Friday, December 15, 2017

The Place of Training

After Charles Murray returned to the USAF for a career change, I started training a few of the students he had taught at McDade park outside of Scranton. Then I was permitted to take my program into the Scranton Boys Club, Over the next 5 years, I would return to McCade park with the program during the summers when the Boys Club was closed. I also taught programs at the CYC and in Dave Brojack’s  Kempo Goju Club.


After moving to Derry NH, I began the program at the Derry Boys and Girls Club. Again during summers I also held classes outside in my back yard. Later for decades taught Tai Chi on my driveway, in all seasons, from -20f to +115f, just not in rain.


Inside, outside, driveway, hillsides, back yard, between rows of blueberry bushes, all locations where I have committed karate instruction.


When I began teaching adults what I wanted to try to do, was follow my imaginary Okinawan instructor idea I had worked up over the years. When one of my instructors was stationed on Okinawa during a USAF tour of duty, he trained as often as possible in the Agena school of Shimabuku Tatsuo.


At that time there were few Americans training there, as the Marines had a dojo on their base. Most of the day it was free for anyone who could traing, Then the work day ended and the Okinawan students would come by to work out after work. There was no structured class, just people working out. And if you were working on something new, everyone would help out as you learned the material. Then they would go home.


That dojo, a place to train.


Picking ideas from many sources that I had trained. What I did was just like that.


The adult class had no discernable structure, from the students eyes.  That was done so students had to remain aware of what was happening, just as in life.


There was no warm up section to classes. Warm up exercises were taught to beginners, but it was the adults responsibility to warm up before training. Just started what was being shown for the day slowly, increasing tempo as we went, A natural adjunct using training as additional warm up. Similarily it was their own responsibility to warm down after class.


I got the idea from 10 years observing how Tristan Sutrisno trained his classes. Never one minute warming up, too much karate to do, too little time. Of course what was also different was creating a climate where each individual was responsible for their own training too. Moving away from the instructor had to do everything. I believe that is also a good thing.


While most of the classes were at the Boys and Girls Club location, at times they were outside on my driveway, my backyard, amidst my blueberry bushes.


It has also been very much a learning experience. Following my instructors way he learned on Okinawa, testing is not something student’s experience. For the most part many would have preferred never to have been promoted. My students really taught me they did not care about rank, and it has never been something they have discussed.


For one thing everyone knows what everyone else has and does. They train for their own reasons, not mine. While of course people come and go, most of them who have made black belt have stayed an average of 17+ years, frequently many more. This shows what it can be done with long term students. Also students choose their own roles. Some keeping up the training for their own wants. Some to push themselves beyond their own comfort level. Several receiving deeper instruction from their choices, eventually became instructor candidates, taking part in the instructor mentorship, and then going on to inherit the program.


Some speculation on my part.


Before the Okinawans started using the Japanese term dojo, the most reasonable Okinawan equivalent I have found the location of training was Niwa or yand/garden.

Which was suggested by Paul Enfield.  However Dan Mitsuhara suggests is could something like "chiiku sun ba" = "place where you train". I am grateful for their suggestions.

Part of their instructors home I am sure.


I believe in a small part that is what I achieved.


I do not believe I ever used the term dojo for that place we trained. It really never came up. There  was just that we trained, and trained and trained.


Monday, December 11, 2017

Triple Blocking, the drill

A very good way in increase your speed as well as the power of your blocks,
Is with this short two person drill.
This may seem like a little thing, but I have found it is the little things
Which make the greatest impact in the long run.
Where today kata punches are most often delivered to the solar plexus,
There is every reason to believe they were delivered high, middle and low.
For example the kata Jion utilizes strikes to the head.
My original instructor used to do a self defense demo where he started
By striking to the head, the solar plexus and the groin
In rapid succession.
I am sure the part of the theory behind such striking is a way to use
The over load principle, so many strikes so eventually one of them will get through.
Then training with Tristan Sutrisno,
I discovered this was a section of a two person set he used with his classes.
Using an extract of that set, this uses the 3 strikes and 3 apppropriate blocks.
1. High Punch
2. Middle Punch
3.Low Punch
1. High Block
2. Middle Inside Block
3. Low Block
Where the three strikes alternate hands for each strike.
The blocks are all done with the same hand.
Sort of like Zorro did leaving the sign of the “Z”.
That is what you should think of when performing the block.
And of course the attacker and defender then reserve their roles.
As the drill is performed,
They move faster and faster.
Making each technique remain crisp.
Avoiding the tendency to get sloppy.
It is very east to become to soft to handle speed increase.
Tom Lewis using the triple strike in a self defense demonstration.

The next steps -

At first the drill is done stationary, without movement.

The next step the attacker takes a step forward and delivers the strikes.
At the same time the defender takes a step backward and performs the blocks.

Again the next step the defender takes a step forward and performs the blocks.
The attacker takes a step backward and delivers the strikes.

Then take any kata.
Replace the strikes with triple strikes.
Work to perform it with speed and power.

Monday, December 4, 2017

The Karate Trophy

This was the first trophy I won after I became a Black Belt,
it was won for Bo Kata, now long ago.
Other trophies followed.
I really wasn’t competing to garner trophies, rather as
we had some of the best forms competitors in the Nation in the old Region 10,
I was always looking forward to the challenge of competing against those individuals.
The rush from the push.
My training never covered what you should do when you win.
I was without an instructor or a guide,
Really did not know anyone in Scranton, for that matter.
So I decided I should place my entry in the local paper.
I remember Sensei Lewis used to do that when students won.
I went to photographer and had photos taken,
Then took them to the local paper and gave them the facts of the tournament,
And the photo.
Then the next week I was on the cover of the local section as a winner.
Of course nobody knew who I was,
No one ever mentioned that photo and article to me.
I guess that was a lesson in itself.
When you win the first time, that is something special.
A moment you will remember.
When you win the next time, you more correctly realize that it meant for that second
And that day, the judges felt you were the better competitor.
Eventually you understand on any given day, it could be vastly different.
That is not the same as what you feel going up against those top competitors.
You do not even make a dent in their performance.
But time moves on, and they move on.
After enough trophies, perhaps they have other things to do.
Then you climb in the local ratings.
Maybe for a year you are just out of the top competitors.
Then the day comes they are all gone,
And it is time for your day in the sun.
Where you find the challenge is not there,
There are other things that are more interesting.
Those trophies you won from time to time,
Just standing in the corner year after year passes gathering more dust.
You hear from friends who won housefull of trophies,
All of them broken by their kids.
 And yours continue to gather dust.
And after great time, you re-enter competition again to push yourself against age.
A few more trophies and now medals.
More things to gather dust.
When it is time to move,
They also move to the trash.
Not worth the space to go to a new home.
But one photo of that first trophy remains.
And One medal left on a shelf, also gathers dust.
A memory remains of a time when the competition was a tool to push myself.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Grasping that which Cannot be Grasped.



First a disclaimer: Do not mistake me for an expert on the Bubishi, I am but an amature who perhaps has seen to much. And for that I am probably no more correct than anyone who howls at the moon. But my latest foray into the Bubishi, and perhaps also reading a bit about the reality of the pain of extended sitting while in true Zen meditation, I feel like howling at that moon.


There are many books on the Bubishi, in Japan, in America, in France and many other places. You know a book, it is tactile, has substance, makes you feel you have gained something. Of course the original Bubishi was none of those things.


What feel right to me is that it was a bunch of personal notes from a adept in a Chinese martial practice. It originally was just a loose leaf bunch of notes, ordered whatever was last of interest to look at. I am going to ramble around on this theme, no particular order but whatever follows.


However it really ended on Okinawa probably will remain a mystery. But as time passed it was passed along, between instructors and also passed to trusted senior students. It was not a published work, rather hand copied each passage, And that act likely changed some thing in the age old process of other hands retelling everything. At times personal copies, at times likely professional copyists. Likely no attempt to reconcile differences between different copies.


So  you ended up with copies of something you did not exactly know who wrote the orginal and had no idea how faithful the copy you possess matched the original source.


Yet when it moved into printed books there was a new implied structure. Perhaps different for each work, each with an authors ideas overlaying the copy of  a copy of a copy of the original notes. So just perhaps, we can undersand the confusions around it if we change the work Bubishi to whatever karate system you follow and try to explain changes that have occurred.


What we can agree on was the adept of the Bubishi art, was as much into the medical side of their art as they were into the physical side. About one half the work is on  the medical side of training. Where to attack the body, how to heal the body after it has been attacked. How to heal various infirmities you or your friends must endure. Less frequently translated simply because less is known of that era’s practices perhaps.


Not that it always makes sense. On one hand it shows instant death follows if you strike XYZ, then in another section it describes how to treat someone who has been struck in that same place. Incongruous at best. Reminds me of the saying “the Lord give-ith, the Lord take-ith away.”


Of course I have no interest in trying to learn how to treat something from notes that are copies of copies of original notes, especially when I do not know if the translator was qualified to prepare those notes in the first place.


I can understand why they were included. It clearly suggests an art that cared about treating their members as well as understanding how to attack an attacker.


Partially because my physician, a surgeon, was a member of my adult program for many years. His own knowledge many times led to understanding what was happening when we were doing 123. Of course we grew when that occurred. I can readily imagine the Bubishi author undergoing similar experiences.


Then again, in this modern age, understanding the process is seen as a benefit. Even when the understanding cannot be shown as part of the original.


Let me explain. In the original Bubishi notes there were no Meridian Charts. But in most of the modern Bubishi versions, Japanese, English, French and other versions, the meridian charts and accompanying notes are present. They are not in the original.


I understand why they have been added. There is a logical gap or jump being made  that shows the Bubishi within a wider Chinese medical tradition. On the idea the meridians can be employed to heal, or that they can be places to attack in extremis. Sounds most logical.


But perhaps just wishful thinking. China is a big place, and has thousands of martial traditions, as well as many other practices. One of those traditions, a very old one, which uses vital point grasping and striking, does not include meridian theory in their practice. Actually more like the Bubishi than you might think. They only use one simple chart showing vital points, all the rest came from extensive  training.


While it may seem logical, it is not necessarily the original tradition. And I prefer to see that tradition in the raw not through other filters, no matter how well meaning.


So just a loose leaf collection of notes. A plausible explanation why there are different Bubishi published structures to the chapters. Each translation coming from collected notes in different orders. None right, none wrong.


The more you think you grasp of the Bubishi, the more you find you have but grasped a reflection of the moon in the water.


As we are martial artists (an assumption on my part) the sections about martial practices is more interesting. How it might be used by us, how some of the movements shown may be reflected within our kata.


Of course that might also just be wish fulfillment.


Saturday, December 2, 2017

The Value of a Karate Lesson


 Value is something an individual assigns to something that has a personal meaning.
An automobile moves one from place to place.
I am dating myself, but my first new car was under $2,000.
However one person will find $15,000 reasonable for a car. The next will spend $50,000, another even more. Just to be able to move from place to place.
We do not hear about the cost of karate lessons in the past. The students had to be members of the right tier of society, know the right people, have the right family, but no one discusses what those lessons cost. From a variety of stories, in those distant days you got the idea the instructor did so from an obligation to their class to provide instruction. Not that everyone qualified. The instructor seemed to have their own qualifying standards.
Then time passes, karate moved into the worlds, which appears to have been waiting for it, and new traditions sprang forth.
I was much younger and working construction at the time I began. The Isshinryu Karate Club charged a modest club fee, and I paid it, however before long I learned they were looking for someone to clean the dojo, and the club fee would be waived. I accepted the responsibility, and gained something else, another day to train there. Win- Win for me.
Then moving to Scranton, the only option was to train in a commercial TSD program. There were collection envelopes from a billing service, and the fee was greater but I was working at a Bank and had more funds. I found the fee reasonable; there were also quarterly testing fee. And I paid them too. Value received.
Then one of my Isshinryu instructors moved to Scranton, and I returned to my passion, Isshinryu. There was no fee, but my being in constant foot and mouth disease. LOL Again I found value and paid the non fee.
After obtaining my Dan, finding myself without an instructor, I began my wandering days, training with many I met at tournaments, there was no fee, and I was the recipient of many nice individuals who were willing to share.
I began my program at the Scranton Boys Club, and never asked for a fee, having that program did allow me to keep doing Isshinryu, and that was enough.  I foresaw what was to come, that any program to grow into the future would have to offer training for the youth. Many did not believe me, but time proved I was right.
Along my meandering ways I desired some specific training, solely for my own purposes.
The only instructor in the area offering such was a commercial program, and I found value in what I received, and paid for many lessons. In fact at times the fee was thousands of dollars per form, paid class by class. I found incredible value for myself and gladly paid it.
In return I received instruction that very few would have within the karate world. I never had a problem with paying. Value gained.
I understood what commercial programs could be, saw many that were not, and saw some that were superior. Both for the highest fees and for free. There was no constant point of view. Each instructor followed their traditions.
I remember one day I was at a Christmas party with my wife, held in an upscale neighborhood outside Scranton. One parent there took the time to congratulate me for my service to the Boys Club, saying he heard I was doing a good job there. Then he mentioned, “of course I would not send my kids there, for if your program had more value, you would be charging for it.” My purpose was not to attempt to drum up new students, so I just let the remark slide off.
Of course what I felt was something else, For I was the only individual offering Okinawan karate in the area, and realized that father just knew nothing about what was happening. I was not in the impossible task of enlightening the ignorant after all.
Another time something else occurred.
One evening training the kids at the Boy’s Club, two individuals showed up and addressed me after the class. The conversation went something like this “Mr. Smith, you are the only person in the area doing kobudo, and we want you to teach us some.”
Now this was likely true. But I did not have an adult program at that time, nor was I thinking of starting one, The fact was I was already training at many places throughout the week. But eternally polite this was my reply (also what I really felt).
“I appreciate your request, but I am not teaching a kobudo program, what I am teaching in Isshinryu. I would be glad to share kobudo studies with you, however my fee is that first you have to learn Isshinryu from the ground up. Then in a few years when you have acquired the empty hand side of the training, you can begin toe kobudo side of the training. I only teach one way.”
On hearing that they quickly left.
I moved for work to Derry, NH, and began again at the Derry Boys and Girls Club. Over time I realized that what I was doing was sharing with the youth of the town the same way many adults shared with the kids of my own town when I was young. The same thing they did running team sports, programs at the town park, youth fellowships, choirs. Just what responsible adults did for their town. And as time passed I realized that was the real tradition I was keeping. Not as a way to generate an income, but a service to my community.
I also began an adult program, also for free. I would tell the adults who began, I don’t have a fee, I you reach your Sho Dan, then and only then have repaid me. Value received.
Of course not everyone stayed. One sorts through the beginning students to find the karate-ka. Then again those who made the first step of the journey stayed on the average of at least 17 years, Allowing me to continue to share in their own journey,
There were other commercial programs in the area. Some very, very good, and others less so. Personally I never  saw myself in competition with them. If someone approached me and wanted to study XYZ, I would gladly tell them where to find such programs and show them how to get there. The size of my program would never cause them to loose money. For I kept the size small, and we had a waiting list years long at the Club for new students. We strived for a constant sice, many years accepting students only once a year.
Certainly not viable by commercial standards.
What I find interesting is how often I am challenged to accept the idea that only solid commercial programs lead to good karate. 
Something I have not experienced. Whether a program is commercial or not, value is established by other things.
Commercial location has little to do with that.
Inside a great studio, outside amidst the forest, on a sidewalk, in a church basement, for considerable fee, for modest fee, for little fee or for no fee, excellence still exists in all those places.

Friday, December 1, 2017

Knowing when to focus

One of the most important lessons in life is knowing when to focus.