Continued Improvement

By Megan Lyn PowellMegan Powell with Soke Yamamoto

I began taking karate classes in the Fall of 2012 in the Tate Student Center at UGA. I had never been an athletic person, so this was all new to me. I was there to learn a few things, have some fun and workout. Mostly I just wanted to have fun!

Right away I learned some need-to-know basics such as punches, blocks and kicks. When it came time to learn inside and outside center blocks, one word described me: uncoordinated. Just when I thought I did it correctly and tried to replicate it, something would go awry. Sensei Dawkins was patient. It took me about two or three weeks of classes to finally get the hang of the blocks, but I finally conquered them!

Fast forward a few weeks and I was learning kata (Nijushichi No Kata and Kihon Kata Shodan). We had class twice per week and I wanted to practice more. One of the topics discussed during warm up was practicing on your own. Sensei Dawkins emphasized how useful it was to practice more. My thought at the time was, “…but I don’t want to mess up and learn it the wrong way.”

Athens Tournament with MLPSoon enough I began practicing in my apartment. I cannot say I always did my kata correctly. I am quite sure there were times when I messed up the order of the blocks in Nijushichi. Or I probably had my feet in the wrong position in Kihon Kata Shodan. The most important thing was just that I was doing it for myself.

Slowly but surely I began to notice that karate was helping me. I soon noticed that I could perform the correct block, punch, or kick the majority of the time. The most important lesson I have learned is Continued Improvement. What does it really mean?

Continued improvement is a common thread that is tied to almost every aspect, if not all, in the WYKKO. In testing to 4th kyu we learn that Yoshukai really has two meanings (Strive for Excellence and Association of Continued Improvement). We all have some aspect of Yoshukai that we strive to improve. We want our kata to look sharp, our fighting to be top-notch, etc. We may aim for a stronger mae geri, becoming more efficient with nunchuka/sai, and so forth. This gives us that drive to want to improve. There is always a technique or kata that we can become better at executing, or teaching to other students. This is what helps us to continually improve and grow as martial artists. It also can impact other facets of our lives. School, work, parenthood, working out, etc. are just a few examples where we can always aim for continued improvement. Taking what we learn from martial arts and applying it to everyday life helps us as human beings to constantly progress.

Continued improvement really just means to always aim to be better than you were yesterday or the day before. Whether this be in the form of martial arts or not, it is an important lesson that we can all learn.

Rikki Hitatsu!

Athens Yoshukai Karate - MLP Brown Belt

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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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Body Conditioning: Toughening Up

Body conditioning is a part of traditional Okinawan karate. Body https://i0.wp.com/i.ytimg.com/vi/RZjQ1WOTUBA/hqdefault.jpgconditioning is the practice of taking hits to the body or hitting something fairly tough in order to strengthen one’s ability to “take a hit”. It is supposed to make the body stronger, but often it’s mostly the fighter getting used to being hit. When fighting, blows don’t hurt as much because they’re used to it through body conditioning.

In our dojo, we typically introduce the idea of body conditioning around blue belt. We might have blue belts work their targeting by punching their partner in the stomach instead of a pad. Both partners would alternate. Obviously, we wouldn’t be using our hardest punches right off the bat. As with any new exercise, we start slow and easy and work our way up.

My first experience with body conditioning was with me acting as the conditioner to some black belts. They were working conditioning by being punched in the stomach by yellow belts. We yellow belts were working on being able to hit people with some actual force.

https://i1.wp.com/iainabernethy.com/articles/images/makiwaralk-1.jpgIn Okinawan tradition, makiwara, or punching boards, are used to toughen up striking surfaces. These are exactly what they sound like: boards that you hit in order to toughen up. Trees and poles are acceptable makiwara substitutes.

Working with our heavy bag is akin to working with a makiwara. It’s tough against the hands, and can hurt the wrists if you aren’t punching properly. Proper technique is absolutely necessary before you attempt to condition that body part.

Body conditioning sounds a bit scary and intimidating as a concept when you’re a white belt, and even when you’re a blue belt. But body conditioning is built into training. Sparring is a form of body conditioning. The more you punch, the tougher you’ll get, even if you’re not consciously focusing on it. However, focusing on body conditioning helps it get that much better.

Fighting

By Dala Griffeth

I don’t want to fight you, but we can spar!

Any time I tell someone for the first time that I practice karate, they always start talking about how I must be able to beat people up, or I must love to fight. The truth is that while we all know fighting is part of our traditional training, it is not who we are. I believe sparring as well as kumite to be incredibly valuable in martial arts training to help develop the reflexes, strength and stamina necessary to practice our art at the highest level. However, your attitude and intentions regarding this training and its use are equally, if not more important.

Through my years training with the WYKKO, I have met and fought some incredible fighters, and I have learned something from every single one. And while many of these incredibly talented individuals spend a majority of their training time developing their fighting skills, there is not one of them that I would consider violent. This is something that I love about training with the WYKKO, and particularly Athens Yoshukai. We, as martial artists, understand that we are participating in a combative, contact sport, but I feel that we emphasize the sport aspect more than the combat. We never go into the ring attempting to injure our opponent, or hoping to cause any lasting damage. We instead focus on improving our own skills and fitness levels, as well as helping our training partners improve themselves and develop new skills. As a result, we build an incredibly tight network of, not just training partners or teachers and students, but true friends.

My personal philosophy regarding fighting and sparring can be summed up pretty simply by the title of this post: I don’t want to fight you, but we can spar! When I think of fighting, I think of a situation where there are no rules, and I am in a struggle to protect myself or my loved ones from an opponent that wants to cause real harm. And while we practice full contact kumite, there are guidelines in place to ensure the safety of participants. And that, I think, is the big difference, the intent. In a real-life situation, I would do whatever is necessary to protect myself or my loved ones. But in general, I don’t want to hurt anyone, I just want to improve myself. So please, to anyone out there who wants to teach me something, or would like to learn from my experience, I don’t want to fight you, but we can spar! Osu!

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.”