Mommy Dojo Kanban – The Kaizen of Failure

I failed my brown belt grading. 

In fact, all three of us senior adults failed. It was harsh. It was painful. It was public. And the 7th dan sensei who presided over our grading made sure to give us each personal and direct feedback on our particular failings. No kid gloves. As he said: “I’m not going to go easy on you because you’re older. If you’re going to achieve this, then I’m sure you want to know that you deserve it, right?”

We failed because of a variety of form and technique issues, e.g. stances not low or stable enough, foot positions not right, lack of explosive power and kime (focused power and energy). For a karateka, these things are a big deal. They form the very foundation of your karate. And if you’re not doing these things right at this level, then you’re not doing your karate right. Ouch.

But he was not wrong. 

As painful as it was to hear this on the night, it was also what I needed to hear. Sometimes, you need somebody to hold up a mirror so that you can see yourself objectively. It’s why we have agile coaches who come in and observe the way supposedly Agile teams work together. It takes somebody from the outside to call you on the bad habits and short cuts you’ve been taking. Because so often, we think that we’re doing brilliantly at “doing agile”, while not recognizing that we might be implementing the practices and ceremonies, without actually transforming the way we work through the deeper principles of Agile.

Similarly, somebody had to pull me up short to make me realize that I was going through the motions, and not living my karate physically and mentally. Karate, like Agile, is deeply transformative. That is, if you let it transform you.

Playtime is over. 

I have realized now that if I am serious about pursuing karate, and ultimately achieving my black belt, I have a lot more work to do. Although I’ve come a long way in the last few years, and I’m fairly fit and strong, I haven’t been focusing my training on the specific functional and athletic requirements of karate.

A little bit of running here and there, and the odd conditioning class at the gym is not going to cut it. I have to become more purposeful, more targeted, in my training, focusing on the type of activities that will hone my karate skills and strengthen the right muscles, in the right way.

It’s not about quantity, but quality of training. It’s also about knowing my body and its particular strengths and weaknesses, and molding my training to my particular needs.  It’s also about taking ownership of my karate training in a more personal and directed way, and seeking ways to improve outside of the dojo.

Karate is not just going to classes twice a week. It’s everything that happens in-between as well, just like continuous improvement will just remain talk if there is no follow-through on the actions identified during Retrospectives.

And just like it’s not the Scrum Master’s job to do everything for the team, it’s not my sensei’s job to make sure I’m strong and fit enough to do karate. It’s my job.


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2 Responses to Mommy Dojo Kanban – The Kaizen of Failure

  1. I can certainly empathize with you in two areas. First, our son just tested for his yellow belt yesterday. My wife and I agreed that he did well (not perfect) and he got his belt. Several of the kids in the class got their belts but really shouldn’t have. At such a young age and early belt, I guess they don’t want to grade them so harshly that they are deterred from wanting to continue. That said, I know the higher belts are a lot harder and there will come a time when they won’t make it to the next level. But did they need to do it to you publicly? Couldn’t they have said, “I know you really want this but you are just not quite there”? Wouldn’t that have been a better way to handle it?

    On the second area, when I do Agile transformation work, I assess the delivery teams and their organization. I show them a roadmap of where they are and then have a conversation about where they want to be (on levels of agile adoption). Based on gaps or deficiencies, we agree to focus energy on training and coaching so they develop the proper habits they say they want to develop. I can’t force a mindset on them. Either it develops or it doesn’t. Some handle the feedback well, nodding their heads in concession. They want to get better. Some don’t handle the feedback well, challenging me. They just want the score and not the benefits. I think they are focused too much on the goal and not the system.

    Regardless if it’s Agile or Karate, some are only interested in reaching a goal (getting the belt). Others are interested in the overall system the process creates (discipline, balance, stamina, strength, respect,…)

    Best of luck with your next belt test. Now that you know the gaps in your form, you are that much more prepared for your black belt.

  2. Hi Derek,

    Thanks for the commiseration – and the excellent comments on Agile coaching. You’re right, of course. For some, the certificate or the course *is* the achievement, rather than the transformation. And you can’t force it. One of my coaching friends recently became quite agitated with a company she’s coaching. The teams are stuck in “corporate agile” and she wants so much for them to be more. But, as her coaching partner reminded her, that’s what *she* wants for them. Their way is okay for them. She is welcome to show them where they can go, but they’re the only ones who can make the decision to go there.

    On the Karate again: We did in fact have a mock grading a few days before. The mock gradings are always conducted by our own sensei. He did point out some things for me to work on before grading, but gave me the green light. What I think we ran into on the night, as our own sensei (5th dan) acknowledged afterwards, is a general raising of the bar in our federation, especially with regards to “late bloomers” as they call us seniors. I know of at least two brown belts who graded successfully before us, who have now been stuck between 2nd and 1st kyu for quite some time, because they’re struggling to address some of the issues on which we failed.

    I’m also quite proud of the fact that I handled myself well emotionally and mentally on the night. It was a much a test of character as of physical readiness. I may have come short on the latter, but certainly not the former!

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