Goal-Setting Time Again

It’s time to think again about why we got into training in martial arts, and what we want out of it.  This goal-setting exercise is based largely on an article I wrote several years ago, “Your Personal Black Belt Plan.” An older version of it is posted on my blog here.  I’ve added a few more specific suggestions at the end to help you better define your goals and come up with a well-structured plan for achieving them.

The examples I use here are often made with brown belts in mind, because brown belt is an important transitional time in your training from beginner student to Shaolin-Do disciple. But the principles can be put to use by anyone from a beginner student to an advanced black belt.

It is extremely important to have goals in your martial arts training, or as Elder Master Eric Smith puts it, you have to “ask for something” every time you train.

For most people studying a martial art, getting a black belt is a major goal. It is never too early to start thinking about your personal path to black belt. Your teacher and your school will have a certain vision of what it means and what is required to acheive black belt status, but your contribution to the process of attaining a black belt is the most important determining factor in investing that rank with meaning, purpose, and depth. When I watch people testing at any level, it is very clear who has had a personal vision for the accomplishments and abilities they want to attain, and who is just going through the motions doing the minimum required to get to the next rank.

In Shaolin-Do, every level of brown belt is meant to last for 6 months of consistent training, and brown belt levels count backwards from 3rd (beginner brown) to 2nd (intermediate) to 1st (advanced), so that the timetable from 3rd brown to 1st black is approximately 1.5 years. For more on the kung fu curriculum, see http://www.nolashaolin.com/kungfu.html

When Grandmaster Sin first started teaching in this country, he taught much less material from brown to black than we have in the curriculum now. 3rd to 2nd brown consisted only of broadsword and sanje, but still took 6 months, so brown belts did a lot of sanje, broadsword, conditioning, and short kata. There are many stories about the hard workouts Grandmaster Sin and his brother Master Hiang put the old-timers through, with thousands of kicks, punches, and conditioning exercises. As Senior Master Bob Green puts it, “One of them (Grandmaster Sin) was trying to make us pass out, the other (Master Hiang) was trying to kill us!”

I’d like for my students to do a little soul-searching and set some personal goals for yourself as you set down the path to testing for black belt.

Get a notebook that you will devote to your kung fu training. Use it to record notes on the forms that you learn (including seminar forms). You can also record workouts, your sparring experiences, goals, and achievements. Your student manual only gives you notes on forms for your first year of training, so you need to be able to keep your own notes without depending on the manual. (If you have not received a student manual, contact me to request one.)

Write your responses to the following prompts in the notebook. You may give a copy to Sifu Joseph if you wish, but it is not necessary.

What are the qualities, capabilities or attributes that make someone a martial arts master? Imagine things that you would like to be able to do or attributes that you would like to possess 20-30 years from now. These can be physical abilities or psychological/spiritual characteristics, a certain status or lifestyle, anything that you admire or aspire to that would be an attribute of a master.

What qualities, capabilities, or attributes would you possess 10 years from now, if you set out on this path to mastery today?

What qualities, capabilities, or attributes would you possess 1 year from now, if you set out on this path today? Make these your one year goals, and be sure to write them down where you can check on them periodically.

How do you plan on reaching your one year goals? Break them down into 3 month increments, and keep track of your progress. You can keep revising them, if necessary, as you learn whether or not your goals were realistic, or too easily attained.

Now set a few concrete goals for yourself that you will attain before you test for black belt. A goal for everyone who wants to attain black belt will be:
“I will be able to ALL of my forms (including lower level forms) flawlessly, with low stances, power, snap, focus, and rhythm.”

One of the my most rewarding moments since I started the New Orleans school was when Brian Adams, now 2nd degree black, was preparing to test for his 1st degree black belt, and said that his goal was to do ALL of his forms like a black belt, not just do his yellow belt forms like a yellow belt, blue forms like a blue belt, etc.  When he said that, I felt like I had done my job properly as a teacher.

Other goals will be tailored to your individual priorities, abilities and desires. Keep track of your weekly progress in your training book, and work consistently.
Sample goals:
“I will be able to do 100 push-ups in a single set.”
(your goal: strength-endurance and mental toughness)
“I will be able to do a full front and side split.”
“I will be able to do fast & powerful front, side, roundhouse and hook kicks over my head.”
(martial arts skill)
“I will be at my optimal body weight of _____ lbs.”
(health/fitness/body composition)
Or insert your own goal for strength, for skill, for personal growth.

Feel free to contact me for advice in creating a plan to reach your goals.

Some specific suggestions for setting and training for your goals:

Rank progression: forms training
train your forms for constant improvement: low stance, good and correct form, power, snap, speed, rhythm, focus and spirit
train each form 3 or more times, starting slowly with power and accuracy, then building speed without sacrificing form

Basic Skills
stance training, punching and kicking sets
–train for quality, not quantity. build up number of good reps
3rd brown belt skills: rolls, double smash kicks, low sweeps
to improve sparring skill, do kicking sets with a target in the air, ideally one suspended from a string. kick just short of the target, as you would kick at an opponent’s head in sparring with no contact

Absolute Strength: 5 sets of 5 reps, high level of difficulty and tension
Training your absolute strength will enhance your speed and striking power.
one arm pushup / high tension pushups
one leg squat / static active stretching (great for balance, too)
weight training
isometrics (I Ching Ching, sanje and wrist/forearm mantis training)

Strength-Endurance: high reps, moderate level of difficulty
pushups, situps, hindu squats

Cardiovascular endurance
The best way to train is with very intense, relatively short intervals with brief intervals of rest. For example, 1 min freestyle rounds with 30 seconds of rest for 4-8 rounds, or kettlebell swings: 30 seconds work, 15 seconds rest for 4-12 sets.

Flexibility and Mobility
dynamic stretching before class, static stretching after class
can alternate dynamic stretches with jump rope rounds for a cardio workout
joint mobility drills for active recovery during strength or endurance training
partner stretching
static active stretching
passive stretching after class: take deep breaths and hold, pull deeper into stretch
I Ching Ching

other goals you can build a plan around:
weight loss or losing inches at waist (visceral fat)
meditation: start 10 min/ day increasing to twice a day, then increasing duration

If you have any questions on this, just contact me for clarification or advice.


~ by nolashaolin on September 11, 2008.

4 Responses to “Goal-Setting Time Again”

  1. Goals.
    1. I want to have more flexibility in my body.
    2. I want to leartn all the forms very well according with the level… yellow, blue…etc..
    3. I want to lose more weight.
    4. I want to know what kind of exercices may I practice at home?
    5. I want to be corrected in the mistakes that I am doing.
    6. From taichi, I want to learn the forms and to be corrected of my mistakes.
    7. I want to grow in strength, wisdom and flexibility.
    8. I want to be a black belt having a good physical and mental condition.
    9. I want to learn and practice very well with power and strength.
    10. I want to have fun in class.
    11. I want to lern well how to manage weapons.
    12. To have experience in a real faiting setting.

    Thank you

  2. Gustavo,
    Great list of goals! Here are some suggestions:

    1. Do dynamic stretching 3-7x/week. These are straight leg kicks, or moving stretches.
    If you don’t know what I’m talking about, I’ll show you next week. You can alternate
    dynamic stretching sets with rounds of jump rope for a cardio workout that will
    also help your mobility in sparring. Before class starts is a good time to do

    2. Do regular stretching 3-7x/week. Long slow breaths. On the inhale, extend your
    spine. On the exhale, move deeper into the stretch. After class or after workouts
    is a good time to do this.

    3. Do static active stretching and
    I Ching Ching
    3-7x a week. Static active stretching is where you hold your
    body still in a difficult pose, such as slowly lifting your leg into a front kick
    and holding it there. We will start doing more I Ching Ching in class so you have
    an idea of what these exercises are. During breaks in class and throughout your
    workouts is a good time for these.

    4. To learn your forms well, practice them slowly with low stances, then repeat
    them faster each time without compromising on the stance, power and techniques.

    5. For weight loss, eat natural foods: fruit, vegetables, meat, high-quality dairy.
    Minimize modern foods like sugar and white flour. No sugary drinks. Get moderate
    physical activity every day, like walking, gardening, physical work, and do intense
    workouts 3-6x/week. See my complete post here
    for more details.

    6. For your home exercises, do the stretching in the order I recommended above.
    For your workout, do some kicking and punching sets in the air. For example, 30-50
    punches in a horse stance, then a kicking set, then an exercise, then repeat for
    4 sets.

    The kicks could be front, side, roundhouse, hook, or sometimes crescent kicks,
    invert kicks, or other variations. Do 10-25 in a bow, 10-25 in a cat, then 5-10
    standing on one leg. Don’t do so many that you get sloppy. Make each technique
    a good one, so start with just 10 of each.

    Along with the workout above, you could practice some of your forms if you have
    room, play with a staff or other weapon you have learned, or do tai chi as a cool-down.

    7. I’m glad you said you want to have fun in your training! That’s probably the
    most important thing! As my teacher, Master Joe, has pointed out, look at runners–all
    they do is put one foot in front of the other, over and over again– it never,
    ever changes, and they love it! So how can we possibly get bored doing these amazing,
    ancient forms, with all their variety of challenging techniques strung together.
    Practicing can be done in the same fun spirit that animals play.

  3. […] If you’ve never done the goal-setting exercise I wrote on my blog, here is the link […]

  4. […] The goal-setting exercise is here. […]

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