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.

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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.

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.

Never Stop Learning

One of the things I’ve discovered after I became a shodan and then a nidan was how much I still had to learn. I’ve been getting some pretty cool lessons from a fellow black belt – a shodan I respect a lot. My son.

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to watch him teach a class. He was kind and patient, while being firm. He explained things thoroughly without talking too much. There was time to do the skills and the pacing of the class was perfect. Plus he was teaching a student who did not speak English.

I’d talked to him about the student before and how I’d helped to coach him through his first class. Just a couple of pointers and then left it at that. I’ve had students who were deaf, who’ve had Aspergers and a plethora of other problems. And I’ve raised five kids. Handling them isn’t such a daunting task. I was pleased to see he’d listened and adapted my techniques to his style. That’s the real key. You can’t always do it exactly how the other person did. Sometimes you have to make it fit you and the situation. He never missed a beat and had the child counting in English before the class was over. He captivated the interest of a three-year-old and that’s an accomplishment in itself.

Yeah, I learned something yesterday. For me, the lesson was bittersweet. It was about letting my son fly solo and soar on to success. I’m a proud black belt and an even prouder mom.

The Sum Total

One of the things I regularly teach in my classes has to do with attitude. What you practice in the dojo is what you’ll do when it comes time to defend yourself. Sure, adrenaline will give you an added boost but it could also cloud your mind as you stumble trying to figure out what to do. Muscle memory – that’s the key to being able to really defend yourself. Oh sure, using your hips, as I’ve mentioned before, big punches, all of those are important as well, but in the end it boils down to good old fashioned muscle memory.

What your body does in a time of crisis is what it has learned to do. What have you taught it? Instinctively, you will mirror your dojo training if you’re assaulted. What you teach it is important. As an instructor, I can coach you along, demanding you push yourself to do your best, striving to attain new limits but in the end its up to the student to dig deep, providing that added something to their training.

What are you going to bring to the situation? Most students, when they come into class, don’t think about being attacked. They think more about doing their kata, or their basics to get ready for an exam. I know that. I also know, the reality of being attacked is out there for all of us. No, I’m not paranoid, I’m just realistic. I wish the world was made up of completely nice people but that isn’t the case. I’m reading more and more news articles about young girls – very young girls – and boys being attacked. Pedophiles are an unfortunate reality, the same with rapists. These situations are the real test.

Remember, you are the sum total of your training. What will you do next time you train? I’d suggest you look in the mirror – see an attacker then handle him the best way you can. Through repetitions you’ll be ready and the best martial artist you can be.

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.

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.

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