The Technique is the Teacher

Recently, while teaching a white belt a new technique, I think it was the seiken, these words came out of my mouth, “the technique will teach you how to do it”. That one sentence has lead me to another level of understanding.

The real teacher in karate is not the sensei but the particular technique itself. The sensei is vital and required for transmission but he is really a guide. I cannot teach a mae geri. The student learns the mae geri from repetition, examination and perseverance. The perfect form exists in an unreal state of imagination, never obtainable but always pursued.

The arts are ancient and sacred. Understanding of Karate form is transmitted as the Way is sought. The technique is the teacher. I can merely correct and adjust and help along a student on their path toward understanding. I am on that path myself. And I have learned more in the dojo by myself, late at night, working basic technique for hours than I have at many seminars.

There is no secret way, no hidden path toward mastery. The Way of Karate is long and hard and priceless and endless.

Solo training late summer nights

Solo training late summer nights

Solo training late summer nights

Solo training late summer nights

Eight Years and a Shodan

 

Thank You Sensei James McLain

Thank You Sensei James McLain

This weekend, I will be tested for my Shodan. I began studying Karate almost eight years ago. I have taken short breaks in training. Usually the time was for a new baby being born or one of the two knee surgeries and rehab. Although, both years I had knee surgery, I still advanced one rank. I didn’t really stop training then.

I long ago abandoned any focus on the color of my obi. That external rating of my skill, my talent , my dedication and my spirit stays external. I use a fair amount of energy to not subscribe myself to the opinions or criticism of others, even my senior karate-ka. I appreciate praise but I try not to attach to it. I appreciate advice but I try to bounce that off my own inner wall for guidance. I greatly appreciate the recognition of a black belt but this is not why I train and this is not what i am after.

I train Karate to be a better human; to understand more fully this experience; to strengthen my spirit and improve my life. I hope my improvement and my efforts improves the quality of existence for other beings as well.

I will achieve a Shodan come this Saturday. Thank You Sensei McLain, Sensei Mike Awad. Thank You Mr Ezra Scott, Mr. Richard Garrett, Mr. Jason Tillman, Mr. Andy Moore, Mr. Nate England, Mr Hamman. I am humbled and gracious of this recognition and celebration. I am thankful for my forebears and respectful for  the honor to carry these teachings while this generation holds the time. But, things only begin here. In many ways I am closer to the beginner than ever before. And I hope I never lose that.

The Moment

One of the greatest gifts that martial arts training has to offer, awareness of the moment. The world does not enter the dojo. The time spent training is time apart and away from the world. In the dojo, as we train, there is no birth or death, no phone of computer. The concerns and follies of the world are held at bay.

Correct training necessarily involves tools that hold the mind, spirit and body firmly in the moment. The following tools aid in that end to fully exist in the moment.

Breath. Many spiritual disciplines teach the use and manipulation of breath. Control of the breath requires the mind to focus on the moment of respiration. Awareness of breathing patterns requires thoughts to remain in the moment. And when you are winded from sparring or kata or kihons or waza  or ippons or bags or stances or makiwara, or whatever, your mind cannot focus on the usual blathering. All distractions are outside. All concern is on hold.

Exertion. It is difficult to calm and quiet the mind when the body is comfortable, warm, safe and rested. When you are pushing the limits of your physical faculties, the present moment is all there is. There can be no thought of stopping. You cannot commit any energy to the pain or discomfort of the exercise or your likely to stop and rest.

Isolation. I don’t like to train at home. It is healthy to train away from anything not involved in training. When I train karate, I leave my house, go to the dojo, change clothes and go onto the mat. There evidence in all that process that the outside world remains outside. It waits while you train and you rejoin it afterwards when you put your clothes back on and drive home.

Method. I train Shuri-Ryu Karate. We all have styles and schools and ways to focus on. The mind can focus on perfection of technique. I foucs on the skill that is being worked and nothing else.

What circulates in the dojo is moments of consciousness. Training puts you in that moment.

Self Examination

Injuries are a part of training. After two knee surgeries, months and months of rehab under my (now) brown belt, I thought I had learned that standard. I believed myself to be at peace with the reality that my body has real limitations. But in late november two small things happened to remind me how to mentally deal with an injured body but continue training.

First, was the thumb. I took some contact to my left thumb during a sparring session. It hurt but I trained through it. Over days and weeks, each time i bumped my hand or flexed my hand the wrong way, the pain returned. Then while reaching for something under a car seat, I hit the center of the injured thumb on a piece of metal. I knew the next morning that my hand was out of order. I fashioned myself a thumb spica splint and decided to rest.

Second, came my aways relevant right knee. I work in an emergency room. I am often in charge of the emergency room. I pride myself on staying calm, relaxed and not easily getting excited. But one night I had a good reason to suddenly run down a long hall. I usually try to avoid running because since having a torn meniscus repaired, running hurts. This time was no exception. Just an hour after the run down the hall, I was noticing a need to limp and slow my stride.

I decided to take the month of December off from training. A body accustomed to exercise and a certain degree of violence does not like to go without it. Muscles get restless. The spirit gets frustrated without its usual physical outlet.

I think it is healthy to rest and I enjoyed having a break in the routine of training although I continued to mentally train my standards. I was forced to consider on a time when karate training is over. It is important to separate self from action. It is important to not have too much ego wrapped up in the identity of karate.

When you work at something for a long time it becomes easy to ask : well, if I don’t do that anymore then who am I?   What do I do?

This sort of self examination is very helpful. You have to get distance to see the whole picture. It is not fun or enjoyable or comfortable. But training in karate should not always be comfortable or fun or enjoyable.

Often we pause mid technique to examine our position correct our stance. My injuries and the time I spent healing gave me a pause to examine my stance, correct my position and make sure my emotional, spiritual and physical orientation was correct.

600 hours

In my Karate training, I have reached a milestone. I was recently promoted to Ik Kyu, 1st brown belt after seven years training. Last weekend I went to the dojo to train. While signing my school time card, I saw that I reached 600 hours. I am very proud of both these accomplishments.
My life has seen many developments since beginning training. I have become a father, my mother passed away, Sensei nearly died, I have had and ACL repaired twice. And through all of this, I trained. Even when I could barely walk, when I had only rehab exercises, when I worked night shift for two years, when the temperature was below freezing and when it was triple digits, I still found a way to train.

And I continue to train:
to improve my Karate,
to temper my spirit,
to discipline my mind and sharpen my body,
to be a better man, husband, father,
to touch the world through the expression of this art form.
I continue to train.

Seven years, 600 class hours and 1st Kyu have given me no deep insights into Karate-do. Insights come from commitment, passion, dedication and practice.

Kosho Tree

Kosho Tree

Rant on Competition

sparring

sparring

This time of year is for preparation in our dojo. Our annual tournament is approaching so we focus class time on sparing and kata. I have been working toward getting the kata perfected and committing the movements deep into my muscle memory. Go Pei Sho is my kata this year.

We also have been working on kumite. In our school, we practice continuous sparring kumite without scoring. Also, sparring drills where we work specific techniques back and forth. These are very helpful. We begin to ready ourselves for tournament competition by working on point sparring. The biggest difference to me is pace. In continuous sparring, we tend to wait for a point, circle distance and plan and attack or counter. But in non-continuous sparring, you can’t afford to wait to counter, or spend precious seconds circling to much.

The other day I worked with our Green Belt. We worked point sparring with the intention that there were only ten seconds left. It really helped with focused intensity and aggression. Though I have not been in many tournaments, most of the time, I find that two minute round is over in the blink of an eye. Before you are able to get comfortable, there is only a few seconds left and next point wins.

I find this kind of sparring frustrating. The question I understand it is important to practice techniques against a live opponent. Especially, working the techniques against someone who is trying to keep you from executing them.

What is the point in point sparring? Many karate techniques are too violent to actually execute on another person. Live combat would result in injury or death. But today’s point sparring is not an effective method to rate one skill. It is too subjective in scoring and to safe in combat.

Why do this?

Dojo Window

Dojo Window

A visiting elder recently taught a class for our school. The Saturday morning class was a brief seminar into many areas.  After training a couple sparring techniques and a few katas, we approached the area of bunkai and self defense applications. He emphasized that these techniques are lethal. We train hard and long hours to make these techniques effective, which means lethal. This elder stated that the only reason to train in karate is to be a killer. “Forget”, he said  “about self improvement, forget about fitness, or getting in shape. These techniques are for killing! So train to use them”

He was not advocating for the indiscriminate use of lethal force. His point was, I think, to be mindful of the deadly, final, irreversible consequences of theses techniques  when applied. I don’t disagree with him. It is not my place as a 2nd Kyu to dispute or disagree with him. My task is to figure out what he means and what the lesson means to my and my Karate training.

I don’t train in Karate to learn how to kill.

My reasons are my own. I appreciate the discipline of a school and a way. I take pleasure and honor in following a path and submitting to a definite, discernible way of doing these techniques that are different from other ways and traditions. To train in a School of Karate, to have a Sensei, to have a chosen style gives me a home.

I train to put my body, my heart and my spirit in a place to better serve the world. To know how to protect myself and protect those who cannot defend themselves. To train my Spirit like any other muscle. I enjoy being in quality physical shape but physical shape is secondary to Spiritual strength to me.

For Catharsis. My career is difficult. I am a nurse, in a pediatric emergency room. I deal daily in the lives of sick and injured sometimes dying children. Years ago, a 5 year old patient of mine decompensated and died in front of me. Later that night, I hit the punching bag in the Dojo until I collapsed in tears. I live and breath a lot of sadness and stress (I don’t like the term stress). I deal in life altering events and walk daily in the  strong emotions of humanity. I must have a cathartic release. I prefer Karate. I am allowed to be violent and controlled at once. I am allowed a safe place to express emotions in a safe environment. As a man in this culture, that feels very healthy. To control fear, rage, anger, sadness all at once is a skill applicable to all areas of living.

I train to honor the tradition.  I am honored to be trained in a tradition and to be tasked with the preservation of theses techniques. I understand the importance of learning these lessons so that I may one day hand them down to another generation. I am honored to be part of our lineage.