Sunday, December 30, 2012

What does it mean to belong to an organization in martial arts?

To want to belong to a group or organization, or even a community, is one of the basic human tendencies. As much as we want to train alone or do our own thing, there is always going to be a time or place we want to connect to another person or group to share our art with. So, the question comes up about how to choose our associations within our art and training.
On an immedate level, this would be our school. On a larger level, this would include attending seminars, competing in tournaments (if that is something that you like to do), and what umbrella organization you want to affiliate yourself with. In my case, I am removed from my home school by a 3.5 hour drive, and I do not want to start my training all over with any other school. The question comes up about how do I approach this? For me, I have chosen to train alone and take lessons, when I can, at my school of origin, as I have done for the last 20 years. What has been the result? Unfortunately, I have done a lot of spinning of my wheels in the last 10+ years.
Be that as it may, I will get back to it. I want to continue on with the main point here, which is how we choose our associations. The school is important. It becomes a reflection of you, and you become a reflection of it. What does it give to you? You have to determine what you will get out of it if you attend another school and is it worth the time and effort you are putting in at the school? Tournaments and umbrella organizations are the same way. What do they have to offer to you and are they an accurate reflection of you?
How did I come to this line of thinking today? Well, I was doing some research about Kenpo. I have been at a cross-roads as to what to do with my training. I want to have access to a school nearby, but I do not want to give up the time and comfort and bonds that I have created by training with my original school, even though it is 3.5 hours away. How do I come to terms with my situation? We all have to ask, "What can this school, teacher, or training do for me?" I ask the same question. It is a very important question because it is time and money you put into what you are doing. In today's economy, we do not have time to make choices lightly.
In my research, I found that there is A LOT of organizations out there that associate themselves with Kenpo. You might ask yourself, "What is the difference?" There are many, but you have to be willing to look at them, and look at them objectively, to see what they can and cannot offer. For me, I have come to a conclusion that it is time for me to start integrating myself into some kind of community more, and I need to figure how and where I want to do that. In my research, I found at least seven Kenpo umbrello organizations trying to convince Kenpoists, and others, out there that there is a benefit to joining the group they had put together. Through my years of taking lessons and instruction, I have learned there are a lot of politics that go on in martial arts. I try to not get caught up in it all and look at things objectively. It has made for an interesting process of figuring out what I want to do. As an informed martial artist who has studied for 20+ years, I have some background in how to make a decision about these things. But, if you are new to the scene, you might want to ask yourself a series of questions to get started.
1. What type of teacher do I want?
2. What type of classes do I want and what do I want to learn?
3. How many classes can I take each week?
4. How much time can I put into my training?
5. Why do I want to study martial arts?
These are some questions to get you started. I find myself asking similar questions about what I want to do and understanding what I want out of an organization. What can the offer me and what can I put into it so I can get something out of it? It is a process of self exploration.
Take some time to understand the choices you make by understanding yourself more first. I think this is true in whatever we do. We need to understand outselves as we make important choices, whether it be in martial arts or in life.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Understanding the uniqueness of your martial arts training

(This photo's copyright belongs to Jesse and Gina Brown)
Understanding the uniqueness of each person's martial arts training and experience is important. My instructor, Chuck Epperson, stresses that Kenpo Karate is made to fit each person's individual style and preference. That is not to say we make up our own rules as we go. That would be erroneous, to say the least. It is more approrpiate to say that Kenpo is flexible enough to fit each person's unique style and personality and philosophy while strong enough to maintain a strong system of learning and application for each practitioner.
I read in an article where Richard 'Huk' Planas was asked about Kenpo and he said something to the effect that Kenpo was best described as a set of rules and principles and a set of ideas to be learned. It was up to each person to make the art their own. As long as the rules and principles were followed, the Kenpo being practiced would be sound. Here is the big question, how often do we follow the rules and principles. It sounds easy to just follow the principles and everything will be good. It takes a lot of time to just understand what the basic principles are and practice them right!
All of us follow principles and guidelines for our day-to-day life, whether we realize it or not. If we use our principles to live by, we might make a lot more progress. I think a lot of people just move from moment to moment and obstacle -to-obstacle. Many people do not think things through or have a plan. Kenpo, and any other martial art for that matter, asks us to practice and make it a way of life. Why else would we engage in the practice of something.
Lee Wedlake pointed out in his book, Kenpo Karate 101, that many people do not stick with what they start, whehter it be the gym or martial arts. It is a sprint and they burn out. Something like martial arts is about the journey more than the goal. The most meaniful experience you will get out of your martial arts training will be if you take it as a journey and understand how it shapes you and your perspective. That perspective will also change over time. So, be prepared to see and understand Kenpo in different ways as you progress through your journey. This is also true for anything you do. It changes for you over time. I remember I stopped making art for a time after graduate school. When I started making art again, I realized I had a whole new understanding of art because so much time had passed. Lee Wedlake talks about this in Kenpo training and in other things.
When training in martial arts, you have to understand yourself and what you want. It is important to know what you want. Martial arts styles are like clothes, you have to try them and see if they fit you. Each style has a different fit and is meant for a certain type of personality and goal, depending on the person.
When training with my instructor, Chuck Epperson, he tells me a lot of things.  One thing he told me was to look at the self defense techniques and figure out how I would finish them. The techniques are just ideas teaching principles, but it may not represent the ideal move for you. If you follow the principles, then you can make a variation that respresents your own style better. He talked about adding and deleting moves to make something more direct for him, because he likes to be direct. I have to agree that being direct is the best policy, but even with that, there are different ways to be dircet. If you are a martial artist, what is your direct way of approaching a situation? I like to look at techniques and ask myself how will this work for me.
One last thing I like to do for my own personal training is I like to focus on basics and basic combinations. I also like to practice both sides of a technique, literally. I know their are opposites and reverses of everything and we have category completions everywhere that we are supposed to think about. Those are outstanding, for certain, and they are truly an academic challenge to apply and understand. However, I just like the literal nature of doing both sides, opposite sides, of the same technique. It is a challenge that suits me. Will I ever want to use my weak side? Not really, but you never know when you are boxed into a corner and only your weak side is available, or the weak side of a certain move might only be available. In addition to that, I just like to the physical challenge when working out of doing the weak side. It gives me that much more to practice, and I really enjoy the journey of practicing the art of Kenpo.
Find your unique style in whatever you do, understand it, and let it help guide you to what you like to do most and enhance your training at the same time.
Train hard.