First in the Kyu (or last in the Kyu); the lead up to the beginning.


From here on in, it gets tougher, and even more serious. Bring it!

As I mentioned in my last entry, last Saturday I successfully tested for my first kyu. I went in feeling as prepared as I could, and came out feeling fairly happy with how it went. Obviously, there is still a lot to work on (I would be worried if I were sitting here typing that everything was perfect!!), and there were things that I probably have done better, but overall, I think I did my best on the day, which is all one can do. The feedback from the panel and other observers since has been very encouraging, but also constructive, and to my relief was similar in nature to my self-assessment.

Panel gradings can be quite confronting for many people. You are putting yourself out there in front of family, friends, senpai, kohai, not to mention a panel of 3 or more high ranking karate-ka with many, many, years of experience between them. This can understandably make candidates very nervous, flustered, and as a result make it difficult for them to perform at their best. I am fairly fortunate to have had many years of performance experience (no not in Karate, but as a musician), which has made this aspect much easier. So, my karate in front of the panel was probably, by and large, not a lot different from what it would normally be, either at home practicing by myself, or in class practising with everyone else. In fact, cognitively, the way I cope with the situation, if the nervous energy in the room does start to invade my head-space, is by convincing myself that I am in class, and just ignoring everything else other than what is being asked of me.

This grading period was a little different for me. The month before grading I publicly offered to assist my kohai prepare their material for grading, both in and outside of class. As I have mentioned, this has helped me learn more about teaching, and also helped me develop a deeper understanding of a different aspect of the meaning of Hokkori – pride (when I see their development).

The last lesson I had which focused on any of the material I needed was a whole week before the big day. The week leading up to my own grading, other than individual practise at home, rather than training and preparing during class times, I had been doing some learning of a different sort. On the Sunday I attended an interesting (though not relevant to what I was being tested on) seminar for IBF (International Budo Federation) on various things including: kick boxing style drills, judo / jujitsu, security / containment. My only active training session had been my Wednesday night kumite class at our sister dojo (which was certainly useful but obviously mainly for the kumite aspect).

The classes at my home dojo, however were primarily given over to grading tests for the higher kyu candidates, and I was sitting on the other side of the panel table writing feedback and assessment notes, or demonstrating techniques for them. I continued to practice outside of class though and ask for help from my instructor with things I felt weren’t working well enough for me.

As I mentioned I was particularly concerned about the bunkai aspect of the test, which was unfortunately the most difficult thing for me to practice alone, and my visualisation skills were tested in a big way. I was hoping (maybe even expecting) to be given some sort of heads up about which kata or even which aspects of the kata I would need to demonstrate bunkai for. However, when this was not forthcoming, I just figured it was all part of the next challenge, tried to stay calm, and prepare as best as I could….and then wing it in the test, which worked out better than I thought it might.

I have already been told things are about to get tougher, and having seen what my Senpai went through leading up to his shodan testing, I already had a reasonable idea. I know as things go on, expectations will be higher, and knowing in advance what is expected of me will not necessarily be a feature, but that’s ok; life throws the unexpected too. We just have to deal with in the best way we can, and move on.

Right after the grading, my instructor asked me how I felt about being first kyu (subtext implications behind that). He looked pretty happy, which made me happy, but truly, I felt a bit shell shocked so I was honest and told him it felt a bit surreal.

Now, not quite a week after the fact, having had my second stripe ripped off on Monday, having been given a welcome / initiation as a 1st kyu at our sister dojo on Wednesday, (just as well I am away next week as I suspect they might lynch me for how long I made them spend in shiko dachi!! – a wide squatting stance, #sorrynotsorry #toughenup #takesalongtimetocounttoone), I feel I have settled, (perhaps almost too quickly) on the top rung of the ladder to the launch pad.

I am on the last kyu or the first in the kyu (sic), depending on which way you look at it. I have been counting down since I started training. The lead up to blast off will be tough but I am up for the challenge. From there on in the counting, just like the learning, goes up.

BUNKAI BALLAD – The crane who Smashes and Tears Calmly in the Storm.



One of the things I was most apprehensive about before my grading on the weekend was the bunkai component. I had 4 kata to learn, 3 to perform: Saifa, Hakkucho, and Seiunchin, and had officially learned full sets of bunkai for 2 of them. I am pretty sure I have seen bunkai for the third at one stage too, and had learned bunkai at camp for the one I wasn’t performing, and I may have even been able to remember, if push came to shove,(well more likely grab but you know what I mean!!).

You would think that all that would have made me feel very prepared, and quite confident about it all, but no, instead I felt a bit overwhelmed and out of control. I practiced whenever I could find a willing and resisting opponent (for some reason it was harder than it should have been to find someone to grab or hit me, especially given the company I keep!!), but still, had no idea what I would be tested on.

The night before my test, having been preocupied for days and in my dreams with bunkai possibilities, I made a decision: it would be what it would be and there was nothing I could do except roll with it……Probably just as well…..the bunkai I was asked were not ones I particularly had practised intensively, or had even remembered well. I got past it though and instead of freezing like I had thought I might, I was able to at least describe what the bunkai was, by looking at it and thinking it through in the cases where my memory needed help. I may have needed some pointers and encouragement to make it more realistic and practical, but at least I managed to laugh and not cry about it. And let’s face facts: it was pretty funny being told repeatedly to hit my Senpai in the groin and pinch his inner thigh harder to get him to be more “compliant” as my tori (attacker).

I do promise to write something more deep and meaningful about my experiences over the last week or two. I also promise to reflect on being on both sides of the panel table, scrutinising others, and being scrutinised myself. I promise to tell you  all how it feels to be the other side of this experience, and to be (figuratively speaking) the first in the kyu (sic), standing on the last rung of the ladder leading to the launch pad so to speak. But in the mean time there is this:


Bunkai Ballad – The Crane who Smashes and Tears Calmly in the Storm.

Cranes are quite graceful but deceivingly vicious.

Hakkucho looks birdlike but the bunkai means business!

I’ll escape from your hold, head you off at the pass.

Hit your face, grab your groin and land you on your……..


Ask me about Saifa, it means “smash and tear”.

I’ll escape, and I’ll scrape and I’ll pull out your hair.

I’ll push you away and make you lose your hearing.

At the end of the day, it’s me you’ll be fearing.


Pulling in battle, can help me break free,

Seiunchin has storm within calm, you will see.

Move in to move out, move around, get them down,

Once they’re on your level, take them out and to ground.

Stepping outside of the box but staying in the lines. Dojo Kun – Revisited.

About two years ago, I wrote a post about dojo kun. At that stage, I was training at three different dojo (which I had referred to as dojo dai ichi, dojo dai ni, and dojo dai san, in the order I had started attending them), so I had (in theory) three different dojo Kun. There were many aspects of my training, back then, that were confusing, however the dojo kun were not one of these. I said it then. Having rules has never really bothered me… staying between the lines is easy.

Fast forward to today, I am training at one dojo, (dojo dai san), although I attend a sparring class at another dojo (dojo dai ni) once a week, (because sparring is one thing, which I both continue to enjoy, and continue to find confusing and difficult. I am stepping outside my box so I can be stronger within my lines. 🙂 )

I am also (as I was then) in the midst of grading season. It’s my 5th grading at dojo dai san now, as opposed to my 1st; my third in front of a panel, my first on a panel, and my last (assuming I pass) attempting a kyu belt, (ranks before black belt or dan).

Since the time that I wrote my first dojo kun blog post, there has been a lot more frequent discussion about the dojo Kun in class. Apart from my efforts at (literally) posting them on the wall (see here), we also recite them in Japanese at the end of every class, as well is frequently discussing them in English. I believe this has made a big difference in the spirit, ownership, pride, and general morale within our growing dojo family. Even the smallest members, are able to recite and understand the kun on a basic level.

Reflecting on a personal level on our Dojo kun and want they mean to me now, nearly 3.5 years into my training and 2 years since I first posted on the matter, I would say the following.

Hokori (Pride)

In the last six months, as a student, I have been carefully trying to refine my techniques and learn new kata and other skills. I have a strong desire to be able to represent my style and my dojo, which was something that had not really occurred to me much before, because there were too many other things to think about.

I have paid attention to and become acutely aware of the things we do and don’t do in terms of not only style but also behaviour and etiquette, and tradition. My instructor, my Senpai and others within the wider network have all been a positive part of my personal growth, and given me confidence in myself by believing in me and helping me, and this has been instrumental in helping me be very proud to practice our style. I have also been very keen to learn as much as I can about the history of our style, the language, the traditions, the dojo kun, and basically everything I can find out, so that when people ask me, I can be as clear as possible. And people have been asking me……

The last 6 months have also brought about a new role for me; I have been learning how to instruct others in our style, and be a mentor for them. The prospect of doing so both thrilled me and scared me in equal measure, but when I was thrown in front of the proverbial bus (or the literal class), I surprised myself, and was proud that I could do something I had been more than a little apprehensive about. The biggest positive which has come from the experience of teaching though, and the most pride I have felt is watching others I have taught, improve and succeed, take to our dojo, and become part of the family.

Nintai (Patience)

Patience has never been my strong suit. Luckily, perseverance (which is an aspect of patience and an alternate meaning of the kanji), is something I am OK with. I am not someone who likes to give up quickly. Perhaps it is that tenacity that has taken me to the point where I find myself now.

However, it has been teaching others, that has not only forced me to be more patient as a teacher, but also made me reflect on how I need to be more patient with myself, as a student. Although I may be learning something considerably more complicated than the basic strike that I watch a beginner struggle with, over, and over again, I know that what I am trying to achieve is not dissimilar. I know that both of us will get there if we stick with it. I know we are all beginners just on different parts of the road. And I know with full 20/20 hindsight that they will get past it, because I have been on that stretch of road!

Patience is also about acceptance of change, acceptance of things you don’t necessarily like, without making a big deal of it. I am certainly getting much better at rolling with the punches (on a metaphorical level).

Reigi (Courtesy)

Dojo etiquette and even general social etiquette is not necessarily something which comes naturally to everyone. It certainly did not come naturally to me. When I reflected on Courtesy a year ago, and when I helped write our dojo’s student manual (which included a section on Etiquette, and also on the kun and putting the kun in practice), I researched as extensively as I could and spoke to many karate-ka. I had only scratched the surface. Recently when I edited the manual a year after I first help put it together, I made several changes. No doubt the next edition I will make more. The manual is not and cannot be comprehensive, in this regard, and I have found myself in many delicate situations in the last 6 months where my words would not have provided the framework for me to decide how to act. That said, I am usually certain of how not to act, how not to respond, and so can then reflect on appropriate courses of action and ask for guidance from there. So even if I am not sure how to be courteous all of the time, I at least know how not to be rude and disrespectful!

Courtesy is not simply a matter of respect but more a code of conduct for the right way to act, react, refrain from taking action. It takes all sorts to make up the world. Different strokes for different folks. We are not going to agree with everything everyone has to say, irrespective of our feelings about them. Being courteous is listening to and accepting difference without judgement and about feeling comfortable to present an opinion without being judged impolitely. Courtesy leads to concord, concord leads to a positive learning environment, and a positive general environment produces happy and successful students. And, let’s face it: the world in which we all get along is by far and away the more pleasant one, than the one where we don’t.

Seishin (Spirit)

Spirit isn’t something you can see, but more something you can feel. The spirit of Karate is alive and well within the dojo. Having a shared focus and purpose, leaving personal issues outside, training hard, and taking pride in what we do, ensures this.

Outside the dojo, it’s more personal. For me, I find kata practice is where I find this feeling is the strongest. Performing kata (even on my own), I feel like I am connected to something bigger, something greater than me. However, I also find myself thinking, reflecting and even sometimes dreaming about karate, more often than I am not, even when I am not physically doing anything karate related. I guess the karate spirit is now intertwined with my own, as a part of my psyche if you like, whether I want it there or not!

My instructor asked me today if I liked karate…..(I think that was kind of rhetorical, because the answer is more than evident!). He then asked what I liked about karate and why I liked it. It was more difficult to answer and hard (even for me) to put into words. Perhaps this is because it is more a feeling I have inside when I train and when I think about karate. The closest I could come was that Karate was something that demands my focus so that I can’t think about anything else (a positive thing for a compulsive multi-tasker) and that Karate completes me like the last piece of the puzzle that you didn’t realise was lost until you found it and put it in.

The Week That Was. Part 2. The Australian Traditional Karate Championships (Saturday 8th April 2017)

A week ago, today, I participated in the Australian Traditional Karate Championships. This is the 4th event of its type to be hosted in my home town and also the fourth time I have competed. You can read about my past experiences on the blog if you search tournament.

I entered all the events I was eligible (disappointed that flag kumite is still restricted to under 9’s) and also tried to help out as much as I could before / after and during the event. It was a tiring but completely amazing day and the event committee did such a meticulous job organising everything that it all ran very efficiently, especially considering the event has grown considerably over the last 4 years and is now probably 60 percent stronger in competitor numbers than in its first year! This year there were over 80 competitors, ranging in age from 4 to over 50 and a decision was made to run the events simultaneously on 2 rings for much of the day.

Highlights for me were:

  1. Observing my dojo (who again turned out in force), whether watching, competing, judging, officialling, helping (or a combination of some or all of the above) exhibiting superb sportspersonship, competitive spirit, pride in our style, and offering support, not only to each other, but also to other competitors both in and outside the network.
  2. Being able to help out (as mentioned), as this gave me insight into just how much goes on behind the scenes to organise something like this.
  3. Being able to honestly say at the end of the day: “I have done my best in everything today”.
  4. Executing a convincing and well synchronised team kata with my 2 team mates and taking out first place in a strongly contested open division event (i.e. both adult kyu and dan ranks).
  5. Getting waza ari (half point) in my kumite round against a shodan competitor and not losing without putting up a decent fight. This was especially poignant, given that I had been considering withdrawing from the event up until 2 days before.
  6. Getting very positive and constructive feedback from many people about my kata execution (individual and team events), including some from sources I did not expect to notice or comment.
  7. Seeing how proud and happy our instructor looked all through the day. I know why he did.

I will finish (as I am wont to do) with some poetry!

True Champions of the Championships.

Champions come in all shapes and sizes,

Many forms, and multiple guises.

Some are overt; some wear disguises.

Some you expect, and some are surprises.

So look all around and open your eyes.

It is not just about who wins the prize.

The Week that Was (Part 1): “Grappling with the Basics”

Just over a week ago, our dojo closed for the night, and headed en masse to a sister dojo for a very special combined network event; a seminar on grappling and groundwork basics, run by the highly effervescent, energetic, and enthusiastic duo, Kurt Graham, Kyoshi and Jason Griffith, Renshi.

Karate tends to be a “stand up art”, so for many of us karate-ka, being on the ground takes us right out of our comfort zone. That being said, it’s very important to know you can get back up, if you do get taken down, whether that be in a kumite event, or, more vitally, in a real life scenario.

Kyoshi Kurt and Renshi Jason tailored the seminar really well to this perspective, and very quickly demonstrated how to turn things around when you are pinned on the ground. Conversely they showed a few ways to take people to the ground and what to do to ensure your best chances of a safe retreat.

Even though, as I said before, Karateka prefer being upright, knowing how to take a fall is probably one of the most applicable life (and potentially life-saving) skills we can learn. Even if the risk of violent attack is relatively low, more common scenarios (such as being hit by a car, knocked off your bike, falling from a roof or ladder or simply tripping over a kerb or your own shoe lace), can result in a fracture or other serious musculoskeletal injury if you don’t break fall correctly.

Kyoshi Kurt and Renshi Jason patiently gave those of us, less familiar (and / or less confident) with effective break falling techniques some very useful pointers. For me personally, one little tip on front break falls (the one I felt most apprehensive about), helped me feel so much more confident, so that I could be an uke in one of the drills, and focus on what we were learning to do, without the constant niggling worry that I might break my wrist in a not so happy landing!

Despite the fact that the network had an extremely busy week, with many of us out doing karate related activities every night, (more on that later, so watch this space), there was an excellent attendance from all dojo, with good representation from both juniors and adults (age range 4 to over 40’s), and it seemed as though everyone who attended were really focused, really enjoyed trying something  a bit new and different, and learned a lot. This was in no small part due to Kyoshi Kurt and Renshi Jason’s ability to keep it real, keep it fun, and most importantly, get around and help all participants during practice time.

If you ever have the opportunity to attend a seminar run by either or both of these individuals, I would urge you to just do it. You will not regret it. If you are interested in finding out more about them or inviting them to present at your dojo you can find more information and contact details here:  Itto Shin Kan or contact Kyoshi Kurt Graham or  Renshi Jason Griffiths via Facebook.

NOTE: All photographs taken by the wonderful Brett Jefferee.

Tournament Preparation: Empty hands; clear head. Clouded heart, ……and cold feet.


Picture c/o WKF Kumite

Last night was our final class before the tournament on Saturday. It’s exciting that so many of us are taking place and that those who aren’t are planning to be there anyway to cheer us on. There was a lot of nervous energy in the air and there were a few fists and feet flying out perhaps harder and faster than intended.

I know what it’s like to hit someone harder than you mean to. It’s probably one feels just as bad, if not worse than the person one just hit! What’s more, ice doesn’t help it a bit! Fortunately I haven’t done it in a while, as my ability to pull my strikes has improved over the last couple of years. We are all trying to develop this skill. Some have more difficulty than others, but to get better at it, we all have to practice, and ultimately, as much preparatory work we do without partners, we have to practise on each other!

I know I need to play my own game and play to my strengths. I know I need to be smarter, faster, and not let past experiences put me off. I know my fear is something I have to master. That said I would be lying if I said that doing practice bouts of kumite within a week of a tournament didn’t worry me at all, and that being hit with excessive force several times in a short bout doesn’t rattle me. There was a little blood, there was a little sweat, but the two were offset by more than a few tears in the hours that followed.

Some poetic catharsis was in order.


Although it’s what I wanted from the start,

And it stirs something deep within my heart,

I want to master it; to win the fight,

But something tells me: “Something isn’t right”.

And though outside me, it’s what I try to hide,

It hurts me way more deeply, deep inside.

I have the speed I need, and good agility,

But one hit reveals my exterior fragility.

The outside wounds, though slowly, still, will heal,

But it doesn’t change the inner pain I feel.

Frustration; injured spirit; loss of pride.

It hurts me way more deeply, deep inside.

In the ring, I can forget my normal life,

But in reality, I am worker; mother; wife.

Though in my head, I know I will be fine,

I train too hard to fall down before the line.

I’m ashamed; embarrassed; wounded; more beside.

It hurts me way more deeply, deep inside.

The fighting spirit makes me feel alive,

Makes me forget that I’m not twenty five!

But what if all the blood, the sweat, the tears,

Is not enough to overcome my fears?

To enter or withdraw? I can’t decide.

It hurts me way more deeply deep inside.

Rachel Sag – 3rd April 2017

Repetition is the Key….or is it?


Repetition is the key to improvement and development in many things; learning kihon, ido, kata, and anything really in karate, learning a language, changing a behaviour in yourself or someone else.

But what about when repetition is not what is needed? What about when repetition is contraindicated or even leads to a decline? What about when the root cause of your problem is in fact repetition?

Recently I developed RSI (Repetitive Strain Injury), also known as OOS (Occupational Overuse Syndrome). It’s not new to me. I had it a few years ago, which on the plus side, meant I recognised the signs pretty quickly. My job involves a lot of typing (also known as keying). First time around, it developed due to a combination of keying with high repetition for many years, increasing productivity targets and time pressures (given I had family responsibilities and couldn’t stay back late at work even if I wanted or needed to). I started getting sore arms, so repetition was key….but not in a good way in this case.

I tried various things including ergonomic keyboards and mice, adjustable seating and desks, rest breaks and stretches, but in the end the only thing that banished it (at least for a while) was a creature by the name of DRAGON. Dragon (Naturally Speaking) is a voice recognition software programme. My dragon and I both needed training, but we developed a happy (though sometimes hilarious) relationship over the years. My love of words, double meanings and his tendency to misunderstand me at times, led to some classic errors (usually picked up by me when editing) and me having a right old chuckle.

Unfortunately over the years, and as a result of multiple IT updates, my Dragon started to struggle, and due to the fact that I was so busy and didn’t want to spend my entire day on the phone to technology support resulting in a pile up of work, I ended up mousing and keying way more than I should have been…..and thus…..OOS reared its ugly head again.

My boss came to visit me one day and I showed her the issues. She made things happen, booked me some time to get help with Dragon….unfortunately things got worse after that (both with my computer and my arms). I did have to spend most of my working week getting IT issues sorted, (which meant some enforced rest of sorts) and meanwhile try to sort out my arms which weren’t letting up between one work day and the next (despited the rest), and were being exacerbated by many home activities (though, thank my lucky stars NOT karate).

Things are not perfect. I am still waiting for Dragon and appropriate peripherals at home (lucky my husband is in IT too). I am still having training with Dragon, and support to write lots of scripts to get it to function better within the programmes I need to do my job. I am still doing lots of stretches, massage, icing for my arms, and I am trying to avoid using the PC and other devices at home as much as I can (hence the short post and quiet blog). I am trying to be patient with myself and let myself recover. However it is quite a frustrating, chronic, and invisible condition, and I find myself having to explain why I have been quiet or less productive than normal. Fortunately most of my colleagues, friends, and family have been supportive of me.

Thanks for your patience, and hopefully the next blog will be dictated and without any glaring dragon typos (or maybe I can do a “out take” section for your amusement).

Coming of age.


This Thursday is the 9th of March. It marks the third anniversary of my first entering a dojo, and my entry into the world of karate.

Things are a lot different for me now, it’s true, I have a different instructor, a different style, an abundance of kata (and a love of kata rather than a fear of it), but, there is one one thing hasn’t changed, and that is the absolute completeness I feel when I am doing karate or thinking about it. That instant attraction I felt for karate in those first few classes has not faded, as some others told me would happen with the passing of years. Who knows what the future holds for me but if I am honest the attraction continues to grow rather than diminish as the months pass.

I was chatting with my Senpai today, about how it feels like longer than 3 years….that maybe my karate years are like dog years! This is due to the many opportunities I have been given, which have afforded me the opportunity to accelerate my learning, the passion and patience of my primary and other network instructors, and the camaraderie of the people I train with.

I remember when I decided to try out the club which has become my home away from home (a long way from home it feels like sometimes, but honestly, I have a smile on my face the whole way to and from because I am so happy to travel the distance for something I love). I did my research and looked at the webpage / blog / facebook presence. One of the things I recall seeing (and it is still there) was: (“start training today and….) “Start Living”. I thought it was a bit over the top at the time to say that, but honestly it has become my reality and it is not a stretch at all to make that claim.

So…..Happy third (re)birthday to me! I say rebirth because really Karate has changed who I am, how I define myself, my whole perspective on life, and I have really started living.

Second Blogoversary: A Song without (many) words


It occurred to me on the anniversary of my broken toe (and a “skelegrow” reference in a past status on Facebook 😛 ), that it’s been 2 years since I started this blog. Happy blogoversary to me…..I am now a toddler blogger.

I haven’t been writing that much lately. It’s partly a function of being busy as ever but it’s more than just that. There is plenty I want to talk about and say but things are getting so busy and complicated in my head sometimes that it’s hard to share things in a concise way.

I came across Plato’s quote (above) a few weeks ago on a chalk board of a cafe somewhere on my way across town. It really resonates with me because it sums up how I have been feeling in my 40s. I don’t see the meaning of “lover” in romantic sense but more of finding your groove so to speak.

Anyway….I think I will celebrate with a poem of my own. Perhaps one day it will be a song too. I really should start composing again sooner or later.

A song without (many) words.

Rachel Sag (24/2/17)

The more I learn, the more I grow,

The more I think, the less I know.

The more I see, the more I do,

The more I find the person who,

I knew was there, but didn’t know,

Or dream how far I’d have to go.

The more I seek, the more find,

The person I have left behind.

A somebody so unaware;

A someone who was barely there.

A ghostly shadow; Can you see

The shell of someone who once was me?

I recognise but don’t repent,

The hours and minutes as misspent.

The journey traversed over time,

Brought her to me and onto mine.

I now lead on with steady stride,

‘Til I can join and walk beside,

The person who will look at me,

And wonder who she used to be.

Back to Basics – teaching is the new learning.


It’s been a few months since I was awarded the title of Senpai. Being a Senpai means being a positive role model. It means welcoming new students, showing them how things work, and making them feel comfortable. It also marks the real starting point of teaching others what you have learned.

In most styles a certain number of teaching hours are seen as part of the requirements for shodan. Personally, I think this is very fair. Even if you have no aspirations of being a martial arts instructor, or opening your own dojo, it’s important to know how to run a basic class, in the event that your instructor is delayed or ill (etc) and can’t make it. Also you owe it to your instructor and fellow students to help out…and besides, if you can’t teach a skill, if you can’t pass things on, how well do you really know it?

Practically speaking, teaching is something that everyone handles differently. I have observed and experienced this from both sides of the equation. Teaching requires technical skill, relevant experience, self reflection, patience, and the ability to demonstrate, explain, observe and correct. It is also extremely beneficial if you can motivate and inspire, show compassion, empathy and understanding.

Teaching is generally a learned (or, at the very least, acquired) skill, and although the general principles remain the same for anything you want to teach, learning to teach Karate, has so far been a steady learning curve for me. Fortunately, I have been eased in to the teaching role. This is possibly because I am not the head student, nor a shodan, but it has given me time to get used to the whole concept, which frankly I initially found kind of daunting.

Currently in my training, I have reached the point where I have been shown most of the technical skills (basics) in our style. This does not mean that I have lost interest in basics by any stretch of the imagination. What it does mean for me is that I can concentrate my own practice on the finer details, the refinement, the effectiveness, the breathing and the minutiae of small things that I (unwittingly) overlooked due to necessarily giving priority to gross motor function, coordination, (and yes, knowing which hand I was meant to be using), when I was first leaning how to block and punch. I often can feel or see for myself what I need to work on, so practicing outside of class time has become easier.

Obviously I am still learning myself, and it’s much easier for me to have senior students and instructors, who observe  my practice, give me pointers on what to fix and how to fix it, and make me aware of areas I hadn’t noticed were a problem or had known were a problem but couldn’t fill in the gap. This leads me to the second point. With a degree of automation now at my disposal with respect to performing basic techniques, I can also focus on what is being said when I am corrected, or when others are corrected, and start observing things that others are doing that could be improved, and start to remember what helped me improve those things.

So, far from the automation letting me “switch off”, it has allowed me to engage my brain in a different way. I tend to observe more, talk and write less (hence the blog has been quiet-  sorry if you wondered what I was up to). I have noticed is that even my journal entries for general classes are far more perfunctory with respect to what we have covered in class. I no longer need to write down each and every stretch or warm up etc, because I am familiar with the basic routines (and even lead them sometimes). I do include more detail on what was helpful in learning, or correcting, or teaching a particular technique, whether this teaching was given to me, or by me. I guess I am doing two kinds of learning at once now, one is for my own personal betterment as a karate-ka and one is for being able to pass on what I have learned. I am quietly putting aside an arsenal of strategies and actively preparing myself for the event when I will have to do more teaching.

Mostly my teaching responsibility has been in the form of leading stretching and or warm ups at the start of class, helping demonstrate techniques, and helping kohai individually or in small groups with basic drills and kata. Lately we have had a new student, and I have really enjoyed the experience of working with someone, who, like me, has started from scratch, as an adult. I can relate to how she feels as she struggles through the basics, and can be inwardly, and openly, and most of all, HONESTLY empathetic. I really hope the new student stays on, because seeing people grow and learn and improve, is the most rewarding part of teaching anything.