Tag Archives: Sensei John Szmitkowski

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

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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/

Problems Solved

15 Aug

From the verbal traditions of the Dojo, a martial myth,

There was once a monk who would carry a mirror where ever he went. A priest noticed this one day and thought to himself,  “This monk must be so preoccupied with the way he looks that he has to carry that mirror all the time. He should not worry about the way he looks on the outside, it’s what’s inside that counts.” 

So the priest went up to the monk and asked “Why do you always carry that mirror?” thinking for sure this would prove his guilt.

The monk pulled the mirror from his bag and pointed it at the priest. Then he said “I use it in times of trouble. I look into it and it shows me the source of my problems as well as the solution to my problems.”

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 and “THINK * SWEAT * EXPERIMENT” using this convenient link: http://senseijohn.me/category/kata-laboratory/

seiza - ringwood 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  Featured video; Sunsu Kata, featuring Hanshi Frank Van Lenten, Shimaboku, Tatsuo-Sensei Documents and Sensei John Szmitkowski in the low desert of the Superstition Mountains

 

Hatsu Bon For Sensei Paul Recchia

10 Apr

Today marks the ten year anniversary since Sensei Paul Recchia was taken from us. Please join us in performing Sanchin Kata, or a kata of your choice, at sunset in memory of Sensei Paul and all whom we have lost.

The following Hatsu Bon Poem, together with the above training, are offered to his spirit.

May Sensei’s spirit find our training and poem worthy.

Sensei Paul, age 60

Sensei Paul, age 60

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.
 

 

The last time Sensei Paul (in wheelchair) was at the Issho Dojo (January, 2000) with (L-R), Sensei Walter Byrne, Sensei Kim Szmitkowski, Sensei John Szmitkowski, Sensei Jimmy DiMicelli, Sensei Bobbie Gumowski. I will never forget that this was the first time in almost eighteen months that Sensei Paul, confined to his in home hospital bed, left the comfort of his home to honor all who were elevated that day in the black belt promotion ceremony.

annotated-YUDANSHA-ISSHO

Sincerity in sweat, you are not forgotten, Sensei.

Hanko-GDK-DEF-R

Sensei John Szmitkowski

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/2013/05/20/kata-lab-101-three-states-of-bunkai/

For details on how to “cyber-participate” in Sensei John’s most recent group Sanchin Kata session, please use this link: http://senseijohn.me/2013/04/28/sine-quo-non-sanchin-pilgrimage/

A Journey’s Destination

14 Mar

For those of you that ride motorcycles like I do, you have invariably seen the phrase,

“It’s not the destination, but the journey”,

emblazoned on stickers, hats, clothing and even tattooed onto the human body. Few come to understand the depth of the phrase.

The journey, and relative, mandatory destination, is the subject of myth and lore from the earliest days of human communication. Jason and the Argonauts journeyed for the golden fleece. King Arthur and his Knights-Of-The-Round-Table (even Monty Python, and Professor Robert Langdon) journeyed for the Holy Grail. Frodo journeyed to Mount Mordor to dispose of the one ring. Indiana Jones journeyed for everything ancient.

At Goshin-Do Karate-Do we set out on our own journeys for knowledge, and the unknown. Recently, after a long and difficult journey, one of my Goshin-Do brothers arrived at his destination. My comrade, brother and friend, Sensei Bob Wieczorek had set upon a journey of finding the origin of two of our most rare kata, namely Ten-Ni-No Kata and Chi-Ni-No Kata (see Endnote #1). These two kata are steeped in Dojo oral tradition; however, exact written genealogies of the kata were, until now, elusive. As such, they sat as orphans amongst the more pedigreed Goshin-Do Karate-Do kata. After a long, dedicated and at times, frustrating, search, Sensei recently arrived at his destination.

Sensei has discovered that Ten-Ni-No and Chi-Ni-No are the companions to two other kata, Jin-I-No and Sansai Kata. All four kata were created by Seiken Shukumine (1925-2001). The four kata were representative of a style of Karate-Do he created and named Genseiryu. The kata themselves were created by Shukumine-Sensei between the years 1953 and 1962 when he abandoned the Genseiryu style. I wholeheartedly recommend the reader research the colorful life of Shukumine-Sensei which included, inter-alia, being a Kamikaze pilot in World War II. Fortunately for Karate-Do, Shukumine-Sensei was not called to an active mission.

With Sensei Wieczorek’s journey concluded, our records as to the origin of the kata Ten-Ni-No and Chi-Ni-No are now complete and reflected on the kata page of this website. The “orphaned” kata now have a pedigree. With that, all practitioners of our style of Goshin-Do Karate-Do owe a debt of gratitude to Sensei for enriching our knowledge and enjoyment of performing these two kata.

I trust Sensei Wieczorek will graciously accept our “Kudos”. As I know Sensei will soon open another door to unknown knowledge and embark upon yet another journey, I hope he takes a moment to savor his success. After all, is not the journey for knowledge an aspiration all karate-ka should strive for?

Video of Ten-Ni-No Kata, featuring both Sensei and myself

Video of Chi-Ni-No Kata, featuring both Sensei & myself

Hanko-GDK-DEF-R

Sensei John Szmitkowski

ENDNOTES:

1. Alternative spelling of these two kata include, Tennino, Ten-I-No, Chinnino and Chi-I-No.

Thoughts On Self-Confidence: “Look on my works, Ye mighty & despair”

7 Feb

climb mountains

When a new student enters the Dojo, I ask the initiate what he or she hopes to achieve by undertaking the study of karate-do. The answers I receive from such potential initiates are as varied as the individuals themselves. There are, however, certain general themes that emerge. One such theme is the attainment of self-confidence. I would like to explore the effect of attaining self-confidence in this article.

Initially, I note that I will not address the mechanics of how and why karate-do and other martial arts build self-confidence. I submit that it is axiomatic that self-confidence is discovered and nurtured through karate-do. In fact any endeavor that mandates periods of introspection by the practitioner will foster self-confidence as a consequence of self-discovery. Having said that, there is a crucial turning point in the evolutionary process of self-discovery that leads to the attainment of self-confidence. The turning point is at the event horizon when one’s self is discovered, realized and  defined. It is at this event horizon that one’s awareness of self breeds a sense of self-confidence. Once self-confidence is attained, the event horizon dictates that one can undertake two possible future paths.

The first path is the path that recognizes that the concept of self and the associated self-confidence is transitory and subject to continuing definition and evolution. This path is defined by the idea that while one is awakened to and confident in the person that one is, such a psychological state is merely momentary and subject to the continuum of the life experiences to be had. One’s deeds, ideas and actions are viewed as evolving. By this I mean that continued deeds, ideas and actions incubate and give birth to continued knowledge. Continued knowledge gives rise to new theories, concepts and innovations. Thus, one is confident within the boundary of acknowledging that such confidence extends to one’s ability to continue to embark on the unknown journey of life as it unfolds. If one lacked this confidence, the future unknown journey would stagnate one’s personal quest for knowledge and growth out of fear. On this path, the self-confident journeyman continues the quest in anticipation of unknown knowledge for the purpose of perpetually rediscovering oneself.

The second path is the path that views one’s achievement in the chosen field of endeavor as the pinnacle of the discovery process, to wit: has become the “best” one can be (The slogan, “Be all you can be” comes to mind). This means that one’s self-confidence is finite in place, time and achievement. This path is defined by ego. The path of ego mandates that one sees the continuum of life not as a process of continued discovery, but as a conclusion to be ratified by the remarkable person that one has become. One’s deeds, ideas, and actions are internally viewed and to be perceived by others as omnipotent and mighty. This means that one’s past deeds (emphasis added) are to be glorified in and of themselves. One’s deeds, ideas and actions are to be viewed as a historical event and as supreme and final. Of course, this is a fiction. Such self-confidence has fallen prey to the Siren’s call of ego. The paradox of this psychological path is that it results in a stagnation of personal growth to be attained by future knowledge. The result is similar to the stagnation experienced by an utter lack of self-confidence. In the former case the stagnation is caused by ego and in the latter case it is caused by fear. Thus, the fulfillment of the paradox.

Everyone is susceptible to falling prey to the draw of one’s ego. So as to be able to fend off the attraction of succumbing to the mythical Siren‘s call of ego, one needs to always bear in mind the transitory nature of life. As much as one cannot rest on one’s laurels, one must always understand that accomplishment is but a portal to future achievement. This is not to say that one need be forever humble. One can, and should, enjoy the successful feeling that comes from accomplishment. One need simply remember that accomplishment, which breeds self-confidence, should be perpetually challenged and redefined within oneself.

Again, there are many introspective endeavors wherein one can obtain a sense of self-definition and self-confidence. For myself, and others, the mechanism is the continuous study of was karate-do and specifically, the study of Kata. The principle characteristic of any introspective endeavor is that it will eventually lead the practitioner to the event horizon of choosing the path of either continuing self-discovery through knowledge or to the path of finite ego.

Since ego is self-propagated, the accomplishment that formed ego is finite and dissipates with time. History is replete with examples of the dilatory effect of ego as a factor of time. There are many examples contained in mythology, history and literature. One such example is the following poem, Ozymandias, by Percy Bysshe Shelley. It is a favorite of mine. I keep the poem in my psychological database as a reminder that the journey for knowledge never terminates. One’s momentary achievements, should be acknowledged but never glorified.


I met a traveler from an ancient land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on those lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed;
And on the pedestal these words appear:
“my name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”
Nothing beside them remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far and away.
(See Endnotes # 1)

In closing, I remain eager to continue to tread upon “the lone and level sands (of knowledge) that stretch far and away”,

Sensei John Szmitkowski  szmitowski_print_small HANKO-DEF-R-reverse

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/2013/05/20/kata-lab-101-three-states-of-bunkai/

For details on how to “cyber-participate” in Sensei John’s most recent group Sanchin Kata session, please use this link: http://senseijohn.me/2013/04/28/sine-quo-non-sanchin-pilgrimage/

ENDNOTES:

1. Williams, Oscar, Immortal Poems Of The English Language (An Anthology), (Washington Square Press , NY, 1952) p. 295

Please enjoy our newest videos:

1. This rare video features Shihan Frank Van Lenten engaged in kumite is available by clicking the following link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3hIFOV8Ge-Y

2. While archiving old video, we stumbled upon two minutes of the historic kumite with Shihan Don Nagle and Shihan Peter Urban circa 1966. I believe it may be the most footage of this kumite. You may view the footage with this convenient link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YHo3I5cn8-s

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