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Richard Wilkinson

Black Belt Character...

Black Belt Character...

...And "The Mission" of Impact America Martial Arts

What is the character we are encouraging and creating and inspiring in our students?

Character training is the single most important part of training at Impact America.  But what is it?  I could go on and on telling you about the ‘words’ associated with the benefits of martial arts training in general but that would be cliché.   I think I will dive into how it all works and why our values are what they are.  First…..a little history….

When I became a parent in 1991, the level of responsibility that was required of me hit me like a ton of bricks landing on top of my head.  WOW!  What will I teach this little dude?  What is important for him to know so that he can be successful in life (in whatever he chooses) when I am no longer around?  What would his ‘skill sets’ need to be in order to be a fine upstanding individual that contributes to society?  HUGE QUESTIONS!!  Important questions!!  Valuable questions dwarfed only by the gravity of the answers I had to invent.  So, I did research.  

Now I won’t go into detail about the research that I did because this blog isn’t about the research.  This blog is about the answers that I invented for MY own personal children.  When I saw that my methods and focus was rock solid in my own house, I decided to take my answers and apply them to my martial arts academy.  Besides, martial arts are known for things like discipline, courtesy, honesty, etc.  Again, it’s cliché.  Everyone already knows the benefits of martial arts.  BUT….no one seems to really know how it works.  Surprisingly, not even a lot of martial arts instructors know HOW it works.  They just know THAT it works.

Impact America Martial Arts is different from all the other schools because we completely understand ‘HOW’ it all works…on a molecular level.  We see 1’s and 0’s like in the Matrix Movies.

Go ahead and search the internet and you’ll not find much writing on what I am about to write about (as it applies to martial arts). 

‘Children are NOT qualified to make certain decisions about their future’ – Mr.  Wilkinson

Parents always crack me up when they look down at their little kid and say ‘do you like karate?’  If the kid had fun, he/she says ‘yes’.  If he/she didn’t have fun, they say ‘no’.  They base their decision on THAT moment.  They have NO idea about where the training will lead.  They have NO idea about the benefits of martial arts.  They have NO idea what training could do to improve their little attitudes when dealing with life’s ups and downs.  They have NO idea about building frames of reference so that they will know how to handle certain situations that may or may not arise. 

As parents, WE have to choose some things for our kids…not because they ‘want’ to learn them, but because some things are necessary to thrive in life… good manners or hygiene or a focus on doing well. 

I personally don’t want my kids to choose such things.  I want to INSTILL those things in the character of each one of my kids so that they will survive, thrive and generally be awesome. 

With all that being said, here are the character traits we instill in our students from white belt all the way to black belt.

IAMA Character Trait #1 – Goal Setting

Level One – Goal Setting for achievement = rank promotion (stripes, belts and black belt)

Level Two – Goal setting for Skill Sets = know how (information that is needed to fix a problem)

Level Three – Goal setting for testing one’s potential = Ability (We want them curious about how awesome they can be…AND constantly look for ways to do better at everything they do)

Brief Explanation – Level one is what happens in the first 6 months of training.  We tell the students about our standards and let them pass fairly easily from stripe to stripe and belt to belt.  We do this because we want to establish basic goal setting.  Goal setting for earning stripes and for belts is our focus.  Once we establish a basic understanding of that, we throw in an obstacle (normally at Jr. Green belt)

The obstacle presents a series of problems.  In this case, we start them in the activity of sparring.

Everyone is aware of this part of martial arts.  This is the ‘fighting’ part.  Sparring at IAMA means ‘the study of combative movement’.  We do make contact….light contact.  Why? ... Without contact, there is no reason or motivation to learn to block.  This will bring us to Level Two Goal setting (goal setting for skill sets).

The students are faced with several questions like:

1.       My whole life I have been told NOT to hit.  Now I am expected to hit.  What do I do?
2.       This person just hit me.  I have always been told that mean people hit others.  What do I do?
3.       When is it ok to hit?
4.       I don’t like it, how do I stop others from hitting me?
5.       Is this person bullying me?  Schools say that evil demon people bully and that I will get in trouble if I stand up for        
          myself….what do I do?

Sparring is where we give the kids frames of reference and desensitize them to the whole hitting thing.  The beauty of sparring is that THE STUDENTS seek the answers.  They will naturally set goals to answer questions to learn how to keep themselves from being hit.  They will pay attention more (with a little direction from the instructors of IAMA and their very own parents).  They will CHOOSE to WANT to improve and get better.  They will WANT more information which translates into education.  So, they will value being smarter and being proactive in learning new things. 

IAMA Value #2 – Love for Education/Information

We make OUR value of ‘Love for Education’ THEIR value.  Our entire curriculum and classroom approach is designed to set the rules up where the only way to move forward is to gain more information.

Once students have established a strong goal setting mindset and a love for education, they naturally move to Level 3 Goal Setting – The test for the individual’s potential.  It’s actually the next logical step.  By the time they get to this level, they are either already a black belt or about to be a black belt.  If we have done our job effectively, they are curious about how awesome they could be and will be self-motivated to explore their own potential.

A high number of our black belts (especially 2nd degree black belt level) seek out honors level academic courses in their Jr. High and High school grades.

‘I am on the cutting edge of my personal evolution’ Anon.

Courtesy – IAMA Value #3

Level One – Courtesy towards leaders (those in authority).  This covers parents, teachers and coaches as well as those that are higher rank.

Level Two – Courtesy towards Peers (friends and classmates).  This covers social skills.

Level Three – Courtesy towards Subordinates (those lower in rank or younger than you).  This covers those that are lower rank or age than the student.

Brief explanation –
We expect our students to be nice to all people…especially towards leaders (parents, teachers and coaches).  This is the FIRST thing we establish at IAMA.  The process goes like this:  We establish rapport to put the beginning student at ease.  Then we tell them the rules.  We are incredibly lenient in the beginning.  As they progress in rank, we buckle down and start issuing the pushups or various other consequence oriented tasks as they break the rules.  Our tone changes, our facial expressions change and our body language changes.  We establish that we care about the student earning stripes and getting new belts then make sure that they understand that WE decide who progresses and who doesn’t. 

We do NOT create courtesy/respect based on fear because it affects performance and stifles potential.  We want them to be risk takers…respectful and nice risk takers that understand boundaries set by thoughtful leaders.

Level two courtesy is where the student learns to interact physically and mentally with other students.  They learn to respect other student’s space.  They learn when to invade that personal space (sparring) and when not to invade it (patterns and drill work).  We teach students that there is a time and place for everything and we teach them what behavior is appropriate and what behavior is not.

Level three courtesy is when the student gets closer to black belt and takes on more of a leadership role.  We allow them to help teach others and help to establish patience and strong communication skills.  This concept of ‘giving back’ completes the cycle of understanding courtesy at IAMA.

Decision Making – IAMA Value #4

Level One – The choice to comply (with the rules and protocols)

Level Two –The choice to Learn (seeking information to improve)

Level Three – The choice to excel (establishing the desire to well)

Brief Explanation-

“First give ME (the instructor) what I want and THEN I will give you what YOU want’ Mr. Wilkinson

We establish the boundaries at the beginner level.  Students refer to instructors as Mr. or Ms.  We also use the concept of ‘yes sir/mam or no sir/mam’.  Using formal leaders’ names like Mr. Wilkinson or Ms. Wilkinson creates a separation between student and teacher.  It makes a statement that I am your leader/instructor/mentor and you are the student.  Responding with ‘yes sir/mam’ establishes a contract that must be upheld.  In other words, when a student responds with ‘yes sir’, it means that the student heard the command and will comply.  We establish this in the beginning from white- Sr. yellow belt.  When they respond to us, they are engaged. 

‘When you say ‘yes sir’ to me, it means that you heard me and understand what I want.  If you don’t do what I tell you (after you responded to me), I get to give you pushups.  YOU are in control of your martial arts class experience.  Do good, get good.  Do bad, get bad’.  It’s YOUR choice.” Mr. Wilkinson

Level two – One of the greatest lines from a movie is from ‘Evan Almighty’.  There was a scene where Morgan Freeman (who plays god) is talking with Evan’s wife.  He asked, “If someone prays for patience, does God give them patience? Or does he give them an opportunity to have patience?”…he goes on and asks the same questions about courage and family.  That scene is the basic idea behind what we do at IAMA to encourage students to WANT to learn.  We put them in supervised situations that ‘give them an opportunity’ to WANT to improve.  We use tournaments, belt tests, stripes, sparring and other ‘obstacles’ to create these opportunities.  Opportunities where the student has to choose to between improving or giving up.  The instructors of IAMA are highly skilled at creating these ‘Pivot Points’ and being there to guide students to make the right choice.

Repeating this process over and over again all the way to black belt becomes a habit of success and correct decision making and gives students a ‘frame of reference’ to draw from when faced with other obstacles in life.

Level three – This is, again, when the student gets closer to black belt and has already established a history of making good choices.  Because they understand the process of growth and learning, they tend to start making good choices without being prompted to.

Sucking it Up - IAMA Value #5

Life is full of moments where we all feel tired, weak, agitated, hurt, depressed and any of a myriad of emotions.  Still we have to go to work and take care of business and do what is expected.  Sucking it up is just part of life.

Impact America Martial Arts starts ‘suck it up’ training around green belt level.  We use a variety of ways to get the point across.  We use sparring…we use incredibly difficult work outs…we use the technique of setting up situations that are NOT ‘fair’ in the eyes of the student.  Then we teach them the magical phrase ‘suck it up’.  Before earning a black belt, every student learns that phrase.  That phrase is important in studying combat.  There is NO part of combat or self-defense that is ‘fair’.  AND in a self-defense situation, one needs to be able to suck it up and keep trying to defend oneself until the threat is over or until the defender can escape. 

“Just because you are crying or bleeding, doesn’t mean the fight is over.  You have to suck it up and keep going until you get away.’  Mr. Wilkinson

Pain Tolerance – IAMA Value #6

This sounds harsh but again students have to learn to deal with discomfort for several reasons.

1.        If they ever get injured and need to tell doctors or moms/dads what hurts, they have to stay calm and deal with the pain and still be able to talk.  They have to be able to explain where they are experiencing the discomfort so that they aren’t misdiagnosed.

2.       It’s not about how hard you can hit.  It’s your ability to bounce back from being hit that saves your life.

3.       You have to be able to deal with discomfort just to get through this life.  You have to tolerate it and keep plugging along.
We work on this concept by stretching, sparring (which are both physical) and by sometimes setting up rules that are ‘unfair’ OR by asking students to perform in front of the class (which is mental).

We don’t actually ‘hurt’ students but we do give them an understanding of being able to deal with discomfort.

‘Pain is Fear leaving the body’ – Military quote

NOTE:  This blog will be broken into 3 parts.  There are 18 character traits that we constantly focus on.  I will be posting the others over the next 2 weeks.

If you would like to get involved with this kind of Life Skills training, click the link below to start the journey.

April 18, 2014