5th and final article in the series, “I Can Do Anything?

Plenty of time + lots of hard work + tons of help from others = SUCCESS

Success might not look like what you thought when you first began pursuing it

Back in August, my belt test didn’t go quite the way I wanted it to go. It wasn’t my best performance. I could make excuses. It was outdoors at Gasshuku (extended training retreat), not at my home dojo. Whine, whine whine – I was sleep deprived because I don’t sleep well away from home and especially not in a tent. Complain, complain – I don’t like the way shoes flop around on my feet when I kick so I left them off for the entire test instead of leaving them on until kumite. As a consequence, I slipped in the dewy grass a few times. Whine, whine – the other Senseis counting for the other groups testing nearby was distracting. Complain, complain – I’m directionally dyslexic and we weren’t facing the “front” of the “dojo” when we did kata. Whine, whine, whine – we’d already worked out for an hour before breakfast and we’d worked out the evening before, so I was dog tired. So how is it I managed to succeed? For the level I was testing for there is a good bit of grace, but that’s not the whole reason.

I knew some of the challenges in advance and prepared for them. I did everything I could to ensure that I could get some sleep, so that night wasn’t nearly as bad as it could have been. Besides, I should’ve been able to do everything even if the Senseis had woken me up at midnight for testing! I trained for slippery stuff underfoot. At the latitude I live in, the long summer days mean I can sneak out of the house very early in the morning and do kata on the beach. If the tide’s out, there might be some sand, but for the most part, the beaches here are composed of little smooth rocks that roll under one’s feet (I leave my shoes on – bits of shell and glass are sharp). I’d trained for more than one workout in a day – what I did was barely sufficient but then again, I was pleased to discover I had underestimated my endurance. I didn’t anticipate the other factors. But I did the best I could to train for what I thought might happen.

I could’ve opted wait for the next promotion held in a comfy, air-conditioned dojo on wood floors after a good night’s sleep, only one workout within 24 hours, and a nice, orderly progression through testing each group. But I knew I would always wonder what would’ve happened if I hadn’t embraced the challenge of testing at Gasshuku. I knew my performance was likely to be “off,” so I told myself to keep on keeping on no matter what. I did. But after awhile of making mistakes in my two strongest areas – kata and kihon, I began to think maybe I wouldn’t pass this test. As I shoved my mouth guard in and strapped the fist pads on to prepare for my weakest area (kumite), I told myself it didn’t matter if I passed. I hadn’t shrunk away from the additional challenges. I had tried. I breathed in and looked around me.

I was in a green field under a blue sky. Trees surrounding the field were sighing in a little breeze. The sun was shining down. My daughter was there cheering me on. I was surrounded by extraordinary people doing fun things. I felt like even if I failed, it was a privilege to be there. Then it happened. Right before I walked into the ring, a Bald Eagle called from somewhere very close by. Wow. My heart was filled with joy, and I had new courage to continue. I suddenly didn’t care if I failed – I was going to put my whole heart into my fight just out of sheer delight at being where I was. It turns out my best performance the whole promotion was in my weakest area. I got the belt.


Success can come from failure or adverse circumstances

What if I’d failed? Sometimes failure can be a stepping stone on the way to success. I would have learned, trained and practiced diligently, and passed the next test with flying colors. I would still have the memories of being outdoors, barefoot in the cool grass, and that eagle calling. Thomas Edison failed many, many times when he was trying to invent the light bulb but we don’t ever say he was a lousy inventor. As Sensei Andrea Harkins says, mistakes are meant to happen.   OK, but what if I’d slipped on the grass and injured my knee so badly I could no longer do karate?

Stuff happens. Sometimes we are blindsided – hit by catastrophe out of the blue. For that, I refer you to the success story of Joani Earickson Tada. After being paralyzed in a diving accident, she learned to paint. Sometimes we’re cut down by something we simply can’t stand against. Read Corrie Ten Boom’s autobiography The Hiding Place to find out about how a hideous infestation of lice helped her succeed in defying the Nazis right in the heart of a labor camp. Sometimes we’re rejected by someone we were counting on to help us on the road to success. Julie Andrews wasn’t cast for the movie “My Fair Lady” even though she’d played Eliza Doolitle in the theater for years. Instead, Disney hired her to play the title role in the movie “Mary Poppins.” She ended up winning Best Actress at the Academy Awards that year. The road to success for these ladies certainly wasn’t straightforward!

I’d love to succeed with everything going smoothly along a pre-programmed route, but that’s not in the cards. The road to success can be uncomfortable, to say the least. However, you might find your success to be even better than you first imagined it, especially if the journey was rough.


Does your success amount to a hill of beans?

“So you got your black belt. That’s nice,” my friend says as she slurps her coffee as an excuse to avert her eyes. I briefly and gently correct her about the rank, then ask about her kids.

“You barely passed? I thought it was an easy test.” Good for you, now go learn the new kata or something 🙂

“Joelle White? I don’t see her listed anywhere in this ancient book about 21st century martial arts.”

Not everyone is going to be impressed or even interested in your triumphs. I think it’s rather silly to not be interested in martial arts, but I have to keep in mind there are people who think it’s rather silly to not be interested in growing vegetables. There are people my rank who tested with me that day who had an easier time and who did better. I can live with that. Is anyone going to remember what I did four thousand years from now? Not likely – not many people today know what happened in 1986 BC. So does success matter? Oh yes it does.

Past success is something to hold onto when times are tough. Past success teaches us how to take the next step and achieve new goals. Best of all, we can tell others about our bumpy journeys to success in order to encourage them to keep pursuing their own goals.

Have you succeeded in something?  Great!  Now set some new goals.

Trash Talk Tuesday: ad hominem


Trash Talk Tuesday!

Perhaps the easiest logical fallacy to identify is the personal attack, a.k.a. “ad hominem” (to the man).  Again, having a formal label helps us to remember it is widely recognized as not a good way to support your argument.  That makes it easier for us to stay focused when it’s thrown at us.

This one’s so easy you might wonder why we’re bothering with it.  Well, all I can say is basics first, LOL!  I am following the chapters in the book The Fallacy Detective by Nathaniel Bluedorn and Hans Bluedorn.  I’m adapting their lessons to the context of martial arts blogging and commenting, and I’m not going into nearly as much depth as the book.  OK, so here’s this week’s laughably easy lesson…

Daniel:  Mr. Miyagi and I came to your dojo in peace to try and solve the problems between you and me.  Your Sensei shouldn’t have threatened Mr. Miyagi.

Johnny:  You’re a scrawny little pipsqueak.

Clearly, Johnny is having trouble thinking of a good sound reason why his Sensei was justified in threatening Mr. Miyagi.  Ad hominem is very much like Red Herring.  Both fallacies dodge the real issue.  Ad hominem is more personal than Red Herring, but the counter is the same – don’t let it throw you for a loop and don’t let it get under your skin.  Choose your fights wisely!  Here’s some counters Daniel could throw.  Not all of them get the argument back to where it ought to be!  It should be easy to spot which ones show that Daniel is staying centered.

Daniel’s Counter #1: Yeah?  Well your mother wears army boots!

Daniel’s Counter #2: So I’m scrawny – big deal.  But enough about me.  Your Sensei didn’t respond appropriately to me and Mr. Miyagi.  What’s your opinion on that?

Daniel’s Counter #3:  All right then, I’ll see you at the tournament just like our instructors agreed.  I was hoping we could settle some things before then, but I guess that’s just not possible.

Daniel’s Counter #4: I refuse to have a battle of wits with an unarmed person.

Help from Others: Encouragement, Teaching, and Support

4th article in the series, “I Can Do Anything?

Plenty of time + lots of hard work + tons of help from others = success


I was visiting a sister dojo, it was the end of class, and the Sensei asked us for twenty pushups. I was already very tired from a long day and from almost an hour of intense karate. I knew I couldn’t do twenty but I was going to give it my best shot. My arms started to shake before I’d reached the number I knew I could do. I’d also fallen behind the count. I was so frustrated I was fighting tears.



Someone came alongside me and knelt down. I was too tired and discouraged to care who it was. I hoped I wasn’t in for a lecture. I heard a man’s voice quietly explain, “Form is more important than numbers right now. Tighten your core – don’t sag your belly. You got this. Now down slowly. That’s it. Now up. One more. Down slowly, and up.” The instructing Sensei finished the count and my helper quietly left so I wasn’t able to sneak a glance to confirm who it was.

If the leading Sensei had yelled at me for being weak I probably would’ve reacted badly – probably disrespectfully. I wouldn’t have gotten those extra two pushups out of my arms. Encouragement is powerful. After that class I was motivated to keep working on my pushups on my own. That’s saying a lot because I really don’t like pushups. Every day I now do as many good pushups as I can. Then I do as many as I can on my knees. I stumbled across a trick I’d been missing – I finish with as many “pushups” as I can do by standing up and leaning into the wall. (If anyone has any more tips, I’d be grateful to hear them because my progress is slow!)

For some people, encouraging others is as natural as breathing. Others, like myself, might need a lot of practice at quickly getting past negative emotions to come up with something that will build up, not tear down. I am very glad to have many good examples in my life – THANK YOU! Hearing encouraging words at just the right time feels like water on dry soil. Every time I hear or read encouraging sentiments, I learn something that I can hopefully pass along to someone else some day. Encouragement is one of the many ways others can help us be successful in the dojo and in life.


Teachers and Peers

We need teachers to help us along. They are the experts. Teachers have already been where you are. They know what you need to do next. Most importantly, teachers are there to push you outside your comfort zone when you need to be pushed. They give us perspective on what we do. It’s difficult for me to see what I’m doing in karate because I don’t have eyeballs outside my head. Mirrors help a little bit, but how am I supposed to know what to look for? For that I need an expert. Sure I could watch a video to try to learn a technique, but I guarantee if I show one of my Senseis that technique, he’ll spot something I missed. Teachers answer questions like, “What happens if I do it this way?” or “How does this work?” The teachings of an expert is precious and vital to success.

Peers are a blessing too. They are right alongside us, traveling the same road. It’s nice to have company on the journey. We can cheer each other on. We empathize with each other’s challenges. Sometimes when the expert isn’t around, we can at least serve as eyeballs for each other and suggest things to try. Collaboration often produces wonderful results – sometimes even effective new methods of learning. In Karate we work a lot with our peers so we know what our techniques actually do. Good peers aren’t jealous when another excels or receives an award. If we’re contributing to a peer’s success, we feel great about each others’ achievements.


Other Helpers

Have you ever thought about the people you don’t always see, but who are also a part of your training? Look around next tournament and see how many workers are not wearing gis or blazers and ties. Our dojo meets at a YMCA, so there’s a whole army of workers whose jobs are vital to the facility – and therefore to my training. For example, there’s a lady who slips into the locker room from time to time in order to keep things tidy. If nobody did that job – yuck! I’d probably get some sort of wierd infection and be out of class for a week. After my last promotion, I thanked my Shallow Water Aerobics instructor for helping me develop strength and endurance. If you really want to blow your mind, think about all the people needed to put together that granola bar you wolfed down before class. Yes, we all need each other!


It would take me quite a long time to list everyone who’s been a part of my training. If someone drilled with me, sparred with me, taught me, worked or volunteered at facilities and venues, or encouraged me they’re on the list. Some of the people who have contributed to my training don’t even do martial arts. It’s often difficult to succeed alone – and I think it’s more fun to help and be helped.

What Goes Around Comes Around

I’ve written a lot about receiving help. Let me briefly mention our obligation to give help so that others might succeed. What goes around comes around. Be willing to be a cheerful helper. Someone needs you. Go find out who it is. Encourage. Teach. Walk alongside. Do something constructive when no one’s watching. Help in some way. I guarantee you’ll get more than you give, and that, my friend, is a form of success.


Final post in series: success!

Trash Talk Tuesday – Introduction and Red Herring


Trash Talk Tuesday!

As martial arts bloggers sometimes we want to make a case for or against something.  Or from time to time we run into comments from others that set our teeth on edge.  I’m starting this series to help us both in our writing and in our dealings with others.

We in the martial arts world have names for our movements.  In Karate, we have oi tsuki, mae geri, etc.  These movements are known and labeled so we can recognize them when we see them and communicate about them efficiently.  We also know how to counter them when they’re thrown at us.  Bad arguments have labels too.  The fact that logical fallacies have labels means lots of other people recognize that these tactics do not build a case for one’s side of an argument.  We can learn to recognize these tactics, defuse them, and hopefully not use them ourselves.

Untrained people invariably throw haymakers because they haven’t been trained in more effective ways of striking.  It’s the same way with arguing.  Most of the time if people use logical fallacies it’s because they simply don’t know how to construct an argument.  Sometimes, though, people will try these tactics in order to get your goat.  Don’t let that happen.  Choose your fights wisely.

So let’s get started with a simple, very common tactic called:


When a scent dog gets to a certain level of training, he will be asked to find and follow a trail designed to test his focus.  A person will walk off into the woods leaving a scent trail behind and the dog will sniff an old T-shirt and be asked to find that person.  At some point while sniffing through the woods, the dog will encounter a distraction – the scent of a yummy rotten fish leading away from the scent of the person he’s supposed to find.  If you know dogs, you know how exciting that is!  The dog must continue to follow the scent of the person he’s supposed to find no matter how wonderful the stinky fish smells.  See if you can spot the equivalent in the argument below.

Daniel:  Your Sensei doesn’t teach good ethics.  He encourages his students to be bullies and he threatened Mr. Miyagi.

Johnny:  You don’t train in a proper dojo, so who are you to talk?

The issue here is not Daniel’s current level of training or where he trains.  The real issue is the ethics taught at the Cobra Kai School of Karate D’oh!  I’d say this Red Herring has a dash of ad hominem sauce (personal attack).  Johnny is dodging the issue.

If you’d like to learn more, you can follow along in the book The Fallacy Detective by Nathaniel Bluedorn and Hans Bluedorn.

Hard Work: Preparation, Practice, and Attitude

3rd post in the series, “I Can Do Anything?

Plenty of time + lots of hard work + tons of help from others = success

Preparation (or lack thereof)

The first time I started karate (when I was 13) I was sore for a couple of weeks and that was that.  The second time I started karate (as a middle-aged matron) I quickly found out I’d underestimated the effects of age and weight.  I thought I was prepared for rigorous exercise when I first joined my daughter in karate.  After all, I’d been walking the dog for a little over a year. I’d been idle for an entire summer before I’d started karate at age 13, so I reasoned that my exercise in the past year would count for a lot.  It turns out the only thing walking the dog had done for me was I didn’t have a heart attack and die during my first class.  I figured out later that I’d been avoiding steep slopes and favoring flat places.  I should’ve been doing the opposite.  Two months prior to joining the dojo I should have been stretching, doing pushups, doing situps, and attending the two other exercise classes I’ve since added.  I struggled mightily for weeks to get to the point where I wasn’t gasping for breath during class.  I was totally unprepared for hard work.

"Be Prepared!" isn't just for Boy Scouts.
“Be Prepared!” isn’t just for Boy Scouts.

When I came home from that first class I was dripping with sweat and I stank so badly my dog started gagging.  I still drip with sweat, but either the dog has gotten used to my stink or maybe there’s a different mix of hormones that doesn’t distress him.  I’m lighter by sixteen pounds now, so that helps me move better.  I may be moving better, but I’m working just as hard or harder than I did when I was carrying all that extra weight because I’m always pushing myself to do better – hence the sweat.  Movement would be easier if I were content with shallow stances and sloppy technique.  I know better than to slack off, and my Senseis know I know better!  I come to class prepared to work hard, harder, and yes, even harder.

After about three weeks, I got to the point where I wasn’t too stiff or sore to start practicing on the other five days of the week when we don’t have class.  Five whole days a week without karate.  Let me tell you right now I’m not sure why we only have two days a week at the YMCA and I’m not about to throw blame or point fingers.  As far as I’m concerned, it is what it is and I just have to adapt.  Working hard on my karate has to come from myself.  Even if the dojo were open 24/7 I’d still have to practice the things I personally need to work on.


One of the great things about practice time is my daughter and I can make as many mistakes as we like, go as slowly as we need to, and repeat things until we’ve got them down pat.  My daughter and I set the agenda.  If I find myself flapping around like a spastic duck in class I remind myself I can practice on my own.  I’m more confident next class if I managed to improve whatever’s been bugging me.  Practice gives a real boost to my attitude.

Practice makes perfect! Easy to say, hard to do.

If I remember I’ve overcome a lot of things in practice time I’m more likely to cheerfully embrace new challenges in class.  I will have a better attitude when my muscles burn, when I’m dripping with sweat, when I’m getting control of my breathing while craning my neck to watch Sensei patiently demonstrate the technique for the third time.


Bad attitude is easy.  Burning muscles aren’t fun.  Sweat itches.  I feel old when I’m fighting to get control of my breathing.  It’s so easy to pop up out of the stance when Sensei’s busy talking to the class about something.  It’d be easier to go to the locker room and take a shower than to stay and sweat some more.  Giving in to the desire to collapse and gasp for air is easier than breathing properly and eliminating muscle tension when and where it’s not needed.  It’d be easier to tune Sensei out and be miserable about my discomfort than to actually learn what he’s teaching.  But Karate is not about easy.  It’s about moving towards positive outcomes, and that includes attitude.

A good attitude is crucial to learning and practicing karate.  There’s a long list of ingredients in the recipe for a good attitude: among them is patience, positive thinking, listening ears, humility, courage…  The list of ingredients goes on and on.  The ingredient I like to focus on is joy.  It is a fierce, wild joy that keeps me pushing my limits to see what I can do.  I unleash that fierce wild joy when I perform kata.  It is an elated joy when I have a “perfect moment” and I get a thumbs-up from Sensei.  It is a playful joy when I’m sparring with someone who needs to learn how to spar.  It’s a proud joy when that someone hits back!  It’s a joy mixed with a love for the art when I learn bunkai “hands on.”  It’s a joy that can’t be contained when my daughter has just beaten the snot out of me in kumite and I just have to laugh and hug her.  I often (but not always) remember joy when I get frustrated or discouraged.

Some days I feel more like this guy than the smiling face you see on my profile!
Some days I feel more like this guy than the smiling face you see on my profile!

I confess I need to try for joy when I’m exhausted and sparring yet another round against someone better than I am!  If I dig down and find the joy, maybe I could move beyond wishing class were over and merely reacting to the opponent.  I’ll bet if I prepare ahead of time and practice what I can the attitude will naturally follow.  I’ve overcome tough things before, so I can do it again.  That said, I’m only human and there may come a day when I actually break down in the dojo  (as Sensei Ando Mierzwa of Los Angeles puts it).  I’ve already come close to it once, but someone came alongside to help.  I’ll be writing about that next week.

So what do you do for preparation, practice, and attitude?

Next post in the series:  Tons of Help from Others