What Karate’s Taught Me: Life Skills from Martial Arts (Part 1)

Once, at a major Black Belt test, a visiting instructor (Len Brassard, a black belt in Kenpo karate and one of several dozen master martial arts instructors on hand that weekend) taught an unusual lesson. It was about doing the laundry.

“When I was 10,” he said to several hundred students testing for Black Belt, “my mom made me do the laundry. I didn’t know how to do the laundry,” he said. “I didn’t know how to use the soap, how to turn the dials on the machine. And guess what, I messed it up on my first try.”

Why does this matter to students, men women and children who have been sweating through their second day of a 72-hour karate test? Kenpo. Black Belt. Laundry?

The point Master Brassard was making was that training of any kind, and a willingness to listen and learn, puts you ahead. “I asked questions about what I didn’t know,” he said.”I learned to be willing to learn.”

“When I got to college,” he continued, “I lived with dozens of other people in the dorms. They didn’t know how to use the washing machine. They were helpless. I knew how to do my own laundry. I was a Black Belt in laundry.”

The lesson that came across from this anecdote was simple but direct. The skills you’re learning in your first days and weeks and even years of martial arts training will translate into your life down the road. You’re studying now, putting in the hours, listening to your instructors, so that years from now you have confidence in what you’re doing (in a classroom, at a job interview, in the proverbial dark alley).

What you’re learning now translates to your future. You’re becoming not just a Black Belt in karate/kenpo/taekwondo, but a Black Belt in life skills.

Now for the good part. Kids don’t know how to do the laundry yet? Teach them in a few simple steps:

  • Empty a capful (or half-capful) of soap into the washing machine
  • Dump the basket of dirty clothes into the machine
  • Close the lid
  • Turn the dial to the right spot (you’ll have to show them this one—a good opportunity for word recognition!)
  • Press start (so gratifying!)

Done and done. The kids might need a little oversight at the beginning, but in a few weeks they’ll be independent. Enjoy.

For a more literal translation of well-starched laundry to martial arts application, check out this classic fight scene.

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