As I’ve written in previous posts, I recently started practicing Shotokan karate. I was lucky enough to find a school in Regina and it’s quite traditional and shares many of the same values I was raised on, from a karate perspective. I officially registered with their school this month, making it the first time in over a decade that I’ve been a registered student in any dojo. I missed the majority of classes last week due to other obligations, a problem I didn’t have in my teens and 20’s, and I’ll be missing today by virtue of it being my eye injection appointment.
But it’s been fun and exciting. I’ve already learned some new forms and ways of doing techniques I’ve been using for decades. Learning something new is always a good thing and for me, the stagnation that’s come from training by myself for the past ten years has made me realize I have a long road ahead of me if I expect to regain some of the lost skill I used to have. Recent classes have shown that I lack muscle tone, flexibility and skill in certain areas where I used to shine. Ali used to say that it isn’t the mountains ahead that wear you out, it’s the little pebble in your shoe. Well, I have a lot of little pebbles…
One of the biggest things about karate is that it isn’t a “one and done” where you go to your scheduled classes every week then call it a day. A practitioner needs to focus on lessons outside the class, practicing what they’ve learned and honing it on their own, using class time as a means of obtaining correction and guidance to keep growing further. Otherwise, a 10-year journey will easily turn into a 20-year one. That’s why it’s important to have some tools to help you along your training. For most modern, western dojos, students won’t have access to their instructors outside of class hours. Depending on the style you’re studying, you can be lucky enough to find videos on YouTube that will demonstrate your techniques and katas so that you can practice them and obtain correction. In my day, we had do something different; we used books.
I can hear Mr. Miyagi’s voice in my head from the original Karate Kid movie, when he walks into Daniel Larusso’s apartment to fix the sink. “Learn karate from book?” The heavy accent and curiosity made the question seem as though he couldn’t believe what he was seeing. And with good reason. Book are a fantastic way to supplement one’s training and can contain material that’s valuable to a student’s progression in karate. But it’s important to note that a supplement is all that it is, and that nothing substitutes being in class learning from your counterparts and instructors. But I digress…
The book pictured above is one that I purchased almost five years ago. I was out at a book store and even though I am primarily a Uechi-Ryu practitioner, I was drawn by the book and chose to buy it. In all honesty, I never understood why and with all the material I read in the course of a year, combined with work, my kids and writing, I never gave it more than a cursory glance. Fast forward to this year, where bI’ve coincidentally joined a school of Shotokan. Most people are divided on the concept of all things happening for a reason but there’s something to be said for the fact I purchased a book on a different style of karate, years before I would consider joining one of their schools.
In an effort to try and get a leg up (karate pun fully intended) in my new learnings, I cracked this bad boy open and started using it to learn my first form. Learning from a book can be difficult if you’ve never seen the form done in person, since even if the illustrations are clear you could potentially err in such aspects as what direction to turn and how to place your footing. That’s one of the reasons that I suggest that being in-class and learning first is important, even if you’re practicing at home.
Since I’d been training with Shotokan for a couple of weeks, I decided to get pro-active and look into whether they had some sort of primer of book that would relate directly to the founder of the style. This is where I came across the book pictured above. Some years ago, I came across the book entitled “Uechi Ryu Karate,” by George Mattson. Although written by an American, this book contained all the materials of my style from start to finish and all the illustrations included Master Uechi himself. It’s been an incredible aid in maintaining my katas and techniques, especially since I don’t have Sensei here to correct me.
“Karate-Do Kyohan” is similar in its content in that as far as I can tell, it contains all the pertinent material for Shotokan that covers all levels of training. I was pretty pleased to have found a second-hand edition of the book that someone was wiling to part with. The amount of material is immense and the illustrations clear in such a way that I will be able to get ahead of the curve on learning this new-to-me style of karate.Considering some of the differences in how they stand and their approaches to certain techniques, it will also help me to acclimate to this new environment as I learn one of the more popular styles of karate.
Karate is a life-long commitment. Unless you’ve completely given up on yourself it never goes away, even if you haven’t been in the dojo in years. And with that commitment comes the requirement to work hard and practice OUTSIDE THE DOJO. If all you do is attend class two or three times a week, do your hour then head home… Sure, you may get some fitness and some cardio in. As long as you pay attention and participate, you’ll even learn a thing or two. But if you want to become proficient, you have train outside of class. Take a couple of evenings to contribute an hour to your training. It’ll make all the difference and will help with your proficiency and overall karate journey. ☯️
One thought on “A Little Something To Help The Journey…”
As you may recall, I did a post several months ago about learning from books (and videos). My conclusion was essentially the same as your’s; they CAN be great supplementary material. They can also be a good way to figure out preliminarily if a style might be right for you. As a primary learning source, though… Forget it. There’s just too much that can’t be covered and is sometimes deliberately left out.
Adjusting to a different style… Definitely tricky, esp when you’ve stuck with one forever. Just use that mental flexibility that Buddhists are generally known for. Keep in mind that what Shotokan considers “wrong” may simply be a case of the style using different tactics also. For example, Tracy Kenpo fights from a side horse stance. It protects the groin from front kicks and keeps you more grounded to resist grappling. Needless to say though, it slows your footwork and your groin is wide open to a roundhouse. I personally prefer the traditional fighting stance used by Parker Kenpo (and most other martial arts). Different situations may require different options though.