Tag Archives: Dojo

On The Road With Sensei John – Part 4: Western Dojo

9 May

In this final installment of my “On The Road With Sensei John” series, I want to discuss the lessons of the various Dojo I visited while traveling west of the Mississippi River. In accord with my ideology of Jiriki Kata-Do, each Dojo visit sets forth a lesson that applies not only to Karate-Do, but also life itself. Once again, while the within article is written in terms of Karate-Do, the concepts and ideas apply to life in general. The following is submitted for the benefit of all travelers of the road of life.

On Sunday, April 18th, the second day of our journey, Chloe and I crossed the mighty Mississippi River. For me, the Mississippi is the line of demarcation between the “citified” east and the wild west. Crossing “Olde Man River” also signifies that I am indeed returning home. On this western leg of our trip, Chloe and I would drive through the states of Arkansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico and finally arrive in Arizona. Although we would visit several more “Dojo” along the way, the main focus of this and the next day was to “burn miles”.

The first Dojo that Chloe and I visited was located in Arkansas. I named this Dojo the Rest Area Dojo. It is located at a rest area slightly west of exit number 242 on Interstate Highway 40. We arrived at the Rest Area Dojo in the early afternoon hours. Since we started our day early, both Chloe and I were a bit tired. To refresh ourselves, we spent a half hour taking in the full benefits of this Dojo. The Rest Area Dojo is composed of a beautiful garden and tree filled meadow area. It’s natural beauty was in stark contrast to the mundane blandness of the Interstate. I was overcome by a sense of imagination. It is for this reason that lesson of the Rest Area Dojo is Imagination. Upon entering the Dojo, I was immediately drawn to a tiered entrance to the formal garden area. The entrance was shrouded by a beautiful flowered lattice trellis. I knew that I needed to perform the Sanchin Kata to begin the process of rejuvenating myself. The tiered garden entrance was the perfect location.

The Trellis at The Rest Area Dojo, Arkansas

As I proceeded up the tiered entrance, I performed Sanchin Kata as spontaneously modified by my imagination. I performed one movement of the Kata on each step of the tier. I did not step back as called for in the Sanchin Kata. I performed all six steps of Sanchin moving forward and up the tiers. In this manner, I advanced into the formal garden area. Chloe and I took a few minutes to enjoy seeing and smelling the various indigenous wildflowers. We then walked through the formal garden into a tree-filled meadow. The shade from the trees and the fresh cut grass provided Chloe with a very nice corner to lay down and rest a bit. For me, this was the perfect location to perform the Gojushiho Kata. The Kanji for the Gojushiho Kata is interpreted as Fifty-four Steps.

Kanji For Gojushiho (Kata). The medium is Sumi-e ink on rice paper.

As I performed the Kata, I imagined the fifty four steps as symbolic of the steps that lay ahead of me in my journey home. It was time for Chloe and I to return to the truck. As we did so, we walked down a slight hill. I was filled with another burst of imagination which manifested a desire to perform a modified Seienchin Kata up the hill. The Kanji for the Seienchin Kata is commonly interpreted as “Calm in the Storm; Storm in the Calm.”

Kanji for Seienchin (Kata). The medium is Sumi-e ink on rice paper.

There is also a less common interpretation of the Kanji which is “To Walk Far To Quell And Conquer.” Many years ago, I sought to capture this interpretation of Seienchin. To do so, I modified and elongated the performance of the Kata. At the Rest Area Dojo, I started my elongated Seienchin Kata at the bottom of the hill. During the performance of my version of the Kata, I worked my way up and down the hill (See Endnote # 1).

The Seienchin Hill at The Rest Area Dojo, Arkansas

Seienchin Kata completed, Chloe and I were once again ready “To Drive Far To Arrive Home And Relax.” We continued to burn the miles and concluded our day in Shawnee, Oklahoma (just east of Oklahoma City). I prefer to end my final day on the road with as short a drive as possible. Tomorrow would be our last full day on the road. So, tomorrow Chloe and I would once again start out early and really have to pound the pavement.

Chloe and I woke early Monday, April 19th and were driving west by 5:00 am. After driving a few hours, we arrived in the state of Texas. As the saying goes, “Every thing is bigger in Texas“; even the Dojo. I had intended to visit another favorite Dojo called the Big Texan Dojo located in Amarillo, Texas. Chloe and I arrived in Amarillo around three o’clock in the afternoon. I knew that we still had a few hundred miles to drive this day. I therefore decided to cancel my planned visit to the Big Texan Dojo (See Endnote 2). Within no time at all (basically we drove an hour but we gained an hour crossing time zones) , Chloe and I were in the State of New Mexico. We soon arrived at another Dojo located in Tucumcari. Even though we still had many miles to drive, we needed to stop at this Dojo for gasoline. This Dojo is the only franchise-type Dojo that I regularly visit on my road trips. During this trip, Chloe and I already visited this franchise Dojo four times. I call this franchised Dojo the Flying-J Dojo. We had already visited the local Flying-J Dojo in Pennsylvania, Virginia, Oklahoma and Texas. The Flying-J Dojo is located in the Flying-J Truck Stops.

Standard insignia and lawn of the Flying-J Dojo. This one is in Tucumcari, NM.

Since the Flying-J Dojo is located in almost every state we traveled in, it is readily available for training. The lesson of the Flying-J Dojo is Opportunity (in training and in life). The Dojo not only has training “facilities“, but a well stocked store with everything a traveler could need and very clean restrooms. The Flying-J Dojo is not a Dojo were one lingers. Rather, one does what one has to and moves on down the road. Training at the Flying-J Dojo is minimalist and follows a very well scripted routine designed to facilitate the process of getting back on the road. The training process, almost without modification, is as follows. One pulls adjacent to an available gas pump and begins the task of selecting and pumping the appropriate gas into your vehicle’s tank. As one does this, one performs Sanchin Kata. When Sanchin is complete and the gas tank full, one drives to an available parking space adjacent to the standard lawn found at every Flying-J Dojo. One enters the Flying-J Travel Center, answers the “call of nature” and procures all needed supplies. Upon concluding business at the Travel Center, one utilizes the lawn to perform any number of Kata. As is the case with any franchised Dojo, the training time at the Flying-J Dojo is strictly monitored. Training is concluded in about fifteen minutes and one is again on the road. Training at the Flying-J Dojo isn’t pretty, but it is training nonetheless. The key is to take the opportunity to train, and thereby better yourself, when and wherever it presents itself. Remember this lesson each and every day, look for opportunity to better yourself at every available moment.

Chloe and I ended our last full day on the road in Holbrook, Arizona. We had driven over nine hundred miles and again gained another hour of time. We arrived at our hotel just slightly before sunset. Our last night was one wherein we would be blanketed in the comfort of being home early the next morning. After checking in, I took Chloe for her nightly walk. I also performed my final training session during this road trip. The training at this Holbrook Dojo is best characterized by one of Comfort. On this night, my personal comfort was derived from knowing that the past three months were filled with seeing family, financially fulfilling work, comradeship of seeing my Karate-Do brethren and finally knowing that tomorrow’s dawn would signify my return home. Similar to when one eats so called comfort-food to symbolically wrap themselves in a warm, cozy emotional blanket, I decided to perform the “Comfort-Kata” of Goshin-Do Karate-Do. The Comfort-Kata are those Kata that represent historical significance to the Goshin-Do Karate-Do style. These Comfort Kata define who we, as Goshin-Do Karate-Ka (practitioners), are. These Kata provide comfort to Goshin-Do Karate-Ka by defining the specific branch of the Goshin-Do Karate-Do family tree to which they belong. The Comfort-Kata are unique to noteworthy Sensei of Goshin-Do Karate-Do (See Endnote # 3).

Holbrook, AZ Dojo located in the rear of our motel.

The Comfort-Kata were completed, memories rekindled and spirits comforted with the road traveled thus far and the road yet ahead. Chloe and I prepared for bed and closed our eyes with dreams of San Tan Valley, Arizona dancing in our head. Our road journey ended Tuesday, April 18th at 9:30 am when, at long last, we arrived home. What happens next shall remain for another day.

The road journey was over. Each Dojo visited enlightened me to a valued life lesson: spontaneity, self-discipline, inspiration, imagination, opportunity and comfort. Lessons relearned, life’s journey continues. Each journey is but a path. An integral component of life’s path is that the ability to learn abounds. I hope you enjoy the lessons learned on my road trip.

For a video on Kata in nature, here is a link to an introductory video about my Sanchin Kata video series filmed at the Lower Salt River, Tonto National Forest. Arizona. Please e-mail me or contact me via this blog to purchase the video series. LINK: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MyaHCp2EoUk

Until the next article, I remain a journeyman honored to learn as I travel on the road of life.

Sensei John Szmitkowski, Soke, Jiriki Kata-Do




1. For readers familiar with the Seienchin Kata, the Seienchin that I teach as a Goshin-Do Karate-Do Kata remains unchanged. In so far as any reader that knows the Kata may wish to try my modification intended to symbolize the interpretation of “To Walk Far To Quell And Conquer”, it is as follows. The performance of the three opening movements of the Kata, which are performed in a side stance, is tripled. Thus, instead of performing three side stance movements, one would perform nine. So as to achieve positional coincidence, the two movements wherein you perform an “archers” block in a side stance is also tripled. Therefore instead of performing two archers blocks, you perform six. For me and subsequently my students, this modified performance of the Seienchin Kata breathed life into the ideology, “To Walk Far To Quell And Conquer.”

2. The Big Texan Dojo is located at the Big Texan Steakhouse located in Amarillo, Texas. From a culinary standpoint, it is infamous for its offer of a “FREE” 72 ounce steak dinner. This offer is advertised on billboards as far away from Amarillo as four hundred miles. In order to get the free steak dinner, you must eat the 72 ounce steak and all accouterments, including a baked potato, dinner roll, soda, shrimp cocktail, all within an hour. If you don’t complete the task, then you pay for the dinner. My culinary preference at this Dojo is a truly delicious hamburger made from Buffalo meat and a dish known as “Rocky Mountain Oysters”, deep fried bull testicles (they taste like good quality veal and really are delicious). The Big Texan Dojo, like Smiley’s Dojo is one of self-discipline. Owing to the fact that Chloe and I needed to get closer to home, we bypassed this Dojo.

3. The Comfort Kata, and the distinctive individuals they represent are:

Kanto Kata: Kanto Kata was developed by Shihan Frank Van Lenten, at the request of his primary instructors, to represent of Goshin-Do Karate-Do as a distinct style of Okinawa Karate-Do. Thus is symbolizes the trunk of the Goshin-Do Karate-Do family tree;

Ten-Ni-No Kata and Chi-Ni-No Kata: These two Kata were added to the Goshin-Do Karate-Do style by Shihan Thomas DeFelice. They are unique to students that studied Goshin-Do directly under Shihan DeFelice. Thus, they symbolize a branch growing from the Goshin-Do tree trunk, and;

Chin-retsu Kata,alternately named Nami-Kiribi Kata: This Kata was developed by me as a requirement for Yon-Dan, 4th degree Black Belt. It is a senior Black Belt Kata. As such, I have taught this rare Kata to only four other individuals that have studied directly under me. It is emblematic of a blossom born of Sensei DeFelice’s branch of the Goshin-Do family tree.

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 Blogsite, or my website WWW.Dynamic-Meditation.Com. For more information on my ideology and methodology of Jiriki Kata-Do, please review the articles herein filed in the category “Kata as enlightened meditation“.

For a complete directory of the Kata of Goshin-Do Karate-Do, please see the Mokuroku No Kata Category.

On The Road With Sensei John – Part 3: Eastern Dojo

2 May

In this installment of my “On The Road With Sensei John” series, I want to discuss the various Dojo that I visited during my three and a quarter day journey from New Jersey (USA) back home to Arizona (USA). I will classify and present the Dojo in terms of their geographic relation to the Mississippi River. In this installment, I will discuss the Dojo that are east of the mighty river. In accord with my ideology of Jiriki Kata-Do, each Dojo visit sets forth a lesson that applies not only to Karate-Do, but also life itself. Once again while the within article is written in terms of Karate-Do, the concepts and ideas apply to life in general and are submitted for the benefit of all my readers. I hope you enjoy reading about the various Dojo.

Since I began my study of Karate-Do in 1971 at age 10, I have had the pleasure and honor of visiting and attending many traditional Karate-Do Dojo. For my non-Martial Artist readers, the word “Dojo” translates as “Way-Place” or “The place of learning a (martial) Way or Path.”

Kanji for the word "Dojo"

While I have a fond place in my memory for these traditional Dojo, the treasured and warmest recesses of my past memories and my present day training are to be found in the plethora of non-traditional Dojo that I have trained in.

I was first introduced to a non-traditional Dojo by Sensei Nick D’Antuono (See Endnote # 1). My first training in a non-traditional Dojo occurred on a bright, sunny Saturday morning during the summer in or about the year 1972. It was the first time I trained outside the confines of Sensei DeFelice’s Goshin-Do Karate-Do Dojo which was then located at 125 Broad Avenue, Palisades Park, New Jersey. This non-traditional Dojo was, if memory serves me correct, located on Grand Avenue, again, in Palisades Park. The entire Junior Division, which then was represented by two separate classes (Beginners and Advanced Students) was to meet at the traditional Dojo. Sensei Nick instructed us to wear our Gi (Karate uniform) and sneakers. We would travel to the non-traditional Dojo by foot. At the appointed hour, the entire student body exited Sensei DeFelice’s Dojo and through a combination of walking and jogging proceeded along Broad Avenue. We then turned right, down a hill and arrived, about one-half hour later, at the non-traditional Dojo. It was indeed beautiful. It was, in fact, a park. This was to be my first training experience outdoors in nature. Since then I have had substantially many more such training experiences. In fact, though I trained weekly at Shihan Norlander’s Dojo in Bogota, New Jersey, when the weather permitted, I trained daily at my natural Dojo located in Hasbrouck Heights, New Jersey.

At The Woodland Park Dojo to the sound of woodpeckers Chloe guards against squirrels.

Another natural, non-traditional Dojo that I trained at was the Ling Dojo in Hackensack, New Jersey. I had not planned on training at the Ling Dojo. My decision to train at this Dojo was utterly spontaneous. Therefore, the lesson to be learned from the Ling Dojo is Unqualified Spontaneity in training and in life. I was scheduled to start my road journey on Saturday, April 17th. My last training session at Shihan Norlander’s Dojo was the night of Wednesday, April 14th. At the conclusion of the training session, I said my formal “Goodbyes” to all. Though once I say good-bye, I do not tend to linger or dwell, I arranged with Shihan Norlander to have a late breakfast at a diner in Hackensack, New Jersey. The diner is located on the Hackensack River. I arrived a few minutes early. The day was beautiful and I was enraptured with the surroundings, the satisfaction of being ready to hit the road and the idea of returning home after many months away. I decided to celebrate by performing a few Kata as I waited. I looked around so as to locate a suitable Dojo and found the Ling Dojo directly adjacent to the Diner.

The USS Ling Dojo, Hackensack, NJ

The Ling Dojo is a park adjacent to and part of the USS Ling submarine which is permanently housed on the Hackensack River. As I knew Shihan Norlander would soon arrive, I decided to begin training with a relatively short Kata called “Seipai”. With my blood flowing and mind clear, I then proceeded to perform the shortest Kata in the Goshin-Do Karate-Do Mokuroku No Kata called Ananku. As always, I ended the training session with the Sanchin Kata (See Endnote 2). At the completion of the session, I walked across the parking lot. As I did so, Shihan Norlander drove into the parking lot. Invigorated by my spontaneous efforts, I joined him for a very satisfying breakfast and discussion. So, my dear readers, remember the lesson of the Ling Dojo – be spontaneous in not only your training, but also your life. To be sure, planning the present and the future has merit, but true beauty, imagination and fulfillment is to be found in those unplanned moments that are simply allowed to happen.

At long last, the time for Chloe and I to actually turn the ignition key and begin the drive home arrived. I said a final “Good-bye” to my Mom and Dad. At 5:00 am Saturday, April 17th Chloe and I drove west on Highway I-78. I had carefully planned my first day on the road so as to arrive at the first Dojo in the early afternoon. After about two hours of driving on I-78 West and one stop to refuel, Chloe and I turned South onto Highway I-81. The first Dojo is located on this Interstate Highway in Raphine, Virginia. We soon exited the State of Pennsylvania and quickly drove through Maryland and West Virginia. As I saw the “Welcome To Virginia” sign, my anticipation grew. I simply could not wait to arrive at the first Dojo of this trip; Smiley’s Dojo. By early afternoon Chloe and I finally reached exit number 205 and turned off the interstate. Smiley’s Dojo was less than a quarter of a mile away. My anticipation had reached a crescendo. I could tell by the way Chloe stood against the passenger door window frame and deeply breathed in and out that she too anticipated visiting Smiley’s Dojo. It is for this reason that the lesson to be learned from Smiley’s Dojo is Self-Discipline.

Smiley’s Dojo is located within the confines of Smiley’s BBQ Pit. At this point in my day, I had eaten a simple breakfast consisting of a few pieces of fruit and some water. I normally eat a fairly regulated diet. Smiley’s Dojo is one of the few culinary indulgences I will allow myself on this trip. I can wholeheartedly say that the Carolina-style BBQ available at Smiley’s is the best. Further, the sliced beef brisket is second to none I have ever eaten in all my travels. By the time, I drove into the parking lot, I was quite hungry; however, Smiley’s Dojo is one of self-discipline. So, I first filled the truck’s gas tank. I then drove to the rear of Smiley’s and walked Chloe. I poured her some water and while she drank and stretched, I performed the Kata Tensho, Gekisai and Chinto. My performance was appreciated by various truck drivers who interrupted their own BBQ lunch to watch. We chatted a bit. Finally, I entered Smiley’s and placed an order “to go”; one pulled pork sandwich and one sliced beef brisket both in the Carolina-style of BBQ (See Endnote # 3).

Smiley's Dojo, Raphine, Virginia

My order was cooked. With sandwiches and a souvenir jar of Pickled Okra and Picked Sweet Watermelon Rind in hand I walked back to join Chloe in the truck. You would think that I immediately partook of the flavorful bounty. No, I did not. Again, Smiley’s Dojo is all about self-discipline. Rather than allow my taste buds to wander wantonly amongst the smoky meat, I again drove south. A few miles down the interstate (around exit 199) is a rest stop with a very nice park. I exited the interstate and found a quiet parking space. To fully embrace the self-discipline of Smiley’s Dojo, I again delayed tasting my BBQ bounty. Chloe and I once again exited the truck with our BBQ treasure. We found a suitable tree-lined small meadow. I opened the bag and deeply inhaled the smoky, hallucinogenic fumes and immediately thought – I must perform another Kata. The question was, “Which Kata will adequately capture the self-discipline of deferring eating this intoxicating feast of smoky meat?” The only answer was to be found in one of the longest and most unique Kata of Goshin-Do Karate-Do; Kanto Kata. The performance of Kanto Kata is long and rhythmically methodic. It is described by Goshin-Do Karate-Do aficionados as being like “A hibernating bear rudely awakened in his cave and sleepily walking into the daylight to pursue his interloper“ (Isn’t that right Sensei Bob?). In the meadow, I performed Kanto Kata. Finally, I opened both sandwiches, cut each in half and ate half of each type of sandwich. I saved the other half of each sandwich until later for dinner. Chloe and I took a few minutes to lay down on the grass and let the sun’s rays fall gently upon us. My lips still tingled from the delights of smoked meats, my muscles twitched with the exertion of Kata and my spirit was a-flutter with the joy of life. As Chloe and I sat up and walked back to the truck, a butterfly landed on the grass where we had just laid. I entered the truck and turned the ignition thinking, “Life is indeed good.” I hope we all can carry the lesson of Smiley’s Dojo with us each day and remember well the rewards of self-discipline.

Chloe and I ended our first day on the road in White Pine, Tennessee. We had driven about 825 miles and had a most enjoyable day. After finishing the remaining BBQ sandwich halves from Smileys, a walk for Chloe and a performance of Sanchin Kata, we soon settled in to bed. I wanted to begin the second day on the road at about 5:30 am the next day. Chloe and I would enter the state of Tennessee and turn west onto Interstate 40. We would also visit the Dojo of a famous country and western singer.

Chloe and I awoke early Sunday morning, April 18th. As planned, we were driving on the interstate highway by 5:30 am eastern standard time. After driving a few hours, and gaining an hour when we passed into the central time zone, we arrived at the next Dojo which is at exit 143 on highway I-40. Due to the fact we gained an hour of time, it was only about 7:30 am when we pulled into the parking lot of the Dojo located at Loretta Lynn’s Country Kitchen. Chloe and I did not enter into the restaurant to eat its many wonderful culinary offerings. We had many miles to drive today, so we stopped at this Dojo only to let Chloe walk a bit and so that I could perform Kata in this famous singer’s “Dojo”. Much like the story of Loretta Lynn, who rose from her humble beginnings as a “coal miner’s daughter”, a Kata performance at this Dojo, particularly in the early hours of a dawning new day is filled with inspiration. The lesson of the Loretta Lynn’s Dojo is Inspiration. Chloe and I found a suitable location for her walk and my performance adjacent to a statute of a mighty buffalo.

The Buffalo Statue at the Loretta Lynn Country Kitchen Dojo, Tennessee

I am particularly fond of performing the Goju-Ryu based Kata of Goshin-Do Karate-Do in the early morning. So, as I performed my Kata, including Tensho, Seienchin, Seipai and, of course, Sanchin. I allowed the rising sun, dew-filled grass and clean fresh air to inspire me to manifest the most fulfilling day possible. Each day, remember the lesson of the Loretta Lynn Dojo and allow yourself the opportunity to look within yourself as a source of your own inspiration. Allow yourself to go out into the external environment inspired to produce and manifest the most satisfying day. This will allow you to live a life enraptured by the events you inspired and manifested.

The Loretta Lynn Dojo was the last “formal-natural” Dojo Chloe and I visited before we crossed the mighty Mississippi River. The crossing of “’Ole Man River” signifies the beginning of our western journey. The western portion of our trip will be discussed in the next installment of this series. Until then, please remember these parting words. The purest Dojo is located within the human heart and spirit. It is from within the pure Dojo that the truest Karate-Do (and an enlightened life) is to be found.

For a video on Kata in nature, here is a link to an introductory video about my Sanchin Kata video series filmed at the Lower Salt River, Tonto National Forest. Arizona. Please e-mail me or contact me via this blog to purchase the video series. LINK: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MyaHCp2EoUk

Until the next article, I remain a student of the Pure Dojo

Sensei John Szmitkowski, Soke, Jiriki Kata-Do

1. Sensei Nick D’Antuono was my first Sensei in Goshin-Do Karate-Do. At the time I had started my road trip back home, he was hospitalized with complications due to medical treatments for cancer. As of this writing, Sensei is no longer hospitalized. I am happy to advise, he is home.

2. Please see the Mokuroku No Kata category for a complete list of all Kata in the Goshin-Do Karate-Do system of Shihan Thomas DeFelice, including the Kata incorporated by me at Senior Yudansha levels.

3. Smiley’s also offers “Kansas City-style” BBQ which is slathered in a rich and tangy sauce. My favorite is the Carolina-style in which the meat is covered in a light vinegar based sauce. This style allows the true flavor of the meat to be experienced.

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 Blogsite, or my website WWW.Dynamic-Meditation.Com. For more information on my ideology and methodology of Jiriki Kata-Do, please review the articles herein filed in the category “Kata as enlightened meditation“.
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