Karate Thoughts Blog

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1700+ Posts... and Counting

The Whale People

I received an email from the author of The Whale People blog at http://www.thewhalepeople.com/. I thought you might like to visit it.

Like I said, to me, whales and dolphins are basically people. Here in the United States, if someone tried to do to dogs what commercial hunters do to whales and dolphins, our whole nation would be up in arms.


Charles C. Goodin

Whales and Dolphins

This post is a bit off topic for my blog, but I know that some of my readers are interested in my general thoughts.

I have come to the point in life where I believe that whales and dolphins are basically humans and intentionally killing them for commercial reasons should be a crime. I am not commenting upon the practices of native peoples, just commercial slaughtering of these intelligent beings.

Now back to Karate!


Charles C. Goodin

Flashlight as a Weapon

My friend Jim Alexander mentioned the use of a flashlight as weapon. I know that some people purchase flashlights for this reason and also train in such use. Some flashlights come with a strobe or flashing feature that can temporarily blind an attacker.

My comments about flashlights are limited to their use for safety, basically for illumination. I do not teach their use in self defense -- but I am open to the idea.

However, I do advocate the use of anything available in self defense situations -- a folding chair, backpack, umbrella, pen... whatever is available. Please keep in mind that I view Karate as something to be used as a last resort only. In that situation, the use of improvised weapons would be appropriate.


Charles C. Goodin

One More About Flashlight

Today I went to Costco and Home Depot and both were selling very reasonably priced tactical flashlights (under $20). Please make sure that you have flashlights for your car, home, office, etc.

OK, you can actually spend some serious money on flashlights. The one I saw today at Costco came in a 3 pack and was 100 lumens. I bought two of those in the past and it seems that once you get into tactical flashlights, you keep wanting brighter and brighter ones. In my car, I have 240 lumens flashlights currently (with zoom lenses), and have just ordered a pair of 500 lumens ones.

Now I have been looking at 1000 and 1200 lumens models.

A good flashlight and a good knife are nice things to have. A good gun too (in my opinion), but I have never bought one yet.

Here's an idea -- for Christmas you can buy nice tactical flashlights for your family members and loved ones.


Charles C. Goodin

About "Flashlight"

In response to my post, Flashlight, my good friend and Shorin-Ryu instructor Jim Alexander, of Belleville, Illinois, wrote:

I know you are speaking of preparedness here...but actually a good flashlight is a great self-defense tool. I taught H2H and anti-terrorist technique to American Airlines flight crews after 9-11. And one of the few things flight crews could... have on their persons was a small flashlight to assist passengers looking for lost or misplaced items during the evening portion of long flights when cabin lights are permitted to be dimmed. I recommend the scorpion tactical light. Used in breech entries by SWAT team and cops all over. It is incredibly bright, so bright that in a dark environment ( think parking garage, alley, etc. ) it can stun an attacker into looking away and subsequent optic overload ( white of purple spots before your eyes) allowing the defender to strike back or better yet run , during the temporary blindness. It easily fits in a purse, even a small one, or pocket and has a rubberized metal housing.
PS it also makes a great striking implement when the butt is placed firmly into the closed fist and applied to the temple or base of the nose :-)
PPS...the other thing was a steel barreled ball point pen sold at Sharper Image Stores....absolutely lethal, and writes well too!


If you are sitting down in a safe place (not driving), I want you to close your eyes and imagine that you are driving your car. Your hands are on the steering wheel. Now reach for your flashlight. Do you know exactly where it is? Can you readily reach it?

Is it buried in your glove compartment or somewhere in your trunk? What if it is completely dark? Could you find it? After all, you cannot use a flashlight to find it... because you are looking for your flashlight!

And how are you reading this? You are supposed to have your eyes closed! Just joking.

It is important to have a good flashlight in your car. I like the tactical versions, but any good flashlight will do. And don't forget to change the batteries once in a while.

Here in Hawaii, we are always worried about hurricanes, so we have lots of flashlights. I actually have one next to me when I sleep. In my car, I have one within easy reach and another in the trunk. Actually, I have three or four in the trunk. I don't know how many I have a home (plenty).

Karate is more than punch, kick, block -- it is also about being careful and safe, and being prepared for emergencies.

OK, you can open your eyes now.


Charles C. Goodin

MMA Thought

Have you ever watched a MMA (mixed martial arts) fight between a fighter in his prime (usually the famous one) and an older fighter (usually not so famous or perhaps he used to be famous)? Sometimes after nearly three, four or five hard fought rounds, the younger fighter will win and everyone will cheer! He is the winner and the other fighter is the loser -- even if there are only 10 seconds left in the final round.

When I see that, I ask myself this: "In a real fight, could the winner have knocked out the other guy in 10 seconds?" Obviously, the answer would usually be "no"-- after all, it took so many rounds for him to win. A real fight does not last that long. Some fights are over very quickly.

Some of the MMA fighters who lose fights are terrific fighters who can take tremendous punishment. I dare say that an average person, even an average martial artist, could beat on such fighters all day long and do little or no damage. They are just too strong and too skilled.

What I am saying is that real fights are usually over quickly. Some people, especially trained fighters, can take a lot of punishment. And they will not just be standing there -- they will be doing their best to beat the crap out of you.

To make matters worse (at least in my case), if you fight in an ordinary way, then size and weight matter. Since I am only 5 feet 8 inches tall, many fighters are taller and heavier than me. If I try to match them in raw power, I will almost certainly lose. And I am a grandfather too. I am probably way older than most fighters.

So what is a martial artist to do?

One day I asked my third son, who is quite strong and much taller than me, if he could take me in a fight. He started to have that certain grin indicating that he was certain that he could. But before he could answer, I added, "I have a knife and you don't". His expression instantly changed. A knife? That's a different story.

Karate is like having a knife. Karate strikes are almost surgical in their focus. The targets are very specific points.

Would this work on a trained fighter? Maybe, maybe not. Perhaps it could give you the split second necessary to block an attack and escape.

But when you feel pretty good at Karate, you should watch a hard fought MMA match. It is a good reality check. Now imagine that the fighter is armed, or has friends. Yikes! Now imagine that you are attacked without any warning. That is exactly what we are training for.


Charles C. Goodin

Me and My Grandaughter

Here is a photo of me with my granddaughter, Madeleine. It almost looks like she is punching me in the chin, no?


Charles C. Goodin

Observation Changes the Results

Borrowing a principle from quantum physics, the mere act of observation changes the results (this is generally known as the uncertainty principle). So how does this affect a student who is demonstrating a kata in front of an audience? Does the observation by the audience change the performance of the kata?

OK, I realize that this situation is not one of quantum physics. But I think that most Karate students and instructors will agree that the audience does have an effect.

The audience will probably make new students nervous. Thus, they make mistakes and speed up their performance.

Advanced students will probably not get nervous as they will have had experience performing for an audience. But will they change the way they do things in order to get the audience's approval? Will the advanced students change their timing, the focus of their strikes, jump higher and yell louder than normal, etc.? And even if they do not do so consciously, will they do so subconsciously.

Even the dojo can be affected. After years of performances, the Sensei will know what the audience likes and what it does not like. He will know what other dojo have done. And he will probably want to do things that will get the audience's approval -- at least so that the dojo will be invited back the next time. There are also ways to perform that get more media attention.

So the observation effect is more than just a hypothetical. It is a real concern. It is something I think about a lot.

I also think this: if the crowd likes the way I perform a kata or demonstrate a technique, what does that mean? The crowd does not understand Karate. If I am seeking the approval of people who do not understand what I am doing, then what am I doing?

Performing for my Sensei or seniors is one thing, performing for people who cannot possibly understand what I am doing, how I am doing it, and why I am doing it, is quite another.

When someone says, "That was great!", I remind myself that: (1) they might not understand what I was doing; and (2) they might just be being polite. How often have you performed a kata and had a spectator say, "that was terrible, the worst ever?" Spectators are almost always polite and complimentary.

As you can probably tell, I do not like giving demonstrations. I would much rather practice and teach privately. That is just me. I realize the need for demonstrations, and I have had to coordinate some and ask my Karate friends to participate (these were for cultural/educations events). But I generally do not like to give or participate in demonstrations.

Going back the the effect of observation, there is another form of observation that can result in changes -- self-observation. When you do something and are aware of yourself doing it, and are also aware of yourself observing yourself doing it, that can change things too. In contrast to the changes caused by an audience observing you, which are generally negative, the changes resulting from your observation of yourself are generally positive. While practicing Karate, we should not only be aware of our movements, we should also be aware of our thoughts and feelings, and of ourselves observing these. That is not a bad idea for daily life either.

Be aware of yourself.


Charles C. Goodin

Demonstration Advice -- Don't Rush

Today I got to watch a Karate demonstration. Normally, I am conducting the demonstration or being the emcee, so I cannot actually watch the performances. But today I had the luxury of being a guest.

Here is my advice. I think it applies to anyone performing a kata anywhere.

Don't rush.

I know that it sounds like simple advice. I am serious -- don't rush.

It is good to punch, block, or kick fast. It is not good to rush from one position to the next. It is not good to punch before you are set or move on before your strike has focused.

There is nothing good about finishing a kata quickly. It is not a race. What counts is performing each movement properly. A properly performed kata has a composed pace.

Don't get me wrong. I know that everything moves at a different pace when you are in front of an audience, particularly if you are nervous. It can seem like time slows down. But knowing that, it is important to move with proper timing.

Don't rush.


Charles C. Goodin

Passai Night

At training last night, my second and third sons attended, as did another adult yudansha (black belt holder). Because the class was small, I got to spend the entire class working with the yudansha on the Passai kata (my sons taught the other students).

What a pleasure!

I honestly feel that Passai is the most beautiful kata in our curriculum. We practice the Tomari version of Passai. I have learned about three slightly different versions of the kata -- all beautiful.

If I could only practice three kata, I am sure that Passai would be one, Naihanchi Shodan would be another, and the third would either be Chinto, Kusanku, or Fukyugata Ichi... I'm not too sure about that third kata. But Passai would be one of the kata for sure.

When I practice a kata, I ask myself what the creator of the kata was thinking -- what was he trying to preserve and teach. I did the same thing in school. Instead of just answering the questions on tests, I asked myself what the tester was thinking -- what was it that he wanted the students to know and thus answer.

What was the creator of Passai (at least our Tomari Passai) thinking? What did he want to preserved. What techniques did he want the students to know? How did he want the students to move? What was his sense of direction and changing directions? What was his muti-level approach (usually at least three levels of applications for each movement)? What was his approach to transitions?

Here is my answer to these questions -- the creator of Passai was "way out there", way beyond my level in Karate. He was a real artist! Practicing Passai is like catching glimpses of genius. Even if we cannot perform the kata correctly, just trying makes us better.

Think about the kata. If you could, would you change even one movement? Would you change the techniques or change the order of the techniques? Does anything feel out of place? To me, the kata is perfect. I would not change anything.

Our own Kishaba Juku approach to the kata, and all kata for that matter, is for each movement to be core (koshi) driven. To perform the whole kata in this manner is a challenging thing of beauty.

And this may be a strange thing to say -- I feel happy when I perform Passai. I always have. It does not feel dark or heavy. Chinto does not make me feel happy -- that kata makes me wince. Naihanchi does not make me feel happy -- that kata makes me feel rooted and powerful (like a metal whip). Fukyugata Ichi does not make me feel happy -- it makes me feel precise (like origami). Kusanku does not make me feel happy -- it makes me feel like I am on a tour (going here and there). But Passai makes me feel happy.

So being able to work on Passai all last night was a real pleasure! I'm still happy.


Charles C. Goodin

My Granddaughter is 1 Year Old Today!

My granddaughter, Madeleine, became one year old today! She is the daughter of my eldest son, Christopher, and his wife, Michelle, who live right next door.

I cannot adequately put into words how happy I am to be a grandfather. It is both a joy and a responsibility -- just like teaching Karate.

Some people have asked when I will start teaching my granddaughter Karate. Actually, I think I would like for her to learn how to properly fall first. I have started that, a little. As for Karate training, I think maybe I will wait until she is 5.

But martial arts training will definitely be a part of her life. My son, Chris, was very active in Kendo. Maybe Maddy will practice Kendo too.

We'll see!


Charles C. Goodin

We Need to Be Better!

This is a story.

The head sensei of a very large and successful dojo called all the instructors together. "Our students need to be better! I want each of you to give me your recommendations."

The first instructors said, "We need to teach more hours."

"But we already teach 7 days each week all day and all night," replied the head sensei.

The second instructor said, "We need better facilities."

"But we already have the best dojo facilities in the entire country," replied the head sensei.

The third instructor said, "We need more kata to teach."

"But we already teach 150 kata gathered from the best Karate systems," replied the head sensei.

The fourth instructor said, "We need more trophies in our frontage windows."

"But we already put on tournaments every two months and have trophies up to the ceiling," replied the head sensei.

Finally, the fifth instructor, who was also the dojo's lawyer gave his suggestion, "We need to redefine better."

"What do you mean?", ask the head sensei.

"We need to redefine what it means to be 'better.' I suggest that we promote all the students by one rank and then charge them higher tuition. We promote them to make them feel better and we charge them more because they are better."

The first four instructors started to protest but the head sensei said, "Wait, let's think about this."

No, let's not. If you want to get better you just need to train (regularly, intensely, and with attention paid to details). Training and refinement are the keys to improvement, not tricks.


Charles C. Goodin

Beginner Kata

One of the problems caused by systematizing a style of Karate is deciding what is beginning, intermediate and advanced. Even these categories present problems in and of themselves. If you look at a sphere spinning in many directions, where is the top, middle and bottom?

But it is common for the kata curriculum of a style to be divided by rank. A 5th kyu might learn a certain kata, a 4th kyu another kata, and so on. The most advanced kata might be reserved for a certain dan level. If a system has 18 kata, these are split up and assigned by rank. The same applies for a system with 60 kata. So the number of kata a student would be expected to learn depends on the system, and the assignments made by the Sensei.

Let me ask you this -- if one system has 18 kata, and another system has 60 kata, when students in both systems learn a total of 18 kata, should they be at equal levels? Of course not! In an 18 kata system, a student might not learn the 18th kata until he is a sandan (3rd degree black belt). In a 60 kata system, a student might learn 18 kata (or even more) while still in the kyu ranks.

So are the kata equivalent? Is the value of each kata the same? It all depends on how you teach them.

One of the things I do not like to hear is when a student refers to a certain kata as being for "beginners." This is probably because the student learned that kata when he was a beginner. But that certainly does not mean that the kata is only for beginners. It is a dismissive comment.

Take Naihanchi Shodan. Students usually learn this kata fairly early in their training. In our dojo, it is the first kata that a student learns. But that does not mean that it is a beginner's kata. Naihanchi is practiced by all students in our dojo, irrespective of their level. It is a kata for all levels.

A beginner should do Naihanchi Shodan like a beginner, an intermediate level student should do the kata like an intermediate level student, and an advanced student should do the kata like an advanced student. How the student does the kata depends on the student's level.

It is kind of like a musical instrument. You could have three people play the same violin and it will probably sound entirely different. It all depends on the level of the musician.

In Karate, it all depends on the level of the student.

With kata, it is important for students to understand that their level when they learn a kata does not mean that the kata is for that level only. The timing is just part of the approach followed in the dojo. There are no beginning, intermediate, and advanced kata -- there are just beginning, intermediate, and advanced students.

It is truly awesome to see someone perform Naihanchi Shodan with strength, speed, focus, timing, power, and composure. A student will never learn to do this if he views the kata as being only for "beginners." He will probably want to move on and perform an "advanced" kata.

In the old days, the emphasis was not on learning many kata. In fact, a student who went around learning many kata was looked down upon -- because he was learning many kata rather than perfecting even one. One good kata is better than a hundred poor ones.

If you can do one kata well, you can easily learn to do 100 kata well. But if you cannot do one kata well, then you are wasting your time with 99 more! You don't learn Karate by learning new kata -- you learn Karate by working on the details of the kata you already know (or already think you knew).

And that is the problem in too many dojo today. As soon as a student learns a kata and can basically "do" it, he is rushed on to the next kata -- probably so that he can test for his next rank. There is no rush. There is no reason to associate kata with rank, except in a general sense. The emphasis should always be on learning each kata properly.

As you improve in one kata, you improve in all the other kata you know. It is a cumulative process. When you finally reach the most advanced kata in your system, it is then that you might begin to appreciate the first kata you learned.


Charles C. Goodin

Promoted and Crying

This is a story.

At a gathering of all the students in a particular style, the head Sensei called everyone to attention and announced that Sam was being promoted to 8th dan and awarded the title of Kyoshi. Sam's eyes welled up with tears and he began to sob.

"I know it is great honor," said the Sensei.

"That's not it," said Sam.

"I know that you do not feel worthy," said the Sensei.

"That's not it," said Sam.

"I know that you feel it is a great responsibility," said the Sensei.

"That's not it," said Sam.

"Well I don't understand," said the Sensei. "Why are you crying?"

"I can't afford it!" cried Sam.

The way I look at it, the student has paid for his rank and title by his hard work and the attainment of skill.


Charles C. Goodin