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Oh! To be an Orange Belt Again!

Once in a while there comes along a young karate kid that demands attention; not with their arrogance or assertive nature, but simply with their karate. This karate kid glides around the floor in full, defined stances, correct posture, and finishing their techniques. When basic karate meets fluid movements you have the makings of something extraordinary.

Chelsea is Sonya Henie in an orange belt.

Years ago I made a discovery: brute-force karate is hard on the body, it’s slow, and it does very little for the wellness of the mind. After all, it’s hard to feel the stillness of mind when your body is hurting from endless drills, and from locking up every muscle in your body while trying to create the sound of a snapping Gi.

Power is important, but it shouldn’t be on the other end of the spectrum from fluid movement: there has to be a balance – a combination of fluidity and bursts of power. Watching Sensei Brian Power do Nijushiho is emblematic of where the two meet. Movements are flowing and concise, the tempo is consistent, and the Kime is undoubtable.

Is Chelsea a karate ‘natural’? I’m not sure, but I do know that there are things that make kids like her easy to teach and quick to learn. They are good listeners and they apply what they are told. For many teens (and some adults!) it is easier to take shortcuts on an easier path. For example, getting into a defined back stance for Heian Nidan is uncomfortable at first and requires work. It’s easiest to only do a solid stance when the Sensei is looking.

Backstory is another factor. Kids doing dance end up with great posture and poise. Kids doing soccer and volleyball, for example, have strong lower bodies and excellent cardio. Kids with supportive families and caregivers end up with ambition and positive self-esteem.

Chelsea is quiet and reserved in the Dojo, but is finding her comfort zone in the crowd. Teaching a kid to turn up the heat, and to add more power to specific techniques comes with time. Teaching a kid with a swelled head who “already knows” how to do everything is a different story. A good dojo will vary the teaching styles to accommodate both – because both kids are worth the time and effort. Sensei aren’t behavioral management specialists, but they are in charge of teaching young,

impressionable kids. Due to the very fact that Sensei have “gone before” means they offer kids some insight into what’s helps make a good student – and a good citizen. They throw ideas and options out to students, and the student decides what makes sense to them.

Karate kids teach us more than we give them credit for. Watching Chelsea do Heian Nidan this weekend reminded me that less is more in the sense that fluid, fast karate has to start with complete, deliberate (not rushed) movements. You can’t learn the basics of karate with 100% of your attention – and intention – on generating power.

The correct form of power in Karate comes from correct technique – not from muscle. I find is fascination that I have learned this from Sensei Don Owens (9th Dan), and from kids like Chelsea (8th Kyu).

The way we learn lessons in Karate is the same as the way we learn them in life: you have to always be looking, and you always have to look with an open mind.

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