These writings are intended for active training students, who will undoubtedly experience the things that I (and my mentors) have experienced in training.
However, many of these principles also apply to many other areas of life.
Want to submit an article? Talk to Sensei Norcross.
BBC Classes are a must...
I cannot stress enough the importance of committing yourself to coming to Saturday Black Belt Club (BBC) classes.
What is the point of joining the BBC if you do not intend on coming for those classes? If you joined the BBC just to look good and get that black uniform, your reason was very poor and dishonest.
BBC classes are specifically designed to fill in the holes in your training. We have covered several topics in just these past few months:
Randori Training -Free Response
Multiple Randori - Free Response with several attackers
Weaponry training: Hanbo, knife defenses, knife drills, gun disarms, sword, bo staff, kusari chain and short stick.
Counters and failures: How to maintain your composure when techniques fail and how to counter our (and other martial arts styles) curriculum techniques.
Henka (variations): Taking techniques and finding several options and different ways of completion.
Ground Strategies: We have been practicing several ground defenses that are required for your Black Belt.
Helpful discussions, difficult student questions on training and quitting and issues that we all have experienced: How to stay focused? How should we handle bad ukes? How do we pass our brown belt and written tests? The importance of our school comradery, etc., etc.
These classes prepare every age of students for their upcoming challenges and tests. They create Black Belts.
Although I cannot make these weekly BBC, Weapons or Budo Samurai classes Mandatory, please consider them that way.
We all have a thousand things to do on Saturdays, don't we?
BBC classes should be worked into everyone's schedule so that they become a natural thing that we just attend.
You cannot be a 'real' BBC member if you hardly ever show up for BBC, Weapons or Budo. And it will show in your technique, attitude and test results.
Or, you will just give up and quit. In which case, what was even the point of joining in the first place?
You wasted your own and the instructor's valuable time. Please don't kid yourself by taking the easy way out.
We are not here for that in this dojo.
Start this week and start coming in more often. You success is directly based on the amount of time you spend on the mat and in the countless amounts of dojo classes that we offer you.
All types of habits can be easily changed, with our strength, our attitude and a bit of better time management.
- Sensei Todd Ryotoshi Norcross
In Black Belt class, we were talking about dying and "leaving a legacy". The choices and words we decide to go with each day will determine what kind of memories we will leave and to whom.
Awareness of the endless cycle of life and death keeps us positively focused on the best of the here and the now.
The younger we are, the facade of "completeness" is all about how much we can collect. The older we become, the higher truth is all about what we can let go of - in order to simplify.
The Anvil Awaits. by Todd Ryotoshi Norcross
The Anvil Awaits
Consistent training is the key to mastery (if there even is such a thing as mastery). If we take a few days off, we definitely feel it. We feel like there is something missing. We grow anxious. Our muscles tighten. Our mind grows noisy and restless. Even our family and friends can tell when we haven't trained. We become annoying.
A razor sharp blade requires a diligent sharpener. We need to stay sharp to cut through ignorance and sadness. Think about it: No expert was ever forged from doing things "once in a while." The art of challenging ourselves through martial arts is all we may need to be happier, more purposeful, and more peaceful.
Self-doubt is the greatest killer of our goals and dreams. The hardest decision is whether we are brave enough to ever come back into the dojo to reclaim where we worked so hard to be. Sadly, most will fail this part; left to watch from a distance amidst the shadows of regret.
Pay no heed to the mind's negative voices, deluding us into fearing the unknown. What I fear is inaction.
The great news is that there is always room for you to return. The blacksmith's forge is always open. The anvil awaits your hammer. The rust is always removable. As with all things, it just takes effort (priority) and consistency (showing up).
The year was 2003, while wondering aimlessly through the church of consumerism known as the Towne Mall, I stumbled into Walden's Books. Normally I would hit up the comic book section and read a few pages to kill some time but after a marathon of Kung fu flicks on TV I decided to look for something to tie into what I just watched. While skimming the "Sports" section, I was able to find the book to satisfy my craving. That tomb which I read for the next few months was "Chinese Gung fu" by Bruce Lee and help start my fascination with martial arts.
In the years after, I have obtained a modest collection of books about the martial arts. I find them imperative to my growth as a martial artist not just because of the techniques they show but the philosophical sections as well. As an individual who can only exist in the current moment in time and space, I, as we all must, have to accept the cold fact I will not get to train with or listen to many other practitioners who have lived (in the final sense) or live a great many miles away. Though this is the case, I can still get an idea of what they might be/have thought about and maybe that can help us grow in ways we could never do just by training.
Unfortunately, not all books are the treasure trove of enlightenment we seek and instead provide us with frustration as we try to decipher cryptic instructions and grainy black and white photos. To find that you have spent your cold hard cash on a book that you can barely use without a forensics team is an infuriating feeling and I am here to help. Now you might ask, as the title does, what makes a good martial arts book? I like to break it down to a few credentials: 1. Clear Instructions: Good technical writing is an art in itself. Clear instructions written in a manner that you don't need to know specific terms is ideal. If using specific terms, a good writer will define them in the book which both instructs the technique and proper terminology.
2. High Quality Photographs or Illustrations: Since we are learning a physical subject, visuals help us compare our own form with what the author is trying to teach. Without a proper visualization, we are then solely dependent on the author's instructions and our own interpretation. 3. Knowledge on the Subject: In our massively literate world, almost anyone can write a book on anything. To take someone as an authority on a subject we should be sure they have the right credentials.
4. Target Audience : Is this a book for beginners or those who have experience in the subject? The author should be writing in terms the target audience can understand.
5. Amount and Quality of Information: Just because a book is long doesn't mean it has information you can use. Now I'm not going to knock personal stories because they help provide in site and help us related to the author sometimes they get too far off subject. A good martial arts book will have a good balance of techniques, concepts, philosophy and stories.
6. Price: No one wants to spend $40 on a book that's less than 100 pages. You should be getting your money's worth out of a good book and not just something that will sit on the shelf.
I will be starting to review books on here soon based on my criteria to help you pick out the books that can get you the most of your training.
See ya later, Ryan
What is a Black Belt - Essay by Mr. Courtney Schulz
What is a Black Belt? by Courtney Schulz
My answer to this question has changed quite a bit over the past (almost) 5 years. When I first walked into The Dojo, I had no idea what being a Black Belt meant. Was it about the techniques I’d learn? Was it to wear a cool black gi? I’m not sure because I am no longer that person who walked in the Dojo in August of 2012. Maybe that is what being a Black Belt is--someone who is on a journey of self-discovery and discipline. And, as Mr. Norcross has said over and over, “a Black Belt is simply a white belt who didn’t quit.” I actually believe being a Black Belt means different things to different people.
A Black Belt is someone who knows that life is a journey, not a destination (Ralph Waldo Emmerson) – you have to learn to keep going – one step at a time, and experience all that is encountered. Know that it won’t be all good. You will get knocked down (physically, mentally, and emotionally), you just have to get up more times that you fall. Along the way, you will learn how to fall without getting hurt – Ukemi – to receive the ground. And (most importantly) find out how to get up in a better position than when you fell.
Maybe it is a better tactical position. It could be that you get up stronger; learning why or how who or what knocked you down. Perhaps you gain the knowledge that to get up you have first to fall. Once the perspective of falling changes from one of fear to one of acceptance (knowing that you can control how you fall), and can learn from that fall, you may not get hurt (as much). Over time, you learn to physically and figuratively tuck your chin and curl your body … and most importantly, relax. The more you stiffen up, the more you are resistant to the change the fall has brought you. This knowledge and ability are gained through much practice and many, many times falling down. And GETTING BACK UP.
Once you learn to let go of the fear of falling, a black belt must learn to let go of his/her weapons, and trust themselves. These weapons can be literal (a knife, kusari-fundo, a kubotan, etc.), a kata or technique, or a perspective (thoughts). Many times a budoka will be intent on executing a certain technique only to have their opponent react other than expected to thwart the method. It is at that point that the trained martial artist must abandon the intended technique and look (or don’t look – feel) to see what is there. A Black Belt must ask, “Where is the weakness? Where is the opportunity?” And exploit those weaknesses and opportunities.
Weapons present the same challenge and perspectives (bias). The more you are dependent on them, the more you are limited by them.
A Black Belt must learn to be open to all perspectives and options. Let go. I don’t necessarily mean let go in the literal sense -- although it may be the best thing to do. Let go of preconceived ideas, prejudices, and attitudes. Enter the “void.” Don’t prejudge, don’t assume. Just be ... Act. Open your mind and body to allow energy to flow. Try to limit resistance. Redirect the negative energy and allow it to flow around you, away from you. Always being mindful there are multiple ways for energy to flow, and accept it.
This perspective is reflected in the elements we’ve learned in Budo. Earth – Strong, up and down, grounded; Water – flowing, out then back in; Fire – consuming, acting, not reacting. Wind – circular, spiral downward. And the Void – no thought, just being. One element is not better than another. Each is a concept and philosophy. Different situations and circumstances call for different approaches (elements).
Stephen Hawking said, “What you see depends on where you are.”
Professor Hawking’s statement was made in the context of actually viewing (or experiencing). I also interpret it as you see what you are ready to see on your journey. When a new student enters a Dojo, they see techniques, students, teachers, spectators, etc., and may be intimidated. The student has made the important first step – walking through the door. However, at that time, I don’t believe many new, white belt students fully appreciate the significance of crossing the Dojo’s threshold.
It is only after many years, when a Black Belt reflects on all of the lessons and steps along the way does he actually understand how significant that first step was on their journey.
I still remember the first time I put on my white gi and asked another student to help me to tie my belt. I was nervous, scared, and not confident. I did not even know how to step on the mat or line up properly. It is on this first step and subsequent steps that I learned that every event shapes the next event, and the journey to Black Belt is truly one step at a time … One class at a time … One technique at a time … one discovery at a time. It is only after a basic understanding of Budo, is it possible to see and begin to understand how the pieces become parts of the whole. Although I must admit, it has been very surprising to see how many students took that difficult step of walking through the door to only lose the drive to climb the mountain. A Black Belt must persevere.
This perseverance comes from within. It is in all of us, we just need to learn to find it and foster it. I had to learn to believe in myself and know that I am not all the things that I’ve heard over the years by my detractors. The worst of who was internal – that voice in my head that tried to keep me from achieving my potential. Some think that voice is a combination of all the negative things we’ve heard since we were small children. We’ve become what others say we were.
I’ve become better at acknowledging the voice, but not allowing it to distract me. I consciously recognize the voice, but, do not enable it to overtake my thoughts. I am not my thoughts. This is an everyday struggle, but I work hard not to allow anything to disturb my peace of mind. I am only limited by what I allow to limit me.
I have continued my training through all that life has presented. Including knee surgery, herniated and ruptured disks in my back and neck, the responsibilities of having three children and a very busy wife and family schedule ... not to mention the brown belt tests! I have persevered.
I’ve learned a lot on my journey. The surprising thing is that I’ve learned more about myself and how I want to live my life than I’ve learned about self-defense, although, I’ve learned quite a bit of self-defense. The journey has been incredible. Each step along the way has brought new friends, new experiences, new challenges, and new successes. I am more confident and I interact with people differently. I have learned to accept people for who and where they are. I’m much better at not judging others and not allowing their judgement to bother me. I’ve learned to avoid conflict and more aware of my situation and surroundings to avoid potential violence. I’ve learned to be kind in situations when I didn’t have to be. Most importantly, through my training I’ve been able to meet (and become friends) with so many different people who came to the Dojo for so many various reasons. I’ve become a kinder, more patient person and I’ve gained an extended family along the way. My Dojo family.
My journey is not over, rather, it is time to begin another chapter. I will continue to train and learn. And now I have gained a new responsibility: To help those behind me; just as many others have generously helped me on my journey toward Black Belt.
I would be remiss if I did not thank the Dojo instructors. The senior students and Dojo instructors have been so generous with sharing their knowledge and perspective. I am eternally grateful for all who have assisted me when they did not have to, those who have welcomed me and encouraged me. From day 1, I’ve felt a part of the Dojo and accepted as I am and for who I am. I have in turn worked to be welcoming and accepting to new students and other members of the Dojo.
Thank you to Dave Johnson, Zane Danes, Blake Norfleet, Celeste Barker, Ryan Stump and others.
The culture of The Dojo is a direct reflection of what is modeled by our teacher, Mr. Norcross. He is all that a Black Belt should be, and I’m honored and humbled to call myself his student.
I proudly (and humbly) celebrate this success and accomplishment.
My Journey by Dojo Student Vibha Ramesh (age 14)
My Journey is something that I will treasure forever. I’ve met so many new types of people, learned so many new things, and have developed my personality into who I am today.
The lessons that I’ve learned at The Dojo are lessons that I couldn’t have learned anywhere else. I wouldn’t be who I am today; I wouldn’t have the same opinions, the same interests, etc.
I’ve learned how to communicate effectively, how to be a leader, how to study in a way that works for me, and how to do a Ganseki Nage throw.
I’ve learned to never judge somebody based on their looks, that every person is unique and beautiful in their own way, and that diversity is what makes a great group of people.
But most importantly, I’ve learned that you can do much more than you think you are capable of. Most of the time, we are our worst critics. It doesn’t matter if somebody thinks that you are doing well on something. You are always going to want to do better than whatever performance you have already given. This was a big lesson for me, because I never thought that I was capable of reaching this position, and being here is so surreal for me.
When I first got to the Dojo, I was just a scared, little kid. I walked through the lobby at around age 6, and the first thing that I remember seeing was these groups of people, lined up to fight each other. After that, I really didn’t want to come back. But I did. I stayed and started out in the Little Ninjas, up until my Camo - Blue Belt. After that, progressing to Youth was a little intimidating. I was the youngest kid in the class, and definitely the shortest. But I made some friends, and I met some really nice instructors, like Ms. Barker, and Mr. Johnson, and Mr. Norcross. My friends and instructors, as well as the supportive atmosphere is what got me to keep coming.
I was progressing really well, but that took a turn as soon as I reached the red belts. My parents were in the midst of switching jobs, and it was very difficult to match our schedules so that I could come to the Dojo. During that year, I didn’t come to the Dojo as much. It was hard for my parents, as well myself, to be able to fit it into our schedule as often.
That meant that my graduations were not as frequent, and that I was missing out on a lot. When I finally started coming regularly, it was difficult for me to see that all of my friends and peers were ahead. And that taught me another lesson, and it was jealousy, or lack thereof. You should never be upset with yourself if other people are achieving something that you aren’t. If anything, you should just be happy for them.
After that year, everything was back up to speed, and I entered Level 3. Level 3 came as a shock to me, as there were so many new techniques and things to learn. It excited me, however, and I was so thrilled to be getting so much closer to my Black Belt. It seemed like time was flying. I couldn’t believe how fast my training was going. It seemed like such a short while, and I was finally into the Brown Belts.
My Journey has filled with ups and downs, as every journey is, when you are so dedicated and so passionate about reaching a goal. This moment in time, was particularly a down. It was like something was stopping me from moving on. The first thing that I did was to pass my written test.
It took a lot of work, a lot studying, a lot of memorization, and a lot of time. I walked in, to take my test, and I was surprised, as this was so incredibly easy for me. I passed my written history test the first time, with an A. That was a moment where I felt so proud of myself, and so accomplished. It was my attitude and my initiative that got me that score. And this is where I learned another major lesson. Everything is only what you make of it, and it’s all based on how you view it. Your attitude can affect anything that you do.
But after this, coming to the Physical Brown Belt Tests, were very difficult. It seemed that every time a Brown Belt Test was scheduled, I had a conflict. I pushed through, and kept telling myself that I would get my Black Belt, eventually. As soon as I started coming to Brown Belt tests, I learned that it wasn’t just about you. Everybody was there for the same reason. They had the same goal as you, and we all deserved to be there. We had earned our place.
Getting through the Brown Belt tests as a Youth Student, and a girl, was very strenuous. I really had to prove myself, and I wasn’t sure whether I could do it or not. There were some things that I did exceptionally, and there were some things that could definitely use improvement. And here, in one of the last stages before my first degree, I learned the biggest lesson. That I could do anything that wanted to, and I was capable of anything that I set my mind to, I just didn’t think I could. But I proved my own self wrong, and I was able to do it. To get through my training, my tests, etc.
On top of everything, I’ve learned how to be a better role model, a better student and teacher. Helping to coach the Little Dragons, Little Ninjas, and Youth Level 1 was very eye opening. Teaching the little kids reminded me of what I was like when I was that age. I was so amazed that I had come this far. Teaching has taught me how to handle stressful situations, how to manage a big crowd, how to remain in authority, and more.
I’ve seen so many people go, and so many people come in. Out of my Little Ninjas class, I am one of the only people that are still here. It’s really sad, when you have to say goodbye to somebody who you would have liked to spend more time training with. And it’s even more upsetting to say goodbye to somebody who you’ve grown up with, or gotten know a lot better.
I still remember the day when I had my BBC induction ceremony. I was 9 years old, and I was really nervous. I was committing myself to getting my black belt that day. And when I closed my eyes, and imagined what my black belt would be like, I imagined myself as a 16 year old girl, that was really tall, and looked a lot different than I do now. To think I accomplished my goals before I thought I would is something that I could never have predicted.
Not quitting was really difficult, as somebody who had an increasingly busy schedule. Prioritizing my activities and interests in a way that still made time for my school work and extracurriculars took a lot of time and thinking. I’ve quit a lot of different things over the years, and it makes me proud to say that this isn’t one of those things. Budo really set me apart, growing up. It was something different that I did, that not a lot of other people knew about, and that made it all the more special to me. I never wanted to let it go, because I would lose so much.
I can’t imagine not coming here 3-4 times a week and training. When I don’t, I actually feel like something is wrong. I feel guilty, that I’m depriving myself of time in the Dojo.
I can recall times when I’ve walked into the Dojo, not to train, but to find a peaceful place to do my work. It’s amazing what you can accomplish in the right setting.
Finally, getting my First Degree Black Belt is a dream come true, literally. I have been dreaming about these days for months on end, and it never loses the excitement that it gives me. And even after my ceremony, I think I will look back on this day, and remember every second, every moment.
Earning your Black Belt feels so much better than having it handed to you. You feel a huge sense of pride, self-esteem, and you feel more powerful than you could ever imagine. I’m looking forward to everything about the ceremony, no matter how tired, or discouraged I may get, because I know that in the end, the rewards are high.
So after everything in My Journey, receiving my Shodan 1st Degree Black Belt means so much to me. I’ve had to let so many things go to get to where I am today, and I’m so glad that I’m not only receiving my Black Belt, I’m receiving so many lessons, friends, and experiences that I wouldn’t have found anywhere else.
Training at The Dojo becomes an impetus for success.
Without a positive place to go, without positive people to work on common goals with, we can easily get caught up in the rigmarole of a sunrise to sunset, mundane existence.
Traveling to a place to improve ourselves a few times a week will polish up our purpose and create the momentum we need to discover our true potential.
Knocking the Rust Off - by Sensei Zane Danes
I have been away from the Dojo for twelve days!
Taking time off can be a good thing. Be it recovering from an injury, bogged down with work or school, other extracurricular activities or just a long needed and well deserved vacation.
Taking time away to recharge and refocus can be essential to your well-being and health. Taking the time off is not hard, but coming back can be (more on that topic in another post).
Like the bolt or nut that has not been turned and is starting to rust, taking too much time off can make getting started again difficult. I firmly believe rust starts to build on me if I take even two or three days away from training. After twelve days, I can’t wait to hit the mat and knock the rust loose. After just one or two classes, I can feel my body moving with more fluidity. After three or four classes, I feel rust-free and ready to train without resistance.
One of the most wonderful things about martial arts is practicing it in areas of your life outside of Dojo!
So where do you need to knock off the rust? It could be in your training at the Dojo. Or maybe your job or school. Possibly a relationship with your significant other or family member? Even just talking to an old friend. Look for things in your life where rust is starting to develop and knock it off!
Effort and Laziness
Remember: Almost always in life, what you give out is exactly what you will get back.
Effort allows success and results to flow.
Laziness allows things to stay exactly the same.
Manners and awareness of others are both important skills for Success
About once per week, I walk over to the local market for a cup of coffee to take back to The Dojo. Sometimes, working ten hour days, one just needs that mid-afternoon caffeine boost. The coffee at this particular market is tasty and a quarter of the price as Starbucks. Although I rarely drink hot liquids - I do enjoy coffee or tea on occasion.
Anyway, on my way into the market, a disturbing trend seems to keep occuring.
This is now the third time that I have stopped and held the door open for someone who was walking into the store right behind me. I was taught this habit since I was a child, and would be quickly scolded if I had forgotten my manners.
This is also the third time that the person walking behind me (while I smilingly held the door open for them) said nothing, nor even acknowledged my existence.
Where have all of the manners gone? Didn't these rude individuals have parents to teach them basic etiquette? Or, are they so self-centered that they become clueless to their surroundings or a kind gesture?
Either way, on every occasion, I abruptly interrupted the person's entrance and said to them very sternly, "You should say 'thank you' when somebody holds the door open for you!"
Now, I fully realize that this is somewhat confrontational. I am extremely aware that I may ruffle up some feathers by using my martial voice in order to stop and make these people aware of their complete lack of civility.
Either way, something inside me throws caution to the wind in order to teach this person some instant respect.
Luckily, I have had all three people apologize and say "Sorry. Thank you!"
Now, maybe they were saying this because they were afraid of the big guy dressed in black gi pants and tabi boots? I do not know. However, I felt as if it was the right thing to do. And I will continue to stop anyone (regardless of his size or age) if he chooses not be courteous to those who take the time to stop and be polite.
We all have busy days and sometimes mindlessly rush to get errands done, but there is always time enough for kindness, manners and respect.
- Todd Ryotoshi Norcross
Recharging those internal Batteries.
Never forget how much success we are gaining by participating in classes.
We all come into The Dojo after a bad day and we leave The Dojo feeling recharged. We feel loose and relaxed after class, yet tighter and stronger than when we entered. Our confidence quotient is higher than ever. We are prepared for whatever issues life tries to foolishly hurl at us. We do not just endure any hardships, we conquer them and render them harmless.
This is all possible with each and every day we put forth the effort to be there to train.
Training is an opportunity for anyone, from any background, to learn how to excel at and harmonize the inner mechanisms of life.
- Todd Ryotoshi Norcross
On the passing of "The Greatest"
I had the privilege of being a protector for the legendary boxer Muhammad Ali on several occasions in the early 2000's. Ironically, in his prime, the boxer would be far better suited to be mine, as his fighting skills were the stuff of legends.
Whenever the Dalai Lama came to the Midwest, my teachers' small(Marishi Kai) Protection team was sometimes asked to assist in keeping the peace at these chaotic public events.
At the time, the Dalai Lama's brother Thubten Jigme Norbu (a Tibetan Lama himself) lived in Bloomington, Indiana. The Dalai Lama's visits would always attract tens of thousands of people and several celebrities.
I remember a Saturday during one of these visits. Everyone on the security detail wanted to guard the Dalai Lama - myself included. I had that opportunity on another day, but this day I was assigned to keep people from entering into Mohammad Ali's personal sleeping quarters. Even at that time, Mr. Ali was wheelchair bound due to the effects of Parkinson's Disease. He always had an entourage assisting him wherever he went, as his speech was also impaired. I remember that he was always smiling and cheerful to me. He would wink and wave to me as he was being escorted by every time he passed me in the hallway - as if to be saying "Thank you for your service."
Although this legendary sportsman was in his heyday well before my time, I was very glad in the end to have been assigned to watch over him that weekend.
He was gracious, humble and always helping others with his fame and fortune.
Rest in peace, man of a thousand fights!
- Todd Ryotoshi Norcross - June 2016
Training keeps us happy and strong!
No matter how frustrated, angry, depressed or numb we may feel in other parts of our lives, when we actively train, we are all focused in the moment. Life becomes fun again. We are constantly proving through our practice that we can indeed win if we just stay the path and keep going.
All of those heavy, external worries are forgotten for an hour each day. They lose their grip, because our natural state of happiness comes back to the forefront of our mind - where it belongs.
When we are done practicing with friends, we feel invigorated. Any confidence and strength that we lost returns. We are then prepared and ready to head back home and keep that most content state of mind; all while still serving and protecting others.
This is one main reason why I keep training and learning.
- Todd Ryotoshi Norcross
Dare to Dream by Cole A. Holt
Dare to Dream
A dream is nothing but a dare for yourself. You command and exalt to your present self to become the ideal individual that you are in the future. It becomes a part of you and others know you by it; making you a small bit unique. This is what your friends and family, strangers and peers, and anyone who will pay their time to listen to you will know. You have made a dare so honest and impossible that it may be the best representation of you as an individual. For it seems that many dreams are impossible to reach; it makes them all more worth chasing.
There are two outcomes one should have in mind when chasing a dream. You will either happily chase it and will be filled with purpose or you will do what very few have done and you will achieve it, making fantasy become reality.
Dreams can come in many different forms. They can be contained to your own life. They can be as large and altruistic to include others, and they can also be of a supportive nature helping another to achieve their dream. All are noble endeavors and no matter the definition, all should be pursued with a relentless force.
Dreams have the power, when followed, to change you and your surroundings. They can take out and put people into your life and it is up to you to decide who is worth your future and who isn’t. Supportive, like-minded, goal-driven people build you up and help you reach that far spanning dream up in those clouds. While the wrong type of people will shame you and tell you that what you believe in is nothing, but a fairy tale. These people will keep you lame, locked in stasis, unable to move. Nothing is more detrimental to your dream! These people enter your life and wreak havoc on your future like a virus. You must banish them!
There is only one life and in that life is your only chance at a blank canvas. A life that has no purpose, but the one that you give it! Do not waste this grand human right on a notion that you cannot change the world. You are unique and able to accomplish change, because you have a dream.
Down The Street - Competition in Martial Arts
A student asked me:
“Are you nervous about the new martial arts school that is opening down the street from you guys?”
I replied: “A Three Star Michelin Restaurant doesn’t really get nervous when a McDonalds opens up down the street from it.”
This may sound dismissive, but it is absolutely true in this case. I know my business. I have been involved in martial arts for thirty three years. I have black belts in more than one style. I have seen and reviewed dozens of dojos across America. There are differences that should be pointed out.
The differences between the two schools in this case are huge. Each school will definitely fulfill certain types of students’ needs. There are literally dozens of styles of Martial Arts in every city to choose from. I believe in the adage “Caveat Emptor”. Buyers must be very aware and do their research before choosing where and from whom they are going to learn.
Just like every other type of business we interact with in our neighborhoods - some schools are excellent and some are poor. The school down the street will be teaching a sport/point art from Korea called Taekwondo. It specializes in breaking boards, punching, kicking and competitive sparring for trophies. On the surface, this looks very cool. In reality, it has nearly zero street practicality.
Our school teaches nine unbroken warrior arts lineages from Japan. The oldest is 1,000 years old. Budo teaches realistic combat skills that have stood the test of time. This rich art shows one how to survive and thrive in all areas of life.
Most Taekwondo schools teach competitions and (solo) katas in front of a mirror. Our school teaches realistic self-defense techniques (with training partners) to the point of tapping them out. We do not break boards or bricks, we break bad habits.
One style is a well-known belt factory, where ranks will be awarded quite often. By contrast, our dojo has tremendous depth and high standards for all ages of students. Belts are never given, they are earned.
Let all of the competition open schools wherever they wish. We live in a free-market system of choice. This is the beauty of America.
Serious martial arts students who want depth and knowledgeable instruction will always seek out the best school. I always suggest to potential students that they try out other martial arts studios in the area before making a decision on whether or not to join.
It is always your decision and your tuition.
- Ryotoshi Sensei
FAQ: Why do I train?
Why do we train?
So many reasons. Too many to name.
In my own life, the benefits were immediate and constant, as long as I remained active. The few times I stopped (when injured), the after-effects also immediately stopped, and I knew I had to get back on the path right away - no matter what.
I chose to make it a priority in my life, and it was respected as such.
Any foreseeable anger, frustration and sadness completely became tamed and manageable.
All other areas of life just became way easier to deal with. The pieces of me seemed to finally fit in crystal-clear clarity.
The natural joy of learning to be present spilled over, allowing me to let go of regret and set up the next moment, skillfully.
Confidence returned to that little kid that we still sometimes see in the mirror.
Friendships with so many types of people enriched my life beyond measure.
My mind was and body could finally relax in peace.
The constant learning never stopped, so I could not.
I do not train to fight. I train to learn how to live.
- Todd Ryotoshi Norcross
Why the Sword?
One cannot be true Bushi (warrior) without becoming a forever student of the sword. The sword is where all of the techniques come from. Everything must begin and end with Kenjutsu.
Ever since I was a small child, I held the sword. I slept with it. I camped with it. I learned from it. I practiced it. And I still practice and learn from it.
Through it, I am me.
The sword was much more than a tool, it was a pillar of morality to the samurai. The sword was not just a life giving sword. It was meant to deal out death as well. Subjective as that might sound, stopping evil was it's purpose. If you cannot stop evil, you are just part of the problem.
Budo is not a sport competition like MMA. It is designed as a way of life in service to others in need. If you are serious about your training, you must become one with the principles and the life-lessons of the sword.
Why do we train? - Written by Dojo Student Cole Holt
It takes a different kind of thinking to begin the long road of martial arts. It is a path that must be walked without ego and a pace that cannot be rushed. You must become different than who you currently are. A metamorphosis that evolves you at the core is needed to begin. These are only some of the fundamentals that you will need to start out on your journey. The beginning is the pinnacle of courage, but it only lasts a moment. Reaching the first summit of many mountains is the true test of perseverance. So the more important question to ask yourself is the reason on why you train in the first place.
This question will be your reminder. The question will call to you in moments of anxiety and self-doubt. It will become your beacon for when you are lost in the confusion. This simple question will become your champion that will bring you to the top. At the summit you will see the vastness of what there is to come. You will then be asked again for the reason on why you train.
Every person has their own reason. It is a reason that only justifies themselves for no other reason would meet the requirement for them to train. Some train for health while others train for safety. Some walk the path of revenge and others walk for peace. The reason you train becomes who you are. It allows this new, pure reason to train. It molds a new individual who is born into training who can’t imagine themselves quitting. It may be your only outlet and it may have always been there. Whatever your reason is make sure that you never forget it. It is your friend when you have pushed everyone else away.
We train to better ourselves and we train to improve the lives around us. We wish to protect ourselves and we strive to excel for our loved ones. We are the only judge to our ruling and only we have the strength to make it happen. Lastly, we train because we have fallen madly in love with it.
December 1, 2015 __________________________________________________
Taking Budo Home with You - T.N.
The only way to get really good at something is to do it often. You must do it often enough so that it becomes part of your identity.
It is the same when we are convincing our family and friends that Budo training is extremely important to us. We need this special training time in order to excel as protectors of those we love.
If your family sees a positive result of your hard work at The Dojo, no one will question your motives anymore. They become very proud of you, because you don't just talk the talk - you actually walk the walk. If people are giving you grief when you go away to train for a few hours, then you have to come to martial arts class even more often to show them that you are serious. When you train consistently, people in your life will never question your commitment. They will gladly make room for your training, because you have the integrity to better yourself on behalf of your family's safety. They will support you. They will understand. However, they will only give you leeway for you to go off and train if they see how happy and confident you are when you get home.
Therefore, it is our duty to take the happiness and energy we have acquired at The Dojo and bring it home to share with our family and friends.
It is not just our duty to protect those we love with Budo, it is also our duty to ensure the harmony and loving energy of our homes.
We must, in essence, create a positive and healthy environment at home, school and work by leading by example. __________________________________________________
• The Dojo is a place where positive thoughts and acts are encouraged.
• There is no negativity allowed on or off the mat. Gossip is not allowed.
• This is a revered place of study. Be mindful of your words and actions.
• Make yourself at home. Take the chance to make some new friends.
• Although happiness is created by serving others, the training we provide here is to work on you, first. This next hour is to focus on you.
• You have paid for this class. Make sure you are fully engaged in it by being present in the moment.
• If you are later for class, you must do ten push-ups per level. No excuses.
• Check your ego at the door. Humility is a sign of true power.
• Fear is the greatest destroyer of dreams. People quit when they become afraid of new challenges. The great ones just keep getting up. They fail, upwards.
• Self-Doubt is the greatest opponent that you will face both on and off the mat.
• Never hesitate to ask a question to an instructor. They are here to assist you in your success. Sensei means: “One who has walked before you.”
• Try not to teach lecture at or teach your training partner. One needs to try a technique a lot in order to “get it”. Call over an instructor if you need help.
• The more mat time you accrue, the more you will be able to easily handle stress and problems that will arise outside of The Dojo. You win, by going with the flow. A rolling stone gathers no moss.
• A black belt is just a white belt that never quit.
• Shodan (1st degree) means “First step”. Yes, the black belt is just the first step on the path of Budo. Level 4 is just the beginning of your creativity.
• Proficiency in the basics takes 5-7 years. Expertise in the basics takes ten to twenty years. Mastery does not exist. • Watch the negative conversations in your head. They are often delusions. The person most easily fooled is you.
• Never take weapons off of the wall without permission.
• Always wash your hands before and after class to avoid germs.
• Wash your uniform (Gi) a lot. No one likes to train with someone who is unclean.
• Never watch other people’s stripes or belt rank. Keep your head down and just train at your own pace. No one cares if your friends surpass you.
• Always create time to stretch out before class, rather than just sit.
• If you have an injury, tell your partner and instructor. Be your own best doctor.
• Take detailed notes as soon as you get home. You will forget tomorrow morning.
• Practice daily at home. You cannot get good at anything by practicing “once in a while.”
• Attitude is everything
Go for it!
Believe in yourself. You can do almost anything you can imagine in life.
Living in America, we are fortunate to have education almost at our disposal. No matter what kind of mind debt we will acquire, our education will always be worth the investment. No matter what happens in life - no one can take that knowledge and experience we have earned and learned away from us. With this in mind, there is little excuse for failure.
What are you doing to improve your life? Do you have short and long term goals written down? Do you have a support system to help you succeed? These are things that all successful people put in place. We cannot succeed alone. It takes a village of supporters.
Who will you ask to be on your success team? Get your family and friends on board to assist you with your goals. Post it online so that others can hold you accountable. Go for it!
We have to start somewhere, right? So, let us start and make a new plan, today. We can do this. We can get excited about our future goals. We can excite our family and friends too. The universe will not wait for us, we must enthusiastically create the reality we wish to live in.
Good luck! Try and really go for it! There is really nothing to lose, except boredom and self-doubt.
Taking time off and coming back...
From Jiu-Jitsu Champion Rickson Gracie - on MMA's negative influence on Martial Arts
Rickson: "This is what I think. I feel that MMA has moved away from what I believe is the purpose of going to a gym to train. I think there’s a philosophy behind martial arts, which should go along with training and go hand in hand with a fighter’s routine. Nowadays, the first principle is that there is no philosophy. It’s about cross training. You’ve got to cross train to be able to fight, kick, and hit. Every rule draws you to an extreme sport without a code. It’s about the individual. Nobody’s measuring anyone’s technical potential anymore. They’re measuring explosion, force, speed, the ability to withstand impact, toughness.
In my opinion, that’s something that downgrades the image of martial arts. It’s something I just don’t believe is a reference for kids. What kind of father would like to see his son in MMA? At the same time, what kind of father would not like to see his son fighting Jiu-Jitsu as it should be taught, correctly, in line, organized, learning to respect, learning to fall and get back up, learning to be kind to your opponent. Every father would like to see his son learning to defend himself but with respect, with peace in your heart. That being said, I have no interest at all in martial arts being mixed, this thing without any doctrine or concept. Today, MMA has simply turned into a circus, extreme, violent, and sensationalist, which only attracts people who like barbarianism and all that blood.
…in order to teach it to my children and be proud to say, “Do this or do that my brother because it’s better,” I fought. However, I don’t have to prove anything else now. My philosophy is to bring to Jiu-Jitsu, for those interested in martial arts, a transparent philosophy, one where he can apply it to defend himself. One he can use to teach to his children, so that his son becomes a better person within society, whether he’s a doctor or a fighter with balance, with force, with dignity, and with respect. That’s my life’s motivation. It’s not to make one, two, or five million dollars, to stick my face out there, just to be part of a circus, which doesn’t mean a thing to me. So, that’s where the situation ends.
I think MMA is just a Roman arena today, where people go to see heads roll, blood spill, whatever, and everyone applauds.
In fact, you’re creating an environment there where you’re setting a bad example for young people."
Student/Teacher Dialogue - Part 2
Student: "Sensei, why do people quit their training?"
Sensei: "The same reason that they begin."
Student: "Huh? I don't get it?"
Sensei: "They began the training because they wanted to try something new in their life. They also left the training because they wanted something new. We all quit one thing in order to begin another. Many quit when they get bored. This simply means that they themselves are boring.
Student: "So, is quitting ever a good thing, if we are doing it to start something else?"
Sensei: "Do you feel good when you quit something? Or, do you feel guilty and remorseful for a long time? Do you take personal responsibility for quitting, or do you blame others to hide and feel better about yourself?
If you are honest enough, you will probably regret quitting. You will always wonder just how far you could have gone if you had only stayed the course. Those who endure can never be accused of failing. One can only really fail if he leaves the training; because deep down he felt as if he was not even worthy enough to succeed.
That is fear. Fear is the real failure."
Student: "I will never quit, Sensei!"
Sensei: "That remains to be seen, my son. Promises are like wind. A man is judged by his actions, never just his words."
Lunches with the Sensei - by Todd Ryotoshi Norcross
As I sat across from my teacher and friend An-Shu Stephen K. Hayes this past Wednesday, I felt at ease in his presence. It was a hot June day, and we were meeting in Dayton, Ohio to discuss a seminar I was hosting the next month at my dojo. Interestingly enough, the details of the seminar were barely discussed until we were leaving the restaurant. We knew our vocation well, so such details were not necessary. I had hosted him and his wife An-Shu Rumiko at my school many times, over the years, to teach. Both felt at home in the dojo with my students. After all, we were like-minded and on the same martial journey.
I thoroughly enjoyed the deep conversation that we stirred up immediately as we ordered beverages. It was as if we had just seen each other yesterday. The server politely interrupted our discussion to take our order. As I watched my friend ponder the menu selections, I noticed how good he looked for sixty-six years old. Clearly, he was a man who moved and smiled a lot over the years, and it showed in his grace and physical stature. Patiently waiting for him to order first, it brought back a quiet memory of when I permanently moved from Massachusetts to Ohio to become one of his personal students, some sixteen years ago. Despite him being the quintessential “ninja master” that I first encountered when I was twelve, he was no less kind and gentle a person than he was then. So many years later, our teacher/student connection continued to flow without impediment or the sense of passing time.
In our frequent two to three hour-long lunches, we cover a wide range of uncommon subjects, including aging, religion, politics, running an organization, and death and dying. During our lunches, we rarely discuss techniques or the finer points of Budo; we are steeped in those thoughts often enough with other people. Our lunch meetings were for more philosophical purposes. Not once were we free from deep laughter and smiles while dancing around a gamut of serious subjects. We do not treat them as morbid, but as essential discourse to those who are restlessly seeking life’s truths.
We are alike in many ways. We both are unlike the stereotypical “American male.” We think constantly about life, death, weaknesses in ourselves, and how to unravel the enigma that is happiness and joy. We have little interest in sports or the happenings of our neighbors on Facebook. We are intensely interested in the marriage of Eastern thought and the West. We never exchange words carelessly when together, as we are hyper sensitive to time and the natural tendency to chatter rather than to communicate deeply. We are well aware of the weather and how we are doing, so there is no need to waste words in idle gossip or small talk. I notice how the thoughts and words flow between us, unafraid to falter when I am in his presence. His voice is as reassuring as his eye contact. He listens intently to my findings and often nods in agreement. When we disagree, I try to listen and learn, as he has twenty more years of gray in his beard than I do in mine. He, too, respects my opinions, which as a student, is important to my own growth as a teacher.
We rarely reminisce because we have trained to know that the past is but a shadow of what once was. We conscientiously steer our conversation toward the future and our place in it, for however long that may be. There is no need to remember a Warrior Quest seminar that we attended thirty years ago. It has no meaning now except in the comforting thought that this man has always been there for me when I needed his advice, as if he were a father figure just a phone-call or email away. For that, I am forever appreciative. I think he knows, too, that I have never intentionally hurt him in any way. Our martial paths may have differed, but the deep respect was always there and is still there to this day. I am sure that, over the years, I have inadvertently disappointed him, as a student often does with his or her sensei. Sadly, my ignorance and my sometimes poor choices were often greater than my intention to please him. But he remained and remains my friend and mentor. He still smiles when I admit the mistakes in my personal and professional life, almost coyly laughing because he, too, has made those same mistakes. As a ninja, he sometimes allows me to catch myself. At other times, he stops me from falling.
As I watch him eating and laughing, I am reminded of how remarkably well we get along. We check any sense of ego at the door. There is no fakeness in his congeniality, as I have seen with others of his high position. My martial role changes depending on my audience, but today he is clearly the master, and I the student. Sitting in a booth at a Ruby Tuesday restaurant on a hot summer’s day, we are just two friends trying to answer the deepest questions we can find about life and our places in it. We are fully alive in the present moment, where he has always taught me to try and be.
Happiness through Budo?
What is happiness to you? What is the most important thing to remember about our mental and physical health? Is it possible to be content most of the time? What negative thoughts are the most destructive to our well-being?
There is definitely more than one good answer to these meaningful questions. Answers can be very subjective, highly influenced and dependent on things like our age, backgrounds, beliefs and life experiences.
Believe it or not, this philosophical question is really what Budo is all about. It is not the collection of the most techniques or the strongest punch that matters in martial arts. It is the cessation of suffering and the well-being of its practitioners.
I communicate peace of mind...
Someone sends you a nasty email or text. You check your voicemail and receive a mean, hurtful message. The person is livid with you for something you may (or may not have) done. A negative email or text will, naturally, make you angry and defensive.
What do you do next?
Option 1: You could call back and reply in full, defensive battle mode, protecting your pride and ego at all costs. You could “hit them with both barrels” and screw them and the consequences.
Option 2: You could give yourself some time to reflect and calm down.
If you can help it, do not send a response right away. Anger is a very poor communicator. The same goes for texts. Staying calm on a phone call can be tougher, of course, because the person is expecting an immediate vocal response. You will need to be on your A game to remain calm and mature on the phone. Personally, I find responding to difficult conversations easier on the phone because my tone can be heard. Our tone is often hard to convey in text form and, therefore, gets misinterpreted. How many times have we texted something trying to sound cute and it made things even worse? If you are communicating live on the phone, just saying, “I’m sorry,” is similar to disarming the knife from an attacker. A heart-felt apology is a tremendous icebreaker. Nobody is going to receive anything you have to say if you lace it with harsh language and abrasive tones. It’s better to listen calmly to the complaint and respond in a slow and mature tone. If you need to put forth an argument, ask yourself if this particular battle is going to be worth your time and effort. Fire against fire just burns everyone involved. Don’t always choose to be right over choosing to be happy.
Exception: There will be times when you will need to stand firm for yourself, but that’s a discussion for another time.
Wait at least one full night’s sleep before you reply to emails. Sleep and inward meditation give your rational brain time to calm your emotional, adrenaline-swelled body. Your defensive chemicals will disperse with some reflection and some rest. Your next response will typically be far more effectual, mature, calm, and receptive as a result.
Most of our bad choices are made in haste. A wise person tries to see all sides of the argument, then responds with the mind of Gandalf, not Gollum.
I get to!
"I get to go to The Dojo today!
I get to recharge my drained battery.
I get to see the most positive people, who genuinely have my back.
I get to learn new things that give me results.
I get to punch and kick targets to relieve my stress.
I get to be part of something bigger than just myself.
I get some time to myself, to work on me and my personal goals.
I get to train in Ninjutsu - nuff said."
Recently, I had a student approach me after a class and ask: "What school was that technique you showed from?"
I answered "I don't know. I created it on the spot as he was punching me."
The student looked a bit perplexed.
"You made it up?" he asked?
"Yes." I answered.
There are times when I will challenge myself to create techniques in what is called the "Kukan", or the "empty space in between". Speaking in an elemental construct, this is what some refer to as "The Void". It is hard to explain in words, but possible from time to time to control an opponent's Kukan through balance taking, timing, confusion, distancing and intention.
I will sometimes create never before seen techniques in front of a large audience on the fly, just to put myself in the danger zone of publicly failing. As a teacher, this is important to do. It keeps my training real and alive for my own personal martial growth. It also keeps me from dogmatically accepting what is written in the books and scrolls. Not every technique is still valid in these current times.
After three decades of practicing the forms, it is necessary to break all form and preconceived notions from time to time. If we are always boxed into the fantasy fight technique structure, we will be killed in real combat. Real fighting does have noticeable syncopation to it's flow, but battle is more often than not unpredictable. Conflict of any kind is often immune to form and control. Without training, it is chaos for both the attacker and the attacked. It is those times where letting go is the best option for survival. Allowing myself to see openings in the Kukan space, I can avoid blockages in my movement, and therefore move in space and time where I need to be to win; or at least survive.
Practice watching for those magical "Kukan" moments in your daily training. Blink twice, and you may not see them appear.
The Importance of Budo
Usually, when you ask the kids what they did in class today— whether at regular school or at the dojo—they barely say a word. We all know how hard it is to get our children to communicate with us. Nowadays, most kids and teenagers (and adults!) would rather be using some sort of computer device than sitting with others and discussing what their day was like. When I was a child, I ignored most of the important lessons my parents were trying to teach me. It was only when a third party or school coach gave me the same lesson that I finally "heard" it and listened. It is only when we lose a parent, or they become much older, that we realize just how many nuggets of wisdom slipped through our fingers simply due to our arrogance.
Here at the dojo, we teach about thirty classes each week. This means that no two classes are ever alike. There are literally hundreds of little "life-lessons" that students are learning over the period of one year. They practice how to be at peace in life by overcoming fear and countless unseen peer-pressures. The skills the children (and adults) learn on the mat each week can and will save their lives one day.
Many who cannot be here to watch classes do not realize that the physical part of Budo is only a small part of the long-term success plan. Training builds mental fortitude at any age. The problem-solving lessons that we emphasize in each class will nurture the student's confidence and strength. One thousand times; every time the student falls, he or she is learning how to get up again. This is what any experienced adult knows to be one of the primary secrets to success. How you deal with unforeseen daily problems is what determines your future happiness. Through martial arts, we are learning how to overcome any obstacles that are thrown at us. By setting small goals and then accomplishing them with a positive attitude, our muscle memory will prevent us from failing. We rise up to boldly face any challenge with honor, integrity, and heightened self-discipline. It is not easy, but nothing worth living for ever is.
All of this is done with awareness and compassion for others in our hearts. We energetically learn these new lessons with the willingness to serve not only ourselves, but also our family, friends, community, and country. We proudly serve as protectors of the greater good in the world. This is the essence of martial arts.
- Todd Ryotoshi Norcross
Student/Teacher Dialogue - Part 1
Student: “Master, where does happiness come from?”
Sensei: “Happiness does not come from anywhere.”
Student: “I do not understand.”
Sensei: “The mere fact that you are asking is a good first step, though.”
Student: “Doesn’t happiness depend on your attitude?”
Student: “Doesn’t it depend on your state of mind?”
Student: “Doesn’t it depend on your health and well-being?”
Student: Well then, what does it depend on?”
Sensei: “Happiness depends on nothing.” The second that you depend on something, you are now attached.” “Do you understand now, my son?”
Student: “Um, no, sensei.”
“Sensei: “Good! Then just let it go, altogether… and be happy.”
Listen to Arnold.
This isn't Mickey Mouse stuff. Get serious about Budo and show up to class. You don't get on the moving train by waiting and hoping. You have to run and jump on it with all your might and intention. If you do something, then do it! Go all out!
Gratitude Part II
Dojo Blog - Gratitude
A great day starts with gratitude that we even wake up in the morning to have any kind of day at all.
A mindful person is thankful for both the breath and the silences in between. No matter how bad you believe your day to be, never, ever, wish your time away. People on their death beds would strike us solid if they heard such an ignorant thing uttered in a careless assertion. Do you know what our ancestors would give just to feel one more day in the warmth of the sun? Go sit in the sun and hear their whispered wisdom tell you how much.
Try telling the little girl with leukemia that your day is bad. She may still smile for you. Go whisper to the hospice patient that your life sucks. He may still feel sorry for you. Go scream how sad your life is to a room full of homeless families. They may still give their seat to you. Then, when you come back with your arrogance hiding deep in your pocket, I shall see the error in your eyes and the heavy lesson of gratitude in your heart.
The wave on the ocean is always acquiescent of time and tide alike.
- Todd Ryotoshi Norcross
Shields up, Mr. Sulu!
Would Star Trek’s Captain Kirk ever leave the shields of his starship, The Enterprise, down while heading into a massive Klingon space battle? Can you imagine how quickly his ship and hapless crew would have been blasted out of the stars if he had forgotten to command in a exigent voice, “Shields up, Mr. Sulu!”
Sadly, there many shield-less ships out there in this crazy ninja galaxy.
I have seen too many lackluster martial art demonstrations from senior rank holders in other organizations and schools where the person’s hands are left limply down at their sides looking like wet noodles.
Very little frustrates me more than to see people’s shields and defenses completely disregarded during battle. If you cannot remember to keep your hands up when someone is trying to knock your block off, then you are practicing less than half of the important principles of self-protection.
There are very few times you would leave your hands down on purpose in a fight. Good fighters only drop their guard so they can bait their opponents into a trap. Sometimes, I see pseudo masters trying to “look subtle “in their demonstrations, yet they actually look disengaged and lazy. I think, “No, you don’t look like a master just skillfully out of reach of the punch. You actually look like you have missed a bunch of classes on keeping your damn hands up!” My trained eye can always tell the difference between someone who has actually been in fights versus someone who has never been punched in the face.
In our dojo, if your hands are caught falling down below your cheek level, you perform push-ups to remind yourself to stay protected. We have given out tens of thousands of push-ups over the years in order to teach young and old students alike how to keep their heads well protected. Well respected schools will preach having good defense skills as well as having good offensive skills.
In order to keep training real, we also focus quite a bit on warrior intention (Bushi-Ki), since it is the intention of the mind that might allow a better chance of survival when the odds are heavily against us. Even if a person’s martial technique breaks apart in real-time combat, the animal instinct and intention to survive might just give the edge needed to win the confrontation. I don’t care what black belt degrees you have, if you were to foolishly fight a mother in her own home while she was intent on protecting her children, you would be walking naked into a lion’s den. Intention often trumps technique.
The Daimyo Nabeshima Naoshige once said regarding a samurai warrior’s intention, “Fifty or more could not kill one such a man."
Here is a good training tip - The next time you are performing a technique or demonstration, video record yourself (or have an instructor or a friend record you) so that you can watch it and honestly critique yourself. Ask yourself: “Did I keep my hands up the whole time?” “Were my shields up?” and “Where were the holes in my defenses?” Then, fix the issues that only a third person perspective could perceive.
In order to be proficient (or at least nominal) at one’s chosen craft, we must always remember to check our performance to keep it real and keep it honest. Try and remember the “shields up” command of Captain Kirk just before your next demo.
There is a saying I often use with students, “Hands down equals man down.” Please do not forget this.
-Todd Ryotoshi Norcross
Be a 'PACER'
“a person or organization viewed as taking the lead or setting standards of achievement for others.”
P- Pace yourself
There are more knowledge and secrets in Budo than one can ever learn in one lifetime. Take your time. Think of Budo training as a life-long endeavor. If someone is boring you during class, chances are it is yourself. It is up to you to get excited to learn, even if you think you have seen it before. The student or teacher who thinks “I got it” is almost always the one who is in most dire need of the lesson.
A – Attitude
Begin the day with an “I can do this” attitude toward your training. Self-doubters will say “stay home and quit”. The latter is your comfortable way of avoiding change; the former is how you get anything in life accomplished. Do not ever complain if you are on the sidelines of life. Get back into the game!
Constantly training for a month and then quitting is your way of getting in your own way. All successful people show up, even when their mood tries to rule them. Don’t be an internet lurker and website watcher. Be the one who is physically and mentally there. It is the active ones whose opinions matter.
E – Effort
Rate yourself in how seriously you have been taking your training. What is the latest book you have read? How much historical research have you done this month? How many classes have you missed? How many hours of weapons training have you done lately? How many school seminars have you signed up for? When you get to a higher level, why would you train less than before? That is like making it into the college of your choice and then only going to one class per week.
R – Repeat
No one ever mastered anything by doing it “once in a while”. We must repeat movements ten thousand times. The quiet ones who train through the basics over and over again are the ones who will not only survive, but thrive in all areas of life.
We are always keeping in mind that we are training in martial arts under optimum conditions. We have nice lighting, absorbing floors, warm conditions and good friends who are attacking us with little resistance.
In the outside world, we must remember that we will not be able to choose any of this! Terrain, lighting and weather will be unpredictable. Opponents might be armed, multiplied or focused on harming us or the ones we love.
Only by training consistently in countless 'mock fight scenarios' will we ever possibly be ready to deal with real ones, if they should happen to arise.
Daily training is a reliable increase for the odds of our survival. The rest is a roll of the dice.
Answer: No. In the martial arts, the techniques and variations compound and multiply exponentially with the more training experience you accrue. Just as we have learned through science that the universe is expanding rapidly, through martial science, long-time practitioners learn that self-protection knowledge expands too. You may start with eight right handed techniques, but then if you do them with the left hand, they quickly become sixteen. Now, do them with left and right kicks and they become thirty two,etc. This is the deeper teaching of the Kihon Happo.
From my experience, each decade I train through, I feel as if I know less than I did before. Each question answered spawns three more deeper questions. I love this never-ending chase. It keeps things fresh and exciting. Complacency should always be wonderfully just out of reach.
So no, one cannot possibly master all of the schools and areas of study. As soon as you focus on one area, another suffers from neglect. It is like trying to play baseball with sixteen bases to cover at once.
In fact, there is no such thing as a "master" of anything at all. That is a hollow title that humans have created for their own hubris. There are as many brands of martial arts out there as there are cities; so to claim mastery in even one is pure ignorance.
And remember too: Belt rank is meaningless as a judgement of real skill. There is only experience, or what we call "mat time". A person's name and reputation is his real rank. In a real fight, who cares how many technique names you know? You can have twenty stripes on your belt and still be killed easily in battle. Who cares how many Bruce Lee films you have watched. None of them will help you. Can you prevail through the conflict, or avoid it altogether? That is what the samurai cared about. Not even the horrible thought of death affected his mindset. He won, or he died...end of story.
Proficiency in survival is no more than conditioned muscle memory honed by experience - with no preconceived notions to box you in. Ultimately, winning is a subtle freedom from any previous structure or curriculum. It is cause and effect harnessed through action and intention.
So, we must train as much as possible over many decades to reach competence. If we stop training even for a week, we will lose our edge. Skip mat time for a month, and we will lose our confidence. Skip learning for a year, and we may lose our entire way or purpose. Each persons experience is different. I do know this to be true and demonstrable: You will run out of lifetime before you ever feel like you have a firm grasp on Budo - if you are honest with yourself.
"I am often reminded that we can become highly affected by seeing so much bad news worldwide. Fear sells well, and it conjures anger and despair. It keeps us tuned in to the media machine.
However, every second of the day, there are also countless millions of kind and good people and positive deeds that we may not be aware of; far too many positive stories to film for any twenty four hour news channel.
Century - The Largest Martial Arts Supplier) picks up T.N.'s
When I started recording music in the early 1990's, I did so because it brought me immense joy. I was just a kid from a small Massachusetts cowtown, with a left-handed stratocaster guitar and an amplifier. Writing songs gave me a real sense of accomplishment, and it relaxed and entertained me for hours on end.
For several years, I lost a lot of money making tapes and CD's for my friends and family. It was not smart, but it was fun.
Just like other people might paint or work in the garden; I did it, simply because I loved to do it.
Twenty something years later, the feeling is exactly the same. I have never set out to make millions, or be famous. If I had chosen to focus only on that, I know that I would be far more famous and far more wealthy. But I chose a very different path of service. To this day, I put almost all of my profits back into the music and production. As of the end of this year (2012) I will now have produced and performed 27 albums of original music, covering 5 genres. I am working on a new album, due out in early 2013. To my surprise, these albums sell thousands of copies and downloads worldwide (largely because of the internet) to wonderful people, most of whom I have never met.
I often get kind and heartfelt emails from "fans" (I never liked that word and all it implies and connotes) from Europe, Canada, Japan, Russia and even Africa and Australia. Somehow, these people stumble upon my work. Somehow, the music brings them joy, lifting their spirits in difficult times. This is the better half of my happiness quotient, worth more to me than gold.
I will never be "rich" from my music, but it has afforded me time to do more musically, as well as spending more time in the studio writing and performing. After all these years, I am still trying to work out all the kinks.
The whole point of this story just goes to show that if you believe in yourself, work hard, love what you do, and never quit, the rewards will eventually come to those who are patient and willing to make many mistakes along the way.
What is it you really love to do? You would give anything to be able to do it for a living?
Have an answer yet?
Good! There should be no excuse as to why you cannot move things around in your schedule to make more time to do it. Go and do it, today.
Bowing (salutation) has many connotations in the dojo. The act of bowing is like shaking hands, but should be seen as more than just a casual experience. It is not religious or subservient in any way. See the act of bowing as politeness, times ten. It symbolizes respect and gratitude for anyone who we may come in contact with.
We salute when we go in and out of The Dojo. This shows respect for the school. It also reminds us to leave negativity and ego outside of the training hall — as these thoughts only hinder our personal progress.
We salute at the beginning and at the end of class to honor our teachers, both current and past. Our particular lineages of Budo span back nearly 1,000 years. Generation after generation, we salute our ancestors who fought and died to bring us this martial and philosophical knowledge we are choosing to study. After all, only the survivors could return from battle and write down the techniques on the scrolls.
We salute for mindfulness, to bring attention to the here and now. We push aside past and future thoughts that may distract our focus from training.
We salute when we enter or leave the mats. This shows awareness and respect for the safety of the training space.
We salute our training partners, who choose to help us grow on the mat. Their safety is of paramount importance to us.
Lastly, we salute ourselves for showing up (which is very difficult) and trying to improve (which takes tremendous discipline and effort). We celebrate our willingness to learn this difficult, endless material.
We salute our lineage. I always like to imagine all of the old, long-dead sensei (and even my own family ancestors) sitting around the miniature dojo shrine on the shelf. They are all ghosts now, watching us from above, moving and living life in splendor.
It is our hope that one day our younger students may have schools of their own. One day, the young ones may imagine us smiling down upon them from the mantel. Who knows? We may just be watching them explore these rich martial traditions long after we are gone.
MMA Culture: Does it give martial arts a bad name?
By Todd Ryotoshi Norcross
Over my thirty years (especially the last twenty) of training in various martial arts and combat systems, I have been asked to give my personal opinion on Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) tournaments and the growing culture of pay-per-view events on television. The more experienced I get, the louder my opinion becomes.
As the famous inventor and businessman Thomas Edison wrote:
"Non-violence leads to the highest ethics, which is the goal of all evolution. Until we stop harming all other living beings, we are still savages."
This quote accurately supports my view. If you are beating up on other fellow human beings for your own personal gain, you are not progressing society forward. You are in essence "devolving" the code of living as a peacemaker; almost insulting the honor that many (samurai lineages) have sacrificed and died to uphold. This culture of commercialized violence does not honor our martial ancestors. If they were still alive, I doubt you would see many of them in attendance at these events.
My opinion of the sport is in no way meant to be a negative opinion on individual sportsmen and women who choose this path. It is after all their choice. And they are most free to choose any career they wish. This opinion is not in any way meant to be ad-hominem.
The good news is that MMA has forced much of the fantasy-based martial arts out of the shadows. It has made us more well-rounded practitioners. It has forced us to amplify our ground-game. While I certainly respect the level of discipline and "fighting regimen" many MMA fighters attain, I simply cannot see the act of cage fighting as anything but barbaric and detrimental to true martial arts. It reminds me of the 1980’s blockbusters "Conan the Barbarian " or "Thunderdome". Both of those movies depicted a very primitive society, one based in long long-ago mythology, and the other based in the pseudo post-apocalyptic future. While these movies were highly entertaining, the plots would not be seen as proud moments in societal evolution.
Recently, I sat down and carefully watched a few MMA fights at full length. (There are also highly disturbing cage fights you can watch online between kids as young as six - an even more barbaric and psyche damaging mind set - which I will not write about today). The sick feeling in my stomach was the same as it was in 1993, when I saw my first pay-per-view fight. Not much has changed in that regard. The commercial business of violence still promotes physical power over others to further one’s own agenda. As exciting as it can be, it goes against the deeper principles of martial arts meant to bring peace as fast as possible. It would most certainly be frowned upon by the samurai of old. Those warriors never ran towards war eagerly, but did all in their power to dissuade it. Peace by the sword is not the same as profit by the sword. Ask yourself if these competitors would willingly allow their bodies (and reputations) to be wrecked publicly if a $50,000 purse was not involved? Perhaps many of them fight to put food on the table for their families, or to prove something to someone from their past? Only they can answer that.
All of my respectable Budo teachers taught us to avoid violence whenever possible, not to use our unique set of skills for money, power over others, or the trappings of fame.
While the powerful Ultimate Fighting Championship machine continues to expand and absorb smaller venues such as “Pride,”, “World Extreme Cage Fighting,”, “Strikeforce,” and “EliteXC,”, the money continues to flow. And we all know that when the money flows, morality and ethics are secondary considerations at best.
What happens afterwards?
While I predict the sport will continue to become more popular, the MMA sport fighter is destined to have a short-lived professional career. Many MMA fighters do not last long. The aging process taps out the arrogance of youth every time. What happens when the younger, stronger guy comes along? Once they lose the title fight, too many are promptly discarded, so that the next fighter may take their spot. Unfortunately, in America there is an even greater pastime; : building celebrities up, and then tearing them down for our own amusement.
Physically and mentally, many fighters damage their bodies far beyond their numeric age. Arthritis, back and neck trauma, broken bones, permanent brain cell damage from concussions, and even suicides have occurred. Behind closed doors, pain killer abuse and steroid addiction is rampant. So far, the sport does not take the well-being and old age health problems of its participants into account. Hopefully, future scientific health data and discourse will change that.
My personal opinion is that the violent culture of MMA breeds aggression and awakens dormant childhood issues. On the contrary, the deeper martial arts (Koryu) teach the practitioner how to alleviate anger and stress, how to help others, how to find happiness and peace of mind, and above all, how to avoid confrontation. The divergence between these two opposed philosophies makes my job as a teacher harder. By watching enough MMA tournaments, younger kids may grow up with the impression that hurting others for gain is a legitimate way to succeed in life. That is a scary thought. My job is to teach the next generation of martial artists that a cage match is not reality; that "Edison" was a better hero than "Conan" was, and that our minds must continue to try and evolve beyond the cultural allure of temporary fame and fortune.
Be careful of natural rivalries that will occur after years of training. Without humble self reflection, martial arts can bring about the worst side of a person's ego. Just because you think you are the king of the mat does not mean that you are the king of life. Many martial artists I have known have been dreadful role-models in real life. Be careful of authority of any kind. Start by checking your ego at the front door. While training, become comrades instead of combatants. Know that there is always someone better than you at this. Strive for personal improvement while helping others achieve theirs. These are a few things we can all do to improve and be blissfully aware.
Studying a deep martial art is exactly like Whac-A-Mole. You focus your attention and training on one aspect, and all of a sudden two or three things pop up that you now must work on. When you get practiced in one area, another naturally suffers. One can never be great at everything at the same time in Budo. It is a constant, massive, fun puzzle of our potential that never gets boring. How exciting!
He did not teach us what to think, as much as he taught us how to think. "I don't know," he sometimes said. "Let's find the answer together," he often said.
To me, this was the hallmark of an honest and great leader.
It was the inexperienced teachers who haughtily summoned an answer for everything. Arrogance seemed to always trump their curiosity to learn. Wisdom was blatantly absent in both their form and approach.
However, the master just laughed and seemed to play jazz with any chaos that called his name. This strength was what I looked for my whole life...and I wanted to be a part of it.
Did you know that only 1% to maybe 5% of students will make it to black belt? That is not an exaggeration. Yes, in the beginning we think "I will be definitely one of the ones who gets there!".
Sadly, most will quit long before the four to five years to achieve that status.
Listen, my friends. Life will want to pull you away. It wants you to fail. You will get angry, jealous, and frustrated. You will get weak. You will get lazy. You will allow yourself to get bored. You will defy the teacher's words and teachings. You will question teacher's abilities. You will talk negatively about the teacher to cover up for your own weakness. You will have ups and downs, financially and personally. Hope will, sadly, turn to actual hard work.
As I said before, only about 1% will achieve what most others will not.
I can encourage you, until I am blue in the face, to keep going; but in the darkness of doubt and fear, most of you will take the easy path and rebel. It is natural to so so. The universe's first constant is atrophy. Don't feel ashamed about it, but also do not lie about it either. I have seen people bash wonderful teachers, entire schools, and even entire disciplines of martial arts, because they were never even able to take the higher road and say "I quit because I got scared." I have so more respect for the honest truth-tellers than the runners and whisperers of the shadows.
However, with all that brutal fact laid out to you in black and white, a few of you will prevail. A few of you will push through the obstacles and the political bull. A few of you will be consistent. A few will show up and keep showing up - ready to learn and advance. A few will reap the amazing rewards of finishing the commitment we swore to uphold. One may even become a teacher.
These are the ones I will show all the hidden secrets to. That is the way it must be. That is the way it is. There needs to be trust, loyalty, and honor there. I cannot show you everything in just four or five years. I can only guide you into the storms. However, it will be up to you, to find your way out of the storms again. Otherwise, we are just playing make-believe and fooling ourselves.
If you are not active, it is time to get back into your journey. That is the first, and most difficult, lesson.
Is Thanksgiving Day the opportunity to impress others, worry about fake and perfect presentation, get bargains off of things that we don't need, and feel uncomfortable around the extended family members that we feel compelled to invite?
Will we fall victim to this superficiality?
True gratitude is remembering all that we do have, as compared to most people around the globe. We need to really focus our attention on the warmth and smiles of the still-living family members at the table, the comforting smells of simmering food in the oven, the playful sounds of children at our feet, and the (very difficult) ability to be completely comfortable within ourselves.
If we are merely out to impress everybody, we will surely miss the moments of true joy. It really is okay if things aren't perfect. They cannot ever be. In the imperfections of life we can often find the sweetest of memories.
Avoid the stores, they can wait. Avoid the arguments and debates, they are not welcome today. Try and appreciate the common good that we all share.
Take multiple mental pictures of every moment you can. Enjoy the precious time together. Say nothing but kind or encouraging words. Just be.
Socrates said “The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.” This is so very true.
It isn’t easy to find the lesson in things. It is even harder to attack your own natural ego by stating "how little you know". This is not done as a false humility, but a real-life "AHA" moment of clarity and a real appreciation of the trappings of epistemology.
Many of us in the West seem to live in a “collect it, discard it if it gets challenging, and move on” society. We are bombarded since childhood to consume, dispose of, and acquire the next best thing. We complain that we haven't the time to put the time into learning or earning something; as a result, we make up wild excuses to cover up for our self-doubt and laziness. We will say almost anything not to be embarrassed.
In today's quit-when-it-gets-tough world, patience and mastering something can even be perceived as somehow being eclectic or odd. In the end, we usually regret that we did not put our best effort into sticking with something -or someone.
Regarding things: Today's gems will fade and turn into tomorrow’s coal. Regarding endeavors and activities: The excuse of “I tried it for a while, but quit shortly after” sadly, becomes acceptable.
Learning the martial arts (or any chosen path) is not easy to do. Nothing worth its weight in gold ever easy, is it? Learning (and getting good at something) takes many, many years of ups and downs. The arduous journey is a very fulfilling roller-coaster of self-doubt, fear, triumph, and testing. It (Budo) can be a powerful vehicle to happiness that never runs out of gas, but it can also travel very slowly. For those who need a lot of high-maintenance stimulus, the ride may even appear boring. Few people will ride the martial arts vehicle long enough into the scary valleys of trial and self-reflection. This ride is very good at making you see and work on your faults.
Ironically, sometimes when we are at our most triumphant moment, we are also at our most ignorant arrogance. You are the only person in the room who cannot see your own ears. Think about that. We might think we look really good, but in reality, we have a lot of work to do. We might think we know it all, when in reality, we know very little. If we are going to be truthful with ourselves, we must never rely on the smoke and mirror side of martial arts to keep us safe in a real conflict. There is a lot of junk being taught out there. There are a lot of YouTube imposters out there. Even more lowly will be the ones who will troll in the shadows and post negative comments, but who never actually train at a local school or get knocked around. Remember, we humans are Grandmasters of fooling ourselves first.
The good news is that there are still authentic people out there to be found. Many years ago, I interviewed one of my dear teachers, An-Shu Stephen K. Hayes (“Musubi Journal” Vol. 12 #2-Mar/April, 1988), and asked him: “How long does it take to become a teacher of Ninjutsu?” He answered, “Ten years.” Well, I thought that was a very long commitment. However, I was hungry. That answer did not dissuade me, but challenged me even more. The next day, I sent away the tuition to participate in my first "Warrior Quest" seminar. That happened in June of 1988.
I agree with his time frame. After 10 years, one can finally start to get a grasp of this massively broad set of life skills. However, even after more than 25 of studying and teaching, I still feel I know very little. It is exciting to know that there is always so much more to learn about the principles of the deeper martial arts, and more importantly, the deeper parts of myself.
So what should we remember as practitioners?
In the years of trial and error, I have learned that repeating and drilling the basics is the best test to good, honest training. The basics will keep you alive in battle. The fancy techniques will keep you, well, entertained. Sure, I can be like a clown and show you 20 different technique variations, in 10 directions. On the surface, that can seem very exciting! However, that showmanship will not serve any student very well long-term. I would rather spend our time helping you become a critical thinker. I would rather teach you how to think rather than what to think. My job is not to copy and entertain, but to train others to become self-sufficient.
The fundamentals are the brushes and canvas I will give you, just as my teachers graciously gave them to me. The drills we will drill, countless times, are the strokes of the paint. These lessons of the man in the mirror, I can teach you. Ten thousand canvases we will paint and mess-up together. I have found no quicker paths or shortcuts. If you can stick it out and earn your black belt, we can now start again, and begin to really paint for the first time. This is the way of Budo.
Someday, not so very far away, when I am older, and fade away, I will still admire your beautiful works of moving art you created, forever and always.
There are many people in the world who are right now conspiring against you. They are spreading negativity, lies, and gossip behind your back. They are plotting to tear you down, drag your name through mud or bring about your downfall, all because they are not willing to look objectively at themselves enough to work on their own foibles and faults. It is a lot easier to destroy than it is to construct.
Gossiping is an extremely common, disgusting habit that people participate in almost daily. Why do people enjoy this mundane activity so much? I'll bet you won't admit that you are of them? I certainly have done it, more than I should have. After many failed attempts, I now try and recognize when I am gossiping and stop it immediately. It isn't easy, but then again, no real marked psychological progress is.
There can be many deep-rooted reasons why people are so negative, but that is not the focus of this thought today.
At my age, I am far more interested in learning about solutions rather than problems. Solution- finding is much more pro-active and constructive.
I have learned from many of my professors in philosophy that it is actually a sign of success when others criticize you and your work. Perhaps this is true? Is is better to be criticized than to be completely unknown?
It is never easy to hear that someone is talking behind you. It affects your self-esteem, if you allow it to. It can ruin your day, your friendships, and your future if you are not careful enough to know how to "let it go" into the "loser" file. The drama people create may cause you to shut down in fear. It may also cause you to hesitate opening yourself up to new friendships and new love.
We must be so careful to recognize how unhealthy gossiping is. Why would anyone allow someone else to affect and ruin their day? I simply just do not accept that premise. Your mind is your mind, not theirs. Turn your filters up. If you allow someone's opinions to dictate your future moves, you will never live up to your own potential. You will live a very safe and very average life, just enough effort to please everybody, losing your own opinions and individuality in the process.
Life is way too short for the negative people around us. We teach people exactly how we want to be treated! Either set clear and strong boundaries with them, remove them from your life, or accept them at face value and give them power over your thoughts. The latter option is not a wise choice.
Gossip mongers who preoccupy our minds are not our real friends. This is a fixable area of our lives we all need to seriously work and improve upon.
Fancy techniques usually will not aid us in battle, as they tend to hide under duress. Daily, consistent repetition of basic martial principles will teach anyone's body and mind to move correctly and succeed, both in and out of the dojo. - Todd Norcross
Six Important things to remember while on the mat that will make everyone’s experience better:
1. Safety first. You are working with a human being who is trusting in you to be careful. The slower your technique is, the more highly skilled the teacher knows you are. Practitioners who go fast tend to be sloppy, lose muscle memory opportunities, and hurt others. This shows a complete lack of mastery and understanding of human anatomy. The calm and cool students are almost always the more skilled in the long run.
2. Watch where you push, knock-down or throw your opponents. If you throw your friend into someone else, you lack not only control but the ability to see danger and obstacles peripherally. Be ultra-aware of everything on the floor!
3. Although it may come from a really sincere place, do not ever lecture or re-teach your training partner what the instructor just showed. Call over an instructor or coach. Unless you wear an instructor’s patch, you are not allowed to teach. Plus, nobody wants to work with someone who talks him or her to death. Students pay to train, not talk.
4. We all like to train with friends who don’t really challenge us. Try something new. Avoid using the same, comfortable training partners time after time. Train with a new or challenging partner. Your skill will really increase more and your comfort zone will expand.
5. Classical Budo classes should be a high priority, especially for Level 3 students heading into Green and Brown levels. Without question, those who train in weapons and or Budo classes end up far more skilled in the long run. You must also know some weaponry to attain a black belt. The roots of our nine systems are detailed in Budo class. Can one ever be a ninja without knowing about weapons and history?
6. Please do not vary from the shown technique. It is very disrespectful to vary from what the teacher is showing. Making up new stuff or adding variations just makes one get further away from the core principles. This shows a lack of patience in the student. Repeat the technique over and over again and show discipline by sticking with what the instructor shows.
Yes: There should be many challenging classes along the way. Frustration means you are being internally tested, perhaps on the edge of an unexpected breakthrough to a whole new level!
Embrace the challenge and summon out the warrior within to move through it with patience and fortitude.
In a culture that seems to glorify violence in everything from music to video games and television shows, the idea of enrolling your child in martial arts training classes doesn’t always seem like a good one. While martial arts-centered action films seem to be filled to the brim with violent behavior and gory injuries, you may be surprised to learn that martial arts’ training is actually very beneficial to kids. Like so many other things that Hollywood doesn’t always get right, martial arts isn’t quite the brutal, vicious pastime that it seems. In fact, these are 10 of the reasons why you may want to consider martial arts training for your kids.
1. Fostering Self-Discipline – One of the central tenets of all forms of the martial arts is an absolute focus on self-discipline. Today’s kids are so accustomed to receiving instant gratification that lessons in self-restraint and discipline aren’t always easy to come by. Kids with a martial arts background, however, are continually reminded of how essential self-discipline is.
2. Boosting Socialization Skills – Kids who don’t always thrive in highly social environments may find it easier to get to know people and make new friends when they’re in a room filled with peers who share a common interest. The kids on the playground may not always have much common ground, but devotees to the martial arts are able to get to know one another through shared pursuits. Partner-driven forms like jiu jitsu can also foster camaraderie, as they force kids to pair off and build their skills together.
3. Encouraging Physical Activity – Limiting screen time is a great idea when it comes to getting kids off the couch and encouraging them to be more active, but it only goes so far. Enrolling an inactive child in such a physically demanding pastime not only discourages the sedentary lifestyle she’s used to, but also gives her an enjoyable activity that inspires her to keep moving.
4. Learning to Set and Achieve Goals – Most forms of martial arts are based around an accomplishment system of colored belts that signify the wearer’s degree of skill. When your child strives toward each new belt, he’s learning valuable lessons about setting and reaching his goals.
5. Increased Self-Esteem – Confidence comes with achievement, so your child’s self-esteem level will get a boost with every new move he masters and every belt he earns. Kids who struggle with a low sense of self-worth usually become more confident as time progresses while they’re enrolled in a martial arts class.
6. Instilling a Sense of Respect – Learning any martial arts style will require your child to show her instructor unflinching respect. Today’s kid culture doesn’t always include respect for authority, adults or those in advanced positions. When she goes to her karate or tae kwon do class, though, your child will be learning lessons in respect along with new moves.
7. Encouraging Non-Violent Conflict Resolution – Thinking that martial arts instruction promotes violent behavior is justified if your only experience with the activity comes from television or movies. In fact, many defensive styles teach kids peaceful, non-violent conflict resolution skills and emphasize the importance of avoiding a physical altercation.
8. Improving Listening Skills – In order to master the skills she’s being taught and advance through the belt ranks, your child will have to exercise superior listening skills. Kids who aren’t always adept when it comes to paying attention to what they’re told can benefit from the verbal instruction and one-on-one work in her dojo.
9. Developing Teamwork Skills – Whether he’s breaking boards to get a new belt or sparring in a practice setting to master a new maneuver, there are few things that your child does in his martial arts classes that will be done on his own. Working together to learn new things and accomplish goals is an important life lesson for kids to learn, and instruction in the martial arts can help your child learn that lesson.
10. Improvement in Other Areas of Life – The benefits of martial arts training don’t end in the dojo. The boost in confidence, increased fitness level and new cooperation skills will also help your child navigate the academic and social aspects of school, affect his behavior at home and have an all-around good influence on him as he develops into an adult.
“What is the most important class of the week that I should attend? Is it my level class? Is it Wednesday night Budo classes? Is it Ground fighting class? Is it weapons classes? Which is the one…?”
The simple answer is:
Whichever class you attend, is the most important class…period.
Todd Ryotoshi Norcross-May 2012 May 24th,2012 Uncategorized | No Comments The Impossible Law of Imbalance
Does your life ever feel out of whack? Do you ever feel a re-occurrence of being overwhelmed; pulled in all directions? Do you often feel guilty about missing time with your family if you work too much? Or, if you spend too much time with family, do you long for your individualism and miss your career days?
You are not alone.
Most of us feel this way from time to time. Some of us, minute to minute. It is completely natural to feel the effects of what I call the “Impossible Law of Imbalance”.
This “law” is merely a realization of reality and our place in it. Think of life as a compass. Let us give it four directions (although there are many more) represented by North, South, East and West.
You can then label different areas of your life i.e. Family obligations = North, Career = South, Personal Fulfillment = East , Finances = West etc. etc. Now focus all your energy
Now, have fun realizing the “Impossible Law of Balance” in action. Whenever we devote our time, resources and energy to one direction of our life, inevitably another area will suffer because of it. If I command the North, then the South will suffer. If I spend all my time at the office, my family is neglected. Or, if I focus on always making money and working on my personal career, I may end up wealthy and very unhappy with no family. If I spend all day playing with the kids and being a great Dad, I may not be able to pay mortgage because I am not working enough. Do you see where these become overwhelming and stress-building issues for the modern 21st century person who wants it all?
How many time has guilt been there because we spent too much time in one area and let go of another. I know of too many people who are trying their best to control all areas of their life and appear perfect to the neighbors. Well, guess what!? It is ‘t possible.
Sure, we may think we are in control of everything and everyone, but in reality we are failing in at least one area of the compass. My North is strong, but my South is failing. My East is taken care of but my West is unguarded and falling apart.
Try hard not to make the choice and allow guilt and shame to creep in and depress us. We only have so much time in the day. We only have so much energy. We only have one mind and body. Take it easy and know that wherever our focus is placed, that area will surely get better. And on the other side of life, another section will naturally fall apart (entropy) because I could not be there art the same time. Let it go. Let it go. Let it go.
Trying to take care of and balance all directions of our life is admirable, but impossible. Realize that we may need to take a break from one area (or ask for help) in order to fix something in another that we know needs our attention.
Breathe. Take note of what needs to be accomplished today, and go with the flow; without guilt, without shame. It is all we can do. The happiness and contentment comes easier to those who realize that absolutely nobody is perfect. No life is perfect. Time and life is limited. It is actually going to be alright, no matter which direction on the compass of life we choose to run towards and explore.
It was a Tuesday around 10:00 AM, when my phone at my desk rang. I work at the dojo around 10 hours a day, so it is not unusual for me to receive phone-calls from several sales people trying to sell us everything from credit card processing to water dispensers. Over the years, I have grown very good at firing in and saying “No” to just about everyone who cold-calls me. I am too old for joking around and wasting time with phone solicitors.
The caller was someone claiming to be a producer/casting director for MTV studios in New York. (Of course, my skepticism kicked in immediately; although I remained polite and listened. She told me her name and that she was calling to offer me a part on an upcoming MTV reality series. I thought she was joking. She was not.
Apparently, I was given her name from someone in New York who had one of my CD’s and was a big fan of my music and martial arts videos. She informed me that this new MTV reality show would focus on a few dojos across the country. They would focus on the sensei, staff, and day to day issues of running a successful, full-time school. She said my “cool ninja martial arts background, combined with my musical background” was too good to pass by. She asked if I could call back in a few days to continue the process and talk with another producer. I reluctantly agreed, but told no one. Later on, I used my training and contacts to gather intelligence on the people involved. To my surprise, they seemed to all check out as legit. After the second phone meeting, I was given more details about the pitched idea and also about the series requirements. I continued to listen, and asked a few questions of my own. The money offered to me was quite generous, enough for me to weigh the pros and cons if I signed on. I had forgotten how wealthy - and still influential - MTV studios is around the world. I haven’t had cable television in over 8 years, and hadn’t seen MTV since the nineties. So, I had no real connection to the channel or its constituency.
I had to have an answer by the next Monday. I had five days to think things over. I contacted one my respected martial art teachers to get his opinion on the subject. He was kind enough to offer his experiences and fatherly advice. He was the only person I told of the deal. Other people knowing would have complicated my thoughts.
I pondered several other concerns of my own over the next weekend. (This is the difference between someone in his forties and someone in his twenties. A twenty year old would have jumped at the idea to be on MTV in a heartbeat.)
Wouldn’t the cameras be a huge distraction for employees and students who do not necessarily want publicity?
Aren’t the producers well-known for scripting and enticing inner drama for ratings?
Haven’t we all seen many other ‘reality TV stars’ end up in dire-straights after the sudden fame poisoned their egos?
Are “Honey Boo Boo” and “Snookie” really examples of how I want to portray the 21st century warrior/ninja lifestyle to be?
Is the money worth losing friends and family over, just for a bit of media-hype?
Would I embarrass my teachers as a sell-out?
I woke up that next Monday with a definitive answer. I called MTV and respectfully declined, with very little nervousness, and zero regret. I was always a VH1 kind of guy, anyway.
What blows me away is the fact that I am always excited to learn how unpredictable life is. You just never know who might be calling you? Every moment is full of opportunities to say “yes” or “no”, having sometimes unseen vast consequences, either way we choose.
Short Answer: The opposite of what you are probably thinking.
A rut is an obstacle of the mind. Needs are not being met somewhere along the line. Most students will tend to blame something or somebody external for this attitude. Excuses will be easily fabricated and defended to support our fears and anxieties. Only by recognizing that we are blaming in the wrong place will we begin to actually work to fix the problem.
When I have been in ruts, I always check myself first. I ask myself many questions about my true motivations. I try to develop the critical thinking skills that are necessary to keep me on point to my long-term goals and commitments I made.
My internal dialogue has often sounded like this:
"Is it really them, or really me?" I ask.
"Is this 'rut' actually fear or anxiety getting the best of me?" I ask.
"My mind is telling me to make excuses and quit." I say to myself.
"This is way harder than I originally thought." I think.
"I am not putting anywhere near 100% effort into my training" I think-red faced.
"I made a commitment to myself, my family , my friends, and my teachers." Says my pride's hubristic little voice.
"What will they think of me if I quit?" I ponder.
"Will they reject me as a whole?" says the little kid on the playground.
...et cetera, ad infinitum.
Now, can you see how the delusional dialogue goes on and on and on to talk us out of what really needs to be done?
Our vexing mind is really good at scattering the confidence we worked so hard to collect, piece by piece.
Obviously, we have all been through this. The good news is that the answer is always the same.
Do the opposite of what your mind is telling you to do!
Get up and drive to the dojo and train through it!
Do not expect the rut to go away in one class, it won't. Don't expect miracles on the second day either. It took time to be lazy, it will take time to recover from it.
Come to as many classes as it takes in order for the voices to dissipate. Train as hard as you can until the self-doubt subsides. Drive to class, again and again, until the habit of coming and winning rebuilds your confidence. After that, you will re-prioritize your life to make more room for the class time. This is how it works, my friends. There is no other way (that I have ever found) to remedy this common sickness.
We have had several good questions recently about videos of techniques that we sometimes produce at our school.
Question 1: "Aren't you afraid people will steal your techniques and knowledge free of charge?"
No. Any video that we tape is provided as a service to our community. They are fun, but hold little value compared to real training. These videos offer tips, but definitely not detailed instruction. That can only come by training full-time at the dojo. Videos can only slightly supplement. They are not meant to substitute. People can watch our videos as much as they would like. Actually getting on the mat and drilling them is a whole other story. It would be nearly impossible for a layperson to watch and reenact a move from any martial arts video without lots of practice and muscle memory development.
Question 2: "When do you film videos?"
Whenever the mood strikes us. There is no set time or day; but usually smaller classes are preferred, as larger classes are too loud and the lighting and sound cannot be controlled. Generally, we film during the day when the school is quiet. Sometimes we record our special Wednesday night Budo classes. That is where we can explore the unusual stuff that is not found on the curriculum.
"The videos can be very intimidating. Are you worried that they may scare people into believing that they cannot physically do the moves?"
I would throw the burden back onto the viewer and say that while watching videos, it is natural for "self-doubt" to creep in. That is a delusion the mind conjures up to keep us from trying new things. Most would rather watch than participate. That is no way to really live to our fullest potential is it? We do not teach students, who are beginners, anything difficult. Our Level 1 basics courses are designed for those who have no previous experience. Just about any age or any size person can do this stuff. It adapts to you, you do not adapt to it. That is the magic of the timeless principles of this particular martial art we study. It works for all types of people.
"How does one get to be in a video?"
Well, you just need to "happen to be there" when we decide to film, nothing more.
The parents play a vital role in helping a child achieve the rare black belt in any martial discipline. The parents are the ones driving their children every day, sacrificing their valuable time to ensure their child is prepared in life. When the child complains, the guardian remains steadfast. They understand the importance of teaching the child to follow through with his or her commitment. I am floored daily with parents who truly lead by example. They are some of my most admired role-models.
Offering 112 classes per month, we have to be so much more than just martial arts.
Yes, we can teach people how to take down a huge attackers. Yes, we can teach a person how to knock bad guys to the ground one-hundred different ways.
Most local schools focus only on the physical "toughness" of sheer power, when this will rarely be used. Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) schools are surely externally tough, but how do they fare outside the dojo, with little mind and ethical decision training? Can brute force and intimidation carry one through life without serious long-term negative consequences? How often do we get into a physical fight? Hopefully, never.
On the flip-side, how often do we have mental challenges that attack us out of nowhere? Um, duh, every day.
In a perfect world, we must also hone our minds, sharpen our intellect, and build up our inner strength to deal with and easily disarm any mental obstacles that will inevitably arise outside the dojo.
Each class we teach is unique. No two can be exactly alike. Different teachers bring different experiences and strengths.
Our well-trained staff spends time on psychology and philosophy because without these real-life lessons, a school will just become a shallow "collection house" of techniques.
Here are just some topics we have covered within our 112 classes per month that we offer to students and professionals (mostly with ages 6-and up) since our last update:
Obviously, with the younger children, information and teachings have to be interpreted for younger minds in a very different way, so that they will understand.
The importance of not being lazy. What is procrastination?
Importance of deadlines in the world. Being in control of your success. Why it is so important that you train consistently. How staying home allows self-doubt to creep in.
Why it takes 4 or 5 years to get your black belt degree. How your commitment is watched by others.
Being aware of bullies in school. How do we deal with them? Never holding it in. Communication is key.
Consequences. What is cause and effect? When should I use martial arts physically? What are the dojo consequences if I hit my brother or sister?
How we use our voice to build confidence and allow our thoughts to come out to avoid getting angry or sad.
The importance of telling the truth, and how the habit lying does not cover things for long and, in fact, gets you in way more trouble.
The importance of accomplishing goals and how that improves our momentum of accomplishment.
What will allow you to win or lose in life? Attitude is everything!!
Why it is so important to drill techniques over and over again. Building muscle memory.
The importance of being grateful. Thanking those who drive you to training, and who take their time to see that you are here, working on your goals.
What does compassion mean and how we use it to help others in need.
The importance of getting good grades and how it will benefit you in your future.
How to ask for help if you do not understand a technique?
How do I get happier?
How do i make and stick to goals? Strategy for success.
Didn't know your child was learning all these crucial life lessons when you dropped him or her off at the front door? I assure you, we are serious about this stuff here at our dojo.
Did you know your son had a true breakthrough today? Did you know your daughter was a leader among her peers last week? Did your child tell you that he passed several challenges we gave him? And that he found the inner strength to succeed to the next level?
At The Dojo, we don’t break boards, we break bad habits.
If a parent works outside of the home, it is often difficult (or for some, nearly impossible) to come in and watch classes at The Dojo. Therefore, they do not always see what we teach, day in and day out. I often speak with parents who are pleasantly surprised at all of the important topics we cover in class. They are even more surprised when I tell them how their son or daughter excelled in a certain way they had never seen. Most of the time, children will not discuss what went on during their martial arts class. It is not because they are being purposely disrespectful, it is just that most kids don’t like to be hounded with questions from parents about their day. And most children have trouble even remembering or effectively communicating things that occurred just an hour beforehand.
Unlike other activities such as group sports, The Dojo instills many life skills that will ensure a successful life for those who train until the black belt status. There is no sitting on a bench, hoping the coach calls out little Johnny to finally hop in and participate in the game. The Dojo coaching team teaches each and every student vital ethical and moral lessons that will polish one’s character until it shines. Like a candle in the dark, teachers tailor to each individual’s needs; how to rely on their skills in times of darkness or fear.
Aside from realistic training to prepare today’s youth in the event of a confrontation, we drill cause and effect dynamics. We show how positive and negative choices affect our lives, as well as those lives around us. We train students to focus the mind and body on any task at hand to optimize performance for positive results. We show students how to be polite at home and in public. We show students how to let go of fear and anger and work toward inner peace of mind and happiness. We also show all ages how to develop a winning spirit despite any odds. All this, while having fun and exercising in a supportive environment.
The above principles are seriously lacking nowadays. Group sports and most (if not all) other after school activities simply cannot cover the large range of life-enhancing benefits one will find here at our training hall.
You may not know this, but just in March and April, we have addressed and practiced exercises on the following topics at the dojo:
How to identify a bully and what really causes a bully act that way? How do we escape a bully, both physically and mentally? How do we treat others we live with respect and kindness? What is self-control? How can we work on it at home and at school? How to use our voice to be seen and heard in a crowd
Where does happiness come from and how can we hold on to it? How do we keep from getting greedy with our things? How do we share our things with others? How should we talk to our parents? Good words vs. confrontational ones. Why do we procrastinate on chores and homework? What is jealousy and how can we celebrate others successes? What foods are healthy and why is health so important? How do we escape multiple attackers using strategy? How can we learn to speak in public and not be scared or nervous? What is a stranger and what can we do to avoid him? Where do we go if we get lost in public? Why do we say yes ma’am and yes sir? How will manners help us in the long run?
These are just some of the lessons we learned. If your child missed some of these classes, he or she needs to come more often. Coming in once every two weeks just won’t instill these values as well as someone who faithfully attends twice a week.
Just because you cannot see what we are teaching, rest assured we are in fact giving children and adults the tools they need to succeed and become a leader. We take this responsibility with utmost seriousness. If you ever have the time, or choose to make the time, you are most welcome to come in and observe your child’s class. They will love you for seeing what they are training to do, on and off the mats.
As 2012 winds down to it's final evening, this is the perfect time to take a few moments to reflect. Under the stillness and snow, the seeds sleep quietly with patience. The shorter days of winter force us to ponder and wish a bit more at night. Tonight, some people may look out into the sky or snow towards nature, some may light a candle or some incense, some will party, and some will pray. Regardless of who we are as unique individuals, we are also very much one; a fortunate bunch of people, lucky enough to share this wonderful time in history together.
This is the best night to quickly scan back the few memories that really affected us deeply, as we smile at the good times and sometimes even forget to breathe, thinking back at the bad. Breathe. Time to move on...
This is the perfect day for giving ourselves the most recyclable gift we can give - letting go. We can finally choose to forgive those who we chose to relate with and be around. Holding on to the destructive thoughts of sadness, anger and jealousy certainly won't bring us any mental calmness. Clinging to what "should have been" will never allow us to move on and be happy again. We all know this deep down. Easy to say...so very hard to do.
Take a few moments to go over our mistakes we made this past year, and vow silently to try and never repeat them again. The twelve past months of new found wisdom will comfortably usher in another twelve to grow and learn within. We will all get a fresh, clean calendar to work with.
As many will celebrate the traditions of bringing in the new year later tonight, some will reflect alone. No matter where we are or who we are with, we should also create a bit of quiet time to be grateful that we are alive to even see tomorrow's new dawn. The simplest things such as our health, our basic needs met, and people who care and love us should be more than enough to make 2013 the best year of our life, by far.
We do not need anything we do not already have inside us to truly be content and happy.
As one moving group of hope and effort, let us celebrate collectively with purpose and rejuvenated excitement into whatever this new year will bring us.
Wow, how fortunate! How grateful! What an amazing life we all share! Happy New Year to all!
All of us need to be constantly reminded that we are continuously training and trying to get better with age and experience. Here are just a few differences between good and outstanding teachers of any discipline:
A good teacher knows it all. A better teacher says "I do not know".
A good teacher will easily find the flaws in his students in class. A better teacher will spot the good things in everyone.
A good teacher will tell you where to place you foot. A better teacher will ask you where you think your foot should go?
A good teacher will have a story for everything. A better teacher will allow his students to tell their story instead.
A good teacher will show off all the coolest techniques. A better teacher will do drills.
A good teacher can lecture and talk for hours. A better teacher will just shut up and just allow the students to train.
A good teacher will tell you what to think. A great teacher will teach you how to think.
A good teacher will hang with his students on the weekends. A better teacher will always be 3 valleys away.
A good teacher will be good with kids. A better teacher will still be one at heart.
A good teacher will help several students in each class. A better teacher will quietly address all his students individual needs in every class.
A good teacher will be punctual with class times. A better teacher will have to be reminded that the class has ended.
A good teacher talks the talk. A great teacher walks the walk.
A good teacher can recommend good books about his subject. A great teacher can write them.
A good teacher has many students. A great teacher is always a student first.
A good teacher has few flaws. A great teacher shares many.
A good teacher can control others. A great teacher has self-control.
A good teacher teaches from education. A great teacher teaches from experience.
A good teacher is very serious. A great teacher does not take himself too seriously.
A good teacher masters martial arts. A great teacher masters all arts.
A good teacher clings to his beliefs. A great teacher attaches to nothing.
A good teacher will always win. A great teacher will allow his students to win.
This is a tough time of year for many. We want to provide, but cannot afford any more debt for such a short term pleasure. Our children are indoctrinated through friends and media to acquire more stuff, in order to feel happy and part of the group. Knowing this is not true or accurate, role-models for the young must combat the urge to give in and consume the commercialization of the holiday season. Our children simply need time with us, quality time - not new gadgets that just end up stultifying their social growth.
Hold true and fast adults! Take the kids to volunteer at a homeless shelter for a day. Have them cook a meal for an elderly neighbor. Volunteer at an animal shelter. Show them that proper perspective puts everything into place, keeps us grateful, and teaches us that giving is always the better gift.
- Todd Norcross December 2012
The Dojo changes lives...every day!
Don't believe training at The Dojo changes lives every day?
Here is part of a letter I received from a parent, regarding the progress of her son, as a direct result of consistent training.
"...in situations where he previously would have lost self control, he is now frequently making a conscious effort to demonstrate self-discipline by helping out without being asked. He is also working on his homework with more autonomy.
Additionally, he has been getting ready for school and the Dojo on time, by himself, with no arguments. I have seen him consistently paying attention and appropriately participating in classes at The Dojo - as well as the discussions about self-discipline and respect. The positive encouragement from The Dojo is having a wonderful impact on his self-esteem and development."
Do not quit, my friend. You will regret it. Believe me, you will hate yourself for it. You will see your old training friends who endured finally earn their black belts. You will see that they too had tough times; that they too wanted to quit. But...they did not.
Go ahead and tell your friends that you took martial arts for a year or two and earned your yellow, blue, or red belt. Watch their polite indifference.
Some of you will make up false stories (to make your reason for quitting look good, and the school look bad). Nobody is going to be very impressed by the fact that you quit a quarter of the way or halfway through your goal. If you haven't legitimately earned your black belt, it won't hold much water in people's minds. Yes, there is truly something about that magical belt level that will change you forever. It is an awesome feeling, knowing that you committed and followed through. I know hundreds of people who dabbled in martial arts of various styles. "Dabbling" is not as virtuous as "completing". Never forget this. It will save you much regret and unhappiness. The solution:
It is always okay to return exactly where you left off. I am not just talking the martial arts here, but anything you have quit...or anyone you have quit. You are always welcome back into the school at any time, to finish what you started.
No one will mock you. In fact: They will respect you more than ever.