All posts by Gary Christensen


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.

How Do You Wear Your Rank?

Our rank designation will naturally or should change as we continue to train and advance through our martial arts studies.

As in karate, we start as a white belt and expectations for a period of time are low.  We are inundated with new terms (maybe in a foreign language), stances, etiquette, technique, movement and so on – 95% physical and 5% mental!   Our heads are spinning and not a lot is expected of us for a while!   Our rank is apropos — for now!

We’ve been training for say, 6 months now and we’re about orange belt level, the dojo is starting to really feel like something special.   Not quite in our element yet, but the atmosphere is slowly permeating and expectations are still minimal.   Around the year mark, with luck and determination, we are now green belt.   Our niche in the dojo is being carved as we are recognized as a serious student in the making!   At this juncture of our training, expectations are made as our confidence and self esteem grows.   Others may notice that we perhaps carry ourselves a little more assuredly.   This is the beginning of an intermediate student and as such, an awareness of how we carry our rank is important.  Are we good examples of a martial arts student?    Gut check time.  Yes, we’re all in!

With consistent and regular training, ah, now around 4 years, maybe we’ve attained brown belt!   No one works harder than a brown belt!  Bright coloured belts are gone and now we are within striking distance of the all elusive black belt!   We work hard to prove that we deserve this rank and we work hard to prove that we are legitimate contenders for that Black obi!!   The Martial Arts culture is in us!

So how do brown belts wear their rank?   Brown belts are senior students that lead by example on and off the dojo deck.  They wear their rank with humility recognizing that they are constantly being watched by all up and coming students, as well as their seniors in rank!   Brown belts wear their rank off the dojo deck in everyday life carrying their positive attributes developed in the dojo beyond their training venue, at all times.

We’ve been learning, training and have embraced our art to the point where we are now rewarded with Shodan (1st degree black belt)!   Congrats!   Black belt brings responsibility.   We are now, more than ever, looked up to, to lead, mentor and demonstrate how a martial artist wears his/her rank!    And now another reality hits us… we realize that we are actually just starting to learn in earnest AND share.

From Shodan on up, any black belt is not only viewed and judged by physical prowess, but more than ever by how they present their rank, whether by teaching and leading, but also by good character always!   Our ranks and the responsibility attached to it, is how we present ourselves in all aspects of our lives.  Our training through the ranks with lessons learned, make us accountable – the higher the rank, the more accountability.

Wear your rank well.


Intake a deep breath and relax, you’ve found your martial art, your place of training (dojo) and a competent Teacher! I honestly envy you and your journey on the path up the mountain to training in your chosen art.  Lucky you!

Do we ever reach the summit of the mountain?   I doubt it, there’s so much to learn and discover, besides, the journey itself is so worthwhile and satisfying!
Again, I’ll use Karate as my point of view platform (my chosen art long ago).   I smile as I recall for the first time, entering the dojo change room and putting on that fresh and crisp, brand new white gi and then wondering what the heck was I going to do with that long, white belt.  Lol!  Nervous, but excited trepidation!

Onto the floor, thinking everyone was looking at me… weren’t they?  Well, maybe a little bit, my belt was dragging on the floor (wrapped around once!) but then each was back to their own pre-class ritual, stretching, kata, makiwara, etc.  I anonymously slinked into a corner until Sempai Mike came over and showed me how to tie my obi! — My first step on the path!

I am quite sure that many will recognize their own first step much the same (maybe without the obi faux pas!)
Starting an art is one of the hardest things you’ll do, no doubt.  With a few tips, this start can be a little less intimidating and a little more palatable.
First, bring an open attitude.  In other words, enter the dojo with an empty cup (figuratively speaking) and be receptive to the knowledge your Sensei imparts, to fill your cup!

Not all, but generally, males are more inclined to walk into a dojo with a half filled cup, thinking that karate is all about fighting and so therefore by virtue of their own reservoir of testosterone, they are already halfway to mastering this art. Haha!  I say ‘No!’   Nice try guys!  Frustration will at some point, set in because the realization that learning karate is hard work and their cup wasn’t half full after all.  This is a bit of a reality check.  No biggie, readjust attitude and move forward.

Females, generally (in my opinion) tend to enter a dojo with an empty cup, inasmuch to say, ‘Here I am, I’m interested in learning.   Teach me!’ – a great attitude!

Anyone entering the dojo with an empty cup, will learn quicker with this ’empty cup attitude’ and will be fulfilled much sooner and will therefore, thrive for the duration.
Secondly, make mistakes with a smile on your face!  Get frustrated with a spring in your step!  Be as embarrassed as you can!  It all makes your journey that much more interesting!  Revel in the good and bad of your training!!  Frustrating, embarrassing mistakes are tools that handled well and learned from, bring you back to the straight and narrow of training and solidify your resolve.

If we all did things perfectly, it would all be pretty boring with no ups or downs to ride.
Thirdly, accept the fact that to get good at any endeavour requires hard work and the martial arts are no different.  The self satisfaction derived by your hard work and the success gained thereby, will develop good self esteem and of course, confidence.   Positivity is borne of positivity.

The last item I’ll reveal (there are more, but I’m stopping here to save something for later blogs) is share, share and share again!  By share, I refer to the positives gained by your journey’s study.  Martial arts study has so much going for it and the practitioners involved.  Physical prowess, self defence and mental acuity are but three of many attributes we develop within training and therefore share with others.

Training will never start on entering or on leaving our dojos.  We share our training attitude at all times whether by being polite, doing volunteer work, assisting others or any other worthwhile service for others.
Too often martial artists are seen as those who learn to fight, when in actual fact we actually are learning to conquer ourselves through that journey up the mountain over many, many years.  Enjoy the scenery on the way!

Yours in the arts, Gary Christensen

Picking A Teacher



So you’ve decided that joining a Quilting Bee or taking up Bridge, is out and the Martial Arts appeals to you – Great!   You are now on a journey that millions the world over, at some point also started.  The first step is always the biggest and the most important.

Now, you have to determine which branch of the Martial Arts strikes a chord with yourself.

Is it a sport or an art that you want to best invest your time in?  Competition bound?   To what degree of physicality are you capable of – light or more strenuous?   Is it for self defence or more of an exotic interest that you’ve always had.

As you can see, there’s lots to weigh in on with your decision to embrace the Martial Arts.

Some of the more popular options you have in the Arts are; Karate, Judo, Jiu Jitsu, Escrima, Tae Kwon Do, Boxing, Iaido, Kendo, etc., etc.

Once you’ve chosen your art of interest, congrats, you’re in for a worthwhile journey of self discovery!   I’ll use Karate as an example interest as it is my primary field of study in the Martial Arts.

Now it’s time to locate a reputable school to train (dojo). The dojo on the corner is the handiest but sometimes it may not be the best choice.  It’s here that you must do your homework.  The internet is helpful as are personal referrals.  Go in and ask questions – is the atmosphere conducive to serious study?  Are the students enthusiastic?   Are the dojo’s hours of operation helpful?   Are the rates reasonable?   Can you take a limited number of free introductory classes?  Is the primary focus of the Instructor on selling you a Black belt over a few years guaranteed?  Is dojo insured?   Who does most of the teaching (a senior student or the Teacher)?   Is there a traceable lineage to the dojo’s Senseis?

These are just a sampling of the queries you must ask in order to determine if this is the dojo for you.  To often many of us have heard the horror stories of Karate schools (or other martial art schools) where the manager’s focus is on your wallet or where a long term contract is signed and no one pays attention to your progress until contract renewal time is coming up.  Hopefully those days are gone but just be aware anyway!

You’ve picked a dojo?  Ah, but did you pick your Teacher??  Very important, I should say MOST important!  This is the Sensei that you will entrust to guide you up the mountain path through mental blocks, physical trials, injuries, lots of sweat and plenty adversity.

A good Sensei will lead by example, he/she will have a Teacher above them as they will also have to learn and advance their own knowledge and pass onto you.  Unless your Teacher is in Okinawa or Asia, they will have a Teacher ranking above them.

A good Teacher motivates, inspires and takes pride in their students and thereby develops a healthy training relationship also.   Without asking, a good Teacher has respect from everyone just by being a true Martial Artist sharing knowledge, philosophy and the history behind this very exotic endeavour.

Anyone can be an instructor leading a class, counting and showing what has to be done.  A Teacher shows and teaches why it works and works with you to achieve your full potential in this lifelong interest. I would venture that for every 75 instructors, there is one good Teacher!

A great Teacher is hard to find and you will know one when you find one. Maybe they are at the corner dojo, but odds are you’ll have to seek one out a little further away, but well worth the effort once found!

Kouun o oinori shite imasu!

Yours in the arts, Gary Christensen