In Response to my earlier Observations… General Nonsense | Martial Arts | My Life 13 MAY 2009

Karate Reverse Kick to BagThis morning I received a wonderful comment from Maria, a black belt training partner from our dojo, responding to a post I wrote some time back regarding the Funakoshi grading system.

I thought it only fair to publish both her comment and my subsequent reply as a post simply because I don’t want anyone to run around misunderstanding my position and in turn, perhaps spoil the particularly good atmosphere that is enjoyed at our Gordon’s Bay Funakoshi dojo.

Guess I can always live in hope? :)

Hi Craig

I googled Sensei Birgitt and came across your link (I am not hot on the lingo so excuse me if it is not the right jargon).

I trust that you have learnt something about yourself through your reactions and behaviour at your grading. A grading such as that simulates a danger situation and one goes through the whole process of anticipation, preparation, confrontation and resolution.

I refer to your comment about the dojo etiquette etc. I think you must keep in mind that one dojo does not represent the whole style and that each dojo has a unique character peculiar to the stew of personalities which inhabit it. Ours is a Gordon’s Bay dojo, unlike any other and therefore actually incomparable.

Most of the students only ventured onto their martial arts paths later in their lives. They are in effect children and therefore their karate reflects that youthfulness. You and I both know that only time and repetition, commitment and perseverance make you a “good” martial artist. I am sure you also agree that “good” is a very subjective concept and cannot really be applied to an art. Art being creative and unique to its practitioner.

Teaching basic techniques is the responsibility of the Sensei. Perfecting them is the responsibility of the student. So at our dojo, as at any other, you will find some people who do “good” basics and some who don’t and probably never will – they don’t see the point. Our teacher does teach it though – she just does not “force” it – we are all adults and set our own standards.

I am merely commenting, maybe a bit defensively, out of loyalty to Sensei Birgitt. She is one of the most gifted and generous teachers I know and is completely non-judgmental of everyone who enters her dojo. She makes martial arts accessable to people who would maybe not be welcomed as warmly by other styles and Senseis. I am also proud of my style – please have a look at Kancho Eddie Ward’s group on Facebook Funakoshi Karate International for a bit more background.

I admire your knowledge of techniques and hope that you will be able to complete the grading sylabus of Funakoshi Karate and obtain your black belt. You will attain that rank not only because you have learnt our techniques and forms but also because you “stuck” it out – which is maybe the hardest skill of all.



Osu Maria!

Thanks for your wonderful comment. I agree wholeheartedly with everything that you do put forward in your text, and most certainly the bit about sensei Birgitt Smit who most certainly is one of the most welcoming Karate teachers I have yet to encounter – and I’ve certainly met quite a few in all the years I have been training! :)

I find her manner of teaching extremely entertaining and I think in part that is why I am enjoying training here at Gordon’s Bay as much as I am, probably the most I’ve enjoyed karate in years – and all this despite the inherent weaknesses that I myself see as being part of our particular dojo etiquette.

I still however don’t believe that enough focus is given on basics, but more importantly than that, I believe the lack of proper resistance and bag training is a huge stumbling block for many of the lower grade belts. To punch and kick thin air is one thing, but to actually use those techniques to strike an unyielding target is quite another!

However, I also understand that our particular dojo’s focus appears on the sport aspect of Karate and seeing as we are not a full-contact style, I do accept that it isn’t necessary. (However on this point I do feel that it weakens the students that have only ever trained in this particular dojo).

So that about sums it up. I am in no way attacking sensei or her school – I’m absolutely enjoying every second that I get to train there and just wish that life would allow me to get there more often! But on a personal level, I can’t help but think that our level is weak if any of the students are forced into a situation in the real world.

And as for the black belt – sigh, I’ve come to accept I’ll only ever achieve that one day when I actually buy a house somewhere and settle down for good. Only then will I be in one place long enough to actually get the damn thing! :)

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About Craig Lotter

South African software architect and developer at Touchwork. Husband to a cupcake baker and father to two little girls. I don't have time for myself any more.