Friday, August 12, 2011

Teaching Children - the role of Bushi No Te Isshinryu

Scranton Boys Club Members from the past

It was Labor Day Weekend in 1977 when Charles Murray moved to the Scranton area to become the pastor of the Providence Full Gospel Tabernacle. I received a phone call from him and he told me he just moved here, before my phone hit the ground I was in my car riding to see him. I had one mission to convince him to take over my training in Isshinryu. In that, painfully for me of course, I succeeded.

Shortly thereafter he began a youth karate program in his church and I was helping him with the class as well as being his student. That continued through April 1979, after I had received my sho-dan from Mr. Lewis and his Isshinryu Karate Club association. That April Charles returned to his career in the USAF and I took the remaining students and continued to teach them at nearby McDade Park until I could take the program to the Scranton Boys Club.

That program lasted until 1984 where I had to move to Derry NH for work. Along the way I also ran three Northeastern Pennsylvania Youth Karate tournaments, and was instrumental in being the first program to bring young women into the Boys Club as members.

With previous experience through the Boys Clubs I was immediately granted permission to begin a program at the Derry Boys and Girls Club in 1985 and have continued to run that program ever since. I guess that means I’ve been training young people for 35 continuous years now.

Once in Derry I also was able to establish a small adult program that has also continued since that date.

Regardless of which program, they both have the same technical content and youth and adults are taught every part of the program in the same order of progression. The youth program does not teach kiddie karate, nor is it a baby sitting service. All my programs are an in depth study of my Bushi No Te Isshinryu.

The major difference between the youth program and adult study is that the young cannot make the personal choice to train, they’ re dependent on family support. The average time for youth to move from beginner to Sho-dan is 7 to 9 years. The main reason is we only offer 2 classes a week at the Club and most of the youth are in multiple activities that frequently they only train once a week at different periods in the year because of activity conflict.

While the study of Isshinryu is the prime tool of the program that is not the reason we run it. Most of the young people who join and stay a bit last only one or two years. The study of karate is valuable but the underlying principle of the program is to teach them that they can learn from their own efforts, and that this applies to every activity they will engage in life. We only take new students one or two times a year keeping the class roughly a constant 20 students, but when new students begin and they see them not able to have the skills they have developed the lesson starts to take hold.

Those individuals that find the interest to remain training to Sho-dan have each been a unique individual but by that time they’re also already to graduate High School and then each of them moves on in life to far more important activities than staying training with us, so in the end we appropriately lose every student to life, which is most appropriate.

When I first began training youth almost every friend, fellow competitors and instructors I knew tried to tell me I was crazy to spend my time with kids. They didn’t understand I was focused on doing what many adults in my own home town were doing when I was young, sharing their lives with different youth activities. Actually much of the idea came from walking around Scranton and seeing so many dance studios, and once I started the program I realized in the long run most karate schools would have to do the same for increased cash flow. Of course most didn’t believe me. Once again I understood where the future was going.

Several years ago a father who had previous training was watching his daughter’s first class, especially seeing me cover the critical need of chambering correctly. He approached me after class and said “What are you doing, you’re teaching them karate. The other programs we looked at aren’t doing that.” I replied “Well I only know karate and I teach the same for everyone.”

Decades of training youth have given me experience with every sort of student. Special needs, ADHD and all the rest. The truth is everyone young or old is the same, they each have to train according to their individual needs. I do have infinite patience, and never give up on a student’s ability to eventually learn at their own pace and develop self control.

But I have developed a number of control mechanisms. For example if a student cannot keep themselves under control I will give them pushups on the spot (usually 10) because nobody likes doing pushups and when they get off the floor their focus is on not having to do that again. On their first night they hear me tell the rest of the class, drop and do 10. I then explain that pushups are not punishment but a way to get your focus back on training. What doing pushups accomplishes is make them stronger so someday they can knock me down . But I also explain that if that doesn’t help their focus to return they will be dismissed from class and have to go downstairs in the club to play. I won’t permit their inattention to disturb the rest of the class that is there to train.

It is frequently years between the instances when I have to dismiss a student for the night. If they’re in karate they want to train and learn, and such tools simply help them focus on the right things.

I never punish students. If the instance came where they cannot keep control I would simply help them and their parents understand this training is not for them and they should look for another activity more appropriate to their needs.

What I have learned from teaching the young is not to water down Isshinryu and teach it with the same focus and exactitude as the adult program. But what I have done is increase the kyu course content 20 years ago by roughly doubling the kata content of the program, sharing different forms from other systems shared with me by friends to keep each minds focused during those 7 to 9 years. The same content is used for the youth and adult programs.

IMO Karate seems to have been developed on Okinawa as a means for sharing with the youth of the Elite families, rather than because of a societal need. Okinawa seems to have been a quiet place and what I see youth need is the same tool a means to share with their seniors and a way to help guide their personal growth.

Learning from many great instructors in many systems my understanding of the program potential has grown. It took me 15 years but we have moved the program away from ‘sport kumite’ as the primary tool, the practice is still retained for the young but we wait about 2 years before they begin and in turn with far better technique, kumite becomes a stronger tool for their development. The study of kata application potential is not a goal of the kyu program which is focused more on movement dynamics development. Kyu students learn focused self defense technique skills to learn ways to enter an attack. They’re continually shown a range of application potential for a technique, and study many of them but they’re not a kyu requirement. When I was a student application potential was not studied at all, either in my Isshinryu nor in most of the friends programs I have had occasion to train with. Today the study of application potential is one of the most important long range studies I teach and practice but that does not begin until after sho-dan training begins. I find it better to have solid skills to use and then worry about how those skills can be utilized. A large part of this direction is because Derry is a relatively quiet place and self defense in not a primary goal. In a different time and place, if needs compelled the program would be adjusted appropriately.

The fact of the matter is I see the study of karate is just that the study of karate. It’s not a physical fitness program, it’s not a sport program, it’s not self defense focused. They’re all some of the components (and certainly not all) of Karate study, but instead of a specific focus we just work on the karate and let those parts develop as time passes.

All karate has infinite ways to approach training. When dealing with infinity whatever choices you make there are infinite things you cannot do at the same time. One cannot deal with infinity, instead work to make the choices you use sufficient for the student and for yourself.

The truth is the longer I train youth the more I learn about karate from working with them. Working with their development in a gradual and steady manner you discover there is nothing that they cannot do and that each individual, regardless of their age, will learn in their own natural time and manner.

Derry Boys and Girls Club members from the past

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