A Rube Goldberg machine is a chain-reaction contraption intentionally designed to complete a simple task in an overly complex way. I remember first learning about them when I was younger and saw a commercial for the board game "Mouse Trap" in which you have to build such a machine to trap your opponents. These mechanisms are laughably complicated, but still mesmerizing to watch.
The chain-reaction part of it is what is most interesting to me. You could have something so small, such as a domino falling or a ball rolling, initiate a whole sequence of events that lead to a (menial) task being performed. At the end of the day, all these components are intertwined, so what happens to one will impact the others.
And this is what happens when people are united together. Whether it be on a soccer team or working together on a group project in school, the choices of one person can positively or negatively affect other people. But when people work together, they can achieve more. However, this is the blog of a martial arts school, and martial arts is not traditionally a team sport. So what does unity have to do with what we practice?
You have to ask yourself what you are trying to achieve through martial arts. Is it about punching or kicking? Is it about beating the competition? No, martial arts are about betterment. We improve ourselves through physical fitness and protect ourselves through self-defense. But that betterment extends past ourselves. We should not only seek to enhance our own lives, but the lives of those around us. And so, like the Rube Goldberg machine, we must remember that our actions affect other people. We are all united together on our walks of life, so as we carry on, we must take into account how we will impact our fellow man.
That's it. This is a short blog post. There's not much more to be said. We must teach students that their life is not just self-serving. Most people may only want to unite with one another to make their lives better. But instead we must want to make other people's lives better because we know that we are already united with one another. Not just united as martial artists, but united as people.
How do you spend your free time? When I'm not hanging out with my family or teaching/practicing martial arts, I enjoy playing video games. That's my hobby and how I unwind after a long day of work. My favorite console is the Nintendo Switch. One neat thing that you can do is click on your profile and the system will tell you how many hours you have spent on a particular game. Suffice to say, there are some rather large amounts of my time I have dumped into video games whose quantity I would prefer to not share with the world.
So let me ask again: How do you spend your free time? They say, "Time is money." There's truth to this. Your time is valuable. Time is a commodity that you cannot purchase more of. There are 24 hours in a day, and once they are gone there is no getting them back. So how you use them is very important. Now I am not saying there is anything wrong with spending time with video games or binging a TV show. If those things help you relax and you enjoy them, then there is definitely value in them. However, we have to make sure that we also balance those things with the important aspects of our life that should take priority.
A great example is exercising. How many hours a week do you spend exercising? The Department of Health and Human Services recommends that adults get around 150 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise a week. This could mean going for a run , playing a sport, or (my personal favorite) attending martial arts classes several times in a week. Binging the latest episodes of Cobra Kai is fine, but not if something important, like exercising, is lacking. The same can be said of anything important, including school, work, or other goals you have for yourself.
One thing that will motivate you to put more time into something is tracking your progress. Going back to my video games, I love when a game gives you a checklist. I really enjoy having a list of achievements to pursue or trinkets to collect. Watching me fill out my progress is satisfying, and the same can be said of working towards a high grade in school or winning games on a team sport. We have to work on ourselves, and instruct our children, on how to set goals and then allot the appropriate amount of time needed for us to be successful at those goals. Coming up with a plan for how to reach those goals and creating clear steps on how to reach it can be helpful in showing people what the time requirements are in order to attain the goal.
Another reason we should have a checklist and clear path to reach our goals is not only to remind us to put in the necessary time, but also to remind ourselves that achieving anything takes time. If on day one of your martial arts training you get frustrated because a particular technique is hard and you stink at it, then you're going to be very likely to quit. But, if you join martial arts, lay out a goal, and understand the path to success, then part of that is knowing that it will take days, weeks, months, or even years to perfect it.
Time is a two way street. You must put in your time to achieve something, and anything worth achieving takes time. If we prepare our minds and the minds of our students to understand that, then large tasks won't seem so daunting. Instead, each punch you throw or math problem you solve will just be a tick on a clock that keeps moving forward towards a goal.
At Trinity Martial Arts, we teach a type of Korean karate known as Tang Soo Do. There is a rich history and tradition in this martial art that we highly value, and part of that is understanding some Korean terminology and the philosophy behind some of that terminology.
One of the terms you may hear us talk about is "Shim Gong" which refers to spiritual power or energy. The martial arts we see in the movies are often explosive and physical. We see heroes doing fancy kicks, jaw-breaking punches, and intense flips and throws. We absolutely have these elements in Tang Soo Do as we practice practical self-defense skills, but there is another side to the coin, that being our spirit.
Shim Gong refers to the internal characteristics of our heart and mind. It is the positive character traits and strong integrity that come from our inner most being that allow us to conquer the challenges we face, both in martial arts and life. This all may sound very hokey and worthy of being put on a Hallmark card, but there is truth to it. Having this spiritual power will give you the flexibility to persevere, to bend, not break, when tough situations arise.
Let's take a look at Dean Karnazes. You may have never heard of him, but he's a truly amazing individual. He is an American ultramarathon runner whose accomplishments include running a marathon in each of the 50 states in 50 consecutive days, swimming across the San Francisco Bay, and winning many races and competitions. He once said, “The human body has limitations; the human spirit is boundless.”
It is true that the human body has limitations. If you do push-ups for hours on end, eventually there will come a time when your body gives out. No matter how strong you are, there is a always a limit. But it doesn't even matter how strong you are if you don't have spirit. You may have the muscles, you may have the brawn, but if you aren't mentally and emotionally prepared to put in the work, to dig deep and push forward, then you won't be able to achieve anything.
That spirit is Shim Gong. We demonstrate this is our martial arts classes all the time. We all answer "Yes Sir!" in a loud voice to show we are listening and prepared to work. We shout "Ki-Ahp!" when we do a technique to increase our power, show confidence, and get ourselves pumped up. We don't just punch with a loose hand, but squeeze our fingers together and do every technique like we are hitting a target. This energy, spirit, or whatever you want to call it is what pushes us to new heights.
Let me put it this way: I have seen people who are not naturally talented at martial arts achieve great things because they had a strong spirit. But I have never seen a student, even those who were very flexible, talented, or gifted, succeed if they did not have the spirit necessary to push forward and become strong.
And spirit doesn't just apply to martial arts or physical activities. We can show our spirit when we work hard in school or at our jobs. We can have a positive and excited attitude when we parent our children or encourage our friends. We may not be yelling "Ki-Ahp!" in those situations, but our spirit shows and it lifts us up.
We all want to be the best we can be, to be strong and successful. Shim Gong, our spiritual power, is one of the keys to the success.
A few weeks ago, we talked about pride. We discussed how it could be a good thing when it focuses on acknowledging your own dignity. This week, we are discussing respect, which means we acknowledge the dignity of other people.
Recognizing that all humans have value and are worthy of respect means that you treat others the way you would want to be treated, regardless of differences between the two of you. This golden rule is taught to us when we are very young, but just because it is preached does not mean it is always practiced. While adults can be held accountable for their own actions, children are in the process of learning. So how do we raise young people to have respect for not just their parents and teachers, but all people?
Demonstrating To Your Child
When we as adults talk about demonstrating respect, it can be done two ways. The first is the obvious one. Your child needs to see you demonstrate respect to other people. Children are sponges. They absorb whatever is around them, even if you didn't mean for them to do so. Let's say you have a neighbor next door that is a bit of a nuisance. You complain about them in front of your son or daughter, maybe even causally call them a name or say how stupid they are. You may not feel like you're teaching your child anything in that moment, but you are. You are putting on a demonstration and you are showing that is OK to talk down about other people. It is OK to use rude names and negative language to talk about another human being.
But what if your neighbor really is a nuisance? Well, you can flip the script and use this opportunity to demonstrate respect. Remember, respect doesn't mean loving every single person you encounter. It means treating them with respect and dignity. So be respectful and if your neighbor is giving you a problem, work out your issues with words and be willing to show grace. This demonstration of proper respect will have just as much of an impact on your child as your negative words would. And not only are you teaching your child how to act, but you are acting in a positive way yourself.
Respecting Your Child
But I said there were two ways to demonstrate respect. Not only must you demonstrate respect to others, but you must also show respect to your child.
This may seem odd at first. As a parent, we "outrank" our child, or as a teacher, we are in a position of authority above our students. But respect just means that we show each other dignity. Think of it this way: When you speak to a young person, do you speak to them the same way you would speak to a colleague at work? What I mean is that you shouldn't be condescending to another adult, so we shouldn't use that type of language for our children.
Now don't get me wrong. You absolutely should discipline your child. That's an important part of teaching right from wrong. But how you discipline is crucial. This may mean remaining calm and not raising your voice. It could also mean not embarrassing them in front of their siblings or friends. Respect is about treating others with dignity. If you do this for your child, they will being to feel more confident and proud (in a good way). And they will also understand the golden rule. They will slowly learn what it is like to have positive, respectful relationships, and so they will do that for other people as well.
"I'm not concerned with your liking or disliking me … All I ask is that you respect me as a human being." - Jackie Robinson
This week, we are talking about what it means to be a person of high quality. Whether it is at school, work, or in martial arts, what does it take to be a person that is known for being the best of the best?
I'm going to take this as an opportunity to nerd out about one of my favorite things: video games. I really enjoy playing video games and Nintendo is one of my favorite companies. Their first home console, the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) released in 1985. This was a very interesting time in the video game industry as the market for games had essentially crashed. No one wanted them anymore and that was in part to a lack of quality games. Game companies were pumping out as many games as possibly and the majority of them were shoddy, at best.
But then Nintendo came along with their console and it was a major success. This was because they took the time, effort, and money required to make a great game. Instant classics such as Mario and Zelda were known for being high quality. They were fun, well-made, and worth the money.
Even today, 35 years after the release of the NES, Nintendo games are still known for being great. While other games will go on sale after a few months of being on store shelves, Nintendo games rarely get a discount and if they do, it's not by much. Why? Because they know the quality of their merchandise and that quality costs money.
That's the point I am trying to make. If you want to be a person of high quality, it is going to cost you. It may not take money, but it will cost you your time and effort. If you want to be an A+ student, it is going to take time as you study. If you want to be an amazing martial artist, it's going to take your effort and energy to train. You cannot just wake up one day and say, "Today I am going to be awesome." If you want to be awesome, then it needs to be a continuous practice.
At one point or another in our lives, we have looked a person of good quality and said, "I want to be like them." Maybe you looked at a very healthy individual and thought that you should start working out and eating healthier. Or maybe you saw an entrepreneur on television who made a lot of money and considered starting your own business. It is easy to look at a successful person and desire what they have. Most people will look at someone who is rich, beautiful, or talented and see their life sparkle and shine like silver. But what they don't see is the time and energy that went into polishing that silver.
In the age of social media and celebrity influencers, I have so many young students (and some adults) get star struck and have ideas of grandeur. There is nothing wrong with having big dreams or goals, but what's important is understanding that attaining those ambitions does not happen over night. It takes work-- hard work. It doesn't matter if its perfecting your side kick or improving your grades. If you want to be a person of high quality then your are going to have to put in the time and effort.
A few months ago, we talked with our students about humility (you can check out that blog post HERE). In our discussions with our students, we pointed out that you can be humble and confident at the same time. We noted that you can only truly be humble if you have nothing to prove, and from that comes a confidence in where you're currently at.
That confidence can go by another name: Pride. By definition, pride is a consciousness of one's own dignity. If you are aware that your life and actions have value, then that satisfying feeling you get when you look in the mirror and reflect on your life is called "pride".
But there are two types of pride. First, there is pride that elevates you up. When you accomplish a goal, you absolutely should feel pride. That gratification you feel when you think about who you are should give you a confidence boost as you realize that you are a valuable member of society.
But negative pride doesn't elevate yourself by reflecting on who you are as a person. Instead, it boosts your confidence by putting other people down. Remember, pride is an acknowledgment of your own dignity. But if you feel proud because you are "better" than the person next to you, then you are not acknowledging anything about yourself, but instead belittling your neighbor.
That's the first point I want to make: Pride, when felt correctly, comes from who YOU are and not from who SOMEONE ELSE is.
But let's take that a step further. How do you know you should feel pride? Do you feel pride when you get up in the morning and look at yourself in the mirror? Or do you only feel proud when someone pays you a compliment about how nice you look today?
I think about this a lot with my daughters. Most likely, there will come a day when they want to wear make up. Now, I am not against it, but I want to make sure they understand how to use it correctly. They should not wear make up so that other people will think they are pretty. That's not pride, in fact, it's a lack of confidence because you are depending on the opinion of other people. But that doesn't mean make up is evil. No, make up is fine but it should be used only if you want to use it. It should be used because it makes you feel good. And if you are truly taking pride in yourself, then that feeling of dignity doesn't leave when you wipe the make up off. Because true pride is about being happy with who you are.
Now I used make up as an example, but it could be applied to wearing fancy clothes or trying to achieve good grades. Those aren't bad things, but they shouldn't be the reason you feel proud of yourself. Remember you don't have value because people love you or you have the nicest clothes, or the prettiest hair or the best front kick. You have value. Period. You need to love yourself and take pride in who you are. When you look in the mirror, be proud of who you see. There is no one else like you, so be the best you that you can be.
When you want to do something, you first need to make sure you have all that is required to complete the task. If you want to build a piece of furniture, then you need to acquire the lumber and tools. If you want to bake a cake, you need to have flour, eggs, and other ingredients. But what about achieving your goals and dreams? What are the prerequisites needed to complete such grand accomplishments.
Helen Keller, the famous American author and activist, who lost both her sight and hearing at a young age, argued that one of the requirements to any achievements was optimism. She said, "Optimism is the faith that leads to achievement. Nothing can be done without hope and confidence." Often times, we describe optimism as just being happy or looking on the bright side of things. But Keller uses different words to describe optimism, specifically "hope" and "confidence".
Hope and confidence are the expectation that something will happen. Without these beliefs, then our hard work and practice become meaningless. After all, what is the point of studying if we don't believe we can pass the test? No, we require optimism, that is, the expectation that we can succeed, if we have any chance at actually doing so.
Cut the Negativity
So how do we consistently develop an attitude of optimism? The first thing we can do is guard our minds. When we find ourselves reacting to a situation in a negative light, we must quickly redirect our thoughts to a more optimistic outlook.
Ask yourself: where can I find hope in this situation? Once you've identified that, focus on it. Drive yourself towards that goal with confidence. Like Keller said, faith leads to achievement, so have faith that you'll have the outcome you desire. If you control your thoughts in that way, your actions, mood, and efforts will follow.
Think about the most successful people you know. Do you think they found their greatest joys by doubting themselves and being pessimistic? Probably not. Cut that out of your life. Or when you see it in your child's life, try and gently redirect them. Children are sponges. They absorb what's around them. So when you see an opportunity to demonstrate optimism, let them soak that in.
Optimistic But Not Ignorant
They say ignorance is bliss. However, we don't want our students to be blindly hopeful. If a family member has a serious illness, then you have to accept that reality. You cannot just hope that it will magically go away.
But optimism doesn't just mean being ignorant and naive. If a family member is sick, be hopeful about the possibilities. What treatments did the doctor offer? What can you do to help? Focus on these glimmers of hope and reach for them. Believe that they will succeed. That's what optimism is about. Focus on hopeful possibilities instead of negative prospects.
Now, when we teach this to children we must remind that they things may still go wrong. Just because we are optimistic doesn't mean everything will turn out OK. But even when things don't go our way, there is another opportunity for optimism. As you walk through life, be confident that whatever is on the other side is a good thing. And if not, there is always a chance to turn a corner. And another, and another.
What are some popular slogans you can think of? You may immediately think of something like "America Runs on Dunkin" or "Got Milk?", but perhaps one of the most famous marketing campaigns comes from Nike with their "Just Do It" slogan.
The campaign's hit slogan has an interesting origin. It's creator, Dan Wieden, who came up with the slogan in the late 80's, was inspired by the story of Gary Gilmore. Gilmore was a convicted murderer who was executed by firing squad in 1977. If you read about his trial and time in prison, you'll find that he was the first person to be executed in the United States in nearly a decade, so he was well known in the news. Before his death, he was asked if he had any last words, to which he replied, "Let's do it."
When Wieden pitched his campaign slogan of "Just Do It" to Nike, it wasn't that he was inspired by Gilmore's life, but rather the definitive intention in his final statement. For a up and coming sports and fashion brand, this idea of laying out all your cards on the table and committing to your goals was something the brand wanted to capture and capitalize on. And thus, one of the most famous slogans came to be and is still in use over thirty years later.
Why We Wait
Now obviously neither I or Wieden are trying to glorify Gilmore's life or say that justice wasn't served, but there is an interesting parallel to be drawn from his story. When faced with death (even deserved death), Gilmore did not flinch. He didn't beg or plea, he didn't stall or try to run away, he simply committed to the task laid before him, though unpleasant and terrifying.
A lot of times, the reason we put something off is because it is difficult or scary. Instead of acting in the present, we push off tough tasks, hoping that we will be better equipped to deal with them in the future. But what if we followed Nike's slogan and instead of thinking about the unpleasantries, we just focused on the "now". What if we "just do it" and continue putting one foot in front of the other.
A lot of the time, we put too much focus on the future. We talk about how difficult an exam will be so that studying seems useless. We concentrate on how tough the competition will be so we become too scared to enter the contest. But if we commit to the task at hand and just dive right in, we can grow and learn. And who knows...we may even succeed.
Changing Our Mindset
There is a great quote from Theodore Roosevelt in which he said, "The only man who makes no mistakes is a man who never does anything." The former president presents two mindsets. A person who focuses on their fear of making mistakes and the person who focuses on taking action. You may be one or the other, but you will never be both.
We should teach our children that it is better to take action and fail than it is to procrastinate out of fear or difficulty and never have the opportunity to succeed. It is great to have big goals, but sometimes we must step back and focus on just moving one foot forward, one step at a time. Instead of saying, "You can do 100 push ups," you can instead say, "Wow, you did five push ups today! I bet tomorrow you can do six!" If we can support our children in their small accomplishments, then the large ones won't seem so impossible.
So what about in our own lives? Ask yourself, "What am I achieving by putting it off another day?" The answer you'll find (most likely) is that your not achieving anything. Once you realize that, ask yourself the opposite: "What can I achieve if I was to start right now?" You may not be about to reach some gigantic, magnificent achievement, but you'll be moving in the right direction, and that is a success.
This week, students have been hearing and discussing the subject of loyalty and what it means to be a loyal person. This is a subject that has a fine line. On one hand, loyalty is a great character trait. Being loyal shows a commitment to a person, to support them in good times and bad times. For example, we see this displayed in friendships and marriages when people support one another and stick together through thick and thin.
But on the other hand, we don't want to teach our students to be loyal blindly. You shouldn't be loyal to a person who is abusive or constantly treats you harshly. Loyalty is a two way street. It must be given in order to be received.
My wife makes fun of me (jokingly) because I am a very loyal person. For example, there is a sushi restaurant that we go to. They have great food and the service is always friendly. Every now and then my wife will suggest a different sushi restaurant we should try, but I am always vehemently against it. It's not there is anything wrong with trying out a new restaurant. It's just the our usual restaurant is consistently good, I enjoy them, and honestly, I feel their dependable service deserves my loyalty. In this example, my loyalty was earned, but that's not the only type of loyalty.
Let me expand the analogy. A few months ago we got takeout from our favorite sushi restaurant and when I got home, I realized they had forgotten to give me an appetizer we had ordered. Was this a reason to never go back? Absolutely not! Maybe they were having a very busy night, or perhaps their chef was new and got confused. Either way, being loyal means that when a mistake happens or a situation takes a turn for the worse, you stick with the person you are loyal to. Loyalty can be earned and reciprocated, but at the end of the day, it should extend past a simple transaction and become a foundational part of a relationship.
Now, I should mention that I calmly called the restaurant to let them know they had forgotten my appetizer and they were super apologetic and gave me a free credit for the next time I came in. Why? Because they valued my business and their loyalty to me was just as important as my loyalty to them.
Now this may seem like a silly example. Obviously, if I order from this restaurant and the next ten times I go to pick up my food and its disgusting and incorrect, then I will take my business elsewhere. But loyalty means I at least give them a chance. And though this may not be applicable to this particular analogy, if there was anything I could do to help out my friend or family who I am loyal to, then I would gladly do it. Loyalty is the hand that extends a ladder to pick a friend up out of the pit of despair rather than running away to find a new friend.
Let's extend the example just a bit further. Let's say that just down the road, a new sushi place opened up. This new joint is (maybe) just as good food-wise, but its got bells and whistles. They have a koi pond in the lobby and neon lighting above each table. They even have one of those inflatable wavy hand guys outside. Do I abandon my current restaurant and go to the one that has all the buzz? Probably not. I mean, again, this is an extreme example, but my point is that loyalty is faith in a person, place, or idea, and true loyalty means a commitment to the well being of such.
Trinity Martial Arts is so thankful for the loyalty of our students. It is their commitment to our school, instructors, and art that makes this a school that transcends simply being a martial arts facility, and make us a positive relational family. And our commitment is to be loyal to our students, always doing what is best for them and promoting their growth and success inside and outside of our training space. Thank you and Tang Soo!
Do you or your child want to develop positive character traits such as loyalty? Contact Trinity Martial Arts to find out more about our martial arts program, focusing on traditional martial arts, self-defense, and life skills needed to succeed in whatever it is they do!
When I was a teacher, I would often be frustrated when teaching multiplication facts. We would spend weeks teaching children to memorize 3 x 3 = 9. Eventually, they got it and when given a speed test, they could calculate their times tables in record speed. The frustrating part was when we got to the word problems. A student could easily know their multiplication facts, but it is a completely different skill to understand when to use that knowledge and how to apply it to the real world. You may know that 3 x 4 = 12, but when I give you a scenario with three baskets, each holding four balls, you have to have an understanding of how that piece of information will help you calculate the total.
This illustrates the difference between simply knowing something and having knowledge about a given topic. True knowledge comes not through memorization of facts, statistics, or talking points, but through practice and becoming familiar with the application of a given subject matter. When we educate our children, either in school or at home, it is so, so important that we teach our children not only information, but application.
This skill can be practical. For example, in martial arts we practice hyungs, which is Korean for "forms". These are a pattern of movements and techniques. While they are beautiful to watch and an important part of our art form, their purpose does not only lie in the beauty of the movements. A black belt may know many forms, but unless they know the application of the techniques, they will not be able to defend themselves.
Teaching application can also be more abstract. It is very easy to tell our children rhetoric like "treat others the way you want to be treated" but to actually dive into a conversation about why empathy is important takes a lot more work. Teaching martial artists a pattern of movement or telling children morals they should live by are simple facts that can be retained by anyone. But having knowledge about how to use those facts requires a deeper understanding. And that is the goal of our instruction: to help kids understand more deeply, to gain not just information, but knowledge.
Teaching a Deeper Understanding of Knowledge
When you go to college for education, you learn about something called "Bloom's Taxonomy". It is a simple framework that outlines different levels of understanding for how a student's understanding and application of knowledge progresses. But there is a much simpler way of understanding how to teach our children to know more deeply, and it uses interrogative words.
That may sound complex, but you already know these words. They are who, what, where, when, why, and how. The first four words (who, what, where, when) are simple. If you ask a question beginning with one of these words, the answer will usually be a few words. It requires you to state a simple fact. For example, if I ask, "Who should you be kind to?", the answer would be simple: my siblings, friends, parents, etc. But the last two words (why and how) require a deeper understanding. If I ask "Why should I be kind to others?" or "How can I show kindness to others?", that requires more thought of how to apply the concept of kindness.
When we teach children (or even adults) to have a greater understanding of knowledge, we should shift our questioning to use those higher level interrogative words. If you do this, you may find that what you know is a lot less than what you thought you knew. I don't mean that in a disrespectful way, but our goal is to not just know facts or rhetoric, but to have true knowledge, that is, a deep understanding, of the world around us.
What's interesting about this discussion is that when we talk about how to teach knowledge, it begins with questions. Using words like "how" or "why" show that we don't have a full grasp on a topic. Perhaps the first bit of knowledge we should acquire is the fact that we don't know much. Assuming this posture of humility, combined with the desire to grow and improve, will set you and your children on a path to success. I mentioned Bloom's Taxonomy before. Do you know what the highest level of the framework is? It is not the ability to analyze or evaluate, but the ability to use our knowledge to create. If we gain true knowledge, we can use it to create wonderful things, perhaps even a better world for generations to come.
About the Author
Master Matthew Eyler is a 4th degree black belt in the Korean martial art of Tang Soo Do and a New York State certified general and special education teacher. He has over 20 years experience practicing self-defense and teaching students of all ages and abilities.