CourageWatching the events unfold in the Middle East over the last month has resonated with me in a way I hadn’t expected it to. Sure, the images we are seeing on CNN of revolution in the streets of Tunisia and Egypt against oppressive regimes are riveting. But they also serve as a prominent reminder that we can be as strong as we want to be. It just takes courage to stand up for what we believe in. Yet that is hardly an easy step for many of us to take. Even more so when lives may be at risk.

I was blown away watching the young Egyptian Google executive, Wael  Ghonim, describe with the most intense and genuine emotion why he anonymously started a FaceBook page after the events in Tunisia that lead to the mass protests in Egypt and his detention by state security for over two weeks. Although he deflects the courage label, the man is a moving study in courage or as Stephen Colbert says “balls”. It’s worth watching all three videos, simply for historical context of what is going. A perspective we don’t really see or get from the coverage by western media outlets.

And to me Mr. Ghonim’s condition and situation is such a self development example, and one worth pondering. Most of us lack courage. Even the most successful people in society don’t usually possess it. In fact some successful people aren’t courageous at all.

Some people may be natural risk takers, and that takes a level of courage. I mean risk taking in the sense of being an entrepreneur, or speaking up for unpopular positions that may be go against conventional thinking, but may also be the right thing to do.

But it can also be on a much more personal level:

  • Many people lack the courage to put themselves “out there” in social situations, for example.
  • Or they fail to speak up in work settings when they see the direction an employer or supervisor is going isn’t right, but saying something may put them at risk of looking bad in front of peers. Or worse losing a job.
  • Or they are afraid to approach someone they are interested in romantically for fear of being rejected.

Or perhaps one of the most common examples of a lack of courage – not trying for fear of failure.

For years, I lacked the personal courage to get up in front of people and speak publicly, a problem many people face. Years of karate training got me over this and now I speak publicly in front of hundreds of people at a time. And it’s something I really enjoy doing. But this is a different kind of courage because it isn’t reckless. Other than my own fears, I had little to lose (other than throwing up on an audience) by gradually getting comfortable speaking in front of others with many chances to succeed or fail.

Yet, I have also experienced a level of reckless courage of the type demonstrators in Tahrir Square in Cairo are experiencing. I don’t mean to say I put my life on the line in a police state – because that truly is both reckless and courageous (and it’s also the right thing to do).  But I have gotten in the sparring ring with competitors that were bigger, faster and better than I was (and got clocked in the process) which took some form of courage (or stupidity depending on how you look at it).

I don’t equate the type of personal courage I have described here to be at all at the level of what is happening by brave and desperate people a half a world a way that don’t have the opportunity to live in peace and freedom. But it is worth thinking about what being courageous means to us on a personal level. And it’s refreshing to see such a powerful example unfold right in front of us as an example we can all learn from.

Photo by Redwood 1

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Out Of My Comfort Zone

by Marc Winitz

Out of my comfort zoneSometimes you just need to walk down a different path. To move away from your comfort zone temporarily to get a new perspective. I started Black Belt Guide at the beginning of this year as a vehicle for sharing my own thoughts and experiences of martial arts study and practice as a powerful form of personal development. There is a lot of personal development advice offered on the web. And some of it is pretty good. But a lot of it is lacking simply because those offering it don’t have a basis for really having done any of the long term work required to make change on a personal level. And by extension some of that advice just doesn’t sit well with me. Not that I know it all, I don’t. But I have found over the last year by visiting other blogs in the personal development space, something is really missing here.

Intense Learning on a Personal Level
I decided to talk a hiatus, a three month break from blogging. It’s not recommended, or particularly a good idea when you are building a blog and an audience. But I felt that while I enjoyed blogging and writing things I found to be important to me, I only wanted to do it if I had something to say. Nothing forced or unnatural. One of the other reasons I started this blog has been to learn about Web 2.0 technology and the social web. Again, not participating in it for three months may have not been the best move on one level, but I decided to channel my efforts into a new path, learning about search engine optimization (SEO), community engagement, web strategy, and working with video for social media (check out my new video).

I have spent a lot of my spare time over the last three months understanding these areas and I think they will have a direct impact on the new direction of my blog.

Being of Like Minds Stunts Growth
Honestly, I was lost for the first six months writing this blog. The content I generated was good as I received very positive feedback from a lot of people about what I was saying. I wanted the blog to grow so I commented on other peoples blogs hoping to drive traffic from “like minded” communities. The problem is that I wasn’t particularly crazy about a lot (not all) of the blogs I visited. Commenting became a chore. And I didn’t agree with the idea that I had to be part of a particular community (e.g. the self development community) for this blog to be effective. I have a lot of interests and read a lot of blogs, but they are not all self development. And I don’t see it as necessary to read other personal or self development blogs for this one to be successful (unless I really want to read them).

Step Away So You Can Re-Engage
I viewed this as hitting a wall from a martial arts training perspective so I decided to stop doing what I was doing (which was sort of working) and to go off on another path. Just like in a dojo setting, when something isn’t working how you want it to, sometimes the best approach is simply to step away from what you are working on, train on something else for awhile and then go back at a later point and re-engage. It’s actually the same idea in combat (or sparring). If you keep getting scored on in the ring by your opponent’s round house kick (which means he/she can get to you before you can close the distance to make a kick effective) you need to try another strategy, to see another opening. That’s what I have done by taking a break with this blog.

On a go forward basis, I plan to do the following on Black Belt Guide:

  1. Only post when I have something I want to say that I think is important. The quantity of posts is not particularly important to me;
  2. Post on a wider variety topics. While this blog is devoted to personal development, it’s also my personal blog. I may post on technology, travel, cooking, charity, green living, all the things that interest me – I’ll just do it from a Black Belt Guide perspective.

Initially my idea was to write on the core topics that martial artists develop through training over long periods of time. Things like discipline, motivation and teaching. I am not walking away from that, I am just going the broaden the topics I want to write about.

Thanks for Your Patience
If you have been a reader of my blog, I appreciate the time you have spent to come by and spend a few minutes to read what I write. I am sure my audience has dwindled since I took a break without explanation, but I felt it more important to disconnect from the social web and go look at other methods and ideas, and develop some new skills I can apply to this blog to make it more effective and meaningful for me personally.

Photo by divemasterking2000

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You Are A Teacher

by Marc Winitz

One of the most appealing parts to being a black belt and training in any martial art is the ability to make a difference in peoples lives. Over the course of our lives we have many interactions with teachers. But being a teacher does not have to require being in a school room, although I have certainly had influential school room experiences. At the end of the day a teacher is someone that makes a difference in your life. After years of training and becoming a teacher I began to realize that they are many “teachers” in the world. Not all teachers are created equally and some offer more wisdom than others. However, most people have something to offer that is teachable even in small doses.

Small Ways to Make a Big Difference
I recently read an e-book by a personal development blogger named Raam Dev. Raam decided to leave his corporate life behind and is traveling the world to explore for himself issues of poverty and cultural evolution while learning the challenges that most people face outside of first world countries. This is also a personal journey as he blogs about his personal evolution. His recently completed e-book brings together thoughts and opinions from other bloggers across the globe and you can download it here. The book provides small pearls of wisdom, some readily useful, others that may or may not make a difference to a specific reader. But for me it also points to the fact that there are many types of teachers, regardless of their position in life, training or formal credentials. And that is worth exploring.

Meritocracy Matters but so does Aged Wisdom
In Japan the term “sensei” is used to refer to a teacher. As age is equated with wisdom (and not always merit or accomplishment we see in Western culture) the term literally translates to “one who has gone before”. This simply honors the tradition that someone else has more life experience based on chronological age. Something we have pretty much forgetten in our current society. In a karate dojo your length of time in training is your “chronological age” so someone that is 16 years old but has trained for one year can offer a level of wisdom and knowledge to someone who is in their 40’s but brand new to training.

Yet we live in age and culture where progress and accomplishment are deeply valued. So much so that we equate success with wisdom. And while there is some truth to this idea, it’s not the entire picture.

Whether we realize it or not, all of us are teachers whether we want that responsibility or not.

Teachers Are Everywhere, Just Look For Them
Whether or not you intend to make a difference in someone else’s life chance are that you have more influence than you realize. In effect, you own pearls of wisdom are valuable. So, what types of people qualify as teachers? Here are the obvious ones:

  • Parents - In my mind parents are the ultimate teachers. Simply because they hold so much influence in the development of their children from their attitudes about respect and manners to work ethics and values.
  • Coaches - Perhaps the easiest group to classify as a teacher outside a formal classroom, coaches (sports or professional/business/life) are focused on formation and advancement of the individual around a specific set of goals. Coaches typically drive towards personal accountability and are the closest to a “sensei” that I can associate with.
  • Work Colleagues – Certainly a boss or supervisor can be a teacher simply because you can learn from a superior if they are competent. Yet our peers in the work force are also candidates to be classified as “teacher”. Sometimes we simply need to look at them in a different light to see this and not rule out someone’s contribution or thoughts simply because of their position relative to our own.
  • Religious Leaders – Whether you seek the counsel of a rabbi, pastor, imam or some other credible spiritual advisor, religious leaders are very much teachers simply because they usually impose self examination as part of their work (usually).
  • Friends - Trust matters in teaching and often we grant more leeway to our friends as teachers than we realize. This occurs simply because we are more receptive to the social proof of others, especially people we already trust. Whether or not a friend’s comments or thoughts are really useful is a personal matter but there can be no doubting we learn, sometimes eagerly, from friends, even if we don’t intend to see them that way. And this is simply because we are willing to try something that a friend suggests.
  • Siblings - Ever had an older brother or sister? ‘Nuf said.
  • Bloggers - The fact that someone writes their opinions doesn’t make them a teacher. However, many people that blog very much fall into “sensei” role simply because of the social element of social media and the attached social proof. In addition, we usually assign more value to what is written (because it is on paper, even electronically) than what is spoken. Some of my favorite “electronic senseis” include social media expert Mark Schaeffer who writes the top social media marketing blog Businesses Grow, and  venture capitalist and top business blogger Mark Suster (who writes an interesting piece on social proof in investing here) at Both Sides of the Table, and the travel (and by extension business) empire oriented Chris Guillebeau who pens The Art of Non Conformity. In varying ways all of these bloggers (who are also savvy business people) make a difference in peoples lives in very public and pronounced ways.

You Are a Teacher
Whether or not you realize it you are most likely a teacher. The scale of what you teach and the contribution of what you offer may vary greatly from others. But even your smallest actions do make a difference whether you see it or not. A simple e-book reminded me of this. You do not need to be a sensei to understand and use this to your advantage for your own good or the good of others.

Thanks for training with me.

Photo credit courtesy of dalydose.

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Less Talking, More Doing

by Marc Winitz

I was in a meeting the other day that seemed to go on forever. Never mind the fact that I have inherent dislike for unfocused efforts that are time sucks. What I find really difficult are people that talk for the sake of talking without any action that follows. In the meeting I was in the person made a specific point that was valid. But then they made it again, only a different way. They complained about the situation. Then they remade their point. Again.

An Avalanche of Disruption
There are plenty of reasons to “explore” topics or even have conversations that go in an unfocused way so long as all parties agree that the session to be that way. However, most meetings, or meetups, aren’t mean’t to be like this. And I see this “exploration” spilling over into individual non-action which is the point of this post. Often times, even when we think we are focused we can easily get distracted. There is a lot of “talking” going on in the form of disruption including:

  • Urgent but not important calls or emails by others (someone else’s crisis)
  • No prioritization on the most important thing that you have get done (no discipline)
  • Someone taking (or talking) your time away without asking permission for it (no limits)
  • Unfocused use of social media and the internet (easy distraction)

In short, a lot of chatter goes on and comes from many directions, and you are in the center of it. Some of it is dumped upon you by others, and some self inflicted. In martial arts training any small distraction is termed a “suki” and literally translates to “a space between objects”. What it really means is that the mind is temporarily distracted from what it’s focus is. In combat that’s fatal. In feudal Japan a samurai faced his opponent with complete concentration not allowing the smallest distraction to disrupt their mental acuity. Being cut down (or in half) in an instant was the price for not paying attention. I see the parallel in our modern lives all the time (although not as dramatic but nearly as fatal as a time suck).

Beware of “The Pontificator”
On the training floor teachers keep students moving through continuous training exercises. When a drill is taught a group of students performs a technique and then he recieves feedback in form of criticism, as I have written about here. The purpose of the feedback is to provide a quick check in by others that can assess your technique and help make corrections. A critique should last 10-20 seconds. But often times the “pontificator” emerges going into explicit, often excruciating detail about what you did wrong, what you should improve, how you should do this or that, etc…We frown on that level of detail and often terse and loud comments of “less talking, more doing” are barked from a senior belt walking around the floor.

External Conversations
Most people talk simply to hear themselves as a form of personal validation. I see a lot of talking and not much doing. Talking in this context takes many forms as I defined in the bulleted list above. There is no one remedy for dealing with this however the following framework can help bring needed focus:

  1. Confirm in your mind that what another party is asking of you is worth your time. If not tell them you cannot get to their issue, or at least not in the current moment.
  2. If you are already in the conversation and can’t easily get out then you need to stop their talk track. Find a graceful way to interrupt or inject yourself into the conversation (pontificators don’t stop talking so you have to stop them).
  3. Briefly summarize their point. This provides them the validation they are seeking and allows you to re-direct the conversation in a way that let’s you move to the next topic.
  4. If appropriate, look for an action step (what should be done next) and use this in your summary of the immediate issue as a way to move to the next step.

Mike Myatt at one of my favorite leadership blogs, N2Growth, makes a great point on the sanctity of brevity in communicating with other people and it is worth a read.

Calm Your Mind and Find Your Flow
There is also a lot of “talking” that happens even if no one else is in the room. I have written extensively here and here about how our minds can easily get distracted (internal talking) and how to quickly re-focus. It bears stating that it takes real effort to keep yourself focused and your mind clear. There is no quick fix or 10 point list on how to do this. Even after decades of training I still struggle with staying focused and I am constantly working at it. For internal distractions here is simple framework for less talking and more doing:

  • Often times external distractions really are just an excuse we create because we can’t think through a problem or issue. We think about anything except the issue at hand. This is “talking to yourself” only here you are the pontificator.
    • The first step is just to recognize you are doing this and then bring yourself back to the problem you are working through.
  • For mentally intensive activities such as writing, creating or problem solving we are typically most focused when we get into a “flow” state.
    • It’s easier to be in a flow state when you are working on something you like doing. It’s when you are not that mental disruption occurs more frequently.
    • In situtions when I cannot get into a flow, I try to break a problem down into smaller parts and focus on each part more fully so I have a greater chance of success in solving just a part of the problem.
    • This provides a better opportunity for being in a peak performance mode.  Aim to get yourself into this type of state if possible.
  • There is usually a direct physical correlation as to why we can’t concentrate mentally. The most important connection is a mind and body unity that has to occur. Zen training this is often referred to as “moving meditation”.
    • A simple way to do this is simply to quietly breathe for a moment, focusing on the breaths you take (which is a form of meditation). Often times just breathing and focusing on the effort calms your mind and your body down.
    • Most people with no exposure to Martial Arts or Eastern practices will write this off as “flakey”. It’s not and it works. I do this all the time in business settings including high stakes negotiations and presentations to large groups.

Remember those samurai above facing down a sword that is going to cut them in half? There practicing moving meditation to survive. Less taking and more doing please.

Thanks for training with me.

Photo credit courtesy of db*Photography.

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I wouldn’t call myself a “flag waver” but I am patriotic. Grateful to live in a great country with tremendous opportunity and much more fairness than it is generally afforded. One of the reasons I write this blog is to “give back” through a digital form of teaching. My karate master, a Canadian, appreciated the opportunity being a US citizen provided to him and impressed that on all of his students, along with the importance of teaching others. That caused me to reflect on what it means to be free on a personal level as we celebrate July 4th in the United States. It’s interesting how we take certain rights for granted – liberty, free speech, the right to assemble. It’s easy to forget the trappings of a free society when freedom is everywhere.

The Independence of Personal Freedom
But many people also take other liberties for granted, and I mean this on a personal level. Often we find ourselves not succeeding, or being where we want to be in life, or simply wishing we were further along than we are. All of these issues boil down to one thing. You are free to succeed if you want to as you are the only one that ultimately stands in the way of where you are and where you want to go. Sure there are obstacles all around us. Our own fears. The motivations and/or agendas of other people. The natural course of circumstance and timing. But we can control the outcome of personal success by focusing on the fact that we have personal freedom to do as we wish. So, what are those freedoms? Here are some of the important ones worth focusing on:

Opportunity
Quite literally, opportunity is everywhere. Especially in Western society, and notably in the United States. Even in harsh economic times there is opportunity for success, you just have to work a little harder to get it, or look at a particular situation differently to see it. I had a conversation the other day with the CEO of company who I have worked with previously. He shared a new business model he and his team discovered. Originally the business he entered, while profitable, wasn’t poised to grow signficantly. A lot of competition, a global credit crisis making it difficult to expand, and pricing pressures that indicated his business was becoming commoditized were all issues he was contending with. He shared with me that he was personally down for a while about the situation but knew it fell to him to find a way forward. He stepped away from his business and his fears about it and looked at the situation differently, turning the business model on it’s head. By doing this he discovered a new market and grew his business 10 fold in 2 years, a remarkable feat.

  • Just because something isn’t going your way doesn’t mean you can’t change the conditions that you face;
  • Step away from a situation and try to look at it from different and unexpected angles as you may see new opportunities;
  • If you don’t give up, opportunities will present themselves.

The Right To Succeed
This isn’t an inalienable right but it should be. Because most of the obstaces we face aren’t serious. They may be difficult but not serious. I have very deep interest in Central Asian cultures and have followed the war in Afghanistan closely. So this is a timely discussion given that is it Independence Day in the United States. Everyday life in this part of the world is not pleasant. War is all around. Corruption is rampant leading to an “unlevel playing field” and culturally, woman are subservient. Those are difficult conditions just to survive, much less thrive in. But we are already granted the right to succeed.

I had a phone conversation the other day with a friend that has hit a rough patch in his life. His personal situation, while not easy, wasn’t ”Afghanistan” bad. He was out of a job, had fallen behind due to the recession, and the prospects for getting work didn’t look good on the surface. He had been knocked down a few times. I am a good friend to this person but I would not let them off the hook as I sensed this was a pity conversation. I let him talk and then told him that our literal freedom is directly tied to our personal freedom. We are not living in Afghanistan just trying to survive. No matter how bad our personal situation is we have the right to succeed. We just need to remember that success can be there and we need to act on it as I have written about here.

  • Keep your perspective when looking at your own personal situation;
  • We often have more power to change our paths than we think we do.

Make A Stand for What’s Important
Over long periods of training and teaching in the martial arts it became very clear as to who would succeed in getting to a black belt level and who wouldn’t. Accomplishment came because those that wanted to get to a particular place decided they wanted specific success. They made a mental decision and took a personal stand to accomplish their specific goal. That sounds counter-intuitive but it really isn’t because they accepted what they would have to do in order to reach that success. And most people don’t do this, and rarely does it happen on any personal development level. You have have to this little battle with yourself and internalize it in order for it to work on your behalf. I see this both in and out of a training dojo all the time and all the people I know and work with that are successful by conventional standards or make it to black belt can be summed by two principles:

  1. They did not accept anything less than the goal(s) they knew they wanted to achieve, and
  2. They worked relentlessly to get to those goals.

I know this sounds obvious but it’s true. Was luck thrown in the mix? Perhaps in some cases. But “having luck” is not enough (or a good plan). You have the freedom to determine for yourself that you will be successful. This is not happy motivational talk, it’s a true self development trait requiring a mental shift in thinking. Make a stand.

On this holiday that celebrates independence and freedom, regardless of the country you live in, remember that you always have personal freedom to do whatever what you want to. Many people sacrificed their lives in order for us to live to our maximum potential. Regardless of your personal circumstances, or the country you live in, please honor that for those that have gone before. Happy 4th of July.

Thanks for training with me.

Photo credit courtesy of brevity isn’t funny.

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Invest In Yourself

by Marc Winitz

Few things in life that are worthwhile or of value come easily. It’s a fact we often willingly ignore. And I don’t mean the small joys in life either. Accomplishment. Advancement. Breakthroughs. Major changes in career or direction. Any significant milestone takes work. As I look back on training in martial arts over decades, virtually nothing came easily or immediately. I recall wanting it to happen more quickly but it just didn’t. Unfortunately Western society doesn’t usually reward “slow progress”. And there are a lot of reasons for that. Sometimes there is just a lot of time that has to elapse before any type of progress can be seen. The reality is that if we want to see some level of significant accomplishment in life, whether that be on a work or personal level, we need to invest in ourselves. That means we need to believe in ourselves when no one else will. And quite frankly, that’s hard.

The Personal Investment
I recall so many times as a brown belt being verbally (and physically) pounded on trying to get to the first rung of the black belt level. “You are not ready” or “Your technique isn’t at the level it needs to be” where common refrains. No matter how hard I was trying, I couldn’t make the immediate progress I wanted. I think this correlates directly to the way we all view ourselves in every day life. It was only when I decided that no matter what my current situation, condition or understanding of a topic was, if I decided that investing my time in the activity was important enough (e.g. getting a black belt for example), that I would eventually see a payoff. And it’s hard to see a “return on investment” when it is not clear you are making progress in a specific endeavor. But there are no shortcuts. Even the most talented people in the world have to work, and work hard, to be successful. The good news is that if you commit and choose to work at whatever your goal is, you will make progress. It just make take some time.

A Personal Rate of Return
This idea of investment and getting a return for it is common in business parlance. And for good reason. When someone else is funding an endeavor their interest is to see a return on capital spent as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, on a personal development level you have to make an investment and not always no “a return” will come, and more likely if it does it may not come as quickly as you want it or expect it. But that shouldn’t stop you from making an investment in yourself in terms of time, committment or or some other resource to get where you want to go.

Reading around the internet this past week has highlighted a coincidental level of “investment and return” discussion and I believe several of the following posts draw remarkable parallels between understanding, or sometimes not, the level of investment needed to get a “personal return”.

There Are No Shortcuts
In his post “There are no blog how to’s for the hard stuff” Andrew Swenson at Wordpost directly discusses the dominant “list approach” being used in blogging to highlight successful internet marketing, and by extension,  any successful endeavor. In short, there are no lists that tell any of us how to be successful. Critical thinking, trial and error, and continued pursuit of the goal, something that can’t be “taught” in a list post (or any post) are what leads to success. I firmly believe this and have resisted the list approach since the inception of this blog. They have a place, but in reality no one can tell you what to do, you have to go do it. How successful is this post? Successful enough that two of the absolute heavyweights in social media, Chris Brogan of the national bestseller “Trust Agents” and Brian Clark, one of the original SEO masters and a spiritual guru of the wildly successful internet writing blog “Copyblogger” stop by to comment. Andrews words have generated conversation, and more importantly they have resonated. And with good reason. This is 6 Elements approach to sharing knowledge in the spirit of Black Belt Guide.

The Rules Have Changed
I work in sales and marketing and enjoy reading what other thought leaders have to say about the discipline. After all, like it or not, life is sales, in one way or another (I can software engineers, cringing). Jim Keenan at A Sales Guy argues that “Blogging Is An Investment” that takes works. And the returns are not immediate. You have to stay motivated to write, promote and connect with others. You may not see the level of “popularity” you are seeking right away, but don’t stop. This is an investment that will pay dividends over time, just like putting money in your 401K. This is the 21st century. Blog or die. Learn what social media is and embrace it. You are not what you want your personal brand to be (something corporations are learning all the time currently). Your brand is what Google says it is (so “google” your name to see what comes back about you). You have to put in the work now, and you don’t know now if you will “make it”. Funny, just like training for a black belt. But one thing is for sure. If you are not trying you will never get there so don’t give it. A definite Black Belt Guide attitude.

You Will Fail So Get Over It
Almost all people get stuck on failure. What seperates winners from losers? Those that learn from their mistakes AND do something about it repeatedly. Srinivas Rao at The Skool of Life writes this week on 8 Failures That Got Him To Where He is Now, covering his last ten years and the lack of success he has had in terms of where he wanted to be in his life and where he has ended up. This is a soul bearing and very personal discussion that most people would not dare publish to publicly. And that is why it works. Srini has risked putting his failures out publicly for the world to see. Honestly, it’s no different than training in a karate dojo. You get up in front of 50 people and perform with all eyes watching only to then have very specific comments on what you are doing and what needs to be fixed, can you truly learn. I commend Srini for making such a public airing, a true Black Belt Guide exhibition of “indomitable spirit”. And more importantly, the success he and his partner, Sid Savara, have enjoyed since launching Blogcastfm.com this year has been remarkable. A valuable center of thinking and knowledge on the topic of blogging where you can learn quickly from others that have been there, made mistakes, fallen down, and stood back up to succeed. This post is a warrior’s spirit, it just doesn’t may not appear that way at first.

You May Get Different Results
These are just a few examples of making an investment in yourself. Although most people will agree that “Good things don’t come easily” we have a tendency to not allow ourselves the necessary time it takes to see success. Most of the time it’s not quick. I am not saying getting to a successful state as quickly as possible isn’t a good thing, it is. But on a personal development level that usually doesn’t happen. You will fall down. You will make mistakes. You will feel a sense of helplessness from time to time. You will question why you are spending time on a subject or topic when you don’t see the progress you expect or what you think society expects. Ignore it. Invest in yourself. Take a chance. This is a black belt’s path.

Thanks for training with me.

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One of the primary reasons I write this blog is to communicate the values and principles of martial arts training in ways that are tangible and useful to those who don’train. Martial arts has given me a lot and one of the longest serving lessons I have received is the importance of giving. At first blush this idea doesn’t fit into most people’s view of combat training. It’s natural to think of punching and kicking, people sparring or wrestling, and the necessary physical work that has to be done just to be in shape. And all of that is necessary. But the real work that is done as you move through the ranks is learning how to give of yourself to others. And there are many ways to do this.

A Unique Definition of Giving
The concept of giving whether of your time, money or expertise has different motivations for each of us. Over years of training I have found that one of the primary measures of progress in personal development is learning how to give of yourself to help others grow. The action of giving is actually an advanced form of learning but done on a very personal level. There arethree areas of giving we focus on in martial training but they apply to everyday life just as transparently:

  1. Skill Based Giving That Improves Topical Mastery (Technical)
  2. Obligation Giving (Strengthening an “Art”)
  3. Service to the Art Form (The Greater Good)

Demonstrating Mastery Through Skill Based Giving
When you go up through the ranks you are required to teach classes as well as to teach others on an individual basis. This method basically forces you to understand the topic in detail, and more importantly how you are communicating. By doing this you develop a level of mastery of being able not just “to do something” but “to show how it is done”. This distinction is critical as I have written about here in the “Player vs. Coach” analogy. And there are plenty of places where this method comes into play in day to day life such as:

  • Parents explaining to a child why they should do something one way instead of another;
  • A work mentor (perhaps a supervisor, or even a peer) helping someone progress in their career;
  • Teachers moving beyond rote discussion and providing an engaging process for a student to learn.

This kind of giving focuses on both teacher and student and has multiple dimensions. However the takeaway for this post is to put yourself in a constant state of “giving” (read “teaching or sharing knowledge with others”) as a way to re-enforce your complete understanding of a topic or subject. But putting yourself in this state you become more effective over time both in helping others and helping yourself. By embracing technical giving, you are improving yourself, something that pays dividends to you and others in many ways. That is assuming you have something useful to offer.

Your Obligation to Advance Your “Art”
At advanced levels of martial arts training we talk a lot about giving back to the art. In other words there is both a direct and implied obligation that senior students (those with knowledge) teach others. This sustains the art – whatever your “art” is – over time and allows it to maintain itself and grow. This is obligation based giving. Some people refer to this as a version of “paying forward” and that is a fair way to categorize what I am describing here with the exception that you are doing it on behalf of the specific activity. So, whether you like martial arts, basket weaving, personal investing, or some other activity, you owe it to the activity itself, and those who have gone before you and have taught you, some level of teaching to continue to promote and strengthen the activity with no expectation of anything in return.

Service To Something Greater Than You
The final element relevant to giving in this context is service. In a dojo setting we require students to contribute time both internally to the school and externally to organizations that need help (such as a charity or non profit organization). This act of putting others before yourself is critical to developing a warriors mentality over time. In feudal Japan the Samurai warrior class gave of themselves to in whatever way necessary to protect both their patrons (Shogun) and the peasant classes they protected. Often times this was done with their lives. In a modern society fortunately we don’t have to do that but the act of serving others captures that spirit. There are many ways to demonstrate service and some examples include:

  • Donating your time or money to a charity
  • Helping a non-profit or church/religious group raise money
  • Sharing advanced skills with students or groups in school settings
  • Offering to speak at relevant events to groups that will benefit from your topic
  • Writing a blog and building a virtual community

I personally get involved in donating money to multiple causes and charities as I decided a long time ago I did not have to be a wealthy philanthropist to make a difference in other people’s lives. Small amounts of money add up in a “Long Tail” approach and method of aggregation and distribution can make a big difference. The idea of service can ultimately be boiled down to this:

Don’t wait until later, you can make a difference in your life and the lives of others by serving something greater than yourself by acting now.

This is true personal development in my opinion. Let me know in the comments what your thoughts are on giving and how do you do this today.

Thanks for training with me.

Photo Credit Courtesy of Aussiegall

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Are You Hitting A Wall?

by Marc Winitz

No one likes hitting walls as they directly get in the way of progress but there is no real way to achieve any kind of development, personal or otherwise, without dealing with them. Partly a condition of the learning process and part circumstance it is pretty natural to experience a slow down in growth and development in activity. Even when we decide to “really commit to this” (whatever “this” may be for you) and “master” a topic or activity, barriers to growth just happen. Recognizing walls for what they are and dealing with them appropriately makes all the difference between long term development success or failure. I have found over years of teaching and training in martial arts the following apply to hitting walls and how to deal with them.

We All Want Change Quickly
Let’s face it, Western culture is an impatient lot. Combine our need to focus on success and achievement in very external ways (money, climbing the job ladder, etc…) with a culture of “I want/need this now” and we expect change to occur pretty immediately. There is a movement going on away from this but even so, most people want to know they can change. And even try to force that change to occur.

  • Change doesn’t always happen quickly, and it never does on a self or personal development level.

It Takes 1000 Steps
Training for a black belt is a perfect metaphor for progress over the long term. Stated simply you are taking many small steps towards a larger goal. In the karate dojo I trained in the average time from white belt to black belt is 5 years. Some people arrive at this point more quickly and some take longer, but you pretty much know you have to train a minimum of twice a week for this period of time (much more when you reach brown belt). When new students first start training, we do not actively push them to focus on the goal of getting a black belt. Once they have shown they have a level of talent and commitment then we start referencing black belt. That’s usually not for 12 to 18 months.

Most people may be taken aback by this approach: “How can you not have a goal?” It runs counter-intuitive to most “goal setting”. All along the way a student is making progress and we are confirming that, we are just not holding up the black belt as the prize right away as that fixation gets in the way of progress.

  • Don’t completely fixate on the goal. Often times it’s less important to focus on achieving success of a really big goal and more important to make progress towards it. (There is a place for fixation, but don’t obsess, especially early in the process).

Recognize the Difference between Failure and Plateau
Without a doubt this is the hardest part of achieving any large goal. Sometimes it can be difficult to see that you are making progress over a long term, especially if no one is watching you and providing feedback. It is very common to throw yourself into something and not be able to see your own progress.

  • The entrepreneur of business start-up may have created great technology but no one seemingly wants to buy it. That may be more of a condition of business plan execution and timing, not progress towards the company being successful.
  • A tennis player feels frustration that they have been working on their serve for the past month but they are still double faulting. Perhaps adjustments still need to be made, but it doesn’t mean progress hasn’t been made.

Keep in mind that just because you don’t see progress doesn’t mean it’s not happening. You may have just plateaued and need to keep working “through” what you are doing until you can visibly see success. Sometimes changes and adjustments are needed for success. But sometimes they aren’t.

  • You may be doing everything correctly; you just need to stick with what you are doing until success presents itself.

I Am Working Hard But Not Making Progress
In a dojo where you are training consistently for long periods of time and often with the same people you get the benefit of others having watched you progress over time. I remember as a brown belt wanting to “master” a very advanced kata necessary to be a black belt (karate nerds will know what “Jion” is). It is a long form that is physically taxing and takes years to master. If you can perform Jion well it shows you know how to generate physical power. I threw myself into it for 6 months once I first learned it. While I knew improved over time, I didn’t feel at the end of that period I made substantial progress. One day, after a class with an exhaustive training session where I had performed this kata in front of the entire class, I was dejected. Here where the public comments I got:

“Your stances are to high”

“The timing between your punches and kicks is off”

“Your balance is inconsistent”

I was a little dejected after class and thought to myself “I will never get this right. I’ll never reach black belt”. A senior black belt walked by and just said “Nice Jion tonight, very powerful”. The moral of the story:

  • You may not see progress but others probably do so don’t beat yourself up (to badly).

Don’t Stop, Just Recognize “The Wall”
It’s easy to get dejected when we run into life’s walls. That leads to lack of a feeling of success, which decreases motivation and “hunger” towards the goal as personal development blogger Sid Savara writes about, and makes you question what you are doing and why. This is natural and it’s where the actual self development work really occurs. Recognize a wall for what it is: a checkpoint. Use the experience to take stock of the situation. If you have the ability to ask others for feedback on your progress do it. It is likely you are making more progress than you think. I won’t make little “campy” statements like “Don’t Give Up” or “Break Down the Wall”. That has its place and I’ll assume you can draw on self help and personal development lingo to push yourself through, as I have written my thoughts about the concept of “Just Do It” here.

  • Recognize when you are hitting a wall, take stock of it, and then look at the progress you have made.

Hitting walls in any activity or development exercise are part of the game. Know that and you can then take steps to manage the challenge you are facing so you can figure out how to proceed.

Thanks for training with me.

Photo credit courtesy of Spoon.

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How is that a small group of people are capable of performing under immense pressure, when the majority of others seemingly fail? Performing under pressure is one of the most valuable lessons learned in a martial arts setting simply due to the number of opportunities a student is exposed to. Competition. Teaching. Being critiqued in front of others. All of these activities happen regularly so the process of performance (in a physical sense) is ever present and constantly contended with. That said, there are a lot of lessons that can be learned and transferred from training on the dojo floor to everyday life as it relates to performing well (not perfectly) in pressure situations.

“Pressure” is defined differently be each of us but we know it when we feel it. Sometimes the definition is situational. A condition one is facing may be “do or die” on a personal, business, financial or perhaps even a “life or death” matter. In other cases there are some that simply thrive and perform better by placing themselves in “pressure situations”. In all cases, those that perform well under pressure share some or all of the following strengths.

You Don’t Know Everything, But You Know A Lot
Most of the successful people I know (black belts or not) don’t pretend to know everything. But they are confident in themselves because they recognize they have accomplished success before and experienced achievement on some level. And they go to that place of success to give them confidence when taking on bigger challenges. To be sure, you have to put yourself out of your comfort zone to perform well under pressure. But those people that focus on their previous successes see themselves as a capable even in adverse conditions and draw on that for motivation and inspiration to deal with bigger problems or issues. And they can do it without having to be an expert on the topic at hand.

  • Draw on any of your successes in pressure situations as it breeds personal confidence.

See Yourself as Bigger Than You Are
Taking the first point a step further, one way of building confidence and managing pressure situations is too see yourself as bigger than you really are. I don’t mean a false sense of ability or cockiness (although many people can be cocky and successful in dealing with pressure situations). Sometimes you have to take on a challenge whether you, others or just the conventional thinking says you whether or not you are ready as I have written about here.  Either work to be in a place of authority and leverage that or put yourself in that place because you believe and can internalize your ability to succeed.

  • Visualize yourself being in control and managing difficult situations regardless of whether or not you think you have the ability to succeed.

Don’t Allow Yourself to Fail
Most top athletes have the attitude of not allowing themselves to fail in big matches or games. This notion carries over to most successful people in life and business that I have witnessed or known. I am not making the argument that there is a problem in failing and that you can’t learn from that. Let’s all agree on the conventional wisdom that you can benefit from adversity. But in pressure situations successful people do not see themselves failing at the task at hand. As a brown belt I vividly recall talking to a senior black belt who was a top international competitor. We talked about sparring theory, attack sequences, and approaches in the ring. And when we got done with that he told me that the number one reason he won virtually every match was that he knew coming into the ring he would not lose. He always visualized himself winning. And he rarely lost any matches.

  • Decide you will prevail in the situation you are facing and don’t lose sight of that.

This is a preliminary post on the topic of performing under pressure. I’ll be exploring this more over the next several months but I wanted to start the thought process at a high level.

I’d like to hear your thoughts on how you perform under pressure. What works for you? Thanks for training with me.

Photo credit courtesy of amycgx.

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Stop Being A Princess

by Marc Winitz

One of the things that attracted me to training in the martial arts is the physical exhaustion you go through when working out. There are certain times where working out beyond the norm is purposefully part of the training curriculum. You are asked to do more when you really can’t go on, physically or mentally. And with good reason. It is in those moments where you feel like you can’t do anymore that you learn a lot about pushing yourself. It’s where you learn how to have personal drive. And regardless of whether or not you are male or female, it’s also where you learn not be a princess.

Push A Little
In black belt testing part of the process is to push the brown belt trying to reach for success beyond their limits. This type of training is very common in SEAL or Ranger training that is performed by the US military. Move the soldier beyond the point of exhaustion and see how they react and make decisions based on a situation presented to them. In martial arts training, we refer to this as having Indomitable Spirit, one of the 6 Elements that black belts train to achieve.

Yet in either of these examples, while exhausting, it is never that bad. Yet, I find it interesting in daily life how often people are unwilling to push themselves just a little more. I am not talking about big intrusive changes to their lives. Just the laziness factor I regular see by other people (and even myself).

How often have you heard these as excuses?

  • I’d love to help out, I just don’t have the time.
  • With all we have going on right now, I don’t think it makes sense to take this on.
  • I’ll get to this if I can.

To be clear I am not talking about people that are legitimately busy and have too much on their plate. Saying any of the above are fine if it is done with proper expectation setting. I am referring to the now all to common “excuse button” we hit, when we think we can’t really do anymore. The above statements can be viewed as external conversation points with another person.

But the real personal development activity takes place when we catch ourselves saying these simply to ourselves.

Ask Yourself – How Bad Is It
You are doing right by yourself, and potentially someone else who may be hitting the button, on any of the above. If you truly are busy, or want more time, or don’t want to commit to something because you can’t follow through, there isn’t anything wrong with saying so. However when you are saying it to yourself, you need to stop for a moment and understand why you are saying it.

  • Is the reason legitimate in terms of a time trade-off in order to do something else?
  • Is the issue at hand to hard or overwhelming to deal with if you were to spend time on it?
  • Are you simply unmotivated to move forward and take action? If so, can you define why that is?

Take Small Action and Evaluate
So assuming that none of the above reasons you come up with are legitimate AND there is value in your taking action then take a single step. Don’t try and throw your entire being into the issue or problem at hand. This isn’t a life or death commitment (like SEAL training), just take a step (even a princess can do that). And while you are taking that step ask yourself:

  • How hard was it to do this?
  • What was holding you back?
  • Did you learn something in the process?
  • Can you take another step after this one?

A lot of people say “take action” and I am all for that. But sometimes, you have to deal with whatever the underlying issue is that holding you back from doing that. Start small. Take a step. Don’t make excuses. And, if nothing else – stop being a princess.

Thanks for training with me.

Photo credit courtesy of Sarahnaut

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