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5 Keys to Unlocking Potential

You may not know what you want, but if you know what you definitely don’t want, it’s a good start.
When I opened my first school on my own, I was in that exact situation. I didn’t know what exactly I wanted to do as a teacher, coach and instructor, but I was certain of several things that I did NOT want to do.

1. I did NOT want to make anyone feel excluded.
I remembered in my childhood what the effect of being picked last or not picked at all had on certain kids. I totally understood that athletes have to improve over time and have to earn their spot. But, having teacher’s pets or coaches favorites made the less gifted team members less motivated to keep striving for improvement. You can’t teach them anything if they quit.

2. I did NOT want anyone to feel intimidated.
When I was a white belt, it was very “old school” training. The instructor walked around with a stick and would “correct” students’ stances by whacking them on the back of the leg, or wherever they were out of alignment. I remember the tension in the room and the intimidation felt by the students. They were afraid to make mistakes for fear of reprimand or physical punishment and humiliation. If you are afraid of making mistakes, you are more likely to be tense. Thus, your mind zero’s in and focuses solely on NOT messing up. It doesn’t waste it’s time exploring new ways to do something- it focuses on not messing up. When you are tense, physically, mentally and/or emotionally, you shut down. You don’t grow- you just try and survive. Creativity stops. Forward motion stops. If you are made fun of when you mess up, the effect is the same. You shut down. I have never met anyone yet who wanted to be made fun of or embarrassed. If I try something and make a mistake and you make fun of me, I might not want to try it again. But, if I try something and, even if I totally blow it, you say something like “good try” or “that was almost it”, I am more likely to keep trying again until I get it right.

3. I did NOT want anyone to get hurt.
I understand completely that martial arts is a contact sport. If I am a competitor, I expect to have a higher level of training and contact. Black belt sparring is essentially full contact- knockouts win you a match. But, in a classroom situation, I just never saw the benefit of having children kick each other in the head and cry. Pushing them to the point of injury does not make them “tougher”, it makes them either aggressive or defeated. There is not much middle ground. Either end of that pendulum is not a good place to be for anyone, no matter their age. If I can train with someone I trust, then I am free to try new things and grow as an athlete. If I think you are just trying to knock my block off, then I am more likely to just try and survive my time in the ring and be done. Nothing learned except that I don’t like working with that person and will probably try and avoid them altogether.

4. I did NOT want anyone to leave without having had some success.
They say people may not remember what you said, but they will remember how you made them feel. As a student, I don’t expect to learn something new every time I go to class, or have the instructor entertain me. I do, however, want to make progress every time I step on the mat. If every student comes to class and can see some kind of progress, then two things happen. First, they leave feeling a little more confident about themselves. Second, they have more motivation to keep trying. It’s a cycle that repeats itself continually. They have some success, they leave feeling good, they look forward to doing it again, they get a little better. Rinse and repeat.

5. I did NOT want to teach how to win trophies.
I hated going to tournaments and seeing parents yell at their kids to “WIN!!” I was at a tournament once and literally heard a parent yelling at their kid that if they didn’t win, they were going to get a spanking when they got home. (!) It was NOT what I wanted to teach my students, or even expose them to. I didn’t want “winning trophies” to be the end-all be-all. At one point, we had the largest competitive team in Texas. We had parents trained to be coaches. They were on the mat with the kids, they wore headsets at the tournaments so we could keep up with whomever was getting ready to compete. The two things I always asked them was 1- Did you have fun? 2- Did you learn something? I told them that if we were only there for the medal or the trophy, that we could have stayed home and saved a LOT of money and bought a REALLY nice one. We wanted the experience. We wanted to test our skills and challenge ourselves and we wanted to have FUN. When the stress of “winning” was removed, a funny thing happened. They won. A lot.

So, that is what I started with. Those five principles are what I used all those years ago and I still use today. I started with what I didn’t want to do to lead me closer to what I wanted to do. I wanted to make a positive difference in the lives of my students. A funny thing happened along the way. They made a positive difference in my life, too. That is definitely a win in my book.

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