I was involved in the sports world for a long time; playing, coaching, volunteering and anything else that came along with it. Some sports I gave up playing because there are those still involved who can’t see that, at a certain age, the game is to become a gentleman’s game. Instead, their egos are the driving force and there is no consideration for the ramifications of injury, etc. Coaching I gave up because I couldn’t deal with the parents. I had no issue with the kids. They were for the most part good listeners and were enjoying the games. The parents, however…not so much.
It was hard to stand in the player’s box and listen to a dad call his son down to the dirt, scream and shout at other players and make everyone feel uncomfortable. Some would call that trying to motivate your child. I’d call it obnoxious, as well as verbal and emotional abuse.
This week in the dojo though, I witnessed (once again) the polar opposite of the scenario above. I sat on the sidelines and watched a father and his son both being graded for their next belt. The dad, a 55 year old gentleman was up for his first testing (his yellow belt), and his son, about 14, was testing for his green belt.
Prior to the grading they worked together quietly down in the corner, assisting one another where they could and offering last-minute advice on kata and Ippon. After they successfully passed their grading there was a real sense of pride in one another; a sense of accomplishment, complete with handshakes and pats on the back.
Hmmmm…I wonder what would happen if more dads signed up for Shotokan classes.
It is sometimes the case that when Sensei or Senpai start out classes with the basics, Karateka are put off. Especially at Black Belt level and beyond, there seems to be so much to learn in Shotokan that basics seem less important. They are not. In Shotokan, I believe (and many others will agree) there are some techniques, principles and body mechanics that we need to strive toward mastery in.
In the book Outliers, author Malcolm Gladwell says that it takes roughly ten thousand hours of practice to achieve mastery in a field. He surmised this from his lengthy study of violinists and saw how those with 10, 000 hours of practice were an elite group in terms of their playing finesse.
Now, 10, 000 hours is a lot of practice time, but it solidifies the notion that relentless training in the basics will make your karate better. Also, is it not the case that if you have mastered one element of your training it will also allow for the subsequent mastering of another?
Bring on the basics!
If you were to think about it, sound causes an immense array of reactions in us. If someone was to shout at you out of sheer anger and catch you by surprise, your brain immediately sends signals to your body and you react. You may wince, you may be startled or it may make you angry yourself. In either case, the sound gets a reaction.
In class last night we were examining sound and vocalizations. Sensei Lee threw this out there: “Sound is a picture of your strength; if you don’t sound strong, you are not strong.”
Sound is part of your presence – your deportment that sends a clear and vital message to your opponent. In competition or in an altercation, your sound needs to send this aggressive message: you chose the wrong opponent today, friend!
It is said that the sword master Musashi had a verbalization so strong that he won several battles without a single cut with his sword. His Kiai, or battle cry, left many opponents without the spirit or resolve to stand and fight.
Sensei Lee stresses that while on the outside you are soft and calm, on the inside you are revving like an engine, verbalizing your energy, ready to deliver Ikken Hissatsu.
Not to mention, of course, that verbalizing stabilizes your breathing…
One of my favorite quotes is one by Rumi, A mystic from the 13th century. Part of the quote is this: “Seek those who fan your flames”
In relating this to Karate, an enormous part of Shotokan appeal is training with those who fan your flames, and who also keep the karate fire alive in you. A Shotokan Dojo is a place where you get continuous and consistent guidance; you are training under a Sensei who is a true master; and there is inspiration all around you.
Negativity and dismal attitudes won’t fan your flames. In fact, they diminish it. On the other hand, training with people who are excited about Karate (and truly believe in it as a fighting method and as self-care) has positive consequences. You feel better, your skills are sharper and your desire to learn more is awakened.
Of course, in the Dojo, as in life, we need to be the fan that ignites others, as well as receive it.
Is there a balance between maintaining the Shotokan style and tradition and moving it forward as a historically sound, effective Martial Art? I think there is.
I love that very little has changed about Shotokan. We still do the Katas pretty much the same way that our Karate forefathers did. Our etiquette remains the same; respect is paramount, and if you don’t show respect for others in the dojo as well as for Senpai and Sensei, then it isn’t a place for you. Our ranking system is the same, with emphasis put on becoming better that yourself rather than your belt color, and our techniques are the same. Teaching styles vary, but they all include Kihon, Kata and Kumite.
What I also like is the open-mindedness of allowing progress.
Recently for example, right here in St. John’s where I train, the St. John’s Shotokan & Kubodo Training Center opened. It’s the brainchild of two-long time Shotokan students who had a vision of having a training space available for Black Belts, as well as for hosting quarterly clinics put off by our Sensei.
Our Sensei Bruce Lee’s initial response to the concept was essentially ‘If it means more Karate, I’m in!’
Cautious forward thinking facilitates growth…without changing the Shotokan essence.
Recently you can see the grandeur of a couple of substantial icebergs in CBS harbor, and this morning it was like they were implanted in a glass landscape. Up close I can only imagine the reflection on the still ocean surface and the clean, refreshing feeling emitted by such a virtually pristine piece of nature.
A little like our Sensei, isn’t it? We get to see some of what they can do, hear some of what they know and learn only some of what they can teach us. In the hours we have in the Dojo we are simply scratching the surface of what lies beneath. As well, before, during and after class we get to spend some time in their company, and we get to take in some of what makes them Masters in the Art of Shotokan.
Sound like a privilege? That’s because it is…