Karate Thoughts Blog

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Basics are Hard

Some students think that basics are easy and kata are hard. Just the opposite it true.

Basics are very difficult. New students start off with basics and the most advanced instructors continue to work on basics.

Karate are simply a collection of basics in a certain order. If the student has good basics, he will certainly have good kata. Conversely, if the student has poor basics, his kata will be equally poor.

Some students think that they will become better at Karate by learning more kata, particularly more advanced kata. It seems to me that many students learn kata that they are not ready for.

If a student can punch well, just think how many times he will use that punch in various kata. But if he punches poorly, just think how many times he will punch poorly in various kata. Instead of learning another kata, perhaps the student should work on improving his punch.

I often say that if a student can do just one block well, he can use that to learn to do all blocks well. Essentially, the body dynamics of all blocks are the same. Jodan, chudan, gedan... it really doesn't matter. So if a student has good body dynamics for one block, he can use the same body dynamics for all blocks.

Basics are hard, kata are easy... if you have good basics.


Charles C. Goodin

Relaxing -- Twofold Benefits

I often tell new students, especially those who have already had Karate training experience, that it is critically important to learn to relax when executing techniques. Until the moment of contact, most tension is wasted. The same is true after the moment of contact. Many students waste a tremendous amount of energy (90% or more).

Being tense when it is not necessary slows down the technique. So if you can learn to relax properly, you will be able to move faster and more freely.

You will also be using a lot less energy. As a result, you won't get as tired and will be able to train longer. You will literally be able to do much more with much less. Your recovery time between training session will also be much less (because your muscles won't become as sore).

As we age, the twofold benefits of relaxing become more and more important. I know some students/instructors who seem old and weak at 40 and some who seem young and strong in their 70s!

Trying "harder" is not always the answer.


Charles C. Goodin

Try and Fail...

Something I tell my children is that it is OK to try and fail, but not OK to fail to try. I couldn't remember where I learned or heard this saying, and actually thought I might have made it up. But I Googled it and found that it is attributed to Stephen Kaggwa who said “Try and fail, but don't fail to try.”

I was speaking to one of my sons recently about becoming skillful in Karate. I have three sons and they all became shodan at the age of 17 because they had trained from the time they were little kids. My son said, "The main reason we became skillful in Karate is because we are athletic." I would agree that they are athletic, especially compared to me. In a Western sense I am a real geek because I never played any team sports or even individual sports. Since the age of 8, all I did was martial arts.

My sons are definitely more athletic than me, but if I have an advantage it is that I am more determined than them when it comes to Karate training. I really believe in Chotoku Kyan's saying that "if he trains three times I will train seven times." I feel that I can make up for my lack of athleticism by practice, practice, practice.

I will try, try, try, and if I fail at least I would have tried my best. I would feel good about it. And I tend to believe that people who try hard do succeed, not just because of their effort alone but because their effort attracts people who will help them. In my case, I have been fortunate to be "adopted" by truly fine Sensei and I think this has to do with my effort because it certainly was not because of my ability.

People who try hard are rare in any art, sport, or endeavor. Most people just try until they are bored or tired or interested in something else. A person who would literally move a mountain to reach his goal is very rare.

If a student can learn how to try, he can apply this to endeavors other than Karate. He can try hard at school, at work, with his family, etc... A person who can try hard in Karate can try hard in everything.

It is OK to try and fail, but not OK to fail to try. Even an athletic student will fail at Karate if he quits or just trains weakly. But a non-athletic student who trains hard for a long time will almost certainly succeed.

I should add that while I am more determined than my sons when it comes to Karate training, my eldest son was just as determined in Kendo training, my third son is just as determined in Ju Jitsu training, and my second son is catching up to me in Karate determination. And my daughter is just as determined in dance training. So maybe children and students can learn or be influenced by determination too.

I would also add to the saying about "to try and fail" with another saying, "fall down six times, get up seven times." Even if you try and fail, you can get up and try again. In Japan, the Daruma doll is an example of this saying -- no matter how many times it tips over, it rolls back up. The public usually only sees a person's success, not how many times he failed before he succeeded.

"If you fall off the horse, you have to get right back on it." Of course, I don't ride horses so this saying is a bit foreign to me. But falling off a horse seems a lot more traumatic than just tipping over like a Daruma doll.


Charles C. Goodin

Form, Body Dynamics & Applications

I our dojo, we teach some basics first followed by kata. I feel that kata are a good way to learn basics and are more interesting than simply squatting and punching, so to speak.

Once the student learns the "outer" form of the kata (the steps, techniques, directions, etc.), we turn the focus to body dynamics. We work on "how" to move, essentially the inner "form" of the kata. The "inner" form powers the "outer" form. Anyone can copy the movements of a kata, but it is quite another thing to move like a seasoned Karate expert.

Once the student makes progress in learning "how" to move, we gradually introduce the applications (bunkai or imi), essentially "how" to use the techniques. The reason this is done second, after body dynamics, is important.

With ordinary body mechanics, the applications will have a limited effect. Done in an ordinary way, a punch is just a punch. There is nothing wrong with it -- it is just limited.

Learning body dynamics takes a long time. Actually, the bunkai is relatively easy. In Kenpo, we used to call certain techniques "tricks". Certain defenses were used against certain attacks almost like a formula.

Form, body dynamics, applications. The ultimate goal is to be able to perform each and every movement optimally and to apply each and every technique effectively. This requires constant work and great attention to minute details.


Charles C. Goodin

Flyer for Our Class

Here is a link to a flyer for our class at Halawa District Park, Mondays and Wednesdays, 6 to 7:30 p.m.

With summer just around the corner, it is a good time for new students to start training.


Charles C. Goodin