Beware the Gonna’s

“Often we are caught in a mental trap of seeing enormously successful people and thinking they are where they are because they have some special gift. Yet a closer look shows that the greatest gift that extraordinarily successful people have over the average person is their ability to get themselves to take action.”

-Anthony Robbins

We all have dreams and aspirations of who we’d like to be or where/how we’d like to live. We’re also fortunate enough to live in a time and place where the opportunity to actually achieve those dreams is available to anybody willing to put in the work. Yet there are those who spend their days trudging in mediocrity, waiting for their dreams to magically come to fruition. These poor souls get trapped by the bad habit of “I’m gonna.”

“When I’m older, I’m gonna be rich.”

“I’m gonna travel the world one of these days.”

“Once I’m not so busy, I’m gonna start working out.”

Days become weeks, weeks become years, and before they know it, they’re older but no richer, still financially unable to travel, and still too busy to start working out.

If we truly wish to turn our dreams into reality, it is vital that we take action.

“The critical ingredient is getting off your butt and doing something. It’s as simple as that. A lot of people have ideas, but there are few who decide to do something about them now. Not tomorrow. Not next week. But today. The true entrepreneur is a doer, not a dreamer.”

Nolan Bushnell

Ready, Aim, Fire!

Why wait? Turn your dream into a goal, and make a plan on how to achieve it. Then get busy. Don’t think you have the time? Surely you can find ten minutes somewhere – any progress forward is more than none. Move!

Ready, Fire, Aim!

Too often we get stuck planning, trying to cover every contingency for the fear of failure. Not sure where to start? Start anyway; you can adjust as you go. Look around you for inspiration or a mentor.

Dream big – and then take action. You deserve it.

You’re Right

The human condition is fascinating; our capacity is unfathomable. Consider for a moment what we have accomplished over the past 1000 years. Science has given us a much better understanding of the world we live in, while technology has made our lives easier. We have 24/7 access to clean, safe drinking water, nearly an unlimited amount of food, and flush toilets. We have developed some of the most fair and equitable socio-economic systems ever witnessed in human history. Our understanding of health and medicine enables us to save lives formerly lost to accidents and disease. Every child in every modern society has access to a decent education. Athletes continue to break barriers and accomplish “the impossible.” For crying out loud, we put a man on the moon!

With all of this success, with all of the collective knowledge we have attained as a species, there is still great disparity in the human experience. There are people who own luxury homes and yachts, while others live in the streets. Entrepreneurs build multi-billion dollar businesses, and others can’t find a job. World-class athletes are breaking records and defying the possible, simultaneouly the U.S. is witnessing an epidemic of obesity and all of the health problems that come with it. Why can so many individuals living in the same time and place experience such varying levels of success?

“Whether you think you can, or think you can’t – you’re right.”

– Henry Ford

While there are a multitude of factors leading to such diversity, (or disparity depending on your perspective) there are but a handful of traits common to those who are successful. One of the most powerful is recognizing our individual agency. Ford’s message isn’t just an over-simplified, positive affirmation; it’s acknowledging that what you focus on matters. You can either emphasize the things that stand in your way, or what you’re going to do about it.

Ask anybody in the fitness industry and they will confirm this observation: people can create a long list of well thought-out excuses as justification for avoiding the very thing they know they should be doing. All of the worldly expertise in nutrition and exercise can be neutralized with the simple declaration, “I can’t because <insert excuse du jour>.”

“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.”

-Reinhold Neibuhr

What are you going to do about it?

Take a moment to consider the monumental achievements of your human family. Realize that you, too, have the capacity for greatness. Identify your goals, and DON’T MAKE EXCUSES. Just get busy doing what you know you should.

See you on the mats!

Water

“Water its living strength first shows,
When obstacles its course oppose.”

– Johanne Wolfgang von Goethe; God, Soul, and World – Rhymed Distichs

Water is essential to life here on planet Earth. We humans can go weeks without food (contrary to popular belief), but only a few days without water. We use it to grow crops, and have harnessed it’s kinetic energy to produce electricity. We also use it for recreation, swimming in our pools, water skiing on lake Folsom, or surfing in Santa Cruz. Water can be therapeutic, whether we enjoy soaking in a hot bath, or being mesmerized by the rhythm of waves lapping on the beach.

Authors and poets wax eloquent on the many wonders of water, while philosophers utilize it in allegory and maxim. Often, such artistry is used to convey an important life-lesson. For example, the ancient Chinese text of the Tao Teh Ching tells us,

“Nothing in the world is weaker or gentler than water.
But nothing exceeds it at conquering the hard and strong.
That is because nothing displaces it.
That the weak overcomes the strong,
And the gentle overcomes the hard,
Is something that everyone knows
But no one can put into practice.

Tao Teh Ching, 78. Translated by A. S. Kline. (2003)

This passage provides us with some beautiful imagery. It is also a perfect example of a logical fallacy. Water may very well be “soft and yielding,” but it isn’t these characteristics which enable it to accomplish such a feat. Water renders seemingly indestructible mountains to mere grains of sand over an unfathomable amount of time by slowly, imperceptibly etching away at them. It would be more accurate to ascribe water the human characteristic of persistence or perseverance.

“A river cuts through rock
 not because of its power but because of its persistence.”

– Jim Watkins, Author

It is hard to imagine, but the reality is that even the mighty Sierra-Nevada mountains will eventually be reduced to rubble by the erosion of the water flowing down its streams and rivers.

The Grand Canyon, courtesy of the Colorado River, and 5-6 million years.

If we wish to be successful in great endeavors, whether it’s our career, our family, or our jiu jitsu, we must remind ourselves that our progress is often imperceptible; in this manner we are like water. While we might feel like we’re not getting it, or that we’ve plateaued, so long as we keep flowing along, we are indeed etching away at that granite.

See you on the mat.


Tzu, Lao. Tao Teh Ching. Translated by A. S. Kline, Poetry in Translation, 2003.

Like a Laser

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 we teach our 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.

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.

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.

Where Are You Going?

Back in college, my friends and I took a few weekend road trips on nothing more than a whim and a shoestring budget. We didn’t know where we were headed other than “west until we hit the Pacific,” or “somewhere north of the Canadian border.” The haphazard nature of those come-what-may adventures was a lot of fun, and made for some fond memories. They were a great way of blowing off a little juvenile steam, while simultaneously celebrating the freedom of our youth.

Fast forward to our family’s recent month-long trip to Europe. Traveling with three children is no simple task in and of itself, but for an entire month throughout France, Germany, and the Czech Republic? This journey took months of meticulous planning and advanced reservations – but it was well worth it. We were able to cover over 3000 km (1865 miles) without feeling harried. We took in the iconic sights of Paris, ferried up the Rhein river and hiked in the Bavarian Alps. We stood in Roman ruins in Trier and toured the medieval town of Rothenburg. We explored the castle in Prague, and stood with one foot on each side of the line where a wall once separated East- from West-Berlin.

It should be apparent that the first model, while exciting in it’s spontaneous and unrestricted nature, is a pretty ineffective method of living out our daily lives. Accomplishing great endeavors requires some forethought and planning. (Anybody that has traveled with kids knows exactly what I mean.) Yet there are folks who have never sat down and made a life plan; they’ve never invested the time and effort to think about what they really want and what they must do to make it a reality!

Begin with the end in mind.

We’re always asking children, “what do you want to be when you grow up?” We need to sit down and ask ourselves the same question. Seriously. The first step in getting anywhere is knowing where we’re headed, both in the short term and for the long haul.

In his seminal work, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey asks us to consider our own funeral. If there were to be four speakers from different spheres of your life, i.e. family, friends, professional, and community, what would you like them to say about you?

“Now think deeply. What would you like each of these speakers to say about you and your life? What kind of husband, wife, father or mother would you like their words to reflect? What kind of son or daughter or cousin? What kind of friend? What kind of working associate?

What Character would you like them to have seen in you? What contributions, what achievements would you want them to remember? Look carefully at the people around you. What difference would you like to have made in their lives?”

Stephen R. Covey, (1989)

This exercise can help us recognize the root of our character, and what is truly important to us. Ultimately, this is our life’s work – our destination. All of our other goals, whether related to family, fame, or fortune, should align with this conceptualization of who we want to be.

Accomplishing tremendous undertakings is really just a number of smaller more manageable tasks chained together over time. Our life simply becomes a matter of making a good plan or detailed map of how we’re going to get to where we’re headed. We just have to decide where it is we wish to go. We must begin with the end in mind.

“Life is so strange, when you don’t know your destination.”

Missing Persons, 1982.

Be Like a Child

Young children crack me up. They are curious, joyful, exuberant, and playful; their youthful vigor provides them the spirit and energy to conquer the world. All of that is combined with inexperience, and zero impulse control, rendering them irrational, foolhardy, and short-sighted. Add to this the ability to externalize pretty much everything, and you’re left with a boat-load of random, all day long. For adults accustomed to a more organized, methodical approach to their day, this kid energy can be disconcerting. I find it refreshing, and quite amusing.

All of that curiosity and vigor are advantageous to their ever-growing understanding of the world around them. The more they experience, the more they learn. As they learn to recognize cause and effect, the less irrational and short-sighted they become. Provided their random actions don’t lead to great bodily harm or death, they are surely making progress. As parents and teachers, we need to allow them the space to make mistakes and learn, while guiding them to avoid those which would be catastrophic.

Come to think of it, this is also a pretty accurate description of new white belts, regardless the age. They come in with the enthusiasm of trying something new, but their unfamiliarity with the art leads them to make mistakes. As instructors and upper belts, it is our responsibility to provide them the opportunity to learn from their mistakes, while guiding them to avoid those that are detrimental to their training. (Being sidelined because of injury doesn’t help anybody) Of course, as their mat time increases, their experiences will be the most powerful teacher of all.

This is part of the beauty of life on the mat: it is a direct reflection of life in general. The lessons we learn in the finite sphere of our dojo, or training hall, correlate to the bigger world of our daily lives. These ultimate “truths,” if you will, cut across all boundaries, whether one is an athlete, CEO, or parent.

“A dojo is a miniature cosmos where we make contact with ourselves – our fears, anxieties, reactions, and habits. It is an arena of confined conflict where we confront an opponent who is not an opponent but rather a partner engaged in helping us understand ourselves more fully. It is a place where we can learn a great deal in a short time about who we are and how we react in the world. The conflicts that take place inside the dojo help us handle conflicts that take place outside.”

Joe Hyams, Zen in the Martial Arts. 1979.

We’ll cover a number of these truths over the next few weeks.

See you on the mat.

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?