Since 1976

A New Year, Goals and Challenges

I am about to head over to Michael Proctor Sensei's dojo for his annual New Year's Day workout and luncheon. It reminds me of how we, at the AKATO, are an extended family. The martial arts serve a "melting pot" of not just international cultures but of a diverse cross-section of people in our own local societies. I am sure that you, like me, have made friends with many that you might never have otherwise crossed paths with in your non-martial lives. And I am all the richer for it.

And that continues to be one of my goals as I enter 2018. This will be my fiftieth year as a black belt and I treasure the relationships I have made over these decades. I sincerely wish that all the students, and instructors, of this organization will make new friends as they train together whether it is in a large commercial school or in a backyard dojo.

Sure we have challenges as individuals and as a society, but that is why the martial arts are so great (well, one of the reasons) in that we can share in these individual challenges and goals with our fellow artists. So whether it is helping another green belt prepare for a belt test, or mentoring younger students, or just perfecting your own technique and improving your dedication, I hope that this year will be one that you can look back on in twelve months and truly say that it was a profitable one for your life.

What are we Modeling?

If you are like me, you're on Facebook and other social media at least occasionally. I usually just skip all the video ads and those questionaires that try to capture your demographics, and stop to read stuff about my family and, sometimes, things that my martial arts friends post. Lately I've noticed the vitriol that lots of folks are spouting (and I'm not just talking about politics). People will put up videos or links to other martial artists and then proceed to tear them down.

Isn't one of the supposed characteristics of martial arts teachers humility? Aren't we supposed to tell our students that if they don't succeed at first (be it a belt test or a tournament match) that they are to try harder the next time? Shouldn't we attempt to encourage others, especially those in our own organization?

So to post a video of another school and then proceed to let everyone within earshot (eyeshot on the internet) that they aren't as good as WE are … well, is that humility? When we say that someone else isn't worth a certain rank because they haven't been in the arts as long as WE have … is that showing their lack or ours?

How about putting a video of our own student's tournament matches online and then point out how they got cheated? Not only are we NOT encouraging our students to learn from their mistakes with grace, we are publicly telling the other kid who won that they only did so because of the judges' prejudice.

Why do people say things online that they would never say to someone else's face? Maybe you are the one who says, "I'm just telling it like it is!" But we teach our students to stand up to bullies and to never be one ourselves. So how in the world can we justify being online bullies?

So ask yourself before you next post: Am I being helpful or critical? Am I showing empathy or negativity? Civility in all our relationships is a goal for us as martial artists and I would expect that, as teachers, we model that civil behavior in person and online.

New Kata Book and APP

Who would have thought, when I wrote "The Complete Book of Tae Kwon Do Forms" back in the early '80s, that it would still be selling in 2017. Seems that there are a lot of students of American TKD who have used and continued to use that text as a reference for their training patterns. I've learned a lot in the last 35 years so I have wanted to update that book for a long time. About a year ago when I decided to finally do so there were several of you, in the younger generation, who said something like, "Mr. Yates, no one reads books anymore!"

While I disagree with that opinion I do have to admit that it isn't so easy to take a book to class or even prop it up in your living room while you try to learn a new form. So while I am updating the book with all new photos and some more history and philosophy, I am also shooting new video. We won't be combining the videos into DVDs (who still has a DVD player?), but instead incorporating them into a mobile app where you can just click "chunji" and see it performed from both front and rear angles. The other really exciting thing I'm going to do is video some specific applications for some of those puzzling moves in the kata. You will also be able to click on those. This will be a valuable aid for students and instructors alike.

This time I won't be going through a traditional book publisher but I'll design and print the book myself (in case you weren't aware, I am a professional graphic designer in my non-martial arts life). Of course that takes time and money. The programing of the app is going to be a complicated project as well. So that is why I am launching a crowd-funding campaign on Kickstarter. It's only a 50 day campaign but I hope to raise enough in pre-sales and support to get the book and app going quickly. Go to the link below to help me make this a success.

A New Chapter

In the last couple of weeks I've said, "goodbye," to three of my black belts who were moving out of state. One is a high school senior whose dad's new job means they are headed to the Pacific Northwest. This young man has been with me since he was seven. As he related to me how much his life has been affected by the martial arts he had genuine tears in his eyes. He thanked me for all I have done to make him into the young man he is. It was emotional for both of us.

Then a week later I had to bind farewell to a mother and daughter black belt duo who are also moving out of Texas. The youngest daughter had just made first brown belt and mom assured me they would be training and she'd come back sometime next year so they could test for their third family black belt. Once again, I heard how much the martial arts has meant to them and changed their lives.

Is't it true that the arts have that effect on people? The beginning students don't realize it but if they stay long enough to internalize the lessons (physical and otherwise) that training will produce, then it becomes a life-changer. These young students have stepped out into a new chapter in their lives but the experiences they accumulated in the dojo will forever be with them.

While it makes me sad to see students leave, it makes me glad that perhaps I had some small part in giving them the confidence and determination to face new challenges.

What's the Purpose of Rank Exams?


Mr. Yates, at our instructor's roundtable we were discussing the subject of rank tests/promotion exams.  The many ways we had all seen these handled were something we talked about at length—including a Kendo promotion exam that was conducted in competitive rounds, where students were eliminated from consideration at the end of each round without explanation being offered.

The question then arose:  what are the purposes of a promotion exam?  What ends should we seek to achieve thereby?  We have all of us come up through systems of instruction that use the promotion exam as a regular feature, so that we all tend to take them for granted.  It can also be a very sensitive issue, touching strong emotions. I would like to get your perspective on this question, if you would be so kind.


Many old Asian schools did not hold formal exams like we are used to in America. I remember working out with Tamura Sensei in the 1960s in Judo and he just gave you a new belt when he felt like you deserved it.

Allen Steen used to make examination pretty tough (especially the higher ones) and people often flunked. Of course there were only four colors below black belt in those days (white, green, blue, brown).

As we added more colors for American students, ranks became a way to encourage the students as they progressed (and maybe a way to create more income for the business as well). Years ago I instituted a “pre-test” where a student had to convince me he or she was ready to be advanced to the next rank. That reduced the amount of tears at the actual exam—however I will still issue a ‘no promotion’ if they just cannot remember anything they have practiced. Note that now I don’t say ‘flunk’ anymore.

I’m kinda old school in that regard, I will make students test again if I think they have not performed up to standards. In many schools however, the promotional event is just a ceremony where the students are to perform for parents and friends and be awarded their new belts based on their previous demonstration to the teachers. I suppose that makes promotion night a joyous occasion for everyone.

I’ll still run into instructors who say that the color of a belt shouldn’t matter and while that is true in the overall picture, I think rewarding students, especially young ones, is a valuable motivation for their hard work. And in the end, a belt rank is just that, a reward and a motivator.

That’s why not all green belts (or whatever) are the same. Some are highly skilled at the requirements for that belt because they are superior athletes. Others may not look technically as good but they had to work twice as hard to remember their moves and to improve their physical skills. So in some ways the more awkward green belt deserves his rank more than the natural athlete because he had to overcome more.