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Be Teachable

This last weekend my “Chaos Crew” and I traveled to Winona Minnesota to train, compete, and learn at one of the finest Dojos in the country, Winona Genbu Kai Karate, have made this trek for 18 of the last 20 years. The landscape remains unchanged, a lot of corn, gigantic wind mills (seriously, though HUGE), and hours and hours up I-35. Some of the years blend together in my memories, I couldn’t tell you if that happened in 1998 or 2008. But there are moments that are ingrained. Russ knocked a guy out there one year. Seriously, the guy spun around like a cartoon character, eyes open but unseeing until he puddled on the floor and eventually got his senses back. Arie, my daughter, met Sensei Demura for the first time when she was 3 months old there. We were chased home by a tornado one year. Jerk. This year, I have solidified memories as well.

The last seminar on Sunday was announced to be taught by the Nidans (second degree black belts), of which I am. Asking which group I would be given, I was told by my instructor, Fritz Speck, he wanted me to have the older competitive teenagers because he thought I could best teach the athletic kids something they needed to know (specifically he said, ” I don’t know if you can, but I think you can..”). At the last minute I was given the black belts instead. “Perfect!” I thought. I had some Dr. Evil laughter in my head because I did not intend to change my plan and would put these adult through the ringer. Fortunately they were all lower ranking than me. That means I can get loud and indignant about their possibly, lack luster performance. See, you don’t do that to someone who has 30+ years of training on you, cause well, you don’t.

We began by talking about the different folks you will encounter who want to enter martial arts. In my 20 years experience they come in 3 basic types.

1. The traditionalist: Someone coming in for the art and education

2. The Athlete: Someone coming in for competition

3. Personal Protection: Someone coming in after trauma or someone coming in for combative training.

I feel, as a black belt, you should be skilled in all 3 aspects and I told the black belts sitting in front of me such. You would not have a well rounded enough education to simply be any one of these categories. I also told them to step up their game in all 3 areas and today, we’d be working on that. After some Ido Portal ( inspired crawling, “betcha can get up” and some “primate kumite” they were huffing and puffing and probably cursing me a bit in their heads. But hopefully they learned. Because that’s the point. To learn.

A friend asked a question online, “What attribute makes someone a contributing member of society?” Someone perfectly wrote, “teachable.” Well hell, nailed it.

Following my LOUD, YELLING, PUSHING, BOSSY seminar, a friend and fellow Nidan was up. She stated that she was maybe 102 pounds if she was lucky. She isn’t what you would call tall either. But goodness, her presence is as large as a heavy weight. See, Valerie Edwards Robeson is college professor. She speaks like one. Like the one that has a wait list every semester. Like the one that makes you change your major and perhaps your entire life. And she had me head nodding and eager to soak up ever word she spoke. She delivered her words softly but with authority that makes you not question her content or intelligence.

She articulated that as instructors, and teachers of marital arts, if we do not verbally discuss personal space boundaries, and violations, then we were not doing our jobs. She stated that many people seek martial arts in the aftermath of violence in which their personal space has been violated. She noted that martial arts has a over whelming tendency to smash you personal space against someone else’s personal space. She spoke of the neurological response, “negative arousal” that could make a person not able to get past the fear/anxiety reaction in order to ever ACTUALLY use all that stuff they were taught. She said that we needed to name “Personal Space Violations” in to dojo to give a name to those in the school who had been violated. She said they may have never been given a name to what happened to them, and never been given the language to being to heal.

That sentence gave me chills.

I’ve been in martial arts for 20 years. I have a master’s degree in psychology and worked with high risk youth for years. I had missed this lesson. I have never explicitly given the language to my students to articulate when their space is violated. Sure, we tap when were uncomfortable. We say, “I need a break.” But those are passifyng behaviors for a teammate, for a friend. I had never explicitly given personal space violation the center stage that it deserves.

So last night in my “bitty” karate class. We practiced “betcha can’t get up” (simple grappling exercise, your partner holds you down, you get up). This is the definition of being in someone’s personal space. This time we added language. Every time a round began the student on bottom would announce, “get off me, I don’t like this” or “you are in my space, get off.” The student on top could choose, in this drill, to accept it and get off or take on the role of an aggressor and ignore this. In which case a line in the sand was drawn and the person on bottom knew they had to fight to get free.

Be teachable. That’s my goal. That’s my drive.

Senpai Fritz Speck left me with the advice only a seasoned martial artist can give someone. It’s advice I’m still chewing on and trying to decipher. He stated after my seminar was over, “Remember Shu-Ha-Ri” ( I knew this philosophy. It means basically, when you are learning there are 3 levels of learning. The first is to follow (just learn it as its taught). The second is to detach (begin to develop it as your own). And the third is to go beyond or transcend. He further said, nothing is proven until it works for 20 years. 95% of what you think is garbage. 5% though, will be better than anything that has come before. If you are not creating enough to throw away you’re not creating enough.

I was befuddled, as any good student would be. I took away to either not be big headed and that the crap I just taught was just that, crap. Or that I should keep pressing, pushing, working to transcend. No idea which. Probably the crap part. But I want to be teachable. I want to learn. I want to strive for more than what has ever been done, so I guess I will take a bit of the latter too.

So I will leave you with the same advice: Follow, then question, then dream. You make with that what you need to.

(816) 349-9205

Raymore Mo

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