Entrance to the Barn Dojo....

Monday, July 17, 2017

Seminar in Italy

View of Florence
About 20 years ago, I stopped teaching the karate club at the university and started training in the barn dojo in back of my house. We put in a 3/4-inch plywood floor and covered it with an old wrestling mat from the university, put up a couple of makiwara posts and a heavy bag, a couple of nigiri game jars, some pictures and scrolls from Okinawa, and began training. At first there were six to ten black belts from the university that were either still around or decided to live nearby for the summer, but eventually, since I had no interest in advertising and trying to run a commercial dojo, it dwindled until there was just me and Ivan. Since there was just the two of us training most nights, we found little need to talk or count out basics or kata. We just trained. Generally, we warmed up on our own and then did a round or two of kata, from Sanchin to Suparinpei and Tensho. Then we would work on bunkai, but again there seemed to be little need to talk. We were both conversant enough with the techniques and observant enough of each other's movement to see what was going on just from the constant repetition of ippon kumite drills we did from the techniques in the classical kata. I don't know how else to say it, but we got to a point where we could almost tell what each other was thinking simply from how we were moving. We varied it a lot in those days when we were first trying to understand the classical subjects.

I was reminded of that sort of silent communication last week, watching my son Noah play soccer or "futbol" as they call it in Italy. We were staying at a hotel near the airport in Rome on our last night in Italy, since we had an early flight home the next morning. We needed to head to the airport at 4am if we were going to catch our flight home to Boston--a grueling 27-hour exodus, counting layovers, that took us from Rome to Istanbul to Boston.

Noah discovered a small fenced-in soccer pitch in back of the hotel and went down to unwind and kick a kid-sized soccer ball around that he found in the bushes nearby. A few minutes later, a group of Italian polizia came by with their gym bags and soccer balls, dressed in shorts and soccer cleats. They came after work to play five-a-side games, only this evening they were one player short. They motioned Noah over and invited him to play with them. There were no words really. The only language they shared was the language of soccer. When I came looking for him, the game was well underway. There were smiles and laughter and high fives. They were good, but the game was played for fun. When Noah had to leave, there were fist bumps and handshakes.

I'm reminded of that camaraderie as I sit here a week later and think back to the seminar I gave a couple of weeks ago in Villadose, Italy. It was the same sort of thing. I don't speak Italian and few of the people at the seminar would be able to understand me if I tried to explain things in words. Certainly Andrea, who initially contacted me after reading this blog and the articles I had written years ago for the Journal of Asian Martial Arts, could translate for me, but I didn't think lengthy explanations and sentence-by-sentence translations was what anyone was there for. I thought back to the times I had trained in Okinawan dojos where, for the most part, the only instruction that was actually verbalized was, " Kori wa ko, desho'," and it was always accompanied by a demonstration. (I think a rough translation was something like "it's like this, isn't it.") Anyway, I had been invited to give a seminar there by the Villadose karate club (Gruppo Sportivo Karate) with the sponsorship and support of FEKDA (Federazione Europea Karate Discipline Associate). The students were all different ages, from old to young, and from all different styles of karate. But we trained together, shared concepts and techniques, and enjoyed ourselves for two days.

If soccer has its own language and is indeed international, as my son reminded me after his game with the Italian polizia, I think the same might be said of martial arts. There is the silent language of a shared experience and a common understanding, and it is fostered and nourished, I think, through courtesy and respect. And it seems to be something we share as martial artists, regardless of school affiliation or style. So often in these situations, I am reminded of things my teacher, Kimo Wall sensei, would say. I heard them so often that they have become something of a mantra, and in some ways they all have come to mean the same thing.

Open mind, joyful training.
Replace fear and doubt with knowledge and understanding.
Train hard, train often.

Thank you to everyone who came to train. And especially to Andrea and Luigi Ferrari who went out of their way to make us feel welcome! Grazie Mille!

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