The Benefits of Teamwork

Karate is by and large an individual sport. Each student strives to attain their personal best while working within a class. When you think of teamwork your mind instantly conjures up baseball or basketball games, where a group of players is working together. Think back to the recent Super Bowl – it wouldn’t have been possible if each team hadn’t focused on the same goal, working together for success. But that’s not true with karate.

So, what happens when you introduce the team concept into a martial arts class? Something quite interesting. I’ve used this technique to pull up a weaker student and it works. Kids understand being part of a team and love the idea of fitting with others. I let them know we’re doing the class as a team, encouraging them to rise up the to same level. The kid who is normally lazy isn’t. The kid who struggles to focus, suddenly fixes his attention on himself. Nobody wants to be the weakest link. I don’t. Do you?

Taking it to the next level I create teams for kata, making sure to mix up my levels at this point. I don’t want one team dominating the rest. The strongest and the weakest can end up in the same group, with the least vocal leading the team. It is amazing to see what happens.

Teamwork. If you’re an instructor, give it a try. Heck, even a parent can borrow this system to get the chores done. Think about it as a clever way to get what you want while the student grows. I’d call that a win-win situation.

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.

Walking the Walk

Lately I’ve been spending even more hours in the dojo as I add another job title to my list of titles. Some days it feels like I practically live within those walls. And that’s okay – it is my home away from home and has been for twenty-five years. My new position requires me to talk to the parents and students more and I’m starting to feel more comfortable with the duties. Actually, if I were being honest, I’m having a blast. I get to be the ‘fun’ person making sure everyone is taken care of. Almost like the dojo room mom….but not quite.

As I perform my new duties, along with my teaching, I have become much more aware of how important it is to not only walk the walk, but to teach the kids early on, how to do it as well. For me, one of the most important aspects of karate and being a black belt is humility. Ego has no place inside your gi. None.

Now, I’m not saying students should’t take pride in their accomplishments. Of course they should! Its hard work learning complicated skills and progressing along the path towards Shodan and Shodan Ho. Bragging and showing off aren’t the signs of a black belt. Not a true black belt. I know some who have to make sure everyone knows what they know, prancing about the floor doing kata so parents and students alike watch. It makes me sad to see it.

I’ll keep trying to lead by example, sharing my passion and enthusiasm with the kids. I’m walking the walk, and lately, talking the talk, too. Being a martial artist is truly a way of life.

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.

Persistence

I’ve never seen a student, in all of my years of training and teaching, who hasn’t succeeded when they have stuck with their training. Yeah, some of them have progressed slowly, but the important thing is, they have progressed. One of the things I love about the martial arts is that we’re not in a race or competing against anyone else. Its about doing your personal best.

Its an important lesson for everything in life, hang in there and keep trying. Don’t give up, even when it gets hard. I guess I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately. There were times in my own training when I questioned why I was doing it because I was struggling with one move or technique. Or a kata. Heian Sandan was almost my undoing. The first four moves. Trying to perfect them seemed impossible. Today, I look at them and think “a piece of cake”. Funny what time and practice can do.

Yesterday, my youngest son proved once again what persistence can do. He reached a personal milestone – ten straight years of training. That’s a long time in a kid’s life. And he struggled through some of it like everyone else. Today he wears his black belt with pride. He looks and acts like a Shodan.

And his students look at him with admiration. They want to be like him. He wears the title Sensei with honor and respect.

Persistence. That’s the magic potion that got both of us to where we are today. Don’t give up – especially when it gets hard. The rewards are immense for you and for those walking the path behind you. After all, you’re their inspiration. Remember, you can do anything you set your mind to.

Karate Guys Don’t Cry

Yeah, you read that right. Karate guys don’t cry. They don’t let their emotions show. Restraint. That’s the word that I think most people think of when they consider what being a martial artist is about. Okay, maybe not restraint. They probably think of punching and kicking. Yelling and screaming.

So, I might as well make a confession. This karate ‘guy’ (yes, I use that term interchangeably) has cried more than they’d like to admit. And in the dojo even. Of course, in my defense, while the big fat tears were plopping on the mat I was handing my youngest child his Shodan Ho belt. They were tears of joy, with no way to stop them.

Since I’m making confessions I’ll share this as well. This karate girl even occasionally gives out hugs in the dojo. Last night one of my students was so overwhelmed she gave me several. I felt special. I knew that she cared about me and she also knew I cared for her. All the hours being bossy and yelling in class were absorbed with love. Making her a strong young lady has been my only goal for her. And its working.

Heck, since I’m in free confession mode here I might as well spill the rest of the beans. I even hold kiddos hands and help to coax my students through moments when they feel insecure. It happens more than you’d think. Last night a younger student was afraid to try a drill. She hung back, shaking her head, fear dominating her. Until I held her hand and said, “Let’s do it together.” What happened next warmed my heart. She did the drill and went on to have a blast in the class. We’d wrapped lessons in fun and she beamed the whole time.

Being a martial artist is so much more than changing students. Its about caring. Yes, this sensei does cry and hold hands. I’ve done it before and I’ll do it again. Whatever it takes to make my students believe in themselves – I’m there.

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.

Finding a Way

Not everyone who comes to the dojo is excited to begin training. As an instructor I know a number of the students we see  are there because their family wants them to get one or more of the benefits karate brings. Discipline. Self control. Learning how to deal with bullies. Self confidence. The list goes on and on.

The kids who are reluctant to train aren’t hard to spot in class. As an instructor I can spot them almost instantly. Its in their body language and their disposition. But that doesn’t matter. My job is to reach them, instilling what they need. All in an hour or two a week. There are times it seems impossible, when only a magic bottle of pixie dust could possibly help me overcome the obstacles.

And then I listen. Almost always if I talk to the child and listen to what they say I can find a way to crack through their outer shell and teach them the way they need to be taught. In the silence an answer wiggles its way to the surface, letting me glean a nugget of an idea – a new way of teaching. I had one of those moments yesterday. It was spectacular. Even better, my solution when shared with the parent triggered an outpouring of even more information about this student at home and school. Boom! My idea was totally in line with what that martial artist needed.

Not all karate teaching happens with instructions yelled, words reverberating around the room. Sometimes the best moments occur when you converse with the student, learn more about their interests and ‘what makes them tick’. Finding a way to make a difference…that’s why I teach.

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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