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.

Winners and Losers

Through the month of January we focused on Stephen Covey’s first three Habits:

  1. Be Proactive.®
  2. Begin With the End in Mind.®
  3. First Things First.®

Developing this personal skill set, helps us recognize our purpose and makes us more effective at achieving our goals. If we want to increase our capacity exponentially, however, we must recognize the power of teamwork. The Fourth Habit from Stephen Covey’s treatise The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, is “Think Win-Win.” Simply put, it’s recognizing that the most effective relationships are those in which all parties come out ahead. Here, Jiujitsu is the perfect allegory.

In Jiujitsu we simply cannot develop effective technique without a partner, and it requires a bit of skill to be a good one. Borrowing terminology from Japanese budo, the Uke (receiver) is the person tasked with getting thrown around. The act of being thrown, Ukemi (receiving), is an art in and of itself; it takes skill and understanding to be repeatedly thrown without injury, and to do so in a manner that helps the nage (thrower) learn the technique. While drilling a technique, a good uke doesn’t just flop on the floor like a limp noodle, nor do they resist the technique by countering. They have to provide the appropriate response in order for the nage to practice their technique. This is dictated by many factors including how experienced their partner is, and whether the technique is new. This cooperation is vital; if we don’t work with our partners to help them develop strong technique, they won’t be able to help us improve ours. We must strive for a win/win, in which all parties are benefiting.

Sometimes losing is winning.

People who are afraid of “losing” when drilling, who’s egos prohibit them from finding this cooperative balance, will struggle to learn the nuance of technique. They are also frustrating to the partner who’s trying to learn, only to be thwarted every time they try. This isn’t a win/win; it isn’t even a win/lose – it’s a lose/lose. Nobody is able to improve much under these conditions. Allowing ones partner to practice a move, thereby developing better technique, makes them a better partner for us.

Stay focused on the Big Picture

Additionally, if one’s ego is too big to “lose” and tap out when necessary, they will eventually be injured. The severity of the injury will dictate the amount of healing time, but this win/lose mindset will once again become a lose/lose, as their injuries affect their ability to train. This is a good example of when losing is winning. Tapping out (short-term loss) means more training longevity (long-term win).

Steel sharpens Steel.

There is time and place in Jiujitsu where each student should be striving to win. Whenever two individuals are engaged in competition, whether during the rolling portion of a class, or at a tournament, somebody is eventually going to win and their “opponent” will lose. While nobody likes to lose in these moments, there is still a win/win silver lining. Oftentimes, we learn much more from our losses than we do our wins. It’s important to remember the adage, “you’re either winning or you’re learning.”

“I never lose. I either win or I learn.”

Nelson Mandela

See you on the mat.

Be Proactive

Training in Brazilian Jiujitsu (BJJ) can be a life-altering experience. It’s a great workout in which we develop some powerful skills, for both self-defense and sport. It’s mentally stimulating to learn the moves and counter-moves, while developing one’s own “game,” or style. The training develops an intense esprit de corps, as teammates push one another to be their best. It is a powerful platform, providing us the opportunity to learn/re-learn the lessons that make us better at life – as sons & daughters, mothers & fathers, students, workers, and as citizens.

Being Proactive rather than reactive is one such lesson; Proactivity is vital for success on the mat, and in life.

Stephen Covey says being proactive means that as human beings, we are responsible for our own lives.” It requires taking the initiative to decide for ourselves how we will respond to the world around us and recognize that, ultimately, it is these choices which matter most. Furthermore, we must distinguish between things we have no influence over, and the things we do. Instead of reacting to events/people outside this “circle of influence”, we should focus on what we are doing about the things within. In this manner, we can actually expand our influence over time, and become more effective in the process. (Covey, 1989)

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Covey, 1989.

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.”

-Dr. Reinhold Niebuhr

Too often people point to outside forces as the source of their lot in life. These poor souls blame their ancestors (genetics), their parents (psychology), or their circumstances (environment). As an extreme example, consider little children when something bad happens – they are experts at externalizing. If a child knocks a glass off the table, they say, “it broke.” After hurting another, a child claims, “they made me mad,” but when the roles are reversed it’s, “they hit me.” This immature way of seeing the world denies our individual agency, making us helpless victims to external things deemed beyond our control.

“When you point your finger ’cause your plans fell through, you’ve got three more fingers pointing back at you.”

-Dire Straits, 1980
Covey, 1989.

BJJ hammers the importance of Proactivity home in the most matter-of-fact manner. We all start our training at different times in our lives, and come to the table with varied backgrounds, fitness levels, and limitations. We “roll” with training partners who have more knowledge & skill, who are bigger, faster, stronger, and/or <insert trait of your choice>. When you’re in the heat of the battle, none of that matters. You just have to figure out what you’re going to do about it. You have to try and solve the puzzle.

It is vital that we recognize and accept our individual agency. We can’t do anything about the past, and there are many things that affect our world which we have no control over, but we always have the ability to choose how we respond. We can always decide what we’re going to do about it.

“People are always blaming their circumstances for what they are. I don’t believe in circumstances. The people who get on in this world are the people who get up and look for the circumstances they want, and if they can’t find them, make them.”

-George Bernard Shaw, Mrs. Warren’s Profession

See you on the mat.


Covey, Stephen R. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Restoring the Character Ethic. Simon and Schuster, 1989.