By Ronald Leach, Hanshi and 9th Dan
Awarding rank in Seiyo-no Shorin-ryu Karate & Kobudo is not based on skill alone. It also has age and time in grade requirements. For the instructors there are also limitations. One basic requirement is that no instructor may award rank to anyone equal to the instructor rank. As a matter of fact, the instructor may only award rank equal to two ranks below his or level. A 5th dan may promote only to a 3rd dan level. This assures that the student gets an instructor with adequate advanced grade as a Sensei. This system works well.
However, problems arise at top level promotions of 9th and 10th dan, because if a 10th dan grades to maximum of 8th dan, 8th dan is then the highest promotion. There would be no way of promoting past that point. Eventually, when the 10th dan retires or dies, the highest rank is 8th dan and only 6th dan appointments may be made. With each successive generation two ranks are lost until the system dies.
To alleviate this problem, a mechanism called the Soke is put into place. The Soke, or head of system, holds an honorary rank of 12th dan. In this way the 9th and 10th dan levels may be reached. Unfortunately, the Soke system and rank are so over used and abused in the martial arts, that we in Seiyo-no Shorin-ryu abhor the system. But, it allows us a method to award upper level rank appointments. The Soke is a position only and not an actual rank.
Within this system, there is a second position called the Soke-dai. This person is the inheritor of the system given an honorary rank of 11th dan. When the Soke can no longer or no longer wishes to head the organization. This awarded position will automatically move the Soke-dai into the Soke position. That person then selects a person to fill the Soke-dai position. Technically, Harold Mead is the Shodai-Soke, first generation Soke. When he passes on the system the new head would assume the Nidai-Soke, second generation. And then, that Soke pass on the art to a successor who would become the Sandai-Soke, 3rd generation and so on.
Other than the ability of establishing continuity, people functioning in these positions are duly noted, but the name and special rankings are otherwise ignored in Seiyo-no Shorin-ryu. Other organizations use the terms in loft ways and that is the reason the Soke position is so out of control. In some organizations the position is more akin to Halloween candy, given freely at the front door.
In May 2012, Harold Mead, Kaicho (meaning originator of the system) selected a new person to fill the position of Soke-dai for Seiyo-no Shorin-ryu. That person, Vashon Borich, a very capable martial artist, will carry on Seiyo-no Shorin-ryu. Borich Sensei carries an actual rank of 5th Dan. The upper level students stand firmly behind her and have made a commitment to assure her training as the Soke-dai.
I am a beginner.
Sure, I've been involved in some sort of Martial Art since I was 8 years old and I'm 38 now. But, in my mind I'm still a beginner. Beginner's don't have to be cool or claim to know everything. Beginner's don't get uptight when they make a mistake. Beginner's are always learning. They seem to have more fun, too. They aren't overly critical of themselves. They don't classify themselves as "good" or "bad." They are simply a beginner... someone who is in the present and there to learn. Beginner's love what they do regardless of how well they do it. Or, should I say, beginner's love unconditionally.
This concept of being a beginner is really a mindset, a "beginner's mind." By adopting a beginner's mind, it opens you to learning without ego getting in the way. So often, as adults, we tell ourselves, "I know this! I should have done better! Anything I do should be done well or not done at all. Or, this is how I've always done it." A beginner's mind means temporarily throwing out all of your opinions, beliefs, logic and reason just for the sake of learning.
It is okay to say, "I don't know." For this is the first step in learning something new. In the martial arts, an "I don't know" mind is the wisdom of the warrior. We don't allow ourselves to say "I don't know" often enough. This is because we always know, or we always think we know. Most of the time when we think we know, we don't really know at all. All we know are our past impressions of the situation that is happening now, the conclusions we came to in the past or judgments about similar events or circumstances that happened to us before. "I Don’t know" means keeping an open mind and responding according to circumstances, not according to how we assume things will be.
Being a beginner means letting go of being an expert. We are all experts in something. We may think we are experts in our job, in raising children, in cooking a certain meal or in how we communicate with others. It’s difficult to let go of being an expert. Doing so means confessing that we really don't know anything. What we know belongs to the past. But this moment is new and offers its unique challenges. If I let go of being an expert, I can listen to others with an open mind. Then I can find that even a beginner has something to teach me.
Beginners aren't afraid to fail. When we were children we were always starting something new. Then, as we go through our twenties, thirties, and further, we become more hesitant about being a beginner again. Why? Maybe it's because we don’t want to look silly when we fail. Having a Beginner's mind means it's okay to fall down, it's okay to fail and it's okay to laugh at ourselves when we make mistakes. Tell yourself (and others if they are watching), "I'm a beginner!" Then get up, dust yourself off, smile and immerse yourself in learning something new.
A beginner's mind can transform the way one experiences life. It opens your mind to new possibilities and makes life fun.
In the next section, I list some thoughts to meditate on to help maintain a beginner's mind.
One thing that often separates a traditional martial arts school from most sports or MMA schools is meditation. For instance, in my school, before a student even sets foot into the dojo they are expected to meditate. We have a narrow hallway in which I lay down some carpets for the students to sit cross-legged and meditate. Students are expected to close their eyes, clear their mind and focus on their breathing.
The purpose of the meditation is to prepare oneself for class. If a student steps into class without meditating they may have lots of thoughts running through their head that could negatively affect their karate training. For instance, perhaps they had a bad day, had a quarrel with someone or are stressed about a family issue. All these things take space in the mind and affect a person from performing at their best. In clearing out these thoughts one can relax and live in the moment without the baggage of these other thoughts weighing you down. Think of meditation as a tool to help you focus, relax and therefore perform at a higher level.
Meditation may conjure up images of a yogi sitting in the lotus position, chanting "Om" and hovering over an Indian rug. But, it doesn't have to be that complicated. A person can meditate in a chair just by closing their eyes and taking deep breaths. In fact, a person can even meditate standing up, walking or laying in bed! The important thing is that meditation is NOT sleeping. Some meditations even encourage you to keep your eyes open. In meditation a person is relaxed and is focused on one thing. The one thing can be your breathing, your heart beat, a single word, a candle flame, the sound of a bell, a sound in nature, a positive affirmation or a bible verse. These are just some ideas on what you can use to focus your meditation. You may find other things or thoughts that you wish to use in meditation. Whatever you choose, it should not be a distraction or annoyance. It should be something that helps you focus and brings you peace.
I believe that everyone can benefit from meditation. As a student, a meditation right before a big test can help you focus and perform better. As an adult, before an important presentation at work, a meditation can help relieve stress. As a job seeker, meditation can help ease the nervousness that often accompanies a job interview.
One particular meditation that I find especially helpful is a morning meditation. In my life I have spoken to many successful entrepreneurs and business people who attribute morning meditation as an important part of their life. For most people the morning is a rush to get ready, eat breakfast, complete last-minute tasks and quickly shuttle out the door to school or work. It's rush, rush, rush from the get go without stopping to focus on the positive. Would you like to change your life? Would you like to start each day with a smile? Try this morning meditation on for size:
Step 1. Get up 15 minutes earlier (it may mean going to bed earlier)
Step 2. Get a cooking timer that you can set for 5 minutes at a time.
Step 3. Find a quiet, private spot that you can meditate in a comfortable position. For instance, a cushion on the floor, a chair or a place out doors.
Step 4. You will do three 5-minute meditations.
In the Okinawan dialect, there is no word for "retirement." Instead, they use a word called ikigai. Ikigai (pronounced ee-ki-guy) translates roughly to "purpose" or "that which makes one's life worth living." Okinawan's live with a sense of purpose, whether it be raising a happy healthy family, nurturing their vegetable garden, playing a musical instrument or practicing karate. Ikigai is something that brings enjoyment or fulfillment. It gives you a sense of satisfaction in what you are doing. It makes you happy to do it.
Karate or the martial arts can be that for some people. I know it is for me! If karate is not your ikigai, it may give you the physical or mental tools to find the ikigai in your life and keep you physically ft enough to continue experiencing it.
Your ikigai is the passion in life that drives you and that motivates you. It may be a hobby that you enjoy. It may be your job. It may be a sport that you participate in. It may be something that you create or express. The important thing is that it's something you enjoy doing so much that you can't imagine not ever being able to do it again.
Knowing your ikigai is important. It one of the key traits that leads to longevity in life. And, the Okinawan's have a long history of living very long lives as they have one of the highest life expectancy rates in the world. In fact, Okinawa is considered a Blue Zone. Blue Zones are places in the world where people live to 100 and stay healthy. However, finding your ikigai can be hard work to figure out. You may need to do a lot of soul searching to find yours. Here are a few tips on how to find your own ikigai:
In today's day and age, defending yourself against another person could possibly land you in prison. This is why it is so important to have at least a basic understanding of the way the law works.
If ever you are in a situation where you defend yourself and harm another human being, you will have to justify your defense. Some questions that you may have to justify include: How far did you take your self-defense? Did you pin the attacker until help arrived? Did you break the attacker's arm? Did you permanently injure the attacker? Did you kill your attacker? And, was the level of force that you used required in this situation?
As a martial artist it is important to understand how much force to use on a potential threat. In a court of law, you will have to prove that the amount of force used was justified and that you had no other choice. Here are just a few points to consider: Intent, Means, Opportunity and Preclusion.
Intent: At what point was the intent to harm you recognized? Did they say "I'm going to kill you?" Did they flash a weapon or throw a punch?
Means: Did the person appear to have the means to carry out the threat? Were they large, angry and coming at you? Or, was it a young person making empty threats but not physically capable of harming you?
Opportunity: Was there immediate opportunity for them to harm you? Was the person able to get at you, without you being able to get away from the threat? For instance, if you are inside your home, behind a locked door, and they are outside making threats the opportunity for them to harm you is not there yet.
Preclusion: Could you have precluded the attack by getting away? Was there a way that you could have avoided the threat? Could you have walked or ran away and called the police?
Where things get messy is determining the difference between a "Fight" and and "Attack." In a fight, both people agreed to engage in violence. In an attack, one person chose the high road and was trying everything possible to avoid the threat of an attack. If you responded back verbally to a potential attacker with equal violent or rude words, then you helped start the fight. By responding back to the attacker in this way, you just initiated a fight and may no longer be able to claim self-defense. You could have just left the situation, rather than respond back to the threat.
Here are some other things to consider: Let's say your initial self defense to someone who lunges at you is to break their nose and pin them to the ground. In doing this, you have limited their means to attack. Their intent may still be there, though. You may still need to defend yourself. Now they attack again, you respond by dislocating their arm and taking out their knee. They are now crying out on the floor. Their intent appears to be gone and their means are severely limited. If you proceed to follow up with additional attacks, you could be charged with excessive force.
You can learn more about Self Defense Law and the Martial Artist with this link:http://ittendojo.org/articles/general-4.htm
In conclusion, you should have a basic understanding of your rights and your attacker's rights before you ever get into a self-defense situation. You don't want to hesitate or second guess your actions during the heat of an attack. Here is a short summary of important things to remember based on the article link listed above:
"Seventy percent of success in life is showing up."
Staying motivated in one's karate training can be a challenge. It requires a commitment of time and the self-discipline to practice what is taught. There are so many distractions in life, it is easy to say, "I don't really feel like going to class tonight. I think I'll skip." Excuses like, "I'm too tired" or "I don't feel well" or "I'll just go next week" all are an easy way out. It's always easier to make an excuse.
I am no exception to the excuse game. Many years ago when I first started karate, there was a period of time in which I struggled to attend regular karate classes or even train on my own. I'd make a lot of excuses to justify in my mind that it was ok to skip a class every now and then. However, I soon saw that some of my friends in class were getting promoted in rank and I wasn't. This frustrated me and I considered quitting. I approached my Sensei after class and before I could say anything, he asked "Do you want to become a black belt one day?" I said, "Yes. It's always been a dream of mine to become a black belt." He then leaned in and said, "Let me tell you a little secret... karate, like anything you want to succeed at in life, requires commitment and perseverance. If you want to one day become a black belt, you must demonstrate both. Anyone can quit. That's easy! But if you truly want to become a black belt, you MUST turn that dream into a goal. Commit to it. Be Present. Attend classes. Practice. Focus on your goal and NEVER quit until you achieve it."
I went home and I made a promise to myself to attend all classes, no excuses. The only way I would miss class was if there was some unforeseen circumstance, emergency or actual illness that would be in the best interest to not spread around. And if one of these rare things occurred, I notified my instructor that I wasn't going to be there and kindly requested a lesson plan so I could practice at home. It was a true commitment.
There still were times in which I didn't want to go to class. However, I've personally found that when I didn't feel like going was when I needed it the most. The safe environment, the meditation and just getting some exercise, lifted my mood. It made me feel better. And with each class, I was one step closer to achieving my goal. Of course I did finally earn my black belt. It took me five years of dedication. Had I not missed so many classes that first year, I may have earned my black belt in four years. But, once I earned the coveted black belt, I didn't want my goal to stop there. I set new goals and became an instructor. At the writing of this entry, I am a third degree black belt and I continue to learn and grow in the martial arts. The martial arts have become my passion and I see myself as a life-time practitioner of the arts.
My advice to any student of the martial arts hoping to stay motivated is: Set goals for yourself. Select things that you want to be able to do. The goal to be a black belt may be too daunting. Set some small goals like, I will practice my kata outside of class 5 times this week. Or, I will work to attend every karate class this month. Then reward yourself as you achieve your goals and set new goals along the way.
If you want to advance in rank and eventually become a black belt, it requires three main things:
The longer you do the martial arts the more it becomes a way of life and a part of who you are. There is a switch that occurs somewhere during your training where the motivation to continue training and learning suddenly becomes stronger than the motivation to quit.
I consider myself a life-long practitioner of the martial arts. Like many other life-long martial artists, the study of karate is a way of life, a philosophy in living.
Initially, when a student starts taking karate classes it is usually for the reasons of self defense, physical health or the sport of it. But, if you choose to progress in the art you learn that karate is much more than that. It encompasses the mind, body and spirit of the practitioner. Humility, patience, self discipline, self control and poise are just some of the life benefits of karate-do. (The Way of Karate) All of these qualities are important to learn for a karate practitioner to advance in the art. An advanced martial artist is taught methods to seriously harm, maim or kill another human being. If a student does not posses a maturity or tempered spirit then learning these advanced techniques could be a danger to society and themselves. For this reason, warriors are held to a higher standard of living.
As an instructor, I will only share advanced teachings to students who have proven their honor, humility and Integrity. My goal in life is to guide my students to be the best they can be. I am a facilitator that offers lessons in being an honorable warrior, a leader and a positive example to others. I take my role as instructor seriously. Everyday I strive to be a positive example and role model. I continue to learn and improve myself as well.
Through the years down my own path in karate-do, I have come to believe eight philosophical principles. I feel that following these principles will lead to enlightened living.
Honor, is an interesting word. If you look it up in the dictionary, It means many things. However, the definition that comes closest to how I view honor is through the word integrity. Integrity is a firm adherence to a code of especially moral or artistic values. A quality or state of being complete or undivided... Completeness, incorruptibility, soundness.
Temptation can lead to a compromise of integrity and honor.
A person of honor has good character, decency, goodness, honesty, morality, rectitude, righteousness, rightness and virtue.
A person who lacks honor is evil doing, immoral, unfair, exhibits iniquity, is sinful, wicked and generally has a character of wrong doing or badness.
If someone is honorable, they are not disposed to cheat, defraud or deceive another human being. Living an honorable life is not something that just happens – it is something that must be carefully and continually sought after. So, what are some examples of ways to lead an honorable life?
I have a simple philosophy on what makes a good martial artist or martial arts school. It all comes down to one word, Respect.
What exactly is respect? Looking it up in the dictionary you will find there are many uses and definitions of respect. It's a sophisticated word that can be used as both a noun and a verb. The simplified definition that I use is; To treat people, animals and yourself with kindness.
When I teach karate, the most important lesson that I hope for all my students to learn is how to be a good person. Secondly, is how to be good at karate. Being a "good" person to me means being a person full of kindness who others admire. I call that being respectful.
Building respect starts in the dojo. Here are just some of the ways a student in karate can be respectful.
Ways to show respect in Karate:
Ways to show respect outside of Karate:
Vashon Borich, Sensei teaches traditional karate & kobudo in Branson, Missouri. She considers herself a life-time student of the arts. Her blog is an open journal of lessons learned in the martial arts. If you are a martial artist and would like to contribute to her blog please contact her.
©2012 Branson Karate & Kobudo™