All posts by Gary Christensen

ART vs. SPORT

ART vs. SPORT
By virtue of you reading this blog article, chances are, you are involved or at least interested in the martial arts of some form or another (karate probably.)
How involved is your interest and/or training? Are you a casual participant at once or twice a week and this endeavour is recreational, or are you more involved and your martial arts training is more intense with more often workouts and you’d consider yourself more of a ‘serious’ student?

Wherever your answer lies, – how do you apply your training in your everyday life? Is it for Sport or is it treated as an Art?  
There is a difference. On starting your chosen martial art, whether it be karate, judo, aikido, boxing or anything else, the start of our training is always so physical – learning steps, moves, techniques (both offensive and defensive), terminology, philosophy, etc., etc.  

Over time as we progress and attain proficiency, the natural high that we experience from our chosen art, feeds a place in our heart that moves us now, in a direction that maybe emphasizes ego and the need for displaying our expertise, whereas, some may be nourished by finding that they are defeating inner conflictive demons, finding solace within an art and realizing the quiet confidence that may permeate their life. I’ll expand.
I believe that if we use our newfound skills within a sport platform to attain personal status via hurting someone in competition or vying for medals and trophies in contests, then we are just an empty vessel holding nothing of true value for ourselves or to those around us. Our medals and trophies soon sit on a shelf collecting dust and then our moments of adulation are long gone – what’s the next fix for ‘ego’?
When we study our chosen interest and embrace the teachings with an open heart really trying to develop skills, over time we find that the relaxed inner confidence and healthy self esteem oozes out to all other areas of our being and thereby to the rest of our lives. We don’t just do our ‘art’, we are now living our ‘art’. These people tend to attend class more often. We become the vessel holding wonderful personal attributes that can only serve to enhance our lives!

Developing that kick or punch and trying our best to be the best we can be just because we like to improve for ourselves spills over into other areas of our lives. We develop an intolerance for mediocrity and form the habit of trying to do well and then do well at much of what we do. Good!
Living our art helps us in so many ways and as a result, we are naturally on a ‘high’ without need of peer adulation or a need to feed that ego by attention grabbing activities.
Sport is healthy, no doubt, but all too often the tenets of sport (camaraderie, fair play, fun, skills building, etc.) are waylaid and we get caught up in a competitive atmosphere that only serves to break true relationships with ourselves and others – for what? A medal?

How long do we really think we could last treating our interest as just a ‘sport’. Our bodies wear down as we go on, injuries occur, that old buzz we used to get when we ‘won’, has gone.
As an ‘art’, sure we still get injuries, we still age, but now our injuries are dealt with in a way by which we deal with it in a more spiritual way, accepting it and taking it easier only doing what we can do until healed. The mental attitude shifts as we recognize that our art is a lifelong endeavour and our skill sets can be applied to all aspects of our lives – gardening, driving a car, dealing with issues, raising kids, etc., etc. Yes, when we accept the ‘art’ of our training, we become more than we ever could have realized, growing older with so much more substance within AND we have also developed physical skills.  
A question; faced by a situation in which two martial artists (one sport minded, the other trained but with an ‘art’ attitude) are accosted by someone aggressively confrontational.  

How do you think each would deal with the situation and how do you think it would end?
You’ll notice that I haven’t emphasized the lethal aspects of our arts. There’s more than enough material around that does just that, but we’ll talk another time about that aspect.
Yours in the arts,

Gary Christensen – Renshi

OVERTEACH AND OVERREACH

OVERTEACH and OVERREACH
I am an unabashed believer in recognizing the difference between an ‘Instructor’ and a ‘Teacher’.

It is my belief that an Instructor leads a class and demonstrates his/her interpretation of ‘what is’, and how to do the technique or application applied and usually with relying on a counting rhythm. We need Instructors and we do value their contribution!

A Teacher I believe, adds so much more, not only within technique lessons but also the intangibles required to lead students. This idea will be expanded upon in a future blog post.
Within the framework of my preamble above, I note that more than a few ‘Instructors’ tend to keep their students interested by trying to teach more ‘advanced’ techniques without first laying a proper fundamental foundation by emphasizing the basics (kihon).

This practice coined by Kyoshi Dan O’Brien as ‘OVERTEACHING’ is quite apt.

Overteaching is just plainly giving more than a student can handle without them having the proper foundation and understanding required to affect a proper technique. Often, if we lack our own proper understanding and imagination, or even a well thought out teaching curriculum, we resort to an advanced idea/technique to impress those we teach. Could it be that we lack confidence in our own selves so much that we overteach and gloss over our own martial arts insecurities by giving more than we should?
A beloved Teacher I trained with years ago (Peter Phillips -Renshi) stated, “Advanced karate is just better basics.” – agreed!

Let’s overteach our basics so that the advanced technique is just a step away and so much easier to digest.
Karate students — your turn. Are we as students, guilty of ‘OVERREACHING’???

By ‘overreaching’, I refer to a student’s propensity to always try and do more than what they are ready for, by seeking out other ideas and trying to mimic these ideas while neglecting their own studies. We’ve all done it and we’ve all seen it.

I personally knew of an intermediate student recently, who was always online looking at more advanced ideas that he may try and then he’d approach with his interpretation of what he saw and thought he’d understood. It was obvious that he was in over his head!

Well, then it became apparent that his own dojo efforts and concepts were suffering and his in class corrections were mounting, he soon came to the realization that he was being torn in two different directions – something had to give. I received a note from this student a short time later indicating that he’d become lost within his own karate enthusiasm and was re-dedicating himself to his karate studies with no distractions.

The grass may be greener on the other side, but if we are invested in our own style and that is where our love is, that is where we should invest our efforts and be patient, we will be rewarded in due time! The Universe will unfold as it should!
A personal investment in making ourselves better through diligent studies of well understood technique and our own bio-mechanics through better basics, will inevitably reward us with effective and confidence building skills capable of dealing with any adversity.

No batteries… but, Patience is required.
Yours in the arts, Gary Christensen – Renshi

Sharpen Your Tools

Carpenters, mechanics and other tradespeople all have their own tools of which they rely on to get the job done. Maintaining and sharpening their tools assures that when the time comes to use whatever it is that they need, they have confidence in that tool’s ability to work as desired.

As karateka, the obvious tools at our disposal are namely our hands and feet used to strike and/or block.

Hands are very versatile tools in that we can form fists, half fists, spear hands, knife edge hand, palm heel, etc., etc.

Conversely, our feet are tools that may deliver strikes with ball of foot, toe kicks, shins, foot edge, heel, insteps etc., as well as further up, the knees.

These are the more obvious tools that we have to use. We could delve into more weapons within our bodies but to be brief, we’ll use these examples for now.
Having recognized that we too, must maintain our tools, we must also sharpen these tools so that when called upon, we may rely on them to achieve a desired result (defending ourselves.)

Maintaining and sharpening our tools require training on the makiwara with various hand and foot strikes and hitting the heavy bag with both. When we practice with a partner striking, blocking and flowing within each other’s actions we can hone our distance and proximity skills, along with the sensitivity required and thereby, sharpen these tools, also.

We must always explore the various strike and block permutations of our bodies weapons looking at shapes and tool configurations to achieve desired results. Be aware of what is useful under the circumstances presented and recognize the appropriate tool useful to us.
Practicing kata, reinforces our patterns, develops our form and timing as well as allows us to use those tools of ours. We mustn’t be content with just blocking and striking empty air with these tools, we must also be able to actually develop our ‘tool’ confidence for real by striking, blocking and kicking something!

Honing those tools, also involves doing various strength exercises and working on stretch flexibility. All of this tool maintenance, combines to give us the confidence required to make us effective karateka.

Recognize and develop your own weapons/tools so that they are always available.

Most of us have 3 – 5 favourite go-to techniques that we rely on. Make sure we always have those techniques backed up by our sharpened tools.

Yours in the arts,

Gary Christensen

Using Our Potential

Each of us bring our own personal natural resources to our dojo or training facility, whether it be wonderful stretch and flexibility, terrific kicks and punches, a quick mind and talent for memorizing kata, power, an open mind or whatever it may be – we all bring a skill or something to the proverbial dojo table!  Do we concentrate on working to our individual strengths or do we collectively bring all of what we have to bear down and involve our entire body from head to toe, enhanced by our natural gifts to realize our full potential? In other words, how do we make our punches and kicks even better, how can we make our blocks be even more assertive?  We can enhance each of our techniques by involving more of what we innately have already inside, using our body components seemingly not related to our technique for full impact.Our punch is never just delivered with our shoulder, arm and then our fist (as the contact point!)Our punch is the sum total of our full body potential, meaning our mass (body weight), body momentum and shifting, relaxation, speed and kime are all included to deliver a punch with anything less, cheats us out of a fully completed and satisfying technique.The same principles are applied to our kicks. To deliver a kick with just raising our feet and flicking out quickly, is to short change our understanding of what is really involved in this offensive technique! Kicks are delivered with our full body potential, in that our whole body is involved! From our feet up, we root into the ground, the push off starts on our foot, the twitch within our Koshi (hip/waist) kick starts (pardon the pun) and initiates our body mass momentum in the form of a wave from our feet up through hips into our kicking leg, unfolding our rising kicking knee to our ankle and driving our foot forward to the target – all with our body mass involved in a forward motion contributing to our technique. Full body potential is involved, not just our leg or foot – much more is added to this action, if we only allow it to happen.Understanding the power train sequence of mechanics within our bodies from our own mass, our breathing, our tendency to relax to mastery of technique and maybe even the ‘zen’ mind, will always assure a committed action that leaves nothing on the table of karate-do!Use everything you have at your disposal within your full mental and physical potential to reach greater heights in training.