Category Archives: Karate

There’s Only One “I” In Martial Arts, but Two “T’s”

A number of people join martial arts because they don’t feel suited to traditional team sports. With today’s 24/7/365 demands of team sports, I find it hard to compel my students to come more often than they can honestly commit. I believe the study of martial arts is important, but not at the expense of balance. I understand that team sports demand this time commitment because they’re part of a team, but who isn’t a part of team?

My dojo is comprised of a latticework of personalities, ages, levels of athleticism, coordination, etc. There are no wasted parts and everyone is included. No one is ever benched or cut because they didn’t perform well on a given day, week, month or year. Every single student strives for success, even on their worst days. More importantly, everyone around them is trying to do the same while encouraging each other to push the boundaries of failure towards the infinite markers of success.

If I don’t challenge myself as a teacher, I am doing my students a disservice. If my students aren’t challenging themselves as individuals, then they are not challenging their partners. This is a cooperative experience that requires a ton of relationship building (which includes honest dialog and honest self-assessment). No one walks away unchanged and everyone has something to give.

So when you or your kid signs up for martial arts, remember that there’s twice the number of “T’s” than “I’s” and they stand for “trust” and “teamwork”.

Lord of the WiFis: Attack of the Couch Slouch

Lord of the WiFis: Attack of the Couch Slouch

(The 1st of a Series)

In today’s society, we are bombarded by more information than ever experienced by previous generations. The speed of information gives us the illusion that we can accomplish more, faster and better than any generation before. Although technology has advanced rapidly, our genetics have not. The gap between the rate of receiving information and actually processing it can directly affect our ability to prioritize.

I wrote the above statement approximately 3 years ago when I started building the website for my business. An important realization came to mind as I was sorting through some of my past projects: The impact from what you’ve said or written in the past, things that may have seemed somewhat inconsequential or of little importance back then, will more often than not have a more significant impact on yourself when revisited.

When I grew up in the late 70’s and 80’s, video games were just getting started. Even when Nintendo hit the stores, practically wiping out the competition, it was a rarity to spend all day inside. At some point, we had had enough of Punch Out or Legend of Zelda and our parents said we’d go blind in front of the TV which was more than enough to get us out the door and in the field. Now we walk around with screens six inches from their faces all the time.

What was once a “momentary activity” to engage in for a minute section of our day has now become a controversial compulsive habit that negatively impacts society as a greater whole. I see video games, the Internet, SmartPhones and the like as mere tools. Like most things in life, “intent” plays a very large role in determining whether or not something is good or bad. For instance, too much exposure to bacteria can be bad. However, exposure to bacteria helps the body develop a healthy immune system. Too much time spent exercising can be hard on the body, but regular exercise with proper rest helps develop a strong body and healthy mind. The point here is about maintaining balance, which is a problem that society has been struggling with since time immemorial.

So how does a parent, teacher or caregiver stop the dopamine drip of a habit from turning it into a deluge of addiction?

  1. Limit access: whether it’s food, video games, or a favorite sport, everyone needs a break, self reflective time or just time learning to be in their own skin. It’s important not to forget that alone time has many healthy benefits.
  2. No devices in the bedroom. For many reasons, all devices should be charged and kept outside of a child’s room. (more on this in the upcoming blog posts)
  3. Play video games with your kids. Create physical penalties for making mistakes in-game like push-ups, sit-ups, jumping jacks or burpees. That way, the intent for playing video games is no longer to just “play the game” but rather spend valuable time with loved ones. Besides, you won’t be slouching on the couch the whole time.

Defining clear, positive and balanced boundaries creates good habits early on which will help children learn to self-regulate their time wisely. This fosters self-confidence and a sense of self-control that will pay dividends later in life as well as strengthen your familial bond.

Trust Me

(Part 6 of a Series)

Trust is the glue of life. It’s the most essential ingredient in effective communication. It’s the foundational principle that holds all relationships.

– Stephen Covey

Learning how to differentiate between kids who were just acting friendly and kids who were actually my friends was one of the toughest obstacles I had to overcome in my younger years. I simply wasn’t always sure who my friends were because I didn’t know exactly who I was yet. Without a clear understanding of the self, making positive and effective decisions about the self is nearly impossible to accomplish. However, after I learned how to trust my own instincts and take ownership of my own actions, I began to attract and gravitate towards people who shared the same beliefs, values and goals that I did. In other words, I figured out how to differentiate between those who were simply complying with social niceties and those who trusted me as much as I trusted them. I learned that choosing to give the right person control can be a courageous and trustworthy act of intelligence in and of itself.

Choosing to trust people is a daily necessity that happens way more often than many of us would like to think. In fact, I often think about how easily and how often I trust unseen strangers with my own life and livelihood. I do it instinctively and habitually everytime I’m driving down the road and another person is driving the opposite direction a few feet to my left. I trust unknown people to make laws that govern my actions and purchases. I trust unknown people who hold my money at banks and other financial institutions. But why is it so difficult to trust someone face-to-face and how can we better manage that process?

Trust starts out with the basics such as introducing oneself to another. I’m a firm believer in eye contact, handshakes and the exchange of basic pleasantries. Conflict can be ignited or avoided in the first few seconds of two people meeting, which is why it’s so important to establish a positive first impression.

I like to use analogies to build the unknown into a known template. It’s an easy way to help someone feel comfortable with the unfamiliar and feel less hesitant about receiving new ideas. Whether I’m teaching a new technique or physically engaging in the use of that technique with a partner, we need to trust one another. Without it, any exchange (physical or otherwise) would be unproductive and potentially destructive to our relationship.

Another way I like to build trust is to be open to someone else’s well-founded opinion. Even if their opinion challenges my own beliefs, the initial clash of perspective will work in both our favors if I allow myself to accept and understand what it is that they are saying and give them the chance to listen and understand what I am saying.

Learning to trust myself allowed me to attract people in my life that I could trust – sometimes even more than myself. It quickly became very clear to me that I am not “going at it alone”. Life is just too complicated and I’m just one person. Creating a team of like-minded people in my life has enabled me to create better habits and make better choices with a little help from my friends.

Mirror, Mirror.

Photo by Beranger Zylla

(Part 5 of a Series)

I swore an oath, and I will protect you. Even if it means I must protect you from yourself. – Alexandre Dumas

I last left off with the act of choosing to give someone else control as a courageous and trustworthy act of intelligence as opposed to one full of recklessness and naivete. When I’m in control of myself, I am free to make choices based upon my beliefs and then evaluate their effects through a realistic perspective. However, I’ve always found it best to run my beliefs through the mirror of self and then through the lens of another – a trusted partner.

This philosophy of self-reflection and guided trust is constantly present throughout my everyday. Take the Dojo, for instance. When you walk into the White Tiger Dojo, you’ll find four identical posters placed in strategic locations that my students, their friends and family can see. Among the many guidelines that are focused on the art, you’ll see a statement: “A good student is a good partner.” The reflective statement is, “A good partner is a good student.”

The first stage of learning any technique requires that my partner and I intellectually understand the fundamentals of it before any physical implementation is conducted upon each other. It’s imperative to the success of the technique that my partner understands what I’m trying to accomplish so they may give me the feedback necessary to fix my mistakes. In a way, both of us are engaged in a compliant activity in order for us to both learn the opposing sides of a technique. This stage is similar to having a mutually agreeable conversation with a friend. We are openly and honestly communicating verbally and physically throughout the entire exchange.

The second stage of learning a technique requires that I ask my partner to be passively non-compliant. This state of non-compliance should feel like someone I know just touched me on the shoulder from my blind side. I’m alert and guarded, but I’m not actively trying to thwart the touch as I’m awaiting a visual or audible cue that will give way to some form of basic reasoning for their actions. This is where I begin working the kinks out of my technique with the feedback I have gained. This stage is similar to one person asking for clarification of another’s thought process.

The third stage of learning a technique requires that I ask my partner to be actively non-compliant. During this state of active non-compliance, my partner will actively stop me from executing the technique properly. Meaning, they will do what they can to push my physical and mental understanding of how the technique can be implemented. The more trust I have in my partner, the more I can push the technique through that layer of non-compliance. The more my partner trusts me, the more they can thwart the technique through non-compliance. We are both jockeying for control over our bodies while still maintaining a sense of trust. Reason being that the push and pull of the physical and emotional between my partner and I will provide an accurate assessment of each other’s abilities. This assessment will not only help us understand the multifaceted uses of the technique, but also strengthen the understanding of our relationship as trusted friends and rivals. In a sense, this stage is akin to two people having a heated, intellectual debate.

The last stage is the most realistic engagement that two partners can safely participate in. Here, both partners are being freely and actively non-compliant. For this example, let’s imagine that the exercise is geared towards both of us trying to execute the new technique successfully while not being caught-up in the mental intensity of the technique ourselves. This is the essence of being a good partner and student. This stage can get heated and emotions will leak out, but the bond of trust that has been forged between us from the previous stages will prevent either of us from sustaining any real injury. It is only because we have been consistently communicating openly and honestly with each other that a physical and mental exchange of this magnitude is possible.

As I’ve stated previously, if we do not extinguish the enemy within ourselves we will never know what our level of culpability is when we are faced with conflict. Knowing this and owning up to this is how I avoid “avoidable” conflict. Stepping onto the mat and going through these phases of “conversational combat” allows me to see the two sides of the same coin – violence and empathy. This is why trust and honesty are foundational elements to successful relationships. Once I learned the value of a good relationship, I also learned the habit of creating good relationships – especially my martial relationships, as we bare our most honest and vulnerable selves through physical exchanges. That being said, what kind of partner do you want in your life and what kind of partner do you want to be?

Freedom’s Constraint

(The 4th of a Series)

Where I last left off, I was discussing how holding myself accountable for the decisions I make and the actions I take will ultimately lead to a true life of freedom. With an open and honest heart and mind, anyone can accumulate a solid set of habits to truly help them break the chains of self-doubt.

However, being free has it’s own kind of constraints.

On the one hand, freedom allows people the opportunity to improve their lives and the lives of others. People like DaVinci, Michaelangelo, Edison, Tesla, Gates, Jobs and Musk all come to mind. On the other hand, freedom can also lead people down a darker path full of tragedy and loss – like the opioid addiction which has no constraints of location or socioeconomic status.

Freedom also comes with the restraint of the individual. Without some form of self-control from the individual, chaos would reign. If we cannot trust ourselves to curb our lesser desires, then we are doomed to believe no one else can either. Therefore, freedom also takes an enormous amount of courage to enact.

As the old adage states, “beware of the enemy within.” If I do not have the courage to recognize that I can be my own worst enemy, then I also do not have the courage to recognize my own culpability for the rights and wrongs of my immediate community.

This is why I need to be clear about who I am and who I am not. Otherwise, I will not be able to develop proper boundaries as they are fundamental in the process of building a good relationship with myself as well as others.

Nobody likes chaos because it is unpredictable and unpredictability leads to imbalance. It’s why the concept of balance is so revered in all cultures, religions and relationships.

As an individual, I strive for balance and even when I’m faced with an imbalanced person or situation, I’m still striving for a balanced outcome despite the circumstances. If I give into the imbalance of others, then I am no longer honoring myself.

Honoring who I am requires me to be vigilant about my boundaries or else I will be subject to the whims of others. Giving up on who I am means buying into someone else’s version of myself. However, choosing to give someone else control means that I’ve given cooperative control to a trusted party, thereby communicating my needs and wants effectively.

Four-Letter Words

(The 3rd of a Series)

Previously I asked the question “Who Owns You?” After all, if I’m not in control of my own thoughts and actions, then who is? Once I’ve established that I “need” to own up to the decisions and actions that I’ve made and taken, the next question is, “How do I get control of myself?” These are the types of questions and answers we delve into at the White Tiger Dojo.

In Japanese, the word dojo means way place. In other words, it’s a location where you study a way of being. A way of being starts with one’s habits. Understanding how good habits are created and how to remove and replace bad ones are two of the most important lessons any house of learning can engage in. However, one of the hardest parts about creating good habits is discovering that what I find to be “true” is often what I “fear”.

The word true means something that is in accordance with reality. Reality can be fearful. One of the habits I’ve developed over time is to be “open” with myself in order to compare it to reality. When I am open with myself, I find that the answers I’m looking for are not nearly as elusive as my mind would like them to be.

Finding the truth is about me uncovering my own biased habits so that I may clearly find the answer that I need rather than the one I “want”. The answers I want are more easily attained, because it’s based off of previous bad habits or biases. This is the epitome of being intellectually “lazy”.

What I want often takes precedence over what I need precisely because a want is intellectually lazy. I need to stay healthy and financially solvent, but I want to be lazy and independently wealthy. Staying healthy takes “work”. Going to a job and earning a living takes work. It also takes “guts” to do the work and it takes guts to work through the fear of failure.

“Hard” work is the true “path” of the independent person.

Owning who I am takes continual effort, especially when I’m owning up to the dumb things I’ve done and will do. Where at first it felt daunting, uncomfortable and even inconvenient, it eventually becomes routine maintenance like brushing my teeth.

In the end, owning up to the good and bad parts of myself is what allows for positive change and self-acceptance. I take greater care in my decision making process when I hold myself accountable for all of the joy and/or suffering I bring upon myself and those around me. I’m not perfect nor will I ever be, but making the conscious choice to be the “best” version of me is the only way to honor those who showed me the path to becoming “free”.


Who Owns You?

(The 2nd of a Series)

In my last blog entry, I challenged the thinking behind a “safe space”. In short, having a “safe space” means I’m relying on other people in order to feel safe. Once I abdicate the most basic of human rights, the right of self-protection, to another person, group or environment I no longer have complete control over my own life.

As a teacher, this abdication flies in the face of  my most important lesson: self-control. I tell my students, “If you cannot control yourself, then you will not be able to learn how to defend yourself.”

What is self-protection if not the ability to control yourself in order to stop someone else from controlling you? What is a bully or a criminal other than a person trying to force another to comply with their wishes?

If I allow society to provide me with a “safe space” emotionally, physically, or mentally then by default I am allowing everything outside of that space to be considered “unsafe”. Essentially, when I allow for safe spaces, I agree to everything else being chaos.

What’s more, isn’t it naive to believe that four walls and a plaque on the door can protect us from other human beings? Or, even from ourselves?  Labeling an area as a “safe space” lulls its visitors into a false sense of security, too.  As a teacher and a human being, I don’t want my students or fellow human beings falling into this mentality.

It seems that so much about today’s world is about mentality. In our modern-day society, thoughts and emotions are the reigning kings of all that is seen as sacred and successful.  Why is the body given such low-class treatment?

As Socrates said:

“No man has the right to be an amateur in the matter of physical training. It is a shame for a man to grow old without seeing the beauty and strength of which his body is capable.”

It’s important to remember that a beautiful mind is only as safe as the body attached to it.  In order to traverse “safe” and “unsafe” spaces equally, we must ensure that our bodies are exercised in the art of self-protection. This does not mean the genius must resolve his disputes with fisticuffs, nor the “fighter” reduce his exam paper to confetti. Rather, both archetypes must have the ability, grit and courage to know when and how to lay down boundaries of word, deed and action. Without these abilities a person no longer owns himself but will be usurped by the tyrant of inaction.

Safe Space. Dangerous World.

(The 1st of a Series)

One of the most difficult things about teaching self-defense is helping a student create a balance of physical and mental boundaries. In order to rationalize boundaries, we need to have some type of “fear” catalyst for what lies “beyond the boundary”. Simultaneously, we need to have some type of “love” catalyst for what lies “within the boundary”. Given that boundaries can often lead to a discussion of extremes, it’s important to maintain a sense of perspective when trying to discover a “safe space” in an otherwise “dangerous world”.

For those of us who are currently living in the United States, we’re enjoying one of the safest times in human history. It’s taken homo sapiens approximately 200,000 years to get to this level of safety, but nevertheless, we’re here. So why do we even talk about danger in the first place? If we’re enjoying one of the safest times in history, then why do we even need a “safe space”?

We speak as if mankind has been evolving for over 200,000 years simply because time has passed, but in reality, we haven’t. Meanwhile, our ever changing environment has always kept mankind on its toes. Now that mankind has mostly mitigated the environment’s ability to destroy humanity en masse from weather patterns, waterfalls, cliffs, viruses and parasites, I’d say the larger danger to mankind has always been, well, mankind.

Mankind has been doing each other in over tribalism, other ‘isms’, territory and resources forever. Mankind has been doing each other in willingly and to a large scale when you look at examples of the well known Aztec sacrifices to the lesser known Hawaiian, Celt or Chinese sacrifices. All in the name of a higher purpose.

Violence, or the threat of violence, is exhibited the moment a child experiences the boundaries set forth by their parents. When an adult, which is a large looming figure to the eyes of a child, utters something they do not understand, they comply out of fear, not logic.

Sure we can minimize the overt perception of fear, but that’s purely an intellectual exercise. Meaning, we simply replaced fear of being ‘eaten’ by an animal with fear of being ‘eaten’ by poverty, illness, etc. I once heard someone say, “We’ve traded constant “fear” for constant “anxiety”.

Managing these two extremes takes self-discipline and prioritization, which is what I teach my students when I discuss the concept of “changing thresholds”. When we’re in a home, school or office, our fear of physical danger is reduced greatly, but our sense of anxiety to be productive members of society is increased. Sometimes the two will merge and reconfigure into some sort of hybrid – like running late to an appointment or realizing that we still have 30 questions left to answer and only 5 minutes left to answer them.

It should seem obvious now that we cannot create “safe spaces”. But, we can create safer conditions in a dangerous world. In order to do that, we have to build up the self-discipline that is needed to prioritize our anxieties and fears along with our love and passion for life. Once we establish a stable formula for ourselves, we can then begin to concentrically widen our sense of safety, much like a child explores and conquers their own “dangerous world”.

Internal Struggle

As many of you know, I do not do a lot of group testing. Sometimes serendipity and camaraderie intervene but testing a student is about them triumphing over themselves and not others.

Occasionally, a child or parent will compare someone else’s time or grade to themselves or their child. However, this undermines the student in question and their efforts. Everyone is different and I try to offer each student individual feedback as best as I can, even in a group classes.

The struggle of self-mastery is personal, even though we often enlist others as our sharpening stone. I would never judge one student against another, but I will encourage every student to bring out the best in each other. Life is, above all, about relationships. After all, one cannot improve oneself all by one’s lonesome.

Are you a better version of yourself today than you were yesterday? May the struggle to better ourselves never end.

Failing is Natural, Giving Up Should Not Be

I’m a big fan of TED talks, and recently watched one by Adam Grant called “The Surprising Habits of Original Thinkers”, a talk on ‘original thinkers’. What inspires the most with talks like these, is that every attempt to climb up the so-called ‘mountain of success’ is always fraught with the possibility of failure.

I often use the following metaphor whenever I explain the essence of martial arts study to a new student: Martial arts is the art of swimming in a sea of failure in search of the shores of success. The simple act of choosing to swim in this sea of failure is a good sign that a student wants to change themselves for the better.

Once a student accepts adversity as a tool to help shape their character, they quickly find pride in grinding off their ‘rough edges’ of instant gratification and expectation in favor of sharpening their intellectual and physical ‘edges’ with perseverance and patience.

The seesawing nature of failure and success soon becomes a normal part of life. Where certain adversity would sideline many, now both adversity and failure are used to fuel students’ motivations and act as a foundation from which dreams of success are built.


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