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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What’s Your Attitude?

Yesterday I had conversations with two different children about the same thing. Attitude. Not that they were surly or difficult, because they weren’t. They just didn’t have the ‘no one is going to touch me’ kind of attitude. Both are really sweet kids and with great dispositions. Turning on the light switch for them – changing that attitude – is harder.

I’d like to think I’m the same way, but for me it’s second nature. I’m all fun and happiness until you want to hurt me and mine. Guys are like that, women not as often unless you mess with their children. Perhaps I find it easier to tap into the mama bear mindset than most. Going from zero to sixty takes practice and persistence, which is what I explained to the kids.

They seemed to understand but it will take continual focus – just like anything else you want to learn – before they get it. So, ask yourself, what’s your attitude? Could you defend yourself if you had to? If not, call a local martial arts school and have a chat with them. Find out what programs they offer and pick the one that’s the right fit for you. Make sure their attitude is about safety and not fees.

I want everyone to be safe. Make that call today.

 

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

Finding Balance

Finding balance. That’s a tricky one. It’s something I struggle with in my personal life, for sure. I want to do everything, and help everyone. Unfortunately, that’s not always possible and more importantly, it’s not always healthy. Finding balance means taking time for yourself as well as others.

What does this have to do with karate? For me a lot. I’ve had to juggle a business, a family, and various creative passions all along side my karate life. The things I just mentioned have a way becoming roadblocks to your training. It just happens.

The other day I was thinking back to when I wanted to return to karate. I’d had to stop and take a break due to both my work schedule and I’d had a new baby. Juggling an infant along with training was nearly impossible. I went back to training when he began his karate journey. And I made my husband a promise. Karate would not take over my life. Again. I’d maintain balance. Anyone who knows me now, knows I lied. Sort of. Achieving my goal meant training literally morning, noon and night for a while. But just for a while. After I earned my black belt I made sure to cut back on my training a bit to make time for my family.

The tough part of teaching the martial arts isn’t giving the instruction – it’s the hours you have to keep. You teach when students can come to class, which means evenings away from home. No family dinners. No family time. For me, finding balance meant I didn’t teach late every night. Just most. And I get to teach with my son now, which means we spend lots of time together. That helps.

Finding balance. That’s the key. I”m still a work in progress. In both my personal and professional life. But martial arts has given me the focus and determination to keep working to make that happen.

I think I can, I think I can…

A little while ago I was sitting in a coffee shop chatting about writing and life. One of the things that came up in conversation had to do with that confidence you had as an 18-year-old ready to venture out into the world. You believed you could do anything, that you’d conquer the world and nothing was going to stop you. Somewhere along the way life or reality or some strange mix of those things started slowing you down. You questioned more. You wondered if you could. You didn’t blindly leap into a situation confident that things would work out. At eighteen you had less to lose, or so it seemed.

Driving home I kept thinking about our conversation, trying to put this confidence thing into some kind of perspective. As we age and experience life we realize some of our limitations. We know life isn’t the fairy tale we imagined it to be. We cannot do some of the things we thought we could because our jobs take over or we don’t make enough money or some other barrier that we place in the way gets in the way.

I couldn’t help but wonder why I thought I could do karate as an adult. I’d had four kids before I ever put on a gi. I wasn’t the same girl I’d been when I lettered in tennis in high school. Maybe I hadn’t gotten the memo that I couldn’t do it. I did it because I thought I could. So I did. And every single day I went in the dojo trained I believed I could do it. The funny thing is, I still think I can.

Last night the class was given a drill to do. Kick your partner in the head with a front leg round house kick. Physically I struggle to get my kick that high but I can still do it, just not for extended periods of time. Watching the class a plan popped into my head. I’ll set up a stretching device in our garage and work on my flexibility. In no time at all I’ll be doing as many kicks as the kids. I still believe I can do it. And because of that, I will. Yeah, I’m not as young as I used to be but I’m only as old as I let myself be.

“I think I can, I think I can…” Believe in yourself, whether you want to earn a black belt, write a best seller or climb Mt. Everest. Let’s face it, you’ll never do any of those things until you believe you can. Be confident. Make a plan and take it one step at a time. You can do anything you set your mind to. How do I know? Because I did. And I still am.

 

In the Stillness

There are moments when my passions intersect, unexpectedly and deliciously. Today, one of those collisions occurred, bringing me another step forward in my karate training. Let me back up and explain, just a little bit. Last night, I was teaching my creative writing class, explaining to students the value that stillness brings when you’re trying to create tension. The story zooms along this thing and that happening to your hero and then, in the quiet, the reader absorbs it all and tensions are amplified. For example, the phone rings in a horror movie. We all scream “don’t answer it,” but of course, the actor does. Tension has started mounting in us but doesn’t come to fruition until the “hello” is met with silence. Who’s there? What’s going on? Tension mounts.

And poof, I went from thinking about this to an instructor I used to know. He ran around the room bellowing at the top of his lungs, a constant barrage of words assaulting the students. The words bounced around, deflected, creating a false sense of energy, none of it generated by the students. Oh, believe me, I know and appreciate the value my voice can bring to a class. That’s actually my point. Ramping up the energy, getting the students to move and respond. I can be as loud as the best of them. But I also need to give my students moments for their energy to fill the void. To let them settle into the stillness, reflecting my words. To do the best karate they can do. In the stillness.

Some of the hardest classes I’ve ever taken have been a quiet study of techniques. Holding them for long periods of time. Studying the hip movement associated with a solid punch, the hip vibrations, as the punch settles on its target. Inside blocks. Outside blocks, all the same thing. Up blocks, the twisting and turning of the torso to maximize power. These moments come when I focus on me. Not on the instructor. They happen in the stillness.

An instructor who fills every atom of space with their voice demands the attention be on them, instead of focused on the karate. The best karate happens in the stillness of time and space, when the student becomes one with the technique. That’s how I see it, anyway.

It’s Been A Very Long While

Here I go again. Another May and another resurrection of my blog. I’m ashamed of myself for letting it languish without attention, yet, I’ve been so incredibly busy which is why I haven’t posted. That’s part of the story, anyway.

I let it slide after I made Shodan, because, well, I’d reached my goal. I think that’s like a lot of martial artists that I know. You get to where you were going and you’re done. Luckily for me, it was only the blog that stopped. I’ve still been training. More importantly, I’ve been learning a lot as well. And isn’t that what matters?

As I thought about what my first blog post would say I also contemplated changing the name. You see, I’m not a Shodan any more. I’ve climbed one more rung on the ladder and learned a little bit more so I’m a Nidan. Why do I make it sound like I haven’t learned too much? Simple. There’s so much still left to learn. Just like reaching Shodan is the real beginning, Nidan is a baby step in the scheme of things. I have a lot more to learn. About martial arts. About training. About teaching. About spirit. About body connection. And those are just the things that I can think of off the top of my head.

Being a martial artist is a lifelong journey. I’ve been training a very long while…and I’ll be learning for the rest of my life.

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