I never had the chance to personally train with Seikichi Odo Sensei. This is very regrettable. But don’t we all feel that way about those seniors who have passed before us? I bet there are men who Odo Sensei would have loved to train with, but never got the chance. Luckily, I have had the chance to study with excellent instructors who spent extensive time with Odo Sensei, and who patiently entertain all of my inane questions. I have also had the luxury of pouring over tape of Odo Sensei training. Here are some observations for those inclined to learn more about those who came before us.
In these days of martial arts mayhem, it can be very difficult discerning who to trust and listen to. For example: who am I? Who cares? I’m not anybody of significance. But Odo Sensei was someone who was respected globally for his skill and contributions to the martial arts. He was commonly cited as one of the greatest weapons practitioners of his era. As Judan and successor to Nakamura Shigeru, Odo was responsible for the proliferation of Okinawa Kenpo. That’s significant.
Odo Sensei was also renowned for having a kind spirit. Of the many stories I’ve heard about him, they all revolve around the positive influence he had on training and growth.
One of Odo’s trademark characteristics was his penchant for courtesy and saving face. If a student were to ask him if they were doing a technique “right,” Odo would rather simply say yes than suggest they were doing something poorly. But if a student were to ask how Odosan did a technique or advice on ways to improve it, then he would feel comfortable teaching and transmitting knowledge. By behaving in this way, Odo Sensei not only taught students technique, but also ways of communicating with diligent reshiki.
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Odo Sensei’s techniques seem a bit odd to modern eyes. His body is very relaxed and his motions seem almost lackadaisical. These days many people fall into two camps – the traditional karate/taekwondo stances and strikes, or the free-range mma and judo scrap…neither of which resemble Odo’s “casual” approach.
Relaxation is key in arts such as Aikido, but even so-called hard arts utilize it at high levels. Odo Sensei was constantly integrating his karate to such a degree that his movements became the natural body language of his every day living. The focus of his strikes and techniques were sharp upon impact, but they were surrounded by motion that was so well practiced that it seemed nonchalant.
Here is a video of Odo Sensei engaged in one of his favorite activities – teaching.
It’s brief, I know. Unfortunately youtube footage of Odo Sensei is limited. Here he is teaching hakatsuru (or white crane) kata, a lesser known Okinawan form.
To me, Odosan embodies the unpretentious unity of martial arts into every day life. His karate was an expression of who he was, not of who he could hurt. While I’ll never know him personally, my pursuit to better understand him has led to deeper learning of Okinawa Kenpo. Isn’t it interesting how true teachers never stop teaching, even after their time on this earth is spent?
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It’s tough for us to remember what it was like starting something new as a child. The strange people, the strange surroundings, the complete abandonment of our comfort zone. Sure we still experience that as adults, but it’s not quite the same. From my experience teaching children, here are some stumbling blocks that I think are common for kids to run into. Of course, every child is different and must overcome unique obstacles, but there are a few issues that commonly arise in the realm of martial arts.
5. Fear, Intimidation, Jitters
Starting school can be tense. So can trying out for the softball team. But what about coming to a karate school where you will inevitably be punched and kicked!? Some kids actually thrill at the thought of strapping on pads and going at it, but many experience trepidation and anxiety. I often found it to be a good idea to spar with children on my own before sending them out against each other (control can be a bit lacking then). Something else that causes fear is performing alone, in front of others. Sometimes shyness is so strong that they refuse to participate and shut down for the rest of class.
Karate and other martial arts offer all kinds of seemingly unpleasant obstacles, and can occasionally leave children asking their parents if they ever have to go back again. But its those same trials that build strong character and a willingness to take risks that pays dividends later.
4. Peer Ranking
Ranking is one of the strongest motivators used by many American schools (if not most schools worldwide) these days. An instructor must gauge students for progress and ability and award rank accordingly. Unfortunately, if a child sees some of his peers being promoted while he/she is not, it can cause jealousy and a desire to quit.
This is a sometimes insurmountable obstacle for instructors because the schools that provide the most amount of rank (and award it the quickest) are often the ones that get the most business. Instructors are therefore put in a position to provide children with rank frequently for fear of discouraging them and losing them to competition. It’s really up to the parents to introduce kids to a good school right off the bat, before they get in the habit of constant rank attainment. Both the parents and child have to ignore little Johnny down the street when he gets a new rank every month.
Balancing martial arts and school activities can be as difficult as tightrope walking. They both prompt kids to spend their time and energy to succeed, but there are only so many hours in a day.
I do believe that kids should experience other activities as they grow up; it’s really the only way to find out what they are passionate about. That’s why I am always filled with contrasting feelings when kids or young adults leave the dojo. They have my best wishes for success in their other endeavors, but I also know how difficult it can be for them to make the leap back into the martial arts.
2. External Oriented Teaching
Ranking is a small subset of a bigger problem – teaching that is driven by external reward. Tournament trophies, ranking, patches, championships, titles…it’s all a big mess.
Here’s the problem – that stuff runs out of steam after awhile…and the child will move on to another endeavor that will provide BETTER external reward. It’s not a good cycle.
1. Black Belt
The black belt has become the finishing line. Think about it – would you take your child to a martial art school that didn’t offer a black belt?
The black belt has become a symbol of supposed mastery, instead of it’s intended meaning – a readiness to begin learning. Black belt is on top of my list because it’s not just the biggest hurdle for young martial artists, but for all martial artists. Why carry on after a black belt is attained?
The answer is extraordinarily complex, and the rest of my writing is generally dedicated to explaining just that.
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Breaking into sparring can be intimidating. If you’re joining a martial art school for the first time and you’ve never so much as thrown a punch at a live target, there can be a lot of doubts running through your head. If you do have fighting experience, the prospect of fighting at a new school can be equally as nerve wracking. Here are some simple, easy-to-follow tips that will get you rolling.
Keep Your Hands Up
I know it sounds obvious, but it’s really easy to forget. Keep those hands up! Trainers have been yelling it at students for years, and they will be yelling it for years to come. This is a particularly volatile trap for students of the martial arts because there are a myriad of kicking techniques that cause the human body to naturally drop the arms. But it’s important for everyone. Here are two decent fighters that remembered to keep em up -
To your left, Muhammad Ali. To your right, Bruce Lee. Notice that Ali is in a traditional western style boxing guard position. You may train in an exotic martial art, but don’t forget the effectiveness of simplicity. The head is a valuable thing and you should guard it the way boxers do.
Bruce Lee utilizes an upper/lower quadrant style stance. In general, his left hand guards against high attacks while the right hand guards against mid-level attacks. By adopting more of a side stance, Bruce has allowed himself to cover up in this fashion.
Throw in 2-3 Combinations
A classic symptom of novice sparring is the game of TAG. Two fighters line up and dance around each other a bit. They then take turns trying out a single technique, hoping it lands. This is not a good habit to get into. Even if you do land something, you’re not following it up with anything significant. The goal of all martial training is to instill good habits that we don’t have to consciously think about. Therefore, adopt the practice of throwing two or three techniques right in a row. Jab, cross. Jab, cross, front kick. Jab, cross, high round house kick. You get it.
Don’t Tolerate Abuse
This one is just my personal opinion. There may be some out there who disagree. I don’t think that student’s being beaten to the point of nausea or unconsciousness is conducive to training. Some would argue that it weeds out the weak students and prepares people for the rigors of real fighting, where there are no rules. Here’s why I disagree -
By weeding out the weak students, you are weeding out those individuals who need help the most. If Kimbo Slice walks into your dojo…yea, I bet he would be tough enough to pass your curriculum. But he doesn’t need your curriculum, the smaller “average” people do. Funakoshi Gichin, known as the father of Japanese Karate, was a very frail and sickly child. If his teachers weeded him out we would all have missed out on one of the most brilliant martial minds in recorded history.
Secondly, physical contact helps desensitize us to the shock of being struck, but being knocked out repeatedly may actually lead in the opposite direction – concussion. It is commonly believed that concussions build upon themselves and have cumulative effects. Symptoms of concussion include dizziness, lack of motor coordination, difficulty balancing, and possible loss of brain function. Of course, not every knockout results in a concussion, but high impact to the head is certainly where concussions come from.
Don’t be duped into thinking that you have to get floored every week just to learn. It’s not true.
Keep Apologies to a Minimum
A lot of beginners have the habit of apologizing when they strike an opponent. It’s not a big deal, it just signifies a little mental block you have to overcome. Did you wail your opponent? If you did, go ahead and say sorry (control is important in sparring). But if it was a nicely paced, controlled technique, don’t worry about it! That’s what the padding is for. If you’re an apologizer, do your best to let that habit go.
Accept Black Belt Aid
One of the toughest hurdles to get over during sparring is ego. When we daydream about fighting off muggers or other baddies we all have one thing in common – we win 100% of the time. On top of that, we do so flawlessly. Unfortunately, sparring (or real life) tends to not work out that smoothly. That’s why if it seems like a black belt is trying to help you in your sparring, do your best to accept the advice. If it seems like they are going “easy” on you, don’t take it as an insult; they are probably just trying to guide you into combinations or concepts. On the other hand, if they turn it up a notch and dominate you, don’t feel bad – you’ll actually learn the most fighting those who are the best.
Try to Keep Anger, Adrenaline, and Tension Down
Adrenaline is our human-take on the incredible hulk. We feel stronger, more in-tune, and more capable during an adrenaline rush. That’s all good stuff…but an overdose of adrenaline also makes us sloppy, narrow-visioned, and mentally cluttered.
A lot of people will keep their entire body tense during sparring sessions, leaving them feeling wiped out by the end of class. Conversely, a skilled sensei could look as if he just took a leisurely jog, and no more. This is because the instructor has learned that he needn’t keep his entire body tense during sparring. Instead, he keeps it relaxed but on the ready – using tension and adrenaline as a springboard toward lightning fast technique. Sparring is intense, for sure, but try to relax as best you can. Eventually it will just become natural.
Muhammad Ali Image – http://www.bbc.co.uk/1xtra/blackhistory/gallery/70s/8.jpg
Bruce Lee Image – http://imagecache2.allposters.com/images/pic/CLASS/130-112~Bruce-Lee-Posters.jpg
Hulk Image – http://www.pisymbol.com/images/incredible_hulk.jpg
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