Tournament Time – Hajimemashite はじめまして

Warriors For Life Group Photo 2019

Hajimemashite. In Japanese, this means “it is a beginning” and would be used similar to “nice to meet you” when greeting someone for the first time in English. One of the things that amazes me every time I go to a martial arts tournament is how many new people I meet that share this unique interest with me. Since joining Maine Traditional Karate in 2016 I have had several opportunities to participate in various events. Most recently my family and I attended the Battle of Maine in Waterville and the Warriors for Life Tournament in Dover-Foxcroft. Every time we go we see familiar faces and we also get to meet new people from Maine, Canada, and several New England states.

As martial artists that train regularly with the same dojo members every week, it can sometimes feel like we exist in a silo. In a rural area like Maine it can feel even more so like our community is a small splinter apart from everyday society. Within the OSMKKF, we have our nearby fellows in the Orland Karate Dojo under Sensei Stan Leach to connect with, but we are many many miles from a lot of our other sister dojos in the US, Okinawa and South America. Our fantastic leaders such as Hanshi Shipes, Kyoshi Engelby and Kaicho Isao Kise visit us annually, and our dojo black belts travel afar to connect with the federation on a regular basis. We have access to a rich culture with a modern organized martial art deeply rooted in ancient traditions. This experience travels thousands of miles directly to us!

It is important to regularly step back and see the larger picture. We exist, not in a silo, but in a community that spiderwebs across the area connecting in more ways than one. Our style of Okinawan Shorin Ryu shares roots with many other martial arts going all the way back to ancient China. When I participate in these tournaments, I see so many connections between our styles by observing the other participants. Yes, each art is distinct in how it operates and where it places emphasis in its materials. But there are so many basic principles tied together throughout our styles and it feels like we are apart of something so much bigger when I notice these elements.

Much like our common roots in martial arts, the people involved are everyday citizens like you and I. I’m not the most social person, but I have met so many people by regularly going to these tournaments that we recognize each other in the other communities we are a part of. There’s an undeniable sense of fellowship you find by connecting with others, regardless of rank, style or dojo. I would highly recommend everyone take a chance and find their own “Hajimemashite” moments. Take a chance on meeting new people and doing new things. Karate is a journey with many beginnings, and most of those are well after you are fitted into a gi with a fresh white belt around your waist.

For the Battle of Maine, dojo members Sempai Josh Curtis, Gabe Curtis, Zen Taylor, Nikolas Long and Mikel Leighton stepped on the floor to represent MTK. At the Warriors for Life Tournament we had Sophia Santiago, Jessica Fortier Leighton, Logan Leighton and Mikel Leighton on the floor. Everyone performed and represented both dojo and Sensei Steve admirably. Thank you to the participants and the dojo family that came to support everyone!

Results for individuals can be seen by clicking on their profile photo in the MTK Dojo Members page.

Spring is in the air

March 9 testing students

The last 2 weeks have been busy ones for the dojo! We’ve had student testing, a tournament, new students, Orrington Recreation visiting the Little Samurai classes and so much more.

The 39th Battle of Maine Championship in Waterville, ME this past weekend was a great experience for everyone. It is always amazing to see the diversity of martial arts styles in action competing together. Sensei was proud of our students that represented the dojo in kumite (sparring), kobudo (weapons) and kata (forms).

    • Sempai Josh Curtis
    • Gabe Curtis
    • Mikel Leighton
    • Nikolas Long
    • Zen Taylor

As well, a special thanks to everyone that came to support the participants from the sidelines!

Testing is a proving grounds for students to put forth the product of their training before Sensei and dojo black belts. Congratulations to the following students that were promoted this month:

New Rank Member
01 Kyu (Brown 2 stripe) Edgar Leclerc
01 Kyu (Brown 2 stripe) Emmett Mahoney
01 Kyu (Brown 2 stripe) Sophia Santiago
04 Kyu (Green 2 stripe) Mikel Leighton
04 Kyu (Green 2 stripe) Nikolas Long
05 Kyu (Green 1 stripe) Hazel Leclerc
05 Kyu (Green 1 stripe) Jacob Endre
05 Kyu (Green 1 stripe) Kelly Sanders
06 Kyu (Green 0 stripe) Andy Kempton
06 Kyu (Green 0 stripe) Jessica Fortier Leighton
06 Kyu (Green 0 stripe) Joshua Bone
07 Kyu (Blue 2 stripe) Nicholas Huff
08 Kyu (Blue 1 stripe) Alden Bartlett
08 Kyu (Blue 1 stripe) Annika Fehn
08 Kyu (Blue 1 stripe) Carter Donahue
08 Kyu (Blue 1 stripe) Collin Huff
08 Kyu (Blue 1 stripe) Logan Leighton
08 Kyu (Blue 1 stripe) Logan Stephens
08 Kyu (Blue 1 stripe) Marco Fehn
09 Kyu (Blue 0 stripe) Crystal Leighton
09 Kyu (Blue 0 stripe) Zen Taylor
10 Kyu (White 2 stripe) John Vallely
11 Kyu (White 1 stripe) Clive Haverkamp
11 Kyu (White 1 stripe) Loxley Haverkamp
11 Kyu (White 1 stripe) Sefia Haverkamp

We look forward to training hard and enjoying the Spring weather as it thaws away months of snow and ice. In just two weeks there is the 14th Annual Warriors for Life Tournament in Dover-Foxcroft, ME. It is a smaller tournament and great for students to get a first-time experience! Please let Sensei Steve know if you want to participate.

Congratulations to our new black belts!

MTK New Black Belt Members October 2018

On October 28, 2018 we had the honor of testing three 1 kyu karateka under the guidance of Kyoshi Loren Engleby. After a long day of rigorous training  alongside their peers in Orrington Maine Traditional Karate and the Orland Karate Dojo, these outstanding members performed exceptionally well and to the satisfaction of the reviewing black belts.

We welcome the following members into the rank of Shodan:

    • Josh Curtis
    • Kyle Sullivan
    • Gavin Worcester

Kon’nichiwa

Welcome to our new site! We appreciate your patience as we develop the content. If you have any questions at all, feel free to reach us at:

Address
136 River Rd
Orrington, ME 04474

Phone
207-570-5425

Transitions

shuhari in kanji

The kanji depicted above reads “Shu ha ri.”  The term references the journey of the karateka as he or she moves from beginner to black belt to advanced student and how the relationship with one’s Sensei may change along the way.  This blog post is not about that.  There are many fine articles on the web (http://aikiorlando.com/article/meaning-shuhari is a concise explanation and from where I borrowed the kanji).  We recently had two exceptionally skilled youth black belts leave our dojo – they, and their family, are just wonderful people as well and will be profoundly missed.  This blog post isn’t about them either. (Okay, I started this post last year, but it still applies).

This blog post is about the equally skilled and wonderful Sempai Kailee (she’s the beautiful young lady in the middle).  Sempai Kailee currently serves our dojo as the only youth Shodan. (I don’t really think of her as a youth anymore, but it’s important to the story).  As the head youth Shodan, Sempai Kailee’s responsibilities include co-instructing youth classes with our Sensei.  What she probably doesn’t know is that she is one of two big reasons I go to the youth class on Monday and Wednesday nights.

You see, her bad influence is corrupting my otherwise stellar class protocol (i.e., behavior).  Okay, well not really, but whatever.  You see, unless another higher rank is present, I am supposed to take the “first position” as students line up to train.  Even though Sempai Kailee surpasses me in skill and curriculum knowledge, an adult Shodan lines up to the right of a youth Shodan regardless of time in grade or skill. The ranking student assumes the first position and has responsibility for leading the traditional opening and closing ceremonies of the class, enforcing protocol and dojo rules, and generally helping in any way the Sensei or lead instructor of the night needs.   The uninformed or even new student might think, “oh, you mean they get to be bossy.”  Uh … no …. but after long wait and much anticipation brings us to the topic of today’s blog … sort of.

I have had the pleasure to watch Sempai Kailee move from youth into adolescence with the grace of a woman and not the antics of a child.  At a time when her peers resolved conflicts with opposing statements of “nah uh,” and the undefendable counterattack of “yes sah,” Sempai Kailee’s training involved crucial lessons in group dynamics and how to give and receive feedback in a constructive manner.   And now, as an adolescent, it is her dojo role that deprives her the opportunity for developmentally appropriate attempts at control and “bossiness” that teens exhibit as they navigate lessons of independence and its associated responsibilities.

Sempai Kailee assumes the first position role as a leader and not “bossy Betty” because of her karate training.   Karate-do helps one develop an inherent or internally-based sense of self-worth that exists independently of how those in the external world respond to or treat you.  As you grow as a karate student, personal achievement becomes just that – “personal.”  The standards by which you come to judge and accept yourself is whether self-improvement relative to the day before has occurred or, at least, been attempted.  Additionally, one actively strives to apply consistently the morals and values that have become part of one’s being.  Freed from the destructive forces of other’s acceptance or rejection, the karateka meets the world with head up and shoulders back with the full knowledge that failure will occur as part of the process and is not a terminating event.

In short, there is no reason, need, or desire to be “bossy.” “Bossy” people often define self-worth in terms of the extent to which they can manipulate and control others to do as the “bossy” person wishes.  Control of others is equated with being powerful and must be constantly sought in order to maintain arbitrary standards of self-importance.

Leadership, on the other hand, involves structuring one’s presentation and interaction with others with the aim of helping others grow while achieving a common group goal.

So don’t come to class with hopes of getting to be bossy some day … Come to class and learn to lead … like Sempai Kailee.

The Rock, The Stream, and Dirty Socks

We have an L shaped sectional couch in our living room. My son, Isaac, usually rests at one end of the L, I at the other, and my wife, Sue, in the middle. Inevitably, at some point in the evening, an eerie silence falls over the room …. Peace? … Nope. It is a telling silence, and you best be listening for it when visiting the Roberts’ homestead. Without warning, the unmistakable “FWAP” of a sock hitting Isaac or Sue square in the face marks the beginning of the almost nightly ritual.

I have no idea how or when it started, but the ritual involves an all out, no holds barred war of sock and pillow throwing until such time as easily accessible ammunition exists no longer. Being the eldest statesman in the house, I, of course, am above such juvenile shenanigans …. UNTIL a seemingly unintentional ricochet or errantly aimed projectile invades my airspace and connects with my person. Oh, it’s ON then baby.

So, I told you that story so I could tell you this one. When everyone in my household is getting ready in the morning, it is a miracle if you can find ANY socks, no less a matching pair. My son and I view life much the same way – the function of socks is to keep one’s feet warm; two of any variety will do the trick. Sue asked Isaac the other day, “what do you do when people ask you why you are wearing two different socks?” Isaac’s response, “I usually ask them why they’re not.”

Hold that true story in your mind while you ponder this equally true story.  We have a great little mom-n-pop convenience store just down the road that is the go to location for Sue and Isaac if they are missing a crucial ingredient for the evening’s meal or activities.  Some sketchy individuals can sometimes be found in the vicinity after dark.  It is not a particularly well lit area and would require a few minute response time from our police department.

Isaac and Sue were on their way back to the car one evening when a questionable individual approached Sue and asked her for a quarter.  Isaac had already made his way around to the passenger side of the car.  Now I am usually the cynical one in the family which makes it amusing that I did not even think of the highly likely scenario that the individual wanted Sue to move her purse to a more snatcher friendly location.  The way Sue told the story however made it clear that a possible robbery was exactly the vibe that she had gotten.  I looked over at Isaac, and, like part of a well-oiled story telling machine, he picked up without missing a beat. “Don’t worry, Dad.  My body had already started moving and I knew exactly how I was going to get across the hood of the car in time to protect Mom.”  Isaac then described a sequence of actions that indeed would have been quite effective and well within his Nidan arsenal.

Ponder both scenarios from the perspective of a karateka and you can see how karate-do is as much, if not more, a mindset as it is a set of violently effective combative actions.  Self-confidence, an internally-based sense of self-worth, and a calmness that allows prudent response versus reaction are all characteristics fostered and cultivated in the dojo.  Such has been true from the very beginnings of the Shorin Ryu style.

In his book Empty Hand: The Essence of Budo Karate, Kenei Mabuni tells a centuries old story regarding karate legend, Matsumura Sokon:

He was then 41 years of age. It was a day in autumn when a young man in his early 20s came to [Matsumura] asking to be accepted as his student. He was tall, more than 1.80 m (about 6 ft) 141, with a strong stature. Matsumura was already a famous man and many young men wanted to become his disciple. But he chose his students very carefully. While the young man was begging, Matsumura noticed that there was something ill-bred in him that he did not like. He grumbled a few words and finally refused his wish. The young man left with a rather angry face.

A few days later master Matsumura went home from his service in the castle of Shuri together with two of his disciples. Suddenly they were ordered to stop by a group of about 10 young men who had waited for them in ambush. The place where this happened is today the road behind the Shuri high school.

“Oh, am I seeing Master Matsumura?” The young man who had stepped out of the group and said this was taller than the others. Matsumura thought this voice reminded him of someone. Calmly he answered, “Right, I am Matsumura.” When the moonlight let the young man’s face emerge more clearly Matsumura recognized him as the big guy who had visited him a few days ago.

“If you want to pass you must crawl between my legs!” As if by command, the men started to surround Matsumura. His students stood silently aside and watched the scene.

“If you say so.” Master Matsumura nodded and without objection kneeled down in front of the young man. While sitting on his knees he bowed his head down to the ground. Suddenly, the tall guy seemed to be puzzled because he did not understand what Master Matsumura was really intending. But then he straddled his legs to let him crawl through. He looked very strained. Sweat was running from his forehead. In the moment Matsumura put his hands on the ground to crawl on all fours he could not stand the tension anymore and jumped back shouting: “Ok, ok, I got it. You are free to go.” Angrily he spat on the ground. He was panting with a pale face, his shoulders trembling. Matsumura … left the scene as if nothing had happened.

Both students who went behind the master had to struggle to control their emotions. But finally they could no longer restrain themselves: “Master, what we were just seeing, was this really “Bushi” Matsumura? Wasn’t it just terrible being humiliated that way?” The other one added: “Right, even if there are so many enemies you must not allow them to bring such a shame and humiliation on you and force to creep like a dog.” Matsumura listened to their words with a gentle smile. …

Of course the other students heard about this matter soon. So did Matsumura’s wife Ume. She is said to have told the students: “Look, you should understand that Matsumura has just won without fighting.” Of course, he could have chosen to fight. One strike would have been enough to knock out the tall gang leader. Then he would have knocked down four or five of the others and the rest would surely have run away. But he was accompanied by two inexperienced disciples. There was the risk for his students to be injured. He would have had to protect them. So the situation was more difficult than if he had been alone. But even if he had been alone, fighting against so many people would not have left him much room for modesty. Probably he would have had to injure a few of them. Maybe one of them would have even come to death. His king would never have forgiven such a behavior. This is why he chose “winning without fighting”. But again this was not a deliberate decision but a natural and spontaneous reaction to the situation. (pp. 166 – 167)

The concept is ubiquitous in Eastern thought. A Daoist may speak of a flowing stream that encounters an immovable boulder.  The boulder stands rigid and firm, resolute that none shall pass through it.  The stream simply yields to the boulder, flows around it, and continues merrily on its way.  The boulder believes itself to be all powerful as it forces others to alter their path.  The stream almost feels sorry for the boulder as it knows the boulder will always be anchored, stuck in the same place in life based on its mindset. 

So, when facing the sock mockers in your life, be the stream and not the boulder.  Keep your eye on the goal of being happy in life and experience as much of its infinite wonder that you possibly can. Allow the boulder its illusion of power – to engage it yields no benefit to you and only sucks you into a battle of the wills over insignificant minutiae.    As Bruce Lee once said, “be like water my friend.”

If your reaction to such a thought is “why should I bother studying karate if I am simply going to yield to all such obstacles,” then you need to come to class twice as much.

In a prior post , I pointed out:

one of my favorite karate posters involved a tiny bird perched on a katana (sword) that was attached to a samurai’s waist area.  The quote read “Never think that because I am peaceful that I have forgotten how to be violent.”  Way cool … Definitely need to hang that one in my home dojo … After cringing at the fact that I had just written the term “way cool,” I also felt some embarrassment about thinking so highly of the poster. Neither confidence nor strength were being depicted.  The ugly faces of arrogance and insecurity lurked beneath a false veil of nobility.

A new year of training is upon us.  Set aside time to reflect on the lessons that lie beneath the punching and kicking.  Do not be ashamed if you do not yet see them.  I honestly have grown to believe that the lessons reveal themselves to us when we are ready, or, more frequently, when we most need them.

As you ponder the deeper meanings of your own experiencess in karate-do, always remember that, unfortunately, the world can be a dangerous place.  So, train hard and with focus.  What you will find is that your body and mind subconciously will come to live the philosophy best summed up by Theodore Roosevelt:

Don’t hit at all if it is honorably possible to avoid hitting; but never hit soft.

Onegaishimasu

Two men bowing in a tunnel

Feet together, eyes down, use both hands to shake hands with your training partner. Say “Onegaishimasu.”  This ritual begins every partner drill in our dojo.  Why?  Well, to avoid nuclear Armageddon of course.  …  Perhaps I should back up one step.

My wife, son, and I started a tradition a year or so ago where we take at least one karate-related photo when we travel places as a family.  This year marks a decade since martial arts first invaded our household.  I must admit that a flood of thoughts and emotions overcame me as I edited this picture from a recent trip to northern Maine.

In the northeastern corner of what was once Loring Air Force Base in Limestone, Maine, a couple dozen concrete bunkers built into the barren countryside still remain.  The area at Loring served as the first operational US facility constructed specifically for the storage, assembly, and testing of atomic weapons  (About Loring).  Standing at the back end of one of the storage bunkers, my wife took the photograph above –  my son and I executing a standard bow and handshake as we stood in the doorway to the outside world.

The remarkable duality depicted in this photo struck me this morning.  To one side of our position lived the cold, dark, brooding emptiness of a bunker once home to the capacity to wipe humankind from the face of the earth.  Yet, to the other side lay the brightness, beauty, and potential of a world of infinite possibilities.  And there we stood, my son and I, bowing along the delicate nexus of dark and light … despair and hope … life and death.  We were not perched precariously on some razor thin cliff, but rather existed as a harmonious and necessary link, or perhaps barrier, between the two sides.  My son and I stood there as two individuals – each with our own unique strengths, weaknesses, and life experiences – exhibiting two of the most recognizable symbols of mutual respect  – the bow and handshake.

And that is the lesson of “Onegaishimasu.”  In our dojo, karateka shake hands with both hands  simultaneously to show we hide no weapon from, or malice toward, the opposing party.  We offer trust by voluntarily constraining our most potent defensive options – our hands – through the two handed handshake.  We bow with eyes down in a non-confrontational manner – a gesture of commitment to the belief that the opposing party’s motives and actions are honorable and will not harm us.  Onegaishimasu roughly translates as “please,” or, as we translate it, “please teach me.”  This ritual exemplifies the mindset of putting aside who may be better than whom, acknowledging that both parties bring strengths and weaknesses that will be valuable learning tools for all involved, and committing to one another to work together towards mutual growth.  Developing respect for others often serves as the poster child for the positive character development thought to be associated with karate-do.

Take a moment to ponder what “respect” really means.  Can you define it?  What does possessing the character trait of respect look like?   Are the common definitions of respect seen in our culture the same as those meant within the martial arts world?  I would argue that the respect associated with karate-do, with Onegaishimasu, bears only marginal resemblance to how the term is often used in American culture.

Americans often view respect in terms of one of two mindsets.  The first mindset is one of awe. “I have such respect for the my Sensei, some actor, or some world class athlete.”  Appreciation for another’s mastery of some area should remain just that – appreciation for the beauty of the actions.  When one speaks of respect versus appreciation for another, however, one runs the risk of letting awe, or even envy, drive one’s feelings.  Perhaps a subtle difference, but vitally important to understand.  Envy or awe-driven respect necessarily causes the observer to place him or herself into a subordinate role relative to the observed.  Again, there is nothing wrong with appreciating one with skills superior to your own in certain areas – such appreciation can serve as a healthy goal towards which to strive.  Inherent feelings of self-worth allow one to avoid having appreciation morph into a less healthy envy or awe, or even into a potentially destructive jealousy.  We will return to this thought in a moment.

“You don’t have to like him, but you’d better %$&* well respect him.”  Such a statement exemplifies a second way respect is often “mis”used in American and other cultures.  When one tacks the implied “or else” onto the end of this statement, it becomes clear the speaker means fear, not respect.   Fear is a powerful tool that actually is quite functional in certain situations.  To an inmate, a person who lives in a crime-ridden area, or even a nation with enemies who would seek to do you harm, having others fear you may mean the difference between life and death.  This fear, however, has nothing to do with respect.  Your opponent would just as soon poke you in the eye as do what you want if he or she could get away with it.  Respect implies a mutually positive experience; whereas, fear represents posturing meant to achieve a superior positioning through avoidance or compliance.  Is the use of fear a necessary tool in the world?  Perhaps.  Fear is not the respect of which we speak in the way of karate, however.

So where does that leave us?  I would argue that respect is a construct of absolute neutrality.  When participants confuse fame, fortune, or being feared with being respected, the balanced nature of a neutral environment is upset.   If we spend all our time trying to discover and highlight an opponent’s weakness, we’ll either find it and embarass the person or force the opponent’s hand to demonstrate his or her own power.   Either way, one side loses.  In reality, both do.  A self-perpetuating destructive cycle results.

It is the nurturing of the absolute neutrality of the environment that IS respect.  Huh?  Karate-do seeks to build internal or intrinsic feelings of self-worth rather than allow external criteria or achievement to hold self-esteem prisoner.  When one comes to believe all life holds intrinsic value, especially one’s own, you offer the opportunity for respect to, and from, all those you encounter.  And it is when your partner approaches you in the same manner that the magic happens.  Both parties come to the table with their own unique awesomeness, yet neither feels the need to belittle the other by trying to use it to gain an advantage.  What each person gives and receives will be different from the other, but none less valuable.  Because being better or worse at something due to natural ability or practice does not define your worth as a human, you are left only to gain from coming to the party and participating.  The funny thing is, you’ll be effortlessly giving at the same time and probably not even know it.  It is this selfless, reciprocal give and take that is respect.

To those in my life – my family, my coworkers, and especially my fellow karateka at our dojo – are you not quite there yet in knowing and believing in your own unique awesomeness?  Take a chance and come and ask me what I see for strength within you.  Dare to come and stand with me, feet together, extend both hands, bow with your eyes down, and whisper “Onegaishimasu.”   You may be surprised what you learn.  I guarantee you that your presence in that moment and beyond is the most precious of many gifts that you give to me.

 

Why I Want to Be a Black Belt?

Why do I want to obtain my black belt?

I don’t. When I started studying karate several years ago, I, like many non-martial artists, thought the black belt symbolized absolute expertise and marked the holder as a person with whom one should not trifle. Phrases like, “he’s got his black belt” or “he IS a black belt” held meaning in a standalone fashion. With my testing for Shodan rapidly approaching, I frequently field questions about whether I am nervous or excited. Upon careful reflection, I must honestly respond, “not really.” Why? I don’t want to get my black belt.

Before I incur the wrath of my Sensei, let me explain a little about my history. The greatest gift, and curse, imparted upon me by my mother and father involved their modeling an unyielding work ethic. Identify a goal; identify the steps necessary to reach the goal; complete said steps; achieve the goal. One’s ability to successfully navigate such a process can lead to fame, fortune, recognition … success.

Until it leads to misery that is. You see, I allowed my self-worth to be both a goal and the driving force behind success. Equating success with happiness then put the final nail in the coffin. I enjoyed great “success” in high school – first in my class academically, All-State in indoor and outdoor track, and All-Conference in soccer. Yet driving my academic and other success was not a love of learning or a thirst for knowledge, but, rather, an unwillingness to be second best to my brother (also first in his class), by feelings that my classmates did not believe that I had earned what I had achieved, and by desire to get into a good college.

The pattern continued into college and beyond. I practically lived in the Bowdoin Psychology Department during college. I authored research articles as an undergraduate, graduated summa cum laude and with highest honors in my major, and worked hard to gain the respect of my professors. Driving each of these goals, however, was yet another goal – getting into a demanding graduate program. Absent was the experience of a process that was rewarding in and of itself. As a doctoral student, the goal then became to be employed by a reputable University and then would have become to obtain tenure and then …. Well, you get the point.

Successfully achieving a goal brought little satisfaction as it simply gave way to the next goal. Self-worth did not improve – how can it with success being a constantly moving target that could never be achieved? The process to get to the goal had always been something that had to be powered through instead of enjoyed on its own. If I had trouble powering through, I simply was not good enough or not working hard enough. No achievement was ever enough. Some degree of misery, even with achievement, always persisted. I had achieved great success in life, but little happiness. In the process, I had forgotten to live.

And then karate came along … Things started the same way. I faithfully attended class, always thinking about how cool it would be when I get my black belt. Even at brown belt, old habits persisted. Frustration set in when I learned I would not be testing at the 2016 Annual Training with the United States Director of our Federation. Black belt testing occurs only once per year. I would simply have to wait another 12 months.

That delay was exactly what I needed. An amazing thing happened. Everything slowed down. An opportunity materialized – a chance to evaluate what I really enjoy about our dojo, and martial arts training in general. I found new outlets for my research and writing skills. Reading and writing suddenly seemed enjoyable again as I explored topics for no other reason other than they interested me. The goal was not to impress anyone with knowledge or skill, but rather the joy of the activities themselves. I realize a massive bonus any time my writings put a smile on someone’s face or inspire a reader to go learn more about a topic of interest. Hmm … I do not need a black belt to continue to do that. Our nonjudgmental dojo learning environment allows me to falter as a normal and important part of the learning process. Learning how to fail is a lesson I did not start to come to grips with until fairly recently. Of course, learning to fail often serves as a more valuable lesson than learning to succeed. Helping others discover such wisdom by playing my part in creating a positive atmosphere makes me feel good about myself …Gosh, I don’t need a black belt to appreciate our dojo, and the people in it, as a classroom. I greatly enjoy watching out for the well-being of my classmates and their engagement in our dojo family. Life has taught me what a nasty bastard self-worth can be – especially to teens. If I can encourage others when they are most discouraged, and help them see the beauty and strength in who they are absent any external measure, than years of psychological scholarship, ultimately abandoned, will not have been in vain. If my life experience provides a shortcut for others to learn that the process is just as important, if not more so, than progress, then I am pleased to have played a part in someone not having to spend years missing the bigger picture. A powerful lesson indeed – do not miss the chance to experience where you are during your journey to where you think you should be. Jeez, I don’t need my black belt to do that, either. Most importantly, karate provides guaranteed family time with my son. Getting my black belt will increase the time that he and I spend together in the dojo as I will be eligible for classes that he currently attends. Yet, not having my black belt does not prevent our family time in the classes we already have together, nor does it affect the martial arts stories that my son, my wife, and I share around the dinner table and in the car.

To share freely knowledge gained through research and hard work, to stand beside those who feel beaten and help them nurture the unique flame that lights their path, to introduce humor and laughter as appropriate in times of greatest need, and to teach by example the importance of family – whether related by blood or common purpose; these are the things that bring me most joy from my martial arts experiences. These are the qualities I offer to the OSMKKF Federation and comprise what I see as my place in our dojo.

And with this offering, I am asked to address if I am “in good health and able to properly perform the required techniques that you will be responsible for teaching your students.” The honest answers are “not where I need to be” and “most, but not all,” respectively. Both remain an important part of my martial arts journey; both provide a unique learning opportunity to my fellow students. We have students of all shapes, sizes, and talents. For me to share my weaknesses in all their glory as I walk the path to improvement only reinforces the safety of our dojo for all who seek to learn. My weight needs to come down, my balance needs improvement, the quest for knowledge and perfecting one’s technique is a lifelong journey. Yet while I celebrate my weaknesses as part of an attempt to address them, I also gladly share my strengths in an attempt to enrich further my own life and hopefully the lives of those around me.

And so here we are … full circle. Obtaining my black belt serves as a benchmark during my travels down a continuing path towards self-awareness and self-improvement through karate-do. Clearly my views of a black belt have evolved from when I first began karate. A black belt is an object, not a definition. An object will never dictate who I am or how I treat others. Those things will always be up to me. As Michael Clarke writes in his book regarding Shin Gi Ti,

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 …

So why do I want to get my black belt? I don’t. … But isn’t that the point.

Respectfully submitted by:
Shawn Roberts, Candidate for Shodan
Maine Traditional Karate
August 14, 2017

Confidence

"In quietness and in confidence shall be your strength" - Isaiah 30:15

Let me tell you about Sophia.   Sophia is a beautiful young teen with long brown hair, a dark complexion, and a bright smile that will melt your heart if you are fortunate enough to catch it.  She is tall and seemingly mature for her age so she often attends the adult class after sweating it out in the youth class before it.  She is a skilled martial artist with a gentle soul.  Her soft-spoken nature allows her to blend into the background without being noticed should she choose to do so – a social ninja if you will.

A little while ago, our Sensei commented about what a model student Sophia is as she goes quietly about her business but with such confidence and skill.  The quote in the image above immediately jumped to mind.  I had read it once in the Bible … or was it on a Bazooka Gum wrapper?  I don’t remember.   At any rate, my mind began a wandering pondering about the role of confidence in karate and the role karate can play in building confidence.   Answering “what is confidence”, and “how, or even if, one can achieve it through studying the martial arts” are much deeper topics than they first appear.

Until I started writing this post, one of my favorite karate posters involved a tiny bird perched on a katana (sword) that was attached to a samurai’s waist area.  The quote read “Never think that because I am peaceful that I have forgotten how to be violent.”  Way cool … Definitely need to hang that one in my home dojo … After cringing at the fact that I had just written the term “way cool,” I also felt some embarrassment about thinking so highly of the poster. Neither confidence nor strength were being depicted.  The ugly faces of arrogance and insecurity lurked beneath a false veil of nobility.  … Huh? … Let me offer a more concrete and obvious example.

Centuries ago when I was just starting karate, I read a disturbing forum comment made by a former high ranking practitioner from our Federation.  The comment basically reflected the author’s feeling that one of the current United States Directors (at that time) was not particularly skilled and would not last very long in a real fight.  I’ll never forget the wording and tone of my Sensei’s response as I conveyed how the forum commenter basically stated that studying under the referenced director was a waste of time and that the black belts who trained under the person commenting could easily kick the patooties of any and all the black belts who trained under the Director.

My Sensei’s response … “Who cares?”

Now, I know you weren’t there, so let me clarify what my Sensei meant by “who cares.”  Yes, a student should seek training from a qualified instructor.  Yes, an instructor should  care about being well-versed in the areas in which he or she provides instruction.  Yes, all involved should care about possessing a common understanding of the goals of training and the methods to be used to achieve said goals.

BUT … and this is a BIG BUT (insert joke here about those, like myself, who are gravitationally challenged).  But, other than during a tournament or if you are a MMA professional, who cares if a student from one dojo can consistently beat a student from another.  The standard of “who can beat up who” is not one employed in our Federation.   Expressing one’s capacity to harm and control others is not a display of confidence. It reflects insecurity – the need for external validation of some twisted value …  Never think that because I am peaceful that I have forgotten how to be violent translates into yes, I am cool, calm, and collected, confident and peaceful.  Go ahead and dare to challenge my self-grandiosity and see what happens.  Arrogance – yep.  Insecurity – you bet.  Confidence – no.

Confidence gained through the martial arts is:

  • feeling security in possessing skills to protect one’s self and those one loves
  • feelings of enhanced control of one’s thoughs and body gained through hard work and practice
  • an inner peace generated by knowing that one possesses the inner strength to withstand any physical, spiritual, or emotional challenge life throws one’s way
  • the ability to watch videos of three to five year old karateka and truly appreciate the beauty of the crispness and perfection in their technique
  • observing and appreciating  a fellow karateka or a coworker do something amazing and not feel inferior
  • believing you have knowledge or skills worthy of being shared

In a nutshell, confidence is possessing positive feelings of self-worth and self-efficacy, but feeling no need to prove that worthiness to others.

As martial artists, we must actively rebut arguments that equate confidence with perceptions of superiority relative to another’s skill level or rank.  Confidence most certainly should never be defined by threat potential, nor maintained by implied threat or ability to control another.

And so we are brought back to the lovely and talented Sophia.  I am so honored to have the opportunity to watch you grow as a martial artist and a human being.   I’ll never be able to balance as well as you my young friend.  Perhaps someday you can teach me how you do it so well.  In the meantime, know with certainty that I consider you, and our other dojo members, family.  Whether you like the attention or not, you, and the others like you, will continue to be watched … supported … guided … protected.  I do hope, however, that you will freely share all your emerging skills and gifts with the world.    I am sorry that it has taken me a year from when I first warned you it was coming to finish this blog post.  I pray that you will never have to use the lethal skills we help you understand.   Regardless, it gives me such hope for our planet’s future to watch you and the other young karateka benefit in body and spirit in the way my son and my family have.

Indeed, in quietness and in confidence, we ALL possess strength.

 

 

 

 

 

 

My Fiercest Enemy Yet

Do you ever just have one of those days? …. No, not that kind – the other kind.  Well, I’m having one of those. The fiercest, most terrifying enemy I have ever faced stealthily approaches.  I can feel it even if I cannot yet see it.  I feel the rage, frustration, fear, and helplessness all bubbling up inside me.

Is the enemy a person who physically threatens me or my family? No.  My Sensei teaches me effective skills to first avoid, and then, if all else fails, to confront such threats.  Hmmm……  Oh, I’ve got it.   My fiercest enemy must be inner demons then, right?  Not exactly.  Light cannot exist without darkness.  Studying the martial arts is helping me learn to embrace the darkness as part of who I am and use it in a productive way to fuel the light.

What then? What is the fiercest, most terrifying enemy I have ever faced?  I figured it out this morning.   In retrospect, it was last Saturday at about 12:45 pm when the fiercest, most terrifying enemy I have ever faced rose up and revealed itself to me.  There it was standing in the middle of the ceremony held to promote karateka to new ranks in our dojo.  If you dare, read on.  But prepare yourself.  The fiercest, most terrifying enemy I have ever faced is …


Well to be completely honest, the fiercest, most terrifying enemy I have ever faced is …

and

 

You met Bridezilla and Rump in a previous post (http://mainetraditionalkarate.com/blog/yu-who-me-no-yu/).

Add, the player we’ll call “Blades” to the mix and you have the Triad of Terror. You see, Bridezilla, Rump and Blades are among my favorite members of our dojo. Bridezilla and Rump are affected by the horrible disease known as cystic fibrosis.  The Cystic Fibrosis Foundation describes the disease in the following manner:

Cystic fibrosis is a life-threatening, genetic disease that causes persistent lung infections and progressively limits the ability to breathe.

In people with CF, a defective gene causes a thick, buildup of mucus in the lungs, pancreas and other organs. In the lungs, the mucus clogs the airways and traps bacteria leading to infections, extensive lung damage and eventually, respiratory failure. In the pancreas, the mucus prevents the release of digestive enzymes that allow the body to break down food and absorb vital nutrients.

Bridezilla and Rump also suffer from a severe case of debilitating cuteness and charm.

Blades is also a remarkable young person.  She has a fabulous parent who is currently doing battle with cancer. Blades is emerging from being a shy young one filled with uncertainty to a confident young woman.  She will be well served by what she has learned when she navigates adolescence in a few years. She has a remarkable sense of humor and is one of those people you cannot help but like and care about.

As a senior member of our dojo, I am very protective of my fellow karateka.   But how do you help protect against an invisible enemy who attacks with impunity and cannot be brought under control consistently by the world’s best and brightest?  How do you stand and be counted as a practitioner of the Way of Karate to aid those who are suffering when there are no known means to combat the cause?   I don’t understand why martial arts require me to live and teach a lifestyle of integrity, respect, courage, honor, compassion, honesty and sincerity, and duty and loyalty when none of those qualities or skills will impede the fiercest, most terrifying enemy I have ever faced, let alone stop it.   I don’t understand how to help these kids or to whom to turn to learn how.  I don’t understand how to make the rage I feel at my own ineptitude and ineffectiveness go away.   I don’t understand who or what else to be angry at or to punish for what I see as an injustice.   I don’t understand how the world can be so cruel to those who least deserve it.  I DON’T UNDERSTAND!

And then a little voice inside my head whispered an old Zen proverb:

“If you understand, things are as they are.  If you do not understand, things are as they are.”

To be honest, it wasn’t a little voice.  It was kind of more like the booming voice of James Earl Jones.  (Hey, would you want to mess with Darth Vader.)  Substitute just about any emotion or feeling for “understand,” and the wisdom still applies. Whether you are angry or frustrated or feel that life is not treating you fairly, “things are as they are.”

When the time comes for you to face the fiercest, most terrifying enemy – that is, the foe that cannot be controlled by any means available to you – what should you do? What would you do?  I asked Sensei a version of this question once.  His response was short and to the point:

“Tai sabaki”

Tai sabaki, or change body in our system, is a crucial and central tenet to our style of self defense. The general idea is that we shift our body positioning off the line of attack of the aggressor, usually at a 45 degree angle.  As a result, our vital areas are protected while providing  a direct line of counter-attack targeting those of the opponent.

Sensei was absolutely right. I had never really thought about change body as an effective response to a non-physical dilemma.  I am not a biochemist, respiratory expert, or oncologist, so I will never discover the cure for CF or cancer.  I am not a billionaire, so I cannot buy any involved the best medical care that exists.  Yet, I ignored such facts and chose to meet the direct line of attack of an uncontrollable adversary with a head on attack of my own.  No wonder I was getting pummeled.  No matter what I did or felt, “things are as they are.”

So what can I do against the unbeatable foe?  Change body, or in this case, shift my perspective.  I will never be able to control the diseases of which I write.  I can, however, control my responses to the people that such diseases affect and do my part to alter the environment in which the enemy operates.

In the case of Bridezilla, I avoid scooping her up and hugging the stuffing out of her.  That would just freak her and her folks out.  Instead, this Saturday, May 20, 2017, I will again participate in the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation’s Annual Great Strides Walk for the Cure (http://fightcf.cff.org/site/PageServer?pagename=gs_homepage).  Bridezilla’s and Rump’s team can be found at http://fightcf.cff.org/site/TR?fr_id=6217&pg=team&team_id=59737&_ga=2.181572071.1131395234.1494967876-1801722459.1494967809

If any reader would like to stand and be counted as part of the fight against this disease, please consider donating a few dollars through the Donate to a Team Member link.  If you can give even a dollar, I would appreciate knowing that my attack on CF and my support for Bridezilla and Rump is helping at least a little.  Donate under any team member listed.  My name is Shawn Roberts if you wish to indicate you donated after reading this post.  If you cannot, or choose to spend your own resources elsewhere, I respect that.  After all, “things are as they are.”

Similarly, while I know I cannot cure CF for Rump, I can help make the environment in which he lives as positive as possible.  He is one of the youngest members of the Brown Belt Class in our dojo.  I try to joke with him and make him feel comfortable as much as possible.   To me, it is important for him to know that we train hard at the dojo, but that it’s okay to be a kid as well.  Plus, developmentally, I’m pretty much at the same emotional/psychosocial level as he is.  Rump has an awesome sense of humor.  A few weeks ago, I asked Rump if he had brought me a pizza as he came into class.  Without missing a beat, he responded that he had.  So I asked him where it was, only to be told it was in his athletic bag at the back of the dojo.  Not to be outdone, I told him, “gross.  I didn’t order one topped with your smelly gym socks.”  Rump told me to make my own next time if I didn’t like what he brought.  Clearly outmatched, I conceded.

And finally, Blades seems to be kind of a private person.  I need to express care not to confuse my need to be supportive with what Blades may need, if anything.  So, for Blades, I try to help make our dojo as normal an experience as possible.  Sometimes when we face something beyond the everyday person’s normal life experience, it is nice to have a place to go where life is predictable.  I am enjoying watch Blades grow emotionally and physically.  Support her current course and stand ready to take on a more or less supportive role if asked.  Her Mom is a great lady who deserves our support as well.   For any who want to be more involved, the American Cancer Society offers guidance on how you can help at https://www.cancer.org/involved.html.

The simple truth is this: no matter who you are or how awesome you may be, no one owes any of us, anything.  None of us are immune to having uncontrollable, negative events enter our lives.  When adversity presents itself, whether you understand it or not, whether you are angry, sad, indifferent, things are as they are.  But don’t despair, sometimes with a change in approach and perspective, you can become a positive entity within another’s realm of uncontrollable things.  After all, you are the only controllable aspect of the universe of things.  Choose to wield such power wisely and with purpose.