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Thursday, 17 December 2015

Maintaining Tradition by Augmenting our Training

Talent and creativity are often judged on how the next generation uses the tools made by the previous generation. So the question is, how are we going to use the tools available to us now?
In the Karate-do Dojo these days there is often a mixture of traditional and sports training. There are training tools, 運動道具 Undo Dogu, that we can use to augment our regular training and facilitate  development in a number of areas. Although I have used both modern and traditional training tools in my personal training in Canada and Japan, I do not consider myself an expert.


In Canada we often practiced drills using common training tools such as ladders, pylons, focus mitts, heavy bags, etc.
In Japan I was often encouraged to think of ways to use the traditional training tools, such as 据石 Chi ishi  巻き藁 Makiwara and 握りがめ Nigirigame with little to no guidance (See Photo below). Even though I am not an expert, I would like to take this opportunity to introduce a few of the traditional Okinawan training tools and suggest that you research this topic further as a way to augment your training and maintain some of the traditional approach to Karate-do strength training.
(Some of the Traditional Training Tools at the Chito-Ryu Honbu Dojo, Kumamoto, Japan, 2015)


This type of alternate training is called 補助運動 Hojo Undo. 補 Ho by itself means assistant, learner, make good, and supplement. 助 Jo also pronounced 助ける Tasukeru is created by combining the characters for Power 力 and Eye 目 and means help, rescue, and assist. Put together, Hojo translates as assistance, support, and aid. I believe that this is how we need to approach this kind of training; as a method to assist us in our regular training.


In order to use these tools well; to positively impact our training, a technical foundation is very important. Okinawan Karate-do masters still regularly exercise using these tools. If given the opportunity to train with these masters using these traditional tools we must make the most of it (please see, "The Trinity of Proficiency in Karate Do: Technical, Cultural, and Linguistic Ability" for advice on how to make the most of your training time in Japan).
During my research on this topic I came across the following video of some examples of Hojo Undo performed by Higaonna Sensei (Published on youtube.com, Feb. 19th, 2009) watching this can give us some ideas on how to approach Hojo Undo in our personal training.

However, we must be very careful, especially when beginning. I recommend that you try to begin this kind of training under the guidance of an instructor experienced using these tools. After developing our 基本 Kihon Basic technique of this supplement training we should apply our own unique approach to it and explore our creative interpretation. But, we must never drift too far that we forget the basic technique. I believe that this is important in each aspect of our karate-do training.

Wednesday, 25 November 2015

武道四戒

Kendo and Karate-do share many philosophical concepts because both Karate-do and Ken-do are grounded in Bushido. The same can be said for many other Japanese martial arts such as Judo and Aikido. Taken to their metaphorical application, most of the philosophies can also be applied to such Japanese arts as Shodo, Sado, and Ikebana.


In this post I would like to talk about a concept that is very important to our daily training, competitive success, and quality of life in general.


Recognizing this changes everything!


驚・懼・疑・惑 (Kyou, Ku, Gi, Waku) This is the 武道四戒 (Budo Shikai), This may be translated as the 'Four Commandments of Budo'. However, I prefer to think of them as 'Four Warnings of Budo' or the 'Four Cautions of Budo'. Deepening our knowledge of this concept and developing our awareness of these traits in our training and in our daily lives has the potential to bring the quality of both to higher levels.

Tuesday, 10 November 2015

The Profound Impact of Experience

In the Summer of '69 Brian Adams bought his first guitar. In the Summer of '96 I travelled to France for the first time. How are these two things similar? At first glance they don't seem to have anything at all in common. But, I believe that if we look closely enough at seemingly unrelated events, eventually we can find something that they have in common. The example given above is no different. Both events profoundly changed the lives of the individuals involved and impacted the lives of many others there after. I  don't mean to compare myself to a famous musician or imply that we have made the same global impact. However, the chain of events that have occurred since travelling to France in 1996 has shaped who I am today just has finding the guitar in 1969 did for Brian Adams. And, to be honest with you, I just wanted to find a way to use "in the Summer of '69" and "in the Summer of '96" in some meaningful way. The rest of this post will be more serious, and this will connect to my point, I promise.

Our Lives are Shaped by our Experiences
It is no secret that our experiences shape us. Our training in the martial arts makes us aware of this fact more quickly than someone who has never trained because training in the martial arts is really a process of self-cultivation that develops, among other things, our levels of self-awareness. With our heightened sense of self-awareness we are able to take away important lessons from our experiences and productively apply them to our lives. Through the process of 心技体 Shin Gi Tai; developing and strengthening the connection between our mind and body through the repetitive practice of specific techniques we develop, not only stronger bodies but also a stronger sense of self. The more I reflect on my past experiences the more I am able to get out of them, making their continued impact more profound to me.
(Shin Gi Tai, written by the Author, 2014)

Thursday, 8 October 2015

To Not Inspire is to Fail our Students

I experienced something yesterday that disturbed me. A young man who is a former student at Buntoku, the school where I teach, came to do his practicum as a student teacher this past Month. He was energetic and hard working, a member of one of the very first classes I've ever taught at this school when I first started here. Of course, I want him to succeed and wish him all the best. Unfortunately, it became very clear yesterday during his demonstration lesson that his supervising teacher here failed him! I know this blog is designated as a vehicle to share ideas on the philosophies and concepts of the martial arts and karate-do specifically, but I believe that the education process is a very relevant topic of discussion that relates and impacts our lives on many levels and therefore, I would like to share with you some of my views of what educators should do to avoid failing their students. Perhaps some of the ideas shared in this post will resonate with you as well, in your personal or professional context keeping in mind that we are all somebody's teacher.
 
Let me start by telling you what I think the bottom line is. You can agree or disagree with me, but at least this way you know where I am coming from. Whether it is in the classroom or in the dojo, I believe that it is the instructor's duty to inspire the students to strive for more. We do this by assigning tasks that are appropriately challenging for the students' levels both individually and as a group or a team. If the task is too difficult they will become unmotivated and give up. In the same respect, if it is too easy they will become bored and quit. Assessing the appropriate levels is not always easy and definitely requires developing a relationship with our students. The deeper the relationship the better we can assess the level of the assigned task. This takes time and effort, but the results are so very rewarding.
 
James Allen, in his book, The Eight Pillars of Prosperity (1911) wrote that, "A teacher is a sower of seed, a spiritual agriculturist, while he who teaches himself is the wise farmer of his own mental plot. The growth of a thought is as the growth of a plant, the seed must be sown seasonally and time is required for its full development into the plant of knowledge and the flower of wisdom" (p. 5).


I believe that this statement outlines the healthy dynamic between teacher and student. The best students are those who take an active role in their learning and personal development and the best teachers are those who can provide the right conditions for the 'seeds' to grow; appropriate support and opportunities for the student to learn and realize their potential. This is what is done in the majority of the dojo that I have seen and visited. However, some teachers cannot seem to apply this in the classroom, especially the Japanese English classroom. Even after they are given the tools and the experience, they either choose not to or just don't care to change their teaching approach from 'read and repeat' to a more communicative based, student centred learning approach.
 
As English teachers in Japan we are not just teachers of English grammar and vocabulary. We are promoters of English based cultures and should therefore also promote general self-development strategies. As professional  educators we must inspire our students, not just teach the material in the text books, but urge them to think original thoughts based on the materials introduced and to take an active role in their own personal development. We must try to do this in each and every lesson.

In order to achieve this we must ask ourselves the following questions:
What will the students get from this lesson?
What skill sets am I trying to help them develop?
How will they grow as a result of being introduced to the information and material in this lesson?
 
Of course, it will always be the choice of the individual to take what they've learned and how to apply it in their lives. or not. We cannot and should not try to force them to make the choices that we want them to. I think this also relates to parenting, personal relationships, and coaching. We can only give advise based on personal experience and research how making a particular choice may affect the potential for future successes positively or negatively.

In my 15 years of experience with the Japanese education system, Japanese English teachers still spend far too much time and energy developing only one skill set in their students; that of memorization and not nearly enough time or energy developing free thinkers.

To be effective educators, no matter what the subject may be, we must be passionate about what we are teaching; both the material and the process. Martin Luther King Jr. did not inspire Humanity by saying, "now repeat after me, I have a dream." He inspired people with his passion and his conviction and everyone remembers his words even though they didn't repeat them in chorus three times on that day!

The message I wish to send in this post is actually a request. Teachers, please don't fail your students. Inspire them to reach their full potential, give them opportunities to show you what that is and they will take care of the rest.
 

 

Sunday, 27 September 2015

'Ukemi' Can Break More than Just Our Fall!

It's not What we do in the dojo that counts, but How we do it.
 
Why do some people excel while others do not when training under the same guidance, in the same dojo and using the same menu of exercises and drills? this is a question that we must all consider as both students and teachers of Karate-do. Of course there is no excuse to flat out training wrong. I am not talking about this. I am talking about those who are training to better themselves and who's approach to training is based on a strong foundation, but end up progressing at different rates. As a teacher this is troublesome and if you are the student progressing more slowly it can be very discouraging.
 
As a student I always tried to do the best I could, as I am sure every student of Karate-do does. Some of the things I did to get better were, watching the movements of my Sensei and Senpai and copied them. I listened to their advice and thought about what this advice meant to me. Since coming to Japan I have had to deal with language barriers and personal physical limitations, but my approach to learning karate-do has not changed. I continue to play an active role in my learning. Over the years I have enjoyed many successes as a result of simply being present and engaged. But, over the years teaching children of many ages I have noticed a shift from students being actively engaged in the process of learning to being passive and disengaged. Therefore, my approach to teaching has changed.


There is a word that I would like to talk about in this post. It carries a lot of weight, you might have heard before, 受け身Ukemi. When you hear this word you probably think of the various kinds of break falls in Judo and Karate. And if you did you were not wrong. But, there is another way to use this word that I feel in its definition has huge impact on the way we learn and teach. In many of the well-known martial arts this is indeed a term used to describe "the art of falling safely." However, as a linguistics terminology this same kanji means "the passive, passive voice." Moreover this is commonly used in Japan to describe such things as being on the defensive, having a passive attitude, and passiveness in general. As a school teacher I have seen this passivity in the classroom and it is very disheartening to see young people with so much potential so uninterested in their self-betterment. I stongly feel that karate-do training can help inspire students to become more inspired about learning, but it is up to the Sensei to recognize this debilitating quality in their students and guide them away from forming the habits that will keep them passive.

Monday, 31 August 2015

Focusing on the Goals not the Results Changes Everything!

I apologize for the length of time between posts. This Summer vacation has been particularly busy. In this post I would like to share with you something I experienced during this time.
 
I continue to learn so much from my experiences here in Japan, but now I am learning from people I never imagined I would when I first moved here in 2001. My 6 year old daughter continues to inspire, and amaze me (Pictured to the Left). Later in this post I will tell you something that she said that helped me put things into perspective.
 
One of the things I have been busy with this Year and in particularly this Summer has been preparing for the Chito-Ryu National Championships which was held on August 23rd in Kikuchi, Japan.

I began this year as many people do, by setting a new goal to pursue. Karate-do is a big part of my life and my involvement with the Ryu-ha and Bukatsudo keeps me very busy, but these past few years I have not had a personal goal to strive for. Therefore, I decided at the beginning of this year to compete in this tournament. Not to win, or beat anyone, or even prove myself to anyone, just to compete. These are perhaps the top three reasons why people compete in the beginning of a tournament career, but as we get older and gain more experience, inevitably, our reasons for competing change. This decision to compete was a very personal one and I considered my intentions to be pure and well placed. I simply wanted to live each day leading up to the tournament with purpose and in so doing get in better shape. Since I train everyday with the high school team I decided to focus on conditioning by running 3 kilometres as regularly as I could and spend more time stretching. As usual sometimes life got in the way and I had meetings that cut into my training time or I had to go and pick up the kids from daycare, but I was able to run almost every day, 3 days a week at the least. I felt my body change and the stretching after the run helped to reduce injury while training with the high school team. One thing I didn't do this time was focus on speed training in the last Month leading up to the competition. I will correct next time.

Now to the comment my daughter made while driving home from the Dojo the day before the competition. She asked me "what will change if I win and what will change if I loose?" This made me think. And the answer that I came up with made me laugh because the answer was obviously "nothing." Which I said to her. She then asked me to lose so that I could come home early to play with her in the park. This short conversation helped me to put things into perspective and brought a level of clarity to my training that had not been there previously. I had always felt like I needed to prove something to everyone when I competed, but really the only person I needed to prove anything to was myself. This time, with a different perspective I was able to do much better and learn a lot more. Nothing really changes with the win or the loss in the tournament itself, but rather with how we process that experience and deal with it. This time I knew that nothing would really change in my life either way; my children would still love and respect me for the man I am, my students would still be able to learn from me because I teach from my heart and I would grow as a result of the experience in a positive way because that is how I choose to process it. This lifted the pressure and burden from having to win and freed me from all the stress that comes with it.

The day of the competition I did not focus on winning at all, rather I put all of my attention toward warming up properly and giving the best performance I could give. my self talk was positive and I had confidence in my preparation knowing that all those days when I felt sore and tired but still ran the 3 K would pay off. 

I competed in individual Kata and individual Kumite -75kg (Above is a photo of Kata competition). In Chito-Ryu competing in both Kata and Kumite puts the athlete in the running for the grand champion, 総合優勝 Sougo Yusho in Japanese. I had been so focused on this when I was competing in the past that it clouded my perspective and negatively influenced my performance. This time I had no expectations of winning at 37 years of age and after a 5 year absence from competition I somewhat expected to loose early and go home to play in the park with my daughter. The results however, were far better than I had expected. By taking my focus off winning or beating anyone I was able to internalize better and focus on what I needed to do to prepare and perform. Even though I was not completely content with my performance the results were a 1st place finish in Kata and a 3rd place finish in Kumite giving me the best overall record among the individual male competitors and the grand championship.
(14th All Japan Chito-Ryu Champioships Male and female Grand Champions)

Wednesday, 15 July 2015

The Basics of Karate-do Are Not Limited to Physical Techniques

I apologize for the length of time between posts. At the beginning of this Month, while in the middle of preparing for a number of projects that I currently have on the go, my computer broke down. To make a long story short, the hard drive needed to be replaced. This means that I lost some of the files that I didn't get backed up in time and I am going to need to start some things all over again, from scratch. This reminded me of getting back to the basics in our training. 'Speed bumps' and 'hick ups', Come when you least expect them and unlike the speed bumps on the road there are rarely warning signs to help you prepare yourself for them.

It seems that no matter how hard we train we can never seem be able to completely prepare for these setbacks. I am sure you will agree that they never seem to come at the times we think they should. However, when we look back, most of us say that they came when they were needed and, as a result, had a positive impact on our training. Or at the very least, took us in a new direction we would have otherwise never gone in. I hope the same will be true in this case as well. That is to say that I hope this small set-back will help me to be able to see new possibilities with regards to the projects that I am involved in now and my preparations can move forward in new and better directions that they may have otherwise never gone in. I am beginning to think more and more that perspective is the key.

(Karate-do Written in Kanji by the Author, 2015)

Tuesday, 9 June 2015

冷静と集中 (Rei-sei and Shu-chu)

Introduction
冷静と集中 Rei-sei and Shu-chu. These are words you will begin to hear more and more often, the longer you are around Japanese practitioners of karate-do and Japanese athletes in general. You may hear them during everyday training sessions and most definitely, you will hear them during competitions, often being yelled by the coach and other athletes as advice during the match. In this post I would like to discuss the meaning and importance of these terms in our karate-do training. Personally, I feel that these terms are not limited to competition, although they are necessary for achieving high level performance. Achieving a state of rei-sei can therefore, be very beneficial to our training and in our daily lives. Furthermore, I believe these terms are closely related to and can help us to better understand such terms as 残心 Zanshin and 無心 Mushin and the metaphorical use of the term 崩す Kuzusu; to breakdown or destroy in the context of mental attitude.
 
集中力
Let's start with the more commonly used term, 集中 Shu-chu. As I said in the introduction, you will often hear this being shouted at athletic meets in Japan no matter the level of competition or the age of the competitors. This term means to concentrate or, as in the case of training and competition, paying attention to the details. When we train, we must train with purpose 目的 Moku-teki; we must have goals 目標 Moku-hyo, that set the course of our training to take us in the direction we want to go. I am sure that you are all already aware of this and set appropriate goals for yourself and your students. The problem with achieving the goals set often lies with motivation levels. How do we stay motivated to train everyday and strive for something which doesn't seem to get any closer no matter how hard we work? How do we rise above the confusion especially in the heat of battle? The answer may lay in the term Shu-chu or rather our level of shu-chu ryoku. By adding the kanji for power 力 Chikara, Riki or Ryoku we can see that our successes in training and in life are often a direct result of our ability to notice and take care of the finer points, the small stuff, the details. So how can we build up our shu-chu ryoku? There are some techniques that have been practiced in Japan for generations one of which involves a candle and time.
 
The challenge is to sit and gaze into the light of the candle without moving until the candle burns out. It is said that the famous swordsman Miyamoto Musashi often practiced this form of concentration building exercise. This exercise is not very dramatic and may seem easy to do, but I know what you are thinking, in today's fast paced world who has the time to sit and watch a candle burn? However, when we think about the time spent in front of the T.V. or the computer it would seem that we could easily make the time. So I challenge all those who wish to strengthen their concentration to light a candle and watch it burn until it goes out. You can start small and work your way up like weight training. Start with a birthday candle and then move up to a slightly bigger one and then a bigger one and your concentration is sure to increase, or so they say.
 
Like with 座禅 Za-zen, Seated Meditation, in the beginning our mind is running wild, unable to settle and relax. This is the same in the candle exercise, but the longer we practice the more control we can attain. Soon you should be able to settle your mind more quickly and eventually achieve a state of relaxation and mental clarity. Finally, it is said that you will be able to increase your levels of concentration while staying relaxed but focused even without the candle. But, in the words of Levar Burton, "you don't have to take my word for it." Give it a try and see for yourself.
 
冷静
The next level of this state of relaxed, alert concentration may be referred to as a state of Rei-sei. This is the ability to keep one's cool; Cool Judgement or a Calm Attitude. In the case of competition, this is one of the most important things needed to win. Athletes in this state can pull out the win no matter what the circumstances may be. They come from behind and find a way. They make the key play in the clinch and don't lose composure over the course of the match. Some may call this state "being in the Zone" or in a state of "flow." I have seen many times, athletes crack under pressure. In fact, I have been the athlete that cracked under pressure. I have also seen some athletes who never loose their cool and maintain this state of rei-sei throughout the competition. Using the analogy of the flame again, this time think of the temperature of the flame. What is the colour of a flame burning hot?
 
 

Thursday, 21 May 2015

守破離 (Shu Ha Ri)

A blog such as this, inevitably must deal with the topic of 守破離 Shu Ha Ri because it is a very important concept which is deeply rooted in the Japanese society and the martial arts. In this post, I would like to share with you my views on this sometimes controversial subject.

 (Shu Ha Ri written by the Author, 2014)
 
Let's begin by taking a look at each of the kanji in the aims of accurately describing the phases or stages in the process of  growth known as "Shu Ha Ri."
 
Alternate Readings of the Kanji and Interpretations  
Shu (守るMamoru) refers to 'protecting' the way as it has been passed down through the generations. We do this by doing what we are told regardless of whether we are able to recognize if it is right or wrong, at this stage we must simply following orders.
Ha (破るYaburu) refers to the stage where one can begin to think on their own. It is possible, at this stage, to begin to develop personal interpretations of the traditions and in so doing 'break away from' the tradition and begin developing one's own way of doing things.
Ri  (離れるHanareru) refers to 'distancing' oneself from the traditional way. At this stage one begins to do things their "own way."

This concept of growth was first presented by Fuhaku Kawakami Sensei and later became an important concept in the philosophy of Aikido. The following is a definition of the process given by Endo Seishiro. Aikido master Endō Seishirō shihan stated:
"It is known that, when we learn or train in something, we pass through the stages of shu, ha, and ri. These stages are explained as follows. In shu, we repeat the forms and discipline ourselves so that our bodies absorb the forms that our forebears created. We remain faithful to these forms with no deviation. Next, in the stage of ha, once we have disciplined ourselves to acquire the forms and movements, we make innovations. In this process the forms may be broken and discarded. Finally, in ri, we completely depart from the forms, open the door to creative technique, and arrive in a place where we act in accordance with what our heart/mind desires, unhindered while not overstepping laws."[1]
 (Quote taken from Wikipedia)
Shu Ha Ri as a Healthy Process of Growth
I feel that the best illustration of this process of growth can be seen in the family unit, although it can also be found in many other facets of our lives. This process can be related to growing from childhood to adulthood in the following ways: It is common knowledge that a new born baby is totally dependant on their parents or care givers. Every child begins their life dependent on the care and guidance of their family. As they grow they begin to develop their own ideas and beliefs, some may even rebel, challenge authority and disagree with rules based on values different than their own, but it is the values, ideals, philosophies, and actions of their parents and other family members early in their lives that deeply affect and help to form their beliefs. This is described in Bronfenbrenner's Eco systemic Approaches to Child Development (1979, 1989) where the "closest level to the child, socialisation within the micro-system is influenced by those who are emotionally and practically closest to the individual" including parents, care givers, and immediate family members. Eventually the child, after growing to adulthood, must move out and live their lives according to the beliefs that they value which have formed over many years as they grew within the family unit. In short they adapt these beliefs to make them their own. Finally, they create their own family and base the values that they will pass on to their children from those they have learnt and adapted along the way.

Thursday, 14 May 2015

Homeward Bound (Part 3)


(Our New Home in Kikuyo Town, Japan, 2015)
 
And now that the house is built and we are ready to make our move, we find out that there are a number of superstitions regarding moving in Japan. Some of these are related to 風水 Fu-sui, Feng-shui; "a philosophical system of harmonizing everyone with the surrounding environment."

風水
Apart from any mystical implications, Feng Shui may be simply understood as a traditional test of architectural goodness using a collection of metaphors. The test may be static or a simulation. Simulations may involve moving an imaginary person or organic creature, such as a dragon of a certain size and flexibility, through a floor plan to uncover awkward turns and cramped spaces before actual construction. This is entirely analogous to imagining how a wheelchair might pass through a building, and is a plausible exercise for architects, who are expected to have exceptional spatial visualization talents. A static test might try to measure comfort in architecture through a ‘hills and valleys’ metaphor. The big hill at your back is a metaphor for security, the open valley and stream represents air and light, and the circle of low hills in front represents both invitation to visitors and your control of your immediate environment. The various Feng Shui tenets represent a set of metaphors that suggest architectural qualities that the average human finds comfortable. (Wikipedia, 2015) 

Traditional Japanese Calendar 
other superstitions are related to the Japanese calendar which includes lucky and unlucky days to perform such things as moving into a new house or apartment and getting married. Below is an outline of the Japanese calendar adapted from wikipedia
 
English - Common Japanese - Traditional Japanese
January - 1月 Ichigatsu -  睦月Mutuski, Month of Affection
February - 2月 Nigatsu -  衣更着 Kinusaragi, Changing Clothes
March - 3月 Sangatsu -  弥生 Yayoi, New Life
April - 4月 Shigatsu -  卯月 Uzuki, the Month of the Utsugi flower
May - 5月 Gogatsu - 早苗月 Sanaetsuki, the Month of early rice planting
June - 6月 Rokugatsu - 水無月 Minazuki, the Month of Water
July - 7月 Shichigatsu - 文月 Fumizuki, the Month of Literature
August - 8月 Hachigatsu - 葉月 Hazuki, the Month of Leaves
September - 9月 Kugatsu - 長月 Nagatsuki, the Long Month
October - 10月 Jugatsu - 神無月 Kaminazuki, the Month of the gods
November - 11月 Juichigatsu - 霜月 Shimotsuki, the Month of Frost
December - 12月 Junigatsu - 師走 Shiwasu, Running Priests
 
As we can see from the traditional Japanese names for the Months of the Year, there was a very strong tie to nature and the shinto religion. Within the Japanese calendar, which is based on the Chinese calendar, there are series of lucky and unlucky days known as 六曜 Rokuyo or 六輝 Rokki because they are calculated in a series of six days. It is said that they can predict good and bad fortune according to these days and even today people plan their weddings and funerals around the Rokuyo.
 
(Calendar showing the Rokuyo written in black below the date)


Wednesday, 13 May 2015

Homeward Bound (Part 2)

棟上げ Muneage

'Raising the ridgepole' (of a roof, which completes the framework of a new house). The term equally refers to the accompanying ritual, performed by the carpenters and the owners of the house. Small monetary gifts may be given to the carpenters on this occasion. A gohei inscribed with the owner's name and the date, with an o-fuda from an appropriate shrine attached to the bottom and an o-tafuku at the top, is placed behind the rafters for protection. Offerings and symbols of purification including items such as fruit, rice and salt are made, and those present clap their hands twice and bow in the manner of devotees at a shrine. Sand from the precincts of a shrine is scattered on the ground and sake poured in the unlucky north-east (kimon; demon-gate) corner of the house. The ceremony is also known as jotosai. It is performed in addition to the jichinsai or ground-purification ceremony carried out at the start of construction which is more likely to involve a Shinto priest.
Once the foundation is set and has hardened, as seen in the photo below, a date is set for the muneage ceremony. We were actually told to choose 3 dates due to our busy schedule and high probability of rain. We confirmed February 20th as the date for the ceremony and as you can see in the following photos, the weather was kind to us that day. You can also see in the photo below the kanji 安全第一 Anzen Daiichi, this translates to 'Safety First'. There is a high level of importance placed on the safety of the workers and those visiting the site during construction and yet the over all feeling during the whole building process was very relaxed and natural.
 

(The foundation and sign which lists the construction company, our names and date of completion)
 
After the date was set, we had to prepare a few things one of the most important things was a special bottle of 酒 Sake, Japanese rice wine. We had brought bottles of sake  to the Ji Chin Sai and were told that we could use that bottle for the Muneage ceremony as well. We also had to arrange for 弁当 Bentou, Japanese boxed lunches for all of those who would be present that day including the owners of the contracting and building companies. I also had to prepare a speech to be given before we ate lunch together.
 
(Muneage Group Photo, Kikuyo, Japan Feb. 20, 2015)

Monday, 11 May 2015

Homeward Bound (Part 1)

I apologize for the length of time between posts. These last few weeks have been busy to say the least. School is getting back into full swing with the beginning of the new school year and I am getting ready to move into my new home in Kikuyo Town. This will mark another major life experience and a new stage of growth in my life here in Japan.

I never thought that I would be a land owner in a foreign country when I started this journey, but here I am with 116 坪 Tsubo (383.5 square meters or 458.6 square yards) in Japan. I know that this may seem a little off topic for this blog, but I would like to share with you the stages of building and try to explain some of the interesting customs involved with building a house in Kumamoto, Japan. We will make our move into our new home in June and therefore, I titled this post "Homeward Bound."
 
(The Land as it looked at the beginning of building, 2014)
 


The process of building a house turned out to be a very long one which began with trying to find land. The photo above is the land we decided on. It is located about 20 to 30 minutes from down town with great access in an area that is really building up and developing now. There is a train station about a 10 minute walk, with elementary and junior high schools within walking distance as well and very close to the airport.
 
I know this is not a very large property by North American standards, but by Japanese standards it is about 2 properties worth of land. I will not bore you by writing about all of the paper work and the countless stamping of 印鑑 Inkan that has been involved. I will start by introducing the first of three ceremonies that has taken place since building began.

地鎮祭 Ji Chin Sai
 

Sunday, 19 April 2015

How Can We Train Longer and Get Better Results?



(Cherry Blossoms, Kikuchi, 2015)

Introduction
Spring is the time of re-birth and, in Japan, the start of the fiscal year. This is yet another example of the strong connection with nature that can be found in Asia. What does this season offer us with regards to our training? For the senior high school division (Koutai-ren) of the Japan Karate-do Federation , Spring is the beginning of the competitive Season! With qualification tournaments all across the country for the most prestigious high school championships, the Inter-High, students all across Japan are bringing their training up to the next level. But, with such a short break between the end of the school year in March and the beginning of the school year in April, some students having as little as only a couple of days break, burn-out is a very serious concern. While addressing this concern I began thinking about how can we continue to increase the intensity of our training sessions and avoid burn-out. I would like to begin to address this concern in this post.

Perhaps one of the most important components of our training that often gets overlooked by those who are not athletes competing at a fairly highly competitive level is diet. I strongly believe that diet is the key component that enables us to continue to train at a high calibre even into later years after finishing competitive careers. There is no doubt that diet affects our quality of life, but it would seem that most of what we know about healthy eating may not be as accurate as we've been lead to believe.

As an athlete competing in Canada I often cut weight before National competitions in order to make my weight category. I could drop weight fairly easily then, but I was never thin. The closer I get to 40 the harder it is becoming to stay 'not fat'; I am not overly fat, but I am not thin either. I like Dr. Peter Attia's description and have started using it to describe my body type "fit but fat." As you can see from the pictures below taken in Canada while training intensely in 1998 and January of this year, I am not out of shape, but I could totally afford to lose some fat from around my midsection. Recently, friends of mine have started a diet that is really rocking the nutrition boat. They are getting results and suggested that I check out Attia's website http://eatingacademy.com/ I am taken by the similarities in Dr. Peter Attia's story and my own and have decided to re-assess my eating habits as a result.
 

Sunday, 22 March 2015

心技体 Shin, Gi, Tai is Needed to Form Good Habits

Introduction
One of the things that every non-Japanese Sensei struggles with at one point or another is introducing Japanese language and culture in the training sessions. Even if your dojo is mainly sports centred this is still a topic of concern, I am sure. If you are teaching children, believe me, they will pick up and remember the things you say and what you introduce to them in class and some of those things, if not the majority of them, have the potential to change their lives.

(The author teaching a small Children's class at the Chito-Ryu So-Honbu Dojo, 2014)


I believe that it is the teacher's responsibility to set their students up for long-term success. I always try to consider this when deciding what to teach and how to teach it, as I am sure you do, too. The problem is never with the students or their potential to grow and learn and succeed, the problem is in the organization and delivery of the information. Furthermore, by rushing through the material or spending too little time on it the outcomes will suffer. Remember Karate-do training is all about developing good habits. Therefore, it only makes sense that we should follow the same approach with introducing this information as we would for instilling and developing good habits in our students. In order to do this, I would recommend looking at how habits are formed and strengthened.



Habits Good & Bad Are Formed the Same Way
In the English language we only have one word to describe a regular tendency or practice, whether it be good or bad the word used is 'habit'. A simple explanation of how habits are formed and strengthened would resemble the statement made by the American philosopher and author, Mortimer J. Adler, "Habits are formed by the repetition of particular acts. They are strengthened by an increase in the number of repeated acts. Habits are also weakened or broken, and contrary habits are formed by the repetition of contrary acts." While this statement appears to make perfect sense, it is far too simplified. The process of habit forming is actually far more complex. I believe that Stephen R. Covey's definition of a habit is very interesting. In his book the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People he defines a habit as "the intersection of knowledge, skill, and desire" (p.47).


In Japanese, however, good 'habits', 習慣 Shu-kan and bad 'habits' 癖 Kuse, have completely separate vocabulary. You may have noticed that the 習 Shu in Shu-kan is the same Shu as in Renshu (練習) this character is also used with 学ぶ Manabu to describe 学習 Gaku-shu the process of Study; creating a knowledge base or physical condition through the repeated practice of specific actions. On the other hand, 癖 is always associated with 悪 Aku, also pronounced O which is Evil, Wrong, or Bad placed together with Kuse, 悪癖 Aku-heki the characters descirbe (falling into) bad habits or relying on some kind of Vice. It is also implied that it is much more difficult to form good habits than bad ones especially when talking about self-cultivation. If you look at the Confuciun or Tao teachings upon which the philosophies of Japanese martial arts and Karate-do are based on you will see that there is a great deal of importance placed on 練習 Ren-shu, practice and 鍛練 Tan-ren, Tempering, or Forging, to develop a discipline; self-cultivation. The paradox is that the desired result is a state of Naturalness and flow in one's actions and intentions. Slingerland offers a very nice quote by Kupperman (1968) in his book 無為 Effortless Action (2003):
It may seem paradoxical to speak of naturalness in a sense in which "nature is art." The paradox disappears, however, once we stop thinking of education as merely placing a veneer over our original "nature." Once we realize that education can transform what a person is, we realize that it can in a sense transform prople's natures. What becomes naturally is very much a product of training and habit. (Kupperman (1968: 180; emphasis added) 


Tuesday, 10 March 2015

Do we Practice Bun-kai Enough?

The more I practice and teach 形 Kata the stronger I feel about the importance of also practicing 分解 Bun-kai. Bunkai, is the practical application of the various 技 Waza, Techniques in the Kata. In the Chito-Ryu system any Sensei include the practice of various forms of Bun-kai to enhance students' practical knowledge of basic 基本 Kihon including such pre-arranged movements as 体さばき Tai-sabaki, which has its roots in Judo, to more complex attack and defence sequences such as Hen-shu-ho and Jun-ni-ko. Such practice also deepens our understanding of Kata. But, how many regularly practice the specific Bun-kai to the Kata?
 
By deconstructing the Kanji for 分解, as we have done in the past, we can attain a better understanding of what 'Bun-kai' really means. 分 Bun, in this context means a Portion of the Kata. This is fairly straight forward, but Bun can also have another meaning. First let's look at 解(く) Kai also pronounced Toku has multiple meanings from untie; undo; unfasten, to solve; answer; and work out (a problem). Placed together with 分 Bun used in a different context, this time 分る Wakaru, to Understand 解 Kai which is also often used with the kanji 理 (理解) to define understanding. This tells us that Bun-kai is an integral part of Kata practice that is necessary for understanding the Kata and the unique defence and counter attack techniques therein. That is to say, we cannot fully 'understand' the Kata if we do not practice the Bunkai.

 
For the past few years, I have been spending the majority of my training time with the Senior High School (SHS) athletes at Buntoku SHS where I teach English communication and coach the Karate-do team. Our training consists mostly of preparation for high level competition 競技空手 Kyo-gi Karate and, although we practice Kihon almost everyday, we inevitably end up spending more time on Kumite than Kata. Recently, in preparing the students for their upcoming 初段審査 Sho-dan Shin-sa, Black Belt Examination I have noticed that their techniques are severely lacking in some key areas. Speed and Power along with Breathing and Timing are often focused on during the training but the techniques in the Kata are still insufficient. This got me thinking, if all of these athletes are in great shape physically; flexible, strong, and young, then why can't they perform these techniques properly?

The answer, I believe can be found in their awareness and practice of Bun-kai, or in this case, the lack of Bun-kai practice.

Monday, 2 March 2015

Looking at 無為

Introduction
In this post I would like to talk in more detail about the term 無為 pronounced Mu-i in Japanese and Wu-wei in Chinese (Mandarin). This concept is often associated to the Taoist approach to living, but aspects of this concept are also very evident in our Karate Do training. At the centre of the concept is 自然 Shizen, taking a natural approach to life and the problems that one may encounter. The concept stresses that the world we live in is made up of opposites and that we need one in order to appreciate the other. This is further applied to combative strategies and theories of dealing with conflict. However,  this has also been wrongly interpreted by some as meaning "to do nothing." I have seen this approach to dealing with conflict applied in various situations here in Japan and have grown to appreciate it very much. The more I am exposed to these concepts the less I want to translate them and simply be receptive to them.

For the sake of introducing them to you, I will try to outline a few important terms in order to build a foundation of knowledge to help us understand the connections between these concepts. I would first like to point out the difference between  不 Fu and 無 Mu.

Fu is a 'negative' and is often coupled with other Kanji to imply more of a meaning of 'Not' like in the case of 不動心 Fudou-shin or 不安定 Fu-antei where Mu is more often translated as lacking the existence of ~, or simply as 'nothing'.

Shi-zen is a term that I am sure you have heard before either in the Dojo or in your Japanese cultural studies. 自然体 Shi-zen-tai, literally meaning a 'natural' state of the body's posture, is a state that we are all forcing ourselves to realize. In this lies the problem.
In order to understand Mu-i or Wu-wei we must first look at a few other terms such as 自然 Shizen mentioned above and the Asian concept of the relationship of man and nature. All of the Asian philosophies with which I am familiar place man on the same level as everything else in nature, that is to say that man is not placed higher than anything else in nature whereas in Western philosophies man is placed higher because of his ability to reason. We must consider such things when we reflect upon these concepts within the Karate Do context as well. The concept that the 敵 Teki, for example, is not some external thing or somebody that needs to be conquered, but rather something within ourselves that needs to be calmed and controlled. In order to understand this we must also take a deeper look at how the terms like 精神 Seishin, 気 Ki, and 養成 You-sei are used in the context of Karate Do.

Thursday, 19 February 2015

Re-visiting Experiences that Have Helped Me Put Things into Perspective, continued

I realize that the previous post was rather long and I only just briefly scratched the surface of the events that set my life into a whole new direction. The focus of that post was on how I got the job at Buntoku SHS which some may say was just simple luck. I argue, however, that it was not luck but rather the actions I took and the people I met and connected with along the way that set specific events in motion, the collection of these events lead me to where I am today. Living here has taught me very clearly that who we know is very important and that time is the most precious thing we have. Therefore, I try to use my time develop and strengthen good relationships with those whom I care for and respect and in doing so I have been very fortunate to have been shown a great deal of things that I otherwise would not have been exposed to.

One of the opportunities that I was able to benefit from was the 英語教育専門職コース Eigo Kyoiku Senmonsha Ko-su, MA TESOL Course at Kumamoto University (seen below). I became aware of the program through a friend I made, a Japanese Canadian who just came to the Dojo one night. He trained at a nearby Dojo in a different style but was joining our class for one reason or another. He was also an auditing student in the 法律学部 Houritsu Gakubu, Law Department at Kumamoto University and wanted to introduce me to a Professor in the department. One thing lead to another, I went to meet the Professor a couple of times and after some very interesting conversations, he introduced me to Terry Laskowski Sensei. I decided that a Master's in English Education would be beneficial for my future employment options here, but remained interested.



My friend and I both sat for 入学試験 Nyugaku Shiken, the Entrance Exam on the same day in February. Although our tests were in different departments the test format was very similar; a paper test consisting of an essay question, in my case two essay questions, and an interview before a panel of three senior Professors in the field. Those sitting for the test in the department that I applied for were all lead to the same room where our assigned seats were waiting for us with a light brown manila envelope on the desk in front of the chair. We sat and commenced the test. there was a teacher supervising the test. It was all very rigid and serious.

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Re-visiting Experiences that Have Helped Me Put Things into Perspective

I would like to move on to other topics, but before I do please let me say that I am very happy with the fact that this blog has sparked so many conversations among Karateka all over the world. Coming together and sharing ideas and experiences is exactly what I wanted this to facilitate. I have received a lot of positive feedback since I started this writing late last year. Some have even told me that this blog has been inspirational, motivating them to resume training after time off due to injury. I am humbled by the fact that this blog is speaking to so many people in such a personal way.

I do not consider myself to be an expert in any particular field, but my experiences here in Japan have lead me to pursue a career in education. My passion for Karate Do combined with my experience in the education system here has provided me with many unique opportunities to learn and grow. What I really want to do is share some of these experiences with you. Even if the posts do not help you directly, I do hope that they can facilitate meaningful conversations within the Karate Do community.


This most recent topic is continuing to teach me so much as it has caused me to research Eastern and Western philosophies more deeply. I have to admit, I feel like I have waded into very deep waters talking about 'spirituality' and I realize that, in doing so, I may become a target for criticism. But, I am confident that the ripples sent out from this topic will reach many people and the discussions that will take place as a result will be positive because my intentions are pure and I want nothing more than to learn.

It is hard to put into words, many of the things that I have and continue to experience here. As I said in my very first post, 紹介 Introduction, "Japan is the furthest a young boy from Nova Scotia can go in this world" not just geographically, but also culturally. I am doing my best to verbalize these experiences. However, on this topic especially, I don't think that my experiences carry enough weight to illustrate or define the process of 'spiritual growth' within the context of Karate Do. Therefore, I would like to ask Sensei here in Japan and around the world about their spiritual journey in Karate Do. I hope that the question is not too personal for people to talk about, although, I completely understand if it is.

In the near future, I would like to interview some of the people whom I have close relationships with here to share their views on this subject. I hope that those of you who are searching for answers will do so, too. I will not attempt to define all of these terms. I would prefer to let the professionals and etymological scholars  do that, but I will try to illustrate them with the experiences I have had here in Japan and frame the conversations more appropriately in future posts.

Recently, I found a link to an old TV program by Alan Watts, considered by some to be an authority on Eastern and Western Philosophies. In this particular program, he is talking about the Zen Buddhist term the often translated as the "void." But, he says something that I think mirrors the point that I am trying to make in the discussion on spiritual growth. He says, "When trying to explain things like this, the funny thing is, it can't be explained because it has to be felt. Because it is a transformation of one's basic feeling, one's basic consciousness of life" (1959). While I don't agree with some of the things he says in this program and it is quite obvious by the way he handles the 刀 Katana, Sword that he has no martial training, I still feel that he articulates some very important points well and that the program is worth a viewing.

Furthermore, I feel like I am experiencing similar transformations to those of which he speaks. Living in Japan has caused me to monitor my own thoughts and actions to a much higher degree than that which we would do while we are residing within our native culture. The process of residing outside of our native environment, forces us to examine and scrutinize more carefully what thought processes we may be 'privileging'. Thought processes that may be inappropriate remnants that we are bringing from our native culture paradigms, therefore, become much more obvious. This awareness alters our state of consciousness causing changes in our fundamental beliefs. Please take a look at the link to Alan Watts if you are interested.
 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1PFxAiVwfis

Thursday, 5 February 2015

Health Benefits of Karate Do Training (Continued) 心 Mind, 体 Body, (人の) 精神 Spirit

(Photo taken from meditationcommunity.wordpress.com )

Mind, Body, and Spirit
Shin, Mind, 体 Tai, Body and 精神 Seishin, Spirit these are the three things that I have felt grow as I have continued my Karate Do training from a young boy of 10 through adolescence and into adulthood. In this post I would like to continue to explain what I mean by Mind, Body, and Spirit. As you read these posts, please try to apply the techniques that we have learned to deepen our understanding of the Kanji presented and contemplate your own interpretation relating to your unique situation and experiences.
 
As I stated at the end of my last post:
I would like to talk more about the mind and body connection as well as address a statement I made when I started this series that Karate Do can offer us a "map" or an outline to healthy living in three main areas: Physical, Mental, and Spiritual. I realize that this is a very heavy statement to make and I am aware that I need to back it up with fact. I am working on how to verbalize the experiences I have had and the feelings they have caused within me. Both the experiences and the feelings shaped my growth, as I am sure they have shaped yours.
 
The above paragraph is how I ended my last post, as you may remember. Since then I have been really thinking specifically about how to provide you with an adequate definition of the term 'Spiritual' as this seems to be the most personal and the hardest to define. Attwood & Attwood (2014) discuss spiritualism in their book Your Hidden Riches and they also provide a definition for the term spiritual that, I feel, can be applied to how I intended to use it in the Karate Do context. They state that, "Every accomplishment requires steps that are physical, mental, and, yes, spiritual (defining spiritual as whatever you are most devoted to and truly revere)" (p. 82). Indeed our Karate Do journey is defined by our accomplishments; As practitioners of Karate Do, the inner journey that we are on is one that reveals more to us with each step we take and it is a very personal journey indeed. It requires great physical and mental effort to pursue our training goals, but we still thirst for more, so much so that we "devote" ourselves to our training in ways that make others sometimes shake their heads. But, we keep going to the Dojo and submit ourselves to the sweat and the pain and the fatigue because we all believe, deep down in our souls, that we are becoming better people on multiple planes through our training. We actually, as my Sensei, Michael Delaney pointed out on a number of occasions, "humble ourselves to our training" and when we reach this point, I believe, spiritual growth occurs. I further believe that we all have the potential to accomplish our life goals through our studies and training in Karate Do the physical and mental tools that we possess become evident to us and as we continue our training these tools become polished and sharpened.

Sunday, 1 February 2015

Health Benefits of Karate Do Training (Continued) 脇閉め (Waki Shime)

I ended the last post rather abruptly after a very brief introduction to a term that really deserves its own blog post, 脇閉め Waki Shime, the closing or contracting of specific muscles on the side of the body located around the armpit and shoulder region. This term is often used in Karate Do training. If you come to Japan and train for any length of time I am sure you will hear Sensei yell this to their students reminding them to focus on this throughout whatever movements they are performing whether it be during 形 Kata Practice or 組手 Kumite Practice, Waki Shime is a very important part of Karate Do technique. So, let me pick up from where we left off, below is the information that I gave you at the end of my last post regarding the radicals of the Kanji:

脇閉め Waki Shime
I would like to take a quick look at the term Waki Shime as it is a very important aspect of Karate Do training and often a central point of advice given by many Senseii all  over the world. Let's start by taking a closer look at the kanji and break it down in order to build our deeper understanding of the components of Waki I am of the opinion that it means a lot more than just armpit. If we look at the radicals of this Kanji separately we can see it in a new light. Below is a short definition taken from:
that you can find online with a simple search.

Radicals in Kanji
A radical (bushu) is a common sub-element found in different kanji characters. Every kanji has a radical or a radical itself can be a kanji. Radicals express the general nature of the kanji characters. A radical is the part of the kanji character that gives you a clue to its origin, group, meaning or pronunciation. Many kanji dictionaries organize characters by their radicals. There are 214 radicals. (About.com, Japanese Language)
 
There is a great website that lists all of these radicals and their meanings, please check out http://kanjialive.com/214-traditional-kanji-radicals/ if you are interested in learning more. It may also be a good idea to reference this site and compare the Kanji that you are stuying in order to deconstruct them and learn more about their complex meaning. Below are the general groups of radicals and where they are located within the Kanji character:
Radicals are roughly divided into seven groups (hen, tsukuri, kanmuri, ashi, tare, nyou, and kamae) by their positions.
hen tsukuri kanmuri ashi
tare nyou kamae
                                                                                                            (About.com, Japanese Language)

In the case of 脇 Waki, we can see there is the radical of 月 located in the region of the 扁 Hen area of the Character located on the left hand side of the character and three 力 grouped together in the 旁 Tsukuri area which is also referred to as "the body" of the Character.

Taking a Closer look 
At first glance one may assume that the 月扁 Tsuki Hen, in Waki is Moon or Month but, in fact this radical has ties to Meat and Flesh and isn't even Tsuki Hen at all but rather 肉月(にくづき) Niku-tsuki this radical can be found in many Kanji dealing with or related to the body and parts of the body such as 肩 Kata, Shoulder, 腰 Koshi, Waist, 腹 Hara, Abdomen, etc. The 旁 Tsukuri portion of this kanji is fairly straight forward, it means a collection of power; individual areas of power on the human body brought together to create a unified power, in this case for the purpose of striking. The use of three individual characters brought together to form one Kanji can also be seen in the examples of 森 Mori, three trees brought together to represent a Forest. or 口 Kuchi, Mouth brought together to represent an Article or Goods. So, we can see that by deconstructing the Kanji and looking at the radicals individually, we can see the picture more clearly. Please do this in your own research when you come across the various Kanji of importance.

Now, getting back to Waki Shime and the message therein. Developing true power through combining specific areas of strength through natural body movement facilitated by healthy contracting and extending of muscle groups in sequence creating a wave of power that runs through the body and can be delivered in a strike of the hands or feet that all depends upon the quality of our Waki Shime and our understanding of our own bodies.

Sunday, 25 January 2015

Health Benefits of Karate Do Training (Continued)

In a previous post, I presented some of the health benefits of Karate Do Training. The blog may have seemed a little bit one sided due to the fact that I only focused on the positive impacts of Karate Do training. Furthermore, I had to end the blog before addressing the Mental and Spiritual benefits that I stated I would. In this post I would like to get back to this thread, but before doing so I would like to clarify one important point regarding the information I provided in that post 'Health Benefits of Karate Do Training'. The information I provided was taken from a book that Chitose Tsuyoshi Sensei, the First Generation Soke and founder of Chito-Ryu Karate Do (O Sensei) wrote, "Kenpo Karate-do Universal Art of Self-Defense." He wrote this book in the late 1940s (1946 or 1947) eventhough it was translated into English by Christopher Johnston and published in 2000 by Shindokan International. (the Cover of this book is pictured below)
 
Training approaches have changed a great deal since this book was written and since it was published. The audience for which the book was intended must also be considered when we read it. It was intended for Japanese Nationals living in post WWII Japan. Many were malnourished and in poor physical health. This book was expressing the benefits of Karate Do training as a way to increase the general physical health of Japan as is stated in three very important sentences in The Purpose of Studying Karate-do where O Sensei writes, "In order to re-build the New Japan, we must first ensure that we are in good health. To begin with, to perform sound physical exercise is to study Karate-do. Initially a way to protect ourselves, Karate-do is the most complete form of physical exercise" (p. 90).

While sports training methods have grown in leaps and bounds in the 70 years since the end of WWII, the health benefits of continued exercise such as the practice of martial arts which now often includes various forms of cross training such as running and other strength training, speaks for itself. There are, however, some things that we do need to be careful of when teaching or training specific 基本 Kihon, Basics and 技 Waza, Techniques, namely the danger of injuring our joints due to the application of stress caused by unnatural twisting, torquing, and pressure. It should be noted that these injuries are not caused by the technique itself but rather by our misunderstanding of how it should be practiced. There is nothing unhealthy about Karate Do,  but the limits of our understanding often lead to unhealthy practice habits. I am no exception. I have had my fair share of injuries which resulted due to my limited understanding. However, since studying Japanese Language and Culture and after coming to Japan and developing relationships with various Karate Do Sensei my understanding has increased and my injuries have reduced in number and severity. I would have to say that only recently have I begun to practice at a level that I feel is indeed increasing my health without a high risk of injury to my joints. It took me almost 25 years to understand, but in the past 2 years I really feel that my Karate Do has changed for the better namely due to deeper understanding in two major areas. I would like to tell you about them. The first area will be the focus of this post and the second I will write in a following post. The first area deals with a more natural use of muscle combinations, focusing on contraction, stretch, and a state in between which may be referred to as neutral, natural, or relaxed.
 
Muscle Use
During my time training in Japan I have grown and and deepened my knowledge base in many ways, all of which have impacted the way I approach my personal training. One of the major epiphanies I had was the realization of how to use the muscle groups in my upper body, namely my shoulders (Trapezius) and Lats (Laissimus Dorsi) in a more natural working combination through out the movements of 基本 Kihon and 形 Kata (See photo below for muscle groups discussed).