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JonMcLean
JonMcLean's picture
Advice on changing things I inherited from my old organisation

Hi everyone,

I’m new to the forum but I’ve been following Iain’s stuff for a while. I’d love it if I could get some help with some questions that are on my mind at the moment.

I’m a martial arts instructor and I run my own school in North Wales. I have been trained in a very “3k” environment. Since getting into the pragmatic martial arts movement, it’s led me to analyze and question a lot of the ways I’ve been taught and sort of took for granted. I was part of a group that had gone very political and in a way I daren’t explore this new avenue while under them, so I’ve gone my own way and taken my club and students independent of my old group. Some of the issues I have are things that I’ve “inherited” from the old organisation and their way of doing things that I want to get away from as part my own way of running the club.

A couple of the challenges I have at the moment are that I run a kickboxing class for my adults, and I want to eventually set up a separate programme for Pragmatic Adults Karate, though since I’ve not been trained in this, I know the katas, but not the “proper” way. Can anyone recommend ways to get myself to where I need to be to start such a programme? I have years of gracie jiu jitsu under my belt as well, so limb-control, throwing and joint locks aren’t at all alien to me, and it has in fact helped me to understand the katas better in the new light. After a training session with Peter Consterdine (while in the process of moving over to the BCA) the karate I’ve been taught was likened to the “child’s version” of the art, and in a way I completely agree, and it sort of made me feel like a fraud for holding my 3rd Dan. Though I’m a competent martial artist, I feel that my 3rd dan doesn’t mean what I would like it to or feel it should mean.

The other question I have is that under the old system, kids in my school are able to earn black belts as early as 7-8 years old. This is something that sits very uncomfortably with me, because of course, under the “do” ethic, I suppose they have shown the stick-to-it-iveness and developed all the positive character traits to earn a big reward, but I’m not sure whether it’s appropriate for someone so young to have such a prestigious and in a way “loaded” thing as a black belt. I already have many kids on the grading system, 2 current 1st dans and will have 3 more in the next 6 months. 

Is there anyway I can adapt the system I’m working with to change this without completely overhauling the system and stripping kids of their black belt? Do I start referring to them as “Junior Black Belts” and make them re-qualify when they hit 16? If so, what do I do for grading them in the meantime? I’m struggling with the system I’ve been nurtured in to find a balance between running a successful club with students who enjoy training and also holding standards as high as I feel they should be.

In essence I suppose both issues are similar in nature.

Any input or feedback you can offer is more than welcome!

Bob Davis
Bob Davis's picture

Hi Jon, Myself, Andi Kidd and Brian Bates run a group specifically aimed at providing people with the tools of self sufficiency on this path. We've all done it in the past. If you want to seek us out on FB or just start conversations then you can get hold of me at "redfishkarate@gmail.com" (you don't need to get involved in the group to do that, we are all of us happy to help where we can). Bob D.

Iain Abernethy
Iain Abernethy's picture

Hi Jon,

JonMcLean wrote:
I’m new to the forum …

Welcome!

JonMcLean wrote:
I’ve gone my own way and taken my club and students independent of my old group. Some of the issues I have are things that I’ve “inherited” from the old organisation and their way of doing things that I want to get away from as part my own way of running the club.

There’s a strength and a freedom to being the master of your own ship. You can now chart your own path, but I understand that can be simultaneously exciting and daunting. It’s a common experience and there’s many people who will be more than happy to help and offer guidance.

JonMcLean wrote:
I know the katas, but not the “proper” way. Can anyone recommend ways to get myself to where I need to be to start such a programme?

By “proper way” do you mean practising them in a holistic way i.e. with associated bunkai, pad drills, live drills, etc? My advice would be to start small and move gradually. Too much too soon will overwhelm the students. I’d start by adding basic bunkai to classes i.e. simple applications for core motions such as shuto-uke, age-uke, gedan-barai, etc. When the students are comfortable with those, then maybe add them to grading requirements. You can drip feed basic pad drills and live drills in in a similar way. You can then build on this foundation over time. There’s no rush because rushing is ultimately counterproductive.

All the people I know who have made this transition effectively, and who have reached a high degree of understanding and competence, have done so slowing and gradually. At the seminars I talk about people going “bunkai daft”. There’s no rush. Better to get the basics down solidly than race ahead and try to rapidly build on shaky foundations.  

JonMcLean wrote:
After a training session with Peter Consterdine (while in the process of moving over to the BCA) the karate I’ve been taught was likened to the “child’s version” of the art, and in a way I completely agree, and it sort of made me feel like a fraud for holding my 3rd Dan. Though I’m a competent martial artist, I feel that my 3rd dan doesn’t mean what I would like it to or feel it should mean.

Joining the BCA was a very smart move. If you think of pretty much anyone involved in promoting practical karate in the UK, there is a very high chance they are part of the BCA / BCKA. It’s a similar situation with the sister association of the World Combat Association for those outside of the UK. You’re therefore part of a very strong and helpful network. I’m obviously heavily involved with the BCA myself and if you ever want to chat this stuff though on the phone, etc than just email me and we will set something up (iain@iainabernethy.com). We are all here to help.

As regards the dan rank, don’t worry about it :-) You earned your grade legitimately with your prior group and are not a fraud. You could have taken the easy path and continued climbing through the ranks in a 3K way, but you’ve made a strong decision. You’re to be applauded for that. As with your students, the transition for you also needs to be a gradual one. In due course, we can help you prepare for a BCA 4th dan, with an appropriate test, and then everything will click into place. If it was felt to be a pressing need, we could arrange a BCA 3rd dan test too. Again, maybe it would help to chat on the phone so we can run through your options?

JonMcLean wrote:
Is there anyway I can adapt the system I’m working with to change this without completely overhauling the system and stripping kids of their black belt?

I’m a great fan of the overlapping grades as per the judo model. This is where a junior black belt (gained under a junior syllabus) sees the student slide over to something like 4th of 3rd kyu on the adult syllabus when they are old enough. Children and adults should have different syllabus and it makes sense to have the overall grading structure recognise that. A junior dan grade is never the equivalent of an adult one. Our junior grades all have white stripes through the middle of their belts to make clear it’s a junior rank. The adults – who train to a different syllabus on different nights – wear solid belts.

JonMcLean wrote:
I’m struggling with the system I’ve been nurtured in to find a balance between running a successful club with students who enjoy training and also holding standards as high as I feel they should be.

Once again, gradual change is the key. My experience is people love the practical approach because they can feel themselves gaining a functional skill. It feels good to make progress at something; especially when it has demonstrable utility. The only lack of enjoyment could come from a radical change which leaves the students overwhelmed and confused.

I hope that helps.

All the best,

Iain

OhioMike
OhioMike's picture

Jon,

I am very much in the same boat, I am affiliated with a very 3K type of organization and want to start to add more, I am definitely feeling that my skills are the children's version  of the art. I would love to have a conversation with you about how to make the transition.  I am leaning towards adding a lot of the bunkai to the 2nd dan portion of my syllabus and then letting it filter down into the lower grades slowly. My issue is that a lot of my students have worked very hard to get where they are right now and I have to avoid going bunkai crazy and alienating them. Also like you I teach quite a few kids so teaching hard bunkai likely should not start until after the child has a strong grasp of the basics and I have strong confidence in the content of their character, and realisticlly that means waiting until they are 14-16yo.  I believe it is reasonable for those of us teaching children to have syllabus that reflect that lower maturity level and concentrate more on the basics and character development, and then introduce bunkai more slowly.  But I would very much like to compare notes with you or anyone else tht has thoughts on the issue.  

Thanks,

Mike

PASmith
PASmith's picture

I'm an assistant instructor at a taekwondo club and trying to inject a little bit of more realisitc bunkai into what we do and there are a couple of things I've been doing that may help.

One is to show alternate uses for comon techniques without entirely doing away with the "standard" use. This plants the seed that there is more to movement and technique than people realise, without seeming to be doing away with their previous "3K" (Linework, patterns and sparring in the case of TKD) training, and creates curiosity. Even just explaining that the pulling hand (reaction hand in TKD) being used to grab and locate on a simple punch is a gateway in.

Another thing is to show a realistic application for an esoteric or weird movement. Everyone has moves that they think "what's that for!?". Even the most ardent or staunch 3K karateka has moves they look at and think "hmmmm" even though they don't admit it. Showing something for these moves (that makes sense!) is another gateway into showing there's more than just the exterior moves and aesthetics to consider.