Monday, September 02, 2013

Special Training & Promotions - August 31, 2013

We had a very special 3 days of training and promotion demos this Labor Day weekend.  Friday class ran at the usual time and we focused on running through all the kata from Naihanchi through Kusanku. Everyone was energized and ready to train, and it was good to spend the whole class just going though all the kata.

Saturday was the big day.  Janos Sensei drove over from Panama City and led us through an amazing 3 hours of training that has surely left everyone's brains on full!  We worked on koshi and movement principles from Naihanchi, Chinto, and Kishaba no Sai.  We enjoyed Janos Sensei's quick wit and example-driven teaching style.  His demonstrations of Chinto against the wall, and how to defend yourself with a shirt over your head, will not be forgotten soon.  He encouraged us to "find naihanchi in all stances and movement" and that is just what we will continue to do.

After training on Saturday, we had promotion demos.  Demos included, 3 Shodans, a Yon-Kyu and a Shichi-Kyu.   It was great to see so many spectators for the demos, including my other Teacher, Steve Harless. Everyone did amazing as they performed numerous kata and applications.

As a special event, we performed a demo in honor of Carol Strickland.  I performed a Sai Kata (Carol was very fond of Sai), Eli performed a Nicho Gama kata from his previous style, Dave did Pinan Sandan, and we all performed Pinan Shodan.  After us, our special guests, Leslee Williams Sensei and Dan Zimmerman, performed Naginata two person forms that Carol had been working on when she was training in Naginata.  It was a wonderful tribute to an amazing martial artist who left us too early.

At the conclusion of the day, the karateka were awarded with their new ranks and I presented a posthumous Nidan for Carol.

Sunday morning training was focused on 3 hours of nothing but Kobudo.  I can honestly say I'm exhausted now and very much enjoying having Labor Day off to just rest!

Congratulations to all who promoted and thanks to my Sensei for both being there!

Shodan Essay: Confidence

Confidence and its Necessity in Karate-Do

By Eli Jones

Image of the various brush-stroke styles for the kanji for self-confidence

Religion calls its faith, commerce calls it security, athletes call it tenacity, and general society calls its self-assurance. The Japanese word for it is jishin which, depending on the kanji, can mean earthquake. Regardless of moniker, confidence is an element of the human mind that is dependent upon a combination of two factors: an individual’s perception of a given scenario (whether spontaneous or routine) and his or her perceived ability to take appropriate action as necessitated by a situation. In daily life this can mean anything from trusting family and friends to provide emotional, spiritual, or financial support when required (general confidence) to a warranted standing of one’s ground with peers, colleagues, or superiors on the basis of a technical, practical, or personal issue (self-confidence). Generally speaking, an amalgamation of common and life-changing experiences and how they are handled is what ultimately shapes an individual’s self-perception while establishing a perpetual pattern of action, or lack thereof. That is to say, if a person learns to handle undesirable situations with quick resolve, they will retain the confidence to do so, and if one becomes used to mistreatment, it is unlikely that he or she will ever gain enough confidence to break the cycle. 

        With that said, confidence presents itself in a number of ways with regard to martial arts. In karate specifically, karateka are often given opportunities to demonstrate their ability before sensei, students, and spectators; challenged to learn new forms and applications; charged with the task of sharing knowledge with others seeking karate-do; required to apply learned skills in a controlled environment in both prearranged and free-style scenarios; and, with time, tested to gain the privilege and responsibility of acquiring new knowledge. Needless to say, as the student spends years learning his or her respective style, self-assurance tends to be a product of the physical, mental, and spiritual growth that karate-do affords its practitioners. Such confidence typically translates to the student’s life outside the dojo as a tendency to welcome new experiences, handle daily stresses in a productive manner, take leadership roles in his or her community, strengthen ties with family and friends, establish healthy relationships, and, should the unfortunate situation arise, defend one’s self and loved ones to the fullest extent. 

        I am thankful to say that the cumulative product of my twenty-one years in karate training has led to a more confident me than would have resulted had I never discovered the Okinawan art. As with many who find their way into the arts, my interest was sparked by way of American commercialism. In my case, it was the 1984 movie
The Karate Kid – which I first saw in 1987 – that sent me relentlessly begging my parents to let me take karate. Five years later, I found myself in a traditional Shorin-ryu dojo training under Major J.D. Perry, USMC (retired) who was then a fifth dan in Nakazato Shugoro’s Shorinkan style. 

        As with most kids starting off in karate, my initial goal was progression – to ascend the ranks, learn techniques to impress friends, and essentially become the next Daniel Russo. I very quickly discovered that true karate was not designed as a mode of status or entertainment, and, as one might guess, lacks the commercial elements presented by inspirational underdog movies of the 80s, comedic anthropomorphic reptile cartoons of the 90s, and (as recently noted) octagon-oriented ultraviolent free-for-alls of the new millennium. Conversely, karate is a personal commitment and lifelong pursuit to better oneself through training; a term that typically refers to a continued dedication to the analysis, interpretation, practice and overall comprehension of the form. It was through these points that I was able to understand, even at a young age, the substance of empty hand and the emptiness of preconceived substance. 

        At around age twelve, I witnessed other kids boast about black belts they had obtained a year after joining whatever commercial dojo they were a member of, only to lose in the numerous fights they inevitably got themselves into. Upon speaking to one of these young karateka, I found that their dojo trained with safety proofed and artificial weapons, based a great deal of importance on competition, and encouraged its students to speak out about training – likely for the sake of commercial attention. The underlying issue with this type of dojo was that its students developed a false sense of confidence hinged upon poor training and a belief that they were more capable in combat situations than was actually the case. When these young karateka discovered that they were unable to “use” karate as originally thought, the resounding effect was a lack of confidence in their training and ultimately themselves. 

        Perry Sensei, on the other hand, insisted that no child should hold a yudansha rank. His belief was, and still is, that even a well-trained child cannot physically defend his or herself in a direct confrontation with an adult, and, as such, is incapable of handling the responsibility that comes with a black obi. Similarly, he disagreed with the use of “toy” weapons on the grounds that a child will never learn respect for the implements of kobudo, and will harm themselves or others should they ever use authentic articles. On the subject of openly discussing one’s ability as a martial artist – he highly discouraged it, once comparing the notion to an individual of inadequate intelligence warning everyone he crosses that he carries a concealed hand weapon (Sensei added that even with a gun, a fool rarely knows how to use the weapon appropriately and will likely harm himself and others). It was such fundamental differences between Sensei’s approach and most others’ that gave me confidence in both Shorin-ryu and the dojo at which I was training. 

        I continued through the remainder of public school with a sense of self-assurance granted by a martial arts experience that placed me under several gifted sensei as a student, and before classes of fellow karateka as sempai – this is essentially where I discovered my love of communication and speaking to large groups. Shortly after graduating high school, I found myself in college training to be a skin therapist where, interestingly enough, I discovered that many of the same body areas used to incapacitate an attacker can be used to encourage wellness in a client. After graduation, I went back to school, became a teacher, and taught skin care at the college where I had learned. Soon, I found myself married, taking a job three states away from my home state, and enrolled in college yet again – all of this occurring in just ten years’ time, and all requiring personal confidence to carry through. 

        For the first two years after the move to Florida, I found myself in a town that seemed to be dominated by what I have so affectionately come to call “buy your belt here operations,” or as my friend Dave Higgins likes to call them, “McDojos.” It was for this reason that my training became very personal during this period. The reason I note this is because it requires a sufficient amount of confidence in one’s karate-do to understand that, in certain cases, it is best to train on one’s own than to risk the influence of bad information or improper training with others. 

        Nevertheless, my wife and I soon moved to Tallahassee where, after about four months, I found another Shorin-ryu dojo. Here, Sensei Bill Lucas teaches Kishaba Juku, a martial arts study group founded by Chokei Kishaba where Katsuhiko Shinzato now serves as the Juku Cho. Although this form of karate is indeed Shorin-ryu, the techniques seemed somewhat foreign to me as I originated in a style that focused on the generation of power through body mechanics and the augmenting of strength; Kishaba Juku, however, places a similar emphasis on body mechanics, but utilizes a combination of koshi (hip) technique and relaxation to generate power. At first, I wasn’t sure how this karate worked – or how it could work rather – and after three years of training, to be completely honest, I’m still not one-hundred percent certain. But I did become certain of one thing very quickly – Kishaba Juku is authentic Okinawan karate at its best, it works, and is most definitely effective. 

        Over the course of these last few years, both Lucas Sensei and Paris Janos Sensei have demonstrated the importance of relaxation in karate which has, by extension, finally started to translate into my daily life. When I first came to Kishaba Juku, I often remained rigid in my demeanor, techniques, and applications, and was constantly told by Lucas Sensei to “just relax.” At first I thought this difficulty was confined to my martial arts training, but soon found that I was equally as tense in life outside the dojo. It really was not until a doctor’s visit several months ago when a nurse told me that my blood pressure was once again high, and the doctor diagnosed me with a stress-induced issue that I realized, “I’m not relaxing.” With this revelation, I decided to practice deep breathing techniques, eat healthier, train more, and focus exclusively on issues that are solvable. In doing this, my most recent checkup showed that my blood pressure had normalized (without medication), the symptoms of my issue were minimal at worst, and I felt that my overall outlook on life had improved significantly. In other words, by relaxing I was able to build energy and generate more power on a life level. The reason I mention all of this is because there is really nothing more of a confidence-booster than realizing that the ideas and values learned from an essential component of one’s life, such as karate, has implications on such a broad level as to affect every other component. It is for this reason that I am confident that my current method of training will continue to improve all aspects of my life now and well into the future. 

        On a final note, it is important to understand that confidence should not be confused with arrogance, just as assertiveness should not be confused with pushiness. As mentioned earlier, confidence relies on the individual’s perception of a situation (typically a gauging of situational gravity) and his or her believed ability to act in that situation. Arrogance, on the other hand, generally stems from the notion that the beliefs, knowledge, or skills possessed by one are innately correct and superior to those held by others. In truth, the misguided arrogance of one can shatter the progressing confidence of others. And if we accept that a shattered confidence is not easily reassembled, we can understand why such frames of mind have no place in the karate-do. Confidence, however, is not only a good idea – it is fundamentally necessary.  

Shodan Essay: Character

The Meaning of Character in Karate Do

By David Higgins

                Character is defined in Webster’s dictionary as: “Strength of mind; resolution; independence and individuality” and “moral quality; the principles and motives that control the life”. Why is this important to a karate-ka? In karate-do character has two roles.  A karate-ka of good character knows when to restrain himself and dreads the day he has to use his skills. The training of self defense comes with responsibility that requires people of morality and peace. The techniques are real and dangerous and it takes discernment and a clear mind to decide when and how much force to use. As Shoshin Nagamine said, “There is no first strike in karate. It must remain purely a self defense art from beginning to end.” By incorporating the ideas of peace, respect and non-violence we also see a change in the karate-ka outside of the dojo.

     The Okinawan idea of peace, respect and courtesy to opponent is vital when it comes to “character” and its place in karate-do. Our style in particular, Kishaba Juku, is a true self defense art.  We all bow to one another; we are polite and genuine to one another. In the dojo, we build each other up through collaboration teamwork rather than divide on competition. Karate training is a constant conflict with oneself and through that conflict everyone grows spiritually and physically together. The social aspect of Karate-do is obvious in kumite. Kumite requires complete trust in your partner. It also builds and develops self control and restraint. At any given point one person can seriously be injured or killed. This is why we want karate-ka of good moral character that will only use their skills as a last resort in self defense. Heart of a saint and fist of a devil; we want people of morality and justice guiding the use of such an art.

     Strangely enough, I came from a competitive martial arts background that was based on striking first. Kishaba Juku is my first traditional style and it has completely changed my life in many different ways. I’ve dedicated myself to non-violence and the no first strike precept along with the other precepts of Matsumura. My attitude towards others has changed and I find that I am more polite. By training in kumite and kata, I handle stress differently and with a clearer mind. I am not as quick to anger and I respect all people, even if they are hateful. To me, kata is the most important aspect of any martial art. It teaches an inner peace and calm. It also, through constant repetition, builds instincts and reaction. Through diligent training in all of these characteristics I have changed how I react to life in general.

     By building all of these characteristics I have become a better person over the last 6 years of training in Kishaba Juku. I respect my martial art and understand what it can do, through that I show a large amount of restraint and never get into physical confrontations at all. This comes from the teachings of respect, courtesy, honor and nonviolence. The development of my character has greatly changed because I have embraced these ideas and made them a part of my life.

Kanji Source:

Shodan Essay: Perseverance


By Christopher Danello

Charles Swindle said, “Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you respond to it.” This is the concept behind the Kishaba Juku rule: “Fall 7, Rise 8.” That rule has become a mantra for me. I keep it as a sign on my desk. Whenever I find myself running into a wall – which is often – I remind myself to fall seven, but rise eight. Perseverance is defined as a steady course of action despite obstacles. Life puts up walls. Survival of the fittest is not so much won by the strongest or the smartest. It’s more often won by the more dogged and relentless. The one that continues to rise.

One of the things I found while searching for the Perseverance Kanji, was that it is often associated with the Kanji for Patience. This is no accident as Perseverance teaches the hard lesson of Patience. This is one of the main lessons I have learned through Karate. It’s easy to get frustrated with the very slow and difficult uphill climb in learning Kishaba Juku Karate. I have heard this mentioned over the years from other members who came from other disciplines. This is not a quick fix study. It’s not a place for Rank Collectors. It is a long, slow, methodical process that will only take time. It’s easy to walk away when the walls appear. This is where you must cultivate the Patience to Persevere. From what I’ve heard, Kishaba Juku is structured for just that purpose. It’s no accident that Kishaba Juku deemphasizes the rank of colored belts; having just the four from white to black. I think back to the story I heard that the Kishaba Juku belt is really the same belt that has worn and stained over the years. First turning green from tumbles outside. Later to brown as the stains age and new ones are added. Then finally to black as stains and age compound. The underlying theme of that story is that Kishaba Juku takes time. It takes Perseverance.

One of the obstacles I’ve experienced in Kishaba Juku is constant challenge; the constant sense of starting over. One way this has manifested is in my lack of experience. Most of the people I’ve come to know in Kishaba Juku, came to this study from another discipline – Shotokan being the most prevalent name I’ve heard. I have no previous background in any form of martial art. I came to Kishaba Juku completely wet behind the ears. Watching others adopt styles and moves (seemingly) with ease has been hard at times. Again and again, I found myself frustrated because it didn’t seem to come to me “so easily”. I had to remind myself that it’s not coming to them so easily to them; and it hadn’t in the past. They are on a different path than I am – or at least a different part of the path. So again, it comes back to time and Patience. Another way I‘ve seen constant challenge is in the fact that nothing is ever truly conquered. Nothing is ever complete. That’s a hard pill to swallow. No kata is ever truly “mastered”. There are always refinements to be made. Or the kata changes in subtle ways. Or when I reach a comfort level in one kata, there’s a new one to learn – each one making me feel like a novice all over again. There’s never really a point where you cross the finish line and think “There, I’m done.”. Like many, I think I came to Kishaba Juku believing Shodan was the end goal. Over time, I’ve learned how far from the truth this is. It’s not an end; it’s a signpost to the next part of the journey – with more Falls to Rise from. As I approach Shodan, I realize I don’t have the Grand Knowledge I thought I’d have at this point. Instead a I have a grasp of how much more I have to learn. Always at these times, I remember the Peaceful Warrior saying, “Shodan is when you start learning.”. I now see Shodan much more as a new beginning and new growth; the next phase. Again, it comes back to time; which comes back to Patience and Perseverance.

Another obstacle I’ve faced (and this has really come out in Karate) is myself. So much more than the running or weight lifting, Karate is where I see that I need to learn how to get out of my own way. One way this manifests is in me is in self fulfilling prophecy (psyching myself out). I’ve noticed that often the truly easy moves have tripped me up every bit as much as the really difficult ones. I remember early on, that I just could not get the move in Fukyugata Ichi after the second high block turning into the series of reverse punches. I could never set my feet properly. I literally couldn’t figure out what move preceded that series. Finally one night, Mike saw me struggling and said, “Hey man, you’re over thinking it. You just shift your right foot over; that’s it.” But I had convinced myself that there had to be something more complex there. It couldn’t be that simple. And yet it was. A similar move tripped up in Gojushiho as well. That scenario has replayed itself time and time again through the years. It has revealed a weakness in me and demonstrates how Perseverance is a lesson I continue to need. I continue to convince myself that I just can’t do it; that it’s too hard. In the absence of walls, I put up my own. Another lesson in getting out of my head has been in learning to see failure as a part of the process. Like Shodan, failure is not an end point. It’s an opportunity for improvement. That too has become a favorite saying of mine as people who’ve taken my classes will attest. Failure was often been the ultimate wall for me. Walking away became a skill of its own. More than with other endeavors, Karate has taught me that failure is a stepping stone. It’s literally a chance to step back and say, “Why didn’t that work? Where to next?”. That is the lesson of Perseverance; not breaking the walls or ignoring them, but find the way around them through relentless pursuit. And it’s a lesson I’m still learning.

Probably the main way Karate and the lesson of Perseverance has influenced me in other parts of my life would be the weight loss. This was a classic example of an area where I allowed the walls to turn me back. Time and again I gave up because it was too hard, and took too much effort for what I saw as too little result. I wanted it right away, just like I wanted Shodan right away. However, while learning this process of Patience and Perseverance in Karate, I began to apply those principles to diet and nutrition. I stopped trying to find the magic bullet or the grand effort that would turn my life on a dime. I instead began to focus on the gradual collection of methods and moves; adding new techniques to earlier learned techniques, the same as we do in Kishaba Juku. Friends talk about my weight loss as if it was a night and day thing. But I tracked the entire process. The chart stretches across two years. It is a slow gradual downward slope which is riddled with little turns back upward (failures where I had to reassess). That was the trick all along, time, Patience and Perseverance. I had to see the end goal of someday. I had to accept that where I was now was where I was now. There was nowhere else to be. I was on a path and had to keep walking. This is by far the biggest thing I’ve picked up from Kishaba Juku; all things in time. Arguably, this same lesson is what led to success with running – this notion of building on successes and learning from failures. No one just up and runs a marathon. I tell people you have to build up. Start with running this distance. Then try adding this much. That’s a lesson I learned from Kishaba Juku. First this move. Then add this one. Now put them together in this kata. Small moves. People tell me how ‘disciplined’ I am, but to me, that is the other side of the coin for Perseverance – Patience on one side, Discipline on the other. And it’s a lesson I’m nowhere near done learning.

So where does the path lead? If Shodan is a signpost, where to next? I find myself entering a more creative phase in my study of Kishaba Juku. Much like learning music, learning to play the instrument, eventually, you have to make the song your own. It has to become a part of you and your own expression. I feel the same with Karate. I must now learn to make these moves an extension of myself and not just motions I memorized. I need to find, not what they mean, but what they mean to me. Again, this is how I interpreted the Peaceful Warrior’s statement, “Shodan is when you start learning.”.

And as Kishaba Juku Karate has influenced other aspects of my life, I’m hoping this lesson on Perseverance will influence other creative endeavors. This is the main reason I chose to draw the kanji for Perseverance. It was miniature lesson in Perseverance. Drawing has never been a strong suit for me. However it teaches the needed lessons of Patience and Discipline. It teaches Perseverance. This is something I have never had in my own preferred creative endeavor, Fiction writing. I must have a file of no less than 4 dozen half-written short stories, novel ideas, movies, entire serials; all stopped before the finish. I have tended to walk away when something got too bogged down or to tedious or when I just couldn’t figure it out. Sound familiar?! Most everything for me in Kishaba Juku Karate has been too hard, tedious or something I just couldn’t get. Time and again, there have been kata I just hated; mostly because I couldn’t get my head wrapped around them. And time and again I have eventually begun to wrap my head around each one and usually the ‘most hated’ has become my ‘favorite’. Lately, I’ve been asking myself more and more, “Why can’t I apply this same method to my fiction?”. Everything I need for Fiction is there for me in Kishaba Juku: structure, building on small concepts, putting things together, learning from failures, learning Patience, learning Discipline, learning Perseverance. I read an article where the narrator was speaking to a writing class and asked them, “How many of you want to be Writers?”. Many enthusiastic hands. He looked around, then said, “Now. How many of you want to Write?”. Hands crept down in slow descent. And there it was, wanting and doing are two different things. I would have been one of the descending hands. People want the short route whenever possible. In Kishaba Juku, there is no short route. It must unfold in a natural progression. It unfolds slowly and gradually, but it does unfold. I need to bring the lessons of Patience and Discipline – Perseverance to my fiction world. That is the fan to ignite the sparks that I’ve to often stared at thinking, “What if?”.

I find myself looking at Kishaba Juku with a sense of rebirth. I now see a path that stretches further into the distance than I had realized before. The journey is truly just beginning. I have at least a glimpse of how vast this terrain really is and how much more there is to learn. That’s what I’ve picked up in Kishaba Juku. The lesson is never truly complete. There is always somewhere to tweak, a variation of a move, a new way to look at a kata, the resurrection of an old way. There is always somewhere else to take it. Perhaps perpetual motion is the essential definition of Perseverance – never stopping.