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.

Do the Right Thing

One of the largest casualties of the Zero Tolerance Bullying and Harassment, Intimidation & Bullying (HIB) policies being enacted over the last 25 years is the average student’s understanding of personal responsibility. These policies provide young, impressionable minds with the maxim that all types of peer pressure are in fact negative. That, in order to live a healthy life in mind and body, one must do so without the negative reinforcement that the reprimands and judgement of others would present. In fact, these policies teach students that there exists only three archetypes – and only three – that any one person could fulfill in reality: “bully”, “victim” or “bystander”. Ask any student which label they would rather wear and they’ll resoundingly claim “bystander” because no one wants to be seen as a bully and no one likes to think they are weak enough to be a victim. Which makes sense when those are the only options offered.

But what if there was a fourth alternative?

The position of the “leader” is a difficult one to fulfill. As far as I can tell, leadership and hierarchy aren’t supposed to exist in the student body today because doing so would legitimize the presence of peer pressure. In this sense, without a designated leader in place and without a hierarchical system to follow, if students do come across a problem of any nature, the first thing they are to do is contact someone who isn’t part of the student body. A faculty member. A teacher. In rare cases, their own parents.

No wonder kids are confused, stressed out, and unsure of how to socialize. Anxiety wreaks havoc on their minds because of the lack of social boundaries that exist in the reality that they are presented with. Interestingly enough, prior to the last 25 years, children used to self-actualize themselves in social groups. They’d gather in the neighborhood, school playground, and just hang out. They would organize themselves. They would solve the social squabbles of adolescence. They would find ways to and from places and still be home in time for dinner. They could think for themselves.

Now, with all the technological leashes we have for each other, we have less, not more autonomy. We have less intense social bonds, not more intense social bonds in our community. Everyone is supposed to get along, yet no one’s supposed to be different. Everyone has to come to the party, without a doubt. And, most of all, nobody can ever fail because everyone must win and receive some sort of trophy just for trying. But if a problem occurs, which it shouldn’t given all the above caveats, how does a child solve the problem that’s not supposed to occur?

When everyone around you thinks the same way and problem-solves the same way, then how are you supposed to solve the “one” problem that you all have? The answer is: get someone who is different than you. Well, then, how does a child learn how to be that person who can think differently than others when the protocol they all abide by is to follow in unison?

When we teach children that they are incapable of solving their own problems, by solving all of our kids’ problems for them, all “children” problems become adult problems. The whole point of being a kid is to experience the slings and arrows of childhood so that they may become strong, competent, and resilient adults.

If children aren’t allowed to experience life without being constantly refereed, then how will they know how and when to do the right thing? If the only time they are doing the right thing is when “someone different” is watching them, then do they really know what the right thing is or are they just afraid of the capricious whims of “someone different”. How do you even become “someone different” in this modern era, since all of the ways that difference is born are deemed as negative forms of peer pressure?

Let kids self-actualize and someone will always end up leading the group. In the end, it won’t always be the same leader, because good leaders know when to follow someone who knows how to do the right thing. And how do you know when someone is a good leader? By first experiencing what it feels like to be lead by a bad one.

Thoughts are People Too

One of the toughest things about growing up is figuring out where you end and the outside world begins and vice versa. Not only is it difficult to manage your ever expanding social landscape, but it is also difficult to manage one’s own internal dialog about who you are and how you fit in the world, especially given today’s technology and connectivity. If we look at it in a different light, we need not only establish boundaries with negative people, but we also need to establish boundaries with our own negative thoughts.

Boundaries clarify and solidify our identity. Establishing boundaries with people allows US to focus on OUR own thoughts, valuations and goals. The establishment of boundaries also creates confidence in OUR own mind because doing so makes it easier to discern when it is appropriate to follow someone else’s advice instead of our own.

Just as a person can intrude on our space, so can our own thoughts. Developing a value scale to segregate thoughts that are helpful over thoughts that are hurtful is important. This kind of prioritization makes it easier to establish firm yet movable boundaries as people and thoughts do change over time. Burning bridges to thoughts or people can often blind us to them never having been experienced.

Regularly maintaining healthy boundaries helps us handle our daily issues with as much kindness and openness as the circumstance requires. Kindness can help you recognize that patterns can be comforting and negotiated with, whereas unbridled anger can start an all out civil war of mental self-abuse where thoughts wage an unending battle of chaos. This is the importance of evaluating which thought patterns are helpful and positive versus which patterns are subversive and negative.

Taking some quiet time out of our day to establish boundaries with our own thoughts is as important as establishing boundaries with those you love and those you might have just met. The earlier we learn to establish boundaries, the easier it will be to maintain and renovate those boundaries as we grow older for the benefit of ourselves and others around us. Because thoughts are people too.

A Choice to Control

When people think of martial arts, they typically think of discipline right after they think of kicking and punching. However, I like to add one four-letter word prior to discipline — SELF. Discipline implies that one is being trained to obey, whereas self-discipline is the ability to control one’s feelings and overcome one’s weaknesses; the ability to pursue what one thinks is right despite temptations to abandon it.

At WTD we use logic, compassion and dialog with our students so they may learn how to control themselves and their feelings. The very first lesson we teach every child is that in order to protect yourself, you must first learn to control yourself. Not “let me control you” or “have someone else control you” but “control yourself.”

As the flight attendant explains to passengers, “please place the oxygen mask on yourself prior to helping anyone else in need.” We are no good to ourselves or anyone else if we do not learn to take care of ourselves first. This is not selfishness. This is an intelligent choice we need to make on our own. In an emergency we may not have the time nor our ideal disciplinarian lurking over our shoulder to remind us what to do first.

The earlier we start the habit of self-discipline the earlier we free ourselves. This in turn frees those around us from having to correct our behavior. After all, what could be more freeing for an adult or teacher than watching our children and students freely make intelligent choices in life?

Everyone is Different

I have a quip about the way we teach at WTD: We teach everyone the same way, differently. It amuses me because in an age where everything is personalized, the one thing we seem to forget that is truly personal is ourselves. Meaning, why is it that we can personalize all of our belonging but we want to move in the same direction, at the same time, in the same way when it comes to our education?

At WTD it is rare that I test more than a few people in any class precisely because of this difference. Some students are incredibly dedicated, come to more classes, work out on their own and maybe even have some physical or mental attributes that are above average. I know, right? It’s almost like we all aren’t cardboard cutouts.

Other students aren’t in a rush or don’t have the drive or time to push for rank and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that and it is why each student is given their own personalized optimal challenge. An optimal challenge is designed to keep a student walking the tightrope of failure while forever reaching for the lifeline of success. Learning this way helps create self-discipline, fosters resilience, and establishes confidence all the while reinforcing that never-quit attitude.

No matter what kind of student you are, we are invested in you doing the best you can do. After all, the real optimal challenge is about you triumphing over yourself.

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