GETTING THE MOST OUT OF YOUR STYLE
Scott J. DaDante
One of the great rewards of being a teacher is the simple fact of working with fresh minds that walk continuously through the doors of Northeast Kenpo Karate. Their enthusiastic approach and sheer innocence encourages me to try and better myself each day. They are always forcing me to explore outside the box and have always challenged me mentally by asking questions that at times I do not have the answer for. This pushes me to find the answer and sometimes I already know the answer, but never knew I did. By explaining the answers they seek, it in turn teaches me more on the subject allowing me to understand the concept clearer; in a way I teach myself through their ignorance. Now please understand, ignorance is not stupidity by any means, it's simply means that they do not understand and through their questions, I at times, am forced to enlighten my personal ignorance which in turn heightens my knowledge.
I am a firm believer that knowledge is power and that the more you know and are able to apply that knowledge, a better person you will become. I believe a good teacher is one that doesn't hide behind his own personal pride; believing that they have all the answers or that their system is the best or even that their ranking depicts their knowledge or skill level.
Whenever I come across these people I always laugh inside as they tell the tales of high adventure they've experienced and how lucky we all are to just know them. I personally always try and treat them, as I do for anyone, with the highest respect and always try to enforce this respect in my students. I guess this has been instilled in me since the early days as a young boy in Tae Kwon Do, if there's anything that I hope to always carry with me from that system is the discipline and respect that was emphasized.
I think we all as martial artist get turned off from time to time from a person who brags about themselves. I can't help but think who are they trying to sell themselves to? I would think themselves. I have always been drawn to the humble artist in the corner who constantly works for perfection and after countless hours they are rewarded when people come to them to tell them how good they appear. Never asked, but something propels the stranger to approach them so they can share their praise. What a feeling this is to be recognized for your hard work and dedication as opposed to telling other people how good you are.
This is the true meaning of being a teacher isn't it? Your personal dedication to bettering yourself and in turn your spirit ends up bettering the people around you. Your cup overflows so others can fill up off your knowledge to learn to better themselves and to take it to the next level even past your own knowledge in hope's to one day have their cup overflow for others to fill up on too.
Is reaching a Black Belt the end of your journey? Some believe that once they've achieved their Black Belt they've made it! They put their time in and now it's time to sit back and enjoy the rewards. To me achieving a Black Belt is like graduating from high school sure you made it and you have some knowledge and some basic skills, but you are far from knowing all the answers and are still naïve in how the world works. High school like your Black belt has given you the basic necessary tools to carry on further and it up to you to take that basic knowledge to the next level. Some do just that while other get lost in the void; the trap of I'm a black belt and I've done it all.
Not to offend anybody, but let's face it a Black Belt is nothing more than a white belt. Once one receives their Black Belt, to me it's just a new fresh start for them to open their eyes to truly understand the system that their Black Belt in; they have now been given the tools to really comprehend and now apply what they have learned. It is truly just the beginning and not by any means the end.
Here I stand carrying many various Black Belts and high ranking belts and levels in multiple arts. Ranging from Tae Kwon Do, I.K.K.A Kenpo, the Tracey's system, Kali, Ninjutsu, The NKK system, Jiujutsu, Chin Na and so forth and even though some would say I've accomplished a lot there's still so much more to seek out and explore and so much more to still learn in all of these existing systems.
Whenever I learn a new style, I have no shame of taking off my Black Belt, like Miagi said in the Karate Kid movie belt is to hold up pants! Although the symbol and meaning of the Black Belt holds a special place with us, it is still what Miagi referred it as being. When I go out in public and I'm away from my dojo, which is the majority of my day, Am I still a Black Belt? How are people going to recognize me being a Black Belt if I'm not wearing one? Maybe I should be wearing a t-shirt or hat that says that I'm a black belt so others know who I am?
When I go to seminars and they ask for me to be present in full Gi, although I wear my rank and I wear it proud, I still wonder out of respect if I should be wearing it. Why do I think this? Because even though I hold Black ranks in the styles mentioned above I still maybe am a white belt in their system. I again have no shame in taking off my belt out of respect for the teacher. I don't believe I need to show my rank to prove my time or skill. Just like the orange belt next to me, we are both there to learn and if I'm good, than my skills will shine and be displayed not through my words or through symbols but through action and personal presentation. That to me is the gift of Black Belt - Respect and Honor.
Understanding your place in the martial arts will help you to get the most out of your style. Trust me when I say that your style, whatever it is, has a lot to offer and if you're serious about your style or just the martial arts in general then believe me that you can learn a lot more about your own style than by just learning from one of your teachers.
Now by no means I'm I encouraging you to disrespect your teacher or telling you to stray from your school, but a lot of teachings, theories and history in each style, especially the traditional styles, have been lost through translation over the years. If you seek more knowledge on your style or other styles to enhance your own abilities then take advantage of what's out there. The world is yours and the knowledge available is endless. Don't fear offending your teacher because if he is confident in himself and is wise in his own way's than he should be encouraging you to continue your quest for knowledge. If he is a good teacher and you love his style then his school will always be home to you and he should know this.
With the ever growing popularity of instructional videos, countless books and the freedom of the internet, we now have the ability to seek out styles that we never even knew existed until a couple of years ago. Everything is at our fingertips so absorb and practice, but never forget what teacher, a coach or a mentor can and does for you. A video cannot give you feedback or answer a question on the spot. A book cannot give you feeling of accomplishment when you finally get it like personal interaction gives. The internet is vast but you can't always believe what you see or read, there is still a lot of garbage sites falsifying information and let's mention the sites to become home Black Belts, some are legitimate with the real goal of helping people to reach their style at long distances, while others are only concerned in filling their pocketbooks with your money and in return filling your brain with trash. So you're a part of their organization? Honestly what has their organization done for you? Be part of a local or your school's organization and reap the benefits.
How well do you know your teacher? Do you know of his past and how he became interested in the martial arts? Do you know how he trained with and the stories of how he trained? Finding the answers to all these questions could be possibly quit inspiring to you. You may even build a more personal friendship with your instructor which could lead to more insights into the system.
Do you know the people and connections your teacher knows? Not capitalizing on the people you meet and not recognizing what they do may make you miss out on a lot of good things by holding you back from seeing the big picture. Think about this one.
Do you have friends from other styles and if you do have you trained with them and explored or absorbed what they have to offer. Do you know the people and connections they know? If you have not done this than get to it! What do you have to lose?
We all make mistakes after all we are all human. I believe we have to make mistakes to learn. It is ok to not have all the answers, but to not seek these answers out is a waste. As we grow we learn and as we breath we live; we need to explore new things that can contribute to the bettering of our own life and the people around us. Do not be struck with tunnel vision and feel free to see outside of the box. The world is yours so take it.
All of these factors expressed above can contribute to the knowledge that you seek, but understand that all the information that you attain through outside sources like other martial artists, books, videos and the internet will never replace a good teacher and the physical knowledge that is created on the mat through your blood, sweat and tears. Here's to our training.
Respect and Honor.