To Be Or Not To Be … In Control

by  Alan Kandel

I know little about many things. I know much about very few things. One thing I do know is that in life, exercise control.

In the world of sales (yes, I did this too - my first job and then later on in life), I learned that if I could get in front of the buyer or the buyer's designate in the buyer's absence, then that was half the battle right there. Moreover, if the product that I was peddling (in this case advertising space in a magazine) could be seen as something that had value, then chances are, I would make the sale.

In this role, I also had to be a good listener. As a trainee, even before I became adept enough to go it alone, I was versed on the ins and outs of selling: I call it Sales 101. And speaking about listening, my boss (and mentor) was so adept at selling, I remember the time he spoke before a room full of real estate agents. So captivating and mesmerizing was his message, and so precise was his delivery, he had every ear in the house tuned in to what he was saying. That was how amazing to me the experience was. The long and short of it is that my boss maintained complete control. Needless to say, deals were closed with the bulk of the agents.

In this line of work as in life itself, one has to be in control, obviously. The same is true for martial arts practice.

However, being in control isn’t always easy. Here’s a simple yet good illustration.

Summers in Baltimore, Maryland (where I grew up and where I received my initial karate instruction) can be trying. High temperatures and high humidity levels made karate practice that much harder.

At times during the summers, it was not uncommon for temperatures to be in the mid 90s with 95 percent humidity. And that was inside the dojo! At any rate, I recall during one training session I was sweating profusely. The students were instructed to get into kiba dachi (a horse-riding stance) and this position had to be maintained for an extended period of time. Good luck with this I must have thought as my gi (karate uniform) had become sopping wet with sweat, the excess winding up on the floor below. The training facility in this case was a school cafeteria and, I might add, the floor had tile.

Imagine legs extended sideways, and with each passing second, the whole body inching ever closer to the ground. I did and everyone else in class did their level best to keep from doing full side leg splits or becoming one with the floor. Holding stance was tough enough, even without the sweat. What kept me and my cohorts from losing it as it were was, you guessed it, control, that and persistence and focus.

Situation well under control? You bet!

Food for thought: There is no way to navigate one’s way through life and not be in control. It'd be like trying to grow crops without their being fed water.

Copyright Alan Kandel. May 30, 2012.

In With Learning, Out With Grade Worry

by Alan Kandel

Sensei Domi in his  book: “Baby Boomer Sensei,” in Chapter 5 “Mind, No Mind, I Don’t Mind” lays out quite well “ranking,” by listing the karate gi (uniform) belt colors and describing what these colors mean. As well, Sensei covers belt-color origin, or in other words, how the colors came to be.

In the organization through which I received my karate-do instruction - the International Shotokan Karate Federation (ISKF), there were only three colors of belts: green, brown and black. Four, if you count a white belt.

The belts provide an outward or physical sign of an intangible: progress. This is also true of grades issued to students in terms of measuring academic progress, that is, in the traditional school setting. As an instructor in the college classroom during the 1990s, I would stress to students not to dwell too much on the grade and instead concentrate more on learning the course material - in this case electronics. I shared this information with students because I wanted them to know that if they understood course content and performed satisfactorily on required tests, quizzes and homework, the respective and representative grades would be there - reflecting the knowledge that was gained as a result of the knowledge learned.

As it relates, I believe in a school setting, when the mind is not so preoccupied with worry over what grade (or grades) at some future point will be assigned, the mind is able to become a better receptor and facilitator of knowledge, the same way a dry sponge receives water when immersed in it. My presumption is in the traditional school setting, worry over grades is not so much a manifestation of trying to earn a good or passing score or grade as it is not wanting to receive a failing one. This is just my sense based on experience.

As for failure and all the fuss over it, what’s that all about?

First of all, failure is not necessarily a bad thing. It depends on how the person views such and under what circumstances failure occurs. Remember, failure is a good teacher in that it teaches us (or should teach us) to not make the same mistakes more than once. In this sense, we learn from failure.

As an example regarding experiencing failure of another type, during my junior college days in the early 1970s, for my major, electronics technology, I was required to take a course in calculus. I failed the course on the first try. Was it time to throw in the towel? Hardly. I took the course again and the second time I earned an A. Okay, so maybe it took me two attempts to grasp the material. The point is, eventually I understood it.

The lesson here is even if a karate-do practitioner can’t master a technique or pass a kyu (color belt) or a dan (black belt) examination the first go around, this doesn’t necessarily mean failure. What it tells or should tell the karateka (student), is that the technique or level of attainment is not yet there. With more training and practice, the likelihood that success will be realized is high.

Making the grade comes when learning takes place. On the other hand, worry over grades should be eighty-sixed, that is, relegated to the junk heap.

Copyright Alan Kandel. May 24, 2012.

Focus Grasshopper, Focus

by Alan Kandel

I have yet to meet a person who can listen and talk at the same time. I’m not saying that such a person doesn‘t exist, but I’ve yet to meet up with them. Can listening and talking at the same time actually be done? I, personally, don’t see how. For one, there is a serious imbalance. Two ears versus one mouth. The scales are obviously tipped in favor of hearing, but even so, my suspicion is people are better speakers than they are listeners. At any rate, even if listening and talking could be done simultaneously it would take an inordinate amount of skill, not to mention focus. Did someone say “focus“? Ah, focus. If you want to know where I‘m going with this, please read on.

At this point you may be asking yourself what all this has to do with karate training? Lots. Like a sharpened focus, the answer to this question should become ever clearer.

Who reading this doesn’t know or isn’t aware of the importance of focus in life? Focus, meanwhile, when pertaining to karate training is also important. As a matter of fact, this point can’t be overemphasized.

To use a parallel, think of focus in terms of it having to do with driving a motor vehicle. It takes diligence - meaning concentration or focus - to do so effectively. A momentary lapse in driver concentration (or judgment) and there is the potential for disaster. The same could be said for defending oneself against an adversary and it is with this in mind that focus has much meaning and relevance.

Plainly and simply, in karate training, for technique to be effective, maintaining focus is important. Maintaining control is too, but sorry; control is the topic for another post, not this one. Without focus, karate technique suffers. In other words, paying attention, or “being there” as it were, is essential. Remember, losing focus or put another way, letting one’s guard down, may be all it takes for an adversary to get the upper hand or give an opponent the edge.

Whether behind the wheel of an automobile, practicing martial arts, or just living life, focus grasshopper, focus.

Copyright Alan Kandel. May 18, 2012.

Teach Your Children Well

In school, children are preoccupied with a routine that includes recess, snack time, lunch periods, hop scotch and all the other fun stuff associated with learning (which understandably in a child's mind ranks a distant second).  

In a dojo far away from the safety of a classroom and playgrounds, the stage is set for different type of learning. Teaching straight forward with less interaction, I ignored  “why?” questions and instead asked inquisitive minds to just “listen and learn.”  Once accused of being harsh and a disciplinarian, I kindly suggested the parents to find another dojo and offered their money back.  No one took my offer (Some parents felt a need to criticize).

With that said and in as much as opinions flew about my strict style, I did not consider myself a task master.  Compared to my adult classes, I structured tamed downed versions that were fun and interesting, emphasizing goal settings, winning is not everything but doing your best is, regardless of the outcome, never say “can’t” and instead “I’ll try my best sensei” attitude; respecting themselves, parents, elders, authority figures, friends and so forth.  I also had them memorize “dojo kun”.  Saying it, making it their mantra encouraged them to strive for excellence and be good young citizens.   I also emphasized that kihon or basics is what need to be mastered, not fancy kata or kumite.  Like in school, if we mastered the basics of reading, writing and arithmetic, then when we strive for perfection as we grow older; all the hard work developing that base will pay off as we become productive adults.  

Kids also like screaming at the top of their lungs.  I told them I was hard of hearing and needed them to scream during kia and when they were required to say “os” or “hai wakirimaska” “domo arigato gozia m’sta sensei.” Of course, every once in awhile a six year old kid would scream at the top of his/her lungs, “Sensei, I have to go pee, really bad.  May I sensei, please, please, please?”  Very hard to remain stern faced when that happens.  

Though I’ve trained under many masters, if I had a teaching style, I would say I patterned myself after the late Master Richard Kim.  I no longer teach karate but still see influences of my work.  A young man who I did not recognized, stopped in front of me while I was shopping, bowed and said “os.”  Then he resumed telling me his name “Jason” which in my tenure taught about 15 of them, his successes in college, the armed forces, family and so forth.  I was touched by this and understood then that karate training is not for just a fleeting moment in a child’s life, but for a lifetime.

Should religion and politics be brought into the Dojo?

This is my response and opinion to a group discussion post - Sensei Domi  

Politics and religion are strange bedfellows. They provide reasons and purpose for living. Some argue that Christian beliefs should be incorporated in martial arts training and take it further by branding their school with names like Christian Martial Arts Academy or City Christian Karate or Kung Fu Christians.  Other schools will promote political leaders by having them speak in classes and ask for donations and / or party line support.  When I first took martial arts, I did not expect religion nor politics to be part of training; however, with that said, in some of my classes I was influenced by powerful philosophies. Some of you old enough who lived in San Francisco during the 1960’s and 1970’s may have been fortunate enough to attend late Master Richard Kim’s classes. Between our four hour classes, he would lecture us on bushido and related ideologies, philosophical to the point of being religious and indirectly political. In no way did I ever hear him speak line and verse from the bible nor criticize community leaders or government for its problems, but he did make references about nature, the universe, and how this world turns with or without our (human) intervention or involvement. The following is a short clip from one of his classes that were jam packed with students not because of his traditional training methods (Shorinji Ryo Zen Bei Butokokai - which by the way were ridiculously long, hard and challenging) but for his lectures. It was not uncommon to see students pull out notepads from their sweat soaked gis and take notes when he spoke. In my opinion, this is the only way spiritual and political statements can be introduced in a dojo.

Putting Karate Practice Into Words

by Alan Kandel

Karate training in particular (and true of martial arts in general), doesn’t limit itself only to the instruction that goes on within the limits of four dojo sidewalls, a ceiling above and a floor below; it finds application in everyday life. After 15 years of steady training, that I no longer practice the art-form in the physical sense, doesn’t mean, to use a metaphor, I do not still practice what I have been preached.

Upon earning an undergraduate degree from Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo in Engineering Technology in 1976, I returned to the land of my birth – Baltimore, Maryland – fully prepared to enter the working world, or so I had believed. It should be so noted that all during this time my allegiance to karate-do training was unbroken.

In terms of job pursuits, in one of my post-graduate interviews (I had several) I was assured by the interviewer my resume would be held in the strictest confidence. What that meant to the interviewer and what this meant to me were apparently two different things. As it turns out, a worker working for that particular company during the time of my interview who approached me while I was filling out an application or taking a pre-qualifying test (one or the other), had inquired if I was Alan Kandel. I, of course, responded in the affirmative but I had no idea of who this individual was or how this person knew me. When I asked how he knew my name, his reply basically was that he became privy to my name (if not more of my personal information) by virtue of the fact that my resume, the one that was supposed to remain confidential, was apparently in plain sight of anyone coming within eyeshot of the interviewer’s desktop. He saw my resume and put two-and-two together. To add insult to injury, upon departing said company, the interviewer expressed that “it was nice to meet you, Albert” or something to this effect leaving me to question if I really wanted to work for this outfit no matter what the pay and benefits were. The guy whose job it was to use the information on the resume as a means to familiarize himself with the person whom they were interviewing apparently did not pay close enough attention to get my first name correct, while someone else who had no business even looking at this document but did anyway, paid even closer attention as at least he identified me properly.

In a totally different job search on a completely different coast (this time in the west), I was interviewed by not one but by two interviewers. One worked in personnel and I believe the other was from the department where I would be working had I been hired. I remember more than anything else that day the personnel department employee asked me if I knew what the acronym MOS stood for. Those letters in that order should be familiar to anyone working in the electronics field.

When I responded to my so-called interrogator by emphasizing that the letter trio stood for Metal Oxide Semiconductor (the way I learned it in college), it was quickly pointed out that the “S” in MOS did not stand for semiconductor, it stood for the word silicon. Having been set straight and now ready to face the second interviewer, I was instructed to go to the second floor to meet with the engineering department official. He, too, asked me what MOS stood for. Not really sure how to respond, I said Metal Oxide Silicon to which came his reply, “Semiconductor.” It was right then and there that I should have pointed out that that’s exactly how I responded to the first interviewer upon being asked the same question, but I just kept my mouth shut leaving the two of them to figure it out. As it turns out, I turned down this company’s job offer.

Although I managed to find a job in my field, the karate-do training took a back seat to other more important matters that demanded my attention. But, it should be noted, the spirit of karate training remained within the context of my day-to-day endeavors. In fact, I believe I carry the spirit of my past karate-do training to this day.

I decided after years of working in the electronics field, I decided to try my hand at professional writing. Needless to say it was not without its challenges, particularly for someone who was not academically trained in the writing arts.

Well prior to embarking on this newfound journey, then in the mid ‘80s (not my age, the year) I returned to college to pursue a post-graduate degree in education. As part of my master’s thesis requirements, I conducted an industry survey trying to ascertain if a commensurate position in industry actually existed for people like myself who successfully acquired a baccalaureate degree in the area of Electronics Engineering Technology. What I learned through my research was that even though such graduates were not hired as “technologists” per se, they were utilized primarily as “applications engineers” and technicians. Some even fulfilled or continue to fulfill sales-related roles.

At any rate, upon earning my Master’s Degree in 1987, I decided that I wanted to report my findings and what better vehicle than the representative journal in the Engineering Technology realm. I then sent a brief of my thesis covering what I thought were the essential points to the journal’s editor with the hope that my contribution would be published. After nine months of patiently waiting, at long last the reply had come. It was in letterform and contained in that letter was information to the effect that not only was my writing atrocious (the editor’s words), but that the information that I submitted was dated. Could it really have been that the message of my research wasn’t what reviewers wanted to hear? What I can tell you is, what was printed on the letter before me definitely wasn’t what I was hoping for. Yes, it’s probably true my writing may very well have been “atrocious” as it were, but to indicate my research was dated, really! It was suggested, if I like, I could rewrite and resubmit. Seriously!

Not discouraged and still intent on writing, in 1999 I contacted a newspaper features editor inquiring about my contributing a feature article. I was invited to submit my article. So I did. After review, the features editor’s comments were three: 1) I didn’t talk to anyone meaning I did not get comment from interviewees; 2) the article was too long (it was 3,000 words in length); and 3) the newspaper wasn’t accepting freelance work. That last condition sort of precluded the other two, wouldn’t you say? Why the features editor didn’t explain this at the outset, I’m not sure. Had this person done so, if nothing else, neither of us would have wasted the other’s time. I feel.

Moving right along and not looking back, I inquired of an editor of a different newspaper if I could submit for publishing consideration the same article that was rejected by the first. This was in July. I was advised to follow up with the editor in November. So, I waited. When I called in late October that year (1999) to follow up with the person whom I thought was the same editor, much to my surprise, l learned that the person I spoke with back in the summer, had moved on to bigger and better things apparently leaving me to deal with someone not familiar with my situation. In speaking with the new editor, like before, I was welcome to submit.

Not long thereafter, after being advised that if I shortened my contribution from its then 3,000-word length to less than a third that to 700 words, my article would be accepted. Now I was charged with the task of revising and after much effort, I revised downward to 900 words total and lo and behold my first work got published. The article graced the pages of a community newspaper in Fresno, California, the focus of such on central California railroad history. Why railroading? Prior to becoming a journalist, I worked in railway signaling, which, incidentally, involves an understanding of electronics and therefore the connection between my academic preparation and my vocational pursuits. It seemed only natural that I would cover railroading as a first contribution to professional writing.

There was no question I was well on my way and many more contributions followed.

The moral here is that although I do not practice karate-do any longer and haven’t for some time in fact, this doesn’t minimize the notion that the spirit of my martial arts training comes shining through elsewhere whether it be via my writing endeavors or otherwise. To use an analogy: It’s like riding a bicycle; once learned, it is never forgotten. Maybe I could not have become the writer that I have become without the karate-do training. Something to think about, anyway.

Copyright © Alan Kandel. May 14, 2012.

Version of Musashi's "Holding Down the Pillow"

Post taken from my Six Sigma Lean blog, modified version and interpretation of Miyamoto Musashi's "Holding Down the Pillow."  Hope you enjoy it!

Sensei Domi

A young student entered a small garden.  It was his sensei’s back yard, and it was there where he was to learn his new lesson.  Yaguchi was excited.  For six months, he was pushed toward exhaustion repeating kihon and kata.  Any deviation from his challenging workout sessions was welcomed.  As he entered, the Japanese style garden took his breath away.  It was well manicured, healthy full of color and life, the fragrance sweet with a burst of fresh energy.  He thought of what it would take to create and maintain such beauty.

“Yaguchi!” the voice came from a small tool shed.  It was sensei Tanaka.

The young student hurried to the shack and discovered his sensei with his arm buried into a tub of water.

“Sensei,” the boy said, “would you like me to help?”

“Please come here and see what I am doing.”

The boy stepped closer to find that his instructor was holding down what appeared to be a round ball. 

The sensei pulled his hand out and it was then that Yaguchi saw that the round ball was in fact a basketball as it bobbed up to the surface.  He also noticed that it glistened.

“That’s right.  It has on it generous helpings of petroleum jelly.  Now come on, you try.”

“Try sensei?”

“I want you to push the basketball down the bottom of the tub, and hold it there.”

“Is there a special technique I should be aware of?”

“Not really."
Yaguchi knew that this was a test.  He had to perform this small task to go to the next level and learn new martial arts techniques, possibly a weapons form.  The thought excited him.  He touched the ball that was indeed slippery but not unreasonable.  He knew the task would be a challenge, but nothing that could stop him.

He tried attempt after attempt, each resulting to back to back failure and frustration.  The air made it difficult enough, but the petroleum jelly made it impossible.  “Sensei,” Yaguchi said.  “It’s very difficult.”

“Then let me help you,” sensei Tanaka said as he helped steady the ball underneath the water.  “Now hold it firmly in the center and do not allow it to move.”

Yaguchi complied and, though difficult, was able to hold the ball steady. 

“What did you learn?” the master asked.

“I learned that basketballs aren’t made to be in water.”

The venerable master stifled a laugh but shook his head.  "Yaguchi-san," he said, “Was it easier to hold the ball down and keep it steady?  Or was it easier to start when it was on the surface?”

“In its present position, it is much easier to contol.”

“And that is your lesson,” the aged sensei said before walking back into the beautiful garden.


“Sometimes, it takes a tremendous amount of time and effort to reach a certain point in our lives.  It may take help even from others, but when you reach that place, it is much easier to maintain and control that momentum than to let go and start over.”

"Hai, wakirimaska," Yaguchi said and bowed.

"Good," the master smiled, "I think this is a nice place for us to continue our kihon and kata training.  What do you think, master-in-training?"

Yaguchi almost let out a groan, but instead, bowed and said, "Os!"

Mindful Diet?

A recent article published by the University of California at San Francisco indicated that mindful meditation proved useful in losing weight and belly fat without diet.

First thought:  Not another no-work weight-loss gimmick.

After some research, I’ve decided that this actually has merits. Utilizing something called mindfulness which is in another way of thinking differently, in this case less thinking, if possible “no thinking” in zen, it’s called “mushin no shin” or mind of no mind.

 First of all, it doesn’t take much training. It doesn’t require special foods, instruction, classes at martial arts or yoga facilities, or visits with an Asian master on top of a high mountain.

What it asks for is a person to empty his or her mind, be completely blank, when the “emotional” need to eat is triggered. The basic theory behind this is that when a person eats while stressed the chemical cortisol is activated that stores fat. By simply turning off the stress factor, cortisol is not activated and fat is used for energy processing and the person is not likely to eat that half gallon of Heavenly Hash, full bag of potato chips, or chocolate chip cookies.

 The study indicated that not only weight (usually measured in ounces) was permanently lost, but inches off the belly, and that the body creates more HDL good body fat which is healthy.

 So what does this mean to us baby boomers?

 As old hippies, we pretty much grew up thinking up this new stuff: Jogging, health clubs, low carb diet, various exercise machines, nutrition, alternative health treatment, so on, la de dah de dah.

 What it boils down is that years ago, we dinosaurs ate freshly slaughtered meats and ate roots and berries. We also learned how to roll them up in paper and smoke some of these wonderful herbs. My thoughts? We’re pretty much messed up in our ways and as a result poor eating habits are the results of poor “stinking” thinking.

 We live extremely complicated lives and find value in it. Now waz up wid dat?

 Mushin no shin puts it all in perspective. Non-martial artist have seen or heard of the concept from watching movies, one that comes to mind is The Last Samurai” when the Tom Cruise character, Lt. Nathan Algren was having a hard time picking up Japanese hand-to-hand combat consequently ending up beaten time after time. Samurai leader Nakamura’s son, Nubutada, explained “Too many mind. Hai. Mind the sword, mind the people watch, mind the enemy.” The hardest part of thinking about no mind is that the preoccupation of stressors that lead our lives takes precedents of what matters. A doomsday co-worker warned me that Left Wing Liberals are going to take away all of the rich people’s money. He was far from rich, but yet he was stressing from this idea obviously fed from early morning talk radio shows. When he asked me my thoughts, I said, “I don’t know. I’ve never been rich.” In this case, my co-worker had “too many mind.” He expends his life’s force and energy to face dangers that poses no immediate risk; however, his mind, body and spirit react as if it was being attacked by a Sabre tooth tiger and therefore deteriorates while dealing with an unknown and inconsequential threat.

Point is that why think about it? Like worrying about liver flavored ice cream; naga happen.

So the moral of this story is that if you have to eat because of stress factors, simply take a deep breath, count slowly from one to ten, walk to a quiet place and think about nothing.

Perhaps thinking about nothing may stop you from thinking about food.

Haiiii ya!