Entrance to the Barn Dojo....

Friday, May 17, 2013

People say the damnedest things

I was raised to think that there were no stupid questions...only stupid answers. But I think I may have grown more curmudgeonly as I get older. Human behavior in general perplexes me. Sometimes it's the big things that confuse me--like why would someone place a bomb at the finish of the Boston Marathon? Sometimes it's just stupid little things--like the guy driving next to me on the highway at 65 miles an hour and texting with the phone right up in front of his face. Well, maybe that's not such a little thing either. But here's my list of stupid karate questions, and it's not exhaustive by any means, only the ones that come to mind at the moment:

What's your favorite kata? (If it is a system, should we be focusing on individual parts of the system to the exclusion of others or favor one part over any other part?)
How high (or low) should your shiko-dachi be? (Does it really matter as long as it is stable and functional?)
Do you practice karate or karate-do? (I practice this stuff. I don't really care what you call it.)
Why does this teacher (or was it that teacher) turn his foot when he steps forward in Sanchin? (Sanchin is a kata to train stance and posture and breath, etc. It's not a bunkai kata. It doesn't matter whether you turn the foot before you step.)
Is this a cluster "M" kata or a cluster "H" kata? (Who decided on these categories anyway? Whoops, that's not fair responding to a question with a question. Ah, tough, that's all it deserves.)
How long does it take to make black belt? (As long as it takes.)
What kata is the best for self defense? (Depends, doesn't it?)
Do you kick with the ball of the foot or the heel? (Depends, doesn't it?)
What kata is the deadliest? (All of them.)
Should you cross-train? (Don't we already?)
Did you know that karate was not even systematized until the 20th century? (Not fair--rhetorical! Why do people ask questions they already know the answer to?)
Which do you think came first, kata or bunkai? (Emphasis on you and thinking, as if this is, in fact, open for discussion. It's not. Guess what the answer is.)
Hey, I wonder what it would be like to focus on one kata for five years? Or even one technique for a year? (Stupid. What a waste.)
Do you say "Osu"? (Will it help my karate?)
Do you spend more time on basics, kata, or two-person bunkai? (You do what you need to do, don't you?)
Do you wear a gi at your school? (What for?)
Matayoshi sensei helping my
daughter Emily on her first bike.
Do you practice "flow drills"? (Whatever the hell they are?!)
Do you compete in tournaments? (No, I buy my plastic trophies at the local sporting goods store instead.)
Aren't all styles really the same--they just take different paths to eventually get to the same place? (No, some styles are better than others.  And some are so corrupted that it's hard to see the original intent anymore.)
What the heck is "oyo" bunkai? (Now that's a good question. And while we're on it, what are different levels of bunkai? Bunkai is bunkai.)

The Greeks had a name for it...hubris. Most of these questions reek of hubris. A Greek tragedy in the making. This rant smacks of hubris too, doesn't it? But that's the irony of it, isn't it?

Saturday, May 04, 2013

Marathon training at my age???

This is a bit of a ramble. In fact, I'm hesitant to even write a post like this. I've tried to  keep all of my blog posts focused on Goju kata and bunkai--technique rather than musings about my personal "journey" or what it means to train, etc. I wonder sometimes why people share all that personal stuff. Why should someone else care? What does it have to do with my own training? After all, I'm not trying to proselytize; I'm just training and sharing what I do. What others make of it is up to them. The funny thing about blogs, in fact, is I'm not exactly sure what purpose they serve. You never really hear from most of the people who read your blog, so you have no way of knowing who you are reaching or what they make of what you're saying. Sometimes I think most people only encounter your blog when you mention some well-known person that the Google algorithm can pick up on a random search. The most email I've received has had to do with posts I've written that were critical of Higaonna sensei or Taira sensei or Mabuni sensei. Those individuals are, of course, so popular that any criticism calls into question what you yourself are doing. That is, if I am in disagreement with those individuals who are so popular--and their students and their organizations--then I must be doing something wrong. A minority of one. I never felt particularly uncomfortable being in a minority of one though. After all, the majority of Americans watch "reality" TV. The majority of Americans eat at McDonald's. The majority of Americans, I recently read, believe in ghosts but don't believe Darwin was correct. And we shouldn't forget that the Church (the Roman Catholic Church) only came out a few years ago to say that it had perhaps been wrong about Galileo. I am reminded of something Hamlet says:

"Sure, He that made us with such large discourse, looking before and after, gave us not that capability and god-like reason to fust in us unused."

But all of that perhaps is neither here nor there...the effusive ramblings of the typical blog post. I'm not training at the moment...obviously. I'm actually sitting here typing, with a glass of wine, listening to Bach violin concertos. I wonder how many intense martial arts blog posts and forum comments are written under the same or similar conditions?

But when I sat down, I was thinking of writing about training for a marathon....a 26.2 mile run. I'm not really a runner, but this is what I've been doing--in addition to martial arts training, of course--for the past three to four months. But first-time marathon runners can get really obnoxious, so obsessively focused on what they're doing. It's certainly understandable; the training for a marathon is really really hard. It's an incredible challenge. It's probably not even good for you. But I think challenging yourself is, at the very least, interesting. And anyone who hasn't trained for a marathon can't really relate to it. Sort of like traditional karate training. I've met a lot of people who say, "Oh, you train karate? I did that once." But what they did was a month of Fred Villari stuff or a year at the local American Kempo Institute. What do they know?

When I first started training Okinawan Goju-Ryu with Kimo Wall sensei, we trained two hours a day, five days a week, and sometimes on Saturday as well. Sometimes we would slip shoes on and go out and train in the snow. Often we trained in hallways or stairwells. The club at that time had fifty or sixty members who trained regularly. We would do basics--blocks, punches, and kicks--and count around the dojo, each person counting to ten. And that was followed by kata or two-person paired basics or two-person bunkai with training subjects. We would have speed drills in pairs till you wore yourself out, going home with bruises up and down the forearms. In between training kata and bunkai, we might do shiko-dachi races, carrying a classmate across the floor on our backs. Or we might have races across the floor in push-up position. Or we might have tug-o-wars with our belts. And, of course, there were all of the traditional drills--arm pounding, log tossing, push-ups, sit-ups, breathing exercises, stretching, learning to sit in full lotus, etc.

I'm thinking of all this because it reminds me of a training story I once read. The point of the story was something to the effect that if you didn't train hard when you were young and strong, then you wouldn't have anything when you got old. You would only be a paper tiger. When I'm out on those fifteen or twenty mile training runs--and my feet hurt and my knees ache and my hips are starting to bother me and I'm wondering what the heck I'm doing all this for even for the briefest of moments--I remember how hard we used to train in the old days. It's a reminder for me of the mental, physical, and spiritual effort that karate training attempts to foster in students, and the phrase we often heard: "Ganbatte kudasai!!" Never give up. I'll remember that when we head up that hill at mile fifteen!

Ganbatte kudasai!