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What Are We Doing To Ourselves?

September 6, 2016 Leave a comment

karate-black-belt-fzoxbuh

 

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.

Wetmore Fire Relief

October 23, 2012 1 comment

DROP OFF STATION AT DOJO

We are setting up a Relief Station at the dojo for victims of the Wetmore fire.

Rocky Mountain Shito-Ryu Karate-Do / USA Tang Soo Do

323 Main St Canon City CO

Please bring:

  • Toiletries

  • Non-Perishable Food Items

  • Blankets

  • Bottled Water

  • Household Items

THE PEOPLE OF WETMORE COLORADO NEED YOUR HELP NOW!!!!

Hours will be announced ASAP. WE WILL BEGIN COLLECTING ON 10/24/12 (WEDNESDAY)

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

It’s Not The Place, It’s The People

December 23, 2011 4 comments

This is a continuation of the speech I made at the Holiday Pot Luck And Awards Ceremony this year. Emotion sort of took over and I didn’t say everything that I meant to.

We all go through tough times in our life. We all have things happen that make us want to throw our arms in the air and just quit. I have always said that when karate wasn’t fun anymore I would give it up. It has always been a special part of my life and for a long time it has defined the real me. A lot of people know me as “the prison guard guy”. People I work with know me in a certain way. People I deal with daily know me as something else. When I walk into the dojo that’s who I am.

A few months ago I had gotten to the point that karate wasn’t “fun” anymore. I was tired of the stress of running a “business”. I went up to the dojo on Sunday as I always do to clean and do paperwork…sometimes I even get a chance to practice. I swept and mopped, cleaned the restroom, and went through the motions of a few kata. I was ready to simply walk away. My mind was telling me that it was time for my black belts to step up to the plate and take over running the dojo.

It was then I started looking around the dojo. On one wall hung a plaque which read,” Arigato Gozaimashita” Thank you for training me. My students had given me the first year we were open. Above that was a hand-made scroll with the kanji for “Journey” also made by students. On another wall framed was a small poster with several clip art karate guys kicking. Under the figures read: The Family That Kicks Together, Sticks Together. Then the Shito-Ryu Mon was pasted under that. There, next to this in its’ own frame was a crudely drawn mon complete with the kanji. It looked like it was done by a four-year-old…because it was. On top of the shelves where students stow their clothes and shoes for class was a cloth ball from Japan and a bamboo plant. All of these things were given to me for the dojo by students. I walked into my office. In its’ predominate place on a shelf was the statue of a Samurai warrior. On that shelf were also books. One of which I have enjoyed very much on Aikido. In my desk drawer there was an old hand-made card which read “Hiiiiiyaaa!! Judy Chop – Ninji Kick”. An old joke which brings me a smile every time I think of it.

All of these things, every single one of them, were gifts from my students. I realized that even though they were given to me they weren’t mine. They belonged to the dojo. They were part of the dojo. They represented the students who were part of the dojo. No, not part, they were the dojo. Even the ones that had left for whatever reason were still there. It was the spirit of the students that made the dojo. It was their presence that determined what the dojo was all about. That presence was represented by all of the things they had given that were now part of the fabric of the dojo…and part of me as well.

I sat at my desk and let my mind reflect on the past year. The demos we had done. The Women’s Self Defense courses we had sponsored. The anti-bullying class and joining the B.A. STAR alliance. The food drive for the Crisis Center. The free classes at the Boys and Girls Club. The seminars we had attended. Opening our doors and hearts to USA Tang Soo Do when they needed our help. I thought of all of the things we had done just in one year and all of the lives we had touched. I thought of all of my students, past and present, and what karate had meant to them in their life.

I got up and felt renewed. I felt fresh. I felt…good. I put my gi on and probably had the best work-out of my life surrounded by my students, my family, in an empty room. Karate was fun again.

The “Why” Of It

December 8, 2011 3 comments

Many people have asked me,

“Why do you do the things you do? You are always giving free self-defense classes and seminars to women. You do free Anti-Bullying Classes. You do free classes at the Boys And Girls Club. You run a business and you could be making a ton of money. You don’t even charge as much as a lot of other people around town for your regular karate classes. Why is it that you don’t take advantage of your opportunities?”

The answer is simple and complicated at the same time
.
In 1993 my ex-wife was sexually assaulted by a man I worked with and considered a friend. For weeks and months I watched as she went through the fear, anger, nightmares, and countless other terrors. I felt helpless to help her. I did my best to be supportive. That was all I could do as she went from one emotional extreme to the other. My anger began to grow inside of me but there was nothing to do. The stresses of that nightmare finally led to our divorce a little over a year later. That was one of the darkest times in my life and in that darkness a seed was planted within me.

Flash forward to 1996. I had a new wife and a new step-daughter who I considered my own child. I had found peace in my life yet the memories of the past still haunted me. My daughter, and we still joke about this today, fell “up” the basement stairs twice. I clearly remember telling my wife that if she did it again I was going to sign us up for some kind of martial arts class. Sure enough a couple of hours later came the unwelcomed sound of her bumping her way down the basement steps. We were in class two nights later.

I had been involved in the martial arts on and off all of my life. I advanced rather quickly and my daughter, with it being new to her and something she could do with her Dad, kept pace with me.

I found myself practicing with a fever that had not been there in the past. I was being driven by some un-named force to push myself to my physical and mental limits to not only succeed but to exceed. In that I found true peace. I gained the knowledge that with great skills one must have a compassionate heart.

In time I earned my black belt. In time I became a Sensei. Some people thought of me as a true warrior because of my occupation and the very real violence I faced and lived with on a day-to-day basis. I looked at myself as a student who was still learning every day. But I realized something one night while watching the news. Several women had been sexually assaulted in a near-by city. My mind screamed that something should be done about it! I think we all have those moments. I think it’s common in all of us to learn of something horrible and think, “That’s awful and someone should do something”. We say that and wait for the other guy to do something. I was that way until I realized that I had the tools to do something. I had the means and the opportunity to make a difference.

I had done a few women’s self-defense classes with my old Sensei but in reality didn’t know very much about how to put a class together so I began researching. Some of the things I found not only shocked me but angered me as well.

I saw people out there that were blatantly taking advantage of people’s fear. I saw women who had been in abusive relationships and were now “Masters” of women’s self-defense. Giving credit where it is due, they had skills. Yet, they were mass producing and selling the things they had learned to the multitudes of people out there as if their techniques were some cheap item from a thrift store. They came up with cute little names for their courses and it appears their marketing skills became greater than their martial arts skills, if they ever had much more than those learned at a regular self-defense class. To make things worse, they were coming up with organizations where you could pay them a fee and become an instructor yourself. Does anyone see anything at all that resembles a pyramid scheme here?

It disgusted me, it still does, and I was faced with a choice. I could go ahead and jump on the bandwagon and feed off of the fear and pain of others and make money or I could do what I felt was right in my heart and do what I had set out to do and help people. I actually did a few seminars and charged for them. Even then the fee I charged was so minimal it seemed a joke.
Earlier in this blog I had announced a free month-long class for women to learn basic self-defense techniques. This came on the heels of a predator right here in our small town preying on women in their homes. I took everything that I believed in my heart and put it into action. The results were amazing. And the cause I was fighting for earned me the respect of some other instructors who actually volunteered their time and some of their equipment to help me.

In the middle of all of this another door opened. I had made the class open to women who were 14 and above in age. I had at least five young girls who were elementary school age who wanted to participate as well. Being me, I toned down the criteria a bit and allowed them in. And that’s when the issue of bullying hit home to me. I went straight out of the women’s self- defense and founded our town’s Be A STAR chapter.

We are pushing onward with Be A STAR and intend to do more women’s self-defense in the near future. So when people ask me why I do these things the answer is simple in a way. I care more about people than I do people’s money. I took a very negative thing in my life and used it to try to bring about positivity. We do these classes and food drives because there are people out there that need our help because they don’t have the means or tools to help themselves. Isn’t that the true spirit of the martial arts? Someone please correct me if I’m wrong but wasn’t it the job of the warriors of old to protect people or lands or property in the name of their leader? If I remember correctly, the only warriors who fought for money were mercenaries, ninja, who fought for anyone with no conscience or concern for anything but money. I’m a Sensei, at least I certainly try to be. A Sensei is a teacher. I teach. That’s what I am and what I do. I will make my money by hard work and forge my reputation by helping others. That’s my heart. That’s the “why” of it.

Be A STAR

December 1, 2011 Leave a comment

Rocky Mountain Shito-Ryu is proud to support the Be A STAR Alliance.

STAR stands for Show Tolerance And Respect.

The mission of Be A STAR is

To ensure a positive and equitable social environment for everyone regardless of age, race, religion or sexual orientation through grassroots efforts beginning with education and awareness. be a STAR, which stands for “Show Tolerance And Respect,” will promote positive methods of social interaction and encourage people to treat others as equals and with respect.

Founded by The Creative Coalition and WWE.

We are proud to found the Canon City Chapter of Be A STAR. It is our goal to make our community a Bully Free Zone where everyone can live in mutual respect.

Are You Being Bullied?

Help is right here:

http://beastaralliance.org/resources

Just cut and paste this to your browser for a list of resources that can help you right now!

Check back with us soon for dates on our anti-bullying seminars.

Wear A Tie Or Tie Your Obi II

November 3, 2011 4 comments

Hi there! My name is Grand Ultimate Master 15th Degree Black Belt Joe Awesome! I just finished my new book, I’m A Rich Karate Legend And I Can Make You a Success Over Night. It’s available right now from my website for a low low price of $99.99. But you can get it a whopping 0.5% discount if you order it NOW!!! You can also sign up for my awesome newsletter, Joe’s AWESOME. It comes complete with a virus that will pick out everyone in your contacts and send itself out to them too!!!!

Also, come down to our awesome training facility right now and sign up for our classes. You will be ignored when you come in the door (we’re wayyyy too busy milking the four year old kids’ moms out of their money). But don’t worry, we WILL get to you. I can promise one of our awesome instructors is eyeballing you like a buzzard looking at road kill. Once you get our attention you will IMMEDIATELY be presented with……A CONTRACT that lawfully binds you to paying us $200.00 a month for a year and a half. You break that contract and our attorney, who is also a 19th degree black belt WILL take you to court and SUE you for at least twice the amount you lawfully agreed to pay us!!!

Now while you’re being rushed to read over that contract why not just go ahead and pay us the $50.00 fee that we charge to “evaluate” your child to see if they are worthy of taking classes from Joe Awesome’s AWESOME MARTIAL ARTS SUPER CENTER. (by the way..we KEEP that 50 even if we make your child feel bad and tell him that he’s not good enough)

And once you get that contract signed and you are officially part of our awesome program here’s something REALLY awesome: your child WILL test in three months! That’s right! Whether he’s ready or not, Little Johnny will test in three months! The testing fee is $100.00 (I know, cheap right!) and it’s non-refundable whether he passes or not.

And don’t forget our awesome Karate Kamp where we will charge you another $100.00, babysit your child for a day, give her about 45 minutes worth of karate lessons, then goof arounf the rest of the day. And at the AWESOME Kamp we’ll give them a certificate AND a rank belt…even if they earned no rank at all!!! Yes Sir!!! All of that just to get you in the door, take your money, and hopefully get you to come back…and pay us LOTS MORE MONEY

Oh, and here’s a bit of info for you to keep in mind: Next month I’m going to China to my Sensei’s dojang to test for my 20th degree black belt! Of course we’re going to need you to help pay for the trip! FYI, I’ll be taking my wife, four children, and two girlfriends and it’s up to you to help with the check because WE’RE AWESOME!!!!

Joe Awesome’s AWESOME MARTIAL ARTS SUPER CENTER where we CARE….about your money!!!

Ok. I exaggerated . I went a little overboard. Or did I?

It is a one of my deepest beliefs that a traditional dojo is not a business. It is a place to learn and grow, to educate yourself about…yourself. It is a place where you can go at the end of a stressful day and find peace by focusing on improving yourself. It seems that people want to spend extravagant amounts of money to go somewhere and be treated like a customer paying for a service instead of being a part of something that makes them feel like a part of a family and knowing that their tuition goes to preserving something that is special instead of making a living for someone else.

We all have to make a living. Some do it by teaching martial arts. I’m not one of those people. I teach because karate is part of my life and a very positive aspect of my life. I teach because of pride in my system and out of respect for my style. Passing those things on to others is my main goal and purpose. Of course I have bills to pay at the dojo and that’s what the money goes for. There have been times where I have actually made enough money to have some left over for a tank of gas or to take my family to dinner but those occasions were few and far between and there have been many more occasions where I took money out of my own pocket to pay a bill or order equipment or even top off the rent. When you look at it that way, you put more care into what and how you teach.

I had the opportunity last year to go out to California and test for my Sandan. Quite simply, I couldn’t afford to make the trip. Several people suggested that the dojo have a series of fund raisers to fund the trip. I flatly refused. I had no desire for my students to work or pay money for a trip that would benefit me. One of them told me that in this case, if it benefitted me, it would benefit all of the students as well. I still didn’t want it. Instead I came up with an alternative idea. We joined together like a family. We worked very hard: car washes, bake sales, yard sales. We made a great deal of money. We paid for two high ranking Shihan in our organization to come out here, to train us all, to test those of us who wished. We invited other schools of like disciplines to attend the weekend long training. It was a huge success and everyone received immediate benefits from it.

That’s not the way to run a business!

That’s not how a business operates!

No. That’s how to run a DOJO.

That’s how a FAMILY operates.