Blackbelts by Rank

By Erik Hofmeister

When you attend your first WYKKO function, it’s so exciting! There are students from so many dojo, there are swarms of blackbelts talking and companionably beating on each other, the highest-ranked blackbelts are mingling.  Once the group lines up for a formal bow in, it starts to get confusing. Some people are wearing red and white belts, some black and white belts, and mixed in with all of these are some wearing regular black belts. The blackbelts are arrayed in multiple lines, without any clear visual indication of why they are in different lines.  Welcome to World Yoshukai, where a student wearing a black belt may be a Shodan or may be a Rokudan, and there is no way you can tell just by looking at them.

In some styles of martial arts, such as Tae Kwon Do, it is clear what rank blackbelt a student has by their belt.  They have a gold bar on their belt for each degree of blackbelt they hold. This makes determining the rank of any blackbelt easy and instantaneous.  You know exactly where you stand in relationship to others you have never met before. Why doesn’t the WYKKO use a similar system? I don’t know, please ask Kaicho if you have a chance and tell me what they say.  However, there are some unexpected and positive side-effects of this policy.

You know where you line up, as a blackbelt, because you have attended WYKKO events and know the others in your line personally.  You know them by name, you know when they tested, and you know who they are as people. The organization is small enough to allow this, but it does require vigilance and regular attendance.  A Sandan who does not appear to events for several years will be entirely unequipped to line up at their appropriate place.

While there are differences among ranks, we do not highlight those and push into other’s faces what our rank is.  It encourages humility- a Shodan is wearing the same belt as a Yondan. The Yondan should feel humble and not hold their rank over the Shodan, and the Shodan should feel that they are a peer to the Yondan in some regard.  We do not highlight the differences among the ranks of blackbelt. In World Yoshukai, we are all friends and know each other and should have no ego when dealing with each other.

Knowing exactly what rank a blackbelt holds is absolutely valuable.  But not knowing exactly what rank everyone holds has fringe benefits, which ultimately make our organization more friendly, humbler, and more harmonious.

Forms of Address

By Erik Hofmeister

Respect and manners is the first precept for Yoshukai karate.  We use titles and formal forms of address when addressing or referring to various students.  While it is always preferable to be precise, the intent is important- if you make a slip up here and there, that’s just fine.  For those who want specific instructions, here they are.

 

Referring to someone

These rules are probably the least stringent.  I prefer using a title which makes it clear as to the context in which I am speaking about that person.  For example, when speaking of my Kyuki-Do training or Hapkido and referring to Ken Blumreich, I will use Sabumnim.  But when referring to him in Yoshukai or judo, I will use Sensei. You may refer to some people solely by title, such as Soke.  Use of an English honorific (Mr./Ms) and last name is the ‘minimum’ level of respect for this type of reference, as long as it is about martial arts.

 

Addressing a letter

For addressing a letter or email, I go with the most formal title available.  For example, when writing to Mr. Lecut for The Way newsletter, I address it as “Dear Shihan Lecut”.  When writing to Master Culbreth, I will use either “Dear Master Culbreth” or “Dear Kaicho Culbreth”. For Shodan and Nidan ranked students from other schools, I will use either “Dear Sensei X” or “Dear Mr. X”, as this latter is accepted within our organization for all ranks.

 

Addressing an individual

Use of “Mr./Ms.” and last name is always appropriate in a WYKKO context.  I tend not use formal titles like Shihan or Sempai, but do address Master Toyama and Culbreth as “Master”, and certainly do so for Soke.  “Sensei” without a last name is generally referring to your direct instructor- Sensei Serrian for Athens Yoshukai and Sensei Hines for Clarke County.  “Sensei Lastname” is generally used when addressing any other black belt. An exception can be made when you are working directly with a blackbelt. For example, when Master Toyama is instructing me at a camp, I will often address him as “Sensei”.  This is appropriate because that is that person’s _role_ at that time (situational authority vs. positional or rank-based). Within our dojo, for non-blackbelts with a civilian title besides Mr./Ms., we will usually use that, for example “Dr.”.

 

At the end of the day, many of these are personal preferences and are not codified.  You will never go wrong with addressing someone as “Mr./Ms. Lastname” in WYKKO. The protocol described here is a more elegant, sophisticated approach.

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

Who should be called Master?

In the WYKKO, there is no canon with respect to the title of Master. index The title of Shihan is given to Yondan blackbelts at some point in their training, before they can test to Godan.  Titles like Fukukaicho, Kaicho, and Soke relate to the individual’s role in the organization, but do not equate with titles like Renshi, Kyoshi, or Hanshi which other organizations use to indicate mastery.  The English title of Master is never officially used in the WYKKO.

When I wrote the WYKKO Handbook, I asked Masters Toyama and Culbreth about the use of the title Master.  They both seemed uncomfortable, and agreed that this is a title that cannot be claimed, it can only be conferred.  That is, an individual cannot attain a certain rank and say, “You should address me with the title Master now.”  Instead, the bosses said that an individual is given that title by their students or others below them in the organization.  Presumably, Soke could say that a certain rank of student should be addressed as Master, but he hasn’t done that to date (December 2015).

So, now we have a situation where the students need to be aware of when they can or should use the title Master.  Technically, since the bosses say this is a title conveyed by the students, the students could choose to use this title when addressing any blackbelt.  Within the WYKKO, however, it would be odd for students to address some blackbelts as Master.  So, how can students be appropriately respectful and avoid a faux pas?

The easiest solution is to never use the title of Master.  The bosses address each other (and everyone else, including Soke) as Mister, and most or all of the Shihan-ranked blackbelts also address everyone as Mister (or Miss).  I insist on using the title of Master for two reasons.  One, other styles use the title of Master, and I think it’s important to emphasize that there are individuals within our organization who have a degree of proficiency that one would acknowledge as Master.  Two, I do feel that some distinguishing title should be used when addressing certain high-ranked blackbelts to distinguish them from other high-ranked blackbelts.  The formal titles (Sempai, Shihan-Dai, Shihan, Kyoshi, and Kaicho) are not used in verbal forms of address.

If you want to use the title of Master when addressing or referring to a high-rank blackbelt, the only rule of thumb I have is my Sensei.  Sensei Blanck would refer to Master Toyama _as_ Master Toyama.  This was when Sensei was a Yondan and Master Toyama was a Rokudan.  Everyone also referred to Master Koda as Master when he was a Shichidan.  Therefore, I assume any blackbelt at Rokudan or higher rank may be addressed as Master.  You may also restrict the use of the Master title to the Directors of the organization- Master Toyama and Master Culbreth.

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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://i0.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.

Fighting

By Dala Griffeth

I don’t want to fight you, but we can spar!

Any time I tell someone for the first time that I practice karate, they always start talking about how I must be able to beat people up, or I must love to fight. The truth is that while we all know fighting is part of our traditional training, it is not who we are. I believe sparring as well as kumite to be incredibly valuable in martial arts training to help develop the reflexes, strength and stamina necessary to practice our art at the highest level. However, your attitude and intentions regarding this training and its use are equally, if not more important.

Through my years training with the WYKKO, I have met and fought some incredible fighters, and I have learned something from every single one. And while many of these incredibly talented individuals spend a majority of their training time developing their fighting skills, there is not one of them that I would consider violent. This is something that I love about training with the WYKKO, and particularly Athens Yoshukai. We, as martial artists, understand that we are participating in a combative, contact sport, but I feel that we emphasize the sport aspect more than the combat. We never go into the ring attempting to injure our opponent, or hoping to cause any lasting damage. We instead focus on improving our own skills and fitness levels, as well as helping our training partners improve themselves and develop new skills. As a result, we build an incredibly tight network of, not just training partners or teachers and students, but true friends.

My personal philosophy regarding fighting and sparring can be summed up pretty simply by the title of this post: I don’t want to fight you, but we can spar! When I think of fighting, I think of a situation where there are no rules, and I am in a struggle to protect myself or my loved ones from an opponent that wants to cause real harm. And while we practice full contact kumite, there are guidelines in place to ensure the safety of participants. And that, I think, is the big difference, the intent. In a real-life situation, I would do whatever is necessary to protect myself or my loved ones. But in general, I don’t want to hurt anyone, I just want to improve myself. So please, to anyone out there who wants to teach me something, or would like to learn from my experience, I don’t want to fight you, but we can spar! Osu!

Teaching Tips

At the end of August, Master Ken Blumreich and I put on a Certified Instructor Training course for AKF Athens, Athens Yoshukai, Clarke County Yoshukai- really any martial artist who wanted to improve their teaching.  I’ve been a part of this course about 6 times now over the years, and I continue to get something positive out of each and every time I participate.  This year, I was reminded of a few good teaching techniques- PIP, DDD, planning, timing, and warm-up pacing.

The first actual teaching technique I ever learned from participating in the CIT was PIP.  It stands for Praise, Improve, Praise.  The principle is you are providing feedback, which is essential to student learning.  The first piece of feedback is something the student is doing well.  The second piece of feedback is something for the student to improve.  The key to each of these pieces of feedback is they need to be specific.  A positive feedback of “Good!” is not useful to the student.  “Good foot position” is more helpful.  “Now keep your guard up,” is a good piece of feedback for improvement.  The final piece of positive feedback is given once the student incorporates the feedback and makes the improvement.  “Good job keeping that guard up!”  It an extremely simple but highly effective way to give feedback, and is one of my core teaching strategies.

Demonstrate, Detail, Drill (triple D, or DDD) is a recent addition to my repertoire.  The principle is you show the student the technique, provide some details about the technique, and then give them opportunities to practice it.  For psychomotor skills, the more time students have to drill, the better they get at it.  It’s a good tip to give new teachers, as they often want to talk techniques to death before showing them or letting the students try themselves.  This tip helps to keep newer instructors on task.

Throughout any level of teacher education and preparation, professors tell you to plan.  Overplan.  You can never do too much planning.  It’s easy to get complacent, as an experienced instructor, and just make up lesson plans on the fly.  That works fine, and I’ve been doing it for years.  On those days that I do plan ahead, I find classes run much more smoothly and efficiently.  Whenever I can, I try to plan what I’m going to work on that day during class.  It may change based on which students come to class, but having some framework makes the lesson better.

Timing is one of my weaknesses as a teacher and, more importantly, I am starting to see that same weakness in the students I have taught.  Good time management is important so that students and teachers don’t get burned out, everyone has an optimum opportunity to learn, and everyone can count on class starting and ending on time.  Good planning will help ensure good time management.  One area I am working on is telling instructors how much time they have when the group splits up.  This allows them to budget their own time effectively.  It’s a work in progress.

The pacing of warm-ups- especially intense cardio or strength-training exercises- is always an important consideration.  This is particularly true in a class of mixed strength and physical abilities.  Doing exercises to a certain number (everyone do 20 pushups) may be too easy for highly athletic students and too hard for others.  One solution is to do exercises based on time. For example, however long it takes the _instructor_ to do 20 pushups is how long the class does push-ups.  This allows students to go at their own pace- stronger students will do more than 20 and weaker students will do less.  Another option is to pace to the fastest student- whenever the first person finishes the count, everyone is done.  Regardless of method, making sure that each student gets an warm-up that is challenging to them is good.

I have been teaching martial arts for more than 20 years, 12 years of that as a head instructor.  I’ve been teaching swing dancing for 12 years and veterinary anesthesiology for 14 years.  Even with all that teaching experience, I still learn about teaching and continue to try and improve my knowledge.  In studies of experts (such as expert coaches), one characteristic is consistent- they have a thirst for knowledge of how to do things better.  You keep coming to class to get better with your martial arts.  How’s your teaching?

Making Time for Martial Arts

By Hali Serrian

AthensYoshukaiTimeForKarateWith all the activities we have to fill our life—work, school, other hobbies, kids/family, so on and such—it can be easy to let something slip through the cracks. Since work and family tend to take a priority, for just reasons, oftentimes it is a hobby, perhaps martial arts, that slips through the cracks. It starts simply enough; miss one class one week, two the next, the third week you are unable to attend any class. From there it can be a slippery slope into “never having time” for class and getting out altogether. This is a sad end to what was presumably an enjoyable hobby at the very least, if not something much more meaningful.

We have a limited amount of time for “non-essential” activities. And unless martial arts is your livelihood, then that is the category where training Yoshukai and other martial arts falls. From there, training has to be a priority in order for it to continue. Because you will have to give up time doing something else in order to come to class, even if that something else is chilling out in front of the T.V.  But, as anyone who has been training for an extended amount of time will tell you, it’s totally worth it.

You don’t have to be a super-karateka and come to four classes a week, nor do you have to train in three different styles to reap the benefits of martial arts. But you do have to come to class one or two times a week. One or two hours of a seven day week isn’t so much to ask for something that will give you lifetime benefits.

If you have decided to dedicate yourself to martial arts as an activity, go ahead and make it a priority. It will give back what you put in, so go ahead and put something good in.

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Lineup Protocol

A couple of Winter Camps ago, the Shihan-Dai (4th degree blackbelt) line was AthensYoshukaiLineupWinterCamporganizing itself.  In the line (from left to right) was Mr. McInnish, Ms. Brinkley, myself, and Mr. Wheeles.  Mr. McCullars got there after we had organized ourselves and got into the line at the far right.  Each of us already in line continued to shuffle him to the left until he was in his rank-appropriate place at the head of the Shihan-Dai line.  In this anecdote, two good, important things happened.

The first good thing that happened is that a late-comer placed himself at the ‘end’ or right hand side of the line.  Mr. McCullars didn’t just appear at the left hand side and ask us all to move down, although he very well could have, as the highest-ranked in the line.  We were already lined up, so he went on to the end.  He was showing respect and modesty.

The second good thing that happened is that everyone else in the line identified a problem with our order and corrected it.  We were showing respect and attentiveness.

When you line up, the first criterion is by rank, then by test date, then by age.  Unless you are very confident that you are the highest ranked student in a line at an event, you should not head directly to the front of that line.  For example, I know that Ms. Brinkley is the only active Shihan-Dai who outranks me at the time of this writing.  If she is not at an event, I know I should be at the front of the Shihan-Dai line.  When I was a Nidan, I would usually mill around near the middle of the Yudansha line.  I would never place myself at the front of the line, and actually was only at the front of the line once- when bowing in for my Sandan test.

AthensYoshukaiLineupAtTournamentWhen in doubt, you should not place yourself at the front of the line.   If you know there are students present who outrank you, you should move them to your left.  The first time I met Mr. Trawick, I didn’t know when he had earned his Yondan, so deferred to him as probably being senior to me- I moved him to my left.  If you aren’t certain you are the highest-ranked student present, you should probably not be at the head of a line.  When in doubt, you could ask those around you.  My solution was to just put myself in the middle of the line when I was Yudansha and Sempai.

You should always be showing respect, modesty, and attentiveness.  If your goal is to make it to the front of the line, your plan should not be “get there first, and quickly run to where the line will form.”  Your plan should be, “I will continue to train until I know there are no students to my left.”

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.

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