This past weekend I went to the JKF Goju-Kai London Seminar and had the honour to be taught by a wide range of superb karate-ka masters: Shigenori Sato (8th Dan Hanshi), Tatsuo Takegawa (7th Dan Kyoshi), Seiichi Fujiwara (8th Dan Hanshi) assisted by Leo Lipinski (7th Dan Kyoshi), Paul Coleman (7th Dan Kyoshi) and Rastilav Mraz (7th Dan Kyioshi). I also had the pleasure to see some familiar faces and friends and train with great karate-kas, which was very refreshing.
Throughout the seminar and, especially, after my JKF Goju-Kai Nidan (2nd Dan) grading, which I failed, I reached some important conclusions and learnt some valuable lessons.
For instance, in my grading, I lost concentration in the one kata that is all about concentration, Sanchin – Three Battles (mind, body, spirit) – and it’s only fair I repeat the grading just for that reason only, regardless of my other katas and kumite. How many times did we cover it? Well, I failed to deliver when I should have shined and that only means I must train harder.
While doing sanchin my mind was so focused it almost felt like an out-of-body experience. I’m sure that the adrenaline, nerves and having that amazing panel assessing you did contribute to the whole experience. Unfortunately, after my second turn I lost my concentration for half a second and doubted after taking the step forward: “was this my second punch or my third one? How long have I been here?” I lost it when I shouldn’t have and missed my third punch. I realised and carried on as if nothing happened, but doesn’t change the fact that it was wrong.
On top of that, I reverted to my old Shito-Ryu habits while performing seyunchin, which is a typical Naha-Te kata, and that is probably worse because I didn’t realised I did it. I found out after feedback was given to me. Karate is not easy (try teaching it!!) and Goju-Ryu karate is, perhaps, even harder which makes it so much more interesting and challengeable.
On a positive note, I was given very good feedback for my kumite, an aspect of karate, in general, and Goju Karate in particular that I like the most and feel most comfortable with.
The reality is that one can be lucky to pass, but it is impossible to be unlucky to fail. It’s not good enough to deliver only when you are training and you are under no pressure. In fact, the grading shouldn’t add any pressure on you. Train as if you were grading and then you only need to grade as if you were training.
I’ve always had a bit of a sceptic opinion towards kata and the it’s value. Why do we train moves so far out from it’s real application? Where is the value in moving your big toe 1cm in or out or your fist 1cm up or down? I’m sure I’m not alone in these thoughts, but after this seminar I’ve also reached another important conclusion about kata. I think there are three stages when studying kata, perhaps a little oversimplistic, but my process is:
1) knowing the kata
2) understanding the kata
3) feeling the kata
When you only know the kata, you know what move follows which other move, but it’s not quite printed in your mind, you just know a choreography. Your neuron and synapses have not absorb it, thus you are certain to make mistakes and forget details. That’s the reasons one must practice the same kata over and over again. The process makes you gain in-depth knowledge (stage 2) until you start feeling the kata (stage 3) and kata becomes kind of meditation in motion. A wonderful feeling when it happens. Kata is what it is and is not meant to be for self-defence per se, but adds sharpness to your moves and a focus mind.
Yes, I am disappointed! Very much so because I really wanted to pass (who wouldn’t?) and I had work hard (though not hard enough) for it. But I don’t want a certificate or a Nidan belt, if I don’t earn it and deserve it. What’s the point then? Karate is about belts as long as they reflect your true level, and your true level is reflection of your (correct) training, therefore karate is about training. On the other hand, I like the fact that gradings are not easy and not given away. This will make it so much more significant and meaningful when I pass it.
I’ve learnt a lot this weekend: I’ve polished moves, gained greater understanding of kata, reinforced concepts I knew and, more important, reinforced my inspiration to carry on training harder than ever. Watching the Japanese masters performing, their health and their spirit was a reminder of why I love Karate so much.
But the one thing that captured my attention the most is when Takegawa Sensei explained/shared/reminded us all that we should practice karate in all aspects of our lives and not just with a gi in the dojo. Now, that is deep! What does he mean? How do you do it? I’m sure each one of us have different ways to accomplish this. I have mine and, like kata, I am working on it.
It was a fantastic seminar and I just can’t wait for the next one. In the meanwhile, we know how it goes: train, train and then train a bit more…