Friday, September 18, 2009


Oos, Thanks to those who have been writing me. Keep my email in mind ( – still no change on the ‘comment’ link.
Ironically, I got the most feedback from the post on the games (drills). It turns out that many of you knew about spin and find the knife, but had forgotten it existed. According to your feedback, the kids are psyched that it is back!

Now… we push on……..

The three big pillars on which training is based are kata, sparring, and self-defense

My last post on kata gave you one workout to keep the kata repetition interesting. There are many other ways to change up the kata repetition. In future posts I will brainstorm some. In the meantime, write me with your ideas.

Today let’s begin to talk about sparring. The first thing I’d like to do is list the ways children grow from sparring. Sparring teaches us to:
Keep our hands up
Block, punch, kick, and move around all at the same time. (Keep both an offensive and a defensive mentality running simultaneously.)
Stay calm and allow for spontaneity in the midst of chaos.
Learn techniques and set strategies.
And finally, sparring gives us a superior aerobic workout

Next, let’s review the place of light contact and hard contact in sparring. When I was a kyu, Master Kelljchian used the terms ‘Go kumite’ and ‘Ju kumite’ to describe what he wanted us to do on any given day. All competitions that I have been attending in recent years have encouraged Ju kumite with the children.

I have been playing with the difference in hard contact, and soft contact with my children’s classes for years. Here is the compromise that has been working best for me. When the children are sparring the teachers, it is a good time to practice their hard contact. When they are sparring each other, they need to use control.
The biggest obstacle in getting them to use control is that children think that they must hit slower in order to hit with control. (And conversely, when they go fast they lose everything BUT power. They often forget to aim, or plan their technique.) In order to work on controlled hitting, I tell the kids to imagine the opponent is on fire and when you touch them pull away like you’re getting burnt. It is a slow and tedious learning curve, but we all get there.

WARNING - Anecdotal Story: I remember being a kyu and watching as Master Kelljchian had an adult student try to use focus on a concrete wall to try to teach the adult student to pull his punches. I don’t use that method with kids, but it proves that Ju kumite has been around a very long time and has a place in training.

How and when do I let the children begin to do harder contact on each other? I like to wait until the children are 10ish, or brown belts, or both. Then, the first step for me is to gear them up with chest pads and head gear with face masks. By putting the extra padding on them, I remove some of the fear of getting hit. Since the children have had practice hitting us hard, they don’t really have trouble hitting hard. Very few people like getting hit hard when they first experience it. It takes getting used to. Hence, the added gear. I encourage face masks for most of their teen life because broken noses, and black eyes are unacceptable to me for children and teens.

Once the teens move up to the adult class, they become more focused, serious, and willing to take risks. (I encourage this transition at around age 12 and expect it at age 13, but have had a few exceptions in all directions over the years.) Adult training makes practitioners more aware of their power, the use of technique and setting up techniques with a strategy. At this point the facemasks, and added chest protection probably aren’t necessary. This shot shows Kyle (age 11) and Cody (around 16) sparring in adult class.

All of us spar the kids, and have the kids spar each other. I always put gloves and heads on kids sparring other kids. Sparring without gear allows too much chance for injury.
Here are a few variations on sparring for kids:

2 on 1
Description: This is a standard drill in the adult class. When I do it with kids, I make the adults the “1” and two kids go against him / her. Expect chaos and a lot of laughter.
Details of Interest: When the kids are advanced, I’ll let them take the role of the “1”, but I still keep an adult in the mix – to keep things under control. I also keep these matches 30 to 45 seconds, for safety.

Team sparring
Description: Depending on the amount of kids in class, I create teams consisting of 4 – 6 kids. I start with a brown or purple belt captain. Then I choose from the green belts and put an equal amount on each team. Then I do the same with the three stripers, the two stripers, and the beginners. I like to keep the talent split evenly within all the teams. (Occasionally I have uneven numbers, but that is easy to fix. Just let one team member spar twice.) I set the matches at 30 – 45 seconds. Each team is encouraged to come up with a name. (Some of the names I have heard over the years…….Yikes!) Then I let the kids send in one fighter and the other team tries to send in a match. Sparring continues and we add up the team score. My favorite ending is when we get to the end of the last match and the score is tied. Next point wins. I get to explain that the outcome is going to be what it is going to be. However, both teams sparred well. That is how the score got so close. This subject (winning, losing, what is learned and what is lost) is an entire blog, let alone another post. Write me to talk about it. After we determine the winning team, I give the losing team donkey kicks. Then I turn around and give the winning team 5 more donkey kicks than the losing team. (Usually 10 and 15) My reasoning here is two-fold: First, I want them to remember that I am unpredictable, and will do things that don’t make sense to them. And secondly, the backwards reward makes everyone talk more about how weird I am than about who won and lost. I love to get my kids to think about the adventure more than the outcome.
Details on Interest: An additional benefit to running this game is that I can use this venue to teach my adult kyus to judge and keep score, and I can teach my new black belts to center rings! This game (drill) builds camaraderie among the students, and gives them a chance to practice their sportsmanship (karate courtesy) when there is nothing at stake. This game takes almost an entire class – about 45 minutes. One more thing: You can do this game with kata as well!

The “One Step” Game
Description: Place each child around the room with about 3 feet of space around them. (In large classes, I have to divide the class into two groups to play this game.) Then explain how to play: The children will remain in their spots. We adults will walk around and touch or grab their arms, shoulders, and tops of their heads. When they feel us there, and taking ONLY one step in any direction, the child will try to hit, kick, or escape. They should use lots of kiais. The trick is that the child will pull their headband over their eyes. They won’t be able to see us. For safety, explain that if ANY adult voice yells “yame / stop”, everyone in the room should freeze because one child could be about to hit another child and we need a minute to reset the spacing. Then play!
Details of Interest: This game doesn’t require sparring gear. Also, I am a strict teacher where cheating is concerned. I explain to the kids NOT to try to peak, but instead enjoy the adventure knowing they are safe with us. If they continue to try to cheat, I have them sit down and watch the rest of the game. I try to be very consistent in my expectations where courtesy, honesty, and character are concerned.
Thanks for taking your time to read this post. Please keep making our kids into strong karateka. Oos,