mmmmPA!!!

So, whats in a Karate move? Energy. And according to Sensei Power its ‘mmmPA!!!!’

One thing is the control and flow of energy: where and when to expend it while always keeping it churning. I used to do Kata like every move was a Kiai, exhausting myself after a single Kata during a grading. Inside I  knew it didnt make much sense – not much point in all the good karate in the world if after a few moves you’re exhausted. But the old thinking was that good karate was exemplified by physical strength.

Kata, I now believe is a series of energy flares on a continuum or a timeline. At YOI it is elevated (the ‘mmmmmmm’ gutteral feeling) and then it is maintained throughtout the sequences, with more emphasis of energy on technuiques ( the ‘PA!!!’ explosion).

Energy has to be maintained during transitions and slower waza (energy as in intention eleveated and forward moving). Dropping your energy opens you up.

The continuum I believe is Zanshin – ‘remaining mind’ or continued awareness.

I’m still working my way through all of this and to help I came up with a visual:

Energy Wave

We’re fortunate that we have Sensei who understand this stuff and can pass it on…

 

 

The Karate Tree

The “Tree of Life,” a symbol of immortality; a tree grows old, yet it bears seeds that contain its very essence and in this way, the tree becomes immortal. Seeds pass on the genetic makeup of the tree itself. It remains ‘rooted in the earth, reaching for the stars.’

A mature tree grows in such a way as to not waste energy, it grows in humility, although at specific times its colors are brilliant.  Strong against the storm, it is steadfast in simply living.

Enter karate.

Tree of LifeMy daughter, Claire, made me this Tree of Life, and in thinking about it, it raises important questions. What’s in my tree of life? Am I passing on anything of value? Am I still growing?

I feel I am still growing and Karate is a vehicle for that.

Karate is a mind, body and spirit methodology. Physically it keeps us strong, and helps us learn to move with fluidity. It helps us learn to project our very character into our living (good and bad). I’m not certain karate always actually builds character, but it certainly helps one explore it.

It helps us develop a way of maintaining a clear mind and focused concentration. This, I think, is a substantial part of my Tree of Life – part of a fascinating journey.

Karate, like Claire’s tree, reminds us that although we need to stay rooted, we need to keep growing. In the Dojo we need to keep at it until that kata is ‘just right for me,’ or until we get our breath and movement working together like wind and wings.

In life, no matter the age, I believe we need to just keep moving, staying mindful on the journey.

Karate ‘Tight Lines’

May be a bit of a stretch, but karate can be a bit like fishing: hesitation or unaware time can cost you.

It took me a while to get the knack of setting the hook on a trout that hit my bait, especial

Dad

At 82, my father understands how being alert catches fish!

ly when trolling the big lakes and pond for bigger fish. You have to be alert, always in the zone – ready to react. With a relatively long line out behind the boat there can be no hesitation before or after the nibble or strike. Hesitate after the fish hits the line and you miss it, hesitate or give him slack line after you hook it and it’s gone: it’s all about being aware and being alert.

Karate is no different. The first one is obvious, hesitate in combat and you miss your opportunity to defend or to attack. As the Samurai understood, hesitation is death.

Similar to hesitating, or giving a fish slack line after you hook it, if there is any sort of indecision or even a micro-pause after a technique, you are creating an opening for your opponent.

Through video scrutiny with Sensei Power, my slack line sometimes comes in the form of a slight outward front foot turn when moving forward, or a very slight foot drag after moving. Either way, there is a break in the flow of the technique, detracting from its effectiveness and its strength.

To take the analogy further, awareness in karate is like your line when fishing, slightly taut but not tight, with no interruption in you physical or mental attentiveness.

As my father reminds me when I get a salmon on my line: “Easy and Steady…Soft hands, now…”

You have to find your own zone, I believe…

Intention to the front, please

Intention: A thing intended, an aim, plan or goal. Of course, a goal or a plan always denotes a destination, somewhere you intend to get – somewhere your focus is.

In the Martial Arts this is a vital concept. How do we turn out intention physiological? How do we reach a place in Kata and in Kumite where intention is the horse before the cart, the catalyst for the technique?

My initial understanding of intention was over simplified: I intend to destroy my opponent; I intend to throw an oi-zuki/gyaku-tsuki combination; I intend to do a sharp and fast Jitte. This is more of a plan, and having a mental plan in karate often costs you time and restricts your defenses, i.e., you think too much.

IntentionIntention I now believe, is giving constant direction to your energy (how many times did Nishiyama Sensei state that!), and that overall energy is forward – always. As Sensei Power puts it, even at the end of a technique in Kata or Kumite, there is a ‘pressure’ forward, an overall feeling of Zanshin or continued awareness, which is the fire in your belly and the alertness in your body for the next move. All the while your center (Hara) dissecting your opponent like a laser beam.

Yesterday in the dojo we looked at intention and Go No Sen, and Sensei Power reminded me that even while shifting back to receive the attack, your intention is going forward. The energy is recycled through your body and physically sent forward again in the counter.

Maintaining intention eliminates dead time in Kumite and quells subtle stops and starts in Kata.

Sounds easy enough, but doing it…well, that’s a different thing!

Mokuso: “A Moment of Presence”

Frequently lately I am blessed with the opportunity to play music with a gentleman named Adrian (as well as a number of other extremely talented friends). I primarily play stringed instruments like guitar and mandolin while Adrian plays whatever is within his reach: guitar, mandolin, harmonica, banjo, and the list goes on.

Listening carefully to Adrian (I often do, even as I’m playing along with him), I admire that not only does he play an amazing arrangement of notes in a song, he hits the notes with precise timing.

The space between his notes is musical beauty.

Recently, on the Karate front, I’ve been pondering Mokuso, roughly translated as ‘meditation’, but much more than that I’ve found. As I often do, I posed my thoughts and an inquiry about Mokuso to a karate Sensei that I consider a very learned resource and one always willing to share his thoughts on a topic.

On Mokuso, this is part of the superb exchange I had with Sensei Toru Shimoji:

Most of us, including me (!) suffer from busy and chatty mind that runs like a hamster on a wheel. I’ve been working hard to take time throughout the day to simply breathe and enjoy the space between my thoughts. It was fleeting at first, if not accidental, that I would find myself there. Typically, thoughts are closely hooked to the past and future, pulling and projecting, as you argue, judge, plan, worry, etc. and etc. It becomes a routine, a pattern. Mokuso can help you break this habit, with deep silent breath opening a space between the thoughts. Once there, the moment of presence is blissful. Like a child, you will repeat pleasurable experience, so the idea of Mokuso is not work, but rather returning to a state we once had.

Mokuso then is using the breath – breathing deeply – as a means to clear the mind without trying to do so, to get to a place where we enjoy the “space between our thoughts” – stillness. A conscious attempt to try and clear your mind simply creates more mind traffic, but sitting quietly and doing nothing but breathing reaps the benefit of a clear mind. Simply breathing and perceiving the stillness allows you to have an open mind to experience the class and absorb the instruction.

One day I’d like to get Adrian and my musical friends as well as Sensei Shimoji in the same room: two seemingly different authorities on the very significant concept of the space between – both of whom have a lot to teach me!

Tuidi – Okinawan Karate Tools

If you’re going to master Kumite, you’d better know how to fight inside and out.

Growing up in a small outport, when the spring ice started breaking up and got too ‘slobby’ to go ice panning on, we were constantly reminded: ‘Mind yourself around the ice! Keep your distance!’ Otherwise meaning stay off the ice for fear of mother’s wrath!

In Karate, keeping your distance is fundamental to the Art – Maai, or engagement distance as Jesse Enkamp refers to it, is fundamental in competitive Karate.  Staying right on the peripheral edge of where you need to be to engage your opponent is critical. Stray slightly inside this edge and you’re in the combat zone; slip slightly outside this edge and you limit your attack possibilities. A concept from Kendo, correct Maai is life or death – no different than engaging a knife attacker.

TuidiHaving said that, enter Tuidi, an Okinawan term for fighting techniques used in close. We Shotokan people never want anyone to get too close to us or to grab us in an altercation, but in case someone does, you have to have a few tools in your toolbox. After all, if we look at Kata, every move is an engagement move: attacks and destructive defenses, the stuff that happens when you cross the invisible combat line.

Seizing someone’s neck, an arm lock and break, or dislocating an opponent’s shoulder aren’t pretty, but neither is losing a real battle. We need to get to know our Tuidi.

Once again, Karate imitates life: fundamentally most important is what happens on the inside.

Karate Infusions…Feed the Pond

I recall a time when the Dojo I was in had 50 participants, and the seminars and competitions on the weekends (there was one somewhere in NL nearly every weekend) had hundreds of participants. I grew up in a very small rural town and yet there were a dozen young guys my age doing karate. It was the thing to do.

What happened?

streamI can’t help but wonder – as traditional Karate people – have we held on to the old so dearly that we haven’t made room for anything new. Has the adage that karate must never change gotten boring? Has the fear of allowing karate to evolve under our watch cost us in the long run? How is it that something that is so good for us on a multidimensional level, young and old alike, faded so much in recent years? How is it that that karate practitioners with 10, 20 and 30 year’s experience no longer don the Gi or step foot in a dojo? Chibana Chosin, said to be the founder of Shorin-ryu, had this to say:

“Karate, as it is transmitted, changes every few years. This is a common phenomenon. It happens because a teacher must continue to learn and adds his personality to the teachings. There is an old Okinawan martial arts saying that states that Karate is much like a pond. In order for the pond to live, it must have infusions. It must have streams that feed the pond and replenish it. If this is not done then the pond becomes stagnant and dies. If the martial arts teacher does not receive infusion of new ideas and/or methods, then he, too, dies.”

The very mention of evolving or changing karate scares the daylights out of many traditional Shotokan Karateka, but should it? Can’t we improve on something that is already very good with subtle infusions of wisdom and experience from around the world? We can still separate the wheat from the chaff and teach karate principles that are solid. We better understand the biomechanics of human movement now, so how can we not evolve and make our karate even better – not to mention easier on the body!

As an example, something as simple as a slightly higher stance or lower stance can both be taught with the principle of balance at its core. Fundamentally, the two Sensei who teach these are no different, and both have valid reasons for their preference – we can learn from both. As we progress, I think we need the varying teaching styles and opinions and explanations of technique. Then we adopt and build what works for us – there is a certain appeal in this.

Basically, if you know any real karate, I don’t need to know your politics, I just want to know what you know.

In the end, we don’t need to tear down the old dojo – maybe we just need to open it up and let some fresh air in.

Like Gord, Get Behind Something

gordon

 

 

 

 

 

Karate is a one passion of mine, and music is another, so when I heard Gord Downie passed away – although we’d been expecting it – I hated to hear that it had happened.  The Hip brought us Canadian music at its finest, and Gord brought us a message: Get Behind Something.

Gord tackled huge issues like the treatment of indigenous youth in the North and was relentless in his pursuit of fairness and justice.  Trying to shape a better future for young people is not only admirable, its essential.

We’re in an electronic age where there’s plenty of access to negative energy and paths to troublesome futures. But like Gord, some of us can make a difference.

So, here is a shout out to all the Karate Sensei and Sempai who helped shape my future over the years.  I am grateful.

And to those still teaching Karate, I applaud you. Karate that teaches respect and confidence is a force against that negative energy. You’re giving kids opportunity to grow and to make good choices. You’re getting behind them.

Godspeed, Gordo, and Sensei and Sempai…for the sake of our youth, keep it up.

 

What Now?? Just Breathe…

Sometimes there is almost a synchronicity in the works for anyone trying to understand a Martial Arts concept. Yesterday for instance I came across an interview with Sensei Toru Shimoji and in it he spoke about Breathing and about Ki Sense. I found it so interesting that I emailed him to start a discussion. And in Sensei Shimoji fashion, I got a response the same day with a superb response about breathing.

breathe-martial-artsLast night, as I assisted in Sensei Power’s junior class, he started the class with a talk on the importance of breathing to control emotions, and he showed the kids a video on the same. The kids were enthralled and all wanted to talk about how they experienced anger and how they liked to try to deal with it.

I went back to sensei Shimoji’s email this morning and this portion particularly stood out to me:

“Emotions have a powerful influence in our Ki usage. Conversely, the concentration of Breath Energy will influence our emotions. They are linked, interdependent and interrelated and interactive.”

We know that breath energy influences our emotions, so teaching kids that they can use their breath to control what they are feeling (and reminding adults) is a lesson that can go with them through every aspect of life. Whether breathing in competition to settle your adrenalin, or breathing at work or school to clear a muddled mind, we can all benefit from a few mindful breaths  (three concerted breaths, several times a day, reduces stress by a significant amount).

After all, life is 90% how we react to it…I can’t think of any occasion when ‘Just Breathe’ wouldn’t be a good response.

Karate – It’s Time

Years ago, after a hiatus form Karate, I put on some gym shorts and a tee shirt and went down to my rec room. I didn’t bother to google the Heian Katas or the grading sequences – I just stood in a natural stance, put one fist out, one back, and did a few slow punches.

And, to my amazement, thoughts came back like rainfall into a stream after a long drought. ‘Keep your elbows in; get good rotation on your fist; punch from the hip; eyes forward; posture correct.’

I was doing karate again.

Karate MouseAfter a few weeks of this I decided it was time to get over myself (and the excuses in my head) and get back in the Dojo.

The next week I was going up and down the floor with some old Dojomates and wondering why I had waited so long to go back. The bad knee that I thought would sideline me was hurting but became part of my training; yes, I was out of shape, but sitting at home wouldn’t help that; nope, I couldn’t remember even the Heian katas but it sure felt good to go through them again; reservations about feeling out of place disappeared the second I walked in – the dojo judges no one.

By the end of the first class I had a good sweat going and a clear mind.

While not training, what I had missed out on was a place where there is no unhealthy competition, no feelings of trying to be better than someone else. The dojo is a place where you work at becoming better than your current self: gaining a clearer mind and a stronger body along the way.

Karate is good medicine – no negative side effects.