Karate/Grading

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Question
Hi,

I am a brown belt in goju ryu karate and I have been training for 9 years. I know it's not proper to ask when you will be graded and that is not what I am asking but I really want to know what I can do to prove that I am ready for my black belt. I have grown and I will wait as long as in takes to get it but I feel like I keep practicing with out learning anything new and I don't get corrected ever. I don't mind being wrong or learning but I just want to know. So please tell me what must I know to be the best I can be as a brown belt.

Thank you,
Josee

Answer
Hello Josee,
   Each instructor has their own method of teaching, each may bring a student along using their own method.  Although traditional styles such as Goju have well established criteria and generally rigid curricula, this leaves the leadership style as a variable.  I only know how I myself teach people.  With me it is personal and requires trial and error with observation of results and effort; each student is different and requires a slightly different tactic.  That is, one person may memorize movement patterns instantly while another may require breaking movements down first in order to facilitate learning.  Likewise, one student may be humble and unobtrusive by nature while another is more boisterous and aggressive in their view of rank progression.  One student must at length learn a bit of the nature of the other.
  In the end we seek to be well rounded, not specializing in our favorite techniques by continuously operating in our comfort zones, but working difficult and unfamiliar techniques until we can acquire as many as the system holds, and more.  We should become more generalized practitioners as much as possible.
   This is not to suggest anything about you, or your instructor; I only bring to light certain realities about teaching and learning.  Possibly your instructor sees a need in you, and is attempting to instill in you whatever they see that you might need.  I personally learned something about the concept of rank some time ago, that rank is a personal bench-mark more than an absolute.  Yes there are standards and specific criteria required within each system, some more stringent than others.  But also there is flexibility in teaching.  One might want to create carbon copies of militaristic fanatics if one were bolstering up a Japanese war machine gearing up for some sort of world conquest.  In our civilian situation it tends to be more about creating responsible practitioners, with the moral structure to know above all when NOT to apply their skills.  I do not know where your instructor falls within this broad spectrum of goals.
   The important question is, where do YOU as an individual fall?  In the scope of an entire lifetime we hope there is ample time for continued training.  Each day we should learn new things if possible or at least seek new concepts aggressively.  Otherwise we stagnate and might as well dig our own hole, because for us it is basically over.  Hopefully life is long, and martial arts training should be about a lifetime.  Is it best to be a fantastic brown belt, or a mediocre black belt?  Is the belt a final goal for you, or is it a lifetime of work that is the goal?  These are blunt questions.  Rank was applied to the old Okinawan fighting methods during the period of modernization when discrete styles of Karate were codified.  The idea came from Judo, which used belts, and was modified somewhat for Karate.  The point is that prior to that time there were no belts at all other than just to keep a uniform from falling apart during practice.       
   Yet I do understand your question. It is about understanding expectations and standards.  Also it is about setting goals and realizing them.  There are some questions that I can not answer for you, possibly you can answer them and possibly not as of yet.  What are your instructor's attitudes about rank?  What does your instructor believe your attitudes about rank might be?  Does your instructor communicate your weaknesses to you or does that person simply expect progress through training and effort?  Is the instructor after technical solidification, or the acquisition of patience?  At my age these days I occasionally wonder why I was in such a hurry in my younger years, since now it is all about effective teaching.   
   I can no longer do a flying back hook kick 6.5 feet above the ground, the bones tend to calcify and some types of flexibility are lost with time.  But all of the basics still work, along with most of the rest, and some knowledge of body mechanics and timing can more than compensate.  We must all remain in the best physical condition possible which requires continuous effort throughout our lives (and a little glucosamine!#.  I run a lot and train other ways for strength, practice many kata, and it has paid off by keeping me generally healthy for a very long time.  What we do is healthy for us, it makes us a lot stronger and more resilient than most people.  These are some of the real lifetime benefits, and in comparison I would not place rank very highly.  Although I was hospitalized recently for a couple of weeks with a terrible blood infection and painful gut complications, I was able to recover immediately due to this conditioning.  At one point my heart rate exceeded 200 beats per minute with really rapid respiration, and they had a crash cart and team ready for almost 20 minutes #at 53 my heart rate is supposed to be maxed out at about 188 BPM).  I slowly recovered and was fine, to everyone's surprise.  I am telling you the training really does help.  Now I contemplate what each day is worth, even what each breath is worth; and of course I train continuously because these things are not actually free.
   Your question of what you can do to be better prepared for grading to Shodan is complicated, but in general there are a few things I would suggest if I may be so bold.  I would communicate my desire to develop myself to my instructor and ask what other training regimens would help.  Failing a clear answer on this, I would break up my routine and task my body and mind more through unaccustomed exercise.  Running is good, weights are good if done properly for martial arts, Bow Flex is excellent.  Additional training times are good if this is not already making a full  schedule for you.  I would continue to focus on better skills and actively ask the instructor what can make your technique better, what should be visualized during particular kata movements, etc.
   What must you know to be the best brown belt you can be?  Everything that you CAN know is what you should know of course.  Generally most styles focus on speed, power and mechanical correctness in the lower levels after basic necessary strength and flexibility are attained.  Brown belt is a grey area if you will pardon the pun.  As you maintain mechanical correctness of movement at higher speeds you also must remain in control.  A few things that I consider important follow.  Somewhere during this time it is good to know the specific functions of the movements in katas; this can be complicated in some styles but Goju has some fairly blunt, direct interpretations in their katas, making this a little easier than in some styles that have more hidden concepts for various reasons.  Then work through these katas slowly while visualizing each technique and attacker, with the end goal to be able to visualize all of this at fighting speed.  Timing, balance, power, mechanical correctness all must be maintained as well.  Your kata should be a fight where you can experience the opponent.  Others will be able to "see" the opponent when this is done well.  It is the difference between going through the motions and doing inspired kata.  It can make you a better fighter by prompting you to develop conditioned reflexes based off visualized opponents, which can give you faster reactions to similar attacks from real opponents.
   It is easy to say "forget rank" and just train.  But, you really should do this on a certain level if you can.  Life is important, not so much rank.  I know that you probably already know this, just keep training and tasking yourself with new things whenever possible.  I really hope this helps you in some way, and please do not hesitate to ask more.

-Chris A. Johnston

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Chris A. Johnston

Expertise

I can answer historical or technical questions involving most Okinawan/Japanese styles of Karate and Kobujitsu. Also I have made a study of the acupoints and other pressure points and have researched the medical explanations of why they work the way they do. Ask me questions about the neurological implications of pressure point strikes. If I don`t know an answer I will gladly research it.

Experience

I have 43 years experience in traditional Shito-Ryu Karate. I am currently Rokudan in Shito-Ryu and Sandan in Kobujitsu. I practice the Seito method of doing the Shito-Ryu kata. Also I study as often as possible with Seiyu Oyata, although this has not been as often as I would like. My research of pressure points caused me to study the peripheral nervous system, spinal laminae, corticothalamic network, reticular activating system and various links to other brain areas. I currently have 2 articles out on the subject.

Organizations
Traditional Karate Association

Education/Credentials
AAS Microprecision Technology

Awards and Honors
Graduated Sigma AAS, Renshi grade TKA, Illinois state representative TKA.

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