My Shodan Promotion
By Senpai Chyna Chuu
April 1, 2011
After a strenuous month of testing and anticipation, I was both nervous and excited as I arrived in New York for my Shodan Promotion. Senpai Dee, Sim, JJ, Agnes, and I were taking the four-day promotion together, and Kyoshi Veronica was coming along to provide support. Our schedule was vague except for certain mandatory classes that we had to attend. I reminded myself that I wanted to give 200% in whatever I did and push myself to show my spirit and technique.
Thursday night, we congregated at Honbu to take three classes together: a White Belt class taught by Senpai Guido, a Senior Kata class taught by Kaicho, and a Meditation class taught by Kaicho. The dojo was buzzing with activity, and we were introduced along with other promotees from South Africa, England, Italy, and Chicago. It was a snapshot of how wide the international Seido Karate family spanned. The White Belt class was thorough, precise, and challenging. For the Senior Kata class we had to have our eyes closed the entire time, as Kaicho tested us on our knowledge and technique. Before the Meditation class, Kaicho invited the five of us, Senpai Susan and Senpai Sally from Chicago for some hot green tea and light snacks. To my surprise, I found the hot tea soothing after a sweaty workout and truly appreciated Kaicho’s hospitality to make us feel welcome.
The Meditation class lecture that capped off the night made a deep impression on me. Kaicho broke down the two Japanese characters that make up “Zazen” – the character for “Sitting” and the character for “Simple”. The concept was both straightforward and complex to me – “To Simply Sit.” The written character for “Za” contained two characters for “Person” on a pictorial ledge. “One person is you. Who is the other person?” Kaicho asked the room. Silence. Kaicho frowned and finally thundered, “Inside you!” I literally jumped as his loud voice echoed throughout the dimly lit room. Gone was the sometimes joking Kaicho, the quiet Kaicho of few words. Delivering the meditation lecture was a stern, zealous Kaicho who bristled with emotion. Kaicho said, “When you meditate, you are only supposed to look inside you. What is going on in you? Are you taking care of yourself? Don’t compare yourself to other people. Many people take karate and quit because they say I can’t be as good at karate as this other person. I can’t do high kicks like that. Maybe you can’t. But Seido Karate is not about kicks and punches. Everyone in this room should be so proud of themselves that they have come this far. That’s why Seido Karate has blind and special needs students because it is not about becoming strong to punch or kick. Karatedo is about cultivating your mind through meditation, constantly working on yourself, inside you, what you can do.” Walking back to my hotel I found Kaicho’s words playing over and over in my mind, reminding me of issues within myself that I now felt more capable to solve. I truly felt blessed to experience such wisdom firsthand.
Friday kicked off with an insightful White Belt class with Nidaime and another meditation class with Kaicho. Kaicho generously treated the out of town visitors to lunch. We then had a meeting in Kaicho’s office, and then a syllabus testing session afterwards. The meeting with Kaicho, Nidaime, and Kyoshi Veronica consisted of the five of us, and a Senpai from Maryland. We had to introduce ourselves, talk about our essays, and answer questions. It was a visibly emotional experience for most of us. As we walked out of Kaicho’s office, we saw the dojo filled with chairs and about 100 black belts watching us — time for testing! I was lined up right in front of Nidaime and Kaicho, and instead of feeling nervous, I just felt intensely proud of myself. I realized that this promotion was not so much showing the roomful of black belts what I could do, but a validation to myself of my years of hard training.
Saturday we had another round of testing with the Junior Shodans in front of about 100 black belts again. At the end, Kaicho had us set up mats and all the promotees were to introduce themselves to the room and either talk about our essays or how the experience had been for us. When it was Sim’s turn, Kaicho told all of the black belts to leave their seats and gather closer to listen to Sim talk about his essay. There was an air of confusion as the black belts moved, and it seemed this was out of the ordinary. Kaicho had heard Sim’s story the previous day in his office, and all he did today was point at Sim and say to everyone, “Listen to his story.” Sim shared about how his father worked so hard to keep the family alive as they were held in the prison camps during the Pol Pot regime. I felt that Kaicho was doing Sim’s father a great honor. After Sim’s story, the black belts returned to their seats, and I could see some of them were moved. When it was my turn, I introduced myself and spoke about how grateful I was for this experience. I talked about how I used to be really depressed and how training at Seido Karate with Kyoshi John and Kyoshi Veronica really helped me overcome some of my internal issues. I realized that both times I spoke in front of Kaicho I cried and how this promotion was as much of an emotional as much as a physical experience for me.
Sunday was the day of most anxiety—sparring with the black belts at 6:30am. The Kumite portion of our promotion was awful, wonderful, frightening, exhausting, and deeply rewarding all rolled into one.
I realize that this promotion was one of the best experiences of my life. I want to thank Kyoshi John and Kyoshi Veronica for all of the dedication, energy, and effort that they have put in my training, and I also want to thank the other Hollywood Dojo black belts for their guidance over the years. I feel like I am now a member of a global family of karatekas, with lasting memories of people I’ve met and things I’ve learned. I am grateful for what Seido Karate has done for my life, and am excited for what is truly the “beginning”—my new journey as a Shodan. Osu!
Kagami Biraki 2009
By Craig Zimmerman
January 11, 2009
New Year. New chance. New me? Well, that's a good question. This was my first Kagami Biraki, and I knew that it is one of the most important days of the year in Seido karate. It is a day where we reflect on the previous year and renew our commitment to grow both in our practice of karate and as people. To energize the sleepy Sunday morning walls of the dojo with our spirit. A fresh start.
Frankly, I was hoping for a new me. The problems of my previous year don't seem to realize that they're supposed to stay behind. They keep nagging, following me around like a child, poking me in the stomach if I stop paying attention to them for a minute. Mornings have that quality in special measure. There is that first pleasant moment when my eyes open and I realize I'm awake, followed a couple of heartbeats later by a rush of memories, imaginings, and regrets that land on me as if poured from a bucket. Good morning.
Arriving at the dojo, I'm surprised to see food arriving in the hands of the Black belts, they are setting up a table outside. The dojo itself fills up with students, some familiar to me, some I have not met before. As more and more karateka arrive, I wonder if we're going to be packed in like gi-wearing sardines. Kyoshi John, unfazed by the turnout, arranges us in the dojo so, as if by magic, we have all the room we need.
We start with the basics, chudan tsuki. I concentrate on my form (right! left! right! left!) Breathe! (I always forget to breathe). As I settle into the rhythm my mind begins to wander, I review some of last year's highlights (right! left!). I see the guy at work who yelled at me (right! left!). I see Her (right! left!) and Her New Guy (right! left!) together (left! ri--- what? I'm off count). Makuso! I close my eyes, breathe. Just breathe. Ah sweet breathing, save me from my brain! Inhale one, two, three. Exhale one, two, three, four, five, six. We begin again. My kiai's are savage (well, for me), my voice gets hoarse, I'm pummeling those thoughts with my fists and feet. A space begins to clear around the chatter in my mind.
Time after time I catch my mind wandering. It's easy to notice, because I get out of synch with everyone else. It's like someone waving a red flag at me and saying, "You're thinking again!" This is what saves me, the technique. There is only this punch and this kiai. There is only this breath. Last year isn't happening now. The sweat is pouring, I imagine it rinsing away my troubles. Now we're doing Kata, everyone is tired but I feel urgency to keep going. I feel different, better. I feel elated! The chatter in my mind is reduced to a tiny squabble in the background.
We meditate. I'm utterly relaxed. I am aware of both my breathing and to the sounding of bells around me, the movement of feet preparing the dojo for the new year. The meditation also keeps me aware of the negativity I'm carrying around, except it's now tiny and far away. An insignificant part of myself, like a freckle.
The Kyoshis and all of the Black belts speak, many of them emphasize the importance of participation and recruiting people, of keeping the dojo going. I realize the depth of commitment they have to the dojo, to the training. I think about what I get from the training, I think about the peace that washes over me after a workout. I commit to train harder this year. To grow as much as I can. To grow into myself. Not a new me after all, but me with a new focus, a new facet. Me.
Then we eat!
My First Trip to Honbu
By Torry Pendergrass
October 18, 2008
My first trip to Honbu is one that will never be forgotten. Meeting Kaicho for the first time will forever be imprinted in my brain. Until now, I have only seen pictures, heard and read stories, and seen video of the “Grand Master” himself. I have come to imagine my own version of this man whose teachings everyone follows with such deep respect. I have imagined a stern leader who is hard as stone and will drop you dead in your tracks if you so much as look him straight in the eyes. I could not have been more wrong. Although Kaicho is as tough as nails, his huge heart seems to exude from every pore of his body. He is kind spirited with only the purest of intentions; to give his knowledge to all that will listen and work hard for it. I now know why he has so completely earned everyone’s admiration and respect.
Walking into Honbu, I felt a certain pride; a pride that I was part of something bigger than I could have imagined. Seeing all the other students from across the country and around the world, really struck a chord with me. Kaicho really has created a “family”. A family that I am proud to be part of.
Training at Honbu was an experience that I will always remember. I was both excited and nervous to be taking a class with Kaicho and a room full of other students whom I did not know. One could feel the respect that filled the room. There was a respect that everyone felt for Kaicho, and a mutual respect that he returned to everyone else. I was especially impressed with the fact that he remembered all the names of the many Jun-Shihans, Kyoshis, Senseis and Senpais. Kaicho’s energy seemed to equal the combined energy of all those who attended class. I felt a certain, unexplainable, calm when in the presence of Kaicho as he circulated the room making corrections.
Meditation class at Honbu is truly an experience that should not be missed. Kaicho’s calm presence lends itself to the deep relaxation and “emptying of the mind” that meditation requires. I have always found meditation a rather difficult journey. It is one that I am constantly trying to explore and learn how to do correctly. Kaicho’s class helped me find that little bit of clarity that I am always seeking when trying to meditate.
I am a firm believer that one can learn just as much by sitting on the side lines as playing in the game. This held doubly true when I entered the 32nd. Annual Seido Tournament in New York City. I entered the tournament and did what I set out to do. My main goal was to compete hard and represent my dojo to the best of my abilities. When my part of the competition was finished, I sat in the stands and really got to see what Seido is all about. Seeing all the other competitors was a huge learning experience. It made me realize how far Ive come in my training and how little I know. I have so much to learn. That’s what makes Seido exciting for me. There is always that constant learning curve with no end in sight. Watching some of the veteran fighters compete was very inspiring. The amount of knowledge one can acquire from simply watching these guys is insurmountable. I got to see the results of what years of hard work and dedication will bring. These karateka are truly amazing and I look forward to becoming one of those veterans one day.
Thank you Kaicho, Kyoshi John, Kyoshi Veronica and the entire Hollywood dojo for giving me one of the most memorable experiences I’m sure to have.
Spring Interdojo Fundraiser Tournament 2008
March 15, 2008
By Sim Ung
The Spring Interdojo Tournament was a huge success, thanks to all of the love and support of all who attended. Competitors, parents, and friends began arriving an hour before the tournament. There was an air of eagerness, excitement, and friendliness, with parents reconnecting with other parents and competitors happily socializing with each other as they stretched and went over their routines. A table was set up for a silent auction of various Seido memorabilia, and the concession stand was filled with hearty and healthy food and snacks.
The tournament kicked off with a heartfelt speech from Kyoshi John thanking all of the attendees for their help in supporting the dojo and the outside programs. Sensei Finten visited from Nevada to be a special judge. The tournament began with the Kata event, broken down into the Childrens, Teen, Adult Kyus, and Black Belts divisions. Once the competition began, it was clear that every competitor focused and wanted to show off what they had learned. Beginning with the youngest competitor who was 5 years old, each participant brought heart and spirit. The smiles on the faces of the parents were so full of pride. The Self-Defense event was open to the children and adults white to yellow belts, with the adults having to explain and demonstrate an additional street self defense technique. The Kumite event began with a demonstration of legal and illegal techniques from Sensei Finten and Senpai Ken. Finally, the Tameshiwari event showcased the skills of the black belts.
At the end of the tournament, all of the memorabilia had been successfully bid on and sold, and each competitor had walked away with a memorable experience. Some competitors had commented about how nervous they had been, but how they were glad that they had just pushed through it and finished. And that was what the day was about -- pushing yourself not for the sake of winning, but for growing stronger as a person. Osu!
Sunday January 13, 2008
By Senpai Dee Kulacz
Kagami Biraki- the mirror opening. It is a time to reflect on the past year as well as connect more deeply to the teachers, training partners and the dojo. This year was my first Kagami Biraki since leaving Chicago in 1997. I had a lot of past to reflect upon. Coming into the dojo, I entered as a newly reborn shodan, which made this celebration even more special to me. Kyoshi John and Kyoshi Veronica, along with the other instructors, had been working with me all year to reawaken my training, which had lain dormant many years. Now, as the celebration was about to begin I, too, felt as though I was beginning again.
Other students milled about the dojo, stretching or talking quietly. The dojo filled quickly and I soon wondered if we would have room for everyone, yet I was excited to see so many people arriving.
Starting with basics felt familiar and grounding, like standing on a comfortable patch of grass. Basic techniques are the roots upon which we grow in our Seido art and returning to them gave everyone a chance to reflect on training in their own open mirror. It was a chance to just move and feel the strength and grace of these simple, yet powerful punches and kicks. Performing each chudan tsuki, each mae geri, I saw determination etched on the faces of every student as they, too, revisited the old, familiar movements. Each kiai seemed more enthusiastic than the one before. For over half of the students, this was their first Kagami Biraki, yet even the newest white belts gave one hundred percent effort. No one dropped out halfway through.
Once the last kiai had been shouted and the last drop of sweat sent its energy into the hardwood floor, we gathered for a light meal and a lecture from Kyoshi John. Each student listened intently, reflecting on what the story of the Mirror Opening meant in his or her own life. Afterwards, the sincere words of Kyoshi Veronica on her training journey was both enlightening and inspiring. It reminded all of us that everyone -even Kyoshi Veronica - started out as a confused and awkward beginner, and that's okay. Other black belts echoed those sentiments as they encouraged everyone to be patient and determined in their training.
The past remembered, the foundations for new plans laid, everyone left smiling, ready to greet another year. It was an inspiring and energizing day.
Kagami Baraki 2008
This was my first time to celebrate Kagami Baraki having attended the Seido Hollywood Dojo for less than a year. I was told that it was a New Year's Celebration and a time to recommit ones self to training, but I found it to be so much more.
It is quite normal for me to feel a strong sense of camaraderie during training sessions, but this experience was a hundred times more powerful. Beyond just the increased numbers due to the special occasion, there was a specific and strong energy present that permeated each of us because of our common goal and focus. It was wonderful.
During the time of reflection, we listened to the familiar and heartfelt thoughts from Kyoshi John on patience and persistence. We heard stories about Kyoshi Veronica's karate beginnings and the joy she felt at deepening her relationship with each of us. And I really enjoyed hearing the senior black belts, whose thoughts I don't often get to hear, express their encouragement and suggestions to us.
Afterward, we shared a meal together which further enhanced the feeling community present. This was a truly memorable experience. I cannot think of a better way to begin the New Year and I look forward to another celebration next year where I can look back on the past year's accomplishments and recommit myself once again to my training, my teachers, my training partners and my dojo.