Wednesday, January 4, 2017

2017 - A Return to One

Happy New Year!

As 2017 kicks into gear, I wanted to write a bit on where I am in my Shugyo (martial path) and my focus for this new year.  Reading back over my past blog entries, I see the winding path of my own evolution in understanding and perception.  Through my words, I can still feel the roller coaster of frustration, confusion and inspiration.  The one constant throughout my writing is that I was always reaching for something, yet struggled in knowing truly what that "something" was.  I was chasing an elusive and unknown thing, guided by an ever changing and undefined "feeling".

During this last 2016 training year, my blog entries seemed to take more of a philosophical approach and the frequency slowly diminish.  The truth was simply due to the fact that I was no longer finding words to express anything concrete, so my hesitancy to put it into writing was a reflection of my own insecurity in putting a definition or commitment to where I was.  Something was changing inside of me and in my training - and I felt strongly that to conclude anything in writing would trap me in a limited view of the experience.  Interestingly, that is also why you won't see much written by me on the experiences I had training with the Shihan and Soke in Japan.

But, there has been a shift, a new awakening and purpose for my training.  Over the last year, I have had several opportunities to train and communicate with certain teachers who helped me to realize that what I had been striving for all these years, what could only be described as a "feeling", was actually quite primal and basic.  It wasn't about the kata, the history, or even lofty philosophies.  It was simplicity.  Not simplicity in an elementary sense, but simplicity in a deep and rich sense.

This realization has also shown itself in my own personal life, as well.  I turned 49 this year and the older I am getting, the more I crave simplicity in my relationships and professional life.  I have either eliminated or cut down the influence of those relationships which are toxic, or negative.  I find myself ignoring negative people and "stuff" more, choosing instead to focus on that which is uplifting and adds value to my life.  This process of detachment has caused me to also look at my own martial path differently.  Those people and things which used to seem so important to me actually have become less important.  I no longer worry about trying to meet the expectations of others, this crazy "peer pressure" phenomena that often can place burdens on people which are contradictory to the balance of one's family, career and personal goals.  I no longer judge myself against others, as we all have our own situations, goals and understandings of life and budo.

All I see now is myself and the role I play in building a strong foundation in those relationships which matter the most (family and my inner circle of friends), the successes and goals I want professionally to benefit my family and myself, and in my martial arts training to develop myself and my body so that it enriches me in ways that impact every area of my life.  In order to reach this level of growth, I have begun to dig inward, to dissect my own beliefs, habits and assumptions.  I have begun to explore what it is that truly fulfills me, inspires me and provides both clarity and peace.  All those things really are wrapped up in one "feeling" and it is that feeling which is providing the compass for me in who and what I want to invest my time, energy and focus on.

In my training, I have begun to let go of what I now see as inconsistent, unstable and seemingly random training ideas and methods.  Instead, I am focused on the very basic, the "one".  What I mean by that is this strategical concept of "one line".  This is in motion, as well as structure.  With the concept of the shortest distance between two points being a straight line, having a movement that is as linear and direct as possible, with a structure that lines up on that line, time itself shortens and perception challenged.  It takes less energy to have all parts moving together in one direction and force is condensed and multiplied like a laser.  Defensively, one line allows the body to be covered and concealed by the most forward point, since everything else is stacked up behind that point.  Not only are vitals protected, but also there is the strategy that everything which deflects from that singular forward point will continue off the trajectory at an oblique angle and miss the rest of the body.  It is offense and defense in one body and action.

Two concepts which resonated with me this last year are:

Kobo Itai (offense/defense in one body)
Kobo Jizai (attack/defend interchangeably or freely)

What also resonated with me is the concept of Ichi, or One, and how it plays into Kobo Itai and Kobo Jizai.  A singular point of structure and balance allows for movement in any direction, whereas two points of structure and balance do not.  In order to move, you have to shift between points.  If your point is unsupported, you can't change until you reach a supported point.  Take, for instance, a wide stance with your center line (Seichusen = True Middle Line) in the midway point between your feet.  Now try moving any direction, other than using the knees to shift forward and back.  You will find the natural tendency to move your body (center of weight/balance) towards one leg in order to move the other.  You essentially unload the leg you want to move, then move it.  Otherwise, you are committing your weight into the move by "throwing" your leg and body in that direction.  If you move your body, your vitals go with it, so committing your body and weight in a motion is to commit all your vitals into it.  In addition, by having to unload a leg, then move, you are using two actions.  Your attacker is attacking in one action.  Therefore, you may avoid the first attack by unloading a leg, but the second attack will happen as you move your body.  This might be okay for slow, drawn out, step by step sequences of a kata, but in a flurry of sudden attacks, it is not fast enough.

One line of structure and balance allows for instant movement and rotation.  One line, one move, one chance or moment.  Life and death hangs in that precise point.  In my opinion, that "one" is the kaname, the point on which everything is hinged.

It is important to note there are different ways of moving and different ways of holding the structure and balance of the body, but since I am writing about a beginning, I am showing the beginning as being "one"...

So, mastering this One Line requires a progressive work with the body structure.  Exercises which build flexibility and range of motion are needed, with an emphasis on the strength and flexibility of the tendons and ligaments.  This can be found in the Junan Taiso and Ryuutai Undo Ho sections of our training, but there are also many other great methods which work, too.  As someone who is older and with conditions like Lumbar Scoliosis (curvature of the lower spine), this challenges me to work even harder at this.  Moving in one line is also a major challenge, as the stress to the joints and connective tissues is based upon one's ability to maintain a one line structure while moving from position to position.  Many people open their center as they move, which reduces and even eliminates the quality of the one line structure I described above.

Other basics that I am working on include emphasizing the role the knees play in structure and movement.  By initiating all movement with the knees and allowing the sinking action of the body to extend my knee past my supporting foot, this also puts to the test the importance of strong, flexible tendons and ligaments.  Range of motion isn't just circular, but also along linear lines which descend down the farther they go.  The farther down you go, the more flexibility and range of motion are required of the hips, too (to avoid "Gaijin Butt", or sticking the butt out to compensate for lack of flexibility and range of motion in the hip sockets).

Those are just a few examples, but there are other points which are also important to me, yet "basic" from a foundation perspective.  Besides your structure and balance (i.e. Kamae), an often glossed over part of training is in the areas of Tsuki, Uke and Keri.  More than just punching, blocking/receiving and kicking, these three are critical to the rest of training.  Their effectiveness is directly proportional to the quality of your structure and balance, which in turn must rely on your flexibility and range of motion (see the progression of training?).  For Tsuki, you have to be able to strike along one line, as this allows for maximum timing (remember the shortest distance rule?), while covering your vitals and allowing you to close and contact with decisive and penetrating force.  For Uke, being able to "receive" on one line allows you to move all your vitals off the attack line and shield them behind your forward point.  Whether you are executing Dakken Uke (receive by striking) or Uke Negashe (receive by using a kind of deflect or parry), the body still does the same movement, to take one line of structure, balance and timing.  For Keri, kicking is projected from the body structure and balance, but kicks also need to be done in a manner that allows for change without losing the one line of structure and balance.  If the body weight moves off the structure and balance line, the body "falls" into the kick - or back when the kick meets resistance.

The importance of the structure and balance being on one line not only is paramount for Kamae, Uke, Tsuki and Keri, but it also is equally paramount in all the weapons we train with.  So, the common link between weapon and fist rests in the body, but not just body, but on one line or point.  Like the center axis of the In/Yo (Yin/Yang) wheel, there is no separation of polarities, only singularity of the One.  That is what I am seeking, beginning with the One of my training, but also bringing together the three parts of my life - Family, Work, Training - into one life, my life.

This leads me to my last point, that in this new year, I am embarking on a new venture.  I have begun to do Facebook Live video broadcasts through my public dojo page.  These broadcasts are centered on living as a martial artist in today's world, beginning with discussions on balancing the family, work and training parts of our lives, along with strategies and ideas to maximize results in all three.  Please visit my dojo page, follow along in the broadcasts and please help by being involved in the discussions, giving thumbs up and hearts, and Liking and Sharing the posts!

If you have read this far, then hopefully you have an idea of what I am trying to express.  You certainly are free to have your own ideas and understanding and certainly I respect how you choose to live out our Shugyo.  My only hope is that maybe something I've written has spurred some new thinking or perception.  But, this blog is about my life, my training and how I understand things.  As we are all different, I hold no expectations and only use this as a vehicle or method to try and express what is most often too difficult to put into words.

Also, know that we all are evolving in our lives, so what I written now may not express where I am later.  We all continue to grow, which is why it is always important to "keep going".


Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Shidoshi - Are You A Living Example?

When I first started in the Bujinkan, the number of Shidoshi in the United States was only a fraction of what it is today.  Unless you were fortunate to live near one, you had to drive, fly or ride the bus to go train.  There was no internet (at least not for public use) and very little credible video (VHS tapes).  You scraped money and sacrificed to get some kind of training from a Shidoshi and go back home to practice on it until you could get more training.  The quality wasn't the best, either, as the information available was very limited (compared to today).  Back then, a Shidoshi really did mean that you were a "teacher", because you were most often the only source for many to receive training.  It was easy to fall for bad teaching, too, as students had no other sources to validate the teaching they were receiving.  Nowadays, so many go to Japan and come back that it isn't hard to spend time training with someone who has trained in Japan, even if that person isn't a Shidoshi.  Anybody who is off their rocker with their own made up ideas can easily be compared with others who have either training in Japan or train with someone who has trained in Japan.  It is getting harder for people to set up their own cult-like empires, as they don't hold the monopoly on training anymore.

In the early years of my training, being a Shidoshi meant you could easily set up a school, write books and produce videos, with some degree of success at producing lucrative results.  During the 1980's and 1990's when I first started, being a Shidoshi meant something marketable.  For some, it was a career path.  Now, with so many getting their Shidoshi license inside and outside of Japan, tests being performed by jugodan instead of Soke himself, being a Shidoshi means much less these days from a marketing standpoint.  The only exception would be countries where the number of Shidoshi are still very few.  But, overall, most people won't even blink an eye at someone coming back with a fresh, new Shidoshi menkyo.

So, why do so many still flock to take the godan test and pay the extra fee for the Shidoshi menkyo?  Is there still a dream of opening a dojo and being a Bujinkan authority?  Are these people viewing the Shidoshi menkyo as more important than the godan menkyo?  Is the stigma of being a Shidoshi simply feeding the ego of the student?  I have to confess, I was more proud of being a new Shidoshi than I was a godan.  I am being brutally honest about that.

So, what does it mean to be a Shidoshi? Do people really know or do they have their own idea and seek to fill that image?  What is that image and is it even realistic in today's Bujinkan?

For many, many years (and even today), the term Shidoshi has been described as "teacher of the Warrior Ways of Enlightenment" (whatever that means).  But, this isn't the case.  There's a blog post written recently by someone that touches on this very thing.  Unfortunately, I can't remember the author's name or the link to it, but the point still hit home with me.  The term Shidoshi does not mean "teacher".  The term Sensei actually means "teacher".  But, sensei is a term reserved for more of a technical and academic nature, like a university professor or school teacher.  The sensei are teaching a specific body of knowledge and skills, like a curriculum.  Soke, in all his wisdom, chose to use the term Shidoshi instead.  Why?  Don't we, as Shidoshi, also teach?

We do teach!  Some of us have curriculum, ranking standards and so on, much like a scholastic or technical school would.  In those environments, we are sensei.  But, our Shidoshi menkyo doesn't say sensei.  It says Shidoshi.  So, there has to be more - and there is!

Being a Shidoshi is far more than being a sensei.  You are not teaching, you are leading.  That is a very different thing.  In order to lead, you have to provide the example.  You are the example.  How you conduct yourself, how you approach training, how you struggle and how you grow.  By being a Shidoshi, you are the lantern holder, the light bearer, to lead others along this confusing and difficult path we call Bujinkan Budo Taijutsu.  You can't walk facing backwards, so your students just have to look to your light and keep following.  Your responsibility is to provide the direction and their responsibility is to forge on to try and keep up.

However, from the Shidoshi's perspective, this is extremely difficult.  It would be easier to just be a godan+ and focus on your own training.  But, as a Shidoshi, now you have to be there for others.  You are responsible for being there, for providing that example and encouraging them to keep going.

You are climbing this budo mountain, while your students are roped to you and struggling to also climb.  If they don't put in the effort, they will begin to pull you and everybody else back.  This is why the sempai/kohai (senior/junior) class structure is so important.  If a junior level student begins to falter, their senior can help them while the Shidoshi continues.  In the old days, if you were not proving your own and it became a hinderance to the rest of the class, you could be asked to leave!  So, for the sake of being allowed to continue, you had to train hard to keep going.  If you were weak in something, you trained even harder to make up for it.  Through your commitment and hard work, you demonstrated something that others would learn from.

You were already leading by your example.

Nowadays, we see people who are high rank, yet lack certain qualities that one would expect of such a rank.  I have seen grossly overweight and out of shape black belt students and even Shidoshi.  I have seen high ranking teachers who couln't perform basic techniques with any real skill.  They may have been complete badass students at one time, before they became such high ranking teachers, but that seemed to fade away as they progressed in rank and status.  Why?  How does that happen?  Are they no longer training as students?  Have they abandoned their own Shugyo to sit on their laurels?

Do they still embody the kind of example you want to follow?  Are they still leading, or just teaching?  Are they no longer a Shidoshi and just being a sensei?

If you really study Soke and the Japanese Shihan, you will notice something interesting.  The older they get, the younger they seem.  Soke is, what, 84 now?  Other senior Japanese Shihan are also in their 70's and 80's.  Yet, they are flexible, strong and able to move with incredible grace and power.  They all have vibrant health and an energy that most people reaching their 60's only wish they had.

If you follow the example of Soke and the senior Japanese Shihan, do you think your health and vitality would also increase?  Do you think your taijutsu would actually improve with age?  Old age is no excuse for these gentlemen - why should it be for the rest of us?  So, they are showing us how to live as budoka.  They are providing the example.  They are leading.  It's up to us to try and work hard to follow.  For some of us, we may need to work even harder than others.

Maybe some of us could do with a wake up call by being asked to leave our status as Shidoshi until we train enough to be considered as someone worthy of being a leader instead of a teacher.  Can you imagine that?

What about the ranking menkyo you hold, even if not a Shidoshi yet.  Are you worthy to be considered a sempai (senior), a leader for kohai (junior) to follow?  Maybe you need a wake up call, to leave your current rank until you train yourself up enough to be the kind of sempai you should be.

For many, this probably has spurred some anger, maybe some fear.  The ego attaches itself to rank easily and through this attachment, it also is easy to ignore our own truth.  The ego prevents us from realizing and accepting when we have abandoned our own Shugyo under the false mask of our status, title, rank and presumed role.  It is easy to fall for it.  When you have students who look to you for their training, maybe even pay you for your teaching, you can become attached to that over the driving passion of furthering yourself as a student.  It is attractive and, to be frank, quite entertaining to be the recipient of such attention.  Also, it is normal for a teacher to devote him or her self to their students, even at the cost of their own development.

They have a title, they have a product and they have those who are willing to pay (money, time, attention) to get it.  Why struggle on the difficult and challenging path of growth when one can sit back on what they know already and receive some personal and/or financial compensation for it?  To continue to be a student is to be transparent, to make mistakes and question what you know.  How can you have any sort of confidence as a teacher when you are vulnerable to discovering what you thought you knew was either wrong or incomplete?  How can you market yourself to potential students when you yourself are forced to question your own understanding?

Yet, we expect our students to walk that path, to train hard and keep training, to accept correction and grow from it.  Why do so many expect so much less from themselves, all because they now see themselves as a Shidoshi?  Shouldn't a Shidoshi exemplify these qualities to the degree that not only do they provide example-centered leadership to their students, but also a real example of continued development?

To be a Shidoshi, it's not enough to just train.  It's not enough to just teach.  You have to lead, by example, and be the kind of student you want your students to be.  Through your own example, you are teaching your students how to be students.

That is a far greater responsibility than just being a godan, as it should be.  Not everybody can do it, not everybody should do it, and those who hold that title and can't live up to it should step back, refocus on being a hard training student - and grow back into being it.

Being a Shidoshi is not a job title.  It's a living example of being a true budoka.  Reaching that point and finally passing the sakki test for godan is one thing.  Choosing to then pay the extra fees to become a Shidoshi isn't just about receiving the menkyo and having a fancy sounding title.  By choosing to be a Shidoshi, you are choosing to be an example.  That doesn't end.  It continues even as your ranking progresses to jugodan.  That's because being Shidoshi goes beyond the rank.

If you are training to be a Shidoshi, are you willing to accept that responsibility?  If you are a Shidoshi, are you living and training as a living example for others to follow in their own Shugyo?  Or, are you too busy teaching?

Monday, August 15, 2016

When Your Love of Something Is Greater Than Your Fear...

“When your love of something is greater than your fear of doing it, you will do it. You don't have to fear less, just love more.”

Fear and doubt kill the aspiring martial artist.  Pride and selfishness kill the experienced martial artist.  What I want to write about is the process involved in becoming a martial arts student.  Many desire to be it, but far less actually become it.  Even less actually embody it for their lifetime.  No matter what stage you are, there is no getting around the reality that being a martial arts student means you must be able to face your own self in all its flawed glory.  It is uncomfortable and sometimes painful, emotionally, mentally and even physically.  This requires not only bravery, but humility.

In every dojo is a kamidana.  It is a shelf up high in the front of the room.  It contains a variety of symbolic items.  Centered on most is a simple, round mirror.  There is a great significance to this little mirror, but one can see it as “truth”, a reflection of your own heart, showing you – you.  It has to be polished every day, just like our own heart, as life can tarnish our heart and mind as much as it can a mirror.  A tarnished mirror won’t show you a clear reflection and a tarnished heart and mind will poison your perspective, understanding and passion (and compassion).  When we enter the dojo, we come in tarnished.  Through correct training, we work to polish our mirror, so that we leave cleaner than we arrived.

However, this involves having to accept the stains, the tarnish, and the work necessary to clean it away.  For some people, they fear not only the tarnish, but of what lies underneath.  They fear the truth about themselves, their lives and the reality around them.  Their fantasy, their narrative, even with the stains and foggy vision, is their security – even to the point of self-destruction.  They would rather wallow in living ineffective and delusional, than to embrace a clear, full life of empowerment and truth.  The reasons vary, but most often due to toxic programming they received in their formative years, mistakes they’ve made and other kinds of self-deflating experiences which convinced them that reality is too painful to face, or they are not “good enough” to chase their dreams and live a life of fulfillment and success.  Maybe they suffered a horrible victimization that stripped them of their worth.  Whatever the reason, the ugliness of it all can be too much.

Then, there are those who desire to be a martial arts student, but lack the willpower and fortitude to actually work for it.  They are used to having their happiness provided with little cost and effort.  Their pride tells them they shouldn’t have to work so hard to be a martial arts student.  They should just be able to be one just by wanting it.  Of course, there are countless so-called students who do show up, most often without any consistency, and have the same mindset.  They believe in minimal effort with an expectation of maximum results.  They don’t stick around long term, unless they have a teacher who keeps their ego fluffed with low expectation rewards (i.e. “everybody gets a trophy!”).

I want to focus on those who honestly desire to be a martial arts student, to go to class and train hard, but just can’t seem to actually step foot into the dojo.  What is it that stops that person and prevents them from pursuing something they really want to do?

Entering a dojo for the first time, each person has a preconceived image or impression of what they “think” the training is.  Once you make a decision to want to train, suddenly the closet opens and all those demons you had been able to silence in your safe, compromised life (we all make compromises!), suddenly surround you, filling you with fear and doubt.  Those demons say the same scripts that have deflated you on so many opportunities in the past (admit it, you have made choices not to do one or more things based on these statements):

“You aren’t good enough!”

“You are out of shape!”

“It’s too expensive!”

“You don’t have time for this!”

“It’s too far!”

“People will judge you!”

“You will hold others back!”

“Your friends/family will laugh at you!”

“You’ll get hurt!”

“Who do you think you are?”

“You’re too good to be a white belt again!”  (yup, other martial artists go through this)

And just about any other reason, no matter how petty or unrealistic, or even embarrassing…

A common phrase in the fitness world is “Showing Up Is Half The Struggle”.  The day you first decide to go to the dojo is big.  But, when you actually step into the dojo, you’ve crossed over half the struggle.  Even if you don’t actually get out onto the mat and train, you’ve already been halfway successful in being a martial arts student!  You have ignored the demons and showed up.  When you do that, you begin to realize how utterly powerless those demons really are.  The only power they have is what you have given them.  Keep showing up and eventually stepping out onto the mat doesn’t seem so bad.  Once you place your foot on the tatami (mat), you have crossed a threshold.  You are there, in the dojo, on the tatami, in the class.  You will be welcomed with smiles and encouraged to participate.  Your first partner will be someone who has gone through the same things as you to get there.  Maybe not the same degree, but maybe worse!  Yet, there you both are, having gone through the rite of passage, to be in class and training as martial arts students.

We all go through the process together, but in our own time and in our own ways.  Our demons are uniquely ours, but share common traits.  The negative reinforcement those demons try to hammer us with are not much different between each person.  But, those students who show up, put on their keikogi (training uniform) and step onto the tatami each week have chosen to listen to something else – their love for training.  They are transforming from powerless to powerful.  They stop listening to those demons and embrace the fact that those demons are nothing more than empty threats, false prophets and powerless charlatans who try to keep you buried in your own ineffectiveness and illusions.  When you step onto the tatami and your partner grabs you or strikes at you, there is no more illusion.  You are facing reality, even if controlled and safe (If you didn’t face reality in that moment, you’d get hit or thrown!).

It is exhilarating to discover how your demons really have no power.  You begin to believe you actually can do this, and the rewards become far more worth the effort!  In your excitement, you begin to wonder what else you can achieve.  You find yourself applying the same rite of passage to other things you have wanted to do, but had sold yourself out to those nasty demons!

So, you begin to start training and, at first, you enjoy it.  You make friends and the fears begin to go away as you continue to show up and train at increasing level.  The class becomes a routine for you.  That’s where those demons start to chip away at you again.  New reasons to stop showing up begin to appear in your mind:

“I’m too tired.”

“I’m just not feeling it…”  (be honest, we all have used this one!)

“There’s a show I want to watch.”

“I’m not getting any better; I don’t see the point…”  (that’s a killer!)

“If (enter name) isn’t going, I don’t want to go”

“I need to rest up for the weekend…”

“It’s too (name whatever weather condition fits) outside”

“I can’t find my keiko gi” (or belt, or tabi, or training weapons, etc)

Or whatever rationalization it takes to make it okay for you to not come out (ooh, I know that sounds harsh, but I’ve done it, too, so deal with it!  LOL!)

The problem with rationalizations is that each time you use them, you begin to add power to the underlying reason - and empowering not yourself, but those dirty little demons who are robbing you of YOU!

Look, training sometimes sucks.  Those of you who have been training for some time, I know you “know” what I mean.  There are classes where I just felt disconnected.  There were weeks I would’ve done just about anything else.  I’ve had classes go horribly wrong, too.  I have embarrassed myself terribly over a complete screw up in front of a whole room of people and senior instructors.  I’ve had injuries.  I’ve had personal challenges.  I’ve had ample number of reasons to skip a class, take a break from training and even quit training altogether (come on, tell me you haven’t considered it, too!).  We ALL go through this game and those who show up in class are in a kind of brotherhood or sisterhood of people who just didn’t listen to those voices, who sucked it up and went anyway, even when they had an entire list of reasons why they shouldn’t (again, all just rationalizations of a deeper issue).

Yet, I can’t think of any time where I didn’t feel like it, was too tired, weather sucked, blah blah, and went anyway – and wished I hadn’t!  I can’t think of a single class I regretted going to.  Even on those times where I’ve screwed up and embarrassed myself.  Looking back, those were valuable lessons I would’ve missed had I not gone and I would’ve never grown from them had I not continued going afterward!


We ALL go through this together.

 The choice you make is purely yours, but you are not alone.  That room of folks who showed up did so facing the same doubts, fears, negative self-talk and rationalizations.  They may have struggled the entire way to the dojo. They may even be standing there on the tatami thinking how much easier it would be to just leave.  But they don’t and when class is over, you’ll see them smiling and laughing, thankful they mustered the courage and followed their heart, instead of their demons.

They love what they do more than the fear of doing it.

So, what are you doing this week?  Are you going to class?

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Fishing: Lessons of Life and Budo

When I was young, my friends and I loved to go fishing.  I don't know why we loved it so much.  Maybe it was the outdoors, the thrill of the catch, or jumping into swimming holes when the fish weren't biting.  Fishing always has held a special place for me and, even though I don't fish as much as I would love, there have been some significant life lessons which have come from it.

We all caught Blue Gill.  These little fish frequented the streams and creeks around where we lived.  Many of the creeks would dry up in late summer, leaving fish carcasses for birds and bugs to devour.  Yet, when the creeks would run again with the rainfalls of winter and spring, a whole new batch of these vibrant little fish would spawn again.  The thing we liked about them was that they would snap and bite at bare hooks.  If you threw in a line with a shiny little hook, you didn't need any bait.  They would bite at that hook the moment it hit the water.  My friend's mom would always ask us to bring back a few so she could put them in her garden.  She always said the rotting fish would produce the best flowers and vegetables.

Even with all the little Blue Gill we would catch, nothing compared to catching larger fish.  Trout were always a common fish for us to try and catch.  They lived in the larger rivers, lakes and streams.  Young trout were similar to the Blue Gill, snapping at anything shiny or eye catching.  We would usually catch and release, hoping one day to catch them again when they got bigger.  They were the ones we would see out in the open, swimming in the currents, looking for anything that caught their eye and looked like food.  These were also the ones who fell prey to birds and animals looking to catch their next meal.

Older, larger Trout, however, were smart and tricky.  They didn't fall for what came at them, for the shiny lure or bait that just didn't look right.  They also hid more, staying out under rocks and trees.  You had to find them, but make sure they don't find you.

Bass were also difficult to catch.  Because of the heat during the summer, they usually were in much deeper waters, like the lakes in the area, and would come up to the surface during the cooler mornings and evenings.  They were more selective, too.  You had to really be patient and trick them into biting.  Young Bass would venture closer to the banks and surface, but the larger, older Bass would hang out under rocks and in the shadowy, deeper water.  You had to find them and, once you found them, trick them into biting your bait or lure.  I remember many times losing my bait to a clever old Bass, who obviously was up to my trick and had his own way of still getting something to eat without being caught.

It wasn't uncommon for older Trout or Bass to have scars on them.  I have seen scars which told me they were caught and released before.  This means they fell for the trickery of a fisherman, but didn't pay for it with their lives.  I also have seen scars on their bodies to indicate they had escaped a predator.  In the case of spawning fish, there were scars to show the damage caused by rocks as they battled their way upstream.  All the scars told stories, the brutal reality of survival the fish must endure.

As I sit here and think about all things I remember about fishing, I cannot help but find symbolism and relativity in my own life.  I remember being young and ambitious, lacking in experience and, in my naivity, jumping at opportunities and decisions without realizing how many were just traps and foolishness.  I think back to things I have done, thought and said, believing what I thought to be real, only to be disappointed and discouraged to discover I was wrong.  Thankfully, I was only a catch and release in those moments!

Being older now, I can see the same thing in others and recognize it for what it is.  I look at my scars, physical, mental and emotional, and know that these are reminders of the struggles I have faced in my own life.  Others have their scars, too.  It is in the struggle, the scars it leaves, which bring us all together.  The young have just started to get their scars and, as a parent, I have to be willing to let my children receive scars of their own.  They learn through their struggle, just as we learn through ours.  Scars mean we lived, we endured and kept going.  They are not awards, though.  Our survival is our reward.  Scars are the price we paid for it.  Nobody welcomes them, but we all can appreciate them.

Life is full of struggles and, with it, all sorts of traps.  Experience teaches us to distinguish between what is real and what is false.  We eventually learn that a shiny hook is not food, it is a hook.  We eventually learn that bait that drops in front of our faces, what appears too good to be true, is actually a trap.  We learn that the next big thing may very well be the thing that traps us.  We learn to recognize what is natural versus what is manufactured.  We accept that success involves struggle and, at times, pain and scars. 

Yet, through it all, we grow.  We learn.  We adapt.  We don't jump at the first thing we see.  We have discerning senses and logic.  Our choices are more productive, because we are smarter.  We don't need to jump around in the open, exposed to dangers and easily trapped.  We enjoy life more, because we need less.  Our choices are based on what is important, not what is flashy.

There is a reason so many small fish are born every year.  So many never survive to adulthood and even less actually survive past spawning.  Only a rare few, comparatively, actually live out their entire natural lives.  From birth to old age, most are killed along the way.

As I ponder further on these lessons, I am also reminded of my martial arts journey.  The same lessons are there, too.  It doesn't take too much thought to see the examples.  In reflection, I am at the point where I see the scars which I have collected along the way, the faces of all those I have known who are no longer training, and those who have stuck with it and represent where I want to be eventually in my own martial journey.  I see so many who are like the young fish, snapping at the new and sniny, being caught by slick ideologies and martial salesmen, chasing fantasy over reality, who are open and exposed, vulnerable to all kinds of traps.  I have been there myself, so I see myself and the scars I have received from it all bear testament to the struggles which have come from my younger days.  But, now as I am older and have learned a great many lessons, I can say I am happier in my simplicity and clarity.  I am more selective and critical of what I allow in my path, being fully aware that what appears too good to be true most often is.

I have learned that through patience, discernment and faith, all I truly need is revealed to me.  What is true becomes easier to see and accept.  Everything outside that becomes easier to ignore.

In discovering what is really important in my life and in my martial path, many things and ideas I thought I "needed" have been let go.  Many people I thought I needed approval from or to associate with have been let go.  Many aspects to my own self I thought were so important are now lesser in importance.  As a result, I am more effective and less vulnerable.  When I begin to lose that place, or find myself being lured, all I have to do is look down at the scars and the lessons they teach.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

A Sheep in Wolf's Clothing

Fraud, as defined by Merriam-Webster:

    : the crime of using dishonest methods to take something valuable from another person

    : a person who pretends to be what he or she is not in order to trick people

    : a copy of something that is meant to look like the real thing in order to trick people

In martial arts, there are many degrees of fraud and it is rampant.  It can be something relatively minor, like using inflated claims to build business for a legitimate school, or dangerously serious, like those who fabricate lies about themselves and their art to try and gain followers for possibly nefarious purposes.

In my experience around the greater martial arts world, I have learned only a very small percent of martial arts teachers are complete frauds.  Out of that, an even smaller percent are doing it for criminal or predatory purposes.  Most of those are simply people who are attention seeking, have mental and emotional issues and live out a fantasy they have created.  However, there are also those who use fraud to build themselves up to get some kind of edge on others.  For instance, there are those who hold legitimate ranking and achievements in martial arts, but chose to add fraudulent details of their history, certifications or rankings in fraudulent arts, even lie about military, law enforcement and similar occupations.

So, when looking at martial arts teachers, you can broadly categorize them into three types:

1.  Credible - They are licensed to teach a legitimate art, or have earned enough rankings in legitimate arts to establish credibility in what they teach.  They only teach what they have been taught, or teach only from their direct and quantifiable knowledge and experience.

2.  Suspicious - They have one or more licenses or rankings in legitimate arts, but add licenses from arts which are not verifiable or are proven to be fraudulent.  They embellish their background with inflated or false occupations and experiences (Stolen Valor, law enforcement/security, secret underground fight tournaments, etc).  In a nutshell, they are a hybrid mix of verifiable, credible certifications and experience, along with certifications and experiences which are not verifiable and credible.

3.  Fraudulent - Everything about the teacher is unverifiable and not credible.  No line of transmission that can be proven.  No quantifiable and verifiable experience and training to back up their teaching.  May have some credible ranking or training, but not enough to qualify as a teacher.

Most martial arts teachers fall into #1.  But, in my decades of being involved in martial arts, an alarming number of teachers fall into #2.  Lastly, a small number of so-called "teachers" and "masters" fall into #3.

Teachers in #1 and #3 are pretty easy to tell.  It's that group in #2 who are the most difficult and, as a result, the most dangerous.  They can build trust with you and convince you that everything about them is true, because there is enough credibility to cause you to not question the things which are not so credible.  When that teacher is someone with predatory purposes, they may seek to take advantage of you financially, emotionally and maybe even physically.

Bottom line is that someone who has to rely on deception, instead of just being honest about who they are and what they teach, that can only be for the purpose to gain something from you to satisfy their own selfish desire.

A legitimate teacher (#1) will generally be upfront and honest about themselves and the art, provide whatever information you need to validate their legitimacy, and not try to dazzle you with made up stories or inflated claims.  They have a product (art), you want to learn it (be a student) and they agree to teach it to you (teacher).  They don't come to you, you go to them.

What is interesting is that some of the most legitimate, credible and amazing teachers are some of the hardest to be accepted by as a student.  They either have class size limits set in place, screen out those they don't want as students or even require a potential student to prove themselves first.  However, those who are fraudulent, whether partial or completely, most often are the ones who welcome anybody and everybody with open arms and a smile.

When it comes to martial arts teachers, trust is an essential component.  I mean, just because someone has fancy pedigrees on the wall and a hundred trophies on a shelf, that doesn't mean they are honest and credible.  In schools, teachers are background screened as a requirement for their licensing and, if they go out and commit crimes, their licensing would be pulled.  Martial arts licensing doesn't include a background check and, if they committed crimes, nobody is going to come pull their license.  They might get kicked out of the organization who issued their ranking, but unless you did your own research with the right sources (you are likely to not find anything on Google), how would you know?  Additionally, what if the teacher is either fraudulent or has created his own art (legit or not)?  Without a governing organization or head teacher to reach out to in order to check the credibility, what would you have to rely on?

Criminal or predatory purpose is one reason to avoid fraudulent teachers, or those who teach fraudulently (those are different things).  The other is something not often mentioned, but just as important - incorrect and even dangerous instruction.  Someone with some training can set up classes and teach new students, but if that teacher isn't trained enough to actually teach those techniques correctly, this can have devastating results to the student.  I don't just mean bad technique can get you injured or killed in a real encounter.  I also mean the damage that can happen to the knees, hips, back, neck, shoulders and other parts of the body.  The likelihood of injury, not just short term, but even long term, is critical.  You may not realize you are stressing your ACL or PCL in your knees until many years later.  By then, the accumulated damage leaves you with decreased mobility and potential knee surgery to repair it.  Your martial arts training should build you, not destroy you.

Now, I am not one to go out busting frauds.  I generally will not engage them in the various social media sites I belong to.  I find it is tiresome and useless, as they will just spin their stories and eventually make threats and challenges which have nothing to do with the question of their credibility.  However, it is important to point out the difference between a fraud and someone who is teaching their own system or art.  Bruce Lee created his own art (Jeet Kune Do), based upon his extensive training in Wing Chun, Kung Fu and other teachings he received from legitimate teachers.  The Gracie family started their own brand of Jiujitsu, but it all came from extensive training in Japanese Jujutsu and Judo, which are both credible and verifiable sources.  I personally know teachers who hold black belt ranks in different legitimate arts, but combined them into their own system or art.  Even though their art is their creation, it is based upon legitimate and credible sources, as well as black belt certifications of those arts.  In other words, they could teach just those arts they hold ranking in, but chose to combine them into one art.  That's not fraud, because they are very clear about what it is they teach and can prove their ranking in the arts which they based their teaching on.

So, what do I do about those who are complete frauds?  I ignore them.  If someone I know and like is seeking training from a fraud, I will warn them.  Otherwise, they have no effect or influence on my training and I choose to not allow the distraction they bring to interfere with my path.

But, what about those who are suspicious or partially fraudulent?  If I have a "need" to investigate into someone or what they profess to teach, I have the resources available to do it.  Networking with people you trust who are knowledgeable and credible is a huge asset.  Otherwise, I defer to my first statement above.  I may not deter someone from training with them, but might offer what I consider to be a more credible and trustworthy teacher or organization.

So, what about all the politics?  Well, for starters, there's a difference between politics and fraud.  Politics just means differences in viewpoints or ideologies.  Political conflict happens when those differences are the basis of disagreement.  Political conflict can be constructive or destructive, depending on the participants.  However, confronting or exposing fraud is not politics, because in politics, both sides can base their position on verifiable, credible fact (just interpreted or applied differently).  Fraud is fraud, not based on verifiable, credible fact.  Yet, those who are uncomfortable or who disagree with the idea of exposing or confronting fraud will often label it as political, when it simple does not fit that definition.

But, you have to ask yourself why a fraud or someone teaching fraudulently would need to be exposed or confronted.  That answer will depend on the person making the accusation or confrontation.  If it is to protect society, friends or family, such as the case with someone who is not only a fraud or teaching fraudulently, but also a convicted sex offender or other kind of criminal, then a case for justification could be reasonably made if someone feels compelled to do so.

However, if the fraudulent teacher or person who teaches fraudulently really doesn't pose a danger to anybody, exposing them or confronting them could be seen as simply bullying or harassment.  We all have heard about internet bullies, keyboard warriors and so on.  To me, it is a waste of time and energy to engage in such behavior, particularly when there is no justification other than the fact that the person being targeted is engaged in some fraudulent behavior (without any real danger to anybody).  The internet is full of fraudulent teaching and teachers who are nothing more than attention seeking narcissists.  Those people attract either the same kind of people, or those who are attracted to those kinds of people.  There is no victimization because everybody is a willing participant in the fantasy.  A responsible, mature adult should be able to spot these types and avoid them.  Confronting them and creating drama can actually reflect badly on the legitimate martial artist, their martial art and their organization.  The cost doesn't warrant the result.

The last part I want to write about may be uncomfortable to some and I may even take criticism for it.  But, there are literally hundreds of organizations who will (often for a fee) recognize a teacher and send them a certificate to show the affiliation.  There are Federations, Councils, Boards, Alliances, etc, all for the purpose of providing affiliation or certification to various martial artists around the world.  This is different than those organizations specific to a particular martial art (Such as the Bujinkan organization, International Shotokan Karate Assn (ISKA), etc).  The groups I mean are ones where they accept martial artists of all styles, with no validation process to even know if any of it's members are legitimate.  Often, those who are engaging in fraudulent behavior will collect such certifications and proudly display them on the wall.  Sometimes these are what people are presented over the actual ranking or teaching certification they should have to be able to teach their art.  It's slick marketing, to show that they are recognized by others, so that they can try to convince you of their credibility.  But, the truth of the matter is that none of these represent actual ranking, licensing or certification for the art they profess to teach.  It's the same for a teacher who has certificates for "Best Teacher of the Year", "Certificate of Recognition from the Academic Association", etc.  No matter what, that teacher must still have a legitimate, current teaching license issued by the governing agency who licenses teachers.

If someone chooses to align themselves with those who practice fraudulent behavior, then the credibility of that person can reasonably also be called into question. I have seen legitimate martial artists have their reputations stained from their good intentions to simply accept everybody into their circle.  By engaging in any kind of affiliation, the "nice guy" is really saying they don't care the person is deceiving others and engaging in behavior that opens the door to criminal activity and victimizing others.  In addition, for a legitimate teacher to align himself with someone who is knowingly engaged in fraudulent behavior, they are allowing that person to use their name and status as validation, much like the various association certificates I mentioned above.  Remember, frauds seek to take advantage of others for their gain.  If that means using terms like "brother", "friend", etc and building a relationship with actual, credible teachers in order to make themselves appear credible and trustworthy, then that is just further proof of their fraud.

It is a buyer-beware market in martial arts, without any sort of real checks and balances being used.  We all need to be aware of predatory behaviors, questionable claims and nefarious backgrounds.  Most of the time all that comes with a friendly smile and open arms.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Are You Suffering From "Enthusiasm Depletion"?

Enthusiasm, or the Fire in Your Belly

Ever hear the term "Honeymoon Period"?  It applies to that initial enthusiasm that someone feels when they experience new things they are interested in.  It's a period where everything is exciting, interesting and fresh.  There's a level of assumption, as most people have preconceived ideas they bring in with them, but they will are like sponges, soaking up every detail and experience with a longing for more.  It is during this period where negatives are often overlooked or just not given as much attention as the positives.

In relationships, this is where two people not only learn about each other, but experience each other at high intensity and emotion.

In martial arts, this is when the new student surrounds themselves with the art they are starting in.  They attend as many classes as they can, often arrive early and stay late.  Their eyes are wide open, their faces flipflop between deep concentration and wide eyed, silly grins.
There is also a common saying that goes, "The more enthusiastic one is in the beginning, the less enthusiastic they will be later".  I don't necessarily agree with that, but I will say that my experience has shown that those who come in with an unusually high level of enthusiasm tend to be the ones who don't stick with it for any real length of time.  Their drive is shallow and only in their mind, instead of a deep drive that comes from the heart and burns in their belly.

When the "Honeymoon Period" ends, the truth begins to reveal itself.  Relationships take work, we all have our quirks, our shortcomings, and personality traits that may not be so compatible.  In martial arts, we realize just how much work and commitment is involved in order to progress and reach success.  There could be travel involved.  Driving over an hour every week can wear on you.  Having to work all day, then fight traffic to go to the dojo to spend a couple hours in uncomfortable, maybe painful, exertion is hard to do every week.  Maybe life is busy, with children, soccer games, dinner, and other demands, making it challenging to try to fit in classes. Maybe you have hit that plateau in training and begin to think that you are just spinning your wheels, making all the efforts you put in to attend training suddenly not worth the results.

The battle is real, folks.  We all have gone through this and continue to go through this.  When you leave the "Honeymoon Period" and are faced with the real truth of what being a martial arts student entails, it is normal to experience a drop in enthusiasm.  It is normal to begin to doubt yourself or the path you're on.  When that happens, you begin to look for external reasons or sources to try and stoke your fire back, to provide the enthusiasm you are missing.

We all have done this.  You don't totally feel like training.  You know you need to train, so you go anyway.  You put on your keikogi slowly and begin loosening yourself up, but often end up in conversation or just sitting/standing there.  Then, the bow-in and training begins.  But, something is different.  You slag off a bit, you don't jump into the warm up rolls.  You wait and file in behind others.  Then, no matter what you're working on, you do it with lackluster effort, a lazy kind of movement and stop after a few repetitions.  The "that's good enough" excuse creeps into your mind and keeps you from going farther, doing more and getting more.

When you were in the "Honeymood Period" of fired up enthusiasm, there is no "good enough".  When there's a break in training, you are still talking about training, even still actually training on something, and you ask questions.  The "good enough" filter is almost non-existent.

Does any of this sound familiar?

Unfortunately, this drop in enthusiasm actually happens after one reaches certain rank levels.  You especially see it when one reaches certain milestones.  In the case of martial arts, it often is Shodan (1st degree black belt).  But, it also happens at Godan (5th degree black belt), Judan (10th degree black belt) and Jugodan (15th degree black belt).  We can all agree about the dangers of putting too much importance on rank.  Yet, once someone reaches a certain milestone rank, the enthusiasm drops soon after.
It's almost as if certain rank levels carry their own "Honeymoon Period".  But, with rank also comes this old phrase, "Resting On One's Laurels".  Enthusiasm lowers because they rest on their newly earned rank or status.

All of these different examples portray the same toxic condition - "Enthusiasm Depletion".  It is the single most effective killer of a martial artist.  Without refueling one's level of enthusiasm, results will suffer and, eventually, the student will stop training.

So, what do we do when we are experiencing "Enthusiasm Depletion"?

First off, your enthusiasm, your fire in the belly, is entirely self-produced.  You control the dial.  Stop looking to someone else or something else to create it for you.  With that said, however, surrounding yourself with those who are motivated and fired up about training will dramatically help you.  Being inspired by others is important.  We all need it from time to time.  At the same time, we also inspire others.  It's mutually beneficial to be passionate and motivated, while surrounding yourself with others who are also passionate and motivated.  It creates a dynamic relationship of self-fueling drive.  We all go through ups and downs and that relationship helps keep the wind in everybody's sails to make it through.  I'm thinking of "bufu", or "martial wind".

Second, and this is related to the first, limit your exposure to those who are toxic, those who lower your enthusiasm or keep you in your depleted state.  I mean this with all sincerity here, but if you are in a class where the students (and maybe teacher) are all suffering from this "Enthusiasm Depletion" month after month, year after year, you may have to consider going to a new class or teacher.  You can't stay motivated if the rest of the class and the teacher are all negative, unmotivated and lazy.  Take responsibility for your own training, beginning with who you train with.

Third, have a realistic understanding of what you want from your training and what it's going to take to get it.  Then, have a realistic understanding of where it fits in your life.  Family comes first, always.  Your job comes first, always. Other life things can have higher importance than training, such as your spiritual or religious practices, a friend in need, home repairs and improvements, and so on.  But, also have a realistic understanding to know when you are allowing unimportant stuff to interfere with training and lower your ability to achieve your goals.  At the same time, some things may be important, but can be done before or after your training.  If you are motivated and fired up about your training, you will find a way to get it done, to prioritize and schedule accordingly.
My family and friends know that Thursday nights are dojo nights, when I teach my class.  They know that I won't be available, so they don't plan events during that time.  Our family knows dinner is served early enough to allow me to get the dojo ready and train.  I don't eat heavy before class and there's always some leftover if I need more after class.  It's a part of our weekly schedule and I can count on one hand the number of times I've had to cancel class in the last few years due to some unforeseen event that caused me to not be able to teach.

Yet, there are those who always seem to have something come up that prevents them from training.  I'm not making judgement, just pointing out a fact.

When one goes through "Enthusiasm Depletion", suddenly everything and everybody becomes more important than training.  The universe is a crazy thing.  It amazes me that when your motivation, your passion, your enthusiasm is low, that's when work runs late, children are sick, the car breaks down, and all sorts of other important, but seemingly random things, suddenly slam into our lives and keep us from training.

Again, I'm not making judgements.  I know life is hard and often it just kicks us in the gut (or lower).  The difference is in your enthusiasm for training.  For those who have low enthusiasm, these events can become almost a kind of relief.  They become convenient excuses to miss training.  Every time we allow this to happen, every time we come up with reasons to not train (instead of reasons to train), it becomes easier to keep doing it.  Weeks become months and months become years.

It's funny how many people have stopped training, yet still belong and participate in martial arts social media sites, blogs and forums.  What's stopping them from training in something they obviously still hold an interest in?

So, back to solutions.  Besides what I've already listed, what else can we do to reignite or stoke that fire we once had?  How to we go from "Enthusiasm Depletion" to "Enthusiasm Overload"?  There are many things you can do, but none of it matters if you don't choose to be enthusiastic.  There are literally hundreds of thousands of self-help books out there.  They are still the most successful sellers in the book industry.  Yet, people continue to buy book after book, as if each one is a good read, but doesn't actually transform their lives.  These people keep looking to a book, ink on paper, to change their lives.

But, it's only when the person decides to change and begins making those changes that real success begins to happen.

So, no matter what solutions are out there to help you with your enthusiasm, none of it matters unless you simply choose to be enthusiastic - then do something that builds on that.  There are more people who are enthusiastic about training, but don't actually train, than there are those who are enthusiastic about training and actually train.  I don't mean show up once in a while, or swing a sword around their back yard for fun on some weekend, but those who actually go to class regularly and consistently and train with a real teacher.

One thing that will help me when I find myself feeling like I'm losing my motivation, or feeling like I'm just going through the motions, is to look at my "why".  We all can lose sight of why we train.  Maybe the original reason no longer applies.  Maybe your reason was based on some image that wasn't based on reality ("I want to be a ninja!").  Maybe your reason was too broad, with no measurable level of achievable success ("I want to learn self-defense").

I find that the more specific I can make my "why", the more motivated I become.  For instance, I wanted to improve my ability with a sword.  So, I bought myself a metal training sword (mogito) and trained with those who are knowledgeable and skilled with them.  I learned basic things like how to carry it, hold it, draw it and cut with it.  I spent hours on basic skill sets and motions, until I could see measurable results begin to appear in my ability.  Since there are many kata in our training which involve a sword, I also became better at those kata.  My enthusiasm grew because I now had a new level of knowledge and skill to apply in training.  That is just one example, but you can see how this works.  Maybe you want to really improve your ability with a weapon, or your Kihon Happo, or your Uke/Tsuki/Keri, or Ukemi, or the Gyaku Waza, or whatever.  Pick something and focus on that until you have achieved a quality of improvement that gives you satisfaction.  Then, continue with that or pick something else.  Just define your "why" to something that is tangible and achievable.

Without having a clear goal, your enthusiasm becomes dependent on non-tangible things.  Usually it's the experience of the training, rather than a result.  For instance, there are those who are motivated to come to class only when class is entertaining.  They are excited to show up because of the social element or entertainment value.  Class is just a good time, not a learning opportunity.  Often this can be the fault of the teacher and I've been guilty of this from time to time.  Too much joking around, too much talking, too much demonstrating and not enough focused training of the students.  When the instructor focuses too much on entertainment, then the "why" to keep training becomes clouded.  Students lose their drive and enthusiasm to train, because the environment isn't offering enough opportunities to achieve measurable results in skill level.

Anyway, I put out a lot of different ideas on this topic for you to consider.  Maybe you are going through it now, feeling "Enthusiastic Depletion" in your training.  Maybe you are in a school with people who keep you feeling that way.  Maybe it's just you.  Maybe you lost your "why".  Maybe you need some soul-searching.  Or, maybe you are the one motivating others.  Maybe you are the one not motivating others.  Whatever your situation, we all go through them.  The trick is to identify it, find solutions and put them into practice.  That's what keeps your training alive, so you don't stagnate and become another statistic of those who allowed their training to suffocate and die.

One of the most common admonitions we have in the Bujinkan is "Keep Going".  This doesn't just mean to keep doing what you do.  Don't just go through the motions.  Rather, I encourage you to keep your fire burning bright, be drawn to class with a passion for training, know when life is in the way and when toxic people are influencing you into stagnation - and make changes accordingly.

Instead of just saying "Keep Going", tell yourself "Stay Motivated And Keep Going!".