Saturday, November 21, 2015

Taking the Next Step (Martial Arts-Related)

I tested for and achieved my next rank in Karate at the end of October.
It was the culmination of a lot of hard work and I feel much better about how I did on this test than the last one.
So now I'm 2nd Kyu.  In the system I'm going through, this is second degree brown belt.  I'm now two ranks away from black belt.  Woo-hoo!

Also at the end of October (the last Friday to be precise) was open sparring at our sister dojo.
Anyone of all levels is welcome to attend and though this has been going on for the last Friday of every month for as long as I've been studying Karate, I'd never attended for various reasons.

What made this one special was the Sensei at that dojo is moving away and is handing it over to another instructor.  The sparring session in October would be the last chance to spar with this incredible martial artist.  Unable to pass up such an opportunity, I made every effort to go and I had fun!

After the sparring, the instructor who'll be taking over had his usual Tai Chi class (which is every Friday).  As Tai Chi is my first martial arts love and he was a fellow classmate when I was learning all those years ago, I asked if I could stay for his class.

And so I was reminded yet again how very much I love Tai Chi.  The slower movements allow for more deliberate breathing and an easier feel of the energy flows (at least for me).  Oh it was great!

It was a smallish class: less than ten people; but they were all at different spots in the form.  This posed (an apparently long-standing) problem for the instructor because after the warm-up he had to split everyone up into groups based on what point they were at.  He'd show one group their next move, then move to the next group and the next group and so on; dividing his time between three or four groups.  If you forgot the move you were supposed to be working on (in part or in full), you'd have to wait till he came back around to your group.

Because I hadn't been in a Tai Chi class for over six years, I couldn't be terribly helpful to the group I was put with.  I remembered some of the form with little to no effort on my part, but other sections were just like they were new.

Still, this situation perked my ears.
I like Tai Chi...a lot.  I'd love to do it again, but I've already learned the short form (and the long form, and the sword form), I've just fallen out of practice.
Coming back as a student would seem silly.  It'd all come back to me in probably a month's worth of classes and that'd be all I'd need.  Though learning is a fractal process and there's always more to learn, my main focus presently is Karate.
However, seeing how he had to divide his time so much made me wonder if maybe I could be part of the solution here!

What if I came on as an assistant instructor?
I'd get my Tai Chi fix and he'd get help with the students.

It sounds rather simple and obvious, but I kid you not, this was a big mental and emotional step for me.
I've always been a student.
Yoga, belly dance, Tai Chi, whatever activity: I'm always the passive learner.

Yes, I've been an assistant instructor at Karate for well over a year now; but that's just par for the course.  As soon as a brown belt is tied around your waist, no matter your age or how long you've been studying, you're automatically tossed right in and expected to be able to run warm-ups and help the lower ranks with their katas.  Better hope you can count in Japanese by this point (most people can), and that you can break down the first kata into pieces new students can absorb!
Though you're now teaching others (and I'm don't mean to short-change this process, because you really do learn by teaching!), it's still from the passive student perspective: I've been told to do this so I am doing it.

Now I was reaching out and stepping into a more active role.
I honestly struggled with this paradigm shift for over two weeks.
Could I do it?
Could I handle the responsibility?
Was I being too arrogant in wanting to ask in the first place? (Remember I haven't touched Tai Chi in over six years!)

Finally I took the plunge and just asked.
I explained that I obviously wasn't qualified to teach the subtler nuances of the form, but with a little refresher, I'd be more than capable of showing students the correct hand and foot positions.

He was interested and willing to give it a go.
I was on cloud nine!
Holy cow! I was going to (assistant) teach!!
How freaking awesome!

And so for this past week leading up to the class last night I went through the opening moves of the form on my own; trying to dredge up what once had flowed so effortlessly and naturally.
I was happy to find after some trial and error that I could comfortably recall the first eight moves (out of 60).
I showed up last night a little early and he ran me through those eight moves, gently correctly my six years of rust and explaining how he articulates the movements verbally to students.  Then off we went!

I will admit: this first class wasn't pretty.
After warm-ups he handed me over to his newest students who are only five or six moves in.
I bumbled so much - teaching a move in the incorrect order; moving on to the next part of the form a little too quickly for them; forgetting to talk through some of the foot positions.  But the two people I was working with were so understanding and forgiving and just happy to have an instructor with them the whole time to keep repeating with them the same opening moves over and over.  And oh man did I learn so much last night!

I'm humbled, but still excited.
There's still so much to do and learn, but I have at least taken the next step in my martial arts practice and I couldn't be happier!


  1. Congrats! We have a saying in our school, teach once, learn twice. My sifu even says that's how he learns is by teaching. I'll go even further: You don't really know something until you've taught it! Sometimes I think I know something, then I stumble and fumble teaching it because I'm not used to doing it slow or explaining...afterwards I know I've obtained full comprehension.

    1. I'm certainly finding this to be the case!
      Thanks much for commenting :)