Karate Thoughts Blog


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1650+ Posts... and Counting

An Egotistical Student

This is a story.

A Karate Sensei was addressing his students after he watched them perform kata.

When he got to Dave, an extremely egotistical student, he said, "You are absolutely the worst student I have ever seen."

Dave turned to the student standing next to him and said, "Did you hear that? 'Absolutely the worst!'"

An egotistical person hears what he wants to hear.

Respectfully,

Charles C. Goodin

Transgendered Student

I have previously written that I would teach a gay student the same as any other student, and that a gay student would be equally welcomed in our dojo.

I have the same feelings and policy about transgendered students. They are equally welcomed in our dojo, and I would teach them the same as any other student.

I try to address the unique strengths and weaknesses of each student. That is not a matter of gender (or sexual orientation) to me, so much as it is a matter of physical conditions (height, weight, reach, speed, physical conditioning, etc.).

Our dojo is like a family. And like the early Karate dojo here in Hawaii, if anyone messes with a student in our dojo, they are messing with all of us. I guess you can tell that I was a Kenpo student and instructor first.

One of the most important things a Sensei can do is to be accepting and supportive of students... and then to make them extremely skilled.

Now, what would I do if I accepted a transgendered student and all my other students quit? Then I would have one good student! But knowing my students, that would not happen.

Respectfully,

Charles C. Goodin

How Important is Consistency

How important is consistency in your dojo? Is it important that all the students do the same things in the same way, or that each student become the best he or she can become? There is an age old tension between these objectives. Actually, it is not "age old," just since about 1900.

Once Karate became public and classes became larger, it became more and more important for there to be consistency within the school or dojo. With the rise of styles (and the resulting competition for students), such consistency became even more important.

If you did a certain movement the wrong way, it could reflect either poor instruction, or even worse, disloyalty. It certainly would not look good for a student from Dojo 1 to move like a student from Dojo 2.

Of course, this is all pretty ridiculous! If you are like me, you are more interested in skill than conforming to a group standard. In addition, I am not loyal to a style per se. If anything, I am loyal to my Sensei (plural) because of my admiration of and affection for them. Style means very, very little to me.

In my particular "style" (Kishaba Juku Shorin-Ryu), we must be the least consistent Karate students in the entire world! Most of us know many ways to do every movement, and how we perform the movement at any given time is more a matter of personal choice at that moment than anything else. As you can imagine, a group performance of kata is not a very uniform thing (unless we agree in advance to move a certain way).

I do not believe in "cookie cutter" Karate. That may be fine for cookies, but not for Karate students. All people are different. Each student has unique strengths and weaknesses. If a small, weak woman moves exactly the same as a large, strong man, then her Karate will not be the move effective for her (and vice versa). Consistency, in that case, will be a disservice to the student.

In our dojo, we want each student to become the very best that he or she can become. And that requires special and long term attention on the part of the instructors to customize the training to accomplish that objective.

Of course, we have a small dojo, with a pretty high ration of yudansha (black belts) to mudansha (non-black belts, or kyu holders). We can afford to spend more time with each student, but even in our case, it requires hard work. A "cookie cutter" approach would be much easier, but we are making Karate students, not cookies.

There is another issue -- sometimes the emphasis on consistency is more a group control thing than a Karate teaching thing. Some Karate instructors spend more time and effort enforcing their domains or kingdoms than actually teaching Karate. Somehow I cannot imagine the early Karate masters (such as Matsumura, Itosu, Higashionna, Motobu, Kyan, etc.) doing this.

The kingdom of Karate is entirely an internal matter.

Anyway, I am not a fan of consistency, even with cookies.

Respectfully,

Charles C. Goodin

An Open Letter to My Son: Five Virtues by Dr. Jinichi Tokeshi

Last week when I received the current edition of the Hawaii Pacific Press, I was very pleased to see an article (actually, an open letter to his son) by Dr. Jinichi Tokeshi, a local physician and teacher at the John A. Burns School of Medicine. In addition, Dr. Tokeshi practices Kendo and Iaido (sword art) at the Aiea Taiheji Kendo Club, where my eldest son Christopher practices (and where my third son Cael and I also practiced). Dr. Tokeshi is also the author of Kendo: Elements, Rules, & Philosophy, an excellent book on Kendo.

Here is a link to the article that was published by the Hawaii Medical Journal [Volume 70 No. 8 August 2011]:


As a father, physician, and martial artist, Dr. Tokeshi has some observations and advice that I agree with very much. I hope that you will read the article very carefully.

Respectfully,

Charles C. Goodin

Not Fighting 2

I think I missed one of the points in my last post.

I should have added that the better you become at "fighting" the less that you want to do so. I have practiced Karate for over 35 years and many of my friends have practiced for much longer. I certainly think that my Karate skills are better today than when I was in high school. I know that I can do things today that I could not do back then (except the splits).

But when I was a young man, I think that I had a hotter temper. That temper has cooled quite a bit with age and experience.

I am reminded of a saying that my Sensei in Hawaii, Sensei Rodney Shimabukuro, taught me: "A Karate man does not fear others, he fears his own hand." By this I believe that he means that we fear the consequences of the use of our Karate techniques (or hand) more than we fear being attacked by other people.

If self-defense is unavoidable and the last resort, then you must do your very best without reservation or hesitation. But until that point, you must exert just as much effort to avoid the use of destructive Karate techniques.

Aside from a moral principle, I also believe that this is a logical strategy. Even an attacker who appears weak or lacking in fighting skills could be armed or accompanied by friends who you might not see. He could also have a contagious disease or come back to attack you (or your family) in the future. Avoidance is a good strategy up to a point.

Respectfully,

Charles C. Goodin

Not Fighting

As I grow older (and hopefully wiser), my attitude about Karate is more and more about "not fighting." I probably am the least likely person to get into a fight. I would run first or try to talk my way out of the situation. I would not fight over a material possession -- short of someone trying to break into my house and threaten my family. I would not fight over an insult, particularly about Karate or manhood or any such thing. I certainly would not fight about an insult against me, my Sensei or my style of Karate. Why would I?

I often tell my students that if someone insults you, why should believe that person? If that person is an idiot, would you believe an idiot? If you do not believe the idiot, then why would you take his insult seriously?

What does it matter if an idiot calls you an idiot? Perhaps that is just a double negative.

I also tell my students that you should be careful when someone praises you. How do you know that the person knows what he is talking about? He might be wrong. If you are good at something then you are good at it -- whether someone praises you or not.

If you are very confident and comfortable with yourself, you will not be upset by insults or swayed by praise.

Now, I also tell my students that although I am the least likely person to "fight," I would do everything imaginable to protect my family and loved ones. Then there is no holding back, and I would be a terrible person indeed. Then the proverbial can is opened. But of course, that is not fighting, that is self defense. When self defense becomes the last resort, then that's that!

But otherwise, fighting is not my thing.

Respectfully,

Charles C. Goodin

Passing of Shihan Bobby Lowe -- September 14, 2011

I have been notified by the family of Shihan Bobby Lowe (Edward "Bobby" Lowe) that he passed away peacefully last night, Wednesday, September 14, 2011, at 9:18 p.m., at Queens Hospital, in Honolulu, Hawaii. I do not usually post such notices, but I have spoken directly to the family and am certain about the facts. I visited Lowe Sensei at the hospital the night before.

In time, I and many others will write about Lowe Sensei's Karate legacy. At this point, I simply wanted to notify people of his passing.

Respectfully,

Charles C. Goodin

Shuri Lecture: Thursday, September 22nd at the UH

I just received an email notice and flyer from the Center for Okinawan Studies at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. The notice read:

The Center for Okinawan Studies Lecture Series resumes with a talk by Dr. Alfred Yama Kina on Thursday, September 22, 2011 at 3 pm in Moore Hall 319. Dr. Kina received his PhD in folklore studies from Indiana University in 2006. He will be speaking about his observations/experiences living in Shuri, the old capital of the kingdom of Ryukyu. Please see the attached flyer for details.
Here is a link to the flyer (pdf format).

I am going to try to attend. Dr. Kina is also a licensed Okinawan dance instructor, and studied in Hawaii with Kikue Kaneshiro.

Let's support our local Okinawan culture experts!

Respectfully,

Charles C. Goodin

My Next Articles

The next issue of Classical Fighting Arts is at the printer. I have two pieces in it.

I wrote the editorial, which is about getting back to the roots of Karate in Okinawa. I also conducted an interview with Sensei Pat Nakata about what his teacher (Chosin Chibana) told him about his teacher Anko Itosu. I learned a lot when I interviewed Nakata Sensei. I hope that you enjoy the interview.

Respectfully,

Charles C. Goodin

A Room Full of People

This is a story.

A martial arts expert walked into a room filled with people with his friend, another martial artist. After surveying the room he proclaimed, "I could easily defeat every one of these people!"

In fact, the martial arts expert felt this way all the time.

His friend nodded and said, "In an emergency, how many of these people could you help? If there was a hurricane or an earthquake, could you summon the strength to help others, or would you panic? There is more to life and martial arts than fighting skill."

The martial arts expert was so upset that he reared back and was about to punch his friend. Right at that instant, there was a big earthquake....

No there wasn't but you get the point. Self defense skill is useful, but there is certainly more to life and martial arts than that. If there was a hurricane, earthquake, or other disaster, could you summon the strength to remain calm and help others?

Respectfully,

Charles C. Goodin

Never Forget Effectiveness

There are two concepts in Karate that need to be understood.

First, faster is generally better. A faster movement will generally transfer more power... a good thing.

The second is that as we advance, we are to refine our movements. You could compare this to polishing a diamond.

However, these two concepts are sometimes used by students to justify the minimization of movements to such an extent that the original meanings of the movements are lost. Some students emphasize speed above all else and one way to accomplish this is to minimize (or streamline) the movements.

Take a simple outward block (what I call uchi uke.. like the first movement of Pinan Godan). Most students will prepare for the movement by crossing their bent arm across their body. Then they will block, sort of in a windshield wiper-like manner. This is a gross simplification, however my point is that there are two movements involved.

To speed things up, the first movement (the preparation) can be minimized or even eliminated. The block would then be thrown, much like an uppercut. The sideways movements are minimized or eliminated. All that is left is a vertical rising block. Actually, there is no difference between uchi uke and soto uke when the block is minimized in this way. The element of blocking from the outside or inside is eliminated. You just block up and out.

Again, these are gross simplifications, but I hope that you understand my point. To make things faster, movements are streamlined... sometimes to extreme degrees.

Here is what I am trying to get to. That first part of the block, the preparation in which the student crosses his bent arm across his body, has meaning. In some cases, that movement is actually the block and the second part of the block is actually a strike. If you eliminate that first movement, you also lose the meaning.

As kata are streamlined (minimized for speed), this movement and that are eliminated -- as are the meanings associated with those movements. Soon you are left with a shorthand kata that might look good (to the untrained observer) but will be less meaningful than the original kata.

Of course, a Karate expert can perform a kata in many different ways. He can perform the kata the longhand way or the shorthand way -- either way, he will know all the meanings (imi or bunkai). He can perform the kata as he likes or as needed. He can also execute techniques as he likes or as needed. If a preparatory cross is needed, he can do it. If not, he can skip it. He can do what is needed because he understands the movements fluently.

But there is a major problem when less advanced students try to copy an advanced form (that might be minimized). That student might not understand the movements as fluently, and when he minimizes or eliminates a movement he actually loses something. His kata will now be less effective.

Speed does have value. But what matters is not how fast you get from Point A to Point B, but how fast you execute the movement once you get to Point B. Don't rush. After all, the attacker is attacking you. You know where he is going. He is coming toward you. Your job is to defend against that attack.

And when you defend, speed only matters if it makes you more effective. Does your speed allow you to generate and transfer more power, or are you just floating? Are you all flash with no pop?

Hey, there is something to be said about just hitting really, really hard. It might not be elegant, but it generally works.

And refinement does not simply mean making movements faster. Refinement is always balanced against the effectiveness of a movement. If the movement is refined, it becomes more effective, not less.

I often tell my students that sometimes the best defense it to simply tackle the attacker, wrestle him to the ground, and punch the crap out of him (or choke, joint lock, stomp, etc.). Before you reply that this is a crude defense, think about some of the Karate experts you have seen. Some look so good, so fast, so refined, but could they withstand such a defense? Could they really?

If you make a movement faster, it must be more effective. If you make a movement more refined, it must be more effective. Everything we do must be measured by effectiveness.

An ugly effective technique is way better than a pretty ineffective technique.

Respectfully,

Charles C. Goodin