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1700+ Posts... and Counting

Only Two Things Matter

On Friday, I was speaking to a Karate and Kobudo instructor who was visiting from Okinawa. During the course of our conversation I said, "Only two things matter in Karate: character and skill."

I write and speak about Karate a lot, but that statement was short and sweet!

Character and skill.


Charles C. Goodin

Guest Posts By Sensei Pat Nakata

These are Guest Posts by my friend and senior, Sensei Pat Nakata. Nakata Sensei is the head of the Okinawa Shorin-Ryu Karate Association in Hawaii. He was a student of Chosin (Choshin) Chibana in Shorin-Ryu, and also studied Ryukyu Kobudo under Sensei Fumio Nagaishi. When he was a young man, he studied Wado-Ryu Karate under Sensei Walter Nishioka.

I am very grateful to Nakata Sensei for sharing his experiences, thoughts, and insights in the Karate Thoughts Blog.

Guest Post: Terminology

This Guest Post is by my friend and senior, Sensei Pat Nakata. Nakata Sensei is the head of the Okinawa Shorin-Ryu Karate Association in Hawaii. He was a student of Chosin (Choshin) Chibana in Shorin-Ryu, and also studied Ryukyu Kobudo under Sensei Fumio Nagaishi. When he was a young man, he studied Wado-Ryu Karate under Sensei Walter Nishioka.

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A Karate instructor once told me, "I teach Karate in the traditional way". I asked, "and what way is that?" He answered, "Oh, I teach in the traditional way by counting in Japanese". I must admit that in my classes, I do count in Japanese, because try as I may, I don't seem able to give a spirited count with one, two, three, four. My counts seem more emphatic and with more kimochi (spirit) when I count ich(i), ni, san, shi. Do I need to use Japanese terms and counts to be more traditional? Karate seemed to have been developed in Okinawa, so to be traditional, shouldn't we be counting in Okinawan dialect (Hogen)? What is traditional? It seems that many instructors feel that to be traditional, we need to use Japanese terminology. Actually, the counting is just cadence (hyoshi). When I was training in Nichidai (Japan University), the Sempai count(?) was more of a "gutteral" sound. I don't see anything wrong with counting; one, two, one, two, or ich, ni, ich, ni, or ich, ni, san, shi, ich, ni, san, shi, or whatever, this is just cadence. I am just used to (habit) counting to ten and in Japanese.

In April 2007, I visited Yonamine Kousuke Sensei's dojo at his home in Sashiki, Okinawa. The night we (John Oberle and I) visited Yonamine Sensei, he was preparing his students for their Shohei-Ryu (Uechi-Ryu) promotion testing. As I was observing his review of Karate terminology, I realized that this was jargon even for Japanese (Okinawan in this case). It is difficult for even Japanese students to remember terminology in Japanese. What advantage would it be for American students to memorize the terminology in Japanese? Wouldn't it be more advantageous for American students to use or be taught Karate terminology in English?

As soon as I started learning from Chibana Sensei, I noticed that he used very little terminology, choosing to demonstrate instead. Discussing this with Chibana Sensei, he pointed out that in the old days (when he was a student), there were no set terminology. Teaching was done with standard conversational Hogen (Okinawan) or Japanese. Actually, there were very little explanations, because as much as possible all techniques and movements were demonstrated.

Some terminology examples are; yoko-te (side of the hand) became shuto (shu[hand], to[katana or sword]), yubi-saki (finger tips) is now nukite ([penetrating] spear hand), yoko-ashi (side of the foot) is now called sokuto (foot sword), mae nagai-dachi (forward long stance) now referred to as zenkutsu-dachi (forward bent knee stance).

Knowing the meaning of the terminology is not enough, the term must be demonstrated for new practitioner to visualize the term. In comparing some of the old to the modernized Kata, it seems that when in the old version of a Kata a move or stance did not fit into the new terminology, then that move or stance was modified: For example; the first move in Naihanchi Sandan.

Among the most confusing terms is yoko-geri (side kick). Originally, it was called yoko-ashi yoko-geri (side of the foot kick to the side), now yoko-ashi (sokuto) geri (keri) is simply called yoko-geri. The tsuma-saki (tsuma [toe], saki [tip or front] geri is referred to as a mae-geri (front kick) either because you are kicking forward or using the front part of your foot. In Shorin-Ryu there is a yoko tsuma-saki geri (side kick with the toe), but many schools only call a tsuma-saki geri, a mae-geri and a yoko-ashi, a yoko-geri. In the Kata where it is a tsuma-saki yoko-geri, the move has been altered in that the performer turns to face the side, so as to execute a mae-geri. To eliminate confusion (a little) we dissuade the use of the term mae-geri and yoko-geri, and use instead, tsuma-saki geri and sokuto geri, or toe kick and side (foot) kick. On the side kick with the sokuto (with all the toes curled down) is usually a striking (uchi) kick, while the thrusting (tsuki) kick uses the kakuto (kagato, heel) with the toes curled down except for the big toe that points up and the forward part of the foot is pulled backward stressing the heel. In other words, a thrusting side kick in this manner can be called a yoko kagato or kakuto geri, or simply in English, a side heel kick. Most of the side kicks in Shorin-Ryu is with all the toes (including the big toe) curled down for a striking and thrusting kick.

Another confusing term in Shorin-Ryu is shuto-uke (sword hand block). In Shorin-Ryu there is no shuto-uke, it is rather a shuto ude (forearm) uke, the ude, in this case, is the outside wrist or just below the wrist. A better term for this is wanto (sword arm). This explanation may help the reader to visualize the part of the arm that is being used, but the proper execution or application would have to be demonstrated.

After Karate was introduced to the public, practice became more militaristic where classes were conducted and directed with commands (gorei). Some of the terms were ki-o-tsuke (attention), rei (bow), yoi (get ready, prepare), hajime (begin,start), yame (stop, end), naore (relax, gather yourself) or naotte which is softer and less of a command. The enunciation of these terms when used as a command is very curt. For instance, ki-o-tsuke would be enunciated in the manner it is written if it was softer, but as a command it would be more curt, sounding like "kyoske" (ten-hut).

It seems like in our Ryukyu Kobudo practice we use the modern (militaristic) commands, as follows: "Kyoske", rei, yoi, yame (parade rest), rei (at the end), and naore (fall out).

In Shorin-Ryu, we do not call a rei at the beginning of the Kata nor at the end, it is an option and left to the discretion of the performer. We do not call out a yoi, because when a Kata is called, we go into the ready position to start that Kata. The only time Ki-o-tsuke is called, is the first movement of the Kusanku Dai Kata and it is not a "kyoske" like calling one to the attention position, but rather, "put yourself on alert". Yame is used only in the Kihon Kata after the last back step, to come back to the original starting position. We do our Kata (with count or no count [kazoenashi]) to the end position, which in most case is the starting position (the exception is Naihanchi Shodan and Kusanku Dai), because even returning to the original starting position, you should be ready. After completion, we call, naote.

Would the command and direction terms be easier if it was given in English? I think it should be left to whomever is conducting the practice and to that person's preference.

My biggest hang-up is the word, "snap". I don't know the meaning of "snap". I think when practitioners use "snap", they are referring to kime or focus. I can speak to someone about focus, kime, or kikomi. But "snap"?

Speaking of kikomi, I am often asked about this term. Chibana Sensei normally used the term kime, but when he spoke of penetration, he used the term kikomi. In other words, kikomi is kime plus penetration. With this understanding, kime is the better universal term, because kikomi still involves kime. I use kime and focus interchangeably.

Some of the other terms, I use interchangeably are osae and press, hara with lower abdomen or center of balance, uchi and strike, tsuki and thrust, koshi and hip, uraken and back-fist, imi and meaning. When I can remember to, I use English for the various terminologies. After all is said and done, this whole discussion is on communication and the most effective way to communicate.

Pat Nakata

Which Writer Do You Pick?

Who would you rather read a Karate book by:

(A) A famous master who knows 100% of the art but can only describe and convey 20% of it; or

(B) An instructor who knows 50% of the art and can describe and convey all 50% of it.
Even though a reader, would get 30% more with choice (B), but I suspect that most people would select (A). Fame sells.

Knowledge of the art and the ability to communicate it are two different things.


Charles C. Goodin

Martial Arts DVDs

Like most martial artists, I enjoy watching martial arts DVDs. I like DVDs of all arts, not just Karate. Right now, I have been watching early footage of Aikido. I also really enjoy any DVDs about Penjat Silat and related arts.

I believe that DVDs are worth what people are willing to pay for them. If someone wants to pay $100 for a DVD, that is his business. But I don't think that price and quality are necessarily related. Some excellent DVDs are very inexpensive and some terrible ones might be quite expensive. It all depends.

But here are my two gripes. I don't like 30 or 45 minute DVDs. I appreciate it when a DVD is an hour or two. When DVDs are really short, I get the feeling that they are trying to get people to buy many different ones. Film quality is certainly not the issue. DVDs can easily hold more than an hour of very good footage.

Also, I don't like music. When I practice Karate, there is never any music (not even in my mind). Why should there be music when we watch the old masters? I'm sure there was not music back then either. And the music tends to be pretty stereotypical. If it is Japanese, the background music has to be shakuhachi. Sanshin (shamisen) for Okinawan things.

As far as YouTube goes, I always wonder whether the footage is authorized by the owner. That is why I rarely post YouTube links here.

But I do enjoy browsing YouTube from time to time. Do a search for Shioda. Gozo Shioda was such a remarkable Aikido Sensei!


Charles C. Goodin

Koshi Is Important When...

Koshi is important when you do not have it. If you do not have it, you will want to devote all of your effort to attaining it and, to the extent possible, to mastering it. But once you "have" it, you will not think much about it at all!

It might still be important in the sense that you will need to be able to teach it to students who do not yet "have" it, but for yourself it will just be another aspect of your training.

Something is important when you do not have it.

If you hold your breath for a long time, you will want air more than anything else.

I may have written that I think that koshi is 20% of Karate training. I cannot remember the actual percentage I might have stated because it changes in my mind. If you are learning koshi, the percentage will be much higher. If you have already learned, practiced it, and applied it to all of your movements, then the percentage will be much less.

There are movements that cannot be done well without koshi. Koshi is the threshold for certain types of movements. Of course, you can do the movements without koshi, but they will not be very effective.

But even if you have a great koshi, you might be a poor fighter. Think about it -- no one defends himself with koshi alone. You still have to know how to properly block and strike. You still have to know how to transfer power. You still have to condition your hands, feet, and other striking points. You still have to know how to take or slip a punch. There is a lot more to Karate than koshi alone.

But koshi will make it possible to do many of these other things better.

If your Sensei works on something, you should realize that it might be because you don't have it yet. He will make it seem important because it is exceedingly important to you. You will not try hard if you don't think that it is important. But once you "get" it, it will not seem so important. You will take it for granted.

Then your Sensei will emphasize the next important thing.

Learning in Karate is cumulative. One block is built upon another.


Charles C. Goodin

What Did They Do With It?

Who is better -- a 2nd dan who teaches a small class for children or a 5th dan who teaches no one and hardly trains?

This is a question that a Sensei must sometimes ask himself. I have had many students and have promoted many of them to the yudansha level. I promote them based upon their skill and effort, but I can never tell what they will do with it.

You have to realize that it takes tremendously more effort to produce a 5th dan than it does to produce a 2nd dan. This effort is not only the yudansha's -- it includes the effort of the Sensei as well as the other instructors and students in the dojo. What should we be able to expect in return for all that effort?

I am not talking about money. I never expect money in return for teaching. Payment in our dojo is a token only and yudansha do not pay tuition at all. But I do expect that students will do something with their training.

If you walk by a shack along the road, you might not be surprised if no one lives there. But a vacant, brand new 5 story building would seem like a terrible waste. Why build it if it won't be used?

Or it is like a person obtaining a degree in law or medicine but never using it. This sometimes happens. There was probably competition to get into that law school or medical school. Wouldn't it have been better for a student to have been accepted who would have used the degrees? Society is not helped by skilled people who do not use those skills.

With a 2nd dan, a Sensei is just happy to see the student training and helping to teach. But with a 5th dan (or higher) the expectations are much greater -- there is an element of waste.

So much work goes into making a senior yudansha. A student who has reached this level should do something positive with it. The best way to repay this debt is to teach the juniors and help to pass on the art.

I often ask myself what I am doing? What am I doing to repay my Sensei and contribute to the art?

What are you doing?


Charles C. Goodin

Karate And Regularity

Karate training is a little like going to the bathroom.

If you don't go to the bathroom regularly, you get sick. If you don't train regularly, you get junk (in Hawaii, "junk" means "not good," "bad, "poor.")

The secret to Karate skill is to train regularly. Anyone who trains regularly will improve with time. But even a gifted student who only trains from time to time will not improve very much.

Regularity is important.


Charles C. Goodin

Guest Post: Kata A Waste Of Time

This Guest Post is by my friend and senior, Sensei Pat Nakata. Nakata Sensei is the head of the Okinawa Shorin-Ryu Karate Association in Hawaii. He was a student of Chosin (Choshin) Chibana in Shorin-Ryu, and also studied Ryukyu Kobudo under Sensei Fumio Nagaishi. When he was a young man, he studied Wado-Ryu Karate under Sensei Walter Nishioka.

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In the past (1960s through the 70s), when we trained Karate techniques without Kata, we called it Kenpo (semantics). Karate is not Karate without Kata. The real fighting practice in Karate is Kata (sometimes goshinjutsu), where the dangerous techniques can be practiced without the danger of seriously injuring another person.

I do agree that Kata is a waste of time for tournament competition, because many of the techniques in the Kata are outlawed. Tournament competition, dojo sparring, and self-defense or street fighting are all different.

In my close to 50 years of teaching and observation, I believe that Kata training will develop a strong fighter, but not necessarily a strong tournament competitor. I have always said that I could build a strong competitor in 1 year with just basic drills, but it would take me 2 to 3 years to build an equivalent strong fighter with Kata training. Where the competition trained fighter may peak in a few years, the Kata training fighter keeps growing. I have observed that in the majority of cases, the strong fighters all had strong Kata, even the strong tournament competitors. It is sad to see that many excellent Karate practitioners, who believe that Karate begins and ends with tournaments. As Chibana Sensei often said, "The way (path) of Karate is training. Karate training is Kata training. From Kata training one reaches self-realization".

Many times the quest to become a champion is nothing more than the search for one's true identity (ego) or the proving to one's self of one's ability, thinking all the while that being successful in competition will clear self-doubt and thus, develop confidence. This is not to be, for real confidence does not come from winning, but the acceptance of defeat. When we accept defeat, we remove that fear of losing. Now we fight with true confidence, because we have nothing to prove and with nothing to lose, we are Fearless.

Kata is fighting, yet Kata is Kata and fighting is fighting. If you do not know how to fight, you will have difficulty understanding Kata. If you don't know the fighting applications within the Kata, then Kata is a waste of time.

Pat Nakata

Guest Post: 100% Application

This Guest Post is by my friend and senior, Sensei Pat Nakata. Nakata Sensei is the head of the Okinawa Shorin-Ryu Karate Association in Hawaii. He was a student of Chosin (Choshin) Chibana in Shorin-Ryu, and also studied Ryukyu Kobudo under Sensei Fumio Nagaishi. When he was a young man, he studied Wado-Ryu Karate under Sensei Walter Nishioka.

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In a discussion this evening, I heard a quote saying, "Judo is 100% application". What a profound statement? I have never heard of Judo or for that matter any other Martial Art described in that manner.

As I expanded my thinking, this "100% application" also applies appropriately, to many other endeavors, such as football, soccer, boxing, other Martial Arts, etc. This brings me to Kata. The real or old school Karate Kata is 100% application, where their is no guard or ready position (kamaenashi), except for the beginning and ending positions, but even these guard or ready positions can be argued as application. There is meaning for each move in the Kata, even in the transition movements. In fact, application in most instances requires action (movement). This being said, then each movement (action) in the Kata is an application (100% application).

We come to the point that there is a need to study the application itself. Is it effective? Does the application translate into the desired results? There is a need to disregard aesthetics, like "it looks better" or "it looks nicer". There is no need for efficiency, if it is not effective or attaining the desired results.

I was watching a Karate match with a Karate teacher, when one of the combatants, a Kyokushin Karate student landed a roundhouse kick flush on the opponents jaw, knocking-out the opponent. I said, "Wow, what a beautiful kick". The Karate teacher looked at me and responded, "What? That was an ugly kick (meaning that it wasn't a "classical" or picture book kick)". I answered, "It was beautiful, because it worked (beautifully)".

I think we need to assure that our practice to not only be 100% application, but also 100% effective.

Pat Nakata

Last Class of the Year

Last Wednesday was the last class of the year for our dojo. We tend to take off the last training day before Christmas Eve. This is the talk I give to my students each year:

This is the last class of the year. I want to thank all of you who have come out to train. I know that Christmas is a very busy time of the year. We all have parties and events to attend.

In Karate, and martial arts in general, it is very important to end well. You have trained hard this year. By being here, you are ending the year well. Try your best today and finish with a strong spirit and good attitude.

It is also important to begin the year well. Our first training of the New Year will be on January 7th. Please try your best to attend class that day.

We should always begin and end the year well. And for that matter, we should try our best on every day of the year.

We should always try our very best, in Karate and in all things.

But it is especially important to begin and end well. If you do a good job but show a bad attitude at the end, that is all that your boss will remember.

Begin with a good spirit and attitude, try your best at all times, and end with a good spirit and attitude.
Too many people are just going through the motions of doing things. Too many people are in one place, but thinking of another. Too many people are in a dreamlike state.

In Karate, we should have a firm conviction, a focused mind, a strong body, and the will to succeed and overcome adversity. If we learn that, we can do anything.

The self-defense aspect of Karate is just a small fraction of the art.

Being and end well.


Charles C. Goodin

All I Want For Christmas...

Today is Christmas Eve. More than any other year, I have looked forward to Christmas this year. In previous years, I did not enjoy the Christmas songs on the radio. They always seemed to start weeks and months too soon. As soon as Thanksgiving passed, the Christmas songs would begin.

But this year, I could not wait for the first Christmas songs. I was happy to hear the first one and every one that played afterward made me feel that Christmas would soon be here.

I could not wait for Christmas this year.

As I sit here writing, my wife is downstairs at the oncology clinic receiving her last scheduled chemotherapy treatment. She started in September and we have looked forward to Christmas Eve because it is her sixth and hopefully last treatment.

All I want for Christmas this year is for my wife to be healthy and never to need to have chemotherapy again.


Charles C. Goodin

Karate Obstacle Course

On Saturday I discovered a very challenging obstacle course for Karate students and instructors. I went to Costco for my wife to pick up some food items she needed for Christmas week. Here is the challenge:

Run around Costco looking for things on a shopping list without getting hit by a shopping cart of hitting anyone else with your shopping cart!
I am serious. It is nearly impossible. People are everywhere and the bottom of the shopping carts seem to be designed to hit you right in the Achilles Tendon!

And there are so many things for sale. My wife knows where everything is, but I only know how to find electronics and tools.

But I shouldn't complain. At least I was lucky enough to find a parking space!


Charles C. Goodin

Aikido Stress

When I trained in Aikido, I was a white belt. There were no colored belts. I did not become a yudansha in Aikido.

I loved Aikido training. It was always "hands on" -- we threw and got thrown. Because I had studied Judo in northern Japan as a child, falling was no problem. I enjoyed falling and fortunately never got hurt by taking falls. Actually, it was not just "fortunately' -- it was because of the rigorous breakfall training we did in Judo.

As much as I enjoyed Aikido training, I also found it extremely stressful. It is something of a paradox -- Aikido teaches peace and harmony -- but in some ways it is the most political and stressful of the martial arts. The break-up between Osensei and Tohei Sensei took place here in Hawaii at the Oceania floating restaurant. I was not there -- it was before I came to Hawaii -- but I heard about it from people who were there.

There was always an undercurrent of "group dynamics" (to say it nicely). Because Yoshioka Sensei was a senior, he had to attend to many "group dynamic" functions. I would hear about it from him and also observe it.

Even though I was a junior, I would get really stressed out! I even had heart palpitations at times! If I had to come to class late because of school or work, I would feel stressed. If I did something wrong, I would feel stressed. If there were larger problems, I would feel stressed.

Of course, this could have been my own creation. I am half-Japanese, and seem to have gotten shame and guilt with that half! I could have been projecting my own internal stress on Aikido. But I think that it would be fair to say that Aikido was pretty stressful (not physically).

Perhaps when you teach peace and harmony, it brings about the opposite. Perhaps when you internalize things so much, the result is externally opposite. I do not know.

However, I have tried to make my own Karate dojo, over the years, much less stressful. I am much more likely to overlook small breaches of etiquette and try to spend more time explaining little things to students so that they can avoid making mistakes. Mistakes still happen, but I do not view them as being earth shattering. Making mistakes is human.

My good friend, Sensei Gary Omori, teaches Aikido in the same facility as our dojo. His Aikido dojo is all on its own. It is not part of a national or international organization. He has a close group of students. I think that this environment is the best one for teaching Aikido or any martial art. When I see him and his students, they are always happy.

By the way, Omori Sensei was also a student of Yoshioka Sensei many years ago (before my time).

Martial arts should not be overly stressful. The martial arts are not a punishment or a bad tasting medicine. If martial arts do not make you happy and healthy, there are many better things to do.

In the end, we all grow old and die. It would be nice to do so gracefully and to bring as much joy and kindness into the world as possible. We should encourage our students with gentle nudges and shelter them from senseless politics (group dynamics).


Charles C. Goodin

Don't Do Anything

Writing about Sensei Sadao Yoshioka made me remember something he often told me. I started training under him when I was a student at the University of Hawaii. I was already a yudansha in Karate and taught my own classes. However, I was very young and foolish and did not understand the customs and etiquette of Aikido. As a result of my youthful enthusiasm, I often did things that were inappropriate or impolite and received good scoldings for it! Of course, I deserved it.

Yoshioka Sensei would tell me in private that I did things with good intentions, but still did them the wrong way. Wrong was wrong, intentions or not.

He told me this, "If you are not sure about what to do in the dojo, don't do anything. Just stand or sit there."

This was good advice for several reasons. If I did nothing, perhaps I could observe the situation and the proper course of action would become more obvious. Also, a senior might act, making it unnecessary for me to act. I could learn by watching the senior. Or, I could ask a senior about the right course of action. Later, I might also ask Yoshioka Sensei in private.

Yoshioka Sensei's advice is still good today, "If you are not sure about what to do in the dojo, don't do anything. Just stand or sit there."

Watch and learn.


Charles C. Goodin

Kanreki of Sensei Sadao Yoshioka

Around 1982, I attended the kanreki (60 year old birthday celebration) of Sensei Sadao Yoshioka. This must have been after I returned to Hawaii after attending Northwestern University (for graduate school). I believe that the celebration was at the Natsunoya Teahouse. At that time, I must have been about 25.

I did not think that much about the celebration at the time. I vaguely knew that Japanese men celebrate their 42nd (yakudoshi) and 60th (kanreki) birthdays. I now know that they also celebrate their 88th (beiju) birthday.

But at that time, it was just another party. Sensei was 60, which seemed pretty old to me then. I was just of many students and instructors attending. I was one of the junior students.

But over the years, I have often thought how fortunate I was to attend Yoshioka Sensei's kanreki. I admired him greatly, but could never quite fit Aikido into my life. Nevertheless, he influenced my thoughts and feelings about the martial arts. He is one of the Sensei I would like to be more like. Sometimes I would stay after class and speak to him (especially at the Waialae dojo). One time I visited him at his home and stayed so long that my wife thought I must have been in an accident!

I will tell you a funny story. Sensei had an old car. It was light blue. For some reason I think it was a Valiant (I am not sure about this). I drove with him a few times to select wood for making bokken. One time, we drive to my wife's family's office in Pearl Ridge. Sensei drove the wrong way down a one way street! Actually, I think he did not drive too well. But as his student, I always felt completely safe -- as if his ki would protect us.

Sensei was almost old enough to be my grandfather. Even as he aged, he remained in excellent condition. The things he would do in the dojo were simply amazing! But as much as he taught technique, he also taught lessons of life. Lecture was a part of every class he taught.

Sensei passed away from cancer in 1990. I had resigned from the dojo years before, but often thought about him. My brother-in-law was a yudansha in the dojo and at one time served as its president.

I wish that Yoshioka Sensei had lived to 88 and that I could have attended his beiju celebration. This year he would have been 85.

If you have a great Sensei, please don't take him for granted. Every minute you have with your Sensei is truly a treasure. Every day should be a celebration.


Charles C. Goodin

30 and 60

This is a story.

There was a Karate expert. At the age of 30, he was fast and strong. At the age of 60, he was just as fast and strong. He moved exactly the same at both ages. It was truly remarkable!

One person commented, "It is amazing that he has maintained his speed and strength until the age of 60."

Another person commented, "He has truly discovered the fountain of youth."

A Karate master listened to the comments and replied, "You are both wrong. What is amazing is that this man has not improved at all in 30 years. Remaining the same is not the objective. We must improve each and every day. When you put money in the bank, you expect to be paid interest. When you plant a seed in the ground, you expect it to grow. All this man has done is remain the same."

We should get better with age.


Charles C. Goodin

Rank or Ability?

Professor Rick Clark visited Hawaii and I had the opportunity to meet him and his family for lunch at a Chinese restaurant.

At one point we were discussing seminars and I raised the subject of whether most people would be more willing to pay to receive rank or to improve their ability in Karate. Rank or ability? Given the choice, what would most people select?

It sounds like such an easy question. Of course a person would choose ability. If it was possible to improve one's ability, any reasonable person would do so.

But if a promotion was available.... hmmmm.

I know that some people might be thinking -- you could get both. I know that is true but I am framing this question in the alternative -- rank or ability?

My own experience in Karate over the years is this: when you already have had enough of rank, you crave ability. This is especially true if you have had the misfortune of seeing rank without ability. Rank without ability is truly sad. Ability without rank is still ability. And in the final analysis, rank is not necessary for self-defense or self development.

Still, it helps to have rank if you are going to run a school or dojo. I realize this.

But it may surprise readers to hear that many people do think a lot about rank. And I imagine that if someone could go from say 7th degree to 8th degree, that person might be willing to spend quite a lot to receive it. At least some people might.

For me, ability comes first. That is why we do not emphasize rank in my dojo (in fact, I have a hard time getting the yudansha to wear any belt at all).

In a perfect world though, rank and ability would be directly related. Come to think about it, in a perfect world rank would not be necessary.


Charles C. Goodin

"Not The Same"

Sometimes a new student in our dojo, when being taught a particular movement or kata, will comment "but that's not the way that John taught it to me." (John is just a make believe name in this case.)

To be honest, this really drives my sons and me nuts! The way we were brought up the dojo, students simply do not say such things. Students learn quietly and withhold most comment (because they recognize that they are beginners and should know their place). Such a comment is considered to be rude.

But the comment reflects an assumption about Karate -- that movements and kata will always remain the same and be taught the same. This is an incorrect assumption, however, it may be true in some schools.

In our school and style generally, there is not one and only one way to do things. As the student advances, he will learn many different ways to do things. When he was a beginner, he could only move like a beginner. But at each step of his advancement, his ability to move improves. At each point, the instructor will add to or modify the movements and kata. You could say that there are 100 ways to do things, and the instructor needs to know each of these, and when to introduce them to each particular student. It is a very individual process (not good for large, commercial schools).

A beginner should move as a beginner but an advanced student should move as an advanced student.

It is important for students to understand this. That way, when they learn something "differently," they will realize that this is part of a natural progression. They will not compare what they learned from John with what they are learning from Sally. John was right. Sally is right.

In fact, when the student learns something "differently," he should be happy -- it menas that he is progressing. In fact, if a student always learns things the same way, it might mean just the opposite -- that he has not progressed.

A bab has to crawl before he can walk. But a good parent knows when to help the baby take his first steps. Soon he is running.

Learning is a challenging experience. Sometimes when I learn a new concept, it takes several months for it to "set" in my mind. But I keep working on it until I get it -- or put it aside for a while if I gives me really bad problems. But I will keep working on it.

I always say, if my Sensei can do something then I should be able to do it too, if I am willing to work on it as much or more as he did.

Different is good.


Charles C. Goodin

Sanzinsoo's Blog

I have added a link on the right side of this blog to Sanzinsoo's Okinawa Goju-Ryu and Karate-Do Blog. He has translated and written some excellent Karate articles.

Please have a look!


Charles C. Goodin

Can You Talk About Karate?

Because of my work with the Hawaii Karate Museum, I am interviewed from time time. Last Monday, I was interviewed at our dojo.

I think that I spoke for about an hour and 10 minutes with no notes or outline. It has become easy for me because there is so much to say about Okinawan Karate and its history in Hawaii. Actually, several hours would not be enough time.

But I wonder, have you (yes you) ever given a speech about Karate? Have you ever written a report, or given an exhibit?

Could you, without any preparation, give a lecture about Karate and your specific style? -- an informative and accurate lecture? Do you know who you teacher is, his, his, his, and where they all came from? Do you know about their lives?

I am serious. Could you? If you are instructor, the time may come when you will have to do this. What will you say if a television reporter is standing in front of you? Will you emphasize the positive aspects of the art or focus on the negative things you have seen? What will you say and how will you say it?

For many of you, this question has already been answered because you have already had to do it. Many of you can easily do this. But for many instructors and students, speaking in public is one of their greatest fears. And even if you can speak comfortably, can you properly organize your thoughts and express yourself intelligently? What you say and how you say it will reflect on the art.

It is a challenging thing. Learning to move well is challenging. Learning to teach well is a challenge. Learning to be able to inform the public about Karate is also a challenge.

I will say this -- if we stand by let people speak and write about the sport and commercial aspect of Karate, then that is what people will hear and read. If we want to emphasize the character building aspect of the art, peace, health, self-defense, restraint... the virtues of Karate, then it is up to us to speak and write about it. We should not complain about the modernization of Karate if we are not willing to inform the public about the traditional aspects.

It is up to us. The more voices and views the better.


Charles C. Goodin

Chasing My Sensei

I have mentioned at least a few times that my Sensei in Okinawa is 18 years older than me, and that I will try to "chase" him -- to try to become as skilled as he is. I can imagine that some readers might think that this is an arrogant statement. I can understand this. In a way, it is an arrogant thing to say.

I do not believe that I will ever be as skilled as my Sensei. I could say that I will spend the rest of my life trying to be 1/2 as skilled as he is, but I don't think that he would like that. Why should a student aim low? I am sure that he would want me to become the very best that I can be.

A Sensei always hopes that his students will become more skilled than he is. A traditional student always hopes to learn just a small part of what his Sensei knows, and to become able to do a just a fraction of what his Sensei can do.

If you think about it, I should have an advantage because my Sensei can teach me what he knows. I do not have to grope in the dark. My own sons can easily do things as young men that I could only do in my 40s. They have a huge headstart because they have learned from me and also from my Sensei when he visited Hawaii.

A student should have a tremendous advantage.

Still, it seems to me that my Sensei is so far ahead. He is like a parent speaking slowly so that a little child can understand him. I am such a child.

Even when he moves in a way that seems so impressive to me, he has had to exaggerate his movement so that I can see it and begin to understand it.

I do not think that my Sensei is a god. If he were a god, I would have no chance. But since he is a human being, I should have a chance to catch him.

Of course, he is moving ahead too. He is not standing still. So I will always be running behind him... but I will be chasing him (in a respectful way).


Charles C. Goodin

Fifty Years Old!

Last Monday, I turned 50. I have been preparing for this for about 10 years. My Sensei have told me, "Get into the best shape possible before you turn 50. It is natural that we decline physically as we age. But if you start from a higher point (by getting into the best shape possible), and keep training, the decline will be much more gradual."

I am in pretty good shape -- for me. That does not mean that I am as strong or fast as other people -- just that I am in pretty good shape for me.

My resolutions for training, upon this little landmark, are to train smarter. I want to better understand body mechanics so that I can move better and teach others how to do so as well. I am very fortunate, because my Sensei concentrates on body mechanics. He has taught me a great deal and is an excellent model for me to copy.

He is also 18 years older than me. I always say, "if he can do it, I should be able to do it too if I practice diligently."

He is not only a model for me of how to move, but of how to age. This is extremely important in Karate.

I mentioned not too long ago about Karate instructors who are like fruit that rots on the tree. This means that the instructor reaches an age when he stops training seriously and busies himself with other activities, such as business or politics. Soon, he can't do it. This especially happens to instructors who only learned how to move like a young man. A 50 year old cannot and should not move exactly like a 20 year old. In fact, a 50 year old should move better! And a 70 year old should move better still!

At 50, I feel that I am beginning my Karate training anew. My first 50 years were largely spent looking for something. Having found it, I now have to work on it!

There is another thing I have noticed at this age. When I was younger, I would try to accomplish things, whether in technique, research, writing, collecting historic materials, etc. Even though I would immediately forget about accomplishing something once I attained it, I would also immediately set about to accomplish something else. I still do this, to some extent.

But now I enjoy stepping back and applauding the accomplishments of my children (in my family), my students (in my dojo), and of my Karate friends. I enjoy the role of saying, "Great job! Keep at at!"

Earlier this year, I put my second son, Charles in charge of my dojo. It was the best thing I could have done! It has allowed me to teach better, while giving him the chance to learn about overall responsibility for a dojo and students. Teaching Karate is not about maintaining power, but about empowering others.

I am not targeting the age of 60. By that age, I would like to complete my work in establishing the Hawaii Karate Museum and its various collections. I then would like to turn that responsibility over to others.

And it is my sincere hope that I will one day be able to teach my grandchildren Karate -- both the boys and girls. By that time, I also hope to have improved so that I will be a better teacher for them.

50 down, 100 to go!


Charles C. Goodin

Really Tough Guys -- Why?

Shihan Bobby Lowe recently returned to Hawaii from Japan where he attended the 9th World Karate Tournament of the International Karate Organization Kyokushinkaikan. He was kind enough to give me a tournament journal -- the highest quality such journal I have ever seen! It looks like the catalog for luxury cars or expensive handbags. Full color, glossy, even metallic covers.

But what interested me most was the listing of the top 8 competitors. I understand that this was on open tournament with no weight categories. Almost 200 competitors from around the world participated. The top places went to competitors from the following countries:

  1. Brazil
  2. Czech Republic
  3. Armenia
  4. Russia
  5. Russia
  6. Spain
  7. Brazil
  8. Japan
Japan was 8th! For many years, you would expect that Japan would dominate a tournament, particularly one held in Japan. But these results show just how strong international Karate has become. You might notice that the United States was not even in the top 8 (while Brazil and Russia each had two of the top spots).

Why is this? The reason is obvious, these particular competitors are really tough. People who practice Karate in these countries train extremely hard. They probably are not spending time playing video games and going to movies -- they are training!

I recall reading that Choki Motobu mentioned to a student that you would expect that there would be better fighters in countries such as the United States, because its population is so much greater than Japan's (or Okinawa's). With so many Karate students around the world, you would expect that international students would do well.

Karate is not based on country. It is based on hard work and dedication.

One of my good friends in my style of Shorin-Ryu lives in Slovenia. I have always been impressed by how hard he trains. When we met in Okinawa earlier this year, I might have mentioned to him that it took me 12 hours or so to get to Okinawa from Hawaii. It had taken him an his students 3 days to get to Okinawa from Slovenia.

I have it easy in Hawaii. There is no snow. It is warm all year long. In other parts of the world, dojo can freeze in the winters and be unbearably hot in the summers.

When it is so easy to train, we take it for granted. I have a feeling that the international competitors in the Kyokushinkaikan tournament take nothing for granted and train harder than most of us could ever imagine.

Of course if you have read this blog for a while, you know that I am not a fan of tournaments. I am a big fan of hard training and respect students and instructors around the world who dedicate themselves to rigorous Karate practice.


Charles C. Goodin

Look At The Feet

When an instructor demonstrates a punch or block, we tend to look at his hands. Hands are definitely important, but at an advanced level, it is also very informative to look at his feet.

If you have the current issue of Classical Fighting Arts (Volume 2, No. 12, with Sensei Morio Higaonna on the cover), look at the photographs on pages 20 and 22. Now look closely at the feet. On page 22, Higaonna Sensei executes an arm bar. He is stepping on the attacker's right foot and checking it with his knee. He is not simply executing an arm bar.

When we practice basics, we tend to ignore the feet. For safety reasons, we do not like to step on each other's feet or jam our partner's knees. But these are very effective techniques.

My Sensei here in Hawaii used to step on our feet when we attacked him. I would punch and he would block and enter while stepping on my leading foot. This really messed me up! I could not back up or go forward. I was sort of paralyzed. And at the same time, his counterattack (a big fist) would be shaking in front of my face.

My attention was split. I was contending with the block/counter and also having my foot stepped on and trapped. It is very hard to move when your attention is split.

If I paid attention to my feet, I would get hit. If I paid attention to the counter, I would be trapped.

And there are many more things to do with the feet than simply step on the attacker's foot or check his knee. All sorts of bones and joints could be broken or strained.

When you watch a demonstration of a technique, do not neglect the feet. Most people miss much of what is actually going on. But then again, depending on the instructor, nothing might be going on.

In Karate, you must defend and attack with your whole body in a coordinated manner. This will give you an advantage over an attacker who moves in a disconnected manner.


Charles C. Goodin

Why Goju-Ryu Is More Dynamic

In Power Generation -- 99% and 1%, I stated, "It may seem strange to say, but I see this more often in Goju-Ryu and related styles than my own Shorin-Ryu." In my experience, Goju-Ryu people, in general, are very good at generating and transferring power.

I have thought about it and think I know the reason (or at least one reason) for this. Goju-Ryu people wind up and then strike or block. Shorin-Ryu people tend to throw from the hip.

What I mean by this is that Goju-Ryu people generally do not just block or strike. Before doing a particular movement, they often perform a circular or partial circular parry or grab (or some other technique), and then they block or stroke. The preparatory movement enables them to compress and coil their body (or the muscles inside their body) which then enables them to move in a very dynamic way. Coiling leads to explosiveness.

When Shorin-Ryu people block, they tend to "throw" from the beginning. The movements are sharp, rather than coiled. If a block is two step (like a shuto uke), the first part of the block is done sharply as is the second. The body and muscles do not have a chance to coil.

I believe that the Kishaba Juku form of Shorin-Ryu that I practice is a little bit like Goju-Ryu in Shorin-Ryu clothing. What I mean by this is that our power generation is somewhat like Goju-Ryu, while we perform the kata and techniques of Shorin-Ryu.

Of course, I could be wrong about this. I understand that Sensei Seigi Nakamura learned other forms of Karate than Matsubayashi-Ryu. It may have been that he learned Tomari-Te and Goju-Ryu as well. Styles are not natural -- they are created by people. All styles of Karate are simply different interpretations of Karate.

Perhaps it is that the core of power generation and transfer found in Goju-Ryu (and related styles) is very similar to the way we do things in Kishaba Juku. Whether that is because of some overlap in the past or a coincidence, I cannot say.

I should add that I have also seen poor Goju-Ryu movement. Certainly, not all students of Goju-Ryu are exceptional. What I am saying is that of the exceptional people I have seen, many are students of Goju-Ryu (and related styles). I have also seen exceptional Shorin-Ryu students. But in Shorin-Ryu, students tend to become "choppy" because of the way that they throw techniques. Goju-Ryu students have an advantage in that they coil or wind first.

This is just my impression.

Before anyone feels upset that I am favoring one style over another, please keep in mind that if anyone can do something better than you, you must find out why. If they can do it, why can't you do it? If a Goju-Ryu person can do something better than you, you cannot simply ignore it because he is outside of your style. Karate is not style dependent. If someone is better than you, or can do something better than you, you better figure out why. What if you had to defend yourself against that person? You could not call a "time out" because of a style conflict.

Karate is Karate and martial art is martial art.

We all have to figure out how to best generate and transfer power.

One way to do that is to recognize and study exceptional Karate students and instructors.


Charles C. Goodin

About the Sensei

I received a question from a reader (D.M.):

Could you elaborate about the relationship between the student and his sensei? Was it kind of a servant master or slave master relationship? Was the character of the sensei to be taken up by the student? Did the student worship the sensei?
This is an excellent question. The relationship between the student and his Sensei is the heart of Karate training. While it might be possible for a student to learn some Karate without a Sensei, most Karate experts learned from their Sensei over many, many years.

Of course, the relationship between the student and his Sensei will differ depending on the type of Karate being learned, where it is learned, why it is being learned, when it was learned, etc.

I will address myself to my understanding of the relationship between a student and his Sensei in traditional Okinawan Karate. My own two Sensei of Shorin-Ryu are both Okinawans (one lives in Okinawa and one lives here in Hawaii). I am not Okinawan. I am half-Japanese and half-Caucasian.

The first part of the questions asks "Was it kind of a servant master or slave master relationship?" In my experience, the answer is no. There is no sense of master or slave/servant -- quite the contrary!

A Karate Sensei has a wonderful skill that he can impart to students who are willing to work very hard for a long time. In the process of practicing Karate under a wise Sensei, the student will realize many things about life and himself. In this process, he will become a more well rounded human being, a better person. Karate works on the character as much as it works on the body -- or at least it should.

The student is in a prison of sorts. The Sensei helps the student to escape, to climb out, to become free. The Sensei is not a master and the student is not a slave.

Or, perhaps the student is a slave -- to laziness, arrogance, pettiness, weakness, etc. The Sensei tells the student, "You can become free from these things. " Practicing Karate will make you strong, both physically and with respect to your character.

Now it is possible that there are Sensei who are masters and students who are slaves/servants. I have never desired to train under such a Sensei, not have I ever desired to be such a Sensei.

My own feeling about my Sensei (plural) is that they are like my own uncles, even my own fathers in Karate. I respect them so much, but not in a formal sense. I respect, admire, and appreciate them in a family sense. My Sensei gave me my Karate life! How can I ever repay them for such kindness -- especially since I was such a poor student?

The next part of the question is: "Was the character of the sensei to be taken up by the student?" Hopefully so. The Sensei is a role model for the student. The student does not only learn to move like his Sensei. Hopefully, many of the Sensei's positive traits will rub off on the student by years of training. But the student should not merely become a clone of the Sensei. The Sensei helps the student to realize his own best traits. The Sensei helps the student to become the best he can be -- not the best that the Sensei was.

The last part of the question is: "Did the student worship the sensei?" I'm sure that some did (and do). If you think of your Sensei as a god or deity, then it is natural that you will worship him. But since Sensei are humans, it is foolish to worship them. Should we worship humans? I'm sure that there are some Sensei who like to be worshiped and are happy to accept money and presents too!

The feeling I have for my Sensei is gratitude. If not for them, I would have not learned Karate -- or I might have learned a limited or negative form of Karate. Because I am grateful to my Sensei, I do not want to let them down. I have to try my best.

I cannot repay my Sensei, because they do not need or want anything from me. The only way I can repay them is by trying to be a good Sensei myself. If they teach me and I just keep it to myself, so what? But if they teach me and I teach someone else, then the line continues. Karate skills and attitudes are things that you have to pass on.

These are just my own thoughts. I think that I have the best Sensei in the world! Every lucky student thinks that he has the best Sensei in the world. It is natural.

Having great Sensei does not make me great -- it makes me humble. But it does give me one advantage -- a great Sensei understands Karate, can break it down into its smallest parts, and teach each and every detail, all directed to maximizing the student's body dynamics and movements. A great Sensei can explain what each movement means. It really helps to have a great Sensei!

A great Sensei can help a student to become free, both in movement and thought.

Now that was a good question. Thank you very much to D.M. (whose grandfather was a truly great Sensei)!


Charles C. Goodin

Karate and Mental Health

I received the following question from a reader (S. S.):

"I have a suggestion for a Karate Blog post if you can find any information and or research into this. Karate students and/or teachers, past and present, that have had or still have mental health issues and how karate has helped them cope with their problem."
I'm very sorry, but this question is outside of my expertise (I am an attorney by profession). I think that the question might be better addressed to a Karate instructor who is also a psychiatrist or psychologist.

Speaking purely as a layperson, however, I can say that some of the Karate instructors I have met are the most well adjusted, kindest, and wisest people in the world, while some others are the craziest! Regarding the latter, some Karate instructors become extremely egotistical, petty, controlling, power hungry, etc.

One of the old time teachers explained to me that in the old days, an instructor could not simply hide behind his rank or title. An instructor who could not back up his Karate with fighting skill would be challenged and beaten. Most instructors, thus, were not boastful or arrogant as this would attract a challenge. Of course, some instructors were boastful and arrogant because they welcomed challenges.

Today, challenges are rare (even illegal) and instructors can pretty much boast freely. There are so few limits on the ego! Perhaps it was better in the old days.

When I state that some Karate instructors are crazy, I do not mean to equate that with mental health problems. They are crazy in the sense that they are out of control and have not pursued Karate for their personal development as well as self defense skills.

And, for every rough stone you find in Karate there are many more gems.


Charles C. Goodin