Monthly Archives: July 2014
Toward the end of every year I take a look back at my attendance logs, promotion records, and disciplinary records to evaluate all of our students. These aren’t face-to-face evaluations, they’re simply for my knowledge.
This is also the time of year that I purge the rolls of those who have quit or become inactive for whatever reason they may have offered.
For some, it’s work; for some, illness/injury that has since healed, yet the student hasn’t returned to training.
My personal policy is to purge students from the rolls who have been inactive for 12 months, and have not communicated the desire to return to training for 3 months.
From time to time, I’ll hear “I haven’t quit training, Sensei, I’m still a student and I’m coming back.”
No, that isn’t accurate, sorry to break it to you. If you take a semester off from college, you’re taking a break. If you miss a couple of semesters, you are a dropout. You’re no longer an active student, no matter what your intentions may be, no matter if you are still studying at home. If you aren’t enrolled, attending classes, and making progress, then you are no longer a student.
Sadly, this year’s purge will place many student’s on the ‘former student’ list. When students are purged from the rolls, their name is also removed from the nafuda-kake (name boards) on the wall of the training floor. Some are offended when they find their name has been removed, yet this is only because they don’t understand that it is a space reserved for those dedicated students that are currently training and growing.
No one wants to admit that they are a quitter or a dropout; it’s easier to say “I’m taking a break.” Usually it’s their ego, or subconsciously not wanting to admit failure; everyone of us commonly associates quitting or giving up with failure.
In my dojo we call it The Green Belt Curse because students at the green belt (6-kyu/5-kyu) level are the most common dropouts. I even go so far as to warn newly promoted 6-kyu students about the ‘green belt curse’ yet, it still happens. Some drop out at yellow belt, and have even had a few drop out at the brown belt and black belt level, but by far the dreaded green belt curse still reigns supreme.
Why the purge? Is it really necessary? To me, yes it is necessary. Those who are inactive for long periods of time have grown stagnant. Stagnancy is the opposite of growth, therefore, the two cannot logically co-exist in a productive manner. However, it doesn’t have to be permanent. Those who are inactive and have left on good terms will always find an open door and space on the mat to train, when they are truly committed to training once again.
Yesterday afternoon, I was training with my children at home and the topic of progress was discussed; My 18 year old daughter (whom some of you know) is reluctantly preparing for her shodan test. Yes, reluctantly. Two years ago, she had all requirements needed and was ready then. She informed me that she was absolutely happy with wearing a brown belt, so I didn’t push the issue for fear of pushing her away. The last couple of years, she’s trained and continued to grow in skill, so i brought it up to her again in March; I told her that I would really like for her to test for her black belt in front of Takamiyagi Sensei when he visits in October. Again she balked, stating that she was ‘nervous’.
Ok, that’s fine, let’s change subjects, I said.
So, are you excited to be a senior in high school? She flashed a huge grin, Yes, I’m SO excited!
i replied: “Yes, you certainly have worked hard over the past 12 years, and you’ve earned the right to graduate; are you nervous about graduation? ”
No, she replied..maybe a little, but I’m just excited, and can’t wait! I’ve worked hard, stayed up late so many nights doing assignments, and I’m ready to graduate.
“But, you love being a senior, right “? Yes sir.
“So, why not just tell your teachers, counselors, and principles that you are happy right where you are?” She looked at me like I was crazy. “Surely your teachers would understand, right?” No-sir. That’s crazy talk. I’ve already earned enough credits to graduate anyways. “So, because you already meet the requirements to graduate, you think you should move up, and move on to the next step of your education? ”
She looked at me in silence as her mind began to register my longest analogy ever. She grinned, and her face became a little red.
‘I see what you did there, dad.”
My daughter began her formal basic education and her martial arts training as a 6 year old girl. After 12 years of study, hard work, and intensive practice, she is now ready to take the next step in both area, for she has now acquired her basic level of education in both school and the dojo.
Some students walk in the dojo craving that black belt from the first day, but they don’t want to put in the work. Others work quietly and shun promotion and recognition.
There is no ‘1st Dan’ in karate. Sho-Dan means “beginning level.” You aren’t a master of anything except yourself. By shodan, you will have mastered the discipline to work hard and learn the basics required to begin your next step. Nothing more. Nothing less.
Don’t be afraid of the shodan..the beginning level black belt. It is simply the next step after 1-kyu. It’s a way for your teacher to recognize that you’ve worked hard and learned the basics. Embrace it, accept it, and continue training.
You have your reasons and I have mine; sometimes they overlap, often they’re the same. Still we train. We train for improved health, improved skill, peace, and balance. There are literally a plethora of other reasons that we train.
After gaining sufficient skill, some of us begin to teach, we take on students in order to pass on knowledge to the next generation.
This is a responsibility that should not be taken lightly.
This is a responsibility that should not be taken lightly.
THIS IS A RESPONSIBILITY THAT SHOULD NOT BE TAKEN LIGHTLY.
Yes, you read it correctly; it was written three times because this is important. It’s important that every teacher understands the larger scale responsibility that we’ve accepted when we agreed to be called ‘sensei’.
Beyond the personal rewards of watching our students growth and progress lies the larger reward of preserving our art. This reward often comes with little or no recognition, nor should it be expected. The reward is that the art is being preserved for the next generation, and that is enough.
2014 has brought exciting changes to our dojo for the advancement and preservation of our art. Takamiyagi Hanshi will be coming to the United States as the featured instructor for our 15th Anniversary Goshukan Gasshuku. Our first student in the Goshukan-Ryu Yudansha Transition Program is on track for certification by the end of the year. Plans have been set for the first Okinawa Goshukan-Ryu Honbu Dojo Training Trip for summer/2016 where our students will be exposed to intensive private training at the Honbu Dojo in Okinawa.
While these are all exciting and rewarding in different ways, the primary focus is simply to ensure preservation of our art. As a teacher, this is my duty; this is my responsibility.
In the dojo, there are earned titles, given titles, and forms of address. Americans often blur the lines and confuse them all. This article is meant to clarify what is, and what isn’t acceptable- from an Okinawan Native viewpoint.
Sensei: If you have students, you are a Sensei. At 2-dan or 10-dan. Period. Sensei isn’t a title, it is a descriptor or a designation. That’s it, nothing more.
Senpai/Kohai: Everyone in the dojo has a designation as Senpai (senior) or Kohai (Junior). Again, this is a designation, not a title, and isn’t limited to the dojo (in Japan). From primary school to executives in the boardroom- you will always hear people referring to Junko Senpai, or Higa Senpai. You address your Senpai as such, but you do not address your kohai as ‘kohai’. It is already understood, but if necessary, one may refer to a kohai in conversation for clarification. In some dojo, the highest ranking student under the teacher is often designated Dai-Senpai; again, this is only a designation, not a title. A title will always have paper (menjo/shojo) to authenticate the title.
Renshi/Kyoshi/Hanshi: These are all formal titles that denote different levels of mastery; The lines are blurry on this, especially in the West. It is uncommon and generally unacceptable to address someone by their title in Okinawa/Japan. It is acceptable to include formal title on letterhead, business cards, announcements, etc. It is taboo for anyone to EVER refer to themselves by their given teaching title or designation.
Shidoin, Shidoshi, etc: These are entry level instructor titles, and aren’t used by all dojo organizations. Again, these are titles on paper, nothing more. Not a form of address by students or instructors.
Kancho/Kaicho: These are designations for heads of styles or heads of organizations: These designations are descriptive and do not have any bearing on the rank or teaching title.
Shihan: This is so different from dojo to dojo and within different organizations, that it’s difficult to describe with continuity. Again, it is not a traditional level of teaching title; it’s a descriptor for the teacher: In our organization, Shihan is the designation of a dojo owner in the rank of 5-dan or higher. It is not a form of address, but again, can be used as a descriptive term on some documents.
Master, Grandmaster, Professor: These titles have absolutely nothing to do with Okinawan Karate. End of story.
Proper Etiquette: DO NOT refer to yourself or sign your name, email, etc. as any title or designation. DO refer to any teacher as ‘Sensei’. This is always acceptable. Referring to one’s own teacher as Sensei in and out of the dojo, is always the right way. Referring to any Senpai by first name is frowned upon and usually unacceptable in dojo setting. In personal settings it’s ok, if the Senpai/Senior has insisted on being called by first name only.
SUMMARY: In the Dojo: Parker Sensei is ok. Izumi Sensei is ok. Keith Senpai is ok. Parker Shihan or Parker Renshi is not ok. Takamiyagi Hanshi is not ok (and he will definitely laugh at you before making the correction).
Outside of the Dojo: Hey Garry (if I’m your teacher) is not ok. Yo Keith! may be ok, if Keith has said to call him by first name outside of the dojo.
Introductions: Hi my name is Garry Parker. ok. Hi, I’m Shihan/Sensei/Master Garry Parker.. NOT acceptable.
Hi, this is my teacher, Takamiyagi Hanshi..OK. Hi, This is my friend, Ron Davis Shihan.. OK.
This is just a brief reminder for my students, and again, this is based from the source, not my own opinions.