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Visitors in a Traditional Dojo

October 25, 2016 Leave a comment

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Early evening on any Monday and class is in session at a local karate dojo. There are eight to ten students in the room. Sweat is pouring and occasionally a shout cuts through the air. To the passerby the studio may look almost empty. Surely there are more students than this? The Sensei and his Senior Students (Sempai) walk through the group correcting a technique here, offering advise there. Sensei is happy. To him, this is a medium sized class. If there were very many more students he might miss something in one’s training.

 

The average on-looker judges by what they see. There is a karate school around the corner and down the street that has a class going with at least twenty students. There are a lot of children in it. They are playing games and laughing. Earlier one of the instructors was holding a hula hoop and all the kids were taking turns diving through it and landing on an over-stuffed mat. The two or three younger students in this dojo are punching and kicking a hand mitt that one of the Sempai is holding for them. Then on his command, they break away and begin working on kata (open hand forms). As they diligently work on their kata the Sensei will stop one of them every so often and make a correction on a technique. “Make your kick stronger!” “Punch to the solar plexus!” and several other commands can be heard often as the session continues.

 

After a bit Sensei shouts “Yame!” and the students cease whatever they are doing and come to attention. The teacher lines them up and calls one of his Sempai up. He then breaks one of the kata down by sets of movements and demonstrates the “bunkai” or practical applications of what they have been doing. He then tells the students to get a partner and do what he has just done. Even the children are taught the techniques and taught to use them on a partner much larger than themselves. After a bit of this he nods to his most senior student who shouts another word in Japanese and the students fall into line facing the front of the dojo. They bow. They kneel. They close their eyes and sit perfectly still for a couple of minutes. Then they do a kneeling bow to the Shomen. Sensei turns and they then perform a kneeling bow to him. They then stand coming to attention and bow to Sensei who then dismisses the class. As they head for the changing area, they pause before leaving the training floor and once again bow facing the work out area.

 

Most people who witness a traditional karate class for the first time are a little confused. They do not understand much of what they have just watched. They have come to the dojo with a preconceived idea of what is going to happen and in most cases are shocked that this school that professes to be a traditional dojo doesn’t play a lot of games with the children. They are surprised to see that the smaller students work right alongside the older, larger, stronger ones. There is a lot of bowing and a lot of words being spoken that they do not even understand. Most of them will never come back. There is no flash or glam here. There are no wildly colored uniforms. There are no hoops or bouncy balls for the children. There is only…karate.

 

Sadly, what has been forgotten (or never realized) by most people outside of the martial arts is that karate is not a game.

 

Karate is training. It is learning how to defend yourself and learning to defend yourself from attackers that are larger and stronger than you are. If Little Suzy spends her class time bouncing tennis balls off a huge round piece of brightly colored tarp with ten of her BFFs, she will never learn how to defend herself. Likewise, if Little Johnny spends his class playing Red Rover he will never grasp the concept of bunkai. If the student is never encouraged to do better, work harder, and try their best at the art they are learning, they will never grow. They will never become stronger.

 

Karate is dedication. Like the person who was checking out the class for the first time, a staggering percentage of students will take classes for a while and then become bored with the constant repetition of techniques. Every class starts the same. Bow in and do basics. Basics, basics, basics. They never comprehend that they are trying to perfect a technique. They never truly understand that they are building muscle memory. They get bored. They get burnt out. They leave. It’s a sad thing. It’s sad for the student and it’s even more so for the instructor if “growing a business” is the only thing he is there for. The student must be willing, no the student must be strong enough, to endure boredom, repetition, and constant criticism. That said, the traditional Sensei is not heartless. The traditional Sensei knows what limits are. He or she also knows what kindness and compassion are. Sensei will take the student to the edge of what they think they can do and help the student break the barriers and limitations of their beliefs. In doing this, there is growth.

 

Most people ask, “What about team building?” That’s one of a huge number of New Age politically correct terms that we have adopted in our society today. By training with each other and working hard towards a goal the student learns valuable lessons that will last them an entire lifetime. Once they have accomplished a task or reached a goal, they have something to look back on and be proud of. When they reach this state and they see another student struggling with the same obstacle they overcame, they reach out to that student and help them overcome it as well. You see, it’s not team building. It’s not a team. It becomes a family. Families help each other. I’m not sure about you but I would much rather that my family had my back than my team. Most business professionals today would have you believe that team and family are the same thing. They are not and they never will be.

 

The traditional dojo is struggling these days. We live in a society of instant gratification. We see something. We want it. We get it We do this sometimes regardless of the situation. I can’t pay my mortgage this month but I sure do have a fine new truck. Some people walk into a martial arts school these days and they want it all and they want it now. They want to be a black belt in six months. They want to run their own school in a year. They want to have the most popular self- defense course out there in a matter of months. The sad fact is that there are many martial arts schools and martial artists out there that are willing to give someone that…for the right amount of money.

 

Yet people on average take things at face value. They believe whatever hype that someone tells them simply because they don’t know any better. Those who are actually willing to do some research on something often read a huge steaming pile of bull on the internet and take it as gospel because a website said it was true.

 

So here’s some advice for any of you instructors out there that want to take it. If you have a sign on your building that states that you are a traditional stylist, be a traditional stylist. Teach your art for what it is, your art. If you have someone who walks into your dojo wanting to watch because they are interested in perhaps taking your classes, send one of your adult senior students over to sit with them. Instruct them to be there to answer questions the prospective student may have. Don’t preach to them, simply be a source of information. Be proud of your style, your lineage, and the rich history of your art.

 

What Are We Doing To Ourselves?

September 6, 2016 Leave a comment

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Some time ago I read an article about a 10 year old martial arts student who had just earned her THIRD Black Belt…her THIRD. I had to sit back and ask myself “How does this happen?”
Have you ever walked into a martial arts school and saw all the black belts roaming around? They are everywhere and they range in age from 6 up (at least I hope they are at least 6). I was in a dojo one time and a very polite, very well mannered young man walked up to me and asked if he could help me. Around his waist was a black belt with several stripes on it of various colors. I smiled and bowed slightly. I told him that I was only there to watch. He smiled courteously at me and said if I had any questions to please feel free to ask. He then added that he was one of the Assistant Instructors. He might have been 12.
Perhaps you are reading this and know very little about the martial arts. Perhaps you are a parent and your child has been going to the same studio with the same instructor in the same art for a couple of years. All you know of what your child is studying is what you have been told by her instructor. Basically all you know about the martial arts is what you have learned from your child’s training. I’m going to pass on some information to you that you may not know.
In the vast majority of martial arts it takes at least four years of constant, hard, repetitive training to master the basics in order to even be considered for testing for a First Degree Black Belt, or Shodan in Japanese. Four years is being very generous. Some people train for up to six years to test. The four years would be someone who literally lives their art and train every time the dojo door is open. When it’s not, they train at home.
That’s the physical part of the process. However any teacher who is worth their merit knows that the physical aspects are only the surface. A student has to have a certain mental and emotional maturity as well. It’s not enough to be able to execute a nearly flawless side thrust kick one has to know when, why, and why not to throw that kick. What most people seem to have forgotten is the “martial” part of martial arts. Karate, Jujitsu, Kung Fu, and the majority of other styles were created for self defense purposes in times when a conflict could very easily turn into a live or die situation. Warriors trained to make war. Warriors trained to defend themselves from an attacker who had the sole intention of killing them. There is great power and great responsibility in the art that we teach. In feudal Japan a person well skilled in a form of martial art was as powerful (and dangerous) as a person with a firearm in modern times. The training was deadly serious and the skills were deadly serious. Yet, with seemingly no regard for any of that, there are schools out there that award six year olds with the rank of black belt. Would you give a six year old a firearm?
Why are we doing this?
In America the answer is blatantly and painfully obvious:  money. Trust me, there is big money in it. For example I know a school right now that charges $600 for the opportunity to test for a black belt. The under black belt tests are pretty costly as well.
But Little Johnny has trained for two years and has promoted all the way up through the ranks.
And that is the way you, as good paying customers, have been conditioned to think. It seems like every month there is another test. There are only eight belt colors in the system your child is studying yet she went through 32 rank tests to get to black belt. Every time you turned around you were shelling out $100.00, sometimes for a piece of different colored tape on your child’s belt. Here’s some info for you: Martial Arts didn’t even have a belt ranking system until Jigoro Kano, the founder of Judo created one.
An instructor promotes an eight year old to black belt. It’s great for self esteem. He has made a ton of money off this kid. But come on, what does it tell the public? It tell them that this is The Best you have. Or even worse, the training being offered there is kids stuff. A certain level of maturity and competence is expected with a black belt. A level that no eight year old could possibly have. I have a couple of rather large men in my dojo and my first question is: Does this kid really have the training, skill, and mental discipline to fight off an attacker of that size?
We are what the public sees us as. In my system, here in America, the youngest one can be awarded the rank of Shodan is 16. The rule varies slightly in Japan. It pains me sometimes to see a six year old child walk into the dojo and want to take classes because I know the odds of that child training under me for ten years are next to impossible. I will take students as young as 6 and I will do my best. Most of them burn out or move on to other things well before they are ready to test for a black belt. When they leave, it is my hope that I have instilled in them some of the basic lessons that karate has to offer.
Don’t misunderstand me. Martial Arts are great for kids. It does teach them valuable skills which makes it easier for them to be better student, better athletes, and better people in general. But have we so badly lost sight of what a black belt means that we promote children to that high of a level of proficiency when in our hearts we know it isn’t right? And it’s not right. If you believe it is then your training was flawed somewhere down the line. Or perhaps you look at it from the point of view that it’s your business and that’s the way you run it. It being a “business” to you is part of the problem. We need to bring back some of the pride that has been lost in what we do. We need to bring back some of the honor that has been lost in the never ending quest to have a successful business. If you make your black belt ranks mean something, it makes your style mean something. If your style means something, you mean something. So by all means, teach kids. Have kids classes. Have a kids program. But let’s not take the very thing that should have the most meaning and the most honor in our systems and make it a children’s game.

7 Virtues of Bushido


7 virtues

ULTIMATE Defeat the Darkness


Ultimate Defeat the Darkness

Shame On You


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In a lot of ways this is difficult, even painful, for me to write, I have never liked “throwing anyone under the bus” but if you know me, you know I can NOT stand McDojos or snake oil salesmen. I was actually writing an article on the history of the obi, the karate belt, and got tired of thinking and started surfing the web for films of self-defense techniques. At one point I went to Google and typed in “fight like a girl self -defense techniques”. This link came up about third down the line.

What I saw in this deeply disturbed me. Here we have a black belt in Gracie Brazilian Jujitsu teaching children self-defense using his daughters to perform the techniques. I had heard that these same sort of techniques were being taught here around town in some of the schools and it bothered me just hearing parents and kids describe them to me.

I honestly don’t know if these techniques are authorized Fight Like a Girl moves or not but they are certainly using the name on the video. Here’s the newsflash for you:

THEY DON’T WORK!

With the exception of one technique where the guy picks the child up from behind and she starts kicking him, they are worthless. The ending of that technique is fundamentally wrong as well. Whoever created these moves has absolutely no understanding of either body mechanics or insight as to how a predator attacks. I know. I, wanting to at least give it a chance, went to the dojo and worked with several students of different ages, sizes, and degrees of body strength. Not even adults could get the first couple to work. I can’t understand for the life of me why a black belt in a grappling art would waste his time putting these out there.

Let’s walk through the video and I will explain.

0:19

I will start here because this is basically a repeat of the first 18 or so seconds at a different angle.
First of all, pause at 0:22 seconds. Notice the position of the attacker’s body. His arms are outstretched and locked. His hands around the girl’s neck. This shows the attack has just begun. The attacker is attempting to subdue the victim. THAT is what his attention is on. Now, note his body position. He is between the girl’s legs. In most cases a sexual predator will NOT move into this position until he has already gotten his prey under control. (Although, believe it or not, it does make the escape easier). He will straddle his victim to further control their body.

0:23

The girl moves her arms across the attacker’s arms, pulls down, and breaks the choke hold. Notice also at exactly 0:24 he opens his hands thus releasing the hold. NOT! If you are on top of someone attempting to choke them your arms are locked and the majority of your body weight is pushing down. A weaker smaller person will not be able to break the hold in such a manner as depicted on the film. After at least 10 attempts to mimic this move in our dojo with unsuspecting victims, none of them worked. Quite simply the child is trying to use muscle instead of any kind of technique to break the hold. Coming from under the attacker’s arms with both hands to the elbows would probably work better. Then again, turning her head and biting a hunk out of his hand would be more efficient.

Back to the attacker releasing the hold: once someone has you in a position like this, maintaining the hold they already have on you is imperative to them. That is why deceptive moves like going for the eyes or groin will augment a technique and cause it to work…it takes the attackers mind OFF of the primary hold. In this case, the attacker simply releases his hold without attempting in any way whatsoever to regain it, thus regaining control.

0:24

The girl simply wiggles her way out. The attacker doesn’t attempt to regain any kind of control whatsoever. (Dad just lets her go). She kicks him a few times in the chest (no effect if the attacker is a large person). The only redeeming factor is that she finally kicks him in the face, rolls away, and escapes (although with no sense of urgency at all).

0:35

This is so ridiculous I’m not going to even waste a lot of time on it. Sure enough, last time I saw a larger person attack a smaller weaker one they got right down on their knees and tried to choke them. I think the thing that bothers me the most is that it seems to be a re-occurring theme in a lot of these techniques for the child to LAY DOWN on the floor and start kicking. Gee, that puts them right back in the situation we saw at 0:19, aka…JUST where a sexual predator wants you!

0:50

Probably the best idea of the bunch. The attacker grabs from behind and the girl starts kicking him until he lets go of her. This is a good sound move UNTIL the attacker releases her and we, instead of getting away immediately, go right back to laying down on the floor and kicking.

1:21

Another one I can’t figure out why a Jujitsu guy would even entertain teaching. I am a Nidan in Japanese jusitsu. An adage my Sensei pounded into my head over and over again was “If they push, you pull. If they pull, you push”. By following this you take away the attackers strength and basically turn his power against him. I teach my students in such an attack to either move into their attacker with an offensive move or attack his hand as he pulls you. Once again, we find our young heroine on her back on the floor kicking.

Anyone who is out there teaching these things, especially if you have training and know better, should be ashamed. Why are you passing on to children of all people, worthless techniques that don’t work, make no sense, and place them in more danger?

Here are some tips if you are really attacked.

Do NOT lie down! Prone on your back is the LAST place you want to be.

The face is almost ALWAYS open. Punch it, scratch it, hurt it going for the eyes.

There is NO SUCH THING as a “fair fight” when you are attacked. Bottom line: you walk away or you get carried away.

When you get the chance…RUN! Don’t “pretend” to run. Don’t half-way run. R-U-N!! Get away. Get to help!

Health Benefits: Karate Has Them

April 9, 2013 2 comments

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The following is taken from our flyer for adult karate lessons

Karate is a fantastic fitness alternative for men, women and children of all ages. The great thing about martial arts is that it’s a departure from the gym or average aerobic class. Like any physical activity, mixing up your routine with something fresh and fun can give you a boost in reaching your fitness goals. This is especially true for individuals that may be experiencing a plateau in their goal cycle.

Karate is one of the most effective weight-loss activities around. It offers a full-body workout by employing movements that exercise all major muscle groups, as well as incorporate balance and dexterity. Using punching, kicking and fight stances, individuals work their arms, legs, glutes and core through an activity that is challenging and fun at the same time. Despite karate stereotypes, it is not strictly about fighting techniques. It’s about improving fitness levels, self-discipline and overall health.

The Winning Number

So the big question is how many calories does an hour’s worth of martial arts burn? Quite a lot actually. An average 145 pound person engaging in one hour’s worth of martial arts can expect to burn approximately 870 calories. In order to burn the same amount, a runner of the same weight would need to run an 8 minute mile for 60 minutes or bicycle at 14 miles per hour for 90 minutes. Comparatively, martial arts is a hot calorie burner.

Physical Benefits include
Improved reflexes and coordination
Increased performance in all physical activities
Increased strength and stamina so you feel great all day
Increased flexibility and weight control for better overall fitness
Cardiovascular workouts ( heart and lungs ) to keep you in top shape
Greatly improved balance
Ability to defend yourself

Mental Benefits include:
Improved concentration for better work and study habits
Stress reduction and the ability to relax
Confidence in knowing you can defend yourself and your family
Confidence in knowing how to deal with bullies and other confrontations
A positive attitude toward life through self-confidence and self-discipline
Self-esteem and your outlook on life
Respect for yourself and those around you
Motivation and an ‘I Can Do It’ attitude

Good-bye My Friend

October 19, 2012 6 comments

Please forgive me. I usually type out my posts on a word sheet and check the spelling. Tonight I will try my best without that so please overlook the typos.

I got the news today that my very best friend in the whole world had passed almost two weeks ago.

Les had been ill for a long while. He had contracted Hep at his job at the prison. To complicate things, he had diabeties. When I last saw him, back in the spring, his arms and face were skinny, yet his stomach was bloated beyound belief. His mom came out here to stay with him and remained all summer. Les retired on a medical from the state prison and went home to MO so his mom could look after him. He had moved to Rifle CO and was too far away for me and my family to check on him,

Les went home. His health steadily declined. We had hoped that being home and being with his family would have helped improve his health. Instead he grew worse. His mom told me that he went to the hospital and it took two deputies and the two ambulance attenents to get him loaded. She said that until they got his pain under control, he would lay there and scream. Once they did he was peaceful. He was put in a nusrsing home for a little while. Terrible thought that a 53 year old man be in a place like that. His mom arranged for hospice and he was brought home. Very soon after Les’ kidneys shut down and in two days time he passed from this world in the middle of the night. He was in no pain when he left this world and surrounded by his family.

I cannot put into words the emotions I feel right now. When I first began my career in the MO Department of Corrections, Les was my teacher, my mentor, and my guide. He became much more than that. When people endure the stress of working in that enviroment on a constant basis, they become more than friends. Les became the brother I have never had. He stuck by me in thick and thin and was more of a family member to me than anyone I am related to by blood.

This blog is all about karate. Les never took one single lesson in his life. Yet he was one of the greatest warriors I have ever known. He was hard and gruff and tough as nails. Unless you knew him personally, you probably would not have liked him. I was one of the few people who was honored to know him personally and to know that he had a heart as big as he was (and trust me he was a BIG man …over sx feet and well over 200 pounds). He treated my daughters like they were his own. Both of them, along with my wife, are deep in mourning for him. He was a force to be reckoned with inside of the walls. He very seldom saw a gray area. There was only right and wrong, black and white. I didn’t always agree with him but then again, he didn’t always agree with me, on philosophies and world views. Yet we blended. In the truest sense we were brothers.

I miss him. I will miss him for a long, long time. He gave me a love for guns, harleys, and helped me discover who I was and become the man I am.

Please forgive me. This may not be the proper venue for this but it’s 2 am and it is heavy on my heart.

Good-bye, my brother. The prison took your life in the most subtle way and it took it way too soon.

This is for you…until we meet again…because we’ve only got 100 years and you got cheated out of half

http://youtu.be/tR-qQcNT_fY