What if This was as Good as You Would Ever Get?

5cc4e416a35340d8a89c741c14d6ea52My Tai Chi Instructor, Sifu Robert Brown, used to ask his student this question;  ‘What if this, right now, was as good as you were ever going to get? Would you still continue with your training? Would you be happy to keep on doing the training, the hard work if you knew there was going to be no more external recognition, and that there was going to be no progress, that this was it. Would you still train?’

Sifu Brown had good reason to ask this question of his students, as in his case this was not hypothetical, this was a real question that he had to consider his answer to, not once but several times in the course of his Martial Arts training. Sifu Brown was born with Cerebral Palsy and Dyslexia, and at different times in his training, it truly seemed as though he might have come to the end of his progress, that his physical high point had been reached and he could go no further.

At this time, he considered very carefully what he should do about his training, and fortunately for everyone, he came to the conclusion that he loved the practice of the Martial Arts, and that even when he was convinced that he would not improve any further, he would still practice at the level that he could, and would still be a Martial Artist. To put that another way, perhaps it is better phrased that he could not stop being a Martial Artist.

However, this experience that he had with being confronted with his own physical limitations taught him a vary valuable lesson, that it is the Martial Arts that he values, not any rank, or progress, simply the fact of participating in classes, being involved in the art, and this is what he tries to share with his students when he poses the question, ‘Would you still train, if you knew that this was as good as you were ever going to get?’

yellow-belt_origFor me, I found my answer to this question a couple of different times, the first one when I was a Yellow Belt student. At the time, Gradings were held at my school every 3 months, so if you missed a grading, you had some time to wait before you would have the next chance to progress. At that time in the school, there were no Tips on Belts, and students were personally invited by the Instructor to attend a Belt Exam when the Instructor thought the student was ready.

As a Yellow Belt, I trained with 4 other students who had all started around the same time as me, and we were all on Yellow Belt together. A Grading was coming up, and it was getting closer and none of us had been invited to the Exam yet. We had all been training hard and consistently, so we were hoping to get invited to the Exam.

Finally, one of us, not me, came up with a plan to ask our Instructor whether or not we would be ready to do the Exam. Someone, the person who was picked to do the actual asking was me. This was a very nerve wracking experience. To ask for something you really wanted, but to ask for it in such a way that it was clear you meant no disrespect by the asking. I was nervous. After class I stayed back with a few other the other students, who were chatting as the class finished. I walked over to the Instructor, who was talking with another student. I looked back to my fellow Yellow Belts, who all made encouraging gestures towards me, but with equally nervous expressions on their faces.

At last, I asked the question, ‘Do you think that we (gesturing to the other Yellow Belts who were all waiting in a group) will be ready to do the next Belt Exam?’ My Instructor looked at me, looked at the other Yellow Belts, and said ‘No, not this time’. So I thanked him and walked so quickly it was practically a run back to the other Yellow Belts to tell them we were not going to be Grading this time.

As we were walking out of class, one of the Yellow Belts said, ‘ Well, if we are not testing this time, I am going to take a week off, and I’ll start training again after the Grading is over.’ Another of the Yellow Belts nodded, and I thought about the idea for a second, and it just didn’t make sense to me, because then you would miss out on your training. Why on earth would you stop just because of a Belt?

So a very unexpected sequel to that story is that the very next class after this incident, our Instructor was watching us in the class, and at the end of the lesson came up to us and said, actually, you guys are more ready that I realised, you can Grade at this next Grading.

27544600_10215232115781897_3550794398757989804_nWe did Grade, and unfortunately, the other student who had taken the time off never did return to his training. To this day I have no idea whether that was a lesson that our Instructor took the chance to teach us, or if we simply put the idea in our Instructors’ head that perhaps we were ready. In any case, it was the first time that cemented in my mind that training in the Martial Arts is a core part of who I am, and that Belts and progress is a bonus, but not the main reason that I train in the Martial Arts.

So, take thechance to consider your answer to the question, would you still train if you knew that you were not going to progress any further? Or perhaps consider this, what is your reason for training? If you have an answer to this, it can help you keep going through those times when it does feel as though you are not progressing, or bring recognised for your work, and accept that sometimes nothing but time will get us to the places we are going.

A Black Belt is not Something you Earn, it is Something you Become

12003973_10153622628455871_1018021166963204721_nWe held a Black Belt Exam in our school last month, where a talented young man achieved a goal he had been working on for four years. This was also the first Black Belt Exam in our school for a student who had trained exclusively at Fire Phoenix Martial Arts, so it was significant for the school as well as the student.

The process of getting a Black Belt is an intense, refining process. The Black Belt Exam is like a furnace, an intense heat that burns away the outer layers, the impurities and leaves a strong, solid core that is impervious to external factors. It is a process during which the Black Belt candidate internalises the principles of Hapkido and the martial arts and makes them a part of themselves.

There is a story told of a farmer who was inspired to mine for diamonds, and this story makes me think of the search for a Black Belt as well.

There was once a farmer who lived on a farm in a hilly area where he farmed sheep. It was a farm that made enough money for the farmer to support himself, but there was not a lot left over. He worked hard and he had everything he needed. He was content with this until one day some strangers came to his village, and told of how they had found diamond mines. Diamond mines – imagine that! How much wealth there would be! How could the daily grind of sheep farming ever compare to that?

So the farmer decided to sell up his farm and travel, searching for his diamond mine. He travelled far and wide, searching, follow new clues, listening to rumours of where the diamonds might be mined, dashing to mountainside caverns and beachside cave systems, always searching for the elusive diamond mine. At last, footsore, weary, with no money left and full of disillusionment, he returned back to his old village.

There, he discovered, diamonds had been found! Asking for more details, he found that they had actually been found on his old farm! He was devastated, and also amazed. He went and spoke to the man who bought his farm from him, and found that there was a cave on the farm in the hills that turned out to be a diamond mine. The farmer knew of the cave, he used to use it to shelter with his sheep in storms.

12038061_10153622630875871_1055340105642275361_nThe thing he didn’t realise was that diamonds in their raw state do not resemble the sparking crystal stones we see on diamond rings and necklaces. The look like dull brown stones. It is the process of polishing them, refining them, cutting them that makes diamonds what they are. By destroying them in their raw form, the beauty and wonder that is within can shine through.

This story always makes me think of the process of becoming a Black Belt. To become a Black Belt, we must be prepared to sacrifice what we are for what we might become. To become more than the dull brown stones, we need to put ourselves through a process that demands everything from us, that changes us into something much more than we ever were before.

The story also illustrates that sometimes on the path to our Black Belt, we look for a quick fix, a magic solution that will get us to our goal faster. We look for other options that will take the place of the hard work that is required to get our Black Belt. The fact is, there is not one. There is simply day after day of hard physical work, hard mental work to keep slogging away at the things we need to work on.

The path to Black Belt calls on us to make sacrifices. Some of the sacrifices we make are of our time – we spend a lot of time on our training, sometimes choosing to come to class when there are other fun things we could be doing. Sometimes we sacrifice comfort – we stretch a little deeper, we train a little harder, we collect bruises, bumps and knocks as we train. Sometimes we sacrifice our pride or ego, to submit to doing what our instructor asks us to do even if we don’t want to, or are scared to. It is making these sacrifices that builds us up mentally to be able to withstand a Black Belt Exam and come out of it on the other side stronger and more than we were before.

12042648_10153622625745871_4982656721780597830_nAfter the Black Belt exam, you understand that you ARE a Black Belt, it is not simply something you earn and can be removed when you change clothes. It is something that is a part of who you are, because it is something that you have had to work incredibly hard to become.

Sometimes when extended family members come to watch a Black Belt exam and they have not witnesses first hand the training, they are shocked at what a Black Belt exam demands of a student. They are scared for the Black Belt candidate because what they are being asked to do seems completely unreasonable. It is only unreasonable without the preparation of the sacrifices and hard work in the years of classes leading up to this one special event. This event is a once in a lifetime event that you always carry with you as a source of strength and motivation in daily life.

Congratulations to Ethan on his Black Belt, to all our Black Belt students and to those who are coming in the future.

Motivation is what gets you started, Habit is what keeps you going

qjwgfamiwvsuuk9s_400As students move from basic levels of competence in the Martial Arts, they will have developed many habits in their training. The first excitement of studying a new discipline has worn off and is replaced by a deeper desire to become skilled in the Martial Arts.

One of the most important habits a student can develop is that of attending classes and training in the Martial Arts. By making attending classes a matter of habit rather than a choice, we are setting ourselves up for success. If we can set aside regular time for practice, it becomes part of our day, rather than a decision that has to be made. When we have to ask ourselves, ‘shall I go to class today?’ there will definitely be times when the answer is ‘no’. If our training days are a habit, we resist the distractions of the outside world and build habits that support our goals.

Another important habit is that of mindful practice. Training mindfully means not simply going through the motions of the class, but being actively engaged mentally as well. Thinking about the techniques you have been asked to practice, and trying to to make each one a little bit better than the last. Thinking about how you can put your techniques together in combinations and creating your own sequences. Getting in the habit of thinking about your martial arts as you perform it. In this way we develop habits that help us take our training to the next level of understanding.45f659ca283ac672faed58b4f2318347

Yet another habit that supports us in our practice is letting go of expectations. We see some students in the habit of expecting tips or new belts at certain intervals. Unfortunately, this is relying on external recognition from someone else to feel good about our training. This is not a helpful habit. A better habit to form is to ask yourself the question after class – ‘Did I learn something today? Did I get better at something today? Did I enjoy training in martial arts today?’ If you are in the habit of asking yourself these questions, and answer ‘yes’ to even one of those questions, you will feel good about your training. Feeling good about your training is a great habit to get into!

Habits are formed by repetition. Over and again students hear their Instructors repeat basic phrases— ’Hands Up’ ‘Breathe’ ‘Look at your target’ – this is to try and set correct habits in students from the very beginning. In martial arts we repeat actions over and again to develop habits. Then we add extra factors – jumps, spins and jumping spins to build further skills, however everything is based on getting the foundations correct. This is why good technique habits are so important to develop.

The important thing to understand about habits is that the way we perform in class over time will lead to habits, and these habits are what will come to the front under pressure, such as at Gradings or in real life confrontation situations. The habits we develop in class can be supportive or hindrances under pressure. If we get into the habit of ‘walking through’ our practice, our bodies learn that this is the way to perform those techniques. If we get into the habit of always practicing with focus and power, this is how our body learns to perform.

The-most-exhilarating-achievement-is-breaking-a-bad-habit.Once we have developed a habit that we do not want to have any longer, we need to find a way to get rid of it. The easiest way to get rid of a habit is to replace it with a different one. So for example, if we have a habit of tapping our pen against a table, rather than making ourselves stop completely, instead we replace the old habit with a new one, so perhaps when we have a pen in our hands we twist it in our fingers, instead of tapping it on the table. While this is only a small change, once this change is made it is easier to then replace the habit again with something else. While this is just a little example, the idea holds true with larger habits as well.

Students should look very carefully at the habits they have when performing their basic techniques, and be sure that they are constructive habits that support the practice, rather than habits that get in the way of the correct practice of the martial arts.


Bully-QuoteBullies are everywhere, from the playground to the workplace. They start their bullying ways as children. Some grow out of it, some see the error of their ways, some are shown the error of their ways, and some never change. Bullies lack self-confidence and self-esteem, so to feel important, they think they must bully those who possess these traits.

Their philosophy of social hierarchy is: I am at this level. You are above me. Rather than working to achieve or exceed your level, I will work to bring you down to my level. Then I will be superior to you.


Bullying is a conscious and wilful act of aggression and/or manipulation by one or more people against another person or people. It is sometimes premeditated, and sometimes opportunistic, sometimes directed mainly towards one victim, and sometimes occurring serially and randomly. Bullying is a cowardly act because it is done to cause hurt without fear of recrimination. Bullying relies on those who are marginally involved, often referred to as observers, onlookers, or watchers, doing nothing to stop the bullying or becoming actively involved in supporting it.


Harm is intended.

There is an imbalance of power.

Bullying is often organized and systematic.

Bullying can take many forms: physical, emotional, verbal or a combination of these. It may involve one child bullying another, a group of children against a single child or groups against other groups (gangs). It is not unlike other forms of victimization and abuse in that it involves:

Imbalance of power Differing emotional tones, the victim will be upset whereas the bully is cool and in control.

Blaming the victim for what has happened

Lack of concern on the part of the bully for the feelings and concerns of the victim

Lack of compassion for the victim


Bullies are very often people who have been bullied or abused themselves. Sometimes they are experiencing life situations they can’t cope with, that leave them feeling helpless and out of control. They may have poor social skills, do not fit in, and cannot meet the expectations of their family, school, or bosses. They bully to feel competent, successful, to control someone else, and to get some relief from their own feelings of powerlessness.


Might be picked on by someone else so they pick on you so that they think that they feel strong

Might not have any friends and be jealous of people that do have friends

May be picked on by their parents

Might be having trouble understanding their school work

May not know how to feel happy


Sense of humour

Interesting life


Hobbies and sport interests

People that like them

Parents that love them


Bullies choose the weak or those perceived as weak as their victims. Their victims tend to have the following characteristics: Low self-esteem


Lack of social skills

Not able to pick up on social cues

Cry or easily become emotionally distraught

Unable to defend or stand up for themselves

Some people actually seem to provoke their own victimization. They will tease bullies and make themselves a target by egging the bully on and then, not know when to stop, they are unable to effectively defend themselves when the balance of power shifts to the bully. Other times they will want to be friends with the bully, especially if they are a popular kid.


Kim-Kardashian-Keep-Calm-Stop-Bullying-Website-491x574_largeSome bullies tease and harass. Some use force to achieve their purposes, but that takes effort, so most rely on intimidation. The threat of a punch in the nose is worse than an actual punch in the nose. Once punched its over, except for the healing. However, a threat of harm will have you leery, cautious, and worrying for weeks and months to come.

When a bully says “You better watch your back because I’ll get you!” it is better to deal with the situation immediately than to worry about it for weeks. One way to deal with the threat is to say “No, I won’t be watching my back because we are going to settle this NOW!” and then take action to settle it now.

Some bullies get their way most of the time so they continue their bully ways their entire life, and some even become apparently successful in life. But their life is always stressful and usually their successes are gained illegally. Bullies do not lead what most would consider a desirable life, even when they outwardly appear to be “successful,” i.e. lots of money and “things.”


The worst thing you can do to a bully is be a successful, productive, respected member of your community, Then they will have failed to bring you down to their level. Bullies only fight when they think they will easily win, so they only chose fights with the seemingly weak. When dealing with a bully, do not back down. This means they won, so they will be back to bully you again.

Do not confront the bully but do not let them dictate what you are doing. Do not challenge a bully, unless you have the ability to backup your challenge and are willing to accept that the bully will probably be back with reinforcements at a later time. Do not deliver ultimatums unless you are willing to carry them out. If you say “Get out of my way!” and the bully does not move, then you have many other options. If you say “Get out of my way or I will move you!” and the bully does not move, then your only options are to either attempt to move the bully or to back down and let the bully win.

Be confident. To deal with a bully, exude quiet self-confidence and do not let them draw you into their lair. Do not act superior or snobbish, just action in rational, calm, unemotional, professional manner. Martial Arts teaches you to act this way. With Martial Arts training, your posture, mannerisms, and demeanour project a confident person that is ready to handle anything. It is not a conscious thing; it is just the way you act even when not aware of it. You project the image of a person who can handle anything. Bullies do not want to deal with this type of person, they deal with the weak. Bullies will soon move on to weaker opponents.

Do not be afraid. Believe in nothing the bully has been saying to you. A bully works best with lies and deception. Do not succumb to the lies. You are not the problem, the bully is.

Eye Contact. Do not try to stare down a bully. Make casual eye contact and act uninterested. It you maintain eye contact, it may be interpreted as a challenge.

Stay around friends. If you are being bullied, sometimes an older brother or sister can help by looking out for you. It’s also a good idea to surround yourself with your classmates or friends and try to remain part of a group. Bullies can be very brave when their victims are alone. If you have friends or classmates who are being bullied, watch out for them and try to get all of your friends or classmates to be with that person before and after school.

Keep a record of what has happened, e.g. the words used, the actions taken, the frequency, venue, time, etc. Collect proof. Be careful and only write down things that have happened. Your records will come in very useful when you want to prove who is the bully or when planning to take legal action.

Do not keep it to yourself. Do not try to deal with the problem on your own. There’s nothing wrong in asking for help – we all have to do it during our lives. It shows how strong you are and how you can deal with the problem in an adult way.

Tell the truth. When telling someone what has happened, even if you think it might seem small to them, do not be tempted to make anything up or exaggerate. Not only is it not good to lie (something that bullies often do), it never works out in the end. When people find out you have made something up, they will not believe anything else you say.

Speak out. Even if you are not being bullied, you can take a stand against it. If you see bullying occur, tell an adult. Everyone needs to make it unacceptable for any form of bullying to occur anywhere.

Do not blame yourself. It is not your fault that you are being bullied. The people who are doing this have the problem, not you. If you can try to accept this and feel better about yourself, it will give you greater confidence.


9a4c884b1850a2b234338e468b9ae13cDo not exchange insults with popular kids! This will only make them try harder to make you look bad in front of others. Try ignoring them when they have an audience or agree with them to get them to stop, such as by saying” You’re right, I am a terrible basketball player.” Later, when they do not have an audience, you can approach them to tell them to stop.

Do not accept getting teased to fit in with the popular group! Some kids tolerate teasing to be accepted by a popular group of kids. If you are hoping they will stop teasing you as soon as they get to know you, it most likely will not happen.

Do not hesitate to report the bullying or harassment! Many popular kids are very concerned about remaining popular, not only among their classmates but among their teachers. Mention what is happening to a teacher or counselor you trust. An adult talking with a student in this situation may be enough to stop it.


The key to comeback lines is to avoid the temptation to trade name calling or personal insults with the bully or teaser. A great comeback line is brief and to the point and leaves the bully or teaser feeling that they did not get to you. Always look them in the eye and keep cool, anger is a sign to them that what they are doing is working.

Try some of the following, however always remember, if another student is threatening physical violence toward you, do not say anything to him/her and do your best to get away from the situation and to where a teacher or other adult is located.

“Why do you waste your time saying that stuff to me? Try someone else.”

“Those things are ridiculous, but whatever.”

“I don’t do this to you. You should really think about that.”

“I’m not sure why you keep saying these things to me, but it really doesn’t matter.”

“Okay. Finished?” “That’s funny, but enough already okay?”

“You really got me with that one, but enough already okay?”

“Here we go again, Tell me when you’re done.”


First, help teach the child to avoid being an easy target. Start with posture, voice and eye contact. These can communicate a lot about whether you are vulnerable. Practice with a mirror or even videotape. Role Play.  Role-play is what makes the skills real. Actually walk through situations and have your child practice different responses. Discuss prevention techniques such as staying with other kids.

Do not get involved with bullies in any kind of interchange. Do not take it personally; it’s really the bully’s problems that are causing the situation, not you. Tell your child to avoid isolated places where no one can see or hear him/her. He/she should learn to be vigilant for suspicious individuals or for trouble brewing. If bullying starts, he/she might be able to deflect it with humor or by changing the subject.

He/she should run over a list of positive attributes in his/her mind. This reminds him/her that he/she is worthy of something better than bullying behavior. Teach your child not to obey the commands of the bully. Often it is better to walk away than to comply.

The parent may help the child make more positive friends. If he/she sticks around with a group, he/she is less likely to be a target. Finally, if the child sticks up for other children he/she sees being bullied, people may get the idea that he/she is not someone who tolerates bullies. The child must learn to discriminate the difference between social bullying and more dangerous physically threatening situations. If he/she is in an isolated place and truly feels physically threatened, he/she should give the bully the item demanded. However, if someone is demanding that he/she get into the car of a stranger, he/she should resist with as much force as possible. Once he/she gets away, he/she should notify a responsible adult as soon as possible.

Your first response to this will probably be defensive. You should disarm the situation and buy yourself some time to process what is being said. For example, “Instead of labeling my child, please tell me what happened.” Make yourself listen. Remember that this discussion is ultimately about the well-being of your child, regardless of how it’s being framed.

Even if your child is behaving aggressively or acting like a bully, remember that this behavior is probably coming from your child’s feelings of vulnerability. You need to look for what is going on in your child’s interactions with others and what is going on internally, causing your child to behave that way.

In talking with your child, do not blame the child. Do not get into a discussion about the “whys” of what happened. Your discussion should focus on several key points: Bullying is not acceptable in our family or in society. If you are feeling frustrated or angry or aggressive, here are some things you can do. Remember to role-play, act out the new behaviours. Ask, how can I help you with this? Who could you go to in school if you see yourself getting into this type of situation again?

Specify concretely the consequences if the aggression or bullying continue. You want to stop the behaviour, understand your child’s feelings, then teach and reward more appropriate behaviour.


bullying-quotes-deep-sayings-meaning-jackie-chanAs soon as children begin to interact with others, we can begin to teach them not to be bullies and not to be bullied. We can give them words for their feelings, limit and change their behaviour, and teach them better ways to express their feelings and wishes. Children do not learn to solve these kinds of problems and get along by themselves. We need to teach them.

When preschoolers begin to call people names or use unkind words, intervene immediately and consistently. In kindergarten children learn the power of exclusion. We begin to hear things like, “She’s not my friend and she can’t come to my party.” Respond with, “You don’t have to be friends with her today, but it’s not all right to make her feel bad by telling her she can’t come to your party.”

In the infants classes, cliques and little groups develop which can be quite exclusionary and cruel. Children need to hear clearly from us, “It’s not all right to treat other people this way. How do you think she feels being told she can’t play with you? Kids don’t have to play with everyone or even like everyone, but they can’t be cruel about excluding others.

Boys who are physically small or weak are more prone to victimization. Making fun, picking on and other forms of bullying need to be identified in their earliest stages. The message needs to be crystal clear: This is not okay. Children who are not bullies or victims have a powerful role to play in shaping the behavior of other children.

Teach your children to speak up on behalf of children being bullied. “Don’t treat her that way, it’s not nice.” “Hitting is not a good way to solve problems.” Encourage your kids to tell you, a teacher, or another adult when they’re having a problem. It’s important for them to let someone know early, before the situation escalates. Explain the difference between tattling and telling. Tattling is when you report something just to get someone in trouble. Telling is when you report that you or someone else is in danger.


Avoid violence. It may be tempting, but it will not solve anything. You have stooped to their level. Others might even think you are the bully. However, sometimes a situation deteriorates into violence. You try to avoid it, but if things become physical, then so be it. Just make sure your actions are in the right. If violence ensues, do not take vengeance on the bully, just contain or eliminate the threat.

A Black Belt is a White Belt who never gave up

wp_20140709_17_27_36_proBeginning along any journey is an exciting time, and for martial artists, the beginning of the journey is White Belt. At the start of the journey, the student has no knowledge of the martial arts, and so everything is new, and skills are gained every class. Progress is rapid at this time, as there is so much to learn and every lesson uncovers new ideas, new techniques and new ways of moving.

Training in the martial arts is not a seasonal activity. Students enrol at any time they feel ready, and their Instructors plan for them to continue training at least until they achieve their Black Belts, and hopefully longer still.

Starting on the journey is the first step to success. Once the student has taken that first step, the Instructors will take the students to Black Belt. It will take time, it will take work, it will take sweat, but all students can achieve a Black Belt. The only thing that will prevent a student from achieving a Black Belt is if they stop their training.

This is an important thing to realise. Any student who has the determination to stick with it, and who turns up to class, can be successful in the martial arts. They will learn control over their bodies and over their minds as they continue to practice and develop their martial arts. The thing to know about training at Fire Phoenix Martial Arts is that attending classes is enough. Students can choose to do extra curricular events and activities, practice at home and read and study about the Arts. This will all enrich the student’s training experience, however it is not necessary. Coming to class, and being actively present in the class is enough. Students will learn and they will become expert at their Art, with time.

The missing factor is time. It takes time to develop the experience needed to control the body and the mind. Students will progress at different rates through their martial arts training. This is normal and to be expected. Students should learn to enjoy the practice of martial arts, and not rely on the external rewards of belt colours in order to feel good about their training. White belts, who stick with their training for long enough, will gain the expertise, knowledge and skills they need to master their Black Belt exam.

At different points in our training, it is interesting to reflect back on that beginning stage of the martial art, the white belt. There is a lot of excitement, a sense of achievement as new skills are learnt each class at white belt, however as we progress, we can sometimes get very caught up in the challenges of the belt we currently have, and the belts to come. When we are focused like this on pushing forward, we can easily forget how far we have come. It is a useful exercise to try and cast our minds back to the beginning stage, and remember the excitement of starting out on our martial arts journey. This can help us keep our eyes on the whole picture – how far we have come as well as how far we want to go.

a1b2c875a9e63ebcfbe649fa201809b4Sometimes circumstances make it inevitable that we stop our training. We may become injured, move away from our Dojo or work and family commitments become overwhelming. Sometimes however, we stop though because we give up on ourselves. We start to listen to our doubts about our own abilities. We compare ourselves to other students and conclude that we come up short. We find fault with the system, the instructor, our fellow students for our perceived lack of progress, instead of understanding that we are simply not there yet.

Not quite being there yet is not the same as not being able to get there. In a society where instant gratification is possible with almost everything, there are a few things that stand out as requiring time and effort to achieve them. Martial arts is one of them, and it is the very difficulty and perseverance that is required that makes the Black Belt such a rewarding outcome.

It is here, where we feel doubt, that we need to use our character, our discipline to look past the frustrations of the moment to the long term view. When we start our martial arts training as a white belt, we have a vision in our head of what martial arts will be about. We imagine some of the amazing skills and techniques we will learn, and we are overwhelmingly positive about our ability to get there in the end, and to persevere. If we can tap into that beginners mind we can overcome many of the small setbacks on our path. These setbacks become small hills on the way up the mountain that is our goal – be become proficient in the martial arts, to become a Black Belt.

The attitude of not giving up is one that can be applied to many endeavours in many areas of our lives. What is encouraging is it can become a habit, the habit of not giving up. Starting in the martial arts has the clear and obvious path of the belt system from white belt to Black Belt. Other area of our lives have less clearly marked signposts, which can make it easier to become lost, loose our way and give up on our dreams.

If, though, we cultivate the habit of not giving up, we can achieve almost anything we set our heart on, given the time and the effort. Black Belts are held in high esteem because of the difficulty of achieving them. If it was possible to instantly achieve a Black Belt after completing a short course, there would not be the same level of pride in the achievement. It would be worth less because the value we give to a Black Belt, as to any goal, is in the effort we have taken to achieve it.

To keep on track for our goals and dreams, it is important to sometimes pause along the path, and search back to the beginner’s mind for the enthusiasm and belief to keep going, and the hindsight to notice just how far we have come along the path to achieving our goals.

The Enemy is Within

n7703An important part of our training is to prepare ourselves for success in everyday life. In everyday life, the battle is within.

Our challenges on a daily basis are not the people who fight us. The challenges we face every day are our own doubts and fears. Our own feelings of insecurity will do far worse damage than another person attacking us.

The first enemy that you’ve got to destroy before it destroys you is indifference.

This is a tragic disease for sure. “Let it slide. Go with the flow. Whatever. I’ll just drift along.” There are many things that happen on a daily basis where we have a choice about whether we take action, even if it is only speaking up for what we know to be right. We can justify it to ourselves – there is not enough time, it won’t make a difference anyway, but this drifting attitude eats away at our authentic self over time. Here’s one problem with drifting: you can’t drift your way to the top of the mountain.

The second enemy we face is indecision.

Indecision is the thief of opportunity and enterprise. It will steal your chances for a better future. When we face indecision, many times we are facing a conflict between what we want and what is right. We know what the right thing to do is in any given situation. We need to trust ourselves that we know deep down what we ought to do, and then we need the discipline to do what is right in place of what is comfortable or easy. Indecision happens when we quibble about doing the right thing. Take a sword to this enemy.

The third enemy inside is doubt.

There is room in our head for healthy scepticism. You can’t believe everything. But you also can’t let doubt take over. Many people doubt the past, doubt the future, doubt each other, doubt the government, doubt the possibilities and doubt the opportunities. Worse of all, they doubt themselves. Without question, doubt will destroy your life and your chances of success. Doubt will cause you to walk away from opportunities and leave behind chances that maybe, who knows, could have been a pivotal breakthrough point in your life. Doubt is an enemy Go after it. Get rid of it.

The fourth enemy within is worry.

Everyone will worry, often many times in one day, even in one hour! Just don’t let it conquer you. Instead, let it alarm you. Worry can be useful. It helps you keep an edge, keep you focused so you don’t loose track of what needs to be done. But you can’t let worry loose to run rampant over your life and your decisions. To deal with your worries, accept them as potential obstacles and plot a course around them on your daily travels. Whatever is out to get you, believe you have got it covered, that you know how to deal with it.

The fifth interior enemy is over caution.

It is the timid approach to life. Timidity is not a virtue; it’s an illness. If you let it go, it’ll conquer you. Timid people don’t get to achieve their goals because they are too afraid to really try. They don’t advance and grow and become as powerful as their potential says they could be. You’ve got to avoid over caution. Don’t be afraid to take a big step when one is indicated. You cannot cross a chasm in two small steps.

Do battle with the enemy. Do battle with your fears. Build your courage to fight what’s holding you back, what’s keeping you from your goals and dreams. Be courageous in your life and in your pursuit of the things you want and the person you want to become.

A balance stone in a zen water

In Martial Arts, we are doing battle all the time with these enemies. In classes we test and extend ourselves against these enemies in a physical way. As we succeed in these battles, we create the ability to use the same skills in other areas of our lives. We learn to stand up for what is important to us, and select our battles in a way that makes leaders.

Leaders who inspire others to also rise up and reach their potential. Leaders who do not follow the same path as those who came before, but who take the path less travelled beyond conventional wisdom to a place where they can be brave, experiment and try out new ideas.

Leaders, whether in the family, in business, in government, or in education, must not allow themselves to mistake intentions for accomplishments.

Intending to battle these enemies is one thing, however if we are not careful, we can deceive ourselves into thinking we are battling the real enemy when in fact we are turning the blame for a situation or event over to someone else, who we nominate as the enemy. When we turn the blame over to someone else, we also turn the power over to them. We give them the power to influence how we feel and how we act.

When we see the enemy as external, we get acted on. We feel, think and act as either a victim or as an aggressor. When we see that the enemy is within we regain the power to determine our own future, live our own lives. When we accept responsibility we also accept the power to change for the better, and become a bigger and better person than we are today.

The Meaning of Black Belt

B8dfkvHIcAAlZFTHaving a Black Belt is kind of like magic. People react to you differently when they see you wearing it, even if they do not study Martial Arts. It has a lot of meaning to everyone, everyone knows what a Black Belt is, or thinks they do. But any Martial Arts student can tell you, it’s not magic, it’s just lots and lots and lots of practice.

Way back in 1999, on the evening before my first Black Belt Exam, I wrote an entry in an occasional journal I keep, which sometimes makes me cringe, sometimes makes me laugh and always makes me think.

I wrote, …” That is what this arid, barren, harsh land has taught me. How to fight. Physically with my hands and feet, and mentally in throwing myself into things quite alone ad having to stand up for myself.” I went on to say that Black belt was a way to …” prove to the world I can be true to who I am… I can do things on my own, control my own life.”

You see, Black belt is something you have to do on your own. That is in no way devaluing the help and guidance you may receive from your Instructors, fellow students and friends. But if you haven’t got the spirit to stand up when there are a million reasons to sit down, all the help you have been given along the way counts for nothing. You stand or you sit. Your choice.

It’s funny, learning to fight. I have never been a fighter physically, but I have fought many intellectual battles in the past, for sometimes quite surprisingly stupid causes. I think that the discipline of Martial Arts shows you which battles are worth fighting. And the strange thing about knowing how to fight is that you come to understand that you don’t really need to fight at all. You just have to change your understanding of a situation. Then you see all the shades of okay in between right and wrong, and then the focus shifts to trying to understand, rather than trying to judge.

The hardest thing I have learnt, and, truth to tell, am still learning since becoming a Black Belt is about accountability. There are so many reasons and excuses about why not, the struggle is finding reasons why. Why you have not done something is usually about other people – “The dog ate my homework” why you do something is about what motivates you.

What usually motivates us is what is easiest to do – the path of least resistance. Follow the path your parents laid out, do what all your friends are doing, act as convention dictates you ought to.

images-2Since I have become a Black Belt, some of these motivators have failed me. I have seen them for what they really are and have decided they are not for me. That has meant drawing up new plans about how to act, new motivators, and that has been a bit scary. Think about it – take all the values you have been taught to hold dear, and throw them away. What is left? Only you. And you have to look at you and analyse what you have there. Have you got enough value in you to live your own life by your own rules, not your parent’s, not your friend’s, but yours? I think the meaning of Black Belt is to look at that question, and whatever answers you get to it, be prepared to make the changes your answer requires.

For many people today. Mufasa’s words from the movie, “The Lion King” ring true – “you are more than what you have become.” That is a great tragedy, and the meaning of Black Belt is to make sure that statement can never be applied to you. There is another quote – “the most important thing is this, to sacrifice what we are for what we may become.” Black Belt means living that sacrifice.

All in all, Black Belt means to take control of your life. You decide your character traits, or values after a lot of honest looking at yourself, and you live those values in your life.

For me that has meant not allowing other people, especially their emotions, to affect my personal decisions. It has meant only allowing people whose feedback I value have impact on me. It has meant consulting with myself for approval first, not trying to get the approval of the rest of the world.

Even Black Belts still aspire to achieve a Black Belt. That is because Black Belt is not just the coloured belt you wear when you put on your uniform. It is living up to everything Black Belt represents, and that is something you can always strive for, no matter how long you have been a Black Belt.

Rising from the ashes…

The Phoenix is a mythologic creature that appears in different forms in many different cultures from Europe, Egypt, Japan and China as well as many older civilisations. The phoenix bird is said to be a large bird that is like an eagle with the feature of a pheasant, and with the coloration of fire. The phoenix was present at the dawn of time and will be present at the end of time. It does not die, does not lay eggs or have young, however it will periodically make a nest of wood and expose itself to the full rays of the sun, burning itself out, then rising again, young and beautiful from the ashes to continue it’s existence in a new form. It is a symbol of the sun and of rebirth.

When I started training in the Martial Arts in November 1996 I never dreamed that I would one day start my own Martial Arts school. I started training as a university student – Biotechnology if anyone is interested – and I started because I was new to this country and wanted to connect with people in this new land, I needed to get fitter and loose some weight, and my little sisters were doing it.

Quite soon after starting training, when I was a Blue Belt in fact, my instructor became sick with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, a form of cancer affecting the lymphatic system, and he was receiving chemotherapy and someone needed to keep the classes running – and that someone was me. I had more time than most being a uni student, and I would go to the hospital and get lesson plans then go to the school and teach. Crazy times, but it refined my skills and my teaching experience very rapidly.

Fast forward to 2009 and I had been running a martial arts school full time for my instructor for 12 years. He was free of cancer, but something had changed, and it was increasingly hard for me to agree with the direction he was taking the business.

So it was a crazy hard decision, but I quit my job, my career, my passion and took up work as an administrative assistant. I really need to apologise to that company, because I was probably the worst administrative assistant in the world. If you have heard the phrase ‘bull in a china shop’ you can imagine someone who is a professional martial artist sitting quietly at a desk doing typing and filing – the little details when I am much more an overview type of person. I knew I needed to move on from that job, but I genuinely felt my martial arts days were over.

Enter Eric Jensen, a charismatic viking of a Martial Arts school owner from Western Australia. He got in contact with my partner, Nik and asked her if she would convince me to come over to WA and teach in his school. Now clearly that was not going to happen, but Nik put forward the idea that if Eric were to open a school here in Wollongong, I would probably teach in it and run it for him. The idea was born. Much back and forthing and planning and preparing later, Eric and I decided that we would go our own separate ways, and Nik and I were on our own to open a school if we wanted to. By then we were convinced we could make it happen, and a few phone calls to our fathers later, we had the financial backing to make it happen too.

We opened the school in January 2010, and we chose the name Fire Phoenix for our school. The Phoenix symbology struck a chord, as we really were reborn from the ashes of what had passed before. All the skills I had developed not only in my martial arts training and instructing, but also in other areas of my life could be brought into practice in running a school in a way that was congruent with what I believed to be the best practice for martial arts, and the best principles for who I am and we are. As well as this we had the chance to incorporate Nik’s vision for the school and how it would run, as well as her background in education to make an amazing programme of martial arts lessons, taught in a business model we could be proud of.

As we planned out our school, and spoke to many family members and friends, we had lots of advice and caution offered to us on how to make money, how to make it work, and many of our ideas were dismissed as impractical. For us, however, it is impractical to run a business by making decisions that make us feel uncomfortable. While we do need to generate income to keep the school running and our family sustained, we do not need to make every decision based on commercial outcomes. While we need to preserve the standards of the martial arts, we do not need to forget that we are teaching people first and immediately, we are teaching martial arts for the long haul.

The power of the phoenix myth is in the power to redefine our form without losing the fundamental spirit or essence that is us. As we grow in our knowledge and understanding, we come to new levels of learning. At Fire Phoenix we want both our instructors and students have the freedom to grow and change as they learn, and become the very best versions of themselves that they can be.