April 16, 2013


Last night I had the frustrating experience of training while injured.  Training with an injury is frustrating because the normal energy and spirit of karate training would aggravate the injury and lengthen recovery time.  It takes a fair amount of self-control to watch your fellow karate-ka vigorously training while you have to find ways to improve at a slower pace.  It is a mildly lonely feeling to be in a group of companions but unable to behave in the same way as the group.  However, this solitary feeling allowed me to really focus on myself during training, and I picked up a nice reminder of how quickly our training can lapse into ineffectiveness unless we keep a close eye on ourselves.

The lesson came during the kihon section of class, as we were warming up in zenkutsu-dachi with a kizami-zuki/gyaku-zuki combination.  I noticed that even in slow motion, my body was adjusting around the discomfort in my left side due to some bruised ribs.  Sub-consciously I was letting my rear knee collapse and rear foot come up on its edge, allowing my hips to make the required range for gyaku-zuki without the proper tension in my core muscles near my injury.  Even though I had made the conscious decision to train slowly and put up with some discomfort in my ribs, my subconscious was letting my training slip to avoid that discomfort.  How quickly our body will betray our conscious intentions for its own short-sighted ends!  We must be vigilant as we train, because this unconscious betrayal of our training will happen every time the ego is threatened, risk of failure is present, or unpleasant work is at hand.  I find it ironic that my initial disappointment with low intensity training was met with an important lesson that could only present itself in the quiet, introspective mind brought on by that training. 

Submitted by: Matt Baran, Sandan

April 3, 2013

Planting the Seeds

There is a difference between knowledge and understanding, and this is an important distinction to make with regard to training.  Knowledge is made up of facts.  It is face-value, literal, what-you-see-is-what-you-get information.  Knowledge can be copied and repeated, and a person with tons of knowledge is often mistaken for someone with understanding of the subject matter.  On the other hand, understanding is the ability to make deep connections between pieces of knowledge, and between knowledge and events.   It is the awareness of the context and limitations of a piece of knowledge, and the ability to use this context to make new connections and deductions from the facts.  Knowledge is required for understanding, but knowledge alone does not equate to understanding.  Understanding cannot be communicated between people, only knowledge can be transmitted.  Then it is up to the individual to transform that knowledge into their own understanding.

In karate, an instructor may have an amazing understanding of the material, but he/she is only able to provide knowledge to the students during a lesson.  The responsibility to develop an understanding of the lesson falls on the student.  Understanding must be cultivated from the instructor’s information in the same way a vegetable garden is cultivated from seeds.  This requires self-study and a conscious effort by the student to focus on the given information.  Through persistence inside and outside the dojo, knowledge slowly grows into understanding.  Our instructors are very aware of the need for individual study, and new information is never given until the old information has borne fruit – to give more information would simply distract from earlier lessons. 

So let us not be collectors of information, or consumers of knowledge.  Without conscious effort to understand for ourselves, these activities are shallow and insignificant.  Let us closely examine the lessons we learn and put in the extra effort required to gain something truly meaningful.  A garden that produces well requires constant attention – weeding, watering, adding nutrients, etc.  A person who collects seeds and never plants them cannot be called a gardener; likewise, a person who attends a karate lesson but doesn’t scrutinize their own training cannot be called a karate-ka.

Submitted by: Matt Baran, Sandan