When Students Leave for Good

I am facing the truth that a couple of my long-term students are about to go off to college, and I am facing the fact that there is no telling when I will see them again. This is a post based on the random thoughts that I tried to bring into something resembling a blog post.

For anyone who has taught martial arts for any serious length of time, there is an understanding that most students are going to be here for only a little while, and then they will disappear forever. This happens so often that after a certain number of years, it becomes impossible to even recall faces and match them to names.

Even excluding my years of teaching before working for KickStart Kids, in the last fifteen years alone I have had about 2,000 student walk into my class. I have a terrible time matching names and faces, especially among those students who were in class for a short period of time a very long time ago.

But there are others, students who were around longer, or had exceptional work ethic, or both. I remember them. Many of these kids became like family to me. Some are still in touch with me, and this makes me feel blessed. Some students contact me from out of the blue, and it always makes me smile.

I am a creature of habit. I make a lot of plans, especially when it comes to teaching, that are designed for the long-term goals. Sometimes, my definition of long-term is more time than what the students can commit to giving.

As a martial arts instructor, we have to understand this. Life happens and people move on. It is our job to make the impact that we can, in the time that we have. We think we have forever, but we are wrong.

It is never easy to see the long-term student walk out for the last time. When we know that it is the last time we are likely to see them, it can feel terrible. But, if we have done our job, we must set aside our personal regrets and sadness and hope that what we taught will be carried forward by these students – even if they are not ever going to be a lifelong martial artist. We have to trust that we did everything we could to equip the students with the knowledge and skills to stay safe. We must trust that the values carried within the martial arts will be lived out. And there is nothing wrong with the hope to be remembered.

To all of my former students who read this, know that it does my heart good every single time that I find out about something that you are doing now, every contribution to society, every educational goal achieved, every job promotion or success. Everything. I find great joy in your success. And I am thankful to every one of you for allowing me to share part of your journey, and especially when you let me know about your successes as you move forward beyond anything I have to offer help with.

To my long-term students who are about to head out into the world, please know that I am very proud of your accomplishments, and will still be right here if I can be of any help at all.

Some work of noble note may yet be done,

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Catch What is Right, Correct What is Wrong

Many years ago, there was a standard style of teaching martial arts. Stand at the front of the class, and bark commands.

As the number of martial arts schools expanded and schools began competing over a small number of students, different styles of teaching emerged. Some had benefits, others did not. Of course, there are still those who cling to the drill instructor method as well.

What I want to focus on here is teaching like a teacher.

In order to do this, you have to make a slight change in your focus. Many instructors are teaching with the thought that they need the student to be motivated to come back to class again. Obviously, you really do need the student to keep showing up for class – an instructor with no students is hardly an instructor. But this focus on please keep training here has brought up many questionable practices, like the feel good martial arts.

The excuse given for saying every technique looks great and everyone gets a black belt is to keep students coming back and paying.

I want to suggest a better idea.

You can still give students the pat on the back, the thumbs up, and the verbal praise, but make it authentic. If a student is doing a technique wrong, they need to be told that it is wrong. If you praise an incorrectly performed technique as being awesome then you are reinforcing poor performance. This should never be acceptable. Incorrect techniques will be ineffective and even carry the risk of injury to the student if there is long term practice of a technique with bad mechanics.

Encourage the student by letting them know what they are doing right, by acknowledging the improvements they are making, or even the effort they are showing. But it has to be real or you are doing damage to the student’s potential as well as to your own authority when other students notice you are saying everything is great.

Catch what they are doing right, and correct what they are doing wrong. This will cause them to see that they can do something right and that they need to keep training to get better.

As always, likes and shares are deeply appreciated!

Eat Bitter

You read that right, I said eat bitter. I did not mean eat better.

I cut my teeth in the traditional Chinese martial arts, and there is a common saying that translates into English as eat bitter.

This is essentially a common sense idea that you have to put in the work in order to enjoy the rewards. The idea is not uncommon outside of China. In many countries, the idea that hard work will eventually lead to success is a common theme.

When people see the amazing skills of a Bruce Lee or a Jackie Chan, they never stop to think about the tremendous amount of time and sweat that brought them to such a high level of performance. Muhammad Ali, probably the greatest boxer who will ever live, was inhuman in his training.

In our time, seemingly more than ever before, we have people who do not understand the concept of sacrifice before reward. They don’t want to pay their dues. And it is really sad.

From my perspective, I see this lesson best seen in the lives of the dedicated martial artists. Those who work as hard as it takes to make it learn that the effort spent is worth it in the end. Every long-term martial artist that I have ever known was a person who was willing to do whatever it takes to be successful at whatever task was in front of them.

Challenges can be overcome.

In the end, the work and the training, the time away from friends, the missed parties, the delayed social life, the bumps and bruises, the early mornings where you felt you never fell asleep, the tendons and ligaments that will never be quite right again, the aches and pains that never seem to go away, all of the things that would stop someone who was looking for a reason to stop – lead to a realization. They lead to a transcendental perspective. I can tell you about it, but you won’t know it like I know it, and others like me know it. To truly get it, you’ll have to live it.

There is an experience in this that lets you see that your limits as set by you, and if you choose to ignore them, they cease being limits. No one will ever be able to get to you by telling you that you don’t have what it takes because you know that you can do whatever it takes.

So when the training is not going well and the skills are slow in developing – smile! And eat bitter.

KICKSTART KIDS Sponsorship Drive

It is that time of year again!

Kickstart Kids is a non-profit organization that teaches Character Through Karate. We operate in schools around the State of Texas offering a martial arts class as an alternate PE credit elective, and we work with some of the best kids in the State. We give them a place to belong, and a place to grow strong.

The annual sponsorship drive is a chance to help Kickstart Kids through the simple act of purchasing a t-shirt.

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All you need to do to help is to follow this link and place your order. If you want your order to help my school, using the drop-down menu under “sponsored student’s school” select Travis. If you wish to sponsor a student, email me and I will draw a name at random for you to sponsor.

There is a lot of good being done by this foundation and we have a positive impact on the lives of our students. Any help is appreciated always. Even if you do not purchase a shirt, you can help by sharing this information! Many thanks for your continued support!

A Teacher’s Reward

I started teaching martial arts a long time ago. When I started, my biggest passion was simply to share something I really love. For me and for many others like me, martial arts are more of an approach to life than a sport or hobby. If you have ever had a moment where you have found that place where you simply fit in, then you can understand where I am coming from when I say this. Keeping the doors to my schools open was always a challenge, but never enough of a challenge that I wanted to give up.

Then, in 2002, an opportunity fell in my lap. I had a chance to go to work for Chuck Norris’ Kick Drugs Out of America, which later became known as KickStart Kids. I was stepping into my dream job; I would be able to teach martial arts all day, every day, and not have to worry about overhead and the hassles that come with running a commercial martial arts school. I knew I would enjoy it, but I did not expect how much the job would change me.

When I ran my martial arts schools before, students were people, but they were also income. I needed them there and happy, but I also needed them to pay. I had to constantly remind them to pay the monthly fees, I had to call students who had stopped coming around. There was so much to actually keeping the school open that I only really knew anything about the lives of those students who were around for a few years.

In KickStart Kids, this was different. I saw my students every single day. I had a chance to really see them as they struggled and as they grew. I had time to learn their stories, the good, the bad, and the ugly. I gained an insight into the lives of the kids in my class, many of whom were classified as at-risk.

This insight comes with a price.

I have to see potential in everyone. This comes from the fact that I had zero potential of achieving anything remotely related to success in the martial arts. I have said many times that everything a person could have working against their success in this field, I had working against me. Everything from absolute poverty to being injury prone, add in a lazy streak five miles wide, introversion of such an extreme nature it would be better called willfully self-imposed isolation, and you can start to see the wondrous disaster I was, and why many people predicted that my foray into the world of martial arts would end in complete failure. I was often the only person who believed I could do this. It sucks to be the only one who believes in you.

As a result of this personal experience, in my eyes, every student has some degree of potential. It is pure foolishness to think that every student is going to become a lifelong martial artist, or follow in your footsteps and become an instructor. I don’t allow myself such delusional thinking. But I do try to see the potential for success that each student has. I made it my mission to make sure that my students knew that I believed in them.

But the real problem is that, very often, they don’t believe in themselves or see their tremendous potential. In some cases, they have been beaten down so much by life, or peers, and sometimes even by their parents, that they no longer value themselves or see anything they can do right. Even when they have a person telling them they actually are doing something right, they have a nagging doubt.

This hurts my feelings every single time, but as it is not about me, it becomes my job to make them see their successes and through that, see their potential for even greater success in whatever they want to pursue. Sometimes I am able to do this, sometimes I fail. The victories are awesome, and failing is almost physically painful.

But for as long as that student is in my class, I have a new opportunity each day to try to reach them again, and each day holds the possibility of success.

And in all honesty, the repeated failures of my attempts to reach them and break through their doubts really add up. And they do take a toll on me. But the beginner lessons in any martial arts style teach the need for tenacity.

So I try again because I have to make them see.

Their friends make fun of them, I run interference or counter every claim by the negative friends.

Their parents tell them that they can’t do anything right, I point out every day every detail that they are nailing spot on.

They have a bad day, they get a detention or a bad grade, I show them how well they can focus here and how to apply that elsewhere.

And it wears me out. Finding the energy to motivate someone else when you are worn completely out is tough. Doing it every day is probably impossible, I guess. I have not reached a breaking point yet, so I don’t know how true that is.

But there is this amazing payoff.

More often than you would imagine, a student will suddenly see! They will make those connections on their own that you have been pointing out for weeks or months, sometimes years. They finally get it.

The funny thing is, when my students get it, they always try to give me credit, and I have to remind them that I was just pointing out what they were already doing. Their success and the joy in their eyes when they find that success is my reward. That moment is my battery recharge and it is what keeps me going. Feeding off of this energy allows me to step right back into the trenches in the next class period. Yes, the moment is fleeting, but it is so important to know when you are happy.

Every Teacher of any discipline knows what I am talking about. I have spent the last fifteen years working with some truly amazing professional educators, and when I share these thoughts with them, they all relate, even when what we teach is immensely different. The best teachers I have ever known were people able to help their students see their own success when it happens, and see failure as a lesson and not a definition of who they are. Be the person who helps other people see what they do right rather than pointing out what they do wrong. In the long run, it will help you as much as it helps them.

Because I have many former students who follow this site, I want to take a moment to thank you for being one of those people who recharged me and allowed me to step into the next class ready to keep fighting. Your successes made me strong enough to keep trying to help others, and without you, I might not have made it to this point. I am proud to have had the time in your life that I had, and in some cases, still have. My successes in the classroom come from the blessing of having had such amazing and truly wonderful students. You all taught me more than you know. I thank you.

KICKSTART KIDS Sponsorship Drive

KICKSTART KIDS is a nonprofit that uses martial arts to recruit and retain students while teaching them life skills and character strengths. I am privileged to be a part of this group. I get to teach martial arts all day, have dinner with my family in the evenings, and I can honestly say that I never have a boring day.

Right now, and running until February 5th, you have a chance to help KICKSTART KIDS, as well as helping my students in the process. KICKSTART KIDS is doing a Sponsrship Drive, and you have the chance to get a limited edition T-Shirt featuring our founder, Chuck Norris.

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A sweet shirt, AND a chance to help kids!

  • So here is what I am asking you to do if you are able:
  • Click HERE
  • Order your shirt
  • When selecting a school you are sponsoring, please select “Travis” (my campus)
  • If you wish to sponsor a specific student, message me and I can get that info to you as well.
  • Feel good knowing that your purchase has helped at-risk youth
  • Share this far and wide!

That is it! I appreciate every one of you! Know that when you make this purchase, the money goes to help a lot of kids. I thank you for everything!

Teaching Martial Arts: A Positive Classroom

We all have to be mindful of our interactions with our students. As I have said in the past, it is easy to catch people, kids especially, doing things wrong. There is no special skill or training needed to do this. The real challenge lies in catching them doing things right, and finding ways to give them feedback on this, and use what they are doing right as a framework for giving critical feedback to help them perform even better. Training in the martial arts needs to be taught as a process of growth, not natural skill. Some people will be more talented than others, or achieve skills more quickly than others, but that is just life.

So, how can we do this?

For a start, Continue reading “Teaching Martial Arts: A Positive Classroom”