Thursday, November 21, 2013

The power of community

 This past weekend we had a promotion. One of the many things I realized about our school is our sense of community. Every rank that advanced demonstrated a strong spirit, perseverance, determination and courage. We had some moments of levity especially with the children, because children will give some of the most creative answers. The promotion took place over two days. Initially we did them all in one day  and ended up with very tired children and wilted parents. Going through the requirements for several ranks in one day makes for one long day a very tired students. We decided to separate the ranks and test them individually. Also the children and adults test on two different days. It makes for two very long days for the seniors but they support the test because of their commitment to the school and the students. 

The pictures you see in this post were taken by two seniors I would like to acknowledge ( Senpai Elena and Senpai Joshua). Thank you for your great photos! (Scroll to bottom to see pictures)
This is only a few out of 400 pictures that were taken over two days. I tried to show the overall spirit of unity we have in the pictures. Picking the ones to showcase was difficult because every picture showed something amazing. Some of the things the pictures do not show are the fortitude the students demonstrated when the test became difficult. One of our seniors-Senpai Mark make a comment which stayed with me. "Each rank is raising the bar- this is amazing!"   
 It was true, each rank kept amazing us. With their command of technique and precision. It was inspiring to see the progression skill. We started the morning with white belts and worked our way through the day until evening with the advanced yellow belts. In each group we could see the techniques get sharper. One of the things that came through the most was the intent behind the techniques. In the white belts we could see the idea start taking hold.

 By the time we were looking at advanced yellow belts there was no doubt in our minds that they had internalized the concept of intent behind the technique. 

 I want to express a heartfelt thanks to the Seniors who helped make this promotion the extraordinary event it was. Senpai Mark who made sure the intensity was ever present. Senpai Elena who made sure the precision was not forgotten.
Senpai Orlando who gave the students a sense of security and comfort.
Senpai Joshua who gave the students a map to follow during their kata making sure no one got lost.

 I also want to thank all of the parents who stand together with us in their children's lives as partners for their martial path.  
Thank you for taking the time out of your incredibly hectic schedules to make time to bring your child to class. I know that there may times its not easy, or convenient and yet you manage to make it. That is our community in action.

 The inception of most the groups started with tears. Even before they were on the floor, there was nervousness about knowing material and fear of the unknown. I had several conversations with members of each group and the recurring theme was the fear of the unknown. After a few moments and they had calmed down they would enter the dojo and they each excelled. 

To highlight the feeling of community one little boy said something very moving. He told me he didn't want to take promotion because he didn't want to ruin it for his group and give them extra push-ups. I assured him that there was no way his group would avoid push-ups. More importantly I stressed to him that the only thing that was expected from him or anyone testing that day was that they did their best. He put on his uniform and entered the dojo after that.

 That is what I always expect from the students. We set the bar high, they met and surpassed the bar. Each group moving it higher for the next.

 The other facet of promotion that they only experience on the day of is the breaking aspect-tameshiwari. We only do it during the promotion. For many of the parents it may seem like this is an easy task, break a quarter inch piece of wood with your hand or foot. For the students testing it may as well be a cinder block. Its not easy and they demonstrate an incredible amount of mental fortitude that leaves us speechless. 

There is a deep sense of accomplishment when they do manage to break that is palpable right after the break and they get their pieces of wood. The ones that don't manage to break their wood get to take it home. I always enjoy hearing the stories at the next class of how they went home and broke their boards. Most of the time they come back to the dojo holding their pieces of wood as evidence.

 Board breaking in itself is not indicative of great physical prowess. Although its not easy, by any stretch of the imagination. What it does is show them how much power they have in a visceral way. It shows them that they are getting stronger, not only physically but more importantly mentally. If you have any doubt as to the difficulty get yourself a few one inch pine boards and punch through them. It requires a certain kind of mindset to accomplish. 

The last group (advanced yellow) had one added dimension to their promotion. They had to spar. If the promotion is stressful fro the other ranks imagine that stress being ramped up ten times as much with the introduction of kumite or sparring. To say they did well would not do them justice. They fought exceptionally well. One young man had recently suffered a broken arm. We were taking precautions so he not re-injure the arm and in one exchange he fell on the arm that was recuperating. The fact that he came back in to finish even in the midst of fear and pain that he may hurt himself again is a testament to his strength of character. They fought  until they thought  they couldn't  stand  any longer and then they fought some more. When I tied their belts around their waists each one was beaming with a sense of having achieved something larger than themselves.

 The next day we had the adults and Senpai Mark prefaced the promotion by letting them know that the bar had been set by the children the previous day. It was a grueling and intensely physical promotion. They were tested beyond what they thought was possible. They withstood heat and exhaustion. The mental and physical fatigue was a constant throughout their test. Those that fought had to dig deep to find another reserve of strength after a four hours of testing. They found their reserves and surpassed any and all expectations.  You were all incredible.
I am humbled and honored to know you and to walk with you on this martial path.
strong spirit-strong mind-strong body
Sensei Orlando

Adults One dojo family
Adults new ranks (foggy lens!)

Blue/Adv Blue getting ready
Blue/Adv Blue push-ups

Adv Blue Kata

Blue belt seiza

Blue belt seiza

8am before we begin

White belt kata

White belt Tameshiwari

New Blue Belts!

New Adv Blue/ Yellow belts!!

Yellow belts ready

Yellow belt kata

Yellow belt tameshiwari

Yellow belt Tameshiwari

Yellow belt tameshiwari

New Adv Yellow belts!!

Adv Yellow kata

Adv Yellow Tameshiwari

New Green Belts!!

Adults ready!( Notice the smiles)

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Respect our Superiors

In our dojo kun, our dojo creed there is a line that states that we should respect our superiors. It has been brought to my attention this week by several of the students that if we are studying an ego-less way who are our superiors?
Its a very good question. The term respect our superiors can be viewed several ways. You can see it from a point of view of those who may be superior to you in skill or rank. It can also be viewed from the point of view of those who are superior in knowledge or social strata.

I pointed out that it can also be viewed as those who are elder to us. This is where it gets interesting. If we see it from this point of view it changes our entire practice.
If we take the attitude of respect to those who are senior to us, and by senior, I mean older than us. We can easily walk a path of humility. It  is a given that we should respect
all those who we come in contact with, in and out of the dojo. However those who are elder deserve a special respect. Let me share with you why.

Those generations that have come before us have paved the way for us. In many cases they have suffered hardships and difficulties so that we can have a better life. This is not just relevant to martial arts, but to society as a whole.  When we show this generation respect we are acknowledging their contribution to our lives. We are each born into the link of a chain that reaches back through the generations, both in our biological  families and in the adopted families of our practice.

Sadly we live in a society and culture ( in this country) where growing old is not valued, but rather is something to be avoided.  You only need to look  at  the cosmetic industry and you can see what an "evil" getting wrinkles, and by default aging is. In other cultures the elderly are venerated and are celebrated. In our society the elderly are discarded, put in homes where someone else can take care of them. The unspoken message is that they have outgrown their usefulness, in our lives and in society. In a martial practice respect is a very important component. You respect yourself, your fellow students, and your teachers.
You are also taught to respect your lineage. As a martial practitioner you are expected to know where your style comes from and who made it possible. Each one of us that studies a martial art is the embodiment of the will of our elders. We are all connected, we are all one. The great lesson that we learn both in martial arts and life is that youth and skill are temporary, but spirit and will can transcend your lifetime.

The pictures in this post are familiar to most martial artists. The top picture is Sensei Gichin Funakoshi which is considered one of the fathers of Karate and was the founder of Shotokan karate a style which is still practiced today.

The woman in the red belt is  Sensei Keiko Fukuda, at 96 she was a 9th degree black belt in judo, had been studying for 74 years and still taught three times a week. She passed away at 98 and is reported to have said at 96 that she needed to "slow down a bit" in her training. She was also the last living student who trained directly with Judo founder Jigoro Kano and the highest ranking woman in Judo.

The last picture is of  O-sensei Morihei Ueshiba, the founder of Aikido. Known for its soft and circular movements, it is a highly effective art that is still practiced today  all over the world.

I highlight these three teachers ( and there are many more) because they all practiced way past what would be considered their prime years. The trained and taught even when their bodies no longer held the vigor of youth. They were valued and respected as people and as teachers.

Lets take this attitude into our own lives and respect those who have come before us. It is interesting to note that when students ask me what the stripes on my belt mean, I tell them " it only means I have been doing this a little longer than you have." The word sensei literally means born before.  Using that definition we each have many sensei in our lives. Let us show them the respect they deserve.

strong spirit-strong mind-strong body
Sensei Orlando