Do You Have Courage?

It takes courage to walk into the dojo for the first time. Vince Flynn described his hero Mitch Raap in the book “Act of Treason” peering into a dojo and seeing the eight students practicing sanbon kumite (3 step fighting drills) with the sensei walking between the students complementing or correcting students. Who would want to walk into a dojo and participate in fighting action? It takes courage to walk into the dojo the first time.

I met a first time student last week. He has a cousin who is an active student at our dojo. I was so excited to see him prior to his first class with a notebook! I know he was ready for the first lesson. This student had courage and the support of a friend which is a great combination to overcome adversity. When I first went to karate, it was to watch as my son participated. I did not plan on joining. I of course did when asked as I already had the support of my son who was in the program. Which of you would turn down a request by a teenager to join them in an activity?


First day student

Courage and a notebook!


We all have little examples in our day-to-day life of courage. Showing up to train at the dojo is displaying courage. In class this week, one of my fellow black belts told us a story of courage that eventually made the symbol of the Okinawa flag. The three tears on the flag (each swirling toward each other) are symbols of “death before dishonor.”

The story goes that three envoys went to the king to plead for the people who did not have enough rice to feed themselves, due to a drought, let alone pay the taxes owed. The king was upset as not only did they not bring the rice, but they had the courage to still come and ask him to excuse their debt.

The king ordered his samurai to kill the messengers, but they were skilled in karate and easily defend against the attack of the guards in the room. The king had other samurai come in to assist in their capture, and the numbers eventually proved too much. The king ordered the immediate execution of the three envoys by having them thrown into a huge caldron of boiling water. When they screamed out, the envoys were pleading not for their own lives but for the lives of the people. Hearing their screams for the king to save the people even as they were boiling to death moved the king to open his mind to the suffering of the people.

When he finally realized the extent of the of their plight, he expressed solidarity to those people and not only accepted their excuses for not paying tribute but had his men carry a cargo of rice to them to ease their hunger and suffering. In return for his generosity, he requested that the masters of the art of karate come to teach his men the fighting techniques he had observed that had defeated his warriors. The value and courage of those three warriors initiated a new period of relations between the two kingdoms and eventually led to the cooperation and friendship of both peoples. That took courage.

Do you have enough courage to come to class this week? We will be there encouraging you, and we hope you too bring a notebook. See you at the dojo 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.


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.


Your 5 Keys to a Good Class

We all have specific interests that led us to sign up for karate lessons. It may have been a cool movie or television show we saw where martial arts were on display.  We know that we have had a good class when we discuss any aspect of it the next day. I know for our family, good classes were discussed at dinner for a week. We walked away from class with new knowledge or an appreciation of a technique from a particular class. That always gets me to thinking, what are the elements of a really good class?

Class Fun

Sensei Glen about to teach a fun striking drill.

My karate journey began when my son asked me to join class. My thought was that when a teenager asks you to join, you join, and my advice is to take them up on the task. Step out of the comfort zone.

  • I grew up watching David Carradine in the TV show Kung Fu. I wanted to practice karate as a kid. Maybe for you it was the karate kid.
  • As a dad, I thought the days of training were long over and I still joined and am so happy that I took the chance on myself.
    • As I get older I have come to realize that no one else thinks about what you do or how you dress. Do not worry about that—I may blog more on that in the future.
    • Do what you think is right.
  • On our journey to black belt we had many favorite classes.
    • Most of these were classes that we were ready for and did not realize we were ready for the learning.
    • We were often pushed out of our comfort zone by a new kata or technique. Looking back, the most difficult kata is always the next one you learn.

Your top 5 keys to a good class:

  1. Take notes–a good class is one you have to record in your notebook.
  2. Be open to learning a new skill or technique. We do not always know when our studies are at the point to learn the next technique. We have to be ready to step out of what we know to grasp new concepts and ideas.
  3. Be prepared to have fun, not joking, just be ready to enjoy the moment and having a smile on your face.
  4. Put your full effort into the class. Why hold back? Class is the time find out how hard you can kick or punch. Who cares about anyone else? Leave your thoughts of the outside world at the door when you bow and enter the dojo.
  5. Pay attention. Watch the sensei and the other students. Model the teacher’s behavior and be respectful.
  6. A bonus point—make coming to class a continuous practice. Not practicing or sharpening the skills will allow the skills you worked hard to perfect to decay and die. A lifetime habit allows you to maintain the results you worked so hard to achieve.

Our challenge this week is to have fun in class. No matter the topic taught, embrace the teaching and have fun with it. Go all in with your attitude and your participation. Last week I told the class they were not yet having enough fun with their kata. They not only stepped up the fun, they performed better on the kata.

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Thank you in advance for your valuable input.

See you in class soon.


The Importance of Taking Notes

Sensei Mae here.

I remember when I started out as a white belt, I saw the upper belts taking notes during a water break, and then again after class was over. At the end the class my Sensei reminded us to take notes on what we did in class. I laughed to myself; I was a senior in high school at the time and had no intention of taking notes when I clearly didn’t have to.  I thought I was too good to take notes. I had no problem remembering to do my homework at school, and I assumed this activity wouldn’t be any different.

The problem was that I treated karate as an activity–just a place I visited once or twice a week for exercise and to learn some practical self-defense. I did not set out to become a black belt or even a sensei. So for purely recreational purposes, not taking notes was fine. Or at least it was for a while.

I was fortunate to have a brother doing karate with me, and we were able to practice at home.  A problem arose one day when we were working on some self-defense. I couldn’t remember the little details that made one particular move so cool. I was stuck in a painful wrist lock and had no way out. My brother (in a rare moment of grace) let me go and he tried to find it in his notes. It was then I realized that note taking was very important. Of course no attacker will stop and let you look up your notes to allow you to escape.  However, I would have remembered the technique better if I had written it down.

My Sensei is very wise to instruct his students to take notes. He has realized that students need to take notes for several reasons. The first is that it encourages understanding. Often after class while taking notes I ask my Sensei several more questions in order to understand the technique or concept better. In part, that is how we started talking about Karate and this is what you will see as we continue this blog. By putting the concepts into my own words, I have better understanding.

One of the most challenging aspects of keeping a notebook is how to organize it. I asked the upper belts, and they all gave me vague responses. Everyone should have his own notebook. Just as each student sees things differently, they write differently. Some prefer the physical notebook and pen while others have an app for that. Therefore, just like the way you take notes (pen and paper or an app) your notebook should reflect your organization.

As I progressed to black belt, I found myself understanding things differently, and wanting to reorganize my notebook. Each time I reorganized, I learned something new, and I remembered some things that I had forgotten.  The notebook is a powerful tool for students.  It encourages them to talk to each other and to take the steps toward black belt as a community. It also fuels the personal study of martial arts. By keeping a notebook, students have something to practice at home. The have their own personal reference.

Let me know how your notebook is organized! I’d love to hear if you go chronologically or section it out, or something else.