Shurei No Mon

Shurei No Mon

Saturday, 6 April 2013

Thank you, MMA, for saving Traditional Karate

Thank you, Mixed Martial Arts, for saving traditional Karate!

After 20 plus years of studying Okinawan Karate, it is safe to say that I have heard A LOT of stories about how training “used to be.” I can remember being quite small and listening intently to retired Marines, and other military personal, speak about their time stationed on the Island of Okinawa; sweating profusely in the dojo during marathon-long training sessions, sparring full contact, pounding the makiwara until the skin on their knuckles fell completely off, crawling to bed covered in bruises only to do it all over again the next day…and they loved it!

I was very fortunate throughout my training to have had an instructor that took me all over the United States to train with “first generation” students of their respected Okinawan masters and learn from them. Now let me tell you, those training sessions, those sessions were tough. I will spare you the folklore of my “the old days” fairy tales, but I feel as though since those days, even since the 90’s, the quality of karate and martial arts in general, across the board, has dramatically been watered down and improperly taught by individuals that have self promoted themselves to positions of importance, or by governing associations that have been created by even more egotistical members than themselves. Moreover, these people have indoctrinated their students by hiding the “secrets” of “their” (oyo) bunkai (applications) until the students have reached that important level … in which they have to pay for their next belt test, which will include having to get a new gi, and new chevrons on their sleeves to show their parents, spouses, or friends what they have learned.

I am reminded of a story that I read that involved the late Hanshi Sokuichi Gibu, a true Okinawan karate Master (Hanshi, founder of the Butokukan Shorin-ryu Karate Association) and his answer when someone asked him about a bunkai (application) to a move in a kata that most people identify with a “ready position.” His response, quoted from a “trip diary,” penned by his American student, Kyoshi John Spence, Nanadan, is quite profound:

“Gibu Sensei gave us a long question and answer session about kata, kobudo and applications. He is very quick to point out that there are too many people that think that all of the moves in the kata have applications. He said that many of the bunkai were carried over from China or applied to certain situations long ago but had more historical meaning than actual application. He said that it is okay to analyze what movements could be however it is wrong to think that there are hidden meanings to every move. Some are just kamae or movements so that the kata can be completed in a pattern or sequence. This is the same explanation that I have heard from other Senior Okinawa sensei. He used the turn on Pinan Sandan as an example. (When you turn around and bring both hands up to your side to begin the final sequence with the empi uke and uraken) I have heard this explained as a throw, as a break, etc. When I asked him about this, he looked at me like I had two heads and said ‘Kamae only.’"

Now, for those who don’t know, the Kamae position is a ready position for Kumite (Fighting). The Yoi position is a ready position for Kata (Forms). Sometimes one is used to replace the other, same-same.
It is my personal opinion that most people are more interested in learning the possible bunkai (applications) that could be found in kata than conditioning themselves and their bodies to be able to execute the actual technique. 

Knowledge is power, but skill is in the application.

Moreover, most people are under the impression that their kata practice is enough to help them be combative on the street while they are defending themselves. This is just not the case. I am reminded of a student of mine who was once shy about kumite. This person stated, “I think that I will be able to defend myself in the street, like, my body will just know what to do!”
…yeah, I don’t think so. Since this statement, this student is a feared fighter for their age in our club! 

Where am I going with all of this?

 I am making the point that because of MMA (Mixed Martial Arts) and its insurgence into mainstream media, most people are familiar with the sport and the techniques. Some know what positions are on the ground: half-guard, side-control, full mount, full guard, etc. Some know what sprawling is, some know what armbars are. They know what a jab and hook and an uppercut punch looks like; they have seen boxing in the Olympics. They know what a throw is; they have been watching Judo in the Olympics. Some know what leg locks and triangle chokes are, and others are avid fans of the sport and have become amateurs in commentating; they can figure out what a fighter needs to do in order to defend themselves and win, submit, or knock out their opponent. Simple observations.

None of these individuals are thinking about wrist grabs, cross wrist grabs, over hand strikes etc. I assure you!

As my best friend and long time training partner put it, “you can’t sell snake oil to people anymore, not since the internet and the recent age of immediate access to information.”

That being said, these people are having kids or starting to have kids, or they are thinking about starting to have kids, and they want to get their kids into mixed martial arts and well, this is what the new generation of kids fighting in school will look like:

Yeah, I know. Scary, right? Okay, so, what are we going to do?

Well, it seems to me that we are looking at a resurgence of the traditional dojo; the hard focus, not just the philosophical theory or the loose applications. Pushups, sit ups, running, kicks for hours, bag work, takedowns, continuous kumite (fighting), conditioning…all the lessons instilled in the “first generation” students stationed in Okinawa 50 years ago! Don’t get me wrong, I think that the “soft” part of karate and martial arts is important, but we can’t forget about the “hard.” I feel like the “hard” has been replaced by the “useless.” Let me explain…

Kata: No longer can we just dance at the dojo anymore.
(Now, before someone freaks out and starts sending me emails about how kata is important, blah, blah, blah, I agree with you! Kata is awesome for exercise and conditioning etc. No one is knocking kata practice. I love kata, so do you, so it’s cool. I am just saying we need to practice other stuff too).
It’s not like it was back in the day, watch someone do an impressive kata and think to yourself, “That person KNOWS karate!” There is a big difference between fighting, defending yourself, and doing kata. Before the insurgence of MMA, I think that people in the west gravitated towards eastern martial arts because of the mysticism and magic; making the smaller guy subdue the more powerful guy. That is true; martial arts will teach you that, but that smaller guy has to TRAIN his/her body to be as STRONG as it can be so that the techniques found in kata or not, will actually work! This isn’t The Matrix; you can’t download information and expect to be able to retain its value. This is not how it works! Watch below:

Kids aren’t stupid anymore and now, if they aren’t taping their friends fighting and posting it on YouTube, they are going to sites and watching amateur fights there. Or they are watching MMA on television, the internet or HBO and they know what’s going to work and what won’t because even if they aren’t actually fighting themselves, they are watching people fight all the time! PS, I am a high school teacher, and I can tell you that when kids fight now, other kids film it. Yeah, truth. Go ahead; go to YouTube right now, I’ll wait…

They aren’t stupid, they’re educated.   

I can remember there being a time in the dojo when you weren’t “allowed” to watch people perform advanced kata because, “you weren’t there yet.” Please, give me a break. What a joke. It’s not like people will pick up advanced technique by watching. You see, the ultimate aim of kata is to prepare your body for combat, to harden your body through stance work and conditioning, while you demonstrate an understanding of how your body moves when you are working certain techniques and applications...that’s it. Throw some moving meditation in there for good measure too. Now, after watching the video above, do you think those kids are practicing kata? Nope! They’re fighting! And I have to tell you, there is no kid their age taking "karate" or "tae kwon do" that stands a chance against them if they aren’t learning to also fight and protect themselves as well. Period.
Let’s do a test. Place the kids in the above video against the kids in this video and think to yourself which group of kids are more prepared to defend themselves:

…cough, cough. Okay, let’s continue.

You have to think to yourself, why don’t we practice ground fighting at our dojo? Why don’t we practice more joint locks, holds and applications? Why don’t we do more throws and takedowns? Everyone else is doing them, why aren’t we hitting the bag or makiwara? Again, why aren’t we hitting the bag or makiwara?

Those are good questions. Why don’t you ask them?

The answer is: Your teacher probably doesn’t know how to.

Most martial arts teachers, especially "karate" (sigh) or "tae kwon do" will work from a wrist grab, or a cross wrist grab, which would be great, if people actually fought like that, but they don’t. Last time I checked, that isn’t the way to start a fight, or end one. It’s insane to think that people are still teaching all the bunkai (applications) from wrist grabs or cross collar chokes. News Flash: This isn’t feudal Japan, and most people don’t carry swords anymore, they carry guns, or knifes, but not swords. So maybe we should be teaching people how to grab another person’s wrist to prevent them from grabbing their gun or knife, but for the love of God…

The point is, you can teach all the technique you want from wrist grabs, collar chokes etc. However, if you aren’t being taught how to defend someone punching you in the head and trying to throw you to the ground, then you aren’t learning to defend yourself from the majority of people who will most likely attack you in your life. You are training to release yourself from the grasp of your parents’ grip when you are throwing a tantrum in the mall, your friend’s grasp of you as you dangle to your untimely death below, or some idiot at school or work that still play pranks, slapping you, when you go to shake his hand. Sigh. Note: this guy actually exists.

So, maybe you should change some stuff up a little, what do you think?

Technique found in Bunkai: PRACTICE!
Oyo Bunkai (Partial Understanding) is something anyone can do, it’s an interpretation. That’s it. Like Hanshi Gibu said, it is okay and encouraged to think about what the application might be. Even so, that “real” application might not be “combat effective” in the modern era. It’s alright if it doesn’t make sense, the point is you found it. This means you are beginning to think combatively about your kata at least and this is a good thing. However, these techniques alone, traditional or modern, useless or effective, become useless unless you can put them into practice without being smashed into the ground. If you see a throw in a kata, practice that throw, but not just from the movement in the kata, from all positions, from all angle, grabbing different parts of the gi and the body and whatever! I know, I know, the world was a better place for you when it was just wrist grabs etc. As Hanshi Doug Perry,9th dan in Shorin-ryu Okinawan Karate, retired Marine Major, former Golden Gloves Boxer, retired Karate Champion once said, and I am paraphrasing here, that all those locks and holds are great but if you knock your opponent out, they are a lot easier to apply.
The man’s got a point here… and so do I.

The truth is. No one can sell the snake oil forever, and sooner or later, all these McDojos, all these terrible martial arts clubs/day-care centers, all these fakes and phonies will have to disappear. And the only thing that will be left will be quality, traditional, martial arts clubs…like Okinawan Karate Schools. Pumping out quality martial artists that train and condition themselves; their arms and legs are like iron, their spirits strong and their techniques sharp. That is it my friend. They look like this…

… This, my friends, is what a traditional karateka looks like and what he/she should be trying to accomplish. They should be trying to make their arms and legs as strong as swords and spears so that if they do have to punch or kick in a conflict, they will BREAKDOWN their opponent. And I can assure you, no one is grabbing their wrist.

You see, traditional Okinawan Karate is a brutal art. There are punches and kicks of course, but there are also throws and joint locks, fish hooks and skin ripping, pressure point strikes and elbows and head butts… the list is endless. There are no rules; it is self defense at its finest.

With the creation of a fight culture emerging out of MMA, there will be no room for foolishness in the dojo anymore and schools will have to start thinking about teaching again and not running homework clubs and birthday parties. Teachers will have to be legitimately certified from reputable institutions and they will have to teach in their dojos even more. They will have to show what they can do to their new students because, well, this new generation of student will have some questions about how to apply the technique or escape a position, and the old charming, “you are not there yet, Grasshopper” line is not going to work.

In conclusion, MMA has become a decoder ring that one can wear to see through all the nonsense technique that some schools pass off as “self-defense or combat tested.” As a karate enthusiast, I can’t stand looking at the quality of some schools in my area, let alone getting on the internet and doing a search. However, things are looking up and maybe; just maybe, we can run these places out of town for good.

The problem is when Lyoto Machida, WKF Karate Champion, Shotokan Karate Black Belt, and MMA fighter won his last fight by a head-shot reverse punch in a zenkutsu-dachi and in a previous fight from a jumping front kick a-la- Kusanku Dai, EVERY black belt said, “See, it works!”

The difference is guys, Machida is a fighter, who trains every day and has built his arms and legs to be “swords and spears.” He does not run a daycare center. He is a legitimate black belt (yudansha).
My teacher once said, “There are black belts, and then there are black belts.”
…Sigh. Here we go again.

Thursday, 29 March 2012

The Young Yudansha

I’m a 30 year old Black Belt, or Yudansha. Now, I know most people would assume that I probably started in my 20’s somewhere and through diligent study and hard work; I obtained my Shodan (1st degree Black Belt) rank a little while ago, maybe a year or two…
Nope! Not even close…

I started my martial arts career at the age of 9, that’s right, 21 years ago. Now, I know what you are thinking:

Well, when did you get your Black Belt?

Well, I am glad you asked. I received my Shodan (1st degree black) in 1996, 5 years after I had started training. So, that would have made me 14 years old…

      Wait, how can you give a Black Belt to a 14 year old kid? Can they protect themselves against a 25 year old?

Good question: I have no idea! Depends on where he/she trains. Do they train at a reputable dojo, in a reputable association? Does their dojo teach EVERYTHING, INCLUDING Tai Chi…. (I am sighing on the inside)? Do they train against all sexes? Are they big? Do they like to spar? Does the attacker have a weapon? How many attackers are there? Do they out-weigh you? Are they drunk? Are you drunk? Why is a 14 year old drunk anyways?

What if they do this Sensei?”… “Yeah, but what if he did this Sensei?”... And my personal favourite, 

Yeah, but… what if he’s like, 300 lbs?

Well, I guess there are a lot of questions to answer…


That’s the best question: Why give a Black Belt to a kid?

The answer is: Why not?

Yeah... why not?

There is a lot more to karate then just the “hard,” the kicks, punches, stances and screaming. It is a lifestyle, a commitment to building a better individual through a martial art, through diligent study, and mediation. If a student starts at such a young age and deserves the recognition, then why not award him/her the opportunity to advance?

Why? Because they aren’t old enough to protect themselves against an individual that is surely stronger physically! I guess I see your point, especially if you are an individual who believes that the belt itself makes one “dangerous, with great martial power!”

Hahahaha! It’s a belt guys, Okinawans didn’t even have them. Ranks were established from the Judoka, even your gi…yeah, that’s right. Even those fancy titles: Hanshi/Kyoshi/Renshi/Shihan… all taken from Judo. Ever notice that a 7th Dan in Judo has the same belt as the Nanadan in Karate….. (Insert a mind blowing noise here).

Let’s take a look at this guy- Matsumura Sensei!

Now we are talking! This guy was a real bad-ass! In comparison to Itosu Sensei, he was not a big man, thinner, most likely faster.  At one point in his life, he was given a challenge to defeat a bull; I guess they were a little bored in Okinawa. Regardless, instead of training hard, pounding the makiwara, he chose to defeat the bull using his intelligence

Now, I will to allude to The Karate Kid movie when Miyagi says, “person who wins smarter, not stronger,” You get it, I hope!

Matsumura, periodically while training, walks up to the bull, slapping its testicles with a stick, wearing his kumite kimono, week after week. On the day of the fight, Matsumura wore the kimono, brought the stick, and the bull fled the ring; his senses told him Matsumura was there, his testicles ached, and he left….defeated.[1]

Ha! Pavlov’s BULL I suppose.

My point is simple. When I teach kumite, I often tell my students that the best way to avoid danger is to not be there. In the ring, it means to duck, weave, dodge etc. In life, it means to avoid conflict by not engaging. Just because a younger student is not the best fighter, and can’t drop an adult, does not mean that they are not skilled enough to hold the rank. In fact, if I have a student who can fight, and chooses not to, I have in fact taught them the greatest lesson that martial arts can teach and they are living the example. I would rather have a young Yudansha that proves time and again that they are intelligent and mature enough to handle learning the “hard” efficiently, so that when they are old enough to apply it forcefully, they with also have the wherewithal to use it appropriately and when necessary.

I would rather have ranking yudansha at 20 years of age with 10 years of study, than Yudansha at 20 years of age with 5 years of study. For example, males in their 20’s, love to prove their physical worth, especially against other males, especially if they are called out in public, and especially if there are members of the opposite sex around. Now, that first student I spoke of, he/she has probably spent a lot of time sparring in the dojo. They are not easily intimidated. They know their skill level, as it has been tested time and time again. They have won and lost in the ring. They know the thrill of victory and the humiliation of defeat. More importantly, they are humble about their own skill and because they have proved themselves over and over again, they are not seeking challenges outside of the dojo. They do not have to prove themselves to anyone, they prove it to themselves everyday in the club. 

The latter student may still have delusions of grandeur about their fighting style; they may be easily coaxed into confrontation because they have not yet developed the mental strength to fight back their pride or their ego.

Therefore, it is not the age of the student’s physical body that enables them to receive rank, but their understanding of the importance of what they are learning that enables them to wear the rank around their waste. This symbol must cease to exist as an object to “notch another win” on or to generate nd base a false sense of security around.

There is more to Karate and self-defense than punching and kicking… the “hard!” There is the “soft,” the applications, the inner working of the technique, however; the “soft” also refers to the strategy of the fighter, the bunkai or understanding of the technique, the understanding of the opponent and of one’s self.

Some people just don’t get it. So let’s look at another example, one particularly centered on Canadians: Hockey.

Most Canadian children have skated before. Most will continue to skate so that they can enjoy their winter season actively. If they haven’t ever played hockey on the ice, they probably have on the street or even at school during recess. At home, their parents probably watch the big games on Friday and Saturday nights, even if they aren’t watching. Moreover, they can probably sing, if not hum the tune for “Hockey Night in Canada,” which is like our Monday Night Football. (Note, this article was written before the great removal of the Hockey Night in Canada theme song!) They probably have a hockey jersey from a player, or a team they once played on or for and chances are that jersey has probably been worn by a girlfriend or boyfriend of that player! Ahhh, Canadian puppy love!

Yes friends, hockey is a part of the fibre that makes up the culture of being Canadian.

Just as hockey has become a part of our identity as Canadians, so too is Karate a part of Okinawan culture.

So, let’s look at a case study…

Two boys, both starting hockey at the same time, grow up on the same team. The first of the two boys is a great goal scorer. He is very dynamic on the ice, physically punishing against the boards and full of finesse in the neutral zone; always able to break away from the opposition with his sheer natural talent. The other boy is just as intense, but not as gifted physically. Although he can play, he is not the talent his friend is on the ice, never scoring as many goals, but assisting more than any other player. He doesn’t hit hard, but he can always get the puck away from his opponent. Never the top goal scorer but he stops more goals on the power play killing line then he ever actually touched the puck. He understands more than just his opponent, but how a team is supposed to play, a strategist, a coach, a team mate.

Now, I ask, if this was Karate… who would be the better Black Belt?

BOTH? The first? The second?

Don’t they both know a considerable amount? Just in different areas? One, in performance and the other, in strategy?

But wait, isn’t Karate fighting?

The Karate Kid movie quote time: Daniel-san, “yeah, but you knew karate…karate is fighting, you train to fight.”

It is only when we start to use an example that we can relate and we begin to understand the complexity of Martial Arts and its lessons. Could we be so foolish to believe that the Black Belt rank is so simplistic, so basic, that the practitioner can only be valued and assessed by their physical accomplishments?

I bet you feel a little stupid now don’t you?

Let’s look at the history of the art shall we?

We know that the art was first brought to the Island by Okinawans who were “so very fortunate” to travel to China, to the Fuzhou province, to learn this distinguished art form. Now, let’s look at that last statement for a bit. It is not like every man and woman on the Island was studying this art form, it was only the upper social classes, the selected classes that first started. A select group of gentlemen, ambassadors of their homeland. 

Well, why?

Well, like all education, with great knowledge or power, comes a great responsibility. The martial knowledge one would have would give them great strength and one could use this power over others for use of control. If this power or knowledge were to be given to the wrong participant, then evil has an opportunity to reveal its “ugly head.”

But, the first student, sounds like a better fighter to me, won’t he be a better karate person? Because he is a better fighter?

Funny you should ask. They say that you don’t really know a skill until you teach it. You have to know how to relate information; that makes a good educator, not a scholar, see the difference? The second student, although they themselves are not as physically gifted for the art, they may be more developed mentally for the capacity of the history of the art or the philosophical theories surrounding application of movements. He/she may be more accustom to leading groups of individuals in instruction. Now, if we focus on this school of thought, the better students becomes the latter, not the former of the two boys.
I guess this leaves me with the following biblical passage:

“Give a hungry man a fish and it will feed him for a day, teach him to fish and he will never go hungry again.”

So, why give a Black Belt to a 14 year old kid?

Because… why not?

[1] Tales of Okinawa’s Great Masters. Shoshin Nagamine. Tuttle Publishing. 2000.

Sunday, 12 February 2012

Stances: From Kata to Kombat

...You guys know what I'm talking about. You've seen this stance in every martial arts movie ever created, but in case you guys haven't seen it before. Let me give you another wonderful view of it's glory!


I chose the super-awesome animation because I always have this funny little joke that I use when teaching older students this stance and it's function according to my own personal belief. I will say, "if a person ever leans back and drops a zenkutsu dachi-gedan barai combo, make sure you fight them. Chances are favourable for a win." Now, before people start getting all bent-out-of-shape about my "knocking" of the zenkutsu dachi, let me start with the theme of this post:

Karate is a tool to teach you how to be combative. Kata is a physical module that, when worked through, gives the practitioner the opportunity to have practiced, trained and refined principles of combative elements to their full extent and full range of motion

Okay, let me try another more simple analogy: I have memories of working on math problems very early in my life at the kitchen table with my mother looking over my shoulder. The topic of the math problems was division. It was one of the earlier grades, one where the teacher is very concerned with "seeing all the work," so he/she could assess where I went wrong if I had happened to fail at achieving the right FINAL answer. It was very monotonous work, something that took a very long time, something that we weren't aloud to use calculators for...and now I know why. Then, it just seemed stupid. "Ah, grasshopper..."(Insert Asian Sensei voice here, must be older than 70 years of age.) An example would be something along the lines of: How many times does 15 go into 158769. Please show all the steps...

...Now at this point, I would be starting the process of counting out how many times 15 went into 15 or 158 to start the process, calculating down the left side of the page, working out new calculations in my head, using multiples of 15 to get this party started... and all of a sudden, I would have several equations helping me arrive at my final answer. After 30 or so minutes of this, exhausted, I would eventually start thumbing through the pages of the textbook looking for easier chapters that were on the horizon in the year....finally getting to some silly multiplication review section. Then I would see... 15x3=?

"45!" I would say really quickly, feeling good for a second because I was right, but more importantly, I KNEW I was right. The reason I knew I was right was because of the first question above. After having to figure out how many time 15 went in 158, it became pretty simple to add up to 45 after working with the number 15 for 30 minutes. I arrived at the answer immediately. The answer just snapped into my head quickly, and I executed the vocalized answer to it's highest potential. I think you can see where I am going with this.

...And that's how I look at the traditional stances of karate and other martial arts: They make you more efficiently combative because you are working on the physicality of being combative; exaggerating the movement, practicing with and working on the full range of motion, developing strength, speed, flexibility and power.

Let's look at another example, this one with athletes and martial artists alike. You will see many times endurance athletes running with weighted vests and/or ankle weights on and you may ask, why? Well, they are training to improve themselves by making their body carry more weight. On race day, their muscles will be use to carrying a lighter load and they will have more stamina and power overall.

Another example: My karate teacher liked to use a kumite bo when practicing kobudo kata. He would work with the bo for half an hour or so and then he would pick up his lighter, thinner bo. The wiping action of the bo was very apparent and he could manipulate the weapon with great ease and with more intensity.

My last example would be one from my teenage rock and roll years. I took bass guitar lessons for awhile as I prepared for a life on the road in an touring hardcore/metal band. (Life has a funny way of reminding you what roads are not for you!) At my first lesson, I told my teacher that all I wanted to do was learn how to shred like Billy Sheehan! Then, he showed me a scale chart and he wanted me to practice all these permutations of each scale so that, in theory, I was technically playing every note to every song ever written, at least once. I didn't understand it's importance then, but he kept saying something about "Improvisation..."

..What he was starting to get around to was the idea that I would be a more efficient player because I would be working on moving around in that fixed position, strengthening my fingers, so that I could generate the speed and produce the efficiency of the skillful technique wherever on the fretboard.

So, with that, I make my final conclusion. The zenkutsu dachi in karate or the shizentai/hachiji dachi (natural stance) or the boxer's fighting stance, all share the same make up when delivering a punch. The kinetic energy driven from the floor; from the toes, to the legs, to the WAIST, to the shoulders, to the arm, to the knuckles or palm, or fingers, it's all the same motion when striking. The zenkutsu dachi; long and deep, knee bent over the toes, back leg knee straight, foot on the 45 degree angle, much like a sprinter doing weighted lunges, it gives the fighter an opportunity to train and build even more power with his/her techniques, because their legs are developing strength and flexibility from working the zenkutsu dachi.

So does fighting in a zenkutsu dachi matter? Or is it more efficient to fight from a natural stance. I can answer that in the following two clips:

Traditional: <>


Comtemporary: <> dad would say, "6 of one, half a dozen of another."

The zenkutsu dachi is a training stance that allows you to be more powerful in your natural fighting position because you are training the full range motion and making the legs stronger. In and of itself, it is just a stance, a lunge. The principle of what it teaches and the application of what it generates and creates is the actual lesson.

The stance itself doesn't make your striking technique powerful, it helps teach you how to generate power. 

...and this my friends is why martial arts training is life long, because the longer you are around practicing, the more you become aware that the lessons you've already learned, you didn't even know you were learning.


Friday, 10 February 2012

The Beginning...

Hey Guys, Girls, or anybody else that finds themselves strolling across my blog... My name is Stephen.

I am a Canadian martial artist and yudansha in Okinawan Shorin-ryu karate-do. I am also a student of Japanese Jujitsu as well, and in my spare time, I like to practice Brazilian Jujitsu. Although I am not a serious student of this art, I do like to get my "butt handed to me" on the mat from time to time with my very proficient friend. I am a fan of all martial arts really, including boxing, and even MMA, which has found success in the last decade with organizations such as the UFC and Strikeforce, not to mention the many other organizations around the world.

During the day, I am a high school teacher and after many long days spent in the class room, I like to retreat to the dojo where I can be found trying to pass on the martial knowledge given to me by my Sensei. It's a great time working in the dojo; watching students progress, challenging themselves and becoming better karateka and people overall. It fills me with great joy and I am proud that I have found my "calling" so-to-speak as an educator, both in and out of the dojo.

So, why the blog? Well, if you are reading this, you are either my mother "Hi, Mom!" or my wife "Hi, Baby" offering their support, or you are one of the unlucky few...that's right, you very well could be A KARATE NERD! (Hey Darryl! and Hey Shaun!) It's okay if you are, there are many of us, and like you, I too have spent many a Saturday night hitting the search engines of the almighty internet, looking for a new OLD photo of some Okinawan master crossing his arms, or trying to locate and classify the many systems of "ryu-ha's" chronologically in the major three sections of Okinawa, Japan: Shurei, Naha and Tomari. Sigh, I am so lame.

I decided this year that I would start writing my experiences down, as a student first and as a teacher. Let me be clear: I AM NOT A KARATE MASTER, NOR DO I CLAIM TO BE. I just want to share my experiences with a community of individuals that may be able to take a comment, example or feeling I have shared from my experiences in the dojo to help invigorate your own training, keeping your feet firmly planted on the path of your  own "way" in your own martial arts journey.

So, again, why the blog? Well, to be honest, a student of mine's wife just released a book of her own in her particular field. I was over one day, chatting and enjoying their company when I loosely stated that, "I would like to write a book someday on karate." She very quickly replied, "Why don't you?" and I told her that I have written some short essays and articles, which is true, but nothing too formal. Perhaps this is the first step in that direction, perhaps not, but I have always enjoyed tuning into the internet on my spare time and reflecting on someone's kata, kumite technique, waza or bunkai application. I feel that in this day and age, why not take advantage of the tools we have available to us. With all the information lost previously, and if history should repeat itself, should we not just cover our butts and start writing it all down now?

I realize too that by actually doing this, I am setting myself up for a lot of ridicule from the very large community of negative internet bullies, just waiting to tell me that my writing "sucks," that my bunkai is "wrong," and that I basically "don't know anything about traditional martial arts." Well, that may be true, but I hope by starting this blog that I will meet many more individuals that also have this particular interest and are excited to share information with me, so that we can all get better together. After all, a new friend of mine once posted on his Facebook, "a true martial artist looks for functionality in all styles and respects all styles for what they can bring to him/her and respects all other martial artists." This is really the theme of this medium, and I hope you enjoy reading along and becoming apart of this community. As M. Musashi once said, "Once you understand broadly, you can see it in all things!" So, take what you like and leave what you like.

In closing, I would like to offer you a reflection: in January of 2010, I embarked on my first trip to Okinawa. While there, I was having a beer with an adult student of mine and we began talking about the yudansha rank and it's significance. He said that he would like to have the words "Banish Ego" written on his obi instead of his name...and that stuck with me throughout the trip. Every place we went to, every person we encountered was so polite and willing to take us and show us the meaning of their art, their culture, their heritage, that this saying became more and more of a reality everyday. Let us be respectful here and learn from one another checking our egos "at the door." we go.