November 22, 2011

Foster the Spirit of Effort

Doryoku no seishin o yashinau koto

This 3rd precept of the Dojo Kun can be translated as “Endeavor”, “Foster the Spirit of Effort”, or “Cultivate the Spirit of Perseverance” and has many great lessons for the attitude that we should bring to training.  There are two important components to fostering the spirit of effort: challenging ourselves and challenging others. 

No matter what drill we are doing in class, there are always ways to challenge ourselves to make it harder.  We can strive to attain technical perfection with each movement, eliminate any extra movements, move as quickly as we can, or move slowly and with complete control over our technique.  Our stances could always be just a little bit deeper.  We can develop reactions by waiting for the count or waiting until the last moment to move against a partner.  No matter what you’re working on, there is always a way that you can make it more challenging for yourself.  There is always something that you can focus on to improve your technique, and the way that we improve is by continuously pushing ourselves to be better than we were before.     

When training with others, we should challenge each other, promote a competitive spirit in training, and strive to set an example for our juniors.  We push ourselves to move faster than the person training next to us.  With partner training, we push our partners to be better than they currently are.  We take inspiration and support from our fellow karateka to give us the drive to work harder, to be stronger, to have more endurance, to be more resilient.  When everyone gives their best and pushes others to also give their best, we all end up better than we thought possible.

While we are each responsible for giving our own best effort, we also collectively contribute to the atmosphere in the dojo.  We should all work to cultivate the dojo into an environment where hard work, determination, and willpower are encouraged.  It is through fostering the spirit of effort in both ourselves and others that we will all continue to develop into the best karateka we can be.
Submitted by: Kimberly Baran, Sandan

November 2, 2011

Karate is just like hot water; if you do not give it continuous heat, it will become cold

Karate wa yu no gotoshi taezu netsu o ataezareba moto no mizu ni kaeru

This is Master Funakoshi’s 11th entry in the Niju Kun, and this precept is easily applied to physical training.  It goes without saying that we should get to the dojo as often as we can.  There is no substitute for the guidance of an experienced instructor.  However, when we cannot make it to the dojo, or on days when there is no formal practice, we should try to do something to improve our karate.  It may only be 5 or 10 minutes, but setting aside that time for karate each day has a great impact on our training.  

There are many benefits to self-training outside the dojo.  By thinking about karate or performing techniques just a little bit every day, our minds and bodies stay sharp through regular practice.  Everyday training also improves flexibility, increases strength, and prevents injury.  It prepares us for class, so time in the dojo can be spent on details rather than repetition and memorization.  Self-training excites us about karate and motivates us to get back to the dojo.  Independent practice personalizes our training, because we can spend time working on our own specific weaknesses.       

There are two ways to approach self-training outside the dojo, formally and informally.  For formal practice, it is best to start with just a 5-10 minute commitment.  Use this time to personalize your training and work on areas where you need the most improvement.  If you have trouble with flexibility, use this time for stretching.  If you have trouble with strength, endurance, or connection, use this time for strength training, cardio workouts, or impact training (hitting pads).  Self-training is a good opportunity to commit kata to memory, to refine basic techniques or stances, or to run through drills learned in class.  You can make adjustments to these drills by substituting stances or techniques to fit your particular needs.  Working on techniques independently opens up opportunities to explore and think of questions to ask your instructor for your specific personal development.  

Informal training can be physical or mental, and can be squeezed into daily life anytime we have a few minutes – while waiting for the bus, doing laundry, talking a walk, watching TV, brushing our teeth, etc.  Use this time to mentally walk through a kata, or review concepts and lessons learned in class.  This is a good time to work on things such as light stretching, stances, hip movements, or hand positions.  Spend some time on non-physical learning by watching videos, reading karate blogs or articles, or having discussions with fellow karateka about techniques or philosophy.   Thinking about techniques generates a greater desire to get back into the dojo to try out ideas or applications.  Revelations from independent study give more depth to drills in class, and produce more meaningful questions when the opportunity arises.  

There is no limit to what we can do outside the dojo, but even a small investment each day brings immense benefits to our training.  A few extra minutes improves both our physical performance of technique and mental understanding of karate-do.

Submitted by: Kimberly Baran, Nidan and Matthew Baran, Nidan

October 12, 2011

Spirit and mind are more important than technique

Gijitsu yori shinjitsu 

This is Master Funakoshi’s 5th entry in the Niju Kun, and this principle has many applications both inside and outside the dojo.  As with all principles of the Dojo Kun and Niju Kun, there are many possible interpretations of which this is only one.  The beauty of these precepts is that they can be applied to many aspects of both life and karate training.

Karate takes a lifetime to learn, and it takes a special person to commit to a lifetime of training.  There is always something else that we can learn, something else that we can improve upon in our techniques.  For some of us, the techniques come more naturally.  For others, we need to work harder to get our bodies to cooperate with what our mind knows to be correct technique.  But no matter our level or how easily the technique comes, our attitude and our spirit are profoundly more important to our progression in training. 

Just getting to the dojo is an important first step.  It is much easier to get caught up in everything else and skip training - there will always be something else that we could be doing.  To prioritize training and make sure that we are in class takes dedication and strength of will.    

Once in class, we must approach training with the attitude that there is always something to learn.  No matter our rank or what drill we are doing that day, there is always room for improvement.  Having the humility to admit that we don’t know everything will allow our minds to be open to new ways of thinking and will open up new possibilities for our development.  Karate is a constant cycle of learning and relearning the same techniques over and over, and making minor adjustments each step of the way to strive for perfection.  And it’s a constant struggle to make sure that each technique we perform is the best that we can do.  This kind of dedication to training does not come easily, which is why spirit and mind are so important.  The technique will not come perfectly at first, but with proper spirit and mind, the technique will come.        

As we learn, we may get information or hear things in a different way from our instructors or our seniors.  Our attitude in accepting this information is critical to our development.  We must always have respect for our seniors and appreciate the experience that they have, as they will have a different understanding of technique than we do.  Often we will hear things and understand what is meant, but it will take much time and effort to incorporate that into our technique, so we must be prepared to make that effort.  Sometimes, we will hear things that we don’t immediately understand, but we should not dismiss them.  Rather, we should keep this information in mind to try to achieve understanding. 

Training is not easy.  It is physically and mentally demanding.  So we need the spirit to push through when it gets hard.  We need to put ourselves into the mindset of defending ourselves and develop the strength, both physical and mental, to persevere.  We need to push ourselves and push our partners to always do our best so that no moment in the dojo is wasted.   

For progression in training, your technique is important, but your attitude and spirit will determine how far you can go.  Your Sensei will be able to see if you have the proper attitude, both inside and outside the dojo.  If all you have is good technique, you can go only so far.  But with the proper approach and mindset for training and the proper spirit, there is no limit to how much you can get from karate-do and how much you can give back.

Submitted by: Kimberly Baran, Nidan

September 28, 2011

How far can you go?

Karate training can be exhausting, no matter how many years you've been doing it. There is always a strong focus on lower stances, contraction and expansion of muscles, and big hip movements. Many people that train do so after a long day of classes or work. This can add to the feeling of exhaustion, and even an hour of training can seem strenuous. However, karate is about pushing ourselves harder than we normally would. And in order to do this safely, we must understand the nature of exhaustion. There are two main forms of exhaustion: mental exhaustion and physical exhaustion.

Mental exhaustion is a feeling of fatigue that you get after exerting yourself. During a particularly rigorous training, throwing the next punch or performing the next kata can seem like a daunting task. This is when we need to exercise our willpower and give our maximum effort despite the fatigue.  We need to focus our full attention on our training.  From a self-defense perspective, any potential attacker won't care how tired you are when he or she strikes, and you must be prepared to defend yourself. In a life or death situation, you cannot let your exhaustion overwhelm you. That is the same thinking that must be applied to training. If your body can go further, don't let your mind stop you short.

Physical exhaustion is when your body itself starts to break down, and may be due to fatigue, injury, or other muscle or joint pain. These are situations that require you to know and understand your body, and where willpower may have little effect. Part of training is pushing ourselves beyond what we thought was possible, but this needs to be done safely.  If you experience pain when training, you need to evaluate the situation.  If your pain is in your joints, you may need to stop training or adjust your training to prevent injury. Ignoring it for the sake of being tough will only lead to damage. Depending on your injury, you may need to take some time off training to allow for recovery. It is extremely important for us to recognize our own limitations.  There may be times when the mind feels stronger than the body, when we feel that we can work through the pain. It is then necessary to take a step back and determine if our bodies really can handle the strain, or whether we risk injury.  Especially as we age, our body isn’t always what it used to be and we need to make adjustments.  Discuss with your Sensei your situation and proper ways to adjust your training.

We are ultimately stronger than we realize. If we put our minds to it, we can push ourselves to go further than we could have imagined. However, while exhaustion of the mind can be overcome through strength of will, exhaustion of the body requires caution and an understanding of our own limitations and capabilities. Having both a strong body and mind will help us to continue our quest for perfection and allow us to continue lifelong training.

Submitted by: Arpan Ghosh, Shodan

September 22, 2011

Do not think of winning. Think, rather, of not losing.

Katsu kangae wa motsuna; makenu kangae wa hitsuyo.

This is Master Funakoshi’s 12th entry in the Niju Kun, and this principle can be related to partner training, training intensity, and training attitude.  This is only one potential interpretation, and the beauty of the Kun is that they apply to many aspects of life and training.

Karate is about understanding ourselves and controlling our behaviors and interactions with others.  Understanding must come first because you cannot control what you do not understand.  Know yourself; then you can control your thoughts and actions.  Know others; then you can harmonize your interactions with others.  In partner training, an aggressive, passive, or assertive approach may be taken in relation to one’s partner.  The aggressive partner throws techniques without regard for their opponent’s movement, position, or strategy, and tries to impose their will on their opponent.  This person is trying to win.  A passive partner throws techniques without intent or spirit, and shows a similar lack of regard for their opponent’s movement, but with the goal of avoiding the confrontation.  This person is trying not to win.  If we look beyond the false dichotomy of passiveness versus aggression we can approach conflict with assertiveness.  Assertiveness is when we seek to control a conflict through understanding and harmony between ourselves and our partner – we are thinking of not losing.

Taking kumite training as an example, an aggressive attacker may seek to damage their opponent or throw their strongest and fastest technique without a care as to their opponent’s health or safety.  Their training partners may become injured as they impose their maximum strength on every opponent regardless of size or rank.  This attitude has no place in karate, because we should seek to control ourselves and respect our opponents – never do we intend to cause injury.  On the flip side, a passive attacker may not even come into range with an attack and will not pursue an opponent as they dodge and shift.  The partners of the passive opponent will be unchallenged in their training and will have wasted valuable time going through hollow motions without the feedback of a spirited opponent.  The passive opponent will never learn control because they never challenge themselves to control their technique.  Karate should be training us to have control, not to avoid or disregard the issue.  Our karate training should instead be assertive.  An assertive opponent will adjust their technique and strength to give the most spirited attack appropriate for their partner.  Regardless of age, gender, size, and rank, a spirited and controlled attack can be executed without injury or danger to our opponents.  Thus our opponents can safely test their technique and extract valuable feedback from a spirited engagement.

And we shouldn’t stop there - self-control applies to many aspects of life.  Consider reaction training where you must synchronize your movement to a count.  Consider slow motion training where you must execute techniques at a snail’s pace.  Consider having a conversation – Do you dominate the talking? Do you quietly nod even though you disagree? Or do you have a true dialogue?  Neither the aggressive nor the passive approach to conflict will do anything to develop control over oneself and harmony with others.  If you train aggressively or passively (and we all do at some point), then you are not training at all.  Instead, we must train assertively.  As Master Funakoshi said, think of not losing.

Submitted by: Matthew Baran, Nidan

September 14, 2011

Putting the Dojo Kun into the Dojo

At the end of training, we recite the Dojo Kun.  This serves as a great reminder that we should carry these principles out into the world in our daily lives.  But we must also incorporate these principles into how we train, so it is important to reflect upon what we’re saying so that we can bring these principles into the dojo. 

We are all familiar with the shorter English translation of the Dojo Kun: seek perfection of character, be faithful, endeavor, respect others, and refrain from violent behavior.  But the longer translation can help to provide some additional insight and help us interpret what these precepts mean for our training: strive for the perfection of character, defend the paths of truth, foster the spirit of effort, honor the principles of etiquette, and guard against impetuous courage.  While there is certainly overlap between precepts, each one has a different lesson in relation to our training. 

Strive for the perfection of character:  Karate training is not easy and takes a lifetime, so what is perfection in training? To really understand this principle, we must look beyond technical skill. It is important to understand why we train, and why we perform certain movements and combinations. To be able to perform a technique or a drill in training is easy, but to really understand it takes much longer and much more effort.  It takes an attitude of always wanting to be better to force us to understand why it works, why we do what we do, and to focus on making those little changes that can make a big difference. Similarly, we must aim to understand the reason behind the etiquette we follow, the protocols that exist in karate.  It takes a great deal of humility and effort to admit that we’re not perfect and yet to always strive for perfection. Ultimately, we must aim to constantly better ourselves through our understanding.  Each day that we train, we should learn something new, discover something new about ourselves and our training. We want to always try to be better today than we were yesterday, and better tomorrow than we are today.

Defend the paths of truth: Truthfulness and honesty help us to become better people, and honesty in our training is the only way to become better karateka. We must be honest with our fellow karateka, as well as Sensei, but more importantly, we must be honest with ourselves. Every time we step onto the dojo floor, we make a commitment to do our best. Do you keep that commitment? Or do you look for any opportunity to be lax? Even if Sensei's eyes are not on you, you know the truth. Similarly, we must accurately assess our own strengths and weaknesses in training. If we make excuses or try to hide our shortcomings or act like we're better than our ability, we only fool ourselves. Obscuring the truth only makes it harder to see what can be improved upon.

Foster the spirit of effort: As karateka, to get the most out of our training, we must make karate training a priority and do everything we can to keep that commitment.  We know that when we miss a class or don’t give our best effort, it doesn’t just affect our own training, but also affects our training partners.  So we make every effort to make it to training and once we're there, we're always putting in our maximum effort. We should not only push ourselves, but also our partners so that they try their hardest.  Training time is our time and is limited, so we should always make the most of it.

Honor the principles of etiquette: We must always show respect for our Sensei, our Senpai, and our training partners.  But respect is not just observing specific rituals.  Etiquette is revealed by our words, actions, attitude, and overall demeanor.  Our understanding of etiquette is shown in many things, including how we approach class, how much effort we put into training, how we treat our fellow karateka, and how we bow.  We must bow properly and have the proper feeling within ourselves each time we bow.  We must listen to our instructors and to our seniors.  If we are always giving our best and pushing others to be their best, we are respecting their desire to train. By setting a good example for our juniors and encouraging them to improve, we show them respect. We may be friends with fellow karateka, but life outside the dojo is different from life inside the dojo, and within the dojo we need to understand, follow, and respect the hierarchy that is integral to karate training.       

Guard against impetuous courage: Training is about self-improvement, and helping others improve. It is our goal to train with intensity and to push our fellow karateka to their limits, but never with intentions to harm them.  This principle is strongly related to respect, where we need to push our partners to improve while having a humble and respectful attitude and treating our partners with respect.  We need to think about our words and actions instead of just reacting, and must always be in control of ourselves, in both body and mind. 

The Dojo Kun is meant to aid in focusing our training, to give us something to aim for beyond physical improvement and exercise. Reciting the Dojo Kun at the end of class keeps it at the forefront of the mind, but if we do not think about what it means, or strive to follow the path it lays out, then it is little more than a set of words. By always trying our best, with complete honesty, respect, and control, we can reach a step closer to perfection, and the ideals of karate-do.

Submitted by: Kimberly Baran, Nidan and Arpan Ghosh, Shodan

August 31, 2011

Breadth and Depth

Within Shotokan karate, there are twenty-six different kata.  Each one is different and offers us a unique opportunity to learn something about karate.  But it can take many years to perfect the movements and learn all the intricacies, subtleties, applications, and strategy hidden within each kata.  You should realize that it is often a trick question when you are asked if you know a kata.  To truly understand a form can take a lifetime. 

So how can we approach the study of multiple kata?  One approach is to balance breadth and depth of study. 

Through purple belt, you generally work on one kata for each belt level, and each one introduces concepts that are important for your development at that level.  But as you move to the next kata, you never forget the one(s) you learned previously.  Instead, you continuously revisit these kata and learn something new and continue to improve. 

At brown belt, you will work on one kata for quite some time, and you test with this form several times.  For the first time in your training, you are expected to show improvement in a kata from one test to the next, not just in physical performance but also in understanding.  You will also be introduced to other kata at this stage, increasing your breadth of knowledge.  Use these other forms to help develop the depth of understanding in your Tokui kata. 

At black belt, your journey is similar.  Now, any of the twenty-six kata is available for you to study.  To choose a kata, you need a basic understanding of many kata to know which one suits your training needs.  Your Sensei will guide this selection, since he or she knows  what you need in your training and which kata will help you the most.   Typically, you will work on two kata – one that fits you well and one that is complementary to keep balance in your training. 

A breadth of kata knowledge is important throughout our study, particularly in exams and tournaments.  In tournaments, you are expected to be able to perform any kata that you have previously tested with.  At black belt, competitors perform a round of Shitei kata, followed by a round of Sentei kata before they can perform their Tokui kata.  In dan exams, students perform their Tokui kata and then perform one that is selected by the examiners, generally of opposite feeling.

It can’t hurt to learn many new kata to expand your breadth of knowledge.  In fact, through continuous training you will develop an understanding of many kata.  Just be careful that you don’t become a jack of all trades and master of none.  Always balance that breadth of study with depth of knowledge of your kata.   

Submitted by: Kimberly Baran, Nidan

August 23, 2011

You Get What You Give

There is a balance of give and take within the dojo.  Whether it is between Sensei and student, Senpai and Kohai, two students, or two competitors, that balance must be maintained to preserve and develop your relationships within the karate world.

Often between Sensei and student, it can be hard to see that balance.  It may seem that Sensei is always giving, and students often hit the pitfall of always taking.  But Sensei will give the most to the students who give back – Sensei gives his or her time, knowledge, assistance, and effort to the students who are also giving back the most by doing things such as attending class, having a respectful attitude, trying hard, helping their juniors when appropriate, and incorporating advice.

Between Senpai and Kohai, the relationship is similar.  Senpai is giving back to both their Sensei and to other students by correcting students, helping their juniors, and by always trying to set the best example of what a karateka should be.  And you can give back to your Senpai by being respectful, listening to their advice, and doing your best to change your behavior to follow their advice.

Between any two karateka, no matter what the rank, you give to your partner by always doing your best.  This manifests itself most prominently in partner training.  You should always be giving your full effort.  When going with your seniors, always give your best effort to help push them in training.  When going with your juniors, set a good example and push your partner to just beyond their comfort level to continue to improve their training.  In competition, always give your best effort to help push your opponent to be their best.  Then in return, your partner will give their best to you and will help you improve.       

If you want to get more out of training, then rather than look for what more you can take, look instead for what more there is for you to give.  In all karate relationships, remember: you get what you give. 

Submitted by: Kimberly Baran, Nidan

August 17, 2011

Hearts and Minds

In his famous manuscript on combat strategy, “A Book of Five Rings,” Miyamoto Musashi stated, “Whether you parry, slap, strike, hold back or touch your opponent's cutting sword, you must understand that all of these are opportunities to cut him down.”

While Musashi was a swordsman primarily concerned with surviving life-or-death duels and the chaos of war, his principles for engaging an opponent translate well to karate.  He notes that we never parry an attack just to avoid being hit, and we never dodge a strike without planning a counter.  Every single motion should contribute to an effective counter attack on your opponent by improving your position, weakening your opponent's balance, taking away your opponent's options, etc.

To understand this principle is one thing, but there is a barrier to overcome when you apply it to karate training.  To effectively use every movement as an opportunity to “cut” the opponent, we must harmonize a strategy in our mind with the willpower in our hearts.  What I refer to as the mind is the conscious awareness of aspects such as distance, timing, strength, and weakness which is used to formulate an effective strategy for a fight.  The mind is used off-line to train good reactions and transfer the simulated situations from training into instinctual reactions in a live fight.  What I refer to as the heart is your unconscious will that governs the actual execution of technique; it is your inner-most desire or feeling whether you are aware of it or not.  The heart requires training to overcome our natural reactions and develop the willpower to execute a strategy in a dangerous situation.  The balance of training with your mind and heart together is necessary to capture Musashi’s advice.  Without using your mind, your strategy will be weak and ineffective; without training your heart your execution will betray your strategy and revert to your natural reactions.

Consider a defense against jodan oi-zuki where the defender shifts to the side to avoid the incoming punch and deliver a counter from the side of the opponent.  This strategy first entices the attacker to fully commit their attack but dodges at the last second to gain a superior position at the opponent's side for the counter attack.  Against a strong opponent, a natural reaction is to step well outside our countering range because deep in our heart we want to be far away from the dangerous, fast moving object.  Another common reaction is to move to the side much too early because we fear that we will wait too long and get hit.  Similarly, our preoccupation with the danger causes us to focus on the blocking limb, adding too much strength and tension, and we lose our positioning advantage because of our hesitation.  We must train our heart to remain strong in this type of situation by practicing effective technique until we are comfortable with the movement. 

Musashi's principle applies to all types of movement in karate from kihon kumite to free sparring to kata applications.  The important question is - are you just blocking, parrying, and dodging, or are you executing a strategy to end the fight?  The answer is in your heart.

Submitted by: Matthew Baran, Nidan

August 9, 2011

Winning isn't Everything

As karate has grown more popular in the world, it has developed a competitive aspect to it. Tournaments and competitions were introduced as a means of motivating karateka and giving them a chance to test their skills against their peers.  But as a result of competition, karate is considered a sport in many places.  However, we must not forget that karate is ultimately a martial art, and like any art, it is about refinement and improvement, not winning and losing.

By treating karate as a sport, one's vision is narrowed, and it can be easy to lose out on the intricacies of the art and many of the benefits that we can gain from training. Sports are mainly based on physical prowess, and competitions are a means of measuring that. But karate is not limited to the physical aspect. Learning different techniques and forms is just a starting point; by continuing to improve our technique, we are building endurance and strength of mind. A sport tends to end once off the field or court, but karate continues beyond the dojo. Every idea learned in karate can be translated and applied to actions in our daily lives. While athletes eventually retire from sports, there is no retirement from karate-do.  It is more than a physical activity; it is a way of life.

That's not to say that competition is bad. Tournaments have a place in karate training, and can help in one's development. Tournament training provides excellent motivation, and can lead karateka to push themselves harder than they normally would. At a tournament, whether local, regional or national, there is an opportunity to interact with the greater karate world, meeting students and Senseis from various clubs. This enhances the sense of community that exists in martial arts.

One also has to face their fears by performing in front of a large crowd, in a somewhat high pressure situation. This provides a sense of tension and excitement that one might encounter in real combat. Only by being calm and collected in the face of pressure will a karateka be able to defend oneself effectively. But there must be some perspective, since ultimately a tournament is just another form of training. Winning a medal or a trophy highlights good performance, but is not a foolproof indicator of true skill or knowledge. If we approach a tournament with the mindset of a martial artist rather than an athlete, we will recognize it for what it is: special training.

Thus we must train with the idea of self-improvement and learning self-defense, and not just to win against an opponent in a tournament. In all forms of training, always strive to do your best and continue to improve yourself. When competing, put your best foot forward, show what you have learned, and how well you've learned it. If, at the end of the day, you have performed to the best of your ability, and put in every ounce of your effort, then winning or losing is immaterial. As Master Gichin Funakoshi said in the Niju Kun (the 20 guiding principles of karate): “Do not think of winning; rather, think of not losing.” It is a philosophy applicable not just to karate training and competition, but to every part of life.

Submitted by: Arpan Ghosh, Shodan

August 4, 2011

Actions Speak Louder Than Words

As we advance in rank, we accept additional responsibility in the dojo.  It is important to understand our role in class, and what can be done to help our fellow karateka.  Junior members naturally look to their seniors as an example of technique and behavior in class.  It is everyone’s job to set a good example by demonstrating their best technique and etiquette.  This benefits not only your own karate training, but also lifts the training level of other students.  Accepting this responsibility not just to ourselves, but also to act as a good example to others, adds motivation to perform well in class.  

During training, unless specifically told otherwise by Sensei, it is not our responsibility to tell other students what they should be doing, particularly in terms of technique.  Rather, we should be showing them through our actions so that others can look to us as a role model.  In kihon and kata, this is easy - it simply means that we should always be doing our best in training and giving our full effort at every moment.   

In kumite training, both partners should learn something from every exchange.  So we should go into training with every partner both ready to defend ourselves and ready and willing to learn and improve.  We have respect for every opponent, which implies always giving our best effort in the exchange.  In partner training, our role as seniors is subtle but  very important.  Our responsibility is to control our technique to the level of our opponent.  This way we learn to go at full speed and in control of our movement, which is necessary as we advance in rank.  We also learn subtleties of kumite strategy by adapting to each opponent that we face.  Thus, it is helpful to the training of both partners if we develop an understanding of our opponent and adjust accordingly. 

When paired with our juniors, we must understand their abilities so that we can push them just beyond their comfort level to motivate their progress.  We teach not by telling people what they should be doing, but rather by exposing strengths and weaknesses in their technique so they can feel what is right or wrong.  It is the difference between telling someone “you would have been hit” versus making controlled contact to demonstrate that their technique was insufficient.  And this will help our training as well, since we learn to identify openings in our opponents’ techniques, learn to recognize them when they occur, and learn to react in the moment to take advantage of those openings within the rules of the engagement.  It’s a subtle but very important distinction in the approach to partner training.  Instead of looking for mistakes to tell our partner what is wrong, we are giving our best effort in training and looking for opportunities to improve ourselves.  This improves our skills while allowing our partner to learn from the exchange as well.  Having the right attitude and approach to training, both partners can benefit from every encounter, and we should thank each partner that we train with for teaching us something. 

Remember, junior members will look up to their seniors and respect them more for being able to set the example and for being able to demonstrate what is right.  It is easy for anyone to tell someone what they should be doing, but showing them and leading by example requires more restraint and more skill, and will ultimately command more respect.  Always keep in mind that in training, actions speak louder than words.

Submitted by: Kimberly Baran, Nidan

July 25, 2011

Balance between Thinking and Doing

In karate training, it is important to strike a balance between physical movement and intellectual understanding.  We cannot be effective without having both elements to our training.  But there is a time and a place for each of these.

Karate training involves learning techniques that are potentially deadly, and learning how to defend yourself in dangerous situations.  Your Sensei is responsible not only for your karate development, but also for your safety and the safety of your training partners.  Therefore, it is essential that you trust your Sensei, listen to what he or she is telling you, and follow all of his or her instructions in the dojo.  Your only job in training is to do as you are told and try to feel what your Sensei is teaching you. 

With all of your techniques, you want to get to a point where the correct movement is natural, where you don’t need to think but instead can just react.  So you want to develop to where you are able to feel when a technique is right, and learn what feels right for your specific body type and physical ability.  If you follow your Sensei’s instructions, then the guidance you receive from him or her will help you know when your technique is right and will enhance your understanding of techniques.  Then you can internalize what it feels like when you perform the technique properly and can get to a point where you can just do it.  

By internalizing the feeling of correct technique in class, while also developing your knowledge outside of class time, you will begin to develop an understanding of the whys and hows of your karate.  Your Sensei will guide you and help you to develop this understanding during class time, and then you can complement that knowledge by your own research and self-study outside the dojo. 

Using kata as an example, it is important first to learn and understand the sequence of movements and the basic techniques through repetition.  Once you have that basic understanding, you will begin to practice kata applications, where you use those techniques against an opponent.  There are at least ten different applications to every movement in kata, so there is always room to learn different applications to adjust for various distances, sizes of opponents, attacks, types of defenses, etc.  While you may be able to see an application to your kata movement, your Sensei will be able to help you better develop your understanding of not only that single application, but also to see what other possibilities exist for additional applications of kata movements.  Through discussions with your Sensei and Senpai outside of class, through watching videos, by reading books or articles, and through your own thinking about and practicing your kata, you can gain a greater understanding of the movements.    

To maintain a balance, it is important to not only understand that applications exist and what they may be, but to practice those applications.  No matter how much you have thought about them, you will not be effective in using these techniques without physical practice against an opponent.  And no matter how many times you have done the techniques, you will not be effective without thinking about them and how they can be used.   

Most of our physical training takes place in the dojo.  We need to take advantage of our limited time with guided instruction to actually do karate techniques.  Discussions are saved primarily for times outside of training.  Take the time in training to learn to feel when it’s right, to listen and absorb knowledge from your instructor, and to use partner training to test your techniques.  Once you can find this balance, your study of physical techniques, training philosophy, and your physical training will all be enhanced by your efforts in each of the other areas.

Submitted by: Kimberly Baran, Nidan

July 20, 2011

Make a Mistake!

In popular opinion, there is a negative view of making a mistake in life, and feelings of guilt, shame, and regret are often attached to mistakes.  However, the only way we can learn new things and push the boundaries of our capabilities is by making mistakes.  If we always play it safe to avoid the supposed shame of a mistake, we never find out our true potential and we cease to improve.  Instead, we must view each of our mistakes as a necessary part of the learning experience. 

It is difficult, however, to turn a mistake into an educational experience because we must first swallow our pride and acknowledge the error.  Then we must graciously accept criticism from others or from our own assessment.  To learn from our mistakes, we must admit that we are not perfect, identify the areas we wish to improve, and set to work on improving them.  This means we can neither ignore our mistakes nor become obsessed with them.  We should simply use our mistakes to give us direction.

In karate, students often receive criticism to point them towards improvement.  Because of our own pride and the cultural view of making a mistake, it can be difficult to honestly receive this criticism.  As karate-ka we must walk the fine line between pride and poor self-esteem to accept our mistakes and act on the resulting criticism without feeling shame or regret.  Sometimes, to avoid being “caught” in a mistake, we change our movements or adjust ourselves when no one is looking and the result is very unnatural.  We end up being corrected for problems that arose out of our own weak-spirited behavior instead of our natural weaknesses.  If we work in the dojo with full intent and with no fear of our many mistakes then our karate is honest and our effort will not be dampened by an unstable ego.

In time, a karate student learns to cherish criticism from his/her seniors because the seniors are showing that they care enough about the student to spend time helping them.  A student with a humble attitude can accept criticism without feeling insulted, and a student with strong self-esteem can apply that criticism without feeling encumbered by their mistakes.  The best approach is to have both strong self-esteem and a humble attitude and never be afraid or ashamed of your mistakes!

Submitted by: Matthew Baran, Nidan

July 19, 2011

Lifelong Journey

Attaining the rank of black belt, or any belt, is a source of pride, a goal that everyone would like to achieve. However, rank should not be seen as a destination that one is in a hurry to reach; rather, it should be regarded as another stop on the journey of karate, a means of going even farther in one's training. It is a journey of many miles, and one must be prepared to go the whole distance, without looking for shortcuts.

Let us look at the significance of rank and advancing belt levels. As already mentioned, reaching black belt should not be the end goal of one's training. Having a black belt does not mean one has mastered everything in karate; rather, that is when one realizes how much there is still left to learn and understand.  That is when one truly begins to gain a deeper understanding of one's strengths and weaknesses. Each stop provides us with something to aid our journey, and we must in turn endeavor to go the extra mile. 

And indeed, we must be willing to travel far, no matter how difficult the journey. There are no shortcuts in karate. One can easily memorize what a technique should look like after a thorough explanation and a few repetitions. But mental understanding is just the first step; the body needs to understand the technique as well for it to be truly effective. This requires constant training, to build up muscle memory, as well as to refine finer points such as timing, speed and power. Straying from the path will only take you further from where you need to go.

It doesn't matter if you are just a beginner, or if you have been training many years. In karate, the destination is unimportant; one must love the journey, for it lasts a lifetime. So for those of you who haven't 'mastered' your technique within weeks of learning them, do not be disheartened. Those that are hoping to attain their next rank, do not be idle. And those that have already attained a higher rank, do not be complacent. For all of you, I only have two words: Keep training!

Submitted by: Arpan Ghosh, Shodan

July 13, 2011

Respect and Responsibility

Etiquette is of the utmost importance in a karate dojo.  Having the proper mindset toward your training, both inside and outside of the dojo, is imperative to becoming a true martial artist.  One important aspect of etiquette is referring to your instructor as Sensei, and to your senior students as Senpai.  This seemingly small gesture will help you tremendously to approach the proper attitude toward training. 

When you enter a dojo and ask to be allowed to train with that instructor, there is an understanding that both student and Sensei are entering into.  The Sensei who accepts you as their student will take the responsibility to guide your training as a martial artist.  This involves knowing you, your motivations, your limitations, and putting in the time and effort to develop your karate technique and guide the development of your character.  For the student, to show your respect and appreciation for your Sensei, there are a few things that you need to do.  First, you need to come to training and to always give your best effort.  Second, you need to trust in your Sensei that he or she knows what is best for your training and is always acting to help you develop as a martial artist.  Third, you need to follow the instructions of your Sensei, both inside and outside the dojo, to show your trust and respect.  This relationship is not easy, but for both the Sensei and the student, having the proper understanding of respect and responsibility that comes along with karate training is required for development as a martial artist. 

In addition to your relationship with your Sensei, your Senpai are there to help guide your training.  The relationship between Senpai (senior) and Kohai (junior) is important to your karate training.  This relationship again centers on respect and responsibility, and is similar to a relationship of mentor and protege.  The Kohai must always approach their Senpai with respect, and should look to their Senpai for an example of how to behave.  The Senpai take responsibility for assisting Sensei with the development of the students.  Senpai are expected to always strive to set the perfect example of how students behave in and out of the dojo.  Senpai are often charged with making sure that their Kohai are following the proper etiquette, as well as helping to push students just a little farther than they are comfortable to help their development.

In all of these relationships, it is important to understand that the respect and responsibility is a two-way street.  Everyone in the karate dojo must treat everyone with respect, and must take responsibility for their own training and their actions.  You must understand that when your Sensei or Senpai correct you in or out of training, it is always with best intentions, with humility, and with the purpose of helping you to develop as a martial artist.  By addressing your Sensei and Senpai with the proper titles, it puts you in the proper mindset and helps you to approach the situation with the proper respect.  It also reminds your Sensei and Senpai of the responsibility that they have for your development, and shows the seriousness of your training through adoption of the proper etiquette.

Submitted by: Kimberly Baran, Nidan

July 12, 2011


This blog has been created to share views on karate training and philosophy.  I hope that through thinking about karate training, that our physical training can become even more productive and that we can continue to develop as karateka.  But remember that there is no substitute for stepping onto the dojo floor and training.  Karate training needs to be a balance between mental and physical training.

Submitted by: Kimberly Baran, Nidan