Full Circle

Tonight’s a big deal in the dojo.¬†Dignitaries coming in to celebrate a new crop of black belts. They will each receive their official certification as a black belt – exciting stuff for a martial artist. I remember being handed the frame with my certificate in it. A heady experience I’ll cherish as a special memory for the rest of my life.

It meant I’d done it. Yeah, so did putting on the black belt, which happened after the actual test. But there’s something different about receiving the piece of paper. Maybe its because there’s been some time to absorb what it means to have stepped into the Black Belt Club.

As I thought about the students each about to receive theirs tonight, I remembered them as new students. Eager white and yellow belts in my class trying to master the basic skills.  And then reality nudged me back into the tasks at hand. I needed to finish the poster for the celebration tonight and the centerpiece. Those were my duties. Work to be done, no more daydreaming about karate.

Smack. It hit me. My daydreams had inspired what would sit on the table. A container of different colors, each a belt they’d climbed on their way towards Shodan or Shodan ho. Starting with white, then traipsing past yellow, orange, blue, green, purple, brown and red until we ended at black. Almost. The very top layer would have to be white. After all, that’s what getting your black belt means. Now, its really time to learn. Back to the basics. As you move forward.

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The First Time

Lately, I’ve been paying more attention to the new students in class. The ones trying out karate for the very first time. And the students getting their very first belt. The white belts. I love the joy in their eyes as they experience their initial lesson, getting to kick and punch and there’s nothing like the expression on their faces when you tie on the belt.

I still remember my first class. I don’t think I’ll ever forget it. That feeling of newness, of unwrapping a fabulous gift. Something sparked in me and even all the sore muscles and aching joints couldn’t keep me from the class. Martial arts gets in your blood. It becomes a part of who you are. Yeah, even when you’re ‘only’ a white belt. It’s kind of funny, I had that very same feeling when I put on my black belt for the very first time. Of being ‘only’ a black belt with so much to absorb.

I knew that the best was yet to be and the learning had just begun. Never stop learning. Never lose the joy that the first lesson gives. I can’t wait to get to the dojo today, put on my gi and see what new thing I’ll learn today.

The Benefits of Teamwork

Karate is by and large an individual sport. Each student strives to attain their personal best while working within a class. When you think of teamwork your mind instantly conjures up baseball or basketball games, where a group of players is working together. Think back to the recent Super Bowl – it wouldn’t have been possible if each team hadn’t focused on the same goal, working together for success. But that’s not true with karate.

So, what happens when you introduce the team concept into a martial arts class? Something quite interesting. I’ve used this technique to pull up a weaker student and it works. Kids understand being part of a team and love the idea of fitting with others. I let them know we’re doing the class as a team, encouraging them to rise up the to same level. The kid who is normally lazy isn’t. The kid who struggles to focus, suddenly fixes his attention on himself. Nobody wants to be the weakest link. I don’t. Do you?

Taking it to the next level I create teams for kata, making sure to mix up my levels at this point. I don’t want one team dominating the rest. The strongest and the weakest can end up in the same group, with the least vocal leading the team. It is amazing to see what happens.

Teamwork. If you’re an instructor, give it a try. Heck, even a parent can borrow this system to get the chores done. Think about it as a clever way to get what you want while the student grows. I’d call that a win-win situation.