The decline of discipline in the dojo over the last 15 years has been dramatic and widespread throughout American culture.
Note: This is part of my working Shodan Thesis. This may change in the final print.
The final traditional value to be discussed in this paper will be discipline. The decline of discipline in the dojo over the last 15 years has been dramatic and widespread throughout America and other parts of the western culture. The commercialization and creation of the “McDojo” have resulted in many karateka acting like customers rather than students and needs to be reversed.
Karate is not an easy thing by any means. Many karateka begin their studies as a means of exercise, defense, or self-betterment. All three of these things results in an inclination to want the easy way out. Many of those in search of exercise feel exempt from the philosophy and Japanese requirements. Those wishing to learn defense feel held back by the basics and want to jump ahead to more difficult material before they are ready. Then sadly, those in look of self-betterment often are not concerned with the effectiveness of their technique, and rather just want to know they are taking the difficult road. Karate is an all-encompassing way of life. Every aspect should be regarded as important and students should never feel they are exempt or that they have an easier method.
Polite not Nice
Another trend that has become popular is the idea that instructors should never be negative with their students. The popular “no-put-downs” mentality, which believes everyone is special in their own way, can be credited for a lot of this problem. When I was climbing the ranks at the turn of the millennium, it was common to be told that you were wrong, needed more work, or that I should come in for private lessons. This is great and should not be treated as rude. This is an instructor taking the time to tell you the things you might not want to hear. They are teaching you to defend yourself. Better they hurt your feelings once than let you get yourself hurt. Your ego will heal, but your body might not. Do not degrade your kohai (karateka of lesser rank), but be honest, realistic, and blunt. They need to know.
Losing is also an important part of learning that is lost recently. Many dojos are encouraging students to go to tournaments and preparing them, training them, and making sure they get into the most equal division of peers to ensure they have a good chance of winning. Some of the best things you will learn as a student are from those who are significantly better than you. A challenge you cannot complete will sometimes teach you more than the one you can. Karateka should always capitalize on the chance to lose a competition and learn from those who are better than them. Entering a larger tournament will tend to increase the skill ranges of a division, but at a smaller tournament of three to four people per division, it would be beneficial to enter the division above you (at the kyu rank, no one will know your rank but you because colors are different at every school). If you are a 7th kyu and could be considered either novice or intermediate, put down intermediate and see what comes of it.
Continuing with the trend that losing isn’t a good thing and that you don’t want to set your students up for failure, another nasty trend I am noticing in many schools is the idea that students are only tested when the instructor is confident they are ready for the next step. When the instructor feels they should be promoted, they hold a pseudo-test that gives the instructor feedback on what they need to improve, but they are promoted nonetheless. This isn’t how it should be. When an instructor feels their student is ready to move on to the next rank; that is when he should test them to confirm the belief. There are requirement, and they need to be met. The idea that a student isn’t ready, but by the time they test for the following rank they will have fixed the things they needed for this rank, and therefore should be promoted is problematic at best. You end up with 2nd kyu who don’t have everything they needed for 3rd kyu testing for 1st kyu and teaching the 4th kyu.
This is how karate gets watered down. By promoting too fast, you lose qualified instructors. When black belts do not know the entire curriculum, they are unable to teach the next generation, and slowly things become lost because no one was able to teach it and soon it is forgotten. Schools should establish what needs to be known for a promotion and if a karateka is not proficient at said curriculum, do not promote them. This can be emotionally hard sometimes, on everyone.
Promotions on different nights
One way to cope with the emotional hit of being told you will not be promoted is to give time between testing and promotions. If testing is held and promotions are not announced for an average of three weeks later (I say average because varying this time will best suit its purpose), this leaves students with a feeling of surprise when they are promoted rather than an anxiety of waiting to know if they were. If students are prepping for a second “round” of testing before they know if they were promoted then having a chance to redeem themselves soon after realizing they weren’t promoted removes a lot of the hurt of knowing you didn’t get promoted.
Time in is a requirement not a qualifier
As with my previous comments, time in grade (how long they have held the rank) can always be listed as a requirement for promotion. I advise instructors to either use this strictly or loosely but do not pretend one way or the other. If you do not stick to the posted required time in grade, do not insist to your students that you do, it makes you look unable to keep track of time. When this is a requirement, understand that it means at a minimum students should have this much time in grade. Just because they have six months in, does not mean they should be expecting a promotion. Karate is a journey for the individual. It is not relative to anyone else’s journey. Likewise, it is a journey of a lifetime and students should not be in a rush. At 90 years old, 80 years after he began karate, Shoshin Nagamine would practice karate daily in hopes that he would perfect his technique. If this master wasn’t at the end of his journey then, no one should care how long it takes to go from 8th to 7th kyu.
Failing tests is ok
One of the American ideals that clashes with karate is the concept that failing a test is acceptable. I explained how it was ok to fail a student, but teachers need to convey to their students that karate tests are not like biology or math. In academics, a test is an exam to ensure a student knows everything they were expected to know at a certain point. In karate, there are no expectations. If a student tests for a promotion, and it becomes clear they do not know a vast majority of the requirements, that is perfectly acceptable. It allows the instructor to fine tune the instruction to help them progress along their journey. The karateka is not failing in the academic sense, they simply aren’t ready and now the instructor is better informed on how to help them exceed.