help opening a martial art magazine or looking on a martial art Web site to see somebody new getting promoted to ninth-dan, tenth-dan or grandmaster status. It’s as if masters and grandmasters are a dime a dozen. This says to me that when everybody is important, no one is important. 

Let’s look at a guy who claims to be a tenth-dan in Shuri-Ryu Karate and Moo Duk Kwan Tae Kwon Do. He enjoys talking about how the traditional Japanese and Koreans masters would do things, as well as preach the testament of honesty and integrity. Now let’s take it further and say that he insists that he be addressed as Hanshi. After a while you start to determine that his knowledge of Asian traditions must stem from watching one too many Samurai Sunday Kung Fu movies. You check his background for credentials to support his rankings, but you simply cannot find a legitimate Shuri-Ryu or Tae Kwon Do organization that will substantiate his claims. Now this person may be a great martial artist and perhaps a great teacher, but why must he swipe a title that is either undeserved or unaccredited? How does saying you’re a tenth-dan make you a better teacher?

Titles and rank play a huge role in the martial arts. When properly used, they represent time in training, knowledge of your art and achievement amongst your peers. They symbolize dedication and sacrifice. When growing up in the early 80s, it was a treat to meet someone who was a sixth-dan or higher because there weren’t that many around. To see their skill and knowledge would awe you. To actually work on the mat with an eighth or ninth-dan was an honor because it was so rare. Those people distinguished themselves on and off the mats. They were humble in their achievement. One example is when I had the chance to train at a seminar under Master Fumio Demura. When asked how he would like to be addressed, thinking he would say Master or Grandmaster, he simply responded that Sensei Demura was fine. Only his parents and older brother called him Fumio and once he felt he had mastered something, then he would ask to be called Master Demura.

All of this title and rank chaos reminds me of my time working for a bank. Never in my life have I met so many vice presidents in one company. At first I was awestruck that I would be working directly under the Vice President of IT Web Based Products. He was also very adamant about the use of that title. Then after a week, I figured out that this guy had less knowledge of what was supposed to be done than I did. When push came to shove, he was a project manager in charge of making sure things got published on the Web site. He really had no "real" knowledge in the title that he held. Another example was when I was once given the title of Quality Assurance Engineer. I still laugh at that title. I never completed any type of college course on quality assurance, nor have I ever taken any type of computer engineering classes. But the company gave me that title because I guess it was more impressive to clients than: “The Guy Who Sits on His Butt and Tests Software All Day.” For the vast majority of people out there, that is what all of this title junk is about—sounding impressive.

Now, I am not saying that everyone who is claiming fancy titles and high ranks do not deserve them or your respect. Everyone deserves respect, until they have given you a reason not to. Just remember that even though titles are impressive and ranks are important, it is the actions of the person holding the title or rank which should determine their worthiness of the title and rank.

God Bless, Farewell, But Most of All Thank You

on MAR. / 23 / 2011 | 0 comments

By Jeremy M. Talbott

I was nine years old when my mom first asked me if I would like to try Karate. You couldn’t imagine how excited I was at the prospect of doing this. Growing up, I always “played” Karate with my friends and, being tall for my age, I had very little coordination, which made me an easy target for the schoolyard bullies.

Being from Springfield, Illinois back in 1980, there were very little schools to choose from so we went to the closest. I can still remember the somewhat dank smell of the place as we entered for the first time. I watched from the side as the adults kicked and punched, listening to each technique cutting through the air. Then I was approached by a tall black gentleman dressed in a traditional white uniform with a black belt tied around his waist; Sensei Ron Rollins. 

Before I knew it, I was being escorted to the main floor for my first lesson.  Before stepping onto the mat, I remember a sign that hung above the entrance; “There is only one kind of student here, the best! The rest quit.” Once I stepped on the mat, I noticed another sign, “Nothing is free. Everybody works and everybody starts at the bottom.” Sensei Rollins was definitely the epitome of “old school” martial arts. He was former military who served in Korea, Vietnam and in Europe. He ran his school like a military boot camp and since kids’ classes were virtually unheard of back then, I, with a few other kids, had to train with the adults and we were treated like the adults. Sensei Rollins never gave an inch in his training regardless if you were nine or 90. 

After almost three years with Sensei Rollins, I had to leave due to my family moving up north by Chicago. Once I arrived in my new surroundings, I tried to get acclimated by joining the school soccer team and swim team, but nothing could really replace my martial arts training. I eventually found a small school and continued my training and have not stopped since then. Whenever the urge of quitting came over me, Sensei Rollins’s signs would always pop up in my head. I never heard from Sensei Rollins after leaving Springfield until just a couple of years ago when, through the power of the Internet, I was able to find his email address and send him an email. An email which started off, “You may not remember me but…” To my surprise he did. Not only that, he also knew my current instructor, Sensei Sharkey. He was happy to know I was continuing my training. I was happy because I could finally give him the “thank you” that I never had a chance to all those years ago.
The week of November 17, I received an email which announced Sensei Rollins’s passing. As I read the email, I realized how much of an impact he really had on my training and I will miss him. It’s funny but you never know how much time you will have with people in your life. It may be a month, a year or ten years, but the amount of time doesn’t matter. What matters most is the quality of the time spent. Everything you do can impact the direction of someone else’s life. Even the smallest little thing, like a sign hanging above a door which tells you, “There is only one kind of student here, the best!  The rest quit,” can have the biggest impact on a student’s life.

So to Sensei Rollins, God bless, farewell, but most of all thank you.

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