That Feeling

Tonight there’s another dan exam in the dojo. These are a special time for all of us to not only test the new candidates but to take a moment and reflect up on where we came from. Once upon a time, each of us sitting on the board was in the same position as those testing tonight.

No matter how long ago it was we remember the butterflies in our stomachs, the confidence we had to muster and the energy of the room. We will never forget which katas we had to do – in fact they became inherently ‘our’ kata. The one we formed a long term attachment to, just like the people we tested with. Each black belt can tell you who else was there on the floor with them.

I was alone. A solitary student with a board of examiners watching my every move. There were no moments when the black belts were looking at someone else. Their attention was glued on me – and only me. Testing by myself also meant no breaks while the others did their katas. It was just me. All me.

And I did not test as a young, energetic student. I’d had one of those milestone birthdays- you know the ones that end with a zero. Not to say I didn’t have energy, because I did. The passion lighting my fire to succeed burned long and bright within my core. I was determined to do this and to do the very best that I could.

I did my requisite two heian katas and my black belt kata confident that I’d done them to the best of my ability. Then my instructor asked for another heian kata. And another. He didn’t stop until I’d demonstrated them all. I remember thinking, “Hey, you’re changing the rules on me,” but I didn’t show it in my face or my body language. If that’s what he wanted, to test me on everything I knew, then I’d give him what he wanted. Instinctively, I knew it was about throwing me a curve ball to see how I’d react and to test my endurance.

I ended that test knowing I’d done my best and I can still remember the feeling of my hands trembling as I put on the black belt for the first time. My test was on an Friday night early in April. When we got home that night, snow brushed the ground. In Southern California – snow in April, in the desert. You know that old expression – “When hell freezes over”. That’s the other thing I’ll never forget about that night.

To this day it makes me chuckle. Maybe that’s what some people thought. I’d never earn my belt. By working long and hard, I proved them wrong.

I can’t wait to watch the young men testing tonight. I wonder what they’ll remember most from this experience?

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Keeping it fresh

The best classes from a student standpoint are the ones that zoom by, working on new skills and different sets of drills. Keeping it fresh and exciting helps the student to stay engaged. The very same is true for the instructor as well. Going in and teaching the same old stuff over and over again begins to create apathy and monotony for the teacher as well.

There’s an interesting challenge for the martial artist as they impart knowledge to their students. Not only do they have to create energy and excitement in class but they also have to prep their students for upcoming exams, making sure they know all of the skill sets assigned to that particular belt level.

Sometimes its hard. You rack your brain, search the internet and look to other instructors for help. All good solutions. I’d like to suggest one other idea, you might keep in mind. What are the drills that you liked doing as you were coming up through the ranks? Is there a nugget of a new idea you can glean from those drills? Relax and think about it. I’m going to be honest, sometimes I take an idea designed for the younger students and modify it only slightly and I have what feels like a game for the more advanced students. Little do they know, the whole time they are doing it that they’re working on their muscle memory and perfecting their techniques.

They say, “Everything old becomes new again”. Well, take that to heart while you’re working on your class curriculum and planning your lessons this week. Have some fun and your students will too.

Doing What Works

As a karate instructor I’m always looking for ways to improve my teaching skills along with ways to engage and motivate my students. Along with hours of research and studying, I watch other instructors to see what works. Adding another drill or another skill set to my students repertoire is important to me.

I found a way to help them recently – it came from a video about a retired school teacher. We may teach subjects that are miles apart but teaching is the same whether its math or kata. It takes repetition. It takes practice. It takes dedication.  Watching that video made a difference in a couple of my students already. I’m glad I took the time and applied it to the dojo and my teaching.

After all, teaching is a matter of doing what works. It doesn’t matter where the idea comes from. It matters how you apply it to your own teaching style. I’m going to keep doing the drill. I like doing what works.

Get a Partner

As a karate instructor, I’ve uttered the phrase, “Get a partner” more times than I can count. I watch the kids that grab a partner quickly and I pay attention to those who wander around like a lost lamb. Frequently, they’re the ones not interacting with others in the class and are quiet when I want them to be loud. It’s something I’ve thought about and wondered how to fix.

Then the light bulb went off yesterday when I was reading an article about a teacher and the way she finds out how the kids are doing in her class – social adjustments, peer to peer. It was pretty simple, involving a survey every Friday about who should be awarded the student of the week and who they’d like to sit next to in the following week. Simple enough. But the information it gave spoke volumes to her, especially as weeks unfolded into months.

Moving forward, I’m going to handle the “Get a partner” situation a little bit differently, I think. Theres’ a couple of students I have in mind that will benefit from my new approach. Nope, I’m not going to single them out and embarrass them. Instead, I’m going to make them the shining examples and help to set them on a path to success. That’s what martial arts is supposed to do. It’s not just about self defense.

There’s a whole mindset. Focus. Being good and kind. Having a strong character. Being respectful. Not being a bully. And helping those in need.

This new approach has me so excited. I can hardly wait for class tonight so that I can start making a difference.

Ego and the Martial Artist

e·go
ˈēɡō/
noun
  1. a person’s sense of self-esteem or self-importance.
    “a boost to my ego”
    PSYCHOANALYSIS
    the part of the mind that mediates between the conscious and the unconscious and is responsible for reality testing and a sense of personal identity.

Okay, now that we’ve defined what it means, how does the ego affect the martial artist? We all have an ego, whether we realize it or not. In this day and age, whenever ego is mentioned it’s always with a negative connotation.

A good martial artist will have an ego that allows them to understand their abilities and limitations. They will know that there is always someone bigger, stronger and more capable than they are. Part of knowing that is what fuels the martial artist to keep practicing and growing in their art. That’s the good part of the ego.

Unfortunately, all to oftenb the ugly part of the ego takes over some black belts. Its normal and natural to stand on the training floor going through your kata, moving your arms in moves such as inside blocks or punching. There’s a sad truth about most of us. We can’t recite the moves to a kata to you, we have to do them – not all out full on kata but a quieter, moving through the motions. When you see a black belt absorbed in themselves doing the moves chalk it up to them thinking part of the process through, figuring out a way to teach it or just learning a new kata. And that’s all good.

It’s the black belt who feels the need to yell and scream making sure everyone in the room is looking at them. That’s the martial artist with an overly large ego, overflowing with self-importance. I cringe every time I see it happen. I know that what could be a good karate student (we are always students) isn’t as good as he or she can be because they are looking for attention. Karate isn’t about that. Humility is the key to progressing. Always understanding that you have much to learn. If you just want to show off, my suggestion is to go and do community theatre. Come back to the dojo when you understand what being a martial artist is all about.

Humility. Sincerity. Honesty. Respect.

Always Be Aware

There are no words I can say about the recent events in Las Vegas that would truly express how I feel. So, instead, I want to offer up something else – about personal safety.

Let me start by saying there is NOTHING the people at the concert could have done to stop what happened. NOTHING. They were not at fault, they were just out to have a good time.

Wherever you go, I want you to be aware of what’s going on around you. Locate your routes of escape before there’s a problem. You don’t have to be paranoid and ducking for cover at the least little noise but know where the safe places are. And teach your children.

Look at what’s happening, instead of studying your phone. Eyes up makes you safer.

React as quickly as you can.

And help others in need. I’ve read so many stories of heroes who protected, and in some cases, gave their lives that others might live. For each of us it’s a personal decision in the moment of crisis. We don’t really know what we’d do. I’d like to think I’d help others. I’m not a hero, just someone who cares.

Lastly, stay calm. That one’s hard. How calm can you really be when the world is crumbling around you? Personally, I think it goes back to knowing your escape routes. If I know where I’m going there’s a little less panic. Calm is a relative term in times of crisis. Do the best you can. Duck and cover if you need to.

And always, be aware.

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.

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