Sunday, March 29, 2015

Please Welcome Special Guest Alexander Shih-Ming Ku

Overcome Fear, Become More Awesome
By Alexander Shih-Ming Ku

I will not fear,
Fear is the mind-killer.
I will face my fear.
I will let it pass through me.
Where the fear has gone,
there shall be nothing.
Only I will remain.
From DUNE by Frank Herbert


Fear, though primal, is a wasted emotion. It brings about inaction, and inaction leads to a slow death, the slow death of lost opportunities and regret.  As life is a series of challenges placed before you, why would anyone want to waste time and effort worrying?  Instead, confront the problem, break it down, challenge the issues, and, with hard work, overcome it.  As you dwell on a fear before an event, you become locked into inaction, but you should never let these stressful situations hold you back.  You have a job to do. You have a task to accomplish. Do you step forward and try…or do you lose your chance?

In my own life I have been challenged with two main fears, that of public speaking and a fear of heights. Looking back, this seems very ironic in that I am currently a teacher that can’t stay quiet anywhere, and one of my more daring hobbies is rock climbing. 

My fear of heights is limited to extreme heights, such as looking down from windows of tall buildings or overlooking the edge of the Grand Canyon. So in this case fear is more of an inconvenience than a life-altering dilemma, such as public speaking. One of the more painful memories of this fear limiting me would be early in middle school when I was given a class assignment to recite a poem. I had read the assignment a handful of times, and was given a day or so to prepare, but when it came time to recite my poem to the class, I could not overcome the rumbling of my stomach, the sweat on my brow, and the pounding of my heart.  I ran out of class too embarrassed to continue. This led me to fail that poem recital.

To rectify these issues, I started simply. I began by taking leadership roles in my karate and scouting troop. Then I took my fear of public speaking and broke it down to the basics of why I was so fearful.  When I realized it was my lack of confidence and competence in the subject I was assigned to work on, preparation become my shield against fear. I studied and researched the materials, worked with friends and family to practice and rehearse these types of speeches, and when the material became second nature, the fear melted away.  After honing my skills and taking the baby steps needed to accomplish the task of public speaking, the fear became just a wisp of its former self.

With my fear of heights, I just needed to trust in my skills, in my tools, and in my partners, as well as the deep understanding that what supported or stabilized me would not give way.  With practice and repetition, my fear of heights became a joy of success in overcoming a difficult climb.  The physically demanding task of rock climbing and the fear associated with it…became a hobby.

Now when I see Fear, I step back and look at the big picture. I decide what I will need to do to overcome the problem, I ready myself, and then I attack.

Understanding Fear:

The specific mechanism behind fear is a complex one that first involves an interaction with a stressor, followed by the body responding with a release of adrenaline (the more common term for epinephrine). This neurochemical courses through the blood stream increasing heart rate, dilating the blood vessels to increase blood and oxygen flow to skeletal muscles, and stimulating the release of glucose from energy stores. Added to this effect, is pupil dilation. The purpose of this is to provoke one of two possible reactions: fight or flight.  When in this state, you may experience what is often described as a feeling of butterflies in your stomach, along with a massive surge of energy and an increased vision as to your current reality.  You can use this aroused state to either fight, in an attempt to overcome the problem, or run and continue living in fear. The more situations you run from, the more your body and mind become accustomed to losing to fear.

Steps to Overcoming Fear:

1.    Rehearse, practice, and prepare:  Know the enemy, plan for the enemy, and practice overcoming your enemy. This can be an academic test, asking someone out, or even jumping out of an airplane.

2.    Healthy body: Getting enough sleep. Lack of sleep severely unbalances your neurochemicals and limits your ability to make the harder choices.

3.    Healthy mind: Reduce stressors in your life. Being stressed over non-essentials makes you more susceptible to fear. 

4.    Small steps: In life, when faced with an impossible task, break down the problem and tackle it one piece at a time.

5.    Getting help and guidance: We live in society and in groups, so we need to take advantage of them. A teammate, a friend, your family…each can be useful in helping overcome challenges and facing fears by sharing tactics and skills, or just providing support.

6.    Momentum: When you get a good movement forward, don’t immediately start running, but definitely don’t stop. When you get good at a skill, keep practicing, keep challenging yourself to do more.

7.    Reward your personal successes: Treat yourself and make sure that you acknowledge your achievements. Put them down in writing and take a picture.

8.    Analyze failures: Plot out the reasons for failure, and plan alternative methods of attack.

I will leave you now with this final quote of inspiration as told to me by my karate sensei:

Remember the past,
Plan for the future,
Live and cherish the Now,
As it is a gift,
Called the Present.

Alexander Shih-Ming Ku is a biology teacher at Coachella Valley High School. When not showing the students how to develop and nurture a long and healthy human existence, he is training and advising students on how to physically and mentally dismantle opponents under the guise of self-defense karate. He currently resides in Indio, California with his wife, and fellow teacher, Anna.

Standards-based questions for this essay.


  1. Thank you for sharing, Mr. K. I remember you talking about this in health. I thought it was really effective to tie in biology to your post. I've learned to apply what you've taught me in health class to my own life as well. Your eagerness and determination is truly inspiring!

  2. For the past couple of years I've known you, Mr. K, I have learned a lot from your life lessons that you seem to give out a lot. I thank you for that since they have helped a lot and thanks for this post as well that seems to be another life lesson :) and thank you for being such an awesome teacher!

  3. I agree with what both Desirae and Aylene have just said, but I would like to add in that you have given me the most help since my freshman year. Your non-academic lessons have opened my eyes and have made me realize what career path I want to follow, you have also helped me, with this post and your lectures, in getting over my fear of public speaking. I now am improving my speaking and I am beginning to speak more coherent in front of others. I also thank you for being one of the best teachers I have ever had.

  4. I like how in the first step in overcoming fear, you explain how you need to know and overcome your enemy. Then you give the example of asking someone out, it sounds like the person you're asking out is the enemy, I just thought that sounded funny. I know what you meant though, fear is the enemy that you were referring to.

  5. First of all, thank you Mr. Ku for sharing your experience with overcoming fear. A lot of us are not willing to do that mainly because we are afraid of what others will think. Using your own experiences was a great way to convince others that fear is just in our heads. I enjoyed how it was not only relatable but also informative. This has truly stuck in my head.

  6. Wow mr. K! What a wonderful piece of work. Your advice, your techniques, and examples really did help the idea of over coming fear!(: I definitely loved reading your blog. (:

  7. Thanks for your article Mr. K., I really hope many students read your message and your steps to make this happen (conquer fear)
    I would like to talk to you about my side business. One which I feel overcome with 'fear' and can't seem to get it off the ground. I'll start with reading and understanding your point of views on the subject, and I will place it into practice. Once again, thanks for your time and patience! - Mr. E. Perez