Get on the Ride!

getting on the merry go round

Get on the merry-go-round of life!

You stand there watching the merry-go round from afar. You notice a funny thing. Each time the carousel goes around the faces seem to be smiling a little bit more. You notice something else; those on the merry go round seem to stand taller, carrying themselves with a little more confidence on each revolution. They wave at you beckoning you to jump on.

You are frozen between action and worry. You think, if I jump on there I will look silly, childish, or maybe even get hurt. You wonder what others will think if you make a fool of yourself. You fidget, put your hands in your pockets, and watch it go around again, and again…and again. You look forlornly at those on the carousel, and say to yourself, “Why can’t I be like that?”

You come back every day to watch, you are drawn to the carousel by a mysterious force. One day, something inside you snaps. You suddenly leap onto the merry-go round! You are beside yourself with joy. You cannot believe how much fun this is. You ask yourself, “Why did I wait this long?”

As you look around, you notice all the others who were on the carousel before you are gone. You find out they have all moved on to create new merry-go rounds, spreading the word. As you ride the carousel you see many forlorn faces in the crowd, and you wave them on with all your might. Get on the ride!

A Hidden Benefit of BJJ and Yoga That You May Have Missed

Learning how to escape an uncomfortable position

Professor Rodrigo Antunes shows how to escape from an uncomfortable position, a very important skill in BJJ

I laid down on the cold table in my hospital gown that never quite covered the rear end (who designed those silly things anyway?). I felt a wave of panic when the MRI technician said “you need to stay still for twenty minutes”. Ha! How could I move? They strapped my legs and midsection onto the table and told me to draw my arms in tight to my body. As the sliding table moved me into the tight-fitting tube, I knew how the Viet Cong felt when they entered the tunnels of South Vietnam back in the Sixties. My arms felt the cool sides of the tube as it seemed to close in around me, and I knew this was going to be a long twenty minutes.

Claustrophobia in Rio!

But wait a second, I thought…. I have been here before. That first trip to Rio I rolled with black and brown belts. They were very good at holding me in the mounted position. I struggled in the muggy tropical heat not only to escape, but also to breathe. I looked up at the timer and thought to myself, “how am I going to last five more minutes pinned under this 210-pounder with my mouth covered by his sweat-soaked gi? Why did I take up this silly sport? People come to Rio for the sun, surf, pretty women, and relaxation, not this!

Taking myself into the breath

I slowly learned not to panic, and that sooner or later I would either get out (in many cases, I think they felt sorry for me, and let me escape) or tap to their submission. Either way, I learned, I would survive. Life goes on. I learned to breathe slowly, especially the exhales, and turn more onto my side to create space. I built a frame over my chest with my arms to make even more space. The process soon became a mental game as I moved from one escape attempt to another, depending on my opponent’s reaction. Focusing my energy and thoughts on the process of escape reduced the feelings of panic whenever I was trapped under someone.

Back to the MRI

They gave me headphones so I could listen to music during the procedure and a panic button to push, but as the loud thumping of the machine started, I realised the headphones did not work and I was alone in my thoughts…my thoughts! How did prisoners of war handle the feelings of aloneness, panic, and claustrophobia? How did they calm their minds in times of stress? They played mental chess against imaginary opponents, they performed mathematical equations, they wrote music, they recited poetry, all in their minds. It kept them sane.

Human chess

I started to breathe deeply, just as I was taught in yoga and BJJ. Long exhales, shorter inhales, I took myself into my breath. I began to play human chess. I was caught in a vice-like closed guard and I had to fight my way out of it. I replayed four ways of passing the guard, that Leonardo Xavier showed me. I broke them down into the finest details I knew. I pretended to demonstrate the process to my students, narrating as I went along. Once I passed the guard, I imagined myself in side control, but quickly was swept and ended up in mounted position. I then had to escape. In my mind I went through the step-by-step process of the elbow-knee escape, upa, combination of the two, foot drag, bench press, and two other really cool escapes, one that Eliot Kelly showed me which ended in half guard to sweep, and another that Rodrigo Antunes demonstrated, ending up with me taking a footlock! I managed to free myself from bottom side control in four different ways, including a stiff-arm escape from Henry Cho. As I escaped from bottom half guard using a nifty move from Owen Kee Gee, a state of calm took over. Suddenly the headphones, which surprise, surprise, now worked, blared out “Okay Matt, you’re finished”.

Three years after that first trip to Brazil, I still get a mild sense of panic when pinned, but I know how to deal with it, both mentally and physically. Thank you yoga and BJJ, and thanks to all the great instructors who showed me a most valuable skill–how to relax in an uncomfortable position. You never know when you might need it!

Martial Arts Grading and Nine Popping Speeches

Martial arts grading speech

What you say at the martial arts grading speech should be remembered by your students

I have been to many a martial arts grading over the years. I wince when I hear the same speeches over and over again. “The grading was good”. “I am pleased with your performance”. BORING…I look around and people are on their mobiles or snoozing. The instructor was at a loss for words, so just put out the usual stuff. Don’t let this happen at your grading.

How To Make Your Martial Arts Grading Speeches Pop

Let’s look at how we can be creative and make the speeches at your martial arts grading really pop. Let’s take this opportunity to inspire our students and help them improve for the next one. Here are some good themes to make your martial arts gradings the ones your students remember. This post was written with the martial arts instructor in mind. For students please see Kids Karate Grading: How to Pass. For another take on the subject of inspiration, have a look at How to Never Lose Motivation for Training Karate from Karate by Jesse. It’s a good read.

One: The grading was good. Maybe it was, maybe not. But there must have been at least one or two things good about it. Find them. Say “the punches were lightning fast”, the “kicks were super explosive”, “the kata were extremely crisp”, “the stances were rock-solid”. Tell them exactly why the grading was good in your speeches.

Two: Martial arts is an individual, not a team sport. So don’t compare yourself to your classmates. Some will learn fast, and some will learn slow. Fact of life. I am a slow learner, for example. It takes me many hours of practice to get something down, while others may pick it up in a matter of minutes. But once I learn something I learn it well. Others will be more athletic than us. Fact of life. There will be some who are more explosive, others more flexible, others that have better timing, usually through experience. Compare yourself not to others, but to who you were yesterday.

Three: Martial arts are a journey, not a destination. It can be a wonderful, life-long quest that will challenge you, but at the same time drive you to strengthen and harden your body, build immense willpower, eat clean, and live the healthy “martial arts” lifestyle. Don’t burn yourself out trying to rush through the belts to be the first in your class to reach black. It is not a sprint, it is a marathon, so take time to enjoy the journey. Relish knowing what your body can do and the fact that you now walk with confidence.

Four: There will be setbacks, but never give up on your dreams. Injuries, job demands, family, school, they all get in the way from time to time. They are important, and demand your attention. But stay the course, and train when you can. During busy, stressful times, the martial arts will always be there to help you release your tension. Again, it is a marathon, not a sprint.

Five: Embrace and enjoy the friendships. Life-long friendships will form out of the martial arts. Trust me on this. These people you meet will most likely be refreshingly different from your other friends. Be open to forming new friendships and go out of your way to be kind to everyone in the dojo. Reach out.

Six: Be proud, but be humble. No one likes a braggart. Be very proud of your achievements, but keep it inside. The people who matter most will already know of your martial arts prowess.

Seven: Make the new students feel welcome. We were all once shy, scared, un-coordinated white belts when we walked through the door. Maybe someone laughed at us when we fell or made the wrong moves in the kata. We were so humiliated we felt like quitting. Help build the beginners up, not tear them down. Have a kind word for them and let them know we all went through the same thing. Tell them after the martial arts grading that they did a good job. Respect all who have the courage to walk through the door to make that first step on their journey.

Eight: Work on your strengths, but be aware of your weaknesses. For years my weakness was grappling. I took traditional Japanese Jujutsu classes years ago. I could hold my own in the stand-up sparring, but smaller, weaker guys could take me down and dominate me on the ground. I learned very quickly it was not about strength, but technique that mattered. I am currently studying Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, and the ground is now my friend. Discover your weaknesses and shore them up.

Nine: Last but not least, thank your students and the parents for supporting your program, for without them, you would not be living this marvellous, healthy lifestyle. Let your heartfelt appreciation come out in your speeches.

Instructors, what are some of the speeches you use to make your martial arts grading more interesting and inspiring? Students, what did your instructor say to you at the martial arts grading that inspired you the most?

Be Different And Be Glad!

Bruce Lee not afraid to be different

Bruce Lee changed the martial arts world by being different


Why Kids Should Be Different

Kids, since the dawn of time, or at least the advent of fashion, or maybe toys, have felt a need to conform or fit in. They want to dress alike, own the same toys, just be like the rest. This continues on through high school as they struggle to be “popular” or “able to hang with the in crowd”. As adults, they find work in a big corporation or government where they are encouraged strongly to “go with the flow” and “not make waves”. I say nonsense to this, be different and be glad!

Take a look at the most successful entrepreneurs around, and chances are they are a bit eccentric, which is a euphemism for “a little weird”. They usually do not care what society thinks of them. One of the defining traits of entrepreneurship is the ability to spot an opportunity and imagine something where others haven’t. They think outside the box and create a niche. This niche, an area of specialty or unique skill, is not perceived as an easily replaceable product or service. They are therefore better able to protect that niche from competitors, since they have developed the unique skill that sets them apart. The successful truly march to the beat of a different drummer. They do not seek outside validation. They seek it from within. They imagine a far different world than most and have the ability to make that world happen. They succeed by not being afraid to be different.

Bruce Lee Was Not Afraid To Be Different

Bruce Lee was extremely successful as a martial artist because he challenged the current dogma of the day. He embraced the martial arts of every style and included boxing, wrestling, and fencing and who knows what else in his arsenal of techniques. He “absorbed what was useful, and discarded the rest”. Of course, for him the truth in combat rested in what worked for him and his body style and physical attributes, and he disdained the idea of a “combat system” because of this. His approach of “using no way as way”, and his training methods, which seemed radical at the time, fundamentally changed the martial arts world as a result.

Left handers are very different, representing only about eleven percent of the population. They are discriminated against at every turn, growing up surrounded by right-handed tools, instruments, and appliances. They are continually trying to adapt to a right-handers world. I know this because I am a left-handed person. But guess what? They tend to be over-represented in the elite level of martial arts, for the reasons I stated in an earlier article. First, since they have to adapt, they become ambidextrous at a greater rate than right-handers, becoming more powerful and coordinated on their weak side. Second, right-handers have to fight someone with a style they are not used to fighting.

Some of the greatest artists in history have been lefties, including Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Raphael, and Rembrandt. Left-handers are no more successful than right-handers overall, but they are more successful in different ways. For instance, they tend to be more creative, while right-handers are more logical and analytical.

William Churchill was considered eccentric in his time. Even the Germans knew about it, as stated in Goebells 1941 diary: “A book on Winston Churchill reports that he drinks too much and wears silk underwear. He dictates messages in the bath or in his underpants, a startling image the Fuehrer (Hitler) finds hugely amusing”. His eccentricity did not stop him from becoming a master orator and one of the great leaders of the world. And you can bet it did not bother him to be different.

So I say, be different and be glad you are unique. Embrace it and let it work to your advantage.

“The amount of eccentricity in a society has generally been proportional to the amount of genius, mental vigor, and moral courage it contained. That so few now dare to be eccentric marks the chief danger of the time”.

John Stuart Mill

Do you dare to be different?

Rude People and Breathing: An Exercise

Lady smiling at rude person

Sometimes it is best just to smile.

They say you should treat rudeness with kindness or some such notion. I believe more in instant karma. I also believe in standing up to bullies.

The guy in the suit babbled away on his mobile about “securities plays” in a loud voice hoping to impress everyone around him, rushing ahead of me to get in the checkout queue. As the checkout lady started bagging his items, she put the “next order” divider after his groceries and that was my signal to put things on the conveyor. One problem, he was so engrossed in his inane conversation he would not move down towards the bag area and kept his hand on my side of the divider as if to say “I am not ready to give up this space yet”. As I said above, I am not good at suffering fools, so I started emptying my cart over, around, and ON TOP OF HIS HAND, while he stood there with an angry look on his face. I just smiled and unloaded all my items on the conveyor, mostly ignoring him.

He finally got off the phone, looked at me and said loudly, “what’s YOU’RE problem?” I calmly looked him in the eye and said “I have none except people around me that are so caught up in their inane phone conversations, they have no clue what’s going on around them. And this store is not YOUR ‘territory’, it is meant to be shared by everyone”. He had nothing to say except a few profanities, and as he walked out the door he gave me the one-fingered salute. I smiled and waved. As a martial artist, I am aware of what can happen in fights so very rarely go down that path.

I thought everything was okay until minutes later I got on my exercise bike for my daily afternoon ride. I usually start slow at about 100 heartbeats per minute and work my way up through interval training to about 140 beats. Imagine my surprise when I got on the bike and my monitor showed 135 beats per minute! Could that incident in the store have done that to me? I knew it did.

My training in yoga and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu has given me some insights on breathing. Immediately I concentrated on taking deep breaths from the abdomen, filling it up, then breathing out very slowly. I also focused on turning my thoughts on what I was having for dinner. I did this for about a couple of minutes and was glad to see the monitor register 110 beats even as I increased the pace on the bike.

The moral: control your temper, breathe, breathe, and breathe…..Also, don’t give in to rude people or bullies. They must learn that what comes around goes around, sometimes immediately.

“The most important thing is not victory, the most important thing is not getting defeated”. Rickson Gracie

The Kenpo Logo and the Meaning of the Tiger

The Kenpo Freestyle Logo, including the Tiger. Kenpo Logo

The Tiger along with the Dragon are the central characters in our new logo.

The History of the Kenpo Logo

The Kenpo Freestyle Academy’s logo has been re-designed. We enlisted the services of a very talented young designer named Paolo Geronimo from the Philippines. In my not-so-humble, but very opinionated view, it is the world’s coolest Kenpo logo. After months of refinements, we release our Kenpo logo with pride.

In 2010 I wrote a blog post entitled “The Kenpo Freestyle Sydney Logo: What Does it Mean?” Since then I have reflected a lot on what our logo truly means. Many of the ideas of the first post are sound, but I would like to touch more deeply into the meaning of our new logo. Since there is so much to explore on this topic, I will break it down by the symbols in the Kenpo logo, starting with the tiger. The other symbols will be covered in subsequent blog posts.

Our Kenpo logo retains many of the features of the original American Kenpo version. The late great Ed Parker, who founded American Kenpo, said this about the tiger in his book, the Infinite Insights Into Kenpo, Volume 1: THE TIGER — represents earthly strength derived during the early stages of learning. This is the stage where the individual is more impressed with his own physical prowess.

With due respect to the great man, I agree with this to some extent, but believe that the tiger means more. A lot more. This magnificent creature, arguably the world’s most powerful animal predator on land, but unfortunately now endangered, represents so many positive things in our system, the Kenpo Freestyle Academy. It is also my favourite animal, so allow for a little bias to creep in here.

What the Tiger Represents

The tiger, along with the dragon, are the two central characters depicted on our logo. The tiger represents strength, power, stealth, defence, adaptability, individuality, patience, determination, focus, and generosity.

Tigers are extremely powerful. They are able to leap distances over 6 metres, can run over 60 km an hour, and can smash a bear’s skull with their front claws. Tigers can break the neck of their prey by simply crushing vertebrae with its jaws, and can take down and drag prey up to five times its size. Even a tiger’s “voice” is powerful. The roar of a Bengal tiger can be heard for over 2km at night. Overall, the tiger represents straight-ahead, linear power, with no retreat.

Tigers are masters of stealth. They can move through high grass, forest, and even water in silence. A common comment of those who have witnessed—or survived—an attack is that the tiger “came out of nowhere.” A tiger cannot catch a deer or other fleet-footed animal. Instead it uses stealth to catch its victims; attacking from the side or the rear, after creeping up very closely to its prey.

Tigers represent defence. In Asian cultures the tiger is a symbol of protection. Tiger paintings are often hung on walls inside buildings to guard entrances, “scaring demons away”. The heads of tigers were often painted on a soldier’s shield, in order to terrify the enemy.

In general, tigers will try to avoid fighting, unless absolutely necessary. Fighting usually happens only within the mating season. Males will often fight over one female, and the strongest male will have the privilege of mating with her. Still, tigers prefer to part ways and pursue a more peaceful existence elsewhere than to fight. Territory disputes are often settled by displays of intimidation rather than physical aggression. The tiger is wise because it knows an injury incurred in a fight most likely means starvation.

The tiger, like the dragon, is shown within a circle to show that the power of the tiger, like the power of Kenpo, is contained. The power is only unleashed, or broken from the circle, in order to defend ourselves or our families from violent attack. More about the circle in a later post.

Tigers are supremely adaptable. Unlike almost all other cats, tigers can swim long distances and can even attack and drag prey in the water. They are also adaptable in their hunting techniques. They can bite, claw, or strangle their prey. They are native to various habitats, from the forests to open grasslands, even tropical swamps.

The tiger’s sense of hearing is so sharp that they are capable of hearing infrasound, which are sound waves below the range of normally audible sound (20 hertz). They have a special adaptation to their retinas, which allows more light to reflect back into their eyes, making it easier to see in the dark.

The tiger’s striped coat helps them blend in well with their surroundings as the striping helps break up their body shape, making them difficult to detect for unsuspecting prey.

The Kenpo Tiger

The Tiger represents many important attributes in the Kenpo Freestyle System

Tigers stand on their own. They are solitary creatures. Except for a mother and her cubs, tigers live and hunt alone. They can have a social life; they just prefer to socialise from a distance. The stripes on every tiger are unique, just like the fingerprints of humans. On average, tigers have about a hundred stripes on their coats, helping them to camouflage themselves in the wild.

Tigers are persistent, patient, and disciplined. Catching a meal is not easy; a tiger is successful only once in ten to 20 hunts. But it must kill about once per week to avoid starvation. To give up is to die. The tiger is a study in discipline and patience. Due to its size it must approach prey using stealth, and cannot pounce too early as most prey will outrun it. The tiger may lie in wait for hours for an opportunity. If the prey is alerted, they must quietly wait until the jungle is calm again, which may take hours.

Tigers are focused. The tiger in the traditional Chinese folklore implies “the tiger never sleeps.” It symbolises the keen alertness of the wakeful tiger. The tiger must be alert to the slightest movement in the jungle, its focus must be keen in order to survive.

Tigers are known to share and be generous. In contrast to male lions, male tigers will allow the females and cubs to feed on the kill first. Furthermore, tigers seem to behave relatively friendly when sharing kills, in contrast to lions, which tend to squabble and fight. Unrelated tigers have also been observed feeding on prey together.

What the Tiger Means In Kenpo Freestyle

The spirit of the tiger is alive in our system. All Kenpo Freestyle students are taught from the earliest stages to move with power and stealth (put hips into play for power, no slamming of feet, move with grace and silence, attack from angles) and to have a powerful kiai. We are able to adapt to the circumstances (all ranges of combat, including kicking, punching, and grappling) and are open to modern innovations (freestyle).

Our students are taught to be generous by later becoming leaders in our organisation, and how to stand on their own two feet and become independent, resisting peer pressure. They are taught focus and concentration by the many games and activities we do that rely on it. Self discipline is another important aspect of the Kenpo Freestyle system, and is the basis for lifelong success.

In Kenpo, many of the movements of the tiger are used such as thrusts, stikes and rips, which can be employed from any angle. Our students are taught a strong defence (like the tiger) using head movement, footwork, blocking, and parrying. Our grapplers are taught defence first, attack later. Most importantly, our students are taught to avoid violence at all costs, just like the tiger.

We can learn much from this beautiful creature. The role of the dragon and how it relates to the tiger will be discussed next. What does the tiger mean to you in your martial arts journey? How do you like the new Kenpo logo?

How Good is Your Martial Arts Defence?

Bodium Castle in the background, with the more modern gun emplacement used in WWII in the foreground.

Bodium Castle, England, in the background, with the more modern gun emplacement used in WWII in the foreground. Defences in martial arts have likewise evolved.

Castles were once considered impenetrable. They evolved from simple mounds of earth to wooden structures. As attackers discovered they could burn them down with flaming arrows, stone became the norm.

Unfortunately for the defenders, Medieval attackers were soon able to penetrate their defences. Common techniques included burrowing beneath the corners of towers–undermining their foundations, thus causing the castle to collapse.

To counter this, castle designers added thicker outer walls–and then rings of extra outer walls. The idea of the concentric castle was then born about 1270.

From about the 1500, castles began to fade from fashion, and wealthy countries were choosing to build palaces rather than fortifications.

The reason for this was the advent of gunpowder. Stone castles, which were so impenetrable just a couple of hundred years before, were no match for mighty cannons.

Martial arts defences.

A good defence in martial arts will also evolve and stand the test of time. It will be easily adaptable to the circumstances. The three forms of defence are Stand-Up, Takedown, and Ground. Mastering all three will ensure your development as a well-rounded martial artist.

Stand-Up Defence

A good stand-up defence requires three elements; hand positioning, evasive head movement, and footwork. The best martial artists master all three.

Hand positioning. The hands should be held high, creating a barrier to head attacks. Elbows should be tucked in, protecting the midsection, and discouraging kicks by providing a bony target. Attacks should be launched only with the non-attacking hand in a protective position. Blocking and parrying with the hands, elbows, and forearms is used. As the Muay Thai fighters have proven with their effectiveness at blocking leg kicks with checks, the legs are also used.

Evasive head movement. Muhammad Ali was a master at moving his head out of the way of incoming punches. His slipping, bobbing, and weaving have been copied by boxers for decades since. Mike Tyson’s style of peek-a-boo defence was also considered impenetrable. All of the great fighters, including martial artists, possess this head movement, and Bruce Lee was one of the first to demonstrate its effectiveness.

Footwork. Traditional martial artists and also boxers have demonstrated the importance of footwork to avoid getting hit. By being light on your feet and mobile, you are a hard target. Footwork should be mastered as a means of defence and also attack. Lyoto Machida and Georges St. Pierre are examples of great footwork in the UFC.

Takedown Defence

Wrestlers have mastered this as it is an essential part of their training. Simple movements such as sprawling and whizzers make it very difficult to take a wrestler down. Wrestlers have dominated many mixed martial arts events because of their ability to not only take down their opponents, but also avoid takedowns. Fighters specialising in stand-up fighting are now experts at keeping fights standing using these moves. The great ex-UFC fighter, Chuck Liddell, was a prime example. He was a collegiate wrestler, but chose to keep the fight standing up due to his knockout power. He was able to dictate where the fight would take place.

Ground Defence

According to most experts in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, the primary goal for beginner students is to develop a good defence. This defence should include escapes from not only the worst positions, but also the most common attacks. By mastering defence, a the BJJ student can then learn to attack with confidence, without feeling vulnerable to their opponent’s attacks. As the variety of attacks have increased in BJJ, the defences have evolved to counter this.

Drill, drill, drill

Luckily for the martial artist, you can drill all aspects of your defence. By using a resisting opponent, BJJ fighters and wrestlers are uniquely preparing themselves for the realities of combat. Stand-up fighters can sharpen their defence using footwork drills, evasive head movement against an attacking partner with full head and glove protection, and most importantly, sparring against a live opponent. How good is your defence, and what are you doing to improve it?

Can Karate Classes Help Make Your Child More Independent?

Children becoming more independent in karate classes

Karate classes can help children become more independent in many ways.

If I hear one more person on Facebook say “I’m bored”, I am going to go off the rails! We think that the phone always has to ring, that people always have to be texting us, or that we must have someone to hang out with. What is wrong with hanging out with yourself? You must learn to like yourself and your own company. One of the things the martial arts have taught me is to be strong on my own.

Standing strong…alone. How can we encourage our children to stand on their own two feet? Karate classes can help in many ways. Let’s look at them.

Step Aside and Let Another Adult Take Over

As much as it is a temptation to always be with your young child, they need to learn to trust other adults in a supervised setting. Try leaving your child for small periods of time during karate class. By doing so, they will learn that they are still safe without your presence. Before long, they will be confident enough to do an entire class without you being present if need be.

Smaller Goals Over Time Build Their Confidence

The “little goals” or gradings at the end of each term add up to big ones over a period of years. As kids set the goal to get to that next rank they will learn how their attitude, attendance, and self discipline will achieve it. Each achievement enhances the child’s self-confidence and they start learning that “they did this on their own”. The martial arts are individual, not team sports. The kids learn to count on themselves, and they never, ever ride the bench or sit out just because they “aren’t as good as the rest of the team”.

Children Need to Fail Every So Often

Rising from disappointment is one of life’s most important lessons to learn. By experiencing failure and overcoming it, the child will grow into a strong, independent adult. I have seen it time after time over the last twenty years of teaching. Some of the strongest efforts on our advanced gradings were from students who failed to achieve their goals in prior tests. They decided for themselves that they really wanted to pass and gave it their all.

Instructor for a Day

We sometimes let the kids take each other through warm-up activities or even come up to the front of the class to demonstrate a technique. We also consistently ask them questions. Encouraging them to talk or demonstrate builds up their confidence and is important for their feeling of independence. It also keeps the karate class engaged.

We Praise Our Karate Kids

Children are highly motivated by recognition and approval. Praising them for a job well done will increase their self-esteem and self-reliance. We are careful, however, to not over do it, as excessive praise teaches children to seek outside approval, thus making them more vulnerable to peer pressure. We look to find something each child does well, and praise them publicly for it.

Their Friends Dropped Out

Many kids joined karate classes with their friends. The friends dropped out for one reason or another, but they are still there, training every week. They have learned one of life’s most important lessons. You are not dependent on others for fun, or success in life. You can do it on your own.

Being Able To Stand Up for Themselves

As our students become more confident in themselves they are less likely to be targeted by bullies. Many parents have commented that since their child has been in martial arts, the bullying has stopped, even though not one fight had taken place. This ability to stand up for themselves makes children less susceptible to peer pressure and builds their independence.

Let Your Children Make Financial Transactions and Interact With Adults

The parents of my students taught me this one. They send their child up to the front desk with their money, the child says his or her name to check in, and hands me the money. They even thank me. I should be thanking them! This is a very smart thing to encourage a child to do, as it builds their confidence and ability to function in the world independently. Brilliant!

Independence is the greatest gift you can pass on to your child; it will greatly contribute to their success later in life. Karate classes can greatly assist in this effort. Have karate classes helped you to become more independent?

How Martial Arts Builds Self-Discipline in Children

A child learning self-discipline through martial arts

Kids will strive to do their best if they enjoy the activity and will learn self-discipline in the process. This will follow them throughout their lives.

Discipline in the martial arts does not mean making a child do knuckle push-ups for misbehaving in class. I am not a supporter of using exercise for punishment anyway. No, what we are talking about here is self-discipline. Discipline is all about doing what you must do even when you don’t want to do it.

self-dis·ci·pline (slfds-pln)
Training and control of oneself and one’s conduct, usually for personal improvement.

Collins English Dictionary – Complete and Unabridged

the act of disciplining or power to discipline one’s own feelings, desires, etc., esp with the intention of improving oneself.
self-disciplined adj

Webster’s College Dictionary

Control of Self

How does a child learn to control his temper and not lash out? A good role model that he or she looks up to can be a big help. If the sensei says it’s not right to strike another child in anger, most kids take it on. I have even had many parents complain that their child did not hit back when they were attacked because “the sensei said it is not right to use karate at school”. Good or bad, this is self-control in its purest form.

Activity Must be Fun!

How do you get your child to get off the video games and get ready for karate class? Simple, the child has to like the activity. If you can make the classes fun and challenging at the same time, the child will be more likely to continue with it.

Goals Should be Broken Into Little Chunks

How do you keep a child motivated? You have to break the goals into little chunks, because for a kid, six months is forever! Break the goals down into smaller chunks and reward them for their efforts more often. This is not bribery, this is just how kids operate.

The Sensei Knows if You Have Been Practising

How do you get kids to practice at home? This is a hard one, but if the sensei suggests strongly that the child practice outside of class, and says he or she will “check your work next week”, a good many will.

Games Build Concentration and Peer Pressure Can Make Them Work Harder

How can you get a bored child to concentrate? Play a game that requires the child to concentrate in order to win. Every child wants to win at games. Peer pressure can help as every child wants to fit in. “Yes I focus on that kata one more time because the rest of the class is doing it”. They start to learn how to concentrate on their own, enough to master the techniques that are required of them.

Recognition is the Key to Building Mastery

How do you get children to do their best? Use the carrot, not the stick! We always make it a point to have a child demonstrate for the class a technique in which he or she is very good. It makes all the children in the class try harder. Kids are like any other human, we all crave recognition. As the child begins to achieve a sense of mastery, and this is recognised publicly, they start feeling a lot better about themselves and this is where they begin to really enjoy martial arts.

Over a period of years students learn that if they persist, work hard, and do not give up, worthy goals are achieved. It is a lesson that will serve them well throughout their lives. How has the martial arts helped your child’s self-discipline?

Should Parents Be Allowed to Observe Kids Martial Arts Classes?

Parents watching a kids martial arts class

A child performs karate moves under the watchful eye of his parents.

In the “old school” it was considered poor practise to allow parents to observe their children doing their martial arts classes. Were they hiding something, or was there a reason for this policy? A lot has changed, with parents now encouraged to watch and sometimes take part in the running of classes. What are the pros and cons of parents being allowed to watch the classes?

Arguments in Favour of Allowing Parents to watch Kids Martial Arts Classes

First, let’s explore the arguments in favour of allowing parents to watch the classes. There are many.

Right to Know What Goes On

It is the parent’s right to see what goes on in the classes. The parents are paying for them, and they need to see if they are getting value for money. They need to see if their child is getting anything out of the classes. There is a lot of competition for their dollar in the current martial arts world, and there is a good chance another school will be a better choice if they have enrolled their child in a poor school.

Better for the Kids

It is better for the kids if they are watching. Parents will remember important announcements or pick up newsletters. Kids will forget them.

Parents can give the kids feedback if the child does not seem to be getting something, as they can often see things the child may not see themselves. In addition, parents can give the instructor feedback if the child is having trouble doing something.

Encourages the Children to Do Better

They will do their best to impress you. They’ll take a greater interest in class if mom and dad is watching, and especially if they are encouraging the child. They will take more pride in their achievements, and will be more likely to practise outside of class. Parents might even be called upon to help with a class by holding kick bags or focus mitts, or managing a game. Kids love it when their parents get involved. It shows support for the school and the child.

It Protects the Child

There have been numerous cases of child abuse over the years involving karate instructors. Would this have happened if the parents had been more involved in the classes and was allowed to observe them at all times? I suspect the answer would be “no”.

There may be other reasons, of which I am not aware. This is your chance to chime in reader, hint, hint…

Arguments Against Allowing Parents to watch Kids Martial Arts Classes

Now, the arguments in favour of not allowing the parent to watch their children in martial arts classes. There are also many here.

Child Feels Self-conscious

I’ve had many parents remove themselves from the classes, complaining the children become too self-conscious if they are watching them in the classes. I suspect this arises as the child tries too hard to meet their parent’s approval.

Child Is Distracted

In some cases the child constantly checks to see if mom or dad is watching. This may also stem from trying to meet the parent’s approval.

Loud Parents Distract Class

Parents create a disturbance by loud chatting or phone conversations. This happens a lot, and is one reason many are asked to leave the hall. In other cases, siblings are not managed properly and create a disturbance, interrupting the class. Please see another post about this subject.

Parents loudly giving instruction to their children. In extreme cases I have seen parents, usually fathers, loudly correcting their children, sometimes in a foreign language. Not only is this disruptive to the class (in any language), it makes the child feel self-conscious and singled out.

Parents Comparing their Kids to Others

If a parent with a big ego sees other children progressing faster than their own they will have the tendency to accuse the sensei of favoritism, poor teaching, or other forms of incompetence. At that point, they feel they can withdraw their child from the program without any sense of guilt. In less extreme cases, the child will be made to feel they can never measure up, but will feel like quitting themselves.

There are many pros and cons on this issue. Perhaps the solution is to allow the parents to watch from an enclosed area with windows so they can see the classes, but not be a distraction. This would not always be practical, however. In any case, it is important for parents to support their children in their martial arts journey. I have written a separate blog post about this, which you might find interesting.

What are YOUR thoughts on this issue?