5 Stupid Things All Karate Learners Should Avoid… Today!

Warning: The following post is a rant. Hormones and everything.

Now and then people ask me what I work with.

You know, what I do for a living.

“Omigosh, you must have a great boss that lets you go to all these awesome Karate tournaments and adventures, Okinawa, Japan, training camps, yadda yadda…”

Because, surely, Karate can’t be my job? You can’t work with something as wacky as jumping around in a white pajama, screaming stuff in pseudo-Japanese, pretending to be on a battlefield… can you?

Can you?

You can.

Because I do work with Karate.

(And all the stuff that comes with it…)

Many people do. I’m not special.

Luckily, I’m one of those people that have the privilege of working with something I actually like. Well, most of the time at least. It’s fun. Sometimes even really fun. Teaching both kids and adults. Training myself.

But… some stuff really grinds my gears.

I mean, some stuff that students occasionally do.

Stuff that we ALL occasionally do, when learning.

So, I thought I would simply make that stuff public here, for all learners (not only of Karate!) who want to make sure that they’re really connecting with their teacher and making the best out of every class. Because, if you ask me, what makes or breaks a class is always that connection between teacher and student.

And that connection is fragile…

See, most teachers – whether in regular school, your dojo, the downtown yoga studio or neighborhood community centre – are driven by something else than pure salary. Most likely they didn’t choose to teach because of the possibilities of making big bucks, or having a nice yacht, because those possibility are slim.

No, they chose to teach because they consider it a “calling”.

A strong inner conviction.

While most people who work at McDonalds, Starbucks or Domino’s might not give a flying a$$ about making the best hamburgers, caffè lattes or pizzas; a techer is diametrically opposite.

They care.

More than your next door salesman.

That’s why they became teachers.

It’s a job, sure.

It gets them food on the table, yeah

But it’s more than that.

It’s about establishing a connection with students to ultimately guide them in a process of growing both inside and outside of the classroom, dojo, yoga studio or wherever else you might be teaching. Any teacher worth his/her salt takes this connection super duper seriously. In fact, they think about it most of the time.

So, with that being said, let me now show you five quick and easy ways to instantly and totally ruin that connection.

I hope you never find yourself doing any of what I’m about to reveal.

Please forgive me if I am about to sound like a total dojo nazi:

#1: You Stop Practising When Your Sensei Comes.

This is completely mind. Blowing.

And ill. Ogical.

But it happens all the time!

So, as a Karate teacher, I walk around the dojo inspecting the students, right. Looking for strategical places of improvement (errors), checking that everyone knows how to do techniques, making sure that they sweat, scream a little, poke a little, demonstrate a little… you know, the usual.

But now and again, somebody will stop.

They’ll take a “break”.

And, for some reason, the best time to take a break seems to be when I’m standing right in front of them – ready to actually look at them.

It’s always as strange.

Like, picture me standig there, all silent – and the student standing there, all silent. Then I walk away, and don’t return to that student for the rest of class. You had your chance, sport.

“God forgives”, I don’t.

Now, I don’t know about you, but when I’m in Japan and a teacher is giving me his full attention, if just for a couple of seconds, I will always make sure I don’t waste our time by “resting”. Never. Personally, my ego is not inflated enought to pull that off with a straight face. And it doesn’t matter where in the world you are, Japan, Sri Lanka or Peru.

Also, I frankly don’t care how “tired” you are.

You can ALWAYS do just one more.

Rest when your teacher has walked over to the next student… if you really must “rest”.

Because your teacher doesn’t do this for the money.

But you’re making him/her reconsider.

#2: You Forget What You’ve Been Taught.

You’ve forgotten some tiny detail on some obscure technique. So what.

Big deal.

  • You’ve forgot a whole friggin’ kata though?
  • You’ve forgot a whole super awesome kumite combination though?
  • You’ve forgot a whole series of bunkai to some kata though?
  • You’ve forgot some history stuff your sensei told you thought?

Last name Acceptable, first name Un.

If your sensei has decided to take some of not only his, but all of the other students’, precious time – to personally teach you something; you’d better remember it.

Like, forever.

Video film it. Take pictures. Take notes.

Whatever the heck you do, you do not forget it.

You simply don’t.

Because, not only does that tell your teacher that his/her teachings aren’t valued higher than cheap entertainment (which you can, and perhaps should, forget), but it slows your own progress.

Personally, if I was to forget something that, say, one of my sensei in Okinawa taught me, I would never go back unless I was absolutely sure I remembered it perfectly – and preferably had improved to some extent.

Otherwise I wouldn’t be worthy of learning anything new, would I?

So what’s the point of going back to class, just to embarrass myself along with everyone (sensei, sempai) who believe(d) in me?

Don’t disrespect your teacher by forgetting what he/she taught you.

Because your teacher doesn’t do this for the money.

But you’re making him/her reconsider.

 #3: You’re Not Putting In Effort.

Now, obviously you should always put in some effort. That’s a given.

(Otherwise, what’s the point of training?)

But… there’s several levels of effort.

And, depending on how serious your instructor takes this whole Karate teaching stuff, his/her level of commitment (which needs to match your level of effort) might vary from time to time.

So your job is to constantly monitor it.

Call me weird, but to me a teacher is like a conductor – conducting an orchestra.

As a student, you’re a player. Instrument = fists.

Thus, if your sensei goes “HAIYAA! TEN PUSHUPS AND FIFTY KICKS!” like a maniac, screaming on top of his/her lungs, you’d better do those pushups and kicks like there’s no tomorrow.

Conversely, if your sensei gently whispers in your ear that you need to twist your opponents hand just a liiiiittle bit more to elicit a more effective pain withdrawal response, you’d better do it calmly with control.

Listen, and adjust.

A good teacher will, just like a good conductor, vary the intensity, duration and direction of his teachings constantly throughout the lesson in order to not only maximize the amount of information processed by the students at that very moment, but more importantly to provide a unique learning experience each class, thereby making the students become even more excited to learn more and more and more and more. And more.

So listen, look, and try to feel what level of effort your sensei is seeking from you at every monent.

Most likely, it will not be what he/she was seeking ten minutes ago.

Put in that effort.

Because your teacher doesn’t do this for the money.

But you’re making him/her reconsider.

#4: You’re Yawning. Arms Probably Crossed Too.

Some people would argue that martial arts is all about control.

I agree.

Controlling the situation, controlling one’s environment, controlling an opponent… and most importantly controlling oneself.

Not only the mind, but bodily functions too.

Especially those that send the following message:

“I’m bored. I’m tired. I’m not interested. I’d rather be somewhere else. I know this already. I wonder what’s for dinner tonight.”

Because that’s exactly what yawning and standing with your arms crossed does.

It is my firm belief that the instant your sensei sees you shoot off a huge yawn, his/her mood drops straight to the ground… and will most likely not be found for the rest of the class.

If the teacher is professional, you won’t really notice it though.

See, I’m not trying to brainwash you, or change you for that matter. I’m not even trying to help you. (I’m actually an asshole). I’m just trying to let you know that by letting your inner caveman shine through – by yawning and/or standing with your arms crossed etc. – you’re essentially ripping apart that connection of mutual interest between teacher and student.



But it doesn’t have to be that way.

“Can you not control your body?”, I ask. Stop the yawning. Let your arms hang to the sides. Be neutral, and open. Don’t try to look overly excited, that just creeps people out. Be normal, look normal, act normal. Whatever normal looks like. It’s just Karate class, chill out. Wake up. Head up, eyes open.

You’re here to learn, and nobody is forcing you. So stop acting like it.

Because your teacher doesn’t do this for the money.

But you’re making him/her reconsider.


That’s what grinds my gears for today.

So… am I an overly sensitive wuss? Am I a frickin’ dojo nazi?

Probably both.

The “bad” news is, your sensei might just be too.


  • clark
    THANK YOU FOR POSTING THIS...6 of us started as white belts...3 1/2 years later im the only brown belt, some left, and some just come for excersise...and some...forget the kata and bunkai, which i find really anoying. After our Sensei spending years teaching us stuff they just throw it all away and they have to learn it again for one class, then they probably forget it all over again...im going to make them read this and see if they catch on.....sorry started ranting >.>
  • Dave
    Jesse-san, as a returning student after 10-12 years, i find it amazing how things have changed. admittedly its mostly juniors that are "guilty", but what amazes me is the amount of ill disciplined chatter that breaks out amongst these early teen/late "tweeny" students right up and down the kyu grades. occasionally one can enjoy a laugh with Sensei, particularly when training becomes a bit sado-masochistic! but seriously the lack of inner control we seem to have bred in this generation staggers me! i know this makes me sound old (42) and perhaps i am, but respect for one's sensei, their experience, knowledge and commitment to imparting it on us is surely very very very important... i tell my own kids (started training this year with me)that the first lesson that comes along with basic techniques is controlling themselves both body and mind...thats my 2 cents worth. Dave
    • boban.alempijevic
      I am only 32 and I can so understand where you are coming from mate. We have few teenagers though that have that self discipline, I only hope that rest of them would look up to those kids are learn from them. But it does not help that these few ones are the best ones out of all teenagers, the rest simply cant calm them selves unless one of us older ones tell them to!
  • Stu
    Where did number 5 go?
    • Number 5 is this comment field... ...stupid questions! :)
  • boban.alempijevic
    2 weeks ago I grinding my body like there was no tomorrow. I had done so for a month only to better my self. It took me to a place where my body was screaming and breaking down. Like I mean truly breaking down.. Lower back ( Spine L5 ) got totally stuck, right shoulder feels like its good way to a frozen shoulder. Well that is me, going on like a mad house with only having my willpower forcing me forward. My brain had shut down and I was swetting like mad and aparently my face had been totaly white due to the pain in my body. Then we end the session with pairing up and doing a kata of our own while the other person is watching. I managed to mix up Heian Yondan with Heian Godan and could almost not stand on my feets. That was 2 weeks ago. I have trained thoose katas untill I thought of quitting allmost due to the share shame I felt there. Sensei asked me if I was once again destroying my body and when he heard ordered me to take a week off from practice. Still does not help, I am still ashamed and next time its kata time I will pull thoose katas out of my ass if I need to but they will GOD damit be the best Heian Yondan and Godan there IS! Sensei is sensei, he is like a second father. On top of that my sensei is a teacher for troubled kids, so yeah I KNOW he cares...makes it even worse for me :(
  • NewBudo (Frik Willemse)
    If there is one thing that totally ticks me off it's when students stand in class with their arms crossed while you explain something to them! Great article Jesse-san. Greetings.
    • Jim
      I somewhat agree with Frik. It really isn't the act of standing like that. It is more of a proper "etiquette" thing. It may appear disrespectful to some traditionalists. When I was a student, we stood with our hands behind or backs as a sign of respect and humility.
  • Tommy
    I disagree with the crossed arms, sure it might, as you say, send out a signal of 'not giving a damn', but I'm willing to bet money that it's not what they actually mean when they stand like that. I often stand with both my legs and arms crossed because that is a comfortable position, no other reason, don't know if I do it in the dojo during training though...but I wouldn't be surprised if I did... With all that being said, I think I understand the feeling of being the teacher in the middle of a crowd with crossed arms, you might feel like they don't give a damn or are very judgemental or whatever, but I don't think one should presume that to be the case.
    • Sure, it might be really cold as well... :)
      • Dom
        Is it too cold in the Dojo, you practice not hard enough... : (Why didn't write someone else this here in all these years? :o)
  • There are one more thing when some students get sad if they don´t learn a new technique in every training. They don´t understand that they can´t and they not need either learn a new kick or punch or kata etc in every training. Sometimes the sensei see that they need train more that they already "can" to be better in that, or sensei just like to see their reaction and if they stil are there after some weeks without any new technique...If they are serious they just continue the training and trust that sensei know what he/she are doing but if they are not that serious they maybe training less and maybe even stop the training or looking what some other dojos/styles/senseis are doing if that might be more interesting.
  • Igor
    You forgot: dont eat stuff that gives you gas before going to dojo :D
    • boban.alempijevic
      ..... I think MOST of us have done that one.... at some point... Luckily that happened only once for me as a teenager... I learned my lesson :D
    • Stu
      I thought that was just my excess of Ki escaping?
  • Szilard
    1) This resting during class must be a local phenomenon in the subculture you live in Jesse san. On the other hand I have seen dojos where the they stop and turn towards the sensei when he approaches, and this is about respect. Their sensei apparently doesn't have to walk up close to spot the errors, and when he comes close he wants something. 2)You will forget what you learn. When you think you remember, you always remember a modified version. The only time you will ever remember right will be when your sensei screwed it up, and deeply wishes everyone forgot that particular move. You have to learn over and over again the same things. And so the same thing comes over and over again in the new katas. There is even a little science encompassing this phenomenon. And you wrote about it too in one of your blog entries. 3) I guess, no matter what the title of the section is, this really means here: "LISTEN!", yeah, I agree, however a problem for me as an educator is that when my students listen they might just listen to the wrong thing and miss the important ones. Like here in this 3rd point I bet some people listened and thought it is about more effort not about being smarter. Listening is a high IQ skill. If someone has less than 200, there is a lot of teacher's responsibility in how effective the listening will be. 4) I always thought yawning was because of some kind of metabolic fault. I myself never cared about it much. If the kids start to yawn, they just need some quick exercise to get the oxygen moving in their body. Like see how many pushups can they do in a minute. That usually does the trick. So I think it is not a discipline issue, more class planing issue. Not a student problem but a teacher problem. Once I had to give a 2 hour lecture for minority students on matrix eigenvector calculation and its application on Markovian models of habitat mosaics. Of course I couldn't make them do pushups, but there are other tools for similar effects. When they yawned it was clearly because of a structural error in the lecture. I think the same thing goes for karate classes. If they yawn, you failed too.
  • Dan
    I just read GodSzilard's comment and his 2 cents on the 4th Stupid Thing made me remember the first time I yawned in middle of training. Sensei looked at me, then pointed at the floor. "10 pushup", he said, in his kinda-uruguayan-accent. I'm a dude on his teens that does (or did, hehe) at least that every night, so no problem. Then... "Next time, 100." Let's say I didn't yawn for a very, very long time. :)
  • Sebastian
    I read this, and instantly realized I have done ALL in that list. SEVERAL. TIMES. That equals embarrassment and an eyeopener. To my defense I must say: I never have my arms crossed because I do not want to learn, I love to learn karate! I yawn because I'm tired, that's not an excuse, but I still want to learn. Let's skip the part about forgetting stuff ;). I believe I put in effort most of the time, but I know that can lack in me... I have NEVER before thought of the "stop when sensei watches" phenomena, but I know why it happens, I don't want my sensei to see my faults. I know my sensei wants me to develop, so I don't want to dissapoint. Then I subconsciously think it's better to show nothing, since I will not dissapoint. Conclusion: Most of these faults are due to pure laziness, but forgetting is human, and having your arms crossed is a way to rest your arms, it's not necessarily a way to distance yourself from learning.
  • Leo
    Sorry Jesse, I basically like this rant. Crossing arms and yawning sends the message of boredom because people are always reciting this myth. Psychological fact is that crossing arms is a sign of attention - "your turn". Yawning is a natural reaction of the body not only in states of tiredness. While I argree that practising control is favourable, I must say that perceive your body also is. In fact it seems like the crossed-arms-paradigm is not about control, but about teachers narcissism who are addicted to perceive signs of submission by their students. Disgusting.
  • Theodore
    I agree with your points Jesse, but, if you don't like teaching these people - then either tell them (maybe that is why this rant is here, if so, my mistake) or stop teaching them? The insults fly when I am teaching - from me calling them retarded to them cursing at me, but there is a ton of respect in the air....respect and stress. Like Leo said, how they stand may not be the best indicator of attention - you need to know your students (and I'm sure you do) and realize they will do things different from you. As for people not trying. Why get upset over it? That is their own decision and part of their own journey through Karate. If you want to change it, again talk to them. If they don't want to listen - focus on the people who do? I can't speak on Japanese based Karate systems, but old Okinawan Karate was heavily based on being at peace in your own mind - ie...not being mad at people over them not doing what you want lol. I don't want to sound all negative, it was a great article Jesse and I think you made a lot of people think about the [stupid] things they do in class sometimes. Thanks for your insight - and rant away, a good rant tends to be more from the heart anyway ;)
  • Greg
    Just had to say, loved it ! And especially the connection between teaching and conducting. Mainly because that's what I do for a living - I teach instruments and conduct kids in band. Then I teach Karate in my 'spare' time ! I teach mostly wind instruments and it is amazing how much 'cross training' there is between the music teaching and the karate teaching !
  • Dave
    Regarding the crossed arm/yawning comments; yes it might be cold/people might be tired etc, but most would agree i'm sure that there are some cultural aspects to our art. we use japanese terminology we wear gi we bow to each other as a sign of respect other cultural signs of respect (i'm pretty sure) are not yawning and standing with ars crossed whilst recieving instructionm (someone who's actually trained in Japan might want to comment) i think this is a cultural crossover question rather thatn one regarding the integrity or implied capability of the instructor. Dave
  • We don't allow students to cross their arms while standing in the dojo or in front of 'Sensei' . We learnt this the hard way of course while our Japanese Sensei was visiting one year! He considered it rather disrespectful and made us run and do push ups till our arms hung because we couldn't lift them
  • Andi
    I know the guy who did these five no-no's!
    • Jeanette Ren
      Thank you for sharing this video (V sauce is always cool). I recently started with Karate training (in a tropical country), and though I frequently exercised before (3 times a week either running or weight lifting), I only started yawning during my Karate practice. I really do not mean disrespect and I wish I could change it, but it starts almost immediately while warming up and only goes away after 1,5 hours of training. I am now trying to change that through breathing exercises I picked up during Yoga years ago, but could not resolve it yet.
  • Roy Lewis
    I have fidgety hands I have crossed my arms to help control them during church, hockey practice and yes during training in the dojo. I am giving my undivided attention when I do this but. Know what kind of signal crossing the arms gives off so I try not to do it or at least get caught doing it.. Now my sensai alwaysgets a good laugh when he cones by during training because I will always mess up and laugh he will reply your were doing well till I approached.
  • Rodney
    I'm all for respect in the dojo, but it needs to be a two way street. I've taught a lot, and I've also had an instructor who was a stickler (nice way of putting it) for some of these details. Many kids need to learn self-control and self-discipline, but these days if someone tried to exert control over me by telling me what I can do with my arms or reprimand me, they might swallow some teeth. Treat adults like adults and try to avoid giving students special treatment because they have a connection with you. If you're a real Sensei, get rid of your ego and just teach.
  • I am trying real hard to prectace karate with my 5 year old daughter @ home, but she will do what I say only for a short while. then she will start blowing bubbles and off focus she starts me as a father I am frustrated about all this. Now she will listen to her teacher. what should I do for her to followmy commens
    • Rodney
      I'll give a bit of advice, even though you were probably asking Jesse. Since your daughter is obviously capable of respect and focus, you may need to help her understand that she needs to respect you by enforcing respect for you in everything (not just karate). You don't want karate to be an unpleasant experience for her, so train her to respect you in other areas. She's also five, so she may not be ready to devote her life to karate just yet lol. Try to find ways to make karate fun some of the time, while also using it to help her focus. Whatever the Gracie family does to get their kids into martial arts seems to work. It seems like they keep things pretty playful when they're young, while setting an example by your own training. They're also from a patriarchal culture of respect. Just my advice. I'm not an expert at parenting, but I've taught karate to lots of kids.
  • Rajimanilal
  • Graziela
    #4 is a thing that annoys me as an instructor the most. Like I said, teach kids. And when my sensei explains techniques, they have to sit next to wall and listen. Easy, right? But not for these kids. I understand it with the 5-year-olds, they still have to learn it. But an 8-year-old, which is in the class for 2 years should be able to just be quiet and listen, right? They talk to each other or "fight" with each other. And they do not pay attention. I can feel how it annoys and hurts my sensei, because he puts effort into the class and does't really have to explain it once, twice, three times. But he does. And these kids, sometimes 11 years old, talk like they are alone. That's disrespectful. If you talk during a break, ok, during warm-up, also ok, while doing a technique, may be ok. But while he explains something? not ok. And kids have to learn that. If their teacher or even their boss tells them something, they can't just start talking to someone. Some kids are angels and don't do that, but still, a lot do
  • Dave Bailey
    It has been when I've been going through bad times. Where Ive been exhausted but always felt better once in the dojo, my mind clearer. That I've had to do that awkward yawn without opening your mouth where your eyes feel like they might pop.
  • Michael
    I am lucky, both my Sensei and I work shift work, so often I am training with a huge sleep debt, he understands, if I feel a yawn, I turn around, yawn into my elbow, straighten my dogi and obi, turn back and into it again, Osu
  • I loved the rant!!! Spent 27 years out of the arts have been back at it now for 8 months as back then I love it, was always told as a child I never could do martial arts, having several minor disabilities one is a very mild form of cerebral palsy and bad inner ear problems so my balance is somewhat amiss at times but I try and work very hard at it, learned that to give back what I have attained and learned but it is very hard to do! I get out there and get going the heart starts pumping and the adrenaline gets flow and it’s HELL YEAH give me more of this stuff man!!!! Was always made fun of at school and at home by some family members was told I was to simple minded, to slow, to clumsy, etc so it was a every day sort of thing, spent many many many years thinking I was not good enough for anything but I have proved them all wrong!!!! Still have doubts at times but am crawling out of the hole(life is never fair, nor will it ever be fair) but at age 57 years old I still do it, I never ever quit never even take care of a special needs 24/7 son so on call 24/7 all by myself very rewarding job. Can give pointers on the technique’s but seems I am not a teacher my instructor had me do a form once to teach others students and my brain just went blank, tried it again and same thing, Never again has he asked me to demonstrate anything makes me feel bad as I want to give back what I have learned!! Even lower belts ask others about a technique and here I am a upper belt!!! I know the forms and technique’s but just can’t teach them but I will never stop trying!! Even asked my instructor if I doing my classmates any justice he said I was do them very great but still have my little doubts but will never stop trying!!! Thank you for the article!!!!

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