Sunday, March 31, 2013

For Friends Long Gone

One of the hardest lessons you learn as an instructor is that your students will move on. No matter how much effort you put into their training, either within one year or after decades. Rarely does anyone talk about this, but this is the reality. One day the student is no longer there and most likely never seen again.

You are offering them the chance to experience your art and learn it. And they have and then they move on.

You have to realize you have done your job, they have learned from you and made the decision to move on. For our core lesson is to make one’s own decisions. This might be outside of their control such as moving for work. Or they may have interests that are more important to them.

You do not develop the student’s interest in the art, you but enhance it. You don’t create a life time of study for the individual, you just allow them to participate. You can’t create an instructor, you can only provide the environment for them t develop the interest in their studies and grow into the role.

You do this by allowing the student see you make continual choices for your art, and inspire them to do the same. When the time comes that they eventually choose to move on you celebrate that they have learned to do so. They learned from you how to choose what is appropriate for themselves.

That this is hard for you is not to be considered. When you choose to share your studies this comes with the territory. They have chosen a path to themselves that does not include continuing with you..

Perhaps they will continue to train, Perhaps they will not. Each person follows their own heart.

Most of the time, they will not tell you their intention. They will just not come back. In fact, they may well go out of their way to not meet with you again.

You wish them well, for they have to follow their heart. You will miss their presence and the time you spent with them. Each of them have been a lesson for you to learn.

Thank you for the time we spent together.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

A person's unbalance is the same as a weight


The Isshinryu code(1) of karate states “ a person’s unbalance in the same as a weight”. This if often understood as a way to unbalance your opponent and use their weight to make them fall, or at the same time a suggestion to protect your own balance. Each of which can be true.

The meaning to this codex has become more personal with the onset of my neurological condition which among other effects has greatly affected my balance in all activities. For example while walking remains very importqant to me I often use a cane for safety in this activity.

My study and practice of Yang Tai Chi Chaun, lasting for over 35 years, is almost at a gone. This is very hard to deal with for I love the practice of Tai Chi so.  The necessity of turning that this entails have brought my practice almost to a standstill. I stagger losing my stances during my practice, perhaps I’ll have to change to seated practice to continue. The loss of balance makes it almost impossible to direct the mind to perform the form, the act of not falling becomes a real weight on the mind. While often discussed as moving mediation by those who don’t practice the art, you actually have to keep your mind involved, most involved, while engaging in the practice of the form.

I find in Karate, less engagement of balance as in Tai Chi, or perhaps less turning movement would be more accurate. In turn, I retain more of my karate ability, much more when it comes to applying my art.But with my constant reminder that one’s balance is often gone,it does not take much to confuse my mind and become the weight, too.

“London Bridge is falling down”, and if I am not careful so am I too, down for the count.

(1.) Acknowledged this also came from the Okinawan Bubishi

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Kata a Lifetime Study

It is difficult for anyone in the beginning stages of training (say the first 5 years) to understand what a lifetime of kata study entails. It really is not enough to just perform your kata continually. So let’s consider what the study might mean.

First, at about 10 years into the study of a kata, you will have enough repetition so that your muscles are relaxed and fluid when you move. This means your body is more fluid and through relaxation of your natural tension your center of balance sinks automatically, This in turn causes you to increase your power automatically. At this stage you begin to realize what power the kata develops. There is no short cut to this, focused practice will help, but this comes in time, each person in their own time.

The increase in power thereby can transfer into the application realization of the kata techniques.

There are a number of practices which can aid you to develop much more understanding of your potential. They are individual study choices that will enhance your understand of the kata too.

First, I suggest you practice you kata stepping and stances by performing the kata with no hand ictig techniques, your hands chambered on your hips. Restricting the hands through immobilizing them forces you mind on the stqances and stepping. Through focusing on perfect stances you develop them more strongly. I can’t stress enough how important solid stance development is for the development of your technique. At the same time the manner of stepping is important to strengthen too. One of the ‘hidden’ values we hold is that manner of stepping we employ is a weapons system too. Using the crescent step to sweep out the opponents leg(s) requires continual development. Taking the time to consider how to improve both stances and stepping in an important journey.

Next consider the changes that can be made to timing and/or breathing. Through changing the timing you are performing the kata with, new vistas of applications and meaning can evolve for you. The standard breathing pattern, (inhalation on the movements, exhale for the technique(s) execution) can be varied. You might increase the movements that are executed with a single breath. Discover how changes to breathing can affect the timing developed for the kata. You might explore what reversal of the breathing pattern has to offer ( exhalation on the movement sections, inhale during the techniques execution.) Further discover the changes to your kata movements timing can be used to influence your opponent’s movements.

Become more knowledgeable of the motion the kata possesses. Test how well you know the kata. Increase the techniques therein, and still perform the kata. Double the blocks and/or punching techniques for a single execution, Change the movements and discover what this becomes. For example replace the single strikes with multiple striking or add jing do (short range striking) and keep able to perform the kata. Include other techniques that come to mind. For one thing this is keeping with older Okinawan traditions such as From Mabuni Kenwa’s “Kobu Jizai Goshin-jutsu Karate Kempo’ 1933 (1) where a kick not in the kata is inserted into the application. Others have described this such as Demura Fumio with his description of ‘kakushite’. Or you might change the lower body movements such as change a step into a low side kick and step. This of course adds another layer to your study, such as increasing your ability to retain your balance. There is no limitation to the changes you might use, the goal of course is to retain the kata in your mind.

Yet other options include 1.) Doing the kata in mirror image, 2.) Doing the kata in reverse mirror image,    3.) Doing the kata with replacement stepping where you remain essentially in the same spot.
These are but a few suggestions. You don’t have to use them or attempt them all at the same time. The goal is to make kata study a lifetime activity, ever remaining fresh and alive to you. What and how you practice is up to you. This isn’t to please me, but to push yourself and your awareness of the kata potential. From time to time I may use a piece of them in class, but the burden is most definitely on you.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Agena in 1972

Charles Murray just reshared some old photos he took while training in Agena in 1972. I'm sharing them here.

Here’s some March 1972 Agena Dojo pictures also.

* This is the Kata Listing Board in the dojo (notice the Marine Corps colors and it’s not in Japanese)

* Here’s the left hand wall of the dojo with makiwara and other stuff.  It was always dim in the dojo even in the afternoon, so this rightly depicts how I always remember it looking.

* This is my good friend John Molinaro also at the Agena Dojo.  John was a co-worker (security guard) with Harry Ackland.  He hailed from Cleveland Ohio.  Anyway his story was Harry had told him that if he wanted to learn Karate that he should study under Shimabuku Sensei in Okinawa.  So John had just enough money to get to Okinawa.  He flew there and got to the dojo penniless, unable to speak Japanese and without any prior Karate knowledge.  Despite this Sensei took him in, got him work in the fields and he stayed in a little rat infested room and trained day and night at the dojo.  He learned enough Okinawan/Japanese to converse well with Ciso and Shimabuku Sensei (which was a big help to me).  Also Advincula Sensei has written about a body builder being there in the 1971 time frame.  That was John.  He was Mr Cleveland in 1965.

* This is a picture of Shimabuku Sensei that was in the stage area, just outside of the living part of the dojo.

This is the Combination Listing Board in the dojo (notice the Marine Corps colors and it’s not in Japanese)

* This is a picture that I took for Sensei Lewis.  He used to say whatever I did, don’t kick Shimabuku’s wall and so this was on the wall over there.  I took the picture to send to him.

Memories we must thank Murray Sensei for preserving.

update 12/17/2015

Shared on John Bartsusevics Face book site Karate Friends, the Agena dojo in 1961 prior to the roof.

Snow Time Like the Present

Today, to make a diversion from the sameness of the day, I went for a short walk outside. Bouts of illness and changing weather of late, have made those walks infrequent. There was a steady light snow falling. Accumulating on old snow and the cars, but not cold enough that the streets were just wet. Still snow amidst the trees, the pines, maples and walnuts.

The local flock of wild turkeys had paid their visit around the birdfeeder. Selecting the choice leftovers from the birds. Thin last spring, now quite fat and with brave squirrels trying to dart among them for choice bits of seed.

A favorite walk, up to the Robert Frost farm and then back. The wet snowflakes hitting my glasses.

Too quickly I was getting cold even through my gloves. Time to place my cane aside and do Sanchin.

Quiet the day.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse;
At times, indeed, almost ridiculous—
Almost, at times, the Fool.
I grow old . . . I grow old . .
I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.
Shall I part my hair behind? Do I dare to eat a peach?
I shall wear white flannel trousers, and walk upon the beach.
Taken from T.S. Elliott’s “The Love-Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”

Today I have reached 65 years of age, a ripening number. Unfortunately not making me wiser or better person. My medical condition has been changed from Myasthenia Gravis to Paraneoplastic Neuromyopathy & Neuropathy, which really means they aren’t yet sure what I have or how to treat it. I continue as before, less balance, weaker, unclear speech and the rest.

I spend much of my day reflecting on martial matters, and I train and exercise as best I am able.
Unfortunately my tai chi is almost impossible because of lack of balance. My Isshinryu remains and I help teach the youth classes assisting the most capable Mike Cassidy and Young Lee. My instructor Charles Murray also makes regular appearances to train with us. Somehow I am most fortunate to keep instructing the adult program, but it is challenging for me. Yet, my applications still work, much to the dismay of the others who try and attack me.
I owe a great deal to all the medical professionals who have helped me along this way, through the type 2 diabetes, the rectal cancer cure and now in my current condition.
I owe even more to my wife Maureen who continues to provide me so much help, that I love her is hardly enough. Picking her up at the beach, going on three dates and then a lifetime of her love means so much after 40 years.
 For my students, I often think of the future say 20 years from now, when I am a past footnote. Remember this, Isshinryu takes place on the dojo floor. That is the strongest organization.

I am become unto Elliott’s Profrock.