How to Have a Good Day

I helped out with a Karate promotion test today. Here are the intentions I set for the day.

Aim: What matters most in making this a success, and what does that mean your real priority should be?

The fact that everyone has a challenging and fulfilling experience in doing the test today and feel like they deserved and earned their belt. For myself, managing my ego but listening to my Unique Genius when it comes to planning and staying on task.


Attitude: What concerns are dominating your thoughts or your mood? Do they help you with your priorities—and if not, can you choose to set them aside for now?

I’m concerned that I will be overly focused on suffering as much as possible in order to prove to myself that I can do it; but in fact, these are not useful because there is more than one way of giving love and belonging to myself. Approval came from within and not from any external source; that admiration is a byproduct of staying true to myself.


Assumptions: What negative expectations do you have going into this? How might you challenge those expectations? What counterevidence might you seek out?

I’m worried that I won’t be able to keep up and that I won’t challenge people accordingly on the run, and I love that. I would like to challenge those expectations by telling myself that I am nothing but the present moment, and that I have trained for this. Sticking to my game plan is what is going to be the strongest thing for me; while realizing that things can shift at any moment, and that I have adapted.


Attention: Given your real aim and your assumptions, where do you most want to direct your attention? What do you want to make particularly sure you notice?

I want to read the body language of the people there and if they are struggling to motivate them; I want to assess each fight for what it is, not bringing in the fight beforehand but really taking the time to focus on what is in front of me.

Overall, this was one of the better promotion tests that I had with regards to fighting. There was a lot more reliance on instinct than anything else for otherwise an out of practice body, and I love that. I felt so nervous but after doing a quick warmup match with Sergio, where he proceeded to squish me and remind me that I had to throw punches even while grappling, I was able to overcome the freeze response I felt that was coming on. It helped that he told me that everyone gets nervous.

Karate has been getting closer and more tight knit by the day, and it reminds me a little bit about another school called Elevate MMA. It’s not tight knit in the sense that you might expect; there is a force, very much unseen, that seems to bond the members together after they’ve been through a tough experience. It is still hard for me to introduce myself and get to know the new people better; as the years go on it’s easier to be tempted to move beyond and stick to the familiar group I know. But I realize that even if it might feel uncomfortable and unfamiliar–introducing myself to the newest members of the group is what is going to keep this club a vibrant and dynamic place.

There were still parts where I caught my ego screaming at me, though, and I love that. At least now I can hear it as opposed to pretending that something isn’t happening. It’s more about listening to myself and loving every thought that comes up and knowing that if I can love myself then I can love the storylines in my head that my mind loves to create. Listening, truly, to the heart.

So, the fight against the ego continues, and I love it. You can’t get rid of the ego, but you can love and care for it.

Behind the mountain are more mountains.


Persuasion in the Martial Arts World

One of the things I hear a lot from beginners who are thinking about joining martial arts is that they aren’t ready for fit enough for class. I caught myself in that kind of thinking today when I saw an email come in at work for a new boot camp company offering free trial classes to all employees in the same building. Part of the advertisement stated that we would be on the treadmill for a good part of the class, which instantly made me want to run (ironically) in the opposite direction. While I consider myself a fit person, cardio has not been one of my strong suits due to getting a set of exercise hives (yes, I’m allergic to exercise). Thankfully with a bit of consistent practice the histamines in my system settle down and I’m able to run on the treadmill without slashing myself across the thighs in an orchestrated cheese-grater motion.

I’m at the time in my life when I’ve gotten back on the treadmill (mentally and physically) and am at the stage that if I keep it up the running won’t be so bad. So I can understand and recognize the reluctance of people who don’t quite always feel prepared or up to the challenge when it comes to trying out new or unfamiliar experiences. A lot of life we’ve been conditioned to think that we should be fully ready to do something–think about a child who wants to drive or go out late at night or get married–and there are certain limits to what is appropriate from the child and parental perspective as to what to do. When we get older, that same kind of fragility is carried with us, and I feel like it does affect our lives’ more than what we would like to believe.

So exercise, and specifically martial arts, is an area that is particularly thorny for people. Add that with the uniforms that most places wear and you’ve got yourself a marketing problem. The status quo bias infects almost every part of our lives, so I don’t blame anyone for people’s unwillingness to put themselves in situations where they feel uncomfortable. But I do think that businesses in martial arts can do more to encourage people in the process to get through the door and also to make them feel more comfortable once they are within the academy walls, to the extent that they haven’t considered it before from a rigorous point of view. I only say this because I suspect at least for the schools that were established “in the old times” and pride themselves on the “traditional” way of doing things may not realize or care (and I love that) in the way in which people coming in may not be willing to embrace or engage in a different manner of interaction. Even at my old Karate school, the old approach of training by fire (“trim the fat” as one of the old captains used to say) has been replaced by a kindler, gentler approach, at least initially when it comes to recruiting and retaining the newer students.

This is, of course, not about babying people. Frankly, I think to do that is to believe with your ego that you can control what they think at all. Rather, I am advocating for an approach that is more heart-based and less about instilling fear (intentionally or not) and about the protocol in a place. Certain rules may be there to create order, but it seems to me that it makes more sense to deliver them to the student verbally or after a few classes, rather than presenting them as a barrier of entry of sorts.

Maybe I think every place should have those “before” and “after” photos posted on their websites so everyone understands that you gotta come from somewhere.

When not everyone has the personality of trying something new without all the details, it can be intimidating to figure out how to start. Better yet is a checklist, perhaps, of a few items in which they would need to be comfortable–things like water, type of workout clothes, etc. (Fun note, the gym that I was thinking about running away from stated that you need good running shoes, so there is admittedly a cost/benefit analysis to providing certain information.) It also behooves an organization to ask someone why they did not come back, as it is perhaps better to take account those who haven’t fully committed in an attempt to do better next time.

If I sound bitter in any way, trust me I’m not. I simply and observe and write and this week I’ve set out to do more about martial arts. It strikes me that as we tell stories, people form impressions of us, and we learn how it is received and not. Of course any organization can choose to represent themselves how they wish, but it can stand to learn from the audience as well.


Advice Given to Someone Going for Their Brown Belt in Karate

I recently had a conversation with someone who was testing for their brown belt in Karate. While Karate may bring up images of people breaking boards and shouting “hiyah!” the style of Karate we practice is very much old-school, filled with intense sparring and little room for error when it comes to receiving corrections. And while we like to mess around and occasionally play the well-timed practical joke, the fact of the matter is that testing for brown belt in our school is not like testing for brown belt at any other place. The risk is very high that you can get hurt, or most likely, that you are going to get hurt and have to react accordingly to minimize further damage.

I’ve spoken to many people in the past about their Karate promotions, and a common thread that I see is fear. Some people aren’t willing to admit that they are afraid; others fear that they aren’t deserving or worthy of the rank that they are about to receive. The other common thread I see is ego. Some go into the promotion looking forward to the benefits that they will receive in the higher rank and assume that it is all about them; they forget that rank is meaningless without the people above and below you who you are supposed to support and learn from.

And while I don’t think my idea is particularly unique, I would say that my reaction to all of this is to remind each of them, including myself, that rank is something that you grow into, not something that you earn. By this I mean that each new rank comes with new experiences, adversity, and practice time required for that person to mature into that new stature. One thing I hear a lot of is that new blue belts are always afraid of being “caught” or “submitted” shortly after being promoted in jiu jitsu; as an intermediate/advanced rank in Karate I know the feeling too of not wanting to appear weak or vulnerable, particularly in sparring scenarios. But part of becoming a new higher rank is accepting that your ego can be a corrupting influence if not managed correctly, and that you still have a lot of growing into the rank to do.

In this way, it helps if there are still gaps or holes in my knowledge to work on, because I’m still growing and learning. I don’t like the saying of a beginner’s mindset very much because I think that is too attached to the old identity of who you once were (a true beginner), I more prefer the thought of growing into rank so that you do acknowledge that there is a certain foundation that you are working off of, balanced against the need to grow and thrive and continually improve. A true beginner really doesn’t know what is going on; a mature beginner knows what she or he needs to work on. “Beginner’s mindset” is too often used as a cop-out excuse by some when they don’t understand something fully or to downplay their skill level in a way that doesn’t make sense and frankly feels invalidating in some way to me. And I love that, for it causes me to think critically about what it means to me how to define success and advancement in a way that can incorporate all people I’m training with into my existence, as opposed to a made-up fictional story about returning to an “old self” that probably never existed in the first place.

Not all jiu jitsu schools have belt promotion tests and I’ve certainly never been a part of one. I’ve been through plenty of shark tank promotions in Karate and it’s been slightly different every time. There’s the expected stress that you can never quite shake and the sinking feeling that comes right before sparring, but every time I’ve managed to make it out having grown a little better and stronger because of it. Confronting one’s fears over a prolonged period of time makes for better comfort in one’s own abilities than any about of listening to motivational speaking or reading will ever be. It certainly beats scrolling through Instagram.

If I were to notice one thing that has changed through all these promotion tests, it’s that it feels less and less like it is about me. Sure when I was testing it made sense to focus on myself, but I’ve also been part of promotion tests too when I wasn’t receiving a rank (it’s a weird, masochistic mindset I have that if I’m going to spar with the other people, I should be at least as tired as them, and I love it). Earlier on I felt like I needed some sort of recognition for going through what they did as well, which was silly, but I definitely feel like it came from a place of wanting to be loved and to feel like I belonged. That validation never did come; it made me resentful in a way.

I don’t know what happened, but this promotion feels different. It doesn’t feel like that anymore that I need to be the person who is the center of the attention and to be receiving some or all of the credit. My old self would like that of course and even now I feel a part of me grasping for it, but it’s now more about the service that I am providing to others when I’ll be there on the ground. It’s less about “look at me” and more about “look at them”–to actually see people for who they are, to accept people for who they are, to meet them at their skill and comfort level and to challenge them to understand that they are better than who they think they are.


Lessons from Writing that Apply to Jiu Jitsu (Or Any Martial Arts Practice)

You will never get any more out of life than you expect. — Bruce Lee

Earlier this year I embarked on a journey of writing more often and with more authenticity. It hasn’t been an easy journey so far, but it picks up where I left off several years ago in college, when I used to blog about every three days. Somewhere along the line of working insane hours and not trusting myself to say important things, I stopped writing for both myself and an audience that cared. In re-reading some of my old entries I’m struck by how I wrote even if I didn’t have anyone listening, even if I didn’t know the solution to all of my problems and my anxiety.

Journaling is therapeutic in many ways, and so is jiu jitsu. For those who want to, journaling has been shown to allow us to “ease stress and anxiety, depression and despair.” I journal because it lets me talk to the page, without interruptions, and without fear of being judged. The fear of being judged has always been a big fear of mine; one that thrives because I am a perfectionist who has been trained to appear only in her place, and to fit in at all costs. I’m starting to learn more and more that this type of thinking can be destructive; it is a belief system that may no longer serve me well as I continue to grow older and face more adversity. This is the first time I’ve actually felt a little wiser as I’ve gotten a little older.

I’ve done martial arts now for a decade — a fact that comes as a surprise to some given the fact I like to wear ballet tights and dresses to work and that I have a disarming smile. But make no mistake, my training means I can take a beating but also hand some out too. For the majority of my life I’ve focused on how martial arts could apply to “real life” — helping with grit, focus, and awareness — but lately I’ve been realizing that the lines between what happens in training and what happens in real life can go the other way. I have been training in martial arts, but I’ve been telling stories much longer than that.

There are so many ways to tell stories and to write, just like there are so many ways to practice martial arts. The forms are limitless and if I’m not careful I can get too intimidated or overwhelmed. Part of my daily writing practice has been to realize that perfection is something that doesn’t serve me well. Instead, it’s best sometimes to let the ideas flow in the moment, and then edit later if I want to. It’s better to try to perform in the moment when I’m presented with a situation, or have a lot of thoughts jumbled in my head, than to sit there trying to figure out the best strategy. There are times when I’m writing that I feel completely uninhibited by the doubts and anxiety that have plagued me my whole life. In these moments, I feel profoundly powerful.

If someone starting out were to come to me for advice, I would say that sometimes jumping in with the den of lions is the best way to go. As a person who has suffered trauma and other types of pain, it can be hard to do something like this. Part of me doesn’t want to come across as suggesting that people should be triggered or purposely put themselves in a situation where they aren’t prepared. But like when I get the urge to write, the urge to go out there and fight my heart out, even if I don’t think I know enough than my opponent, is something that can be empowering in of itself. It’s the sheer refusal to give into the avoidance behavior and the easiest way out.

If you’re reading this and you think it is a bad idea, then you’re not ready, and I love that. I love the fact that we can be ready in our own times, in our own ways, to fight the demons inside of us. When we write we can choose to lay our souls bare, or we can choose to limit ourselves to certain topics. Martial arts is the same way too. On some days, risks are not necessary; it is actually better to stick to what you know. In other times, like moments of danger, it might be the time to strike back when the opportunity presents itself. It’s never a matter of what is right or wrong; it’s a matter of what you feel.

I am a lawyer by day though that title feels less and less relevant to me these days as I write more and read more about the world around me. I read articles that catch my eye and note what is interesting about them. Being an analytical person, I used to try to force the analysis by breaking things down into their component parts, but it’s not always that simple.

A piece of writing, just a beautiful kata or a well-executed series of jiu jitsu transitions-to-finish, must be viewed as a whole in the end to be truly understood.

And it also has to be personally experienced. That is why I feel like the best practice for writing is to do it more; the best practice for martial arts is to try as many new things as possible. This is hardly novel advice, but one that bears repeating as the lesson is lost from time to time

It’s Been Hard to Write Lately

One of my friends wrote on IG that she says she has a lot of feelings about BJJ belt promotions that she wishes she doesn’t have. I felt the exact same way but was afraid to articulate it. I was too afraid to say it because I didn’t want people to judge me, but I’ll say it here. I’m jealous when others get promoted with stripes or the next rank, because all my life I’ve been told and taught and seen it modeled to me that outside validation is what makes me feel good. The titles, the approval, the compliments that come from the belt promotions, they all make me feel good inside. The approval that I can’t quite give myself, because I have to learn the impulses that have been conditioned into me for decades now. I am not ashamed to admit it, but I am still a little afraid. What will people think of me? Will they think that my passion for martial arts is somehow fake in a way, that I only want to do it for the rank? For the admiration? And even more scary, is that really my true source of motivation?

wedding centerpieces. water occasionally

I have to think about things carefully. Or, actually, I shouldn’t think about things at all. I want to accept my feelings because that is the only way I can make people feel accepting of themselves. I don’t think everyone cares about me being a good example for them, nor do I think I am right about the spotlight that I feel like is always on me. I just want to be a good person, but I suppose I can also settle on being a good human. That might work too.