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Lost in Translation

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An interesting aspect to the transition of Japanese martial arts into world-wide activities has been the challenge of transmitting the various techniques and philosophies through the barrier of different languages.  I’ve mentioned before, that among the early American karateka who studied under the first Japanese sensei’s, there were some who were fluent in Japanese.  This presented a distinct advantage in being able to understand what the sensei was trying to impart, beyond just the basics.  The first Japanese instructors, having a limited command of the English language, often had to rely on  exhortations like “Fastah!”, “Deepah stancu!”, “Moru Hipu!”, and…well, you get the idea.  At least, if the student had some fluency in the Japanese language, the sensei could comfortably explain the techniques in more detail and since a number of the early students were kibei (Japanese Americans who had been sent to Japan as children to truly learn the language and culture), even deeper, more nuanced explanations were possible.  Yes, language could be a real challenge.  In spite of this, lessons will usually involve a sensei demonstrating skillful technique which students strive to emulate over many thousands of repetitions.  Practice, practice, practice is always the best teacher. Recently, I [...]

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What are the Odds?

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Have you ever wondered, what the odds are that a new white belt will ever make it to black belt? The most common answer that I’ve heard was, “Hmm, maybe 1 percent?” Of course, it varies, depending upon the karate style and dojo, but this agrees with my own personal opinion of one’s chances of making shodan. Curious, I tried googling the internet in search of any scientific study regarding this phenomenon, haha (I couldn’t find one). However, I did come across various quora where veteran karateka would share their estimates of the odds, and their most common guess was also in the 1-2 percent range. Think about it, back when you were a white belt, how many of your fellow new beginners lasted long enough to take the blue belt exam? Maybe half? That means of every 100 new beginners, perhaps 50 might make it to blue belt. Then, a similar winnowing phenomenon occurs at each higher rank level. Of the 50 blue belts, perhaps 25 make it to the green levels, then maybe 10-12 to the purple levels, at by sankyu (lowest brown) it’s down to a half-dozen. And at the more difficult brown belt levels, more attrition [...]

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The Power of the Pen, the Power of the Ken

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As you know, in recent weeks, I’ve been sharing various drills intended to help you understand that the fist (in Japanese, the ken) is only the “tip of the iceberg” in terms of understanding where the power of the punch comes from.  That’s the reason for the drills associated with keeping the foot “rooted” on the ground, leg thrusts, hip rotation, shoulder locks, arm thrusts, etc.  The fist – although crucial to the end-point delivery of the punch, is pretty much limited to being tightly closed and in proper alignment with the wrist and arm and the point of impact. It’s so much easier to show this to you by demonstrating it, and by having you practice the drills.  To augment this, I was going to write up a short note regarding discussing how the “power of the pen” actually comes from a mind full of ideas that is transmitted to the tip of the pen,  Similarly, I was going to describe how a powerful punch (the power of the ken) actually was the result of a whole chain of energy flowing from a rooted foot and conducted through various muscles/ligaments/tendons into the striking knuckles.  After several paragraphs, I became [...]