Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Don't Forget - You Were A White Belt Once

Do you remember what it was like to be a white belt? Do you recall how you felt the first time you stepped on the dojo floor? Were you nervous, intimidated, anxious, excited or happy?

I walked on the dojo floor with a slight advantage. My husband was a brown belt at the time. I was used to going to tournaments and watching demonstrations. I was familiar with some of the kata simply from watching Tom practice. The week before I signed up for classes, I asked Tom to review the pattern of the first kata. I did not want to feel completely lost. It didn't matter too much...I still felt lost.

It has been a while since I was a white belt in karate. As an instructor, I think it is important to remember how it felt at the beginning. New students come in the dojo and the black belts seem to make everything look so easy. The first kata, waza and ten step blocking drill felt like Mt. Everest as a white belt. As a black belts, we could probably demonstrate them in our sleep.

Remember what it is like:

To have your hands going all directions
To focus on your feet only to forget what your hands are doing and then...
To focus on your hands and forget your feet
To feel awkward and stiff
To be uncomfortable in your uniform
To have a timid kiai
To have to figure out how to tie your belt
To try to practice at home only to realize you skipped a few moves
To spar for the first time
To test for 9th kyu

As a beginner student of Tai Chi, I am regularly reminded of how challenging the early stages of learning can be. Every once in a while think back and remember how it felt...


Felicia said...

Too true! We sometimes forget how far we've come and what it was to step onto the mat with no real clue as to how to do what everyone else was doing.

I know I felt robotic and stiff for quite a while. My feet just did not seem to want to cooperate on any stance, so moving in stance was not pretty at all. And the belt tying? Forget about it...

Important to remember not just that there are newbies but what it felt like to be one, too. Thanks for that gentle nudge, Michele :-)

Rick said...

I've recently started a new job. New products, new customers, etc.

Michele said...

Felicia: Good point...we also need to remember "how far we've come".

Rick: I know that new job feeling... Best of luck with your new position!

Anonymous said...

I do remember yes: it was awkward, frustrating and very, very painful. Now I’m used to locks but by god the first time one is put on you it hurts like hell (not to mention the second, third and fourth time when you wrist is all sore and mangled). I used to be rather bad at sports or other physical activities and this caused me to regularly screw up on techniques and exercises, luckily I stuck it out and now I’m very coordinated, fairly flexible (for a guy at least) and quite proficient in my chosen art. The funny thing is that back then I was actually somewhat afraid of some of the higher ranked guys in the class (watching martial arts can be quite intimidating for the uniniated, let alone practicing it for the first time), not that they were mean or violent just very intense and focused (we used to call it putting up the warrior face) and I was all too aware of what they could do me if they wanted to. Now I’m the one who’s intimidating (at least to some people), even though I don’t mean to and it’s certainly not a macho thing. Sometimes I forget what’s it like being the new guy and struggling with basic techniques, I really should be more patient although I do try my very best to help the people I’m training with or supervising.

I agree starting in a new art is sort of like being the newbie all over again, although I do think you don’t need to start from scratch (at least not entirely): even though the techniques and way of thinking might be completely different from what you’re used to at least your body is trained to act as a unit and that’s a common factor to all martial arts. I’m taking my first steps in escrima and while it is completely new to me (training with weapons is completely different from training empty handed) and I’m obviously struggling (sinawali or double stick drills are a pain to get even remotely right) I think I’d have far greater difficulties if I had never practiced martial arts before. Escrima certainly isn’t easy but it’s a great add-on to my base art and it’s loads of fun, while I’m still making progress in ju-jutsu it’s far slower. Being a beginner is a challenging time but it’s also one of the best experiences since everything is new and you’re learning so much (kinda like a kid in a candy story).

On another note: could you ask Thomas if he could find the time to answer my questions in the thread about women’s self-defense? I’d greatly appreciate it.



Michele said...

Zara: Thanks for adding to the discussion!

Regarding the self-defense questions...Tom wanted to know if he could respond to your questions via email. If that is ok with you...could you email me an address where he can forward you information? I have a email link in my blogger profile. Or if you would prefer...he can respond on the blog.

Ariel said...

I've been reminded of what it was like to be a white belt these past couple of weeks because one of my friends from church just started coming to class.

When I look at where she's at now, I think about how I started out that way. Timid, uncoordinated, and lost.

In many ways I wish I could have had that white belt experience in the class I'm in now. I came in as a transfer after the instructor of my other school moved and had to put an end to classes. Because the systems are so similar, I was allowed to wear the belt I earned in the other class. Now though, I wish I had just started out as a white belt again.

Michele said...

Ariel: Thank you for visiting and joining the discussion.

Every once in a while, I get out our old video tapes. I have a tournament taped from when I was a yellow belt. After I get over the shock about how long my hair used to be...I start looking at my kicks, stances etc. Oh my!

Frank said...

When I first learned the Seisan Kata, my first kata in Isshin-ryu, I recorded it for posterity. As little as a week later, I reviewed it and cringed. LOL! It cracks me up...

A couple of weeks ago, my Sensei performed the Seisan Kata. (He's a 5th-dan black-belt.) He's usually a pretty mild-tempered and approachable guy. As he did the Seisan, he narrowed his eyes, set his jaw, and started going through the kata. The transformation was amazing! The intensity, the focus, the power... It was profoundly humbling, and served as a good reminder that there is always more to refine, explore, and sharpen.

I started this style in December of '09, at the age of 40. In addition to being uncoordinated, stiff, and awkward, I've had to contend with tendinitis issues. Things are really coming together now, though. Well... Starting to, anyway... :-)