How Do You Learn That New Skill?

Each time I come to class I learn something new. Sensei Mae and I are open to the uncomfortable feeling that accompanies learning new things. How about you? Do you know that you have to leave the comfortable behind to learn new things?

As teachers we know that students have to be open to learning new things. We are also student at the dojo and we do not always want to learn new things. I am sometimes uncomfortable in trying a new technique or kata. It may be just as simple as you want me to move how? Of course, I am thinking that others are watching me…and I am not doing it correctly. When we are learning a new thing we should keep in mind what Helen Hays said, “The expert at anything was once a beginner.”

Last week we discussed Learn, Practice, Apply . This week we are diving into the practical aspects a little more, how we learn and then how do we practice. My comfort zone is to do what I know and practiced. Of course, I only know what I have practiced. I sometimes like being able to show off my skills. This never has ended well for me. I just want to share with the world that at the very least I believe I am good at something. For me it is great to have acknowledgement that I mastered a technique. The avoidance of criticism or thoughts on how the technique could improve every now and then is a good feeling.

Learning a new skill, like gyaku-zuke (reverse punch) is best done slowly little pieces at a time. The sensei on the floor teaching the technique will usually explain it and then demonstrate how it works. Every time I see and hear a new technique I am amazed how easy it looks for the one who mastered the technique. So just picture me in class learning gyaku-zuki for the first time. I had punched bags and I had a brother, so hey—I have hit things before. This training was unlike hitting a bag or my brother. I was shown how to perform the technique correctly and allowed to make mistakes hitting the bag and then with our Sensei holding a pad for us to hit.  Performing this part slowly and under supervision moved me along rapidly in understanding the gyaku-zuki.


Performing this part slowly and under supervision moves you along rapidly in understanding.

Being in a karate family was a great assistance. We all went home and showed off to each other how this technique worked. Of course we all picked up this simple technique slightly differently. When I ask the question, “why didn’t you tell me this?” the answer from our teacher may be we were not ready or more likely, I did not listen to the whole explanation.


How good are my notes? It was easy with Sensei telling me. Now I have questions!

In my example, “how much do you rotate your hand” or “where does it start from?” and even a question on “where does the punch end?” were items we did not fully write in our notes after the first time we learned this simple technique.  Of course none of us could agree on the spelling for gyaku-zuki in our notes.

We tried it out at home and came back to the next class with questions that were readily answered by our Sensei. Now we wanted to fill in the gaps in our notes. We practiced some more on the dojo floor and came back home with the basic concepts corrected and even learned how to spell gyaku-zuki for our notes.


What can you apply from this simple process to your learning and practice?

What can you apply from this simple process to your learning and practice? Here are some of my thoughts

  • We can perform techniques if we are open to getting out of our comfort zone
  • Sensei needs to supervise initial practice at the dojo and follow-up after you have tried it home to see if you are beginning to learn the new technique
  • Practicing and note taking is a key part of the process to learn new skills
  • The sooner a correction is made the easier it is to make the change.

I am happy to say that we learned gyaku-zuki and it made learning other punches easier with the foundation of knowledge we had on that first reverse punch. You too can do it! Be open to the teaching, practice slowly to master the skill under a sensei who knows the technique, try it out at home, come back and receive refinement and help others. Remember to Learn, Practice, Apply. Continue to monitor even the most basic skills and you will keep adding to your learning and understanding.

See you in class soon.


Sensei or Mentor?


Sensei Steve and Sensei Sarah with our Karate Family. Thank you for teaching us good karate!

Sempi Glen here writing as I am preparing in earnest for my sensei test.

One of my morning routines is to listen to Daren Daily. It is 5 minutes of help and inspiration for my day or week. This week one of the talks was called Minding your Mentor. In this talk Daren indicated the three most important attributes were to 1. Show up 2. Ask questions 3. Do what the mentor asked you to do. And as a tip—tell them how it worked out. Wow. I think about our karate journey. Our Sensei is a mentor to us giving us direction daily in class on how to handles ourselves in different situations.

The easiest of the three parts of the minding our Sensei as a mentor is to show up for class. Okay, you might say, “I have done that this week.”

The second part asks us to do more than show up. I have shown up for class and walked through the drills. I have also shown up for class with questions. Which one are you most often at the Dojo?

Sensei Mae talked about The Importance of Taking Notes in an earlier blog. It makes reference to writing down the wisdom from Sensei after class and then asking questions to clarify understanding. Just participating in class I know that I am looking for a teaching or technique that I can incorporate into my style and my teaching. I really enjoy the class where we are challenged to polish just a little bit of technique. Last Monday we took some of the Green and higher belts and worked on spinning. Sensei was looking at the starting and ending stances and how the foot was moved. I wrote that down in my notebook and worked on practicing it during the week. What a great teaching. Were you there for a class like that? Do you want to share your experience?

The most difficult of the three parts may be putting the drill or exercise into practice after you leave class. My Application of Technique blog was about putting into practice what Sensei said to do. The lesson I learned was about practicing skills. If we practice them they become ingrained in our neuromuscular memories. Once there, we do not have to think about them when needed.  As a white belt I had to think long and hard about a down block. Now I just perform a down block as I have done a lot of down blocks. Thank you Sensei Steve for teaching me and my family how to perform a down block and how to fall!

Here are the three action plan steps for you to contemplate (again adapted from Daren Daily). Answer these three questions in your journal:


  1. How can you show up more during class?


  1. Where can you ask more questions?


  1. What drills or advice have you been given that you still have yet to practice?


I know that after I am done writing this blog I will go to class with questions for Sensei and trust I will come back with actions from today’s class to work on during the week. What about you? See you in class soon.