Sensei, why are you so strict?

August 2014

During classes this past week I went a bit old school in terms of discipline on the students. Pushups were handed out, distractions were removed from training and I pushed them to focus and train hard. After the class was over I had a parent contact me saying their child told them I “was mean” in class that night.

First off I wasn’t mean. Very few of my students have ever seen me mad or in a mean state of mind. I rarely, if ever lose my temper because I am in a leadership role and I don’t want my students to see that side of me nor grow up thinking “If Sensei did it then it’s OK to do it”. I explained to the parent that part of what I teach is discipline. The other part is respect. This is Karate, not PE class, not soccer and not any other sport…it is a martial art. This particular parent enrolled their child for this very reason, to gain discipline and respect. It was a very pleasant conversation and one that I have had many times over the years because people who do not train martial arts do not understand the culture of the dojo.

The culture in a good dojo is not subject for debate nor is it like anything else in the USA. Today kids are coddled and they simply are not taught the meaning behind phrases such as “You must first earn respect to get it” and many others. In this process they often misconstrue and bend phrases as well as quotes to suit their own personal agenda which is ethically and morally wrong. Martial Arts training must be strict but it doesn’t need to be like going to military school. A good Sensei is straight to the point, controls the environment of the class and maintains order / discipline….yet we all like to have fun too. Chances are if you get dropped for pushups for not listening or not focusing it is a GOOD reminder to do so. It is a Karate dojo, not your play time and we are not here to babysit you. We are here to teach you Karate and that requires focus and discipline. Without those two things people always do get hurt. Our goal is to keep you safe so you can keep training but Karate is a contact environment so injuries can occur. Regardless it is 10x safer than playing most other contact sports such as football or wrestling.

The culture of the dojo is just like stepping out of America and into Okinawa. The Sensei speaks and you listen, watch and learn. Respect is demanded by the instructors because they have already been through what you are expected to go through and accomplished it. They have earned respect and once a person earns it, only they can destroy it or lose it through their actions. The phrase “You must first earn respect to get it” filters up, not down. Many people use this saying to tell people who have already earned respect that they don’t deserve it or haven’t earned it from their point of view but that is a FALSE claim. We all know and remember that kid in school who never respected their teachers, was always in trouble and was, for lack of a better term, a punk. They never could understand why no one respected them. The ones I remember from school all ended up in jail because they never understood how respect works. In the dojo respect is given to your instructors and the people who are higher rank than you regardless of your personal feelings, and ideas on the matter…regardless of what you think, feel or believe should be the way it is done. They have already earned it and you haven’t yet. Over the 23 years I have taught I have dealt with many students and parents who failed to understand this. It has led to some very stupid situations such as having to throw students out of my school as well as needing to physically throw abusive parents out too. Those are situations I am not proud of because I would rather help everyone to learn but some people just can’t get over their own small world to see the bigger picture. It is a fact that some people can’t be taught because, in their mind, they already know everything or think they are the best at everything.

Within the walls of the dojo the Sensei is in charge. It has always been this way. I have visited some schools where the Sensei was trying to be a “buddy” to all their students instead of being a teacher. I watched in horror over the years as they destroyed their schools from the inside out. Sure they grew some good sized schools but eventually they lost all their students because they couldn’t control the classes nor the training. It was much more like playtime than martial arts training time. Discipline simply wasn’t controlled so it never existed in their schools. Without discipline chaos rules and in a good dojo there should never be chaos at any time.

To be a leader one must understand the role involved with it. It is not easy and it is very demanding. Often a leader will have to make decisions based on what is good for the entire dojo over the single student and that can be heart wrenching but is necessary to insure the quality, integrity and longevity of the school. All students are held to same standard. If a Sensei states something is mandatory then it is. That helps a student to learn respecting their senior’s wishes and understanding they are NOT in charge, the Sensei is. This also filters back to the home where the child now understand that Mom and Dad are in charge period. Regardless of the reason a student misses a mandatory function they are always disciplined because accountability is a huge part of learning honor. Typically the only thing that is excusable to miss such a function is illness or a death in a family.

It is very hard to teach Karate today and we typically spend the entire first year just trying to break through walls and bad habits instilled by society in order to help program the student how to actually learn. It seems that instilling the willpower to learn and study is not being taught today in the public education system like it used to be. I saw a cartoon on Facebook once (even think I shared it) that showed a set of parents scolding their child for getting bad grades in the 1980’s and then another set of parents yelling at the teacher because their child got a bad grade in current times. This is very true from my standpoint as a teacher. I have had parents blame me for their child not being ready to test up a rank or losing in a tournament when in FACT it was the student’s inability to train and prepare that lead to their failure (or their over confidence and failure to listen). Martial arts training is not a hand holding, walk you through everything environment. We teach and provide the materials, you study, train, memorize and perfect the art. That is how it is. Your ability to promote or move up is based on your effort and improvement, not your Sensei’s. Your Sensei walked the same path you are on and that is how they learned as much as they did and got so good at the art they teach. When a student fails to study the program materials and train them without waiting for the Sensei to hold their hand then it is their failure, not the instructors. We give you the tools but you have to work them to grow successful. This is the same way life is. If you want to be anything great in life you have to understand this concept. No one is responsible for your failures but YOUR OWN SELF regardless of what excuse you come up with to try and justify it.

Imagine if Thomas Edison would have just kept making excuses each time a light bulb blew up on him. We wouldn’t have had light like we do today. Imagine if George Washington would have just made excuses each time he lost a battle in the Revolutionary War and blame that on others. We probably would have lost the war and I can promise you he would never have become the 1st President of the USA! These are just some of the many examples I teach in the dojo when I hear people blaming others for their failures.

Learning Karate is NEEDED today for kids of all ages. It is easy to learn and teaches much more than just physical skills but only if you find a good dojo where the instructor can relate life experiences to the students to help them inside and outside of the dojo. One of the things I always tell my students is “when you got hit in the face during sparring whose fault was it” to which I get all sorts of answers but rarely the right one. The right answer is “it’s yours because you failed to block”. It really is that simple. If you are training and you get hit a lot then you need to take time to practice, study and learn how to block effectively. Many of my students hear about my early years in training. I got beat up a lot, hit a lot and showed bruises, bloody noses and lips for the effort to learn. Eventually, over the years of training, I became very adept at blocking and not getting hit. I learned this from the best teacher out there…experience. Experience comes from guidance and training. Your Sensei guides you and you train it to get good at it…not the other way around.

Parent please remember that the culture of the dojo has to be supported. Follow the etiquette rules and courtesy rules of the dojo when there. This helps your children to grow and improve everyday. Arguing or saying you don’t agree with certain things makes our job harder. We want to help your child. That is exactly why we, the black belts, have spent years perfecting our skills at teaching…to help others! We didn’t do it for fame, fortune or glory…we did it because we wanted others to get the awesome benefits out of martial arts that it gave each of us. As my Sensei always said to me “Sometimes you won’t agree with me but eventually you will understand why it is the way I said it is to be”. As always train hard and see you in the dojo!