ProMAC #1

Have you ever been to a ProMAC conference?

I hadn’t, at least not until last Friday, and it was pretty much a last minute decision.  More last minute than decision though. My instructor asked if I would be interested in going two days before the event, and as soon as I could clear my schedule, I said yes.

To be honest, I didn’t know what I was saying yes to, but I hate turning down the opportunity to try something new in the martial arts. Plus, I’ve been to martial arts seminars before, and they’re pretty much all the same, right?

Wrong.

And, I’m not talking about the quality of training when I say that. I mean the content.

ProMAC is the Professional Martial Arts College, and if I had to summarize what that is in as few words as possible, it’s all about having a better martial arts school, and that was the emphasis of the conference. The better our schools, the more students we can help, and regardless of what style that we teach, the goal is to help students.

How was it different than the other seminars I had attended? Instead of showing up at 9am in a gi ready to work out, we arrived in casual clothes with notebooks and laptops and audio recorders.

We were all there with a common goal, how to make our schools more successful.  We want to provide a quality environment for our students, and one of the best ways to approach that is to address the business side of running a karate school with the same commitment that we used to learn karate in the first place.

January, 2017, ProMAC East Conference

In our dojos we practice kihon (basics), kata (forms) and kumite (sparring).  Those same principles can be applied to studying the business of running a martial arts school.

Kihon – The Basics

Anyone who has taught for even a little while probably understands the basics.  You need to have enough students to cover your expenses or you are paying out of pocket for the opportunity to teach others.

That’s sort of like saying everyone understands that karate is about kicking and punching. It touches the surface but misses the depth.

While the tone of the conference included sharing of basic concepts it wasn’t the main focus. It’s like going to a bunkai (kata analysis) seminar, everyone expects you to know how to throw a punch, but if you have a little trouble with an arm lock or a take down, someone will guide you over the rough spots.

Kata – The Forms

In the simplest sense, a kata is a series of basics strung together to make it easier to remember, practice, and to teach concepts. For those things that you want to do well while running your school, have a script, practice it, and share it with your staff so everyone is working toward the same goal.

If you don’t practice kata, think of it like practicing a self-defense drill.  Script it, then practice it alone and with a partner until it becomes second nature.

When it comes to student retention, identify the potential change moments in advance and prepare for them. Change moments are events like when the student first approaches you about training, right after their first lesson, when they consider taking a break to make time for something else and anytime the student might be faced with a decision to continue training or to stop.

Remember, it’s a lot easier to help the students who are actively training with us, then it is to help the students we no longer see.

Kumite – Sparring

I look at sparring in two ways. First, as a competition where students can rise to the challenge, and second, as a proving ground to test technique under pressure in a relatively safe environment.

At the conference I witnessed both types.  There was friendly competition as instructors discussed the various techniques that they had employed to grow their schools. We also broke into groups and tested our ideas against others, either in role-playing scenarios or as brainstorming sessions.

At the end of the day, I had a new way of looking at some of the basic concepts (kihon), a few scripts to practice (kata) and a goal to reach the performance levels of others through application (kumite).

Except that wasn’t really the end of the day.  Lets be realistic. We are martial artists, and its almost impossible to get a bunch of us together and not do some sort of workout.  This conference was no different.  After the workshops many of us traveled to a local dojo and spent a few hours on the mats training.

Grandmaster Arnulfo “Dong” Cuesta (front row, center, in red pants)

Grandmaster Arnulfo “Dong” Cuesta lead the training with an introduction in Philippine Eskrima. He covered a tremendous amount of ground in a very short amount of time, and I’m still struggling to compile my notes from his training session so that I can retain as much of the experience as possible.  Saturday morning, I was at the dojo practicing a few of the drills that I stumbled through the night before.

Kyoshi Dave Kovar (left) at Action Karate Feasterville

The evening ended with Kyoshi Dave Kovar conducting a session on hand speed drills. My big take away from his session was that being faster isn’t so much about increasing your speed as it is about eliminating those things that slow you down.  I’ve already have the opportunity to use one of his drills during a class which is always fantastic. I mean it’s great to have the opportunity to train with talented martial artists, but having the chance to share that knowledge is really what it’s all about.

When I left, I was pumped about being a martial artist. Actually, I’m pretty much always pumped to be a martial artist, but it always spikes to a new level after a great training session with people who love what we do as much as I do.

I have to thank Mr Seth Bittner and Mr Solomon Brenner for inviting me to attend. It was a great experience and I appreciate the opportunity.

 

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Karate Respect

Karate begins and ends with respect.

The Twenty Precepts of Gichin Funakoshi – Founder of Shotokan Karate

That’s bowing, right? We bow when we walk into the dojo. We bow when we leave. We bow before we do a kata and again after we are done.  Before sparring we bow and then again after the match is over. In the martial arts we seem to be bowing all of the time.

So, respect = bowing?

Nope.

Respect is an attitude, a state of mind. Merriam Webster defines respect as

  • a feeling or understanding that someone or something is important, serious, etc., and should be treated in an appropriate way
  • a particular way of thinking about or looking at something

It’s a feeling or a way of thinking.

bow_to_rightBowing is simply a physical movement. It may serve as a reminder that karate begins and ends with respect, but by itself it is not respect. It is the intent in which the action is performed that defines its purpose. Bending at the waist is not enough. I do that when I tie my shoes.

I’m going to paraphrase the definition of respect down to this, “an understanding that something is important.” At the core, I think that is the concept we should keep in mind.

Every time I bow, I take that moment to remind myself why what I’m about to do is important.

Why do we bow before class? Is it to show our appreciation for the opportunity to train? Is it out of admiration for the instructors who came before us? Is it a reminder of the seriousness of training? Is it something that you do just because Sensei said to?  What about when you leave the dojo? Start a kata? Work with an opponent?

Honesty in the heart

Action Karate Student Creed

I don’t have a “one size fits all” answer for any of those questions. Why can vary from person to person.  What is important is how we answer those questions?  The next time you bow, ask yourself why?

 

 

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Time for an Introduction

I come to you with only Karate empty hands.

I have no weapons, but should I be forced to defend myself, my principles or my honor.

Should it be a matter of life or death, of right or wrong

Then here are my weapons, Karate, my empty hands.

Ed Parker Sr – Founder of American Kenpo Karate

Those were the words I remember hearing the first time I took part in a karate class.

That was almost four decades ago. We trained in a large room inside of an air force base recreation center. The class was filled mostly with young airmen, but a few kids also stood in line.

I was one of those kidskids_in_gi. That was the beginning of my martial arts journey.

Actually, my journey began a few days before that. I was walking with my friend, Bill, when someone he knew stopped us. Well, he stopped Bill. I just happened to be there. This stranger had opened his own karate school and wanted to know if Bill was interested in stopping in.  Since I was standing there at the time, I was invited too.

Until that moment, I had no interest in karate.  The entire basis of my martial arts background at that point had been to watch David Carradine’s Kung Fu on TV, but suddenly this stranger had my attention. I was going to learn to fight like Kwai Chang Caine. I was going to be an awesome fighting machine.

Yeah. Exactly.

That stranger was Sifu Anthony Preston, and the style he taught was called Commando Karate.  Sadly, I know little about the origins of this style beyond the fact that it had its roots in the Philippines.

I was not the best student. I was young and easily distracted.

I never learned to fight like an ancient Shaolin monk. My family moved out of the area a few years later, and it looked like my time studying karate had come to an end.

Except it didn’t.  A few months after moving to our new home, I was exploring the neighborhood when I noticed a handmade sign at the local community center for the Vernon Karate Club. A few days later I was standing at the door to the dojo and introducing myself to Roger Vernon. He was the instructor, what they called a Sensei, but at that time I had no concept of what the word meant.

He taught Shotokan, another word that meant nothing to me. All I knew is that it was a form of karate, and that the instructor and students all seemed friendly. I wanted to join immediately, but before I could take a class I needed to have my parents sign the application.

Needless to say there was much begging and pleading involved to get that signature. The classes were $25 a month, and at first my parents were reluctant to spend that on something I might just walk away from at any time.  My track record with other activities wasn’t that great, and even during my time studying Commando Karate my attendance was always a bit sketchy. I had to promise to do better. They signed the form.

Kids and promises.

You probably have a good idea how that turned out, at least after the first month. I would get distracted and miss a class. Then another. It was during my third or fourth month of training at the Vernon Karate Club, when I was considering blowing off another class to do pretty much nothing, that I made a decision that would change my life forever.

It was time to put up or shut up. Either, I would commit to my training like I promised, or it was time to walk away.

I went to class that day, and I went to all of the classes after that.  There were times when I would walk the 5 miles from home to the dojo to make a class. When I wasn’t training, I was reading. I tried to learn everything I could about Shotokan. When I finished everything I could find about Shotokan, I started reading about other styles.

Karate was no longer something I did for two hours a day, three times a week. It became part of everything I did.

I had become a martial artist.

Sensei Vernon, his family and the other students at the dojo weren’t just people I trained with. They became an extension of my family. I grew up in that dojo.

I eventually graduated from college and took a job 250 miles away from the dojo, but I continued to return to Sensei Vernon as often as I could until he retired.

For years after that I was like a vagabond in the martial arts community. I spent time training at more schools than I can remember.  It was great being exposed to all of those different styles, but I struggled to find a dojo that I felt comfortable at. I compared everything to my experience at the Vernon Karate Club. I wasn’t ready to move on.

The words of Bruce Lee come to mind.  “Empty your cup so that it may be filled; become devoid to gain totality.” My cup was full, and unless I emptied it I would be stuck.

That was much harder than it sounds. Apparently my cup wasn’t just full, it had a lid on it to keep everything from spilling out.  It also stopped anything from getting in.

It wasn’t until I introduced my son to karate at a school that taught a version of Kenpo that I managed to loosen that lid. Sharing that experience with him, reminded me of what I really wanted from a karate school.

It wasn’t the techniques or the physical conditioning that drove me. Don’t get me wrong. I love that feeling after a good workout (even if I hate it when I’m doing it), and I crave learning new things like an addict searching for his next fix, but that isn’t what keeps me at a dojo.

It’s the people that make the difference. I gained a huge appreciation for the instructors as I watched them work with the kids. They were patient, kind, serious and funny. They kept the kids focused and learning, not just how to throw a kick or a punch, but about confidence and discipline and a host of other mental benefits that we frequently associate with karate.

When the school invited the parents to join a class for a month, I found myself back on the dojo floor after several years of sitting on the sidelines, training under Mr Seth Bittner.

The adult workout left me tired and sore. Those early classes were frustrating.

My stamina wasn’t what it had been. My balance was off. My techniques were slow. I kept comparing myself to the last time I trained, and the comparison wasn’t good. It would have been easy to walk away, but one thing kept going through my head every time I felt like giving up. “It’s time to empty your cup.

That was my silent mantra before every class.  “Empty your cup. Only today matters.

It’s been over three years since I started training at Action Karate Nazareth, and I’m still there, going strong. I don’t feel like I’m just a student there. I’m part of the karate community.  Soon I’ll be testing for my black belt. This won’t be my first black belt, but it feels just as awesome and scary as when I prepared for that first test back in 1983.

And just like in 1983, this won’t be the end of my journey. It’s the first step on the new path I’ll be following.

You see, what I discovered is that when you empty your cup, you’re not pouring it onto the ground and losing it forever. You’re pouring it into a bigger cup.

belts_thru_the_ages

 

Besides being a martial artist, Keith Keffer is also a science fiction and fantasy author. You can find out more about Keith by visiting his website at keithkeffer.com.

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