With Every Beginning
I started martial arts in 1986 at the behest of my Aunt when I was in the 6th grade after being on the wrong side of an after-school altercation with 3 older kids. In hindsight, I was by no means completely innocent in the incident but didn’t exactly deserve the 3 on 1 treatment. c’est la vie.
I remember the first time walking into the dojo, American Karate Studio, as clear as if it was yesterday. It was a Saturday and a man by the name of George, wearing a green belt, was sitting on a bench in front of a large window opening that had the old school 1970s beads hanging down. He was eating a sandwich off a paper plate. George was a senior student and one of the instructors tending the dojo that day.
The first lesson, vividly memorable as well, was with Bess, a petite but fiery lady. I clearly recall her having to get my attention several times as I was distracted by the group class, enamored by what was going on around me. I would eventually be privileged to witness both George and Bess earn their black belts. The years I spent training there under the guidance of Sensei Tim Hoover were foundational to my adult life to say the least.
Why do I tell this story?
Because every martial arts student has a beginning and a back story that is unique. People are drawn to the arts for many many reasons. As a coach I have the privilege to meet every new student we welcome to our gym family, and more importantly I get to learn why each person walked through our door the first time. Some come for something different in their desire for better fitness. Others are looking for an outlet and reprieve from the daily stresses of life. Some it’s been a lingering interest that they’ve finally mustered the courage to pursue. Then there are those who genuinely want piece of mind to be able to defend themselves.
As coaches, we must be cognizant of each student in the room; tailoring training to accommodate everyone in the room is a huge challenge, if not near impossible. Teaching an art in a manner that’s amenable to everyone while ensuring progression at a rate commensurate with ability has always been the single hardest thing to do in a group setting. The martial arts class is truly a unique environment in that way. Students of all levels with different motivators in the same room. It’s not really that big of a deal if expectations are managed and egos left at the door…but admittedly that doesn’t always occur and students on both sides can become disgruntled, even disenfranchised, if they feel their needs aren’t being met.
Anyone attending a group class should understand everyone is there to train and get better together. There is a give and take that goes along with this. Students must curb any expectation a group class will cater to their specifics needs, arguably wants, because there are others in the room to consider. A topic or technique being covered may not be of interest, but one must acknowledge and trust there is a place for it in the bigger picture and the development of the student body as a whole.
Students must also remain aware of their training partner and respect why that person is there. As people, myself included, we often get extremely focused on our personal goals sometimes forgetting our peers have their own as well. Who’s is more important? As a coach, I know everyone’s is equally important yet in a single session I fully acknowledge I cannot satisfy all of them at once.
My personal philosophy is to do what I feel is best for the vast majority; a pseudo 80/20 rule so to speak. Run a class that is amenable to 80% of the students and tailor what I can for the 20% while keeping everyone together as I am a strong believer in the group/team over the individual. This undoubtedly stems from my experience playing team sports and the military where service before self was paramount and the larger mission took precedent. This is a tough endeavor.
I caveat with multiple class offerings and private lessons allow for choice and individual focus. A degree of maturity and accountability on behalf of the student must accompany. If Class X doesn’t fit student’s need there is personal onus to try Class Y, Class Z, or seek private lessons. A conversation should happen between student and coach to help find the right space and approach to training while putting expectations into proper perspective.
There is also the reality you can’t make everyone happy. Not all gyms/dojos approach training the same. It is not a matter of right or wrong but simply different. It took me a long time not to take every departure as a personal slight. I have learned we cannot be everything to everyone…nor should we try. We are what we are. If a student doesn’t feel they are getting what they want or have outgrown where they are then it’s time to move on. That is all part of the process and part of the martial arts journey. Here at MAMA we teach martial arts to help people become better versions of themselves. If we can create an environment where that happens for the vast majority of our students then I consider that success.
Everyday Is Training Day!