My stories as I remember them during my journey in the Martial Arts

Friday, September 24, 2010

Respect & Courtesy Will Bring You Joy

There is no joy in being cruel to others. There is no joy for your heart if you consciously create harm for another person. There is only sorrow, grief, and strife for those who live their lives for revenge, cruelty, and pain. Look to be kind and courteous in all your interactions with others. Look to bring joy to others, and treat everyone you meet with respect. When you enter into another person’s life bring light and leave the feeling of joy for having met you and know you. A rising tide will raise all ships.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

A little History, Again

Lineage is a topic often talked about in Martial Arts circles. Now beyond knowing my own training roots and my own interest in family genealogy, how viable your Martial Art is, based on lineage will be a topic I would like to avoid. Now with that out of the way, I would like to talk about my roots. I have touched on this topic before. Here I would like to be a little less verbose on the subject. I am also consolidating some basic history on Iannuzzo’s Black Belt Academy and Lavallee’s here.

I started training in 1983. Mr. Rick Iannuzzo gave me my first lesson. I have trained with him ever since. This is an honor for me. Mr. Iannuzzo laid the foundation the Lavallee’s organization was built on. Most of the current major players in that organization were trained by Mr. Iannuzzo. Shihan Jim Andrello, Shihan Jeff Sgarlata, Master Theron Feidt, Sensie Frank Scaccia, and others were trained by Mr. Iannuzzo. All these Martial Artists trained by Mr. Iannuzzo are talented and have achieved much on their own. Much of that success can be traced back to the solid foundation of training they received from Mr. I.

Here is a list of the Early Black Belts Who tested under Steve Lavallee:

1. Bill Stanley**
2. Rick Iannuzzo**
3. John Vanelli**
4. Jeff Iannuzzo**
5. Scott Ogata
6. Jeff Snoggles
7. Rob Vanelli

** Tested by Mr. Lavallee but where promoted through their kyu ranks under Lee Thompson.

There is a list of Black Belts awarded under the Lavallee’s organization here at this link:

I tested on the third “Large test” Dec. 3rd 1988. The list has me at number 55. Prior to the April test of 1988 the tests were small having 1-5 people. Prior to the August 1985 test Black Belts were tested and promoted one at a time. I am not sure exactly when the organization started Black Belt Spectaculars if anyone knows that feel free to let me know.

One other major player in my own training and also a contributor to the early success of Lavallee’s was Rob Vanelli. Mr. Vanelli was instrumental in my becoming the first official S.W.A.T. member.

I also had many others that helped along the way too. Jim Andrello was a great influence for my sparring. Jeff Bertolo was a great help for me. Pat DiDomenico was also a Black Belt instructor I admired. His brother Tony and I tested together for our Black Belts. I could go on much further about the influence of instructors and fellow students I have had the good fortune to train with, but let me say thank you to all and they know who they are.

I worked as a Staff instructor from about mid 1989 to early 1990. In 1991 shortly after Mr. Iannuzzo started his school I started training at Iannuzzo’s Black Belt Academy. Around 1994 or so I took some time off from official training to go back to college. I started back around 1998 and earned my 2nd Degree from Mr. Iannuzzo in Dec. 2000. Shortly after that I began a new career that had working hours that conflicted with any training times offered. After a promotion with better hours and after hearing of Mr. Jeff Iannuzzo’s passing in June of 2007 I started back with formal training at Iannuzzo’s Black Belt Academy. During all of my breaks from formal training I still trained on my own. I would do all my Katas everyday just to stay somewhat in shape.

My current training is with Mr. Robert De Simone, the head instructor of Iannuzzo’s Black Belt Academy. “Mr. D” was actually a student when I was a staff instructor. Now he is a 5th degree Black Belt and one of the most talented Martial Artists I have ever known. It is an honor to train with him. Since returning to training in 2007 I have learned an entirely new system of kyu rank Katas created by Mr. I. I am now learning more of that system with two new Nunchuck Kata’s and a new Coma Kata. I also have a traditional Tracy’s bo/staff form and Chinese Sword form to learn for my 3rd degree.

As I have stated before I am on the path to earn my 3rd Degree Black Belt. I can say I truly believe I am receiving the best training in the Martial Arts available anywhere in the Greater Syracuse NY area. I would also say I have the honor of being trained at one the highest quality schools available anywhere.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Feedback the Breakfast of Champions

Feedback is often times called the breakfast of champions. Feedback on our performance and work is essential in the creation of improvement. The key to the success of feedback and your own success is how that feedback is assimilated and used. While positive feedback is helpful, encouraging and motivating, negative feedback creates the greatest forward momentum.
I have been working on and trying to improve my Martial Arts skills for over 27 years now. It is easy for someone with my experience to think there is nothing more to learn, or I am too old to improve now. That is why I always recommend this old adage: Black Belts must always keep a white belt mind. The old saying tells us to keep an open mind, and be willing to learn new things and accept new ways of looking at old challenges.

Negative feedback is sometimes difficult to assimilate. We my think, “I have never been told that before” or “I’ve never needed to do that” when a person rejects feedback with these thoughts they lose the chance to improve. The analogy often used in the Martial Arts is the empty tea cup. If your tea cup is full it can’t hold anymore tea. You must empty your cup so it can take on more tea. This means you must keep your mind empty, so you can take on new ideas. If you think you have learned all there is to learn about anything you have put yourself on a dead end road and lose forward momentum. The loss of forward momentum creates a backwards motion like a stagnant environment that soon becomes a quicksand that will swallow future success.

Hard work, practice, conditioning, and personal self development (P.S.D.) are the foods that feed success for a Martial Artist. Feedback is the cook that prepares the meal and puts the right foods on the plate. A good coach/sensei/ instructor provides feedback that directs you to things to practice, areas of conditioning to work on and what direction your P.S.D. should take. No one can make you eat the food on the plate and that is where the hard work comes in. Hard work is going back and taking action based on the feedback provided.

Mr. Iannuzzo, the owner of the school where I train, has been heading a new sparring class on Friday evenings. Mr. Iannuzzo sees things in advanced students that others with less experienced eyes miss. He provided me with feedback by pointing out several things I did not realize I was doing during sparring. I took heed of his advice. Mr. Iannuzzo later pointed out that he has never seen a better sparring performance from me before. Had I allowed negative attitudes about feedback enter my mind, or thought I needed no improvement in my performance, I would still be making the same mistakes. Incorporating Mr. Iannuzzo’s coaching tips and feedback was essential to my improvement. Mr. I’s positive feedback is also a good motivator that good coaches always provide.

Even elite athletes are coached. These are people who have reached the top of their “game”. In order to stay on top they still need to improve and maintain all their skills. Without feedback from a good coach the competition soon closes in and over takes even the best of the best. While most of us are not elite athletes the same principle applies. Feedback from a good coach is needed to stay focused, move forward and grow. As a student avoid “stinkin thinkin”. I often see younger students, and sometimes older students, perceive feedback as a negative. I will sometimes hear things like: “My instructor is always on my back about…” Negative thoughts will block the message. There will always be setbacks and obstacles to overcome, but closing the door to opportunity to improve is an obstacle that can easily be avoided by absorbing and incorporating all coaching tips and instruction. Good instructors are providing you with feedback to help you. When they point out areas that need work become the empty cup and listen with open ears and an open mind. Go back to that day when you were a white belt. As a white belt you are ready to learn, respective to new ideas and anxious to get to the next step. Take on these attitudes and thought processes and it will be easy to become a champion and stay a champion.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Marching On To a New Level

The journey to another level will never be easy. Progress is always full of challenge. Creating success happens when challenges are worked through, around, over, or chipped away at until resolved. I am realizing this again as I proceed forward in my journey to 3rd Degree Black Belt. I have never been a “natural” talent. My success has come from repetitive practice. Every step forward for me has meant repeating over and over again each Kata. I sometimes have to repeat a single move over and over and over until I have it down. I will practice the same sparring combinations for hours on end. I still, after twenty-seven years in the Martial Arts, practice basics in repetition several times a week. The hours of practice are what I need to do to overcome my challenge of lacking a talent in easily picking up new material.

Now here I am again learning something new. I have never worked with nunchucks. I am now learning two nunchuck Katas. The weapon handling for this new weapon is the most difficult part of the new Katas for me. I have gone back, again, to my roots of repetitive practice. The goal is to have all the weapon handling needed for the two Katas down in two weeks, and perfected in one month. So far I am ahead of schedule for this goal.

The lesson I am once again being reminded of is: the Journey is full of hard work. I have never been able to easily learn new material. Most people who see me now do not suspect I have no natural talent. Mr. Rick Iannuzzo knows this. He has trained or watched my training for the past twenty-seven years. What I have done is create my talent. I created it by practice, practice, and more practice. Never giving up is another thing that has made my success a reality. I actually failed my first Black Belt test. I worked hard and made it on the second try. I also failed one attempt at 2nd Degree. I never gave up though. I picked up where I left off and made it, although my second attempt at 2nd Degree Black Belt took a few years since that is also the same time I left Lavallee’s to train with my friend Mr. Iannuzzo. Sticking to a goal is what gets you there.

Also since picking up formal training again in 2007 I have had to learn an entirely revamped system. While Mr. Iannuzzo has left much of his original material, he has also added many new things. Almost all of the “old” Lavallee’s Kyu rank Katas have been removed from the system and replaced by Mr. I’s original Universal Katas. Mr. I has kept the Kenpo two man form. These new Katas were created and developed by Mr. Rick Iannuzzo and his late brother Jeff. Even the beginner Katas are dynamic and fun to perform. One Kata left in the system is Ki Chung which came from Ernie Reyes Jr. & Sr. If you are now in the Lavallee’s system you might still see the Iannuzzo brothers’ influence. The three kick combos, the Kumite forms and much more reflect their influence and creativity. I still practice the “old” Katas side by side with what I call the “new generation” Katas. I have managed to remember the old Katas through repetition. The advantage of creating my own talent through practice is in the repetition. I have repeated these Katas so much over time I will probably never forget how to do them. I am now doing the same with the new generation Katas.The real story here is how a person, like me, with only a modicum of athletic talent has made it to beyond even Black Belt. If I can do this anyone can. That is why I encourage everyone to consider getting involved in a Martial Art. Striving to become your best will enrich your life. Once you realize you can reach Black Belt you begin to realize that nothing can stand in your way. Regardless of age or athletic talent anyone can reach Black Belt as long they are dedicated, motivated, and on a quest to be your best.

Create your own personal Health Care Reform - move more.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

The TRANSformation Coach Challenge

Recently I engaged in a first of its kind ever challenge. I ended up winning the men’s division of the challenge. Master Hung Tran the TRANSformation Coach started a Face Book Page and a 90 day fitness challenge. In the final part of the challenge we had to write an essay/summation of how we where Transformed during process. Here is my Essay. Anyone who wants to stretch and meet a new goal or make a new goal would benefit from Master Tran’s advice. Go to the TRANSformation Coach Facebook page and take on his challenge. You don’t have to be a Martial Artist to take the challenge. Of course I recommend the Martial Arts for everybody. Create your own personal Health Care Reform, move more.

Master Tran:

First I want to thank you, Master Tran for providing the TRANSformation fan page. This has been a journey and an experience that has surely been a privilege to be a part of. I need no other reward than this privilege.

Tammy Ferguson invited me to join the Fan Page when it began in January and I am grateful for that. I actually only know Tammy through FB. I added her as a friend because she was on the Lavallee’s Alumni Group on Face Book. I have learned through this journey that she has courage and an indomitable spirit. Tammy’s spirit is truly an “old school” spirit that emulates a “Black Belt” attitude. Witnessing her fire and desire truly inspired me to regain my own spirit and desire to finally take up the path and goal to my Third Degree Black Belt which is something I have been putting off for sometime now. So here I give a special thanks to Tammy for introducing me to you and your fan page these experiences has truly caused a transformation in me.

My own journey over the past 90 days has actually taken me back in time. I thought about my own personal self development and remembered that I had a vast amount of inspirational material that I had gathered over the past twenty-seven some years in the Martial Arts. I was a staff member at Lavallee’s and had many notes and materials from that time in my life. I was also the first official S.W.A.T. member with the Lavallee’s organization. I have since moved on from my Lavallee’s family like a child who has gone on to grow on their own.

I searched for and found a box I had filed away. In this box were journals of my old workouts, inspirational material, coaching tips from my old instructors, goal setting sheets for Black Belt testing, and much more. I gathered them up read through them and constructed new goals to take me on my new journey to Third Degree Black Belt. Now being 50 years old I knew this would be a challenge but began to realize that I CAN still do this. I want to be truly inspirational to others my age to prove that you are NEVER too old. I also want to honor one of the most inspirational instructors I ever had, Jeff Iannuzzo who tragically passed away in 2007, he was only 39 years old.

In this box, I found the reasons that originally drove me to achieve a Black Belt and beyond. Nothing was concretely written, but there I found documented my thoughts and trials from that time in my life. Now I am on that same journey again towards my next step as a Black Belt. So many things have changed since those days in the eighties. One thing that has not changed is the ongoing journey of life. I have been married, watched my parents grow older, and become a grandparent. I even watched one of my own students proceed on to a 5th Degree Black belt and become my coach now. So here I stood at another launching point for new adventures.

I was also inspired to find new sources of inspiration. So now I am also moving forward. I have been transformed in so many ways over the past ninety days it would take a novel to note it all. What I can say is I have truly gone back to my roots. I realized this most when you commented on one my posts that indicated I have old school training methods. Not only have I gone back to my old training that brought me to Black Belt, I have gone back to the attitudes that got me there too.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Move More! Third Degree Journey 4/14/10

Today was a great day at the Dojo. I had some great sparring matches. I also had some matches where I did some coaching of novice students. It is so great to see the enthusiasm of people who are trying something new. I remember when I had some matches with Black Belts when I was coming up. I was always so scared! I now try to make people who have their first sparring class feel at ease. I think that is why the instructors usually have me work with people in their first few sparring classes. We did some great cal at the end of class too.

I also bought a bicycle today. I am going to use it for transportation to and from work. I will have a great workout. I will also save gas money, and help the environment. I would recommend this for anybody than can feasibly do it.

Create Your Own Personal Health Care Reform. Move More!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Failure Is Not Really Failure The Third Degree Journey 4/13/10

I Went to Black Belt Kata class today and made some great progress with the nunchucks. Thank you Mr. Nikko Iannuzzo. Learned that I need to spend some time on a bo Kata called BBC bo(Black Belt Club bo Kata). The BBC Kata is new for me but is a Kyu rank Kata in the new system. I have it down except that I am doing reverse butterflies where it should be just butterflies. Old habits die hard. Two man bo Kata went well I think I have shaken the rust off that one finally. Class was a great workout too. There was no running after class today. I will hit that up the next time there is one. I am still kick’n and heading in the right direction to Third Degree Black Belt. If this 50 year old 2nd Degree Black Belt can do this anyone can!

Failure is not really failure if you consider it a lesson - with this outlook forward movement will be your only movement.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Forget the Health Care Reform In the News Create Your Own Personal Health Care Reform

Create your own personal health care reform. Exercise, create good nutrition habits, and use preventative medical advice. As we all take on healthy habits and become healthier people costs will decrease, insurance premiums will go down, problem solved!

Day 1 of Documenting My Journey to Third Degree Black Belt

There are many things for me to achieve on this path to my Third Degree Black Belt. I have some special challenges. I have conquered some major things. During my off time Mr. Rick Iannuzzo (!/pages/Iannuzzos-Black-Belt-Academy/241807683831?ref=ts ) created a whole new system of Katas. I have had to learn all new kyu rank Katas. I have accomplished that. I have also had to learn several new 1st degree Black Belt level Katas. I am finishing that now. However the extra challenge here is learning two nunchaku Katas. I have never worked with this weapon before. The foot work and Kata pattern I have down. It is the weapon handling I need to work on. I have been doing that just about every day now and have come a long way but also have a long way to go. I have the two-man bo form down again. I had that before I just needed refreshing with that Kata. Conditioning has come a long way with the help from the TRANSformation coach ( ). I am now way ahead on that goal. Weight has some work to be achieved yet. I am down about 15lbs but off from my goal to lose 30lbs from January to March. I once again reviewed and revamped my nutrition plan. From what I see so far what I need to do is some more calorie restriction.

Next step is to learn the Third Degree Katas. Some of the old Katas I know have been moved up to Third degree. 40 beats is a Kata I have been doing now for 20 years so that is taken care of. I do need to learn another bo form a Chinese sword form, and one more empty hand form. There is talk of me skipping some of that since I know far more Katas than other students. But I would rather not take that path.

Had to take a day off today from working out. I had to leave work early to take my wife to a doctor appointment that then turned to an X-Ray appointment. I went back to work and then had my own Doctor appointment that was already scheduled. I returned home planning on going to the Dojo for Kata class. Then had a call from my Father saying that my Mother was having a bad nose bleed. I am kind of an expert in nose bleeds; I wonder where I learned that skill? All was well but I had missed Kata class at that point. So tomorrow I will be there for Black Belt Kata class and stay and do a run and hit the red/black red belt Kata class for review. Check in tomorrow for how that all works out for me. Keep on Kick’n. If I can do this anyone can. No one is ever too old!

Do It Now

If you have something in life you want to accomplish go for it now! If you have something of yourself you want to give to the world go for it now! If there is a life you want to live go for it now! This is life there is no dress rehearsal, so do it now!

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Watch My New Journey

I will be documenting my journey to 3rd degree Black Belt on this blog. If you are in my age group (50’s) consider following my blog. I will provide an example to all that we are never to old. If you have ever considered getting involved in the Martial Arts and thought you were to old to start, keep an eye on me. You will learn it is never too late to get started and get motivated. The benefits you gain from the Martial Arts can change your life!

The Fuel for Success is Attitude

Success and a positive attitude almost never come separately. The connection between them cannot be broken. Negativity and failure often times are connected too. When striving to succeed a positive attitude is like a laser pointed at your goal. Positive self talk is the food for that attitude. Positive internal talk creates the platform for progress. When those negative thoughts try to creep in, that is the time to focus on the goal, re-fire that desire, and examine the path to the goal. Negative thoughts can easily distort the path and lead away from the goal. Just as positive self talk is food for a positive attitude negative self talk will be the poison. Not always will a positive attitude bring success, but a negative attitude will always bring failure. A positive attitude will always bring about a success from a failure that is something a negative attitude can never do.

Surrounding yourself with positive people is one of the most important aspects of having and maintaining an outlook of success. Having an inner circle of great friends with awesome attitudes becomes contagious. The energy of awesome attitudes multiplies and grows. Surrounding yourself with people intent on complaining rather than doing can derail positive thoughts. Having your inner circle full of people with half full cups is the key to your own success. It is important to have friends that encourage you to achieve excellence. Individuals with half empty cups see challenge as a reason to not to take on a task. It is easy to avoid challenge, but easy seldom brings reward. Hard work brings reward. Hard work, however, becomes drudgery when coupled to a poor attitude.

Positive outlooks will keep the reward of the task a conscience and integrated part of a challenging endeavor. Challenges and difficult tasks become fun and energizing when the end reward and ultimate goal are kept in sight. Running is a great example of a difficult task. Running for conditioning can literally become an exercise in drudgery. Running with the frame of mind that sparring, Katas, basics, and calisthenics will all improve from the conditioning provided by consistent running, energizes and motivates a desire to gain that reward. Tasks and challenges that need to be completed or overcome to reach a goal become the fuel to move you forward when approached with a champion’s attitude.

A champion’s attitude is positive, energetic, driven, and filled with enthusiasm. Every obstacle and challenge is approached as something that will be conquered. Writing down and setting goals is essential to champions. However, without the proper attitude goals can easily be set aside, put away to gather dust and will become distant dreams that never materialize. Attitude creates champions and gives them the power and fuel to reach goals. Setting goals without a winning mindset is like driving a car on an empty gas tank. Without attitude fuel in your tank the trip to success will see you stuck on the side of road.

Don’t get stuck. Fill your mind with positive thoughts, take on a winning mindset, and then achievement will come. Champions win with attitude more often than skill alone. The belief in success is the fire of desire. Believe to achieve. Create your success and reach your goals by believing you can. Greatness in achievement comes from greatness in attitude.

Martial Artists, and most importantly Black Belts, should always display a positive attitude. We want to be proud of our Art. We want others who meet us to see that the Martial Arts do more than teach people how to kick and punch. A Martial Artist wants to be the person that lights up the room when they come and show the world that we not only mastered the physical art but that we have become or are becoming Black Belts and masters of our attitude. Our cups should always be half full and not half empty. Be the person who stands out as the one always lighting and keeping the fire of desire going.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Be A Black Belt In Your Personal Relationships

Our lives are usually full of busyness chores, schedules, appointments, work and business. As our minds fill with the daily clutter what is really important in life gets left behind. Often what is really important is completely forgotten, we work in our daily routines for so long and leave life’s most important gifts so far behind their light fades away to nothingness. Even as we go to church or worship in what ever way we do, the reasons for these reflective moments have long disappeared.

What is important in life then? What are we leaving behind? Our relationships with friends, family and loved ones are our most important gifts in life. Often times these relationships and connections are broken for the most trivial of reasons. We allow unimportant issues to become the most important and allow these things to stand between friendships and family. Excluding abusive crimes, or violence nothing is more important than the gift of love between us. One rude moment, or one forgotten promise, or other small hurt should never interfere with the love between family and friends. Often people allow profit or business to interfere with our relationships. These things should never rise to destroy our love. Money and profit will not enrich your soul the love of others will.

Life should be a gathering of love. The relationships we form with others are what enrich us. The other daily routines of life can be thought of as food and nourishment; these things are needed to keep us going but are not the things that enrich us as people. The kindness, love, caring and sharing of our lives is what fills a life with meaning.

The example of this is easily evident. How many celebrities are in the news with unhappy tales of lives spiraling out of control? Money, fame, possessions and business success failed to make them happy. What will make a soul soar are the gifts we receive from the people we love and love us. There is no monetary or status gain from these gifts and the person who is only concerned with these gains in life is missing the point of being in this world. Business, profit and other status gains by themselves are fine and noble pursuits. These pursuits only become a hindrance when they are allowed to sever the ties of family and friendships.

When the tragedies of life enter, the source of strength will come from those we love and God. Without the love and prayers and caring of people who love us difficult times will easily overwhelm even those who seem very strong to the outside world. Often our inner strength comes from our foundation of love.

There is a tie to Martial Arts and relationships. In Martial Arts we talk about excellence on many levels. We work on setting and achieving goals and balancing our lives. We want to be “Black Belts” in every aspect of life. Work to be a Black Belt in your personal relationships. Become a Black Belt in mending broken relationships and start now. Mend your “burned bridges”. Mend the hurts you might have caused others and forgive those who have hurt you. Do not wait for tomorrow to do this since sometimes tomorrow never comes. Be the Black Belt that stands up and says “I forgive you can we start over?” If you can do this and open your heart you will have passed the Black Belt test of love, friendship and Family. Without these in our lives all other accomplishments become worthless.

If we cannot mend relationships that have been broken over trivial things, like business dealings, misspoken words, forgotten promises and the other things that at the end of our lives will mean nothing, we have failed to have Black Belt excellence in the relationships we have forged. Achieve Black Belt Excellence as a friend and family member. Be the one who extends the “olive branch”. If reconciliation fails at least the effort was made to make amends. If the person we are trying reconcile with has a requirement that is necessary for settlement than provide it. Step up and discover what a Black Belt can really do.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Balance Your Training

When injury or sickness interrupts our training it can be very depressing. For those of us who look forward to training and make it part of our daily routine, it is like missing an old friend. Recently I ended up with pneumonia after having a fairly nasty cold; I just kept going along and ignored the shortness of breath, the chest congestion, and fatigue. My body gave me all the signs that something was wrong but I missed the sign posts. By the time my wife had nagged me enough to go to the doctor I was down for the count.

Of course I was upset it is always hard for me to miss training. I am unhappy when I miss my daily routine. How we deal with training set backs though can have a very positive influence on our future training. If it is an injury that puts us on the sidelines we can review how the injury could have been avoided or how modifying training would have prevented an injury. One thing I know at times I am guilty of is over training or starting out into a new training regime with too much enthusiasm. We should always step back and take note of how we are training and listen to what the body tells us. A little twinge in a muscle somewhere that becomes persistent should be followed up on with either a little rest for that body part or trip to an expert i.e.: a doctor, a trainer, a coach, or physical therapist etc.

Now when the time comes that something happens all is not lost. Even a major injury that we know we will recover from can offer benefits. The positive thing about having some down time from training is: that it gives you a chance to catch up on positive and motivational reading. There is no such thing as to much food for the mind. Injury down time can provide a chance to review nutrition and read up any new nutritional advice that might be available. Keeping a training journal can be very helpful and I highly recommend doing so. When there is down time in training this is the perfect opportunity to go over what gaps we have in training and what areas that maybe we find could use more or even less work. Keeping a training journal allows you to go back in time and review what you have worked on and compare old work outs to new ones or come up with ideas for even newer and more innovated training for yourself.
Balance applies to training just as it applies to other areas of our lives. Too much concentration in one area or another can leave you with voids in fitness. For example: too much concentration in aerobic training can lead to atrophy in muscles not used for that training. Strength training is needed for balance. Too much concentration in strength training can leave you gasping for air while sparring or doing katas. If we skip our stretching routines we will lose our flexibility or create an opportunity for injury.

Most Martial Arts organizations will have several areas of training that would all need attention. For example most schools will have a component of self defense, and/or sparring. Many have a component of forms/Kata. Each area needs to have a balance of attention. You might have a preference for one area or another, but the best progress will be realized by balancing your practice and work outs evenly. The exception would be: preparing for a tournament or other type of competition. In these times, of course, you would concentrate on the areas of training relative to the upcoming event. Once the competition has passed, returning to a balance is important.

One area of balance I see many advanced students leave behind is the basics. Regardless of level basics are important and working on basics should always be part of any Martial Artist’s routine. Basic sparring drills, basic form drills and self defense drills should not fall by the wayside in an advanced student’s training. In my own training I most often use some type of basics as a warm up at the very least. I also include basic drills to help with conditioning. When basics are done with intensity they offer great conditioning and will keep skills sharp. Often times during the judging of forms at tournaments I have seen many advanced competitors perform very challenging techniques only to be marred by poor basics. For example a 360 degree round house kick executed very well but then landing in a weak stance. The performances that are done with good solid basics will always stand out. It is always apparent when a competitor has worked on basics, their stances are solid, their basics strikes show power and precision. Many times these components of a form are just as, if not more important than advanced and difficult techniques. During competitions the competitors that have attacked training with balance will have the edge.

Balancing training will avoid injury, keep skills sharp, and help keep progress moving forward. Working on all areas of training creates a Martial Artist that is skilled in every area. Do not neglect basics they are the foundation of the house of skill. Without good basics as a foundation all other skills will collapse, just like a house with a poor foundation. When setbacks or injury do occur take the opportunity work on personal self development. Review your training assets like nutrition, and time management. Balancing training will make for a smooth ride since when any wheel is out of balance the ride gets bumpy, keep all your wheels balanced.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Respect & Dignity Cornerstones of The Martial Arts Philosophy

Respect and Dignity are cornerstones of Martial Arts philosophy. We show our respect when we bow to enter our dojo. This is a symbol of respect not only to those who teach us but to those we train with. All of us in the Martial Arts should make special efforts to carry this beyond the dojo. We also bow to our instructors and our fellow students. This is not a bow to say the other person is superior; it is a bow that symbolizes our respect for our instructors and training partners as people.

Today in our society often times there is a total lack of respect for others. We see this reflected in incidences of road rage, the person screaming at a store clerk, a person using foul language when trying to make a point or negotiate a position. These are only a few examples just to point out the overall atmosphere of the missing respect among many people in our everyday interactions.

While we cannot change everyone we can change ourselves and by example change the minds of those we interact with. Everyone we meet deserves to be treated with dignity and respect. There are no exceptions to this rule. Even if a person fails to show us respect, there is an old saying two wrongs do not make a right. Just as in self defense we best serve our own safety by walking away from a situation rather than contributing to its escalation.

So defending ourselves against disrespect is best served by being respectful even to those who are not giving us or others respect. We can only hope this will influence others to act as we are acting. If this fails then we best avoid that person just as we avoid situations that could cause bodily harm we should avoid situations and people that can put us in the way of “mental harm”. However, as in self defense sometimes a situation “just happens”. The best way to handle a negative encounter is to absorb it with a positive attitude, and never give up showing the other person respect. Also treat them with dignity regardless of their negative, rude, or disrespectful actions.

Acting in a respectful manor is easy. I know no one who was not taught by their parents and do not teach their own children to say please and thank you. These are common courtesies. While writing this today I set it aside for a moment to take a trip to the grocery store. While waiting in line a woman ordered the cashier “Make my bags light”. She could have said “Please”. Here was a perfect example of how we often forget what we were taught as children. So keep your mother’s voice in your mind and remember to say please and thank you. If you have children remind yourself of how you expect them to treat others.

As Martial Artists we also are taught and teach that we should help others when needed. The next time you see someone struggling to put groceries in their car, offer them help. Hold the door for people. Say thank you when someone holds a door for you. In other situations you might see someone being abused or attacked do something to help. If it is not safe to intervene yourself, call for help and let the offenders know you are doing so. We have a duty not only to keep ourselves safe but to keep others safe. If you where the one being attacked or abused and needed help, you would want someone to take action.

There are many more instances where we can provide help and kindness and a good Martial Artist who has incorporated the real philosophy of the Arts into their lives knows, instinctively, what these acts are. Our school and many others have principles to live by. We call them the principles of Black Belt and they are: Modesty, Courtesy, Honesty, Respect, and Perseverance. What ever terms used the idea is the same. Be humble show gratitude and fellowship to others. Be well mannered. Recognize the knowledge others have and remember we can all learn from everybody even a child can often times teach us something. Be truthful and sincere. Never give up on yourself or others, everyone has an inner light even if it is hidden by negativity, through our positive energy we can breach the darkness. Be enthusiastic; electrify yourself and others with your joy of life, and your spirit.

There is never a time that we should forget to treat each and every person with respect and dignity. We as Martial Artists want others to know that we don’t just kick and punch. We have a way of life. Our way is to be open minded, and not judge people without learning who they are first. We should light the way and show others that kindness and courtesy are virtues that can make a person shine. Be the person the lights up the room when you walk in. Offer your hand to help, offer your friendship. Be tolerant of others differences. Recognize that each person has their own beauty. It is your job to find that in them. By walking this path of treating others with dignity and respect we make our part of the world a better place.

One side note: I have been following the TRANSformation Coach on Face Book. Master Tran has a great program going. I recommend taking a look at this. There are also some very good inspirational and positive coaching videos posted on U Tube by Master Tran. These are all very, very, good, take a look and be Transformed!

Saturday, January 30, 2010

In Memory of Jeff Iannuzzo

There is an old saying that says, “no one lives forever. “ However, many touch the lives and hearts of others and in that influence they live forever. Amongst us there sometimes walk immortals. These are our true heroes. They create in us a desire to become more, to become extra ordinary. They might be teachers, parents, coaches, co-workers, bosses, anyone even Karate instructors.

One of the most influential people I knew was a Karate instructor. He was one of my instructors, in fact one of the first. He was a performer and loved performing, earning him the nick name “hot dog”, sometimes we called him “dogger” or “dog” long before it was a colloquial expression. I was amazed the first time I saw him perform a Kata. It was 1984 and he was practicing a musical Kata to the Hawaii Five-O theme. Jeff Iannuzzo could throw a perfect round house kick or side kick vertically, looking like a perfect split position only he was standing. His Kata’s where similar to what we see performed at the top level tournaments and exhibitions of today. Mr. Iannuzzo’s Katas where perfect exhibitions of Karate and Martial arts. Each move was always precise, crisp and just perfect. From the moment I watched that 16 year old young man perform that Kata I wanted to be able to perform a Kata like that with kicks like that, even if I lacked the talent, I wanted to at least come as close as possible to that kind of performance. Twenty-six years later I am still working on that.

I was watching Mr. Iannuzzo be coached by Mr. Steve Lavallee who is now known as Kyoshi Steve Lavallee. I believe I was an orange belt at the time and still working on throwing a side kick above belt level. I was amazed that it was possible to move and put movements together like this young man was doing it. Today we see great performances on the tournament circuit, but to this day I have never witnessed the kind of energy and perfection in Martial Arts Jeff Iannuzzo had in his performance. There were more than difficult kicks and aerial demonstrations; there were precise correct Martial Arts movements, with the energy of a combat for survival. Watching “dogger” perform a Kata enabled a person to really see the raw essence of Martial Arts. I am privileged to have been influenced by these performances.

I also considered Jeff my friend, and now I am sad I will never have a chance to speak with him again. I am happy though to have his memory with me. Outside the Martial Arts he was far from perfect as are we all. However, he was a great person when he walked out of the Dojo too. Jeff’s energy filled a room like a moving wave of water. I know his art had this in it and that is why his performances were so inspiring. Mr. Iannuzzo was hot headed, he had a short fuse, he was impulsive, and sometimes he acted before he thought. However he was loyal, kind, inspiring, dedicated to his students, his art, and tied his whole personality together with his never ending humor.

Mr. I was a tough instructor, he demanded you give your best. I believe he demanded that from himself and that is why he demanded it from his students. His talent was magnified by his dedication. Rick Iannuzzo, Jeff’s brother, told me once that his brother would practice one kick, one movement, or one section of Kata for hours on end. I am convinced this is why his Katas were always outstanding. He did not sit back and depend solely on his talent he worked hard to make his performance perfect. I lack the talent that Mr. I had but I try giving this same dedication to my performance. It is also something to strive for in other life skills. Those who add to their talent with never ending enthusiasm will always be in the lead.

Jeff was also one of the fairest and giving Martial Artist I had the privilege of training with. There are stories enough to fill a novel about the “Adventures of Dogger”. There is one story that lights the way to how Mr. I really was as a person. I hope to tell it here in way that conveys just how great a man he was. It was at one of the many tournaments the Lavallee’s team attended. There was always a great buzz at these local tournaments, that in those days most students and the school as a team always attended. Competitors milled about getting ready for their events warming up, watching others. The Black Belt Kata competition was usually first. Many were standing along the sides of the gym watching the Black Belts perform. Mr. I was doing a spear Kata when the sharp tip of the weapon came loose flying off striking a young boy student from a competing school in the ankle. The child had to be taken to the hospital for stitches. I am not sure how or why, but the child was brought back to the tournament to watch. He never had his chance to compete that day. I know Jeff must have been crushed by the accident. He knew that the child would not be able to perform his Kata or get in the ring for a chance to win a trophy. Jeff went on to win Kata Grand Champion. He gave that trophy to the boy.

There are far more stories to tell about this Karate instructor. He was an adventurous individual. He always pushed the limits in everything. All of my friends, fellow students, and instructors that knew him have stories to tell. He always made us laugh, all the while pushing us to be great. Many of his students became great competitors too. Jenny Hughes was a great talent he coached to perfection, along with John Swistak and too many more to list.

The sad calling hours at his passing was a tribute to how he touched people. I arrived as they began. As I drove down the road past the funeral home I could already see a line of literally thousands of people with sad and blank faces. Most faces I recognized even if I did not remember all the names. Many I did remember as we all trained together for many years. I felt very sad that for many of us it had been years since we had been together. Now we had come together to morn the passing of our friend and Instructor. The thousands of friends, students, and family stood in line on a hot summer day to say goodbye, too soon, to the Last Dragon. A seemingly indestructible person was gone.

Inside the funeral home the line wove in and out of different rooms. As the line snaked around the rooms again I was able to see so many people Jeff had somehow touched. Students and Instructors from other schools we all competed with in the past were there. Black Belts that had not actively trained in years stood in line and talked about coming back. We shook hands and talked about the “old days” as the “new days” would now go on without our friend. I came to the end of that day’s long journey three hours, maybe, standing in line to say goodbye and to try to give some comfort to the family. I hugged Rick, and his mother and his father, and Jeff’s very good friend Scott Ogata and fellow Black Belt. I left with sadness, but also with determination that I would never again walk away from the Martial Arts. Thank you My Friend, my Instructor; you will always be an inspiration. You are truly “The Last Dragon”. You will also live forever, you are still in the hearts of all who were and are inspired by your life.

This post is dedicated to Mr. Jeff Iannuzzo January 25, 1968 – June 29, 2007.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

It is Your Attitude that Determines your Altitude.

I mostly blog about my experience in the Martial Arts but this post will be just a little different. In the Martial Arts we often talk about attitude. There is an old saying: your attitude will determine your altitude. In my life I have a person that is the perfect example of this. My most lovely wife, Donna, is one of the bravest and strongest people I know. Her story is a shinning example of how going forward and never giving up in the face of adversity is how to succeed.

My wife’s success in life was raising her son and simply surviving. She had obstacles that would have crushed the average person. Even her start in life was a challenge. She was raised by alcoholic parents who divorced. Her father left the seven children and her mother with nothing. They ended up living in places where they only had chairs and couches to sleep on. They often times had nothing or very little to eat. When her mother would leave for days on end Donna would stay home from school and take care of the younger children. This eventually led to her expulsion from school at the age of 16. Donna never gave up and eventually went back to start to earn her GED. She was never able to complete that goal and this tragedy is where her real life struggle began.

In 1971 Donna married her first husband. By 1973 she was pregnant with her first and what would be her only child. She had been working at Hoffman’s (making hot dogs, sausages etc.) She knew that she needed to improve her income to help support the child she was carrying. She applied for and was hired by a local insurance agency as a secretary by scoring higher than all other applicants on an employment test. They decided to pay for her GED schooling since this bright young woman showed exceptional promise. This is when tragedy struck.

The Saturday after Thanksgiving of 1973 when Donna was about 5 months pregnant she suffered a cerebral hemorrhage caused by an aneurysm. She had some signs something was going on but the symptoms were dismissed as part of the pregnancy and/or “morning sickness”. It was luck that her ex-husband decided this was not the case when she could no longer speak or walk. He took her to the hospital and by that time the only thing she could say was “baby”.

By a miracle, especially by 1970’s medical standards, Donna survived. Her case is even listed in medical books. Her survival was only the beginning of the miracle that became my wife’s life. The stroke’s damage was severe. Donna would never again be able to work. She could not finish her GED. She did try only to be frustrated by the reality she could no longer read or comprehend written words. She was also left with expressive aphasia and a seizure disorder. Her husband who had never paid the bills or balanced the check book failed to now pay the bills or take care of other household finances. He also started an affair. By 1976 they divorced. So here was a young woman left alone with a two year old baby, unable to work, unable to read, or effectively express herself struggling to get by. When most people complain about day to day challenges, this young lady forged ahead with her disability in tow, alone.

Donna also endured fights to keep her son with her. There were some people who decided she was not capable of bringing up her son. She fought these efforts and won. She had good family that helped her along the way too. She had friends that helped her relearn how to keep a check book and would help her when she needed it. Donna brought up her son kept a household on meager SSI means and did so very well. Donna’s disability also prevents her from holding a driver's license. Still, she managed to go get groceries, take her son and herself to the doctor when necessary. She took help from others when needed but for the most part her day to day needs were met by one person, herself.

The most amazing part of my wife’s story is her never ending laughter and smile and positive outlook. She always kept a positive communication open with her ex-husband for her son’s sake. She remained friends with her mother in-law, for her son’s sake. She enjoys life and brings smiles and brings a positive atmosphere to everyone she meets. With everything against her she moved forward never pausing to wallow in self pity and negative attitudes. With 15% of her brain missing she gives 200%. She sews and does cross stitch keeping in mind she cannot read.

I met her in 1990 and in 1991 I married her. She is still the most positive and driven person I know. Her strength shows like a bright light in the darkness. Here is a person that could have easily given up and used her life’s adversity as a justification for doing so. Instead she used fortitude and indomitable spirit to relearn life survival skills. When doctors suspected she would never walk again, she did walk. When they said she might never talk again, she spoke. When people declared she was not capable of raising her son she did raise him to be a fine young man and a wonderful father to his own children now.

Donna still shows her strength today. She is now also a breast cancer survivor. She faced that disease with the same positive attitude she applies to everything. When first diagnosed her biggest concern was who was going to babysit the grandchildren while she went through cancer treatments. She held my Mother’s hand when she faced breast cancer following the year after her own recovery. She now gives comfort to my Father as he faces terminal bladder cancer. My wife’s energy, smiles, and laughter is never ending. When I think of heroes in the world she ranks amongst the highest. More than a sports hero, or movie hero she is a real life hero.

A positive attitude is one of life’s most important tools. My spouse’s story is proof that with the proper attitude you can survive and thrive through what ever life throws into your path. You choose your attitude. Anyone can choose to “cave in” to challenges or stand up and face them. You can choose to climb over obstacles or give up and never recover from adversity. It is your attitude that determines your altitude.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Quest for Excellence

In the quest of excellence where do we begin? How do we define excellence? Excellence is sometimes measured by other people’s standards. However, the best place to find excellence is in our own self evaluation. The definition of excellence is how what you have achieved has improved you as a person. That improvement can only be determined by your own measurement. As Martial Artists we all strive for excellence. We each have traveled different life paths and many of us have traveled a different Martial Arts path. Our instructors, teachers, and fellow students will all have their own standard and in any reputable Martial Arts organization this standard is really just a personal starting point. Giving your own personal best is really at the heart of excellence and only you can know what that is. While achieving and working towards something only the person working towards that goal knows inside if they are pushing themselves to that level of self excellence. In any endeavor if we only do the minimum to reach a certain level we have not achieved anything if that level did not push us past our present capacity. Pushing yourself beyond the point you thought possible is the only way to grow. In setting our goals we need to determine if reaching that point will stretch us beyond where we are in that area of fitness, art, works, or life skill. Without growth there is no reason to pursue any goal. The purpose of setting goals and/or having dreams is to grow as a person in some area of life. Stretching and growing as a person, student, husband, wife, son, daughter and, so on is what makes life worthwhile. If we are not growing we are not living we are only existing.

Excellence and growth then are one in the same. To excel we must grow, to grow we must excel. That is why Martial Artists have an advantage. We strive to learn and grow in our art. It is a never ending road but it is not an aimless wandering road. Martial Arts give us a way to map our growth. We set our Martial Arts goals and this learning will almost automatically cross over into the other areas of life. There is an endless amount of learning that can be followed in the Martial Arts just like life. While moving forward in the Arts we also move forward in life. We see new opportunities in the Arts, which will lead us to also realize we can open new doors in our lives. The story of my own personal experience is a perfect example. The day before my 1st Degree Black Belt test, over twenty-one years ago, I lost my job. I was a young man who had never before faced the dilemma of losing a position. The confidence I gained on the road to Black Belt not only gave me courage to face my upcoming test regardless of my personal challenge, the training and knowledge gathered on that road gave me the tools needed to charge ahead and find new employment. In two weeks I found a new job and worked with that company for eleven years.

Our perspective of the Arts is different while we are white belts just as our perspective in life is different from when we were children. Our perspective of the Arts is also different as a newly christened Black Belt from that of a seasoned Black Belt. New Black Belts are energized and ready for the next step. When we begin in the Martial Arts we start with a “clean slate”. Our minds are open to the new adventure we have decided to undertake. This is similar to the open minds of children, who are ready and willing to learn. To stay energized and motivated in the Martial Arts we must keep the open mind of a white belt and the energy of someone who has just crossed that threshold to Black Belt. That willingness to start on a new journey and the willingness to stretch beyond our current success will keep you fresh. The crossover to life skills in keeping an open mind can only lead to life success. Keep your mind fresh like a child’s mind. Be willing to accept new ideas and explore new ways of approaching challenge. Regardless if that challenge is in your career, family or spiritual points on your wheel of life, keeping an open mind and keeping energized is the key to being successful and climbing the walls life will always place before you.

An open mind then, is essential for excellence. If we are not open to new ideas and ways of doing things we begin to stand still and fail to move forward. To grow we must continue to press on and move forward. Without forward momentum life’s challenges will ultimately start pushing us backwards. Since excellence and growth go hand in hand so is open mindedness an essential component in excellence. Also to move forward we need to stay energized since the forward momentum needed for excellence takes motivation and motivation takes energy.

Here then are keys to excellence: open mindedness, motivation, energy. The measurement of excellence is the improvement to your own level of success. An example of this can be seen in competitive running. If at 50 years old I would not expect my run times to be the same as when I was eighteen it is not realistic. However if I measure my progress against how well I do in my age class during a race then that is where I can see my progress. If I were to finish in the top 10% in one race and then improve to the top 5% then I have made progress and can say I have achieved excellence. In Martial Arts I can approach progress in a similar way. At 50 years old I can’t expect to achieve the same height in my flying side kick that I did when I tested for my Black Belt when I was 28 years old. I can expect to continue to improve my form and to keep fit enough to still be able to do a flying side kick. That then becomes my measurement for excellence and success.

Keeping on a journey of excellence will never be easy. It takes work. It takes an open mind, it takes energy and motivation. To maintain an open mind, energy and motivation it is essential to know how to measure excellence in ourselves. The only one who can measure excellence in yourself is you. Take a look at your strengths and improve on them. Take a look at your weakness and work to lessen their effect on your performance. Measure progress against what is realistic for you. If we keep these things in mind it will help a person succeed and achieve excellence that is necessary for a meaningful and fulfilling life. The Martial Arts gives people the tools to achieve excellence. It is often times referred to as Black Belt excellence. If you are not involved in the Martial Arts, consider it. If you have been in the Martial arts but wandered away come back. Excellence is waiting for you.

Friday, January 1, 2010

A New Year New Goals... Lets write them down and get to it!

A new year is here and it is a time for reflection. Many people choose this time to set new goals. Some will stick to their goals others will fall by the wayside. I have never really been one to set New Years resolutions but this year I decided to take this time to renew some goals I have set on the “back burner” for a while. One of them was this blog. I will make a commitment to set something down here once a week, at the very least.

Goals are something we all need not only in our Martial Arts training but in our daily lives. Life is often times difficult to navigate and to get through good times and bad we need to be the “driver” behind the wheel of our own life. Actively choose not to be the passenger that is just along for the ride, get behind the wheel and direct your life and keep it on the road of your choosing. Keep your internal talk positive, and when things seem to be against you, remember nothing worth achieving is going to be easy. There will always be days that you may not perform your best, or keep on track. We all have times when we can get out of focus. They key to overcoming the “dips” and “valleys” that are a natural part of the journey of life and the Martial Arts, is to just pick up where you left off. Do not dwell on a failure as negative or of lack of motivation on one day as failure. View failure as a learning experience and incorporate that into life and training. One day off is just that one day. Success or failure is not treading on the action you take on one day but on the action you take over time. The most successful people have often times failed to succeed a number of times. The reason they eventually made their goals happen is: they never gave up. They took what they had learned from their experience and moved forward from that moment, that place and that time. Soichiro Honda, the founder of Honda Motor Company, failed many times on his way to success and his quote “Success is 99% failure” points to the direction of real success. Be prepared to fail in order to succeed. Do not fear failure, embrace it. Failure will give you strength as long as it is embraced and dissected into a self teaching experience. Don’t ask “Why did this happen to me”. Ask, “What choice will put me back on track now”. When you miss one day of training, one run, one work out, just come back to it the next day. Do not let one day’s lack of motivation derail your goal. Write down your short term goals and when that day comes, and it will, that you lack motivation go over what you have written down, reenergize yourself with the excitement you had at the moment you wrote down those goals and the feelings you had when you originally went through that process.

We all want to reach our goals, but wanting it and making it happen sometimes get separated. The way to keep the want and the reality together is to break the large goal into a series of small goals and set tangible time frames for those small goals. Each small goal is a step on the stairway leading to our final long term goal. As each small goal is achieved celebrate and reward your achievement and then get to work on that next small goal. Make the goals specific too. A goal that is not well defined becomes unwieldy and easy to abandon. Make sure these goals are realistic too. A goal to loose 30 pounds in one week is good example of an unrealistic goal. It is not only unhealthy but is not practical either. That is why self analysis of your goals is very important. Review your goal well and determine the reasons achieving that goal will be of benefit to you.

Many of us know how important goals are and if you have been in the Martial Arts you are well aware of goals and how to reach them since you walked that path from belt to belt. Even if you have been in a program that did not emphasize goal setting you obviously set them even if it was not a conscious effort. It is always effective to remind ourselves of how important goal setting is. That is part of the reason I put this all down was to remind myself of this. Keep on your journey move forward and never give up. Write down your goals. Review what you have written and keep setting new goals. I will see you all in 2010 and I hope we all achieve the goals many of us are setting right now. My quest this year will be the achievement of my Third Degree Black Belt. My plan is to reach this by the third quarter of 2010. (The Final date is to be determined by my Sensei, Instructor and friend Rick Iannuzzo.) I will document much of my journey here. I will see you on the path and on the Journey in the Martial arts.