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!!