Tuesday, April 7, 2009

The Year that Karate was a Job

The following post describes my personal experience and opinions regarding my time as a karate instructor at a local dance studio.

In 2003, I was asked to run a karate program at a local dance studio. How I ended up teaching karate at a dance studio is a complicated, unimportant story. This program lasted one long year. I taught at my husband's dojo in addition to the dance studio. I must stress that the kids I taught at the dance studio were great. I liked the parents, too. My problem was with the location, the training space and the goals for the program.

The owner of the dance studio only had one goal. She was in business to make money. There is nothing wrong with that because she was primarily a businessperson. She had a successful dance studio but wanted more students. She wanted to find a way to get the brothers of the little ballerinas in her studio. Karate was her solution. The karate program was ours but we were paid to teach classes. Karate became a job with a set schedule, a boss and a paycheck. It only took a few weeks to figure out that this was not a good situation for me. My feelings about karate did not coincide with her business plan.

The studio was located at the second floor of the local mall. It was right next to the food court. Most parents would bring their child into the classroom then head out shopping especially since there was a Disney Store on the first floor. Some parents would stay and watch (Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!). The training space was an enclosed soundproof room with windows. The few parents that stayed would watch from outside. I am used to an open training environment. I want the parents to know what I am teaching their children. The owner often scolded me because I would leave to door open slightly. When the students left the classroom, the owner would stand at the exit and ask in her sweetest artificial voice “Did you have fun?”

More often than not I was assigned to the fish bowl room. This soundproof room was in the center of the studio and had windows on two sides. People walking the mall could stop and watch. Each wall was a different bright color…purple, yellow, green and red. Inside a small trampoline was set to the front corner. Gymnastic tumbling equipment was spaced throughout the room. The room was fun and fabulous but not for teaching karate. I had to move the equipment out of the way and make a small training area. I was competing for attention with a room that had too many distractions.

The students were young…very young. My husband and I worked on creating a pre-karate program for the 3 – 4 year olds. This program focused on balance, co-ordination drills and the very basics of karate. There was no uniform or belts. The next group of kids were 5 – 6 year olds. We took the requirements for 9th kyu and broke them down into smaller pieces. Uniforms were worn and belts were earned. At the end of this program, the child was the equivalent of a 9th kyu white belt.

I want to say again that the kids were a great group. Many were disappointed when the karate program ended. Several transferred to our dojo to continue training.

The program ended because the owner of the dance studio could not fit karate into the schedule. She added dance classes because they generated more revenue. She wanted to schedule a karate class at 4:00 then 7:00. I had a toddler of my own and did not want to be away from home that long. I was glad that the program ended but with mixed feelings. I missed the students but not the studio.

I learned a lot about myself that year. Teaching young students was challenging. I needed to find unique and creative ways to convey the material. I would make up drills and games that would teach karate basics. I had to change the way I described the moves to make it easier to understand. The kids had fun and I hope they learned something too.


Hack Shaft said...

Kind of reminds me of Billy Elliot.

In the community gym, there was ballet class for the girls, boxing for boys.

Except that Billy Elliot was interested in ballet!

Under those work conditions, I'm surprised you lasted a year. Our dojo is also open, with maybe 3/4ths of the lobby separated by windows.

I make a point as a parent to listen to the lesson of the day, in order to work with my daughter outside of class.

SueC said...

It sounds like you did a great job in difficult circumstances. It's never easy using a building that's not designed for the purpose you're using it for. Though the kids may have been great, I expect many of the parents viewed you as a convenient baby sitter! Still, we live and learn and it sounds as if you learn't some useful things about yourself and about teaching young children. There's ususally something positive to gained out of most situations if we reflect on the experience.

Michele said...

Hack Shaft: It was a long year. It was a successful program but it did not fit in.

I think it is important for the parents to listen to the class. At the dance studio, the owner did not understand that karate was a martial art. As long as the kids left the class and had fun...she was happy. She did not understand that karate class can be hard work.

Sue: I think you are right about being viewed as a babysitter by some parents. Looking back, I think the kids learned some basic self-defense and hopefully have an appreciation for karate.