Saturday, March 26, 2016


(thanks for the inspiration Jason A.)

A very important list.  So important it is worth checking a second time.
After seeing this I promised myself I would make it into a workshop talk, using the empty pad as a prop.  It's just too powerful to ignore.

Very often we fall into the trap of believing the world owes us something or that we are entitled to something.  Sometimes this is due to a misguided idea of "fairness" (the world is many things but fair is not one of them) or that other people should do things for us because we are "special" (yes we are, but so is everyone else).

As a kid from a broken home, sent to an orphanage and placed into foster care before I was even a year old, this lesson was not a difficult one for me to learn.  The things other children had by default came very rarely for me, and some things never came at all.  For many years I wanted to be like them and have the things they had. Ultimately, I learned to want the things that I needed most, and the things that would be best for me, not them.

While for much of my life it has felt like a struggle, painful inch after painful inch, I am proud of how far I have come.  Knowing the lesson of entitlement (actually lack of entitlement) has always sobered me to the reality that success often comes to those who want it most, and that wanting something often means accepting the tremendous sacrifices it takes to get what you want in life.
I learned that success can only be defined by you, and that you alone can judge your value.

The good news is that I am completely convinced anyone can have anything he/she wants, provided they can sustain the effort needed, have the patience required and accept the sacrifices involved. The bad news is that there are always opportunity costs to wanting something, and so you'd better always be very sure that what you want is indeed what you really and truly want. There is very rarely a chance in life for a do-over.  The things we did not choose disappear, often never to return.  If you can't learn to let the past go, you carry a heavy burden of regret.

Martial arts training has been fundamental for me.  It changed me from a terrified, angry little boy (yes, fear and anger are twins) to a driven, focused, confident man.  My training taught me how to set and achieve goals inside and outside the dojo, and showed me that we are all equal - the training does not come easy for anyone, and yet gives the same benefit to everyone (although not always in the same way).  Martial arts is the Great Empowerment, the discipline to take responsibility for yourself and your circumstances and DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT.  Martial arts is the Highway of Change.

Confidence is born of experience, and of an unshakable belief in one's ability to set and achieve goals.  Too many people have a false confidence drawn from their social status, their world view, or their fantasies.  Many people wish on a star hoping that will be enough to get them where they want to be.  Still others sit waiting for someone to do things for them (hint: the one who can do things for you is always right there, in the mirror). TV and movie stories give us unrealistic expectations of how our lives should be, and take away the simple majesty of what each of our lives can be if we choose to set and achieve our own goals, whatever they may be.  Charting the courses of our lives makes them even more beautiful.

In the end, the world owes us nothing, and we are entitled to nothing.
Focused, we can earn anything we truly desire.  There can be no greater inspiration, no greater freedom than this.

That is all.    

Friday, March 25, 2016

The New Rules of the Game

My foster Dad, may he rest in peace, was a simple man.  He was born to a farming family in 1921 and grew up in the Midwest, where young men idolized John Wayne, who said little but did much.  I am grateful to him for many things, especially that from a young age he taught me to play blackjack.  It's a simple game, but difficult to master.  So is life.  Throughout my life, blackjack rules have been a useful metaphor for many situations.

1) Know the Numbers...
Dad's first lesson when I was 9 or 10 was to hand me Hoyle's book on Blackjack play and strategy and have me read it.  I asked him when I could get to hold the cards and play, and he told me calmly "when you can recite the stand/hit table without looking, you are ready to start learning by playing."   The stand/hit table shows the statistically best decisions to make depending on what's in your hand and what the dealer is showing as a top card.  Without knowing this, you are basically just guessing and relying on luck rather than leveraging the advantages of probability.  Dad was impressing on me the need to understand the basic rules of every game inherently and not to take any risk before feeling confident in them.  He knew it was important to understand the numbers that underpin the important decisions of the game.  This has helped throughout my life and career.

2)...But Trust your Instincts
The rules are very important as a starting point, of course, but they are not the whole story.  Every time you sit down to play, there are different people at the table, and you may not always sit in the same spot.  1:1 (1 player versus dealer) is a very different game from a full table, where the flavor of the hand can be influenced by the first and last players in the dealing rotation.  There are times when your instinct tells you to go against the rules, and you should trust your instincts.  My Dad was careful to emphasize that you should only trust your instincts when you fully understand the rules and the risks of what you are doing - not before.

3) The 12 that wins is better than the 20 that loses
A strong hand looks cool and is impressive to the rest of the table, especially when you make it the hard way by hitting a weak hand safely.  However, that strategy is rooted in ego and often dangerous and destructive.  Going Bust (hitting your hand and getting more than 21, in which case you lose immediately) is an ever-present risk in Blackjack.  Very often it is better to let someone else, especially the dealer, hit their hand and bust rather than risking it yourself.  A hand of 12 that wins still pays the same as a 20 hand that wins.  This is an important concept because it reinforces the understanding that risks don't always need to be taken (and not always by yourself).

4) The rules can vary by situation.  Check carefully before assuming anything
The original game of blackjack was played with a single deck.  Nowadays it is hard to find a table that plays using only 1 deck.  Most deal from a multi-deck shoe, and many shuffle automatically as well.  This prevents people from potentially counting cards.  In addition, many casinos have "house rules" such as different minimum/maximum bets, limiting double downs/splits, offering surrenders, or letting other players bet on your hand.  Since these can materially affect the outcome of the game, it is wise to check the rules of every table before playing. NEVER assume all rules are the same without verifying it yourself BEFORE you play.  In the business world this is also true.  Companies in the same industry are often very, very different in terms of corporate culture, objectives, and business strategy.  Check everything carefully BEFORE playing.

5) Know the High Percentage "Power Hands" and use them wisely
In blackjack there are a few "power hands" which allow a player to increase their bet after the initial hand is dealt.  Specifically, these include splits and double downs, especially when you are dealt two cards which equal 11 or when the dealer shows a light top card (6 or below).  Taking advantage of these opportunities can change the outcome of the session, and success is often determined primarily by how well a player does on the power hands.  In life, too, it is important to know the times when it is advantageous to take a bit more risk for a bit better payoff.

6) You Can Lose a Majority of the Hands and Still Win
This one threw me for a long time.  Statistically, you will always lose at blackjack, since the rules slightly favor the house over the player.  That said, my Dad was careful to point out that you can lose a majority of the hands and still make a lot of money.  How??  Simply, if you win on hands where you have a larger bet, then you can lose greater than 50% and still make money.  The key to success in blackjack is RISK MANAGEMENT.  Sound familiar?

7) Don't Become Complacent, Especially When You Are Losing
Many, many times I have seen a player endure an insufferably long bad run.  This is characterized by hand after hand of bad hits, the dealer making tough hands, and in general just losing many hands in a row.  A bad run like that can wipe a player out quickly, and I have even seen players increase their bets to try and "win themselves out of a losing position" (also a psychological phenomenon among pro traders).  In general, this is a poor strategy.  It is far, far better to learn to recognize a bad pattern early, and then do something about it, such as switching tables or taking a break.  In my case, when I lose more than 2-3 hands in a row, I cut back my bets to the table minimum and observe if the pattern continues.  If so, I am likely to quit the table and go somewhere else or do something else.

This is harder than it sounds, since many players "drop anchor" at a table and are unwilling to walk away, even when they are getting crushed by a lengthy bad run.  The wrong chair at a blackjack table can be a very expensive place to sit.

In life as well, it is very important to recognize bad patterns and do something about them early, which may include "changing tables" or "taking a break".

8) Winning Is Easy.  If it isn't you are at the wrong table
One of the most important things my Dad told me about blackjack was how easy it is when you are winning.  On a good streak, it feels like you are doing almost nothing at all and drawing those 20s and blackjacks, hitting split 8s and 9s and double downs every time.  The dealer is busting on every hand and the chips are literally flying in.  By contrast, during a bad streak it often feels like there is nothing you can do to win even a single hand.  Ride the winning streaks, folks.  If you can't see any for a while, it is possible you are at the wrong table (refer to 7 above).

9) Be Social.  It's just a Game after all
Since my Dad played every day, everyone knew him.  Everywhere we went, everybody from the doorman to the dealers to the pit boss to the guy sweeping the floor would say "Hi Charlie".  Dad would be sociable with everyone and looked at blackjack as more of a social endeavor than a get rich quick scheme.  He was never bitter or angry even when he lost money.  When he won, he always shared with the dealer and always tipped well, even when he lost.  From him I learned not to take things too seriously, and to work hard to develop rapport with the people I meet.  Life is a journey and it is better traveled together.  Try not to take things to seriously.  Take time to be part of the social fabric around you.  Try not to get angry and try not to let money be the primary objective of your life.  It is far better to focus on having good relationships.

My Dad loved playing blackjack.  He had a routine, a system, and I am so grateful he shared it with me.  By no measure am I the world's best blackjack player, and that's just fine with me.  In my life, I try to have as much fun as I can and to enjoy the experience.  I have played blackjack in the US, in Korea, Macau, Australia, Nepal and and other places, too.  I have met some wonderful people and had some great times. In my life I have traveled a lot, met incredible people, and had a fantastic adventure.  It's not over yet.

I hope you will do the same in blackjack and in life.  GO ALL IN!

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Dead Center

(thanks for the inspiration Guro Rose)

The picture denotes the "Line of Pain", illustrating that many of the most common pressure points used in self-defense are located along the centerline of the body.  These are by no means exhaustive, but they highlight the importance of controlling the opponent's centerline (and protecting one's own).

Defining combat situations involves several three-dimensional zones.  Among them are the horizontal planes --- high line, medium line and low line (which equate to lines of the shoulders, waist/belt and groin or lower, such as knees and ankles/feet), distances (far, medium and close which generally equate to kicking, punching/striking and CQB/grappling), and longitudinal axes (inside/outside, which equate to passing in front of the chest or across the back, respectively).

The centerline is important for a number of reasons beyond just an understanding of pressure points.  The centerline represents the most direct way of accessing the opponent's balance via control of the head, neck and spine (which are of course all along the centerline).  It can be said that the simplest goal in a fight is to get access to and control the head, neck and spine since this is the mechanism for all human movement.  Power is generated along the spine and into the muscles and joints effectively only with proper posture, and posture is determined by the relative position of the head, neck and spine.  Once these are manipulated it is not possible for an opponent to have effective strength or balance.

In Kali Majapahit, we are often encouraged to "GET IN", meaning to move inside of the range of the opponent's punches or kicks, usually to control the centerline.  This is an important habit for beginner martial artists because the fear response usually makes us want to move away from any attack, and that leads to covering up and getting hammered.  Getting in gives us the best chance of putting aggression back on the attacker and breaking their focus and intent.

Influences of Hakka martial arts such as Wing Chun emphasize the study of the centerline and build their strategy around it.  Aikido and other Japanese martial arts consider it as well, and many of them seek a direct line to the opponent's torso for the definitive technique.

As we become better skilled, we should continue to consider that the ultimate goal should be to disrupt the structure and balance.  This can be done at any distance, across any horizontal plane, or through movement to either inside or outside axes (as well as the split entry).  Various systems prefer various combinations, but the outcome should always be one where the opponent's balance and structure are compromised.  This is an important lens which can be used to study any technique of any style.

Very much like a game of tennis, every hit is followed by a return to a central "ready position" (in tennis this is center court) from which it is easier to move to any new location in response to the opponent's next hit.  Strategically, good tennis players use the court (especially the sidelines) to work their opponents and prevent him/her from being able to be back to center.  Too far to the side, or too far front or back and an opening to finish the point is created and usually exploited.

Good chess players as well know how critical it is to own the middle of the board, and there are many famous texts on the implication of each position and move relative to the center of the chessboard.

Defensively, I often remind my students to "protect the box", referring to four corners at each shoulder and each hip point.  These four corners bound the center mass and we try to keep the opponent "outside the box" as a general rule.  We aim to be compact and centered, staying inside the opponent's box while defending our own.  Since Filipino martial arts are based on blades, it is not hard to see the benefit of protecting the box, since the majority of our vital organs are within the four corners.

Of many important concepts in martial arts, centerline is one of the cornerstones and worthy of significant study and consideration.


Saturday, March 19, 2016

An Average Person's Black Belt

A great question, and something on my mind since I saw it and posted on Facebook a week or two ago.

First of all, let's be clear.  Black belt is a fairly recent invention in the martial arts world.  Dr. Jigoro Kano introduced a belt system for Judo in the early part of the 20th century, to help create fair competition.  Judo is an Olympic sport and includes weight classes in addition to belt ranks.

Traditional Japanese martial arts had a few key milestones in training including Menkyo Kaiden (免許開伝), which usually involved a revelation of the secret teachings of the school.  In many cases, a scroll of the school's techniques (essentially a Bible) was given so that the practitioner could go and open a new school somewhere else and keep a reference manual of the school's teachings.

In traditional schools, until a certain level (1st Dan black belt equivalent) a student was not even registered at the school. Technically they did not even exist before black belt.  These days we see 8 year olds get awarded black belts, and there seem to be dozens of black belts in every school.  For most, it seems like an every day thing or, even worse, the end of the journey and time to move on to another hobby.  Most people stop at 1st Dan, when in reality they have only finally learned enough to start their real training.

As a basic example, even among the black belt ranks, in a 10-grade Dankyu system like Judo, the breakdown of titles and skills/duties is usually something like this:

1st Dan --- shodan --- beginner, familiar with the basics, now equipped with the tools to start study
2nd/3rd Dan --- shiodin/shidoshi --- able to teach beginners, still perfecting/reinforcing their basics
4th Dan /5th Dan --- hanshi/renshi ---oversees daily practice and can manage the school
6th Dan -8th Dan --- shihan, deeply exploring the system including the philosophy and strategy
8th Dan and above --- soke/founder, usually an honorific title due to advanced age

In terms of actual experience, it can differ in some cases but I am generally skeptical of anyone at 5th dan or higher who is under 40 years old, since that title usually reflects no less than 30 years of diligent training.  Shihan and above are often in their late 50s/60s or older, but in many cases legendary figures in their respective schools, or those who then go on to found their own styles.

One things is common, however.  The black belts I have met - where those belts were earned - are never "average" people.  As in the picture, average people don't earn black belts.  They quit; give up; get distracted; get impatient.  For most of the black belts I know, that milestone represents no less than 5 years of hard work and commitment, daily training.  It involves tremendous personal sacrifice and an iron will.  Most of them attend camps and seminars several times per year in addition to the training.  Nearly everyone has a "day job" and many have families as well.  When I see that belt, I understand what effort has gone into it, and it commands my respect.

Every Kali Majapahit black belt has been through the same challenges I have.
Personal challenges that push us to the breaking point.  I am immediately deeply connected to everyone I see with one of those belts/shirts, because I know how they feel, and what attributes they must possess to pass the tests as all the rest of us did.  The kasama test (red belt) is usually the first taste of how these tests go, and mine nearly broke me physically and mentally.  They have gotten harder at each subsequent level.  Thankfully, so have I.

There are so many reasons to stop training and not go all the way to black belt (and beyond).  Work is busy/lots of overtime, I have a new boyfriend/girlfriend, I hurt my leg/arm/back etc.. The list goes on. That said, the ones who make it to black belt are the ones who don't quit.  They do not accept an average or ordinary life.  They do not let external events determine their internal state.  They know they are superheroes, waiting to be born.  They forge themselves in fire because it is the only way to become unbreakable.

Statistically, it is only a few percent of the students who start that will ever make it to black belt.  Of those, even less will go on to continue to study for higher levels.  They are anything but "average". We are so lucky to have so many kasamas and black belts in Kali Majapahit - so many who stay the course and believe in themselves and in us.  We are further lucky in KM Japan to have such a number of our brothers and sisters who are already well along the path, poised to become teachers in their own right very soon.  You make me very proud.

These are people who understand martial arts training for what it really is: a vehicle to master your own life.  To develop the discipline of setting and achieving goals inside and outside the dojo.  To choose a path and follow it deliberately, taking responsibility for yourself and your journey.  Bettering yourself so you can contribute to the lives of others and inspire them.  Pushing yourself to become the person you want to be, defining and achieving your own personal success.

Martial arts training is a means to an end.  An end based on success, achievement, fulfilment, happiness, compassion.

Are you "average"?  Or do you believe you can be more??
It's your choice ---- accept ordinary or BECOME EXTRAORDINARY.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Playing With Percentages

A very interesting read from the Huffington Post about the Baby Boomer Generation.

It suggests that a survey conducted by British Airways with 2,000 US "Baby Boomers" (born between 1946 and 1961) suggested their two biggest regrets were that they:

* Worked Too Much
* Didn't Travel Enough

I am sure this is not just limited to Baby Boomers, but to Generation X, Generation Y, and will include Millennials when they enter the workforce.  Sadly, this seems to be indicative of everyone.
The study further revealed that 63% of the women and 48% of the men had never even owned a passport.  Additionally,

  • 22% said they didn't travel due to work commitments
  • 17% of male respondents said that working too much was their biggest regret
  • 22% of women said not traveling enough was their biggest regret
  • 8% of women respondents said working too much was a regret (though not necessarily their biggest)
  • 79% of all respondents said knowing about family heritage inspires them to travel to certain destinations
  • 26% of respondents said they've visited a certain place because of the desire to know more about their heritage
  • 26% of respondents said losing contact with friends was their biggest regret
  • 17% of men said not spending enough time with their children was their biggest regret

It is not enough to be saddened by this data.  While BA was definitely skewing this to show how much travel enriches our lives, the truth is that we need to think carefully about how we spend our time if we want to avoid regret.

Regret is not just about feeling guilt for what we did. Far too often it is about sadness over what we didn't do - chances we didn't take in our lives, in our loves, in our careers and in our personal relationships.  Many of the respondents probably felt the major reason for not doing these things was lack of money.  However, I have found that this is rarely the case.  Lack of money makes it convenient to not push ourselves hard enough to understand what makes us happy; to understand what we really want; to stay focused on overcoming fear and achieving the things that drive our personal happiness.

Humans are social creatures.  We are MEANT to be together - to share our lives and our experience with each other.  We are designed to love and feel compassion.

Don't let the percentages define you.  Use your training to be brave enough to stand up for your life - the life you deserve - the happiness you have earned.  The success you have worked for, defined by YOU, not by your boss.  There is nothing wrong with work.  On the contrary, career success can and should be part of a healthy sense of self and respect from peers.  Work facilitates the other activities we do, and contributes to society's overall productivity.  However, it is NOT a substitute for important personal relationships nor for finding and pursuing our individual happiness.

Most importantly, take the time to live fully and share fully with your loved ones.
There is nothing more precious than this.    


Tuesday, March 08, 2016

Aikido: The Non-Fighting Fighting Art

(thanks for the inspiration PH)

One of my best friends recently started studying Aikido, a journey I myself began in 1987.  He is a former top-level collegiate athlete (Varsity Tennis for one of the top US universities).  A practical man, he is not easily mystified by rumors of levitating holy men or lightning shooting from fingertips.

Today we were talking and he asked me why I felt Aikido is not a fighting art, but why I also consider it an important foundation art for deep martial arts research.

Modern Aikido as arranged by Morihei Ueshiba (O-Sensei) is an art derived from many traditional combat disciplines including a strong connection to Daito-Ryu.  Many of the movements draw directly from equivalent motions in traditional swordsmanship as well.  However, it is important to bear in mind that O-Sensei was also an ordained Omote-Kyo priest, and over the course of his life he continued to move away from the original Daito-Ryu influence toward the more spiritual side.  Eventually, in his later years, O-Sensei would claim that his Aikido was a "manifestation of heavenly power given by God".

In line with his ethical and spiritual beliefs, O-Sensei's Aikido is a harmonious art.  The ultimate goal is non-violence, redirecting the aggressive intent harmlessly away.  That being said, some common questions are asked by beginners in Aikido (including my friend):

  • Why are the attacks all so stylized?  People don't attack like that?
  • Does it actually "work"?  It looks like they are cooperating?
  • Why does Aikido have Ukemi?  Why give the enemy a way out of the technique?
  • What if I get attacked with a weapon? Can Aikido deal with weapons?

Again, I personally do not consider modern Aikido to be a combat art.  This does not mean to say that there are not practitioners who can fight using the techniques of Modern Aikido as a base (so can I).  I suggest that Modern Aikido is taught from a different standpoint which de-emphasizes combat training in favor of other aspects.  As such, it can be a challenge to understand the usefulness of Modern Aikido in a violent self-defense situation such as a mugging or rape.  Some styles (Yoshinkan, Iwama, Tomiki) are "harder" than others (Ki Society, Shinshintoitsu) and tend to focus on the practical more than the philosophical/spiritual side.  This is not a bad thing, since damaging people can end us up with lawsuits or prison time.  Modern Aikido is generally considered non-aggressive and safe for use.  This does not, however, make it a fighting art as it is usually taught.

Once the spiritual trappings are set aside, Aikido can be deconstructed to an art of controlling the opponents' balance/structure (head/neck/spine) through touchpoints, usually wrist/elbow/shoulder.  The end result can be projection/throw (nagewaza) or pin/control (osaewaza).

All the various techniques in the Aikido curriculum are designed to demonstrate this through a variety of attacks and responses, but the goal is ultimately the same.  Certain responses work best versus certain attacks, but overall any response should be achievable from any attack.

A strong background in Aikido teaches the following Universal Martial Skills:

Establishing/Maintaining Contact --- the skills of connecting to the opponent and staying connected so we can control.
Generating Power from the Hips --- using the hip rotation to exert force on the opponents' structure.
Breathing --- Use of Proper Breath Control to Enhance Focus and Generate Power.
Extension --- Learning to extend the lines of the techniques to "blend" with the opponent so we can control.
Atemi/Striking --- Use of pre-emptive attack to disrupt concentration so we can control.
Irimi/Entering --- Skill of getting close to opponent so we can control their head/neck/spine.
Footwork --- Moving us to a Place of Advantage for Ourselves/Disadvantage for our Opponent.
Joint Manipulation/Joint Structure --- Use of Body Structure/Physique to Disrupt Balance Via Touch points
Ukemi/Breakfall --- Learning to Safely Contact the Ground During Training

I view all of the above skills as essential tools in any combat training martial arts arsenal, and I believe Aikido teaches these skills better than just about anything else I have seen.  A strong foundation in Aikido serves well as a framework for any other martial study, and I particularly recommend Aikido training for children, especially those with learning disabilities or weak concentration.  The training develops excellent discipline, focus, and spatial awareness, all via a harmonious attitude which the world desperately needs.

In training, it can be helpful to understand the unique learning objective of each technique.  Where is the atemi, the irimi, the connection, the disruption of balance/structure?  Does the technique end with a projection or a control?  Is it unique due to the spatial relationship (standing versus kneeling)?  Does it involve a weapon (ken, jo, tanto) or multiple attackers?  Each technique should illustrate the above principles from a different point of view, leading to a broad understanding of how to use the skills/tools and a richer set of potential responses.

My only caveat is that prospective students approach this training with eyes wide open, aware of both the benefits and limitations of Aikido, just as they would be with any martial art.  We must follow a path in accord with our own personal beliefs, and no two people are at the same point of the line between "martial" and "art".  Picking the wrong art for you results in disbelief and disappointment, which usually causes the student to quit.  That is a loss not just for Aikido but for the world overall.

See you in class.    

Saturday, March 05, 2016

Martial Arts in the Workplace

(thanks for the inspiration PG, JA, KM and others)

Dammit...another Tuesday (or Friday) in the office late.  Kali bag next to the desk...unable to go to class.  Another Kali-less week.
In between meetings, emails, conference calls, business trips trying to remember the techniques of the cycle.

Best intentions and all that...but it's very frustrating, right?

Work can be extremely stressful.  These days we all work in very high pressure, results-driven environments.  Everyone is pushing hard for the KPIs and expecting that we are available 24/7 for conference calls and with nearly instant responses to email.

This loss of control over our schedules and lives leads many people into burnout, depression or worse.  Many people complain about anxiety, panic attacks and disruption to their sleeping, eating and exercising routines.  The pressure on relationships is intense, with partners feeling preoccupied, distracted and too tired to be involved.

I have always stressed that martial arts is not just about fighting.  We use the dojo as a laboratory for our lives - we explore and challenge, we set and achieve goals, we work together and improve ourselves and each other.  Drills not only push us to sharpen physically, but mentally as well.  We improve our focus and discipline, we prove to ourselves again and again that we are WINNERS who can achieve what we set out to do.  Training also gives us courage and patience to endure difficult situations.

Speaking from my own experience, the hardest times I had at work in recent memory involved several months of 14 hour days, plus 3 hours of commute in total back and forth.  I felt exhausted all the time and kept wondering how long I would keep it up before I gave out and ended up in the hospital.  All I did was sleep and work.  Breakfast was from 7-11, lunch was at my desk, and dinner was usually 7-11 as well.  My life was a blur.  The days, weeks, months just flew by without me being able to slow down or take a holiday.

In the end, I achieved the result, albeit with a heavy cost.  Not even a Thank You from the company for my sacrifice.  Soon after I was forced into another, lesser job.  To be honest, I didn't do it for them.  I am not sure I even did it for myself. I did it for the team members that went through it with me, those that depended on me to lead them and not fail.  I felt I couldn't let them down.  Maybe they felt the same - so night after night we struggled on together.

What kept me going was still my martial arts training.  Mentally, I was tough enough to keep going, day after day, night after night, call and mail after call and mail.  I knew that one day this too would end, and so I tried to keep focused on my team and the goals we had in front of us.  We planned our work and worked our plan, inch by inch until we made it.  It wasn't pretty and there was no big celebration at the end - no victory lap, no parade.

For my students who have been very busy lately - I get it.
You are in a fight, just like I was.
Stay in the moment.  Stay aware.  Use your training and your strength to keep going until you reach your goals.  Don't do it for anyone else.  DEFINITELY don't do it for your company (who most likely won't even care).  Do it because, like all warriors, when we are in a fight we do whatever it takes to be the one that walks away.  Do it because you know you cannot be broken.
Prove to yourself what you already know.  You. Are. Invincible.

Do it so you can get through it and come back to class.

See you soon.

Wednesday, March 02, 2016

The Long Run

(thanks for the inspiration NG, SB, and my other friends)

Last weekend some of my friends ran the Tokyo Marathon.  While I am certainly not a runner, at least not anymore due to my dodgy knees,  I am very impressed with those who do distance running, and they have my deepest respect.

There is a lot that we martial artists have in common with marathon runners, and our paths are closer than many would think.

The Journey of Self
As every competitive runner knows, even when you run with a group running is a journey of the self.  Running puts you in tune with the rhythm of your body and many consider it a type of "moving meditation".  Running is a way of exploring the self and challenging your own limitations. Martial arts is very much the same.  Although friendly competition is welcome in both, at the end of it all, success is dependent on the self.  That being said, the camaraderie among runners is no less passionate than that of martial artists.  Good runners know each other and share a common understanding and respect of each others' commitment and dedication.  We martial artists should do the same.  Everyone has a personal journey and deserves the support of those around him/her.  No one's challenges are greater or less than another's. We each have our personal goals to achieve.

Longer-Term Objectives
Differing from sprinters, distance runners have a very special mindset.  Completing a marathon requires unwavering focus on the longer-term objectives.  Even at the 5-mile mark, good runners never lose sight of the finish line.  It is important to avoid distraction and keep moving forward. As martial artists, we too have a vision for how and who we want to be, and each step brings us a little closer to that.  Just like distance runners, good martial artists stay the path and do not lose their way.

A Series of Smaller Goals
Good runners know that a long distance run is really a series of smaller goals in sequence.  To achieve a good time, it doesn't do to run slowly all along and then try to spring at the end.  Pace is critical, and each milestone is an important part of achieving the whole.  Martial artists also know that the whole is a sum of the parts, and each training session has specific goals that contribute to the end result - a better YOU.

Training, Training, Training
My distance runner friends have tremendous discipline in their training.  None of them achieve good times by simply rocking up and having a go.  They all train for months in advance, following a set regimen to prepare their body for the task.  Not only does this exact training regimen yield a better time, it is an important part of letting the body adjust so as not to suffer injury.  In every activity, recovery is absolutely critical, and that doesn't happen well unless the body and mind are trained,  In martial arts, too, the commitment to training shows in every movement.  Nobody is born a world-class martial artist, just like no one is born a performance runner (although our bodies are certainly designed to run).  It takes years of dedication to reach an elite level in either one.  Good athletes of all types can and should be just as proud of their training discipline as they are of the actual end result.

For all sustained effort, proper breathing is essential.  Good runners carefully monitor their VO2 and train to increase their lung capacity and set their breathing rhythm, since they know that this is a key part of achieving peak performance.  The relationship between proper breathing and martial arts is also well documented and has been proven for more than 5,000 years.  Without a specific emphasis on proper breathing techniques it is not possible to achieve good results in running or martial arts.

Dealing With Injury
Injury is inevitable.  At some point in training or practice, injury will occur, and dealing with injury is an important skill.  Both mentally and physically, we need to understand how to cope with injuries, and accept that proper recovery is necessary for our long term performance.  Injuries require proper medical care and enough rest to recover fully.  Pressing on through injury is a conscious choice that should be made with utmost care, since it can affect the future.  Mind over matter is all well and good, but the goal of running, just like martial arts, should always be personal development, health and longevity.

Determination and Willpower
No post on running (or martial arts) could be complete without mention the mental aspect.  Great runners, like great martial artists, have iron will and determination to achieve their goals.  Rain or shine, they train.  This is why distance runners, like martial artists and other elite athletes, are highly sought after in the professional world.

Good runners, like all good athletes, master their diet.  They know that what you eat determines how you perform.  They are careful in how they absorb calories, and carefully monitor their bodies.  Martial artists, too, should care about their diets, since diet affects every other aspect of our lives including mental/emotional state.

You Get Used to It
Starting out as a runner by trying to run 26 miles is a very bad idea.  As I mention above, conditioning the body to handle those kinds of distances without serious injury takes time.  During a distance run, various aches and pains come and go, but a good runner simply monitors them and lets them go, continuing on to the finish line.  Adjusting to the training regimen, and ultimately the pace of the performance, is a key part of running, just like it is a key part of martial arts.  Too much too soon leads to burnout.  It is far better to set up and maintain a sustainable routine, and slowly increase the workload over time.

Many athletes talk about how addicted they get to running, especially to "runners' high", the feeling of elation at the sustained, high-performance level.  Once the body is conditioned to avoid injury, runners can run "in the zone" and find their body craving more.  I have friends who run frequent marathons, as well as trail runs, triathlons, and other elite endurance events throughout the year, and their lifestyle revolves around it.  I find that my life revolves around my martial arts, and I think about it constantly, even after 35 years of training.

In conclusion, MUCH RESPECT to all my friends for challenging such a worthy goal.
You taught me a lot.  Thank you for your inspiration.