Saturday, 1 August 2015

Knowing what's what..!

With the kongoken - Higaonna dojo, Tokyo 1986
Even among so-called 'authentic' karateka, there's an awful lot of competition going on. Magazines, the Internet, and Social media, are full of karate instructors who say they don't teach sport, and yet they are heavily involved in competing against each other....through advertising and some very 'imaginative' biographies.

I particularly like those 'moody', back-lit, portraits they put on their web pages; and the endless list of the 'arts' they have studied and the 'masters' they once studied under. They never say for how long though, or if their 'master' ever thought well of them. I've yet to come across a 'master' who lists his ex-students in quite the same way so many ex-students do.

The rush to own what's 'right' and claim the authority to declare what's 'wrong' is rife among many so-called 'traditional' or 'authentic' karateka. It happens when karate is mistaken for a bunch of physical techniques; under such a misapprehension, it's easy to 'know' what's right and what's wrong. Keeping up with the fashion of the day is a common way to be right...or at least, avoid being wrong.

But, in all that knowing what's what, correct principles are often forgotten altogether!

Thursday, 30 July 2015

Not a word was said....

One of a number of chiishi at the Shinseidokan - weighs 23kg
Just when I thought Spring had sprung, Mother Nature said..."Yeah, right!" and sent an Antarctic blast my way; the wind this morning could bring a tear to a glass eye! So...I've got the door and the windows closed in the dojo, the wind is howling outside but inside it's peaceful; only the sound of the clock ticking on the wall, and the gentle lament of  Ryukyuan music playing very quietly in the changing room is breaking the silence.

An old photo of what I was up to
The clock ticks, and the beads of sweat begin to drop on the floor; infrequently at first, but then they come more often....where's that towel?  I've just remembered how cool the dojo was this morning; I'm reminded by the steam on the glass door that has rendered the otherwise clear glass opaque. It wasn't cold enough to see steam rising from my skin, but that happens too sometimes.

Throughout my training I didn't say a word, and neither did my training partner....

Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Here's a choice for you..!

After kobudo training with Akamine sensei - Nov 2013
I was asked this week (yet again!) why I don't have a Facebook page or twitter account? I'm not sure my answer was sufficient though, as the person asking me looked perplexed when I said I had no need for such things in my life.

That evening, while researching something else entirely, I came across a great quote that captured what I was trying to say; I've paraphrased here.....

"I would rather be disliked for who I am, than 'liked' for who I am not." 

Seems to me, there are a lot of people out there in Facebook-land kidding themselves about how well liked they are!

Monday, 27 July 2015

One lifetime..One life!

With Chojiro Tani sensei back in 1980, founder of the Shukokai
I've been having an interesting conversation with a Shinseidokan student this week....about karate being karate; the point being that karate is all the same (regardless of ryu-ha) as long as you're a certain kind of person: a good person....but it's not!

Let me qualify that last bit.

You can be a really nice person and still be a poor karateka, the opposite is also true. You can have the very best of intentions and still miss the point, the opposite is also true. You can have an encyclopedic mind for karate and still understand very little about it, the opposite is also true.

No wonder it takes a lifetime to grasp even an inkling of this stuff......

Friday, 24 July 2015

Heads up....!

After the morning training - Higaonna dojo, Makishi, Okinawa, 1984
I've been working on a new edition of my first book, Roaring Silence; and after almost a year of writing, editing, and a whole lot of other things that have to happen to bring a book to print, things are on track for publication by YMAA Publishing in April 2016.

I know many of you will have read an earlier edition and will therefor be familiar with the book's content, nevertheless, the new edition is almost twice as long. The story of my early life, my introduction to karate, and the decade that followed, has been told in much more detail, allowing the reader far greater accesses to the events unfolding before me as I struggled to grow up, wake up, and stop making excuses.

Here's a very small part of what I have to say:
"I came to understand that there is no decision made without consequence, no choice without responsibility, no privilege without obligation, and no change for the better without torment."

Sound familiar..?

Thursday, 23 July 2015

About the Previous Post......

My  kobudo teacher, Hiroshi Akamine sensei

I'm amazed by the response to yesterday's post...but here's the thing about lessons in relation to learning.....

"Explaining the lesson always results in the 'lesson' being lost!"

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

A Lesson Learnt...or not?

Richard Barrett sensei -  teacher by example
That so many people give so little thought to becoming a teacher of karate, is perhaps indicative of the low state of karate in the world. Let's face it, anybody who fancies the idea can set themselves up as a teacher of karate; and for all the "Karate Associations" that have existed, and continue to do so, in a vain attempt to instill a sense of  "quality control" in to karate.....the decline in standards (both moral and physical) has plummeted under their watch.

The sooner the karate world remembers that their art is best passed on by individuals, to small numbers, in private....the sooner the activity of karate can return to it's rightful place; that of a personal (private) challenge that each individual karateka undertakes in order to improve the quality of their life. Not a great 'business' model I'll grant you that; but a proven method of improving the way in which karate as a whole is preserved and protected, and we as individuals can move smoothly through life.

As I write this I'm a little unsure exactly who I'm writing to?  Readers who connect with my opinions either hold a similar view (in general) to me...or at least believe they do. The hoards of sport and business people who take from karate vastly more than they have ever contributed, well...they no doubt take some comfort in the fact I'm still a karate-loser, with few 'students' and making less money from karate then them. Their constant clambering for fame and fortune has left them unknown to most, and yet they seem unable to learn that particular lesson also.

Karate training, at least as I understand it, is an act of preparation. A method of  making way for improvement to happen. That's not something you can do when you're busy acquiring peripheral trinkets, the acquisition of which are now mistaken for karate's real purpose. Pause for a moment and give yourself a lesson...ask yourself if karate would do just fine without you; take note of your initial reply, ponder it, then ask yourself why you're continuing to do what you do.

A lesson learnt, or not..........

Monday, 20 July 2015

Just like a kata that I used to know....

Ippon kumite training with Hirokazu Kanazawa sensei, 
I have to smile to myself when I read the opinions of folk who "know for sure" how a kata should be done. Not only that, they also seem to "know for sure" what Chojun Miyagi sensei was thinking with regards to the application. They know too, for sure, why their "opinion" is right, and why everyone else who differs from them appear too dim-witted to take note of their errors.

Having reached the age of sixty I'm embarking on a number of new "adventures" in life, one of which is learning to play the banjo. I know nothing about the instrument except that I've always liked the sound of it. However, one thing has become clear already...remembering the cords alone isn't going to be enough; if I'm ever going to make music I'm going to have to develop a "feeling" for what I'm doing: at some point, the banjo and I are going to have to become one.

There are many different ways to play an instrument, just as there are many different ways to bring karate to life; knowing "for sure" how something is done tends to limit what people can actually do. When you and karate, or an instrument, blend together to become one and the same...something special is possible. Can many individuals make something special from the same thing? Of course they can, just click on the link and see for you self.

Many musicians, one instrument,.......a single piece of magic! 

Sunday, 19 July 2015

Bad Attitude...where does it lead to?

Entrance to the old Shinseidokan dojo
I heard an interesting, but sadly all too familiar story recently, it was about "bad attitude", but more than that, it was about bad attitude coming from someone who thinks (no, believes!) them self to be an authentic budoka, and the leader of others. The 'sad' bit, for me at least, is not the guy's attitude, or that of his prattish son and heir...for people like this are common enough these days; no, for me, the sadness comes from the number of times I've heard stories similar to this one.

The Story....
A guy with money and a desire to "be someone", is introduced to a teacher of budo; all the right noises are made and actions taken to convince the teacher that he would be a good student. The teacher begins to teach, the student begins to learn....time passes.

The guy, and his son, begin to see a way to carry on without their teacher, to circumnavigate his lessons and connect directly with Japan; the only problem is, they are yet to be graded. The training has been going on for some years, and still, their teacher has not graded them....they don't like that!

An overseas gasshuku has been arranged, and the teacher is attending....the guy and his son want to go too. At the gasshuku, the teacher's senior asks if his students are ready to take a promotion test..."Not yet!" comes the reply....the guy and his son are furious..."WE DIDN'T COME ALL THIS WAY AND SPEND ALL THIS MONEY FOR NOTHING...WE EXPECT TO GET SOMETHING OUT OF THIS!"
With the gasshuku over, everyone returns home. The teacher stops teaching.......

Now you might think that's where the story ends, oh no! Here's the sad bit....the guy and his son simply move on to another group that are happy to accommodate their desire for rank and title, time passes (but not much), they attain their rank and status, and the guy and his son continue on their misguided way......

Saturday, 18 July 2015

I'm home...and my feet are frozen!!!

Stuart and Andy working on sabaki
It wasn't easy leaving Western Australia at the beginning of last week, even in mid-winter it was only cool...not cold! Not that the local Shinseidokan students saw it that way; Andy, who had flown down from Broom in the far north of the state, and Stuart and Damian (both residents of Perth) all commented (many times) how "chilly" it was. My thinking was in the manner of the ex-Governor of California...."Don't be such a girly-man!"

My visit to the West Coast after an absence of 18 years was memorable on a number of levels, our karate practice being just a small part. The city has grown, from a population of around one million when I left, to around three million today. Still, in spite of the many new buildings, highways, rail system, and increased was all very familiar: and I found myself thinking...."I could live here again!"

With my dear friends, Anna & Derek, outside my hotel
Catching up with old friends was high on my list of things to do, and to that end I spent time with Derek and Anna Woodhouse, budoka and (in Anna's case), globe-trotting triathlete. As Jodo students of the late Don Dreager sensei, these days Derek practises Jodo privately with his single student, while Anna's main focus has been on developing herself as a triathlete. Being in their company again was a joy!

Great to see the de Jong dojo still open
During the ten years I lived in Perth, my magazine work brought me into contact with a great many martial artists...some good, some great, and many who were neither! In all that time I only ever met one person who I felt had mastered his art, and to a great extent, the art of living, that man was the late Jan de Jong sensei....a jujutsuka of rare ability and insight. Since his passing, his son, daughter, and a small number of senior students, continue to pass on the lessons learnt in the dojo of their sensei.

The famous Hay Street dojo had moved, giving way to a building boom that erupted in Perth on the back of China's insatiable appetite for West Australian Iron Ore. The new dojo is in the heart of the city's corporate world, and caters for regular students as well as office workers who find time to practise before heading home to the suburbs. I spent a very pleasant few hours visiting the dojo and chatting with Margaret, de Jong sensei widow.

Andy, me, Damian and Stuart
Looking at this image I smiled at the years of karate experience it captured, Andy, has over 30 years training behind him, Damian began training with me on his seventh birthday, he's 27 now; and Stuart (Damian's father) has been a student of the Shinseidokan for close to 25 years. Stuart was promoted to shodan in Okinawa by my sensei, Eiichi Miyazato, and together with Andy, joined me on the island in November 2013.

My visit to Perth brought to mind the notion that the Shinseidokan dojo is not, as some other groups would have it, a 'family'. Rather, we are a community of karateka who make time for practise...but more importantly....for each other!