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Karate Acronyms

The other day I happened to pass by a Karate class being taught at an elementary school. I could not see the students' patches and wondered what dojo it was. A student walked by me on the way to change, and I asked him the name of his dojo.

"ABC!" he replied with apparent pride and a hint of arrogance.

Now the real acronym was not "ABC". I made up "ABC" for discussion purposes only. But the student did state a collection of letters which were the first letters of his association name.

I wonder when it was that dojo names or associations became acronyms? When was it that a collection of letters meant something in Karate?

I cannot imagine Kentsu Yabu saying that he belonged to the "AIPTG" (Anko Itosu Private Training Group). Or Chojun Miyagi saying that he represented the "KHS" (Kanryo Higashionna Students). It sounds rather rediculous. Of course these great sensei would identify their teacher by name. They did not belong to associations, organizations or even dojo per se -- they were the personal students of a living, breathing, person -- a Sensei.

I have belonged to associations that were known by their acronyms. I always got the feeling that the purpose of such things was to distinguish "us" from "them". If we are proud members of the "ABC" we get certain benefits, such as the use of the "ABC" name, patch, logo, etc. Being a member of "ABC" meant something tangible.

I could imagine a student saying, "Oh no, I do not belong to ABC, we left that organization long ago. Now we belong to the ABF! Another might say, we left the ABF to join the ABK! The acronyms can be endless -- as can be the corresponding certificates, membership cards, patches, etc.

If a person punches you on the nose, you can't say, "but do you realize that I am a member of ABC?" If a brick falls from a roof and hits you on the head, it does not care that you are an ABC member.

To me, letters are just letters. Karate has nothing to do with such things.

Remember your Sensei's name. Remember to conduct yourself as a gentleman (or lady). OK?


Charles C. Goodin

Teaching Karate -- Objectives

How and what you teach will depend on what you are trying to accomplish.

If you are trying to make a living by teaching, you will have to consider your income and expenses. You won't be able to live if you don't make enough money, and you won't make enough money unless you have enough students. And making $100,000 in a year might sound good, unless you are spending $150,000! If you teach Karate as a business, you will have to run it as a business. You should get a business degree.

If you are trying to have a lot of students, you will have to consider where and when you will teach. You usually cannot teach 500 students all at once. Even 50 students is a lot. So you will have to have many classes spread out over the day and week. You might even have to have classes at different locations. One day you might have 1,000 students. Will you remember their names?

If you are trying to have a front window filled with trophies, you will have to enter tournaments here, on the mainland, and even in foreign countries. You might even have to put on your own tournaments. Gradually you probably will collect many trophies and will fill your window, lobby and dojo. And this will attract... students who want more trophies?

If you are trying to become famous, you might need to become an action star, or perhaps a writer. People respect experts who write books on just about any subject. But do you want to do this? And as a writer, I can say that most people will not recognize you, except to say "I thought you would be much taller!"

If you are teaching so that you can become high ranking, I would just say that there are many better things to do in life. I was talking to a man (I cannot remember about what) and the subject turned to Karate. At one point he asked how many years I studied and I replied over 30 years. He asked, "are you a black belt?" I wanted to say, "not yet, but I am still working on it!" Rank is a little silly. Regular people don't understand it and accomplished people don't care about it. Let me put it this way, if you have high rank, the rain will still fall on your head!

If you are trying to solve the mysteries of life (seek enlightenment, etc.) there might be better ways to do this than by teaching Karate. You will probably just confuse and distract your students if you are teaching to seek something that is either obvious or fictitous. There is no mystery in Karate. Karate is revealed by training... period. If you are sitting crosslegged to understand Karate, I would say, "either fish or cut bait."

I teach because I enjoy it. I enjoy learning myself, but I receive the greatest joy when I see students learning something. I am even happier when I see instructors (or advanced students) being happy when they see their students learning.

If you are going to teach Karate, be clear about why you are doing so. That way, you can ensure that your efforts are in line with your objectives.


Charles C. Goodin

Teaching Karate 12 -- The Right Things...

The hard part of teaching Karate is making sure to teach the right things to the right students at the right time. It is easy to run a class in which all the students do the same things -- the same warm-ups, the same basics, the same kata, the same applications, etc. But, of course, the students are not all at the same level. In fact, each student is likely at a different level.

I have an orange tree in my yard. We watch the oranges as they ripen. First they are green. They are not ready to pick. Gradually they become orange. The trick is to pick them just before they fall. Not to early, not too late.

It is also like that with students. When the students are green, you have to let them ripen. It is appropriate for them to practice drills and kata -- the same things over and over so that they will develop good basics.

But at the right time, it is time to "pick" them. It is time to move them on to the next level of training. Too early and they won't get it. Too late and they might have become bored or discouraged.

Because each student is different, this is usually an individual process. It is hard to find a group of students who are all ready for the same thing at the same time.

This is one reason why very traditional Karate dojo are typically small. The focus is on individual training and progress. It is hard to teach more than a dozen students in this manner.

Whenever you teach, you must ask yourself: are you teaching the right things to the right students at the right time?


Charles C. Goodin

Teaching Karate 11 -- Foul Language

Sometimes it is good to state an obvious thing.

A Karate instructor should avoid the use of foul language in the dojo, particularly in the presence of minors. People who constantly curse need to increase their vocabularly and learn better ways to express themselves. A Karate instructor should not be crude or vulger.

Karate training should make gentlemen (and ladies) of us all.


Charles C. Goodin

Teaching Karate 10 -- Punctuality

The Karate instructor should arrive at class early, help to clean the dojo with the students, and should not leave after class, until all of the youth are picked up by their parents.

As the saying goes, he or she should be the first in and the last out.


Charles C. Goodin

Teaching Karate 9 -- Kata

Sometimes it is hard for new instructors to decide what to teach. In Shorin-Ryu this is very easy -- teach and practice kata. Kata is the heart and soul of Shorin-Ryu.

Though kata we learn the basics, how to move, and how to apply self defense applications. The kata we practice in Shorin-Ryu are already a perfect outline for teaching. It is easy to instruct if you base you instruction on the kata and the principles that flow from them.

Kata are like the DNA of Karate. If you look deeply into kata, you will not only find certain answers, you will also find that the kata give you the ability to replicate the system. What I mean by this is that the kata contain the framework for the entire system, not just scattered or isolated techniques.

Teach kata and practice kata. You will find that the kata also teach you!


Charles C. Goodin

Teaching Karate 8 -- Speaking Ill of Others

As a Karate instructor, it is important not to speak negatively or ill of other Karate instructors or styles, or of other martial arts instructors or styles for that matter.

It is natural that you might prefer your particular form of Karate. But we all have a lot to learn from each other. Many fine Karate instructors also studied other martial arts.

More importantly, if you speak negatively, you are being negative. If you are negative, your students will become negative as well. The best way to remain positive is to focus on training and teaching to the very best of your ability.

Negative comments have a way of becoming known. I believe in the adage that if you don't have something nice to say, it is better to say nothing at all.

If you teach long enough, you might find that others say negative things about you. Such is life. If they say something negative that is true, then you should work on it. If they say something negative that is false, so what! Your postive actions speak loudest.


Charles C. Goodin

Teaching Karate 7 -- Rank

Don't emphasize rank unless you want your students to be motivated by rank. Rank is, at best, a rather artificial way of recognizing the ability of Karate students. At worst, rank is completely arbitrary.

Emphasize the things you want your students to learn. If you emphasize other things, don't be surprised if your students become motivated by them.

If you think that rank is important, please keep that in mind the next time you meet a 10 or 12 year old sandan.


Charles C. Goodin

Teaching Karate 6 -- Teach One Thing Well

There are so many things to teach in Karate. It can be tempting to teach many things at once, but this will usually lead to many mistakes.

In any class, it is best to emphasize a certain technique or principle -- to teach one thing well. You can also cover other subjects, but cover that particular technque or principle in depth.

It is also important to review that item in the following classes -- to reinforce the lesson. You might want to move on to other subjects, but a review is essential.

Even though you think that you taught the subject completely, the students might have only gotten 50%, or even less. You knew it, but that does not mean that they understood it fully. The second time they might get 20% more. The third time they might get 10% more. After several lessons, they will get it entirely.

Sensei Morio Higaonna likes to use the word "catch". The students "catch" the techniques and ideas.

Most students do not have photographic memories. Many of us cannot even remember what we ate for lunch. How are students supposed to be able to remember all the movements of Chinto or Gojushiho unless we give them the time to do so?

You might think that teaching one good thing is not enough. In Karate, if that one thing is a good punch, it is much more than most students will ever learn. Most Karate experts are highly skilled -- extremely highly skilled -- at only a few techniques, and tend to have one favorite or special technique.

In a class, teach one thing well -- and reinforce it.


Charles C. Goodin

Teaching Karate 5 -- Enthusiasm

Students will not be enthusiastic about Karate training if you are not. On the other hand, your enthusiasm will be infectious.

Whenever I am in the dojo, I am very happy to be there. I have worked hard at my law office so that I could have the time, that evening, to train and teach. I could be other places, even resting at home, but I want to be in the dojo. And during my time there, I want to do my very best.

Have you ever met a salesperson who was not excited about his product? If you did, I suspect that you did not buy it.

Karate is not a product (at least I do not view it that way), but why should a student want to learn from you if you are not exited about your own craft?

My wife always says that I make Karate training interesting because everyone can tell that I am extremely enthusiastic about it.

So don't just teach to teach. In my dojo, instructors are not paid. They have no monetary motivation. They might teach out of a sense of obligation, but I hope not. I hope that they teach because they genuinely want to share the art.

My Sensei, Prof. Katsuhiko Shinzato, told me this when I first met him. He picked me up at the Naha Air Port and before going to Yonabaru, he took me to a coffee shop. I will always remember his words:

"I enjoy practicing Karate. If students enjoy training, they are welcome to practice with me."

The basis of his training was his enjoyment of the art. I try to remember that whenever I teach. If I enjoy the art, hopefully my students will too.

Hopefuly your students will as well.


Charles C. Goodin

Teaching Karate 4 -- Safety

The most important thing when teaching Karate is to consider the safety of the students. Safety must always come first. This is my greatest concern whenever and wherever I teach.

Karate is inherently dangerous, particularly when any kind of contact is made. If you strike toward your partner's face a sufficient number of time, you will hit it, even if you try to miss. For example, if you strike toward your partner's face 1000 times, you might not hit it. But the 1001st time, you will. You can think of this as failure analysis. Given enough time, something will go wrong.

As a result, you have to plan for failure. When I teach a certain pairing off drill, I instruct the students to punch toward their partner's shoulder. The actual technique would be a punch to the face. But since the students will practice the drills hundreds or thousands of times, I am planning for failure. If a student accidentally hits his partner, it will be on the shoulder rather than in the face.

You also have to remember that failure analysis is multiplied by the number of students in the dojo. If 20 students will perform a movement 100 times, there are 2000 chances for failure.

It is also important to recognize the strengths and weaknesses of all the students in the dojo. One student might be very strong, another very weak. A student might have a particular medical problem or might have suffered a broken arm or leg in the past. Students might have even had rotator cuff surgery (like I had).

The dojo is a very active and exciting place. Presiding over all this activity (and sometimes chaos), the Sensei must ensure the safety of all students.

By focusing on safety, the Sensei also teaches the students to be very careful, both inside and outside of the dojo. More than half of self defense is situational awareness and prevention. Perhaps this figure is closer to 90%.

Safety first, second and third. What use is Karate training if the student is injured more in the dojo than on the street?


Charles C. Goodin

Teaching Karate 3 -- How Many Steps Ahead?

Sometimes you might hear that a Karate teacher is just one step ahead of his students. With a new teacher, this might be expected.

However, in all the dojo in which I have ever trained, students begin to teach almost as soon as they are more advanced than new students. The senior students always help the juniors. By the time a student becomes an instructor, he might have already have been teaching, and even conducting classes, for many years.

In addition, a teacher might be teaching students who are only a few months or years junior to him. He might even be teaching his own seniors. In that case, the teacher is not one step ahead, he might be a step or two behind.

But that's OK. I have often had to teach students who are older or senior to me. We just teach the very best that we can.

As time goes on, a teacher might find himself many steps ahead of his student -- even miles ahead. To tell the truth, it is easier to teach when you are closer to the students.

Personally, I have found that more advanced I become, the more difficult it is for me to teach. This is because I tend to concentrate on fine points, rather than running a well rounded, vigorous class.

A new teacher should always remember the importance of knowing his craft. He should always strive to learn Karate. Teaching is part of learning.


Charles C. Goodin

Teaching Karate 2 -- Accepting Students As They Are

You must take your students as they are.

In the past, it was common for Karate teachers to refuse students or to require them to wait weeks, months, or even years to begin training. When by friend and senior Sensei Pat Nakata sought to learn Karate in Okinawa, Chosin Chibana threw tea in his face to test his reaction! Such testing was common in the old days. Today, we generally must accept students who wish to train with us and we cannot test them in advance.

Please be careful here. I am not saying that we should physically test potential students. In today's world, this would result in legal liability. I test potential students verbally. Basically I just want to know if they are really serious about training and have the time to do so. I do not physically test them (throw things at them, hit them, etc.).

It would be very nice if we could require all our students to be Navy SEALs. That way, they would already be in tremendous shape, disciplined and highly motivated. All we would have to do is show them the techniques!

But normal students come to us with all sorts of problems and limitations. The real skill of a Karate teacher is in helping students to overcome their problems and limitations.

Many of the great Karate teachers were sickly children who initially learned Karate to improve their health. Gradually, they become physically strong and eventually highly skilled in self-defense.

What if their teachers had refused them because they were weak?

If a student is weak, you must work to make him strong. If a student is uncoordinated, you must work to make him coordinated. If a student is meak, you must work to make him confident. If a student has a bad temper, you must work to make him calm. If a student can't remember things, you have to figure out how he processes information and come up with a way to teach that works best for him.

The more problems and limitations the student has, the better a teacher you must be. Students are challenges. It is your job to rise to each challenge.

You have to work to make each student the very best that he or she can be. That might not be as good as you are. It might be far better than you are. It all depends. All students are different. The one thing that should be constant is your desire and willingness to teach the student to the very best of your ability.

You must take your students as they are -- and work to make them the very best that they can be.

So what happened to Nakata Sensei? He remained calm and collected when the tea was thrown in his face. He did not react with anger, aggression, or indignation. Chibana Sensei accepted him as a student... and the rest is history.


Charles C. Goodin

Teaching Karate 1 -- A Responsibility

Teaching Karate is a responsibility. It should not be taken lightly.

When you teach, you not only represent yourself, you also represent your teacher, his or her teachers, and so on, going all the way back to the earliest Karate teachers. To some extent, there are traces of Matsumura Sensei, Itosu Sensei, and other great sensei in you and in the art that you teach.

I do not mean to say that this makes you great -- I mean to say that it should make you humble. It is an honor to learn Karate and an even greater honor to teach it. You have been asked or selected to teach because your teacher or teachers believe in you. Don't let them down.

People in the community will gradually learn that you are a Karate teacher. How you conduct yourself will also reflect on the art of Karate. People will judge the art by your actions. Don't let the art down either.

There is a saying that when the rice is ripe, it bows under its own weight. Remember that when you teach.

Teaching Karate is a responsibility, one you should undertake with humility.


Charles C. Goodin

Teaching Karate Series

I am going to begin a series of posts about teaching Karate. I know that it may sound presumptuous for me to write such a series, but I want to not only share my thoughts about the subject, but the lessons and ideas of my many teachers (in Karate and other martial arts).

I started teaching Karate on my own at the age of 17 (32 years ago), which was way too early. However, the process of teaching also teaches the teacher - in other words, you learn a lot by teaching. This is so true, that I believe that you cannot learn Karate unless you teach it.

As the old saying goes, you learn half from your teacher and the other half by teaching.

This series will be aimed at a hypothetical new teacher -- someone who has either formed a dojo or class or taken over responsibility for teaching in an existing dojo or class.


Charles C. Goodin

Guest Post: One of My Best Weapons

This Guest Post is by my friend, Mark Tankosich, who has dan rankings in both Sho-ha Shorin-ryu karate and Zen Nihon Kendo Renmei jodo. Along with the martial arts, his passions include the Japanese language. He currently lives and teaches in Hiroshima, Japan.

- - - - - - - - - -

More than ten years ago, when I was working as a basic interpreting and translating skills teacher at a language school here in Hiroshima, I had an experience that I've often thought about.

A very famous interpreter (he had interpreted for several US presidents) was in town, and my bosses, I and some of my co-workers took him out to dinner. You may know that pretty much every major town in Japan has an "entertainment district," where you can find countless restaurants, an unlimited number of bars, and a variety of "adult entertainment." In Tokyo, this place is an area called Kabuki-cho. In Sapporo, it's Susukino. Here in Hiroshima, we have Nagarekawa, and so that was where we took our guest.

The dinner went well, and, when it started to get late, we left the restaurant and regrouped outside on the sidewalk. No one was driving that evening, and there was some discussion about how each person would get home. One of my co-workers, an attractive woman in her late 30s, said that she was going to catch a cab. Very soon an empty cab pulled-up and stopped a short distance from where we standing, She walked toward it and the back door opened. (Here in Japan, the taxi drivers can "automatically"open a back door for a passenger from where they are sitting in the driver's seat). My co-worker got into the cab, but an instant after she did, a stranger started to get in, too. I don't know if this man hadn't seen my colleague, or was doing this on purpose, but his action obviously surprised and scared her.

As any of us would probably do, my co-worker began to get out of the door that she had just entered, trying to push past the man. Unfortunately, at this point, the man put his hand on her shoulder and tried to push her back into the car. Seeing this, I reached from behind the man, grabbed his hand, and pulled it off of my colleague's shoulder. As I did so, I immediately noted several things: This guy was pretty stocky for a Japanese; he was dressed like, and had the calluses on his hands of, a laborer; he was a bit drunk; and he had 2 other friends standing right behind him.

Anyway, with his hand removed from where he had placed it, the man turned to face me. As he did, without thinking, I instinctively hit him with one of my best weapons: a nice, big, friendly smile! He stared at me for a few seconds, then turned, and, with his friends, walked away.

Did I manage to avoid an ugly physical fight by smiling at this man? I honestly don't know. Is it always wise to allow your potential enemy the option of striking first? I really don't think so. Is there any kind of lesson to be learned from this experience? Personally, I guess that what I've gotten from it are 1) a greater appreciation of the wisdom of my own sense of intuition, instinct, or whatever you call somehow "just knowing" the best course of action; and 2) an increased understanding of the strategic value of friendly, disarming behavior.

Mark Tankosich