One evening many years ago, I had another group of beginners,
The first night I mostly tried to explain what Isshinryu was and what they would experience in class as time passed.
Of course I did not expect they would remember most of what I said, handouts for some of it would leave with them for their parents to understand.
Outside of a few things, the remaining class time after my introduction would be allowing them to watch the others, more advanced, in class.
Along the way there was a standard practice, where I would shout 10 pushups, and they would observe all the other class members do them.
I then explained that class was not meant for punishment time,
But at times when someone would lose concentration,
This was not like school.
They would be given some pushups which no one really liked, not as punishment but to make them focus on class.
And of course I explained that was dangerous for me because
That would also work to make them stronger,
and able to one day defeat me.
Then as we were the Boys and Girls Club I explained if that did not give them their focus back, they would not be punished,
but sent downstairs to play,
as we did not want their lack of focus to affect others who want to train.
And over the years that was the result very, very few times.
This time the father stayed for the 2nd class.
When it was over he took me aside saying,
“I have had previous karate training,
Do you know you are actually teaching them karate?”
I responded: “Sure, I am teaching karate, that is all I was trained to do.”
I understood his comment. Obviously they had visited many other ‘karate programs’ and observed something very different for the youth instruction.
Of course when I began, really nobody was giving kids karate instruction. Almost all programs were adult programs.
There would be an occasional article in some magazine about youth instruction, and individual instructors often allowed some kids to attend class, but the instruction was not addressing kids needs per sae.
When I would walk around Scranton at lunchtime, I saw tons of dance studio, which were geared mostly for young women taking dance classes. It made me think, something similar was possible for young people.
When I approached the Scranton Boys Club with the idea of a class, it was new ground.
Instructors I met, from all over the place at tournaments,
Thought I was crazy for teaching kids.
They most often said “Karate is for adults.”
When I tried to tell them teaching kids was the future,
Non of them wanted to believe me.
Of course at that time I had no real idea of what I was getting into.
I had three brothers who had begun with the program Charles Murray had tried in his church, that program ended when he returned to the USAF.
A new shodan, I began teaching just as Charles had trained me.
After three months, I only had the three brothers left in the class.
My wife, a trained phys ed instructor, gymnastics and swimming and diving coach, suggested some ideas I should follow.
She also shared her Junior High Girls Swimming Instructors Manuals from college. Books that were far more advanced for teaching teenage girls than any karate book in existence, at that time.
So I began with another group of boys and paid attention to what they needed, and the program became successful. My program in time convinced the Boys Club to admit girls in the program. That was a success too. In fact year by year the girls won more trophies at the few tournaments we attended, and led to our hosting youth only karate tournaments.
Of course I continued to learn as I progressed. My original thoughts were I was going to get lots of high school kids.
That was not the case, only those who had a deep interest in karate choose to enter the program.
Then there were the incidentals, such as awarding certificates when students got promoted.
One day I had an idea, and when promotions happened, only belts were awarded. In all these years no one ever asked for their certificate.
It would take the average young person to 7 to 9 years to make shod an in our program. It has occurred but only if they have a real desire to learn our karate. Of course by that time they are mostly through school and then them move on in life and leave.
The average young person, who finds they like the program, stays an average of 2 or 3 years. All of them are involved in many activities. Many are on multiple teams at the same time.
I know many instructors have found this out. Students come and go on their own needs. It is easy to get invested in students training, and then face the disappointment when kyu or dan students choose to do something else.
I had to do some unlearning. For what I discovered is that my students were not going to be lifetime karate-ka. It time most of them would move on.
I began to think on that, what I remembered was what things were like when I was young. Many adults gave their time to conduct summer programs in the town park, or be a baseball coach, a choir leader, youth fellowship program leaders and many other activities. They put sharing activities with the young as having more value to the town than there own free time.
What I was doing was using karate the same way those adults did. To share with the young. To give them tools to help them better decide what to do with their lives.
It wasn’t that everyone should study karate for life, but that they learn the more important lessons. That they will learn from their own efforts. That they learn at their own pace, from their own effort.
A more important lesson than learning a kata.
You are having an impact on their lives, and if that impact allows them to eventually choose other than karate is the right thing for you, then you were successful.
Adults kids, no difference.
While most adults who reach shodan stick around an average of 17 years or so, in time they will make other choices.
If the knowledge you shared helps them know to choose other things, they you succeeded with them too.
In the end long term karate tends to be for those who make the very personal choice to keep training.
If they also choose to assist sharing the art, that is fine too.