Friday, March 1, 2013

Sensei as an Example

In the 90’s I wrote a series of books called Kicks with Kids. In the first one I wrote: Whether we like it or not, whether we know it or not, our students become what we are, not what we tell them to become. I still stand by that statement.  We create strong men and women by example. Because of this phenomenon, I realize that there is a subtle difference between portraying myself as perfect and being an example of a person who is taking responsibility for the very human trait of making mistakes. If it is true that a Sensei is essentially someone who came down this road before the student, the best teacher for any student is one that is a visible example of continuous metamorphosis, change, and growth. When the teacher hides his (or her) imperfections or justifies them, or lives as if the rules do not apply, he (or she) is all but guaranteeing that the student will follow in his (or her) footsteps. 
Showing my human side to students doesn’t mean letting the class become undisciplined. Here is an example from a recent children’s class: I was working with nine students while another Sensei was working with the rest of the class. We were doing bag work. Accidentally, I didn’t give one student a turn. He mentioned it courteously and I said “Holy Cow, Sensei made a mistake. Should I do push-ups?”. All the kids said yes, knowing that when Sensei does push-ups – we all do push-ups. We chose to do 10, did them with joy and energy, and moved on. Being human and accepting that I am never going to live a life mistake free is imperative to my personal growth and as an example to students young and old. 

Sensei Lydia leads a game of Sensei Says to a group of experienced children.

A game that I was introduced to as a white belt is called “Sensei Says”. It is an excellent tool to work on self-honesty. Basically it is Simon Says with two small changes. We use the word “Sensei” instead of Simon and a person is never “out”. When they make a mistake, they do push-ups and go right back to the game. The reason I use this game regularly in my kids classes is because I want to teach kids that self-honesty is something that they can achieve. It is quicker than making excuses and more productive than lying to yourself.  Self honesty is difficult (hence the field of psychiatry). However, it is also imperative to growth. Starting this process with something fun, quick and inclusive of all is a great way to open the door to making this process a part of everyday life.

Sensei Harrison teaches the newer students how the game is played.
One of the most rewarding and selfish aspects of being a full-time Karate teacher is that as the teacher, I grow as much or more than my students with every day of training.  Adding the concept of being myself in front of a class has allowed me to grow in ways that I had not known previously.  At the very least, this is worth thinking about. 
Today’s post is short in length, but it is a pretty hefty challenge. As always, reader feedback is welcome.

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