Know your limits, then break them!

Mr. Kern pictured next to Grandmaster Soon Ho Lee at the 2001 World Championships in Little Rock, Arkansas.

Mr. Kern pictured next to Grandmaster Soon Ho Lee at the 2001 World Championships in Little Rock, Arkansas.

"Know your limits, then break them!”

You may hear me stay in class, knowing the focus is always on safety, yet the purpose is staying strong. The mind and body are able to accomplish tasks far greater than we think!

I share the above photograph when I was a blue belt in taekwondo many years ago. This was my first big tournament and boy I was nervous! But I made many new friends, including Grandmaster!

I look back 16 years ago and never thought possible I'd be where I am today. I just knew that if I tried my best, stayed focused, that would mattered most!

What does focus mean in martial arts?

Focus in martial arts means 3 things: direction (left from right, low from high), target training (start with large target, continually making target smaller), and penetration by targeting strike beyond actual target (aka: “kicking through the board vs stopping at the board”). 

What are some examples of staying focused?

  • At Home: Completing a project to the best of your ability before moving on. Following directions the first time.
  • At School: Pay attention with your eyes, ears, and heart by doing your best.
  • At Taekwondo: Focus can be eye contact on a target, or setting goals something you strive for, like getting your black belt or kicking a target high above your head.

For those competing at the tournament this weekend, know you have been training to win, now compete to have fun!


All about the Smart Sheet

I am very excited to introduce a brand new component to our program that will become a staple to our life skills program: The Smart Sheet, a goal map for your student.


Students will work with their parents at home to come up with a single goal that the student wishes to work on. This is essentially the student equivalent of the parent sheet… giving them input into creating their own goals. The reward for accomplishing goal will be far greater than a stripe: it will be a personal accomplishment with an incentive determined by the parent(s). Example of reward & incentives doesn’t have to be material and can include:

  • Praise and gestures (hugs, jump high fives)
  • Your student(s) gets to choose what is for dinner 3 nights in a week
  • Your student(s) can choose a movie to watch as a family or come up with another fun activity, a friend sleepover, or family tradition

Allow your child to decide that he/she would like to work toward the goal. This will make the process more meaningful and likely to work toward those goals. The student will be recognized for their Smart Sheet Goals in class (belt stripes will not serve as the goal for the Smart Sheet). However, if parents feel the student deserves praise for extenuating circumstances, please notify Mr. Kern at least 2 weeks prior to testing (special arrangements at testing will be made).

Ideally, the goal date should be within the current session.

Below, I have provided an example of a SMART Sheet that has been completed to give parents and students an idea of what to expect. Be creative, but be specific! Good luck!

As Winne-The-Pooh would say, "You're braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think!" Stay strong!

9 Ways to Demonstrate Leadership at Testing

Martial Arts rank promotions (testing) are a wonderful way to demonstrate leadership for students. After all, leadership is a life skills which goes beyond martial arts training.... it makes world-class people!

In the Spirit of Songham, I offer nine ways to show leadership skills at testing:

  1. Arrive early. On-time is late. 
  2. Greet others. Smile. Everyone is nervous (even parents). By introducing yourself, you help ease even your own anxiety. Making a new friend is the best way to build a happy community, too!
  3. Be warmed up and ready to go before testing. Arrive prepared with all necessary gear, including a filled waterbottle.
  4. Be ready to jump on the floor at any time. Guest judges often need student leadership to encourage others to do their best. You never know when you can earn an extra leadership stripe!
  5. DO your best. Don't just try.
  6. Be a good example to others. Juniors will look at how you sit, stand, and behave. They will look up to follow you. Be sure you set a good example.
  7. Answer Up. If you hear your name called, be sure to give a clear response.
  8. Help others with sparring gear after you are ready. Especially with students new to sparring.
  9. Say "Thank you." It never goes out of style and shows you care! Thank your judges, parents, board holders, sparring partners, and instructor. An Attitude of Gratitude is a quality of a black belt!

How can you tell which level is a leader in Lakes Martial Arts? Just look at their uniform!

Lakes martial arts leadership team uniforms illustrate the level of leadership training completed by the student.

Lakes martial arts leadership team uniforms illustrate the level of leadership training completed by the student.

Interested in joining our Leadership Team?

CLICK HERE TO LEARN MOREContact Mr. Kern to sign up.

Sparring Gear {Tips & Rules}

Dear Parents of New Camo Belts,

Congrats! You have made it to the exciting time where your student has earned the responsibility to spar. If you don't know already, read Mr. Kern's 10 Reasons Sparring Gear is Cool!

A few important items:

1. Explain “Your Rules"

Speak with your student about YOUR rules for sparring gear and consequences if those rules are broken. Of course, safety is #1. However, respect and a good attitude are paramount for black belt excellence here at Lakes Martial Arts. As are good grades, too. Make sure they know them and understand the consequences. We teach life skills through martial arts and PARENTS are key to the “triangle of learning."

2. Explain “Class Rules”

A few days before testing as your student completes preparations and review of the material, explain to them the rules of sparring. They include:

  • A good attitude is a must, no matter what.
  • Complete gear must be worn at all times during sparring. This includes a mouthpiece.
  • Off limits for contact in sparring: behind the back, below the belt, and any blind technique (like a spinning backfist). Punching to the head is not allowed. Kicking below the belt or to the back is not allowed.

WHAT IS allowed and earns points in competition:

Kick or punch to chest area: 1 point

Kick to head: 2 point

Jump kick to chest: 2 points

Jump kick to head: 3 points

Review the rules so students know them in practice before they demonstrate “fancy sparring” at testing or in class.

3. Gear Tips

Label all sparring bags with name and a unique identifier (like a colorful string). Ensure when you leave the student has the correct bag. Students are responsible for keeping all their gear organized. They will not be able to spar if they “forget” hand pads or "lost" mouthguard, for example.

To save time, put on sparring gear in this order:

  1. Feet First (after student has feet in, stretch black elastic strap and pull under feet to secure)
  2. Then chest protector
  3. Then mouth guard
  4. Then head gear
  5. Finally, hand gear

 Students should practice putting on gear in less than 2 minutes with minimum help. 


This session in class we have been talking about the importance of “Excellence," a life skill can be applied to many aspects of our life: at home, at school or work, and in class.

What is excellence in martial arts and in life? It’s all about attitude (more on that here)!

• Excellence is striving for quality in ALL WE DO.

• Excellence means we take our time, work hard, and think carefully about a project.

• Excellence lets us take pride in accomplishments, WITHOUT BRAGGING.

Working hard to bridge the gap between work and life is all about balance. When we seek excellence in one area, we risk neglecting other important priorities. Too much work and too little play makes us dull. We must work hard AND play hard to bring excellence into our lives. THAT’S the secret to attaining goals!


Students must focus for three weeks on “Excellence" at home, school, extra curricular activities, and in taekwondo class to complete the parent sheet, a requirement to earn their "gold" parent stripe to test for their next rank!

Must we be perfect in everything we do? Believe it or not, NO ONE is perfect (Even Mr. Kern!).  However, excellence means using our abilities, talents, and opportunities to their fullest.

I will share a personal story about frustrating day recently. Three little things didn't go as I planned.

1. My computer stopped working when I had an important project to complete!

2. I was issued a rental car citation in the mail for something I knew I didn't do!

3. I was testing some equipment and it fell and broke!

All of this happened in a very short time period which made things worse. I felt like crying.

However, I decided to have a good attitutude and practice excellence in what I chose to do.

And you know what we decided to do for dinner that night? We made BREAKFAST!!!! After that, everything seemed better and even our son and dog enjoyed it!

Mark your calendars: the next color belt rank testing will be on Wednesday, July 1, 2015 at 6pm.

To download the material for this session, VIEW THIS POST.

The Most Important Question

Why do martial arts forms? After all, isn't it just memorization? Why should I kick and punch the air?

We all learn different. Learning how to learn is an important skill, like the discipline of perfect practicing. Some learn best by asking questions. Others learn by helping others and design a really cool IN WHA 2 FORM MAP (Thank you, Jessica!).

Let's face it. Learning and demonstrating this under pressure isn't easy:

Learning how to learn is a skill. Forms in martial arts challenges the body and expands mind elasticity. Form map by Jessica Reinhardt.

Learning how to learn is a skill. Forms in martial arts challenges the body and expands mind elasticity. Form map by Jessica Reinhardt.

An Important Question: Ask Why?

I encourage everyone to ask one of the most difficult questions: WHY?

When I first got started in martial arts, it was fun, I got to wear a new uniform, my parents bought expensive sparring gear, I got to break boards, do weapons... earning high fives in class for following directions.

Once I felt I had mastered the basics, I didn't see the point in practicing. Repetition got boring. There were more fun things to do. Like playing outside.

Then I listened to an important question inside me: Why?

Curious learning results from asking questions focused on the WHY. Effective teachers never say:

"Because I said so."

We've all heard it before. The curt response can hinder curious learning. Like a soldier marching in platoon, questioning authority isn't always bad... in fact it reflects critical thinking!

When things become a chore, we tend to think critical and smart... often asking important 'why' questions

Why are we doing this?

I practice and teach martial arts forms for three main reasons:

  • It's a strong exercise for the MIND. The mind is the only machine that the more we work it, the stronger it gets. 
  • It's a strong exercise for the BODY. If we don't use it, we'll loose it.
  • It's challenging DISCIPLINE we can practice anywhere, anytime: our backyard, a hotel room, even in the shower! This doesn't require any gear. .. and builds balance, coordination, focus, memory, speed, power, rhythm, automatic reflex... elements we can use for the rest of our life.

If practice makes perfect... and no one can be perfect, then why do you practice what you do? 

Comment below to be eligible for one free 30 minute private lesson! Winners announced in class on April 15.




I was bullied {My story}

As I fourth-degree black belt and Martial Arts instructor, R. J. Kern doesn't stand for bullies.

As I fourth-degree black belt and Martial Arts instructor, R. J. Kern doesn't stand for bullies.

I'm 36. I'm a fourth-degree black belt instructor. I teach kids life skills through martial arts for fun. I'm confident and love what I do at Lakes Martial Arts in Minneapolis, MN. It's my hobby and a passion.

Yet, I was bullied as a kid and as an adult. There. I said it.

It hurt. Lots. When I tell this to my students, many are surprised at my story. "I'd never guess it, they'd say."

The Early Years

As a military family, I moved around from coast-to-coast. Between grades 6-7-8-9, I switched schools four times, once each year. As a young adolescent, making new friends and fitting in was difficult. As the new kid in town, I was an easy target. Shifts in geography at that young age made maintaining long-distance friendships difficult. The benefit I would appreciate years later: I learned to make new friends quickly.

Getting flicked in the ear seating on the back of the bus made my 50-minute bus commute horrible. I never knew when they would reach over the seat a whack my ear 7th-grade ear. Hard. The bus driver couldn't see that far back to know what was going on. My parents would pick me up from the bus stop, in tears. And there was little they could do. There was no policing until the damage had been done. I remember a middle school trip to Washington, DC. It was even a longer bus trip. I will spare details, but will just say it was a very long three days away from home. These were just a few examples of the types of damage to my confidence that continued during middle school years.

In Winter 9th grade, I would rather spend time during my lunch in my 9th grade geometry teacher's office rather than face the hallway, feared I'd be stuffed into a locker. Again. Kids can be cruel. I would get tripped in the hall consistently. When I least expected it. Others would laugh. I often didn't know what to do. 

We need friends to feel apart of a community. This makes us feel value, feel a belonging. Yet when cornered by an individual in private space, the odds can feel stacked against us.

The Later Years

Sometimes a dear friend you trust 100% turns away. Laughs at you. Behind closed doors, yells nasty names. In a violent temper hits you, threatens you, damages property. Refuses teamwork with a pointed finger and demonstrates a lack of loyalty or trust. Occasionally an apology would be offered, yet the same behavior would be repeated over again and again. Escape seemed impossible, like an abused dog who crawls back for scraps of food to survive.

Those were dark years. Yet, I didn't realize it until after the cloak had been lifted and I could trust again, knowing everything would be alright. It took the love and support of friends and family, the knowledge of counselors, the strength of my faith and community, and therapy in the arts to rebound fully. And it has been an amazing ride over the last few years which keeps getting better and better.

Why do I share my story?

I don't stand for bullies. Period. Yet in those early years, I didn't even know what bullying was. I knew I didn't like it. I knew I didn't want it to happen. Yet, I wasn't aware of tactics how to report it. How to stop it. Or how to prevent it all together.

I want to share what I've learned so the same thing doesn't happen to others in my community. I'm setting my sights on stopping bullying. And I'm serious.

What can you do to help?

I can't do this alone. I need your help.

The good news: The Fulton Neighborhood Association awarded us a partial grant this year for a bullying prevention seminar, a 90-minute action packed learning experience for kids ages 6-12. CLICK HERE TO LEARN MORE.

The bad news: Our original goal was to get 100 kids through the *FREE* program, however with the current funding, only 50 kids can do so. Already 30 kids have signed up of our first seminar offered on April 25, 2015. Which means spots for 20 more kids and that's it. I KNOW we can do more. I want at least 100 kids through this program before school starts next year.

If we can raise $1000, then our goal would be met. And if we raise more, then program would grow to offer even a greater impact, including more seminars >> more kids >> greater awareness >> less bullying. SUCCESS!

Important Details

Join us Saturday, May 9, 2015 (the day before Mother's Day), for a fundraiser to stop bullying. Lululemon supports our cause and will offer a trunk sale in which 40% proceeds from any purchase will fund our mission. 

  • Who >> Our Community at Large
  • What >> lululemon athletica Galleria Edina Trunk Show to benefit Bullying Prevention
  • When >> Saturday, May 9, 2015 from 12pm - 2pm
  • Where >> Pershing Park Recreation Center, 3523 W 48th St, Minneapolis, MN 55410
  • Why >> 40% proceeds for Bullying Prevention

Lululemon representatives will be available to answer questions and have product on hand.

Unable to make it? Speak with Mr. Kern about details. Where there is a will, there's a way.

Spread the word and come early! Coffee and treats provided.

With the assistance of lululemon, the city of minneapolis parks and recreation, and lakes martial arts, bully prevention seminars will help kids prevent bullying.

With the assistance of lululemon, the city of minneapolis parks and recreation, and lakes martial arts, bully prevention seminars will help kids prevent bullying.

When not wearing my white uniform, I enjoy training in comfortable athletic wear. I really like the Kung Fu 2.0 pants and the Protean Short Sleeve, perfect for running, gym cross-training, and practicing my form in fresh air.

I use my legs for everything I do in martial arts and don't want to be held back by uncomfortable clothing. One of my favorite things about wearing their gear is they allow the freedom of movement. I can stretch, kick, jump without restriction which makes kicking high with confidence easier. 

This program is made possible with the generous support from a Fulton Community Association grant, the Minneapolis Parks & Recreation Board, and Lakes Martial Arts.

Before and after each Bullying seminar, an online survey will be conducted to determine overall impact and to assess the effectiveness of the program. In October, a presentation will be given to the Fulton Neighborhood Association on the results. I look forward to sharing stellar results!

FREE Bullying Prevention Training Seminar

What >> Bullying Prevention Training Seminar by R. J. Kern, 4th Degree Black Belt, Certified Instructor, Lakes Martial Arts

When >> April 25, 1-3pm

Ages >> 6-12

Cost >> Free to attend, limited to 30 students (open to all). Registration required for attendance.

Where >> Pershing Park Recreation Center, Minneapolis, MN

Why >> The Journal of the American Medical Association estimates that one-third of school-aged children in the United States are affected by bullying every year, as a target, as one who bullies or as both. This award-winning program will foster character development within community youth. Research suggests unchecked bullying leads to bigger life problems such as lower grades, poor self-esteem, depression, and thoughts of suicide. Through affiliation Olweus Bully Prevention Program, the world’s most researched and well-known bullying prevention institution, Lakes Martial Arts has partnered to spread positive impacts in the community.

This 90-minute seminar will focus on bullying, one of the biggest issues facing schools today. There will be demonstrations and discussions about what is bullying, the differences between tattling and bullying, how to report bullying, what students can do to prevent bullying. Guidance will be discussed on how to prevent bullying through confidence, self-defense, and leadership skills. Each student will have opportunity to practice newly-learned skills and opportunity to demonstrate confidence in a celebratory “board break” at the end of the seminar and be given a “Agent G kit” to re-enforce the concepts discussed at home.

This program is made possible with the generous support from a Fulton Community Association grant, the Minneapolis Parks & Recreation Board, and Lakes Martial Arts.

Team up and stamp out bullying in schools with participation in this program! 

Sign-up? Spots reserved on a first-come, first served basis. Write your students' name on the sign-up sheet posted on the bulletin board at the Pershing Rec Center starting March 18. Please invite your friend to join! Students do not have to be registered in Lakes Martial Arts to participate.

10 Ways to Build HONOR Through Martial Arts

Honor means doing the 'right' thing.

Honor means doing the 'right' thing.

What is “your word” worth? How do you build honor?

All Lakes Martial Arts students for our current session (February 2014- April 2015) will be focusing on this important life skill: "Honor." 

HONOR is doing what is "right." An example of honor is keeping your promises, no matter how big or small. Showing appreciation with good manners and thanking everyone who helps you also demonstrates honor to others, especially parents, teachers, and co-workers.

In sum, honor in martial arts is built of many small things done right. Like mastering a 8 moves like kicks, blocks, and punches... then applying them in your form at testing.

How can you build honor in through martial arts?

10 Ways to Build HONOR (At Home, School, and Class)

  1. Keep your promises, no matter how big or small.
  2. Honesty is ALWAYS the best policy.
  3. Show your Black Belt Attitude with the 9 Life Skills of Leaders: Courtesy, Goals, Loyalty, Attitude (Spirit), Honor, Respect, Self-control, Integrity and Perseverance.
  4. Admit your mistakes; view them as learning opportunities.
  5. Show your gratitude with good manners; thank everyone who helps you.
  6. Apologize to people when you make a mistake.
  7. Demonstrate self-respect by taking good care of yourself.
  8. Avoid fighting.
  9. Commit to your goals, both short-term and long-term.
  10. Remember that you are a role model for junior ranks; show them to respect others and behave properly.

When you “give your word” on something, it’s your personal promise of truthfulness. It’s backed by your honor – the strength of your character and reliable reputation. When people have great honor, they have earned it by making effective and responsible decisions in their lives, proving themselves capable and trustworthy.

Anyone from the rich to poor can have honor, because it has nothing to do with status and money, but everything to do with making effective choices and being loyal to your values.

Lakes Martial Arts Leadership Team

As part of the Lakes Martial Arts Junior Leadership Program, the Junior Leadership Training Class focuses teaching students leadership skills in taekwondo applicable in life. The program offers students additional responsibility in class and teaches them to be positive role models in Taekwondo and at school. Students learn behaviors that exemplify positive leadership and develop confidence and public speaking skills by giving oral reports on life skills related to leadership. Students learn to set an example for others in class, help mentor junior-ranked students, and to take on a variety of leadership roles at the taekwondo dojahng. Additionally, they learn advanced material including working with weapons such as the double ssahng jeol bong (nunchaku), jahng bong (long staff), and ssahng nat (kama). Program intended for ages 8+ and camo belt or higher with instructors permission.


The Leadership programstarts this session and runs on twice per month from 5:30-6:30pm. Contact Mr. Kern to learn more.

What's included?

Kids will be blown away by the fun and challenging activities which will not only help them build leadership skills, but will pave the path towards becoming a black belt. This class will be small, exclusive, focused, and fun. This is stuff they will talk about to all their friends (we'll be doing Bo staff basics on the first night, learning ten class management skills, etc). I see value in this program long term for leadership skills for our students and program which is why I am choosing to run the program at my cost.

The $300 enrollment fee includes:

  • $150 - ATA leadership registration which allows makes it possible for students to compete for a state, national, or world title. Includes big binder workbook of all our training materials. This goes to the ATA.
  • $60 - Bo Staff. It's the coolest thing they will bring home that might mark up the walls.
  • $100 - Black XMA uniform. Next year's Halloween costume.

In addition to the enrollment fee, students must registered for the classes through the recreation center which covers room and overhead costs ($15 per class).

How to Tie Martial Arts Belt

It matters how you tie your belt. 

Why? Because little things do matter.

"How do I tie my belt, Mr. Kern?" I hear from many students (and parents). It is a great question, and I am here to answer.

First, there is more than one way to tie a martial arts belt. Depending on if the belt is a single wrap (colored belts) or double wrap (black belts), the technique differs. Regardless, the results look the same. It's a square knot (Right over left, left over right is the technique). 

For colored belts, here is a visual description of how to tie a belt (from a student's perspective):

Little Details Count

You are not tying a belt like tying shoes. You must respect what the belt represents: perseverance. 

Students work hard on their rank, and the act of tying their belt is a constant reminder of the goal obtained and future goals which lie ahead.

Turn the mundane task of tying a belt into a life lesson. Think about how the little things in life matter and why we care.

These habits of the mundane, no different than making a bed, eating breakfast, or combing our hair, show we care. Others will take notice on your outlook not only in martial arts, but in life.

Top 10 Reasons Sparring Gear is Cool!


In class last night students were able to "fancy spar" Mr. Kern as part of the end of class obstacle course. I could see the lightbulb flicker on in their eyes and smiles.

This was the very first time Lakes Martial Arts students were able to test their mettle and use the blocks, punches, and kicks we've been practicing. The best analogy: we've been practicing how to through and catch and now it is game time! How fun!

Tiny Tiger and Karate Kids ranked camo belt or higher are eligible to purchase sparring gear starting next Wednesday. Adults and teens may purchase anytime, or any student with instructor permission. Why is Sparring Gear SO COOL??? 

Top 10 Reasons Sparring Gear is COOL:

10. Gear is cool! ATA gear is apart of our uniform requirements to compete in class or at tournaments. It is the only gear sanctioned approved by our insurance companies.

9. We can make contact. How can we test if we are able to block effectively? There is no better way than to make light contact in a fun, supportive environment.

8. It can double as a Halloween costume! Take your taekwondo skills to the streets on Halloween and feel free to wear your uniform with pride!

7. We can compete with our gear! We train to win, we compete to have fun. Tournaments are a great way to meet others and have fun!

6. We can be an Olympian! Takewondo and judo are the only two Olympic martial arts. With lots of perfect practice, you can wear your gear to compete in the Oympics and win a gold medal for Team USA! My instructor that gave me my black belt, Master Jody Horn, was an alternate for the 2000 Summer Olympics and trained in Colorado Springs, CO. His teammate, Steven Lopez, won a Olympic gold medal in the lightweight division. How cool is that??!?!

5. It makes stinky feet even stinkier! If you really want to have stinky feet, never wash your feet pads and you are well on your way!

4. We can kick higher! That extra one more inch of protective foam can make your kicks appear even higher!

3. Pads build character and confidence. Gearing up makes you feel like you can face your opponent and do your very best since that is what is most important.

2. Sparring Gear offers lessons in respect and self-control! Black belts always demonstrate respect and self-control. No matter what! Just because you have gear, doesn't mean you can hurt others. It can be taken away anytime, so be sure to follow the rules... or else!

1. Safety First! While we might be hard headed at times, we must protect our brains and bodies for safety!

Introducing the sparring gear package:

Chest Guard / Face Shield / Mouth Piece & Container / Cup & Supporter:

Sparring Gear bags (two options, small or large):


Gear Package Includes: Head / Hand / Foot Gear / Chest Guard / Face Shield / Mouth Piece & Container / Cup & Supporter Extra / Small Sparring Bag.
*Package Special* $300.00   Normal Price: $322.00 (plus tax)


Steps to order:

1. Print off order form.

2. With a tape measure, write down measurements on form and circle correct size.

3. Hand Mr. Kern the paperwork and he will place the order.

Please note: exchanges will be given only on unused equipment. All sales are final.

How to Beat Performance Anxiety

How do you beat performance anxiety when competing at athletic events, or in life? 

I don't have perfect answers, I do know in the martial arts world, nothing compares to performing in front of judges. Anxiety, alert. DING. DING. DING.

Yes, they are judging YOU.

In the court, being judged by your peers remains part of our judicial system. But in taekwondo?

Yes, if you want to rise to a higher rank. Not that much different than Olympic slopestyle where not only do jumps matter, but HOW how they look.

We ALL get nervous before big events. It means we care. If we didn't, then it would mean we didn't care. Weddings, public speaking, or Olympic events rattle nerves.

With THREE rules, we can overcome and exceed our expectations, regardless if you are teaching for the first time, rank testing, or at a tournament:

Rule #1. Have Fun.

That is what life is about. Yet, our lizard brain wants us to be nervous. However, we CAN control our brain response (the lizard brain, according to Seth Godin)  and set the stage for optimal performance.

Rule #2. Have Fun.

Seriously, we train to WIN, but compete to have FUN. Others want us to do well, but getting first place should have nothing to do with it, especially when there are many factors completely out of our control. Once we realize this, we have mentally set the stage to do our personal best. THAT matters. If we ended up in last place, THAT doesn't matter. At least we tried. Which is better than those that chose NOT to compete (if we choose to judge).

Rule #3. Do your best.

The challenge must be approached as a personal challenge, not a competitive challenge among others. Doing your best matters most. YOUR best. That's it. Chances are if you care enough about it, you trained for it. If you trained right for it, you're prepared. And if you're prepared enough, then you'll do fine.

Instead of nerves fluttering like butterflies, form them into Geese Formation and let them work for you!

Having said this, I had fun and did my best at the 2014 American Taekwondo Association (ATA) Spring Nationals in Anaheim, CA this weekend. I met new friends. Challenged myself. And built confidence... things money can't buy.

Beat Nerves: Easier Said, Than Done!

Yes, I was VERY nevous for my testing and my competition. However, I learned that many mountain climbers are scared of heights. For them, scaling peaks allows them to beat personal challenges. That is what martial arts in really about: conquering personal challenges. Closing my eyes and visualizing a happy place (at home with my wife and dog, for example), and breathed deeply many times. It worked. At at least my balance improved on my press kicks (foam flooring magnifies everything to the worse).

My competitors in the Men's 30-39 Black Belt 2-3rd degree division had great attitudes. I laughed a ton, which helped tame the nerves. Looking back, this group photo makes the trip to California worth the cost and effort! And if my fourth-degree black belt testing is successful, that means I am ready to compete in the 4th-5th degree division. 

PS- Future self: I write this for you (Yes, you, R. J.) Please re-read before each tournament, testing, or nervous anxiety moment (even if it teaching ATA Tiny Tigers new moves in front of parents).