Kai Shin Martial Arts’ Sensei Giancarlo (John) Esposito is getting excited. According to him, if he were a better businessman, he’d have turned out dozens of black belts by now. But, that’s not what he is trying to accomplish at his dojo. He’s not in a rush, and he isn’t trying to compete with other clubs for quantity.
Still, the prospect of awarding the dojo’s first black belt this winter is a moment to be celebrated.
Sensei John judges a student’s fitness for grading based on readiness and quality of character, not on pushing kids ahead just because they’ve done their time and the dojo needs the numbers. Focusing on the quality of the student has always been his key motivator.
Sensei John’s purpose is to help elevate his charges to their potential and to teach them to strive harder, pushing their boundaries in a way that will benefit them, not hurt them.
While a black belt may be a goal for the kids who enter a dojo, most parents don’t sign their kids up for martial arts for the accolades, either. In the vast majority of cases, it’s because on some level they are saying: “Here, fix my kid!”
Sensei John is confident that sixteen-year-old Logan Hall will be ready for his black belt this February.
From the onset, Logan’s character was never a matter of question. He was always a good kid. But, he tended to struggle in school, especially when it came to presenting things at the front of the class. His parents Betsy and Steve had a hunch that karate would benefit him. They signed him up for karate when he was ten years-old and it didn’t take long for Logan to prove that it was a good decision. He thrived with each new accomplishment.
As Logan got older, his ability to stay on task started to improve and so did his self-confidence. “I would lie a lot, trying to impress my friends with things I never actually did over the weekend.” In school, “my teachers used to have a lot of trouble with me,” he admits. Karate replaced the stories of grandeur with actual moments of pride.
“Standing up for presentations and assignments: I used to not like that. I used to get really nervous and now, that has helped me a lot. When I go to tournaments I can just get up and perform a kata in front of everybody and I just don’t think about it. I just go for it, so that’s helped me a lot with school and doing sports outside of school and inside school,” relates the kid with the winning smile.
Karate improved Logan’s confidence in social situations, as well. “I get along with people, and now I can talk to anybody almost,” he states. “It improved my grades because I used to not want to perform. I’d get nervous and rush through things, as I’m doing a speech or something in front of a class. I just wanted to get out of it.” But with time he came to realize that “if I can perform a kata in front of hundreds of people I can do a speech in front of a class of people I knew.”
There were other lessons that Logan learned in the dojo, as well. He was always drawn to the thrill of accomplishment but, as a child, did not possess the insight he needed to get to the podium. By spending time repeating and perfecting his karate moves, Logan perceived that success comes from patience, diligence and hard work. His nerves took a back seat to the confidence he earned through practice. More significantly, Logan learned to appreciate the value of not advancing until ready. That’s invaluable insight for a person like Logan, who has a way of closing his mind to the fear that would keep most people’s feet planted firmly on the ground.
“I do a lot of extreme sports,” Logan admits. He loves the feeling of adrenaline and freedom that courses through his entire body while on a board, either over water or as he launches himself off the “really big hill” at Banff National Park. There’s a daredevil inside this kid that, without his karate training, would not think twice before taking a risk he wasn’t ready for.
Instead, as Steve says, karate “has provided a level of fitness and body control that can be transferred to other sports and allows him to push his abilities.” Steve set up a trampoline in their front yard, where Logan spends time practicing back flips, getting ready to apply the moves on a snowboard.
“You get a step-by-step plan here,” Logan says, pointing into the dojo, “as opposed to simply knowing what your goal is. You get guided to, and when you are ready, then you go to the next level.” It took five years for Sensei John to consider awarding Logan his first black belt. There was no pressure to get there.
Learning that lesson was a huge thing for an impatient kid like Logan. Now, anybody who knows him, including Betsy, can rest easier at the prospect of Logan tossing himself well above sea level and willingly doing a back flip with nothing but a snowboard and a helmet to keep him safe.
Logan has always had an innate desire to please people. What he was missing was the confidence of knowing that he could do that without pretending to be somebody else. Ironically, Sensei John bases his measure of black belt readiness on his sempai’s understanding that the belt no longer matters as much as what he learned through the journey to acquiring it.