Archive for the ‘Book Review’ category

Book Review: Instructor Revolution by Kelly Muir

March 29, 2012

We have a new expression in my household: “WWIRD” (“What would Instructor Revolution do?”). It’s a little bit tongue-in-cheek, but also reflects our genuine appreciation for the no-nonsense attitudes expressed by Kelly Muir in her book. Here’s how it might come up: I’ll be doing some reading, or pondering various ways we might streamline or improve operations at the dojo. We are a two-dojo family, my husband having operated a school for 30-plus years, and I for the past 20, so it’s natural to look for ways to keep things fresh and think about whether we’re doing the best we can do. And I’ll notice that a lot of people in the “industry” are doing this or that at their schools—often something we’ve rejected doing in the past—so I’ll ask, is there something in it worth adapting or putting to use? To which my husband will reply, WWIRD? And half the time I’ll laugh, realizing I just recently read—and agreed with—Kelly Muir’s take on a similar subject; enough said. It’s like having a hard-nosed conscience.

Instructor Revolution sets out to be provocative, but it’s hard to be provoked by an author with whom I share so many opinions. I was struck by how many of my own pet peeves she expresses throughout the book—and some of them are things I wasn’t sure anyone else cared about: for example, those ridiculous dances football players do when they score or make a play (Muir: “Isn’t that their job? I can’t imagine doing a victory dance every time I did something that was expected of me at work.”); the motivation and depth of knowledge that’s lost when students use video in place of live instruction (“…with the ease of learning kata online, the regard for it is beginning to wane.”); and the pressure on instructors to fatten their curricula with non-martial-arts content, social activism, and more, when we could be focusing on the value inherent in the training itself (“When a child only has a limited amount of time [to] dedicate to their training, I would prefer they spend it on their training.” Yes.).

 Then there are the larger issues, like the “self-esteem myth,” as she calls it: the idea that a child gains self-esteem through constant praise rather than genuine achievement—a subject that has come up often on this blog (here’s one example). And the trend among instructors and school owners to try to boost retention of young students via rewards and gimmicks, generally making things fun and easy, when the real value of martial arts training (through a traditionalist’s eye) comes from the fact that it’s challenging and demanding. And I certainly agree that children are capable of meeting very high demands.

In fact I agree with so much in the book, it’s hard for me to find it revolutionary. A great many of us in martial arts have been quietly teaching on these principles for decades; there’s nothing new about them. Even among colleagues who have adopted “industry” practices on the business side of the dojo, and adapted some popular material and drills into their children’s programs, many have maintained their basic, traditional principles throughout. To us, the title of the book seems overblown. Instructor Revolution: a superior method of teaching children martial arts. That’s pure marketing copy. The first time I saw it, I thought, “If they have to say it’s superior, it probably isn’t.” (Of course, now that I’ve realized how close it is to my own thinking, I have to admit it is superior!) But Muir is a once-and-again figure within the “industry,” and it’s really within that context that she positions herself as revolutionary. In addition, her years in the business world as a corporate trainer have given her a certain gift for abbreviations and jargon. An IR™ instructor at TKCC can be expected to utilize CLM, layering, sealing, door-to-the-floor, and more (all, by the way, perfectly sensible concepts when they’re laid out). Reference to ‘IR instructors’ and that little ‘tm’ make it clear she’s packaging this as a system suitable for sale or franchise—just like the systems and products she’s revolting against. Not that there’s anything wrong with that!

It’s a good book, well worth buying even if you don’t care about “industry” bandwagons. Its greatest value is for instructors who are looking to create a new children’s program, or who want to evaluate and fine-tune their current one. Muir provides a step-by-step program development guide that can help anyone evaluate and strengthen what they’re doing. It is style-neutral, and doesn’t at all depend on your agreeing with everything she says about working with kids. It’s quite thorough and thought-provoking, asking instructors to consider the “what, when and why” of their curriculum in a way martial artists who have inherited or adopted a traditional system too often don’t ask.

As for her old-fashioned, disciplinarian, “no rewards” approach to kids, it’s worthwhile considering the case she makes, even if you are of a kinder, gentler nature. Either you will take some good ideas from it, or arrive at ideas of your own through opposition. While I personally tend to favor her views, I also believe—or rather, know—there is more than one kind of good instructor. A great deal has to do with personality and personal style. I have some “Mr. Nice Guy” colleagues who manage to raise excellent young martial artists. Strong principles and professional competence, holding the kids to high standards whatever your approach—those are the real keys. And if you’re not sure where you stand, it might be time to ask, “WWIRD?”

Find the book on Amazon here.
Or visit Kelly Muir’s blog here.

Kids Karate Workbook featured on Karate Cafe podcast

November 26, 2010

The Karate Cafe podcast recently featured the Kids’ Karate Workbook and author Didi Goodman, in an hour-long interview about the book, how it came to be, and various topics related to teaching and training in martial arts.

Karate Cafe was founded five years ago to broadcast the kind of after-workout discussions martial arts enthusiasts love to have — talking about anything and everything martial arts, and continuing the conversation till all hours through an on-line forum.

For the recent podcast, Episode #66, co-hosts Gene Myers of Auburn, NY, and Paul Wilson of Dallas, TX, had read the book carefully, and both had plenty of good things to say about it. One thing both hosts remarked on is how the book is not style-specific, but succeeds in spanning many different kicking/punching arts, from taekwondo to various styles of karate. Gene is a yondan (fourth degree black belt) and instructor in Chibana-ha Shorin-ryu karate, and also studies Two-Circle Jujitsu and Hakutsuru (White Crane) Kenpo. Paul holds a yondan in Shoryin-ryu Kenshin Kan, and is founder and head instructor of White Rock Kenshin Kan. Paul has also studied Tai Chi, Wing Chun, Aikido, Jiu-Jutsu, and Escrima.

Gene noted that, in addition to being a great book for students and parents, The Kids Karate Workbook is also a useful guide for instructors who teach kids. He himself had used it to find new ways to explain things, and come up with new activities and training ideas. Both Gene and Paul remarked on the book’s straightforward style of explanation–clear enough for kids (without talking down to them), but also very readable for adults. They also praised the quality and clarity of Linda Nikaya’s illustrations (over 200 of them!) for conveying the techniques explained in the text.

To hear the full interview, visit — click on ‘podcast’ and listen to Episode 66. And while you’re there, check out all the other good stuff on the Karate Cafe site!

Book Signing and Party at Redwood Dojo!

December 3, 2009

If you live in Oakland or the San Francisco Bay Area, stop by Redwood Dojo on Sunday afternoon, December 13, for a book signing, celebration, and martial arts demonstration by students of all ages and ranks. The Kids’ Karate Workbook will be on sale at a special price, and you’ll be able to get it signed by the author, illustrator, and some of the kids who posed for the illustrations. More information, and the address, can be found on the Redwood Dojo website.

And by the way, the book got a review in the Orlando martial arts section. The review includes some sample pages, so you can see what the layout and illustrations are like. It’s worth a look!

Tips for Teaching Kids, Part II: “A Million Times”

November 9, 2009

Rohai Dojo in Berkeley sometimes posts on the bulletin board a story borrowed from Louise Rafkin’s book, The Tiger’s Eye, The Bird’s Fist: A Beginner’s Guide to the Martial Arts. –This book, by the way, is a nice collection of stories, legends, biographies and history, giving kids an introduction to martial arts in general, their culture and philosophy. It’s out of print, but sometimes available at Powell’s Books or Amazon. In fact I was in Powell’s recently and saw a copy there.

The story is titled “A Million Times.” Here’s an excerpt:

A legendary teacher once taught one of his prize students to punch. The student put his fingers together in a fist and hit the target a few times.
“Can you teach me something else?” the student asked.
The teacher frowned. “First practice the punch a million times,” he told the student sternly. “Then I will teach you something new.” The student was discouraged, and went in search of a new teacher.
The new teacher taught the student a kick. “Practice a million times,” he said.
“What? Not a million times!” The student once again went to find a new teacher.
[ . . . ]

I’m going to leave you hanging, readers, but if you teach martial arts to children, you know this story; you experience it every day. Which brings us to the topic of this blog post:

How do you get kids to put in enough work on the basics, while keeping their interest up and teaching them the value and necessity of repetitive practice? Another way to phrase the question: How do you disguise repetition, while at the same time teaching the importance of it?

Different teachers take different views, and may have equal success with opposite approaches. I want to start the discussion off by revealing my personal bias, and feel free to disagree.

While some seek to keep kids interested by making everything in class into a game, I’m not a big fan of this. I like using games for a few minutes as warm-ups at the beginning of class, or as a release at the end of class, but the heart of class for me is practice, and most of that is going to be basics. So I have to find different ways to break it up—and there are plenty: change gears frequently; change tone of voice, speed, or counting; intersperse bursts of calisthenics; switch between forward and backward, front foot and rear, alone and with partner, in the air and on the target; have the instructor do sneak attacks with a foam “bopper” during basic repetitions. I think Kathy Varady meant something similar when she mentioned “theme classes” in her comment on our previous post about teaching.

There are a million ways to get it done “a million times.” What are some of yours?

A Holiday Gift for Karate and Taekwondo Kids

November 3, 2009

I’m already starting to see the words “holiday shopping” in the media, so there’s nothing to do but join in:

The Kids’ Karate Workbook is a great holiday gift idea for young martial arts students. As you know, when kids get involved in something, they love everything about it, from clothing to equipment to… anything they can find. This book offers some special benefits for both children and parents:

It encourages reading.

It encourages healthy physical activity.

It promotes discussion between kids and parents on the important topics of safety and self-defense.

It promotes active engagement with an art and discipline that in itself brings many benefits to the child.

If you’re an instructor, I want you to know you were very much on my mind when I wrote this book. It’s not meant to be used by students for self-instruction; it’s meant to get students to collaborate with you, their teacher, in order to practice better at home. Time and again the book asks students to speak to you, to find out what you want them to practice and improve, and even to “correct” the book if it differs from what you teach. There’s no other book like it in the bookstores. Click here to read more about it on Amazon: The Kids’ Karate Workbook: A Take-Home Training Guide for Young Martial Artists.

If you’re a school owner, consider offering the book for sale in your “pro shop,” or asking your neighborhood book store to stock it for your students. And if you have any questions, please contact me: didi[at] — or leave a comment here on the blog.

A Book for Karate Moms and Dads, Kids of All Ages

October 15, 2009

When I tell people I’ve written a martial arts book for kids, often their first question is “What age group did you write for?” The publisher has categorized the book for ages 9 to 12; however, I have a much different view of the matter.
Front Cover
I believe kids of all ages can benefit from the book. It has over 200 illustrations, and these can be enjoyed– and even, if you like, colored in– by younger readers who aren’t yet ready for the sentences and vocabulary.

More importantly for the younger kids (age 5 & up), their parents can benefit from helping them read the book. In fact one of the main reasons I began the project was that parents of younger students asked time and again for such a book– something that would help them understand what their children were learning, so they could be supportive of their practice at home. They wanted a book they could enjoy together with their children while learning about martial arts.

The more parents know about their children’s training, the better they can support it. I think most instructors would agree with that. Parental support is a key factor in success. Parents shouldn’t try to take the place of the instructor, but they should try to understand what the instructor wants from the student. Then they can be supportive in appropriate ways.

And what does the instructor want from the student? Instructors want kids and parents to know that karate and taekwondo are fun, but they’re also serious. They require commitment, dedication, exactness, and an ongoing desire to improve. The great thing is that these are all “attitudes for success” that will help kids in many areas of life.

Commitment, dedication, seriousness– those are big words for 5-year-olds. But they’re important lessons kids start on as soon as they start school. And they are at the heart of martial arts. So if a child is old enough to be in a martial arts class, they’re old enough to begin learning about those ideas (in age-appropriate terms, of course!).

I’ve never gone wrong by taking kids seriously and letting them aim high. In all the years (more than twenty) I’ve been teaching ages 5 & up, I’ve avoided talking down to my youngest students. Sure we have fun, we sometimes laugh, and the youngest go at a different pace from the older kids. But we are all learning the same lessons, and working on the same material– the material of martial arts. Martial arts is an individual pursuit where every student, regardless of age, must proceed at his or her own pace.

I’ve written my book in the same way, as a handbook for all ages that doesn’t talk down to anyone. Students must use it at their own speed and in their own way– with the help of instructors, the help of their parents, and when they’re old enough, on their own.

Click here to buy from Amazon, or ask for the book at your local bookstore:
The Kids’ Karate Workbook: A Take-Home Training Guide for Young Martial Artists

Martial Arts Attitude for Kids

September 20, 2009

Here’s a book that’s in print, available, and affordable: Kris Wilder’s The Way of Martial Arts for Kids: Getting the Most Out of Your Training. The cover says “78 tips on being a better martial artist,” and that’s pretty much what it is. The “tips” are brief, easy-to-read treatments of training-related topics, most of them less than a page long. TheWayForKidsThey’re written in plain language and first-person terms that a young reader can appreciate. Some are personal stories from the writer’s life that work their way back to martial arts values. Some are practical, some philosophical, many are funny—covering everything from keeping one’s feet clean and nails trimmed, to maintaining the right attitude and mindset both in and out of the dojo.

What I like best about this book is that it addresses all the pet peeves of an instructor who works with kids. My associates and I had many laughs recognizing our own students’ foibles and excuses. Mr. Wilder clearly speaks from experience, not just theory. In the tip called “Pay attention or miss out,” he calculates how much training is lost by making faces in the mirror for one minute per class over the course of a year, or spending three minutes in the restroom every class. I read this to a group of my students; the kids all laughed, and one of them resolved not to go to the restroom during class anymore.

It’s a good book and I’d say, when you go to buy my book😉 if you can afford a little extra, put this one in the cart, too!

Here’s a link to Kris Wilder’s blog, where he writes similar brief, often humorous musings on martial arts-related topics–but keep in mind the blog is for adults, not kids.

Other Good Books for Kids (and Their Parents)

September 16, 2009

While waiting for my book to be released, I thought I’d tell you about some other good martial arts books for young people. But I’ve kind of struck out on my first two choices: It turns out they’re both currently out of print. Still—publishers sometimes revive a book if there’s a demand, so let me go ahead and tell you about the first of them.

EmptyHandBook2The Empty Hand: A Karate Word Book, by Rui Umezawa, is truly one of my favorites. It’s an attractive paperback with beautiful woodcut illustrations and large brushstroke kanji (Chinese ideograms) for the most important vocabulary and concepts of traditional martial arts. It’s exactly what the title says: a book of words. Each word or concept is given a one-page essay. There are twenty-eight—from What is karate? to What is rei? (respect). The author uses plain, straightforward language, and succeeds in making subtle Asian concepts quite understandable to Westerners. He also looks at how the modern kanji evolved from ancient symbols—giving insight into how the words came to have their meanings. In the course of this he conveys not just the vocabulary, but the deeper philosophical underpinnings of martial arts practice.

Here’s an excerpt from the introduction (and anyone who knows me will see in the very first sentence why I love this author!):

When it comes right down to it, there should not be much talking during karate practice. Most times, you should simply go to class, work up a good sweat, then go home. While you are in class, you should listen carefully to your teacher and do as you are told. This is more or less what it means to study karate.

Nonetheless, there are times when instructions and explanations must be given verbally, and many schools choose to retain the original Japanese terms to refer to things relating to karate. Often students who have just started karate find the use of Japanese bewildering. This is a shame, because many Japanese karate terms have profound meanings, and being aware of their meaning can greatly increase your understanding of karate, especially if you keep them in mind during practice.

In martial arts summer camp this year, we copied some of the kanji from this book to make personal ink-stamps. This got us talking about the meanings of the words, and I hope it inspired a few of the kids to go back and read the book.

As I said, this book is out of print and hard to get. If you follow the link to Amazon you can have a look inside, but you’re probably not going to want to buy a used copy for $50! (The 1998 cover price is $9.95.) Still, if enough of you add it to your wish lists, or perhaps contact the publisher (Weatherhill, which is now part of Shambhala), perhaps we can get them to consider reissuing it.


Do you have a favorite martial arts book for kids? Post us a note.

A Martial Arts Training Manual for Kids

September 12, 2009

The release date is still a month away, but we can’t wait to start telling everyone about our book. We know lots of kids are going to have fun with it, and we know a lot of parents are going to love having a handbook about what their children are learning in class. So I’m going to start right in with some FAQs:

What is this book? After many years of requests from students, parents, and fellow instructors who couldn’t find what they wanted in the bookstores, Sensei Didi Goodman, with the help of photographer-illustrator Linda Nikaya and great team of young students, has created a useful, practical martial arts training manual for kids: The Kids’ Karate Workbook: A Take-Home Training Guide for Young Martial Artists. It was written with karate and taekwondo students in mind, and has information that any martial artist will appreciate.

What’s in it? Lots of good stuff:
· Tips to improve technique.
· Puzzles and games that reinforce knowledge.
· Fun ideas for practicing at home.
· Self-defense guidelines for kids and parents to discuss.
· Lots of extras, like a guide to the uniform and belt; martial arts etiquette and behavior; martial arts physics; and more.
· More than 200 illustrations.
· All the essentials for getting from first-day beginner to intermediate rank levels, and beyond.

What makes it different from other available books?
· This book is a companion, not an overview. Where most kids’ karate books offer an introduction to training and a quick look at a few techniques, our book presents a structured curriculum very much like what a young student will encounter over many months of training. Instead of being quickly read and set aside, the book will accompany young students on their martial arts journey, offering tips and reminders along the way.
· It’s interactive. Readers are invited to fill in the blanks, write in the margins, complete puzzles and generally get fully engaged in learning.
· It’s compatible with many different martial arts styles. Instead of teaching about a single tradition, it guides young students in finding out about whatever school or style they happen to belong to, and provides information about a broad range of styles.

The book says ‘karate,’ but I take taekwondo (or another style). Do I need a different book? All martial arts have a lot in common. Karate and taekwondo have very many techniques that are alike. We purposely focused on ideas and techniques that many different styles of karate and taekwondo hold in common. But we understand that different schools, and even different teachers within the same school, do things differently from one another. We acknowledge more than one way of doing things, and give more than one name for the techniques. We leave lots of room for different approaches in the book, and there’s room in the margins to write whatever your teacher wants you to know!

Will the book make me a better martial artist, or maybe help me test for my next rank sooner? Only practice can make you better. Only practice, with excellent attendance, will get you to your next test. But the book can help you practice; plus, it’s fun.

Can I use this book instead of coming to class? No; martial arts cannot be learned from a book. You need help and input from an instructor who can see how you are doing. But the book can remind you of things your instructor wants you to improve–especially if you use it along with your instructor’s advice.

What’s going to be on this blog? We’d love to use this space to provide “extras” to go along with the book–things we had to leave out, for example, or information that you, our readers, wish we had included. We’d also like to publish your feedback about the book, and hear about your ideas and experiences as martial artists. Let us know what you have to say!