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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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.

That Moment

When I was climbing the ladder to black belt, in the time before I started teaching, my focus was one hundred percent on the techniques and how to do them correctly. Tunnel vision. Sure, I cared about body connection, hip rotation and everything else, but only as it related to what I was doing. I didn’t think about it too deeply. I had a job to do and I was going to get it done.

That’s probably why they say, “When you become a black belt is when you really start to learn”. I believe it’s true. But I’ll take it a step further and offer that when you become an instructor you truly begin to understand the potential and how to improve both yourself and students. In the very beginning I can remember the moments of trepidation when I’d correct a student. “No, move your hand here” or “that foot moves first”. I second guessed myself and walked through the moves before I’d open my mouth. Lacking confidence comes with the territory for a new instructor. I’m sure of it. Those that bluster in, loud and pushy probably never get to the next stage of teaching. (That’s my own personal philosophy. You can take it or leave it.)

Once the confidence hurdle was crossed an interesting thing happened. In the quiet moments of teaching an idea or concept would click in my head. I could see the solution to a problem and didn’t have to muddle through how to fix it. I loved those moments then, and I love them now. There’s only one thing better.

It’s that moment. When I run a drill with a student and I see the smile involuntarily slide across their face. Their face sparkles, illuminated as if a light just went on. Maybe because it did. I had that moment yesterday. It was fabulous. The young lady who I was coaching ‘got’ my point. She punched the bag. I don’t mean touched it with her hand, I mean she smashed her knuckles in, determined to push the bag away from her. She dove in, grabbed her confidence and went from being a little girl to a strong, confident martial artist.

Oh, if I could only have captured that moment in a picture. The look on her face. It was priceless. Best of all, she knew what had happened. She knew all my coaching, getting in her face for the past thirty minutes, had worked. She knew she could do it. That moment. That’s why I teach.

Muscle Memory

One of the hardest things about being a karate instructor is finding the right balance in tone. You want to impress upon your students – especially the younger students – that what they do in the dojo is serious and needs to be done to the best of their ability while still making it fun. The real world is a dangerous place but we don’t want to create a generation of children who become overly paranoid adults. As an instructor, I want to know my kiddos are safe. That they can defend themselves.

So sometimes I have to be tricky. Creating drills that reinforce techniques students can use to defend themselves, while giving them enough repetitions to allow for muscle memory to take over in a moment of crisis. Last night I stumbled across an easy repetition that had the kiddos grinning ear-to-ear while they did about thirty reps of a move in just about as many seconds. It was quick. It was fun. And they learned something.

That moment was why I teach. It perfectly counterbalanced the news I’d read early in the day. Stories filling me with dread and concern. There have been four attempted abductions locally. Any one could have been my student. That fact gnawed at my soul. Last night, watching their faces glow as they did the move made me happy. It let me know I’m doing the right thing and even the hard days are worth it.

If I help make just one person safe, it’s all worth it.

It’s all in the hips

I’m always explaining to my students that their hip action is the key to their karate. Most of the time I get blank stares back. But not always. At some point, a lightbulb goes on and the student begins to understand. I love those moments. They are why I teach. That and I get to do karate every single day. It doesn’t get better than that.

But, getting back to the hips. Instructors spend a lot of time telling students to work on their core. It’s important for their strength. What ties the core together, though? The hips. They are the center – the rotation and movement takes a strong move and makes it much more powerful.

Hip vibration when punching is always fun to watch as it begins to happen. But it has to happen organically. There’s nothing that makes me smile more than a class full of students trying to get the hip action, but it looks more like their doing the hula. The spirit is there, not the technique. Since all things spring from the spirit these moments are precious to me.

Getting them to rip their draw hand, focusing only on that will usually make the hips begin to move. That’s the first step. Students who understand punching from the hip – ahhh….those students have trained a long time and eventually begin to understand my rantings. “Relax. Use your hips. It’s the hips, guys. The hips.”

Yeah, just like everything else, karate is a slow progression. Peeling back the layers of the onion, there’s always something new to learn. And to perfect. How can you not love karate?

A Day of Rest

Halloween is always a dojo holiday. Children don’t want to train – they want to trick-or-treat. So, if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em. That’s pretty much become the halloween mantra. Let them have some fun and then work hard the next time they’re in.

As adults, aren’t we the same way? I’m not going to lie, I look forward to this night. I get to be home with my family. Not that I don’t love my dojo family – of course I do! Halloween becomes a delightful treat in the middle of a hectic time of year. Staying home, curling up and spending time with my family have long become my favorite halloween memories.

We all need a break now and then. Recharge the batteries. Relax. Regroup. When we come back to our training after a brief break we’re more enthusiastic and full of energy to tackle new katas, more advanced combinations and create innovative teaching techniques.

Enjoy your treats tonight. Spend time with family and make some memories. Then hop back into the dojo and work harder tomorrow.

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