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In this space, I will attempt to share some of my personal insights on the art, on life and on living.  Whether you enjoy what I write or hate it, whether you concur or totally disagree with what you see, I hope you will read it, and I hope you will learn something from it.

Boys and Girls: Different but Equal

posted Dec 6, 2017, 10:04 AM by Eric Banks   [ updated Dec 6, 2017, 10:10 AM ]

"It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men."

   Frederick Douglass

 

Note: this blog entry contains affiliate links.  For more information, see disclosure here.

 

If you have ever had kids, worked with kids, seen kids in the grocery store, or remember being a kid, you know this truth to be pretty much self-evident: boys and girls are different.  That’s right, they are different—they think differently, grow differently, act and interact differently, and they learn differently. 

Boys and girls learn differently, in part due to differing brain development, but they can learn, do, and accomplish the same things.  But because they learn differently, there is evidence that they should be taught differently.  With that last thought in mind, the below may be quite helpful: 

Boys, in general:

·      Need to move, a lot, during learning

·      Need to be challenged or they get bored and lose motivation

·      Understand spatial, mathematical, and mechanical reasoning sooner / easier than girls

·      Will challenge authority, a lot, and frequently


Girls, in general:

·      Exhibit greater impulse control

·      Tend to seek to please authority figures

·      Are more sensitive to words, tone, emotional energy

·      Understand verbal directions quicker than boys of the same age

·      May need more encouragement and positive cues

·      Are more in touch with their emotions

Earlier this year, I read two insightful books written by Leonard Sax, MD, PhD, one on boys and one on girls: Boys Adrift: The Five Factors Driving the Growing Epidemic of Unmotivated Boys and Underachieving Young Men and Girls on the Edge: Four Factors Driving the New Crisis for Girls.  In each book, Dr. Sax presents a generous amount of interesting, easy to understand data and detail about boys and girls, how they learn, what they need, and what can be done to help them overcome the challenges of this present age.  

I’ve been teaching boys and girls traditional karate since 1996 and began working with them in other educational and community capacities several years prior to that and I can attest to the truth in the above statements on their differences.  Of course there are outliers, those children who buck the system, beat the stats, and just don’t conform to the standard model. 

Most of my learning about how to work with boys and girls has been non-academic, meaning, it was experienced right there in the middle of the frying pan, inside the school of hard knocks through trial-and-error.   Now, I’m using more of a “laboratory” or scientific approach: research the theories and test them, research further based on the test results, adjust, and then test again.  One of the most interesting challenges for a dojo, church group, classroom, or the home setting, is the fact that kids are creatures of constant change—what worked yesterday probably won’t be as effective tomorrow, but it may work again next week, if you’re lucky.  (Sci-fi moment: in this way, kids are like the nearly unstoppable Borg from Star Trek; under most circumstances, they can and will quickly adapt to whatever you throw at them, and then, they take over the world…)  

Kids also need order and consistency and actually appreciate routine.  While it can be a challenging paradox, finding the correct mixture of allowable change and consistent routine while keeping the kids engaged, it can be done.  One of the best ways to do this is to team with the kids to build the right mix.  It won’t easy, but it is possible.  Just last month I finished what is probably one of the best books on motivating kids by empowering them and partnering with them.  Self-Motivated Kids: Creating an Environment Where Children Listen and Cooperate is a pretty quick read filled with simple but effective principles.  It is focused on the home, but can be adapted to other settings.  As such, I’ve adapted what I learned to the dojo laboratory and I am beginning my experimental implementations of its strategies now (cue lightning flashes, mad scientist laugh, etc). 

If you have kids, have worked with kids, or vaguely recall being one yourself, that boys and girls are different doesn’t come as a shock, but it is probably a good reminder that these weird and wonderful little humans are unique with specific, targeted needs, and in order to grow to be their best, we, you and me, have to meet their unique needs right where they are.

 

EDB

12.06.17

How to Develop Master-level Stink Eye

posted Jul 9, 2017, 6:58 PM by Eric Banks   [ updated Jul 9, 2017, 7:09 PM ]

"If ever a face meant death—if looks could kill—we saw it at that moment."

-Bram Stoker’s, Dracula

 

 

Karate Lessons via Ye Ole VCR

 

I must have been a green belt when my good buddy Martin gave me a VHS tape of a Japanese documentary on Japan Karate Association instructor, Masahiko Tanaka.   Tanaka Sensei was a top traditional fighter and still is considered a world-renowned instructor from the generation of well-known, hardcore sensei produced by the JKA in the 50s, and 60s, and early 70s.  He was in a number of Nakayama Sensei’s Best Karate books (see Vol. 3, Vol. 4, and Vol. 8) and can also be seen in many of the old videos, and in every instance, he looked downright fierce…because he was.

So, as I sat on the edge of my seat, probably eating a snack, I was super-stoked to see this master of the art in action.  As expected, his technique was nothing less than sharp and cutting, powerful and quick, and his timing, impeccable.  In particular, I really dug his kizami mawashi-geri, his front leg roundhouse kick, SNAP—POW! That’s really the only fair way to describe it. 

I was soaking up his movements, sometimes standing and trying to emulate them myself, well, as well as an eager green belt could, but when the clip of Tanaka Sensei performing a demonstration at a tournament came up, I stopped.  I stopped kicking.  I stopped chewin’ whatever tasty morsels I’d been eating.  And, I might have stopped breathing.  I sat back down, leaned forward and whispered, “What the heck is this?  What, what is happening?   What…what am I seein’ here?”

What I was seeing was Tanaka Sensei taking on another black belt in a great display of skill, but the physical technique wasn’t what caught my eye; his eyes are what caught my eye.  He moved with a slow, deliberate, cat-like caution before and after confronting his opponent, and he displayed this fiery, unsettling stare—that’s what forced me to stop and take notice.  His gaze was enough to make this other man uncomfortable, maybe even a bit uncertain about his next pre-arranged attacks.   Heck, I felt a mite of concern for him myself because Tanaka Sensei’s face, his energy, his spirit, his entire being seemed to be saying to that unfortunate assailant, “You know, even though we’ll probably grab a beer after this, I must kill you first.”

I’d never heard of, or seen, or felt anything like this before, his sense of total zanshin, of complete dedication to the moment, one purpose, one mission, do or die.  Sure, the whole thing may have been an act for the sake of the demonstration, to make it dramatic and exciting, but I don’t think it was.  Even as they bowed out and backed off the stage, Tanaka Sensei appeared to be watching his now former opponent, casting a slight side-eye glare at the man.  I got the unmistakable sense that he was still very much ready and very much willing to destroy him if the man so much as twitched or coughed or cleared this throat, friend/associate, or not.

While I started watching the tape hoping to steal some of his amazing techniques, I found something else, something perhaps more valuable: a gaze that could melt metal.  But, it took me years to realize that such mental focus can be developed by anyone who is willing to pay the price…



Attaining the Kill-Glare Gaze

 

How does one reach this crazy kill-glare level like Tanaka Sensei and others?  When I first saw it those many years ago, I wondered if it was a secret reserved for the inner circle, the masters, revealed only after years and years of bruises, beatings, blood, and sweat.  Well, it is, and it is not.  There are many ways to level-up, but I present to you just four simple ingredients for learning to flip the switch and enter into super-deep focus mode at will.


1.  Learn to focus on what matters, exclude that which doesn’t. 

This one is obvious, if not circular, and it goes without saying, we live in an age of sensory excess and thereby mental overload.  We’re inundated by too many distractions on too many fronts, whether through the multitude of little screens that constantly flash in our faces, the ever-present radio broadcasting in the background, people talk, talk, talking about…nothing, etc.  Do we really need to know which celebrity is dating or not dating or feuding with whatever popstar today?  Is everything the news media presents really, truly newsworthy, helpful, or informative?  What if we became selective of the things we allowed through our eye and ear gates?  What if we didn’t pay attention to everything that was thrown at us; what if we filtered and weeded out the pointless and the unnecessary?  What would we be left with?  What would that do to our minds and to our thought patterns and our focus?

In training, in kumite (sparring), and especially in self-defense, the ability to zero in on the most relevant data is of paramount importance, but we can’t do that if our minds are always over-stimulated. 

 

2.  Give full attention to the things that you do, and to the things that you think about.

How many thoughts go through your mind in a typical day?  How many individual tasks do you perform in a typical day?  How many of these tasks are separated from their action-related thoughts?  What would happen if we really focused on the moment, on its inner thoughts and its outer actions?

To reach a higher level in anything, we can either perform the action 100,000 times or more and hope our attention (and intention) doesn’t drift and remains high all the way through the 99,999 iteration, or we can perform that skill mindfully, soulfully, just 1,000 times, or even 10,000 times, but assimilate it, master it, much more fully and much quicker. 

 

3.  Train, hard. 

This goes without saying; there’s no other way.  Whatever you do, go all-in, work hard, give your all, sweat buckets, ache even more, but be smart about it—keep your mind engaged in the process.  (Refer to item #2).

 

4.  Practice letting go and entering the flow.

At some level, we seek to understand and control every relevant detail, every minute nuance of our movement, our basics and kata, of our internal and external interactions with others and ourselves, and we must do the same in the other areas of our lives in which we invest our hearts and our energy.  But, there comes a time when we can, and have to, simply let go and let it flow.   That time is different for everyone, but everyone can practice it. 

I’m not going to pretend that this one is easy ‘cause letting go is a skill in itself, but it is worth the struggle.  And without learning to let go, one can never really reach that level of mastery that one seeks, the place where mind and body are truly one, where desire, thought, and action meld and become inseparable. 

Not only do we find freedom in this letting go, but we also find a simplicity that is masterful and deep, enjoyable and strangely powerful.

 

All of this, I believe, puts us on a good path for developing that intense focus, that forceful zanshin that I first saw in Tanaka Sensei, but like so many things in life, there’s always more to it.  I believe there is an “X-factor” or a certain synergy that can only occur when you combine the four items; separately, each of the items are great ways to enhance your mind and your life, but when put together, they have the potential of taking you to a whole new level. 

So, the real secret to it is, ya gotta do the work.    

 

There you have it.  Give it a try and please share your progress.  Oh, by the way, if you’re a parent, grandparent, aunt or uncle, or you work with kids or youth, you’ve probably already mastered the look.  Your kids know this look, and they fear it.  It’s capable of instantly shuttin’ down their sugar-drunk antics, stopping them cold when they’re acting up at church, or losing their ever-loving minds in the grocery store, or battling it out in the backseat of your car.   You’ve already mastered that metal-melting glare, so please, do share the secret…

 

EDB

07.09.17

 

 

 NOTE: I am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for me to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.

Congratulations on Being such a Loser, Loser!

posted May 12, 2017, 7:42 PM by Eric Banks

“I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work.”

-Thomas A. Edison


Raise your hand if you’ve ever failed or made a mistake, or been wrong when you believed without a doubt that you were absolutely right.  How did you feel when you found out you were wrong, or perhaps worse, when someone proved you wrong?  Not so great, probably.  Certainly, the feelings associated with making a mistake can be much more uncomfortable and long lasting than the actual mistake itself. 

Yeah, it sucks when you feel like you suck, and it can suck for a while.

But what if being wrong is a good thing?  What if the mistake itself, and the emotions, the fear, the embarrassment, the shame, the dread, the sadness you feel when you make a mistake or are wrong, can be used to make you better and “righter”?  What if making mistakes is the path to finding success?

We’ve all tried and failed at something, this is fact, but do you personally know anyone who has failed thousands of times, but kept trying, and eventually succeeded?  I don’t.  People who keep trying and trying and trying tend to succeeded not because they failed so much, but because they were willing to fail, and, they learned something important from each failure.

That’s the secret right there: willingness to fail, eagerness to learn from each and every failure.

Until recently, I dreaded making mistakes, but have, finally entered a place where I almost welcome failure.  Almost.  While I know that unless the failure is fatal, I’m going to learn and grow and I’ll figure out how to win, I still have to be conscious of the fear of failure that might hold me back and keep me from even trying.

For example, the fear that my kata or kihon or kumite, or teaching, or writing, will be technically incorrect or simply subpar has greatly diminished and I find that I am able to upgrade my technique much faster by experimenting, being open, and staying willing to learn whatever I can learn from whatever the outcome of my experimental exploration may be.  In this way, there is no failure, just lots of figuring out “ways that won’t work” as I move closer and closer to ways that do work.

 As I’ve been researching, developing, and teaching what I call “flow kakie” partner drill, I’ve been emphasizing the principle of losing, of gettin’ hit, so you can win.  It’s counterintuitive to most, and therefore quite challenging, but once we accept our partner’s state of being, their energy, and their technique, and relax into it, without the need to defeat them or show them up, the ability to adapt, blend, and harmonize is astonishing.  In this way then, we are no longer fighting our opponent, or ourselves, more importantly, and yet, we find ways to win in the losing, by giving up brute force in favor of cultivating a deeper, more subtle power.

But nobody wants to be a loser; we’re all taught to win, at any cost sometimes, yes?  Or maybe it’s not taught but ingrained and genetic, the whole survival of the fittest / strongest / wiliest / most determined thing.  Either way, maybe it’s time to try a new path.

Now, I’m not saying to go out and give 50% and get beat up just so you can lose.  No way; remember, the magic isn’t in the losing, it’s in the heart and mind that honestly gives 100%, loses, learns from the failure and takes that wisdom and either tries again, or finds a new and better approach.  

Lather, rinse, repeat…

I’m also not saying that losing, failing, making mistakes won’t sting, or hurt, ‘cause they’re probably still gonna, and sometimes a lot.  What I am suggesting is that, if we want to reach higher levels of skill and development in the art, and in life, we have to begin to adopt a new mindset and a new attitude toward winning and losing, failing and succeeding, learning and being.

Recently, I finished a very interesting book that fits quite nicely with the topic at hand, "Power vs. Force: The Hidden Determinants of Human Behavior", by Dr. David Hawkins.  I heard about it a few years ago but didn’t get the opportunity to read it until one of the moms at the dojo, who was reading it while her son was training, let me borrow it when she was done.  If you’d like a deep and potentially life-affecting read, this is it.  It will upgrade your ideas on consciousness and change your beliefs of what real power is, and what real winning is all about.   

Along with “Power v. Force: The Hidden Determinants of Human Behavior” two of Dr. Hawkins’ books, "Letting Go: The Pathway of Surrender" and "Transcending the Levels of Consciousness: The Stairway to Enlightenment", and a Taiji book that a couple friends recommended, "There Are No Secrets: Professor Cheng Man Ch'ing and His T'ai Chi Chuan" that also just happens to discuss investing in loosing, have been added to my Amazon list.    I can hardly wait to dive into them.

So, are you ready to win, ready to succeed?  Then get out there, do your thing, and be a great, big, loser.

EDB

05.12.17



 NOTE: I am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for me to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.

 

 

 

 

 

The Pie That Wasn’t a Pie

posted Jan 15, 2016, 10:35 AM by Eric Banks

“Esse quam videri”


 I must have been in about 1st or 2nd grade, and like pretty much every other boy in my age group at that time, I was into dinosaurs, Godzilla, robots, and spaceships.  Morning, noon, or night, I couldn’t get enough of them, but there was also something else that captured my attention, a secret I’ve never told anyone before…something…a little odd… 

Almost more than I hoped to own an actual robot or dino, or dino-robot, I wanted…a pie.  Pie.  But wait, no, not a real pie; I wanted a fake one.  I dreamed of making a beautiful, creamy, delicious-looking, but wholly artificial pastry, one fabricated not from fruits and sweet stuff, but from thick white shaving cream or some other velvety, inedible fluff.  I was gonna make this happen—I acquired a pie tin, and I even went as far as whittling down a fat brown crayon to, you know, simulate chocolate shavings… 

I know, right?

Weird, kid.

Sure, mom would have cooked us up one or purchased a tasty pie if I asked, but that’s not what I desired.  I just wanted one to look at and to display in my room.  That’s all.  Not to eat, and not even to throw at my sisters a la Three Stooges style.  It just had to look good.

But isn’t there a problem with just “looking good” and not being functional for anything but eye-pie?  Well, depends.  Let’s fast forward a few decades and consider the following.

I don't even recall where I saw it, but in mid-November of last year, I came across the above Latin phrase and like any resonating truth, this one struck me on many levels, and it has continued to echo in my mind since that day.  The meaning can apply to every aspect of life but in terms of our martial arts training, understanding it is essential and imperative.

Back in the late 1990s, I was teaching a rather timid young teen and his dad asked me some questions after class and ended his monologue by saying he didn't want his son to be a "paper tiger".  I replied that in the particular organization to which I belonged at the time, there were no "paper tigers", no practitioners who looked fierce but in actuality were all show, i.e., pies that weren’t really pies.  Of course, I was incorrect.  There are paper tigers all over the place, in every art, in every organization; this is just a given.  I've met some, and at times, I've been one! 

Paper tigers, like fake pies, look really good until tested.  They may don a nice or, better yet, a shabby belt, or wear a crisp new uniform, and they certainly look the part and can talk the talk, but when it comes down to walkin’ the walk...no bueno.  

Most normal humans will recognize when they’re not bein’ a real pie.  When we realize this, that we are not exactly what we appear to be, what we think we are, or all that we believe we could be, we're confronted with just two choices: maintain the façade, or evolve.  

Maintaining, staying the way we are is too easy, so comfortable, and deadly to the greater things that we could do and be, while evolving, changing, growing and becoming are sometimes beyond difficult and definitely not for the weak-willed paper tigers among us, or within us. 

For some, the choice is a no-brainer: they choose to maintain because they don't believe they need to change. Or, perhaps, they don't believe they can change.  Or, their identity, self-worth, or economic survival is integral to the image they portray and so to transform into anything other would mean toppling everything they’ve built and everything they’ve known themselves to be through the years.

But for others, for the ones who desire real strength of character, of mind, and of body, and of will and of integrity, the decision to evolve is instinctual, and the challenge is a daily undertaking.  They stumble, they fall, they slide, they lose ground, but they keep on fighting and growing, they keep evolving and slowly morph into the true solid substance that can supplant the hollow image of self surrounding them.  They understand that the firmer, often hidden essences of a thing, of a belief, of a person, are of much more import than the appearance of the thing, and so they shun the superficial in favor of the deep and the profound.

In the context of “Esse quam videri”, which is better, maintaining or evolving?  The answer is purely personal and not obvious for it depends solely on you and on you alone.

To find your answer, simply apply "Esse quam videri" to the things that matter to you.  For instance, does being loving matter?  If so, run “loving” through the phrase.  What about being loved, being healthy, faithful, strong, peaceful, having the ability to defend loved ones and self, etc., etc.?  How do you measure up?

And now, what will you do with what you’ve may have discovered about yourself?  Maintain and stay the same, or evolve?

I choose to evolve. No, I must evolve. 

EDB

01.15.16


Be That Guy

posted Jan 12, 2015, 10:24 AM by Eric Banks   [ updated Jan 12, 2015, 10:24 AM ]

“Life is available only in the present moment.  If you abandon the present moment you cannot live the moments of your daily life deeply.”  

-Thich Nhat Hanh

 

                The student sat before the teacher, shocked, listening but questioning every word he heard and every sentiment he felt.  What?  Wait…  No way…  Why…why me, he wondered. 

                The perceptive master, though smiling inwardly, his face remained deadpan, stoic.   Because he’d been right here himself as a younger man, he knew exactly what his student was thinking, and what he was feeling.

                Say…say something.  Say something, he pleaded inwardly, his eyes locked and staring across the table at the old man before him.  Something…anything!  “Sensei, I…” he said, his lips reluctantly parting to let just two words pass.  He paused for a moment in hopes of organizing his random thoughts into some sort of coherent sentence.  “I…  Why?” he finally whispered, his tone quiet and unassuming.  Seeing the welcoming glint in the old man’s eyes and sensing his warmth and welcoming openness encouraged him to press on, so he breathed deep, leaned in, and let it all out.  “Sensei, thank you, but…you’ve given me so much, taught me so, so much through the years…  I can’t even…I mean…but this?   Why…?   Why me?”

                The elderly teacher relished another bite of pie and enjoyed an unhurried sip of hot tea.  Then he nodded once and said, “Because you showed up.”

Huh?  “Because I…?  But so did many others…  And most of them are…way more skilled then me.”

Peering deeply into his puzzled pupil’s eyes, the vibrant old man tilted forward and, nodding in agreement, said, “Perhaps.  Yes.  But you showed up.  Some came and went, but you kept showing up.  You showed up when it wasn’t convenient, or the training wasn’t exciting.  You showed up on cold days, hot days, busy days, and even some holidays.  Sure, a few trained more often than you, some were more talented, gifted, stronger, more intelligent, more outspoken and outgoing.  They all came, but they all didn’t show up.  They may have attended all of my classes, but they were hardly ever present.  You showed up.  You were fully present, ready to learn, and willing to grow and evolve; you showed up every time you came to class, and in this, and because of this, you have far exceeded them all.”

Warm tears coated the grateful student’s eyes, and a spoonful of pie helped soothe the lump forming in his throat.  His teacher smiled at him, and he smiled back, and together, they savored the moment.

 

Be that guy. 

Be that girl.

Show up. 

Be present in your own life first, and “show up” every time you come to the dojo. 


EDB

01.12.15 

The Switch

posted Apr 6, 2014, 5:51 PM by Eric Banks

“The important thing is this: To be able at any moment to sacrifice what we are for what we could become.”

-Charles DuBois


For months we’d been prepping for a local tournament, spending extra time and working extra hard on our individual kata.  As my assistant Dennis T. and I pushed my students, I also pushed myself in my personal training times, at home, and before students arrived for classes.  My chosen kata was Kanku Sho, one that I enjoy and that fits in pretty well at tournaments.  During those few months, I studied the ins and outs of the movements and dynamics of the kata and I achieved a new sense of the overall form.  But then…just days before the tournament, things changed.

I performed the kata several times prior to the Thursday evening classes, and it just didn’t feel right, for some reason.  I thought maybe I was trying too hard, forcing it and not letting it flow on its own.  So, I tried it again, and while it did feel better, something still wasn’t quite right.  I taught the kids class and then the youth / adult class and after most of the students had left that night, I did it again twice, and while it looked okay, it didn’t feel okay…

When I got home I got the idea to try another kata, Gojushiho Sho, my favorite one.  I hadn’t done it in weeks, months, really, but when I went through it, high stances, no power, half-techniques, it just felt great!  I was like, “Wow, yeah, that’s what I’m talk’ ‘bout!”  Smiling and laughing, I decided that night to change it up, to drop Kanku in favor of Goju.  I figured that switch to be either a genius move or…just the opposite.

Oh, and yeah, did I mention that was Thursday night?   The tournament was set for Saturday morning.

The day of the tournament, I arrived at our dojo early to meet some of the students who were also participating in the event.  I told them we’d do a light and easy run-through of their kata before he headed out.  I went through Gojushiho Sho before they arrived, then worked with them, and then that was it…it was go time.

For most in our group, it’d been years since they’d competed in a tournament, and for one, this was her first.  It was really cool to see so many different people, martial artists, young and not so young, armed and unarmed, who all share a passion for the arts.  As we took it all in, we watched some fantastic kids performing weapons kata, we took group pics and practiced our own forms.  Then, not sure how it happened, before I knew it, I was first to go in my division, aka, the old man group.

I performed Gojushiho Sho, bowed and then stepped off line and watched everyone else do their thing.  Once the group was done, we lined up again and the judges said a few words and then, somehow, still not exactly sure how, they said I won first place.  Gold, with a kata I’d practiced just a handful of times over the past day and a half?  Huh?  Delightfully stunned.  Yeah, the look on my face when they announced my name said it all.

Our goals in competing were simple: have fun, challenge ourselves, and see other martial artists in action.  Mission accomplished.  

Okay, so, I bored ya with this could-have-been-much-longer story just to say: don’t be afraid to change things up.  If you’re a “by the book” guy or a “formula first and foremost” girl, it can be tough to go against your own innate presets, but sometimes it’s necessary, and sometimes, it can be fruitful.  Would I have done as well performing my original kata?  Maybe.  Maybe not.  Probably not, actually, if for no other reason than it didn’t “feel” right to me at the time. 

Where do things feel “not quite right” in your life?  What in your world could use a change?  What's not flowing as it should or could?  What's holding you back or down?  Why not switch the script, laugh about it, challenge your comfort zone, and give change-up a chance? 


EDB

04.06.14

Winter Strikes Back

posted Feb 22, 2013, 5:03 AM by Eric Banks

I hate you, Winter.  You've been playin' all nice-nice most of the season with your deceptively warm, blue-skied, sunny, spring-like days, and then the one weekend when I'd planned and prepared to fly away to somewhere warm, somewhere out of the reach of your icy, frigid hand, you slap us, hard, and leave behind a trillion-billion-billion-trillion of your evil little white minions.  Missouri is frozen.  Yeah, you got our hopes up in January and early February, and then you surprised us...well played, Winter my non-friend, well played.  Laugh on...laugh on...

So yeah, my trip to the ATL has been canceled and I'm bummed about it...  But, I'm choosing to take advantage of this uncool change in plans; I'm still gonna use a vacation day today as scheduled, and since I had already canceled my dojo's classes for Saturday, I'll use both days, and Sunday, to the max to make progress in my updating / editing of the book.

As I was shoveling my driveway yesterday afternoon, thinking about some other recent challenges, twists and turns I've encountered, and still believing I would be able to fly out today, I was ruminating that sometimes the challenges we are given as we press for our goals and dreams are given to us so that we can see just how badly we want that which we seek, and so that we can see just how much we can take.  And sometimes they are given to   divert us, or redirect us, or help us to pause.

And sometimes, they are given just because Winter hates warm happy people.

Pressing on!

The Board

posted Mar 4, 2012, 5:25 PM by Eric Banks

“The makiwara is not here to be hit as hard as you can…it is here to teach you how hard you can hit.”

-EDB

 




 

 

 

Punch it

Strike it

Kick it

Hit it

 

 

Unify body, mind, spirit, ground

Whole-self commitment

Zero tension

Relax and flow, flow through


 

Ignore the pain

Accept the pain

Welcome the pain

No more pain

 

 

Find the meaning

Todome Waza is primary

Callouses are secondary

Caveman knuckles are just a side-effect

 

 




 

 

 

 

EDB

03.04.12

 

Of Its Own

posted Jan 30, 2012, 10:21 AM by Eric Banks   [ updated Jan 18, 2015, 7:31 PM ]

“There is no spoon…”

-The Matrix

 
 

Last summer, I found a DVD containing a video of me taken at the 2007 Show-Me-State Games martial arts tournament.  It was a fun find, something I’d forgotten about a while ago, so I watched it several times, and I both smiled and frowned, in almost equal measure.  In the video, I preformed Unsu kata…it’s a difficult but good-feeling kata containing cool, exotic movements and quick direction and tempo changes.  As I watched the video, I smiled because parts of the kata were pretty good; I frowned because parts of the kata were pretty bad; I smiled because somehow I won the gold medal in my division that day; I frowned because I haven’t really performed Unsu since that day.  Why haven’t I studied that kata since then?  Well, after training it myself, and after reviewing many other people’s interpretation of it, I found that I could no longer do it because it just didn’t feel “authentic”…  By that I mean it felt as if I was performing someone else’s kata and not my own.  Let me explain further…

 

Until a few years ago, I’d always thought that kata had to be performed a certain way, with a standard timing, focus, etc.  And yes, this is true for say, when taking an exam for Shodan and below, but once a karate-ka begins to push past Shodan level skill, I think they need to begin exploring the kata itself and how it relates to them, going deep and pulling out truths about the form and discovering truths about themselves within that form, the essence of self and of the essence of the kata.  After I performed Unsu at the tournament, I just couldn’t do it any longer because like I said, it didn’t feel real, it felt like I was unwittingly and unwillingly mimicking what others had done, and what others expected and that just didn’t feel right. 

 

About 9 or 10 years before that tournament, I was fortunate to have breakfast with Nishiyama Sensei in Chicago on the last day of a seminar.  I asked him a simple question that had been on my mind for a while, one that I was sure I already knew the answer to, but I needed confirmation from someone who really knew what was what.  If I recall, we had been studying two kata that weekend, I think, so that Sunday morning, sitting across from the master, I asked whether or not each kata had its own feeling and he enthusiastically replied in the affirmative; yes, each kata has a definite feel of its own and it’s up to the practitioner to find and experience it for themselves.  That answer opened gate number one to freer thinking.

 

Two years after the tournament, I was training in a seminar with another well known, highly skilled karate master and he said something that blew my mind and opened the second gate to freer thinking, training and expression.  He said that kata should never be performed the same way every single time, and in fact, because we are changing moment by moment, kata cannot be done exactly the same each time.  And not only did he say this, he showed it by demonstrating one of my favorite kata a few times that day, Kanku Sho.  Wow…I couldn’t help but smile ear to ear as I watched him bring the kata to life in a couple different ways.  And then, just this past summer, I saw a newer video of him performing Unsu; it was way different from what I had seen him do before and…it was simply exquisite and effective. 

 

Believe it or not, admit it or not, freedom and genuine self-expression are scary concepts for most of us because we like, want and need guidelines.  While it’s good and even necessary that we do have some sort of guidelines, we have to remember that they ultimately point us to freedom and not conformity, and it’s up to us to read and live between and outside of those boundaries.   Further, the truth is, we are a lot freer than we know, or are even comfortable believing…  Of course in our training, the standards and principles of body movement and self-defense that we study are foundational and will always be followed, most likely, but this new understanding opens up more and deeper possibilities that can only be truly understood at the individual level.  For me, the final gate started to open when I began to explore this concept for myself, this freedom of self-expression and technique application in and through my kata, and from this point on, there is no longer a spoon… 

 

EDB

01.30.12
 
 
 

Reflections on Reflections

posted Dec 23, 2011, 3:06 PM by Eric Banks   [ updated Dec 23, 2011, 3:07 PM ]

 

“People only see what they are prepared to see.”

 -Ralph Waldo Emerson

 




Finally…it’s taken pretty much all year, but we have mirrors, and they are up, and they look great!  Since we left the community center at the end of 2008, we’ve been training sans mirrors, and it’s been good, really good in fact, but training with mirrors can be good too, if done correctly.  I think there are several pros and cons to using mirrors in training, but overall, the positives outweigh the negatives.  To get the most out of training with mirrors, I suggest the following:

 

Use the mirrors to check technique form, the overall “look” of your technique.   It’s interesting that what we think we are doing or how we believe we look when performing a technique is often different from the reality.  I liken this to a young child drawing a picture of their mom or dad; in the child’s mind, that picture is a perfect representation of their loved one, but when viewed from an objective (adult) standpoint, that paper contains just some random squiggles and maybe a few circles with lines that could loosely be interpreted as stick legs and stick arms.  Adorable?  Yes, certainly, but not quite what the little tyke was really shooting for, not quite the ideal.  So, when training, check external form first, the look of your technique; be sure stance, posture, body action and overall technique path, etc., lines up with the principles that we constantly talk about.   Also, I suggest viewing your technique from as many different angles as possible.  Take special note that as you correct your form, it is very, very important to work on cultivating the deeper feeling of correct movement—first recognize it and then work to capture it on the inside and tie it to your breath so that you can learn to use that feeling rather than having to guess or always look a mirror.

 

Along with checking form, I recommend slowing yourself down and critiquing the starting action and ending action for each technique.  Notice any excess motion, hip tilt, shoulder lift, head bobble, etc., and then work to minimize / eliminate those inefficiencies until the technique is smooth, flowing and powerful from start to finish.  Take your time …go slow first, and most of the time, then, once you have tuned into and can maintain the correct feeling, and tied it to your breath, pick up the speed.

 

Greater self-confidence is one of the side benefit of mirror training.  Just about everyone, at some point, worries about their appearance...in class and outside of class, whether they are doing karate or not.   When you can actually see yourself improve or effortlessly perform a technique with grace, speed and power, it not only makes you feel good, but it also gives you a mental and emotional boost to keep on progressing.

 

Of course, when it comes to mirror training, there is one more thing that needs to be addressed:  the “coolness factor”.  You know what I mean.  It’s when you see yourself execute a crisp technique and you realize just how cool you, and karate training, really are.  For some, all they have to do is walk past a mirror, any mirror, to experience this.  My only recommendation is…when you feel the coolness factor take over, don’t smile so big that you break your concentration, especially if you’re executing a deadly gyaku tsuki.

 

EDB

12.23.11

 

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