Bunkai Schmunkai – Part II – The NItty Gritty

Okay, I don’t know what gritty is or how important it is that it be nitty, but part II of our bunkai schmunkai blog involves some things for you to ponder as you learn and practice kata.  I, like many of you, am simply a student of the martial arts.  The contents of this post mostly represent interpretational theories from others mixed with a few of my own personal views. I present these ideas as a starting place for your own personal exploration of the kata we are taught.  As the all-knowing Yogi Berra reportedly once said “In theory there is no difference between theory and practice. In practice there is.”

What is the purpose of kata?

Internationally known “bunkaist,” Iain Abernethy, adamantly opposes the idea that kata represents a defense against multiple attackers. I agree with him. Do kata contain techniques useful against multiple attackers? Absolutely. Do kata help you to learn balance, breathing, body weight distribution, footwork, etc. that can be applied in many circumstances? Yep. Does a kata that has the student moving in 8 different directions represent being attacked by 8 different opponents simultaneously? I personally do not promote that view. Multiple attackers are simply not going to stand idly by and wait their turn to attack as you dispatch them one-by-one. Sensei Abernethy notes that his similar conclusions are based on the 1930’s writings of Kenwa Mabuni, founder of Shito Ryu.

To me, kata represent a means for transmitting centuries-old knowledge and techniques. Analysis via repeated practice and refinement helps build a strong body, teach proper balance and footwork, and move technique toward the point of being almost reflexive. To what extent Okinawans used kata to hide the practice and transmission of forbidden arts, I have no idea. Our own dark history of slavery in the United States contains reports of slaves using song in the cotton fields to disguise the transmission of escape strategies and routes.  Accordingly, I am content to accept the views of the Okinawan people regarding the marvelous culture they graciously share.

Operating on the premise that kata serve as a means of transmitting knowledge, the question then becomes “what knowledge is being transmitted?”

The Contents of the Kata Vessel

Ever been frustrated when sparring similar-ranked students because they are well versed in many, if not all, the techniques you are attempting to employ? A match becomes like a dogfight between two expert pilots. Maneuvers by one aviator are skillfully matched by counter-maneuvers by the other. Victory often ends up a function of who errs first rather than who knows some super-secret technique.

For now, put aside the imagery of two martial arts masters engaged in battle to the death using kata techniques seeming almost magical to the layperson. Instead, imagine kata as a vessel transporting techniques effective against the most common kinds of attack one would see from the general public. A whole world of analytical possibility presents itself. Huh? While techniques embedded in kata certainly would be effective against another martial arts practitioner under the right circumstances, what happens when you look at kata based responses to how a good old fashion street or bar fight might go down?

A raw, primal attack is likely to involve bear hugs, pushing, attempted throwing, grappling, grabbing, biting, spitting, headlocks etc. Try visualizing kata technique(s) against the different ways you can imagine being attacked on the street. Picture how effective different movements or combinations of movements would be in repelling the attack. “Shawn, you idiot,” you say, “That approach is useless and would take forever. There are almost infinite ways someone could attack you.” I respectfully respond, “idiot maybe, but actually not really on the rest of such assertions.”

Famed karate historian and martial arts practitioner, Patrick McCarthy, developed HAPV theory as a framework for understanding kata. HAPV stands for Habitual Acts of Physical Violence. HAPV theory posits 36 basic ways one may be attacked. While there may be endless examples of how one human being assaults another, Sensei McCarthy feels that any attack simply reflects a variation or combination of one or more of the HAPV. In what he sees as a kind of reverse engineering, Sensei McCarthy analyzes kata techniques in relationship to their effectiveness against one or more of the HAPV/common attack scenarios.

Karate demonstrations beginning with the “please grab my wrist” approach frequently elicit complaints of a lack of a realistic attack applied by a compliant partner. Criticism centers on the idea that such simple “attacks” do not occur in the real world, and never in such a docile manner. Really? Training exercises are just that … training. Slowly, speed and realism are increased as one moves towards full speed and dynamic applications of technique.

Consider. You are involved in a verbal conflict with another human being. As things start to get heated, you decide that violence may occur so you try to walk away. The aggressor then has 3 choices: (a) allow you to walk away – SUCCESS – you avoid physical conflict, (b) the aggressor immediately strikes at you in an attempt to harm you – unlikely if you leave the encounter early on, or (c) the aggressor grabs you in an attempt to keep you engaged in the conflict. Get it? The most likely method to be used by an aggressor intent on escalating the situation is to grab and hold the person who is attempting to leave the conflict. Where is the aggressor likely to grab you to keep you physically present? Your trailing arm or shoulder as you turn to move away. Similar to HAPV approaches, there may be many slight variations, but really there are a finite number of ways one can grab and restrain another. Of course, as we know from our Shorin Ryu training, being grabbed by an attacker is a gift that we will gladly accept and put to use.

Kyusho Jutsu (Pressure Points) and Human Anatomy

Other than having an excellent teacher, my study of human anatomy serves as the single most important aspect of my developing understanding of kata. I am but a tiny grasshopper (figuratively speaking for those who know me). Despite my naivete, I say with certainty that you need to research human anatomy if you are to truly understand the techniques embedded within a kata. By enhancing your understanding of the nervous, musculoskeletal, and circulatory systems of the human body, you will accelerate your understanding of the “secret” hand positions, striking patterns, and target choices “hidden” within a kata.

Sometimes we bombard our Sensei with questions based on ultimately meaningless details. “Sensei, what is the significance of wiping the sweat from your brow with your left hand on Tuesday, but with your right on Wednesday?” With the exception of such an absurd exaggeration, look at kata as containing virtually no useless movements. For example, the first thing I always consider when receiving a correction on wrist angle or hand position is “where does the correct position put my knuckles, fingertips and grip.” Perhaps you were hoping for something less obvious and more insightful. Very well. “On what pressure point, nerve cluster, artery, vein, or anatomically weak point of the body does a correctly positioned hand land and with what effect?” Am I still wasting your time?

Okay.  Have you ever wondered why backfist strikes in certain kata seem to target much lower than the temple or chin?  Have you have ever been told the strike is too high and needs to involve just a little bit more of a backwards bend on the wrist.  Perhaps such a strike is targeting the superficial branch of the radial nerve. Look at the two diagrams of the radial nerve presented here.

rnradial

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It is not coincidence that certain katas or independently presented techniques teach using a knuckle or other bone to strike where the radial nerve crosses over bones “connecting” the elbow and wrist joints. Pinching a nerve between a bone and a hard object delivers fabulous sensations with interesting effects. Just think about how banging your funny bone really is not funny at all (different nerve, same concept). If you were already aware of all such things, do you know why striking the forearm point mentioned in just the right way causes your opponent’s knees to buckle?

Still find anatomy to be boring or unimportant?  We know the neck and head are packed with vital target areas – no secret there.  But do you know what baroreceptors are and what techniques target them?

baroBaroreceptors are like sensors that provide feedback to the brain on blood pressure.  Striking the carotid sinus area in the correct manner tricks the baroreceptors into mistakenly telling the brain blood pressure is spiking dangerously.  The brain then sets in motion a series of events designed to lower blood pressure immediately and to restore balance.  The rapid drop in blood pressure, and the events associated with it, cause fainting/knock out or worse.  Such strikes are very dangerous and should not be practiced except under the supervision of a qualified instructor.  They are discussed here for information purposes only and to convey that kata is not simply a collection of graceful motions.

So, spend some time researching Traditional Chinese Medicine, acupuncture, and basic 21st century anatomy resource materials.  Such knowledge could be extraordinarily useful to you in understanding certain parts of kata.  In the example of the baroreceptors above, think of all the kata that have multiple, consecutive hand blocks.  Challenge assumptions of what each component of a hand block technique might represent including what part of the technique, if any, actually represents a block at all.

When one delves into the connections between kata and anatomy, the knowledge possessed in 14th century China, and later Okinawa, is truly mind-blowing.  And perhaps a blown mind is a great place to end this second installment of bunkai schmunkai.  In the coming third and final installment, we will look at a schmorgesborg of practical theories for interpreting kata.  Stay tuned for angles of attack, hikite, turns, and much, much more.

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Bunkai Schmunkai – Part I

Bunkai, bunkai, bunkai … who gives a hoodilee-hoo about the true bunkai of a kata?

… Now that I have your attention and before I get disowned by my Sensei, clearly karateka studying traditional martials arts do and should. Now, I’m not exactly sure what a hoodilee-hoo is or what value it possesses, but I do know there is a ton of debate regarding the value of kata in one’s training and the oft associated “mysterious” and “elusive” bunkai. Today’s post will not focus on this debate (perhaps another day), but, rather will introduce some ideas about how to analyze kata in general.

But first, a few clarifications for the uninitiated. A kata, or form, involves a predefined series of movements and techniques used by many martial arts systems for solo practice/building of muscle memory as well as for the transmission of knowledge from one generation to the next. Although an oversimplification, think of it like a dance routine of karate techniques.

Bunkai literally means analysis or disassembly. It is the breaking down of a kata into its component parts as a means for “discovering” the martial knowledge being transmitted. The term “oyo” actually references the application of the “uncovered” techniques. Various articles often use the term bunkai to refer to applying the “hidden” techniques. Although not technically correct, the intent is to encompass the process of analysis, and subsequent application, of the information contained within the kata. The term bunkai will be used to describe the combined process here. It will not be the first time I have not have technically correct, and certainly will not be the last.

For those thinking I have gone quotation mark mad, please consider my position that we do ourselves a disservice by talking about bunkai as some mysterious or magical concept. “Discovering,” “hidden,” “uncovered,” “mysterious,” “elusive,” etc. are all terms implying an almost paranormal quality to the martial arts which is then used by critics to debunk and dismiss kata, and karate, in general. I know I said we would not focus on the debate about kata’s usefulness, but did want to mention an explanation once given by martial arts master, Hohan Soken. In an interview with Ernest Estrada, Soken Sensei wisely pointed out:

 

There are many secrets in karate that people will never know and will never understand. These ideas are really not secret if you train in Okinawa under a good teacher. You will see the teacher use these so called secret techniques over and over again until they will become common knowledge to you. Others will look at it and marvel that it is an advanced or secret technique to them. That is because they do not have good teachers or their teachers have not researched their respective styles.

Don’t get me wrong. The importance or true meaning of particular parts of a kata may not be obvious. What appears to be a block may not be a block at all. Careful study, informed debate, and diligent practice under a good teacher likely will be necessary to begin to understand the concepts being conveyed by the kata’s creator. The centuries have witnessed changes to katas for various reasons: personal interpretation of the instructor, moving explicit demonstration of lethal techniques to more implied, lack of quality control over those responsible for passing along the knowledge, etc.

We may never know the original form of a kata or the original intention of its creator. Ultimately, it does not matter. (My Spidey senses are detecting an incoming visit from my Sensei’s foot to my right buttock again). I agree it would be completely amazing to learn original intent and technique directly from a kata’s “author.” My point is that heated debates amongst westerners about unprovable speculations only serve to drive people away from one of the greatest components of studying kata – the process of discovery.

To encourage your students, or fellow karateka, to really think about what is going on at any given point of a kata is a priceless gift. As a student, simply learning the movements will no doubt help you to achieve your next rank, but do you understand anything about the knowledge being shared with you. Have you considered that over 300 years ago, in some cases, a pretty amazing martial artist put something in a kata to be transmitted for generations to come. Should your response to such a gift really be a disrespectfully superficial, “yep, left turn, down block, punch … okay I’ve got it. Next kata please.”? Orrrrrrrrrrrrrrr, is a better approach after/while beginning to gain some competency in the mechanics of a kata to be pondering questions such as “why would I put my feet heel to toe here when that is generally frowned upon,” or “why do I put my fist to my arm palm up here but palm in in the kata I just learned?” It’s kind of like the difference between cramming for a test in school just to get a good grade or having learned and contemplated the material due to genuine interest making good recall simply a helpful byproduct.

Oh gosh, well there is a page and a half and I haven’t even gotten to the nitty gritty of the post yet. I think I’ll stop here so people can come prepared to ponder some suggestions of things to think about when analyzing a kata.

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Would You Walk Up and Slap Sensei in the Face?

Of course not. But, in this last installment on protocol, I encourage you to view most of the topics presented below with exactly that question in mind. You see, anytime you put on your Maine Traditional Karate (MTK) gi, or a gi-tee, or even interact with anyone aware that you study martial arts at MTK, you are a direct representative of Sensei Steve Apsega and that which he teaches. To ignore any of our traditional protocols is akin to walking up to Sensei Steve and slapping him right across the kisser. SMACKAROOSKI … Thud (you hitting the floor unconscious)

Where most of the Okinawa Shorin Ryu Matsumura Seito Karate and Kobudo Federation’s senior leadership will be descending upon us in a couple short months, please take note of some of the following expectations that are …. well …. expected. For a more complete list of dojo etiquette and class protocols (e.g., bowing in ceremony, partner drills, bowing out, etc), you can look in the student section of our website under the General Reference menu.

Be on Time: For goodness sake, if you will be attending a training camp event, please plan to be there at least 10 – 15 minutes before it starts. Unexpected circumstances come up for everyone, but some among us are well-known for never being on time.  There is no fashionably late for a karate event. By arriving late for class or at a training event, you are sending the message that the teaching you are about to receive and those who are providing it are simply not important enough to you to be where you need to on time. If you are a parent who is guilty as charged, please make whatever arrangements you need to in order to be sure your student is not walking into the training hall after things have started. It is disruptive to the training process, disrespectful to Sensei, and would be super duper, really, really, really bad.

Think about it. Barring an unforeseen, legitimate barrier to a timely arrival, what possible excuse is there for being late? Kaicho Isao Kise will watch you come in and think, “I travelled halfway around the world to provide this training and I am here on time. Hanshi Shipes must not feel it is important to teach common courtesy.” He may then glance over at Hanshi Shipes who is busy thinking, “I put my full support behind bringing the President of the OSMKKF to Maine AND I came all the way from Texas to share decades of expertise and students are wandering in when they feel like it. Hmm. Perhaps I should think twice before putting my faith in Sensei Steve.” Meanwhile, Sensei Steve stands dejected in the corner, depressed over the realization that one or more of his students simply did not care enough to avoid embarrassing him in front of two members of our lineage. OK, perhaps a little bit of an exaggeration, but you get the point.

So, what are you supposed to do if you come in late to class? After you have signed in and put on your obi, you should kneel quietly at the back of the dojo. Sensei or the instructor for the day will invite you into the group when appropriate. You need to wait patiently.

Be Presentable: I am told by knowledgeable sources that there are these two marvelous inventions called a washing machine and an iron. Use them – especially for training seminars. Our appearance reflects upon Sensei. Do not iron or wash your obi – you’ll regret it.

Feedback: This one is actually VERY IMPORTANT!! Accept and implement any feedback given to you by a higher rank – especially from the many senior Dan who will be present. Do not say, “that’s not the way our Sensei teaches that.” If you do not understand what you are being told, definitely ask for clarification so you can perform as instructed. Otherwise, extend thanks for the correction (Domo Ariagato Gozaimasu), try to do what you have been shown, and make a note to ask Sensei privately about the matter later or in regular class. If Sensei does not understand why the correction was offered, he will seek clarification from Hanshi Shipes at an appropriate time.

Obi/Gi: If your gi and obi do not need to be readjusted at least once during training, you need to work harder. Gi tops come out from under belts. Obi knots loosen. Gi ties come undone. If you need to fix your gi or belt, turn to the right, away from the instructor. Keep turning until you are not facing any black belt. Adjust what you need to and then turn back around to the right.

With so many black belts likely to be at our training with Kaicho, you will find yourself in the situation where you cannot turn in any direction and not be facing a black belt. DON’T DESPAIR!!!! There actually is protocol for that as well. Simply turn away from your immediate instructor and kneel. Fix things the best you can while kneeling then stand back up, turn to the right to face your instructor, and get back to work.

Do not feel self-conscious about kneeling to adjust your garments. I almost guarantee that you will see our brown belts do it several times over the course of our training weekend.

Sounding OffBe LOUD AND PROUD … but humble …. but LOUD and PROUD … but humbly so.  Geez, just be Loprumble.  There are regional differences within our federation on this one, so it is not wrong to remain attentively quiet during instruction, but we are taught to acknowledge our teachers with a Hai (Sensei, Hanshi, Kaicho, etc) when they have shared something.  So, to show that you have heard and understand what you are being taught, let the person know with a grateful “Hai” followed by the appropriate title.  See http://mainetraditionalkarate.com/blog/hai-sensei/ for a refresher.

Onegai ShimasuThis one is a personal pet peeve of mine when it does not happen, so it will be included here, because, you know, I’m the one writing this blog.  I feel that “Onegai Shimasu,” generally taken to mean “please teach me,” ranks or ties for rank as the most important phrase we utter in the dojo.

Before any partner exercise, bow to your partner, 30 degrees –  eyes down, and shake hands with two hands.  Why eyes down – because we trust the people we work with and demonstrate this by placing ourselves in the vulnerable position of losing awareness of what normally could be a potential threat.  Why two hands – because we are demonstrating to our partner that we hold no weapons and are not hiding anything else behind our backs.

At the same times this happens, each participant says to the partner, “Onegai Shimasu” regardless of any, or degree of, difference in rank.  This simple phrase is a sign of mutual respect to each other and a commitment to working together toward personal betterment.  You are acknowledging that lessons to be learned come in many shapes and sizes. (see http://mainetraditionalkarate.com/blog/have-you-hugged-your-sensei-today/ )

Make Mistakes with Grace: or Sarah, or Sophia, or Kelly or pretty much any other member of the dojo including Sensei.  Nobody likes to mess up.  Everybody does it.  There is no need to fuss, whine, or cry.  Please do not stamp your feet, pout, or hang your head.  We are all in this to learn. We often demonstrate more about our character by how we fail rather than by how we succeed.

The Bottom Line:

In any circumstance where you are not sure what to do, simply be as respectful as possible. Protocol is mostly about attitude.

Okay, that would have been a good place to end, but I’ve got to tell this story about a training I went to with Master Kise and Kaicho several years ago.  It definitely is a visual so I won’t do it justice but I’ll try.

Master Kise was wandering down through the students as the group was performing the basic exercises.  He comes up behind one of our students at the time named Sam.  Well he’s still named Sam as far as I know, but I mean he was also a student then.  At any rate, Master Kise, ever so stealthily, reaches up and tugs the outer gi tie on Sam’s gi.  Sam’s gi falls open at the side causing him to look down at half his gi top falling off his body.  He quickly realizes such a presentation is not acceptable.  Almost as quickly, he realizes that gi tops do not just pop open.

With an annoyed, yet puzzled, look on his face, Sam looks up to find himself face-to-face with Grandmaster Fusei Kise himself.  All at the same time, Sam (a) wiped the annoyance from his face, grabbed his gi to pull it closed, and tried to bow at the same time.  As he tried to bow,  Sam realized that he shouldn’t be fixing his gi in the direction of Master Kise.  With a look of horror on his face, Sam tried to whip around to his right, while bowing, while trying to hold his gi shut.  He failed miserably on all fronts and the rest of his gi top fell open.  At this point, what could he really do?

I’ll tell you.  With an expression that was somewhere between a smirk and exasperation, Sam just kind of put up his hands and shrugged his shoulders as if to say “you win.  I pretty much failed in every way possible.”  Master Kise simply started laughing as he patted Sam on the shoulder as if to say, “it’s okay, thanks for making the effort.”

So, when Kaicho comes to visit, be respectful, do your best, but most important, do not wind yourself up so much about doing what is “right” that you don’t enjoy an experience that you can tell fond stories about for years to come.

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This Little Piggie Went to Market

Open foot, insert mouth … No, that isn’t right. Open toes, insert cheese …. Hmm, that seems less than correct. Trick or treat, smell my feet …. Nope, definitely not. If only I had something to tell me what is generally accepted as expected …. AHA, I do – PROTOCOL! That’s right my fellow karateka, it is time for installment two of dojo protocol. Today’s topic – the feet and associated lessons.

In Okinawa, and actually several other Asian and European cultures, it is impolite to show or point the bottoms of one’s bare feet towards another. The feet, specifically their bottom, are considered one of the dirtiest (uncleanly) portions of the body. It is therefore disrespectful to give someone the foot (and not just the middle toe), so to speak.

This “rule” gets applied in our dojo all the time. When we do pushups, everyone inevitably gets reminded to be aware of where the black belts are positioned so as to not point our feet at them. When we sit in a “big circle,” the two most acceptable positions are seiza (kneeling) or cross-legged. You guessed it, because of the position of the bare feet.

Our current ranking kyu student led an open dojo class on a particular evening. I needed work on my sai skills, so I positioned myself in the front right corner of the dojo for safety purposes (walls on two sides, away from other students, etc.). CLANK — the unmistakable sound of a sai having been dropped and hitting the dojo floor. I hadn’t even started practicing yet. I simply had my hands at my sides as I turned to check on another student, caught the yoku (prongs of the sai) on my gi tie and there you have it – twenty five pushups on the knuckles. I reached the up position on number three, and there, on his hands and knees at eye level with me, was the ranking kyu student (and instructor for the evening).

“Shawn, don’t point your feet towards the shomen wall,” he whispered. The shomen wall is the wall at the front of the dojo where, among other things, pictures of the masters from our lineage are displayed. Already annoyed at having dropped my sai in such a stupid way, I forced myself to resist the strong urge to roll my eyes at his statement. Even though I had been a dojo student for years and knew about protocol related to pointing the bottom of the feet away from the black belts, I had never heard anything about feet and the shomen wall. After the urge to voice a witty comeback had passed, I simply adjusted my positioning and finished my pushups.

I’m glad I did. Later that evening I pondered the incident and realized that at least three important lessons existed in the interaction. First, the evening’s instructor was probably correct. The symbolism of the masters watching over our class and the fact that they gifted us the accumulation of centuries of martial arts knowledge is to be respected in every manner possible. We bow to the lineage under several circumstances. The images are to be treated as if the masters were standing at the front of the dojo and leading class.

Second, and very important to our senior students as they develop leadership skills, notice how the senior student did not shout his feedback from across the dojo for all to hear. He positioned himself at my level and we carried on a private conversation about his concerns. His goal was not to embarrass me, but to help me be more aware of my surroundings and my behaviors within them.

As an aside, I encourage all dojo members to look at any feedback received in this manner. “Extraordinarily rare” describes the frequency of incidents I recall in which a higher rank member of the dojo simply seemed to be on some kind of power trip when offering feedback. Each student shares the common goals of trying to be the best karateka and best person he or she can be and helping others achieve these same goals. When one conceptualizes constructive criticism in terms of someone caring enough about a fellow student’s development to share important knowledge, ego gets replaced with mutual respect and a positive learning environment. If the feedback turns out to be incorrect, simply apply the well-known Japanese proverb, “saru mo ki kara ochiru,” meaning “even monkeys fall from trees.” In the off chance that an individual is confusing helping others learn with being bossy, consider perhaps that karate-do is a means by which he or she is fighting a personal battle for change in order to become a more effective leader.

By looking at feedback, and those offering it, through such lenses, we can avoid learning lesson three the hard way – never roll your eyes in response to being addressed by a higher ranking student, or any other student for that matter. Regardless of whether true or not, if one reframes any frustrating event as a lesson, it becomes more tolerable. Grandmaster Fusei Kise recalls staying at the home of Hohan Soken:

Once while I was mopping the floor with a small towel on my hands and knees, Sensei spilled water from the bucket with his foot. The floor I had just dried was wet again. But I was not angry; I just dried it once more. “Why did he do that?” I asked myself. “It must be part of my training,” I thought. (From The Spirit of Okinawan Karate)

Jikishin kore dôjô.

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Connecting the Dots

Not to date anyone, but do you remember the following scene from the 1984 hit, Karate Kid? New student, Daniel Laruso asks his teacher, Mr. Miyagi

Daniel: Hey, what kind of belt do you have?

Miyagi: Canvas. JC Penney, $3.98. You like?

Daniel: [laughs] No, I meant…

Miyagi: In Okinawa, belt mean no need rope to hold up pants.

 

Several months ago when I tested for 3 Kyu (Brown Belt), someone tagged a Facebook picture of me receiving my promotion. The following Monday, one of the security personnel in our building stopped me in the hall and said “Hey, you got a new belt?” Without thinking, I looked down to check my pants. You see, I rarely purchase new clothing and had no idea what he was talking about. “Huh? Ah, no. I’ve had this one for years.” I was genuinely confused . He laughed at me. “No,” he clarified, “a new color karate belt.”  I wasn’t even trying to be funny, but certainly enjoyed a laugh as well.

It was a great Karate Kid moment. If we had been cartoon characters, a lightbulb would have magically appeared above my head. It was in that moment that I had an AHA! experience. No longer was karate about achievements or rank. Karate-do had become a part of who I am and who I am becoming.

This past weekend I was promoted to 1 Kyu – the last rank before testing for one’s black belt.  At the end of the testing, students who have passed are called, one-by-one, to the front of the dojo to have their new rank affixed to their belts.  It is a moment open to public view where the Sensei offers a few quiet, private thoughts audible only the recipient of the promotion.

In our dojo, testing for first degree black belt and above occurs only once per year and is conducted in front of one of the United States Directors for our federation.  So, my Sensei’s private words to me included, “you know, this is the last promotion I can give you.”  I offered the simple response, “and yet I’ll look forward to a lifetime worth of knowledge still left for you to share.”

Despite my wife’s doubts when I told her the story, my words were completely genuine – flowing easily without conscious thought.  It’s funny sometimes how things just seem to fall into place – like points on a line … or, more specifically, a path.

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What the heck IS protocol?

I’m such a hypocrite. I really enjoy giving what I can in our dojo to my fellow karateka, but have such a hard time accepting generosity in return. Two weeks ago or so, I was having a discussion about a book with one of our really dedicated students (we’ll call him Josh because, you know, that’s his name).  Josh knows that I enjoy the philosophical underpinnings of the martial arts so he shared his enjoyment of a book called “Zen in the Martial Arts.”  After listening to Josh speak with such passion about the book, I made a mental note to see if I could get a digital version from the Kindle store to read.

The next class, Josh’s son, Gabe (yep, that’s his real name too – he’s equally dedicated), came up to me and gave me a copy of the book his Dad and I had been discussing.  “Me and my Dad wanted you to have this.”  I thanked Gabe and looked over to tell Josh that I would take good care of it and return it in the same condition I received it.

Josh’s response took me by surprise.  He said, “no, that’s for you.”  I told him that I could not accept a gift and asked him how much I owed him.  He simply said, “No.  I mean it.  It’s a gift for you.”  Partly I write this blog to thank Gabe and Josh for their thoughtfulness.  The book is a good read and will make a great addition to my library.

Buuuuuuuuutttttttttttt, the other reason I write this involves a discussion I had with my wife, Sue, this morning.  I was telling her the story about the book and noted that I felt a little guilty about accepting it as a gift.  Sue pointed out that I offered to pay for it, and another adult stated that that was not necessary.  You leave things there and appreciate that there is still kindness in the world.  Sue was right of course.  To continue to protest the gift and make multiple offers to pay, in itself, would almost be disrespectful.  One of the most proper things to do in such a situation is just what was done – to acknowledge you understand the value of a gift, but not insult the giver by rejecting his or her kindness.

And that brings us to the second purpose of this blog.  What he heck is protocol?  Every summer, our dojo’s students hear a lot about maintaining good protocol, improving their protocol, being sure to demonstrate proper protocol.  With the President of our international karate federation and the senior leadership coming to Maine this summer, talk of protocol and insistence that it be near perfect will intensify.

If you happen to be a newer student in our dojo and you find yourself wondering, “what is this mysterious protocol thing,” you are not alone.    For my first year in our dojo, our brown belts kept insisting on improvement in protocol, but nobody really explained to me what that meant.  So, as an introduction to our new students and a refresher for some of our older, I thought I would do a series of short blogs as a discussion of protocol of which one should be aware.

I think of protocol as a set of explicit and implicit rules and procedures that define what proper behavior is in a given set of circumstances.  Huh?  Good protocol is knowing what to do, when to do it, and then actually doing it.

One of my favorite examples involves how one is to hold one’s cup at the start of a water break.  Part of the proper protocol involves holding your cup in your right hand with your left hand on the bottom, and making sure you are holding your cup at a lower level than the Sensei or, in his or her absence, the senior ranking student.

What makes this particular part of protocol my favorite is the online rant I once read on a karate discussion group board.  The original poster described his opinion of such protocol using a phrase meaning the excrement of a male cow.  He seemed genuinely outraged that a traditional karate class he visited “wasted” his time on such nonsense instead of providing “real” training.

I just chuckled to myself.

Over this series of blogs, I not only hope to help my fellow students be prepared for the visit from Kaicho Isao Kise, but to also highlight the important role protocol plays as an integral part of your training in karate do.

I am in no way implying that one must follow our protocols to be an effective fighter or even a successful martial arts practioner.  Clearly such is not the case.   I would, however, ask anyone knocking traditional dojo protocols as “a waste of time,” to open his or her mind to the subtle lessons inherent in learning and following such protocols.  Ponder learnings about self-control, respect, placing oneself at a disadvantage or position of lesser stature as the best means of securing a position of strength or maximizing one’s chances of survival.  These are but a few of the areas of understanding reinforced by learning and practicing something as simple as holding one’s Dixie Cup of water.

If you have a question about protocols, please post in the comments field below.  Chances are if you are wondering about something,so are other students.  If I mention something incomplete or inconsistent with want you have been taught, please respectfully say so.  What one says when bowing to a partner before initiating a two person drill is a crucial protocol that reinforces an attitude that I internalized long ago but must be ever vigilant to maintain.

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Yu … Who Me? No, Yu

yuA few months ago, my son pointed out some peers who were pretending to be him and his girlfriend online.  The stuff being said in a chat room under his name was disgusting.  My son just kind of rolled his eyes and noted that anyone who knew him knew he wouldn’t post some of the things being said.  “I would hope you wouldn’t type those kinds of things” I noted.  His response was very interesting.  He said, “I wouldn’t, but I’m talking about how they tried to prove they were me.  They said, ‘I take karate.’  I would never say that.  Karate is not something I ‘take,’ it’s part of who I am.”

A rather bold statement by karate master, Hohan Soken, jumped to mind.  In a famous interview conducted by Ernest Estrada (no relation to Ponch from CHiPs), Hohan Soken observed:

I found that there were two kinds of students – one was a dedicated and motivated student who wants to learn the Okinawan martial arts. The other is an individual who only wants to say he is learning karate. There are more of the latter. It is the latter that you see everywhere. They say that they “know” karate or that they “use to” practice karate – these are worthless individuals.

It is not far of a stretch to view Soken Sensei as differentiating between those who study and internalize the way of karate (i.e., karate-do) versus those who “take” karate.  I would suggest, however, that in some circumstances a student may begin by “taking” karate only to one day find him or herself on the path of karate-do.  I certainly would not posit that karate-do is the only path to positive character development, but I would vigorously defend the position that it is an effective one.

Mahatma Gandhi once said:

Your beliefs become your thoughts,
Your thoughts become your words,
Your words become your actions,
Your actions become your habits,
Your habits become your values,
Your values become your destiny.

And this is the train of thought I had this morning on the way to work — the birth of tonight’s blog topic.  Yu, depicted in kanji above, means courage or bravery (not exactly the same concept, but will be treated as such here).  It is one of the seven virtues of Bushido – the Samurai Code of Honor.

I usually arrive at our dojo a little early on adult training nights and watch the end of the youth class.  At the end of the class, there is a bowing out ceremony where students stand at attention while our Sensei makes reminder announcements.  Students then kneel, bow, thank our Sensei for his instruction, and then stand to bow and say goodbye for the evening.  If you find yourself on the dojo floor at the time of the youth bowing out ceremony, you participate but from the back row.   As I watched one of our youngest students, I pondered whether samurai and true karate masters have to go out and try to be brave or courageous or if actions we would deem brave or courageous are simply effortless expressions of who they are.  In other words, is courage simply a habit that the master has no conscious awareness he or she is exhibiting?

The young karateka that led to such intellectual musings is a beautiful young girl of five or six.  To hide her identity from non-dojo members and to keep with an Asian theme, we’ll call her Bride of Godzilla, or Bridezilla for short.  Now, Bridezilla is a fair maiden who has an older brother of 9 or 10 who is as handsome as she is pretty.  He is also a member of our dojo family.  We’ll call him Rumpelstiltskin, or Rump for short.  Just so I don’t worry their parents about a creepy old guy stalking their kids, my only point is that Bridezilla and Rump are two of the cutest kids you’ll ever meet.

Now something that is no joking matter in any way is that Rump and Bridezilla are afflicted by a HORRIBLE disease called 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.

In fear that I would not do the reality justice, I will simply say that my limited understanding is that treatment involves daily procedures to break up the mucus and constant vigilance to avoid exposure to environmental dangers that a non-CFer’s body easily fights off without breaking a sweat.

Anyway, I was watching Bridezilla stand at attention while she wore a colorful mask that matches her personality and it struck me.  I don’t think I’ve ever heard Bridezilla, Rump, or either of their parents complain about their lot in life.  Never.  No doubt they have private moments of frustration and pain and perhaps even sporadic public moments of Bridezillification –  every 5 – 10 year old or parent does.  But how is it that these kids and their folks don’t go through life moping about the unfairness of being such awesome people and being affected by such an awful disease?

The biggest concern I’ve ever seen Rump have is being forced to be behind me during testing.  Now I’m a big guy with deep set eyes that make me look serious and angry as a natural expression.  I don’t doubt, especially to a child a fraction of my size, that I can look kind of scary.   So the instructor orders that back kicks are to be performed next.  He does, however, take a moment to say, “Shawn, it’s crowded in here so be a little careful because Rump is right behind you. … Rump, you might want to move back a little.”   Everyone kind of chuckled because Rump was indeed positioned in a prime “I’m about to get launched across the dojo by an overweight angry guy” location.  I simply turned around, held my fist out and said, “don’t worry, I won’t get you.”   He could have wilted under the sudden focus of attention from the entire dojo or from the thought that I may introduce him to Newton’s Second law in relation to a pretty strong leg as an outside force.  He didn’t do either.  Without hesitation, Rump gave me a fist bump and kind of smirked like “what, we’ve rested long enough, let’s get on with it.”

Bridezilla is equally as composed.  When she goes to spar, she means BUSINESS.  She has great focus and determination.  Sometimes I’ll playfully tug on her hair and then turn away before she can see who the culprit was.  She doesn’t think twice about it and just mozies off to her destination.

Some would say, “yeah, they have a choice – they can fret about life not being fair or they can be courageous and brave in their approach.  They are choosing to be brave and courageous.”

I don’t think so.

Brave and courageous?  Yes, by anyone’s standards.  Choosing?  No.  I’ve watched these kids for a year or so now, and I don’t believe there to be any conscious choice involved.  I think whatever comes their way in life, they deal with it – it’s who they are.

BAM … I had my answer.  It gave me goose pimples and that warm feeling you get when you watch a movie with an inspiring ending.  Be it through excellent parenting, life experiences, innate ability or some combination, the portion of these kids’ approach to life that we term courageous or brave is simply who they are.  It is part of their being.  I would doubt that they are even aware they are inspiring the old scary guy in the back who is waiting for the adult class to start.

Lately, especially when I’ve thought about whining about something at work, I think about Bridezilla, Rump, and their folks.  Not all days, but more days than not now, I think, “OK, I’ve whined long enough.  Let’s get on with it.”   The approach is still a conscious effort to ‘change body’ as my Sensei would say, but not as much as it once was.   Instead of wasting effort looking around to see who pulled my hair and stomping my feet, it is, VERY SLOWLY, becoming more natural for me to offset my course by 45 degrees and then to simply mozy along to my original destination.   My own and my dojo family are responsible for providing this gift of personal growth I am experiencing.

Karate-do as the only path to character development – of course not.  It can however, be THE PATH should you choose to seek it.

 

 

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Don’t Be in a Hurry

Karate is a wonderful family endeavor. Several parent-child pairs, including myself and my son, train at the Maine Traitional Karate Dojo. My wife, Sue, also enjoys coming to class from time to time to watch her boys beat on each other.   We have a relatively new father-son pair who train primarily at our Old Town Dojo, but also come to the Main Dojo in Orrington. The younger attends the youth class from 5:30 -6:30 pm and then observes as his father attends the adult class. They are both enthusiastic and skilled practioners. I look forward to learning with and from both of them for years to come.

A couple weeks ago, the young man mentioned above, likely unaware of who Sue was, carefully observed and practiced the techniques being taught to his father on the dojo floor. The young man excitedly displayed the new moves he had watched his father learn. Sue gently mentioned to the boy that she was glad he was enjoying himself but that he really should not be practicing material above his rank that he has not yet been taught by his instructor.

Now what you need to understand is that Sue was not trying to be a witch, nor something that closely rhymes with it.  She was absolutely correct. Unless approved by the Sensei, a student really should not be practicing material that they have not yet been formally taught. There are several reasons for this. For example, learning of advanced techniques is often predicated upon mastery of earlier techniques. Advanced techniques, which can be dangerous if not deadly, are only introduced at a point in training when the student has demonstrated appropriate respect for the knowledge and the self-control necessary to ensure the safety of all involved (except of course for a real attacker intent on harming the Karateka).

Last week before class, I was working with a Green Belt on a new technique he had been taught. It is from a kata (form) called Pinan Sandan. Visualize being really mad at someone and standing with your feet together with your hands on your hips, elbows out. The technique kind of starts like that. It then involves stepping and twisting at the waist,  bringing the elbow across your body and then transitioning into something else. Out of the corner of my eye, I caught the young student mentioned above watching very closely what the other adult student and I were doing.

I did something not very nice.

Knowing I was being watched, I purposely dropped my shoulder as I demonstrated a move.  My rendition caused my head and neck to come forward and be lowered.  Think about that.  If you have someone intent on hitting you with an uppercut or kicking you hard, what do you think is going to happen if you bend at the waist and lower your head forward?  You don’t have to be a student of karate to know you might as well put on your football shaped hat because your face I about to get kicked right through the goal posts.

I must have been good at demonstrating badly because the adult student with whom I was working looked at me with a “what the H-E double hockey sticks are you doing” expression and asked “am I supposed to be dipping my shoulder like that?” A little embarrassed for forgetting that one set of eyes upon me was supposed to be learning, I just said quietly, “no, no. Sorry, I was just exaggerating.”

Sure enough, after class the young student excitedly exclaimed that he had learned three of the moves from the kata mentioned above. One of the advanced students reminded the young student of a discussion they had had about not trying to demonstrate techniques that he has not yet been taught. Undeterred, the student went on to demonstrate hands on hips, twist while dipping his shoulder much to far. The student’s father interrupted the demonstration by reiterating what the other adult had just said and by noting, “you’re not even doing it correctly.”

The student looked up at me for validation.  He found none. “Nope, you’re Dad is correct. You’re not.” You could see the wind come right out of his sails. “But,” I continued “I love the enthusiasm. Don’t ever lose that. I can tell you’re going to be awesome because you’ve got great enthusiasm and heart. Your teacher is the same way (he is). Keep the enthusiasm and learn what you’re taught and you will go a long way wth your teacher and our dojo.”

Only recently have I come to realize the wonderment that is the journey we call karate-do.  Hundreds of years of history to read about and learn from; katas that hold the key to techniques that I am only beginning to understand, a dojo family where one can watch how adults and children alike grow in meaningful ways.  I know such statements may sound like some kind of hokey baloney, but the realization that karate-do truly is an effective means for self-actualization hit me right between the eyes during our last testing on January 23.  After testing, my Sensei gave me the most positive feedback I had ever received from him – “Shawn, that’s about the most relaxed I have ever seen you in the dojo.”

I can’t really explain the feeling.  It wasn’t that my technique was exceptionally majestic or relief that I had made it through a demanding workout without blowing chunks all over my instructors.  I just had an amazing feeling of … belonging.  Maybe not even belonging so much as a feeling that, at that very moment, I was exactly where I was supposed to be.

Buddhists call it mindfulness.  Don’t spend so much time and effort trying to get where you think you are going that you miss where you are.   If you have such enthusiasm that you feel as if you will burst without constantly having something new to learn, take the time to read about Okinawan culture, the history of both Te and Karate, or research why and how a select group of individuals affected history by promoting the kanji for karate to be written as “Empty Hand” versus “China Hand.”  Consider the character that is involved with our Grandmaster having to live in caves and scavenge for food to avoid starvation, in part due to actions by the Unites States, and yet still be willing to share his gifts and knowledge with Americans.  Thoroughly ponder the katas already learned,  think about why techniques work, why material is presented in a particular fashion, and what may be hidden within that which you already know.

As the father of Shotokan Karate, Gichin Funakoshi, once wrote “You may train for a long time, but if you merely move your hands and feet and jump up and down like a puppet, learning karate is not very different from learning a dance. You will never have reached the heart of the matter; you will have failed to grasp the quintessence of karate-do.”

Need to hear it from within our own lineage?

In a 1978 interview with Hohan Soken, interviewer, Ernie Estrada, asked “Sensei, any recommendations for us — Americans?”

Master Soken minced no words:

Yes, but you won’t like it! Americans want to learn too much, too fast. You want more this and more that. You have a life time to learn. Learn slowly. Learn correctly. Look. Listen. Practice, practice, practice. Don’t be a rash American, but a smart American. Never be in a hurry to learn, OK? Learning in a hurry can cause pain. Do you know about pain? Let me show you!

For any who may be reading, there is indeed more than a lifetime of material out there to learn – all of it valuable to living deliberately.

Oh, and to the young student of whom I write above, when you’re not practicing the technique you’re not supposed to know, be sure not to drop your head, neck and shoulders.  It’s a tough way to learn the lesson about pain of which Master Hohan Soken spoke.

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I Kicked a 2nd Degree Black Belt’s Butt

2danDo you remember that scene in Batman where Bruce Wayne is training on the ice with Henri Ducard (i.e., Ra’s al Ghul).  Thinking he has won the duel, Bruce Wayne is pretty pleased with himself when he has Henri kneeling at sword point.

Henri Ducard: Always mind your surroundings.

Bruce Wayne: Yield.
Henri Ducard: You haven’t beaten me. You’ve sacrificed sure footing for a killing stroke.
[he taps the ice with his sword, plunging Bruce into the water]

Such a situation emerges from time to time during sparring in the dojo.  Not swords and killing strokes, but less experienced students looking to prove something or feeling that they have proved something by landing a significant blow against a senior student.  Now before anyone gets all bent out of shape, let me say three things:

  1. I used to be one of those students, so I have some personal experience in addition to having observed it in others.
  2. Sparring, hopefully, is the closest any of us will ever come to an actual fight.  It gives us the opportunity to test skills we have been acquiring in a more fluid and real life-like scenario.  Using a technique effectively in an appropriate situation helps build confidence in what one is learning and in one’s ability to protect oneself and associated loved ones.  There is nothing wrong with feeling good about how one has performed in a sparring match.
  3. If you are upset by my observation that some take sparring ability as a measure of their “badassedness” (sorry for the language), I challenge you to look hard at your own experiences and consider whether you see a part of yourself in that statement.

Let me convey my own experience from years ago.  One of the reasons I train in karate-do is to build my self-confidence – a chronic area of weakness in my character.  When I was a blue belt, I used to feel like if I made a good showing in sparring against a more advanced student than others would respect me.  I defined my self-worth, in large part, by how others viewed me in the dojo.

During the testing cycle being described, I had to spar in front of everyone against a brown belt close to testing for his black belt.  I performed well.  At the end of the match, I blocked a fairly well-placed reverse punch to my solar plexus just as our Sensei shouted “Yame” (stop), signalling the end of the match.  I dropped my hands only to find my opponent seizing the opportunity to hit me one last time.  Without missing a beat, I fired and landed a front snap kick on my opponents right hip.  He was a large fellow like myself (except he was all muscle – me, not so much).  The kick knocked him back into the weapons rack mounted on the Shomen wall, breaking the rack in half.  There was no way I was going to let him show me up by getting in a cheap shot at the end of a bout.  “I didn’t start it,” I thought, “but I sure am going to finish it.”

What a miserable failure on my part.

Sparring is not a particularly important part of training for me any longer.  For those in our dojo who thirst for it in an appropriate way, I say go for it and enjoy.  Any time I am required to be part of sparring, I am sure to keep thoughts of my failure in the front of my mind.  You see the goal of sparring at the dojo level is to hone technique, practice precision and self-control, and learn what works well and not so well for you.  For some it’s an exercise in overcoming fear.

To any who can be heard making statements such as “so and so doesn’t hit very hard,” or be seen smirking and swaggering after landing a good punch against a higher rank, I encourage you to watch the video below of me kicking a second degree black belt’s butt.

 

Not quite what you expected eh?  The video is of my son Isaac and I sparring in our driveway last fall (sorry about my jammies … my neighbors always wonder what they’re going to see next).  Isaac is a second degree black belt is our system currently, but you know what he focused on – “oh, I’m dropping my front hand when I throw a kick.”  Myself, I focused not on my wobbly kick but on the pun potential of the clip.

More seriously, the clip below shows a small bit of sparring where my goal was working on clearing the opponent’s front hand to open a target.  In line with Henri’s position in the Batman quote above, you’ll see that when I finally get Isaac with a weak shot, it is to the non-vital area of the shoulder.  I really had to reach for it as well.  I ended up putting myself off balance and, therefore, at a disadvantage.   Every time I tried to get to striking points on his centerline, Isaac was ready with a block.  The little turd … Sorry, that’s Sempai Turd to you and me.  Isaac nicely demonstrated sacrificing portions of non vital areas while ensuring complete protection of danger zones.

When Isaac did attack, you’ll notice he does not try to pummel or injure me.  In fact, he strikes with open hands and barely touches me.  He does not spar with something to prove his worth or in some distorted attempt to feed his ego.  In this instance, he was enjoying some fun with his Dad on a cool autumn morning.  As the slow-mo shows, however, had a true need arisen to disable me as an opponent, he is capable of attacking with deadly precision.  Isaac’s self-confidence is not predicated on how capable others think him to be, but only upon what he knows of himself and his ability to respond should the need ever arise.

For me, I am only now beginning to understand and experience what 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 …

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Heart

kokoroWednesday last marked the final regular adult karate class before testing for rank promotions tomorrow afternoon.  As I prepared to leave class, I asked one of the students how his preparations were going.  He responded in a rather dejected way.  “I wonder if I even deserve to be testing on Saturday.”  I put my gear bag down.

Let me tell you about this karateka.  He’s got to be at least 6 ‘ 4″ and is quite rugged.  Think mountain man.   I haven’t measured, but when his foot neared my face while we were sparring, I would guess it’s about a size 96.  When we work on wrist locks together, I have a hard time because I cannot hold one of his massive hands in both of mine.  He works hard.  He is skilled.   You would never hear him admit it.  I really enjoy it when we get to work together.

He is also one of the most gentle human beings I have ever known.  He has a great sense of humor.  He likes to needle me about my desk job just because his requires regularly lugging 50 pound bundles of construction supplies up and down ladders in near and sub-freezing temperatures.  Our stock “you didn’t eat too many cheeseburgers before class did you?” line never fails to generate a juvenile smirk.  He is a loving grandfather.

Every class, without fail, this student approaches me, shakes my hand, and asks how I am doing.  I doubt he realizes it, but I still have days when I don’t feel as though I fit in at our dojo.  His simple greeting helps me refocus  and push such insecurity right out of my head.  He is a good man.

“I wonder if I even deserve to be testing on Saturday.” …  It just about killed me inside to hear him say this.  I poked him right in the chest and told him he deserves it because of this – heart.  “It’s all about heart,” I said, “and you have it.  Don’t let a missed block or a forgotten step shake your confidence”

He didn’t say it, but he must have been thinking I’d seen one too many Lifetime Movies or  “underdog overcomes all” specials.  Probably the few others who had gathered by the door were thinking the same thing.  I simply said, “I know you probably think I’m being corny, but I’m completely serious, you have a good heart, you’ll be fine.”

I meant it.

You see, if you read our Grandmaster’s book, The Spirit of Okinawan Karate, turn to page 157 to read the words spoken by Mr. Baker and his experiences with Master Kise:

From the beginning, I did not think I could do karate.  Still now, I cannot do it well, but I try my best.  There are too many things to memorize.  For instance, I may learn a new kata today, but by tomorrow I may have forgotten it.  Every one single kata is very hard for me. …  This is embarrassing.  I have asked Master Kise to downgrade me to a white belt, but he refused.

Master Kise later speaks to the meaning of his karate in describing another student:

I once had a student with a very short temper who was probably the worst student I’ve ever taught.  As years passed, his character generally changed.  By the time he became a black belt, he was much more calm and acted more patiently.  I often say that training the mind is more important than kata or technique.  This is how I have been teaching, and this will never change.

So, to all my fellow students on this eve of testing, I share this thought.  When you make an error during the test, as everyone inevitably will at some point, embrace the resulting moment of self-doubt.  Own it.  Control it.  Beat it.  Move on.  Our Sensei believes in all of us.  He expects no less from you of yourself.

I can tell you with no uncertainty that “success” in the Maine Traditional Karate Dojo is, above all else, about character development, heart, and attitude.  I do not pretend to possess the wisdom or skill of a Sensei, but, in moments of self-doubt when I’ve completely blown a technique, I remember the words of our Grandmaster – “training the mind is more important than kata or technique.”

Who better than Master Kise to dictate the true goals of our system?  After all, it’s his.

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