By David Wong
By David Wong
For parents considering enrolling their child in karate, we believe this is an important topic. As Karate instructors, this is a topic that comes before us quite often. We are often asked if it’s good for kids to be in Karate? What is the best age for kids to join a Dojo? What training methods are applied to teaching Karate to kids? What benefits will my child derive from Martial Arts training? Different parents, same questions.
If you take the time to look at the many, many dojos on the web with regards to kids in the martial arts, you will see them highlight such terms as; Honor, respect, focus, goal setting, self-discipline, self control, self improvement, self esteem, physical fitness, flexibility, improved communications, awareness, anti-bullying, confidence, better health, and on and on. What do all these wonderful promises really mean?
Well, first let me say very honestly: kids are difficult to train! Their attention spans are short, and the only true knowledge of martial art they may have is what they have seen in the movies, TV or video games they play. Personally, if I had suitable options, I would teach only adults. But that’s just me. And, that said, we have an excellent kids program regardless of my personal thoughts on this.
The promises made in today’s karate kids programs are mostly intended to get your interest and get kids into the dojo. Not to say that some of those promises may not be met, but each child is different. On the positive side, a good school will indeed focus on the honor, respect, discipline as outlined above because that’s part of the general training method. Most true ‘traditional’ martial arts styles have a long heritage of those attributes within the dojo and it should be a very obvious way of life in the school.
When you consider taking a four year old to train in martial arts, consider that less than three years ago they were just testing out their walking skills, and now you’re asking for them to be taught to kick and punch. Both fairly complicated skills for most toddlers. Not to mention, the very limited attention span we mentioned earlier. A funny story; the other day we were at class and one of the kids started crying…for no apparent reason. Just moments before, he was laughing and carrying on with his fellow dojo mates. When I asked him what was the matter he sobbed and said his mom had just left the dojo and she had left him there alone. He wouldn’t stop crying, so we had to stop class and walk him to the parent waiting area to show him that mom had just stepped into the ladies room. The crying stopped and we resumed class. And this was a 5 year old, and this was not an extraordinary event when teaching kids.
We recently lowered our training ‘start’ age to 4 years old to accommodate the many calls we have received for this age group. We even get calls from parents for three year olds, claiming that their child is much advanced for his/her age. Unfortunately, this is mostly pride on the part of the ill advised parent. Karate training for kids less than 6 years of age is mostly an expensive form of babysitting, while wearing a karate Gi.
In my opinion, a better way to spend the time with your 3, 4 or 5 year old, is to take them on nature walks or do something else together. Then when they are 6, find a school where you can both train. That would be excellent for the child and parent. After all, you have to be there anyway, so why not reward yourself and your body with an excellent workout at the same time? You will both enjoy the experience and the long term benefits.
However, if you insist on starting a toddler early in the martial arts, understand that they are probably not going to be the next Bruce Lee. Don’t anticipate more than that they will hopefully be able to retain and do some skills after 6 months or so and the spinning wheel kicks as seen on TV and the big screen are light years away. If they are just enjoying being with the other kids and are comfortable with the routines of the dojo, then you’re way ahead of the pack.
A word about what to watch for regarding Instructors: Instructors should conduct and present themselves as such; just simply and humbly, as an instructor. Instructors are not Gods or super heroes. They should be neat, clean and obviously capable. Their concerns should be about the students under their supervision, not how good they are or were as advanced Black Belts. A flashy Gi, jewelry, multi colored belt, patches all over their Gi, etc. just says – ‘Hey, look at me”! Take a look at any photo of any of the ‘Father’s’ of our sport, and what do you see? Just mature instructors wearing a simple white Gi and a black belt, nothing more. Only their actions and way of life spoke for them.
If you have any questions about this point, look at the Jim Carey video we have provided for you and imagine leaving your child…or you, under his care. If you see behavior like that at your prospective dojo…run quickly, don’t look back.
So what is the bottom line? When considering Karate for your child, ask yourself honestly what you want him or her to take away from the training. If you just want a place where they can spend an hour at a time and have a good time with other kids, then there are many schools out there that will provide that. If a child is mature enough (5-6 years old) and really has an interest in martial arts, then look around at the many schools and styles available out there and find one that suits your child the best. Some kids love the flashiness of an eclectic school that focuses on competition and athletics in their training methods. Others are more comfortable with the less flashy traditional style training that focuses on basic principles and competition is an option, not goal of the school.
Either way, you as the parents have to put a bit of time and effort into the final choice. Once that choice is made, then be prepared and committed to spend the time with your child at the school, showing interest in their training and providing encouragement. If you have any questions regarding the various styles you may encounter, drop us a comment and we’ll do the best to answer your question.
From the onset of our blog, we have stressed that there are many facets to our art, the most important being respect and courtesy. Last week my associate had an experience on the mat that he feels epitomizes respect, courtesy, honor and spirit on the karate floor. The story involves two highly trained Black Belts. He has expressed his thoughts in his own words, following:
‘There is never an end to what we learn practicing our beautiful discipline. I would like to share an episode that I believe can teach everyone a lot. For those of you who are just starting on the journey of Karate, please understand that what I am about to share with you is an extreme situation that we can use to understand how much karate is in our souls and runs in our veins.
During a “kumite” (sparring) practice last week, in spite of the high precautions we try to keep in order not to invoke injuries to our opponents (or to be injured ourselves), accidents can happen. Karate being a highly physical sport, this may occur from time to time. This is about what happened last week during a good sparring match with a very capable and expert Sensei. Towards the end of our match, I was admittedly tired but seeing an opening I just threw a punch to the face. I lost control of the punch and hit the intended target, failing to pull the punch in time to avoid contact. It resulted in an injury to my opponent, who is a dear friend, causing a fractured and collapsed cheekbone. This injury required surgery and several days of pain and convalescing at home for Sensei.
Even after 25 years training in karate these episodes always leave you with many thoughts. Predominant is the feeling of responsibility in causing harm to someone else, a fact that is in every way opposite of karate teachings. Since that day I just think how this could have been avoided. Probably if I wasn’t as tired as I was I could have controlled the punch strength better and just “touched” sensei’s face, which is something we don’t do in any regards. A bunch of thoughts overlap and give me uncomfortable vibes regarding this unfortunate accident.
What lesson can we take from all of this? What is the teaching value? The answer to this came from Sensei, who from the moment of impact and from the onset, in terrible pain, tried to reassure me that it was an accident and that he was blaming himself, not me, because he failed to block my punch! Incredible!! In what other world (sport or life) can people reach this kind of faithful consciousness? This huge, unwavering sense of mutual respect that never put in doubt that his being hit was not my mistake, but his, and holding me unaccountable for it? I believe that there is no other place with such a high sense of respect among practitioners or each other, where the acceptance of accidents is done with such a trustful confidence that the other’s act was totally fair (regardless of the outcome).
All I can do is just bow to him and his kindness with huge respect in this person and to his capability of facing this painful accident in this way’.
Thank you Sensei!
Karate for Dummies – A dirty little secret
Hey out there. Hope everyone had a fabulous President’s Day holiday. We sure did. One of our weekend activities included taking part in a karate tournament locally. Generally speaking it was a nice event. It was not an ‘National’ or ‘Regional’ event. Rather it was a mid size local event, basically for traditional style karate practitioners.
Here where we live, there is a large legal firm that uses the media to share with potential clients and others, the little secrets that Insurance companies and others don’t want us to know. They end their commercials with their lead attorney saying: ‘…well, now you know’! So I thought we would add our own little ’… now you know’ piece here for you.
As I have stated before, we have been doing this (Karate) for a long time. But we have not been active participants in any…any, Regional, National or World martial arts competition. Personally, I did compete more than once in the NY State Open, and had lots of fun, even though I was even then unaware of the ‘Dirty Little Secrets’. Fast forward 25 or so years.
So here we are this past weekend and one of our advanced students is waiting to compete in Kata. To set the stage, I will share this. The head judge was a Certified judge/referee of a major karate ‘Organization’. He was joined by two other Certified Judges of the similar organization, even though this event was not sanctioned by that organization. It was just a coincidence that they were all there with their students and were asked to assist in the judging, which is a normal practice at small events. As many will already know, competitors are assigned colored belts for the purpose of identifying them while competing. Generally, the colors now used are red and blue (Aka and Ao). They are assigned once the competition pairings are set.
This week there were 6 advanced competitors in the Kata competition. Two were from the above mentioned ‘Organization’, one was from the tournament host’s school, two were from a team attending from outside of our country (kudos to them for their long trip) and the last was my student. So now we’re at the point of assigning belts and competition order. Let me inject this into the equation; I have learned that a competitor who is ‘fortunate’ enough to be assigned ‘Aka’ has a 50-60% better chance to advance to the next round. ‘Fortunate’ is the operative word. How does that ‘fortune’ occur? Good question? I’ll leave the answer for you to decide. So it went that the two ‘organization’ students and the ‘hosts’ student were assigned…’Aka’. Wow! How fortunate, indeed. You think!? To add insult to injury our student was assigned to compete in the first grouping. How important is that? Well, in this case, not so much.
To be totally honest, the three ‘Aka’ competitors were clearly the best of the six. Our student is quite competent. However, his Kata is very traditional. Not as ‘eclectic’ as those who apply European style form to kata, which is now heavily preferred in National and World tournaments. A competitor assigned ‘Ao’ and loses the first match, can only advance if the person who beats him continues to win. At this event that person did not win the second match, assuring that our student was basically done for the day. One shot …adios muchacho! More on this in another Post down the road.
As a seasoned instructor and observer at many such events, by the time the belt assignments were made, it was clear that all Aka who would place in the 1,2,3 order. Surely, unless some catastrophe took place, the others would follow in 4,5,6. No such catastrophic event took place. The script played out exactly as intended. I felt sorry not just for my student, but more so for the others who travelled so far, waited so long to compete (7 hours) and received so little respect for their efforts.
The moral of all of this: These things happen in competition. Be aware of the fact that there is politics even in the honorable world of our Karate. Judges have favorites. A judge who has done this for many years, and has seen the same competitors for those many years, already has a mind set as to what he/she can expect, and as a result small flaws may/will be overlooked in favor of a proven competitor vs. someone they have never seen or is not part of a major group.
As a parent, as a coach, as a participant, ask questions. Be alert during competition. Don’t be rude. That’s never acceptable. Just be alert.
…well, now you know!
I remember watching this video one evening…way back when, and I recall that while it was funny, at the time I also thought it was a bit insulting to the Karate that I was involved in. The satire made karate look bad. Or so I thought then.
Well, that was then. I was relatively young and proud of the Karate that we practiced and taught. But ‘our’ karate world was caught up in one dojo and under one instructor. Thank God he was (is) an extremely proficient instructor and extremely traditional in his ways.
Fast forward and with over a 30 years worth or perspective, we’re now posting the video as an aide to future, and in some cases I hope, existing students who are either considering taking up the Art or find themselves in a Dojo where the instructor resembles Mr. Carey in his ways. And it’s quite common, unfortunately.
What’s wrong, you ask? Excellent question, Grasshopper! Karate instructors (Sensei) are supposed to be humble. Their job is to teach karate, not to build up their own ego by their accomplishments, whether real, contrived or set upon them. Instructors, Yudansha and Karateka who are indeed great, rarely show it outwardly. Their greatness is just….there.
OK, here’s something from left field as an example, for thought. In William Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night he wrote; “Be not afraid of greatness: some are born great, some achieve greatness and some have greatness thrust upon them” (Quote Act II, Scene V). I can just as easily quote some of karate’s great Masters, but this one works just fine. I love that quote. You see, great karate instructors don’t have to ‘look’ great, or ‘act’ great. Their greatness is reflected in the way they conduct themselves and in their students. They take a back seat to their own ‘greatness’, if any. That accolade, will be given by future generations.
So what’s wrong with the Video?….nothing, really. It’s hilarious. It’s everything a karate instructor is NOT supposed to be. We are not invincible. We cannot shift our body organs (or maybe I missed that class). We cannot catch a bullet in our teeth (remember that one?). Our bones do break, like anyone else’s, and we do suffer from pain. And very, very few of us are ‘World Champions’. Maybe, just maybe, I’m champion of my block. So much for the fantasies.
So if you do visit a dojo, as a prospective student, and see an instructor who is ‘Jim Carey like’, run away quickly! If you are a student of one already, and truly enjoy your style and the art of Karate, you may want to take a look at who else is out there to teach you.
The Karate journey is a life time journey. It is a long one, and your foundation has to be solid so you can overcome all of the obstacles you will encounter. Build that foundation on a good instructor. So, how do you choose an instructor? Another good question, Grasshopper! We’ll try to figure that one out in our next posting.
Hey out there! Just to get started safely, and correctly, and for those who are just gaining an understanding of Karate, let’s get the ‘proper’ History done. There’s nothing extraordinary or revealing here. After all, we can’t change History, and you can get basically the same mantra about Karate History in thousands of places on the web, right? And believe it or not, there are many versions. So bear with me.
‘Karate’ is a Japanese word. ‘Kara’ means ‘empty’ or ‘open’, and ‘Te’ means ‘hand’. So together it can stand for either ‘Empty Hand’ or ‘Open Hand’ depending on who’s applying the interpretation. However, either is correct.
Karate is a Japanese Martial art, but history teaches us that originally it was a style of martial art developed in the Ryukyu Islands in what is now Okinawa, Japan. The history of the Ryukyu Islands is complicated, so for the sake of simplicity, it was a Chinese Tributary of the Ming Dynasty. Fast forward several hundred years and subsequently, around 1879 the Ryukyu Province was renamed Okinawa Prefecture and the monarchy of Shuri was abolished.
By then, of course, the Ryukyuans had developed an indigenous fighting method they simply called ‘Te’ (hand), much or some of which was from Chinese Kenpo, prior to the 19th century annexation by Japan. It was the Okinawan’s who changed the name from ‘Te’ to ‘Karate’ during the early 20th century, during a time of cultural exchanges and escalating Japanese militarism between the Japanese and the Ryukyuans, to indicate that the Japanese wanted to develop the Okinawan form in Japanese style.
In 1922 the Japanese Ministry of Education invited Gichin Funakoshi, of Okinawa, to Tokyo to give a karate demonstration. Subsequently in 1924 Keio University established the first university karate club in Japan. Hence, Gichin Funakoshi is generally regarded as the Father of modern day karate. Funakoshi was the founder of the Shotokan Style of Karate. Master Funakoshi passed away on April 26, 1957 at the age of 89.
Funakoshi’s Shotokan Karate has continued to thrive, and it is the style that we teach.
But Shotokan Karate is but one of the many Japanese Karate Styles among many other Japanese martial arts styles and others worldwide.
For more in-depth historical information check: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Karate.