Keeping it fun

As Thanksgiving loomed large on the horizon last Wednesday I recognized that many people would be scurrying around preparing for the holiday or traveling out of town. Those who came into train deserved a special class. I wanted to make it fun but they still needed to learn something.

For a few minutes, as I planned the class, a sense of despair washed over me. Fun. How could I make it something they’d want to do without resorting to my regular ‘fun’ drills. It took a little bit but I remembered a game I’d played a long time ago for warm up. Tic Tac Toe. Who doesn’t love it? And better yet, everyone knows how to play.

So, I set up my ‘board’ and got to it. Normally warm-up lasts ten minutes and there’s always one student or another starting to lag, not wanting to do the drills. But not Wednesday. We ran a full fifteen minutes, with the same warm-up integrated into the game. Best of all, they all went hard, doing the drills. Heck, they didn’t want to stop. Inspired I took my bag work drills and figured out a way to make them into a ‘game’ as well. Serious work. Just don’t let your foot cross the line. Defend your space. And it worked.

Sometimes as an instructor we find it hard to get that balance. Fun and useful at the same time. We have this tendency to resort to the tried and true drills or we have no choice as students are hitting up against a test deadline and certain skills have to be practiced.

Wednesday was fun for my students and for me. I’m going to take the lessons I learned and use them as I move forward. You can make it fun and still demand the best from your students. Its worth the extra effort.



Training together at the dojo, sharing the moments of pushing yourself to new limits, teaching together and understanding what it means to be a black belt has a way of forging strong bonds. The people in the dojo become family. I can certainly attest to that. If I were to make a list of friends most of them I met at the dojo. Whether it was twenty-five years ago or last week. Somehow the friendships created there last a lifetime.

Today my heart aches as it remembers one family member, no longer with us. A bright, vivacious smile and a heart as big as the world. I was lucky enough to teach with him and to train with him. His lanky limbs could keep me away, so getting inside was my only choice. I miss him today. Honestly, there’s not a day that goes by that I don’t glance at his picture in the dojo and wish he’d come strolling through the doors.

You were loved, young man. There’s a hole in the dojo nobody can ever fill. Yours was a life well lived.

“No matter how you may excel in the art of Karate, and in your scholastic endeavors, nothing is more important than your behavior and your humanity as observed in daily life.” — Ginchin Funakoshi


Hit By Your Friends

We have a saying in the dojo. “It’s better to be hit by your friends than your enemies.” Learning how to take a punch when the strike is thrown by someone who doesn’t want to hurt you is an invaluable aid in training. Let’s face it, if nobody ever hit you, you’d be totally unprepared the first time it happens. The bad guy – the guy on the street that’s confrontational – he wants to hurt you. Your friends don’t.

Relationships grow quickly when you’re training together. You tend to remember who was at a test with you, as you rank up. The higher the ranking, the fewer people who seem to be along for the ride with you.

And the guys who stand with you at your black belt test – they’re tied to you for life. You can’t remember the test without thinking of them. Or so I’ve heard. I tested alone. Just me and a table full of examiners all studying my every move. I’d equate it to what a specimen under a microscope would be thinking…if they could think of course.

Even though I was alone at my dan exam, it didn’t matter. I’d been surrounded by a dojo full of students most of whom at punched or kicked me at some point. The camaraderie that comes from karate is priceless. You become family with those you train with.

But that’s a story for another day.


That Moment

When I was climbing the ladder to black belt, in the time before I started teaching, my focus was one hundred percent on the techniques and how to do them correctly. Tunnel vision. Sure, I cared about body connection, hip rotation and everything else, but only as it related to what I was doing. I didn’t think about it too deeply. I had a job to do and I was going to get it done.

That’s probably why they say, “When you become a black belt is when you really start to learn”. I believe it’s true. But I’ll take it a step further and offer that when you become an instructor you truly begin to understand the potential and how to improve both yourself and students. In the very beginning I can remember the moments of trepidation when I’d correct a student. “No, move your hand here” or “that foot moves first”. I second guessed myself and walked through the moves before I’d open my mouth. Lacking confidence comes with the territory for a new instructor. I’m sure of it. Those that bluster in, loud and pushy probably never get to the next stage of teaching. (That’s my own personal philosophy. You can take it or leave it.)

Once the confidence hurdle was crossed an interesting thing happened. In the quiet moments of teaching an idea or concept would click in my head. I could see the solution to a problem and didn’t have to muddle through how to fix it. I loved those moments then, and I love them now. There’s only one thing better.

It’s that moment. When I run a drill with a student and I see the smile involuntarily slide across their face. Their face sparkles, illuminated as if a light just went on. Maybe because it did. I had that moment yesterday. It was fabulous. The young lady who I was coaching ‘got’ my point. She punched the bag. I don’t mean touched it with her hand, I mean she smashed her knuckles in, determined to push the bag away from her. She dove in, grabbed her confidence and went from being a little girl to a strong, confident martial artist.

Oh, if I could only have captured that moment in a picture. The look on her face. It was priceless. Best of all, she knew what had happened. She knew all my coaching, getting in her face for the past thirty minutes, had worked. She knew she could do it. That moment. That’s why I teach.

True Karate

True karate is this: that in daily life one’s mind and body be trained and developed in a spirit of humility, and that in critical times, one be devoted utterly to the cause of justice. –Ginchin Funakoshi

I’m a Shotokan girl, through and through. Strong hard techniques that really work. I subscribed to the Shotokan thought process very early in my training – it really did become an integral part of my entire training. In particular, I am still struck by the depth of understanding Sensei Funakoshi had for what karate is. He was a unique man, and brilliant when it came to the art of self defense. And no, I don’t just say that because we share a birthday. (A fun little fact that delights me more than you know.)

His quote about what true karate is resonates with me on several levels. Too often the martial artists I see today negate the importance of humility and never even contemplate justice. Training and ranking up becomes about ego. A sure sign they’ll never achieve ultimate success.

Last night I was reading part of Plato’s Republic¬†(yes, I am that nerd) with passages focused on justice. What is and what does it mean? Bringing these two men together into one understanding made me excited and happy as I thought about both of the writings. Justice. What is it?

According to interpretation from Plato’s Concept of Justice: An Analysis by D.R. Bhandari, “..justice is a ‘human virtue’ that makes a person self-consistent and good; socially, justice is a social consciousness that makes a society internally harmonious and good. According to Plato, justice is a sort of specialization.”

Digest this for a moment. “That makes a person self-consistent and good.” Follow that up with the idea that “justice is a social consciousness that makes a society internally harmonious and good”. Couple these thoughts with Sensei Funakoshi’s about being utterly devoted to the idea of justice and I think you’ll see a pattern. Martial arts is not about violence, as so many seem to think. It’s about something much larger and more important. Being a martial artist – a true martial artist – isn’t about the self as much as it is about what type of person – your character – and what you bring to your society. Its about self discipline. And helping to make society harmonious and good. See what happens when you take the ego out? Amazing.

Muscle Memory

One of the hardest things about being a karate instructor is finding the right balance in tone. You want to impress upon your students – especially the younger students – that what they do in the dojo is serious and needs to be done to the best of their ability while still making it fun. The real world is a dangerous place but we don’t want to create a generation of children who become overly paranoid adults. As an instructor, I want to know my kiddos are safe. That they can defend themselves.

So sometimes I have to be tricky. Creating drills that reinforce techniques students can use to defend themselves, while giving them enough repetitions to allow for muscle memory to take over in a moment of crisis. Last night I stumbled across an easy repetition that had the kiddos grinning ear-to-ear while they did about thirty reps of a move in just about as many seconds. It was quick. It was fun. And they learned something.

That moment was why I teach. It perfectly counterbalanced the news I’d read early in the day. Stories filling me with dread and concern. There have been four attempted abductions locally. Any one could have been my student. That fact gnawed at my soul. Last night, watching their faces glow as they did the move made me happy. It let me know I’m doing the right thing and even the hard days are worth it.

If I help make just one person safe, it’s all worth it.

Adapting to Change

We’ve all heard the saying, “The only constant is change”. I think that rings especially true for the martial artist. We’re trained to be observant, to watch what’s going on around us and to adapt to the situation. One minute we’re friendly and nice the the next we’re a raging bear protecting our cubs. Martial artists are ready to spring into action, to defend themselves and others, changing personalities and attitudes quicker than the David Banner turned into the Hulk.

Is this the only time a karate person can use this skill? Nope. Absolutely not. It doesn’t have to be a moment of danger for this to be a valuable skill set. Most martial artists I know also work a day job. Being able to read the situations going on around you and making adjustments to your reactions is invaluable. I’ve worked in the corporate world. Its fast. Its intense. And it is ever changing. Being able to think on your feet, to change a presentation and read the people in the room helped me to not only do a good job but to get ahead.

Think about that when you’re wondering why you should put your child in karate, or if you should train. The skills you learn in the dojo translate to the real world in a big way. Being a martial artist helps to instill and foster confidence and a unique mindset. You’re ready for whatever the world tosses your way.

Karate. It is more than a sport. Its a way of life.

Previous Older Entries