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Congratulations to Sensei James Miyaji

Sensei James Miyaji is one of the most humble people you could ever meet. His humility is even more admirable given that he is one of Hawaii's most senior Karate instructors.

Earlier this month, Miyaji Sensei was awarded judan (10th degree black belt) by the Hawaii Karate Kodanshaki. What a well deserved acknowledgment! I cannot remember a judan being awarded to a living traditional Karate instructor who resides here in Hawaii (the Kodanshakai had previously awarded judan to Richard Kim, who resided on the mainland, and to Tomu Arakawa, posthumously).

I look up to Miyaji Sensei and want to extend my congratulations to him and his students. I also want to thank him for being such a good example for us Karate students -- particularly of how true humility follows outstanding accomplishments, like the ripe rice bowing. See Atama Wo Sageru.


Charles C. Goodin

A Prayer

Today I was asked to say the prayer for the New Years Luncheon (Shinenkai) hosted by Sensei Pat Nakata. His students, members of the Hawaii Karate Kenkyukai, and other instructors attended.

Two of the things I mentioned were that we pray for safety as we train this year, and we also thank our families for supporting us in our training. I thought that these two things were important.

If I miss a class, I always ask my son two questions: "Who came to class and was everyone safe?" At class, I am always mindful of the safety of each and every student.

I am also mindful of the fact that when I am at Karate training, I am not at home. It would be very difficult for me to train unless my wife and family were supportive. I am truly blessed in this regard. My family not only allows me to train, they support me 100%.

Today's Shinenkai was a great was to start the year with fellow Karate students and instructors. As I mentioned before the prayer, Nakata Sensei is the glue that binds many of us together. By bringing us together, he helps us to better understand each other and our respective forms or styles of Karate.

You really get to know people when you eat together.


Charles C. Goodin

Get In Shape

I meet many Karate instructors and students. If a student were to ask me what he could do to become better at Karate, for many students I would reply:

"Get in shape."

The student would still have to train regularly and do all the things that Karate students usually do. But he should also strive for an acceptable weight, good muscle tone, and all the things that make up being in good shape.

I don't think that you can be good at Karate if you are out of shape. Hypothetically, if you (out of shape) were to compete against an equally skilled twin (in shape), you would almost certainly lose.

Skill is part of it. The other part is conditioning. You need both, in balance.

The best Karate instructors I know are in excellent shape. This is not an accident. They work at it.

Even if you do not practice Karate, getting in shape is extremely important. It will make you healthier and more able to resist sickness and disease. It will also give you more energy to work and enjoy life.


Charles C. Goodin

No Zazen

Although we used to do so many years ago, we not longer practice zazen during our Karate classes. We do not practice zazen at all.

To tell the truth, I would prefer to practice Karate basics and kata rather than sit zazen. Actually, I would rather pick weeds, paint the house, or go fishing rather than sit zazen -- these things equally quiet my mind.

I am not a Zen priest and am not qualified to teach zazen. But if I was a Zen priest and was duly qualified, I think I still would not make zazen a part of Karate training. I do not believe that the early Karate masters in Okinawa did so. I suspect that Zen and zazen became more important in some Karate schools after the Ryuku Kingdom was overthrown and its lands were made a part of the Japanese empire. Zen and zazen were part of Japanese budo and as Karate instructors grappled to make their Okinawan art of Karate fit within the Japanese budo (martial art) system, some adopted the practices.

History aside, I just do not like sitting zazen. I would rather do something that produces a tangible result -- physical exercise, a clean yard, a painted house, catching a fish, etc.

But that is just me.

If a Zen priest got mad at me and said, "Charles, that was a bad thing to write. I am going to punch you on the nose!"

I would reply, "What sound would that make?"


Charles C. Goodin

P.S. One reason I wrote this post was because some Karate instructors make it seem that Japanese things like zazen have to be part of Karate training. I take Karate pretty seriously (just ask my wife and family) and I do not practice zazen at all. To practice Karate, I practice Karate... period. Karate is much more than enough for me. -- CCG

Success in 2011 -- Still Training

By this time, you have probably made your New Years resolutions for 2011.

If you are still practicing Karate, I wanted to say CONGRATULATIONS!

Sticking with it is an accomplishment. You cannot imagine how many people have practiced Karate and quit for one reason or another (or for many reasons). Any senior instructor can list dozens or even hundreds or thousands of former students.

But you are still training! If you are training, you can improve. If you are training, you can get better. If you are training, you can help other students, your Sensei, and the dojo. There are many things you can do.

But a person who quit will often think about Karate and long to return to training.

You are still training. You can work on yourself. You have started off the New Year well.



Charles C. Goodin

A Thought About Bruce Lee

The other day, flipping through channels, I happened to turn to Enter the Dragon. I don't know how many time I've watched that great movie.

The movie was released in 1973. I was a freshman in high school at that time and of course, all martial arts students idolized Bruce Lee. I watched the movie at the theater, later on video, and many times on television.

Bruce Lee was born in 1940. When the movie was made, he must have only been about 31 or 32, at the most 33.

I was about 15 at that time. Now I am 53. I have reached the age where Bruce Lee, at the time he made Enter the Dragon, could have been my son! In fact, my eldest son will be 30 this year. I'm sure that some of you are my age or older. It is hard to imagine that the star of Enter the Dragon could be our son.

If he was still living, Bruce Lee would now be about 71. I wonder how his martial arts would have continued to evolve as he aged?

When I watch his movies, I am always saddened by the fact that he died so young. He certainly encouraged many young people to train in the martial arts.


Charles C. Goodin

A Paring Knife

The other day I needed to pick some weeds in my yard and quickly grabbed a small paring knife from the kitchen (rather than my usual yard knife which is much bigger). As I was picking weeds and using this little knife, I thought to myself, "How easy it would be to conceal such a little knife and how much damage it could do!"

I always emphasize this to my sons. In Karate, we generally train to defend against things like punches and kicks. But an attacker can easily conceal a knife or could even be armed with a gun. Particularly with a knife, we say that you can't react to the weapon (because you won't be able to see it until it is too late), you have to react to the person.

I am always grateful that my first style of Karate was Kenpo Karate. The early instructors of Kenpo Karate were skilled boxers and many also practiced Escrima and were skilled in the use of knives. As such, the techniques of Kenpo Karate were based on vicious, street realistic attacks, including the use of knives and clubs.

Anyway, these are some of the things I think about while picking weeds in my yard.


Charles C. Goodin

Congratulations to Miss Hawaii

Congratulations to Miss Hawaii, Jalee Fuselier, who was second runner up at the Miss America pageant last night.

I got to meet Jalee at a local pageant last year here in Hawaii. One thing I learned about her that might not have been mentioned during the Miss America telecast is that she has performed over 4,000 hours of volunteer work -- that's over 4 thousand hours. At the pageant I met her, she was doing volunteer work for the Children's Miracle Network.

She has certainly done Hawaii proud.

And yes, it is true -- the most beautiful women in the world live here in Hawaii.


Charles C. Goodin

Sweeping First

I have discussed the issue of the Sensei sweeping the dojo and students asking to take the broom from him. Often, the Sensei and seniors will say "no" and keep sweeping.

If a junior wants to sweep the dojo, he should come to class early enough to get the broom before the Sensei and seniors. That way, he will not have to ask (and there can be no refusal).

Students should learn to do what needs to be done before anyone can ask -- to anticipate the need and address it.


Charles C. Goodin

90% of Your Happiness

My wife and I are in Waikiki this long weekend celebrating our 33rd wedding anniversary.

Every so often, my wife likes to remind me of a saying she saw on a poster many years ago that goes something like this: "90% of your happiness depends on who you marry." Every year, I find this saying to be more and more true.

There is a saying in Karate that you hands should work together like man and wife. This presumes a good relationship.

If your spouse is supportive of your Karate training (and expenditures, travel, devotion of time, etc.), this will make it much easier for you to continue your training. The opposite is also true.

Don't make your spouse a "Karate widow or widower." If you do not devote enough time and attention to your spouse, he or she could end up owning half of your Karate things -- and it is pretty hard to do a sai kata with just one sai.

I think that there should be another saying that "90% of your Karate happiness depends on who your Sensei is." Every year, I also find this saying to be more and more true.

If you have a loving, supportive spouse and a skillful, generous Sensei -- YOU SHOULD COUNT YOUR BLESSINGS and work hard to deserve them both.


Charles C. Goodin

Hold Your Breath and Say...

One of my children was dating a person once and I asked that child a question which I will modify here.

Hold your breath and say five good things about your Karate Sensei. Go.

It's funny -- some people find this very easy to do and some find it very difficult, and it usually has little to do with their ability to hold their breath.

As it turned out, my otherwise articulate child could not come up with five good things (in one breath) and the relationship soon ended. Funny (or not so funny).


Charles C. Goodin

Why I Sweep

Continuing on the subject of Dojo Cleaning, some people have written to me, mentioning the situation where the junior students will go up and take the broom from a senior or Sensei who is sweeping. This is pretty common in Karate and other martial arts dojo. Sometimes you will see a progression: A 5th dan will take the broom from the Sensei; a 3rd dan will take the broom from the 5th dan; a shodan will take the broom from the 3rd dan; a green belt will take the broom from the shodan; and so on.

In our dojo, students will generally come try to take the broom from me if I am sweeping. Usually, I will decline because sweeping is part of my training too. The students should go find something else to do to help clean the dojo. If they take my broom, what will I do -- stand there and watch them? No, I will go clean something else. So I might as well finish my job (and my training).

To me, there is no seniority to cleaning, just like there is no seniority to working on yourself.

Students should realize that although I am an instructor, I am still a student and am constantly working on myself. And when I stay that I am still a student, this is not just because I have two living Sensei -- it is because every instructor is still and will always be a student. There is no end to learning and training.

Sweep, sweep, sweep.


Charles C. Goodin

Guest Post -- More on Dojo Cleaning

In response to my post, Dojo Cleaning, 2011, my good friend, Sensei Jim Alexander (of Belleville, Illinois) wrote:

I was once told that the exercise of cleaning the dojo (which in the old days meant washing down the deck on hands and knees with damp rags before each class) was a lesson in "the value of meaningless work". That term threw me at first, but it is meant as a reflecting surface, of the individual's ego or self value at its lowest level. Every black belt scrubbed floors, until and unless a lower rank student volunteered to replace them. Likewise sensei was always doing something, even if it was only dusting...Mirrors needed to be spotless, bathrooms cleaned, lockers emptied unless in use, trash taken out...everything. The value came in the teamwork and the idea that no one was too good to clean, to care and preserve the condition of the dojo and our traditions.
No detail is too small if the mind is dedicated to the premise of constant improvement...kaizen. If one can make important even the most menial of tasks then the big things will automatically receive the importance they require. Problems in life arise when tasks go undone that anyone could do, that everyone should do but no one does. To paraphrase the "Hagakure - the Book of the Samurai" by Yamamoto Tsunetomo, "Matters of small concern should be treated seriously", if one accepts this as the laying of their foundation, as preparation, then, "Matters of great concern should be treated lightly", can become the basis for your own action.
Perhaps, putting it in current terms one could say, don't sweat the small stuff....and its all small stuff...if you have prepared your mind. O-sensei Shoshin Nagamine wrote in his Ethics of the Dojo; "First , prepare the mind."
Amazing how simply cleaning the dojo becomes a metaphor for the study of karate in general!

Dojo Cleaning, 2011

At the beginning of each year, our students get together for a special dojo cleaning. We will do so this weekend. I looked back, and my post from January 2007 addressed this subject as follows:

About a week ago, my students and Sensei Gary Omori's Koshinkan Dojo Aikido students got together for a joint dojo cleaning. We use adjacent rooms. On Monday, my class uses his matted room and on Wednesdays my class uses the linoleum tiled room next door.

I sent an email to my students to let them know about the Saturday morning cleaning. Most of my students came out.

I must say that I have excellent students. How do I know this? Because I did not have to tell any of my students what to do. They all simply began to clean with no instruction or supervision. They all just worked together.

I did not have to supervise at all. What did I do? As the Sensei, I thought it important to find the dirtiest job and do it. So I cleaned toilets. But I had plenty of help.

No one complained. No one slacked off. This is how a dojo should be. We all work together. I even have some students who have missed classes for the last few months because of work, but still came out to help clean.

If anyone thinks I am bragging, you have remember that I am bragging that my students can clean well! I always say:
  • Clean the dojo, clean youself.
  • Clean the dojo, have a clean mind.
  • If your dojo is clean, your home and office should be clean too.
  • If you are too good to clean, then you are too good for our dojo.
  • The Sensei should lead by example. If he does not help clean the dojo, he is missing his own training.
  • If you clean the dojo but do not help clean at home, you should quit Karate.
  • They way you are in the dojo should reflect the way you are outside the dojo.
Cleanliness should also apply to your gi and body. Your fingernails and toenails should also be clean and neatly trimmed. Jewelry should not be worn in the dojo.

I am very fortunate to have fine students (who also clean very well).


Charles C. Goodin

Those words, particularly the bulleted points, remain true today.

If your dojo is clean, your house should be clean, cleaner in fact. What you do in the dojo should be a reflection of how you are in daily life. How you are in the dojo should never be better than how you are in daily life. If so, you are just acting in the dojo.

Sometimes parents will tell me that they are so surprised that their children sweep and mop the dojo because they are messy and lazy at home. I think that same may be said about some spouses!

I sometimes say that Karate should be the worst thing that you do. That way, if you are good at Karate you will be even better at everything else.

Anyway, for my students this weekend, please remember that cleaning the floor is like polishing your character. That is what we are doing through Karate training -- constantly polishing our character.


Charles C. Goodin

Rice Plant Design

This is a follow-up to my post, Atama Wo Sageru.

The symbol of that post was the rice plant, which "bows" when the rice grains are mature. I was thinking about it and I remembered seeing old Karate patches that had the design of rice plants for this reason. Recently, I have not seen this. Perhaps the rice plant imagery was more meaningful to our elders.

Also, few of us living in the United States ever get to see rice plants. I don't think I have ever seen any here in Hawaii. But when I was a child growing up in Misawa Air Force Base, Japan, I remember seeing miles and miles of rice paddies (off base, of course). So for people living in that area, the imagery of the rice plant would be very meaningful.

"Atama Wo Sageru" reminds us that with maturity comes humility. My good friend and senior, Sensei Bobby Lowe, when describing an arrogant person sometimes says, "That guy has an I problem." When he says it, it sounds like he is saying "eye problem," but then he clarifies that the person is always talking about himself, "I, I, I".

As instructors, we should strive to set good examples for our students. If we are humble, they will learn that that is the way for seniors to be. But is we are egotistical, they will learn that too. We should always remember that we teach by our actions, not only our words.

Anyway, all this talk about rice has got me hungry for a musubi!


Charles C. Goodin

Another Point About Style -- Buffet

I had this thought:

Focusing too much on style is like going to a buffet at an expensive restaurant, eating your fill, and only then realizing that there were other rooms filled with delicious food!

I hate when that happens.


Charles C. Goodin

Atama Wo Sageru

This is my first post for 2011, and I think that this subject is a good theme for the year.

The other day I went to lunch with three of my senior Karate friends, Sensei James Miyaji, Sensei Water Nishioka, and Sensei Pat Nakata. We (and others) often go to lunch and this is one of the secrets of how I learn about Karate -- by talking to my seniors at lunch.

On that day, the subject turned to how a senior Karate instructor should be and one of the seniors said "Atama Wo Sageru" which translates as "To bow (or lower) your head." This saying is accompanied by the illustration of rice: when the rice is ripe and mature it bows (because the grains of rice become heavy). In the same way, when a Karate instructor becomes mature, he too will bow. The weight of his skill and experience will make him more courteous and respectful.

All three instructors agreed about the importance of this saying, "Atama Wo Sageru." To act in such a manner is a sign of a mature Karate instructor -- to act in an arrogant and conceited way is just the opposite.

For those of us living in the Western world, it seems that the Japanese bow all the time -- and to some extent this is true. Bowing is an important part of the courtesy system in Japan. But obviously, there is a big difference between merely bowing and showing respect. In fact, it is possible for a person to bow in an arrogant way.

"Atama Wo Sageru" does not simply mean that a Karate student or instructor should bow. Anyone can bow. By itself, a bow does not mean anything.

The point of the saying is not that one bows to show respect in a formal sense. Instead, one bows as a result of the weight of his training, accomplishments, and life experience. Said another way, the more you accomplish, the more humble you should become.

There is a saying in Japan. If the sun shines on your face and no shadows are cast, then you are arrogant (because you are facing up). But when there are shadows on your face it shows that you are humble (because you are facing down).

Don't get me wrong. I am not saying that people should be submissive or walk around with their face down. I am just saying that sincere humility is the mark of an accomplished Karate person.

Over the years, I have been to many lunches and dinners with many Karate instructors. I can't tell you how many... plenty. I have never heard any instructors discussing their rank, titles, or any honors. If one of them has recently been honored, he never brings it up himself and responds to comments generally with a sense of embarrassment.

The seniors don't talk about themselves and their accomplishments, instead they concentrate on how they can build up and support their students.

Something I have observed in Karate is this: some people who know very little act like they know a lot, but many people who know a lot act like they know very little. I should clarify this second part of this observation. When someone knows a lot, this means that they appreciate not only what they know but what they do not not.

I took a test in law school. When I came out, some of the other students were talking about how easy the test was. I was surprised. On the surface, the test was easy, but actually there were layers to the questions, some of which were quite complex. The test actually was not easy at all.

The test of Karate is actually very complex with many layers. An advanced Karate instructor will be aware of this. Even if he knows a lot, he will realize that there is much more to learn.

And aside from self defense, there is the issue of character. Long after a Karate instructor is capable at self defense, he will continue to work on his character -- this is unending.

Through Karate training we are not climbing higher, we are digging deeper.

"Atama Wo Sageru" -- "To bow (or lower) your head."

I do not know who said this, but there is also a saying that "A man is never taller than when he bends down to help a child." How true.

I have spent the holidays with my wife, mother, children, granddaughter, and extended family. As a grandfather, I can relate to "Atama Wo Sageru." This does not mean that we should not stand tall and be proud. We should. But the weight of our experiences and accomplishments should make us more humble too.

Have a great 2011!

And I want to thank all the readers of this blog from all around the world who have sent words of encouragement. We are all brothers and sisters in Karate training. Let us all work hard and improve this year!


Charles C. Goodin