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Friday, September 11, 2009


Today I finally passed by belt test. I am officially a green belt.

Why care, you ask?

This belt has been a tough one for me. In my karate school, you can only pass onto the next belt after you demonstrate reasonable mastery of all the previous belt skills. This means you have to not only learn the current belt skills, but remember through practice all the previous ones.

This journey continually reminds me of learning math. As an algebra teacher, I know that all the arithmetic skills and concepts come together to form the generalize math patterns we commonly call Algebra. Some students go along studying math like isolated topics, or, perhaps, their teachers have failed to transmit the idea that many math topics grow out of previous ones. You can't as effectively study addition of unlike fractions, for example, without a strong background in multiplication and division of whole numbers. Likewise, many core ideas of a classic algebra course, such as the meaning of slope or factoring of quadratic expressions, become difficult if not impossible without a reasonably strong foundation in arithmetic with fractions.

So in some sense, I relate my struggles with my GREEN belt with struggles I see my students have with ALGEBRA. There are certain core movements in karate that started at the lowest belt and have been incorporated in increasingly more complex fashions in later belts. Some of those foundations I learned superficially and have deepened my understanding through practice. Others I have avoided because I found them difficult or tedious in the lower belt. This avoidance, though, has come back to bite me when I need to draw on those skills in later belts.

So, while I am happy to have finally passed the belt test, I know I am only part way along my long karate journey. As my karate professor always says: it is not the destination, but rather the journey that counts. If I have learned anything this time around, I hope it is to do my homework, practice all my belt levels constantly, and never avoid something simply because it is more difficult than other things.

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