So Awkward

Revel in your awkwardness.

With great effort I think I’m able to freeze my face into an impassive mask before my skepticism shines through. At the very least, I’m able to refrain from laughing out right in my instructor’s face.

He’s looking at me expectantly, and all the while, his words echo in my head. Revel in your awkwardness. Revel in your awkwardness. Your awkwardness. Your awkwardness. Changing and morphing until all that’s left is my own personal anthem: You’re awkward…You’re awkward…You’re awkward.

I manage a stiff nod to show my understanding, but inside, I’m appalled. Revel in my awkwardness? Impossible! How can I revel in something that causes me so much embarrassment?

As clearly as if I’d spoken my thoughts aloud, my instructor answered my desperate question. “Everyone is awkward when they’re learning. The problem is that we focus so much on our awkwardness that we end up hurting our performance. We are so afraid of embarrassing ourselves that we are unable to see what we might actually be capable of.”

It gave me a lot to consider, but I was still unsure. Or rather, still so sure. So sure of my nervousness that I couldn’t see beyond it. So sure of my embarrassment that I couldn’t see it for the learning moment it could provide. So sure of my awkwardness in one self-defense technique that I couldn’t see the other twenty I was capable of executing perfectly.

Sometimes I feel so awkward working a technique, that I’m sure I will embarrass myself if I really go for it. Instead, I hold back, am unable to perform the technique, and feel embarrassed by my lackluster performance. Maybe if we can try our best – and keep trying – despite the embarrassment we sometimes feel at our awkwardness, we would end up learning, growing, and achieving much faster.

Imagine what we would learn, what we could accomplish if we stopped worrying so much about embarrassing ourselves and started enjoying our awkwardness. Imagine, like my instructor suggested, what we might actually be capable of.

As a side note: I went home, still considering the advice I’d been given in my lesson. When I logged onto my computer awhile later, I stumbled across this video, and finally, everything clicked into place for me.

The Perfect Fighter

UPDATE: It has been almost one year since Ronda Rousey was knocked out with a vicious head kick that the whole world heard connect. This week it was announced that Ronda would make her return to the octagon at UFC 197 on December 30 versus the current champion, Amanda Nunes. The following article was my initial thoughts following her brutal loss last November (written immediately following the match) take a look:

Tonight I feel for Ronda Rousey. Not because she lost, as I knew that would happen if she fought long enough. I feel for her that she rose to a position in her career that people viewed her as invincible. She rose to a position in her life that people saw her as superhuman. But she is not. Nor is anyone. 

I am thinking about an article I shared earlier this week from Precision Nutrition that discusses “that person.” “That person” that has “got it all together.” It hits home the point that we are all human and “that person” doesn’t exist. If you haven’t read it yet, take a few minutes (it’s worth it) -

Coming into the fight tonight Ronda was the favorite and all week I answered the question, “Does Holly have a chance?” Despite only having fought three fewer fights than the champion, I have to admit I was skeptical that maybe they had thrown Holly to their money making machine a little early as her other UFC fights thus far, while wins, were not super impressive. However, my response was that if Holly can circle and use her reach and movement to avoid Ronda’s rush, then she has a chance. As far as the stand-up aspect of fighting goes, Holly was coming into this fight with lightyears more experience. Just as Ronda was coming into the bout with lightyears more grappling experience. Congratulations to Holly Holm and her team of coaches and training partners as she had a perfect gameplan and executed it. Flawlessly.

I wish as a society we didn’t feel the need to raise someone up so high when they are doing well because it makes the fall so much harder when they inevitably fall. Fighting is far too complex with far too many aspects for one person to possibly be the best at them all. No one is perfect. Everyone will lose if given enough opportunities. It just takes finding the person that is better than you at one aspect and with the game plan to exploit it.

I don’t know if it was just for promotion or if she actually felt this way but leading up to this fight Ronda stated in an interview that she wants to also win the boxing world championship and jiu jitsu world championship when she retires from the UFC. If she did believe that she was the best at all aspects of fighting, tonight would be a reminder that she is human. And that’s okay! As a martial artist, I appreciate the sacrifice that she and other fighters make to enter the octagon so that I can take these valuable lessons from their performances. I am not disappointed in her or any other great champions that have ever lost.

I will save some of the more technical aspects of the fight for another post or classes I teach on the mat, but I hope that Ronda’s team handles this loss well and that she gets back to the training camp and gets right to work on filling these holes. Ronda was picked apart tonight but not by a “better” fighter. Holly Holm had a better strategy and executed it flawlessly. I believe Ronda could dominate the fight just as well if she comes up with the game plan to take the fight to the areas where she knows she has the advantage. It will require fighting smarter and of course - she'd have to be prepared to counter the counter game plan that Holly will develop for the rematch.

So tonight we did not see “the perfect fighter” and we never will. Tonight we saw the perfect fight. I hope you can take this lesson with you on the mat as well as into other aspects of your life. Remember that while we may strive for perfection, it is not attainable. What’s important is that we grow every day. Let’s try to avoid comparing ourselves to others and never forget that we are all human. Despite some people having great success, they are not perfect and still face struggles and hardships as the rest of us. Tonight Ronda fell, let’s all hope she gets back up and gives Holly one hell of a rematch.

“To Fall Seven Times. To Rise Eight Times. Life Begins Now.” -Daruma

6 Tips to Block Stress from Your Life

While I think the ability to live "stress-free" is slightly dependent on your personality, there are definitely some things you can do to block stress from your life and focus on the things most important to you. Here are 6 tips to start living stress-free!

1. I love "to-do" lists. Something about crossing an item off the list is very rewarding, and no matter how much is left to get done, crossing one more thing off helps me feel accomplished and motivated. Over the last year, I've been using the "Clear" app for this - it's fantastic! You literally swipe your finger over each item on your list and cross it off. Very helpful!

2. When you start to feel overwhelmed, walk away. This was a technique I learned from my middle school chess team believe it or not - if it was your move and you couldn't find the best solution, our coach taught us to stand up and walk away (even in timed games). This helped you clear your mind and comeback with a new perspective. It works unbelievably well! Sometimes the answer you need is right under your nose, you just can't see it because you are looking too hard.

3. Find your "thing." For me this is obviously martial arts. Find the activity that makes you want to work. Once you find that thing, treat it like gold and never let it leave your life. Even in desperate times - find a way to never lose your "thing."

4. When there are certain people in your life that stress you out or frustrate you, be the change you want to see in them. It is very easy to become bitter, angry, and negative but this almost NEVER helps.

5. Find your inspiration. Sometimes all I need is to listen to some good music, put on a podcast, or read a good book to get inspired again. YouTube comes in handy too (just don't go down a black YouTube hole)!

6. SLEEP - I understand this is not always easy and not always possible in some lives. But if you can manage to get the right amount of sleep, do it. I can always feel a difference when I don't get 8 hours of sleep.

What do you do to keep your life stress-free?


If you always put limits on everything you do, physical or anything else, it will spread into your work and into your life. There are no limits. There are only plateaus, and you must not stay there, you must go beyond them. - Bruce Lee

I think you could argue that plateaus are one of the toughest opponents when training martial arts, losing weight, or strength training. I have seen many students get stuck on a plateau and give up. You are training consistently, doing everything that you should be doing, but you feel like you just hit a wall. No matter how hard you try, you feel like you aren't improving.

This can happen off the mat as well. People hit plateaus in their jobs, in their diets, and even in their relationships. Have you ever felt stuck in the same place at your job? Do you feel like you aren't moving forward anymore? What about with your diet or weight loss? Is there a number on the scale that you just can't seem to pass? And in your relationships? Do you ever feel like you and the other person just aren't growing together anymore? Maybe you are just bored?

The key to getting past any plateau is remembering that it is only a plateau. It is not a wall. You will get past it. Let's say you've been stuck in a rut with your training, and one night you just feel like staying home. I promise you this will not get you past the plateau! It's funny how the brain works. When things get difficult, we want to give up. Never give up on a plateau! Sit for a second and consider all of the benefits that you will get by persevering, and then make the choice to get up and go. (If you haven't read the post on choices - go here)

If you hit a plateau in your career, the first step to getting through it is to recognize it. The solution may be a career change for some, but for others it is not. You may need to reassess your goals, objectives, and what you want out of your job. I've talked to many people that say once they changed their outlook on their job, the feeling of being on a plateau disappeared. The hard truth is that in some jobs the plateau may be moving up the ladder, and that may take a good 20 years or so! But for many people that is ok. You have to sit down and ask what you want out of your job. If the answer is family stability, a stable paycheck and health insurance than the plateau may not matter.

The divorce rate in the United States is over 50%, and I think that plateaus are a huge factor here. My father told me growing up that when looking at a relationship, you have to remember that some things will occur no matter what person you are with. Never leave the person you are with over something that will happen in your next relationship too. I don't like to compare people to objects, but the analogy of a new car is perfect here. Your new car isn't so new and exciting a year after you buy it, and 5 years down the road it could be very boring. The car may still be fully functional and look exactly the same as it did when you bought it new, but it isn't new so it is boring. This in essence is a plateau. If your solution is to go out and buy a new one now, just remember you are going to inevitably hit this same plateau with the next one!

So what do you do about it? In your relationships, I think the key is to always keep the initial spark alive. Treat every date like the first one. Be kind, listen, appreciate one another, and respect one another. In speaking to couples that have been together for 20, 30, 40, or 50 years, these are the keys.

With your training, you just have to push through. Talk to your instructors. They will most likely have a different perspective on your plateau, and in many cases, have the directions you need to get through them.

Remember the Environment!

Don’t let the title fool you, this is not a post about going green or saving the planet; this post is about self-defense. Many people are aware of the sport of Mixed Martial Arts, more commonly referred to as MMA. This form of martial arts competition is a sport. A fun sport to watch no doubt, but it is just that – a sport.

It incorporates techniques from various martial arts, but it is not the total martial arts package. With that said, what I want to address today is the importance of the environment in martial arts.

Why do you train martial arts? Many of you are in it to learn self defense. While the techniques presented in MMA and the UFC are some of the same techniques we teach at our academy (Progressive Martial Arts Academy in Oak Ridge, TN), we will also teach you how to defend yourself with and against weapons, with and against grabs and strikes not legal in competition, and with consideration of other various factors that separate competition and reality.

For example, in a real life-threatening situation, you will not be on a soft mat or canvas floor. You will be faced with the reality of concrete surfaces that may be littered with broken glass, rocks, nails or even covered with rain. This is not a very forgiving surface to land on. Your opponent will be wearing more than spandex shorts and gloves. It’s possible that you will be shoved against a wall or grabbed from behind by a surprise attacker. Your environment may present objects that both you and your opponent could use as weapons. There may be a curb stone right behind you that, after successfully holding off your attacker, you trip over, giving them time to recover and attack again!

These kind of things make training how to safely fall, roll and stand back up some of the most important self defense techniques you will ever learn. Maybe even more importantly is training to make sure that you don’t end up on the ground at all, where in competition that might have been your strong suit.

Just something to keep in mind – be prepared for reality.

Let’s Start with Choices

You are in control of your body and make the choices that will ultimately form your habits. To create an excellent habit, we must choose excellence. What are the areas of your life that you are always looking to make changes in?

Eating better? Exercising more? Sleeping more?

No matter what area of your life you are striving for excellence in, let’s start with our choices. The little choices day in and day out that we make will ultimately form a habit. So let’s make the first good habit that we form consciously thinking about the small choices we make each day.

The next time someone hurts you emotionally and you want to make an entire box of oreos disappear, make the choice to make them disappear into your trash can instead of your stomach (they shouldn’t be in your cabinet in the first place!). When it’s time to get up off the couch to exercise, and your mind start’s convincing your body to stay put, make the choice to get up and exercise. Building a strong habit will ultimately come down to making choices.

As a martial artist, I promise you will have days that you think you’d rather stay home. For whatever reason, there is something else pulling you away from the mat that night. These are the most important nights to get to the dojo and train. Make the choice right there to not even consider the idea of skipping class anymore, and get up and go! You know that you won’t regret your decision once you get on the mat. You just have to make the choice to get yourself there. Your instructor will do the rest!

Let’s stop wasting time and start making choices for excellence.

It's What You Do That Defines You

I’d like to discuss how Batman relates to my journey in martial arts.

In one of my favorite movies, Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight,” there is a part in which the maniacal Joker has rigged two boats to blow up, one filled with innocent passengers and the other with criminals. He gives each boat a trigger that will blow the other up, but both will explode if no one takes action. Of course, this situation sparks a huge debate amongst the two boats about who should get to live. In an extremely powerful scene, a huge, scarred, and angry-looking criminal approaches the ship captain with the trigger. He says, “Give me that trigger, and I’ll do what you should have done ten minutes ago.” The captain shakily hands him the trigger, and the criminal throws it out of a window.

Now you’re probably thinking, “What did that possibly have to do with martial arts? There was no fighting!” Naturally, I have learned techniques, forms, attacks, defenses, and other fighting skills in the time I’ve been at PMA, but martial arts has taught me a much more important lesson: To ignore labels.

In the movie scene, everyone expected the criminal to blow the other ship up simply because he was wearing the orange jumpsuit. Instead, he chose the higher moral path. He was not his label. This concept is something I’ve had a hard time grasping throughout my pubescent time in public school as I tried to be someone I thought would make me cooler. Instead, it sent me down a bad path and caused me to lose sight of what kind of person I wanted to be.

When I started lessons at PMA, my self-esteem was rock-bottom. I never imagined I would be where I am now. As I grew as a martial artist, my vision began to clear, and I saw the parts of myself that weren’t so great as well as the ones that made me “me.” Martial arts pulled me off of a bad path and set me firmly on one full of light and success.

Now, I’m independent, confident, and I strive to be the best person I can be. As difficult as it is to ignore the judgments and opinions of others, what really matters is what you think of yourself and being the kind of person you want to be.

You are not your label.  You are not a dork, nerd, loser, four-eyes, fatty, dummy, jerk, wacko, ugly, or anything else you may have been called. Everyone is made up of too much, good and bad, to be labeled. Labels don’t define you; it’s what you do that defines you. So, just like Batman, do what makes you the best you can be!

Madelyn Fowler: Why I Train Martial Arts

I am training martial arts for all of the same reasons now that I listed on my application when I first signed up: self defense, I like to keep in shape, and I think it’s fun. All these reasons are over simplified as I now see, but they all still motivate me to train, just now in a more complex, deep way.

Had you asked me to write this a couple of years ago, I would have answered nearly the same as I am now: I feel empowered just being here at PMA, and empowered knowing that I am leading my own journey in self perfection. I feel strong in my abilities, a feeling I have never felt through any other outlet. I also feel confident and unique; this is something I am doing all by myself. Though I am part of a team, my journey is different. I am different.

Now that I’ve taken the Black Belt Test I can add more to this answer. The weekend I went through helped me not only find out who I wanted to be, but who I was, and how to accept that person. I’ve always had a self image problem. Through three days of sweat (gallons of it) and tears (not as much as sweat) and no make up (the longest I’ve gone in years) I felt totally cleansed and pure. I looked at my pale, beat up face and thought, “I am pretty. Not the make up.”

So in short, martial arts broke me down and gave me the ability to see myself at my deepest level, something I sadly couldn’t do myself. Martial arts makes people, not just warriors. I am forever indebted to my [Filkenjutsu] family.

Martial Artist or Student of the Martial Arts?

I asked the question on our Facebook Page recently:

“Are you a martial artist or a student of the martial arts?”

We had a few people brave enough to post their answers publicly, some sent me an email and others were discussing the question before and after class. I think our students were split about 50/50.

The students that answered, "we are all martial artists," liked the idea that anyone that habitually practices the martial arts should be considered a martial artist. Habitually being the key word there. For example, someone that drops in on a class here or there wouldn’t be considered a martial artist as they have not really adopted the practice into their way of life. One of my black belts, Terry, made the suggestion that if you practice the art with passion you are a martial artist.

On the other hand, some students were suggesting that they must reach a certain skill level (such as Black Belt) to be considered a martial artist. Their humility was telling them they had not yet mastered the art enough yet to be considered an artist.

The argument to this was that even someone that is not very skilled at “art” can be considered an artist if they paint/draw/etc on a regular basis and have passion for their work.

So what is the answer?

Obviously, what I think is right is the “correct” answer. (Just kidding!)

I think everyone was right in this circumstance. Every person training martial arts is on his or her own journey. No matter what stage of that journey you are on, you should always maintain the mindset of being a “student.” At the same time, I consider all of my “students” debating this question “martial artists.”

If you care enough about this activity that we are all practicing to debate whether or not you can call yourself a martial artist, it must mean something to you!

Whether you are a white belt that has only been training for a few months or a black belt that has been training for many years, if you have adopted what this blog is all about as your own than you are a martial artist - “The Martial Arts Way of Life.”

What is “The Martial Arts Way of Life?” To answer this I think you have to ask yourself why you are training martial arts? If the answer is to better some aspect of yourself, than you are on the right track.

Whether that is you increasing your confidence in your ability to protect yourself and your family, increasing your mental focus, getting in better shape, or becoming a more kind and peaceful person, we’re all here for one reason – to be better. That’s what it’s all about. What makes it a way of life is that we will never achieve perfection; we will just always strive for it.

So martial artists, let me ask you this:

“Why are you a student of the martial arts?”

I am a woman. I am empowered.

I am many things.  Rash.  Romantic.  Sarcastic.  Compassionate.  Impatient.  Funny.  Short tempered.  And I’m a woman.  But my gender doesn’t define me; it isn’t all that I am.  So when a gentleman holds the door for me, I appreciate it.  When he offers to carry my groceries, I say thank you.  When he compliments me, I smile.

Because I know I can walk through a door without help, I know I am strong enough to carry my own groceries, and I know that if he becomes too forward, I can destroy him.  A gentleman may treat me a certain way because I am a woman, but I choose to react the way I do because I am more than that.  I am an empowered woman.

Some people might look at me, see a woman, and think weak.  But when I look in the mirror, I see a woman and think capable.  Because I can style my curls like a professional and I can work a dress like a runway model, but I can also grapple like a division one wrestler, throw an opponent like an Olympian throws a javelin, and choke out a man twice my size like…well, like a capable 24 year old woman who is also rash, romantic, sarcastic, compassionate, inpatient, funny, and short tempered. I am sarcastic because I appreciate dry humor and wit.  I am compassionate because I have feeling and heart.  I am emboldened because I train in self-defense.

I am a woman.  I am empowered.  And I am not afraid.  What about you, ladies?