For Everyone

This past weekend we had a promotion every single day. Friday night was the second day of Kenshikai black belt promotion. Saturday morning was a kids promotion at our dojo. Finally, Sunday was the culmination of the black belt testing process, the sparring day, and the day they get their belts.

Kenshikai Karate has a black belt promotion every six months. It includes students going for all degrees of black belt. During the three day testing process, candidates are required to perform all their basic techniques, katas, self defense exercises and sparring, as well as write, and then later speak about, an essay on their karate experiences.

Many of the students who are hoping to achieve higher ranking in our style of karate are what you would expect. They are strong athletes and talented fighters. They can perform hundreds of blocks, kicks and punches (not to mention 15-20 katas) with few, if any, mistakes. They are shining role models, confident leaders.

They are also mothers. (And fathers. And sometimes grandmothers and grandfathers.) They are therapists and teachers and stockbrokers and office workers. Some of them have done sports since they were three, others broke a sweat for the first time on the dojo floor. Some of them are natural born fighters. Some of them approach sparring like I used to, cautiously, even fearfully, think of it in the same way they think of their household chores, as a necessary hardship. They don't like doing it but they like the results they get at the end.

This promotion we had a woman who had been in a bad car accident last December and was still recovering from numerous injuries. There was another student who has ongoing stomach problems. The third woman in attendance admitted to being her instructor's "most challenging student." The only man at promotion had no injuries. He is a professor, with strong karate techniques who used big words in conversation and may have very well been a geek in high school. All four of them were strong, dedicated and well deserving of their spot on the floor.

Also in attendance on the Sunday sparring day were two full contact champions, at least 10 female black belts and eight Senseis, including a woman who we have all deemed indestructible (you know who you are!). You would think there would be no place in this crowd for the above mentioned students. And maybe, in some dojos, you would be right.

As an organization, Kenshikai Karate has its faults. The leaders, although they mean well and are all fantastic teachers, do not always communicate effectively with each other. (We all know the rule; two is company and three is...well, difficult to say the least) But the one thing they have always done well is to create a system of martial arts that is for everyone.

In our own small dojo we try to send the same message. We have students of all ages and abilities who train for all different reasons. Whether you want to be a champion or just want to hit something so you don't hit your boss or your kid instead (trust me, I've been there), we hope there is a place for you here.

The Saturday morning kids promotion had a 10 year old boy going for yellow belt who is, in all ways both athletic and behavioral, virtually indistinguishable from an adult. He did awesome.

We also had a four year old who barely speaks in class and cries whenever his belt falls off. He did the whole promotion without his older brother (whom he often clings to in class), got all his moves right, and got his blue belt. (He only cried once, when Matthew joked that he would take all the belts home with him if the kids did not say a loud "Osu". The four year old believed him.)

I was incredibly proud of both boys. I was also proud to be teaching in a dojo where those two very different kids (as well as the four unique black belt candidates) could be achieving a new rank. A place where training is truly for everyone. As I have owned up to in previous posts, I am not always the most tolerant person, but every so often I get it right.