In March 2014 when I first entered a dojo, I really had no idea what I was getting myself into. At some point in the first few months I discovered there were particular styles of karate and that the style I was learning from my first Sensei was called Go-ju ryu and a few months after that, when another Sensei from the network came to visit our dojo, I found out what that actually meant (literally at least….I am still filling in the blanks about what it means practically, more and more as I go along).
After I had been training about 5 months or so I started going along to another network dojo with another Sensei, who practised / taught another style, Shito Ryu. Their kata (forms) were completely unfamiliar to me (obviously) and I started to get a sense of just how big this whole thing really was. At that point I was finding it difficult enough to learn the go-ju kata I needed for my first grading and so I stopped going to the kata classes there and just went to their (highly energetic and super fun) kumite (sparring) classes instead as I found there was sufficient crossover to help me with my basics and it gave me some extra exposure to tactics and strategy (not to mention, leading up to a tournament, insight into how the other team played – hehe!)
After my second grading at the end of last year, I was starting to get a little more confident with the basics and I wanted to get better at learning kata more easily. My first kata took me absolutely ages, my second and third, slightly less time but I still felt there was something (other than just practice), I could do to make it work better for me. It turned out there was; exposure! It kind of happened by accident in a way.
My first (main) dojo takes school holidays off and 6 whole weeks without going to a class was not an option for me. I was worried I would lose ground and frankly I was / am slightly addicted! Fortunately the other classes in the network don’t take that much of a break so I went back to my kumite class in the second week of January and even went to their kata classes. Then I saw that the other dojo in the network (the one I hadn’t been to) were starting back the following week. This was the class run by the Sensei who visited our club before. I had heard he had trained in Go-ju but that he now trained / taught a different style which combined several styles that he had trained in. I contacted him and arranged to come to the first class. I liked it so much I went to all the classes in the first week or 2. Since then I have been going once, usually twice a week in addition to my other regular classes.
Sensei dai ni (second Sensei I started with) and Sensei dai san had kept asking me since the start of the year when Sensei dai itchi (my original Sensei) was having a grading (ie when was I going to be grading) but Sensei dai ichi hadn’t really mentioned it so I didn’t really think I would be grading any time soon – and anyway I only graded at the end of last year so I wasn’t in any great hurry. I figured it would happen at some point, by which time I would be ready. Bottom line though – I hadn’t even remotely considered the possibility of grading in another style in addition to Go-ju.
It had all been chugging along fine especially after I made sure that all the Sensei were OK with me training here, there and everywhere (I think they thought that it was fine, although perhaps I was a little crazy or obsessed…..?….but then perhaps I am), and then last week Sensei dai san (the 3rd Sensei I started with) suggested I grade with their club in a couple of weeks.
Frankly I wasn’t sure what to think or what to say. I went home feeling sort of happy, sort of proud, but also a little confused and a little conflicted.
I didn’t want to offend any of the 3 Sensei, as I hold them all in high regard, respect them all tremendously and am eternally grateful to them all for everything they have taught me thus far. And besides all of that, they are all fantastic guys who have become a very important part of my karate family!
In particular I didn’t want Sensei dai Ichi to think I thought any less of him or his style, and also, I didn’t want Sensei dai San to think I didn’t take his style seriously. Sensei dai Ni seems pretty cool with me coming to his kumite classes and knows I can’t / won’t grade with them because I don’t know their kata well enough (because, as I said before, I have avoided the kata classes as they were getting me confused!).
For some reason though (possibly timing was a factor), attending Sensei dai San’s dojo had actually helped me a lot with learning kata. This is possibly related to the fact that his style has 35 of them. And because they have lots of them to learn, they spend quite a bit of time in class practising them. OK so I haven’t even followed along with even close to all of them. But I have “learned” (mostly by osmosis) about the first 6 or 7 or at least learned the basics. I purposely hadn’t really been practising them in my own time since I wasn’t considering grading in another style and also because I didn’t want to confuse myself (especially since some of the kata are similar but not the same as the ones I have been learning in Go-ju – which incidentally has 12 or 13 kata of which I “know” 5 or 6).
Anyway, I felt there were some serious conversations to be had before I could make a decision. My husband was the first person I talked it over with. He got me into this mess in the first place by sending me to a dojo to get addicted to Karate! He said to me that really I should try and grade with Sensei dai San’s club because I was training there at least as much (probably more) than at my main club and Sensei dai San wouldn’t have suggested it if I wasn’t ready. Then I had a quick chat online with Sensei dai San to say that provided Sensei dai Ichi was on board with the idea then I would have a go. He said he would support me either way (good to know).
Next it was time to have a chat with Sensei dai Ichi. I wanted to talk in person, or at least on the phone, rather than via message or email, because I wanted to be sure there would be no misunderstanding. I sent him an email on Friday night asking him when would be a good time to chat. It was pretty late so I wasn’t expecting a response but about 2 minutes after I sent the email, he called me.
I explained the situation and we discussed a lot of stuff related to my training which was also really helpful for me. Sensei dai Ichi said he has actually been training with Sensei dai San (which I knew), so that he can work towards his next grading (in Goju). As I had hoped / expected, was happy for me to grade in the other style and said that he and all the other Sensei in our local network had trained in (and graded in) more than one style anyway, so really, it was nothing new! So that, it seemed, was settled.
We also talked about the differences in teaching styles between the 3 Sensei (which is something he often asks me to talk about, and I do try, as I know that feedback is useful). I have actually been giving it a lot of thought lately and I was able to articulate my thoughts a bit more succinctly than normal. In all honesty I find every class and every Sensei great and I don’t think anyone needs to change, as such, because they all bring different things to the table. My current train of thought though, is that there is a 3 way Venn diagram with shin (mind) gi (body) tai (spirit) and there is overlap in teaching priority, but each of them has a focus more on one area. To me Sensei dai Ni = shin, Sensei dai Ichi = gi and Sensei dai San = tai.
He asked me to stop being negative about my performance because I was talking about my struggles to learn all the other grading kata. This negative self talk, is something that has been creeping in lately, and I have noticed it. Perhaps it is a back-sliding into old habits, possibly in response to what has been a very stressful period in my life. However, that isn’t really a good enough excuse and I must try harder to go easy on myself; after all, I am committed and am doing the best I can.
Truth be told though I think the thing I am most nervous about is that by “mixing it up” a bit in terms of styles, I am (and actually have once) going to start one kata and finish up doing another! However, if that’s the worst thing that happens, well…. so what?