EDITORIAL By John Cheetham.
Firstly, and most importantly, the coronavirus has had a huge effect on the lives of everyone worldwide. Let’s hope we can all get through this unprecedented period safely. Keep training yourself even if your dojo is closed, karate-do will prevail.
Sensei Francisco Astudillo has a past experience steeped in Budo karate. Based in Ireland for the last couple of years with his wife Sorcha, also a karateka, he comes across as a balanced individual who has embraced both budo and the sport aspect of karate. The fact is – most instructors we have interviewed usually come from a competition background. That’s the reality!
Tim Hanlon has written several articles over the years for SKM and this latest article speaks volumes about this man’s character. Karateka like this have been on the front line many times, and survived the battle. It’s a story many Shotokan readers will be able to relate to, myself included.
Although different in certain aspects, there are some interrelated articles in this edition. My article about Traditional Karate is kindred in some ways with Alex Chichvarin’s article, and Peter Wright’s Kata article is also indirectly linked.
However, I find that sometimes the word ‘Traditional’ is often confused with the word, ‘Original’. Nowadays, ‘Traditional Karate’ and ‘Original karate’ are two different genres of karate. What we call Traditional Karate is a genre developed primarily by senseis Nakayama and Nishiyama. Change it, or modify it and it’s no longer this particular genre! The karate most (not all) Shotokan karate-ka around the world practise today was developed and evolved in the 1950s.
If you go back and take a look at the old Black/white movie films from the JKA from around 1956/7, it really is not massively different from today’s Shotokan. It’s definitely more technically refined nowadays but apart from that there is not a great deal of difference. I love watching those old JKA movie films, the karate is so raw, it’s all about spirit over technique yet has a certain magical feel about it. Nowadays it’s almost too pure, technically perfect by comparison.
Watching senseis the likes of Enoeda, Kase, Asai, Kanazawa, Mikami etc, when they were young men in their prime, even before they were sent out around the world, is a sight to behold. From that group only Mikami is still alive.
On a different note, I was watching some UFC recently and those guys obviously are seriously tough! However, I was thinking about the techniques and the targets that they are forbidden to attack, e.g. No punches/strikes to the throat or neck; no head butts; no kicks or knees to the groin; no biting; no fingers in the eyes.
From a self-defence angle that’s very interesting and worth bearing in mind because against someone with the ability, aggression and skill of those guys, most of us would not stand a chance in hell ‘unless’ we could use one of the above self-defence dirty tricks! With this in mind, here’s a great quote from Conor McGregor:
“Precision beats power and timing beats speed.” Food for thought there!
Good Health, Good Training. Editor.
MY BLACK BELT AND KARATE-DO. By Tim Hanlon, M.D.
Every time I strap on my tattered and greying Black Belt, I feel completely unworthy, but my old Belt speaks to me saying, “You are worthy to pass on what has been given to you”. It reminds me that, though I was never a great athlete or competitor, I now understand that Nishiyama Sensei knew at some deep level that I was able to grasp his teaching and to pass on some of his knowledge and wisdom to future generations after he was gone. He used to say to me, “time is short” and I now understand that we are the repository of much of his knowledge.
And so, this Belt represents my responsibility to Sensei to press on and despite my setbacks and limitations, some of which I will outline below. I watched Sensei do this with his cancer saying to me, “I cannot give up”. And so, this day I commit to live up to his and other’s expectations of me and “never give up”.
Sensei Bob Graves, my friend and trusted mentor for more than fifty years, likened the Black Belt (Dan) to knighthood in the British custom.
And so, it is the honor and absolute responsibility to serve the Art with humility for a lifetime, just as the British Knight pledges himself to the British Crown. This responsibility weighs most heavily on me these days. So, this is the story of my path in Karate and the struggles to follow the “Do” and give back to our Art.
My karate journey began in 1966 with Dr. Tom Fields, then a Brown Belt under T. Mikami Sensei and culminated in a three-hour Shodan test under T. Mikami Sensei in New Orleans in 1969. Sensei Mikami was a marvelous technician and demanding instructor. As many of you elders know, the training methods at that time were crude and not well developed and frankly were rather punishing.
As I strapped on my first Black Belt, I felt a complicated mixture of pride, responsibility and unworthiness to wear a belt of the same color as the great Shotokan (JKA) masters. I still feel those same complex feelings today as I strap on this tattered, worn Belt around my waist.
Training with Mikami Sensei in the 1960’s was always challenging as he knew how to push one to the limit and then demand much more. Three-hour classes in 95-degree heat with 98% humidity were very difficult and breaks for water were not permitted, likely following the format laid by his Seniors in the JKA instructor class. Kumite and competition were encouraged and valued by Sensei Mikami. I was young and quite fearful as we participated in open tournaments throughout the southern States. In those days my Belt said nothing to me and sheer will, bolstered by testosterone, drove me forward. It was about being a man, never quitting, a spirit taken from my difficult childhood experiences.
While such a survivor mode allows for sustained maximal effort, it never produces personal and spiritual growth, the “ultimate aim of Karate” as our founder taught. But such a spirit drove me through my early Karate, long years of education and a grueling work schedule. Still, I persisted with my Karate, which by then had become my life blood. Through the frankly brutal years of my Karate training later in California, I discovered the animal buried within me, deeper I think than in most, but a necessary step for growth later in life.
My sojourn to Oregon in 1970 from my roots in Louisiana introduced me to Nishiyama Sensei and to my local Sensei and now Mentor and friend of over 50 years, Sensei Robert Graves, 8th Dan under Nishiyama Sensei. I was so blessed to have seen and trained with Nishiyama Sensei during his peak years and to have been befriended and mentored by Mr. Graves, who even took me under his wing and drove me to the San Diego Summer Camp when I was about twenty years of age. As I recall there were about 25 trainees with Sensei Nishiyama for a full week of vigorous training and learning.
The early famous of the AAKF such as Ray Dalke and Frank Smith were in attendance and training with us. Much later, and many trips later, the Camp grew to International proportions with over 300 Karateka from around the world and where I met many international friends.
The fear-driven survival mode of my upbringing and early Karate years lessened somewhat as the years passed. My local dojo flourished despite my grueling medical practice schedule, a budding family, and finally a devastating divorce. Work became exceedingly stressful and my work-life balance was a mess. Training, weightlifting and running (along with alcohol) became my “escape” from mental stress, until while teaching at a friend’s dojo in Tucson, my right foot began to hurt.
After limping around for six weeks and many x-rays it was determined that I had a tarsal navicular stress fracture, a severe overuse break of the most significant and difficult to heal bone in the foot. Though vigorous training and running had improved my mental stress, the effect of this compensation for an out of control life was 8 weeks on crutches, which resulted in only partial healing, and required a slow process toward weight bearing, learning to walk again and Karate reintroduction.
It was at about this time that my Belt began to speak to me encouraging me to stay on the path (Do) and this path has continued to mold my life into what I am today at age 71 years.
At age 50, life dealt me a cruel blow and I was no longer able to continue on the treadmill of life at the pace demanded of me. Simply put I “crashed and burned”. Recovery from this mental crisis, sleep deprivation, exhaustion and a life completely out of control took many months and Karate and a slowly developing spiritual life sustained me through these troubled waters. I started to grow up and shed the adolescent view of myself as some “tough guy” impervious to life’s difficulties and began to learn who I really was.
A new spirit drove my karate and it ceased to be about me but became more about the Art, others and passing on Sensei’s knowledge (and that of my other teachers and mentors). I felt an immense responsibility to give back and my aging Belt urged me forward. Sensei and my other teachers evidently could see in me what I was yet to discover about myself.
Many more setbacks were in store for me on my Karate path. A developing hereditary peripheral neuropathy (numb feet), a major back surgery, knee and hip replacements all challenged me as I struggled to recover and to return to Karate. From each of these followed a protracted recovery period, physical therapy and a considerable struggle to return to Karate fully. At times a deep sense of discouragement engulfed me but somehow my Belt and I persisted on the path. Naturally heavy contact was not permitted (sparring) but teaching continued to inspire me. Then came my greatest challenge to remain on the Do of Karate Do. Over an 18-month period I endured 3 ankle surgeries in an attempt to fuse my painful arthritic ankle joint. The last one was fortunately successful, but I was then left with no ankle flexibility as the joint was gone.
A total of 9 months in a chair in a leg cast, my sweet wife pushing me to appointments in a wheelchair and slowly learning to stand and walk with no ankle had taken its toll on my mind and my body. Absence of balance was a real barrier to my daily life and to karate. So now what?
There comes a crossroads in many people’s lives when they must choose to push forward or to just give it up. I was at such a crossroad. Would it be courage or frank insanity to continue my karate journey, broken as I was? But with the encouragement of my Seniors, my students, and especially my wife and recognizing my debt to the Art and to others I agreed with my Belt to try. No commitments. Just to try.
And so, I resumed my Karate training, clearly diminished from my former self, but willing to push forward despite my limitations. Then, as if the above tale of woes were not enough, I took a bad fall on the ice and destroyed the rotator cuff of my left arm. My doctors said the tears were unrepairable, so physical therapy began once again. From a sling to fairly good range of motion (albeit with pain), I put on my Gi, strapped on my Friend and returned to the floor.
My limitations seemed insurmountable this time. Pain, poor balance and no left ankle so limited my Karate practice that it did not look or feel like the Karate of my past 50 years. My nice kicks were gone as standing on my left leg with any balance was not an option. But finally, I could walk again. Gratitude!
The path back has been arduous. Considerable deconditioning had occurred during my 9 months in a chair, and my balance, never good after an episode of prolonged unconsciousness from a high school football head injury, is still a real problem. Left ankle flexibility was gone (no left ankle joint) and kata options were thereby limited. Slowly after practicing alone for a period, I returned to teaching beginners classes and working with more advanced students in the Saturday open training sessions. Not only my technique was marginal but my facility with teaching had disappeared and I frequently lost my balance even falling down on one occasion. Though I had come to the dojo frequently during my surgical recoveries and helped teach from a chair, much had been lost.
To rebuild what can be rebuilt continues to demand much effort and tolerance of pain and my considerable limitations. And, most importantly it requires humility to stand before my Seniors, my students and myself but a mere fragment of my youthful years and requires complete abandon of my ego and need for accolades.
I am what I am now and perhaps it is my calling now to set an example for others to stay on the path despite limitations, striving to stay on the ‘Do’ and to grow in my Art and to seek “perfection of character”. And as my Belt and others have requested and I demand of myself, I shall continue on the path of Karate-do until my “Do” ends. And humility and acceptance are the final true lessons of my “Do”.
Sensei Tim Hanlon, a now retired cardiologist, has maintained a non-profit Shotokan Dojo in Bend, Oregon for 34 years, where, with his students he still teaches. Dr. Hanlon has been a qualified ITKF and AAKF examiner and medical judge with over 50 years experience. Sensei Hanlon is a combination of karate sensei, martial artist/martial scientist, philosopher, mentor and friend. He continues to study and learn karate with inspirational humility. Sensei Tim Hanlon a dedicated student of Nishiyama sensei, has written several articles in past editions of SKM and was featured in a great interview in Issue 118 (January 2014). Editor.