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RookieWriter

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Indeed. I know of one operator who has a way to work around this problem. He has small premises in a prime location, so he can’t fit as many people in as he needs to meet his rent. So what he does is offer slightly inflated rates compared to other centres, but on a six month training deal (most others are monthly, or per lesson). Then he makes classes so boring that students leave before the expiry of their membership, making room for the next vacancy. I heard one story from a former student that one of his go-to exercises was to require newbies to meditate by imagining that they were oranges. Who’s going to fall for that?

That crap only applies to his kids’ class, since kids are often seen as a rental solution (and high turnover is expected), whereas adults are more of a medium term prospect. I completely disagree with that business model, especially since it is damaging all MA centres in that postcode. The public see one centre not offering a service they expected to receive and assume that it applies to everyone.

I had another prospective student approach me one time and ask how long it took to get a black belt. How long is a piece of string? We talked for a bit, and they told me of another style that handed out that rank after just six months of training. I was appalled and said, “We’ve got those black belts too, except ours are green.” FFS, since when has earning your stripes become secondary to skiting to your mates about how quickly you learned nothing?

And don’t even start me on the ones who do destruction techniques on pieces of gyprock and think that has some kind of merit. Although… at least they aren’t breaking hands on roof tiles and blaming their students for poor execution (some things require proven competency before you risk injury, rather than proving your competency by successfully navigating an unfamiliar hazard).

I’d much rather discuss the positive side of MA, but it would be misleading to ignore the shonky aspects of the industry. So many crooks!

That's terrible that he would con people out of money like that. As you said there are lots of crooks in MA. I remember hearing a local instructor say that they try to get the students, especially kids, up to green belt in the first three months because the research showed that if kids get to green belt then both them and their parents are like 60% more likely to stick around to black belt. So they were admitting they rushed kids to get a green belt to keep the parents paying.

Six months to a black belt is just absurd. Holding rank is like getting a drivers license. It doesn't mean you are a great driver it just means you met the minimum requirements to get a license in that state. Holding rank is the same thing. It just means you have met the minimum requirements to hold that rank at that school.

Going back to the six month membership in your example, that is why so many people advise students not to sign contracts. Once you are locked into the contract now you owe them the money if they teach you anything or not. I'm looking for an instructor who has enough confidence in his ability that he doesn't need students to be under contract.
 

Norman Mjadwesch

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I learned so much when I started teaching. I hadn’t been training for very long, just a few years, but my instructor’s young son died and he quit. So three of us split the job between us until he was ready to return (he didn’t) and it was only then that I realised how little I knew. I tell you, you learn fast when the responsibility for the club is on your shoulders. What I found interesting is that some of the newbies coming through wanted to learn stuff that was not on our syllabus, but instead of saying “No, we aren’t doing that” I’d tell them it was something that I wasn’t familiar with and that I’d get back to them. The students learn to appreciate you when they see that you give a damn.

One of the things that I noticed pretty early on was how many kids were quitting after their first year. Every year when we broke for the Xmas holidays, anyone who was bored never came back. So our little no-longer-temporary triumvirate put our heads together and wrote a different syllabus to what our predecessor had been using and we made damned sure that there were new and interesting things for the kids to learn, and sometimes not even new things but more innovative and fun ways to do the old stuff.

We immediately stuck gold, and almost all of the kids trained for twice as long as before, and some of them went on to continue training until they left for university. That’s the number one killer in my class: we don’t have a uni in my town and that’s the reason why the best ones all end up leaving. I wish them well, but I also kind of wish they were too dumb for a higher education. LOL, that sounds like I resent intelligence, when in fact it’s laziness that I can’t stand. And telling a kid to pretend that he’s an orange is fucking lazy. It’s not supposed to be babysitting, they are there to learn.

I agree about the contracts (have never done it) but nearly everyone else does. The upside is that it gets people into the habit of turning up because otherwise they lose their money for no benefit. The downside is that some schools exploit the concept and use a direct debit system, requiring anything up to three months advance notice of termination. If students do not give notice and do not attend, tough.
 
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edutton

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Holding rank is like getting a drivers license. It doesn't mean you are a great driver it just means you met the minimum requirements to get a license in that state. Holding rank is the same thing. It just means you have met the minimum requirements to hold that rank at that school.
^This.^

Going back to the six month membership in your example, that is why so many people advise students not to sign contracts. Once you are locked into the contract now you owe them the money if they teach you anything or not. I'm looking for an instructor who has enough confidence in his ability that he doesn't need students to be under contract.
We don't do contracts; Sensei does ask for three months up front, mostly in hopes that it will keep people coming long enough to make it a habit. A uniform is included in that as well. We also don't have testing fees, with one exception - when you take your first adult test you have to join USAF, our parent organization, which is less than $50. Black belt tests do have real fees, but those go to USAF and not to the school. (And partly cover the costs associated with joining the worldwide federation headquartered in Japan, who actually issue the dan rankings.)

I learned so much when I started teaching.

Amen! The outreach classes have become mostly mine over the last year and a half, and figuring out how to teach well has really made me re-examine and strengthen my own fundamentals.


wrote a different syllabus to what our predecessor had been using and we made damned sure that there were new and interesting things for the kids to learn, and sometimes not even new things but more innovative and fun ways to do the old stuff.

We have a defined kids curriculum too, it makes a world of difference. Sensei took the USAF adult testing requirements (five white belt ranks at the time), rearranged it to be more developmentally appropriate for children, and spread it across ten "kids kyu" ranks, with belt stripes and all the usual "little dragons" stuff that most younger kids need to stay motivated. We *are* a little different (again :D) in that we don't have separate children's classes -- probably in part because we're such a small school, we've never had a critical mass. At least one parent is required to stay around for young kids, and are encouraged to train with them; depending on what we're doing, the kids will begin class with the adults and sometimes split off later to the back of the dojo for a separate session... and sometimes not. We think it's good for everyone, young and old, to have everyone working together at least part of the time.

We immediately stuck gold, and almost all of the kids trained for twice as long as before, and some of them went on to continue training until they left for university.
My daughter started training at the same time I did, when she was six; Sensei tested her for shodan just before she left for college last fall, several hours away. There's a dojo near the school that runs an aikido club on campus, and she trains with them as often as she can - I'm extremely happy she has that opportunity, it's highly unusual. They belong to a different national org, but since both are affiliated with the Aikikai, they recognize her rank and she didn't have to start from scratch with them. Plus, since they do some things a bit differently, she's expanding her horizons *and* learning to code switch! :)
 

Norman Mjadwesch

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I had to scale back my classes when I was forced to change halls. The old one was a public school but the Department of Education cancelled all agreements between schools and the public, then put their nose in and applied a blanket fee structure that disadvantaged the schools who were earning (all rent was collected into a central kitty and dispensed to schools that were struggling, which discouraged whichever schools were showing some initiative. Yes, the idea had merit, but the school I was at just closed the door instead of dealing with the complexity of keys / alarms etc... The principal told me that she was more site manager than anything else, and that it was just easier to wash her hands of the lot). The upshot of it all was that I didn’t have any more walk-ins from the school where I trained. Big nose dive after that. Fewer students mean less word of mouth, and fewer new members. When I eventually combined the adults and kids classes, some of the teenagers quit because I had to dial back some of the syllabus (which in truth was aimed more at one teen in particular). It’s all quite organic. Big classes breed more students, small classes shrivel.

Fees. Man, those are the bane of my life. I did a complete revision of mine when a family of seven all wanted to train together. I looked at how much that would cost them and decided that they were either rolling in dough, or else I would beggar them. So I brought in a family rate that applied to any family of three or more, and anything over that was going to be a win for a big family. That was fifteen years ago, I still do it that way. Grading fees are pricey for the Dan gradings, but they do cover everything, including dinner afterwards. Those are special occasions, and since a black belt test is a grading that might only have one candidate, all expenses still need to be covered (rent / boards / tiles / embroidery). Never had a complaint. Except:

That dick I used to train under (the crooked master). Whereas the higher Dan ranks might ordinarily run into hundreds of dollars, he multiplied it by ten. No lie. When I was due for one of mine, he informed me that the fee for instructors was waived, so long as I signed an agreement to continue teaching until the expense had been covered (or reimburse him any outstanding amount if I quit). I declined his generosity and he was pissed at me for not having any ambition regarding higher rank. I told him that I was not signing any such agreement, but I was happy to continue teaching until such time as the agreement would have hypothetically expired, and then he could award me the rank. Such a solution was unacceptable. LOL, how dare I consider using reason.

The other thing he did was refusing to recognise the rank of students transferring in from a different TKD style. TKD is TKD, no? Unfortunately, recognising rank means losing the earlier grading fees, and too many schools are loathe to do this. What this creep used to do was to ‘assess’ transfers and grade them to a rank he felt they ought to have, based on his syllabus and on their demonstrated ability. After they had completed this assessment, he normally busted them down so far that they quit. He saw it as a win, because he had scored an assessment fee and had rid himself of people who would have been in a position to ask too many what-if questions. He really hated what-if. LOL, I loved asking that stuff just to see the smoke coming out of his dumb ears.

I applaud that your daughter is able to train in another style and have her rank recognised. Anything less is an insult to the people who have put in the time to teach her, and also an insult to the effort that she has made. I know that there are differences between the various martial arts, but since when did it come down to who could piss the highest?

Hmm… that attitude of mine has seen me in so much hot water over the years. Go figure.
 

edutton

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It’s all quite organic. Big classes breed more students, small classes shrivel.

Yeah, that's the whole reason we're doing the outreach classes in a storefront venue. We've had two walk-ins sign up in the last month, so it's finally paid off at least a little... and I have a good feeling that at least one of them is actually going to be motivated enough to stick with it.

I brought in a family rate that applied to any family of three or more, and anything over that was going to be a win for a big family.

We do the same thing.

That dick I used to train under (the crooked master). Whereas the higher Dan ranks might ordinarily run into hundreds of dollars, he multiplied it by ten. No lie.

SMH. I've seen a few twisty operators, but... jeez.

I applaud that your daughter is able to train in another style and have her rank recognised. Anything less is an insult to the people who have put in the time to teach her, and also an insult to the effort that she has made. I know that there are differences between the various martial arts, but since when did it come down to who could piss the highest?
Had she still been a white belt (most aikido schools don't use colored belts, so we're just white until we're black), her rank wouldn't have *officially* transferred b/c each org confers its own kyu rankings and has their own curriculum. That said, the differences are mostly stylistic rather than fundamental, and any org that's affiliated with Aikikai is teaching aikido that is recognizably related to what O-Sensei taught.
 

Norman Mjadwesch

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Just in case there are people reading this thread who may be interested in starting a MA style and have been put off by some of the BS that I have related, all I can say is that it’s worth making enquiries. As in anything, ask the questions you wish to have answered and don’t sign anything unless you are completely satisfied with the prices and terms. Try different classes; many schools offer a few introductory freebie lessons to see whether it’s a good fit for you. If it isn’t, some of them may recommend other schools in your area (most don’t, but some do). Try to get some sense of what the instructor is like when you talk to that person. They’re all different, and some will suit your personality more than others. Be advised that they have other priorities than your own specific needs, but a good instructor will try to cater to your needs (such as if you or your child are being bullied and you require a quick-fix solution). If they promise something and don’t deliver, remind them. If they still don’t deliver, then it is time to reconsider your options. Do not accept: “Your child will be safe from bullies if he / she trains with us for two years.” (There is really basic stuff that you can learn in just a few lessons, and you don’t need to be fit or strong, just aware.) Don’t assume that other styles will ignore your needs just because your first experience was disappointing. As an instructor, I tried four different TKD masters before I found one that didn’t think he was the human incarnation of a bulldozer. As a new student, you can try different fits, too.

An instructor is almost always the interface between student and master. As the person who gets the heat from both directions, I can honestly say that it isn’t always fun, but that’s no different to any other job. Some personalities clash. If you decide that you need to go head to head with the instructor, who is the local representative of a larger organisation and may even be the principal, you will lose. They know what they are doing, and even if they don’t, they have the backing of more people than you do (if it is a legal issue and you have witnesses / proof then that is a different matter). All students are important, but the class comes first (there are rare exceptions).

Not all of the other students in your class will want to be your friend. Some will be hard to get along with, but the instructor already knows who they are and how to deal with them. Most senior students will be welcoming of newbies, in part because they like training with someone they haven’t seen before, and also because enough of them see themselves as a possible future instructor and it just gives them a little taste of sharing knowledge. The most fun part about training with newbies is trying the techniques on someone who does not know the counters, which is as close to real life as you can get. Sometimes just the look on their face is worth the price of admission.

Newbies often come into a class with high expectations of becoming the next big thing in MA movies, but even if that is unrealistic they nevertheless learn a lot. I still remember that my first six months were sensory overload, there was just so much to absorb when my starting point was nil. Once the initial acceleration slows, the consolidation begins. Then you start to tie one technique into applications with other techniques, a giant web that has no limits. Within a few years you realise that those first six months were good, but were in reality only a base for what was later layered on.

There are some schools to stay clear of, and you cop injuries and often other stuff happens that sometimes makes you want to quit, but there are good stories too. My best ever student was a kid who had normal ability (not top of the tree, not bottom) but had this thing called willpower. He never wanted to help train other people, for him it was all about maximum reps and minimum yap. He trained for years, never missed classes for any reason until his final exams in senior high school. He came from a wealthy family, but though that bought him whatever he wanted, what he really wanted was to earn something for himself that could never be taken away. More than anything, he wanted to be a martial artist. This kid was friendly, ethical, all that good stuff, but more than that he had the mentality of a Terminator. Because my class breaks over the Christmas holidays, one year he went to China to train at one of the Shaolin temples. When he came back he was completely transformed, and it’s not like he had left in poor shape. He had lived and breathed extreme training all day every day for a month, while the rest of us had been getting fat on Christmas pudding. In the first class of the year, we asked to see what he had learned and he said the best answer would be had by fighting us all (arrogant pup!). For an entire hour we took turns getting annihilated by him (we were having breathers while he just kept going LOL). He asked me why we couldn’t do the things he had learned in China, in Australia, and all I could answer was that the things he had brought home were either deemed a) illegal, or b) too big of an insurance risk to be in the syllabus. Man, that kid was good. Yeah, I was supposed to be the one inspiring the others, but he inspired me.
 
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edutton

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Nice summary!
Yeah, I was supposed to be the one inspiring the others, but he inspired me.
:Sun:
One of the most important things I've learned in my MA career so far, and one of the pieces I try to take away when I'm not on the mat, is that everyone you train with has *something* to teach you if you're able (and willing!) to see it.
 

Norman Mjadwesch

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Thanks. I just thought it needed to be put out there before everyone fled for the hills.

I will confess to raising my eyebrows at your use of the word ‘summary.’ :) Or are you naturally more of an over-writer than I am?

I’ve been thinking of writing about my time in MA, maybe laced with some how-to of favourite techniques, but other ideas always take precedence. Also, how can the story be complete until I pull the pin on my training? The time never seems right (to quit or to write). Plus those books have been done by people who have had far more interesting experiences than mine.
 
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Our aikido dojo is in a really out of the way spot, kind of in the woods; in order to get a little more visibility, about three years ago we started doing outreach classes a couple of nights a week at a nearby school that mainly teaches BJJ and kickboxing. I've done some crosstraining with them, and one of their kickboxing instructors has really taken to the aikido - to the point that now he's working with the owner to revamp the self-defense portion of their curriculum with what he's learning from us. :)

Stories like that are great. Martial arts schools and styles should be open to learning from others. It doesn't always happen that way though.

Do you practice forms in Aikido?
 

edutton

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Do you practice forms in Aikido?
We do kata with weapons (jo staff and bokken), but otherwise no.* Our training is all hands-on with other people.

*In the USAF, weapon forms are not tested, but we have to defend/disarm against attackers armed with jo, bokken and tanto. Other orgs do include weapon kata in their rank tests, at various levels, as well as disarming.
 

Norman Mjadwesch

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I’m not a big fan of forms but they are integral to TKD so you just suck it up and deal with it. I talked to a hapkido master once, and he said that forms were too hard / boring (depending on who was learning them) for what you got out of it, and every minute spent on them was a minute taken away from practising with a partner. Totally agree.

When one of my former students left for uni, she signed up with another TKD class. They asked to see how good she was and put her against some of their black belts and she made them look bad (she had been the national champion in her age division the previous year, but in a different competition to the area where she had moved to). The instructor told her that in future she was to concentrate on forms only, “for the safety of the other students.” (LOL, she never had a mean bone in her body and had exquisite timing and control – only ever gave me a bleeding nose once.) Whenever she went to class after that first session, three-quarters of every lesson was spent on forms. She quit not long afterwards. The next time I ran into her mum I got a right earful. Miss that kid.

Never learned stick fighting. I started to once, but the bloke who was teaching me was terminally ill. He couldn’t even walk from his car to the hall without resting, but he was still lethal. He died before I learned anything too technical, but jeez he was something to see. I taught all of his kids and asked why he didn’t teach them himself. “You obviously don’t have kids. The little fuckers never listen to a parent.” When I visited him in hospital a few days before he died, he told me that he was really proud of his eldest but didn’t know how to tell him. He asked me to pass it on.
 
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RookieWriter

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I’m not a big fan of forms but they are integral to TKD so you just suck it up and deal with it. I talked to a hapkido master once, and he said that forms were too hard / boring (depending on who was learning them) for what you got out of it, and every minute spent on them was a minute taken away from practising with a partner. Totally agree.

When I trained Hapkido we didn't do forms either. Didn't miss them at all. When I took TKD of course I had to do forms in class and it was part of the testing. It was also strongly encouraged to enter tournaments and to do forms, even if you didn't do anything else. I can see some students liking forms and from what I can tell Tai Chi is all forms. For hard styles like TKD and Karate though I can also see why students would not be interested. I found forms to generally be boring and my least favorite thing to do in class (other than getting hit) but I never questioned it or why we did them the way we did. Just went along with it.

We did have a weapons class that taught weapons forms but that was not required.
 

edutton

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every minute spent on them was a minute taken away from practising with a partner. Totally agree.

I can see a place for forms in a striking art for the very beginning student, to help get unfamiliar movements into muscle memory correctly... I believe that's the reason we do weapon kata, since most Westerners aren't used to handling a sword. :D (I did do SCA fighting in another life, but the sword work is very different, to say the least.) The problem comes when the form becomes an end in itself, rather than just another teaching tool. If you never move on - to sparring in a striking art, or to disarms and throws and ultimately armed randori in aikido (and hapkido, I assume?) then they become sterile and lose their value.

The instructor told her that in future she was to concentrate on forms only, “for the safety of the other students.”

Good on her. I hope she found a better school. Sensei's daughter (a year older than mine) is in the National Guard now, serving while in college; when she was in basic training she was told that she couldn't do hand-to-hand training with the rest of her class because of her black belt. :(

from what I can tell Tai Chi is all forms.
Yes/no... I did T'ai Chi for a little while, twenty years ago, and yes it was just the slow, meditative forms you see in videos and such. Very relaxing. However: <story time>

Sensei's wife (who doesn't train anymore but was still teaching when I started, and holds sandan rank) had to take a break a number of years ago due to some medical issues. After a few weeks she got bored and decided to try T'ai Chi - with the same teacher I'd gone to, interestingly enough. She took a few classes, but got frustrated with the pace (she's borderline ADHD and gets fidgety pretty easily - her classes were never dull! :D). Sifu took note and had a talk with her after class one night; once he figured out the situation and that she was already a serious martial artist, he spent some one-on-one time with her to demonstrate how "the Ch'uan part" worked, as he put it. She showed some of this to a couple of us once, and man - that stuff is deadly when applied martially. There's no messing around in any of the Chinese arts I've seen, tbh. :scared:
 

Norman Mjadwesch

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The problem with forms, as I see it, is that they are too repetitive for newbies. The purpose of forms is to work on technique, balance and timing, but also to regulate breathing and heartrate. (Tai-chi is big on this, which is why I would like to try it.) That’s all very well, but mostly what I see is that new students, especially kids, do not know how to process any of this. They just do the moves as though they are robots (which if done right by a large class looks excellent, but it just takes that one person who refuses to practise at home to ruin the effect). If you want people to work on breathing, it’s easier to do it with simpler drills (push ups / sit ups: breathe in for up, down for out, hold breath during pauses).

Plus, if the stress is on getting the breathing right, then what happened to the old adage of finishing a fight quickly otherwise you are doing it all wrong? Fights don’t take long, a matter of seconds, even against multiple opponents. Breathing is irrelevant in such instances because you could do it all while you held your breath if you were that way inclined. It’s far more important to think clearly, and on those occasions when I have needed to use it there have in each case been factors that I had not trained for. When that happens your mind goes into overdrive and decisions seem instantaneous, but what really happens is that you solve problems by finding solutions that may require weird combinations that you have never used before. It’s about having access to encyclopaedic knowledge that is directly plugged into your brain, and then combining it with muscle memory. Only calmness can do that. So far as I can tell, that volume of knowledge requires exposure to a massive amount of technique, which you do not get by spending an exorbitant amount of time doing the same forms.

I think that maybe it all began with martial arts being just that: a martial discipline. Drills. Formations. Standardisation. I don’t have any problem with that because to get it right requires repetition and application. What I do have a problem with is that layers of other reasons are given for why it is done. (My bugbear is this one: “Because it’s always been done that way.”) Sure, it looks good, but do you need it if the primary reason is to learn self-defence skills?

I’m not saying everyone does it, but too many instructors use forms as an excuse not to teach: “You haven’t learned a basic sequence, you are not learning anything else until you do.” Sure, the techniques are useful, muscle memory and breathing properly are integral to MA, but maybe they are best used for training senior students who are receptive to those ideas? Forms could be a thing to aspire to, much as I do with weapons in my class. Or maybe not? There are so many different drills that you have to start somewhere, so why not at white belt? For me, gone are the days when we spend a third of each class on forms. I do spend some time on it, but the standard has slipped in that regard, though on the upside the class is more proficient with the sparring drills.

I knew a soccer coach once who had a winning team. He said his secret was not in focusing on specific drills, but by getting his team to play soccer against one another during practise sessions. The skills you need to practise are the same as the ones you use to play. Static drills translate into relevant skills, but doing them in context, i.e. how they are applied in real life, are easier to learn. Do forms teach you fighting skills? Yes. Are they easier to learn than sparring drills? No. For me it’s that simple.

I’m not out-and-out against forms, but they are the number one thing that students hate when we train. (I have asked this question many times over the years and the answer is always the same. At what point do you give the customer what they want?)
 
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Norman Mjadwesch

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Same thing with using a foreign language to run a class. It’s not wrong, but it makes it harder to learn. When I first started teaching I did an experiment: for two straight classes I did exactly the same class, but in the first class I only used Korean terminology and in the second class I only used English. Needless to say, the second class went a lot more smoothly. I talked it over with the hierarchy and the word came back that I was to continue in Korean, and that this was going to be reinforced with all classes, with consequences for instructors who did not comply. So for the next three months I made my class learn more Korean than they had ever bargained on: one new word per day, with old words reinforced in every class. It worked, but it was the most frustrating time I ever had as an instructor. The next time the master came to visit he was impressed, and told me that I was the only one who had implemented the directive. I asked him what about consequences. He said that his hands were tied, that he couldn’t sanction everyone or else his school would fall apart. I told him how hard it had been, and that if he wasn’t going to lead then I was going to teach how I saw fit. He insisted that the students needed to learn Korean in case any of them went to train in Korea. I asked if Korean students faced the difficulty of translating commands from a non-native tongue. He told me not to be a smartarse. I told him that if any of my students intended to train in Korea I would inform him of such intentions, but in the meantime was going to do what I considered to be in the best interests of my class. Things went downhill from there.

A further note on language. Way too many students do not know how to distinguish between Japanese and Korean terminology. They are mostly OK with basic commands, but a whole bunch of them think that TKD is just another name for karate. (That carries over to the general public too. Some of my rental invoices have actually cited my class as karate lessons.) Some of my students used to insist that sensei sounds better than sabumnim, that we trained in a dojo rather than a dojang, that a uniform was called a gi, not a dobok. You tell them and tell them, but it never registers, or if it does they insist that the Japanese names just sound cooler (incidentally, I agree). I talked about this with a few other instructors and a lot of them said the same thing (a few just said that our class discipline must be shit if we allowed such discussions). Most of them get around this with a fairly simple fix. Example: “What do your students call you?” “Bernard. What you yours call you?” “Norm.” I don’t know if that would work in a non-Australian context.

PS. No, that student who quit because she was banned from sparring didn’t go anywhere else. So far as I know it was the end of the road for her. I think her career got in the way as well, she’d be about thirty by now.

PPS. I’m surprised that the National Guard did not allow a black belt to train with recruits. One of my friends was an defence instructor in the army and he said that they loved having people come into the system who already knew stuff.
 

onesecondglance

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Really good point around language, Norman. I have a friend who is 1st Dan in TKD and he said he needed to know enough Korean to complete the whole black belt grading without any English spoken. So that attitude unfortunately exists in the UK as well, although I think at least they're allowed to use English in classes.

We do use Japanese terms in our jujutsu club, but only for clarity: it's a lot easier to say "do osoto gari" than "do that throw where you go past the fella and sweep his inner leg with your outer leg"...

(now I'm wondering if I've got the inner and the outer the right way around... just say osoto gari and I know exactly which leg is doing what!)
 

Norman Mjadwesch

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I still use some of the Korean terms, especially the simple commands for starting and ending drills and so forth; doing those in English just seems odd, due to how long they have been in my head. For the rest, I try to be as user friendly as possible. If I had to revert to how classes used to be when I first started, I think I’d struggle to understand most of it, even though I knew it all at the time. I’ve no issue with classes who use the language of origin of a style, it’s just that it’s one more thing that makes life hard for newbies.

When I was in my early twenties I had two different foremen that I worked under in the same company. One of them was: “We’ll start digging that hole by hand because the excavator won’t be ready for another hour.” The other was: “We’ll take a break for a few minutes, then find something else to do for an hour; we won’t gain anything by busting ourselves while we wait for the excavator to get here.” What I took from that was that if there is an easy way and a hard way to do something, I need a really good reason before I pick the hard way. Keeping busy just to look busy doesn’t tick any boxes for me. Saying something to an English speaking audience, using Korean terminology, does seem to drive away more people than it retains. Yes, you keep the die hards, but you’d keep them either way. It’s the others who need convincing.
 

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We do use a lot of Japanese terminology, mostly b/c it's the most accurate way to express the concepts, but we teach it by repeated exposure rather than forced memorization. Sensei is American but was a military kid and grew up on Okinawa, so he actually speaks Japanese, but explanations are in English, because we're in America. :Shrug: He always calls the first couple of tests in both English and Japanese, and if someone at a higher rank has missed learning a particular term - or has a brain freeze because they're testing and stressed :) - he just says "the one where you twist the wrist backwards" or whatever, and goes on. No shame attached. I do email new students a copy of the test requirements and a link to my favorite glossary so they can work on it if they want, but mostly they just pick it up as they go.

All the dan tests I've seen were called entirely in Japanese, as was mine.

I like the excavator analogy! Sensei believes strongly that Aikido, when done properly, involves almost no effort on the part of the person doing the techniques (but the person being thrown sure gets a workout). Randori practice is about working on exactly that: staying calm, relaxed and focused while five people are running at you, sometimes with sticks.

I’m surprised that the National Guard did not allow a black belt to train with recruits.

We were, too. *shrug*
 

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Your tests are done separately for each different rank? Ours are broken down into beginners, colour belts, and black belts . Or did you mean that each group is given specific instructions that relate to individuals rather than the whole?

It’s funny how some foreign words express a particular meaning better than in English. I’ve never been able to understand how that works. If you give an instruction in English it often sounds wooden.

During gradings, forms are done in order, from lowest to highest. I remember one time that the examiner called out the wrong name of one of them (he skipped one in error) and so I did the one he had called, assuming he had done it deliberately. Nobody else in the class picked up on it and they all did the one they had expected to do. He asked what I was doing and I told him what he had said. He denied it. Then one of the other instructors had a quiet word in his ear (he’d heard it too, but wasn’t on the floor with the rest of us). Things got a bit awkward after that. It was just an honest mistake, but I thought he was checking to see if the class was listening. Turns out they weren’t LOL.

I would love to have trained under someone like your sensei, who was comfortable enough in his skin that he didn’t need to pin people with a stare for a minor slip-up. The number of times I’ve seen students marked hard for not understanding a command is hard to fathom. Though I don’t use much Korean anymore, yesterday I looked online for a list and went through it in detail. Most of it was familiar, but what I found interesting was that the phonetic spelling was sometimes different to what I was used to, but looking at the meaning it was, “Oh, that one.”

The problem with the excavator analogy is that it was a true story. There are people who do those things. I actually had to climb down into a hole with a pick-axe to chip out as much rock as I could for an hour, a job that an excavator performed in a few seconds at most. That foreman had a favourite saying: “No smoking, no talking, and piss while you’re walking.” Silly old clown. It was only years later that I found out he had lost his life savings when the investment firm he was with went bankrupt. No wonder he hated the entire world.
 
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A further note on language. Way too many students do not know how to distinguish between Japanese and Korean terminology. They are mostly OK with basic commands, but a whole bunch of them think that TKD is just another name for karate. (That carries over to the general public too. Some of my rental invoices have actually cited my class as karate lessons.) Some of my students used to insist that sensei sounds better than sabumnim, that we trained in a dojo rather than a dojang, that a uniform was called a gi, not a dobok. You tell them and tell them, but it never registers, or if it does they insist that the Japanese names just sound cooler (incidentally, I agree). I talked about this with a few other instructors and a lot of them said the same thing (a few just said that our class discipline must be shit if we allowed such discussions). Most of them get around this with a fairly simple fix. Example: “What do your students call you?” “Bernard. What you yours call you?” “Norm.” I don’t know if that would work in a non-Australian context.

That's true about people not knowing the names of different styles. When I trained TKD some family and friends kept asking me how Karate class was going. When I trained Hapkido most people outside of MA classes had never heard of it and thought I was studying Aikido. People who don't study MA just don't know the difference between the names/styles ect, for the most part. Karate is the generic term for many because of the Karate Kid movies and it's the bigger name in pop culture. At least that is my theory.

I don't recall how much Korean students had to learn for BB testing. I do remember that one of the girls in class passed her BB test and on her certificate they misspelled her name! Kind of comical that they require students to learn the language to pass but can't copy the name down correctly. It's only one of the biggest accomplishments of her life and they got the name wrong. I know it is an honest mistake but come on, WTF TKD needs to make sure those things do not happen.

I'd have a tough time with taking a written or oral version of the language for the belt test. I failed intro to Spanish. Twice. At a community college. Foreign languages are not easy for me. I even joke that English is my second language even though I only know one. LOL
 

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Yes/no... I did T'ai Chi for a little while, twenty years ago, and yes it was just the slow, meditative forms you see in videos and such. Very relaxing. However: <story time>

Sensei's wife (who doesn't train anymore but was still teaching when I started, and holds sandan rank) had to take a break a number of years ago due to some medical issues. After a few weeks she got bored and decided to try T'ai Chi - with the same teacher I'd gone to, interestingly enough. She took a few classes, but got frustrated with the pace (she's borderline ADHD and gets fidgety pretty easily - her classes were never dull! :D). Sifu took note and had a talk with her after class one night; once he figured out the situation and that she was already a serious martial artist, he spent some one-on-one time with her to demonstrate how "the Ch'uan part" worked, as he put it. She showed some of this to a couple of us once, and man - that stuff is deadly when applied martially. There's no messing around in any of the Chinese arts I've seen, tbh. :scared:

Thanks for the information. I've been studying Tai Chi for about three weeks now and so far we have only done forms. Once a week there is a free Tai Chi class at the library a few blocks from where I live and I have been going but I know it is limited training. We use one of the conference rooms. We get between 20-28 people usually.
 

Norman Mjadwesch

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I do remember that one of the girls in class passed her BB test and on her certificate they misspelled her name! Kind of comical that they require students to learn the language to pass but can't copy the name down correctly. It's only one of the biggest accomplishments of her life and they got the name wrong. I know it is an honest mistake but come on, WTF TKD needs to make sure those things do not happen.

I'd have a tough time with taking a written or oral version of the language for the belt test. I failed intro to Spanish. Twice. At a community college. Foreign languages are not easy for me. I even joke that English is my second language even though I only know one. LOL

LOL, same. I know that my name isn’t the easiest thing to spell or say (even though lots of people seem to know how to make fun of it :)), but you would be surprised at the mistakes that you get on your certificates. There are no name errors, but my 2nd Dan says my nationality is Austrian (even though I am Australian and so was the examiner – it must have been a typo); my 3rd Dan gives a wrong date of birth.

As to getting names wrong, this was exacerbated somewhat by one of the other instructors who I was friends with. Not only did he tell our master that my real name was Nerm (which he said I had anglicised because I wanted to fit in with Aussies, using my last name as proof of his claim), but he also used to sometimes tell his class that he was related to Mr Miyagi (of Karate Kid fame). His surname sounds a lot like Miyagi although he wasn’t Japanese, but he tried to sell that lie to anyone who looked even a little bit gullible.

I swear to you, we do train seriously here in Australia, it’s not all about clowning around!

PS, I still get called Nerm by those in the know.
 

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I don't recall how much Korean students had to learn for BB testing. I do remember that one of the girls in class passed her BB test and on her certificate they misspelled her name! Kind of comical that they require students to learn the language to pass but can't copy the name down correctly.
New students are given a "seminar book", basically an aikido passport that everyone turns in at the check-in desk and gets back after the Sensei has signed and dated it for that seminar. For kyu ranks, these are issued by the org your dojo belongs to; for dan ranks, they come from the Aikikai in Japan. Mine has my birthday wrong because they read it in dd/mm/yyyy order instead of American style mm/dd/yyyy. Not a big deal, but still.

Thanks for the information. I've been studying Tai Chi for about three weeks now and so far we have only done forms.
I think most T'ai Chi classes are only ever that. I'd like to get back into both that and yoga, but if I added one more thing my wife would kill me.
 

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Your tests are done separately for each different rank? Ours are broken down into beginners, colour belts, and black belts . Or did you mean that each group is given specific instructions that relate to individuals rather than the whole? ... During gradings, forms are done in order, from lowest to highest.

Sorry, I was unclear. Each kyu rank is tested separately - being a small school, we rarely have more than a couple of people testing for the same rank at the same time.

How Sensei actually administers the tests changes depending on what he feels like doing that month, and depending on where the student body as a whole is in terms of how many people are ready for testing. If there's a critical mass of four or five, he might announce a testing date a few weeks out and encourage everyone to show up to the same Saturday morning class to cheer the candidates on. OTOH, just last week he decided a new student was ready for his first test, and on a night he felt he had enough people on the mat he structured the whole class to just be us working through that test, with the (clueless) candidate placed front and center. At the end of the night he just said, "Can anyone tell me what we did tonight?" Our boy said, "That was the 6th kyu test, wasn't it?" And Sensei said, "Yep, and you just passed. Congratulations."

My shodan test* (and my sempai's nidan) was... interesting. We had 17 people up for various ranks, and a testing date was announced. In August. (The hottest part of the summer here, that morning by 0900 it was already in the 80s and at least 80% humidity. This is important because our dojo is outdoors, with no climate control other than ceiling fans.) The session ran a solid two hours - we all worked through the entire test sheet, from 6th kyu up, and he motioned people out to go sit after they'd got through the part they were being tested on. Of course, that left the dan candidates (three shodan, one nidan) as the last ones standing. Dan test requirements are basically "everything on the kyu rank tests only better, plus also a lot of defending against weapons, and randori." By the end of the morning we were all absolutely exhausted. It was a great day. :D

Last year it was my daughter's turn, and she was the only one tested that day. She was not happy about that. (It was mostly because we only had a week window between her 18th birthday and her leaving for college, so we had to squeeze it in the best we could.)

I would love to have trained under someone like your sensei, who was comfortable enough in his skin that he didn’t need to pin people with a stare for a minor slip-up.

His approach is that it's not a test, it's a demonstration. If he has you test, he's already decided that you've passed. Unless you do something colossally stupid or dangerous, I suppose, but that's never happened.


*Dan tests are traditionally administered at seminars, in front of members of the Teaching Committee, but up until this year some teachers had the option of testing shodan in-house, as long as they didn't do it too often. This is no longer allowed as of January, although in cases of genuine hardship, where a student simply *can't* get to a seminar for whatever reason, there's an option to promote by recommendation rather than by test. That takes a lot more paperwork, though, and there are fees attached to it, I assume to make sure it's not abused.