Monday, May 30, 2011

The Best Karate Manuals You Can't Read

I’ve been asked many times why I don’t write a book about karate, which is not in my current plans in any case. But as it turns out I have written more than a few already, it’s just most of my work is not for public consumption.

My earliest effort was in 1985. I had just moved to Derry, New Hampshire, and restarted my program at the Derry Boys and Girls Club, both for youth and as well as a small program for adults too. I was in my 11th year training, my 7th year as an instructor, I had studied a ton of material with many great instructors both in Isshinryu and my other arts.

My wife, Maureen, was preparing for her own Shodan and helping me with the classes. Actually as I was an instructor far to young in my own studies it was my wife with her Physical Education and coaching background who helped me to become an instructor.

Because of her sharing I learned that in College the texts on developing Junior High School Girls Swim Teams were far in advance of all the karate texts in existence. Of course there is a vast difference between developing swimmers for competition (and each generation reaching faster times than the generation before it) and the manner in which karate is taught.

Still it weighed heavy on me that there was not strong supporting material available for instructor development in karate. [Note, that doesn’t mean that material might not exist just that if so, it was not available to use.]

Collectively we put our heads together and developed two manuals for developing Isshinryu Karate instructors. They did not focus on Isshinryu technique, kata or knowledge per see, but instead focused on the many other areas of knowledge an instructor should be conversant with. Not complete knowledge but a starting point and the loose leaf nature of the manuals were to encourage adding new material as it became available.

The main manual we developed had chapters on

· Communication

· Teaching technique

· Biomechanics and Karate

· Anatomy and Physiology

· Training principles and Techniques

· Athletic Injuries

· Associated Articles

· Club/School Administration

· Shiai/Tournament

· Martial Arts and the Law

· Instructor's Evaluation,

· Required and recommended books

The second manual developed by my wife focused on knowledge of Anatomy for the instructor. It had chapters on

· Body orientation and direction

· Body cavities

· Skeletal System

· Muscular System

· Nervous System

· Circulatory System

· Respiratory System

· Appendix on Pressure Points

The first manual was shared with friends, the 2nd manual only I have a copy.

As it turns out I would be another 15 years before I would develop the next generation of instructors and the paradigm for doing so became different from what I imagined in 1985.

Still I haven’t seen a similar work on instructor development to this day. While I would certainly change some of the material I’m surprised how consistent my practice have been to the course of study we originally developed. Especially the sections on teaching technique and training principles and techniques remain relevant.

Of course with the decades of newer books and the internet, such a source isn’t strictly required, but as a template to use to develop instructors it still is valuable. It was not intended to replace higher levels of study such as at university, but more general knowledge for the developing instructor.

Long term instructor development remains an important goal for any organization. Instructors who have additionally studied Physical Education in higher education have additional resources that can be used.

The material developed remains proprietary for my Bushi No Te Isshinryu organization.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The Art Of Communicating

Charles Murray guest instructor at the Derry Boys and Girls Club

In 1985 I recognized a need to develop instructor training materials and together my wife and I created a 150 page Isshinryu Karate Manual for that purpose.

This article on the Art of Communicating is from that handbook.

As an instructor in the martial arts engaged in the continuation of your art, you are attempting to communicate your knowledge to your students. The understanding of the basic principles of communication is important because teaching is communicating and to be an effective teacher, one must know how to communicate.

Much can be learned about how to give instructions by watching and listening to students. What language do they use, how do they think, what is important to them and how do they talk to each other.

When working with beginners always use plain, ordinary language since jargon contains unnecessary technical terms that are vague and less specific than plain language. In dealing with mature experienced students however, precise, technical language can and should be used. Be alert for puzzled looks, blank expressions, confusion and disagreement. Be prepared to stop activity and find the cause(s) for the confusion.

When giving instructions/demonstrations, the students will need to see what you are talking about. Keep the descriptions short. Regardless of our age, long descriptions mean little before things are seen or done. As the students watch a demonstration followed by their practice of it, give the new words that apply to what they are doing. Instructions and descriptions should depend on what can be seen as it is being done and afterwards as students try it themselves.

The use of examples is quite valuable but only if students know who or what you are speaking of. Individual experiences and age often make examples useless. However, examples from movies and TV shows that they are familiar with should be used as students try it themselves.

An often overlooked form of communication is the non-verbal or body language of facial expressions, gestures and body movements. Research has proven that the non-verbal message is believed more than the verbal. A nod or smile or a frown and head shake gives or withholds approval or consent. Arm and hand placement may contradict what is actually being said. Your body position and your alignment with those you speak with may again contradict what you are saying. Disagreements created by verbal/non-verbal communication contradictions can be serious in that the conflict suggests insincerity or untrustworthiness.

Communication can become a one way process if you dominate the situation. Granted, karate classes are not designed for conversation but you must remain open for discussions before and after class as which time students will ask questions in order to check on their own knowledge and understanding. Give them a chance to express their opinions, you both man learn something.

During classes, direct control is achieved by giving instructions, information, criticizing performance and/or behavior and giving corrections. Indirect control involves accepting honest ideas and questions, giving encouragement and helping to clear up errors and misconceptions. When humor is employed it should be non-threatening, never against individuals since it will only serve to humiliate and decrease their self-respect and respect for you.

How you receive questions and answers from students is of great importance. Students take risk in answering questions. The risk is in how the instructor or other students will react when they hear the response. If ridiculed or made fun of, the result is likely to be a decision to hide ignorance in the future rather than risk more embarrassment. The instructor must not only receive questions and answers with respect but should not allow others to show disrespect. Be patient, students of any age will try to hide their ignorance or become annoyed and honest questions will become stifled if you show impatience or if seemingly inane questions are ridiculed. What is important is that each one be willing to ask questions or answer honestly to continue learning.

Once in a while a student may ask a silly or insincere question. This can be handled by a simple “We will discuss this later”, or by turning the question back on the student. This reaction should eliminate future questions asked to be difficult and yet preserve respect for all. It is also true that some questions have no clear-cut answer, and occasionally you may not be able to answer a question. Be honest and let them know that you will find an answer for them and do so at your earliest opportunity.

Respect for instructors can be abused or misused. Whatever you are communicating and no matter verbal or non-verbal it should be designed to preserve the self-respect of both yourself and your students’. Unintentionally due to slips or ‘bad days’ we have all abused/misused respect of others for us. In the profession of teaching we must do all possible to avoid this.

There are times when a confrontation cannot be delayed in order to have all involved reach an inner calmness before reacting. However, instructors must listen carefully and be sure that they understand fully what the student or the parent has to say. Situations may arise where suspensions must be required, but these do not require any methods that no one wins and that upset everybody. Jumping to conclusions, making swift and hard decisions may find you in a bind from which it is difficult to escape. Hard feelings caused by these misunderstandings can spread and undermine the morale and respect for you as an instructor. When reprimanding anyone, always punish the deed and not the offender. You will gain more by focusing on the deed and could lose a great deal by degrading the individual.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The Grand Slam - My Instructors

My Instructors, in order of when I began training with them. In my heart they are all equal!

Tom Lewis - Isshinryu

Charles Murray - Isshinryu

Ernest Rothrock and wife Leslie - Yang Tai Chi, Faan Tzi Ying Jow Pai and other Chinese studies

Tristan Sutrisno - Shotokan, Aikido, Siliat Tjimande, Kobudo

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Being a Black Belt – Knowing When to Fold

What happens after years of work when you have to decide to miss training?

You’ve trained very strong for your first 6 or so years, made black belt and are committed to keeping going as far and as hard as you can. You’ve spent as much time in the dojo as possible so it almost feels like home. You’ve worked to be the first student there and the last to leave.

Now one of life’s softballs occurs:

1. Your spouse or significant other tells you you’re not spending enough time with her and you discover she’s jealous of the time you spend away form home.

2. You discover spending time with your passion is taking time away from your family and kids.

3. Demands of work, overtime, business travel, fighting to keep the job get more time consuming.

4. You don’t have time for community activities, or time to spend with friends because of your training.

5. And the ever present physical injury and illness that threatens to stop your training or actually does impede it.

I think most of us when we begin see training as becoming a full time study and the longer we do it, training becomes a consuming passion. Those that don’t see it that way fall by the wayside in time.

When you first set a goal such as becoming a black belt or perhaps a consistent tournament champion all else may be swept aside to reach towards the goal. But those who train for a goal oft times after achieving it are ready to set it aside for another newer interest.

It’s a far different thing to keep training forever. In fact I’m not sure it can be described in any comprehensible way to those who don’t make the same choices. Along that way there are decisions to step down, to step away that are much harder than just leaving forever.

Trying to understand Okinawa prior to the modern era I believe a sense of community was very important, and strong echoes remain with the current community events still held, i.e. festivals. Students lived in walking distance of their instructor. The students seem to have come from the same class, from family or friend referrals. The instructor would have known them before meeting them. Then the relationship of instructor and student would become a lifetime bond.

Very few would be able to just train forever. Work and/or family responsibilities were always there and the binding community values would remain.

Much contemporary martial training is very different from the past, with a student arriving at a training hall where the instructor is waiting for their classes instead of training outside or inside the instructor’s home and mixing with their family responsibilities.

How much did they train after 10 years, after 20 years, after 30 years? Not a clue. Each student defines their own goals why they do it, where they want it to go, what effort they can spare. The instructor only points.

I doubt karate was ever intended to be the entire focus of an Okinawan life. I see it as a supplemental life activity of great value. At some point for many they will shift to a maintenance level of training. Those other issues I described are much more important to define most of us. That doesn’t mean karate does not keep a place, but that is has to find the right place for the student.

The instructor, as much a member of the larger community as the student must be supportive of the student’s decisions.

As much as we have to know how to play, we have to know when it is necessary to fold and allow the game of life to progress until the next turn.