Who should be called Master?

In the WYKKO, there is no canon with respect to the title of Master. index The title of Shihan is given to Yondan blackbelts at some point in their training, before they can test to Godan.  Titles like Fukukaicho, Kaicho, and Soke relate to the individual’s role in the organization, but do not equate with titles like Renshi, Kyoshi, or Hanshi which other organizations use to indicate mastery.  The English title of Master is never officially used in the WYKKO.

When I wrote the WYKKO Handbook, I asked Masters Toyama and Culbreth about the use of the title Master.  They both seemed uncomfortable, and agreed that this is a title that cannot be claimed, it can only be conferred.  That is, an individual cannot attain a certain rank and say, “You should address me with the title Master now.”  Instead, the bosses said that an individual is given that title by their students or others below them in the organization.  Presumably, Soke could say that a certain rank of student should be addressed as Master, but he hasn’t done that to date (December 2015).

So, now we have a situation where the students need to be aware of when they can or should use the title Master.  Technically, since the bosses say this is a title conveyed by the students, the students could choose to use this title when addressing any blackbelt.  Within the WYKKO, however, it would be odd for students to address some blackbelts as Master.  So, how can students be appropriately respectful and avoid a faux pas?

The easiest solution is to never use the title of Master.  The bosses address each other (and everyone else, including Soke) as Mister, and most or all of the Shihan-ranked blackbelts also address everyone as Mister (or Miss).  I insist on using the title of Master for two reasons.  One, other styles use the title of Master, and I think it’s important to emphasize that there are individuals within our organization who have a degree of proficiency that one would acknowledge as Master.  Two, I do feel that some distinguishing title should be used when addressing certain high-ranked blackbelts to distinguish them from other high-ranked blackbelts.  The formal titles (Sempai, Shihan-Dai, Shihan, Kyoshi, and Kaicho) are not used in verbal forms of address.

If you want to use the title of Master when addressing or referring to a high-rank blackbelt, the only rule of thumb I have is my Sensei.  Sensei Blanck would refer to Master Toyama _as_ Master Toyama.  This was when Sensei was a Yondan and Master Toyama was a Rokudan.  Everyone also referred to Master Koda as Master when he was a Shichidan.  Therefore, I assume any blackbelt at Rokudan or higher rank may be addressed as Master.  You may also restrict the use of the Master title to the Directors of the organization- Master Toyama and Master Culbreth.

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Teaching Tips

At the end of August, Master Ken Blumreich and I put on a Certified Instructor Training course for AKF Athens, Athens Yoshukai, Clarke County Yoshukai- really any martial artist who wanted to improve their teaching.  I’ve been a part of this course about 6 times now over the years, and I continue to get something positive out of each and every time I participate.  This year, I was reminded of a few good teaching techniques- PIP, DDD, planning, timing, and warm-up pacing.

The first actual teaching technique I ever learned from participating in the CIT was PIP.  It stands for Praise, Improve, Praise.  The principle is you are providing feedback, which is essential to student learning.  The first piece of feedback is something the student is doing well.  The second piece of feedback is something for the student to improve.  The key to each of these pieces of feedback is they need to be specific.  A positive feedback of “Good!” is not useful to the student.  “Good foot position” is more helpful.  “Now keep your guard up,” is a good piece of feedback for improvement.  The final piece of positive feedback is given once the student incorporates the feedback and makes the improvement.  “Good job keeping that guard up!”  It an extremely simple but highly effective way to give feedback, and is one of my core teaching strategies.

Demonstrate, Detail, Drill (triple D, or DDD) is a recent addition to my repertoire.  The principle is you show the student the technique, provide some details about the technique, and then give them opportunities to practice it.  For psychomotor skills, the more time students have to drill, the better they get at it.  It’s a good tip to give new teachers, as they often want to talk techniques to death before showing them or letting the students try themselves.  This tip helps to keep newer instructors on task.

Throughout any level of teacher education and preparation, professors tell you to plan.  Overplan.  You can never do too much planning.  It’s easy to get complacent, as an experienced instructor, and just make up lesson plans on the fly.  That works fine, and I’ve been doing it for years.  On those days that I do plan ahead, I find classes run much more smoothly and efficiently.  Whenever I can, I try to plan what I’m going to work on that day during class.  It may change based on which students come to class, but having some framework makes the lesson better.

Timing is one of my weaknesses as a teacher and, more importantly, I am starting to see that same weakness in the students I have taught.  Good time management is important so that students and teachers don’t get burned out, everyone has an optimum opportunity to learn, and everyone can count on class starting and ending on time.  Good planning will help ensure good time management.  One area I am working on is telling instructors how much time they have when the group splits up.  This allows them to budget their own time effectively.  It’s a work in progress.

The pacing of warm-ups- especially intense cardio or strength-training exercises- is always an important consideration.  This is particularly true in a class of mixed strength and physical abilities.  Doing exercises to a certain number (everyone do 20 pushups) may be too easy for highly athletic students and too hard for others.  One solution is to do exercises based on time. For example, however long it takes the _instructor_ to do 20 pushups is how long the class does push-ups.  This allows students to go at their own pace- stronger students will do more than 20 and weaker students will do less.  Another option is to pace to the fastest student- whenever the first person finishes the count, everyone is done.  Regardless of method, making sure that each student gets an warm-up that is challenging to them is good.

I have been teaching martial arts for more than 20 years, 12 years of that as a head instructor.  I’ve been teaching swing dancing for 12 years and veterinary anesthesiology for 14 years.  Even with all that teaching experience, I still learn about teaching and continue to try and improve my knowledge.  In studies of experts (such as expert coaches), one characteristic is consistent- they have a thirst for knowledge of how to do things better.  You keep coming to class to get better with your martial arts.  How’s your teaching?

Making Time for Martial Arts

By Hali Serrian

AthensYoshukaiTimeForKarateWith all the activities we have to fill our life—work, school, other hobbies, kids/family, so on and such—it can be easy to let something slip through the cracks. Since work and family tend to take a priority, for just reasons, oftentimes it is a hobby, perhaps martial arts, that slips through the cracks. It starts simply enough; miss one class one week, two the next, the third week you are unable to attend any class. From there it can be a slippery slope into “never having time” for class and getting out altogether. This is a sad end to what was presumably an enjoyable hobby at the very least, if not something much more meaningful.

We have a limited amount of time for “non-essential” activities. And unless martial arts is your livelihood, then that is the category where training Yoshukai and other martial arts falls. From there, training has to be a priority in order for it to continue. Because you will have to give up time doing something else in order to come to class, even if that something else is chilling out in front of the T.V.  But, as anyone who has been training for an extended amount of time will tell you, it’s totally worth it.

You don’t have to be a super-karateka and come to four classes a week, nor do you have to train in three different styles to reap the benefits of martial arts. But you do have to come to class one or two times a week. One or two hours of a seven day week isn’t so much to ask for something that will give you lifetime benefits.

If you have decided to dedicate yourself to martial arts as an activity, go ahead and make it a priority. It will give back what you put in, so go ahead and put something good in.

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Lineup Protocol

A couple of Winter Camps ago, the Shihan-Dai (4th degree blackbelt) line was AthensYoshukaiLineupWinterCamporganizing itself.  In the line (from left to right) was Mr. McInnish, Ms. Brinkley, myself, and Mr. Wheeles.  Mr. McCullars got there after we had organized ourselves and got into the line at the far right.  Each of us already in line continued to shuffle him to the left until he was in his rank-appropriate place at the head of the Shihan-Dai line.  In this anecdote, two good, important things happened.

The first good thing that happened is that a late-comer placed himself at the ‘end’ or right hand side of the line.  Mr. McCullars didn’t just appear at the left hand side and ask us all to move down, although he very well could have, as the highest-ranked in the line.  We were already lined up, so he went on to the end.  He was showing respect and modesty.

The second good thing that happened is that everyone else in the line identified a problem with our order and corrected it.  We were showing respect and attentiveness.

When you line up, the first criterion is by rank, then by test date, then by age.  Unless you are very confident that you are the highest ranked student in a line at an event, you should not head directly to the front of that line.  For example, I know that Ms. Brinkley is the only active Shihan-Dai who outranks me at the time of this writing.  If she is not at an event, I know I should be at the front of the Shihan-Dai line.  When I was a Nidan, I would usually mill around near the middle of the Yudansha line.  I would never place myself at the front of the line, and actually was only at the front of the line once- when bowing in for my Sandan test.

AthensYoshukaiLineupAtTournamentWhen in doubt, you should not place yourself at the front of the line.   If you know there are students present who outrank you, you should move them to your left.  The first time I met Mr. Trawick, I didn’t know when he had earned his Yondan, so deferred to him as probably being senior to me- I moved him to my left.  If you aren’t certain you are the highest-ranked student present, you should probably not be at the head of a line.  When in doubt, you could ask those around you.  My solution was to just put myself in the middle of the line when I was Yudansha and Sempai.

You should always be showing respect, modesty, and attentiveness.  If your goal is to make it to the front of the line, your plan should not be “get there first, and quickly run to where the line will form.”  Your plan should be, “I will continue to train until I know there are no students to my left.”

White Belt Perfection

By Erik HofmeisterKarate Rocks Balance

Every now and then, I encounter either a new student who wants their technique to be perfect, or a teacher who wants their white belts’ technique to be perfect.  Striving for perfection is a good goal, but it must be tempered with the understanding that it is frankly not possible, and may even hinder progress in some students.

Learning anything is a progression.  You first learn some information, then more, and then a little bit more.  At the vet school, we don’t expect first-year students to be able to diagnose anything, much less complex diseases, but we do expect them to be able to make diagnoses 3 years later.  What changes?  Why not expect them to master diagnosis in their first week?  Quite simply, because they can’t do it. There is too much information- they aren’t capable of assimilating the information in a useful manner.  They might memorize the data, but they don’t know how to use it.

Some students want to learn everything they can as soon as they can.  After promotion, they want to learn and master their next kata.  As white belts, they want as much feedback as possible on their technique so they can perfect it.  I have already discussed the utility and necessity of dwell time of information in the brain.  In addition, over-eager students are not grasping the larger concepts of patience, commitment, perseverance, progression, esprit de corps, and understanding. A white belt who develops an excellent front kick must do so at the cost of some other techniques (since there’s only so much time in a day), and may become overconfident in their abilities.

New students have to learn basic elements like balance, strength, and coordination as well as basic techniques like front kick.  Trying to get the perfect front kick out of a white belt is pointless- they may be able to DO it, but they won’t be able to understand it, teach it or, most importantly, replicate it.  The ranks exist to facilitate a constant progression of understanding and mastery.  A white belt has thousands of hours of practice in front of them before their front kick will be excellent because it needs all the elements, most of which take time.  There’s no point in cramming information which they cannot use into their brain in the first week- let them learn in an ordered, steady fashion.

Striving for perfection, continuing toward excellence, is what’s it’s all about.  Wanting or expecting to be excellent with a technique when you first learn it is counter-productive.

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One of the first classes at Athens Yoshukai – notice all the white belts.

Self Defense vs. Sparring

By Susan Elrod

A few of us were sitting around after class discussing the idea of sparring versus self-defense. One of my friends, another karate student, said, “Wait, how are those separate? Isn’t sparring the same thing as self-defense?”

It turns out, I had some very definite opinions on the subject.Karate Sparring

With sparring, you have a responsibility to ensure your partner’s safety as well as your own. You absolutely do not strike to the joints. You avoid all contact to the face. In some styles of sparring, head strikes of any kind are prohibited.

None of those things are true for self-defense. In self-defense, your only concern is your safety. If someone has threatened your physical safety, their well-being is forfeit.

Karate Self DefenseFor self-defense, especially a woman threatened by a man, all the things you should avoid for sparring are among the first things you should do. Go for the eyes, the throat, and the knees if you can manage it. As a student in my woman’s self-defense class said recently, “Go for the soft bits.” Use elbows, knees, teeth, anything that will brutally disable your attacker as effectively as possible. As a Yoshukai student, I know that I can rely on the principles of Yoshukai to help protect me. Being prudent in action and speech are among the best ways to avoid a confrontation.

However, it’s important to realize that one’s Yoshukai techniques alone may not be sufficient to dissuade an attacker. A smaller person may not be able to fight off a larger attacker using head-high kicks and/or body strikes alone. Those abilities combined with the willingness to “fight dirty” by attacking areas typically prohibited in sparring is what may allow for greater likelihood of safely removing oneself from a dangerous situation.

Advancement Requirements

By Erik Hofmeister

The nuts and bolts of requirements for advancement are available in each style’s curriculum.  Usually, there is a combination of time in rank (i.e. number of months that has elapsed since last promotion), number of hours in class since last promotion, learning new techniques, and refinement of existing techniques.  Usually, each of these must be met at a minimum.  That is, you cannot have the minimum number of class hours and then test unless you also have the time in rank and KarateQuotePathadvancement of techniques.  Why, if you’ve learned all the material in a month, can you not just test and promote?

1) Dwell Time

This is the term I give for learning or improving material, and then time passing.  Maybe you practice that material, maybe you don’t.  After a period of time, trying the same techniques, you will have learned something, or developed.  Not as much as if you had been practicing, obviously, but the brain has had some time to process the information, integrate it into what it already knows, and evolve around that information.  Even if you practice your techniques every day for a month, you will learn something different if you practice the technique once a month for a quarter of a year.  I’m not advocating this as a way to actually learn the technique well- that requires actual practice.  But your knowledge and understanding will evolve just with time.  There is no substitute for time.

2) Giving Back

A student could just come to class and learn the material and soak it up in fewer class hours or fewer months than the minimum.  In doing so, though, they likely will not attend enough class to learn how to apply it (in sparring) or practice teaching it.  Teaching is a critical part of Athens Yoshukai.  It makes students better by improving their understanding, and allows students to give back to the dojo by helping more junior students learn in a smaller group setting.  If a student only learns techniques, their understanding will always be more limited than if they also teach those techniques.

3) Parity

Not all students are equal in athleticism, ability to learn material, ability to attend class, and many other variables.  The minimum requirements help maintain some equality among students.  No matter how many classes you attend or how long you hold a rank, you must learn the material for the next rank and spend the required necessary time in your current rank. If you are able to come to class every day, you must still have that minimum time in rank.  This helps to make sure that all students have a similar rate of opportunity to advance. Again, the more time you put in, the better.  But the minimums help maintain some equality among students.

In addition to the stated minimums and curriculum, there are other important intangibles that affect advancement.  Students should show that they follow the five precepts in the dojo.  Students who are resistant to instruction, who are not respectful to their peers, or have other attitude problems- even apparently minor ones- may not advance.  Yoshukai is not only about technique.  If it were, we would be a karate-jutsu.  Yoshukai is about a way of life and a philosophy.  The combination of time in rank, class hours, learning technique, improving technique, and intangibles are all necessary for advancement in this karate-do.  This is a traditional art, with traditional ideals.  For a more American, monetized way of doing things, try a different style.

A young boy encountered a Zen master on his travels.  “What do you wish from me?” the master asked.  “I wish to be your student and achieve enlightenment,” the boy replied “How long must I study?”  “At least ten years,” answered the master.  “What if I studied twice as hard?” asked the boy.  “Twenty years” replied the master.  “Twenty years!” “What if I practice day and night with all my effort?” the boy asked.  “Thirty years,” was the master’s reply.  “How is it that each time I say I will work harder, you tell me that it will take longer?” the boy asked.  “The answer is clear. When one eye is fixed upon your destination, there is only one eye left with which to find the way.”

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