What? I can’t hear you…

The Yin and the Yang – we’ve all seen the image; two interlocking circles appear to flow into one another, and at the same time are part of a larger circle. The Chinese Taijitu (太极图) dates back over a thousand years to the Song Dynasty.Yin yang

In the 1880’s what Koreans call Taegeuk (태극) was adopted into the South Korean National Flag.Flag of South Korea

Even as a little kid growing up in the far reaches of small-town Montana I had seen this symbol. It was on the box cars and cabooses of the Northern Pacific Railroad which ran near my house.Northern_Pacific_Railway_Logo,_November,_1952

One doesn’t have to be a Daoist to appreciate the meaning of the symbol. What a simple, yet powerful image of integrity – of “being whole and undivided,” or “being unified or sound in construction.” (Oxford Dictionary) The two opposing colors flow from, and into, one another, thereby creating the whole. Take away either part and you’re left with an incomplete, dysfunctional package. Imagine it as a tire on your car and you get the idea.1:2 yin:yang As Brazilian Jiujitsu practitioners, we’re continually working to refine our skill set. We learn offensive (yang) and defensive (yin) techniques. We also have to continually modify our “game” as we train with a diverse group of teammates. One can’t use the same strategy against a smaller, faster opponent that might be effective against a larger, stronger opponent. We must develop multiple “sides” to our game if we wish to be the best we can be.

“Don’t say things. What you are stands over you the while, and thunders so that I cannot hear what you say to the contrary.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Just as we work to round out our BJJ game, we should work to have integrity as a human being as well. Just as the Yin/Yang symbol is a combination of all it’s parts, we too are a product of all our parts. Our words should be consistent with what we think, otherwise, we’re simply lying. Our actions should match our words, or else we’re hypocritical. Our thoughts should be reflected in everything we say and do. In this manner, we strive to maintain our integrity.integrityvenndiagram

Ol’ Ralph W. Emerson got it right.

See you on the mat.

The Golden Rule

We’ve all heard it, or some derivation, before. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”  The Golden Rule has been handed down through antiquity, from the ancient civilizations of Egypt, India, and Persia. It can be found, in some form or fashion, in every major religion or philosophy. People often adhere to it in the hopes of reciprocity, that is, “If I’m nice to you, you’ll be nice in return.” Parents and teachers use it to teach children empathy. I don’t know how many times I’ve caught myself asking my own daughters, “How would you like it if someone did that to you?”

It can also be a powerful tool in leadership.

Back in December, I blogged about Leading by Example, and mentioned the difference between being a boss and being a leader. It’s a common misconception that the two are synonymous. A boss is someone who’s position or title in an organization allows them to tell people what to do. They often have the power to reward and punish in order to enforce compliance. Being a leader, on the other hand, is much more than simply ordering folks around.

“The True Measure of Leadership is Influence – Nothing More, Nothing Less”

While there is no single trait that makes successful leaders, there are plenty of lists out there trying to boil it down to a manageable few. In his highly regarded bookJohn C. Maxwell discusses The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership. One such law, The Law of Influence states, “The true measure of Leadership is influence – nothing more, nothing less.” An effective leader doesn’t need a title, nor leverage. They influence those around them to success. They inspire through word and through deed.

Which brings us back to The Golden Rule. If you truly wish to lead others, you must first lead the way. Telling them what to do just doesn’t have the impact that showing them does.

If you want others to treat you with respect, treat people respectfully.

If you want others to work hard, then work hard.

If you want others to be honest, then always tell the truth.

If you want others to be patient, then be patient.

Whether as a teacher, or as a parent, it’s important to remember that this leading by example thing can go both ways. I don’t know how many times I’ve witnessed one of my daughters do something, only to realize exactly where it came from. Be prepared for your students/children to reflect both your best and worst traits.

If you’re impatient, don’t be surprised when your student/child is impatient.

If you’re inconsiderate of others, expect your student/child to be inconsiderate of you.

If you lose your temper, get ready for your child’s tantrum.

If you have unhealthy eating/exercise habits…

As martial artists, we have the power to better our lives, and the lives of those around us. We can inspire one another to greater success on and off the mat. Consider all of the people we get to train with. Who is the most enjoyable to train with? Who is the most helpful or inspiring, and why? What kind of a training partner are you?

See you on the mats!

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!

 

Honor

The group of warriors, locked in the throes of battle, are focused on the task at hand, oblivious to the world around them. Each individual is fighting his or her own battles, pushing the limits of their strength, their endurance, and their spirit. Simultaneously they are playing the ultimate game of chess, as they try to outwit their opponent, and develop their own strategic game on the mat. The solitude of the room is broken only by the occasional “tap, tap, tap,” and the eventual ring of the timer. At the end of class, they circle up, and with a bow, recite their motto, “Força e Honra,” Strength and Honor before shaking hands with, and thanking, their training partners.

Honor is defined in the Merriam-Webster dictionary as, “a showing of usually merited respectrecognition.” We honor our instructor, our school, and our teammates through our appreciation. We respect Professor Cassio for his accomplishments as a competitor, his guidance as an instructor, and his example as a family man. We support our school and our teammates as part of that honor, showing up to train, contributing our own “blood, sweat, and tears” to the process of helping make each individual better. We honor our teammates, for we share the common understanding of the trials and tribulations we all experience on the mat.

Merriam-Webster also defines honor as, “a keen sense of ethical conduct: integrity.” There have been various attempts to codify ethical conduct, none more apropos than those coming from the warrior communities of the U.S. Marine Corps and Jiu Jitsu’s own Bushido heritage.

As per the U.S. Marine Corps website,

“Honor <sic> is the bedrock of our character. It is the quality that empowers Marines to exemplify the ultimate in ethical and moral behavior: to never lie, cheat, or steal; to abide by an uncompromising code of integrity; to respect human dignity; and to have respect and concern for each other. It represents the maturity, dedication, trust, and dependability that commit Marines to act responsibly, be accountable for their actions, fulfill their obligations, and hold others accountable for their actions.”

The Bushido of the Samurai was a code of conduct which evolved over the centuries. Earlier versions include The Hagakura, and The Book of Five Rings. These codes were eventually  paraphrased, so to speak, as The Eight Virtues of Bushido by Nitobe Inazō in his book Bushido: The Soul of Japan.

  • Righteousness ( gi)
  • Heroic Courage ( )
  • Benevolence, Compassion ( jin)
  • Respect ( rei)
  • Integrity ( makoto)
  • Honour (名誉 meiyo)
  • Duty and Loyalty (忠義 chūgi)
  • Self-Control (自制 jisei)

As martial artists we train for the love of the art, to make ourselves stronger, for fun, and for the camaraderie. We pay homage to these ideals after every workout, with the intent of making them a part of our lives. They espouse something greater than ourselves; something to live up to. Just as warriors, both past and present, we too live by a code. Força e Honra.

See you on the mat!

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?

 

img_0394
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?”

IMG_0511
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!

 

Integrity

Last week while waiting for the gas pump to signal mission completion with it’s customary click-thump, I heard the sound of crinkling wrappers, which drew my attention to three teenage boys leaving the station with the candy they had bought. It was a common enough scene for the burbs, but as I had nothing better to do, I amused myself with watching them stroll across the lot bound for the mall; three young guys, one fair-skinned with the acne of adolence, another with his boxers prominently displayed out of the top of his over-sized shorts, and the third with his baseball cap askew. I reminisced on my own youthful years of insecurity, as I and my friends tried to appear to be the men we just hadn’t yet become. Then it happened; fair-skinned boy nonchalantly hung his arm by his side, took a subtle look to the left and right, and with no-one in sight, dropped his wrapper in the middle of the street.

This seemingly insignificant act said volumes about that boy’s character. Obviously, he doesn’t really care about how his debris might effect the rest of the citizens he shares this community with. I’m sure the argument would be something about how “it’s just a little wrapper.” Surely we all can see the fallacy of this line of reasoning; the results of such individual acts lead to the truck-loads of garbage we see lining the fences and hedge-rows all along our roadways.

What is truly striking to me, however, is the fact that he looked around to see if anybody was watching before he dropped his wrapper. This demonstrated that while he may not have cared about how his actions impacted the rest of us, he was aware of the unacceptability of his act, but was still willing to do it, so long as no one witnessed it! This young boy is lacking a key component of an honorable citizen: Integrity.

Integrity is defined as “the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles; moral uprightness.” It also means “the state of being whole and undivided.” Therefore, it’s not just about being honest and telling the truth, but about being consistent, in both actions and words, with that truth. In his book Shattering the Glass Slipper, Charles Marshall wrote,

“Integrity is doing the right thing when you don’t have to – when no one else is looking or will ever know – when there will be no congratulations or recognition for having done so.”

Warriors have recognized for eons the importance of a moral code to balance the violent nature of such a class. The Bushido code of the Samurai, and the Code of Chivalry from medieval Europe both espoused a moral code which emphasized Integrity. Today, each branch of our modern military has a code of conduct, and each includes the concept of Integrity. Our martial art schools should be no different. It is our obligation as martial artists to live up to such a code as well, otherwise we run the risk of becoming nothing more than thugs with skills.

As parents and coaches, our integrity is vital to our success in teaching our children and students. If our message isn’t consistent with how we lead our lives, they will soon come to see the hypocrisy, and then confidence in our teaching will be eroded. We must maintain the integrity of our art, our school, and our families. We need to lead by example. We need to “walk the talk.”

We need to have integrity.


This weekend is the World Master Jiu-Jitsu IBJJF Championship in Las Vegas. Good luck to Cassio Werneck, Derek DiManno, Jaime Jara, Steven Anderson, Brandon Heath, Juan Punsalan, and Nicholas Ramirez –  GO TEAM WERNECK!


ALSO PLEASE NOTE: The 6:00 a.m class will be cancelled this Friday (8/25) and Monday (8/28)!