Think In Circles

Today’s Lesson: Sudden stops are bad for you.


This is why I told Nicole to “Always think in circles”, just as a master once told me.

I am not the most proficient with escrima (stick fighting, like holding two batons), but Nicole loves learning how to fight with escrima so I am teaching her what I know. Not surprisingly, she is a great student, absorbing knowledge and practicing until she gets it right.

As she advances, I add more tips and lessons, which changes things. After someone learns the basics of striking and defending with sticks, for example, a good teacher will add hip movements for the student to focus on, which will enhance and transform what was already learned.

Watching Nicole struggle with a particular strike movement, I shared one of the most important lessons I have learned from Shihan (Master) Montise. “Always think in circles,” I said.

Many martial artists learn to strike with hard, abrupt motions, stopping at the point of impact. This does damage to both you and your opponent, which is quite like punching somebody and then punching yourself. A sudden stop against another object means your body must absorb some of the momentum or impact (in fact, that is how I broke my hand punching a board once).

If you think of every strike as a circle or ellipse, instead, then your inertia continues and you flow into the next movement without absorbing energy. You are more like a conduit for motion, then, and you start and end ready to strike, defend, or avoid. Also, it looks beautiful, like a dance instead of brutal like a car crash. (Remember it is called “martial arts”–that is the “art” part.)

Naturally, this applies everywhere in life. When you come to an abrupt stop (physically, mentally, or philosophically), it is jarring. It creates tension and force that must be absorbed or distributed. Do not forget Newton’s laws of motion: “for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction…” and “…An object in motion tends to stay in motion until acted on by an outside force…”. Both laws work in tandem. Therefore, when something comes to an abrupt stop, the energy must go somewhere (but you do not want it to go back into you).

Acting in circles allows the energy to transfer elsewhere and or move away from you like ripples in water when a stone strikes the water’s surface. This is true in fighting, in conversation, work projects, even thoughts. This is a good lesson to remember and it is one I have learned many times over.

This is why I told Nicole to “Always think in circles”, just as a master once told me.



Today’s Lesson: How To Make Diamonds Out of Goal [140815]

Whether leading yourself or others, sometimes you have to ask for more than you think is possible to find out what actually is possible.

You have to put the pressure on to deliver unreasonable results. I learned this over and over when training for my black belt. I was frequently more surprised than my instructors by what I could do. They knew I had it in me but until they pushed me (sometimes literally) I did not know what I was able to accomplish.

I was reminded of this today when a peer summed up a story I told about coaching one of my team members past their perceived limits so they could find bigger success than they knew they were capable of.

He said, “Right. No pressure; no diamonds.”


The Lesson I Learned Today… 140629

Use the skills you have to meet the challenges you face.

I had the funniest moment with Nicole. We went kayaking last year and it was my first (and only) time trying it until this weekend. I flipped my kayak several times, steered into trees and sand banks, and accidentally whacked Nicole with my oar. I was clearly terrible at it.

You can imagine my trepidation when facing another kayak. Visiting Grand Haven, and starting out in a marina with many boats to avoid, I was nervous. Then Nicole reminded me of somethng that I had not given any thought to. She said, “You know how to use a Bo, right?”

That was it. I remembered Master Peterson explaining the origin of the Japanese fighting staff as he taught me how to use it. “Look at the movement of the Bo,” he said. “It wasn’t always a weapon. The old Japanese farmers who invented it didn’t have any weapons to fight the invading army with, so they used what was available. The Bo is the oar of a fishing boat. The basic movement is the same as paddling, first on one side, then the other.”

In a flash, I suddenly knew how to kayak. I didn’t tip once, navigated just fine, and was even able to steer well enough to play a game!

It turns out sometimes you already have the skills you need to meet your challenges but you don’t always know you have them!

Next time you face a tough challenge, try to think of other ways you have seen the basic problem. You might have already solved it before.

Also, if you want to learn how to kayak, one way is to start by learning how to spin a bo!


Master’s Degree


Here is something to consider. It takes the same time to earn a Black Belt as it does to earn a college degree, and the same effort (some may even argue it takes greater effort because of the physical demands on top of the mental effort). We call someone with advanced knowledge and skill with martial arts a Master. Someone with a Master’s Degree in Business is also called a Master.


As in college, those who simply want to get by with a passing grade in martial arts will do so. They will pass (that is, attain their black belt), but they will not achieve any more from their training than the effort they put in.


This is true in most forms of formal education. A student may attain their high school or college diploma, but may only pass with a “C” or a “D” grade–a  far cry from the Dean’s list.


Those who push themselves to excel, to learn all they can about the martial art, technique, philosophy, and proper use of their bodies and minds, are the honor students. They graduate “with honor”. They achieve their rank, and have new skills with which to overcome obstacles and master new challenges in the world.


Students who aim only to meet the minimal requirements, who do not receive strong, positive support from their parents and peers, or who choose to just “slide by” are doomed to the same fate as college students who put forward minimum effort, show up to class as little as possible, and are only at school to “get their papers” (their degree) and then get out with the expectation that the world will then be handed to them.


The proper goal of any student is to learn enough that one day he can return to his school… and teach his Master something new. In martial arts, as in high school or college, there will always be a few “slackers” who are there to waste their parents’ money and kill time, or maybe are just not as serious about it as other students. That is okay–not everyone goes to college or learns martial arts for the same reasons and can expect the same outcomes.


Whether in college or Karate, whatever your reason for being in martial arts, just remember the student that fails to outgrow his teacher fails both the teacher and himself.


It is my honor to train with Shihan (Master) Montise Peterson at his highly esteemed school, Mizudo Academy of Martial Arts in Dearborn, Michigan.


Why Be Respectful?


Master Peterson (foreground) and Me (in mirror) guest-teaching an Escrima (stick fighting) class


An important tenet of Martial Arts is the principle of Respect. Guests in the dojo are sometimes amused or befuddled by the amount of bowing and training traditions to which students adhere.

Students bow when walking on or off the training mat, they bow to their instructors, to other students, and at the beginning and end of class. They line up by order of rank (indicated by the color and striping of their belts). Exercises are typically performed with the highest ranking student leading, and meditation begins by allowing senior students to kneel first.

These uniformed rules and practices are more than relics from ancient times. Martial arts training is designed to reinforce the values of the art–such as the value of placing Respect above Combat–before, during, and even after battle. In a fight, adhering to your values can be the difference between succeeding with honor, knowing you have earned your victory, or cheating to win but knowing you really lost (not only the fight but also part of what makes you human–your intellect and self-esteem).

To excel at martial arts is not easy. I remember the effort I made to attain my rank. It is difficult to forget how hard (and rewarding) it was to ascend with each stripe from White Belt.

It is with my own experience and hard work in mind that I honor the students and masters ahead of me for the efforts they made to earn their status and rank. I show respect by keeping such traditions as bowing, following rank order, not interrupting the master instructor, etc. because one day I may be the master instructor. I hope my students will demonstrate and internalize the values I uphold (whether in martial arts or in their lives) as I did before them.

Showing respect is a way of honoring the highest values in people.

Every student’s effort is different and private, but regardless of the level of each person’s achievement, I keep in mind that every student has had to overcome the best and worst of themselves, and their own previous efforts, to get where they are.

I start with Respect because respect gives deference to Effort, Ability, Willpower, and Success. It shows how you value your work and the work of others. Showing respect honors your commitments to yourself, as well…to your own Effort, Ability, Willpower, and Success.

Lastly, having respect for martial arts also ensures you do not use your skills indiscriminately. A serious martial artist does not consider his skills something to play with or for use when "horsing around" or having fun with his friends. That is the purpose of training at the Dojo.

Martial Arts are ultimately designed for combat; a human weapon can be as dangerous and as damaging as a loaded gun. The warrior who respects himself, his art, his dojo, his teachers, and others always keeps this in mind. A fighter with no respect is only a talented bully. A fighter who respects and honors himself, his challengers, and the challenges he faces… earns the title of Martial Artist.


It is my honor to train with Shihan (Master) Montise Peterson at his highly esteemed school, Mizudo Academy of Martial Arts in Dearborn, Michigan.


Volunteer to Make Your Dojo Great.


Angela helps a guest at Mizudo. 


When I am not training at the dojo, I am training at the dojo.

That is to say, when I am not training, I work as a volunteer at the dojo. I have a career in Communications, but when I volunteer my time, I do whatever is needed–from developing marketing strategies to cleaning restrooms or taking phone calls. You have probably seen me around, working behind the desk or vacuuming. You may be surprised to know my volunteer time is (gasp!) unpaid and (double gasp!) highly rewarding. How can that be?

I consider volunteering to help around the school as just part of my training, like learning self-defense or kata. Through volunteering, I practice the philosophy behind the martial arts I have learned.


Martial Arts is about Discipline and Self-control.

I demonstrate both self-control and discipline by focusing on the needs of the dojo and keeping my commitment to make my dojo the best school around. Because it is volunteer work (not paid), it is my choice (not my job), with no outside incentive to push me to do it. That means I have to rely on myself to keep my word. I must truly practice discipline and self-control to honor my commitment to be there.


Martial Arts is about Responsibility.

By volunteering, I take responsibility for my training. I take responsibility for the success of my dojo also. I understand my dojo is a reflection of me. That means when guests or family visit, they are not only observing Sensei and the walls. They also watch and judge my ability and my seriousness about training when I am on the mat. Visitors observe how seriously we students take our training on and off the mat, and they notice the dojo’s appearance and cleanliness.

A potential student considers the students currently in class and the general conduct of the dojo (including my conduct). When I think of that, I have to remember it is my dojo; it is where I train; it is up to me to make it great. My dojo and my training are my responsibility.

Martial Arts is about Hard Work and Skill.

Nothing happens without effort and this is certainly true in martial arts. It takes practice, practice, practice. Then it takes more practice, and as with any skill, you get out of it what you put into it.

If all someone hopes to achieve with martial arts training is to know how to intimidate others or beat people up, then I would tell that person they can save a lot of money by going to a schoolyard and watching how bullies do it.

If you want to be something more than a bully, I recommend volunteering as much time helping your dojo as you spend training there. Volunteering is an opportunity to build other martial arts skills. Even things that seem small are an opportunity to show respect to your training area. Washing the windows and helping to clean floors honor your dojo as much as developing a strong counter-attack (perhaps more so because these things also require humility and teamwork).

It may sound crazy, but volunteering allows a chance to put as much effort into perfecting your window-washing and floor-cleaning skills as you put into perfecting your side-kicks and punches.

Through volunteering, you learn how a dojo is actually run. You can build or refresh your business skills. You can become better at working with teams or, if you are a career manager like me, you can seize the opportunity to re-connect with the work you normally direct others to do.

That is why I say, when I am not training at my dojo, I am training at my dojo (as a volunteer).

When you commit time to helping your dojo, you train yourself not only to be a better fighter, but also to be a better person.



It is my honor to train with Shihan (Master) Montise Peterson at his highly esteemed school, Mizudo Academy of Martial Arts in Dearborn, Michigan.


A Martial Life


When people hear the phrase "Martial Arts", what springs to mind is usually something violent: kicking, punching, gouging, chopping, etc. The first thought is probably not of meditation, concentration,  book-study, or Philosophy. That is to say, most people focus on the "Martial" instead of the "Arts".


To be an exceptional Martial Artist, we can not have one without the other. The Martial Arts are inclined to both war ("martial") and beauty ("arts"). The inclination to war obviously lies in the fighting–martial arts were created to help people protect themselves and their families from attackers. The inclination toward beauty is in understanding martial arts does not only teach someone how to fight.


A student of nearly any fighting style will surely learn to use his or her body to its best potential. That is only part of the beauty, though. A great master ensures his students learn the Philosophy of the art, as well. It is as much a part of the training as kicking, punching, and blocking.


Martial arts teach us not only how to fight properly, but also how to live properly.


I am lucky to learn under a great Master and from my fellow students. Thanks to that and a lot of studying on my own, I see as I learn to discipline my body, I also learn to discipline my mind. This principle has a cumulative effect. When I learn to discipline my mind, I also learn to discipline my body.


Think of a basic punch. Learning to throw a proper punch disciplines the muscles required to do so. Remembering the principles of a proper punch disciplines the mind, which, in turn, makes a stronger punch and further disciplines the body, which makes it easier to concentrate on the punch, thus disciplining the mind, etc.


Through martial arts, I gain focus, patience, control, confidence, self-discipline, strength, and personal power by learning to use my body to its best potential. I retain youth, endurance, flexibility, and stamina, which I am able to apply in other areas of life. For example, I need less sleep than I did before starting Karate, and that leaves more time for studying, training, or just relaxing. I feel healthier and more alert which improves how well I do my job. I am able to be more physically active with my family and friends whereas before I avoided strenuous activities.


In Ancient times, this was called, "Sit Mens Sana in Corpore Sano"—the famous Latin phrase for "A sound mind in a sound body". It means total health is about more than physical exercise. That is why martial arts is the perfect path to fitness–physical, mental, and even spiritual fitness are available to anyone willing to learn and train. Through complete and proper studying of the martial arts (which means learning the physical elements as well as the philosophical), you benefit by getting regular exercise, learning new skills, finding new approaches to life, gaining personal power, and no doubt making deep, personal friendships along the way .


Through study and physical training, I become a Martial Philosopher as well as a Martial Artist. To me, that is a thing of beauty.