Your Dojo Is a Reflection of You

Are you well organized or messy?

How are your relationships with your family and other people?

What’s your general outlook on life? Are you a “glass is half full” or “half empty” kind of person?

These character traits are reflected in your dojo from the way you sound on the phone to how you teach your students.

To paraphrase one of my mentors Dan Lok, “If your business sucks at getting customers, you suck at marketing! Your business is a reflection of you.”

Let’s bring this concept to the dojo…

If you suck at marketing you’ll have a hard time getting new students. If you suck at teaching then the skill sets of your students will be mediocre at best. If you suck at customer service and communication your dojo most probably has a hard time with student retention.

Your dojo is a reflection of you.

It’s pretty simple once you realize this correllation.

So what’s the solution? How do you improve your dojo?

Easy. Upgrade your skills.

Just as you require your students to upgrade their skills to reach the next level, so must you!

Want to increase the overall quality of  your students? Become a better communicator. Learn how to teach.

Need more students? Become a better marketer. Study sales and marketing.

Need to improve your customer service?  Upgrade your communication skills.

Having a hard time getting paid? Systematize and automate.

Constantly forgetting dates and events? Use a calendar. Get organized.

I’ve never seen a great dojo run by a sensei who hasn’t mastered these skills. But I’ve seen plenty of dojos fail because these skills haven’t been mastered.

The concept is simple. Your dojo is a reflection of you. If you want to see improvements, first upgrade your skills.

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Is This Really Your Best Effort?

“Is this your best effort, Thomas?”, I ask.

A somewhat nervous purple belt glances at me. Disappointed. He knows he could be doing better.

“No”, he answers slowly.

“Why not?”

“I don’t know”

“I don’t know either…”, I reply.

This dialog is familiar. It’s not the first time we’ve exchanged these words. Yet for whatever reason Thomas tends to make half-hearted efforts most of the time. Occasionally he will give his best but more often than not, he doesn’t. It’s disappointing to me to see this with a talented student.

Sound familiar?

If you’re anything like me you explain to your students how important it is to give your all when you train. You and I both know you’ll do what you know best under duress. Practice to be slow and you’ll be great at being slow. Practice with great effort accompanied by an attitude for continual improvement and you’ll develop skills that will serve you well.

As instructors, we realize this relationship between effort and results but many students don’t yet possess the experience to connect these dots; particularly beginners and kids. Some students believe that they can cruise through class like they’re driving a convertible Mustang, one hand on the wheel with the wind blowing through their hair. They come to class regularly so they think they “know it all”. They also believe when it comes time to race that Mustang they’ll know what to do.

Not true.

You are what you practice to be.

That’s why champion sports teams adhere to the old adage,

“We train like we play, and play like we train”.

So after class recently it got me thinking…

“As an instructor do I practice what I preach? Do I give my best effort in every class?”

If we’re going to ask our students to give their best while training, I believe we ought to do the same while teaching. It’s only fair to walk the walk if we’re going to talk the talk.

I’ve spent the last 15 years building my dojo and have taught over 15,000 classes during that time. I’m always analyzing each class for things I could do better from the words spoken, to the way content is presented and taught, to the individual coaching a student receives. Always looking to set a new gold standard.

However like Thomas, from time to time I get preoccupied with the business details of the dojo, the craziness of the outside world or little things going on in life and I know I can do better.

Can you?

As a professional certified trainer I’ve acquired the tools, techniques and methods for public speaking, body language and communication… but occasionally (most often when I’m tired and feeling unresourceful) I’ll slip back to doing what’s easiest and not what’s ultimately best practice.

This led me to look for a solution. An introspective search for a mental trigger I can press before and during class to bring out my best as an instructor.

What I discovered was a simple question that focuses my attention. The question is this:

“How can I make this class the best class ever?”

Sure, this seems a little too simple at first glance but asking this before class stimulates my creative mind and helps me search for an answer based on my past experience. It helps me make a mental plan of what to cover content-wise, what structure my classes might take and what drills and exercises I might employ.

It’s also useful to ask this question during class when things aren’t going as well as I’d hoped. My mind immediately starts to look for ways to reignite the class. I may have to present/explain something in a different way to get my point across. I may create a new exercise on the fly to help students join the dots. More often than not, it may help me avoid a tailspin. And if my students sense my 100% engagement, they’re more likely to put forth an effort as well. All thanks to a simple question.

That’s the wonderful thing about the human mind… when you ask it a question it looks for an answer whether you like it or not.

So…in an effort to bring out your best as an instructor my question to you is, “How can you make your next class your best class ever?”

And my next question to Thomas will be, “How can you make this your best effort ever?”

Until next time…

Stay safe. Train hard.

– Jason

Kumite Footwork Exercise

Are you ready for a quick kumite footwork drill that helps develop strong quads, explosive movement and agility?

AWESOME!

You’ll need a sparring partner and a pair of focus mitts.

It works like this:

  1. Partners face each other in their fighting stance at kicking range, left leg forward.
  2. The Target  holds the mitts in front of their body with palms touching (picture and imagine praying).
  3. The Fighter  waits in anticipation for the Target to present the mitt to hit.
  4. With their left hand the Target shows the mitt at a position for a front leg jodan mawashi geri  (upper level roundhouse kick).
  5. The Fighter skips up with the back foot, chambers the knee and fires off the kick, recoiling the leg and placing their foot to the ground next to their other foot, legs slightly bent at the knees.
  6. At the same time the Target EITHER shuffles backwards or pushes forwards one  slide .
  7. The Fighter must react appropriately after the kick.

In the case of a retreating Target, the Fighter pushes forwards using the loaded spring of the BACK LEG into forward stance, and delivers reverse punch.

In the case of an advancing Target, the Fighter pushes backwards by loading up the FRONT LEG and driving backwards. At the same time the Fighter must move the back foot as to regain their original fighting position, and follow with slide in reverse punch.

[HINT: Pay attention to what you/your students do after the kick! A common mistake is to fall forwards instead of recoiling the leg and driving forwards. This action leaves the fighter open for the counter. It also puts the fighter in a position unable to chase their opponent should they double-shuffle backwards. Conversely a fighter who recoils and springs forwards has momentum and can push forwards again if their opponent moves further back, breaks line, etc.]

Typically we to this exercise for 10 repetitions before changing roles, and of course then working the other side of the body. The objective is for the fighter to develop strong explosive movement, to be able to anticipate the target’s movement and react appropriately ensuring proper distance and timing for their technique.

Here’s a quick visual, just because I know you love my stick figure animations. 😉

kumite

Try it with you students and if you like this kumite drill I have a ton more of them here.

Enjoy!

— Jason

 

Why Practice Karate Kihon?

The true power of kiai…

Watch almost any martial arts movie from yesteryear and you’ll witness a tsunami of bad acting and fantastical abilities. From catching bullets to breathing fire and everything in between. The plot almost always follows one man’s struggle against the odds to avenge his <<insert favorite family member’s>> death.

Frequently the hero will be surrounded by multiple opponents, and emerge triumphant after being attacked by a series of single techniques that resemble the kihon section of a karate class.

Thank goodness some of the more recent movies have resembled something slightly more realistic from an attack standpoint, albeit not the real deal. What attacker is going to wait for you to defend and counter?

Is Karate Kihon for the Birds?

So if nobody attacks with a single technique, and pause with their punch fully extended and their other fist at the hip, what’s the purpose of practicing karate this way? We don’t see it in boxing, and we don’t see it in MMA. Only in a traditional karate class do we see this seemingly odd behavior. Wouldn’t it make more sense just to practice the exact techniques and counter methods that one might encounter in a real situation?

Of course I’m playing coy when asking these questions. I clearly see the value of repetitive singular basics and traditional stance work as I’m sure you do too. However, I want to provide you with a couple of analogies you can use next time you’re mocked by an armchair fighter who says traditional karate is for the birds.

Tweet. Tweet.

Clichéd Analogy Numero Uno

You gotta walk before you can run…

You gotta crawl before you can walk….

This is a good start, but it doesn’t quite possess the level of detail required to penetrate our non-karate-ka’s fortified mind. We need a more subtle approach to have our opponent lower their intellectual drawbridge and let us in before they’ll consider our reasoning.

Analogy Numero Dos

When I get asked why we practice this way, I nearly always use this simple explanation.

Basics are like letters of the alphabet, A to Z.

When you become a karate student, we teach you how to recognize and write the letters just like in kinder or first grade. You learn to punch, block, kick…. A, B, C.

Once you know your letters we then teach you how to spell a few words. These are combination techniques, or sequences from kata.

The next level of writing would be to construct sentences. At first we show you a sentence. You copy it down and learn it as you were taught. This is where you work with a partner doing ippon kumite, kata bunkai and various karate drills and exercises. You string together specific attacking and defending techniques.

Beyond that is when you create. You write the sentences. You become the author. Of course this is when you adapt and apply your basics. Perhaps not in the exact way as you originally learned, but in a way that is still effective and tweaked to fit your fighting style and skill level. They’re no longer “basic techniques” yet without them you could never attain technique authorship.

To refer again to the alphabet analogy, as adults we don’t write to that dotted half line height in lower case print any longer. And our grammar isn’t always proper. We write how we please, with relaxed grammar and slang instead of regimented sentence structure. But without the fundamentals our story would be weak.…just like our fighting skills would be without understanding the basic techniques first.

The bottom line is we teach and practice the basics in order to do the advanced. If you are only ever taught to write the sentences verbatim without knowing how to create the sentences yourself, there will be a ceiling to your learning. Next time a student or intellectual sparring partner asks you why you teach and practice basics feel free to use this analogy.

 

 

Develop Your Weak Side

How many karate-ka does it take to change a light bulb?

Just one. But he’ll do it 10,000 times with his right hand, then 10,000 times with his left.

(This is the part where you laugh.)

In all seriousness as much as we karate-ka like to think we are equally proficient on both sides of our body, the reality is we’re not.

The fact is most of us are right-side dominant, and not as coordinated as our left-handed brothers, since “lefties” have to adapt to our right-handed world.

Side note: Unless you’re left handed you probably don’t realize how much of a challenge it can be with daily tasks in a right hand world. Think about writing, scissors, tools, measuring cups, etc. For lefties, check out https://www.leftyslefthanded.com/ – You’re welcome. =)

Anyhow, let’s get back to the original point.

Typically, by nature we are a one-side dominant species. Approximately 85% of people are right-handed according to Scientific American.

But why?

Well it’s to do with the left brain controlling the right side of the body. The left brain is also what controls speech, and when the written word came to be, it was therefore natural to write with the right side.

Fascinating, isn’t it?

This explains why other primates (who can’t speak or write) don’t tend to favor their right side, yet us wacky humans do.

However one of the requisites of karate is that we train both sides equally. But how many of us seriously do that in every aspect?

ZERO would be a good guess.

Here’s why:

It would be a fair assumption most traditional karate dojo practice either Pinan or Heian kata, wouldn’t you agree?

If we look further at kata it’s apparent they were developed for defense with right side attacks first in mind. Think about the first move in any pinan/heian kata… you turn/move away from a right-handed attacker.

(A savvy reader might argue these right-handed attacks develop a strong left side defense. And I would agree… which is followed by a dominant right hand counter.)

In addition many of the finishing techniques/kiai points are made on the right side of the body. This holds true for almost every kata. This evidence reinforces karate is a right side dominant fighting system. 

Still need more convincing?

Try doing Pinan/Heian Godan as the mirror image of what you regularly practice. You’ll probably get through it, but not smoothly. There are certain techniques that you almost only ever apply with the right side of the body. And when you attempt the lefty version of these you’re bound to feel like a beginner all over.

Consider the kosa dachi/uraken kiai point in Pinan/Heian Godan, or the first move in Bassai Dai for example. How often do you practice these moves on the left side during kihon (basics) or bunkai (application) practice? I’m guessing not very often if at all.

The left photo shows the first kiai point in Pinan Godan. The right picture is a reverse image of the same technique.

With all of this in mind, it becomes apparent why lefties tend to do quite well at karate since they already have the left side dominance as a natural ability. They learn through repetition to be proficient with their right. Often times they can hit just as hard with either side of the body, or perform difficult techniques on either side without much thought.

Makes sense, yes?

And if you’re a right-handed karate-ka, guess what? Your right will almost always be stronger and more coordinated no matter how much you practice both sides equally. It has the natural advantage already. So equal numbers of reps will keep it ahead of your left, less dominant side.

So what’s the solution?

In order to feel more coordinated on your weak side, a simple exercise would be to make a list of movements from kata for which you only practice the right side of the body. Take those movements and incorporate those directly into your kihon (basics) section of class and you’ll see a marked improvement in your students’ skill sets.

For example, from yoi dachi have your students step in (on your count) to kosa dachi and make uraken per the picture above. On the next count have them return to yoi dachi. On the next count they step in with the other side of the body. Repeat.

What other techniques can you think of to practice in this manner?

Post away!

 

 

Removing Boredom from Basic Repetitions

You know as well as I that student boredom is the number one reason for students to quit karate. As karate instructors we have the responsibility to keep our students motivated, focused and working hard. However some students would rather watch paint dry than do basic reps.

BORING!

dojoSo how do you keep your class interested and still get them to do basic repetitions with the passion they once had?

It’s easy… just involve them in the learning process.

I’ll say that again just in case you missed it.

Involve them in the learning process.

This keeps them ENGAGED and INTERESTED and keeps BOREDOM on lock-down.

For example, instead of simply having your class do 20 lunge punches, followed by 20 front kicks, and then 20 back kicks, ask for your students’ involvement.

Here’s what a typical day at my dojo might sound like during the basic repetition portion of class.

“Who can name one hand technique?”, I ask.

“Oi-zuki!”, shouts one student. (That’s Japanese for lunge punch)

“Ok, great”, I say, “Who can give me another technique. This time with the legs?”

“Mawashi geri!”, shouts another. (Roundhouse kick)

“Perfect. Ok so here’s our new combination technique. First you make oi-zuki then immediately make mawashi geri off the rear leg. Ready! Ichi… Ni…. San…”

Once my class is done with the first set of 10 reps for this new combination, we switch sides and repeat. Then it’s on to the next one.

“Ok, next combination… Joseph – name a technique.”

“Mae geri”, he answers.

“Thank you. Someone else?”

“Uraken”, says Tommy.

“Ready, step forward into your fighting stance, kamae-te!”, I shout.

“Mae-geri / uraken combination on my count…. Ichi… Ni… San…”

This is a great way for you to have your students do their basic reps every class but with a twist. They never know exactly what the combination will be, so that keeps them focused and interested. It’s also a great cognitive karate exercise because they are challenged mentally to put together combinations they may never have practiced or thought about before.

You can scale up the difficulty of this exercise in the following ways:

  • increase the number of techniques per combination
  • make the combinations only hand techniques, only leg techniques, or combination hand-leg techniques
  • restrict the techniques to only one side of the body
  • etc

Your class will always be challenged no matter the skill level or experience.

What other ways can you think of to modify this exercise?

Your feedback and comments are always welcome.

Force Your Students to Chamber Their Kicks…

karate drill for chambering your leg correctly
I tell my students – “You kick the bo and you get 2 things – a sore foot and 20 push ups. Make sure you chamber your leg properly!”

Here’s a simple karate drill to force your students to chamber their legs correctly for kicking.

This works great for front kick, round kick, side kick, back kick, hook kick… any kick that requires the knee high and the leg compressed. This in turn creates faster, more powerful kicks.

And who doesn’t want that?

All you need is a bo and 2 kick shields.

Just have your student pair up and lay the bo across the pads as shown. Have one student be the target and stand in the “pod” while the other will work for 60 seconds making combination techniques.

All kicks will need to be chambered properly otherwise the bo will be disrupted from it’s position. Have your students work 3 sets of 60 seconds each, alternating each time.

Have fun!

– Jason

 

 

The star of the show…

“Waaaa-taaaah!”

“Hey karate-man!! whaaaaa!”

The class walked by and while most smiled and waved, a couple of  young boys made karate chops in the air while simultaneously running their mouths.

What the hell? Was I being heckled by 4th graders? You bet I was…

Part of me wanted to walk over and break the kid’s elbow. Then in my best Austrian accent drop a cool Arnold Swarzzenegger-style one-liner, “Better catch up to your class…. chop chop!”

whaaataaah

My inner-adult however decided that might not be the best action, and so I chose to ignore the hecklers and smile at the friendlies.

Incidentally when did it become okay to be disrespectful to adults?

Oh wait, yep… I can’t pretend I never did it, but I tell you the day I got chased down by some older teenagers, one of who gave me a well placed uppercut to the solar plexus, fixed my attitude problem.

So anyway, back to my story….

I was invited to a career day at an elementary school along with some firefighters, paramedics, air force mechanics and wait for it – a UFC referee. (Super nice guy, but am I missing something here or do all kids from kinder to 4th grade watch the UFC?). We were invited to talk to the kids about the importance of hard work, continued education and commitment.

For 3 hours I did the same 15 minute presentation to each group, explaining to them what it takes to follow your dreams, how you should endeavor to be a good person, always do your best and learn something new every day. I intertwined the presentation with some basic karate exercises and techniques to keep the classes engaged and learning. For the most part it went nicely and the students responded well.

So after 8 classes and a couple of hours, guess who arrived?

Yep, you got it. My hecklers.

Oh, this was gonna be fun!

So I begin and I ask the class a few questions to which one of my 10 year old hecklers bucks the system – he disagrees with EVERYTHING I say (as expected). He’s got it in his head that he knows it all and has life all figured out.

Excellent.

I mean, who doesn’t at 10 years old?

So anyway I continue my class and Mr Interuptus interjects again. So at that point I ask for a volunteer – several hands shoot up, but not his… but of course I choose him. (Heh, heh, heh!)

I reach over and take his baseball cap off of his head (his security blanket) at which point he becomes compliant. He doesn’t want to be the volunteer but he’s not going to back down either.

“What’s your name?”, I ask.

“Alex. Well, Alexander”, he says sheepishly.

“Ok, thanks Alexander”

I ask Alex to bow as I bow to him, and he gives me a nod of his head. I pause and explain that respect begins with doing your bow properly, etc, and finally he executes a nice bow. Aha… we’re getting somewhere.

I say to the class, “Give Alex a clap!”.

The class cheers. Alex smiles bashfully.

“Now Alex is going to show the rest of you guys how to do a PERFECT pushup!”, I announce.

Alex’s eyes widen and he swallows hard.

Think about the psychology here – he’s been called out to perform, but doesn’t really want to, but doesn’t want to back down either. Seems like a good time to step up to the plate and show the class what he’s made of…

Alex drops and gives me 10 perfect push ups. Man, this kid is an over-achiever… could make a black belt one day with the right training. I congratulate him and tell him he did an AWESOME job!

We bow and I ask the class to give Alex a round of applause. He again smiles bashfully and I return his hat.

Alex is now on cloud 9.

The naughty kid just became the star of the show. At the same time he learned a little about respect and got a much needed self-esteem boost.

If you ever have disruptive students, this concept is key to unlocking their good behavior. Instead of coming down on them and lecturing them on what they SHOULD do, which they hear countless times a day, flip everything on it’s head and make them the star of the show. It’s amazing how well this works.

Pretty soon your disruptive students will become role models for the rest of your class.