April 16, 2015

Jack of All Trades – Master of None

Without focus and purpose to our karate training, I think that’s where we end up – knowing a little about everything, but not being great at anything.  About a year ago, I solicited feedback from many of my karate friends, from beginners through those with higher rank, about reasons why they train.  As you might expect, the reasons varied widely and covered a large spectrum of knowledge, skills, and abilities. 

Many of these reasons were not specific to any particular activity, but rather folks have been able to work toward these goals for themselves through karate training.  This won’t be an exhaustive list, but some of these include:
  • Physical fitness, health, coordination, flexibility, balance, strength, stress relief, etc.
  • Self-confidence, problem solving
  • Enjoyment of spending time with our “karate family”
  • Self-improvement, always something new to learn, life-long process and challenges
  • Mental training, concentration, focus, discipline, etc.
  • Philosophy for living life – constant improvement, Dojo Kun applies to everyday life

I personally find most, if not all, of these as things that I get out of karate training.  And I think that’s part of what keeps me coming back for more.  But there are many activities that we could participate in that could address these motivations. 

Where I start to become conflicted, particularly as an instructor, is in the reasons for training that are activity specific, particular in their requirements, and often contradictory with each other.  Some of these reasons may include:
  • Fighting ability
  • Self-defense
  • Attaining Rank
  • Success at tournaments
  • Passing on a tradition

When I started training, and even when I started teaching (actually, until fairly recently), I honestly thought that what we did in training would prepare us for all of these things equally.  Now I know better, and that presents a dilemma for me as an instructor.  I know that I have students who fall into each of these categories with respect to their motivations.  But each of them requires different things from training, and different things from me as an instructor.  And some require much more time and effort than others to be successful. 

I have always been a person who aims to please, and I think that we have been trying to be all things to all people.  But by trying to give everyone what they want, no one is actually getting what they want.  Training time is precious, and it feels that we’re spread too thin and don’t have time to address all of these goals adequately in training.  Perhaps more importantly, it seems to me that focusing training on some goals requires contradictory training methods to focusing on others. 

I don’t have a good answer right now about how to solve this problem.  The only thing I do know is that if we always do what we’ve always done, we’ll always get what we’ve always gotten – and I don’t think that what we’re getting is an optimal solution.  I feel like I’m doing a disservice to myself and my students by trying to do everything, because we’re not able to really focus training effort and skill development in any given area when we’re trying to address all areas. I think I need to accept that I can’t be all things to all people, and focus our time and efforts on a smaller subset of these training goals.  As Funakoshi tells us in the Niju Kun, “Always create and devise”.   
Submitted by: Kimberly Baran, Sandan