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Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Primer for Martial Arts student *parents*

We've all heard of "Soccer moms" or "Little League Dads".....but how about "Martial arts Parents"?

My previous blog posts addressed tips for the "martial arts newbie" and "New martial arts instructors", then I realized.....what tips would I give to parents of kids that are in martial arts? Well, here you go.....what to look for in a martial arts school for your child, tips, etc. Also, I've included honest points of view from a teacher's perspective.

  • Take some time to choose a good school for your child:  Whether the class is held in a community center or a commercial space, take the time to do a little research on the schools in your area. Don't just enroll your child in a class only because "its close to you". While convenience is nice, the closest martial arts school may not be the school your child is attracted to. Remember, these classes are for the *child*....the child should have some say in what style or method they'd like to try out. Call around and ask if you can observe a class, and ask if the school has an "introductory program", a "trial lesson",  or something similar where the child can try out the class with no obligation to join.
  • There are many benefits to martial arts....teamwork, self discipline, critical thinking, fitness, cultural knowledge....the list is almost endless. While many sports are just as fun, there's something about martial arts that only a martial arts practitioner can describe as being "different" than other sports. For me personally, I've formed lifelong bonds with people that have trained alongside me,...that have been through grueling workouts, frustrations, pulled muscles, and self doubts right alongside me....they "understand" me and other martial artists. Granted, these things are possible in other sports....I just can't put into words how  the benefits of martial arts has shaped my life....not just my skill set, but my life.
  • Know that not all schools are the same: While many of the techniques in martial arts are "universal", the teaching methods and the styles themselves are not all similar. Kids gravitate to certain styles based on their personalities and interests....take this into consideration when looking for a school. Again, try not to get your child to join a school just because it is close to your home.....the class should be a match to you *child*, not necessarily to your proximity to your home.
  • Ask if there are different tuition rates based on the number of classes your child attends per week, or if there are cross training discounts if your child studies at different subjects at the school. Some schools will offer different rates based on if your child attends once a week, twice a week, or three times a week, while others may charge a flat fee regardless of how many times the child attends. Some schools offer more than one subject...for example, a school might offer Karate on certain days and grappling on other days. Most schools will offer a discounted tuition price for the second subject if your child chooses to take on a second subject.
  • How are the instructors at teaching those with special needs? If your child has special needs, ask if the school has taught students with similar needs or if they can modify movements to fit your child's needs. Obviously, a kicking movement in a Karate or Kung fu routine may not be possible for a child in a wheelchair, so if the staff can attend to modifying routines and self defense maneuvers to highlight your child's strengths instead of focusing on what the child "can't" do, then that would be a great school for your child.
  • If your child does participate in an introductory session, do realize that the teacher or staff will speak to you about the possibility of your child enrolling as a regular student. I'll be honest, and say that we as martial arts instructors, if we have a commercial space, we run a business as well, and hope to gain clients as much as any other business. However, good schools will not pull a "hard sell" on you.....after all, we're talking about the best interests of your child in these classes, and we're not selling a used car. Have questions or concern ready for the instructor or staff, and don't feel self conscious about asking the questions you might have. The instructor or staff will gladly address your questions or concerns.
  • Month to month, contracts, sliding scale, etc: Some schools will charge their tuition fees on a month to month basis, where you can quit at any time. Some schools will use contracts that may range anywhere from 3 months to a year. Keep in mind that with contracts, you are responsible for paying the balance of the contract, even when your child does not attend. Again, I'll be honest....tuition for a martial arts school is sort of like college pay tuition, but its up to the student to attend classes. In college, if a student skips out on class or doesn't attend class for a week, the college is not liable to refund a day's worth or week's worth of tuition. If money is indeed an issue, ask if the school has sliding scale fees.....many schools do have sliding fees for low-income families. (At my school, we offer pro-rated tuition *only if* a student misses more than 2 classes a month if attending once a week, or will miss more than 4 classes in a month if attending 2 or 3 times per week. We give no refunds for missing class one or two nights due to a cold, school concert, football game, etc.)
  • Pay tuition on time: Its the parent's responsibility to know when tuition is due, not the child's responsibility. Many schools have a late fee for tuition paid after the due date, please respect that. Please don't back date a check when you put remit it late.....schools will generally post a tuition payment based on the date received, not when the check is dated. Usually, schools will give a few days leeway, but if you remit tuition 2 weeks late and back date the check, what example does that set for the child? The staff at martial arts schools will gladly take into consideration any financial difficulties you may have, so if you have an emergency expense or bill and can't pay tuition on time, let the staff know. I'm sure the staff will work something out with you (payment plan, etc), and sometimes even waiving the late fee.
  • Get to know your child's martial arts style and support your child's endeavors: You don't necessarily have to take classes, but at least know the basic information about your child's class. If your child is in a Judo class, please don't use the general term "Karate" for it. If your child's school has periodic "recitals", try to attend them. Watch a class periodically to show your child you support their progress. (of course, ask your child if you can watch. Some children prefer to have their class time as "their" time without parents watching. Respect that if that's what your child wishes). Or, on the ride home, ask something like "You said last week that Sensei might show you more moves of Pinan 4....did you learn new moves today? Can't wait to see the new moves if you want to show me and Dad....". Things like that, show your child you support them in what they do.
  • If your child chooses to quit martial arts classes due to loss of interest or chooses another activity, ask about what made them come to their decision and respect that decision. However, you should accompany your child to tell the teacher that he/she will not be attending classes anymore. This, while it may be sort of a nervous experience for the child, it will teach the child important lessons they can use in their adult life.....such as explaining why they're leaving/quitting a job, to take responsibility for his/her actions, to not just "skip out" and hope no one notices, etc. Support your child. Sometimes, children will lose interest because they feel they're not progressing as fast as they should, or maybe they're feeling awkward that they're not "getting" the moves as quickly as others, or that the class does the same stuff over and over. Discuss this with the instructor....many times, its not "loss of interest"...but instead something the child feels is "missing" from the class. If the instructor is able to take your child's goals into consideration, you might find your child's interest might pick up again. However, if the child chooses not to continue, support that decision and move on to the nest interest. 
  • Consider having your child "earn their keep" as "partial payment" toward their classes.  If your child already receives an allowance from you, you may decide to consider adding on extra chores or special around-the-house jobs once a month for the child to "earn" money to pay for the class. Until your child is old enough to get a part time job, it is you that pays for those classes. Not only does a child feel great about "earning" money for their own class, it teaches a sense of responsibility that they will carry on to adulthood.
  • Okay...the bane of martial arts teachers....Please don't coach from the sidelines: If you are watching a class, coaching from the sidelines. "Bobby! Your LEFT foot!", "Katie, your OTHER hand, no not that one, Sensei said the RIGHT hand!". The teacher and assistants have that covered, thank you. We as teachers understand that you want your child to do well, but if you're shouting at your 4 year old during class, you'll only confuse them. The child will wonder who the "real teacher" is, and it will distract them from fully putting attention on the teacher. I'll be honest and say what teachers sometimes want to say: "Your child's lack of knowing the difference of right and left, is NOT a reflection of you as a parent....its just their learning curve. Let them learn, and allow the teachers to teach." If you have previous martial arts experience, the rule of "no sideline coaching" applies as well.....let the school's staff teach that class, because your Karate experience might not apply to the school's Kung Fu lesson that particular day.
  • Don't be afraid to ask about your child's progress. Periodically ask the teacher how your child is doing. The teacher might suggest that the child take 5 or 10 minutes each day to practice a particular move, or might suggest a few private lessons to get him/her caught up on things needed for an upcoming rank exam. However, try not to dictate to the teacher how to teach your child. Please leave that up to the professional.
  • Address the teachers and assistants by their given titles.  When speaking about class with your child, try to use the titles that the teachers have....Sensei, Sifu, Mr. Smith, etc. This shows your child that you care about what the child is learning. I see parents in the grocery store frequently, and the smiles the kids give their parents when the parent says "Hey Joseph, look who I ran into! Sifu DeJesus!". Besides, it teaches the kids to respect earned titles such as "Doctor", etc. Some kids can actually become confused if a parent addresses the teacher by nickname or first name, and they wonder "Can I call Sensei that when I'm a grownup?"
Now , I'd like to talk about a subject that might not comfortable to talk about.....If you are sensitive to such matters, I suggest you stop reading, BUT I strongly suggest you read what I have to say.....
  • A subject that is not frequently addressed in martial arts books: What to do if you child mentions something about "inappropriate touching".  I know, its a hard subject to talk about. But I must address it  because it is a subject that most often is NOT talked about. 
    • First I'll talk to the teachers and staff: Remember, as a teacher, assistant, or staff member, you are an adult that has been put in a position of trust. You must not do or say anything that would compromise that position of trust! Plain and simple! If you can't handle that, then don't be a teacher!
    • For Parents: If your child mentions (heaven forbid) something about being touched inappropriately or verbally harassed by school staff or another student, please don't brush it off. Address the issue with the head teacher or school owner, and don't be afraid of looking like the "complaining parent".
      • Keep in mind, however, that some martial arts, such as Judo, JuJitsu, Aikido, etc, will have contact in close proximities between students and sometimes even between teacher and student. Those arts mentioned have techniques that only work in close proximity, such as throws, sweeps, pins, and "tap-out" submission maneuvers. However, martial arts schools teach these techniques appropriately, safely, and in a professional manner. Keep in mind that if your daughter is in a Judo school, that others will be in contact with her while learning to do a throw, sweep or tap-out technique. Your child, who is familiar with the art, *will* know what is appropriate and what is not, what speech is appropriate and what is not, and what situations are comfortable and what are not.
      • Address the complaint with the teacher or school owner  in a factual manner. Don't point fingers, but don't take excuses either......allow yourself to hear rebuttals (if any), then allow your intuition to tell you how to proceed, and face the issue with professionalism. If you feel you should take your child out of the class, then do so. If you feel that you should contact authorities to help you with this matter, then do so.
      • No adult in a position of authority or trust ever has the right to abuse that position of authority or trust. Let your child know that and let your child know that you are there for them should they have *any* concern. Of course, you don't want to scare your children from martial arts, sports or any other extracurricular activies, but that "talk" should be something that should be done anyway, as part of their growth process.
Whew, that was even uncomfortable for ME to talk about....but I have to put it out there.

I'd like to hear from other martial arts instructors, as to what tips you'd like to give to new, I mean, "Martial arts" Parents. And from parents, what questions do you have? Your comments are welcomed!

I highly recommend this book: "Parent's guide to martial arts" :

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Tips for new martial arts teachers

Previously, I wrote about tips for newbies coming into the martial arts world. This time, it will be for new teachers coming into the world of teaching martial arts.

So you've passed your black belt test.....congratulations! Chances are, sometime in the near future, your teacher might entrust you with helping a senior black belt with a beginner's class, or even a beginners class of your own. What an honor, right? Indeed it is, for the position of an assistant instructor is a great responsibility. You have to uphold the rules of the Dojo, set a good example for other students, and be a positive representative of the school. But along with that, you have to *teach*.

I learned about teaching through trial and error, I made many mistakes (and still do) and always hope to make the path a little easier for the new teachers that I bring up, but I have to remember that they too have to learn on their own.....while I can inform them of the bumps and obstacles along the way, they still have to do the walking themselves. :)  So, a few tips for the new teacher who is teaching at their Master's school:

Class scenarios:
  • Try to keep your teacher's curriculum as true to form the best you can. If you cross train in another art, try not to add that cool new drill you learned in the other class without first clearing it with your instructor.
  • There are many ways to plan a lesson. Try to include 3 main concepts: Academics (history, lineage, terminology, etc), Basics (fundamental movements and techniques), and New techniques.                The academics are important, as I've met students who don't even know what style Karate they are studying...they just know it as "Karate". Basics should always make its way into your lessons, no matter how high a level certain students may be. Basics can sometimes bore some students, but they can always be improved upon. (See "how do you teach or practice 3 techniques without boring a class" below). Including at least one new move or technique or concept each class is great too!
  • When teaching new students, don't over-correct. A common occurrence for new teachers is to teach every single fine point of a technique to a new student all at once. This not only will frustrate a new student, but will make you look overbearing.
  • It is understandable that you want the students to do well, but remember the "3 marble rule": Imagine that only 3 marbles can fit in the space of your head....if you push a 4th marble into your head, 1 marble has to bump out to make room, and you've lost that marble! Most students can handle 3 major corrections in a single class. As students grow in skill and experience, the amount of "marble" that they can handle increase. So don't overcorrect and try not to teach 15 different fine points to a technique all in a single class. 3 new techniques or major corrections per class are usually enough.
  • How do you teach only 3 techniques without boring the class? Utilize different drills for those techniques. For example, if teaching "backfist, roundhouse kick and outward block", devise a two person drill where 1st person throws a backfist at partner, the other blocks with outward block, and the 1st person counters with roundhouse. Or have a speed contest where the class has to do all three techniques and set in a stance of your choice....last one done has to do 5 jumping jacks. The possibilities are endless in devising great drills and exercises that focus on particular techniques without boring the class.
  • Understand that new students will not move as you do. Don't get frustrated with students when they are not mastering a technique as fast as you did when you were a beginner. I still learn lessons of patience when teaching classes. :)
  • Words make a difference. Avoid using words that imply the new student is deficient in a skill...they already know they're beginners, so don't imply that they "suck"! A phrase like "You HAVE to relax!" implies that the student is overly stiff. Well of course they are, but try not to single out a student. Address the class as a whole (everybody needs the info!) and see if the correction happens with a particular student....if not, feel free to correct the student, but don't make them feel stupid. I like using words like "Want", "Could" or "Can". For example, "That's a great side-horse stance, John....and now we want to straighten that back leg to make it a bow-arrow stance for the this (demonstrate)".
  • Check your Ego. Being a teacher doesn't mean "be bossy". Be firm in disciplining inappropriate behavior, and let students know of the school's expectations and rules, yes.......but being generally bossy and snippy, with a "my way or the highway" attitude will not win points with the students or senior teachers.
  • Many schools will require that new black belts teach or assistant-coach in classes as part of their experience needed for advancement to a full "instructor" title or next belt degree. Do not assume you will be paid for your time in teaching. If you balk at not being paid, then don't learn to teach then. Nowadays many schools offer great training programs in teaching people how to become good teachers or how to run a martial arts school, often at a discounted fee if you gain experience by teaching and leading classes. If that is a program that is available at your school, do take the class. You'll be glad you did.
Private lesson scenarios:
Although it is not common for a new black belt to be given the opportunity to offer private lessons until they have more experience, if given the privilege of holding private lessons, here are tips for the new teacher:
  • All of the above-mentioned points apply.
  • Remember that private lessons are just that....private. Don't bring your friend into the training area to watch. If you're being paid for the lesson, the student is paying for the private session, not to perform in front of people.
  • Exception to above tip: Young children MUST have parent or guardian nearby, and parents should have full view of the lesson if possible.
  • If you're teaching within your Master's school, try not to think that your private lesson student is "your" student....they're still students of the Master. So carry yourself in a manner and teach in a manner that reflects the school's expectations, not your own that are outside of those expectations.
Some people might read this and say "Well, if I'm the one teaching, why should I adhere to my Master's curriulum? As long as I get the students to where they should be, why should it matter how I teach?"  I'm not talking about teaching *exactly* like your teacher does, or using the exact same wording in classes as your teacher. What I'm saying is don't add embellishments just because you think its cool. Never say "Master so and so's way of doing this is good, but I've got a better way"....for that implies that you think you are your Master's equal. (rude and disrespectful!). If you have a great way of presenting a drill to a class, then that's fin, but never imply your way is better than your teacher's. You've still got a long way to go yourself, you know!

If you're given the opportunity to teach at your teacher's school, you've been given a responsibility that should be honored and respected. Although its "your" school as a student, it is not "your" school to do with as you please. When you get up in rank a bit and eventually attain your OWN school, THEN you can run your school as you please, assuming it is run in manner that upholds quality instruction, honor, respect, and community service. The last thing you want is the "Cobra Kai" type Dojo as seen in the old "Karate Kid" movie.

And a new black're STILL a student yourself. Don't rush to become a great teacher. Great teachers are forged through practice, learning, and hard work, just as in regular martial arts classes, and it is the students recognizing you as a great teacher that allows you the "title" of "great teacher" is arrogant to give yourself that title, be it in your own head or verbally aloud.

Now I'm not saying that we should make things too easy for our students....not at all....Martial Arts are supposed to instill a good sense of self discipline and confidence through hard work, right? All I'm saying, is that we as teachers can bring out these traits in students without being overbearing a**holes. For me, I prefer "Old School" training.....hard work, sweat, and struggle, with a good teacher strictly reminding me where my lazy areas are and waking me up to the potentials I have. I've also trained in China and Japan, where harsh criticism and disciplinary measures are common in some schools, however the key point here is that no teacher in those schools doled out the discipline out of malice, Ego, or personal gain....the whole point in their teachings was to forge a strong will and spirit within me, and pound out the egotistical issues that distracted me. I knew that if I was corrected, that they cared enough to not let me do it incorrectly and look stupid doing so....I considered it an honor for a Master to physically move my arm or stance to the correct posture, and to tell me to repeat the movement again and again until I did it correctly on my own. When I did get it right, a smile and a thumbs up from the teacher, and my excitedness of learning a new skill, was all the reward I needed. When I was asked to lead a group of new beginners through an exercise.....would I buckle under pressure of being watched by the Master, or would I set a good example by trying my best to pass on the great tips given to me by the Master? It all depended how I "took" the training.

While some people can't handle that type of Old School training and seek out an "easier" school, it is unrealistic to expect a martial arts school that doesn't expect your to try your best, doesn't correct you just so your feelings don't get hurt, or allow the wrong movements to become habits just so you don't experience humiliation. It boils down to the interpretation of the student.....if a teacher says "Oh, you can improve on that by turning your arm this way..." and you think "Oh my God! I must really suck! I'll never get this right!!", then really, its the issue of the student, not the teacher or the curriculum.

Good teachers can still hold a firm stance in the discipline department without being a jerk, and they can correct your techniques in such a way that *you* learn to recognize inconsistencies with yourself and correct it yourself someday, and they also should have no problem training you to a level where, when they get their black belt, that they're better than you were when you first got yours. That's my goal, anyway. :)

Train hard, train well. Until next time!

    Wednesday, January 12, 2011

    Choosing a martial arts school & learning martial arts: Primer for potential students

    I saw a funny stand up comedy video the other day, where the comedian spoke about her friends who were starting to get into health and fitness. She spoke about how "two grown adults" were taking Karate. "You don't take Karate when you're an adult, you take it when you're 8 years old! You don't use the moves in Karate when you're a grownup! What would you need it for?"  Initially, I took it as an affront, but it was a tongue-in-cheek comedy routine, and it indeed was pretty funny.

    Martial artists out there, I'm sure you'd agree that no matter what age you started martial arts, that the positive benefits and "moves" will stay with you for the rest of your life...all through childhood and adulthood. Granted, there's nothing wrong with taking a martial arts as merely a "hobby" or for sport and recreation, or for something to take up time after school. But regardless of the sport or art, its all about the sports coach or martial arts teacher that determines whether or not the lessons and skill learned in the sport or martial art, stays with the player/student and provides part of a base with which to build upon during future years.

    With that in mind, here are some tips for people looking to get into martial arts and for parents looking to get their kids into this fun activity:

    • 1) Do a little research before visiting schools. Yes, it might be a little bit of work to email or call schools in your area, but its important to get a feel for what is being taught, who the teacher is, etc.
    • 2) Focus on the school's content and overall feel, not the fact that its got the cheapest tuition. If the school "feels" right for you and/or your child, then the learning experience will be that much more enjoyable. Don't jump into the cheapest school just because its cheaper than other might end up joining a class that your personality might not really be attracted to. If you are looking for lower cost classes, check out community centers or YMCA's, but keep in mind that the class schedule is usually not negotiable due to the facilities other events or class room rentals. Full time schools will most likely offer "open training" times during the weekends, where students can come in to practice on their own, make up a missed class or get extra coaching. Full time school may also have hours where you may come in for guided coaching on your free time, private lessons with a coach or master instructor, or have classes during workday lunch hours.   This probably won't be available at YMCA's or community centers as the class schedules are set times only.
    • 3) Parents, please be aware that "Karate" is not taught at all martial arts schools. I've seen parents in Kung Fu schools call the class "Karate class", or Aikido classes "Karate class". These are entirely different arts.  If your child joins a martial arts school, find out what style is taught and get a brief overview of the art's history and the history of your school. This will make classes funner for your child especially when they can talk to you about the training and classes, and you won't be clueless. Better yet, if there is a mixed age class and you're interested, join in with your child. (see below for tips on taking classes with your child) 
    • 4) Students: Are you joining a school only because the learning progression is quick and goes by what YOU want instead of what the Master requires? If you join a school only because the "cool stuff" is being taught and the rank progression is very quick, take a moment and look at the other students. Do they talk or move about when the Teacher is teaching or demonstrating? Are the students not so excited about practicing basics but light up when the "cool stuff" is taught? Do the students not like being corrected? How's the effort of the students? If you join a school only for the "cool stuff", you will not learn the discipline required to achieve higher skills and ranks, and your mind will turn into "selective learning"...this is not respectful to the teacher, when you listen only when YOU want to!   I've seen too many students at some schools that learn intermediate or advanced skills or weapons when they are clearly not ready for the skills....and while the weapons or skills may be "cool", the foundation and form will clearly not be as refined if seen by expert eyes. Students should go through skill progression at the supervision of the teacher, not by own student's perceptions of their own skill (which sometimes can be a bit inflated). A professional teacher will advance your skills based on your ability, not solely by what you think is cool.
    • 5) Realize that each person has different goals and reasons for joining a martial arts school. Try not to be surprised when other students don't have the same obsession for the martial arts as you do. We all have different lifestyles, goals, and reasons for bringing martial arts into our lives......try not to "preach" to other students about why they should be as passionate as you.
    • 6) Upon registering at the school, be sure to ask about the uniform and gear-accessory requirements......don't assume that the school will give you free uniforms and accessories. While most schools might give you a uniform on your first day, some schools do not require a specific uniform, or you might have to purchase some or all of the uniform items on your own. Other items, such as sparring gear, training weapons, etc, may likely be your responsibility to purchase through your teacher or through martial arts supply companies.  However, some schools that focus on community service or have classes for lower income individuals, may provide some training items free of charge. If  you absolutely cannot afford the uniform requirements, don't be afraid to ask about ways to work things out.....good schools are always happy to work with you on making sure your uniform and gear is attainable.
    • 7) Realize that sometimes the classes will be hard or confusing....not every class will be easy.  For kids, not every class will be fun and games. Try your best, however don't hesitate to notify the teacher if you start to feel sick due to the physical demands. Don't give up if you don't understand something, and don't be afraid to raise your hand and ask for clarification or help about techniques you don't understand. Keep practicing and you'll find the difficult stuff will get so much easier.
    • 8) Parents: Speaking of "games". Many schools will use games to teach specific skills. These drills and games keep young children engaged and more apt to learn the skills. Remember you are paying for the teacher to teach the skills to your child, not to treat your child like a "mini adult" nor teach your child on your terms. As much as some parents don't like to hear....your child is in the TEACHER'S instruction, not yours.  Don't assume that your child has to go through a very strict para-military regimen to learn martial arts. A very young child needs gradual introduction into the discipline of martial arts....don't worry....your child WILL learn about discipline, honor and respect. :)  And lastly.....try not to coach your child from the sidelines. That's the teacher's job. :)
    • 9) Be supportive of your classmates but don't be bossy or attempt to "teach", no matter how well you think you know something. Again, that's the teacher's job. Raise your hand and ask the teacher for help if there's any confusion about techniques or  self defense movements.
    • 10) New students, would you believe that some people are very afraid of not looking competent on their first day? It is natural to be sort of nervous on one's first class, new people, new things can be sometimes overwhelming. But just know that the more experienced students have been where you are now, and will understand your initial nervousness or concerns. Take a deep breath and dive'll do just fine!

    There are many other things that will make your experience in martial arts a great one, and you'll learn those as you progress. The initial plunge into the world of martial arts may be a whirlwind at first, but you'll definitely see so many benefits within a very short time.

    Happy Training!