Test Day

The last Friday of the month is always test day at the dojo. Gosh, I remember how nervous I was as I was progressing through the belts, knowing I had to demonstrate my skills. Like every other student I didn’t want to make a single mistake.

But life isn’t like that, and neither is the kyu exam. Mistakes are things we learn. Sometimes as nerves overtake our abilities we do something silly like put the wrong leg in front or do the incorrect combination. It happens. Being able to move on and not show any type of distress during the testing session is of the utmost importance. Students who do that are demonstrating to their instructors that nothing is going to stop them if they have to defend themselves. Perhaps they meant to throw a huge left punch into the face and smacked their attacker squarely in the throat. They won’t flinch, they’ll just keep going. Or they miss a block. They won’t show they’re hurt.

Tests – when mistakes happen – can sometimes be the very best window into what a student will do in real life. Mistakes happen. Don’t let them derail you. Keep moving and have a strong attitude while doing your best. That’s all you can ever do, anyway. Your best.

Advertisements

Respect

With so much swirling around us in the news and online this word has occupied a lot of my thoughts recently. Being a martial artist demands respect for yourself and others. Without it, you’ll fail. But what does respect really mean? 

I would never turn my back on an opponent. My well-being demands that I show them respect. I understand their strengths, and will not be overconfident. I respect what they can do. Doing the same when faced with a situation where you have to defend yourself on the streets is of tantamount importance. A healthy respect will go a long way in keeping you safe. 

So, do you respect yourself as well? I hope so. Too many times I’ve watched black belts forget the importance of humility. For me, humility and respect go hand in hand. Don’t be so certain of your abilities that you never have to work on them. A true black belt knows better. Take care of yourself, both mentally and physically. 

Value your own worth and the worth of others. Be considerate to all you meet. Show deference to those who have earned the right to be revered. Acknowledge the privileges you have and how you earned them. Continue to work hard so others want to show you deference. Do not let honor fade. Be the example that others want to follow. These are all good goals for a martial artist. I think they’re important for every human being. Think about it. 

Never Stop Learning

One of the things I’ve discovered after I became a shodan and then a nidan was how much I still had to learn. I’ve been getting some pretty cool lessons from a fellow black belt – a shodan I respect a lot. My son.

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to watch him teach a class. He was kind and patient, while being firm. He explained things thoroughly without talking too much. There was time to do the skills and the pacing of the class was perfect. Plus he was teaching a student who did not speak English.

I’d talked to him about the student before and how I’d helped to coach him through his first class. Just a couple of pointers and then left it at that. I’ve had students who were deaf, who’ve had Aspergers and a plethora of other problems. And I’ve raised five kids. Handling them isn’t such a daunting task. I was pleased to see he’d listened and adapted my techniques to his style. That’s the real key. You can’t always do it exactly how the other person did. Sometimes you have to make it fit you and the situation. He never missed a beat and had the child counting in English before the class was over. He captivated the interest of a three-year-old and that’s an accomplishment in itself.

Yeah, I learned something yesterday. For me, the lesson was bittersweet. It was about letting my son fly solo and soar on to success. I’m a proud black belt and an even prouder mom.

The Sum Total

One of the things I regularly teach in my classes has to do with attitude. What you practice in the dojo is what you’ll do when it comes time to defend yourself. Sure, adrenaline will give you an added boost but it could also cloud your mind as you stumble trying to figure out what to do. Muscle memory – that’s the key to being able to really defend yourself. Oh sure, using your hips, as I’ve mentioned before, big punches, all of those are important as well, but in the end it boils down to good old fashioned muscle memory.

What your body does in a time of crisis is what it has learned to do. What have you taught it? Instinctively, you will mirror your dojo training if you’re assaulted. What you teach it is important. As an instructor, I can coach you along, demanding you push yourself to do your best, striving to attain new limits but in the end its up to the student to dig deep, providing that added something to their training.

What are you going to bring to the situation? Most students, when they come into class, don’t think about being attacked. They think more about doing their kata, or their basics to get ready for an exam. I know that. I also know, the reality of being attacked is out there for all of us. No, I’m not paranoid, I’m just realistic. I wish the world was made up of completely nice people but that isn’t the case. I’m reading more and more news articles about young girls – very young girls – and boys being attacked. Pedophiles are an unfortunate reality, the same with rapists. These situations are the real test.

Remember, you are the sum total of your training. What will you do next time you train? I’d suggest you look in the mirror – see an attacker then handle him the best way you can. Through repetitions you’ll be ready and the best martial artist you can be.

Strike First?

Self defense. Defending yourself. That means not letting someone inflict harm on you? So how do you do that? The easy answer is kicking and punching, blocking and striking. Obviously. There’s a portion that lays under the surface, seldom addressed with karate students. That’s the question of who strikes first. This is a complex question and one I completely understand not being posed to younger students. Parents spend their formative years telling their children, “Don’t hit anyone”. Some parents take this a bit further and tell their kids, “Don’t hit anyone but if they hit you – hit them back”.

Now, I’m not here to tell anyone how to raise their children. I’ve had my hands full with the five I have. I’m not saying the advice above is bad, but be ready for what the schools will tell you as we live in a world with zero tolerance. So, having a conversation with younger students about striking first is one I wouldn’t undertake.

It’s the older, more mature martial artist (yes, I think teenagers fit in this category) who need to evaluate who strikes first. I look at it this way. And as a point of clarification, I am only talking about situations where someone wants to cause me great bodily harm. This is not a school yard scenario but an abduction attempt or something similar.

I have two options.

  • Option 1 – Let them strike me first
  • Option 2 – A preemptive strike

Let’s look closer at the options. Option 1, letting them offer the first punch leaves me in a position of having to block them and possibly being injured and less able to defend myself.  The second option, a preemptive strike means I land the first punch and take control of the situation. It also means I might have to prove that I felt imminent danger and only did so to defend myself. Another words, I’d better be positive that there were no other options available to me. I’d rather be standing there talking to the authorities about why I punched someone than on the ground, needing medical attention. Or worse.

So for me, there’s no choice. Option two clearly plays out best. Until I consider another scenario. Getting myself out of harms way by creating distance from the aggressor is and will always be my first line of defense. If I can move away from someone who wants to hurt me, that’s what I’m going to do. And I’m going to do it yelling and screaming at the top of my lungs. I don’t want to have to physically defend myself unless I have no other choice. And the, believe me, I’m going to do it as strongly and as fiercely as I possibly can. You should, too.

What you practice

I can teach a student to kick and punch, to knee someone and do awesome hammer fists, giving them the tools they need to defend themselves. But I cannot give them them spirit. That comes from within and is the key component to successful self defense. That spark that resides in them, that fuels their passion and is aided by adrenaline coursing through their bodies – I cannot give them that. Each of us must dig deep and discover our own spirit, incorporating it into their daily attitude.

Unfortunately, as I’ve explained to students, what you do in class is all you have when it comes to defending yourself. If you fling your arms out, without using your body effectively – hip action, body rotation, etc. – then all you’ll have are arms and legs flailing about. They won’t land on their target with sufficient force to deflect an attack. Bringing spirit to class is the difference between a student who labors through every single belt and one who appears to breeze through the classes. Sure, other factors come into play, such as coordination and general athleticism but spirit can help every student rise above those things.

What you practice is what you become. Muscle memory takes over in a time of crisis and need. What will you bring to the fight? Don’t wait until you need it, start honing and using your spirit now. Remember. Spirit first. Everything else will follow.

It’s all about the little things

Learning karate seems overwhelming when you begin. Body parts moving in opposite directions at the same time can be intimidating. I can remember being a white belt and watching the more advanced students thinking “I’ll never be able to do that”.  When I quit worrying about what was coming and focused on what I needed to do, it got a lot easier.

Yeah, like every other student I wanted to learn it all at once. I was chomping huge bites and trying to swallow them whole. It doesn’t work that way, as I found out. First, I learned how to keep my feet under me and make a good stance so I couldn’t be knocked over. After that, keeping my hands up became important. Now that I had a stance, I needed to worry about my foot position – was it wide enough? Mastering that meant my next concern was toe position for optimum balance.

Tiny little things that all mattered but didn’t have to be conquered all at once. Each one manageable when I took them one at a time.

Shotokan karate is tough. And I wouldn’t have it any other way. But if you follow the katas, learn each new skill in the order it’s presented it becomes much easier. Sensei Funikoshi knew what he was doing. Putting my trust in his teachings had a huge impact on me. (Hey, he and I share a birthday so I knew he had to be okay!)

You know the little things, like hip forward as you’re in back stance or ripping your draw hand when you punch – they aren’t too hard to get the hang of if you study them one at a time. But they make all the difference to your karate. I think most things in life are like that. Take it one step at a time. Master a skill and then move on to the next. You’ll be a black belt before you know.

Previous Older Entries