Being a beginner at anything brings me back to being a student.  I miss the thought of being student in a midst of a busy life.

Being in the education profession for the last 12 years, I sometimes forget what is means to be humbled, a student, and a life long learner.  I love being a beginner who has permission to make mistakes and use that feedback to get better.

I’ve also noticed that sometimes we get into this mindset of “I Know Everything”.   As a life long learner and constant reflector,  I have to turn the ego off to listen and experience experiences from the beginners point of view.  I need to put myself in the shoes of a beginner and be the beginner so I can connect with my fellow beginners.

Journey as a Striker

I’ve had a total of 16 years of training and coaching in the striking arts – Muay Thai and Boxing, competed in 1 amateur competition, 2 tournaments,  and countless number of exhibitions and intramural matches.   I enjoyed every aspect of this sport from putting the gloves on, to the training, to the adrenaline rush before getting into ring in front of strangers, to putting my heart and soul into fighting regardless of how exhausted I was or how much I was getting my butt whooped.  I’m not the best out there but I always strive to be better.  I’ve definitely developed the discipline, grit, and humility.   These qualities have carried me throughout my life as a person and as an educator.  This lifestyle has been an awesome ride and I wouldn’t change that for anything else in the world.

I’ve decided to take a courageous leap in a new journey.  Being 37, I feel that my physical self is slowing down a little as our boxing coach Paris might say, “Father time waits for nobody.”  Father time is definitely not waiting for me and I’m contemplating on hanging my gloves up and focusing on training for the sake of health, well-being, and maintenance rather than competition.  I want to focus on training for growth and coaching others so they also find joy in learning and being proficient in the striking arts.  This gives me the most joy in what I do.  After a while, my brain craves something new as right now I’m feeling a little stagnant in my practice in the combat arts.

The Newbie Grappler

A couple weeks ago, I bought myself a Gi as an early Christmas Gift.  My goals for 2018 is to find the courage to try out Jiu Jitsu.  Just want to let you know,  I KNOW NOTHING ABOUT IT . . . terminologies and movement vocabulary . . . NADA.   I’ve only watched UFC (Ultimate Fighting Champion) and that’s about it.  It’s funny when team mates who I have interacted with as a striker sees me in a Gi and they say one of the two comments.

“HEY!!! I didn’t know you do Jiu Jitsu.”

“You have Gi on?”

I replied, “Yes, I’m in a Gi.” While underneath my breath, I’m saying to myself, “I don’t know what the hell I’m doing . . . oh yah . . . how do I tie this white belt on.”

I remember my first class clearly- the warm-ups, jogging, jumping over people’s back, running and piggy backing someone who is of similar weight than you.  I was exposed to certain terminologies such as posture, guard position, mount, head lock, and arm lock.  If this were a multiple choice question quiz, I would of aced it easily.  Implementing it in action was a whole different story as I was put in a mount position and I had a get out from underneath and stay in mount position on top of another person for as long as possible.  I struggled with that exercise.



On the second day, “Belt Promotion Day”, I saw students who have done this longer than I which is little daunting.

They were doing a couple warm-ups that I’ve never done before such as rolling, the


shrimp, and the crab. It’s seafood fest.  At the same time, I’m on the side, taking mental notes on how to do those moves and suddenly here comes belt promotion.  I didn’t know there was a way to line up where all white belts are at one end of the line and all blue belt are on the other end. Here I am sticking myself somewhere in the middle until someone told me of how to line up.  Guess what, I got a stripe on my belt.

“FOR WHAT?” I said in the back of my mind.

I guess for the courage to start which I can give myself credit for but at the same time, I better for work that stripe that I earned.

There is a custom in Jiu Jitsu, that people who were promoted lined up to be whipped by other student’s belt.  It seems that everybody got promoted and I wasn’t to looking forward to that event until the coach changed his mind of this custom.  Instead of being whipped by someone else’s belt, we will have to toss every student and every student would have to toss you. Here I am freaking out in the back of my mind saying,

“WAIT  . . . . WHAT . . . how do toss somebody!!?”

“I’ve never been tossed before!”

“How do you fall!!!?”

This humbling experience came after being toss by 20 students and after trying (struggling) to toss 20 students as well.  I’ve been initiated into a club.

After that moment, my discipline kicked in and I’ve been coming in routinely, with an open mind, with a beginner’s mindset.  There were moves that were taught that took constant repetition, constant feedback, and constant tweaking.  I was happy to have other students who were able to work with me so I learned to perform each move to the best that I can. I got to apply what I’ve learned while we roll.

My journey continues toward proficiency in Jiu Jitsu.  What’s most important is that I enjoy the process of learning. I’m very thankful to have our coach, Humberto, who is specific, knowledgeable, who will push you, and cares about your success in the Jiu Jitsu.  As long as I have that,  I know I can grow in this area.


Connection to Education

I’ve been contemplating how this experience connects with education.  Having stepped into the shoe of a beginner again, I have a glimpse of what my students are feeling when they come into my classroom.  This experience was a gift and a “gentle” (sarcastically) reminder.  These are learning moments and questions that I’ve gained in this process.

  • Students crave for someone who knows what they are doing, to ensure safety, support, structure, engagement, and care for your growth and well being.
  • Skills we’ve learned needs to be reinforced constantly, applied to different scenarios, and connected to the bigger picture which our coach is constantly doing explicitly.  If there is no bigger picture, the activities that we do in the classroom is meaningless and is considered a waste of time. The things that we learned in school needs to be real and needs to be relevant.  Relevancy is key to empowering our student to learn.   Once students identify what they want work on or what problems they want to solve, they will initiate that process. With guidance, scaffolding and developing student’s habits for discipline and grit, they will reach their own personal learning objectives which is why I’m such a huge fan of project based learning, passion based learning, and personalization.  Students become intrinsically invested in their learning process.
  • The belt system is a gamification system that uses the theme of accomplishment and ownership.  It has this level up effect when students have reached a certain level of proficiency.  This effect motivates students to reach the next level.  As the coach sees proficiency in learning a set of skills, the students earn a stripe or another color belt.   As you increase in the belt ranking, you have a greater responsibility to give back to students growing in Jiu Jitsu which is another gamification aspect of social influence.  A grading system, on the other hand, is an oppressive system that rank students based upon a percentage which doesn’t explicit say what the students have accomplished.  Grades ranks for compliance according to John Spencer in his book Empower.  It’s an oppressive system that ranks people and it consequently gives opportunities to those of high rank and doesn’t give opportunity with low rank.  How might we give opportunities based upon a learner’s strength? From a gamification point of view, a grade uses the core drive of scarcity.  What this means is that if student’s don’t get a particular grade, they are reprimanded for it through punishment at home or taking away a particular enjoyable activity.  This core drive induces a short term behavioral change until the student is not reprimanded anymore.  Once that punishment goes away, there is a highly likely chance the students will return back to their original behavior unless another core drive reinforces the target behavior intrinsically and/or extrinsically. According to Daniel Pinks research in his book, Drive,  people who focuses their energy on the extrinsic rewards like money or a grade as it relates to a given task won’t put forth their energy to perform the task with the up most quality and creatively. It interesting how the behavior of an extrinsic reward system trumps intrinsic values.    How might we change the way we give feedback so that students focus on their performance?
  • I’m fortunate to work with peers who are patient enough to work me and are able to sacrifice their workout to help reinforce that things I’ve learned in class.  As a boxing trainer, it forces me to repeat these processes mentally to reinforce these skills.  I’ve become a better learner and student as I take on the trainer, coach, and teacher role.   This role is another level of mastery.  How do we get our students to do that for each other so we develop a culture of giving and receiving help and feedback so that everybody grows? How do we get our highly skilled student to realize that giving back to another student is another opportunity for mastery?

Reflect On This

Describe a time when you were a beginner at anything.  How did you feel in that moment?

What are strategies that you’ve use to let go of your ego so that you experience what your students experience?

How might you develop a beginner’s mindset so that you can connect with your students?

How might you structure learning so that your beginners feel safe, supported, and empowered in learning skills that are new?

How might you give feedback that pushes a student to reach their next level?

How might you celebrate students who reach particular level of proficiency?



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