Saturday, November 27, 2010

What's the Difference between a Martial Art and a Sport?

This article focuses on an issue that is often written about in martial arts circles and will no doubt continue to be debated for years to come.  It is the basic question about whether karate is a martial art or a sport and, if you can definitively categorize it as one or the other, then what in fact is the difference between a martial art and a sport?
The article is going to start by defining what a martial art and a sport actually is and then it will discuss the difference between the two.
So first of all, what is a martial art?  A martial art in the original sense of the words is an art that involves military strategy, sometimes weaponry and the idea of some kind of life-or-death situation that must be faced either on a battlefield, in warfare or in a personal dangerous encounter.
The ultimate risk in a traditional martial art is the loss of one’s life at the hands of your opponent and therefore much emphasis is placed on spiritual growth, strength of character and moral fortitude during the course of one’s training.  Training in a martial art is often very rigorous and demanding and is certainly not for the weak of heart.  The structure of the training is often very regimented and repetitive and requires a high degree of self-discipline and effort.
Consequently the goal of a traditional martial arts practitioner is not necessarily to win each battle but rather to not lose any battle.  Although ‘to win’ and ‘to not lose’ are essentially the same thing, the focus is different.
Moving on to the question of “what is a sport?”  A sport is an activity usually involving two or more individuals, sides, or teams, each one trying to win a game or competition as quickly and by as greater margin as possible.  Despite the strong element of competition and the emphasis on winning we should include the concept of fun as being a central factor in the overall goal of sport.  We often see high levels of intensity and passion displayed by the players, especially at the top levels of competition, but usually everybody goes home at the end of the day friends and with a feeling of refreshment looking forward to next week’s game against a different team.
These are basic definitions of a martial art and a sport and it used to be fairly easy to separate the two but over the years of development of both kinds of disciplines the differences are not so great and there is a lot of overlap between the two.  So let’s now try to address some of the differences.
First of all a sport in general is fun with a serious side to it called competition.  The competition aspect is usually hotly contested by both sides with one of the sides coming out a winner and receiving some kind of prize.  There is often a little over-exuberance, sometimes injuries, but most of the time the game or match is an enjoyable spectacle with, as stated before, everybody going home friends at the end of the day.
A martial art on the other hand is very different to this.  Although there is now the competition aspect of martial arts, this of course also includes team events, a martial art is predominantly an individual pursuit.  The goal of the practitioner is to hone one's skills by constant never-ending practice, week-in week-out, through a very regimented schedule and a very structured syllabus.  The martial artist follows a path of growth, which begins the first moment he or she steps into the dojo, and in many cases continues for the rest of that person’s life, or certainly way beyond the competitive career of most sportsmen and women.
Along this journey of self-discovery and growth the martial artist not only tries to improve his or her technical ability and prowess, but also focuses on becoming a better person in every other aspect of his or her life.  By a better person, it is meant that the path of a martial artist is one of constant polishing and refining of one’s technique, which through repeated practice develops the good habits needed to improve one’s abilities in coping with everyday life’s challenges and tasks.
The ultimate goal of the martial artist is to have mind and body unify as one, and then function harmoniously with the outside environment and surroundings, always trying to create positive values for others through leading by example and utilizing the principles of respect, hard work and effort, self-control and self-discipline.
Although a sport has many of these benefits and qualities, I think a sport is by nature too specific and focused on one dimension to adequately provide the rounded, balanced dimensions that a martial art offers.
I believe a martial art is intrinsically more rewarding than a sport and ultimately becomes a way of life for those who practice its teachings seriously.
In closing I think that nowadays karate is both a martial art and a sport but the sport aspect is just a small part of the overall martial art rather than the martial art being a small part of the sport.  For both to coexist effectively we need to recognize the importance of each with respect to the other.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

How to Motivate Your Students in Three Easy Steps

If you’ve been a karate instructor for any length of time you will no doubt know that your success in retaining your students comes down to one key factor – keeping your students highly motivated to continue training.  How do you do this while still maintaining your focus on delivering a high quality program?
The majority of karate clubs have a wide range of students usually starting at around age 4 and going all the way up to 74 or older in some cases.  Often within this student base there are the highly-motivated and gung-ho hardcore students who would practice running up a wall backwards if you told them it would help give them the edge over their fellow club members.  Then there are hobbyists who approach their training from a slightly more balanced perspective.  Generally this group of students practice pretty hard and come to class regularly but karate is not the number one item on their daily to-do list.  The final group of students is made up of those who say they want to get their black belt but are strangers to the concept of blood, sweat and tears.
So how do you motivate this diverse set of individuals?  Here are three simple tips to get you started:
1.       Set your students up for success
As human beings we all need to feel like we are being successful.  We like our efforts to be recognized and we seek approval from those who we respect.  Your karate students are no different.  Positive praise produces positive progress.  There is nothing more powerful than a genuine comment from you that praises something about your student’s effort in class or your student’s recent improvement.  We’ve all heard the phrase “people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”  Show your students that you genuinely care about them and that you truly want the best for them in their training.
2.       Disguise repetition
Repetition is the mother of skill but at the same time one definition of madness is doing the same thing over and over again with the expectation of different results.  As a karate instructor your job is to make sure that your students’ skill level is constantly improving through repetition while making it seem to them as if they are constantly learning something new each lesson.  This is achieved by developing multiple drills and teaching techniques that focus on the same core competencies that are needed to grow as a martial artist.  By doing this your students will always look forward to coming to class because they will be excited to see what they will be studying today.  Doing the same lesson in the same way over and over is a sure recipe for low student retention.
3.       Implement an effective ranking system
The path to black belt is a long and arduous journey and a large majority of students won’t make it.  Therefore it is necessary to recognize the importance of an effective ranking system so that your students have regular “success stepping stones”.  These “success stepping stones” are your different colored belts.  Make sure that you have a clear belt system that students can strive for with regular testing - usually every three months.  However be careful not to overwhelm your students with multiple stripes and sub-ranks that only serve to confuse them even more.  Keep it simple and clear so that students know exactly what is expected of them.
With these three simple tips you can go a long way to effectively motivate your students.  There are obviously many ways to motivate students, so why not let me know some of the effective methods that you are using with your own students.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Some Common Karate Terminology

I remember back to my very first karate lesson back in January 1982 in Darlington, England.  I had such a hard time following the different movements.  The idea that I had to remember the names of the techniques in a foreign language too was almost too much to bear.
I often get questions on this “mysterious terminology”.  What does “oss” mean?  What is “seiza”?  Did I just do an “oizuki” or was it a “maegeri”?  What language is this?
Let me try to put you at ease a little with this “crash course” in karate terminology.

Common Terms
Karate—empty hand (literal meaning)
Seiza—traditional kneeling position
Kiritsu—stand up
Mokuso—meditation and breathing
Dojo—training hall
“Oss” or “osu” - formal greeting used to convey the meanings of hello, thank you, and, I understand (quick tip—when in doubt just say “oss”.  It’s a catch-all word.)
Basic Punches
Oizuki– front punch
Gyakuzuki—reverse punch
Kizami-zuki—front snap punch
Basic Blocks
Age-uke—rising block
Soto-uke—outer block
Uchi-uke—inner block
Gedan-barai—downward block
Shuto-uke—knife hand block
Basic Kicks
Maegeri—front kick
Mawashigeri—roundhouse kick
Yokogeri-keage—side snap kick
Yokogeri-kekomi—side thrust kick
Basic Stances
Shizentai—natural stance
Musubi-dachi—stance for bowing (heels together, toes apart)
Zenkutsu-dachi—front stance
Kokutsu-dachi—back stance
Kiba-dachi—horse-riding stance
Kata Names
Heian Shodan—White belt kata
Heian Nidan—Yellow belt kata
Heian Sandan—Orange belt kata
Heian Yondan—Green belt kata
Heian Godan—Blue belt kata
Tekki Shodan—Purple belt kata
Kumite Terms
Gohon kumite—five-step sparring
Sanbon kumite—three-step sparring
Kihon ippon-kumite—basic one-step sparring
Jiyu ippon-kumite—free one-step sparring
Jiyu kumite—free sparring
Etiquette (said at the beginning and end of each class)
Shomen ni rei—bow to the place of honor (to the front wall representing the past masters of karate and the style that we practice)
Sensei ni rei—bow to the instructor (to whoever is teaching that day)
Otagai ni rei—bow to each other (to all students who are present for the class that day)

Here is a free bonus link to a more detailed terminology list on the upcoming Shotokan Sensei member website where you will be able to view full technique lists, kata and kumite terminology, directions, body parts, etc.

Karate Terminology

Please don’t let the terminology of karate stress you out, it is just part of the overall experience of learning something new.  In the early stages of your training you are not expected to remember it or learn it.  As you progress through the ranks, the Japanese terms will probably become something that you want to learn as part of your training.
Good luck with your study of the art of Karate-do.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Seishin Shotokan Karate - 10th Anniversary

This month, my karate club celebrates 10 years in existence!  The past ten years have been absolutely great and I look forward to many more good years to come.  Thank you to all of you who have made the past ten years possible - my family, my instructors, and of course my members.  Life has been better because of all of you.
Here is a link to a slideshow that celebrates our karate club.  Enjoy!

Monday, November 1, 2010

5 Common Mistakes That New Karate Instructors Make

Becoming an instructor in a martial arts school is often a really exciting time because in many ways you feel like you have made it.  In order to teach others you must have already mastered the basic content and now is your chance to “give back” your knowledge and continue the progression of your style.  This is a great honor but it is not without its pitfalls.  As any experienced instructor knows, teaching martial arts and practicing martial arts are in many ways two completely different things.
So if you’re a new instructor listen up and pay attention because, although you are probably a competent black belt student, you are a beginner in terms of teaching.  Here are some of the most common mistakes that new instructors make.  And by the way, if you are an experienced instructor reading this please don’t forget to tell some of your own horror stories to your assistant instructors so that they can learn from your mistakes too.
Mistake #1: Showing up to class without a lesson plan and “winging it”.  This is a BAD idea for any new instructor.  Planning is critical in all aspects of life and in any job.  Being a martial arts instructor is no different.  Just because you are good at your chosen art doesn’t mean that you can instantly snap all of the puzzle pieces together and teach an awesome class without a lesson plan from day 1.  Even many experienced instructors refer to some type of lesson plan or overall structure before teaching each class.  A lesson plan will guarantee that you are organized, that you don’t “freeze” on the spot, and that you aren’t constantly thinking “OK, what shall I do next?”  If you’re thinking this, it means that you’re not focusing on your students!
Mistake #2: Trying to teach everything you know in one class.  It is very tempting as a new instructor to feel the need to stamp your authority on a class and to prove yourself to your group as being very knowledgeable.  Consequently in your first class you drill your students in every possible basic technique, all of the different forms whether they know them or not, and numerous partner work drills to the point of overload.  This causes major stress to your students as they feel completely overwhelmed and, not only that, when you go to teach your next class you won’t have anything left to give them that’s new.  There are very good reasons for a structured curriculum and a solid lesson plan.
Mistake #3: Teaching class so that you get a good workout.  There is a difference between leading by example and training with your peers.  In every class that you teach your primary focus should be on the needs of your students and not on your own personal needs.  It will be inevitable that you will get a pretty good workout just by demonstrating the different techniques, forms and partner work drills to your students and it is also important to model these things well, but you must also allow yourself to watch your students so that you know which students need help.  In this way you position yourself to give valuable feedback rather than just working up a good sweat.
Mistake #4: Being too hard or too easy.  There are very often two types of new instructors.  Type 1 is the drill instructor who wants to put the students through hell so they know who is boss, and type 2 is the friend who wants everyone to like him and is overly nervous about how well he taught each class.  Try to find some middle ground here and work your students hard by holding them to high standards but also develop strong and respectful relationships with them and show them that you care.
Mistake #5: Allowing your students to decide on the content for the class.  This is a BIG mistake because so many things can go wrong.  First of all you can’t please everybody and by asking what your students want to study you will get requests for everything possible within any group – forms training, sparring, pad work and target training, and self-defense.  You can’t possibly fit everything into one class and nor should you (see mistake #2).  Also you are setting yourself up for failure.  What would you do if they asked you to teach something you don’t know very well yet, like an advanced form or some knife defense that you may not have studied yet?  You are the leader of the class and your students expect you to know what they need to study.  Don’t abdicate your responsibility to your students and allow them to dictate the class.
These are some of the most common mistakes that new instructors make and there are of course many more.  Keep reading my blog for future articles on teaching and how to become a better instructor, coming soon!