A Day of Rest

Halloween is always a dojo holiday. Children don’t want to train – they want to trick-or-treat. So, if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em. That’s pretty much become the halloween mantra. Let them have some fun and then work hard the next time they’re in.

As adults, aren’t we the same way? I’m not going to lie, I look forward to this night. I get to be home with my family. Not that I don’t love my dojo family – of course I do! Halloween becomes a delightful treat in the middle of a hectic time of year. Staying home, curling up and spending time with my family have long become my favorite halloween memories.

We all need a break now and then. Recharge the batteries. Relax. Regroup. When we come back to our training after a brief break we’re more enthusiastic and full of energy to tackle new katas, more advanced combinations and create innovative teaching techniques.

Enjoy your treats tonight. Spend time with family and make some memories. Then hop back into the dojo and work harder tomorrow.

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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?

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.

Ego and the Martial Artist

e·go
ˈēɡō/
noun
  1. a person’s sense of self-esteem or self-importance.
    “a boost to my ego”
    PSYCHOANALYSIS
    the part of the mind that mediates between the conscious and the unconscious and is responsible for reality testing and a sense of personal identity.

Okay, now that we’ve defined what it means, how does the ego affect the martial artist? We all have an ego, whether we realize it or not. In this day and age, whenever ego is mentioned it’s always with a negative connotation.

A good martial artist will have an ego that allows them to understand their abilities and limitations. They will know that there is always someone bigger, stronger and more capable than they are. Part of knowing that is what fuels the martial artist to keep practicing and growing in their art. That’s the good part of the ego.

Unfortunately, all to oftenb the ugly part of the ego takes over some black belts. Its normal and natural to stand on the training floor going through your kata, moving your arms in moves such as inside blocks or punching. There’s a sad truth about most of us. We can’t recite the moves to a kata to you, we have to do them – not all out full on kata but a quieter, moving through the motions. When you see a black belt absorbed in themselves doing the moves chalk it up to them thinking part of the process through, figuring out a way to teach it or just learning a new kata. And that’s all good.

It’s the black belt who feels the need to yell and scream making sure everyone in the room is looking at them. That’s the martial artist with an overly large ego, overflowing with self-importance. I cringe every time I see it happen. I know that what could be a good karate student (we are always students) isn’t as good as he or she can be because they are looking for attention. Karate isn’t about that. Humility is the key to progressing. Always understanding that you have much to learn. If you just want to show off, my suggestion is to go and do community theatre. Come back to the dojo when you understand what being a martial artist is all about.

Humility. Sincerity. Honesty. Respect.

Aches, Pains and Other Excuses

We do it all the time. Make excuses. I can’t do this because I have to pick up the kids in an hour. I can’t do that because I have to wash my hair. We all do it, just our excuses are different. Last night was almost one of those nights for me. Almost. Thankfully, I decided to push through the aches and pains and kept on going.

I’ve had this nagging cough for a while, which gets in the way of training sometimes. I step off, hack for a minute and hop back into class. And then my feet. They’re another story. Having flat feet is no great thrill when they start to ache. Thank you plantar fasciitis for coming to visit. And of course, the hacking cough brought a new friend with it – the muscles in my ribcage spasm and have their own brand of fun. Ahhh…and because that just wasn’t enough, my left elbow and my right shoulder both thought they needed to grab my attention. Now, before you feel sorry for me, realize the aches and pains come and go. More importantly, they don’t derail me. I had the best time doing three step sparring, running through the basics and kata. It was a blast. If I’d have listened to the excuses welling up, I’d have missed out on a great class.

The moral of the story? Don’t let a little ache or pain become a big excuse. One of my students during warm up groaned, “it hurts”. Working on becoming more flexible he stretched a little more than he was used to. It was a good pain. I try to keep it all in  perspective. No pain. No gain. I’m in training for the long haul. So my feet and other body parts had better get used to it. It’s all about attitude and persistence.

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