Exam Time

Last Friday night it was kyu exam time at the dojo. The last Friday of every month, as regular as clockwork, we run an exam for our students. Even though the routine of the exam seldom changes, what I learn from it always does.

A black belt never quits learning and each student provides an interesting lesson. Friday night I realized how little I’d worked side thrust kick with my students. Some looked lost and unsure as to how to perform the technique. I’d spent so much time on kata and the rest of the basics I’d overlooked the kick.

Personally, I love side thrust kick and can’t wait to put it back into my teaching schedule. I think it will provide a nice change of pace for my students as well. And to add more fun, I’m coming up with new drills to teach it. And I’m going to start today.

Exam time – its a time for us all to learn. The teacher included.

Advertisements

Combinations

When I was first learning karate, way back when I was a white belt, I was thrilled to do one big reverse punch. Huge punch with an even bigger draw hand. It was a big deal to master the skill. There were days I was sure that was all I’d ever be able to do.

I remember watching the more advanced students working on their combinations and thinking, “I’ll never be able to do that.” Feet going one direction, hands going another. Coordination is not my strength. I decided to be happy with what I could do, and leave it at that.

A funny thing happened, though. The longer I trained the simpler the combinations became. It’s a kick and then a punch. It’s two kicks and then a block. Taking the time to learn the basics is the key. Then, whatever combination an instructor wants to put them into you’ve already got a solid foundation. I try to explain that to my students now. There are times I see the same look in their eyes that I must have have in mine.

Have faith. One punch. One block. Do one thing at a time and do it well. That’s a lesson for both karate and for life. Now, I love roundhouse – same leg side thrust – step in punch. Not putting the foot down and following the two kicks (yeah, I can still kick high!) by a very solid punch makes me feel good. Heck, I’m even able to do five consecutive kicks of various kinds with the same leg – not putting my leg down. If anyone had ever told me I’d be doing that I’d have told them they were crazy. All I had to do was learn my kicks. Lots of repetitions until I could put them all together.

Never give up. Be persistent. Always believe you can. And take it one thing at a time.

Even when you don’t want to

Go and train. Even when you don’t want. Get your lazy butt off the chair, put your gi on and go to the dojo. Just get it done.

Yeah, I’ve told myself this more than once. Like everyone, sometimes I don’t want to train. Life’s pressures make it hard, but I’ve found out something pretty interesting. If I just do it anyway, the every day stress melts away. I’ve never ever, in all the years I’ve been training, been sorry that I went to class. Never.

Not once have I walked out thinking, “I should have stayed home.” Okay, yeah, so I have Shotokan blood coursing through my veins (I wonder if its green like Spock’s? Oh, wait, I digress.) Karate is as much a part of me as my blue eyes and my flat feet. And even I have tough days. Putting on the gi changes it all.

So when you’re lagging, feeling your self drag and just don’t think you can  – do it anyway. In the long run you’ll be so glad you did. Attitude and perseverance. They’re the keys to success.

Walking the Walk

Lately I’ve been spending even more hours in the dojo as I add another job title to my list of titles. Some days it feels like I practically live within those walls. And that’s okay – it is my home away from home and has been for twenty-five years. My new position requires me to talk to the parents and students more and I’m starting to feel more comfortable with the duties. Actually, if I were being honest, I’m having a blast. I get to be the ‘fun’ person making sure everyone is taken care of. Almost like the dojo room mom….but not quite.

As I perform my new duties, along with my teaching, I have become much more aware of how important it is to not only walk the walk, but to teach the kids early on, how to do it as well. For me, one of the most important aspects of karate and being a black belt is humility. Ego has no place inside your gi. None.

Now, I’m not saying students should’t take pride in their accomplishments. Of course they should! Its hard work learning complicated skills and progressing along the path towards Shodan and Shodan Ho. Bragging and showing off aren’t the signs of a black belt. Not a true black belt. I know some who have to make sure everyone knows what they know, prancing about the floor doing kata so parents and students alike watch. It makes me sad to see it.

I’ll keep trying to lead by example, sharing my passion and enthusiasm with the kids. I’m walking the walk, and lately, talking the talk, too. Being a martial artist is truly a way of life.

Motivation

Motivation. A big word and an even more important concept when you stop and think about it. I’ve had this word rolling around in my head since teaching my classes last night.

What is it that motivates some students to give their all? And why don’t the others. I have this thing I say when I’m teaching. My students will smile, and some even get it. “Its not dancing with the stars.” (I must confess I’ve never watched the show.) I’ll go on to explain to them that I mean its not just a bunch of choreographed moves (speaking about kata) that you fling your arms and legs around. There needs to be power. There needs to be focus. There needs to be purpose.

Otherwise, there’s this misconception that students can protect themselves when they need to. And they can’t. In a moment of crisis, they’ll only have what they’ve put into their training. The hard part, as an instructor, is knowing what motivates each student. Yesterday I found out, that for one, standing there with a bag for them to punch was the only way. They’ll only do what they need to do when they are forced to. That’s not so uncommon in children, I know.

Now I’m off to solve the next part of the teaching puzzle. How to instill in them the fire to want to do it on their own. Peer pressure is the next tool in my tool bag. But we’ll talk about that another day.

Persistence

I’ve never seen a student, in all of my years of training and teaching, who hasn’t succeeded when they have stuck with their training. Yeah, some of them have progressed slowly, but the important thing is, they have progressed. One of the things I love about the martial arts is that we’re not in a race or competing against anyone else. Its about doing your personal best.

Its an important lesson for everything in life, hang in there and keep trying. Don’t give up, even when it gets hard. I guess I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately. There were times in my own training when I questioned why I was doing it because I was struggling with one move or technique. Or a kata. Heian Sandan was almost my undoing. The first four moves. Trying to perfect them seemed impossible. Today, I look at them and think “a piece of cake”. Funny what time and practice can do.

Yesterday, my youngest son proved once again what persistence can do. He reached a personal milestone – ten straight years of training. That’s a long time in a kid’s life. And he struggled through some of it like everyone else. Today he wears his black belt with pride. He looks and acts like a Shodan.

And his students look at him with admiration. They want to be like him. He wears the title Sensei with honor and respect.

Persistence. That’s the magic potion that got both of us to where we are today. Don’t give up – especially when it gets hard. The rewards are immense for you and for those walking the path behind you. After all, you’re their inspiration. Remember, you can do anything you set your mind to.

New Beginnings

Ahhh…the holiday season has rolled to an end and with it the dojo reopens. Classes resume, with training picking up where it left off. I’m looking forward to seeing the kiddos as they come in tonight. It feels like forever since I curled my toes up on the mats. I wonder if the break feels long to them?

Probably not. They’ll jump right back in where they were eager to keep working on their katas and basics. Adults are different. They’ll want to slowly stretch out the muscles – testing the waters, so to speak. And they’re much more likely to have made some resolution to get back into shape whereas the kids just want to have fun and earn the next belt.

There’s something to be learned from the kids. Quit making it about anything more than having fun. There’s nothing like the feeling when you master a new technique. The snap of the hip as it vibrates when you do a back fist strike. The body vibration as you launch the hips executing a dynamic right-left-right punching combination. Enjoy it. Have fun.

I still feel like a child inside when I learn a new combination or master a new kata. Put the joy back into your training. Relax. Enjoy the ride. Let yourself have fun.