Four students were attempted their 1st Dan Black Belt, which led of course to the world-renowned Kyokushin 40 fights.
Hearty efforts were put in by all students. Congratulations to all the senior kyu grades. Special recognition goes to the Yudansha:
Sempai Joshua Darley, Nidan
Sempai Stephen Runge, Shodan
Sempai Jermaine Downs, Shodan
Sempai Bernard Wilson, Shodan
Sempai Cody Choi, Shodan
Sempai Jermaine is a hard-working, strong, diligent student from Brisbane Dojo. He is the first to reach Shodan from Brisbane, under the tutelage of Sensei Rob James. Sempai Jermaine has balanced his Kyokushin training with work and family commitments, but always attended seminars when he is able, and has been a strong deputy to Sensei Rob. He is a highly a capable fighter, budding instructor and good martial artist, with a bright future ahead of him. Congratulations Sempai Jermaine, and Sensei Rob on bringing your first student to back belt.
Sempai Cody is one of a crop of promising young KIMAA karateka who have, after years of dedicated training under Hanshi Howard and Sensei James Sidwell, persisted and worked in the adult General Classes towards the goal of Shodan. He has previously competed in tournaments.
Sempai Bernard also has muchtournamentexperience and trained with increasing intensity over the years, becoming a strong young man with many years of excellent Karate ahead of him.
Sempai Stephen has been training at Turramurra Dojo for a long time, despite persistent injuries. His dedicated attitude to training despite obstacles has not gone unnoticed. He has also become a regular assistant instructor in the Kids classes and to newcomers in the General classes. He is an invaluable presence at the dojo, and a good Karate man.
Sempai Josh began his Karate training in 2012 and has been an impressive young personality at Turramurra Dojo since the beginning. He has fought in tournaments, trained with Shihan Ken Ogura, done tameshiwari and regularly pushed himself to the next level of technical excellence. He has applied himself diligently in his training to Nidan, as he did for Shodan. While it is rare for one so young to be a Nidan, he has certainly earned the grade in the eyes of the seniors.
That night, everyone celebrated with the Turramurra Christmas Party – with all those out-of-town and grading invited along, of course.
Congratulations to all who participated in the grading – a strong, fine way to end the year.
KIMAA traditionally runs two seminars in Sydney twice a year, in addition to those conducted at the other dojos. In the 2015 Japan Group Tour, senior KIMAA karateka met and trained with Shihan Ken Ogura (8th Dan) at Sensei Hokama’s dojo. The group were all impressed with Shihan Ken’s martial arts ability, and his excellent teaching. Hanshi Howard Lipman invited Shihan Ken to Australia to conduct a seminar in 2016, focusing on bunkai (self-defence application from techniques, particularly in kata) and Kobudo. This was repeated in 2017 and again this year, due to the seminars’ continuing success and the interest of students.
The seminar formally began on the Thursday night at Turramurra. The smaller group focused on bunkai from Sanchin, Pinan Yon and Pinan Go. Shihan Peter Olive resumed his role as Shihan Ken’s partner in bunkai – a.k.a. crash test dummy!
Training focused on the same kata as the previous day – revision for the now ‘advanced’ students while everyone else caught up.
Kancho Doug Turnbull with Sensei Mark McFadden
Special guests for the seminar, just on the Friday night, included Kancho Doug Turnbull and some of his KIKO students. Also appearing over the weekend was Kie Matsuoka, one of Shihan Ken’s students, who came out from Japan to train with Shihan Ken and KIMAA.
After training, the class went to dinner at Gordon Noodle City.
The seminar continued on the weekend at Annangrove Dojo. The rest of the Young Dojo contingent arrived. The day began with a basics session, conducted by Hanshi Howard. Students then broke up into groups based on grade level. Black belts studied Seienchin bunkai with Shihan Ken, while junior grades were taught by other seniors elsewhere.
Juniors took a turn with Shihan Ken, while Yudansha revised Pinan Ura kata with Shihan Peter and middle kyu grades practised Pinan Ni with Sensei Ben Ng. Then the middle-senior kyu grades went inside with Shihan Ken to look at a group bunkai drill for Gekisai Dai, assisted by Sensei Paul Finnerty.
Junior kyu grades then had a turn learning new kata bunkai with Shihan Ken. The senior grades worked on the formality, intensity and accuracy of Sanbon Kumite. Shihan Idir Bahamid had middle kyu grades revise Naihanchi kata, then Shihan Rick Cunningham taught the group some bunkai for that kata. A few students took turns over the course of the weekend being Shihan Ken’s new demonstration partner, including Sempai James Campbell and Sempai Jason Lambe.
Shihan Ken also took some seniors through various Kobudo drills after lunch.
It was a long day with a large number of training sessions. Well done to all. Thanks go to both days on the weekend to Sensei Ian Holdaway, Kirsti Cunningham and Masumi Lipman for keeping everyone fed.
After the last photos were taken for the day, a dinner was held at Shihan Rick’s home.
Training resumed Sunday morning. Things began with an outdoor basics session – during which, a long selfie stick and drone were flying around to film the training. This and other footage compiled over the past few years was put together for the new KIMAA video.
After lunch, the kids were done for the day and the adults went back to training with Shihan Ken. This included some revision of kata bunkai and sanbon kumite. Finally, Shihan Rick conducted a bunkai test – having students rotate through different pairs, demonstrating bunkai from various kata at random.
KIMAA has firm standards of students being able to demonstrate bunkai in Kyokushin Karate gradings – the quantity and complexity of which being dependent on their grade level. These seminars are an integral part of this preparation.
The final session of the seminar was held on the Monday night at Turramurra Dojo. Shihan Ken had fun in the Kids Class, including some sparring. The adults class focused exclusively on bunkai from the Okinawan Seipai kata.
At the end, Sensei Mark, Sensei James and Sensei Alex demonstrated the Kyokushin Seipai kata for Shihan Ken, which he found most impressive. At the end of the night, Shihan Ken expressed his warm thanks for his reception in Australia, and how much he has enjoyed watching the organisation come along over the years he has been affiliated with us.
Thanks go to everyone who travelled to Sydney for the weekend, especially of course to Shihan Ken Ogura for travelling from Japan on this third occasion to teach KIMAA students. Further thanks go to all the seminar organisers, including Hanshi Howard Lipman and Shihan Rick Cunningham.
It is now over to the instructors and students who attended the seminar to revise what they learned, consolidate their knowledge and continue to develop their skills – to keep travelling the path.
Naihanchi is a traditional Karate kata once practiced by Sosai Mas Oyama. Hanshi Howard Lipman has introduced Naihanchi as a grading requirement for 4th Kyu (green belt), for the KIMAA karateka to continue to train as per Sosai’s legacy.
This video was taken at the September 2018 Shihan Ken KIMAA Seminar.
Alex Lloyd was promoted to Sandan – Sensei – after 13 continual years of training. Alex is well respected by all those people who have grades above and below. He has become an excellent teacher and has an in-depth knowledge of Kyokushin, its history, techniques and principles, as were taught by Sosai Mas Oyama. He now takes his place in the dojo within the ranks of Sensei in the KIMAA organisation.
Sensei Alex is also Nidan (2nd Dan) in the International Hokama Kobudo Organisation, and will attempt his Sandan in Kobudo later this year.
The journey of the karateka is always one of self-improvement, for “Behind each triumph are new peaks to be conquered,” in the words of Kyokushin founder Sosai Mas Oyama. Junior students have a singular focus of becoming better martial artists, while a teacher must have dual focus: still pursuing self-betterment for their own ongoing progression and, more importantly, the moulding of their students from beginners into martial artists. I have found instructing classes integral to my technical development as a martial arts practitioner, expanding my understanding of Karate beyond its sporting component, and that instructing has had a marked effect on my personal growth. This essay seeks to explore the importance of a teacher being a good role model, having technical proficiency and an understanding of Karate spirituality; and how the pursuit of these as a teacher further develops one to another level of martial artistry. It is my strong belief that the role of Sensei or Shihan is beyond one of just technical mastery, but is the ultimate embodiment of budo.
2. The teacher as a role model
A good teacher is a role model to their students. The foundation of this principle begins for the white belt in their first lesson. We are taught early in Kyokushin that the student must aspire to be like the senior grade next to them. This continues through the lines of the class to the senior student, who aspires to the skills of the instructor out the front. In Kyokushin, a student’s progress is measured against a standard benchmark (as defined by the syllabus) as well as on an individual basis, against each student’s own ability and improvement over time. While the ultimate test may be against oneself in a grading, a senior student or instructor serves as a beacon for the junior’s next goal. This means that the quality of the kyokushinkai stems from the teacher. If the Sensei’s standards are low, then the Sempai only has so much they can pursue. Subsequently, the next student can only improve to a limited degree, and so on down the class. Our hierarchical system of training depends on a high, strong capstone at the top of the pyramid. This in turn will produce strong students; strong foundations. The highest responsibility of a teacher is always to live up to their part as a role model.
This should not be seen as a burden or pressure. “One must try, everyday, to expand one’s limits,” said Sosai. Junior students have a reprieve that only their fellow kohai and the Sensei’s eyes are watching them. The further one advances through the class, the more students are watching, both to copy technique from and also to chase to try and surpass. This is an additional motivation to always train at one’s best rather than just go through the motions. This is felt to the greatest degree by the teacher, for all eyes are on them: “We will look upwards to wisdom and strength,” – the Sensei must be the source of wisdom and strength to which the Dojo Kun refers.
I began teaching classes as a senior high school student at 3rd Kyu, through the Knox Karate program. At first my instructor, Hanshi Howard Lipman, would remain in the class – to oversee me and correct the techniques of students where I missed their mistakes which, at first, was frequently! I was certainly nervous when I started instructing, for I had a number of capable senior students whom I regarded as having more natural sporting ability, coordination and technical flair than me; not living up to being the role model, especially technically, was of great concern. Comparing me to the instructors who usually taught the Knox classes at the time – Hanshi, Sensei Allan Engelin and Sensei James Sidwell – would clearly showcase an obvious disparity in ability. But the responsibility of teaching drove me to train harder and more often. I increased my level of practise at home, as well as the number of classes I attended outside the Knox program. Teaching made me work harder at my techniques, as well as improving my self-confidence. In turn, as I felt the students’ respect for me increase, this only positively reinforced my training. After a time, Hanshi was happy to occasionally do paperwork in the office while I taught, or have me cover a class completely solo if he was unable to attend. In the context of Knox Karate, I started to feel like a role model. Naturally, though, there’s always another level to pursue in the martial arts. For me at that time, it was the General Class, where I was still quite junior.
A dedicated and adept teacher who serves as a role model for all members of the dojo is fundamental to uniting a Karate class to train hard and continue to pursue self-improvement. In the words of Shotokan Karate-Do founder Gichin Funakoshi, “Karate is like boiling water: without heat, it returns to its tepid state.” The teacher living up to their duty as role model provides that heat.
3. The teacher as a technician
A good teacher of Karate does more than just drill techniques into their students – a point to which I will return – but the foundation of correct technique is a vital component for any martial artist. In this sense, ‘technique’ encompasses all executed movements in Kyokushin – strikes, blocks, kicks, stances – as well as composite movements and patterns – ido geiko, combinations, kata, bunkai, fighting manoeuvres and all levels of kumite. The logic of the importance of a teacher as a technician stems from the teacher’s ultimate responsibility of being a role model: the teacher must display, understand and be able to explain every technique to the highest degree of accuracy and skill, so the class has a standard for which to strive.
The high technical ability is a prerequisite to being an instructor, achieved through years of, as Sosai simply put it, “training. Train more than you sleep.” Similarly, a Sensei’s fitness level should be above that of the class he or she instructs. Beyond being the correct example for the class, the clarity of thought while under physical duress needed to teach is best attained through fitness. In turn, a strong foundation of fitness enables a better execution of techniques.
While difficult and often requiring years of relentless pursuit, technical mastery is the simplest of the three elements of a teacher being a good technician, the other two being understanding and explanation. Understanding why techniques are done the way they are is what differentiates the Karate Sensei from a military drill sergeant. For example, hikite (pulling hand) is not performed for neatness or aesthetic in a sporting sense, nor simply because a book says so. Hikite produces power, whether in a strike or block, which maximises the effectiveness of the technique. It changes the power of the movement being generated from a singular limb. For example, a singular set of shoulder and arm muscles throwing a punch, to channelling the strength of the whole body, right from the ground, into the technique. There is also a potential practical application of grabbing or being grabbed, and pulling in an opponent while striking with the other hand. Understanding this and being able to explain and demonstrate the importance of hikite to a class will improve the students’ technique, enhancing their power and kime (focus). This level of understanding also increases the teacher’s ability to correct their students. For example, a good teacher may identify the cause of an ineffective punch as inattentiveness to hikite, whereas a less able teacher will likely try to improve the student’s punch with muscular power, mistakenly relying on strength over form. Hence, a teacher must constantly study and seek an understanding of what they are explaining. Teaching can also reveal to the instructor what they do not know, hence for what they need to seek answers.
I have found that explaining techniques to students while teaching has greatly improved my own Karate. Explaining the importance of angles in a particular posture, weight distribution in a certain stance or how to correctly twist a limb in a block to enhance the power of the parry has made me acutely aware of the nuances involved in these techniques. Correcting the mistakes of students keeps me mindful of avoiding the same mistake as I do the technique. Years of correcting and explaining techniques has also changed the way I think while training. When performing Jodan Uke as a junior kyu grade, I only focused on the end result: arm goes up and blocks the incoming head strike at an angle. Now my technique is faster, yet I have more to think about: am I keeping my arms in an equal and opposite reaction, am I rotating my shoulders 45 degrees with the manoeuvre, is the descending arm perpendicular to the ground as it covers my body, is the ascending arm rotating that extra amount for kime as it locks into the final position, is the finishing angle of the arm correct, are my knuckles pointing to the ceiling, did my obi (belt) flick as I turned to 45 degrees to indicate I used my hips and twisted with sufficient speed, and was I as fast and accurate as the senior grade to my right? My mind checks these boxes on every technique. Karate is an invaluable art to train the body, but it also trains the mind. This can be applied to any basic technique (kihon) in Kyokushin. More advanced components of Karate, such as kata or bunkai have an even greater effect on sharpening the mind, due to their complexity. Teaching Karate has catalysed a great expansion of my mental acuity, as well as refining my technical form, further developing my skills as a martial artist.
A Sensei who is an exemplar of technical precision does not just showcase form, but also a depth of knowledge. This includes an understanding of why the techniques are performed the way they are, the terminology and the practical application – the bunkai. Breaking down and explaining these techniques to students in turn has an effect on the instructor’s ability, as they focus on further refining the subtleties of each action, from a simple block to a takedown manoeuvre derived from a senior kata.
4. The teacher’s role in the spirituality of Karate
The study of the martial arts is ultimately about more than a form of self-defence, but about character. Funakoshi said that the “ultimate aim of Karate lies not in victory or defeat, but in the perfection of the character of its participants.” The Karate Sensei serves as the role model to their students, continually striving to be their benchmark. This is reflected in the meaning of Kyokushin, which is commonly translated as “ultimate truth”. I have been told by a highly educated Japanese speaker that another translation could be “pursuit of the Ultimate Truth”, which is my preferred interpretation. The study of Karate is a journey with an unattainable finish line, but it is the journey that matters rather than the destination.
I find that the hardworking Sensei encapsulates this pursuit of the ultimate truth. They have a high degree of technical proficiency and experience imparting this knowledge to juniors, yet are still at the lower end of the spectrum of Yudansha seniority compared to a Hanshi. A Sensei may have a more senior Sensei, Shihan or Hanshi above them in rank and ability, and that Sensei must aspire to be more like his or her senior grade in the same way that kohai aspire to be like their sempai. Years of work has been done to reach the level of Sensei, but the journey is far from over. By my definition, it can never be over – but it can be progressed along further. This state of having travelled much of the road, yet with much of the road yet to be travelled is reflected in Sosai’s quote, “One living daily in the Way carries their head low and their eyes high; reserved in speech and possessing a kind heart, they steadfastly continue in their training efforts.”
The sentiment expressed by Sosai captures that of Karate’s spiritual side. The model karateka is of a well-rounded character; patient, resilient and courteous. There are many quotes by Sosai espousing these ideas: “Courtesy should be apparent in all our actions and words and in all aspects of daily life,” and “The karateka who has given the necessary years of exercise and meditation is a tranquil person. He is unafraid. He can even be calm in a burning building.” A teacher aims to guide their students towards these courteous, “more spiritually focused Japanese Karate [principles],” (Sensei Tetsuhiro Hokama). The teacher who lives with a mindful adherence to the Dojo Kun for themselves and their students will deepen their own martial art spirituality.
In my own experience, I believe I have lived by the principles of Kyokushin as best I can. The Dojo Kun has helped me grow in maturity and strength of character, particularly as Karate came into my life during my teenage years. I have failed on many occasions – whether due to hubris, laziness or otherwise – but I hold myself accountable. I have built myself to this point over years of training and teaching, doing my best to be a role model for students not just in technique, but in character. I have learned that “Karate … must be a moral way, surpassing mere techniques,” (Sosai). I believe that Hanshi Lipman inviting me to attempt a Sandan grading reflects that. But, as with technical training, there is always room to improve.
Being an instructor also teaches the Karate Sensei to be selfless in their pursuit of the ultimate truth. Ego has no place in the dojo; the show-offs never last in a reputable dojo. One can pursue a sense of achievement and use that as a source of motivation, but pride is not the goal of training. Building students from beginner through to advanced levels can be humbling for the Sensei, too. Shihan Judd Reid details in his book The Young Lions an occasion when Sosai paired Reid with his own teacher, Wada Sensei, to fight each other for a place in the All Japan Tournament. Reid overcame his mixed feelings and bested his teacher in the fight: “By the end, I was clearly the dominant fighter, and sure enough, the judges awarded the fight to me. I was selected to fight in the All Japan and Wada wasn’t. Wada Sensei graciously congratulated me … a real life story where the student finally overcomes the teacher’s own ability, through the teacher’s own efforts and training.” I can only imagine how proud Wada Sensei was of Shihan Reid after that 1990 fight. Every teacher’s goal should be for their students to one day exceed their own abilities, rather than remain forever subservient. This is in the spirit of pursuing the ultimate truth, and doing so one generation at a time.
The Karate teacher who lives by the principles of the martial arts; who enacts them every day; is on the path to be a truly great martial artist. Being a Karate instructor has seen me exercise “the power of combining rigorous physical discipline with philosophical study” so that I “can readily testify to the self-conquests made possible through karate-do,” (Hanshi Patrick McCarthy). I have seen firsthand my most senior Karate instructors all live by this code. This differentiates Karate from sport – it is not a hobby or game; it is a lifestyle.
The role of teaching is fundamental to the development of a martial artist.
A Karate teacher has a symbiotic relationship with their students, in that they must always set a benchmark for the students to try to attain, and the students in turn drive the teacher to better themselves for they are always pursuing the standard which has been set. A teacher who is a role model to their students leaves no room for complacency, but inspires self-improvement and growth by their own example. While an instructor in the dojo will have already exhibited technical proficiency to seniors to be in that position, the act of teaching and explaining techniques will further refine the Sensei’s form as they deepen their knowledge and apply this to their practice of techniques. Finally, the Sensei who seeks to live by and impart to others the principles of the martial way, and not just perform a sport, will foster their own spiritual development as a karateka, and that of their students. Teaching has been an integral part of my own development as a martial artist for all these reasons. It has had a profound effect on my character and maturity, and enabled me to grow into someone who does not simply do Karate, but one who tries to be a true karateka.
Jasper Choi was promoted to Shodan having started training as a seven year old, and reaching Shodan at seventeen years – the same year in which he is doing his HSC. Jasper exhibited an extremely mature attitude towards his training and grading, and general understanding of Kyokushin. He won the respect of all the other black belts and now takes his place amongst them.
Growing up with the martial arts, notably Kyokushin Karate, has been an experience and a test of perseverance, endurance and strength in “mind, body and spirit”, a recitation spoken and lived by its founder, Sosai Mas Oyama.
The personal development of physical and mental growth from childhood to adulthood is ultimately a journey. A journey which is different for each and every person. Personally, growing up has been the act of fostering an understanding of the world through one’s parents, peers and experiences. Kyokushin Karate has been a core experience that has resonated with and intertwined itself within my life as a karateka and as a person.
Kyokushin Karate is known and propagated as “The Ultimate Truth” which I interpret as – trust in yourself and others, notably the trust in yourself is what cultivates personal strength and character. This strength of character and trust is imperative to oneself and their aspirations in life.
This is the ultimate truth which is the central element of Kyokushin, not only as a martial art, but as a lifestyle. The physical tests of endurance serve to enhance the appreciation and development of key values presented by parental guidance and personal experience.
From the age of seven, to the age of seventeen, my journey with Kyokushin Karate has not been one of perfection or talented prodigy, but one of challenge and doubt.
The grade of Shodan represents only the beginning of a lifelong pursuit, a cliché that all karateka come to agree upon.
I hope to express within this piece, the maturity and the personal challenges I faced on the path to attain the opportunity to grade to Shodan and the reasons for my readiness to take this next step on my journey with Kyokushin Karate.
The Beginning of the Journey
At the age of seven, I walked up the narrow stairs to the dojo, experiencing for the first time, the now familiar smell of the mats and the spirit of the “kiai”. The sight and the sound of the snapping white gi, the smiles on the faces of the children and the friendship they all shared seemed to ignite the already emerging fire of excitement.
It was at this moment, I realised, that the gi pants would always be infinitely larger than the gi jacket itself and the belt always tied incorrectly unless done by a professional, either Sensei James or my father.
I distinctly remember one of my first instructors, Gavin. I started with two other children, themselves already good friends, disinterested in the movements of the basics. Gavin took me aside, and taught me the beginnings of the first punching basics, ever patient with my lack of coordination.
I returned each Monday, Wednesday and Friday after that, with a certain interest that could be compared to religious devotion and fervor.
This beginning saw the emergence of friendships that grew beyond school, beyond family and beyond other sports. The games played before and after class, the precise movements of kata and the Japanese spirit of respect and humility was reflected in the way I carried myself in the dojo, albeit with small steps and a soprano voice, with a sense of pride and passion for Kyokushin Karate.
I now realize, that this sense of pride and passion was formed from discipline as well as friendship and camaraderie. The concept of discipline for a child, something I have also come to realize as an instructor, is at times, confusing and unattainable.
My instructors Hanshi Howard Lipman and Sensei James Sidwell made this concept of discipline seem like an enjoyable experience, something I can only hope to emulate and build on as a student and as a teacher. Their patience and their value as a mentor as well as an instructor was appreciated, even by a seven-year-old boy.
Challenge and Adversity
My interest in Kyokushin Karate as a child did not come without its frustrations and inherent challenges. The dipping motivation and the growing disinterest in the monotony of classes saw my passion for karate wane and fade.
The starting of high school brought its own opportunities and challenges. The pressures of academia and personal goals in school sport came to overtake the values I had been taught in the art of Kyokushin.
This period saw my attitude become irritable and unpleasant, often resulting in snide comments and excessive pride. I was lost in the world of the teenage boy, apathetic and cynical in my lack of experience.
The transition to the adults class became a way of reinvigorating my passion for the martial arts. The passion of that seven-year-old boy came to the forefront once more.
School debating on Friday nights was another adversity I had to overcome in order to focus on my training. The Friday nights I spent at karate soon became limited and soon stopped. The midweek classes impacted my academic results in Years 8 and 9, ending in sporadic appearances at the dojo every fortnight.
The re-emergence of the “ultimate truth” into my young life did not come as an epiphany or a moment of spiritual clarity. It was a moment of humility. I had finally understood the concept that one is never the best, and can never be the best, but only to keep striving for the best.
The reality of my situation was that I became disillusioned by everyone else’s success in the dojo and their immense improvements across the months of my absence. People who began their journey after me were training harder than I was, and it dramatically changed my attitude towards my own progress.
The healthy competition and support within the dojo drove me once again to strive for improvement and personal development. I did not appreciate or know at the time, but the re-immersing of my body and spirit into karate brought a more level headed demeanor towards school activities and relationships with teachers, friends and strangers.
This step to becoming a Shodan will represent the change and clarity through the maturity that I have developed since my younger, more turbulent self.
Motivation and Determination
As I came to learn the values of humility, respect and moderating pride, my motivation to train hard returned tenfold.
I believe that motivation fluctuates, it comes and goes with one’s personal interests and situations, a fleeting emotion, guided by the mind’s perception of pain versus gain.
I have come to realise in the most basic sense, that discipline and determination is a hard-cut decision, a commitment and a pursuit of the betterment of one’s own spirit. To truly put into practice, the concept of enhancing the abilities of mind, body and soul.
This newfound resolve I have found in my training has been the result of perseverance and determination through discipline. The road to my grading has always been shaded with an aura of doubt and uncertainty, which pervades the whole concept attaining the rank of Shodan, with the building of a strong mindset of determination above the underlying thoughts of failure and giving up.
Giving up is always the easier option. Giving up is the unconscious whisper that tells you to put down the weights, to stop moving your legs, to walk away from the heavy bag. Giving up only leads to failure and no improvement. My personal understanding of this painfully tempting option, is that giving up is beautifully masked by the excuses and cynicism that comes with failing a task.
To undertake the training needed to attain the grade of Shodan, the mind must be strong in resisting the ever-present urge to stop and rest and the body must be strong to resist pain and fatigue.
I present this statement to highlight the fact that my mind is not of the strongest will, and my body is not conditioned to the point of whole readiness. It is a constant challenge that only determination can drive, not motivation or fleeting interests. I believe that this ongoing commitment is what has made me ready to attempt the grading with a strong and ready resolve.
This commitment has returned to me since the end of Year 10, beginning my journey as a teacher as well as a student. This has been the most invaluable experience since my return to serious training.
The experience of teaching has truly widened my perspective as a student of Kyokushin Karate and brought a newfound respect for my instructors. This value of respect has been instilled in me not only by my teachers, but my friends, children and the parents who involve themselves with KIMAA.
I came to experience that teaching is not the exercise of feeling superior or talented. It is the emotion of humility that drives the process of helping one enjoy and find passion for Kyokushin Karate.
With my limited years of teaching Kyokushin Karate, there are some questions which never fail to reveal themselves in a conversation with parents hoping to send their children into the supposed “abyss” of the martial arts and its connotations to violence and unruliness.
I find that there are generally two types of parents when it comes to sending their child to train at the dojo. One believes that it is ‘too hard’, violent and generally unnecessary and outdated with what is going on with the ever advancing world of technology. In contrast, the other parent believes in the disciplinary and cultural connections to the art of Karate and its ability to strengthen mental willpower and physical ability.
I believe that karate is a combination of both perspectives. I tell parents and peers alike: karate is hard, it is a lifestyle that encompasses aspects of sport and fitness. I express that karate is hard not only because of its physical demands, but the mental demand.
Through teaching, I have realized that this mental strain is the hardest part of Shodan training. The common question that my brain screams during personal training in the gym or at the oval is “Do I finish the last 10 pushups of this set? Do I run that extra lap? Or do I have a warm shower and go home?”. This question is integral to success in striving for a Kyokushin Black Belt, but what is more important is how one answers that question.
Before I taught classes, I would arrive early to work the bags and practice kata, to the dismay of many of the children due to the interruption of their games. I would practice my own kumite drills with my young students, with the surreal answer of “Osu Sempai” echoing from a group of soprano voices. The infinite respect I have for the kids, they will only understand when they grow older, to walk the same path as I did, hopefully facing their own personal challenges with even more resolve than I had.
The power of a child fills me with awe and wonder at my own temperament as a young boy. They are all bursting cauldrons of energy until the call for pushups rings across the mats of the dojo. As I see it, the child possesses a malleability that resembles that of wet clay, its properties easily able to become distorted and unfocussed, or sharp and polished with the exact same ease.
I hope to learn the skill and effortless connection and friendly tutelage afforded to me by my instructors and to reflect it within my own teaching.
Thus, idea of the growth and development of a child through the martial arts has not only affected my life, but has enabled me to share my passion and spirit with others, to foster their desire and determination as well as their techniques and kata.
One aspect of the Shodan grading I have observed, is that one is never totally ready. There will always be improvements to be made. There will always be someone to learn from, and there will always be something to aspire to.
The lead up to this vital step, or leap, of my journey as a karateka is one I will always remember. The hours of training, culminating into one grueling day, pushing one’s limits and overcoming the pain to achieve not only a physical reminder in the form of a belt, but a symbolic representation of my hard work in proving myself to be faithful to the “Ultimate Truth”.
My development from that seven-year-old boy has seen the overcoming of hardships and adversity and a newfound understanding of the values that drive the Kyokushin Spirit. My appreciation of humility as well as strength and pride has been central to my improvement as a karateka, student and teacher.
My aspirations are to continue learning from my instructors and peers, and to continue guiding younger karateka to achieve their best inside and out of the dojo, whilst remembering my own journey and forging new paths to success through this next step of my development in growing up with the martial arts.