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Politically Incorrect

December 23, 2016 Leave a comment

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I took about half of my students from the dojo to The Progressive Care Center Wednesday night to sing Christmas carols for the elderly residents there. We stopped in the dining room and sang for the ladies and gentlemen still eating their dinner. Then we walked down the hallways singing a nice variety of songs. There were many greetings, salutations, and best wishes passed on. The words “Merry Christmas” were exchanged several times. These people said that freely with no guilt or regret. Why? Because that is the way they were raised. They were, for the most part, brought up being taught that Christmas was a special day that was meant to bring people together and bring out the best in them.

Today, at work, I wished a co-worker Merry Christmas. She said the words back almost as a natural reaction. Then a very strange look came over her face and she told me that she hoped that didn’t offend me (this after I initiated the greeting). I looked at her and smiled. I asked her why she thought being wished a Merry Christmas would offend me. In the same vein, why would celebrating a day that emphasizes peace, love, and good will to all people be considered offensive?

 

I am 54 years old. I, too, grew up holding Christmas as a special time of the year where we shared love and joy with each other. I remember those years as being happy and learning that this was a time of the year we look to our fellow men with love and compassion. We go out of our way to do special things for each other out of love.

 

Have we come so politically correct that we snub our noses at those sentiments? Are we so worried that we will offend someone that we forsake good will? And by the way, what the hell is so offensive about wishing someone peace and happiness?

“It offends me that you said that because I am (fill in the religion or non-religion of your choice)”

 

So you’re telling me that because you do not believe what I believe that my honest and sincere wishes for your prosperity and good fortune are offensive? You’re saying that because you worship differently, or don’t worship at all, that my holiday greeting to you is bad? I’m a bad person because I wish you and your family the best during this season. That is one of the most insane things I have ever heard.

People stand up on a soap box and speak about their Constitutional rights. Let me give you a lesson in the Constitution. The First Amendment gives you freedom OF religion, not freedom FROM religion.  The founding fathers of our country realized that the Church of England had been ruled and directed by the government for many, many years. In those days practically everyone, and I mean everyone, went to church. The monarchy controlled the church. They knew that if they controlled the pulpit, they controlled the citizens. The fathers wanted nothing like that happening in the new country they had fought so hard to establish. So they wrote the First Amendment so that the government could never have that kind of control.

I know that I am going to take a lot of flack over publishing this. I know there will probably be some people who leave nasty responses to it. The thing is I’m going to read those comments and smile. Why? Because I’m not a Christian. I have been a practicing Wiccan for 20 years. I have no problem with “Merry Christmas”, nativity scenes, Silent Night, Joy to the World, or any of the other things associated with Christmas. So, that being said, I have one thing to say to those who just might be offended,

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all. May the peace and love of the season be yours and your family’s.   

 

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.

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.

7 Virtues of Bushido


7 virtues

ULTIMATE Defeat the Darkness


Ultimate Defeat the Darkness

A Long Week


I have not been posting for a while. Many of you already know if you have been watching my personal Facebook page, my wife of 18 years passed away last Sunday, May 19th at 11:45 am after a very short battle with cancer.

My emotions have ran an entire spectrum and my energies have been scattered for three weeks now as we battled through hospital stays and radiation treatments.

We had her ceremony yesterday and the outpouring of support brought me to tears. The church was completely full of family and friends of the family wishing to celebrate the life of “Mrs Sensei”.

Hopefully this coming week I am going to get things back to “normal” at the dojo.