Want To Be Good At Martial Arts? It’s About Time In.

“It’s not who’s good, it’s who’s left. It’s hours on the mat. If you put in the time, natural athlete or not, you’ll be a black belt. . . You just can’t quit.” – Chris Haueter

I love this quote. It touches on so many points that some people miss when pursuing the martial arts.

“It’s not who’s good, it’s who’s left.”

There’s always going to be someone better than you.

Perhaps you get beat by the same person at every tournament, or there’s a person in your club who seems to go through rank faster than you.

No matter the situation, some people, despite their talent, often quit. Their reason for quitting may stem from boredom because they don’t feel challenged. Alternatively, those who are identified as “talented” will quit from frustration when they eventually do face something truly challenging, but lack the experience to cope.

Those of us who have to work a little bit harder to maintain our skills organically learn the patience and persistence necessary to be a life long martial artist.

“It’s hours on the mat.”

There’s just no substitute for time. Martial arts isn’t like cramming for an exam, where you have the information accessible for a little while and then lose it immediately when you don’t need it any more. What you learn needs to become a part of you and accessible in an instant at a moment of complete surprise.

At the end of the day, the mat doesn’t lie and certainly knows how to tell time.

If you put in the time, natural athlete or not, you’ll be a black belt.

In life, some of us have a head start. Some parents put their children in physical activities at a very early age, and as a result, acquire the body awareness and skill to be better martial artists than those who haven’t.

But all skills can be learned and acquired with time, no matter an individual’s starting point. Yes, for those who haven’t been exposed to movement patterns that make for a good martial artist, it will take them longer, in many cases, much, much longer. But, if they put the time and mental energy that is necessary specifically for THEIR individual success, then they will attain the skill of a black belt eventually.

You just can’t quit.

If your goal is to be the best at your craft that you can possibly be, then quitting is never an option. Perfection is an illusion, but it’s only by continually practicing that we can come as close to perfection as humanly possible. And, when our goal is to be the best we possibly can be, then there is never an end in sight, no matter the rank we have or are hoping to achieve.

Conclusion

Whether you’re a serious competitor or just pursuing martial arts as a hobby, it’s all about how many quality hours of work you invest. I don’t care how long you’ve been in a club or how many months you’ve prepaid for. Sure, there will always be outliers. There are some people out there who will just never get it and there will always be people who pick things up easily. But for all of us who lie in between, it’s the time you spend working technique and the energy you expend to master it that determines your skill and rank. . .Or, at least, it should.

Beginner’s Guide to Surviving a Koryu Uchinadi Gasshuku

At the Koryu Uchinadi North American Gasshuku, you will experience 4 – 8 hour days of physical and mentally demanding training. It will be a whirlwind of information covering everything from throws, ground techniques, weaponry, striking, “bunkai”, 2-person flow drills, and of course kata, from some of the world’s most knowledgeable and talented martial artists.

If you’ve never attended the event before, you might not be sure what to expect and you may be a little intimidated. So, I made up a short guide to help those who are new get the most out of their training and the extracurricular activities at this year’s event.

#1 – It’s a marathon, not a sprint.

8 hour long training days over 4 days is guaranteed to take its toll on you mentally and physically, so be careful not to overdo it on the first day.

My first Gasshuku, I most certainly did and I literally had a sleeve of bruises, which affected my ability to make a fist and drink a beer for the rest of the week. . .

It was quite the ordeal, specifically the beer part.

So, don’t make the same mistake I did! Remember, it’s not about showing off, it’s about learning, so take your time and move at a pace you’re comfortable with, both for your safety and the safety of your partner.

#2 – Stay hydrated.

I suppose this should go without saying, but for those who have never trained over an extended period of time before, it’s an important reminder.

The KU Gasshuku will be strenuous, at the least. To help keep you focused and healthy throughout the event, always keep a water bottle handy and try not to overdo it at the bar.

#3 – Listen!

I’ll say it a little bit louder for the people in the back. . .

LISTEN!

I mean really listen! And, by that, I mean close your mouth and open your ears!

For many of us who attend the event, we’re professional martial artists, we’re black belts, we’re teachers and we almost always take on the teaching role. If you’re attending the Gasshuku as a participant, your job, your only job, is to learn.

The key to do that is to. . .

At the Gasshuku, this is your chance to really be a student again. And, to get the full advantage of the lessons, take on the beginner’s mind, “empty your cup” as they say, and remember that in the martial arts, you’re “always a student, sometimes a teacher”.

#4 – Remember your etiquette and your hygiene.

Anytime you attend a martial arts event for the first time, scale your etiquette towards the formal side until someone tells you otherwise. Remember to bow when entering the dojo or greeting a senior student or instructor. It’s always better to lean further towards formality and tone it down when asked than to not show enough formality and be seen as arrogant or disrespectful.

In continuity with etiquette, remember good hygiene! You are going to sweat A LOT, so please make measures to ensure you have a clean gi and fight gear. Also, remember to keep those fingernails and toenails cut short. . . You don’t want to be that guy!

. . .Or, do I?

#5 – Have Fun!

Last, but not the least, have fun! At the event, we train hard and play hard. The sweat, the tears, the hangover — it’s all in good fun. Try not to take yourself too seriously and come in with a child’s mind. Don’t worry about making mistakes; that’s a part of the learning process. We’re just here to play and explore and in doing so have a better understanding of the art we love so much: Karate.

We hope to see you there!

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Bruising Easily, A Reflection on Martial Arts

There are girls out there who use filters on Instagram to make their face look better. I use filters to accentuate the colour of my bruises.

Martial arts and bruising

I don’t wear this palette of black, purple and blue as a badge of honour; these spots are simply a natural representation of how the martial arts affect me.

That being:

“I face enough negative experiences to give me character, but not enough to make me callous.”

The martial arts force us to confront negative experiences on a daily basis and sometimes one experience may be more intimidating than another.

With time these experiences leave a lasting impression, or in the case of my bruises, a rather large imprint.

But these experiences are usually not enough to truly hurt us. They’re just sketches of what COULD harm us; shading that is easily erased by the next time we train.

A fine example of this may be an elbow to the face while grappling. We know such a thing could happen. We know that such a thing could happen in real life. But, when it does happen unexpectedly in the safe confines of a class, it leaves a lasting impression in our mind and most certainly on our body. However, if we were to let it affect us beyond acknowledging its possibility, occurrence and surprise, we would likely never return to the classes.

Accidents like an elbow to the face, a knee to the groin and a good ol’ poke in the eye are all common. But, it’s never enough to make us leave or feel fear. If anything it naturalizes the blows we are taught to face and the pain they can inflict, and often we even laugh in the face of it. But, unlike the real threat of violence, it doesn’t leave us callous (or at least it shouldn’t if you’re in the right school).

Receiving these ink blots of the skin builds a certain type of immunity to violence; it doesn’t hold the same influence it once did.


With time it develops our character. You learn these so-called “injuries” are only skin deep, can result from both hitting and being hit, and the sight of them is no longer a cause of concern for you.

So, perhaps my bruises are a badge of honour. They prove practice. They prove force. And, as long as they only occur on my arms and legs, it proves I’m pretty damn good at blocking.

Your body is your canvas. Your training is your brush and paint. Bruising, pain and discomfort is a natural consequence of our training and with each class you paint your own masterpiece. It is a natural consequence of the art and with each lesson the image you create becomes more vivid.

Enjoyed this post? Check out “Dojo Disillusionment”!


Gasshuku Interview With Hanshi Patrick McCarthy

With the 2018 Koryu Uchinadi North American Gasshuku just around the corner, I had a chance to speak with Hanshi Patrick McCarthy (9th Dan) about what the Gasshuku means to him and what we’ll be learning at this year’s event. 

JT: Can you tell me a bit about the meaning and history of the term Gasshuku?

Koryu Uchinadi Gasshuku 2002

McCarthy Sensei: Unlike the Japanese terms Keiko[稽古], which means “training,” Renshu[練習], which means “practice,” Kan-geiko[寒稽古], which means training in [cold/winter] temperature/conditions and/or Shochu-geiko[暑中稽古], which means training in [summer/hot] temperature/conditions, the term Gasshuku[合宿] means “training camp,” but also brings the idea of lodging together while conjuring up a special feeling of camaraderie and learning through austerity. This, of course, coincides exactly with our theme for the international gathering: diligent training, improved understanding and camaraderie between like-minded people supporting common goals. Unlike the open or multi-style training seminars that I often teach around the world, the focus of our symposium is to address curriculum-orientated theory and practices. The express purpose of this effort is purely to broaden and deepen your understanding of Koryu Uchinadi and tighten our bond of friendship in the spirit of Budo.

JT: Can you tell me about the first Koryu Uchinadi North American Gasshuku? What was it like?

2002 Gasshuku

McCarthy Sensei:  Oh yes, the first two things that come to mind are what a remarkable job Sensei Brian & Helen Sakamoto did in arranging the gathering and exactly just how bloody hot it was in Toronto that summer of 2002.  I also remember the special guests who came to visit: Sensei Tsuruoka, Sensei Wally Slocki and Sensei Monty Guest. In spite of the hot weather, we had such a memorable time training together and forming such unshakable bonds of friendship.

JT: What is your favourite part about the Koryu Uchinadi North American Gasshuku?

2015 Gasshuku Go KU

McCarthy Sensei:  Ahhh, that’s easy. Just the feeling I get of being around so many who share my dream and seeing how KU empowers those who embrace it.

JT: What do you plan on teaching at the 2018 Koryu Uchinadi North American Gasshuku?

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McCarthy Sensei: Well, everything I teach is “Toolbox-orientated” [i.e. the ability to deploy effective practices against the HAPV] in what I refer to as Riai-Tegumi. That said, my focus of attention this year will be on the 48-Bubishi postures, how they are used against the HAPV, and their ritualization into templates, which are exampled in the Kata we embrace.

JT: Could you explain the significance of the 48-Bubishi Postures?

McCarthy Sensei: The 48 2-person postures represent classical HAPV and response applications. They are timeless and hugely significant to the original art as once taught, learned and practiced in old Okinawa.

JT: Could you explain Riai-Tegumi in a bit more detail, for those who are not familiar with this practice?

McCarthy Sensei: Riai-Tegumi[理合手組] is an unscripted/random exchange of HAPV attacks, escapes & counters [using our RRCCR/receive, respond, capture, control & release concept], with varying levels of aggressive resistance, which starts from a stand-up position after, “crossing hands,” and includes the clinch and the ground, and most preferably all three areas.

JT: If you had one piece of advice to give, what would it be?

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McCarthy Sensei: Don’t be afraid to believe in yourself, follow your heart and enjoy life!

Message from the Director

Sensei McCarthy

“Dear students, instructors & colleagues,

I have long been passionate about the traditional fighting arts but prefer functionality to impractical ritual. By going out on my own, and establishing Koryu UchinadiI not only challenged the existing status quo, I succeeded in ruffling many a feather within our tradition. Nowhere was this sentiment more evident than with the zealots who believe the art is the exclusive domain of the Japanese [i.e. Okinawans]. My knowledge of Japanese language and [Budo] culture, unique experience and technical competency represented the kind of progressive independence, which seemingly threatened the control and insecurity of the powers that be.

17th Century Haiku Master, Matsuo Basho, summed up tradition nicely when he wrote, “Seek not to [blindly] follow in the footsteps of the men of old but rather continue to seek out what they sought.” This timeless concept says so much about keeping tradition alive, rather than blindly adhering to, “Exactly how the master did it 75 years ago!” Citing the wisdom of Thomas Moore, “Tradition is not the worship of ashes, but the preservation of fire.” Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything. The only way to do this effectively, especially in lieu of such widespread ambiguity, is the continual exploration of that which we don’t understand by using any and all means available to us. This is the guiding light of the IRKRS, and I am confident that the direction in which we are currently travelling is much more in line with the teachings left to us by the pioneers than is the conformist mentality that shaped the dysfunctional modern interpretation of this art.

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Koryu Uchinadi represents the culmination of my life’s work. It is a uniquely contemporary tradition meticulously constructed from the remnants of four classical practices [Tegumi手組, Ti’gwa手小, Torite捕り手 & Kata型], once vigorously embraced during Okinawa’s old Ryukyu Kingdom Period. For many years, I dreamed of a way in which to reach out and help other people find their way through the historical, cultural and technical ambiguity, which tends to shroud understanding the essence of this art. The International Ryukyu Karate Research Society has become a worldwide movement bringing together like-minded people in pursuit of common goals. Celebrating empowerment, personal achievement and camaraderie has become the hallmark of our movement.

This Gasshuku is one of the most important annual gatherings of our organisation. To have such dedicated and like-minded people come together in camaraderie and support of common goals is nothing short of wonderful. I would also like to express my appreciation to all local participants and especially those who will travel from out-of-town, the USA and overseas. Some of the supporters here have been with us since our very first Gasshuku in 2002. I am especially grateful to Sensei Helen Sakamoto for her years of unwavering support. I’d also like to say thanks to Renshi Mike Coombes, his team, and the entire Toronto Study Group who do such a great job co-hosting our gathering. Also, a very special thanks to our co-instructors [Renshi Paul Lopresti, Renshi Cody Stewart, & Shidoin Darrin Johnson] for agreeing to deliver our target lessons this year. I am confident that you will be very happy with the experience delivered through their insightful lessons.

Welcome to our 16th annual North American Gasshuku, thank you for sharing my dream and helping to make this annual gathering such a wonderful learning experience.

Patrick McCarthy

Director

Join us for the 2018 Koryu Uchinadi North American Gasshuku!

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