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Thimbles, Dixie Cups and Pitchers

“My job is to keep everyone’s vessel full. Some people have a thimble, some have a pitcher. But it’s my job to keep them all full.”  Dave Bell, manager at my first tech writing job

thimbleAs a manager, I know that’s easier said than done unless everyone on your team is equally talented and skilled. That’s not the case on most teams, including mine, but I’ve never forgotten the conversation, and it’s one of my workplace goals.

Our jujitsu class is comprised of students ranging from new white belts to seasoned black belts. During class, Kyoshi used these phrases:

  • We’re going to start with this lock. Now if you’re new, do this…
  • Advanced students, try it this way…
  • If you’re advanced I want to see a takedown and side lock flow.
  • If you’re still learning the technique, I just need this…

Kyoshi set us to work and then circulated among the groups, encouraging the new students and challenging the more advanced students. He’d break down the techniques when they were unfamiliar, and smooth them out when they were more practiced.pitcher (2)

As I observed, the light bulb went on. Not at the techniques, but at how the instructor was leading the class.

I realized Dave Bell’s philosophy was as pertinent to a learning environment as it is to the business environment. Because at the end of the class, all vessels were full – the thimbles, the Dixie cups, and the pitchers.

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Bows and Curtsies

Saturday afternoon I was at the pre-black belt test workout. The focus was self-defense, so we worked our sets for close to 2 hours.

At one point Hanshi (9th degree, head of our system and my karate grand-daddy) stopped to watch one of my sets.

Hanshi: That looked good!

Me: Thank you, Sir. And I curtsied. Curtsied!

Hanshi: Don’t curtsy when I compliment you!

Me: Sorry, Sir. Thank you, Sir! And I bowed, just like I was supposed to.  😉

 

Pick, Pick, Pick

My knee is nudged forward into a better stance.

The Shodan candidate does her self-defense move again after being reminded she forgot the chop to the neck.

Kicks are tweaked to be stronger, faster, higher. 

Arms are moved ever-so-slightly into the correct position.

‘Tis the season for nit-picking! With the next black belt test just a few weeks away, we know our material. We’ve done it enough times that we can do things without stopping to think about what comes next.

Now it’s a matter of working on the nuances, those things that make our performance even better. They’re teensy little things, maybe even trivial to some, but it’s the tiny little things that show the difference in ranks. This is where the true understanding of what we’re doing shows. This is what makes the difference between dance moves and a good understanding of our art.

Now, instead of Kyoshi teaching us new material or walking us through moves, he is fine-tuning us. Reminding us of those little things, making corrections when he sees errors, and running us through things we’re not sure of.

Sometimes it feels like we’re being corrected on the most minuscule things. And sometimes it feels like we’re just beginners and starting over. But this is all part of the learning process, and just the fact that we’re at the stage of being nit-picked is a good thing! After all, it means we have achieved a certain level of knowledge and are on our way to more. 

For now it’s pick, pick, pick. All to make us better, and all done with love, of course!  😉

When the kata doesn’t come easily…

Learning is not attained by chance, it must be sought for with ardor and diligence.

~Abigail Adams

I’m learning a new bo kata and it’s not coming easily. For whatever reason, I had to have Renshi slow down and show me small chunks of the moves – and he’s had to show me several times. At one point I was so frustrated with myself that I stomped my feet like a child.

But after I rolled my eyes, threw my head back, and stomped my feet, I got back to work. With some focused instruction from Renshi and some additional coaching from another student (thanks, Alex!), I finally have a portion of the kata down. But just a portion.

As I was reminded, not everything is going to be easy. I know that and I’m OK with that. Part of the fun of learning is tackling challenges; in fact, if everything was easy, I’m sure I’d get bored quickly!

Over time I’ve learned those things which present the biggest challenges also have the potential for the biggest rewards. This is one of those things. So I’m working on my kata in class. I’m doing an extra run-through or two after class. And I’m mentally doing the kata while I’m walking the dog or holding myself in a plank position.

I’m looking forward to getting this kata down. To having all the pieces in place and being able to run through the whole thing without prompting. At that point, my reward will be the satisfaction of accomplishing something that didn’t come easy. Of knowing I worked hard, put in the extra time and effort, and worked through my frustration.

Now…back to work. I’ve got a kata to learn!

I’ve Changed My Mind

An encore post from Colahan’s Martial Arts. I’m happy to say I did survive my gauntlet, despite myself. I have not sparred much since my gauntlet due to schedule changes and a broken toe. And because I still don’t like it much. I admit I’m not heartbroken.   😉

“There’s a popular saying among trainers: If you hate an exercise, you should probably be doing it. The reason: People tend to avoid doing movements in which they’re weak…But the truth is, strengthening your weak spots is the fastest way to build more muscle. Just think of it as the low-hanging fruit of your workout: The weaker an area is, the greater its potential for growth.”  (http://www.menshealth.com/fitness/side-lunge-and-touch)

I’ve seen this theory a couple of times, and it’s hit home. While I can relate it to several areas in my life, my low-hanging fruit in martial arts is sparring.

In our system, black belt candidates go through a sparring gauntlet. I’m not looking forward to it. Sparring is the weakest area of my martial arts skills, the part of my training that intimidates me.

Recently I told Sensei that I’d probably be one of those people who go through their gauntlet and then never spar again. Well, I’ve changed my mind. I’m female, and I can do that.

I used to avoid sparring because I wasn’t comfortable doing it — partly because fighting wasn’t allowed growing up, and partly because I didn’t know how to spar. But at one point, I just had to make up my mind to do it. To force myself to go to sparring class and to learn to do what freaks me out the most. Fortunately for me, Sensei encouraged me to go to sparring class. Unfortunately for him, I showed up.  😉

I’m a very high maintenance sparring student! I require a lot of coaching and encouragement, but the Senseis are working with me and I’ve become more comfortable. Little by little I’m strengthening my weakest area and as a result, I’m not hating it anymore. I’m still not any good, but I’m making progress.

Part of my growth as a martial artist is to train in all aspects of the art — not just those I enjoy. I have a lot to learn in karate, and a LOT to learn in sparring. I am fortunate to have instructors who are willing to teach me, to share their knowledge with me, to take the time to work with me. So even though I may never love it, I will continue to spar after my gauntlet. Assuming I survive my gauntlet.  🙂

I’m Not Bob!

Someone recently asked why I don’t do jujitsu. I replied with my usual litany of reasons, or excuses if you will, and got a reply I didn’t expect: “Bob does it.”

That’s correct! Bob does practice jujitsu. But I’m not Bob.

Bob and I are similar in age and train under the same instructors, so does that mean we’re the same? Of course not!  

Just as I don’t expect my writers at work to perform at the same level just because they have the same job title, neither can each karateka be expected to be at the same skill level at each rank.

I hire intelligent people and then provide them all the same training when they start. But each writer comes with their own set of skills, aptitudes, and drive that is unlike any other. It’s these differences that I, as a manager, have to account for when training and assigning work.

Everyone brings different things to the mat, just as we do to the workplace. Some students have prior martial arts training; some are natural athletes; some have little physical skill; and some have been sitting on the couch for years. Some are interested in weapons, some are not; some love kata, others sparring.

Just as my mom spent my elementary years asking teachers not to compare her children, we should keep in mind that comparing employees or students to each other isn’t fair or appropriate.

Sure, there are certain expectations at each level, and instructors or managers have a right to expect a certain level of proficiency. But sometimes even those expectations aren’t met, while other times expectations are exceeded.

Can comparison be used to motivate a student or employee? Absolutely! But only if you know the people well and it’s an appropriate pairing. Otherwise, you’ll be comparing pickles to motorcycles.

As for my jujitsu training, I will return to classes after Friday’s Shodan test. But even then, please keep one thing in mind: I’m not Bob.