Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind

My 12-year old daughter and I began studying Isshinryu karate in January, 2010.

I first studied karate (Wadoryu) when I lived in Japan, from 1987 to 1997, but due to work and other things, wasn't able to stick with it for very long. The instructor never explained anything. It was very traditional, in the sense that the instructor would demonstrate and everyone would follow. I appreciated the discipline and tradition of it, but I can also see the negative side of it, too. There were no belts. The instructor was a black-belt, and there was an intermediate green-belt, but 95% of the class remained white-belts.

I am determined to stick with Isshinryu. My instructor is a 5th dan black-belt, and is also a certified instructor in Close Quarter Unarmed Combat with the Hoccheim Group. For all that, he's very down to earth, very approachable, encourages questions, explains the philosophy behind various techniques, and is very encouraging, patient, and firm, at the same time. I feel fortunate to have found this caliber of instructor, and my daughter enjoys learning from him, as well.

We are testing for yellow-belt on the 1st of April, and we are training hard for that. While the goal of receiving a new belt is very motivating, I am discovering that training is its own reward. The belts are nice, but are almost incidental.

For me, it's about the path, the discipline, and embodying the warrior spirit. At the age of 40, my body is not as flexible as it once was. It creaks and groans and complains, and the day after each class, my back, shoulders, and elbows ache. I'm keeping a sense of humor about it though, and tell my body, "Complain all you like, but quitting is not an option."

I took the opportunity to videotape myself running through the Seisan Kata, the other night. It makes me cringe a little... When I practice, I feel like I'm doing everything right, but upon viewing the video, I can see several mistakes. It's very humbling...

I love this. This is the bunkai (application) of the Seisan Kata:


  1. Great job! keep it up. It takes a lot of spirit to do this stuff at 40. I did a semester of fencing at college and a few months of Karate at 30... now 39 am thinking of getting back into some Martial Art... but probably Tai Chi! You have spirit going for something as tough as Karate. God bless.

  2. Thank you! Good luck to you, whatever you choose to do. I've heard that Tai Chi Chuan is very rigorous in its own way, but as we get older, remaining flexible and active is so important. As much as my body complains about the practice and training, it hurts worse in the long-run, when I'm not training! :-)

  3. Frank this is awesome. :) I'm really glad you started this.

    People study martial arts for all kinds of reasons. I'd say most of the folks in my Wing Chun class have a different perspective than my own. (Heck even for me, my reasons for starting were very straightforward and clear but the more I study, the more important training becomes, but the harder it is for me to explain why. Just too many reasons to articulate I guess.)

    But when I hear you talk about your training and what you're getting out of it, I relate to a lot. Plus you do a good job describing the art of Isshinryu and I like learning about it. Many similarities with my own stuff.

    So thanks man, I'll be looking in. :)

  4. Thanks! I was talking with my Sensei this evening, and talking about Isshinryu and about people that had studied Isshinryu and then gone on to other styles. He made the comment that principles of Isshinryu provide a very sound foundation from which to pursue other styles. That made a lot of sense to me.

    Personally, I've looked into Krav Maga a little, and liked what I saw there, and then related it back to Isshinryu, rather than dropping Isshinryu and pursuing Krav Maga.

    I'm of the opinion that until I've reached at least black-belt in Isshinryu, then I won't be able to fully appreciate what Isshinryu has to offer, and probably won't be able to fully appreciate what other styles have to offer, either.

    There is the superficial stuff -- The physical forms of whatever art we choose, and then there is the infinitely subtle facets of what we learn and how this new knowledge is like plowing the hard soil so that a deeper knowledge can seep in.

    I think I'm going to make this a separate blog... Thanks, James! Good luck with your training!

  5. You seem very motivated, the best of luck with your training. I can't comment on the quality of your kata since I'm not a karateka but you show spirit and concentration and that's an important part of all martial arts training. The bunkai was interesting although in a situation with multiple opponents I wouldn't stay in the middle but move to the side of the first attacker and try to circle to keep them in one line, that way you can fight one at a time as opposed to all at once. I know what was shown was just a scenario but if you stay in the middle like the shihan did you're bound to get hit in the back sooner or later. In any case it's not realistic to think you can predict fights although I suppose kata is more about teaching principles than application. Thanks for the videos though.

  6. Right! It's just about the potential applications of the Kata. Of course, in a real fight, you aren't going to just start running through a Kata. The results of that would probably be less than stellar. Hahaha... ;-) Glad you enjoyed the vids. :-)