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OSU and the LD Student

by Stephanie Geng - Atlanta, GA Dojo

There I stood in my white gi and white belt, the first of various color belts I would earn, in what was my first Oyama Karate class at age six.  A stout Japanese man with disheveled hair looked at me with glaring eyes, knees bent, elbows bent, fists clenched and loudly exclaimed “Osu”!  The word Osu means patient persistence in English and it was the first Japanese word I learned in response to each Kihon or Kata Sensei taught, whether I did or did not understand his instruction.  Little did I know at the time, the impact this simple word would have on me.

School has been challenging for me since first grade.  That year, I was diagnosed with the learning disability of working memory.  Working memory is very simply, short-term memory.  It is mental workspace used for many aspects of everyday life, including reading comprehension, mental math, and planning a series of thoughts or actions.  There is a limit to the amount of information a person can hold and use in working memory and the amount changes in a person’s lifetime, increasing steadily to age 15 when it reaches adult level.  The development of my working memory was compromised and resulted in a smaller capacity than what was typical for my age.  During my elementary, middle school and high school years, my working memory deficit produced many difficulties such as following multi-step instructions in the classroom, problems keeping my place in activities such as reading, writing and solving complex math problems, as well as retaining large amounts of content to recall for quizzes and tests.  Fortunately I qualified for an Individualized Education Program in the second grade, which provided special accommodations for me such as extended time to complete tests and quizzes in a small group setting.  

Each Thursday and Saturday I attend Oyama Karate class.  Oyama Karate is full-contact karate based on the ancient traditional system of training.  Oyama training consists of Kihon, Katas and Kumite.  Kihon are basic techniques I had to master one-at-a-time before moving to Katas.  Katas are detailed choreographed patterns I had to master before progressing to Kumite.  Kumite is the application of Kihon and Kata in the real-world application of a free fight.  Without Kumite, Oyama Karate would be conceptually-based and not reality-based.  Being able to proficiently demonstrate Kihon and Katas in Kumite, is what earned me blue, yellow, orange and green belts in Oyama Karate.  Compared to other conceptually-based styles of martial arts, the green belt I earned was comparable to a black belt.  However, knowing what was necessary to earn each belt color in Oyama, I knew there was much work to be accomplished before earning my brown and black belts. Osu.

Organization, structure and repetition are important to achieving success for most people, but they are vital to a person with a learning disability.  Each school morning, I wake at the same time, unless I have to wake earlier to study, shower and get ready for the day, make a healthy breakfast and review schoolwork for project presentations, quizzes and tests so the information is fresh in my mind.  After school, I come home, have a snack, workout a couple of days a week, attend a weekly math tutoring session and do karate on Thursdays.  Following dinner, I begin the evening of assigned homework, projects and studying for quizzes and tests until midnight. One might think this daily structure would produce exemplary grades, translating to a 4.0 or above grade point average, but because of my working memory deficit and the fact that tests account for the largest percentage of each subject grade, my immense effort does not translate to a high grade point average.  

Osu has really been my word to live by, it takes patient persistence to forge ahead and not get caught up in the disappointment and frustration of not receiving a high grade on a test I knew I deserved after studying long hours. My experience in practicing Oyama Karate and the basic techniques and choreographed patterns I apply in free-fighting, correlate to the steps I have taken in my academic life. The basic techniques of organization and repetition keep my mind clear so I may focus on the work that lies ahead of me each day. Color-coded note-taking, condensing information to bullet points and breaking down complex problems into numbered steps, help to improve my comprehension and retention.  Fighting the “real fight” of determination and perseverance to ultimately achieve the black belt of success.  Osu!