The Benefits of Teamwork

Karate is by and large an individual sport. Each student strives to attain their personal best while working within a class. When you think of teamwork your mind instantly conjures up baseball or basketball games, where a group of players is working together. Think back to the recent Super Bowl – it wouldn’t have been possible if each team hadn’t focused on the same goal, working together for success. But that’s not true with karate.

So, what happens when you introduce the team concept into a martial arts class? Something quite interesting. I’ve used this technique to pull up a weaker student and it works. Kids understand being part of a team and love the idea of fitting with others. I let them know we’re doing the class as a team, encouraging them to rise up the to same level. The kid who is normally lazy isn’t. The kid who struggles to focus, suddenly fixes his attention on himself. Nobody wants to be the weakest link. I don’t. Do you?

Taking it to the next level I create teams for kata, making sure to mix up my levels at this point. I don’t want one team dominating the rest. The strongest and the weakest can end up in the same group, with the least vocal leading the team. It is amazing to see what happens.

Teamwork. If you’re an instructor, give it a try. Heck, even a parent can borrow this system to get the chores done. Think about it as a clever way to get what you want while the student grows. I’d call that a win-win situation.

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Walking the Walk

Lately I’ve been spending even more hours in the dojo as I add another job title to my list of titles. Some days it feels like I practically live within those walls. And that’s okay – it is my home away from home and has been for twenty-five years. My new position requires me to talk to the parents and students more and I’m starting to feel more comfortable with the duties. Actually, if I were being honest, I’m having a blast. I get to be the ‘fun’ person making sure everyone is taken care of. Almost like the dojo room mom….but not quite.

As I perform my new duties, along with my teaching, I have become much more aware of how important it is to not only walk the walk, but to teach the kids early on, how to do it as well. For me, one of the most important aspects of karate and being a black belt is humility. Ego has no place inside your gi. None.

Now, I’m not saying students should’t take pride in their accomplishments. Of course they should! Its hard work learning complicated skills and progressing along the path towards Shodan and Shodan Ho. Bragging and showing off aren’t the signs of a black belt. Not a true black belt. I know some who have to make sure everyone knows what they know, prancing about the floor doing kata so parents and students alike watch. It makes me sad to see it.

I’ll keep trying to lead by example, sharing my passion and enthusiasm with the kids. I’m walking the walk, and lately, talking the talk, too. Being a martial artist is truly a way of life.

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.

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.

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?

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