Ongoing thoughts on my martial studies and interests, which encompass almost everything.
Wednesday, March 30, 2016
Forging the Black Belt
of us is on an individual journey as a martial artist, discovering who we are and
what our art personal art is. My first 5 years I was training exclusively in
Isshinryu. Long intense training. I had reached black belt, started teaching my
own youth program. Personally experienced another art, but too soon I was also
on my own. I knew I needed more.
a black belt is really the first step of an individual journey. Remaining a black
belt the next 5 years is the real test.
was and am married, but as my wife was working through the YMCA, primarily as a
swimming coach, which meant very early morning workouts, evenings coaching and
working at the Y, and frequent weekend travel to swimming meets. I had a great
deal of time that I was on my own, and no family responsibilities in Scranton,
on my own, except for the youth program I had begun teaching, I realized how
much not having others to work with was making my karate suffer. So I began to
compete regionally to push my self. In time I made friends with the other
competitors and received invitations to train with them.
began training with a local group of Kempo Goju stylists, having people to spar
I saw a local Kung Fu school was having a demonstration. I went mostly because
I wanted to see tai chi in action. I had read a deal about that art, but had
never seen it. What I saw intrigued me, and I approached the school owner,
Ernest Rothrock, about the possibility of having lessons. He agreed to a ½ hour
lesson per week. And I continued that for the next two years, learning the Yang
Long Fist system.I discovered quickly
that having a black belt in karate did not mean there was an advantage in tai
chi study. I am sure I was about as much fun as pushing around a bag of wet
cement. But I did not stop, and in time learned something new.
am sure most people would find that enough, but I still had free time, and my
journeys’ continued. I wanted more experience sparring, so I visited other
dojo, And guess what, at none of them did I get a chance to spar, but I went to
train and joined in with whatever they were doing.
form of Goshin Jutsu, a school of Shorin ryu, one of the schools connected with
Hidy Ochai and Washin ryu. And there were other programs like Jim Martin’s
program. I rotated my time between them. On Saturdays I would visit 2 or 3
experiences were different, but I attempted to learn whatever they shared.
9 months into 1980 I approached Ernie Rothrock and asked him if I could study
some Chinese forms. As I was judging some Chinese stylists at tournaments, I
thought I could be a better judge if I tried to learn some, knowing more about
what they were doing. As Ernie knew me somewhat at that point, he asked me what
I wanted to learn. Then he pointed to a list behind himself. It contained
several hundred form names that he had studied at that point in time. I told
him I had no idea what I should learn. So he selected a Northern Shaolin black
belt level form. So for an additional ½ hour a week I was learning that too.
might not seem like much, but that was plenty for me. That was a long form, took
me 9 month to get it. I think he was having fun with me, the form I studied
were not what his students studied. Perhaps so see what I could get. I didn’t
stop. Not realizing or accepting I could not do it. A black belt can’t say I
can’t. They may not be able to do, but they try.
I kept going to tournaments and competing with my Isshinryu. Charles had taught
me what he knew, and I diligently practiced it continually 3 or 4 days a week.
I would make trips driving 5 hours to Salisbury to train, then get back in the
car and drive 5 hours back to Scranton to make work. If possible I would also
visit Dover and train with Reese Rigby.
all programs are not created equal, but I am not going to talk about that, I
still got something from each place I trained.
I took up the invitation of a fellow competitor, Tris Sutrisno, and went to
visit him. It was a hard workout, but he challenged me and shared the 5 Heian
kata with me. I drove home and that night pulled out the Funakoshi Karate Do
Koyan. And observed where his versions were different. As I had previously
studied them in Tang Soo Do Moo Duk Kwan it was just a matter of adjusting to
next week I went back and did them for him. No, nothing perfect, but I did
them. Then he has his group doing an aikido drill which were 8 movements. After
watching them for 15 minutes, he asked me if I would like to try it. I did it.
Which I guess impressed him, then more followed. And I kept training there,
though it was a good hour from my house.
the thing is I was experiencing all of these things at almost the same time.
And all I was trying to do was have people to work out with. I wasn’t trying to
gain other systems. But I never assumed that I could not do anything, just kept
my ongoing studies in tai chi and kung fu, I completed the Northern Shaolin
form study, Then I was interested in Chinese sweeps like iron broom, and Ernie
took me into a Pai Lum Leopard form. In the long run those sweeps were beyond
me, better suited to someone younger and thinner, But still I learned
something. Then he gave a clinic onaNorthern Preying Mantis form. I learned it and worked on it, it was
interesting. Eventually other studies followed. He gained permission to teach
me Northern Eagle Claw, a very long form. And I studied that.
other studies followed, I was getting what I wanted some knowledge about how
movement in the Chinese systems should be done.
so much focused on the applications, but some of them went along for the ride.
Ernie and I became friends, instruction took another level than just forms
study. He would often ask me leading questions, ones he could have shown me
answers to in seconds, but he never did that. Rather I would spend much time
trying to answer why that was in karate to explain my thinking to him. That
more than anything helped me grow into what I was seeing and practicing. It was
a very old method of instruction.
I found an answer to one of those questions, I had been attending a midnight showing
of Gorky Park, the movie. I worked out what any karate technique should be seen
as, Of course I called him a 2am where he was living in Pittsburgh and gave him
my answer. It was the least I could do, considering.
Saturday mornings visiting Carl Long and his teachings from the Shimabuku Ezio
lineage of Shorin Ryu were also productive, We compared Seisan, Chinto and
Kusanku kata in their different perspectives, Shorin to Isshin. I saw him
teaching Annaku one day, and picked it up. Eventually 5 years later
incorporating it into my students studies as a tribute to Carl. Likewise there
were many drills I saw that were also interesting. Carl was very skilled, later
he would become a proponent of Japanese sword and other arts. Training in
with Tris Sutrisno was also very interesting. I was seeing drills unlike any I
experienced anyplace else. He also was using terminology that was different
from what I had seen anyplace else. Before the magazines began using the term
‘bunkai’ he was using the term. Of course the paradigm in which he use it was
quite different from how others began to use it. So before the term came into
use, I was being shown his family use of the term. BTW it was painful and
direct. I never felt the term as it was used by others would become ‘Bunkai’ to
me. Then one day he began a series of very painful technique series. He called
what he was doing as Holy Hands or tuite. The next week we were at George
Dillman’s together, competing once again. Now I was a nobody there, but a 2nd
dan, but Tris was a regional champion. I recall George coming up to him talking
about Oyata Sensei who was coming in for a clinic, and how Tris could learn
tuite from him. This was also before Oyata Sensei became a magazine fixture,
and when Dillman Sensei first met him.
of the drills and lessons I received years later became staples in my program,
of course after I had worked on them myself for years. They were different,
such as Indonesian methods for walking in a forest. Or the use of pain to make
technique series work. I was keeping extensive notes on what I was learning.
Most of them one time lessons for me, as I was not able to attend every class.
there were the forms. Nijushino, Gojushiho, tjimande Matjan Tildur, Bassai Dai
and Sho, Weapon studies in Bo (3 kata of the O Sensei no Kon series), Kama (2
kata of the Chosen No Kama series), Tanto drills and a kata and more. At times
the advanced versions or corrections came years later.
my varied studies, I had come to realize many times I would only have one
chance to acquire the lessons. I worked on ways to remember them more clearly
in the future.
foremost was never ending practice. Each morning after my 5 am run, I would be
on the sidewalk outside my house, practicing them over and over.
on the day of the week, it varied what art I was practicing. Some of the
lessons and trainings were long ones, at times one time practices. A student
and very good friend attended Ithica University. While there she took advantage
of a good Goju program they had, and worked he way through Goju studies. One
day I visited her program, that time the instructor spent the time with me,
sharing his Seiunchin, and Saifa with me. Later, on another visit, he spent all
his time sharing 4 other kata with me. It helped me understand Goju better for
a long time, and would amaze Goju friends that I could do their kata. Not that
I was a Goju expert, just knew more than a novice too.
there were the tournaments. Mainly I competed with Isshinryu forms, often
Chinto kata, and Bo Shi Shi no Kon no Dai. But I did use the Bando staff form
and that worked well for me. Both Ernie and Tris gave me advice on the form.
Then I competed in Chinese divisions with The Northern Shaolin form amd
shotokan divisions with Nijushiho.I stopped fighting when I realized I had no
one to train with and all the guy I was fighting were 10 years younger than I
was. That was a very had adjustment, but I came to the realization I was just
spending money to let younger guy’s beat on me. I competed and I judged, always
pushing myself forward.
had an idea for youth only tournaments. Ones where the kids would not be lost
among the adults. We ran 3 and they were very successful. Only charging $5.00
to compete and any profit going to the Boys Club.
one summer in 1983 I attended the Bando Summer Camp. Mr. Lewis got me the
invitation as he was friends with the camp organizers. Most notably while there
I learned a version of the Bamdo Short Stick form, probably one of the most valuable
things I ever learned.
captures the broad outlines of what I experienced, but there is far more detail
during those times that I can relate here.
time progressed as it does, and I had to move for a new job. The time passed into
I look back on that time, I am amazed that I did that. But I did.
learned a great deal, for one thing I learned how little I knew.
those experiences if anything, made me more determined to learn more about my Isshinryu
and make the training I would offer, even better for my students. I had to end my
program in Scranton, but I intended to continue it in Derry.