Guest Blogger- Susan
I have been a martial artist for a long time now, over 30 years. I have seen the bad and the good, whether in people, classes, teaching, or tournaments. I know that it is often confusing which school to have your child train at or which school to train at yourself. I also know that often, chains of schools advertise their schools with the same information from location to location and every martial arts school will say that they boost your confidence, attitude and self-control. Easy generic words. But I urge you to look deeper.
All the many positive benefits of taking martial arts classes are real. But the DIFFERENCE is who is in charge. Look deeply into what the Sensei's core values are and how he demonstrates them in and out of the dojo. Also, consider this---is the dojo a FAMILY?
There are the catch words that describe the benefits derived from the martial arts such as personal development, positive attitude, perseverance. And yes, while the martial arts build and fosters all of these, you really should have the school you choose, be able to explain them and what they mean where your child or you will be training. They should be able to say what personal development, positive attitude, perseverance, will mean specifically and personally to your child and to you and the benefits in these areas that will be gained. Otherwise, well, words can just be words. But have you heard of a martial arts school that says we are different because we are FAMILY in and out of the dojo. We are FAMILY even if we have not seen you for a long time. We will be there to support you if you need something. Even when the students that train grow up and go on to college and careers, we are family. We could call upon each other and we would be there if needed, the best we can. Even if you trained as an adult and can no longer do so, the Sensei is family. He is there when needed. You are not just a business deal while you are at the dojo. How wonderful to train at a school where you can say ---We learned these core values while training in martial arts and that is who we are!
At Croton Karate you can be sure of the highest level of training. Indeed, Sensei Peter Doherty is always saying that his attention and focus is always on training his students. His time is always on that goal. He often sacrifices other things that most schools do to promote themselves, in favor of training and caring for and about his students. Croton Karate is special and not only for its high level of training, but because once a student or adult trains at Croton Karate they remain family. Family that motivates them, nourishes them, demands the best of them, but most importantly family that you can always count on!
After you read this, please take some time and have your child write to us about how and why Croton Karate is their family. Oh, and please do the same yourself. Looking forward to hearing from you.
We had such an impressive showing this past Saturday the tournament in New Jersey. The promotion and the refereeing of the event it was extremely Fair. Every referee kept their eye on the student who was competing regardless of age or rank. The respect and sportsmanship at these particular tournaments are unparalleled, I was proud not just of all our students, but of all the competitors and their schools. This was a traditional tournament steeped in the martial way, love of the arts and integrity.
What I've noticed for my students is I can tell them and show them what to do, until they experienced it for themselves it will be little use. Students need to continue to practice and discover what I've been talking about to internalize it. For example:
The Reverse Punch:
One of the best techniques to use when you're point sparring, is the reverse punch. Blitzing off the line and going straight for the midsection of the body, is a sure way to get the attention of your opponent, and the referees.
Blitzing off the line:
Blitzing off the line basically means getting to your opponent before he gets to you. We saw many of the competitors yesterday pausing (my own students included), waiting for the action to begin. One of my students won his sparring division with three uncontested points primarily from blitzing off the line with reverse punches.
One of the best ways to defend against the reverse punch is the front leg side kick. When defending against an aggressive fighter (see blitzing off the line) with a good reverse punch, a good technique is to take a step back and use your front leg sidekick. Precise timing is critical and this is something we practice frequently in class.
I am sure my students are tired of hearing me preach about footwork over and over again. But proper footwork and skillful gauging are the cornerstone of an effective fighter. We should always remember to move, break angles and feign attack.
Training to fight-
Competition is fun and a very memorable experience for the children. However there are different rules in a tournament than in Dojos. For example, a major rule of the tournament was- no head contact for children divisions. I understand and respect the promoter’s caution with our young students, however this is different than how we train in the Dojo. This is not an easy translation to make sometimes. As always, a dojo's primary purpose is to ensure the safety of our students on the street. In reality, when confronted, there are no rules or referees to govern a real-life confrontation. Our goal always is to ensure that our students have the proper skill set to protect themselves.
Karate tournaments are a great way to test your skills and development against other karate practitioners from other Dojos. It is a place for respect and camaraderie among fellow martial artists. We get to witness high level katas and championship sparring. We see young kids who have worked hours and hours on constantly correcting their mistakes pointed out by their instructors. The result is amazing, dedication pays off for these students, for their form ( Kata ) is demonstrated close to perfection. These dedicated practitioners are rewarded at tournaments with a medal or trophy fort their efforts.
There are other winners at tournaments. Kids who are competing against people outside their Dojo for first time. Commonly they might be unmatched at their own dojo, but soon find out that there are other students who have been competing who have more experience and knowledge. This is humbling lesson and a great way to spark a new dedication into training and re-evaluating your efforts.
There even more winners in the fact that some kids have anxiety, and just stepping on to the matt and going forward to compete is a huge undertaking. I recently took my son to a big karate tournament in Queens NY. He had kept telling me how excited he was up until we got there, there were hundreds of people. I watched my son withdraw and begin telling me his stomach hurt and felt he shouldn't compete.
As a dad and his sensei it was tough, told him that backing out was not an option for him, we had payed for it and spent a lot of time training for it. Right before he was going to spar, he vomited all over the arena floor. As my wife and I frantically cleaned up, I look at my son and he said "Dad my stomach feels better now". Although we were embarrassed and were still cleaning up, my focus went to getting him in that ring.
I cleaned him up and told him he was ready. He squared off with his competitor and got hit right in the mouth, he started to cry and said he wanted to leave. It took several minutes but he got back in the ring. After a few minutes he got the point back! It ended in a tie where the judges had to decide, and they gave it to the other challenger. My son lost and was really upset, he couldn't understand why he lost.
In our eyes he hadn't. He had won something more valuable than any trophy, It's called GRIT. He navigated through two huge hurdles and got to the other side, he didn't quit. Even though it was tempting to let him quit, where would be the lesson in that? Every time something gets scary and overwhelming we back out? No, we lean in, and do our best. That is the real battle, how one handles adversity. Next time will be slightly easier for him. One day he will look at a young kid who is so scared at his first tournament and he will say "It's okay, my first time I puked, and I am still here." In martial arts the winners are the ones who keep showing up and never give up.
“Karate is not to win against your opponent, it is to win against yourself” MORIO HIGAONNA
Injuries in sports has become the downfall of many an Athlete. Why is it that even the most elite athletes are prone to such career ending injuries? Also, for most professional athletes, the end of a career is anything but glorious.
Many of us are so interested in being the best, or our child-athletes being the best that we lose sight of holistic training of the body. More to the point, we (or our children), train specifically for a sport or a specific skill so much that we become the best at only one given activity. For example baseball players mostly bat from one side, even switch hitters will usually work their dominant side. These players throw from one side and catch from one side. Golfers spend countless hours on their swings from one side of their body. The body is like a machine, all parts have a specific function and need to work in balanced unison. What happens when they don’t? The machine will eventually break down, and all that specific one-sided training will be the cause.
Joe Montana is arguably one of the best quarterbacks ever to play the game of football. Montana recently opened up about the physical repercussions and how is activity is limited with his family (see article). Tiger Woods one of the best golfers of our time, he is continually suffering from injuries related to the constant overuse of one side of his body. As athletes, too many of us spend a majority of time perfecting our skill and not enough time on proper body mechanics and unified movement.
Martial arts is one of the best ways to unify your mind, body and spirit. Martial Arts teaches strength, metabolic conditioning, body awareness, movement patterns (that we lose from sitting), symmetry and also reaction to outside stimulus. During ancient times, martial arts was very demanding on the body. The intention was to condition the body to be a weapon. If one was not properly conditioned, it could mean death in battle. Presently Martial Arts are sought out for a multitude of reasons. All martial arts emphasize proper alignment, posture, breathing, and perfection of movement (on both sides of the body) through constant training and correction from your instructor.
I have recently read Becoming a Supple Leopard by Kelly Starrett. Starrett’s theories anchor on midline stabilization and organization (spinal mechanics). Starrett uses what he refers to as “Bracing” before any load bearing activity ie: such as squatting or deadlifting. The “Bracing Sequence” starts with you standing with feet directly under hips and “screwing” feet into the floor. The next step is to then squeeze your glutes hard to set the pelvis, and pull your ribs down while tightening up your abdomen. Finally, you set your head in a neutral position. This is the same sequence used in SANCHIN KATA! Sanchin is said to be the heart of Karate and has been taught for hundreds of years.
Kata from karate teaches you organized movement. It is specific movement patterns which are used in our daily living. Bracing before a lift is great, but what about our everyday activities? Bending down, reaching, running and picking up after our kids. One of the worst feelings, is an injury that doesn’t seem to go away. Martial arts is a great way to prevent this from happening. I own a martial arts school and have seen tremendous improvement in my students’ postures, movement patterns, concentration, discipline and focus.
After witnessing such change, I am often confused when when parents say “my child is overscheduled and has to take a break from karate. Karate is the one place where a child will learn discipline as well as: body awareness, self esteem, focus, commitment, proper alignment overcoming adversity, movement patterns as well as self defense. Some of my students have had miraculous turn-arounds due to the study of Karate. Sports are fun. There is nothing wrong with having fun or organized sports. My point is that Karate is an investment, as such will continue to pay dividends only with continued training. For our family Karate is the constant, all other activities come after Karate, not before it. As parents, we decided there is no other activity that will balance our children’s bodies, teach them respect, discipline and protect them. I don’t often see professional athletes playing their sports in their old age, but it is commonplace to see old masters in martial arts, still working out and still teaching. This is because martial arts cultivates the body and doesn’t break it down.
This is one of those posts that we have wanted to make for a very long time. Martial arts, dedication, commitment what does that mean? We wanted to wait until after summer before addressing this in a blog post, as many of our members like to take the summer off with good reason. But the same students are often dismayed when they come back to see that their peers have surpassed them in many ways because they trained throughout the summer. Then, as teachers, we have even a harder job of trying to motivate these students, and assure their parents that they can catch up. In worst case scenarios the students become so demoralized that they just want to quit.
It's really frustrating for us who watch these kids train, work hard, they all have the ability to gain mastery of themselves and of the art, but it requires discipline and commitment. Meaning, it will not always be easy or convenient. Martial arts is not about instant gratification, it is about development of the mind, , body, spirit, character and work ethic. It is about about searching for a deeper understanding with every move. Many times students will get frustrated because they're not moving forward with the next technique or form. Everybody is interested in learning something new, however if if we were to progress a student on to the next new move, form or rank without them having mastered the prerequisite material the student would be even more confused and never gain a deeper understanding of the moves or him or herself.
“I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times.”-Bruce Lee
Commitment: Take our son Jack for example, at about 6 years old he wanted to quit. Class was pretty hard for him, it was hard for him to see his peers doing better. Jack wanted to quit, however he was not putting in the work required to succeed. As a parent this is a really hard thing to negotiate, do we let him quit knowing that he didn't put forth the work to feel successful? He made a commitment to train in Karate, he asked to train and we both told him that this is a real commitment, for him and us. Were we to go back on our word and let him quit because it got hard? Because he was crying? Because he said he was bored, and that he'll never get it?
No, we did not. We had a family meeting and decided on the parameters that would fulfill his commitment. When he reaches these benchmarks we hope he has the prerequisite skills protect himself should he need to. At that point he should also have a very strong understanding of martial arts, commitment, discipline and work ethic.
Dr. Carol Dweck’s book “Mindset” discusses how our generation is really crippling our children by giving them false or empty self esteem by simply telling them that they're awesome at everything without ever really having to work hard for for their accolades. Dr. Dweck contends that success is in the journey/struggle, not the destination. It’s in the work where the magic happens.
We guarantee you that at one point or another you or your child will want to quit karate. I did, my wife wanted to quit Martial Arts as well. Jennifer would leave the floor from her martial arts school, go in the locker room and cry many times, but she was determined to not let herself get psyched out. Being the only woman in a class of men was really tough.
My own journey has been anything but easy. When my son Jack was first born, I would wake up at 5 o'clock in the morning, help Jennifer feed him, get Jack ready for daycare and drop him off at 8. Then, I would then go to work, train five people one on one, then drive over Somers to help my instructor- teach three of his classes, take my black belt class, then drive back down to Croton and train under another instructor for another 2 hours, getting home at 11 o'clock at night. It wasn't easy, it was really hard, I was tired and life was super busy. There were times I wanted to quit, but I made a commitment. Had I quit, I would not have the school I have today. I wouldn't have the honor of knowing such wonderful families and teaching such spirited students.
Martial arts teaches us to keep working harder every time we want to quit. Each time we push through the difficult times we experience another success and gain more confidence in ourselves and our abilities. The dojo provides us with a proving ground for life, let’s not waste the opportunity.
Probably one of the most hotly contested things among Martial Arts schools is the issues of "Test Fees". A test fee is when the student must pay to test for the next belt or stripe level. It is very controversial because every school has its own practice, some will charge down to each stripe given, while others will barely charge anything at all. And there is no "right or wrong", it all depends on the needs of the school and the integrity of the teacher.
"Belts (or the kyo/dan system of rankings) originated around the turn of the century by a Japanese martial artist, Jigoro Kano (1860-1938). Kano created Judo by modifying battlefield jujitsu or aikijutsu eliminating the really dangerous aspects and make it safe for practice as a sport. Judo, was introduced into Japanese grade schools and colleges. With so many new students, all in the highly structured public school environment, Kano decided that a grading and ranking system would help to encourage them, and would allow him to gauge their progress." *see source below
When I started training there were only three colored belts; white, green, brown and black. My instructor added two more belts (gold and purple), after his enrollment drastically increased. The added colored belts helped my instructor and his teacher levels differentiate instruction for the students. There was far too much content in the existing four levels to know immediately what each student was working on.
At the time, there were never any fees for a test or a belt change. It was considered a gift from my teacher for all the hard work and dedication to the Art. My wife Jennifer, who trained Kung Fu, had a similar experience. Students in that lineage could progress once every five years, there was no test. Five years of hard training was the test, and the student only needed to pay 30 dollars to cover the cost of the sash.
In my own school, my students are required to know a certain curriculum to move to the next level. This is both rewarding and challenging as a sensei. I get to see my students highlight their strengths and the proud faces of their parents. However, it is very difficult, I have to be prepared to fail students who are not ready to move on. There are times when I am asked to test a student who I do not feel is ready, they may not be attending regularly or working hard enough, but see their friends are going to test and ask to do the same. Sometimes I let them and sometimes to my surprise, they prove themselves.
There have been times when I have had to fail my students. Once I failed an entire class because they were not taking their training seriously, and plainly just going through the motions for the test, with no fire, no enthusiasm, and little clarity of motion. I could tell they just expected to pass. I have also had to fail my own son. It is incredibly difficult to fail students, no teacher wants to see their students disappointed or discouraged. It was a gut check for me each time, I hated doing it, but knew I would be lying to myself and their parents if I just moved them on to keep everyone happy, and my student wouldn't have learned a valuable lesson, work ethic.
That entire class of students came back for the next test and blew me away, they were on fire and sharp!
I was speechless, I literally had tears in my eyes. That entire class was fierce! My son learned that he has got to show up and work as hard if not harder than everyone else. He doesn't get to lay back and disengage because he is my son.
If you or your child ever fails a belt test, know that you now have one of the most profound learning experiences ahead of you. Failure is a necessary part of life, learn, come back fast and come back hard.
Read more on the history of ranking
This is something I have been thinking about for a long time. I am going to focus the next several blog posts to help parents understand what can be expected in a Martial Arts school. The reason I am doing this is because I have been seeing more and more frequently, students arrive at my school who lack basic Martial Arts skills but have been studying (and parents paying) for years.
It really saddens me when I see families wasting money on flash, belts and faulty instruction. The victims of these school will not have the skill necessary to protect themselves but they will have a lot of belts.
So, the point is that I will be writing several pieces to educate parents on what to expect from a proper Martial Arts school. All Martial Arts are good, but are meaningless without quality instruction. All Martial Arts are effective if they are mastered (which means practiced).
So the first topic on deck is: What is a Master?
A Master back in the day was simply a person who is a skilled practitioner of a particular art or activity, who taught others. Masters were known for "Mastering themselves", they had complete control of their bodies down to the smallest detail. These Masters were often teaching for over thirty years before they were considered a Master by others. Grand-Masters are simply "grandfathers" in other words, they have teacher levels who also have teacher levels. Many times the titles of Master and Grand Master convey some sort of air of mystique, and can mislead people into thinking the rank conveys more than what it really does...teacher.
These days, a lot of "Masters" are self-proclaimed, which is not bad, just be aware that many are. The best question to ask when interviewing a school is not "Are you a Master?", it would be "Who was your teacher? And who was your teacher's teacher?" In the Martial Arts world your lineage is very important. And thanks to Google you can research the style and teacher you are considering.
As always the most important thing when interviewing a school is to watch an actual class. Not the trial class. A REAL class. Go in, unannounced and watch.
Because of the weather we will have no classes today, Monday February 3rd
Sensei and owner of Croton Karate. Sensei has been a student of Martial Arts for over 20 years. He teaches all classes, and knows every child by name. Croton Karate is one big hardworking family.