Tag Archives: Academy Of Goshin-Do Karate-Do

Sensei John: Do Away With Kata Formalities – Part 1

26 Feb

He’s at it again – our own Sensei John advocates doing away with Kata formalities (or does he?)(reprinted from Sensei John’s blog, WWW.SenseiJohn.Me , with permission)

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Do away with kata formalities
Part 1: Understanding the formalities

Every karate-ka (practitioner of karate) is familiar with the formalities of kata. Whatever form they take, these formalities may be summarized as three procedures before and after each kata. I submit, they are “outside” of the kata and are not part of the actual kata. (See endnote number 1) In this article, I make the argument that at the dan rank (black belt) level, they should not be performed at all, save one exception.

Generally speaking the kata formalities may be parsed into the following three steps. Step one is the “rei” or formal bow. This step symbolizes respect. Respect first and foremost is for the solemnity of the kata itself. Respect then expands to include the individual that created the kata, those that maintained it throughout history and preserved it in its present form. You can extend the concept of respect ad infinitum, such as respect for the dojo, your Sensei, karate in general and the like. As my own Sensei, Shihan Thomas DeFelice, was fond of saying, “All kata begins and ends with respect.”

The second step is one of “mukso” or meditation. This step has many effects, including, inter alia, the need to clear your mind of all preconceptions, dilatory psychological states (extraneous thoughts) and emotional effects (anxiety, fear, depression and the like). Unchecked these dilatory states would impose themselves on the kata. As the karate Sages would say, you need to “Part the clouds to see the moon.” This state of mind is called “Mushin” or “mind no mind.” You perform mukso after the kata to facilitate the state of mind known as “Zanshin” (“remaining mind”) to imbue yourself with the physical and spiritual by-products of the kata.

Lastly one assumes a “ready” posture. This is a physically neutral posture that takes many forms. Examples include standing with feet shoulder width apart, knees slightly bent, hands low, feet together with hands touching at groin level and the like. Regardless of the exact posture, it is always neutral. The neutral posture ends upon starting the kata.

After the kata, the kata-ka (my term for a performer of kata) then performs the formalities in reverse order.

Okay, so far so good. The formalities clearly have a purpose and are relatively innocuous in so far as they are neither physically demanding or spiritually negative. So, you may wonder why I advocate that you do away with these relatively noble acts of respect, purifying your spirit and readiness before kata. Well, lets see.

First, it must be completely understood that the formalities are of significant importance to the student below Sho-dan (first degree black belt). To those of numansha grade (under black belt) they must be performed before and after each and every kata. Period. (caveat – see endnote # 2) After sho-dan, one must begin a transition into a fuller understanding and appreciation of kata. To this end, the formalities should be dispensed with.

I would like to begin by looking at the nature of the formalities. To reiterate, they prepare you physically and mentally for the kata. On a purely physical level, it is axiomatic that the kata symbolizes a battle, a physical attack scenario. At a basic, almost Planck Scale-like level, kata is a ritualized shadow-boxing dance. It represents a fight. A karate-ka trains to put the odds of surviving such an encounter in their favor by employing the techniques of the kata with the proper mental state.That being said, if you are attacked you do not hold up you hand, stating “Please wait” while you bow, meditate and assume a ready posture. So, why train this way? I am reminded of the following humorous scenario.

In the mid-1990’s I was officiating and competing as a young San-dan (third degree black belt) in Sensei Ed DiNardo’s (RIP) annual karate tournament at the Wayne (NJ) P.A.L. building. We just concluded the officials meeting presided over by both Sensei DiNardo and Hanshi Frank Van Lenten (RIP). This was one of the handful of times I met the founder of the Goshin-Do Karate style and association. Sensei DiNardo’s tournament always began with the black belt competition in kata, kobudo and kumite. This allowed the competing black belts to be free later for officiating when the lower ranks competed. Before we adjourned the meeting, Sensei DiNardo turned to Hanshi Van Lenten and asked,”Should we give the black belts a few minutes to stretch out and get ready to compete?” Hanshi Van Lenten put his left arm around Sensei’s shoulder and looked him dead in the eye, “If I jumped on your back right now, would you ask me to let you stretch out?” And thus, lightening struck and awakened my subconscious thought as to the formalities of kata. Much like you would not perform the acts prior to an actual encounter, you should train to perform your kata utterly spontaneously. You must develop the concept that all your kata reside within you at all times – twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.. They simmer within you, percolating, ready to be released when you need them to burst forth. (See endnote # 3) To perform the formalities before and after each and every kata obfuscates this spontaneity.

This phenomenon of kata within you can be trained with the aid of a Sensei who understands the heart of kata (and not simply the rhetoric of kata). You can, and should, specifically train your body and spirit so as to be aware of the kata within you and let it burst forth. This is first accomplished by training the immediacy of self defense scenarios within the kata. In my Kata Laboratory project, I have multiple training concepts. One example, “Kata To Modify Emotions” is set forth in endnote # 3. Another example is “Kata Lab – Dr. Jekyll’s Potion. You may see the details of this kata lab using this convenient link https://senseijohn.me/2014/02/09/kata-lab-122-kata-dr-jekylls-potion/ and also this video example.

I therefore humbly submit that you must train your kata to be deployed at a moments notice in times of need. The formalities become an unnecessary impediment to the spontaneity of such performance. Removing the symbolic formalities is the first and necessary step to accomplish this spontaneous transition form one’s normal everyday world to the world represented by the kata. Again, this includes a physical world (attack and physical health scenarios) and a spiritual world (mental, psychological and emotional states). Thus, the need for the formalities is nullified. You must be prepared at all times. You must act with respect, maintain a clear mind and be ready in a noncommittal manner so as to act when it is time to act. In essence, like kata, the formalities simply blend into and simmer within us. Respect becomes part of our lives. Mushin, a clear mind and spirit, becomes our default mental state. We remain neutral until the time to act is appropriate then we act swiftly and decisively. If the goal is full integration of kata within ourselves, why symbolize the formalities when we begin and end each and every kata? So, do we simply get rid of the acts of preparation?

I’m going to let you chew on this a bit. Let the concept percolate within you as you practice your kata. See what you think. In my next post, I’ll give you my insights and how after forty-seven years of kata, I incorporate the formalities into same.

Respectfully submitted,

 

Sensei John Szmitkowski

   For information on my “no-risk”, kata seminars, please visit the seminar page using this convenient link http://senseijohn.me/seminar-kata/
My seminars are the ONLY seminars that allow you to pay at the conclusion, thus insuring your complete satisfaction!

   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/kata-lab/

© Copyright 2019 Issho Productions & John Szmitkowski, all rights reserved.

ENDNOTES:

1. There may be others that disagree with my assertion that the kata formalities lie outside of the kata itself. Frankly, that is fair, but wrong. Simply ask any instructor to teach you the first three moves of a new kata (or think back to when you learned a new kata), I bet you, as my father would say, “A dollar to a donut” that they do not show you (for the N’th time) the three formalities. Rather, they show you the first three movements of the actual kata. Thus, impliedly, agreeing with my assessment.

2. During my training in Sensei DeFelice’s Goshin-Do Karate dojo, the formalities were, at times, summarily performed. That is to say that when a kata-ka was asked to perform several kata, such as during testing or class, they would perform the formalities before the first kata, perform all kata asked and the perform them again after the last kata. Thus, avoiding performing the formalities before each kata in the series. I also observed this summary performance at other dojo including the former Bogota (NJ) dojo of my friend and comrade, Shihan Wayne Norlander, RIP. I note that this experience may have subconsciously infused my mind with the idea that the kata formalities should be done away with entirely.

3. Please notice I do not say “ready for when you may be attacked.” I deliberately chose my words to reflect the idea that kata are more than physical self-defense. They are also of great benefit in developing your spiritual self. They are moving meditation than produce a heightened mental and perceptive state when fully understood. But, that is beyond the ken of this article. It is; however, the entire subject of my next book. To tease you a bit on this topic, you may see how kata can be used to modify your emotions using this link and video.https://senseijohn.me/2013/10/06/kata-lab-221-kata-as-an-emotional-modifier/

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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

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)

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.

Okinawa Karate-Do Sanka

9 Jan

Submitted for your enjoyment and consideration, is the Karate-Do Sanka (Empty-hand way song) written by Shihan Shoshin Nagamine (founder of Matsubayashi-Ryu). The sanka was utilized during the memorial service for Shihan Frank Van Lenten who passed away July 1st, 2010.

USE-v.l. memorial-karate song

English translation:  (Please see Endnote # 1 for the original Japanese version)

Ah, beautiful islands of sunlight,
And the color of the sea,
The proud fighting spirit of the islanders 
And the empty handed Sword of Justice,
Training spirit and training body,
Ah, This is Okinawa Karate-Do!

Oh, but if an enemy should happen to attack us,
And the method of courtesy proved to no avail
If he should cut our flesh with his iron weapon,
Even then will we punch through to his bones,
Courtesy and defense together,
This is Okinawa Karate-Do!

Oh, ever since the mythical ancestry of Japan,
The bell of peace has been ringing continually in Okinawa,
The way of courtesy and the five bodily weapons of Karate together,
To make a straight character and good etiquette,
This is Okinawa Karate-Do!

Respectfully submitted,

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/

For several videos with archival footage of either Shihan Van Lenten, or members of his Goshin-Do Karate-Do Kyokai (Association), circa the late 1960’s to early 1970’s please click on any of the following links

Training Drills with Shihan Van Lenten & Sensei Wesley Evans, also featuring Sensei Jack Porta and Shihan Thomas DeFelice – link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DLD5fMSvDI8

Ananku Kata – link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nfHc_hBXTUE

Chinto Kata – link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KOyVXeqthd0

Gekisai Kata – link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xH4E_4_2U08

Kunchaba Kata – link:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=df-OTqrsOd0

Seisan Kata – link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0p5-TfBufW0

Wansu Kata – link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JzFyFa9cM5Q

ENDNOTES:

1. The original Japanese version of the Karate-Do Sanka

Aa sanjento hi no hikari
Myo gunjorno umi no iro
Saekeki shima no tokonga
Saegigaumishi mute no ken.
Kokoro o Kitau, mi o kitau
Aa, Okinawa no, Karate-do!

Aa ware osou tekki araba
Shurei no kuni ni shingiari
Tetsu no kobushi wa kanzento
Niku o kirasete, hone no utsu
Kokoro o mamaru, Mi o mamaru.
Aa, Okinawa no, Karate-do!

Aa tensenshi kodai yori
Hewa no kane wa naritsutau
Semeru ni arazu fusegu waza
Gotai ga bukizo kono karate
Kokoro o tadasu, mi o tadasu
Aa Okinawa no Karate-do!

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