Gasshuku 2017 and Beyond: Part 2 – Eat in or take away? (There is more than one way to skin a dead cat!)

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Some of the wonderful souls I trained with last week.

Training in other dojo(s) has the potential to make you feel like a fish out of water. You are the visitor, the other, with your different uniform and your different style. You try not to stand out, but that is easier said than done. There are so many ways to skin a dead cat that people may look at you sideways if you start skinning a dead cat your way when they skin it a different way, so as unsuccessful as it can be, you try to skin it their way and fit in.

Skinning your dead cats the way they skin their cats can be a double edged sword (I guess a double edged sword might skin 2 cats at once!!!) On the one hand they may look at you in a freak moment when you actually do it they way they want you to, and say…..”Wow! she can skin a dead cat the “right” way!” (subtext “our way”)…..or, when you are not skinning it their way, despite having a red hot go they might say “You’re skinning it all “wrong”! I bet your instructor didn’t show you to skin it that way!” (which then makes you question which memo you missed when on the whole skinning cats thing!!). Don’t ask me why a staunch vegan like myself is talking about skinning cats. I know nothing about skinning cats!! What I do know, or at least what I am starting to realise now, is that whilst cross training gets easier, the more you know about your own style, it also gets harder.

When I started cross training as a white / yellow belt, I didn’t know cross training was a thing, I didn’t even know karate styles were a thing…..I mean a dogi is a dogi right?……And noone looks particularly stylish in one: it’s not the point!! When you are still learning a down block, the subtleties of how far out from your body a block ends, how straight your elbow is, where the block starts, etc, just aren’t on your radar. When you start to feel more confident with the basics within your style though, and someone questions it or tries to change it, even just subtly, it can make you question not only if  you are doing it right (specific to your own style), but also why you don’t do it the same way as they do.

When I spent a week intensely cross training, last week, I was essentially cross training in one style, mostly in one dojo (but also attending 2 others of the same style). Even across dojo(s) though, I noticed subtle differences in techniques / style, teaching methods, preferences and priorities. It was absolutely fascinating!

With the exception of my own kata (which are style specific), I tried to follow along as best I could where ever I was. I even followed along with some of the basic kata they were practicing, which gave me even more to think about in terms of the common ancestry of our styles…..(gives more meaning when we affectionately refer to each other as “sister” dojo or our “cousins”). When I trained on my own in between times, I endeavoured to resort back to my own style. That said, I did experiment to a degree with incorporating principles and relevant information and feedback, into my own practice. I took both an eat in AND take away approach. It’s no wonder I came back feeling overfed!! A week on almost and I am still trying to digest it all!

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GASSHUKU 2017 and beyond: Part 1 – Going troppo (without actually going troppo)*

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Just off the plane back home!!!

*’Going Troppo’ is an exclusively Australian slang term for ‘going crazy’. The  popular understanding about it’s origin is that it comes from stories of the tropical heat in the northern parts of Australia driving people crazy.

This afternoon I returned from Queensland having spent a very intensive 10 days focusing on karate. For the last couple of weeks, my life has been a case of: eat, sleep, train, repeat. Sometimes there has definitely been more of the training, than the eating, or sleeping, but mostly it’s been relatively even.

Hard work; it was. Brain stretching; it was. Although there hasn’t been much blood, there has been plenty of sweat…..OMG……that humidity in the tropics is not something someone from a drier climate like me ever really gets used to, but even with sweat streaming into my eyes, there were no tears. Despite the weather, there was no “going troppo”, even when I was led astray to the occasional post-training glass of Japanese or home-brew cider!!!

During my time away, so many Sensei tachi and Senpai tachi, (my own Kyoshi included), have given of their time, freely, and willingly, to watch me, and guide me, to give me feedback, and just to talk karate with me and answer questions.

Statistics-wise, if I total the “in dojo” and/or “with Sensei” hours (ie not including individual practice or informal training / discussion with others) in the last 11 days, I come up with 32 or thereabouts. That’s way more than I would normally train in about a month. During the last 11 days, I’ve trained in five different dojo, on a beach, in the ocean, predawn camp on the grass, accompanied by birdsong. I’ve also trained with 10 different Sensei tachi (instructors), many different Senpai, and probably over 100 Karate-ka from 11 different dojo in Queensland, SA, and USA.

Everyone has their own teaching style. Some very direct, some tactile, some reflective, but all effective in different ways. It could have been a confusing, and overwhelming, or even downright demoralising experience. I am happy to report that it was anything but that. I was expecting to come home a bit battered and bruised if not on the outside, on the inside, but instead, I feel affirmed of my journey, with renewed resolve and enthusiasm. Apart from giving me a whole lot of ideas about how to improve my own practice, the many instructors have also given me ideas about teaching others.

All the people I had the pleasure of training with, are passionate about their art. I know that I am too, and a lot of people can see that in me, but it hasn’t always been easy to convince everyone that a late, (and relatively new) starter like me, is worthy of the kind of respect, and personal attention, I have been afforded.

Five or six months ago, when I started planning this trip, I was somewhat concerned that it was “too early” in my journey, to even ask for the opportunity to attend classes at the Queensland dojo (s), too much of an imposition on my husband and kids, and even too much of an inconvenience on my kohai here, who are preparing for grading (ie I should be around to help them). I was so distracted by what everyone else’s needs were, and what everyone else would make of a request from a first kyu brown belt, with less than four years training under that belt, asking for an experience beyond what even she thought she could be given, let alone handle.

I’m not the first in our dojo, (nor hopefully will I be the last), to visit our sister dojo(s) in Queensland, or to get feedback from Queensland dojo heads, but my Senpai who went last year, was up there for a shorter time, while staying with family, and was in the throes of preparing for his shodan test not long after he returned. I was in Queensland for a whole week after camp, expecting to rent accommodations and a car in order to be able to live out what I wanted to do with the week. Instead I was welcomed into the homes of 2 members of my karate family and transported by various others.

To all of the people who helped me arrange my trip, those who welcomed me into their dojo (s), who patiently taught me, encouraged me. and showed me knew things, to those who transported me, who adopted me into their families (and not just their dojo families), and showered me with love, and support, when I was away from my own family and my own dojo family, you not only made my stay possible but, also extremely enjoyable and highly productive. To all of you, (you know who you are), I am truly grateful.

 

Gender equality: Same, same, but different.

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At my last grading – photo credit Brett J.

FOREWORD:

I have been thinking about writing this for a while and waiting for an appropriate juncture to publish it. I wrote about gender equality a few times (including here and here) but this post is from a different perspective, and was sparked by a few things in my life both in and outside the dojo.

My husband asked today how my blog was going, and I had to admit that it had been somewhat neglected for various reasons. Then a facebook memory came up reminding me that I started my blog 2.5 years ago…..so in honour of this 2.5 year anniversary, I shall stop procrastinating and share my thoughts.

R.S.

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Just in case anyone missed the memo: Yes, I was born a girl. I “grew up” (in a purely physiological sense, if nothing else) into a woman. If we extrapolate a little, in terms of my karate, I’m experiencing somewhat of a second childhood, so loosely, yes, I am a girl in the dojo (training place).

 

I’m not here to complain about being born with, and growing up with two X chromosomes; it is what it is, and I’ve never, and will never experience the alternative. As much as at times in my life, the grass has seemed greener, or at least easier to chew, I’m content enough to graze in my designated paddock.

 

Sometimes though, it’s hard to believe we have arrived, (nearly 20 years ago at that), in the 21st-century. Even in first world countries, where things have improved significantly, and moved toward equality (in things that can and in my humble opinion should be equalised), we still have a higher percentage of men in Parliament, and in leadership roles, and earning higher wages, for doing the same work, women performing a higher percentage of unpaid home and childcare duties, (whether they work or not), and women being objectified and sexualised to sell things. Women are way more likely to be self-conscious about their bodies, and yet are continuously subjected to media images which attempt to dictate how they should look and dress, and even think. The list goes on but I think I’ve made my point.

 

Although there were traditional martial arts designed for women, karate certainly was not one of them. Women in dojo are a relatively recent addition. Those pioneering women in the art, (in the 70s and 80s), evidently often had a rough time of it. So those that stuck it out, and are still training now, are likely to be tough as nails.

 

It’s different now, in many ways. Firstly, women are very welcome in the dojo, or at least in my limited experience, and, be this and exception or not, I have the pleasure of training in a hombu dojo (home / original training place within a style) that (including our male instructor), has an even number of males and females in the adult classes, and similar in the kids classes. We train the same things. We train together. We train hard. Whilst I acknowledge the benefits of grappling with similar weight and size partners, conditioning with partners of similar bone structure and conditioning as me, and I know that there are advantages and limitations associated with the body I have at my disposal, which may make some things easier or harder for me, I still occasionally and reminded that to be a karate-ka (karate practitioner) and be a woman, are two things that didn’t always go together.

 

Being a karate-ka, brings on a certain set of challenges, both mental and physical. Being a woman also brings on a certain set of challenges, both mental and physical. Because I am both, and because I am me, I can only speak from personal experience to this point.

 

I’ve been a karate-ka (at least in name), for about three and half years. I started as a baby, accelerated through toddlerhood care of some excellent parenting (my instructors probably would call teaching), and have probably now graduated into my childhood / pre teen wonder years. I’ve been a woman for close to 43 years. I started as a baby, took a few years to get toddlerhood, and emerged as a child, where I mucked around for about 30+ years, gradually metamorphosising from adolescent to woman, to wife, to mother, collecting hats and responsibilities as I traveled through life.

 

At the point where these two circles of my life intersected, I was 39. I was comfortable being me, and being a woman, to the stage where I finally let myself be half way feminine, something which I had resisted for some time. I was working. I was a singer, composer, musician, with regular performance commitments, and I was in the throes of parenting a school starter and a preschooler. I had a billion other commitments besides. In short, I had so many excuses not to train, it’s surprising in many ways that it got off the ground for me at all. I had a good reason for starting training, (my son), though no particular reason to keep it up beyond trying it out. Fortunately, it sparked something inside of me that I couldn’t deny. And, so I did train, and the training kept the passion burning, and the passion kept me training. My one reason (which I couldn’t name until I had been training for probably 6 or more months), overrode all those excuses.

 

However, let’s look at what could have happened, had I taken the approach I could have taken, and gone with the excuses and not the passion. Where would I be now? I would likely be pretty much where I was then, which would be okay, but not fantastic. I would have missed out on a lot of growing up. I would have missed out on so many learning experiences, including learning about myself, and learning to respect and appreciate myself.

 

What has this got to do with other women in karate, (and more importantly, women not in karate)? Well, firstly, with the women in karate who stay there, and particularly the mums, they are often there despite the odds being stacked against them. They are the ones, swimming against the current. They are the ones trying even harder perhaps, than their male counterparts, to prove a point, even if that point is only to be proven to themselves. Even if the odds in the dojo are more in our favour now than they were a few decades ago, the odds of society are still largely imbalanced against women, and there’s a lot of life, that happens outside the dojo. It’s very difficult (thought not always impossible) to make men understand this. I get that. I don’t know what it’s like to be a man either. Empathy can only extend so far.

 

I am rather fortunate to train with men and boys who on the whole treat me like any other karate-ka, with respect. It doesn’t stop me trying my hardest, and possibly at times inspires me to try even harder. The important thing is that it doesn’t stop me from being me and being comfortable to be me. Generally, my instructor treats all of us in the same way, and has the same expectations of us, so being a woman in the dojo, is rarely brought up something out of the ordinary or special. To be honest that’s just the way I like it.

 

On the flipside, even though I love and respect all my training buddies and instructors, regardless of the chromosomes they were dealt, it is great to have developed close bonds with other women in the art, and it is important we encourage and support each other.

 

At the end of the day though, I don’t want to be the best woman karate-ka in our dojo, or the first woman karate-ka in our style to be awarded a Senpai (trainee instructor) title, or a shodan (black belt); I am only interested in being the best Karate-ka I can possibly be, and the best person I can possibly be. The rest really is a non issue to me.

 

So, next time you tell me (or even think about telling me), or my daughter, (or anyone else, male or female, for that matter), to “stop punching like a girl”, think about what you actually mean, and then, think about what it says about you, and furthermore what it says about society, and what it says about how you want society to look like.

When Life Begins

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The sun sets on my 30’s (No party, but I spent a rare quiet few days away here with my husband when I actually turned 40)

As a young girl, and in my early adult years, I used to hear the oft used catch phrase: “Life begins at 40.” bandied around a lot. Of course, I dismissed it. How could “life” begin when one was so old? Why wait that long to get to the starting blocks? How, at a time when most people are bogged down with the reality of kids, mortgage, dead-end jobs, and bills to pay, and when there was no time for a “life” could life be beginning? Surely this was just something that “old” people said to make themselves feel better about getting old.

 

If only I knew then what I know now.

 

In my 20s I was naive. I liked to go out, or at least hang with the cool crowd, and fit in. I beat myself up when I struggled to keep up. I was never into drinking, and though outwardly extroverted at the time, I don’t think in hindsight, I was actually as outgoing as I made out to be.

 

By my 30s “I” was “we”. I was (still am) married to the man I met in my mid 20s, we had a house (mortgage), relatively steady employment, and were hoping for (trying for) kids. We were happy. We were self-sufficient, and to a degree, self-centred.

 

We “finally” became parents in our mid 30s. Being responsible for one (and not too much later two) tiny humans changed a lot of things. Suddenly the whole focus of our existence, and the whole reason for our existence, was to nurture these little helpless “bundles of joy” (they were not always joyful, but that’s part of the parenting package I guess).

 

Once I had emerged, from the sleep deprivation, endless nappies, and generally being a slave to routine, that accompanies new motherhood, I had the luxury to explore who I really was, what things were important to me, what I could give to others, what I could learn from others, and what and who I wanted to become. This opportunity came around about the time my son started school, and the year before my daughter started kindergarten. I was working part-time, being a mom full-time, helping out at the school, making music, and fitting in a decent amount of exercise. I needed something more. I wanted to be my own person.

 

The year things changed, and the year I started to get to know myself better, was, ironically, the year I turned 40. I can’t put my finger on what it was exactly, but there were two things that facilitated the change more quickly.

 

One of them was starting Karate training. Whether it was just doing something completely different and new for me, or whether it was something that filled a gap I never knew was there, I don’t really know, but it seemed to give me a clarity of mind to figure things out for myself.

 

Around about the same time, and mostly for health reasons, I decided to try a Vegan lifestyle. That also for some reason improved my clarity of mind. Sure, it made me feel better physically; healthier, and stronger, but it also shifted some of the brain fog, and gave me so much energy to do things, which facilitated me getting fitter and stronger. I seemed to need less sleep (why didn’t I think of going vegan when I had babies?), less sugar, less stimulants, and feel more calm in myself. In time it also got me thinking about why people even eat animals. I could never go back now.

 

It was more than that though. Both Karate, and being vegan, started to open my mind in a general way, and made me a more flexible thinker, more willing to accept and listen to others, and decide what worked for me. It made me determined, and more importantly determined not to let others define me. It helped me learn and get past learning blocks, some of which had been there more than half my life. It made me more confident in myself. It even gave me the confidence to start this blog. It made me confident to be myself, and it put me on a quest to become the best me I could be. It led me to take an attitude of living life without regret.  It gave me, in short, the impetus to stop being content to exist and to start living.

 

So now that my 40th year has well and truly passed and a few since then, I can say to all the non believing 20 and 30 – somethings out there, that it’s true what they say: Life actually DOES begin at 40. Life is what you make of it, so own it and make it count.

 

PS: Just for the record (and the benefit of Gen Y’s and younger ones): NO, I don’t feel old. I feel younger than I did at 30. It may be in part the kilos or the teenage angst I left behind in the last decade, but in reality, it’s probably mostly just an attitude shift. So be assured, although it may not be plain sailing, it certainly isn’t down hill from here!!)

 

PPS: Eventually I will get around to having a 40th birthday party…..but hey…..what’s the rush, right?

Freedom of choice

I’ve been meaning to write something like this for some time, and was personally reminded about it when a previous blog post entry, commemorating a very important choice I made about two years ago, Anniversary of New Beginnings came up on my news feed in Facebook, but, I’ve been very busy, haven’t had time to sit down and think. And then, today’s photo prompt for #fms_pad was “free choice”. That gave me the impetus I needed, and for the sake of brevity, I used verse.

Below I include my photo and entry for today’s FMS PAD.

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Free choice:

This picture was taken on Wednesday night between two commitments when I had a free choice of activities unencumbered from my “Mum” responsibility. I chose to go on a sunset beach walk.

Because I am less of a photographer and more of a wordsmith, I would like to share some words and poetry about free choice and what this picture is trying to represent; some words of inspiration from others, along my life’s journey so far, and some of my own thoughts. I hope you will hear me out.

Firstly, words from Theodore Seussal:


“You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose.”

Secondly, words from an inspirational teacher and friend:


“I like to think that there is no right or wrong path, but the choices we make. Therefore, when stepping forward in life, don’t fear the negative energy you receive and don’t embrace it either, just turn it around and make it a positive pathway to your journey”

Lastly, my own reflections on free choice:

FREEDOM OF CHOICE, Rachel Sag 30/7/17

I have my freedom,
So I get to choose.
I’ve my whole life to live;
I have nothing to lose.

If mole hills become mountains,
I can give up, or climb.
If I can’t do it yet,
I can put in more time.

I can choose to be happy,
Or fight for a new way.
I can learn from the past,
And make each day a new day.

I can listen to others;
Accept and receive,
But I am the one,
To choose what to believe.

When I come to a cross roads,
I can go left or right.
I can choose to stay still;
Stand my ground and fight.

I can choose to plough onward,
Or choose to retreat.
I can ask for assistance,
Or stand on my own feet.

Each choice is different.
No choice is wrong.
So I march to the beat,
Of my own chosen song.

First in the Kyu (or last in the Kyu); the lead up to the beginning.

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From here on in, it gets tougher, and even more serious. Bring it!

As I mentioned in my last entry, last Saturday I successfully tested for my first kyu. I went in feeling as prepared as I could, and came out feeling fairly happy with how it went. Obviously, there is still a lot to work on (I would be worried if I were sitting here typing that everything was perfect!!), and there were things that I probably have done better, but overall, I think I did my best on the day, which is all one can do. The feedback from the panel and other observers since has been very encouraging, but also constructive, and to my relief was similar in nature to my self-assessment.

Panel gradings can be quite confronting for many people. You are putting yourself out there in front of family, friends, senpai, kohai, not to mention a panel of 3 or more high ranking karate-ka with many, many, years of experience between them. This can understandably make candidates very nervous, flustered, and as a result make it difficult for them to perform at their best. I am fairly fortunate to have had many years of performance experience (no not in Karate, but as a musician), which has made this aspect much easier. So, my karate in front of the panel was probably, by and large, not a lot different from what it would normally be, either at home practicing by myself, or in class practising with everyone else. In fact, cognitively, the way I cope with the situation, if the nervous energy in the room does start to invade my head-space, is by convincing myself that I am in class, and just ignoring everything else other than what is being asked of me.

This grading period was a little different for me. The month before grading I publicly offered to assist my kohai prepare their material for grading, both in and outside of class. As I have mentioned, this has helped me learn more about teaching, and also helped me develop a deeper understanding of a different aspect of the meaning of Hokkori – pride (when I see their development).

The last lesson I had which focused on any of the material I needed was a whole week before the big day. The week leading up to my own grading, other than individual practise at home, rather than training and preparing during class times, I had been doing some learning of a different sort. On the Sunday I attended an interesting (though not relevant to what I was being tested on) seminar for IBF (International Budo Federation) on various things including: kick boxing style drills, judo / jujitsu, security / containment. My only active training session had been my Wednesday night kumite class at our sister dojo (which was certainly useful but obviously mainly for the kumite aspect).

The classes at my home dojo, however were primarily given over to grading tests for the higher kyu candidates, and I was sitting on the other side of the panel table writing feedback and assessment notes, or demonstrating techniques for them. I continued to practice outside of class though and ask for help from my instructor with things I felt weren’t working well enough for me.

As I mentioned I was particularly concerned about the bunkai aspect of the test, which was unfortunately the most difficult thing for me to practice alone, and my visualisation skills were tested in a big way. I was hoping (maybe even expecting) to be given some sort of heads up about which kata or even which aspects of the kata I would need to demonstrate bunkai for. However, when this was not forthcoming, I just figured it was all part of the next challenge, tried to stay calm, and prepare as best as I could….and then wing it in the test, which worked out better than I thought it might.

I have already been told things are about to get tougher, and having seen what my Senpai went through leading up to his shodan testing, I already had a reasonable idea. I know as things go on, expectations will be higher, and knowing in advance what is expected of me will not necessarily be a feature, but that’s ok; life throws the unexpected too. We just have to deal with in the best way we can, and move on.

Right after the grading, my instructor asked me how I felt about being first kyu (subtext implications behind that). He looked pretty happy, which made me happy, but truly, I felt a bit shell shocked so I was honest and told him it felt a bit surreal.

Now, not quite a week after the fact, having had my second stripe ripped off on Monday, having been given a welcome / initiation as a 1st kyu at our sister dojo on Wednesday, (just as well I am away next week as I suspect they might lynch me for how long I made them spend in shiko dachi!! – a wide squatting stance, #sorrynotsorry #toughenup #takesalongtimetocounttoone), I feel I have settled, (perhaps almost too quickly) on the top rung of the ladder to the launch pad.

I am on the last kyu or the first in the kyu (sic), depending on which way you look at it. I have been counting down since I started training. The lead up to blast off will be tough but I am up for the challenge. From there on in the counting, just like the learning, goes up.

BUNKAI BALLAD – The crane who Smashes and Tears Calmly in the Storm.

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One of the things I was most apprehensive about before my grading on the weekend was the bunkai component. I had 4 kata to learn, 3 to perform: Saifa, Hakkucho, and Seiunchin, and had officially learned full sets of bunkai for 2 of them. I am pretty sure I have seen bunkai for the third at one stage too, and had learned bunkai at camp for the one I wasn’t performing, and I may have even been able to remember, if push came to shove,(well more likely grab but you know what I mean!!).

You would think that all that would have made me feel very prepared, and quite confident about it all, but no, instead I felt a bit overwhelmed and out of control. I practiced whenever I could find a willing and resisting opponent (for some reason it was harder than it should have been to find someone to grab or hit me, especially given the company I keep!!), but still, had no idea what I would be tested on.

The night before my test, having been preocupied for days and in my dreams with bunkai possibilities, I made a decision: it would be what it would be and there was nothing I could do except roll with it……Probably just as well…..the bunkai I was asked were not ones I particularly had practised intensively, or had even remembered well. I got past it though and instead of freezing like I had thought I might, I was able to at least describe what the bunkai was, by looking at it and thinking it through in the cases where my memory needed help. I may have needed some pointers and encouragement to make it more realistic and practical, but at least I managed to laugh and not cry about it. And let’s face facts: it was pretty funny being told repeatedly to hit my Senpai in the groin and pinch his inner thigh harder to get him to be more “compliant” as my tori (attacker).

I do promise to write something more deep and meaningful about my experiences over the last week or two. I also promise to reflect on being on both sides of the panel table, scrutinising others, and being scrutinised myself. I promise to tell you  all how it feels to be the other side of this experience, and to be (figuratively speaking) the first in the kyu (sic), standing on the last rung of the ladder leading to the launch pad so to speak. But in the mean time there is this:

 

Bunkai Ballad – The Crane who Smashes and Tears Calmly in the Storm.

Cranes are quite graceful but deceivingly vicious.

Hakkucho looks birdlike but the bunkai means business!

I’ll escape from your hold, head you off at the pass.

Hit your face, grab your groin and land you on your……..

 

Ask me about Saifa, it means “smash and tear”.

I’ll escape, and I’ll scrape and I’ll pull out your hair.

I’ll push you away and make you lose your hearing.

At the end of the day, it’s me you’ll be fearing.

 

Pulling in battle, can help me break free,

Seiunchin has storm within calm, you will see.

Move in to move out, move around, get them down,

Once they’re on your level, take them out and to ground.

Stepping outside of the box but staying in the lines. Dojo Kun – Revisited.

About two years ago, I wrote a post about dojo kun. At that stage, I was training at three different dojo (which I had referred to as dojo dai ichi, dojo dai ni, and dojo dai san, in the order I had started attending them), so I had (in theory) three different dojo Kun. There were many aspects of my training, back then, that were confusing, however the dojo kun were not one of these. I said it then. Having rules has never really bothered me…..so staying between the lines is easy.

Fast forward to today, I am training at one dojo, (dojo dai san), although I attend a sparring class at another dojo (dojo dai ni) once a week, (because sparring is one thing, which I both continue to enjoy, and continue to find confusing and difficult. I am stepping outside my box so I can be stronger within my lines. 🙂 )

I am also (as I was then) in the midst of grading season. It’s my 5th grading at dojo dai san now, as opposed to my 1st; my third in front of a panel, my first on a panel, and my last (assuming I pass) attempting a kyu belt, (ranks before black belt or dan).

Since the time that I wrote my first dojo kun blog post, there has been a lot more frequent discussion about the dojo Kun in class. Apart from my efforts at (literally) posting them on the wall (see here), we also recite them in Japanese at the end of every class, as well is frequently discussing them in English. I believe this has made a big difference in the spirit, ownership, pride, and general morale within our growing dojo family. Even the smallest members, are able to recite and understand the kun on a basic level.

Reflecting on a personal level on our Dojo kun and want they mean to me now, nearly 3.5 years into my training and 2 years since I first posted on the matter, I would say the following.

Hokori (Pride)

In the last six months, as a student, I have been carefully trying to refine my techniques and learn new kata and other skills. I have a strong desire to be able to represent my style and my dojo, which was something that had not really occurred to me much before, because there were too many other things to think about.

I have paid attention to and become acutely aware of the things we do and don’t do in terms of not only style but also behaviour and etiquette, and tradition. My instructor, my Senpai and others within the wider network have all been a positive part of my personal growth, and given me confidence in myself by believing in me and helping me, and this has been instrumental in helping me be very proud to practice our style. I have also been very keen to learn as much as I can about the history of our style, the language, the traditions, the dojo kun, and basically everything I can find out, so that when people ask me, I can be as clear as possible. And people have been asking me……

The last 6 months have also brought about a new role for me; I have been learning how to instruct others in our style, and be a mentor for them. The prospect of doing so both thrilled me and scared me in equal measure, but when I was thrown in front of the proverbial bus (or the literal class), I surprised myself, and was proud that I could do something I had been more than a little apprehensive about. The biggest positive which has come from the experience of teaching though, and the most pride I have felt is watching others I have taught, improve and succeed, take to our dojo, and become part of the family.

Nintai (Patience)

Patience has never been my strong suit. Luckily, perseverance (which is an aspect of patience and an alternate meaning of the kanji), is something I am OK with. I am not someone who likes to give up quickly. Perhaps it is that tenacity that has taken me to the point where I find myself now.

However, it has been teaching others, that has not only forced me to be more patient as a teacher, but also made me reflect on how I need to be more patient with myself, as a student. Although I may be learning something considerably more complicated than the basic strike that I watch a beginner struggle with, over, and over again, I know that what I am trying to achieve is not dissimilar. I know that both of us will get there if we stick with it. I know we are all beginners just on different parts of the road. And I know with full 20/20 hindsight that they will get past it, because I have been on that stretch of road!

Patience is also about acceptance of change, acceptance of things you don’t necessarily like, without making a big deal of it. I am certainly getting much better at rolling with the punches (on a metaphorical level).

Reigi (Courtesy)

Dojo etiquette and even general social etiquette is not necessarily something which comes naturally to everyone. It certainly did not come naturally to me. When I reflected on Courtesy a year ago, and when I helped write our dojo’s student manual (which included a section on Etiquette, and also on the kun and putting the kun in practice), I researched as extensively as I could and spoke to many karate-ka. I had only scratched the surface. Recently when I edited the manual a year after I first help put it together, I made several changes. No doubt the next edition I will make more. The manual is not and cannot be comprehensive, in this regard, and I have found myself in many delicate situations in the last 6 months where my words would not have provided the framework for me to decide how to act. That said, I am usually certain of how not to act, how not to respond, and so can then reflect on appropriate courses of action and ask for guidance from there. So even if I am not sure how to be courteous all of the time, I at least know how not to be rude and disrespectful!

Courtesy is not simply a matter of respect but more a code of conduct for the right way to act, react, refrain from taking action. It takes all sorts to make up the world. Different strokes for different folks. We are not going to agree with everything everyone has to say, irrespective of our feelings about them. Being courteous is listening to and accepting difference without judgement and about feeling comfortable to present an opinion without being judged impolitely. Courtesy leads to concord, concord leads to a positive learning environment, and a positive general environment produces happy and successful students. And, let’s face it: the world in which we all get along is by far and away the more pleasant one, than the one where we don’t.

Seishin (Spirit)

Spirit isn’t something you can see, but more something you can feel. The spirit of Karate is alive and well within the dojo. Having a shared focus and purpose, leaving personal issues outside, training hard, and taking pride in what we do, ensures this.

Outside the dojo, it’s more personal. For me, I find kata practice is where I find this feeling is the strongest. Performing kata (even on my own), I feel like I am connected to something bigger, something greater than me. However, I also find myself thinking, reflecting and even sometimes dreaming about karate, more often than I am not, even when I am not physically doing anything karate related. I guess the karate spirit is now intertwined with my own, as a part of my psyche if you like, whether I want it there or not!

My instructor asked me today if I liked karate…..(I think that was kind of rhetorical, because the answer is more than evident!). He then asked what I liked about karate and why I liked it. It was more difficult to answer and hard (even for me) to put into words. Perhaps this is because it is more a feeling I have inside when I train and when I think about karate. The closest I could come was that Karate was something that demands my focus so that I can’t think about anything else (a positive thing for a compulsive multi-tasker) and that Karate completes me like the last piece of the puzzle that you didn’t realise was lost until you found it and put it in.

The Week That Was. Part 2. The Australian Traditional Karate Championships (Saturday 8th April 2017)

A week ago, today, I participated in the Australian Traditional Karate Championships. This is the 4th event of its type to be hosted in my home town and also the fourth time I have competed. You can read about my past experiences on the blog if you search tournament.

I entered all the events I was eligible (disappointed that flag kumite is still restricted to under 9’s) and also tried to help out as much as I could before / after and during the event. It was a tiring but completely amazing day and the event committee did such a meticulous job organising everything that it all ran very efficiently, especially considering the event has grown considerably over the last 4 years and is now probably 60 percent stronger in competitor numbers than in its first year! This year there were over 80 competitors, ranging in age from 4 to over 50 and a decision was made to run the events simultaneously on 2 rings for much of the day.

Highlights for me were:

  1. Observing my dojo (who again turned out in force), whether watching, competing, judging, officialling, helping (or a combination of some or all of the above) exhibiting superb sportspersonship, competitive spirit, pride in our style, and offering support, not only to each other, but also to other competitors both in and outside the network.
  2. Being able to help out (as mentioned), as this gave me insight into just how much goes on behind the scenes to organise something like this.
  3. Being able to honestly say at the end of the day: “I have done my best in everything today”.
  4. Executing a convincing and well synchronised team kata with my 2 team mates and taking out first place in a strongly contested open division event (i.e. both adult kyu and dan ranks).
  5. Getting waza ari (half point) in my kumite round against a shodan competitor and not losing without putting up a decent fight. This was especially poignant, given that I had been considering withdrawing from the event up until 2 days before.
  6. Getting very positive and constructive feedback from many people about my kata execution (individual and team events), including some from sources I did not expect to notice or comment.
  7. Seeing how proud and happy our instructor looked all through the day. I know why he did.

I will finish (as I am wont to do) with some poetry!

True Champions of the Championships.

Champions come in all shapes and sizes,

Many forms, and multiple guises.

Some are overt; some wear disguises.

Some you expect, and some are surprises.

So look all around and open your eyes.

It is not just about who wins the prize.

The Week that Was (Part 1): “Grappling with the Basics”

Just over a week ago, our dojo closed for the night, and headed en masse to a sister dojo for a very special combined network event; a seminar on grappling and groundwork basics, run by the highly effervescent, energetic, and enthusiastic duo, Kurt Graham, Kyoshi and Jason Griffith, Renshi.

Karate tends to be a “stand up art”, so for many of us karate-ka, being on the ground takes us right out of our comfort zone. That being said, it’s very important to know you can get back up, if you do get taken down, whether that be in a kumite event, or, more vitally, in a real life scenario.

Kyoshi Kurt and Renshi Jason tailored the seminar really well to this perspective, and very quickly demonstrated how to turn things around when you are pinned on the ground. Conversely they showed a few ways to take people to the ground and what to do to ensure your best chances of a safe retreat.

Even though, as I said before, Karateka prefer being upright, knowing how to take a fall is probably one of the most applicable life (and potentially life-saving) skills we can learn. Even if the risk of violent attack is relatively low, more common scenarios (such as being hit by a car, knocked off your bike, falling from a roof or ladder or simply tripping over a kerb or your own shoe lace), can result in a fracture or other serious musculoskeletal injury if you don’t break fall correctly.

Kyoshi Kurt and Renshi Jason patiently gave those of us, less familiar (and / or less confident) with effective break falling techniques some very useful pointers. For me personally, one little tip on front break falls (the one I felt most apprehensive about), helped me feel so much more confident, so that I could be an uke in one of the drills, and focus on what we were learning to do, without the constant niggling worry that I might break my wrist in a not so happy landing!

Despite the fact that the network had an extremely busy week, with many of us out doing karate related activities every night, (more on that later, so watch this space), there was an excellent attendance from all dojo, with good representation from both juniors and adults (age range 4 to over 40’s), and it seemed as though everyone who attended were really focused, really enjoyed trying something  a bit new and different, and learned a lot. This was in no small part due to Kyoshi Kurt and Renshi Jason’s ability to keep it real, keep it fun, and most importantly, get around and help all participants during practice time.

If you ever have the opportunity to attend a seminar run by either or both of these individuals, I would urge you to just do it. You will not regret it. If you are interested in finding out more about them or inviting them to present at your dojo you can find more information and contact details here:  Itto Shin Kan or contact Kyoshi Kurt Graham or  Renshi Jason Griffiths via Facebook.

NOTE: All photographs taken by the wonderful Brett Jefferee.