Magical Thinking

“What do you wanna be when you grow up?

We’ve all heard this question before, and the answer is unique to each of us. Toddlers answers are the best; they want to be mermaids, superheroes, and unicorns. As children get a bit older, their aspirations shift from the fanciful to the more pragmatic. They plan on being athletes, firefighters, doctors, and teachers. Many want to follow in their parents’ footsteps, while others want to go their own way. Some want families, while others want to fly solo. Some kids envision a big house, and others fancy cars. Many dream of fame and fortune. Whatever the dream may be, it takes vision and courage to make it a reality.

Vision and Courage: super powers for mortals.

“If we take care of the moments, the years will take care of themselves.” 

Maria Edgeworth

We need to have the vision to see where we want to be in 10/20/30 years, and how we’re going to get there. Such a goal doesn’t just magically happen, but is the net result of years of effort. The years being made up of days, our daily habits become the foundation our future is built on. Therefore, our habits are either helping us achieve our vision or they are holding us back.

“The chains of habit are too weak to be felt until they are too strong to be broken.”

Samuel Johnson

Changing bad habits is no easy task. The longer we’ve had them, the more difficult it is. As if it weren’t hard enough, we also tend to fear change, even when we recognize it’s for the best. It’s amazing the amount of suffering people are willing to accept simply because it’s familiar; their fear of change, along with the opportunity it presents, is greater than their current misery. Whether it’s going back to school, getting a new job, adopting a more healthy diet, or diving into a more intense workout regimen, we must have the courage to accept/make the changes necessary to turn our vision into a reality.

“Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.”

– (here is a thorough look into where this quote came from)

For better and worse, we are creatures of habit. We find comfort in the familiarity of our routines, neighborhoods, and friends. How we choose to spend our days inevitably leads to how we spend our years, thus, we must have the vision and courage to make sure today’s habits are in line with tomorrow’s aspirations. Having long-term dreams of success while maintaining counter-productive habits is no different than aspiring to be a unicorn. It’s just magical thinking.

See you on the mat.

Back To School

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

– President Theodore Roosevelt, April 23, 1910

 

Professor Cassio Werneck traveled all the way to Danbury, Connecticut this past weekend to compete in the Fight 2 Win 83. His dossier is packed full of accolades from over 20 years of competing. From Brazilian State Champion to Pan American Champion, and from World Champion To Masters’ World Champion, Professor Werneck has won them all. He could easily rest on his laurels, yet he continues to lay it on the line; rather than taking the easy path, he chooses to challenge himself again and again.

This is the indomitable attitude of a warrior. It is the willingness to push one’s self past the comfort of the known; it is the self-disipline to embrace the day-in, day-out grind of never-ending improvement. It is the internal fortitude to commit to excellence, even when surrounded by a society full of those who settle for mediocrity. A warrior chooses to strive for more; win, lose, or draw, they will know that they gave it their best.

As summer comes to a close many of us find ourselves shifting gears – children head back to school, and parents re-adjust their shuttle schedules. This can be a time of excitement, and of a bit of trepidation; children can be a bit intimidated by the prospects of new teachers, and moving up a grade. It is a great time to remind ourselves, as well as our children, of the power of accepting the challenge – just dive in.

  1. Based on past experiences, make a plan of action, and execute.
  2. Stay focused on the task at hand, the potential for victory, and the many benefits of success.
  3. Remember that stumbling, sometimes even failing in the attempt, is still an opportunity for learning and growth. Learn the lesson and move on.
  4. Surround yourself with a good team. Your family and friends should be like-minded and support your efforts

We should approach the rest of our lives just like we train in BJJ. Play all in; push past comfort zones – sometimes winning, sometimes losing, and always learning. In the end we will know we gave it all we had.

Let the nay-sayers worry about the risks from the side-lines.

See you on the mat.

Crabs in a Bucket

While on family vacation in Santa Cruz with our Montana peeps, we’ve been enjoying the idyllic lifestyle that the area has to offer. In between hitting the rides at The Santa Cruz Boardwalk, watching the sailboats put in and out of Santa Cruz Harbor, and strolling along The Wharf, the days have been spent building sand-castles, body surfing, boogie boarding, and checking out tide pools at Natural Bridges State Beach.

The crabs, wharfs, and beaches, along with the broad swath of humanity here remind me of the “crabs in a bucket” metaphor. As the story goes, crabs collected in a bucket can’t escape because just as one reaches the top, the others drag it back down. It’s a vivid metaphor for human behavior driven by envy, spite, or competitiveness.

Our Brazilian Jiujitsu community is the exact opposite of this. Even though we’re engaged in a combative sport, in which we “fight” one another on a daily basis, it is a surprisingly communal effort. Our competitive training makes each of us better, and we push to improve ourselves as well as our teammates. We don’t envy other’s successes; we celebrate them.

Congratulations to all of the Werneck Family who’ve recently promoted. Your hard-earned successes are yours to enjoy. You know how hard you had to work, how much you had to sacrifice, to get where you are. We do too – so we’re celebrating your success with you.

belt promotions

See you on the mat!

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.

Focus

What a wonderful, crazy world in which we live. We go to 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.

Clean Your Room

As parents, we’ve all been there. “How many times do I need to remind these kids to clean up their stuff?” I have to laugh at myself when I hear the discussion between my daughters and I – the same discussion I had with my mom some four decades ago. I’m guessing it’s probably the same discussion she had with her parents, and sounds identical to the one our daughters may someday have with their children. The rooms always end up a mess, and we adults always demand they be cleaned. Round and round it goes.

I’ve come to care a bit less about how tidy the girls’ rooms are on a daily basis. They can make as big of a mess as they like, knowing that eventually the place will need a good cleaning, and it’s their responsibility to do it. I think it’s vital for children to learn this at an early age, because this simple act reinforces a larger ideal. The concept is fundamental to being successful, and to being a good citizen. Each of us must hold ourselves accountable for the mess we make, and be responsible enough to clean it up.

Have you ever attempted to park while shopping, only to find a shopping cart blocking the spot? The inconvenience of finding another spot, or getting out and moving the cart represent the cost you pay, albeit minor, for another persons actions. Ever notice how many carts are left out? Or how often people leave garbage in them? The increased work-hours spent collecting, cleaning, and returning them to the store represent an expense for the business, and thus will be reflected in a higher cost (once again, to you) of the goods sold.

I often see frail older people essentially using the cart as a walking aid, or harried moms simultaneously trying to load their groceries and their hoard of kids into their minivan.  These are instances when I’m personally willing to absorb the costs for their sake. In fact, I’ll volunteer to take the cart back if I’m headed to the store.

On the other hand, most of the carts are left haphazardly by completely able-bodied folks apparently too busy to be bothered. Perhaps they consider the increased cost incurred by their actions to be a convenience fee. Maybe they figure they’re creating jobs for some low-wage, entry level positions. Personally, I can’t help but wonder whether their parents made them clean their room.

Such evaluation of the costs/benefits of our actions is a big part of being civically minded. Taking the time to consider how our actions affect those around us makes us more aware of our role in our community. By striving to be better friends, neighbors, daughters, sons, fathers, mothers, and teammates, we can be a “force for good.” We can positively effect the communities in which we live.

“Leave no trace”

One of my favorite pastimes is backpacking. I love being out in the middle of “nowhere,” and the solitude that comes with it. There’s something very empowering about hiking two to three days into the wilderness, and knowing that it’s all on you; everything you need, from your water to your food, to your shelter, and even your first aid. You are solely responsible for taking care of yourself and getting yourself back out again.

You’re also responsible for packing out everything you took in.

Being completely surrounded by the sounds and smells of the mountains is an amazingly refreshing and rejuvenating break from the noisy hustle and bustle of our suburban existence. Even though there’s always a hint along the way of those who’ve come before, i.e. the trail, campsites, fire rings, there’s not much other evidence of fellow hikers. A large part of the ambience of the wilderness is this absence of human debris, and it’s a disheartening distraction when you come upon somebody’s discarded granola bar wrapper. Part of the ethic of backpacking is cleaning up after yourself, so that those who come after can enjoy the same “pristine” feel that nature has to offer. In backpacking we say,“Pack it in, pack it out.”

What’s in it for me?

There’s more to be learned from cleaning our rooms than a basic civics lesson. It also helps us develop the habit of holding ourselves accountable. For example, instead of a messy room, let’s say a person finds themselves a mess. They haven’t taken good care of themselves for a couple decades. They’re out of shape, overweight, have terrible eating habits, and along with the onset of middle age, they find out they’ve got high blood pressure and pre-diabetes.

Many folks find themselves in such a predicament and blame a plethora of external factors for their fate. Not only do they point the finger in every direction imaginable to lay blame, but they also sit around, waiting for somebody else to fix the problem. They never learned the lesson behind cleaning their own room. Because of this, they will never be able to achieve any level of success.

People who learn to clean their own room learn to take care of their own affairs. They learn to take responsibility for their actions. They acknowledge the mess they’ve created, and take steps to fix it. In the event they inherit a messy room not of their own doing, they don’t waste time pointing fingers. They get busy cleaning up the mess.

How clean is your “room?”

See you on the mats.

 

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.

Steel Sharpens Steel

The age-old maxim “steel sharpens steel,” or “iron sharpens iron” embodies the simple premise that we grow stronger when we surround ourselves with others who are strong. More modern sages tell us to associate with like-minded people, at least in regards to goals, and people who have already succeeded in achieving those goals.

“…avoid the negative influences of other people and surround yourself with successful people who will encourage you to pursue your dreams.” -Zig Ziglar, Born to Win: Find Your Success Code

Motivational speaker Tony Robbins puts it succinctly, “Who you spend time with is who you become.”

In the martial arts this is paramount. As a BJJ practitioner one pursues not only strength, conditioning, mental acuity, and emotional toughness, but more effective methods of combat. While one could conceivably build the first four traits on their own, having a partner and/or coach will greatly facilitate their growth. Developing effective combat techniques, however, simply cannot be accomplished without great training partners.

It is important for each of us to remember that while we’re putting in our time on the mat, working our butts off to achieve our own personal victories, that we’re also there for our training partners. We need one another in order to get where we’re headed. The more like-minded, goal-oriented people we can surround ourselves with, the better.

“Proximity is power… Who you spend time with is who you become.” – Tony Robbins

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.

Happy New Year!

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.

gym-resolution_449

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 are you committed to for 2018?