Monday, March 14, 2011

Step Up...or Step Aside.

Put a group of black belts together and then tell them to work on whatever they want to work on.  9 times out of 10, something like the following ensues:

Black Belt 1:  So, what do you guys want to work on?
Black Belt 2:  I don't know. What do you want to work on?
Black Belt 3:  It really doesn't matter to me.
Black Belt 4:  I'm up for anything.
Black Belt 1:  So, what do you guys want to work on?

Me: Let's spar.  (just kidding...sort of.)

The point is, I don't care what we work on either, but come on, let's do SOMETHING.  If you can't come up with something to share, feel free to get out of the way and let someone else teach, but please don't WASTE MY TIME talking about what we're NOT going to do.  That's not to say that talking is a waste of time.  Want to share something you do in your class?  Great.  Want to discuss teaching methodologies?  How to handle "problem" students?  I'm down with that, too.  But let's not all stand around staring at each other, each one waiting for the other to step up.

Okay, let me be fair for a minute.  This whole situation usually happens for one of three reasons:

1.  Junior rank is waiting for senior rank to take charge.

Okay, this is appropriate: to a degree.  It shows the correct respect to the senior instructor, but at some point, even this can be taken too far.  If the senior instructor is the one asking what you want to work on, you better be prepared to give an answer.  Not having an answer to the question can be just as disrespectful as assuming that you have the right to speak up first. You might even be being tested.

2.   The black belts in question really don't have any idea what they want to work on, or what to offer the group.

There's really no excuse for this one.  As I said before...step aside. There's really nothing else to say about this.

3. The black belts in question feel that they don't have have anything to offer, or that what they do have to offer is somehow insignificant or inferior.

I find that this attitude is far too prevalent.  If you are a black belt, and particularly if you are an instructor, and this is your attitude, change it now.  Good instructors are always looking for new ways to approach things, and new lessons to teach.  They're also looking for opportunities to share with others, and see what kind of reactions and feedback they get to their lessons.

If you've achieved this rank, you should be able to come up with something.  Quite frankly, you should be able to either make something up on the spot, or at least draw on your past experiences as a student and as an instructor in order to put something out there for the rest of the group. Nothing you share is insignificant.  Even if all you do is provide me with several great examples of exactly what you should never do when teaching, you've provided me with something valuable, and I'll respect you for having tried.  Usually, this isn't going to happen, though.  Most of the time, you will come up with something that gets people to think in a new way.  Why? Because no two people will ever think the same way, no matter how much alike they may seem.  Therefore, no two people will present the same material in exactly the same way.

If you are teaching me, I'm trying to analyze everything I can about the lesson. Am I getting a physical challenge?  A mental challenge?  What kind of vocal and physical cues are you using that I may be able to incorporate into my own teaching?  What is the overall driving principle behind the lesson?  I could go on, but you probably get the idea.  I'm just as excited when a junior ranking instructor steps in front of the group to teach as I am when a senior instructor does so.  Sometimes the junior instructor brings a new or fresh perspective to things.  At the very least, I can get a peek into someone's thought processes and see where they are in their personal training, and then can make some comparisons to see if my own students are moving in the right direction as instructors.

In the end, one or more of your seniors may disagree with your conclusions, or even your premise.  That doesn't mean you should give up.  It means you should step up even more.  Defend your premise and your conclusions if you can, or admit that you might need to go back and research things some more if you can't.  Either way, we all will have learned something, and no one is standing around wasting time.

So, the next time you are in this situation, speak up.  Share a lesson, a drill, or even just a point of view.  Or you can wait for me to speak up.  I'm always more than happy to spar with indecisive people.

Kick. Punch.  Easy Stuff.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Have some free time? Read my old stuff, too.

There will be more updates to come on the blog, no worries there.

However, if you're really bored, or just craving more of Master Jorgensen's immense wisdom (kidding, folks!) you can always read some of my older stuff here:

Keystone Martial Arts Instructors' Message Page

Kick. Punch.  Easy Stuff.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Black Belts: The Best And The Worst

 This is Master Kevin Robinson of the World Tang Soo Do Association.

This is a Snickers bar.

So, what do they have in common?  Almost nothing, actually.  But more on that in a bit.  Master Robinson is one of the senior masters in the WTSDA, and one of my personal heroes.  Despite that, he honors me be calling me "brother" almost every time I see him.  If you aren't familiar with Master Robinson's personal story, I suggest you talk with him if you are able, talk to somone who knows him, or at the very least, read a copy of his book.

The point is, after getting to know him better, I can honestly say that Master Robinson is one of the very few people I know personally who has the right to complain about how unfair life can be.  He doesn't, though.  Instead, he remains consistently positive, and he openly shares his experiences, both positive and negative, in the hope that by doing so it might help others.  He consistently strives for self-improvement, and defines the word ATTITUDE.  He is also one of the finest martial artists I have ever seen in terms of pure physical skill.

A number of years ago, while speaking at a WTSDA Region 8 Black Belt Camp, Master Robinson coined a phrase that stuck with those of us who heard him speak: the "Snickers Bar Black Belt" 

The catch phrase for Snickers at the time was that it "satisifies".  To the Snickers Bar Black Belts, the belt itself is much like that candy bar. The act of getting the belt itself has satisfied them.  They feel that they've reached their goals, that there is no more to accomplish.  This makes them hard to teach, and even harder for them to be effective teachers.  Master Robinson is by no means satisfied.  He is an example of what a black belt should be.

I, on the other hand, do not pretend to be the best of examples in all aspects.  My life has actually been pretty easy in most respects.  Perhaps I could argue that without having suffered too many hardships to forge my spirit, that spirit has become somewhat weaker, but that's just a cop-out.  I'm currently about 25 pounds overweight, and I've done little to nothing about it.  I eat too much and train too little, and while I've recently made an attempt to turn that around, I can't say it's been easy.

I have one nemesis in particular:

He looks so friendly, doesn't he?  Don't that that fool you.  He's evil.  Actually, I know it isn't his fault that I'm overweight.  It's my own fault.  At least I'm not satisfied, though.  Maybe I should start drinking this, instead:

I don't think so, though.  What's the point of this stuff, anyway?  It really doesn't have any business calling itself Mountain Dew.  It's really kind of like that Snickers Bar Black Belt, in a way...

Meet the Caffeine Free Diet Mountain Dew Black Belt.  He really doesn't have any business calling himself a real black belt, though.  He's bitter.  He's terribly unsatisfied, and completely unsatisfying.  Really, what's the point of having this guy around?  Shake him up a bit, and you'll find out he's full of one thing above all others: Resentment.

As a student, he has resentment for his instructors:

They make me work too hard.
They ask too much of me.
They don't show me anything new.
They're holding me back.

Maybe it isn't his instructors' fault, though.  Maybe it's his fault.  I tell my black belt students all the time: "If you aren't learning anything new, it's your fault."  Blunt, yes.  But also true.  By the time you reach the rank of black belt in our school, you should have developed at least some skills in analytical thinking.  The curriculum has been established.  The knowledge is being presented.  I know this, because I know where and from whom I learned (and continue to learn) to teach.  I also know that the development of teaching skills is constantly being worked on by our team of instructors. So, if that black belt isn't learning anything new, it's because he won't, and not because nothing is being taught.

The resentment of the Caffeine Free Diet Mountain Dew Black belt isn't limited to students, though.  It's found in many instructors as well.  Instructors often feel resentment for their students:

They're lazy.
They don't listen.
They aren't getting the lesson.
They just won't TRY.
They don't follow protocol.

Maybe it isn't the students' fault, though.  Maybe we need to make an effort to become better instructors.  Are we motivating our students to do their best? Are we really taking the time to plan out each class?  When something isn't working, are we willing to shift gears and go in a different direction?  Are we studying curriculum development, pedagogy, psychology, assessment, and everything else that goes with calling ourselves teachers?

I learned from Master Robinson that the best black belts are not satisfied.  They know that there is more to learn and more to do.  They can't be deeply unsatisfied, either.  Don't fall into either of these traps. Don't be a Snickers Bar Black Belt, or a Ceffeine Free Diet Mountain Dew Black Belt.  You can't afford the price that comes with either one.

Kick. Punch. Easy Stuff.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

No, you can't wear your black belt here....probably.

As a martial arts school owner, I am periodically faced with the following situation....(oversimplified dialogue follows below...go with it.)

Prospective Student:  "I'm an Nth degree black belt from a different style and/or association, but I'd like to train here."
Me: "That's great.  We'd love to have you train with us.  However, unless you are a member of our Association, I start everyone at white belt."  
Prospective Student: :"I can't wear my black belt? Why not?"

Here's why, and while this may seem unnecessarily harsh, it remains true.
Your black belt, while a great accomplishment that means a great deal to you (and should) doesn't mean anything to me (yet).

The above statement, while greatly oversimplified, is essentially true.  What your black belt, or mine, or anyone else's, really means, is that you've shown some degree of proficiency in one particular school or association's curriculum, and may or may not have some degree of authority to pass that curriculum on to others.  It means something to you, to your instructor, the members of your class, and within your own organization.  It doesn't automatically follow that it means anything outside of that realm.  You haven't yet shown me any proficiency at all in my school's or Association's curriculum, and as such, I really don't care about your preexisting rank.

Let's clarify that last statement somewhat.  A lot of people will tell you they don't care about rank.  And, if you really didn't care, you wouldn't care about wearing your black belt in my class. It has nothing to do with me respecting you as a person or as a martial artist.  Your attitude means something to me.  Your skill level does, too.  I'll even acknowledge your preexisting rank and experience to the other members of the class, most likely repeatedly.  But I'm sorry, none of that makes you any more than a white belt in my dojang, until you have shown me over a given period of time that you have a grasp of at least some portion of our established curriculum.

Some students, and even instructors, will tell you that their studio didn't have a set curriculum.  At the best, that's ignorance.  At the worst, it's an outright lie.  If you don't have a curriculum, there is nothing to teach, and nothing by which you can measure progress.  In that case, your black belt means even less. A curriculum is important if you want to call your studio a school.  Otherwise you are a club, an activity, or a sport.  Those things are all okay if that's what you want, but I teach at a martial arts school.  If you want to train here as a student, you need to first become a student.  This isn't about me.  It isn't an act of subservience. It's about making a choice.  Do you want this class to be your class, or do you want the class to change in order to accommodate you?

There are a number of black belts from other styles and associations training at my studio.  They are currently wearing white, orange, green, and brown belts. They've chosen to do so, and they accept that those are the ranks that mean something within their current school.  I've promoted some of these types of students from white belt directly to brown belt, and in some cases I've seen students promoted from white directly to Cho Dan Bo (black belt candidate).  Usually this is because the student in question WANTED to be formally tested for black belt in order to prove their knowledge of our curriculum, and NOT because they were made to.  It again comes down to your knowledge of the curriculum.  Show me what you know, show it consistently over time, and that's what belt you will wear. The rank you EARN HERE is what means something here.

So, ask yourself again...why do you want to wear that black belt so badly?  It comes down to the fact that rank really does matter to you, and probably a little too much.  Am I testing you?  Absolutely.  Life is about being tested.  In my eyes, true black belts don't care about what belt I ask them to wear.  They show up to class.  They train. Eventually, they earn a belt that means something in their new school. 

I don't ask anything of you that I wouldn't do myself.  Yes, I'm a 4th degree black belt in the World Tang Soo Do Association.  Guess what?  That means nothing if I walk into another association's dojang, and even less if I walk into a school of a completely different style, telling them I want to become a student there.  Not only would I expect to wear a white belt, I'd insist on it.

So, what if you don't want to become a student?  You have no real interest in learning our curriculum; you just want to get some physical training in, and maybe share an idea or two.  Great... in that case I have no real vested interest in your overall development in our system, and it would do no harm to let you wear your black belt in my class. In the end, though, I've found that this almost always does damage to the class on the whole.  These black belts almost always assume authority they haven't earned.  They often attempt to "correct" perceived mistakes of others.  They usually tend to be even more overzealous in their desire to prove their ability, and often end up getting someone hurt.  In short, I've found that they are usually a waste of my time, and my time is valuable.

So, is there a correct way for you to be able to wear your black belt in my class?  Yes.  Form a direct relationship with me. This might even become a relationship of mutual respect.  Eventually, it might even become a friendship. Demonstrate that you have something to offer me, and my school, as a teacher.  I'd then be more than happy to have you attend our class as a guest.  Don't just walk in and expect to train at our school wearing a black belt though.  It isn't going to happen.

Kick. Punch.  Easy Stuff.