Tuesday, 25 September 2012

What kind of self-defence should you teach to children?

I have been teaching children’s classes quite a lot recently. The children range in age from five to teenagers. In my school karate classes the whole class are complete beginners whereas in the club classes the children range from white belt to black belt.  This is a huge range in maturity and ability and makes teaching children very challenging.

For most children, particularly the younger or least experienced ones, it is enough for them to learn how to listen, behave and follow instructions; gain physical fitness and endurance; develop coordination and balance, and learn the most basic of karate moves and kata as well as find their courage with some light sparring skills. So, on top of all that should we be trying to teach some basic self-defence skills as well or is that expecting too much?

Can we realistically expect children to be able to defend themselves physically from a determined attacker (whether that is another child or an adult) by teaching them some escapes from grabs, strangles and headlocks; learning blocks and counter-attacks; or doing throws and locks/restraints? We don’t actually allow children to put locks on fully or grab another child near the throat anyway for obvious safety reasons so the idea that a child may actually be able to use these techniques effectively seems implausible.

My experience of teaching children suggests that they have neither the strength and coordination or understanding to effectively learn any physical self-defence techniques. In my opinion, most children are not capable of learning effective self-defence until at least in their early to mid teens; before that they are merely walking through some routines they have learnt by rote.

The problem is, to teach effective self-defence requires a certain degree of realism in both the attack and defence. This is neither possible nor desirable with children. As instructors we cannot order a child to try and hit or grab another child roughly and the child (as a minor) cannot give consent to allow this to happen to them. As adults we freely consent to both uke and tori roles and the inherent risks of injury that this entails – children cannot consent in this way.

Since we can neither teach physical self-defence skills to children in any realistic way and most children are not physically or mentally mature enough to learn them anyway, what is the point of taking children through the motions of learning such techniques?

You may argue that it is worth teaching children the basics of these self-defence techniques in the safe and unthreatening way that we do it because it helps them to develop some muscle memory and ways of moving that will make it easier for them to learn the techniques more realistically when they are older. Perhaps that is sufficient justification for doing it?

However, are there better ways of teaching children to protect themselves from harm? In my opinion most children could protect themselves from most harmful situations by learning about awareness and avoidance – ‘stranger danger knowledge’; knowing safe places to walk and play; crossing roads safely; learning to deal with playground situations non-confrontationally; anti-bullying tactics etc etc…. Most of these situations are dealt with by schools and parents anyway.

So, if a children’s martial art class isn’t dealing with awareness/avoidance strategies and doesn’t teach physical self-defence what should it be teaching? Well, in my opinion, there is much that a martial arts class can teach to children that is valuable: physical skills of balance, coordination, flexibility, and fitness; mental skills of self-discipline, perseverance, courage, respect and determination; social skills such as cooperation, friendship and compassion and sporting skills such as following rules, testing oneself in competition and learning to win and lose with good grace. These can all be learnt through the medium of some basic martial arts moves/techniques.

All we can hope is that we can maintain the child’s interest in martial arts long enough for them to grow up so that they can then learn to effectively defend themselves physically.

What do you think is the aim of a children’s martial art class? In your opinion what self-defence skills do children need?

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Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Gashaku 2012 - a fantastic weekend

One of our training sessions at Walesby Forest.

Last weekend I attended my first gashaku (training camp). This was held in Walesby Forest Outdoor Activity Centre in Nottinghamshire. About 70 people from our karate organisation descended on Walesby on Friday evening to settle into their accommodation and have their first meal together. 
Paul, stirring things up!

Some of us stayed in the lodges so that we could sleep in proper beds – I need a soft mattress under me after several hours of training! Other more hardy folk (or foolhardy depending on your point of view) chose to camp. Well, they called it camping; it seemed more like ‘Glamping’ to me with their luxury tents and camping beds -not at all what I remember camping to be like when I was younger!
Me and Sensei (trust me to blink at the wrong time!)

Hazel (my instructor’s partner) may not be a karate-ka herself but she definitely has a black belt in organisation, culinary skills and generally making all things happen at the right time and in the right place… and always with a smile and never getting flustered.  She was definitely the lynch pin that helped to hold the whole weekend together and make it such a success.

Gathering at the Robin Hood statue for first training session.

We were blessed with amazing weather – one of the few really nice weekends all summer. This allowed us to train outside on the grass rather than in the marquee. Training began on Saturday morning with a run. A run! I never go running so that came as a bit of a shock. We had to do two laps of a gravel circuit – uphill going out and downhill coming back. The total distance was probably about a mile, so not too far but in a gi and hot sunshine……
Sensei Cool!

Anyway, I was determined that I would complete the run without stopping so as unaccustomed I am to public running I set off at a steady pace, kept my arms relaxed and close to my body and just kept going. It became clear to me after the first lap that running is as much a mental process as a physical one; you just have to tell yourself to keep going. So I was pretty pleased to complete the run – not with the front runners admittedly, but not with the stragglers either.
Sensei demonstrating a 'body hardening' kick to the thigh!
(That's my son he's kicking...grrr!)

After a quick water break we were then straight into our karate session. We divided into 2 groups – over 16s and under 16s. Our group worked on some application drills, breaking them down to work on the details. We practised some soft blocking techniques and worked on some locks. As the grass was quite dry and soft most of us kicked off our trainers to train bare foot. It was great to feel the ground under your feet in this way. Half way through the 2 hour session we had another water break and then switched instructors. We went through a few basics to warm up again and then carried on with some application stuff.

We were pretty hungry after that and Hazel had lunch all ready for us in one of the lodges. After lunch it was time to enjoy one of the afternoon activities that had been arranged by the activity centre itself. So people divided up to either go rafting on the lake (after making their own rafts first!), body boarding which seemed to consist of throwing yourself downhill on a sheet of wet, muddy plastic on a piece of polystyrene into a mucky lake; archery (which looked quite civilised in comparison) or doing an assault course.  My sons both opted for the rafting and my husband did archery.
What, we have to build it first?

Finally on the water. Should that barrel be attached?

Body boarding (I kept calling this water boarding by mistake!)

Apparently the lake was very cold (and mucky).

Archery - Definitely more civilised

The rather tame assault course!

I had booked onto another activity, water zorb balling or is it water ball zorbing? Anyway those giant plastic balls that you get inside and walk over the water in but unfortunately the activity was withdrawn because the balls had holes in or something! So instead, I became the official photographer and walked around to each activity to take photos of everyone else having fun.

There wasn’t a lot of time (about an hour and a half) before the next karate session was due so just time for a cup of tea, a snack and a lie down! I admit it – I had a half hour kip before putting my gi back on…
Fighting like men!

My son beating up children!

Miss Determined face - isn't she great?

The second training session was all about sparring. It was just an hour this time but pretty full on. We spent most of the session free sparring with a variety of different partners. We were mixing with people from different clubs and it was interesting to see the slightly different styles and attitudes to sparring.  We also did a drill where we had to pull a tag out of your partner’s belt before they pulled the one from yours – this was designed to speed up your reactions to get in and out quickly whilst blocking your partners attempts to do the same to you.  The only problem with sparring bare foot on the grass was that you also had to dodge the stones and hedgehog droppings!
Did I mention we had some fun as well?

Looks like they were winning...

We finished about 5.30pm and had a couple of hours before the barbeque commenced - time to shower, change and feel human again. This was also the time you realised how much things hurt and how many new bruises you had acquired!

The barbeque was a very chilled out occasion – why is it that men always take charge of the cooking when it’s a barbeque? We had four giant BBQ’s going to feed the 73 people that were there, so quite a major undertaking. It cooled down a lot as the sun went down so we gathered around 2 large campfires to keep warm (no we didn’t sing camp songs, we’re not boy scouts!) Actually we just talked and socialised, getting to know each other better. And the wine flowed and the beer flowed. What, drinking at a karate camp you say? Don’t worry it was medicinal – we were in pain!
Getting warm around the fire

Drinking our 'medicine'

Look mine's in a cup, not a bottle - I'm so much more civilised don't you think?

Sunday morning required a fairly early start (for a Sunday that is). Training was at 9.00am so we had to be up and breakfasted before then. We were all pretty sore and stiff by now so were hoping we wouldn’t start with another run – a nice gentle stretching session seemed more appealing somehow. Anyway, we set off on the run again - why are karate instructors so sadistic?

I set off on my run with my thighs still aching from the previous day. It was definitely more of a mental challenge this time. In fact I had decided that I might only do the one lap. However, I was following one of our red belt ladies who’s a year older than me and I asked her if she was going to do both laps. She said she was and I suddenly felt ashamed that I was planning to take it easy so I continued to follow her and did the second lap.  I’m so glad I did – I had a much greater sense of achievement for having done so.

The final karate session was a two hour lesson on kata. We were divided into two groups again – black and brown belts in one and everyone else in the other. Our group was taught a completely new kata (new to us that is): Chatan yara kushanku. This kata is actually on our 4th dan syllabus but it is an important competition kata so those in our organisation that are in the kata squad (not me!) learn it at earlier grades just for performance purposes. At 4th dan all bunkai are also required. Anyway, back to the gashaku… This kata is very long so we got about half way through learning the basic pattern. There are several familiar segments in it which we know from the pinan katas and kosokun shiho so this made learning it a little easier but on the whole it is a complicated kata to remember.
Our early attempts at Chatanyara no kushanku

Tyler already knows it - shows doesn't it?

We finished at 11am and had about an hour to change, pack, help clean the lodges and marquee and generally make it look like we’d never been there! We then gathered outside for some final announcements, a few prizes were given out and thank yous said. Hazel had produced a final packed lunch for us before we left which was very appreciated… then it was just farewells with hugs and kisses all round, until next time….

Everyone who went agreed that it was a fantastic weekend …..Roll on gashaku 2013!

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Monday, 3 September 2012

New things for Autumn...

Cala n Bosch beach,  Menorca
Just got back from holiday! We had a great time on the Island of Menorca. It was so nice to just relax with my family, read lots, swim lots, enjoy the sunshine and be pampered - by pampered I mean not have to do the cooking or cleaning myself!

It was also nice to be free of the computer for a week and guess what? I didn't miss it one iota! The only technological devices I had with me were my camera and my Kindle.

However, holiday now over it's time to think about what the Autumn will bring (hopefully less rain than the summer brought!) . Actually what I really meant was what new things have I got planned on the horizon...

Cala n Bosch harbour
On the martial arts side I will be steadily working towards my 2nd dan test which I hope to be ready to take next summer - however, I have much work to do to be up to 2nd dan standard so next summer is a loose target but it gives me something to aim for. Also, during the Autumn term I will be doing some more karate teaching in local schools. It looks like my instructor has lined up 3 local schools for me to go into and teach some karate. 

 old capital of Menorca
On the kobudo side my husband and I decided after much thought and soul searching to give this up. This was partly because of time commitment (we were missing too many lessons) and so progress was slow, but also because the style of kobudo we were learning did not fit well with the karate we are doing. However, I have learnt a lot from the lessons and I have gained a lot of confidence with breakfalling and throwing techniques. We had an excellent instructor but alas it did not gel well with the karate and this became more apparent the further we progressed with the syllabus. All is not lost though as our karate instructor is introducing some Okinawan style kobudo kata to us using the bo and tonfa - taught in a more traditional Okinawan way.

Ciutadella harbour at sunset
The other new thing that I am taking up this Autumn is Art and Design. I have been accepted onto a foundation Art and Design course at a local college which starts next week. I am really excited about this because painting, drawing and all things crafty were my absolute passion throughout my childhood and teenage years - it's what I thought I would do with my life. Unfortunately some ill-chosen words of a sixth-form tutor put paid to that and I went from drawing everyday to not drawing anything at all for at least 20 years such was my confidence dented...

Our hotel
Still, it's never to late is it? I've often thought about getting back into art over the years and enrolling on a course but then dismissed the idea again. This time I mean to do it! Perhaps it's my karate training that has made me more determined to do what I want to do and not put it off this time? 

Another beach!

I have so many ideas about what I want to paint, draw, sculpt, photo, whatever...mainly on a martial arts theme of course! It is such a broad topic - there is the obvious stuff like capturing the flowing movement of martial artists in action but there is also the more abstract stuff like capturing mental concepts of mushin or zanshin through a piece of art work - food for thought eh? Then there is so much metaphor in martial arts - journeys, bending of willows, flowing of water, overflowing cups - all material for art work I thinks. Then there's all the Japanese culture, religion, architecture and history to be inspired by.....I don't think I'll be short of ideas. I'll let you know how it goes - I may even start a new blog to chronicle my journey into the world of art and display some of my work...

Light house at Cala n Bosch
Well, these are the things I have planned for this Autumn - do you have anything special planned for the new season?

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