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30 Years Training

I am often reminded of a saying my friend and senior Sensei Pat Nakata is fond of: "There is a difference between practicing Karate for 30 years, and practicing Karate for 1 year 30 times.

Now, I have practiced Karate for over 30 years -- about 35 or 36 years. So it is easy for me to say that "I have practiced Karate for 35 years!" But have I really practiced Karate for 35 years, or have I practiced Karate for 1 year 35 times? Hmmmm?

The truth is probably somewhere in between. Each of my first few years were probably separate years, but I am sure that there were many years when I was stuck and doing the same things over and over again with little or no results. In that sense, these were "1 year over and over" years. I was stuck for a long time.

Then, in 2002, I was lucky enough to get unstuck, thanks to the help of many people and fine Sensei. Every year since then has definitely been a separate year -- no repeats.

So some of my 35 years have been separate years and some have been repeats. And I think that it is a natural thing. We all go through periods when we are learning and improving. We also go through periods when we reach a plateau and feel stuck. Sometimes we might even feel like we are moving backward.

During these difficult and frustrating times, the main thing is to keep practicing and not give up. If we give up, then it is all over. But if we keep working at it, we have the chance to reach the point where we can move forward.

In my case, I reached a point where my frustration was so great that I was figuratively dying for a solution. And when I had the opportunity to learn and move forward, my pent up frustration was turned into determination to practice hard, study what I had learned, and keep moving forward.

If things had always been easy for me, I don't think I would have had such determination. I probably would have taken things for granted.

It is not good to practice for 1 year 30 times. But it is pretty rare to be able to practice for 30 years straight with constant progress. Sometimes we reach plateaus and that is the time to work even harder and to examine what it is that is holding us back. Sometimes the mountain cannot be reached until you have crossed the plateau. Maybe crossing the plateu makes your legs strong enough to climb the mountain.

One of my sons was talking to me about Karate. He told me that he admired me for something. This was a little surprising to me because my sons and I generally tease each other and they are all stronger, faster, and in many ways better at Karate than me.

My son told me that he admired that I never gave up. As a result, I learned a new way to move (new to me) and so did my sons. If I had given up, my sons would not have learned how to move either, nor would our students.

Respectfully,

Charles C. Goodin

Commitment

What does it take for a student to become truly skilled at Karate? There are several things, but one of the most important is commitment.

Karate is very easy to start but very difficult to finish (actually, there is no finish as it is a lifelong pursuit). Many students begin Karate training filled with enthusiasm. But then they find that Karate training is hard work, not just for a few weeks or months, but for many years. I sometimes say that it takes about 10 years for a student to become pretty good at Karate. By this, I mean that the student will probably be comfortable with the curriculum by that time (know the basics and kata) and will probably be in pretty good shape. But this is just the starting point for continued training and refinement. Ten years is just a good start!

If that is true (that 10 years is just a good start), then the commitment required to learn Karate is pretty great, far greater than most students understand when they begin training.

Many Karate students are not athletic or even coordinated. Some are in bad shape, some are overweight, some have physical limitations or challenges, some begin training when they are older and aches and pains are part of everyday life. But a committed student, despite his challenges or limitations, will gradually improve. I have seen students overcome all kinds of problems and become quite skilled, confident, disciplined, and composed in the process. But it takes time and effort and in order to devote this much time and effort, the student must be committed.

Have you ever heard of a "mosquito student?" Here in Hawaii, that means a students who just shows up at class from time to time, like a mosquito buzzing in your ear. I don't know why, but I have also heard such students referred to as "mosquito fish." It is extremely hard for a student to learn if he does not attend class regularly and practice at home. It takes both. You come to class to learn and you practice at home.

My second son saw a student at our class. The student was doing very well. My son said, "You don't get like that by accident." It was obvious that this student, who attends class regularly, was also practicing diligently at home. Remember, you don't become skilled in Karate by accident, it takes time, effort, and commitment.

You might be thinking at this point that I mean commitment to the class, dojo, style, or association. No, I mean commitment to training -- commitment to Karate itself. Commitment to the other things might also be important, but skill comes from commitment to training (advancement may come from commitment to the other things).

In addition to "mosquito" students, there is also another kind. This student starts at one dojo, quits, joins another, quits, starts another style, quits, goes back to the first dojo, quits, starts/quits, starts/quits, on and on and on. Obviously, this will not lead to skill in Karate. The student may be able to superficially discuss Karate and other martial arts very well, but that is it.

A little Karate training is like being a little smart -- it is enough to get you in trouble but not enough to avoid trouble or get you out of it. This is important. Please remember it. A little Karate training is a dangerous thing.

I know many skilled Karate people. Some of the people I have met are truly amazing, despite the fact that they look and act like ordinary people. When people with minimal/shallow Karate experience, but a "big head" in Karate, meet and speak to such skilled Karate people, I always cringe. It would be like me talking to Einstein about physics. It would be like a child going up to a tiger and hitting it on the nose with stick. I just cringe.

But if the student is sincere and committed, more advanced students and instructors will always be understanding and supportive. "Just keep training," they will say, "and you will get it."

That is true. Just keep training. You will get it. The "secrets" of Karate are revealed to the student through training, particularly through training in the kata.

It takes time, effort, and commitment. If a student puts in the time and effort, and is committed, he will certainly improve and eventually become skilled in Karate. It will be no accident. It is certain to happen. But it will take a long time and buckets and buckets of sweat.

So attend your classes regularly (after you have attended to your work, school, and family obligations) and practice at home. You will make it. Try your best! And don't forget to encourage your juniors as you advance.

Respectfully,

Charles C. Goodin

All Different Karate

There are many ways to teach Karate (or any martial art for that manner). The way you might teach a 6 year old differs from the way you might teach a soldier in a hand-to-hand combat course. While I do not like tournaments and competitive forms of Karate, I do appreciate the dedication and hard work that many students devote to such events.

I respect many different ways to teach and practice Karate. My own approach is the one I feel most comfortable with at this point in my training and at this point in my life. I'm sure that my views will change and grow (hopefully) as I continue to mature in the art.

There are so many aspects to Karate. We all pursue a certain mix of these aspects. I work a lot on body dynamics, particularly the use of the koshi to generate and direct power. However, this is just one aspect of Karate. Body dynamics, by itself, is not Karate -- it is just one of many aspects (albeit an important one).

A diamond has many facets. That is what makes it beautiful.

Respectfully,

Charles C. Goodin

DUI

Sometimes I hear about people who are caught driving while intoxicated. Here in Hawaii, that is called a "DUI".

I have noticed that people who are caught and charged with a DUI tend to complain about it -- how unfair it is. Sometimes they hire attorneys to try to get them out of the charge. They are not saying that the charges are untrue, just that it is somehow unfair. They will privately admit that they were drinking and were drunk -- they just don't want the DUI on their record.

It seems to me that a person who was caught driving drunk should get down on his hands and knees and thank the police officer for potentially saving his life and the lives of innocent people! Who knows what could have happened just a few minutes later?

A DUI is a terrible thing. It is an expensive and inconvenient thing. But that is to deter drunk driving. A DUI is bad, but killing yourself and others is far worse.

The way to avoid a DUI is to not drive when you have been drinking. And you know my feeling -- it is better not to drink at all.

Now if you were not drinking and were charged with a DUI wrongfully, then by all means you should fight it. But if you were guilty of the crime, you should face up to it and change your ways.

Just my two cents.

Oh, and if you are convicted of a DUI, when you eventually get your license back guess what happens to your insurance premiums?

Respectfully,

Charles C. Goodin

Clear Headed

One more on drinking.

If I allow myself to become drunk, how can I defend myself or loved ones if it becomes necessary to do so? Some of you might be thinking that a drunken Karate expert can still use his skills. While I do not necessarily agree with that (being drunk would affect one's physical control), there is another issue.

Karate is used for self defense as a last resort only -- correct? If I become drunk, will my judgment be clouded such that my determination of "last resort" can be called into question? Will my drunkenness make me more prone to fight or react in anger?

Let's say that I am drunk and am attacked. Will my actions be considered self defense? Will the fact that I am legally drunk factor into this question? I am pretty certain that it will.

How am I supposed to be able to determine whether or not a situation presents a "last resort" when I cannot walk in a straight line and say my name clearly? I suspect that the police would also arrest me for fighting and if the attacker was injured or killed, I could be charged with a crime.

That is one reason why a Karate student always has to be clear headed enough, not only to be able to defend himself and loved ones, but to make the determination of "last resort" and to know when enough is enough (when to terminate the use of force).

Changing the subject a little, have you ever heard of a Karate student or instructor coming to class after drinking alcohol or when drunk? In our dojo, I can say with certainty that any student who did so would be sent home immediately. And if an instructor did so, we would probably expel him (or her). There are children in our class and that is no place for alcohol.

Respectfully,

Charles C. Goodin

Armed and Dangerous Drinker

Let's say that a policeman goes to work. Naturally, he carries a gun (as part of his job). You wouldn't want this policeman to stop by a bar on the way home and get drunk while still carrying his weapon. You wouldn't want any drunken person to be carrying a gun!

The problem with Karate students is that we are always armed and dangerous. We are always carrying a weapon, so to speak. We cannot leave our Karate in the car, at work, or in a locker. It is with us 24 hours a day. Our Karate is with us when we are sober, and remains with us when we are drunk (or otherwise under the influence).

We have to control our drinking not only to protect ourselves, but in order to protect others from what we could do.

As Karate students, we are held to a higher standard of personal conduct... or at least we should be.

OK, you can blame me on this post too.

Respectfully,

Charles C. Goodin

Designated Driver

Sometimes I hear about people who are going out drinking. Usually, one of the members of the group is named the designated driver. That person will not drink and is responsible for driving the others home safely. As far as it goes, that sounds like a good idea. Certainly, people who have been drinking should never drive.

But does having a designated driver mean that you can drink all you want without any concerns?

What if on the way home, there is an accident? What if the designated driver and others are injured? Will you be sober enough to rescue them?

What is your group is attacked in the parking lot of the bar?

What if the designated driver has a heart attack?

What if, what if, what if?

My point is that by putting your trust in a designated driver, you are giving up your own responsibility. You should always be your own designated driver. You should not rely on someone else when it comes to safety.

If I went out drinking with my wife and she was the designated driver, how could I protect her? If I were drunk, would I be clear headed enough and in control of my senses and body to defend her, and other loved ones?

I think not. I am responsible for myself and also for my family. That is not something I would delegate to anyone else. If I go out with my family, I am responsible for them. Each of my children is also responsible for themselves and the entire family. We are responsible for each other. We are not going to designate anyone to take that responsibility.

We live in a culture where drinking is glorified -- because the people who sell alcohol spend countless millions of dollars conditioning us to believe that drinking will make us somehow better, more attractive, cool, etc. The radio plays songs specifically about drinking. People have bought into the marketing.

I am always the designated driver of my own life. I cannot let alcohol or drugs interfere with that responsibility. And with Karate skills, being sober and in control of one's senses is even more important. Can you imagine a drunk Karate (or other martial arts) student losing control?

We are responsible for our actions. As Karate students, we have to be in control of ourselves at all times -- all times. That is the only way to ensure that should we have to use the destructive aspects of Karate, it will only be as a last resort -- not a drunken response.

For parents of teenagers and young adults, please feel free to share this post with them. You can blame it on me!

Respectfully,

Charles C. Goodin

Pinan Shodan -- Some Points

Last night we worked on Pinan Shodan at our dojo. That was the only kata we did and it was good to focus on the fine points.

As I have written before, I don't know what Itosu Sensei was thinking when he developed this kata, presumably for school children. Wow, what a hard kata!

I should clarify that. It is a pretty easy kata to do but a very difficult one to do well. The opening sequence itself it extremely difficult. I can honestly say that I have only seen two or three people do it well (in my opinion).

One of the things we worked on is the block/kick sequence (about the 5th movement of the kata, depending on how you count). After blocking and striking first to the left and then to the right, you step and block/kick to the rear. The block (right handed) is a chudan uke (middle block) and the kick is a tsumasaki geri (right front kick with the tip of the toes).

This one sequence deserves several classes (actually many years). If the opening sequence is difficult, this one combination is at least equally hard to do (well).

One of the things I mentioned to our class is the old adage that "a block is a block and a block is a strike" (and vice versa). This is an instance where the block is taught as chudan uke but done more as a strike, almost an ura ken.

The "block" and the kick look simultaneous but if you look carefully they are not. The block is a little ahead. Generally, no two movements are simultaneous, even if they look that way. Simultaneous movements have simultaneous recoils that can cancel, offset, or dispupt each other. With staggered timing (even if only in microseconds), the recoil is more controllable and usable.

The recoil of the "block" has to work into the next chudan shuto uke. After the block/kick combination, you step down and turn the front and throw a left chudan shuto uku. The recoil of the right chudan uke to the rear has to go into the torquing at the beginning in the left chudan shuto uke to the front. You do not simply do the first movement, stop, and then do the second. The two waves have to work together.

This is something you do not see too often. Most students execute movements separately and independently... 1, 2, 3.

The first two sequences of the kata are to the left and right. The next two sequences are to the rear and front. Many Karate students turn to the left, then turn to the right, then turn to the rear, and then turn to the front. Their shoulders sway from one direction to the next.

When I do the first two sequences, my koshi and shoulders generally face the front. For the next two sequences, they generally face to the right. I do not turn for the first two sequences and turn only once for the second two sequence. In essence, I am turning without turning.

I also tend to torque through my body rather than around it (see Pulsing Koshi).

The overall effect is minimized movement with more explosive power and speed.

As I mentioned, this kata is very hard to do well. And again, I wonder what Itosu Sensei was thinking? I will write more about this challenging kata.

Respectfully,

Charles C. Goodin

Table of Contents Updated

I have updated the Table of Contents page. Try it. It now goes back to my very first post on February 21, 2006 (On Effort).

There should now be 1339 posts (including this one).

Respectfully,

Charles C. Goodin

Best Karate Expert Ever

Who was the best Karate expert ever?

I am sure that everyone has their own opinion about that. However, based on my research for the Hawaii Karate Museum I suspect that the best Karate expert ever was probably a hidden bushi or hermit, someone whose name is not even known.

Remember that the great Karate "masters" we know about often went to learn from these hidden experts. So what does that tell you?

Today, we learn about Karate experts as part of marketing campaigns designed to sell things: memberships, rank, titles, seminar, videos, books, etc. We know what marketing people want us to know.

Trust me, some of the Karate experts we know nothing about were truly great!

Respectfully,

Charles C. Goodin

Potential

When a student joins our dojo, I always feel that he is full of potential.

But each student has a different and unique potential. Many factors affect how much of their potential each student will realize.

The first factor is pretty obvious. If a student quits after training for only a short time, he will certainly not have realized very much of his potential at all. Karate takes a long time to learn and a long time to refine. By a long time, I mean about 20 years to get to the point of being "pretty good" (or something like that). Certainly after 20 years a student will still have a long way to go. Refinement probably takes the rest of the student's life.

Some students have physical limitations. With determination, students can do remarkable things.

Some students begin training when they are already older. If it takes 20 years to become "pretty good", what does this mean to a student who begins training at 60? Can a student who begins training at 60 realize as much potential as a student who beings training at 11? Certainly the 11 year old can look forward to the possibility of more years of training.

Personally, I adjust my expectations based on the totality of each student. I measure "potential realization" on a case by case basis. I do not compare students, except that I am more impressed by how much of their own potential each student realizes, and by the obstacles that each student has had to overcome.

Over the years, I have had students with tremendous potential who have done nothing with it. I have also had students who were not very athletic but became skilled in Karate due to their hard work and determination.

In the long run, what counts is how a student can apply what he learns in Karate to his daily life. A student who can do that has realized something special indeed.

Did you notice that I have not spoken about "potential" and "potential realization" in terms of rank? That's right!

Respectfully,

Charles C. Goodin

Four Sensei

I was speaking at class recently about our three Sensei, and then realized that we actually have four Sensei.

The first is the Sensei (person) who teaches us. We learn from him.

The second is the mirror, where we watch ourselves. We learn to correct ourselves.

The third is the kata itself. We learn the kata and the kata teaches us.

And the fourth is the students we teach. We learn as we teach them.

I'm sure there are other Sensei, but these are four that come to my mind.

You might be thinking that "daily" life is another Sensei. I would say that "daily life" is the dojo where we practice!

Respectfully,

Charles C. Goodin