When I was a brand new (adult) student at the dojo, I was surprised to learn that the kids played games. As a beginning student and parent I wanted to know “what was the point of all the games?” We have a fun Sensei and the kids really enjoyed the games. When we started, my two kids were in the adult classes and did not get to play games. Sensei Mae and her brother did go to karate camp and enjoyed a week of learning and games—so they were not too old.
Fortunately our Sensei has patience. As I look back of course he does, he was able to teach me karate!
I learned in my sensei training that the games are a great teaching tool, like any other drill that makes learning and perfecting a skill fun. We come to the dojo in the pursuit of knowledge (shugyou is the Japanese word for “pursuit of knowledge”). Games allow us to pursue knowledge in a fun way, and that knowledge will stick. In thinking about games, we know that kids love competition and it improves their skills. Imagine two students facing each other performing a front hand punch in a front stance. I say a word that is the cue for the students to hit the pad. The student has to listen for that word, process the action needed and execute prior to the other student to “win” the game. What they truly win is a better understanding of their skill level and how to execute the punch properly as we correct technique and stances.
We played this great game today with the kids. I will have to credit another Sensei for this idea. We had about 20 kids in class of all ranks and ages from age 5 through 12. We were working on proper horse stances (kiba-dachi is the Japanese word for “horse stance”) and center punches. The Sensei had all the kids hold hands and walk out until they formed a big circle. What a fun way to create a circle! The kids then dropped into a horse stance and punched the air facing their fellow students. Soon a few had to sit as they could not hold their kiba-dachi any longer. We increased the tempo that the students were punching at to get the game going faster. Kids were having a blast. It turned out that of the 4 remaining students 3 were on the competition team and practice kiba-dachi on a regular basis. So, do you see the point of the game? The kids had fun and practiced their skills and now have a higher bar to shoot for. I am sure they will ask to try this game again next week to show that they have improved. As an adult are you practicing shugyou? Would you like to play this game as well? I know that making learning fun is something I am always trying to do.
We often ask after class if the class was fun. We truly want practicing shugyou to be fun for every student. Games are just one way that we have fun in the dojo. We practice drills, and while they may not appear to be as much fun as Sensei ’s game, I know that sometimes after work just being able to hit something feels really good. Drills provide a way to focus our thoughts away from the world’s problems and allows us to focus on a larger goal like black belt.
I enjoy working with the students, making drills and games fun learning adventures. It is not only acceptable to have games at the dojo, it really enhances the learning experience. I have come a long way since I was a white belt! I am a different person and more complete. I now know that I did not just learn kata and fighting but also a different way to look at the world. Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “The mind, once stretched by a new idea, never returns to its original dimensions.” The same is now true for me about games at the dojo. How about you? Has being in karate stretched your mind to new possibilities? Are you interested in learning more and practicing shugyou? See you in class soon and maybe we will get to play a game together!