Video: Kakie and Shisochin Kata

Kakie, the pushing hands technique, is often neglected, or used too simply as just a conditioning exercise. We chip a little off the bunkai iceberg by showing how kakie can be used to tease the bunkai out of Shisochin, a senior kata specific to Goju Ryu, and brought back from mainland China by Kanryo Higashionna Sensei.

We pick out just 3 moves from this graceful, but deadly kata, and show how you can use kakie to effectively implement the bunkai hidden just under the surface of the kata.

Instructor: Che Jagger 5th Dan, OGKK
Filmed at Goju Ryu Karate Centre, Florida, Johannesburg.

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Video on How To Clean Your Gi

We wear white for a lot of good reasons (hygiene, symbolism, neatness), but it is a pain to keep it looking bright and fresh over time. If, like us, you have invested in a good quality gi and you want it to last, follow our short, simple guide to keeping it fresh, clean and snappy. Our full guide to gi care can be found here: https://zoehinis.com/2016/12/30/how-t…

Video on Why We Wear White in the Dojo

The karate gi has a longer (and shorter) history than most people realize. We trace the famous angry white pajamas to their origins, explore the logic and history behind the use of white fabric, and the modern stylings of keiko-gi, and cover it in 10 minutes flat. Sort of.

May contain some opinions around hideous modern gi. Featuring: Japanese firefighters, Florence Nightingale, 5 famous Sensei, Wimbledon, Cobra Kai and the Battle of Okinawa. PS: The cards don’t pop up if you watch this on a TV, so you can watch our gi-cleaning guide here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s1qJ0… As for the weird floating arrow, and the random text card – I can’t fix those without losing this video. Forgive me, I’m learning as I go.

I have started making videos based on my blog posts, and learning a great deal in the progress.

I enjoy the extra research, choosing pictures and going down rabbit holes of knowledge as I go. The one above was particularly time-consuming, but I am proud of the end result, even if it is a bit glitchy.

Read the original article here: Why We Wear White. Please give the video a like and/or comment, and hit subscribe for new videos every Friday.

But Still. I’m So Sorry.

I read something the other day about anticipatory grief, and how globally we are all mourning present and future loss. Not just the lost lives, the covid dead, but things, and events, and traditions.

This Grown and Flown article encompasses the pain us parents are feeling all around the world. There is so much we are sorry to see – the missed graduations, matric dances, and big matches. At least my son is little and hopefully won’t be too affected by everything we are going through. All he has had to endure so far is a birthday in lockdown, and frazzled parents who are trying their best but can’t get it right or together every day.

Dojo life has been put on hold, for who knows how long. In South Africa, we are unlikely to be allowed to operate until maybe level 1, and even then, only under very stringent conditions. And I respect this, and applaud the efforts made by our government to try keep us all safe. The dojo, unfortunately, is the kind of place the ‘Rona would love. Lots of communal surfaces, physical interaction, shouting and hugs after class. Keeping students safe, and alive, comes before any grading or kata.

But still. I am sorry.

I am sorry, for the gradings that will have to be changed and taken online, all the thrill and pressure gone. I am sorry for the students hoping to grade to black belt, who were hoping to make this coveted grade after so, so many years.

I am sorry that you can’t be with your dojo mates, with the friends you’ve made over the years and shared memories and snacks and gradings with. For adults, the friends you’ve made at the dojo are ones you’ve bonded with in sweat and self-conscious laughter and shared gashuku adventures. They’re people that you might only see in the dojo, but damn if you don’t miss them when they’re not there.

I’m sorry, for all the cancelled events. The tournaments, the trials, the gashukus. The Olympic dream, that so many have dreamed of, karate’s one shot at gold medal glory, has been deferred. It doesn’t matter, in this moment, whether sport karate is the same as traditional; what matters is that so many athletes have been training for so long, and they have been robbed of their time to shine.

I am sorry for all the instructors who will have to close their dojo doors. I am sorry for all those lost pockets of martial arts, regardless of style. It is heartbreaking to see instructors lose their day jobs, and/or their dojo too. I am sorry for the students who will lose access to the benefits of martial arts, to the mentorship of a good instructor and the proving ground that is the mat.

There is so much we have already lost, and it has been less than six months. With more than 200,000 dead and waves of trauma rippling across the planet as economies tank and livelihoods are lost, we are all living through collective turbulence with no frame of reference for how we should handle it.

What gives me hope, though, is that the men who gave us karate lived through the horror of world war, and Okinawa was an especially brutal theatre of war.

Because of the Battle of Okinawa, a great number of very talented karate instructors and students were killed. Miyagi Sensei himself lost three children (his third and fourth daughters, and his third son). The neighbourhood had been reduced to scorched earth, and all the valuable Karate and Kenpo equipment and literature that had been collected over the years was lost in the fires. It was a time of overwhelming grief and mourning.

Okinawan Den Goju Ryu Karate-Do, Eii’chi Miyazato, 1978

Miyagi buried his children and his most promising student, Jinan Shinzato. He lost his home, his dojo, his collected works. And yet. He returned to the work of karate, continued to teach and realised that for karate to survive and be of use, it had to be shared. And now, more than 60 years since his passing, his style still continues, all over the world, across dozens of countries and languages.

There will be losses. There have already been losses. But I also have seen a wellspring of hope, and a resilience shining through. We can get through this, but not alone. Instructors must now rely on more than just good karate knowledge – we need to be creative, resilient, humble and patient. We need to find new ways to teach, and flex our different skill sets, and hold on with our entire spirit, even if it’s just by our fingernails, we must hold on.

Karate has survived two world wars, Spanish flu, numerous recessions and the worst McDojos in the world. It will survive this. I’m not worried about karate – I am worried about you. The student. The instructor. The dojo parent. Wherever you land in the constellation of people that make up a dojo, I worry. I hope you are okay. I hope you have your health and your livelihood.

We will do everything we can to make sure we are still here when this blows over. From hardcore social distancing to extra work to online classes, we will do our best to make sure that Goju Ryu Karate Centre does not close its doors after 42 years.

We are sorry that so much is going on, and we can’t fix it. But we will do everything we can to still be here when it is over, and try pick up again where we all left off, ready to welcome our students back to the tatami.

When your body gets tired, fight with your heart, and remember who you are.

Why we wear white

It is the bane of every dojo parent’s existence – the white karate suit. Why dress children in white? Of all the colours, why choose the most unforgiving, most difficult to maintain, most revealing colour of all? Why something that will get dirty 20 minutes before a grading?

I get it, I do. And after all these years, I still get annoyed when something stains my precious Shureido gi. I save up for literal years to buy each one, and then my toddler son comes up from behind me with sticky hands and leaves stains on the hem of my jacket. It is in those moments that I wish I trained in a practical black gi. Luckily, I have a special care guide for maintaining the quality of my suits – you can read it here.

But the white keikogi (gi for short) is a relatively new phenomenon, instituted by Kanō Jigorō, founder of Judo. He adapted it from kimono around the turn of the 20th century. Japanese martial arts historian Dave Lowry speculates Kanō derived the uniform’s design from the uniforms of Japanese firefighters’ heavy hemp jackets, hanten (半纏). In the 1920s, to help market karate in Japan, Shotokan founder Gichin Funakoshi adapted Kano’s design and introduced it to karate. The gi is not that ancient and mystic – it is only around 100 years old. For context, Wimbledon has been played since 1877.

Two young judo-ka in keikogi.

While the length of the sleeves and pants are different from style to style, the overall look is that of a white jacket that folds over itself, a belt, and pants. (And a shirt underneath for women, which sucks in the summer but is a bonus in the winter.) The gi ensures that everyone is dressed the same, that issues of class and income are somewhat equalised. It also allows for the rank system, since the only way to stand out is to excel. We see this same principle in school uniforms and blazers. (At my high school, we used to call overachievers Christmas trees, because their blazers would be laden with shiny badges and braiding). When Chojun Miyagi started teaching, everyone wore whatever they could. Mostly, their work clothes. Okinawa was desperately poor after the Second World War, and students made do with what they could find. Sensei Teruo Chinen Sensei writes in his biography about his first gi:

“Because I could not afford a new uniform, my first karate gi was tailored by my oldest sister, Shigeko…I borrowed my friend’s commercially-made gi and my sister copied it. Shigeko collected flour sacks donated by the US Red Cross. She reversed the sacks so the printed part was inside. She used a Singer treadle sewing machine and tailored the top, bottom and belt. That was great!” Forty Years of Chamber, Teruo Chinen.

As you can see, not all the students are wearing suits – some are just wearing casual clothes.

But why white? Especially since Judo has got blue suits, and some of the weapons-based styles (Iado, Kendo) wear black. (The black is to prevent staining from some of the oils used in maintaining weapons.) Why not adopt something more practical? Here we must delve into Japanese culture, which is deeply concerned with matters of hygiene. I always knew about this, but I only really understood the depth of it when I visited Japan and Okinawa and saw how the Japanese prize hygiene and cleanliness. From the absence of litter to the lack of body odour on a crowded train, the Japanese do not tolerate breaches of hygiene. It is why shoes are left at the door, people wear face masks when sick, and the toilets are the most magical monuments to personal cleanliness (my kingdom for my own TOTO washlet!)

And so we come to the white gi, all the easier to see dirt with. But a white gi is more than just a symbol of humility – it shows us the seriousness of the practitioner. The condition of the gi is a reflection of the state of the martial artist’s mind. It should be spotlessly clean, and mended as necessary. The belt is properly tied and the ends are the exact same length. Preferably, there is only a federation badge, and maybe some subtle embroidery of the name. The white gi is simple, humble and pure. It should reflect these qualities in the practitioner.

Of course, this doesn’t take into account the general rambunctious nature of children and their ability to get grass stains on a newly laundered gi, but it is also important to remember that Japanese children are held to the same high standards as adults. Japanese children are expected to keep their own schools clean, instead of janitors, unlike Western children. They are raised to take better care of their environments, and one might assume that this same attention to detail applies to their karate uniform as well.

How Japanese children clean the floors at school – from TheJapanGuy.com

And finally, and the best reason I’ve found for wearing white – it shows up blood immediately. For the same reason nurses started wearing white in the 1900s, we wear white in the dojo so that blood stands out and injuries can be immediately attended to. Overall, I feel like this is the best reason, but I also like the philosophical reasons as well.

And this is where opinions start to differ. I cannot take anyone seriously when their suit looks like a Nascar racer. It’s like those chops who cover their cars in stickers saying “Ass or grass – no free rides!” and “no fat chicks!” Thanks for the heads up – now we know how insecure you are. It’s the bro version of a karate suit, the Cobra Kai sleeveless black gi. (Although, I admittedly love the new Cobra Kai series far more than the original Karate Kid movies). A gi covered in patches looks untidy and kitsch, and that’s before we even start on American flag suits, or camouflage belts.

Like this unmitigated garbage.

A uniform can command respect: Florence Nightingale realised this, and introduced uniforms for her nurses, which also included “colored bands that indicated their level of experience; pastel colors for young nurses, black bands for senior nurses.” A gi, well cared for and proudly worn, can command respect, and it is the instructor’s first impression when meeting possible new students. Let the gi speak for itself, and let your karate speak for you.

It doesn’t have to be an expensive gi – heaven knows there are plenty of rank amateurs wearing monstrously overpriced suits, while some of the best practitioners are wearing second-hand suits that they have meticulously repaired and cleaned. I’m not impressed by an Arawaza gi when some tedious boor is wearing it. A gi can hide your gut, but it can’t hide a bad attitude, and it especially can’t turn a MacDojo black belt into a real one.

Tameshiwari: Boardbreaking

I remember a kid asking me once, “when do we learn to break boards?” and I responded with “when trees attack!”

(Shut up, I thought it was funny.)

For the most part, that usually settles the discussion, but tameshiwari (translated as ‘trial by wood’) keeps cropping up in my reading and research. I remember the Taekwondo club at my university dojo also incorporating board breaking.  They were our perpetual rivals, because they always got way more money than we did and had more sign-ups because they did the flashy stuff people wanted to see. Some of my skepticism is definitely rooted in that, I admit.

For the most part, I have always seen it within a showmanship, McDojo-ish kind of situation. Something done in malls to attract students, a display of sheer machismo. But like my attitude towards tournament karate, I am finding that this opinion needs to undergo some revision as I expand my understanding over time.

(But, it turns out my gut feel was right in the first place, as we’ll see closer to the end.)

In Know Karate-do by Bryn Williams, he writes,

The body’s various striking points can be backed by quite remarkable power but this power can only be released when one has removed the fear of hitting something hard. Breaking is therefore a psychological as well as a physical ordeal, especially when performed in public…If one believes oneself capable of breaking the object then one can release one’s entire physical energies into the act. Any mental reservations inhibit the maximum use of power….Its successful execution gives self-confidence and self-knowledge. – Know Karate-Do, Bryn Williams, 1975

Tameshiwari by Mas Oyama

A scan taken from Essential Karate by Mas Oyama

The Benefits: 

Perhaps the definition that encompasses the value of tameshiwari is best given by Mas Oyama in his book Essential Karate: 

Tameshiwari…is not a purpose of karate, but rather serves as a barometer of acquired strength and technique..[It] requires exceptional balance, form, concentration of spirit, and calmness. Essential Karate, Mas Oyama, 1975

Undoubtedly, anything that requires relentless self-discipline and practice that lends itself to honing the body can have some value. After all, hojo undo in Okinawan karate is entirely centred on strengthening the body through supplementary training with equipment, some of which is homemade.

The Cons: 

Like many things, tameshiwari is a tool that can be used for great self-improvement. But as observed well by Salick’s Karate and Martial Arts, board-breaking is at its worst when it is used by clubs to advertise with and for kids:

But again — and I hate to be a broken record here — my central disagreement with board and other breaking is the flawed message it sends to the adolescent mind . When instructors and parents shower praise upon a child for breaking little boards, what kid isn’t going to want to reach for more? What do you tell them? That breaking little things for applause is ok, but breaking big things for more applause is really dumb? Good luck with that one.

The human hand can only take so much damage, and this loops us back around to the same kind of damage done by ill-informed practitioners using makiwara. Big, calloused knuckles are cool in the same way that gothic dragon posters are cool – when one is thirteen and still easily impressed.

We also know that damaging the growth plates at the end of bones will cause those bones to stop growing. These plates only close over at the end of puberty, and must be protected as best as possible. With the knowledge available to the modern instructor, we need to do what we can to protect the health of our students, even when it means stopping them from doing what they think is cool stuff, like smashing super hard punching bags and makiwara. No doubt, sponge and bag work is invaluable for teaching them how to generate power (and fresh air doesn’t teach us anything about the quality of a technique) but breaking boards? That’s only going to end in tears, and not the useful kind.

ds00816_im00369_ch7_growthplatethu_jpg

Courtesy of the Mayo Clinic

Overall, if an experienced adult student or instructor wants to commit themselves to a challenge, and does it in the privacy of their garden/dojo/garage, and with supervision and care, then they will probably(?) be fine. But I would not recommend it for children, novices or anyone with any predisposition to injury or overzealousness. The same concept can be taught with a sponge or training pads, and allows some cushioning to prevent damage. Staying safe and training for decades is far more important than a moment of glory (and the cost of roof tiles that no one can use afterwards). 

Sensei Mom

“When your mother asks, “Do you want a piece of advice?” it’s a mere formality. It doesn’t matter if you answer yes or no. You’re going to get it anyway.”
– Erma Bombeck

There are many reasons for my sporadic posting, (for the six people who do take the time to read), and one of them is that I have produced my very own tiny human in the last two years. Exciting, I know, and much, much harder than a shodan grading. Giving birth puts many things into much-needed perspective. 21 hours of labour will do that.

Anyway, now I juggle two titles: Sensei, and Mom. And like all mothers before me, I am going to offer unsolicited wisdom, as revenge for all the unwanted advice I got from family, friends and complete strangers in the queue at Checkers (because nothing inspires condescending advice from randoms like a baby bump. The same fuckers won’t offer you a chair to sit on, but they will ask about whether you plan to have natural birth or not. Rude.)

First Lesson: I Am A Woman, Not An Island

Learning to accept help has probably been one of the most valuable lessons of the last two and a bit years. Because from the moment everyone knew (especially the dojo), the offers of help began to pour in. From my husband, who took over my teaching load when I was too tired to stand, to the bags of ginger sweets from friends for the 3 months of all-day nausea, to every dojo mom who has bounced Hunter to sleep, to the teens and kids who play with him so that I can teach/grade/event manage. I have learned to accept offers of help, because people really do want to help and its important to let them, and especially when its a chance to let someone learn a valuable skill, like letting a teen handle admin tasks. It is especially great when people volunteer to take Hunter off my hands so that I can focus on teaching, because at the end of the day, I really do love teaching and it matters to me that I can still do it, and do it well, and not sacrifice it entirely on the altar of motherhood.

Second Lesson: Motherhood is Mine to Disrupt
I admit I was warned, but I didn’t really know that so much of parenting would just outright suck and be boring. The waiting, the nappy blowouts, the sleep regressions, the food struggles, the fear when my child is sick and his temperature is spiking. The endless worry about milestones, and the inevitable comparisons, made by both myself and others. “He looks a bit thin”, and “are you sure you’re feeding him enough?” and “shouldn’t he be doing X by now?”

And it is still scandalous to admit all this, because “what about all the people that will be too put off to have children?” Well, good, because they aren’t tough enough for this gig. Also, apparently upon becoming mothers, we are all supposed to turn into these earth goddesses who are also so good at cleaning, and breastfeeding, and sleep training, and cooking and a million other things. (Ali Wong puts it better in her stand-up special Hard Knock Wife.) Voetsek to all that, I say. I truly love teaching karate, and I love my son and my husband, and everything else can fit into that. I refuse to give up teaching, and I am incredibly lucky that I have a husband who more than does his half – he does some of my work too. We try to keep to a routine, but sometimes there are interruptions, and that’s fine. No, I am not a perfect mother, but no one is, and I’m doing my best, and that’s all anyone can ask. And if that’s not good enough, then fight me.

Lesson Three: Stronger than Before

I went through my blog the other day (procrastination) and came across all these godawful, whiny blogposts, and I must have deleted dozens of them, because nothing teaches one strength like parenting. Things that used to knock me on my ass barely register now. People are mean? Whatever. Sleep-deprived and suffering a chest infection? Show must go on.

“Sometimes the strength of motherhood is greater than natural laws,” said Barbara Kingsolver, and this is why we can still do what we need to do, even when sick, even on two or three hours sleep. I haven’t had a full night’s sleep since December 2017, when I was 5 months pregnant and got up two or three times a night, because pregnancy reduces even the best bladders. (Oh, and the incredibly vivid dreams, yes, can’t forget those). The longest I’ve slept is 5 hours. My son’s chronotype is ‘ferret on meth’, and since he doesn’t sleep, neither do I. But somehow, I’ve gotten used to it, and the bags under my eyes match my black belt. (I still don’t like it when people point out how tired I am. Bitch, I know. Offer to take this child for two hours, or something. Bring me a Red Bull, my one vice.)

When I turned 30, I started running out of fucks. Now, I have zero, not even one, left to give. Either help, admire, or get out of my way. Sensei Mom has too much to do.

Lesson four: Empathy (Sorry, Mom) and Gratitude for Days

I am now suddenly and completely retroactively sorry for being the brat I was, and how I put my poor parents through hell. According to my mother, I didn’t sleep either, and I couldn’t understand growing up why she delighted in telling everyone about it. I get it now. I realise that she was just looking for a bit of sympathy, and maybe for someone to offer to take me off her hands for a bit. Luckily, I have a big family, an incredible husband, a dojo family, and a part-time nanny, and I would be completely sunk on my own. I could write an Oscar acceptance speech trying to thank everyone, but I fear I am already running long here. I am consistently in awe of parents who go at it on their own, for any number of reasons, especially as families shrink and/or splinter all over the world.

Entering the sisterhood of motherhood has been one of the greatest privileges of my life. Because even though there are judgy moms who have an opinion on everything and everyone (Karens), there are also welcoming moms, who have taught me tricks and commiserated and let me rant and be pathetic every now and then. There have been moms in shopping centres with an extra wet wipe, or complete strangers in a train station in Okinawa who gave us a fan to cool Hunter down. The whatsapps late at night with mom friends, who are also either in the trenches, or enjoying the rare hour when everyone is sleeping and its time for pointless instagram scrolling, or reading, or Netflix bingeing. My relationships with my mom and stepmom have become richer, because I get it now, and they still have something to teach me, even if parenting has changed dramatically in 30 years.

Lesson Five: Everything Has Changed (And You Get Used To It)

The hardest thing, sometimes, is mourning the person I used to be – when I had the luxury of time to run for two or three hours, and then shower and nap afterwards. When I didn’t need an organising committee to make time for a nap. When I could go to every training session, and every gashuku, start to finish. Teaching kata to kids is not the same as real training (because I need to work on Saipai, a kata that is currently not on speaking terms with me, understandably) and it has been hard to swallow my pride and accept that my karate just kinda sucks now. Funakoshi said that karate is like a pot of water, and we need to keep it hot to keep it boiling, and I haven’t been able to keep up that heat.

My san dan journey has been set back a few years, because while I did train while pregnant, and was back in my gi two weeks after giving birth, I have to face the fact that I lost time. I lost lots of time. I have to fight hard to carve out training and running time. Every time I try to train, my son suddenly becomes clingy, and I must step off the mat, because its not fair to disrupt the whole class for the sake of my training. My own health, while important, must take third or fifth or tenth priority, some days. This is how women get worked out of the system, because karate and the patriarchy and generally everyone else doesn’t wait for you, and it is implicitly (and sometimes explicitly) understood that one is like, super grateful to be a mom and will happily surrender her entire journey to motherhood. Karate is for men, isn’t it? Isn’t that why there are only men at the top? We are slowly changing that, but being on this side of motherhood, I can see why so many of us just quit, or slowly disappear. I understand.

But, karate is long, and life is short, and as Hunter gets older and more independent, I am slowly clawing back time to train. A wise Sensei Mom once told me that before I know it, he’ll be big and training alongside me, and I’ll have plenty of time again. And I try to remember that, especially on the days when time feels like it is dragging, and I’ll be wiping butts forever.

Overall, hopefully, importantly, I hope this has all helped me become a better instructor. There aren’t a lot of Sensei Moms, but we are out there, and if we can keep at it, and show the girls coming up behind us that motherhood can be enriching, not limiting, and that they can be tough and soft, and breastfeed while kicking ass, then every Sensei Mom has earned a different kind of black belt.

“Being a mom has made me so tired. And so happy.”
– Tina Fey

Karate in the Age of Instagram

In my usual forays around the internet today, I came across this article about how Lush UK is abandoning social media. Their reason?

“Increasingly, social media is making it harder and harder for us to talk to each other directly,” the post read. “We are tired of fighting with algorithms, and we do not want to pay to appear in your newsfeed. So we’ve decided it’s time to bid farewell to some of our social channels and open up the conversation between you and us instead.⁣”

And honestly, this is refreshing to see. If a big brand like Lush is tired of fighting with the monsters that own Facebook and Instagram, then it doesn’t feel quite so bad to be a small dojo swimming against the algorithms all the time.

I worked as a social media manager in my past life, before I ran away from corporate to become an instructor, and it was a constant battle of shiny, happy updates and vapid copy, my English degrees weeping on the wall while I used hashtags and SEO-friendly babble to sell books, or book launches. To this day, I still cannot abide hashtags, which are an abomination unto the flow of language and conversation.  Seeing them anywhere other than on a phone keypad and Twitter, where they started their rise, and where they should stay, gives me hives on the inside of my skull. Billboards, whatsapp chats with friends and family, cheesy t-shirts from Mr Price – I barf in my scorn.

But, if you want to play the social media game, you have to play by the rules, and that means hashtags if you want your post to be discovered. And so, on Instagram, I dutifully put in the hashtags, even if it feels like I’m trading parts of my soul for it.  And there’s nothing worse than one line of copy, and a paragraph of hashtags, and that’s one of the reasons why our dojo instagram account doesn’t have 10,000 followers.

Of course, I could just buy followers – it is easy enough, and costs less than one expects.  Risky, though.  And predictably, that article goes on to piously state:

Take the time, energy, and money that you would’ve dedicated to buying followers, and focus instead on building genuine relationships with a real audience. If your content is engaging and authentic, your loyal followers will spread the word and engage with your brand without needing any bribes.

Aye, there’s the rub. In a longer post. I’ve written about the day-to-day schedule a Sensei might have, but to paraphrase here: when you are running a business, it takes up the whole day when you’re doing it with all your heart.  But on social media, no one can see your hard work. By its very nature, it demands that everything is effortlessly beautiful. All is glamorous and charming, all the time.

But by karate’s nature, and that of any martial art, it’s definitely not glamorous. This isn’t yachting in the Bahamas. There are hours and hours of slog – of cleaning and administrating. Of drills done in the morning, when the dojo is quiet and it’s the only chance I have to train.  No one wants to see that. Up and down, repetition after repetition. Who cares? Only me, and definitely not Facebook.

And what about the complications of posting about my students? Sharenting is the new term for when parents overshare about their children online, and there are concerns about the creeps who hang around, looking for information and pictures about kids. Also, there are those who take it to extremes, like the Kardashians:

Last week, it was alleged that American celebrities Kim Zolciak-Biermann and Kim Kardashian (both of whom regularly post pictures of their children on the internet) appeared to have… enhanced recent photos of their daughters, aged four and five. Their stomachs had been slimmed, their skin had been smoothed, and it was claimed (by gotcha account @Celebface) that Zolciak-Biermann had changed the shape of her daughter’s nose, and lifted her buttocks.

Classy.

Now, I teach a lot of really super cute kids, who look adorable in their karate suits. Do I post pictures of them posing to shore up my dojo ‘brand’? Absolutely not.  I don’t even post pictures of my own child online, because I don’t like the idea of any of those tech giants having any more say or information on my life than they already have. I am especially strict about others posting about him online. Why would I then have separate rules for my students?

As it is, I post only pictures of the top or backs of their heads – no faces, no tags, and no identifying markers.  Instagram, and its users, obviously don’t swoon over this kind of content. It’s safe, and boring. Nothing cute about the back of someone’s little head.

There are also legal issues around privacy and photography – this is the South African law around it, and worth noting is this:

You have the right to take photos of anyone or anything if it can be seen from a public area. This includes parks, city streets and sporting events or concerts. This also allows for any private property or buildings to be shot from within the public domain. Any person and member of the public is basically wavering their right to anonymity or privacy by appearing in these areas and are therefore fair subject matter for images.

This makes it interesting when you are dealing with parents taking photos of kids. It may be important to have a conversation about not sharing photos with other people’s kids in them, unless you stick an emoji over their face, as some people do. (Which is weird, but better than blurring their faces so that it looks like a documentary.)  Here are some good guidelines about posting pics, and overall, my rule of thumb is that I try not to post standalone pictures of kids, and these days, only group photos, at a distance, where the faces are small and no one is tagged.

All of this is even before we have a wider conversation about social media and its inherent problems, like how it is linked to the exacerbation of mental health issues in teens, or how it favours right-wing parties. Is this even something we want to be a part of?

Overall, it is just easier to avoid all of this nonsense and risk, and unsubscribe from the unrelenting demands of social media, and especially Instagram. I know its 2019, and everyone, including their pug, is expected to have a social account, and a following.  There’s even the careful monetisation of parenting, with moms (90% of the time, its moms) sharing how ‘exhausting’ parenting is, yet they have the time to make those damn cutesy letterboards with funny quotes and have perfect hair, and still be influencers getting paid that sweet dollar dollar for their twee posting. Parenting isn’t anything like that, and yet its now the new norm.

It all feels hollow, and pointless, and so antithetical to what a dojo is all about that it seems cheapening and soul-destroying to play the likes game. Because that’s all it boils down to: more likes = better, and how can I compete with someone who spends hours upon hours cultivating a careful artifice to attract those tasty likes?  And why should we be forced to compete?

It is important that students are not taught that their looks and image are more important than what they do. There is far more value to the qualitative life than the quantitative one, and social media actively promotes the worst in all of us. What message do we send kids when we post only their best, or use their tempers and failures as funny posts to get likes and comments?  Karate is about long-term goals, the daily work of attending class and practicing. It is the integrity to work when no one is watching, to do the lonely, simple work that progress requires. It is also important that students are taught not to value someone’s training based on their posts. Some people will post literally every time they put their gi on, but that’s no indication of how hard they work, and what kind of person they are on the mat. Social media is the opposite of the simple life called for in the dojo kun, and while it might help us promote our dojos to passing customers, it can easily distract us from what is important: teaching good karate and values.

I would much, much rather take the time to send photos I take of the kids in the dojo directly to their parents, so that they can enjoy seeing their kids’ progress. Especially for the parents who work full time and can’t come watch their kid train. I think that is a much better investment of my time than choosing hashtags.

How to Balance Training and Studying

“No matter how you excel in the art of “Ti” (Okinawan precursor to Karate), and in your scholastic endeavours, nothing is more important than your behaviour and humanity as observed in daily life.”  Junsoku Uekata (Confucian scholar), written in 1683

We are always aware of the increasing demands on children’s time. As schools introduce more and more tests while slashing down on break time, children have less time than ever before to just be children. Our teens have not only increased workloads, but social pressures that we are all still learning to navigate, especially the tricky ground of social media.

On top of this, it always feels like students are busy with cycle tests and exams. The tests are starting sooner and sooner, and like American schools, South African schools seem to be developing a toxic culture of test-taking that has 9 and 10 year olds swotting an unrealistic amount for tests that seem to have little value other than teaching them how to cram. But, whatever difficulties the school system presents, wherever you are in the world, school still has value in transferring knowledge and skills, and failing finals has very real consequences. We definitely understand that schoolwork comes first.

However, we also believe that the time students spend in the dojo is incredibly valuable in managing their stress. It is an hour away from a screen and from the books, spent challenging entirely different parts of their brains and keeping their bodies moving. It is also an opportunity for socialising and relaxing, for them to see friends and to share some of their frustrations. A good dojo always feels like a refuge from the challenges and pressures of daily life, and this is especially important during times of relentless stress.

It is also an ideal way to teach time management, as children who love the dojo will quickly learn that if they get their homework and studying out the way, there will be time for karate. Teaching time management from a young age will ensure a life-long discipline that will carry them through the challenging years ahead, especially at university!

Here are some tips for balancing training with studying:

  • Chat to your instructor about changing class times to earlier or later just over the exam season, or to reducing classes to just once a week for a month. We would always much rather be flexible in our schedules than lose students!
  • A disciplined study routine will ensure that time is set aside for karate – you only need to find 2 hours a week out of 168 to maintain your progress.
  • Kata are the living textbooks of karate – a student can do kata at home during study breaks, which helps combat the effects of sitting too long as well as restoring mental focus and energy through increased oxygen intake. Five kata per 15 minute break x 5 a day = 25 kata! That’s a wonderful way to keep up with training when it is impossible to get to the dojo.
  • Take study materials to the dojo so that some extra work can be done while waiting for class
  • Stay involved in the dojo – once you lose momentum, it becomes too easy to quit, and that path is filled with regret. For advice on how to prevent this, read this post on Returning to the Dojo

Parents, we really do get it. The schools are piling on the extracurriculars and reducing the amount of time kids have to play and explore their interests. And now, you’ve got to help them get ready for the umpteenth test of the term. On top of that, you’ve got to get them to the dojo as well.

It is up to us as instructors to offer high-quality karate that serves as a vehicle for important life skills such as discipline and self-confidence. However, developing these skills takes time, and this is why we always insist on regular attendance.

Slow or fast doesn’t matter – progress is progress, but it can only be made when students continue their training with patience.

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