Okay, I’m cheating a little on this one as I had already written most of it for the our philosophy section of our webpage. With an influx of new students, I thought now would be a good time to impress upon our newest members, and any potential members, how we roll at Maine Traditional Karate. Anyone who wishes to add to, or subtract from, my thoughts, please post a comment here or post a comment on Facebook. Please be aware that I cannot always see Facebook comments once the blog has been shared, so please tag me if you can if you have something to say.
The dojo is a special place, where guts are fostered and superior human natures are bred through the ecstasy of sweating in hard work. The dojo is a sacred place, where the human spirit is polished.
Traditional martial arts instruction embraces the concept of shin gi tai. Literally translated as mind-technique-body, shin gi tai stresses development of the mind, body, and technique as necessary to understand, and to benefit most completely from, the way of karate (karate-do). With the advent of sport karate, some schools have shifted instruction to focus only on getting in shape (tai) and perfecting technique (gi) as a way to ensure tournament success. While such efforts can result in beautiful performances requiring great skill, removing the shin (development of the mind/spirit/character) prevents one from fully realizing the true path and benefits of karate-do. As noted in his autobiography “The Spirit of Okinawan Karate,” our Grandmaster, Fusei Kise, responds to students’ description of training:
[of my teachings] everyone said “Mind (Spirit) comes first” When I heard this I realized that my teaching had not gone astray. … I often say that training the mind is more important than kata or technique.
At Maine Traditional Karate, we are committed to preserving for future generations the teachings of Master Kise, his son, Isao Kise, and the lineage that came before them.
Karate is excellent exercise. You will sweat. You will get tired. You may get muscle aches in places you did not know you had muscles. You will overcome. We will help you. Development of the body (tai) requires not only exercise, but perseverance. The goal of our instructors is to help each student develop to the full extent of that student’s capacity. Students of all ages and fitness levels attend our dojo. Some could not do a single pushup when they started. Others could not punch 10 times in a row before needing a break. Yet others have no problem doing one-handed pull-ups. Such diversity in fitness levels exists in harmony due to the mutual respect shared between students. All who attend our dojo share a common interest in self-improvement. All students possess strengths from which we all benefit. We want each other to succeed. We know no other way.
Development of gi (technique/skill) closely parallels improvements in tai. Ability to perform a technique only increases as one becomes more physically fit and flexible. Competence in technique permits pursuing more strenuous, advanced techniques, thus producing higher fitness levels. Repetition of proper technique yields muscle memory – the concept that given a certain event, your muscles and body simply respond with little or no higher cognitive processing. Consider the adaptive role of reflexes, and the benefits of muscle memory become obvious. There is no denying the interdependent nature of gi and tai.
For those who feel coordination impaired, the dojo structure promotes safety – both physically and mentally. Group exercises generally occur in decending rank order from front to back of the dojo. Instructors face the group from the front. Lesser experienced students benefit from observing the more expereinced students in front of them. Self-consciousness is minimized as those behind you are just beginning to learn material which you have been taught. Observation of senior students learning a new technique allows newer students to see that everyone experiences awkwardness when learning something new. Higher ranks are able to model how receiving feedback on a sub-optimal performance is truly a gift from the Sensei or instructor. One of the very first lessons all students learn is to bow and say “domo ariagato goziamus” (ie. thank you very much) when receiving constructive criticism from a higher rank.
Important to note here is that learning occurs independent of rank – not just in a unidirectional manner from higher rank to lower rank. Every class and every partner exercise begins with a bow of resepct to one’s partner as well as the instructor with the request, “oneigashimus,” meaning please teach me. Such a bidirectional request demonstrates proper respect to one another through acknowledgement that we always can learn from one another regardless of rank or position.
Removal of ego as a possible barrier to learning is futher seen in situations where a lesser experienced student is paired directly with a senior student. Whether in practice of technique or in sparring, the lower rank student dictates the pace and level of the activity. Techniques are performed based on skills the lower ranked student has already learned or is in the process of learning. Again, the goal is not to promote superiority of one student over another, but to give all a genuine environment in which the full potential of every student may be realized. Every student is taught from the very early stages of training that it is an honor and obligation to assist others in their journey.
As begins to become apparent above, attitude/mindset, character, spirit, values (i.e. shin) is a critical component of any true study of karate-do. Author and martial artist Michael Clarke writes with great eloquence:
As you move ever deeper into the study of real karate, you will discover the need to give more than you take, to listen more than you speak, and to strive for a sense of balance that brings with it a deep and meaningful sense of contentment. From such a place, it is possible to chart a course through life that is peaceful. From a position of strength and confidence you can choose to be humble and considerate, making the world a better place to live for you and those you come into contact with. Is this utopia (?), hardly; just an opportunity to change how you think and interact with those who populate your daily life. If you don’t fight, you never lose …