Karate Thoughts Blog


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1650+ Posts... and Counting

In Okinawa!

I arrived in Okinawa yesterday evening and will be here until Easter! I will be back in touch after I return to Hawaii.

Respectfully,

Charles C. Goodin

Arrogant Because...

I always say that Karate students or instructors who are arrogant simply have not been around enough truly skilled people. If you have met people who are truly amazing, you are not likely to "toot your own horn."

Most Karate students I know simply try not to "make shame" rather than show off.

If you meet enough truly skilled Karate experts, you just feel lucky to practice the same art!

Another thing -- truly skilled Karate experts are usually humble because they have met other experts (perhaps their own sensei) who are even more skilled than them.

I plan to spend the rest of my life hoping to become half as skilled as my own Sensei. So much to do and so little time. Maybe a quarter is more realistic.

Respectfully,

Charles C. Goodin

Immutable Kata

Are kata immutable? "Immutable" means "unchangeable; changeless."

Some people like to say that kata are like the mountains.

But even as you look, the mountains are changing. They are eroding due to the wind and rain. Plants are growing, causing cracks. Landslides happen from time to time due to earthquakes and the weather. The mountains are always changing. One day they might be completely gone and new mountains will rise somewhere else.

So kata, if they are changeless, really are not like the mountains.

If kata are changeless, when is this measured from? It is easy to say that a kata has not changed for 10 years, but how about 50 years, 100 years, 500 years?

I practiced Matsubayashi-Ryu for many years. I think that we had pretty immutable kata. And yet when I compared film footage from the 1960s with the kata of the year 2000, there were differences. Had the kata changed? It certainly looked like they had, even if in only small ways.

I now practice the Kishaba Juku form of Shorin-Ryu. We do kata many ways. There really is no one single way to perform a kata. How a student performs a kata depends on the student's level and his grasp of body mechanics. It may also depend on the assumed circumstances -- night, rough terrain, ideal ground, etc. Kata can even be practiced in a drunken-like manner.

Sometimes my Sensei will notice that students are having a difficult time with a certain movement. He might design a modification so that the students will do the movement correctly. Once the students can perform the movement correctly, he might let the movement revert to the normal form.

I have a very open attitude about kata. Why? Because I practiced them strictly for many years and did not experience good results. If you can learn to move properly, then the form of the kata does not matter very much. But if you are moving improperly, then even a 1000 year old kata form will not help you at all!

I do think it is important for there to be a main form for a kata. Otherwise, the students will be confused. And it is nice for the students to be able to perform the kata together and at least look similar. But this is a minor concern. Learning to move properly is the goal.

I will give you some examples of change in kata. You are supposed to step and punch. There are many ways to alter the timing of the step and punch and of the shifting of weight and setting. You could step and then punch, step and punch together, or even punch and step -- and all variations in between. Your punch could be at chudan level, but could just as easily be at jodan or gedan levels-- and all points in between.

My Sensei says that each movement in a kata represents a range of possible movements. If you can do the movement well, you should be able to do each movement in this range equally well.

Of course, I do not teach this to beginners as it would be too confusing. But after a few years, students are ready to learn the versatility of their kata.

Immutable or versitile? Should kata be a prison or a stairway?

Respectfully,

Charles C. Goodin

Thinking You Know

Don't forget that thinking you know or understand something makes it more difficult for you to learn that thing.

Imagine that you understand 50% of a subject. If you think you get it, you will not try to learn the other 50%. You will only know half and will be blind to the rest.

In most cases, a person does not know 50%. It is more likely that he only understands 10%!

There is a big difference between understanding the terminology of a subject and being able to do something. We can talk about punching and the mechnics of a punch, but actually punching is a different thing. Understanding the terminology might help, but is never enough. You have to actually practice doing the thing.

I will give you an example. You can read about kime, but that does not mean you can strike with proper kime. But your mind might latch onto the the term and make you feel like you get it. And if you get it, why pursue it any further?

It is best to keep an open mind. Even if I think I get something, even if I am confident that I can actually do it -- I try to keep an open mind. I think to myself, "I might be wrong." Or I think, "What if there is a better way?"

Remember, thinking you know can be a problem. This is one of the reasons that I do not award any kyu ranks and do not award any colored belts until Shodan. I want the student to understand that there is always more to learn -- that you should not let what you know blind you to opportunities to learn what you do not yet know.

Respectfully,

Charles C. Goodin

Living Up To One's Potential

Today I was speaking to a senior Karate instructor and the subject turned to a particular student who had tremendous potential. For whatever reasons, this student did not progress very far and had not lived up to his potential. The instructor looked very sad when he discussed this subject.

It is sad when a student, who has potential, does not invest the time and effort necessary to realize that potential, or never receives the instruction necessary to enable him to realize that potential.

But we are all students. Have we lived up to our own potentials? It is one thing to think about other people. But what about ourselves?

Each day I have to ask myself, have I lived up to my potential? Or have I fallen short? What can I do to improve myself both in a technical sense and as a teacher?

Are there students in my dojo who I have not properly taught? Are some of them not living up to their potentials because I have not given them the necessary tools to do so?

When I see a student with a problem, I try to relate it to myself. As I have stated often, my students' errors are mine. Their accomplishments are their own.

Respectfully,

Charles C. Goodin

YouTube.Com

I wonder how many martial artists are learning things by watching YouTube.com videos. I am often sent links to various clips that people think are interesting. I have to admit that some of them actually are very interesting, particularly the Chinese ones.

Some clips are just downright funny. I'm sure they were posted for that reason.

But you have to be careful. Many videos are posted without the subject's permission. How do you know that the person was demonstrating a "good" example. He might not be an expert, or he might have been showing how "not" to do something. You could be watching an outtake.

I know that my own Sensei is very concerned about videos, because he always feels that his technique continues to evolve. What he did yesterday might not be what he is emphasizing today. And I know that sometimes he will intentionally show the wrong way to do something on a video with an explanation of the error. But in a video clip, the explanation might be deleted.

So you have to be very careful watching marial arts videos and videoclips. And you should never post anything unless you have received the subject's permission.

Respectfully,

Charles C. Goodin

Ending Letters

As Karate students, we have to be courteous at all times. One of the important things to be careful about is sending letters and email. People tend to be more relaxed and informal, in particular, when sending email.

You might have noticed that I end each of these posts the same:

"Respectfully,

Charles C. Goodin"

This may sound rather bland, but I have to be careful. The people who read this blog may be senior sensei (whether I know them or not). I would not want to sound disrespectful to my seniors. But I also feel that respect is owed to juniors. Respect does not only go up -- we should respect all people.

Sometimes people put a tag line after their signature. I often see these. Imagine that I am sending a formal email to my Karate senior and I sign it as follows:

"Respectfully,

John Doe

I can't steer without my beer!"

No matter how politely I wrote the email, the tag line will make me look rather silly, and possibly disrespectful.

Another thing I often observe is the use of the title "sensei" by the person himself. I would not consider it to be proper to end a letter as follows:

"Respectfully,

Sensei (Hanshi, Kyoshi, Renshi, Shihan, Soke, Professor, etc.) John Doe"

Titles are used by other people to address us (possibly), not by us to describe ourselves.

If you are polite 99 times and disrespectful once, what do you think people will remember?

When addressing a letter, it is probably best to use the proper title for the addressee. Let us say that John Doe is a Soke. It would be best to open the letter by writing:

Dear Soke Doe,

It would not be a good idea to write:

Hey John!

I have seen this happen. Sometimes the address can become quite upset. Of course, titles are trivial when compared to actual Karate training and the practice of Karate ideals in daily life. Getting upset about titles is silly. But we should try our best to be respectful, particulary to our seniors who are kind enough to teach us.

Respectfully,

Charles C. Goodin

Friend -- Qualification

As you may know, I have many "friends" who practice Karate. This is natural, since Karate is a big part of my life.

However, there is a problem with the word "friend." In English, at least to me, the word friend connotes a sense of equality. A friend is someone on my level.

But in Karate, we are always aware of our relative positions. For example, someone who joined the dojo before me is and will always be my senior. There is no question about this. I would not address him as "sempai" but I would be aware that he is my sempai. My "Sensei" is certainly my senior and I will always act with that in mind.

So can my sempai or sensei be my friend? The Japanese terms convey an element of relative position while the term friend conveys equality.

That is why I usually describe Sensei Pat Nakata as "my friend and mentor" or "my friend and senior." If I simply referred to him as "my friend," it would seem that I did not know my place. I am distinctly aware that he is my senior.

My own Sensei are Sensei Katsuhiko Shinzato and Sensei Rodney Shimabukuro. I would have a difficult time calling them my "friends," because I respect them as my Sensei. I think of them more as my uncles. I guess that an uncle could be a friend, but again, this would be a little awkward.

My wife is Filipino (Tagalog). In her culture, you do not address your older brother or older sister by their first name. You call your older brother "kuya" and your older sister "ate." This is a sign of respect. My own children do this, and they are only 3/8th Filipino. If one of my younger children were to address their older brother by his first name, this would be a cause for concern in our family.

In my wife's community, we have many aunts and uncles, who might not be related to us by blood. But we call them Auntie or Uncle. Again, this is a sign of respect.

In Karate, how you address your seniors will depend on the form of courtesy practiced in your dojo. I generally find that Japanese dojo are more strict in this regard than Okinawan dojo, but it depends. It seems to me that Japanese dojo put more emphasis on formalities, while Okinawan dojo place more emphasis on relationships.

So the use of the word "friend" when it comes to Karate can present some problems, or at least some issues of which we should be mindful.

A student should always know his place and a sensei should never abuse his position.

Respectfully,

Charles C. Goodin

My Compliments to....

On Monday evening, our class was pretty small and we practiced bo exclusively. I want to give my compliments to all the students who attended class: Ikaika, Cael, Kehau, Christine, Kaimana, Kai, Aaron, and Reyn. You all did an excellent job!

I am amazed that my students, even the younger ones, can learn kata such as Sakugawa Nu Kun. That is a long and complicated kata with many difficult movements. And yet I find that no matter what I teach, my students can learn it -- usually much faster than I learned it myself.

There is a saying that our reach should always be longer than our grasp. For me, as a teacher, I want to always be reaching so that my students will never settle for what is already within their grasp. Karate is a lifelong learning project. That means we never stop learning. Never.

But I am truly amazed to see youth and teens doing things I could not do in my early 40s! I canot imagine how skilled they will become if they keep training throughout their lives.

Good job!

Respectfully,

Charles C. Goodin

Bo On the Line

In our dojo, we practice the Yamani-Ryu form of bojutsu as taught by Sensei Katsuhiko Shinzato. We practice three kata: Shuji Nu Kun, Sakugawa Nu Kun, and Shirataru Nu Kun.

In some kata, you will find repetitive patterns. In Shuji Nu Kun, for example, there are three strikes/pokes in a row, and in the beginning of Sakugawa Nu Kun there are three sets of striking with the front and back of the bo (sorry I did not describe this very well).

The point I am trying to make is this: when you move forward in a repetitive sequence, the bo travels along a straight line -- your body moves off the line to accommodate the bo. You move around the bo, not the other way around.

To me, this is one of the "secrets" of real speed with the bo. If you try to move the bo off the line, you will lose speed and power. The bo generates a great deal of momentum. Moving the bo off the line requires that you slow it down. There is also lost time due to the movement of the bo, even if only an inch or two. But when you allow the bo to keep the line and move yourself instead, the bo can move very quickly without deviation.

So actually, you are "throwing" the bo in more or less straight lines while moving your body around it.

Many styles of bojutsu do just the opposite. You will find many students trying to "muscle" the bo -- to move it around their body.

I would say that the bo moves you.

Respectfully,

Charles C. Goodin

My Senior Friends

Because of my Karate research, I get to meet many senior Karate Sensei. I am sure that to some people this must seem like an ego thing -- that I name drop. I actually saw this posted once in a discussion group.

I can understand this. I've met many people who name drop in an effort to make themselves seem more important.

But one thing I have learned about meeting and training with seniors is this -- your Karate will improve if you are surrounded by talented people. It is not that skill rubs off. It is more that seeing talented people gives you an idea of the right direction.

In addition, far from making you conceited, knowing truly talented people makes you more humble. It is easy to feel "superior" if you are surrounded by beginners, but you get a reality check when you are near outstanding martial artists.

I will give you one example. Sensei Morio Higaonna visited my dojo. I teach Shorin-Ryu. He teaches Goju-Ryu. But that does not matter. Karate is Karate and he is one of the finest Sensei I have ever met. Wow! Seeing him train really makes you want to train harder and improve yourself.

What about my own Sensei? Why do I mention Higaonna Sensei? Because it is not too good to say much about your own Sensei. It is easier to speak about others. Of course I admire my own Sensei. Of course I believe that they are outstanding. But that is not something a student says. A student just feels fortunate to have a fine Sensei.

I try to learn something from everyone I meet. When you are lucky enough to meet outstanding Karate Sensei, there is always a great deal to learn.

Respectfully,

Charles C. Goodin

White Belt

The other day I was rummaging through my pile of old white belts, when I realized that the white belt I always carry in my Karate bag was gone. I must have given it to a student some time back.

I always try to carry a white belt, occassionally for a student who has forgotten theirs, but generally for myself. If someone visits my dojo to teach another art, or if I visit another dojo which teaches another art, I want to have a white belt to wear.

A senior black belt (now a 9th dan) once mentioned that he wanted to visit my dojo to see our interpretation of certain kata. He said, "I'll come in my white belt."

Even a senior black belt should have the attitude of a student. But this is a pretty rare thing. Too many people let their "rank" blind them to what they do not know. A good student is always trying to learn and improve himself.

We should always carry a white belt, whether in our bag or in our attitude.

Of course, the belt is just a symbol. In some dojo, they wear no belts at all!

Respectfully,

Charles C. Goodin

Being Late

Some people are late to everything. I am not talking about being late to class, although that can a problem for some students. If a student is late to class because of work or school, or some other good reason, it is no problem. But if a student is always late because he is lazy and does not want to help clean up, then it is a problem. If a student does not want to help clean the dojo, he should quit.

But people are also late to other things. Let's say there is a dinner. Some people will always come late. Why is this? Of course, there may be many reasons. But there are some people who come late to get attention. If you go to enough events, you will start to notice this (with respect to some people).

My wife is usually a little late to parties, but this is for cultural reasons. My mother is Japanese and I think/feel like her when it comes to time. If a party is at 7:00 p.m., I want to arrive at 6:55. I do not want to be late because it is shameful and causes me stress (because of Japanese time values).

However, if we are going to a Filipino party (my wife's parents are both from the Philippines), the time expectations are different. Depending on the party, it is probably OK to be 15 minutes late. If you were to show up 5 minutes early, the only ones there would be the Japanese (and the hosts). I don't mean this negatively. I have been going to Filipino parties for over 30 years. I feel half-Filipino and have mestizo children. It is just that I think "Japanese" when it comes to time.

What about Karate functions? Here I think it depends on your seniority. If you were going to a Karate meeting, you should probably arrive early if you are a junior. That way you can help set up or assist seniors as they arrive. A junior should not arrive late. In the worst case, the meeting might be delayed because the group had to wait for the junior. Being prompt is a sign of courtesy.

Should seniors be late? Of course not. Seniors should be as demanding of themselves as they are of juniors. But if anyone might be forgiven for being late, it is a senior.

But being late all the time, that probably reflects a deeper problem. Try to keep track of this for a few months. You might find that the same people are always late and always act the same way when they arrive.

Personally, I find it easier to be prompt.

In life, being a little behind or a little ahead does not involve that much difference in effort. But it is much better to be a little ahead.

Respectfully,

Charles C. Goodin

Good Basics -- Good Karate

We often say that without good basics, it is impossible to do good Karate. This is true.

The more advanced you become, the more important you realize that basics are -- and as a result will devote more time and effort to basics when teaching .

A student with good basics can advance. A student with poor basics cannot advance. It is that simple. Good basics are like a solid foundation upon which you build a house. Poor basics are like building a house on mud.

Some people will try to "hide" their lack of basics by concentrating on "advanced" techniques. There really are no advanced techniques, just basics.

If you can do one technique correcly it will be easy to do other techniques correctly.

Good basics make for good Karate.

Respectfully,

Charles C. Goodin

Garage Karate

Sometimes a student will tell me that he learned in his Sensei's garage or house. Often, they will tell me this with a sense of embarrassment. They are embarrassed because they did not learn in a "proper" dojo.

I will always explain that it is an honor to learn at the Sensei's home or garage -- that is the best place to learn. What an honor to be invited to the Sensei's home!

A dojo is just a place. Sometimes you hear this about churches. Recently I watched a news report about a church that was destroyed by a tornado. The reverend was cleaning up and explained to the reporter that the church was not the building -- it was the people. In the same way, a dojo is not the place -- it is the students.

Some of the embarrassed students will also explain that their Sensei only had a few students. Few students? How lucky for them! The luckiest student is one who trains one on one with his teacher. For most of the time, I was my Iaido Sensei's only student. How lucky I was! I am not embarrassed by this -- I just thought how fortunate I was.

Whether you learn in a garage, a carport, a living room, or even a yard, you are lucky to be learning the best form of Karate. You should not be embarrassed -- you should be grateful for the opportunity to learn from your Sensei.

How should you repay your Sensei? By becoming a good student and eventually a good Sensei, so that you can pass on the art to the next generation of students. Who knows, maybe you'll teach in your own garage.

Respectfully,

Charles C. Goodin

Refinement of the Person

A while back, I wrote a post entitled Karate Refinement. My good friend and mentor Sensei Pat Nakata, often speaks and writes about this subject -- the importance of refining Karate technique.

I would like to write about a variation of this theme. It is also important to refine your character -- to refine your life.

It is good to make your shuto more efficient. It is absolutely essential to do so if you wish to improve in Karate.

But it is even more essential to work on your character -- on the totality of your personality traits. What good is a strong shuto if you are dishonest? What good is a strong kick if you are so insecure that you always seek attention (rank, title, awards)? What good is any aspect of Karate if you do not work equally hard on your daily life?

A thousand punches -- easy. Holding your temper -- hard. A thousand kicks -- easy. Helping a person in need -- hard.

Conditioning the body is relatively easy. Making techniques efficient is relatively easy (even if it takes a lifetime). The hardest thing is to work on yourself.

Refine yourself.

Respectfully,

Charles C. Goodin

Meeting Karate Students -- Technique

When I meet students or instructors, I am sometimes asked to evaluate their technique. Of course, we all practice different styles and we are all different.

When I do evaluate students or instructors, I do not ask myself whether they are faster or stronger than me, or other people. I ask myself how much of their potential they have realized.

This is very important.

It is OK to try to be better than other people. But suppose you are in a group of weak people. Being the best in this group might not be saying very much at all.

Even if a student is better than 20 other people, the question should be how he is compared to the best that he could be. He might be the best student in the class, but have only reached 50% of his potential. If he had a confrontation with his twin who had reach 100% of his potential, he would surely lose.

So, to be better than other people is OK as a starting point, but to be the best you can possibly be is the real goal.

As you age, you will find that your strength and speed will decline. It is a natural thing. If you rely on raw strength and speed, your Karate life will become very challenging, maybe even miserable.

That is why it is essential that you try to become the very best that you can be, that you learn to become very efficient, that you learn to generate power with you entire body rather than just your extremities.

Work to become the best you can be.

Respectfully,

Charles C. Goodin

Don't Teach Well For Me

Tonight I missed my Karate class because of a bad cold. I did not want to risk getting my students sick.

I am lucky because I have three instructors and several assistant instructors in my dojo. This really helps me.

Sometime I will ask an instructor about how he or she taught in my absence. They will usually get excited to tell me about some aspect of the class. I am always happy to see that the instructors are very enthusiastic.

One thing I sometimes request is that the instructors not try to teach well for me. I want them to teach their best because they care about the students. If a person teaches for the sake of the students, he will always be very happy to teach. It will always be rewarding.

Teach well because you care about the students.

Respectfully,

Charles C. Goodin

When I Meet Students

When I meet students of Karate, whether they are new students or instructors who have studied for decades, I always gauge or measure one thing. Can you guess what it is?

Sincerity.

I do not care about rank, titles, awards, strength, speed, power, etc. Of course, these things are all part over the overall package that makes up a person. But without sincerity, all of these things mean nothing.

On the other hand, a sincere student, even if he lacks stength, speed and power, can become very skilled in Karate. Little by little, a person can improve.

Of course, a person cannot try to be sincere. Sincerity is a natural thing.

No matter how advanced an instructor might be, he will often say that "he is just a student, that he still has much to learn." I have heard some very great Sensei say this.

Sincerity is the most important trait of a good Karate student.

Respectfully,

Charles C. Goodin