Focus

What a wonderful, crazy world in which we live. We work and we play. We go shopping, come home, and fix dinner. We rest. All the while, our families, friends, and neighbors are there, taking the time to make us part of their lives as well. Technology beckons, as the television, radio, computer, and smart phone also vie for our attention. There are books, blogs, and articles to be read, videos to watch, and games to play. The phone rings, pings, or vibrates to alert us to yet another call, text, or email to be answered. We become engulfed in the ebb and flow of traffic as we commute to work, and transport our children to school.

We are continually surrounded on all sides by a seemingly endless barrage. It often seems as though everything is demanding your immediate attention. In this ongoing sea of activity, it can be easy to lose sight of where you are, or where you’re headed. Our ability to focus is a powerful tool that can help us effectively traverse such a multifaceted  landscape.

Focus your eyes, focus your mind, focus your body.

One of mantras I teach younger martial artists is, “Focus your eyes, focus your mind, focus your body.” It’s a reminder of the importance of paying attention to the task at hand. When we spar at the studio, or compete at a tournament, we must have a singular focus. We need to keep our eyes focused on our training partner/opponent, our mind focused on our game plan, and our body properly prepared for the ensuing match. A break in any one of the three greatly decreases our chances of success.

While the intensity of competition demands it, this level of concentration is helpful in more common aspects of daily living as well. We really should strive to focus in such a manner on all endeavors throughout the day. Being continually distracted by extraneous factors, makes us less efficient at getting the job done. When writing this post, for example, I have to turn on the “do not disturb” on my iPhone. Otherwise, I’ll be tempted to respond to the five texts, 20+ emails, and three phone calls I’ll surely have waiting when I’m done.

“Wherever you are, be there!”

– Jim Rohn

Efficiency is one reason to be focused on the here and now. Safety is another. Being aware of one’s surroundings is the primary step in self-defense. For example, given the fact that automobile accidents are the #1 cause of accidental death in the U.S. with over 35,000 deaths annually, wouldn’t you think that it might be wise to pay attention while crossing a street, or while driving, for that matter? Yet, given the inherent risk, I am amazed at the number of people I see crossing the street with their gaze locked onto their smart-phone. (that makes “smart-phone” an oxymoron, doesn’t it?)

“Remember, today is the tomorrow you worried about yesterday.”

– Dale Carnegie

Quality of life is yet another reason to practice focusing on the here and now. Often times we bemoan past events, or worry about the future. While it is good to learn from our past mistakes, dwelling on them does nothing other than to relive the negative feelings caused. It is also good to plan for the future, and thus be prepared for tomorrow. Worrying about it, however, is just adding more needless stress to our already stressful lives. Learn from past mistakes and move on. Plan for the future, and trust your plan. Learn to live today for today, and enjoy every moment.

“There are only two days in the year that nothing can be done. One is called Yesterday and the other is called Tomorrow. Today is the right day to Love, Believe, Do and mostly Live.”

– Dalai Lama XIV

See you on the mat.

Achieve the Unachievable

I find events such as World Championships and the Olympic Games awe inspiring. Especially engaging are the individual sports like Gymnastics, Boxing, Track & Field, Wrestling, MMA, and of course, Brazilian Jiujitsu. Seeing the best of the best experience “the thrill of victory, and the agony of defeat” is a thrilling, emotional roller-coaster, and every time somebody wins the gold, or breaks another record, I rejoice in our human capacity for growth. We just keep getting better.

“Citius, Altius, Fortius.”

-Henri Didon, 1891

What really makes these spectacles so amazing to me is the knowledge that these glorious moments in time are the culmination of long, arduous journeys. Leading up to every victory, every loss, and every broken record are years of grueling, hard work; world-class athletes put in thousands of hours of disciplined, repetitive practice, suffer through dozens of injuries, and sacrifice leisure time away from family and friends. Spectators want to believe these folks have super human physical gifts, when in reality, their greatest “gifts” are an indomitable spirit and the willingness to endure what others won’t.

Ever heard of Alex Honnold? Neither had I, until I came across his video on TED.com. last week. In it, he talks about free solo climbing Yosemite Park’s El Capitan. Yes, that’s right – he climbed the 3000′ granite face of that monolith by himself, with no more equipment than “shoes and a chalk bag!”

Trust me, you need to watch this video.

I remember reading the headlines about this back in 2017 and thinking that it was pretty amazing. I also jumped to a conclusion similar to that of sports fans witnessing greatness; I assumed that some gifted, albeit crazy, climber had just up and decided to go make history. I couldn’t have been more wrong (except, perhaps, the crazy part). My assumption completely discounted all of the time and effort that Mr. Honnold put into preparing for the event – the decades of climbing experience leading up to the decision to do it, and then another two years training specifically for this one event. Imagine 100’s if not 1000’s of repetitions, and rehearsing the same moves over and over; eventually memorizing every crack, crevice and ledge in sequence up a 3000′ cliff.

Alex Honnold’s astounding accomplishments in climbing stand as a testament to what is possible. Whether you want to be a better parent, be more effective at work, win a World Championship in BJJ, or free solo El Capitan, the steps to success are the same.

  1. Dream Big. You’ve got to have a vision of where you’re headed, and believe in your ability to get there.
  2. Plan Well. You must develop a well thought-out plan of action.
  3. Work Hard. You need to put in the time & effort necessary to be prepared.
  4. Execute with Confidence. The first three steps fine-tune your ability and reinforce your belief to make your dream a reality – GO FOR IT!

What are you waiting for?

See you on the mat.

The Center of the Universe

One of the age-old discussions in the teaching community is regarding the class structure, and whether it should be teacher-centered or student-centered. Each style has it’s pros and cons, and identifying the strengths and weaknesses of each helps decide which method will best achieve our desired goals. This common desk layout exemplifies the two styles.

classroom layout

Teacher-centered is a very common method of teaching martial art classes. If you’ve ever been in a Taekwondo dojang or a Karate dojo, (or a high-impact aerobics class) you’ve witnessed this methodology. The teacher is a very strong force, loudly directing nearly every movement of the class. They are often counting every repetition, as the students drill. They are constantly coaching the student body, sometimes individually, frequently collectively, with a barrage of corrections, exhortations, and motivations. This creates a very orderly class, and it assures the class sticks to the plan. It is a great way to control and motivate a large number of people, and get a lot of work done in the process.

A Student-centered approach provides greater autonomy for the students. They interact more with their peers, help motivate one-another, and have the opportunity to work through, or even experiment with the techniques being taught. Instead of taking center-stage, the teacher becomes more of a coordinator, directing the class in the direction it needs to go. This style of teaching also helps reinforce self-discipline, as the students become responsible for their own actions.

Rather than an either/or proposition, these two models are more like the ends of a spectrum. A great class will be somewhere in the middle, utilizing a bit of both styles. In teaching Brazilian Jiujitsu we tend towards a student-centered approach. The instructor, or Professor, directs the class, leading warm-ups, teaching and correcting techniques, and coaching in application. The students are provided the opportunity to practice with partners, and collectively work “through” the techniques.

Obviously, the age of the students also plays a role in where the class falls on the spectrum. Our Little Samurai, ages 4-6, need much more instructor guidance, than do the Junior Jujiteiros, who in turn require more than an adult class. That being said, we are continually pushing our younger students to be the best they can be, and expect them to hold themselves to the highest of standards. Learning to focus, stay on task, and work independently are valuable life-skills which we strive to instill in our students; we teach these ideals, in part, by expecting it of the students. Therefore, we strive to shift from the teacher-centered end of the spectrum to the student-centered as early as possible.

The martial arts, whether Karate, Kung fu, Taekwondo, or Brazilian Jiujitsu, are an individual pursuit of excellence. Our parents can’t do it for us, nor can our teachers. They can only support us and help guide the way. We have our teammates to make the journey with, but at the end of the day, it is still an individual pursuit. Each of us has to develop the strength, endurance, focus, and self-discipline to push past our own personal barriers.

See you on the mat.