Sunday, October 24, 2010

Japanese kindergarten

Last week we decided to move our 4 year old son Ray from international kindergarten to Japanese kindergarten, called Hills Gakuen. Crazy you say? Cost was not the issue, but a lot of other factors were.

It is not that I am against international schools. in fact, we put our oldest, George, into international schools the whole way, and he is now at Yokohama International School, the top international school in Japan. I fully expect to send Ray there from grade 1 onward.

For example, many people feel the Japanese elementary school system focuses too much on rote, at the expense of creativity and individualism, and the students turn out to be cookie cutter worker ants, mindlessly obeying Japanese protocol, incapable of free thought, and doomed to work soullessly in the hive until they are replaced by the next batch.

your average Japanese office worker?

Hmmm...I don't entirely disagree. However, when it is done right, the Japanese kindergarten system is an amazing thing. Instead of trying to force children to memorize without understanding, it promotes learning through music and movement, repetition and pattern, and allows kids to be what they are - kids. Kids have boundless energy, and rather than chastise them for not sitting in their chairs all day long, a good kindergarten lets them use their bodies as learning tools - incorporating songs, dances, drills, and other play to get children to want to learn and understand. this physicality will help their bodies develop and form the foundation of good health for the rest of their lives. This approach is far better than showing that they can do worksheets just like their older siblings.

In kindergarten, I think it is most important that children enjoy school, not that they sit and do endless worksheets of letters and numbers. The most important practice they can have for elementary school is SOCIAL, not academic. This means that they should develop the habits of getting along in groups, playing well together, and being polite. Practicing a bit of tooth brushing after meals/snacks and washing hands after restroom is good, too. In a Japanese kindergarten, there will already be a class leader, whose job is to help all the students master the required skills and get along together. This is a step of maturity for the boy or girl who is ready to look after the others, and starts them on the right path of being responsible for the success of others, which is a key leadership attribute.

Far too often the international kindergartens, under pressure from overachiever parents, want to show that the 4 and 5 year old students can write letters and numbers and do worksheets. I personally think that is OK for some kids, but not nearly as good as having the kids enjoy school, have fun, and develop strong core social skills. Music and art should be learned by doing, and their bodies should be as active as possible. Letters (and worksheets) can come later.

In short, I am very glad we found such a good Japanese kindergarten. It offers good social training, active learning, and a lot of fun for the students. it's perfect.

What does this mean in the context of martial arts (this is a martial arts blog, after all)?

Practicing forms and forms and forms is not a substitute for being able to fight, and nor is it a proxy for the critical character development that good expression in the martial arts helps develop in all of us. Even if we never get into an actual fight (and I hope none of us ever have to), we can use the character development, energy and respectfulness we learn in the dojo EVERY SINGLE DAY.

Teach your children well. Don't settle for second best.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Unemployment Benefits

On September 4 I lost my job.

It was amicable, inevitable, and in retrospect probably for the best for the company and myself.

Over the past few weeks, I have had to adjust to a new lifestyle of being out of work. Here are the main benefits I found:

1) more sleep
I was probably getting 5-6 hours a night before. It wasn't enough. Moreover, I felt tired all the time, and that had an effect on my overall energy levels, my mood, and my relationships. I was exhausted. Now I am getting closer to 8 a night, and sometimes the odd afternoon nap as well. I just FEEL better. get enough sleep. It helps.

2) Control Over My Diet
Toward the end, I was not eating particularly badly. light brekkie, moderate lunch, moderate dinner. The real issue was accessibility. Because of the 7-11 in the basement of the building, I came to use them (and their processed, prepackaged mayhem) a lot more than I should have. I cook more and eat much better now, and it shows.

3) Training
Exercise makes a huge difference. I am in the gym almost every day now and rather than making me feel tired, it has the opposite effect. By training (not over-training) I feel more energetic and generally better about myself and my life. Regular exercise is an essential part of being happy.

4) Relationships
I have time to take George to the bus every morning and walk Ray to and from school. We eat dinner together at home as a family every night. My wife and I go to and from the gym together. I help the kids with their homework. WE TALK. This has really helped me to reconnect with my family. When a typical day at work started by getting up at 5 am, getting to work at 7am, getting home at 8-9pm, during the week I hardly ever saw them. I need this time. I love it. We feel like a family again.

5) Stress
I thought I would be really stressed out about being unemployed, but I'm not. I know I will have to get back to the routine at some point, but I don't dwell on it. I am enjoying the moment and taking it as a rare opportunity; a rare gift. My stress levels are very low and I feel great.

Working or not, the above are important facets of a happy life to bear in mind. The goal is always BALANCE, so that we can have sustainability and longevity. I hope I can keep these lessons even after I start back at work someday.

Until then, see you on the mats.

Friday, October 08, 2010

Getting Angry

I was reading somewhere that anger wins more fights than any training. Anger, Rage, FURY, SAVAGERY. It's probably true.

When you stop to think about it, giving in to the rage within can make all the difference. On any given day, in any given situation between two people - the angrier one often wins.

This is not what you find in classic martial arts textbooks, especially those which espouse philosophy. However, in real situations, tapping into your primal killer instincts, without remorse, can make the difference between life and death.

I do not like to fight. I LOVE martial arts, but that is precisely because I abhor violence. I think everyone should develop the confidence, discipline and self-control not to use violence to resolve conflicts. In any altercation I will choose to talk it out, if not, to walk away. However, if given no other alternative, I want to be able to unleash every ounce of rage within me, especially if that will help protect my life, or the lives of my loved ones.

Our training must make this a last choice, but a choice that is available if no other choice exists.

I have met my share of good martial artists that lack the "killer instinct", which is that ability to disconnect mercy or reason and deliver the knockout (or worse) when required. I am not sure if or how this can be developed, but for martial artists I consider it a necessary component of the training, since without it you will fail when you need it most.

I agree in daily life this is not needed, but it is a lot like fire insurance.

You may never need it, but if you do, you are likely to need it pretty damned badly.

what do you think?

"give in to your anger..."