Saturday, August 20, 2016

The Price and The Way.

I was bored and began browsing some books in my Kindle while at work; mainly looking for study guides for an upcoming exam,  but soon decided to search "Karate" to see what came up.
That lead to this article, which may not be pretty and may very well offend a lot of people out there.

I love Karate and have tremendous respect for my Teachers,  even after all these years, as jaded as I have been with certain aspects of the whole thing,  I still love it.
That being said I would like to talk about the side of things that often gets overlooked in all the romanticization and infatuation.

I have been fortunate in my Practice to have learned from the people I have,  however long or brief a period with each,  especially my Teachers,  Michael Dascenzo Sensei and Charles Sensei.
I trained hard,  learned much,  and trained more,  but not for the sole purpose of "getting somewhere" or "gaining something" and Dascenzo Sensei would often lament the Politics and Business of Budo.
Todd Sensei was never about talking,  Politics,  or Business, lamenting or otherwise, he just loved to train and the rest never entered the equation.

These things have caused rifts between Teachers and Students for a very long time and will continue to do so for a long time to come,  save for those few, like Todd Sensei, who could care less because they love what they do so much that the training is all that matters.
One day that may not be the case,  but who knows?
I have a sinking suspicion that the reason my Teacher retired from Teaching at such a young age has,  at least in part, to do with the Politics, views,  and Prejudices of some within the Organization that had some influence on the way of things,  but that is only part of it and is his business.

I write this because I took notice of the overall price range of books on Martial Arts, Zen, and assorted related topics,  taken with the prices of Dojo Tuition,  Testing Fees,  the cost of professionally crafted equipment, and Organizational dues.
Martial Arts is Big Business, nothing wrong with that considering how the world works,  but some are more costly than others and people are always aiming to be the top dog,  whether they deserve it or not,  so they try to get in with the person at the top and prevent others outside their clique from doing the same.
Some promotions have very little to do with skill and some Seniors in the hierarchy have spent more money, with very little blood and sweat in the mix, to get where they are and they are more interested in position and influence than training.
Unfortunately these types tend to be the majority in most groups,  although not always,  and some Sensei have been able to strike a balance with little sacrifice to their integrity.

This is not only true of Martial Organizations,  but every Institutionalized Group on the planet; ever notice the cost for a Spiritual Retreat? Whether it be Buddhist or otherwise,  they tend to target a certain demographic for monetary gain and even within these one will find the same sort of hierarchical structure with the same type of people seeking to boost their own egos.

Often people break away for whatever reason and some of these breakaway groups turn toward an almost cult-like worship of their founder,  even and especially within the Martial Arts.
Self promotion and self aggrandizement are often the norm.

The bottom line is never missed,  with many living like Kings and Queens from their gains.
There is nothing wrong with this so long as one is honest about it and practices true to their teaching,  with respect to their Teachers.
There is often too much bickering back and forth,  like barking dogs through a fence,  and it calls into question the actual value of what is being taught as it is supposed to produce better individuals.
Maybe not the Teaching,  but the Teacher. If they cannot practice what they preach,  should they be preaching? If they could not get where they are by following their own principles then why are they asking it of others?

It is a fact of life,  I suppose,  and one can take heart in the fact that there are sincere people out there from whom you can learn, their training and attitude speak for themselves.
Having written all this I must say that I mean no disrespect to anyone and I understand that this is the world we live in,  at present anyway.

I am a member of an Organization,  because I respect my roots and they are my family,  but I train to train,  it has nothing to do with which patch I wear.
I am friends with,  and train with some very sincere people here as well,  they just happen to be members of a different Organization,  but Karate is Karate.

My Sensei has been like a Father figure to me,  his lessons constantly guide me,  every day.
Todd Sensei is like an older Brother,  and I take his example to heart.
Roseberry Shihan is like a Grandfather, who always provides deep insight without speaking a word,  even in his sneaky attempts to get doughnuts when he knows he can't have them.

Kris Wilder is like an Uncle, Gene Villa and his crew are like cousins,  all very good people... Politics and Business can never destroy that.

Good day.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Truth in the Center.

In the center one must find all aspects of the self and merge them before they can proceed.
To sink into the body with mind and spirit, an opening and offering of oneself to that which is greater still,  yet deep within all things...  All else drops away.

This zero point is the beginning and end of all Budo which cannot be ignored or brushed aside.
This IS Kata, this IS Karate, anything less is watered down,  spiritless,  empty.

Those who go on and on about hating Kata or that Kata are useless or boring have missed the point of Kata and their many layers.
It makes sense now when people like Kayo OMG and Roy Kamen speak of Bunkai being only the tip of the iceberg as Karate is much deeper than that.

I once witnessed a Haka Dance performed by,  of all people, a Mormon Missionary and it seemed to me to be nothing more than a jumble of shouting, moving,  and stomping around... Nothing to write home about,  right?
True,  until you witness it performed by someone who throws everything into it,  then it becomes frightening...  At that point I realized what was missing from the first performance.
That was not a Haka Dance,  it was missing the spirit and,  thus,  was missing the desired effect resulting from a proper Haka Dance.

It does not matter how mean you make your face look,  how rigid or built your body,  or how loud you Kiai... Without the spirit,  found in the center before all else,  and forged through fire properly,  all you have is a jumbled mess of moving,  stomping,  and shouting..

Good Day.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Moment to Moment.

It has been some time since my last posting on here as things had become a bit hectic with family issues, still are, but feel things have calmed down enough to start posting again. 

I had wanted to post some things on Youtube for my Children to follow due to the distance that now lay between us so as to remain ever more active in their lives and ensure something is passed to them, but it would seem that is not allowed in the present mode of thinking in the Organization through which I have membership.
That is okay, there are a number of different alternatives that can be explored in that regard to ensure they are able to access what I have to offer them, from Karate to Artwork to Practical Living, whatever the case may be, the Internet is a VERY big place and, what is more, the world is even bigger, so notes and drawings could also serve as a medium. 

In the old days the catch phrase used to be, 'focus on the now,' which is a great catch phrase for its' practicality because you cannot practice Martial Arts of any kind and be successful unless past, future, and all manner of other distractions falls away and you bring your mind to one point in the present moment. 
People often use various Japanese, Chinese, or other Asian Language words to describe various aspects of this as though they were some mystical type of experience... Perhaps they are, but they do not really need to be. 
For me, it is enough to realize full awareness within the moment and to be able to direct intent... Qi/Ki is nothing more than an experience of directed intent and full awareness, not some mystical energy that can knock someone out from across the room... It is synonymous with Pneuma and Rhuak, both of which refer to Breath in a Divine sense. 
This is lost on most people and they may still put it off as some sort of Mystical Mumbo Jumbo, but does not matter because everyone has their own insights into the experience and that is fine, it adds richness to the phenomena as a whole. 

Getting back to the present moment thing... While it is necessary, it is also necessary to be mindful of each step and to be mindful of the future while being aware of lessons learned in the past, all of which come into play within the present moment as well.
This is not just a Martial Arts perspective, this is a perspective to maintain in all aspects of life... Do you know what you REALLY want to do? Do you know the REAL reason behind your training??

What about posterity?? What if you were to die tomorrow? What would you be leaving behind that could serve to better future generations?
The present moment is a tool to ensure all of this is taken into account to the highest degree and completely accomplished... The key?? Live each moment as if it were your last... It sounds like a cliche, but it is very true.
Working each individual aspect of technique helps to focus and hone the mind, body, and spirit so that it can be effectively employed in this manner, as one unit, in all aspects of life... 


Monday, April 11, 2016

Changing Tides.

Each day I pass old empty buildings where Karate Schools once operated, empty, vacant, with signs in them that read 'Nai Black - For Lease.'
There is even an old Jujitsu school that once taught Brazillian Jujitsu up on Francis that is closed, the paint still in the window, chipped and worn, but not faded.

Maybe it is a sign of the time, but this is supposed to be a time of economic growth, or maybe that is just a symptom of commercialism, who can say?
It just seems as though the community is becoming smaller and smaller, while some schools are adapting, moving into smaller spaces or into places off the beaten path, away from main roads, some even closing their doors due to the death of famous Teachers and no one taking up the torch within the area that an entire Organization once called home.

This leaves only some of the most hard core people left standing and, with time working the way it works and age setting in, it makes one wonder where these places will be after their respective Teachers pass on or retire, whether a Senior of theirs will pick things up or whether their Students will scatter to the wind?
Some of the best training is not found in fancy Dojo or commercial settings, some of the best training might be found in s School Cafeteria or a Rec area set up in a Church practically in the middle of nowhere and they do not really advertise other than word of mouth and do not make profit from what they do.
These people are sometimes the first people hit when things go south, but, more often than not, they are usually the ones able to keep going because they can adapt, they do not have to worry about what others worry about, but these types of Programs and Schools are very rare and often hard to find if you do not know people who know people.

One such School is actually facing the fact that they are no longer going to have a place to train come May, but they are pushing on through the summer months by training in parks, as I do, although they face a hardship of possibly losing Students over the Winter Months if they do not find an indoor place to train.
They host a wide variety of Programs from Tae Kwon Do, Krav Maga, to European Broad Sword, and their Chief Instructor is also a Student of Jujitsu at Newborn Cascao Jujitsu up on Monroe under James Weed.
They cater to youth, primarily, and host a program for Home School Children and this is one of the Classes that faces shut down as they transition.

I remember when the Dojo on Callow shut down, it was a sad day even though many of the Students continued, for a time, at a local Fire Department under Jeff Iller Sensei, but the Program did not last long and Iller Sensei went on to other things.
The Dojo had been my childhood, my home, for a very long time, even when I was away, it was still my home and, even though it is now a Tattoo Parlor, that building still holds a special meaning for me as an adult.
I know that buildings are buildings and things change, all things end, but it if there is something good offered by something and a Child, or anyone for that matter, gains something from it then it should continue for as long as possible.

Check out Mount Spokane Martial Arts on Facebook and if you know of a place in the Spokane area that they might be able to call home let them know, it would be a shame for these people to have to call it quits, especially with the dedication their Chief Instructor has shown, not only in Teaching, but in continued learning... A true example of Sho Shin, or Beginner's Mind.

Thank you.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Foot Work.

Lately I have been thinking about Footwork versus Stances after going over some basic Aikido footwork in the eight directional diagram.
There is a basic 'Guard' called Hanmi one takes up and moves through at various points, but really no stances, just Footwork.

This is where Karate is confused, I feel, because there was the imposition of standardization from outside which inhibited the natural way of doing things, thus, things became more rigid and we ended up with various names for things in order to accommodate standardized syllabus.
The Japanese love their Standards and the Okinawan Karateka were very keen to be seen as fully assimilated to Japanese Culture rather than be shunned, some of them even receiving payment for their loyalty and efforts to promote assimilation into Japanese Culture and Customs.

This is not meant to be an Anti-Japanese rant, that is there to light the way back in order that we may understand just what it is we are doing as, obviously, the way of Aikido is a Japanese way based on Japanese Standards and is NOT as rigid as Karate had become, thus leading one to feel that the Okinawans were a bit over zealous in their efforts.

What happens when we remove the word 'Dachi' and replace it with something like 'Ashi' similar to the way Aikido utilizes terms like 'Ayumi Ashi' to describe a principle of motion, like stepping, or Tenkan for turning, or Irimi for stepping inside, or Irimi-Tenkan for stepping inside with immediate turn??
What happens when Sanchin Dachi is no longer seem as a 'thing' but a 'process??' Does this take away from Karate or add a deeper level of understanding?? Most would cry foul because it is 'not a traditional way of looking at it,' to which I argue it is a deeper level of understanding a VERY traditional concept.

What happens when Zenkutsu Dachi becomes just a long forward shift and you look at it more in terms of, say, Irimi??
Saifa, for example, has an example of where it is utilitzed as Irimi with partial Tenkan into what we, presently, call Musubi Dachi before dropping into Shiko Dachi.
Drop the 'Dachi' and find another way to describe these movements as less static and rigid, more dynamic and alive, more to do with the movement of the Center, or Hara, and not so much as 'fixed positions.'

Sensei once said someone about the 'formless form' and had pointed me towards a book called 'Kodo: Ancient Ways' written by Reverend Kensho Furuya, a Zen Priest and Aikido Sensei.
This was my first introduction to the idea of Shu, Ha, and Ri... One learns to emulate, one learns to variate/deviate, then one breaks free and is no longer bound by outward forms, but internal Principles that have become their own.
In this way ALL ways become one way and there is no differentiation because they all apply to one another to varying degrees based upon the manner in which they are applied by each individual.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Coil/Uncoil.

Looking closely at the coiling/uncoiling principle within Kata, namely Gekesai Dai Ichi and Seipai, after going through some Aikido Footwork both Irimi and Tenkan aspects and feeling that 'coil/uncoil' there as well. 
The coiling aspect, for me, comes from Sanchin and is meant to work with Posture for Power Transfer (Atifa) and proper mechanical application, ie Tension, at the very end for just a split second (Chinkuchi) drawn from the ground up through the hips and the core first (Gamaku).

Having gone through this slow a few times just to feel the timing and the nature of each within these two very different Kata it is like a bow-string pulled taut then released and snapping back (taut again for just a split second on the opposite end).
The stances in Karate are too emphasized and should really be de-emphasized in favor of looking more at the actual movements themselves rather than some cool looking position that really has no meaning at the 'end' other than where you should end up. 

Gekesai Kata was meant to be a training Kata, very basic, but also very brutal if understood correctly, the name gives you exactly what principles and characteristics the Kata focuses on... To Attack and Smash or Destroy. 
As Such the Kata is full of various attacks that are straight forward Punches with tension applied for proper effect, with smashing attacks like Elbow Strikes (which also double as entering head guards), upward smashing attacks (Jodan Uke) and downward dislocations/breaks (Gedan Barai), Mid-level manipulations (Chudan Uke) in set up for a nicely placed Heel-kick to the knee (or there-abouts) of the lead (or rear) leg of the opponent BEFORE delivering the Elbow. 
At the beginning is that coil/uncoil, the delivery is very different depending on the blow. Punches are meant to act upon the water aspect of the body, causing Hydrostatic Shock and recoil in the opponent, thus the slight and quick tension on the end, Elbow Strikes are meant to Smash... I am sure you get the idea. 

Seipai is a very different Kata in its' characteristics, its' Nature is not quite so direct and aggressive, although no less effective. 
It plays more on the coil/uncoil element throughout with A LOT of circular movements and linear movements that play off the circular (similar to Gekesai in that respect, but quite different at the same time).
The beginning coils up and drops down with a caption and strike/lock on the arm/neck area following through with a Shihonage-like/Aikido-like techniqe that leads into a break (when I say Shihonage-like I mean to say it can be applied as such, but can also be applied to the head and would make a lot more sense considering it ends with a drop into Shiko-position).
Lots of coil/uncoil in that movement, then it leads into an interesting sweep-attack with the foot into a weird back-leaning position, one arm up, the other sweeping down, both open-handed. 
It can be a redundancy follow-through from the previous movement as almost an Ashi-Barai where the foot does not leave the ground, one hand pulls back as an anchor while the other sweeps through to take down. 

In all this, the main point I always come back to is the Hara.... My Sensei used to say to pretend I had no arms and that all movements are connected directy to the Hara.
These things are far less effective without a thorough understand of how the Hara is applied in each, how it moves, raises, sinks, spins around the axis, ect. 
I once watched a video of a Karteka against an Aikidoka and they used some sort of computer program to trace the movements of their center through Shihonage. 
The Karateka tended to rely more on his strength and his Hara stayed on a straight line, almost unused, while the Aikidoka did not have brute strength to rely on and utilized a linear movement combined with a well-timed drop of his Hara to apply the technique. 
There was a HUGE difference in the movement and it says a lot about the state of Karate today... Many need to go back to the floor and REALLY look at what they are doing with their Hara, take some lessons from Aikido and Judo. 

In the end there are really only a couple of things to master... A few techniques and how to move from your Center... 
You do not need style to do this, you do not really need anything but a few movements and you can go from there. 
Seipai and Gekesai are just fancy ways to go about it... Really my goal is to simplify and shorten so that the focus is only on a couple of things. 


Monday, March 21, 2016

Listening to Seipai.

This morning was spent on some basics... Jodan, Chudan, and Gedan Uke with an emphasis on exploding from the core with proper alignment, coordination, and mechanics.
The point is not in the technique utilized, but what underlies the technique that cannot necessarily be seen or easily explained.
Technique, for me, refers to these underlying principles as stated in previous posts, what looks to be a Chudan Uke is only meant to draw attention to something happening at the mid level, some kind of reception of energy and the proper muscle groups/alignment principles to train for that specific kind of reception of energy.
Take the above and change the word to Jodan, or even Gedan, or change it entirely and apply Uchi or Tsuki, which often seems to confuse and limit the possibilities and potentials actually inherent in those specific flows.

My basics work tends to be drawn directly from Kata so there is more going on than just standing in place counting in Japanese with endless reps of Jodan, Chudan, or Gedan, nor am I simply marching up and down a floor doing Oi Tsuki or Gyaku Tsuki... Granted I do practice these things, but not as often.
The rest of the time was spent breaking down Seipai and really looking at the whole body... Breaking down, starting with the feet I directed my attention to the motion rather than static stances and postures, moving from the center and checking out the principles of timing in shifting of the weight and utilization of hands, ect.
Moving from the center first with emphasis on this, especially, as the primary aspect of each movement with proper application of Gamaku, or core muscles (rather than just Koshi/Hara) with culmination in Chinkuchi, or suddenly/brief tension, before moving to the next flow.

Not really sure how to word any of this that interests the reader or gives a proper mental illustration of the principles in action, for myself, and it will likely be different for everyone due to small nuances in each Karateka, but it is always good to have a starting point.
My Sensei used to point out the angles of the Kata as important, and we would train these a lot, but it was not until later than I began to think that maybe it was not the angle itself he was drawing my attention to, but training proper weight shifting technique and really keeping mind in the center for good 'weight under side' in the movement, or what the Okinawans called Muchimi.
He did not really over explain a lot and left quite a bit for me to figure out on my own, but I do believe that was the point...

Working on portion of Kata got me thinking more about the foot sliding in as an attack, a throw or takedown similar to what people might call a 'Russian Leg Sweep,' which gives an idea on what portions of the body are playing a role there-in.
The Leg Sweep idea is not as important as the mechanics to which it points, it could be a Leg Sweep, it could be something else entirely, depending on the imagination and inclination of the Karateka, which is how it should be.
Yes, I do believe there are proper applications, but these are only to be found in the mechanics, which allude to the proper application by way of Physics, you can only do so many things along certain lines... So naturally the applications ARE finite and are NOT only limited by the imagination, but there are possibilities.

It was a very good workout that yielded a lot of insight. Next Sunday Katasse Sensei and I are supposed to start training Aikido on a regular basis again, so this should add even more insight to everything else.