Karate and especially Wado is easy. What I mean by that is that at the most basic level, karate is a very personal, individual and self-satisfying (or frustrating) study. The curious title of this particular writing is a reference to the way I see people in training (remember The Three Faces of Eve – oh come on, I know some of you have to).
First, I now watch a class as a Black Belt with a considerable amount of time put into improving my technique, my physical fitness, and my physical and mental stamina. My training suffered from a lack of any kind of natural ability, very little coordination, no rhythm and a deficit in the flexibility department. However, I did have a strong desire to emulate the examples that I had before me, and I had some very fine examples in the seniors above me. I also practiced constantly. When I couldn’t practice physically, I was practicing in my head; I would think through kata, I would envision Tyler Sensei performing the moves of kata and combinations. I listened to every word he said (he might argue that point because I know what he saw me do wasn’t always the picture he was trying to draw with his explanations) and memorized his anecdotes and comparisons, to the point of hearing them, in my head, about a word ahead of him actually saying them in class. I could see relevancy in the strangest of examples and relate karate to the most un-karate like activities you can imagine (if you were in my classes, remember the puzzled feeling as I gave many of my explanations). But, I made it and I progressed. I bore you with all of this drivel to let you know that if I can do it, you can do it, your child can do it, anyone can do it.
Second, I watch the class as an instructor. From the summer of ’82, until May 31, 2005, I taught in one capacity or another, almost non-stop. In that time, I have taught literally thousands of students of all types. I have taught very impressive people with all kinds of talent, some recognized their potential and still study, some of those, sharing their gifts and teaching today. Some recognized that talent, professing to be students for life, working hard for a time, maybe even years before disappearing without warning. These people probably benefited and may still put the things they worked and learned to use in their life, and may for life. Then some of those just lose focus, life gets in the way, and they move on to whatever is next. Some of the talented didn’t pick up the complete package, they left the heart behind, they just can’t put enough of themselves, into them, to reap the rewards, some are just lazy. On the other end of the spectrum you have the less than gifted student. They come in the same varieties as the naturally talented; it’s just not as pretty. They have to work harder, sometimes that is to their benefit, they are not used to the easy road, they are willing to work harder and appreciate the accomplishments that come with that work. As an instructor, I don’t care what kind of ability you have; I want to teach someone that is giving it their all, someone that is taking advantage of the gains that come from the hard, hot, sweaty parts of training, and rejoicing in the personal triumphs and joy of accomplishment. Being a martial artist is very gratifying, teaching martial arts is even more gratifying. Being a Black Belt is a small mile marker on the martial arts road, but it is one that almost everyone can identify with in one way or the other, so it is used as a goal and a reference point. The easy way to study karate, and to aim for and receive the Black Belt, is to work hard. Too many people don’t get serious enough until they are in the home-stretch run for the Black Belt, and then you can get overwhelmed trying to get up to speed. I can sum up my frustrations and philosophy on teaching and preparing students for the Black Belt with a line I used to use with those that were giving it far less than their all, “I can’t want this for you more than you want it for yourself,” it just don’t work like that. An individual’s success in karate should be measured from where they are in relation to where they started, with a strong emphasis on potential.
Third, I watch the class as Pop-Pop, and this is the difficult one. I am very close to my grand-daughter, and want nothing but the best for her. I know her well, I know her potential, and I know her strengths, her weaknesses and her faults. She’s fast, loves to run, is competitive, and much more care-free than her Pop-Pop. She is stubborn, and much more care-free than her Pop-Pop. She loves karate, she also loves soccer, and playing, for which she doesn’t have near enough time. She is smart, she does what she needs to do to get good grades but, she doesn’t get wrapped up in consuming knowledge. She is a pretty well rounded little girl and, it is hard for Pop-Pop to find the right balance that will keep her motivated, progressing, and a successful karateka, in order to allow her to apply the benefits of what she is learning, to other aspects of her life. It’s tough for me to remember that she is not me, and success in karate for her, may not be the same as success in karate for me (by definition yes, in scale no). My hope for her far surpasses my own realizations. Of course she doesn’t know what is best for her yet, at this point in her life, she’s just having fun. No matter what, less than her best is unacceptable, but what it takes to bring out her best is the tricky unknown factor. I know that her instructors know what they are doing and I trust them to motivate her and give her the instruction that she needs, but I also find myself supplementing. I get so passionate with my desire for her to do well, that I have to keep myself in check, for fear of making her think that she is unable to meet my expectations, on the dojo floor. This is extremely exciting for me, and I’m so proud I can’t stand it. I see for the first time what you parents are going through. Good luck in cultivating your own little karatekas, and if you see me, keep an eye on me and, you may on occasion offer me some blood pressure medication, if handy.