Thursday, January 31, 2008

The results are in... 3rd kyu for me

Yes. After much anticipation, and patience, the results of December's belt test have been announced. I am now a 3rd Kyu Kyokushin Karate student which means that I have entered into the more demanding ranks of the dojo. I've been keeping up with the challenge, but it means a deep dedication to attending each training opportunity possible.

Sorry that I have been absent from the internet lately, but I have been working almost full time hours in an effort to help support my family financially.

Karate helped me to get this job. I was asked to come in for an interview solely on the basis that I had written down that my last work was to be a Sensei of a dojo for 6 months. The interviewer told me that he knows how much discipline it takes to get a black belt in a Martial arts, and that this was the kind of worker that he wants in his company.

Now I work all day from 6 am to 2 pm, come home take care of my kids until near supper, and then I rush to the dojo to train all night. Weekends are dedicated towards laundry, housework, grocery shopping and setting up meals for the rest of the week.

Yes, it is a big change for me. I have had to adjust to things like practicing my karate on my breaks in the women's washroom. I know how long a kata takes to perform, so I do about 8 or 10 of them, and then I go back to work in plenty of time.

Internet time has come to a minimum. I rarely have any time, or energy, to do my usual visiting of various blog friends, forums, and internet resources. But I do hope that you all know that I keep you fondly in my thoughts.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

A fictional Kyokushin belt rank test

In an effort to respect my inner resolve to leave my dojo happenings as much as possible out of my weblog, and yet, at the same time, I would like to reveal what a Kyokushin belt rank test is like to my internet friends I have chosen to write a fictional story about the experience. I'd like to state up front that all of the characters, and situations in the following story are made up, and do not represent any real person.

Little did Jane Doe realize how much she'd be affected by that one moment of curiousity that she felt when she considered checking out the notice that she saw on the public library wall of free karate lessons being offered at the local High school gym. She initially went there to see if she could get some exercise, lose some weight, and learn some self defense, she didn't expect that she would find something that she valued so much that she'd be looking forwards to going there each time. For 4 months she invested more and more of herself into this activity. She found herself practicing her strikes at strange times of the day like in front of the mirror so that she can see herself. She still felt awkward, and confused about all of the details, but she was doing far better than when she first started when she tripped on her own foot, and nearly fell.

Today is her first belt test... she had to earn the right to wear a white belt. There was a possibility for her to get a colored belt.. maybe.. if she did everything just right, she might get a 10th kyu Orange belt. She's never been to a belt test before now. Butterflies flipped around inside where she should have felt solid. Already she was shaking with worry about making mistakes, about getting stuck, about not being able to finish.. and yet, there was something within her that said "you can do this" and she clung to that knowledge.

She entered the dojo. Perhaps it was her inner environment that caused the sensation, or perhaps it was the body language of all of the other students in the room, but there seemed to be a loud cloud of tension that hung over the room. Although her Sensei walked around as normal, his eyes held shadows that were not there before now.

Class lined up, and went through the usual opening ritual, and warm up. Then the test started. First, she had to pass the physical requirements. She had been working on improving these all throughout the months of training, can she achieve them? She did, and elation surged through her. She had met her goal, but then suddenly the Sensei added new exercises that demanded even more of her energy. Panting through them, she thought to herself "Wow.. I didn't know that I had that in me." Her body was starting to get tired, and the test had just started. It has only been 20 minutes. Sensei added another exercise, and another. Each one using the whole body, and suddenly Jane started to see stars at her efforts to complete each one fully. Her body strained to pull itself, push itself, and it took willpower to just get her arms to do that last move. Yet, she managed to meet the demands, and stood there in the ready position feeling the weight of her body pulling her down to the ground.

"Laps!" Called out her Sensei. She nearly fell over in shock. She could hardly move, and he wanted her to run? RUN? Yet, all of the students were running. They all had said "Osu", and started running. She ran. Somewhere within her she found the energy to run. "Where did that come from?" she asked herself as she managed to keep up with the class. "How long will it last?"

They finished their laps, and the whole class stood there in stillness with the constant sound of breathing filling the room. It seemed that this sound was like the crash of the waves of the ocean filling the air with noise. Jane became aware of how cold her shoulders, and chest was, and she realized that it was from the sweat that was pouring off of her head, and hair onto her body.

Each student was sent up in front to perform the requirements of their level, and yet the students left in the crowd were also expected to do the same requirements. Jane didn't want to look at the clock, and yet she couldn't help it. Something inside her wanted to know what time it was, and how long she had been training so hard with the exercises. She risked glimpsing the time, and then chided herself in her mind at how she was warned that the test has no time limit. They will be testing until each person has tested regardless to how long that takes. It can be 2 hours, or 10 hours, so it's useless to look at the clock. Jane focused on doing her requirements as best as she can, and to ignore time.

Each student went up, and Jane's turn was next. Part of her was excited to be experiencing this, and part of her was terrified, she decided that she was too tired to care anymore. Her legs were starting to complain greatly when she went into stance. Her knees shook with each effort... now the shaking was more from total lack of energy than from fear. It was strange to feel so hot, and cold at the same time. Her name was called, and suddenly all physical sensation stopped. Her mind was totally centered on her testing, and her body didn't matter anymore. She ran up to the front almost like a new person. She led the class in each of the things that she had been practicing. The Japanese terms came out smoothly, and confidently from all of those moments of whispering them to herself while travelling to work, and back home. She floated on the built up accumulation of practice throughout the whole episode. When her Sensei said "Thank you, you may rejoin the line up." She felt like she had achieved something today.

Once she was back in line, exhaustion slammed into her body like a wall of granite. She didn't remember feeling this tired during the time she was up in front, where did it come from? Well.. that wasn't the problem was it. The issue was that it was there now. Her mind felt fuzzy, and disconnected.

There were more students called up, she wasn't the first one, and she wasn't the last one. On and on, the students went up, and the rest followed. Now it was a total mental effort on Jane's part to continue doing the test. With dismay, Jane found that her brain was being stubbornly sluggish. Each punch was a mental effort of "Like THIS! You are NOT going to give up! Do it right! Like THAT!" She became aware that her kiai shouts were weakening, and she decided to concentrate on that part of her.. That inner part that tightens when she shouts. Suddenly her strikes became a little sharper in spite of the pain in her arms, and legs. She grasped onto that hope, and continued until the last student went up and tested.

All of the students were then asked to make partners and to perform the various self defense sequences that they were taught. What a challenge to meet the demands of this expectation! Jane just wanted to go home now. It didn't matter anymore if she passed her test, or if she got a colored belt, or if she even got a white belt. She just wanted to go home.. or start crying maybe... crying would be nice... but Jane decided that she had survived all up to this point, and that she wouldn't give in to the temptation to quit now. There has to be some more energy somewhere within her to continue. On and on she defended herself from attack from various scenarios, and became the attacker for her partner. She started to feel a little better, at least her breathing wasn't as ragged.

The class was then asked to perform their patterns altogether starting from the lowest belt, and going up. Only one pattern brought Jane near to her knees. She could feel her heart trying to escape her chest. It was like the heart was saying "You can stay here if you want, but I'm getting out of here.." She had to do her pattern over and over and over. The room swirled around her, and when she finally heard "yame" she rejoiced. A small part of her felt pity for the higher belts that had to do their patterns while the lower belts rested.. but that was only a very small part. She was so grateful for the chance that their higher patterns was giving her to rest. Her mouth was so dry.. so dry.. a fierce thirst was raging through her. "How long have I been testing?" she wondered, but this time she refused to look at the clock. What if it said that it has only been a short amount of time, she couldn't handle that thought.

Time for sparring.. Jane went up with a renewed vigor. She faced her partners with every ounce of courage, and skill that she had to offer. Yet, within such a short amount of time she felt her body weakening. It was an effort to lift her leg to block, or to kick. Everything was a whirl of movement that spun around her and demanded response or the result was pain. Sparkles of pain that rose from her body telling her that she HAD to move, she had to respond to the person in front of her trying to cause more pain. There was no other option. Yet, her feet wouldn't listen anymore, her hands were still being obedient, but her feet wouldn't move like they were supposed to. She relied on her hands to block, to attack, to create space, and yet as much as she tried there was always moments of firework pain shooting through her. She tried to raise her leg to send a kick, and the leg refused to come up. It didn't have energy anymore. It was like a car that ran out of gas, and stayed in the same spot making grinding noises. She had to adjust with another hand technique, and thought "Oh no.. oh no.. I'm so tired.. so tired that I can't move, but I have to move. What can I do to survive?" She tasted blood in her mouth, and wondered where that came from? Breathing didn't seem to help anymore, she always felt dizzy, and like there wasn't enough air in the universe to replenish her. Her Sensei's command of "Yame" was like a balm to the punishment. She went to the side, and felt like she was ready to stop testing now. She didn't want the belt anymore. She didn't want to do anymore. She just wanted to go lie down.

But the test wasn't over. Sensei stood in front of the class asking question after question to the various students about the history of the art, about the founder, about technical terms, and other mental problems. Jane barely could remember her name, how was she supposed to remember these things? Sure.. she had correctly answered all of these questions on the written test a week ago, but she was NORMAL then. The questions kept coming, and Jane stayed in the ready position answering them with her best answers.

"The test isn't finished" explained the Sensei "You still have other elements to do such as board breaking. We will be doing that next week. Please come prepared."

Jane Doe felt every cell of her body complaining as she gathered up her gear, and walked out of the dojo. It took her two days to feel normal again, and two weeks to recuperate from the experience. She wondered if it was all worth it. Would she be willing to experience this torture again just to be allowed to go up another rank? Yet, the next class, she stood in front of her Sensei, and he took out that orange belt and placed it around her waist. She felt such an inner sensation of achievement. She knew how much she had done, and suffered, and became victorious over to be able to stand there receiving this promotion, and she felt good. The kind of goodness that isn't explainable to anyone. The kind of goodness that one can only live through to say "yes.. I know what you mean."

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Chosonninja's gift to those who cannot afford Martial Arts lessons

Master Park offers his philosophies, wisdom, experiences, and Martial arts skills with anyone who would like to spend the time to watch his Youtube videos. Everything is broken down into segments of 4 to 10 minutes. He teaches from the heart, and tries to form his students in all the ways of growth. This is what he says on his main webpage:

"This is devoted to the people who can not afford Martial Arts or have no Schools to learn Martial Arts. I don't want you to buy anything from me, but rather learn and teach these to good and poor people althroughout the World for FREE!

Tradition is good, but do not allow it to blind you of what is out there for you to discover. Reject nothing and respect all and you will in the end teach & guide others better. "Teach them with LOVE and watch them grow in the light!""

This is a Martial Artist who has incorporated his Way with his whole self, and is courageous enough to risk the vulnerability of the internet. Not always are one's efforts seen with grateful, kind, or accepting eyes.

I really enjoyed the video of his sharing on the virtue of Persistence ( presented below). He brought forth the beauty, and wonder of this aspect of our inner strength. I have always valued Patience, and perseverence in my life, but until now I haven't seen them as tools that I have used to make my life better. His words awakened me to that fact.

Although I do not train in the art of Wing Chun, I know that I truly enjoy watching his contribution to the Martial arts, and I look forwards to his future videos.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

The results....

AHA! You will have to wait with patience just like me. Results were not announced last night. We may NEVER find out if we passed our test.

This reminds me so much of when I was training in Shotokan at the beginning of my path. The Sensei used to make us wait, and wait for the results of our belt tests. New students were not aware of the secret rule that we couldn't ask our Sensei for the results but that we had to show interior self control, and patience. If anyone asked Sensei for the results, we all knew that we would be waiting until the next class, or maybe the next week to find out. There was one time when we waited a full 3 months before we found out that we had past our last test, and would be testing for the next rank.

It was rather humorous, because after a belt rank test, all of the students would be warming up before class, and pretending that they didn't care about the test results. Sensei would walk into the room, and we would bow and greet him. Suddenly, the higher belts would spy a lower belt walking up to Sensei. The room would erupt with all of the higher belts yelling out "Don't ASK him!!" The lower belt would turn and say something like "I wasn't going to ask him.." blushing furiously, as they'd turn to go back to warming up. Sensei would always chuckle, and then walk away. We all knew that this meant another day of waiting.

What I can tell you is that I survived the Seminar with my Shihan. I was ready for the worst, and I powered through the whole 3 1/2 hours of training. The last half hour was street self defense, and although it doesn't put as much strain on your cardiovascular system to break out of a choke hold, and defend yourself. There is much learning to be had as you work towards balance, unbalance, power versus technique. Karate feels different in the unpretty realistic fighting that you might face in a bar fight, or on the street. Oh.. and there is much pain involved too as you work into joint locks, arm bars, throws, etc.

I really enjoyed the seminar. Now in hindsight, I can see how little use it was for me to be afraid of what might happen.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Da Da DUN! Testing day.....

Thanks for all of the positive vibrations sent my way. I'm pretty calm, and ready to face the music today, and I'll dance as best as I can.

Life is short, and these mountain top moments that ask you to put forth the best that you have mentally, spiritually, and physically are times that you can look back upon with pride.

Why put ourselves through this? Why have belt testing at all? In my opinion, it's not to prove to the teacher that you have the skills. When I was a Sensei, I would assess my students as they were learning, once I knew that they had grasped that level of knowledge, I would allow them to test. So.. the teacher is aware of what the student is capable of.

I believe that these tests are for the student to use their new found skills in an artificially stress filled environment. Sure, you can play the song when you are alone, and practicing in your room, but can you play it just as well in front of a crowd? If ever a Martial artist had to use their skills in self defense, they will be facing that moment under various stresses. This kind of testing moment helps create a safe "pressure" to work through.

Yesterday, I've already started eating in preparation for the demands of tonight. I filled myself up with fruits, vegtables, and carbohydrates. Almost as if I was planning on running a marathon. Today, I'll make sure to have a good amount of Vitamin C, a good lunch with a salad before I need to go to the test. I know that I will not be able to eat after 3 pm just because I'll be mentally gearing up for the hard training.

Here I go....

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Is it o.k. if I admit that I'm terrified???

This coming week I face undergoing my belt rank test under my Shihan.

Yes, I know that I just tested in December. The results were not announced. Instead, all of the higher belt students were informed last Wednesday that we will be testing under Shihan in a week.

Between you, and me, I'm scared. Oh gosh.. petrified. My knees are literally shaking. I've tested before Masters before, that isn't the problem. We are talking about a certain Shihan! He is "superhuman". I've trained under him for over 4 years now, and let me tell you, the things that he can do, the things that he can do TO you!!!

I gave it my best in December. I'm still healing from that belt test. My left leg is acting more normal now, but it cramps up, and sends pins and needles when stressed too much. Oh gosh.. I have to survive another belt test, and it's only been a month.

Kyokushin belt tests are their own creation in checking the limits of human determination, and will power. You push yourself beyond what you believe to be your limits. Let's just say that Shihan has great expectations.

But what can I do? The test is announced, and it's going to happen, and I'm going to be there, and I'm going to do my best, and I'm going to survive it. Murder is illegal in Canada.

I'm scared.. oh gosh... I'm scared. I keep telling myself "It's just another class. It's just another test, I've done dozens. I tested for Shodan in front of Sensei Mori, there's NOTHING more challenging than that. I can only do my best with what I have, even if I do not pass, my Sensei will still be proud that I did my best."

But I'm cringing...I fear the upcoming physical pain of that test. I'm walking in already dreading it. Not a good idea. My fears will make the pain seem worse. My fears will sap away at my willpower. My fears will overtake me, cause my body to stiffen, and make me lose my usual abilities. I've got to take a hold of these imagined fears, and thank them for existing within me to protect me, but tell them that I don't need them for this occasion.

I have to rely on what I know that I have been able to do in the past. Giving birth to seven children has not been easy, and I survived it. Raising an autistic child has pulled on every resource that I have, and I surmounted it. What is a few hours of karate training under this Shihan compared to the strength that I have shown in my life?

But is it o.k. if I allow myself to admit how terrified I am? Name the fear, embrace it, and then push past it??

Friday, January 11, 2008

Kyokushin Dojo Kun: Last line

Hitotsu, wareware wa, shogai no shugyo o karate no michi ni tsuji, Kyokushin no michi o mattou suru koto.
'All our lives, through the discipline of karate, we will seek to fulfill the true meaning of the Kyokushin way."

If one notices, all of the lines of the Dojo Kun start with the word "Hitotsu" which means "First", and ends in "koto" which translates to "thing/object". In other words, we are being told that every single concept contained in the Dojo Kun is as important as the next one. This final exhortation is not more or less important because it is at the bottom of the list.

Training seriously in the path of Karate demands much from a person mentally, physically, and spiritually. Mentally, we are challenged to learn the various techniques, strategies, concepts, patterns, even the terminology, and history of our artform. Physically, we work towards more stable stances, better controlled balance, speed, agility, power, and effectiveness. Spiritually, we work on our inner character, and to embrace such virtues as courage, perseverance in hardship, humility, and dedication. Achieving success in these demands require a certain amount of discipline within oneself. It is wrong to only speak about karate without "doing" it. Knowledge is only potential change, for it to be activated in our lives we have to apply that knowledge. Knowing how to do a proper front kick is a far different experience that actually performing that same kick 100 times. To be able to say that we are living the discipline of karate, we have to do the "Do".

Through our efforts, we seek to fulfill the "true" meaning of the Kyokushin "Ultimate Truth" Way. Why did Sosai Masutatsu Oyama chose to name his Karate style with this concept?

Let's look at the history of the naming of the various styles. Up until a certain point in time, karate was basically known as "Chinese hands" or "Tode". There is some diversion in who claims to have changed it to "Empty hands" ( Kara Te ) I tend to believe that it was Sensei Gichin Funakoshi who chose to do this to make the art more acceptable to the Japanese populace. At this time era, the various karate styles in Japan were asked to list themselves as there were so many varieties of Karate. Goju Ryu was named to reveal that it worked on both "hard" and "soft" methods. Wado Ryu was named "The way of harmony". Each founder chose a name that encompassed the center of the philosophy of that art. ( Except for Sensei Gichin Funakoshi, he didn't chose the name of his style, "Shotokan", his students did. When asked what style that they were following, they would answer "We study at Shoto's place." "Shoto" was the pen name that Sensei Gichin Funakoshi used when writing.)

Therefore, like many other Sensei, Sosai Masutatsu Oyama chose the Kanji "Ultimate Truth" to represent his style's philosophy. Sensei Omid Khademzadeh explains this so eloquently "Many Kyokushin groups throughout the world have chosen to focus their experience around the philosophy of Kyokushin as a method of self-improvement and discipline. The Kyokushin way teaches its students that the most important aspects of training are not the ability to knock down an opponent. Instead, the person must contemplate the technique and understand that the true meaning of the Kyokushin way is not in violence, but the mastering of oneself. An important philosophy is never to do what you cannot undo, and never use more violence than is prompted or necessary. Through understanding of this comes the ability to fight on an elite level, but fighting is not the Kyokushin student's overall goal."

Let us train hard for the rest of our lives with all of the Dojo Kun's promises, potentials, and possibilities in mind.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Kyokushin Dojo Kun: Sixth line

Hitotsu, wareware wa, chisei to tairyoku to o kojo sase, koto ni nozonde ayamatazaru koto.
"We will look upwards to wisdom and strength, not seeking other desires."

The Japanese culture venerates age, and the elderly. They have a special holiday KEIRO NO HI where they show respect, and affection to their senior citizens, and offer them gifts. Age equals rank, and status in Japan because experience is something that cannot be bought, it can only be earned.

Wisdom is something that cannot be spoken, and is visible in age. Simplicity, longevity, and silence are the gateways towards finding wisdom. The best way to get a glimpse of how much age, and beauty are held in high esteem is to sit in a Japanese Garden, and soak in the messages contained in the quiet moments there.

Our goal is not just to become older, but to do so with style. We look upwards to becoming a wiser, and spiritually stronger so that we can be a wonderful elder person with much experience, and knowledge to share with the young.

Kyokushin Dojo Kun: Fifth line (Warning: contains religious topic)

Hitotsu, wareware wa, shinbutsu o totobi, kenjo no bitoku o wasurezaru koto.
"We will follow our religious principles and never forget the true virtue of humility."

Throughout these meditations on the Dojo Kun, I have been attempting to look at them, as best as an outsider of Japanese custom, and culture can do, from their original perspective. I have been trying to peer through Sosai Masutatsu Oyama's eyes and see what he might have intended these Dojo Kun to represent to the present, and future students.

I would like to offer that when he wrote down "We will follow our religious principles" that he was speaking specifically about the 8 fold path known to the Buddhist, and Shinto followers of Japan. Other Religions can find it possible to follow their own principles, there is nothing wrong with this. The opening is there for anyone, of any religion, to chose to train in Karate without being uncomfortable.

For this moment, let's look at the option that Sosai Oyama was speaking directly about CERTAIN principles. The Eightfold path consists of

* Wisdom

1. Right view
2. Right intention

* Ethical conduct

3. Right speech
4. Right action
5. Right livelihood

* Mental discipline

6. Right effort
7. Right mindfulness
8. Right concentration

Sosai Oyama states ""In many countries around the world, the question, 'What is Zen' often turns up. Usually we answer that Zen is karate and that karate is Zen." Quote taken from "This is Karate." For him, his ideals, and his religious beliefs were integrated with his physical expression, and martial arts philosophy. He could not separate the two.

Seeking to develop, and live what we believe to be "right", there are tendencies when we look upon others as being "wrong". This is where we cannot forget the true virtue of humility. In humility, we can embrace our path, and goodness with confidence, and dedication, and be willing to share what we have with others if they are interested. We also have to respect that others may not see what we are seeing, and that they may chose a different path. In humility, we have to admit that we are not perfect, and that we also have limitations, and mistakes, and that we are working on ourselves to the best of our abilities. The virtue of humility relies on honesty, and truth.

As Sosai Oyama explains "Concentrate on sincerity and on unifying your spirit. Forget yourself, forget your enemies, forget winning and losing, and when you have done so, you will be in the spiritually unified state that is called mu, or nothingness, in Zen."

I am not a Buddhist, but I can value the goodness in Buddhism without sacrificing my own beliefs. This is to go beyond "right" and "wrong", "winning" or "losing", it is to come to a center position where I am secure, and willing to look calmly at all possibilities around me.

Kyokushin Dojo Kun: Fourth line

Hitotsu, wareware wa, reisetsu o omonji, chojo o keishi, sobo no furumai o tsutsushimu koto.
"We will observe the rules of courtesy, respect our superiors, and refrain from violence."

The above English translation of the Japanese alerted me that I needed to try to understand what each word was saying. "Reisetsu" refers to politeness, decorum, propriety.. or in other words being courteous. "Omonji" means to honor, esteem, and respect. This points to me that COURTESY goes beyond just observing the various rules in the Dojo such as responding to a command with "Osu", placing our shoes neatly against the wall, not swearing, or eating in the dojo, showing respect to our Sensei/Sempai etc.. It embraces these specific rules, and includes being respectful in daily life towards all things, and all people. The Japanese language, and culture contains many symbols of respect. One speaks differently to someone who is of higher stature than the other, using the addition of the word "Gosaimasu" to show respect. Bowing at the right time, in the right way, and with the correct posture is very important in showing respect. There are rules for eating, and drinking that reveal if you are a polite person, or not. You do not fill your own glass, but wait for someone to fill it for you. You receive a gift using both hands. These little daily signs, and signals are important to make people feel comfortable in your presence, and to have them see you as polite rather than rude. Kyokushin-kai are to make public decorum important to them not only in the dojo, but outside of it.

The fact that the first three words of this line already refers to showing respect to our teachers, I had to look more closely at the next three lines: "Chojo" gives the indication of someone or something superior/divine, "Kieshi" refers to consulting, asking for instructions, and seeking approval. What is a "Sensei" in the eyes of the Japanese?

"The term "sensei" is an honorific accorded to teachers, with a meaning transcending that of professor. It has been suggested that if a Japanese prime minister were to meet a former teacher, it is the former student who would bow low as a matter of acknowledging his proper place. The prime minister might later tell someone about having met his onshi, a word translated in the dictionary as "former teacher" that also connotes a person to whom one owes a debt that can never be fully repaid. Sensei, then, is not only a person of wisdom but also a major actor in the intricate web of obligations, group memberships, and dependencies that define Japanese social life and culture." Quote from The Professor and the Sensei: Faculty Roles in the United States and Japan by Robert Birnbaum

In other words, we are being called to refer to our instructors for direction in our path. We consult them, and rely on their guidance as we walk in our Martial Way. We turn to them as the primary source of the knowledge, and skills that we are hoping to attain. Through our training, we might be able to find out new things from other teachers, but we make an effort to stay faithful to the expectations, and philosophy of our chosen teacher. We owe them a debt of gratitude for all of the time, energy, and instruction that they have invested into our learning.

The last concept in this line is to "refrain from violent behaviour". At first, it seems that this is a separate idea from the first two. However, I'd like to offer that thought that a student's behaviour reflects on their Sensei. If a student is rude, impolite, ungrateful, and violent to others during class, or outside of training, he/she casts a bad shadow on the dojo. Daily decorum, patience, and politeness in word, and in deed, builds up the relationship, and honor given to one's Sensei.

So.. where do we get the motivation to live up to the difficult expectations of politeness, and courtesy? I would suggest that this is centered on the aspect of "love". I am talking about the kind of affection wherein we value ourselves, and those people around us so much that rudeness would not be a possibility. Sensei Gichin Funakoshi said "Love of Karate, love of self, love of family and friends; all lead eventually to love of one's country. The true meaning of Karate can be acquired only through such love." Karate Do: My Way of life

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Kyokushin Dojo Kun: Third line

"Hitotsu, wareware wa, shitsujitsu goken o motte, kokki no seishin o kanyo suru koto."
"With true vigour, we will seek to cultivate a spirit of self-denial."

Meet Arisada, the self mummified Japanese Buddhist priest. He died in an ultimate act of self-denial. Through years of extreme physical training to remove any fat from his body, a special diet of bark, and roots from pine trees, and then drinking a special poisonous tea which induced vomiting, sweating, and urination, the priest prepared his body to be buried alive in a small stone tomb, with just a tube that provided air, and a rope that allowed him to ring a bell that was suspended outside of the tomb. This kind of suicide by choice has been outlawed near the end of the 19th century, but there are 16 known shrines of such mummified priests. This history is part of the Japanese culture, and stories. In fact, North american children, and teens can became aware of this historical fact before adults from some of the anime cartoons that they watch coming from Japan such as "Inuyasha".

This kind of extreme self denial was done in a way of becoming a permanent symbol of being able to disregard one's physical self as important ( Live or die ) to other buddhist priests. Arisada's example is to strengthen the hearts of those who think that they just possibly "can't" do things. He is an embodiment of what the human will is capable of.

Training in karate is very demanding when following the Martial Way. It can be tempting to just stay home today, or to find an excuse for why one can miss class again, or to avoid doing one's best during class. The Dojo Kun tells us to deny ourselves of these complexities, and to return to the simplicity of when we first started training. We had no expectations then, only a desire to learn something new. We were willing to give it our best shot, and accept that we would have to overcome limitations.

Training in karate means "emptying your cup". It can be that we feel that we know this already, or that we've done Chudan tsuki over 100,000 times already. Yet, we need to deny ourselves this option of dismissing the chance to learn from our efforts. There is always room for improvement no matter how well we think we know the various demands of our Art. We have to return to the simplicity of a beginner's mind, and yet rely on our prior experience to guide us up into even more effective use of each movement.

As we age, and our bodies become older, we have to learn to work within the challenges that this present. We have to deny ourselves the temptation to stop our efforts due to our pride. Our memories of prior youthful abilities may taunt us, but we need to simplify our desires, and realize that we are becoming like the mummified priest to the younger generation. They look upon us, where we are now still training in spite of all of our challenges, and they learn to appreciate, and hope to imitate us in the future.

Second line: Kyokushin Dojo Kun

Hitotsu, wareware wa, bu no shinzui o kiwame, ki ni hasshi, kan ni bin naru koto.
"We will pursue the true meaning of the martial way so that, in time, our senses may be alert."

I'd like to quote the Characters Miyagi Sensei, and Daniel-san from the movie Karate Kid to express what I feel is focused upon in this line of the Dojo Kun.

"Daniel: So, karate's fighting. You train to fight.
Miyagi: That what you think?
Daniel: [pondering] No.
Miyagi: Then why train?
Daniel: [thinks] So I won't have to fight.
Miyagi: [laughs] Miyagi have hope for you. "

We have to look at what it means to pursue the "Martial Way" to understand the concept contained in this sentence. In eastern culture, there is something called the "Do", or the "Way" of living. How one speaks, how one draws, how one does their tea ceremony, how one dances, how one lives.. it is all part of your "Way". Budo is "the Way of the Warrior", Aikido is "Way of Harmony", Tae Kwon Do "Way of the fist, and foot", Karate Do is the "Empty hand Way". Following a "Way" is to walk a path of choices, actions, values, and expressions.

So? What is the "Martial Way"? Westerners tend to focus only on the thought that the word "Martial" means "warlike, concerning war, and fighting". Who could blame us? Most of our movies, and t.v. entertainment reveal Martial arts with a "Kick their butt" philosophy. We see the underdog hero enter into a difficult situation, and through his acquired skills, he achieves victory over the "bad guys". We thrill over the speed, skill, and power plastered on the big screen. Children walk into the dojo wanting to be able to do fancy flying kicks that will assure them success over any threat. Black belts are looked upon as frightening images of someone that you wouldn't want to anger. It is the rare movie, or t.v. show, like "The Karate Kid", or "Kung Fu: the original series" that shows us what the Martial Way is in the eyes of the country of origin.

If we look at the Japanese Kanji that make up this word we see that the first symbol is a set of crossed weapons, and the second one represents the word "Stop". The word "Bu" is not really about fighting, but learning how to avoid, prevent, or to stop fighting. The Martial Way, "Budo", is to follow a path where we avoid having to fight by developing our awareness of ourselves, our environment, and our opponents.

"It is said that if you know your enemies and know yourself, you will not be imperiled in a hundred battles; if you do not know your enemies but do know yourself, you will win one and lose one; if you do not know your enemies nor yourself, you will be imperiled in every single battle." Sun Tsu "The Art of War" 6th Century.

We pursue the Martial Path by working on ourselves. We learn what our strengths are, and what our weaknesses are, and we build them both up to improve ourselves. We learn to temper our emotions, and not let fear, or anger goad us into putting ourselves into a fight. We learn to look at our surroundings, and find an alternative to fighting. We learn to take advantage of every moment that is offered to lower the intensity of a situation. We put forth a confident body language which will make an attacker think twice before chosing us as a target. We use our words to de-escalate a situation, if possible. We avoid environments that we know are dangerous. If we can know ourselves well, and become aware of what signals our body gives us, we can learn to avoid danger. Some people ignore that sixth sense within them that quietly warns us that we should be careful. We need to learn to listen to the wisdom within us, and avoid dangerous places, and people.

So in other words, we train so that we won't have to fight.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Meditation on the Kyokushin Dojo Kun

"Hitotsu, wareware wa, shinshin o renmashi, kakko fubatsu no shingi o kiwameru koto."
"We will train our hearts and bodies for a firm unshaken spirit."

The first thing I noticed about this sentence is the three aspects mentioned. As a person who studied psychology I learned about the id, the ego, and the superego theory which are the three levels of a person's mind. As a religious person, I noticed three aspects of a person being addressed, the mind, the body, and the spirit. Now, as a Martial artist, I see within this statement of the Dojo Kun three different parts: our hearts, our bodies, and our spirit. Although separated into three parts in theory, we are aware that these are totally integrated.

The more that I learn about Eastern Philosophy, about chakras (central energy points), and about Chi/Ki (energy) movement, the more I can understand where this statement is originating, and what it's goals are. It is taught that the center of our "spirit" is the Hara: a point located a few inches behind our center of gravity near the navel. Our heart is by the Anahata chakra point, and is involved in all emotional decisions or considerations. The goal, in Eastern philosophy, is to activate all 7 of the chakra points in the body for good health, and to be able to make good decisions. In an ideal situation, all of the 7 energy centers should be spinning at the same rate, but in most people, some points spin too much, and others are blocked, or spin slowly.

According to this, we have to train our heart, and body equally to balance our physical ability, with our mental/ emotional reaction in order to achieve a strong spirit. Our whole selves has to be involved in our karate training. Just performing the movements of a kata would be similar to performing a dance. It would be like "Put your right foot here, put your left arm here.." and no matter how well one did it, they would have no "spirit" in those movements. Training on emotion alone would not be karate either. Without technique, physical effort, a person would just be wildly swinging their arms with lots of energy, but with no effect.
Showing "spirit" comes when the body, and mind are united to the same purpose. All energy is focused into each action. This is referred to as "Kime". Usually it is accompanied with a Kiai ( a spirit shout) as breath is very closely united with the flow of energy in our bodies.

I can see how to have a unity of the body, heart, and spirit one has to train in every aspect of their lives. You cannot just train in the dojo anymore. There has to be a perseverence in your training. You have to carry what you have learned in class out with you, and keep up practicing each day. Just like a musician cannot improve in their performance by just showing up to class once, or twice a week, and they are expected to do at least a certain amount of practicing at home to ingrain the skills, the same should be true for a Martial Artist. This is even MORE true, as a Martial artist is training all of the parts of their body. The foot is just as important as the hand. The thought is just as important as the body.

In fact, our inner thoughts can make or break our ability to defend ourselves. Many fights have been won just by unbalancing the opponent mentally to the point where they could not apply their hard earned skills to defend themselves. We must develop a firm unshaken inner posture in the face of hardship, fear, threat, and challenges. Where does our inner strength come from? I would suggest that they come from our values, and our confidence in these values. We value our life, or the life of our children so we will do what it takes to protect these. We value our honesty, so we make efforts to be truthful. We value our courage, so we will put forth the best that we have in a challenge. The more that we value the good things in ourselves, and in the teachings that we have embraced, the stronger we can be in the face of adversity. Our karate training shows this in every class that we put forth our best effort to meet the challenges placed before us, and to even surpass what we believed to be our limitations. I read a quote that said "If you think you can't, then you won't." The words "I can't" should not be in the vocabulary of a Martial artist. The focus is more on " I will", whether you achieve the goal or not isn't the issue.. the main idea is that you will do your best to achieve it.

Nothing should shake you from your values, no one has the right to try to remove them from you. If there is one thing that you can claim as being your own, and as being untouchable, it is your values. Regardless to what esteemed societal position, or high rank in karate that other person has, he/she has no right to expect you to sacrifice what you believe in. If you chose to embrace the values of another person because you deem them worthy that is a different thing, but no outside pressure should force a person to "change their mind". This is one of the benefits of training our hearts, and bodies for a firm, unshaken spirit.

Monday, January 07, 2008

I won an award

I attended a celebration at my daughter's Tae Kwon do club just a few weeks ago. It was quite a moment for all of the children. They were given various awards such as "Best Attendence", "Best progress", "Best in sparring".. etc. My daughter proudly won a badge for "Best stance". She was so pleased with herself that all of her hard training had been apparent.

To my surprise, I won an award for my participation in the adult's class. You see, I've asked the Master if I could just train alongside the other students instead of sitting at the back of the gym, and watching. He kindly allowed me to wear my Shotokan black belt, and Karate gi to class. I would line up on my own behind the other students, and attempt to do the various techniques as best as I could. It was a little challenging at times as my body wanted to do things in a Kyokushin way.. so I just let my body do what it wanted to do. I did look, move, and act a little different from the other students, but I was still doing the combinations. A head block is a head block regardless to the style that is asking for it to be done.

So, here I am at this celebration, and the Master called me up to give me an award that I will always cherish. I have won medals at tournaments, but they do not mean as much to me as this one. I won "The Student with the Best Manners" medal. In my eyes there could not be a greater praise for my effort in class! I personally would rather be remembered for my strength in character than for how well I could knock someone down.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

YES! I achieved it

I waited until the living room was empty of kids, and I entered it to proceed to do my 280 punches in Sanchin dachi. Within a few minutes, I had an audience of 3 of my children watching me as I counted up. They kept track of how long I was taking, and questioned each other "What is she doing? Why is she still counting? How high is Mom going to go?"

I ignored them as best as I could, and kept up the speed, power, and technique of all of my punches. Well.. another 2 children joined in asking the others "How much longer is Mom going to be doing this??"

I managed to finish the punches, and in voice that was interrupted by my breathing deeply, I explained that I needed "space" to do 280 punches, and kicks. I told them that I didn't mind if they watched, but that they had to be quiet.

"It took you 3 minutes to do all of those punches Mom!" crowed one of my daughters.

"Oh.. and that's another thing.. please do not disturb me as I'm counting by asking me questions, or telling me what time it is.." I asked them. I proceeded to do 280 front kicks.

The noise brought down the fifth child... he came walking in the room asking "What is mom doing?" to the sound of the other 4 kids going "SHHhhhh.... don't bug Mom.. she is doing a Karate New Year thing. She's been kicking for about 5 minutes now..."

AArgh! I didn't want to know.. I didn't want to hear how long I've been kicking! I just wanted to work towards the goal of doing 280 kicks. My left leg was getting pretty tired by the 200th kick.. it's doing better, but it's injury is still there weakening my movements. All of a sudden, I see one of my daughters come stand in front of me holding up both of her thumbs, and standing there with a goofy wide open big grin. I know that she was trying to be supportive but I lost count. I think that I was on 270 maybe it was 280 I wasn't too sure so I did an extra 10 kicks just in case.

I walked away from the living room, and went to do dishes. It was near impossible to be able to focus with this audience of commentators, and I couldn't see myself doing my kata in that.

Again, I waited until the kids had found other things to do, and then I went to the dining room and started my Sanchin Kata. I was on the 8th one when my teenaged son walked up to me to ask me who was the director of the Spiderman 3 movie. He was standing in my kata path. He didn't notice that mom was in the middle of a kata, he was standing there looking at the DVD casing, and trying to figure out who the director was... I didn't answer him, I just kept on with the kata. My son looked up at me in surprise, and said "Hmm.. I guess that this would be more of a Dad question.." and he turned around to go walk to his father's bedroom. I had to shake my head at that whole scene.

I was only able to finish 14 Sanchin kata. My left leg refused to do anymore stance work. It complained loudly enough that I conceded and chose to be gentle to myself in the New Year of 2008. Oh well.. I'll work towards finishing the last 14 kata throughout this year.

Starting the New Year.. tired.

I'm so tired! The Holiday happenings have had me running around making large meals, setting up platters, cleaning up afterwards, entertaining the kids, going to other places, etc. etc. I haven't had any chance to rest by myself, to focus on karate, to even get the normal housework done.

It's the first day of 2008, and I'm exhausted mentally, spiritually, and physically.
I'm living off of chocolate, and pistachios. This isn't how I pictured my first day of the year. I had daydreams of doing kata... 28 of one of the kata.. probably Sanchin due to the lack of space in my home, 280 punches, and 280 kicks to start the year right. This was a tradition that my First Sensei had given to me, and that I cherish in my heart. But I haven't done it yet.. maybe later tonight, I will ask my children to give me an hour and a half of "me" time, and I will achieve this before the first day of this year is over.