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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Muscle Memory

One of the hardest things about being a karate instructor is finding the right balance in tone. You want to impress upon your students – especially the younger students – that what they do in the dojo is serious and needs to be done to the best of their ability while still making it fun. The real world is a dangerous place but we don’t want to create a generation of children who become overly paranoid adults. As an instructor, I want to know my kiddos are safe. That they can defend themselves.

So sometimes I have to be tricky. Creating drills that reinforce techniques students can use to defend themselves, while giving them enough repetitions to allow for muscle memory to take over in a moment of crisis. Last night I stumbled across an easy repetition that had the kiddos grinning ear-to-ear while they did about thirty reps of a move in just about as many seconds. It was quick. It was fun. And they learned something.

That moment was why I teach. It perfectly counterbalanced the news I’d read early in the day. Stories filling me with dread and concern. There have been four attempted abductions locally. Any one could have been my student. That fact gnawed at my soul. Last night, watching their faces glow as they did the move made me happy. It let me know I’m doing the right thing and even the hard days are worth it.

If I help make just one person safe, it’s all worth it.

Adapting to Change

We’ve all heard the saying, “The only constant is change”. I think that rings especially true for the martial artist. We’re trained to be observant, to watch what’s going on around us and to adapt to the situation. One minute we’re friendly and nice the the next we’re a raging bear protecting our cubs. Martial artists are ready to spring into action, to defend themselves and others, changing personalities and attitudes quicker than the David Banner turned into the Hulk.

Is this the only time a karate person can use this skill? Nope. Absolutely not. It doesn’t have to be a moment of danger for this to be a valuable skill set. Most martial artists I know also work a day job. Being able to read the situations going on around you and making adjustments to your reactions is invaluable. I’ve worked in the corporate world. Its fast. Its intense. And it is ever changing. Being able to think on your feet, to change a presentation and read the people in the room helped me to not only do a good job but to get ahead.

Think about that when you’re wondering why you should put your child in karate, or if you should train. The skills you learn in the dojo translate to the real world in a big way. Being a martial artist helps to instill and foster confidence and a unique mindset. You’re ready for whatever the world tosses your way.

Karate. It is more than a sport. Its a way of life.

It’s all in the hips

I’m always explaining to my students that their hip action is the key to their karate. Most of the time I get blank stares back. But not always. At some point, a lightbulb goes on and the student begins to understand. I love those moments. They are why I teach. That and I get to do karate every single day. It doesn’t get better than that.

But, getting back to the hips. Instructors spend a lot of time telling students to work on their core. It’s important for their strength. What ties the core together, though? The hips. They are the center – the rotation and movement takes a strong move and makes it much more powerful.

Hip vibration when punching is always fun to watch as it begins to happen. But it has to happen organically. There’s nothing that makes me smile more than a class full of students trying to get the hip action, but it looks more like their doing the hula. The spirit is there, not the technique. Since all things spring from the spirit these moments are precious to me.

Getting them to rip their draw hand, focusing only on that will usually make the hips begin to move. That’s the first step. Students who understand punching from the hip – ahhh….those students have trained a long time and eventually begin to understand my rantings. “Relax. Use your hips. It’s the hips, guys. The hips.”

Yeah, just like everything else, karate is a slow progression. Peeling back the layers of the onion, there’s always something new to learn. And to perfect. How can you not love karate?

A Day of Rest

Halloween is always a dojo holiday. Children don’t want to train – they want to trick-or-treat. So, if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em. That’s pretty much become the halloween mantra. Let them have some fun and then work hard the next time they’re in.

As adults, aren’t we the same way? I’m not going to lie, I look forward to this night. I get to be home with my family. Not that I don’t love my dojo family – of course I do! Halloween becomes a delightful treat in the middle of a hectic time of year. Staying home, curling up and spending time with my family have long become my favorite halloween memories.

We all need a break now and then. Recharge the batteries. Relax. Regroup. When we come back to our training after a brief break we’re more enthusiastic and full of energy to tackle new katas, more advanced combinations and create innovative teaching techniques.

Enjoy your treats tonight. Spend time with family and make some memories. Then hop back into the dojo and work harder tomorrow.

Fueling the Fire

This has turned into an incredibly busy week between work, an upcoming conference and my son’s school schedule. Making time to train this week will be a challenge. Just when I was ready to throw in the towel and say it wasn’t going to happen my son came to me with a question.

“Can we stay after a few minutes so I can work on my katas? Will you help me?”

Honestly, how can I say no to that. Its my job as both his parent and an instructor to help fuel his passion for karate. Somehow, I need to rearrange things to make this happen. It’s important to him, which by default, makes it important to me. When your child can’t wait to get to the dojo the job is easy.

What happens when they don’t want to train? It’s you job to help encourage them and get them there on time. Don’t give in to their whims and laziness. Yes, I used the “L” word. Quite often, a child who doesn’t want to train is too lazy to put their gi on. We all have those days. Changing is more effort than we want to make.

Think about that for a moment. Changing is more effort than we want to make. Sometimes its not just changing our clothes that’s the problem. We don’t want to change. Period. Why do you think your child is any different than you? They have the same feelings and emotions, in a smaller, more compact package.

Get your child to the dojo. Don’t make excuses because you don’t want to do it. Lead by example. Your future adult will eventually thank you for it.

That Feeling

Tonight there’s another dan exam in the dojo. These are a special time for all of us to not only test the new candidates but to take a moment and reflect up on where we came from. Once upon a time, each of us sitting on the board was in the same position as those testing tonight.

No matter how long ago it was we remember the butterflies in our stomachs, the confidence we had to muster and the energy of the room. We will never forget which katas we had to do – in fact they became inherently ‘our’ kata. The one we formed a long term attachment to, just like the people we tested with. Each black belt can tell you who else was there on the floor with them.

I was alone. A solitary student with a board of examiners watching my every move. There were no moments when the black belts were looking at someone else. Their attention was glued on me – and only me. Testing by myself also meant no breaks while the others did their katas. It was just me. All me.

And I did not test as a young, energetic student. I’d had one of those milestone birthdays- you know the ones that end with a zero. Not to say I didn’t have energy, because I did. The passion lighting my fire to succeed burned long and bright within my core. I was determined to do this and to do the very best that I could.

I did my requisite two heian katas and my black belt kata confident that I’d done them to the best of my ability. Then my instructor asked for another heian kata. And another. He didn’t stop until I’d demonstrated them all. I remember thinking, “Hey, you’re changing the rules on me,” but I didn’t show it in my face or my body language. If that’s what he wanted, to test me on everything I knew, then I’d give him what he wanted. Instinctively, I knew it was about throwing me a curve ball to see how I’d react and to test my endurance.

I ended that test knowing I’d done my best and I can still remember the feeling of my hands trembling as I put on the black belt for the first time. My test was on an Friday night early in April. When we got home that night, snow brushed the ground. In Southern California – snow in April, in the desert. You know that old expression – “When hell freezes over”. That’s the other thing I’ll never forget about that night.

To this day it makes me chuckle. Maybe that’s what some people thought. I’d never earn my belt. By working long and hard, I proved them wrong.

I can’t wait to watch the young men testing tonight. I wonder what they’ll remember most from this experience?

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