Friday, September 25, 2015

First Nature.

What is Kata? What is a Technique? When all is said and done, what is the value of a 'Style' to begin with and why learn it?
There was a great book I read a few years ago called 'Five Years, One Kata' by a Karateka named Bill Burgar who had taken the Kata Gojushiho and ripped it apart for five years, coming to an understanding so deep that it would literally take him weeks to go through even one portion of the Kata.
By the end of the book he had reached an insight that it would be far better to study one's self and create their own Kata based on their findings than to study someone else's Kata because it, ultimately, made no sense to do so... Especially if a Student's goal is to apply what they have learned and apply it right away.

There is another great book I am reading right now written by a man named Richard Moore and it is basically about empowering the individual to utilize their FIRST nature because it is always much faster and more effective than what they have programmed into their SECOND nature.
It is an interesting concept, it does go a long way to put down repetitious training and the like basically stating that everything you have now is everything you need, you just need to pay attention and trust it, but how does one come to trust it if not through repetitious trainin (exposure)?

I agree wholeheartedly with both authors...

The Human Body can only move in so many ways and what does Kata amount to but the stringing together of the same basic movements in different patterns?
The Author, Richard Moore, says it best when he says, and I am paraphrasing, it is better to see what happens with what you have in different situations than to learn hundreds of different techniques to deal with hundreds of different situations.
This is true when you watch various fight videos that show people using some of the most basic things to put down an attacker on the street, or snapping back from a position after being taken by surprise, but again, with some of the simplest of things in order to put down the attacker... Situations vary, but the goal remains the same and so do the basic movements, just varied depending on things like distance, position, and circumstance.

With Kata being basically the same thing wrapped up in different ways, what is the thing that has been wrapped up?
The original findings of the original practitioner pointing to something they came to understand that was important enough for them to pass on... These things do have value, but only insofar as they can teach something.
If one becomes stuck on these things to the point of reverence then what is it they can actually teach? Have they not died at the point they can no longer lead to personal growth and point toward the deeper levels of the practitioner him or her self??

If they are utilized properly then they are powerful in that they provide deep lessons, but point beyond themselves at the same time... Pointing to the true center of your practice, which should be the path to your true, unhindered self.
What this means is that the Kata themselves are unimportant, the basics are unimportant, the techniques are unimportant, even the deeper concepts of mechanics are unimportant.
Broken down to the least common denominator, reacting with what you ALREADY HAVE is the most important thing to learn, thus you must unlearn all the other crap and get back to basics, there is nothing OUT THERE that is worth more than what is already WITHIN.

My Sensei would teach a new Kata and when you went back through it to repeat the sequences and forgot a step he would NOT help you, he would LET you work it out just to see what you came up with on the fly.
It didn't matter if it was right or wrong, what mattered was that it came from within and THAT is the true essence of Budo... Rediscovering what Richard Moore calls your First Nature and utilizing THAT as your primary way because its authenticity makes it most effective for YOU.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Jingle Bells.

Working a little bit on footwork from Seipai Kata tonight, focusing on posture, weight shifting, and transitioning with varied timing rather than stopping for emphasis on 'stance' as is the case with most performances of any Kata these days, usually for the sake of winning trophies.
At one point I realize I had the weight transition all wrong so I end up going back over that again and again, but what is the purpose of this that has me feeling as though the weight transition is wrong?? Some innate intuition that this is something trying to tell me something about the intent of the movement itself??

I end up adding the arms back in, focusing more on moving everything as a single unit, the transition goes smoothly and correctly once everything moves together and feels just right.
In my mind it is easy to visualize what I am doing, working through the entry point, then the transition, which involves parrying/sticking, seizing the head, slight choke, then drop for leverage/possible break (who says Kata never had an original intent).
Certainly there is room for variation through Oyo, but in that moment the visuals helped to guide the principles, the 'why' helped to define the 'how' without my even consciously realizing it at first, beginning with the feeling that something was 'off' without consciously knowing 'why' it felt off - without a point of reference there is no reason for it to feel right or wrong, unless there really is a right way.

That is neither here nor there, the main point is in awareness, mindfulness leading the practice without anything added which allowed for certain things to come to the surface intuitively, thus, the Kata was allowed to speak, allowed to teach of its' own accord without interference.
Who is to say this is not just me coming up with something based on principles with which I have become familiar over the last twenty five years?? That is certainly a possibility, definitely a probability, but is that not true of everyone in their quest for whatever??
Sensei used to allude to the fact that the true self could never be found unless we got out of our own way, that too much thinking was a hindrance to actual practice, thus, too much theorizing and too much 'expert thinking' lead to Karate becoming impotent.

Sure this COULD mean that and that COULD mean this, but with so many open-ended theories and vague little mental pathways where does one begin and the other end??
Wilder Sensei wrote about a 'Decision Stick' in the book 'The Way of Kata' that he wrote with Lawrence Kane Sensei and it is all about making things as simple as possible so as not to become stuck during a situation that calls for quick decision making.
Shihan Roseberry ALWAYS says 'Keep it simple,' and follows it by adding 'Keep it practical,' basically saying the two go hand-in-hand and MORE THAN IMPLYING that our own brains are our worst enemies when it comes to Budo.

As I focused everything was present, principles of Muchimi, Gamaku, Chinkuchi, Atifa, all fell into place and, you know what? The fancy names and running through various aspects of each principle had little to nothing to do with the actualization of the principles themselves.
'Something feeling off' was much deeper than that, yet much more primitive, something that words cannot really do justice, but those same words, those same aspects of each principles are the root, the very tool of teaching that point the way, but must be discarded if they are to be understood and actualized.
The first time I had met Shihan Roseberry was at the old Bremerton Dojo on Callow Street, I was a 7th Kyu or 6th Kyu, doesn't matter, I was a kid that barely knew how to stand up straight, anyways, he once said it was possible to do a perfect Kata if you simple hummed the tune 'Jingle-Bells' throughout the performance.

I am not going to add anything to that odd little trick, just let that hang in the air and fester.... Jingle Bells.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Expect the Unexpected.

Something interesting I came across recently was an E-Book entitled 'Outlaw Karate' by some guy names Al Case (refers to himself as Master and even has some Youtube Videos as well as a number of Published books, including some novels).
The book caught my attention because of the title so I read it beginning to end, nothing really special contained in the pages other than a reference to some other books the guy has Published entitled 'Matrixing Karate' which is a five book series claiming to teach, perfect, and Master Karate in just a few months or less.

I would normally have brushed something like this off as complete non-sense, but something within the book 'Outlaw Karate' caught my attention.
Nothing special, certainly, but some basic information on mechanics, not even that, much less, it takes just a few short pages to explain the entirety of Kris Wilder's in-depth work on Sanchin Kata without even missing a beat it works this as the central theme of the book with the Kata presented not even mattering, one could easily replace them with Kata of their own system and go from there.

The man is one of those people trying to make a buck, and doing a very good job it seems, and the videos show a guy that looks completely out of shape, but he does give some interesting lessons in paying attention to similarities between techniques in regards to what I have come to know as 'Pathways of Motion.'
Teaching along these lines, I have always felt, gets people much more quickly to the point without wasting time on all the other stuff.
Do I feel this guy is legit? No. He probably just picked up a few things here and there and had enough sense to utilize what he picked up, but it does go to show that there is something to learn from everything if you pay close enough attention.

Sensei used to go on about the notion that words and concepts often got in the way of Practice because people constantly became hung up on certain things and completely missed the point.
What one sees as a fraud may have a deeper understanding than what one accepts as legitimate and, as a result of their preconceived notions, they miss out on something that just might yield deeper insight and produce exactly what they need, or perhaps those that find what they need find exactly what they are looking for because they expect to find it? Maybe it works both ways.

The unexpectedness of things often snaps us back to the reality of the moment and forces us to pay close attention, to be mindful without obstruction of thought, word, or conception.
Like a proverbial Kaishaku smaking us upside the head we are jostled out of our lazy haze and back into full-on alert mode.
Sensei would often do things like this, unexpectedly telling us to 'get out' during Zazen, sitting in the Zendo, in the middle of a Zen Intensive at his home in Lacey... I simply left and went to sit Zazen in the living room until I heard the bell to signify the end of the session.
There were many instances like that, so many that they became expected and, thus, he did what was unexpected at that moment and simply sat quietly, changing everything up again.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Deconstructing the Impossible.

When we were children we used to believe anything was possible, but as we grow older we start to believe more along the lines of 'within reason' which is really another way of saying 'that is beyond me so there isn't even really a point in trying.'
Training, in my life, takes place every day, there is no 'try' about it, it happens, if this frame of mind were to be applied to training would anyone ever really get beyond where they are now? Would they be better than they were yesterday or even the day before that?

Others also like to say the words 'can't' or 'never' or 'impossible' yet fail to realize that with each breath they utter these words, with full conviction, they become reality.
Whatever you put your heart, mind, and spirit into is what you become, what you actualize for yourself in each moment you put yourself into that thing... So 'anything is possible' is the direct gateway to 'within reason' or 'impossible' and there lay the paradox.

Sensei was always fond of pointing these things out without pointing them out, unless he did not actually know he was pointing them out, but just pointing to something deeper each time.
I remember the first board I broke in the Dojo... We were practicing for a demonstration we were going to give at an Elementary School for kids that were right around the same age I was.
The first board did nothing but leave a nasty sting in my hand as I attempted the first hammerfist with as loud a Kiai as I could muster, not knowing a thing about Kiai at the time, it really was nothing more than a loud shout, useless for much else but noise.

Noel Mendoza, my senior at the time, came up to me after I broke the board and was convinced that I had 'scared it' because he swore it 'broke before I even touched it.'
Mind you these were actual boards and not rebreakable boards and it was likely a trick of his eyes because I definitely felt the thing, although it was a different feel than the first time, not as painful.

What was different? The first one I simply TRIED to break the board, I did not break the board, nor did I believe I could break the board, but breaking the board was a possibility, within reason, right? After the first attempt I doubted whether or not it was even possible.
'Think through the board' was sound advice received on the first go, but advice that did not really sink in until I managed to step up for the second go on the same board.
Now it is easy to sit in seiza with a board propped between two bricks, barely lift my flat unclenched hand by maybe an inch and simply drop it through the board, what makes it possible? Anything is possible and the board is already broken.

Is there some sort of mystical thing happening? Is there a metaphysical link between the physical world and my focus? That leads us back to 'within reason' and towards 'impossible' if we try to explain it, apply theories to it, or otherwise quantify it rather than just do it.
Perhaps there are some who need that sort of thing, but it is a double-edged sword, work it into too much theorizing and you end up creating your own limitations, unfortunately said limitations become so hard to break once they are ingrained.

This is the type of focus that should be in each and every motion, each and every breath, each and every second of every single day.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Courtesy and Manners.

It had been a number of years since the last time my feet had stood on that floor, no windows, the place had always felt kindof dingy and there had always been an uptight, tense atmosphere.
The Head Instructor, though a man of small stature, had a commanding presence, in fact, a demanding presence extending outward would be a more accurate description and it was obvious that he liked to be reminded of his position, both directly and indirectly.
 Perhaps this was deserved, perhaps it was not, but my place was to train, so I started running through my Kata as I joined everyone else on the floor.

I went through all three Gekesai and on to Kakuha, then started to work on Saifa as one of the Yudansha walked towards me, "Sensei asks that you only practice Goju Ryu Kata in this Dojo."
Fair enough, so I widdled it down to the original twelve and began practicing as the Head Instructor watched from a corner, then came over with the Black Belt from the previous encounter in tow.
I cannot remember the Black Belt's name, but the Head Instructor had me go with him and work on their two beginner Kata, Fukyu 1 and 2, pretty intense stuff, over and over, drilling it like a Military Drill Instructor, faster, stronger, harder!
The body would move from the feet, up through the hips, and swing/whip at the top... Nothing much more to it than that, at least not at first.

For days it went like this, at one point my foot was injured, but I kept it up with the Head Instructor making jokes a few times and even calling me up in front of class at another point to give a speech about 'family' and presenting me with a Patch to put on my Gi.
Honestly, the atmosphere was more like a cult than anything else, and it was all designed around one person's fondness of their position, both directly and indirectly, of the authority it yielded such a person, maybe earned, maybe not.
It was not my first encounter with this sort of spirit, nor would it be the last.

The final decision to leave that place and never return was made as I was taken into a back dressing room where one of the Head Instructor's Senior Students presented a print out of some conversations I had had with another Student in a Forum on the Internet.
I cannot remember the details of that conversation, but it was not really that bad, I believe it consisted of some questions that Student had that I had answered, in either case there were some things brought up that struck a nerve because that Student was 'excommunicated' from that Dojo.
I was presented with a choice because at the time I had decided to Teach and I had my Teacher's permission to do so, but this person maintained that they, alone, were the authority in the area and in order to Teach I would need THEIR blessing.

After some long thought, and some observations concerning the Senior and Junior Students at that Dojo I had decided to leave and pick up back on my own.
We all have a gut for a reason and my own gut had been telling me to get out from day one, based on the feel of the place, the tension in the air, the way the Seniors behaved towards the Juniors, even the mechanics of the movements seemed off and often promoted injury... One person had a bad shoulder, two bad knees, a hip that popped, heck, my first week on that floor and I had a foot injury just from doing Kata and was expected to keep going, to keep running.
There are some awesome qualities to this sort of training when done properly, but some really nasty after effects when done improperly, and improper training only implies one thing... Carelessness for the right way to do something on the part of the guy at the top.

A lot was learned each day and the gentleman was definitely a wealth of knowledge, but definitely regarding his own way of doing things as he did not much care for other source material that spoke of other ways, of deeper mechanics, ect.
In the end all one really needs to do, before they set foot on any training floor, is to look at the behavior of the Students and the Teacher, is there mutual respect or is there some sort of militaristic worship of the guy at the front of the class while the guy at the front is cruel to everyone else?
What about after the fact? Is the Teacher a heavy drinker promoting a very bad example that the Students pick up on and, sometimes, even enable??
Is the Teacher in good health, or bad health?

In the end there are certain things that are more important that a Teacher's reputation.