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1650+ Posts... and Counting

Making a Mistake in Kata

I am a member of the Hawaii Karate Kenkyukai (Study Group). We have some pretty amazing members, one of whom is Sensei Angel Lemus of the Okinawa Shorinjiryu Toude Zentokukai.

A few months ago during one of our training sessions, Lemus Sensei performed a tonfa kata. About half-way through the kata he stopped, smiled, and said, "I'm lost." He started again and completed the kata with no problem.

We all had a good laugh.

Lemus Sensei could have easily covered up the fact that he was lost. We do not know his kata. He could have moved on and finished the kata and we would not known any different.

My point is that he was both honest and good humored. He did not get angry or irritated. He actually laughed, which made it OK for us to laugh too. And after all, each of us have gotten lost in kata. My favorite error is when I start one kata and end with a different one.

At our last Kenkyukai training, one of the members was performing a kata and appeared to get lost. Right away, Lemus Sensei said, "That's nothing. You should have seen me." Once again, we all laughed.

We have some pretty senior members in our group. Elder Sensei also come to observe. But we have a light atmosphere with the focus on training and learning from each other. Mistakes happen. What matters is that we learn from them and keep going. I like the saying, "fall down six times but get up seven."

In our group, if we make a mistake, we know that it is OK. And one of the first instructors to laugh and encourage us to go on will be Lemus Sensei. I consider him to be one of the most skilled Karate Sensei I have ever met. And his applications are truly amazing. He plays an attacker like a musical instrument.

So it is OK to make mistakes.

Respectfully,

Charles C. Goodin

Children and Education

I've written this before but it remains true.

I've never met a person who said he wished that he had spent less time with his children, nor have I met a person who said that he wished that he had less education.

But I have met many people who have said just the opposite.

Time spent with your children is a treasure indeed! Grandchildren too!

Respectfully,

Charles C. Goodin

Directory of Okinawa Karatedo and Kobudo

I came across this website, which appears to be at the Okinawan Prefectural website:


It is mostly in Japanese, but there is enough in English to make it somewhat understandable. The listings are broken down by style and also area. It is pretty amazing to see how many active Karate dojo and instructors there are in Okinawa.

Respectfully,

Charles C. Goodin

Is Koshi "Hard"?

From time to time, actually more often lately, I find myself trying to explain "koshi" to people from other styles or dojo. I did so recently, with a verbal explanation and short demonstration of koshi movement, and the person I was speaking to said, "That must be hard." I think that it looked like it must be hard to use koshi motion in all techniques all the time.

The fact is that if koshi was hard or difficult, I probably would not do it! In fact, koshi is very, very easy, and it makes it much easier to move freely, with speed and power. It does not take more effort to use koshi. In fact, it is more difficult (strenuous), in my opinion, to move without koshi -- to just use the power of your arms and legs rather than your core (koshi). Koshi-less movement makes me really tired. But with koshi, I have been able to keep up with Karate as I have aged (I am a 53 year old grandfather).

And Koshi is a very natural movement -- like walking and breathing. If it was awkward or unnatural, once again, I probably would not do it. I am not unusually coordinated. I am a terrible dancer. So if I can do koshi motion, anyone can do it... really.

Koshi is also a simple movement. There are not different koshi patterns for each movement. Basically there is just left and right koshi and possibly center, but really these are just the same thing. Once you can apply koshi to one movement, you can learn to apply it to all other movements.

So koshi is not hard in terms of physical exertion, difficulty, or complexity. If it were, I probably would not do it. It is easy, and it makes moving much easier.

Respectfully,

Charles C. Goodin

Nokuru

This is a story.

A visiting Sensei from Okinawa was observing advanced Karate students perform kata. After each finished his kata, the Sensei would make a few comments in Japanese or broken English. He was accompanied by a younger instructor from Okinawa who would translate his comments.

The last student to perform was the highest ranking in the dojo but was very egotistical. After he proudly competed his kata, the visiting Sensei said, "Nokuru."

All the student in the dojo, including the last one who had performed the kata looked at each other. None of them understood the word.

The translator whispered into the visiting Sensei's ear because he did not understand either.

The visiting Sensei repeated, "Nokuru." He then spoke to the translator in Japanese who nodded several times and then addressed the students.

"I'm sorry," began the translator. "I thought that Sensei was speaking in Japanese, but he was speaking in English. He say that this student (pointing to the advanced student), has 'No clue'. His kata is like an empty dance and has no meaning at all. No clue."

The visiting Sensei nodded in agreement and repeated, "Nokuru."

The moral of the story is: being egotistical often makes you blind to your own cluelessness.

We should study and practice Karate with a sense of humility. Then we can more easily identify and work on our faults.

Respectfully,

Charles C. Goodin

"I Trouble"

I was a friend of Shihan Bobby Lowe, who recently passed away. I was not his student and was a member of his "lunch buddies." Even though I was 30 years his junior and his junior in Karate by just as much (or more), I got to speak with him on a comfortable level, because he respected that even though I was a junior, I was the Sensei of my own dojo. Sensei tend to treat other Sensei as equals. At lunch, we all addressed each other as "Sensei," which could sometimes get a little confusing. I was also a member of the Hawaii Karate Kodanshakai and Hawaii Karate Kenkyukai with Lowe Sensei.

I am explaining this as background. I got to speak freely with Lowe Sensei, even though I was his junior.

In all my conversations with Lowe Sensei, I never heard him speak negatively about another Karate instructor or student. Never. He said good things about people, but never anything bad.

I'm sure that he met all kinds of Karate people, some good, some bad. But if he had a negative impression, he kept it to himself.

The only thing he ever said was that a certain person had "an eye problem." At least that is what I heard. So I inquired about this person's eye.

Then Lowe Sensei explained, "that person is always talking about I, I, I. He has an 'I' problem."

Lowe Sensei was funny like that. But his comment was very to the point. The lesson: don't be egotistical.

In his last years and months, Lowe Sensei would often call me to ask about the health of other Sensei. He would also always ask about my wife, who had suffered from breast cancer in 2007. He always thought about other people, even when his own health was failing.

Lowe Sensei was one of the most senior post World War II Karate Sensei in Hawaii. He was a great supporter of the Hawaii Karate Museum, and a mentor and example to young instructors such as myself. We both also liked tapioca pudding, which I'd get for him at buffets.

I will certainly miss Lowe Sensei... and continue to learn from his life and example.

I'm sure that there is lots of tapioca pudding in heaven.

Respectfully,

Charles C. Goodin

Picking A Kata

This is a funny thing sort of and something that is not spoken about much. If I am asked to participate in a demonstration, the kata I will decide to perform depends on who else is performing kata. If a Karate instructor who is senior to me is also performing kata, I will generally not select an advanced kata. As a courtesy to my senior, I will generally perform a basic kata, such as one of the Naihanchi or Pinan kata.

Of course, these are excellent kata and in my "style," the Naihanchi kata are simultaneously the most basic and the most advanced kata. But in most systems, they are considered (incorrectly in my opinion) to be kata for beginners.

But let's say that my senior (even if in another style) performs Gojushiho. If I then peform Kusanku or Chinto, it might appear that I think that I am senior to him (in that I have selected a kata that could be considered to be more advanced). There could be hurt feelings. So it is much safer for me to perform a more basic kata.

There is an exception to this. If my senior (even if in another style) has asked me to perform a specific kata, then I will generally do so. If someone asks, I should be able to perform any kata in my system at any time. I should not have to rehearse something I should be expected to already know (hopefully reasonably well).

But then, if my seniors are present, I will hold back and not go all out when I perform a kata, whatever kata that might be.

This is like performing a kata in a group. My movements will always be a split second behind my seniors. I will never move first or end first. My movements will be barely perceptible shadows of my senior's movements. Again, I do not limit this to my style. A senior is a senior.

But wait, it gets even more interesting. If my senior performs first and makes a mistake, I might make an error too -- just to join the club.

In any event, I would never perform a kata "all out" in public because there is little reason to do so. How I perform a kata depends on what I am trying to get across. And in any situation, one thing I am always trying to get across is courtesy and respect.

Respectfully,

Charles C. Goodin

What You Think You Are Doing

I have written about this before but it deserves repeating. "How" you perform a kata depends on "what" you think you are doing. If you have no idea about what you are doing, it will be very difficult to perform a kata with feeling and focus.

You can tell a difference between a student who is "just going through the movements" and one who understands what he is doing. No matter how well a student "just goes through the movements," the performance will feel/look shallow and lifeless, like a copy. The more he tries to yell and emphasize movements for dramatic effect, the worse it will become.

But when a student understands what he is doing, the kata comes alive. You can see that he can see!

And as we advance in Karate, our understanding of "what" we are doing will grow. This will be reflected in our performance of the kata.

When you understand "what" you are doing (imi or bunkai), you can then optimize your body mechanics to accomplish those specific objectives.

You don't get medals or trophies for that.

Respectfully,

Charles C. Goodin

Relative Humility

I have been fortunate to meet many senior Karate instructors.

I have met 7th, 8th, 9th, and 10th dan who are so humble and unassuming that you might not even know that they practice Karate.

I have also met green and brown belts who are so full of themselves that you can only shake your head.

And have you met the shodan who acts like his Sensei's rank? Yikes! His Sensei is a hachidan so he acts like a hachidan too. I guess that is rank by association.

When it comes down to it, it all depends on the person. That sounds nice, but it really isn't. I hold senior yudansha to a much higher and more demanding standard. An arrogant brown belt might be forgiven. He still has a lot to learn. But an arrogant senior yudansha has already learned a lot, and it has done no good.

We all should hold ourselves to a very high standard, and practice character as much (actually more) than we do kata or techniques.

Come to think of it, they don't give belts or titles for character. Just be a good person.

Respectfully,

Charles C. Goodin

Scales at the Gate 2

This is a follow-up (variation) to my post, Scales at the Gate.

This is another story.

A 10th degree black belt in Karate was standing at the gate of heaven. The angel who guarded the gate sat next to a large pair of scales, balanced by a golden chain.

"Welcome to heaven," said the angel. "Can you tell me a little about yourself?"

"Well," said the judan, "there's not much to say. I lived and tried my best."

"But aren't you a 10th degree black belt in Karate? A hanshi, shihan, grand master... I mean great grand master. You know more than any other Karate instructors. Basically, you are the very best."

"Those things don't matter," said the judan. "I did practice Karate, but I tried my best at whatever I did in life. Being a good husband, father, grandfather, and friend was much more important to me."

"But you've won hundreds of awards, been inducted into numerous Halls of Fame, been featured in countless magazine articles, appeared on a dozen television specials, and had a special day named for you in your home town," continued the angel.

"Can I tell you something?" asked the judan. "When I taught Karate I always emphasized that rank and titles without skill are meaningless, and that destructive skill without character is dangerous. In Karate, character comes first. Then it comes second. Then it comes third. Character is what counts."

The angel could not speak for a moment. Standing before him was an honest, humble, accomplished person. "Well come right in," he finally said.

"What about the scales," asked the judan.

"Never mind. I'm afraid you would break them," replied the angel.

In the End, your character is what speaks most loudly about you. And not just in the End. In the Beginning and Middle too.

Respectfully,

Charles C. Goodin

Hard to Attend Class

Sometimes it is hard for students to attend class. Sometimes a student might be sick or have too much school work. Or he might have a part time job with a conflicting schedule. There are a million reason why a student might miss class. Occasionally, it is just because the student is lazy.

I attended a class yesterday. The Sensei who conducted the class has had several physical challenges this year. These include two heart attacks, receiving a pacemaker, emergency open heart surgery, the diagnosis of cancer, and the beginning of chemotherapy. All of this has happened just this year! They say that the odds of this Sensei surviving the first heart attack was 2,000 to one. And he started chemotherapy just 3 weeks ago.

Despite all of this, the Sensei was at class yesterday, not only leading the training, but performing kata and explaining applications and history as well.

There are a million reasons why a student might miss class. But for this Sensei, even a million things could not prevent him from training. It is truly amazing what a determined person can do. For this Sensei, such determination is as much a part of his Karate training as punching and kicking.

Respectfully,

Charles C. Goodin

Until It Bothers You

At class, I recently mentioned that a student will not really improve until it bothers him. I wanted to explain this.

Students come to class day after day, year after year. As instructors, we try our best to teach and inspire the students, and they do generally learn.

However, I do not believe that any student can become exceptional simply by going to class and learning. At some point, the student must want to learn and improve himself. It has to become a burning desire, almost an obsession, something that will wake him up at nights thinking... "how should I do that technique?" Sometimes his body will twitch and move by itself.

The instructor can set the table but it is up to the student to consume and digest the meal.

I have to admit that I am a pretty obsessive person. When I want something, I will pretty much go crazy until I get it. I will study the subject, practice, examine my progress, study the subject more, practice more, and keep working at it, almost to the exclusion of all other things. I attack problems. Personality-wise, I am a pretty passive person. I avoid conflict. But when it comes to learning and improving, I am aggressive. In school, I attacked tests.

At class, I am always teaching. In a way, the students are passive recipients of what I teach. They come to class and I teach what I think they need to learn.

But when a student reaches a certain level, he knows what he needs to learn... because he is working on it and it bothers him. At that point, he will come to class with questions. I can see that he has taken control and is working on himself. He is not just a passive recipient of what I might chose to teach. Such a student really stands out.

Until then, I will teach and try to inspire the students. I am presenting a certain curriculum the best that I can. But I am waiting for the students to wake up and really want to learn... to become bothered and obsessed, and to take an active role in their own improvement. Then I can really teach!

Respectfully,

Charles C. Goodin

Scales at the Gate

This is story.

A 10th degree black belt in Karate was standing at the gate of heaven. The angel who guarded the gate sat next to a large pair of scales, balanced by a golden chain.

"Welcome to heaven," said the angel. "Can you tell me a little about yourself?"

"Well," said the judan, "I am a 10th degree black belt in Karate. A hanshi, shihan, grand master... I mean great grand master. I know more than any other Karate instructors. Basically, I am the very best, if I must say so myself."

"Great," said the angel. "Let's put all of those things on the right scale. Anything else?"

"Well, I've won hundreds of awards, been inducted into numerous Halls of Fame, been featured in countless magazine articles, appeared on a dozen television specials, and had a special day named for me in my home town...."

"Let's add them too," said the angel placing the accomplishments on the right scale, which by now was overflowing and hanging down to the ground (cloud). "Is that it?"

"I would say so," said the 10th dan proudly. "Looks like my accomplishments weigh quite a lot!"

"They certainly do," agreed the angel. But this is not merely a contest of sheer weight, it is one of balance."

"What do you mean?" asked the 10th dan.

"Well, we put all your worldly accomplishments on the right scale and then we put your character accomplishments on the left. They have to balance."

"But I'm a tenth dan!" argued the 10th dan.

"Yes, that's on the right side along with your other worldly accomplishments. Let's talk about your character."

"And I'm a hanshi..."

"Got it. Character."

"Shihan..."

"Check. Character"

"Great Grand Master..."

"It's in there. Character."

"Uh..."

"Character."

In the End, your character is what speaks most loudly about you.

Respectfully,

Charles C. Goodin

Character and Technique

It is just as important to work on character as it is to work on technique. In the dojo, we sweat from our hard training. In daily life, we also have many experiences that test our character. What makes a Karate expert (or an expert of any martial art) great, is not just that he has excellent technique (and applications), but that his character is just as excellent, if not even better.

Sadly, some people use their advanced level in a martial art as an excuse to indulge vices. For some people, martial arts training magnifies their egos, anger, short tempers, jealousies, and vices in general... and their high rank allows them to get away with it.

But this is not just a martial arts thing. Power corrupts many people in many walks of life.

But at the same time, martial arts training also brings out the best in many people. Martial arts training can magnify the good in a student, and give him the strength to help others in difficult circumstances. We tend to hear only of the bad cases, but I suspect that there are ten good examples for every bad one.

For every step forward you take on technique, you also have to take a step forward on character. The progress has to be equal, throughout your Karate life. This is an easy thing to say but a difficult thing to do. Technique alone is much, much easier. But technique alone can create people who could abuse their knowledge, skill, and position.

So what should you do when you meet bad examples? Learn from them how not to be. That is also useful and can help you to avoid pitfalls.

Technique and character must be two side of the same coin.

And may I add that you do not develop character by simply yelling about it in the dojo. Just as the techniques of a kata are applied in self defense situations, the lessons of character that we learn in the dojo are applied in daily life.

Respectfully,

Charles C. Goodin