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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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!

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.

AthensYoshukaiWorldRunShowUp

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.”

What is a black belt really worth?

By Hali SerrianAthens Yoshukai Tournament Bow In

The ranking system is so ingrained in karate culture that most of us don’t even stop to question it. We line up by rank. We defer to higher ranks. We know a black belt should be better at karate than us. But take a step back and questions come to mind: who started the ranking system and when? How did it develop? Why do we have colored belts? If someone is a black belt, how good should they be?

As ancient as it seems, the colored belt/black belt ranking system has only been used in martial arts for a little more than 100 years. Jigaro Kano, founder of Judo, was the first one to Athens Yoshukai Soke Visitconfer black belts on his students in the 1880s. They were sashes rather than proper belts, as they wore kimono rather than dogi (these were developed later, also by Professor Kano). There were black belts and white belts, no in between. It wasn’t until the early 1900s that the colored belts were added in between white and black.

Contrary to what the movies and assumption teach, having a black belt does not mean a martial arts practitioner is a walking weapon of destruction, ready to defeat anything that crosses his path. Rather black belt, or Shodan (which we know means “first”) denotes that a practitioner is competent in the basic techniques, philosophies and principles of his chosen style. If a martial arts journey is a flight of stairs, Shodan is the first step. All the kyu grades (the colored belts) are the landing leading to the stairs.

Does this mean the kyu grades are pointless? Of course not. You have to get to the stairs somehow. The kyu grades help those of us who haven’t been practicing martial arts for 30+ years a way to measure our progress, just as the degrees of black belt help to measure the progress of those more experienced. The kyu grades divide three years of material and study into manageable three to six month chunks. It allows more senior Athens Yoshukai Color Belt Teststudents to teach junior students (say a green belt teaching a yellow belt) with a certain amount of authority and confidence. It gives more externally motivated students a clear goal that they can strive for. And it allows incremental improvements to be made on various techniques, with a certain improvement to be made with each rank.

Just because someone is a black belt does not mean they are a super duper awesome martial artist in all aspects. There are fighters and kata folks and teachers and everywhere in between. But if a person does have a black belt, especially in our dojo, you can be assured they at least have a grasp of the basic concepts of Yoshukai. They are no longer a basic student; they are a true learner of the style, one who has put in great time and effort to achieve that rank. That is what a black belt really is; time and effort. Competency, and later excellence, comes when those two requirements are met.

For more information on the history of the ranking system, see this article: http://www.minrec.org/wilson/pdfs/History%20of%20Belts%20and%20Ranks.pdf

Or there’s also Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_belt_%28martial_arts%29

Athens Yoshukai Dawkins

Don’t Sell Yoshukai Cheap

By Erik Hofmeister

Shihan Garduque once told me that Soke told him, “Don’t sell Yoshukai cheap.”  The principle is that Yoshukai is an excellent, valuable skill.  It shouldn’t be sold cheaply.  I couldn’t agree more.  While Athens Yoshukai students do not pay tuition, they pay in terms of dedication, time, enthusiasm, and giving back to the dojo.  I believe that just being able to pay money for karate is easy.  Dedicating your life to it is hard.

For the past two semesters, Athens Yoshukai has attempted an experiment in student recruiting.  Once upon a time, our model was to distribute information (via Facebook, Flagpole, and flyers around town) that we are taking new students.  When new students came, we would welcome them in a friendly manner, do a relatively typical class, and then leave it to them to decide if they wanted to come back or not.  We liked new students and appreciated them, but we didn’t make any special efforts to recruit them.  There was no follow-up email, no sales pitch after their first class, etc.  It was very much, “Here we are.  If you like what we do, keep coming.  If not, that’s OK too.”

Our more recent model has been similar to how a commercial school operates.  We have been more aggressive with follow-up with new students who come to a single class.  We have been sensitive to new student issues and making sure they feel like they are very important to the class they attend.  We have been talking to the students and explaining about how great Athens Yoshukai is and why they should train with us.  This has all been in an effort to help motivate and retain potential new students.  It has worked no better than the old way of recruitment, and may be backfiring.

When students come for “free karate” and then receive a ‘sales’ pitch, they may wonder, “Why do you need to offer free classes AND convince me I should come?”  Trying to convince a student to train over and above offering free classes may create an impression that Yoshukai IS cheap.  It may detract from the perceived value.  Instead, if new students are given no particular emphasis, they may realize that the only reason they will come back is themselves.  We provide quality training.  It’s up to them to decide if they want to do that training or not.  It’s not up to us to sell Yoshukai.  Yoshukai karate sells itself.

Kata

By Hali Serrian

In Yoshukai, we have 19 colored belt forms, or kata. There are even more after blackbelt. Kata are one of the main units by which we measure progress toward our next rank. But why do we learn kata? Why don’t we just punch and kick and fight each other? What purpose does a glorified stately dance serve?

In the days of old, practitioners of karate may have known three kata, and that is if they were Masters with years and years of experience. Most only knew one, maybe two and these were still considered Masters. This is because, for these learners, the kata was the style. It was a system of martial arts in and of itself. The form was merely the training tool for practicing that system. It put all the techniques together in a kinetic pneumonic so that they could be easily remembered and practiced. Our kata today are derived from that ancient system.Athens Yoshukai Karate Kata

Our more traditional forms like Seisan, Chinto, and Bassai, are the forms that the old Masters might have known. These forms can be studied for years with something new to learn with each repetition. They often include multiple ‘acts’ or sections with a slightly different focus in each. They were created to be practiced alone or with the supervision only of the one who taught it to you.

The forms which are more modern and unique to individual styles (Kihon Kata Shodan, Nidan, etc.) have been created to teach the basics of a style before more complex forms are introduced. For those of us who practice karate for sport or as a lifestyle (we all fall into this category for the most part) this helps us get the hang of things before we advance further. Yoshukai’s classic example is in learning Yoshu, our highest form pre-blackbelt. Without Kihon Kata and Kihon Kata Shodan Nunchaku to teach the weapon’s basics, Yoshu would be too big a bite for many of us to chew.

Forms teach us the basics of our style and they can teach us an entire fighting system if we let them. They are for performance in tournaments and for cardio when performed one after the other without rest. They can be applied to self defense and thought about in the abstract. Kata are an integral part to modern karate and, of course, they’re fun!