Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Uphill Climb

Last week, I went to a workshop on engaging area youth. It was sponsored by a local agency that hosts after-school programs all over the school district. The facilitator was awesome - excellent ideas, very engaging and energetic - but sadly, the group he was there to engage - youth workers and teachers who work the after-school homework and activity programs - was none of that. Some of the folks there boasted of many years of actual classroom teaching experience, but used the same breath to detail how horrible this kid or that kid was in their program. Too many of the attendees sat with their arms folded across their chests and "I've tried that and it didn't work!" scowls across their brows. Their lethargy was hard to watch.

My group's discussion about activities that could help re-engage kids who have fallen between the cracks deteriorated into a chat about where to buy the cheapest car tires in the area while three of our group members began their own conversation about who knows what. And, yes, I did try to corral the group back to focus on the task at hand, but the side conversation and tire talk drowned me out.

What does this have to do with karate, you ask? The lessons gleaned from training in the martial arts go a long way in answering that question. For example:

1. Discipline is the absolute cornerstone of learning anything new - and it all begins with self-discipline. It doesn't have to be whip-cracking, ruler-smacking hard, but without it, it's pretty difficult to go forward. Master yourself and another master is hard to find.

2. Nothing worthwhile comes easy - and little sweat ain't never killed anybody.

3. The hardest part of any class is usually getting there. Once you're there, you might as well apply the best effort you can so your trip wasn't for nothing.

Of course teaching is a tough job. When the total number of hours spent preparing lessons and grading papers, tests and projects is factored in, teachers in most public school systems don't get paid nearly enough. And I get that it must be rough to not immediately see the fruits of such hard labor blossom and ripen, I really do. That the host district has a high economically disenfranchised, single-parent household population often (but not always) makes miniscule parental involvement the norm, which has to be frustrating as all get out. It sucks. But it is what it is.

Most of the folks I give instruction to in the dojo are children, still the above wasn't really written for them or the students in the after-school programs - but for the people who teach them. If you set high expectations for those who train with and under you, they will have high expectations of themselves. Whether teaching a static kick or a spinning one, how to balance a chemical equation or write an essay outline, if someone thinks they can do it or if they think that they can't, they're probably right. Giving instruction is about getting those we instruct to think they can.

So don't give up just yet. Keep trying - because you only fail when you stop.


  1. Discipline is remembering what you want. Adversity is a filter which helps to separate what you think you want from what you really want.

  2. It doesn't bode well when the people who are supposed to be helping the disenfranchised youth feel disengaged from the process themselves! I think proactive, enthusiastic youth workers are worth their weight in gold (and are rare as hen's teeth). Sounds like you could be one though - how much do you weigh? You could be worth a fortune, gold is fetching a high price at the moment. LOL

  3. Well said, Rick. But there can be a problem when the holes in the adversity filter are too tiny to let anything through...

    And Sue, you're right about disengagement. I can totally understand burn-out from those who have been "in the game" for lots of years, but many of the folks there were fresh-faced, recent college grads who probably don't yet have even a year under their belts. When I tell you it was hard to watch, it really, truly was.

    I only work with one program - for 7th and 8th graders - for two total hours a week teaching MA. The kids are great, and although they hate to take off their shoes and socks (I have no idea what THAT's all about, LOL), they actually like to sweat! So what I'm doing is no different from what I do in the dojo - just in a school setting. But if I had to sit down with those same kids and get them to focus on math theorems and verb conjugations, I might be just as frustrated, who knows...