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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.

 

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New Video

December 29, 2015 Leave a comment

Well….It’s really a couple of years old. I’ve had it on the FB page for a while. Please feel free to check it out under the Videos tab here. It’s called Delta Tournament. Enlarge to full screen, turn the volume up (there’s a couple of nice tunes in it) , and enjoy.

Through The Dark Night

September 30, 2013 6 comments

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It has been quite a while since I have posted on any regular basis here. For those of you who actually follow and enjoy this blog, I truly apologize.

As most of you know, my wife of 18 years passed away in May from cancer. It was sudden and it was very fast. I think myself and my daughters actually held on to the hope that we would beat it until the very end. Whether that was a good thing or a bad thing has never been certain in my mind or in my heart.

After the funeral was over things calmed down a bit. People stopped bringing food by the house. The visits became fewer and further between. I found myself with a lot of time on my hands. With that came time to think, meditate, and reflect. To be totally honest, that actual time period became a part of the gray “black and white” world I had found myself existing in. If you have ever been very sick, suffering from a fever, and woke up on your sofa in the middle of the night with an old B&W movie playing on the tv you can grasp what I mean. You see the movie playing in the dark. Yet there is no color. You see the people’s mouths move. Sometimes you even hear the sound of their words, but you can’t quite understand what they are saying. That was my life in a nutshell at that point.

Then something happened. I made a decision. I decided that it was imperative that I get some kind of normality back in my life. I had to do things I was used to doing. I had to be places I was used to being. Work was one thing that happened quickly. All of my vacation time and sick time was exhausted and financially I HAD to get back there. But there was something else. Like an old friend or a comfortable warm blanket, the dojo called to me.

I have to admit the first time I entered the building was rough. You have to understand that my dojo is decorated and furnished to look as much like a traditional training hall as possible. It is at least done that way to the best of my knowledge and ability. There are fans on the walls, oriental screens set around, and various wall hangings and scrolls. My wife had either bought these, been with me when I bought them, or jokingly pitched a fit when I spent what she believed to be too much money on them. There is a collage on one wall with photographs of students, past and present. Of course she is in some of those photographs because even though Carol never took one single formal lesson from me, she was very much part of the life-blood of the dojo, even to the point that a lot of people, students and parents alike, called her “Mrs Sensei”. Her spirit was as alive in that studio as it was at home.

Instead of letting it get me down I began to take comfort in it. I remembered all of the things she had done and things she had helped me do including the benefit for Family Crisis Services which had been the last event she had played a major role in. The day of the event she stayed at the dojo, working the front door until she became so tired and fatigued she was forced to leave.

Something amazing began to happen. I didn’t even realize it at first but with each passing moment spent there I, out of reflex, began to change back into the Sensei I had lost for a long time. My focus shifted to doing what I was supposed to do: teaching. I stopped worrying about what other instructors were doing. I stopped stressing on what bill to pay first. I remembered a saying someone told me or I read a long time ago: “Treat every single class like it’s your last one and every single student like it’s the last time you will ever teach them”. Considering what I had just went through, and still was going through actually, that struck a very deep chord inside of me even though, as I said, I didn’t even realize exactly what was going on.

A few really special things happened in the process. My students sensed something different and it became contagious. Sensei was actually living up to the Go Do Shin (5 Way Spiritual Path) and remembering the “Spirit of First Beginnings”. It became contagious. They started enjoying classes again…and…they told friends who came in to try classes. Many of them stayed.

Something else that is worth mentioning. Many of you who have read this blog at all know that I have had some serious issues with the Fight Like a Girl Women’s Self-Defense program. I’m not saying that some things about it still don’t bother me however, I looked at the phone one day and there was a strange number on the voicemail. I hit the play button and it was Sensei Kym Rock, the founder of FLAG. Sensei Rock had saw my post on this blog about the guy teaching self- defense techniques that were weak and wouldn’t work and calling his program Fight Like a Girl. She had checked and the guy was NOT part of her organization and she had taken steps to rectify the situation. But more importantly, more dear to my heart, the thing that touched me, was that Sensei Rock had heard of Carol’s passing and offered me very sincere and heart-felt condolences. Because myself and some types of modern technology simply don’t get along and I accidentally erased the message and number, I never got to tell her “thank you”. So, Sensei, should you happen to read this please accept my deep and true appreciation for your time and your kind words.

I have also looked back on some things in my life and come to terms with them. Life is too short and far too precious to waste your energies on silly things or stupid bickering. It is far better to let that kind of negativity go and channel your time, energy, and emotions into helping other people with a sincere spirit of care and compassion. Carrying around hatred and other negative energies serves no purpose at all. We are put here in this life for a very short time. It is precious and should not be squandered on trivial things. You can’t live a happy fulfilled life if your spirit is in constant chaos.

Perhaps this will make sense to you. Perhaps it won’t. Either way, reflect on it for a while. We can all find a positive even in the most negative time of our lives if we simply allow it to happen.

7 Virtues of Bushido


7 virtues

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

Under The Surface


You may train for a long, long time, but if you merely move your hands and feet and jump up and down like a puppet, learning karate is not much different from learning to dance. You will never have reached the heart of the matter; you will have failed to grasp the quintessence of karate-do.
GICHIN FUNAKOSHI

Gichin Funakoshi was the creator of Shotokan karate and is considered by the majority of martial artists to be the founder of modern karate. Much has been written about the man and his legacy to the martial arts in general and specifically karate. To be quite honest, I am no different and he is one of my heroes.

The preceding quote from Funakoshi has deep meanings to martial artists and non-martial artists alike.

It has long been my philosophy that karate has much deeper meanings than just punching and kicking. People often only see the surface of something. They only see what they allow themselves to see and in doing so, form prejudiced and uniformed opinions.

Karate IS physical. Karate was created in the beginning as a means for an unarmed person to defend themselves from larger, stronger, or even armed attackers. When a person sees a karate class for the first time they usually think of the students being there to learn and train themselves in the art of fighting. Over the many years since its creation karate has come to mean so much more.

After the feudal era of ancient Japan ended many martial arts found themselves with no real purpose or meaning. Training to be a warrior was no longer a real necessity in the new world they found themselves in. Masters of these styles knew that there was much more than just this to their “art”. So changes began to occur with the philosophies behind the styles. They began teaching that the style not only molded the body into a weapon but it also molded the spirit; making the individual a better and more rounded person. Much Taoist and Buddhist philosophy already was a part of the Japanese arts. With the focus subtly shifting to a more spiritual nature even the names began to change. The Japanese word Do was a direct translation of the Chinese word Tao which in English means The Way. The essence of Do was directly related to spiritual and philosophical aspects. Karate became Karate-Do. Jujitsu became Judo. Bujitsu became Bushido (the way of the warrior).

Funakoshi, along with Miyagi, Mabuni, and many more, began teaching a more spiritual path in their arts. Some people believe that this actually softened karate. I disagree. In my opinion the attitude actually strengthened the arts and gave them credence as actual arts. The physical aspects were still very much there.

The amazing thing about karate is that the philosophy behind it is so ironic. We practice to perform the perfect technique. We strive and strive for the perfect block, the perfect kick, the perfect punch. Yet we are the first to admit that nothing or no one is perfect. For example: it is said in karate that “The perfect technique cannot be blocked”. What if the perfect attack is met with a perfect block? Yet we continue to strive for that perfection. We spend years doing the same things each time trying to make them better. The underlying lesson is that even though we are not perfect as human beings, it is wise to strive for perfection. Will we ever achieve that goal? That question in itself cannot be answered. Many people of many different religions have attempted to answer; yet in the end all we can do is try.

My techniques are not perfect. I’m a third degree black belt. I have trained in Shito-Ryu for16 years. I have practiced the martial arts in one form or another since I was 16 years old. My kicks are not what they were when I was 25. I get hurt easier these days and it takes longer to heal. Yet I continue to practice, to strive for the perfect technique.

Nor am I a perfect person. I have flaws just like everyone else does. I make mistakes. I am human. Yet I still strive to be the best man I can be. In helping the community, in giving children something they can be proud of in their karate, in helping women find confidence and strength in my self-defense classes I try every day to make myself a better person and to make this a better world in some small way.

This is why I believe in what I do. It is why I believe in karate and the martial arts. I have seen the positive things that result from the training. I have witnessed hours of blood, sweat, and tears in the dojo mold people into better human beings. I know in my heart that what Funakoshi said was true. If you think it is just about what you see on the surface, you will never get it.

Take Back The Night / Defeat The Darkness

April 18, 2012 4 comments

>April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. In conjunction with the Take Back The Night program we will be offering our Defeat The Darkness Women’s Self-Defense classes in May.

Make sure to register early as these classes will fill up very quickly and stop in and see us Thursday April 26th during Take Back The Night!!!