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My Transition to Kishaba Juku

Next February will be my 10 year anniversary as a student of Sensei Katsuhiko Shinzato and a member of the Kishaba Juku form of Shorin-Ryu. While I still have a very long way to go (an endless pursuit, actually), I feel comfortable with the Kishaba Juku forms of movement and have applied them, to the best of my ability, to all of the movements, techniques and kata of our system. It has become so second nature, that I can only remember my earlier form of movement like a distant dream.

I wanted to reflect on why I had a chance to transition from one form of Shorin-Ryu (which I had practiced for about 25 years or so) to another (which I have now practiced for almost 10 years). This is an important subject. In the last 10 years, I have seen many people visit our "style" but very few transition completely to it.

The first reason I had a chance, was because I really wanted it. I had come to a point where it was either "find it" or quit. When I met Sensei Katsuhiko Shinzato, I realized that he was "it." I firmly decided to learn from him to the best of my ability, or to fail miserably trying. There was no holding on to what I had previously learned. There was no, "a little of this and a little of that." It was 100% or nothing.

The second reason I had a chance was that Shinzato Sensei is an extraordinary Sensei and technician. I would say "magician," but that is just what I thought at first. I would say, "Karate genius," but we reserve that for Nakamura Sensei. So I will just stay that Shinzato Sensei is amazingly skilled at body mechanics, makes it look very easy, and can explain it to anyone who is willing to spend the time and effort to learn and practice. He is also very forgiving of slow students, such as myself. He also entertains questions, which is a good thing in my case.

The third reason I had a chance was that I was the head of my own dojo and belonged to no organization. I had no one telling me not to learn what Shinzato Sensei was teaching me. My Sensei in Hawaii encouraged me to learn at every step of the way. This is very important. I think that many people have a hard time transitioning to Kishaba Juku either because their dojo or association prohibits it or discourages it. Another reason is because some people try to keep one foot on this bank of the river and the other foot on the other bank. I just jumped and took a leap of faith (and/or desperation). I jumped and no one blocked me from learning. My own students accepted it and became my guinea pigs so to speak. In fact, many of them could learn from me faster than I was learning from Shinzato Sensei. I had to hurry to move along!

Being isolated in Hawaii, there were no other Kishaba Juku dojo here. This was a good thing. I only had Shinzato Sensei as my example. I had not learned from Kishaba Sensei or Nakamura Sensei. I did not have their examples in my mind. I only had Shinzato Sensei. Trying to be like one of these Sensei is really hard. Trying to be like them all or a combination, would have been too much for me. In addition, I did not have anyone telling me, "No, Kishaba Sensei did it like this," or "Nakamura Sensei did it like that." I did not have to deal with the memory of these teachers, or anyone else's recollections of them, except for Shinzato Sensei.

Finally, Shinzato Sensei has been very helpful to me during my transition. He would entertain my questions, read my draft articles, offer his comments, and give his encouragement. More than anything else, he has offered his example. I am inspired, not just by the way that he moves, but by his approach and dedication to training. Karate is not just an intellectual pursuit to him (although it includes that) -- Karate is about training to him.

I joke with Shinzato Sensei that I am trying to catch up to him. This may sound like a rude thing to say. In a Japanese sense, it is. However, what I mean is that as he trains, I will also train. As he improves, I will try my best to improve. I am not just trying to be a duplicate of him -- I am trying to copy his approach and they way that he pursues Karate. If I do this, I know that I will not be exactly like him. That is not my intent. He is not like his teachers and they were not like theirs. But they all were very dedicated to and had an approach to training, learning, and teaching.

I am also aware of the fact that I am a long distance student. I cannot train with Shinzato Sensei very often. If I try to literally copy him, I will always be copying a version that will have changed. In his case, this is a real problem, since I think he changes his technique and mechanics not just from day to day, week to week, month to month, or year to year, but from morning to afternoon sometimes! If I try to move the way that I remember he did, I will always be out of date.

But if I move forward from where and when he taught me, then I have a chance. If I follow his plan for advancement, then I have a chance.

I have also commented to Shinzato Sensei that he is very extraordinary because what he teaches progresses on its own. If you practice what he teaches you and apply it to what you know, additional lessons present themselves, and you repeat the process. It is like planting a seed. A seed does not simply replicate another seed. From a little seed, a great tree can grow and eventually produce its own seeds.

My point is that if you copy Shinzato Sensei and later show him your one perfect copy of that technique, I think he would think, "Is that all?" But if you learned from him and that set you on a course that leads to your own advancement/progression/learning, then I think he would be quite happy.

The last reason I think that I had a chance to learn and transition to Kishaba Juku, is that I am a rather obsessive person. And once I put my mind on something, I rarely change it. Once I saw how Shinzato Sensei moved and they way be approached Karate training, and the strength of his character, and how much he enjoyed Karate and encouraged others, that was it. If anything, my admiration and pursuit of him has only increased over the years.

I joked with him, not long ago, that I felt that I was catching up to him, but when I looked he had run farther ahead.

So where am I now? Much better than before and with a long, long way to go. After all, I am chasing a moving target.


Charles C. Goodin