Musings of an Old

Karate-Ka 

This page is not intending to become a blog or a forum. As I have got older, I find many things make me a 'Grumpy Old Man'. Not only about life in general, but things I have seen and experience in martial arts.

The topics I will touch on could be of interest to others or nobody. It will just allow me to let of steam. Some could be controversial some dull. Some long winded some short. Some things may stay on this page a while some could come and go in a flash. All depends how my training goes that day.

You can always e.mail me with a response, if you feel you must. Not promising you will either get an answer or if you do, one you like!

Forums: a waste of time?

What is with martial art forums? It seems to be made up of two type of people. The first is the long term student/sensei who seems to want to show others just how much they think they know. The other half seems to be people who ask such stupid question it's a wonder they can dress themselves in the morning.

I like to wander the web looking at other sites, and every now and then I like to look at the different martial art forums. Its always good for a laugh.

I must say that the worst ones seem to originate in America, where all the chief instructors seem to be 10th Dans, I have even seen one advertised as a 12th Dan, (don't get me started about grades), at least not yet.

A classic example of the second type of person on these forums, was a person who wanted to know how to tie his belt? Why did his teacher not show him? If you forget, which can happen when you first start, ask someone. Is that so difficult!

At the end of the day all the people in the first category will still practice what their teacher has passed on to them. They will not suddenly change just because someone else says that they do a technique a different way. So why spend, and some people seem to spend a LOT of time on these forums, do they wish to discuss these type of things at all. Who cares I don't. If I have a problem I have a simple solution, BIG secret this. I go and train. Is that not what we should all be doing!

Many years ago when I was young and naive, I asked my sensei what I thought was a good question. After a long pause, he admitted it was a good question and said could I give him an answer for it when we trained the next week. So I went away and spent every day training to come up with an answer. Next training secession, all ok. Finished and was about to walk out thinking and perhaps hoping he had forgotten about it. Just as I got to the door he called me back and asked if I had come up with an answer. I told him what I thought it could be and after looking at me for a long time said......"could be" and walked out.

The way I see it is that your sensei/teacher should point you in the right direction and for YOU to go find out your answer through more training. The problem today seems to be that every one, not just those in martial arts wants everything done for them including their thinking.

THATS why I can't see the point of Forums. I think we need a little less chatter and a lot more training.

But hay, what do I know!

Etiquette or lack of it in MA.

I believe some one once said that all martial arts starts and finishes with a bow.

So why is it that so many martial artists seem unable or not want to bow correctly. What is with people who just wish to perform a nod with the head. Is it because students are not taught correctly by their sensei. I know I was. If I did not do it correctly I was told so in no uncertain terms by my seniors. Now if you tell a student, they seem to just shrug it off. When I have attended courses, some people continue to sit when a sensei walks pass. When asked about this, I have been told 'he's not my sensei' and 'just another teacher, so what!'

Students at competitions seem to be the worst.

I think this type of attitude is why we have so many social problems between the old and young and with authority.

When I trained in the UK although the dojo was only about 32 miles away, I had to travel through central London. My journey normally took about 1 and 1/2 hours there and about 1 hour back. I would leave in plenty of time to TRY and miss most of the traffic. If I was the first one there I would change and the first task would be to sweep the hall. Next in was usually my friend who would insist on taking over sweeping the hall. This person was a 3rd Dan and another long time student of the dojo. As other regulars turned up they would take over the task.

When I was training in the UK before Christmas, I got to the dojo and one of the senior dan grades was sweeping the hall. Standing around were a couple of brown belts and a green belts. As I now consider myself a visitor at the dojo, I quietly suggested that perhaps one of them should take over from their senior sweeping the dojo. Not the slightest put out, their comment was 'it's ok he's used to doing it'.

How can we get students to understand their responsibilities. I should not need to tell them. BUT how will they learn if I don't.

Perhaps we need to go back to the old ways. Where you came to a dojo to study a martial art. When we use to have butterflyes in the tummy before each training secession. When you were told to sit down and be quiet, and you jumped up if spoken to by a senior grade ie. a brown belt.

When you asked to join you did not ask to see the risk assessment sheet to see if the dojo was safe or asked if you had a qualified first aider in the club. Where you were pushed hard in your training and a failed grade was not the end of the world, as the dojo owed you nothing. YOU owed the dojo.

In any dojo that I have taught in that is the way it must be. If you do not wish to train that way, don't bother me. In my dojo we train the old ways. You put your trust in me as your teacher and I put my trust in you to be a good hard working student. That is why we say 'onegai shimasu' at the start and 'arigato gozai mashita' at the end of training.

Perhaps the wheel will keep turning.

But hay, what do I know.

Loyalty in martial arts.

What is about loyalty that so many students in the western world fail to understand. True there are a few groups scattered around that DO understand it, but they are rare. I have been a direct student of Sugasawa sensei for over 32 years. Every time I train with him I manage to come away with a little nugget of inspiration to take away and work on.

As already stated I like to dip into forums (just to read not participate) and also other web sites (same reason). I am amazed by how many people set themselves up as a chief instructor of a group with a grade of 3rd Dan. These people seem to either think that they have spent enough time to have learnt every thing their instructor had to pass on to them, and that 3rd Dan is a high grade. OR believe that they can produce something better.

Those with higher (much) higher grades, when you read their karate cv seems to have jumped from one group to another, boldly stating that they did it to get a more rounded martial art style. That these people seem to gain another grade each time they move doesn't seem to come in to it.

Both sets of people in my and only my opinion seem not to understand that to FULLY understand a style takes many years and maybe more than their lifetime. But over the last couple of generations people seem unable or unwilling to put that amount of time in. That is their great loss. But what of the poor student who enters their dojo's, dazzled by the flashy posters and competition medals and trophys, what about them?

A few years back I trained with a person from another style, and suggested that perhaps we could practice the same kata, mine from Wado and their's from their style. I'm always ready to learn.

Great, when I asked a simple question about a movement the answer I got was ' I don't know, we just do it the way we have been shown by our sensei and told not to ask questions'. This person now passes this lack of knowledge on to their students at their dojo. Perhaps if their sensei who had already left and formed his own association had stayed with his original sensei longer perhaps this sort of lack of understanding/knowledge would not be passed on or promoted.

But hay, what do I know.

Waste of time?

I was coming back from taking my dog for a walk in the woods the other day. I had the radio on and a person was talking about his life and all the things that he had done and achieved. It got me thinking, always a dangerous thing to do.

For just over 37 years I have trained in Wado Ryu karate-do. In the last 12 years I have also been training in Iai-do and jo-do. I have done nothing else. No other sports, no other interests, weekends away from family, always training, always thinking about, reading about martial arts . Holidays always involved karate courses. In fact I am away soon back to the UK for another karate course.

Just what have 'I' achieved. Yes I have my grades, my certificate, but they mean nothing. WHY do I still train? WHAT am I getting out of it?

Perhaps as I get older and (I hope) nearer to standing in front of MY god, what answer will I have to the great question 'What did you do with your life'

To say I trained all my life in martial arts seems a bit inadequate, even sad.

All these thoughts went through my head on the way home, I thought the best thing was to do some training.

Worked for just over 11/2 hours on two kicking techniques. Finished as always with my breathing exercises. This seems to clear my mind, so I can think clearly. 

Why do I still train as hard now as when I started? Because I love my Wado.

It has kept me healthy, given me friends all around the world. Sometimes it has kept me sane in this mad world we live in. It has given me (I hope) a peaceful way to lead my life. To look at the world through eyes that try to see the best in my fellow man. Not always an easy thing to do in todays society.

BUT my biggest hope is that I have been able to pass on some of these things to students that I have been in contact with, either as their sensei or as a teacher on a course they attended over those many years. Perhaps this will be a good enough answer!

Perhaps more people in karate should ditch their ideas for self glory and medals, before they have to ask the same question to them selfs.

But hay! what do I know.

Special Training Courses.

Just read about a summer course some group did with their students. They did mini contests in everything except karate, for the children, so they would not get bored! They even stated they did some sword fighting I expect that they did not run the course for free so they all had to be entertained oops, I mean trained. They must get their fees so that every one will want to come next year.

You know my views about the standard that some people set just to keep the students coming through the door. Everyone and his dog has now found the secrets to their own style that has been missing. Only they know them and can pass them on....for a fee. Why not hold a course and invite them?

Since I moved to Brittany and built my own dojo, sensei has held an instructors course here. This year we used my dojo instead of our usall venue. This was good as sensei and I just had to walk across the garden. there were eight of us. two 6th Dans, two 4th Dans, two 3rd Dans and two 1st Dans.

What did we start with once we were warmed up. We spread out facing the wall. Stepped in to Naihanchi dachi and hidari junzuki. Open the hands to relax, no tension in the body. Practise slow punching keeping the knees straight, twist the hips, do not dig the floor with your toes, keep relaxed, work with your breath. Then chudan naname zuki, then jodan nagashi uke, gedan harai uke, jodan gaiwan nagashi uke, jodan naiwan nagashi uke.

 Soon we built up the energy levels, soon the mirrors steamed up, even with the doors open. Then we moved on to stepping in with junzuki making sure the heel of the foot that went forward did not raise. So it went on and on and on. Simple things that most people have thought to have mastered long ago. All the time sensei is looking, cajoling, making us understand what our body should be doing.

These first simple movements went on non stop for almost 3 hours. Quick 10 minute rest then back to practise kihon kumite no1. Paying attention to inasu.

We eventually stopped after 5 hours. Then only because people had to get ready for the restaurant I had booked. Sensei was all for going on.

This was the way we trained for three days. At the end, EVERYONE said it was the best so far. It was not about games or sword fighting, it was not put on so that we would have fun. Sensei wanted us to work hard (which we did) and to understand WHAT we are doing and how to pass this on to the next generation.

BUT and its a big but I do not think people want to train this way. Yes they (some) want to get a bit of a sweat on. But do they want to go that bit extra to understand their martial art, forget all the big flashy bits. Get back to basics. Lots of people seem to talk a good talk, but nothing else.

But hay! What do I know.

kiai!

What is it about the kiai in karate and other martial arts that people do not seem to understand. I know the literal translation is shout, but some of the clips on utube make me shuder. People seem to think that if they shout long and loud that this is a kiai.

 In Jo-do we have two kiai's Ei for a strike and Ho for a trust. Two distinct sounds. I still have problems with the Ho kiai and get told off most times I use it in practice. The Ei one I use in my karate. I feel this one works better for me, short sharp and controlled.

 The long and loud ones to me just show that the person does not understand how to kiai, but also has not been told or shown to them by their sensei. Thats if the sensei knows them selfs.

To me this is just another indicator of the loss of true understanding of most martial arts. Through more pressure for competition medals and instructors leaving their sensei after a couple of years, thinking that they know better. Another one of my pet moans. Martial arts seems to be increasing one way but dieing in another.

But hay! What do I know.

Kata

Was talking to one of my students recently about kata. He asked which one I spent the most time practicing. I said the one I go BACK to most frequently is kihon kata. He thought I was joking. I tried to explain the need to keep returning to your basics, but he insisted that the more senior kata where more important. I hope as he progress in his training he will remember what I told him.

But hay! What do I know.