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.

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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.

What you practice

I can teach a student to kick and punch, to knee someone and do awesome hammer fists, giving them the tools they need to defend themselves. But I cannot give them them spirit. That comes from within and is the key component to successful self defense. That spark that resides in them, that fuels their passion and is aided by adrenaline coursing through their bodies – I cannot give them that. Each of us must dig deep and discover our own spirit, incorporating it into their daily attitude.

Unfortunately, as I’ve explained to students, what you do in class is all you have when it comes to defending yourself. If you fling your arms out, without using your body effectively – hip action, body rotation, etc. – then all you’ll have are arms and legs flailing about. They won’t land on their target with sufficient force to deflect an attack. Bringing spirit to class is the difference between a student who labors through every single belt and one who appears to breeze through the classes. Sure, other factors come into play, such as coordination and general athleticism but spirit can help every student rise above those things.

What you practice is what you become. Muscle memory takes over in a time of crisis and need. What will you bring to the fight? Don’t wait until you need it, start honing and using your spirit now. Remember. Spirit first. Everything else will follow.

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.

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