Keeping it fresh

The best classes from a student standpoint are the ones that zoom by, working on new skills and different sets of drills. Keeping it fresh and exciting helps the student to stay engaged. The very same is true for the instructor as well. Going in and teaching the same old stuff over and over again begins to create apathy and monotony for the teacher as well.

There’s an interesting challenge for the martial artist as they impart knowledge to their students. Not only do they have to create energy and excitement in class but they also have to prep their students for upcoming exams, making sure they know all of the skill sets assigned to that particular belt level.

Sometimes its hard. You rack your brain, search the internet and look to other instructors for help. All good solutions. I’d like to suggest one other idea, you might keep in mind. What are the drills that you liked doing as you were coming up through the ranks? Is there a nugget of a new idea you can glean from those drills? Relax and think about it. I’m going to be honest, sometimes I take an idea designed for the younger students and modify it only slightly and I have what feels like a game for the more advanced students. Little do they know, the whole time they are doing it that they’re working on their muscle memory and perfecting their techniques.

They say, “Everything old becomes new again”. Well, take that to heart while you’re working on your class curriculum and planning your lessons this week. Have some fun and your students will too.

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Doing What Works

As a karate instructor I’m always looking for ways to improve my teaching skills along with ways to engage and motivate my students. Along with hours of research and studying, I watch other instructors to see what works. Adding another drill or another skill set to my students repertoire is important to me.

I found a way to help them recently – it came from a video about a retired school teacher. We may teach subjects that are miles apart but teaching is the same whether its math or kata. It takes repetition. It takes practice. It takes dedication.  Watching that video made a difference in a couple of my students already. I’m glad I took the time and applied it to the dojo and my teaching.

After all, teaching is a matter of doing what works. It doesn’t matter where the idea comes from. It matters how you apply it to your own teaching style. I’m going to keep doing the drill. I like doing what works.

It’s all about the little things

Learning karate seems overwhelming when you begin. Body parts moving in opposite directions at the same time can be intimidating. I can remember being a white belt and watching the more advanced students thinking “I’ll never be able to do that”.  When I quit worrying about what was coming and focused on what I needed to do, it got a lot easier.

Yeah, like every other student I wanted to learn it all at once. I was chomping huge bites and trying to swallow them whole. It doesn’t work that way, as I found out. First, I learned how to keep my feet under me and make a good stance so I couldn’t be knocked over. After that, keeping my hands up became important. Now that I had a stance, I needed to worry about my foot position – was it wide enough? Mastering that meant my next concern was toe position for optimum balance.

Tiny little things that all mattered but didn’t have to be conquered all at once. Each one manageable when I took them one at a time.

Shotokan karate is tough. And I wouldn’t have it any other way. But if you follow the katas, learn each new skill in the order it’s presented it becomes much easier. Sensei Funikoshi knew what he was doing. Putting my trust in his teachings had a huge impact on me. (Hey, he and I share a birthday so I knew he had to be okay!)

You know the little things, like hip forward as you’re in back stance or ripping your draw hand when you punch – they aren’t too hard to get the hang of if you study them one at a time. But they make all the difference to your karate. I think most things in life are like that. Take it one step at a time. Master a skill and then move on to the next. You’ll be a black belt before you know.

Commitment

Commitment. Yikes, there’s a word that’ll have people running in terror. Okay, relax, we’re only going to talk about commitment as it relates to the martial arts.

First of all, we’re looking at actual training. It takes dedication and training, even when you want to be a couch potato. It means getting your butt in gear and doing your class to the best of your ability. It means not just going through the moves. Do them like you’re really kicking and punching someone. Do them like your life depends upon it. Who knows, one day it really might. 

All too often, I watch students in class lazily doing their basics and kata. They’d rather be anywhere else than in the dojo and it shows. What worries me is the muscle memories they’re creating. Do a thing often enough and that’s the way you’ll do it when you need it. Commit to your training. For most people we’re talking two hours a week. Seriously, you can engage yourself for that long. It’s two hours, people!

The next type of commitment is a little different. Now I’m talking about committing to your techniques. Did you know your leg is longer than your arm? Yeah, you just checked, didn’t you? It’s okay, most people do. Anyway, since the leg is longer a lot of times I see kids only wanting to kick. They throw that leg out there but don’t stretch it out completely and miss the kick. It’s even worse with punches. Those either fly into the air or strike their opponents gloves. Both scenarios have to do with fearing commitment. Trust in yourself enough and go that extra bit to land the kick and punch. It’s all about commitment.

chuck-commitment

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.

See it. Believe it.

I’ve been doing karate training for quite a while now, obviously. Over time I guess I’ve developed a rather unorthodox training style. Sure, I get out on the mat just like anyone else and go through the basics, going hard and strong, focused on myself and my technique. I listen to what my instructor tells me and I try to improve. That’s not the unorthodox part.

What’s different in my training style, I guess, is the way I practice outside of the dojo. Without a large open space to practice at home I’ve had to take my kata and break it into parts, doing only certain portions at a time, refining them and working on them until there is improvement. “So what?” you’re probably thinking. A lot of people do that. You’re completely right. I am sure they do. If they’re not, I hope they start. That’s really not the ‘difference’ in the way I train.

I also train in my head. No, I’m not crazy. Well, I don’t think so anyway, but that’s probably a matter for another day. Let me explain what I mean when I refer to my mind training. If I’m having a struggle with a technique or just want to improve it, tighten it up and get stronger at it I visualize myself doing it over and over again correctly. I can almost feel my muscles doing it while I play the scene over and over again in my head.

I see it. I believe it. I believe that I CAN do it. And guess what? The next time that I jump onto the mat, usually I can. And I do. It’s almost always better than the last time I practiced it in the dojo. Now, before you get all excited and think that you can just daydream all of your training, that’s not going to work. You still have to physically do it. Karate is all about dripping sweat, aching muscles, and persevering through the pain to reach a new level, a new place to start all over again, training towards perfection. A great way to get stronger and build character along the way.

The power of the mind to help you visualize and believe in yourself doing it is a pretty awesome tool to use though as a supplement to your actual karate training. It’s also really handy when you can’t sit at a stoplight and do the move. Yeah, I’m that crazy lady doing inside blocks waiting for the light to turn green. Again…that’s a whole other story for another day.

Manner

Before I come to the dan exam, not only do I have to practice hard and consistently but I also have to write two papers. One is on the history of karate, which I think I’m going to expand on and include the history of women in karate, as that’s of personal interest to me and hopefully inspiring to young girls who might consider taking up the life-changing sport.

I also have to write one on manner. At first glance the paper on manner might seem boring and easy but the more I think about what karate manner is and what it means to the athlete the more important this ‘little’ subject is.

We teach manner all the time. Is it just bowing when you enter on the mat or when you leave? Is it just used when you begin the class? Is it only used when you greet your instructor? Of course not. Manner permeates all parts of the student’s karate life.

Manner equates to not just how you conduct yourself within the dojo but the respect that you give to your instructor, yourself and your opponent.  For example, of course you bow to your opponent before you begin a technique, you’re showing respect. But aren’t you also respecting them and their abilities when you bow, keeping your eyes on them? Aren’t you also showing respect to them when you don’t turn your back? Aren’t you respecting yourself when you train hard, sweating bullets, repeating the same small little technique over and over again until you get it right?

You’re respecting yourself, your instructor who is training you and the great masters before them that devised the katas, training drills to better teach the lowly students how to reach great heights with karate.

Manner is shown through so many things, acknowledging your Sempais, your Sensei and your Shihan. It is also shown through hard work. Practice. Repetitive drills until you master one tiny little technique. Manner begins with the bow and never ends…

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