10 Tips for Martial Arts Training at Home

During the COVID19 pandemic, many martial arts students were forced to train at home.  Some were lucky enough to have live virtual classes, pre-recorded lessons, or other training methods provided to them from the studio they train at.  Even before the outbreak altered our way of life, training at home was still an essential part of becoming a lifelong student in martial arts.  I have put together below, ten tips for successful at home training, in no particular order.  I hope you find these helpful.

  • Stick to a set schedule

When you trained at a studio, there were set class times.  You knew Monday/Wednesday at 6pm was my training time.  Now that you are training on your own at home, there is more flexibility and less structure.  The flexibility can be good to a certain extent but if you want to stick with something, setting up a consistent schedule and training routine will go a long way in ensuring your success.

  • Have a clear plan for at least 2 weeks ahead of time

It is very likely your instructor had several weeks if not months of classes planned out ahead of time.  This was to ensure all of the curriculum was taught to every student in order for them to progress and improve.  If you are now training at home, you need to chart your course.  I recommend planning at least 2 weeks in advance.  You will be less likely to stick with training if you are coming up with what to do on the fly.  Plan out and write out the topic you want to work on for 4-6 classes at a time.  You will look forward to training because you know what you want to accomplish.  It will also help keep you on track as you are progressing through a plan you created.

  • Set a goal

Your instructor has probably told you numerous times the importance of setting goals for yourself.  Now that you are training at home, this is even more important.  Goals help motivate you and keep you on track.  They are specific and have a timeline associated to them.  You need to have a clear objective to your training and not just exercise.  Be sure your goals are doable.  Rather than setting a goal of learning the entire black belt curriculum in one month, set a smaller, more manageable goal of learn the movements of the next form this month.  If that was easy, set your next goal to be tougher.  If it was unmanageable, bring your next goal back down to reality a bit.  Adjust your goals as needed but don’t give up on them completely.  Don’t beat yourself up for not meeting a goal.  Simply evaluate and make adjustments.

  • Challenge yourself

Tip 3 above was to set a goal.  This tip is similar in some ways.  Setting a goal is one way of challenging yourself.  You need to go into every lesson with the following 3 things in mind: get a great workout, learn something new, and have fun.  Challenge yourself to do more pushups than you did last time or maybe to do one more set of kicks or spend an extra 5 minutes working on your flexibility.  If you try to challenge yourself every lesson, you’ll see way more improvement and stay motivated longer.

  • Get a partner

Training by yourself is boring, even for those extreme introverts like me.  Having someone to train with is a lot more fun and is something to look forward to.  Grab your mom or dad and ask them to join you.  Get your brother or sister off the couch to practice with you.  Call up a friend or ask your neighbor.  The person doesn’t have to be an active student in martial arts, just having someone along your side makes training much more enjoyable.  This is one of the reasons many people enjoy training at a studio; they greatly value the friendship and community of their fellow martial artists.  If you bring this to your home training, you can strengthen your family bond while exercising the mind and body.

  • Teach someone something

Who feels confident when they are teaching someone something really cool?  Everyone!  Once you achieved one of your goals, pick a small aspect of it and teach someone else what you’ve learned.  This will not only be exciting and fun, it will also be challenging and take what you’ve learned to the next level.  You may find that you don’t know something as well as you thought you did.  Don’t make it too challenging for the person you are teaching, especially if they are not a martial arts student.  Teach them something that takes only 5-10 minutes to learn.  They may come back for more and now you have a training partner!

  • Learn something totally new

For this tip, I don’t mean learn the next form or self-defense technique in your style’s curriculum, although that is not a bad idea if you are feeling idle at home.  I mean learn something totally new.  It doesn’t need to be a physical skill.  Perhaps you have always been interested in the history of the founder of your style.  Find a book and start reading.  Maybe you have always been into weapons forms but your style is limited in that respect.  Find a video and start learning.  By doing something that really excites you, it will help motivate you to stick with all aspects of your training.

  • Dress the part

I don’t mean go train in a ninja turtle costume or dress up as your favorite power ranger.  I do mean that you should put your uniform and belt on if not all the time, then at least most of the time.  Every time you put that uniform and belt on, you should feel a sense of pride and accomplishment.  Even if you are at home by yourself, you represent something when you put that uniform and belt on.  You are representing your studio, your instructor, all the people you’ve trained with past and present, and people who have trained in your style throughout history.  It is a big deal.  If you treat it as such you will feel a sense of pride and obligation to train hard and stick with it.

  • Use all resources available: books, DVDs, youtube, etc.

Bust out the DVD or VHS player and learn some tricks from some pros.  OK, it is more likely you will go to youtube but the concept is still the same.  Use all the resources at your disposal.  There are a lot of great books, videos, and magazines out there that can help you in just about every aspect of training.  It is also inspiring sometimes to see people doing awesome things you want to be able to do whether its aerial kicks and tricks for teens or flexibility types for the more senior crowd.

  • Free your mind

As Morpheus said to Neo in the Matrix, “Free your mind”.  During class at many studios there are rituals such as bowing and mediation.  It is important to maintain these rituals when training at home.  Meditating for only one minute prior to and immediately after training can have a profound impact.  You will be able to clear your mind (which is especially important these days) and have a focused training session.

I hope these tips help you maintain your training regimen!  If you have any questions or comments, feel free contact me.

The Karate Dad – Episode 22

It has been some time since the last Karate Dad episode for a couple of reasons.  First, my studio and life are going through some significant transitions, and we are still trying to get used to a new routine.

In addition, Anders and I had an excellent lesson about 2 weeks ago.  He was attentive, focused, and was following my directions better than I have seen him do in quite a while.  He lasted a full 10 minutes before getting distracted.  This lesson will unfortunately never be seen.  When I went back to the camera, I noticed it was on picture mode instead of video.  I tried to do the lesson all over again, but Anders’ focus tank was on empty.  I’m sure when Anders is older, he will be able to help me with these technical difficulties.

A few weeks later I ensured the camera was on video and we had a good lesson.  Not as good as the lost lesson, but not too shabby none the less.

In this lesson we tackled an obstacle course.  The obstacle course consisted of different balance and coordination challenges such as stepping from pad to pad with different heights and sizes, over/under obstacles, and fast foot movements.

He was successfully able to go through all the obstacles with me guiding him.  I was trying to get him to go through the course from start to finish on his own but had no luck.  He was able to do that a few weeks ago during the “lost lesson”.  He was having a blast too.

I also tested him on his bowing in and out procedures.  He lines up when told to, sits down, stands up, bows (although not always in the correct direction), and raises his arm with a “Tang Soo”.  For accomplishing this feat, I awarded Anders his green stripe.  Only one more stripe to get, orange stripe for the elusive blocks, and he has all 6.

At the end of the class, we cleaned up together.  Anders helped as best he could although he needed to stop and play on the pads every once and a while.  This took a long time and wasn’t that interesting, so I cut it from the video.

For more background on my purpose and philosophy in training Anders, check this post out.

Check out all previous episodes of The Karate Dad on our YouTube channel:

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC6sLE6rNJbME0vlcXXtYgNA

The Pyung Ahn Parent

In many karate styles, practitioners train in a set of forms called Pyung Ahn or Pinan.  For those non-martial artists out there, a form is a prearranged set of techniques that teach students certain fighting applications. Many of these forms, like the Pyung Ahn, are hundreds of years old and have been passed down for generations.  The purpose of this post is not to dissect the individual movements in these forms; that is a lot of work in itself and open to interpretation.  I will, however, use the themes in the Pyung Ahn forms and relate them to parenting.  Every form has its own philosophical meaning and I feel the Pyung Ahn forms embody my current parenting experiences quite well at the moment.

Before getting too far, it is important to give some brief context regarding the Pyung Ahn forms.  The Pyung Ahn are a set of 5 forms that originated in Okinawa and were adapted by Anko Itosu in the late 1800s.  It is difficult to call him the creator of the forms since he adapted them from other forms.  The word Pyung Ahn can be translated as safety, peace, calm, and balance.  These forms are very defensive in nature and are often characterized by the animal representation of the turtle.

Pinan-calm/balance, safety/peace

So, how does this relate to parenting?  First, I need to tell the story of how the concept of Pyung Ahn and parenting came to be.  I am a lifelong martial artist and have owned a studio for 16 years.  My brain is filled with useless (to most people) information on the martial arts being so involved in it for so long.  I also have a 16-month-old son, our first child.  Due to the nature of being a martial arts studio owner coupled with COVID19 forcing us to shut down several times, I have been the primary caregiver for our son. 

Pyung Ahn forms are are characterized by the turtle

For the most part, being the primary caregiver has been great.  I greatly enjoy spending time with my son, especially at this stage of his development.  I got to see milestones like crawling, walking, etc. that I otherwise would not have seen.  I thought I had some time before the terrible twos kicked in but for whatever reason, he went through the terrible 15 months.  All of a sudden, he could reach things, climb on things, open things, and get very upset if I took something away from him, he wanted but wasn’t supposed to have.

One Friday, I was doing some work from home on the computer and my hard drive crashed.  The year 2020 had not been stellar up to that point so this was just icing on the cake.  It put me in a very bad, short tempered mood.  Now, combine that with new personality traits my son started exhibiting and you can imagine how great that made my mood.  I found myself being short tempered and upset towards my son.  My patience was certainly being tested.  That was the moment the Pyung Ahn Parent came to mind.

If you think about the meaning of the words Pyung Ahn, calm, balance, safety, peace, they exemplify all the necessary qualities of a parent.  

Calm – Remaining calm and patient is very challenging as a parent.  However, it is of the utmost importance.  When we get frantic, angry, and short tempered, our children feed off of this and the situation gets worse.  A calm mind allows us to come up with a solution more quickly as well as displays an important quality that we would like children to emulate.

Remain calm like a sunset

Balance – A balanced parent is flexible and goes with the flow but does not steer too far in one direction.  When our child gets inconsolable and upset, we need to balance that with the opposite energy.  Getting upset and angry ourselves will only add more fuel to the fire of our child’s emotions.

Always remain balanced as a parent

Safety – It goes without saying that we as parents are responsible for keeping our kids safe.  We often only think about this in terms of physical safety, such as not letting them run into the street or fall down the stairs.  We also need to keep the safe by giving them the right behavior to model.  Being a parent who gets angry and can’t control their emotions will lead to a child with the same problem.

Keeping our kids safe is one of the most important jobs of a parent

Peace – I think it is an unspoken goal of everyone to live a peaceful, harmonious, love-filled life.  It is also our job as parents to provide our kids this opportunity as well as the tools to continue the journey themselves.

Helping our kids live a peaceful, harmonious life is another important job of a parent

Just like the Pyung Ahn forms, think of parenting as a turtle: slow, steady, calm, peaceful, and safe.  The next time you feel short tempered or angry around your kids, think of being a Pyung Ahn Parent.

How to Start, Grow, and Maintain a Martial Arts Studio – The Part-Time Commercial Studio

Prior to getting into this post regarding the part-time commercial studio, let’s do a brief recap of how we got to this point.  We got the ball rolling by starting some classes at a YMCA, fitness facility, community center, or similar type venue.  We volunteered to be instructors in order to grow faster and build a strong community presence.

We also spent a lot of time and effort in creating a comprehensive business plan that will guide our studio through all the milestones we set forth.  We are now ready for the next step which is to open a commercial space.  I still consider this part of the soft start approach since we will be running the commercial space part-time and slowly grow it to full-time status.

Remember, the business plan we created will guide us through this process.  We used the business plan to determine where our commercial studio will be located and what demographic market it will serve.  The financial projections in the business plan showed us when it was time to open the commercial space.  Once you reach that magic number of students, don’t talk yourself out of it, just do it.  If you have done your homework, the risk will be minimal.  That is one of the many benefits to the soft start approach.

The rest of this post will focus on after you open the commercial space; how to grow it to the point you can move into the next phase, the full-time commercial studio.

One thing you need to consider prior to opening the commercial studio which I have not addressed yet, is whether to keep classes at the YMCA or community center that you started in.  There are pros and cons to both approaches.  I decided to keep my YMCA classes going with the mindset that I could reach more students and use it as a feeder to my commercial studio.  Classes at a commercial studio are going to be more expensive than at a YMCA so it is no surprise that not all the YMCA students will move to the commercial studio.

This approach proved to be too much work with not much return and after a year, I gave the YMCA classes completely to another instructor.  Despite being less than 2 miles apart, the YMCA and commercial studios served completely different markets.  The YMCA catered to lower income families so there was little crossover.  With better implementation and assistance, I probably could have made it work but it was just not meant to be.

After letting the YMCA class go, I still stayed in close contact with them and frequently did things together which strengthened the overall martial arts community in the area.

To try and get the most students as possible to transition from the YMCA to the commercial studio, I gave them a one-time charter member offer of 15% off tuition for life.  So, even as the tuition increased over time, they would still get a discount.  There were some people that were going to follow me to the new studio regardless but I’m sure that the discount pushed a few of those who were unsure to the other side of the fence.

By keeping the YMCA classes going, I did not get as many transfers as I had hoped.  I had enough to make my initial plan work but would have liked to be in a better starting position.

Although the name of this phase is ‘part-time commercial studio’, there is nothing part-time about it other than the number of classes you have.  You will be doing full-time work during the part-time phase, in addition to a full-time day job.

It is important during this phase that you teach the majority, if not all, of the classes at the studio.  If your goal is to just own a part-time studio while keeping your day job, get others to teach classes with you.  But, if your goal is to eventually go full time, you need to be the face of the studio and the only way to do that is to be there nearly all the time.

You need to take this workload into account prior to opening the commercial studio.  It may not be right for you due to family or other personal commitments.  I was in my early twenties, unmarried, and had no kids so doing the extra work was not an issue for me.  

During the part-time commercial stage, every student counts.  You need to do all you can to get new students and go out of your way if it means getting just one new student.  I am not going to go through different marketing strategies or enrollments systems in this post, those will be discussed in a future post.  Just know that you will be trying many, many different things to attract as many new students as possible.  One week free, one-month free, free uniform with enrollment, etc. are all different things that will attract students.

While trying all these different approaches, be sure to keep track of the statistics.  How many people respond, how many people enroll, etc.  There will be another post regarding exactly what to track, how to track, and what to do with these statistics in a future post.

The ways you attract students during this stage will be low cost but high work.  Once you have more capital to work with, you can use marketing strategies that are less work but cost more.  During this phase, all you have is your time.  

You will need to utilize a wide variety of strategies to attract students such as buddy day classes, bring your parents to class day, referral rewards/contests, word of mouth, flyers, door hangers, demonstrations, booths at community fairs, parades, free classes to schools/scouts or other groups, and much more.  Think of it as a shotgun approach.  You fire a lot of bird shot in the hopes of hitting something, likely just one or two students will come out of it.

Don’t be worried about efficiency or a systematic approach at this point.  Just be focused on doing all you can to get every new student you can using every method possible and consistently growing your student count.  Once you are established a bit, you can start to be more efficient with your marketing strategies and systems.  There will be a future post on this topic as well.

One more important thing to remember while you are growing your studio in the part-time commercial phase is not to have too many classes early on.  Start with enough classes for students to attend 3 times a week.  Once these classes are full, add another class.  Keep adding classes until you get to the schedule you envision for a full-time studio.

Having many classes with only a few students will drain your energy (remember, you still have a day job). You also need time to work on growing your studio which you can’t do if you are running classes all the time.

Even if you are in the part-time phase, it is ok to have a class completely full and not allow more enrollments.  Create a waitlist or divert them to another day.  When classes are full, it makes you more desirable.  The most popular bars, clubs, and restaurants have long lines or require reservations weeks in advance, and these are still the places people want to go.

If you add classes when you are not ready, you will burn yourself out and ultimately hurt your business because your classes will not be as good as they could be.

In addition to remembering that every new student counts, you need to keep your current students happy. Teaching fun, interesting, challenging classes is of course paramount.  Start learning about each student; what their other interests are, their jobs, hobbies, etc. 

You started turning your studio into a community while you were running classes at the YMCA or community center and now it is time to go one step further.  You want to ensure all the new students you get become a part of this community while also making the community stronger.  Start doing more events outside of class that strengthen the community such as holiday parties, summer picnics, guest instructor seminars, tournaments, photo days, etc.  When people start getting together outside of the studio, they build stronger relationships which also has the added benefit of helping them continue to train.

It is important to keep in mind that during the part-time commercial studio phase your goal is to get to the point where you can quit your day job and become a full-time studio owner.  As a reminder, the criteria for this are stated in your business plan.  In the next post, I will be going over I will discuss the next step which is the transition to the successful full-time studio.

The Self-Defense Mindset: The First Step in Handling A Bully

School age bullying is a major problem in the world today.  Millions of kids around the world are victims of bullying on a regular basis.  The effects of this bullying can be both costly and long lasting.  Situations that frighten us when we’re very young stay with us throughout our lives.  Bullying can keep children from learning how to relate with others.  Being bullied can set a negative approach to life that affects a person’s relationships, preventing the development of a positive, healthy life.  Children who are bullied, especially on an ongoing basis, take a negative belief about themselves that linger for the rest of their lives.  Some victims of bullying resort to violence, either towards others or towards themselves.

School age bullying is a huge problem
School age bullying is a huge problem

Before addressing how to handle bullies, we first need to understand a little about them.  A bully is usually not a happy person, not someone who smiles or is easy to get along with.  A bully tends to act mean or angry and says things to frighten people.  A bully is someone with a problem and being mean to other people is their way dealing with that problem.  Bullies become bullies probably because someone once bullied them!  At one time or another we have all been a bully.  Everyone bullies for a reason: we’re tired, frustrated, angry, or disappointed.  We can’t get what we want, or things don’t go the way we want.  Bullies are trying to get a certain reaction from you.

There are many, many specific strategies for dealing with bullies in different situations but all of them require one thing: the self-defense mindset.  This mindset is the same whether you are standing up to a bully or need to defend yourself against an attacker.  In my martial arts specific blog, I wrote a piece on the self-defense mindset in a women’s self-defense setting.  I encourage you to check it out.

In a nutshell, the self-defense mindset requires one to be confident and believe in themselves.  Bullies choose their victims based on who they can get the desired reaction from.  Typically, this is a reaction of a scared or weak person so the bully can feel strong and dominant.  People that are confident and can display this will not look scared or weak.

So, how can kids look confident?  Here are a few ways to portray a confident demeanor.

  • Walk with a purpose.  Don’t walk fast paced, run like you’re scared, or walk slowly constantly scanning everything.
  • Good posture.  Keep your back straight, chin up, and shoulders back.  Don’t slouch or look down at the ground.
  • Mind your hands.  Nervous, scared people fidget with their hands.  Keep your hands at your side, swinging them normally when walking or still when standing.
  • Eye contact.  If someone looks at you, even a stranger, don’t look down or away.  Look them in the eyes.  Don’t stare them down but let them know you see them.

While this all seems easy to do, it is actually quite difficult if you are not confident to begin with.  It is possible to fake it but sooner or later you will show some sign of your underlying lack of confidence.  So, the best thing to do is build that confidence up.  Just like muscles, confidence is something that takes practice and hard work in order to build strong.  Here are a few suggestions of ways to help kids build the confidence needed for the self-defense mindset.

Martial Arts

All styles of martial arts are great for building confidence.  Kids get physically and mentally stronger in a positive, supportive, inclusive environment.

Find an Activity They Excel At

Martial Arts is not for everyone (unfortunately for me!).  There is, however, an activity out there for everyone.  Whether it’s dance, art, chess, baseball, swimming, archery, rock climbing, or any one of the millions of other things out there, you need to find it.  Once you find something you’re good at, surround yourself with supportive people that encourage and compliment you.

Parental Support

It goes without saying that parents have a big role in their kids’ development.  Helping kids develop skills and a mindset to deal with bullies is one part of that job.  Building confident kids takes work.  We need to encourage them when they do well and support them when they fail.  Be sure to encourage and celebrate progress, not perfection.  Your kid got 2nd place in a tournament?  Awesome!  Don’t downplay it because they didn’t get 1st.  At the same time, don’t blow smoke up their you know what.  If your child has been swimming for 3 years, hates it, and gets last place in every meet, don’t tell them they are a great swimmer.  Help them find something they like and are good at.

Friends and Family

Along with parental support, the support of friends and family is important.  Be sure to surround yourself with positive, non-toxic people.  Have your kids spend time with their cool uncle that makes them feel good about themselves versus their cousin who only pokes fun at them.  If consistently being around a negative, toxic family member, be sure to have a conversation with your kids before and after they spend time with them, so they know that what they are saying is not true.

After understanding the importance of the proper mindset, we can start developing specific strategies for handling bullies in a variety of situations.  If you would like a free ebook on this topic, please email me.

Put Down the Phone

This article will start with two true stories that I personally encountered while teaching at my karate studio. These two stories will clearly illustrate the intent of this post.

Put away the cell phone and be engaged

My first commercial karate studio was located in a space that was 1100 sq ft.  At one point we had around 225 active students (not all at once of course).  We were maxed out.  In order to maximize the training space, we only had a small area in the front of the space for parents/spectators.  Only about 6 people could comfortably watch class although at times we could squeeze 8-10 in.  In today’s COVID times, we would only be able to have 2 people watching, just to give you some perspective.  About 10 years ago, I was teaching a class of preschool age kids.  These classes tend to have the most parents watching as well.  This particular class was a full house, no seats left.  About halfway through the class, a mom who was about 6-7 months pregnant came in to watch her daughter do class.  She looked around for a few moments and noticed there was nowhere left to sit and opted to sit on the floor.  I saw all of this transpire with shock.  The main reason everyone was oblivious to her entering and did not offer her a seat was because their faces were glued to their phones.  I immediately stopped class and instructed someone to give her a seat and to please put their phones away.

Fast forward about 8 years.  We moved into a larger space, about 2500 sq ft, with ample seating for parents and spectators.  Due to a variety of factors, we are no longer maxed out in space, but classes are still fairly large.  I was teaching the preschool age class again (go figure) when a rambunctious 4-year-old girl was super excited at the end of class for earning a stripe on her belt.  She looked back at her mom for recognition and her mom was glued to her phone and missed the entire thing.  The little girl yelled out, “Mom! Put down your phone and watch me!”  The mom was clearly embarrassed.

These two stories are extreme examples of times when we need to put down the phone.  We are all guilty of spending too much time on our phones playing games, checking email, reading, or checking apps.  However, there is a time and a place for this.  When you are supporting your child, you need to be present. Being present does not mean just being there.  You need to be actively engaged.

Don’t make faces or scowl at your kids when watching them do activities

Over the years, I have seen kids who have parents that are actively present achieve much more success in martial arts than kids with parents who drop off or are cell phone parents.  The same is true with any other physical activity, sport, or academic pursuit.

So, you’ve decided to put the phone away and be present.  What does being present and actively engaged entail?  You can’t just sit there and tune out, that is probably worse than being on the phone.  Below are some tips on how to achieve this state of active engagement.

Do:

  • Smile, nod, wink, or give a thumbs up
  • Take note of things well done in order to acknowledge after
  • Take note of things not well done to positively address after

Don’t:

  • Scowl, shake your head, or verbally address
  • Coach or correct, let the instructor/coach do their job
  • Be overly critical afterwards if it was a bad class/session, try to find something positive
Be present when watching your kids

I understand that we can’t be actively engaged 100% of the time but I think we can all do a better job of being present for our kids.

TJ’s Tale: Excelling at Something Later in Life

The following article is the story of a student I had for many years.  To respect her privacy, I am going to refer to her as TJ in lieu of her real name.  The main reason I am sharing her story is that it is an inspirational one.  Many people over 40 years old will say they are too old to start training in martial arts.  TJ’s story will show how you can not only start something in your 40s, but excel at it, reaching the highest level.

A secondary reason for writing this story is a bit of reflection.  With so much changing in my life and martial arts career lately, I have been doing a lot of this.  TJ trained under me for over 15 years, much of which was when I was in my 20s and 30s.  Even though I was a qualified, experienced instructor, I was young and lacked wisdom.  Now that I am older and wiser, there are things I wish I would have done differently.

TJ’s tale starts off like many other adults’ in martial arts.  Her son was one of my first students when I started my studio in Seattle.  After a year or so of watching him do class, she saw other adults start taking class and decided to join in as well.  It didn’t take long for her to get hooked.

I will say TJ had some advantages that others her age did not.  She was a dancer, even getting a degree in it at university.  She also was working in wellness at a health club.  She ate extremely healthily and probably had 1 ounce of body fat.  These attributes were advantageous at the start but came to be a disadvantage as well in the future.  More on that later.

To say TJ was all in from the get-go is an understatement.  Just a few months into training, while still a white belt, there was a tournament several hundred miles away.  I was trying to get students to attend which proved to be challenging since no one had even been to a tournament before.  TJ was instrumental in getting many students to take a chance and spend a lot of time, effort, and money in attending that first year.  She didn’t miss a tournament after that and recruited anyone she could to go with her.

I owe a lot of my initial studio success to TJ.  She was a cheerleader for the studio.  People were just naturally attracted to her and wanted to be around her.  I remember talking to an instructor from another studio and telling him “Every studio needs a TJ, I’m glad we found ours.”

She was the first person to offer to host an out-of-town guest at her home.  She went to the same coffee shop next to the studio after class every Saturday and it eventually became a ritual that nearly every Saturday class participant joined her.  Being a fitness and wellness expert, TJ offered to run a black belt boot camp for black belt candidates.  Despite no longer training, she still runs a Sunday morning boot camp for anyone who wishes to attend.  Most participants are current or former students.

A good martial arts studio is more than just a place to kick, punch, sweat, and spar.  It is a community.  It is a family.  TJ helped create that community.  Lifelong friendships were created.

Tournament success came natural to TJ.  Perhaps it was her previous experience as a dancer, her athletic ability, or her flair for dramatics.  Even with consistent success, her thirst for learning never ceased.  I remember countless days training where she would run to write something down before she forgot it, which was usually on a piece of paper she found in the trash.

Over the course of 12 or so years, she would compete in numerous regional, international, and world championships.  She traveled all over the US and Europe competing.  She had more 1st place finishes than I can count.  She even had 4 world championship grand champion titles, two as a color belt and two as a black belt.  Keep in mind she was in her 40s and 50s at the time.

I’d like to think my teaching had something to do with her great success but I’m sure she would have excelled with anyone leading her.

Despite her success as a competitor, TJ had an extreme loathing for testing.  She would not allow friends and family to come and watch.  I remember a test when she was an orange belt that she freaked out and ran out of the room crying.  Another instructor had to go into the hallway to calm her down and get her back to the test.

When it came to black belt testing, that loathing just intensified.  Especially after her 1st dan test.  At the time, our black belt tests were done regionally with several studios participating.  I had little say as to how the test was conducted as we were part of a large organization.  A combination of doing things she was unprepared for (not her fault, they were just bizarre things), being tossed around repeatedly by larger people, and the sheer intensity and duration of the test took its toll on her body.

When it came to test for 2nd and 3rd dan, I had a hard time convincing her to test.  She was better able to prepare her body for the tests having gone through one and helping countless others do so, but it still wore her down more than it should have.

As I mentioned at the start of this post, I was an instructor in my 20s and 30s during TJ’s time with me.  I had, and still have, high standards and expectations, especially when it comes to those seemingly little things that non-martial artists don’t understand.  My biggest pet peeve is being on time.  TJ was a thorn in my side when it came to punctuality.  

TJ would routinely be 5-10 minutes late to class.  We had class at 7pm for years and she would regularly stroll in at 7:10pm.  At one point I made some schedule changes and the 7pm class shifted to 7:15pm.  Guess what?  She now came in at 7:20pm.  Anyone being late for class was now asked if they were on “TJ time”.

For a few years TJ taught a Sunday morning class.  That one special spring day every year she would show up an hour late because of day lights savings time.

She would also consistently wear her uniform to the grocery story after class, to lunch after class, or even going to a garage sale.

TJ also had numerous times when she had to remove her foot from her mouth for saying something inappropriate to a senior master.

I guess all of this was kind of an um/yang thing.  The opposing but complementary forces that made up TJ were opposites but somehow in balance.

I often think that her many world championships and overall ability are among my finest achievements as an instructor.  However, I also consider how I handled the other aspects of her training among my greatest failures.  My desire for perfection clouded my vision of a near perfect student in front of me.

After many years of tough, intense training 5-6 days a week, her body told her enough was enough.  Persistent injuries and other health issues forced her to stop training.  If not for my lack of wisdom and excess of youthful enthusiasm, she would probably have had greater longevity as a martial artist.

So, while I hope this tale is inspirational to those who think they are too old to start something like martial arts, I also hope that any younger instructors reading this take this tale to heart.  We instructors have a difficult job of shaping people into great technical students as well as great overall people.  The little things are important and must be preserved but let’s also not forget the big picture as that is even more important.

Set Your Kids Up for Success in Any New Activity

I have been a martial arts instructor for over 20 years.  In that time, I have seen thousands of kids as young as 4 years old come in and take classes.  One thing I have learned is that every child is different.  These differences are always most evident during their very first lesson.  Some kids are shy and reserved, some are outgoing and energetic, and some are downright frightened to the point they won’t even walk in the front door.  It is not just karate that these kids react this way to, it is all new activities or situations.

Little child playing superhero. Kid on the background of bright blue wall. Girl power concept. Yellow, pink and turquoise colors.

Over the many years teaching, I have seen just about every type of child.  I have also seen every type of approach to getting them to start the activity successful.  I’ve seen things that work and things that don’t work.  This article will provide some tips for parents to ensure your kids have a great experience in a new situation or activity.  Some may apply to you and some may not.  Please feel free to pick and choose what works for you.

  • Visit/watch/meet in advance

Some kids are very apprehensive over things that are unknown.  By visiting the studio, watching a class, and meeting the instructor prior to the first class, these kids can feel more comfortable on their first day.

  • Pre-Frame your child

Prior to going in for your first class, sit down with your child and go over expectations.  Kids may think it is all games or it is fighting.  Remind them how long the class is going to be.  If the studio has a website with media available, watch the videos or pictures of classes/studio events with them.  This will help limit any surprises that may arise due to kids’ wild imaginations.

  • Feed/hydrate

Be sure your child has had a snack and is hydrated prior to class.  We all get hangry or lethargic when dehydrated which makes it impossible to focus and have an enjoyable experience.  Be sure to bring water and snacks to class just in case blook sugar levels drop and your kid needs a boost.

  • Don’t overschedule

Especially for the first class, try not rush from a previous activity.  Kids need some transition time to go from one thing to the next.  This includes school or home activities.  Sometimes doing a little less is beneficial in putting kids in the best possible mindsight and energy level for an activity.

  • Don’t overstimulate

Very similar to #4, we don’t want to have kids do activities that are overstimulating right before doing something new.  Playing video games, having play dates, watching their favorite TV show right before leaving can cause kids to have animosity about going.  Why would they want to stop doing something so fun to do something they have never done before?

  • Be on time

We have all been there, you’re running late.  When we are running late, we get flustered and short tempered.  Many kids will not respond well to trying to rush.  Being late will also not allow time for kids to get adjusted to the atmosphere, meet the other kids and instructor, and just get comfortable.  I know unforeseen things happen from time to time but we need to try to schedule our time so we are early.

  • Don’t drop off

Believe it or not, your kids want you to watch them do stuff.  Being there rather than dropping them off will show that you are there to support them.  Even if they say they don’t want you there, they actually do, just make sure you don’t do the next item below.

  • Don’t butt in, just watch, put the phone away

As mentioned above, kids want parents to watch them.  Your support and recognition help build their confidence and sense of security.  It is important however to be sure to remain an observer/supporter.  Don’t coach or correct.  If they look back at you, give a smile or thumbs up.  Let them be on their own.  Be sure to talk to them afterwards if there was something you wanted to say during the class.  Make sure to keep that phone stowed away.  If you are going to stay and watch your kids, do just that.  Kids know when their parents are not engaged.

  • Stay calm and supportive

Whether your child is having a great time or throwing a fit, stay calm and supportive.  Kids can feed off of our energy.  If we get angry and worked up, they will do the same.  Be the example of how you want them to act and they will follow suit.

Good luck with those kiddos as you venture out into new activities.  If you have any questions or comments, feel free to contact me!

Not Everyone Will Get a Black Belt

My goal is black belt.  This is a black belt school.  Black belt excellence.  Minimum time required to earn a black belt.  These are all things that you will see posted on the wall of a studio or hear being discussed by students, instructors, and parents.  From day one, we are programmed to believe that earning a black belt is the end all be all.

We are also told, almost guaranteed, that we will someday become a black belt.  Whether it is hopeful optimism by the instructor or a business tactic to keep students longer, instructors almost always set the expectation of getting a black belt.

The truth is, not everyone will get a black belt.  Nor should everyone get a black belt.  I firmly believe that everyone has the potential to be a black belt but there are certain obstacles or limitations that they simply cannot overcome.  It is not due to the ability to overcome these obstacles; it is due to the desire. 

Perhaps your work schedule causes you train inconsistently or sporadically.  Maybe you have the attitude that you know everything already causing you to not continually improve upon what you’ve learned.  These are examples of things that people could overcome but don’t.

A good instructor will do all they can to help their students overcome these obstacles and limitations and will never give up on them.  However, there is only so much an instructor can do.  At some point, the responsibility needs to fall on the shoulders of the student.

You may be thinking, if these students never get to black belt, why continue training?  They should just quit, right?  Wrong.  If a student is continuously learning and progressing, training is invaluable, regardless of what is around their waist.

These days I feel that many instructors award black belts to students simply for showing up.  They tried their hardest and therefore should be awarded black belt.  I find this more prevalent during the pandemic when most studios were required to do online classes.  I heard numerous accounts of students earning a black belt after months of doing online classes and even an online black belt test.  They tried their hardest.  The pandemic was not their fault so they should not be penalized for it.

These students may or may not be deserving of a black belt.  My point is that the primary requirements for them earning a black belt were 1) they showed up and 2) they tried hard.  I’m not sure when or why these became the most important things when evaluating a black belt but there are many, many more requirements that cannot be overlooked.

Technical Excellence

Regardless of the style you teach, it should go without saying that a black belt is not just technically proficient but one who possess technical excellence.  I have seen far too many black belts kicking with the incorrect part of the foot, having mediocre stances, or not using hip twisting.  These things are often overlooked because they have a good attitude, tried hard, or contributed to the studio in some way.  This is simply unacceptable.

Commitment/Dedication

There is no other way around it, you must put in the time.  You must do things repeatedly, over long periods of time.  You must make sacrifices in other areas of your life.  The top things in your life must be family, work, religion, and karate.  You can’t be a black belt if there are other activities that get placed higher than karate.

Knowledge/Wisdom

Being a black belt is not something you can cram for.  Knowledge and wisdom are gained through years of dedicated training.  I have seen too many times people become black belts that do not know all the requirements.  A common reason for this is that they are older and can’t remember everything.  This may be true, or it may be an excuse.  The fact of the matter is, they don’t know what they need to know.  Again, this is often overlooked because the person is a good guy who tries hard.

Attitude

Having the proper attitude is a key ingredient in any important endeavor.  Getting a black belt is no different.  A black belt is a person with strong moral character, a humble confidence, lives with integrity, and is courteous and compassionate.  They are willing to train hard, follow directions, and understand they have a lot to learn.  I have seen poor attitudes often overlooked because the student was an exceptional athlete with outstanding technical abilities.  

Respect/Loyalty

A black belt understands and demonstrates respect and loyalty towards their instructor, seniors, and studio.  A respectful student is not going to get a black belt then quit to do the next big thing.  They are honest with their instructor as to their intentions.  A loyal student trusts that their instructor has their best interests in mind will stick by their instructor through thick and thin.

Mental/Physical Toughness

Lastly, there is a mental and physical toughness associated with becoming a black belt.  Pushing yourself to your limits mentally and physically is important in building the strong will and toughness needed to defend yourself in a real-life self-defense situation.  Hitting a board and not breaking it but still doing it again and again despite the pain builds perseverance.  Overcoming the fear of sparring against a more skilled opponent will also help create the strong will needed to be able to defend yourself.  It is common these days to see no contact sparring and unsuccessful board breaking being acceptable for black belts.


Those of us in martial arts like to hold the rank of black belt up as a crowning achievement that few will ever get earn.  Yet, many black belts are achieving the rank while being deficient in one or more of the areas I mentioned above.  

If a black belt is so highly regarded, why allow those with deficiencies to earn them?  Would you want a surgeon performing open heart surgery on you that couldn’t remember the procedure because he had memory issues?  Would you want a lawyer representing you who lacked passion, conviction, or integrity?  Would you want military personnel who did not have the perseverance and toughness to do what it takes to defend their country?

The answer is no.  These people would never be put in this position.  We don’t allow people to be doctors, lawyers, or soldiers without adhering to very strict requirements with no variance.  Can you become a doctor because you tried hard?  However, becoming a black belt seems to be different.

Let me finish by reiterating what I said at the beginning.  Not everyone will get a black belt and that is ok.  They should continue to train and learn and become better people.  In addition, people with limitations that have no equivalent modification, such as certain physical or mental handicaps, will benefit tremendously from training.  However, if the limitations are such that they cannot perform the necessary requirements, they should not be awarded the same black belt as everyone else.  They should either continue to train and progress and get whatever rank they can or be awarded an honorary black belt.

These opinions may not be popular, but I stand by my statement that not everyone can be a black belt.  Keep the black belt standards high and don’t drop the bar for any reason.  Keep training, keep teaching, keep learning, keep leading, and don’t put so much emphasis on the belt.

If you enjoy playing soccer but don’t have what it takes to be a professional, do you stop it all together?  You can certainly keep playing at a high level, continue to study the game, and even coach others. You don’t stop getting better just because you can’t make it to the top.

Thriving, Surviving, or Dying: Which One Is Your Martial Arts School?

March 10th, 2020.  That was the last day I taught a normal, restriction free martial arts class.  Over a year later, masks and socially distanced activities are still required in my area.

We are quickly approaching a year and a half since the start of the COVID19 pandemic.  While it appears we are approaching the end here in the US, it is still far from over and nothing is for certain.  

Since the start of the pandemic, I have spoken to many martial arts instructors, read a lot of articles, and seen a lot of social media activity regarding how people were handling the situation.  Some shutdown completely for long periods of time, some shifted to an online format, and some continued to operate with business as usual.  A lot has to do with the area of the country the school is in but the instructor’s philosophy on teaching also is a big contributor, which is what I will be focusing on.

As I mentioned, a lot has to do with the area of the country/world you live in.  Running a studio during the pandemic in Seattle (like me) is much different than someone in Florida.  I was shut down for 8 months and am still not able to fully run classes.  I know people in other states that were shut down for 6 weeks then resumed classes as normal.  To take out geographical discrepancies, I will be focusing solely on the studios I know of on the West Coast of the US, like me.

I also need to state that I am writing in general terms and not writing about any one specific studio, style, instructor, or organization.  If you feel that I am speaking to you directly, it is purely coincidental.

Before getting to far into things, you need to understand the situation in Seattle, and most of the West Coast.  We were amongst the first in the US to shutdown completely.  We had, and continue to have, the most restrictive requirements as well.  We were shutdown completely for 8 out of the last 15 months, limited to 5 students in class at one time, then 25% capacity, and now are at 50% capacity.  We are still required to do “non-contact” activities, unless fully vaccinated.

I am not writing about whether these restrictions are right or wrong, too restrictive, or not restrictive enough.  What I will be writing about is how the martial arts community handled the situation that was presented to them.  From what I have witnessed, martial arts studios have fallen into one of 3 categories: thriving, surviving, or dying.

Thriving

Believe it or not, some martial arts studios grew during the pandemic.  I know it sounds crazy, but there are a few schools out there that have thrived when most have struggled.  The schools that have thrived have fully embraced the online method of teaching and learning.  There studios turned into a movie set.  Multiple cameras, stage lighting, microphones, etc.  

They marketed specifically to a community who was afraid to go out do things.  They therefore saw a good response and their studios grew.  As a business owner I applaud their initiative and creativity.  As a martial artist, I am a bit more skeptical and curious.

I have been doing online classes now for 15 months as well.  I have not fully embraced them, to say the least.  I gave it my best effort, but I was unable to solve the following issues:

  • Timing
  • Targeting
  • Distance
  • Control
  • Leadership
  • Community
  • Energy/Intensity
  • Strong Will
  • Toughness

Most of the above are accomplished through partner training in areas such as self-defense and sparring.  It is certainly possible for families or siblings to accomplish them online, but most students train online individually. 

I am not saying it is impossible to accomplish all the above online, individually.  To do so would require you to come up with an entirely new curriculum, requirements, and teaching methods.  For those that were able to do this, I commend you.  However, I am afraid most studios took a different approach.  They simply ignored these things and just focused on the approximately 50% of the curriculum that can be done individually.

I fear that business came before martial arts.  Trust me, I understand the need to make money and support your family.  Personally, I was unable to take it this far.  I got into teaching martial arts because I thoroughly enjoy all aspects of training.  Neglecting parts of it while still advancing students through the ranks is a hard pill to swallow.

Dying

On the other end of the spectrum are the studios that have died or are dying.  These studios have not embraced the socially distanced, no contact, online way of doing things.  They were unable to teach the things they wanted in the way they wanted and were forced to make the tough decision to close completely.  In my neighborhood, there are at least four martial arts studios that closed for good.  Some of them were here for over 20 years.  

It saddens me to think about not only the impact these closures had on the owners and their families but also the effect it has on the community.  I do commend and respect them for making the tough decision to choose their martial arts integrity over financial gain.

Surviving

I feel like most martial arts studios, myself included, fall into this category.  From the start, we have tried to balance adapting to the ever-changing restrictions while still having the integrity to teach the skills and techniques we are accustomed to.  How to keep students motivated without consistent rank testing or promotions.  How to push students to their limits when you see 1/3 of their bodies on a tiny screen.  How to maintain their skills while learning new skills without the use of a partner.  And so on and so on.

At the beginning, it was easier.  We were just focused on maintaining skills already learned.  As time continues to go by, it is getting harder and harder as students try to learn new skills and techniques and improve upon, not just maintain, previously learned material.  Unfortunately, until this pandemic is completely over, all the studios who are in the surviving mode are getting one step closer to dying.

So, which studios are in the best position to come out the other side?  You may be thinking the thriving studios.  Yes, those studios will most likely continue to thrive and be financially successful.  However, if those instructors care greatly about the integrity of the martial arts, they will have a lot of work ahead of them.  It will take a lot of time to transition back to in-person training.  Many bad habits have been formed after a year and half or more of online only instruction.

Perhaps the studios that died will rise from the ashes better than ever.  Those studios certainly won’t have to correct many bad habits.  Or maybe those studios barely hanging on will have built enough resilience to make it back to full strength.  Only time will tell.

Just like with the pandemic itself, your guess is as good as mine as to what will happen next.