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Bowley Kenpo Karate » Philosophy » Are we having fun yet?

Are we having fun yet?

Familiar with this scenario? Test day is coming up soon. You’ve worked hard on the Kenpo curriculum, but don’t feel it flowing smoothly yet. Many black belts will be in attendance, watching. You feel a strong need to make a good impression . . . .

Sparring is one of the fun activities students like

Sparring is one of the fun activities students like

How about this one? Class was rough. Pushed hard to the point of sweat and exhaustion. It’s been that way for a few weeks of classes. The material is flowing ok but there’s so much of it, it’s hard to remember left from right sometimes . . . .

Either situation is likely to cause nervous butterflies, frustration, or both. The thing to keep in mind is, while you’re on this martial art’s journey as a choice it still needs to be fun. Fun is an important ingredient to learning, and the best instructors (school teachers too) understand and use it effectively. From this perspective there are two types of fun: the smile-to-help-you-relax-and-push-on fun, and the laugh-out-loud-making-memories fun. Both are vital.

At a recent mini-camp at Mr. Duffy’s in Austin, we were all wiped out on the mat and moving like zombies. Jokingly he said “And you guys paid to be here!”. It hit home for two reasons. The first, obvious is that, yes, we did pay to be put through a ten hour day of Kenpo. But more importantly he, the instructor, recognized our body language and made a joke. He kept the mood light, keeping it fun while also pushing us further.

One of the goals of martial arts is to build mental fortitude, and it’s done by putting you in controlled stressful situations. Belts tests, hard classes, and tournaments are common ways to build the mental toughness. But it’s not often taught how to develop it. One way is to make or find the fun in an intense scenario.

While in the test situation, you think back to joking around a little with your training partner in practice. Remembering that good time gives you a smile, helps you to relax, but not lose focus. You can now push further on. Or in the repeatedly hard classes you could look forward to a drill you enjoy, ask for a certain drill, or make a lighthearted comment to keep the mood upbeat. All of these ideas work and they’re the type of mental exercises used to develop the mental fortitude just like physical exercises develop the muscles.

Instructors realize not every drill or class is going to be fun. Some hard work just isn’t fun. Those situations, while building physical skills, also develop the mental toughness. But you can’t push all the time as mental fortitude takes time to develop, and fun has to be inserted by the teacher. An important lesson I picked up from my instructor was to add a karate game to the last 15 minutes of each class (or at minimum the kids/beginner class). Sure, we could cover more material in the final 15 minutes, but would we really be learning more? Instead we play a game, always have lots of laughter, and those students leave class remembering the last thing we did was fun.

For some, every aspect of Kenpo and other martial arts is inherently fun. But for most, even the best hobby isn’t fun all the time. Students have a responsibility to find the fun in situations it isn’t obviously present. Because well, fun is fun. But also because fun helps to relax and persevere. Instructors also have the responsibility to use fun as a learning tool and to keep students from burning out. There’s a balance to those responsibilities. And when it’s found, everyone benefits. Oh, and it’s a lot of fun too.

Sam Bowley
McKinney, TX

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