“What do we do when we enter the dojo?”

“Bow!” a dozen voices piped up and I stepped back to allow the herd of white uniformed midgets to swarm pass. I gathered their name cards, checked that all my students were accounted for and hadn’t yet escaped, and strolled to the front of the class. There they all waited, standing strong from highest to lowest grade, their coloured belts firmly tied.

“Attention stance.” I snapped my feet together, hands by my side and they copied.

“Self control,” they dutifully shouted and bowed again to each other and myself. No head butting this time. This is how we begin every class.

After running around the dojo to the soundtrack of the Lion King, the kindymites were ready to be trained into killing machines. Well at least formidable opponents. Making a ring around the centre red mats, they stood confident, proud and ferocious, none reaching higher than my waist.

“Upper block! Ichi!”

“Ichi Sensei!” They shouted in Japanese. Despite the eldest only being 5 and a half, all of my students could fluently count to ten in Japanese. After their basics, I taught them their self-defence, their special kata and how to spot dangerous adults and bullies. Finally the class was coming to an end.

“Three second square!” I ordered and they hurdled themselves quite enthusiastically into the middle square where they sat “Legs crossed! Backs straight! Hands on knees!”

“Okay kindymites, who can tell me what ‘dinner before dessert’ means?” Today’s mat chat was like any other, a dangerous activity especially around Christmas time. Thankfully that volcanic time of year was still three months away.

Small hands shot up into the air, waving frantically for attention.

“Excuse me! Excuse me! Excuse me!” Cried the littlest and I hid a grimace.

“Yes Nathaniel?”

“My house is made of bricks!”

Oh dear. And very quickly and gently I returned the conversation back on track.

“Dinner before dessert means you do the things you have to do first so you can have the fun stuff afterwards. Let me tell you a story,” they all huddled closer, eyes wide with anticipation. “There was once a little boy and a little girl. The little boy ate his dinner first and then had his dessert whilst the little girl ate her dessert first and was too full to eat her dinner. Who do you think has the strongest muscles?”

“The little boy!” They all called out, the boys rather smug.

“And what sort of food is good for you?” I pointed to Anna who sat shyly at the back.

“Carrots?” She quietly offered and I nodded. Every child mentioned a piece of fruit or vegetable.

“And what shouldn’t you eat lots off?” I asked.

“Dogs,” stated Jamie confidently. Controlling my laughter (the parents weren’t as successful) I watched as the children nodded to themselves wisely.

“Okay kindymites. Normal lines! Ichi! Ni! San!” They bustled into place, belts around their knees, no longer neat and tidy.

“Attention stance!” I said, feet together.

“Self control! Thank you for teaching me.” They bowed and I let them escape into the real world.

Written by Ferne Merrylees