_Dear students and parents,
Our topic for last week's mat chats was the first part of the student creed. Student creed number one is a promise on the part of the student to always take care of their body and mind, living a healthy "Black Belt" lifestyle.
Our students gave many examples of what they felt were important components of a healthy lifestyle, such as proper diet, exercise, and reading. We also heard many great ideas regarding things that might prevent us from achieving our full potential. Students mentioned that things such as television, video games, and junk food, while not necessarily bad, can be harmful if they are not kept in check. The word addiction came up on more than one occasion. Several students offered numbers and limits regarding appropriate amounts of time for TV watching and video game playing. I don't know if there is a precise amount that is OK or too much, but I do think it can be beneficial for parents and children to sit down and discuss certain guidelines when it comes to these activities.
_The focus of our mat chats was not really on whether TV and video games directly harm our minds, since I believe that topic is open to much debate. Rather, we discussed how problems arise when over-indulgence in such activities prevents us from devoting appropriate time to activities such as homework, reading, family time, and martial arts training. A good question to ask might be, "Is this getting in the way of something more important?" Or "If I weren't playing this game, what would I be doing?"
Of course, a certain amount of relaxation and recreation is an important part of the the Black Belt lifestyle. A Black Belt may certainly play video games, but rather than playing for 2 hours and then attempting to get their homework done, they might finish their homework, practice their martial arts techniques, and then enjoy a video game for a while, then read a book before bed.
Oftentimes, all of this is much easier said than done, since our actions are guided more by what we feel like doing than what we think we SHOULD do. Addictions to games and junk food can be extremely hard to break. Most people have probably struggled with some sort of addiction in their lifetime, and some can be extremely serious, so I think that it is extremely important that we teach our younger students how to deal with these situations now. Today it is junk food, tomorrow it might be alcohol.
When thinking of breaking unhealthy addictions, the words of the famous theologian Erasmus come to mind: "A nail is driven out by another nail." In other words, rather than simply trying to break an unhealthy habit in our or our children's lifestyles, we can help to cultivate good habits. We can replace a harmful addiction with a positive "addiction." Perhaps a child who won't stop playing video games would put the controller down if they discovered the joy of playing the piano. Maybe a youngster who watches 4 hours of TV a day now would, if given a taste of the martial arts, choose to practice martial arts each day, and read martial arts books instead of watching so much TV.
I've never heard a parent complain that their child reads too much, or practices the violin too much, or is too passionate about the martial arts. I've heard people preach, "Everything in moderation," but to me, I think that is great advice if a person's goal is to lead a mediocre life.
This same strategy can be used for developing healthy eating habits. I know former chocolate addicts that now crave vegetables. How can we help our children to make these changes? The answer is simple- martial arts.
In this day and age, many people place great importance on their progress or performance in a certain video game. One of the great things about the martial arts are that they help to culitvate a focus on one's progress on an actual important skill ("in real life," so to speak). With our stripe-system, students have a tangible sign of their progress each and every class. This, coupled, with the feeling of progress as their techniques improve, explains why so many students stick with the martial arts, achieving advanced levels such as Brown and Black Belt. Speaking of which I am very excited that right now we have a large number of Red and Dark Brown Belts, that are already showing Black Belt excellence in their techniques and behavior. Many of our up and coming belts have also shown great enthusiasm and progress, and we look forward to watching them achieve their Black Belts one day as well.
_First of all, I want to congratulate Dr. Dan on achieving his Black Belt last week. Black Belt is one of the biggest goals in the martial arts, and I am very proud to say that the standard for achieving Black Belt at our school is extremely high, which he demonstrated at his test. Dr. Dan is one of our first adult students to reach Black Belt (as our dojo has been opened for almost 4 years), proving that it is never too late to master new skills. We were all very impressed by his performance, and we are all extremely proud of his achievement.
Speaking of achievement, this week we talked about goal setting in class. We discussed how sharing our goals with a friend or mentor can help us to see those goals through, rather than letting them become like many people's New Years Resolutions. Our students have been writing their goals down and placing them in the goal box for the instructors to read. This will allow us help our students achieve those goals this year. So far, the goals that I have read have been inspirational. Many students have set a goal of earning their next belts, and one day their Black Belts. We also have many students determined to earn one of the oh-so-hard to earn patches, such as the sparring, kicking, kata, or full split patch, among others.
We also discussed how a big goal like Black Belt can seem daunting at first, so it helps to remember that Black Belts such as Dr. Dan did not earn their Black Belt overnight. All he did was get a little bit better every class. Each step forward is so small that it cannot be discerned. This makes it hard to stay motivated at times but it also means anyone can do it! This is also why we award stripes for each technique that the student has learned- it gives us a tangible sign of our progress.
If you have ever had a relative who lives out of town remark, "My, how you've grown!" after not seeing you for a while, you know what I'm talking about. You didn't notice your growth, because it was very gradual, but the inches do add up.
The Japanese word which roughly translates as constant and never-ending improvement is Kaizen. This year, I challenge all of our students to be fully committed to Kaizen. All we ask is that you try to improve a little bit each week. Obviously putting forth your best effort each class is a must. A few minutes of practice at home each day can make a big difference. If you currently do not practice at home, imagine if you started with 10 minutes a day...That's over 60 hours per year! Would that make a difference? You bet it would!
Let me now also compliment/brag about something I've seen our students do lately that is becoming more and more the norm. When it is the last class of the evening, many of our students stick around for extra sparring, bagwork, kata practice etc. I've literally seen and heard parents telling their children that they really have to go, 15 minutes after the class has ended.
I'm thrilled with this for 2 reasons.
1) It has always been my personal challenge to try to make the dojo a fun place to be, where the kids will run up the steps to get to, rather than having to be dragged to by their parents.
2) It is taking our students to even higher levels of excellence in their training. In a day and age when many kids are addicted to the TV or video games, our students are "addicted" to the martial arts!
Finally, I would like to leave you with a commitment on the end of the instructors. Just as we have challenged you to fully commit to Kaizen in your training and everyday lives, we too will commit to constantly improving our school and classes.
You have probably noticed many of the new improvements around the school, but you can rest assured that this year's classes will really blow last year's away!
The first thing I'd like to do is thank all of the students and their families who have helped to make Maryland Martial Arts the dojo that it is today. Thank You! We've received tons of compliments about the updates we've made in the latter half of 2011 to prepare for 2012, and we won't stop in 2012. We'd also like to welcome Sempai Greg and Sempai Nan to the Maryland Martial Arts team. They have been amazing in helping our students get the most out of their karate training. You can read their bio's here.
Some of the great changes we've made include: