by Nguyen “Tom” Griggs
As I write this, we are in the midst of a global pandemic. Every day, we’re being tested and stretched in new ways — as leaders, martial artists, school owners, instructors and role models.
Despite all the chaos and the unprecedented levels of change, there is one simple point I’d like to make: No matter how things go, we must hold to our standards. The reason is very simple.
How we act, speak and behave during the crisis says more about our character than any platitudes, student creeds or tenets ever will. In other words, the pandemic is showing who we really are through how we behave during difficult times.
I want to share a personal experience that pertains to holding to one’s standards. During my time as a martial artist, I’ve had the honor of training under several instructors in various styles. As a result, I hold several black belts. The lesson I’m about to share comes from one of my promotion tests.
I was testing for blue belt in a hybrid American-karate system. Although I already had a black belt in jujitsu and a brown belt in taekwondo, I’ve always believed in starting from the bottom and working my way up in a new art because that’s the best way to learn, grow and truly become part of the system.
My instructor was gracious enough to let me work at my own pace, and when I tested, he and the senior belts would observe and correct accordingly. During my blue-belt test, I probably didn’t look as sharp as I could have while performing the punch-kick combinations.
When I completed that section, my instructor asked how I would rate my performance. My honest answer was that it was “good.” Incredulous, he asked, “Just good?” When my confusion became apparent, he invited a junior student to come to the floor and answer the question.
The young man came forward, bowed and stood at attention. The instructor asked, “When I ask you, ‘How do you think you did?’ what should the answer be?”
The young man replied, “The correct answer is, ‘I did my best, but I can always do better, sir!’ That is how you answer, sir.”
All young bravado aside, I understood that this was a learning point for me, but my standards wouldn’t let me rest in a state of mediocrity. Consequently, I asked, “Sir, I thank you for the lesson. Would you like me to repeat everything to the best of my ability?”
At that moment, everyone groaned and looked down as if I’d just made my life more difficult. My instructor smiled because he knew that doing my best and holding to a standard of quality mattered. I repeated the entire combination portion of the test at breakneck speed and felt like I’d run a half-marathon. Then came the kata, sparring, self-defense and grappling, and despite feeling half dead, I performed everything to the best of my ability although at the normal pace.
Many of us may have heard a motivational saying that goes something like this: Our thoughts inform our beliefs, which inform our attitudes, which inform our action, which defines our character.
There are variations of this “character equation,” but what I love is that it teaches us that our actions truly define our character. In my view, our actions say more about us than our words.
As we navigate the treacherous waters of the pandemic, it becomes easy for us to let the harsher aspects of our personalities show. Stress, anxiety and other factors easily can get the best of us. Who could blame anyone for being quick to anger, for showing frustration and even for lashing out under this kind of pressure?
Right now, we martial artists are taking a collective belt test. As with any test, we must ask what the standards are. What do we ask of our students when they stand before us to advance in rank? And most important, are we willing to ask those same things of ourselves right now and hold to our own standards?
If nothing else, think of these trying times as another instance for you to develop your legacy. Stay healthy and stay safe. You are earning some serious stripes right now! Perform with excellence and hold to your standards.
Nguyen “Tom” Griggs is a professional consultant/speaker on subjects that include teams, leadership and conflict. To contact him, send an email to [email protected]
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