Goju and its many paths

When you start this martial journey, you do not know which path you will follow.

After rugby, I started in jistu (Japanese not Brazilian). I Liked it, I learnt the basics well (it gave me a solid foundation for karate) and I wanted to be a black belt, but it wasn’t the style or  the people for me. In a sense I failed, but it was the wrong path for me. No, thats wrong they were part of my path, I just had a different destination.

Goju ryu is the first thing I joined when I knew in a moment I had found my path. I can’t explain why but I was dedicated to it from the moment I walked into the dojo.

It has helped me gain great friends, led me to train in China, to achieving shodan then the coverted black gi of the nidan via the 30 man kumite.
My path seems to have been set, but I have met many great martial artists on my path. Of all my inner group of those I graded with (near similar low grades) to where I am now, I am the only one that has remained. 

Does that make me a better martial artist? It’s a question worth thinking about, I know for some family, hobbies, work or life come first. I understand that, but karate came first to me. I sacrificed a lot to get where I am. I trained a lot, and although some were more skillful than me at the time, my perseverance and dedication helped me to get to where I am.

One of my friends, trains in another country. Our style and ethos are his, and he has had a variety of experiences. He was always the joker in the class, and I became friends with him from the moment we first sparred. He always says how much he misses our style, our way. His work always came first. He has trained in three or four different countries, a bit of muay thai but mostly different styles of karate. This variety surely gives him a more open view on what karate is but should be.

I have another friend who was a nidan in another style of karate, joined us and started in the low grades. Alot of the ways my personal karate evolved was training with him outside of karate, experimenting and me being the higher grade (only in our style) enabled me to blend what I learnt in China, to what we do in karate.

Sadly he gave up karate, focused more on other creative outlets. He seems far happier, and yet goju is his personal philosophy. It defines who is, how he approaches life and lifes problems. The way he sees life is by the balance of go and ju. It astonished me that every chat, or problem we discussed, he related to goju and how the way of goju helps you deal with life.

My next friend was my first friend in karate, we had opposite styles of fighting, but we were both very creative in how we would approach karate, bunkai. We would fight each other extremely hard, full contact, scared but because we trusted each other that we had no intention of hurting the other, of knowing when to lay off if it got too bad. We could constantly push the boundaries.

When we drank, we would discuss life, interests but we would often bump heads when it came to karate. We respected each other so much that we would often argue our own ways on karate. It helped us to grow because we would challenge each other’s concepts. 

People often wondered why he seem to do so little in sessions, but would do so well in gradings. If they knew what I knew, that he was obsessed with karate (probably more than anyone I know), it was part of his every day life. To him doing something whilst pouring coffee, to how he walks, how he thinks. He sends himself to sleep thinking or kata and bunkai. Always self experimenting. Sure there are dangers to that, you do need to have a guide. He has dabbled in krav maga to further aid his understanding of karate.

All three men are like brothers to me, I trained with them as a kyu grade up to I got my shodan. It feels strange that I have stayed upon this path,  that they have gone on different paths. They could of reached the same path that I have walked, if they chosen to do so. They are equally obsessed with the path that is goju, I still consider them as equals.

We are all walking on a different path, one is exploring other karate styles, one karate is his philosophy on life, the other karate is his way of life, and I am still walking this path, focused on my goal. Yet all four of us are still Goju brothers, it still influences our lives.

The way of the martial artist isn’t set in stone. The way of Goju can lead us on to many different paths. When we get together, It’s like time hasn’t changed, we are still the same young men with the same passions, that main passion has helped each of us define who we are.

All four of us are walking the path of the Goju.

Enter the Shodan

It is official I am now a Shodan, words cannot describe how I feel, it was an amazing weekend of training one that I especially never want to forget. Five and half years it took me, and after failing in many things I have achieved one of my life long goals (the other training in China). For the last few months I have felt depleted it didn’t matter what I did I was lethargic but I kept training as hard as I could.

However this weekend my energy levels returned and I put in as much to the training over the weekend as I could, at several points my mind couldn’t cope with the sheer volume of the information, needing to keep what I needed for the grading. I went through sheer dread and fear (why am I here, I don’t like pain) to confidence that I had trained hard and that I could do it (which never happens to me before a grading, there is always doubt). On the Sunday I got to fight in the Nidan 30 man Kumite which was a huge honour. You want to give them your absolute best but you don’t want to injure yourself for your own grading.

When the time came at lunch time getting ready for my grading I had to become focused on one thought, people around me were wondering where my constant sense of humour at disappeared to. Big Chris (he was going for 2nd kyu) asked me if I was grading because I looked so calm, I found it completely ironic as I was controlling these waves of emotions all around me (ones that had drained my batteries for the last few months).

Both sides of my thoughts completely intensified during the grading, more than I had ever known before, but we were going for Shodan, I really appreciated the Nidan’s helping us out during the grading, whether it was to push us harder or cheer us on to how we control our breathing. (As I started to pant and not breathe deeply which made a huge difference everytime I needed to recover and explode with energy.

I  recall seeing my best friend completing his grading for shodan-ho and I was happy for him but had to focus on my task, the fighting was hear this was our time, my time. I was so much happier with my sparring this year compared to last year, I stuck to range fighting with the girls able to use a bit of tensho for entry (I got complimented by one Nidan for showing control, still pushing them and giving them my best, which of course is ironic because a Sandan told me now I need to work on my control more but that was aimed at weapons defence when I was confronted with being attacked by a Jo which surprised me and I just reacted by instinct. It’s all Go and Ju I have so much to work on!) I faced aussie mike (although he is a  kiwi) a big guy and I was able to go toe to toe with him, able to blast my knees in before he could, it was the first time I could see someone chambering up for strikes and I was able to get in there faster) some other fights are a bit of a blur but I was really happy that the kickers did kick me in the head, apparently it was because I kept rushing into them), I used some flying knees, I got fight the guy who trained me which was a huge honour. Then I got to fight the final guy, It was nearly Andy from Bristol but it was Simon from London. I was smiling inside these two I consider some of the best karate fighters I had ever seen and if I could fight half as well as them I would be proud. So I gave it all with Simon, I’m pretty sure I surprised him with a flying knee (which I use so I can get into close range) and we were fighting close quarters, the London Shihan  Mulholland kept breaking us up, my thoughts were Ah he is amazing at long range I want to be inside his range! It is strange from long range I feel less powerful, that a lot of my energy dissipates, where as in close quarters I am charged up, one strike gives power to another as Goran Powell put it dynamic tension during his  lesson (I’m using Sanchin baby!!!). I made it, I felt like I had a huge smile on my face, I faced an opponent I consider the crème of a karateka. Then it was the board break, everyone was choosing punches, I recall asking Shihan for tetsui but he shook his head, I had to face another fear and punch the board, I showed him my fist for my intended strike and he nodded. When one person breaks and kia’s then the next one would kia and break going down the row of 9 of us going for blackbelt. It must have been a surreal sight, I couldn’t believe that I did it even feel the board. Then we finished off and it was huge jubilation, when I went for Shodan-ho I felt like I barely made the last three fights, but this time I felt like I could of gone for three more fights, my energy levels were crazy. We did it, I did it I am so proud to be a part of this club, this association. We celebrated well, I even got made to walk across the campfire which I have never had any intention of doing so, curtsey of mike it was surely a weekend of doing things I thought that I would never be able to do.

It was an emotional roller coaster ride, before during and after my grading, some of my friends keep saying so your going to go for Nidan in three years’ time, my response is that I earned this belt and its up to me to prove each day why I earned it and that is to improve me as a karateka I I truly feel like a beginner again, there is so much to tidy upon polish up, learn, adapt its finally time to take my responsibilities.

Mwhahahaha!

Mwhahahaha!

Journey and pressure of a Shodan Ho

I haven’t posted much about martial arts recently, so I guess i best get back to it, even though I have been thinking alot about it still, just haven’t put the words onto the blog where it belongs.

My main focus is trying to do a little bit of martial art training everyday, trying to become the  blackbelt I believe I could become. Of course doing stupid things and injuring myself still happen, but if I continue to learn from them I can only come back stronger.

I definitely feel more of a pressure being a Shodan ho (probationary blackbelt) than I was expecting. I mean I knew that it was going to be a hard year of training, but the expectation in some classes of feeling like I should know more, and not wanting to make mistakes in front of newer people is a weight upon my shoulders. A similar feeling to when I was a low grade in Jitsu 6 years ago, and I stopped training for a few months, and people below me were suddenly higher, I felt that I couldn’t cope with it.

7 years ago I started my martial arts journey after playing rugby and did Jitsu, five years ago on november 9th I would of started my karate journey. When I started Jitsu, i did the classes because I wanted to, not because I enjoyed them. I tried taekwondo at the time, and really enjoyed it, but knew I wasn’t designed for it. Drifted in and out of several martial arts, never fitting in.

Then I discovered Goju Ryu. my first lesson scared the crap out of me, looking back as I have matured since then it seems those simple things should never of scared me, but it was outside my comfort zone. It had everything i wanted realism, jitsu, striking and kata a form  to practice at home.

I instantly fell in love with the art, and kept going, the only difference to me and those other beginners who gave up, was that I kept going, going through the highs and lows, through the fear you get whenever you enter the dojo, it was inspiring to hear last summer school that even one of the toughest nidans still gets scared everytime she goes to the dojo, its facing your inner demons.

Jitsu i made one or two friends, who kept me going but they left and I felt very alone and isolated, I didn’t i in with them, I’m use to being like a lone wolf in rugby and here. It happened everywhere I went. In Goju ryu it was different, they seem to except you for who you are, we all have bizarre sense of humour and it was just a click, but I didn’t make any friends straight away. the higher grades kept to themselves, and the lower grades didn’t have the same passion, just something they did. unlike jitsu, I used this to motivate myself to keep going, hitting a deep and dark depression it was the only thing keeping me going on many occasions.

It wasn’t until the following summer of my first year that I made my first friend at karate, who is pretty much now my best friend. He was older, young at heart had experience in karate before, and came back after a ten year gap, but with our backgrounds and fighting spirit, our jovial attitude our friendship was born in the heat of kumite, testing each other and trusting each other, we push each other harder than we will push others. the first of several friends.

Another extremely close friend I made was back when I was a purple belt, and had to face an orange belt (3 grades lower) who was simply awesome, so much power and skill in man much smaller relative to me, when faced with this in jitsu , I cracked and couldn’t cope. In karate I smiled, and we had an instant friendship in  heart of kumtie, I knew the more I trained with this phenom the better I will become.

There are many more stories of friendship to be told, most of them from the heart of kumite, where you have to let go of your ego, if I let it get in my way I never would of made such awesome mates.

What I liked about being brown belt was being inbetween, I could talk to both higher and lower belts, and make novices feel really welcome, I even helped two prepare for their last grading. Now as a blackbelt, it is like an officer at sea, they can be friendly with the lower belts but that respect and status is something that can separate the two, and is something I will miss when I heal up (again!) and train at the Union with some new students. the pressure of being a probationary blackbelt will make the sessions much more mentally challenging.

But if I continue to keep training everyday, spar as often as I can, and plan out strategies, analysis the best way of me fighting, and stay humble, this will be like making a sword in  a great furnace. Where you test out if the metal is cracked and the potential sword needs throwing away. Or if the heat and intensity makes it stronger.

The journey from a Man into a Karateka

 

The change that I have seen in a fellow karateka in my club has actually stunned me, not because I never thought he would become skilled at karate, but because it seemed like it happened overnight. I remember when he first joined our club (2+ years ago now?), when it came to training you could tell that he never done anything like a martial art before, the main example that comes to mind is that when he sparred he had this very, very unorthodox style of what looked like old fashioned boxing (with the arms in uppercut positions) but with the elbows out. He was very easy to hit, and the main worry with him that his style was so unusual that you might get hurt by accident.

He has always been one of the nicest guys that you could ever meet, but you could tell that anything could easily hurt him, but that doesn’t mean that he didn’t have the heart to keep going. Then I saw the first big change at his last grading, I couldn’t attend the grading myself because of something that had happened to my mum at the time, and family comes first. I saw the photos  and I nearly had a double take, he didn’t look like the same guy he had an air of confidence about him, something about the way his jaw was set, and how brutal and efficient he looked in the photos made me wonder how come I had never seen this version of him before.

He was always the first to follow sensei’s orders, and put as much effort in, but this was the first time I had noticed such a sizeable change within him. Then last Thursday at training we were doing bunkai, and he was paired with a blackbelt who is as tough as nails and is going for his Nidan the 30 man Kumite. This basically means that he is tougher than nails and probably eats them for breakfast.  The blackbelt has always had this MMA mindset and so laid into our fellow, with strikes that make my injured ribs shiver, and I felt bad for him for a second and thought he might get hurt. But that was the old karateka, the new one now forged by the battles of the martial way absorbed the with ease and took the blows like a champ.

It made me now wonder what it would be like to spar with him again (though work and injury I haven’t sparred him in a long time, probably prior to his last grading). He is the second person that I have witnessed (my previous blog post about the path of karateka, my best mate who is now a brownbelt) whose strength of character seems to of been moulded by the mental, physical and spiritual fires of a grading. It makes me realise just how important that they can be for some people to have your inner beast fight against your inner demons and not only survive but flourish and grow.

I have always liked and respected him as a person, but now I respect him as a karateka, with the inner will that he has always had he has grown tremendously through years of hard work, which to me may of only seemed like it happened only a few months ago. It is an honour to witness this change in him, and how martial arts can benefit us all.

From the depths of despair rises the Phoenix.

Into the bowls of despair I reach,

Ready to take my leap,

Darkness consumes my soul,

Pain is all I know,

From the searing pain and madness,

I only feel the Loneliness and sadness

That consumes my soul,

As I walk up the path on top of the Volcano,

Its ashes become a mask,

Hiding me from the world,

Who Did I kid,

I don’t deserve my dreams,

As I plunge into the firey madness,

I get tears of pain from its searing ash,

Sadness leads to Pain,

Pain leads to anger,

Righteous Anger,

How dare I let the world get to me,

How dare it make me feel this way,

How dare I let myself feel this way,

I am a fighter damn to hell those that try to forsake me,

I will not go down without a fight,

The anger pulses through my veins,

I will not go down crying,

I will only go down fighting,

Searing pain explodes through my arms,

As the fiery wings of the Phoenix sprout through my arms,

I fight against the drag of the Ash,

The depths of hell want me to pull me down,

I beat my wings against the strong tide,

I rise through the ashes,

Through the searing pain that life can be

Scarred through my journey,

But reborn like the Phoenix,

I will follow my dreams,

I won’t give up without a fight,

I will use this pain to become the man,

I was born to be.

Inspiration for travelling

I have always wanted to travel and see the world, to explore the Amazon, to train with the Shaolin or the Samurai, to meeting tribal people, to meet cultures of all kinds. As I grow up there are more places I want to explore, and for different reasons, Okinawa to see where the birth place of karate started, to having a wild time in Rio.

My Dad is perhaps one of the biggest inspirations for my need to travel. He spent a whole year travelling through Europe, north Africa, India and the middle east with his then girlfriend, his best friend and his best friends girlfriend, in a hippy van that he customised for a long period of travel, with its own water purifier and extendible attachment for extra room whilst sleeping, that was several decades ago.

To this day he seems to be defined by his experience of his great adventure, with many of his great tales stemming from that period of his life. The many adventures he had, the danger he faced, the beauty he saw and embraced in the world, I believe that it was this journey that helped develop him into the man he is today.

My mother has been another inspiration, of perhaps a different kind, she is from New Zealand and travelled in her early 20’s, to England, where she met my father. She is also a well travelled person, but hasn’t been able to do as much as she has dreamed of. If I ever get the money to, I hope I can lead her to some of the places that she has always wanted to go to.

At one period in my life I gave up on my dreams, which is as anyone knows me is not a good sign. I let life get to me, and I have had to slowly rebuild myself from that point. When I discovered that you could train in China and a cheapish price, and that my friend from karate was planning to go, I was hooked I had to go! It was a dream that I had since I was a small boy, but stopped believing I could. Despite my families fears of me being in a strange country where you do not speak the language and with its own many dangers, my mum helped me to realise I could follow one of my dreams, so I went to China!

My 3 months of training in the Fujian province, and my three weeks of travelling with my best friend (who I met at the Kung Fu school)to Xian, Beijing and Shanghai, has not only been a dream come true, but has helped transform me, define me in ways I don’t yet fully understand. Most of that is for another post.

I want to say, thank you to my dad for inspiring me, and thank you to my mum, for helping me to finally live one of my dreams, it has given me the belief that not only I can, but that I will follow more of my dreams.