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Perfection of character.
Seek perfection of character. This maxim is quoted by many practitioners; it is also widely misunderstood.
Seeking perfection of character implies an active, fluid, and lifelong pursuit of perfect character. Is perfection of character attainable? I’ve not met anyone with perfect character, but I’ve met many that strive daily to improve. We humans are fallible. we make mistakes. If we have the correct heart and mind, we learn from those mistakes and we move forward.
The Western interpretation of the Asian martial arts are sometimes skewed with fantasy. There are practitioners that cite the code/seven tenets of Bushido, yet they do not understand the meaning of that code. The Bushi or the Samurai do not exist any longer, and there are certainly not any non-Japanese Samurai in existence today. The tenets, however, are worthy goals to strive towards for all humankind, regardless of martial arts experience.
The seven commonly-accepted tenets or virtues of Bushido are: Benevolence 仁, Courage 勇, Honesty 誠, Honor 名誉, Loyalty 忠実, Respect 礼(禮), and Rectitude 義. These tenets were part of an oral history for generations, and were commonly accepted as the way of life and moral code for the warrior class of Japan.
So then, what happens when, in pursuit of following the code, we slip, or we fail to maintain one or more of the virtues? We wake up and start fresh. We SEEK perfection of character. We continue our pursuit of daily improvement. We forgive ourselves. We move forward. We do better.
Karate’s Race to the Top
Straight to the Top!
That’s what many of us think when we first embark on our martial arts journey. We soon realize the reality – martial arts is a long, winding, sometimes treacherous path. As a teacher, I have seen it countless times: The new student is eager to learn all he/she can, as fast as they can. No stopping, no slowing down, no turning back..and no patience. Soon, they fall off, and then fade away altogether. They are the sprinters of martial arts. When they can’t learn the next kata, or get promoted fast enough (in their opinion) they lose focus of the real heart of budo as they are distracted by the materialistic rewards.
Friends, Students: Karate-Do is not a race to the top. It is not a competition; the experience lies within the journey. Our growth is forged from the struggles and hardships we find along the path. Our success is a result of determination, dedication, and discipline to remain on this long, winding, path, and just learn from the journey. Enjoy the small victories, and learn to embrace the challenges. Karate-Do is a marathon. We push, we sacrifice, and we struggle, to stay in the race, but the benefits are glorious to those who stay the course, and don’t give up. Often, we find ourselves making great progress, only to find that we are moving laterally on the path; that’s ok. Karate-Do is not about who finishes first; it’s about staying in the race. Health and longevity are rewards that can’t be bought, won, or taken away.
The Slippery Path
In this journey of life, particulary the path of budo, the road can be treacherous. We strive to be our best, and to seek perfection of character, but it’s no guarantee. Personally, I have fallen short. I have made mistakes, I have lost sight of core principles, and I have fallen down. We all fall down. Getting up, climbing, clawing, and fighting our way back to that familiar path..that is the embodiment of the warriors code.
SEEK perfection of character. It isn’t a natural occurance, nor is it permanent. Every single person reading this is susceptable to falling down, hitting a stumbling block at full speed, and slipping off the path.
I’m writing this particular article as a reminder to myself. I’ve noticed as I’ve gotten older (quickly approaching 50) that hot-button issues from 5-10 years ago, are no longer important. Other issues that I’ve neglected have taken precedence on my list of priorites. Feelings, opinions, and emotions, are not as important as love, compassion, and giving from the heart.
Nitabo Inoze summed it up best:
“Righteousness (義 gi)
Be acutely honest throughout your dealings with all people. Believe in justice, not from other people, but from yourself. To the true warrior, all points of view are deeply considered regarding honesty, justice and integrity. Warriors make a full commitment to their decisions.
Courage (勇 yū)
Hiding like a turtle in a shell is not living at all. A true warrior must have heroic courage. It is absolutely risky. It is living life completely, fully and wonderfully. Heroic courage is not blind. It is intelligent and strong.
Compassion (仁 jin)
Through intense training and hard work the true warrior becomes quick and strong. They are not as most people. They develop a power that must be used for good. They have compassion. They help their fellow men at every opportunity. If an opportunity does not arise, they go out of their way to find one.
Respect (礼 rei)
True warriors have no reason to be cruel. They do not need to prove their strength. Warriors are not only respected for their strength in battle, but also by their dealings with others. The true strength of a warrior becomes apparent during difficult times.
Integrity (誠 makoto)
When warriors say that they will perform an action, it is as good as done. Nothing will stop them from completing what they say they will do. They do not have to ‘give their word’. They do not have to ‘promise’. Speaking and doing are the same action.
Honour (名誉 meiyo)
Warriors have only one judge of honor and character, and this is themselves. Decisions they make and how these decisions are carried out are a reflection of whom they truly are. You cannot hide from yourself.
Loyalty (忠義 chūgi)
Warriors are responsible for everything that they have done and everything that they have said, and all of the consequences that follow. They are immensely loyal to all of those in their care. To everyone that they are responsible for, they remain fiercely true.”
Make no mistake; there are zero living samurai among us today. Not here, not in Japan. Why then, do we martial artists grasp so strongly to the 7 principles of Bushido? It’s not because we secretly identify as modern samurai, or ‘bushi’. No, not for me anyway. Those principle of Bushido – The Warrior’s moral code – give us guidelines to live by. Not rules, not requirements, but guidelines that we, in the 21st century, can implement in our daily lives to simply become better versions of ourselves. Let’s face it, the world can do without another samurai uprising, along with the civil wars and power grabs that were so prevalent..but the world always needs better versions of us.
New Dojo Location
After a lengthy search, we have acquired a fantastic building in the heart of Columbus; we are centrally located only minutes from downtown Columbus, Phenix City, and Ft. Benning. Our new location is 3000 plus square feet, with a spacious training area, newly renovated restrooms, locker rooms, full kitchen, and ample parking. Located in a beautiful historic 100 year old building at 2400 Hamilton Road in Columbus, GA. – we are excited about new training and growth, for many years to come!
In addition to our innovative traditional martial arts curriculum, we will be sharing the diverse and unique culture of Okinawa, the birthplace of Karate!
Tentative Opening Date for our newest location, is JULY 15, 2017.
The Power of a Falling Tree
Classical Martial arts are full of comparisons, analogies, and examples of the sheer power, grace and speed of nature. The gracefulness and balance of a crane, the supple crushing power of moving water, the strength and ferocity of a tiger, the silent, unstoppable power of a falling tree crashing to the ground, leveling everything in it’s path. Ok, maybe you’ve heard of most of these, so what’s this crashing tree all about?
In Okinawa te, most are familiar with the intricacies that make Okinawan karate distinctly ‘Okinawan’. That is, the body conditioning, strength training, various ‘hojo undo’ implements, joint manipulation and control (tuidi), along with the principles of gamaku, chinkuchi, etc. Lesser known is the practice of ‘tokiho’ the principle of engaging your opponent, gaining the advantage through balance manipulation, and ‘hineri’ or twisting, simultaneously launching a penetrating angled attack with the crashing force of a falling tree.
These photos are not a tutorial on ‘tokiho’ just a sampling from a set of photos taken for a publication with Takamiyagi Hiroshi (Hanshi, Goshukan-Ryu) back in October of 2016. I’m unsure of the availability of articles, books, or literature in the English language, but I will say, from experience, that this is better explained hands-on, that is, ‘tokiho’ is more accurately felt than academically studied.
For decades, I have trained quietly, and taught what my teacher has allowed me to share; with the passing of time comes maturity of age and skill level, and it becomes necessary to pass on the rare, lesser known principles to the next generation. For Goshukan-Ryu, this time is the present.
There is nothing new in martial arts. There are no secret,, missing, or undiscovered techniques, principles, or concepts; there are only the ones we’ve yet to be taught.
2016 IOGKA Gasshuku UPDATE
Greetings everyone, the 17th Annual Goshukan Gasshuku/National Training Camp is quickly approaching; for those that haven’t registered yet, you still have time. All details can be found on the Event Flyer, and further updates can be found on the Gasshuku event page here. https://www.facebook.com/events/1195276940498295/?ref=1&action_history=%5B%7B%22surface%22%3A%22permalink%22%2C%22mechanism%22%3A%22surface%22%2C%22extra_data%22%3A%5B%5D%7D%5D
REAL TALK from a Karate Teacher
This photo is from 2 years ago, Takamiyagi Sensei’s first visit to the USA.
As I scan the group, I realize that so much can change in two years; some have grown in skill, others have quit, and still others have been on a very long ‘break.’
Some of these in the group earned their black belt since this photo, and are shining brilliantly; others have earned their black belt and quickly faded away.
TEACHERS: As a teacher, I am proud of every single student, and I’m overjoyed when I get to tie that black belt around their waist for the first time. And, as a teacher, I simply do not understand how the student with a new black belt..the student that was excited, overjoyed, and emotional when they were promoted..can just walk away.
We train, we learn, we sometimes make mistakes, and we grow from them if we are humble enough to admit and accept our mistakes.
Students quit every day in dojo around the world, but when a new black belt student quits, it’s a low blow to the teacher(s) that promoted them. To be fair, they simply weren’t ready; as a teacher I realized to late that I have promoted a couple of students that just weren’t ready. Physically, they had the skill, and they met the curriculum, but the character of a black belt will not allow him/her to simply quit. I own those mistakes and have learned from them; I’m confident that I will make more mistakes, and I hope that I will learn from them as well.
STUDENTS: Although you may not realize it, your teachers care very deeply about you, your success, and your future. We invest our most precious resource in each student – our time. When you reach the black belt ranks, you are an indirect representative of your teacher. You look up to us, and we look to you as the future torchbearers, and can only hope our time invested in you was not wasted.
We all make mistakes, I’ve made more than my share, and regret all of them, but there is no looking back. Learn from mistakes, implement changes, and move forward.
This post is public, and I assure you that I am not singling any one out, I’m simply sharing what’s on my mind.
Too often, we share only the good, the positive, and the triumphs. Rarely do we let the public gain a glimpse of our struggles, our heartaches, and our heartbreaks.
Although I have been a teacher for 20+ years, I am first and foremost a student. As a student, I have made mistakes. As a black belt, I have disappointed my teacher. To err is human, to forgive is divine.
Students, your teacher will take you back; he/she is probably waiting eagerly and patiently for you to come back to the dojo; it isn’t as difficult as you think.
Tigers and Sheep
This is not new information, in fact, this has been taught and practiced by generations of martial artists from every nation and every culture for centuries. With the easy access of highly technical information available with the plethora of internet offerings, the sheep wearing tiger’s clothing seem to be multiplying. The tigers that read this will nod and smile in agreement; the sheep will hopefully gain some motivation to transition to a tiger. The sheep in tiger’s clothing will probably ignore this, get upset, and talk trash to all their little sheep buddies. I don’t have much to add in the way of commentary – Tomoyose Sensei said all that needs to be said.
The following commentary is courtesy of Tomoyose Ryuko Sensei – Uechi Ryu.
“Sometimes karate training can be called training as a tiger or training as a sheep. If you train as a tiger — hard training and body conditioning — you can always train with tigers. Other tigers will also recognize you and you can train in peace with them. They know that when two tigers really fight that one will die of injuries today and the other will die of injuries tomorrow. Both will die, so they have nothing to prove.
If you train like a sheep — no contact and no two man conditioning — then you can only train with sheep. A tiger can train with tigers and he can also train with sheep. He just has to be careful not to hurt them. A sheep cannot train with tigers. Sheep see tigers as being very frightening and their conditioning, he says, will cause cancer. A sheep training with tigers will get eaten up.
Sometimes you see a sheep who sees the truth of tiger training and changes. In reality this sheep was actually a tiger in sheep’s clothing waiting to come out.
Watch people training. Look at how they act and how they behave. A tiger can be like a little kitty but dangerous even though he is friendly. They are quiet and watch everything. They listen and watch. They know who they are and they have nothing to prove — they are at peace.
Sheep, on the other hand, make all kinds of noises and demand to be heard. They run around and seem to crave attention. They are easily hurt and easily scared. They always group together for their own protection. When danger approaches they look towards the group for protection because they cannot defend themselves. They are easy prey for the tigers — whether it is one sheep or several, sheep are still sheep.”
-Tomoyose Ryuko, Hanshi/Uechi Ryu
False claims and the Art of Bending the Truth.
“I met a guy who trained with ‘Mr. Miyagi’ you know- the real one from back in the old days, it’s true because I saw a couple of pictures on the the wall of his dojo.” We’ve all met ‘that guy’. Braggadocios claims without a single ounce of proof to back it up. They are full of …something, and they know it, but they persist in spreading the lie, and naive students continue to take the bait, and buy into the ruse. After a seminar or two, or perhaps just a chance meeting with a well-known master, the ‘truth-bender’ breaks out the photos and maybe even employs his photoshop skills to enhance the validity of his claim. This is nothing new, in fact, this practice of embellishing one’s lineage and riding the coat-tails of someone else’s hard work and skill has been around for centuries. The fact that it still exists in the 21st century, however, is quite surprising, as we have the means to investigate frauds and fraudulent claims, literally at our fingertips.
Regarding verification and clarification of those who claim to have trained with well known karate masters and pioneers, it is vitally important to have documentation and a clear understanding of exactly what level of training was shared between the student and teacher. Someone can rightly claimed to have trained with any given master even if it was for a few hours at a seminar, workshop, or clinic. Being a student, a direct student, or an authorized and licensed representative for said master, are entirely different qualifications. When someone tells you that they have trained with a certain teacher, it is our responsibility to ask follow-up questions that will give us all the answers we need to make an informed decision to follow or not.
Even now, well over a century after the fact, there are claims and disputes regarding training lineage, skill, etc.
The primary disputes lie within major discrepancies of functionality and structural practices between the masters and those who claimed to have trained with them.
We now are in a technologically advanced age which allows us to utilize various methods of proof, including, photo and video evidence, along with the old standard of paper certification for qualified students.
In order to keep this article on topic, I will use myself and my teacher for the example, as I do not wish to stray off course by ruffling the feathers of those in other ryu.
My teacher for the past 26 years is Takamiyagi Hiroshi Sensei. To say that I have trained with him would be a gross understatement. As my long-time teacher, Takamiyagi Sensei is much more than a teacher to me. In addition to the lessons in and out of the dojo, I have been to his home in Okinawa, eaten dinner with his family, celebrated birthdays, holidays, etc. He has done the same with me here in the United States. I have sat on testing boards at the Honbu Dojo in Okinawa, and he has trusted my judgement for promoting my own students and association members to the Yudansha ranks here in the United States.
As a result of me bringing him to the USA, many people have trained with Takamiyagi Sensei, and they have the photos to prove it. In fact, a half-dozen of our association members have also been promoted to black belt with his name and hanko on the certificate, along with mine. The only verification needed by Takamiyagi Sensei, was for me to recommend them for promotion after all promotion requirements were met.
Some of these new shodan are still training and refining what they have learned, some are not.
What then, prevents anyone from waiting 20, 30, or 40 years (when Takamiyagi Sensei and me are no longer around) to make a claim of having trained with the founder of our ryu, and fooling the public into thinking that they have found the long lost original, first generation student of Takamiyagi Hiroshi?
In our case, the answer is simple: it is a system of certification, verification, checks and balances that provides absolute proof.
This is not a secret code, in fact, I am happy to share the methods in hopes that others may find something beneficial to use.
1. Personal (first generation) students are promoted by Takamiyagi Sensei personally, and issued menjo from the honbu dojo in Okinawa.
2. Teaching licenses are issued in the same manner as item one.
3. Second generation students/organization members are promoted through our IOGKA organization; the menjo includes both Takamiyagi Sensei’s hanko, as well as my own. Neither of us use our honbu dojo hanko; both are organizational.
4. Organizational teaching licenses are issued in the same manner as promotion from item three.
5. Paper documentation is kept at the honbu dojo in Okinawa, with a duplicate record kept at the USA honbu dojo.
This is part of the method of checks and balances used by my teacher, likely many others today as well.
Just because someone has a menjo with a famous master’s name, and/or a photo with that teacher, does not mean that they are a direct student. When in doubt, ask the teacher, or the senior students of that teacher. Even before that, check the technique, the structure, the power generation abilities and the overall ability to deliver the principles of the ryu/style when executing kata. While some personal interpretation is to be expected at higher levels, the blueprint and the core principles should remain consistent from teacher to students. With regard to our system – Goshukan-Ryu – the rules are quite simple, and this helps set the standard for all members; without a teaching license, no-one is permitted to teach. That’s it, plain and simple. This has worked well so far to ensure that even the most junior teachers have enough experience and skill to disseminate the information to students, and to keep consistent standards among all licensed instructors and teachers worldwide as we continue to grow.
My path. Your Path.
“I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I-
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.”
This is the last verse of his poem ‘The Road not Taken’ and is one of my favorites as it’s fairly descriptive of my life and my chosen path of Martial Arts. Without re-gurgitating all of the common martial arts maxims that we’ve heard time and time again, I will get right to the core of this subject. Hard roads take tough men and women, or they make tough men and women. The weak will not make it. They’ll stop, they’ll rest and then they’ll quit, or they will detour when the path becomes too treacherous for them. The weak will always take the easy way. That’s the way it has always been, and that’s the way it always will be.
My path may look appealing to some, and that is what attracts them.That is, I have experienced an extraordinary and rare martial arts life up to this day. Due to my service in the United States Air Force, and the introduction of a friend, I met my Sensei and have been taught, not as another foreigner, but as a son. My teacher has not held back anything to me in his teaching, and now after 25+ years as a student of Takamiyagi Sensei, I am beginning to understand a little more. For the record, I have no natural ability or talent regarding martial arts, in fact, I was never athletic or physically gifted in my youth; quite the contrary, I have always been on the slow end of the learning curve, and this is the primary reason that drove me to achieve the skill that I possess at this point in my life. That is, I am aware that I’m not naturally gifted, so I made it a point decades ago to train longer and harder than my dojo-mates. This was not due to impatience or ego, it was simply necessary for me to keep up with the rest of the class. Now, a few decades later, that habit is cemented into my subconscious, and I still feel it necessary to train harder and longer, and I have set the bar extremely high for my students and anyone with whom I share the dojo floor. I have found that now, in middle age, I have extremely low tolerance for those who do not exert maximum effort; this includes (recently) those with natural talent, but no desire to exert themselves beyond a comfortable level. As a life-long martial artist, I am passionate about the mind and body benefits of traditional training, and I find it difficult to associate with those at the black belt level that don’t share my passion.
So, is it wrong for others to train part time, or only when they feel like it’s convenient? No, because some training is better than no training at all; that is their path.
Some are interested in training for a short while, or until they achieve a specific rank. They have a short and straight path.
Some only train in order to achieve rank, recognition, awards, and personal accolades. They travel a well-lit path lined with well-wishers.
Some train hard, they train well, and they train the same way they have always trained, with no interest in learning anything new, or different. They travel a narrow path wearing blinders.
Some train for improved health, personal discipline, or because they are curious. They travel a personal experience path.
A very small percentage of martial arts practitioners train for the sake of personal improvement, sacrifice, and passion for all that envelopes the Budo. Joy, pain, sacrifice, the irreplaceable feeling of personal achievement, daily improvements in tiny increments, injuries, recoveries, learning personal limitations and smashing them – all this and so much more. This small percentage of Budo-ka are dedicated, open-minded, humble, and always ready to learn more. A Big Ego is rare, and humility is the standard. This is my path, and I’m happy to share it with anyone and everyone who will join.