Is All You Really Need to Know Taught In White Belt Class?

A popular book from 1979 was: All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten: Uncommon Thoughts on Common Things by Robert Fulghum. At the time, my mother was a Kindergarten teacher so this was a popular book in my house. When the book came out, I was in college. My thought was “can I skip exams and just go back to the dinner table?” Of course that was not the point of the book. How to get along in society was the point of the book with lessons on sharing, playing fair, not hitting people (except at the dojo under supervision!), cleaning up, washing up, taking naps, and general life balance advice. It was popular for a good reason and still makes sense for today.

Sensei shared with us in advanced class that the material taught at white belt will save your life. That is why he teaches it at white belt. When I was working on passing my black belt test, I went back several times to white belt class and I was happy that I did!  In white belt class the most powerful techniques are explained and I apparently needed to learn them again. Or to put it a better way: I needed to deepen my understanding and put the skills into practice.

White belt class is going back to the fundamental s of karate. How do I stand? How do I punch? How can I defend myself? How do I make a fist so I will not hurt myself when I hit a bag?  These were some of the basic elements I was trying to fit together with all of the other knowledge gained as I made the journey to brown belt. Having a year or so to put together all of what I had learned to that point along with knowing how and when to use certain techniques was intimidating.  So it took us longer than a year to get ready for the black belt test.

Sensei asked us this question in advanced class the other day: “How well do you know gyaku-zuki?”



Sensei Mae performing advanced kata.


Okay time for the Japanese word of the day. This is reverse punch or reverse hand punch. We learn this skill in a front stance at white belt. Sensei likely did not share the Japanese word until later, perhaps when we were yellow belts. His point was that gyaku-zuki is the “go-to” technique in fighting. It works and that is why it is taught early on. My understanding of gyaku-zuki is deeper than it was when I was a white belt. Then it was just another skill I was learning along the way. We learn over 100 ways to strike for the black belt test and this is just one. After the class and the deeper or more technical work on gyaku-zuki, we all knew it better and we were all convinced that more is available to learn about this simple strike taught first in white belt class.

Sensei wants students to benefit from his teaching on the first day of class. He has designed a program that takes the most powerful elements and teaches life-saving skills starting on day one. The benefit comes through the drill and repetition and the muscle memory of the techniques.

How about you? What skill or technique did you learn at white belt that you are still practicing or have used? I will not be able to spar again without thinking of the fundamental strike gyaku-zuki and the class on how it is applied. See you in class soon.


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