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by Glen Smith
People who study Karate can often be heard saying the word OSU. Sometimes they will say it in a normal speaking voice, but just as often, they will loudly shout this word, which can substitute for “hello”, “good bye”, “yes”, “okay”, or “I understand.” No matter how or when it is said, however, OSU reaffirms one of the most important lessons of Karate.
The first character, O, means to push, and symbolizes one hundred percent effort. The second Character, SU, means to endure. Combined, OSU, is a pledge to do one’s very best and to endure. However, SU by itself can also mean “to be silent,” and the character is made up of one of the radicals meaning “blade” and “heart.” The Japanese idea of endurance, therefore, encompasses being silent, even if your heart is cut with a blade.
It is very natural for people to seek positive reinforcement in return for their efforts. This is the very principal by which our society operates, after all. Professionals are paid for their work. Teachers reward hard-working students with high marks. Parents pay children compliments for their efforts.
But Karate is a discipline which involves a great deal of self-reflection. And; self-reflection is more concerned with irrefutable truths than with rewards.
Unfortunately, there are some Karate students who pretend to work hard only when they believe their instructor is watching. These types of students devote more energy toward attracting their teacher’s attention than to learning Karate. In other words, their efforts are not “silent.”
What these students do not realise is that they are in class to learn Karate, not to impress the teacher. And how much they learn depends solely on how hard they work. If they give their best efforts only when the instructor is watching and are lazy the rest of the time, this will inevitably be reflected in their technique.
On the other hand, true Karate masters are usually humble and reserved. They realize their expertise in Karate and the amount of effort they have devoted to it are irrefutable, independent of the recognition of others. After all, a flower blossoming deep in a secluded forest is no less beautiful than one growing in a garden where everyone can see. In fact many great Karate masters have spent time training on scheduled mountains in Japan, where they had to continually challenge themselves to work hard even though there was no one there to provide encouragement or reinforcement.
Each time you say OSU during Karate class, remember that is a pledge to work hard and to endure. If you can say it honestly and with pride each time, you can be confident you are doing well.
My very best wishes for your Karate endeavors!
Source: Original author “unknown” – provided by SOKE; Bubishi Martial Arts in hope for a better karateka future.
by Glen Smith
Over more than two decades of instructing Shukokai Karate in Hervey Bay Queensland; perhaps the most asked question put to me over those many years would have to be:
“why can’t I grade”
Quite often students are disappointed when not selected to grade at a particular grading and indeed, in some instances, that disappointment has been so great that students have decided it’s all too hard and they end up either; training on a less regular basis, training with less enthusiasm, not looking to improve skills or take on board instruction, they treat fellow “grading” students with envy, and, in some instances; leaving karate is the preferred option to resolving that initial disappointment.
From my perspective these types of reactions are clear reinforcement that the student is not ready to progress to the next level and therefore the decision not to grade is appropriate. I base this view on the following thought.
Each step of any traditional Karate grading syllabus is not just designed to ensure that students can perform certain techniques, if we were to adopt such an approach to advancement within traditional Karate that would, in my opinion, greatly reduce the value of the grading process.
Over the years my approach has been to assess each student throughout each class they attend looking at the student’s progress on the following fronts:
- Respect, and;
Naturally the higher a student is graded, the harder it is for that student to move onto the next level with each grading level requiring an improvement on the above points, coupled with the need to ensure that the application of acquired skills is also progressing in line with the grading requirements.
Students not selected to grade must ignore what others are doing and take a moment to look closely at what THEY are doing. The proceeding months to the next grading should be viewed as a window of opportunity for the student to reflect on past efforts and attainments and then to concentrate on ALL of the aspects of their next grading level.
In essence being invited to grade and then to attend a grading is NOT a student’s right but a return given to students who have appropriately applied themselves in accordance with instruction.
Some advice I provide to all of my students:
If given a Grading Invitation;
- Decide if you want to grade, remember this is only an invitation; you do not have to accept the invitation if you are unable to grade.
- Students are NOT permitted to grade unless they; return this acceptance note with your full payment and Student Handbook (if applicable), BY THE DUE DATE,
- Train regularly with the intent of wanting to improve your karate so that you will grade well, and,
- Turn up on time to the grading.
Special note from Soke;
The awarding of a graded belt has always solely rested with myself, not just as a mark of individual achievement for students but as my personal endowment. All students are made aware that as well as having the right to present a belt to a student, I also reserve the right to request a belt be returned to me should circumstances warrant it.
My best wishes for all of your Karateka efforts, OSU.
by Glen Smith, Bubishi Martial Arts
On Sunday 20th September we held the AFTK National Karate Seminar 2015 in Ashgrove, Queensland.
The full day event was attended by 40 Karate-Ka, with men and women from as young as 10 and as old as 40++ coming from as far North as Mt Isa and as far South as Sydney. We estimated that the group had over 400 years of collective experience in Karate!
The day commenced with a Tai Chi warm up from our Secretary, Glen Smith followed by his walking cane seminar. Starting with the basics as well as some partner work, Glen took us through the use of a cane or hook umbrella as a self defense tool and closed the session by teaching us his cane Kata.
In the next section I took the group through an application for a few of the moves from Heian Sandan. We ran through a few rotations of Heian Sandan before partnering up and working through the Bunkai for the signature move from the Kata.
Straight after that session we held the Dan gradings before breaking for lunch.
Bob McMahon took the next session, presenting a lecture on the history and development of traditional karate. This was followed by a more physical session of Kata dissection as well as a look at the Superman punch.
Shortly after, we held a meeting to discuss future AFTK events and identified an interest in more of the same. Bob outlined his concept for a Budosai and we received some great feedback and suggestions.
Before closing for the day 3 students were awarded their Dan grades. Congratulations go to Kahlia Smith for her Sandan, Cathy Dickson for her Yondan and also Glen Smith for his Yondan.
The day seemed to be over far too soon and before we knew it was time to head home.
On behalf of the committee I’d like to thank all of those who attended the seminar and made it the success it was. Your support and enthusiasm is what created such an enjoyable and memorable day. Please pass our thanks on to all of your students.
“This short article was inspired while I was reflecting on some advice my Wu Shu teacher gave me years ago”.
Part of an old saying goes “When an archer is shooting for nothing, he has all his skill. If the prize is a brass buckle his eyesight starts to fail”.
The same is true for anyone who focuses on the end result, that is winning, or a gold medal, instead of focusing on the job at hand. Dealing with your opponent.
Whether at competition or in self defence it is crucial to release your conscious mind, stop thinking about what you will or will not do, and just act at the moment of opportunity. The conscious mind is slow and dull, it simply is incapable of acting with the speed necessary to achieve the “prize”.
At a competition it is understandable to observe your opponents in previous rounds and try to work out their strengths and weaknesses. But when competing then the subconscious mind that has stored this information must be allowed to take over. This is not easy to do, it takes time and practice.
To give ourselves over completely to the subconscious is in the first instance a conscious deliberate act of will.
If we are to prevail in any contest against a skilled opponent then this problem of trusting the subconscious mind and acting and reacting intuitively is a problem which must be overcome.
To let the conscious mind rule the body in any conflict situation is a big mistake. If your opponent scores on you, then you must put that out of your mind and start again. If you think about his last score he is certain to score again. You have allowed his scoring to draw you back into using your conscious mind and you are divided. A house divided will fall.
The conscious mind also harbours many fears that may or may not be based in fact. One of these fears, is “fear of injury”. Many people worry about getting injured. They will tell you that this is not the case, but it is. When this happens, fear is in control and anxiety divides the mind. You now have to think every time you defend or attack instead of having your subconscious mind act intuitively for you in all these situations.
Your conscious mind will play out scenarios as you are trying to deal with the opponent right in front of you. All of these unnecessary thoughts impede your progress and ultimate victory, and may in fact lead directly to your defeat. This is particularly relevant in a self defence situation.
The prize, “victory”, or simply “doing your best” will never be yours when self doubt or fear is allowed to enter your mind.
Release your conscious mind and trust your subconscious. Do not concentrate on “the prize”, the “prize” divides. Instead let your subconscious mind put all your skills to work and just do. It is the struggle and our commitment to it that is important, the end result is still undecided.
Just as a painting or a jigsaw puzzle picture is made up of hundreds of individual small brush strokes or pieces, so to your karate techniques are made up of a large number of small seemingly insignificant things. But leave any of these seemingly insignificant things out and your karate technique will suffer enormously.
It is the little things that make all the difference to the big picture. Just like baking a cake, leave something out and it is not as good.
Each and every technique you perform contains things like:
– Knee over toe, keeping your hara up, keeping your rear heel on the floor
– Maintain your height and do not go up and down like a cork in a bottle of water when moving
– Supporting foot flat on the floor when kicking, always centre your attack, looking forward when blocking
– Correct use of hips, hanmi when blocking and shomen when attacking
– Strong kiai, kime
– Good reach out when blocking, always be shoulder wide in your stance, in and out when stepping both forward and backward
– Rotation on the end of each blocking movement, correct breathing
– Correct stance, feet pointing in the correct direction
– Never give up attitude no matter the odds, do your best
– And many, many more.
This is all hard work. As a new student there is much to think about at first. It is a constant battle to check yourself to make sure you are doing everything correctly. That is why training in the dojo with your instructor is so important. So you can be corrected. Personal training at home should also be done, but it cannot replace training with your instructor.
I have heard both kyu grades and black belts say that they find basic training boring. I cannot understand this statement.
If a student feels bored when doing a basic drill, eg step forward age uke (rising block), then he/she is obviously not trying to improve themselves. Age uke for example, just to name any technique, should be performed better when we are 9th kyu than when we were 10th kyu, white belt. Any particular technique should be better again when we are 8th, 7th, 6th, 5th, 4th, 3rd, 2nd and 1st kyu than it was when the student was the grade lower.
A much higher level again is expected when we reach black belt level.
Shodan, that is black belt, is not the end of the road. It is the beginning. Our journey in karate is a constant battle within ourselves to improve. Your toughest opponent must always be yourself.
Perseverance gives us what we need to paint the big picture.
If you meet a karate person or an instructor who tells you that he/she knows everything about karate, this person knows nothing, avoid them. They can only lead you onto the wrong path.
The term karate-do means the way of the empty hand. (Kara = empty, Te = hand, Do = way).
The “way”, is a personal journey. This journey has a starting point but no finishing point. We commence the journey when we take up karate.
The words empty hand an immediately obvious meaning, that is to be able to defend ourselves with just our empty hands.
There is also a deeper meaning to “kara” and that is to empty ourselves of selfishness and all other things that prevent us from becoming the best people we can be.
Not all karate-ka hold true to this second interpretation, but I think it is very important. You and your art must be one in the big picture. You must never be shallow and insincere.
Funakoshi Sensei said this in his book Karate-Do Kyohan (the master text):
“True karate-do is this: that in daily life, one’s own mind and body be trained and developed in a spirit of humility; and that in critical times, one be devoted utterly to the cause of justice”.
As I said at the start, the big karate picture is made up of many small seemingly insignificant things. All of these things are important. Attention must be paid to detail so that these little things are a part of your individual technique. This is essential if you want to have good karate.
There are no short cuts. No magic wands. Just hard work.
Good basics (kihon) are the foundation of good karate at any level.
Good basics are achieved through thoughtful repetition of techniques and correction when necessary by your instructor.
“A Master is one who returns day after day to the basic techniques and fundamentals. Mastery is a matter of the daily struggle to perfect the simplest of techniques and ideas”. (Martial Arts Axiom)
We all have different levels of skill and ability. The important thing is that we persevere in the struggle to perfect our art and continue the journey of karate-do. So when others look at us they will be able to see the big picture in everything we do.
Karate as generally practiced today in essence came from Okinawa. It was originally a fusion of Chinese fighting arts and Okinawan Te which was the indigenous Okinawan fighting art. The old masters took their art to the Japanese mainland and from there it has been exported to the world post World War II. Karate is an evolving art. That is, it changes over time. Post 1950’s karate became more sports orientated. Now there is a divide between those who engage in the sports karate and those who practice karate from a self defence perspective and incorporate karate jutsu (joint locks, grappling and throws etc).
The original “Old Okinawan Masters” had numerous teachers. Some of these original teachers even travelled back to China to learn from teachers on the Chinese mainland. Some exponents like Funakoshi Gichin Sensei were encouraged by their teacher to take classes from other teachers.
So why is it today that so many karate-ka still will not look beyond their own particular style or club for knowledge?
Many of course have only that club or style as a reference source and are happy to be spoon fed from the top down. Others are not permitted by their instructor or association to look elsewhere. If they do look elsewhere they will not be welcome back at that club. In both these two examples the knowledge is held as power over the student by the instructor or organization and the student never gets contrasting views, only one view or way of thinking.
Once you achieve Dan grades you should be open to ideas. You do not necessarily have to agree with other points of view but you should at least consider them.
This is where attending seminars held by various instructors is such a good thing. You can go along and look, participate in the class and consider what is being put forward and decide for yourself whether to keep that information or not. This is not being unfaithful to, or betraying your club or association, though some instructors and associations will see it that way.
This controlling attitude that is clearly evident in some instructors and associations says from their perspective that:
I know everything, how dare you go elsewhere.
If my student learns something from someone else, then they will know I do not know everything.
We control (manipulate) what the student will learn. We know best (knowledge is power).
If your instructor or association is that insecure and insists on having that much control over you in the Dan grades, then it might be a good thing for you to consider whether this attitude of theirs is a healthy one and maybe you might be better off somewhere else.
As the title of this article says “Knowledge is not kept in one vessel”. If knowledge were only kept in one vessel then there would have only ever been “One Old Okinawan Master” and we all would be practicing what he taught.
There are a number of ways your can improve your karate knowledge.
– Attend seminars. – Join a reputable on line karate discussion forum.
– Read some of the very good karate books written by reputable researches and karate historians.
– Look at DVD’s produced by well known karate-ka.
– Cross train and incorporate that training into your karate. (To name but a few).
I am not saying run off and start following another instructor because he/she shows you something different to what your instructor or association has taught you. I am saying add that knew knowledge, if it is worthwhile, wherever you find it, to your existing knowledge base. Sometimes that means we must change our view on something and sometimes it simply means we have a new way to achieve the same result by doing things differently.
By all means have the courtesy to tell your instructor that you are thinking of going to any particular seminar. He may even want to go with you. Discuss your thoughts and ideas in relation to karate with him/her. You may be pleasantly surprised, he/she may have been waiting for you do to just that for some time.
If all you have ever gotten from attending seminars to date is the same old kihon and kata then you need to be looking for a new seminar presenter. I heard it said recently by another instructor’s student “why would you go to a seminar held by X. One of your own instructors was graded to that same Dan level before X. So therefore he would know more than X”.
Dan levels, now there is a trap. If a person stays with one organization for their entire karate career then obviously they will be at a higher Dan level than someone else who has trained in a number of different styles and disciplines and then this person joins the others style association. All of the other persons experience will not recognized of course by the majority of style associations, because that would probably upset some higher Dan’s apple cart and cost the club or association grading fees (we can’t have that).
It may be that the long term club or association member has practiced gedan barai, oi tsuki/gyaku tsuki all of their karate career. Whilst doing this they may never have wondered or tried to work out what else that combination can be used for other than block punch. Of course that person may be a higher rank, but at the same time know considerably less than someone else who has researched and made a study of their karate. So Dan levels do not necessarily equate to knowledge. They can simply mean a person has been in one group for a long time and has passed the syllabus exams.
To grow in karate-do you must expand your karate knowledge base. Always be open to new ideas, you can always dismiss them, but you should at least consider them. Look again at the list of options above on how you can improve karate knowledge.
Avoid anyone who speaks or acts as if they or their teacher knows everything there is to know about karate. Karate-Do is an ongoing journey where there is always something new to learn or discover at every stage/level of your journey. Many good instructors know a great deal but nobody I have seen yet knows it all.
We should expose ourselves to new and different ways to look at the karate we practice. There are very good instructors from every style and they all have something to offer. Do not have tunnel vision because you are this style and the instructor presenting the seminar practises something else. Go along and see what you can learn.
“Knowledge is not kept in one vessel”
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