Thursday, January 03, 2019

Teaching Marital Arts in Canada

As a student, practitioner and teacher of martial arts for the past 33 years ...

Generally Martial Arts instruction in Canada sucks.  Not that the arts being taught suck but the passing on of information is atrocious.  And the reason is simple, most instructors are the person who has survived the longest in the school.  This is the person who is seen as the senior student, obviously the most knowledgeable and, that seems reasonable to the other senior students.

The reality is that the new teacher generally has no real idea how to teach adults and more specifically how to teach North American adults.  This is an important distinction that needs to be addressed.  Martial Arts training, regardless of which Asian country they come from also come with that country’s culture and traditions.  In Japan and China that includes a lifetime of a culture that believes “The nail that sticks out, gets hammered down”.  A culture that is trained to do what they are told and not question the status quo.  Jet Li did not decide to be a Martial Artist, he was told he would be and was sent to a Martial Arts school.  In his own words he then did not even learn to read his own language well as the focus was on Martial Arts not education.

That is the exact opposite of the North American culture.  In this culture children are given the opportunity to decide what they want to experience.  And often they are taken to several different activities to find their passion; gymnastics, dance, hockey, figure skating, etc.  Martial Arts is just one of their many possible choices.  As such if they are going to join a school for any of these activities they will have to be engaged.  This carries through when they are as well.  They will not accept a ‘shut up and listen - this is tradition’ mentality from their instructors.  Unfortunately, many “Sensei” try to recreate what they have heard about or seen in China or Japan without taking the cultural differences into account.

Canadians want answers.  Why am I doing this move?  How will this help me become the Martial Artist I dreamed of becoming?

These two questions address the fundamentals of Martial Arts, the Physical and the Psychological; as well as the core issue of why most people join Martial Arts schools.  After teaching hundreds of students and asking them why they are there I have heard this; “I want to protect myself and my family”, “I want to learn self-discipline” or, “I want to achieve inner peace”.  If we are not dealing with these three fundamental student goals, we should roll up our mats and go home.  Let’s look at these individually. 

I want to protect myself and my family.

The first goal is a physical one and probably the most popular answer.  That means we must be able to teach people to move in a practiced structured way within a reasonable amount of time.  In Japan’s culture a teacher can assign a movement to a student and expect that the student will practice it numerous times and never question why.  In Canada the student will wonder and ask how the movement fits into the overall fighting system.  And, even if they do not ask their teacher directly it will be in the back of their minds. 

As teachers with must anticipate and address that question without resorting to ‘it’s tradition’, which is the “traditional” answer.  Instead we need to be able to explain how the movement increases the student’s ability to move, increases their focus or how it is applied against an opponent.  Answering those questions requires a full understanding of the art, preferably learned from their own teachers.  Sadly, that is rarely the case as many teachers have not actually been told what they are doing, instead they repeat movements by rote rather than conscious understanding. 

The question is how to change this, especially in the more complex arts that involve not just kicking and/or punching, but also deal with ground fighting and a variety of weapons.  Change requires a shift in the way students are trained to eventually become teachers.  This radical shift requires that teachers recognize that the teaching paradigm of standing at the front of the dojo and telling people what to do does not work here and does not produce teachers.  Teachers need to be trained to teach as much as they need to be trained to punch.  And they need to start that training as soon as possible.

There are several benefits in training people to teach early.  By early, I mean within 6 months of joining a school.  By that time the student has learned some basics, whether that be punching, rolling, break falls or kata, and they should be able to speak knowledgeably about them.  The first benefit is to the student who has just joined.  The new student is in a place with a bunch of people who can out-fight them and who understand what is going on, from bowing in to warming up to whatever activity is planned for that night.  This is an intimidating situation especially for students who came to learn to defend themselves out of fear.  The student-teacher provides personal instruction and a person who can help make them feel accepted.

The second benefit is to the student-teacher.  That student-teacher gets the opportunity to reinforce what they have learned and to see the movement from a new perspective which improves their own training.  It also empowers the student-teacher making them feel like a valued member of the school who can contribute.  During that time, the main-teacher can help the student-teacher learn how to help the new student to improve the movements they are trying to learn.

The third benefit is to the school itself.  Doing this guarantees that there is a constant supply of trained knowledgeable teachers available for any emergency or succession of the school itself; none of us can teach forever.

I want to learn Self-discipline

Self-Discipline is internal and cannot ever be externally imposed.  Most people don’t understand that, fortunately it can be modeled and encouraged.  People forget that it takes self-discipline just to make it to class on a regular basis.  We all have lives outside the dojo.  There are always reasons not to go to class, birthday parties, snow, friends are doing something.  Discipline, properly called Self-discipline, is what drives students to class day after day.  Having a teacher who is always there and ready is a great role-model.  Recognizing that is one of the great revelations for many students and encourages them when they realize they are working on something they can already do.  Teachers can reinforce that regularly merely by thanking their students for showing up and recognizing that the student chose to come to class rather than go do something else.  Teachers should never take a student’s attendance for granted, it is a gift and should always be treated as such.  Students who feel accepted, encouraged and appreciated are more likely to return.

I want to achieve inner peace

Finally, inner peace.  As many of us that have trained for years know this too cannot be taught.  It can, however, be achieved.  Inner peace can and has been described by many, and each definition differs slightly.  It must be defined by the student themselves but can be nurtured by the teacher.  Most seem to achieve it when they have defeated their inner demons.  Training seriously requires students to drive themselves in ways they never have before.  It forces them to examine who they are and what they stand for, what they are prepared to do to get what they want and, what they are capable of in the pursuit of their goals.  It is this deep understanding that leads to inner peace for most practitioners as they have beat their most difficult adversary, themselves.

When a teacher has put their students on this path they will find engagement, empowerment and dedication from their students. 

Sunday, December 30, 2018

A New Beginning

The year is 2019 and it is time to stop pulling back fro people.  I don't really let people know how I am feeling about the important parts of my life.  I don't discuss the pain, the loneliness, or any of the times I am hurting.  It is a safety mechanism that I have put in place for years to avoid having to be fully open and real with people.  They get to see the strength but not the cost and the only way I am going to be able to clear out my mental closet is to start letting people in.

I went to a psychologist recently.  I filled out the questionnaire that was checking to see if I was in crisis or risk of self-harm.  The crisis line is 65.  The first two times I went I scored a 15 and the last time a 5 so that is not an issue.  The real issue for me is the fact that I was going, not so much to have my issues dealt with, as to have someone in my age group that I could talk to and have him understand the society and time I grew up in.

There I was paying money to a stranger because I was not ready or comfortable having that conversation with friends that I have had for over 50 years or my family.  And that has to stop.

Going forward I am going to let people in.  I have had two very close shaves with death in the last two years and I don't want to go with these last things few unresolved.  I want my family and my friends to know how I feel and why I did some of the things that I did.  I want to reconnect with my old friends and let them know how I feel and find out how they really are, not just the surface.  I want to follow up with some of the kids I  have helped and see their new families.  I want to talk to my students and let them become friends now that we don't have to keep that teacher student wall up.  And finally, I want to reconnect with my art.  After 30 years of training I still have not reached the level I have encouraged others to get to and now that my muscles are starting to work, it is time.

Let's see if that resolution is enough for 2019.  There is more to do, damage to repair and bridges to rebuild, but its a start.

Saturday, December 29, 2018

Learning My Past

Not sure where to start all this so I will just write.

A few months ago, last summer I was told by my son and my best friend that I was in crisis.  Did not really know what they meant until I got out of here and was assured of some help, that I did not expect to get.

Then I started working and getting my bills paid.  Tried to have Jim help me and he did but it led to him finding out that no matter how well he knew me I still did not fully trust him and was holding information back.  That led to a break in our relationship that is still being healed.
During the time he was helping me, he encouraged me to see a psychologist.  I did not at that time but I have since started.  Should be interesting.

And then there was a friend.  He was a young man I went to school with from Grade 7.  He was not one of the bullies and maybe because of that I did not full appreciate his quiet friendship and support.  He contacted me because he had finally come out.  

I may have suspected back then but since I didn't know about me (or admit it maybe) he was not one of the people I thought about when I remembered my early life.  And realizing that has led to a whole lot of mental changes and shenanigans.  Also, my other friend had started  to talk to me again so that helped.
My schoolmate made me sad.  He did not come out to his family until he was 50 and to his friends when he was 55.  He is only now starting to live but our phone call forced me to see, for the first time 2 important things; 1. I had friends and people who liked me in school, 2. I was kind, generous, emphatic and mentoring even back then.

The illusion I have labored under was that I built my current persona when I left Saskatoon when in fact it was more a matter of freeing the persona that was already there.  And that was the light-bulb moment.

I realized that I had spent so much time thinking about the bad parts of my school and the people who had hurt me that I forgot to think about the good people.  And in doing so I have forgotten some of my past that I now want to recover.  There were a lot of good people and I am actually going through my yearbook to try to remember.  It is alarming how much anger and hate can cloud other memories.  I have to go back to Saskatoon and find myself.  From George Ward pool, which I think is closed to my schools and the places I went and I will see how my of me I can find.  This will be hard but fun.

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

January 1, 2014

It seems that every so often I get the urge to just write something down for posterity. I don't generally share it with folks but it makes me feel good. This particular blog is about my recent trip to Saskatoon. I have not been to Saskatoon in the Winter for about 25 years so this was going to be a bit different for me anyway but it was definitely not what I expected. I headed out to Saskatoon on the Sunday before Christmas. There could not have been a more Saskatchewan type of day to be traveling there. By that I mean it was cold, and then there was the wind chill, typical. I had sort of thought that that was why I had left Saskatoon as far as permanence was concerned, not really but it was one of the reasons. And, I knew the weather was supposed to be fairly good in Calgary so not particularly motivated. At the same time I was going back to have a reunion with some people I had traveled to Europe with 40 years ago in 1973. That was my first trip without my parents and it made a huge difference in how my life has gotten to where it is today. In many ways it was one of the first times I was able to feel like a leader, respected for who I was as much as what I knew. It was with those thoughts in mind that I headed East. I had never taken the trip from Calgary to Saskatoon before so it was all new. Past the badlands to make me think of history, across the openness of the prairies; way too much time to think. So why did I leave Saskatoon? Too small? Too much prejudice? Afraid to be me? Hoping for a relationship? Wanting to feel safe and accepted? All of these and more and I knew I could not, ever, ever, go back. And yet, here I was, but thankfully only for a couple of days. I used to be a cab driver in Saskatoon so I knew the city like the back of my hand ... until I got there and realized I was going to a brand new city. I left a large town of about 125,000 and returned to a city of 275,000. I was in town for 20 minutes before I saw anything I recognized. Even the highway that circled the city had to be extended to make room for expansion. And, even before I got to where the reunion was I new I was in a new city, a different Saskatoon. Meeting my old traveling companions was fun. For the most part we were strangers who came together for an extraordinary event, 20 days in Europe, Yugoslavia, Turkey, Lebanon, Greece, Italy and Britain for 24 kids from Saskatoon who's largest school trip before was to Batoche (site of the Riel Rebellion for those of you outside of Saskatchewan). And all of them had been changed by the trip, just as I had. That night I stayed at my brother's place, in a part of town that did not exist when I left. The next day I went for a tour of my old town. I took my nephew along for the ride.

Wednesday, January 01, 2014

Canada July 2 - 2010

I was traveling through the Canadian prairie yesterday, Canada Day, and it made me really think about this country. How many countries can you travel in for 5 hours and stay in the same province? No borders, few limits. And, of course in the prairies, endless horizons. So how do we celebrate it, not just on the nation's birthday but all the time?

On the prairies we have world's largest things. yesterday I discovered that we have the world's largest perogie in a town outside of Bonneyville - yes I'm serious and I will post the picture to prove it - see below. So I started wondering, what the heck else is out there. I know of the world's largest Pysanka egg, Mallard Duck, Skunk, Tomahawk, Nickel, Covered Bridge, Moose, Turtle and garlic sausage; what have I missed. Further, I wondered, how did this get started in the first place, a response to the very big outdoors perhaps? Some feeble attempt by man to capture and control a space that is, in the end, uncontrollable. Is it the same drive that in years past had man explaining the thunder as an argument among the gods; is it at the root of the pyramids; does the Colossus of Rhodes now exist as a metal representation of kobasa? Clearly, large spaces make you think of weird things, and even inspire odd ramblings.

So here I am a day later still in Bonnyville and I am actually learning how much things have changed in Canada. I got here in 1958 and while there were some other black families, the numbers were exceedingly small. So much so that I was 10 before I saw a black girl around my age, and I had to go to the West Indies to do it, she was a cousin. I even met a black guy around my age when I was eight or nine and it didn't even dawn on me that his parent's weren't recent immigrants, he belonged to one of the oldest Prairie Black families, the Maises. Anyway I digress from my main point, or maybe I make it in an odd way.

Here I am in Bonnyville, as I said, and I am walking around going to restaurants and golfing and nobody is making a big deal of it. Of course, you say, "This is Canada" only two days after its 143rd birthday, we don't have prejudice and bigotry here. And really it seems that it is actually happening. Look, I lived in Saskatchewan through my formative years adn I never went anywhere without thinking I was in a zoo - and not on the good side of the glass. Today I felt like I was just some guy walking around town, except for one guy and maybe he just needs glasses so he wasn't really staring, just trying to focus.

This may not seem like much but let me frame it for you. I lived through the 60's, the Black Power movement, Women's rights, Flower Power, Woodstock, Kent State, the end of the Vietnam War and Disco. I all that time the only other black kid I knew and hung out with was my brother. All the rest were a fair number of years younger than us. We were then the first two black kids in the Catholic School system in Saskatoon, talk about living in a fishbowl. If we through a crabapple at someone's car window, our mom knew about it before the wipers brushed it off.

When I went to school the 'N' word was actually 'nigger', no apology, no one said a word, and who could when it was the teacher saying it. Who could when in Grade 9 I went to pick up a girl for the Catholic High School dance - she went there too - her dad said she couldn't go with a nigger. And then the girl who finally did go to a dance with me, was basically hounded out of the good catholic school. These are some of my fond high school memories - don't let me get started. This blog isn't about how bad things were, but about how good things have become.


My Aunt and Uncle left Canada in 1963 because she couldn't handle being stared at all the time, Today, nobody stared, it was enough to make me stop and almost stare myself. I had to look around and remind myself of where I was, what a great time to live. Naturally, this is what I always wanted, just didn't really expect to live to see it. I know I said something like that in my post about Obama but after you have felt that oppression for so long you don't expect it to lift. But this is what Canada is supposed to be about, this is what I tell people about Canada when I talk to them both at home and abroad. But I had only really seen it in the larger cities before now and Canada is so much more than that. Canada is a vast collection of small communities that have quietly been on the forefront of integrating the displaced Chinese, the kids from the reservations and every so often one of us misplaced black or brown kids. Mosques vying for space in the sky with Church spires in the Russian Orthodox style

My brother once told me that he was glad his kids were growing up in Millwoods in Edmonton because when he went to pick them up at school he could only tell them apart because of their height. I thought at the time, 'Well okay so one school is integrated", today he has been vindicated as there are very few people here who see colour, and believe me I had steeled myself for this trip, completely unnecessary as it turns out, well off to tour Cold Lake, let's see how the rest of the day goes, looking forward to it.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

US Election First Reactions

Obama – The Sound of Shattering Glass

Sometimes when you put your thoughts on paper you are not sure if they are conveying what you really want to say. In this case I find myself having trouble putting it all together. Do I start with my family moving to Canada, my own experiences in school, stories of Jackie Robinson, Rosa Parks? I could start with John Kennedy and my mother’s tears.

Indeed that really is where the story starts for me. I had never seen my mother cry and I really didn’t understand it then but the first time I saw it was the day John Kennedy was shot. Even then it seemed distant, and I knew nothing about geography, it just didn’t seem to have anything to do with me. Frankly, I only barely know I was black and had no idea what that meant.

Over time I would come to know what being black meant. Of course back then we weren’t black yet, it was the early sixties and to many, sometimes even our teachers, we were still niggers. To the intelligencia we were Negros and to the ultra liberal we were coloured. Don’t let me five you the impression that there were a lot of we, in my case it was my mom, dad and older brother. In the entire separate school board in our town my brother and I were the first.

Being first made me truly appreciate what it is for the first person to break any barriers, although it is only now as I am older that I can really understand. And when your differences can be seen at huge distances, and when your differences have been denigrated for generations each breaking barrier is greeted with both cheers and jeers. It is the jeers that sounded so resoundingly for so many years because not matter how high we flew there were places we could not go.

And here I find myself, shocked by not knowing which should surprise me more, the fact that it is happened, the fact that it took so long or the fact that I find myself explaining to people what it means for black people. The strange looks as if to say, what do you mean prejudice, I’ve never seen it. Their surprise, almost as if to say; “Well it has never happened to me” and the clear implication that it could not be true. Of course not, you are white, how would you know what I mean by prejudice against blacks, it is not your experience. That does not make it any less real.

Still, there is a part of me that is happy to hear the very colour-blindness of the youth. Yes they should know the history, but hopefully only as history and not as their own truth.

I feel a little like a former overweight person who upon having lost the weight still has the same body image. How long before the scars can heal, will the ripple in the pond echo in our lifetimes and will we, the older generation be able to move beyond our pain and be part of the new order.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Wow, Am I Still Blogging

So, now I have read my last blog. It has been an interesting time, 10 months can provide for a lot of living. Seems some of that old stuff was pretty down. These damn blogs provide to fine an insight into where we were at different times. Anyway, another year has come and gone and we are about to have our second Christmas without my dad, not a bad time all in all, circle of life and all that.

I have spent a rather indolent year perfecting my golf game. Always a perfectionist, I am sure I have driven my friends nuts with the stupid game. Regardless, it is an activity that forces a person to be continually trying to improve and I like that sort of thing.

My training has been at a standstill for the past few months as I try to figure out what the hell is wrong with my body but we seem to be getting closer, we'll see. My goal for 2008 is to go back to Japan for a couple of weeks, take Nathan with me and if possible make a side trip to Beijing so I can be my little friends Godfather, as I promised so long ago. If I can also send my mother to see her last cousin, well the last one she wants to see, one last time that would be good too.

It is quite probably well past time I started doing this on a regular basis. The year, 2008 must be the year I take my training to the next level. It has now been 22 years of training, I have spawned 4 schools and spent thousands of dollars traveling and building up my club. At this point I should either start traveling and doing seminars or at the very least commit myself to regular annual trips to Japan.

Naturally, that brings some other things to the fore. when I was in Japan the last time I was asked if I could teach Jazz singing. That was one of many indications that at some time I should look seriously at developing my voice. I know, I'm old and I have no interest whatsoever in finding myself back on a stage, but... So I have decided to take up another hobby, singing lessons. This is what comes of not having children way too much time on my hands. Fortunately, there is a guy in the building who teaches for much less that going to Grant McEwan.

Anyway the year is about to end so this is a good time to look forward and see what the heck is up. I shall try to chronicle this year more acutely than this past year.