Training with an Attitude

A guide for students, parents and significant others

Since martial arts training is unique in when compared to sports and education, it is important that everyone involved in the process of training understand the basis on which it can take place. In former times martial arts was conducted in secret, partly because it was considered that the average person was not ready to train seriously. In more recent years, with the advent of television, movies and radio, it has been possible to bring this ancient tradition to a mass audience. This is good and bad, like many things in life.

(Sensei Mason instructs his first student in the USA, Tom Clark, in 1980)

It is good because martial arts has been updated and improved, and is therefore compatible with many of the goals of the community. Due to its widespread practice, martial arts has been found to be an ideal medium through which people of all ages can acquire important life skills. Approximately twelve million people train in the United States. Practice is relatively safe as martial arts is number twenty-six in the list of dangerous sports, behind golf. Martial arts offers many benefits (physically, emotionally and psychologically) when it is practiced safely, within certain guidelines. These guidelines must be followed by everyone who has contact with our training.

Because the training actually works to improve dexterity, skill and power in the individual, it is very important that the attitude of the karateka (student) is correct. Any aggression, arrogance or indifference to others must be avoided. Techniques are only part of the training, attitude is the rest. A good school will not train bullies, therefore, an understanding of the student/parent code is an important part of the foundation of the course.

At the blue belt rank or higher, when the student applies to join the Junior Black Belt Club, a special meeting is set up between the Chief Instructor, the student and the parents/caretakers so that all can understand exactly what is expected of them. In order to achieve Black Belt excellence, “attitude is a little thing that makes a big difference”. In that meeting Sensei Mason carefully goes over the meaning of the Student Creed which basically states that a positive attitude is the foundation upon which all training is achieved. In order for the parent and the student to benefit from the karate program that we offer their participation must be constructive.

In the curriculum booklet that is given to each student when they become a member of the school, rule number eleven states that ”the student should strive to concentrate only on the martial arts when in the Dojo and to leave behind any problems or animosities which could be counterproductive”. Thus, it is important for both the student and the parent to refrain from anything (thoughts or actions) that would reduce the ability of the school to succeed in delivering the best training possible. The Student Code reads: “I intend to use what I learn in class constructively and defensively, to help myself and my fellow citizens, and to avoid all behavior, verbal and physical, that is abusive or offensive.”

In this society, most of us have grown up with ‘sayings’ such as “the customer is always right”, which may lead some clients to believe that they can make the rules since they are paying the fees. This is a common way of doing business. The problem with this type of relationship is that a martial arts school is much more than a business; it is a Dojo. A Dojo is a training hall- a place where training takes place. The only effective and safe way for training to take place is for the conditions to be right. Hence, the necessity for the rules outlined in the curriculum and expanded by the Student Code and Parent Code. Respect for the authority of the Sensei in class is absolutely vital in achieving the goal of Black Belt excellence.

When a young student is reprimanded, through losing a stripe, being asked to sit outside class, or do pushups; it is important for the parents and the karateka to understand that martial arts training requires constant correction. Therefore in their role as coach we ask that and that they support the school in enforcing discipline as the foundation of responsible training.

We all need to be on the same team where education of our children is concerned and our goals need to be similarly matched. The goal of a responsible martial arts school is Black Belt excellence. which is achieved through the consistent application of excellent technique and the maintenance of an impeccable attitude.

Sensei Robert Heale Mason c2001


Real Learning versus “going through the motions”

I was speaking with one of our Black Belts recently, who was also trained as an education teacher, about the idea of real learning versus “going through the motions”. This person stated that it took them seven years to go from Brown Belt to Black Belt and that this length of time did not bother them. Because they were absorbing the material on such a deep level, they now know the curriculum cold. They also remarked that they thoroughly enjoyed the process of Brown Belt because real learning was taking place.

It seems that some students stall out at Brown Belt once they realize that there are three levels: third kyu (one stripe), second kyu (two stripes) and first kyu (brown belt with black stripe in the middle of the belt). Mistakenly they believe that once Brown Belt is achieved, Black Belt is just around the corner. A little knowledge is a dangerous thing sometimes because it can lead a person to believe that they know more than is actually the case. Upon achieving Brown Belt the student’s attitude is tested. Can they maintain the training regimen required for this belt level? More effort is required of advanced students; they are expected to work harder in every class.

The aspiring student preparing to test for Brown Belt also needs to apply the FIT formula devised by Steve Anderson: Frequency, Intensity and Time. Many years ago a Junior student failed the Brown Belt test because he had been simply “going through the motions“ in class. He had been neglecting to put the proper intensity, effort and attitude into his training .

The student and parent in question accepted that a standard needed to be met and immediately made plans to make up the training lapses, thus ensuring this student’s later success in passing that same test. However, the other parents watching the student fail the test were still reacting a week later. Apparently the thought that failure on a grading test was possible had not crossed their minds.

Real learning is a complex process that requires patience, practice, intensity and fortitude. By comparison, if you just have to show up once in awhile and “go through the motions”, it seems an easy option, though it will not produce quality results Unfortunately some educational facilities subscribe to that plan, as do some martial arts facilities I have heard about. It is not my way however. I believe that ranks should be awarded the old fashioned way. The students should earn their promotions.

Many times throughout the twenty-one years that I have taught martial arts in this community, I have been approached by adult students and parents of younger students asking me to “hand out” a belt or stripe, even when it was not warranted. If my motivation for teaching was based in the business of martial arts, I would have accepted the financial incentives that were offered in these cases. However, mediocrity has never been my goal for my students. While not everyone can attain the same level of expertise, all students can strive to achieve their potential. This requires an active and conscious training process, and requires a level of intensity during class. Just “going through the motions” will not make the grade. My philosophy requires that the students learn the material to the best of their ability, and real learning takes Frequency, Intensity and Time. Intensity can be the missing factor. By making sure that you add that ingredient to every training session you will maximize your benefits as you train frequently over time.

Sensei Robert Heale Mason c2001