Tag Archives: Shihan Thomas DeFelice

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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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)

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/

What Say You, Dog-Faced Foe?

18 Jul

It was once said that all good myths are, to some extent, based upon reality. I do not know whether the following actually occurred or is similar to Aesop’s famous fables, a story that relates a lesson.

A great battle between two warring Daimyo was drawing to a close. Both sides had suffered extreme losses. On a remote section of plateau, away from the core of the battle, two opposing Samurai encountered each other from a distance of about one hundred feet. The one samurai had his sword drawn, the other had an arrow set in his bow ready for the killing flight. Surely, the sword-bearing samurai, having a great distance to cover in order to reach his opponent, was about to die. Now, the myth ensues:

 The Archer called out to his opponent:
“What say you dog-faced foe?”
To which the Samurai replied:
“Whose only thoughts are of his Ancient Mother.”
After hearing this reply the archer returned his arrow to its quiver and spared the life of the samurai.

 Why did this occur and what is its significance?

First, it must be remembered that samurai of old were not only skilled in the martial arts, but were also skilled in other arts, including poetry and calligraphy. The preferred form of poetry was Haiku. Haiku has a rigid set of rules concerning structure. It is generally a short poem that is intended to convey an emotion or vision to the reader without specifically detailing the emotion or vision. A favorite activity was for one person to start a Haiku and for another to finish it. Such was the exchange above.

The encounter illustrates that the Samurai facing death still retained his composure and calmness and was able to furnish a reply that deeply touched his adversary. To face death and think not of oneself, but of one’s “ancient mother” is indeed profound.

Second, the story also illustrates the concept of Bushi No Nasake – “The tenderness of a warrior”. Many mistakenly believe that killing for a samurai was automatic once a battle commenced. In actuality, a warrior could spare the life of his adversary. However, mercy could not stem from a blind impulse. It must be rendered with due regard to justice and backed with the power to save or kill. Remember that it was a Samurai’s honor and duty to die in battle, thus, if his life was spared, it must be for a noble reason, less the life would be one of disgrace for both warriors.

Today, sadly it appears that such a concept of Bushi No Nasake is the exception and not the rule. At its heart, the concept recognizes the characteristics of honor, respect and the value of human life. Given today’s headlines reporting stories on domestic abuse, child neglect and such new phrases as “road rage” and “thrill-killing”, it is clear that humans no longer respect each other. People no longer cloak themselves in that blanket known as a sense of honor. If one cannot comprehend honor and respect, one cannot understand true mercy and the strength of character required to outwardly manifest same. The only response becomes one of aggression.

As karate-ka, we have the ability to self-govern ourselves to avoid such aggressive behavior. We test ourselves routinely through our training (particularly kata training) and as such, no longer have to prove anything to ourselves, or others. Thus, we can act with compassion in situations that others would meet with aggression.

When training, please remember to bear in mind the concepts of Bushi No Nasaki, compassion, tenderness, honor and a sense of justice within one’s own actions. Justice can and should never be compromised. The qualities are difficult to grasp, but through the enlightenment of karate training in general and kata training in particular, are never lost. The end result of any human encounter can ultimately involve devastating results, one must have the strength of character to properly access the encounter, to then apply the appropriate response and finally, to live peacefully with the result. Please remember too that this applies to all human encounters, work-related, social, economic, fleeting, etc., not only martial encounters.

In closing I remain, a dog-faced foe, embracing Bushi-No Nasake

   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 - 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/

A Matter Of Perception

12 Jun

Perception affects not only the manner in which we practice karate-do, it also affects our daily lives. The ancient masters, sages and storytellers knew the power of perception. In fact, oral traditions and myths told of the ramifications of how perception shapes our world.

Here is but one mythical tale from the oral traditions of Goshin-Do Karate Do that illustrates how perception can alter the manner in which you perceive your karate-do and world around you. It is called the Daimyo and the Samurai

In feudal Japan there was a powerful daimyo, a warlord. Amongst his many retainers, the daimyo had an extremely loyal Samurai whom he favored. The samurai had accompanied the Daimyo to the Shogun’s Court in far off Edo, many days journey from their home. One day the samurai received an urgent message advising that his father, also a very distinguished samurai loyal to the daimyo’s family, had fallen gravely ill. Being in a hurry to attend to his dying father, the samurai desired to mount his horse and rush home. The samurai found that his horse had become lame and could not make the long journey home. Worried about seeing his ill father, the samurai made use of the daimyo’s favorite horse. This was a serious crime punishable by beheading.

When the daimyo heard of the samurai’s use of his horse, he declared, “The samurai and his father are loyal retainers of my family, what a devout samurai to be so concerned with the welfare of his father that he risked his own life so as to attend to his ill father.”

Business at the Shogun’s Court had concluded and the daimyo returned home to his castle. The samurai went to see his master and they walked in the daimyo’s gardens. The samurai saw the most lovely cherry blossom. He picked it and offered it to his master as a token of his appreciation, saying, “Amongst flowers, the cherry blossom; amongst men, you, my Lord and master.” The other samurai that were in attendance were shocked that he dared to pick a cherry blossom from the daimyo’s favorite tree. The daimyo took the proffered cherry blossom and praised the samurai for his generosity.

As happens in all human relationships, the daimyo and the samurai eventually had a falling out. The daimyo angrily and publicly chastised the samurai, “You impudent servant, you disgraced me by making use of my horse.” “You insulted me by picking my own cherry blossom and giving it to me as a present.” In the presence of the daimyo’s court, the samurai was ordered to commit seppuku (ritual suicide). (See Endnote #1).

seppuku

I hope you enjoyed the tale. 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/

ENDNOTES:

1. I had heard this fable several times in the Dojo. I was able to locate a similar tale, which you may also enjoy reading. It is called “The Thief Of The Peach” and may be found in: Furuya, Kensho, Kodo: Ancient Ways (Lessons In The Spiritual Life Of The Warrior/Martial Artist (O’Hara Publications, Inc., 1996)   p. 48.

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/

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/

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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