Breaking Through The Glass Ceiling

By Mick Simmonds


When we take that massive step forward on our karate journey by achieving the next elusive grade we are for that moment in time elated beyond belief, ‘Yes, I’ve done it, & now there will be others to the left of me in the line up’ are just a few things that go through the mind.

Depending on the individual this may last minutes or days, weeks – some even longer before they  realise that this was just one of many steps along a journey that can last a lifetime, and the learning process that now has plateaued  must now be re-engaged to move onwards .

This is where some will be pushed hard up against that imaginary glass ceiling and cause them to falter and some will even fall beside the wayside and give up rather than strive to find the way through the glass ceiling, this is seen a little in the junior kyu grades but is ever so visible once students reach 3rd Kyu Brown belt till 1st Kyu and on into Shodan

This is a  mindset problem, where the ‘can’t do’ in some will win over the ‘can do’ and cause the student to become down beat about their abilities and to even think of continuing along their karate journey is painful to contemplate. Where that next drill/kata just doesn’t click in the head and instead becomes a dreaded chore rather than something enjoyable to do, this is where the rot starts setting in.

It has been my privilege over the years to have met and trained with some great people, some of whom fell by the wayside when they fell into the ‘can’t do’ mindset trap. I have seen the frustration in people turn into a kind of depression that soured their minds and at the time wouldn’t allow themselves to snap out of the malaise they were in, despite efforts of others around them that could see what was happening.

But on the other side of the coin I have known people fail a grading and feel that their whole world had collapsed around them, they then come to the next classes and all their instructors and peers within the dojo rallied around to buoy their spirits back up again and within a period of time they were training as hard as ever and came back stronger for the experience and outperformed everyone at the subsequent gradings and have gone on to greater things since then.

Being honoured to be allowed to stand in front of classes and instruct students over the years I have seen juniors with so much potential it oozes from their every pore, only to see them stop attending classes because things started getting a little harder, a bit more difficult as they moved along their karate path, who getting no support from their family they became despondent and as with juniors they will switch their attention to another pastime with a fantastic potential going unrealised,  this is something all the senseis will have experienced and is so demoralising for the instructors that they/we can find ourselves being dragged into the ‘can’t do’/’cant be bothered’ mindset and then out of the blue you have other juniors take steps or leaps forward or just with fantastic enthusiasm that immediately brings us back with renewed enthusiasm for the class as a whole.

I have also seen in classes where juniors couldn’t grasp a particular drill or kata and see their heads drop, but by working on the fun/enjoyment angle of other things and then returning later to that drill or kata from a different direction in smaller segments and build things over a period of time, it is so rewarding to suddenly see them do the complete drill or kata and a light go on in their heads as they turn around all smiles saying ‘I did it’!

At some point the majority of us will have fallen into glass ceiling mindset, when the thought of going out on a cold evening is the last thing we want to do and staying at home to watch the ‘match’ or ‘soap’ on TV is much more appealing, but will the feeling of fulfilment you get from a good class be there afterwards – of course not, and those who chose instead to get up and go to class will at the end of the evening  be better in mind and body because of their participation.!

Look around you when you are in class to see those who are there rain or shine, illness or injury those are the ones who have a passion for this ‘art’ called karate, it is those who will change the ‘can’t do’ back to a ‘can do’ mindset and will slowly take steps forward once again on the journey with a renewed vigour and passion for what had started out eons ago as a hobby/pastime for most, that for some becomes more a way of life.

But once in this mindset how do you shake this off and break through the glass ceiling, a lot will say talk is cheap and I agree it is a very hard thing to do and is a very painful personal journey that the individual has to go through, from personal experience it starts by getting back to basics (how I love those k-k-k- classes), and think – why did we start with this hobby/pastime and stick with it – because we enjoyed it, so much so that we talked of nothing else to anyone who stopped to listen , but somewhere along the way we have forgotten how to enjoy a class and the passion/enthusiasm wanes, so a first step has to be to enjoy that what we do, this can only start when the individual puts their self back into the class, this is when others can help as it is aided by the close friendships forged along the way that help you enjoy participating in classes and then the process of learning something new becomes exciting once again and that this enjoyment will re-fuel our passion and without even noticing it that glass ceiling will no longer be there and  be nothing more than a dim memory.