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Student First

I have taught Karate for some time and written about it now for about 15 years. As a result, I am called "Sensei" by many people, not only including the students in our dojo. It seems to be my second name. My personal friends call me "Charles" but many other people just call me "Sensei." This is a respectful term among Japanese and Okinawans, so I accept the courtesy because I recognize that it is respect shown to Karate instructors generally. My Karate instructor friends and I also refer to each other as "Sensei."

However, I consider myself, first and foremost, to be a student. I should rephrase that. I consider myself to be first, second, third, and fourth, to be a student. Perhaps fifth, I am an instructor.

I try to learn every day -- each and every day. The way to learn is to train. Thinking about Karate is OK if you are thinking about things as a result of your training. It is not just idle, intellectual speculation. Thinking follows training, and you learn and improve as a result of training.

Even though I am 53 and a grandfather, I am still quick to ask questions and will often admit when I do not understand or have questions. This is easy to do, because I am a student. I do not let the fact that I am also an "instructor" get in the way of me being a student. As a student, I am training and learning, asking and listening, and working at it. That is what I mean when I say that our Karate is always a work in progress. It is a work in progress because we are constantly working at it.

If I ever get to the point when I think that I am done and "get it", then my Karate will no longer be a work in progress. It will be a dead thing, just a memory. Of course, I do not expect that to ever happen. I plan to keep working at it as long as I possibly can.

I often describe myself in this blog as a student. This is not false modesty. This is my honest view of myself. Compared to a new student, I might be a senior student. If the new student is a younger brother, I am an older brother. We are brothers in training. He is training, and I am training. I may be older and have more experience, but I am not different -- we are both students.

Some people, I have observed, let the title of "instructor" or "Sensei" (and a host of "higher" titles) get in the way. For some people, having reached this "higher" level makes it harder for them to learn. Some think they already get it. Some are afraid to admit that they do not.

As we say here in Hawaii, I am not afraid of "making A". I don't think I get it so I am not afraid to admit that I don't. I am not ashamed of this because I am still working at it. Of course I do not get it! I may get a little, but I am working on getting as much as possible of the remainder.

I do believe that my attitude of being a student first (second, third, and fourth) has helped me a great deal. I can honestly say that I have learned a lot about Karate from many instructors, not only my direct Sensei. For example, I have learned a lot about bunkai from Sensei Pat Nakata (who teaches Chibana Shorin-Ryu). When I explain a technique, I no longer remember if it is something that I learned from my direct Sensei, or from Nakata Sensei, or from other instructors in the Hawaii Karate Kenkyukai (and the Hawaii Karate Kodanshakai before that). I think that sometimes when I explain and demonstrate a technique at a Kenkyukai training sessions, the other instructors must be thinking, "Hey, I taught him that!" And it is true.

In about a week, I have asked Sensei Angel Lemus to visit our dojo and teach a class in takedowns. I really admire the way that his takedowns flow seemlessly from Karate applications. I am not going to stand around and watch when he teaches -- I will be there to learn!

As an instructor, I am not made less by bringing in other instructors and experts. I am not made to look bad by learning from them -- BECAUSE I AM A STUDENT.

The same week that Lemus Sensei is visiting, I have asked Sensei Pat Nakata to visit and teach the sai basics of Sensei Shinyei Kyan. That is going to be some week!

I have not only learned from senior instructors. I have learned a lot from my own children -- all of them. My first son practices Kendo and also practiced Karate with us. My second son is the head our dojo. My third son is an instructor in our dojo and also learns Ju Jitsu and MMA. My daughter is also an assistant in our dojo. I have learned from all of them, particularly my second and third sons who like to show me things (like how to choke dad). My second son and I also compete on koshi and dynamics and who can teach the best.

I have also learned from each and every student in our dojo. When I "teach" them I am learning by teaching, and I get to see the techniques anew through their eyes and physical expressions.

You do not need a rank or title to learn -- you just need to have the right attitude and a willingness to train, observe, question things, and train some more. If you do this you will become more skilled.

Will you be promoted? That is not the question. The question is whether you will learn and improve.

If your focus is on training, there is no time for nonsense and politics. If you are spending a lot of time on nonsense and politics, you must not have enough time for training. If someone wants to talk politics, I will politely excuse myself and get back to training. Politics, to me, is something idle people do. People who train are too busy.

I do have an intellectual curiosity about Karate. That is why I research, write, collect artifacts, and worked (with the help and generosity of many people) to create both the Hawaii Karate Museum and the collection at the University of Hawaii. But even these things are secondary to training. Training is first. Also, even as the head of a "museum" I am still a student. I am leaning so much about Karate's history and traditions. I don't get that either. I am still working at it.

Please let me be very clear about this -- when I say that I am a student first, I am being honest and serious. This is not false modesty or feigned humility. I mean it.

So let's celebrate being students and do what good Karate students do -- train!


Charles C. Goodin