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.

Tick-Tock, Tick-Tock

“Ticking away the moments that make up a dull day
Fritter and waste the hours in an offhand way.
Kicking around on a piece of ground in your home town
Waiting for someone or something to show you the way.”


– Pink Floyd, 1973.

Where does the time go? I’m still trying to wrap my head around this one. My oldest daughter, the apple of my eye, cutie pie side kick who went everywhere with me, is graduating from High School. We used to be attached at the hip; she rode in the stroller on my early morning runs, flew co-pilot while running errands, and often sat on my hip as I carried her around while teaching others to kick and punch. Now she’s busy wrapping up her senior year, applying to college, and hanging out with her friends.

The clock is ticking people, and whether we like it or not, it just keeps on going. When we’re young, we have a false sense of forever, of having all the time in the world, and it’s not until we get a bit more experience under our belts that we start to understand how little time we have. The older we get the more we realize how important it is to make the most of the time you’ve got.

Time Management 101

I’d love to tell you I’m a master at time management, but it would be a lie. I’m often scrambling to keep up with all the things daily life throws at me. I rejoice when I near a 80% success rate in completing the week’s to-do list.

I’d love to blame the plethora of mundane tasks I do daily like washing dishes, vacuuming, mopping, and scrubbing toilets. I could point to all the time spent on even more pressing matters like keeping the lawn mowed and hedges trimmed to the satisfaction of the god-forsaken HOA. Let’s not forget the hours of schlepping the girls to-and-from school and all of their extra-curriculers – like an Uber driver – but for free. Finally, I could top off the list of excuses with all the truly exciting events that come with raising three daughters: attending all of the plays, ballet performances, open houses, and track meets.

I could self diagnose myself as having attention deficit disorder, bouncing from thing to thing, ala David Spathaky, the world record holder in plate spinning, but this wouldn’t be true either. An honest, proactive evaluation leaves me with one undeniable, yet simple answer: I need to work on my self-discipline.

First Things First

I need to do a better job of staying in Quadrant II, by avoiding Quadrants III and IV. This will enable me to spend less time in Quadrant I, thereby being more efficient with the time that I have. See? It’s simple.

If you know exactly what that last paragraph was about, you’ve already learned about, or even read, Stephen R. Covey’s book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. In my opinion this is a must-read for anybody interested in being better. His time-management system of four quadrants is a great way to break down activities, and best organize one’s time.

Stephen Covey’s Time Management Matrix

Some of the time we spend in the first Quadrant is unavoidable. Important things come up which need our immediate attention. If we find ourselves constantly stuck in Quadrant I, however, there’s a good chance that we’re not spending enough time prepping and planning in advance. (Quadrant II) Proper planning and preparing should minimize the number of things we need to do last minute, freeing up time for the unforeseen emergencies that do arise.  

I am guilty of the simple pleasures that come from participating in quadrant four. This is where our whimsical wants of the moment drag us down, fill up our precious time, and keep us from accomplishing what is truly important. I love to read, and while it’s easy to justify it in the name of self improvement, the real issue is whether that reading is more important than the other things that I’ve made a priority. As Covey so succinctly states in his third habit, “Put first things, first.”

We need to quantify the importance of any given activity based on our priorities and goals. This is where that life plan, or roadmap becomes critical. It is important if it’s part of our plan. Otherwise it needs to be moved down the list of priorities.

I already know what I need to work on – I’ve read the book – and you should, too.

I hope to see you on the mat.


Pink Floyd. “Time.” Dark Side of The Moon, TRO Hampshire House Publishing Corp. 1973.

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

Covey, Stephen R. “Habit 3: Put First Things First.” Franklin Covey.com, Franklin Covey Co., 2018, https://www.franklincovey.com/the-7-habits/habit-3.html.

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?

Think Before You Speak

“The Pen is mightier than the sword.”

– Edward Bulwer-Lytton

It doesn’t take much to recognize the power of our words. We use them every day to communicate; we share our thoughts and feelings, we teach, and persuade. We can use our words to motivate and inspire, and we can use them to criticize and punish. Our words are critical tools for civilized society; so vital, in fact, that our founding fathers enshrined their unfettered use in the First Amendment of our Constitution.

With all this power, one would expect that great care would be taken to assure the proper use of the written/spoken word. Yet we’ve all been witness to the often cavalier manner in which some use their words. We can also emit some pretty harsh stuff in moments of anger or frustration.

We are warned that “words can cut like a knife.” Shouldn’t we, therefore, wield them with as much caution? Just because we can say something, doesn’t mean we should.

We’ve all been there; some of the most vicious animals on the planet are kids. They can say the most hurtful things to one another. While it generally starts out innocently enough, as they just don’t realize what they’re saying, they eventually fine-tune their craft. By the time they’re in middle school, they can be absolutely brutal. Nothing is off limits, as they ridicule their peers; hairstyle, body composition, complexion, fashion, and even your mom are all fair-game. (Just in case you’re wondering, back in the day, my dad could beat up yours.)

Most of us eventually grow out of this phase. We learn to recognize the social nuances of appropriate speech. We might “kid” our friends about their fashion choices, but that kind of discourse is reserved for personal time. Harassing your peers at work, or someone you hardly know about such things is a recipe for disaster.

Just as we teach the children in our junior’s program about the proper use of their jiujitsu and the responsibility which comes with it, so too, we want to teach them to navigate the social waters of appropriate speech. The tool we’re teaching them to use is the acronym THINK.

Before you speak, THINK…

  1. T – Is it True?
  2. H – Is it Helpful?
  3. I – Is it Inspiring?
  4. N – Is it Necessary?
  5. K – Is it Kind?

Unless you’re close friends with someone in class, your conversation should really be focused on the task at hand. While we’re on the mat, we should be focused on improving our jiujitsu, as well as our training partners’.

“If you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything.”

-My Mom

See you on the mat.

Perception

We recently took our family to Hero’s Virtual Reality Adventures, and had a great time immersing ourselves in the imaginary worlds of the various games. It is truly amazing how engaged you become, as you lose touch with “reality.” While your logical self knows you’re simply in a room with your family & friends, your senses are telling you a different story; you find yourself flinching in response to an orc-thrown battle axe. Your heart races and your legs get weak when you step out of the elevator onto a wooden plank some 40 stories up, even though you know it’s a 2X6 lying on the floor.

The reality we perceive.

The reality she perceives.

Of course it shouldn’t come as such a surprise that our senses could so easily deceive us. In a very real sense, we already create our own virtual reality. A limited amount of information further distorted by our own psychological biases leaves us with a perceived notion of the actual reality of the world around us.

One of the most powerful is the Negativity Bias: the tendency to focus on the negative. This bias stems from our ancestral past, where recognizing imminent danger (negative) could mean the difference between life and death. While modern society has greatly reduced the existence and severity of such threats, for many of us the tendency to focus on the negative remains.  (here’s an earlier post on this)

What do you see in this image?

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Copyright: Krisdog / 123RF Stock Photo

Initially, most people will see a broad canopied tree with a crooked trunk. How many see the two faces? Once we see the one image, it can be difficult to see the other, but with a bit of effort, we can direct our mind to see both. In this manner, it is important for us to strive to look for the positive in our daily lives, in order to balance out our tendency to focus on the negative.

As a martial artist, do you focus on your successes or your failures? Do you focus on how far you’ve come, or how far you have to go? Do you see problems as insurmountable barriers, or challenges to be overcome? Do you dread an upcoming workout because of it’s difficulty, or anticipate the feeling of accomplishment? Do you dwell on the “boring” redundancy of yet another class, or look forward to the exhilaration of adding a powerful skill to your arsenal?

As with any great endeavor, becoming a good Jujiteiro/a is a difficult undertaking, requiring much time, effort, and sacrifice. By staying focused on the positive, we can avoid the many self-inflicted pitfalls that would otherwise keep us from success. A positive attitude helps us see past temporary discomfort, and enticing distractions. It helps us work through short-term feelings of boredom. It gives us the perspective to avoid self-doubt. Just like a great arm-bar, it only requires a bit of practice.

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.

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!

 

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!