This blog covers thoughts, protocols, history, politics, misconceptions, teaching techniques, and other ideas that are peculiar to the martial arts. Please don’t hesitate to send questions or inquires about any of the above-mentioned topics.
Innocent PhrasesDecember 22, 2020
Innocent Remarks that can cause damage.
We have the most passionate, professional instructors, and staff in the martial arts community. I frequently travel within our industry, and I observe; there is no doubt we have the best.
As good as we are, we are still susceptible to making innocent mistakes. Inadvertent comments that cause damage. Most times we are unaware of these errors.
I’m talking about the innocent remarks made to old students who drop in to visit, asking students why they don’t participate in class, or the recruiting of parents or friends at the school.
I know these comments are harmful because I have observed the uneasy reactions of people hearing these comments, the actual feedback from individuals who have experienced them, and how I felt in the past when directed at me. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking people are more sensitive today than in the past. People have almost always reacted this way.
It is essential to understand why people take these comments negatively.
A student who has not trained for some time already comes into the school feeling uncomfortable. Many of us have been there before and felt a sense of guilt, even though not grounded. No one wants to hear comments such as “Where have you been” or “When are you going to start training?” These innocent remarks, sometimes just conversation statements, make the person feel uncomfortable and forces them to justify their decisions. These remarks can cause a person to resist revisiting the school. Many have not returned.
The best thing to do when seeing an old student is to express your sincere excitement to see them. Ask them how they are doing. If they ask about training, discuss it. If they start giving reasons why they haven’t been coming, quickly say no problem. I like adding a philosophical response such as “training fluctuates through life. Sometimes we can train, other times we can’t.” This kind of reply puts the student at ease. The nice thing about this comment, it’s the truth. Finally, ask yourself what you would like to hear if you were in their position?
When making the innocent remark of asking why someone hasn’t been attending your class, you are questioning the intent of their decision. You are unintentionally forcing the student to give a reason or make an excuse, thus creating a feeling of indignity.
There is a reason the student is not participating in your class. It could be because of schedule, time, or maybe they don’t enjoy your class. Embarrassing them is not going to solve anything other than creating more negative feelings. I have black belts who never attend my classes. I never ask them why. I know they are great people and there is a reason. I don’t need to put them in an awkward position to justify their actions. Shaming someone into attending your class is not the answer.
The final innocent mistake is in recruiting. Yes, we are in the business of helping people and to encourage them. However, there is a fine line between motivating or creating a problem. If a parent or friend shows interest, of course, discuss the possibility. But be careful of initiating the topic. You may not know the state of mind of the individual. They could take your innocent suggestion wrong and think you are judging their physical condition or worse. Training ideas need to come from our TVs, emails, or other marketing literature encouraging participation. Passive marketing is the safest way. Finally, none of us want to be sold or pushed into doing something we don’t want to do. We do not want to look like those hard marketing schools. That is not who we are.
The following quotes influence me as I communicate daily.
“Be careful with your words. Once they are said, they can be only forgiven, not forgotten.” -Unknown
“Words have energy and power with the ability to help, to heal, to hinder, to hurt, to harm, to humiliate, and to humble.” -Yehuda Berg
In closing, we have all made these innocent mistakes. When in discussions with others, always put yourself in their place. Think about what words and phrases motivate and what could possibly offend.
Choosing the correct word and phrases is another form of karate training.
Olympic Competition: Good or Bad?March 6, 2017As most of you know karate will be in the 2020 Olympics. Though this is great news for our young athletes, it causes concern for some of the traditionalists. Many of them feel this level of competition may cause catastrophic harm to the art of karate. They already feel competition is contradictory to the philosophy of karate–conquering “self” and trying to perfect technique. Competition, they believe, is succumbing to ego with the hope of receiving glory. In their opinion, Olympic competition will take these negative factors to a higher level.
Though these are legitimate concerns, I wonder if these traditionalists (Sensei) are putting this concern in the wrong place. Maybe this potential problem should not be laid at the competitor’s feet, but with the Sensei themselves. Competitors are students, they have teachers. Shouldn’t these Sensei teach their students how to combat the evil within? Shouldn’t they show them the benefits of striving to reach and hopefully participate in Olympic competition while enlightening them of the pitfalls that accompany this trip? Shouldn’t this general philosophy be taught anyway?The Greek-speaking Stoic philosopher Epictetus once said “The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not winning but taking part; the essential thing in life is not conquering but fighting well.” Nothing speaks more clearly about the true philosophy of the martial arts than this statement. It’s the effort, not the glory that is important.There is nothing wrong with students aspiring for athletic greatness. Life is short and opportunities need to be taken advantage of when presented.We traditional practitioners believe in humility and the importance of conquering the battle within. Our youth are smart and eager, and will learn if taught properly. The responsibility of teaching the benefits of Olympic aspirations and the potential danger that accompany it resides with us teachers. Eliminating the experience is not the answer. I say, “Go for the gold, youth is Fleeting.”
Let Them Be YoungOctober 6, 2016Let them be Youngby Ray HughesNow that karate has been accepted into the 2020 Olympics, the old argument resurfaces- “one should only train for mental and physical improvement and not for glory.”
Though I completely believe in this philosophy, I can understand the desire of young practitioners who aspire to compete in the Olympics.
Being a philosophical instructor, I know the battle is within. Our ego is what needs to be suppressed. What could be more egocentrically driven than training and competing for Olympic gold?But is it fair to expect young people to think and act like old people?All of us, regardless of age, are striving to be wise. But age and experience directly impacts the development of wisdom. So how can we judge young people who are in the process of living and learning? And if some of us old people where fortunate to develop some wisdom, didn’t it come from the experiences we encountered when we were young?The point is, though it is important for young people to do their best to be wise, let them be young. Let them try to accomplish things that require youth. As we all know, youth is fleeting. It is not here very long.Allow our youth, those who desire to compete at the Olympic level their due; they will have plenty of time to get old and wise. Just maybe their Olympic experience can positively affect the wisdom of future young practitioners.
The Secret of SuccessJune 2, 2016
The Secret of Success
“I never saw it coming”
By Ray Hughes
I was 19 years old, a third generation underground miner, when a friend of mine forced me to observe a karate class. At that time I knew exactly where my life was going, nowhere. Most kids from my little mining town were destined for the same fate, to exist as uneducated miners for the rest of our lives; though an honorable profession, not a great goal for young minds. I didn’t realize the “Secret to Life’s Success” would be given to me when I entered the world of traditional karate. “I never saw it coming.”
Everyone knows martial art training teaches discipline, focus, and other related skills. But few realize the complete life changing blue print of success that encompasses martial art training. Many don’t realize that this training is the perfect working model in which participants can practice and prepare for future dreams and aspirations.
What is Life Success? Life Success is achieving the goals and aspiration one dreams about. Accomplishing that passionate endeavor that seems to be beyond possibility; such as becoming an astronaut, a doctor, or even becoming President of the United States (of course that was when it was an honorable profession.) Unfortunately, many people feel the dreams they have are not attainable. Many feel accomplishing dreams are only for those “lucky few.” Though our parents told us we could accomplish anything we put our minds to, most couldn’t tell us how. We pretty much just accepted what was laid out in front of us.
But traditional karate training can change that. It can give students the blue print to reach those dreams. They just have to follow the path and model listed below:
- There must be passion evolved or overwhelming pressure to succeed.
- You must locate the group who has already succeeded in attaining your dream.
- You must join and grow within that group; requiring a long term commitment. You must be humble, starting at the bottom and work up according to the group.
- You must listen to the elders of that group. They will tell you exactly what it will take and how to succeed. Though each success story within the group will be slightly different, there will be a common theme of success.
- Stay within the group as you move along the path. You will need their support to continuously recharge your batteries and help navigate through the hard times. There will always be hard times!
- You must not worry about the destination. Following the plan is “Living the Dream.”
- You must work at it every day in one form or another.
- You must give back.
(Sounds like karate training, doesn’t it?)
Successful people will show you exactly how to succeed if you have the passion and are willing to listen. You will still need to do the work. Mentors will show you how, but not do it for you.
This secret is embedded within the martial arts; both as an overall structure as well as a training model for future ventures. The above model is exactly how students succeed within traditional martial arts. As new students begin their journey, they are groomed to follow the above success outline, even though they probably don’t understand the big picture. They are moved along, encourage by the group, educated by the elders (Sensei), helped to develop the psychological understanding to endure difficult experiences, and given the skill of perseverance to stick to the plan. If the students follow the plan, they become great martial artists.
In addition, traditional martial art training develops other valuable life skills. The student is taught to be humble, how to relate to those with higher rank as well as those with lower rank (a valuable understanding used in all segments of life), to set high standards, and to psychologically manage the battle within one’s mind. These additional skill sets are invaluable when striving to attain a dream or reach a goal.
As the student is coached along the path to martial art success, the participant is also in the process of training for future dreams. As the student is following this martial art success model, the student is in practice mode for future experiences. By the time the student has reached black belt, they have experienced a sample success model for future aspirations. With this experience, the student can now apply this understanding to any dream or objective.
One thing that is mandatory for future success is the requirement of high standards. The term traditional is used here to distinguish schools with high standards from those that don’t. Future dreams, those that seem impossible to achieve, cannot be achieved if one does not know how to handle difficulty, failure, and grasp the complex battle within the mind. This cannot be learned without going through the pain of high standard achievement. This is a universal rule of life. For those who drop the standards are in essence killing the student’s potential, in other words, their dreams.
In closing, instructors need to convey this concept to the students. The student must understand that martial art training goes way beyond self defense. Techniques and philosophy learned through traditional martial art training will completely change the course of one’s life. This understanding also gives additional purpose to help the student persevere through long term training. These life changing skills cannot be learned any other way.
Many students have failed because their instructors were afraid to be truthful about pain or did not adequately convey the big picture of martial art training. The “Secret of Life’s Success” exists within the martial arts. This is one of many reasons we train.
Tell the Truth!May 3, 2016
Tell the Truth!
Why and how many instructors have lost their way
by Ray Hughes
The fear of offending those who pay dues for instruction has caused many instructors to unintentionally lie to their students. By not speaking the truth about mental development, students are mislead. In other words, they have been deceived.
The Truth is, the development of mental disciple requires mental pain.
The highest priority of traditional martial art instruction is the development of mental discipline. Technical skills mean nothing if the mind of the practitioner is not developed enough to use these skills and to handle the chaos of battle. These mental strengths and skills are the exact same skills needed to successful maneuver through the difficult battle of life. Without this strength and discipline, the participant will lose in battle as well as in life.
Mental discipline is the attribute that allows one to successful overcome the battles within the mind; the voices that tell us to quit when things get difficult, to blame others for our failures, and feel sorry for ourselves when things don’t go our way. Mental discipline gives the practitioner the strength to overcome the effects of stress and to make sound, quick, and critical decisions.
This battle within the mind rages until the grave. Only the battle field within the mind changes over the course of time, not the struggle. One must continually work at developing and maintaining mental discipline to overcome these battles during one’s lifetime. This is why martial art training is considered a lifetime endeavor. We must understand this truth.
Mental discipline is necessary to help us grow as human beings. As we age, our comfort zone slowly closes in around us. We are hesitant to step out of our comfort zone because we want to be safe. We resist trying new things and exploring new possibilities that could involve the risk of failure. Mental discipline pushes us do the things we know we need to do but are reluctant to do so.
Unfortunately, there is pain in the development of mental strength and discipline. There is no other way to develop this skill. You are being lied to if told differently. Just as developing muscular strength and cardio conditioning requires pain, mental development is no different.
To develop mental discipline, the mind must be subjected to small doses of pain; the pain that comes from stress, emotional experiences, and failure. This is done by pushing the practitioner just past their success line. With proper mentoring, the student learns to manage these internal battles of ego and doubt. As one manages this pain, more pain is added, just as in physical development. This process must continually expand.
The problem is how to administer this process.
When some teen and adult students start experiencing the pain of mental development and listening to those negative voices in their head, they tend to blame and want to quit. When some parents see their children struggle with the mental pain experienced from a setback, they get angry at the instructor and the process. This has caused many instructors to back off mental development and simply stay within theory. This way they do not lose students and can eliminate uncomfortable conflict. But this is not the truth.
But on the other hand if a student is lost because of harsh reality teaching, then nothing is accomplished either.
Whether you lose students because of teaching harsh reality or you didn’t teach reality at all, both have failed the student.
So what is the answer? How does an instructor solve this problem?
First, have faith most students and parents of the young want mental discipline developed. Second, tell them the truth. Tell them mental discipline requires mental pain.
The secret of success is the method in which this is taught. Not only must the students understand mental discipline requires mental pain, they must also have an understanding of “how” this process is going to be carried out. The mind tends to shut down and cause other internal conflicts if it doesn’t understand the logical process of any endeavor. The student must also be reminded of this process on a continuous basis. If all of this is done correctly, the student’s mental discipline will improve; they will appreciate the process and be grateful to the Sensei for a successful plan. This is why they are taking martial arts in the first place.
When it comes to educating the student base about the reality of mental development, most already intuitively understand it. A brief explanation as stated earlier is enough. It is the plan and process that must be clearly explained and followed through if there is going to be success. The student, and parent of the young, must completely understand how this mental development process is going to work.
The student and/or parent must be instructed that there will be a very slow gradual increase in standards and expectations of the student. But the instructor must go one step further and clearly explain that mental pain is going to accompany this process. Examples of this pain need to be given; such as how we humans tend to blame others when we struggle, the uncomfortable inner feeling of failure and so on. The word “human” should be used when explaining examples of mental pain. The student needs to understand this is a human problem, not an individual problem.
The parent of the young must know there is a nurturing process for this difficult development of mental discipline. This isn’t an action of weakness; this is the logical and correct process of teaching. The parent needs to know you honestly care about the young student’s feelings.
The student and parent of the young must be reminded of this process on a continuous basis. Not just randomly when the instructor thinks about it. But around the time the student is about to experience mental pain from a difficult situation. This is critical. Initially this is done in detail with the new student and then tapper off as the student’s mental strength develops.
In closing, we instructors know how we felt and the pain that came from past conflicts, failures, and other human struggles. A great instructor will share with the students how humans feel when experiencing these conflicts and the mental thoughts that go through the mind. By talking with the students before they engage in a potentially volatile situation and asking them how they should handle the situation if things go bad, teaches the student how to mentally prepare for difficult situations and develop the mental skills for future challenges. But the fact that needs to be remembered, there is always mental pain dealing with difficult situations. Finally, the instructor needs to infuse humor into the process. Humor is one of the greatest tools to deal with conflict and mental pain.
The word Sensei means “one who has gone before.” All we have to do is tell the truth. We have all been there.
Why Life Skills (Philosophy) Need to be TaughtMarch 7, 2016
Why Life Skills (Philosophy) Need to be Taught
By Ray Hughes
One area where many schools miss the point is not adequately explaining the benefits of life skills learned from traditional karate to their students and parents. For those who primarily teach karate techniques and self defense tactics only will find they have a higher attrition rate than those who support their training with life skill instruction; in other words, philosophy.
Life skills learned by our youth include confidence, perseverance, discipline, fortitude, to name a few while life skills for adults tend to be more life survival philosophies. These skills are learned and developed through long term training.
To keep students training for many years, instructors need to give reasons to the student as well as the parents of the young why they need to continue to come long term. Expecting students to train year after years to randomly learn a new technique or to simply improve their kata is not enough. There has to be more; something that continually gives reasons for students to train long term and compels the parent to accept the grind of bringing their children to classes for years on end.
For those who have trained long term understand the great values that come from traditional karate training. The striving for perfection in a battle where perfection can never be attained and the internal struggle that develops while on this path all lead to skills that are applied to other areas of life. The strength and resolve to stick to a project, the fortitude to overcome difficult challenges, the understanding of self and learning that one can do more than originally thought, are just a few of the many areas that are developed by traditional training and applied to life outside the dojo.
These are powerful enlightenments. They must be pointed out to the student base and their families on a continuous basis. If passionately conveyed, this will motivate the student and parent to stay long term. They will come to understand the great values that develop from our style of training.
So how are these values explained to the students and the parent s of the young?
First, the instructor must continually bring up the overall benefits of long term training as mentioned above. Students as well as parents of the young may not know or understand the benefits that come from long term training. It must be explained and repeated. Students and parent tend to forget these benefits when boredom sets in or the grind of taking their child to classes year after year.
Second, clearly giving examples of where mental and philosophical skills learned can be applied outside the dojo. Simply saying to the students and parents that great benefits such as discipline, resolve, and perseverance along with other skill sets will come from training is not enough. Instructors have to point out to the student in real time why they should embrace the struggle. It must be explained why it is in the student’s interest to get up in front of the class and do a kata. That the nervousness they feel will be exactly the same feeling when interviewing for that new job someday. The more they practice learning how to control stress now will pay great dividends in the future.
There are thousands of such situations that surface on a regular basis in a dojo. Every situation where an emotion comes up is a teaching moment that can be related to a future event. Every time a student experiences anger, sadness, envy, or fear should move the instructor to explain how this is training for future situations that encompass these exact same emotions. This gives purpose to the student when experiencing these difficult situations in the dojo and reinforces the necessity of constant training.
Third, and probably the most powerful strategy to reinforce the importance of long term training is teaching by self disclosure. Nothing is more powerful to the student and parent as when the instructor explains how long term training has helped them. When the instructor reveals things they have learned and the mistakes made greatly impacts the students on a reality basis. The students can see firsthand the importance of long term training. When instructors sincerely explains how karate training has helped them personally outside the dojo, it gives reasons and motivation to students and parents to embrace the grind of long term training and why they need to stick to the plan.
The fact is we are all humans. Time and effort grinds us all. We must be reminded consistently of the benefits that will come if we stick to the path. It must be real, it must be specific, and it must be emotional. If not, people will move on.
This is what teaching philosophy is all about. Without it we are simply teaching karate moves. We are offering more than that to our students.
Monetary Transactions in the Traditional Martial Arts SchoolOctober 19, 2015
by Ray Hughes
This blog originally started off as the PRIVATE LESSON PAYMENT PROTOCOL. But before I could talk about that topic, I had to lay out ground work on how money is supposed to be handled in the traditional martial art school. While doing that, it became obvious I needed to change the topic.
Handling money in the traditional martial arts has its own unique protocol. It is quite different from other activities such as dance, gymnastics, and nontraditional martial art schools. A traditional martial arts school is not only a school whose unbroken lineage goes back to its original creation, but also in the way it conducts itself. In the traditional martial arts field, money is considered evil, though the necessity is understood. Money is viewed, like in many religions, something that has a tendency to corrupt or cause one to lose one’s way. This creates a conflict in the martial art teacher.
A legitimate traditional martial art teacher does not teach for money, but understands its importance. To hand money directly to an instructor causes that instructor embarrassment. This conflict is created because first, the instructor is embarrassed, and secondly, the instructor is put into a situation where if he objects to directly receiving the funds, he may create embarrassment or awkwardness in the person giving the money. In the martial arts, it is considered bad manners to cause any embarrassment or awkwardness in anyone at anytime. So the internal conflict starts. If the instructor takes the money, he goes against a principle he believes in. If he objects, the other person is embarrassed and that’s considered bad manners. What I have done in the past to illuminate or minimize this conflict was to have other people handle the money while trying to inform my students and parents of this protocol. That was easy when my school was small. When situations occurred where someone that did not know this protocol tried to hand me money directly, I would say simply, in a matter of fact way, to put it on the desk. Many of you may have seen me handle situations this way when someone wanted to hand me money for a soft drink, belt promotion fee, or something else. Some have asked why I don’t put this in our tuition pamphlet. I’ve replied that I felt this was too much information too soon. One needs to be involved in the martial arts for a period of time to understand this philosophy.
An example of this philosophy is when I have a guest instructor come to my school to teach a seminar. Monetary issues are never discussed. It is my responsibility to find out what I should be paying. There are ways of finding this out without discussing it with the instructor. When I make the payment, I either send the money to the appropriate place or I put it in an envelope and discretely place it in his jacket or briefcase. Again, it is never discussed.
So how should monetary issues be handled in the traditional martial art school? Rarely should money directly pass from student or parent to instructor. First, procedures should be put in place so students or parents do not have to pay the instructor directly. In my school I have hired a staff to handle the money issues of the school. There are times I have to get involved in money matters with students or parents, but I keep it to a minimum because it makes me feel uncomfortable. Secondly, students and parents should be educated about this protocol so they know what to do.
There are also monetary situations that do not involve the school or me. One example is funds that are paid to an instructor from a student or parent for private lessons. The way this should be handled is for the student or parent to put the funds in an envelope with the instructors name on it and place it on the front desk or creatively given in a discrete way. The money situation should never really be discussed. Are there exceptions, sure, the world is not black and white. Making something more complicated than it needs to be is not a martial art way of handling things either. A martial art student, parent, and instructor should always try to do the right thing at the right time within a rational and reasonable way.
This is always the dilemma in the martial arts.
Owner and Chief Karate Instructor
Scottsdale Martial Arts Center, Inc.
Belt Exams – A Conflict of Philosophies Part 1September 8, 2015
By Ray Hughes (December 2014)
Part One – The Debate
Belt exams and promotions have been the center of philosophical debate for as long as organized martial arts have existed. It is a great example of conflict within conflict. First, should there be belt promotions, and if so, how should they be administered?
There are two contrasting philosophies on whether there should be belt exams and promotions. One view believes belt exams contradict the philosophy of Bushido (the Way of the Warrior); to hone one’s physical skills, to nurture humility, and to battle the war of “self.” They believe the seven deadly sins of mankind (wrath, greed, sloth, pride, lust, envy, and gluttony) have a direct relationship to the instability of the warrior (practitioner). It is felt the seeking of rank, which could fit into several of these categories, feeds the inner demon of man. This view feels “One should train for the sake of training, not to receive an award.”
Karate training is a martial art, which means many of its customs and protocols come from the military. This would include rank. This side believes that if rank should be awarded, it should be awarded at the discretion of the superior and not because of personal desire. Therefore tests are not needed, the superior already knows who is worthy of rank.
The other view of this argument believes there are many positive benefits that can come from the use of the belt promotion process. The point here is that is a process. This side believes the good out ways the bad, if administered properly. They believe that the key is to understand the nature of man. The nature of man is to battle ego; but it also understood that man requires certain things; such as the need for motivation, to understand where one is within their growth, to focus on small attainable goals, and so on. These elements can be taught through the proper use of the belt exam and promotion process.
This side believes that belt exams and awards can help motivate the practitioner through difficult training periods, give students small attainable goals to focus on, helps nurture students through the many years of training before they can apply philosophical understanding to the battle of “self” to help develop skills to deal with emotion (fear, anxiety, stress, etc.), to give that innate need of humans to know where they are in the total process of any endeavor, and most importantly to develop the understanding, pros and cons, of the belt promotion process. In other words, to use this process to learn and understand the human condition and answer the questions “why do we do what we do and why do we react the way we react?”
This understanding can come out of the belt exam process and then applied to the challenges of life. As Sun Tzu stated in his book The Art of War, “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles.” This quote is about understanding how man thinks.
All of this must be a part of the belt promotion process. If this information and knowledge does not exist or is not administered properly, then it is flawed and will create more harm than good.
The question now becomes, if you believe there are potential benefits from belt exams, what process is best to disseminate this knowledge to the practitioner? The process is also a conflict of philosophy.
Next week: Three common methods used to administer belt exams; two of which are flawed.
Part Two: The Philosophical Analogy of the Belt Exam Process
Why Should Karate Students Compete?September 2, 2015
To get stressed!
One of the most important reasons parents enroll their children in karate is for self-defense. Everyday we instructors strive to prepare our students for that possibility. However, we are unable to create that situation in the dojo, only stage them. Karate competitions are the closest thing to that self-defense possibility. Students who compete learn how to manage stress, anxiety, fear, adrenalin spikes, fatigue, chaos and other extreme emotions one experiences in real self-defense. These skills are absolutely necessary to be successful in a real combat situation. Winning a medal has nothing to do with this development.
Life Skill Development
Life is a battle field, metaphorically speaking. The skills learned from competition have a direct and positive impact on the success one experiences when navigating through life. In addition to emotional control, there are many other important attributes that are developed from competing; planning, analyzing performances, managing success and failure, overcoming what seem to be insurmountable odds, developing humility and respect, resilience and self-reliance, and so on. These are all vital skills necessary for a successful life.
Handling InjusticeAs in any sport and in life in general, there are injustices (some real and some perceived). Karate students learn techniques to deal with these situations in a “mock world” competition. With the right coaching and mentoring this can be accomplished. These skills are necessary to be successful when entering the “real world” competition.All this practice, why not try it out?
In addition to improving one’s self-defense skills, competitions help motivate the student to train harder in class, thus adding more value to the training. Without it, students tend to just go through the motions at times. An individual wouldn’t go to the driving range without ever playing the game of golf or go to the batting cages and never play the game of baseball. So why would an individual just train at the school without testing their skills and seeing how their mind reacts in a competitive environment?
Forget about winning and losing. Those things take care of themselves in the long haul of life. It is the mental training that can be greatly improved from competition. A student is only partially trained for self-defense if they never compete.
Sensei Ray Hughes
The Sensei and the StudentNovember 10, 2014
By Ray Hughes
Each one of us is a Sensei and student simultaneously, whether we are in the martial arts or not. This means we are being taught while teaching others virtually at the same time. Sensei (which means one who has gone before) technically could be used to describe anyone who is passing on information to another, regardless of position or situation. An important question is, “should we treat those who we instruct as we expect to be treated as a student?” Think about that for a second.
There are two schools of thought when it comes to the philosophy of teaching karate students. One is the philosophy “the student comes first.” In other words, the interest of the student comes before the interest of the teacher or the organization. The other philosophy, which prevailed back in the day, but still exists, is the philosophy “the teacher is the priority and focus.” This philosophy embraces the concept that it is the student’s responsibility to seek out instruction, petition to be “accepted”, to submissively join and obediently follow. Those who started training back in the 70’s or earlier understand what I am talking about.
There are couple reasons why many schools and instructors believed in this “Sensei is the most important” philosophy. First, it is the hierarchical cultural of the Japanese society that has been passed on to the martial art school; the entrenched belief in the power of the Sensei and the low status of the student. Second, is the military structure that in inherent in karate training. Clear command structure and obedience of rank are imperative for combat success. Never question your superiors (Sensei).
Though the above mentioned philosophy seems sound, there are some flaws in this thinking. First, martial art training has changed. Karate-Jutsu has changed into karate-do, basically meaning it has changed from a combat roll to more of an art experience. This is not to say self-defense is unimportant, but we are not training for war. This fact alone changes the relationship between the teacher and student. In addition, teaching philosophies between cultures vary. What worked in circa 1800 Japan is not effective in today’s American culture; probably not even in today’s Japan.
However, the most negative bye product of this philosophy is the enticement of power. This power can be intoxicating, and in many cases, seduces the teacher. You see this phenomenon in governments, organizations, businesses, major corporations, and of course-martial art schools. Man is weak. It is best understood by Sir John Dalberg-Acton’s quote “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
It is because of this inherent evil, that many of the great masters addressed this in their writings. They talked about humility and the battle of self. They clearly articulated about the negative of ego; the seven deadly sins of mankind.
The goal of any serious teacher must be to maximize the potential of “all” students; not just those who have been blessed with God-given talent. This training must also go beyond physical development, it must include the mind. Which means the Sensei must practice what he preaches. How can a Sensei teach humility while sitting on a pedestal? The goal is not to raise the stature of the Sensei or the organization but to improve the student.
The student must come first; for both the student and the Sensei’s development. This doesn’t mean all students have the right to train under any Sensei. The student must be serious, polite, and eager to learn. The student must have confidence in the teacher and follow the rules of instruction. The student must fit into the chemistry of the school. The responsibilities that come with being a martial art student can be very overwhelming. It must be explained well, not simply shoved down the throat of the practitioner in a condescending manner.
I can only talk about American people. They seem to do better when things are completely and clearly explained. Some cynics call this a weakness. When Americans are educated properly they do much better than those who are asked to simply follow like sheep. Americans will do anything for people they respect, even jump on the sword if necessary. Yes, there will always be those who will follow narcissistic rulers, but those empires do not last long. Look at history.
If you are an American instructor, ask yourself what type of instruction would maximizes your potential as a student? How do you like to be treated? Are you teaching that way?
If you are a student, what instruction maximizes your potential? Will you be able to remember this when you become a Sensei?
The final question-“who is more important, the Sensei or the student?” The answer is, “both, they are the same.”
The Scottsdale Martial Arts Center strongly believes in the “Student comes First” philosophy.