The Case for Pain

When Muhammad Ali was asked how many situps he had done, he said, “I don’t count my situps; I only start counting when it starts hurting because they’re the only ones that count.” That’s the deal - when you’re not suffering, you’re not growing. The more time you spend inside your comfort zone, the less you grow. The more we look adversity in the face, the stronger we get. The more we can dig in when things get hard, when they look scary and when the road ahead of you is a little rougher than you wanted or expected it to be, the stronger we come out of that hardship. See, adversity and struggle and setback are just opportunities to get stronger, to get better, and to get more mentally tough.

When we fail in life, it’s usually at something we haven’t done much. Imagine drawing a big circle and listing all the things you’ve ever done inside it. The things you do every single day go in the middle of the circle, and the things you’ve tried once or twice go near the edges. Now, outside the circle, list all the things you haven’t done - sports or instruments you haven’t played, languages you haven’t spoken, places you haven’t been. My guess would be that you’re really good at the things in the middle of the circle. As you work outward, your ability level probably starts to drop. And as you get outside the circle, you probably don’t have a clue how to even begin a lot of those things. The outline of that circle is called the “margin of your experience” and it’s incredibly important. Because it draws the line between things we’ve tried and things we’ve never attempted, it’s where we start to fail. And for that exact same reason, it’s where we start to grow.

At The Dojo, we can take comfort in the fact that when things get hard, we aren’t alone. We’re all in it together and while we might all be at different places in our journey, we’re doing it as a team. Whatever your goal is, my goal is to help you get there. We do that through training and operating right at the edge of that circle. I’m not content to let you sit in the middle of it and do the same things you’ve done over and over again. Remember - when it gets hard, it’s because it’s supposed to be hard. That’s when you show yourself what kind of stuff you’re made out of. And a big part of my job is to help you realize that you can do it. Whatever your struggle is, you can face it and beat it. But you have to make the choice to be relentless. The ones who listen to the voice in their head telling them to stop, that it’s too hard, those are the ones who don’t ever get to see how tough they could actually be. And what a shame that would be, to never know what you’re capable of.

My challenge to you, to my students, to myself, is this: expand the margin of your experience. Embrace the pain of not succeeding at first so that you never stop growing. It’s when that circle stops growing that we, ourselves, stop growing. Keep making the circle bigger. Try new things. Be really bad at them. Because by putting our heads down and our eyes forward and charging ahead and just doing the work, we won’t be really bad at them for long. That’s how we make our future stronger.

10 Things that Require Zero Talent

Recently, I've seen a graphic floating around social media titled "10 Things that Require Zero Talent." It's a list of characteristics and actions that have little to do with any innate ability, but instead focus on choices that anyone can make to improve themselves. I'm a big believer that hard work beats talent every time, so the words on the graphic really resonated with me, and we'll be basing our character lessons next season off of this list. 

I've expanded on each item on the list below, and these are the ways I'll be talking to the kids about it in class. Parents, I want to encourage you as we prepare for and dive into this next season to really talk to your kids about these things at home too. When the lessons that you teach at home as parents are reinforced here at The Dojo, and vice versa, that's when they have real sticking power. Each week, we'll focus on a different item on the list, so there's no need to bite off a whole lot of it at once. We'll have specific tasks for kids to work on relating to each item.

  1. Being On Time - When class starts at The Dojo, it’s time to get to work. We think of what we do as “hard fun.” We have a great time in class, but at the end of the day, we’re there to get better and to make each other better. That means that as soon as we stand up and bow in, we’re all in. If you aren’t there when class starts, you’re missing out on valuable time to grow. Think of it this way: If you come to three classes a week, 50 weeks a year, and you’re 2 minutes late every time, that’s 300 minutes, or almost 7 full classes worth of missed time. Every action you make communicates something about your intent. If you’re late, you’re telling your instructor and everyone else in class that you had something more important to do with your time than to be in the room, mentally prepared when class starts. The ones who are there on time are the ones who will reap the benefits.

  2. Work Ethic - Ethics are a set of personal moral principles or values. They reflect the things you hold to be worthwhile and meaningful. If you think it’s important to be honest and kind and trustworthy and patient, those are your ethics. A work ethic, then, means that you believe that you can benefit from hard work. That’s all it is - a belief that if you work hard, good things will follow. That if you study for your tests in school, you’ll get better grades and that if you exercise hard, you’ll make your body stronger. Remember that if you have a strong work ethic, it has two sides: if you believe that by hard work, you’ll make your life better, then by not working hard, you will not get any of the benefits you would get from doing that work.

  3. Effort - Effort is putting your work ethic into action. When you make an effort, you’re actually doing the things that get you the results you desire. We talk a lot at The Dojo about setting goals for yourself - effort plays a role in that every single action you take in your life either takes you closer to your goal or further from it. No action is without consequences. Sometimes that hard work means making a hard choice, but discipline means choosing what you want most over what you want now.

  4. Body Language - The way you sit and stand tells me a lot about you. It gives me a picture of how confident you are, how much attention you’re paying, and how ready you are to give your all at any moment. 7% of any message is conveyed through the words you say. 38% is conveyed by the tone of your words, and 55% of any message is completely nonverbal. (Dr. Albert Mehrabian, Silent Messages) When you stand up tall and look people in the eye, when you keep your shoulders back and your chest out, you look strong and confident. When you slouch, when you look away when someone is speaking, you say the exact opposite.

  5. Energy - Energy is just our potential to do work. It’s how much we could do - it can be channeled toward bringing us closer to our goals, or it can be wasted on things that don’t bring us any benefit. Think about having a hundred dollars and how we can spend it - it can be spent on things that make our lives better or things that make our lives worse, but once it’s spent we can’t get it back. Here’s the cool thing about energy though - energy is never destroyed, even when it’s used. It’s only transferred. We take in energy from the food we eat and also from the people around us. When we surround ourselves with people who are active and on the move, that energy is contagious. When we’re around people who just want to sit and do nothing, we feel the same way too.

  6. Attitude - Just as contagious as our energy is our attitude. Our attitude is the lens that we look at the world through. If I put on a pair of glasses with red lenses, everything will have that red tint to it. If my glasses have blue lenses, that will show up in what I see. That’s how our attitude works too. If I choose to keep a positive attitude, I can even look at my struggles as opportunities to grow and improve. But if my attitude is negative, nothing seems like it’s going well. Even when great things happen, a negative attitude will keep me from appreciating them like I should.

  7. Passion - Passion is excitement that’s so intense we can barely control it! It’s when we’re in the heat of competition in a sport or game we love and everything else seems to disappear. It’s when we find the things in our life that make us act - and that’s something different for everyone. We hope for all of our students that no matter what their passion is that we help equip them with the tools to chase it full-speed. When we talk in class about things like discipline and focus and attitude, it’s so kids will have those tools at their disposal as they get older so they can go after the things that really matter in their lives. That’s central to the Dojo’s mission of Strengthening their Future!

  8. Being Coachable - Being coachable means being humble. It means realizing that there is always more to learn. We challenge our students at every level to approach each class like a white belt. That means having an open mind to learning, improving, and accepting coaching. My job as a coach is to get the absolute best out of my students. When they are of the mind that they have nothing else to learn, it doesn’t matter what I say to them - they aren’t going to hear and apply it. But when even the highest level student realizes that they can always improve, always grow, and always learn, that growth never stops.

  9. Doing Extra - It’s amazing how much little things add up. Imagine how much better you’d get at a side kick by throwing 1000 of them. It seems like so many, but let’s break it down. To do 1000 extra kicks in just one month, it only takes doing 32 kicks a day. How long would it take to do just 16 side kicks on each side? Not long, right? But by a month in, you’re 1000 kicks ahead of the people who didn’t spend just that couple of extra minutes getting better. If you apply that same thinking to your schoolwork, to your housework, to your exercising, imagine how much benefit you could add up with just a little more work!

  10. Being Prepared - Success is the place where preparation and opportunity meet. So many times, we have opportunities arise that we just aren’t ready to take advantage of. When we know what our goals are, we may not have an opportunity to act on them right away. But we always have the opportunity to prepare for the time when they do come to our feet. Most of the time, that just means making the choice that we believe will bring us closer to our goal. We start with “why.” We define our goals and with the realization that every action either moves us closer or further away from that goal, we act in a way that brings us closer as often as we can. When all those choices add up, the result is a preparedness for any opportunity that arises. The best preparation for tomorrow is doing your best today.

Student of the Week 7/5/16 - Ian Ellard

Congratulations to our first-ever STUDENT OF THE WEEK, Ian Ellard! Ian started this year in our After School Karate Program and has since graduated from 5th grade and moved into our evening program where he always makes us laugh and works hard in class! We are so proud of you Ian! Way to go!

Why Karate Matters Now

I remember playing multiple sports as a kid. I played baseball most of my life with some moderate success, which I balanced out with utter failure at basketball, tennis, and probably a couple other efforts I've managed to block from my mind. What I don't remember, however, was having a schedule as loaded down as most of the kids we teach at The Dojo now. It seems like kids are always leaving to go to the next practice or coming in from some other lesson, and it brings the question up of why karate specifically is such a critical component of kids' success, with so many other things on their plates. Karate at The Dojo, unlike so many other activities, has the ability to stimulate and grow kids on three levels - physically, mentally, and emotionally.

Physical Benefits

The most important tool a kid will ever learn to use is their own body. By starting with a sport or activity like karate (or dance, or gymnastics, or swimming, or a host of other activities), kids learn to manipulate themselves in space before having to contend with any other element like a ball or a bat. They gain an understanding of where they are in that space, how they are positioned, how their limbs are moving and can move, and an awareness of what their body can do at any given moment in any given position. If you take a kid who hasn't mastered that basic skill and tell them that they have to move themselves to move a bat to hit a moving ball, that's a losing proposition. That kid doesn't even know how his own body works, and now has to pilot it to accomplish a very difficult task. The same could be said for dribbling a basketball or soccer ball or for swinging a tennis racket or lacrosse stick to hit or catch a ball. That isn't to say that there isn't value to all of these sports, just that a kid's ability to perform them can be drastically improved by building a foundation of controlling their own body first. The strength, agility, flexibility, and coordination developed in karate will pay massive dividends in any sport a kid decides to try later on.

Mental Benefits

At The Dojo, we tell every parent that part of our program is learning to fail and get back up. We teach kids that failure is part of learning, and that it's overcoming that failure, learning from it, and coming back stronger that really develops a person. Students rarely see curriculum and test on it the first time without some constructive feedback for what they can improve on before receiving the stripe on their belt for that material. This isn't to discourage them; in fact, quite the opposite. Here's why: We quantify all of our stripes at The Dojo, meaning nothing is left to the interpretation or judgement of the instructor. Students know what the test will be before they attempt it and understand why they fell short if they don't meet the standard. Sometimes they walk away disappointed, and I'm okay with that. What I'm not okay with is a kid walking away disappointed and confused about what they can improve on. Without clear guidance, they will be frustrated. With a clear, objective standard, they will be motivated. And it's that motivation that leads to improvement and the mental toughness to face the real adversity life presents. Because I'd much rather have a student experience failure in this environment and then know how to handle it when life throws them a curveball for real than to have their hand held and not know how to overcome the challenges that life inevitably brings.

Emotional Benefits

At The Dojo, we subscribe to the idea of "comfort, confirm, and challenge." What that means is simple: We strive to provide a comfortable environment for our students and their families. We keep the facility clean, make the place feel like home, and allow families to relax and enjoy seeing their kids in class when they are here. We keep kids comfortable by taking time to relate to them both on and off the mat. We don't just teach our students, we know them on a personal level and we coach them individually to meet their individual needs. We confirm their value to them every chance we get. That means letting them know that they did good work, catching them doing the right thing and praising them for it, and recognizing their strengths and allowing them to leverage those strengths. It also means holding them accountable to the level of effort that they are capable of - challenging them. It means motivating them through increasingly difficult workloads and throwing new and exciting goals at them. The challenge extends beyond classes - it's an expectation that they will initially think like a Black Belt: "How can I handle this situation with integrity, a good attitude, and respect for all the people involved?" Later, we ask them to act like a Black Belt and serve those around them. Simple stuff that your mama taught you - treating people the way you want to be treated. Ultimately, the goal is for them to lead like Black Belts and to set the example for not just the other people in their class at The Dojo but also for the other kids at school, at church, on sports teams, and to set the standard for how their peers should act. It's through that comfortable environment that confirms a student's value to them and challenges them to constantly be better that we see emotional development and ultimately, those Black Belt leaders.

If you're interested in learning more about our program and how karate can help your student, check us out or give us a call at (678) 209-5093