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.

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.

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