I can’t garden.
It’s dirty, hot, there’s bugs, and you get dirt under your fingernails. It’s awful, and I can’t stand it.
But some people — some people love gardening. It’s their thing. They can sit outside for HOURS and plant and spend hundreds of dollars on mulch, and… Well, I’m not sure what else goes into gardening (on account of my hatred for it), but you get the idea.
My point is: everyone has work that they love doing. For me, gardening is a pain in the butt, but I can do karate every night of the week and never get sick of it. It’s my thing.
Is it the same techniques? Usually. Same steps, same katas? Yes. Am I bored? Hell no.
What does this have to do with karate, you ask?
As we age up, out of the tots, into childrens’ classes, teens, and again into adults, karate becomes progressively less and less about Sensei making it fun and more about karate just being fun. It becomes less about games and more about work.
And we do lose students because of this. They age from 8 to 9 years old, out of Dragons and into Youth, and some of them say: but it’s not as much fun as it used to be. We don’t play the same games. And we don’t.
But the thing is: Karate isn’t a game.
Let me explain:
Ages 3-5 (Ninjas)
At this age you need to learn: listening, focus, following instructions, when to and NOT to goof off, etc. You can’t do real karate until you can listen to instructions and follow them. So, we play listening games. Focus drills. Add in basic punching, kicks and blocks to this and we’ve got a Ninjas Karate class. And I make it fun, because if it isn’t fun, they won’t care about it.
Ages 6-8 (Dragons)
Good: you’ve aged up. Now you can follow instructions, because you learned how to do so via listening games and/or life experience. In this class, we do more real karate in a fun way with a few games thrown in as a reward. We learn self control, partner work, teamwork, better listening and stellar focus. Still, real karate has to be fun: kids learn through fun, so we add bouncing, jumping, hopping, running and more to the mix.
Ages 9-12 (Youth)
Real Karate in a fun way.
This is when things get a bit more serious. Why? Because if a 3 year old punches someone in the face, it’s not good behaviour: if a 10 year old punches someone in the face, they could do real damage. So we do (as above) real karate in a fun way. Fun partner work, takedowns, rolls, sparring. The kids love this stuff, and it’s presented in a way just fun enough to keep everyone engaged and learning. However, games? We don’t play so many games in this class. Sometimes, but not all the time.
Ages 13 to Adult
On the graph, work and fun are equal at the top because doing real karate in this class is our fun.This is the class where we love what we do. Not because we play games, not because we make every drill fun, but because the drills and techniques we are doing are fun for us. We don‘t need games, fun drills, running or hopping or ‘fun drills’ as a buffer to make it fun: we love what we do. We want to fix little details, we enjoy improving, we see value in perfecting techniques and the never-ending journey toward perfection. We love Karate, pure and simple.
When a child ages from Youth and into Teens/Adults, we will see one of two things happen:
They will quit, because it’s no longer being made to be fun (and they were only here for the fun & games)
They will become more serious because they love karate, not the games. And that’s what I love to see.
It’s not for everyone. Like I said, I hate gardening, but some people love it. Different strokes and all of that.
But when I see a student who does get serious when they age up, who grows with karate and actually finds that this is their thing, it’s beautiful to see.