Sunday, November 25, 2007

Alpha dogs, Sempai, and psychology

I wonder how much of our inner subconscious might be influenced by our animal selves without our knowing it. I once compared the sempai of a dojo to the lead dogs of a sled dog team during one of my blog postings, I'm surprised at how this comparison is seeming to become more and more valid as I experience training in Martial Arts.

A dojo class seems to flow by the effort, and example of the higher belts with the lower kyu ranks taking example from what is happening among the senior students.

In this posting I will attempt to study about the Alpha dog position, how it is established, and it's importance, and attempt to compare it with Sensei/Sempai positions in the dojo.

Using a website dedicated to learning how to control a pet dog, I have found these guidelines for establishing human "lead dog" position.

1. Never tolerate growling. This is a threat and it means your dog sees you as a subordinate meant to be dominated by him.

In the dojo, I have noticed that "growling", or territorial behaviour is not tolerated either. A Sensei will not accept defiance from his/her students. It will be addressed, and usually compliance will be demanded and expected to establish the student/teacher roles, or the student will be asked to leave the group. Allowing a student to defy, reject, or correct the commands of the leader, whether it is a lead belt or an instructor, creates confusion in the mind as to whom is in charge.

2.Do not let your dog walk through the door first.

It has been my experience that the Sensei, and higher belt's position is naturally respected when entering, or exiting the dojo. I have seen a whole group of karate students stand, and wait patiently for their Sensei to enter the room first, or to serve himself first at the buffet table. This was done without verbal communication between us. We just all pulled aside to show respect for the rank of that person. When Sensei enters the room ( in a traditional dojo) all students stop what they are doing, and greet him/her by bowing, and saying "Osu". This tradition might be extremely important in keeping the "animal" part of us aware of which person is leader.

3.Do not let your dog sleep in the same bed as you. This is a definite Alpha position.

O.K... This is a strange comparison, but I'm seeing it as not allowing yourself as a Sensei to become too friendly with your students during class to the point where the role of teacher/student becomes hazy. To be able to teach, the student has to see value in what you have to offer. You cannot do this by being their best buddy, especially when you need to challenge them and expand what they believe is their limitations. At this point, they need a coach, and a motivator, not a friend.

4. Socialize, socialize, socialize. I cannot stress enough the importance of introducing your dog to different places and people.

I have noticed that really effective Sensei bring a feeling of "what is he/she going to do next?" to the class. The students are always being challenged to learn, and improve in various ways even with the same techniques being studied. Tournaments, seminars, and other events have always been a high point for me as a student as I was able to see what other dojo students do, and how other Sensei teach, and I have found that I appreciate my own Sensei even more.

5. Do not baby your dog too much. He needs to learn to be a dog. Do not over-protect him. He needs to explore and learn to be independent. You do not want to raise a flighty, paranoid dog. When he acts afraid of something that he should not be afraid of, do not pick him up and ooh and ahh over him. Simply tell him it is okay, and show him the object, person, etc. Your confidence will make him a confident and dependable dog. If you feed his imaginary fears, he will become a snappy and untrustworthy dog. He may develop fear aggression.

If we apply this to karate, we can see the co-relation. It is important to respect the level of each person's training when correcting as a Sensei/ Sempai. The student has to explore, experience, and learn to be independent. It is important to guide them into a better expression of their karate, but also, the Sensei has to know when to allow the student to struggle with a concept. Also, Sempai are very important in this respect. They need to be sensitive to understanding the things that the Sensei has asked the lower kyu students to work upon, and to not place more expectations upon others. For example, perhaps the Sensei has asked the lower kyu students to work upon their stances, and to focus on the position of their feet. It would be more helpful for the Sempai to reinforce this expectation, than to change direction and to insist that the student's punch be more centered. A Sempai, like a lead dog of a sled dog team, has to be intuitive to the desires expressed by the Sensei, and to put forth effort running in that direction. They help remind the other students, by their own energy, and behaviour, that the Sensei wants the focus to be on good stances right now. There should only be one leader of that class, and then the higher belts support the direction of the commands being offered. How many times have I turned my head to look at the higher belts to see what was expected from me when I was learning as a white belt? Countless number of times. If the higher belts were confused as to the commands, then I knew that there was no hope that I'd be able to make anything up.

Also, a Sensei needs to feel out the emotional level of their students, and to work within that environment to create confidence to replace interior imagined fears of failure, rejection, and abandonment. Helping the student to realize that the thing that they are fearing is not as immovable, nor as impossible as they picture, the Sensei changes the student's perspective to bring them to a state where they see this as a challenge, and an opportunity rather than an impossibility.

Truly, I can see that our baser animal driven part of our brains does influence some of our behaviour, but that we are more than capable of accepting this, and even using it to our advantage. In fact, I believe that all of the traditional dojo etiquette has been designed to meet the needs of our animal selves, and to establish an environment wherein we can work together as a team with a leader.

(Quoted material comes from Written by
Dawn Littlefield
Littlefield Kennels

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Snap, crackle, pop go my hips

Side kicks are harsh on my pre damaged hips. I can feel them popping, crackling, and making the most sickening sounds as I attempt to lift my leg, and stretch it out. At first there is no pain, just the crunching noises within me that make my heart sink, and fill me with deep concern. Later, it hurts to put any demand on that leg such as standing in a stance that has all the weight pressure on that leg. Hips! Hips are the center of Martial arts, of all movement.. aargh. Yes, I've gained in flexibility to the side through stretching, and perseverence, but this seems to have become a curse as my hip joints seem to have trouble keeping up with the the increased height of the kick. I WANT a higher kick.. yet.. I want to protect my hips. Aargh!!!!

With my Kyokushin Sensei's help, I'm going to work upon adapting my side kicks, and improving my technique so that I can put the least amount of stress upon my hips to allow them to improve, and yet continue training.

Yes, I realize that going to a sports doctor would help. I tried that and was told that I'd need special therapy sessions. Physiotherapy costs something like $55 a session, and I'd have to go 2 to 3 times a week. Chiropractic help would probably do wonders, also, but it costs. My kids come first, there is no question on that.. so back to adapting my side kicks to put the least amount of stress on my hips.

I will keep training, and trying, and working with what I have regardless as to the limitations I carry.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Go Sensei Boaretto Campaign

Sensei Cesar Boaretto

Training on the hanging bag...

Working on his push ups..

Building up his kicks..

Posed with Champion Sempai Bruno Feitosa at Gran Prix Kyokushinkai after winning 3rd in 2006

Sensei Boaretto with some of his Martial arts companions.

Captured on t.v. doing an ax kick on his opponent..

Outdoor training in a waterfall..

I want to support Sensei Cesar Boaretto ( Brazil ) in his efforts to compete Internationally at the 2nd World Cup Kyokushin Tournament being held in Japan, Jan. 17-19th in 2008. With his permission, I'm posting some pictures from his online photo album.

In a country where soccer/football is the "in" sport, it can be quite daunting to raise support, and sponsors for international competition in Martial arts. I wish Sensei Boaretto great success in his goal. If any of you silent readers of my blog would wish to support Sensei Boaretto financially, or with supportive comments, you can feel free to contact him at

Friday, November 09, 2007

Hypocrisy: on being a hypocrite

The word "Hypocrisy" comes from the Greek word which means "play acting". In Greek theatre the actors would place masks over their face, and show forth a different behaviour than what was reality. In our society, hypocrisy is the manner of survival. We learn quickly that we must not reveal the truth. As an example of this, I can still remember the kind of very uncomfortable social situations that I had to face as a mother of an autistic child. One day my son, who was about 11 years old at the time, approached a teacher's aide in school asking her if she was expecting a baby. The very overweight woman was shocked at his statement, and said "No!". My son, totally unaware of the normal social signals that tell us what is acceptable to talk about, looked at her with concern and said "Well if you aren't pregnant, then you really need to go on a diet. You are far too fat for your own good." Oh my gosh! Yes, he spoke the truth, but there was an upheavel in the school that day. I was called into the office, and there we had to help my son realize that there are certain things that we do not tell people.

What does this have to do with karate, and self defense? Karate is centered on "hypocrisy" also. When one is injured, or in pain during a self defense moment, we are taught to hide the damage, and not let our opponent know because that will not only encourage them to continue fighting, but will actually make the situation worse for us. We have to continue in spite of how tired we are, and even convince ourselves that we can go farther than we think we can. We have to show confidence, and keep trying in spite of how badly we think we are doing.

Is "hypocrisy" needed in the interrelations happening amoung the various members of an organization? I believe so. I believe that being totally honest in a group of people will not make for smooth running of the organization. You just can't open up and say things like "So and So is a lousy person".. no matter how true that is. Your statements affect not only the person directly, but also that person's students, family, friends, etc. It affects all of the other people connected to the group as they start taking sides. It brings disharmony, and builds walls. It is best to remain silent, and calm, and to watch reality reveal itself. If that person is as bad a person as you think that they are, reality, time, and patience will make everything apparent.

However, I have come full circle on the issue of speaking out for the truth. I believe that there are moments when one has to choose to go against the pressures around you, and within you to remain silent. There are times when your personal values are being attacked by the actions, and words of the people around you. In these moments, you have to make a decision of how much you can withstand before you place your feet securely down, and make a stand for what you believe in.

I have come to that place in my Martial Arts path. I have decided that I will not tolerate any disparaging, or negative remarks about any aspect of my Sensei being said in my presence. I know that I have not tolerated such statements about my family, my husband, nor myself.. then why would I accept any negatively directed statements about someone as important to me as my Sensei? It will not matter how high the rank is of the person talking to me. When it comes to standing up for my values, the Dan rank of the other person has no importance. If that person has issues with my Sensei's behaviour, teaching, or experience, they will need to speak to someone else, or bring their concerns to Sensei's attention personally.

It is a very possible that such a stand can cause unpopularity as many people dislike having someone stand up and say "This is intolerable, and wrong." Prophets have the common fate of being killed, ridiculed, and ostracized. Oh well.. I accept that fate as part of being willing to live as close to the truth as I can in my life.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Confusing stances

Looking at karate techniques/stances, there are many times that the same terminology can be said for different stances especially with Martial Arts coming from the same country.

Let's look at Sanchin dachi:

In Shotokan, this stance does exist, but I have found that it was rarely included in training. It looks like this:

(Picture is from

The weight is 50/50. Notice that the back foot is pointing straight. The feet are close together. I have found that Fudo dachi (Rooted stance) is usually the preferred training stance for Shotokan.

In Fudo dachi, you are positioning your feet similar to a side stance ( kiba dachi)done at 45 degrees, however you turn your hips to face front. The feet are at the same distance as if you were doing a front stance.

There is another alternative stance that may be mistaken for Sanchin dachi. It's called Hangetsu dachi.

This stance is used very frequently in Shotokan training, and even has it's own kata. Notice how similar it looks to Sanchin. It's like a stretched out "giraffe" of a Sanchin dachi.. isn't it? The weight distribution on this one is similar to a front stance 70/30 but it uses the same inner tension of a Sanchin stance.

In Kyokushin, we use the Sanchin stance constantly in training especially for doing basics. It looks like this:

Again the weight is 50/50, but notice how the back foot is turned more inwards almost pointing towards the navel.

The Kyokushin Fudo dachi looks totally different:

I'm sure that Shotokanists would look at this stance and say "Wait a minute!!! That's just a Natural stance, or ready stance." All that I can respond is "If you ask a Kyokushin karate ka to stand in Fudo dachi.. this is what they will do." We stand in Fudo dachi quite frequently during our training in Kyokushin.

It is confusing to try to discuss karate movements, and bunkai with people from other arts, and dojo because of this terminology wall. I may think that I'm describing things clearly, but since the other person has a different understanding of what the stance/technique is supposed to do, or look like the message might get warped through the translation. I believe that the best thing is to get to know what your Instructor wants from you, and how he/she wants it delivered. The internet is a great resource for ideas, and inspiration, but the center line is that it can create more confusion than clarification.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Starting up another blog at Kyokushin4life..

The website Kyokushin4life has added the blog feature.

I decided to start up a small blog there that would focus on how Martial arts has infiltrated my daily life. I'll add small stories of how my training has helped me to handle little things, how my martial arts training has affected my kids/husband, or how martial art training has changed how I react to those moments when I normally would have done something different. Feel free to visit me over there, if you want to..

My very first posting is about origami, and how my daughter and I handled going to our very first session in paper folding.

This weblog, as my center, will continue to be focused mainly on Karate thoughts, information, and training.

My third weblog is focused on my preparations for Kata Tournament next year. It's mainly a training journal that lists which kata I've done that day, and how long I managed to train. However, I am updating it with videos of the kata that I am working upon to capture the progress of my efforts.