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Guest Post: My Experience with Sensei Goodin and the Hikari Dojo

This Guest Post is by Eli Jones, a student of Sensei Bill Lucas at the Tallahassee Karate Club. Lucas Sensei also teaches the Kishaba Juku form of Shorin-Ryu.

Eli visited our dojo here in Hawaii recently. This is his summary about his training and is published with his permission. We really enjoyed having him visit us! I think that he is also a good writer.

My Experience with Sensei Goodin and the Hikari Dojo

It was about 9:30 PM on Wednesday when our plane touched down in Honolulu. I checked the time as we were collecting our carry-ons and moving toward the aircraft’s exit, and was immediately thinking to myself … “Ah man, guess I won’t be able to make it to Sensei Goodin’s class tonight.”

I, of course, realized this would be the case as Sensei Goodin holds class from 5:00 – 6:00, and our flight wasn’t scheduled to arrive in Hawaii before 9:00. Even so, the privilege of training with another Kishaba sensei was something I kept thinking about since two months earlier when Sensei Lucas informed me of the arrangements. So needless to say, contacting Sensei Goodin was the first order of business for the following day.

Even before meeting him in person, this sensei captured my fascination with his extensive knowledge and philosophies of martial arts just through our initial phone conversation. One of the first things to be addressed was my vitae as far as Kishaba Juku and any previous training went. He asked me what kata we practice in our dojo, so I, with my ever-failing memory, fumbled through the list as best as I could. “Let’s see … we do two Naihanchi, sometimes three, and five Pinan. Oh yeah, we also do the two Fukyugata. There’s also Passai, Rohai, Wankan, Gojushiho, and um … Yara no Kusanku and Matsumura Kusanku, and there’s probably a few more in there that’s not immediately coming to mind.” – There were. Sensei Goodin then replied, “You do two Kusanku in your dojo?” I simply answered, “Yes,” to which he responded, “Interesting …”

On a side note: when an intelligent person bears witness to a situation, or hears someone utter a certain combination of words, to which their only response is “interesting,” I, myself, find that to be very … interesting.

Nevertheless, I definitely appreciated the fact that Sensei Goodin wanted to learn a little more about me, and do believe that it’s important to know what kind of outside student a sensei is exposing his/her core students to. In terms of being someone from another dojo, I’ve always considered myself open-minded and not particularly resistant to new information. I do, however, have a lot of old habits that seem to play an unwelcomed, yet recurring role in my training which was noted in our discussion about koshi, tachi, and general body mechanics.

As we continued talking he touched on various principles, gave me the training schedule, explained how class is conducted at the Hikari Dojo, and went on to tell me a few accounts of his personal experience with Shinzato Sensei. All of this only went to further my excitement as I realized this opportunity was going to be more than just the chance to attend class in a different state; it was going to be an all-around learning experience.

The first night I attended class was on a Monday. Being as my father-in-law works only a couple blocks up from the Hikari Dojo, he decided to stop by and watch after work. I really appreciated his encouragement and support for my karate passion, but also felt the situation warranted an explanation. “Uh Mr. Gildea (I still formally address my in-laws) … my sensei in Florida spoke to Sensei Goodin and requested that he not only give me a few pointers, but uh … ‘pick apart’ my techniques, so uh … I’m not really sure what you’re expecting, but uh … yeah.” – Eloquence at its finest, ne?

In spite of the carefully-worded forewarning, Mr. Gildea was eager to watch a class and seemed genuinely interested in learning a little bit about karate – which was great! He came to the right place, and Sensei Goodin certainly has a vast wealth of knowledge on the subject. Unfortunately, I knew that with these two men, whose opinions I greatly respect, watching my every move … the potential mistake factor would be significantly increased.

Well to begin with, I wasn’t sure where fellow male karateka went to change into their gi as I walked into the women’s bathroom and began donning my attire. An observant Sensei Goodin noted this error as he rounded the corner and stated, “Dude! You know you’re in the girl’s bathroom right?” while maintaining a cautious distance from the facility’s entryway. With a reflective tone I replied, “No, I didn’t … I couldn’t see the sign that said …” “Right here,” he pointed to the sign. Yep, sure enough, there it was. Seemingly tickled by my lack of observation, he directed me to the men’s bathroom where I proceeded to change into my gi while considering my immediate blunder.

First impressions are lasting right? Well if that’s the case, my ability to observe, and perhaps even my level of literacy, was already put into question … or at least that’s what I was thinking as I stepped onto the tatami mat. Once class started, we lined up and began with kata.

Now there were a number of things that I needed to, and even now need to, work on in terms of my understanding and application of Kishaba Juku. Quite a bit actually, but I’m going to just touch on a few of the more outstanding key points for the sake of blog length:

Stances: As I recall, one of the first things to be addressed was my tachi. They were, in fact, too long. This is actually one of my long-time habits; I’ve always been bad to exaggerate stances which wouldn’t provide a promising outcome in a realistic combat situation. Nevertheless, Sensei Goodin explained why stances need to be height appropriate in order for koshi, connection, and overall technique to come together. In my case this meant using shorter tachi.

Hikite: Next, the issue of what I’ve always referred to as my “chamber” hand came into question. During techniques that involved an affirmative strike or block, my hikite often found itself hovering over the arch of my hip. This is, of course, not correct as it doesn’t sufficiently protect the side of one’s torso. It was explained to me that the hand needs to sit approximately in the area of one’s floating rib to effectively guard, and serve as an ideal position for the hips to drive a strike forward with power and efficiency.

Movement with the lats: As it turns out, I was largely using my arms and shoulders to punch which is also incorrect. In order for any technique involving the upper limbs to maintain the proper connection, the movement must come from the latissimus dorsi (not excluding koshi of course). This gives the individual the ability to drive a strike, make a connection with the opposing party, and recoil accordingly. The recoiling aspect of a technique is specifically important as it allows the business end of a strike to work like a whip, drawing the technique back in such a way as to immediately strike again, and again, and again … as many times as needed. It was equally stressed that timing is essential, being sure to have both the execution point of a strike and stepping movement into a stance coincide in order to generate both speed and power.

Breathing: It didn’t take Sensei Goodin very long to notice that I wasn’t exhaling to the same extent as his other students. As a matter of fact, I was holding my breath! Another habit that I developed somewhere along the way was to limit my breathing. I think I always believed that it would make my center tighter, should I absorb an incidental strike to the mid-section. Well … nope, that’s not how it works. If anything, I would’ve dropped like a bag of bricks if someone were to hit me with my current breathing technique, or lack thereof. Sensei Goodin noted the importance of correct breathing; that it is necessary to expel air upon the execution of a technique, and tighten the hara in the event of that “incidental strike.” He explained that if you’re holding your breath, then there’s air to be knocked out of you. And much like a kiai, the expulsion of air serves to focus one’s energy into the technique being executed. It is, therefore, important to exhale assertively at the completion of each movement.

Koshi: Last, and most definitely not least, koshi! Being as my goal was to create a significant amount of power with as little movement as possible, I was sure to use small koshi movements … Only one “small” problem, I wasn’t creating significant power. Actually, I wasn’t creating any power at all. Sensei Goodin understood what I was trying to do; I was attempting to emulate an advanced technique where smaller koshi motion can generate the same level of power as larger koshi motion, but without prior understanding or development/augmentation of the basics. He explained:

“You’re using smaller hip and body motions, but you don’t really have the basis to generate the amount of power required for the [advanced] technique. You have to establish yourself in the basics: learn how the koshi works, learn how to apply the body mechanics, and understand how to generate power first. Practicing the technique as you are, you have less movement, but there’s nothing backing it up beyond that. Granted, the goal is to eventually be able to execute the technique with less movement … but full power.”

With other areas of interest being explored, these were among the major focal points we worked on for the two nights I was able to attend. With that said, the second night I attended class was on the following Wednesday. I’m not sure how much attention everyone on the mainland paid to the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Summit, but suffice it to say that it’s kind of a big deal if you live on Oahu. As it turns out, this year President Obama participated in the event which resulted in increased security on the island. Among the precautions taken to insure the president and other politicians’ safety was the closing, and police-monitoring of certain streets. The reason I mention this is because a great deal of the roads that were closed surrounded the area that Erika and I were staying in.

Well Sensei Goodin, as well as friends and relatives, had given me sufficient warning regarding the magnitude of the event and the impact it would have on driving. Unfortunately, I didn’t plan my travel time well for the second night of class. We left the apartment we were staying at with what I thought was plenty of time to make it to class EARLY … which ultimately ended in my calling Sensei Goodin to make sure I could still come to class late. Apologetically I said, “Goodin Sensei, we’ve been on the road for forty-five minutes now and the traffic is just inching along. I’m not entirely sure when we’ll make it to Aiea but …” Sensei Goodin very understandingly replied, “Just get here when you get here, we’ll be training.” I was immensely thankful for his patience and willingness to still allow me to train that evening, when in truth I probably deserved an “I told you so, better luck next time kiddo” instead.

So I finally make it to class, bow onto the floor, and begin training with the other students – by the way, his students are incredible, very gifted martial artists and extremely nice people on top of that. After a certain portion of kata, Sensei Goodin had his students work with each other and he took me to the back of the dojo to work on that which was eluding me so – the basics! To begin with, he had me work on my koshi motion in front of a mirror so that I could see exactly what I was doing. Soon after, he added strikes and blocks to the hip movements so that I could get used to the motion of executing techniques with koshi. This worked perfectly for my learning style as I pick things up much easier in an ABC format. After I had practiced the movements for a while, it was time to put the techniques together in a way that made sense … and what better way to that than through Naihanchi Shodan!

As we went through Naihanchi Shodan, the focus was on all of the aforementioned key points: stances, hikite, use of the lats, breathing, and koshi. Sensei Goodin explained how everything must be integrated for speed and power. He then gave me an example of how a beginner might start off going through Naihanchi, and then demonstrated a more intermediate way followed by an advanced set of techniques. Thinking that I had the 411 on what he was explaining I boastfully stated, “Ah that’s the kaisho, gyousho, and sousho way of going through Naihanchi, huh.”

He said, “No.” - Yeah, I would’ve probably giggled if it were someone else trying to look smart, but it was me … so … it is pretty funny though isn’t it?

He gave me a more thorough example of how a kaisho, gyousho, and sousho form would appear as it pertains to Naihanchi, which was as informative as it was cool. It wasn’t long after that that class, sadly, had to come to a close. Just as it is in our dojo, we all stood in a circle so that everyone could see each other. Sensei Goodin told us about the importance of Kishaba students from different dojos training with each other; that it’s good to see how other dojos train, and that Shinzato Sensei himself encourages us all to learn from each other. He told his students that if they ever found themselves in Florida they should train with Sensei Lucas, and very graciously extended a future welcome to any yudansha from the Tallahassee Karate Club. After a very warm farewell from the Hikari Dojo students, Sensei Goodin and I had one final chat … then I was on my way home to reflect and work on what I had learned.

It’s hard to sum up the gratitude I have for Sensei Goodin’s willingness to have me in his dojo and share the invaluable information that he sent me home with. In short, I am deeply honored, and truly appreciative for the experience. I am also thankful to Sensei Lucas for making the request and being an open-minded sensei who encourages constructive criticism from other, though familiar, sources; a willingness to consider others’ viewpoints is among the many important facets that make up the true spirit of karate.

Eli Jones