Monday, 22 December 2014

Health Benefits of Karate Do Training

Something that we all know and that I should have written about long before this post is the benefits that practicing Karate Do has on our lives. The benefits are not limited to the body. Of course there are physical benefits but on a deeper level, more than anything else that I have ever been involved in, Karate Do has the potential to completely change one's life.

Karate Do is so much more than just kicking and punching. The philosophies and practices of Karate Do offer us a ‘map’; an outline to healthy living physically, mentally and spiritually.
In the next few blog posts I would like to discuss some of the benefits in these three areas: Physical Health, Mental Health, and Spiritual Health.

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

A Christmas Miracle!

It first glance this post may appear to be off topic but, as you read you will see that it is connected to the on going theme of courtesy in Japan and the some of the common areas to which this level of courtesy extends to. I would like to tell you about something that just happened to me last weekend that I have iterpreted as a kind of Christmas Miracle and made me want to shout from the highest mountain top "日本最高!" Nihon Saikou! Japan it the Best! "日本大好き!" Nihon Daisuki! I love Japan!" and "ありがとう!" Arigatou! Thank you!
Last Friday, December 12th, was a normal Friday like many others. I went to work that morning and taught my English communications classes. After school I trained with the students in our Dojo, but there were a couple of things about this particular Friday that made it unique for me. Let me tall you about them.

(Buntoku SHS Karate Dojo, Kumamoto, Japan, 2014)
The next day all of the members of the Karate Do Team would be travelling by micro-bus to the neighbouring Prefecture of Saga for a practice tournament and Officials Seminar. This in itself was also nothing too far out of the ordinary except for one thing. On this particular Friday night the Head Coach, Murata Sensei had plans and trusted me with the training session and the key to the bus. I would see to it that the students packed what they could that night and load it onto the bus so that we could leave smoothly, early the following day. I should point out that this was a first, I had been entrusted to perform various duties in the past but to hold onto the key of the bus over night meant that if, for any reason I couldn't make it the next morning no one would be able to go anywhere. This was a responsibility that Murata Sensei usually assumes himself.
I was happy to help and told him that I would take care of everything and I did. We ended a great training session on time and everyone was feeling good, we talked about how we could best use the following day's practice tournament to our best advantage leading up to the competition on the 21st in Miyazaki Prefecture. Then we packed the equipment and loaded the bus double checking that nothing was forgotten. Everyone got changed and went home excited about the next day.
On my way home I stopped into the supermarket to do a little shopping. My Mother in Law was visiting and since I was leaving for Saga early the next day, I wanted to get some thing that I could take with me for breakfast so that I would not disturb anyone so early in the morning.
(On the bus with, 2014)
As I said earlier, Murata Sensei gave me the key to the bus because he had plans that night and this was a first! On recent excursions I have arrived earlier than him and I always make it a point to buy him and I a hot coffee. We drink the coffee as he drives the bus and have great conversations about a wide range of topics. We have learned a lot about each other during these drives all across Kyushu and other parts of the country while the students are sleeping in the back. I really appreciate this time and the coffee is just a small gesture of my appreciation. This year the weather has been a little strange and so I try to time the buying of the coffee with our departure time so that it is still hot when he drinks it. (this is just a little background information and foreshadowing to what is coming soon)

(Murata Sensei driving the bus, 2014)

Sunday, 14 December 2014

Traditional Karate Do Dojo Layout (Part 2)

ICKF Sohonbu Dojo simplified floor plan
As mentioned earlier, the front wall is the 正面 Shou Men and the Western wall is the下席 Shimo Seki. The Eastern wall is called the 上席 Jyou Seki, and is considered the place of Seniority sometimes referred to as the 上座 Kami Za, the Upper Seat. The most senior students sit closest to this wall facing the Shoumen when lining up formally. The Shimoseki or lower place is where the least senior students line up. The Southern wall is also designated as the  lower seat 下座 Shimo Za. Therefore, the lowest ranking students or practitioners should stand closest to the South West wall when lining up for formal bowing before and after the training sessions.

(Chito-Ryu Sohonbu Dojo Shoumen Kumamoto, Japan, 2012)

In keeping with the on going theme of respect and courtesy, it should be mentioned that when visiting a dojo it would make a very good impression to perform a formal bow at the entrance to the training hall (Not at the 玄関 Gen Kan, the main entrance to the building, but after changing into your 道着 Do Gi before entering the training hall) then move to the South Western area of the dojo to begin warming up silently. If you are called to a different area by the someone of authority in that Dojo, of course, it is OK to move to the place designated, but not before. In my experience, guests are usually called upon before or during the formal bow in and introduced to the other students where you will be expected to give a short 自己紹介 Jiko Shou Kai, a brief Self Introduction. (I will explain the process of the self introduction in a future post).

Thursday, 11 December 2014

Traditional Karate Do Dojo Layout (Part 1)

(Chito-Ryu Sohonbu Dojo Kumamoto, Japan, 2010)
A number of Karate Do Sensei I know are beginning to ask interesting questions and requesting that I include the information in this blog. Recently, I was asked about the layout of the dojo, more specifically where the 神棚 Kamidanai, a Family Alter that is commonly found in traditional Japanese dojo (see photo below), and where photos should be hung. I discuss this in detail in the book that I am working on, but I have decided to include some of this information in this post. Hope the information provided will help you as well.

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Taking a closer look at Shu Gyou

I apologize for the long wait. It seems that life and work always seem to have a way of getting busy all at the same time making it very difficult to stay on task. That, however, is the most important challenge, isn't it.

In one of my previous posts titled 'Analysis of the Showa Part 1', I didn't go into very much detail on  the interpretation of 修業 Shu Gyou, that appears in the motivational poem the 唱和 Showa written by the first generation Soke of Chito-Ryu Karate Do, Chitose Tsuyoshi Sensei.  I simply wrote that it means "to study." However, this translation is lacking in substance and doesn't really express the deeper meaning of the kanji. I am very happy that the blog has generated some interesting discussion. After being asked to share my thoughts on the term 修業 Shu Gyou, I've decided to take a closer look at the term. I began by checking some other sources for translations and found one I felt the readers of this blog may be interested in. The translation is "the pursuit of knowledge." Perhaps this more accurately explains the nuance of the term Shugyo, that it requires one to devote their time and energy into a focused pursuit of whatever it is that they wish to attain deeper knowledge of. It is not, simply describing passive learning. However, there is still one more point of concern that needs to be addressed and that is the two different ways of writing Shu Gyou in Japanese; 修業 and 修行, and the differences in the usage of each. I would like to take a closer look at Shu Gyou in this post.
(Chito-Ryu Karate Do First Generation Soke, Chitose Tsuyoshi Sensei)

As I said, discussion lead to the variations of the kanji that can be used to write Shyugyo, listed above修業 and 修行. In this post I will try to address the differences between the nuance of each of these. I also welcome knowledgeable readers of this blog to post in the comment section of this entry to further deepen our understanding of these terms and concepts.

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Analysis of the Showa (Part 2)

Continuing from the previous post...

Way of the Warrior, Spirit of the Samurai, or Simply Bushido?
武士道の精神 Bushido no Seishin which is commonly translated as the "spirit of the warrior’s way." Here in lays the discrepancy in the cultural context of the term and its usage. What is the 'Way' of the 'Warrior'? What is the 'Spirit' of a 'Warrior'? I don't know about you, but when I hear the word 'Warrior' I think of the WWF Wrestling character, the Ultimate Warrior which is obviously out of context. But, this is the problem of vocabulary choice that needs to be addressed. Furthermore, the question needs to be addressed, is this kind of “spirit” still appropriate for application in our modern society? If we expect people to repeat this in order to advocate its message of ‘peace’ we must be sure the message is relevant and easily understood by everyone.
Let’s take a moment to contemplate the above questions. During my research I came across an explanation of the interpretation of the Showa used in Australia, it can be found on their website: pg=public.showa
In their introduction they state that the original Japanese is “impossible to accurately translate into English as many of the words do not have a direct translation.” I agree that it is very difficult translate old Japanese poetry and philosophies into modern English accurately. It may be impossible to translate them directly but not accurately. It is necessary to contemplate them and assess your level of understanding of Karate Do based on your interpretation of such things as the Showa.

There are many essays that address the concepts and the philosophical teachings of the Japanese martial arts. Each of them are nothing more than some one’s interpretation of the concept and their interpretations are based on their level of understanding of the "trinity" that I spoke of in the post titled, "The Trinity of Proficiency in Karate Do: Technical, Cultural, and Linguistic Ability." Rarely are such essays written by people who are already recognized 'experts' in that field when they are researching and writing. Usually, they come to be known or referred to as 'experts' afterwards. I strongly urge every serious practitioner of Karate Do to make efforts to attempt to understand these concepts for themselves and relate them to their own personal context within the study and practice of Karate Do. But, please keep in mind that all of our understanding is limited by a number of factors, a great deal of which are very personal in nature. When it is all said and done, we are talking about interpretation and this journey of understanding is a very introspective one.

Analysis of the Showa (Part 1)

The 唱和 Showa is a motivational poem that is recited at the end of training sessions in ICKF dojo which also illustrates the principles discussed in this blog; The concept of pursuing one's life endeavours with 和 Wa, Peace and 忍 Nin, Perseverance and the reassurance that if one conducts themselves with honour and respect for others 力必達 Rikihitattsu 'Strength' will come and goals will be attained. This is a very important part of Karate Do training.

It was my intention to analyse the Showa in this post however, upon completion of the analysis, I feel it is too long for one post. Therefore I will be breaking the post into two parts. In the first part I will focus on the first half of the Showa poem, looking at the various meanings of the kanji and contemplating possible interpretations for them. I will do the same in the next instalment as well. It is my intent that by doing so we will  be able to, at the very least, deepen our understanding of the meaning of this motivational poem and, with this deeper understanding, recognize our own personal relationship to it and our training. 

(the Showa, Chito-Ryu Honbu Dojo, Kumamoto, Japan 2013)

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

不動心 (Fudoshin) an Immovable Spirit is Not about Not Moving at all

In previous posts I have talked about the 心 Kokoro/Shin and how important this is in Japanese philosophy. The concept of Kokoro or Shin is not limited to Japan nor did it originate here, the usage of the term 心 and the linking of its importance to 気 Ki, Vital Energy dates back to ancient China (see Mencius 2A2). In this post I would like to take a look at the concept of 不動心 Fudoshin, an Immovable Spirit which is often associated with cultivation of 勇気 Yuki, Courage. This is very important in the martial arts, but is often misunderstood or, at the very least, not understood on a level deep enough to receive the positive benefits of incorporating it appropriately in our daily lives. Here, I would like to present some of the key points to help us understand this concept on a deeper level so that we can apply it to our training and receive the benefits of its cultivation in our lives.

(The Author at the Gateway to the Forbidden City, Bejing, China, March 2014)
 (Inside the Forbidden City, Beijing, China 2014)

Monday, 17 November 2014

余裕 'Yoyu' in Our Training and in Our Life

In our Karate Do training, in our Kata practice, and in life, maintaining the appropriate amount of hardness and softness and showing the appropriate amounts of strength and weakness, especially when dealing with the ups and downs of life, is something that we all struggle with. The struggle may never end, but I still believe that our Karate Do training gives us a special advantage to assess the situation quickly and act accordingly. Reading the situation is something known as 空気読む Kuki Yomu, the ability to intuitively assess the atmosphere and act on these assessments. One may liken this to 'reading between the lines'; looking for hints regarding the course of action to take in all that is around us. In this respect, the term 残心 Zanshin, often translated as awareness or relaxed alertness, may also be used to explain Kuki Yomu. When living in Japan this heightened sense of awareness is a very important skill to have. The ability to read the situation and act correctly could make all the difference between success and failure in Japan, in general, and even more so in the Karate Do environment. (This statement can be interpreted a number of different ways and applied to many situations. Contemplating it in your unique situation and applying it as you see fit is what I would like to recommend)

Perhaps a beneficial question would be, How can someone develop this skill and use it to their advantage? I don't have the answer to this question, but I am aware that this ability has helped me countless times in the past. and simply being aware of its importance helps to develop it further. In previous posts I have provided information about the importance of listening and how to show appropriate levels of courtesy. Here I would like to look at the concept of 余裕 Yoyu. I feel strongly that everything happens for a reason and how we act or react to what happens changes our lives. If we can first, be aware and get in tune with whatever will help us to take the best course of action and then act without entering a state of panic, I am sure the best possible results can be attained. Consciously making a choice not to act in a state of panic or anger (emotional states that cloud our judgement) develops a strength and stillness in our Kokoro, Heart/spirit known as 不動心 Fudoshin, something that many martial artists often talk about, but only a few know deeply. (I would like to talk more deeply about fudoshin in future posts)

(3,333Dan, Kumamoto, Japan)

Thursday, 13 November 2014

Two Important Concepts Within Karate Do Practice (Part 2)

The next concept that I would like to write about is 文武両道 Bun Bu Ryo Do, this is the concept of developing one's academic and physical skills and is commonly a focal part in the foundation of the approach to teaching many Japanese martial arts especially 剣道 Kendo and 空手道 Karate Do.
I am sure that the concept of Bunburyodo is familiar to you or, at the very least, you have heard your Sensei talk about the concept during your training. Its presence in the Japanese education system is resonant. I have often heard references made to this concept both in the classroom and the dojo during my time here. I'm confident that you can find a great deal of information on this topic on the Internet and in martial arts texts.
At first glance, this may seem to be just another mystical Asian concept, but like many of these concepts, it will quickly become clear the more you research that there is nothing mysterious about it at all. If anything, the concept is poetic. Have you heard the famous saying, The pen is mightier than the sword? While this concept combines both of these in an eloquent balance. In fact, this is one of the main principles of Bushido. In this is where we find the beauty and the strength of the way of the 'warrior'. In modern society this concept has become more and more theoretical, but in feudal Japan this is what helped many 侍Samurai maintain their sanity enabling them to balance the grotesque nature of the gruesome things that they did during war time with the ability to recognize and appreciate the beauty of something like the cherry blossoms in full bloom while at peace. The contrast of feelings and actions, of what is in our hearts and what our bodies must do could also be likened to bunburyodo. (Our thoughts and feelings are represented by the pen and our actions are represented by the sword)

However, in the modern academic context the study of subjects has taken precedence over the practice of combat so much so that many teachers whom I know and have taught with often stressed the importance of the physical element in the form of maintaining a strong healthy body in order to achieve the best academic results possible.

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Two Important Concepts Within Karate Do Practice (Part 1)

I want to talk about 文武両道 Bun Bu Ryo Do, the concept of balancing one's cultural and martial development. This is a concept that is deeply rooted in the philosophy of many Japanese martial arts especially Karate Do. However, before we can talk in depth about this topic, I believe that we need to first look at another important concept which will help us to better understand Bun Bu Ryo Do as well. This is the concept of 心技体 Shin Gi Tai, The Heart/Spirit, Technique, and the Body. I am sure you can find a lot of information about both of these important topics on the Internet and in martial arts magazines. It is rarely ever enough to just simply translate concepts like these. Personal interpretations and relating those interpretations to your own context is strongly recommended. How do you relate these two important aspects of the martial arts to your daily training? How would deepening your level of understanding of these and other important topics improve the quality of your training? We all have to ask ourselves these questions and make efforts to understand these concepts more deeply.

(The Kanji, Chinese Characters for Shin Gi Tai written by the author, 2014)

Thursday, 6 November 2014

Getting Back on Track, Another Post on Courtesy in the Martial Arts

I would like to clear up something regarding my last post which may have been a little provocative. I want to make it clear that my intention was not to suggest that every Japanese family leaves all responisibilities of parenting to the teacher but rather show that, in my experience here, the school is more integrated into the family dynamic than my experience in North America. I admit, I got a little off topic and I would like to get back on track with this blog.

I would like to share with you a story about a situation I found myself in shortly after coming to Kumamoto. I was put in a difficult spot and needed to act quickly in order to make a good 第一印象 Dai Ichi Insho, A Good First Impression. This story is much more in keeping with the theme of this blog.

I had been working at the 西合志役場 Nishigoshi Yakuba, The Town Office in Nishigoshi in the deptartment of the board of education for a few Months and had gotten to know most of the staff in other departments as well. One staff memeber appraoched me at a staff party one night and told me that he practices 合気道 Aikido, I had practiced Aikido only a few times in 北海道 Hokkaido while I was studying there but, noticed many similarities to the applications of 千唐流空手道の分解 Chito-Ryu no Bunkai. (Bunkai are the practical applications of offensive and defensive techniques commonly found in kata which are broken down an practiced as self-defense techniques) He asked me if I would like to join his class someday and I said I would like to very much. A few more Months rolled by and I never heard back from him. I thought he had forgotten or maybe it was just a kind gesture that he made but never really intended to follow through with, a concept known as 本意と建前 Honne to Tatemae, Showing and hiding One's true intentions. (This is a huge topic that demands its own blog post. Therefore, I will discuss this in detail later)

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Karate Do in Mainstream Education Continued

I would like to continue the thread from my previous post and look more deeply at the dynamics of the classroom, home, and the dojo. I think that the Karate Do Sensei holds a special place in our hearts and minds due to their very specific skill sets and life experiences but, why don't we feel the same way about our teachers in school? They also have interesting life experiences and possess specific skills sets depending on the grade level and subject that they teach.

In Japan the school teachers, especially in the early stages of education, kindergarten and elementary school levels, play a very significant role in childrens' emotional development. This is a role that, in my experience in Canada, is reserved for the family. Let me give you an example that will show how the lines of family responsibility and the responsibilities of the 'homeroom teacher' in Japan can be blurred or even crossed at times:

If a child were, for whatever reason, to run away from home or not come home one night, who would shoulder the burden or assume the responsibility of searching for them? In Canada, I can say with confidence that it would be the parents. However, I have witnessed numerous times while living here, the homeroom teacher assuming this responsibility. The parents appeared to almost not even get involved.

Karate Do in Maintstream Education, Does it Have a Place?

I apologize for the lack of activity on my blog over the past week.

If you follow my facebook updates regularly, you will know that I attended an International Conference in Osaka from the 28th of October to the 2nd of November.
The theme of the conference was education. the Asian Conference on Education (ACE) to be specific. This got me thinking about the role martial arts plays in our lives around the world. While listening to some of the session presentations I was able to notice some similarities in the desired outcomes which form our goals as both teachers and students.

I began to wonder if Karate Do could have a greater presence in mainstream education around the world and, if so, what would be some of the positive outcomes of including martial arts such as Karate Do in the curriculum. In this blog post I would like to explore this train of thought and would appreciate hearing any thoughts or feedback, regarding this topic, that you would you may have and like to provide. I don't want to use this blog as a platform for debate but, I do want it to be a source to help learning through facilitating our deeper understanding of the subject matter, in this case the philosophies and educational concepts of Karate Do. Therefore, your feedback is not only accepted but crucial in expanding the range of authentic knowledge on this subject.
To the best of my knowledge Karate programs are only offered in schools as after-school programs. However, in Japan there has been a recent push to include Karate Do lessons in the regular curriculum. Kendo and Judo have, traditionally, been included as the 武道授業 Budo Jyugyo, Martial arts Lessons of choice in the public and private schools across Japan. However, with the recent troubles in the Judo Federation and concerns of student safety in the school board more and more schools are dropping Judo from their syllabus.
This has created an opportunity for Karate Do to fill the gap and there has been a nation wide serge to include Karate Do specifically in the Junior High Schools across Japan. Currently there are about 189 Junior High Schools that have included Karate Do as part of their Budo Jyugyo and the number is growing. Part of the reason for this is the safety concerns, as mentioned above. In a research study conducted by the sports safety committee 3 years ago Karate Do ranked significantly lower than Judo and Sumo, as can be expected and only slightly higher than Kendo with regards to percentage of injuries occurred while practicing.
(the Author attending the 4th JKF Training Course for In-service Teachers, 2013 Tokyo Japan)
Another reason for the recent support from the Ministry of Education (MEXT) toward Karate Do is the fact that Karate Do practice places a great deal of importance on developing students' manners, self-control, and courteous behaviour, as mentioned in previous blog posts "Karate Do begins and ends with courtesy."

Monday, 27 October 2014

心得 (Kokoro E) 'Information' or 'Knowledge', What do you think?

The Five Dojo Teachings listed in my previous post are well known in the International Chito-Ryu Kareate Do Federation (ICKF) Curriculum. Attention should also be paid to the 千唐流空手道心得 Chito-Ryu Karate Do Kokoro E, the Directives of the study of Chito-Ryu Karate Do. There are ten in total and they are directly related to the five Dojo teachings presented earlier. Upholding these directives in our appraoch to training and in our daily lives is the responsibility of every serious Karate Ka.
千唐流空手道心得 Directives (Regulations) of the Study of Chito-Ryu Karate Do
Students are obligated to know the following:
a) When you start karate you must comply with the teachings with an open mind and submissive (humble) feeling, and not make bad habits.

b) Of course, you must respect your Sensei, Senpai, and fellow training partners. Kohai must also respect each other. We must have virtue of modesty and humility. “Bravery without respect is violence” (Confucius, 552 - 479 BCE).

c) You develop a healthy body through unyielding dedication to training and perseverance.

d) Training brings forth the cultivation of spirit, personality development is strived for and we are mindful of building peace and freedom for society.

e) Always have correct behaviour and absolutely don’t lose rationality.

f) When you study, it must move from easy to difficult, simple to complicated through repetition. Don’t mindlessly do hard training from the start, and never hurry.

g) Always have an intimacy with Makiwara, Chishi, Sashi, Kame, and Iron Geta and the fist, and don’t hurry the effects of these. Research Kata and Kumite with enthusiasm and train both equally.

h) A long time ago, it took three years to completely master one Kata. If you become a little good at one you must not become conceited. If you become conceited it will stop the progress of your natural moral virtue, and later you will become a useless person to society.

i) You must be careful to be well balanced in all your training and knowledge of theory.

j) If you do not have a clear understanding of these points, do not hesitate to ask your Sensei and Senpai. You must try to correctly understand.

Courtesy in the Karate Do Context

The ongoing theme of manners and respect are and will continue to be prevalent throughout this blog as good manners are of the utmost importance in Japanese martial arts. Ginchin Funakoshi Sensei (founder of 松濤館Shoto-kan Karate Do) stated that, “Karate Do begins and ends with courtesy.” This statement is very profound and in fact courtesy can be found in every aspect of most traditional styles of Karate Do. From the way one enters and leaves the 道場 Dojo, Training Hall, to the way a 空手家 Karate Ka, Practitioner of Karate Do conducts themselves in the course of their daily life, ‘Courtesy’ can be found in every breath and every action of intent. 
It is believed by many that acting in such a way brings honour to the individual. However, during my time in Japan, it seems to me that people don’t perform this kind of genuine courtesy in order to bring honour to themselves, but rather because it is natural for them to act in that specific manner in the given situation. This may bring honour to their community, Dojo, and their Snesei but, make no mistake, their courteous actions are not, in any way, performed to draw attention to themselves.
Furthermore, In my experience, showing proper manners through specific etiquette is a requirement for effective communication in Japan. So much so in fact, that different speech patterns were developed in the language to demonstrate this in everyday dealings with each other (see previous blog on Keigo). This concept of courtesy in daily life is known as 礼儀作法 Reigi Sahou, The Application of Courtesy. More accurately, the first two kanji mean Courtesy and the last two kanji mean Manners or Etiquette. When placed together they mean the practice of 'good' manners through courteous actions. In his book, ‘Bushido the Soul of Japan; An Exposition of Japanese Thought’ (1909) Nitobe Inazo discusses the many aspects of Japanese courtesy in the Budo context. It is a bit of a difficult read but I highly recommend it to any serious Karate Ka. In fact, over half of the book is dedicated to things such as Politeness, Sincerity, Honour and Self-control all of which are connected to Courtesy. Through out the text which is a collection of letters and essays Nitobe compares Eastern and Western philosophies on these subjects and reflects on them in detail.

Sunday, 26 October 2014

the Teacher / Student Relationship

As an educator and Instructor of Karate Do I feel it is important to consider the teacher / student relationship in order to better understand Karate Do on an even deeper level.  At the heart of every style of Karate Do lays the common philosophy of 文武両道 Bun Bu Ryou Do, the importance of excelling in both literary and military art (This is a concept that deserves its own post. Therefore, I will not discuss it in great detail in this post). I just want to point out that the majority of the martial arts in Japan place a unique emphasis on the development of the mind and the body, this is true of Karate Do as well.
Every experience in our lives is an extension of a relationship. Even when we experience something alone it is still an extension of our relationship with nature or with the event itself. Therefore, we must consider the fact that our relationships with others greatly affect our experiences. This is especially true in Karate Do. The teacher student relationship in the Karate Do context is a very unique relationship that can sometimes become very complicated but, when all of the conditions are right and the level of understanding among those in the relationship is mutual this can be a very fulfilling relationship where both the student and the teacher enjoy physical, mental, and spiritual growth as a direct result of their unique relationship.
Forgive me for stating the obvious but, in order to develop a good relationship on any level with anyone else it is very important to begin with listening and continuing to listen as the relationship develops (See my previous post ‘Listening is the Key’). We are capable of listening and not hearing and at the same time we often hear things even when we are not listening. But, the key is to “listen with the intent to hear.”

There is a famous saying that is well-known world-wide, “when the student is ready, the teacher will appear.” I wish to suggest here that this statement should not be taken literally. That is to say, the 'teacher' who will 'appear' is not always a person dressed in a suit and tie who will, like an advice genie, magically appear suddenly, when you are ready and in need, to tell you what to do and guide you through the rough patches or by becoming your mentor after you have fulfilled the basic requirements. Although this is sometimes true, some times the teacher is not a person at all. Rather, the teacher could be an experience or an event that opens our eyes to new possibilities or expands our awareness. Growth like this in an individual thing that can only occur when that person is ‘ready’. Perhaps, it is someone or maybe even something that has always been there but we just couldn’t see it until we recognized it. We couldn't see it because we couldn’t comprehend the importance of that presence and how it could influence our life until. Once it is in plain sight, it we can learn from it or them. I think we have all felt this at one point or another in our lives.

Saturday, 25 October 2014

Karate Do Ranks and Titles

In this post I will introduce the various ranks and titles recognized in the Chito-Ryu style of Karate Do. Many of these are commonly used in many of the Okinawan and Japanese styles but there are subtle difference among them regarding some of the specifics. I will attempt to clarify these points.
A great source of accurate information regarding similar topics can be found on the "KARATE by Jesse" blog. I will reference some of the Ranks and Titles that he presented in his "Short Guide" post
In his post he sates, "in Karate... there exists a strong concept of ranks and titles." The ranks and titles used in the Okinawan and Japanese martial arts are fairly common across the board but, as with anything, some do vary.
Brief History
Before Karate Do was introduced to mainland Japan there were no ranks or titles only an instructor and his pupils (a teacher and the students) At this time the self defence art that people were practicing in Okinawa wasn't even called Karate, it was known as 手 Te, hand or 唐手 Toude, Chinese hand because the system came directly from China. I know this is over simplified but the point of this particular post is not to cover the entire history and development of Karate Do. But, it is important to provide a brief history to understand that this is a self defence system that came from China to Okinawa before it was introduced to mainland Japan. After it came to Japan a different name needed to be chosen, one that did not identify any ties to China. Because this system used no weapons 空 Kara, Empty was chosen and the name 空手 Karate, Empty Hand stuck. After this it developed quickly and became very regimented. As the system developed it became necessary to indicate the progress of the practitioners. This is when ranks and titles were introduced. The ranks and titles of Karate Do were initially based on those of Judo.
The 段 Dan system, better known as the 'black belt' rank, was developed sometime in the 17th Century. Dan as well as 級 Kyu simply means grade in Japanese however, the kyu system was developed later than the Dan system. the common belief on how the ranks and titles of Karate Do were defined is that Dr. Kano Jigoro, the founder of Kodokan Judo, invented the both the Dan and Kyu system. Jesse points out that this is not true. He states, "as we now know, he didn’t. Instead, in 1883, Kano adapted the swimming ranking-system used in Japanese schools. By using that as the foundation, he developed the dan/kyu system for Judo which we are using today in Karate. Clever!"
These days, especially in North America there are numerous Kyu levels with a wide range of coloured belts to identify them and generally 9 to 10 Dan levels in any given style. Some more traditional Dojo use only three belt colours to indicate the Kyu ranks; white, green, and brown. Generally all of the levels of the Dan rank are represented by the 'Black Belt'.

Friday, 24 October 2014

Approaching Respect, Honorifics, Titles, and Rnaks in Karate Do (Part 3)

I realize that I promised some examples of practical Keigo in my previous posts and didn't deliver. To be honest with you, this topic is nowhere near a simple one  and while writing it, it has become even more clear to me that there is no simple and easy way to present the information to you. I am afraid that this will take a lot more than 3 short posts to explain fully. More likely, I foresee this this being an ongoing theme of this blog. I will however, try to provide you with an outline of Keigo in this post and go into more detail regarding the Teacher Student relationship in the next post.
Any of you who have studied any language formally will know that it is not fun at all. Using language however, can be a great deal of fun. I often tell my students that language should never be limited to paper because on paper language is boring. It is how people use language that makes it exciting. In this way language comes alive through us. In this post I will outline the three kinds of keigo and give some generic examples to illustrate how each form is used. I will also try to explain the intent with which we should use them. If our intent is pure and honest our mistakes will be taken for what they are and we will be given opportunities to learn from them. Remember, it is not just the words themselves but how we use them that affects those around us the deepest.
With this in mind I would like to introduce the three kinds of keigo to you. But, I do have to warn you, on paper this is very boring!
Introducing the Levels of Keigo
The Japanese language accommodates several levels of politeness through different verb endings as well as using alternative words and expressions. It should be noted that there are three general levels of politeness, which are expressed through different kinds of speech. “The levels correspond to colloquial, polite, and honorific situations" (Rozek, 2010).
Outlining the Kinds of Keigo
Rozek (2010) discusses three types of keigo and how they are used specifically. An out line of this is provided below:
1. Referring to others politely is called 尊敬語  Sonkeigo, this is respectful language used to refer to actions by people of a higher social class than you. Common examples of this would be expressions used in the customer service industry. This can also be seen in the Dojo when juniors are talking with seniors and students to Sensei.
2. Speaking about yourself; referring to you and those close to you such as family members and co-workers (inner-circle members) in a humble way is called 丁寧語 Teineigo, this is polite language that is not limited by the ‘lateral up / down relationships’. In Japan, there is a concept known as the 家 Ie or 内 Uchi which refers to any body's family, company including co-workers, or close circle of friends; the 'inner-circle'.
3. The third type of keigo is called 謙譲語  Kenjyogo. This is humble language used when referring to your own actions. It has two parts and is probably the most difficult one for North Americans to understand and or accept. It involves degrading yourself and those close to you (listed in number 2) and putting others and those close to them on a kind of metaphoric ‘pedestal’ effectively, intentionally lowering your 'social status' and elevating theirs.

Approaching Respect, Honorifics, Titles, and Rank in Karate Do (Part 2)

Keigo in the Karate Do Context
I have found in my personal experience that no matter how highly you are ranked, you should always treat those around and especially those senior to you in age with the utmost respect. More often than not, this is expressed in many ways that not verbal. These subtleties can often either go unnoticed or can be misinterpreted if we don’t have the basic cultural understanding that I discussed in my previous posts. As with anything, there are always exceptions to this rule and showing one’s respect for and or toward another is no different. However, a good rule of thumb would be to remember that age seniority trumps all other ranks in almost every case.
The Image (Sensei and Professor)
Let’s take a common example and put it into a Karate Do context: A university/college student would address his/her professor(s) in a respectful way whether that respect is has been earned or not. They may call them "Sir." or "Dr.~" as a sign of this respect. However, the professor wouldn't have to be as formally polite when talking to the student (Rozek, 2010).

This is a pretty straight forward and easy to understand example but, I have a question for you. As you read that example what kind of mental picture did you create? Did you get a mental picture of the University Professor? What about the student? What is the common image of the ‘Professor’? Did you picture an older man, possibly with a beard or a moustache, wearing a tweed jacket? How about the typical image of a university/collage student? Was the student you pictured younger than the Professor? If we ask enough people this question we will be able to judge the common answer but, it may be assumed that the common image of the Professor is older than the student(s), would you agree? Assuming this to be the norm we can begin relating this example to Karate Do.

Thursday, 23 October 2014

Approaching Respect, Honorifics, Titles, and Rank in Karate Do

How is respect shown in Karate Do? What do the ranks and titles really mean? These are questions that are often asked separately but in fact are bound together, in order to answer one we need to understand the other. With this in mind, this will either be a very long post or I will have to break up the posts into multiple sections to effectively answer the above questions.
Introduction & Background Information
In Japan, the social classes have always been sharply divided. This is still fairly evident  in  Japanese society even today and is particularly evident in the 道場 Dojo, Training halls of traditional martial arts. Signs of such social class divisions can be seen in the ideology of 敬語 Keigo which can be described as “an unwritten rule or code of conduct that stresses people must speak with each other differently, depending on their level or position in society.” Some of the things that determine the differences in social class are: age, employment position, experience, social standing, etc. For the most part this is easily recognized when the deciding factor is based exclusively on something like age difference. However, it can be difficult to keep these divisions so cut and dry in some cases. Take the work place for example, sometimes a younger employee may have a senior position. In this case, how should the younger but higher ranking employee address his senior but lower ranking co-workers? This particular example translates to the Karate Do context as well when a young person attains a high rank and assumes a teaching position in the Dojo teaching others who are older in age but of lower rank.
I have some experience with this example. Compared to some of the people that I have trained with over the years, it may be said that I have advanced through the ranks of Chito-Ryu Karate Do fairly quickly. I began practicing Chito-Ryu Karate Do when I was 10 years old. I attained my 初段 Shodan, First Degree Black Belt at the age of 17 in Nova Scotia, Canada under the guidance of Michael S. Delaney (He held the rank of 五段 Godan, Fifth Degree Black Belt and the title of 師範 Shihan, Master Instructor at the time but his title and rank were not the reasons we respected him). Before coming to Japan to work and live in 2001 I had attained the rank of 二段 Nidan, Second Degree Black Belt. I was 20 years old.
Even though, I had only trained exclusively in Canada before the year 1999, I had a very strong sense of the positions and responsibilities of 先輩 Senpai, Senior Student and 後輩 Kouhai, Junior Student. As I mentioned in my introductory post, I trained at the Atlantic Karate Club (AKC), located in Halifax, Nova Scotia. While I was training at the AKC, I could only advance in rank and position in correlation with the position of my Senpai. That is to say that, it would generally be unacceptable for a junior to overtake a senior who was training regularly in either rank or title. Therefore, in the AKC at that time, the top ranking practitioners’ positions were pretty much set and we all advanced together or not at all. As far as I know, this was the common practice regarding grading and advancement in the style across Canada.
(The Author sitting in front of the left-hand side mirror in the group of young students listening to Higashi Sensei teaching at the AKC, 1989)
I only knew the way things were run in my Dojo so this naturally defined the parameters of what I thought were common grading practices in Karate Do in general. I was somewhat surprised when I began training in Japan and found that this is not the case; students were not assessed according to the level their peers or those senior to them. At the 総本部道場 Sohonbu Dojo those who were eligible to be tested and met the preliminary requirements of being the appropriate age and had adequate training time booked we were all assessed individually. All of the assessments were made by the 二代目宗家 2nd generation Soke, Head of the Family Style of Karate Do. As a result I advanced much quicker through the ranks and titles of Chito-Ryu Karate Do while training as a young man at the Sohonbu Dojo. There is no question in my mind that I would not have advanced at the rate I did if I had continued to practice exclusively in Canada.

Sunday, 19 October 2014

Listening is the Key!

In my last post I talked about the importance of making a good impression and explained what I feel are the three most important areas to which we need to focus our training and study in order to make a good impression when meeting Japanese Sensei for the first time; Technical knowledge (deep understanding of the basic waza), Cultural knowledge (deep understanding of Japanese culture and social norms), and Linguistic knowledge (proficiency with Japanese language to communicate effectively).

I would like to continue in this post by providing you with one piece of advice that I think could facilitate growth in all of these areas. It is simple but in its simplicity lays the difficulty. If I could only give one piece of advice, it would have to be this, Listen. Just stop and listen. I know this sounds easy but in North America we like to talk. In fact we like to talk so much that we have developed a ‘need to be heard’ mentality. If we can develop our self-control to the point where we can stop and listen to what is going on around us we can grow in ways we would otherwise never even be aware of. While we are talking, we are missing the chance to listen, to hear and reducing our opportunities to learn and understand.

Saturday, 18 October 2014

The Trinity of Proficiency in Karate Do: Technical, Cultural, and Linguistic Ability

I was once asked by a young and eager student who was thinking about coming to Japan how much Japanese he should study before he came. I answered him with a pretty forceful “none!” I had good reasons for my answer at that time but have since reconsidered my ‘stance’ on the subject. First, let me try to explain how I felt on this subject when that student asked me.
In my experience, when someone comes to Japan and they are honest in their approach to learning the martial arts, be it Karate Do, Kendo, Judo, or any other Japanese martial art, they will be taken in and given an opportunity to prove their dedication almost every time and in pretty much any organization. It is what happens during this first encounter that determines the course of stay and indeed the relationship that will be formed or not formed. This is the 第一印象 Daiichiinsho, the First Impression and this is probably one of the most important yet seldom advertised social norms in Japan. The impression that you make on Japanese Sensei and others in the Dojo will stick and, for the most part, determine future opportunities to train and learn in Japan there and or elsewhere.
With this in mind, the amount of Japanese language one has learned prior to coming to Japan could be a benefit or a hindrance. However, if one has no language ability this changes the equation. If this is the case then there are no expectations and the visitor falls into the category of 客さん Kyaku San, Guest. People in this category are not judged on how much they know or how well they can speak, in my experience, they are only judged on sincerity of purpose and dedication to training, in short they are judged on their character. The rest of the communication will take care of itself. Yes, it will be difficult and laboured but, it will all work itself out. The only draw back to being a visitor comes if you wish to be more because, honestly access will be limited. But, the stay will be amazing and the experience will still have the potential to be life changing. For these reasons I suggested that the young student not learn any language and come as a 'guest' and learn as he went. I don’t know if this was good or bad advice but I meant well.
If I had the opportunity to answer him again knowing what I do now, I think my answer would be slightly different. I would make a distinction between Japanese language and culture and definitely urge him to learn about culture and customs before coming to Japan.

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Emptying Your Cup and Filling it with Greatness

(Jim Rohn, ) 
A name that you might not expect to see in a book or blog on Karate Do is Jim Rohn (1930 ~ 2009) but, he posed the question in his many lectures, seminars and in his books on self-development that I feel is very relevant to the study of Karate Do, “if a cup is full can it hold any more?” The answer he gave was a simple but powerful “yes. But, only if what is in it is first poured out.” He went on to ask, “Why should we empty our cup?” One thing I learned from reading many books and watching seminars on the subject of success is that the answer to a question like this is always basic and to the point like Karate Do Waza. Rohn’s answer to this question was no different; it was simply “to hold more of the next experience.” I have also noticed in my studies that there are more similarities than differences in the Eastern and Western philosophies on such things. The similarities are there if we know where to look and how to recognize them.

While training and teaching in Japan I have often heard this expression of ‘filling and emptying ones cup’ as a reference to the learning process. The ‘cup’ in this context is called () Utsuwa. A container by definition but in this case it can also refer to someone’s ability to be of great calibre. The greatness of an individual is determined by the size of their Utsuwa and their ability to fill it with good and important things that will help them to pursue and achieve continued success in their endeavours. Another concept that is closely related to this is (素直さ) Sunaosa One’s willingness to be obedient, not so much toward another person but rather, to the lesson. A student with a large utsuwa takes longer to become complacent with their studies and therefore able to listen and learn ‘obediently’ longer than someone with a smaller utsuwa. It is the correct combination of a sunao manner and the size of the utsuwa that help students develop their greatness. Sensei often reference these things when disciplining students but also and more importantly, when motivating them.

Monday, 13 October 2014

立ち方 Basic Stances

I know it is not a very good idea when starting a blog to take a 3 day break especially after only 2 posts but I am happy to be back at it with another instalment to the Karate no Michi. Thank you for all of the support so far I am looking forward to building this blog to provide readers with information that will help deepen understanding of the (Do) part of Karate Do. Therefore, all of the feedback and advice is very helpful!
It has come to my attention that including more photos and illustrations would be helpful in creating a mental image of the things that I discuss in my posts. My last post talked about an experience that I had when I was 16 that had a huge impact on my training and me as a person. I was not only being tested on my proficiency of the (空手道技) Karate Do Waza, Techniques but rather (性格) Seikaku my character and (取り組む姿勢) Torikumu Shisei, Training Intent. I introduced the concept of (諦めない) Akiramenai, Never Give up and to follow things through to completion. This is a very important concept in the martial arts and essential to the understanding of (武士道精神) Bushido Seishin, the Spirit of Bushido.

Thursday, 9 October 2014

2nd Post 諦めない Never Give Up & Follow Through

Since writing my first post, ‘自己紹介 Self-Introduction’ I have been wondering where to start my story and in what order to present the information that I have gathered over the years. What I really want to do in this blog is shed some light on the difficult concepts of Japanese culture that are deeply rooted in Karate Do and have strong ties to Confucius teachings from Chinese classic texts. But, I know I can’t just jump right into all of that. We need to build up to it. So, I would like to try to accomplish a few things in this follow up blog. Of course, I want to get and keep your attention as I introduce one Japanese term that I feel is very important in Karate Do training. Therefore I have decided to tell you about an experience that had a profound impact on my life. It happened, as many important life lessons do, at the 道場 Dojo, Tarditional Japanese Training Hall.
I was about 15 or 16 years old and ready to test for my 一級 Ikky 1st Kyu (Brown Belt). This is, as many of you reading know well, the rank just before 初段 Shodan 1st Degree Black Belt and in Dojo like ours it is a very important step. Delaney Sensei took this phase in a Karate Ka (practitioners) training very seriously. I still remember him saying to me, as well as others at the time that “you cannot pass your brown belt test if they (the grading committee) can’t already see you as a black belt someday.” I took this to mean that one must be serious about their future commitment to training in order to even attempt testing for 1st Kuy but this was not a problem for me because by this time I was very eager to learn all that I could. To me, about 5 years into my training I couldn’t picture my life without Karate Do in it.
I still talk about this experience with my students because I feel that it is an important lesson that can give us some valuable hints on what perseverance really is, really the one core and common lesson in all Karate Do training…

When teaching my students about potential and possibilities I often show them a blank page in a book and an empty cup. I ask them what they see and then ask them what these two things have in common. The answer is that they both possess unlimited and unique potential and possibilities. Their potential and the possibilities for their use are only limited by us. Understanding this changes everything. This is how we must be when we come to Japan empty of pride and ego and full of potential and possibilities.
 As you can see, and, if you have trained for any length of time I am sure you already know, that Karate Do training develops more than just a strong fighting body that can take and give a hit. It also fosters something I like to call a ‘silent strength’ some people have referred to this as a ‘relentless’ spirit; relentless in the fact that one who truly understands the way of Karate, the Mitchi / Do in the title of this blog and not just the Jutsu, will never quit, never give up no matter what the task may be. The concept of continuing something whether it is a challenge, a personal matter, or work related, whether it is physical, emotional or spiritual in nature, it may be said that a longtime practitioner of Karate Do has an advantage over someone who has not practiced Karate Do if they are given the same task because the Karate Ka has developed this ‘relentless spirit’. At the same time it is not a display or a call for attention. It comes down to just simply doing the work until it is completed. Because of our countless hours of training and the repetitive practice of basics a Karate Ka is able to understand the true power of this silent strength. Furthermore, understanding the ‘code’ of (和と忍) Wa to Nin “peace through perseverance” we are less likely to quit half way through any endeavor that we devout ourselves to.
 I believe that this is the definition of the term (諦めない) Akiramenai (諦め) Akirame means abandonment or renunciation adding the (ない) which is a negative meaning ‘don’t’ or ‘not to’ in this case changes the meaning to a positive one ‘Don’t give up’ or ‘Don’t abandon the task at hand’.
 I often hear Japanese Sensei saying this to their students and I often use this phrase myself. Every time I hear these words I am reminded of a situation that I found myself in as a young student at the Atlantic Karate Club in Halifax, Nova Scotia Canada. I was 16 years old and going to test for my 1st kyu (brown belt). It was the middle of August and very hot in the dojo that night. Delaney Sensei intentionally kept all of the windows shut for the duration of the training. There were literally puddles of sweat on the floor.