It’s 2019 – What Are You Going to do About it?

With the New Year, there comes a sense of a new beginning; a clean page on which to write the story we want. People start out with the best of intentions, making a list of their New Year’s Resolutions, and taking the first steps in realizing their aspirations. Yet, while many aspire to achieve their goals, many will quit, and find themselves making the same goals the following year. This is so common that the entire concept has become a well-known punch-line.

One of the reasons some are successful while others aren’t lies in the difference between being interested, as opposed to being committed, to doing something.

Those who are simply interested in doing something plan on getting to it when it’s convenient. Whatever the goal, whether losing weight, finding a better job, or  finishing a college degree, the interested plan on doing it when they find the time, when everything lines up, or when they “feel like it.” So people interested in getting fit for the new year hit the gym, diligently putting in their time, for a few weeks. Soon, they start finding excuses as to why they can’t make it in as often. It becomes more and more inconvenient, until soon they’re not going at all.

The committed, on the other hand, do whatever they need to do in order to accomplish their goals. They learn everything they can about the pursuit, create a plan, and prioritize their time in order to assure they dedicate enough to the effort. They don’t allow anything to stand in their way. The committed don’t wait until they find the time, they make it. They don’t wait for everything to line up, they line everything up. They don’t wait until “they feel like it.” The committed follow through on the plan knowing the long-term goal will far outweigh any short-term feeling that may come and go along the way.

What were you interested in accomplishing last year, but never got around to?

Are you committed yet?

Finding the Sublime in the Simple

Recently, I decided to re-read All I Really Needed to Know I Learned in Kindergarten, by Robert Fulghum. It’s a fun, touching book of life lessons which I read way back in college, when I first started teaching children’s martial arts classes. (not quite so far back as the paleolithic period I mentioned last week, but pretty close.) His “credo” is a list of the basic rules we are taught as children. The beauty is, these work just as well for us as adults as they did when we were young.

“These are the things I learned (in Kindergarten):

  • Share everything.
  • Play fair.
  • Don’t hit people.
  • Put thngs back where you found them.
  • CLEAN UP YOUR OWN MESS.
  • Don’t take things that aren’t yours.
  • Say you’re SORRY when you HURT somebody.
  • Wash your hands before you eat.
  • Flush.
  • Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you.
  • Live a balanced life – learn some and drink some and draw some and paint some and sing and dance and play and work everyday some.
  • Take a nap every afternoon.
  • When you go out into the world, watch out for traffic, hold hands, and stick together.
  • Be aware of wonder. Remember the little seed in the Stryrofoam cup: The roots go down and the plant goes up and nobody really knows how or why, but we are all like that.
  • Goldfish and hamsters and white mice and even the little seed in the Styrofoam cup – they all die. So do we.
  • And then remember the Dick-and-Jane books and the first word you learned – the biggest word of all – LOOK.”

Each chapter is a little anecdote that simply and eloquently demonstrates an ideal. Through engaging, often humorous, stories of  puddles, vacuums, mermaids, raccoons, and hide & seek, he shows us the powerful relevance of lessons learned in every-day experiences; the sublime within the simple.

One such story is about spiders. Actually, it’s about a specific, traumatic, “life-changing” encounter between the author’s neighbor and a spider; from both his neighbor’s perspective, and that of the spider. (after it’s all said and done, both experiences are really quite the same.) Here’s a much less eloquent synopsis. The two are busily going about their daily routine. All hell breaks loose as their world’s collide.  They re-collect themselves, and go back to getting on with their day. (Mr. Fulghum’s version is much better – you really should read the book)

Remember the itsy, bitsy spider and that rainspout? No matter how many times one sings that nursery rhyme, no matter how many times the rain washes that spider out, the sun always comes out, dries the spider off, and the spider gives it another shot. It’s a cute little rhyme that we use as parents and teachers to pass on one of the most valuable lessons in life: Never give up.

Even the darkest night will end and the sun will rise.     

-Victor Hugo

For martial artists, and anybody else interested in achieving great things, Perseverance is a vital key to success. Big accomplishments take a long time, require much effort, and the path along the way is marked by many obstacles. There will be times when we’re too tired. There will be shiny, new distractions that divert our attention. There will be set-backs. None-the-less, just as the spider dries off, and heads back up that rainspout, we too must dust ourselves off, re-adjust our sites, and get busy working toward our goals.

This week we’re talking to our Lil’ Samurai and Jr. Jujiteiros about “Four Steps to success.” It is a simple recipe, but it’s not easy. It takes a lot of effort to stay on task and put in the work.

  1. Show up.
  2. Work hard.
  3. Rest.
  4. Repeat.

Each morning we are born again. What we do today is what matters most.

-Buddha

We humans are survivors. Just like spiders, we’ve been around for a long time. (well, they’ve been around for a few hundred million more years than we have, but who’s counting?) We’ve survived disasters and disease, experienced devastating wars and debilitating famine, and yet we persist. When we find our spirits low, or feel we are unable to continue on our chosen path, it’s important to remember – just like those who came before us, we can push on. Get up, dust yourself off, and get to it. Put the setbacks of yesterday behind, and make the most of today.

See you on the mat.

Character

Over the past few years my daughters and I have really enjoyed watching the movie versions of Marvel’s Avengers. We can’t wait for the hubbub at the box office to die down, so that we can go to the latest installment, Black Panther. I think that part of the popularity in this series is the diversity presented in all of the various characters. Each has her/his own superpower, as well as their own personality. As they evolve under the stress of the various adversities they encounter, both individually and collectively, we see them struggle with their own character, both strengths and flaws.

While we are intrigued by their superpowers, I think the most engaging aspects of the storyline involve their struggles with their own, very real, and very human weaknesses. At different times, it’s reigning in their ego, or coping with self-doubt. Sometimes they must resist the temptation of power. There’s always the weight of doing what’s right for the greater good, versus what’s best for them. In the end, they always find their way through the turmoil, and make the hard choices that lead to success.

Which superhero is your favorite? Which traits do you appreciate the most? Obviously, while we can’t have their superpowers, we can rise to the occasion where it truly matters. While we train to develop our physical skills as martial artists, we can also work toward developing in ourselves the character traits we admire in our heroes, both real and imaginary.

See you on the mats!

 

“I Have A Dream”

As we celebrate the man this week, it’s important to remember his message. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s legacy should stand as a reminder to us all that regardless of race, or for that matter, any other arbitrary external measure, we all are equal in our humanity. Individuals should “not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” (follow this link to read, or better yet, listen to MLK’s historic address)

“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”

In the Korean martial art tradition, the uniform symbolized this equality. The idea was that, regardless of ones belt rank, all were students of the art and thus wore the same uniform. While a student of higher rank might be further along “the path,” and therefore have more knowledge in the art, they were reminded to appreciate the lower ranks for having the courage to start, and the tenacity to continue on the path.

While we don’t have a specific color code to our uniforms in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, the moral code is the same. As practitioners, we have mutual respect for everybody willing to pursue the path we have chosen.

Training in BJJ is difficult, and anybody who’s put in an extended time on the mat knows this as undeniable fact. It is physically and emotionally demanding, requiring not only extraordinary physical output, but taxing your psyche as well. Learning to cope with winning & losing, fighting from uncomfortable positions, and retaining your composure under duress, all add up to a psychological workout like no other.

It is also a challenge to make the time to train. Most of us have lives off the mat and must work our training schedule into our lives, working around school, our jobs, and our families. To train regularly and consistently, while still maintaining our other obligations as family members and citizens is a task of herculean proportions.

It is important to note that, while we train to develop skills which can destroy, we train in a manner that strengthens both ourselves and our partners. In order for each of us to pursue excellence, we need excellent training partners. If we injured or “beat down” every soul who chose to train, we wouldn’t be able to achieve our goals. This necessity further reinforces the supportive culture we have on the mat.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Anybody is welcome to join our ranks. Regardless one’s color, creed, or station in life, if you have the courage to try, the willingness to commit, and the strength to continue, you are always welcome.

Self Discipline

We’ve all been there. The alarm goes off, we reach for the snooze button, and the debate begins.

“I am so tired, I just wanna sleep in.”

“Is it my day off?”

“Perhaps I overtrained yesterday. Do I need a bonus day of recovery?”

“Is that a hint of a cough? Should I call in sick?”

I’ve been waking up at 5:30 am to workout for almost 30 years, and I still catch myself having this internal dialogue nearly every morning. The fact is, I am tired –  I am stiff & sore. I probably could take a few more days off than I do. I really enjoy the one day a week when I get up, take a leisurely walk with the dog, and then relax with a hot cup o’ joe and read a book. Why not do that every day?

The answers to that question are what motivate me to drag my carcass out of bed six days a week.   As a younger man, I wanted to be a bad-ass. I had to get up earlier, and work harder than everybody else. As a member of the over-50 crowd with three young daughters, my purpose has evolved. Now I train to be the best father I can be. I need to be able to protect my family to the best of my ability. I want to be able to play with my kids. We run, we ski, we hike, we ride bikes, and of course, we do martial arts. Staying in shape increases the odds that I will be around to share in their milestones; graduations, first jobs, weddings, and all the other setbacks and victories that await them.

Anybody who’s ever worked in the fitness industry can confirm – it is stupefying the lengths to which people will go, in order to talk themselves out of doing the very thing that will help them achieve their desired goals, or make their life better in the long-run. One can easily come up with an entire litany of reasons not to do something. The people who cave to this list are the poor, miserable souls who continually find themselves short of where they’d like to be. As time goes on, the goals seem further out of reach, the bad habits become more ingrained, more comfortable, and the vicious cycle perpetuates itself.

“In reading the lives of great men, I found that the first victory they won was over themselves… self-discipline with all of them came first.” – Harry S. Truman, 33rd President of the United States

Simply stated, self discipline is the ability to do that which needs doing, even though it’s difficult, inconvenient, or uncomfortable. It’s doing what you know you should, even though you don’t feel like it at the time. It’s putting off the temptations of immediate gratification for greater reward at a later date.

As adults, we demonstrate self-discipline by going to work every day, even on the days we don’t feel like it, in order to put food on the table, provide a home, and save for the future. By being self-disciplined, we can avoid the financial pitfall of never-ending debt, by postponing those purchases of the shiny, new whatever, until such time as we can afford to pay without borrowing.  By being self-disciplined, we can manage our time more effectively, focusing on what’s important, and leaving for later, that which isn’t. By being self-disciplined, we can improve our diet, work out more, and be more fit.

I tell my girls, self-discipline means, “Dinner before dessert.” Do what you know is the best for you, then you can afford to splurge a bit. Work hard in school, and the knowledge will make life a bit easier later. Train hard at track practice, and you’ll have greater success at the meet. Drill those pirouettes as much as you can, and your ballet performance will be amazing. Get your homework done and keep your room clean, and you’ll have more free time to play with your friends.

Self-discipline leads to more freedom. In the end, you will have more time, more money, and better health to spend on the things you want.

See you on the mats!

Constant and Never-Ending Improvement

With fall here, I am once again engaged in all of the projects that come with the change of seasons: fall pruning, garden winterizing, gutter cleaning, and halloween decorating. Such manual labor provides plenty of time to think, and I find myself, as I do with every transformation of the seasons, ruminating on the change that is constant in our lives – spring to summer, summer to fall, and so on, cycling back around to start all over again.  This circular perspective of such repetitive labor can feed into the misconception that we, too, are just running in circles.

It’s really more of a spiral, isn’t it?

 

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A little girl with a dog, in the back yard in October, and yet…

As we cycle through the annum, circling back around in the all-too-familiar pattern, we also become older, having experienced yet one more year that we will never see again. In this fashion, the circle of the seasons becomes the spiral of our lives. So I ask myself, “as we’re spiraling through life, are we spiraling upward or down, forward or back?”

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Same little girl, same dog, in the same back yard in October.

The Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ) lifestyle offers many “tools” that can help us direct our own personal spiral in the direction we choose. The martial arts have long recognized the ideals of courtesy and respect, self-discipline and humility, patience and commitment as being vital to a healthy, successful, and ultimately happy life. We find these ideals espoused in the ancient Budo Code of the Samurai and the concept of Chivalry from Europe’s knights in the Middle Ages. Read any self-help book today, and one will find a re-hashing of the same, time-tested truths.

Perhaps the most important concept, and the one I believe binds all of the other ideals together is embodied in C.A.N.I., a term coined by Tony RobbinsConstant And Never-ending Improvement should be ingrained in our lifestyle. We should be taking every opportunity to improve physically, spiritually, and intellectually. Just as we train daily to hone our martial art skills, so too, should we be fine-tuning the other areas of our lives.

We should be furthering our understanding of the world around us in every way possible. Being a voracious reader should be near the top of our to-do list. Podcasts can be a great source of thought provoking ideas. Taking classes at the local university/college, or participating in work-related seminars & conferences can also be sources of growth. Take every opportunity to learn and grow, to be motivated or inspired. These sources, together with a healthy peer group (see last weeks post) can help us stay motivated and on course to achieve our goals, and enjoy the good life.

It is a mistake to think that at some point in our lives we get to coast. Only if we are continually striving to be the best person we can, will we ever experience our true potential. We should be striving to be the best version of ourselves possible; as a parent, as a spouse, as an employee, as a neighbor, and as a citizen.

See you on the mats!

 

Know Your Enemy

“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.” – Sun Tzu

The past few weeks we’ve been discussing the ABC’s of Self Defense. We looked at some of the statistics regarding violence in the United States. There are, however, other threats to our well being, and any serious look at self defense would be remiss if it didn’t address these very real epidemics facing our country. While we are taking steps to protect ourselves from being the victims of violence, we should also consider how to prevent becoming victims of poor lifestyle choices, and the chronic diseases that follow.

Of the top 10 causes of death in the U.S. (this holds true world-wide) violent crime doesn’t even make the list. There were 13,455 homicides in the U.S. in 2015, the most recent year for which we have the statistics on chronic disease. The FBI just came out with the 2016 crime statistics, which sadly show another increase, with 15,070 homicides. Compare these numbers to those in the chart below.

To be fair, it should be noted that these numbers only represent the worst outcome of violence (death). More often than not, victims of violent crime survive. A more accurate number to compare, therefore, is total violent crimes, which in 2016 came to 1,248,185. (In a country with a population of 323,127,513, that works out to about 386 incidents per 100,000 people.)

Five of the top ten killers in the U.S., namely, heart disease, cancer, chronic lower respiratory diseases, stroke, and diabetes, killed over 1.5 million United States citizens in 2015. This number only represents those who died. It’s estimated that nearly 1 out of 2 people are suffering with at least one chronic illness! (for comparison, that works out to be about 50,000 cases per 100,000 people.)

The World Health Organization (WHO) further estimates that up to 80% of heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes, as well as 40% of cancer could be prevented by eliminating the risk factors. Even if we were to take a much more conservative approach, say just 10%; that still works out to 144,963 lives saved in one year. Four of the major risk factors are things we have complete control over: lack of physical activity, poor nutrition, tobacco use, and excessive alcohol consumption.

Boil all these numbers down and we’re left with this realization. For every victim of a violent crime in the U.S., there are 130 people with a chronic illness, and up to 103 of those could be prevented simply by living a healthy lifestyle!

If we’re serious about protecting ourselves and our families, training in the martial arts is a big part of the picture. It can give us the physical skills, and the mental capacity to “take care of business.” Here’s a five point plan to help us build our bodies like a fortress, ready to defend against all adversaries, including the ravages of chronic disease.

  1. Train like a warrior every day.
  2. Eat a healthy diet with an emphasis on vegetables, fruits, nuts, and lean meats.
  3. Avoid highly processed, sugary foods with little nutritional value, smoking, and drinking alcohol in excess.
  4. Drink a lot of water.
  5. Get plenty of sleep.

By choosing to live an active, healthy lifestyle we are developing the most powerful self defense skills we can.

See you on the mats.

next week…