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.

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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

 

It’s all in the hips

I’m always explaining to my students that their hip action is the key to their karate. Most of the time I get blank stares back. But not always. At some point, a lightbulb goes on and the student begins to understand. I love those moments. They are why I teach. That and I get to do karate every single day. It doesn’t get better than that.

But, getting back to the hips. Instructors spend a lot of time telling students to work on their core. It’s important for their strength. What ties the core together, though? The hips. They are the center – the rotation and movement takes a strong move and makes it much more powerful.

Hip vibration when punching is always fun to watch as it begins to happen. But it has to happen organically. There’s nothing that makes me smile more than a class full of students trying to get the hip action, but it looks more like their doing the hula. The spirit is there, not the technique. Since all things spring from the spirit these moments are precious to me.

Getting them to rip their draw hand, focusing only on that will usually make the hips begin to move. That’s the first step. Students who understand punching from the hip – ahhh….those students have trained a long time and eventually begin to understand my rantings. “Relax. Use your hips. It’s the hips, guys. The hips.”

Yeah, just like everything else, karate is a slow progression. Peeling back the layers of the onion, there’s always something new to learn. And to perfect. How can you not love karate?

That Feeling

Tonight there’s another dan exam in the dojo. These are a special time for all of us to not only test the new candidates but to take a moment and reflect up on where we came from. Once upon a time, each of us sitting on the board was in the same position as those testing tonight.

No matter how long ago it was we remember the butterflies in our stomachs, the confidence we had to muster and the energy of the room. We will never forget which katas we had to do – in fact they became inherently ‘our’ kata. The one we formed a long term attachment to, just like the people we tested with. Each black belt can tell you who else was there on the floor with them.

I was alone. A solitary student with a board of examiners watching my every move. There were no moments when the black belts were looking at someone else. Their attention was glued on me – and only me. Testing by myself also meant no breaks while the others did their katas. It was just me. All me.

And I did not test as a young, energetic student. I’d had one of those milestone birthdays- you know the ones that end with a zero. Not to say I didn’t have energy, because I did. The passion lighting my fire to succeed burned long and bright within my core. I was determined to do this and to do the very best that I could.

I did my requisite two heian katas and my black belt kata confident that I’d done them to the best of my ability. Then my instructor asked for another heian kata. And another. He didn’t stop until I’d demonstrated them all. I remember thinking, “Hey, you’re changing the rules on me,” but I didn’t show it in my face or my body language. If that’s what he wanted, to test me on everything I knew, then I’d give him what he wanted. Instinctively, I knew it was about throwing me a curve ball to see how I’d react and to test my endurance.

I ended that test knowing I’d done my best and I can still remember the feeling of my hands trembling as I put on the black belt for the first time. My test was on an Friday night early in April. When we got home that night, snow brushed the ground. In Southern California – snow in April, in the desert. You know that old expression – “When hell freezes over”. That’s the other thing I’ll never forget about that night.

To this day it makes me chuckle. Maybe that’s what some people thought. I’d never earn my belt. By working long and hard, I proved them wrong.

I can’t wait to watch the young men testing tonight. I wonder what they’ll remember most from this experience?

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.

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.

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