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

Advertisements

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.

2014 – Are You Ready?

29 Dec

The following is reproduced, with approval, courtesy of Sensei John’s weblog, link: http://senseijohn.me

– – – * * * * * * – – –

As 2014 approaches, We ask you, “Are you ready?”

What do I mean by this question? The answer may be found within the following which is borrowed from one of my favorite myths. (See Endnote # 1)

When Heaven is about to confer
A great office upon a man,
It first exercises his mind with suffering,
And his sinew and bones with toil;
It exposes him to poverty
And confounds his undertakings.
Then it is seen if he is ready.

Happy New Year! We hope you are ready for 2014.

Until the next submission, We remain . . . Ready,

Hanko-GDK-DEF-R

I’m ready for 2014 with “Sanchin Kata In The Snow (With Winter Poems)”

ENDNOTES:

1. The poem is attributed to “Moshi” and is from the preface to: Jennings, William Dale, The Ronin ( Charles E. Tuttle Co, Tokyo, Japan, 1968)

Seasons Greetings – 2013

4 Dec

MERRY CHRISTMAS

&

HAPPY CHANUKAH

torii-snow-1

Shihan Thomas DeFelice
and
The Yudansha
of
Goshin-Do Karate-Do
(DeFelice-Ryu)

Hanko-GDK-DEF-R

KATA – A Lazy Pursuit

7 Oct

The following is a repost (with permission) of an original article by Sensei John Szmitkowski published on his weblog,  WWW.SenseiJohn.Me

Only in laziness can one achieve a state of contemplation which is a balancing of values, a weighing of oneself against the world and the world against itself. A busy man cannot find time for such balancing.

One could argue that laziness is a relaxation pregnant of activity, a sense of rest from which directed effort may arise, whereas most busy-ness is merely a kind of nervous tic. (See Endnote # 1)

Sensei John, being "lazy" on the Lower Salt River, Arizona, 2010

Sensei John, being “lazy” on the Lower Salt River, Arizona, 2010

“But Sensei, I don’t have time to practice my kata at home – I’m too busy.”

How many times have we heard that excuse.

I’m no exception. As a young boy, I told my first Sensei, Sensei Nick D’Antuono, the same excuse many times. Being a good Sensei, he out-foxed me and subsequently devised an easy way for me to find time to practice kata. (For details, see Endnote # 2)

If the opposite of being too “busy” is “lazy”, then with a nod towards John Steinbeck’s quote above, I am propose that Kata is a lazy man’s pursuit. For only in the lazy state can our kata be pregnant with activity, insight, imagination and intuition.

Given my affinity for kata, I am proud to be lazy. By this I mean that no matter how busy I may be, I always find time for my daily kata practice. One may argue that such daily practice is not productive – it does not add to my finances, does not elevate my social status, fails to adhere to the social norm of possessing a “constructive” purpose. It does; however, invigorate me physically and mentally, stimulate my understanding of my place in a larger realm of existence. If daily devotion to kata makes me lazy, then I am glad to be lazy.

If one is too busy to practice kata, then I can’t help but agree with Steinbeck’s assessment that “busy-ness is merely a kind of nervous tic.” Busy-ness is often represented by the pursuit of money, notoriety, popularity and the like. In the spectrum of life, such hedonistic, ego-centric pursuits are mere nervous tics. For my part, I’ll always find time to be “lazy” and explore my kata. Such exploration deposits into my spiritual, moral and ethical bank account an untold wealth.

After reflecting on the above, I have chosen to modify my admonition to those students, that do not practice kata regularly. Normally I would say, “Don’t be lazy, practice your kata.” It is time to re-interpret the entire concept. I now advocate the idea that one should, “Be lazy so that you can practice your kata.”

A lazy day, riding my Harley and, of course, Sanchin Kata in the cotton fields of San Tan Valley, Arizona – a promotional video for my Sanchin For Everyone DVD –

In closing, I remain contentedly lazy – – – practicing daily kata,

   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/

seiza - ringwoodFor 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. Steinbeck, John, The Log From The Sea Of Cortez (Penguin Books, New York, NY, 1995) p. 150-151.

2. I’ll share with you Sensei Nick’s little trick to practicing kata. When I was young, after homework was done, I enjoyed television time. That little black and white t.v. set with its seven channels could mesmerize – except during commercials (with no remote control to easily change channels). Sensei Nick knew this; he recognized I was busy watching t.v., so in an effort not to interfere with my busy-ness, he suggested that one kata be practiced every commercial. A simple solution – even when “busy” there is always time.

Hatsu Bon For Sensei Nick D’Antuono

13 Sep

Three 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.

Hanko-GDK-DEF-R

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/

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/

%d bloggers like this: