Lessons from the Karate Kid

It was the last Saturday class at the temporary dojo and our Sensei pulled out a technique made famous from the movie the Karate Kid. He called the technique “ura,” a technique that deviates an incoming strike, or as the movie called it: “wax on, wax off.”

If you are not familiar with original Karate Kid movie, the main characters Daniel (a/k/a the karate kid) asks Mr. Miyagi to become his karate teacher. He agrees and puts Daniel to work at his house.  After four days of performing seemingly irrelevant and arduous tasks, such as waxing the car, sanding the floor, and, painting the fence, Daniel loses his temper and confronts Mr. Miyagi. Mr. Miyagi responds simply, “Not everything thing is as it seems.” To which Daniel replies, “Show me.”

Paint the fence

Sensei Mae demonstrating Paint the fence

Mr. Miyagi positions himself in front of Daniel and asks him to demonstrate “wax on, wax off.” Daniel performs the circular arm movements. This is the same technique we learned in class. As Daniel demonstrates wax on, wax off, Mr. Miyagi unexpectedly moves to the attack using straight punches that are harmlessly deflected away. When we performed this in class, it worked just as it did for Daniel in the movie. Fun!

As one of the students in class, I was impressed by the knowledge and the detail that went into the teaching of this technique as well as the teaching for our class. This is teaching from Okinawa, and the circular nature of the technique was effective. Sensei went on to demonstrate other techniques from the sequence and showed the moves in various katas as well.

I will be practicing the ura technique with circular motions. As we had several students at the class, we all took turns attacking and defending.

  • One aspect the students liked best was when we hooked the punch and then pulled down our attacker.
  • We also appreciated how the technique blocked a follow-up punch from the attacker.
  • It was tricky to mirror the hands and we were encouraged, just like Daniel in the movie, to go slow at the beginning and perfect the technique.

This movie was well done in teaching this unconventional way.

  • It is much easier for me to stop into the dojo rather than practice waxing several cars in one day.
  • Of course, I do not have a bad guy from Cobra Kai stalking me.
  • The karate kid, original cast is coming back on the small screen. Youtube is starting a new series titled “Cobra Kai,” the fall of 2017. It will be interesting to see where it lands.
  • Will they use the ura technique in the sequel? Stay tuned…

Have you learned this technique? Are you interested in learning similar fun drills? I know I will look to use this technique in my next fight.

  • Sensei knows us well enough not to throw too much at us at one time.
  • Later in the movie Daniel wants to learn the kick he sees his teacher performing. A wise teacher knows when the timing is right for the teaching, and in the movie the kick is learned after a foundation of knowledge is passed along.
  • In the dojo we see upper belts performing fun kicks or kata and have to learn patience that we, too, will learn that technique when the time is right –when we have the foundational skills or muscle development. We can harm ourselves without the right foundation.
  • Daniel learned the virtue of patience and life lessons in karate along with sprucing up the house for Mr. Miyagi.

Please let us know in the comment section below. We are interested in your feedback. See you in class soon.

Best Time to Practice

Have you ever come back to class a week later and asked your classmate how to do that new skill we all thought was so fun from last week and found out that neither of you knew? How do you best practice a new skill or something you have learned? We are always receiving new material in class; do you have a set time to practice that new thing you just learned?  Today, I will reveal the secret of the best time for practicing.

I try to always attend class on Tuesday. It is where I learn the most new material and have the most entries in my karate notebook. Even though I learn a lot while teaching, I receive new material on Tuesdays.

  • Often on Tuesday when I get home I am able to share with my black belt wife the lessons from the class and go over the basics we learned that evening.
  • On Wednesday, I make a point of going to the gym and practicing the same techniques we learned the evening prior.
  • At that point I can see the gaps in my knowledge that were “cemented” the evening prior.
  • Going home, I check my notes and then at the next class opportunity, ask for clarification on the points that I stumbled over when practicing on Wednesday at the gym.
When to practice

Learn @ class => practice @ class =>make notes =>read and recreate => practice soon

Here is the secret formula for the best time to practice a new skill:

  • Try out the new skill when taught. This is one of the main class activities.
  • Make hand written notes as soon as possible after the teaching and practice.
  • Read the notes and practice prior to leaving the dojo; this is the best time to clarify and cement your understanding. Your classmates may be able to fill in any gaps and your Sensei may be available to assist as well.
  • Here is where the test for understanding comes in—practice at home or the next morning when the information is fresh in your mind.
  • Have an established practice time specifically to review the last class. Scheduling the practice session is just as important as going to class.
    • It needs to fit in with your schedule.
    • You see mine is set already as I am committed to the class and practice schedule.

How well are you retaining your new karate knowledge? Our challenge to you is to record and reflect on the class immediately after the class is concluded. Yes, it is great to talk with your karate family, and this is the perfect topic for the discussion. Please let us know in the comment section below how well you are doing.

The time to record and reflect is an important after class activity. Practicing the new skill will keep your mind on what you just learned. Practicing immediately at home or the next morning will make a difference in how well you retain the knowledge from class to class. See you in class soon.


Beach Time Improves Your Kata

Our karate and kata style comes from Okinawa. The Okinawa main island has over 100 beaches. Karate started with the notion that defenders needed a solid footing to repel invaders. If you lived on an island, you would have plenty of beaches and need to learn how to defend in the sand.

We just came back from our travels out to San Francisco. Even though we may not generally associate the beach with San Francisco they do have a few. Practicing kata on the beach while on vacation is always a joy. We do get a few looks and people tend to move away from your area. In San Francisco where it was likely in the mid 60’s while we were at the beach, not too many were just lying down and sunning themselves.

kata on beach

Kata on the beach!

The sand and water offer their own unique challenges.

  • The fresh air and bird songs are good for your emotional well-being.
  • Sand is constantly shifting and changing, demanding various muscles in the body to come into play that might not normally engage on a dojo floor workout.
  • The sand is on different levels, and you have to adjust to that difference, which brings a new element to our kata and really checks the balance.
  • Jumping is much easier on our joints in the sand.
  • I loved the spray of sand when I kicked as it kept my focus on good technique.
  • The water was cold and kept filling in my marks.
  • Grounding is a theory that electrical energy from the earth can be absorbed through your feet when you walk barefoot leading to multiple health benefits. We have between 3,000–7,000 nerve endings in each of our feet so let them loose every now and then.

One big visible benefit of the beach is that the sand leaves a pattern of our kata for us to review. We reference our feet when performing kata. The sand impressions let us know how well we are doing. In wet sand you need a little more pressure to leave your mark and in the dry sand, with no wind, you can easily see the referencing.

Our challenge this week is to take some time off and find a local beach, any sand will do for the sensation. Practice your kata on the sand and find what else your kata can teach you while you are enjoying a relaxing time on the sand. I know that my practice session on the beach helped me with my kata.

Going to the beach this summer? Please let us know in the comment section below. See you in class soon.


Karate Handwritten Notes Sharpen the Student

This week a sensei at our dojo celebrated 25 years in karate. She related to us a powerful story about journaling after class. The journey began with her mom taking martial arts training together. They came home after every class and wrote the class details into a spiral note book. A few benefits were apparent at the time, namely the time spent together after class as well as the training and the clarification that comes when you try to recreate an event after the fact with another person.

It turned out that a few years ago as the sensei’s mother was moving, she came across the notebooks and shared them with her daughter. From that notebook we resurrected several drills and we were able to perform them this week to assist in the celebration. Kicking paper is much better than eating cake! The drills were fun and the training was on point for the class.

Today we have activity trackers and phones as well as other electronic recording devices. The best item, in my opinion, is the notebook as our celebrating sensei found out. Studies have shown that hand writing is better than electronic recording. Our minds see the pictures created by the notes we make on the page. It is not the same when we type.

Like me, many of you probably wear activity trackers of some sort. I like my watch for tracking activities, but I know that it does a poor job of remembering what happened in class. That is where a good journal or notebook comes into play.

I have a Garmin watch that records my activity. I am not using the watch to keeping a running journal of my day.

Grant Summit View with Glen

See the watch?

  • At the end of the day it tells me how many, how far and how long.
  • It does not record the sequence of items like in a kata.
  • It does not help me to keep my focus during training as I do not wear it when training.
  • It is a great reminder to get up and take a walk when I sit too much writing a blog!

When I was training for my second degree black belt test, I found that the activity tracker was actually doing more harm than good for me. I had it on at the gym where I was daily practicing kata. During the practice sessions, my hand would hit the wrist with the tracker and I developed a habit that was hard to break of not having my shuto hand glide down my arm to finish a move. One of the other senseis pointed out my move in class and remarked that I was not finishing properly. It took me a while to figure out that my lack of finishing went back to my Garmin watch. Now I practice at the gym without it. Is it time to drop yours during training as well?

I am sure that like me, you are already hearing the ads for back to school. When you are out shopping for school supplies or just out shopping, please consider the purchase of an extra notebook for karate class. Take a look at Sensei Mae’s post on the importance of taking notes.

  • In class we often say that we are likely not to see unique or special drills for years so it should be documented.
  • We have often documented some of the fun drills in our notebooks and were able to teach them to others.
  • When we have an opportunity to share drills we have in our notebooks with others, it is a treat to see students new to the drill taken up with excitement.

Here are some positive reasons to take notes:

  • Overview of day
  • Topic and reminder of lessons learned
  • Record lessons learned and sequences
  • Document fundamental skills

Please let me know how your journal from class is going. Maybe I will see you out shopping for a new notebook for our next class. See you in class soon.


Why You Need Dojo Etiquette

Sensei Mae here! I wanted to talk about Dojo Etiquette. We are a traditional Shotokan Karate dojo, so respect is very important to us.   One of the most important rules of etiquette is behavior.

Since by nature we all learn by trial and error, many things will be forgiven in a dojo, but bad behavior is definitely not one of them. This rule applies to every student within the dojo society regardless of their rank, in fact the higher the rank, the less tolerance there is for any breach of etiquette whatsoever. It is very important to remember, however, that correction for acts of misbehavior always come from the top down, not the bottom up.


In our blog post on Dojo Protocol, we discussed how to enter the dojo. The point is that we should bow each time we enter and exit the dojo and teach fellow students to follow the same pattern. Maybe like me, you sometimes inadvertently bow entering other places.  Bowing (rei) comes from our roots and it was rule number one for Funakoshi. “Karate-do begins with courtesy and ends with rei.”

Even the Japan National Tourism Organization explains that “In the Japanese bow, the bower expresses appreciation and respect to the person being bowed to by bending at the waist.” It is part of who we are in our karate dojo; we bow.

  • Clear your mind when you bow at the door.  When you walk in, relationship stay outside. 
  • Even when training with my family, I am always careful to address them with the respect they deserve.

Karate is an art about courtesy, manners, etiquette and attitude. In the dojo, regardless of your belt color and ability, as long as you work hard and show a determined commitment, you will always receive praise. However, if you show disrespect to anyone in the dojo, or to the dojo itself, you will be admonished and possibly asked not to return.  Upon joining a karate dojo, you will find that no one gets special treatment as everyone starts as a white belt. I did not start at a belt higher than my younger brother. Everyone starts at the bottom.

So now that you know some basic cultural differences, please understand that a traditional dojo will strive to mimic the training in Japan. That includes the way kata is taught and how a student should greet their instructor.

Let’s talk about the black belts. Black belts are a rank all to their own.  They should always be treated with the utmost respect.  A few quick tips—it is disrespectful to:

  • cut in front of a black belt
  • photograph a black belt without their permission

In Japan, it is forbidden to watch the black belts train. This applies to us at the dojo as well if we are looking to learn courtesy.

  • For example, if there is a class right before back belt class, you should never stick around to watch them train. This is because to become a black belt, much work is required. Then, when a black belt is achieved, we learn secret techniques. It is dangerous to try these techniques if you have not had proper training or correct supervision.
  • It is good not to know what the black belts do in their classes. It will keep you safe.   Even within the rank of black belt, we do not watch the higher black belts train.
  • If a first-degree black belt cannot watch a second-degree black belt train, why should a red, yellow or brown belt watch a black belt train?
  • Respect is essential in karate.  All black belts must be treated with the utmost respect, regardless of how you feel about them outside of the dojo.

In addition to respecting all black belts, senseis merit a certain respect. For example, bowing to your senseis when they pass by is always a good idea. While training, be sure to respond with a “Yes, Sensei” or “yes ma’am”, “no, sir”, etc… whatever your Sensei prefers.

Each belt rank is special. In my dojo it goes from light colors to dark beginning with white and progressing to brown then black.   Each belt gains more respect because of the time it takes to earn.

  • In addition to respecting the belt grade, one should respect the belt itself.
  • You are clearly a stellar human being for taking up martial arts so you should treat your belt appropriately.
  • Not just anyone can obtain a belt.  For that reason, my belt, obi, is never left on the floor.
  • There are some pretty cool things that you can do with your belts as you progress. Several people I know have belt racks to display their success.
  • Regarding the traditional uniform itself, sometimes during class it can start to come undone.
    • When this happens, you should turn around (away from your Sensei) and adjust yourself quickly and without drawing attention to yourself.
    • In addition to being rude to adjusting your uniform during class, it can make you appear distracted and undisciplined.

One thing that I really enjoy about karate is that it allows me to leave the outside world, well, outside.  It is peaceful that way. In the dojo I am not a boss, a daughter or a sister. I am simply a student.  This allows me to be completely relaxed and focus on learning.  If you are having a problem, take it off the floor. Do not come back onto the floor until you are able to learn.  This is healthy for you, and respectful to others around you.

Remember the dojo is here for you to learn. Ask questions, get a karate buddy and have fun!

Hope this has been helpful to you. It was helpful for me to write it. It is always good to go over dojo etiquette.

Have a great week!



How Taking a Day Off Will Improve Your Karate

I can just hear it now. “Sensei Glen, it is so enjoyable for me to go to class each and every day and I just have to keep active and cannot miss a day of working out.” I have said the same to my teacher as well. Connecting with my karate family at the dojo gives me a place to talk to like-minded people and does help me deal with daily stress. I am always making new friends at the dojo. Yes, I encourage you to come often to the dojo. The main point is to take the time needed to build stamina for classes at your belt level.

Glen Last Day at Fido

The picture in today’s blog is of me on one of my last days in the office as I have retired from corporate life. I did not go into work every day and I am sure you took vacation as well from your job or school. The goals of these vacations are to relax, reconnect, and rejuvenate ourselves so we can come back to our jobs and continue to be productive.

  • Part of our karate training is a continuous build up to black belt and once at the black belt level to continue to improve through consistent training.
  • Beginners and exercise enthusiasts (could be me) sometimes forget that our bodies naturally need rest and recovery.
  • A consistent pattern of training will push you to your goals with proper resting in-between. If you are planning on taking off one or two days from training per week, the results will be good. If you train for a month non-stop, as I have, and then stop for a month, the re-start is harder on your body than the consistency of the training.

Sensei Glen, how do we reconcile a day off with Funakoshi Precept #11: “Karate is like boiling water, if you do not heat it constantly, it will cool.” Here is how, we do need a day off once in a while. We are still committing to consistently training. The benefits from that training require 1-2 days off per week to keep improving.

In my training plan, we look to a few fundamental principles to keep us at our best. Here are the top three reasons to take a day off from training.

  1. Rest between practices is a key to growth in strength training. We need to listen to our bodies when we exercise.
    • Karate can place relatively high stress on the body. Think back to our last kick class. We could go up and back on the floor and not stop the activity. We are better off walking back to the starting position and having a moment of recovery and to bring our heart rate back down.
    • The same principle of an interval between activities applies to our overall active schedule.
    • For our children at the dojo who are still growing and developing, too much of anything, even karate, is likely to result in injury, burnout, or poor performance.
    • We need to take a day of rest. In the Bible, Genesis 2:2 says that God rested on the seventh day.
    • Failing to rest at regular intervals, I need to force myself to take the weekly 1-2 days off from working out, which can mean all the benefits I am hoping to achieve from my hard work is counterproductive without the day off. I have seen it in myself that my performance actually decreased when I do not take a day to recover.
    • Just prior to the black belt test, I had a slightly pulled calf muscle. Nothing was going to stop me from testing. I did have to take a few days off from training and had to re-think how to train. I ended up in a pool practicing no impact kicking and katas. My kicking and kata looked better on the test due to the rest and alternate training then they would have if I had just followed through on the initial, non-stop training plan.
  2. The proper amount of rest or sleep is critical; this is the rejuvenation process
  3. Coming to class on a regular basis allows us to reconnect with our fellow martial artists and create the family of support many of us are looking for to keep us sharp.

As some of you know, our blog is designed to improve the lives of those who come to the blog using lessons learned from the dojo. I was recently teaching an adult class with and a new yellow belt asked where the main sensei was.

  • Apparently, we had not met, and our main sensei had never been absent from any of his classes.
  • I introduced myself as this was prior to class and his next question was “So, is class cancelled?” “Of course not” was the answer.
  • As a result of the question, I had the good fortune of meeting a new friend and was able to teach some really good lessons at class.

My challenge for you is to sketch out your week and find the intervals when you are not training. When you adopt this new schedule of less than seven days of training you will find that your performance will actually improve. Put a comment below and let us know your intention as well as how the new training went.

See you in class soon.

Drum Beats and Songs from the AAU National Tournament

Sensei Mae National AAU

Sensei Mae at the National AAU Competition in NC

Sensei Mae here back from the AAU national tournament! Hope everyone had a good 4th of July!

When I have competed previously, I have had to miss opening ceremonies.  I tend not to care much for pomp or prestige; however, I really enjoyed the opening ceremonies.  Sensei Sarah Napier got a video of parts, and posted them on AAU Karate KY Facebook page. I would recommend checking it out.

The drums were captivating. Also, knowing that some of the people dancing and beating the drums are high ranking black belts made it much more fascinating.

This year, as a part of the opening, we got sing a song “karate-do sanka.” karate-do-sanka-e1499518991982.jpg

  • Long ago in Japan, there were songs about karate.
  • We were talked to as referees and officials on Wednesday about the history and importance of passing these songs down.
  • We were reminded that karate songs are strong and should not be sung as a lullaby, but as a war song. To this song, there are at least three verses. Here is the English translation:

Kicking and punching are the technique of karate.

We are trying to learn the depths of this art.

We are training under the five rules of dojo kun.

We must try harder, looking at our spirit.

  • Very neat! I will be passing this along to the students.

My dojo participates in AAU karate competitions, and we had the national competition, hosted by Director Sensei Joe Mirza, in North Carolina.  It was a great competition! Here are some observations from the tournament.

  • The students of ours that went did a very good job and I am very proud of all of them.
  • We got to see a lot of great kata. Some of my favorite katas were performed quite well.
  • There were several different styles of karate. We represented Shotokan, and there was also Go-ji-ryu, Shito-ryu, Wado-ryu and several others.
  • I had the privilege of meeting several great karate practitioners including Sensei Adomson our neighbor in Indianapolis and Sensei Michael Kamininski of San Diego.
  • I was certified as a referee and worked the ring with Sensei Adomson.
  • I have competed in the past at the national level, and I have always enjoyed it.  This year was a very exciting year! The AAU invited the people from WKF, WUKF, and Romania.
  • We had an Olympic style ring on Saturday, giving us the chance to preview how the Olympics will be.



New Mirror Judges

One of the drum beats that was different for me from the state/regional level was that this year AAU brought back “mirror” style refereeing for sparring.  This was very new for me. Others shared with me that we have not used this style of refereeing this since the ’80s.  (Maybe Sensei Glen remembers the ’80s, but this was long before I was around). Normally in point sparring, there are two judges (or four depending on the level of skill of the athletes) and one referee. See diagram.

Practicing the mirror style will help us understand:

  • The WKF style for when we compete internationally.
  • How things will be for the 2020 Olympics.  Yes, sensei Mae is very excited about karate being in the Olympics for the first time!!!

At first I really did not understand or enjoy mirror style.  However, after one day of training and another day of watching it, it is really a neat way to referee!

  • Having a Kanza and just two refs made communication much more concise.
  • The Kanza had a lot to do during the match.
  • Not only does the Kanza have the responsibility of making sure the scoring is done properly, he must also pay close attention to the fight so that if need be, he can make a decision.
  • The head ref, as we are used to, still calls game, awards points, and calls for contact and other warnings.
  • The mirror does just as the name implies- mirror the head ref.
  •  What is really different is that the head ref cannot overrule the mirror.
  • If the head ref and mirror disagree on what call to make, the head ref looks to the kanza, and the kanza makes a ruling.
  • Once the kanza makes a decision, no one can override that call. That took me a little bit to get used to. However, it is nice when being head ref to not have 100% of the pressure all the time.
  • Giving the mirror ref the ability to walk around and actively observe the fight gives the competitors a more fair fight.
  • Previously, with two judges stationary, an athlete could dedicate their time to learning how to work the judges. This allows weaker karate to flourish.

Giving the mirror freedom to observe, I think, gives the opportunity for cleaner, high quality waza.

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Thank you in advance for your valuable input.

Sensei Mae and Sarah Napier AAU National

Sensei Mae with Sensei Sarah Napier