Tag Archives: Lessons


I am an unabashed believer in recognizing the difference between an ‘Instructor’ and a ‘Teacher’.

It is my belief that an Instructor leads a class and demonstrates his/her interpretation of ‘what is’, and how to do the technique or application applied and usually with relying on a counting rhythm. We need Instructors and we do value their contribution!

A Teacher I believe, adds so much more, not only within technique lessons but also the intangibles required to lead students. This idea will be expanded upon in a future blog post.
Within the framework of my preamble above, I note that more than a few ‘Instructors’ tend to keep their students interested by trying to teach more ‘advanced’ techniques without first laying a proper fundamental foundation by emphasizing the basics (kihon).

This practice coined by Kyoshi Dan O’Brien as ‘OVERTEACHING’ is quite apt.

Overteaching is just plainly giving more than a student can handle without them having the proper foundation and understanding required to affect a proper technique. Often, if we lack our own proper understanding and imagination, or even a well thought out teaching curriculum, we resort to an advanced idea/technique to impress those we teach. Could it be that we lack confidence in our own selves so much that we overteach and gloss over our own martial arts insecurities by giving more than we should?
A beloved Teacher I trained with years ago (Peter Phillips -Renshi) stated, “Advanced karate is just better basics.” – agreed!

Let’s overteach our basics so that the advanced technique is just a step away and so much easier to digest.
Karate students — your turn. Are we as students, guilty of ‘OVERREACHING’???

By ‘overreaching’, I refer to a student’s propensity to always try and do more than what they are ready for, by seeking out other ideas and trying to mimic these ideas while neglecting their own studies. We’ve all done it and we’ve all seen it.

I personally knew of an intermediate student recently, who was always online looking at more advanced ideas that he may try and then he’d approach with his interpretation of what he saw and thought he’d understood. It was obvious that he was in over his head!

Well, then it became apparent that his own dojo efforts and concepts were suffering and his in class corrections were mounting, he soon came to the realization that he was being torn in two different directions – something had to give. I received a note from this student a short time later indicating that he’d become lost within his own karate enthusiasm and was re-dedicating himself to his karate studies with no distractions.

The grass may be greener on the other side, but if we are invested in our own style and that is where our love is, that is where we should invest our efforts and be patient, we will be rewarded in due time! The Universe will unfold as it should!
A personal investment in making ourselves better through diligent studies of well understood technique and our own bio-mechanics through better basics, will inevitably reward us with effective and confidence building skills capable of dealing with any adversity.

No batteries… but, Patience is required.
Yours in the arts, Gary Christensen – Renshi

O’Brian Sensei: Letting Go of Form

At first, it can seem somewhat counterproductive.  Since white-belt your Sensei has consistently reminding you of form.  Reaction arm back!  Bend that front knee! Back straight!  Sure, form is an important part of Karate.  At least it is in the beginning – but at some point, form becomes 2nd nature.  It’s something we do without even thinking.  It’s at this point in your training that you might want to consider the possibility of letting go of your form.  In this quick video, Sensei O’Brian talks about letting go of form and the impact it can have on technique.

Happy Training!

Sensei Pennell.

Should I enroll my child in Karate?

You may be considering enrolling your child in Karate.  After-all, it’s great exercise and a fun way to learn some life-long skills.  Before you make your decision, there are a few things to consider:

1.) Is your child old enough for Karate?  To be honest, Karate instructors face a unique challenge in this regard.  On one had, they are trying to run a business – and since having many children in a dojo can help pay the bills, it can be difficult for an instructor to turn a blind eye to the revenue generation potential of having very young students.  On the other hand – there is the debate about how young is ‘too young’.  Opinions on this vary greatly but in my truly honest opinion, there is a point at which a child is too young to practice Karate.  In my experience with very young children – it can be difficult to justify the time and cost investment.  When too young, a child can train for many, many months and really not learn much at all – or learn very little.  I guess the real question is, would a child benefit greatly by waiting an extra year, at which time they would be more mature and could potentially learn in only a few weeks what would take them months to learn at their current age.  It also depends on the child’s personality.  Some young kids just do not have the attention span necessary to train in an effective way.  Of course, all children are unique, so it’s hard to draw the line, but if you’re considering training and your child is around 5 years old – I think this is too young.  Personally, I would hesitate to train anyone under 8 – but that’s just my opinion.

2. Why does your child want to train?  What are the reasons to train?  For example, did you child approach you about training, or are you making the decision?  Did your child watch movie and suddenly become interested or is his/her interest more deeply rooted.  Karate is hard work.  It takes determination and will power to succeed.  In many cases, practitioners train for many many years to become proficient and even then, there is always room for improvement.  Those who train are in a constant state of self improvement.  Consider your real reason for wanting to enroll your child.  Many children “try it out” for a few months only to give up.  It’s important to try and be as informed as possible before you make your decision.

3.) Will it impact other extra-curricular activities?  We seem to live in a world where our kids these days are involved in a plethora of extra-curricular activities.  One thing that Karate demands is focus.  If your child is spread too thin, they are less likely to succeed and/or enjoy their training.  It might be a good time to evaluate your child’s schedule and really be honest with yourself:  is more extra-curricular activity really needed?  On the flip side of course, if they are not spread thin, then Karate could be a great fit.  Evaluate your kid’s schedule.  Remember, your kids need downtime as well.  Here is an important article about the importance of kids getting sufficient sleep.  Click here.

4.) Are there “good” karate schools in your area? Karate has become very popular in North America.  Dojos have sprung up all over the place!  The rise of popularity of Karate is great – but it does come with its challenges.  Namely, the “McDojo” or a school that for all intents and purposes is quite horrible.  How can you tell if you’re training at a McDojo?  Here is a pretty good article about the topic – click here.


4 Ways to improve your Karate!

1. You don’t need to “move like they do”.  Karate has evolved quite a bit since Karate practitioners of yesteryear were first captured on film or motion picture.  A lot has changed.  In fact, entire fields of study, like sports medicine for example, have been invented since the old masters practiced their art.  These days, we have a much better understanding of the relationship between muscles and tendons.  We have scientific understanding of the relationship between velocity and “power”.  So, what does all of this mean?  Well, it means that as a Karate student, you don’t necessarily have to take your queues from the great masters.  There is plenty of theory in sports medicine and training dynamics to help guide you.  You have access to tons of resources online.  You should be “stealing” bits of relevant information from practitioners of all martial arts.  Don’t be afraid to experiment.

2. You have gifts – use them.  Everybody has a unique body.  Different heights, weights, flexibility, speed, etc., etc., etc.  The great thing about Karate, is that you can maximize your strengths.  Talk with your Sensei about what your natural abilities and strengths are.  Perhaps you’re not utilizing your long legs for example.  Remember, Okinawan Karate was first practiced by Okinawan people.  They tend to be shorter in stature and more “compact” than North Americans for example.  So, you may need to take a look at the way an Okinawan moves vs. how you move and understand the differences.  There is nothing wrong with leveraging your strengths.  Find out what they are – and use them in your Karate.

3. Karate does not need to be “all you do” for exercise.  Karate can be an amazing exercise tool.  It essentially works all aspects of the body – muscle, tendon, cardio-vascular, etc., but it’s not the “be all and end all” of exercise.  I would recommend a mixed-bag of exercise activities to round out your training.  Myself, I like to combine Karate with weight lifting, hockey (to work the cardio-vascular system) and other sports like soccer or even rock climbing.  You’ll notice that as you build strength doing other activities, it’ll have a positive impact on your Karate as well.  Remember, have fun!

4. If it’s too bad to be true, it probably ain’t. Are you looking around your fellow karate-ka and thinking, “There’s got to be more to karate then this!” Is the instruction lacking? Are you endlessly grinding through Kata, with no real signs of improvement? Does your instructor keep looking at the time? Well guess what – you’re probably training at a “McDojo“. Yep – but now you know, so the question is – what are you going to do about it? What you need is an instructor that inspires you. Someone who gets to know you and you abilities and can offer constructive feedback that’s relevant to you. And from where did your instructor receive his black-belt? In a “Mc” world, it’s truly buyer beware. You need to do your research, people! Try to find out if your instructor has ever competed or if his/her instructor has. Were any awards received? If so, what are they? And no – random certificates on the wall don’t count. What do other students say? There are plenty of reviews on line. Ask your instructor, “how long to get my black-belt?” If their response is anything less than 5-7 years – move on. OR, if they quickly start talking about monthly plans, starter packages, costs, specials, incentives, or anything like that – move on!