Sometimes I think that we have some of the world’s greatest young martial artists right here in the Timonium/Towson/Cockeysville/Hunt Valley/Sparks/Baltimore metropolitan area. Mr. Archer and Mr. Azzie helped to confirm my suspicions last Saturday when they put on one of the most exciting Black Belt tests I have ever seen.
The techniques, sparring, and board breaking were all phenomenal. Even more importantly, however, is how each of these young men really acts like a Black Belt. They are very modest about their skills, always willing to work with younger students, and helping them to improve their skills, while making them feel good about themselves.
I am looking forward to watching Ms. Eliet, Mr. Johnathan, and Mr. Glenn earn their Black Belts this month! Those tests will be held on March 14 (Ms. Eliet) and March 15 (Mr. Johnathan and Mr. Glenn). Come on out and support them while watching an amazing martial arts demonstration!
-Jonathan Tissue is the head instructor of Maryland Martial Arts in Timonium. A 2005 graduate of Towson University in Towson, he holds Black Belts (or the equivalent ranking) in the arts of Taijutsu, Kung Fu, San Shou, a purple belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, and a green belt in Ninjutsu. He has taught martial arts in the Timonium/Towson/Cockeysville/Hunt Valley/Sparks/Baltimore metropolitan area for over 10 years.
Theme of the week: Perseverance
Perseverance is our theme of the week. One other relevant word might be “failure.” What is failure?
I don’t know about you, but I can recall times in my life when I have given up way too easily. It was as if I expected to get something right on the first try, and when things didn’t go my way, I would become frustrated, discouraged, and just assume that I wasn’t cut out for whatever it was I attempting.
“…every wrong attempt…is another step forward.” –Thomas Edison
Our goal with this section is to help our students to see “failure” for what it really is, an essential, and even beneficial, step towards their goals and growth.
You see, when I used to give up easily, I think I would just assume that the people who had succeeded where I had failed had merely gotten it right on the first try, or were smarter, more qualified, etc. In reality, the key distinction was probably that they simply did not give up until they had succeeded.
“If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again,” is an old adage that we have all heard since childhood. However, actually living by this mantra in an entirely different matter, and that is our goal with this course!
“Every strike brings me closer to the next home run,” – Babe Ruth
What an accomplishment! I've been training at Maryland Martial Arts since 2008 with one goal in mind since day one, which is student creed number four, "I intend to earn my black belt." The funny thing is that this goal never left my mind but so much has changed along the way. In the beginning I so badly wanted to be a black belt, and nothing else was on my mind. Not until I reached late gold belt or orange belt did things start to really change for me. I soon realized that helping others made me a better martial artist. It wasn't all about me anymore. Sure, I intended to earn my black belt, but I also started thinking about helping others earn their white belt and gold belt. This is when my road to constant improvement stepped into overdrive.
Around this time, I changed my diet and started to eat only healthy food that would help me get better at martial arts. When I say better at martial arts, I don't mean just punching and kicking. I mean better at living the martial arts lifestyle..Helping others, avoiding overly negative temptations, etc. And what do you know, this is student creed number one. "I intend to develop myself in a positive manner and avoid anything that would reduce my mental growth or my physical health." Well, it works. Stay positive and stay healthy for yourself, your friends, your family and the people around you that feed off of your positive vibes. This also correlates very nicely with student creed number two.. "I intend to develop self-discipline in order to bring out the best in myself and others." Through instructing, I've learned that not only what I say matters, but what I DO matters equally. People look up to me. They see me winning tournaments, blasting thru the ab-buster, challenging me to push up competitions. Everyone wants to spar me because I have great control and can spar at anyone's pace and skill level. This takes a tremendous amount of self-discipline and the ability to practice what I preach. With my personal growth and positive attitude, everyone that trains with me gets to experience this on some level and that's what is most important to me.
It's funny how goals change. I remember Sensei Jon's blog about goal setting. Should we set goals? I'm not really sure, but I do know that our goals are constantly changing. My first goal was to receive my black belt. My goals changed drastically while training, but in the end, I still reached that ultimate goal and now that I've received my black belt, everything begins for me. It was all about the journey, and now I get to pass this journey onto others.
I intend to earn my second degree black belt. When it happens, does not matter, only that it happens.
The last thing I'm going to leave you with is my best piece of advice. Giving to yourself is not selfish as long as you are helping others with your decision.
Lately in class we have been discussing Student Creed #1, which reads:
I intend to develop myself in a positive manner and avoid anything that would reduce my mental growth or my physical health.
This is a very broad concept encompassing all aspects of a healthy “Black Belt,” lifestyle, and taking care of one’s body and mind. My main goals in discussing this student creed with the students are to help them to develop healthy eating and exercise habits, and for our teen students to avoid drugs and alcohol. How can we accomplish this? Well, it is easier said than done, but one thing I try to do is break this stigma that living a healthy lifestyle is dull, painful, or unpleasant.
I used to think that eating and living in a healthful manner generally meant doing something that I didn’t feel like doing (eating an apple), as opposed to what I actually wanted to do (eating a candy bar). Fortunately, I have been able to improve my habits by finding healthy foods that I actually do enjoy. In the beginning, it might have been a little bit more challenging, but as I have learned the taste for healthy foods can be nurtured and acquired. It can feel quite natural, rather than forced.
So how does this help our kids? One strategy could be to expose them to as many different healthy foods as possible, so they can learn which ones they like. You see, I have this theory that the reason why eating healthy foods is so unappealing to many youngsters is that it often feels like they are being forced to do so. By exposing them to a wide variety of healthy foods they can feel like they still have many choices; we just try to ensure that all of those choices are healthy.
Finally, I would like to leave you with a little tale that I thought was relevant. I first read this story in the 6 Pillars of Self-Esteem by Nathaniel Branden, and I have attempted to summarize it here:
A boy had a very sweet tooth. His parents were concerned by his overindulgence in junk food so they took him to see a wise man who lived on the outskirts of the village. The man told them to bring their son back in two weeks. When they brought him back he said, “I am now ready to help your son.” When they asked him why they had to wait two weeks he replied, “I was also suffering from an addiction to junk food, and now that I have overcome the habit I can help your son to do the same.”
Thanks for reading, OSSS!
As we prepare for our next youth Black Belt test (to be held on June 9, at 6 p.m.) I can’t help feeling amazed at the skills of the two testers, Mr. Colin and Mr. Sam. I have watched them train hard consistently for several years, with an incredible surge of effort in the months leading up to the momentous occasion. This level of skill, effort, and commitment is impressive at any age; in youth students it is extraordinary.
By achieving Black Belt at such an early age, these students have learned to set and achieve goals, the value of perseverance, and to never give up. How often have we heard someone say, “I’m going to become an expert musician!” or “I’m going to get in the best shape of my life!” and then stick with their plan for a few weeks, maybe a couple of months? Eventually they lose track and never fully realize their goal. I know I’ve heard that, and I’ve also been that person, but these two young men are of a different sort. These guys don’t just talk about achieving goals; they achieve them.
I do believe that if you look up Black Belt in a dictionary, you might see a picture of these two young men. Not only are they skilled martial artists, they are great kids. I am very proud and I am very fortunate to work with them.
But don't take my word for it! I would encourage everyone to come out and witness the promotion of these two talented young men to the elite rank of Black Belt.
You know, people ask me all the time, “Sensei Jon, what is your secret to success?” OK, so no one has ever asked me that, but I have had the great fortune of working with many individuals that seem to really excel at what they do, and I would like to share an observation with you. Every student is different; however, I’ve noticed some recurring trends among the students that become Black Belts, not just Black Belts in the martial arts, but “Black Belts in life.”
Black Belts (and future Black Belts) do not seem to be motivated solely by external rewards. It is easy for someone to say, “I want to be a Black Belt one day!” It is much harder to put in the hours of training and buckets of sweat that it takes to reach the Black Belt level. The students that experience the most success are excited to achieve the next rank, there’s no doubt about that, however they realize that excellence is a journey (not a destination). They enjoy training for the sake of training, and do the right thing even when no one is watching. This is how they are able to persevere and put in the countless hours of training required to reach Black Belt.
Now, some people may be more inclined to enjoy their training than others, and I feel that it is the instructors’ responsibility to try to make the classes as enjoyable and exciting as possible. However, as students, we can cultivate our own passion for the arts in many ways. First of all, we can focus on areas to which we feel naturally inclined. Maybe you love to practice your kata, or perhaps you are more at home in the sparring ring. Either way, that is fine. It is important to work on our weak areas, but many of the best martial artists are experts at only a few techniques (quality vs. quantity).
Figure out a training schedule that works for you. Set aside certain times each week for practice at home. Listen to your favorite music or political talk show while banging out your kicks. Start with 5 minutes a day. Once this becomes a habit, you will have laid the foundation for a very successful martial arts career.
Belts and stripes are wonderful things. However, it is only the hard work that goes into said awards that gives them any meaning.
To share a personal factoid, I have been a Blue Belt in Brazilian Jiu-jitsu for two and a half years (it generally takes longer to achieve belts in Brazilian Jiu-jitsu than in other arts). My attendance at class has been fairly consistent over that time period. Sometimes I think one of the greatest things my instructor has done for me has been to keep me at Blue Belt for this long. It has taught me patience, humility, and to stay motivated by seeing progress in my skills, rather than external rewards. Additionally, when I do achieve my purple belt, it will be one of the proudest accomplishments of my life. I have achieved Black Belts in several other styles of martial arts, but I have worked harder to earn my purple belt than any of those belts, and therefore it will be more meaningful.
Another point I’d like to add- it isn’t terribly important to me when I earn my purple belt. What is important is that I do earn it. A wise person once said, “Goals are dreams with deadlines,” and generally I think that is great advice, but in this case, I am enjoying the journey so much, that I’m happy to keep training hard, knowing that when I am ready, I will receive the next belt.
This weekend, with Saturday being St. Patrick’s day, our discussions with our younger students centered around making responsible, healthy decisions, and taking care of one’s body and mind.
We all know that the martial arts teach wonderful, potentially life-saving self-defense skills. For most of our students, these skills are (thankfully) rarely (if ever) required in our day-to-day lives. However, that knowledge is still invaluable, as it can have a profound impact on the way we feel about ourselves and approach life. I believe it is much more common, and probable, for the martial arts to help keep students safe by empowering them to make the right choices and helping them to avoid drugs, alcohol, unhealthy eating habits, or becoming a “couch potato.”
How can the martial arts help cultivate a healthy lifestyle? Well, for starters, our students work so hard to build up their bodies and minds in class, that I believe that constant reminders that eating healthy at the table can aid their efforts to become their absolute best (and unhealthy eating habits can hinder those efforts) can go a long way. “Eat this because I said so,” or “Eat this and then you can have some junk food,” become “If you eat this you will grow stronger and continue to become even better at kicking/sparring/kata etc.” Why would they throw away all their hard work in the dojo by eating tons of junk food at home?
For our younger students, now is the time to lay the foundations of the healthy, “Black Belt,” lifestyle.
For our teen and adult students, I feel this lesson is just as important, since their decisions regarding what to eat or drink can have an even larger impact on their health and ability to perform in the dojo. For our Little Ninjas, we hope to teach them to drink juice rather than soda. For one of our teen students, we hope to teach them that they do not need drugs or alcohol.
Furthermore, the martial arts provide us with exciting challenges. We don’t need drugs or excessive electronics to make life exciting. Our goal as martial artists is to cultivate a life that we do not want to escape or make ourselves numb to, we want to enjoy every moment.
By training alongside a group of hard-working, like-minded individuals, our students learn that they don’t need drugs or alcohol to be cool, or have a good time, and are better able to handle peer-pressure.
Black Belt instructors such as Sensei Ines (who, as you may recall from a recent blog, has recently earned her Blue Belt in Brazilian Jiu-jitsu, is working toward her second degree Black Belt in San Shou, and is finishing up her final year of law school) provide male and female students with positive role models that demonstrate what is possible with hard work (and what would be impossible with an unhealthy lifestyle).
I wish that I could tell you that by enrolling in martial arts, I can 100% guarantee that you or your child will never do drugs. However, that would not be very true, or responsible of me to claim. What I can say with absolute confidence, is that the martial arts, as we practice them here, are an excellent form of self-defense, be it from a physical attack or the dangers of drugs and alcohol.
What does a Black Belt mean? Ask 10 martial arts instructors and you’re bound to get 10 different answers. A better question might be, “What does a Black Belt mean to you?” I don’t think that there is an objective, universal answer, so I challenge you to ponder this question for yourself.
It might help to start by thinking about what a Black Belt is not. In my opinion, a Black Belt does not necessarily mean that person is the toughest person around, and someone who abuses their body with drugs or an unhealthy lifestyle is certainly not practicing Black Belt excellence. They may have a belt around their waist that happens to be black, but until they make the adjustments and work to get back on track they are not truly a Black Belt. I believe that such a person could become a Black Belt once more, but again, these are my beliefs, and I challenge you to think about this for yourself.
I wish that I could tell you that once you become a Black Belt life is perfect and all your worries are over! However, that is not the case, and actually I am glad it isn’t; how boring would life be without any challenges? In many ways, life may actually be harder for a Black Belt, since they weigh the impact of all of their actions. They would not allow themselves to overindulge in their favorite food or video game, but instead strive to make each day productive.
While the Black Belt lifestyle may present as many (if not more) challenges than the average lifestyle, the Black Belt is well equipped to deal with such challenges when they do occur. The Black Belt has learned that with hard work and persistence they can overcome obstacles and achieve goals.
As an instructor, I believe one of the most important aspects of teaching is challenging our students to think about the impact of their actions. I want them asking questions like, “Should I eat this, or that?” “No one saw me break the lamp, should I blame it on the dog? Why or why not?” “There is a student at school sitting alone at the lunch table, should I ask him or her to join us? Why?”
The Black Belt does not wander through life being led solely by base desire and instinct. The Black Belt constantly asks him or herself how his or her actions will affect their own lives, as well as those of others.
I look at our students and see the epitome of what a Black Belt means to me. Our Black Belts that are working toward their Second Degree Black Belts exemplify the characteristics I’ve mentioned above in their words and deeds. Even many of our students that are working towards their first Black Belt are already demonstrating Black Belt excellence in their techniques and interactions with others. Of course, each one is different, but each one now sees life through “Black Belt eyes,” with a deep belief in their own ability to achieve their goals.
_Dear students and parents,
Our topic for last week's mat chats was the first part of the student creed. Student creed number one is a promise on the part of the student to always take care of their body and mind, living a healthy "Black Belt" lifestyle.
Our students gave many examples of what they felt were important components of a healthy lifestyle, such as proper diet, exercise, and reading. We also heard many great ideas regarding things that might prevent us from achieving our full potential. Students mentioned that things such as television, video games, and junk food, while not necessarily bad, can be harmful if they are not kept in check. The word addiction came up on more than one occasion. Several students offered numbers and limits regarding appropriate amounts of time for TV watching and video game playing. I don't know if there is a precise amount that is OK or too much, but I do think it can be beneficial for parents and children to sit down and discuss certain guidelines when it comes to these activities.
_The focus of our mat chats was not really on whether TV and video games directly harm our minds, since I believe that topic is open to much debate. Rather, we discussed how problems arise when over-indulgence in such activities prevents us from devoting appropriate time to activities such as homework, reading, family time, and martial arts training. A good question to ask might be, "Is this getting in the way of something more important?" Or "If I weren't playing this game, what would I be doing?"
Of course, a certain amount of relaxation and recreation is an important part of the the Black Belt lifestyle. A Black Belt may certainly play video games, but rather than playing for 2 hours and then attempting to get their homework done, they might finish their homework, practice their martial arts techniques, and then enjoy a video game for a while, then read a book before bed.
Oftentimes, all of this is much easier said than done, since our actions are guided more by what we feel like doing than what we think we SHOULD do. Addictions to games and junk food can be extremely hard to break. Most people have probably struggled with some sort of addiction in their lifetime, and some can be extremely serious, so I think that it is extremely important that we teach our younger students how to deal with these situations now. Today it is junk food, tomorrow it might be alcohol.
When thinking of breaking unhealthy addictions, the words of the famous theologian Erasmus come to mind: "A nail is driven out by another nail." In other words, rather than simply trying to break an unhealthy habit in our or our children's lifestyles, we can help to cultivate good habits. We can replace a harmful addiction with a positive "addiction." Perhaps a child who won't stop playing video games would put the controller down if they discovered the joy of playing the piano. Maybe a youngster who watches 4 hours of TV a day now would, if given a taste of the martial arts, choose to practice martial arts each day, and read martial arts books instead of watching so much TV.
I've never heard a parent complain that their child reads too much, or practices the violin too much, or is too passionate about the martial arts. I've heard people preach, "Everything in moderation," but to me, I think that is great advice if a person's goal is to lead a mediocre life.
This same strategy can be used for developing healthy eating habits. I know former chocolate addicts that now crave vegetables. How can we help our children to make these changes? The answer is simple- martial arts.
In this day and age, many people place great importance on their progress or performance in a certain video game. One of the great things about the martial arts are that they help to culitvate a focus on one's progress on an actual important skill ("in real life," so to speak). With our stripe-system, students have a tangible sign of their progress each and every class. This, coupled, with the feeling of progress as their techniques improve, explains why so many students stick with the martial arts, achieving advanced levels such as Brown and Black Belt. Speaking of which I am very excited that right now we have a large number of Red and Dark Brown Belts, that are already showing Black Belt excellence in their techniques and behavior. Many of our up and coming belts have also shown great enthusiasm and progress, and we look forward to watching them achieve their Black Belts one day as well.
_First of all, I want to congratulate Dr. Dan on achieving his Black Belt last week. Black Belt is one of the biggest goals in the martial arts, and I am very proud to say that the standard for achieving Black Belt at our school is extremely high, which he demonstrated at his test. Dr. Dan is one of our first adult students to reach Black Belt (as our dojo has been opened for almost 4 years), proving that it is never too late to master new skills. We were all very impressed by his performance, and we are all extremely proud of his achievement.
Speaking of achievement, this week we talked about goal setting in class. We discussed how sharing our goals with a friend or mentor can help us to see those goals through, rather than letting them become like many people's New Years Resolutions. Our students have been writing their goals down and placing them in the goal box for the instructors to read. This will allow us help our students achieve those goals this year. So far, the goals that I have read have been inspirational. Many students have set a goal of earning their next belts, and one day their Black Belts. We also have many students determined to earn one of the oh-so-hard to earn patches, such as the sparring, kicking, kata, or full split patch, among others.
We also discussed how a big goal like Black Belt can seem daunting at first, so it helps to remember that Black Belts such as Dr. Dan did not earn their Black Belt overnight. All he did was get a little bit better every class. Each step forward is so small that it cannot be discerned. This makes it hard to stay motivated at times but it also means anyone can do it! This is also why we award stripes for each technique that the student has learned- it gives us a tangible sign of our progress.
If you have ever had a relative who lives out of town remark, "My, how you've grown!" after not seeing you for a while, you know what I'm talking about. You didn't notice your growth, because it was very gradual, but the inches do add up.
The Japanese word which roughly translates as constant and never-ending improvement is Kaizen. This year, I challenge all of our students to be fully committed to Kaizen. All we ask is that you try to improve a little bit each week. Obviously putting forth your best effort each class is a must. A few minutes of practice at home each day can make a big difference. If you currently do not practice at home, imagine if you started with 10 minutes a day...That's over 60 hours per year! Would that make a difference? You bet it would!
Let me now also compliment/brag about something I've seen our students do lately that is becoming more and more the norm. When it is the last class of the evening, many of our students stick around for extra sparring, bagwork, kata practice etc. I've literally seen and heard parents telling their children that they really have to go, 15 minutes after the class has ended.
I'm thrilled with this for 2 reasons.
1) It has always been my personal challenge to try to make the dojo a fun place to be, where the kids will run up the steps to get to, rather than having to be dragged to by their parents.
2) It is taking our students to even higher levels of excellence in their training. In a day and age when many kids are addicted to the TV or video games, our students are "addicted" to the martial arts!
Finally, I would like to leave you with a commitment on the end of the instructors. Just as we have challenged you to fully commit to Kaizen in your training and everyday lives, we too will commit to constantly improving our school and classes.
You have probably noticed many of the new improvements around the school, but you can rest assured that this year's classes will really blow last year's away!