You Are Not Just a Rock

“Like a rock, I was strong as I could be,
like a rock, nothing ever got to me,
like a rock, I was something to see.
Like a rock.
Like a rock, standing arrow straight,
like a rock, charging from the gate,
like a rock, carrying the weight.
Like a rock.”

-Bob Seger (1986)

We admire rock. We use it as simile and metaphor throughout literature, from the old testament, “Ascribe ye greatness unto our God. He is the Rock, his work is perfect,” (Deut 32:3-4), to a cheesy ad in a fitness magazine for “rock-hard abs,” to Bob Segers’ pop hit, “Like a Rock.” Rock symbolizes strength, steadfastness, and honor. To be like a rock is to be reliable, consistent, and resolute in conviction.

Of course, there is a downside to being a rock. Nobody aspires to be as “dumb as a box of rocks.” Rocks are inflexible and extremely slow to change or adapt. Such rigidity is the antithesis of one of our most powerful human traits – our amazing capacity for growth.

“To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often.”

-Winston Churchill

Nowhere is the capacity to grow more apparent than in the world of sports. World-class athletes, regardless their area of expertise, are shining examples of this. It is a common misconception that world-class athletes are simply gifted – the fortunate recipients of gifts endowed upon them by fate, or more scientifically speaking, good genes. Such “gifts” can only take one so far, however. In the final analysis, the commonality among world-champions is not having won the genetic lottery, but having the ability to improve.

Basketball’s Michael Jordan is a perfect example. Considered by many to be the NBA’S GOAT, anybody old enough to remember knows of his accomplishments on the court. What many are not aware of, is all the work he put in off the court. As a sophomore in high school he was initially deemed too short to play varsity. Rather than quit, he used that to motivate himself. “Whenever I was working out and got tired and figured I ought to stop, I’d close my eyes and see that list in the locker room without my name on it,” Jordan would explain. “That usually got me going again.” (Newsweek 2015) Regarding Jordan’s work ethic, Chicago Bulls coach Phil Jackson wrote,

The thing about Michael is, he takes nothing about his game for granted. When he first came to the NBA back in 1984, he was primarily a penetrator. His outside shooting wasn’t up to pro standards. So he put in his gym time during the off-season, shooting hundreds of shots each day. Eventually, he became a deadly three-point shooter.

Playing outstanding defense didn’t come automatically to him, either. He had to study his opponents, learn their favorite moves and then dedicate himself to learning the techniques necessary to stop them. He’s worked extremely hard to perfect his footwork and his balance.

Nowadays, so many kids come into the league with arrogant attitudes, thinking that their talent is all they need to succeed. By contrast, there’s a certain humility in Michael’s willingness to take on the difficult work of making himself a more complete player. For me, one of the signs of Michael’s greatness is that he turned his weaknesses into strengths.”

Through proper training, we can become faster, stronger, and more agile; we can continually develop an ever increasing level of skill, and become more in-tune to the nuances of the game, whether it’s basketball, Brazilian jiujitsu, or life.

This capacity for growth isn’t restricted just to our physical selves. It’s important to remember that we have just as much ability to improve ourselves mentally and emotionally. We need to nurture what Stanford University psychologist Carol S. Dweck calls a growth mindset, and reject the fixed mindset – the belief that ability is static(Dweck, 2016)

With a growth mindset we acknowledge our potential. We don’t fear challenges, but see them for the opportunity they represent. Through the proper effort, we can deal with what life throws at us, and continually grow in the process. We can build our bodies and our minds. In this manner, we are not so much like a rock, but more similar to a plant. We continually grow stronger, adapting to the conditions of the world around us.

See you on the mat.

Dweck, C. (2016). Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. New York, NY: Ballantine Books

Jackson, Phil (June/July 1998) Michael and Me. Retrieved from http://www.nba.com/jordan/is_philonmj.html

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.

The Coveted Black Belt

In the martial art industry, there is a very broad spectrum of what it means to be a black belt, and what it takes to achieve it. Time requirements range anywhere from as little as a few hours/week for two years up to  hours/day for a decade. Some schools require efficacy in sparring; many put more emphasis on katapoomse, or taolu. A student’s character, leadership, and “life skills” are also common qualifiers for black belt. Some systems award black belts regardless of age, while others reserve this rank for adults.

As should be apparent, this results in a tremendous range of skill and knowledge (or lack thereof) within the black belt community. The internet is packed full of video evidence to back up this claim. One can find videos of black belts performing amazing feats, and extraordinary fighting prowess, and black belts demonstrating skills that are, to put it kindly, less than awe-inspiring. This is a natural result of the vibrant diversity of our human condition and the free market.

But should it all be representative of being a black belt?

If everyone understood that a black belt was simply a level of achievement specific to the confines of a particular system, then such diversity wouldn’t be so problematic. However, that simply isn’t the case. As a social construct, Black Belt implies a certain level of expertise. According to dictionary.com, a black belt is “a black cloth waistband conferred upon a participant in one of the martial arts, as judo or karate, to indicate a degree of expertise of the highest rank.” Merriam-Webster says a black belt is “one who holds the rating of expert in various arts of self-defense (such as judo and karate).” 

Let’s be honest. People don’t aspire to be a black belt because it symbolizes “better than average.” They strive to be a black belt because it represents the highest level of achievement – as an athlete, as a martial artist, as a human being, and as a leader.  They want to be a black belt because it represents expertise in the art of kicking butt.

Consider this.

Each of my three daughters has their passion: one loves to run, one loves to dance, and the third loves gymnastics. Each has the same choice to make in pursuing these activities: is it a recreational hobby, or are they going to pursue EXCELLENCE? Each can choose to dabble in their “art” a few days a week. The runner can go out and put in her miles at her leisure, while the other two can attend recreational programs for just this purpose. Over time all three will reap the many benefits that come from such participation. However, at these levels, they will NEVER become experts in these endeavors.

The runner puts in 1+ hours of training six days a week during the on-seasons for high school track and cross-country, and tapers to an hour/day in the off-season. Experts in these fields train/compete through high school and college, which works out to around eight years. Then they put in additional time getting a degree or certification in order to coach. The ballerina puts in 20+ hours/week at the studio during the school year, and does an annual three-week intensive (six hour days/six days/week). By the time she’s considered an expert, she will have been training in this manner since sixth grade. The gymnast is currently just recreating a couple times a week. If she decides to pursue it, the competition team starts out at about 5 hours/week for her age, and builds up from there.

annual training comparison

The average karate/taekwondo school utilizing the standard twice a week, 45-minute class structure promotes students to Black Belt in three years. Throw in six months of Saturday morning intensives, and it’s still less than 500 hours total. Compare that to the 2,250 hours in Brazilian jiujitsu (1.5 hours @ 3/week for 10 years), the runner’s 3000, the gymnast’s 6,750, or the ballerina’s 10,000!

There’s nothing wrong with training martial arts a couple times a week. It’s a fun way to stay active, fit, and learn some cool stuff.  Just don’t confuse recreation with expertise. If  you seriously want to be a Black Belt, you can make it happen –  you’ve just gotta be willing to put in the work. Next week we’ll discuss our Brazilian Jiujitsu belt system, to give you a better idea of what it’s going to take.

See you on the mat.

Why My Daughters Train in BJJ

I am a father trying to do right by my children.

As parents, we want what’s best for our children. We do everything we can to make sure they’re loved, well fed, and have a roof over their head. We’re preparing them to be successful adults. We sign them up for gymnastics, music lessons, soccer, martial arts, little league, science camp, ballet, cheer, and swimming. We try to support and nurture their individuality when it’s in their best interest, but as the adult in the room, we’re left in the driver’s seat, and have to decide when it’s not.

Trying to sort through all these options and pick the best can be challenging. In addition to simple recreation, we look for the benefits; will this help my child be more fit, develop greater self esteem, or learn the value of teamwork? Part of our decision is based on the logistics of somehow getting to and from, in between school, work, and family time. Part of it is financial. While we’d love to give our progeny everything, the bottom line is, we are inevitably limited; there are only so many hours in a week, and only so many dollars in our wallets.

I am a martial artist biased by 35 years training, studying, and teaching.

I believe that martial arts is a “package deal,” providing a one-stop shopping experience for parents. When taught effectively, it is powerfully transformative, developing strength, flexibility, and cardio-vascular fitness, while also promoting valuable life lessons like integrity, self discipline, respect, focus, tenacity, and self esteem. A good martial art program can also provide it’s students with something other activities most definitely do not: self-defense. This full-package should make martial arts especially appealing to parents struggling with the decision of where to enroll their children.

There is one caveat, however: not all martial arts are taught effectively, and thus do not live up to the promise. Self-defense is one area in particular, where many programs fall short. It is a messy affair, and has much more to do with a state of mind than fancy techniques. An individual must be able to function under duress, and have an effective arsenal that will work consistently. To develop this a student needs to train in combat conditions regularly and consistently. It is simply not feasible for the general public to engage in full-contact sparring on a regular basis. Given the current awareness of the detrimental, long-term effects of repeated head trauma, the problem with children regularly punching and kicking one another in the head should be apparent.

However, in Brazilian Jiujitsu (BJJ), we can safely “roll” (spar) in every class. We learn a multitude of techniques, and have the regular opportunity to apply them against  opponents of varied shapes, sizes, and skill. This hones the fundamentals of BJJ, as well as our own individual “game.” These fundamentals work, regardless the circumstances. A smaller, weaker individual really can learn to control a larger, stronger aggressor. The intensity of this phase of training develops the mental fortitude that enables us to remain “calm” under pressure, to be able to fight through and survive often uncomfortable, seemingly untenable conditions. In this manner, our skills and our mental tenacity are forged in the fires of combat.

I am a biased father who’s daughters will be well-prepared for all of life’s challenges.

My oldest daughters have discovered their passions. (the jury’s still out for the third) Between school and pursuing these, there is little time left for martial arts. It’s currently my job to protect them, but that responsibility is quickly becoming their own. Brazilian Jiujitsu provides them the training they need, in the limited amount of time they have, to become sufficiently well-prepared for the unlikely specter of violence.

For most of us, the odds of being the victim of violence are small. (here’s some perspective) Indeed we’re much more likely to die in an automobile accident, or of heart disease, than to die from a violent crime. Just like those examples, we can improve our odds by being smart about the risks, and developing good habits – prevention truly is the best medicine. As discussed last week, while avoiding violence altogether is our best bet, given it’s critical nature, it only makes sense to be prepared for it none-the-less. The question we must ask ourselves is one of resource allocation. That is, how much time and energy should we devote towards preparing ourselves and our children?

See you on the mat.

Are You Comfortable?

I recently came across a blog written by another student of Brazilian Jiujitsu. Grips & Growls chronicles his journey. Anybody already living the BJJ lifestyle will be able to relate. For those considering trying Brazilian Jiujitsu for the first time, his is a fresh perspective from one who has just recently begun. One particular post entitled “Sweaty Floor Karate,” hit upon a key concept of our art.

When you’re comfortable being uncomfortable for a hobby, everything else gets easier.

Let’s face it. We all enjoy the good things in life. We glory in the opportunity to sleep in, look forward to the chance to just sit on the couch and “veg,” and spend our weekdays anticipating a weekend at the lake, or a night out on the town. Daily, we are tempted to just hang out at the local coffee shop. While we’re at it, we can snack on a Snickers® bar, have a soda with lunch, and a little cheesecake for dessert.

While there’s nothing wrong with enjoying any of these from time to time, too much of a good thing is, simply stated, too much.

Consider as well all of the technology we’re surrounded by, and for the most part, take for granted. It was all designed with the intent to make life easier. There are planes, trains, and automobiles that get us where we’re going. Flip a switch and we have lights. Push a button and we have air conditioning. Push another and we change the channel. Turn a dial and we’re mixing, juicing, and cooking our food. We can open and close the garage door without ever leaving our car. Indeed, with a few thumb clicks and swipes on our smartphone, we can do just about anything, without ever leaving our home!

Remember the people aboard the spaceship Axiom in the movie WALL-E?

Our modern, suburban lifestyle provides us with ready access to every luxury imaginable, and an environment nearly free from discomfort. However, all of this easy living has a downside: it makes us weak. Just like the poor folks abroad the fictional ship Axiom, such a lifestyle can leave us ill-prepared to deal with adversity.

There are moments in our lives that can be less than pleasant. Taking an exam in school, applying for a job, and speaking in front of a large audience are some common examples. Avoiding them isn’t always an option, and oftentimes it isn’t in our best interest to do so. A successful test score, job interview, or presentation could lead to a vast improvement in our lives in the form of college placement, employment, or a promotion. These are times when being able to remain confident, calm, and clear-headed can enable us to effectively deal with the circumstances. (Let’s call these the three C’s of being comfortable.)

Learning to be comfortable being uncomfortable is fundamental to the transformational power of Brazilian Jiujitsu.

There’s nothing quite like having a larger, stronger training partner who has gained a superior position to help us understand the importance of the three C’s. In this circumstance, it is guaranteed you are going to be uncomfortable. As the pressure they apply smashes you into the mat, it gradually becomes harder to breath, with each consecutive breath a bit more shallow than the last.

The beauty of Brazilian Jiujitsu is that there’s a way out. If you can stay calm and clear-headed enough to remember your technique, and then execute confidently, you can escape. Not only that, but it can become a total reversal of fortune. It is an exhilarating experience to escape, improve your position, and then submit the person who was smashing you moments before.

Brazilian Jiujitsu is physically and mentally taxing. It pushes us to our limits. This is what makes it so powerful. The confidence gained radiates into every aspect of our being. After training with our teammates, everything else appears less intimidating. Any anxiety regarding an upcoming exam, job interview, or public speaking engagement is more manageable. We can look life’s challenges in the eye and say, “is that all you’ve got?” Our training enables us be confident, calm, and clear-headed when facing adversity.

We can be comfortable being uncomfortable.

See you on the mats.

Re-commit

Way back in January I talked about New Year’s resolutions, and the difference between being committed to a goal versus simply being interested. If you are seriously committed to your goals, surely you have a plan, and are following through with implementing it. Great accomplishments take a long, concerted effort to achieve, so it is a good idea to periodically take stock of where you’re at.

Now that we’re already into the second quarter of 2018, it’s a good time to assess the progress you’ve made this past quarter. Are you on track, ahead of schedule, or have you fallen behind? If you’re in one of the first two categories, congratulations and keep up the good work! If you find yourself falling behind, or having not even begun, do not despair.

Today is the day to re-commit to success.

There’s an acronym that’s been around since the beginning of time, or at least the 1980’s, that provides a great framework for setting goals. I use it to remind myself to be S.M.A.R.T. about the goals I set. SMART goals should be:

Specific

Measurable

Attainable

Relevant

Time bound

Pick worthy goals and write them down.

First of all, take the time to seriously consider what you want to accomplish. Make sure it is relevant. Identify your core principles; the ideals that make you who you are. Is this goal consistent with your principles? Is it something you truly want and are willing to commit to? There’s no point in wasting your time pretending to pursue something your heart’s not really into.

Be specific in what you want to achieve, and how you’re going to do it.  For example, rather than a general “get in better shape,” a student of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu might decide to improve their fitness for better success in training. I find sets of threes easy to remember, so it could look something like this.

  1. Improve shoulder and hip mobility by taking two yoga classes/week.
  2. Increase strength by committing to three days/week of lifting.
  3. Clean up diet by minimizing processed “junk foods” and eating vegetables and lean meats every meal.

It’s important to make a list of measurable results with which to monitor your progress.

  1. Compare shoulder range of motion for Kimura and Americana every quarter
  2. Bench press my body weight, and squat 2X my body weight.
  3. Roll six 5-minute rounds without a break.

Make sure to write it all down! It may seem trivial, but writing down your goals, makes them more real. Putting them up where you see them on a daily basis helps remind you of your commitment. Hanging them in a conspicuous, public place where your friends/family can see them adds another layer of accountability.

Make your aspirations manageable

Make sure your goals are attainable. Sure, it’s nice to dream big, but try to be somewhat realistic as well. A 20 year old white belt who sets out to become a world champion is fully within the realm of possibility. A 60 year old white belt who wants to become the UFC Champion is another story.

Your goals must fit within your personal time constraints. There are only so many hours in the day, and while it would be nice if we could devote every waking hour to such pursuits, most of us don’t have such luxury. We need to work around our jobs, families, and other obligations. With a limited amount of time available on a weekly basis, it’s important to set reasonable timelines in which to accomplish our goals.

Additionally, over-commitment to a short term expectation often leads to frustration on multiple levels. People get fired up when they initially commit to a goal, and can devote too much time/energy to their goal, at the expense of other areas of their lives. Over time, the stress from those other commitments builds, and can lead to the need to abandon the pursuit and “put one’s house back in order.”

Finally, your goals should be time bound. Pick a specific (reasonable) date in the future, say one year out. Then you can break that down into quarterly, monthly, or even weekly increments to create a solid plan of attack.

Ready, Aim, FIRE!

Lose this day loitering—’twill be the same story
To-morrow–and the next more dilatory;
Then indecision brings its own delays,
And days are lost lamenting o’er lost days.
Are you in earnest? seize this very minute–
What you can do, or dream you can, begin it,
Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it,
Only engage, and then the mind grows heated—
Begin it, and the work will be completed!

-Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, as translated by  John Anster

All of the preparation and planning in the world is moot if it isn’t backed by action. Once you’ve set the goals, and developed a plan, it’s time to implement. Get busy putting in the time and effort, stick to the plan, and enjoy the success which is sure to follow.

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.

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!