Monday, 30 January 2012

Teaching children - some discipline issues...

I have just started teaching karate to a class of 5-7 year old children at an after school club for a local primary school. The first class was last Friday and my instructor was present to ensure that everything got off to a smooth start. Having introduced me to the children he then sat at the side and watched, leaving me to run the class to my own plan.

This was fine, I knew he was there if I needed him and he did offer me occasional advice dealing with discipline issues. This week he won't be there, I'm on my own!

So, how did it go last week?

Well it went okay, exhausting, but okay! The thing that is most challenging is the fact that the whole class is new. I had 20 very young children all having there first karate lesson together with no other child role models to follow. In our usual club classes, if a new child joins, they have many other children to follow and copy, particularly when it comes to procedural or behavioural things. New children tend to fit in and settle down fairly easily and their behaviour is generally very good.

Twenty new children with no one to follow is a bit more chaotic! They don't know what 'line up!' means, they think bowing is funny, they don't know what 'start running round the room' means for the beginning of the warm up (they start running randomly in all directions, screaming and shouting as if in the playground). You have to explain what every single command means!

Having finally got them to line up in two rows (that took longer than you'd expect) we started with a seiza bow. They seemed to think this was quite fun to do though some of them thought that being on the floor was a good opportunity to 'play wrestle' with the kid next to them. However, while I'd got them down on the floor I decided to go through  a couple of dojo rules - just bowing on entering and leaving the dojo and the importance of listening to me and not talking when I'm talking.

We then got on with the warm up - running round the room - I led this in the hope that they would follow and all run in the same direction, which they did - kids just love running around don't they? I then started shouting instructions such as ' when I say one, touch the ground with your left hand', 'two! touch the ground with your right hand', 'three! change direction' etc. Kids seem to really like the challenge of doing this. We then stopped and did a bit of light stretching - so far so good!

My two big themes for the lesson were, 'whole body movement' and 'evasion'. For the first theme I just got them to find a space (I thought getting back into ordered lines would take to long!) and we went through punching - in all sorts of strange directions! punching straight up in the air, out to the front, to the side, across the body and to the other side; then kicking in all directions too. It didn't matter what it looked liked I just wanted them to experience stretching their limbs right out, coordinating their movements and just having some fun with it. We followed this with a game to stop any boredom setting in.

I then went back to the body movement theme and we went through some basic blocks for a couple of minutes. I could see some of them were flagging  a bit by now and getting restless. There was a little bit of messing around, particular among certain groups of boys and the odd child wandering off to climb on PE equipment stored at the back of the hall. I decided it was time for a short break!

You've never seen 20 children rush off to the loo so quickly in your whole life! I was then a bit torn about whether to go down to the toilet block with them or stay in the hall to supervise the children that returned quickly to the hall. My instructor said to stay in the hall. Fortunately they all came quickly back and I did a quick head count. Letting them have this scheduled toilet break seemed to work well because not a single child asked to go off to the toilet during any part of the lesson (unlike in our usual club lessons).

Next, I decided to move onto the theme of evasion. I explained that evasion meant 'getting out of the way' and we started with an evasion game called 'space invaders'. This got their heart rates going again and was a bit of fun. We then did some circle work - getting 20 young children to form a large circle is easier said than done! Eventually we formed the circle and I stood in the middle with a large foam padded stick. The kids are always intrigued by this stick and I've generally got their full attention whilst they wonder what I'm going to do with it!

Remember the theme was 'evasion' so I told them that I would either sweep the stick over there heads so they would have to duck to evade it or I would sweep it at ankle height and they would have to jump over it or I would poke it towards their tummy and they would have to move out of the way. This proved a very popular drill and we spent a good 10 minutes on this one.

I thought that they'd probably learnt enough new things for one day so we had a final game of 'dodge ball' using bean bags  - always a riot this one and a good chance to run around and make a lot of noise!

I managed to get them to line up again for a final seiza bow. However there was still a few minutes left before parents picked them up so whilst I'd got them down on the floor we did some counting in Japanese. I'm always amazed how quickly kids pick this up!

A few discipline issues arose during the lesson:

* Some children talking when they should be listening
* Some children wandering off to play on other equipment
* A child refusing to do the activity
* A child hitting or 'strangling' another child
* Children sitting down when they should be standing
* Two brothers who refused to be separated from each other and messed around together
* A child throwing a lego car onto the floor after the toilet break, causing it to smash into pieces

How would you deal with these kind of incidents without letting it hinder the whole class?

Any tips for me for this week's class?

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Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Age and martial arts

I was recently browsing around the Download website and came across a video looking at students from different clubs testing for their shodan rank. The point of the video was to give you a flavour of what standard should be expected for a 1st kyu grade testing for shodan.

Here is the video:

I found the standard of the students good but also in line with what I would expect someone testing for shodan to be like. However, I was more interested in Jason Armstrong’s comments towards the end of the video where he states that in their organisation they have a different shodan curriculum for people over the age of 40 than for those under 40 (the students seen in the video are testing with the under 40 curriculum).

My first reaction to this was Hey, we’re not past it yet you know - no need to slow it down for us! Then I was reminded of my current persistent shoulder injury and the excessive aching I often get after training and realised that was my ego talking!

After thinking about it a bit more I realised that having a slightly modified syllabus for middle aged and older people is probably not a bad idea. In Jason Armstrong’s organisation the under 40 curriculum focus’s a lot more on ‘modern’ karate i.e point sparring, kata performance etc and slightly less on self-defence and bunkai. The over 40’s curriculum is balanced the other way around with more emphasis on traditional karate, self-defence and bunkai.

I think this probably works well. In my experience younger people are better at point sparring, can get their kicks up higher and faster and often look better in the performance aspects of kata . They are often more interested in the competitive aspects of modern karate than older people.

I also think (and I’m generalising here) that older people are more interested in the technical aspects of karate and have more patience to learn and experiment with them. They tend to want to discuss technical details more and often read to assist their learning.  Of course, many younger people are like this to and many older people still like competition but as a rule of thumb  I think that younger people get more excited by the thought of sparring and putting on a good kata performance and older people get more excited about delving more deeply into bunkai and self-defence issues – it’s certainly true for me.

I think that having different but overlapping curriculum for younger and older people can help them to play to their strengths and interests whilst still working on their weaknesses. I know some people might view this as a bit of a cop out for older people but is it reasonable to expect someone of 50 to be able to do the same physical activities as someone of 20? Anybody over the age of 40 or 50 will know that their body is not as flexible or capable as it might have been when they were younger. However, a young person cannot possible know what their body will feel like when they are older and so are in a more difficult position to make a judgement on this.

Some people would argue that everyone in a club testing for shodan should be tested on exactly the same material because that is fairer and ensures everyone achieves the same standard. This would be fair if the curriculum represents all aspects of karate equally so that older people can score more highly in areas that they are better in and younger people can score more highly in areas that suit them better. However, if the curriculum is biased towards areas that favour one age group then it isn’t fairer.

I know that this thinking may be a bit controversial. What do you think? Does your club have different curricular for younger and older people (not including children’s curriculum)?

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Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Escape the diet trap - some new ideas on weight loss...

I read an article in The Times supplement last weekend that throws some conventional ideas about diet and fitness on their head!

The article was a promotion for a new book written by practising doctor and nutrition expert Dr John Briffa and included extracts from the book ‘Escape the diet trap’.

Basically he’s saying that conventional views on calorie counting, low fat foods, high carb intakes and aerobic exercise are bad for you if you want to lose weight and don’t work. Here are his reasons why:

·         Restricting calories leads to lowered metabolic rate – causing weight loss to stall at a higher level than ideal.
·         Restricting calories also leads to increased cortisol levels which pre-dispose to fat accumulation around the middle of the waist and can lead to insulin resistance.
·         Research shows that diets that are richer in fat and more restricted in carbohydrate than traditionally advised are better for weight loss and better at improving markers for type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
·         Low-fat diets have been proved to be ineffective for weight loss. Briffa explains that fat storage is not simply about calories but is under hormonal control, namely insulin. Insulin helps deposit fat into cells and keeps it there and eating a carbohydrate rich diet increases insulin levels – promoting the storage of fat. Paradoxically, diets rich in fat and relatively low in carbs actually lower insulin levels, allowing the body to give up its fat stores more easily.
·         Eating less saturated fat has not been associated with reduced heart disease but avoiding industrially produced, partially hydrogenated ones is.
·         Prolonged aerobic exercise such as running, rowing and cycling is associated with good health but not with weight loss. They do not burn calories quickly enough and make you hungry.

So what does John Briffa think we should be eating instead and what should we avoid?

·         Eat a diet relatively rich in protein – protein satiates appetite and reduces hunger.  Eat only fresh, unprocessed meat, fish (especially oily fish), seafood and eggs.
·         Eat only ‘natural’ fats, including saturated animal fats, olive oil, butter, avocado oil, coconut oil and full-fat yogurt.
·         Reduce carbohydrate intake, particularly those that contain added sugar and/or starch.
·         Avoid all processed and manufactured foods including soya based products and breakfast cereals. Also avoid beans, lentils and peas which are rich in potentially toxic substances called lectins.
·         Drink plenty of fluids. There is evidence that dehydration inhibits the uptake of glucose into cells, leaving blood sugar levels high and hindering the mobilisation of fats from cells.

What about exercise?

(Remember, this is to promote weight loss rather than get super fit)

Briffa suggests the best exercise to promote weight loss is High Intensity Intermittent exercise (HIIE). This is brief, intense exercise with periods of relative rest. Research has shown that there is improved insulin sensitivity, which would be expected to speed weight loss. HIIE also was found to stimulate the metabolism of fat and fat loss.

Example of an HIIE routine using either a cycling, running or rowing machine:

·         2 minute gentle warm up on the machine
·         10 second ‘sprint’ on machine at about 80-90% maximum intensity
·         Slow cycle, jog or row for 30 seconds
·         Repeat cycle or 6-10 sprints
·         2 minute cool down on machine

There are some interesting ideas here. I like the scientific rationale being put forward; it generally fits in with my basic understanding of biochemistry and metabolism. I may even download the Kindle version of the book…..

What do you think?

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Friday, 6 January 2012

Does reading about martial arts enhance your practice?

How important do you think it is to read about martial arts as well as practise it? Does reading about it enhance your ability to actually do it? Personally, I think that it does. Here are my reasons why I think reading is important:

#1.  It provides an historical and cultural context for your art. To truly understand something you need to know where it has come from, who developed it, what kind of people were they, what motivated them to develop such an art, what events were happening at the time, what kind of weapons were used and an understanding of the legal framework at the time of development.  By understanding such historical, cultural and legal references it becomes easier to work out what fighting techniques are still relevant in today’s society and which would now be illegal or historically defunct – preserved only for posterity.  Understanding kata is helped by learning about the historical background of the kata and its developer – what was he trying to achieve with the kata? What was he trying to hide?

#2.  Reading about the principles of strategy, tactics and techniques can help you to really pull things together and make sense of what you are learning in the dojo. Instructors tend to vary a lot in the amount of talking and explanation they give to students about the techniques they are learning but there’s no excuse for not educating yourself if you feel your instructor is too quiet on the theory side of martial arts.

#3. Reading about the psychological and spiritual side of martial arts can enhance your appreciation of the importance of the mind in the practice of martial arts. Being able to focus the mind, empty the mind, control thoughts and emotions, or just think about what you are doing is the key to moving your physical skills to the next level. Learning techniques, such as meditation, that enable us to master control of our minds are every bit as important as learning physical techniques that enable us to master our bodies.  Reading alone will not help you gain these mental skills but at least it helps you to understand their importance and set you on the path to gaining them.

#4. Understanding how conflicts arise between people and how they can be avoided, defused or managed using non-violent methods is just as important as learning how to deal with physical conflict. The really skilled martial artist is one who never gets into a fight because they know how to read people and situations and how to handle aggression or conflict in non-violent ways. Some martial arts clubs may cover this kind of learning but many don’t. Again, that’s no excuse for not educating yourself on this important area of training. Reading about conflict and conflict resolution can help you identify the gaps in your training and motivate you to seek out relevant courses, seminars etc to plug these gaps.

#5.  Reading about fitness, stretching and general exercise techniques along with improving your understanding of the human body and how it reacts to injury etc. helps to inform you the best ways to get physically fit for your martial art and how to avoid injury. There are many books that teach the principles of exercise and stretching as well as giving many exercises to try. There are also many books providing more martial arts specific exercises to provide a more coherent and relevant framework for developing your body to do the things you want it to do. Again, reading has to translate into doing.

These are just a few of the reasons why I think reading is important and how it can enhance your understanding of martial arts so that you become a well rounded, skilled and knowledgeable martial artist and not merely a performer.

Do you read?  What are your reasons for reading about martial arts?

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