Old School and Proud of It!

Call me “old school.”

In high school, about the closest connection I had to any martial art was a classmate studying Tae Kwon Do, I think. Martial arts then was about as foreign a concept to me as the word “karate,” often mispronounced “car-rot-tea.”  Sure I was familiar with “The Green Hornet” T.V. show with trusty sidekick (pun intended) Kato played by Bruce Lee. I mean, after all, who wasn’t, just as I was if not more so with Orioles legend, Brooks Robinson and Colts standouts Johnny Unitas, Lenny Moore and Raymond Berry? Not only were they local Baltimore heroes, they were household names!

During that time, the early ‘70s, sports stars being all the rage, notwithstanding, I was mostly preoccupied with just getting through school and graduating (never mind that my grade point average neared negative numbers), when I was going to get my first car and, believe it or not, college. College? That’s right, college!

After high-school graduation and entering junior college and, yes, getting my first automobile, I also landed my first bona fide job (none of this “helping-my-dad-out-for-the-summers” kind of stuff or helping a school chum help his father out). What I was, was an audio salesman in a local record store (that’s what they were called back then). Having that job was so I could earn an income to help pay for college. J.c., if I remember correctly, cost about $150 per semester, books included. Perhaps there are people reading this who can relate.

The tide had definitely turned for me then. I had embarked on a new journey and entered a new phase in my life. Not only for the first time was I understanding what I was studying (electronics technology), I was actually enjoying myself in so doing, taking electives such as bowling, music appreciation and, of course, karate. Imagine earning college credit for taking a class in martial arts.

Okay, time for the $64 million question: What prompted me to take karate being my familiarity with it was virtually nil? One of my fellow students had taken or was enrolled in such at the time and he expressed how his reflexes had quickened. I was intrigued, so much so, that I had to find out for myself just what this guy was boasting about.

This was during an era when gas was 34 cents per gallon (that’s right), the Vietnam War was drawing to a close and cell phones, ipads, the internet and mixed martial arts were still to be discovered, and here I was learning how to properly don a karate gi (uniform), secure such with an obi (belt), breathe correctly and, yes, meditate. All history now, at the time for me it was, uncharted territory. The style, incidentally, I was initially introduced to was Shorinjiryu Kenkokan Karate-do. For what it’s worth, I believe I even earned an A grade in the class, a real rarity for me in those days.

Karate having satisfied a college physical education requirement, I nevertheless gained much from the training. In fact, I was motivated enough to continue after-the-fact.

Graduating j.c., with a cumulative grade point average of 2.95, this was good enough to allow myself entry into a four-year program of study at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo and where I met Sensei Domi. It was through an extra curricular karate class, in fact, held on campus two evenings per week that my practice was furthered. The style I was now learning was Shotokan.

When I first joined, before training sessions got underway, I would practice techniques and kata (form) I had learned back east. The thing I remember most about the on-campus club was not so much the instruction as it was the camaraderie. Fellow karateka came from all walks of life, many, who, like myself, had prior martial arts experience, some more than others. That really mattered little because everyone, regardless of rank, trained together, like one big happy family.

Sadly, the instruction lasted but three quarters (Cal Poly is on the quarter, not semester, system). The instructor graduated. Even so, I continued to practice unfailingly with fellow students, who incidentally, furthered their own training too. In fact, in a place known as Poly Canyon, where some of the school’s architecture students created several architecturally interesting building designs, of particular note there was one house of sorts propped on a hillside whose main distinguishing feature was its rectangular shape, that and it was outfitted with glass all around. The structure, among its other uses if there were any, in one case it was used as a makeshift dojo (training facility). As such, it provided myself (a white belt) and another Cal Poly student (also versed in Shotokan and a black belt) a quite suitable place for he and I to sometimes train. Although the floor was concrete this in no way detracted from practice. What this just goes to show is that practically any place any one can visualize in one’s mind can serve as a dojo, everything from a garage and a school gymnasium to a traditional storefront building space.

Well, to make a long story shorter, my college preparation and extra curricular endeavors had taken me far, the karate training part of and parallel to my post-high school academic experience. The side-by-side journey of karate and academic study, together, whether considered “old school” or not, I would not trade for the world.

Copyright © Alan Kandel. June 29, 2012.

Competition: What good is it?!

by Alan Kandel

Competition comes in many forms. Competition can mean having the ability to choose between different dealerships offering different brands and various models within brands when it comes to purchasing or leasing an automobile, for instance. More often than not, this is perceived as a good thing. Further, competition can allow the shipper of a particular good or commodity, the ability to get the best price and/or the level of service desired when choosing from among different competitor modes as it relates to shipping those goods.

Competition also can take the form of a contest, whereby contest entrants or “contestants,” can compete against one another for a prize or monetary award. Probably the example that most comes to mind for those who are of working age is the one where applicants compete for a job. Related to this, is the competition involved in competing to get into college and/or in vying for a seat in a particular class, all done in an effort to fulfill the long-term goal of earning a degree or certificate in a particular course of study. And not to be overlooked is sports, that one competitive arena known the world over. This has particular relevance now being the 2012 Summer Olympic Games, to be held in London, England is just around the corner. Competition being what it is, has many facets or sides to it – in other words, it’s complex.

It was about 22 years ago that I found myself a neutral observer (more like spectator) who through no fault of my own was forced to listen to the debate, discussion, call it what you will, between two of my co-workers at the time, this all over which of the two could outdo who in a footrace.

The argument – forgive me – civilized exchange, intensified in both excitement and volume level. Going on for what felt like forever, the lively conversation probably lasted at most, five minutes. I couldn’t help but hear one say to the other that he would even give the other a considerable lead and even with the head-start, the one offering the advantage said he would still prevail which, I presume, is why he offered the head-start in the first place. The other (the party offered the lead), of course, insisted he would be victor, hands down. The challenge that this race was to be, should it take place at all, had transcended beyond mere competition alone; it had elevated to a matter only a bet could settle, apparently.

Not even close. Having heard just about enough, I diplomatically (I think I was diplomatic in my approach, anyway) interrupted, asking them if there was something else they could talk about.

My suggestion worked. The shout’n match ended; talk centered on something other than the incessant, if but verbal “I’m faster than you are! You are not!” slugfest, if you will, going on in my presence, although I can’t tell you on what. But bet your bottom dollar, it wasn’t a minute or two later that the dialogue reverted back to, what else?! The footrace. Who would’ve thought?!

As far as sporting competitions go, this one had all the elements: excitement, heightened, if not, high enthusiasm, competitive spirit and audience participation, albeit more of the interventionary type.

As for the footrace itself or whether or not it ever came off or who won, I have no clue; that’s not all that important. But the exchange that took place in my presence that day has obvious implications for martial arts competition.

And it doesn’t end there.

Competitive sports can help participants improve the skills they bring to the competitive event, be this in baseball, basketball, boxing, football, hockey, martial arts, soccer, swimming, you name it. Whether competitors experience victory or suffer agonizing defeat, regardless, competition, in this sense, can still be a good thing. And last but by no means least, the people who make spectator sports what they are – the spectators, meanwhile, usually feel fulfilled too.

A win-win by any measure. And, with that, let the games begin!

Copyright © Alan Kandel. June 22, 2012.

My Almost Made it to a Karate Tournament Story

by Alan Kandel

What began in the late ‘70s as a noble effort to compete in a karate tournament in Denver, ended up ending right where it began – California’s San Francisco Bay Area. To boomers (be you senseis or otherwise) this will doubtless bring back memories.

It all started in 1978-’79 when I was living in the town of Mountain View, working in nearby Sunnyvale. Home and work were a scant six miles apart. Of course, my morning and evening commutes were plagued by rush-hour traffic; what we’re talking about here is being constrained by gridlocked traffic and it taking 45 minutes to go but a-half-dozen miles. Sound familiar? That works out to a speedy 8 miles per hour. At any rate, the car I was driving then, put it this way, was not the most fuel-efficient. Not just that, who knows how many times this car changed hands before I owned it?!

If my memory serves me correctly (and I trust it does), during this period in history, if one’s license plate ended in an even number, then gas could be purchased on, not surprisingly, even-numbered days, that is, Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday. Motorists who had license plates ending in odd numbers could purchase petrol on, what else?, odd-numbered days, namely Monday, Wednesday, Friday. Where my memory doesn’t serve me so well had to do with Sundays; either everyone who drove was permitted to purchase gas or no one was. I would be inclined to think it was the latter case.

The adage desperate times call for desperate measures has real meaning here. I pulled out all the stops (figuratively speaking, course) and purchased a utility vehicle just so I could buy fuel seven days a week. twice on Sunday if need be. As it turns out, those owning such a vehicle were permitted to make gas purchases on at least six days a week, Monday through Saturday, anyway. That sure beat the alternative.

All that glitters is not gold, for one morning before heading to work, I noticed the gas gauge and I was running on empty. It was either “don’t go to work” or “brave long lines of cars occupied by other drivers waiting their turns to get gas.” Making matters worse during that era, it was not uncommon for some people waiting in such lines to become irritable to the point of becoming hostile. Combine long lines with short tempers and the outcome could be and sometimes was highly combustible. I remember hearing or reading about altercations were practically a dime a dozen in those days.

Getting back on point, that one morning when I was in just such a gas line, just as I reached the pump, the thing stalled. It was out of gas. Talk about impeccable timing.

Which brings me back to the tournament.

Despite conditions being what they were then, a bunch of us from the San Jose karate dojo intent on competing in a major tournament in the mile-high city were going, gas crisis or no gas crisis. For us, it was Denver or bust. Much to our chagrin, however, the lot of us didn’t make it. In fact, we only made it as far as Reno in the Silver State, Nevada. We had driven all that way just to have to turn around and go back, and that’s exactly what had happened.

As sure as the sun rises in the east and sets in the west, in this particular case, market conditions knocked me, at least, for a loop. I can’t speak for the others.

I, for one, experienced those so-called “gas-so-lean” times first hand. It taught me a lot. Looking back, making it to the tournament would have been nice. I’m fast reminded of another adage: better luck next time.

Copyright © Alan Kandel. June 11, 2012.

Goal! Student Message Is Insightful, Inspiring

By Alan Kandel

On June 6, 2012, I was watching a nightly-news broadcast. One segment I caught highlighted a successful educational program in the New York City area. The segment reporter asked questions of students enrolled in the school about various aspects of their educational experience. One comment from one student in particular caught my attention. On giving advice to new enrollees and whether or not new enrollees should stay the course, the recommendation from the commenting student was something on the order of: even though the work is extremely difficult, in the long run the effort will be well worth it.

After allowing myself sufficient time to digest what was said, I thought, this sums up in one thought, my karate training history to a tee. How insightful, how inspiring this middle-school student must be. There is no question that this and other students enrolled at this particular school were getting quality instruction in a very conducive-to-learning academic setting!

Carrying this idea farther, what a person gets out of an endeavor is the sum of the parts put in. One must not forget that commitment and diligence are part of the equation too. Being interested in what one is involved in, well that’s an important component as well. As far as interest goes, martial arts is attractive to many in that sense. It has a tendency to awe observers, but, even so, it’s not for everyone, obviously. Those who decide to practice the arts understand that many hours of training will be required and usually, the more one puts into one’s training, from that training, the more one will take away.

Reaching a particular goal or level of achievement will take longer for some compared to the time it takes others to do the same. Even though everyone achieves at different rates, the bottom line is everyone achieves. It’s called progress. For some, there will be major setbacks. Not so much so for others.

Beginners oftentimes have a tendency to want to get to the finish line as fast as they can. Martial arts training is not a race. Training is slow but steady and its deliberate. One foot in front of the other, in other words. Some other considerations to be aware of is that some fall into the trap of putting more of their energy into practicing and perfecting techniques they know they execute well, while other techniques or areas of practice do not get the attention they need for those techniques or that area of practice, respectively, to improve. The key is to dedicate more time and effort on the areas that need more work and in the end, all aspects of training will be balanced. That way, the martial arts practitioner becomes more, well rounded. In the academic setting it’s little if any different.

Meanwhile, the role of the instructor (sensei, sifu, etc.) is to instruct, to be the facilitator of student learning and to some degree, is the facilitator of student success. But it is the student who must do the work. A person is what a person does. And, if the student is able to go the distance, that is, put in the required time and energy, that student should have every confidence that sought-after goals and objectives will be attained.

And as for advanced training, establish a foundation first and then build on that.

Copyright © Alan Kandel. June 7, 2012.