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  • Writer's pictureSensei Christina Graf

What I learned from going from Karate ‘student’ to Karate ‘teacher’

Updated: Sep 9, 2019

It has been four years since I made the transition from Karate student to Karate teacher, opening Mapleton Martial Arts in the fall of 2012. I was at a place in my training where, to continue to grow as a martial artist, I needed to change my perspective. With the support of my Sensei and The Canadian Naha-Te Goju Karate Association, a new chapter in my life began, bringing with it exciting new challenges, as I forge a new path towards a higher understanding of this art.

I didn’t appreciate how good I had it: As the saying goes ‘you don't know what you've got until it’s gone’ There are many things we fail to realize the true value of until they are missing from our lives. I realize now, that as a karate student all I really had to do was put myself in the hands of my Sensei. I was incredibly fortunate that my Sensei strived tirelessly to provide knowledgeable instruction as well as providing me with physical, mental and even spiritual guidance. As a student, the only ‘job’ I had was just to absorb it.

A Sensei’s job doesn’t stop when the lights in the dojo go out: I don’t think as a student I ever really understood or appreciated how much effort that went into providing me with a safe, warm, clean space to train in, let alone a dojo that acted as a second home. There are many hats a Sensei wears outside of teaching. A Sensei needs to be (in some fashion) an accountant, marketer, landscaper (including snow removal), handyman, housekeeper, event planner, purchaser, scheduler and negotiator, to name a few. There are also countless hours spent organizing, planning and preparing classes and yes, sleepless nights fraught with anxiety over one thing or another.

A Sensei teaches because they are passionate about karate: Chances are your Sensei is teaching your class after an already long day at another job. (I am one of the very lucky few who began this undertaking while off raising my sons.) They have dedicated themselves to teaching for the love of the art and for the difference they are making in the lives of their students as not solely for financial gain. For me, the challenges of teaching are far outnumbered by the rewards, which would require another essay to list.

I was not the best student: Some days it’s easy to feel like a broken record. I realize though, the reason I say the same corrections over and over like “chamber hand” and “knees over your toes” is because I heard it over and over again. There are moments during a class that I will make a comment and hear my Sensei’s voice. I can’t help but to smile and think to myself “I must have been listening after all”.

I disappointed my Sensei: I love the Japanese proverb ‘fall down seven times, stand up eight’ Failure, as much as it hurts, is an important part of the learning process. In fact, I believe is necessary. I have failed more times than I’d like to admit and in spectacular, public ways, leaving my Sensei shaking his head. I’ve had my fair share of bumps and bruises and times where everything hurt, including my ego. The worst part, beyond the embarrassment, was the feeling that I let down my Sensei who has spent so much time teaching me just for me to go and mess it up. But those moments, I now realize, gave me the opportunity to pick myself up and continue on a little wiser, more tenacious and ready to bounce back. Messing up has humbled me and forced me to work harder. Most importantly, now as a karate teacher, I truly hope my students continue along this path so they too have the opportunity to make mistakes.

I made my Sensei proud-Maybe? Each one of my students, no matter the trials that day brought, makes me incredibly proud. Proud they have learned something new, pushed themselves a little further, proud of their eagerness and courage to learn something new, proud they accomplished something for the first time. Each day I am inspired by my students and I will continue to strive to be the best instructor I can be so at the end of the day, my students can be proud of their Sensei.

You don’t really know something until you can teach it to a five year old: I once read “ takes a hundred times to learn the moves, a thousand times to make beautiful, and ten thousand times to grasp essence” It is a whole new level of understanding to do a kata as a mirror image, explain the intricacies, the Chōshi – 調子 (the rhythm and manner in which a kata is done) and Hyōshi – 拍子 (the timing used in a kata) to a child as young as four, all while making it engaging and, of course, fun!

In closing, I still consider myself a student with much more to learn. I am still studying and striving to understand even more and will continue to travel along this path. It is this journey, this pursuit of knowledge that is the most important virtue of karate practice. I will continue to cherish my role as Sensei: “the one who has gone before” and guide my students along this path. To my students, I humbly thank you for letting me be a part of your journey.

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