Merry Christmas, 2014

22 Dec

To all our readers, please accept our sincerest wishes for a joyous & peaceful Holiday Season.

torii-snow-1

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.Our very best wishes that we all may embrace this Christmas with joy and hope. We’re even hoping for a white Christmas. To set the mood, please enjoy our own Sensei John’s video of Sanchin Kata in the snow with winter poems.

Hanko-GDK-DEF-R

invincible summer  For a refreshing and innovative discourse on kata and bunkai, please feel free to visit Sensei John’s Kata Laboratory using this convenient link:http://senseijohn.me/category/kata-laboratory/

LOGO-WEBSITE  You may also enjoy Sensei John’s martial-inspired fishing blog at http://flyfishingdojo.com

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Wild Horses & Seienchin Kata – An Unexpected Saikou

23 Nov

We would like to share Sensei John’s most memorable kata video.

———-

November 7th I was at the Lower Salt River, Arizona. In anticipation of relocating back to my home state of New Jersey, I wanted to maximize my day. My plan was to film kata footage for my kata video library, fish (hopefully catching a few for photos for my fishing blog, see below) and generally enjoy one of my last days on the river. What I did not plan was a saikou, supreme experience.

On that day, I was blessed with a chance encounter with one of the herds of wild horses that call the river home. Readers of my fishing blog know that I have encountered the herds in the past. What makes this encounter different is that not only would it likely be my last encounter with the herd, but I was at the right place and right time to be able to perform one of my favorite kata with the herd. The kata was Seienchin Kata. The translation of the kanji (Japanese calligraphy) for Seienchin translates, inter alia, as “Calm in the storm, storm in the calm.”

7-SEIENCHIN

As spontaneous as my choice of kata was, in retrospect, it turned out to be a great symbol of these difficult days of packing, arranging for rental of my home and relocating to a bit of uncertainty, the storm. Contrasting this is the calm of that day on the river; almost as if the “Natural Force” that I wrote about so much was telling me it will all work out. Noteworthy is that the Seienchin Kata makes characteristic use of of the “kiba-dache”, “Horse-riding stance”, a perfect kata to perform in the presence of a herd of wild horses.

   szmitowski_print_small   HANKO-DEF-R-reverse

Sensei John Szmitkowski

If you enjoy this post please help support Sensei John’s efforts & visit his Kata Laboratory store.

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all items have a minimal mark-up of only $ 0.75 to $ 1.00 over base prices!

CIMG5490 (Coming to New Jersey & the East Coast in 2015) – – – For information on my “no-risk”, kata seminars, please visit the seminar page using this convenient link http://senseijohn.me/seminar-kata/

brush script For a refreshing and innovative discourse on kata and bunkai, please feel free to visit Sensei John’s Kata Laboratory and “THINK * SWEAT * EXPERIMENT” using this convenient link: http://senseijohn.me/category/kata-laboratory/

Sensei John is now on Facebook, under – FLY FISHING DOJO, you are invited to send a Facebook friend request.

LOGO-WEBSITE     You may wish to view my fishing blog which includes my fishing journals and the interrelationship between martial arts protocol & ideology to fishing http://flyfishingdojo.com

© Copyright 2014 Issho Productions & John Szmitkowski, all rights reserved.

Kata – A Curse?

22 Sep

November 3rd, 2014  – UPDATE: Sensei John has posted the article and video for his “Kata Lab: Random Sanchin Kata” which was inspired by the events contained in this article. A link and the video are now posted at the end of this article.

October 20th, 2014 – UPDATE: Sensei John has posted the article and video for his “Kata Lab: Reverse Sanchin Kata” which is referred to in this post. A link and the video are now posted at the end of this article.

We learned that our own Sensei John is cursed by kata. In this article, reprinted, with permission, from his blog, he shares his curse.

—–*****—–

I live for karate kata. It sustains and fulfills me. My desire to share my kata insights beyond the dojo walls led me to start this blog in 2010. In 2013 I introduced Sensei John’s Kata Laboratory. My goal is to stimulate those readers that may have lost interest in kata. (link: http://senseijohn.me/category/kata-laboratory/ ) With my over four decades of karate experience behind it, my Kata Lab is a fresh look for those with tired, uninspired kata eyes.

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But, I wonder whether my love for kata is a curse. If it is a curse, then am I wrong to encourage practitioners to passionately pursue kata and bunkai? How can my love for kata be a curse? Here is one example. Coincidentally, it comes from the world of chess which requires as much deep practice and analysis as kata. (See Endnote # 1 for my comparison of chess and kata)

Saturday, August 30th, I was feeling quite ill. I spent most of the day in bed exhausted. Though a mere recreational amateur, I enjoy the game of chess. I had my laptop in the bedroom and was watching a live feed of the highest ranking chess tournament, the 2014 Sinquefield Cup held at the St. Louis Chess Center. The broadcast was moderated by GM (Chess Grandmaster) Yasser Seirawan and WGM (Womens Chess Grand Master) Jennifer Shahade with analysis by GM Maurice Ashley.

3 commentators

I lay in bed, half awake, listening to the games, analysis and commentary. Every so often, I would watch when an innovative move was played, or there was an uncommon analysis. But for the most part, it was background noise. Until, the moderators commented on a game in round six between GM Levon Aronian and GM Fabiano Caruana.

aronian-caruana

It was noted that GM Levon Aronian was once a world champion of 960 chess. That penetrated my brain. “What the hell is 960 chess?” I wanted to stay under the covers, but I had to know. I pulled back the covers and looked online.

960 chess is also known as “Fischer chess” after world champion GM Bobby Fischer. GM Fischer invented 960 chess. He randomized the starting position of the major pieces on the home ranks (King, Queen, Bishop, Knight and Rook). According to Wikipedia (I have a link in Endnote # 2),

Fischer’s goal was to eliminate what he considered the complete dominance of openings preparation in chess today replacing it with creativity and talent. (My emphasis)

Damn! I had to read that! I kicked off the covers, took my laptop into my office and began to write. My mind was swirling with a kata idea. I had already written a Kata Lab discussing the merits of performing the movements of Sanchin Kata in reverse order. Now, I was haunted by the idea that I could use the concept of Fischer chess to advance that Kata Lab one step further. I thought of a randomized “Fischer-Sanchin” Kata Lab. Worried that I would forget my thoughts, I hurried to write them down. So much for being sick, trying to recuperate in bed.

And that is my kata curse. Ideas and innovation occur at any time; whether you welcome them or not. I would like to say that the motivation for my Kata Laboratory is to motivate you to practice your kata with imagination, talent and creativity. Perhaps; however, I simply want to lure you into the dark depths of my kata curse.

The motto of Sensei John’s Kata Lab is, “Think * Sweat * Experiment.” I’ve thought about the concept of “Fischer-Sanchin.” Now, I’m sweating and experimenting, practicing it daily (another part of the kata curse). Eventually, I’ll post links for both the Reverse Sanchin Kata Lab and the Fischer-Sanchin Kata Lab together with accompanying videos when I finish them.

November 20th, 2014: Here is the video and post for my “Kata Lab: Random Sanchin Kata” which was inspired by the events of this article.

Link to the full article: http://senseijohn.me/2014/11/03/kata-lab-random-sanchin-kata/

October 20th, 2014: Here is the video and post for my “Kata Lab: Reverse Sanchin Kata”


Link to the full article:
http://senseijohn.me/2014/10/20/kata-lab-reverse-sanchin-kata/

Until then, please enjoy two of my Sanchin variants, “Shobu (Combat) Sanchin” filmed with watching vultures and “Four Direction Sanchin.” Both were filmed in 2011 at the beautiful Lower Salt River, Tonto National Forest, Arizona.

Until the next submission, I remain haunted and cursed by my beloved kata,

  szmitowski_print_small   HANKO-DEF-R-reverse

Sensei John Szmitkowski

If you enjoy this post please help support this blog, visit my store.

Come visit my store on CafePress!
seiza - ringwood  For information on my “no-risk”, kata seminars, please visit the seminar page using this convenient link http://senseijohn.me/seminar-kata/ – COMING 2015 TO NEW JERSEY!

ENDNOTES:
1. I find it interesting that there are other similarities between kata and chess including the following:
A. both have exotic names, for example;
Kata                                chess opening
Gekisai (To destroy)   Benoni Defense (“Son of my sorrow”)
Seienchin                      Pterodactyl Defense
Suparunpei                   Fried Liver Attack
and so forth

B. both have rankings for experts, black belts are ranked by belt level, chess masters are ranked by ratings points

C. both inspire the most enlightened participants to use their imagination to develop a more creative approach (Fischer chess being one example). Another example is found in the case of GM Seirawan (shown above) who created Seirawan-chess, also known as “Sharper-chess.” For more, please use this link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seirawan_chess

2. Here is the link to the Wikipedia article on Chess 960: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chess960

Hatsu Bon For Sensei Nick D’Antuono

13 Sep

Four years ago today, Sensei Nick D’Antuono was taken from us. Today’s training and the following Hatsu Bon Poem are offered to his spirit. Should today’s readers so desire, please join us and perform a kata of your choice in memory of Sensei Nick and a fallen comrade you may wish to remember. May Sensei’s spirit find our training and poem worthy.

Sensei Nick D'Antuono, Sensei John Szmitkowski (as a green belt), Shihan Don Nagle, Circa: 1975

Sensei Nick D’Antuono, Sensei John Szmitkowski (as a green belt), Shihan Don Nagle, Circa: 1975

HATSU BON POEM
Please don’t cry before my grave
That’s not where I am
Nor am I sleeping for eternity
SEE!!
I am already part of the breezes
numbering a thousand
I am part of the light
that brightens this world
Like a diamond glittering in the snow
Like the sun that coaxes seeds to sprout
And in the Fall I become the gentle rain
that nurtures all.
When you open the window in the morning
I am the breeze
That causes your hair to flutter;
And at night, I am the star
That watches over your sleep.
So, please . . . don’t cry before my grave
That’s not where I am.
I am not dead.
I have been born anew.

Sincerity in sweat, rest in peace, Sensei.

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My Black Belts Stole From Me – A Thieving Tradition

18 Aug

A Black Belt must have the utmost integrity. Having said that, I will confess that my students “stole” from me. After the “theft” they still earned a black belt! Further, the “theft” was committed with my blessing.

In my opinion the worst form of “paying” for the gift of karate-do education is money, currency, cold-hard cash (or debt card in these modern times). I’ve had students that could not afford monthly dues, help teach, clean the dojo and even cook a few dinners. In this way, my students became equal with me as Sensei in that we each gave of ourselves. This is more valuable than the cheapness of currency.

But, is it proper to steal from Sensei?

Sometime in 1998, I made a decision concerning a group of four brown belts training at the Issho Dojo. In order for them to pass their test for ni-kyu, (brown belt, two stripes) they would have to learn Gojushiho Kata. In devious fashion, I told them that I would not teach them the kata.

This posed a problem. They had to learn the kata for the next rank. If I would not teach it to them, how would they learn it?

In those days, there were no You-tube GDK-D Gojushiho videos (like this one featuring archival footage from the 1960’s to 2012 where I perform Gojushiho in a snowstorm):

The four arrived at the dojo for the next class. Before class, I casually mentioned that I was going to the nearby park to “clear my head.” I did this for the next three classes. The brown belts became curious.

One night after I went to the park, they waited about ten minutes and followed. They stood at the edge of the park and watched me. They saw me repeatedly practice a kata that they did not know. I noticed them and practiced the first four moves of the kata again and again After fifteen minutes of performing the opening sequence, I walked to the edge of the park. Together, we silently walked back to the Dojo.

The next night I repeated my routine. Again, they waited and walked to the park. I repeatedly practiced the first four moves. This time they only watched for about ten minutes and hurried back to the dojo. After about fifteen minutes I returned to the dojo but did not enter. I surreptitiously peaked into the Dojo window. The four of them were hard at work practicing what they observed me doing. Each watched the other and reached a consensus as to the correctness of what they saw.

On my next pre-class visit to the park, I would slowly and in an exaggerated manner practice movements that they did not quite “steal” correctly. I would also slowly add movements and sequences.

During class, I would give them “strange” kumite drills, self-defense and heavy bag combinations. These drills and combinations came from future kata sequences. They were using kata applications to steal the kata.

This went on for about five months. They were stealing from me; however, they did not know exactly what they were stealing. One night during formal class, I asked the four brown belts to join me in performing Gojushiho Kata. The brown belts looked at each other. “But Sensei, you told us that you would not teach us the kata.” “That’s true,” I said, “But I did let you steal it from me.” “Now, let’s see what you stole.” The four brown belts joined me in performing the kata.

They learned Gojushiho Kata by “stealing” it. They were the first kata-thieves of GDK-D.

Shihan DeFelice first opened the door in May of 1965 and since then GDK-D has been continuously taught. Many students walked into the dojo. Less than thirty made black belt. So, compared to the overall number of students that started GDK-D, very few learned Gojushiho Kata. I could not allow myself to teach such a rare kata for something as worthless as money, but, I could allow it to be stolen from me.

The four brown belts were promoted to sho-dan (first degree black belt) in January, 2000. I made each of them promise me that they would not teach any future student Gojushiho Kata. It must always be stolen. With that promise, a new tradition was born – a future black belt must be a thief; and Gojushiho Kata is the desired object.

Shihan Paul Recchia, Myself & The “Kata-Thieves” at their Black Belt Promotion

annotated-YUDANSHA-ISSHO

Respectfully submitted,

  szmitowski_print_small    HANKO-DEF-R-reverse

Sensei John Szmitkowski

 sunsu-saguaro  For information on my “no-risk”, kata seminars, please visit the seminar page using this convenient link http://senseijohn.me/seminar-kata/

brush script  For a refreshing and innovative discourse on kata and bunkai, please feel free to visit Sensei John’s Kata Laboratory and “THINK * SWEAT * EXPERIMENT” using this convenient link: http://senseijohn.me/category/kata-laboratory/

LOGO-WEBSITE  You may wish to view my other blogs – http://flyfishingdojo.com

Step-Up Like A Donkey Or Get Buried Like A Jackass

24 Jul

Goshin-Do Karate-Do (DeFelice-Ryu) has a vast treasure trove of myths, tales and fictionalized truths. This rich oral tradition, while couched in terms of the martial arts, provides insight into the challenges of life itself. After all, does not our karate training prepare us to “defend” ourselves against the daily challenges that would bury a lesser person?

Personal experience has led me to reflect on one such tale.

One day a farmer’s donkey fell down into a well. The animal worriedly cried for hours as the farmer tried to figure out what to do. Finally, he decided the animal was old, and the well needed to be covered up anyway; it just wasn’t worth it to retrieve the animal. After all, it was just a jackass. The farmer invited all his neighbors to come over and help him. They all grabbed a shovel and began to shovel dirt into the well. At first, the donkey realized what was happening and cried horribly. Then, to everyone’s amazement he quieted down. A few shovel loads later, the farmer finally looked down the well. He was astonished at what he saw. With each shovel of dirt that hit his back, the donkey was doing something amazing. He would shake it off and take a step up. As the farmer’s neighbors continued to shovel dirt on top of the animal, he would shake it off and take a step up. Pretty soon, everyone was amazed as the donkey stepped up over the edge of the well and happily trotted off!

That’s Life. You will have the proverbial dirt shoveled on top of you. Draw on your training, especially the lessons of your kata; shake off the dirt and step up.

Respectfully submitted,

   szmitowski_print_small    HANKO-DEF-R-reverse

Sensei John Szmitkowski

 brush script  For a refreshing and innovative discourse on kata and bunkai, please feel free to visit Sensei John’s Kata Laboratory using this convenient link:http://senseijohn.me/category/kata-laboratory/

invincible summer  For details on how to “cyber-participate” in Sensei John’s most recent group Sanchin Kata session, please use this link: http://senseijohn.me/category/a-sanchin-pilgrimage/

sunsu-saguaro  You may wish to view Sensei’s personal kata-themed weblog at http://senseijohn.me

and

LOGO-WEBSITE  Sensei’s one-of-a-kind fishing weblog, naturally with a hint of karate-do philosophy, anecdotes and, of course, kata at http://flyfishingdojo.com

Lost & Found – Fatuous Kata

3 May

In May, 1945, General George S. Patton, Jr. arrived at the Imperial Spanish Riding Academy. Modern equitation at the Academy emphasized the form of horsemanship over the practical military applications of the movements of rider ad horse. The General reflected upon the idea of preserving the aesthetics of the movements over their military applications.

. . . it is probably wrong to permit any highly developed art, no matter how fatuous, to perish from the earth – and which arts are fatuous depends on the point of view. To me the high-schooling of horses is certainly more interesting than either painting or music. (See Endnote # 1)

I have had occasion to reflect on the fatuous nature of the arts. For several decades now I have held the point of view that the art of kata (Kata-jitsu) is certainly more interesting than any other art, including “the high schooling of horses, painting or music.”
Much like any art, specific kata within an overall karate-do curriculum can be judged as fatuous. The arbiter of the viability of the kata is the senior ranking black belt of either a specific karate-do system or association. Invariably, once this arbiter adjudges a kata as fatuous, he or she stops practicing the kata. As a result, the kata is no longer taught to the lower ranks. Inevitably, the kata ceases to be a “required” kata within the system. In the end, the kata has perished from the system or association solely due to the personal penchant of one practitioner.
My devotion to and love of kata has compelled me to attempt to recreate certain lost kata of the Goshin-Do Karate-Do (GDK-D) Kyokai established by Hanshi Frank Van Lenten. It is the tree trunk upon which not only our own branch of Goshin-Do Karate-Do had grown, but also several other branches of karate styles. To set the Kyokai apart from other Okinawa-based styles of karate-do, traditional kata were modified by Hanshi Van Lenten and incorporated into his GDK-D Kyokai. Hanshi Van Lenten engaged in a period of protracted adjustment as to which kata would be included within the Kyokai. This resulted in many kata being added and removed.

Kyokai

Additionally, as members divorced themselves from the GDK-D Kyokai, they were no longer subject to kata being imposed upon them by Kyokai (and Hanshi Van Lenten’s) requirements. Being freed of this imposition, their personal inclinations, emotions and predilections determined the kata to be required of their students. Kata that they deemed fatuous were abandoned. Others, were added. In this manner, new branches were created from the original Kyokai tree trunk.
The death bell tolled in 1983 when Hanshi Van Lenten disbanded the Goshin-Do Karate-Do Kyokai. Even he once and for all abandoned the kata he created. In essence, these unique adaptations of the traditional kata “perished from the earth” — until now.
I have been extremely fortunate to have come into possession of the means of recreating these lost kata. The basis for my recreation included notes, text, instructional photographs, and video of Hanshi Van Lenten. (See Endnote # 2) Over the past few years, I have scrutinized these archival sources and practiced the kata to the best of my ability and interpretation. It is my honor and privilege to share my recreation of these abandoned kata with you. Please note that each video below contains all archival material utilized.
Why bother taking over two years to resurrect these abandoned kata? To modify the General’s observation, it is probably wrong to permit any highly developed KATA, no matter how fatuous, to perish from the earth.

Sunsu Kata; Not only does this video feature footage of Hanshi Van Lenten performing his version of this hallmark kata of Isshin-Ryu Karate-Do, it also shows Shimaboku, Tatsuo Sensei’s recognition of Hanshi Van Lenten as a Ju-Dan, 1oth degree black belt.

Jion Kata: A very rare version of the traditional kata recreated in a pleasing aesthetic environment.

Jitte Kata: A very rare version of the traditional kata recreated in a pleasing aesthetic environment.

Kanto Kata – created by Hanshi Van Lenten at the request of his various Okinawa Sensei to symbolize his GDK-D style. The kata and style were approved by Hanshi’s several Okinawa Sensei as being Okinawa-based. While Kanto Kata remains within our kata syllabus, it is “The” defining kata of Hanshi Van Lenten’s GDKD style and is therefore a “rare” kata.


Respectfully submitted,

   szmitowski_print_small    HANKO-DEF-R-reverse

Sensei John Szmitkowski

  lab collage-3  For a refreshing and innovative discourse on kata and bunkai, please feel free to visit Sensei John’s Kata Laboratory using this convenient link: http://senseijohn.me/category/kata-laboratory/
NEWS sanchin  For details on how to “cyber-participate” in Sensei John’s most recent group Sanchin Kata session, please use this link: http://senseijohn.me/category/a-sanchin-pilgrimage/

ENDNOTES:
1. General George S. Patton., Jr., War As I Knew It: The Battle Memoirs of “Blood ‘N Guts”, (Bantam Books, 1980), p. 311.
2. My sincerest “Thank-you” to Shihan Thomas DeFelice (Ku-Dan, Karate-Do No Hanshi, Goshin-Do Karate-Do) for providing the text and photographs of Jion and Jitte Kata, Hanshi Jerry Thompson (Arts Of Self-Defense), Shihan Ed DiNardo (Hachi-dan, Arts Of Self-Defense, New Jersey and Arizona) and Kyoshi Tom Van Tassel (Nana-Dan, American Center For Martial Arts, New Jersey) for providing the vast wealth of vintage films of Hanshi Van Lenten.

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