Martial Musings #2: That Remedial Class

In this series, I share insights and experiences I’ve had through the years in both my own karate training and in my teaching. Hopefully you’ll find something that is not only interesting, but useful in some way, shape, or form.

Most of you know that my degree is in Mechanical Engineering, and before I made the dojo my full-time vocation, I was a manufacturing engineer at [a local] ammunition plant and a new product development engineer at [a local fire-protection and suppression company].  What you probably don’t know is this small but significant fact: sometime between 1st and 3rd grades, I was a remedial math student. 


black schoolboy solving math examples on whiteboard in classroom

During those early elementary years, like a lot of kids, I had problems understanding the basics of addition, subtraction, and possibly multiplication and division, and needed a little extra help. I actually don’t recall much about that remedial class, other than it took place in a small room apart from my regular classroom.  I can sort of recall the face of the teacher, but I don’t remember her name.  I had to go to her class once or twice per week, and I didn’t really want to.  I didn’t like it, and I’m sure I felt bad about having to even be in such a class. But that class and that teacher, because of the emphasis on the basics, made all the difference. 

Without her patience and dedication, and emphasis on the basic principles, I probably wouldn’t have been selected for the gifted program years later, and I certainly wouldn’t have been able to take advanced math classes in junior high and high school.  Without a strong foundation of math basics, engineering, because all of the calculus classes, and the differential equations and linear algebra classes, and the applied math used in engineering courses, would have been totally out of the question.  Without a working understanding of the basics, the advanced is all but impossible. 

Now, As Then

Through the years I’ve read or heard first hand the words of karate masters and masters of other martial arts styles, and they all agree: a deep understanding of kihon (fundamental principles, aka basics) is the key to mastery.  Mastery is our goal; this is why sometimes it may seem as if we are doing remedial karate, constantly studying the fundamental principles through basic technique training. I’ve seen and experienced for myself the difference between those who study and train the basics and those who do not. That difference is oftentimes a stark contrast that separates the “highly advanced” or “high-level” students and instructors, from the “pretty good” or the “average”.  As with math, science, and engineering, without a working understanding of the basics, advanced karate is all but impossible. 

Though I no longer work in the engineering field, I’m still very much a science and engineering nerd, as pretty much all of you know. I enjoy studying natural patterns and creating equations and spreadsheets to solve problems, yes, usually just for the fun of it. I also love to relate a lot of my karate teaching and training to physics, physiology, and other relevant sciences. My life would have been very different if not for a mom and teachers who knew what was best for me, even when it was uncomfortable for me. 

Future, As Now

As a teacher of our art, I have the privilege and the responsibility of helping kids, youth, and adults develop a deep understanding of the basics, the foundational, fundamental principles.  Basics, basics, basics is the way to go; this sometimes unexciting, sometimes uncomfortable training method is easily translatable to other areas of life, bringing mastery of pretty much anything, math, karate, etc, well within the dedicated student’s grasp.  

So, press on, my fellow remedial students, press on!


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