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Attention To Details

At class the other night I mentioned what I thought distinguished Karate schools in Okinawa from Karate schools overseas, including here in Hawaii. But when I thought about it, that was an improper comparison. I should have framed the discussion in terms of what distinguishes a good Karate school from a poor Karate school, wherever it may be located. Location or country is not relevant.

So what is it? What is the distinguishing factor? The answer is attention to details.

In a good Karate school, the emphasis is on attention to details. Each movement must be correct. Each part of each movement must be correct. Each movement builds upon the ones that came before it and is a strong foundation for the movements that will come after it.

The reason I thought about Okinawa is because dojo in Okinawa, generally, are known for attention to details. The emphasis is not on learning many techniques quickly or learning many kata -- the emphasis is on the fine points. As such, the students learn slowly in terms of the number of techniques and kata they learn over a period of time -- but they learn very well.

However, I'm sure that this is not true of all dojo in Okinawa, Japan or wherever. I'm sure that you can find dojo in Okinawa and Japan that rush the curriculum.

Here in the United States, I would say that we do tend to rush the curriculum. Here, if there are 10 things to learn, we want to learn them right away. If there are 50 kata in the curriculum, we want to know them all.

In our system, we practice 18 kata (with an emphasis on 15 or so). In some schools, I know that shodan are expected to learn all of these kata. However, in Okinawa I understand that the more advanced kata are reserved for students of the sandan level.

My point is that a student who knows 18 kata and has trained for 3 or 5 years cannot be expected to understand the kata was well as a student who has trained for 10 or 15 years. He might "know" the 18 kata (in a shallow sense) but he will not really "know" them (in a deep sense).

I feel that it would be better for the shodan to learn fewer kata but to learn them very well. Then it will be easy to him to learn the more advanced kata. Have you ever noticed that a student who learns too many kata too quickly tends to move like a beginner, even when performing an advanced kata? This is generally true even as he advances in rank.

But if the expectation in the dojo is that a shodan will know all the kata, then that is what a student will try his best to do. The expectation is wrong. You cannot blame the student for striving to meet expectations.

Ranking can aggravate the situation. So can tournaments.

The emphasis in a good school -- wherever it may be located in the world -- must be on attention to details. Each and every movement must be correct -- especially the basic movements. If a student punches wrong, think about how many times this funamental error will be repeated in the kata. One wrong movement could be multiplied dozens of times!

By the same token, one right movement can be multiplied dozens of times.

Wrong is wrong and right is right. Students should be encouraged to work on getting each and every movement right -- not on bulk (the sheer number of techniques and kata).

When I observe a student performing Naihanchi Shodan, I first look at his footwork. You can observe this with the very first step -- if it is correct, all the steps will probably be correct and if it is wrong, all the steps will probably be wrong. And as an instructor, it is my responsibility to correct it (if it is wrong).

As instructors, we have to set the expectations in the dojo. I feel that we would do well to encourage students to pay attention to details. And when they get it, we should reward them by celebrating and saying, "So, so so!"

Here is a story. Two Karate fighters were going to have full contact match. On the back of the first fighter's gi was embroidered the number 1,000 -- the number of techniques and kata he had "mastered." On the gi of the second fighter was embroidered the lowly number 1.

The match began and the second fighter promptly punched the first on the nose and knocked him out.

You can guess what the number 1 stood for (a good punch to the nose).

Pay attention to the details.


Charles C. Goodin