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Monday, December 27, 2010

Ethics, honor, respect: Important aspects not only in Martial arts, but in marketing your martial arts business....

Marketing....the part of my business I admittedly hate doing. I'm not the type of person that likes to toot my own horn, so many times it feels awkward to "sell" myself. Oh sure, I could hire a marketing and advertisement specialist, but my studio isn't a big name chain that can afford that.

So, you've got a single school and would like to market the school and recruit more do we do that without breaking the bank? Marketing is not merely as simple as putting out glossy print ads, fancy commercials, or using a professional publicist services. Believe it or not, good marketing and building a good reputation is based on a honor, respect, ethics, and a bit of social skills as well. Here are a few simple tips (and a few rants):

1) Word of mouth is always the best spreader of good or bad news. Provide a good curriculum, maintain a friendly yet disciplined atmosphere, train your assistants well, be dedicated to teaching each student to the best of your abilty, and your students will spread the word. On the other hand, if your school is shabby and unfriendly, that news will spread as well.

2) Freebie marketing on social networks: Facebook and Twitter have been great ways that many businesses market their services. However, social networking ettiquette asks that you don't "ego-post" or "flood the network" with only your would considered "spammy". Poeple on social networks like to see interesting news or material....stuff that makes sense and shows you're human and not money-driven. Of course, making money is part of business, but you don't want to appear greedy either!

Being a Twitter fan, I've seen too many people "Ego Tweet"...only posting their ads,and only RTing ("re-tweeting") people that seem to only benefit THEIR business, ignoring all others if they don't appear to be useful to their own marketing. If someone retweets you, say thank you. Don't be afraid to retweet people that don't even have anything to do with your business...remember word of mouth is important. I've mentioned and RT'd people that have nothing to do with martial arts, and have made wonderful and valuable local networks from seemingly "unrelated " people from across the country..... If you stick to only the people in your niche that are "useful", you've limited your market and it gives you an arrogant appearance on the social media circuit.

3) Remember that nothing a a "waste of your time". If requested to donate a martial arts demonstration for a charity event, children's event or community festival, go ahead and do it....its a good way to get your name out there. Just because you're not being paid for the demo doesn't mean it is a "waste" of your time. If you think so, you've just "wasted" the opportunity to have your school seen and heard by many people, who by the way, may have spread the event via word of mouth. Your loss!

If an event offers to pay your group for a performance, be sure to set a fair price. Remember you're not the only martial arts group in town. And even if you are, if you set too ridiculous a fee, event organizers aren't necessarily going to pay you out of desparation for performers. As your reputation as public performers grow, you'll be surprised at how the events will increase the amount they're willing to compensate you (assuming that it is kept within their budget).

4) If you're a new teacher renting space in another studio, do NOT attempt to steal the studio's students, especially if it is the same category of martial arts you and the other studio is teaching. Many studios will rent their floors during off-hours to new teachers, as the new teachers gain a base to open their own studios. Recruit from outside the Dojo, not from within. If its the established Dojo's students to choose to cross train with you, that's fine (so long as the established head instructor deems it as acceptable), but ettiquette should dictate that you deeply discount the established student's training fee to half or more than half your stated fee, as a token of goodwill and respect for the school who giving you this opportunity. Some new teachers will teach established students for free, so that it motivates them to recuit from outside the school.

5) Professionalism: Carry yourself as a teacher at all times, but do show you're human. You're not perfect so don't act like you are. You don't know everything regardless of your years in practice, so don't look down on students who arent "getting it" yet. Don't attempt to correct other teachers or tell them "better" ways to do things or bad mouth them..., that's just bad form that makes you look arrogant or desparate for upper level recognition.

6) Professionalism II: I've seen people sabotage their own reputation by seemingly "innocent" flirting with students or by speaking to others about their "hot student" or "beefcake new guy". If another teacher was talking to me.....I don't want to hear about how cute you think their student is, how they and a student are "getting along", and I definitely don't want to hear about the tryst they had! They will lose me as a colleague and networking hub if that ever happens.

7) Just because you have the skills, doesn't mean your reputation should instantly be comparable to the big names right away. You should't expect to charge $100 per hour for private lessons just because the well known Gracie JuJitsu teacher in the next town does. It is not merely about the marketing or advertising...its about the blood, sweat, and voluntary hours that the big names had put in to build their reputation. So be patient and do your thing to build your school's reputation. Many people will argue "Well, I should charge a lot of money for my classes so people gain a sense of value about my school". True, I say, but if you're arrogant and lacking in the teacher skills and social skills department and in it only for the money, then congratulations....You've just added the label "McDojo" to your oh-so-elite school!

Surpisingly, a few months ago, I've had parents ask me "When are you going to increase your monthly fees?". I said "What"? And the parents said "Well, you've had the same price for years and years....and given the quality of instruction and attention the teachers give the students, Its only fair that the school is compensated for that!". Wow, they're asking ME to increase the fees! Interesting what building rapport does for building a good reputation.

8) Ditch the "My way or the highway" method of running your business and allow the feedback and assistance of other people. The adage "If you want something done right, you have to do it yourself" is very outdated! Yes, you can have "your way" to do things, but if you don't make use of others who are willing to help you, you've just sent a sign that states "I don't trust you", or "You're terrible at this, I'm the only one that can do this right!". That will surely bump a few people off your network.

The "My Way" thing is not an issue of whether someone else can do the job....really, its a issue of you feeling that you've relinquished control and an issue of you not being accepting of change. If you get the same results through a different method will it kill you that "you" didn't do the great job? No it won't. Will it kill you to give kudos to someone else? No it won't. So leave your Ego at the door.

9) Free events: Not every activity or event you have at martial arts studio should cost people money. Although you'd like more students, it makes no sense that they have to pay to see your school. I've seen a few places that won't even allow you to see a class till you sign the contract! Hold periodic free events such as open houses, free women's self defense, children's bully-proofing, etc. This "giving back to community" is a great way to give you and your students the wonderful feeling of giving! :)

Allow the public to attend free of charge, but be sure to not appear to make the "car sales approach" during these events...hard sell tactics, while they may may work for some schools, will make your "free" events just look like disguises for your hard sell tactics. Have brochures available and have "special discounts" available for those who attended your event, but don't bug the attendees. Surprise them by allowing them to enjoy the event without the sales hype....because chances are, somewhere in the back of their mind, they're expecting the sales pitch.

10) Newsletters: Ask if visitors to your school can be added to the newsletter list. When putting out your newsletters, don't forget to include other linterestin local or neighborhood news that is not related to martial arts.....even non-martial-artists will be more prone to read (and pass on) your newsletters.


It is a fine line between highlighting your strong points and skills, and arrogantly bragging about yourself. Be proud of what you do but knock that chip off your shoulder!

More tips and rants and raves to come as they pop into my head. :)

Sunday, November 28, 2010

If it ain't broke...

Years ago, I bought a brand new Geo Metro after I was involved in an accident that totalled my previous car. The "Little Red Wagon", as I called it, ran like a champ even though it had only 3 cylinders. For the first 2 years, I took all the necessary actions to keep it in tip top shape.....regular oil changes, frequent car washes, checked the belts, kept tire pressures correct, tune up, etc.

As the years went by, I became less and less concerned with the oil changes....I merely added oil as the oil level dropped, but never got an actual oil and filter change. It kept running, and that's all I was concerned about. It was the "if it ain't broke, why fix it?" mentality. In the following 4 years, I think I got an oil change only once each year and a tune up only twice, all the while running it long distances and hauling heavy loads. Needless to say, there came a point where the car started to show its signs of had a hard time starting, it wouldn't idle (I had to put it in neutral and keep my foot on the accelerator to keep it running), the alternator belt kept squealing, the front end alignment went get the picture. Then came the day where it just died. I towed the Little red Wagon to a mechanic, and he said "The engine is fried, and its going to cost you some money if you want drop an engine into it, probably more than the car is worth now.".

The "If it ain't broke" mentality finally caught up with the poor car. I knew then, that if I had just taken the time to do the "little things", it would still be running.

Sometimes, we are like that little car. We keep running although we're running low on sleep or food. We try to do too much on our own without asking for help because it might "look weak" or look as if "we don't know what we're doing". We put ourselves through guilt trips when we don't finish a task to our expectations. We become hard on ourselves if we don't make lofty enough goals. Have you been there? I sure have!

There comes a time, however, where all that stress, guilt, overwork, emotional and turmoil, (and sometimes even making more work for ourselves just to feel "productive") catches up with us. The results may range from getting sick to an emotional breakdown. At this point, its too late....there's no going back and saying "I should do this instead"'re already sick or had undergone a breakdown...too late!

So, how can we keep our own "Little red wagons" running? It is all about keeping mentally and physically "in the game" without feeling that you have to be the coach and player at the same time, and stress reduction is a good way to combat our "engine failure"! Some ideas......

1) Take guilt-free beaks: Even the most important projects need breaks, even if it is something as simple as stepping away from the computer for 5 minutes to do some deep breathing or walking. Don't feel guilt about take a break. In fact, the quality of your work is dependent on a clear head.

2) Practice mindfulness: Take just a few minutes several times a day, to be mindful of yourself. How does it *feel* to breathe? What do you smell, see or even taste around you? What colors draw your eye to them in your surroundings? Meditation is a good mindfullness exercise...sit quietly and pay attention to how your breathe moves and feels within you...feel how you expand and conract. Our "interal" senses are just as important as our external senses.

3) Have fun: Sounds pretty easy, but many people don't choose to find time to have fun. You don't have to go out with friends or have a big long as you do something enjoyable, it is "fun"! When I feel energetically blocked, grumpy, or stressed, I gear up and go for a ride on my motorcycle or do Tai Chi to my favorite Tai Chi music. They're activities that are done solo, but I enjoy them immensely and they do wonders for my state of mind.

4) When overwhelmed, ask for assistance: The old saying "If ya want somethin' done right, ya gotta do it yourself", it so outdated. Not only does it imply that you're the only on the Earth that can do things "right", but it implies that others are incapable. The real issue here is that you want things done "your way". That big office project's success or bake sale's profit doesn't care what your Ego thinks. Asking for assistance is not a sign of weakness. After all, "weakness" is a relative term based on your Ego's perception. Whatever action you might think is "weak" probably works well for the guy down the the street.

5) Speaking of Ego, tell it to take a hike: Our "self" has no inherent importance....we only *think* it does. It is this sense of self-importance that may cause us to make mountains out of molehills. On the other side of the coin, an underactive Ego (or more exactly, low self esteem) makes everything a failure, every word that comes out of our mouth as "wrong", and our efforts "good for nothing." Our Ego, for many of us, stands in the way of allowing us to see things as they really are and prevents us from clear thinking.

6) Eat well, exercise, and get a good night's sleep: Sounds like the usual advice...we've all heard it before...but maybe we've heard it so many times we just don't listen to it anymore. Eating well and getting exercise keeps our metabolisms humming, and getting a good night's sleep re-charges are "batteries". If you're a frequent insomniac, chances are that your mind is too preoccupied, and if your Ego is indeed in the mix, it will make mundane "molehill" thoughts into sleep depriving "mountain" subjects.

6) Take a course in activities that involve mindfulness: Yoga, Tai Chi, Qigong, martial arts, chess, etc. There are many sports and activities that bring mindfulness to the forefront. These activities involve being aware of "NOW"....not 3 hours from now, tomorrow or next week, but NOW. These respites from our mental chatter are a great buffer in keeping stress related ailments at bay.

I bought a sports car after selling my poor Little Red Wagon. It doesn't take all that much effort at all to do its regular maintenance. Oh sure, I've had some big ticket expenses with the car, but had to shell out that money so I kept my transportation. Without the maintenance, it doesn't matter how cool the car looks if it doesn't run! If we can commit to fixing our cars, why can't we commit to fixing ourselves? I've had the car for over 10 years now, and she's still running like the day I bought it.

Speaking of which...I should get new windshield wipers tomorrow.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Armchair Warriors, revisited......and judging a book.....

A few blog posts ago, I posted an entry called "Armchair Warriors and Futon Fighters", which spoke of the pros and cons of learning martial arts solely through media instead of through an instructor. I just want to share an amusing conversation I had with an Armchair Warrior just 30 minutes ago. (statements in brackets and italics are the thoughts that ran through my mind).

A gentleman came in and asked me "What's the difference between Wushu and Tai Chi?" Not a hello, not a "good afternoon", not even an answer to my "How are you today?".

As I started to answer his question, he "gently" interrupted me and  said "...Cuz, I'm asking because there IS a difference between Wushu and Tai Chi, you know..."

"Um....forgive me for misunderstanding, but are you asking me about the difference is, or will you be telling me what the difference is?" I asked.

"Oh, I'm asking you what the difference is....'cuz I have a martial arts background and I know what the difference is, and I just want to know if I have it correct...."

"Oh, I see." I said. I proceeded to go through a brief synopsis of the differences between Wushu and Tai Chi, and I didn't get far into the dialogue when the man interjected "....have you heard of pakooah?"

"Yeah, Pakooahchan". 

"OH!" I exclaimed. "You mean Bagua Zhang....Yes, I've heard of Baguazhang".

"Yeah, its all about circles, you know....." he answered.  I'm thinking of getting into Tai Chi because with all my martial arts experience, I think its time to learn the true meaning of martial arts...." 

At this point, he proceeded to "teach" me the meaning of Tai Chi and his style of kung fu. I let him speak for a few minutes till he said.... "then the Dalai Lama brought kung fu to the Shaolin temple..."

I had to interrupt at this point. "You mean "Boddhidharma", right?"

"Yeah, of course....Dalai Lama..." 

"Okay, so you're interested in Tai Chi, right? We have two classes....Yang style and Chen style. I suggest that you try a free lesson in each to see which class you'd prefer."

"I'd like the style that teaches the whole combative applications. Because of of the meaning of Tai Chi, I'd like to get into the combative stuff" he said.

"The meaning???" My voice trailed off because I didn't know what he meant by the "meaning of Tai Chi".

"Yeah, in Chinese, Tai Chi means "Great energy", you know. I want to gain that kind of energy...." he answered.  (he did NOT use the word "Qi" as part of his translation, did he?)

  The conversation went back and forth for another 15 minutes. I was amused by his big confidence in his knowledge, however incomplete it was. Impressed, actually....I was impressed that he was really trying hard to let it be known that he was knowledgeable, I wanted to giggle, actually.

"Well.....I can explain Tai Chi till I'm blue in the face, but I don't want to take up your time, I suggest...-"   I was interrupted by him stating "No, you don't have to, I already know all about it".  (don't roll your eyes, Rusty, don't roll your eyes....)

"If you don't mind me by asking, if you know about all about it, why are you looking for Tai Chi?" I asked

..."Cuz I want to learn the forms. I know with my previous background that I'll be able to understand it quicker than the usual beginners and master it quicker...." he answered.

"'re looking to be a teacher?" I asked.

"Yeah, I figure in a couple of years I can help teach at a school or teach on my own" he said.
(Oh my Gaaawwd....)

"Taiji isn't something that can be mastered in a mere 2 years, nor is it something that one can deem themselves skillful in, within such a short time, regardless of previous experience..." I said.    "Um, Sir, how long, out of curiosity, have you studied?"

He stepped forward a tad bit, folded his arms and said in a proud manner "I don't wanna brag, but I've done martial arts for about as long as you are alive..."  (you're kidding ,right??)

  "Thank you for the compliment about my age," I said. It was all I was able to say without giggling.

"How about this..." I said. "As I said, I don't want to bore you with the whole history of Tai Chi, why don't you come in and try one of our classes tomorrow night?"

"Well, I'll be around I'm sure, but I'm not going to say I'll be here tomorrow 'cuz it depends on what I'm doing tomorrow.." he said in an indignant manner.   "Who teaches that class?" he asked as he looked through a Tai Chi brochure. "Will I be able to meet the Sifu?"

"Maybe.....So, out of long did you study?"

"Uh, I did Tae Kwon Do when I was a kid, then Hung Gar.."

"How long?"

"6 months Hung Gar"  (6 months??)

"With which Sifu? Here in Seattle?"

"Uh, no, I learned from a guy who did Hung Gar and came up with his own style" he said.

"And your Sabumnim?" I asked.  

"What's that?"  he asked.      (you did Tae Kwon Do and don't know the terminology?)

"And how long in Tae Kwon Do?" I asked 

"Same, around 6 months. But I've studied many years on my own, you know. I've studied every book by Bruce Lee". Not everybody knows his own art of Wing Chun that he developed."  (Are you serious??)

He continued: "I'll be able to learn from the Sifu, right? 'Cuz I want to learn Tai Chi right, you know. I'm sure you're learning great things too, huh? How long have you been studying with the Sifu?"

I pointed at the "About Restita DeJesus" section on his brochure. "Um....that's me...I teach the Tai Chi classes".

He looked at the brochure, then at me, then back at the brochure. "YOU'RE the Sifu?"   (let the stammering begin)

"You're the teacher?"  he asked.    "And you teach the Wushu classes too?"

"Interested in our free intro class tomorrow night?" I asked.

"Uh, It depends on what my Monday looks like tomorrow." he replied. "Um, I didn't know you were the Master, I uh....uh..."

"Okay then. Have a great day. I'll see you again soon".   (Cue to leave. Cue to leave.)


So, I wonder if he'll show up tomorrow night. 

Suggestion to martial arts "academics" out there. Its great that you're learning theory and concept from books and videos, but do NOT, I repeat do NOT assume that you can brag to the "office assistant" about your whole 12 months of martial arts classes and academic study done on and off for the past 15 years. Spare yourself the embarrassment of trying to impress the office assistant.

This situation made my day.....very amusing! But all I can do right now is shake my head in pity.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Check out some of my older posts on WordPress

Its been a sloooow process of moving my blog over to Blogger, but if you'd like to see my older posts from years past, feel free to have a look...

Initially, my original blog was on Windows Live Spaces, and Spaces was offering an upgrade to WordPress so I went ahead and made the switch. My old posts will live there till I import them over to Blogger.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Situp and pushups and squats, oh my!

 Around 3 weeks ago, I decided to add to my training routine and take on the "one hundred pushups" challenge. This training program involves following a formulated workout regimen, designed to build your strength to be able to do 100 pushups at once. There are 5 sets that you do, based on the day, and every "week" (not a calendar week, as the workouts are designed for every other day) you take an exhaustion test to determine your next level of workout for the following week. I'm currently at week 3, and so far, doing okay.

On the off days, I've also added "200 squats". At first, I thought it would be relatively easy, since I do martial arts stances and workout every day. However, I was humbled by my initial exhaustion test....40 squats, and my legs started to give out. Goes to show that just because I do martial arts, it doesn't mean that my legs are primed for that type of extended use. I'm looking forward to working my way up to the 200 at a time.

Then, just yesterday, I added the "3000 situps in October", suggested by Twitter friend, @LCTKD. He mentioned he was doing it, and asked who wanted to join in. "Me!! I'm in!" I responded. We managed to get another Twitter mutual  friend involved, and also one of my students.

While doing the 100 pushups and 200 squats program is going well, I find that its so much more fun with the 3000 situps in October to have others with you. It is very fun to share our progress online with each other, supporting each other and knowing that we have other friends interested in a common goal. So, I ask the students of my school, Seattle Wushu Center.... "Who's in? Who wants to join us in 3000 situps in October? Its 100 per day, but not necessarily all at once. I'm starting slow, doing them in sets of 25, with a minute rest in between sets. I'd like to get back to being able to do 100 at a time, and I figure I'll be there before October is over. :)

And the pushups and squats....who wants to join me? The pushups and squats programs are here:

Meanwhile, this 5 year old Romanian boy is my motivation. 20 "air pushups". Wow. This kid is crazy strong. We'll see him in the Olympics one day, I'm sure of it!

Okay....who's in?  come on....join us for the fun of fitness!  I'm here in Sacramento right now visiting family, and it doesn't take a noticeable time away from the visiting at all. In fact, while my sister is doing her daily workout with her DVD's, I've been doing mine.  Let's do this!

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Armchair Warriors and Futon Fighters.

A friend of mine suggested a subject for one of my blog posts..... "is YouTube killing regular martial arts classes at bona fide schools?"  I liked the idea, but I want to expand on the idea a bit.

I would say....YouTube doesn't kill martial arts class schools. I am not saying that videos can replace a good instructor and classmates. If done correctly, a school's YouTube videos can recruit more students. Videos can be a good reference for students who are already familiar with a particular art. A good video can be a "video notebook"  if a student learned a form and forgot how to do a transition or forgot the exact angle of a form technique.

The issue here is not "is YouTube decreasing martial arts class attendance". The real issue is "Are video viewers thinking they can learn martial arts from a video, without a real instructor?"

I've met some people that claim to know martial arts, having learned from videos and books. Upon seeing such people display their skill, it is glaringly obvious that they learned from media instead of a good teacher. I've even heard of "practice groups" where members (with no actual experience under an instructor) will get together, watch videos or study books, then gather together to practice, spar, or even bout with swords!

Now, its one thing if you live out in the boondocks somewhere and cannot access a school. I would venture to say that if online videos are all you have, then videos would be a good initial exposure. It is when individuals think their skill is growing just because they've memorized a bunch of techniques or forms from video, that it becomes a "iffy" thing.

I see this a lot at an online discussion forum that I frequent or am a moderater for. "I want to do martial arts, but there are no schools near me. Can anyone help?" Usually, as a service, I'll research the location of schools near the forum member's location....and most times, I'll find schools within 25 miles. When I list these schools on a follow up post, and give hints on what to expect or what gear to purchase if they attend the school,  I hear all sorts of stuff. Here's just a sampling of stuff I've heard, and my responses to them.

- - "I want to do Kendo, not Karate or Tae Kwon Do. The nearest Kendo Dojo is too far from me"
          * It wouldn't hurt to get some training in *any* martial art, be it Karate or Tae Kwon Do. It will allow you to learn about body movement and coordinated technique. Ask the Tae Kwon Do teacher if they offer Kumdo, the Korean equivalent to Japanese Kendo. When you do find a Kendo Dojo, see if you can attend once a week to start. Or ask if they offer private lessons. You won't make progress as quickly, but at least you'd learn something.

-- MMA is the BEST! I want that, not wimpy Chinese stuff" (really, someone posted that)
         *See this post: (link to the post that has the smae comment in the above paragraph... "it wouldn't hurt to get some training in *any* martial art...." And by the way....a round kick in MMA is the same as Kung Fu's. Chinese arts have "Shuai Jiao"....grappling and throwing...and its just as hard pounding as MMA. Please refrain from calling an art "wimpy" until you research it.

-- "What do you mean I gotta spend $300 to $500 on a beginner's set of Kendo equipment? Can't the Dojo just let me borrow theirs?"
         * Wow, really? You really want to do Kendo but not willing to invest in the art? You shouldn't depend on the dojo to give you bogu to "borrow". Bogu should be fit specifically to YOU. Besides, the thought of wearing a Men that a bunch of other people sweated in, doesn't sound like fun.

-- "$65 bucks a month....too expensive. Any dojos that have classes for under $30 per month?"
       *$50 to $150 per month at an established school, is the average tuition fee, depending on how many classes you attend per week. If cost is really an issue, try your local YMCA or see if an established school has sliding scale fees. Offer to work at the Dojo as part of your tuition payment, they might take you up on it if it suits both you and the school"

-- "I want the best art that can kill people quickly, like in the , I don't want some traditional art that won't do anything"
       *You're not going to learn how to kill people from videos. And do you really believe everything you see on

-- "I'm good at following videos, why would I need to pay money to someone to learn what I can easily follow on the video?"
      *A good teacher has gone through rigorous and serious training to be able to become a teacher. They have the experience. Tuition itself doesn't pay the teacher, because really, there's no price you can pay for the teacher's experience. The tuition pays for the facility you're in, and the school's bills. Your tuition helps you be able to be in a place where trained teachers can instruct you. You wouldn't expect to learn open heart surgery online and for free, would you? You NEED a skilled eye (instead of one's own overconfident eyes) to correct your mistakes and be a physical example for you."

-- "I'm learning from a friend of mine who studies . He's done it for 2 years so I trust him"
    * Two years is not enough experience for someone to teach. He's still learning himself, so how can he teach you? If anything, what will happen is that you'll end up just being as good as he can teach. And if he can't teach well, then you're not doing anything except for imitating him.

You'll notice that comments such as those listed above, are comments that really mean:
"I want free martial arts training and I don't want to travel"
"I don't want to invest in the gear and accessories...I just want to learn the cool stuff."
"I want to be able to fight and possibly kill people, but I don't want to work for it"

If you really want to learn martial arts, find a way or a means to do so....and be ready for some hard work and even eating some humble pie. Videos and books are great tools for your training, but not a replacement. Once you've practiced a long time at one martial art, you'll find that your understanding of another martial art is easier to grasp, but even then, videos and books should be used as reference, not replacement for good instruction. you might even find that when you get into another art, you'll be working just as hard as your other art.

So in a nutshell, it is not the video sites out there that are preventing people from attending real martial arts classes. It is the attitudes of the viewers. They *think* they can learn from videos. And 9 times out of 10, one's perception of their own skill is greater than their actual skill. If you want You can't get good at any martial art without hard work and possibly taking a few lumps.

If you want to study martial arts and become good at it, don't settle for being an "armchair warrior" or a "futon fighter".

See this Yahoo! question and answer session for more comments about this very subject:

Friday, September 24, 2010

Can't vs. Won't

Teaching very young children martial arts can sometimes be a challenge....not only must instructors make each activity in class an age-appropriate activity, but we must also be open to a child's attention span, mood changes and learn how to deal with mood swings in a firm yet caring manner. However, the benefit of teaching children, is the many lessons you will learn for yourself while you teach them. :)

One day in my "Tiny Tigers" class (3 to 4 year old kids), we were doing a drill called "pop-up". When a child's name is called, they are to "pop-up" from a seated position and do 2 reps of whatever movement they were taught earlier in the class. After a few rounds, one of the children "Jack", did not pop up when his name was called.

"Jack, aren't you going to pop up and show us your great front kick?"

Jack flopped backwards onto his back as a couple of other kids giggled. "I can't...." he said as his voice trailed off.

"I think you can..." I replied. "You do so well on your front kick. Wouldn't you like to show how strong your front kick is?"

"I can't do it...." Jack said. His voice was a touch shy of being a whine, but he didn't whine.

"Why not, Jack?" I asked.

".....'Cuz I can't...". Jack's father urged "C'mon buddy, you can do it".

"But I can't". Jack said. Odd. Jack was always so good at his front kicks. He started to squirm around on his back, just as little children do as they awaken from a short nap. "I can't do it.".

So as to keep the class going, I asked "Okay, that's fine. But do you remember what you have to do when you are not participating?"

"Uh huh....I sit next to mommy or daddy quiet and not talk...."

"What else?" I asked.

"I gotta ask to join the class when I'm ready..."

"That's right, now go sit down quietly".

After another few minutes of the pop up game, I gave all the kids a short break to get some water. As the kids clamored to their bags to get their water, I saw Jack on the corner of the floor, doing side kicks. I grinned....I thought that maybe Jack just needed a break and now he's back on task.

"Jack! That's a really cool side kick! Can you show me your front kick as cool as your side kick?"

He flopped to the ground. "I can't" he said. I tried to help him up, but he flopped more, make himself heavier.

I reminded him, "Jack, if you cannot participate today, you'll have to go home with Daddy and not do Martial Arts today...."

"But I wanna stay..." He protested.

"Well, sit here a few minutes and we'll see if you can stay on task in a bit", I answered.

After break was over, I got out the "big kids" kicking shield for side kick practice. "Okay! Time for side kicks!, everybody ready for side kicks?"

"Yes Sifu!!" the class shouted. Including Jack. He shouted "Yes Sifu" too.  I cocked my head and gave him a grin.

"Jack, what do you say?"

"Uh....Sifu, I'm ready now.  Can I come in?"

Jack's father grinned "Go on, and listen to Sifu"

Jack did great for his side kicks....they were pretty strong too! He also did great with his inward blocks and evasive techniques for the rest of class.

As I reflected on the class afterward, I realized that Jack had probably reached an important milestone....the ability to recognize that he can make choices for himself. It wasn't that Jack *couldn't* do front kicks... it was just that he *chose* not to do them. I don't know if he just didn't feel strong at them that day, or if he just didn't find them interesting , but he made the choice not to do them. The only thing was, he didn't quite know the difference between the words "Can't" and "Won't". He didn't quite understand that the word "can't" didn't indicate a physical inability (he's done front kicks before), he said "can't" because he simply didn't *want* to do front kicks. Although he made choices that day based on "acceptance" and "refusal", he simply didn't have the concept of what "won't" meant, or what "refusal" meant.

We, as adults, sometimes do this as well. However, as adults, we should be able to understand the difference between "not being able" / "not knowing how", and "not wanting to".  The lines between our choices aren't quite as blurred as they are when we were children. However, when we say "Can't", we tend to apply the word to our lack of understanding of something or to when we feel we're not up to par with our own expectations or expectations of others. Before you blurt out the word "Can't", do a quick mental note of why you "can't". Is it that you just aren't skilled enough? Is it that you don't understand? Is it that you're not trusting your judgment? Is your intuition telling you to hold off till later? Do you feel that you'll be embarrassed if you don't look good in the eyes of others?

No matter what the reason, get to know what that reason is before your say "can't".  Yes, it is your choice to engage or not....but try not to use the word "can't" when you really mean "I choose not to", "I'm not interested", or "I'm not quite up to par yet". Choose the words that accurately reflect your position. The word "Can't", for many of us big kids, can easily turn into a convenient excuse if we don't check ourselves.

Want to know how to get "Can't" to turn into "Can"? Its simple.....try.. Everyone is capable of "can", albeit at a lesser degree than our expectations. To meet those expectations, we just have to keep plugging along.

I have to disagree with Yoda on his quote "Do or do not, there is no try". "Try" does mean a path to "do", assuming that we're committed to the task. Not everyone is born as a Jedi Knight, after all. :)

Thursday, September 23, 2010

A favorite fable from the Philippines, "The upo plant"

Image via Wikipedia
When I was a child, I remember hearing fables that taught moral lessons. Many of these stories were very amusing, but taught great lessons, such as the stories of "Juan Tamad" (Lazy John), which describe the consequences of laziness or making too many excuses. The following fable, however, has always been a favorite:

The Upo Plant *

Once upon a time a wild specie of the upo plant grew in the garden of Tandang Teban. When the old man saw the growing plant, he carefully entwined the stem around a small bamboo post to make a trellis for the plant.

The plant did not like the idea of the old man. It wanted to grow freely like any other plant. So the plant talked to the wind.

"Mang Hangin! Magkaibigan tayo, di ba2? Look at me," the plant pleaded. "I am a mere slave of Mang1 Teban. I need your help. I want to grow freely like the grasses and the plants around me. Look at the banana, the rose, the sampaguita3, and the other plants in this yard. They are free. So my friend, I beg you to blow hard and loosen the tie around my body till it breaks."

"Your request is not just," replied the wind, "but if that is what you like, I will do what you please." So the wind blew hard. It blew hard some more, thus breaking the knot around the body of the upo.

"Thank you," said the upo gratefully. The vine then crawled freely on the ground.

Just then a dog that was looking for a piece of bone came along. The dog stepped heavily on the small vines and was able to find the bone. In taking the bone away, the dog also carried a part of the vine to a far distance. The poor plant not only became short; every part of it was damaged.

When Tandang Teban visited his upo plant next morning, he saw the poor state of the plant. At once he tied the plant to a thin bamboo post. The plant drew a deep sigh of relief.

After a few days, Mang Teban arranged a trellis for the upo to sling its vines on. The plant blossomed. The leaves gave shade while the flowers and fruits gave joy to those who saw them.

One time the wind blew hard and played with the leaves of the upo. The plant requested the wind to blow softly so that the plant would not fall down.

"When you were still maliit, you asked me to set you free from the bamboo post so you may crawl freely on the ground," the wind replied. "Now you request me to spare you. YOu sound funny indeed."

"I had an unforgettable experience," said the upo. "I know now that all creatures have their own ways of living on earth. Experience is the best teacher."


* Upo is a common gourd vegetable in the Philippines, that if left to grow, can reach very large sizes. The dried shells of the gourd may be fashioned into utensils, bowls, flutes, and smoking pipes, just to name a few uses. I still enjoy upo in the hearty "pinakbet" stew whenever the local Asian store has it in stock. Especially delicious in Filipino fish stews. :)

1. "Mang" is considered a contraction of the respectful title "Manong", which is formally used as a title for older male relatives. (for women, the title is "Manang"). Nowadays, "Mang" is commonly used in place of the word "Mister", especially in reference to those who are older.

2. Roughly translates as ""Mister Wind! We are friends, aren't we?"

3. The "Sampaguita" is the national flower of the Philippines.  My mother used to tell my sister and I about the beauty of the flower, and how the scent of a Sampaguita field can be smelled for miles . Mom told us that oil made from the flowers is used as a rub for headaches and migraines, and that the flower is used for Jasmine tea in China. 

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

"Make way! Make way for the King!": How to deal with conceited people

We've all met people like this at least once. The types of people that think they're "all that". The ones that think the world revolves around them. The people that assume others are in their service. The people that revel in the knowledge that they're handsome, beautiful, smart, tough, or powerful. The people that make it very much obvious that you should feel blessed to be in their wonderful presence. 

My friend told me a story about an incident at her apartment where another resident parked a junker car in my friend's assigned parking space. My friend left a note in the resident's mailbox....not a rude note, but one that asked very nicely for the resident to move the car so that she could park in her own assigned spot. This is where the proverbial sh*t hit the fan. The resident called the police and made a fuss about my friend threatening her, demanding my friend be arrested, and other ridiculous claims.

My friend is the type of person that doesn't like to cause or deal with conflict. so this is a hard situation as the other woman taunts her with phrases like "I'm not moving my car, what are you going do about it?" and "Its not over yet, Bitch". It has gotten to the point where my friend peeks out her door before leaving her own apartment, afraid that the other woman is waiting around, to taunt her more. The other resident has even gone so far as to rally other neighbors on her side, by padding the story, making my friend out to be the evil one. They gather around and laugh at my friend as she tries to find a place to park her car. They make it known that they're in control, and that everything works on their terms.

After hearing my friend's story, I was saddened. I too was there many times, tiptoeing around people not to cause conflict. I knew what it was like to have my self respect shattered to the point where I actually thought I was less than what I really was. I thought about how I allowed it to happen, and though about the hard work I put into patching my confidence and self respect. "You shouldn't have to live like this...." I asked my friend. "Where's the apartment manager in all this?"

"I don't know. I think I'm just going to move to another apartment. I think she waits for me every day to let me know there's nothing I can do about it...." she replied.

"...But then you'll let her take more of your power if you move..." I said.

She looked at me in a puzzled look. "This woman knows you're avoiding her." I added. "She knows she's got people on her side....she doesn't care that her side of the story is all lies. She's an energy-hog, and it seems that she thrives on the knowledge that she has power. But, the power isn't hers....its YOURS. She's taken your personal power. And, the more you feed it with your fear, with your checking if she's out there before you leave for work, when you avoid eye contact with her and rush away, you give her more power....and, feel more and more drained in the process".

Being that my friend is humble and non-aggressive, I continued with this comment: "I'm not talking about you turning into a hard-shelled "don't mess with me" person,... that's not what I mean about "power" here. Any amount of self-respect, confidence, and feelings of security you have, that's your power. You've allowed her to take a lot of it.....trick is, to gain it back."

"...But how do I not give it away? How can I get it back from this arrogant conniving lady?" my friend asked.

 In a nutshell, this is what I suggested, to deal with self-absorbed energy hogs:
  • Establish your boundaries. Know just how far energy hogs can approach before you start feeling that your space is being infringed upon. When they cross that boundary, it is time to nicely, but firmly, remind them not to "walk on the grass". Don't make the boundary too big, or you'll appear stand-offish. Don't make the boundary too small either, because you'll feel all the negativity, arrogance, and self-absorbed behavior in a big rush, and you'll get overwhelmed.
  • When your boundaries are breached, stand firm. Many times, a person who doesn't like conflicts, will allow their boundaries to be infringed upon, just so that the other person doesn't get angry. Well, where does that leave you? It leaves you frustrated and angry, and hiding these emotions just to avoid conflict, is not healthy for your emotional self. Mentally keep your boundaries at a clear line, and try not to convince yourself that making your boundary "smaller" makes you "braver".
  • Know that most arrogant people are looking for attention to be on them...regardless if it is positive or negative attention. This is where they feel powerful....they feel empowered by their ability to generate attention. There may or may not have self esteem issues, or they might feel that something is missing in their personal or emotional lives. Regardless of the reason, it is attention they seek. Know that there is some type of underlying reason why they are the way they are.
  • Don't settle for being in the shadow of their self-made pedestal. Allow yourself to be their equal. This doesn't mean to be as conceited as they are, but as long as you abdicate your position to a much lower one, they will drain more and more of your personal power. Know that they are people too....albeit overly egotistical people. This will level the playing field a little bit.
  • Keep calm and keep your attention on your own well being. If you give attention to these types of self-absorbed people, you'll place less attention on your own needs, thereby, "giving away your power". If you get angry, this is what some energy hogs thrive upon.
  • Let trusted people know of your concerns, especially if the arrogant person is making you fearful. It may sound counter-productive, as having other people know about the situation will give more "attention" to the arrogant energy-hog. But, having other people support you is helpful. Be sure to not follow the energy-hog's behavior by not padding your story and sticking to the facts.
  • Keep your circle of influence a positive one. Your "circle of influence" is our network of people that are upbeat, positive, good listeners, and willing to share positive information in areas of personal life, workplace, etc. These are people that support and respect your personality, likes, dislikes, etc. If you have more "good influence" and less "bad influence" (in this case, an arrogant, petty, and vengeful neighbor), then hopefully, the bad influence will take a backseat to the the positive influences.
  • Know that its okay to stand your ground. You don't permission from the energy-hog anyone to stand your ground and do what is necessary to keep your personal power. For every time you don't stand your ground to prevent conflict, you give away more of your personal power.
  • As well as personal and emotional space, keep your energetic space (on more of an aesthetic and metaphysical note): Keep your energetic "bubble" as confident and "warm" as you can. Your energetic space is one that is yours alone, and you're the only one that can make the choices as to who enters your space and contributes to it. Continue to be focused on your own well being, and allow your energetic space be a part of your safe-haven....protect it ardently.

Remember that no matter what the conceited person thinks of you, only you know the truth about how you really are. Try not to allow the conceited person to drain you of your self respect and don't allow their self-inflated egos to destroy your well being.

My friend now is confident, that if she does move from her apartment, that its based on  her own decision, instead of being forced out by an arrogant bully.  I only hope, that her personal power continues to be gained back from the bully, and continues to grow by leaps and bounds.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

"What's in it for me"?- -Self absorption: Saturated in your own junk.....

Leave Ego aside. If we are too self absorbed, 
we become like a wick saturated in our own oil,
yet not letting others light the lamp.
This results in functional, yet useless lamp.

Okay, I'll admit....I've been guilty of "self absorption". We all are self absorbed to some degree or another. Thinking about our own needs and desires is a motivating factor to keep us plugging along and going forward with our goals and aspirations. This is good! If we lose that sense of self-importance that motivates us, we would sit around and become stagnant.  However sometimes we all go through phases where the self-absorption begins to turn too severe selfishness. When we forget about everything else and make the world revolve around us, we miss out on a lot of things.

During a self-reflection after one of my usual meditation sessions a few months ago, I came upon the realization that a period of time had been based around my self-absorption, instead of what I really *am*.  Common thoughts in my head during this time were "What's in it for ME?" "How do I benefit?" "What do I get if I do this or that?".  I found myself getting frustrated or impatient when things weren't happening fast enough.

As I arose from my meditation bench, I asked myself several things:
1.What do I truly enjoy in life and with other people?
2. What exactly are the needs, goals, and desires that I need for myself?Whtat do I feel is "missing"?
3. What do I consider as "reward"? Will the world end if I don't get the exact rewards I seek?
4. Can I still be able to share with others, and still attend to my needs, goals, and desires?  

Do you find yourself frequently asking things like "What's in it for me?", "How will this benefit me? What can I get if I agree to that?".  Granted, I run a business and I "should" be asking these questions to benefit my business. But I'm not talking about finding ways to market my business or finding opportunities for the benefit of my business. I'm talking about doing things merely for the benefit of my Ego. I'm talking about manifesting things only if we're guaranteed some type of reward, money, or recognition. I'm talking about only paying attention to activities or people only if they have a role in benefitting our Ego and personal gains.  

Let's ask ourselves.....When was the last time we manifested something wonderful for *other people* other than ourselves? When was the last time we enjoyed helping others without the expectation of reward? When was the last time we willingly gave your time instead of feeling that we wasted it? When was the last time we accepted a long line at the bank or something breaking down instead of getting upset that the world isn't doing our bidding at the time we demand it? When was the last time we asked how the other person was doing before talking about our own things?

Also, let's listen to any situation, listen to how many times  the word "I" comes into thoughts. If we find ourselves always asking "What's in it for me??", acknowledge it and think about your next step. Think outside your box and see things from the outside looking in. Think about the other person and/or their situation as well.  I'm not saying that we should sell oursevles short....on the contrary.... I'm just saying "Get your Ego out of the equation". Or...."Get your head out of your...." Well, you get the picture.

Although I never outwardly and rudely asked out loud "What's in it for me?" whenever situations or opportunities arose, I did find myself thinking it a lot. Things became motivating factors only if there was reward. For a bit of time, I lost a little bit of who I really was and I didn't notice I was doing it.  I decided to re-invest my time in doing what I enjoy and sharing with others....all the while still attending to my needs and goals. I remembered that giving away my time was not necessarily "wasting" it. I remembered that the world wouldn't end if I didn't get rewards all the time. I remembered the joys of knowing that great people are blessings in our midst, not merely network spokes on the benefit hub.

We all can benefit from toning down our self-absorption.......You might be surprised that when we give ourselves for the greater good of others, the benefits we seek show up on their own.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Pom-Poms and Positive Purpose....

All of us has "cheerleaders" for ourselves and our group of sub-personalities.....but, do your cheerleaders motivate YOU to play at your best, or do the cheers prompt you to boo the other team?

I remember going to Football and Basketball games in High School. As a member of the marching band, we attended the games to provide music for half-time and to accompany the cheerleaders in the "fight songs". The cheerleaders were so peppy....I wondered how those gals ever mustered up the energy to do all shouting and jumping and dancing for hours.

I remember our crowds at games shouting cheers along with our cheer squad, and our band would blare out the "Charge!" tune, our fight songs and other tunes to motivate our teams to play hard and win big. During basketball games, our band would frequently blare our horns and pound the drums with the opposing team was at the free-throw line, hoping the noise would make the opposing team "brick" a shot. Our band would sometimes play the "neener-neener" tune when the other team would miss a shot or if the other team missed a touchdown pass. We would boo the other team if they celebrated a goal, or we would call the referees "blind" if a call was made against our team. If we werere winning, we'd gloat and make it known.....if we were losing, we were sometimes brutal to the other team.

But, on hindsight, you know what I noticed? The cheerleaders themselves NEVER boo'd the other team. They never prompted us to make noise to mess up a free thow, they NEVER prompted us to curse the other team or other coach. They just led cheers to motivate OUR team. When our teams scored, the cheerleaders cheered, if the other team scored, they would just shout "That's alright! Bring it back!". Meanwhile, the rest of us non-cheerleaders would curse, throw things, and do everything short of wishing a lightning strike on the opposing team, just so we would win. All that negative behavior never changed the fact that the other team was focused and playing well. In fact, all our cursing and shouting at the other team took away the important element....cheering on our OWN team.  The cheer squad sometimes told us to be nice, but we were being the die-hard fans that wanted victory just the same, and we continued to boo the other team. In the end, our favorite team, the football team, ended up winning one game of the season, in what was dubbed the "Basement Bowl". One game for the season. Wow. What a disappointment.


Whether it is martial arts, your career, or whatever other activity you'd like to "win", we all have "cheer squads"....those inner voices that keep us moving toward our goal, those motivating factors that keep us plugging on and going forward. However, be sure to check your attitude at the door! If you're doing well, then celebrate! However don't place blame on other people or make excuses for your shortcomings or perceive failures. Just concentrate on playing well and playing hard! Accept a loss, and learn what you need to do to make the next "game" successful. Remember, each time a losing team gets upset and places blame and animosity toward the the winning team, the losing team just sits there wallowing in "we suck, we need to win next time!", while the other team is back in practice sessions, getting better and perfecting their play.

Let your cheerleaders motivate you, but don't use them as an excuse to blast the other team. Alright, team, get out there and GO!!!

Let me hear you yell Go Go!
Let me hear you yell Fight Fight!
Let me hear you yell Win Win!
Let me hear you yell Go, fight, win!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Physical Conditioning & Emotional Conditioning


"Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space lies our freedom and power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and freedom." - Victor Frankl

I attended a recent 4 day seminar with Grandmaster Chen Zhenglei, hosted by my teacher, Sifu Yijiao Hong. During the 4 days of training, most of us who attend all 4 days had sore legs from the stance work. Some of us (myself included) even had soreness in the shoulders and torso. On the final day of the seminar, Master Chen asked "Are you sore? Legs sore?" The class chuckled, and we all took a quick mental note of how our bodies felt. Many of us groaned at our sore quadriceps, and joked that we should "finally admit it" we said, "Yes, Laoshi!". Byron, our leader for warmups, asked Master Chen, "Laoshi, what shall we do for the leg pain?" Grandmaster smiled, and said "PRACTICE MORE!"

A great lesson. I guess we were expecting a response akin to Qigong healing or stretching, but Grandmaster told us plain and simply: "Practice more". Upon telling my massage practitioner about this amusing exchange, my therapist said "Yes, it allows for the lactic acid to get flushed out, but its the cool down exercises after the workout that are important."  1  

As it turns out, Tai Chi can help increase muscle endurance because of its slow and controlled movements that activate the slow twitch muscles. 2  Do a Tai Chi workout, then not do it again for days or weeks in the same fashion, and you lose the benefits and get sore all over again. The long term practice is where we gain the benefits. After all, it is not the *techniques* themselves that cause the soreness, it is the body's reaction to the exercise. If we're not conditioned to a hard workout, of course out bodies will balk and be sore.

As I was on the massage table at my therapist's office, I realized that this lesson applies to not just our physical conditioning, but our emotional conditioning as well.  If we were to consider emotions such as anger, greed, frustration, worthlessness, etc, as "Pain", then we could, theoretically, apply Grandmaster's lesson to our emotional lives. 

We will use "anger" as an example. Anger is a secondary emotion, and  is for some, a knee-jerk reaction to some other "primary" emotion (disappointment, embarassment, feeling pressured, etc). Often, it may a reaction to the primary emotion of  "fear", or the anger might stem from an emotional need or desire that has not yet been fulfilled. If we acknowledge what the primary emotion is, and ask ourselves what we can control about the situation (if we're feeling out of control of it), and what our options are, we can think a bit more clearly about the situation and decide whether or not the anger is worth expending energy on. When we can think clearly, we can carry on .

Most people will one of three things when confronted by negative emotion: Run from the stimulus, tackle it head on (i.e. feel the anger and act upon it), or go around it to move forward. Some people would say that options 1 and 2 are negative responses, and the 3rd is the best choice. However there are some things to consider:
  • If you're going to run, don't run backward. Try not to delve into you past and make this current situation a repeat of a long gone past experience. Take time off to cool off, then get back to the situation and address it with a clear head.
  • If you're going to tackle it, don't tackle it all at once. Get angry will not change the situation, and we all are too familiar with the blindness that anger brings. Remember, in order to move a boulder from your path, you have to chip away at it with the right tool.....a paper clip isn't going to do the job, you must have a pick-axe or similar tool. With a clear head, you can better choose the right tools.
  • If you go around it, be sure you aren't just avoiding it. If you just go around it and leaving the "obstacle" there, it will still be there. Acknowledge the "obstacle", observe it as you go around and take mental notes as to how you can clear the path. After all, if you leave the obstacle, then you leave it for someone lazy does that sound?
Remember, in the case of anger, it is not situations or words that make us angry, it is our reaction to them. For some,  emotions are based on past experiences. Some people tend to attach a situation that similar to a past experience, and react with an outburst exactly as they did during the past experience. Many times, these outbursts will be out of context with the current situation, but the pattern happens anyway.

So, how do deal with these  negative patterns and thought processes? PRACTICE MORE. Stay with the situation, let it play out while you acknowledge your primary emotion to the situation or try to figure out what similar past experience is making your negative reaction happen. It takes PRACTICE. 

Anger, despite it negative connotation, does have its good is a mechanism for survival....the body's response is to fill the body with the energy to deal with a "fight or flight" situation. Its a mechanism that evolved so that we, as primitive humans in eons past, could use to defend ourselves or our tribes. But if we use it out of context, we sure would look silly wielding our clubs against a wild animal that isn't even there!

Practice more. Stick with it. As Grandmaster says, it will condition your body and make things easier. Increase your emotional endurance. Even the most healthy body with great physical endurance, will not be useful if our emotion endurance is weak.

And by the way....did I mention....we should practice more.

And before I forget.....don't forget to practice more.   :)

1. Forum thread on "active recovery:
2. Tai Chi or jogging for lower body conditioning:

Monday, September 6, 2010

Thursday, August 26, 2010

The fable of the two wolves...

One evening an old Cherokee told his grandson about a battle that goes on inside people. He said, "My son, the battle is between 2 "wolves" inside us all. One is Evil. It is anger, envy, jealousy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego. The other is Good. It is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion and faith."

The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather: "Which wolf wins?"

The old Cherokee simply replied, "The one you feed."


I've thrown many a juicy steak to the Evil approaches with snarling teeth, then snatches the food and runs. Why feed a snarling wolf in the first place? If you have to throw the steak to avoid getting your hand bitten off, what's the point?

On the other hand, if I feed the Good Wolf, I've noticed that the Good Wolf nuzzles my hand before gently taking food, then hangs out for a while, sitting at my feet. There is no fear when feeding a creature that trusts you.

Which Wolf do YOU feed?

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Change....the only constant.....

"Everything you now do is something you have chosen to do. Some people don't want to believe that. But if you're over age twenty-one, your life is what you're making of it. To change your life, you need to change your priorities." - John C. Maxwell 

As the quote says, "some people don't want to believe that".

When I was in my 20's, "change" was something I hated. I was, in my mind, in control of everything in my life. When anything changed, be it a slight change to my work schedule even a change in plans for a vacation, I felt the need to "control" the situation again. Granted, I was able to make the necessary changes to my schedules or whatever it may have been, but I wasn't necessarily happy with it.

The biggest change I underwent, was quitting my job in order to run a martial arts school full time. I was scared....."Quit my job? Are you insane?". In my heart, I knew that committing 100% of my efforts to my new school would be the way to start the marketing and find new students to pay the rent. But, in my mind, I was fighting my refusal to quit my job. I tried to find all sorts of excuses to keep my safety and security of my job, while trying to run a full time school. In the end, I took the plunge, quit my job, and never looked back. The first year of not having that secure income from my job, was very scary. I made use of "101 ways to prepare Top Ramen", and I thought about getting another job. But I knew that if I didn't commit myself and make it work, that my dream of having a full time school would go up in smoke. I was blessed to have a supportive business partner that sometimes had to bring me out of my silent balking at such a big change in my life.

That was in 1991, and in the past 19 years I've learned through trial and error, that change is a much needed thing in order to grow. Change provides us with a different way of looking at things, a fresh method of applying our skills or knowledge, and sometimes, change can bring about challenges that make us buckle down and really think about our next course of action. Change allows us to transform from what we "were", to what we "can become". Change allows us to look at things from the outside-looking-in, instead from our self-absorbed egos. Resistance to change, however, can most times prevent us from realizing our true potential and making meaningful changes to our lives.

Lately, I've realized that change is not necessarily just an outward thing, nor is change a radically different situation or attitude than what I'm used to. I've realized, that over the years, I had changed my outward attitude just to cover up my "inward attitude" (interests and goals that have been put on the backburner). Once I realized that my interests and future goals are not going to completely "change" me into a different person (that, was my fear), nor my friends think I'm crazy for having the interests that I do (another fear!), I was able to "change" yet again, and let go of the fear. What a liberating and transforming experience! This "loosening of the binds", makes me more aware of life's purpose, and made me think a bit more about life's priorities. Life is about choices....we can either make the wrong choices, learn from them and move on, or not pay attention to our choices at all and blame the world for our shortcomings or take credit for the successes. No matter what, our choices and changes determine how we make life out to be.

Sound off!....Have you ever been in that state where "change" was something you resisted? Did you manage to get used to "change"? What was scary about "change"?  How did it make you feel? How have you changed?

Monday, July 26, 2010

Fable: "The wise healing sage"

There once was a wise sage who wandered the countryside. One day, as he passed near a village, he was approached by a woman who saw he was a sage and told him of a sick child nearby.  She beseeched him to help this child.  The sage came to the village, and a crowd gathered around him, for such a man was a rare sight.  One woman brought the sick child to him, and he said a prayer over her.
 "Do you really think your prayer will help her, when medicine has failed?" yelled a skeptical man from the crowd.
 "You know nothing of such things!  You are a stupid fool!" said the sage to the man.

The man became very angry with these words and his face grew
hot and red.  He was about to say something, or perhaps strike out, when the sage walked over to him and said:  "If one word has such power as to make you so angry and hot, may not another have the power to heal?" 

 And thus, the sage healed two people that day.

-Author unknown


Tuesday, July 20, 2010

"Thank You", the phrase that pays.....

I was coming out of the grocery store last night, and as I hit a parking lot bump, my potato rolls jumped out of a bag and hit the pavement. A teen walking the other way stopped short, picked up the rolls and said "Here you go, Ma'am", tipped his baseball cap and started to walk away.

"Ma'am? Hat tip?" I thought. "Wow. From a teen, even!".

"Thank you so much!" I said with a grin. Just then, I thought, "Wow..."thank you" is a word that has been ingrained to be an automatic response. Did I say it out of reflex, or did I say it because I meant it?"

I did mean it. I was more thankful seeing a teen, all decked out in teen fashion, using "Sir" and "Ma'am", tipping his baseball cap like days of yore, than thankful about my potato rolls. Potato rolls are a dime a dozen.....seeing such formality and manners with teens, is a jewel! I thanked that kid, not for preserving my rolls, but for renewing my faith in youth manners that I thought was slowly being lost.

I think he knew my "thank you" was heartfelt and least I hope so! However... some people have a hard time saying thank you. Have you met people like that?

Some of us have different reasons why we might have a hard time saying "Thank You", but consider this....

A student of mine quoted an an acquaintance of his as once harshly saying "The word 'sorry' is the most overused word in the friggin' English language, get over the sorry part and start doing!" Well, you know why its so overused? Because some people *expect* the word "sorry" to be payment for a perceived affront....those same people don't use or choose not to use the words "thank you" enough to acknowledge the other's willingness to acknowledge their mistake.

Get off the ego high one really *owes* you the word "sorry". It would be one thing if you loaned a friend your lawnmower, and the friend accidentally broke it by running over a hidden rock or tree root. Yes they might have broke it, and yes the right thing to do is for them to apologize and maybe offer to fix it or buy you a new one. But really, they don't *owe* you anything if it was an accident. Would you demand the same apology from yourself if YOU broke the mower under same accidental circumstances? Why is it that you'd let yourself slide yet demand the World from your friend?

If you see the world in extreme black or white, or if you demand the world always be fair to you, you're in for a shock...the world *owes you nothing*. Its been here before you...if anything YOU owe *it*. Say "Thank you" for the opportunity to live on this particular area of the Universe!

"Thank you" is the phrase that acknowedges acceptance for both giver and receiver. Use it often!

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The right tools.....

 "If you only have a hammer, you tend to see every problem as a nail." -Abraham Maslow.

Today, a friend needed some tools and I was asked if I had a socket set with a spark plug socket. Usually, I carry a toolkit with me in my car at all times, but I left the toolkit at home months ago and never put it back in my trunk. I felt badly that I didn't have the toolkit with me, and it reminded me of a situation that happened years ago......

One day, during my Mighty-Mites class, we were practicing inward strike (or inward block, in other systems), and little Timmy asked "Sifu, why do we do inward strike like that?"

I paused for a second to realize that he wasn't asking "Why is it called inward strike?" but "why its done like that". If he had asked "why is it called?", that would be easy to answer! "Because it goes *inward* toward our centerline!"....but he asked *why* it was executed like that, and honestly, I didn't have an answer because he took me by surprise. Most kids always ask "why is it called this or that?". All the other kids chimed in, "Yeah, Sifu, why do we do it like that?"

Wow, simple question, and I had no answer. I could have explained all the academic points of proper weapon placement, mapping, and choice of techniques for a given self defense situation, but the kids were 5 years old.....would they even care about all that academic mumbo jumbo that probably wouldn't make sense till they were at least 8 years old?

At that time, it was getting around time for a short water break, so I said, "I'll answer that question after break...." and I let the kids take their break. As I was walking to my office to get my water bottle, I noticed that the locker that carried all our tools was ajar. As I shut the locker door, I thought "That's it! Tools!" I gathered up a hammer, a few small nails, a screw, a bolt, a nut, a flathead screwdriver, a Phillips head screwdriver, and a wrench, along with some pieces of board from a previous board breaking class.

After break, I called the class together and said "Remember a few minutes ago, when Timmy asked 'why do we do inward strike like that? Who remembers?" All hands raise, all voices ring "I remember! I do!"

"Well, who has ever watched their Mom or Dad use a screwdriver? Who knows what a screwdriver is?" All hands raise. I pulled out the screwdriver and said "This is a tool that is used to put screws (held up a screw) into things like wood or a wall." I showed them the flathead and the Phillips, and started the screw into one of the board pieces with the flathead (single slot screw). I let each of them try to turn the screw a few turns. Then Anne exclaimed "Hey, the other screwdriver won't fit! Its got a different shape!"

"That's right! Good eye, Anne! This flathead is the right tool for this job, since the screw only has one slot. The other screwdriver, is that the right tool?"  "NOOOOO!" said the class. "Same type of tools, they both are, but one doesn't work for this job."

Then, I started a nail into the board with the hammer. After I got it a little way into the wood, I pulled out the Phillips screwdriver and tried to "hammer" it with the tip and the handle. The kids laughed. "Is THIS screwdriver the right tool?"  "NOOOOO!"

Then, I took out a bolt and nut, pushed the bolt through several layers of paper and turned the nut on. "Now I gotta tighten this bolt!" I used the hammer, and the kids laughed. "Well that's not gonna work. How about this?" I used the screwdrivers. More laughter. "Well, dang, that's not gonna work either. Let's see, let's try this!" I grabbed the adustable wrench and fitted it onto the nut. "Wait! This thing can fit on the bolt!! Michael, can you turn this and see if it makes the nut go tighter?" Michael turned the wrench a few times. "Its working! its moving!"

"See? We have to have the right tools for the job!". I stood up and said "Michael, I want you to pretend that I'm an attacker, and I want you to show the your best side kick to my knee!.....don't hit me for real though!" Michael got up, assumed his tiger stance, and did his best side kick with a kiai. "Very nice! Now, I'm gonna change my position, and I want you to side kick me in the knee again!"  I fell to both knees, and bent over a little bit to hide my stomach. Michael got into his tiger stance, then said "But I can't side kick your knee, you're hiding 'em!" The class erupted in giggles.

"That's true! So your side kick to the knee is probably not the best tool to use, huh? But the job is, put down the bad guy, so what other tool can I use?"  The class shouted out "front kick!", "Palm strike!", and other weapons. "Those are all correct! But, we can't use all those tools for all the places you can hit. Tell me, what target is open right now?"


"True! Can you kick that high?"

"No! Too high!"

"What could we use, then?"

"Palm strike!" 

"Timmy, show me how you'd use palm strike to face". Timmy ran up, and did a great palm strike toward my nose. (very close! Whew!)  "Right, Tim! You got it!"

"See? We always need the right tools for the job. "How about punch? Can you punch me in nose NOW?" I turned my body to face away from Timmy. "No! Too slow to run around to your face!" Timmy said. So I said "How about inward strike? Where can you strike?" And without warning, he landed his inward strike to my ear. Whew, luckily, not enough power to bust an eardrum, but it woke me up for sure!

"I get it!" Timmy said. "Sometimes ya gotta use other strikes when ya can't do punch!"

"That's right, Tim. Did you feel that inward strike was the best tool that time?"

"Yeeeaaah. It was easy! Is that why inward strike is done like that?"

"For this can't-get-to-my-face-job, Timmy, yeah!"

Little Paul was looking at the pile of tools nearby, and piped up....."Sifu, but this thing....(held up a phillips screw) didn't use the other screwdriver! (he picks up the phillips head). Hey, this thing fits in BOTH this one AND the other one (single slot screw)! Hey look!!!"

"We'll......go over that another day, Paul...."


As adults, we know that certain professions have certain tools that are needed for their jobs. Plumbers tend to have a slightly different toolset than carpenters, and carpenters have a different toolset than, let's say, car mechanics. But as Paul pointed out, sometimes a single tool can span different jobs. In martial arts, we learn how to use all our "tools" for multiple "jobs", in an myriad of ways. In life, the more "tools" you have, the greater the chances you can "fix" what needs to be fixed, or the greater the chances you have for figuring out how to construct something.

Do you have multiple "tools" in life? Or do you carry only one or two tools only because they're the only ones you know how to use? Why not learn how to use other tools? 

Our past experiences, our opinions, our outlooks, even our predictions, are types of these tools. In simple example, If all you know and expect from life is negativity, then guess'll see everything, no matter great it is, as a letdown or a perceived insult.....your perceptions will have operated on only the tools that you know how to use.  On the other hand, if you're overly confident and positive and don't allow reality to come into your mode of thought, then problems that need working on, won't get worked on if you think that the problem will solve itself just with positive intent. There has to be a balance....a point where *all* our tools in our toolboxes will be useful for our specific jobs. We must purchase our tools wisely, and if need be, seek instruction from someone else familiar with a particular tool, on how to use them. 

Now, if I could only figure out what I bought my big impact wrench for.   :)

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The Importance of Martial Arts Etiquette , addendum....

I forgot to add a few other points to the importance of etiquette in Martial Arts. These points address the confusing aspects of Wu De (martial ethics):


1) Try to uphold your ethics even if the seniors and teachers don't do it themselves.
---This can be confusing, because we're supposed to follow our senior's and teacher's leads, right? But teachers are human and make mistakes or might get involved with situations that challenge the ethics of your art or even the morality of the general public. Keep to your manners, and stick to your guns. Don't be the lemming that runs off the cliff just because the others do.

2) Dishonesty is not allowed.
--- Don't lie to your classmates or teachers to cover up something. Unless you're keeping a surprise party a secret, don't tell lies to cover up for someone else.

3) If your school's ethics fall by the wayside, ask yourself honestly: "Can I stick around turning a blind eye to the broken manners and still feel good about myself and my training?"
---If you find yourself in an uncomfortable situation, its okay to take a leave of absence or leave the school if need be. Its your training....take pride in it but don't tarnish it with bad manners or turning a blind eye to bad manners and ethics. If you're looking merely for the techniques then sure, stick around and deal with it, but you won't be studying a true "art" if you're all about the skill and looking cool and willfully ignoring the manners and ethics.

4) Remember, you are in charge of the work you put into the training. You reap what you sow.
---Your teachers have made a commitment to show you their should make a commitment to doing the best you can while you're at the school. YOU do the work. You'll feel really great about it in the long run.

Thoughout my own training, I met people who thought that "Training" meant just showing up for classes. They showed "committment" to showing up, so didn't that deserve a gold star or something? Well yes, it could mean that...*assuming the work they do is hard, dedicated, and earnest. "Sweat and hard work brings one will give it to you on a silver platter", My Dad used to say.


Teachers, its exactly the same as for the students:

1) Try to uphold your ethics even if the students don't do it themselves.
---Remember you're a guide that leads by example. Show them the importance of your school's etiquette and be sure they learn the true nature of it, instead of just having them blindly follow rules for fear of getting punished.

2) Dishonesty is not allowed.
--Do not destroy student's trust in you. (I mentioned that in my previous post). Don't manipulate the students. Remember that one lie begets another, and it will get to the point where you won't be able to keep the lies straight.

3) If your school's ethics fall by the wayside, ask yourself honestly: "Can I stick around turning a blind eye to the broken manners and still feel good about myself, my position, and my school?"
---If the students continually break protocol, you have the right to have them take a leave of absence or leave the school altogether. Its your school and your reputation......take pride in it but don't tarnish it with bad manners or turning a blind eye to bad manners and ethics. If you're looking merely for more students, more money and prestige, then sure, stick around and deal with it, but you won't be teaching a true "art" if you're all about prestige and willfully ignoring the manners and ethics.

4) Remember, you are in charge of the work you put into the training. You reap what you sow.
---Your students have made a commitment to work hard at the should make a commitment to doing the best you can while you're at the school as well. Teach them well, but understand that skill alone doesn't put the label "Martial Artist" on them.

5) Leave your ego and sense of entitlement out of the picture.
--- Your position as a teacher carries many benefits as well as great burdens of responsibility. As much work as you do teaching your students, you do not own them. Don't force them to stay or threaten them if they choose to leave. They too, are individuals and good teachers will let them go if they choose, or dismiss them if they are not upholding a moral standard. Some will stay away, and some will return, and either way you should take it as a learning experience. You are an experienced guide, and good students will continue to follow you if you keep your end of the school's etiquette as well as they. To keep students via manipulation is purely ego-driven.

I've had kids that were all "gung ho" one minute, and wanting to play on the ultimate frisbee team the next. I had a kid who wanted to play on the frisbee league, and I let him do it, saying "Wow, sounds like fun....I bet your Wushu will help that jumping for the frisbee, huh?". Then, some months later, he returned, excited about how his Wushu helped the games and he also learned new things that made his wushu much better when he returned. On the other hand, I have students who have left for other activities, school, or other life reasons. My wushu class is relatively small due to those who have chosen other paths, but "I don't own them", so no harm, no foul. If they choose to return, the door is always open.

There are two types of students when it comes to manners and etiquette....those who follow them, and those who do not.....

Which one are YOU??