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.

A College Speech Class

Now what in the world could a college speech class and karate have in common? Hmmmm…..makes you wonder, doesn’t it? Yesterday my son – my high school aged son – delivered a speech in his communications class. When he was done his teacher told him how impressed she was with his composure and delivery. It was such a good speech that she wanted to have a copy of it to share with students in the years to come.

Still no idea how this relates to karate? Starting to wonder if this is just an excuse for a mom to brag about her fabulous kid? Well don’t. I’ll explain it.

Its like this. My son has trained in karate for almost ten straight years. He’s developed a confidence in himself and the ability to think quickly. He didn’t read the speech exactly as he’d written it. He ad libbed a line here and there. He could think on his feet and react to changes as necessary. His confidence drove him forward.

Plus, he spent a lot of time writing the speech. That’s that practice thing coming into play. He could have just written a first draft and said it was good enough. But he knew it wasn’t. It takes time to perfect a thing. Just like karate training. You do it. You redo it and you learn from what you did.

I think parents who put their children in the martial arts are giving them an incredible gift. It makes for a stronger child. A more confident student. It instills discipline and makes them leaders. How do I know this? All five of my children trained. I see the adults the other four have become. And I see the seeds blossoming in the fifth.

Give your child the gift that will help them the rest of their lives. Give them martial arts training. Its the nicest thing you can do for them.

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.

Family

Training together at the dojo, sharing the moments of pushing yourself to new limits, teaching together and understanding what it means to be a black belt has a way of forging strong bonds. The people in the dojo become family. I can certainly attest to that. If I were to make a list of friends most of them I met at the dojo. Whether it was twenty-five years ago or last week. Somehow the friendships created there last a lifetime.

Today my heart aches as it remembers one family member, no longer with us. A bright, vivacious smile and a heart as big as the world. I was lucky enough to teach with him and to train with him. His lanky limbs could keep me away, so getting inside was my only choice. I miss him today. Honestly, there’s not a day that goes by that I don’t glance at his picture in the dojo and wish he’d come strolling through the doors.

You were loved, young man. There’s a hole in the dojo nobody can ever fill. Yours was a life well lived.

“No matter how you may excel in the art of Karate, and in your scholastic endeavors, nothing is more important than your behavior and your humanity as observed in daily life.” — Ginchin Funakoshi

 

Hit By Your Friends

We have a saying in the dojo. “It’s better to be hit by your friends than your enemies.” Learning how to take a punch when the strike is thrown by someone who doesn’t want to hurt you is an invaluable aid in training. Let’s face it, if nobody ever hit you, you’d be totally unprepared the first time it happens. The bad guy – the guy on the street that’s confrontational – he wants to hurt you. Your friends don’t.

Relationships grow quickly when you’re training together. You tend to remember who was at a test with you, as you rank up. The higher the ranking, the fewer people who seem to be along for the ride with you.

And the guys who stand with you at your black belt test – they’re tied to you for life. You can’t remember the test without thinking of them. Or so I’ve heard. I tested alone. Just me and a table full of examiners all studying my every move. I’d equate it to what a specimen under a microscope would be thinking…if they could think of course.

Even though I was alone at my dan exam, it didn’t matter. I’d been surrounded by a dojo full of students most of whom at punched or kicked me at some point. The camaraderie that comes from karate is priceless. You become family with those you train with.

But that’s a story for another day.

 

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.

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