Friction in the Dojo: How It Can Move You Forward

Friction. . .

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It can be the thing that helps drive you forward. . .

It can be the thing that slows you down. . .

As yellow belts, my friend Tracy and I had a silent competition against each other.

Our Sensei told us that the only person we should compete against was ourselves.

“Os! Sensei!”

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In lip service, like so many still do, we professed to one another and our instructors that this was always our goal, to simply be better than we were the day before.

A selfish attempt to be more idyllic than the other.

When we stood next to each other in line, our eyes would always glance to the other.

Watching, sensing, checking. . .

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“Is her horse stance lower than mine?”

“Did she do more push-ups than I?”

“Did the Sensei compliment her and not me?”

As these thoughts and insecurities arose in me, I later learned that she thought the same.

It was the unspoken friction that propelled us forward.

For everything she did well, I was committed to doing it. . .

better,

faster,

stronger,

than her.

And with that, Tracy would double her efforts in return.

In the presence of one another, our efforts were exponentiated. Our skill improved through the silent desire to be the best in the dojo, better than the other.

But. . .

One day, Tracy stopped attending classes. So, I was left  alone to to find another “Frienemy” to silently compete with.

As the years passed, there would be others. . .

Watching, sensing, checking. . .

Better, stronger, faster. . .

Wash, rinse, repeat. . .

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But, they would all eventually leave as well.

By the time I achieved my Shodan, there was no one left to compete with.

The Senpai above me were so far ahead, there was no competition there.

And, my students were not close enough yet to truly challenge me (although, I look forward to that day).

Without this traction, I could feel myself slowing down.

For the first time in my life, I had no one to compete with but myself.

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Where I once targeted my critical eye on those around me, I was now forced to point it at the one person I could neither defeat nor be defeated by: myself.

It was in that moment I understood what my Sensei was getting at when he said, “You should only compete with yourself.”

There is, of course, value in silently competing with those around you, as a type momentary motivation to challenge your physicality and fitness.

But, in the long run, you should define your success on your own terms. Each individual in the dojo has their own unique objectives. Sometimes people pursue martial arts for fitness, others for camaraderie, or just because they find it fascinating.

Would you want to compete against someone who is purely interested in the history of karate when your interest is biomechanics?

Of course not.

In this sense, it’s not so much about competing, but defining your unique objectives. Give yourself the recognition that you deserve. Observe the distance you’ve gone to achieve your goals. Have enough self-awareness to ask “Can I do better?” and to answer “I will do better”.

Now, when I step in line and look in the mirror, I sometimes see the gawky, awkward, teenage, yellow belt I once was and I wonder. . .

“Is her stance lower than mine?”

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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?

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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?

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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?

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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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Martial Arts & Swimming Alone

As a child, I was afraid of swimming in open water by myself; the vastness frightened me.

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I was afraid that the weed that tickled my feet would be the thing that pulled me under.

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I was afraid that if I turned away from the endless horizon that the shore that once harbored me would be gone.

I was afraid with no one there beside me I would slowly sink into the abyss, no one to hear my cries for help, no one to help me re-emerge.

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For many, the martial arts generate this same fear.

You could spend a lifetime exploring its depths and never fully understand it all. There is SO much to learn; the knowledge is vast. It’s easy to feel insignificant, treading water, struggling to keep your head above water against its swells.

There are many who have changed styles of martial arts because of one reason or another. Perhaps the politics and drama was too much, you outgrew your teacher’s skill, or you just didn’t see its value anymore. In these moments, you must turn away from the shore, the place from which you came—often with uncertainty—and swim towards a new horizon.

In each of our dojos, we have to fight through the metaphorical weeds: an impatient student, an overbearing mother, a self-absorbed instructor. At first, these things can seem like a threat, but the energy lost trying to avoid these weeds can be better spent by simply swimming forwards.

When you enter these open waters you can jump feet first, or you can dive right in.

But, when you do, remember . . .

No matter the distance between you and the shore, it will always be there to harbor you.

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No matter the depth of the abyss, there will always be a hand to reach to.

And, no matter the weed that tickles your feet, it will never break the surface.

But once you face this vast ocean on your own and swim further away from your shore, you’ll realize that all those who walk the path also swim the same ocean and reach for the same horizon.

But know now, the rewards that lie on the horizon just beyond your reach and your fear…

Will. Be. Glorious.

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Thanks for reading!

As a token of appreciation, you get 10% off at Submission Shark! Promo Code: THEMARTIALARTSMUSE

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Join us for the 2018 Koryu Uchinadi North American Gasshuku in Beautiful Cobourg, Ontario! Click here to learn more!

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The Road Less Travelled Is Not Always A Road

“There are many paths to the top of the mountain. . .”

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One night, I had a dream that I slid down a mountain and I was about to fall into the ocean. Before I hit the water, I caught onto something and started to climb back up. At this point, there were other people around me—most of which were people I loved and respected—and they were climbing faster than me and with bigger loads on their back; some were even carrying other people as they climbed upwards.  I was constantly losing my footing and slipping; I was afraid to fall, anxious to get to the top and frustrated that everyone else was doing better than me.

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Then, I noticed a river flowing down the mountain beside me and a long time friend said to me, “Let’s swim up, it’s easier that way.” He jumped into the river and swam up, reaching the top before anyone else.

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I was afraid to follow because the current flowed downwards, but because I trusted him so much, I jumped in anyway and began to swim. I wasn’t sure in what style to swim in, because my friend reached the top with front stroke, I tried his way, but I went further down. So I started swimming doggie paddle; still didn’t work. Then, I went with breast stroke and found that I reached the top before everyone else.

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Although unorthodox, I realized that by jumping into the river, I didn’t have to be afraid of falling anymore, because one cannot fall while in water. And even though I had to fight the current in the river, it was easier to flow upwards than if I had followed the methods of the people around me and I need not compete with them, because it is only through my own technique that I may reach the top of the mountain.

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“. . .But there is only one moon to be seen for those who achieve its summit.”- Chinese Proverb

9 Stupid Reasons to Be In the Dojo. . .And, The 1 Good Reason YOU SHOULD!

Have you ever met someone in your dojo who just doesn’t get it!?

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The student (and sometimes teacher) who will do martial arts for every reason under the sun, except for the reason they should!

The reason that will give them the best results. . .

The reason that will give them the greatest satisfaction. . .

So here are some of the ignorant, the creepy and at times downright stupid “reasons” to train I’ve seen over the years from students and teacher alike, and the simple answer I have for all of them.

1) When your Mom drops you off and you don’t want to be there. . .

JUST TRAIN!

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2) When you’re trying to escape your personal problems. . .

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3) When you want a way to flirt with the girls in the dojo behind your wife’s back. . .

That’s creepy! Stop it! JUST TRAIN!

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4) When you want to believe training will make you a Jedi. . .

Do or Do not. . . JUST TRAIN!

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5) When you  fake an injury just to get attention. . .

JUST TRAIN!

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6) When you have a crush on the Sensei. . .

Ugh. . .Grow up! JUST TRAIN!

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7) When you want to be the next Karate Kid. . .

Wax on. Wax off. JUST TRAIN!

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8) When you’re looking for a father figure. . .

Get therapy! JUST TRAIN!

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Well, maybe not therapy from him. . . 

9) When you want your next belt. . .

JUST TRAIN!

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10) When you want to be a respected martial artist. . .

That seems legitimate. . .JUST TRAIN!

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“JUST TRAIN!” It’s Chuck Norris APPROVED!

When you enter the dojo, there’s only one reason and one reason only to be in that room.

So, Shut up!

JUST TRAIN!

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You Invested In The Wrong One. . .

You know the one. . .

A Student

A student who showed so much promise. . .

With the ability to pick up movements with ease and grace,

An ability to strike and kick as if it was second nature, leaving you with the feeling you have found a prodigy.

You know the one. . .

A Teacher

A teacher who showed so much promise. . .

With skill and knowledge so far beyond your own.

A paradoxical ability to challenge and encourage you, leaving you with the feeling you’d be lost without them.

But then. . .

Something happens. . .

The masquerade ends. . .

And, something dark deep down seeps out from beyond their mask.

They are not what we hoped them to be. They never were.

You know the one. . .

A Student

A student who speaks wrongly behind your back

With the natural ability to lie and deceive;

A prodigy with the cloak and dagger.

You know the one. . .

A Teacher

A teacher who lacks moral stamina.

The ability to choose vice over virtue.

They submit to nothing, except their own temptations.

But perhaps the mask they once wore was not one of their choosing

It is a mask we projected.

We were so desperate to grasp at the hybrid of elegance and ugliness that we put what we desired most in the forefront only to watch it dissolve away, leaving you with this empty feeling. . .

You invested in the wrong one.

Post Script:

No matter the reason—whether it was simply a talented student who went off to university, a teacher who started teaching “chi- balls,” or something far more insidious—being disappointed by someone in whom you’ve made the careful decision to invest your time, energy and, dare I say, love is never easy. But, as the Buddha says, “all things are impermanent” and as that emptiness passes, you’ll find that in its place friendships with more dedicated students and respectable teachers will blossom far greater than the void that was left. Those are the people worth investing in.  

Martial Art Talks: Renshi Paul Lopresti

Welcome to Martial Art Talks! The MAT is an interview blog series where I speak with the best and brightest the martial arts industry has to offer.

This week on the MAT, I speak with Shotokan 5th dan and Aiki Kenpo Jujutsu 5th dan, Renshi Paul Lopresti. Renshi Paul has over 40 years of experience, first starting in Karate with his father at 7 years old!

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Today he shares his experiences training MMA fighters and what he will be teaching at the 2017 Koryu Uchinadi North American Gasshuku. Feel free to watch our interview or read below.

JT: What is it about KU and Sensei McCarthy’s method that made you want to stick with it?

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PL: The fact that it was eclectic. It had everything that I didn’t have in my training as a Shotokan stylist. We were good at kicking, punching, kata and kumite, but I hadn’t done a joint manipulation, strangle, any ground work or throwing; those parts of my game were missing.

And, I guess in the late 90’s, UFC had started to become very popular and I knew that the parts of my game that were missing were either going to get me hurt or get me killed if I had to use it in real life.

Overall, I felt that KU was a complete system and I needed to go in a direction that was going to give me those missing elements.

JT: How would you describe your teaching style?

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PL: As you may or may not know, adult learners are generally classified three ways: visual, auditory and kinesthetic. I find that I have a direct hands-on approach and I use all three of those methodologies when I teach in a regular class or seminars.

JT: What is the process you go through when teaching or assessing your students?

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PL: I roll with every one of my students every week. I get physical with them because I want to feel their progress, so I know where their weaknesses are. I’ll identify those whether it be in class or the next class where I’ll do something like guard passing or something I know a bunch of students are struggling with.

I also have a two-hour open forum. The first hour we basically work on technique, usually directly from or something that relates to our curriculum. The second hour is an open roll for about 45 minutes or so. Then at the end of class, I take open questions from anyone on our curriculum material or on anything they encountered while rolling that they had trouble or difficulty with. Then lastly we finish up with some conditioning. That’s a typical class, step-by-step, how I run it.

And, just like anything else, there’s no magical pixie dust that I can sprinkle on somebody, it’s just hours on the mat.

JT: Your club participates in cage fighting, how is the preparation different from BJJ or Karate tournaments?

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PL: If you look at wrestling, wrestlers are put under intense cardiovascular and strength training, dietary restrictions and then they’re wrestling. Cage fighting encompasses the same thing.

Generally, we’ll have a eight to ten week camp before a cage fight. I don’t like the cut a lot of weight for amateurs only because dehydration sets in, it’s not good for their body long term, and they lose a lot of muscle mass. I don’t really like weight cuts. I determine their weight before we start a camp, generally within five pounds up or down. Then, we’ll start a camp with a lot of cardio and strength training. I have a minimum requirement for cardiovascular stamina and speed; if my fighters can’t perform to that level, I do not let them fight for me. Their strength training has to be done outside of the dojo. They have to put in their cardio and their weight training. I’m not standing over them with their weights and cardio. However, I will work on their striking, grappling and transitional game, whether its throws, takedowns or whatever.

Generally, we work for their strengths. If they’re good at striking we work mostly their striking. If they’re good at grappling were going to work their grappling and takedowns and try to close the distance.

At the end of our eight weeks, depending on when the fight is, we have the weight, the strength, the cardio, the grappling and the striking; it all comes together.

We’ve been very successful in the amateur scene and we’ll have a few pros soon and keep going.

JT: What is your greatest strength as an instructor?

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PL: My experience. I’ve had a long career and had the opportunity to train with some of Shoto Kan’s greatest instructors in the US and beyond.

Obviously now, I’m with an international group of like-minded people and obviously Sensei McCarthy is world renowned as an author, competitor, instructor, as an instructor’s instructor, and as a practitioner!

JT: How do you acquire new knowledge?

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PL: I classify myself as a visual learner. If I can see and I can question, then I can learn. I don’t have to do it because the visual pathway for me is conceptual. If I can see what’s going on, if I can see the pathway, then once I see, I understand.

JT: What do you plan on teaching at the 2017 Koryu Uchinadi North American Gasshuku?

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PL: I’ve been asked to run over a set of drills I’ve shown a few times in Canada. We’re going to look at those as an addition to our core curriculum. We’re looking at the ne-waza material.

I also plan to marry the lessons of the other instructors and my own. I intend to modify or amplify what has already been taught for students who need to work more on a certain principle or process.

JT: How does it feel to go from a attendee to an instructor at the Gasshuku?

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PL: First of all, this is a great honour! This is a big deal. I’ve only taught in front of Sensei McCarthy twice. So, for me to be asked to teach along side him is a HUGE honour. It’s very intimidating; he’s a world-renowned martial artist. To share the stage with someone like that, it really is a phenomenal experience for me, and very enriching.

JT: What would you say is the best part of the Gasshuku experience?

PL: You’re going to get good training. You’re going to get good information. You’re going to get good learning.

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The real “umph,” the real thing you’re going to take back is the extracurricular: the conversations that you have, the people that you meet, train and share with. THAT is what’s going to make the Gasshuku. THAT is the piece you’re going to remember.

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

PL: You NEED to be at this event. You really do! If you do one thing this year, come out to this event, even you are going to have Sensei at your dojo, come out and get the group experience, get the senior instructors’ experience along with Sensei McCarthy’s.

My God! How do you get that much experience into one place for five days! You have GOT to get there!

JT: Wow! That sends the message loud in clear! Thanks so much for your time Sensei Paul!

 You heard the man! Get your ass to the 2017 Koryu Uchinadi North American Gasshuku!

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