Monday, December 28, 2009

What do your techniques say about you?

Self Actualization

Bruce Lee understood self actualization and the martial arts very well. He spoke of it often. To him, the actualization of ones inner person was the purpose of martial arts training. It puts the “art” in martial art. As an actor, I suspect Bruce was very comfortable ignoring who he was on the inside to portray the character he needed to on the outside. Thus it makes perfect sense to me that his challenge was to use his martial art to express who he actually was as a person... to “express himself honestly”, as he would say.

For better or worse the way we perform our techniques is always an actualization of ourselves. Those with sloppy, lazy technique tend to lead sloppy, lazy lives. Those who can not relax and too rigidly perform their actions are likely spending too much time in a state of “stress” and “overwhelmed.” Those too timid and shy in life may perform their techniques with out snap or spirited yelling.

Listen to what your techniques say about who you are. Begin to let them speak for the person you wish to become. Balanced, focused, driven, powerful, confident, secure.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Good parenting is simple, but difficult.

Raising a child is both the most rewarding and most difficult thing you will do in your life. Read this story to find the secret that experts feel is the most important thing you can do to raise great kids!

"A man came home from work late, tired and irritated, to find his 5-year old son waiting for him at the door.

SON: Daddy, may I ask you a question?
DAD: Yeah sure, what it is? replied the man.
SON: Daddy, how much do you make an hour?
DAD: That’s none of your business. Why do you ask such a thing? the man said angrily.
SON: I just want to know. Please tell me, how much do you make an hour?
DAD: If you must know, I make $50 an hour.
SON: Oh, the little boy replied, with his head down.
SON: Daddy, may I please borrow $25?

The father was furious, If the only reason you asked that is so you can borrow some money to buy a silly toy or some other nonsense, then you march yourself straight to your room and go to bed. Think about why you are being so selfish. I don’t work hard everyday for such childish frivolities. The little boy quietly went to his room and shut the door.

The man sat down and started to get even angrier about the little boy’s questions. How dare he ask such questions only to get some money.

After about an hour or so, the man had calmed down, and started to think: Maybe there was something he really needed to buy with that $25, he really didn’t ask for money very often. The man went to the door of the little boy’s room and opened the door.

Are you asleep, son? he asked. No daddy, I’m awake, replied the boy. I’ve been thinking, maybe I was too hard on you earlier, said the man. It’s been a long day and I took out my aggravation on you. Here’s the $25 you asked for. The little boy sat straight up, smiling. Oh, thank you daddy! he yelled.

Then, reaching under his pillow he pulled out some crumpled up bills. The man saw that the boy already had money and started to get angry again.

The little boy slowly counted out his money, and then looked up at his father. Why do you want more money if you already have some? the father grumbled.

Because I didn’t have enough, but now I do, the little boy replied. Daddy, I have $50 now. Can I buy an hour of your time? Please come home early tomorrow, I would like to have dinner with you.

The father was crushed. He put his arms around his little son, and he begged for his forgiveness. It’s just a short reminder to all of you working so hard in life. We should not let time slip through our fingers without having spent some time with those who really matter to us, those close to our hearts. Do remember to share that $50 worth of your time with someone you love?"

Educators and child development experts all know that spending quality time with your child ranks at the top of things you can do to raise a happy and successful child. Have you spent some quality time with your child lately? If not here are two suggestions:

1.) Have regular daily family time (remember when families used to eat dinner together),

2.) Schedule a weekly “date” with your child.

*Thanks to Sensei Sam Larioza from Ohana Karate in Fowlerville for reminding me of this story.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

An Excerpt from Master Vigil's (soon to be published) Book

The Genesis of Martial Arts

Since the first fur-clad, foul smelling, thick-skulled human picked up a big stick and whacked a bear, we have been working on combat. I can see it so clearly:

Caveman 1:“Ugh, how not die to bear?”
Caveman 2: “Me hit with big stick!”
Caveman 1: “Show Caveman 2!”
Caveman 2: “Yuh!”

As Caveman 2 swings his stick in demonstration, the first martial arts form is born.

Every lasting people has had to systematize the study of combat. This is where the “martial” in martial arts originates. gives us the meaning of martial as “inclined or disposed to war; warlike”. If we called it “martial study” instead of “martial art” it would be much easier to trace the lineage of the first martial artists. But the addition of the word “art” after “martial” makes things complicated. gives us the definition of “art” as “the quality, production, expression, or realm, according to aesthetic principles, of what is beautiful, appealing, or of more than ordinary significance”. Every culture has had to systematize combat to survive, but no culture has had to systematize art. Who were the first people to establish this link and system? Perhaps more importantly, why did they do it?

Historians have credited everyone from ancient Korean peninsula warriors, to Native Americans as being the first to link warriorhood with art. One such story claims that a Buddhist temple was constantly under assault from bandits. The monks of this temple began to incorporate punching, kicking, blocking and movement into their meditation in order to be able to better defend their temple. They did it not with the intention of creating martial art, but rather as a way to remain peaceful in the heart while being violent with the body. A visiting monk from China witnessed their practice, thought highly of it, and brought it back to his temple. Such, as the story goes, is the birth of Kung-Fu, which many consider to be the oldest martial art in practice.

What is important to understand about the birth of martial arts is not the who, what, when and where – but rather the why. Picture this: The year is 551 A.D, and you are a new recruit in the military of the Silla dynasty of what will eventually become Korea. You are one of the legendary Hwarang warriors, though you are yet untested in real combat. You stand in your armor, grip your spear, and fill the ranks of the front line, but you are not a warrior yet.

You were born a farmer, the loving son of a doting father and mother. In your youth you were known as a compassionate, friendly young person. Perhaps you enjoyed simple, peaceful hobbies like fishing and calligraphy. The Silla dynasty was introduced to the peaceful ways of Buddhism in the 300s, and adopted them fully in 527, so it is likely that you are a Buddhist.

Now you stand on a mountain side overlooking the city of Seoul. Without the benefit of hindsight, you are unaware that capturing this city is a pivotal moment in the history of your country. You are a member of it's most famous warrior culture, it's proudest dynasty, and on the eve of capturing the capital city that will endure even until the 21st century.

As you and your fellow Hwarang swarm the city you experience bloodshed like you have never thought possible. You are cut several times, though your life is never threatened. You see skulls crushed, limbs torn from their bodies, and hear the screams of men dying in anguish. For you this is not an isolated occurrence, it will become a regular part of your life.

You are faced with two choices – lose the person you were in youth, and become a cursing, aggressive, angry marauder, or find a path to inner peace despite your external circumstance. If you choose the former you become just more battlefield fodder, choose the latter and you become a martial artist.

If you are reading this book, I suspect you would join me in the ranks of the martial artists. The unifying trait of all martial artists is combat. Without combat there is nowhere to begin, no cause to develop the mental and spiritual strengths under discussion in this book. The challenge for the martial artist of today's world is find where his “battle” is. For instance, Japanese businesspeople of the 1980s read Sun Tzu's Art of War as though it were a religious text, and a manual for corporate management – and treated the boardroom like the battlefield.

The true origin of martial arts is impossible to identify, but to my mind it was the first time a warrior tried to make sense of war. He found a way to not lose himself to the blood and gore, but also to return to peace a stronger and more balanced person for having been at war. He found a way to pass on his physical combat skills, and in so doing the mental strength associated with the ability to apply them. The origin of martial arts is the first time a warrior took the things that were “inclined or disposed to war; warlike” and turned them into “the quality, production, expression, or realm, according to aesthetic principles, of what is beautiful, appealing, or of more than ordinary significance”.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Doers and Critics

Keith Hafner is a veteran martial arts teacher, a controversial personality, author of "Rock Solid Kids", and my good friend. He has always been a source of great wisdom. Always knowing just what to say, and how to say it, Keith has a beautiful way with plain English.

This is one of my favorite things ever written by Mr. Hafner:

"Criticism has its own agenda." That's what I wrote at the beginning of the week on our school chalkboard.

Immunity to criticism is one of the key building blocks in a successful person's life.

Too often, when a person tries to make positive changes in their life...they are shot down by neighbors, co-workers, or relatives.

Here is what you need to know: there are two types of people in the world...

Doers and Critics.

Most people are one or the other. Rarely does a person have "dual membership" in these groups.

Why? Because critics criticize instead of doing anything constructive in their own lives. Being critical of others serves as a substitute (a very poor one) for positive, constructive action.

And -- Doers are seldom critics. They are too busy focusing on their own goals!

If you are a Doer...NEVER, ever worry about what the Critics are saying! Their vote, their opinion of what you are doing, simply doesn't count!

I'm reminded of this quote by Theodore Roosevelt...

"It's not the critic who counts, not the man who points out how the strong man stumbled, or when the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena; whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions and spends himself in a worth cause; who at the best, knows in the end the triumph of high achievement; and who at the worst if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory or defeat."

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The Four Stages of Learning

Practicing Martial Arts makes it easy to understand the four stages of learning that apply in any endeavor. They are as follows,

I. Unconscious Incompetence.

You have absolutely no idea what's going. You flail around, you think it's right, but you aren't sure. At this stage of learning you are just trying to figure out which way the pants go, and think someone gave you a belt that is six sizes too big.

II. Conscious Incompetence.

This is the phase where your realize something is different between you and the teacher. You start recognizing what you need to do - but can not make your body do it. The fun part of this stage is that you set goals for improvement.

III. Conscious Competence.

Stage three is where, if you really think about each facet of a technique you can actually get it right. It's the stage where, with a lot of forethought and careful execution you can begin to mirror your teacher.

IV. Unconscious Competence.

This is what I would call the black belt phase - it's where you can perform movements, execute blocks, strikes and movements on instinct. No thought, just action and reaction. A 1st degree black belt should have their basic techniques built into an unconscious competence.

This is why we so often say that training really begins at the black belt. The basics are not just known, but have become a part of you. It's a foundation on which you can build a martial artist of true strength and skill.

Your challenge as a martial artist is to recognize which stage your individual techniques are in. Moreover, your challenge is to figure out what other areas in life the four stages of learning apply.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Where does a Martial Artist eat in the Northville area?

I've wanted to do a blog entry about one of my favorite subjects for a long time. It's not, I'll warn you, in any way a martial arts related post... but it is Northville related. The subject?


Jess and I love sampling the fare at as many restaurants as possible. I'm always on the lookout for something new, so I thought I'd share my favorite places with you all in hope that you would do the same.

Most Frequented:

Sushi House, 9 Mile and Farmington Rd. - Farmington, Mi. Not that far away at all, quite honestly the best sushi I have had in the Midwest. Better than 99% on the coasts too. They also have a handful of Japanese and Korean dishes on the menu for the non-sushi person in your family.

Best Place to Celebrate:

Flemings, off of Haggerty Rd. behind Bravo/Cladaugh/Mitchell's fish market. If you want to celebrate an anniversary, birthday or big promotion this is the place to do it. It's mostly a steak house, so veggie-lovers be warned. Great Martinis. This is one of the best restaurants I've been to anywhere.

Best Pizza:

Benitos. They have locations in both Northville and Novi. Benitos has some absolutely wonderful “gourmet” selections. I believe they make their own sauce and cheese daily, and then use all very fresh and high quality ingredients. My favorite? The Portobello - fresh mozzarella, goat cheese, portobello mushrooms, caramelized onions, roasted garlic, Italian parsley, white wine sauce.

Best Asian Specialty:

Shiro, 9 mile in Novi. This place is a great all around restaurant. It's expensive, but not as expensive as Flemings. They do “Japanese with a French flair”. I know it sounds weird, but I had a teriyaki filet mignon, and it was excellent. They also have sushi that is very good, and an impressive menu. Very good service and drink from the bar.

Other Local Places of interest:

Claddaugh, Livonia Michigan. Best fish and chips around.
Bonefish, Novi Michigan. Best fish in general.
Number VI chophouse, Novi Michigan. Best seafood, and second only to Flemings for steak.
Steve and Rocky's, Novi Michigan. Best desert.
J. Alexander's. Best place to bring a large group of people for a “nice” dinner. Good variety, good food, reasonably priced and excellent service.
Diamond Jim Brady's Bistro, Novi Michigan. Best burgers.
Green Cedar, Livonia Michigan. Excellent Lebanese food, and a good place to eat healthy.
Maisano's Italian Restaurant, Novi Michigan. Best Italian.
Box Bar, Plymouth Michigan. Best beer selection. (All things in moderation. :) )

Please add to this list!

Friday, June 19, 2009

5 Ways to Learn Faster

You might find it surprising to know that I am not now, nor have I ever been, a naturally gifted martial artist. In fact, the opposite is probably true. Woe was the poor teacher who gave me my "introductory" lessons. A solid hour of working on a single stance and a single step can drive even the most patient of people to the brink - particularly when the student is still confused at the end.

To this day, in classes with my peers, I am among the most bewildered. I rarely seem to "get it" right away, and consequently spend the first class on a new subject frustrating my poor teacher. (Some things never change.) However, I can say with confidence that I am usually at the front of the pack by the end of two or three classes - and as evidenced by various medals, degrees and well performed techniques, I eventually "get it" better than most.

What's my secret?

I practice more. Or, better said, I leverage small bits of time to create big improvements in my practice. Here are some ideas:

1) Visualize. I'm always thinking about my techniques. In the shower, before I go to sleep, driving in my car, spacing out at my desk... I use what I like to call "focused daydreaming." What do I visualize?

a. My teacher doing the technique.
b. Me doing the technique piece by piece, at first incorrectly and then getting better until I'm doing it perfectly.
c. Me using the technique while sparring.
d. Me using the technique while defending myself.
e. Someone else correctly performing the technique on me.

2) Practice in class. I'm always surprised to see students standing around during a class. If you are waiting in line for your turn at the target, don't talk to the person next to you, practice the technique.

3) If the teacher is talking, I'm listening. I do this two ways - one, if the teacher is explaining something I never interrupt to ask a question, or add my own understanding. I just keep my trap shut, and look for any new little gem of information that might improve me. Two, I eavesdrop when other students are asking questions and the teacher is explaining things to them. Many times I learn something about my problem, by listening to someone else solve their problem.

4) I practice my weakest techniques first.

5) Mindful practice. I never perform an action without thought. I am always trying to think about every little detail of what I'm doing - to put each toe in right place, to be careful where I'm looking, where is my balance etc. I am hunting for anything that might need improvement, and once weakness is found I attack it.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

You'll See It When You Believe It

The human mind processes thousands of bits of information in it's conscious in an instant. The sub-conscious mind processes millions at the same time. What does this mean? It means that over the long haul, your sub-conscious mind has infinitely more power over your state of being than does your conscious mind. The conscious mind has to be deliberately controlled, purposely focused, willfully directed – whereas the subconscious will function and have its effect automatically.

This is why people say, “Positive thinking doesn't work.”

Now, I think it probably goes without saying that I’m an optimist – a positive thinker. But in some way, I have to agree with these pessimists. They are actually right, in a manner of speaking. Why am I siding with these naysayer? Because what is a thought? A thought, whether positive or negative, is a product of the conscious mind. That means that it requires willful, deliberate, controlled effort to think positively – but if that positive thought is contrary to what is negative in your subconscious mind, you will have no long term success. What I’m saying is that, eventually, your conscious mind will become tired of fighting against your subconscious, and you will lose the ability to affect your state of mind for the positive. The subconscious, because of its greater capacity for processing, will always win out over the conscious.

Let me give you an example:

I heard a speaker once, Jason Bidwell, share his experience in this area. He said, “My dad left before I can remember, and my mother really didn’t want a kid around. She bounced us from house to house, place to place, boyfriend to boyfriend. I was constantly in an environment where I was being told, ‘Your worthless, stupid, and your never going to do anything with your life.’”

“Well, when I got to be about 17 I said, ‘Enough of this!’ and I left home to make my way in the world. I told myself I could be anything I wanted, do anything I wanted to do, and I set out to prove my mother and her boyfriends wrong.” And so he did…… for a while.

“I began to build a company, and we were doing great. It was a landscaping business, and in a couple years we were really on top. We had several trucks, all painted proudly with my name, dozens of employees and a nice office. But as we grew, and the closer I got to real success, I began to feel unhappy. Pretty soon I found myself blowing off important meetings, not taking urgent phone calls, and before you know it my business was bankrupt, and I had nothing.”

“Not only did I follow this cycle once, but I managed to do it three times. The next two times I built a million dollar company, and a multi-million dollar company. I had everything – the Ferrari, the huge house, a beautiful girlfriend. Eventually though, I always sabotaged myself, and ultimately I wound up living on the streets.”

From a Ferrari, to being homeless.

“After living homeless for a while (and he talked a lot about the horrors of shelter food) I realized I had to get my life back together. This time I wasn’t shooting for the moon, I just wanted some stability. So I began to look everywhere for answers. I looked at Church, seminars, books – anything, trying to piece together the bits of my broken life. Finally back on my feet, I shared my story with a man who became my mentor. He told me, ‘Jason, self sabotage is nothing more than you continuing to be who you believe you are.’ You see, despite all my efforts trying to prove everyone wrong about me, deep down I believed what my mother and her boyfriends said. I truly believed I was never going to be anything. Once I changed that, I never had a problem staying on top again.”

This is why I say, “You’ll See It When You Believe It.”

Your beliefs are what make up your subconscious mind, or better said your self image. I once asked Master Jung what made him a two time world champion… what did it really take? What he told me was basically, “I deserved it.” Perhaps Master Hafner put it better. In a group of school owners someone asked him, “Sir, what was the big thing that happened when you went from having 200 students in your school to have 1200?” His answer? “I began to see myself as a person who had a school of 1200 people.”

But beliefs do not have to be grand. In fact, I think no grand belief can exist without hundreds of supporting smaller beliefs. Let me give some examples of beliefs I’ve changed in my own life that I would consider to be “supporting beliefs.”

From: I can’t wake up before 9am and function.
To: I am a morning person!

From: This mess has a system to it, I can find anything I need. (load of crap)
To: I am HYPER organized.

From: If I’m not the best, I don’t want to do it.
To: I will rise to the top of any group I’m in, if I stick it out like the tortoise.

So the key to positive change isn’t really positive thinking. It’s understanding and affecting your beliefs, so that positivity takes over your subconscious and “bubbles up” into action. I would encourage you to take stock of the beliefs you have that may be limiting you, and replace them with new beliefs that are empowering.

The next time you feel sad, frustrated, angry or over whelmed, ask yourself, “What would I have to believe to feel this way?” You might have to believe that the situation was outside of your control, that there was nothing you could do to affect things for the positive, you might have to believe you were helpless. Then you might say to yourself – “well I don’t believe I’m helpless, I believe that I can affect a change here!” Then you’d be on a road to a happier, healthier Black Belt kind of world.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Thoughts on Striking vs. Grappling, and MMA

My preface: I study both striking and grappling martial arts. Though I primarily teach Taekwondo (a striking martial art) I also actively train in Judo, and have trained in Jujitsu in the past. I have no bias to either.

The UFC has skyrocketed the interest in wrestling, sambo and other grappling oriented martial arts. As guys like BJ Penn, Royce Gracie, Tito Ortiz and other grapplers of renown dominate their divisions there is even talk of the superiority of grappling arts over striking arts. Phrases like, "95% of fights end up on the ground" have become popular. At the end of the day most experts will tell you that you need a mix of both.

But, since I so often hear people listing reasons to train in grappling I thought I'd list some ones to train in striking to balance them out. :) I'm not trying to knock grappling, it's important! This is just meant to be food for thought.

- 95% of fights end up on the ground, but 100% start on the feet.

- It is possible to end fights with the FIRST punch in less than 5 seconds.

- Grappling with someone immobilizes you, and even if you are choking one guy out it's impossible to avoid his buddy kicking you in the back of the head.

- You can't bite or break fingers in the UFC like you can in a real fight. Biting overcomes a lot of grappling.

- Even the best grapplers lose some technique possibilities because of size disparity between the two fighters. For example, if I'm 5' and 120lbs. I probably can't throw a 6'4" 260lbs. guy over my head. However, I can kick him, and just about anyone else in the groin.

- If you are on your feet and at a distance when someone pulls a gun or a knife it's easier to run away than if you are holding on to them or on your back.

- Taekwondo and Boxing arguably represent the best of the kicking and the best of the punching world. Both have their own established amateur and professional organizations, and both can take you to the pinnacle of athletic competition - the Olympics. These were established long before the UFC and other MMA leagues came about, so we probably have not seen nearly the highest caliber of striker enter the UFC. Picture Roy Jones Jr. or Mike Tyson in their prime, hitting a guy with 6 oz. gloves on. Not many people (even boxers) can withstand that devastating of a blow.