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.

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Fighting through

On your martial arts journey you’re going to have some days or weeks that try to derail you. Let’s face it, life happens. If you’re an adult work is your top priority and working late can definitely interfere with your training schedule. For kids, it can be extra homework or family vacations taking them out of town and away from the dojo.

As I said – life happens. You just have to roll with it and get back in and train as soon as you can. One of the things I’ve seen when it comes to adult students is how easily they let changing out of work clothes change their mind set. They’re home. They’ve worked hard. And plopping down in front of the television requires a lot less energy than working on your kata or sparring. It’s just another reality about training.

I’ve been there myself the past couple of weeks. I’m having a problem with my feet as well as a nasty cough that’s reared its ugly head again. Both things seem to be conspiring to keep me on the sidelines. But I won’t let them.

Fighting through the pain is another part of the learning process. No, I’m not stupid. I’m not going to injure myself for life. If I really needed to rest up I would. But I don’t, not now at least. I think learning to fight through is just another lesson I need to learn. It’s all about persistence. What lessons do you need most right now?

Persistence

Every so often I have a conversation with a parent that goes something like this. “He (or she) is giving me such a hard time about coming to train. All he wants to do is play video games.” Sometimes the parent will confess that the child doesn’t even want to change into their karate clothes. Ahhh….I know that feeling well.

I’m quick to share the fact that some days I don’t want to change either. Sometimes I just want to stay home and vegetate in front of the television or take a nap. There are days when getting my lazy butt up and into the dojo is a major undertaking. Senseis are human, just like their students. I’m always astounded when I see the look on the child’s face as I make this confession. I am just like them. Of course, I’m honest and make sure I tell them how happy I am once I change into my gi and start to teach or train.

Karate has no seasons. Not like baseball or soccer or other sports children are enrolled in. Karate is day in day out – winter, spring, summer and fall. It’s okay to take a day off once in a while. Relax and regroup. Then come back and train hard the next day. Heck, I plan on doing that tonight. One night to spend at home with my family, hanging out and doing the things that families do. The next night when I train I’ll be twice as excited to get back into the groove of kicking and punching.

Persistence. Sticking with it even when it gets hard. That’s what makes a black belt. It’s putting on your gi even when you don’t want to that makes all the difference.

Differences

Yesterday I had the pleasure of riding on a Fourth of July float in our local parade. It’s always fun to participate in community events. I loved watching the faces of the kids as we tossed candy and waved. I was doubly blessed that a local karate school was marching directly behind our float.

While a different style, I could appreciate the enthusiasm of the students as they went through their katas and practiced their combative skills. I couldn’t help but notice the differences between their knife hand blocks and ours. While our katas are similar, there were strategic differences. But what was fun about it was seeing how the differences, each brought us to the same goal. The students were focused. They were dedicated. They had passion and strength.

Sometimes I think we look at differences as one being wrong and one being right. That’s not really the case. Not in karate and not in life. I appreciated watching them and could see some instances to incorporate moves in my own self defense.

No, I’m not changing styles. Shotokan runs through my blood, and has infiltrated the very fibers of my being. But I can still appreciate the different styles, learning something from each. That’s one of the hallmarks of being a good black belt I think – always learning. I wonder what I’ll learn today…

Confidence

Friday night means another kyu exam. Sitting on the board, watching students  perform their katas and basics, giving all that they have in their pursuit of their next belt can sometimes be an emotional task. I know it will be tonight. A special child in my life will be testing for the first time – striving for their orange belt. To those who’ve traveled the road to black belt it may not seem like a lot. Others will understand. The feeling of stepping onto the mat and testing for the first time is nerve racking. It can be scary and intimidating. That’s where confidence comes in.

This young man will test for the belt then take off halfway around the world, moving to a new country where he knows absolutely no one other than his parents. Taking this test will send him off with a sense of accomplishment and, more importantly I hope, with the confidence that he’s ready for something new. That working hard and staying focused has its benefits. It will also be a reminder he’s connected to his karate family in Southern California. He has a home to come back to and people who believe in him whether he’s near or far.

I’m proud of this young man. Proud to have been his instructor and to have known him outside of the dojo, too. He’s my beta reader for my middle grade books and my current hero. You’ve got this, ‘P’. Adventure awaits. You’ll have to write me stories and tell me all about it.

Black Belt to Black Belt

This morning I went into the dojo to do a bit of extra training. I’m working on a couple of katas and wanted the floor space to really be able to move, instead of shoving the couch out of the way and battling the dog who thinks she’s part ninja. My son wanted to go in and work on katas as well, which was pretty cool. We ended up working together, not as mother and son, but as black belt to black belt. This little kid who rolled his eyes and groaned when he was told to pick up his socks or to write neater has grown not only taller than me but he’s evolved into my peer.

Even though I outrank him, he’s always willing to lend me some help when I need it. He offers the help with humility and a quiet confidence. To be honest, he’s one of only two people who can talk me through a move when my brain simply refuses to allow my hands or feet to do what I want them to. It pleases me that the coaching works both ways. Today I coached him through three katas and with each suggestion and instruction he listened and changed. With a student just learning it’s usually bigger things to fix, like “use the other hand” or “change your feet”. At the Shodan level (and higher) it becomes the tiny finite things. Training like this can sometimes feel like you’re being inspected under under a microscope. It’s hard and occasionally frustrating, as though you can’t do anything right. Perhaps that’s why I’m so amazed at what happened today. He listened. He processed. He changed. No eye roll. No arguing. Not once did I hear, “I didn’t do that”.  He put his trust in me and I helped him use his body dynamics to improve his power and strength.

I’m proud of him. His execution of the moves was great. But that’s not what makes me proud. He demonstrated the attitude and spirit a black belt should strive for. A chip off the ole block…it’s in his blood, I guess. I’m looking forward to more moments working black belt to black belt.

Training Through It All

Life happens. Vacations crop up, homework intrudes and lethargy holds us hostage on the couch with an oversized glass of lemonade and a NCIS marathon to watch. Seriously, there are a million and one reasons to not train. “I’ll do it tomorrow,” is the lie all martial artists tell themselves at one point or another. Even black belts. How do I know this? I said those very words yesterday. And I didn’t train. There were too many client projects to get finished. Work comes first, especially when it helps to pay the bills.

But training still has to be high up on the list. I will train today and I’ll realize how much I missed it yesterday when my tootsies hit the mat and sweat puddles up on my brow. Perhaps that’s the difference between a black belt and just another student. Somehow, its become a part of us. Well, not somehow – through hard work and persistence we’ve trained our muscles and our minds and now, without karate, we’re a little bit lost in our everyday lives.

I tell students I’m just like them. They tend to look at me as if I’m half crazy. They have a tendency to see the belt and think I’m different, special in some way. I’m honest with them. There are days I just want to stay home. Days I’m feeling too lazy to put my gi on. But I do it, and the moment I start either teaching or training there’s no place else I’d rather be. I’m no different from them. I’ve just kept my feet walking on the path, one step at a time. They can do that, too. The other part of what I tell them? They can pass me up – they’re younger and have more time. The student in turn becomes the teacher, it happens all the time. But most of the time I tell them how much I’m looking forward to presenting them their black belt one day. The sparkle in their eye and the belief that they can do it motivates them on. I believe in them. They should too.

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