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.

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A Day of Rest

Yesterday was a day of rest – a much needed day off from work. The dojo was closed offering an opportunity to have a nice quiet dinner with the family. That doesn’t seem to happen often enough with our hectic schedules.

Martial arts isn’t an occasional thing. Not if you want to get good. It demands persistence. It means putting on the gi and training regularly. The sense of commitment and fulfillment is huge, but I’m not going to lie – it’s a lot of hard work. I certainly understand when I hear that some of our younger students suffer from not wanting to put their uniforms on. Hey, we all think that once in a while, however, it comes back to attitude. If you want to be a black belt, train like a black belt. Don’t wait until you’re there.

And let’s face it – martial arts knows no season. It requires you keep it up even after summer changes to fall and through winter and on to spring until you meet up with summer again. A day of rest is a good thing. It brings me back to the dojo brimming over with determination and excitement.

Let those things fuel you today as well. Strive to be a little better than you were yesterday. Punch harder. Have better focus. Remember, doing karate isn’t about being the best  – it’s about doing your personal best and growing a little each day.

Why Train?

We all come to karate from different places. Some as children because their parents understand it helps with focus and respect. Others want to try a new sport and some of us wander into it as adults. That’s how I ended up on the training mat. If I hadn’t finally relented and quit saying, “Karate’s not for girls,” I probably wouldn’t be writing this today. In hindsight, it was one of the best decisions I ever made.

Karate gave my little family something we never expected. When our world changed, the dojo became our extended family. We fostered friendships 24 years ago that we still have. We shared the training, the ups and downs and wonderful successes along the way. For us, it was about more than the focus and the dedication. It truly was a family affair. Part of that was wrapped in competitions. Yeah, I travelled across the country so my four kids could compete. I was that parent. And I’m proud to brag any time you want to listen about their multiple national championships. They earned them through hard work, sweat, sore muscles and dedicated focus.

It was the massive array of trophies and ‘war stories’ that led Christopher to want to train. There’s no doubt about that. Kid number five wasn’t around during the traveling competition years and he yearned for a piece of that history to call his own. I’m not going to lie, at first I tried to dissuade him. Coming to karate just for the trophies and the glory was the wrong reason. I knew all too well about the hard work, and hours upon hours of training necessary. Competitions needed to be secondary. The training itself, for defense and the pure love of karate needed to be first. How could I explain that to a four-year-old? A quick trip into the dojo to let him watch proved he wasn’t ready. It took three years before we, as parents, were sure that he was ready.

I’m glad we waited. A miraculous thing happened. He no longer talked about the trophies, instead immersing himself into the training. He proved himself and worked as hard as a seven-year-old can. That means he had his good days and his bad days. But when the good outnumbered the bad, I knew he was ready to reach for a dream. And he started competing. And winning. I’m proud of my State Champion. He earned the trophies but more importantly he kept focused on the true reason to train. He’s no longer that little orange belt with a trophy almost as big as him. He’s a black belt and a karate instructor. It’s about being strong, being focused and taking care of himself. Training for all the right reasons. More

Intimidation

I had the oddest moment last night in class. We were doing partner work and I had one of my old students as my partner. That’s all good. It’s happened before. This student is still fairly young and I could tell he was struggling to work with me. Every time he had to punch, he’d pull back. I intimidated him. Once the teacher  – always the teacher.

The drill was to tap your partner’s chin with a short punch. A valuable skill if you need to defend yourself. Of course, then you don’t hold back and you give them all you’ve got. He, however, wanted nothing to do with actually touching my chin. He stopped way too short every time. I coaxed him a little closer each time until eureka, he was doing it.

Ahhh…then he kept doing it, only he was rocking my head with some solid contact. All it took was a glimmer of a smile and one little sentence. “Don’t rock my head – remember, I’m punching you next.” He knew I wouldn’t hurt him. I could tell by the smile that slid across his face. But he did work on his control. It felt pretty cool to watch the growth and progress he’s making.

We had the best time working together. What fun it was for me to see my former student  becoming stronger. I definitely see a black belt in his future. He’s focused on his lessons, has a fabulous attitude and shows great respect.

Time

Like most human beings I want everything to happen instantaneously. No hard work, no waiting for the right time. I want it now. Karate isn’t like that. I’ve seen extremely gifted people begin training, excelling through the lessons faster than it seems possible. On the other hand, I’ve also seen those who have had to work hard, sweating and straining to achieve each milestone.  Most of us are in the middle ground, paying our dues with sweat equity and determination.

Everything worth anything takes time. That’s why I sometimes have to chuckle when I see a brand spanking new black belt who struts around like they know everything. Little do they know – but they’ll learn soon enough – that they’ve only seen the tip of the iceberg. They’re only now ready to learn. Lessons unfolding around them reveal something new, they hadn’t noticed before. So fixated on having a big draw hand they failed to see the role the hip plays in the punch.

Have patience. It takes time for the knowledge to seep in. Keep training with humility and dedication. The best things in life are truly worth waiting for. Persistence is the key that’s unlocked many a door. Respect your teachers. You’ll get there at your right time.

Shadow of a Legend

Yesterday I had the distinct honor to have lunch with an eighth degree Shotokan black belt. We talked about his life, his teaching career and how he fell into the martial arts. He shared ideas and let me grill him with questions.

Days like yesterday don’t happen often. I was particularly honored since this man sat on the board of my second degree dan exam. He’s pretty much a living legend in the martial arts world. And we had lunch together discussing a project we’ll be working on together.

Yes, I got up this morning and pinched myself. And no, I’m not going to say anything more about him. You’ll have to read the book. Yes. It really is going to happen. An amazing life that will inspire you – and totally worthy of a book. Stay tuned.

It’s all in the hips

Last night I had a great conversation with my son about karate. We were sitting there waiting for my writing students to show up and our talk turned to the martial arts, as it frequently does. I’m astounded at how much he’s learned, but I’m even more impressed with the advanced concepts he can explain in a simple, understandable matter.

For me, body connection and spirit while training are huge. If you focus on those two things so much more will follow. I was explaining to him about a student I worked with last week and how he almost had the body connection down, but not quite. He was missing the hips. That comment spurred an entire new conversation about using the core and different techniques to explain that to students. Exercise bands stretched and pulled to demonstrate the hip rotation outward was one suggestion my son made. A great idea I just might incorporate. We chatted about the power of punches and how that comes from the reaction hand and again – from the hips.

I’ve spent a good amount of time lately studying my own techniques. Slowing them down. Speeding them up. Punching from the hip to maximize the power. It all matters. It’s funny to me, but when I teach my women’s class and say “The power’s all in your hips,” they get it quicker than any other set of students. Maybe its something women inherently understand. Hmmm…. but that’s a topic for another day.

For now, I’m going to bask in happiness. Nothing like having a conversation with another black belt who is as passionate about teaching as I am. Especially when it’s your son.

 

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