For me, Martial Arts is not just a hobby, it is a way of life. I started my training when I was eight years old, and it took me until I was a teenager to fully understand all that the Martial Arts has to offer. Yes, Martial Arts teaches you how to protect and defend yourself, but it also teaches you the focus and mindset to perform well in school, and how to set goals.
Believe it or not I am still in school, but I would not be without the Martial Arts. The discipline and determination we learn and utilize in the dojo has helped me stay focused with my studies. Think of studying for school like practicing your requirements. You do the move for numerous repetitions, but not every time is easy. There is struggle, frustration, and emotion involved, but you stick with it, and eventually learn the move and get your mark or stripe. Just think of those marks and stripes as the grades you get in school. You may not like the journey, but you like the end result.
Going back to earlier, the Martial Arts does indeed help you set goals. I had a goal when I first started training, and that goal was to earn my black belt. I earned my black belt back in December 2005, and later earned my second degree black belt in 2009. Those black belts however were in Kung Fu. I do hold a black belt here at Maryland Martial Arts, and my current goal is to obtain my second degree under Sensei Jon.
I have been working on this goal for almost two years now, and I am about at the halfway point. Learning many new moves every day is no easy task, but taking those moves and using them to build off other moves is three times as challenging. This is where the determination, focus, and patience come into play. You have to stay positive, and no matter how hard it gets just stick with it. If Martial Arts were easy everyone would have a black belt.
Think of the Martial Arts as your building a house. In the beginning you learn the skills you need to build the foundation, and over time you obtain the rest of the items to finish building the house. My house is not completely built yet, but it has been a very rewarding and fun process seeing it progress over the years. I hope everyone here at the dojo earns there black belts one day, as all of you are excellent Martial Artists. I learn the most from teaching all of you.
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.
Goal setting seems to be crucial to the martial arts. Each class, students work toward their next stripe or belt. The topic of this blog may be goal setting, but I want to start by talking about how I think that goal setting can be over emphasized in some situations, or, perhaps, how certain aspects of goal setting may not be given enough thought. I will share some strategies that have worked for me (and some that did not) in hopes that my experience will benefit others.
A great deal has been written on goal setting as it relates to success in any field. The idea that setting a solid, specific goal will help to motivate us is crucial to a lot of books that I have read in the self-help field. Many books that I have read left me with the belief that if I set good goals I would become a huge success, whereas if I didn’t have solid goals I was doomed to a life of failure and mediocrity.
I even read about a study done on a graduating class of Harvard, where 3% of the class had written goals, and greatly outperformed the remaining 97% who did not. Intrigued, I performed an internet search on this study, because I planned on sharing it with my students and wanted to provide them with more info. Unfortunately, I learned that while this “study” seemed to be a tool used to emphasize the power of goal setting in several books, there was no record of it ever actually occurring. When questioned about this study, the authors that cited it all claimed to have heard it from other authors.
Now, my goal here is not to criticize the people who cited this study. I myself was about to tell our students about it, and was only able to learn the truth via the wonders of the internet, something that was not really around when this “study” became such a powerful example. What bothered me, however, was that if goal setting really were the “end-all be-all” to life, there would be many real studies out there proving this, without having to rely on the Harvard study which apparently never occurred.
I decided to investigate further. A quick internet search revealed that while there are some studies claiming to show how powerful goal setting is, there are also numerous articles written by psychologists explaining how goal setting does not work.
Now, I guess we are setting and achieving goals of all sizes all the time. For example, when I sat down at my computer my goal was to type this blog. But in this case we are talking about big goals that demand time and effort: What do I want to do for a career? What belt do I want to achieve in the martial arts? Can I learn an instrument or a foreign language?
It may seem like I have used the first half of this blog to attack goal setting. However, that is not my intent. I have known people who were very successful in their chosen field who swear by goal setting. My “goal” so far has just been to point out that the data regarding the effectiveness of goal setting is inconclusive at best, and challenges the notion that we MUST decide exactly what it is we want out of life. It seems to me that there may be a missing link somewhere in the traditional concept of goal setting.
This leads me to an observation that I would like to share with you: People generally succeed the most in things that they enjoy doing. This may seem obvious, but I know that I’ve overlooked this fact countless times when attempting to set goals for myself. I know that I myself have set many goals that I never achieved, and I feel that the main reason why was that while I may have greatly desired the end result, I did not (or would not have) enjoy the process required to achieve said result. With many of these goals I was attempting to force myself to go against my nature.
I recently learned that Michael Jordan, widely regarded as one of the greatest athletes of all time, had a “love of the game” clause put into his contract that allowed him to play basketball anywhere, at any time. Similarly, I believe that martial artists who achieve the highest levels do so because they enjoy coming to class and giving their best effort on the mats. They are happy when they achieve their belts, to be sure, but the greatest reward is the fulfillment they attain from the training itself. If there were no belts, they would still train.
This is why I believe that as an instructor I have a huge responsibility to make every class as exciting and enjoyable as possible. I also feel that as an instructor/mentor/future parent maybe my job is to encourage my students to explore and discover their own passions, rather than pressuring them to write down their goals.
As many of you probably know, we are very excited for our first annual in-school sparring tournament, coming up in a few months! This will be a fun event that will allow our students to showcase their talents and hard work, as well as become familiar with the scoring systems used in most jiu-jitsu competitions. Since the announcement of this tournament, our students have been working even harder than usual, and I cannot wait to see them in action! Each student that enters the tournament will earn a trophy, in recognition of their efforts. We will also be awarding special trophies for many different categories, including but not limited to: best takedowns, best defense, best control, best sportsmanship, and many more!
Competitions are prevalent in many styles of martial arts, and some schools place heavy emphasis on tournaments. Is this a good or bad thing? Well, if a student told me that they were interested in entering competitions, I would ask them why. Is it because they feel it will help motivate them to train harder? Is it to force themselves to endure a challenge which can be extremely nerve-racking? Is it to win a medal or trophy?
Regarding medals and trophies, if I may paraphrase a quote from John Candy in the movie Cool Runnings: medals are wonderful, “but if you’re not enough without (a gold medal), you’ll never be enough with it.”
I believe that entering jiu-jitsu competitions can be an effective and legitimate source of self-confidence. But I believe that the true confidence comes from being able to say, “I overcame the challenge, got up there even when I was nervous, and gave it my best,” rather than thinking, “I won, I’m the greatest!”
Some students may choose to compete, while others may have no desire to do so. I respect, and understand, both viewpoints completely. I have gone through periods of my training where I felt competition was important, and at other times I had no desire to compete.
Perhaps the biggest question we should ask ourselves before deciding whether to compete is, “How will this help me grow as a martial artist/person?”
See you on the mats, OSSSSS!
_The other day a mother called me inquiring about lessons for her son. She asked me the question, “Why should I enroll my son at YOUR school?” That is a very good question and I believe that everyone asks him/herself some form of that question before beginning the martial arts. However, I had never had anyone ask me so directly before, so I was a bit surprised. I explained that I felt the real strengths of our dojo (martial arts school) were the carefully organized curriculum and lesson plans, designed to help the students learn and grow as efficiently as possible, while ensuring that the student is always learning something new, and the experienced instructor staff. We have recently brought on several new instructors, and all of them have had a huge positive impact on our school and we are very excited to have them here. Sempai Nan, Mr. Tucker, and Mr. Casey are all talented martial artists and dynamic and effective instructors.
However, I’ve been thinking a lot about that question (“Why should I enroll my son?”) since then, and I think I would give a slightly different answer now. I believe there are many, many reasons why people of all ages should study martial arts. Training to kick a bag or block an attack at a precise time has profound effects on the students’ ability to focus. Learning how to defend one’s self and even how to fall properly can save a person from serious harm. As students make progress through the ranks, they learn the value of goal-setting, and they start to realize that with hard work, dreams that once seemed impossible become very realistic goals.
_There are many reasons to study the martial arts, and if I listed all of them this blog entry would be as long as War and Peace.
Nevertheless, if I had to give just one reason why someone should study at our school, it would be this:
When we ask the students to partner up, and a student is having trouble finding a group to work with, either because they are new to the class, arrived late, or simply can’t find any more people without partners, several students will always go up to them and say something like, “We would like for you to work with us.”
When I have children, I can’t think of anywhere I’d rather have them than at a place where everyone understands the meanings of teamwork, respect, and compassion. I think that kind of attitude is rare to see at any age, but amongst our youth students I find it particularly moving.
When evaluating a martial arts school, I think there is a real tendency to want to judge said school based on the instructors. Do the instructors care about their students? Are they capable martial artists, and perhaps more importantly, can they effectively pass those benefits on to their students?
However, I think an equally important question to ask when evaluating a martial arts school should be: What are the other students like? What are their attitudes toward their classmates?
In that regard, it’s very easy to see why so many people start and continue to train at Maryland Martial Arts: We have amazing students. If you don’t believe me, watch closely the next time we ask the students to partner up.
_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!