Fear of Change

One of the challenges I see most prominent within people, as a teacher and as a human being, is the fear of change. Some are fearful that they can change, some are fearful that they can’t change and others are fearful that they will change. Whichever camp you might fall into (and you might fall into all of them at different points in your life), the common denominator is fear. And more specifically, it’s the fear of the unknown. However, without change, we’d still be crawling around in diapers, so obviously our fear of change can only be so strong.

I read an incredible book by Jiddu Krishnamurti called On Fear some years back and I refer to it quite often because it’s a really short and well-written book. Essentially, the protagonist came to realize that he only commits himself by way of fear or love. Go ahead and take a moment to think about that because it’s a terrific exercise. One of the things that I found was that there’s a whole lot of fear governing my decision making. Krishnamurti let me know I wasn’t alone.

So I say that people should harness that fear and turn it on its head. If I’m fearful of something that could change my life for the better, I do my best to experience that change…within reason. Obviously, there are some things in life that don’t need to be experienced in order to realize that they’re bad for you. But there are many things in life that we are afraid of doing precisely because we believe we’ll be judged by others; or worse, be judged by ourselves.

One day, an overweight fellow student I trained with confessed that he was afraid of losing too much weight. In his mind, it was easier to think that people may dislike him due to his weight rather than dislike him because of his personality. Just hearing that was mind-blowing in and of itself. It made me think of what might be holding me back from achieving some of my own positive changes.

At the end of the day, we’re all going to change, but choosing what to change and how to go about that change is the best way to manage fear. So let go of your own fears and grab onto the steering wheel of self-discipline, because when you’re driving your own changes, you might find that too exhilarating to waste time being fearful.


Whenever I’m on YouTube, I inevitably stumble upon some amazing young athlete, musician, or acrobat and it’s hard not to be impressed and humbled all at the same time. What goes through my mind is something like, “Man, do I really need to get my act together.” I know I wouldn’t do much different with my life, even if I could turn back the clock, but it still makes me think. As a grown man, with a business and a lot of happy and successful students, I can still feel the pull to be part of that one percent I see on YouTube. So if I can feel that kind of pressure, what do my young students feel like when they see these exceptionally talented kids?

Over my twenty years of teaching I’ve run a lot of impromptu polls in my classes. It helps me get a better sense of what my students go through in their every day and how they are coping with the realities of their world. I ask about grades, peer pressure, technology, sleep habits, and the like. One thing I started noticing years ago was that every kid seemed to be in AP classes, a straight A student, played at least one sport, played an instrument, and belonged to a club. Now, in my head I’m thinking, “How could everyone be this successful? Where do they get all this time? When do they have time to just be kids?” There’s a bell curve for a reason, because we’re all not that talented and organized. So for a while I just thought that my kids were afraid of telling me the truth. That is, until I started talking to my college students.

I graduated in 1996 from a private university in Morris County and have now taught at least half a dozen students that have graduated from the same university. All of them have described a softer university experience with very low pressure on deadlines. As one student said, “You have to really try to fail out of school, because it’s just too expensive, and the students know it.” This is the same place I attended where, if you missed three classes in a semester, without a doctor’s note, your grade would drop a full letter.

On the one hand, I see the pressure to perform, like I’ve never seen before, for grade schoolers and high schoolers. The pressure isn’t to do their best, but to BE the best. On the other hand, I see university students (that aren’t science and technology majors) taking a very expensive four year vacation. Again, as an older man I find these messages confusing, but I have the power and authority to filter out what I don’t want to engage in. However, I can’t imagine how daunting these mixed messages are to young students today, where their power and authority to filter has not yet been developed. Especially if they have not learned the skill sets of self-reliance and self-acceptance. It’s one thing to do your best, but it’s quite another to always be pressured into being the best.


When I was in college, my psychology professor told us there was no definition for love in our textbooks. This was the very first minute of his class in Pysch 101, and I cannot recall if he even explained why. If I were to guess today, it is that not all things are quantifiable by science. Looking at a definition of love, we see the following: affection and solicitude toward a person, such as that arising from kinship, recognition of attractive qualities, or a sense of underlying oneness. In short, I see love as a feeling where two or more people resonate over their similitude. Not unlike the Hindi greeting of “namaste”, or recognizing the divine in you. People want to be known, accepted, and loved.


In order to be known, it helps to know oneself first. It is the very first thing we tackle at White Tiger Dojo. Self-knowledge leads to self-control and self-control leads to a life filled with more harmony and less conflict. Coincidentally, it also leads to being easier to love.


Love is something we do not talk about much in the dojo, but we do express it often. Anyone stepping on the mat, that is comfortable with hugs, will naturally gravitate towards me, the assistants and each other for a hug of acknowledgement that they are “home” with their martial kin. This happens at the beginning of most classes, but can inevitably become a big group hug at the end of a class. We also express love of what we’re doing through rigorous and cooperative teamwork to solve the problems of physical conflict.


To be accepted, we express our love and joy for learning about conflict with an exercise we call “See, Say, Do: Ask, Tell, Yell”. This is an exercise where two people, who like and respect each other, inhabit characters of con artists, sneaks and wrong-doers so that their partner learns to visually, vocally and physically protect themselves from their “attacker”. Then the roles are reversed and the challenge is reciprocated. Typically they end with a bow and usually a hug of affirmation. Our students recognize that conflict and empathy are two sides of the same coin and in order to be a good student, they must understand both perspectives.


At the end of the day we end up learning about ourselves and loving ourselves a little bit more through the educational lens of conflict. Seeing yourself in the long and tall mirrors on the wall and through each other’s eyes builds respect, knowledge and a strong bond of friendship that only insiders would blush at when outsiders recognize their love.

Broken and the “Golden Repair”

I have a confession to make–I’m broken. But I’m okay, because I’m broken due to some hard work, some good successes and some horrible failures. It’s also okay because I’ve learned along the way. No one can undermine all the work I’ve done to put myself back together–hopefully a little better than I was before. While being broken is natural, staying broken…is not. Most of us strive to succeed, but failure is inevitable and wisdom is earned only after failure is endured. This is what I appreciate so much about the the Japanese art of Kintsugi.

Kintsugi is the art of filling in the cracks of a broken object with gold, silver, or platinum. In America we often recycle or simply throw things out, but we rarely “fix” what we have broken (perhaps, in another blog, I’ll tackle that thought process on its own). What I love about the art and thought that goes into Kintsugi is that there is a renewed sense of beauty in the restored object. The “scars” and “brokenness” of the object are not only evident in the precious metals used to fuse it back together, but also in the time, patience, and wisdom set aside for the repair.

Without cracking an egg, you cannot eat a meal. Without making mistakes, failing and breaking, you cannot reveal the wisdom necessary to spur you on to greater heights. Embrace your brokenness, share your wisdom and spread the art of “golden repair” with those around you, because your wound is where the light comes in.

The Great Enabling

I’ve been teaching four-year-olds long enough that some of them are married and expecting their own children. Within that same time frame, I’ve seen plenty of teaching methods and parenting methods go in and out of favor. As an educator, I can’t say that there’s been an improvement in the methodology for teaching kids to be self-sufficient. This isn’t to say that every school and parent is failing today’s children; rather, it’s a commentary on the idea that “less struggle” isn’t the most optimal goal to have in mind for the youth of any time period.

From time to time parents send me articles about this topic and, recently, this one came my way. It’s called Snowplow Parenting (link below). This article reminded me of the first time I encountered this issue on the mat, approximately fifteen years ago. A kindergartner was approaching test time and his mother came up to me worried and asked, “What if he fails? I mean, would you fail kids this young?” I told her that I’ve been preparing him for a while and I believed he was ready. I also told her that her son knew the material required to pass, but warned her that anything can happen on a test day. I could see the concern on her face so I asked her some questions of my own. “What if he never fails until he’s eighteen years old? What if he’s in college where drugs, alcohol, and sex are all up for grabs and he’s never been told no? Never had to solve a problem? Never had to be responsible for himself?”

He ended up passing and to this day I still know the family and visit her business from time to time. Needless to say, that conversation was a defining moment for us both. Although the desire to grease the track for a student or child can be strong, it will inevitably lead to unintended consequences…such as being launched right off the track.

Where Did They Get That Idea? (aka The Zip Code Trap)

When I was a kid we moved around a lot as my father left his medical residency, joined a practice, and eventually owned his own practice. The four of us lived in a two bedroom apartment, then a three bedroom apartment and then a house by the time I was 8 years old. Although I didn’t know at the time, I later learned that this was the name of the game in trying to raise a happy, healthy, and safe family. My parents knew that certain zip codes had opportunities, standards, values and a level of safety that others did not. It made sense then and it still makes sense now…to a certain extent.

Every generation of parents tries to improve the lives of the successive generation. Families tended to gravitate towards other like-minded families. The “system” worked. But in 2007, the smartphone began its charge full steam ahead. Right past the zip code, right past the school yard, right past the front yard and into the naive and undeveloped mind of young children. Wi-Fi slipped under the wire.

All the negative, filthy, depraved habits of people, places, and things that parents tried to shield their children from by moving to certain areas, ended up in the palms of their innocent children’s hands as if they didn’t make the effort in the first place. Poor behavior, propaganda, cursing, violence, nudity, etc. right at their fingertips, and they could find it by accident almost as easily as they could find it on purpose.

Like most things in life that can be negative, hiding Pandora’s box from children is the best way for them to find Pandora’s box. When we teach a child about the power of a smartphone, he or she also starts to understand the power of individual human beings who post content and images online, or who created the internet and the phone in the first place. Without understanding the human power that it took to make the smartphone possible, I don’t think it is possible to empower a child to recognize his/her own control over this “magical device”. We cannot protect children from everything, but we can teach them to learn to protect themselves and how to rise to the challenge.

Too Polite

We live in a society where politeness is not only taught, but it is encouraged in ways that can begin to take on the customer service representatives at Disney. Like anything, too much can manifest an imbalance that can adversely affect our lives. Just because we are taught to be polite it doesn’t mean we should allow people unfettered access to our space and time. When I think of my surroundings, I think of how much control I can impose upon my space. Controlling one’s space requires the understanding of the 3 Ps of distance: Perimeter, proximity and personal.

“Perimeter” includes physical boundaries such as walls, streets and obstacles you cannot step over. It also includes the people at your perimeter such as strangers on the street, people in your office building, students on your campus and people in your community. Being polite is a two-way street and although it might not be a good idea to treat everyone with suspicion, it’s also a bad idea to assume everyone in your perimeter is well meaning. Requesting space with a clear voice is warranted and not impolite if someone in your perimeter comes within your “proximity”. If they ignore your request, then you have no reason to continue being polite.

“Proximity” is any space, place or person that is familiar to you. Your neighborhood, your block, your office, your child’s school and all of the people that reside within that proximity. You might extend more “rights” to these people, but a polite respect should still be maintained. When it is not, then a clear command to correct the behavior is warranted and it doesn’t mean you’re being impolite. Quite the contrary, when people assume our boundaries incorrectly, it is up to us to make them clearer, because we either did a poor job of it or the transgressor doesn’t understand that proximity is not always “personal”.

“Personal” space is reserved for those places and people we share intimacy. Our homes, private office, business confidants, close friends, family members and significant others. Despite the “rights” we have extended to the people we love and probably hug on a regular basis, we are still the ultimate arbiters of our personal space. When people transgress our personal space and impose unwanted intimacy, we have the right to command in a loud and clear voice our discomfort. It’s no wonder we yell more in our homes than anywhere else. It doesn’t make us impolite to maintain our boundaries everywhere.

Maintaining boundaries takes some discipline and effort, but over time we will remove the stress of having to attend to unwanted intrusions. By following the 3 Ps we also might find we have more energy left over to be fully present for the people that really deserve our politeness.

If You Know It, Show It

In any athletic endeavor, you will find an arbitrary set of standards that mark a level of competency along the way towards mastery. If the standards truly have value, then you will see them resonate throughout your athletic experience. If the standard is purely arbitrary, then the set of standards will be seen as valueless and unnecessary. They will rarely see the need to use what was previously taught and begin to doubt all skills and standards. Not being held accountable for one’s actions goes hand-in-hand with not reinforcing standards. At the White Tiger Dojo our standards have value and we hold everyone accountable for their actions, including myself.

We have a tradition in the dojo that if the students find me or my assistants making a mistake, then we have to do a burpee, which is a ubiquitous calisthenic that includes a squat, a push-up, and a jump. This encourages the students to be aware, which is the first part of finding value and therefore a standard. I want my students to see that everyone makes mistakes no matter how old or how young you are.

More importantly, I want our students to see that it’s okay to make a mistake so long as you acknowledge the ensuing consequences. In this case, the standard happens to be accountability, and no one skates by without consequences. Even when it means that the lead instructor and owner gets called out by a four-year-old. This not only empowers the astute toddler observer, but it encourages the rest of the class to critically think about what they are being taught, which is one the most important standards one can possess.

When it comes to self-protection, there is very little room for error and there are never “redos”. Learning to defend yourself is a pass/fail endeavor, which is why the mindset of martial arts is so highly revered, especially when it comes to kids who need a little more guidance in the classroom. When a student’s mindset becomes “always do my best”, because there will not be another chance, they begin to look at all of life’s hurdles the same way.

These habits, that start in the dojo, will begin to extend to the outside world where knowledge comes cheaply through a few taps on the smartphone. However, true knowledge comes through the action of “showing”. When a student can show their knowledge and defend why that knowledge has value, then they begin to become accountable for everything they do and that is the mark of true self-mastery.

Stand Up Straight and Speak Up!

We have a tradition at our dojo where every student takes the entire class through a warm-up exercise. We make sure that each student can speak loudly and clearly enough to lead the class through the warm-ups which sometimes makes its way to the core exercises of punching and kicking. It’s really important to be able to speak up for one’s boundaries in order to establish one’s needs, wants and personal safety. If one cannot stand up straight and speak up for oneself, then one is only left with the bare-minimum-instinctual reactions of “fight” or “flight”.

We’ve all seen the nature shows depicting a group of lions chasing a herd of gazelles. The lions are not going for the largest gazelle that is leading the pack; the lions make a beeline for the young, the injured, and the old. Similarly, human predators act in the same fashion. No school bully, office bully, nor criminal looks for the toughest person to single out – and for good reason! It takes too much energy to take the tough guy out, so why not go for the weakest link?

The more we look like prey who can’t speak up for our own personal boundaries, the more we are left with having to fight for our space or fleeing from our space. Obviously, avoiding a fight is preferential to fighting. But if we end up in a space that isn’t of our own choosing, which is how predators operate, then it becomes a false choice. In this sense, the choice to define our boundaries is taken away from us and forcibly substituted by the predator. Fighting and fleeing in this situation will require even more energy to execute.

Speaking of energy, when you see someone standing up straight, looking where they are going and confidently speaking, do you think they have low energy? Do the words “incompetence” or “weakness” come to mind? No, you probably don’t. That’s why we take the time to teach our students how to stand up straight and speak up. The best way to remove yourself from the target pool of predators is to not look like prey; because we win all of the fights we avoid.

Anyone Can Lead

When I first meet a student, the first thing we talk about is personal responsibility. I explain that the only way they will ever be able to keep themselves safe is to first learn how to control themselves. Presenting kids with a visualization of how the abstract concept of personal responsibility is implemented usually helps them better understand how the idea works in their day-to-day. So I ask them, “Are you safer if you watch where you run or are you safer if you close your eyes and run?” This scenario coupled with this concept is my way of passing the baton of leadership over to a new, young and capable mind.

Too often the characteristic of “leadership” is taught as being at the head of the class and the captain of the team. Images of power are what schools teach their students to envision alongside the concept of leadership. Unfortunately, leadership is rarely taught for what it is and is instead taught via the extremes of tyrannical and utopian acts. In neither case is someone leading silently by simply executing a task well or acting appropriately, which is more relatable and attainable.

In our dojo we have a tradition where the senior ranked student starts and ends our class. Sometimes I see a student far down the line looking longingly at the senior position. It is at this time that I offer some alternative leadership options that are outside the position they long for, which include:

1. A tidy uniform.
2. Knowing the names of techniques.
3. Showing techniques correctly.
4. Being a good partner by holding yourself and your partner accountable for an exercise.
5. Being a good example to a junior student.

The list could go on for pages, but the real lesson is that everyone has an opportunity to be a leader.

Question is: How many take that opportunity to lead?

There are more opportunities in life to lead than most of us think is possible. Looking, listening, and learning for those opportunities to lead will help you live a better, healthier, and safer life. Don’t forget to pass the baton on to a better leader, either, as you never know where they may take you.

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