Tag Archives: Student-teacher

Why Are You Practicing That Kata?

27 Sep

“Life is a kata.” ©

A recent day at work once again illustrated how my saying is true.

Working at the garden center is physically demanding. According to my FitBit, during a nine hour shift, I would walk an average of 11.7 miles and burn around 3,100 calories. In addition to walking, activity includes loading and unloading 40 pound bags of garden product (soils, mulches, and the like) and carrying tanks of propane for barbecuing. During a normal shift, I’m paired with a part-timer for about four hours. Usually my co-worker is a young college student. This particular day, I was with Dave (a fictional name).

At Work

It was a particularly hot day, sunny day. This type of day is difficult as there is little to no shade. Dave and I just finished loading a customer with twenty-four bags of mulch (each weighing forty pounds). Before returning to our normal duties, Dave went and sat down for a minute or two. I went to get my water. Just then, the owner decided to leave the comfort of his air conditioned office and take a leisurely walk outside.

As he walked past me, he saw Dave sitting. He commented, “It drives me crazy when people sit and do nothing.” I told him that not only was that the first time Dave had sat down, but we also just finished loading a relatively large order. In less than five minutes both of us would be back to the physical task of our normal work. The owner’s reply was simply, “I didn’t know, thanks.” And that’s the point, the owner saw fit to observe and judge without knowing all the facts. He presupposed that he needed to correct the situation without knowing the totality of the circumstances.

Throughout the years I’ve encountered similar scenarios in the Dojo. One such instance is burned deeply into my memory. So deeply is it burned that it changed the way I interacted with my own students. From that day forward I pledged to always ask a student, “Why are you practicing that Kata?” “What is the purpose for doing the Kata?”

The time was the early 1990’s.I just finished a particularly bad day at work, It seemed nothing went according to plan. Additionally, I was having difficulty in my personal life.It seemed I could do nothing right.

Except, my kata. Even back then, kata sustained and nourished me. So I went to the Dojo. It was an “off” night; no classes were scheduled. I had the key to the Dojo and knew I would have it to myself. I entered, changed into my Gi and began to run through my kata. My mind was cluttered and my emotions were frazzled. This greatly affected my kata. I knew my kata wasn’t fully on par, but that was okay. The kata were special and historical treasures. Kata is not known by the average person. Knowing them and being able to perform them made me feel unique. Could I actually be doing something above and beyond a normal person? Could I be ding something “right.” “Yeah, I feel good”, began to fill my thoughts.

After a while I heard the lock turn and door open. Sensei had stopped by the Dojo. He paused and watched a bit. The first words out of his mouth were, “Your timing is off and your focus isn’t quite there; you’d best concentrate.” No “Hello”, no greeting, no “Hey I saw your motorcycle outside and stopped in.” Just a presumption that Sensei needed to correct my kata – and – that I wanted correction at that exact moment. “Well, so much for doing something right”, snapped into my mind. Had Sensei asked, I would have acknowledged that my kata was a bit off. I wasn’t trying to improve my kata, I was simply trying to enjoy myself at something that was unique to me. End of story. With that, I thanked Sensei, changed, left the Dojo and took a long motorcycle ride. I found a quiet wooded area and alone, again, performed my kata.

The point is first find out the totality of the circumstances before judging another and presuming they want an answer. From that day forward, whenever I observed a student perform a kata, I would ask the student “Why are you performing the kata?” Depending on the answer, I would offer correction, if appropriate.

So, before judging or correcting someone, find out the totality of the circumstances. Often this means asking the person “Why.” Why are you resting at work?” Why are you not joining the party?” “Is everything okay?”

If you do so, you will greatly improve your kata that is life. After-all, as I say, “Life is a a kata.”

This week’s featured video:


Respectfully Submitted,

Sensei John Szmitkowski

     For information on my “no-risk”, kata seminars, please visit the seminar page using this convenient link https://senseijohn.me/seminar-kata/
My seminars are the ONLY seminars that allow you to pay at the conclusion, thus insuring your complete satisfaction!

    For a refreshing and innovative discourse on kata and bunkai, please feel free to visit Sensei John’s Kata Laboratory and “THINK * SWEAT * EXPERIMENT” using this convenient link: https://senseijohn.me/kata-lab/

© Copyright 2017 Issho Productions & John Szmitkowski, all rights reserved.

You may wish to view my other blogs –
   my fishing blog which includes my fishing journals and the interrelationship between martial arts protocol to fishing http://flyfishingdojo.com
 the Goshin-Do Karate blog at http://defeliceryu.com

SHU, HA, RI – A Different Perspective

4 May

There is a concept from the martial arts that is applicable to any relationship whereby one individual relies upon another individual for education, instruction or guidance. That martial arts concept is known as “Shu-Ha-Ri.” It applies to any student-teacher, mentor-protege or other similar relationship.
Shu-Ha-Ri has been analyzed ad infinitum from the standpoint of the student. I myself have often engaged in such analysis. Here is a convenient link to an article I had posted a few years ago https://senseijohn.me/2010/06/20/the-martial-arts-learning-process-of-shu-ha-ri/ 
One night, while teaching at the USA Goshin-Ryu Dojo of my late friend, Shihan Wayne Norlander, I realized that this historical analysis is limited to one-half of the dynamic of transmitting karate-do from one person to another. In so far as the teaching of karate-do implies an obligation to accurately transmit the karate of one’s Sensei, I propose that the common trend to analyze Shu, Ha, Ri form the standpoint of the student must be overcome (See Endnote # 1).

In this submission, I would like to set forth an alternate perspective from which to consider the concept of Shu-Ha-Ri; namely the perspective of the teacher, or Sensei, of karate-do, who was by definition once a student him or her self.

By way of introduction, a review of the popular discourse on Shu, Ha, Ri is appropriate. There are three stages of the martial learning process which are generally accepted and a fourth, more esoteric stage. The three generally accepted stages are the stages of “Shu”, “Ha“, “R1“.

Kanji for Shu-Ha-Ri

Each particular stage is described as follows.

SHU(pronounced “Shoe”) means to correctly copy all of the techniques of one’s instructors;

HA (pronounced “Ha”) means the liberty allowed to a student to develop his own way of executing techniques based upon the demands of his own physical stature and his own individual understanding of Karate;

RI (pronounced “Rhee”) means “transcendence” or “mastery”. It is when a student can perform all of the techniques automatically and becomes a teacher himself (See Endnote # 2).

A fourth, more esoteric, stage of the process of learning the martial arts has come to be identified. This stage is called the “Ku” (pronounced “Cue”) stage. Kuis the stage of emptiness. It means everything is gone and no trace is left behind. The student has reached the highest level and no one can trace his movements or capture his techniques.

I submit that the concept of Shu-Ha-Ri transcends the bounds of the student’s perspective and can (and should) be extended to include an analysis from the perspective of the teacher. A natural consequence of learning the martial arts, as set forth in the description of the Ri stage above, is that the student becomes a teacher him or herself. Once the student becomes a teacher himself, the analysis and application of Shu, Ha, Ri historically ceases. I proffer the following analysis of Shu, Ha, Ri as applied to the teacher who was once, naturally, a student himself.

SHU means to correctly copy the technique, kata, method and manner of one’s Sensei as one teaches one’s students. While the technique and kata of one’s Sensei are easily governed by stylistic dictates (see Endnote # 3), the method and manner of one’s Sensei are unique to the Sensei under whom a student (now teacher) originally learned his or her art. Each individual instructor of a style of karate-do, while teaching the technique and kata of the style, combines these physical dictates with the non-physical traits of the style (philosophy, ideology, spirituality, etc) as set forth by the style’s founder and progenitor. While so teaching the “style”, the Sensei imbues and infuses the teaching with his or her own unique character and personality traits. These character and personality traits generally may be of a positive nature, but, as dictated by the frailty of the human condition, may also include the instructor’s character flaws; even those that may considered less than admirable (See Endnote # 4). It is the “style” of karate, as imbued and interpreted by a Sensei that is transmitted to the student (who is now the teacher).

HA means the liberality to be allowed an instructor (by his original Sensei) to develop his own way of teaching. I submit this development is influenced by two key factors. The first key factor is the teacher’s unique individual physical and psychological traits. These factors would have been accentuated or modified as necessary during the teacher’s tenure as a student. IF the teacher’s Sensei was a Sensei of merit, then his Sensei would have discovered and been aware of these individual traits during the time period wherein the teacher was a student of the Sensei. During this time, Sensei would have nurtured the student’s meritorious traits and modified or corrected the student’s character flaws. Thus, Sensei would have guided his student, now a teacher, so that these individual traits do not offend the tenor and tone of Sensei’s style of karate-do. The second key component is highly variable. Surely, Sensei is aware that his student will encounter this factor but cannot predict the specific character of same. This second trait that the student, now teacher, will encounter are the physical capabilities and mental attributes of his individual students.  The student turned teacher must be allowed the liberality to mold his instruction of karate-do on these two key factors. If this liberality is granted, the student-teacher, now Sensei, starts to represent the embodiment of the karate he learned from his Sensei.

RI means “transcendence.” Transcendence occurs when a Sensei becomes the living embodiment of the karate-do that he continues to practice and subsequently teach. This karate is no longer the karate that he learned from his Sensei; it is more than that. It is that learned karate as interpreted by the individual Sensei’s physical and spiritual traits AND as transformed by the mechanism of Sensei’s continued practice of karate-do and individual teaching methods and manner.

KU is the stage were the Sensei no longer affirmatively teaches. Rather, Sensei transmits karate-do by virtue of being an active Sensei. This is to say that Sensei has become his karate-do. Sensei has come to embody and represent his interpretation of karate-do in such a way that the students are capable of learning by Sensei’s example. This means that the student no longer learns by rote drilling, they learn by being in the presence of Sensei as Sensei lives in karate-do. This stage is the lifeblood extension of the observation of Shihan Peter Urban, Ju-dan, USA Goju-ryu, “A Karate man in training is in karate.” At this stage, “A Sensei who practices and teaches karate IS karate.” (See Endnote # 5).

I submit that understanding the various stages Shu, Ha, Ri from both the perspective of a student and a Sensei is necessary so as to fully understand the total dynamic within which the art of karate-do is transmitted from one person to another.

Respectfully submitted for your contemplation,


 Sensei John Szmitkowski

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

KATA LAB  For a refreshing and innovative discourse on kata and bunkai, please feel free to visit Sensei John’s Kata Laboratory and “THINK * SWEAT * EXPERIMENT” using this convenient link: https://senseijohn.me/category/kata-laboratory/


1. I use the word “implies” because there are those Sensei that are perhaps less than meritorious and simply teach without regard to a sense of duty or obligation to purely transmit the teachings of their Sensei.

2. The following symbolism has been ascribed to each stage. Such symbolism may assist you in further understanding the three stages of transmittal and learning.

SHU is symbolized by an egg. The first stage is hard, the form or shape of the technique must be mastered or protected, just like a mother protects her egg.

HA is symbolized by the breaking egg. The basic form is broken into its infinite applications. It means the fundamentals are now mastered and are applied in all situations.

RI is symbolized by the fully released chick that has matured and flies away from the nest. The student forgets all forms and masters the formless technique, leaving old ideas behind him. He has fully matured in his training.

3. This means simply that a student of Goshin-Do Karate will teach the technique and kata of the Goshin-Do Karate style. Similarly a student of Goju-ryu, Shorin-ryu, Isshin-ryu or any other style will teach the technique and kata of their particular style.

4.Since we are human, we are inevitably fallible. Thus, by human nature, a Sensei carries his personal flaws with him as he teaches karate. Such flaws may include, ego, jealousy, anger and the like. It is a direct consequence that the karate transmitted will be influenced by both the instructor’s positive and negative personality traits during the transmission process.

5. Urban, Peter, The Karate Dojo, (Charles E. Tuttle & Co., Tokyo, Japan 1967) p. 77.

You may wish to view my other blogs –
LOGO-WEBSITE   my fishing blog which includes my fishing journals and the interrelationship between martial arts protocol & ideology to fishing http://flyfishingdojo.com
DOJO STICKER-1 the Goshin-Do Karate blog at http://defeliceryu.com

© Copyright 2015 Issho Productions & John Szmitkowski, all rights reserved.

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