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Stepping out

9 Mar

A year or so ago, a boy and his dad showed up at my Taekwondo school. In my school’s lobby that first visit, “Alex”, about eight years old, hid behind his dad’s leg, not being particularly interactive, and saying he was afraid. The Taekwondo class he observed was intriguing to him, but he kept saying he wasn’t sure he could do it and that he was scared.

You see, Alex has a diagnosis on the autism scale. Continue reading

A little goes a long way

11 Feb

On Monday and Thursday evenings I conduct Taekwondo classes at an elementary school in a nearby town through their school district’s community ed program.  I teach a class of teeny kids, then one for older kids, and then a class for teens and adults.

After teaching the older kids, I had one of my black belts start the adult class and I went to get a drink down the hall. One of my youth students, “William,” a fourth grader who waits while his dad takes part in the adult class, came along with me. We encountered the school custodian on duty, “Tim,” and I introduced Tim to William, since William actually attends that particular school. Continue reading

Monkeys Falling From Trees Like Crazy

16 Dec

“It’s OK; everyone has a bad day.”

There I am on a Saturday morning, having set up an agility course for students in the family class (all ages) at my Taekwondo dojang. An agility ladder. Some orange cones. Some 12″ banana steps.

At 52 years old and 19 years of Taekwondo (and Hapkido, and Kumdo) practice, I consider my footwork to be better than it’s ever been. So, to my chagrin, I demonstrated the course, and proceeded to catch the ladder with my toe several times, knock down a cone, and tip a hurdle. Not only once, but during a repeat demonstration. Continue reading

Listening across 44 years

26 Nov

A couple of Fridays ago I was bell ringing for the Salvation Army at a supermarket in Cloquet (Minnesota) on behalf of my Rotary Club. As I was nearing the end of my shift, a small elderly woman pushing her shopping cart stopped to fish a dollar out of her handbag. After she put it in the red kettle (donate here!) she started chatting with me.

She told me a lot of people need help right now and she tried to do what she could. She explained how she is a Christian woman (Lutheran) and she believes if you are Christian you are supposed to help other people. Continue reading

One small step — for man, and woman

21 Aug

I started dieting yesterday. I’m going to drop 10 pounds in 10 weeks. I’m not following any particular diet. I’m just eating less, eating more sensibly, and making sure I get  a bit more exercise each day.

It’s hard not to notice the number of people who have jumped onto the nutrition shake band wagon. The shakes are pretty low-calorie and while folks are using the shakes they drop weight really fast. That surely excites them, so they stick with it a while and lose an even more remarkable amount of weight (I won’t go into whether they are likely losing mostly fat, or losing too much muscle as well). So, I see some such folk after six weeks and see a remarkable change.

Skip ahead two months. I see the same folks, with the extra weight back on.

Why does this happen? It’s simple: They don’t just eat an apple.

I’ve learned/am learning the hard way that small changes maintained over time have a much bigger and lasting impact than crash approaches. Big diets rarely make it a month. Even if they last longer, one’s return to regular eating is, well, a return to regular, not-so-good eating, which leads back to square one.

I’ve generally stunk at push-ups. When I’ve tried to work them hard in certain rep/set schemes, I never got better at them. Do you know how I got better at them? Just doing a few here and there throughout the day. It started with five: before breakfast, after lunch, returning home from an errand, during a commercial. Never more than that. Easy. Just frequently. Then it was ten at a time. Then sometimes more. Even though I never pushed it hard, it helped me to be able to do an easier twenty, and then past that to twenty-five or thirty. Just a gentle, regular pushing(up) forward.

What do most people get with a big, hard exercise push? A crash: overdoing it, then too many recovery days, then no habit, then stopping. Maybe injury, which postpones everything. Usually discouragement.

Back to eating that apple. When folks have asked me what I suggest to eat better and lose weight, I tell them two simple things:

1) If you tend to eat french fries (or potatoes/hash browns/whatever), don’t. Just don’t order them. Substitute fruits or vegetables if possible. Nine out of ten times is fine.

2) Eat an apple. Get in the habit of eating an apple a day, anytime, but particularly with good timing, such as a between-meal snack when hungry, rather than eating some crap, or before a meal, to help avoid eating more of other stuff that’s probably not as good for your waistline. Heck, eat an apple before a couple of meals.

I can guarantee that if you have some extra fat to lose, just doing those two simple things will take you there. Not overnight. Not this week. Maybe not a whole lot this month. But the small change of eating an apple (and not eating fries) will take hold. It will be a positive habit with good LASTING effect and benefit for months and years.

Whatever you’re thinking you want, or need, to do for betterment in your life, don’t go crazy for a big, immediate sea change. Just take one small action, on a day-by-day or instance-by-instance basis. Let it develop and work its magic over time. Once that small change takes hold, usually after a month or two, then make another, and keep at that one. Over the course of a year, that’s anywhere from six to twelve changes that are part of your life that weren’t there before.

As I’ve matured as an instructor, I don’t tell students more things to work on or change; I tell them less. Often it’s only one thing. Until they start to get that one thing, I resist telling them a different thing.  It doesn’t overwhelm them or make their head spin. It helps them focus. It teaches patience. It makes it do-able. It helps them improve and succeed. That one thing, combined with the multiple other one things I tell them over time, gradually and eventually lead to the most remarkable change.

Just eat an apple.

Just one small thing

21 Jun

At this week’s meeting of my Rotary club we had in attendance our scholarship recipients and their parents. Each year, my club awards several $1,000, and one $1,500, college scholarships. The applicants, who are high school seniors, submit an application which comes with very detailed guidelines about how to prepare the application and essay.

This year, all of the applications were particularly strong. Each one of the applicants was quite impressive, if not outstanding, in their high school and young life involvements and accomplishments. As I worked to rank the applicants, one aspect of one part of their essays became a differentiating factor; one element, glossed over or not, meant the difference between winning and losing. Continue reading

If integrity falls in the woods, does anyone notice it?

11 Jun

Integrity is one of the five formal tenets of Taekwondo. It’s something in which we are supposed to develop as we progress along our martial arts practice and life paths.

In the dojang, we often explain integrity, particularly to kids, simply as honesty and keeping one’s promises. We sometimes explain that integrity further entails elements such as trying your best and doing what you are supposed to do. I’ve explained that it even (or particularly) entails being a good training partner, so that one’s partner is not cheated out of good practice or, worse, gets injured because of one’s action or lack thereof. Continue reading

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