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Refine What?

Some time ago, I wrote about Karate Refinement. Generally, the idea in Karate is not simply to learn more, but to refine one's movements and understanding.

However, I think it is important to state that refinement is appropriate when the student has become fairly advanced. During the beginning stages of learning (which last quite a long time), the student is continually learning, building up the curriculum of the style he is learning.

Karate is somewhat like a school system. Here in Hawaii, children might go to pre-school, kindergarten, elementary school, intermediate school, high school, undergraduate school, and graduate school. This might cover about 20 years of education.

It wouldn't make much sense for kindergarten students to be refining their A, B, C's. In elementary school, students are still learning the basics about many subjects. The same could be said about intermediate school and high school. Each year builds upon the last. Even in college, students are learning in a cumulative manner. It is only in graduate school, for many students, that refinement becomes possible, because it is only then the that students have learned enough -- reached a critical mass -- that truly creative and introspective work is appropriate.

Of course, no two people are the same and some people learn more quickly than others. Bu the point is that beginners are really not in a position to refine their knowledge.

So what about Karate? I do not award kyu ranks or belts, but using that terminology, a yellow belt is really not in a position to be refining his Karate. He is still learning the nuts and bolts.

Michaelangelo's David must have started as a block of marble. No amount of polishing would have turned that block into the David. First you have to sculpt.

I am bringing this up because the knowledge level of Karate instructors and students varies greatly. Some people have a deep curriculum and some have a shall0w curriculum. Forget about rank and titles -- concentrate on content. A low ranking black belt in one school might know more than a higher ranking black belt in another school. In such case, who should be refining his movements, the lower ranking black belt or the higher ranking black belt?

And what happened when Karate was introduced to the school system in Okinawa? That curriculum certainly was not the full Karate curriculum as it was specifically designed for children who would only study for a limited time. Then that form of Karate took on a life of its own and largely became the basis for the modern Karate curriculum. As Karate spread to Japan and other parts of the world, this reduced, simplified and generic curriculum became the norm.

I do not mean any disrespect. But if you compare the pre and post 1910 (or so) curriculum, you are largely comparing apples and oranges. Many Karate students who learn the "post" curriculum, spend a lifetime trying to fill in the gaps.

This is all relevant when we speak about refinement in Karate. We probably can agree that it does not make sense to refine a third grade education but we all probably have our own ideas about the stages of our own curricula.

My own experience from meeting many fine instructors over the years is that a Sensei who has refined a complete Karate curriculum does things easily that appear to be impossible. On the other hand, a student who has learned an incomplete curriculum, will always seem to struggle. If it works, it takes effort -- and you can see what he is doing.

So this is my way of saying that while we should refine our Karate, we should first make sure that have enough to work with. We must sculpt before we polish.


Charles C. Goodin


I have thought of a new acronym that might save people time when they are writing about Karate people: "TDH." Can you guess what this stands for?

OK, it is "10th dan, Hanshi." It seems that this is used quite a bit now so we could just shorten the title to "TDH."

Of course, you could add "M," "GM," or "GGM" ("Master," "Grand Master," and "Great Grand Master"), plus any number of other titles. Don't forget "S" for "Soke", "Shihan" "Sensei," or perhaps "Sempai." Since that is confusing, perhaps we'll have to make those "Sk", "Sh," "Sn," and "Sm."

I am still content with "D" and "GP" ("Dad" and "Grandpa"), but that is just me.


Charles C. Goodin

Hawaii Self-Defense Laws -- Online Video

Remember my post entitled Hawaii Self-Defense Laws: What You Can and Cannot Do, a panel discussion which was held on Thursday, April 1st, 2010, at the William S. Richardson School of Law? Well, the talented folks who organized the presentation have posted a video of it online. I highly recommend that you view it as it covers critically important information for martial artists here in Hawaii -- and general information that will be useful outside of Hawaii too.

That night, I only saw my friend and senior Sensei Richard Young, so all other Hawaii Karate instructors should really watch this. Please see:


One of the most important things that was stressed at the presentation, is that given the chance we should "Just walk away." I could not agree more! As Karate instructors, we have nothing to prove and quite a bit to lose if we injure someone. Just because we practice self-defense does not mean that a court will find that our actions were justified and will be considered as a defense to charges that may have been filed against us as a result of our use of Karate techniques.

Thank you very much to Mickey Knox for inviting me to the event and for this video link.


Charles C. Goodin

Yelling Kata Name

Someone recently asked me why some people yell out the name of the kata before performing it. I have come up with a multiple choice test. Is the reason:

  1. To scare away potential attackers
  2. To make sure that they know what kata they are about to do
  3. To scare away wild animals
  4. To invoke the spirit of the kata maker
  5. To comply with international copyright laws
  6. To show that they know the name of the kata
  7. So that judges will know what kata they are going to see
  8. Because if the kata is done at night, it is good to let potential attackers know where they are (wait, that must be wrong)
  9. Because everyone else does it, so it must be right
  10. All of the above
  11. Some of the above
Personally, I find that this practice gives me the heebyjebbies. It is sort of tantaran. Please see "Back with more on "tantaran'" by Lee Cataluna (a very insightful writer here in Hawaii). Yelling out the kata name seems a little like blowing a trumpet to me... tantaran! It is also somewhat "taran." Sorry, no offense intended.


Charles C. Goodin

"Mrs. Sensei"

I mentioned recently that I sometimes call my Sensei's wife "Mrs. Sensei." The Sensei I am referring to is my Sensei here in Hawaii.

Actually, if I do this I am sort of joking. I usually call her "Aunty."

But if I were to address the wife of my Sensei in Okinawa, I would say, "Mrs. Shinzato." I do the same for the wife of my friend, and senior, Sensei Pat Nakata. I refer to her as "Mrs. Nakata." No matter how many times she asks me to call her by her first name, I don't and won't.

You might wonder why I refer to the wife of my Sensei here in Hawaii as "Aunty," rather than Mrs. Shimabukuro. This is interesting and I cannot quite explain it. I cannot call her by her first name (this would be disrespectful) and it feels a bit too impersonal to refer to her as "Mrs. Shimabukuro" as I have known her and my Sensei for over 35 years. If I were to introduce her to someone, I would say, "Mrs. Shimabukuro." But on the phone, I might say, "Aunty."

Also, my Sensei here in Hawaii and his wife are less than 10 years older than me, while my Sensei in Okinawan is about 10 years older than that. This does not make much difference, but it seems that as the years go by, I am catching up in age!

What is most important, however you call your Sensei's wife (or husband for that matter), is that you are being polite and respectful. The use of the term "Aunty" here in Hawaii connotes respect and closeness.

I have to also say that when I address my own Sensei (both here in Hawaii and in Okinawa), my feeling is both "Sensei" (as in my instructors) and also "Uncle" (as in a close personal relationship marked by respect). I do not use the term "Sensei" in a strictly formal sense when I address them.

This also makes me think about the term "Juku." The feeling of the use of that term in "Kishaba Juku" is a family group. It connotes closeness, a personal group of like minded people, unlike an association or organization per se.

If the structure of your Karate is strict and formal, your movements will be too. Rigid thinking leads to rigid movement.


Charles C. Goodin


These are stories.

A student visited his Sensei with a long, sad face. "What's the matter?" asked the Sensei.

I was practicing kata in the park and this old man came up and said that my Karate is terrible," answered the student.

"That old man is wrong," commented the Sensei.

"So my Karate is good?" asked the student.

"Your Karate is excellent," replied the Sensei, "it is just that you do it terribly."

You see... the Karate is good.

Same story with a different twist.

A student visited his Sensei with a long, sad face. "What's the matter?" asked the Sensei.

I was practicing kata in the park and this old man came up and said that my Karate is terrible," answered the student.

"That old man was not very considerate," commented the Sensei.

"He should not have said that my Karate is terrible?" asked the student.

"No," replied the Sensei, "he should have explained why."

It is easy to criticize someone but to offer constructive criticism takes effort.

Same story with a different twist.

A student visited his Sensei with a long, sad face. "What's the matter?" asked the Sensei.

I was practicing kata in the park and this stupid old man came up and said that my Karate is terrible," answered the student. "I wanted to punch him in the nose!"

"That old man is my Sensei," commented the Sensei.

One minute someone is an old man that you want to punch in the nose, the next he is your Sensei's senior, his own Sensei. Sometimes a person who criticizes you is a friend or compassionate senior.

I often feel that my own performance of "my Karate" is terrible. As soon as I feel that I am improving a little, I am dissatisfied and uneasy. I feel that I have to work harder. Nothing will hold you back more than complacency or feeling that you are pretty good. The best Karate instructors I have ever met are far more demanding of themselves than they are of their own students and other people.

If an old man (or woman) tells you that your Karate is terrible, you should thank him politely and ask him (or her) how you might improve.


Charles C. Goodin

Perfect Bowling Afternoon

Today I went bowling at Ft. Shafter with my three sons and my daughter. My wife, mother, and granddaughter came to watch.

We played teams: my sons Charles and Cael against my son Chris, daughter Nayna and me -- raw total again raw total. Charles can break 200 so those two against us three is pretty fair.

We played three games and if you can believe it, for two of the games, we were the only ones bowling in the entire alley! Just the five of us on two lanes. It was pretty amazing.

My daughter bowled a new high score and my oldest son Chris did well too so our team won two out of three games! Sweet.

And, of course, as the father, I win! If one of my children gets a good score, I do too because I am their father. I had two strikes back to back once today. But having my four children all together is like four strikes!

My Sensei here in Hawaii is a bowling coach. When he was giving my children pointers the other day I heard him say, "Don't worry about hitting the pins, just concentrate on good form. If you have good form you will be able to hit the pins."

What a perfect lesson for Karate students!

Man, having a whole bowling alley to yourself (with all your children), that is something to remember.


Charles C. Goodin


When my friend and senior, Sensei Pat Nakata, calls me, he says, "Sensei, this is Pat."

I reply, "Hi Sensei, how are you?"

I never call him "Pat" (it is even hard to write this) and he never calls me "Charles". This is also the way that Nakata Sensei addresses other Sensei. So if there are several of us present, it can become confusing if you were just listening to the conversation. But from the body language and eye contact, you could easily tell who was addressing who.

There is a little difference that would be hard to observe, but you still could if you were alert to it. When I address Nakata Sensei, I say, "Sensei." When I address someone my age, I say "Sensei." It is not the volume or tone of voice, it is just a subtle thing. When Nakata Sensei and I address our friend and senior, Sensei Bobby Lowe, we say "Sensei." (In this regard, the way we say this would differ in that I am younger and less mature in Karate than Nakata Sensei -- but we both hold Lowe Sensei in high regard.) (For people on Facebook, I size of the word Sensei has changed, grown larger the more senior the Sensei is. I am not sure if this will be picked up in Facebook from the original Blogger post -- CCG)

Again, it sounds exactly the same. But there is a difference.

And none of the Sensei I know would ever refer to themselves as such.

Do you notice that I close these posts with my name alone, not with any titles? If I wrote "Sensei Charles C. Goodin" I would probably hear it from my senior friends! I would seem so full of myself.


Charles C. Goodin

That Looks Okinawan

I have been emphasizing to certain students that it is critically important to do each movement correctly -- to pay attention to the details.

Just trying to do the kata and movements faster and stronger won't do any good -- in fact, it will just ingrain and magnify errors. I feel like telling some students, "That was a very strong and fast performance of innumerable errors. You did the wrong things extremely well!"

Concentrate on the little things -- how your weight shifts, when your hand twists, the angles of your movements, your breath, etc. Concentrate on the details.

When the student does the movements correctly, even if it is not done with much power or speed, it looks good. I often tell a student, "That looks Okinawan."

By this I mean that the movements where done with attention to detail. I find this to be a characteristic of Okinawan Karate. A proper movement is proper whether done powerfully or lightly, or slowly or quickly. Proper is proper and wrong is wrong, even if it is wrapped up in a powerful and fast package.

So it is better for students to focus on being correct -- on the fine points. If a student does movements correctly, power and speed will come. The student will be building upon a good foundation. Success is guaranteed.

Also, correct movements are not subject to inherent limits. A wrong motion, done with power and speed,will fail. It will also have natural failure limits -- like a car racing down the freeway shaking and spewing smoke. You know something bad is about to happen.

Do it right and then you will get better and better.

I should add that Okinawans are just as capable of doing movements wrong (or right). The Okinawan approach to Karate, at least in the old days, was not mass production, but rather the creation of masterpieces -- of full optimized students. A great Karate master might only teach a few students in his life. Outside of Okinawa, the emphasis largely shifted to larger and larger groups. However, attention to detail can be a characteristic of anyone. One of the most skilled Karate Sensei I know is Chinese. And I would say that his movements "look Okinawan" because of his attention to detail.


Charles C. Goodin

Still a Puppy

I was speaking to one of my senior friends today, a Sensei of Aikido. At some point, I mentioned my age (52), and he said, "Sensei, you're still a puppy."

It is great to practice something in which being 52 makes you "still a puppy." In so many sports and other activities, people are old at 30 (or even younger). But in the martial arts, we are still puppies, still learning a lot in our 50s. We continue to learn and improve in the martial arts as long as we practice.

My good friend and senior, Sensei Pat Nakata, often says that we must refine our movements. It is not just practicing the same thing over and over -- it is to constantly seek improvement.


Charles C. Goodin

This is Sensei...

I received a telephone call recently which began something like this, "Hello, this is Sensei John Doe." Of course, this was not the caller's name, but he did introduce himself as "Sensei."

You can imagine what I was thinking. I want to remain positive so I will just say that when someone addresses you as "Sensei," this is a sign of respect and honor. But when a person refers to himself as "Sensei", this is something quite different (I am being nice).

I knew a young boy once who lived near me. Whenever he spoke about his Karate class, he would recite his instructor's name and all of his black belts (in different styles and arts). This must have been something the class was taught, because the child could do it really well! It was like an advertising jingle.

Forget about titles when you introduce yourself. If you use them improperly, you will look like a child. And as I always say, with skill, titles are unnecessary, and without skill, titles are irrelevant.

The two titles I am most proud of are "dad" and "grandpa".


Charles C. Goodin

Double Jackpot!

This only happens once in a great while -- only one student comes to class. That is a jackpot. The student gets the attention of the Sensei for an entire class.

Tonight was a double jackpot. My son Charles and I came to class tonight and there was only one student. So one student had the complete attention of two instructors for an entire class.

You might think we were wondering about the other students. Not at all! We were focused on the rare opportunity to concentrate completely on one student.

If you ever have the opportunity to be the only student at class -- congratulations! Take advantage of it, remember everything you learn, and apply it to all of your movements. One day you might be the Sensei who has only one students for a class.


Charles C. Goodin

5 Stories -- Bad Foundation

This is a story.

A 5th degree black belt in another style of Karate visited a Sensei and asked to become his student. The Sensei was reluctant and said:

"Imagine that each of your dan levels is like the story of a building."

"So I would be like a 5 story building?" asked the student (looking a little proud of himself).

"Yes," replied the Sensei. "So you see the problem?"

"Well I don't know," answered the student, "it took me many years to earn my 5th dan and for my age I'd have to say that I am pretty skilled."

"Perhaps," said the Sensei, "but the problem starts in your foundation. It is easy to lay a good foundation -- it is exceedingly difficult to remove a foundation and replace it when there already is a five story building above it."

"I see" confessed the student.

"Do you?" continued the Sensei. "With an improper foundation, the first story is also incorrect, as is the second, third, etc. Really, you should remove the first story, and the second, and the third, etc. If the foundation is wrong, everything built upon it will be wrong too."

"But I am a 5th degree black belt," declared the student.

"Let's just take one problem at a time," said the Sensei.

The End.

There are several aspects to this story. First, forget about rank. If you want to learn, be willing to start from scratch.

Second, when you think you know something, that itself is part of the problem. A beautiful looking building will be weak if it is built on sand. And if the foundation is weak, the rest of the structure will almost certainly be weak too. A contractor who is foolish enough to build a weak foundation, will probably do an equally poor job on the rest of the structure.

This is one reason that I generally prefer to teach students with no Karate experience, unless they are exceptionally willing to learn and work hard on themselves -- without attachment to what they had already learned. Such students are exceptionally rare.

This story also has a happy side. If as student has a good foundation, his Karate will certainly be good as well. Good basics lead to good advanced techniques, and good advanced techniques cannot exist without good basics. So if you can do one technique really well, you should be able to learn to do all techniques really well.


Charles C. Goodin