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.

Ego and the Martial Artist

e·go
ˈēɡō/
noun
  1. a person’s sense of self-esteem or self-importance.
    “a boost to my ego”
    PSYCHOANALYSIS
    the part of the mind that mediates between the conscious and the unconscious and is responsible for reality testing and a sense of personal identity.

Okay, now that we’ve defined what it means, how does the ego affect the martial artist? We all have an ego, whether we realize it or not. In this day and age, whenever ego is mentioned it’s always with a negative connotation.

A good martial artist will have an ego that allows them to understand their abilities and limitations. They will know that there is always someone bigger, stronger and more capable than they are. Part of knowing that is what fuels the martial artist to keep practicing and growing in their art. That’s the good part of the ego.

Unfortunately, all to oftenb the ugly part of the ego takes over some black belts. Its normal and natural to stand on the training floor going through your kata, moving your arms in moves such as inside blocks or punching. There’s a sad truth about most of us. We can’t recite the moves to a kata to you, we have to do them – not all out full on kata but a quieter, moving through the motions. When you see a black belt absorbed in themselves doing the moves chalk it up to them thinking part of the process through, figuring out a way to teach it or just learning a new kata. And that’s all good.

It’s the black belt who feels the need to yell and scream making sure everyone in the room is looking at them. That’s the martial artist with an overly large ego, overflowing with self-importance. I cringe every time I see it happen. I know that what could be a good karate student (we are always students) isn’t as good as he or she can be because they are looking for attention. Karate isn’t about that. Humility is the key to progressing. Always understanding that you have much to learn. If you just want to show off, my suggestion is to go and do community theatre. Come back to the dojo when you understand what being a martial artist is all about.

Humility. Sincerity. Honesty. Respect.

Why Train?

We all come to karate from different places. Some as children because their parents understand it helps with focus and respect. Others want to try a new sport and some of us wander into it as adults. That’s how I ended up on the training mat. If I hadn’t finally relented and quit saying, “Karate’s not for girls,” I probably wouldn’t be writing this today. In hindsight, it was one of the best decisions I ever made.

Karate gave my little family something we never expected. When our world changed, the dojo became our extended family. We fostered friendships 24 years ago that we still have. We shared the training, the ups and downs and wonderful successes along the way. For us, it was about more than the focus and the dedication. It truly was a family affair. Part of that was wrapped in competitions. Yeah, I travelled across the country so my four kids could compete. I was that parent. And I’m proud to brag any time you want to listen about their multiple national championships. They earned them through hard work, sweat, sore muscles and dedicated focus.

It was the massive array of trophies and ‘war stories’ that led Christopher to want to train. There’s no doubt about that. Kid number five wasn’t around during the traveling competition years and he yearned for a piece of that history to call his own. I’m not going to lie, at first I tried to dissuade him. Coming to karate just for the trophies and the glory was the wrong reason. I knew all too well about the hard work, and hours upon hours of training necessary. Competitions needed to be secondary. The training itself, for defense and the pure love of karate needed to be first. How could I explain that to a four-year-old? A quick trip into the dojo to let him watch proved he wasn’t ready. It took three years before we, as parents, were sure that he was ready.

I’m glad we waited. A miraculous thing happened. He no longer talked about the trophies, instead immersing himself into the training. He proved himself and worked as hard as a seven-year-old can. That means he had his good days and his bad days. But when the good outnumbered the bad, I knew he was ready to reach for a dream. And he started competing. And winning. I’m proud of my State Champion. He earned the trophies but more importantly he kept focused on the true reason to train. He’s no longer that little orange belt with a trophy almost as big as him. He’s a black belt and a karate instructor. It’s about being strong, being focused and taking care of himself. Training for all the right reasons. More

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.

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.

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?

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…

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.

Violent Behavior

The last of the dojo kun seems to confuse many a new student: “To refrain from violent behavior”. After all, isn’t karate about kicking and punching and inflicting pain on an opponent? Sure, when you HAVE to defend yourself. Any true martial artist will tell you, however, that you want to do everything else in your power to avoid striking someone. It’s your last recourse. It’s the thing you only do when you have NO choice.

A black belt truly practices with the hope they never have to use their martial arts skills. There are few things we learn hoping not to have to use the skills. So, it’s a unique individual who hones their skills for years on end with that kind of mindset. Perhaps, that’s one of the things that sets martial artists a part from other types of people.

As I practice, focusing on my techniques and studying body dynamics I also work on being more aware of what’s going on around me and learning to identify routes of escape, should I need to use them. Trusting in the feeling in my gut telling me something isn’t right is invaluable.

As a black belt I’d find it inexcusable if I used brute force to defuse a situation without first trying to engage the other party, using strong verbal skills to subdue the person. There’s more than one way for a martial artist to take control. Think about that the next time tempers are exploding around you. Give yourself some distance to allow your words to control the situation.

Refrain from violent behavior. Unless you have no other choice.