Tag Archives: martial arts

Happy Birthday to Me! 2017 Edition

Let’s cut straight to the chase: the earth revolved around the sun again, and I’m now another year older.  Woo.

Image result for happy birthday

I don’t know how old I am.  I was born in 1985, so do the math if you really care.

I’ve got absolutely nothing planned, because it’s a Monday.  My sister told me she’d physically assault me if I don’t come over for dinner, so there might be a small celebration tonight.  More likely she’ll just tease me, because my family is awesome and that’s how we roll.  Anyway, another year down, another year stronger.  Good job me. 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.”

Oops.

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

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

It’s Okay to not be the Best

“I wanna be the very best, like no one ever was.” With those words, a famous theme song from my youth completely captures my thought process. I wanna be the best. It’s pure and simple. I don’t need to be the best at everything, as there are a lot of things I don’t care about. If I like something, though, if I identify with it, then I have no choice. I wanna be the best.

To catch them is my real test, to train them is my cause.

This was reinforced by a constant childhood refrain. We’d watch motivational videos at school, saying essentially, “No one is good at everything, but everyone is good at something.” These usually included various montages of boys and girls doing a whole host of activities, from athletics to drawing to collecting bugs and who knows what else. They didn’t come out and say it, but it sure seemed implied that these kids were among the best at what they did. You wanna be the best.

But you know what? Being the best isn’t that great. Or, more accurately, it’s perfectly fine to not be the best, and it may even be preferable. Continue reading

Why I Don’t Want Kids

I’m pretty good with kids. It is my job, after all. I teach martial arts, and 80% of our students are 10 and under. More specifically, I am in charge of the junior karate program, for students 4-6. I get a lot of praise for my work here, both from my co-workers (who are thankful that I willingly teach one of the most demanding classes) and parents.

Yes, they are adorable … but teaching them is like herding cats.

Sometimes the parents talk to me before or after class, just idle chit-chat; rarely does it come around to karate or teaching. Sometimes these talks turn to me, and sometimes I get the following: “You are so good with kids. [slight pause] Do you have one of your own?” That pause is always interesting, as if they don’t want to presume but are curious regardless, as if only a father could be that good with children so young.

The answer, of course, is no. I don’t have any kids, and I can’t see that changing. Continue reading

After Enlightenment, The Laundry; Martial Arts Edition

In Buddhism, there is a saying, “After Enlightenment, the laundry.” It’s a koan-like observation. Basically, you might find the secrets of the universe and the meaning of life … but when your day is done, you still have to do those little things, like the dishes or the laundry. Or, in other words, life doesn’t change when you reach enlightenment. The dishes won’t do themselves.

See, I didn’t just make it up.

In many ways, the martial arts have a parallel to this. Getting a blackbelt may not be the same as achieving enlightenment, but it’s certainly a big milestone, perhaps the biggest milestone in all martial arts. You put so much time and effort into it, training for months in advance, and the final grading is the ultimate test. You feel such a rush, a surge of excitement, and as you dawn your new black belt you think life will never be the same again.

Then you go to your first class, and you realize, “after blackbelt, pushups.” You’re a blackbelt now, yes, but you still do all the things you did before. Continue reading

Making New Blackbelts

I’m a martial arts instructor. I train people; that’s what I do. I teach people how to punch, kick and block; I lead through stances, katas and forms; I distill discipline, structure and respect. All these things and more I do on a daily basis. That’s life.

Though I don’t practice on a beach near enough for my liking.

It’s fun, for the most part. I get to see people grow and change, physically and into better people. We celebrate achievements along the way, chiefly competing at tournaments and earning new belts. There’s one special event every year, though, that dominates the martial arts calendar: blackbelt. Each year, we try to grade people to the most prestigious rank.

This weekend, we did just that. We graduated 18 new blackbelts. Continue reading