Friday, December 4, 2009

Paradigm Shift

I'm not sure how "normal" is is to have more than one instructor, but I actually have four. The most I've trained with at one time was three, which seems like a lot, really. But there is a story behind it all.

I started Goju at my son's instructor - Sensei F's - invitation to just "try" it. Somehow, I think he knew I'd be hooked. But as my interest in this new thing grew, I felt kind of limited by the fact that Sensei F's class only met once a week. He graciously pointed us to a sister dojo one county over, whose head instructors - Sensei M and Sensei R - came through the ranks with him. Their classes met twice during the week on days that didn't conflict with my home class. Some things were done differently - especially in kata - which made me kind of scratch my head because the two schools were not only part of the same clan, but taught by folks who had been taught together. Hmmm. But my son and I - and later the training partners from our home dojo who eventually joined us for treks across the bridge - just adapted a "When in Rome..." attitude and acted accordingly. Consequently, we learned two different ways to do many of the self-defense techniques and katas we were required to learn. For almost four years we traveled and learned. We also asked questions that weren't always answered, but that's another story.

It's funny how the things you do seem perfectly sane while you're doing them. But now, the thought of doing the same techniques two different ways with both being accepted as "the standard" seems utterly ridiculous. And just when it seemed things couldn't get any weirder, we started traveling to yet another dojo.

Since the Tuesday/Thursday classes across the river kind of dwindle down to a trickle once summer rolls around (meaning that since Sensei M and Sensei R aren't around too much, you never know which guest instructor or shodan will be leading the class) and since the idea of going from three nights a week of class to one was not one I was willing to entertain, we took Sensei S up on his long standing offer to come train with him and his students as a way to supplement what we were already doing. My son, training partner Ed, and I have been traveling an hour each way twice a week since June to get to his class as a result. Although we couldn't continue to travel so far every Tuesday and Thursday once school began again, my son and I still make it at least once a week.

Trouble is that now, some of the information we're getting is starting to conflict with the information we learned way back when. I'm talking polar opposites in the basic, simplest techniques. Direct contradiction is not an overstatement. Again, same style and senseis who at least started with the same instructor - but the differences are astounding.

Last week, after he'd been being ridden by Sensei S like a Kentucky Derby horse over his stances and "floating" kicks, my son said he was upset about how some of the techniques were initially taught to him. Some things - like hand positions during sparring and kata bunkai - seem so ineffective and inefficient now, and even when he asked what the techniques were or why they were done a specific way, he said he got answers suggesting that those reasons had more to do with tradition rather than working what works. He really likes going to Sensei S's class because he gets those explanations - given in practical ways that make sense to him - before he is SHOWN how and why it works. I heard him during our conversation, but last night - when it was MY turn to be that Kentucky Derby filly - I totally FELT what he was talking about.

I've come to realize that much of what I've been taught up to June feels like a watered-down version of karate, which ain't good. And since I'm now teaching a little at my home dojo - and have been asked to teach it how I learned it - I find myself in quite the pickle. If I had to go elsewhere to learn that my techniques weren't effective, I now know that the people I'm teaching those very same techniques to will hafta re-learn them at some point - which they'll have to go elsewhere to do. If they don't, they may get their butts handed to them if they ever needed to rely on those techniques in a real, live situation. In effect, I'm contributing to the watering down by default. I can't be easy with that - which means I've got some decisions to make...

Moving on means I'll be back to one-night a week class at least until summer rolls around again, which is a bad thing. But watered-down is a bad thing, too. Is bad karate better than no karate? That is the question...


  1. No. Bad karate is bad. Better good karate once a week. I'm in a similar predicament: only one class/week for 6 years now. But when you find something good, and you find a good teacher, it's that one class and the constant struggle for the rest of the week in self-training. It's easier with no ranking, just learn at a certain pace. And easier still if the rest of the week is used for ancillary training (strength, cardio, or even a totally different art to focus on other skills - like kobudo for weapons, or bagua/tai chi for other things).

  2. Hi, Narda - and thanks for stopping by. I completely hear what you're saying and you are right: bad karate is bad. But by leaving it be, I'll be waving goodbye to my first sensei - and I feel incredibly guilty about that...

    I am looking for weapons training in the area, as I really want to study tonfa and the ancillary training is necessary, so I'm thinking stepping back isn't all that bad a thing. I just want to learn, y'know? But I also want to learn it in a good way, not from the "because I said so" school of karate-do. Sigh...

  3. Hi Felicia - this is a really hard predicament to be in. Ties of loyality are very strong and it will be difficult for you to leave your first Sensei. My husband has been through a similar situation with his jujitsu and it took him many months to finally leave and find a new club. My karate sensei agonised for a couple of years to take our club out of the SKU and form a new organisation called the SSK - the head of the SKU was his own sensei who he had been with for over 20 years! But he needed to move on. You have to remember it's your martial arts journey and you need to be in charge of what path you take - so don't get stuck in a blind alley!

    I think Narda's idea of taking up something new for a while (as an adjunct) may help you to re think what you want from your martial arts and open your eyes to new ideas. Kobudo is great - I've just passed my level 1 tonfa, so I'd definately recommend tonfa :-)

  4. Hi, Sue. I'm looking for kubodu as we speak - and how ironic is it that tonfa is what I really, really want to study. You and Narda are geniuses :-)

    For now, I think I'm going to just do local class on Saturdays - unless I can find a weapons training class on Saturday. Distance may be helpful. Will try it and see...

    Thanks for stopping by :-)