Getting and Giving the Message


Communication.  Colleges and universities offer degrees in communications.  Major businesses and corporations devote entire departments and staff to managing their message and getting it out to the public. It is a complex and vital life skill but what makes communication so important?

As defined by the Cambridge Dictionary of American English, communication means “The process by which messages or information is sent from one place or person to another.”  Or, as the ATA Leadership Program book explains, “Communication is the link between me and world.”

Master Sean Berry, 6th Degree Black Belt and owner at Pride Martial Arts in Chula Vista, Calif., said he believes communication is “extremely” important, whether you are speaking or being spoken to.  He also stressed the importance of “how the students communicate in classes and outside the school, how they look, how they listen, and how they talk.”

Communication is derived from the word “common” meaning “equal.”  Successful communication then requires that we find common ground by making sure our communication is seen, heard and felt. 

Nonverbal, or visual, communication relies on body language and appearance to deliver the message while verbal communication refers, obviously, to the way we use our voices (tone, choice of words, volume and pitch).  Physical communication invokes an appropriate touch while speaking, a friendly pat on the back, for example and giving praise. 

We can also communicate with ourselves, which takes practice, as we teach ourselves to grow into the type of person we want to be.  And finally, there is outward communication, maintaining that link to everything and everyone around us.

All forms of communication, if used effectively, can help give you an important edge during class, belt testing or even competition.

“From the moment you step into the ring, you need to be on it.  I tell my students, like a light switch,” Berry said.  “Until they bow you out of the ring, from the moment you step in, you’ve got to be on!”

Communication is of course vital to a martial artist.  It is important to understand and be clearly understood by your instructor and judges and to nonverbally project a positive, confident image through body language, eye contact, and the condition and wear of one’s uniform.  Even a handshake before and after a match can be an effective form of nonverbal physical communication.



The first level of communication is visual and involves how we see each other, our community and the world.  This is where facial expressions and body language become valuable.

If you’re an instructor teaching a class and you notice your young students’ attention being drawn elsewhere, you might rethink your presentation or the volume and intonation of your voice.  As instructors and students, body language and “the look” can definitely make the training even better.



It is important to know the difference between listening and hearing, which is the most important part of communication.  It is one thing to hear words, it is another to listen to the words in their context, along with the speaker’s inflection or tone of voice, to gauge the true meaning of what’s being said. 

Listening also means being selective and differentiating good advice from negativity and bad examples.  Effective listening may be the skill people find hardest to master, said Berry. “I think listening can be overlooked,” he said.  “I think more people need to listen in order for them to communicate better.” 


Every day we practice verbal communication, which begins with ourselves.  The power of the words we say and how we say them— encouraging statements versus negativity, a firm tone versus yelling— can have a tremendous impact on ourselves and the people around us. 

Telling yourself “Yes I can” like we practice with the life skill belief can help you build confidence daily while a polite “thank you” can make a positive impression on others.


Ideally, we lead by example.  When it comes to communication, this aspect can be accomplished in a number of ways:  praising instead of criticizing, helping with tasks, doing the right thing and obeying the law, admitting mistakes, smiling instead of frowning, respecting others’ opinions and yes, being an active listener.

These choices and more provide a positive example and will condition you, Berry said, to make better choices in school, at home and in life.  “Not just talk the talk, but walk the walk,” Berry said.

Berry uses a variety of methods to teach the levels and cornerstones of communication to his students, depending on their age.  He follows the Leadership book, he stresses positive communication in class and will go more in-depth, sometimes involving parents in question and answer sessions where the importance of this life skill is discussed.  Participants can then share examples of successful and unsuccessful communication in their own lives.

Mastering communication, Berry said, will not just make one a better martial artist; it will serve you well wherever you go.

“It’s very valuable,” Berry said.  “Because we’re setting them up to how they behave at school, and that’s setting them up for an interview for college and interviewing for a job.  If they can get their message across and know where they’re headed and have an action plan they can move in that direction and head of the ladder of success.



Author: Todd Traub: Originally published in Vol. 23 no. 2 of the ATA World Magazine.

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