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KAMAWANU – Accept The Challenge

4 Jul

Our vanity would have just that which we do best count as that which is hardest for us. . . (See Endnote # 1)

While the above commentary was made in the late 1800’s by Friedrich Nietzsche, it seems to have become the raison d’etre for modern society. Today, preservation of the status quo, political correctness and conformity have so imbued our individual and societal persona that we have all become weakened. So that we don’t “Rock the boat”, we languish in our conformity and hide from challenge. While fully believing to the contrary, we no longer seek to challenge ourselves so as to afford our psyche the ability to rise to the challenge. Rather, we simply consider ourselves to be challenged by that which is, at best, mundane. That which we consider a challenge is derived from a position of internal weakness. That is to say that we lack the confidence to truly challenge ourselves.

How then do we pull ourselves out of this psychological mire? I submit the answer is to reacquaint ourselves with our individual internal strength and instill an attitude derived from the phrase “Kamawanu”. Kamawanu is not the sole province of the martial arts. It has in fact been embraced by various aspects of popular society to convey the populist ideology of the moment. There is; however, an oral tradition within the martial arts that breathes life into the challenging potential ascribed to the mystique of Kamawanu.

Oral tradition states that Dojo of old sometimes hung a rather esoteric sign outside of the Dojo. This sign was not hung for public view by Dojo that were for the faint of heart. Rather, the sign was hung outside of Dojo wherein the training was hard core physically, spiritually pure and from the heart. The sign contained no words. In place of words, it simply depicted three symbols: a sickle (Kama), a rice bowl (wan) and the phonetic symbol for the sound “nu.”

These symbols read together formed the phrase Kamawanu (See endnote # 2). While there is no direct translation of Kamawanu, the phrase is interpreted variously as “It doesn’t matter” and “I(we) don’t care.” Martial oral tradition has a more figurative interpretation. (See endnote # 3) When hung and displayed outside “hard-core” Dojo, the phrase Kamawanu was interpreted as:

We don’t care if you enter or not, we don’t care if you challenge us or not.

Interpreted in this manner, Kamawanu can be used to crave, desire and accept challenge as a means of improving oneself and rising above a conformed, mundane existence. One needs the inner strength and confidence so as to accept challenge rather than seek to define challenge as that which one readily and easily accomplishes.

Have faith in yourself, your resilience and your abilities. Then hang a figurative sign about yourself depicting a sickle, a rice bowl and the sound “nu” – Kamawanu. You no longer care if others or situations challenge you or not. Rather, you crave and desire the challenge and your ability to ride to the challenge.

Until the next article, I remain ready to rise to the challenge – Kamawanu to you.

HANKO-wood

 

Sensei John Szmitkowski

ENDNOTES:

  1. Nietzsche, Friedrich, Beyond Good & Evil, Part Four: Maxims & Interludes (1885), Maxim # 143.
  2. The Kama in the photo is one of a pair of authentic Japanese Kama given to me by Shihan Wayne Norlander in 1995, R.I.P my friend.
  3. Kamawanu is an integral part of oral tradition of Goshin-Do Karate-Do. It is the companion to the tale of Dojo Yaburi, or those that would challenge a Dojo owner and keep his fees for one month’s teaching  if he was not up to the challenge. For those who are unfamiliar with Goshin-Do Karate-Do tradition, the following reference to Kamawanu may be both of interest and helpful: Furuya, Kensho, Kodo: Ancient Ways (O’Hara Publishing, Santa Clarita, CA, 1996) p. 40.

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For more on either Sanchin Kata as meditation or my new book on Sanchin Kata, please feel free to visit the “Sanchin Book” page of this weblog, or my website WWW.Dynamic-Meditation.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.Wordpress.Com

EVERYDAY MIND – NENJUUSHIN

8 May

While the within is expressed in terms of Karate-Do, I submit that the topic of Nenjuushin, “everyday mind” applies to any sport, hobby, and artistic endeavor, such as painting, music and the like. For your enjoyment and everyday use, I submit the following.

Training within Shihan Thomas DeFelice’s Goshin-Do Karate-Dojo, I was schooled in the idea that training in the martial arts should not be made into a special event. Rather, it should be a necessary part of our daily lives. This is referred to as “Nenjuushin”, the “everyday mind.”  Later in life, when I began training in Kobudo, the art of ancient weapons, my various instructors made the point that the ancient weapons of the Okinawa peasants were, with limited exception, everyday farm implements. (See endnote #1). In times of turmoil, these everyday farm implements were utilized by the Okinawa peasants to defend themselves against the sword wielding Samurai. Whenever I learned a new weapon, my instructors insisted that the weapon first be used while performing basic, such as push-ups and sit-ups. Such rudimentary practice was necessary to indoctrinate me to the most fundamental use of the weapon.

There is a Zen fable which exemplifies this point. A young priest once asked a Zen master, “What is the most important aspect of practice?” The Zen master replied, “Did you just finish eating?” “Yes,” replied the young monk. “Then go wash your bowl,” came the master’s reply. The meaning of this parable is that practice can never be separated from the essential daily activity of our lives. Indeed, our martial arts must become one within ourselves, not something external to ourselves which we are hopelessly try to grasp. (See Endnote # 2).

The corollary maxims of Nenjuushin maybe found in an article I posted a few weeks ago wherein I set forth the “Twenty Percepts Of Funakoshi-Sensei” – here is a convenient link to the article: https://senseijohn.wordpress.com/2011/03/13/warrior-ideology-part-1-of-2/

Relevant to the concept of nenjuushin are the following three percepts:

8. Do not think that Karate is only in the Dojo.

9. Karate practice is lifetime work; there is no limit.

10. Put your everyday living into Karate, you will find peace.

Applying the above and the everyday mind of nenjuushin to any human endeavor, one may begin to understand how to broaden one’s appreciation and usage of any art. For example, the percept “Do not think Karate is only in the Dojo” stands, inter alia, for the idea that an art is not limited to the physical confines of the place where it is “normally” practiced. Karate-Do is normally practiced in building, called a Dojo. However, at a very young age, my first Sensei, Sensei Nick D’Antuono (one of Shihan DeFelice’s Yudansha), introduced me to the idea that Karate-Do should also be practiced outdoors, in nature. This idea became permanently instilled in my heart. My greatest expression of Karate-Do is now to be found in the most esoteric natural environment. For example, below are two photographs of me practicing the Seienchin Kata at various times in my life. The first is circa, 1999 and was taken at North Truro, Cape Cod, Ma during low tide. The second is circa 2003 and was taken during the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally at the Badlands, ND.

          

Leaving the confines of one’s studio will provide a fresh experience and perspective of one’s art form. Thus, write music, play music, paint, and the like any where, not just inside. Practice your sport, including  so-called “indoor sports”, outside. If you are an indoor swimmer, swim in a lake or an ocean as part of your training. If you are a basketball player practice outdoors where the spontaneous elements of wind and even rain will help to improve your game.

Looking to the second percept above, “Karate practice is lifetime work; there is no limit” one can begin to understand that such training includes everyday “elements”. I recently taught a senior-level class at Shihan Norlander’s USA Goshin-Ryu Karate Dojo, I utilized an “ancient training device” so that the students can practice technique and Kata with the goal of improving their grip. What was the ancient training device? Two cantaloupes.

Again, this idea can expand any art or hobby. Instead of painting with a brush try something different; remember when you were young and painted with your fingers. If you are a musician, find a non-traditional instrument to use in your songs. I once saw a television documentary about a rock formation in Pennsylvania that is a major tourist location. These rocks, when struck with a hammer, makes beautiful sounds.

When you open yourself to the possibilities of enhancing and experiencing your art, hobby or life’s pursuit, such as Karate-Do by employing the concept of nenjuushin, you will find peace. Thus, the third percept from above; “Put your everyday living into Karate, you will find peace is realized.”

Makiwara practice in the snow, Circa 1998

In concluding this article, I will modify another of Funakoshi-Sensei percepts, “Real ART (Karate) is as hot water returning to cold water if energy is not constantly applied. Nenjuushin will help you keep your art, sport, hobby, or other pursuit fresh, alive, a source of inspiration for many years – in other words, HOT.

In closing I remain, a believer in the everyday mind,

HANKO-wood

 

 

Sensei John Szmitkowski, Soke, Jiriki Kata-Do

For a view of Nenjuushin in the form of Kata in nature, here is a link for a promotional video about my Sanchin Kata & Jiriki Kata-Do DVD filmed in the Tonto National Forest. Arizona. Please see the “SANCHIN DVD & BOOK” page tab above for information on how to purchase the DVD.    LINK: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J-pC-tPUrYE

ENDNOTES:

  1. The exception to the farm implement origin is usually found in metal weapons, such as the Sai. Metal was costly in ancient times. Tools made from metal, except those  with a specific need, were beyond the normal financial means of the average peasant. Metal tools needed for a specific purpose, such as the sickle, or Kama, which was necessary to trim and cut vegetation, would be purchased only when absolutely necessary. The remaining traditional metal weapons of Kobudo, such as the Sai, Nunti and Naginata were used by members of the police or palace guards.; thus they did not originate as farm implements.

2. Furuya, Kensho, Kodo: Ancient Ways (Lessons In The Spiritual Life Of The Warrior/Martial Artist (O’Hara Publications, Inc., 1996) p. 48.

For more on either Sanchin Kata as meditation or my new book on Sanchin Kata, please feel free to visit the “Sanchin Book” page of this weblog.

You may wish to view my blog dedicated to fly-fishing by clicking WWW.FlyFishingDojo.Wordpress.Com

WARRIOR IDEOLOGY – PART 2 OF 2

27 Mar

In this second part of “Warrior Ideology”, I present to you the command guidelines General George S. Patton, Jr. issued to his commanders during World War II. These guidelines will benefit any and every one who occupies a leadership position.

The following list of dictates is from General George S. Patton’s instructions to his commanders presented in the same outline format used by the General himself. (See Endnote # 1):

Generals Brady, Eisenhower & Patton

I. GENERAL

1. This letter stresses those tactical and administrative usages which combat experience has taught myself and the officers who have served under me to consider vital.

2. You will not simply mimeograph this and call it a day. You are responsible that these usages become habitual in your command.

II. DISCIPLINE

1. There is only one sort of discipline – PERFECT DISCIPLINE. Men cannot have good battle discipline and poor administrative discipline.

2. Discipline is based on the pride in the profession of arms, on meticulous attention to details, and on mutual respect and confidence. Discipline must be a habit so ingrained that it is stronger than the excitement of battle or the fear of death.

III. TACTICAL USAGES

1. General

a. Combat Principles.

  1. There is no approved solution to any tactical situation

(2) There is only one tactical principle which is not subject to change. It is “To so use the means at hand to inflict the maximum amount of wounds, death and destruction on the enemy in the minimum time”.

(3) In battle, casualties vary directly with the time you are exposed to effective fire. Your own fire reduces the effectiveness and volume of the enemies fire, while rapidity of attack shortens the time of exposure. A pint of sweat will save a gallon of blood!

(4) Battles are won by frightening the enemy. Fear is induced by inflicting death and wounds on him. Death and wounds are produced by fire. …

(5) “Catch the enemy by the nose with fire and kick him in the pants with fire emplaced through movement.”

(6) Hit hard soon; … the idea being to develop your maximum force at once before the enemy can develop his.

(7) You can never be too strong. Get every man and gun you can secure, provided it does not unduly delay your attack.

(8) The larger the force and the more violence you use in the attack, whether it be men, tanks, or ammunition, the smaller will be your proportional losses.

(9) Never yield ground. It is cheaper to hold what you have than to retake what you have lost.

(10) Our mortars and our artillery are superb weapons when they are firing. When silent, they are junk – see that they keep firing!

VI. CARE OF MEN.

  1. Officers are responsible, not only for the conduct of their men in battle, but also for their health and contentment when not fighting. An Officer must be the last man to take shelter from fire and the first to move forward. Similarly, he must be the last man to look after his own comfort at the close of a march. He must see to that his men are cared for. He should know his men so well that any sign of sickness or nervous strain will be apparent to him, and he can take such action as may be necessary.

I hope the twenty percepts of Funakoshi-Sensei and the command dictates of General Patton have given you a basis for contemplation; in other words, “something to think about.” More to follow.

In closing, I remain,

Sensei John Szmitkowski, Soke, Jiriki Kata-Do

ENDNOTES:

1. These instructions are contained in Patton’s 2nd letter of instruction to the Third Army Corps, Division and Separate Unit Commanders dated 3 April, 1944. The letter may be found in, Patton, George, S, Jr., War As I Knew It: The Battle Memoirs of “Blood ‘N Guts”,Bantan Books (1980).

You may wish to peruse an article and video about the ancient Ryukyu “Fisherman As Warriors” on my Fly Fishing weblog, simply click this link http://flyfishingdojo.com/2011/03/20/fisherman-as-warriors/

You may wish to view my blog dedicated to martial protocol and ideology applied to fly-fishing by clicking the following link: WWW.FlyFishingDojo.Com

WARRIOR IDEOLOGY: PART 1 OF 2

13 Mar

I would like to begin to construct a foundation for the future articles that I have planned for this weblog. This two part submission will provide you with a look at two examples of martial maxims, or percepts. These maxims were originally intended to guide two divergent groups of warriors. In the one instance, Karate-Ka (practitioners of Karate) and in the other instance, American soldiers during World War II. In part one, I will present to you what is known in  Karate circles as the “Twenty Percepts of Sensei Funakoshi”. In part two, I will provide you with the text of a letter written by General George S. Patton to his field commanders  during World War II.

For purposes of this two part article, I will simply present to you these maxims. You may wish to reflect on them and consider how the maxims extend to situations that we encounter in our daily lives, such as sports, business scenarios, familial relationships and the like. In order to guide your reflection of the material that follows, you must, in the words of Sensei Funakoshi: “Kokoro wa hanatan koto wo yosu.”  This phrase is explained in the translation below.

The Twenty Percepts of Sensei Gichen Funakoshi (See Endnote # 1):

Sensei Gichen Funakoshi

1. Karate begins with respect and ends with respect. (Karate-do wa rei ni hajimari, rei ni owaru koto wo wasuruna).

2. There is no first attack in Karate. (Karate ni sente ashi).

3. Karate is an auxiliary of justice. (Karate wa gi no tasuke).

4. Know thyself, then know another. (Mazu jiko wo shire, shikoshite tao wo shire).

5. Intuition is more than technique. (Gijutsu Yoi shinjutsu).

6. Let your mind go. Free your mind. (Kokoro wa hanatan koto wo yosu).

7. Misfortune always occur in negligence. (Wazawai wa getai ni shozu).

8. Do not think that Karate is only in the Dojo. (Dojo nomino Karate to omou na).

9. Karate practice is lifetime work; there is no limit. (Karate no shugyo wa issho de aru).

10. Put your everyday living into Karate, you will find peace. (Arai-yuru mono wo karate-ka seyo soko ni myo-mi ari).

11. Real Karate is as hot water returning to cold water if energy is not constantly applied. (Karate wa yu no goto shi taezu netsudo wo ataezareba mot no mizu ni kaeru).

12. Do not think of winning, but it is necessary to think of not losing. (Katsu kangae wa motsu na makenu kangae wa hitsuyo).

13. Alternate defense to the enemy. (Tekki ni yotte tenka seyo). (# 13 and # 14 should be read in conjunction).

14. The battle is according to how you maneuver the unguarded and the guarded. (Tattakai was kyo-jitsu no soju ikan ni ari.

15. Think one’s hands and feet as a sword. (Hito no te ashi wo ken to omoe).

16. When you leave your home you have numerous enemies. Your behavior invites trouble. (Danshi mon wo izureba hyakuman no tekki ari).

17. Beginners must master all postures without intellection, after it becomes natural. (Kamae wa shoshinsha ni ato wa shizentai).

18. Kata must be performed correctly without change, real fight is different. If Kata is done correctly and mastered, in real fight the flow is as water and maneuver kyo-jitsu correctly. (Kata wa tadashiku jissen wa betsu mono).

19. Strength is strong and soft body stretch and contract technique slow and fast, do not forget. (Chikara no kyojaku (strong and soft) Karada no shinsuku (stretch and contract) Waza no kankyu wo wasuruna (slow and fast)- all in conjunction).

20. Always think and live the percepts everyday. (Tsune ni shinen kufu seyo).

For purposes of this article, I have presented the above, without my commentary, so that you may read and reflect upon the manner in which the martial observations, dictates and commands of these two warriors can be applied to your daily life. I wish you fulfillment in your consideration. Until part two of this article, I remain, “Tsune ni shinen kufu seyo.” (See Endnote # 2).

Sensei John Szmitkowski, Soke, Jiriki Kata-Do

ENDNOTES:

  1. Sensei Gichen Funakoshi is the founder of a popular style of Karate known as “Shotokan”. The percepts of Funakoski-Sensei may be found in Kim, Richard, The Classical Man, (Masters Publications, 1983).
  2. See Sensei Funakoshi’s percept number 20.

You may wish to view my blog dedicated to martial protocol and ideology applied to fly-fishing by clicking the following link: WWW.FlyFishingDojo.Com

INTERACTIVE EXPERIMENT – PART 4 OF 4

13 Feb

This is the week my interactive experiment with you concludes. By now you should have two journals, one for each week of our interaction, representing the fourteen things that made you smile each day.

What was different about each of the two weeks that you were to find something daily to smile about? In part two of the experiment, you were simply asked to find something to smile about each day. To be sure, not necessarily an easy task, but a relatively simple one. Part three of the experiment changed the task. First you were asked to recall and write down the thing or event that made you smile. Second, you were asked to continue to find something to smile about each day. Third, you again had to recall and write down that which made you smile. The recording of the event (that which made you smile) and the knowledge of the recording requirement is the difference between part two and part three.

I think it is fair to say that in part two of the experiment, you simply smiled each day. That smile was pure and heart-felt. I would hazard a guess that in part three of the experiment, many of you focused not on the pure act of smiling each day, but rather, on being required to remember and to write down that which made you smile. Thus many felt “compelled” to smile and constrained to document the exact scenario that made you smile. Thus, the pure enjoyment of the smile was diminished.

I suggest that, in part three, you were more concerned with the recollection and recording of the thing, event, or object, that made you smile then you were in experiencing the smile itself. Recall the simply story in part one of this interaction. Your actions are like the candidate that entered my Dojo. The candidate focused on the black belt and not the knowledge that the belt symbolizes. As such, I suggest that your recorded notes, particularly in part three of this experiment, merely represent a symbol of your efforts. They are a reflection that your focus was on that symbol and not the experience of the joy the thing or event gave you that made you smile. I would suggest that a journal entry representing a heart-felt, pure smile might simply read, “I can’t recall what exactly made me smile that day, but I so thoroughly enjoyed it with my entire being.”

So, from this day forward, embrace the example of the candidate and the black belt. Do not focus on the symbol, simply experience, embrace and enjoy that which the symbol represents. Please continue to find something each and every day to smile about,. Do not worry about remember it, rather savor the moment; simply absorb, embrace and enjoy it. It’s okay if you don’t remember what made you smile, just remember you smiled and were happy!

Sensei John Szmitkowski, Soke, Jiriki Kata-Do

I smiled today when I played with computer generated photo effects and placed Goshin-Do/Ryu Karate patches onto America’s Cup Racing Yachts. From left to right are the patches of Shihan Thomas DeFelice’s Goshin-Do Karate-Do, Shihan Wayne Norlander’s USA Goshin-Ryu Karate-Do and my Goshin-Do Karate-Do Issho Dojo patch.

INTERACTIVE EXPERIMENT – PART 3 OF 4

6 Feb

In part three of my interactive experiment, you must continue to find something to smile about each and every day of the forthcoming week. However before doing so, please write down each thing you daily smiled about this past week. For example, “On Monday (this) made me smile.” ”On Tuesday (that) made me smile.” And so forth.

I will share one thing that made me smile with you. I smiled when I took a few pictures of Goshin-Do Karate Kata postures and modified them with a “pop-art” effect on my laptop. Here are the results.

The first photograph depicts the “Archer’s Block” posture from the Seienchin Kata. The second photograph depicts the “Busaganashi” posture from the Hakutsuru Kata. (See Endnote # 1)

At the end of next week AND BEFORE READING part four (the final part) of this experiment, write down those things that made you smile during the coming week.

After completing the above, you will be ready to read the final part of this experiment which will post on Sunday, February 13th.

Until then, I remain 🙂

Sensei John Szmitkowski, Soke, Jiriki Kata-Do

ENDNOTES:

1. The Kanji (Japanese writing) for the Kata, Seienchin has a dual translation. One is “Calm in the storm; storm in the calm.”  The other is “Walk far to quell and conquer.” Busaganashi is a Taoist martial deity that is depicted in this posture. The translation of the Kanji for the Kata Hakutsuru is “White Crane.”

A depiction of Busaganashi

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INTERACTIVE EXPERIMENT – PART 2 OF 4

30 Jan

In part two of this interactive experiment, you must undertake the following, relatively simple, task. Each and every day this coming week, you must find one thing to smile from your heart about. That “thing” can be large or small, tangible or intangible. Let me give you a few examples from my own personal experiences.

  • One day, while riding my Harley, I was stopped at a traffic light. Crossing the street was a small family, a father, mother and a boy of about six. The parents frowned a bit at the sound of the bike and perhaps my appearance, but, the little boy smiled and waived. I smiled also.
  • One morning, I believe in November, I rose at 3;30 and watched the Geminid meteor shower. I smiled.
  • Last night I had a simple dinner of thin sliced roast beef warmed in gravy from a can over plain white bread. After eating, I sat back and smiled in fond remembrance of my Grandma Helen who served that to me as a young child.
  • This past Monday evening, after a much-needed Kata workout at the Dojo of Shihan Wayne Norlander, Ku-Dan (9th DegreeBlack Belt,) Menkyo Kaiden, USA Goshin-Ryu, I, and Shihan Norlander, smiled.

  • On Thursday of this week, New Jersey experienced a blizzard of snow. I walked to the home of Shihan Thomas DeFelice, Ku-Dan (9th Degree Black Belt), Menkyo Kaiden, Goshin-Do Karate-Do. After he and I tussled with mother nature, we both smiled.

Well, now it is your turn. Each and every day this week, find one “thing” to smile about. That smile should stem from deep within yourself and be pure, from the heart.

Next Sunday, February 6th, I will post part three of our little interactive experiment. Until then, knowing where this experiment is going . . . I am smiling!

Sensei John Szmitkowski, Soke, Jiriki Kata-Do

You can follow Sensei John on Facebook under the user name: FlyFishingDojo.

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

INTERACTIVE EXPERIMENT – PART 1 OF 4

23 Jan

I have constructed this four part article to provide you with a practical, interactive example of the manner in which martial arts ideology can influence your daily life, outlook and perspective. In this first installment, I will provide you with a story based upon true experiences within my Issho Dojo. Next week I will post part two of this interactive example. Until then, simply let the following story quietly simmer in your mind.

Whenever a prospective student (hereinafter the “candidate”) enters the Dojo seeking information, inevitably they ask, “How long will it take me to earn my black belt?” My reply is simple. “I do not know!” This usually causes the candidate’s lower jaw to drop, thus allowing the mouth to gap open as if attempting to swallow and understand my reply. I politely allow the candidate to recover. Once the candidate’s jaws are reunited, I continue, “I know nothing about you, so how can I know you ability to absorb my teaching or to what extent you are devoted to understanding that which I teach?”  In an effort to safe face, the candidate usually replies, “Oh, Sensei, you do not understand me.” “I will work twice as hard at earning my black belt as any other student.” To which I nod knowingly, “Then it is clear to me.” I reply. “It will take you twice as long to earn  a black belt.” (See Endnote # 1).

The candidate does not understand that by concentrating on the “object”, to wit: the coveted black belt, one is distracted from absorbing and understanding the knowledge that the symbol represents. One must absorb the knowledge with a pure heart. It is only then that the symbol will be “earned”.

This concludes part one of my four part interactive experiment that I hope you choose to participate in.

Next Sunday, January 30th, I shall post part two of our little interactive drama. In part two you will be given an assignment to undertake.  For your convenience, in following this weblog, I have added two features which maybe found in the right hand margin. The first is an e-mail subscription option and the second is an RSS feed option. You should fee free to subscribe as once activated, you may unsubscribe at any time.

Until then, I remain,

Sensei John Szmitkowski, Soke, Jiriki Kata-Do

ENDNOTES:

1. Although this exchange has taken place many times in my Dojo, I do not claim to be the originator of the originator of this idea. The conversation and the concept it illustrates is so deeply entrenched in martial arts philosophy that I cannot even say who the originator of idea is.

You may wish to view my blog dedicated to fly-fishing by clicking WWW.FlyFishingDojo.Wordpress.Com

2011 – THE YEAR OF THE WHITE BELT

28 Dec

2011, Shougatsu, Shiroi No Obi – New Year (of the) White Belt

2011, eleven years have passed since “THE millennium”; a time when computer glitches, and the flagrance of man sought to foretell of havoc. Have we learned and grown in those eleven years? Are we capable of evolving? If so, how?

I suggest that in the seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks and months, that begin to unfold into the path that will be called “2011”, we need to walk that unwinding path with the “mind of a white belt.”

Shiroi-No-Obi (The White Belt)

This concept is derived from a Goshin-Do Karate percept, “Observe with the mind of a white belt.” The while belt, worn by novice students, is said to symbolize purity and innocence in terms of preconceptions as to Karate. (See Endnote # 1). When a Karate-Ka (student of Karate) first enters the Dojo, the neophyte observes without preconceived thought or emotion. Thus, one observes every detail, even the most minute, with the pure eyes of a child. In doing so, one is able to capture the inner most aspect of a Karate-Do technique and incorporate it into one’s personal repertoire.

Prior to the advent of modern colored belts, a Karate-Ka would wear the same belt (a white belt) during his entire training. Although the Karate uniform would be laundered  regularly, as a sign of respect, the Karate-Ka would not wash his belt. Over time, the white belt would become soiled. The belt would even be used to wipe the sweat from one’s brow after training. Thus, the belt would become discolored, eventually turning black from use, wear and tear. This is the humble birth of the all too coveted black belt.

In the final days that remain of the year 2010, we should shed our internal black belt. Our preconceptions, emotions and perhaps even thoughts have become “soiled” over time. In the first indicia of time that calls forth “2011!” let us all shed preconceptions – “internal and emotional baggage”. In the first millisecond of 2011, we should commit to don the belt of a novice and view the minutest details of the unfolding year with a pure and innocent heart and spirit. Let us all become the exalted white belt.

Wishing all a very Happy New Year, I remain

Sensei John Szmitkowski, Soke, Jiriki Kata-Do

ENDNOTES:

1. From: The Academy Of Goshin-Do Karate-Do Student Handbook, page 29.

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LIFE’S MISTAKES

5 Dec

Training in Shihan Thomas DeFelice’s Dojo taught me many life lessons; however one was taught particularly fast. In fact, I learned it sometime in 1971, on the very first day I removed my shoes and while still in “street-clothes” (as a new student, I had not yet earned the privilege of wearing a Gi, Karate uniform) set about barefoot onto the training floor for the first time. Although instructed to do so, I did not bow before entering the training area. To be sure I was nervous and forgot to follow this otherwise simple instruction. My error was pointed out and I corrected it. Thus I learned my first life lesson. As humans, we are fallible and will make mistakes. The important aspect to making a mistake is to recognize it, correct it and learn from the mistake. Once again, the Dojo proved to be a microcosm of the world environment.

One of the things I enjoyed in my relationship with Goshin-Do Karate-Do was the informal “fire-side chats” that Shihan DeFelice would sometimes engage us in. Here is one such “fire-side” story that will illustrate the need to make mistakes correctly.

In ancient Japan, the elephant was an unknown animal. The Shogun had heard tales of this mythical creature that lived in a far off land. Naturally, the Shogun wished to learn of this creature. He chose his three wisest ministers and dispatched them to find the animal and return to the kingdom with a description of this elephant. He instructed his ministers that time was of the essence. They should swiftly complete their task and report back to him. In a mythological twist of fate, the three wisest ministers were all blind.

The ministers arrived in the land of the elephant. Being blind, they began to feel this creature with their hands so as be able to describe it to the Shogun. The first blind minister touched the elephant’s ear and concluded that an elephant was a wide, thin and flat creature, much like an aquatic stingray. The second blind minister touched the elephant’s leg an concluded that an elephant was like a giant tree. The last blind minister touched the elephant’s trunk and describe the elephant as long and snake-like. They immediately returned to Japan and reported their descriptions to him. The Shogun was confounded by the differing reports and ordered the “incompetent” ministers to commit Seppuku (ritual suicide).

The point of this Goshin-Do Karate tale is that we should not criticize others, and also ourselves, for mistakes. If the Shogun would have only allowed the ministers sufficient time to continue touching and describing the elephant, they would have made enough “mistakes” until they finally would have accurately described this magnificent creature.

In life, we understand that mistakes are inevitable. In fact, sometimes mistakes are a signpost to great learning. It has been observed that, “A general of merit should be said to be a man who has one great defeat.” (See Endnote #1).

Further, not all lessons will be readily learned. One must persevere in his quest for knowledge so as to continue to make mistakes correctly and learn from them.

In closing, I will continue to learn, to make mistakes and to (hopefully) correct and learn from them. I hope to remember that,

Learning is something that should be studied broadly. It is like a beggar’s bag in which everything from leftover meat to cold soup is stored. (See Endnote # 2).

Sensei John Szmitkowski

ENDNOTES:

  1. Asakura Norikage (1474-1555), fromWilson, William Scott, Ideals Of The Samurai, (O’Hara Publications, Santa Clarita, CA 1982), p.81.
  2. From the Daimyo-poet Hosokawa Yusai (1534-1610) from my collection of notes.

PERCEPTION & REALITY – A SAMURAI’S TALE

21 Nov

I have recently spent some time thinking about the manner in which perception affects our reality. Each day our life is interpreted and transformed by how we perceive reality as it unfolds. Further, present reality can be affected by contemporaneous reflections of a past event. As an “intelligent” species, we are prone to the foibles of emotion, reaction, interpretation and ignorance of events that unfold in the course of our lives.

Perception’s effect upon reality was often explored in Shihan DeFelice’s Goshin-Do Karate Do Dojo. One of Shihan’s percepts is, “You will defend yourself differently on a bad day, when it seems everything goes against you than you will on a good day, when all is right.” The concept being that on a bad day, you will be more prone to recognizing and neutralizing a threat; whereas on a good day, you are more prone to letting your guard down. The percept is a recognition of the idea that how you perceive your world affects your daily interactions. Even though the percept is expressed in terms of Goshin-Do Karate-Do, one can readily understand its application to non-martial events. Would you prefer to receive a triggering event, such as bad news, or be given a difficult task to perform, or have an interruption in your busy schedule on a so-called “bad” day or a “good” day? To be sure, the triggering event doesn’t change its tenor. The sole condition that changes is your perception of the event. Your perception proximately affects your interpretation of and reaction to the triggering event. In addition, a contemporaneous reflection of a past event can alter the manner in which you perceive a current event.

There is a Zen tale which is part of Goshin-Do Karate-Do oral tradition that my illustrate these two points. 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).

Samurai Seppuku

The tale of the daimyo and the samurai is a clear illustration of how the world is shaped by our perceptions and attitudes at any given time. It also illustrates how perception is not fixed. Rather, it is transitory and subject to our whims at any particular moment in time. In closing I remain, open to my perception of my world.

HANKO-wood

 

Sensei John Szmitkowski

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.

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THE (Indescribable) PERFECT PUNCH

7 Nov
In an article dated July 19, 2010, entitled Practice does NOT make perfect, I explored the maxim that perfect practice makes perfect. That maxim was derived from oral tradition in our Goshin-Do Karate-Do Dojo. Related to the maxim is the tale of the “Perfect Punch.“ The tale concerns a Karate Master that espoused his goal of training in Karate-Do as seeking to develop the perfect punch. (See Endnote # 1). I first heard this tale as a teenage young purple belt. Upon hearing the tale, myself and the rest of the class nodded our heads knowingly. We acknowledged the idea that here was a great Karate master, who devoted his life to the art. After decades of devotion, he desired to perfect that which a lowly white belt was first taught – a simple punch.
It is easy to extend the tale of the perfect punch to many of life’s pursuits. One may envision the perfect fly fishing cast, the perfect dart throw, the perfect yoga pose, perfect free throw in basketball, etcetera, ad infinitum.
Now, decades after I first knowingly nod my head, I find my head shaking almost side-to-side as I wonder, “What was this infamous Karate Master talking about?“ It can certainly be argued that the beauty and magnificence of the statement is its simplicity, to wit: a perfect punch. After reflecting upon the statement all these years, I now maintain that the simplicity of the statement is also its downfall.
By understanding the manner in which the tale of the perfect-punch is inadequate in terms of conveying a full expression of an aim of Karate-Do, we can understand how the quest for perfection within life’s pursuits may also lack definition. This is not to say that we should not desire to improve or perfect that which we practice, or even in fact, the type of person we may be. It is to say that such desire must be clearly defined. To understand this point, we must examine the tale of the (indescribable) perfect-punch.
Our analysis must start with the fundamental definition of a punch. The dictionary definition of punch is, in essence; a blow delivered with the hand or fist. Clearly, the definition itself is broad. In fact, when one understands the fundamentals of Karate-Do, one appreciates that there are several types of a blow with the hand, or a punch. There are, inter alia, a full horizontal punch, a vertical punch, an upper cut, a one knuckle punch, a shuto (side hand strike), ura-ken (back fist), ridge hand strike, palm heel strike, and the list goes on. So the first ambiguity contained in the tale of the perfect punch lies in the fact that the punch sought to be perfected lacks definition. Not only is this the first ambiguity, it is also the most fundamental.

The fundamental ambiguity of the tale lies in its failure to define not the mechanics of the punch, but in its failure to adequately define the function of the punch to be perfected. The core question, which is not addressed in the tale, is “What type of punch is to be perfected?“ To illustrate, I proffer the following punches conceived in the recesses of my mind.

 

The Perfect –

Technical punch. This punch conforms to the technical standards of a given style or system of martial art as objectively judged by a third person who is capable of evaluating such technical criteria;

Aesthetic punch. This punch is one that is appeals to the artistic sense of a third person observer regardless of the observer’s technical knowledge of the punch;

Practical punch. This punch can be utterly devoid of either technique or aesthetics however, when utilizes against an aggressive opponent. It dispatches the opponent so that the one executing the punch is safely outside of harm’s way.

Archetype punch. Unlike the previous punches which are objectively determined, this punch may or may not meet the criteria established by such third person observer; however, subjectively, this punch is the model punch in the mind of the puncher;

Spiritual punch. Similar to the Archetype punch, this punch need not meet the standards of technical accuracy or aesthetics, it is simply a punch that is pleasing on a subjective level;

Satori punch. This punch satisfies all objective and subjective criteria. It is the ultimate punch that once executed is lost and may not be capable of duplication.

Ku punch. Named for the stage in martial arts learning where all is simultaneously known and unknown. This punch is the physical realization of the satori punch that upon execution is cast into the realm of conceptual reality.

I trust that after reviewing and considering the above conceptual punches, you can understand that the tale of the perfect punch lacks substance. I submit that the tale, as told in oral tradition, should be entitled the riddle of the perfect punch. I know from years of martial training that the best punch is the one that is never executed. It is the punch that, as Karate master Chotoku Kyan, would say, “remains within the sleeve.” (See Endnote # 2).

Chotoku Kyan (1870 – (1945)

The best punch defeats an opponent without ever manifesting itself. I also understand that, unless clearly defined, the perfection of “A” punch is utterly impossible.

In closing I remain, no longer seeking perfection, but seeking definition and clarity, I remain,

 

 HANKO-master

 

Sensei John Szmitkowski, Soke, Jiriki Kata-Do

ENDNOTES:
1. The tale of the Perfect Punch is highly steeped in oral tradition and history. The statement within the tale was attributed within the Goshin-Do Karate-Do Dojo to the late Isshin-Ryu Karate master Tatsuo Shimaboku. I have often attempted to find the tale in literary references. Here is one such reference Furuya, Kensho, KODO: Ancient Ways (O’Hara Publications, Santa Clarita, CA, 1996) p. 74.
2. The following saying is attributed to the Shobayashi Shorin-Ryu Karate master Chotoku Kyan. “A punch is like a treasure in the sleeve. It should not be used indiscriminately.”
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ERASE FUTANREN WITH PREPARATION

24 Oct
Since Sensei Thomas DeFelice first opened the door to his Goshin-Do Karate-Do in May, 1965, his style of Karate has not only been dedicated to improving the human condition, but also exploring aspects of our nature that transcend karate. In my stewardship of Goshin-Do Karate-Do, I have attempted and continue to attempt to evolve and further this exploration. This journey has led me to identify aspects of Karate-Do protocols and ideology that enrich and enhance all life participants. The following explores one area of my exploration.
 
FEAR. For some, the spoken word inflicts upon the listener that which it defines. Simply, fear imposes fear. Through the exploration of Goshin-Do Karate-Do, three sources of martial, combat oriented, fear have been identified. They are
 
  Kiki Oji: Fear of an enemy’s reputation;                                                               Mikuzure: Fear of an enemy’s appearance;                                                         Futanren: Fear of inadequate training.

While all three sources of martial fear can be used to analyze the fear we encounter in our daily lives, only one source of fear will be addressed in this article. The first two sources of fear are derived from sources external to ourselves. Despite the external basis of Kiki Oji and Mikuzure, both are entirely subjective and are defined by each individual person. Fear derived from either Kiki Oji or Mikuzure is not easily mitigated. The basis for the fear lies deep within one’s individual psyche. Thus, mitigation and elimination requires a deep level of introspection acknowledgement of the source of fear and resolution. Such an analysis is beyond the scope of this article.

In contrast to Kiki Oji and Mikuzure, the fear derived from Futanren is entirely within our control to understand, acknowledge and resolve. It is the one source of fear that is entirely within our control. To understand Futanren, we must explore its roots in Goshin-Do Karate-Do. Within the Goshin-Do Karate-Do Dojo, each individual training session was unique in and of itself. One had to obtain the maximum benefit from each session. The most basic benefit of training in Goshin-Do Karate was the element of self-defense. One trained as if one would be required to defend oneself immediately. This attitude recognized the fleeting nature of training. That is to say that if one trained less than earnestly, the training session was wasted. Such waste could be at one’s peril. If one was required to actually defend oneself, one could not rewind time to the last training session at dojo and train harder or more earnestly. The same is true with life in general.

We do not necessarily train to engage in life. We can; however, prepare ourselves to engage in life. Such preparation is the cornerstone of mitigating Futanren which, in this context, can be described as fear of inadequate preparation. We are required to regularly prepare ourselves for life’s challenges. Thus, we routinely are called upon to engage in life events that place demands upon our physical, mental and emotional well being. The key to mitigating the stress, or fear, of such demands is preparation. Perhaps the most common example in which we have all experienced Futanren is in grade school. We all were required to pass various tests and exams in order to pass a class. How many of us sat down to take a test and wished we had spent an extra one half hour in earnest study? This is an example of Futanren. By extension, we can envision many life scenarios where we have advance knowledge of a demand to be placed upon us. Whether we prepare for and address that demand and the sincerity within which we prepare to meet the demand will dictate whether or not we experience the stress or fear of Futanren.

The epiphenomenon of Futanren are ignorance (failure to address a situation), procrastination, and self-compromise (as in acceptance of a less than full preparation). These epiphenomenon result in a deleterious attack upon our sense of well being and contentment. They rob us of any feeling of accomplishment. In order to experience life to its fullest, we must conduct our lives in such a manner as to irradiate Futanren from our catalogue of emotions. There is a saying derived from Western sports that bears upon the martial ideology of Futanren: The will to win is not nearly important as the will to PREPARE to win. (See Endnote # 1). This is the foundation to preparing for life’s demands. We must always be mindful of the preparation so as to erase Futanren.

In closing, I remain,

 

 
 

Sensei John Szmitkowski, Soke, Jiriki Kata-Do

 

ENDNOTES:1. There are many sources of this saying including, inter alia, basketball Coach Bobby Knight. 
 
 

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RESPONSE TO CHALLANGE – AN ANALYTICAL FRAMEWORK

10 Oct
My study of the Goshin-Do Karate-Do style of Shihan Thomas DeFelice is an interesting experience. On the one hand, it is physical, arduous and satisfying all at once. On the other hand, it is a test of one‘s spirit and determination. In an unusual twist, it also offers an intellectual, philosophical challenge. After years of practicing and contemplating the Kata (formal exercises of Karate), an understanding of the manner in which a martial artist responds to an attack was synthesized into an analytical framework. After further reflecting on this analytical framework, I understood that such a framework extended beyond the scope of the martial arts into the realm of daily life. I realized that the framework provides an analytical tool for evaluating one’s response to everyday life challenges. Such life challenges may be categorized as a type of attack upon our well being. Thus, challenges such as important job deadline, unpleasant tasks that require attention, daily interactions and situational confrontations, familial relationships and the like are potential stressful attacks on our sense of well-being. By understanding the manner in which we respond to such scenarios, we can seek to improve our lives. The model for improvement can be found within the following framework.
 
In the martial arts, once your opponent attacks, you have the following choices:  
1. GO NO TE (After, later-hand): blocking the opponents attack, no counter attack.                                                                                                                                            2. GO NO SEN (after, later-before): block & counter attack.                                 3. SEN NO TE (before-hand): block and counter attack are in one movement(simultaneous).                                                                                                    4. SEN SEN NO TE (before-before-hand): Attacker starts to move, but defender beats opponent to the attack. Defender intercepts the attack; no blocking is done.                                                                                                                       5. SEN SEN NO SEN (before-before-before): defender reads the opponent’s intention to attack and attacks first.

In essence, the above describes three broad spectrum responses to an attack: block and counter (1,2,3), interception (4,5) and evasion (involved potentially in all the above). These three general categories can be used to analyze your response to any given challenge that life lays before you. We can imagine any number of challenging scenarios derived from the work environment, familial relationships, and normal daily interactions. There are an infinite number of challenges we encounter that require our attention, action and resolution. To facilitate our understanding of the mechanics by which we confront and address these challenges, we can look to the above stated martial conflict resolution framework.

In the case of a scenario described by the martial arts concept of block and counter, it is understood that the concept involves a direct approach to the challenge. Using the block and counter concept, one does not act until such a time as the challenge presents itself, is encountered and demands immediate, swift resolution. In this scenario, time is of the essence. Once encountered, you must aggressively meet the challenge resolutely (the block). During this stage, you would perceive and evaluate the challenge, the consequences of various responses and decide upon which response is appropriate. You would then execute the appropriate response (the counter). The block and counter approach is immune to physical, spiritual or mental discomfort that may be encountered during the resolution of the challenge. That is to say that once the challenge has manifested, it must be directly resolved regardless of one’s physical, mental or emotional discomfort.

The case of a scenario described by evasion is somewhat misleading. The name does not imply that you avoid your responsibility to resolve the challenge. Rather, evasion means that you do not take a hard, direct approach to the challenge. In the evasion approach, you would read the challenge as it begins to manifest itself. You would act prior to the challenge reaching the stage where it must be resolved at all costs. The critical difference is the block and counter mandates immediate and direct action at the time the challenge already presents itself and has reached a critical stage. The evasion scenario calls for action at the very instant the challenge first manifests prior to the critical stage. It is at this moment that the resolution of the challenge may be address or deferred to a later date. The key is to address the challenge prior to the resolution reaching a critical stage. You have therefore evaded and mitigated the harsh impact of resolving the challenge at all costs.

In the case of the interception concept you will have anticipated that the challenge would manifest itself and seek to resolve it before it even becomes a challenge. Thus, you anticipate and address a situation before it is even born. Thus, a challenge never really existed in the first place.

In Goshin-Do Karate-Do, there is a protocol called “Bunkai.” Bunkai is the practical application of Karate technique. Let us examine on example of Bunkai using the analytical framework. Imagine that you have just woken from your sleep and are about to start a very hectic day. You have to help the children prepare for school, insure that they safely arrive at school and then go to work where you are expected to deliver a very important presentation. As you walk into your kitchen to make coffee and try to fully awaken, you notice that there is a small puddle of water on the floor below the sink. Upon further examination, you discover that a pipe located in the cabinet below the sink has ruptured and is leaking water. In the block and counter scenario (GO NO SEN), you immediately turn off the water supply to the sink so as to stop the leak and begin to mop up the mess. These actions represent the “block.” You then see that the children are prepared for school and make travel arrangements for them. Simultaneously, you locate a plumber and make arrangements for an emergency repair later in the day. After telephoning work to advise them you may be delayed, you make arrangements with a neighbor to provide the plumber access to your home and leave for work. Thus, the “counter” has been executed. At the end of the day, and after giving a successful, but not quite the best presentation, you arrive home and discover that the repair has been successfully completed. Although you are tired from the extra stress of the day, the children need help with their homework. You also contemplate the plumber’s invoice which is rather expensive given the nature of the emergency. Thus, the situation has been resolved, but the resolution has taken a toll on your well being. 
 
The evasion scenario (a hybrid of SEN SEN NO TE & SEN SEN NO SEN), would have provided a less stressful resolution. In this scenario, prior to the above fateful date, you would have noticed the problem before it became critical. Perhaps you would have been rummaging through the cabinet under the sink and noticed that the pipe was corroded and wet to the touch. You would then call a plumber and schedule a mutually satisfactory appointment so that the situation can be diagnosed and resolved.
 
The interception scenario (SEN SEN NO SEN) encapsulates the idea that prevention is the best medicine. You would have understood that you live in an older home with original plumbing. One day, you open the cabinet. You notice that the pipe is somewhat discolored and starting to corrode. You appreciate that it is prudent to call a plumber to arrange a convenient appointment to resolve the potential problem. Thus, the cost of the repair in terms of money is cheaper than an emergency repair. In terms of well being, the cost is less stress encountered.

  The next time you are confronted with a challenge, take a moment, and analyze your response to it. I believe you will learn something about your self and benefit from such experience.

Until the next article, I remain enveloped in my study of martial sciences, in a state of SEN-SEN-NO-SEN,

HANKO-reverse

 

 Sensei John Szmitkowski, Soke, Jiriki Kata-Do
 
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ALL START AT THE BOTTOM

7 Sep
Now that the Summer of 2010 is over and we are all back to our usual means of conducting our lives, it is time to welcome you all back to a new semester of blogging Jiriki Kata-Do; The Way Of Attaining Inner Salvation Through Kata. Once again, through the medium of Jiriki Kata-Do, I will help you explore the methods, protocols and ideology of Karate-Do and the martial arts within the context of daily life.
To launch this new semester of blogging, I want to begin with the most basic maxim of Dojo etiquette. This maxim was especially significant in the Goshin-Do Karate-Do Dojo of Shihan Thomas DeFelice. Not only is it an appropriate means of reading future articles on my blog, it should be integrated into and remembered in our daily lives. The concept is “All start at the bottom and nothing is free.” In order to understand how this concept may benefit our daily lives, it is necessary to understand it’s function within the Goshin-Do Karate Dojo.
The first part of the maxim is self-explanatory. Upon entering Sensei’s Dojo for the purposes of training in Goshin-Do Karate-Do, everyone was the “new guy”. As the newest student, you lined up at the end of the student line; down at the bottom. You wore a plain white Gi (uniform) and a white belt. (See Endnote # 1). A student was, at all times, judged by his or her accomplishments within the Dojo.
 

 

Sensei Nick D’Antuono, Myself, age 15 (a Junior Division Green belt) & Shihan Dan Nagle, Circa 1976

External accomplishments, those that existed and defined you outside of the Dojo, were of no import at all on the training floor. In fact, the purpose of having all students wear a plain white Gi was to emphasize this fact. Thus, someone who had an economic advantage outside of the Dojo, could not distinguish themselves within the Dojo with the purchase a fancy Gi. In today’s modern Dojo, this ideology is completely lost and in fact prostituted. Those students that have the economic ability to commit to long-term contract or purchase special training privileges, such as the “Black Belt Club”, “masters Club”, “Demonstration Team” and the like, are rewarded. Such affluent students can purchase the right to wear a “special” uniform, usually colorful or otherwise ostentatious. I submit that such a prostitution of core values within the Dojo is readily reflected in our western society today. For a price, anything can be purchased; except of course for integrity and honor. But, then again, for a price, digressions of from such values can be “overlooked”. Clearly, then we can all benefit from remembering that we all start(ed) at the bottom. Whether we be a Karate Master, a corporate C.E.O, an internet dot-com mogul, or just self-absorbed, we need to remember our lowly roots.

Every “accomplishment” within Sensei’s Dojo was earned with perseverance, determination, sweat and sometimes blood, NOTHING was free.

My transfer from the Junior Division to the Adult Division at age 15 was EARNED - and then some.

It is true that within the Dojo, accomplishments are recognized by a certificate of achievement and reflected outwardly by the color of one’s obi (Karate belt). Such colored obi merely recognize man’s general need for a symbol of accomplishment. The obi were nothing more than a convenient means of categorizing students by their respective levels of learning and in no way reflected transient mastery of Goshin-Do Karate. This includes the coveted black belt. It is said that upon attaining a black belt, a student merely has learned the means of studying true Goshin-Do. Not withstanding the color if one’s momentary obi, one could not flaunt accomplishment. The simple fact is there was always some-one better, more capable than you. In fact, accomplishment itself was illusory in s far as you were only as good as you last training session. To be sure, the ultimate shame was to be out performed on any given night by some one of lesser rank. Further, if Sensei DeFelice felt we were all too enamored with the status of our obi, he would have us remove our obi during training sessions.

The obi can teach us about your daily lives. It is a simple fact of the human condition that we need our symbols of self-worth. The point is we must bear the burden of our symbol. A symbol of wealth, such as jewelry is devoid of any sense of worth if while wearing the symbol one turns their back to another in need of a basic requirement such as food. By way of an absurd example, I once saw television show on the Food Network concerning ice cream extravagances. There is an ice cream parlor in New York (I will not name them, for truly they should be ashamed) that offers a $ 1,000 ice cream sundae. As part of the broadcast, a woman treated herself to this $ 1,000 ice cream extravagance for her birthday because she “so deserved it.“ She purchased the ultimate transitory extravagant symbol. Instead of treating herself to a feeling of true humanism by consuming a less expensive ice cream treat and then perhaps donating $900 to a homeless shelter, or feeding another hungry person or, the victims – to this date- of Hurricane Katrina, she purchased a very expensive, even absurd symbol of her “wealth”. I submit that in the final analysis she treated herself to a truly wasteful and spiritually debilitating BOWEL MOVEMENT. I hope this distasteful example gives you pause to consider the Dojo concept that “All start at the bottom and nothing is free.“ In this regard, rethink and re-examine your symbols, there is always some one better; and I do not mean in economic terms.

We all start(ed) at the bottom and moved “upward”. We also endow ourselves with symbols of our accomplishments along the way. Such success and symbols are relative and transitory.

I am very excited about the new on-line semester of blogging Jiriki Kata-Do. In doing so, I will start at the bottom and progress upwards to a greater understanding of myself, the human condition and the universal environment within which we reside. I invite you to join me.

Sensei John Szmitkowski, Soke, Jiriki Kata-Do

 

ENDNOTES:

1. There were limited exceptions to this policy. For example, if one was a visiting dignitary, particularly one of a recognized black belt rank, the concept would not apply for purpose of the visit. On a very limited basis, Yudansha (those of black belt rank) in another style of Karate that desired to learn Goshin-Do Karate-Do would be permitted to wear their Black Obi (belt) of that style. Such a determination was the sole province of Sensei DeFelice, and then myself at the Issho Dojo.

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