Inside the Dojo

Karate is of course about the training that we do inside the Dojo, well in most parts anyway. To others outside of our Sensei to Student relationships and personal Dojo’s thus has little meaning. However, yesterday evening we had a video camera at hand in our Dojo so I thought that I’d put a few clips on my blog here, nothing special or fancy of course, just basic in Dojo Karate training.

The first clip is of myself trying to talk and explain things at the same time as I demonstrate, something that I don’t actually like doing, I prefer to actually just practise and train hard with a training partner, thus concentrating solely on what I and my training partner are doing. But needs must at times of course when teaching….. The second clip I am
filming as the guys pair off and work on things as a group.

There are of course many training drills that we practise as a Dojo, especially as far as variations in hooking hands practise goes, so please don’t think that this is one way or a set way or anything like. This method just allows you to work around the hand rotations and push, pull, attack, defend, turn, unbalance or ground your training partner. To acquire an understanding of rooting, sticking, protective covering and feel is a must here, together with hand to eye and body coordination of course.

The Sensei of Karate

The expression that one is a Karate Sensei is well known by all who practice Karate, unfortunately though this is where the understanding can end, as both the word Sensei, its true meaning and standing is seldom fully understood. Sadly these days the title Sensei is often thrown around cheaply to the point of being abused, I accept that at times this is due to cultural misunderstandings, as this obviously happens more so outside of Japan and Okinawa. At others times I’m afraid this is down
to watered down karate transmission, ignorance, or may be even inflated egos.

If one is to absorb themselves deeply in to the art of Karate then surely they need to attain a true understanding of the Sensei and Student relationship. In fact it is a necessity! A connection that is firstly born through the embryonic process of Dojo initiation as the Sensei will go on to form a close bond with his students that makes the term Sensei of major importance to all serious Karate Ka, so significant in fact that this union of loyalty and respect is unwavering and in many ways irrelevant to others outside of this relationship. I often refer to the close Sensei to Student relationship as one being inside the family, but that’s for another time, it is something you need to have experienced to fully appreciate.

Being a Dan grade or the wearing of a black belt does not make one a Sensei, this is a misconception that is widespread along with the belief that earning a black belt or a base level in Karate, as in a Shodan, allows for the instant accompanying title of Sensei. These days we often see Dojo’s that have six or more black belts who are all referred to as Sensei, or maybe even a newly awarded 8 year old black belt who is called Sensei by lower grade adults, all of which makes little sense. Visiting Japan or Okinawa for training with the idea of stepping in to a Dojo whilst presumably holding either a Dan grade or Sensei status would certainly raise an eye brow or two, or a broad smile at least. In truth you would probably just be corrected by the Dojo seniors in a stern kind of way, in reality though it would show ones lack of understanding or respect on such matters.

“I spent as much time with my Sensei (Azato & Itosu) as possible, and from them I learned not only Karate but a great deal else besides”.

Gichin Funakoshi Sensei.

The misuse of Japanese honorific titles is wide spread in the West. To be fully aware of the usage of the word Sensei one needs to firstly examine the meaning behind the Kanji characters that make up the word itself.

先 Sen This means, before, previous, preceding or precedence
生 Sei This means, life or birth

The two characters Sen & Sei together broadly mean “A person or one who is born before”. In Japanese society it is often used when showing respect to someone who has achieved a high level in an art form or holds a position of high social standing, as in doctors, teachers or lawyers. You do though have to watch how literally you take this meaning as the born before is not always as it seems, as is not necessarily used because one is an elder, a Sensei may then of course be younger than oneself. A good way of looking at things is that a Sensei is one who has preceded you and gone there before, thus having vast previous experiences in a way or field of expertise that you also wish to follow or maybe receive some guidance in. They have been there before you, have a deeper understanding, whilst being wiser, knowledgeable and more experienced.

There are then varying questions to be asked upon the usage of the term Sensei. When is one a Sensei? When is one not a Sensei? How does one become a Sensei? What are the requirements of a Sensei? Will all Senior Karate Ka become known as a Sensei? Of course there are varying answers to these questions too. My own Sensei as in Senaha Sensei, mentions that one can not really be a Sensei if they do not have any direct students of their own. He likens this to being a parent, saying that you can not really be a parent if you do not have any children. In the same way that there is a close bond between a child and it’s parent, the child is guided, respects, obeys, and also learns from the life experiences of the parent. In the same way that becoming a parent is a daily learning curve that requires difficult decisions and with time one usually becomes more accustomed and better at, due to experience, being a Sensei in many ways is just the same. The more children one has the more difficult the task is, just like having more students of course.

“After executing a kata, I would await Azato Sensei’s verbal judgement, it was always tense. If he remained dissatisfied with my technique, he would murmur, “Do it again,” or, a little more!” a little more, a little more, so often a little more, until the sweat pored and I was ready to drop: it was his way of telling me that there was still something to be learned, to be mastered. Then, if he found my progress satisfactory, his verdict would be expressed in a single word, “Good!” That one word was his highest praise.

Lastly, If you happen to be lucky enough to be a part of a quality Karate Dojo and have a true Karate Sensei who is one of deep understanding and knowledge. Then please do look after him or her, as in today’s day an age they are so scarce it’s unreal. I would also advise those who are serious about studying Karate to go out of their way and seek out a true Karate Sensei. You make the effort as ot will truly be worth it.

Okinawa Time

During the early hours of today in England we moved our clocks forward an hour in time. This act may seem a little strange to others, but to us English it was done for good reason during times of war but more to do with longer day light time, now though it actually feels quite good as we now instantly gain an extra hour of light on an evening during the summer months, whilst being a firm sign that the warmer weather is now upon us. On the down side of things there are of course some who complain about losing a mere hour in bed. The good thing here though is that we will gain this hour back in the autumn, which is all quite confusing I know. Time can in fact be a strange old thing and in many ways it can have a significant impact upon our lives, to the point that if we allow it to our lives can in fact be ruled and maybe even spoiled by thoughts of time.

Many words just like the following are often spoken; “When the time is right I’m going to move away from around here”, “In a few years time I’m going to visit Okinawa to train in Karate”, “When I retire I’m going to cruise around the world”, “Next year I’m going to get fit and in better shape”. “By the time I’m 60 I will have my house paid off and then I’ll take things easy”. Where by in reality these words are often spoken with genuine intent, but actually just end up becoming time talk or a distant dream that for one reason or another will rarely ever be fulfilled.

We can and should all make good use of our time on earth as it is very very precious, we all certainly waste a lot of time, we even get lost in it or maybe even lose it altogether, the same as remembering past times or researching the past times of others who have gone before us, together with looking to plan our future time wisely too. But at the end of the day with time we just can’t stop it or get it back either. I’d say that almost everyone who has walked the earth before us or is still with us and is of a late elderly age, would give anything to have their time again.

This time for me is one area where by the people of Okinawa are so different to most. There’s a well known time saying on the home of Karate known as “Okinawa Time”, of which there are a few varying interpretations to the meaning, but the main theme of things is that there is time and there is Okinawa Time (no not the pop band either). On main land Japan the people are very strict and in many ways controlled by time, but in Okinawa the pace of things is so different as things go by what they term as “Okinawa Time” of which they are very more relaxed generally and don’t get so stressed out by the clock, in many ways you can expect people to be late to social events and it’s no big deal. In the same way that they will do things but don’t stress over doing them now. However, bad time keeping for classes or meetings is frowned upon so please don’t misunderstand me here. There’s even a time for Okinawa time…

The way of the island people is that they make such excellent use of their time; they enjoy it to the full and use it wisely. They rise early in the mornings and lay late in the evenings, whilst they work hard to a late age as they still go about their daily chores, whilst finding time to look after and visit family members, all being done within a relaxed stress free kind of way, which we all know is not easy by any means. Whilst not only finding but making time to consider their bodies own well being as they balance out hard work with regular socialising and physical exercise, together with local activities like Karate and dance. You will often here it mentioned in Karate talk that all the Okinawans seem to do is party and Karate, and Karate and party they do…. Anyone who has ever visited Okinawa for training will know to well that time and training is no issue, entering the Dojo as arranged at say 9am then training until the Sensei decides to stop is the norm, be it 12pm, 2pm or even 5pm, that’s just how it is and it’s no big deal.

Many put the excuse of time in the way for not doing many things (like practicing Karate) when in reality that’s all it is, an excuse. We’ve certainly all wasted time in the past; including having our time wasted by others too, especially as a teacher, wasting time on poor students or surrounding ourselves with negative people is a downwards direction for sure. But I think that as we get older we all tend to become wiser in these matters by being more careful whilst both respecting and appreciating life a little more, especially if we’ve lost loved one’s, I know I do and I’m only 42, I say only… The people of Okinawa have so many lessons they can teach us, no not just on the Karate front but on how to enjoy and live our lives to the full. In many ways they are a rural unique born people that have not become accustomed to the frantic turmoil of many modern
day big city life styles, thus preferring to embrace and retain the slow pace of time and life style, whilst being surrounded by nature’s beauty. A combination that is conducive to living a good, long, and healthy stress free life.

The next 12 months or so my time is certainly going to be quite busy as I have more than a few things to sort and plan out, so I for one have to be extra careful to make sure that I use my time wisely as I give it much more serious thought and consideration…There’s the relocating with my family to the South West coast of England. The setting up of a new small private Karate Dojo for my own personal training, together with a list of other things…

Oh and lastly I intend to keep my blog going and keeping those interested up to date on training and development, but only time will tell as they say…