Tag Archives: Instructor

Karate And Me – Part 8 – Becoming The Instructor

KARATE AND ME

PART 8 – BECOMING THE INSTRUCTOR

As 1990 rolled around myself and Darren weren’t left completely on our own in running a karate club, I had just turn 16 and Darren 18, thankfully we had a bit of help from another instructor of a club local to us. Jeff ran the club at Bingham at that time, he would come and train with Alan and when I was able I would go over to his club at Bingham on a Friday evening to train. Alan had asked Jeff to be our advisor and just to help us through, so Jeff would train under us on a Tuesday evening and then teach for us on a Thursday evening, which gave Darren and myself chance to train, I would continue to train at his club on Fridays as and when possible.

I think there are four main types of good karate instructor, yet there are many bad ones.

There is the instructor who has great technique, but lacks the knowledge or personality to convey his message across, he can’t really explain it, you just watch and try to replicate, maybe great for bringing through lower grades, but not always good to give higher grades the knowledge they needed, at this point in my life I think this was about where I was, maybe lacking a little bit in technique though.

Then there is the instructor who is maybe struggling with injuries or older in their years, they lack the technical ability to show the technique the way they want, but can explain the technique is such simple terms that a good student can still learn from. Jeff was like this, he was in his 60’s, both his hips were gone and would in the coming years be replaced, but his knowledge was great, he could spot minor flaws in technique and correct them, I learnt a lot from Jeff, he was a quiet man, but you simply respected him, I owe a lot to Jeff in those early years, I think he taught me how to be an instructor.

There is also the all rounder, this is where Alan fell, he had good technique, very good technique, he had great knowledge which he could convey easily, he could also get that last inch of effort out of you when you really thought you had none left, he was a great instructor, not the greatest technique or knowledge, but still had covered all the bases and could inspire that last drop of energy.

Then there is the instructor who has everything, amazing technique, unequalled knowledge and can get his point across easily and also has that personality that inspires, these guys are few and far between, if you find one, train under them as much as you can and learn everything you can, you’ll love every minute of it.

At that point in my life, I guess I had good technique, I had good knowledge, I just had to get over my shy personality and find a way to put what I knew in to words others could understand without me freezing or looking unsure of myself.

One thing I decided I had to do was get my technique to level I wanted others to do it. I believed that in order for me show the technique and explain it the way I wanted them to do it, then I had to be doing it that way too. I couldn’t correct them on something that they had copied me doing, if I wanted them doing the technique the right way, as far as I was concerned I had to be showing them the right way too. Explaining wasn’t enough, it was all or nothing.

So in a way I became my own teacher, I had to analyse everything I was doing and make sure if I was explaining what I wanted, I was doing it also. It brought my technique on leaps and bounds, I learnt to trust my body to perform the movement the way I wanted it to, if it was wrong it would feel wrong. Don’t get me wrong, I still needed someone like Jeff to run an eye over me from time to time, along with other visiting instructors, I had to keep improving and keep analysing, it was a never ending circle and really, it always should be, we shouldn’t get complacent, shouldn’t think we know everything, nobodies perfect, if I became perfect would there be a reason to carry on training?

In time I would ask my students if they thought they were really knew their Kata for their next grading and could do it well. I know this might sound harsh, but follow me on this one, but they would always answer yes to both questions, so I would respond that they were better than me!

This got a look of consternation from them all, confused, perplexed, how could they be better than me, they looked up to me, parents would say their kids wanted to be as good as me and in truth every instructor should aim for their students to be better than they are, that’s the goal.
But I would explain, that I know the directions of the kata, I know the pattern, but I’m still learning it even now, I may win kata competitions, but I’m not the best in the world, I’m not world champion, I still do not know any of the katas I can do properly, so they should always look to improve, I can do them well, but I still need to study them and do them better, there’s always room for improvement, lots of room for improvement.

Sometimes we have to humble and realise we need to improve, maybe we are trying to help others improve and we are further along the journey in what ever part of life, be it karate or just life in general, then we still need to improve.

I would look at students mistakes and then look back at myself, if I was doing that the. I needed to correct myself and improve, with kids especially it’s a case of monkey see monkey do, even adults would do that to a certain extent, so as an instructor I strove to learn from my students too, you’re never to good to improve or be taught a lesson by your students either.

I found the adults interesting, when older adults came along as new beginners they struggled, we would get very intelligent guys and women come along, teachers, businessmen, all sorts, but they struggled and got so frustrated. I came to the conclusion that they had forgotten how to learn!

I suppose as a kid or young adult, you spend all your time in a learning environment, learning all the time and especially as kids with sports and maybe even young adults in new manual jobs where you are actually training your body as well as your mind, you will find it easier to learn karate. If you haven’t been in a learning environment or done any training where body coordination comes into play you will struggle. Don’t get me wrong that doesn’t stop anybody training, with the right mentality that can and will be over come, but the frustration of some of these guys was plain to see.

We had adults who just could grasp which was their left or right leg, they knew left and right, but getting the to move the right one, as well as say punch or block at the same time was hard work. They just hadn’t been in that kind of learning environment for such a long time and they began to show their frustration, they wanted to train hard and strong, they believed that’s what an adult like them should be doing, but in reality it was the opposite, I tried to get them to slow down, pay attention to their body, to feel their way through and concentrate on the basics, the speed and strength could come later, but no they were like bulls in a china shop, they had to go hard and strong.

Eventually I would get through to some, others we lost in frustration, some just wanted to fight and didn’t understand you have to do the basics first, over and over again, and keep doing it until they were of a reasonable quality and control to allow them to fight. I think people expect to come in and fight straight away, kids want to be ninja turtles or power rangers straight away, like on the TV and films, adults wanted to be like the higher grades straight away, they don’t understand the process to get to the level where they are, it’s a journey, not a quick fix, just like life.

Sometimes we all have to slow down and go back to the basics. Sometimes we all have to look at our life technique and reevaluate it, never be afraid to learn from someone at a different stage of the journey, whether that be ahead or behind us, there are lessons to be learnt from everyone.

BECOME WHO YOU ARE by MAINSTAY
So it seems that I’m wrong ’cause you said that
I would never want for anything again
But my eyes are set low and I’m holding
To the things I know I can’t keep

I keep on chasing the wrong things and coming up empty
This isn’t who I’m supposed to be
I keep on learning the hard way from every mistake
And I’m finding each time that you fall
You’re just becoming who you are

So it seems that I’m wrong ’cause I keep on
Searching for the answers that I don’t need
I know I don’t need

I keep on chasing the wrong things and coming up empty
This isn’t who I’m supposed to be
I keep on learning the hard way from every mistake
And I’m finding each time that you fall
You’re just becoming who you are

Becoming who you are
You’re just becoming, just becoming
You’re just becoming, just becoming

I keep on chasing the wrong things and coming up empty
This isn’t who I’m supposed to be
I keep on learning the hard way from every mistake
And I’m finding each time that you fall
You’re just becoming who you are

I’m finding each time that you fall
I’m finding each time that you fall
We’re finding each time that you fall
You’re just becoming who you are

Learning To Turn The Other Cheek

Friday morning at work, I had one of those phone calls that you get once in a while, the abusive customer.  It was a call from one of our “travelling community”, on a mobile and to top it off a phone line that was just terrible, the call kept going quiet and as you can guess, it did so at the key moments of the conversation, which meant that firstly I was struggling to understand his thick accent and secondly to hear on the bad phone line.

The only thing I could get was that he was after a 20 litre tub of something, I kept saying I was struggling to hear, but said we don’t stock anything in 20 litres, only 5 litres, I couldn’t make out the name of the product or what it was, I kept saying I was struggling to understand.  I heard him ask if I had anything as alternative, but still didn’t understand exactly what he wanted, so I asked what the product actually did, so I could work out what we had to offer him, that’s when it happened.

His response was blunt and to the point, he raised his voice and this time I could make out exactly what he was saying……

“Your a f#@king idiot, your f#@king stupid….”

He kept repeating this until he hung up a few moments later.

My response was simple, I just said “okay, fair enough, thank you!”.

I wasn’t sure what else to say, but be polite and gracious, as I had been all the way through a difficult conversation.  My Boss heard the end of the conversation and asked what that was about, I told him what had happened and been said, to which he responded he would have hung up on him before that.

It bugged me a bit after that, not some much what he said, but it actually brought back memories of a period of my life that actually became quite difficult to deal with, a period where I felt I had to just keep quiet, turn the other cheek and carry on, so I felt the best way to deal with it would be to write about it, it usually helps.

This situation happened at my karate club for a number of years.  As I have written before I and a colleague took over the club in 1989, he was 17 and I was just 15, but by 1995 I was doing the majority of the teaching, especially the adult classes during the week, I was still only 20, still very young for an instructor even then.

We had many adults at the time, senior to me in years, but not in grade, not at the start anyway.  Within the class we had an elder couple, both in their sixties and both black belts.  They travelled to many course around the country, more than I could afford to get to and they were friendly with all the top brass in the association, where I doubt that they even knew my name, except for those on the local committees.

As a couple they were nice and generous people, yet eventually they became unbearable to have in the class and to top it off they never missed a midweek class.  As I was teaching they would undermine my instruction, by behind my back showing something different.  Before and after classes they would comment on other students and conflict with advice I had given, this included when partnering with students, they would lecture them on everything they would “doing wrong”, in their opinion anyway.  My students knew enough to largely ignore them and just concentrate on what I was teaching them, they like me just put up with it.  Students came and went, but I put up with it for about four years before I couldn’t do it anymore.

One evening I wasn’t feeling great, so I asked one of my seniors to take the class for me.  He was the same grade as the couple, but not been training as long as them, obviously in karate there is a hierarchy not necessarily in grade, but perceived time training.  But as nice as this couple could be, they couldn’t instruct, they had tried before, we had given them opportunity, but the feedback was my students didn’t want to train under them.  So I left the class in the hands of this senior, who had been teaching with me some time.  Later that evening I got a report of what had gone off in the class, a serious lack of respect for the instructor, they had criticised him openly in the class and neglected to follow protocol in a defiant lack of respect.

I was fuming and couldn’t take it anymore, I had always shied away from confronting them, firstly due to their age, I was taught to respect my elders, I chose to let it go and keep it in rather than confront it, I didn’t want it to look like I was the one being disrespectful, my age, just in my early twenties and they in their sixties, with their contacts it could be more trouble than it was worth, especially when running the club wasn’t about earning a living, we weren’t paid for teaching, it was a voluntary thing, so I just put up with it, until this night.

I decide a formal letter would be the best way, I drafted a letter, showed it to my other instructors and our parents who helped with the admin of the club, we finalised the letter and sent it, it may have been a bit of a cowards way of doing it, but a formal letter seemed to be the quietest method of dealing with it without a messy confrontation.  They got the letter and asked for a clear the air meeting.

We had the meeting one Sunday afternoon, I stayed quiet, just listening to what was being said by my other instructors, our parents and this couple, both sides trying to explain their side of things, then one of the couple said that I had been quiet and not said anything, they would like to hear what I have to say, okay, now they had asked for it, I let rip, bluntly, yet with respect and without being overly aggressive, but they were going to hear how I felt.  I let them know in no uncertain terms how they had been acting, how they would never dream of acting like this in one of the associations senior instructor’s classes, then why act like this in mine.

The air was cleared, they were apologetic and we everything was alright for a while.  I say a while, maybe a year or so, then it all started to creep in again, not as bad, they were a little more discrete about it, but it went on for another five years or so.  In that time we changed associations, with that went a big change in the way we did things, I had to adapt quickly and teach in a new way, which they couldn’t adapt to, so eventually they left the club quietly.

Over a period of about ten years I put up with it, after the meeting it was okay for a while, but in all honesty there were still moments even then, but as always I chose, rightly or wrongly, to turn a blind eye to it.  My students had enough respect to know I was the one they should listen to and to take this other advice with a pinch of salt.

But in that period I used to dread picking up my bag and setting off for class, as I feared what was going to happen, I feared another incident and that I may be forced to confront them.  I chose to take it in and keep it in, largely letting it eat away at me inside, I loved teaching, yet hated it at the same time, just because I felt as a young instructor, I was duty bound to show respect to these people, rather than confront it and look like I was showing them disrespect, I was between a rock and a hard place.  There were a few times that I was ready to quit, but there was always something that would happen, that would change things.

One of these times was when I got a message that a third dan black belt, the same as I was, was coming to train one night, okay, not too much of a problem there, until I was told he trained with the Chief Instructor of our Association in London and also his assistant at the time, who is now my Chief Instructor.  He lived in village about twenty miles away, but worked in London, he came, trained with us, we seemed to get on, he was a great bloke, he was with us for a few months and then disappeared.  This was around the time I was having one of these crisis moments with the situation with this couple, I was ready to give up.

Then out of the blue, one night this guy from London turned up again, he was very apologetic, he explained he had been very ill with a kidney disease for a few months and unable to train.  He went on to say that he had tried training at a lot of clubs closer to where he lived, but chose to come back and train with me, because even though it was a bit of extra travel from his home, that didn’t matter because he loved training with me.  So here was this guy who trained with the best in the country, one of the world’s most respected Japanese instructors, yet he wanted to train with me too, it gave me a massive boost, I was doing something right and it wasn’t time to give up just yet!

This was a period of my life that was hard, as at the time karate was a big part of my life, I was teaching on average five nights a week, sometimes every night of the week, it was hard to get away from this issue, yet so hard for me to tackle head on.

When I think now of these two incidents, the one at work and the one with this elderly couple, I’m prompted to think of two verses….

Firstly:

But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. (Matthew 5:39)

Secondly:

Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity. (1 Timothy 4:12)

So, did I manage to keep to true to these verses, certainly I believe I did on Friday, I was as gracious as I could be.  But with the older couple, I wasn’t a believer then, but did I turn the cheek once too often, or did I handle it they way I should have.

I guess it’s in the past now, but there is still a lesson there.

ALWAYS LOVE by ADDISON ROAD
To make a mountain of your life
Is just a choice
But I never learned enough
To listen to the voice that told me
Always love, Hate will get you every time
Always love, Don’t wait til the finish line

Slow demands come ’round
Squeeze the air and keep the rest out
It helps to write it down
Even when you then cross it out

But Always Love, Hate will get you every time
Always Love, Even when you wanna fight

Self-directed lives
I want to know what it’d be like to
Aim so high above
Any card that you’ve been dealt, you…

Always Love, Hate will get you every time
Always Love, Hate will get you-

I’ve been held back by something
Yeah. You said to me quietly on the stairs,
I’ve been held back by something
Yeah. You said to me quietly on the stairs.
You said,
Hey, you good ones.
Hey, you good ones.

To make a mountain of your life
Is just a choice
But I never learned enough
To listen to the voice that told me…
Always love, hate will get you every time
Always love, hate will get you-

I’ve been held back by something
Yeah, You said to me quietly on the stairs,
I’ve been held back by something
Yeah, You said to me quietly on the stairs
You said..
Hey, you good ones
Hey, you good ones
Hey, you good ones

New Student, New Spark

I’ve been teaching karate now for the past 25 years, with no more than a few weeks break in that time.  I took over the club, along with a colleague back in 1989, I was a mere 15 years old and my club mate just 17, he was the main instructor and I was the assistant, but that still meant that I had more teaching duties than training opportunities.   By the mid nineties, I had taken over the majority of the teaching, before eventually taking over the club on my own almost 10 years ago.

I’ve had good times and bad during those years, it’s not been plain sailing, it’s been hard work and a lot of time, indeed a lot of my life has been given over to it, at one point I was teaching everyday of the week, at the club, at schools and at a University, but on average it’s been five times a week that I’ve been out of the house teaching classes.

Many times, I considered why do I do it, many times I questioned do I want to keep doing it.  I spent many years doubting myself and my credibility, I was such a young instructor, I never saw myself as being taken seriously or whether I would get the respect I deserved, but over the years my reputation in competition and the results of my students, proved what I was about and I got beyond that doubt.

There have been times when I’ve been worn out and just needed a spark to reignite the fire inside, usually something happens to breathe new life into the club and into me.  For a long while karate was the only place I felt the good side of me came out, when I went through my real dark years of drinking and hardly working, karate was the only thing I had my head on straight for and only time I would never drink was before teaching, it was simply the only place I felt normal and of some worth, somewhere I still had something to give.

Over the last year I have scaled down my involvement, I have an able assistant who is more than capable of handling classes without me.  Back in November I took a step back when I was struggling, Steve took over teaching for a few months and gave me some time to get my head straight.  Since the New Year I have been back teaching, but I’ve not had a real fire for it for some time, I enjoy it still, but I can’t say I’ve been giving my all, it needed a spark to reignite the fire.

So last night, when I got home from work, out of the blue my daughter came to me and asked if she could come to karate!  She did a few class a few years ago, but only because her friend tried it, but since then she’s not really been interested.  My son trained for a few years, but after a while decided he didn’t want to do it any more, I was disappointed, but I would never force him to do it if he didn’t want to.

So Eve shocked me when she asked out the blue and tonight she was so excited.  It was her first class this evening, we walked there together (well I walked, she jogged along side), she joined in the class, the class was split between me and Steve, she was in Steve’s class, but she was okay with that.  When we walked home, I got a full run down of her class, what she did, what she got wrong and also everyone else got wrong too.

And when we got home she was quick to show me what she had learnt, she’s ready for the next class on Saturday now.

Maybe, this is the spark I need, I don’t want to go back to the five times a week I was doing before, I don’t need to, but I do want to get back a little of the old hunger, I guess retiring from competition last year hasn’t helped, but just maybe, I’ve got a second wind.

SET A FIRE by JESUS CULTURE
Set a fire down in my soul
That I can’t contain and I can’t control
I want more of You God, I want more of You God.

There’s no place I’d rather be
There’s no place I’d rather be
There’s no place I’d rather be
Than here in your love, here in your love

Set a fire down in my soul
That I can’t contain and I can’t control
I want more of You God, I want more of You God.

Love of God overflow
Permeate all my soul