Give Me Shelter
by Sensei Neil Prime

Something that becomes a very difficult process in the martial arts is to learn new techniques and concepts. You may think that this shouldn't be so and you're right, it shouldn't be.

When you first join a karate class the input of information can be overwhelming. You have to learn how to stand properly and how to walk in various stances that are totally unnatural. You have to learn how to punch and block. You have to be aware of your posture and body movements etc. etc. This provides you with a lot of stimulus and you are constantly learning.

As you rise through the ranks in karate it is because you have shown that you are becoming efficient in your technique but you still realize that there are many more katas to learn and natural inefficiencies in your basic techniques and sparring arsenal to try to over come. You are still aware that there is much to learn.

As the years go on you then start to determine what works for you and what doesn't work so well. You then start to add your own personal influences more and more into your karate. Here's where the problem tends to begin. Instead of working on what seems difficult we are naturally inclined to work on what we can do best. In karate you have to add your personality and you will have some techniques that work better for you than others. There may even be certain techniques that you can't physically perform. When you are in a situation where you can't make a mistake, either in competition or a real life altercation then it makes sense to only do what is most efficient and what you can do with most confidence. These are not the situations where you should be trying a technique that you just learned the previous workout and these situations are not the point of topic but they can cast a shadow of complacency over our learning abilities.

I have found that many experienced martial artists' talk about the importance of keeping an open mind. This to me is very important but let me go one step further and explain the importance of this statement.

I feel that many people say they have an open mind and wish to train to their full capacity but limit themselves by not realizing the importance of the concept or what they really believe is that it is important for other people but not so much themselves because they or their style is more complete.

People want to believe that they are knowledgeable, and sometimes are convinced that they abide by the wisdom of open mindedness but contradict themselves in two ways. They express themselves verbally by making generalized comments about certain styles and their training methods without any real experience with the subject. They also express themselves through apathetic behavior. By this I mean they sit and observe rather than participate in what can be a real learning experience.

I believe that you can't fulfill your full potential with only one instructor. Unless your instructor is your identical twin, it is impossible to have the same physical qualities therefore it is impossible to duplicate their actions. Even if your instructor reflects your physique you still have a mind of your own that needs to be stimulated by creating your own ideas and impressions. This is an important factor in developing your own style. Your instructor should be there for planting the seeds and for guidance when necessary, not to dictate your every move and thought.

I believe that you can't fulfill your full potential within only one club. The stimulus provided by the group of people you train with is important but I think everyone who has trained with the same people over time tend to be able to know what the other person is going to do before they do it. It is an unavoidable rut that we are all subject to. Unless there is outside influence, your sparring skills will go stale. Strategy in your sparring is a key factor in being sharp. Outside influence helps you keep an upper hand on your training partners. This in turn helps keep them on their toes and this helps keep you on yours and the circle stays complete.

I believe that you should be aware of what goes on in other organizations and styles. Even though a good organization helps keep the dust of the furniture so to speak, there still tends to be an influx of the same ideas because the goals should be generally the same from the top down. It is not bad to want to share the same views and have a common ground but if this takes away from personal gain then it takes away from growth.

Now what does all this mean when you put it together and how can we avoid falling into the trap of complacency?

Any instructor within a club should realize that their students are going to be influence by the other students. I feel that one of the best ways to develop comradery within a club is to have the students work with each other. It makes the beginner student feel even though martial arts is a personal endeavor rather than a team sport, there is team effort in achieving your goals. An instructor can not expect their students to be the mirror image of themselves. It's not even fair to have that expectation.

How many times have you seen a sports team coach freak because one of their players missed a pass, a check or a goal?

It's a terrible thing to think that the only person who knows how to play the game is on the bench. I hope I never see this in a dojo.

A club is a common ground. A place to get together and practice. It provides stimulation generated by the energy around you. It provides a standard of convention so that you know what you are expected to do. It is a guide to let you know when you need work and when you excel. It provides the stimulation to each member to try and get back on top if they have been unseeded. You can help your club grow simply by utilizing thoughts or concepts learned from an outside source. If you are sparring and all of a sudden you execute a barrage of techniques your colleagues have not experience you will then have the upper hand. This will in turn provide them with something to work on and eventually you'll have to come up with something new again. So be it. Either you yourself or your sparring partner will have to provide new stimuli, so go get it.

On a broader sense, an organization is much like a dojo. It is a collection of clubs that strive towards a common goal. A good organization will not limit itself to a select group of individuals, understanding of course there are limited guidelines to preserve what the intentions of the organization are, and this is important. However, a good organization is also full of influences from vast resources. Not only should the influences available, but they have to be nurtured and they have to be openly available for the benefit of all in the organization.

The Shintani Wado Kai Karate Federation is a great organization to belong to because we do have a immense expanse of knowledge of which we can cultivate. But just because we belong to this organization doesn't exempt any of us from taking responsibility for our own actions or lack of. There is a saying that 'knowledge is power' but you have to also utilize this knowledge before it can be of any use to you. Can you imagine what experience we would lose if we told people like Sensei Walt or Sensei Henry to forget about their martial arts past, it's time to learn Wado? Their input to our club is priceless.

By partaking in as many work outs in the areas clubs that I can, I have personally improved my knowledge of Wado Kai. By participating the annual Karate College in Virginia where the mix of different styles of martial arts is as vast as you can imagine has been an exceptional learning tool. If I didn't take that first trip to Virginia with Senseis Walt, Henry, Martin and Mitch I wouldn't have had the opportunity befriend people like Bill Wallace and Joe Lewis. Since that time I have brought both of these World Champion fighters to our dojo and offered their teachings at a total of 4 seminars now and they have enlightened many of our peers along the way. If it wasn't for meeting them I would have never competed in kickboxing myself and I would have lost out in a whole new perspective of my current training methods. The gathering of information has a snowball effect and keeps getting bigger.

Although most of us only know Sensei Shintani as the head of Wado Kai, he has earned black belts in Aikido, Judo, Kendo, and also Shito Ryu karate which was his original style. By this alone we should see that our leader has a diverse foundation and it is for that reason he is as knowledgeable as he is.

You don't build a resume like this over night, and you certainly wouldn't try to do it all at once. You have to grasp one at a time, but this shouldn't stop you from exploring different avenues as you venture along any given path. You should consider this the closer you get to achieving your black belt and certainly pursue extra curricular opportunities once you have achieved your foundation.

I do not for a minute think that you should quit one to learn another. I have been with the Shintani Karate Federation for over 20 years and I consider myself very faithful to the organization. I think what you have to do is to evaluate why you do what you do. You also have to be honest with yourself. You have to look at the opportunities around you and grasp them as they come along. Your instructor can't do it all for you, you have to take the initiative yourself.

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