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Learning The Process

I mentioned that I first visited Okinawa in 2002 and just returned from my second visit on Sunday. I began learning Karate about 1973 and am still learning!

But during this visit to Okinawa I realized something very important (at least to me). For all of my Karate life, I have tried to imitate people, usually my Sensei. Most recently, in 2002, I became a student of Sensei Katsuhiko Shinzato. To the best of my ability, I have tried to imitate his movements to the exclusion of all others. My mission has been to learn to move like him. Of course, I have not succeeded -- I cannot move like him -- but have made some progress.

Shinzato Sensei is a very challenging person to imitate. He does not stand still and is constantly refining his movements. He has told me that he feels uncomfortable watching any film of himself because he always feels that he could have done better, and may actually have modified his emphasis since the filming date.

I finally realized that it is virtually impossible for me to imitate Shinzato Sensei. I am always imitating how he was, not how he is. Even if I spend time with him, I will be outdated in just a few days.

My realization was that I should not be imitating Shinzato Sensei. Instead, I should learn the process he follows to refine his movements. I should follow the same or a similar process.

Let us say that I am at stage B. I need to move to stage C. How can I do this? I could copy someone who is at stage C, but that would be just an imitation. If, however, I follow the process of questioning, experimentation, and refinement that leads from one stage to another, then I might be able to move to stage C, and even to stages D, E, F.

There is also a big problem. If I am at stage B, the senior I learn from may actually be at stage G. If I copy him, I will get to neither stage C or G. I will probably just get confused!

Think about it. No one becomes great by imitation alone. Imitation is just an early level and can at best give us a good foundation. Anyone who who has become great has done so by his own hard work. A sensei can help us to gain a good foundation, but we have to build our own house. It is good to copy the early stages. It is practically impossible to copy the more advanced stages.

Don't get me wrong, I will still try to imitate my Sensei. If he does something, I will try my best to do it too. But I will also ask myself how I can improve myself, overcome my limitations (which change with age), move optimally, etc.?

I will try to learn the process rather than just imitate the result.

I think that this is one of the most important things I have ever realized in my Karate training.


Charles C. Goodin