Tag Archives: karate

The Subtle Disadvantages of Point Sparring

Sparring. Everyone has an opinion on sparring, especially those who have never done it. I can’t count how many times I’ve talked to a parent or a prospective student and sparring has come up. People either think it’s the most intense UFC-style thing ever or just a random game that isn’t really relevant to the real world. The truth, of course, is that’s it’s both and yet neither.

When people think of sparring, they immediately think of UFC. Why? Why not Olympic boxing or Taekwondo?

I’m a blackbelt, and I’ve been teaching martial arts most of my life. A big part of that is sparring. Sparring is one of the most enjoyable parts of learning the martial arts. Here it is, your skills on display, in a direct match against another person. There are no ties, and you instantly know, instantly, who is the better fighter. There are no doubts. It’s a fantastic learning tool.

That said, the more I teach and the more I practice, the more I realize that one of the most common sparring styles, point sparring, is almost completely useless. Continue reading

The International Language of Karate

New karate students quickly learn how much Japanese influence it has, even in North America. We bow to each other, we talk constantly of respect and self-discipline, and more than anything else, we use Japanese terminology. There’s a zuki this, a dachi that, a geri this. It can be overwhelming, as not only do you have to learn a new movements but also a new language, at least in part.

I stayed at one dojo where I actually practiced the calligraphy aspect, which was both interesting and not interesting at the same time.

This perplexes some people. Why do we do this? Why count in Japanese when no one speaks Japanese in that room, or possible even the entire city? Why go to all the trouble learning the stances and kicks in Japanese when they have English names and we all speak that language? It’s a good question, and beyond ‘tradition,’ I’ve never had a good answer.

Until today, that is. I met a new student, someone who had done martial arts for three years prior. A good student, very keen, but there was one small problem: she didn’t speak English. Continue reading

Judge Not Lest Ye Be Judged

When I first learned about paradigm shifts, I was given the following example. Imagine you are on public transit, a bus or a subway. It’s half-full, and directly in front of you is a father with his two young children. The kids are running around, yelling and throwing things, causing a huge disturbance. The father, though, just sits there and lets them get away with it. Man, what a lousy parent.

Finally you have enough and confront the man. He looks surprised, as if just waking from a dream. “Sorry,” he says absently, corralling his kids. “We just came from the hospital. My wife is having open heart surgery and may not live beyond the hour. None of us knows what’s going to happen next.”


Just like that, your perspective shifts. You’re not looking at a bad parent; on the contrary, it’s a loving husband coming to gripes with potentially losing his mate. Neither are the kids little hellions; they’re simply young, dealing with grief and uncertainty in the only way they can. A moment ago, you were annoyed at the chaotic children running rampant around you, but now you see it in a completely different light.

This is a paradigm shift. It’s also a great example of why you shouldn’t judge other people until you know all the details. It’s easy to look like an idiot afterwards … like I did earlier this week. Continue reading

The (Second) Worst Part About Teaching

If you ask me my favourite part of teaching, I’d answer immediately: it’s the students. Seeing someone grow and evolve is incredibly rewarding. Whether it’s learning something new, overcoming a challenge or finally breaking through a plateau, all of these are amazing experiences, and I get to share all these accomplishments with them, at least in part.

Now, if you asked me my least favourite part about teaching, I’d answer just as immediately: it’s the students. I’m not even talking about the bad students necessarily, the ones that seemingly misbehave intentionally. Okay, yes, those are pretty bad, but even worse are the ones that never try. They show up but they clearly don’t care and they put in no effort. We’re both wasting our time, and it’s very hard to stay in the right teaching-mood, to give my best effort, when there are several such students in a class.

You can’t just yell at an eight-year-old, either, no matter how much you might want to.

So yes, the students are the worst part of my job, but a close second would be the parents. Continue reading

Working with People who have no Talent

I’m a martial arts instructor, and I mostly teach children. Teaching kids has a certain challenge built into it. In general, you can split them into two groups. I want to say ‘good kids’ and ‘bad kids,’ but that’s not really true. It’s really easy versus hard. Some kids are just plain easy to teach. They listen, they follow orders, they don’t goof off, that sort of thing. They might not necessarily be good at karate, but they are easy to teach.

Once in awhile you get one of those kids that’s not just easy to teach but good at everything they touch. Those kids just make you go ‘Wow.’

The flip side of the coin are the kids that are hard to teach. Some of these children are really, really good, but they often have some sort of quirk or behavioural issue that makes it tough to be an instructor. Some just want to talk to their friends, others like karate in general but hate the conditioning aspects required. Some, frankly, don’t listen half the time and require constant attention and motivation to do even the simplest tasks.

All of these are behavioural issues, and they make up the bulk of the hard-to-teach group. There’s one more possibility, though, and this may be the hardest of them all: a complete lack of talent. Continue reading

The Power of Praise

As a general rule, 90% of all emotional communication is either negative or filler. Negative is pretty self-explanatory. Such-and-such sucks, or this thing is terrible, or the weather is horrible. Sometimes it’s outright negativity, sometimes it’s passive aggressiveness, sometimes it’s just complaining. Negativity is everywhere.

Many people default to negativity because it makes you appear smarter. Other people are making mistakes, not you!

The other half, perhaps even more than half, is simply vacuous filler. It’s often disguised as positivity, but it’s really just filler. How was your day? “Good.” How are you? “I’m doing okay.” How was your weekend? “Can’t complain.” These are societal niceties, almost polite fictions. We say them just to keep conversation going without really adding anything to it, to avoid rocking the boat. If you really listen to people, it’s amazing how much is said without ever anything really being said.

The above make up roughly 90% of standard communication. The last 10%, the truly positive part, is much smaller but, holy crap, is it ever effective. Maybe it’s effective precisely because it’s smaller. Continue reading

Child’s Play: Balloons

Honest question: who doesn’t like balloons? Everyone does. Give a child a balloon and she will be happy all day. If she then gives that balloon to her grandpa, watch a smile stretch across his face. Balloons are magic. They can seemingly manufacture happiness out of thin air.

Get it? Because balloons are filled with air, and they make people happy? Come on, I know it’s not my best pun, but it’s funny.

I can’t tell you how many happy hours I’ve spent playing with a balloon, and not just as a young kid. This has persisted into adolescence and even at times as an adult. I’m a martial arts instructor, and balloons are an excellent tool for improving coordination for young children. They have to kick, hit and keep track of the balloon through the air, and I help them out with a well-timed strike of my own.

I often hear parents’ giggle as they watch their children during such drills, and while it’s true they have looks of pure joy the entire time, I often think I’m the one having the most fun. Continue reading

The Disadvantages of the Martial Arts: Calluses

We in the martial arts industry are constantly citing studies that show the many advantages of the martial arts. Get in shape, improve your focus, mental discipline, better grades, get more flexible, make friends, learn super-human skills, achieve enlightenment, you know, the standard claims.

Those are all at least partially true, but when it comes right down to it, martial arts is fun. You don’t need more reasons than that.

While we certainly like mentioning these facts, we rarely mention the disadvantages. Most people immediately think about getting hurt while sparring, but that’s not it at all. The martial arts are surprisingly safe. Statistically, you are more likely to injure yourself golfing than in a karate class. In all my years of teaching, I’ve seen more injuries from people pushing too hard during the warmup, not listening to their bodies, than in sparring sessions.

Injuries happen in every sport, but they aren’t more prevalent here than in other sport. No, the main disadvantage of the martial arts, or at least what I’m talking about today, are calluses. Continue reading

Karate Legs

I don’t look like much. I mean that literally. I’m a tall but thin guy, perhaps very thin. I have little muscle and less body fat. Honestly, in some ways I look like the stereotypical nerd, someone pale and thin and skinny. Smart but not overly athletic. People at university thought very little of me … until someone asked if I could help carry in a couch.

I did, and I shocked most of them by carrying my end relatively easily. I helped rearrange the furniture, and at this point someone mentioned I’m a lot stronger than I look. I get this a lot. I look 150lbs soaking wet, and yet I weigh in between 170 and 180 lbs, depending on water retention. How am I hiding nearly 20 lbs of bodyweight?

There’s a hidden message here.

The answer is the legs, or more specifically, my karate legs. Continue reading

Seeing Conversion Rates in Practice

In general, people are really bad at understanding how percentages work, practically speaking. I mean, we all more or less understand how they work. If I have a 50% chance at something, then that’s pretty good, as I’ll win every other time … but I’ll lose every other time, statistically speaking. We tend not to focus on that, or if we do, we start committing the Gambler’s Fallacy. “Aha, I’ve lost four in a row, so I’m due to win the next one!”

No, you’re due to have a 50% chance to win, just like every time.

I like to think I understand statistics reasonably well, but I probably don’t. I studied it once, in high school over a decade ago. Honestly, I know just enough to know that I don’t really understand the field. This has come into the fore recently. My dojo recently ran a marketing campaign, and it got twice as many conversions as last time. Nice, I thought … but wait, I’ve only met eight new people. That’s it?

That’s what a conversion rate looks like in practice. Continue reading