Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Developmental Diary: Part 2

How was Black Belt English created?

After deciding to teach my martial arts classes in English, I went to a local activity center and applied for a job to teach karate-do. The business looked over my resume and the interview seemed to go well, so it wasn’t long before I was contacted and informed I would be allow to start teaching a class there in July of 2008. Excited about my first opportunity to teach martial arts in Japan, I began forming my lesson plans.

July 13, 2008 was a red letter day for me. This was the day I started teaching karate-do in Japan, taking my first big step in making my dream come true. To my surprise, I found that most of the students present for the class were interested in learning karate-do more than English. This was good news to me, as I wanted the lesson to be focused on martial arts more than English. I simply wanted English to be a tool for communication – and for karate-do to be the heart of the lesson.

In time, my wife finished her contract at the study abroad center and we moved back to her family’s house (which was a better environment for our young son). Taking our savings from the bank, we invested the money in remodeling the small old house that stood next door. After a few months, we finally had the dojo (training hall) completed!

But what was I going to teach? Was I only going to teach martial arts?

This caused me to take some time and look over things a bit more carefully. I was an accomplished martial artist…I also had experience as an English teacher…I had been a college teacher and administrator…and I even had some of my creative writing material published in the gaming industry. Well – what did I enjoy doing? I loved teaching martial arts with a passion…I deeply enjoy communicating with Japanese people…and in my free time I enjoy strategy games of all kinds. How could this all fit together?

At this point I looked at my wife and thought about her accomplishments. She is fluent in English to the point she sounds like a native speaker and she even earned her college degree in the USA. She had come to the United States as a teenager to study English; but she ended up learning English by going to Cosmetology (beauty) school rather than ESL class (English as a Second Language). By deeply immersing herself in an activity she was interested in learning – but that required English language communication – she basically learned two things at the same time! She learned valuable skills – while communicating in English!

This gave me the inspiration to form the business around the activities that I enjoyed and had experience with. I would offer classes focused on an activity – and I would use English as the method of communication!

I would teach karate-do in English…I would play interesting games in English…I would offer college-like lectures in English (with advice and assistance about studying abroad)…And I would communicate with Japanese people in English (conversation classes).

I then needed to come up with a name. This required some careful thought. Action English! …That was already taken. English in Action! … No…Karate in English!... Well, I am offering more than just karate lessons…Black Belt English! Yeah!! When you achieve a black belt, you become an expert at something! Let’s call the business Black Belt English because students may be striving for a black belt in karate class or they may be trying to become experts in communicating in the English language!

Black Belt English …….. With its multiple-meanings, it sounded good to me.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Developmental Diary: Part 1

How did the idea of moving to Japan and teaching karate in English begin?

Back in 2007, my wife and I had good paying jobs in the United States; but we also had to deal with a great deal of stress. Inside, I felt unsatisfied in my work and this caused me to feel a bit depressed at times. It was nothing major, just a feeling that my life was on the wrong track. I had known for a long time what I wanted to do for a living (teach karate) but I had never found the right opportunity to make my dream come true.

Following the birth of our son, we knew it was a good time for a change. We wanted him to grow up in a safer environment with a stronger education system, and we also wanted to be able to spend more time with him during his formative years. I also wanted to take a chance on living my dream (to teach karate in Japan) and my wife was excited to help me as she had always wanted to run her own business. After my wife applied for a job in Japan working with American college students, we decided to wait and hope for the best.

After landing a new job at an international study abroad center in her home town, my wife and I quickly wrapped up our affairs in the USA and packed up all of our essentials. We made the big move and soon settled into an apartment on the first floor of the center. Disappointingly, the job required her to be on-call every single night of the year (just like my job in the USA--- insane I know) so her time with me and the newborn baby was minimal.

As she spent her hours in the office, I was either taking care of the little one or practicing karate outside in the Japanese garden that overlooked the lake. Practicing every day outside in the fresh air was wonderful, and my time with my son was priceless. I was also able to pull on my past experiences working in higher education administration and assist my wife with some of her more difficult and stressful situations.

Each morning I awoke, I imagined myself as a full-time martial arts instructor. I envisioned myself in my uniform, teaching a classroom full of Japanese students in the ways of karate-do. But one important thought kept invading my thoughts…I would have to teach things differently in Japan. I could not do things exactly the way I had done them in the USA. I would need to adapt and change. I would need to evolve and grow, both as a teacher and as a martial artist.

The first thing I decided to do was to teach all of my classes in English! No more using Korean like I had in the United States. And I would not replace the terms with Japanese. I would teach in English. I would teach an international martial arts system (combining karate-do, chuanfa, taekwondo, and hapkido/aikido) in an international language!!

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Karate in English - July 2010

Another successful rank test over the weekend for Black Belt English. For many students, this was their first time testing at our school. They gave their best efforts during the exam, and (like before) any errors that were made were small and corrected immediately by the students themselves.

Although many of the students had never studied any additional English outside the content shared in regular school, they followed my directions perfectly and without hesitation. My wife assisted me with some of the more complex explanations, but it is still quite impressive how much English the students have learned just by practicing the martial arts in our dojo. Such regular exposure to natural English has even caused a couple of students to enroll in our English conversation classes as well.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

20 things that describe Black Belt English

1. Results driven
2. At home atmosphere
3. Team teaching (for American and Japanese points of view)
4. Lessons designed for your life (lifestyle)
5. Speaking and doing in order to remember
6. No textbooks
7. No changing or turnover of the instructors
8. Teaching style meant to fill in the gaps left by Japanese education system
9. Teaching methods based on research and experience
10. Teachers are living examples of school’s philosophy (see below)
11. Teachers are accomplished martial artists
12. Teachers are fluent in English
13. Teachers are college educated in the USA
14. Teacher has had work published in the game industry
15. Classes taught by president
16. Teachers passionate about mission
17. Learn and use now – not later
18. Lessons created for students (not premade or from book)
19. No katakana English – learn foreign sounds and pronunciation
20. Learn authentic martial arts (with a long history and deep philosophy)

Sunday, April 25, 2010

April 2010 Belt Test for Karate in English Students!

On Sunday April 18, 2010 we held rank tests for our Karate in English students. We had ten students take the test, ranging from white to orange belt. Following and examination of the basics, I evaluated students on their progress in forms (kata), self-defense, and sparring.

All the students testing that day had worked very hard on their requirements so there were no surprises. Any mistakes made were very minor, and corrected immediately by the student (usually without me needing to say a word).

The high point of the rank test was the sparring, as students from different class times had the opportunity to spar with each other. The energy level was high and students displayed good control and strong fighting spirit.

To my students, I wish to say: Well done! We are very proud of you all!

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Open for one year!!

Black Belt English has been open for one year!!

I remember when our school was just an idea in our heads...But now it actually exists!!

We have learned a lot over the past year and we are so grateful for each and every one of our students.

Thank you for believing in us.

Thank you for your courage to try something new and different.

To our Karate in English students: Keep practicing! Keep working hard to make yourself stronger and more confident. Come to class early and study hard! Sweat, train, and develop your fighting spirit! Deepen your knowledge of the martial arts and find the ways to apply this wisdom to your life!

To our Play and Talk students: Keep up the good work! Work as a team! Use you character's skills and special abilities to help each other overcome the challenges! Try to use as much English as you can remember - it will only make your character stronger!!!!

To our English 4 You students: It is a fact that most Japanese people who study English cannot properly speak and understand English! Have the courage to be different! Come to class and be ready to talk! Be an active learner! Remember --- we do not use textbooks! WE create the class together! It's time to express yourself!!

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Korea Trip

On February 10, 2010 I flew to Korea to visit my retired teacher Grandmaster Kim Soo. He has decided to relocate from Texas to Busan, in order to introduce Chayan Ryu to his home country. I applaud this endeavor, as I believe this move will not only be good for my teacher - but also for the people of Korea. As many of his students in the United States can testify, Grandmaster Kim's knowledge and wisdom can change and improve lives.

Grandmaster Kim Soo and his niece Ceci were wonderful hosts. They took great care of me and did everything they could to show me a good time during my visit. We ate fantastic meals, toured the city, sang karaoke, and just sat and talked over hot tea and coffee.

One of the most special moments for me was when my teacher took the time to introduce me to a new high-ranking form (called 54 steps). It is an honor to receive a private lesson like this from such a great teacher and martial artist. Few people in the world will ever experience this privilege.

Another great moment was when I was invited to come along as my teacher checked out several properties for his new martial arts school. As expected, property is expensive in such a large city so the decision must be made carefully. All of the properties we investigated were within walking distance of his new home, and they each looked like they would be convenient places for his new school. Having just started my own new karate-do school in Japan, my input was requested and I shared my thoughts with my teacher and his niece. It was another special honor to visit during this time, as I was witnessing the potential birth place of Chayon Ryu in Korea!

Although my trip to Korea was short, I shall remember it forever. Being so close geographically now, Grandmaster Kim extended an open invitation to me and all my students to come and visit him from time to time. It is his hope, and mine as well, that the people of Japan and Korea can benefit from learning martial arts, and that we can help build friendships and strengthen positive ties between the two East Asian countries.

My sincere thanks to both Ceci and Grandmaster Kim for allowing me the honor of this visit and for showing me such a good time during my first trip to Korea. I will treasure the memories from this trip for years to come.