Karate Thoughts Blog

Contents   /   Email  /   Atom  /   RSS  /  

1700+ Posts... and Counting

Best Karate...

This is a story.

An instructor boasted that he taught the "best Karate money can buy" and charged his students accordingly, particularly for dan rankings. One student believed this, and when he eventually earned his 5th dan, had to mortgage his house to pay for it.

As it happened, this 5th dan was at a restaurant one night and picked a fight with a Karate student from another dojo. This other dojo was not fancy at all. In fact, it was in a garage, and the Sensei awarded no ranks or titles.

The 5th dan was supremely confident and kept pressing and pushing. Unable to avoid it, the other student finally defended himself and knocked the 5th dan out with a simple punch.

When he awoke, the 5th dan was beside himself. How could a no rank, nobody defeat him so easily? Hadn't he paid for the best Karate money could buy?

The next morning, he went to his dojo and confronted his instructor. "You said that you taught the best Karate money could buy!" he yelled. "How could that guy beat me?"

The instructor thought about it and decided to come clean. "I do teach the best Karate that money can buy," he confessed. "But that guy's Sensei teaches the best Karate."

The moral of the story is that Karate skill is not something that can be bought or sold, it is only earned through hard training. The best dojo could be in a garage, house, yard, church, recreation center, park... anywhere. And the best Sensei will probably not look like what the public thinks a "good" Sensei would look like. He or she will probably be an unassuming, unpretentious, down to earth person.

Be careful. For every person willing to "buy" Karate, there will be person willing to "sell" it.

Also, that 5th dan should not have picked a fight!


Charles C. Goodin

Getting In Shape

This will be a short post, but it is a truism.

It is much easier to stay in shape than it is to get in shape. I mean much easier.

That is why it is important not to allow yourself to get out of shape once you are in shape. Even though it take effort to continue your training, this effort is small when compared to the time and effort of getting back into shape, especially if you let yourself go badly.

There are many reasons not to train or to put it off. We all are too busy. But it is in your best interest to keep in shape. The time you save by laying off training will seem small compared to the time it will take to get back into shape.

I should add that the older you get (especially past 40 or 50), the harder it becomes to get back into shape.

Once you get in shape, keep in shape.


Charles C. Goodin

Tapping the Egg

Tonight I made an error during training and will share it in hopes that others can avoid the same mistake.

I was explaining to the class that Karate is usually not done as a challenge -- one person openly challenging another where each is ready to fight. Instead, it is more likely that you will be hit in the back of the head or get a false crack. Or, if you are fortunate enough to block or evade the first hit, you will have only a split second to react before the second hit arrives. So we are preparing for something that you really cannot fully prepare for. You have to be able to move by reflex, and even then there is an element of luck. That is why it is so important to be aware of the situation and environment, and avoid the attack.

Anyway, I asked my second son (the head of our dojo) to throw a punch to my head, which I dodged, but to simulate getting hit, I started to fall. As I was falling, I threw a left downward uraken (backfist) which caught my son in his right... egg. Since youngsters might read this blog, I prefer to use the term "egg", but you probably know what I mean.

As it turned out, my uraken must have been perfect, because it had an immediate result. To be honest, I felt nothing at all. I thought I only snapped the outside of my son's gi. I felt no physical contact at all. None.

So here are some of my observations.

First, I should have been more careful. My Sensei is very good about stepping back before he throws an uraken to a person. I should have done so too. After dodging/blocking, I should have slid back out of range before throwing the uraken.

Also, my control was off because I was simulating falling. I should have been more careful about this too.

Second, this shows how little it takes to injure someone when you hit his "egg". I even used my left, which is slower than my right. But the angle and contact must have been just right. Interestingly, the snap was probably good because I was falling. The energy of the fall was easily transferred to the uraken.

Third, I used koshi in the technique. I did not intend to do so -- it just happened. This is why it is best to step out of range before throwing an uraken or other koshi driven technique. Sometimes you might hear that your koshi has a mind of its own. That may sound exaggerated, but when you move by reflex your koshi will move by reflex too. By the time you are aware of moving, you will have already done so.

Lastly, I was relieved that it was my son I hit. I do not want to hit anyone, but if it had to happen, I am glad it was my own son. For his part, my son "sucked it up" well and didn't show any anger. He is a calm person, and knows that I would never hurt him on purpose.

What should you do in a real confrontation if you are hit in the groin and feel that you are going to pass out or double over? I would rush the attacker and throw my best technique while I still could. I would probably go for a takedown, but that it just me.

My main advice is that it is best to step out of range before throwing an uraken or any technique for that matter, unless you are moving in very slow motion. Remember, it does not take much to crack an egg! And there are other parts of the body that could have been just as easily injured.


Charles C. Goodin

Fukyugata Ichi -- Progress

I am now 50 and have practiced Karate for about 35 years or so. Please keep this in mind when you read below.

I feel that I am beginning to be able to do Fukyugata Ichi a little bit "OK".

Some people like to perform "high" kata to show their skills. But I think that it is more revealing to watch someone perform Naihanchi Shodan or Fukyugata Ichi. Particularly in Fukyugata Ichi, there is no room to hide poor techniques. Either you can do it, or you cannot. You can't cover it up or blur it.

The first movement of Fukyugata Ichi is incredibly difficult to do well. I have only seen one person in my life deliver that first downward block explosively with no extra movement. From the starting point -- POW! I still cannot do that.

The turns from the front to the back, and from the back to the front, are also very challenging. Almost everyone I have ever seen is too late -- the downward blocks come too late after the turns.

Fukyugata Ichi is an easy kata to learn but an incredibly difficult kata to perform well. Have you ever seen a black belt perform the kata in a tournament? Maybe so, but generally it is something only a beginner would do.

I do not participate in tournaments, but even in demonstrations higher ranking black belts will typically perform kata such as Passai, Chinto, or Kusanku.

I cannot stress enough how advanced and difficult basic kata such as Naihanchi Shodan and Fukyugata Ichi are. And with respect to Fukyugata Ichi, if you can do the very first movement well, you can certainly do the entire kata well. One movement -- Karate.

Please keep in mind that I said that I feel I can now do Fukyugata Ichi a little bit "OK" -- not well. Perhaps in another 35 years I will work my way up to that! I'll let you know when I am 85.


Charles C. Goodin

Tough Neighborhood?

Sometimes you will hear that a Karate Sensei grew up in a tough neighborhood and had to learn martial arts in order to survive on the streets. This is particularly true in certain neighborhoods here in Hawaii.

I have to admit that I did not grow up in any tough neighborhoods. My father was in the Air Force and I grew up on or near Air Force bases. I was born in 1957.

One of the things I recall growing up was that we children did not want to get into any fights because of two things: (1) the MPs (military police) were always around; and (2) we did not want our fathers to get called in by the Base Commander. I think that the second reason was always in the back of my mind. I had heard about children who had gotten their fathers in trouble and this was certainly not something to do! My father was an enlisted man and being called in to be reprimanded by a Colonel would have been it!

But also, I did not see many fights as a child. Perhaps my childhood was idyllic. I spent my time fishing, in Boy Scouts, and in Judo (later Karate). I cannot remember having anything stolen from me, or anyone demanding money from me. I guess that I was lucky.

When my father went to serve a year in Viet Nam, my mother, sister and I lived off base in Shalimar, Florida. I think that my father was sort of assigned to Eglin Air Force Base in connection with his tour of duty in Viet Nam. Even there, in Florida, I had no problems. Everyone was nice to me. I did not get into any fights and the only scary thing I ever saw was snakes! No one treated me badly because of my mixed race. I did see prejudice against black people, which I had not seen on military bases. There are many people of different and mixed races on military bases. I felt perfectly normal being of mixed race (Caucasian and Japanese).

I have to say one thing about Shalimar. That place had the best fishing ever! I would ride my bike and fish off a nearby bridge all day long.

I guess that the point I am trying to make is that I did not grow up in tough neighborhoods -- just the opposite. My views about Karate are probably colored by this. I realize that the world can be a dark and dangerous place. The self-defense aspects of Karate are useful and for some people, necessary on a day-to-day basis. But I pursued the martial arts for enjoyment and self-improvement, and still do.


Charles C. Goodin

What Are You Hitting?

For each movement in a kata, you might ask yourself, "What am I hitting?" Are you hitting something, or twisting something, or pulling something? Whatever it might be, you must be doing something to something. Kata are not simply movements in the air.

The above statements might seem obvious, but I have often asked Karate students what they are doing, only to find out that they have no idea! Of course, new students wouldn't know what they are doing. That is something that they still have to learn. But more advanced students and instructors would be expected to know what they are doing.

And at an advanced level, a student might know many applications for a single technique.

Once a student has an idea of what he is hitting (or twisting, pulling, etc.), then he will have a better idea of how he could do it -- what part of his hand or foot will be used, will the power be delivered sharply, gradually, in a twisting manner, etc.?

In order to know how you are supposed to do something, you have to know what it is you are supposed to be doing. If a movement can be both a strike and a throw, the student might explore how the movement would be done for each type of application. Sometimes they might be done the same, or they might be very different.

Usually kata are always done the same, but with very advanced instructors, you might see some variations depending on what they are visualizing.

I watched one instructor perform a kata in which he took an extra step forward before punching. Later, he explained, "he moved." The attacker in his mind was out of position, so he had to take an extra step. Or perhaps he was just pulling my leg.

When someone shows me an application, I usually say, "Yes, it could be that." I think there are many possibilities -- some more usable and practical than others. But it is our job as students to wonder what everything means. Our Sensei are not supposed to tell or show us everything. That would be too easy!

The next time you perform a kata, you might ask yourself what you are hitting (throwing, twisting, controlling, blocking, parrying, slipping, breaking, pulling, poking, raking, pressing, gouging, stomping, punching, kicking, sweeping, kneeing, butting, checking, elbowing, etc.) for each movement.


Charles C. Goodin

1000th Post -- Hawaii Karate Museum Collection

It is hard to believe, but this is the 1,000th post of this blog!

I wanted to have something profound to say, but that is difficult. So I will let you know about something I am working on.

One of the important parts of the Hawaii Karate Museum is our rare book collection. Consisting of several hundred books, about 1/3 of the collection was donated by Karate Sensei, students, and supporters around the world. The remainder was purchased by the museum.

One of our objectives was to get the collection together. In some cases, books were stored in poor conditions before we obtained them. Since our books go back to the late 1800's, properly storing and preserving them is extremely important. It is also important to properly secure them. As you can imagine, this is a very big and expensive job.

We have decided that the best way to preserve, protect and ensure the perpetual existence of the collection is to establish it at the Hamilton Library at the Manoa campus of the University of Hawaii. I am in negotiations at this time and it looks very promising.

To have a historic Karate collection at a major university sounds like a dream, but it may soon be a reality. This will also ensure that Karate Sensei, students, researchers, and enthusiasts will have access to the collection. As planned, the rarest portion of the collection will be in closed shelves and will have to be viewed in a special area. However, the larger portion of the collection will circulate, meaning that the books can be checked out. This is something our museum could not have done on its own.

I will keep you informed of the progress. Please wish us good luck as this is a monumental event.

For my part, I will continue my efforts to obtain rare Karate books, at least for the next 10 years, and will add these to the collection. Why 10 years? From the age of 60 on, I think I should spend more of my time training and teaching, no?

Thank you very much for reading this blog, for your words or encouragement, and support of our projects.

1,000 posts. Hard to believe. A Karate collection at Hawaii's major university. Also hard to believe.


Charles C. Goodin

Who Is The Senior?

Sometimes you will hear students argue about whose Sensei is the senior. This is something that only students would do, because their Sensei know who the senior is.

Students tend to argue about such matters because they think that the higher their Sensei is, the higher they too are. This, of course, is ridiculous.

I am the senior in my dojo (naturally). However, of my different Karate Sensei, I was not their senior student (not even close). But I have continued to practice when most of the other students have stopped, and have been determined enough to form and maintain a dojo. That is what it takes.

Did my Karate Sensei have other students who were senior to me? Certainly. Do those students continue to practice and teach? Generally not.

Let me ask you this question. Who is more senior, a junior student of Kentsu Yabu or the senior student of Chosin Chibana? Both Yabu and Chibana were students of Anko Itosu. Yabu was clearly the senior in age and in Itosu's group of students. I'm sure that Chibana Sensei would recognizae Yabu as his senior.

However, Chibana Sensei taught much longer and produced many more students. In that sense, Chibana was a far more successful teacher.

So whose student would be senior -- a junior student of Yabu or a senior student of Chibana?

I hope that you get the point. This is only something a student would argue or worry about. In fact, a good student would not -- a good student would simply train hard and respect all his seniors. I am not elevated by my Sensei's status. If anything, I get ahead by hard work and practice.

I respect my Sensei. I respect other Sensei. But that alone will not improve my skill.

I will say this. I feel extremely fortunate to have two fine Sensei of Shorin-Ryu (and a senior friend who coaches me like my own Sensei). When I move, I feel happy. I have the luxury of their experience and refinement -- and their exceptional ability to teach it. On my own, I could not have learned to move the way that I do now (that is an understatement -- on my own I moved like a brick!). But that is not an issue of seniority. They are not skilled because of seniority, but because of their own hard work and insight.

Seniority, rank, and titles are usually very poor measures of skill.


Charles C. Goodin

Fukyugata Ni

I recently spoke to senior friend of mine who teaches Goju-Ryu. I commented that the Fukyugata Ni kata, developed by Chojun Miyagi is weird. I can accept that it is weird to me, since I practice Shorin-Ryu. And even though our Fukyugata Ni is actually a Shorin-Ryuized version of Miyagi Sensei's creation, it still is a weird kata. Fukyugata Ichi (created by Shoshin Nagamine), in contrast, is very straightforward, symmetric, and sort of like origami.

I was a little surprised to hear my Goju-Ryu friend say that the kata was weird to him too!

I wonder why Miyagi Sensei didn't use Tensho as the template for Fukyugata Ni -- it looks so much more like a Goju-Ryu type kata.

One thing I have learned over the years by watching my Goju-Ryu friends, is that their Fukyugata Ni (Gekki Sai) has more strikes than our Fukyugata Ni. We have turned many of their strikes into blocks. We have to realize that they are right -- their founder created the kata. We are the ones who are interpreting it through our own eyes. I teach the strikes in our bunkai.

I'm sure that they would do the same thing (reinterpretation) if they did one of our Shorin-Ryu kata -- except that I'm pretty sure that Goju-Ryu people would not do our kata!


Charles C. Goodin

Like Naihanchi

Recently, I spoke to my son Charles, who is the head Sensei of our Hikari Dojo (I now assist him). I essentially told him this:

"Son, one of the most important things to remember is that the Naihanchi kata should be the first kata taught. Teach all three before moving on the Fukyugata kata.

If a student learns Naihanchi well, his basics will the good. Then all his kata will look like Naihanchi. But if a student learns the Fukyugata kata and Pinan kata first, he will probably have weak basics and his Naihanchi will look like those kata.

All kata should look like Naihanchi. In fact, Karate can be taught with the Naihanchi kata alone."
I firmly believe this to be true in our dojo. Naihanchi is more than a simple drill. If you can do Naihanchi well, you can learn to do all kata well.

In our dojo, Naihanchi Shodan is usually the first and last kata we do.


Charles C. Goodin

Center for Okinawan Studies at the UH

Last week I was very pleased to attend the opening ceremony for the Center for Okinawan Studies, part of the School of Pacific and Asian Studies at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. It has long been the dream of educators and community members for there to be such a center at the UH. The center is not under the Japanese program -- it stands on its own.

Dr. Leon Serafim is the director of the center.

One of my missions with the Hawaii Karate Museum has been to see that Karate is included among the cultural treasures of Okinawa. We often think about Okinawan dance and food, but I am confident that the most widespread aspect of Okinawan culture practiced worldwide is Karate. When there are cultural events, I try my best to provide materials and exhibits about Karate.

Dr. Mitsugu Sakihara was a leading Okinawan history and culture educator. When I began formulating the museum, he took the time to take me to lunch and urge me to always study Karate as part of Okinawan culture, not as a sport or mere athletics. I have always been guided by his words, which have been echoed many times by elders in the Okinawan community, such as Mrs. June Arakawa.

If you study or teach Karate, I too urge you to study its roots in Okinawa and also here in Hawaii.

I wish the new Center for Okinawan Studies the best of luck and will do what I can to assist it with Karate research and materials.


Charles C. Goodin