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.

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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.

Staring into the face of danger

Yesterday, unexpectedly, I got to train in the class I teach. It was so much fun to partner up and do the drills. There’s nothing like banging a bag and slamming kicks in on a Monday. Just the best feeling to get some energy flowing out and releasing any and all frustrations.

It was a particularly fun class because I had a great partner. We locked eyes and went hard with each other. I couldn’t help thinking what it would be like to be face to face with a crazy person intent on hurting you. Literally staring into the face of danger. I wonder if it’s harder for women than men, something about the way we’re raised. I’m not positive but I’m pretty darned sure I wouldn’t have an issue. Let’s face it, if someone wants to hurt me, I’m not going to take my eyes off that person. Everything…absolutely everything in that instant depends upon it.

As an instructor I’ve seen how hard it is for a student to maintain eye contact. It’s something I focus on in my classes. It’s that important. Training isn’t just going through the moves, its about learning skills – lessons that will save your life. Karate is more than kata, a set of choreographed moves. Karate is about focus. And nothing demands focus like staring into the face of danger.

Could you do it if you needed to? Would you be aware of the next attack? It takes practice. And attitude. Start training with that in mind today.

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.

Persistence. Practice. Repeat.

I was thinking about this the other day – how karate affected my writing. Both writing and the martial arts share the need to practice. You’ll never get better as a karate student if you don’t do punches every day and you’ll never become a better writer if you don’t spill words on the page everyday. Consistency with both seems to be the key. I’ve watched students who have struggled day in and day out. They never gave up. Each practice made them a little bit better and brought them a step closer to their goal. I’ve seen the same thing happen with writers that I coach.

Persistence. That undying attitude that makes you get up each day and say, “I can do one thing and I’ll do it the best I can.” Both writing and karate demand that. It’s funny, it wasn’t until this morning that I realized earning my black belt is why I finally wrote a novel. I know, one thing doesn’t seem to have anything to do with the other, does it?

When I started karate, I didn’t say, “One day I’ll be a black belt”. I just wanted to have fun and earn my yellow belt. That was it. Plain and simple. Each rung on the ladder brought me a little closer towards black belt. Until I finally got there. It was the same with the novel. Usually I wrote short stories or books for kids. Novels took too long. I couldn’t commit myself. Then I wrote one chapter. Followed by the next. By focusing on each chunk of it, taking small bites of an idea and sharing them I trudged my way through to a finished novel. I’m confident now I can do it again and I can do it with other things, too. I can do anything I set my mind to.

So can you. Throw one punch after the other. Practice your karate watching yourself in your bathroom mirror. Get into stance and walk down your hallway. Catch in the small minutes of practice and before you know it you’ll have climbed another rung on the ladder.

It just takes practice. We aren’t born knowing how to do karate. Or how to write. Whatever you dream, go out and do one small thing, bringing yourself a step closer to making it become a reality.  Persistence. Practice. Repeat.

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