The Karate BLOG:
January 2020 Goings-on
Newsletters have gone out to all members now, but just in case you haven't heard:
This month we return to the regular timetable on January 2nd. Please see the Newsletter and the website timetable.
and remember that your normal, regular training is the most important thing at this time of year.
Can we please remind those training or visiting Newton Abbot dojo that the Resident Permit Holders Parking Bays opposite the dojo are out of bounds. Even stopping there to drop off students causes our neigbours a problem. Simply allow enough time to park up legally. Thank you.
February's Newsletter will be out at the beginning of February.
See You in the Dojo.
You can't stop it. There have always been and always will be bullies. Schools will tell you that they have a zero-tolerance policy to bullying, and sometimes this can create an environment where it is kept hidden, and sometimes it creates an environment where even jokey comments bring a harsh reaction from a school scared of not being seen to handle bullying properly.
All children are entitled to live a life free of bullying. So how do we get there punishment and criticism from teachers and adults is not allowed in many places.
(Do you know, one school I taught Karate in warned me that I was not allowed to shout during class, in case it offended children? Shout? You know, make myself heard above the racket...)
We can help by making sure that children record and report all instances of bullying. We can ask for a report from schools as to what action has been implemented from our report. We can insist on obtainind a copy of the school's anti-bullying policy (they all have one, and have to supply it when asked). We can note the reporting procedure and make sure that if the teacher we speak to doesn't seem to act on our information then we talk to their superior. They all have a superior.
We can let the children know that they are being taken seriously and that we are listening to them.
We can show students what to do with physical violence. We can make them understand that even when we use phrases like "don't go showing off with Karate" that they always have permission to block. Always.
We can tell them what to do about intimidation and verbal aggression and insults.
And we can make them less likely to be victims of bullying in the first place by being aware of their surrounding and aware of how they present themselves, as bullies are looking for someone they can bully.
The first few weeks back at school are a sorting process as people find their place in the system and their place amongst their peers. It doesn't have to be a frightening time, as long as the students are equipped properly. Mentally and physically.
See you in the dojo.
There are always those students who seek the secrets of the universe. They want to know the how and the why of everything that we do. We are happy to share the thirty-plus years of martial knowledge that we have accumulated (in fact, if you add up the experience of the instructors, you have over 50 years of experience to enjoy). And yet in some dojo the phrase "just train" is used. A lot.
It's easy to deride the clubs whose mantra is "just train". We can say that they don't know how to teach. That they don't understand the techniques enough to be able to explain them. And any one of a hundred other derisions. But they might just be right.
Physically, we need to come to understanding of a technique. We get the feeling for it by doing it, not by talking about it. We need the correction and the repetition for our muscles to be able to replicate the technique. And the same is true of kata. And kumite. And application.
For our mindset, having the conscious mind quiet while our body is allowed to perform is a good way to let the subconcious sort out any issues it may have. It's how we develop that Peaceful Mind. One of the great dichotomies of the martial arts is that by practising something violent we create a way of being peaceful.
Quiet, because we need it to focus the mind, the body, the spirit.
Just training, because that is what we do in the dojo.
Focus, people translate it as. Some describe that momentary tension at the end of a technique. Most of the time they mean the moment that a technique stops.
We bring our techniques to a halt in order to work safely with a partner, stopping "within the thickness of the gi" so that we touch but do not injure our training partners.
We stop our techniques in thin air so that we don't hurt ourselves. Training the form without contacting anything runs a risk of pranging our joints as tendons, ligaments, muscles and bones need to be kept in place and properly aligned. Without that moment of tension they would not be. Any such tension should be momentary rather than lasting, and should certainly not occur throughout the movement - only at the end. Tension slows us down, after all.
Kime means "to decide". 決め. The second character here merely tells you how to pronounce the end of the word. Japanese language can have the same kanji pronounced in various ways and this one is pronounced with "meh" at the end.
It can be very beneficial to think of the term as regarding the start of the move rather than the end. The initiation of action is kime. The "go" rather than the "stop". Having this idea can bring the whole technique as ONE immediate thing rather than consisting of parts. We still have to stop the limb from travelling to prevent injury, and now we have to get going in a sudden manner. Karate is only required in emergencies. So we train in an emergency fashion. Even slow moves start quickly. There is a moment at rest, the stimulus to go, and we have gone. There can be no time spent in the situation. It must happen in a decisive way.
"Karate Makes You More Confident" we cry. "Karate gives you Self Defence Skills" we cheer. And you come along and you train and you sweat and bit by bit you do develop confidence. It doesn't start that way. It is something that only comes along after you have listened, strived, and strained to gain those skills. We build our muscles, tone our bodies, get recognised for our achievements. We begin to feel like we Belong. We struggle to learn kata, then once we understand the form we become befuddled by the wealth of applications that appear. We start to recognise the characters in the dojo. We see the Taskmaster. We see the Injury Waiting to Happen. We see the Drama Queen and the Soft Natured Wide Eye. They develop as they will, and our journey takes us on to where-ever it is that we are heading. And it might well change along the way.
It usually happens to teenagers, the hidden danger. The chances are they joined the dojo quite young and they were around for a long time. They might have gotten to Black Belt or they might not have made it that far. The dojo knows them, and they have great energy, and they get a lot of respect because we oldies marvel at what they can get their bodies to do which we struggle with. They are in learning mode due to still being at school and they seem to get things easily. They may plateau at different times, have had battles with their confidence that they have pushed through, and they appear to have it all. They are not always teenagers, but a lot of them are.
Who are these people and what are the dangers I'm talking about?
The ones who leave.
They reach a point where they "get it", or they think they do. They know what training this week will consist of. They've been here so often that in the week following a grading they know they will have to model the guys who just go their new belt's new syllabus for them. And then after so much of that they get tired of it. They start to get interested in other things. They start to miss sessions as it is, after-all, "just this once". And those times multiply and although they were going to "make up the missed lessons" they end up slipping. Maybe they take a bump from someone they could previously have handled with ease. Maybe they just decide that they are not getting as much from class as they once did. The heart of the matter is that they got lazy. I did it myself. And they leave.
And then what? They walk the world with their hard-earned grade and their hard-won ability. But their ability is diminishing. What was expected respect in the dojo can look like arrogance to the rest of the world. And sooner-or-later they get called on it. Bang. They thought they were invulnerable and they really weren't. Their mouth writing cheques that their body couldn't cash.
And we gave them that confidence.
And now it's a danger for them.
So, along with all the super-human powers that training in Karate gives us, we also have a duty to remain realistic about our own abilities. We need to recognise that maintenance of our ability is just as valid a reason for being in the dojo as our vaunted Position. We need to spend a little time being scared just so that we stay humble. It's a hidden danger in the dojo environment, and I've seen it too often when that kid who "used to do Karate" ends up in a bad place, mentally, physically, or spiritually, because they stopped getting their dose of reinforcement each week. You've got to be there (in the dojo) to get the benefit. And, as Funakoshi sensei wrote, a still pond becomes stagnant. We need fresh input, regularly, to remain a flowing (growing) river (martial artist). And when you get tired of it, simply re-evaluate why that might be. It's not time for a different thrill, it's time to find the joy in the thrill you already have.
Are you unhappy? What for? If you have the facility to read this then you probably have your own access to the internet. You probably have a roof over your head tonight. You probably had food today. You probably live in a country where you are not going to be persecuted for enjoying the martial arts. You've got a lot going for you.
Now you might have stress in your life. You might have illness. You might have loved ones who have a serious condition. You might be battling some personal demons. But if the source of your unhappiness is because you got corrected in class then that's dumb. No, really, it is. You went to class in order to get better at your chosen martial art and you are glum because the instructor did what you are paying them to do? Really?
There are only 2 things that can happen here. You either accept that the teacher is right or you don't. If they are right (in your eyes) then you either do something about it or you don't. If they are wrong in your eyes then you either do something about it or you don't.
This somewhat oversimplified view of the world can be very helpful. That gnarled up feeling that you have inside simply cannot contend with binary decision making. Oh, you feel bad because the instructor said something to you. Did you deserve it? Yes: no point feeling sad about it then. No: they're wrong so there's no point feeling sad about it. Why would you let it get to you unless you thought there was an element of truth in what they were saying? They said it in a nasty way. Was it true or not?
But you so wanted to impress the instructor. You so wanted to do the thing you've been studying right. You so wanted to show you'd made progress and that you were worthy of your place on the path.
Good news. You did. You did make progress, it is better, you are a human being and you deserve your place on the path. That's also true for the beginner who just walked in. That doesn't make you immune to criticism. It doesn't mean you are prefect.
In fact, in some cultures, it is considered that you are favoured if you are corrected by your teacher. After all, if he didn't care about your progress he wouldn't bother.
But don't do it for your teacher. Don't strive, sweat, bleed, and succeed for your teacher. They are human too. And if you study Karate and your teacher is a Sensei then that just means they started out on the path before you. It doesn't make them omnipotent. It doesn't mean that they can't make mistakes, and, yes, they are capable of having a bad day and letting their own stresses get the better of them as much as you are. They are not perfect. Neither are you. You can't do your techniques perfectly. Neither can they.
So; are you able to forgive?
Can you forgive them for being human? Can you forgive yourself for feeling like that when you receive criticism? Can you Get Over It? Because one of the signs that you have made progress is waiting right there.
We sometimes use a particular kind of warm-up with a set of exercises that really pushes the participants. You know the kind of exercises, they are not particularly hard to do: press-ups, sit-ups and the like. The point about the drill is that it is a short burst of furious activity - you have 20 seconds to do as many repetitions as you possibly can; then 10 seconds rest before the next exercise until you have completed the circuit. One minute rest and then you do it all again. Everyone who pushes themselves to work hard ends up truly tired at the end of the circuits, doing 4 circuits takes about 12 minutes.
Sometimes you will hear our fit and active members saying things like "I'm not as fit as I thought I was" or "I can't believe how those simple exercises really tired me out". Of course, they may have missed the point.
If you are working really, really hard at something then you are going to be tired. If you could previously do 10 press-ups in 20 seconds and now you can do 20 press-ups in 20 seconds then you have definitely made an improvement - and you will still be really tired. It is never-ending.
Now, before it starts to sound as though all we ever do is press-ups and sit-ups, let's make sure that we understand that this soap-box is all about Karate. The other stuff there was just an example, and it isn't like we do that all the time.
In class, we might be working on "white-belt basics". And you might be a Black Belt. And you should still be exhausted at the end of it.
You should, because you should put everything into it. You should be doing your best at whatever the exercise du jour is. Not just being better than the person next to you (although that can be useful). Not being "good enough to pass a grading". The best that you can be.
Now, truthfully, only you know if you've worked really hard.
Sensei can see you sweating. Sensei might have a metric to measure your progress against as to what you are usually capable of. But we have good days and bad days, and we can work really hard on all of them. Some might not measure up against others, and so we really should not think of ourselves in that way. Instead, we've just got "Is that the best I can do"? as our metric.
Only you know the answer to that one.
Do you know, it doesn't even have to be a sweaty session. You might be working on more "internal" skills or softening of the form, or some intellectual work... Only you will know if you are working at your best on any given occasion.
Of course, the balance to this equation is having an honesty - or integrity - that means you don't kid youself that you are worknig at your best when you really aren't. Don't lie to the instructor, and don't lie to yourself, because if you make that into a habit it can lead to some very dark outcomes. There's nothing to gain from it. You can't spend your whole life beating yourself up because you didn't get your side-kick perfect; but you can't kid yourself that it was good-enough either. Like all parts of the martial arts there must be balance. Striving and Acceptance.
A friend, mentor, and instructor of mine had real problems finding a dojo to train in. Nearly 20 years ago he was ranked as a Sandan, and when he turned up and asked very nicely if he could train, lots of places wanted him to teach instead. He was more than happy to get in line and just get stuck in, but the teachers in these other dojo - often ranked shodan or nidan themselves - would ask him tot teach instead. Luckily, he came across the dojo of another friend, mentor, and instructor of mine (who introduced us, incidentally) who was presented with the same question and responded with "Sure, get on the end of the line"...
If you are a senior who wishes to train then you come in to train, don't you? If you wish to teach then you teach. If you are in the class of another teacher, no matter what their rank, then they are the teacher. Disagree with them or agree with them it doesn't matter. There are things you can talk about over a pint after class or a quiet chat to the side, but you don't get to hijack their class to make your point. Your point wasn't their point. Their point was what they were teaching, and if you never give them the chance to get to the end of their point because you disagree with it then you will never know whether they had information that could have changed your view.
Having a strong personality or a higher rank cannot excuse bad manners.
I know you agree with me :-)
Are You Ready?
Don't look at me like that. It isn't that big a deal is it? All I said was that you should know what it is you are meant to be doing in your kyu grading.
OK, if you are brand new in your grade you could be forgiven for not knowing what you've got to know. But don't you want to find out? Don't you want to know what your basic combinations are, now that you have a new grade? Don't you want to know what your new kata is? Don't you want to know if there are changes to your kumite or if you are just expected to be better at it?
Don't you want to establish a game plan for learning this stuff in good time so that you can be ready for the next belt?
"No, sensei, I am just here for the training and I care nothing for grades" some will say.
You can drift through class with no expectations or demands and no dreams, goals, or... sense of fulfilment. If you are not aiming then you cannot achieve. If you have no destination in mind then you cannot get there. Life may be about the Journey, but it is also about a sense of purpose. You can always add another layer and seek to go further if you arrive at your short-term goals. You can always set yourself a distant goal that will take the rest of your life to achieve. Different horses for different courses.
The idea of "living in the Now" and appreciating what you already have; taking joy from the present must not let you become stale. It must not turn into some zen fantasy that robs you of direction.
Yes, we must stop and smell the roses. Yes, there is a season for everything and for everything a season. There may even be an Ultimate Plan. But what if that Plan is for you to make the best of what you can? You sit there waiting for gifts from above while they are sitting around you waiting to be claimed.
Ask and ye shall receive? Ask for the persistence to see things through. Ask for the dedication and the strength of will to fix those things that are not what they should be.
As Funakoshi sensei wrote: "Karate is like a pot of water, without the addition of heat it goes cold." Or something like that. And so with life.
So what about that syllabus that you are supposed to know?
Where can you find out about it? Who can tell you these things? Sempai? Sensei? Websites? Books? DVDs? The active pursuit of knowedge, and skill is more real and more vital (from the Latin for "life") than waiting for Sensei to hand it to you. To be in charge of your destiny, or just to learn Self Control you have to become responsible. Many people these days think they have a Right to things. I'm not sure that many take their Responsibilities equally seriously. You have a right to respect, then we must take our responsibility to respect very seriously.
Ideal grading? Examiner sits down with a nice cup of tea and says "Do your grading" and you go through your basics, your kata, your sparring etc with full etiquette and no other instruction. You need a partner for some parts, you ask someone to join you. You need some space, you wait until there is some or you find suitable space for demonstration. No other instruction need be necessary. As long as you know what you are doing. If you don't know what you are doing you probably shouldn't be grading....
Getting Ready for Black Belt
The class had turned up and sweated. They tried really hard and took the corrections of their faults on the chin. Our visiting instructor and examiner had made recommendations and suggestions. ...and he had told some of them they should attempt the Shodan examination.
The students had gotten the nod from the Big Boss. They had heard from the examiner who was going to be handing out the Black Belts that they were in the running.
Unfortunately, they thought that it guaranteed them a pass. Epic Fail.
Being told that you should take the test means that it is time to up-the-ante. Not slow down. It means that with some work you stand a chance. With work. Chance. Not guaranteed success. It means getting down to the dojo and fighting for your right to wear that belt.
In our dojo there are standards to uphold. We go by who is ready to take the test not a set of numbers. That said, you are looking at training at least 60 days out of the 6 months on the run up to the grading. 2 lessons in one night = 1 very long lesson, not "58 to go".
You need to be in training to get the go-ahead for the test. Then you have to perform on the test. No training = no permission to take the test. How can we say you are ready if we haven't seen you? How can we vouch for your ability? The grade is earned in class.
Now, sometimes life gets in the way. Shifts. Family duties. And sometimes you just don't want to put yourself through it enough to wear the colour. You like the idea but the actual work of it seems like too much effort. Fair enough. We'll see you when you can get to class and we'll enjoy your company... but don't you dare ask when you're grading. Don't you dare to pass judgement on the battles that fellow students are going through when they put themselves through the ringer in order to earn that piece of cotton.
Each person is different. For some, the time is now; action, drive, determination, learning, humility - they bring it every lesson. For others it will be one day. Or maybe not. It doesn't matter in the great scheme of things. The only person affected by gaining a Black Belt is the person who ties it on. The examiner knows what it is worth. The teacher and the club may well feel pride, but the individual earns it.
The Black Belt - shodan -marks the first degree. It is a sign of competence rather than mastery. It means you know your stuff, and you can do it.