Thursday, July 30, 2009

Instructor I

Another day and more unsolicited email messages show up in my inbox. Several Martial Arts organizations marketing groups are always trying to sell me information about becoming a better instructor. Of course from what I teach and how I teach it they information is useless to me, except to keep me current with the latest martial school trends. I do pay attention to try and understand the landscape, always watching and thinking.

I started my own program almost immediately after reaching my sho-dan in Isshinryu. Unequipped for the role of course, I had never studied karate to become an instructor, I only wanted to learn karate and get better. As events shaped my karate experience I began teaching to remain an Isshinryu practitioner, and had to work to define what my program would be.

For one thing I started out teaching a youth program through the Scranton Boys Club, for free. My program was the first one to bring girls into the Boys Club for membership. As I learned how to be an instructor, the hardest way, I tried to focus what I wanted my program to represent and settled upon trying to move into a pre-1900 approach to individual training. Always the most important focus was that between student and instructor.

In my past 30 years of teaching, perhaps in some ways I’ve succeeded. In other ways I was way ahead of the bell curve, such as seriously teaching a youth program, years before it even became a reality on Okinawa. Back in the days when everyone thought I was out in space training youth, almost all telling me I should be spending my time with adults to do real karate. I tried to tell them what the future would hold if they wanted to keep their programs going, but few thought I was serious. Of course today there are very few commercial schools in any art that would be open without the income that their youth programs generate. Then again my focus wasn’t money, for I’ve never charged for my instruction. My payment was being allowed to continue training and I’ve been very well paid at that.

I plan to do a series of articles on my personal insight into instructor development. Not to guide other programs, but to share with my students in what we practice.

Still to begin I think it very important to realize that ALL of us, trying to link our programs to the karate of the past must realize, what we’ve turned into is very different from Okinawa’s origins. Very different!

Karate pre-1900, as far as I’ve been able to piece together, was before the dojo, perhaps just a back yard or an empty field or clearing in the forest. I’ve been unable to piece together much information about how many students an instructor had, how frequently they trained, what their drop off rate may have been, and without information to discuss those items is mostly speculation.

Karate pre-1900 was a walking student population. The student(s) lived a walking distance from the instructor. Of course in that world time, the populace walked, there weren’t cars, or much other available transportation. Walking distance might be 10 miles for the most possessed student, but still I suspect a neighborhood type of distance in many cases.

The stories seem to indicate that unless it was from a family or friend obligation, a prospective student had to work to be accepted. That might represent being turned down repeatedly, or having to present oneself for many months showing one’s true interest before being accepted. It suggests a small student population that worked very hard to be accepted, and in turn willing to stay training.

Just supposition, but for a successful instructor today (defined as one who keeps their school open for years), with thousands of new students, who didn’t stay even to sho-dan, for the handful who move into fuller training, I’m sure those older instructors would look askance as to what a good instructor meant.

I’m not suggesting right or wrong, just the world keeps turning and change happens (entropy is the universal champion after all). But it is difficult to truly consider the modern instructor an inheritor of the older traditions.

The body may move the same, and the same steps must pass in a students studies, but the wrap around of today, hardly allows an instructor to focus on their program in the same way as when there were a handful of students.

The change of course is world wide, and includes Okinawa too. Can you consider any pre-1900 instructor would have considered running a world spanning organization with students they never taught, as a part of their art?

Trying to understand the trends of the past are useful to help us shape our art and our responses to guide our students into their own futures.

In my case I had to work out how to develop a youth program for a small group of students that would require between 7 to 9 years of training to qualify for sho-dan, and then of course they would leave us forever, and separately develop an adult program that is I believe very close to what a pre-1900 model of training may have been.

I will continue exploring what developing an instructor should represent in subsequent posts.

Monday, July 13, 2009

On Translation and Kata

I was reading the translator (Louis Swaim) introduction to Yang Chengfu’sThe Essence and Applications of Taijuquan”, only to be surprised by the following comment. “…Traditional Chinese books were not punctuated, and it was the reader’s job to parse the sentences, determine which clauses were subordinate, and to match up subjects and predicates.”

Though in modern times punctuation has been added to Chinese, Japanese and Korean, in the older form it was the readers analysis how to group the concepts expressed, using the context of the subject in discussion. In the older works, ..”Chinese writers did typically did not attribute…quotations. They were simply run into the writer’s text with the expectation that the reader would recognize them and know their significance.’

I’m sure many reading this are wondering what type of person reads translator’s notes. Language and its study has been a long interest of mine, and having translated a few martial works from French into English, having experienced many of the difficult choices even an amateur translator must face, this comment by Swaim helps understand the difficulties we all have accepting modern translation accuracy.

Any of us who had Freshman English in college likely spent time interpreting what poetry was saying. I felt it was an open door to understand when the work leaves the author’s hands it no longer is under their sway. It makes me remember the bit in Rodney Dangerfield’s movie “Back to School”. Having an assignment to do a paper on a book by Kurt Vonnegut, he hired Vonnegut to write the paper, which ultimately drew an ‘F’ because the professor felt the paper missed entirely what Vonnegut was writing.

Of course if one was a direct student of Yang Chengfu, the book would have been a memory aid because its context would have directly come from Yang. But for everyone else we might always wonder if the parsing that was made conveyed what Yang Changfu meant.

The key is we never know for sure. As a result of this I often take years and years to understand the place of a book in my martial studies. I need to place it in context.

The funny thing is it strikes me that kata is a work of literature from a point of view. Kata movement sequences are a vocabulary of the kata concepts. Unless you trained directly with the founder, you’re always trying to understand it’s potential (from the founder’s point of view), and ultimately you must place that potential in context of an attack opening.

Of course it matters not what the originator meant if you form an operating context for the book and/or the kata. In that way you’ve made their work yours.

This is not a simple quest. I recognize many underlying principles that work with kata movement, in turn dozens and dozens of technique answers that can be used against various attacks.

A more compelling story might be to read Douglas Hofstader’sLe Ton beau de Marot: In Praise of the Music of Language”. In it he conveys many issues, but prime among them are his efforts to translate a simple poem by Clement Marot.

From his effort, his wife and many friends and acquaintances he published dozens of answers, each correct and each different from the original, all attempting to convey the simple thoughts of Marot.

Translation, the study of kata, and many other things are inter-related, it is up to us to find how.

In closing I leave you Marot’s poem for your own efforts.

A Une Damoyselle Malade

Ma Mignonne
Je vous donne
Le bon jour.
Le sejour
C'est prison :
Puis ouvrez
Vostre porte,
Et qu'on sorte
Vistement :
Car Clement
Le vous mande.
Va friande
De ta bouche,
Qui se couche
En danger
Pour manger
Confitures :
Si tu dures
Trop malade,
Couleur fade
Tu prendras,
Et perdras
Dieu te doint
Santé bonne
Ma Mignonne.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

We are known by our passions........

The following will make no sense to anyone not a follower of the Destroyer universe, but today it's lack of continuing presence led me to post a few words.

If you have not been a follower of the Destroyer universe, why you've missed 3 decades of enchantment and wonder...................................


I am created Shiva, the Destroyer,
the dead Night Tiger made whole by the Masterof Sinanju..... ..
what is this peace of Dog meat that stands before me.......... ......... ..............

memories of the way things used to be..

o'glorious anniversary

it is the day
the day, the bee and the sun
bee sees sun
sun seeks flower
bee seeks flower
bee flying in sun
bee landing on flower
bee seeking sweet nectar

flower died
bee flew.
sun sets
Sinanju gone

the key to the sun source
breathing to fullness
not bending the elbow
respecting little father

there is Sinanju
all else is less
now Sinanju fades to myst

the master returns home
is it next sending the children to the sea?

the world churns
money not gold molds away
only the tribute kept Sinanju alive
but the most foul have wreaked their havoc
let loose the dogs of war against the Destroyer
and Sinanju is not a army

Sinanju is but one idea
a fixed point in the mind
that training and correct breathing
creates one more in tune with the universe

Chiun noted he looks forward to meeting God to discuss God's balance
it is an appropriate thought

Sinanju taught me that correct technique is everything
that and to bring Victory home in your Teeth created..... ..... SHIVA
respect for sunshine and bee
the balance of a great song
the gentle tapping of the middle finger on the wrist

i see no sunshine
i fear death for the first time
a companion we do not want
but can not remove

Where john carter, lord greystoke, doc savage, tom swift sr and jr, and tom corbett reside may be the destination for our friends

mysts of the past
the void


i am shiva i am
shiva i am i am i am
i've been created many times before
need one more not to close the door

there is a story the masters of sinanju require their tribute first

in the end it's all about the benjamins... ......

i was created shiva....
but who is the true destroyer?

written by my fell hand,
in this year with slight summer
new hampshire
where the old man in the mountains went away

the cool air chilling me to the bone

i who wanted to be shiva

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Seiunchin Kata - Bushi No Te Isshinryu

Young Lee performing the Bushi No Te Isshinryu Seiunchin Kata.