Karate & Self-Defense Articles

Pinan Nidan – Wado Kai Karate

Here’s the 2nd pinan kata in Wado Kai Karate, performed by our founder, Otsuka Sensei.

Pinan Nidan – Wado Kai Karate

Pinan Shodan – Wado Kai Karate

This is a video of Otsuka Sensei — our founder of Wado Kai Karate.

For those of you that SERIOUSLY want to earn those stripes on Wednesday in the Advanced classes, I recommend watching ALL of these videos.

Understanding How Accomplishment Should Feel In Karate

When a student passes a test at The Dojo of Karate, they should have a sense of accomplishment because our standards are higher then other martial arts schools.  It’s not that we are better, it’s that we approach our expectations differently.  We don’t lower our standards because we want someone to be happy, rather we keep them at the same level and expect our students to learn how to get there through perseverance, dedication, grit, spirit and courage.

I’ve been to plenty of Karate tournaments and seen Black Belts performing and it was horrible.  Some of those students probably didn’t deserve to be any higher then a Green belt!  That’s a disservice to the student and to the marital arts community.

I’ve had other students leave The Dojo of Karate and earn a Black Belt at another Karate school within just a few months.  That simply tells you the level of training we teach at The Dojo of Karate and what other martial arts schools are doing.

It’s no different for Ivy League schools or major universities.  Their standards are extremely high to get in and to graduate.  Anything short of those standards is not going to cut it in their program.

Now, anyone can get a degree from a state or junior college, but the quality is different.  Is it better?  Maybe.  Maybe not.  My degree from the Leeds School of Business at CU-Boulder does not hold enough weight as a Harvard Business degree.  It’s a fact.  But, am I less likely to be successful?  No.  My opportunities are just as equal as anyone else.

When I opened The Dojo of Karate, I made it a point to never let my standards drop, rather do my best to keep the integrity of Wado Kai Karate.  At the end of the day, I need to make sure I do my best as a teacher to produce the best out of my students while maintaining the high level of technical standards in Wado Kai Karate.  And, no, it’s not easy balancing the two.  I’ve had plenty of students and parents that did not agree with my decision, however, at the end of the day, I am responsible for the product I produce.

I understand that not every student will earn a Black Belt from The Dojo of Karate, and I’m OK with that.  Does it bother me?  Of course!  But, that also gives us a reputation that we’ve gained and I’ve worked hard in achieving.  We are one of the best traditional Japanese Karate schools in Colorado and hardest dojos to earn a belt.

How do I know that?  When I have outside practitioners in Wado and other styles look at my students and say, “wow, your students looked really good at the seminar.”  Or “your students did really well in the Black Belt test, and I was really impressed.”  That tells me something…  I’m approaching how The Dojo of Karate awards belts in the right manner and my students are stepping up to the plate and doing their best to hit home runs.

Achieving any belt at The Dojo of Karate should be motivating and encouraging because they aren’t given out to students, they are earned by students.

Next week, you’ll learn the importance of the journey to Black Belt, and not the actual belt…

Why Failing A Karate Belt Test Is Good

My biggest accomplishments in life and mainly my marital arts career came when I failed just before it.  And, sometimes failed miserably and continuously!

But, here’s the weird thing… I never looked at them as a “failure”, rather a bump in the road, blimp in the map, a stepping stone to success, a challenge to overcome, an obstacle to climb — or any other type of metaphor you can practically think of.

However, don’t get me wrong, failing is hard on me too.  I don’t like to fail because I’m such a perfectionist.  It drives me nuts.  It drives my wife nuts.  And, I know it drives other people nuts.  This is why I no longer compete in Karate tournaments… but that’s for another day.

To me failure is not an option, but sometimes its necessary to make you dig deep inside of you and find that inner beast.

A few weeks ago I had lunch with a colleague and we discussed my background and my journey through the martial arts.  I basically explained that I never necessarily failed, rather, it wasn’t my day.  I simply needed to improve in  some areas , and vowed to come back even stronger.

See, had I given up at the first tournament I competed in I never would have achieved a Black Belt.  I never would have achieved tournament success such as a CKA Colorado State title or NASKA World Championship title.

Walking away after a tough loss was always the easiest thing to do.  Getting up, dusting yourself off, and plugging away (while swallowing your pride) hurt more.  But, the taste of sweet victory was gratifying when achieved, thus my obsession for success.

I DREAD failing students at belt tests.  Don’t like it.  Never will.  But, at the same time, I know it needs to be done.  Students need to experience failure.  They need to understand what it feels like to not reach a goal.  They can’t expect that life will always be grand and failure doesn’t exist.  Call me old school, but true grit is what we may be missing.

There are several academic schools that are teaching the importance of grit, and this is beginning to take storm in some charter schools and gifted and talented schools.

The Dojo of Karate is a fan of the development of grit.  Failing may not be something that is fun to experience, but the reality is we all need to go through it at one point or another.  Giving a student every opportunity to only succeed can do more harm then good.  Failure is a part of life.  Why not let people fail in a safe environment?

This is why when I “fail” a student I don’t necessarily fail them, rather say “there are things we need to work on, and they consist of the following…”  I give them an action plan and tell them what is necessary to improve to pass next time.  I fix the wrong things and encourage them to come back stronger and they should do better.

And, if they don’t pass again, we re-approach the drawing board again, and continue to build off of what was successful and what they need to change.

The most successful people in life failed more times then they succeeded.  The only thing that makes them different is that they never gave up.

Abraham Lincoln is a great example.  He couldn’t win an election for various offices to save his life, but he never gave up.  And now he’s considered as one of the best Presidents to ever live.

The Dojo of Karate has failed numerous students at various points of their training, whether it be during Stripe Week or Belt Test, but the ones that actually get to Black Belt are the ones that take the failures as a learning opportunity.

Find out next week how your should feel after passing a belt test.

Spending Time In Grade Is A Necessary Challenge In Karate

This is a commonly used word in the martial arts world that is practiced to make students stay a certain amount of time at various levels before they can progress to the next belt rank.  And, sometimes it isn’t because they are not talented enough to actually pass the exam, rather, there are characteristics that the instructor is trying to bring out of the student, thus having a “time in grade” is imperative for the development of a student.

An example is that the first 4 colored belts at The Dojo of Karate require that a student stay at each rank for a minimum of 3 months.  But, that can also be extended due to training consistency, progression of achieving stripes, knowledge of techniques and curriculum, ability to execute moves, etc.

And, time in grade is extended even more so at the Green & Brown belt levels.

Most students need to be at both levels of Green belt between 4 to 6 months, or longer.  While all 3 Brown belt levels require that a student stay at a rank for at least 6 months.  Those two belt colors alone make up at least 2 years of training!

See, in this world of instant gratification, people “feel” and “believe” they deserve to be at the next level for any given reason — rather then trusting their teacher, coach, or sensei.

That’s what we’re hear for… to help bring out the best in our students, no matter what it takes.  And, sometimes that means keeping a student at a certain level for an extended period of time.  Usually what happens is it makes the ones that truly desire the next level to shine at special moments or when the time is right.

Just to give you guys another example about time in grade, in Brazilian Jiujitsu, it takes about 7 to 10 years to earn a Black Belt!   There aren’t very many belt ranks to keep students motivated and stripes aren’t awarded very easily.

Usually, a Purple belt in BJJ is considered a VERY high rank with exceptional skills.  Good enough to teach BJJ classes, but maybe not good enough to open a dojo, yet…

For a student to spend time in grade, is a common practice and the student should trust their sensei that they have a success plan for them to achieve their goals.

The Dojo of Karate prides themselves in making sure that all students spend a minimum amount of time at each belt rank.  Lessons can always be learned at every level, no matter how talented or skilled one is in Karate.

So, next time you or your son / daughter thinks they’ve been at a certain level for “too long” ask yourself… “what have they learned at this level?”  If the answer is “I don’t know”, then the student may not be ready to advance quite yet.  Or if you say “I know my kata”… do you know your kata, or do you KNOW your kata.

Trust that a good sensei wants the best for their students because a student is a reflection of their sensei.

Ultimately, I look forward to the day that my students begin to outperform me.  When that happens, I’ve succeeded.

Next week we’ll be discussing why I think failing is good.

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