In Case of an Emergency, Are You Prepared?

Sensei Mae here.

          The reason I got into karate was to learn how to defend myself. Are you prepared to defend your life?

Having traveled around the world, I have been in some hairy situations. I learned that having a black belt didn’t save my life. Actually, no belt can stop bullets.  Having a black belt doesn’t stop people from attacking you either. Sometimes we get so caught up in belt promotions and learning the next kata to get to the next belt that we forget the central truth in karate: “There is no first strike in karate.” This was written on Funakoshi’s gravestone for a reason. Karate is all about self-defense. We are not to go out and stir up trouble, but we ought to know how to shut it down.


Sensei Mae on top of the world defending herself

The first and most important rule of self-defense is never to put yourself in a dangerous situation.  That’s not to say don’t have fun and never leave your house. Be aware of your surroundings.  We don’t have to be experts in reading body language; however, we should be in control of our own self and emotions.

A close second rule is always being prepared. It’s like keeping a spare tire for your car. Some things are inevitable and you simply have to keep the necessary supplies on hand.  Just like a tire iron and a car jack, having a powerful front kick and back fist are tools to have for saving your life. Do you feel confident enough in your technique that you can save yourself from an attacker? I know I do because I have had to use my training to save myself and others with me. However, you don’t want to wait for the test to know if you are prepared. Regular practice is paramount for self-defense. Pick a few moves that you particularly like and you really feel comfortable with and practice those. Muscle memory can be created by practicing a few moves a day a few minutes a day. Have a few moves that can get you out of a scuffle quickly. The end goal is to get home safely.

I encourage all of you to practice your self-defense often. It is what karate is all about. By practicing regularly, your self-confidence will soar. I challenge you to do your favorite self-defense move every day for the month of December with me.

I am looking forward to hearing about what your favorite moves are and how you are coming with the challenge. I know Sensei Glen and I will be practicing daily.




Are You Ready for the Test?


Am I ready to test?

This last weekend we had a black belt test, and as a new Sensei I was on the panel judging the candidates. They did great. The test got me thinking about how we prepare for a test.

Test preparation begins with the first day of class as a white belt. Day one in class—making the decision to show up is probably the hardest day of class. We all have so many unknowns and you may not know how to fit in. Day 2—coming back to class is an equally hard day as you need to decide if you have enough determination to see the process through. Will you finish what you began? That is the question you begin to answer showing up for the second time.

In school, every class that you attend, assignment you complete, and contribution that you make helps prepare you for any questions that may appear on a test. At the dojo, each class is adding to your base of knowledge in a variety of subjects (kicking, punching…) and you are able to measure yourself against a standard that is set up at the dojo. Attending class regularly helps build up the muscles, stamina, quickness and speed necessary to make it from white to black belt.

Each belt level leading to black belt has a series of kicks, strikes, katas, weapons or other techniques that the student is required to demonstrate. There were times that we were and other times that we were not ready for our next belt test. Sometimes we did not put in the practice or the hard work required for the next level. Vince Lombardi said the “Dictionary is the only place that success comes before work. Hard work is the price we must pay for success. I think you can accomplish anything if you’re willing to pay the price.” So, whether in karate or on the gridiron it appears that you need to work hard (practice) and then you can accomplish your goals.

I was always thinking about if I was or was not ready for the next belt test. What skills did I need to learn and were they being taught in the class I was in or could I ask a fellow student after class to show me a move or a technique or sometimes even a whole kata.  Belt progressions and getting ready for belt tests rely on our own personal motivations and goals. Will we put in the work it takes to reach that next level? It would be great to condense all required knowledge down to a simple formula or practice one day out of seven and have all the skills and stamina needed. Each person is different and we are all ready at different times.

Here is my simple diagram on determining if I am ready for the next test.


Sensei Glen’s diagram. Ready to test?

If my answer was I was not yet ready for the test, I went to as many classes as I could and asked others for assistance, especially the Senseis. It was sometimes easy and at other times hard to identify what areas of assistance I was looking to develop or improve. Sometimes my class work or a private lesson pointed out areas that I needed to practice. When I practiced, received coaching and had the skills, I would pass the test. In business we talk about performing at the next level and then moving to that next level. It is often the same in karate.

When preparing for our black belt test, we thought we were ready because we had come to class and worked some of the time outside of class. We asked our Sensei to let us come to the black belt pre-test. We quickly discovered we were not ready.

The pre-test is a great option at our dojo, and our black belt pre-test was a humbling experience for us. It was there we recognized how much work (practice) and coaching we needed prior to the actual black belt test.  About six months later we were asked to take the test as we had put in the hard work and developed our skills.  An interesting change occurred in that six month time period. We did spend significantly more time training than we had prior to the pre-test failure. We applied the failure of the pre-test to get help in areas where we were weak. This training in class, private lessons and practice sharpened what we thought were good skills into black belt skills. Even after we passed we realized we were not as good as we could be and continue to work on improving our skills.

It is easy to know that you are ready for a test when Sensei says “hey, you are ready and should take the test.”

Of course, we had already learned beginning with the white belt test that you are ready for the test when you keep practicing correctly that new skill.

A popular myth is that 10,000 hours of practice will make anyone an expert. We first need to think about the kind of practice. If you practice self-defense move #1 for 10,000 hours, you might not be any better at it if you practice it imperfectly. If you are at the dojo or have a private lesson and receive feedback on self-defense move #1 you will, over time, become an expert. This is when you begin to know that you are ready for the test. You have received feedback that you can demonstrate the skill or technique successfully more than once from an acknowledged expert.

The reason Sensei will say you are ready for the test is that your Sensei sees the results of the hard work and determination you put into practicing skills both in the dojo and at home. When your kata looks good and you know your self-defense it is easy for you and your Sensei to know that it is time to take the test.

I will leave you with one final quote from Vince Lombardi: “The difference between a successful person and others is not a lack of strength, not a lack of knowledge, but rather a lack of will.” These words can be applied to belt tests and all others in life. Gathering the will to practice properly and obtain feedback on your skills will make it obvious to you and your Sensei that you are ready for the next test.

See you in class soon. Please ask me or any of the other Senseis your questions to help you prepare for that next test!


Looking Forward to Training on Mats?

Yes, I for one am looking forward to getting back on the dojo floor training mats. We used to train exclusively on mats in the former location. While at our temporary dojo we have had the opportunity to work out and train on carpet and on a gym floor (I hope you did not miss that training session!). Of course, outside of a few weeks on the “old mats” we have spent most of our time training on carpet. The new dojo will again have training mats and it will be an almost new experience getting used to training on mats.

I practice at home on carpet and at the gym on wooden floors (after racquetball I run kata on a gym floor). Each time I switch surfaces, I notice that I have to stop and pay attention to some of my moves as my feet transition differently on each surface.

In the most generic terms, floors seem to come in two broad categories:  hard or soft.  Harder training floors are generally faster but lack padding.  Softer floors have more padding but are sometimes squishy and generally slower. For the recent black belt test the candidates kicked and performed kata on the carpeted concrete floor in the temporary dojo; this was a “hard surface.” We also used a double layer of mats brought in for the purpose of self-defense and fighting; this was our “soft surface,” and it was better being thrown on this surface than the carpet!

Looking forward to these mats at the new dojo!

Red mats at the former dojo

The carpet system in our temporary home has some advantages. We will not always meet opponents on dojo mats or gym floors. This is good training in multiple settings. In addition, the one foot squares appeal to me during kata and other drills when I am looking for square edges and marks on where I am going. Today in kick class we worked on skipping from one square to another and the students liked the drill on the carpet patterns.

We have a lot of room in the temporary carpeted dojo. As we move to a smaller space, are we going to lose something? Do our temporary large surroundings give large quality skills?  No, those skills we learn are not from the room or even the floor. We learn skills from our quality instructors. I am sure that if we would travel to Okinawa we would not see roomy, fancy, well-appointed facilities. It is likely that the opposite is the case and most, not all, would be small and dimly lit. That would not diminish the karate teaching.

So, Sensei Glen, are you saying we need Spartan surroundings to produce Spartan warriors? (I did graduate from Michigan State University, home of the Spartans.)  No, Spartan surroundings do not make Spartan warriors. I am positive the new dojo will have what we need to become successful.

Success comes from the inside and not the floor covering. I am still looking forward to seeing the training mats as a part of the new dojo. How about you? See you in class soon.

What Do You Want to Learn?

Hi, Sensei Glen here. I was putting together my first class ever last week as our Sensei was at the AAU national tournament. My first question was “What would I want to learn if I was a student in my class?” Then I asked by black belt wife, always a good call. She had a few ideas for me which I planned to use.

My initial instinct was to teach basic punches and kicks and only teach what I am 100% sure of. So, then I got to thinking. “What do we learn at the dojo?” The easy answer is that the class curriculum consists of striking, kicking, stances, blocking, fighting, self-defense, kata and weapons.

Is that what we learn? Yes, we do learn that every kick has four parts; we learn how to make a proper fist. We learn how to throw others and how to defend ourselves. Even adding that, is that all we learn? We learn discipline and order as well as how to line up and show respect. What have you learned in class? Please leave a comment below.

As I was preparing to teach, I kept in mind the saying “Communication is what the listener does” [by Mark Horstman Manager Tools]. So, what do the students hear? Like all of us, we hear what we are expecting to hear or sometimes want to hear.

Students join karate to work out, have fun, learn a new skill, protect themselves or gain confidence. From this list I know that already any teacher is at a disadvantage. While we are teaching strikes the student may only want to hear about how to use any skill to show off or have fun. How do I connect a skill with the student’s desire for learning? For example, kicking is fun or kicking is good for self-defense or kicking will give you a good workout… I realized that as the teacher for the day my job was to match what I was teaching with what the students needed. My Sensei says that you teach what you need the students to learn.


Sensei Glen’s First Class by Sensei Mae

How did my students do? They were able to punch and kick as directed and all were happy at the end of class. I learned a lot as well. Sensei always makes it look natural. It is hard work to make teaching look natural.

What do you as a student or as a teacher want to learn and are you communicating? See you in class soon.