I have many fond memories of my time in karate; one of the most important being the very first day I stepped into class. I was wearing sweatpants and a dingy t-shirt. I had researched enough on what I was about to do to know that I was to take off my shoes and socks and bow at the door before entering. I had visited the dojo and observed a class the previous week, and was given some rudimentary guidance by a brown belt who was instructing during the teacher’s absence.
I walked up the stairs to the second level of the gymnasium where class was held (it was actually the ground floor, but since my home town is built on the side of a mountain in Northern New Brunswick, the entrance is in the basement) with a grim determination to give it my all and to improve my health. I walked to the entrance of the dojo and noticed about two dozen students milling about, stretching and chatting about their weekend. I bowed respectfully at the door and when I raised my head, the crowd had parted and there stood Sensei…
Now, what you need to understand is that I was something of a smart-ass kid… Some of you are likely thinking that sentence could lose the “kid” and still be accurate. And you would be right. But my point is that I had a sarcastic streak that not many parents and adults shared or enjoyed. My mouth got me into trouble often enough that sometimes I paid a price for my words. Enter: Sensei.
That’s why when I saw that the head instructor of the school was a man with whom I had some “verbal” interactions, I slowly back-stepped and tried to retreat from the building. No such luck. Sensei looked up and saw me at the entrance and asked if I was trying out. I replied that I was. He motioned me to enter and assigned me a yellow belt to help me stretch out properly and learn some of the basics I would need to make my way through the class. Thus began a lifelong journey that I’m still working on, more than three decades later.
Every person has a story. Every story has a beginning. Sure, all those stories start the same way: with one’s birth. But speaking strictly about martial arts, the beginning of one’s story, regardless of the reason for joining, should be some guidance. Someone should be taking the time to show you some of the rudimentary basics, stances and strikes that you’ll be using during class so that you don’t become overwhelmed or confused.
Depending on the size and composition of the school you train with, this is no longer always the case. I recently saw a young girl in her teens walk into the dojo I train with, and she was accompanied by her mother. They introduced themselves and the mother sat on the bench and the girl just stood there. Class was scheduled to start in a matter of minutes.
I approached and instructed that she should remove her socks. Her mother objected to her being barefooted. I explained that some of the techniques we would be doing could cause her to slip and injure herself, should she wear socks. Especially since her balance and coordination for martial arts had not yet been developed. I asked if she did any other physical activities, to which she replied that she had done dance. I took a few moments to explain where she would be lined up and to simply follow along with the people in front of her. Bow when they bow, kick when they kick, so on and so forth…
Had I not spoken with her, this girl would have been left to her own devices and ignored, as no one else in the class seemed keen on approaching her. I couldn’t help but think that this was a horrible way to begin one’s first class, and thought back to how different my experience would have been had I been in those same shoes. She lined up based on instruction given to her by one of the senior belts and class began.
I know I have often picked on Millenials. Hell, I think a lot of society bashes on them a great deal. They come by some of it honestly. And Generation “Z” is proving to be no better. Not everyone fits in these categories, but what I observed that night was teeth-grinding and painful to watch. This young girl had six students and instructors in front of her, with plenty of opportunity to mimic and follow along.
She spent a good majority of the first hour simply standing in place, watching. Sometimes she would try something, only to throw her hands up and turn to look at her mother. She seemed unable or unwilling to perform even the simplest of movements, including squats and stretches that anyone could be able to do. Considering I had my beginnings in karate with an instructor who would not have permitted ANY student to sit still during training, it was painful to watch.
I wonder how different HER experience might have been, had one of the senior students approached her and took her in hand when she first arrived. Had she been shown some of these basics one-on-one before the start of class, some of it might have seemed less foreign and strange. Or perhaps it’s the change in behaviour and expectations that accompany the younger generations of today. It’s hard to tell.
I’m hoping this young lady will stick it out long enough to develop the solid effort required for her to reap the full benefits of martial arts. But the lesson here is that if anyone new walks into your preferred sport or workout environment, take the time to chat with them, guide them and show them the basics. You’ll make the experience much more immersive for them. And if you’re the one coming into something new, make it worth your while. Push yourself and give it your best effort. Not only are you worth that effort, it’s the least you deserve. ☯