Archive for May, 2008

Why Train?

May 30, 2008 2 comments

Hours scheduled: 12
Hours Trained: 10

Yesterday someone sat down beside me while I was nursing my morning coffee and after the pleasantries had been exchanged she asked me a strange question. She knew I had been training karate for some years and wondered if I would be interested in coming with her to the court house as a bodyguard.

I hardly knew what to say. It was a surreal moment. The only thing I could do was explain that I didn’t think I would be able to provide her with whatever it was she was looking for, and perhaps, if she was frightened, contacting the police was a better option than a yojimbo.

For me, that incident really highlighted some of the fundamental misunderstandings about martial arts that are floating around out there. For example, take the question, “So when do you get your black belt?” which is something everyone who trains will be asked at least once.

There are two beliefs implicit in this statement that signal how little karate is understood by non-practitioners. The first is the when part, which implies everyone who attends karate will get a black belt as a matter of course. Everyone who trains or has tried to train knows how erroneous this assumption is. I have no idea what percentage of people take up training and drop it long before achieving shodan, but I’d hazard a guess that fewer than ten percent of people who ever train will make it even to their first dan rank. I suspect, in fact, that the real percentage is somewhere closer to five than ten.

The second assumption is a little less obvious. It’s buried in the unspoken part of the question, the suggestion that after a karate student reaches their shodan, they are done training. And in some ways this assumption makes sense. After all, when a university student finishes their degree, they tend to enter the workforce in their chosen field. They make money putting to use all the things they learned. Some go on to further their degrees, but these tend to do so with an eye to finding a better position and therefore making more money when they leave school. Karate isn’t like this. It doesn’t follow the standard schooling model. A black belt is not a degree.

So, if you aren’t likely to hire yourself out as an instructor or a bodyguard, and you never really finish training, what’s the point of karate?

Ask me that question and I’ll probably mouth like a fish for about ten minutes before I can come up with an answer. It’s a great question, and like so many simple questions, the answer is very complex.

The study of karate has really lost its urgency. I mean, we’re not exactly disaffected Okinawans desperate to protect ourselves from outrageous foreign samurai, are we? Most of us live in unbelievably safe neighborhoods and many of us will never feel like we need to use the skills we’ve learned. Lots of us will never open schools, enter tournaments or write books about the martial arts. Most of us will never make a penny from all this study. None of us will ever master it. So why bother?

I’m learning that the reasons people study are profoundly personal. Everyone comes to martial arts for their own reasons and those reasons can change as study progresses. One thing that seems true for every practitioner I’ve met, however, is the effect of all that training.

The effect, simply, is feeling good. Everyone I talked to feels good about training. People feel like better people because they’ve trained. They feel healthier, or stronger, or more safe, or calmer, or less tired, or more self-aware. It sounds like a little thing, but it’s not. Having the opportunity to feel really good about yourself, to step outside your regular habits twice or three times a week is a pretty big thing.

It might be startling for non-practitioners to discover that karate ka don’t relish an opportunity to show off their skills by breaking some legs in the street. It might be startling to discover that our aims are never to be tougher, bigger, meaner than the tough, big, mean guy at the bar. It might surprise people to learn that the black belt trains as hard, not less hard, than the white belt. And it might be the sudden awareness of these things; the value of humility, the search for self improvement, the acceptance of lifelong imperfection, that drives so many people away from karate. It is exactly these things that keep others coming back to the dojo three times a week for years and years, even though there’s no practical, financial reason for them to do so.

Does it matter, then, that most of us will never compete in the Olympics, see our picture on TV ads or open a dojo? Not really. Does it matter that my friends will always ask what I’m going to do after I get my black belt and frown at me when I say ‘keep training’? Not really. And nor should I be surprised by their reaction. Karate doesn’t really translate into a world of vigilant police, financial logic and degree collecting very well. Karate is rewarding, difficult and deeply personal.

I left karate for four or so years. I sort of fell out of it. I had worked hard in my old dojo and enjoyed the time I spent there but I wasn’t confident I’d do so well in another dojo, so I never bothered to look one up here in Victoria. A good friend coaxed me back in a nefarious way. He got me to do kata with him. I’d worked hard to keep up my kata by practicing at home, but doing kata with another person was almost magical and at the end of the set, I felt like I was flying. It wasn’t long after that I agreed to check out his dojo.

I will never forget coming back to martial arts. The minute my feet touched the dojo floor, I realized I had been a incomplete person all the time I had been away. It was as if my life had been waiting for me to return. I felt whole again. Neither money nor credentials or fame will ever give me that. That’s why I train.

Categories: Drop in the Bucket

Kicking the Cabinets

May 16, 2008 7 comments

Hours scheduled: 9

Hours trained: 13 or more

I’ve been thinking about training and writing about training and I’ve come to a conclusion: It’s far easier to write about martial arts than actually do them. It’s far easier to say, “I should practice every day” than to actually get down and dirty with your kata in the lunch room. Or, that’s how it seems sometimes.

Today is a perfect example of this. Earlier today I went down to the coffee shop and walked by a park. It’s great park; even ground, two big trees for shade, the grass freshly cut and smelling sweet like peas. On the way home I made plans to pull on my black gi pants and go train in that park but when I got home I decided against it. Instead, I read my news feed and drank a glass of water. Doesn’t really sound like training, does it?

But maybe it is. After all, when I got the water from the fridge, I used a kung fu kick to close the door. I also used a foot technique to pull my chair out from the computer desk. So, am I training or not?

A friend of mine, Zach, is a semi-pro cyclist here in town. We talk a lot about training because he spends the majority of his time preparing for the next race and in winter, a huge amount of his training time is devoted to keeping his body and mind in shape and not burning out. This is a delicate balance to try to maintain.

One of the secrets of Zach’s success has been his heart rate monitor. When I asked him what the point of the extraordinarily fancy little machine was (after all, when you work out your heart rate goes up and you don’t need to spend two hundred bucks to find that out), he said that, among other things, he can tell when he’s going to burn out by tracking his heart rate. Something else he said that struck me was this: The best way to train to avoid burn out and to keep body and mind focused, is to train a little bit every single day.

For Zach, this doesn’t always mean pulling on the spandex and doing a few circuits before the morning coffee. This means little things like riding his bike to work, taking a long walk or a short run, cycling out to the lake for a barbecue and a swim, walking home with the groceries, etc. It doesn’t sound like training, but it is.

I recently read a study on hours spent training among black belts of several Japanese dojos (and if I can find the study, I’ll link to it here). The researchers found the their subjects significantly underreported the amount of time they trained. Subjects would state they studied two hours every two days but the researchers who followed them around recorded sometimes twice or three times what they subjects did. Why?

My guess is because the ‘training’ doesn’t mean the same thing to both researchers and subjects. I think the black belts in the study didn’t realize how much their martial arts training had integrated into daily life. They might pick up the bo and swing it around a little while on the phone. They might close a cabinet door with a down block, the fridge with a side kick. Like my friend, they had made training a part of their daily lives, but unlike Zach, they hadn’t realized it. They only recognized hard classes that began and ended formally as training and didn’t realize that they were, by kicking the cabinets and palm-heeling the fridge, constantly training.

The thing about martial arts is how natural it all becomes. Unlike cycling, training karate requires (essentially) no equipment. It can sneak into the day-to-day without the practitioner ever really being aware of it. Martial artists also tend not to have coaches (there are, of course, exceptions).

A sensei is not a coach.  Senseis don’t demand the read outs from the heart rate monitor.  They don’t ask for a food diary to be handed in at Friday class. They don’t train us to peak in performance on a given date.  Where a coach might suggest integrating cycling into the daily routine and give the cyclist some tips, senseis expect the movements to become natural and for the student to stop thinking about them. So, naturally enough, we eventually forget we’re training.

Zach calls this sort of incidental training ‘rest training’, which sounds oxymoronic but really does make sense. It is a sort of training, and I think it’s a very important kind of training because it becomes unconscious and as natural as breathing which is, you know, what we’re all trying to achieve.  It’s not the same as a formal class, but it is training all the same.

So, did you train today?

Categories: Drop in the Bucket

Makiwara question

May 13, 2008 2 comments

Funakoshi w/makiwara

So, uh, does anyone know how to mount a wall makiwara in an apartment in such a way that the neighbors and landlord won’t kill you?

Categories: 1

Lost in Terminology…

To keep True Vision Karate within the traditional nature of Karate-Do, we incorporate Japanese terminology and Dojo etiquette.  I have put together a few terms and etiquette that are used frequently and should be understood by yellow belt and above….Of course there are some terms and etiquette that are just good to know…so I threw them in for good measure!



Keoskite (Skie) – Attention

Rei – Bow

Hajime – Begin

Mawate – Turn around

Shomen Ni – Turn to the Head of Dojo

Yame – Stop (immediately)

Tome – Return to original location

Yoi – Return to ready stance

Mokuso – Close Eyes – Prepare for meditation

Seiza – Formal seated position (kneeling)

Agura – Informal seated position (feet in front)



1 ichi             11 ju-ichi

2 ni                12 ju-ni

3 san             13 ju-san

4 shi              14 ju-shi

5 go              15 ju-go

6 roku           16  ju-roku

7 shichi         17  ju-shichi

8 hachi          18 ju-hachi

9 ku               19 ju-ku

10 ju              20 ni-ju


*Note: The pronunciation of numbers when counting in the Dojo differs from the modern Japanese pronunciation of each number.  Dojo counting is more guttural with shortened, single-syllabic versions of each number. For example…Ichi is pronounced “Itch” – shichi pronounced “chitch” or even “hitch”! The best thing to do is to listen and learn from senior ranks when counting.



Onegaishimasu – Please teach me. (may be used upon entering the dojo)

Gokorosan  – Thank you for doing what was expected.

Domo arigato gozaimashita -Thank you very much. (can be said upon exiting the dojo)

*When thanking the teacher, refrain from using a shorter version of this phrase.

Osu (Oosss!) – Let’s train hard and persevere! (can be said upon entering/exiting the dojo)

Hai – Yes

Iie (ee yea) – No

Ohiyo gozai-imasu – Good morning.

Omede to – Congratulations.

Konnichi wa – Good day.

Kon bon wa – Good evening.

Sumimasen – Excuse me.

Wakarimasu Ka – Do you understand?

Wakarimasen – I do not understand.

Wakarimasu – I understand.



Ippon kumite – One-step sparring

Jiyu kumite – Freestyle sparring

Kansetsu Waza – Theory and practice of joint techniques

Kata – Formal exercises (Form)

Kihon waza – Basic techniques

Kobudo – Weapons training or “Way of Stopping War”

Kumite – Sparring (Formal, Light to Contact)

Nage Waza – Theory and practice of throwing/take-down techniques

Randore – Slow fighting

Ukemi Waza -Theory and practice of falling


TACHI WAZA (Theory and practice of standing)

Kake Dachi – Crossed stance (used in kata)

Kiba dachi – Horse-riding/energy stance

Kokutsu dachi – Back-stance

Kumite dachi – Fighting stance

Neko ashi dachi – Cat stance

Sanchin dachi – Hour-Glass stance

Teiji dachi – T stance

Yoi dachi – Ready stance

Zen-kutsu dachi – Forward-stance


UKE WAZA (Theory and practice of defense)

Age uke – Rising block

Gedan barai – Downward parry

Uchi uke – Middle-area block (inside of forearm or inwards to the centre of body)

Soto uke – Middle-area block (outside of forearm or outwards from the body)

Shuto uke – Knifehand block

Osae uke – Pressing block

Morote uke – Augmented block

Juji uke – X-block


TSUKI WAZA (Theory and practice of punching)

Seiken – Fist

Hon tsuki – Frontal punch

Gyaku tsuki – Reverse punch

Oi tsuki – Lunge punch

Nidan tsuki – Double punch

Gedan tsuki – Punch to lower target

Chudan tsuki – Punch to middle target

Jodan tsuki – Punch to upper target


GERI WAZA (Theory and practice of kicking)

Ashi – Foot

Kekomi – Thrusting kick

Keage – Snapping kick

Mae geri – Front kick

Yoko geri – Side kick

Mawashi geri – Roundhouse kick

Mikazuki geri – Crescent kick

Ushiro geri – Back kick

Tobi geri – Jumping kick

Kin geri – Groin kick

Mae Keage – Training Kick


UCHI WAZA (Theory and practice of striking)

Shuto uchi – Knifehand strike

Hiiji uchi or empi uchi – Elbow strike

Hiza uchi – Knee strike

Nukite uchi – Spearhead strike

Tettsui uchi – Hammerfist strike

Uraken uchi – Backfist strike



Budo – Way of martial arts

Bunkai – Applications of kata techniques

Bushido – Way of the samurai (bushi)

Chudan – Middle target (solar plexus)

Dojo – School (place of the Way)

Gi – Uniform

Gomen Kudasai – Forgive me/I am sorry

Hata – Dojo flag

Irimi – To enter into an attack

Isshin – One heart or mind

Jodan – High target (philtrum)

Kakate – Run

Kakato – Heel

Karate – Empty Hand

Ki – Spirit, energy, life force

Kiai – Spirit-unifying shout (spirit-wind)

Kime – Focus of power

Kohai – A student junior to oneself

Koshi – Ball of foot

Kote – Wrist

Kuzushi – Balance, body alignment

Kyosen – The solar plexus

Kyusho – Vital points

Mudansha – One’s without dan (coloured belts)

Morote – Double

Obi – Belt (centre of body)

Miai – Distancing

Mushin – No heart or mind

Musubi – Harmony

Rei – bow (show respect)

Sempai – Senior student

Sensei -Teacher

Taitaikyo – Dojo etiquette

Tanden or hara – Center of the body

Tai sabaki – To evade and counterattack

Tenkan – To turn and dissipate an attack

Tore – One who executes a technique

Uke – One who receives a technique

Yudansha – Holder’s of dan rank (black belts)

Zanshin – Reflecting heart or mind

Categories: The Knowledge Pool