Karate Thoughts Blog

Contents   /   Email  /   Atom  /   RSS  /  

1700+ Posts... and Counting

Being Like Someone Else

These are corollaries of my last post.

  • If you try to move exactly like someone else, you will fail.
  • If you try to teach someone to move exactly like you do, you will fail and so will he.
For a student, the objective should be for you to learn to move in a way that is optimal for you.

For a teacher, the objective should be to assist the student to learn to move in a way that is optimal for him.

Of course, beginners need to learn basics.  Optimization takes place after a student has learned a fundamental set of basics.  I would call this "basic" phase undifferentiated Karate.  At this phase, everyone moves the same.  Here, the same is a good thing.

Once this phase is reached successfully (this might be at the nidan or sandan or even higher dan level), the student begins to tailor his movements to himself.  He makes his Karate fit him so that he can move optimally.  His Karate is differentiated.

Undifferentiated Karate is like stem cells.  Stem cells can basically become any cell in the body.

Differentiated Karate is a unique thing.  Is the the basic package tweaked or adjusted to the student.  The student develops a focus and emphasis, and this pushes the movements in a certain direction.

Here is the interesting thing:  Most Karate schools are teaching undifferentiated Karate because that is all the instructor knows.  Students learn basics for their entire Karate careers, maybe for several decades.  The punch, kick, and block of a beginner is the same punch, kick, and block of the master.

Kishaba Juku allows a wide range of movement as the student progresses in Karate and seeks the optimal way to move for him.  Imagine an illustration of evolution from a single cell organism to a human being.  There are so many different phases, but they lead to a certain result.

Karate is an evolutionary process.  It is a progression.  Being a single cell organism is appropriate for a beginner and for a certain amount of time.  But the time comes to evolve.  That is not a bad thing -- it is a natural thing.

And as I mentioned in my last post, excellent Sensei did not get that way by trying to copy someone else.  Once the student learns the basics well (and I mean well), it becomes a personal process and progression.  Excellent Sensei become that way by learning the basics and then working hard to optimize them for themselves.  The result is a unique interpretation of Karate.

We should learn to copy that process, not the specific end result.
  • If you try to move exactly like someone else, you will fail.
  • If you try to teach someone to move exactly like you do, you will fail and so will he.

Charles C. Goodin

Kishaba Juku Kata, et al.

As you probably are aware, I practice the Kishaba Juku form of Shorin-Ryu, which was named for Chokei Kishaba, and is  headed by Katsuhiko Shinzato.  Kishaba Sensei and Shinzato Sensei were heavily influenced by Seigi Nakamura, and all three Sensei studied the Matsubayashi-Ryu form of Shorin-Ryu.

Most styles of Karate have a certain curriculum.  They practice a certain number of distinct kata which form the core of the style.

Kishaba Juku does practice a certain core set of kata.  To be honest, I am not completely sure if we practice 18 kata, or fewer.  I practice 18 kata, but there are about 3 kata that are either not practiced or are not emphasized.

But Kishaba Juku is not known for the kata it practices -- it is known for the way that it practices them.  In particular, it is known for core driven, whole body mechanics.  If you have seen videos of Sensei Katsuhiko Shinzato, you will know what I mean.

Just be careful when you watch such videos.  You have to know the context in which they were taken.  How Shinzato Sensei performs a kata depends on who he is teaching and what he is teaching or demonstrating.  Sometimes he might try to demonstrate something wrong or inefficiently to demonstrate a point.  A random video will not explain this.  Again, you have to know the context in which a video was taken.

But even when he is moving in a basic way, or trying to show something "wrong", Shinzato Sensei is extremely dynamic.  By this I mean that he can move very quickly with tremendous power, in a very relaxed manner.  When I first saw him on video, I absolutely could not understand how he did that.  I now know why I could not understand -- I was trying to figure out how he did what he did based on an assumption the he was moving the same way that I was.  In other words, I thought to myself that it would be impossible to him to do what he was doing moving the way that I moved.  And that was absolutely true.  Of course, he was not moving the way that I was!

I have spent a decade now, mostly trying to understand how Shinzato Sensei moves and to do it myself.  I have had some success.  I certainly do not move as well as he does, but I move much better than I used to.

In the last year or so, I have focused less on moving exactly like Shinzato Sensei and more on moving in a way that is optimal for me -- the way that gives me the best results.  I still used Shinzato Sensei's movements as my guide, but I recognize that we are two different people.  I am taller and heavier than him and about 19 years younger.  I have my strengths and weaknesses.  He has his strengths and weaknesses.

If I try to move exactly like him, I should not expect to do so -- because we are not exactly the same.  More importantly, Shinzato Sensei does not move the way that he does because he tried to be exactly like Nakamura Sensei, Kishaba Sensei, or any other instructor.  He moves the way that he does, based upon the influences and examples of his Sensei, and his own effort to move the way that is optimal for him.

Therefore, if I want to be like Shinzato Sensei, I should not simply try to copy him -- I must try to move in a way that it the most optimal for me.  He took responsibility for his own progresss -- so must I.

In fact, at a certain point, every student of Karate must take responsibility for his own progress.

My wife tells a story of a long ago relative who was in his 50s but still lived at home with his parents.  Every day he would ask "What's for dinner?"

A mature Karate student should not be asking "What's for dinner?"  A mature Karate student should be living his own life and making his own dinner.

And it is very important to keep in mind, and this is my personal opinion, that Kishaba Juku is not the result of its kata curriculum.  We do what we do because of a particular body mechanics and an approach to teaching and training that is focuses on body mechanics.  We use the kata we practice in order to get the body mechanics results we are seeking.  We could generally do the same with other kata.  In other words, our kata are a tool.  Our body mechanics are not the result of our kata.

I am fairly confident that if we could go back in time and watch Chotoku Kyan, Choki Motobu, and their teachers perform the same kata we practice today, they would not look exactly like us.  There might be some similarities, but I do not believe that Chotoku Kyan, for example, practiced Tomari Passai, exactly the same way as we do.  I do not mean that the base movements are very different, after all, we learned Tomari Passai from Kyan Sensei.  I mean that we probably do not move the same way.

Kyan Sensei moved in a way that was optimal for him.  Motobu Sensei moved in a way that was optimal for him.  And Shinzato Sensei moves in a way that is optimal for him -- on that certain day.  A day later, he might move differently because he is still working on what is the best for him.

Our kata are excellent.  Several of them lend themselves very easily to good body dynamics and good "fighting".  Naihanchi, Rohai, Passai, and Chinto, for example, are amazing kata.  When you see Shinzato Sensei perform them (and other kata), you just have to marvel.  I and my students just watched with our mouths open.

But the same kata can just as easily be performed in a stiff, robotic, heavy, clunky, horrible way that does not work at all!

It is not the kata that count -- it is the way that you do them.  And please don't forget that at a certain point you have to seek to move in the way that it optimal for you.  You have to make your own dinner.


Charles C. Goodin

When You Do Something Right

You are at the dojo following along, practicing Karate.  All of the sudden, the Sensei yells out, "Good!  That's right.  Nice movement!"  He is talking about you.

Now what?

You might feel good that you have done well.  But what did you do well?  Why did your Sensei compliment you and draw your attention to a particular movement?  What did you do?  How did you do it?  How did it differ from the way that you usually move?

Can you duplicate the correct movement?  If you were performing a kata, does the same movement appear elsewhere in the kata?  If so, you can also correct those movements?  Does it appear in other kata?  Do other movements share the same or similar mechanics?  Can you apply what you learned to those movements?

Perhaps you should speak to your Sensei to better understand what he did.

But certainly you should think carefully about what happened and continue to work on your movements.  Don't waste time or energy patting yourself on your back.  Your Sensei's intention was to help you improve.  Praise by itself is pretty meaningless unless it results in improvement.

Improvement requires hard and constant work.  You are the only one who can do this.  Your Sensei cannot do it for you.  No one can, except you.

Praise is designed to help you work in the right direction.  Working in the right direction is up to you.

This is the biggest problem I see in students -- failing to capitalize on improvement opportunities.  It is hard to improve if you just keep doing the same things the same way.  When your Sensei indicates that you have done well, you have to build upon it.  Your Sensei might light the match but you have to catch on fire!


Charles C. Goodin

99 Things Wong -- 1 Thing Right

If a student does 99 things wrong and 1 thing right...

A poor instructor will criticize and yell at the student 99 times,
but miss the 1 right thing.

A good instructor will acknowledge and encourage
the student for the 1 right thing.

In my experience, criticism and yelling do not work.  If a student does something wrong, an instructor has to ask, "Why is he doing it wrong?"  Since he is the instructor, the problem lies with him.  How could he have taught better so that the student would understand?  What is the student missing?

In addition, a wrong movement is usually just a symptom of a deeper problem.  Yelling at the wrong movement will only draw attention to it.  The more the instructor yells, the more the student will tend to do the movement wrong.

High shoulders, for example, may be a symptom of loose lats.  Yelling about the shoulders will not get the student to squeeze his lats.  The instructor has to address the issues of the lats, and when the student says, "Maybe that's why my shoulders are so tight," that's when the instructor must say, "Yes, that is right!  So, so, so, so!"

All students make mistakes (so do I).  Mistakes are opportunities for progress, not reasons for yelling, punishment, shame, etc.

I remember whenever I made a mistake, my Sensei, Katsuhiko Shinzato, would be patient and have me try again.  Eventually he would say, "Perhaps you might try this..."  Then he would demonstrate a way to move that would address my problem.  He never criticized or embarrassed me -- and I was certainly old enough to take it and experienced enough to deserve it.  He always treated me with kindness and understanding -- and still does.  He taught by his example, by careful explanation, by creative experimentation, by approaching the subject many different ways (to get through to me), by patience, and by encouragement.  And once I could do something a little well, he recognized it (so that I could),  and we moved on and built upon my little progress.  On and on and on.

We have to learn to see the 1 right thing the student does.  We have to learn to encourage it so that the student will progress to 2 right things, then 3, then 99 right things and only 1 wrong thing.  Maybe even 100 right things!  Wouldn't that be great!

My Sensei here in Hawaii is Sensei Rodney Shimabukuro.  I always remember that he could be running five different groups of students, but even if he was standing on the opposite side of the dojo, with his back turned, he could tell when a student did something right.   He would yell out words of encouragement, such as "Good job!" or "That's right!"  He never missed such a moment... even with his back turned on the opposite side of the dojo.  I am still working on such awareness.


Charles C. Goodin

How Many Students... Ha!

When I meet a Karate instructor, eventually we talk about our students.  The first thing someone might ask a Karate instructor is, "How many students do you have?"   There is almost a presumption that a "good" instructor will have more students than a "poor" instructor.

Ha!  The opposite is often true!

Would you think that a man with 6 children is a better father than a man with 1 child?  Parenting skills certainly are not measured by volume!  Neither is Karate skill.

Over the years, I have meet more and more Karate instructors who have decided to teach smaller and smaller groups of students -- sometimes only one, two or three.  These are very advanced instructors, most of whom have already produced students who have become instructors.

For such instructors, teaching is not a numbers game.  They are trying to pass on the art.  They are not trying to teach 100, 1000, or even 10,000 students who know a little, they are trying to teach one student (maybe two) who will know the entire system thoroughly.

Rather than ask an instructor how many students he has, I would rather ask if he is able to teach the way that he wants to.  Is he accomplishing his goal?  Does he have a special student who might carry on the tradition of his art?

With big schools, there must be a certain emphasis on rank, titles, position, organization, finances, politics, etc.  In a very small school, the attention can be focused on training and developing the skill and character of the student.  The early Karate instructors in Okinawa came from extremely small schools, if you could even call them that.  Actually, students usually learned one-on-one from the instructor at his home, the family grave, or some other private location.  There were no ranks or titles.  Masters where known for what they could do, for their abilities.  There usually was no tuition or fee.  The relationship between Sensei and student was a personal one.

After Word War II, and particularly beginning in the 1960s, Karate transformed into a group thing, into a sport or activity taught to large groups of casual, money paying students.  For some people, Karate became a business -- something it never was in old Okinawa and the Ryukyu Kingdom.

I am not impressed by sheer numbers of students -- I have met too many students who have trained for 10 or 20 years and have no clue about what they are doing.  I am impressed by quality.  I am very happy when I meet an instructor who can teach the way that he wants to, and has a dedicated student or two who is willing to undertake a lifetime of training.

And in my personal experience, some of the most skilled -- and happy -- Karate instructors have the fewest number of students.  In fact, when I meet an instructor who emphasizes the large number of his students, it makes me question his skill -- certainly his choice of emphasis.

My respect and gratitude goes out to all instructors who have taught quietly and not sought attention, who have arranged their lives and schedules around teaching, who have paid the expenses so that students could afford to learn, who have maintained and passed on the true art.  When we do this, we are getting back to the way Karate was originally taught, and perhaps we are becoming more like the Karate experts and Sensei of old.


Charles C. Goodin


Super Typhoon Bolaven has just passed over Okinawa, as Hurricane Isaac approaches the Gulf Coast.  Here in Hawaii, we are also in hurricane season, and have been watching both storms.  My thoughts and prayers go out to people in both regions.

We are currently blessed with beautiful weather in Hawaii.  But we should learn from the experiences of people in Okinawa and the Gulf Coast.  The time to get ready is before the storm.  Long lines at grocery stores can be avoided by stocking up in advance.  Get ready now.

Three of the worst hurricanes to hit Hawaii were:

  • Hurricane Nina (1957)
  • Hurricane Iwa (1982)
  • Hurricane Iniki (1992)
My wife, Nayna, was born just a couple of months after Hurricane Nina and was actually named for the storm.  Imagine that!


Charles C. Goodin


Yesterday evening, I had the pleasure of meeting several  instructors and students of the Okinawa Shorinji-ryu Toude Zentokukai, at the home of my good friends, Sensei Angel Lemus and his wife, Sensei Judy Lemus.  The Zentokukai, traces its lineage to Chotoku Kyan.  So does my system, Kishaba Juku Shorin-Ryu, so we are cousins in the art.

Among the visiting instructors was Sensei Tim Rodgers from Miami.  He is Sensei Lemus' instructor.

I found that I had a great deal in common with the members of the the Zentokukai.  The attitude we share appears to be this: Karate is training -- period.  These people train sincerely and hard, and I admire that.

My best wishes and respect to all the members of the Zentokukai.  Thank you for continuing the legacy of Chotoku Kyan and Zenryo Shimabukuro.

By the way, Angel Lemus Sensei mentioned to me that he filmed more One Minute Bunkai videos during the visit of his friends.  So please check out the website over the coming day.  I heard the Chinto video is great.


Charles C. Goodin

My Hand Is All Better

Well, my hand is all better.  I am fully recovered from my screwdriver puncture wound.

I did not lift weights for one week, and gave the wound a chance to fully heal.  Actually, the tetanus shot in my arm hurt worse than the hole in my hand.

Thank you to the readers who have sent kind words of concern and support.  I will try to be more careful.


Charles C. Goodin

Hand Pressure Point -- Screwdriver

You know that pressure point in the hand, in the fleshy part between the thumb and index finger?  You know -- the one you can press when someone grabs your throat.

Well I was supposed to go fishing today, but last night I decided to try to fix one of my fishing reels (a cheap one).  I was using a small Phillips screwdriver, and I needed to press a little hard on a stubborn screw, and bam -- I've got the screwdriver about one inch into my hand, right in that pressure point!  It was a very clean puncture wound, with hardly any blood and not that much pain, at first.

A couple of hours later, after I got a Tetanus shot and some antibiotics at a nearby, crowded Emergency Room, I was contemplating the wound.  It was right in/on the pressure point.

I can say one thing for sure.  I don't think I could have made a very effective fist that night.  Even now, a day later, my grip is weaker than normal.  There isn't much paint -- a little dull ache -- but my grip is certainly weaker right now.

I imagine that in a fight, if your hand was stabbed or a finger or two were broken or bitten off, you would probably have a hard time using that hand.

As for pain at the pressure point, pain is a relative thing.  If you take a regular person and apply pressure to that point or others, they will probably wince and say that it hurts a lot.  In the heat of a fight, however, such pain might not seem so great.  An attacker who is breaking the law and may well be on drugs or drunk, might not feel the pain at all.  But if you broke his arm, that would cause mechanical damage -- even if he did not feel the pain.

A trained fighter or martial artist, can probably disconnect from most pain.

Anyway, I did not go fishing today and will not go tomorrow.  It is not because I couldn't use my hand -- it is because I don't want to get shrimp, squid, or fish guts in the wound.  I would rather let it heal.  But here is a photo of a little papio I caught last week.  Click to make it bigger.  It is probably thinking, "That's what you get for hooking me!"  I did release it safely, and see, I even put it on a wet towel when I took the photo so it would not get scratched on the rough rocks.

Man, it is not a good feeling to pull an inch of screwdriver out of your hand.  I will be more careful next time.


Charles C. Goodin

Pause Before Kata

This is a story.

A Karate student always performed his favorite kata at demonstrations.  But before began, he always stood silently for 25 seconds.  This went on for some time.  Each and every time, he stood silently for 25 seconds before beginning the kata.

I spoke the student privately and asked him about the pause.  He gave one excuse after another.  I was not satisfied and keep pressing.

Finally, exasperated, he admitted, "I learned the kata on Youtube and there was a 25 second commercial!"

He was waiting for the commercial to finish and the kata video to begin.

Again, this is just a story.


Charles C. Goodin

A Tunnel, A Deep Hole, and a Pile of Rocks

This is a story.

A student was walking and came upon a man who was digging a tunnel into the side of a great mountain.

"What are you doing?" asked the student.

"I am going to dig a tunnel all the way through this mountain," explained the man.  "In this way I will find God."

The student continued walking until he came upon a plain where another man was digging a hole.

"What are you doing?" asked the student.

"I am going to dig a hole all the way to the center of the Earth," explained the man.  "In this way I will find God."

The student continued walking.  Not far away he came upon a third man who was piling large rocks one upon the other.  The student explained what he had observed and asked the third man what he was doing.

"Those other two guys are nuts," said the man.  You cannot find God in a mountain or in the Earth.  God is in heaven.  I am going to pile these rocks high enough so that I can climb into heaven and see God!"

Here is the moral of the story.  When you practice Karate, you have to ask what your instructor's motivation is?  Is he practicing Karate for some objective?  What kind of tunnel or hole is he digging or is he piling rocks?  And is that something that you want to do?

Karate training can be the excuse for many things.  By the time you realize that, you might have already dug a deep hole!

Just as God is all around and inside of us, the ultimate goal of Karate training is to improve ourselves in our daily lives.


Charles C. Goodin

Drama and Booze

I know this lady.  Due to medical issues, she has had to work very hard to get into shape. I recently asked her about her exercises and sports.  She told me that she had taken up a new sport but was going to quit because there was just too much drama and too much drinking after the activity.

Drama and booze? I felt very sorry for her.

But I wondered... How many people have felt the same way about Karate?

Too much drama.  Too much politics.  Too much favoritism.  Too much prejudice.  Too much bias.  Too much commercialism.  Too much ego.  Too much drama.

And then too much drinking afterwards.

Thank goodness for sincere, unselfish Karate instructors who teach traditional values and make the dojo a safe place for students to learn self-discipline, respect, kindness, patience -- and self defense too.

People who have time for drama are not training enough.  If you concentrate on training, there is neither the time nor the need for drama.  And when the class is over, I go home to my family.

Sincere training is the remedy for most Karate ailments.


Charles C. Goodin

Two Students! Congratulations!

My good friend's student visits from the mainland just about every year, and I get to go to lunch or dinner with them.  The student is an instructor, and each year I ask him about his class and how many students he has.  This year he told me that he has two students (less then I remember in previous years).

 "Congratualtions," I said, "you must be getting good!"

As I have written before, I believe that there is an inverse relationship between the skill of the instructor and the number of students he has.

The student (instructor) mentioned to me that with two students, he could work more on quality control.  His Sensei (my good friend) would probably call that "refinement."

I cannot have many students teaching the way that I do.  To have many students, I would have to change the way that I teach -- and I cannot do that.  My life's ambition, as a teacher, is to produce a few exceptional students who become teachers. Two or three exceptional students are a lot!


Charles C. Goodin

My Posts, My Student's Posts

I recently posted two Guest Posts by one of the students in our dojo.  I cannot tell you how happy it makes me when students start to think and write about Karate.

When I write something, it is like a 1 or a 2 to me.  When a student writes something, it is a 10!

Writing makes a student think and organize his thoughts.  Sometimes a student perform a movement pretty well, but does not understand what he is doing.  When a student can do it and understands it and can express it, then he can teach it!

Writing is a funny thing.  I took a class once about dreams.  Our assignment was to write down our dreams as soon as we woke up.  At first, I did not have much to write.  But within a few day, I had so much to write down that I had to stop -- it would simply take too long.

Once a student starts to think and write about his Karate experiences, it is like that -- there is just too much to write down.  But it is a useful process and makes for a much better teacher.

In the next issue of Classical Fighting Arts, the second part of my article about Shozen Sunabe (student of Chotoku Kyan) will appear.  I have also written the editorial for that issue.  It will be about Mitsugi Kobayashi, a Hawaii man who lived in Okinawa and studied Goju-Ryu under Seko Higa.  Kobayashi Sensei passed away in June at the age of 88.

I would like to encourage Karate students around the world to write about the art, especially about seniors like Sunabe Sensei and Kobayashi Sensei.  Get published!  Once you get one article published it will be easy.  One article, then ten, then 100!  Let's spread positive information about Karate.

And to my student, Peter, who wrote the last two Guest Posts, good job!  Please keep them coming.


Charles C. Goodin