Learning Preferences

150122_LearningI taught my two daughters at home from birth up until last year – some sixteen years of homeschooling in all.  Before my first daughter started kindergarten, I learned about learning preferences from a seminar.  Some people prefer to learn by hearing, some by watching, some by doing.  Over the years I’ve added more to this concept. Some people have a primary preference and a secondary preference, and I’m sure there are some people who can happily adapt to whatever is presented.  There are people within each group (audio, visual, and kinesthetic learners) who like to be presented with the “big picture” first and some who prefer to be given the parts so they can assemble the whole.  There’s yet another layer of preferences!  Some people love collaboration and constant conversation with instructor and peers and some prefer to work quietly, alone, and with minimum feedback.  Putting it all together, you might have a student who prefers to learn by watching, wants to piece together the whole from the parts, and loves collaborating with others.

When I came back to Karate, one of the first things I noticed was all three modes of learning are accommodated, and any other individual learning preferences can be addressed as well.  You see Sensei do the technique, you listen to her talk, you do it yourself.  Academic classes tend to shortchange the kinesthetic learner – one is expected to spend a great deal of time sitting still in a desk.  In Karate, “big picture” people are free to clunk through a technique and refine over time.  “Assemblers” can piece things together at their own pace, and if they’re really struggling, Sensei will come around to help.  In my experience, most Karate classes tend to favor those who want to work alone and with minimum feedback.  If this is the case, students who love collaboration and constant conversation are free to spend time outside of class doing exactly that.  If you’re one of these people you should come early to class, stay late, and find someone to practice with on days you don’t have class.  If you have a learning challenge, you will definitely need extra time.

Finding the label for my own learning challenge was huge. Its name is Directional Dyslexia. Now that I have its name, I don’t have to feel anxious about it.  It’s part of who I am.  If I find myself fighting anxiety, I remind myself to figure out ways to adapt.   I have some tips for those who struggle with directional dyslexia – please see my blog post, “Dyslexia – a Path to the Heart of Karate.”  If you don’t want to read the whole thing, I’ll sum it up.  I have tricks and ways of labeling things other than “right” and “left.”  Bunkai is vital to my kata.  If I’m really floundering, Sensei will come around to me eventually.  Time before and after class and practice time are vital.  In short, I have to work hard.  So does everyone else 🙂

I don’t have much authority to speak on other learning challenges.    I’ve seen people with physical or mental challenges in tournaments and promotions and I can say that there is a lot that can be overcome.  However, ultimately it boils down to the individual.  For some people, Karate simply will not work.  I have an autistic daughter who doesn’t train with her sister and I.  I respect her distaste for violence, and loud noise isn’t her cup of tea either.  She gets enough group learning at school, so outside of school she prefers solitary activities.  No way would she be able to take even the little love taps I get from time to time in class.  I’m a grouch when I’m laid up with an injury, she’s worse.  The most I can hope for is to teach her a few self-defense things.

There’s tons more that goes into learning, but it all boils down to the student’s responsibility to self-advocate and the teacher’s responsibility to be aware that different people need different things.  Group learning does necessitate that each individual adapt, but practice time and individual instruction can be tailored beautifully. We students must structure our own learning process because every single one of us has different preferences, challenges, and needs. Practicing on your own and taking advantage of time before and/or after class to talk to your instructor for a minute or two pays off big time – that’s taking charge of your learning process. I’m very grateful to my Sempais (senior students) and Senseis for being there as much as they can before and after class, and for my older daughter who practices with me.  Help from others is a huge part of success.  Remembering something you’ve overcome is a great thing to do when the gloom of self doubt sets in.


Trash Talk Tuesday: Whole to Part

Time once again for us martial arts bloggers to learn:
1) How NOT to make a case for or against someone or something
2) Why certain comments set our teeth on edge
3) How to stay focused when discussing our arts

It’s Trash Talk Tuesday!

White Belt Wally:  Another one of those weirdos from Master Trikki-Woo’s Kung Fu Kollege showed up on my doorstep yesterday, trying to scare me into joining so that I could be ready for the upcoming alien zombie invasion.  Every single one of Master Trikki-Woo’s students must be exceptionally stupid!

Sempai Susan:  Not all of them are space brains.  There’s a guy who just transferred to my high school who’s been training with that cult for the last year or so.  I sat with him at lunch today and he was telling me the only reason he goes is because his Dad makes his whole family go.   He loves the martial arts part but hates all the junk that goes with studying under Master Trik-ki Woo – especially washing the Master’s nasty feet.  I told him he should see the high school counselor about that.  He seems like a smart guy, and I think with some help he’ll be able to take charge of his life.

The world is full of surprises, isn’t it?  Not everyone in Master Trik-ki Woo’s Kung Fu College is a tinfoil-hat-wearing lunatic.   Of course once Sempai Susan’s new friend leaves the cult, perhaps White Belt Wally will be correct in his assessment!

If you’d like to learn more, you can follow along in the book The Fallacy Detective by Nathaniel Bluedorn and Hans Bluedorn

I Love Jogging…

Feel free to laugh.  I totally laugh at myself when I think of this incident…

Back in August, our organization held Gasshuku (extended training) one weekend from Friday evening through Sunday morning.

I think it was Saturday morning when we were told that we were going jogging.  Inwardly, I groaned.  It was announced, “If you can’t jog or don’t want to jog, we’ll find an alternative activity for you.”

I began to think.  Injured people were definitely in the “can’t jog” category – I didn’t fit that description.  What about the “don’t want to jog” people?  I began to imagine exactly what the “alternative activity” would be for the “don’t want to” people.  Maybe a thousand pushups, then a thousand situps, and a million punches in horse stance to top it all off?

I decided, “I love jogging.  Jogging is one of the best activities in the world!  Yes, I’m going jogging!  Yay, jogging!”

So I jogged and jogged and jogged with the vast majority of karateka.   After we were done jogging I found out the “alternative activity” for all non-joggers was something that was right up my alley.  They were picking up twigs, fir cones, and rocks from the field.  I beach-comb, so I’m used to scrutinizing the ground and repeated bending and stooping for agates and sea glass.


Sea glass is shards of broken glass that have been conditioned by the combined actions of waves, pebbles, sand, and chemical reactions with salt.
Sea glass shards are shards of broken glass that have been conditioned by the combined actions of waves, pebbles, sand, and chemical reactions with salt.


Like I said, feel free to laugh.

Trash Talk Tuesday: Part to Whole

Trash Talk Tuesday:

Time once again for us martial arts bloggers to learn:
1) How NOT to make a case for or against someone or something
2) Why certain comments set our teeth on edge
3) How to stay focused when discussing our arts

It’s Trash Talk Tuesday!


Sempai Steve:  In the tournament yesterday, this one guy from Dojo X really nailed me – yowch!  I’m bruised but I’m OK.  The referees called a foul on him.

Whitebelt Nelly:  Wow, Dojo X is probably like the evil Cobra Kai Dojo from that 1980’s movie, “The Karate Kid!”

Whoa, Nelly!  Just because one Dojo X student hit hard enough to merit a foul doesn’t mean all the students in Dojo X are vicious bullies!  The student himself might be a great guy who made a mistake.  Maybe he even bought Sempai Steve a beer after the tournament.  Jumping to conclusions about the greater whole based on one tiny little part is called the Part to Whole Fallacy.   Counters for this fallacy could include statements of facts and/or thinking of other possibilities.

If you’d like to learn more, you can follow along in the book The Fallacy Detective by Nathaniel Bluedorn and Hans Bluedorn


In any given dojo in our organization, classes meet only 2-3 times per week.  If a student shows the Senseis he or she is willing to work hard and have a good attitude, the student may ask to visit sister dojos.  I’m very privileged to have been granted such permission.  Whenever I bow in to a dojo I never know what adventures I’m going to have.  Here are some of my favorite memories.


My “home” dojo

As much as I love visiting other dojos and going to seminars and stuff, I try to never take my “home” dojo for granted.  It is the place where I do most of my learning and growing.  The Senseis have a long way to drive after work, so sometimes they make it to class early, sometimes not.  Most often, two men who are both young enough to be my sons help me with kata and kumite before class.  So really, I have two Senseis and two Sempais teaching me.  I feel very privileged to have four people to help me learn new things and refine stuff I’ve already learned.  My fellow students are all very young – the oldest is in his early twenties, the next oldest is my daughter.  Half are teens, half are young children.

Before Christmas, we spent three classes exploring the Jiu-Jitsu heritage in our style of Karate (Shindo Jinen-Ryu).  This came about when one of my Senseis said it was too bad we didn’t have mats so we could learn this stuff.  I know our YMCA pretty well by now, so I was able to tell him where the mats are stored. Sensei’s face lit up like a kid at Christmas when he saw the mats for himself.

The next class we learned how to fall safely.  At one point, we were introduced to forward rolls.  I’d done them before.  A few years ago I performed a very nice forward roll instinctively to avoid crushing a child who had fallen in front of me.  I knew the technique was in my memory somewhere, but I wasn’t confident about performing it in class.  I started feeling old. Then I reminded myself I was the one who spoke up about the mats, so I was going to have to do all this stuff.  It turns out I did just fine.

Later on I was paired up with a teenage girl (not my daughter) for takedowns.  I know better than to make things easy – these young women have to know they can use leverage to beat someone bigger and stronger.  Sensei saw my partner struggling and stepped in to demonstrate.  Boy, was I grateful Sensei had made us practice falling because I didn’t even have time to think before I was on the mats.  Some day, if the Lord be willing and the creek don’t rise, I’m going to be that proficient.  That scares me a little.  It makes me aware that I’d better be a good, responsible person who knows when to use what I know and when to refrain because these techniques are dangerous!

I wish we had class more often than twice a week.

The Hombu dojo

Our organization’s Hombu Dojo is about three hours’ drive from my house.  I’ve only been there once, and that was for promotion right before Thanksgiving (2014).  I’d love to visit there, maybe even get a chance to take a class under the head of our organization!

I was so nervous before leaving to drive down there that I decided to just pretend I was visiting yet another sister dojo.  It wasn’t all that hard to do because I’m acquainted with a good many students and Senseis.  I was especially happy to see a couple of out-of-state acquaintances I hadn’t seen since Gasshuku!

So I tried not to think much. I tried to continually concentrate on the techniques, etc.  If I did waver in my concentration, this is how my thoughts ran:  “Here I am visiting the Hombu Dojo, what a great class we’re having…  Focus on the technique…  Ignore Sensei S. and Sensei K. scribbling on their clipboards, it’s OK if they’re standing there watching.  Not the first time they’ve watched me.  Glad they’re here.  Focus on the technique…”  By the time I got to kata, I really did feel as confident as I do whenever I’m simply visiting another dojo.  I was then able to pass along as much encouragement as I could to others (while still respecting dojo etiquette of course).

I could’ve waited to promote locally in mid January 2015, but my Senseis dangled a big, juicy carrot in front of me to get me to travel.  After the color-belt promotion came the promotion for brown belts moving to black belt.  This was well worth watching!  I started thinking seriously about long term goals for sure after watching that promotion.  I’d like to learn for as long as I’m physically able.  Teaching is in the cards, so I’m thinking the more exposure I get to different dojos, the better equipped I’ll be to deal with teaching a wide variety of people.

Sister Dojo #1

This dojo seems to emphasize sparring, which is my weakest area.  I’m looking forward to visiting more in the future!  This dojo has a good mix of adults and children.

Sister Dojo #1 is not far from the place where my daughter does her volunteer work.  The work is seasonal, so for six Tuesdays in the Fall and six Tuesdays in the Spring, it’s far easier for her and I to grab a bite to eat after her work and toodle on over to this dojo than it is to fight traffic to get to our home dojo barely in time for class.

What is it like being in class under the instruction of a world champion who is the same age as my daughter?  Well, I had to remind myself to respect his rank and not play the “old age” card to get out of doing stuff that’s a bit hard for a middle-aged beginner.  After awhile, I stopped thinking about his age and mine as I enjoyed learning things I’d never done before.

It was this young Sensei who called for two-against-one sparring (you can read the story here).  This was the turning point for my attitude about sparring.

I’ve had classes other two other Senseis at that dojo as well, and enjoyed those classes thoroughly.

Sister Dojo #2

This dojo seems to emphasize refinement of technique and form.  Three times now at this dojo, I’ve learned traditional drills that were recently brought out of mothballs.  Two of these are useful for practicing in small spaces.  The vast majority of students are adults.

One of the Senseis from this dojo graded me for my very first promotion and invited me to visit.  My daughter and I visit this dojo during those weeks when we miss our regular class time due to a holiday or promotion.  They meet on different days than our home dojo.  I happened to be in the last class of 2014 and the first class of 2015.

The chief instructor invited a high-ranking black belt from out of state to teach the last class of 2014.  Attendance was low, and I feel sorry for those who must have been dismayed about hardly anyone showing up, but at the same time, I was gleeful.  I love small classes.  However, I was a bit nervous when it became obvious class would consist of 5 black belts (including the instructor), a brown belt, and two beginners (including me) who’d had significant prior training.  Never mind I knew three out of the five black belts, I was worried about keeping up!

I needn’t have worried.  Everyone had something to work on.  The guest Sensei had us working on natural movement and drills designed to get us to move smoothly from one thing to another.  Because the class was small, we did drills where everyone could participate for the benefit of each in turn.  Usually in any given class it’s “us” (students) and “them” (Senseis), but this class was very much about everyone.  I’d been told that even black belts have things they need to improve.  But it’s one thing to merely hear it and another thing to witness it in a class. This was driven home when I heard the instructor give the same feedback to a black belt that he’d given me just a few moments earlier!

The first class of 2015 was even smaller.  It was just the chief instructor, my daughter, another student, and I.  It turns out I was the highest ranked student, so I had a significant role in the opening and closing ceremonies.  I wasn’t expecting that honor for years, as all our dojos boast quite a number of high-ranked students.  I really enjoyed getting lots of feedback.  I’m not sure I’ve ever been in a class as small as that, and I really appreciated the extra attention.

Sister Dojo #3

This dojo is on a community college campus, and is where my daughter got her start in Karate.  It is where the head of our organization got his start teaching in America.  Most students go only one quarter, get their first belt, then disappear.  Some stay for two quarters.  After that, one must audit or join another dojo.  The student body consists mostly of those in their late teens and early twenties.

My daughter and I are auditing this Sensei’s class this quarter.  I want to re-visit some things from the “ground” up, and I joke about going to this dojo for “remedial sparring.”  My daugther wants to prepare for tournament season by training more than the two days a week we get at our “home” dojo.

A year ago I would sometimes pick up my daughter from the community college after her last class of the day – Karate.  Quite often, I would come early and slip into the dojo.  My daughter had jumped at the chance to take the class.  I envied her – I remembered what it felt like to perform a kata well, to earn a new belt, and to have a strong body.  I was so glad my daughter was clearly enjoying herself.  I thought, “I’m to old.  I’ve got this issue going on with my body.  I’m too fat.  I’m way out of shape.”  My daughter’s Sensei had invited me into the class about a month or two in, but I politely declined, laughing that I’d probably sprain something.

Fast forward twelve months.  Earlier this week, when I entered the community college dojo in a gi for the first time, I was the ranking student.  My daughter stood in line at my left as the second highest – she and I are auditing together to get some extra training.  I’m not usually the ranking student in my home dojo.  I hesitated a moment before beginning the opening ceremony not because I couldn’t remember what to do but because it hit me that a year ago I never would’ve believed that I’d be standing there leading the class in the opening ceremony.  It was one of those profound moments that goes by in a second or two – no one else knows about it when it happens, but it’s a moment that leaves one changed, empowered, and thankful for those who have helped bring one to that point in time.  It’s a moment I’ll savor for a good long time to come.  It was a powerful moment, and I let it infuse my voice as I led the class in the opening ceremony.

After class, I thanked the Sensei for allowing me to audit his class.  I had to be brief because new students needed to order gis.  He seemed tickled pink – I’m thinking he also remembered how things were a year ago 🙂

Each and every Sensei brings something different to the table, and in addition to feedback I receive, I’m filling my training notebook with sketches and descriptions of drills I’ve learned in various places.  It can’t hurt to prepare for my future now.

Let’s look at the black belts who have had a hand in my training!

When I was a teenager:  2 seminars, 1 main Sensei, and 1 Sensei who occasionally dropped in.

Since I began again 7 months ago:  12 Senseis leading regular classes, 1 seminar, the main instructor at Gasshuku, and roughly 10 more Senseis who weren’t teaching class but who helped me at one time or another.

Roughly twenty eight black belts in all have had a direct hand in my training.  I am deeply honored and, when I think of it, astounded at how these men and women have gifted me with their time.

But it doesn’t stop with the Senseis who are teaching me in person.  Please see my post “Help from Others: Encouragement, Teaching, and Support” to see who else has helped me get to where I am now.  I am extremely grateful for all of you.