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Wednesday, 7 December 2016

Looking More Deeply Can Help Us to Let Go

年末 Nenmatsu, the end of the Year, is a very busy time in Japan and stressful, too. But, the stress that people are feeling usually has little to do with Christmas shopping or other Christmas related stress that you may be familiar with at this time of the year. In fact, if Christmas doesn't fall on a weekend it is business as usual in Japan. The following photos are of a white board in one of the classrooms of the senior high school where I teach in Kumamoto City, Japan. Written on the board is the schedule for December. Do you notice anything, or rather the lack of anything?

(Photos taken by the Author, shows 課外 Kagai, Extra curricular lessons run from the 21st to the 28th with a 休み Yasumi, one day Break on the 25th. No mention of Christmas other than the fact that it is written in Green and Red)


People here are too busy, it seems, to celebrate Christmas the way a North American would expect. Busy with what you ask? Well, the list is long and it depends on where you are in life. If you are a student, the end of the year is time for exams; either 2nd semester mid-terms (because the academic year begins in March and ends in February), or preparing for the dreaded university entrance exams known as the センター試験 Senta (Centre) Shiken. If you are working, 社会人 Shakai jin, it is income tax time! There are also many year end meetings. The list goes on, but I will save you the burden of having to read through it. I just want to stress that, 'Fun, fun, Happy Holidays', doesn't really come to mind when reading through a list of responsibilities of Japanese people at this time of year. There is also a kind of 'mad dash' to get everything done in time for the New Year, 新年 Shin nen so that a relaxing, お正月O Shou gatsu, may be spent. I have talked about my O Shou gatsu experiences in previous posts. I have been saddened by this disattachment from the Christmas that I experienced as a child growing up in Canada. However, there is something special about this time of year in Japan and, personally, it has helped me through some pretty tough times and positively contributed to my growth and development in karate-do as well as the quality of my life in general. I am talking of the custom of 忘年 Bou Nen. Simply translated this means "forgetting the hardships of the old year" (JED-Japanese English Dictionary-Google Play, 2016). But, there is nothing simple about letting go of past hardships. I would bet that many of you reading this are still holding on to things from years past that are still affecting you negatively. If not for this custom of Bou Nen, I would be carrying around a lot more hardships with me, this I can say with confidence. It is not an easy thing to do, but necessary things in physical and emotional growth never are.


The facade of Bou Nen is extensive drinking parties with co-workers, friends, and maybe even family and extended family members, i.e. your community.

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But, the drinking parties are merely a facilitator to something much deeper; a time to reflect, 反省 Hansei. This is the time when you take to reflect upon and address all of the burdens and stresses of the year, done on to you and caused by you, inflicted on those within your community in the aims of letting go, forgiving, and moving on! For me, this has played a significant role in deepening my understanding of my place here in Japan.


It is a process that is very personal and seldom talked about and therefore, may seem just like another party where the total aim for some seems to be just to get drunk. This may be the case for some, but for others it is yet another opportunity for deep intrinsic growth. I like to think of my life's journey as if I am on a path and there are many roads set out before me, my growth and development, my successes and failures are all determined by which path I choose to take; which road I go down and how far I follow it before venturing down another. I'm sure you've heard analogies like this before, even the title of this blog hints, very loudly, to this analogy. The term 空手道 Karate-do further illustrates this frame of thought. So, during the time of extensive drinking parties and all the stress surrounding this time of year, what path, what road will you go down? And for how long will you follow it?

Questions like the ones above, we must ask ourselves whenever we set out on another one of our life's journies. But, at this time of year, according to Bou Nen custom, we are urged to double check what we are carrying in our 'packs', dare I use the metaphor. We have to assess what we really need and what is simply weighing us down, physically and emotionally. It is at this time that we can let go of all that we no longer need. Perhaps it served its purpose or maybe it has been holding us down for way too long. Either way my advice to you is the same advice that I try to follow, during the Bou nen and before the Shin nen, let it go.

(Photo retrieved from, http://www.spytx.com/)

I'll leave you with this final thought. Continuing with the metaphor of the 'empty cup' (this time I used the image of a 'back pack', but it is the same metaphor) If we do not let go of the things that we no longer need, the things that are only taking up valuable space within ourselves, we will have no room to successfully tackle the new year's resolutions that we intend to make!





Monday, 21 November 2016

No Hacks in Karate Only Responsibility

In this post I would like to have a dialogue regarding some of the things that have been on my mind lately. As I unpack my thoughts, I aim to shed some new light on some deeper concepts, specifically不動心 Fudoshin; an immovable spirit and 鍛錬 Tanren; forging, disciplining, training. This new perspective may also provide further insight to other important concepts which I have discussed in earlier posts. These concepts are often the topic of debate when trying to find a definition that adequately describes them in English. As we grow our perspective changes allowing us to see things in a different light. Therefore, revisiting concepts such as the ones discussed in this post is important as it may help us to better understand them.


The more I consider various philosophical concepts on my journey in karate-do, the more I see that everything is connected; All of the deeply rooted principles of karate-do are grounded in the human condition. However, in this modern world where everything is getting faster and faster the slower pace of growth and development in the martial arts may seem discouraging to younger practitioners. Contrary to what is being sold to us on the Internet, there are no "shortcuts" or "hacks" in karate-do. It takes time to process our experiences. I believe that our experiences are what shape us. In this frame of mind, it may be said that our karate shapes who we are, but I offer to this discussion that who we are is what is shaping our karate. This kind of growth and development cannot be uploaded into us like Neo in the Matrix.


If we try to approach our karate training by looking for shortcuts, the karate that we develop will be hollow and our character flawed. I suggest that, instead of looking for quick fixes, we pay careful attention to the details in each and every experience both in and out of the dojo. In order to do this there are some things that we can do to change our perspective and get the most out of our experiences. First, I strongly feel that we must understand that there is no "one true style of karate-do."(A statement of false pride that I have often heard uttered by instructors in various Ryu ha and Kai ha referring to their style as the "one true style of karate) No one style is any better or worse than any other. There is only karate-do and our personal interpretation of the karate shown to us based on our individual experiences. So, I say, respect all styles, cross the boundaries, live in the moment and get as much as you can from each and every experience.

As I continue down this path, I consider that there are some things that only come with age, but adulthood is not one of them. Physical maturity is often mistaken for adulthood. However, in my opinion, emotional maturity is what truly displays whether or not someone is an 'adult'. There is one specific trait that displays emotional maturity in someone and it all begins with taking responsibility. By taking responsibility in three major areas of our lives we will grow more emotionally mature and assume the level of adulthood that I am talking about. the following three areas are the most important areas to take control of in order to effectively contribute to personal growth, they are:
Taking responsibility of our own Thoughts
Taking responsibility of our own Feelings
Taking responsibility of our own Actions
I first heard about this concept of taking responsibility of our thoughts, feelings, and actions in Jack Canfield's Success Principles and this concept changed everything for me. The moment I took responsibility of these three things in my life everything changed. This is the key to introspective reflection because with out taking responsibility of these we will always have the potential to be manipulated by outside forces. Consider this concept for a moment and you will see clearly that our thoughts are controlled by our feelings and our actions are controlled by our thoughts. In short, taking responsibility of our thoughts, feelings, and actions is the key to 不動心 Fudoshin.


Often translated as, "an immovable spirit" as mentioned above. This translation is limiting and  leads to a serious misunderstanding implying a steadfastness or a rigidity that is not  only limiting, but also misleading.  The following has been built upon, taken from a previous post from this blog titled "不動心 (Fudoshin) an Immovable Spirit is Not about Not Moving at all."
The first kanjiFu also pronounced as Bu in Japanese is where some of the confusion may lay with regards to this concept as a whole. Adding Fu to another kanji, such as 合格 Goukaku Success, to pass (e.g. exam) would change the meaning to the opposite; 不合格 Fugoukaku (examination) failure, rejection. In this case of Fudoshin the kanjiFu is placed in front of  動 Do; Ugo (ku), which means to Move (physically) and changes the meaning to a negative or the opposite, as is the rule, becoming 不動 Fudo Immobility, Steadfastness. However, there is another perhaps more appropriate translation for the second 動く Ugoku which is to Stir, Change, or Move (emotionally), it may also be translated as Confusion. This is very important to note in this context because the third kanji; 心 Kokoro (Shin), suggests that  the translation of to be 'moved' or 'stirred'; affected or influenced by something seems to be more appropriate. You can see that it is in this context that Fudo should be interpreted in this way. By deconstructing the three kanji and understanding how they work together we can see that Fudoshin may be interpreted to mean 'to be unmoved by external influences'. Furthermore, the 心 Koko/Shin is often closely related to and interconnected with 気 Ki, life's energy which is always moving as it vibrates. Sometimes the vibrations make us happy, at peace, and content, but other times it can move us in negative ways, if we let it, leading to pain, anger, depression, and some even argue physical illness. Developing one's immovable spirit is simply another way to suggest that one not be moved in the wrong or negative (unhealthy) way by the ki which is all around and within us. It is in this context that I consider thoughts and feelings within us moving us to action. If we allow someone else to affect us so deeply as to change our feelings about something affecting our thoughts and changing our actions we are giving up such an important innate power and this is the ultimate of sacrifices. I believe that this is why this is such an important concept of the martial arts and karate-do training; a training method which teaches, above all else, self control.

This training in self control is referred to as 鍛錬 Tanren; forging, disciplining, and training. This, too is often misunderstood as having to be a hard external disciplinary training experience. however, the true tanren occurs within us and begins with taking control of the emotions that move us, the ability to remain cool-headed even in the most stressful of circumstances. The human, physical approach to achieving this state of mind may be through repeated sessions of gruelling training experiences, but the state will never be achieved until something clicks within us. This thing that clicks is not physical, it is very emotional and constitutes a paradigm shift of perspective.


We use the word mastery when we discuss the growth of martial artists, i.e., he practised hard and became a master in that karate style. Here I am suggesting that the growth in karate-do is something more natural than this, not forced rather realised, developed not externally, but rather internally. Very similar to the growth of a child to adulthood.


So, I say to you, there are no shortcuts or hacks only intrinsic epiphanies on this path that we call karate-do. We shouldn't be looking around for the latest app or hack to speed up the process, but rather look within ourselves to release the limits that we are setting upon ourselves, to live fully and experience deeply each moment and grow...

Thank you for reading and for your continued support of this blog. I apologise for taking so long between posts. This has been a very difficult year in Japan and around the world. A year of Tanren  that I am sure will lead to profound growth within humanity.

Thursday, 22 September 2016

Power Spot Kata Challenge for Cancer Research

Prologue
In this post I would like to share with you something that I have recently been inspired to do. Let me start by telling you how I became inspired.

I tested for the 全日本空手道連盟, All Japan Karaqte-do Federation (JKF) 四段 4th Dan over the summer vacation at the 全日本空手道指導者研修会 All Japan Karate-do Instructors' Training Course held at the 空手道会館 Karate-do Training Hall in Tokyo. This is the headquarters for the Japanese Karate-do organization recognized under the World Karate Federation (WKF).


(公益財団法人 全日本空手道連盟 日本空手道会館, Photo retreived from http://www.jkf.ne.jp/map, 2016)


In preparation for this grading I spent a lot of time practicing 形 Kata. However, since the style of Karate-do that I practice, Chito-Ryu Karate-do, is not a recognized afiliate of the JKF I had to perform a different style's kata. I chose to perform 剛柔流の形 Kata from the Goju-Ryu style as, in my opinion, the stances and breathing components of this style are most similar to Chito-Ryu.


I had to perform two kata for the test. One 指定形 Shitei Kata, this is a kata from the list of designated kata recognized to represent the 4 major styles affiliated with the JKF; 松濤館 Shotokan (sometimes referred to as Shotokan-Ryu in Japan), 剛柔 Goju (Goju-Ryu and Goju-Kai), 和道 Wado (Wado-Ryu and Wado-Kai), and 糸東 Shito (Shito-Ryu and Shito-Kai). From this list I chose to perform セイパイ Seipai, a well recognized Goju kata frequently performed in competitions all over the world. The second kata was, 得意形 Tokui Kata this can be translated as a Specialty Kata. The kata does not have to be performed exactly in accordance to the Shitei guidelines, but it still needs to be a kata from one of the affiliated styles. I chose to perform 制引戦 Seiyunchin, also a Goju style kata not to be mistaken for the similar Shito kata Seinchin.

(Seiyunchin, performed by Morio Higaona Sensei, uploaded to youtube.com Sept. 3, 2009)

To help me get a better feel for these kata I wanted to see them performed by someone with a similar body type as myself. I asked my friend Richard (Ricky) Kaminski, an Australian Goju practitioner living in Fukui Prefecture (Pictured below) to film himself doing Seipai and send me a copy to help me. He abliged and it was this video that inspired me to begin a much larger project.
(The Author and Richard Kaminski Sensei, Okayama Momotaro Hai, 2013)

I will include the video of Kaminski Sensei doing Seipai later in this post. But, first let me tell you more about this project that I want to start. I will need the support of the Karate World to make it a success. I truly believe that this project can be something that brigns us together, crossing the boundaries of Ryu-ha and Kai-ha for something much bigger; Humanity. I will outline the project below and include two video examples.

Outline
I am assuming that you have heard of the "Ice Bucket Challenge" to raise awareness of ALS and the "22 Pushup Challenge" where you do 22 pushups  for 22 days  to promote awareness for veteran suicide prevention and honor military service members and veterans. Well I am proposing something similar. I would like to start a Power Spot Kata Challenge and nominate people around the world to film themselves performing their favorate Kata in a place that is special to them (a Power Spot). You can perform the kata in your Gi or in sweats, that doesn't matter. This is not a tournament and I ask that the kata not be critiqued by the public. This is not about that. It is about bringing people who love Karate-do together in a common goal. I would like to use this project to raise awareness for cancer research.

I have lost 4 people very close to me to cancer, two of whom were my Karate-do Sensei; Sensei Micheal Delaney, whom I have written about in previous posts. He was like a father to me in many ways and guided my Karate-do training since I began practicing. And, Sensei Robert (Bob) Gascoigne Who played a big part in my training from around the time of 2nd and 1st Kyu. (Both are pictured below). I have been quoted as saying that these two men were "the Heart and Strength" of the Atlantic Karate Club, where I began my karate journey.

(Micheal Delaney Sensei and Robert Gascoigne Sensei, Halifax, NS, Canada, 1990s)

What to Do
I ask that you film your kata and post it to youtube.com or facebook or some mainstream social media site. Please include a link to this blog (understanding-karatedo.blogspot.jp) and any information about cancer research foundations in your area. Of course, information on ways to donate to cancer research and donations to cancer research would also be great, but I am in no way soliciting money from you. Also, please nominate others to do the same.

I nominate...
To start this off, I nominate anyone and everyone who was taught by or who had a friendship with Delaney Sensei and Gascoigne Sensei.

Example Videos
Video 1 - Chito-Ryu Shihohai performed by the author at the Temple of Heaven, Bejing, China, 2014. The kata begins at 1:46 into the video. Video 2 - Goju Seipai performed by Kaminski Sensei in Fukui Prefecture, Japan, 2016.

Video 1

(Waterfield Shi ho hai, Bejing, China, 2014)

Video 2
  video
(Kaminski Seipai, Fukui, Japan, 2016)

Links to Cancer Societies
the Canadian Cancer Society

Japanese Cancer Association

Japan Cancer Society



Monday, 18 July 2016

My Interpretation of 忍

In this post I would like to share with you what the kanji 忍 Nin; Shinobu means to me. This is a very important kanji for me and it holds a special place in the Asian martial arts philosophies. It can be seen hung in many Dojo all over the world, but do you know why it is hung? If you could see this kanji the way I do, I believe it would become, not only clear why it is hung in dojo, but also very inspirational and looking at it while training may even help you to push yourself a little harder resulting in more positive results.


I would also like to share with you the explanation that my Sensei, Micheal S. Delaney, gave me regarding 忍 when I was still a young athlete training at the Atlantic karate Club (AKC) in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada. My Snesei gave me many gifts while I was training under him and him introducing me to this kanji profoundly changed the way I face the challenges in my life and deepened my understanding of the true purpose of my karate-do training.


(Nin written by the Author, 2015)


忍 (Nin; Shinobu) Part of Something Greater
This Kanji can be found in many places one such place is the Chito-Ryu Karate-do Showa; a motivational poem written by the First Generation Soke, one of the pioneers of Okinawan Te who contributed to the spread of Karate-do from Okinawa to mainland Japan and world-wide, and Founder of the Chito-Ryu style, Dr. Chitose Tsuyoshi. This poem is recited at the end of training in multiple languages all over the world. I wrote an in-depth, two part analytical post on this earlier. (for more information on the Chito-Ryu Showa, please see "Analysis of the Showa Part 1 and 2")


In this post I would just like to point out that both the kanji for Peace 和 Wa and this kanji 忍 Nin are found in the Showa and represent a much deeper dynamic that can be found in most, if not all, Asian philosophies; Namely that of the polarities of such things as hard and soft, young and old, good and evil, yin and yang which are all polar opposites to one another, but are actually just parts of the same thing. Although they are found at the opposite ends, they are connected to each other and in their connection they are part of the same whole, the 道; what the Chinese philosophies refer to as the Tao or Dao and the Japanese reading of this same kanji is Michi or Do; the Way of nature, put very simply. This concept can also be found in this one kanji. Although it is often translated as 'perseverance', I believe there is a deeper meaning which is much more profound than to simply persevere. Let me try to explain why I feel this way. I would like to start by sharing with you something I wrote in Japanese calligraphy a few years ago.
(Please see the photo below)


(Japanese Brush and Pen Calligraphy combination by the Author, 2010)

Thursday, 16 June 2016

How to Improve Our Karate

I apologise for the lack of new material on this blog over the past few Months. I could write an elaborate excuse as to why I haven't posted anything, but I don't want to be dishonest with my readers. The truth is I have not been inspired to write over these past few Months. I have been in a bit of a slump and my training and quality of life was affected by this slump. I sat down at my computer quite a few times, going back over the older unpublished posts in hopes that revisiting a topic would inspire me to begin writing again. I even began re-writing some of those older posts, but the feeling just wasn't there and after a few attempts I simply wasn't satisfied with the content enough to press the publish button and put it out there. Then, I finally got fed up with the way things were and decided to make some changes in my life style. I was looking for that ever illusive spark of inspiration as well, but I knew what I really needed to do was get in better shape.

So, in this article I'm going to share with you the number one thing that I think can improve our karate. The inspiration to write this article hit me rather suddenly, but the information I am sharing with you and my opinions on this topic were not formed lightly or quickly. It has taken me years, even decades of research and trial and error.

that said, now let's get right into it. The advice I am going to give you is simple in nature and straight forward, but realising this changes everything no matter what level you are at in your training. If you really want to improve your karate, I mean if you are really serious about taking your karate to the next level, no matter what that next level may be, my advice is now the same across the board. Here it is: To make our Karate Better, we have to get into better shape physically. Simple, right! Nothing new here. Well, not really. I'd like to share with you what I am doing to get into better shape. I hope that the information I share with you here can help you get in better shape, too and take your karate training to the next level.

Did you ever notice in your personal training that at some point, the older you get, the impact of the exercises that you are doing result in one of two things if you continue to go at the same intensity or try to increase the intensity. They result in either injury or exhaustion. After a certain point the impact of the same exercises on our body begins to decrease. Our bodies adjust as they become accustomed to the movements and our physical improvement begins to slow. In order to progress at this point we need to change things up. There are countless options to choose from and a good Sensei will, upon noticing this stagnation in their students, do just that and change the pace and or the routine. This is great and will stimulate the young healthy bodies nicely. But, what about the older non-athletic students? At this point the potential for the above mentioned outcomes; injury and rapid loss of energy are surely to occur. Therefore, it is also at this point when the amount of breaks taken by the older non-athletic students begins to increase or they assume the role of supervisor to the younger athletic students. they observe such things as the form of the younger fitter students as they go through these intense drills. I cannot speak for every Dojo, of course, but I bet that this is a common condition in most. At some point in each training session the senior students step back rather than jump in and perform the high intensity drills.

So, my advice is to take the time and put in the work outside of the Dojo to get into better shape, improve our health so that we can better enjoy the benefits of Dojo training. By doing so I am confident that we can all improve our quality of Karate and continue to make gains in the Dojo.


What I am doing to get into better shape
I am not a registered nutritionist, but I have tried my fair share of popular and crazy diets especially when I was competing. I wrote about this in a previous post (How Can We Train Longer and Get Better Results?). I need to make it perfectly clear that I didn't like any of them! And almost every time I was dieting I lost energy, strength, and stamina along with the weight resulting in poorer performance rather than better. Diets are not fun and they can be dangerous if you are not sure about what you are doing. I strongly suggest that you research this thoroughly before taking action. Consulting a nutritionist would be ideal, but most of us don't have the money or time to do so. We just look for what we want to see and hear on the Internet. The important thing to have is experience that can help you recognise the garbage from the gems of information out there. There is a lot to choose from and most of it is garbage. That is why I am so excited about finding the gems that I did by coming across the information I am going to share with you today.

I used to run everyday. I got slightly leaner, but never had the thin muscular physique I was looking for. Leading up to last Year's Chito-Ryu Karate-do National Championships I ran a lot! So much that my Achilles tendons began to swell and hurt about two weeks before the tournament. I reduced my running time, but was still sore the day of competition. I have not trained intensly after that championships until about 1 Month ago when I changed my whole approach to training. That is what I'm going to share with you now.
I am 38 years old and have a full-time job as a high school teacher, not as active as I used to be and after the age of 35 I noticed drastic changes in my body beginning to take place. My shape and condition has gotten progressively worse and worse during this time and it is harder and harder to maintain a good physique. Although I could still keep up with the high school training in the first year or two after my 35th birthday, it got progressively harder to keep up. A couple of years ago I began taking more breaks because a couple of years before that my injuries began to increase. Just as I wrote in the beginning of this post.

This year I finally reached my breaking point where I new that I had to make some real life changes in order to continue to enjoy my karate training. Coincidentally, this happened after the Kumamoto earthquake. It shook up more than just the land and buildings, it caused us to take pause and reassess the things that we hold dear. Many here reassessed their health as I did. This is when I began seriously looking at how to loose weight, effective diets, and training programs that would get me lean but allow me to maintain and even improve my muscle strength.

About a Month ago I changed my eating habits and began practising intermittent fasting as well as lifting weights 3 to 4 times a week. After just 3 weeks I have began to see noticeable changes in my body physique, energy levels, motivation, flexibility, and strength. My physique is changing and it is not hindering my karate. It is actually improving it. Recently I practised Kata for the first time since beginning this new routine and it felt Great!

Friday, 29 April 2016

Reflection on My Changing Perspective

Karate-do training does more than just strengthen our bodies, over the years of conditioning we also develop a spirit that, I believe, sets us apart from other athletes and the common person. When our spirit is put to the test, a true Karate-ka will never back down and never give up! But, they will also always act with compassion in their hearts and do what is just. Silvester Stallone said in 'Rocky the Final', "It's not about how hard you can hit, it's about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward, how much you can take and keep moving forward." Well on the night of April 14th and in the very early hours of the16th, Kumamoto was hit hard by a series of earthquakes that shook us off balance. We were hit hard, but we are still moving forward!

Perhaps it is the way karate-do is practiced; intentionally putting ourselves in uncomfortable positions and repeating difficult tasks again and again. Or maybe it is the underlining message that is constantly being programmed into our soul every time we put on our gi, tie our obi, and step onto the training floor; that no matter how hard the challenge is before us, whether physical or mental, we shall not fail. It is written in the last verse of the Chito-Ryu Showa; 和と忍力必達 Translated by many as "with Peace and Perseverance we shall reach our goal." I prefer to consider this line to mean through peace and perseverance Strength will certainly come. That is to say, that the way we handle the troubles in this life must come from a place of peace in our hearts and through our persevering to overcome these struggles we attain a strength that develops us, changing us into someone better. If we live our lives in this fashion, with what I like to call a quiet strength, then everything we will ever need to get through any dilemma, no matter how big or small, will already be inside of us and we will succeed in reaching far more than just our goals. I believe that we can attain a higher quality of being. This theory is being tested in the Kumamoto Karate-do community now.

"On April 14th, 2016 at 9:26 pm (Local Time), a strong earthquake (Magnitude 6.5) occurred in the Kumamoto area of Kyushu, followed by the second one (Magnitude 7.3) on April 16th, 2016 at 1:25 am. (Japan National Tourism Organisation Updated: April 26, 2016, 09:00 JST)" Later these quakes were upgraded to magnitude 7 and 7.3.


There are ongoing advisory warnings, but people are beginning to re-build. "Advisory from Japan Meteorological Agency: Seismic activity in the Kumamoto prefecture and Oita prefecture areas in Kyushu is still ongoing. There is concern about buildings and houses collapsing, and landslides may occur. Remain aware of your surroundings and exercise caution regarding earthquakes as well as rainy weather, as the combination can be hazardous. (April 26, 2016)"

Just how bad was Kumamoto hit? Please check out this link to see the damage in the Aso area:
http://www.asahi.com/special/kumamoto-earthquake/3d/
and a video by IDRO Japan of a walk through Mashiki Town, both of these sites are only about a 15 to 20 min. drive from where I built my house in Kikuyo Town. Aso is to the East of me and Mashiki is to the South. Mashiki Town was the epicentre of the first quake :
https://www.facebook.com/118317718248118/videos/1066955236717690/
 
Like many, I'm still trying to process this. I'm not sure I have the words yet to describe my feelings, but I can tell you that since this my perspective has changed. I have believed for some time that ego and unhealthy pride should have no place in the martial arts because they are petty, cloud our judgement, and hinder our growth. I now know that I can no longer accept this kind of behaviour in my life. I will continue to act from a place of peace and love in my heart towards those whom come into my life, the path of karate has taught me that we have the strength within us to do amazing things and this earthquake has caused me to reflect, and take notice. I now believe that the true path of karate is not to destroy or cut down ones advisory, but rather to build, to create a society where this is no longer necessary. The way we do this is by becoming an active member within our communities, by teaching children the life lessons that we have learnt as 先生 Sensei which literally means born before. Having been born before we have a responsibility to the next generation to teach through lessons, but more importantly, to teach through our actions the qualities such as written in the Chito-Ryu Showa. (For more detailed information on my interpretation of the Chito-Ryu Showa please review my earlier posts, Analysis of the Showa Part 1 and Part 2, 11/25/14.) 

As Karate-ka and as members of our communities we must use our physical power to build a solid foundation both physically and mentally and when we are given the chance to re-build something we must make every effort to make it better. This refinement reflects the path of karate because it is in this way that we develop our own bodies and minds as we train. This is not just a metaphorical notion to me any more. This is exactly what everyone in Kumamoto Prefecture is being faced with right now. If we cannot perform when it truly counts it is all for nothing.

When does it really count? My answer to this question is now perfectly clear, when our families are facing life threatening danger!

As I continue to reflect on my life and the direction I must take I am always trying to improve on what I have done and to keep moving forward.

I was among some of the very lucky ones. My house, not even a year old, only sustained minimal damage compared to those who lost their homes completely as seen in the links above and the map to the left. Some people who had to evacuate from their homes were even evacuated from the evacuation centres because they too became structurally unsafe after the repeated aftershocks.

We have had over 1,000 quakes registering level 2 or higher in magnitude in the last two weeks (NHK news) and even as I wrote the majority of this article, between April 27th and 30th, two weeks after the first quake we were still experiencing aftershocks that shook my house and widened the cracks in its walls and caused my stomach to tighten.
                                                                                                                                       

Monday, 21 March 2016

だろう運動 Daro Undo

In this post I will talk about the difference between ~だろう Daro and ~かもしらない Kamoshiranai and how these mindsets affect our training.


At first glance だろう Daro seems; I think; I guess; I wonder; I hope and かもしらない may [might] (be, do); maybe; perhaps; possibly, don't seem all that different, but thinking one or the other can drastically change our mental state and affect our training practices. Recently, I attended a mandatory lecture at the 運転免許センター Unten Menkyo Senta Department of Motor Vehicle (DMV) as part of the process of renewing my driver's license. And because I am a 空手バカ Karate Baka (Someone who is crazy about karate) when this distinction between だろう and かもしらない came up all I could think about was how closely this relates to training and specifically training for competition. Hearing the terms presented in the way they were, referring to だろう運転 Daro Unten, made me think of my approach to training in the past when I was competing at the National and International level and how I have been approaching my personal training recently as the coach of a semi-professional high school team. Here is the way the terms were used during the lecture. Please take a look and see if you can find the connection to your training mindset.

だろう運転



When driving we must always be in the mindset of ~かもしらない in order to prevent accidents. However, as we become more comfortable with driving we slip into the mindset of ~だろう. For example, when driving down a narrow street with high walls on either side, a scene that is quite common in urban Japan, would you approach the intersection ahead of you in the mindset that there probably isn't anyone there 誰もいないだろう Dare mo inai daro or there may be someone there 誰かいるかも知¥しらない Dare ka iru kamoshiranai? There  is a big difference between the two. Let's see how thinking each way changes our actions and reactions to what may or may not come.


誰もいないだろう  Dare mo inai daro If we approach the intersection in this mindset we will be far less likely to slow down and pay less attention to what may be coming from behind the high wall. This will drastically reduce our reaction time and in this case if someone does come from behind the wall on the corner we will probably not be able to stop in time resulting in an accident that could have been prevented.


誰かいるかもしらない Dare ka iru kamoshiranai If we approach the intersection in this mindset we will begin slowing down as we approach in anticipation of the possibility of someone coming out from behind the high wall. Our reaction time will be quicker and more natural in the case of someone coming allowing us to break in time and avoiding the accident.

The above examples are taught at the DMV, but I think the concept applies to many other things not the least of which is our mental approach to training and how it will affect the results of the training we do in one or the other mindset. Could you see the connection?
these mindsets impact our training and effect the level of intrinsic motivation which determines greatly how hard we push ourselves and how much we demand of ourselves while training.


だろう運動
If we approach our training with the Daro mindset, we will more than likely say to ourselves something like "this is good enough" or "I'll just do this much" and in doing so we limit ourselves. It is a very slippery slope, in my experience, when thoughts like this make themselves heard in the conversation in our minds. Once a thought gets in there and you start hearing it in your self talk, it is just a matter of time until it becomes a reality. Thoughts like these can lead to the end of ones growth in the martial arts and are especially detrimental to a competitive career. I call this kind of training Daro Undo and I don't recommend it. If you start feeling this way, please take some time and reassess your training goals. Consider the 目的 Mokuteki purpose of your training, the Why of the training and you will see that the Kamoshirani Undo approach offers more potential for growth and development on many levels and in many contexts.

かもしらない運動
I suggest that we approach our training, no matter what level we are currently at or for what reasons we are practicing Karate-do, but especially if we are training for competition, with the Kamoshirani Undo mindset. That is to say that we must always be thinking that there is a better, more effective, more accurate, and more natural way to do whatever we are prcaticing. When we are talking to ourselves we should say things like もっと良い方法があるかもしらない Motto yoi houhou aru kamoshiranai There must be a better way to do this. And then set ourselves to the task of finding that way and refining our practice.


For a competitor it is very important to always think that there is someone out there training harder than you. That there is someone out there who is faster, stronger, and better at whatever you are practicing. These thoughts keep us motivated and this intrinsic motivation is what pushes us to do more when we are training. However, when you are competing it is important to be confident that you have prepared by doing all that you could for the competition. It is importnat to believe deeply that you are fast enough, strong enough and good enough. This authentic confidence, in my opinion, is born in our training and the motivation to go into the gym or the dojo even when we don't feel like it comes to different people from different places within themselves, but I find that a Kamoshiranai Mindset can be the key to staying motivated and focused in our training.


(Sketches Above Left and Above by the Author, 2000)

Please keep this in mind the next time you are talking to yourself during a training session. Are you in the Daro Undo mindset or the Kamoshiranai Undo mindset? Which one do you think will help you to achieve the results you want?

Thursday, 11 February 2016

Defining Karate-do, Presentation and Demonstration of Karate-do at the ACE 2015 In Kobe, Japan

I am happy and somewhat relieved to tell you that I have recently had a paper on Karate-do published in the proceedings of an educational conference. The full paper titled "Finding a Place for Karate-do in Mainstream Education" can be found online:

As I mentioned in an earlier blog post, last year I was asked by the CEO of iafor, Dr. Joseph Haldane to be a featured presenter at the Asian Conference on Education (ACE) 2015, held in Kobe, Japan from October 21st ~ 25th. My presentation was to be a demonstration of Karate-do. As the theme of the conference was “Education, Power and Empowerment: Transcending Boundaries” Dr. Haldane thought a Karate-do demonstration would be very appropriate for the opening ceremonies of the conference. With the help of my good friend Nishioka Hiroshi Sensei and his students I was able to co-ordinate a very well received Karate-do demonstraion on the main stage of the 神戸芸術センター Kobe Geijutsu Senta, Kobe Arts Centre.

(Above Left. the cover of the ACE 2015 Proceedings. Below, a photo taken toward the end of the demonstration of the members of Nishioka Dojo and Dr. Haldane breaking a board. I found out later that it had been a childhood dream of his to break a board like he saw the karate masters do on TV when he was young.)

As a result of attending this conference as a featured presenter, I was also able to present my own research paper for publication in the proceedings. In keeping with the above mentioned theme and the fact that we had already demonstrated the physical part of karate-do, I decide to focus on the academic and health befits that come with long-term study and practice of this art as a result of its 文武両道 Bunbu Ryodo approach to learning (See full paper).

Some of the points made in the paper are, a brief history of karate, its close relationship with the Japanese education system, and the difference between the terms karate and karate-do and in doing so tried to provide a better definition of the term karate-do. In my opinion, these two terms should not be used interchangeably.

In this post I will share with you what I wrote in the paper regarding the definition of the term karate-do.

Defining Karate-do
The Oxford Dictionary of Current English defines karate as a Japanese system of unarmed combat using hands and feet as weapons. Christopher M. Clarke in his book Okinawan Karate: A History of Styles and Masters Vol.1 (2012), he states that, “At its simplest, karate is a system of unarmed self-defense” (p.7), implying that karate is actually something more complex. Karate is indeed a self-defense system, but the discussion I wish to have deals with karate-do which requires more clarification in its definition.

In order to deepen our understanding of the terms covered in this paper we must also look at the Chinese Characters (kanji). The word karate, as we know it today, is made up of two kanji 空 and 手, Kara; Empty or vacant and Te; Hand. These two kanji combine to become ‘empty hand’ which describes this weaponless art of self-defense. The two definitions given above, while accurately defining the term karate, are lacking when we attempt to define karate-do and therefore should not be misunderstood to encompass karate-do as well.

Monday, 1 February 2016

2016年 申年 the Year of the Monkey

(Saru Doshi, Year of the Monkey, written by the Author, 2016)


Chinese Zodiac - Monkey
The following describes the personality and characteristics of the Monkey according to the Chinese Calender:
Occupying the 9th position on the Chinese Zodiac, the Monkey possesses such character traits as curiosity, mischievousness, and cleverness. Forever playful, Monkeys are the masters of practical jokes. Even though their intentions are always good, this desire to be a prankster has a tendency to create ill will and hurt feelings. Although they are inherently intellectual and creative, Monkeys at times have trouble exhibiting these qualities. When that happens, they appear to others to be confused. But nothing could be further from the truth as Monkeys thrive on being challenged. Monkeys prefer urban life to rural, and their favourite pastime is people-watching. (Retrieved on Feb. 2nd, 2016, from www.wikipedia.com) For dates and corresponding animals, see the picture below.
(Photo retrieved on Feb. 2nd, 2016, from www.youngjournalistacademy.com )

So I wonder what kind of year this is going to be?!

Personally Speaking
It has been a bit of a different start to the New Year for me this year. Although I am as busy as ever and receiving even more positive feedback regarding the projects that I am involved in, there is something unsettling inside me. I am finding it hard to stay focused and motivated in my training and on my personal development goals.

I can't quite put my finger on it. I don't feel as grounded as I usually do at this time of the year. I think the reason for my unease is the fact that there was no お滝行 O Takigyou, Waterfall Training, this past January 3rd. You may remember me introducing the waterfall training that some of the members of the Chito-Ryu Sohonbu Dojo partake in every year on January 3rd and how important it is to me (please see the previously posted blogs "お正月 in 熊本" and  "お正月 in 熊本 Continued" for more details of how I usually spend the End of the Year and the first week of the New Year).

(Youseikan Dojo O Takigyou, 2015)

I am not using the fact that the waterfall training was cancelled this year as the reason I am finding it hard to focus. It was cancelled because In January of last year the Chito-Ryu Karate-do founder O Sensei's wife, mother of the current Chito-Ryu Soke, passed away. As part of the mourning process, called 悔やむ Kuyamu in Japanese, personal and family related celebrations cannot be conducted in the first year after a family member has passed away. I am familiar with this process. This is not what is troubling me. I feel something is changing inside me and although I have faith that this is the confusion that comes with growth and personal development I am still feeling somewhat uneasy.


Trying to Find Balance in Old and New Traditions
A Month has now passed and we are officially into the swing of things in 2016, next Month I will be a year older and I have many things on the go that are lending to my life's purpose affecting my growth in and out of the Dojo, but there is something troubling me, as I stated earlier, something unsettling. In this post, I will share what I did instead of O Takigyou in an attempt to ground myself.
 
As you may know, I built a house in Kikuyo Town just outside of Kumamoto City and this holiday season we spent our first Christmas and New Year's there. It was a time of tradition; celebrating old traditions and developing new ones together as a family. The longer I am here, the more important I feel a healthy perspective of tradition is. We are all developing potential traditions as we create new events in our lives and inspire the lives of others. However, the things we initiate will only become traditions after they have been repeated for years and others continue to repeat them independently.

Definition of Tradition According to Merriam-Webster Dictionary:
Simple Definition of Tradition
  • : a way of thinking, behaving, or doing something that has been used by the people in a particular group, family, society, etc., for a long time
  • : the stories, beliefs, etc., that have been part of the culture of a group of people for a long time
  • - used to say that someone has qualities which are like the qualities of another well-known person or group of people from the past
 Full Definition of Tradition
  • 1 a: an inherited, established, or customary pattern of thought, action, or behavior (as a religious practice or a social custom)
  • 1 b: a belief or story or a body of beliefs or stories relating to the past that are commonly accepted as historical though not verifiable
  • 2: Then handing down of information, beliefs, and customs by word of mouth or by example from one generation to another without written instruction
  • 3: cultural continuity in social attitudes, customs, and institutions
  • 4: characteristic manner, method, or style <in the best liberal tradition>
I am currently in the stage of deciding what old traditions to keep and share with my children and what new traditions to create together with them. This is exciting, but I also feel the heavy burden of responsibility. This is true for many Dojo Sensei, I am sure. We have all learned many things from our teachers, but we choose to continue to practice some things and choose not to practice others. This is part of the process and it shapes the traditions of the future.

Taking a Closer Look at 伝統 Deconstructing the Kanji
The actual kanji that make up the term "Tradition" are two characters: 伝 Den or Tsutau which means to Transmit, Walk along, Communicate, Report, and Legend, as well as tradition and 統 Tou meaning relationship, unity, unification, and compatibility as in the example 統一 Touitsu to Unify or Consolidate. Together these kanji may be interpreted to describe the actions or events that transmit the ways of the old to the next generation. These traditions create a relationship across generations. The responsibility to both pass these actions, events, and specific ways of doing things onto the next generation and the detailed preservation of these ways are what the martial arts are built upon. My time spent in Kumamoto has been influenced heavily by the O Takigyou tradition which sets my internal perspective for the year, each year.

Finding a Way to Reconnect with Nature
I knew that I had to do something to reconnect with nature as this is always a big part of our O Takigyou tradition. So, on January 3rd I weeded my new garden. It felt good and I felt grateful for  having a garden to weed in the first place. This was not something I ever thought I would have. As I pulled the weeds I said thank you, silently. A quiet thank you to everyone who contributed to the building of my house and the creation of this garden surrounding my front yard. Most importantly, to my wife whom, had I not met so many great things in my life would never have come to be. Although the work was hard I found myself smiling.

I Reflected as I continued weeding and thought that these plants and weeds truly are a metaphor for life as I have heard so many people speak of. We need to tend and put so much energy into nourishing the flowers and plants which represent the projects and relationships in life, but the weeds grow stronger the more we neglect the garden. squating there with my hands in the dirt, I finally realized and understood what they meant. This is also why we need to spend so much time concentrating on and practicing proper form in our movements; on the basics of the techniques, developing 習慣 Shukan because when we don't bad habits 癖 Kuse quickly form. Like the weeds in the garden robbing the nutrients from the soil making it difficult for the other things to grow so too will these bad habits hinder the level of growth and understanding of the art we are practicing.



(The House and Garden, 2016)

I reconnected in my own way with nature and felt deep personal feelings, but still, there was something missing. There is something that happens inside me when I stand under the water on January 3rd. I believe that there are many things both before and after standing under the actual water that contribute to the spiritual experience that I feel and the personal growth that takes place in me each year during this time. Therefore, I know that if I go to the water alone and perform the ritual as best I can by myself I know that it will not have the same impact on me. However, I am beginning to think that I will need to go to the waterfall in order to get grounded and on purpose decide upon a goal to focus on for the rest of this year. And, no matter what, make this year the Best one yet!