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Wild Horses & Seienchin Kata – An Unexpected Saikou

10 Nov

November 7th I was at the Lower Salt River, Arizona. In anticipation of relocating back to my home state of New Jersey, I wanted to maximize my day. My plan was to film kata footage for my kata video library, fish (hopefully catching a few for photos for my fishing blog, see below) and generally enjoy one of my last days on the river. What I did not plan was a saikou, supreme experience.

On that day, I was blessed with a chance encounter with one of the herds of wild horses that call the river home. Readers of my fishing blog know that I have encountered the herds in the past. What makes this encounter different is that not only would it likely be my last encounter with the herd, but I was at the right place and right time to be able to perform one of my favorite kata with the herd. The kata was Seienchin Kata. The translation of the kanji (Japanese calligraphy) for Seienchin translates, inter alia, as “Calm in the storm, storm in the calm.”

Kanji for "Seienchin", sumi-e ink on rice paper

Kanji for “Seienchin”, sumi-e ink on rice paper

As spontaneous as my choice of kata was, in retrospect, it turned out to be a great symbol of these difficult days of packing, arranging for rental of my home and relocating to a bit of uncertainty, the storm. Contrasting this is the calm of that day on the river; almost as if the “Natural Force” that I wrote about so much was telling me it will all work out. Noteworthy is that the Seienchin Kata makes characteristic use of of the “kiba-dache”, “Horse-riding stance”, a perfect kata to perform in the presence of a herd of wild horses.

HANKO-wood

Sensei John Szmitkowski

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KATA LAB  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: https://senseijohn.me/category/kata-laboratory/

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© Copyright 2014 Issho Productions & John Szmitkowski, all rights reserved.

The Night Sky (Taikiyoku)

3 Nov

 KATA GLASS Welcome to the first submission in my new “Kata Vineyard” celebrating the beauty and joy of Kata.

******************************

The night sky.

As a child I looked up at the night sky and let my imagination run free. I wondered – 

  • What is there beyond the stars and planets? 
  • Is there intelligent life “out there”? 
  • How far will astronauts travel during my life and what will they find? 
  • What lies out there in the universe that we have not discovered? 
  • Will Dracula or the Wolfman appear from the darkness? (This thought dissipated as I grew older)

The night sky was a remarkable catalyst for my imagination. 

Now, each night shortly after sunset, I walk two miles to a local park to practice kata. With each step the Sun moves lower below the horizon. Soon, the first and brightest star appears. I glance upward welcoming this pinpoint of light that is the planet Venus. Under its watchful “gaze” I reach the park and walk onto the grass. Here in the Arizona desert, in an effort to “conserve” water, large grass fields like golf courses, parks and large lawns are watered at sunset. The grass is moist and somewhat slippery, like skating on green ice. The musky smell of moisture wraps itself around me. As a gentle breeze caresses my cheek, the sound of crickets and hunting bats melodically fills my ears, I look upward and find my favorite constellation. It is one that has intrigued humans since the dawn of time – the Orion constellation. 

If I were standing still, my inner self would hear the beat of my heart  (Thump – Thump / Thump – Thump / Thump – Thump). 

But, I am not standing still. I move in a heartbeat-like (Thump – Thump) rhythmic pattern that I have known for decades  –  I somewhat involuntarily move to this beat

Block – Punch / Block – Punch / Block – Punch / Punch – Punch /Block – Punch / Block – Punch /Block – Punch / Punch – Punch /Block – Punch / Block – Punch

This pattern is that of the Taikiyoku series of kata. I perform the three formal Taikiyoku Kata (Sho-dan, Ni-dan and San-dan) as one kata; as I finish one, I omit the ending Hache-dache position, and tie in the last move to the the first move of the next Taikiyoku. Thus, the three become one and more.

A Mexican fruit bat lopes overhead as I finish the three formal Taikiyoku. As the bat lopes away, I proceed to the informal, self-created Taikiyoku born in my youth. I simply use the pattern of Taikiyoku and insert any block and counter combination. (Block – Counter) My uninhibited imagination is resurrected from my youth. (Block – Counter / Block – Counter)  I semi-consciously wonder –

Who else on Earth is performing a similar dance under the stars? (Counter – Counter / Block – Counter) Is a being from one of the planets above looking down upon my Taikiyoku? What ancient, now forgotten God smiles down upon my efforts this night? (Block – Counter / Block – Counter) 

Observations filter in from my senses to my mind. A Union Pacific freight train thunders in the distance, as my mind quiets. (Counter – Counter / Block – Counter) I have random thoughts – no rhyme or reason, just my imagination as I move under the pinholes of light that pierce the veil that is the night sky and my conscious mind. (Block – Counter)

Moving stealthily through the dark, the flow of Taikiyoku (Block-Counter / Block – Counter)  resonates within my core. As the grass crunches underfoot, I find that my most inspired thoughts percolate to the forefront. (Block – Counter/ Counter – Counter) Many a realization about kata and bunkai brewed (or festered, as the case my be) during such performances of this kata. (Block – Counter / Block – Counter)

A faint yipping sound of a coyote (Yip – Yip / Yip – Yip) comes from the adjourning cotton field. (Yip – Yip) Unbeknownst to the coyote, my subconscious synchronizes my movements to his song. (Yip – Yip / Block – Counter  / Yip – Yip / Counter – Counter)

As my left eye stings from a drop of sweat, (Block – Counter / Block – Counter) I acknowledge the passage of time since my youthful vigor. 

To catch my breath, I slow my Taikiyoku and include the dynamic tension and breathing of Sanchin Kata. With a quick glance upward towards the Orion constellation, I inhale the cool, sweet night air, I exhale and slowly begin. (Block      –     Counter      /      Block      –      Counter) My body begins to slow and settle back into its normal flow of air and blood (Block      –      Counter) My senses grasp my surroundings and file away the memory of the night. (Counter      –      Counter) Like the worn, comfortable cotton sweatshirt I wear, my mind envelopes the memory within me (Block      –      Counter) I am one not only with myself (Block      –      Counter      /      Counter      –      Counter) but also with all that is around me (Block      –      Counter). Like the worn, frayed black obi tied around my waist, I am tied to all who walked under the night sky. A wanderer like those before me and those who will follow me! (Block      –      Counter) I am from the dust of these stars and I belong to this night! (Kiai!)

Kata practice is complete. 

Before I walk home, I again look towards Orion and focus on Orion’s belt. Astrologers named these three stars Mintaka, Anilam and Alnitak. I think of them as the three formal Taikiyoku – Sho-dan, Ni-dan and San-dan. For just as the stars in Orion’s belt call forth the secrets of the night sky, these three kata can unlock secrets of our imagination and creativity. 

orion star guide

Suddenly, 

  • A shooting star streaks past the three stars of Orion’s belt! 
  • A desert wren perched on a branch screeches in the night! 
  • A dust-devil briefly dances at the edge of a field! 
  • A coyote saunters by and sits! – watching or critiquing?
  • A realization!

Though I’m a bit tired, the night is too mysteriously beautiful to go home. I must remain part of it! Time for one more Taikiyoku. Let’s see what thoughts enter my mind as I  –  

Block – Counter / Block – Counter / Block – Counter / Counter – Counter /Block – Counter / Block – Counter /Block – Counter / Counter – Counter /Block – Counter / Block – Counter

“What a wonderful World” is insufficient. “What a wonderful Universe – Thanks Taikiyoku!”

carl sagan

In closing, I remain staring up at the night sky – blocking and countering in a rhythmic pattern known as “Taikiyoku”. Oh, and what thoughts percolated or festered in my mind this night? The next article on this blog, of course. 

HANKO

Sensei John Szmitkowski

(Technical Notes follow)

snowmanFor information on my “no-risk”, kata seminars, please visit the seminar page using this convenient link https://senseijohn.me/seminar-kata/

lab-collage-6 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: https://senseijohn.me/category/kata-laboratory/

© Copyright 2013 Issho Productions & John Szmitkowski, all rights reserved.

TECHNICAL NOTES:

As the impetus for my Kata Vineyard category is the exploration of the beauty, art aesthetics and enjoyment of kata, I did not want to “bog-down” in technicalities when posting in this category; however, there are a few notes I wish to submit.

Taikiyoku Kata Variations: Every Saturday morning, Sensei Nick D’Antuono would end the junior division class with repetitive performances of Taikiyoku. To keep the session from becoming boring, he would invite us to create our own kata, within the Taikiyoku pattern, using any combination of block and counter. I continued this practice when I became a Sensei; however, I introduced a caveat. The student would be required to engage in kumite using whatever block and counter combination the student selected for their version of Taikiyoku variation. This prevented from the student introducing flamboyant, martially-absurd combinations into the kata.

Cadence of Taikiyoku: In the sequence involving a block followed by three lunge punches, the usual cadence is to perform all four movements in one sequence. For two reasons I adapted the cadence by breaking it into two sequences of Block-Punch and Punch-Punch. The first reason is martial in purpose and was necessitated by one of my junior division students. The class was performing kumite. I instructed them to defend using the concepts of Taikiyoku. One student attacked the other with an amazingly slow roundhouse kick (mawashi-geri). The defending student waited for the semi-slow motion kick to get close enough to block (I could have had a cup of tea) blocked and countered. I asked why he waited to block the terribly slow kick. The student replied that he was using the block and counter taught in Taikiyoku. Thereafter I changed the cadence. and teach the “punch – punch” sequence as intercepting a slow attack (thus attacking the attacker). Thus, Taikiyoku mostly teaches block and counter (8 sequences) and introduces the concept of intercepting an attack (2 sequences). The second reason was to effect a rhythmic cadence of 1-2 / 1-2 / 1-2 throughout the entire kata. This fosters a state of moving mediation.

Sensei John is now on Facebook, under – FLY FISHING DOJO, you are invited to send a Facebook friend request.

You may enjoy the Goshin-Do Karate-Do blog using the following link: WWW.DeFeliceRyu.Com

You may wish to view my blog dedicated to the interrelationship between martial arts protocol & ideology to fly-fishing and fishing in general by clicking WWW.FlyFishingDojo.Com

An Aesthetic New Kata Category – I Hope You Savor It

20 Oct

For decades, I have endeavored to share my insights into kata in particular and karate-do in general. For the majority of time, this was accomplished within my Dojo. To expand my audience, I turned writing. My first literary attempt began in 1997 with the release of volume one of the Goshin-Do Kata-Jitsu series. Five volumes completed that series; six more literary works, seminars, videos, DVD’s, three blogs and years later, I have realized that my approach was lacking. An integral component of the kata experience was missing.

I could have done better.

I now realize I failed to express my love of and joy in performing kata. Kata is something special that is beyond the ken of the “average” person. As such, it must be enjoyed, appreciated and savored.

Additionally, how you feel about a particular kata inextricably affects your bunkai (analysis) of that kata. Thus, the more you enjoy a kata will result in a more imaginative, fruitful bunkai. Though I believe my videos, filmed outdoors in nature, provide a feeling of the aesthetic sense and beauty of kata, this feeling was minimal. The aesthetic beauty, joy and love of kata needs to be brought to the forefront.

This realization has given birth to my newest blog category designed to share with you the aesthetics, joy and pleasure of kata – – –

Sensei John’s Kata Vineyard –

* * *  celebrating and savoring the beauty & joy of Kata  * * *

KATA GLASS

The physical and spiritual beauty of kata is like the deep, rich, yet subtle, flavor of a fine wine. You experience wine with all five of your senses,. Similarly, kata should be fully savored. Understanding the experience of kata as if it were a fine wine, enriches kata. How is this so? Here are a few of my thoughts,

  • the basic technique of karate-do, like the grape, must be carefully nurtured & tended;
  • human intervention combines with the grape (technique) to produce wine (kata);
  • each kata, like an individual wine, is unique in and of itself,
  • the quality of wine depends on the grape, human intervention and cultivation, environment and the like. The same is true of kata (Cabernet differs from Riesling like Suparunpei differs from Gojushiho);
  • once consumed, the wine is gone, once performed, that exact kata performance can never be repeated. (Once a bottle of Cabernet is consumed, you may drink a similar bottle, but you can never drink from that exact bottle again, similarly, once you perform a kata, you may perform the same kata again, but that performance will never be exactly the same);
  • like wine, kata is best savored in a natural environment, both are best enjoyed in nature.
  • In addition, I submit another, ethereal connection between kata and wine. I find it immensely intriguing that the spiritual significance of kata and wine is similar. Christianity (and other Religions) recognize the Last Supper whereby Jesus shared bread and wine with his disciples. In doing so, He asked them to “do this in remembrance of Me” and created the new covenant. (Luke 22:17-20)  Similarly, we are all disciples of our Sensei. Each time we perform a kata we do so in memory and tribute to the Sensei that taught us the kata and continue the covenant of not just preserving but also advancing Sensei’s kata.

I look forward to sharing within you the aesthetic beauty, and my shear love of and joy in performing kata. Look for the first post and video in this category in the near future.

Until then, I remain, cultivating, nurturing, enjoying and savoring my Kata,

HANKO

Sensei John Szmitkowski

  CIMG3583 For information on my “no-risk”, kata seminars, please visit the seminar page using this convenient link https://senseijohn.me/seminar-kata/

lab-collage-6 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: https://senseijohn.me/category/kata-laboratory/

sanchin - bazinga For details on how to “cyber-participate” in Sensei John’s most recent group Sanchin Kata session, please use this link: https://senseijohn.me/category/a-sanchin-pilgrimage/

© Copyright 2006 and 2013 Issho Productions & John Szmitkowski, all rights reserved.

Sensei John is now on Facebook, under – FLY FISHING DOJO, you are invited to send a Facebook friend request.

You may enjoy the Goshin-Do Karate-Do blog using the following link: WWW.DeFeliceRyu.Com

You may wish to view my blog dedicated to the interrelationship between martial arts protocol & ideology to fly-fishing and fishing in general by clicking WWW.FlyFishingDojo.Com

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