Sunday, 28 August 2016

Terms & Conditions...

Who is setting the terms and conditions of your relationship with budo..?
You see the phrase "Terms and Conditions" a lot these days. Every time you sign an agreement or buy something, you are forced to acknowledge the 'terms and conditions' under which you accept the deal and move on...but who decides who these terms and conditions are good for...why, the guy selling you what you want of course! And to increase the odds that you'll accept their 'terms & conditions' they present you with thousands of them...far too many for the average person to bother scrutinizing.

Most of you reading this are lazy, there, I've said it. You accept all sorts of terms and conditions that are bad for you, and rather than 'miss out' you accept all manner of intrusive behavior. Okay, so if you're not lazy, then what are you? If you're not protecting yourself from people and situations that diminish your quality of life...what are you doing?

When students are accepted into the Shinseidokan the terms and conditions are set by me? You may think that as the teacher in your dojo you're the one setting these things too, but that's not always true. You may explain to a new student what is expected of them, but as time passes you can bet they will seek to make changes. When that time comes, then you'll learn whose terms and conditions are in play. No doubt many of you are in for a real shock!

From Miyazato Eiichi sensei I came to understand this....set your own terms and conditions, live by them. If they are any good, you'll find others are interested. If they're not, you''ll find you have to advertise!

Friday, 26 August 2016

Efficiency in a fight....dream on!

Teaching someone how to fight the karate way...not really (c1978)
The photo might appear to look like there's a fight going on, but there isn't, we're just 'sparring'. Play-fighting with no intention of hurting each other. Besides, the difference in fighting ability here is obvious, my kohai's attempt to move in and kick (mawashigeri) off of his leading leg, has been blocked with my shin, his outstretched hand has been covered, and my free hand has already landed a friendly tap on his chest to let him know his attempt to attack has failed...miserably!

There is a well entrenched misunderstanding within the karate world that learning lots of fighting techniques is equal to learning how to's not! You can learn any number of 'moves' you like, but let me tell you something, when the s#*t hits the fan for real, you had better be a mean son of a bitch if you expect to walk away from such a confrontation. Believing you can be 'efficient' is a dream peddled to folk who don't know what it is to fight. It's all a part of the macho martial arts BS that each generation of 'wanna-be's' fall for.

Real fights last for seconds, but this is seldom down to 'efficiency', it's down to good fortune, or one party being far more 'prepared' than the other. I once saw a big guy taken out by a little guy's girlfriend. She took her stiletto heel shoes off and buried one of them deep in the big guy's back. He never saw that coming! When he went down, the little guy kicked him in the mouth and relieved him of several teeth, before the two of them took off.

You can't teach efficiency in fighting unless you have a handle on every possible outcome following the 'kick-off'. Seriously, if you believe fighting can be conducted 'efficiently' or learnt 'quickly', you're dreaming. So at least be clear, in your own mind at any rate, what it is you're doing, teaching, charging money for! Because to do otherwise makes you appear foolish; and I suspect there are few things worse in life to the guy who see's himself as a serious 'martial artist' than to look stupid.

Knowing a particular technique is not the same as being more than happy to use it on someone, Paying attention to the consequences of your actions in a fight will always bring defeat. If ever you find yourself in a position where you have to physically fight, you have already lost a lot...even if you walk away the victor. Creating a macho image around violence is childish and puerile, and unbecoming those who believe themselves to be budoka.

The most efficient fights are stopped (by your attitude) before they begin........

Wednesday, 24 August 2016

When Your Master Comes to Call.....

I spent an interesting half-hour watching this Monk one day in Heiwa dori
I think it's true to say that there are two ways of thinking about your karate/kobudo training. The first, and by far the most popular, is to look for someone you think is good, latch onto to them, and then later start mimicking what they do. The second, is to find someone who is an example of what is required to get closer to where you want to be. The first depends on you becoming a 'follower'...a student if you like, but in the majority of cases this is a misnomer as there is little or no 'study' going on. The second offers you very little, it simply requires you to continually make the effort to learn from your teacher's example.

Unless you live near your teacher, how do you spend time with him/her? If you're serious you make the effort to visit them. You budget, and organize your life so that you have the time set aside to be in their company, absorbing what they have to offer. You do this on a regular, ongoing basis, not just once or twice. Alternatively, you can invite your teacher to visit you. If he/she is happy to do this, you have a great opportunity to show your sincerity by offering them hospitality as well as your diligent efforts to learn in the dojo.

The common reality of course, is that the visiting teacher is on an ego-driven junket. They expect to be wined and dined, paid attention to, and have their picture taken with lots of eager disciples. Oh yes, and all too often, they expect to return home with an outrageous amount of cash that they didn't tell the tax man about. Some folk get around this with PayPal these days; still, for many nothing beats the feel of folding money and the thrill of walking out the door with wads of it in their pocket.

Of course, the 'student(s)' play an important role in this kind of illegal behavior too; and make no mistake about it; deliberately entering a country on an incorrect visa, collecting money and evading tax is a crime...even when you do it via PayPal. With so many 'masters' travelling the world these days, it makes you wonder where they pay their taxes, and how much of their income goes unnoticed by the relevant authorities.

What's the harm? Well I think in truth there is very little harm done to the countries being denied their rightful taxes...but he's the thing; once you are happy to bend or ignore the law, you can no longer base your training on authenticity. You can no longer link what you do to the morals others lived by in the past. You can no longer make a claim on sincerity, being genuine, or any of the other high-minded human traits you use to establish yourself in the world of karate/kobudo. You may not be a 'criminal' in the general sense of the word, but you can no longer claim to be 'honest' either.

So...the next time your teacher comes to visit, check if they are travelling on the correct visa, ask if they are happy to share their knowledge without leaving the country with a bundle of cash, ask yourself why you invited them over in the first place, than ask yourself if  the behavior of all involved was honest. Depending on the answers you get, you'll know if your 'thinking' is wrapped up in budo...or, like the majority of karate/kobudoka these!

As have a choice!

Saturday, 20 August 2016

Credibility -v- Celebrity...

There are no 'original' kata...not now anyway!
I sometimes wonder what it is about karateka, and kobudoka too for that matter, that make them want to know everything, including who invented each kata and exactly how they did them. My understanding is that karate and kobudo are in a state of constant flux, at least in a physical sense. Show me a guy who knows what the likes of Miyagi sensei and others were thinking during their lifetime, and I'll show you an idiot with delusions of grandeur.

Why do folk today want to keep looking backwards that all you've got, things that other people did years ago? Where is your sense of life, where is your sense of obligation to keep your art alive and healthy, why do you look to the past all the time to justify what you're doing right now? Funakoshi sensei's famous quote about looking to the past to know the future, is no excuse to stifle personal growth.

Kumite training....and not a point in sight
If you want to know what your future karate might look like then look at the way others investigated, innovated, and consolidated the art they were introduced to. Why stop at a bunch of Okinawan's who were alive in the latter part of the 19th and early 20th centuries? Why not go all the way back to ancient Mesopotamia? Perhaps because most folks 'doing' karate these days wouldn't find that esoteric enough.

There is a well established disconnect within the modern interpretations of Okinawa's fighting arts, a level of dysfunction that has caused a great deal of confusion between 'credibility' and 'celebrity', the first almost always in short supply when the second is present. And yet...there are so many who pay little attention to the acquisition of skill in their desire to gain notoriety. This is not new of course, it is merely one of those things that looking to the past all the time has yet to erase from karate's future.

I wonder who's fault that would be..?  

Tuesday, 16 August 2016

Fun out West...

With  my friends from the some guy from Canberra!
Last month I spent some time in Western Australia scouting out locations where I might live when my property here in Tasmania sells. I had other things to take care of too, but I was pleased with the way things worked out and I now have things falling into place that were only ?'s before the trip.

Catching up with friends for practice was a highlight for me. As well as Stuart and Damian who live in Perth, Andy flew down from Broome (1684km - 1046 miles) and Ashley, flew in from Australia's capital Canberra (3088km - 1919 miles) for the one schedule training (3 hours) night.

In the dojo there were no masters and students, no shihans, and no beginners...there were just karateka practicing together: it's the way things are done at the Shinseidokan.

Sunday, 14 August 2016

What's in a name..?

Arthur Moulas sensei of Australia
A little over a month ago I read a beautifully written article on Matayoshi Kobudo, written by Fred Lohse sensei of the Kodokan dojo in Boston in collaboration with Michael Clayton.

I was impressed enough to write and ask permission to post a link to the article. Since then I've spent some time back in Western Australia, and on my return have been dealing with a number of life's "little challenges!" Suffice to say, I have time to post again and so I want to make the article available in case you missed it over on the Boston Kodokan'll find the piece here.

Before you go, I just want to remind you that the things you are about to read can be applied just as easily to any other 'style' of weapon art, or indeed karate too for that matter. That said, go ahead and click the link.

Happy reading.....

Friday, 12 August 2016

Sorry...what was that?

Tomiyama Keiji sensei, watching me make a mess of things
Someone asked me recently why I included a story in my book 'Redemption' about failing a promotion test? He said he thought he already knew the answer, but he wanted to hear what I had to say...just to confirm it. Oh boy!

So I told him....I said, "I included that story to show how people often develop a sense of being much better than they really are. And how they can convince themselves (in spite of the evidence all around them), that they 'know' what the reality of their situation is."

In the story, the amount of progress I thought I was making in karate was nowhere near the level my seniors thought I was making, and as it was their opinion that counted, being confronted by that came as a big shock.

"That's not what I thought you meant."
"Yeh, I thought you were just trying to show how much harder karate was back in the 70's."
"Well what else was I supposed to think?"

"I guess you know a thing or two about karate then...and life too, right?"
"I think so."
"Yes, I bet you do."

Sunday, 10 July 2016

Toughen up!

 Helping each other take a hit
I've been thinking about what it means to be strong. I like to sit for a while after training and think about the things that came to mind during my practice. Just as I wind down from the physical side of things I like to take the time to calm my thoughts too. Having to listen to people going on, and on, and on, about karate long after you've left the dojo is (for me) disappointing. In Okinawa this happened a lot when I was 'invited' for a drink after training with certain sempai. While I'm all for post-practice socializing, having to take part in impromptu demonstrations in some bar was never high on my list of things to do.

Like most things in life, there is a time and place for 'getting into it', for having those fun, almost physical, conversations about technique, bunkai, and kata. But, I've always subscribed to the view that if you still have the energy for all that BS at 1 am in the morning and several beers later, then you probably didn't spend enough energy actually practicing when you were in the dojo. Besides, much of what passes for enthusiastic conversation, is nothing more than one person's ego taking an opportunity to impress its self  (just one more time) on a captive audience.

So, back to being strong, and how strength might manifest its self within the context of karate. Personally, I've never been impressed by a karateka's physical disposition. Big muscles and height don't count for much in my book. I've seen plenty over the years relying on both, because that's all they had to offer. Being strong in this sense is fine, for a while. But, as time passes, brute force and ignorance never serves you well, and you end up with the all too familiar 'bad back', 'sore elbow', 'busted shoulder', or 'damaged knees', etc, etc, etc...........

Okay, so the kind of strength that leaves you a cripple is probably not the best way to go about things, but what about internal strength? What about Ki/Chi power? I've been listening to the conversation about this stuff for over 40 years (I can already hear the theme from Enter the Dragon even as I write this). But look, I have no idea what Ki and Chi is or isn't. All I do know is this, whenever I've had an opportunity to have it 'used' on me it never worked. Perhaps they were doing it wrong (or was it me not being receptive enough?) I don't know. While I'm all for people believing in what they want about this stuff, don't ask me to believe in it too unless you can prove it....on me!

Here's the kind of strength I admire in karate. It's the strength shown when you really don't want to practice but you practice anyway. When life hits you so hard you can hardly keep it all together, but you still go to the dojo. When your teacher proves to be a god with feet of clay, and, having thanked him or her for their help, you move on. When you live up to your commitments, when you teach yourself the difference between a reason and an excuse, when you stop wanting, give more than you take, and last but by no means least, when you accept yourself for who you are, warts and all. Budo is not about combative strength, it's about balanced living. I read something recently that captured the essence of the strength I believe karateka should display.

"The awareness of our own strength, makes us modest..."

Wednesday, 6 July 2016

Moving forward by looking back...really?

Benjamin Button couldn't have done it any better

Few pieces of advice left to us from past karateka have been used as frequently as the words said to have been issued by the late Gichin Funakoshi..."Look to the past to understand the future" (or something like that). But, like most things we humans come across, we bend and twist it to suit our own purposes, which is fine, so long as you're okay with having something that's different to the thing you first got your hands on.

Reverse engineering, once the pastime of only the most geekiest of karateka, is now entrenched in the mainstream of karate; the result of which has been a race back in time to validate what you're doing today. People are falling over themselves to reach an era when karate was a mysterious fighting art known only to a few, a deadly method of combat shrouded in secrecy. But let's take a closer look at the backward looking search being undertaken by so many today and ask a few questions that need asking...

How far back are you prepared to go?

What evidence do you have to prove the opinions you arrive at?

Are you familiar with the political and social milieu of the time period you're basing your 'knowledge' on?

Can you speak/read/ Japanese/ Hogen?

Why do you have confidence in the  sources you're relying on?

The list goes on and on, and touches upon aspects of human nature that the overwhelming majority of karateka today are too impatient to consider. I'm not sure why spending time in the dojo, or elsewhere, and simply practicing your karate/kobudo is no longer considered enough. My feeling is that it's related to a desire, in some, to make easy money rather than work for a living; which, just like the techniques and knowledge on offer, is hardly unique. So what's wrong with 'easy' you might ask? Look...if you don't know already, I don't have the words to explain.

Ironically, convincing yourself that you're different from the guy up the road running classes in mixed martial arts, kung-fu, yoga, ground fighting, stick fighting, panjek silat, first-aid, kendo, Zen Buddhism, origami, and resuscitation techniques known only to the ninja, is nothing new. Cultivating masse appeal is a long and trusted commercial tactic. It's why Hollywood and fast-food joints form partnerships to peddle their 'food?' with a free Star Wars figure. It's an easy way to make a lot of money because it taps into a desire to be a part of something. The easier a desire can be satisfied the more attractive its appeal.

But wait a minute, 'wanting' runs contrary to the thinking found in both Budo and Zen, so you see the problem for karateka, right? "Karate and Zen are One." is another of those sayings left to us from the past. Hmm...doesn't suit your thinking, right?  That's okay, just make a few adjustments to how you think and you can have both. Change what you're doing into a product, then you can get what you want by selling it. Meanwhile, busy yourself in your backward looking 'research' as proof that you're the genuine article. Forget for a moment that history is littered with examples of people making the same mistake you're making now and you'll be least until you wake up!

The most profound piece of advice I've ever had in over forty-years of  practice is so succinct, so simple, so clear, and yet at times so difficult to follow. It was something the late Eiichi Miyazato sensei said to me, and others, quite often....."Just do it!"

Now there's an idea..!

Sunday, 3 July 2016

A little more on Principles...

Matthew has been living in Japan for the past year, learning to see the invisible stuff
When it comes to making sense of karate, or any martial art for that matter, it's very often not the stuff you can see that really's the invisible stuff! To me, making sense of karate means the ability to absorb the core principles of  the martial 'art' you believe you are pursuing. Like all art, karate depends upon a sense of acceptance rather than denial. Giving in to the meaningless distractions of 'styles', 'techniques,' 'kata', and 'past & present masters', is evidence of someone who has yet to truly 'see' what it is they're looking at.

Nothing you do on the outside can ever compensate for things that are missing on the inside. You may believe, as so many do, that an athletic body coupled with an inquiring mind are enough, but then, what of your karate when your body ages and your memory is not all it once was...what then? If your karate has a 'shelf-life' attached to physical fitness, or a 'sell-by' date calculated by the amount of 'stuff' you can show to others, what value is your karate to your spirit? Shin (as in shin-gi-tai), has long been considered a prerequisite to appreciating karate.

Principles appertain not only to the physicality of karate, but (and far more importantly) to the way you appreciate karate as a part of your life. A friend and fellow karateka once wrote, "You can't see principles", and he's right. But you can see the results left by someone who knows how to live by them. Likewise, when your principles change you have no alternative but to change your mind, and in turn, your nature (shin) too. The karate world has always attracted individuals wanting to 'be someone' they can't be in the real world; it's an aspect of human nature driven, not by principles, but by ambition.

The late philosopher and teacher, Krishnamurti, cautioned his followers against the nurturing of ambition when he wrote, "We all want to be famous people, and the moment we want to 'be' something we are no longer free." Such a principle is often difficult for karate people to accept, after all 'they're different', at least in their own mind. But remember, minds change to suit a change in the principles you chose to live by. While change is inevitable as we move from birth to death, changes made with too little thought, is an unstable way to live.

While many karateka expound the need for certain principles, fewer are willing to live by the principles they defend.....