Thursday, September 21, 2017

Courtesy and Manners.

I know I have not posted here in a long time, but a lot has been changing around here. I have new Students in the Tri Cities area of Washington State and have been named as Assistant to Charles Todd Sensei, the Director for the Northwest Region of the Sho Rei Shobu Kan Budo Organization.

In that capacity I must now keep in mind how I present myself as I represent something larger than myself or even a single school.

The Sho Rei Shobu Kan is the School of Courtesy and Manners in the Martial Way founded by Shihan John Roseberry whom is a direct Student of Seikichi Toguchi Sensei.
The notion of Courtesy and Manners is the staple of the Organization, how one acts, how one presents oneself is equally as important a part of training as to how one performs in the physical aspects of training.
Etiquette is important, respect, being courteous, but also being truthful in word and action.

Recently there was a video presented as the original 'pre-war' version of a specific portion of a specific Kata and, me being me, I noticed something was off, so I did more than point it out, I wanted to know where it was from and why no one else did it this way... Why I had never seen this myself from any school or organization, the person that presented it is a close cousin in Karate as far as lineage is concerned, so it struck me as a little more than odd.
People shared pictures of the founder doing drills with his students using similar posture stating that this is what was being depicted, but a general photo of a kicking drill just did not do it for me, considering the context behind the photo is really up in the air and anyone can read into it what they like.

The real lesson does not lay in the exchange and what I thought and felt was not as important as how I approached it.
My approach could have been WAY more in keeping with my Organization's ideals of being courteous, respectful, observing proper manners and etiquette, but I fell short, quite a bit short. Regardless of whether or not the other party had chosen to observe the same sort of behavior to which the Sho Rei Shobu Kan strives, it was my duty to be the bigger person and to observe these ideals within myself, to be better in mind, body, AND spirit.

That night I had a dream that I was in a city of Temples from various different spiritual paths and faiths.
I was seeking a Golden Dragon that did not exist and, upon realizing I was never going to find this Golden Dragon I entered a Temple akin to a Japanese Zen Monastery and found two basins of water in which I washed my hands and my face, stood in Gassho for a long period of time, observed by the Monks in quiet Satori, after which I turned and left... I woke up at this point.

When I woke up I found that the messages had continued into the new day in private messaging on Facebook and had involved someone from my own Organization and they had pointed out my behavior, the embarrassing nature of it, how poorly I had represented his Teacher and the Organization.
I had already planned on issuing a Public Apology, and this drove it home. Not the weight of his words, but the dream the night before... There was no Golden Dragon to be found outside myself because I was that Dragon, it was up to me to hold to the gold standard, despite how anyone else behaved or thought and despite my past actions, in acknowledgment of them, to let them go, to move on, and to grow in the way I knew I had to.
This required an apology, a truly sincere apology for anyone that was disrespected, offended, or just plain put off, I had to wash my hands and my face in the waters of the situation that was created in order to rise above it and to learn everything it had to offer.

Everyone has their own bias, everyone has something they hold to, and it is my feeling that the path we are on requires us to let that all go, to really open up to something deeper within ourselves to that we can let it through to the world.
Their actions, words, and views do not define me, I can only define myself and myself is a fluid and elusive thing, but the real trick is in maintaining that gold standard in everything, from practice, from behavior, from life itself.

Does that mean not pointing out something that one feels needs to be pointed out and questioned? Not at all, but it means finding a skillful means of doing so.
Maybe certain times require a blunt object, other times a finely tuned means, razor sharp, but one has to be mindful enough to know when this is required and have the courtesy in all cases to be respectful of the other when doing so.
It is a razor's edge because courtesy and kindness can sometimes lead one to ignoring the obvious and allowing it to go unquestioned when questions are required or when something needs to be pointed out or called out, be courteous and respectful, sure, but be truthful and diligent.



Thursday, February 9, 2017

The Devil is in the Details.

Karate is a life long journey in which the destination is unimportant, goals may be made, but they are only there to provide direction and people tend to focus on these so much that they forget to focus on each step of the journey.
Some people chase rank and collect all sorts of things under their 'belt' as a sign of authority, really it is just to puff up the ego, some people have taken the time to really study and these people can truly perform, they do not get caught up in things and everything seems to fall in place naturally, whether they are of high rank or low rank.

There is so much to be gained from even a single movement if a Karateka has the patience to really pay attention.
It is never about quick learning, it is always about the journey, and even in a single movement is a lifetime of study.

Tonight I was focusing on the Morote Chudan Kamae, a position that so many of our Goju Ryu Kata take as a starting, the first movement after the bow and Yoei.
One person with whom I am acquainted is a long time student of Kayo Ong Sensei who states that Kata are a Mandala and they begin with Prayer, as expressed in the intention behind this movement, which does have some validity, depending on one's reasons for training, but I feel this is something that can be applied regardless of reason.

In my own practice, today, I was working on the mechanics of pulling back, punching, and returning to Kamae, fairly simple stuff, at least on the surface, but the mechanics are profound in the fact that these must be done in a way that is harmonious with the way the body is built.
Pulling back into Chamber, leading the motion with the breath, followed by the elbow, the forearm, the fist, then extending outward leading with intent, breath, fist, elbow, and the shoulder rotating slightly forward.
Returning to Kamae, rotating the shoulder back slightly, pulling the elbow into position, the hand following and slightly rotating back into position.

Adding to this the rest of the body, from the ground up, pushing with the heel and pulling with the ball of the opposite foot, shifting from pulling with the front foot and pushing with the back foot to pulling with the back foot and pushing with the front, depending on whether you are pulling to chamber, moving into a punch, or returning to Kamae, all the while rooted with the foot as if they are clay mashed into the ground.
Moving upward from there you have the knees, thighs, and hips adding to the motion, the spine straight as a current to the arms that carries the intent/energy in a flow that executes technique in such a way so as to expel the most power without losing energy and maintaining stability of the entire frame.

This has to be understood for each and every movement before one can move on to the quicker performances in Kata such as Seisan, Kakuha, Gekiha, Gekisai Dai San, Suparempei, or in anything that utilizes mechanics, which is to say ALL of Karate as a whole.
My own Sensei used to have us perform certain things at a Tai Chi like pace and another of his Students, a Sempai to me, Kris Wilder Sensei, always says to go slow in order to learn fast.
These days people tend to go straight to the quick and explosive stuff without truly thinking about, let alone focusing on, what it is they are actually doing, and this is true of any art.

This is why it took so long to learn even a single Kata in Okinawa Te before the onset of modernized and Japanized Karate, which is fairly modern and mostly seen as a sport.


Monday, February 6, 2017

Empty of Definition, Filled with Everything.

Karate is a very subtle art with focus more on aspects that cannot readily be discerned; this effectively removes it from the realm of combat as most who wish to learn would expect to learn something they can use right away.
Certainly one can gain this from Karate, but as a whole Karate is the long way, there are other things out there a person could study that do not take near as long to understand in order to apply and many of them are able to be directly applied.
That is not the point of Karate, the point is much deeper... Will Karate work? Yes. Again, is that the point? No.

Karate is a core focus that can and should be applied to everything, from cooking and cleaning, to sports, to the way one behaves and, finally, to combat.
If that is the main focus why would a person look at the mechanics of a single punch, or posture, in Sanchin Kata, or the rotational aspects of Seipai??
These things are training tools and meant to focus on different things that can carry over to combat.

The focus many have on Karate is strictly as a Martial Art, or a Civil Defense Art, the latter certainly applies, but they get stuck here, they begin to identify as what they are doing rather than looking at it as something they do to improve themselves, to ground themselves.
The idea is not to limit oneself to a certain thing or a certain identity or to limit what one is doing to a specific focus, but to allow it to exist as it is and allow it to do the work it is meant to do.

At the same time a deeper aspect is to unify with it, to become the center, the dancer and the dance, while at the same time not identifying AS the thing or as SEPARATE from the thing.
Internalizing what you are doing will come out when thought ceases, when expectations cease, when everything is allowed to fall into place rather than forcing something to do a specific thing you think it should be doing... That is like trying to pound a square block into a round hole.

These days Brazilian Jujitsu and Muay Thai are very popular through MMA Training, trends come and go because people have these expectations and these are not wrong, but they do show a lack of depth as one thing comes and another goes.
Enrollment in Karate is at a low in some areas, a high in others... At what used to be our Hombu Dojo Karate is no longer the main attraction, most go for Judo, Jujitsu, and MMA type stuff, these things pay the bills while Karate exists as an aside, which is a much better way for it to exist because it is allowed to be what it is meant to be rather than a means of keeping Students walking in the door in order to pay the Dojo bills.

Karate is a path of peace and self cultivation... You study the kick and punch in order to understand the hug and handshake, to shut conflict down before it even starts while at the same time you have the tools to deal with things should confrontation be the only possible option.
This is not just Physical Conflict, this is all aspects of Conflict, and this is certainly lacking in many Dojo these days, but it takes more than just physical conditioning and skill, it is mostly a mental thing.

Focus.

Monday, November 14, 2016

The Power of Mindset.

Mindset has a direct effect on performance, some people believe that things like I.Q. are genetically inherited, ingrained, other people believe that, with a little bit of effort, anyone can achieve anything they set their mind to.
I am of the latter view although it is hard to resist the trap of fixed mindsets. A great source of information on this is the following video;



At the present stage of my journey through life all the things I once thought were fixed have come to unravel, all the foundations have crumbled, all the rugs have been pulled and safety nets burned.
I no longer know exactly who I am or what I am doing and it is a very frightening thing to face; it would absolutely devastate someone who does not believe in a Growth or Fluid mindset in which anyone is capable of accomplishing whatever they desire simply by believing they can and following through.

What does this have to do with Martial Arts? First off, if we allow the process to take place, training can highlight points of our fixed mindsets and provide some insight into them.
We can see them for what they are and use them, turn them to the development of the mind and free ourselves from them.
There is no limit to the things a person can accomplish if they simply have the courage to step outside of that box, to allow those foundations to crumble, to entertain the thought that they know nothing, least of all themselves... There is always something to discover, always.

Who am I? What am I capable of doing? What am I actually interested in? How can I use my previous experience to push myself farther?
Lots of people talk a lot about fighting when it comes to Martial Arts, but they seldom have anything to say about the mind or spirit, those that do either dismiss it or what they have to say is complete Bullshit and puts people off of the subject entirely.

You have to delve deep into yourself in order to improve upon yourself, even if you are a practically minded Martial Artist, you have to delve deep into those recesses that most do not have the courage to explore... It can be very dangerous, yes, but also very fulfilling... You WILL lose yourself more than once, but in the end you find out who you really are and what you are capable of.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Kata - The Science of Proper Mechanics.

Trying something a little different. It seemed a more direct way of expressing what it is I am trying to say in this particular post and was much faster than just writing it out.
This is an unscripted video of thoughts off the cuff after training the concepts I talk about, just some thoughts on some more in-depth aspects that make even the most basic of things within Karate-Do that much more interesting and there is carryover, no matter what style or system a person studies they might, I hope, find something useful here.

The main points, Shin, Gi, Tai... Kata and Karate are about more than just fighting and, if done correctly and trained thoroughly, have health benefits stretching beyond violent confrontations in the street.
The fighting aspects are basic, the deeper stuff begins when one starts to look at even the slightest use of one single motion and, linking it all together, finds the truth in each portion followed by an understanding of the overall whole.

Most times, if you look at some of the videos online, they are often lacking in depth of motion, they never seem to touch upon these things.
There ARE exceptions... Bunkai is not just about how to apply something in a fight, but proper motion, proper focus, proper intent.






Friday, August 26, 2016

The Spirit of Okinawan Karate.

I once met an individual of Korean decent who was a Firefighter in his spare time,  but had taken a part time job with our Organization for the summer travel season.

At the time I was the Shift Lead for an Organization which sent Students abroad on International Education Oriented Trips all over the World and I was tasked with training this gentleman in our procedures and Case Management,  so we spent a lot of time chatting.

At some point this individual noticed our display for Japan, complete with the image of the Red Rising Sun, at which point he began talking about Korean sentiments towards the Japanese,  remnants from the occupation in World War 2.
Many Koreans,  evidently,  view that symbol in much the same way as most view the Swastika, a symbol of racist ideology, racial superiority,  and oppression.

Today we think of Japan in a very different light,  but it is true that, not long ago, Japanese Nationalism was aligned with Hitler because they shared similar ideals and identical aims.

Today we see Dojo that practice Okinawan Karate using Japanese customs, terms and phrases,  philosophy,  and practices; right down to the Gi and belts that are worn.

Many Dojo have displays of Samurai Katana, walls lined with Bokken on Weapon Racks, Shomen in similar fashion to Shinto Shrines, ect.
Little to nothing in this,  aside from the actual Art, seems to actually be Okinawan and this is not surprising considering the great lengths to which Japan went in order to suppress Okinawan language,  culture,  and Religion in order to make Okinawa more Japanese.

Most forget what happened to many Okinawans at the end of the war and it is a wonder the Okinawans would welcome assimilation at all, considering their treatment as second class citizens in their own country,  but many did promote assimilation, including many Karate Men of the time.
One could speculate on their motives, but who is to say?

The Japanese utilized their Education System in order to indoctrinate many of their colonial territories and it seemed to work,  even now there are not many Sensei who are knowledgeable in the Okinawan aspects of the art they practice and teach.

This is no fault of their own,  nor their Teachers,  many of whom grew up in an Okinawa that spoke Japanese and had adopted many of their customs.

Okinawa has somehow remained unique from the Japanese mainland and retained much of their identity, along with their close family/ancestral ties and Shamanistic Matriarchal Religious Practices and Customs.

The Okinawans have a concept called Mabui which is similar to Western concepts of Soul,  Spirit,  and Mana; it is the essence of a person and, according to their beliefs, it can be lost through various forms of trauma.
It is, they say, the reason for depression and anxiety,  among other things.

To regain one's Mabui can be as simple as sleeping in one's own bed or as complex as to require the services of a Noro Priestess in a Ritual depending on the severity of the loss.

It would seem that the Mabui of true Karate has taken a very serious hit along with the rest of the Okinawan spirit that is only now beginning to mend after many generations.
Maybe this is not even true as many seek out Karate in Okinawa only to find, what I term, tourist Karate as many great Karate Men have either died or left,  and then died in an adopted land.
Furthermore,  it begs to question,  is the Karate we now have the true Martial Way of Okinawa?
It would seem much has been fabricated and, fabricated in such a way,  as to make it more Japanese than Okinawan.
It makes sense when looking back on their culture as these are a spirited and,  traditionally,  long lived people who defeated the Mongols and were willing to fight to the last man against the Satsuma Samurai until their King begged them to remember that life was a jewel.

Would they not,  after all they have endured, guard closely the Mabui of ALL their cultural ways?
Their economy had suffered greatly, but many forsaw commercial opportunities that could support their families by teaching Karate, which capitalized more on the Japanese notion of Bushido and Bujitsu than it did on Okinawan culture,  for that is something sacred to them.
Even to this day outsiders are not allowed to even view Okinawan spiritual rituals,  this includes Japanese living in Okinawa.

There are many mysteries I do not think we will ever be fully privy to.
Do I feel that the form of Karate we have received is authentic? Sure,  but it's spirit has been swapped out and guarded against further transgression.

Below is a link to an interesting read,  one among many.
I hope you find it informative.

http://www.uchinanchu.org/uchinanchu/history_of_uchinanchu.htm

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.