Tuesday, April 26, 2011


A very good friend and training partner told me once that because he was a bit of a bully growing up, his mom wouldn't let him study martial arts as a child. Now 40, he's forging his path by preparing to test for his 6th kyu in USA Goju, training also in Jujitsu and Muay Thai and hitting the mat or gym six days out of each week. He also thinks martial arts would have helped him a lot when he was younger, not turned him into a thug.

Soon after our dojo's last promotion in January, we noticed that one of our 9th-kyus - a seven-yr-old with severe ADHD - hadn't been to class in a while. When I called his mom to see if everything was OK, she told me that she'd decided to stop bringing him to karate because her son was beginning to use his knowledge of strikes, blocks, kicks and kata to terrorize (her words, not mine) his class- and school-mates. She thought it best to give him a little time to mature before returning to the mat.

A few weeks ago, my sensei and two of my training partners visited his instructor's dojo (it was opening night of my son's school play, so we couldn't make it). At the very next class, my dojo-mates were all aflutter about one of the new white belts in the class who was very mouthy to her instructors. She questioned why she had to do certain things instead of just doing them. My dojo-mates were as shocked by her lack of knowledge of how things should be done in the training hall as they were by the fact that not one of her dojo mates pulled her coat to tell her to tone it down or sit down until she could.

Last weekend, I was ALL OVER one of our 12-yr-old 6th kyus because he was blatantly disrespectful to one of the adult students he out-ranks. Although he is one of the highest-ranking kids in the class, he usually acts like he is doing everyone a favor when he falls in at the start of class and gives less than a half-assed effort in kihon, stance work, kata and sometimes kumite. An only child who is used to being coddled by mom (she actually helps him take off his sparring gear when she's in attendance) he just never seems to do much of anything with fervor or enthusiasm at all. The week before, when I found his belt in a tangled heap in the middle of the floor shortly before a demonstration we were about to do at a local community center (he had run off to play basketball), I stuck it in my gear bag. Training partner Ed and I discussed it and decided that he won't get it back until his attitude adjusts - which means he will be forced to line up in the back of the class for a bit. Because we've seen him step it up for grading and competitions, we know what he's capable of when he wants to put forth a little effort. Time will tell if being away from the front line for a bit will be the spark that ignites his enthusiasm.

But back to last weekend: when I called him out for being so ugly to his dojo mate, the room got pin-drop quiet as I'm not a screamer on the mat unless I'm kiai-ing during kata and my usual way to handle protocol breeches would have been to pull him to the side and reprimanded him privately. But because of the level of disrespect (he actually told an adult who reminded him not to show the bottom of his feet while sitting and waiting for his turn to present kata that because he wasn't his father, he didn't have to listen to him), it seemed like a good idea to assist him with pumping his brakes post haste. Recognizing "the look" as I prepared to speak to the 6th kyu, my 17-yr-old son adjusted his posture and stepped back to allow me room to pass. He told me later that he was actually scared for the kid, having been on the receiving end of "the look" so often (perhaps there is something to be said for the "kiai of the eyes" after all :-). And I did let the youngster have it by letting him know that the next time he parted his lips to speak to anyone in the dojo in such a manor, he'd be immediately asked to change his clothes and sit and watch the class until his mother could get there to pick him up. Next came the "But what did I do?" stuff, which I absolutely have no tolerance for at all. His aunt, who'd witnessed the situation at the demonstration, said she'd speak to mom and have her give me a call. Seriously, I'm pretty sure his mom already knows what's going on because if we're seeing that behavior in the dojo, I'm sure his teachers are seeing in school and she's probably witnessing it at home as well...

All the ads for area and distant dojos that I've ever seen talk about how discipline and respect are a few of the main benefits of karate for young people. As my 40-yr-old training partner, my seven-yr-old student's mom and my dojo-mates would probably tell you, it extends well beyond standing in yoi for what seems like an eternity, or addressing your instructor as "sir/m'am" or even rei before, during and at the end of class. They get that budo dictates both must be present not only during training, but outside of the walls of the training hall, too. But what about those you train with who don't?

For those of you who teach or train with different age groups and ranks, how do you handle disrespect in the dojo?

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Be the Mosquito: Bobbing and Weaving with a Purpose

Since the blogsphere today is full of stuff about sparring - including posts by Samurai Girl, Ariel at Martial Arts Passion and Mr. James at Okinawan Fighting Arts, I figured I might as well toss my two cents into the mix as well...

Although I love working/improving kata and kihon, I really love to spar. Not that I particularly like the idea of getting hit, but the matching of wits/game of tag that is ju kumite in the dojo or in the competition ring is kinda fun. Let me re-phrase that: HITTING and KICKING are fun - and I can usually do that fairly well. It's my evading and countering that always, always, always need a little work.

Tuesday night, Sensei Joe, a yondan who is an amazing tactician and who is as quick as he is powerful, led class. He challenged us to think (and move and fight) outside of our comfort zones. For me, that meant fighting more like the lightweight I am - staying on my toes for the whole fight to make moving in and out as well as changing my angles of attack possible - instead of bouncing a little before planting my feet, remaining on my adversary's centerline and fighting more like a heavyweight with long limbs when the "battle" gets going. It was harder than I thought it was going to be - mainly because the thinking that is NOT supposed to happen had to creep back in. It was the only way I could remember to stay on my toes, be mobile and let the techniques flow.

But flow, I didn't. I'd land two techniques then.just.stop - and promptly get pummeled by Sensei Joe or Sensei S - who took turns sparring us all. Suffice to say I may have gotten a few good licks in, but the reality is that when all was said and done, I had my butt handed to me over and over again.

Biggest problem? My evasions were too big. In an effort to avoid the technique my senseis threw, I moved too far out of range to counter, which meant I had to re-acquire them continuously. They had no such issues, I noticed because their evasions were much more subtle - a shoulder lean here, a hip shift there - which made their counters to the techniques I tried to hit them with much more effective. And they were doing a little more than tapping, unfortunately. Ouch...

Sensei Joe compared it to games of tag he played as a kid. "You didn't really need to run away when the person who was 'it' came charging," he said. "Sometimes it was a lot more fun to let them get really close then shift to the left so their tag brushed right past you." Then he demonstrated while first I tried then training partner, Peg, tried to simply touch his gi, shoulder or face when he was about a foot in front of us. Not only did we miss every time, he tapped us with something on his way past us - like a backfist or shuto to the head or a reverse punch or a little hook kick to the gut. It felt like we fell into his technique - or better yet: like he set us up to hit him only so we could get hit instead. In other words, not only did his techniques flow from one right into the next without pause, the "fight" wasn't over until he had the last attack - which he landed at will. He even turned away as if to run once and the next thing I felt was his foot - via a well-timed ushiro geri (back kick) in my gut. Ouch - again!

As un-ladylike as it sounds, hitting stuff is a one of the things I absolutely love about karate, but the other is the fact that there is always more to learn. What I learned from playing tag with Sensei Joe is that while bobbing and weaving are nice, throwing a technique on the way "out"/getting the last tag in is even nicer - and much more efficient. He reminded us about one of our former training partners who got so good with this that she earned the nickname "Mosquito" because she was there, attacked you, then was gone before you could even raise your hand to slap her away.

"Be the mosquito," Sensei Joe said.