Guest post by 4th-grade QPS student Kepler Davis-Cousins and his dad, Simon Cousins
Sempai (“Elder”) Elena Waldman has been appointed the new karate, self defense, and warriorship coach for the 2018/19 school year at Queens Paideia School. As a long-term student of Sempai Elena, QPS 4th grader Kepler Davis-Cousins and his dad Simon wanted to share how exceptionally fortunate QPS is to have Elena. They interviewed Sempai Elena on September 6, 2018.
Kepler: Sempai Elena, I already know this, but for the other kids, do you have a pet, and what is her name and what is her story?
Sempai Elena: Potato is the most perfect dog! I saw her on the ASPCA website, and noticed she only had one eye. I knew I had to go and get her. As it turned out, she had been hurt by the people who had her, and as a result, she lost an eye and some teeth, and had broken bones. But now she rules the house!
Simon: Sempai, I’ve been very fortunate to experience your karate instruction for Kepler, from his very first white belt classes up through to when he “graduated” to intermediate karate, with his yellow belt. It is so obvious to me that you have an exceptional way with kids, including the younger ones. What is it that attracts you to coaching and training kids in general, and to karate in particular?
Sempai Elena: First, THANK YOU!! Karate is such a transformative force in my life, and I deeply love watching kids learn and progress. Karate can be difficult, but I know that students can achieve more than they think. It’s so exciting to see someone get it, and to watch the pride they experience at their own accomplishment.
No one can take away those accomplishments–big or small. They are in you forever!
Kepler: Sempai, why do you choose to make your kids karate classes more fun than tiring?
Sempai Elena: I’m glad you think they are fun! Because karate is a joy in my life and I want to share that joy. The truth is that if you are motivated, you can do push-ups on your own. But you can’t learn karate without a teacher! Also, kids sit in class all day long, and deal with stresses that we adults sometimes forget about. I want students to feel happy and accomplished, and to learn self-discipline.
I realized that a large part of my job was to create an excellent learning environment–patience, high expectations, encouragement, appreciation of effort, etc. Also, games like tag are very helpful in learning sparring techniques, believe it or not!
Simon: I think most parents of karate kids are familiar with the uniform-and-belt system. I noticed that your QPS classes do away with colored belts and introduce a “passport” system. Could you expand on your thinking behind this innovation?
Sempai Elena: Outside of the dojo, a belt doesn’t give you much information. What does it mean to be a yellow belt or a purple belt? Belt systems differ, even within some styles. By using a passport, each student has a clear record of what they have learned, and can share it with their families and friends. If you get a stamp on your passport from me for, say, downward block, it means you really know how to execute a downward block!
Our program at the school is only 13 weeks. I want to make sure that students have a record of their accomplishments.
Kepler: Why did you choose karate over other martial arts?
Sempai Elena: What a great question! Karate fit my body type and my needs. I tried other styles, but once I was introduced to Goju (aka Okinawan Karate), I felt at home. Karate is efficient, and I like that.
Simon: Can you say more about karate’s “efficiency”? How does that help the QPS kids taking your class?
Sempai Elena: There are no extras in karate–no flourishes. Every single movement has a purpose, an application. Multiple applications, in fact. Karate also has a set of 20 guiding principles. The first is, “Karate begins and ends with respect,” and that is very important to me. To have a big, deep, strong foundation to stand on. Everything we learn in Karate translates to a life of mindfulness, integrity, and kindness.
Kepler: What are the differences between your K to 3rd grade karate class, and your 4th grade and up Warriorship class?
Sempai Elena: The K-3 is karate basics. All the techniques and ideas we learn at the very beginning.
Warriorship is for kids who are old enough to think a little… deeper. My idea is that class will start with a quick check-in and discussion, some self-defense, an activity, and a closing meditation. We will have different themes each week. The first week is, “What is a warrior?” We will really dig into it. We’ll learn some self-defense and then perhaps an art project. I want participants to have input, but I also want to tackle topics like bullying, standing up for others, consent, etc.
In the warriorship class, to give an example, we will learn (or learn more) about Malala, who stood up to the Taliban when they declared that girls could no longer go to school in Pakistan. We will see the similarities and differences between her experiences and ours. What do we admire about her? How can we, too, be like her.
Other examples are Emma Gonzalez, the girl who called BS on Congress after the Parkland shooting; the three young women who launched Black Lives Matter; Gavin Grimm, the trans boy who fought to get access to the correct bathroom; and many others. How did these young people make an impact on their world (and THE world), and how can we make things better?
Also, we will hit and kick things! We will have a fun, with a purpose! I have a lot of great self-defense techniques that I would like to share with the warriorship class that are not appropriate for younger kids–they are too small.
Kepler and Simon: Thank you, Sempai Elena! Our last question, from us both. Aside from respect, what values do you believe are most valuable for today’s kids to understand and embrace?
Sempai Elena: I think it’s the same lesson for everyone: Do the right thing, even if it isn’t the easy thing.
Simon: Thank you again Senpai Elena! We’re thrilled to welcome you to the Queens Paideia community. See you in class!
Senpai Elena: Thank you both so much. I really appreciate this amazing opportunity.
About Elena Waldman
Elena Waldman has been teaching karate, self-defense, and mediation for more than 25 years, the last 9 at M’kekado School of Karate (MKD Karate) in Jackson Heights. She is known as an inspirational, tuned-in instructor who imparts discipline, skill, and self-command by combining traditional karate instruction with child-centered modalities like games, art, and journaling.
Elena is also the founder and executive director of Artemis: Self Defense, Empowerment, and Social Justice, an organization dedicated to bringing self-defense classes to those who most need it, but who have limited access. She will “go anywhere, any time, to teach anyone self-defense,” including de-escalation, up-stander training, civil disobedience, workplace empowerment, and many other common areas of aggression. With children, she creates a safe and appropriate environment for them to explore ideas such as the family unit as a primary safety net, danger vs. fear, setting boundaries, how and who to talk to about difficult feelings and experiences. She emphasizes discipline, self-respect, and the innate right of all children’s voices to be heard.
QPS First Semester Friday classes
KARATE! (K through 3rd Grade, 2-3 p.m.)
Using a child-centered approach to traditional Japanese Karate, children will learn punching, kicking, blocking, and evasion techniques; application; defense; and kata (forms) in a disciplined but exciting and vibrant class. We will condition and stretch our bodies, minds, and spirits. Students will mark their progress using a “learning passport” rather than a belt system, so that children and families can take pride in their accomplishments, and have a lasting learning tool that can be applied to other learning situations.
WARRIORSHIP: Creating a secure, compassionate place in the world (4th Grade +, 3-4 p.m.)
In this class, Sempai Elena encourages her students to step forward through mind & body training. Karate, conflict-resolution and mediation, being a respectful listener, mindful meditation, and decision-making are just some of the themes she will touch= on as she guides students to consider their identities as community members and future caretakers of our environment, and their rights as members of our global family.
Dates for both classes (2018):
September 14, 21, 28
October 5, 12, 19, 26
November 2, 9, 16, 30
December 7, 14
Thank you Kepler and Simon! Queens Paideia welcomes guest posts from its parents, students, and educators, toward creating an experience of shared values and investment.