Why does anybody do anything? I don’t know. We recently had a conversation about how to “sell” karate to newcomers. I couldn’t come up with a good reason to do karate, instead of some other martial art. I couldn’t even come up with a good reason to practice martial arts in the first place! I’m almost forty, and I’ve never been in a fight. Plus, if my life was really on the line, I’d want a gun.
I think anyone who’s interested in fighting is probably afraid of getting beat up. We don’t talk about it, but that’s the truth. It begins with fear. In a recent documentary film about Mike Tyson’s life, he describes being bullied as a youth and never wanting to be humiliated that way again. He actually begins to cry as he talks about the confidence that came from boxing, saying that he knew nobody was going to f**k with him again.
Of course, nobody’s invincible. After years of trying to learn the secret “death touch” stuff, I’ve accepted that there will always be people who can beat me up. So, what’s next? Well, I want to be healthy and have a hobby I can continue to practice into old age. I like to call it “karate for life,” and Bob is the perfect coach for me.
Most people you meet spend a lot of time trying to convince you how great they are, telling you about all the things they’ve done. Bob doesn’t promote himself. “What you see is what you get,” and he sincerely wants his students to be better than him. Teaching karate is his passion, and he’s good at it.
There’s a whole bunch of martial arts schools that cater to kids by giving out all the colored belts and trophies for doing nothing. To me, that’s just “glorified babysitting.” On the other end of the spectrum are the MMA schools that have become popular recently, emphasizing VERY hard training for fighting in a cage. I’m glad somebody out there is doing that, because we’ve learned a lot about the shortcomings of “traditional” martial arts. But, it’s not for me.
Training with Bob is somewhere in-between. He’s firmly rooted in the “classical” styles of karate, but his approach is extremely practical. He’s very open about not being able to make some of the techniques work the way he learned them. Nowadays, his teaching method is based on ideas that come from an intensive study of fields seemingly unrelated to martial arts, like psychology and teaching. And, he places a great deal of emphasis on making sure our bodies are able to perform the movements without getting hurt.
His pedagogy is unique. I can’t explain exactly what Bob does, because I don’t know enough about the method. But, it’s obvious to me that he has a specific goal in mind with each class. We usually start out with stretches to “turn down” muscles we don’t want to use. Then, we do a few exercises designed to activate and “warm-up” the major muscles needed for whatever technique we’ll be working that day. Bob’s been watching people’s bodies move for so long that he can see dysfunction right away. Sometimes, when it seems like he wasn’t even looking at you, he will tell you about some minor adjustment you can make to get the most out of an exercise.
But, he’s not “hung up” on details. He introduces new skills in a very general way and let’s us work out the details on our own. Then, he builds on top of that experience, gradually, with more specific applications. Nothing is ever “set in stone.” If we do something spontaneously and it feels good, Bob encourages us to explore our own way of fighting. Of course, he makes suggestions and keeps things grounded.
When it comes to analyzing the applications of classical kata, nobody is better than Bob. Sometimes, I can’t believe it. But, the stuff really works…and it’s way cool.
Even if my interest in martial arts began with feelings of insecurity, now it’s just what I do. Bob treats me with respect I haven’t earned and gives me the tools I need to constantly get better. He is my sensei. But, more than that, he’s a true friend. Thanks for always being there, Bob. You’re the best.