Due to an unexpected medical appointment for a family member there will be no Youth Martial Arts classes today. We will be back on our regular schedule next week. Apologies for the late notice and, please, try to stay healthy!
I just got the word that our youth martial arts program in Orono, which is currently scheduled through December, will resume after the holidays. We'll maintain our current schedule, Wednesday afternoons at the Keith Anderson Community House, 19 Bennoch Rd, Orono beginning in January. To these classes we will be adding a middle level section for students in 6th through 8th grade and a teens and adults session evenings in the spring. Our enrollment has been strong and our program is growing. Spread the word!
Our non-traditional martial arts introductory program at Bangor High School will continue throughout the year, as well. If you are a student at Bangor High and would like to check out martial arts training for free, drop in to any of our Tactical Tuesday afternoon sessions in the BHS gym. Bangor High students who wish to participate in our Orono classes will be able to do so at a reduced rate.
Enrollments for all of our programs can be accessed through the Orono Parks and Recreation site (linked here and on Friends and Links page). New students are welcome to join any of our programs at any time, but contact me prior to registering, so that I can pro-rate your registration fees.
Occasionally, I get asked the question, "What style of martial arts do you practice?" I almost invariably answer, "Shotokan karate", because that has been my primary focus for the past few decades. However, some folks, either because they are searching for something exotic or have the impression that Shotokan is in some way an incomplete system will ask, "Only Shotokan?" If I'm grouchy I'll just say yes. If I'm feeling a little more playful sometimes I'll joke that I guess I'm a slow learner because I still haven't got it quite right.
The truth is, though, that I both practice Shotokan karate almost exclusively and I practice martial arts as inclusively as possible. My martial arts resume isn't overly broad, beginning in the mid-1980s as a young teenager I trained in Moo Duk Kwan Tae Kwon Do (essentially Korean karate) for nearly five years before switching to other Tae Kwon Do schools and freestyle karate for a few years. I practiced judo for a few semesters in college. And I dabbled in mixed martial arts and grappling during the first blush of the Ultimate Fighting Championships in the 1990s. However, I have never strayed too far from a pretty mainline karate syllabus as the base of my training and since the mid-1990s that base has been in progressively more traditional Shotokan karate practice.
So, what makes the way I practice martial arts unique? What is it about Shotokan that allows for free expression (in other words, as I enter my third decade in the martial arts why am I not bored with Shotokan)? Well, here's my answer. I believe that Shotokan is platform, not a set of techniques. It isn't 16 kata (or 26 or 30 or whatever your association tells you). It's not Funakoshi's nine throws or a perfect front stance/reverse punch combo. Shotokan is a system that strives for perfection of form, almost unhindered efficiency and an aesthetic based in the Japanese concept of shibui, austere elegance. If I keep these traits in mind, then any technique I apply can be a Shotokan technique, any practice I engage in becomes Shotokan practice. Back in the late 1980s I cross-trained in taijutsu, a Japanese style unrelated to karate. The taijutsu techniques I have retained in my practice I express as Shotokan techniques, not because taijutsu isn't relevant or useful, but because I interpret them through the Shotokan filter that I have internalized through long exposure.
My Shotokan includes conditioning drills and some sweeps and throws that are not included in other schools' Shotokan practice. I have seen other Shotokan karateka include very fast boxing-like skills in their curricula. I've seen still others focus on the practice of kobudo, traditional weapons. We are all practicing Shotokan karate, though. We are working off of the same platform.
I welcome you, too, to develop your own Shotokan practice with us. Whether you want your child to join us in our Orono Youth Martial Arts program or you are seeking an opportunity to train as an adult contact us and try a class. There is plenty of room on the platform for you to develop your own practice, as well.
Kata is the term for a pattern of pre-arranged attacks and defensive techniques that we practice for mastery of skills and to demonstrate proficiency in rank exams. The first kata we practice (required to transition from white belt to yellow belt) is called Taikyoku Shodan or Kihon Kata. Taikyoku Shodan translates roughly as Grand Ultimate First-Level, while Kihon kata means simply Basic Pattern. So, is this kata the "ultimate" or is it merely "basic"? In a way it is both. It is the first form we learn and one we continue to practice as long as we study the Shotokan system. It introduces the concepts of pattern, movement and timing. These are indeed grand lessons. On the other hand, it is a short form consisting of only twenty steps, one basic attack and one basic block. It is about as basic as you can make any practice drill. It was the genius of Funakoshi Gichin, the founder of the Shotokan style, that he could embed some profound lessons in a very simple learning exercise.
So, practice or encourage your children to practice Taikyoku Shodan. We'll continue to practice the kata every class. If you'd like a brief tutorial on the form take a few minutes to study Kawasoe Sensei's version of the form available here: www.youtube.com/watch?v=yzIQJsRJzE_k