From the time young boys and girls have reached the age of six, seven or eight it is likely they will have become engaged in some form of organized sports. T-ball is often the first sport for a boy, while soccer has become the sport of choice for the youngest girls. But before long, and often before the parents are even aware, several years have passed and the children have advanced into other sports, like softball, baseball, basketball, flag football, and football, although soccer continues to be played at all ages by boys and girls.
No matter the sport, each participant wants to be able to perform well and wants to improve in their play as time goes on. This is only natural. As the children mature and begin to think in terms of high school and college, the possibility of sports scholarships come into play. The desire to play adequately is replaced by the desire to excel, which often becomes the dominant emotion. Whether or not, this becomes the driving force, everyone wants to play to the best of their abilities and this is usually enough of an incentive to make participants work as hard as they can to achieve their goals.
For young children, the first responsibility of the coach is to teach the children how to play the game and particularly, how the coach wants the game played. Each position in every team sport requires that the player in that position have a distinct set of physical attributes and skills that might make them particularly suited to that position. For example, in baseball, a first baseman, a pitcher or a catcher need not have the running speed that an outfielder should have. A six-foot-tall ten-year-old would more likely play center on a basketball team than play point guard, and a slow-footed but sure-handed person would do much better at goalie on a soccer team than they would playing forward. Based on each candidate’s attributes, the coach must assign everyone a playing position. These may change in time, so these considerations remain part of what occupies the coach’s time and energy.
Coaches do their best to bring out the best in each member of the team. At the younger ages, the coaches are usually volunteers who have had little formal training in how to get the most out of their players. Sometimes the team is lucky and gets a coach that can achieve a great deal. More often, the best of intentions cannot make up for their lack of knowledge and skill and as a result, the coaching is ‘good enough’ but doesn’t always bring out the best in the players.
In addition to teaching the game and the fine points of the various positions, the coach has many other teaching obligations. The coach must teach the players to play as a team, to be respectful of the other players on his or her team, but also the players on the other team. Some of the players will take on leadership positions while others must learn to follow and cooperate with the leader, or speak up respectfully if there is a dispute about something the leader has done. This represents only a partial list of a coach’s responsibilities so it is a fortunate team that gets a really competent coach.
Often in the attempt to win at the intermediate ages, winning itself becomes the overriding objective. How much each player actually plays and in what positions is determined by the coach who bases he decision on the player’s skill and resulting contribution to the desired “win”. How the players are treated often defines how these young athletes perceive of themselves. The player left out often feels inferior while the player that plays most of the time begins to feel superior to the others. It is possible that the less capable child is developing more slowly and will get better, even as the season progresses. It is important for the coach not to let the good player become overly confident and perhaps over bearing while the other child loses confidence in him or herself and thereby does not take advantage of his or her capabilities.
Fortunately, there is another activity in which young people can participate that is more individualized and allows each individual to develop to the level at which he or she is capable at that person’s age and stage of physical and mental development. There is no competition as to who will get to play in the game, for how long and at what position. It does not require specialized training as determined by the sport and the position played in that sport. Everyone learns the same thing and many ways to accomplish what is required. This allows the teacher to concentrate on the same lesson while exposing all the participants to many concepts and aspects of the lesson. The teacher can focus on each student’s capabilities so that positive attributes are brought to light for everyone to share and from which they can all benefit. All students can learn from watching and practicing with other students and from helping others as they proceed through the lessons. That activity is Karate.
How Karate is Taught Learning Karate involves much more than learning to punch, kick, grapple and block. Instead, students first learn how to stand still, clear the mind of all distractions, find their center, and establish their balance. From there the students learn to bow as an acknowledgement of respect for self, others and very importantly, respect for the training area and what it represents to them personally that is, the opportunity they have to train. They then stand again, this time progressing through all the basic stances. From there they begin to learn how to fall, forward and backward, in such a way as to minimize the likelihood that they will get hurt from the fall. They then learn how to execute the various complex positions, moves, techniques, strikes, kicks and blocks. Combinations of these replicate the moves they make under various circumstances in all sports. Once these combinations have been absorbed, through knowledge, application, and repetition, the student will be able to handle him or herself much better than they would have otherwise in all situations whether in sports or even physical threats to their person.
In the training process, each action is given a name and combinations of these actions are learned in forms, one-steps or combos. Each of these are also given a name. The starting position in a form is called “Chumbae” and involves nothing more than standing at attention with the student’s arms and fists placed in a certain position. The student takes this position at the command of the instructor. The difficult part of the position is not getting into it, but rather the fact that there is to be no movement until the next command is given. If the student has an itch on his nose, or any other distraction, not reacting to the situation becomes a test of self-control.
The next command might be “fold for a high block.” A smooth transition to the placement of arms, hands, body and feet is to be made as swiftly as possible, while not appearing to jerk into place. This command will be followed by other commands to move into other positions. Each action called out by name requires immediate recognition and a smooth response.
At first, the command recognition is not immediate and the response is not smooth or quick. But with time and repetition the response becomes more immediate and the repositioning movement more fluid and precise. Much like learning a new language, individual words are recognized first, then with frequent use the words become able to be put together in smooth sentences that eventually generate complete thoughts and concepts. This can be accomplished once students have taken on the new language as their own.
This is Karate.