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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Stress Relief

Yay, the holidays are upon us! They bring with them a special kind of stress. We scurry about trying to do everything for everybody filling ourselves up with less cheer and a lot more stress. I was thinking about that this morning as my own personal stress level climbed up a notch or two. For a split second I wondered what I could do to decompress and eliminate the tension expanding through my body.

Then it hit me. Or rather, I thought about hitting. Honestly, I have the best job in the world. Being a karate instructor comes with a couple of perks. I get to yell. I get to kick. I get to punch. Every single solitary day, I get to vent any frustrations building up inside. Today will be no different. Which of course got me to thinking about how sorry I am for all of the people who don’t do martial arts. They carry the burden of stress with them on a regular basis with little relief.

Instead of making a resolution in the new year to get in shape, make a promise to yourself that you’ll eliminate stress. Sign up for a karate class. It’ll be the nicest thing you do for yourself. Trust me. I know. And if you’re in the Inland Empire – let me know. I’ll give you a free lesson, my holiday gift to you.

What to Teach?

Today rolls into another teaching day. Love these days. Sometimes figuring out what to teach is difficult and other days, the perfect plan plops right into your brain. Today is one of those days.

Taking a minute to think about which students will be in today and coupling that with their strengths and weaknesses I think I’ve come up with a lesson that will help them move forward in their training. Part of that was triggered by a student yesterday. This young person is the type that challenges an instructor, making them dive deep into their tool bag to find the right way to reach them.

Oddly, it was a simple list. Hey, I’m a list girl – its what keeps me on track. The list I scratched out yesterday were things I noticed about the student in the first five minutes of class. Five minutes yielded a rather long list. And this student isn’t unique. There are plenty of others just like them.

So, that list has morphed and transitioned into a training lesson. I love being able to gear my lessons to my students needs. Each one is unique and brings a different personality. Today’s lesson plan bears that in mind. I think they’re going to love it. I know they need it. Today I’m building character and better human beings. One punch at a time. One kick at a time.

A College Speech Class

Now what in the world could a college speech class and karate have in common? Hmmmm…..makes you wonder, doesn’t it? Yesterday my son – my high school aged son – delivered a speech in his communications class. When he was done his teacher told him how impressed she was with his composure and delivery. It was such a good speech that she wanted to have a copy of it to share with students in the years to come.

Still no idea how this relates to karate? Starting to wonder if this is just an excuse for a mom to brag about her fabulous kid? Well don’t. I’ll explain it.

Its like this. My son has trained in karate for almost ten straight years. He’s developed a confidence in himself and the ability to think quickly. He didn’t read the speech exactly as he’d written it. He ad libbed a line here and there. He could think on his feet and react to changes as necessary. His confidence drove him forward.

Plus, he spent a lot of time writing the speech. That’s that practice thing coming into play. He could have just written a first draft and said it was good enough. But he knew it wasn’t. It takes time to perfect a thing. Just like karate training. You do it. You redo it and you learn from what you did.

I think parents who put their children in the martial arts are giving them an incredible gift. It makes for a stronger child. A more confident student. It instills discipline and makes them leaders. How do I know this? All five of my children trained. I see the adults the other four have become. And I see the seeds blossoming in the fifth.

Give your child the gift that will help them the rest of their lives. Give them martial arts training. Its the nicest thing you can do for them.

You Never Quit Learning

Far too often karate students think achieving black belt means they’ve reached the pinnacle of their craft and there’s nothing left to learn. That couldn’t be further from the truth. I’ve had my belt for quite a few years now – I can’t believe how many actually – and I’m still learning.

Sometimes lessons come when I’m in a class and sometimes they come when I’m teaching. Last night was one of those teaching moments. I can remember my instructor explaining to me, when I was in the last months before my Shodan test, that I’d stretched him to a new level as he’d had to reevaluate something he was teaching. I wasn’t getting it and he couldn’t teach it the same ole way.

He actually thanked me for being a ‘difficult’ student. It makes me laugh now because I totally understand now what he meant. Last night I found a way to explain something simply and the student got it. It took their karate from okay to really good. The student got it. Seeing the problem was the first part of the battle but understanding how to explain and get the change I wanted wasn’t as simple.

It stretched me as an instructor and gave me a greater, deeper understanding of the technique. You never quit learning, no matter what rank you are. Last night proved it. Thanks to my student for helping me gain a greater insight. Nothing beats teaching the martial arts.

Keeping it fun

As Thanksgiving loomed large on the horizon last Wednesday I recognized that many people would be scurrying around preparing for the holiday or traveling out of town. Those who came into train deserved a special class. I wanted to make it fun but they still needed to learn something.

For a few minutes, as I planned the class, a sense of despair washed over me. Fun. How could I make it something they’d want to do without resorting to my regular ‘fun’ drills. It took a little bit but I remembered a game I’d played a long time ago for warm up. Tic Tac Toe. Who doesn’t love it? And better yet, everyone knows how to play.

So, I set up my ‘board’ and got to it. Normally warm-up lasts ten minutes and there’s always one student or another starting to lag, not wanting to do the drills. But not Wednesday. We ran a full fifteen minutes, with the same warm-up integrated into the game. Best of all, they all went hard, doing the drills. Heck, they didn’t want to stop. Inspired I took my bag work drills and figured out a way to make them into a ‘game’ as well. Serious work. Just don’t let your foot cross the line. Defend your space. And it worked.

Sometimes as an instructor we find it hard to get that balance. Fun and useful at the same time. We have this tendency to resort to the tried and true drills or we have no choice as students are hitting up against a test deadline and certain skills have to be practiced.

Wednesday was fun for my students and for me. I’m going to take the lessons I learned and use them as I move forward. You can make it fun and still demand the best from your students. Its worth the extra effort.

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