Saturday, October 22, 2016

One of these is not like the other...

As my solo karate teaching has been going on for about a year (Training Partner Ed and his family moved south last October), I'm noticing things that I never really noticed before.

For instance, whether teaching or studying the martial arts, I don't really remember comparing two karate-ka before - as in a "they are the same rank but they are very different" kind of way.

The reason I'm having to do that now is because another grading is coming up. And for the first time in a long time, I have two students going for the same new rank.

One of them is 12-year-old. He was away from the dojo for almost a year, then came back like a person possessed. His kihon, kata and kumite have all improved 10-fold. He actually came back to the dojo a better karate-ka than when he left.

The other is 10, and was away from the dojo for the summer. His basics and kata have stagnated although his kumite has improved a bit. He missed a few weeks since school started due to an injury, but his focus is good and he genuinely seems like he wants to be there.

Interestingly enough, they are fine-tuning the same kata together - going over stances, hand positions and the like - in preparation for the upcoming grading. Again, they are the same rank and have been training for roughly the same amount of time, but in everything from how they tie their belts to how they shift stances and where they place their feet, it's kinda evident that the younger student has fallen a bit behind his dojo brother.

They both will grade and probably earn their next rank, but I can already see the separation. And I do anticipate it being an issue as they continue to train through mudansha. My big fear is that I will lose my younger student if he gets frustrated by feelings of not being "as good as" his dojo mate and winds up discouraged. As often as it is said, it's usually very difficult for the younger lot to understand the idea of the individual nature of the each person's martial path.

See, when there were two of us instructing and issues like this came up, we often switched up primary teaching duties. For instance, when Training partner Ed had difficulties teaching his son on occasion (as lots of parent instructors often do) I'd take over the lesson and work with his son for a bit. IF two students didn't gel or frustration was developing, we usually staved it away by having Ed work with one student while I worked with the other. Saved everyone lots of frustration and kept the desire to learn high.

Now that it's just me and I don't have anyone to trade instruction duties with, I miss those days a lot.

What do other instructors do when they have two students who could and probably should be working at the same level but aren't? Any tips and techniques you'd like to share?


One of these is not like the other...

As my solo karate teaching has been going on for about a year (Training Partner Ed and his family moved south last October), I'm noticing things that I never really noticed before.

For instance, whether teaching or studying the martial arts, I don't really remember comparing two karate-ka before - as in a "they are the same rank but they are very different" kind of way.

The reason I'm having to do that now is because another grading is coming up. And for the first time in a long time, I have two students going for the same new rank.

One of them is 12-year-old. He was away from the dojo for almost a year, then came back like a person possessed. His kihon, kata and kumite have all improved 10-fold. He actually came back to the dojo a better karate-ka than when he left.

The other is 10, and was away from the dojo for the summer. His basics and kata have stagnated although is kumite has improved a bit. He missed a few weeks since school started due to an injury, but his focus is good and he genuinely seems like he wants to be there.

Interestingly enough, they are fine-tuning the same kata together - going over stances, hand positions and the like - in preparation for the upcoming grading. Again, they are the same rank and have been training for roughly the same amount of time, but in everything from how they tie their belts to how they shift stances and where they place their feet, it's kinda evident that the younger student has fallen a bit behind his dojo brother.

They both will grade and probably earn their next rank, but I can already see the separation. And I do anticipate it being an issue as they continue to train through mudansha. My big fear is that I will lose my younger student if he gets frustrated by feelings of not being "as good as" his dojo mate and winds up discouraged. As often as it is said, it's usually very difficult for the younger lot to understand the idea of the individual nature of the each person's martial path.

See, when there were two of us instructing and issues like this came up, we often switched up primary teaching duties. For instance, when Training partner Ed had difficulties teaching his son on occasion (as lots of parent instructors often do) I'd take over the lesson and work with his son for a bit. Saved everyone lots of frustration and kept the desire to learn high.

Now that it's just me and I don't have anyone to trade instruction duties with, I miss those days.

What do other instructors do when they have two students who could and probably should be working at the same level but aren't? Any tips and techniques you'd like to share?


Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Back in the Goju Saddle

After way too long a hiatus, we're finally back to regular karate classes. Hooray!

The break was long - too long, actually - mostly because it proved a bit more difficult than originally thought to secure a new location that was easy for students to get to and that wouldn't cost them or us an arm and a leg.

We found it - via a local church - but lots of stuff happened in the interim, including Training Partner Ed and his family moving to South Carolina in October.

Training Partner Ed's "Farewell Workout"

Posing with the U-Haul truck just before the family pulled out of their driveway for the last time.

The move happened Columbus Day weekend. By the end of October, the new space had been approved and were able to get the new dojo up and running. It was only one day a week instead of three (as I am the only one teaching and have Squirrel's tuition to pay --> I must work), but it was a place to train again.


Because of the church programs in place, Friday night has become our regular time to gi up and play. Some of my students have sports team practice or work commitments and are unable to make it, but we gained some new students and now start the class begins with a belt-tying tutorial before we fall in.


Our youngest student, Allyanna, is 5



Kata with Jovanni and Tyrone
Nia - mid-kata
  



 

The first class in late October

Nate's new belt (Yes, I stole it from his IG feed)
As this past Christmas and New Year's Day both fell on Fridays, the dojo was closed for two weeks. When our bare feet hit the mat in January, I ran a few of my senior students through some kihon and kata. They didn't know it, but it was a grading. They did very well and we now have three new third kyus in the building, including a dad who first entered the dojo when he'd bring his son to class. After sitting and watching for about six months, he kicked off his shoes and joined in. His son stopped training, but he didn't. He's worked really hard over the last year, including solo training at a local gym with Ed and me every Friday morning through the dojo hiatus. 


It's been a year of unexpected twists and turns, but we're still moving forward. Isn't that what the martial journey is all about?

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Choosing Martial Arts for your Kids : A Primer for Parents

As summer dwindles to a close, many parents are considering just what after-school and extra-curricular activities their school-aged children should participate in this school year. Physical activities - like karate and organized team sports - are often at the top of many "Let's get Johnny and Suzy involved in something" lists, which can be a very good thing, indeed. But because it's important to know what you are getting yourself and your young ones into, there are a few important things you really need to consider before you go out and buy a gi and sparring equipment including:

1. Check out the school alone before you bring your child in for a look. Just like any facility your child will be spending time in, make sure it is clean, safe and generally comfortable. Walk through the changing area/dressing rooms and actually use the bathrooms. Look around/listen to how instructors are speaking to the students and each other. Are the classes chaotic and unorganized or structured and informational? Are students encouraged to ask questions and participate by helping demonstrate techniques or expected to just do without explanation? Would you feel comfortable leaving your child there without you? If something feels off about the environment or the instruction, trust your gut. If you're fine with what you experience, stop in next time with your child.

2. Not every 10-year old is/Not every five year old isn't ready for a structured, physically challenging activity. Since you know your child better than her/his instructor does, you're probably the best judge of whether or not Junior is capable of following instructions in a group setting, sitting still/waiting his turn effectively and functioning without your hand-holding for a 30- to 45-minute class. If you aren't sure about your grade-schooler or if the instructor needs convincing about your pre-schooler, ask if your child can take a trial class to see if s/he can make it through comfortably. Many schools offer a week of or at least a few classes for free to help you figure out if the class works for your child and your family's lifestyle. Don't buy any equipment or sign any long-term agreements until you're sure the school/program is a good fit.

3. Learning any martial art is designed to take a long time. Really, the martial path is all about the journey, not the destination - and a fast trip is often not the generally recommended road. Any school or program promising to make your child into a black belt in X number of years is one you should probably run from as quickly as humanly possible. Also, let your child know that the martial path is all about delayed gratification and the Puritan Work Ethic. The hard work put in will certainly pay off, but that payoff isn't always immediately apparent - which is why is is so important that your child enjoy the time they spend in class. Children can get frustrated or "Are we there yet?" bored easily if they don't know what to expect.

4. Make sure your child is dressed appropriately for class. Whether or not instruction happens in a traditional setting with uniforms and belts/sashes or in a church basement with t-shirts and sweatpants, your child should have what s/he needs to actively participate. Watches, rings, metal headbands, jeans, pencil skirts, big belt buckles and the like can restrict movement or make for safety hazards on the mat. Also, don't rely on the instructor to keep tabs on necklaces and bracelets during the class. The best rule of thumb is to not wear any accessory not used on the mat to the training hall in the first place. 

5. Be mindful of after-school programs that offer a martial arts component where everyone must participate. Again, if your child isn't really feeling martial arts, any session where they must participate will not be pleasant for them at all, which will make for a bad experience for them, their dojo/dojang mates and their instructor. You know that feeling you get before heading into a mandatory work-related meeting that you really don't want to go to in the first place? They'll feel the same way every time Karate Day approaches if they don't want to be there. If your child has tried the class a few times and it really isn't his/her thing, talk to the program director about finding an alternate activity.


6. This is your child's activity, not yours. Just because you always wanted to study martial arts doesn't mean your child does. Sure, the discipline and character-building that martial arts instruction provides is great, but it doesn't necessarily mean your child will be as anxious to learn to do new stuff like punch/kick things and scream like a banshee as you might have been. If Suzy shows a genuine interest in joining a class, great! But if she tells you that she's not sure once she gets there AND really seems out of sorts during class AND keeps expressing to you that she doesn't want to go back AND you are more enthusiastic about going than she is, it might be time for you to sign up for class and find another activity for her.

7. Remember: It's supposed to be fun. Martial arts instruction has some built-in stressors - like the pressure of learning forms, understanding bunkai, promotions and remembering dojo etiquette - but it still should be enjoyable to the folks participating, whether they are 5 or 55. Generally speaking, participating in class and other martial arts-related activities (tournaments, seminars and/or visiting other schools) should be something your child looks forward to. When it isn't a happy experience anymore - and not just because the expectations are higher or the curriculum challenges are getting tougher - it may be time to think about exploring new activities.

Not an exhaustive list by any means, but this is enough to get you started on deciding if martial arts is right for your child. If you have any questions or are a martial artist or parent who has tips for those trying to decide if martial arts instruction is right for their child, feel free to add them in the comment section below.






Saturday, February 28, 2015

Wow - Didn't See That One Coming...

Last week, Training Partner Ed gave me a call. We usually teach together at the dojo at least once (and sometimes twice) a week and since we try to train together at least one other day each week, I thought he was calling to see what my schedule was so we could do some kata and/or bunkai drills.

Training Partner Ed and me right before
the sparring portion of our shodan grading
(May 2009)
Imagine my surprise when he told me he had decided to put his house on the market and move his family to South Carolina where he owns property. "The cost of living is much cheaper there," he said. "What's the point of having land when we're not even using it?"

As a mom in the homestretch of paying college tuition, I can totally relate to the cost of living thing. Although his oldest son just started middle school and his youngest is only in grade school, they will be flipping their tassels and moving into some institution of higher learning's dormitory before you know it. The sooner the savings starts, the easier it will be when it comes time to register for classes. It sucks to work just to pay bills, it really does. I'm happy that he and his family have found a solution for life's treadmill, I really am.

Doesn't mean I won't miss him, though.

Ed and I met at the local YWCA where I'd gone to train one day because their huge aerobics rooms had mirrors that my dojo didn't to help me be truer to my angles when learning kata Saifa. He was on the treadmill next to his wife when I walked into the weight room with a Goju t-shirt on. I'd only worn the shirt once before (it was a gift) and Ed, who had just moved to our little hamlet from New York City, nearly broke his neck getting off the treadmill to ask me where I trained. That was 2007. He started coming to my dojo shortly after and we've been friends ever since, training almost daily together in the year leading up to our shodan test, which we made it through side-by-side in 2009. We eventually left that school together and open another two years after that.

Ed with gifts from his wife
 just after his shodan grading. Notice the
big smile and the shiny new black belt
around his waist :-)
When I say he is my dojo brother, I mean it in every sense of the word. He's pushed me hard on the mat, made me want to be better at this martial thing and made me want to slug him a few times, too. I can definitely say I really am a better martial artist for having met and trained with him - but I'm also a better person.

So, yeah, waving from the curb as he and his family drive away from it for the last time won't be easy. Part of me hopes his house stays on the marketfor a minute and he'll be stuck in the frigid cold of the great State of New York for at lest another year (or two, or 10), but that's, of course, just selfish me thinking out loud.

In reality, I wish him the best: a happy, healthy life full of all the things he and his family deserve. It's kinda sad that has to be done 800 miles away, but that's what martial life encourages you to do, really, doesn't it - broaden your horizons and think outside of any given box, right?

He better write/email/text/send training videos/visit/invite me to his kids' graduations and weddings, daggone it. Plus he promised to lead the "Dance Felicia's urn around the church" brigade if I check out before he does, so he better not forget how to get back up here, LOL...

The thought of him not being just down the road makes me more than a little sad. Hopefully I'll have another few months or so to get use to the idea, at least.

Doesn't mean I have to like it, though (insert pouty emoji here)...

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Sandan: The Brand with the Three Stripes


Last Saturday, my school held its annual year-end grading. This time, I was on the floor grading, too.

I hate grading. Worse than going to the dentist. Worse than doing my taxes. Worse than dealing with my ex. Yes, it's that bad - and if I never had to do it again, I'd be totally fine with that.

But since yondan Training Partner Ed tossed my name in the hat, I was added to the candidate's list. Groovy.

My training - in an actual dojo - has been a sporadic mess due to my looks-like-retail-but-it-ain't work schedule. When grading was first mentioned, I thought it was a joke.

Right after my hair exploded...
Then came a request for a karate bio, which had to be submitted via email and include previous grading dates, rank earned and ranking instructor. After that was approved, a 50-question test was emailed to me. It was designed to be research-based (in that you were supposed to look stuff up) but it was hard. I mean REALLY hard.

In academia, the one adage always heard is this: knowing the format of the test is half the battle. I had no idea what the format of the test would be at all. Training Partner Ed worked with me - as he has for every grading since sankyu - on self-defense and kata bunkai and the like. Bunkai was a bit tricky because some of the last katas I've learned are straight Goju-Ryu, not USA Goju, which made some movements and angles different. We ironed out the wrinkles for about three weeks before the grading, but my brain was fried.

On grading day, the format was pretty similar to almost every other grading - cup-emptying warmup --> kata ---> bunkai, but the bunkai was a bit different; they had each of the four black-belt candidates (two for sandan, one for nidan and one for shodan) do a kata of his/her choice and extrapolate three techniques from the kata and demonstrate the bunkai with ukes. J, the other sandman candidate, chose Superempi as his kata (one I'm still learning) and really did the daggone thing. I chose Shisochin, but had six techniques to demonstrate. Two friends/fellow karateka, Peg and Allyson, stepped in to assist, but the seniors quickly chose the big fellas with the HUGE hands to uke for me (do the grabs and chokes).

Still not done with me, one of the first senseis I ever worked with - one who gave me hell as a white/green/purple belt and who is also a godan in small-circle jujitsu - announced that he wanted to see more "ju" techniques as opposed to the "go" techniques I'd shown. He walked up to me, grabbed my gi collar and told me he wasn't going to let go unless I made him. He checked to make sure I was able to breathe OK then told me to begin when I was ready. I used a wrist manipulation/lock he'd shown me many years ago on him and - surprise, surprise! - I was able to peel his steel-trap hands off my gi, lock his elbow and take him to the ground. He was an amazing teacher, so I knew it would work, but I was still surprised it did if that makes sense...

Thinking I was in the clear, Hanshi McGrath  announced that he wanted to see one more technique: an escape from a rear choke. Ironically, one of my students who is in the corrections academy was going over rear chokehold escapes the night before with Training Partner Ed, who is a retired corrections officer. The two escapes they'd worked on were fresh in my head and had I thought about asking Ed if he was wearing a cup, I would have gone with the second one (a slap ---> grab of the gonads before spinning around with said gonads still in hand, LOL). Instead, I went back to "go" and ended up on the floor with Ed, who just didn't stop once I got his hands off my neck. I'm talking leg locks and all that. It was actually kind of funny once Hanshi said "yame!" but while he was trying to flip/trap me, I kept thinking "What the heck is he doing?"


Tameshiwari was next. Ed called my breaks - ax kick through two boards followed by a haito. Here's what he got: http://youtu.be/0qkiNnFyUEQ

My son, Squirrel, was there to take pictures and video, which was greatly appreciated. Most every sensei I ever trained under was there as well, and felt really good to see my students do their thing and actually leave the dojo with all my teeth, LOL.

And some amazing baked chicken wings someone made for the Holiday Party that followed. Yummy :-D

The best part? No grading talk for four whole years at the very least!!

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Learning from the Abduction of Carlesha Freeland-Gaither

On Nov. 2, 2014, a 22 year-old woman named Carlesha Freeland-Gaither was kidnapped as she walked home from a family function in Philadelphia a little before 10PM. Her abductor approached her after she’d crossed the street and appeared to ask her a question before accosting her and dragging her to his car as she kicked, screamed and tried to get away. In the struggle, she lost her glasses and her cellphone, which were found on the sidewalk near the shattered glass left behind from the passenger window she managed to kick out before her abductor drove away.

Here’s the footage from building surveillance cameras that were rolling during the attack: 
Carlesha was found alive in Maryland a few days later, but we all know this situation could have been a whole lot worse.

While I don’t think it’s ever a good idea to blame the victim of a crime - because a woman SHOULD be able to walk down the street without being accosted – I do think it’s important to examine what could have gone differently.

First, the attacker drives along the same street Carlesha walked down(before turning off), indicating that he may have seen her before he parked. He gets out of his car and walks to the corner he knows she will soon cross. At about the 1:30 minute mark, she passes him and keeps it moving, but, after a brief pause, he follows her and appears to say something to get her to stop and turn around. Suddenly, he gets very close to her and, at the 1:51 mark, he grabs her and drags her down the block toward his parked car. The trip to the car took about 15 seconds – probably the most terrifying seconds of Carlesha’s life.

Through the remainder of the video, you see her fighting back and trying to get away – until about the 2:15 mark when it looks as if he picks her up and puts her into his car. But it doesn’t even end there, as an eyewitness says she kicked out both back windows in an effort to escape before he drove away.

Once she was grabbed, she did everything right, including making noise and fighting – hard – to free herself.
But it seemed as if the trouble started before she was grabbed.

Awareness dictates that familiarity with what is going on around you is of the utmost importance. Once he stopped her with whatever it was he said, he got way too close way too fast. He did come up from behind, but he was close enough to reach out and touch (which he did) by the time she really had a chance to react. 
And most attacks happen just that quickly.

Again, I’m not saying it was her fault at all, but anyone you don’t know who gets within an arm’s distance away is probably too close. Keeping that distance between you and a person you don’t know – especially when you are alone at night – is always a good idea. If they move close, you move away. Keep your outstretched hands in front of you when it feels like a threat may be eminent. A bit of verbal de-escalation, in the form of saying “Look, I don’t want any trouble. Stay away from me” can be used, too.

But the speed with which she was accosted would make a reaction to stop it tough, because the shock of being attacked usually takes more than a few seconds to recover from.

Still, it’s important to do something – like Carlesha did - rather than doing nothing. Her reaction (immediate screaming) and the struggle it caused, made folks notice something wasn’t quite right with the situation.

But a word about the other bystanders (including the person in the car who watches for a few seconds before backing up): it stands to reason that if you see someone being dragged to a car while screaming “Help me!” that you should call 911 immediately. And if you are in a car at the top of a one-way street, perhaps you could even do something other than watch the drama unfold while waiting on the police to arrive. At the very least, get a license plate number.

Again – because an attacker watching you usually has an advantage, be that the element of surprise, a weapon or the fact that he/she may be a whole lot bigger and stronger - waiting until they attack may be too late. Being aware of what is going on nearby – that guy you pass on the corner, the dark shadow in the doorway, the van parked next to your car – might just save you from being attacked in the first place.

So let’s say you see someone who makes you feel uncomfortable as you approach. Cross to the other side of the street. If he/she crosses too, cross back. If they do the same, turn and walk in the direction you came from. It may feel ridiculous, but I say better paranoid and alive than too trusting and abducted.

The reality is that not everyone survives being taken to another location – and I’m very glad that Carlesha did.