True Karate

True karate is this: that in daily life one’s mind and body be trained and developed in a spirit of humility, and that in critical times, one be devoted utterly to the cause of justice. –Ginchin Funakoshi

I’m a Shotokan girl, through and through. Strong hard techniques that really work. I subscribed to the Shotokan thought process very early in my training – it really did become an integral part of my entire training. In particular, I am still struck by the depth of understanding Sensei Funakoshi had for what karate is. He was a unique man, and brilliant when it came to the art of self defense. And no, I don’t just say that because we share a birthday. (A fun little fact that delights me more than you know.)

His quote about what true karate is resonates with me on several levels. Too often the martial artists I see today negate the importance of humility and never even contemplate justice. Training and ranking up becomes about ego. A sure sign they’ll never achieve ultimate success.

Last night I was reading part of Plato’s Republic (yes, I am that nerd) with passages focused on justice. What is and what does it mean? Bringing these two men together into one understanding made me excited and happy as I thought about both of the writings. Justice. What is it?

According to interpretation from Plato’s Concept of Justice: An Analysis by D.R. Bhandari, “..justice is a ‘human virtue’ that makes a person self-consistent and good; socially, justice is a social consciousness that makes a society internally harmonious and good. According to Plato, justice is a sort of specialization.”

Digest this for a moment. “That makes a person self-consistent and good.” Follow that up with the idea that “justice is a social consciousness that makes a society internally harmonious and good”. Couple these thoughts with Sensei Funakoshi’s about being utterly devoted to the idea of justice and I think you’ll see a pattern. Martial arts is not about violence, as so many seem to think. It’s about something much larger and more important. Being a martial artist – a true martial artist – isn’t about the self as much as it is about what type of person – your character – and what you bring to your society. Its about self discipline. And helping to make society harmonious and good. See what happens when you take the ego out? Amazing.

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It’s all about the little things

Learning karate seems overwhelming when you begin. Body parts moving in opposite directions at the same time can be intimidating. I can remember being a white belt and watching the more advanced students thinking “I’ll never be able to do that”.  When I quit worrying about what was coming and focused on what I needed to do, it got a lot easier.

Yeah, like every other student I wanted to learn it all at once. I was chomping huge bites and trying to swallow them whole. It doesn’t work that way, as I found out. First, I learned how to keep my feet under me and make a good stance so I couldn’t be knocked over. After that, keeping my hands up became important. Now that I had a stance, I needed to worry about my foot position – was it wide enough? Mastering that meant my next concern was toe position for optimum balance.

Tiny little things that all mattered but didn’t have to be conquered all at once. Each one manageable when I took them one at a time.

Shotokan karate is tough. And I wouldn’t have it any other way. But if you follow the katas, learn each new skill in the order it’s presented it becomes much easier. Sensei Funikoshi knew what he was doing. Putting my trust in his teachings had a huge impact on me. (Hey, he and I share a birthday so I knew he had to be okay!)

You know the little things, like hip forward as you’re in back stance or ripping your draw hand when you punch – they aren’t too hard to get the hang of if you study them one at a time. But they make all the difference to your karate. I think most things in life are like that. Take it one step at a time. Master a skill and then move on to the next. You’ll be a black belt before you know.

Shadow of a Legend

Yesterday I had the distinct honor to have lunch with an eighth degree Shotokan black belt. We talked about his life, his teaching career and how he fell into the martial arts. He shared ideas and let me grill him with questions.

Days like yesterday don’t happen often. I was particularly honored since this man sat on the board of my second degree dan exam. He’s pretty much a living legend in the martial arts world. And we had lunch together discussing a project we’ll be working on together.

Yes, I got up this morning and pinched myself. And no, I’m not going to say anything more about him. You’ll have to read the book. Yes. It really is going to happen. An amazing life that will inspire you – and totally worthy of a book. Stay tuned.

Body Connection

Oh my goodness, I was in seventh heaven last night. I was in a class where the instructor focused on using the hips and body connection. It’s such an important part of the training process, but not covered often enough. The hips are the key in martial arts. Maybe some of you will disagree so if you like I’ll temper my opinion just slightly to say that In Shotokan karate how you use your hips (and if you use them) is vital to your training.

As a white belt we seldom see hip movement with punches and blocks but as the students progress and their learning increases we see it happening. By the time a student has reached an advance training stage they should not only be using their hips when punching but should understand the value that brings. Hip vibration. Oh gosh, how I love when I can teach a student to relax and  let their hips do the work. The look on their face when they see hip vibration in action is amazing.

Last night the students learned about body rotation – direct and reverse It took some longer than others to get the concept, which is to be expected. Those who understood it improved their training by incorporating those concepts. Some floundered but will get it eventually. Let’s face it, we all learn at different rates.

You can’t chop down a tree without using your hips. Nor can you knock a baseball out of the park. Body rotation. Body connection. That’s what makes me as strong as the guys. Gotta love the concepts when you see them put into action.

Persistence

Every so often I have a conversation with a parent that goes something like this. “He (or she) is giving me such a hard time about coming to train. All he wants to do is play video games.” Sometimes the parent will confess that the child doesn’t even want to change into their karate clothes. Ahhh….I know that feeling well.

I’m quick to share the fact that some days I don’t want to change either. Sometimes I just want to stay home and vegetate in front of the television or take a nap. There are days when getting my lazy butt up and into the dojo is a major undertaking. Senseis are human, just like their students. I’m always astounded when I see the look on the child’s face as I make this confession. I am just like them. Of course, I’m honest and make sure I tell them how happy I am once I change into my gi and start to teach or train.

Karate has no seasons. Not like baseball or soccer or other sports children are enrolled in. Karate is day in day out – winter, spring, summer and fall. It’s okay to take a day off once in a while. Relax and regroup. Then come back and train hard the next day. Heck, I plan on doing that tonight. One night to spend at home with my family, hanging out and doing the things that families do. The next night when I train I’ll be twice as excited to get back into the groove of kicking and punching.

Persistence. Sticking with it even when it gets hard. That’s what makes a black belt. It’s putting on your gi even when you don’t want to that makes all the difference.

Differences

Yesterday I had the pleasure of riding on a Fourth of July float in our local parade. It’s always fun to participate in community events. I loved watching the faces of the kids as we tossed candy and waved. I was doubly blessed that a local karate school was marching directly behind our float.

While a different style, I could appreciate the enthusiasm of the students as they went through their katas and practiced their combative skills. I couldn’t help but notice the differences between their knife hand blocks and ours. While our katas are similar, there were strategic differences. But what was fun about it was seeing how the differences, each brought us to the same goal. The students were focused. They were dedicated. They had passion and strength.

Sometimes I think we look at differences as one being wrong and one being right. That’s not really the case. Not in karate and not in life. I appreciated watching them and could see some instances to incorporate moves in my own self defense.

No, I’m not changing styles. Shotokan runs through my blood, and has infiltrated the very fibers of my being. But I can still appreciate the different styles, learning something from each. That’s one of the hallmarks of being a good black belt I think – always learning. I wonder what I’ll learn today…