Karate Guys Don’t Cry

Yeah, you read that right. Karate guys don’t cry. They don’t let their emotions show. Restraint. That’s the word that I think most people think of when they consider what being a martial artist is about. Okay, maybe not restraint. They probably think of punching and kicking. Yelling and screaming.

So, I might as well make a confession. This karate ‘guy’ (yes, I use that term interchangeably) has cried more than they’d like to admit. And in the dojo even. Of course, in my defense, while the big fat tears were plopping on the mat I was handing my youngest child his Shodan Ho belt. They were tears of joy, with no way to stop them.

Since I’m making confessions I’ll share this as well. This karate girl even occasionally gives out hugs in the dojo. Last night one of my students was so overwhelmed she gave me several. I felt special. I knew that she cared about me and she also knew I cared for her. All the hours being bossy and yelling in class were absorbed with love. Making her a strong young lady has been my only goal for her. And its working.

Heck, since I’m in free confession mode here I might as well spill the rest of the beans. I even hold kiddos hands and help to coax my students through moments when they feel insecure. It happens more than you’d think. Last night a younger student was afraid to try a drill. She hung back, shaking her head, fear dominating her. Until I held her hand and said, “Let’s do it together.” What happened next warmed my heart. She did the drill and went on to have a blast in the class. We’d wrapped lessons in fun and she beamed the whole time.

Being a martial artist is so much more than changing students. Its about caring. Yes, this sensei does cry and hold hands. I’ve done it before and I’ll do it again. Whatever it takes to make my students believe in themselves – I’m there.

Advertisements

Finding a Way

Not everyone who comes to the dojo is excited to begin training. As an instructor I know a number of the students we see  are there because their family wants them to get one or more of the benefits karate brings. Discipline. Self control. Learning how to deal with bullies. Self confidence. The list goes on and on.

The kids who are reluctant to train aren’t hard to spot in class. As an instructor I can spot them almost instantly. Its in their body language and their disposition. But that doesn’t matter. My job is to reach them, instilling what they need. All in an hour or two a week. There are times it seems impossible, when only a magic bottle of pixie dust could possibly help me overcome the obstacles.

And then I listen. Almost always if I talk to the child and listen to what they say I can find a way to crack through their outer shell and teach them the way they need to be taught. In the silence an answer wiggles its way to the surface, letting me glean a nugget of an idea – a new way of teaching. I had one of those moments yesterday. It was spectacular. Even better, my solution when shared with the parent triggered an outpouring of even more information about this student at home and school. Boom! My idea was totally in line with what that martial artist needed.

Not all karate teaching happens with instructions yelled, words reverberating around the room. Sometimes the best moments occur when you converse with the student, learn more about their interests and ‘what makes them tick’. Finding a way to make a difference…that’s why I teach.

Adapting to Change

We’ve all heard the saying, “The only constant is change”. I think that rings especially true for the martial artist. We’re trained to be observant, to watch what’s going on around us and to adapt to the situation. One minute we’re friendly and nice the the next we’re a raging bear protecting our cubs. Martial artists are ready to spring into action, to defend themselves and others, changing personalities and attitudes quicker than the David Banner turned into the Hulk.

Is this the only time a karate person can use this skill? Nope. Absolutely not. It doesn’t have to be a moment of danger for this to be a valuable skill set. Most martial artists I know also work a day job. Being able to read the situations going on around you and making adjustments to your reactions is invaluable. I’ve worked in the corporate world. Its fast. Its intense. And it is ever changing. Being able to think on your feet, to change a presentation and read the people in the room helped me to not only do a good job but to get ahead.

Think about that when you’re wondering why you should put your child in karate, or if you should train. The skills you learn in the dojo translate to the real world in a big way. Being a martial artist helps to instill and foster confidence and a unique mindset. You’re ready for whatever the world tosses your way.

Karate. It is more than a sport. Its a way of life.

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.

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.

The Sum Total

One of the things I regularly teach in my classes has to do with attitude. What you practice in the dojo is what you’ll do when it comes time to defend yourself. Sure, adrenaline will give you an added boost but it could also cloud your mind as you stumble trying to figure out what to do. Muscle memory – that’s the key to being able to really defend yourself. Oh sure, using your hips, as I’ve mentioned before, big punches, all of those are important as well, but in the end it boils down to good old fashioned muscle memory.

What your body does in a time of crisis is what it has learned to do. What have you taught it? Instinctively, you will mirror your dojo training if you’re assaulted. What you teach it is important. As an instructor, I can coach you along, demanding you push yourself to do your best, striving to attain new limits but in the end its up to the student to dig deep, providing that added something to their training.

What are you going to bring to the situation? Most students, when they come into class, don’t think about being attacked. They think more about doing their kata, or their basics to get ready for an exam. I know that. I also know, the reality of being attacked is out there for all of us. No, I’m not paranoid, I’m just realistic. I wish the world was made up of completely nice people but that isn’t the case. I’m reading more and more news articles about young girls – very young girls – and boys being attacked. Pedophiles are an unfortunate reality, the same with rapists. These situations are the real test.

Remember, you are the sum total of your training. What will you do next time you train? I’d suggest you look in the mirror – see an attacker then handle him the best way you can. Through repetitions you’ll be ready and the best martial artist you can be.

Strike First?

Self defense. Defending yourself. That means not letting someone inflict harm on you? So how do you do that? The easy answer is kicking and punching, blocking and striking. Obviously. There’s a portion that lays under the surface, seldom addressed with karate students. That’s the question of who strikes first. This is a complex question and one I completely understand not being posed to younger students. Parents spend their formative years telling their children, “Don’t hit anyone”. Some parents take this a bit further and tell their kids, “Don’t hit anyone but if they hit you – hit them back”.

Now, I’m not here to tell anyone how to raise their children. I’ve had my hands full with the five I have. I’m not saying the advice above is bad, but be ready for what the schools will tell you as we live in a world with zero tolerance. So, having a conversation with younger students about striking first is one I wouldn’t undertake.

It’s the older, more mature martial artist (yes, I think teenagers fit in this category) who need to evaluate who strikes first. I look at it this way. And as a point of clarification, I am only talking about situations where someone wants to cause me great bodily harm. This is not a school yard scenario but an abduction attempt or something similar.

I have two options.

  • Option 1 – Let them strike me first
  • Option 2 – A preemptive strike

Let’s look closer at the options. Option 1, letting them offer the first punch leaves me in a position of having to block them and possibly being injured and less able to defend myself.  The second option, a preemptive strike means I land the first punch and take control of the situation. It also means I might have to prove that I felt imminent danger and only did so to defend myself. Another words, I’d better be positive that there were no other options available to me. I’d rather be standing there talking to the authorities about why I punched someone than on the ground, needing medical attention. Or worse.

So for me, there’s no choice. Option two clearly plays out best. Until I consider another scenario. Getting myself out of harms way by creating distance from the aggressor is and will always be my first line of defense. If I can move away from someone who wants to hurt me, that’s what I’m going to do. And I’m going to do it yelling and screaming at the top of my lungs. I don’t want to have to physically defend myself unless I have no other choice. And the, believe me, I’m going to do it as strongly and as fiercely as I possibly can. You should, too.