Monthly Archives: February 2012

A Dirty Little Secret

Karate for Dummies – A dirty little secret

Hey out there. Hope everyone had a fabulous President’s Day holiday. We sure did. One of our weekend activities included taking part in a karate tournament locally. Generally speaking it was a nice event. It was not an ‘National’ or ‘Regional’ event. Rather it was a mid size local event, basically for traditional style karate practitioners.

Here where we live, there is a large legal firm that uses the media to share with potential clients and others, the little secrets that Insurance companies and others don’t want us to know. They end their commercials with their lead attorney saying: ‘…well, now you know’! So I thought we would add our own little ’… now you know’ piece here for you.

As I have stated before, we have been doing this (Karate) for a long time. But we have not been active participants in any…any, Regional, National or World martial arts competition. Personally, I did compete more than once in the NY State Open, and had lots of fun, even though I was even then unaware of the ‘Dirty Little Secrets’. Fast forward 25 or so years.

So here we are this past weekend and one of our advanced students is waiting to compete in Kata. To set the stage, I will share this. The head judge was a Certified judge/referee of a major karate ‘Organization’. He was joined by two other Certified Judges of the similar organization, even though this event was not sanctioned by that organization. It was just a coincidence that they were all there with their students and were asked to assist in the judging, which is a normal practice at small events. As many will already know, competitors are assigned colored belts for the purpose of identifying them while competing. Generally, the colors now used are red and blue (Aka and Ao). They are assigned once the competition pairings are set.

This week there were 6 advanced competitors in the Kata competition. Two were from the above mentioned ‘Organization’, one was from the tournament host’s school, two were from a team attending from outside of our country (kudos to them for their long trip) and the last was my student. So now we’re at the point of assigning belts and competition order. Let me inject this into the equation; I have learned that a competitor who is ‘fortunate’ enough to be assigned ‘Aka’ has a 50-60% better chance to advance to the next round. ‘Fortunate’ is the operative word. How does that ‘fortune’ occur? Good question? I’ll leave the answer for you to decide. So it went that the two ‘organization’ students and the ‘hosts’ student were assigned…’Aka’. Wow! How fortunate, indeed. You think!? To add insult to injury our student was assigned to compete in the first grouping. How important is that? Well, in this case, not so much.

To be totally honest, the three ‘Aka’ competitors were clearly the best of the six. Our student is quite competent. However, his Kata is very traditional. Not as ‘eclectic’ as those who apply European style form to kata, which is now heavily preferred in National and World tournaments. A competitor assigned ‘Ao’ and loses the first match, can only advance if the person who beats him continues to win. At this event that person did not win the second match, assuring that our student was basically done for the day. One shot …adios muchacho! More on this in another Post down the road.

As a seasoned instructor and observer at many such events, by the time the belt assignments were made, it was clear that all Aka who would place in the 1,2,3 order. Surely, unless some catastrophe took place, the others would follow in 4,5,6. No such catastrophic event took place. The script played out exactly as intended. I felt sorry not just for my student, but more so for the others who travelled so far, waited so long to compete (7 hours) and received so little respect for their efforts.

The moral of all of this: These things happen in competition. Be aware of the fact that there is politics even in the honorable world of our Karate. Judges have favorites. A judge who has done this for many years, and has seen the same competitors for those many years, already has a mind set as to what he/she can expect, and as a result small flaws may/will be overlooked in favor of a proven competitor vs. someone they have never seen or is not part of a major group.

As a parent, as a coach, as a participant, ask questions. Be alert during competition. Don’t be rude. That’s never acceptable. Just be alert.

…well, now you know!



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Jim Carey – Karate Instructor

I remember watching this video one evening…way back when, and I recall that while it was funny, at the time I also thought it was a bit insulting to the Karate that I was involved in. The satire made karate look bad. Or so I thought then.

Well, that was then. I was relatively young and proud of the Karate that we practiced and taught. But ‘our’ karate world was caught up in one dojo and under one instructor. Thank God he was (is) an extremely proficient instructor and extremely traditional in his ways.

Fast forward and with over a 30 years worth or perspective, we’re now posting the video as an aide to future, and in some cases I hope, existing students who are either considering taking up the Art or find themselves in a Dojo where the instructor resembles Mr. Carey in his ways. And it’s quite common, unfortunately.

What’s wrong, you ask? Excellent question, Grasshopper! Karate instructors (Sensei) are supposed to be humble. Their job is to teach karate, not to build up their own ego by their accomplishments, whether real, contrived or set upon them. Instructors, Yudansha and Karateka who are indeed great, rarely show it outwardly. Their greatness is just….there.

OK, here’s something from left field as an example, for thought. In William Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night he wrote; “Be not afraid of greatness: some are born great, some achieve greatness and some have greatness thrust upon them” (Quote Act II, Scene V). I can just as easily quote some of karate’s great Masters, but this one works just fine. I love that quote. You see, great karate instructors don’t have to ‘look’ great, or ‘act’ great. Their greatness is reflected in the way they conduct themselves and in their students. They take a back seat to their own ‘greatness’, if any. That accolade, will be given by future generations.

So what’s wrong with the Video?….nothing, really. It’s hilarious. It’s everything a karate instructor is NOT supposed to be. We are not invincible. We cannot shift our body organs (or maybe I missed that class). We cannot catch a bullet in our teeth (remember that one?). Our bones do break, like anyone else’s, and we do suffer from pain. And very, very few of us are ‘World Champions’. Maybe, just maybe, I’m champion of my block. So much for the fantasies.

So if you do visit a dojo, as a prospective student, and see an instructor who is ‘Jim Carey like’, run away quickly! If you are a student of one already, and truly enjoy your style and the art of Karate, you may want to take a look at who else is out there to teach you.

The Karate journey is a life time journey. It is a long one, and your foundation has to be solid so you can overcome all of the obstacles you will encounter. Build that foundation on a good instructor. So, how do you choose an instructor? Another good question, Grasshopper! We’ll try to figure that one out in our next posting.

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The spirit of “never give up”

This is an interview with honorable Hirokazu Kanazawa, who is among the most revered Shotokan masters alive today, when he was merely a black belt Sempai in Japan. He was in training at the time for the first All Japan Karate Championship. The following is an excerpt from an interview he gave many, many years later This tale of his fight is known by most senior karateka and yudansha.
GN: When you were preparing for the first All Japan Championships did you do any special training?
HK: Yes. For two months before I didn’t train with my friends because of course they would be my opponents in the tournament. So I did secret training by myself and visited other dojos sometimes other style dojos. There were many dojos in Tokyo. Sometimes I went to university dojos, to a Shito-ryu dojo, but mainly I went to Takushoku University dojo to do kumite with the students.
Then four days before the championships I was training in the dojo. Of course, I did the general training, maybe an hour and a half, two hours, and then after the end of training I did fighting, kumite, with seven of the students. They were very good for my tournament training. I finished and said thank you, but then my senior said “Kanazawa! Are you finished?” I said, “Yes.” He said, “No, you are not, you must do more!” so I did another six fights. But on the last one I broke my hand.
GN: Your right hand.
HK: Yes. Therefore, the JKA said I couldn’t compete. Two days later my mother came to Tokyo to see me fight in the championship. I said, “I cannot fight because I have broken my right hand.”
She said, “Ohhh, in karate you only use your right hand?”
I said, “No, no, karate is also the left hand and both of your legs.”
“Then why can’t you participate if you have only broken your right hand?”
“Because the JKA says so”
But my mother said, “I still don’t understand. Please ask the JKA why you cannot participate. You still have your left arm and both legs. Only one hand is broken.”
I went to see Nakayama Sensei and Tagaki Sensei (Masatomo Tagaki, the general secretary of the JKA) to explain, and then I went to see one of my seniors from high school. He was my senior in Judo and he ran a clinic. He said he would write a letter to the JKA, and he would accompany me to the tournament and take responsibility for me if something happened. So Nakayama Sensei and Tagaki Sensei said, “Ok, you can participate.” Now, I never pray to God for things. I respect God, but I do not pray for help with things. Only this one time, I said, “Please God, let me win just one fight,” so I could show a winning fight to my mother.
Then I won my first fight, and I thought that was enough. But then I won the second fight, and the third–funny. My niece came up to me and said, “Ok, uncle, grandmother says that’s enough.” But I said, “No, I still have to go on now because I’m winning. If you’re winning you can’t stop.” So I continued to fight, but from this moment all the opponent’s movements seemed to happen slowly. I could see all the detail. I used left hand blocks and counterattacked with kicks–only kicks: combination kicking, or sometime just one kick to take the point. I used one hundred percent kicking techniques.
GN: So you won all the fights with kicks?
HK: Yes, one hundred per cent. I used my hand to block or feint. In the final match I met Mr. Tsuyama. He was a famous person in university karate, also a champion. His favorite technique was jodan mawashi geri. He would take kamae then kick, no initial movement, with the front foot kick–bang! He got everybody. But I couldn’t block because I couldn’t use my right hand; my left hand wasn’t enough. Therefore as soon as he moved, at the same time, I slipped into his attack and then pushed with my shoulder and used kekomi against his supporting leg and fell down. He was very shocked because no one had done this to him before. Then I thought, “He is not so confident now. I have a good chance.” I did mae geri, then mawashi geri chudan and scored. I thought, maybe I can use that technique one more time, it’s a possibility. A third time would be impossible, but a second time, maybe. But of course not exactly in the same place. So this time I did mae geri and then jodan mawashi geri to score and win by nihon, two ippons, the first one mawashi geri chudan, and the second one mawashi geri jodan.
Moral: As you can read, having lots of techniques is not necessarily the formula for success. Kanazawa Sensei was left only to his left hand and his kicks. Yet he managed to use those to win. A simple block and Roundhouse Kick – middle level and upper level.That was it!

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History: the base

Hey out there! Just to get started safely, and correctly, and for those who are just gaining an understanding of Karate, let’s get the ‘proper’ History done. There’s nothing extraordinary or revealing here. After all, we can’t change History, and you can get basically the same mantra about Karate History in thousands of places on the web, right? And believe it or not, there are many versions. So bear with me.

‘Karate’ is a Japanese word. ‘Kara’ means ‘empty’ or ‘open’, and ‘Te’ means ‘hand’. So together it can stand for either ‘Empty Hand’ or ‘Open Hand’ depending on who’s applying the interpretation. However, either is correct.

Karate is a Japanese Martial art, but history teaches us that originally it was a style of martial art developed in the Ryukyu Islands in what is now Okinawa, Japan. The history of the Ryukyu Islands is complicated, so for the sake of simplicity, it was a Chinese Tributary of the Ming Dynasty. Fast forward several hundred years and subsequently, around 1879 the Ryukyu Province was renamed Okinawa Prefecture and the monarchy of Shuri was abolished.

By then, of course, the Ryukyuans had developed an indigenous fighting method they simply called ‘Te’ (hand), much or some of which was from Chinese Kenpo, prior to the 19th century annexation by Japan. It was the Okinawan’s who changed the name from ‘Te’ to ‘Karate’ during the early 20th century, during a time of cultural exchanges and escalating Japanese militarism between the Japanese and the Ryukyuans, to indicate that the Japanese wanted to develop the Okinawan form in Japanese style.

In 1922 the Japanese Ministry of Education invited Gichin Funakoshi, of Okinawa, to Tokyo to give a karate demonstration. Subsequently in 1924 Keio University established the first university karate club in Japan. Hence, Gichin Funakoshi is generally regarded as the Father of modern day karate. Funakoshi was the founder of the Shotokan Style of Karate. Master Funakoshi passed away on April 26, 1957 at the age of 89.

Funakoshi’s Shotokan Karate has continued to thrive, and it is the style that we teach.

But Shotokan Karate is but one of the many Japanese Karate Styles among many other Japanese martial arts styles and others worldwide.

For more in-depth historical information check:

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The purpose of this blog is to take a broad, sometimes light hearted, look at Karate. We hope to enlighten those who are seriously thinking about starting the long walk into Karate and Karate-do, and also to highlight some of the lighter do’s and don’ts of our Art/Sport. Together we have over 50 years of martial arts training and teaching and we think we know just enough to get ourselves in serious trouble with our students and peers. For that reason we will never use any real identities or specific locations (including our own, of course) unless asked to do so by those making editorial contributions.  

With regards to contributions, let us make this one time disclosure: Many, If not most, of the things you will find here are not necessarily in any way original from our heads. Surely we would like to take credit for them but let’s get serious; we’re the dummies writing this Blog, so…..

We welcome any and all comments and will post them if appropriate, meaning that they are clean of profanity or questionable content. We don’t mind posting negative comments, which we are certain there will be many. We know that many will take exception to some of the things we say or some of our views. That’s OK. That’s the way it is with our Art/Sport. If you really take exception, there are options: Don’t read the blog, make comments to us so we can respond, and lastly…start your own blog so we can read it and send YOU some enlightening comments. You see, we know that when we talk about Karate for Dummies, we accept that we are probably at the front of the line. Welcome on board!

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