Friday, July 14, 2006


I find that a deeper level of responsibility occurs as you get older, and more experienced in martial arts.

No longer does your training focus only on yourself.. Well to be honest, yes, you have to think of yourself first, but to do this you have to build up the dojo around you, also. What good does it do to find out that you managed to surpass everyone, but are standing all alone.

I was told by my first Sensei that his attic is full of medals, and trophies gathering dust. The memories, and experiences of those successes are treasured, but the glory has faded to be replaced by the newer champion of this year.

What is most valuable are those relationships that we create through our efforts. It's true that we do not attend a karate dojo to make friends. If we want to meet friends, there are many better places to get to talk to others, share the same interests, and get to know each other than when you are facing someone, and punching at them. However, something happens to a group of people when they train together.. a unity among those who have faced the same challenge and surmounted it. We learn to support, and help each other to achieve our goals. Not necessarilly classified as friendship, but definitely something more than just a passing acquaintance.

What is a karate dojo? Is it the place that it is held? I don't think so.. I've trained with my dojo in church basements, school gyms, even on a field in a city park. As long as we were willing to meet Sensei there, he was willing to teach. Is the dojo the students that train there? No.. I don't think it's that neither.. because the students attend, or do not attend, depending on their life demands. The faces that show up in class each week can change tremendously. I would have to guess that the dojo is the heart of the Sensei. He/she creates the opportunity, the expectations, and the place wherein karate will be done.

Going back to the thought that there is the amazing quality of unity expressed among the members of a dojo.. This unity MUST be from the efforts of the Sensei working towards that goal. He or she is relying on his/her Sempai to carry the same attitudes, and values. As I think about what a wondrous International world-encompassing spread of the Martial arts styles that have been created into existance by Sensei Gichin Funakoshi, Sosai Masutatsu Oyama, Sensei Chogun Miyagi, and others., I am entranced by how positive a person they must have been to be able to inspire so many different cultures of people to search for unity, improvement, and peace through their art.


Ruth said...

I totally agree with you. Out of pure interest, where do you lie in the "Shotokan family tree" (for want of a better term)? E.g. My sensei was trained by Kanazawa who was trained by Funakoshi. There's a danger that a reader may think I'm name-dropping or suggesting that one "branch of the karate tree" is better than another here. Not at all. I'm just interested to find out your lineage - as some of your training differs from ours.

supergroup7 said...

My first Shotokan Sensei, Walter Crockford, went to Japan for 5 years and trained under the Masters at the JKA Instructors course at the Honbu Dojo. He is one of the few non Japanese to graduate from there. He trained under more than one of Sensei Funakoshi's students. Sensei Yutaka Yaguchi is the Master that I am most familiar with since I have trained under his direction the most at seminars.

My second Shotokan Sensei was trained by Sensei Jerry Marr who follows the teachings of Sensei Robert Fusaro, student of Nishiyama Sensei, a primary pioneer in bringing the teachings of Gichin Funakoshi, the Father of Modern Karate, to North America.

That's my Shotokan lineage..

Were you interested in my Kyokushin lineage also? I do train in two arts at the same time. Perhaps the training differences are happening when I chat about my Kyokushin training in my weblog.

John Vesia said...

Some schools have more unity/camaraderie than others. Since the instructors and the seniors are held as role models (a very important aspect of any dojo), you're correct when you say it's up to them.

[Mat] said...

The seniors hold a major role, it's true. But so do the Sempai. A yellow belt is the white belt's goal. So, the white belt will try to emulate the yellow belt. Then the orange and so on...

I happen to be in a dojo where camaraderie is encouraged. The affect on the general atmosphere is palpable. When I did a small transition in Aikibudo, I was training with a black belt and he made a gesture like I wasn't taking it seriously. And I was serious. That's when the punch incident happened. When I visited that dojo, I was treated with disrespect by a Sempai. What does that say about the school?

I'm very prefer a traditionnal training. Hard, austere, etc. But I also think that sometimes, to show that we're good, a 2 000lbs ego is born and then, shit happens. I'm guilty of that, firsthand.

The Sensei you talk about had another way of seeing things. To enter the martial arts is a big endeavour. Along the way, you seek to correct your practice, to reach effectiveness. But also to correct your character too, slowing working towards an ideal goal named virtue. It's practically un-attainable. But to try is the way.

We're in a generation that does not seem to value that much. Values are changing. As they always are. But slowly, I tend to see an improvement in people. :)

Anyways, it sure is a great responsability. I refused teaching the kids's classes because of my lack of knowledge in karate. Even if Sensei saw teacher potential in me...

I tend to think that you'll only be as good as your teacher. And because of that, I can't be one right now.

Imagine how charismatic those characters must have been. Ever seen your Kyoshi? or Renshi? I remember going by a little guy, but full of something on the sidewalk. I simply couldn't look away and it turns out he was the same little man giving the class to all those yudansha.

Chi/Charisma/Character is something you can expend, contract, develop, use or not use.

So, how you use it will define your interactions with other people, with your sensei, and a bit of the atmosphere in the dojo :)

Your pal in the east.

supergroup7 said...

So from what you are saying John, and Mat, All of the students are responsible for the atmosphere in the dojo? From the first level of color up to black?
Yes.. in a way.. everyone creates the dojo environment.. but I think that the major weight of "setting" the expectations comes from the brown, and black belts of the dojo. The lower belts will look as to what the higher belts are doing.. and imitate them.

Yes, Mat, I have been lucky enough to train under Shihan, and Masters. That is something to be experienced. They have had so many years of training that the techniques flow from them like melted metal. You are totally aware that it will be a long while before you can look halfway as complete as they are.. Part of you even has to admit that you may not ever achieve that kind of experience/ capacity.

[Mat] said...


"You are totally aware that it will be a long while before you can look halfway as complete as they are"

Hey, if I can get a quarter of that kind of proficiency, I'll be glad.

There are students near where I live that outperform me and that have been training for a year or so total.

I might never get to that level. But it's not my goal either. I am perfectly aware that I am no "star" student/prodigy.

As someone said recently, I'm just doing my best. :-) But until I know I've reached my best, I'll keep at it. And since I probably won't know it when I get there, I'll probably keep at it always. :)

As for the black/brown. When you're just starting out, these guys are unattainable. They're something you look at telling yourself : Right, like in 30 years. The yellow belt, however, is the person at your right. Right next to you. I'm green and I have people looking up at me. Weird, but true. So if I train sloppily all the time, they get the impression that it's how you obtain a green belt. And it's not. Not for me, anyways. Gosh, I hope I won't be too hard on people when I get to be a Sensei. I'm really hard on myself...

:) On a long trip, there are many stops in different villages. And to keep at it, you have to look forward to the next village.

Our Renshi told us (while giving those green belts away) to wear them proudly. Because the white belts are going to look at us. He was right. They're looking at me and I have to be careful with the other green belt.

I'm very passionate about my training and he's not. He just comes to have a workout. And it's ok, I've come to realize that. However, when he decides to not participate in sparring or hitting the bag or pads, he's setting a bad example. I have to learn to respect his progression even if it goes against everything I believe a progression should be...

Damn, I still have so much to learn.


supergroup7 said...

That's so true, Mat! When I started karate I didn't even bother looking higher than the person standing right next to me for help. The farther down the line I looked the faster they moved... AND.. it seemed that they were doing double what I was doing. ha ha ha.

Do you remember facing a black belt as a partner for the first time, and feeling that deep wilting feeling within you of anxiety? I do.