Starting Your Engine At the Same Time

In kendo there is an emphasis on group unity in the warm-ups and initial drills. In my dojo (NW Kendo), our sensei is looking for us to have loud and powerful kiai in unison early on so that, by the time we are in jigeiko (individual bouts) our spirit is powerful and the kiai remain loud and sharp because that keeps one’s energy up so as to maintain performance and have a tactical edge over the opponent.

If that sounds esoteric or just not compelling enough, consider this lesson on group unity from Jocko Willink (@jockowillink). When his unit was deployed in Iraq and were going out on a patrol or assignment, they had a tradition of starting up their truck and jeeps at the same time. According to Willink, that sound created a powerful feeling and sent shivers down their spines; creating a sense of power over their enemy.

So start your engines!

Sumi Sensei instructing on kiai:


Hard Knocks

Vonte David SadI love shows about sports training and team dynamics and HBO’s Hard Knocks provides that (plus I love football and the process of football).

There is something deeply satisfying to see the drama of people competing for placement and it is interesting to see the conversations behind the scenes (albeit, heavily edited snippets – but you get the gist of what is being said).

My guilty pleasure in this show is when people get cut from the team. A very scripted process happens. First, the player is asked to meet with team leadership (depending on his overall value this is the coach and one other person or just one of the sub-coaches).

The player is shown walking downcast or with a false swagger into a typical conference room (usually a small one but maybe that is because football players are big). The coach has his best “I’m sorry that I am firing you face” on and he utters some platitudes (“You have a great future but just not here..”).

Then the player responds with some blanket generalities (“I know I have a future” or “I know that I will be back”) before hands are shook and he is ushered out of the building. The camera shows them walking out the door, duffel bag in hand.

So why is this interesting? It’s interesting because success and its rewards are fun and easy to watch but seeing how people react to failure and bad news is a more revealing look into their character. Especially if you know that player ended up being ultimately successful or a spectacular failure.

We all compete for something and we all have a mix of wins and losses, even winners. How we react to that and how we display that is what separates a real winner from a real loser. For a winner, losing is just an experience that teaches. For a loser, losing is failure and nothing else.

Now get out there and do some push-ups or something…!



Mike Pettine’s understated approach to life is just too entertaining to pass up. Some pics. From left to right we have: “thinking hard” and then “confused.”

Mike Pettine Focusing Mike Pettine Confused

Conducting Class

The ThinkerIn my kendo club we have been re-organizing our lesson plans and asking others to step forward and lead classes. It’s been an overall positive experience in that we are questioning everything that we do and starting to hold everyone accountable for their part in making the club a positive and successful place to train.

One of my biggest concerns is the concept of quantity over quality in the training experience. In a two-hour class, an hour of mind-numbing warmups and drills reduces the energy of the next hour of class, jigeiko (free-sparring). A better use of our time would be a quick warmup, a short set of drills to set the energy level, and then, jigeiko. An hour of spirited, high-energy practice is way better than two hours of drudgery.

The most important factor in an energetic practice is the tone of the instructor. An instructor is like an actor on stage or a conductor before the orchestra. He or she is using voice and body to communicate on the verbal and non-verbal level, bring out the very best from everyone.

A conductor has to be “present” and focused on making sure that the “music of class” is full of energy and commitment. This takes some planning beforehand (in terms of the drills to be done as well as consideration of the various skill levels of the students) but the most important part is the execution.

A class led by someone who looks like they want to be somewhere else or who does not seem to have a game plan is a useless class. I’ll close with a set of comments that I made to some friends and this great TED Talk by Itay Talgam:

“..conducting a class is like conducting an orchestra. The music rises and falls nicely, according to the natural ebb and flow of the orchestra and the music. The conductor sets the tone from the very beginning and the tone will vary, all with the goal of creating beautiful music and a harmonious connection. Showing passion and humor along with setting expectations.”


Taikai Prep (or lack thereof)

With the UW Taikai coming up this weekend, I’m in no way ready for it. I’ve been traveling on business and haven’t touched a shinai in over a week. It would be great if that led to some kind of “sword-of-no-sword” epiphany in which I become a master athlete by Saturday but somehow I doubt it. I have a higher chance of winning the lottery…

In an earlier post I did outline my program for my sandan test in 2015 and really that is the long game that I am focusing on. For the taikai, my best steps are to be aggressive and single-minded, not thinking about victory. Beyond that, being there to support my fellow team-members and assist at the event will be part of my day there.

This even sounds like a cop-out to me but it would be presumptuous to expect anything better, given my other commitments and poor time-management.

That’s all for now.

Workout Notes: Oct 27, 2013

Torn ACL DemoComing back from an injury is a mental as well as physical process.  My ACL injury literally hobbled me to the point where I could not do anything.  I have been back to regular kendo practice and am working on getting myself to the level that I was at pre-injury but I have also allowed myself to get distracted from my kendo experience by some of the support work that I do for the club (which I do willingly and which I enjoy doing #noexcuses).

This week’s practices have been disappointing  and need to get myself to what Georges St-Pierre calls the “white belt level.” That is, drop my ego and expectations and start from the beginning, going hard in the paint and embracing the death and destruction that precedes growth and evolution.

And it can be the lightest of touches that starts it all off. To quote the world’s greatest (and most mis-understood) philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche, “Precisely the least, the softest, lightest, a lizard’s rustling, a breath, a flash, a moment – a little makes the way of the best happiness.”

So this week I have a few commitments, some soft touches…:

1. Continuation of flexibility training. Hip explosions and yoga have been great and I need to retain that.

2. MOAR squats! Air squats with a weight bar. This will suck…

3. Kettlebells. KB swings are great for hip and torso strength and flexibility.

4. Suburi, daily.

GSP Interview – MMA Fighting

GSP - Ariel Helwani UFC InterviewI always enjoy an interview with GSP because I sense the humor under his mechanical or shy demeanor. He made a great point about the McDonald – Ellenberger fight. If you’re the one losing and being shut-down by your opponent, it’s up to you to try something new and make it exciting if you want to win. Vrai dans les combats et vrai dans la vie!

+1 for GSP’s reference to mae-geri (Japanese term for a front-kick). GSP respects his traditional martial arts background. Also, apparently, an African warlord may have GSP’s Range Rover…

Link to interview here (since WordPress has been having problems with embeds).


I’ve enjoyed the World Cup because of some amazing displays of teamwork. Whether it was the US’s victory that erased the terrible officiating in the US-Slovenia game or Japan’s synchronized and disciplined victory over Denmark, it’s been a pleasure to see professionals at the top of their game.

And on that note, I will not mention the French team…