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What I Learned From Watching My Daughter’s First Karate Lesson

Paul is an American living in Japan raising a bilingual and bicultural daughter while navigating the waters of an international marriage.


Today was my 7-year old daughter’s first karate lesson. Her being half-Japanese and given that we moved back to Japan a few years ago, I always thought that I’d like her to try some type Japanese martial art at some point. And that was today! I had lots of thoughts about this being a great learning experience for her in that she could learn discipline, self-control, respect, concentration, a competitive sport, and a plethora of other things. Little did I know that it would be ME that actual learned a few things. So here goes.

1. Master the basics.

The sensei, or teacher, first taught them to say “Good Morning” and “Thank you” in a loud voice. This not only teaches respect for each other and the teacher but it also builds confidence. Learning to speak up in a loud voice was always a pitfall of mine. Maybe that’s part of being the youngest of three brothers. Even if you have an excellent idea, mumbling doesn’t give people a sense of confidence because it seems as though you’re not confident in yourself. Next, the sensei taught them how to get in the kneeling position left foot down first, then right foot, slightly overlapping the big toes, and then how to stand back up. Everything was in detail as with most things in Japan. Finally, they got to make fists and throw a few punches.

2. No one is an expert the first time they try something.

It was entertaining to watch a gym full of 1st to 6th graders. Some could follow the sensei’s instructions and other’s couldn’t. And some were so uncoordinated that the 2000 yen ($20) for 5 classes would have better been spent on a sushi lunch. But I’m sure we all remember the first time we tried a new sport, a new instrument, or the first day at a new job. We’re never the best we can be on our first day of anything. The important thing is to try your best and never give up.

3. Put yourself in other people’s shoes.

As a teacher myself, you have to realize that students are starting from scratch. As the karate sensei walked around helping the first-timers, I could see the joy in the teachers’ eyes and imagined that they must be remembering when they were just children and learning karate for the first time. When I’m teaching English to children and adults, I think of the time and effort that I’ve put into learning Japanese over the past 20 years and do not want to start over again. One of the older karate sensei told us parents during his introduction that he’s been involved in karate for over 60 years. He assured the parents that karate practice is controlled and that the children have a better chance getting hurt while playing at the playground although that wasn’t the case when he was young. My only thought was that he probably wouldn’t want to go back and start from scratch either.


4. Enjoy and cherish the things that matter in your life.

Watching my daughter and seeing the look on her face as she tried something new, I completely forgot about work, stress, the pitfalls of parenting and overseas life, etc. and realized that this is not only an important step for her future but vital for the self-discipline that she’ll need to achieve her own dreams and goals later in life. And considering she’s half-Japanese, I always thought that it would be a waste for her to not at least try a Japanese martial art while we’re in Japan. But most importantly, I appreciated the fact that my family’s happy, healthy, and I’m able to witness some of these precious moments early in my daughter’s life. Cherish the important things right here and right now.

5. Give you child some space.

During the 2 hour karate class, I spent a little time jotting down notes, took a toilet break or two, and even went outside for about 15 minutes with my wife for a cup of coffee and to soak up the crisp, beautiful fall morning. But when I went back in the gym and a had a seat, part of me felt like I abandoned my daughter for 15 minutes during this important first time experience. For that short time, I wasn’t there on the sidelines when she looked up for assurance and security. But as a I spotted her on the gym floor, she was more focused on the sensei’s instructions and concentrating more on her form. All of the children had better form and seemed to be concentrating more. I began to think and came to the harsh but true reality that the world keeps going with or without me. The world doesn’t revolve around me and even more important, my daughter’s life doesn’t and shouldn’t revolve around me. Her life will continue with ups and downs, and through experiences like this, she will make her own path. And for those 15 minutes that she didn’t have my assurance and security, she took some small steps to being her own person.

6. Don’t hold back (Be fearless!)

From adolescence even through adulthood, we are self-conscious of our peers and other people. The fear of being judged is one of our biggest hurdles in life. It reminds me of what I’ve heard before about public speaking; more people are scared of public speaking than dying. So, at a funeral, more people would rather be in the casket than giving the eulogy. However, while watching these children practice karate for the first time, they were looking around at each other just as adults would. But the reason for looking around is different. Small children look at each other for guidance and to follow the crowd versus looking around wondering what other people are thinking about us or how they’re judging us. We need to learn to maintain this spirit of guiding and helping each other without the fear of judgement. It will make the world a better place for everyone.


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