Continued Improvement

By Megan Lyn PowellMegan Powell with Soke Yamamoto

I began taking karate classes in the Fall of 2012 in the Tate Student Center at UGA. I had never been an athletic person, so this was all new to me. I was there to learn a few things, have some fun and workout. Mostly I just wanted to have fun!

Right away I learned some need-to-know basics such as punches, blocks and kicks. When it came time to learn inside and outside center blocks, one word described me: uncoordinated. Just when I thought I did it correctly and tried to replicate it, something would go awry. Sensei Dawkins was patient. It took me about two or three weeks of classes to finally get the hang of the blocks, but I finally conquered them!

Fast forward a few weeks and I was learning kata (Nijushichi No Kata and Kihon Kata Shodan). We had class twice per week and I wanted to practice more. One of the topics discussed during warm up was practicing on your own. Sensei Dawkins emphasized how useful it was to practice more. My thought at the time was, “…but I don’t want to mess up and learn it the wrong way.”

Athens Tournament with MLPSoon enough I began practicing in my apartment. I cannot say I always did my kata correctly. I am quite sure there were times when I messed up the order of the blocks in Nijushichi. Or I probably had my feet in the wrong position in Kihon Kata Shodan. The most important thing was just that I was doing it for myself.

Slowly but surely I began to notice that karate was helping me. I soon noticed that I could perform the correct block, punch, or kick the majority of the time. The most important lesson I have learned is Continued Improvement. What does it really mean?

Continued improvement is a common thread that is tied to almost every aspect, if not all, in the WYKKO. In testing to 4th kyu we learn that Yoshukai really has two meanings (Strive for Excellence and Association of Continued Improvement). We all have some aspect of Yoshukai that we strive to improve. We want our kata to look sharp, our fighting to be top-notch, etc. We may aim for a stronger mae geri, becoming more efficient with nunchuka/sai, and so forth. This gives us that drive to want to improve. There is always a technique or kata that we can become better at executing, or teaching to other students. This is what helps us to continually improve and grow as martial artists. It also can impact other facets of our lives. School, work, parenthood, working out, etc. are just a few examples where we can always aim for continued improvement. Taking what we learn from martial arts and applying it to everyday life helps us as human beings to constantly progress.

Continued improvement really just means to always aim to be better than you were yesterday or the day before. Whether this be in the form of martial arts or not, it is an important lesson that we can all learn.

Rikki Hitatsu!

Athens Yoshukai Karate - MLP Brown Belt

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Working Out on the Go

By Hali Serrian

There are times in every martial artist’s life when they can’t be at the dojo. Maybe you’re Athens Yoshukai Exerciseon vacation, interviewing for a job in another state, or just away for whatever reason. You can still practice karate, even in a hotel room! And it’s good to keep up your practice so when you return you’ll be able to jump back in right where you left off. In this post, I’ll be focusing on some exercises you can do in a hotel room, or anywhere there’s not as much space as we have in the dojo.

Kata

You can run forms in a small space, it just takes creativity and a bit of flexibility. Try to find the most open space you can and get started. Once you reach a wall (if you’re doing the I-Forms this will probably happen somewhere going up or down the “I”), just scoot back a couple steps and keep going. It can be a bit weird at first, but you’re still getting practice for the form in.

Kicks

Kicks are fairly easy to practice on the go because they don’t take up much space. The same applies for punches and blocks. If you’re looking for a different way to work on yourhttps://i1.wp.com/amkorkarate.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/Aston-Wall-Kicks.jpg kicks, try the exercise where you hold one hand on a wall, chamber for your kick, and extend out and in without putting your foot down 10 times. Then on the last extension, hold your leg out for a 10-count. This can be quite a workout, and it helps you with your kicking form without having to worry about balance.

 

Balance

You can work on balance while you’re away, like the drills that you do while practicing at home. Stand on one leg (Ippon Ashi Dachi) while you watch T.V., brush your teeth, or talk on the phone. For a tougher version, try moving your leg up and down, side to side, or in a circle, all while keeping the 90 degree bend in your knee. Then try straightening the leg without setting it down. Lean forward and backward on one leg, and then shift your weight side to side. If it gets too tough, focus your gaze on one spot. If it gets to easy, let your gaze wander or close your eyes completely.

Calisthenics

If you don’t feel like working karate specifically, you can simply do some basic exercises, most of which don’t take up a lot of room. Pushups, bodyweight squats, lunges, crunches, dead cockroaches, jumping jacks, shadow boxing; the possibilities are endless. Anything that gets your heart pumping and your blood moving can help you in your martial arts training.

There is plenty to do for your training even when you’re not in the dojo. Keeping up your practice is what helps you continue along a steady path even if you can’t always have steady attendance.

Body Conditioning: Toughening Up

Body conditioning is a part of traditional Okinawan karate. Body https://i1.wp.com/i.ytimg.com/vi/RZjQ1WOTUBA/hqdefault.jpgconditioning is the practice of taking hits to the body or hitting something fairly tough in order to strengthen one’s ability to “take a hit”. It is supposed to make the body stronger, but often it’s mostly the fighter getting used to being hit. When fighting, blows don’t hurt as much because they’re used to it through body conditioning.

In our dojo, we typically introduce the idea of body conditioning around blue belt. We might have blue belts work their targeting by punching their partner in the stomach instead of a pad. Both partners would alternate. Obviously, we wouldn’t be using our hardest punches right off the bat. As with any new exercise, we start slow and easy and work our way up.

My first experience with body conditioning was with me acting as the conditioner to some black belts. They were working conditioning by being punched in the stomach by yellow belts. We yellow belts were working on being able to hit people with some actual force.

https://i1.wp.com/iainabernethy.com/articles/images/makiwaralk-1.jpgIn Okinawan tradition, makiwara, or punching boards, are used to toughen up striking surfaces. These are exactly what they sound like: boards that you hit in order to toughen up. Trees and poles are acceptable makiwara substitutes.

Working with our heavy bag is akin to working with a makiwara. It’s tough against the hands, and can hurt the wrists if you aren’t punching properly. Proper technique is absolutely necessary before you attempt to condition that body part.

Body conditioning sounds a bit scary and intimidating as a concept when you’re a white belt, and even when you’re a blue belt. But body conditioning is built into training. Sparring is a form of body conditioning. The more you punch, the tougher you’ll get, even if you’re not consciously focusing on it. However, focusing on body conditioning helps it get that much better.

An Interview with Sensei Dawkins

By Hali Serrian

Sensei Ben Dawkins is one of Athens Yoshukai Karate’s most enthusiastic students. At Athens Yoshukai, he fulfilled a number of roles, including kickstarting the Tate classes, serving as Senior Instructor, and initiating the Instructor Apprentice discussions.  Now he serves as Head Instructor for his own school, Upstate Yoshukai Karate.  I thought there were some tidbits we could all learn from Sensei Dawkins, and so wanted to interview him about his martial arts experience.  Here’s what I learned:

Athens Yoshukai Karate Dawkins Young

Sensei Dawkins is on the right

Hali Serrian: How long have you been studying martial arts?

Sensei Dawkins: I started martial arts at age 6, studying Tang Soo Do in the Atlanta area.  I trained until I was 11 and about to take my first degree brown belt test (3rd keup).  After we moved, I didn’t pick up the martial arts again for years.

HS: What first got you into Yoshukai karate?

SD: In 2010, I was talking with my friend Joel Dover, and the topic moved to martial arts.  He told me a bit about Athens Yoshukai, and I mentioned that I would have gotten back into martial arts years ago if it wasn’t for the cost.  He told me a bit more about the dojo’s not-for-profit philosophy, and I observed a class that night.  I started the following fall, and I began training in Kyuki-do and Hapkido the following spring.  A bit later, I also began studying Judo and IOKA kobudo.

HS: How have you participated in the WYKKO?

SD: Besides work in the Athens Yoshukai dojo, my participation in the WYKKO as a larger body has mainly been through the organization events and making friends with other WYKKO practitioners.  Lately, teaching at Upstate Yoshukai, my dojo, has allowed me to become more directly involved in the WYKKO, and I look forward to being more involved as time goes by.

HS: What made you want to have your own dojo?

SD: I knew fairly early on that I would want to continue teaching martial arts.  They’ve become so important to my everyday life that I can’t imagine not being involved.  Teaching here in Spartanburg is a natural extension of that, and, for a pseudo-selfish reason, I wanted to continue actively training, so I found students I can train with!

HS: How did you decide what to charge for classes?

SD: First, I spoke with the director of the community center where I teach.  I got a sense of the cost of the various activities at the center.  I knew I couldn’t support free classes at this point in my professional/financial life, so I settled on $25, which seemed like a good figure–substantial enough to be serious, but inexpensive enough to incentivize starting right away.

HS: How would you like to see your dojo develop over time?

SD: Once finances allow, I would like to teach martial arts full time.  As for my current program, I would like for it to continue to be an outreach for the martial arts in the area.  I believe strongly in the martial arts as a way to build respectful, healthy, confident citizens, and I hope that Upstate Yoshukai will reach many, many students in the years to come.

HS: Do you have any advice for someone wanting to start their own dojo?

SD: The first important step for those who want to start their own dojo is to immediately partner with their instructors, who are a wealth of knowledge and can get the ball rolling much sooner than feeling blindly on your own.  Ideally, you should have already been teaching and engaged actively with your home dojo.  From there, pick a start date and get to teaching!  There are so many aspects of being a head instructor that must be learned by direct experience.  But, it is extremely difficult to get started without the help of an experienced instructor.  There is no substitute for that kind of help.

HS: What are some of the differences in your teaching style when it comes to kids vs. adults?

SD: With adults/older youth, I am much more content/big picture oriented.  Martial arts have such deep philosophical roots, and they are also engaged with anatomy, physiology, and kinesiology.  I’ve found that many adults find this aspect fascinating, and when adults know why they’re doing the same kick hundreds of times, they’ll do it.

With kids, I couch a lot of training in games.  They’ll be kicking, punching, blocking, and sweating, but as long as they’re smiling and happy, they’ll run until well after most adults are out of gas.  I’ve found that content has to be introduced in a fun and engaging way–kids won’t do it if it’s not fun, even if they see the long-term benefit.  I’ve found my enthusiasm is contagious with kids.  Their parents really seem to enjoy how excited their kids get, as well.

HS: How has your teaching developed and changed over your years of instruction?

SD: It’s hard to describe how my teaching has changed because it’s a very fluid process.  I’m an educator professionally as well, so I’m well in tune with pedagogical strategies and theory.  In practice, I’m finding ways to engage each student at his/her personal wheelhouse.  It’s hard to do, and it requires constant observation and empathy to really find what might excite one individual student vs. another.  I strive always to be positive, but I want my students to know that I’m not going to accept mediocre effort.  Not everyone is a natural athlete, but everyone can give his/her best effort.

HS: What are some of your best memories of martial arts?

SD: My best memories are of great classes, which inspire me greatly.  There have been AthensYoshukaiKarateDawkinsGreenbeltdays that I didn’t really feel like training, but 15 minutes into class, I’ve forgotten why I’m tired and I just get into the learning.  I hope I always love class as much as I do.  Big events and trips are fun, and I love being involved at that level, but amazing classes are really where it’s at for me.

HS: Can you tell us about some of the more difficult parts of your experience as a martial artist?

SD: My more difficult experiences with the martial arts have been at the hands of “bad tough guy” martial artists.  I don’t mind intensity, and I don’t mind people who love fighting, practical training, and really painful techniques.  I mind when a martial artist’s ego gets so wild that he/she has to tear down everyone else on the floor.  Dealing with those experiences has always been hard, and whenever I feel myself getting a bit too “tough guy” in class, I remind myself how it feels to be treated like an inferior by someone who is supposed to be teaching.

Another big challenge was in the development of stamina and cardio.  When I started martial arts, a tough class would really knock me on my behind.  I’ve enjoyed working hard on my physical fitness, and I feel the benefits every day.

HS: What is your favorite weapon?

SD: My favorite weapon is the sai because it is also the weapon I have the most trouble with.  I just want to make it awesome, so I work and work with the weapon.  It feels so potentially effective, and they’re just fun to hold onto.  Nunchaku is fun, and the bo is also beautiful in its line and requisite precision.  But, to me, the sai is the weapon that requires the most skill to even start to use.

HS: What was your hardest test and why?

SD: My hardest test was my 3rd kyu green belt test.  It wasn’t that the test was so much [more] difficult than others, but I was testing in a gymnasium at the East Athens Community Center, and it was so hot that for the most part, I had no idea where I was.  It took everything I had to keep it together for that one!

HS: Your best test?

SD: My best test was my shodan test.  It was the culmination of months of intense training, and I felt like I pushed myself to the edge to get my technique and conditioning ready.  All of that work made the shodan testing experience so fantastic for me, and I’m really proud of how it turned out.

HS: When you don’t have time to train like you’d prefer, what do you do?

SD: If I only have time to run through a form or two, I’ll work through the rest in my head.  It’s a process called eupraxia, and major psychological studies have shown that concentrated mental practice engages the same portions of the lateral cerebellum as the actual practice.  Of course, it can’t all be mental practice, but until I can perform a technique, form, or combination in my head, I can’t be certain I really know it.

HS: Was there a moment when you knew you were going to stick with Yoshukai?

SD: I was a new blue belt at the first annual Athens/Clarke Yoshukai karate cabins.  I was training hard in the grass by a lake, and I felt fantastic about the training and the people involved.

HS: Everyone knows you have an awesome knowledge of kiai. What’s one of the most common mistakes you see with kiai and what are the most important things to developing good kiai?

SD: I think most people think that kiai must first be loud.  I disagree–loudness is a byproduct.  Kiai has to originate from the core.  Some will say “breathe from the diaphragm.”  Again, I disagree.  The diaphragm is an involuntary muscle, and an individual has very little control over that.  Instead, I say focus on breathing as low as possible, from the abdominal muscles.  That’s where efficient breath lives, and then from there, experiment with your most natural vocal range–like the pitch that comes out of you when you sigh.  From there, set that sigh on fire and let it go.  That’s a kiai, and if it’s born from that place, it will be loud, distinctive, and real.

HS: Is there some story that should go down as legendary from your martial arts experiences?

SD: There are a few that my training partners will tell–I don’t know if they’re legendary, but they’re definitely fun:

-I once ran a class where literally every student who walked in complained about how cold it was.  I ran a warm-up until I saw condensation running down the mirrors, and then I asked if anyone felt cold.  I still hear about that one.

-I remember a fight class where we all sweated so much that the floors were dangerously slick–that was a lot of fun, and I was extremely sore for the better part of a week.

-I remember watching a fellow student test for 1st kyu while running a pretty rough fever–he didn’t think I knew, but I was definitely impressed.

-I remember several instances of 1,000 jumping jack classes–the dread on newer students’ faces, and the pride of having done it, especially when we did more like 1500 jumping jacks.

-I remember the first time I saw Soke–the man looked like something out of a samurai movie.

HS: Anything else you think we should know?

SD: The WYKKO is a large enough organization to enjoy all of the benefits of camaraderie and excellent training.  But, remember that it is also small enough that *you* can get involved in a substantive way.  Think about how you want to get involved, and talk to you instructor about your options!

So there you have it!  If you haven’t met Sensei Dawkins yet, be sure to next time he makes his way to Athens. He truly is a fountain of Yoshukai knowledge as well as a pretty cool guy in general.

AthensYoshukaiKarateDawkinsNiseishi

White Belt Perfection

By Erik HofmeisterKarate Rocks Balance

Every now and then, I encounter either a new student who wants their technique to be perfect, or a teacher who wants their white belts’ technique to be perfect.  Striving for perfection is a good goal, but it must be tempered with the understanding that it is frankly not possible, and may even hinder progress in some students.

Learning anything is a progression.  You first learn some information, then more, and then a little bit more.  At the vet school, we don’t expect first-year students to be able to diagnose anything, much less complex diseases, but we do expect them to be able to make diagnoses 3 years later.  What changes?  Why not expect them to master diagnosis in their first week?  Quite simply, because they can’t do it. There is too much information- they aren’t capable of assimilating the information in a useful manner.  They might memorize the data, but they don’t know how to use it.

Some students want to learn everything they can as soon as they can.  After promotion, they want to learn and master their next kata.  As white belts, they want as much feedback as possible on their technique so they can perfect it.  I have already discussed the utility and necessity of dwell time of information in the brain.  In addition, over-eager students are not grasping the larger concepts of patience, commitment, perseverance, progression, esprit de corps, and understanding. A white belt who develops an excellent front kick must do so at the cost of some other techniques (since there’s only so much time in a day), and may become overconfident in their abilities.

New students have to learn basic elements like balance, strength, and coordination as well as basic techniques like front kick.  Trying to get the perfect front kick out of a white belt is pointless- they may be able to DO it, but they won’t be able to understand it, teach it or, most importantly, replicate it.  The ranks exist to facilitate a constant progression of understanding and mastery.  A white belt has thousands of hours of practice in front of them before their front kick will be excellent because it needs all the elements, most of which take time.  There’s no point in cramming information which they cannot use into their brain in the first week- let them learn in an ordered, steady fashion.

Striving for perfection, continuing toward excellence, is what’s it’s all about.  Wanting or expecting to be excellent with a technique when you first learn it is counter-productive.

KarateWhiteBelts

One of the first classes at Athens Yoshukai – notice all the white belts.

Advancement Requirements

By Erik Hofmeister

The nuts and bolts of requirements for advancement are available in each style’s curriculum.  Usually, there is a combination of time in rank (i.e. number of months that has elapsed since last promotion), number of hours in class since last promotion, learning new techniques, and refinement of existing techniques.  Usually, each of these must be met at a minimum.  That is, you cannot have the minimum number of class hours and then test unless you also have the time in rank and KarateQuotePathadvancement of techniques.  Why, if you’ve learned all the material in a month, can you not just test and promote?

1) Dwell Time

This is the term I give for learning or improving material, and then time passing.  Maybe you practice that material, maybe you don’t.  After a period of time, trying the same techniques, you will have learned something, or developed.  Not as much as if you had been practicing, obviously, but the brain has had some time to process the information, integrate it into what it already knows, and evolve around that information.  Even if you practice your techniques every day for a month, you will learn something different if you practice the technique once a month for a quarter of a year.  I’m not advocating this as a way to actually learn the technique well- that requires actual practice.  But your knowledge and understanding will evolve just with time.  There is no substitute for time.

2) Giving Back

A student could just come to class and learn the material and soak it up in fewer class hours or fewer months than the minimum.  In doing so, though, they likely will not attend enough class to learn how to apply it (in sparring) or practice teaching it.  Teaching is a critical part of Athens Yoshukai.  It makes students better by improving their understanding, and allows students to give back to the dojo by helping more junior students learn in a smaller group setting.  If a student only learns techniques, their understanding will always be more limited than if they also teach those techniques.

3) Parity

Not all students are equal in athleticism, ability to learn material, ability to attend class, and many other variables.  The minimum requirements help maintain some equality among students.  No matter how many classes you attend or how long you hold a rank, you must learn the material for the next rank and spend the required necessary time in your current rank. If you are able to come to class every day, you must still have that minimum time in rank.  This helps to make sure that all students have a similar rate of opportunity to advance. Again, the more time you put in, the better.  But the minimums help maintain some equality among students.

In addition to the stated minimums and curriculum, there are other important intangibles that affect advancement.  Students should show that they follow the five precepts in the dojo.  Students who are resistant to instruction, who are not respectful to their peers, or have other attitude problems- even apparently minor ones- may not advance.  Yoshukai is not only about technique.  If it were, we would be a karate-jutsu.  Yoshukai is about a way of life and a philosophy.  The combination of time in rank, class hours, learning technique, improving technique, and intangibles are all necessary for advancement in this karate-do.  This is a traditional art, with traditional ideals.  For a more American, monetized way of doing things, try a different style.

A young boy encountered a Zen master on his travels.  “What do you wish from me?” the master asked.  “I wish to be your student and achieve enlightenment,” the boy replied “How long must I study?”  “At least ten years,” answered the master.  “What if I studied twice as hard?” asked the boy.  “Twenty years” replied the master.  “Twenty years!” “What if I practice day and night with all my effort?” the boy asked.  “Thirty years,” was the master’s reply.  “How is it that each time I say I will work harder, you tell me that it will take longer?” the boy asked.  “The answer is clear. When one eye is fixed upon your destination, there is only one eye left with which to find the way.”

KarateMichiPath

A Gift From Sensei

Athens Yoshukai Karate MugBy Erik Hofmeister

Training at Athens Yoshukai is demanding.  There’s an expectation for a high degree of performance and great dedication to the dojo and organization.  When a student reaches green belt, they’re about halfway through the path to their black belt.  In order to test to green belt, you need to learn Seisan, one of the most complex forms we teach.  Earning a green belt is a sincere accomplishment in our school.  Students have invested a substantial amount of time and energy to achieve that rank.  At green belt, I invest a special amount of time and energy in each student in the form of an engraved mug.

When the dojo first opened, students brought their own water bottles to class.  Sensei Blumreich donated the water dispenser we use now, which begged the question as to how I would handle cups.  Would I have a cup dispenser which required refilling and contributed to waste?  Would students just be able to fill the bottles they brought?  I decided to have a rack put in to hold the mugs of individual students who had put in the time and dedication necessary to earn their green belt.  It is a small acknowledgement, but one that indicates that I feel they are becoming a permanent part of the dojo.

The first mugs I made were for Sensei Hines and Blumreich when they earned their green belt.  I wanted to show them how much their achievement meant to me by spending my own personal time to engrave personalized mugs for them.  Thereafter, I kept up with the tradition.  Students who transferred or left the dojo took their mugs with them, and I’d like to think they remember them fondly for the years they spent training at Athens Yoshukai.

I rarely make the mugs on demand, because they require a substantial time commitment to make.  I batch them when several students have earned their green belt.  Sometimes this means a student has to stick around for a while after earning green belt to receive their mug, whereas others get it right away.  The etchings are imperfect, but are not intended to be artistic or precise.  They are intended to convey my sincere appreciation to the student for their continued and ongoing efforts.  It’s my way of showing that I am paying attention and acknowledge their accomplishments by investing even more of my personal self in their progress at Athens Yoshukai Karate.  It a genuine gift from me to them.

 

For those who are interested, my process is described below.

  1. Acquire mugs.  I use a very basic type of sturdy mug acquired at Bed Bath and Beyond.
  2. Print stencil.  This uses an Asian-looking font which has changed slightly over the years.  I use the student’s last names.
  3. Cut out stencil.  I place the paper on a wood cutting board and take a sharp utility knife to cut out the letters.
  4. Use stencil.  I tape the stencil to the mug, then use a permanent marker to fill in the cut-out letter shapes.  After removal, the student’s last name is printed in an Asian font on the mug in marker.Athens Yoshukai Karate Mug Stencil
  5. Etch.  I use a diamond-tipped bit on my Dremmel.  I trace the edges of the ink and then fill it in.  I use a vacuum to remove the glass dust periodically.Athens Yoshukai Karate Mug EtcherAthens Yoshukai Karate Mug Glass DustAthensYoshukaiKarateNProgression
  6. Once the initial etch is done, I go back over it to do clean up and make sure the lines are as smooth as I can make them.
  7. After the entire name is done, I go over it again to fill in any small defects.Athens Yoshukai Karate Finished Mug
  8. I use an ink remover to remove any residual permanent marker.
  9. The mugs are washed and ready to be gifted!