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