Psst…Hey Kid, Why Ya Doin’ That Stuff Anyway?

Every once in awhile, a Sensei is lucky enough to have a student that fully grasps the ethos of traditional karate-do, its structure, its intent and its relative significance to themselves and others within the larger scope of life. Such students, by virtue of their awareness, become quite close confidants to their Sensei.

In a recent conversation with my student, (to save him embarrassment, I’ll leave him anonymous) I lamented the fact that not one of the students in the kids class were there to train on their own volition…and if given the opportunity they would all quit posthaste, including my own sons.

The response he gave was quite revealing and insightful, and I must say I agree. He said it was important to communicate to the students in class, the reasons why they train…the reason why they are pursuing a traditional karate curriculum where training is difficult, austere and repetitive, rather than fun, exciting and entertaining. Furthermore one has to constantly set bars and goals, and remind students that at such and such a stage much more is required and expected of them. Those bars, for example, can be their belt, and one can say…” you are now a yellow belt and I expect yellow belt stances from you”.

He continued by saying (and I am partly surmising and adding my own feelings)  that for him and his family, karate-do represents a microcosm of life, and the struggles one faces in life are played out on a smaller scale on the dojo floor. Overcoming the challenges in the dojo…facing fears, frustrations, boredom, failures even, helps to face similar challenges later in life. But this must be communicated and explained to the kids. If a child wants to quit, for example, one can remind them that their actions today will reflect on how they will cope with challenges later in life.

As the parent and Sensei of three boys, I am in an even more difficult position to get serious training out of my kids. It is no wonder that traditionally, Sensei have sent their kids to train with other Sensei. I have bribed, chided, argued, threatened, rewarded, and “friended” and “unfriended” my boys to get them to the dojo…until recently.

It all began with my 14 year old son. After 5 years of training, reaching the rank of 1st kyu, he met his first big challenge…and came up short (I personally think this was the biggest asset he gained, but that’s for another blog). I awarded him a “retest” for his shodan in 6 months. His initial reaction was that he wanted to quit…and frankly I was so tired of “forcing” the boys to train that I stopped resisting and told him and the other two, that the choice was theirs. I had done my part, and if they wanted to quit, they could do so. I walked away and didn’t address issue.

The next day, as I was preparing to come to the dojo “solamente”, to my surprise, I saw all three boys up and ready to come to the dojo. Nothing was said, and I haven’t since, pried to see why they decided to come back…but they have come back, for now.

Maybe I was lucky…maybe the kids really do know that karate is good for them, but I do think, I could have saved a lot of grief…and bribe money… had I explained the reasons and benefits of traditional karate training for their future challenges and endeavors.

Not completely satisfied, I called up a famous and high ranking Sensei, and told him that none of my young students were there to train, because they wanted to train. He beamed and he said, “that’s a good sign, Hessam”. He continued by telling me that he himself and many other senior karateka, started karate because they were forced into it by their circumstances or parents, and boy were they grateful for it today. It was his feeling that kids are too young to grasp the significance of their training, and sheer discipline was the way forward. He said the nature of traditional karate-do training will leave one  with few students anyways, noting that he himself only had less than a half dozen or so students, and that most other famous traditionalists also had very few students. He finished by saying, “In a world of commercial dojos, where people have to cut corners to increase enrollment to feed themselves, I should see it as badge of honor that I have few students, and that I’m carrying a torch that few can carry.”

…Now to find a way to get back all that money I used to bribe my boys…. :))

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