In my Twitter world, I am @pepepacha. My focus in the Twitterverse tends to be professional (i.e. education) unless certain political or social topics bite me (like Prop 8 banning same sex marriage). One string of messages I send out to my Tweeple deal with lessons I have learned in my Karate School that apply to my job as a Middle School Math Teacher. There have been many, but tonight I am thinking of the role that self esteem and perceived confidence your instructor has in your ability to improve.
I have been studying karate for 1.5 years and have been moving through the belts at the expected pace (just behind my son). Mondays are devoted to learning Kata (which are the all the routines) and Wednesday to sparring (application of Kata, at least in theory).
I am horrible at sparring.
At first I did not even want to try it. I am not learning Karate as a self defense art. I have never been in a fight in my entire life.
But there was increasing pressure for me to take up sparring and stay with the rest of the class. The first month I was allowed to be horrible, to shy away from punches and show fear, because I was new. Somewhere down the line, it became a running joke to see me sparring and in fact, that was ok with me as I was not terribly invested in learning greater skills.
But as I progress in my belts, it has seemed to me that I should also be improving in sparring. I have felt increasing tension from within as I reflexively shy away from the punches instead of blocking them or step backwards in retreat rather than forward in attack. A few memorable punches have left me injured after a class and limping around for several days afterwards.
Recently, I have started to come to class with a single focus. Today I will not turn away. Today I will do a double punch instead of retreat. Today I will try to kick a little more. The problem is that this single mindedness does not help a whole lot in sparring as my opponents possess so many more skills that I that when I focus on one, they use another and wipe me out.
About three weeks ago I noticed that the Karate Professor had perhaps given up on me. He used to tell me to focus, to watch for the left punch, or to celebrate the little things that I did right. He stopped doing so and instead just kind of laughed it off.
To be honest, it is comical, but as of late, I am not feeling the laughter to be helpful.
I tell myself that at 46 years old, I don't have to worry what others think or why I choose to do the activities that I do. I took up karate at a later age. I have proven myself capable of keeping up with the basic curriculum. I enjoy the Kata and the challenge of learning the new routines. I enjoy my classmates as well.
But I hate sparring and try as I may, I don't manage to apply the Monday lessons to the Wednesday practice.
And the fact that the Karate Professor may be seeing me as a lost case does bother me still after all these years.
The thought in my head is a combination of congratulating myself for persevering while at the same time questioning my ability to improve even in small increments in the sparring arena. Most of all, I am trying to tease out why I feel I need some modicum of teacher confidence in my ability to move forward.
So the lesson I am pondering this evening is who of my students in my 7th and 8th grade math classes feel the same about themselves in my class as I do on Wednesday Karate class. More importantly, what can I do to celebrate the little successes they have.