Tag Archives: learning strategies

Automatic Samurai: Sprinkler Systems On!

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How can you water your dreams? Your mind? Your soul? Set up gentle “systems” for yourself to sustain growth and wonder.

I just finished my Building Your Personal Foundation course through CoachU, taught by Susan Abrams.   I was excited and challenged and by the idea of creating “automatic sprinkler systems” to fulfill various needs.   For example, I realized that one of my needs was energy.   Last week I joined the YMCA located near by job.  Oh yeah, and I actually went.  Y-M-C-A!

Needs may not be completely satisfied but it seems that you can at least create systems that challenge you in that area and increase the potential of moving forward.  For example, one of the needs that I isolated was the need for motivation and inspiration.  I may not be motivated or inspired all the time but I have started to play with  some systems and rituals that have the potential of kicking me back into motivation and energy.    Here are some of my “systems”:

  • What I read–I’ve always been kind of a self-help book junkie but I’ve added a few titles to my kindle:   Words Can Change Your Brain and Loving What Is.   Both of these books were suggested by Susan Abrams.   I keep the reading process fun.  When I am no longer inspired by what I am reading I move on to the next title and then switch back.
  • Who I hang out with:   people provide the frameworks and conversations that can motivate and inspire you.  Part of the benefits of starting the coach training program is that I get to talk to people who are focused on moving forward  I’ve also been experimenting with finding a positive spiritual community.
  • What I write and say:   I am not censoring myself but I am playing around with something I call “Happiness Journal.”   Inspired by a little page from Words Can Change Your Brain, I am taking time in the mornings and evening to write three things that made me happy.

Finally, I realized that my samurai mind notebook is actually one of my automatic sprinkler systems.  If I put ideas from projects and quotations that excite me, review them regularly, I have those thoughts as part of the conversation.   I may not listen to them but at least they may challenge the crappy mood and change the terms of what I think is possible.

What I like about everything that I’ve been hearing and encountering is that none of it commits me to becoming a happiness robot.   All the work I’ve come across acknowledges that there will be periods of darkness and –err–shades of gray.   I think the trick will be to set up “systems” that challenge the darkness without becoming inflexible or ignoring the depth and color of life.   Join me.  What are your sprinkler systems?


Samurai Grammar: Pullin’ Ain’t Pushin’.

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This is a screenshot of one Japanesepod101 lesson. I like “moving” the bar of progress and I like that the grammar explanations are brief. But the rest of the day, I have Japanese music in my ears or I am doing something in Japanese that isn’t pushing. The grammar seems more useful because through immersion, I already have some of the language. Be careful. If it isn’t fun. Don’t do it.

Grammar is a big block for people who are learning a foreign language, but grammar can be one of your many friends as you learn a language.  Here is one way how!

With my mind on my grammar and my grammar on my mind.  Not.  Lately I have been on a Japanesepod101.com rush.   I listen to a listen on my 35 minute walk to the Writers Room and then using timeboxing, I try to finish up a lesson and then move on to other fun stuff in Japanese.  I have changed my method a little bit.  I used to follow ten or more different kinds of lessons but I have limited it to three (onomatopeia, lower intermediate, and beginner lessons).  Limiting the lesson types to three satisfies my game-playing mind by allowing me to see the progress bars move a little faster from day to day.  Because I am using time limits, it feels more like a mission impossible spy game than mind-numbing study.

I am enjoying the grammar explanation in the Japanesepod lessons.  You would think that this goes against the immersion techniques that AJATT writes about, but I think the fact that I also “immerse” makes the grammar study more fun.  My grammar study is more like a confirmation.  I’ve heard so much Japanese dialogue, movies, Youtube, songs, podcasts et cetera that the grammar is “in there” somewhere.  My quick in and out grammar reviews are less “I have to memorize this!”  and more “Oh, right, that’s what I’ve been hearing.”

Grammar pullin’ ain’t grammar pushin’.  I give a quick listen to grammar lessons and read over grammar explanations but I keep it quick and dirty and don’t really stop to review.  By doing this way, I am probably learning a whole lot more grammar than if I put on my hair shirt and tortured my way through grammar.

Big ups to Khatz at AJATT.com.  I’ve been reading his blog for a long time and while he has recommended grammar resources like Tae Kim and a few books, he keeps riffin’ on the don’t kill and drill message.  Here are a just a few choice tweets were Khatz points the way to Stephen Krashen and his view on grammar:

“The students who did reading did better on grammar tests than those who had grammar classes!” youtube.com/watch?v=DSW7gm… #FVR #krashen

“We don’t need to focus on grammar because if you give people enough…input, the grammar is there” youtube.com/watch?v=shgRN3…

Stephen Krashen says: put conscious grammar study in its (very small, very peripheral) place. youtube.com/watch?v=shgRN3…

I’m not suggesting that there is one way to approach grammar in a language.  Find the approaches that are the most fun and useful to you.   If you enjoy studying 20 pages of rules and exceptions go for it!  Grammar off, grammar on samurai!


The Law of Language and Skill Attraction

Keep tinkering with shifts in your environment to attract your skill.  I recently discovered using iTune radio to listen to Japanese radio stations.  Shake it. Shape it.  Your environment that is.  :)

Keep tinkering with shifts in your environment to attract your skill. I recently discovered using iTune radio to listen to Japanese radio stations. Shake it. Shape it. Your environment that is. 🙂

First of all apologies for the title but it just spoke to me.  I’m not some guru who has mastered all skills/languages and can dispense laws from a mountain top.   I am on the path like everyone else, though now I’m enjoying it a whole lot more than I used to.   The other reason that I felt compelled to use the title is because I am reading Thomas Leonard’s The 28 Laws of Attraction:   Stop Chasing Success and Let it Chase You.   This book doesn’t come from the mountaintop either but it’s getting under my skin and helping me ask different questions.

When I read Leonard’s chapter, “Create a Vacuum That Pulls You Forward”  I couldn’t help thinking that Leonard’s ideas were key to developing skills such as learning a language or learning a musical instrument.  Leonard explains that “being pulled forward is attractive; pushing yourself forward isn’t.”   Leonard recommends some steps to make that possible:

  • Realize it’s better to be pulled forward than it is to push yourself forward.
  • Put yourself into creativity-stirring situations.
  • put yourself among friends and colleagues who bring out your best.
  • unhook yourself from who you were; this will let you be pulled forward

When I read this, I felt like I was rediscovering alljapaneseallthetime.com.   (With two children and a busy work life, you have to forgive me that I keep mentioning Khatz’s website.  It’s helped me change a lot of things.  Plus, I don’t get out much.  🙂 )  He was able to learn Japanese fluently not only by studying but by also transforming his environment so it was fun and er, “all Japanese all the time.”  You have to arrange the environment so it pulls you in.  It’s not just about Japanese.   Khatz explains that if you want to run more, have your shoes ready by the door.  By changing my environment ever so slightly–having the guitar out of the case and other small changes–I’ve been writing and playing more.

Here are some quick ways I’ve been incorporating this “Law of Attraction” into my life, especially in the language arena:

  • Create  the environment that pulls you in.
    Surround yourself with the fun and interesting books, music, and people that will pull you into the language or skill.  At first, this meant that I kind of rejected manga and looked at self-help books.  Now it means finding/fumbling around in the manga that I do enjoy.
  • Find the fun part in the hard part.
    Don’t be devastated that you don’t know something in a foreign language or any skill you want to acquire.  If you are looking at a manga page or a flashcard, look at what you do understand or what seems intriguing or just fun.  Keep yourself wanting more.
  • Delete what is dragging you down.
    I fought AJATT’s advice to delete flashcards that just drained me, now I am more like a black widow spider.  I study a card and if it bores me.  I delete.  Create a vacuum by deleting clutter, time and mental drains.
  • Use little gimmicks that pull you in. I am not learning Japanese/guitar, I am just moving that little progress bar a little further today.  Learning all of Japanese may seem like a lot of work but its more fun to just see the “progress bar” move a little on Japanesepod101.com for example.

    Mastering something can seem intimidating.  But hey, I can play the game of "moving the bar" just a little bit.  Satisfy the game-playing part of your brain with little celebratory games.  Who knows?  You just might get further than you thought possible.

    Mastering something can seem intimidating. But hey, I can play the game of “moving the bar” just a little bit. Satisfy the game-playing part of your brain with little celebratory games. Who knows? You just might get further than you thought possible.  This is a screenshot of my progress bars from japanesepod101.com.

There is a time for pushing, there is a time for pulling.  But if you are starting to grind your wheels and not really enjoy or flow in the process, think about how you can create a vacuum that pulls you in.  Enjoy the “suckage.”

Samurai Getting it from All Directions

Look back, look forward, look around.   Sometimes an all directions approach helps you move forward.   Think cross-train.

Look back, look forward, look around. Sometimes an all directions approach helps you move forward. Think cross-train.

I loved it when Daniel Coyle, author of The Little Book of Talent and The Talent Code, mentioned the skateboarders highlighted in the documentary Dogtown and Zboys.   These outsiders and misfits changed skateboarding forever.   Part of how Coyle explains how they developed their talent was that these skaters “trained” in ever changing environments.   The Zboys were influenced by surfing but also learned how to skate streets,  irrigation ditches, and in a year of drought a plethora of dried out pools.   Each change of environment added to their repertoire and talent.

The takeaway for me is to make sure to get it from all directions.  For example, I came to Kentucky from Puerto Rico at the age of eight and did not know very much English.  (I had the advantage of having a mom that already spoke English).   I went to school and was assigned a speech therapist in addition to regular instruction.   I also fell in love with comic books, specially Richie Rich, Casper, and Archie comic books.   I also grooved on “Sesame Street” and” Electric Company.”   I listened to AM radio.  I watched “Name that Tune.”  I was getting language from all directions.  A cat named Khatz did the same thing with Japanese at an older age and built a website called All Japanese All the Time.

Change your environments and approaches but not so much that you actually don’t move forward.   For example, I’ve taken a very dogged approach to music theory.  I spend five minutes every day moving forward on a little piece of music theory from Theory for the Contemporary Guitarist.  Is it the best book on theory for guitarists?  I don’t know.  Probably not.   At the end of each page, I hunt for youtube videos on the topic and see what other people have said about the various music theory topics.  I’m learning a foreign language here and I know that to learn it, I will need to approach it from many directions.   Every now and then something makes sense.   Victory! 🙂

I also make sure that there is time where I am playing and watching others play.  The point of practice is getting to the point of no mind, a concept I learned through continuous viewing of The Last Samurai.  🙂   Have fun strategizing and playing so when the self-doubt and “I am not worthy”  assassins come to kill you in the dark, you can have your Tom Cruise moment and come at them from all directions.  Peace!



How to Keep a Samurai Mind Notebook

Random Collection of Notebooks.  Samurai notebooks help keep me inspired, searching, while at the same time keeping me anchored.

Random Collection of Notebooks. Samurai notebooks help keep me inspired, searching, while at the same time keeping me anchored.

I’ve mentioned samurai notebooks lately, but haven’t really gotten into detail about them for a while.   Samurai notebooks are notebooks where you put positive ideas, plans, information, etc and review on a regularly spaced basis.   My samurai notebooks aren’t necessarily pretty, but they have been transformational.

The Why:

  • Daniel Coyle reports that a great percentage of high performers keep some kind of notebook, whether it’s an actual notebook or even a shoebox of loose papers.   Coyle cites Serena Williams, Eminem, and Twyla Tharp among others.   Write down “results from today, ideas for tomorrow.”
  • A samurai notebook helps you create your own channel, the information and ideas that you brush up against.   You  can bathe in  the fear, sarcasm, and negativity that gets offered up 24/7 or you can create your own channel.
  • A notebook helps you direct your life by helping you remember.  Adding spaced repetition keeps reviewing from becoming burdensome.

The How:

  • Buy any notebook.  Think cheap and sturdy.  I prefer Campus notebooks from Japan but don’t get hung up on what kind of notebook to get.
  • Put any information, thoughts, plans that interests you into this notebook on a daily basis.  Make sure to date each entry.  Recently my notebook includes snippets of guitar/music theory, helpful hints from a Japanese book on guitar, and ideas from several teaching resources.
  • Review the notebook every day.  If you’ve put interesting and valuable information it will become a fun process.  I put a date on the review and mark how many days from the original date.  I try to review according to the following schedule 1, 2, 3 or four days, and a week after the original review.  After that it is one week, two weeks, 1 month, 3 months, 6 months, 1 year, etc.  I use a timer and review five minutes every morning.  I also review if I feel like it on train rides, appointments, etc.

    Dating entries and reviews are important. It would be overwhelming if you didn’t space out reviews.

  • Quickly mark what kind of review it was and include the date.  I put 1D for one day.  As you do reviews, you will save time by only entries that are “up for review.”
  • If you come across an entry that wows you or seems really important, copy it into the days new entries.  Doing this puts it back in a shorter term loop and reinforces that this notebook is exciting.  (BTW, you don’t have to “study” each page, just glance at it.   If there is something you want to target and do some work with, go ahead.)  Cross out pages that you think you may never be interested in again.  Deletion and skipping over.  Happy feelings bring happy learnings.  (See ajatt.com on the importance of deletion.)
  • I’ve learned to alternate between “New” reviews and “Old” reviews.   One day I will review the most recent reviews and the next day, I will begin from an earmarked “Old” page.  “New” information gets to “mature” and “old” information gets a systematic chance to get refreshed. I write “New” or “Old” on the day’s entry to let myself know where to go in the next session.
  • Date the cover, depending on the last entry.  This notebook will be up for review in two years.  If anything hits me like a lightning bolt from an old notebook I make sure to a) put it in a more recent notebook and/or b) do something with the idea or information.

    Date the cover, depending on the last entry. This notebook will be up for review in two years. If anything hits me like a lightning bolt from an old notebook I make sure to a) put it in a more recent notebook and/or b) do something with the idea or information.

    When you finish with a notebook, mark the outside with when the next review date should be.

Feel free to use any or none of these methods.   According to Coyle, Eminem uses scraps of paper tossed into a shoe box.  Whatever you want to do, some kind of notebook will help you get there.  Try my samurai notebook style or flow into your own style.   A simple little notebook could transform your life.


“Stare at Who You Want to Become”

“Don’t wait for your mojo to get to the dojo.”………… me 🙂

Daniel Coyle talks about "windshield time" or time spent watching people doing the kinds of things that you want to do or didn't even think of doing before.  You can do it with people, books, tapes, and languages.   Cultivate your windshield.   photo source:  unprofound.com.

Daniel Coyle talks about “windshield time” or time spent watching people doing the kinds of things that you want to do or didn’t even think of doing before. You can do it with people, books, tapes, and languages. Cultivate your windshield. photo source: unprofound.com.

A funny thing happened on the way back from the dojo.  My oldest daughter takes karate lessons.   My wife takes our two year old daughter, who just watches.  Lately when we watch our oldest practice at home, the littlest also tries to execute the form.   I’m not a real samurai but the toddler’s form looks pretty good.

It’s the power of “staring at who you want to become.”   This little mantra comes from The Little Book of Talent by Daniel Coyle.  He studied “talent hotbeds” across the world.  One of the patterns he noticed across a lot of these training centers is that there is often a period of training where students observe the skill with intensity before actually practicing.  In one Russian tennis center, students watch advanced players before they even pick up a racket.

I would also add that it’s important to have fun with “staring” at who you want to become.   You could watch Jimi Hendrix play guitar and shout, “Jimi is God! I am not worthy!”  (I still say that! 🙂 )   However, even Hendrix sucked at one point.   You don’t have to avoid those feelings.   But, you can also choose to put them to the side and just–watch.   He plays on this part of the guitar, then moves his finger there, etc.

There are many ways to ride the stare-way to betterment:

  • keep the quotes from people who are doing what you want to do and think the way you want to think and review it in your samurai notebook….also copy out the phrases of writers whose style you admire
  • get into the sounds of the foreign language you want to acquire . . . no self-loathing because you don’t understand it yet just let yourself bathe in it . . . find the fun, funny and inspirational and move on … see AJATT.com on this one
  • don’t get threatened or angry at people that are “better” than you in whatever skill you want to acquire . . . watch them closely . . . watch for how they work and also how they bring joy and fun to their work . . . be grateful for people who are better than you.  If you still feel threatened or angry that’s fine .  Hating yourself for your feelings isn’t productive.  Recognize it and find something to stare at (in a nice way!).
  • listen to the people that inspire you on headphones . . . the only English I allow on my headphones is audiobooks by Steve Chandler . . . I don’t agree with everything he says but I like the positive direction and humor of  his work.

Don’t short-circuit yourself by rehearsing how bad you feel about your lack of skill.  If it’s true that you become what you focus on, have some fun.  Stare into the present.

One-Minute Tips for Effective Studying: A Samurai Minute Review

図解 Version of 1分勉強法  Richly illustrated with graphics and drawings, I felt like I was “cheating” by not reading the mostly text version. But hey, I am learning a new language here and trying to keep it fun! Fun is an important element according to the book.  “Your ability to learn is limitless.”

I am on a “one-minute” book roll.  This weekend, I had to spend expiring gift certificates at a Sanseido bookstore in New Jersey.   So many books so little time.  Fortunately, I chose an “illustrated” version of 1分間勉強法:  One Minute Tips for Effective Studying.   If picture books work for my five and two year old as they learn Japanese and English, why not give myself a break and have a book that is richly illustrated with diagrams and drawings as I baby myself into Japanese?   Over Thanksgiving break, though I was busy with school planning and family, I got pulled into 1分間勉強法 partly because I could look at the diagrams.   Then I  read relatively small amounts of text in between the diaper changes and being challenged to sumo matches by my children.  (How do I always manage to lose?)


Time Magic/Color Magic [タイム*マジック」/「カラー*マジック」

This is one of those books that appears simple but where I wish my Japanese was a little higher to catch the subtle points.  Basically, Takashi says that you should take advantage of “shrinking time” and using the right brain through his “Time Magic” and “Color Magic” methods.   “Time Magic” involves speeding up the reviews of a book.  He suggests that you practice turning every page of a book within ten minutes, then five, and one.  He has very specific information on how long to stay on each page and even how to turn pages quickly.   From what I can understand, Takashi claims that a few things work when you do these quick page turning exercises:

  • You are using your subconsciousness (潜在意意識) to “read” a book just like you can use your intuition to “read” a person at first glance
  • The discombobulation that comes from turning pages so quickly creates a healthy confusion that helps you get a lot out of each book
  • The “time magic” forces you to squeeze a lot out of each reading and can also be more fun
  • Time magic also works with his philosophy of taking quick and repeated jabs at memory in order to achieve a knockout.  (Spaced repetition)  It reminds me of a recent phrase AJATT shared with Silverspoon members:  “Get started. Momentum is more precious than well-argued ideas. #immersion #SRS

    An excellent example of some of the graphics that help you understand the 1分 process. After mastering the “one minute” process of reviewing a book, the focus is on “color magic.” Basically, you organize information from the book into colored sheets. You can create one sheet for each book and eventually, review 60 books in one minute.

Once you’ve mastered this quick method of looking through a book, it’s time to use “color magic.”   According to Takashi, organizing the information from the books you have read involves right brain activity by using color.   It works like this:

  • Once you’ve finished reading or reviewing a book, take out a special colored sheet that that has red, green, yellow, and blue squares on it  …. you can download a sheet here
  • red is for the information that you feel is key, green is for information is also important, etc….blue is for interesting but not necessarily important information
  • once you’ve made this sheet you can use the one second review technique to review the book….over time you will be able to review 60 books in one minute

I haven’t totally incorporated this system but I like the idea of page turning.  There  are so many unread books on my shelves that it is intimidating.   However, just flipping through the pages and catching random chapter titles is both a learning experience and helps me develop a road-map for what I want to read.

I haven’t methodically used the one-minute review system, but I’ve found that it has really helped to get me reading again.  I do a quick “speed date” with some of the books that have been lingering in my apartment.   It reminds me of why I picked them up in the first place and gives me a preview of what I want to read for.  Then I just read in the normal fashion.

Here are my notes on the multicolored paper. Crucial information is in the red box. The least crucial information is in the blue box. I’m not sure if you make these after just reviewing a book for one minute or whether you do this after a longer reading. This is my sheet for 1分勉強法. Time will tell if I will continue with this method.

However, with Japanese books, I have given up looking up new vocabulary when I am just reading for fun.   I just enjoy meeting a new word for the first time.   I know more and more kanji everyday and can figure out the meanings of a lot of words.   I also know that I have time every day when I study new vocabulary more intentionally.

Having a mid-life reading crisis?  Don’t give up on reading.  Add some speed and a lot of color.   It’ the 1分 way!  Reading is fun for da mental!


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Give Yourself the Edge: Interview with James W. Heisig

I use kanji.koohii.com to share and use mnemonic stories to remember how to read, write, and understand the kanji. It’s great to work with others across the world but in the end you also have to make your learning your own. I am wandering beyond the standard kanji. Learning a lot of botanical kanji lately, like this kanji for “stamen.”

Samurai Mind Online is dedicated to helping people take on whatever they want to learn whether they think it’s impossible or not.   Last night I almost gave myself a concussion when I realized that I hadn’t taken the opportunity to share an interview that I did with James W. Heisig in 2006.    As you’ll see in the interview (it’s way longer than my typical post), Heisig came up with a system for how to remember kanji, the Chinese based system that is a key system of writing in Japan.  But regardless of whether you are reading this blog because you are interested in learning Japanese, I think there are a few take aways from this interview that any one wanting to learn anything in their life could take away from this story:

  • be bold and don’t be afraid to follow your own path
  • always be on the look out for smart short cuts or opportunities for deliberate practice.  Khatzumoto has some key questions in his article, “Practice Time, Game Time” that I think can apply to any field:  What don’t I know well? What doesn’t work?  What needs fixing?  What can be improved?  (Talent is Overrated is a great book to think about this whole idea of deliberate practice.)  Heisig realized that understanding kanji would really propel his Japanese fluency and invented a whole system around it.
  • don’t depend on others to tell you what is impossible or not
  • have fun.   Happy feelings bring happy learnings.  Heisig hightailed it from the language school as soon as he could and went to the mountains of Nagano and said he learned a lot of Japanese by playing with children and reading comic books.

Give yourself the edge.  Be bold and independent but also look at all the resources that are available and be persistent about evaluating them.  And above all have fun and enjoy the journey.

Another great tool is anki.ichi.net, which allows you to create flashcards for anything that you are learning. As you pass and fail cards, they come up in a spaced repetition system, so you are mostly reviewing things at the edge of forgetting and remembering. SRS systems are a great way to give yourself an edge.

This interview originally appeared in kanjiclinic.com, a great resource for learning more about kanji.

“Adventures in Kanji-Land: James W. Heisig and the Birth of Remembering the Kanji”
Based on an Interview with James W. Heisig
By Juan W. Rivera

Free download of the first 125 pages of Remembering the Kanji I.

Every now and then, someone confronts their own personal challenge, systematically overcomes it, and then shares that system with the world. This not only opens up their world, but also opens up the world for generations of people to come. James W. Heisig, author of the sometimes controversial book Remembering the Kanji I: A Complete Course on How Not to Forget the Meaning and Writing of Japanese Characters, is definitely one of those people. Many people refer to his approach to learning to write the complex Japanese characters as “revolutionary,” making Japanese and kanji study accessible to their lives and opening up a whole world of learning and possibilities for them. I conducted a telephone interview with Prof. Heisig from his office at the Nanzan University Institute for Religion and Culture in Nagoya, Japan.

Heisig’s kanji journey began while he was living in a commune of poets and artists identified as the “spiritual” side of the Sandanista revolution that would soon overthrow the Somoza government. Because of his familiarity with research centers, he was invited by Nanzan University to consult on the establishment of an academic institute devoted to dialogue among religions and philosophies East and West. Shortly after the consultation he was invited back to assist in the project, on condition that he would remain for five years and first attain fluency in spoken and written Japanese at an academic level.
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