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

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.