Getting Ahead Of The Curve

About three weeks ago, I wrote a post about what I intended to do for my New Year’s resolution. It’s pretty ambitious, considering most people will choose one thing or another, such as losing weight or eating healthier, joining a gym or quitting booze or smoking. I chose a rather elaborate spreadsheet that included the following steps:

  • No alcohol;
  • No tobacco;
  • Minimum of 3 workouts a week;
  • No soda;
  • No processed carbohydrates;
  • No junk food (yes, there’s a difference);
  • No added salt;
  • Minimum of 3 litres of water a day; and
  • Taking only the stairs where possible.

My intention had been to start it on December 29th as this is the Sunday that encompasses the January 1st week. However, I read someone else’s post about New Year’s resolutions and I was reminded of a couple of things.

Although it can be great to take yourself in hand and make a resolution in order to better yourself, if you wait until New Year’s in order to make that change it’s likely not important enough to you. The other aspect one needs to consider is, why wait?

I think the post I read said it best when they explained that if your resolution is to join a gym, why walk in as the new guy on January 1st when the new people will walk in and you’re already a regular? In that spirit, I started my New Year’s resolution on December 15th.

My first two weeks of the challenge

As you can see from the spreadsheet above, it’s pretty straightforward. At the end of the Saturday evening, I put green checks on the items I accomplished and a red “X” on the items I did not. The workouts have been rough, considering karate has been shut down for the holidays. Otherwise, I’d be hitting four workouts for both those weeks. Plus, it’s the holidays! I’ve been a little a little busy focusing on the actual holidays and on family.

Although there is already a touch of red on my ledger, the important aspect to remember is that a resolution is intended to help improve oneself. I’ve also been allowing myself a “cheat day” on Fridays. From what I’ve researched, folks have a better chance of sticking to any sort of regiment or major change in lifestyle and diet if they allow themselves a touch of indulgence once in a while.

I won’t bore all of you by posting updates on this every week, but I’ll provide some updates every few months to show my progress. We’ll see how long I can tough it out… ☯

Do You Even Lift, Bro?

I’ve always been a bit more of a loner when it comes to training. For the most part, I prefer some solitude in order to listen to my own music, have access to my own equipment and not be hindered by others who may be at a station that I want to use. Obviously, this doesn’t apply to the martial arts, which often requires the dojo setting for some aspects. I mostly mean resistance and cardio training.

Oh, I’ve had gym memberships in the past and have made wonderful use of them in the past. But I’ve always been surprised at the “muscle shirt, light lifters need not apply” culture that still seems to exist in many gyms.

I remember an incident from almost eight years ago. I had a membership at a local gym (the only gym in town, actually). I had gone in for a short cardio workout before starting a work shift and I saw a guy standing in front of the dumbbell racks and arm curling some 10-pound weights. I remember thinking that he was really into his workout and had a great sweat going.

Then I noticed three guys at the squat rack. They were your typical types that you’d see in an 80’s action movie. Sleeveless shirts, thick arms and chest and monopolizing the station they’ve chosen. They had been there for a while and were obviously very pleased with themselves.

When they took notice of the guy with the lighter weights, they started pointing and laughing. One of them even called out to the guy and asked, “Do you even lift, bro?” This is an expression that came out in the early 2000’s and has driven me crazy ever since.

Folks, the reality is that it doesn’t matter how light or how heavy your weights may be. I’ve seen some circuit workouts using very light weights that would land you on your ass and make you limp the next morning. The style and weight involved in your workout all depends on what your goal happens to be.

Looking to lose weight? Want to gain some mass? Want to gain some actual strength as opposed to size? The workout regiment you design for yourself is subjective to what you’re trying to accomplish. And if it’s your first time stepping into a gym or any other public location where folks workout, you’re already one step ahead of the person who chose to stay on the couch today.

Unfortunately, there may always be those who chose to make fun or belittle others who are trying to better themselves. Don’t let it discourage you. As Lao Tzu once said, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.” The beginning you make today will provide the results and satisfaction you have tomorrow. ☯

A Reminder Of Respect…

I wrote a post about six months ago outlining the proper guidelines one should follow when attending ANY martial arts school. Some of these are simply a matter of tradition, some of them are necessary to ensure that a dojo runs smoothly. Some, mostly all of them, are also a show of respect for the school you’ve chosen to attend.

In recent months, I’ve had the opportunity to observe some students, visitors and outsiders in a few different martial arts circles. Based on some of the things I’ve observed, I think it would be useful for me to repost some of those guidelines. Here we go:

  1. Bow when entering or exiting the dojo: This seems like a bit of a tiny detail, but it is an important one. It provides a show of respect; respect towards the instructors, respect towards the ones who trained before you, and respect towards the school;
  2. Ensure your Gi, or karate uniform, is clean and pressed: This one is important not only for protocol and etiquette, but for hygiene reasons as well. And you would be surprised how many people overlook it. There’s nothing worse than someone who assumes that their last workout wasn’t intense enough to warrant laundering their uniform. Make sure it’s clean. Not only does that ensure a more “pleasant” environment for yourself and the other students, it shows proper respect for the uniform you wear on your journey;
  3. Stand straight and pay attention: When not executing a movement in the immediate moment, it is imperative that you stand straight and tall, heels together and thumbs tucked into the front of your belt. Keep your gaze towards the front and pay close attention to what the head instructor is saying. Try to avoid looking around and fidgeting. A big part of discipline is being able to focus long enough to build an attention span beyond that of a goldfish;
  4. Acknowledge every instruction given: Different styles will have different ways of doing this. Some will choose a shallow bow when the head instructor provides instruction, some will answer in the affirmative by saying Hai (Japanese for “yes”) or something of the like… The method of acknowledgment will depend on the style and school you’re in;
  5. No food or drink within the dojo: You would think this one would be common sense, but a martial arts school is no place for you to sip your mocha-choca latte while your kid trains. Since the average martial arts class only lasts about an hour and a half to two hours, you can manage this easily without having food and drink within the confines of a training environment;
  6. Get out of the way: If you become injured or over-tired, bow, step back and sit in seiza (on your knees) at the rear of the class. Stay out of the way and remove yourself from the flow of the class until your fatigue passes or your injury allows you to continue. Of course, if your injury is severe or serious enough to think you need to remove yourself, you likely shouldn’t continue as you could aggravate the injury further;
  7. Don’t show up late: This one is and always has been, a personal pet peeve of mine. Some instructors will say that if you show up late, it’s better to get “some of the workout” in rather than none at all. Although that is a great concept, showing up late can be disruptive to a class and shows great disrespect to your class and instructors. We all have busy lives. It falls to you to plan ahead and schedule things so that you may attend class. Whether or not showing up late is appropriate will be up to your head instructor, but true respect dictates that if you aren’t fifteen minutes early, you’re already late;
  8. Don’t waste your instructor’s time: Although you’ve likely paid a fee for your presence, the instructor(s) within the school are there to impart their knowledge and skills to you and others. If you aren’t going to put in your full effort, then you’re wasting your instructors time. Effectively, you’re also wasting your time AND the fee you paid. You’re also affecting the other student’s ability to learn properly. Food for thought…;
  9. Respect and train based on your partner: You will sometimes be paired with someone of lower or higher rank than yourself. If you’re paired with someone of lower rank, you become the example of what is to be taught. If you inflict injury upon your partner, you may discourage them from further learning and you will have gained nothing yourself. If training with someone of higher rank, respect should be given and you should take every advantage to learn from this person as they are in the same position you would be if training with a lower ranked belt.

Recently, I’ve seen everything from kids running around, coffee, students fidgeting and looking around… There was even one guy who showed up forty minutes late for class with a bag of cheeseburgers and ate while the rest of us did calisthenics! Besides the fact that the smell of burgers was killing me, a karate dojo is definitely NOT the place to eating, much less junk food.

Folks, no matter what sport or art you study, there will always be guidelines to follow. The martial arts simply has more, and that’s part of the charm. Although the above guidelines are only basic, they apply to any martial arts school you attend. Your specific dojo may have more, and this is one of those moments where it’s important to take the initiative and ask. After all, respect is a primary aspect of karate and all martial arts. ☯

The Burden Of Knowledge…

To teach is an interesting prospect. It requires a person to take the accumulated knowledge they’ve gained on any given subject and impart it on others in a way that is clearly and easily understood and absorbed. Since people aren’t exact copies of one another, this becomes all the more difficult when one considers that every person absorbs knowledge in a different way; some people listen, some people watch and some people must DO in order to learn. And I have dealt with them all…

Through the years, especially the past decade or so, I’ve had plenty of people ask me why I haven’t opened a school of karate. One of the biggest obstacles that I’ve faced is that my job usually has me moving to a different location every three to five years, which is definitely not conducive to the long-term teaching required for martial arts.

But the main reason, and the one that keeps me from slapping my style’s logo on a door is simply this: I just don’t want to. I should probably explain that statement. When a prospective student walks into the doors of any dojo, they take in the wonder and fascination that comes with watching a karate class. The students, garbed in crisp, white uniforms lined up facing the head instructor. The head instructor, or Sensei, providing the evening’s teaching in whatever form is required, be it calisthenics, forms, techniques or otherwise…

Meanwhile, what does the instructor get out of all of it? Yes, it’s important to acknowledge that learning and teaching go hand-in-hand in karate, no doubt about it. But teaching a class on any sort of permanent basis requires a certain level of loss that not all sensei are willing to pay.

If I take myself as an example, I have a certain amount of material that I need in order to pass my next grade of black belt. Now, I can train for probably about 90% of that required material by myself. But the remaining 10% usually requires a partner, specifically one who has the skill and technique to match what I’m trying to learn.

When I had opened my previous school, I would head to the dojo full of proverbial piss & vinegar, raring to go. Then I would face the dozen or so students who had attended class that night and begin our warm-up. As class progressed, my focus would always lean towards what the students required for their next grading or for the proper learning of the techniques. Sure, I’d enjoy myself and even get a good workout from the class (I could never do otherwise) but ultimately, my training and requirements came to a standstill.

And this is usually a common element of any instructor worth the belt around their waist. They put their own needs and requirements aside in favour of providing the best learning environment for the students. The students usually don’t recognize just how much of a commitment that actually becomes. I can even recall evenings where my own Sensei would only have three or four students and would openly ask what we wanted to work on that night. No matter what the answer, I would often hear a sigh and a far off look in his eyes, which I have no doubt was his recognition of the fact that he would be teaching and doing the same thing for what probably seemed like the umpteenth time, setting his own needs and wants for that matter, aside.

The only thing that ensures the survival of any martial art is to teach it to others. And most people who embark on that journey are genuinely interested in learning. But the commitment and sacrifice that happens is required from both sides: student and teacher. So, if you enjoy your training and consider it an important part of your life, thank your Sensei. He or she is giving more of themselves than you know.

As for me, the day may come when I’ll open the doors of my own dojo again. And when I do, I’ll show up and train my students with the same enthusiasm and commitment they require. No true student of the way would do anything less. ☯

Peace Or Power Through?

Life certainly has its share of difficulties and nothing is intended to be easy. As I’ve often said before, life doesn’t care about your plan. Given the various schools of thought that I study, I frequently find myself in conflict. What do you do when your faith conflicts with what you’re built to do?

I have often found that my faith tells me that I should pursue the most peaceful way possible, to follow the path of least resistance. I’m inclined to eliminate suffering as much as possible, if you will. And to be honest, this is the normal human condition, if you think about it.

As humans, we are biologically designed to take the easiest path to any result. Like the flowing of water, we tend to follow until we reach our lowest point. This isn’t always ideal, and can sometimes cause more issues than it solves.

Sensei has always told me that I shouldn’t force things so much, that I should go with the flow and allow life to guide me on the path I’m meant to take. Although the prospect of simply sitting back and allowing life to guide me along the lazy river, this isn’t the easiest thing to do when you have a home and a family to support and need to follow the expected requirements of modern life.

Meditation can often provide some clarity when trying to decide one’s path

The other side of the coin is that I was unfortunately raised as a fighter. I don’t give up and I never surrender, even when it causes me pain. If my life, my way of life, my family or my country are threatened, I won’t stop fighting until I win. For obvious reasons, this is also not always the best path.

It’s kind of ironic, because the same man who raised me to never stop fighting is also the same man telling me not to force things so much! That’s how things tend to get convoluted, when messages get confused and you don’t know which direction to take.

Ultimately, I don’t have an answer. If I did, I can promise that I wouldn’t be writing this post! No matter what path you choose to follow, life takes a lot of work. There’s no getting out of it. And when you carry the weight of the world on your shoulders, it makes the journey take twice as long. ☯

Here Comes The New Year…

December is in full swing and the holidays are fast approaching. Once Christmas has come and gone, most people enjoy living it up with the New Year’s holiday. New Year’s Eve parties, the countdown and the kiss at midnight… It can be a fun time. This upcoming New Year’s is a special one, because it’s the end of the decade and we get the return of the Roaring 20’s! Cue all the jokes and comebacks here…

With the New Year comes a special tradition that people have been observing for a very long time: the New Year’s Resolution. Although people have been doing this for a while, most don’t put any thought into how long it’s been happening.

According to History.com, the New Year’s Resolution may have been started as far back as 4,000 years ago by the Babylonians, who would make promises to the gods to return borrowed objects and pay off debts. These promises are believed to be the forerunners of the New Year’s Resolution. (https://www.history.com/news/the-history-of-new-years-resolutions)

The Romans also adopted a similar practice when Julius Ceasar established January 1st as the beginning of the New Year. Named for the Roman God “Janus”, it was believed that this God looked back at the past and ahead to the future simultaneously, allowing for the Romans to make promises of good conduct in the coming year. Through this established change in the calendar, Christians began using the New Year as a means of looking at past mistakes and resolving to do better in the future.

These days, people use the prospect of the New Year’s Resolution as a means of self-improvement and a way to make critical changes in one’s life. Some good examples are getting into shape, losing weight, going after that wanted career or cutting out bad habits, such as drinking, smoking or gambling. That’s why most people have difficulty sticking to resolutions and they usually fizzle out by March.

First page of the blank spreadsheet I intend to use for my New Year’s Resolution

I usually don’t worry too much about making a resolution. After all, Diabetes has me observing enough stringent conditions in my day-to-day life that making a resolution has always seemed a bit like overkill. But considering I’m now in that wonderful “change of life” decade known as my forties, I thought it would be a good idea to give it a whirl.

Given that I can never do anything simply, I’ve drawn up a spreadsheet (pictured above) that outlines every week of 2020. The top row outlines the things I’ll be looking to do as part of my New Year’s Resolution. For example, if I get through the week without alcohol I will put in a green checkmark. If I slipped up or had an exception like going for a beer with a friend (Come on, Daryl! Of course we’ll still go for beers!), I would put in a red “X”.

I made it a weekly checklist because, let’s be honest, the spreadsheet would be WAY too huge if I made it a daily checklist. You’ll notice that the last three columns are blank. This is where I’m leaning on you, dear reader, to provide some ideas of what I can include. The only conditions is that it has to be something that can be tracked and/or avoided. For example, my workouts are tracked by my Runkeeper app. My water intake is tracked by my MyWater app. Anything that I’m to avoid, such as “No Added Salt” is pretty easy, I simply DON’T add salt!

Feel free to comment on what added items I should put in the spreadsheet. They’re all good things that should help towards improving health, improving weight, fitness and blood sugars. So hopefully, I won’t fizzle out by March! But I’ll keep y’all in the loop as it progresses. ☯

In Teaching Others, We Teach Ourselves

I can’t recall where I read the proverb I used in my title, but it’s pretty accurate. If there’s an important lesson I’ve learned in almost four decades, it’s that we gain almost as much from teaching and passing on our knowledge as we do from obtaining it.

I’ve previously mentioned the martial arts ladder, and the importance of helping other students climb beyond you, once you’ve reached a certain level. Some “old school” martial arts teachers will often claim that it’s important to hold something back; keep that secret technique to yourself so that you always have a finishing move to fall back on. I was raised on a system of martial arts where the students have the potential to learn EVERYTHING the style has to offer.

Shintaro-san showing me some specifics of a kata
Okinawa – 2001

Humans are competitive by nature. There’s no getting around it. Something about “survival of the fittest”, and one of the aspects of that competitive nature is showing off your skills. Most people are inclined to show others what they’ve learned and showcase their skills. That’s why most sports are competitively displayed for spectators. Although some instincts are hard to fight, one can easily turn that competitive nature into an instinct to teach.

One of the best times of my martial arts career was when I had a school of my own, back in New Brunswick. It was a wonderful feeling, opening the class with all the students bowing to me and following my instruction. There was a deep feeling of satisfaction in knowing that these people were learning and progressing based on what I was teaching them. Seeing their progress taught me a great deal about how I was learning.

Leading a junior class in Sanchin, sometime in the early 1990’s

I was reminded of all this when I saw a Tai Chi group practicing in the open hallway of a local shopping mall this morning. The group was a bit on the smaller side, maybe more than a dozen. I don’t like using the term “elderly” but the group was a touch on the older side, and you could see that the person leading the group was deeply invested in coaching a guiding the people that were there.

I had to close my school in early 2009 as I had to move across country for my career. Since my job usually moves me around every few years, I’ve never had the stability to open another school. It wouldn’t be fair to any prospective students to start training with me, only to have me leave after a few years.

But it got me thinking about decades down the road, and wondering if perhaps eventually I’ll be teaching my own group once I retire and finally settle to a permanent home.

Learning any new skill is exciting and loads of fun. But should you ever have the opportunity to teach what you know to others, I highly recommend it. Like most thing in life, teaching has its difficulties but can offer great rewards and satisfaction. ☯