Karate Thoughts Blog


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1650+ Posts... and Counting

No Meaning?

Over time, as I have meet more Karate students and instructors, I have been struck by the number who have told me that they never learned the meanings of the movements of their kata. I don't mean that they only learned some meanings, I mean that they did not learn any movements. For them, the kata was simply a sequence of movements.

I know. This may sound hard to believe. When we learn English we learn words and their meanings. We do not simply learn to make sounds.

But if at least some people do learn kata without the accompanying meanings, or more appropriately, the accompanying range of meanings, then this explains some of the seamingly ridiculous ways that kata are performed by some people.

For example, you sometimes see kata rushed so badly that none of the movements could be applied based on the underlying meanings. Or you might see kata done with an emphasis on theatrical and exaggerated kiai, something that would have no use in actual self defense. You might also see strikes, designed to be executed quickly, done in a slow, almost vibrating manner, designed to convey deliberate power perhaps.

Pretend that you are hitting a nail with a hammer. You do this all the time when you work around the house. Now if you made a kata of the the movements involved in hitting a nail with a hammer, how would it look? As long as you knew that the movement was supposed to represent the simple act of hitting a nail, there would no problem. You could always refer back to the actual act.

But what if you taught your nail hitting kata to someone, who taught it to someone else, and so on, and eventually a student learned the kata without the underlying meaning? Maybe he would do the kata with a loud and protracted kiai. Is that how you hit a nail? Maybe he would perform the kata very slowly with his body really tense. Again, not a good way to hit a nail.

Hitting a nail is a pretty simple thing. Kata embody so many more and sometimes complex scenarios. How sad if the kata are practiced without reference to their meanings.

Perhaps the search for meaning in kata is the same as the search for meaning in life. Let's not just go through the motions, of anything.

Respectfully,

Charles C. Goodin

Who Would You Want?

I know many Karate experts, as well as experts in other martial arts. There are many ways to think about their varying levels of expertise. Ranks and titles are often used as measures by some people, although I do not put too much weight in them. Dojo size can be misleading too. Skill in the abstract is hard to measure.

I had a thought today during lunch. If I were attacked by 10 people, who would I want to be there with me? Which expert could I count on? For purposes of this exercise, I assume that each expert is in his prime (so that age is not a factor).

It is really funny (or perhaps not so) but I pretty quickly narrowed my choices to just three or four people. If you were attacked by 10 people, who would you want to be with you?

Of course, if this scenario ever happened, I would hope that my chosen expert could take on 9 of the attackers so that I could try to reason with the 10th! I'm afraid that I would not be on anyone's list to be their expert! But I would be a good witness (and I could later write a good article about it).

This made me remember something my father-in-law told me. When he was in the Navy his friend would sometimes come get him when there was going to be a big fight, something that seemed to happen pretty often. My father-in-law and his friend would stand back to back so that no one could hit them from behind. They could count on each other.

My father-in-law later practiced Kenpo at the CHA-3 organization under Professor Marino Tiwanak.

Respectfully,

Charles C. Goodin

Go B.J.!

There is a good article about the upcoming match between Hawaii's B.J. Penn and Georges St. Pierre at:

http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2009/writers/josh_gross/01/29/bj-penn/index.html


The article also discusses Hawaii's Henry Seishiro Okazaki, who also had a famous bout with a boxer in Hilo, Hawaii, in the 1920's. Hilo was well-known for its Ju Jitsu experts from the 1880's.

I hope that both fighters are safe and do their best.

Go B.J.!

Respectfully,

Charles C. Goodin

Skill and Conditioning

Being in good shape does not mean that you will be skilled in Karate, but it is very hard to become skilled in Karate if you do not get into good shape. You probably cannot imagine a fire fighter who is in such bad shape that he cannot climb a ladder or carry a fire hose. Firefighters are usually in excellent shape. But you have probably seen Karate instructors who are in very poor shape.

I am not talking about illnesses or chronic conditions. I am talking about people who have simply let themselves decline or who never got into shape to begin with.

It is important to hone your skills. It is also important to condition your body to provide the best vehicle possible for the expression of such skills. The two go hand in hand.

Respectfully,

Charles C. Goodin

When to Disclose Dan Ranking

At what point in a meeting is it appropriate to disclose your dan level or ranking? Assume that you are visiting a Karate instructor for the first time. You will have to introduce yourself and give a brief background. There might be the customary exchange of business cards.

So when do you mention, "and I am a 7th dan" (or whatever rank)?

In my view, you don't. You don't offer that information. You do not include it on your business card. You do not wear it on your shirt or gi. You don't tatoo it on your arm. You don't mention it unless you are asked.

Then, in my view, how you handle the situation depends on who you are meeting. If you are meeting a junior, you might deflect the question. Dan ranking is such a subjective thing. Such things are not very important. You are just a student. That sort of thing.

If you are meeting a senior, I would probably answer frankly. "I am just a student, but was given a Xth dan by Sato Sensei in 1998."

If you are meeting an equal (or about so), it would depend again.

But it is important to remember this: the more quickly and enthusiastically you disclose your rank, the less credible you will seem. This is just my view, but I know many seniors who also feel this way.

Whatever level you might be, the most important thing is to be respectful and to train hard to improve yourself. That's it.

Honestly, I have met people who almost treat their rank as part of their name. "Hi, I am Bob, 7th dan!" I think it is better to simply say, "Hi, I am Bob and I am pleased to meet you."

Just my two cents.

Respectfully,

Charles C. Goodin

Blocking/Striking Position

Following up on my last post, if my intention is to block/strike, not merely block, then I must get to a position that allows me to do both without further movement. What I mean by this is that I do not want to get into a position to block, and then have to move again in order to strike. This would take too much time.

Ideally, when I block I should be in a position that will also allow me to strike. This means that I need to be close to the attacker since I am not very tall. The essence of Okinawan Karate, in my opinion, at least of the Shorin-Ryu line, is that it is based on close "fighting" -- "very close" is probably more accurate.

My objective is almost to crash my body into (and through) the attacker's body -- with the appropriate blocks and strikes (and conditioning to some extent) to protect me.

In line with the principle emphasized by Choki Motobu, I would generally not want to step back. My movement will almost always be toward the attacker.

If this does not sound defensive, it is because it is not, at least not really. Once Karate needs to be used -- the point of last resort is reached -- it becomes a counterattack in a very offensive way. With my size and strength, I cannot afford to be defensive.

Up until the point of last resort, Karate is not offensive. The idea is to avoid conflict and run away if possible. If a simple block will work, that is what you should do. But once there is no other way, then Karate becomes the worst thing imaginable. My first Shorin-Ryu Sensei always said that a Karate man fears his own hand. He fears his own hand, not the attacker's. He fears what he can do with his hand, and tries to do everything possible to avoid its destructive use.

Block/strike, strike/block.

Respectfully,

Charles C. Goodin

Blocking Incidental to Striking

A little bit about blocking...

When I block, my intention is to strike.

Let me repeat this. When I block, my intention is to strike. Blocking, stopping or diverting a punch is incidental to my own counterattack. I am blocking so that I can strike, not simply to block.

There is a simple example of why this is so. Imagine that someone punches you. If you only block, he can punch again, and again, and again. Blocking by itself is not enough.

I know that some readers might suggest that a block can be enough if it breaks the attacking limb and this is true. However, it is pretty hard to break someone's arm (or a bone in the arm) with a block. It is possible, but not all that reliable. I do not know too many people who can say with confidence that they can break an attacker's arm with a block 100% of the time. It is a good intention, but not one that can be relied upon generally. If a boxer was punching at you fast, could you break his arm with a block? Could you?

That is why the counterattack is so important. If a punch is blocked, the best way to prevent the attacker from punching again is to strike him hard, very hard. A good punch to the face, for example, should give the attacker something to think about, especially if it is followed by another punch, a kick to the groin, a knee to the face, pulling hair, poking the eyes, and a take down (with stomping, etc.).

And a strike to the face will almost certainly do more damage than an equally strong block or strike to the arm. If you had a choice, would you prefer to be hit on the arm or in the face?

So when I block, I am thinking about striking (counterattacking). The block and counterattack are part of one thing. They are not separate. For example, the block might continue forward and become a strike to the face. The block and strike are really one movement, not two.

Karate techniques should only be used as a last resort. Once that point is reached, Karate is one of the most terrible things imaginable. It is self defense in a life and death situation, and the techniques reflect this.

So blocking is really blocking/striking. The intention is to strike.

Respectfully,

Charles C. Goodin

Blocking Distance -- Too Far

I was looking at photos in a Karate book at lunch with my friend and senior Sensei Pat Nakata. I showed him a photo from the book of a person blocking a punch. The defender blocked the attacker's punch at about the side of the wrist.

I said, "Sensei, this block is too high (on the arm). At that distance, the defender could not reach the attacker with a punch." In essence, I was saying that the defender was too far away.

Nakata Sensei replied (I am paraphrasing), "Actually, there was no need to block that punch because it would not have reached the defender. If a punch won't hit you, there is no need to block it."

Of course, Nakata Sensei was right.

All too often, I find that the people shown in Karate books demonstrate their techniques when they are too far away from each other. The punch would have fallen short or just touched the skin. The block is on the wrist, leaving the defender too far away for an instant/simultaneous counterattack.

The demonstrators are standing too far away from each other. They should be crowding each other -- getting in each other's face. When they punch the face, they should be able to hit through to the back of the head. No one hits just the surface.

If you train to block unrealistic punches, how will you block real ones?

I have very interesting lunches!

Respectfully,

Charles C. Goodin

More About Visiting Students

Everyone is different, but here are some of my thoughts and concerns about visiting students. I have written about this to some extent, but will extend the discussion here.

I am somewhat often contact by people requesting the opportunity to visit my dojo to train. Almost always, I decline.

First, I do not run a commercial dojo. I would not charge a fee for someone to visit -- so money is not the issue... not at all.

If I am contacted by a parent asking permission for his or her child to visit, I will decline because that is the wrong person to make the request.

If I am contacted by a student asking permission to visit, I will decline because again, that is the wrong person to make the request.

If a am contact by a Sensei asking permission for his or her student to visit, then I will think about it. If I know the Sensei or he or she is good friends with my Sensei or my friend, then I will consider it. But even then, I may still have concerns.

Let's say that a Sensei in Texas requests permission for his student to visit and train with me. That Sensei may have a Sensei in Florida, who has a Sensei in New York, who has a Sensei in Okinawa. I may know some or all of these Sensei, or I may not.

But if I give permission to the Sensei in Texas and his student visits me, then I might get complaints from the Sensei in Florida, or New York or Okinawa. They might ask why I allowed their student or member of their organization to train with me without their permission? Was I trying to steal their student? And why did I fill their minds with all sorts of "Kishaba Juku" body mechanics ideas that conflict with their system? Who do I think that I am?

And even worse, the Sensei in Okinawa may visit my Sensei in Okinawa to complain about me. This would put my Sensei in a very awkward position and would make me feel extemely bad.

I have even received requests from Sensei to visit and train with me. They usually ask on their own behalf. But even they may have living Sensei. Without their Sensei's permission, I would have the same issues as described above.

And when I decline, a Sensei requesting on his own behalf will often say, "I am a Sensei, I do not need to get my Sensei's permission."

But think about it. If a Sensei from Brazil visits me, his Sensei in Okinawa could get upset.

And heaven forbid that a visiting student likes what I teach and decides that he wants to switch to Kishaba Juku. Then I will be accused of being a thief! How dare I steal another dojo's student!

Of course, I have no intention or desire to steal anyone's student. I will usually take great pains to avoid it. In most cases, when I insist on the proper permission, the requester simply says to forget about it. Could it be because he did not want to ask his senior for permission?

I actually do not like getting students who already have Karate experience. It is much easier for me to start with a student who has no experience at all. That way, I do not have to "undo" anything, physically or mentally.

Physically, I would have to undo the student's way of moving. We all move differently. One way is not necessarily better than another. I am simply trying to teach my students to move the way I learned from my Sensei. That is now my way. It is different than the Shotokan way of moving. It is simply different -- not better or worse. But a student cannot learn from me and continue to move in a Shotokan way, for example. The more he had learned, the harder it will be for him to "unlearn" and reprogram his body to move my way.

When I have a student with no experience, I can see that he is moving my way only. When I have a student with prior experience, I can always see remnants of his prior training causing conflicts. It is almost impossible to completely rid a student of prior habits -- almost.

Also, a prior student will have ideas. If he came from a strict Japanese dojo, he might have the idea that we are also a strict Japanese dojo, which we are not. His training outlook will be motivated by honor and the avoidance of shame, rather than sincere enjoyment of the art. The longer he has trained, the more "ideas" there will be to identify or undo.

The point I am making is that I am never seeking students from other dojo or styles. I would prefer a brand new student with a blank slate for me to work with.

So I do not have a motivation to seek visiting students so that I can get them to join me or switch to my system -- just the opposite.

Would I ever have a visiting student? Sure. If a Sensei in Okinawa contacted my Sensei in Okinawa and asked permission for a student to visit, and my Sensei in turn asked me, there would be no problem. There are other exceptions, but generally they are few.

Another consideration is what I would do with a visiting student. Would I simply allow him to follow along, or would I try to teach him? And teach him "what" if he will visit for only a short time? Would I try to teach him Naihanchi Shodan, which could properly take a couple of years to begin to learn? Would I try to teach him "koshi", which could take quite a bit longer? Or would I simply allow him to copy our movements with no understanding of them, and then return home to say that he now "understands" our style?

It gets very complicated and difficult. This does not even address the issue of potential injuries, requests to "spar", requests to take photographs with me or other Sensei, what belt to wear, omiyage, etc.

I might also add that I used to practice Matsubayashi-Ryu. Out of respect for the head of that art, I would never permit a Matsubayashi-Ryu student or instructor to train with me unless the head of that art had made the request to my own Sensei first. Otherwise, I would be showing disrespect to the head of Matsubayashi-Ryu, which I would not want to do.

Some people will certainly think that I am arrogant to think this way (as described above). But that is just the way that I think. The main thing to me is that our dojo is pretty private, not commercial, and that I do not want to show disrespect to another Sensei or head of an art. I am not seeking money or students or notoriety. When it comes to training, I simply enjoy training and helping my small group of students to learn. That's it.

P.S.: For Kishaba Juku students, you are always welcome (as long as your Sensei contacts me to give permission first).

Respectfully,

Charles C. Goodin

Fighting Sugar

For the last three months, or so, I have been engaged in a very serious fight -- against sugar. Please don't think I am joking. I am completely serious.

You have to understand that I believe that Karate should be part of a healthy lifestyle. You would think that senior Karate sensei would naturally lead a healthy lifestyle. In many cases, you would be wrong. It seems that at least some sensei smoke, drink, and eat unhealthy food with zeal! Sensei who travel to teach are often wined and dined, aggravating the problem.

I never smoked, drank, or took illegal drugs. But I did have a sweet tooth. In particular, I really liked to drink Pepsi. I would drink at least one each day, sometimes more. At California Pizza, they refill softdrinks. If I had a Pepsi, I would keep drinking it as long as they refilled it. At a movie, I could drink an extra large Pepsi by myself.

As a result, when I would go in for my cholesterol tests, I would always have problems with my triglycerides and sugar levels. My last test was better, but I wanted to improve my sugar level. So I stopped drinking Pepsi altogether. None!

Instead, I decided to drink Lipton tea. We make it at home and add only one tablespoon of honey to an entire pitcher of tea. Now I can actually go to a restaurant and order unsweetened tea without putting in any sugar!

So how much sugar is there in Pepsi? The label says that there is 41 grams in a can. That is about 9 1/2 teaspoons of sugar. Today I calculated how much sugar that would be if you drank one can of Pepsi for a year. It would be just about 33 pounds (32.992)! For Hawaii people, a bag of rice weighs about 20 pounds, so that is like a bag and a half of sugar!

Can you imagine consuming that much sugar? And that is just one Pepsi a day. Imagine how much more is in cookies, cake, ice cream, etc. Fruit juice is also filled with sugar.

We all practice Karate hard. But training is not enough. Just like serious weight lifters, we must also watch what we eat and drink.

I have given up Pepsi and decided to try my best to eat and drink in a more healthy way. This is part of my Karate training. I'm actually drinking tea (with just a little honey) right now.

Respectfully,

Charles C. Goodin