Why now? Why not sooner?
Lately I’ve been made aware of many little not-quite-ideal habits that have either crept into my Karate or that have been there all along. Of the former, that’s on me. I know better. I’ve taught better. So what about the little not-quite-ideal that have been there all along? Part of me is sometimes tempted to ask, “Why wasn’t I taught the proper way to do this right from the beginning?” Please note I have no desire to make an implication that there’s been a deficiency in my training. Right off the bat, I can think of three answers to that question. There are probably more answers and I’ll probably discover those answers as time goes by.
1) I wasn’t developmentally ready until now.
I have a long history of teaching both in karate and in home school. Some would argue that because I don’t have a master’s degree in education and have never taught in an academic institution, I can’t make any claim to teaching. OK, I admit I can’t just walk into a fifth-grade classroom, get them focused(!) and teach them how to solve story problems without using algebra. But one thing I do know both from home schooling my daughters and from teaching beginning karate students is this. You can’t force growth – your students will be ready when they are ready. Most fifth graders aren’t developmentally ready for algebra. Even though using algebra is a fantastic way to solve story problems, details about solving story problems using algebra will only confuse fifth-graders. The kiddos must slog through rote memorization for another three or four years. Not unlike new beginners in Karate.
2) There are too many details for anyone to absorb all at once.
Computers can store huge amounts of data nearly instantly. An entire college-level textbook on, for example, quantum physics can be loaded into a computer in a matter of seconds. Human minds do not have that capability. Knowledge and skill need to be built over time, through study and practice. It’s true that new adult beginners can understand and remember more details than their child counterparts. But even though an adult can intellectually grasp concepts that a child cannot, adults and children alike must build muscle memory and refine techniques over time.
3) Muscle memory must be built gradually
Now that I’m getting to the point where I have to be more aware of all the little details, I appreciate the foundation that I have. Pianists build their foundations with finger exercises, scales, etc. A beginning piano student fumbles through these drills and can play only simple melodies. But it takes time to develop the coordination necessary to play more complex music. So it is with karate. If a student wobbles her way through Kihon Kata Ichi (Basic Form #1), there is no way she can handle the more complex and refined movements of Bassai Dai (one of the advanced, “black belt level” forms). If my piano skills were at the same level as my karate I’d be playing recognizable, maybe even enjoyable tunes. But I’d still be a long way from playing at Carnegie Hall, or even with the local city orchestra. I’d know my scales and arpeggios, and my friends wouldn’t be cringing if I played for them. It’s time to build on and refine what I know.
If I tried to bombard a class full of new beginners with all the details I’m getting now, they’d probably run screaming out the door. Yes, even the adults. But what happens over time? Students become more confident in what they know. They’re physically and mentally capable of learning just a little more. Time goes on, and they start to figure out what questions to ask. They start making connections between this technique and that technique. They start comparing kata (forms). This is a fun stage of development. But even still, intermediate students don’t need to be bombarded with everything there is to know about Karate. And what about myself? I probably would have gone to the locker room and wept if, on my first day of Karate I was bombarded with thousands of minutae. I would have thought, correctly, that it was too much to live up to, too much to remember, much less execute with muscles that hadn’t moved that way in a little over a quarter century. What about a little later, after I’d earned a few belts? No, I wasn’t ready even then. I was still working on my foundation. I still am, to be honest.
It’s time to tighten up those little things that have slipped. Time to refine. Time to start performing more and more like the yudansha (“black belt”) that I will some day be. Even the smallest of improvements make a difference. Little by little, I’ll get better at karate if I pay attention to all the little details. It will be a lifetime study, I’m sure.