Tag Archives: Shodan

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.

Top 5 Okinawan Weapons – Part I: The “Bo-om” Stick

Picture it – ancient Okinawa. It’s a beautiful summer’s morning and you’re just minding your own business; quietly tending to your rice patty. Suddenly, you hear screams in the distance. “What the hell?!”, they seem to be coming from your family farmhouse! You race back to find that some local prefect (aka “dumb-ass”) decided it was a good idea to get drunk on cheap saki, ride his horse over to your crib and start harassing your beautiful wife. Fortunately for you, you’ve been training in the ways of Karate-do basically since birth. Oh ya, and that “walking stick” leaning up against the wall? Well that just happens to be the world’s most dangerous piece of pine, when placed in the hands of a skilled kobudo expert…. and that just happens to be you. What happens next resembles something I saw in a Jean-Claude Van Damme movie last week. A few good, strategically placed strikes and lets just say someone’s wife is very, very appreciative. *wink!

Seriously though, the Okinawan’s were great at two things.. fighting with their bare hands, and fighting with …. well, ….not-bare hands? Otherwise know as kobudo, or weapons. Over the next few weeks, we’ll explore the coolest Okinawan kobudo weapons to ever grace the hands of a Karate expert. Believe me, if you ever run into a guy wielding any of these little beauties, make like tree and leave. You’ll thank me for the advise.

So, whats first on our Top 5 List? Naturally, The Bo. Call’em Sticks… Big, long boom-sticks! Who knew ultra-straight pieces of wood could be so deadly. And heck, why not? I mean, if an assailant is charging you via trusty steed, what better way to un-politely dismount your nemesis than to spear him with a big long Bo. It has been argued throughout the ages, the validity of the Bo as the supreme weapon of choice for Okinawan, peasant warriors. Think of the Bo like kobudo’s version of soccer. It’s a skill that everyone can develop, no matter how poor you are. All you need is a fresh supply of trees and zing, you can make yourself a Bo. Sure, it sounds a bit Neanderthal-ish, after-all, you’re essentially beating a man with a tree branch, but at the end of the day you’ve got to use the tools available to you, right? The Bo is pretty popular among today’s Karate-ka. It’s the first weapon that pops into your head when you think Karate. As far as functionality, we asked one of the world’s greatest wielders’ of Bo, in which situation would the Bo come in most handy.

Scenario One – It’s the year 1753. You’re minding your own business, making your way from your neighbourhood to your neighbouring village. The sun-dial on your wrist reads somewhere around 7:30 in the evening, and it’s getting dark. Just like the old Okinawan nursery rhyme says, “If you walk the path of the cherry blossom as the sun falls behind the mountain, assholes will appear.”  BOOM, 3 ninjas make a smoke-cloud entrance, (I hate it when they do that) and they didn’t come to practice the Japanese tea ceremony.

Scenario Two – Everybody loves a good cup of saki! Personally, I prefer mine warmed up – but hey, to each there own. Anyways, you’re a retired prefect, living in Tokyo in the twilight of the Japanese feudal period. Some might argue that you had a few too many wobbly-pops, but it’s not like they had breathalyzers back then – and besides, who’s counting? You decide to drain the dragon in a back ally way, when what appears to be a small, carnival midget looking samurai suddenly appears out of no where, set on ending your life. I don’t know why – maybe his little dragon is not as ferocious as yours? …hubba-hubba!

So, what’s the verdict? … oh please, read on!

Bo Master (names have been changed to protect the innocent): “Well clearly Scenario One would call for a Bo. I can handle one ninja blindfolded, even two – assuming they are from Southern Japan. But when three descend, I like to pack a little extra protection. Given the Bo’s long reach, it’s bound to help keep you out of range of those pesky ninja swords. I generally use them to cut the veggies before dinner, but I guess in the hands of a skillful ninja a sword could be a threat? Anyways, no matter – I’d quickly dispatch the fist 2 assailants and make sure the third suffered for his insolence.

Me: Okay, cool. But what about scenario 2? I hear samurai are pretty nasty.

Bo Master: I eat midget carnival samurai for breakfast.

Me: …gross.

Well that settles it folks. Clearly my keen interviewing skills allowed me to really cut to the heart of the issue. Look out George Stroumboulopoulos, here I come! By now you must be wondering what other weapons make our covenant list of 5. Stay tuned next week, when we post part II, lovingly titled, “Sticks of Death“. 🙂

Until then… drop lower in your stance…

Elevate your training! Taking your technique to the next level.

sakura-martial-arts-blackbelt-01So you’ve been training for a couple of years now.  Congratulations!  You’ve made it this far.  After several years of hard work, sweat (and maybe a few tears?) you’re ready to take your training to the next level.  But how do you take your training the next level?  Follow these 3 tips to elevate your training, get more out of your workouts and further develop your technique.

  1. Great form means there is no form:   Since white belt your Sensei has been harping on you about form.  Keep that reaction arm up!  Drop down in your stance! Keep that weight on the correct leg!  You’ve heard it all before.  And for good reason because as the old saying goes, “You need to learn the alphabet before you can learn to spell.”  You can’t throw a good punch for example, unless you understand how to make a good fist – and by now, assuming you’ve been training hard, your “fist” should be pretty decent.  So, what do you do when your form is second nature?  You have to let it go.  One of the big challenges for a student is changing the way we think about technique.   To take your technique to the next level you have to get “out of your head” sort of speak.  Adjust your thought centre from your extremities (thinking about what your hands are doing) for example, to your core.  Focus your mind on what your core/centre/chi is doing during your techniques.  Muscle memory will make sure your form is good – so don’t worry about it.  Focus on your technique from within your centre and you’ll be moving faster and more powerful in no time.
  2. Stop trying to muscle through your technique:  You’re probably pretty strong.  And you want to demonstrate your strength to your peers, so what do you do?  Clench you jaw and muscle through your technique.  Grunt, groan and ‘grind’ through your kata, etc.  This will only get you so far.  It’s probably one of the biggest misconceptions by higher-level students.  The real key to powerful technique is truly learning to relax.  And I don’t just mean breathing through your technique (although that’s certainly part of it) but rather relaxing your entire body.  You can’t shoot technique(s) from your centre, if your entire body is tense and trying to just muscle through your technique.  How do you know if you’re too tense?  Are you out of breath after doing about 10 minutes of kata at 100%?  Then ya, you’re too tense.
  3. Drop your centre: Seems simple enough.  But this is easier said than done.  Have you ever sparred with someone and whenever they move in on you, it feels like they’re a freight train and at any moment they can simply go through you?  Assuming it’s NOT because they out-weigh you by 100 pounds, you can assume that they are dropping their centre.  When sparring, a lower centre of gravity can have a great advantage because you tend to be more rooted to the ground and can leverage this power in your techniques.  It’s a clever trick and a great way to elevate your technique.  So how do you do it?  Try to imagine you have a ball sitting behind the knob of your belt.  Feel the weight of the ball?  That’s your centre of gravity.  Use that sensation to help apply power to your movements.  When used correctly and with speed and velocity – it can be very powerful. Keep you body low and move fast.  Your sparring partner will notice.

The best way to begin applying these principals is by implementing them in your kata.  Just like anything else in Karate, it takes time to develop, but if you’re thinking about these things sooner rather than later, you will soon find that they are becoming ingrained in your technique.

Happy Training.

Sensei Pennell

Eihachi Ota Seminar – 2014.

Sensei Pennell & Sensei Ota - 2014
Sensei Pennell & Sensei Ota – 2014

Your core is the centre of all your power.

Of course – this is something that we’ve all heard before.  Striking by just swinging your arms is… well, it’s just a waste of time.  It has been several years since I’ve seen Sensei Ota and not much has changed – yet everything has changed.  It never ceases to amaze me;  Sensei Ota is 69 years old – but has the speed, agility and power of someone 1/2 his age.  A true testament to the health benefits of a diet including a hefty dose of Karate!  The Seminar began on Friday with a great review of some Kata including Ananku and Gojushiho.  The amount of power that you can harness by proper stance and use of core muscles is truly incredible.  The was particularly evident in Ananku – a true powerhouse Kata.  Oh – and don’t forget to breath. 🙂

Bo Kata.

If you have not seen Sensei Ota wield a Bo – then you’re missing a real treat.  Once again it all comes back to core strength to get that tip speed up to unbelievable levels.  What I came away with from the Bo seminar was using your trailing hand for control – allowing you to increase your Bo’s tip speed – and hence striking power.  Sounds simple enough – but the only way to truly master the physical mechanics is to practice.  And that is something that Ota has done a lot of – and it shows.  The Bo has to be an extension of your core –  or else, it’s just a long, awkward stick.

Competition Sparring.

Flow sparring is nice.  It’s a good way to loosen up and have some fun.  But lets face it – it can make us lazy.  Particularly if we don’t mix it up with some semi-contact sparring (for those who are up for it that is).  We spent a great deal of time on Saturday doing some good semi-contact sparring.  Ota was quick to point out the importance of low stances, ever-moving hands and watching your opponents body moments for signs of what he/she is going to do next.  Keep your opponent guessing long enough for your to deliver your strike.  Don’t let your hands rest.  Use them as tools of distraction – another tool in the toolbox.  Combine that with quick strikes, power technique and solid stances and it makes for effective sparring, as well as a great workout.  And whatever you do, don’t hang around in your opponent’s strike zone for too long.  Get in and get out.  Know your range – and know your opponent’s range as well.

Shodan and Nidan Grading.

Congrats to Evan on his promotion to Nidan & congrats to Yousif for his promotion to Shodan!  Great work guys.