From September 13th to 15th , 2013, Sensei Bill Kane and the Ambler Dojo hosted a weekend of training and camaraderie. We were honored again to have Shihan Yamakura, and also a strong contingent of more than two dozen black belts, including GKK leaders Ken Maunz and Dwight Scales, school heads Nancy Ault (Maine), Frank Matt (NY), John Henderson (PA), plus Ambler’s own crew of black belts, and GKK visiting members.
We’re taking a slightly different approach to writing an article about the weekend. We will have a brief description of the events, promotions, and pix; but the main emphasis will be on personal impressions and learnings. We asked each of the participants to share a highlight of their weekend, and this article will feature the common threads in what we received.
The weekend began with an informal workout of the black belts Friday night, led by Shihan and Sensei Kane. There were maybe 30 of us, local and national, renewing friendships, and receiving instruction and wisdom from our leader.
On Saturday morning, we split into several groups. Shihan worked with Bill Kane one on one, while Ambler’s Zak Zaklad ran the regular Ambler open class for all kyu-level karateka, with guest instructors Ken Maunz, Dwight Scales, Nancy Ault, and Frank Matt. The remaining black belts went off to practice. The Saturday advanced class was led by Ambler’s Vic Lim with guest instructors Ken Maunz and Dwight Scales.
Saturday afternoon was devoted to belt-level seminars, each led by Shihan. After a communal lunch, there was a white belt session, followed by a green belt session, followed by a brown belt session, followed by the late afternoon black belt session. During the colored belt sessions the black belts practiced kata together in another room. Then most of us gathered for potluck dinner and camaraderie at the Kane’s.
Sunday morning, Shihan agreed to do yet one more seminar before he left for the airport, for the benefit of those who could not attend Fri / Sat sessions due to religious or personal needs.
Bill Kane – rokudan, Vic Lim – godan, Jon Rook – yondan, Jill Emery – nidan, Scott Abbotoni (Maine) - nidan
To lead off this section, here are words of 4 of our kids:
Jennifer, age 7, white belt; "I loved working with new teachers and Master Yamakura. And taking pictures."
Faith, age 8, white belt; “I had a great time and want to do it again!”
Yamakura Shihan and the White Belts
Madeleine, age 10, brown belt; “When I entered the room, I was nervous because I hadn’t met Shihan Yamakura before. Once in the class, he called me up in front of everybody and I did the kata Seiunchin. I was very nervous because I thought I would mess up big time but I knew that I had to be confident. I want to continue karate because I enjoy it. I also appreciate the teachings from our black belts.”
Ryan, age 12, brown belt; “It was an incredible experience working with Master Yamakura. It helped me so much to have him break down all of the katas and then put them back together. I liked seeing all of the people from other dojos that we get to see once a year."
Yamakura Shihan and the Brown Belts
Barry, adult green belt; “What I appreciated more than anything else was Mr. Yakamura's ability to explain things so simply, yet so clearly and effectively. I learned nothing really new through the seminars, but my understanding of several things was deepened considerably. It was more than worth the time, and would have been worth at twice the cost.”
Shihan Teaches the Green Belts
The 8 black belts who responded each offered a thoughtful mini-essay. Themes have been summarized from these responses.
Many saw GKK as an extended family, with strong, committed leadership. The “gathering of the tribes” is important. Many expressed gratitude for the guidance of Shihan and other experienced leaders. Our out-of town guests were delighted and grateful for the welcome and hospitality they received from their Ambler colleagues, and also for the social/dinner at Bill and Michelle Kane’s home.
There were both clear differences and strong commonalities in the practice of Goju, as manifested in kata performance. In several, e.g., seiunchin and shisochin, there were marked differences in terms of hard/soft, fast/slow, breathing. Shihan noted that after you get to a certain level, you can make a kata your own, your “signature”. Sensei Ken also made that observation.
Growth and improvements were widely seen in black belt performance. There was a tangible "jelling" that Shihan Yamakura noted at the BB session. Helen M observed, “At that moment in time, the 30 people in the room were in sync and it felt wonderful.”
On the other hand, there was commonality in kata structure and intent. One very interesting session of yudansha, led by sensei Ken, had each of us perform a kata of her/his choice, while the others observed and then commented. I noted that several chose kata shisochin, and there were marked differences in where in the kata performers were explosive and where they were flowing. There was acknowledgment of the value of these differences.
The important katas sanchin, seiunchin, and tensho as “training” katas, for developing skills rather than showing a specific bunkai or combat application.
Kumite shows your best skills, while kata shows your weaknesses.
In kata training, it’s good to mix things up — vary speed, direction, just arms, just foot movement, etc.
As mentioned above, variations in kata are good, “Within range of acceptable”
Emphasis on separation in kata performance.
Ken had an interesting take: saifa kata is for fighting someone stronger than you, while sanseiru is for destroying a weaker opponent. Ken also had an interesting take on sanchin kata. Some of us (Zak and Gerry H) have been doing sanchin with strong force but projected outward. To be closer to Miyagi sensei’s vision, the force should be concentrated at the hara (tantien) rather than projected out. This change is partly physical, by not leaning forward and by sinking, and partly mental, by feeling the power centering at and emanating from the hara, and sinking the mind and the breath to the hara.
Wisdom from Shihan
As you age, you must listen to your body and take more rests, but you must continue to challenge yourself.
Summary — common values across GKK
It was striking that from all the diverse schools across GKK, there were strong common themes:
Commitment to Goju Ryu as a Do
Spirit of humility
Sharing with colleagues, cooperating and collaborating
Seeking further learning, at whatever the level you are