Monday, August 29, 2005

karate kid vs karate-ka (karate ranch guide to behavior)

The first time I stepped into a dojo (a place where karate-do and other budo are practiced) I was eight years old and believed that karate would teach me to fly through the air, pulverize wooden boards and defeat would-be assailants. While karate would teach me all these things, perhaps the most important thing it taught me was discipline. I had no idea what I thought a dojo would be like but I knew what kids were like- they played and squirmed and were loud.

Much to my surprise, there were kids attending that class that were much younger than me and none of them were acting like kids. They were acting like statues. The sensei (person who teaches karate) was leading them through exercises and although there were about fifteen people there, you could hear a pin drop.

Karate, unlike other sports that kids get into, teaches a great deal of discipline early on. Students are learning and practicing moves that can potentially harm or even kill. The responsibility that they take on in practice is more than a kid who learns to play t-ball for example, and as a result they are (generally) more serious minded.

Consequently, if a school does not teach all of the participants to act like men and women of responsibility, there is something missing from the lessons. Here is a list of basic items of etiquette that help promote learning and inspire discipline among practitioners:

- No hats, shoes or portable music devices in a dojo
- No gum, cigarette smoking (or other kinds of smoking) or eating in a dojo
- Portable phones should be turned off
- Guests should abide by these same rules to promote a good atmosphere for learning.
- Guests and students should keep voices low and restrict conversation unless necessary so as not to distract others
- Wear appropriate clothing to class, no jewelry (especially no rings, necklaces or earrings), no socks (unless otherwise specified), no jeans, inappropriate messages or images on clothing is strictly prohibited
- Students are encouraged to wear dogi to class (also known as gi)
- Show proper respect to fellow students and especially to instructors: rudeness cannot be permitted! Bow before and after each exercise. (other items will be included in later articles)
- If you are late for class (not a good idea), wait patiently in the “guest” area or another out-of-the-way spot until the sensei invites you to participate
- Don’t use inappropriate, rude, lewd or hurtful communication in the dojo
- Don’t shout or get angry in the dojo (if you find yourself starting to get hot, talk to the sensei and/or excuse yourself)
- Don’t correct a teacher’s or senior student’s authority or knowledge, and especially not in class.
- Don’t argue your point if you disagree (discussion and argument are different, however, class is not the time for either unless you are working privately with the sensei or a senior student and have a question)

Sunday, August 28, 2005

karate ranch: the dark side

Something that fascinates me to almost no end is the inevitable result when a parent learns for the first time that karate is a very contact oriented activity. They see their "Billy" or "Judy" come home with a bruise or two and they instantly freak out and call me up.
Allow me to describe some activities that parents do not question, however. Running full tilt into someone while they are carrying the shaped skin of a dead animal, slamming each other like mis-handled luggage and wearing sharp blades on their feet as they skid on ice while carrying sticks...
There are reasons that parents sign waivers. It's because although a teacher may do everything in their power to prevent injuries, the reality of sports is that someone will get hurt. Does that mean that we should live our lives afraid to try anything that could be considered dangerous? Of course not. We should still encourage our kids to play football and wrestle and play hockey (if they are interested in doing so). We should also allow our kids to practice karate.
When one practices karate the benefits are many and may include : increased self-esteem, feelings of kindness and a desire to serve others, physical health and quickened minds.
I won't lie to you, though, there are days when I come home and have to take a breather...

Practical Arts, Practiced Arts

During practice please feel free to ask questions, offer suggestions and make comments. This would most appropriately be done after the initial instruction has been given. In the dojo it is considered very rude to correct a student of a higher rank simply because they have more experience and probably know the intent or mechanics of a particular technique better than a lower ranking student. It is almost never inappropriate to request a demonstration or an explanation (provided that it is not interrupting the teaching process and if time allows).

There are many occasions when an answer is not at the ready. This should not discourage you: sometimes the concept is unclear to begin with. Many martial arts are composed of traditions that are very culturally specific to the oriental method of study. It makes sense that a person who hadn't been exposed to them wouldn't understand the intricacies of eastern culture from the late nineteenth century. In other cases, a move or a concept should be explored by the student before a clear "answer" is given.

An act of faith is required before a martial artist can begin to understand the moves and ideas he or she is being taught. This is not "blind faith," as one should already have established that what their sensei is teaching is good for their body, mind and spirit. In this case, Faith is the belief in what is unseen but is known to be true and the action that demonstrates said knowledge. The student must practice long and hard until one day his or her mind will softly "click" on and they will understand (often this is preceded by a partial explanation by the sensei).

This "slow" method of teaching is preferable to a school that claims to be able to make you a master in a month (or any time less than twenty years!) or announces that it teaches the "secrets" of such and such a style. Almost all styles of martial arts have their "secrets." These "secrets" are moves or ideas preserved meticulously over time to maintain the purity of the school. If, for example, I were to learn (as a novice) the "Flying Squirrel Technique" of the Five Animals School of Kung Fu, I may decide that there is nothing left to learn from that school and give up my practice. Worse would be if I tried to teach the technique to someone else because, being a novice, I would almost certainly fail to include in my instruction a vital element to the movement and I would definitely omit essential spiritual elements to the move. I would suffer as a bad teacher and my students would suffer from my bad teaching.

The serious practitioner of the martial arts has a responsibility to find a school that teaches true principles and is not given to gimmicks. I will discuss "secrets" in a later post, but suffice it to say that if you should stumble across them in your studies, strive to find your own sense of what they mean and never give up. If you encounter "secrets" in the Way, take that as a compliment from your sensei-it means that they think you are ready.

"Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you." -King James Version of the Bible Matthew 7:6

Good Driving, Good Karate-by Andrea

The other day, James and I were driving in the car. Just after someone cut us off or did some other rude or reckless thing, James turns to me and asks; "what do you think makes a good driver?" An interesting question to pose to someone who isn't a very good driver herself.

After a few moments of thought I narrowed it down to a few basic qualities. Those qualities are awareness, respect, and technical skill. After a few moments he asked, "now what do you think makes a good karate-ka?" after mulling that one over we arrived at the same three qualities, only with different applications. Where a good driver must be aware of traffic, pedestrians, and signs, a karate-ka must be aware of his opponents, the terrain, and his own body. A good driver must respect the other drivers on the road and the law. A good karate student must respect his opponent's life, his teacher's experience and knowledge, his fellow students, the wisdom of those generations who have been perfecting the arts for centuries, the elements, his own body... i think you can tell respect is one of the most heavily weighed qualities of a good karate-ka. And lastly, technical skill plays a part. The part it plays in the two roles if far different though. A driver must be good in order to avoid numerous problems- they must pass a test to get a license. The requirement is of a different nature for a karate-ka, however. A good karate-ka is always learning, always progressing, and always willing to admit his shortcomings. A driver can only progress so far and maybe its only worth the energy to get so far. But I've heard it said about the martial arts that it is like a circle. There are no shortcuts because there is no end. A karate student who has never thrown a punch can be just as good a student as a black belt as long as they both have the awareness and respect that separates them from those who will never truly progress.

I have been watching your class for some time and I want you to know that I consider you all very good karate-kas. I am impressed with your devotion and progression in the art and I'm grateful that James has such exceptional students. -Andrea

Sunday, August 21, 2005

tournaments at the ranch

this summer has indeed been a prime opportunity for karate tournaments and martial arts tournaments in general. each tournament has been fairly well-attended and included a variety of martial arts and skill-levels. there have also been memorable moments for everyone involved. i would like to take this opportunity to post just a few of the many spectacular pictures we were able to capture from these events. if you would like to see all the pictures, or have questions, please leave a comment or contact me.

first: james and kate trying to step on each other's feet

second: kate punching tim's armpit (tim annoyed!)

tournament time at the karate ranch! (part one)

This summer has been a prime opportunity for tournaments! As students have anticipated tournaments, they have trained hard physically and mentally to test themselves against fellow students (and we've had some exciting matches!). As a pre-tournament event the karate club went down to Indianola to run on the beach, practice kata, balance rocks and build sand castles.

Of course, everyone was a little surprised at the idea of building sand castles... but driving your fingers into the sand repeatedly can help out with knife-hand strikes. (not to mention concepts such as planning and cooperation).
Kata practice was quite interesting because it was the first time in a long time we'd had some of the oldest members show up. We practiced katas kihon, geki sai ichi, and geki sai ni.

Everyone was really excited. No one could suspect what would happen next...

some words on kata and exercise at the karate ranch

To those who are looking for a way to improve their physical bodies, we are still holding morning training at Raab Park at seven a.m. The training usually only lasts about one hour and covers running (one mile divided into four circuits), crunches (eighty of them in different positions), leg lifts (ten), circles (some), "body builders" (15 of this eight beat exercise), and squats (twenty). Also, recently we began doing pull-ups and hope to continue this practice. The training is centered on your current abilities and your own body weight. Work at your own consistent pace is emphasized rather than a short tremendous burst of effort. Improvement is "optional."

Kata is an essential part of your training and should be performed as often as possible (at least daily). One should practice the individual movements by themselves and in small sequences. For example: if you are practicing kihon kata, practice stepping back into a forty five degree shiko dachi low block with lead hand, then middle punch with reverse hand. Practice completing this sequence one hundred times on both sides.

Practicing on both sides will help you to relieve your body of stress. If you must think how you want to react, your thinking slows your body and emphasizes the separation between your mind, body and ki (or energy). Practicing movements and sequences helps unite those three forces that make you up. However, do not practice these movements without bunkai (technical analysis) of its applications. You are not simply waving your hands around. You are not simply walking around. You are taming yourself. You are harnessing your power. You are preparing yourself.

My first teacher in the Way once told me "(when you are doing kata) don't stop. If the building catches on fire, finish the kata with your pants burning." Of course, i wouldn't recommend taking things to that extreme, but certainly his words underline the serious nature of the kata. One should not perform kata with anything less than focus and determination. You should not allow thoughts of unpaid bills or girlfriends or plans for the weekend to sully your practice of the Way. Live in the moment, especially during kata.

Friday, August 19, 2005

Welcome to Karate Ranch!

Many people through television, movies or friends and neighbors have seen or heard of the martial arts. This is most definitely a good thing.

I hope to be able to give some insight into the martial arts and help others in their journey along the Way.