Goal Setting, Self-Motivation & Self-Discipline Feed

41. It's A New Year and It's Time To Be Selfish!

Today's the first day of 2009 and right about now everyone is sitting with a cup of coffee in one hand and a pen in the other diligently writing out all the resolutions that they aren't going to follow through on during the year.

You know the ones; I resolve to lose weight, get back into shape, be nicer to the doorman, kiss my dog and not beat my spouse and pet my kids more often (huh?  Wait a second, I got that backwards!) ..... oh bother! .... never mind!

So of course what else would you expect Sensei to do other than to encourage everyone to make that resolution to go to class and spend more time on the mat?????

I recently was sent an email by one of my black belts who, as part of his resolution (actually made back before Christmas ..... it WAS Christmas by the way and not some arcane "Holiday Season") has pledged to me that he will learn "X" Kata (several actually) and hone them until they shine all in preparation for doing a mid-level Yudansha promotional demo by the end ot 2009.

We'll see.  I know that he has all the right intentions but I've been in this game of professional level martial arts long enough to understand just what a big wad of double-bubble he's bit off especially when dealing with me.  My performance expectations are reasonable but high so if he, or any other of my Yudansha, want to chew that cud, then I'll work with them but I'll most certainly expect them to commit to the process or the next time they come to me wanting what could turn out to be several hundred hours of personal attention I might give them a Sphinx/Zen-Like smile and quote a little Yoda to them, and nothing more.

For me personally, making resolutions and annual commitments has become a more-than-serious ritual, one that has both enhanced my life and frustrated me immensely.  My problem is getting diverted from watching the ball so lets look at this for one (maybe two) seconds and while you are reading this think about how many areas in your life it can apply to and how the concept (and not the specifics) can prevent you from falling into the trap that I have committed to not make "one more time" this year.

A business associate who shall go unnamed and who won't read this anyway is completely undisciplined and it shows; in his desk condition, in his professional income and in his personal life.  He forever makes commitments that he fails to keep because some problem always comes up that takes his attention away and he is always getting "hammered" by someone because of it (bill collectors, the tax man, his wife, his partner).  So, in an effort to "prop him up" every time he walks into my office expressing too much un-male emotion over "one more issue" my response is a cross between friendly understanding and support, and brutal tough love "a-hole style".

The result of this is that with my focus taken off-line I failed to make the sales production goal that I had set for myself last New Year's.  Waaaahhhh! ..... but you know, it is ENTIRELY MY FAULT! .... and I have absolutely no one to blame but myself.

That fact that he can't focus past the wart on the end of his nose should not divert me from my goals as long as those goals I have set for myself are reasonable AND as long as I have met the commitments to others that are on line.

Ayn Rand wrote a short book (compared to Atlas Shrugged everything she wrote was short) titled The Virtue of Selfishness.  The title alone puts some people off but once read and understood, it makes perfect sense and is a great guide to live your life by.  In a nut shell.................

There is no such thing as altruistic behavior because no one does something for no reason and not expecting something in return.  If you do a favor for someone it's because you view it as the right thing to do but you expect either monetary compensation or job promotion or a "thank you for your help" or at the very, very least one or two "atta boy's". 

Bur sometimes what is called "altruism" really isn't and it can be guilt driven and that altruistic/guilt-driven behavior can divert you from what really matters.

eg: Why give your last dollar bill to charity if you can't feed your family just because your minister told you to?  Why exhaust yourself emotionally, spiritually, and health wise taking care of someone who is fully capable of helping themselves unless you expect some kind of recognition (like I was doing with my business associate)?  Why give of yourself, if you have nothing left to give just because societal "norms".

Why divert yourself from your resolutions if you know they are right for you, good for you, will help you grow and over time will make you a better, more mature person/parent/spouse/sibling/teacher/student/Aikido player just because ..... someone told you too or "suggested" you to or  ...... whatever way they make you take your "eye off the ball".

So the entire thrust of her writing was be selfish (when appropriate), be self centered (when appropriate) and don't allow others to "guilt" you into NOT doing what you know is right for you in the long run.

So whether your resolution is to come to class more often or lose weight or quit smoking, etc., etc., be careful to NOT allow others to divert your pledge to yourself ......... be true to yourself and follow thru for a change.

For me ........... my business associate was told several times over the last 30 days after an abysmal year of sales production that it's time to poo or get off the training potty.  My goals are set and regardless of what he can or is unable to do, I'm moving forward both for my mental view of myself as being a successful businessman but also for the good of my family who will benefit once I make my goals. 

Lead ..... follow .... or get the HELL out of my way!  But this wagon is moving forward, the same advice I'm giving that Yudansha who wants to demo, and the same advice that you should give yourself when you look in the mirror this morning and shine your pearly whites'.

See you on the mat/health club/Weight Watchers Group/religious study group/gourmet cooking class ....................... whatever your resolution this year may be.

L.F. Wilkinson Sensei
Aikibudo Kancho
Aikibudokan, Houston, TX
New Year's Day, 2009


37. Sigh ..... it's Christmas. Oh Bother!

Here I sit me down to work,
my feet are cold and my head it hurt.

I'd rather be home in bed,
but my family, they must be fed.

Paperwork and all of that,
my brain fly around like a bat.

Streaming tunes off the web,
Phish, Tragically Hip and Republic Tigers said....

don't be sad, just rock and tap,
you may be down, but it's not all that bad.

Others have it so much worse,
so spend some bucks, reach in that purse.

"It's the little things", Bob Schneider sang,
so put on your gi, and ukemi that thang.

(by lf wilkinson at 6 am before the first of coffee)

It sometimes amazes me how you can sit there before breakfast and before coffee, listening to streaming web radio and hearing "indie" groups that you would never have known about if Clear Channel and FM were still the only choices.  Technology is wonderful for expanding the choices in life but sometimes we lose sight of the fact that the simple things that don't involve technology are truly the most important.

They enrich our lives, teach us new personal skills, increase our self-awareness and self-esteem and allow us to enjoy everything else around us since the personal improvements involved increase our perceptions and our appreciation of shibumi and elegance.

The holidays, especially when they arrive after a long, worthlessly stressful year seem overwhelming to the point that we can't focus on those simple things; like Aikido practice.

Right now I'm stressed due to FYE (fiscal year end) deadlines that clients have to meet which means that I have to work harder to assist them and my wife is stressed due to some of the same demands from her job in the medical industry, along with doing a gift list for generally unappreciative relatives who always want more, meeting the financial issues involved with that and trying to pass classes and certification testing for career advancement which she's been doing for most of the year; class after class after........

The one factor tho' that helps me make it through is Aikido.  The work, the ukemi, the sweating, the camaraderie of the players is always, always a welcome relief.  Even though it seems like we need to spend more and more time at the desk and at work and then more and more time at home worrying and fretting about it, the simple truth of the matter is that Aikido is so vastly removed from those other problems, that it serves as a mental vacation.  Plus the endorphins that we produce during training purges our systems of the toxins that weaken us and make the stress all that more destructive.

So, grab a cup'o'joe, turn up the music and after work go to class.  Work off that stress and improve who you are.  Who knows?  You might actually get some of that "Christmas Spirit" everybody talks about.

L.F. Wilkinson Sensei
Aikibudo Kancho
Aikibudokan, Houston, TX
December 2008


6. Missed Opportunity

Come To Class (CTC).

I end almost every communication to my students with those three simple letters; CTC.

Why do I do that? Why do I bother? Isn’t the motivation to come to class and train supposed to come from within? Isn’t it the Aikido players’ job to get him or herself to class and isn’t it not Sensei’ responsibility to remind them?

Well, yes and no, definitely maybe, and it depends. Don’t you just love Zen-style answers?

Yes, we should all be self-motivating. No, most of the time most of us fail at self-motivation even when we try to be good about it. Definitely maybe; sometimes we fail to self-motivate so others need to give us a little encouragement once in a while. It depends; on what you expect from your martial arts study and conversely what Sensei wants you to achieve.

Notice that I said, “What Sensei wants you to achieve”, not what he expects from you.

Any good Sensei, note …… ANY GOOD SENSEI (and I’m not talking about some schmuck teacher out for a dollar or two) puts everything they have on the line and throws out everything in their head for you to take advantage of and learn because every time they look at a class of white belts, they don’t see white belts, they see an entire flock of hakama wearing, uke throwing, ukemi taking 7th and 8th dans; not a bunch of beginners.

Sensei knows the potential that a 20 or 30 year study of Aikido can accomplish in reshaping your life in a dynamically positive and productive fashion and wants to create an environment in which you can take advantage of the opportunity. Having been through it, he also knows that you cannot see the kind of person you will be after 20 years on the mat. It is truly esoteric and cannot be explained. It can only be experienced after your having passed through it and after your having arrived at Hanshi (exemplar) level. Only then will you understand viscerally. Until then everything Sensei says about the long-term benefits is only ephemeral smoke with a few mirrors thrown in for you to comb your hair in and do a little martial preening in.

So Sensei, a good Sensei, will encourage you to attend class every time he sees you, and it’s for your benefit and not his health. He wants you to be exposed to the material and to be in the dye vat so-to-speak so that it (the knowledge) will rub off on you.

Most, I said MOST of the really high-level knowledge you gain after years on the mat does not come from class per-se because normal beginner/mid-level classes almost by definition must be taught at a level that best imparts basic fundamental operating principles of the art from. Therefore, it cannot be a high-level seminar and true Yudansha level information that is learned and internalized therefore is best done during extra training either before or after class or during spontaneous training sessions like 10 PM on a Friday night.

Advanced understanding is strange. It is osmotic. It seeps into you because you walked by the dripping faucet, metaphorically speaking. It occurs because you got to the dojo early one night and just from sitting on the side watching other players fool around before class bows-in, you overhear them discussing that one technique that has dealt you fits for the last 6 months. You know the one, the one that has you thinking that you need to quit because you’ll never understand it, never get it. It frustrates you. It gives you nightmares and you wake up at 3 AM and watch the fan go around in circles while the technique roams around inside your head like Ueshiba's cat looking for a sake cup of milk that he can’t find.

Well, they’re having trouble also with the same technique but suddenly, during their discussion they make that one comment or do that one really good looking throw that sticks in your mind and suddenly the lights go off in your head, “My gawd! They make it sound so simple! Why didn’t I see that before?”

Now here’s the rub …………. If you hadn’t just happened to be at the dojo that night and hadn’t just happened to overhear the conversation you would never have found the answer to your question. It was serendipity, in a martial-artisty kind of way.

And that’s the point that Sensei knows and tries to communicate to all his players and why he keeps saying to just come to class. If you simply come to train and hang at the dojo and just do a little work, then how much information and knowledge will you get from that spontaneous conversation? How many questions will be answered by you being thrown that one extra time and by your getting a feel for that off-balance that had escaped you until that one moment? How much knowledge will you gain by working randori with someone and you throw them and they jump up from the tatami and ask, “What the hell was that? I tried to resist and it felt like all I did was throw myself into the floor for you. What did you do? That was wonderful! Throw me again ….. PLEASE!”

And you’re standing there like a fool, confused because you know they went over but it was soooooo easy that you can’t believe that it was you that did the throw; so you act cool and not confused and of course take credit and smile and go home that night standing a little bit straighter and feeling a little bit more like O’Sensei must have felt his first time.

And now you wake up at 3 AM watching the fan go around in circles and all you say is, “Wow!” …… and of course your spouse rolls over and asks “What?” and you just tell them , “Nothing dear. Go back to sleep.” They of course can’t see the big grin on your face.

If you had stayed home that night; if you had gone to happy hour and addlepated your brain with liquid hallucinogens decorated with slices of pineapple and little umbrellas, if you had gone to sleep on the couch in front of that new plasma, then you would have missed that one moment that had the potential to make all the difference to your martial arts career.

The real problem here is that you don’t know when “That Moment” will occur, when Sensei will give that one lesson or make that one comment or that one correction that makes the difference. So if you make a habit of always missing classes and sporadically training or of always arriving exactly at class time and never staying for extra work, “Gotta go home now, bye!”, how many “Moments” will you miss?

Remember, the potential is there for at least one “Moment” per class, and the more black belts on the mat at one time, the larger the dynamic database is and the larger the number of interactions between players and the greater the number of possible “Moments” becomes.

As an example, one of my high-level players who is currently focused on an intense study of randori and kata came up to me two weeks after I was working with him and another Renshi level player. He said that my teaching about “pegging” the attacker’s weight on one foot momentarily will affect his balance and postural control such that it opens him up for a terminal waza, had opened his eyes and that it was a great lesson that he now needed to work on.

It had made all the difference to him BECAUSE HE WAS IN CLASS THAT NIGHT AND JUST HAPPENED TO BE WORKING WITH ME AT “THE MOMENT”.

It was serendipity. I made the comment not because I had planned it as part of some larger lesson plan, because it fit the circumstances at that point in time. I may not teach that lesson in that specific way for another 6 months or possibly 2 or 3 years because it just popped out of me, being stimulated by their questions and that specific circumstance in the time-space continuum.

And, if they hadn’t been in class that night they would not have heard and could have quit over not hearing and having that technical issue haunt them until the frustration became so bad that they simply couldn’t stand it anymore; and they quit.

So grasshopper …… how many lessons have you missed lately?

L.F. Wilkinson Sensei

Aikibudo Kancho

July 2008


5. Vision

In order to succeed in the martial arts one must have a long term vision or goal; a vision that keeps the mind focused and maintains training momentum.

Without a vision of where you are going, there will be no way to get there.

However, and this is a really big however, the vision does not have to be specific. Instead, it should be generalized and broad.

For example; a vision/goal that is too specific would be one such as, "I want to be a black belt".  The possible result of this specificity is that once you make black belt, any black belt, that you'll subconsciously "quit" AND that without being aware of it your mind will tell you, "OK. I made black belt.  I made that specific goal.  It's time to do something else now".

Or,  you’ll tell yourself that you made the goal and now you can kick-back and go lazy with the eventual result that you’ll become frustrated at no longer progressing or become bored with the routine of “just going” to class, and you'll quit.

This is a way (one of many) of how the human mind works.  Because you set only a small, relatively short term goal, once its' accomplished, once it's done, you move on.  Unless one is very, very self-disciplined it is extremely difficult to get ramped back up, to get re-motivated and then set another relatively short term goal and to go back into training.

Many motivational experts who are Western trained will recommend setting a series of short term goals as a means of reaching a large one at the end.  The problem with this however, IMHO, is that you are still setting short termers so now you have to discipline yourself to go thru' a whole series of short termers' to get to the big one.  I don't see the difference here because all you've really done is to set a whole series of opportunities to quit.  I prefer the Japanese method of setting a goal so far out you can never finish it with the result being you get further down the road to that impossible-to-reach goal than the folks who set all the short term goals ever could.

By setting a broad, generalized goal such as "I want to learn everything about Aikido that I possibly can", you will never be finished.  Every time you make another promotion, every time you learn a new kata, you have advanced but since you know there is more to learn and more to achieve, you are still hungry for the knowledge and you stay with it. 

Every time you go to the dojo and train, you advance, achieve and progress forward and, you feel good about it because you know there are always other hills to climb and other achievements to accomplish.

Over time you realize that training in Aikido, indeed in any true martial art, is a process of gradual, steady learning without end and with no goal other than to learn everything about Aikido that you can.

Aikido is a process; not a goal in and of itself.

Aikido is a process of improving your life. It's not an end to anything.

It's only a means to self-improvement without an end (unless of course you are so smug and arrogant that you think that you are just perfect like you are and that there is no need for you to learn anything new or to work to become a better person).

Try having and raising kids and you'll understand this better.  Having children make will make an honest woman or man out of you. How could you ever tell your kids that they should just stop where they are and not learn, improve, progress?  Answer is; you can't unless you engage in massive self-deception or are egocentric.  So, if you can't tell your kids (to quit learning) then you shouldn't tell yourself that you should either.

This is how I became Hanshi and now run one of the largest dojo in Houston, TX.

I went to class on a steady weekly basis and never thought about any promotion. Other than Shodan every one after that came as a surprise because I was so focused on training that I became myopic about grading.

I only thought about wanting to learn everything that I could and only considered becoming more skillful. I just followed the steady process of training, of keeping a positive attitude and of not worrying about where I was going; other than to learn everything about Aikido that I could.

I'm still here after 40 years and every time I step on the mat, every time I watch a class, every time I teach a lesson, I learn something new and hopefully become a better person.

Aikido ……….. a process of learning without an ending.

 L.F. Wilkinson Sensei

Aikibudo Kancho

July 2008 (orig. pub. April 2007)


2. Rhythm in Aikido

At age 56 I find I must work steadily to stay in shape, for both daily living and in order to be able to train in Aikido. Part of that routine consists of training at the gym at least 4 to 5 days each week. I schedule my day such that after rising I take the kids to school, train at the gym, go to the office, leave and train and teach at the dojo and then take it home and hit the showers and the rack.

While in the gym I train by myself, having lost my training partner many years ago. I have found that when set up properly (as in having a goal and making a plan to get there) solo training is more than adequate to get a lot of work done and stay in good physical condition. I also have found that the gym has become my Zen meditation time each day as correct resistance training requires shutting out everything around you and focuses your attention on the moment. After all, when you lift heavy weight above your head you better learn focus and have a studied calmness and centered-ness, otherwise you can blow out a joint or drop the plates on yourself.

The early morning training regimen is my quiet time during which I calm down my mind, focus on the day, consider problems that have been vexing me and letting my subconscious mind find the answer, solving issues, considering dojo events, teaching ideas, randori problems, etc. In essence, I spend the hour and a half doing a combination of mental Zen and mental Aikido.

Quietly keeping to ones self during training, but nonetheless being surrounded by dozens of people of all sorts, allows for a lot of really good people watching. There is a small percentage of men and women like me who train seriously, don’t BS a lot, focus on the moment and on their personal development and who calmly get the job done. They don’t look like a ball of fire but then as the old fairy tale goes, slow and steady wins the race.

Most people in the gym however are what I would consider to be tourists; there to look good or to gossip, to half heartedly try something before going to the chicken fried steak house down the street, or surprisingly one women who goes on a daily basis, lifts less weight than my 9 year old daughter and carries a stack of fashion magazines around with her. She sits on a machine, works with not enough weight to make any difference and after doing one very short set, proceeds to sit and read thus requiring people to walk up to her and ask, “So, are you actually going to work out or what?” in order to have their turn on the machine.

So now that I have given out too much information, the crux of this piece on training consists of the idea of relaxed but focused work done in a smooth and comfortable rhythm. This rhythm allows us to learn, progress and grow without wearing us down. It is totally different from how many people view working at the gym or at the dojo; frantically trying to progress, wearing themselves out in the process before finally burning out and going home.

I and all the other serious people at the gym don’t hurriedly rush from weight to weight or machine to machine. We all have a paper in our hand and we mark where we are and how much improvement we have made. We walk unhurriedly from exercise to exercise but we do it consistently and we do it the same day each week and we make progress all the time, week after week, month after month and year after year. In short, we have learned to set a rhythm to our training and to our lives that allows for slow but steady progress and advancement. This relaxed rhythm allows for a stress free mood to take control and does not allow the gym to impinge itself upon work or family life; it simply is just another small part of who we are and fits quite nicely. By not obsessing over the gym, it’s easy to do. It’s just on the daily schedule and if a true crisis arises we can easily skip one day and get back to it the next.

Aikido training is no different at all.

I have for years been a very large advocate of the concept of getting an appointment book just like at the office and after looking at my entire life, picking two days a week to go to class and train in the martial arts. I establish a rhythm to my Aikido training and don’t obsess over it. It just becomes part of who I am and by setting the same days each week to work out, I can relax, go to class and train and most important of all, enjoy it.

I have found in my life that whenever I have not set a rhythm to everything I do, whether that be work, family, dojo, gym, etc., then I begin to stress out and worry about, “Oh my gosh, where will I find the time?” Then when you finally do find the time you have a brain hemorrhage because having missed so many workouts, you try to make for 3 or 4 weeks of sloth by cramming it all into one frantic session at the gym or the dojo to make up for it.

Putting things and activities into my life as a natural part of who I am, scheduling time ahead of the activity so I’m not stressing over last minute preparations, allows me to just go, have a good time and then get on to the next part of the day. It has really enabled me to progress in my life, my physical fitness, my martial arts training, and in gaining control of my blood pressure.

No, I’m not always a total success at this but ............. I’ve gotten good enough to see the difference that rhythm (and the planning ahead that setting a rhythm needs) makes in my life.

I suggest for those who are unable to find time to come to the dojo that you take the time to find some rhythm in your life. After all, if you don’t take the time now then when you’re 65 you may find yourself wondering what you missed and regret many lost opportunities.

L.F. Wilkinson Sensei

June 2008 (orig. pub. May 2005)