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1650+ Posts... and Counting

Character?

If you were a sensei, would you tolerate a student with poor character but good technique? The student lies, cheats, steals, and is violent... but is very good at Karate. Would you allow him to remain in your dojo?

I'm sure the answer is no. Character is the first and most important issue. Technique is secondary. A student with a good character is infinitely more valuable than a student with good technique. In fact, you must ask how a student with poor character was allowed to develop good technique. Something is wrong.

Now reverse the question. If you were a student, would you tolerate a teacher with poor character but good technique? You might think this is a rediculous question, bit it is not. Would you be willing to overlook a teacher's character shortcomings because of his superior technique, rank, titles, lineage, power, or connections?

The answer must be the same. Character is the first and most important issue. A student cannot remain with a teacher with poor character. Karate teaches character first. Is the student learning Karate to develop a poor character?

Sometimes a student must leave a teacher. It happens. The student should be polite and handle the matter with dignity. There is a saying that even if it takes 20 years to find a genuine sensei, it is well worth it.

Nothing justifies poor character. A high ranking black belt with poor character is far worse than a new student with poor character -- because he should know better. A teacher should be as demanding of himself as he is of his students.

Character is always the first and most important issue.

It is truly a fortunate student who can admire his sensei equally for his fine character and technique. Such a student will have a rewarding Karate life.

Respectfully,

Charles C. Goodin

Zhi Shang Tan Bing

Today I went to lunch with Stan Henning, a former United States Army officer and expert on Chinese martial arts. Please see a partial list of his articles at the Hawaii Karate Seinenkai website. Stan knows much more about Chinese martial arts than I do about Karate... much, much, more.

Since we are both researchers, I mentioned to him that my sensei always warns me not to become better at research than Karate. I should not become a "paper" Karateman. In Okinawa, they would call such a person a kuchi bushi ("mouth warrior").

Stan said that the expression for this in Chinese (in which he is fluent) is zhi shang tan bing, which means "talking of soldiering on paper."

Often, a person who excels at martial arts is not a very good writer, particularly in English. Conversely, a person skilled at writing might be a poor martial artist. The ideal is to be skilled in both the pen and the sword -- scholarship and martial arts -- according to the maxim: bun bu ryo do.

If you have the chance to read any articles by Stan Henning, I highly recommend that you do so. He often writes articles and reviews for the Journal of Asian Martial Arts. Karate came from China (the original kanji for Karate meant "China Hand") and we can learn a great deal by studying the history and tradition of Chinese martial arts. But remember to avoid zhi shang tan bing.

Respectfully,

Charles C. Goodin

Karate Celebrities

Years ago, I attended a Karate seminar on the mainland (in Hawaii, we call the continental United States the mainland). It was a two day seminar.

At the end of the second day, I noticed that many of the attendees had lined up outside the ballroom in a long hall. I wondered what they were doing since this was my first big seminar.

I walked to the front of the line and there seated at a table were the Okinawan instructors who had taught the seminar. The attendees had lined up to get their autographs on books and photographs.

I was quite shocked. I wondered why anyone would do this -- first, why the students would want autographs and second, why the instructors would give them. In Hawaii, most instructors I know would feel too embarrassed to sign books.

I found out that this was common. Actually, it was expected that visiting instructors would make time to sign books and photos. Some might even sell books or videos.

Still, I found it a bit strange. I never knew that Karate instructors were celebrities.

Anyway, as I was watching the book signing, one of the students looked at the Okinawan instructors and looked at me (I am half-Japanese). Meekly, the student asked me if I would sign his book. I think he thought I might have been with the Okinawans. I did not sign, but if I could go back in time, I think I might sign this:

"If you are reading this, you should be practicing.

-- Signed by no one of any importance."

I will tell you something funny. My eldest son loves to play ping pong. He asks all my family members to play with him and I do from time to time. Every time I hit a nice shot, he says, "nice." He always does this. I hit a nice shot. He says, "nice."

Last week I hit a nice shot and scored a point. Nothing. I stood there. Nothing. My son finally said, "what?" I replied, "you forgot to say nice!"

Karate instructors should not be celebrities. They are people too. Certainly they are very skilled at Karate, some may have many students, written books, produced DVDs, etc. But they are still people. Karate is not designed to create celebrities, it is designed to create cultured gentlemen. If we treat instructors as celebrities, we might ruin them.

I have met some of the the most senior Karate instructors in the world. Several have been to my house for dinner. In my experience, the more accomplished the sensei is, the more humble and down to earth he is. The converse is also true.

If one of my students tried to make me into a celebrity, I would correct him right away. That is not Karate. In this case, the "empty" part of the term applies. You can't be empty if you are full of yourself.

We are all students of Karate and put on our gi bottoms one leg at a time.

Now Pat Morita was a real celebrity. And guess what? He was one of the nicest and most down to Earth people you could ever meet.

Respectfully,

Charles C. Goodin

Karate Metamorphosis

An amateur zoologist was walking through the woods. He bent down by a bush and saw a round white thing attached to a leaf. "Hmmm... I wonder what animal this is?" he thought.

He walked a little farther and found another bush. This time he found a furry worm munching on a leaf. "Hmmm... I wonder what animal this is?" he thought.

A few minutes later he stopped by a pond and saw a beautiful butterfly fluttering from flower to flower. "Hmmm... I wonder what animal this is?" he thought.

In the beginning level, Karate is like an egg. It is solid and has a definite shape. It does not move at all. Its purpose is to nourish and incubate the student. It is fixed to a leaf (style).

In the intermediate level, Karate is like a caterpillar. It is softer and can move, but not too well. Caterpillars have a voracious appetite, just like intermediate students want to learn everything possible. But they eat so much that all they have time to do is poop! Caterpillars can move from branch to branch.

In the advanced level, Karate is like a butterfly. It is beautiful and moves freely. It flies, not crawls, from place to place. Unlike the caterpillar which consumes everything, the butterfly is more discriminating. And when it eats, it pollinates the flowers. The butterfly's focus is on the next generation, not itself.

When you view Karate students, you find that most are eggs, some are caterpillars, and a few are butterflies. They are all the same animal, but at different stages of life. Karate is a metamorphosis.

And try as it might, an egg cannot fly. Practicing beginning Karate for decades does not make one a butterfly. You have to crawl before you can fly.

Respectfully,

Charles C. Goodin

Returning Student

Today a student who had been away from the dojo for a couple of years, returned to class. I am always very happy to see former students. Honestly, I often wonder how my former students are doing.

To be honest, most returning students do not stay for very long. It is very hard to find the time for Karate. There is work, family, and a million other things. So a returning student must have a strong kiai and the determinat to try their very best to practice and attend class regularly.

As a sensei, I want to teach a returning student as much as possible, but I also realize that it is important to give him or her time to readjust to the class and get back in shape. So it is best to take things slowly.

I will mention another thing I consider with returing students. I consider how they quit. Did they show the proper courtesies or just stop coming to class? If they had to stop training because of work, school, moving, health, or other reasons, I will always tell them that they are welcome to return to the class. But if they just disappeared, I will be less receptive. A student who just disappears tends to do the same thing over and over again.

For returning students, try your very best!

Respectfully,

Charles C. Goodin

Bo Case

When carrying bo to and from the dojo, it is best to put the bo in a case (canvas or other material). This is not only to protect the bo, but to conceal it and attract less attention.

The same is true of all weapons used in Kobudo. They should either be carried in a case or completely contained in a carrying bag. Weapons should not be exposed in public.

From time to time, I see children walking to their Karate classes wearing their gi (and belts) and carrying bo on their shoulders. This is not appropriate. It can invite confrontation by low minded people.

You should check the laws in your area to make sure that certain weapons such as nunchaku and tekko can be used in your area. Laws of some jurisdictions restrict such weapons. In Hawaii, for example, I believe that tekko are illegal because they are the equivalent of brass knuckles. Dirks and daggers are also illegal. Again, you should check the laws in your area.

Respectfully,

Charles C. Goodin

Guest Post: Learning Koshi Properly – Start Slow

This Guest Post is by David Takahashi, a nidan and assistant instructor in the Hikari Dojo. David's wife and three of his children also practice with him in the dojo.

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In the Shorin-Ryu style of Karate we practice, koshi is used to add considerable power while delivering speed to any offensive or defensive maneuver. While deceptive in its appearance – a person skilled in using koshi does not, in fact, seem to be using it at all – it is devastating to one on the receiving end. (I have felt the koshi of Sensei Katsuhiko Shinzato during a practice session as he was demonstrating a technique. Though he used only a fraction of his strength, I was amazed at the force I felt.) Learning to use koshi effectively, however, takes considerable time and practice.

After having practiced using koshi for the past four years, I have begun to see the difference it makes over the style of Karate I practiced previously that required only my natural body strength. The process to change wasn’t easy or fast.

For several months, I played video tapes of Shinzato sensei teaching koshi to his students and to Goodin sensei who was visiting him in Okinawa. Later, I acquired other video tapes and DVDs as well. For hours at a time, I would play a small section of one kata, in slow motion, over and over again, until I could imitate the movements Shinzato sensei made. At times I would focus on his footwork; at other times, I would focus on his hands, etc. It took some time, but by breaking down the movements in small pieces, I began to get a feel of how a particular block or strike would feel if done at “regular speed.”

For me, learning to move fast meant first learning how to move slowly.

I believe that to understand the mechanics of using koshi properly one must not rush the process. A movement done using koshi properly is extremely fast, as a whip would be. However, if one attempts only to imitate the speed of using koshi, the student will only use the arm, elbow and hand. It may look similar but deliver far less power.

Today, I continue to watch the same tapes of Shinzato sensei and still learn details and nuances that help to refine my movements. If someone would ask me what it takes to move fast using koshi, I would say, “First start slow.”

David Takahashi

Awase Bo

Another thought about bo. Pairing off sequences with the bo are sometimes described as awase bo. A couple of weeks ago I visited a dojo and was shown the various bo stored there. One was dented from use, and the sensei explained that it was used for awase bo.

I always carry two bo to class -- one for kata and one for contact. The reason for this is pretty obvious. I don't want my kata/swinging bo to get damaged. In Yamani-Ryu, we slide our hands over the bo. Dents and nicks can make this dangerous and slow.

My contact bo (the one for banging) is made from hickory. I find this type of wood to be more durable. My kata bo tends to be from red or white oak.

I attended a bo seminar many years ago. It was taught by Sensei Toshihiro Oshiro, an excellent instructor of Karate and Kobudo. I had brought a nice new bo to the seminar. At one point, he decided to use me as his partner for a demonstration of poking with the bo. He had me hold the tip of my bo and let it hang down vertically. He then proceeded to demonstrate poking my bo over and over and put dents all over it. This would have been fine except it was my kata bo! Of course, I was very happy to learn from this experience and the bo itself was very trivial. The opportunity to learn it what counted.

But this is a good reason to bringing two or more bo to class -- one for kata and one for contact, or awase.

And it is always important to carefully examine your bo before each use. If it is cracked, perhaps it is a good time to cut it into yawara bo.

Respectfully,

Charles C. Goodin

Breaking a Bo

The other day I heard a story about a Karate expert who broke a bo while performing a kata. Of course, this kind of thing happens from time. Wood is not perfect and the stresses during kata (or pairing off) can be great.

I thought of two issues. The first is safety. When a bo breaks, one end tends to fly off. The break is usually very jagged and sharp. Someone can be serious injured. If the broken end hits the floor or a wall, it can even bounce back and injure the person performing the kata.

It is essential to carefuly examine your bo before each and every use. This is especially true if you are a visitor to a dojo and borrowing a bo.

The second issue has to do with the perception of breaking a bo. Usually, the audience is very impressed. "Wow! That guy broke the bo!"

It is indeed good to be able to break the attacker's bo, but you definiltely do not want to break your own. You would be a serious disadvantage if you suddenly had a 3 foot bo and you opponent still had his six foot bo.

Actually, there are ways to swing a bo that are more likely to break it. There are also ways to block or strike the opponent's bo that are more likely to break your own bo. Advanced bo students are aware of this and move in a manner that protects their own bo from possible breakage. This usually involves thrusting rather than cutting down forcefully, and blocking with a circular angle rather than directly (at 90 degrees).

If you see a demonstration where a master breaks his own bo by swinging it, you should be aware that he is most likely embarrassed -- despite the fact that the audience may be impressed.

Like I always say, an audience is a very poor judge of Karate matters.

Respectfully,

Charles C. Goodin

Sequences of Movements

Sometimes I demonstrate sequences of movements. The beginning of Naihanchi Shodan, for example can be demonstrated as:

  • The attacker grabs my left hand with his left hand.
  • I twist his hand counterclockwise and apply an arm bar/break.
  • I then step into him (pinning his leg with my right foot) and strike the side of his head with my right hand.
  • I reach around his head and execute the left elbow strike while pulling his head into the strike.
  • I then push (grind) my left forearm across his face while pulling his neck (raking his face) with my right hand.
  • I then strike him on the kidney with a left gedan barai and punch or push him with the right kaku zuki.
Of course, this is an interpretation of just one basic sequence. There are many interpretations and many sequences.

However, some people might say: "yeah right, the attacker would never stand still while you do all of that."

I agree. The attacker will be moving in response to pain, locks, breaks, and strikes. But the point of learning such sequences is not neccessarily to be able to execute that particular sequence in response to an attack -- but rather to be able to execute any part of the sequence as appropriate. Certain movements flow naturally into each other. The gedan barai, for example, is naturally followed by a kaku zuki (done either as a side punch or a forearm smash). There is a geometry to movements -- doing one creates an opening for the next.

When I was a Kenpo student, we would execute similar patterns or combinations. Sometimes people would describe the patterns as overkill (we did tend to hit the attacker many times, even when he was taken down to the ground). Again, the idea is to learn the patterns so that your can execute all or parts of them as necessary.

Through repetitive practice, the patterns become reflex.

Respectfully,

Charles C. Goodin

Not With Your Mouth

Last week I got to each lunch with Sensei Jimmy Miyaji and today I got to see him at the Hawaii Karate Kodanshakai training (he is our president). I admire Miyaji Sensei very much.

One of the things he often says is that "you don't practice Karate with your mouth; you practice Karate with your whole body." Karate is not simply something to think or talk about. Karate is something you do. Miyaji Sensei has been practicing and teaching Karate for over over 50 years.

Respectfully,

Charles C. Goodin

Kyo Sen No Sen

We often speak about the sechusen, the vertical centerline of the body. One of the guiding principles of Shorin-Ryu is to protect your sechusen and attack the opponent's sechusen (often on an oblique angle). There are many vital spots on the sechusen: the tailbone (coccyx), groin, bladder, solar plexus, xiphoid process, suprasternal notch, chin, philtrum, nose, and eyes -- just to mention some along the front of the body.

During the last week I also learned about another important line -- the kyo sen no sen - which was explained to me by Sensei Pat Nakata. The kyo sen no sen is essentially the horizontal centerline of the body which runs across the solar plexus. The kyo sen no sen is not protected by thick muscles (unlike the chest and stomach areas) and thus is vulnerable to attack. Just as we protect our sechusen and attack the opponent's sechusen, we also protect our kyo sen no sen and attack the opponent's kyo sen no sen.

The hand position in shuto is a good example of protecting the kyo sen no sen. The back elbow covers the floating ribs on the side of the body, the forearm covers the tip of the lower ribs on the front of the body, and the wrist covers the solar plexus. You can also see this type of position in old photos of Choki Motobu. His back arm almost always covered his kyo sen no sen.

In my dojo, our target in chudan tsuki is the xiphoid process, which is on the sechusen and the kyo sen no sen -- on the intersection of the vertical and horizontal lines.

Thanks to Nakata Sensei we now can think about protecting two centerlines -- the vertical and the horizontal. And, in a sense, these lines paint a target on our opponents.

Respectfully,

Charles C. Goodin

Perfection

My mother was born and raised in Fukuoka, Japan before World War Two, and came from a former samurai family. My father was born and raised in Georgia and Florida. I am stating this to give you a little idea about my background concerning the subject of this post.

Japanese generally seek perfection... of character, or technique, or skill, of whatever they are doing. The folds in origami must be perfect. Flowers must be arranged with a perfect balance that looks natural. A geisha's clothing must be worn just right and, of course, the fabrics are exquisite. A sword must be perfectly sharp. Japanese cars are supposed to be perfect. It should not be surprising that each and every technique of Karate must also be... perfect.

When we arrive at the dojo, we line up our slippers in a perfectly neat line outside of the dojo. We ensure that the dojo is perfectly clean and arrange ourselves in perfect lines. We move in unison and each do the same movements with the kiai at the same points. We are striving for perfection in each and every thing that we do.

We can take this outside the dojo. At home, my family's slippers are neatly arranged by the front door of my house, all facing out in case we have to leave in an emergency. I have been working for years to eliminate every weed in my yard -- literally every single weed -- so that the yard will be perfect, with one and only one type of neatly manicured grass.

But... and here is the big but... no matter how many weeds I pick or poison, new ones grow. Do you know why? Remember, I have picked them all, down to the roots! It is because of the birds. We feed the birds and they bring us little gifts. The wind brings weeds. It is as if nature is conspiring against my pursuit of yard perfection.

And it is. Nature is against perfection because perfection is shallow and temporary at best. Neat slippers can become crooked. A white gi becomes stained. The most precious ceramic plate breaks. A beautiful Japanese screen gets ripped or falls off its mountings in an earthquake. A brand new Lexus gets dented.

Perfection fails. It is too stiff and unnatural.

People are not perfect. Trying to make them perfect is a mistake. It is like pounding the proverbial square peg into a round hole. What's wrong with being a square peg? Squares are good. Circles are good. It is good to have both.

Imagine two very high sensei performing a kata. The first one is Japanese. At some point during the kata, he makes an error. Ho does the wrong block or changes the sequence. How will he react? He is not perfect! He has let everyone down, particularly himself. It is time to cut open his stomach to atone for the shame of his error.

Now an Okinawan sensei makes the same mistake. How will he react? If he is old style, I suspect that he will just laugh. Sure he made a mistake, but mistakes are natural. One movement is as good as another. The sequences are not written in stone. Like all living things, they are subject to change. Change is good. Nothing is perfect.

Don't get me wrong. I believe that we should always try our best. But we should give ourselves -- and especially our children -- a little slack. That perfectly round stone in the stream is really not perfectly round. It is just smooth, and that is beautiful. Can you imagine if all the river stones were perfect spheres? It would be so boring. How much more so in our dojo. We do not want perfect students that are clones of some ideal. We want each student to be the best that he or she can be -- which in the end may be far better than what we thought was the ideal.

Let us celebrate square pegs.

Respectfully,

Charles C. Goodin

One More Kata

From time to time I speak to a student who wants to learn just one more kata to try to understand his Karate better. It is as if that one kata will hold some mysterious secret.

I know many fine sensei who collectively know an amazing number of kata. When we get together, it is very interesting to exchange notes on our various interpretations of the kata we practice. Some of our kata are similar and some are very different despite sharing the same name. There are several different versions of Passai (Patsai), for example, that are all similar in some general ways but also very different. It is interesting to see the differences because the different movements or techniques will give rise to different bunkai (applications).

I also value seeing other versions of kata I practice that may contain movements that are missing or combined in my version of the kata.

However, I do not feel that it is necessary to learn more kata to better understand Karate. If that were true, a person who "knows" 50 kata would understand Karate better than a person who only "knows"18 kata. And a person who "knows" 100 kata would be the best!

Of course, this is not the case. In order to better understand Karate, we should dig deeper in to the kata that we already practice. It is far better to know one kata well than 100 kata poorly. If you can do that one kata very well, then learning a new technique will be very simple.

What is better, to know 100 kata or to have a devastating punch -- a punch that could drop an attacker? A person with such a punch could probably do any kata very well.

Respectfully,

Charles C. Goodin

Busted Up

Because of my work with the Hawaii Karate Museum, the Hawaii Karate Seinenkai, and the Hikari Dojo, I have the opportunity to speak to many people who practice and have practiced Karate. Most people have had a positive experience.

However, I have spoken to to a number of people who had to quit training due to injuries, sometimes serious ones. For the most part, these injuries were caused by kumite (sparring), often when the student had only practiced for a few months or only a couple of years. People have described serious knee, back, and neck injuries, as well as broken jaws, skull fractures and concussions. And again, these were Karate ending injuries -- not minor injuries.

Sometimes the injuries were caused by kumite within the dojo or class. More often than not, the injuries involved sparring with students from other dojo or classes, in tournaments or otherwise.

In some cases, the injuries left the students crippled for life.

My dojo does not participate in tournaments and does not engage in kumite training with other dojo. I will not kumite with a person unless I know them very well -- and am confident in their control, both physically and mentally.

It makes no sense at all to me for beginners to engage in free kumite. Kumite should be controlled, at least until the student becomes sufficiently advanced. A student should be able to strike his partner's skin reliably.

In Karate, we should be training for our 70s -- like the Tai Chi Sifu. Part of the strategy for this is to avoid injuries as much as possible. An occassional minor injury (a bloody nose or sprain) is hard to avoid, but major injuries are often the result of poor supervision or premature exposure to advanced sparring. We are training to learn self defense. The process of learning self defense should not harm us more than that against which we are preparing to defend.

I always say that safety must come first. And for those who might call me a "wimp" or overly cautious, please tell that to the people who have had to quit Karate due to injuries.

Respectfully,

Charles C. Goodin

Guest Post: Budo

This Guest Post is by my friend and mentor Sensei Pat Nakata. Nakata Sensei is the head of the Okinawa Shorin-Ryu Karate Association in Hawaii. He was a student of Chosin (Choshin) Chibana in Kobayashi-Ryu Shorin-Ryu, and also studied Ryukyu Kobudo under Sensei Fumio Nagaishi. When he was a young man, he studied Wado-Ryu Karate under Sensei Walter Nishioka.

Nakata Sensei is the Vice President of the Hawaii Karate Kodanshakai and serves on its Ranking and Titles Committee. He teaches classes six days a week in Kapahulu and strives to perform 10,000 kata each year!

- - - - - - - - - -

Many years ago, I attended the Mas Oyama Kyokushinkai All Japan Open Karate Tournament. This tournament is a bare knuckle, full contact tournament. The opening speech was given by Kyokushin Karate's famous founder Mas Oyama. Oyama Sensei stated that because of the actual contact, this tournament was true Budo. He further stated that this Budo tournament was the ultimate test for a martial artist.

After the tournament, I was honored with an invitation from Sensei Bobby Lowe to a dinner with Oyama Sensei and the top instructors of his organization. At the dinner, Oyama Sensei expanded on his tournament's opening speech.

Oyama Sensei stated again that this type of tournament was real Budo because it was real hitting. Then, he explained that the real Budo he was talking about went beyond actual hitting. In this type of tournament, winners and losers of a match both receive punishment. The winner advances and again goes through a grueling match.

Oyama Sensei concluded, when one has no more energy but still punches and kicks, when one can hardly stand but still moves forward, when one has nothing left to remain upright but still remains standing, this is Budo.

In this context, when we train and we are totally exhausted, when there is nothing left physically and we reach into our inner self and we continue to endeavor, this is Karate.

Pat Nakata

Pivot on the Ball

One of the characteristics of our style of Shorin-Ryu is that we only pivot on the balls of our feet -- we do not pivot on our heels.

The first kata in which this is noticeable is Fukyugata Ichi. In the first movement, the left foot moves to the left, and when setting into Zenkutsu Dachi, the right foot pivots on the ball of the foot -- the heel thrusts back. It is very noticeable when a student incorrectly pivots on their heel because this makes the front of the their foot pivot forward in an arch -- it sort of flaps.

In the second movement of the kata, we step forward with our right foot and our left foot (which had been the foreward foot in Zenkutsu Dachi) pivots on the ball of the foot into Shizentai Dachi. Again, it would not be correct for the student to pivot on the heel of the left foot.

I think that there are two reasons for the ball of the foot pivot. The first is that it gives a firm base. If you pivot on the heel at the moment of contact, your balance could be poor and you could lose your balance. The second reason is that it helps to maintain body compression. Pivoting on the ball of the foot closes the body (particularly the hara) while pivoting on the heel tends to open it.

There is a difference between a preparatory pivot and one at the moment of contact. We tend to pivot on the moment of contact and for this, the ball of the foot is preferrable to the heel. However, if the pivot is before the moment of contact, there may be cases where a pivot on the heel is used to step on or trap the attacker's foot. It is much easier to step on someone's foot when you pivot on your heel.

Of course, the opposite is also true -- sometimes the pivot on the ball of the foot is used to sweep the attacker's foot or leg. The rear leg is usually used for this.

When I practiced Tai Chi, we always pivoted on our heels, with the step on the attacker's foot as the usual explanation. Some styles of Karate also pivot on the heel, sometimes to open the hara.

The use of the ball of the foot or heel to pivot affects the line of the kata. The heel pivots maintains the line while the ball of the foot pivot shifts the line to the inside slightly. This affects weight distribution and lines of attack/avoidance.

At an advanced level, it is possible to move more freely with less reliance on firm footwork (because the body compression is more internal than ground based).

For a beginner, however, we pivot on the balls of our feet.

Respectfully,

Charles C. Goodin

Hand - Anger

Recently, Sensei Don Roberts donated a copy of his book Theories and Analyses of Isshin-Ryu Karate Do Kata. Book 1: Naihanchi Kata to the Hawaii Karate Museum. He had read my recent article on Bunkai in Classical Fighting Arts and thought I might appreciate a copy of his book, which I did.

On the bottom of page v of the book, Roberts Sensei provides an old Karate saying:

"If your hand goes out, leave your anger behind.
If your anger goes out, leave your hand behind."

Now this is in a book about bunkai (tigikai in Hogen). Roberts Sensei could have chosen from many different well known sayings. I thought it was very meaningful that he chose this one.

What is the relationship between anger and the use of Karate? The answer is that there should be no relationship at all. There is no place for anger in Karate.

If you must use the self-defense applications of Karate as a last resort (if your hand goes out), then you should be calm and collected... focused on the task at hand, which is self-defense. If you are angry, for whatever reason, you should not use the self-defense applications of Karate.

An angry person is predictable, like a raging bull. A raging bull is very strong, but you can generally tell where it is going and what it will do.

If you must use the self-defense applications of Karate, then you must be calm -- cold and collected. Your anger must be transformed into an almost superhuman form of determination. You should be strong, but the attacker should not be able to predict what you are going to do. You should not be a raging bull. Instead, you should be more like a tiger stalking its prey. Of course, I do not mean that you should think that you are a tiger! What I mean is that a tiger stalking its prey is very calm and focused on its target. It does not give away its presence or intentions. It is the opposite of a raging bull.

If you are angry, you should take a deep breath and try to become calm. You see the attacker standing in front of you, yelling insults and threatening you, but do you see his friends lurking in the shadows? Has your anger clouded or limited your perception of the situation?

If you are angry, you must resist the temptation to act, especially to act rashly.

And if you must act, you should do so in a calm manner, and only to the extent necessary for self-defense or the defense of others. In the heat of anger, this limitation might be forgotten. Even in the worst of situations, the masters of old spoke of compassion for the attacker. After all, that person also has a family and loved ones.

"If your hand goes out, leave your anger behind.
If your anger goes out, leave your hand behind."

Roberts Sensei chose an excellent saying for the introduction of his fine book.

I am also reminded of something Muzuo Mutsu said during his 1933 visit to Hawaii:

"The hand is a treasure in the pocket."

Once the hand leaves the pocket -- goes out -- it is no longer a treasure. It becomes a terrible thing.

Respectfully,

Charles C. Goodin

Guest Post: 100 Years of Karate

This Guest Post is by my friend, Joe Swift, one of the top Karate researchers and translators in the world. Joe resides in Tokyo, Japan. His research website is the Ryukyu Karate Kobujutsu Kenkyushitsu. He is the chief instructor of the Okinawa Karate Kobudo Mushinkan Tokyo Branch.

Several of his excellent articles are hosted at the Hawaii Karate Seinenkai website.

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I am sure that most karate-ka who visit this blog have heard already that finally, a confirmed photo of Itosu Anko has been discovered. (See Anko Itosu Photo.) It was in the hands of Kinjo Hiroshi Sensei, a man regarded by all who know him as "THE encyclopedia" of karate.

The discovery comes a mere one year after the centennial of the fruition of Itosu's successful campaign to get his beloved art into the Okinawa Prefectual school system as an official physical education course.

This got me to thinking, why now? Why after a century do was this photo of Itosu identified and made public?

Perhaps it is Itosu Sensei himself looking down on all karate-ka and telling us that the time has come to reevaluate what we are doing.

Itosu wrote advice and hints on the practice and application of karate, in his 1908 letter, now better known as the 10 Lessons. Indeed, it is here that we find proof of the existence and application of Tuidi (Torite) in Okinawan karate.

However, there is a point in his 10 Lessons that is more poignant and befitting of the times we live in. That lesson is numbered, appropriately, number one. This lesson tells us that even when confronted with a ruffian or a violent person, karate is useful as a method of NOT using one's fists and feet to destroy the attacker.

Kinjo Sensei once told me that the philosophy of Okinawan martial arts can be summed up in that one sentence: that karate is not an art of killing or destruction.

Oh that all of humanity would heed that simple lesson...

I hope that the discovery of such an important historical artifact as an actual photo of Itosu Anko drives all karate-ka, regardless of style or method, to reevaluate their art as we move farther forward into the 21st century.

Joe Swift

Kotekitae - Forearm Forging

Kotekitae refers to forearm forging (strengthening or hardening) practice. When I was young, we used to call it "bang-bang" because it involved banging arms with your partner.

There is a question whether kotekitae actually makes your arms harder/stronger or simply more resistent to pain (raises your threshhold for pain). I think that both are true to some extent.

However, more importantly, kotekitae teaches you exactly how to block/strike using the correct surfaces of your radius and ulna bones (the two bones of your forearm). You strike with the outer edges of these bones, slightly rotated (about 1/16th or 1/8th) so that the upper surfaces of the bones make contact rather than the sides. You do not strike on the top or bottom of the forearm, because in these positions it is more likely that your bones could break or become injured. You strike just slightly off from the side edges.

In addition, the arm twists right at the moment of contact. The strikes are not straight -- there is a twist. This delivers the impact to the partner with a minimal returning shockwave into your own arm.

When practicing kotiekitae, it is important to take care with your partner. You should give your partner a good workout without injuring him. The two of you can gradually increase the intenstity of the striking until you both feel comfortable. Obviously, two advanced yudansha will be able to practice harder than two beginners. The senior should practice at a level suitable for his partner (with safety always in mind).

When striking, it is important to remain relaxed so that you can strike with your bones (by being relaxed, your muscles do not cushion your bones as much). When receiving, it is better to tense your forearm so that your muscles will protect the bones. In addition, the receiver should brace himself so that his wrist, elbow and shoulder will not be injured.

Children should practice kotekitae for form only. Minimal contact should be made because a child's bones are still growing.

Only advanced adults should practice kotekitae vigorously. Again, both partners should take care to fine a comfortable level of contact. A heavier student should take care with a lighter student because the heavier student can transfer more power.

After kotekitae practice, it is good to rub the forearms.

We practice seven kotekitae drills in our dojo. There are also similar types of drill for the legs and body.

When practicing kotekitae, we generally do not use koshi as this can make the movements too fast and explosive for safety. Thus, when watching us practice kotekitae, one might think that we do not use koshi. This would not be correct. We would use koshi when practicing arm conditioning on the heavy bag or makiwara, but again, this would be done with safety constantly in mind.

When kotekitae is practiced correctly, in time it is said that the student's blocks feel like iron. The student develops the ability to strike very cleanly with the bones of the forearm in a way that cuts to the bone of an attacker. The student learns to hit/block much harder while using much less strength. He also learns to take a strike or block better.

When practicing kotekitae, you should follow the instructions of your sensei very carefully and always consider safety first.

Respectfully,

Charles C. Goodin

Guest Post: Clean Up Your Room

This Guest Post is by David Takahashi, a nidan and assistant instructor in the Hikari Dojo. David's wife and three of his children also practice with him in the dojo.

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The other day I told my kids to clean up their rooms. There were books and some clothes in places other than where they belonged. I began to think about how easy it is for them to leave something in a “temporary” spot only to have to remember to go back and pick it up again or worse, be reminded by Mom or Dad.

When I was their ages, I acted similarly. My room often remained a mess until Mom came in to get me to clean it up, many times requiring more than one telling and a couple of “yellings.” Since living on my own after graduating from high school and going to college on the mainland, I finally realized the value of cleaning up right away: I ran out of clean utensils and clothes! I made it a point to keep my room organized and today I find that extremely necessary in trying to raise four children.

But one of the things I noticed about having a messy room is that it came from having an unorganized life in general. My room reflected more of the condition of my heart than whether I really had no time to put things away or whether I was really that tired. And when my heart is in chaos, how can I hope to do anything well?

On the other hand, being organized allows me to find the time to do what I need to do whether it is working in the yard, helping my children with their school work, or practicing my karate. Being disciplined has helped me tremendously in staying focused when it’s time to work hard and not feeling guilty when I am having fun with my children.

As we get older, we will get busier and busier. Responsibilities will increase and time will seem to be more and more precious. The only way we will effectively fulfill our duties and enjoy life at the same time is to be organized. I love practicing karate, but I can only do it if I use my time wisely by getting my heart in order.

So, what does your room look like today?

David Takahashi

Concentrated Power

There are two ways to generate more power. The first is to actually generate more power -- to hit harder and put more weight behind it. Since there is a limit to the power we can generate and a limit to our weight and ability to move it, this method is also limited. Using this method, a bigger and stronger person always has the advantage.

The second method is to concentrate the power we generate. This means to channel the power to as small a surface as possible. For example, if we could place all of the power we generate into the tips of our fingers, then the power transmitted in that surface area would be quite great. In other words, we would transmit more power per square inch.

There is also a limit to concentrated power -- the striking point must be able to take it. If we did manage to concentrate all of our power into the tips of our fingers, most of us would have broken fingers the first time we hit something hard! However, we can use our knuckles, elbows, knees, and other hard surfaces pretty easily and safely (if we condition these striking surfaces). In fact, the masters of old did condition their fingertips and toetips and could strike with great force using these parts of their bodies.

In this way, a smaller person can generate more power (per square inch) than a larger person and gain the advantage.

I watched a television show about bulletproof vests. Sometimes, such a vest was pierced by a knife. As it turned out, there was so much power concentrated in the very narrow point of the knife (a smaller area than the point of a bullet), that the vest would fail. Imagine all your body weight focused into the tip of a knife. My sensei sometimes says that punching is like stabbing.

By focusing power, the damage inflicted increases and the attacker's ability to withstand the strike is greatly reduced. If the power of a punch is spread out over the entire surface of the fist, the power per square inch will be relatively little. If however, all of that power is concentrated in one or two knuckles, then the power will be greatly increased.

When that concentrated power is then directed to weak or vulnerable spots on the attacker's body, then the effectiveness and efficiency of the technique is greatly magnified. We can accomplish much more using much less effort.

Respectfully,

Charles C. Goodin

Dating Students

I was assisting at another dojo. One day, one of the senior students (an adult) came up to me and asked to make sure that he did not get too close to another student. It turned out that both students were dating the same woman.

I was shocked. I informed the student that he should not attend training if he could not control himself around any other students. Dating issues do not belong in the dojo!

You can imagine the ill feelings that could arise if these students paired off and one or both became injured. They might feel that the injuries were intentional.

I informed the sensei about this matter. As it turned out, both students eventually quit, which was not unexpected given the situation.

The dojo is not a place for dating. The sensei, in particular, must maintain a sense of decorum. The sensei is in a trusted position, much like a priest. It is essential and expected that the sensei will respect his students and not take advantage of his position.

As a sensei, I cannot prevent students from dating. But I can ensure that dating issues are dealt with outside of the dojo. Inside the dojo, we all are students and must respect each other as such. We need to know that any accidental injuries are unintended and that we can completely trust one another.

Respectfully,

Charles C. Goodin

Too Tired

I used to be an assistant at another dojo. One of the students was a young girl who I think was in elementary school. She was a very nice girl, and had Karate potential, but she always seemed so tired. I thought that she might be bored with Karate or just did not want to try hard.

So one day I asked her why she was so tired. This was at a Tuesday evening training at 6 p.m. She explained that she had gone to school that day, and afterward had already gone to soccer and iceskating practice before coming to Karate. No wonder she was so tired!

Parents, it is hard enough for children to do well in school. You must give them time to do their homework and also to relax and have some fun. If you enroll them in too many activities, they won't be able to enjoy themselves and may become fatigued or even ill. Eventually, their school may suffer.

Karate should not be a child's third or fourth activity. It is too physically and mentally demanding, and also requires practice at home between training sessions.

It is better to do one or two things well than several things poorly.

Respectfully,

Charles C. Goodin

Rank Requirements

Rank has become an established aspect of Karate, not only in the west but in Okinawa and Japan as well. Modern students might ask: what are the requirements for a particular rank? This is a very reasonable question in the west. When you go to college, you rightfully should ask what courses are required for graduation. Once you pass all these courses, you are entitled to graduate with a specific degree.

Karate is very different, at least it was very different in the past. There was no rank in Karate in the old days. People were known for their skill and specialties. Some might have reputations as great fighters. But there was no rank per se. The modern rank system was borrowed from Judo, which in turn may have borrowed the format from the game of go.

In any event, an oldtime student of Karate would never think to ask what the requirements were for a rank. The student would not think about rank at all. Rank would be thrust upon the student by the sensei. There would be no test or standards. The sensei would simply know when it was time.

Mitsugi Kobayashi told me that he was given a black belt by Seko Higa when he was asked to help teach a class at a nearby prison. Since an assistant was expected to be a black belt, it seemed the appropriate time for him to receive one. Kobayashi Sensei returned to Hawaii, and to my knowledge did not have any dan certificates. Some thought that this meant that he was not high ranking. He did, however, have a shihan no menko -- a teacher's certificate. A visiting 9th dan of Goju-Ryu exclaimed at a public event that Kobayashi Sensei was his senior.

Oldtime students would not think about rank. Modern students, who are used to modern conventions, do think about it. Some sensei are happy to accomodate. They establish very detailed guides showing exactly what a student needs to know for each rank. Techniques are described, time requirements are established, tournament participation may be specified, etc.

On the other hand, some sensei will specify no requirements at all. The student is promoted when the sensei feels that he is ready. That's it.

In either system, the student should never ask to be promoted. In the modern system, a student might have satisfied all the written requirements. That does not mean that he is ready for promotion. The whole is always greater than the sum of its parts. Ranking requirements are just parts -- the sensei evaluates the whole student.

If a dojo has specific requirements, the student should work on them so that he will be able to perform correctly and help his juniors -- not to seek rank. The sensei will promote the student when the time is right.

For some very conservative minimum ranking requirements, you might visit the website of the Hawaii Karate Kodanshakai.

What if the sensei does not promote the student when the student thinks that he is ready? Now there is a problem! First, why does the student think he is ready? The decision is made by the sensei, not the student. Second, why has the sensei created a situation where a student could think that he was ready for a rank? Has he promoted students with lesser qualifications? Has he stated inconsistent requirements? What is wrong with the structure of the dojo that this situation could exist?

I aways tell my students that I will promote them when I think that they are ready. The only minimum requirement I set is one of age -- 17. Aside from that, the decision is entirely subjective. Some students will have learned all the kata in our system before they attain shodan. Others might have only learned 60%. The technical details are not set in stone. I am more concerned with the student's basics, body mechanics, grasp of basic kata, effort, and attitude.

If a student is really concerned about rank, I can refer them to other schools where there are more specific guidelines for promotion.

Otherwise, we should all just try our best. Practice is something you do. It is its own reward.

Respectfully,

Charles C. Goodin

Shodan in Perspective

I have written about Promotion to Black Belt and Promotion to Black Belt 2.

I stated that promotion to shodan is equivalent to the first grade. Some might feel that this is too low an evaluation and that I do not respect the hard work and dedication it takes to earn a shodan. I can understand such a feeling.

In Hawaii, we tend to play down such things as promotions. It would be very Hawaii-like to hand a black belt to a new shodan and then slap him on the head head and say, "Don't get a big head!" We are always guarding against arrogance.

If your sensei is a nidan, a shodan will not be like the first grade when compared to that sensei. However, when you think of such greats as Choshin Chibana, Shoshin Nagamine, and Seikichi Uehara, shodan is perhaps even less than first grade -- perhaps it is just kindergarten. Think of people who practice Karate for their entire lives. Compared to their training lives, shodan is just the beginning of serious training.

Whatever rank you might be, whether first kyu or first dan, you should try your very best. Progress comes from dedicated training. If a person is skilled, his skill will speak for itself. If a person is not skilled, even a high rank will not help him -- in fact, it will make him look rather foolish.

Respectfully,

Charles C. Goodin

Karate Twitch Muscles

I always urge students to relax and to tense the appropriate muscles for only a split second during the impact of a strike or block. Relaxing is one thing, but how should a student "tense" their muscles?

There are two types of muscles - fast twitch muscles and slow twitch muscles. In other words, some muscles are good for fast, snappy movement, and other muscles are good for slower, but more sustained movements. For striking, we need to develop and use fast twitch muscles. Slow twitch muscles are used for basic body movement (stepping and turning) and supporting the body.

I will give you a good example of a fast twitch muscle. Have you ever started to doze off and feel your arm or part of your body jerk? You were relaxed and yet your body moved very fast -- with no apparent effort. This is a fast twitch.

You can see fast twitch muscles in action in Kendo. They could not possibly hit that quickly using slow twitch muscles. Kendo people are fast because they train the fast twitch.

Fast twitch muscles become fatigued very quickly. If you were to twitch constantly, or a dozen times in rapid succession, you would become tired and your muscles would eventually fail. Slow twitch muscles can work much longer because they produce and consume energy gradually.

The key is to use fast twitch muscles and slow twitch muscles together and to use the right type of muscle for the right function. When moving from one position to another, you will generally use slow twitch muscles and keep your body as relaxed as possible. You should only use as much effort as is needed to move and maintain your body posture. Once in the optimum position, you will throw (release) the technique and fire your fast twitch muscles at the instant of contact. The coiling or wind up uses slow twitch muscles. The throwing/release use fast twitch muscles of the torso and the impact uses fast twitch muscles of the arm or leg.

The secret is to use the fast twitch muscles of the arm or leg (during kicks mostly) only when necessary. In this way, you will not become fatigued. All of the set up is done with slow twitch muscles or the fast twitch muscles of the torso. The fast twitch muscles of the arm or leg are used sparingly and have time to recover between each use.

One of the long term goals of Karate training is to develop the muscles -- fast twitch and slow twitch -- and to use them appropriately.

Respectfully,

Charles C. Goodin

Gi Length

Because of my work for the Hawaii Karate Museum, I get to see many early Karate photographs. One thing that has increased over the years is the length of the sleeves and legs of Karate gi. The earliest photographs in Hawaii of Karate students wearing gi are from 1933, during the visit of Mizuho Mutsu and Kamesuke Higashionna. They brought gi from their university Karate clubs in Japan. Their gi sleeves were about elbow length and the pants were about mid-way between the knee and ankle.

Shigeru Miyashiro's gi was even shorter. Perhaps he was wearing his gi from childhood.

Personally, I like shorter gi. If the sleeves or legs are too long, there is a risk of tangling your fingers or tripping.

In Hawaii, I prefer to wear lightweight gi because it gets really hot and humid in the summer. If we are going to grapple, I will wear a Judo gi top.

Once, I wore a Judo gi top to class. It was very thick. My sensei at the time asked me to punch him. When I did, his index finger got caught in the cuff of my sleeve and was dislocated. I don't think this would have happened if I had worn a shorter and lighter gi. So we must be very careful to make sure that we are wearing the appropriate gi for our training.

I do not like to roll the sleeves of legs of gi because of the risk of injury. It is much better to properly hem the gi.

Sometimes I will wear a T-shirt instead of a gi top. I will usually do this if there is a particular body motion I want to teach that might be hidden or obscured by a gi top. T-shirts are also a lot cooler. The photo above is from Hawaii in 1927 during the visit of Kentsu Yabu. Most of the students wore dress pants and long sleeved white T-shirts.

Respectfully,

Charles C. Goodin

R*E*L*A*X

I posted an article entitled Relax. Perhaps this follow-up post should be entitled "Really, Really, Really, Relax."

The inability to relax is the greatest obstacle for most new students. Because of their preconceived notions about how Karate is "supposed" to look, and to keep up with the more advanced students, many new students tense up and use much too much brute force (misdirected force).

A skilled Karate expert makes everything look effortless. Why is this? It is not because they are moving hard and making it look effortless -- they are actually using much less effort and producing far greater power. It looks effortless because it is effortless, relatively speaking.

Try this. Stand with your feet about shoulder's width apart. Extend your hands, palm down, at shoulder level. Now lower your elbows until they are about one fist from your body. Relax your wrists, hands, and fingers. You should literally be limp wristed. Relax your shoulders.

Does this look like a Karate posture? It certainly does to me! You might think that this posture looks more like Tai Chi. I would agree with that -- Karate should look a lot more like Tai Chi.

In my experience, the more relaxed you are, the more explosive your movements can be. Flexibility is what makes a whip work.

About 95% of the time, you should be relaxed during any kata. You should only tighten up (squeeze) for a slit second during the striking part (or parts) of each movement. The rest of the time, you should only use the minimum power required to maintain your form.

Really, Really, Really, Relax.

Respectfully,

Charles C. Goodin

Tabe of Contents and Archives

This Blog has grown pretty large!

This front page only shows the current month's posts. If you would like to see all the posts, please visit the Table of Contents.

Past months are archived on separate pages. If you click on the little down arrow next to "Archive" in the white box above, a drop down list will appear.

Here are the past months:


I hope that this helps.

Respectfully,

Charles C. Goodin

Promotion to Black Belt 2

See Promotion to Black Belt.

Another thing we say about black belt promotion is that in order to advance to the next level, a student should bring another student up to his level. For example, before advancing to nidan (2nd degree black belt), a student should bring another student up to the shodan level (1st degree black belt).

The idea that progress is not a solitary thing. Students are interconnected and constantly helping one another.

Training for yourself alone is very selfish. In the beginning, students are in the position of learning new things. The student receives the art. But as he advances, he is able to assist and teach newer students. While still receiving the art, the student also shares it. The more advanced the student becomes, the more the emphasis is on sharing the art with juniors.

Good students are always thinking about others. I especially admire students who decide to "adopt" a junior student and work on them. In our style, awakening the student's koshi and helping him to develop koshi dynamics is a key step. We are constantly trying to coax the student's koshi. When it happens, we feel like having a party!

In the process of helping our juniors, we also learn more about our own techniques and teaching methods. By teaching, we learn.

As we bring up others, we advance.

Respectfully,

Charles C. Goodin

Karate Training Polishes The Spirit

Karate training polishes the spirit.

These five words are packed with meaning and can easily be misunderstood.

Let's start with the "spirit." For those of us in the West, we probably think of the Christian concept of a "spirit." Even among different Christian groups, the definition of "spirit" can vary greatly. But Karate was developed in the East. The concept of spirit there is not Christian.

In Japanese, the word for spirit is "kokoro." But "kokoro" has a broader meaning: spirit, heart, mind, character. In the West, we tend to separate these concepts. But the idea of kokoro encompasses the totality of one's being (in my opinion).

Next, the word "polishes" says a lot. If you think of your kokoro (or spirit) as a mirror, polishing the mirror -- cleaning off the dust and distortions - will enable it to clearly and accurately reflect the world. In the East, spiritual practices are designed to reveal the true "you", which is only imperfect because of distortions or negative things. So the spirit is polished.

Finally, the term "training" also has a special meaning. In Japanese, the appropriate word is "shugyo," which has an ascestic connotation. An ascetic renounces material comforts and leads a life of austere self-discipline. This sounds a lot like Zen which makes sense since Rinzai Zen was the path of choice of the samurai. Modern Japanese budo was based on this martial/spiritual training.

Karate training can indeed be austere and extremely rigorous. Many people feel that they are focused and purified by such training.

So let's rephrase the saying:

"The rigorous, austere training of Karate reveals the totality of one's being (heart, mind, spirit, and character)."

Is that true? I guess it depends on your own reasons for training.

I have also heard two connected things:

"Physical training in Karate develops the mind;" and
"The spirit is created when the body and mind work together."

If this is true, physical training in Karate develops the mind, and the coordination of the two creates the spirit.

Again, I cannot say whether this is true. I don't like to split aspects of the self in this way. I perfer to think of the person as a whole. And it all depends on how you view the inner and outer worlds.

I can say that dedicated Karate training strengthens the body, sharpens the mind, and helps to develop amazing self-discipline and will. It helps to build a strong person.

I think that the goal of Okinawan Karate was not exactly to "polish the spirit," which is most likely a Japanese approach. In Okinawa, I believe that Karate was to train the body and mind (with an orientation toward self-defense), with the ultimate goal of developing a cultured gentlemen. Please see: Okinawa's Bushi: Karate Gentlemen.

The point of all this is that you have to decide why you are training -- why are you practicing Karate? Are you working toward a goal? Is your training in line with that goal? If you are going to train for a year or two, your goal might be simple -- enhanced self-defense. But if you are going to train for your entire life, then your goal is extremely important.

Karate training helps you to find yourself.

Respectfully,

Charles C. Goodin

Promotion to Black Belt

I am about to promote four of my students to shodan (first degree black belt). All of them train very hard and are deserving of the promotion. I wanted to take this opportunity to explain some of my thoughts about promotion. See also: Black Belt.

In our dojo, we do not promote students to shodan unless they are at least 17. That is simply the way that we handle the issue. Some dojo allow younger students to become shodan and others may require an older age. My rationale is that the usual age for shodan in Okinawa is 16. I want to be more conservative, so I made our age 17.

There are many reasons to promote a student. I know that it is time to promote a student to shodan when it seems wrong for him to wear a white belt. We do not use colored belts in our dojo to signify kyu ranks. Sometimes visiting instructors will ask me, "why is that student still a white belt?" Usually it is because of age. So, when the student turns 17, it is about time for the promotion.

We also promote students to make room for the students under them. It is hard for a student to be promoted if his senior is not promoted or refuses rank. Let's say that John is the senior and has very good skill. Sam joins the dojo two years later. Sam also develops good skills. I want to promote Sam (because he deserves it), but feel reluctant because John is still a white belt. John might not care at all about rank. But I will promote him to make room for Sam. I will promote John first to preserve his seniority.

This is funny. I was speaking to a high ranking person (I won't say the dan level, but it was pretty high). I asked him about this dan level so that I could specify it correctly in writing. It turned out that he and another instructor had been promoted on the same day. But he made a point to tell me that he received his certificate first, showing that his name should go first in terms of seniority.

He is correct, but I found it rather silly. They were promoted on the same day, probably in the same hour.

In any event, I will promote a deserving student to make room for the juniors to advance.

Sometimes a student will tell me that he does not want rank. I will always say that the rank is not for him. The rank is to enable him to help in the dojo.

Promotion is a recognition. Some students will feel higher. Others will feel like they must work harder. The latter is the attitude I encourage and respect. Remember the parable of the mature rice stalk. When it is mature, it bends (bows) under its own weight. As it becomes "higher" it bows lower. So should we. The mark of an advanced student is humility.

Shodan is like first grade to me. Sandan is like high school.

Sometimes we say that it takes 100 students to make one shodan. I think that it takes 10 shodan to make one sandan. The numbers might change a little, but you get the idea.

We also say that a student is really serious at godan.

At shodan, a student is still learning the basics. At nidan, the student can help to teach as an assistant. At sandan, a student can teach his own classes. At godan, a student can have his own dojo.

Again, the numbers might change, but this is the idea.

When I promote a student, I am always impressed to hear them say, "I will have to work much harder to deserve this."

One thing -- please do not quit when you become shodan. I always find this to be a little sad. Shodan should launch the student, not mark the ending of his Karate training.

There is so much to learn in Karate. If you train diligently, ranks and titles will come on their own. You do not have to seek them. A promotion should be a surprise. After a few minutes or hours of happiness, it should be back to training.

Finally, some people ask me why we do not wear embroidered belts in our dojo. It is simply a matter of reservedness and austerity. I do not need to have my name and the name of my style on my belt to know them. Most instructors will wear out many belts during their careers. When they get old, it is time for a new one. See Ratty Belts and Ratty Belts 2. We should not be attached to such things.

It is a little like a "Sensei" patch. If you are a sensei, you do not need to wear one. If you are not a sensei, wearing one will not make you one.

Just train hard, help your fellow students, and be sincere.

I just thought of something. When I have been promoted, I do not like to tell people about it for a year or two, just in case it was a mistake. And after a couple of years, there is nothing to tell.

Respectfully,

Charles C. Goodin

To Err Is Human

We all make mistakes. It is natural. The difference between a good student and a poor student is that the good one works to correct his mistakes.

A mistake is an opportunity. For the sensei, it is an opportunity to correct the student. The sensei can say, "you made a mistake." Or he can ask the student to perform the technique again and see if the student might realize his own mistake. Obviously, the sensei should not criticize or belittle the student in front of others -- "wow, you certainly are stupid to make such a mistake."

I always say that the students' errors are my errors, not theirs. Either I taught the technique wrong, did not ensure that the students understood it when I taught it, or did not correct the students when I should have. However you look at it, I am responsible for errors in my dojo.

I generally notice two types of mistakes in my dojo. The first is a simple technical error. For example, the student crosses his hands wrong (right over left rather than left over right). This is easily fixed. It is important to also explain why the hands are crossed a certain way. If the student was doing it wrong, he probably did not understand the underlying application.

The second error is in execution -- of body dynamics. This means that the student is doing the right technique but is doing it incorrectly. This is the more common error in my dojo. We are always seeking to improve our body dynamics. The mechanics we use change depending on the level of the student. Thus, we are always doing it wrong when compared to how we could do it if we were more advanced. Learning is an ongoing, continous process -- there is no end to it. What is right for a new student may well be incorrect for a more advanced student.

For the student, each and every mistake that is pointed out or revealed by the sensei should be received with gratitude and joy. After all, once you correct your mistake you will have improved yourself. How thoughtful it was of your sensei to give you such an opportunity!

A mistake is simply a mistake. There is no moral significance attached to it. Blocking wrong is simply incorrect -- it is not bad or evil. It is like watching the television. If you are watching the wrong channel, you simply change it.

What should you do if you are reading a book and come across a word that you do not understand? Should you skip it, make up your own definition (guess) , or look it up in a dictionary? Obviously, you should look up the word in the dictionary. I was writing a legal brief once. I was a brand new lawyer. I used the word "obviate," thinking that it meant to make something obvious. Was I correct? If you're not sure, please check out the definition at dictionary.com. It is a great resource.

When you are not sure about a word, you should look it up. When you are not sure about a technique, you might ask your sensei or seniors in the dojo. But don't just skip over it or guess. There are no foolish questions. Other students might have the same question. If you ask it, your sensei's explanation can also help them.

I will tell you something personal. Advanced instructors sometimes do not like to admit that they don't know something. If my sensei asks me, "do you understand?", I want to say, "yes." But if I do not understand, I should answer, "I'm sorry sensei, but no I don't. Can you please explain again?" There is no shame in admitting that you don't understand something.

To err is human. We all make mistakes.

Respectfully,

Charles C. Goodin

Guest Post: Its All in the Voice

This Guest Post is by Mario McKenna of the Okinawa Karatedo Kitsilano Dojo in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. Mario is an instructor of Tou'on-ryu Karatedo and Ryukyu Kobudo. He is the English translator of Kobo Jizai Goshinjutsu Karate Kenpo (Kenwa Mabuni, 1934) and Seipai no Kenkyu Kobo Jizai Karate Kenpo (Kenwa Mabuni, 1934). His article Okinawa Kata Classification: An Historical Overview appears at the Hawaii Karate Seinenkai website. Mario also has an excellent Karate Blog.

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The use of the “Kake-goe” is not clearly delineated in Okinawa karate. It seems that the use of the voice to project energy (i.e. kiai) was a part of karate, but not a formal part of training. There are many folk tales of karate fighters who were known to have "given a spirited yell" during a fight. This would suggest to me that it is a natural occurrence, and one that did not need practice during training. Considering that there is / was ample discussion on developing and storing "ki" in the tanden in both modern and classical karate, I would suspect the idea of releasing this energy through the voice would have crept into the discussion.

However, I do not think the use of kiai was a fixed practice. In my own case, when I learned Goju-ryu / Tomari-te, the kiai was at a predetermined fixed point in the kata; no ifs, ands, or buts. However, when I started practicing Tou'on-ryu, Kanzaki sensei simply said to "kiai" at whatever point in the kata I naturally felt like. Or to not "kiai" at all if I felt like it. It was entirely up to me. Nothing written in stone.

I suppose in my own humble view, "kiai" in classical Okinawan karate is simply an option that the student can use or not. It is entirely up to him or her.

Mario McKenna

My Writing Mentor: Wayne Muromoto

I have written many Karate articles. I've actually lost track of the number.

Today I met Wayne Muromoto at my office and got to show him some of the Hawaii Karate Museum's collection. You might know that Wayne is the publisher and editor of one of the finest martial arts magazines ever published: Furyu: the Budo Journal.

I met Wayne in 1996. At that time, I was a student at the Aiea Taiheiji Matsubayashi-Ryu dojo of Sensei William H. Rabacal. Wayne came to the dojo and wrote an article entitled Karate for a "Better Human Being." William H. Rabacal and Matsubayashi Ryu Karate. My photo appears in the article, as does a photo of my third son, Cael. This was the premier issue of the magazine.

Anyway, I helped to supply some information to Wayne about the dojo. During our conversations, he encouraged me to write an article. To that point, I had never written an article about Karate. Honestly, I did not feel qualified to do so. But Wayne kept urging me to write. The result was Tengu: The Legendary Mountain Goblins of Japan, which appeared in issue 2. It wasn't exactly about Karate, but it was a start. I later helped Wayne with the Furyu website and wrote several more articles.

That was 10 years ago. I owe my Karate writing "hobby" to Wayne. If he had not encouraged me to write, I might never had started. If you have ever read any of my articles and enjoyed them or learned something, it is thanks to Wayne.

You will notice that I occassionally have guest authors in this blog. Some are already well known Karate writers. But some are writing here for the first time. This is my way to encourage Karate writers, the way that Wayne encouraged me.

We all have experiences to share about our Karate training. Our perspectives differ and reflect the vastness of the art. You do not have to be a "master" to write -- you just have to honest.

I don't think that Wayne thought that his encouragement would lead to the formation of the Hawaii Karate Museum. But it did. Writing articles was a way for me to let people in Hawaii know that I was serious about Karate research. After several years, people began to donate their husband's or father's Karate book and photo collections to me. The museum was created to preserve these collections, and it has steadily grown.

Sometimes the little things we do lead to big things. Please remember that the next time you have the opportunity to encourage a student. Who knows what great things they might accomplish?

Thank you Wayne!

Respectfully,

Charles C. Goodin

Guest Post: Are You Willing to Suffer?

This Guest Post is by David Takahashi, a nidan in the Hikari Dojo. David's wife and three of his children also practice with him in the dojo.

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When I was in elementary school, my mother gave me the option of taking piano lessons along with my sisters. My brother had taken lessons for many years and I remembered the hours he sat in front of the piano. I thought about the free time I would have to give up and so declined my mother's offer. At the time, I felt happy and proud that I did not have to "suffer" through the practices that my sisters endured and often teased them when they were practicing.

Today, both my sisters and brother are very skilled at playing the piano and I am left to regret now not being able to play at all. What I didn't understand back then was that nothing of value is obtained easily. Whether the goal is getting good grades in school, finding a great job, competing in sports, or learning martial arts well -- if the "prize" is worth obtaining, "suffering" cannot be avoided.

Fortunately, I have since learned this valuable lesson. I no longer attempt to run from hard work. In fact, knowing that the goals I've set for my life will be beneficial for me or my family more than makes the "suffering" bearable. With each step, I know I am getting that much closer to my goal.

As a father, I am trying to teach this lesson to my four children. Three of my children are taking Karate with me. My youngest son does not. I asked him if he wanted to and right now he does not want to for the same reason I did not want to take piano lessons: he does not want to "suffer."

I have no problem if he never chooses to practice Karate. However, someday my son must learn as I did that if he avoids suffering, he will never be able to reach his potential.

It is not enough to wish for great things to happen in our lives. We must also be prepared for the training involved or we too, will never reach our goals.

David Takahashi

Time Slows Down

There are times during Karate training that time seems to slow down or even stop. You may have experienced this. I find that it happens most during jiyu kumite or very fast pairing off drills.

To you, everything will seem to be in slow motion. However, to your partner you will seem to be moving lightning fast.

During such times, your body will react on its own. You do not think, "I will block and then kick." You just are there, watching yourself block and kick. Sometimes it feels like you almost black out and then the next moment remember that you blocked and punched.

The more your body knows how to move the less your conscious mind is required. In fact, conscious thought gets in the way of spontaneous movement.

My sensei often says that the koshi has a mind of its own. Perhaps this means that the body has its own "mind" so to speak that can operate independently of the conscious mind. This is one reason that we tightly control kumite in my dojo. If you are not careful, you will not know that you have hit your partner until after it has happened. Spontaneous movement leaves very little margin for error.

Have you experienced this time perception phenomenon? I am fairly certain that senior Karate instructors will be familiar with it.

One strange thing I can report from experience is that when you move like this, you do not hear normal sounds -- perhaps you hear a white noise or nothing at all -- and you do not feel the least bit tired or winded afterward. The movement (or sequence) is timeless and effortless -- at least that is how it feels.

Strange, no?

Respectfully,

Charles C. Goodin