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How Karate Works

This letter was written after one of our Mothers with a child moving up to the "Intermediate Class" asked me a very simple question - "How does this all work?"  After I told her she said "You should tell this to everyone!"  This letter may be a little long but it is well worth reading:



Okay, So How Does This Karate Stuff All Work?

(or How We Help Parents Raise Exceptional Kids)


This is a common question I get and a very important one for all our parents to understand.  There is a “method to our madness”.  Everything we do has a purpose and objective.  If you understand the process we use and the “stages” of your child’s development you can get the most out of our karate school.  This document will explain the process.


Base Concepts

First let me start with a concept called the “Slight Edge” (if you would like to learn more go to the book of the same name by Jeff Olsen).  One of the things it says is the small things your child learns early in life compounds over time.  One seemingly small insignificant thing done today can pay off huge in the future.


An example is reading.  Reading to or with your child for just 10 minutes every day from the day they are born may seem small.  If you miss a day nothing bad will happen. But over the years that small habit will probably develop a child that likes and probably will love reading. They will not only do well in school but also be motivated to learn and seek knowledge.  Later that child is highly likely to start carrying a book with them all the time and then start reading on their own every day.  They will also most likely end up going to and completing college.  The resulting work ethic and self discipline can’t help but make them highly success for the rest of their life.  And, it all just began with that small action of reading a book every day.


A second fundamental concept is one child development experts agree on that your child will form much of who they are between the ages of 0-8.  These early years are crucial.  Like we say “Itis better to raise an awesome kid now than try to fix them later.” Now while it is optimal to start children before they are eight, we can still mold them into awesome children at later ages.  It just takes more work.   (Trust me, an unmotivated, disrespectful,rebellious and failing teen is parent’s worse nightmare.)






The Phases of Development

With that said now let’s get into the phases of our program and the specifics of how  this all works:


  • The “Beginner” stages – While all children are different and we treat each that way, in general the “Beginner stages”include all the children in our Little Dragon classes and our white to orange belts in our Junior (6-9 year old) and Teen (10-14 year old) classes.  In this stage our main objective is to develop their SELF CONFIDENCE and SELF CONTROL.  These are the basic building blocks and foundation we have to start with. Much like a building, if the foundation is shaky and unstable, no matter how well built the above ground structure is it will fall with the slightest storm or earthquake.  The following two areas are two of the three most common challenges parents bring their kids to us for -  1.) Shyness or fear of trying new or hard things, and 2.) difficulty listening or lack of focus.  If your child falls into one of these two categories you are definitely not alone! A child will tend to struggle in school without these two.  The main objective of our Little Dragon“Preschool” program is getting your child ahead of their peers for kindergarten and first grade!  Kids that start behind or struggle with behavioral issues at school almost never catch up.  As a matter of fact they normally fall farther behind with time.



Self Control

So, how in the heck do we teach your child self control?  Here is the secret - We place them in an orderly, structured, and disciplined environment where they succeed. We then do this with consistent frequency so that it develops into a habit.  When they feel the success of being focused and fully in control at the dojo they cannot help but let that success transfer into all the other parts of their life – school, home and thes ports field.  Coaches and teachers love our kids!  This process is relatively easy to do in an intense 30 minute karate class. That same 5 or 6 year old boy who struggles to sit still in a school classroom for 6 hours a day can shine and feel good about himself in his 30minute class at the dojo.


You can only learn through success. But that is not the end of it.  As your child progresses we later teach them the most powerful skill of all – the ability to stay focused even when the subject matter is not of interest to them or they are bored!  This is why most parents look at me funny when the response to them saying “My child is getting bored?” or “My child wants to quit karate?” is “GOOD!”


Self Confidence

So how do we teach your child self confidence?  I think that the karate dojo is one of the few places where this can be done well and consistently.  We develop self confidence in three ways –the first two are having them succeed at something hard that they do not have todo and teaching them that it is okay to make mistakes.   These may seem simple but they are extremely powerful!  We intentionally have a highly“success rich” environment.  Often parents get confused at this stage.  Dad will say “My child can’t throw a good punch.” Or a Mom says “They are just giving belts away to everybody.” Children are very fragile at this early stage – we must first build them up before we can toughen them up.  Haveyou ever seen that “broken” child?  That child that just seems to struggle in every part of their life.  They are failing everywhere and only get negative feedback.


We intentionally make karate hard but it cannot be too hard at this point.  (It gets hard later.)  Often kids will struggle learning the techniques we teach well enough or fast enough. But they need to learn that it is okay to make mistakes and fail, that mistakes are a part of learning and of life. Attitude and effort is much more important at this stage than results.  So at this stage we “look for what they do right” instead of what they are doing wrong. Fighting skills are not at the top of our list at this point.  We want to build up three basic attitudes;  1.)  Try my best, 2.) Never give up,and 3.) Never be afraid to make a mistake.  If we develop the right attitudes, habits and character traits karate becomes very easy to teach.


The third thing we do to build confidence is really a defensive move on our part.  We have an enemy in our quest to build your child’s self confidence. We can work in every class for months to build your child’s confidence up but all it takes is one bullying incident at school to tear it all down.  Almost every week we work on anti-bullying skills and these skills work!  But they only work if you also do your part –YOU need to practice roleplaying the skills with them every week (again I suggest that you link it to something you do every day like your drive to or from karate or school)


We actually have a second enemy and this is a touchy subject for some parents – it is your home environment and culture.  You can greatly help us and your family in this area.  Just like the bully, we can work in every class on building your child’s self confidence but if they go home and there is an environment of yelling and disrespect or a family culture where older siblings pick on or are mean to younger siblings all our work will be torn down.  Make your family culture intentional – “Our family may have disagreements but we always treat each other with courtesy and respect!”  Take what you learn at the dojo into your home.



Accelerating Their Lives

Beyond these two basic success skills we have a bonus benefit for your child.  At this stage we also have the unique ability to “accelerate their lives”. Any educator will tell you that the biggest determining factor in a child’s success starting school is their “prior knowledge”.  This is all the experiences they have had before they start school.  A good exampleis a child doing their kata by themselves in front of a crowd.  There are high school students that are absolutely terrified to give their first speech in speech class.  They have never experienced standing let alone performing in front of an audience. Our kids don’t even bat an eye! Another example is their first sports team – our kids are focused,hustling and saying “Yes, Sir!” to the coach while their most of their peers are either latched onto their mother’s leg or picking the grass!


Wow.  So there it is.  This is what we do in those seemingly simple beginner karate classes your child attends



The “Intermediate” stages – “The green belt level.”  There is a HUGE difference and jump up at this next level.  If they only learned self confidence and self control your child will be pretty good.  But we cannot stop here because there is so much more potential to be tapped.  Many say that in a lifetime most human beings develop only about 10% of their potential.  What if you could develop another 1%?  That would be HUGE!



At these advanced stages we can really start teaching them the higher level success skills.  This stage happens when students are about 7years old and have been with us for at least a year.  Since these students have developed the key foundation skills at the beginner level we can now shift their development to attitude, effort and character.   One of the biggest differences our parents see right away is that the classes are so much more disciplined and harder.  The biggest difference we see is not in the students but in the parents.  They have gone from being beginner parents to parents that have begun to understand what we are doing with their child.



Here is the first key to this stage – kids can only learn by “doing”!  You and I can spend hours talking or teaching them about attitude, effort and character and they will never get it.  They will only get it when they experience and do it.  One important example of this uses the experience of “hardship”.  All parents want their children to have a better life then they had.  But, an unintentional by-product of doing this is that we make our children’s lives too easy all the time.  Hardship and failure is not only good but necessary for a child to experience.  It builds not only confidence but work ethic, tenacity and toughness.  Successful people excel when things get tough.  Unsuccessful people give up or shy away when things get hard.


The key is we are able to create hardship in a safe environment.  By that we mean we can cause your child to fail safely where no one gets killed, gets fired or flunks out of school.  This part can be very hard on some kids.  While their stripes and belts came easy in the Little Dragon and Beginner classes they start to fail and not earn their stripes/belts here.  But this happens gradually.  At green belt they can promote if they have at least one black belt stripe.  At blue belt they will need at least two stripes and at purple belt and higher they will need all three.  Many children take it pretty hard and often cry when they are asked to “wait and train more first”.  But they learn to wipe off the tears and get back up and work even harder.  We are using “tough love” when we firmly and strongly tell a child “I understand how you feel but suck it up and get back in there! You can do it.  I believe in you.”


Here we also hit the main core of our character development program – the twelve character traits.  While most parents have to work hard to get their beginner child to do the character packets, at this stage the students should begin driving the program.



The “Advanced” stages – “The Brown/White belt level.”  This happens around the two year point after starting the Junior program.  Okay, we are almost there!  Now at this stage we start to teach what I think are the things that will put your kids “over the top”.  To not just be good kids but to be top performers in high school, college and life.  I joke that we only have three expectations for your child – straight A student, a varsity athlete in high school and a scholarship to college.  But high performer can’t help but do this! (So far every teen that has graduated from high school while in karate is now in college, and in some of the best colleges with scholarships – MSU, U.S. Air Force Academy, University of Notre Dame,Aquinas College and Spring Arbor College.)  We start by setting very high expectations and standards.  Since we know that these kids have developed high levels of attitude, effort and character we are not afraid to push them to their limits because we know they will not break.



Because we know they will not break we can start teaching them the highest level of character development reached by all high performers– the rare quality of GRIT.  Grit is actually two interrelated character traits: RESOLVE and RESILIENCE.  Resolve is that ability to relentlessly pursue something no matter how long it takes or how hard it is.  Resilience is that ability to fall down or encounter failure but to get right back up every time and keep going, never giving up.  Karate is by its nature a perfectly designed vehicle to teach GRIT.


Kids who have grit are at the top of their class in high school and are team captains in their sports.  They finish college easily.  They are the kids employers desperately seek.  They are the kids that become concert pianist and start companies. They are the kids that go on to make a difference in this world.  They just “do”this all the time because it is who they are. They are black belts.



Even More Hardship

We use even higher levels of hardship at this advanced stage.  The difficulty and failure rate is significantly increased over the intermediate stages.  I also love this stage because the “advanced”parents really get it.  But this can be even harder on the parents than the kids. Expect us to tell you and your child “we need to look at you again”which is a kind way of saying you have failed and we want you to train more and wait another training cycle or delay your promotion or advancement to your next belt.  We will do this in a fairly formal manner through written expectations/remediation and parent/student conferences at the 3, 2 and 1 month points before a potential junior black belt grading.


This advanced stage ends with something very significant –they earn their first junior black belt in karate.  While the demands and expectations gradually rise along the way, this part of the path to black belt culminates with the“Black Belt Camp”, a one day event where they are tested physical, mentally and emotionally.  This are patterned after the final 36 hours used to end most military boot camps.  The U.S. Marine Corps calls theirs the“Crucible”.  A crucible is a scientific ceramic container where a metal is heated. If done right that metal is heated under intense heat and pressure, combined with the right alloys, transforms and becomes significantly stronger.  The military has perfected this process.  We want to give your child a similar experience that can only be out done if they join the military or a college football team.  Our goal is to have them laughing and crying from the experience. Pushing them to both ends of their limit.  Your child can literally be that piece of coal that under tremendous pressure and heat becomes a diamond, reaching their full potential.



The “Junior Black Belt” stages –Something beginner parents are surprised at but advanced parents understand is that getting their black belt is not the “end” or the “final goal”.  While it is a significant achievement it is really the beginning of their advanced training.  I will wait to give you the details until you are here but the three major abilities we begin to teach at these advanced stages are:


1. Learning to reduce and even eliminate “Fear”–  fear and self doubt are really the only things that hold most people back.

2. Learning to be “Comfortable with Discomfort” – while pain is bad, most discomfort is actually good.  That discomfort is at the edge of our comfort zone and is what makes us grow.  This also teaches the important skill of“delayed gratification”, the ability to hold off something pleasant or wanted now for something more important or valuable later.

3. Learning to “Master the Mundane” –everyone that is highly successful or has mastery over anything has learned this.  This is the ability to do something basic over and over again even though you think you already know it or it is boring and repetitive.


These are the vital core skills people need to learn in order to join what is commonly referred to as the “seven percent club”.  This is that special 7% of our population that is highly successful.



  • The “Leadership Program” –You will see a few students wearing the red uniforms. This is a program for a select few intermediate and advanced students and their parents where they learn the key social, teamwork and leadership skills of the highly successful. Both the student selected for this program and their parents attend a monthly workshop. Here we teach the leadership and communication skills taught in major corporations and the military.   The skills learned in this program can then be practiced and refined in the optional CIT (Certified Instructor Training) program where they can apply what they have learned as assistant instructors in our classes.


  • The “Adult Goju Ryu Karatedo” program –Believe it or not we are not done yet!  At about 9th grade your child will get a chance to do something that they all want to do – get treated like an adult!  We tell them – if you can act and train like an adult we will treat you like an adult!  Here we will teach those same three skills of the 7%’ers but at a higher adult level. They will also start to get the chance to truly learn something very deep, unique and special – Traditional Okinawa Goju Ryu Karatedo.  By the way, karate is even better for adults than it is for kids!  We are just bigger kids that are more messed up!


So there it is.  Underneath those simple and entertaining karate classes is actually a very sophisticated process and system.  By understanding and supporting your child in this journey you can get the most out of this dojo.  Like I always say – “The key to a child’s success at anything – school, sports or karate - is not the child or even their teachers or coaches.  It is YOU their parents.”  You will always be your child’s first and primary teacher.



What You Can Do

No child in our program can make it to their black belt without black belt parents.  Here are a few simple tips to help you be that black belt parent:


1. Your attitude is important – just send to your child a simple message through your words and your actions – “This is Important, important to me and your Mom/Dad!” Another mindset you will want to take is that it is okay to make them do what they do not want to do or things they do not like.


2. Catch them doing something right – Switch around what most of us do.  Praise what they do well and spend less time and effort on what they do wrong. Also after class, unless they want to talk about karate only say one thing “Joey, I loved watching you do karate today!”


3. Let us know when they do something right outside the dojo – Keep telling us when they do something wrong that we need to help you correct but more importantly pull us aside in class, email or call us often with something they have done well outside of the dojo.  We will mention it to them in class or if appropriate in front of the whole class. The reason why is that we want them to believe that we know everything they are doing.  Just like Santa Claus we know when they have been naughty or nice. You can also go from “I am going to have to tell Sensei!” to “You will have to tell Sensei!”  This helps teach a very powerful part of our character development program – “Character is what you do when no one is looking!”


4. Do not make or force them to practice karate at home – Especially the beginners.  They will eventually find that they cannot get their black belt without extra outside practice but it is much better if you let them do it on their own.


5. Help us reinforce what we teach - We have them for one or two classes a week while you have them for most of the other seven days.  Two things you can do – 1.)  Ask them to teach(not tell or show) you what they learned, and 2.) Roleplay the bullying script weekly and other things we teach like the anti-abduction sayings or character discussions

         1.Your parenting skills – We know that the easiest way to change a child is to help our parents with their parenting skills.  Always seek to get better and exercise plenty of patience.  We are here to help you.


Conclusion– A Vision of What Your Child Will Be


I hope this helps answer your question of why we do what we do but more importantly I hope it gives you the “big picture” of what this is all about. This should also help you and your child get the most from our school. Remember, like everything else in life “you get out what you put in”.


I wish I could give each of you a crystal ball so that you could see what your child will be like in the future.  But I can come close.  You and your child can get that glimpse into the future by sticking around one evening and watching the teens in our advanced or adult classes. They are just an impressive and  amazing bunch of kids!


“Life begins at the edge of your Comfort Zone”



See you at the dojo,



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