Sunday, July 29, 2012

Patience Grasshopper

by Alan Kandel

There are two relevant sayings here: “Good things come to those who wait” and “patience is man’s greatest virtue.” The first couldn’t be truer. As for the second, so I’ve heard, but, is it really I wonder? The word “wait,” incidentally, as used in this instance, is a relative term, meaning it means different things to different people as in “wait” for how long.

So, say a person is learning a martial art. I would say most students, either when they embark on a program of study or have been involved in such for some time already, either realize, or come to realize, respectively, that only through consistent study can proficiency through such practice be attained. This doesn’t necessarily mean, however, proficiency is guaranteed, but there is a reasonable expectation that it will happen provided enough time is devoted to such. Then there is the matter of what level of proficiency. That depends on the individual and how much work and the amount of practice put into training. Just as no two people are exactly alike, this too is different for different people.

For anyone who gets involved in martial arts training and their expectation is that a black belt will be awarded in half-a-year’s time, this is probably not being very realistic. If, on the other hand, the student has the expectation that a black belt might be awarded them after five years, this expectation is indeed reasonable and, moreover, it is certainly within the realm of possibility depending, of course, upon the student’s effort and the type of martial art being studied.

So, as you can tell, there are quite a few variables here. Take my own training, for example. There are even more variables, such as my study being kind of convoluted. What I mean by this is, I changed styles twice before finding the Shotokan style and sticking with it. I also had different instructors and studied in different states – California and Maryland. This, no doubt, added to the amount of time it took me to meet the criteria required for shodan (or first degree black belt) ranking. What’s important to remember here is, it’s not the time it took (to acquire shodan or any rank for that matter), but rather, that the testing would take place when I was ready.

From my own experience, it can be readily seen that, for me, the journey has been long and deliberate. Is there more to be learned? Count on it: learning is a life-long process.

Copyright © Alan Kandel. July 29, 2012.


Wednesday, July 25, 2012

College Instructor Turned Ninja?

by Alan Kandel

I consider myself to be a relatively decent writer. I stick to composing non-fiction-type material because it’s what I believe I do best when it comes to the type of writing I do. Fictional writing, … well, it just isn’t who I am.

Being that’s the case, the story presented below will no doubt astonish and seemingly bordering on incredulity, yet the events I’m about to reveal are true.

Okay. I’ve kept you in suspense long enough. Here’s what happened.

There was a time when I was teaching college in Long Beach (California). I taught in Cal State’s Engineering and Industrial Technology Department. It was a part-time gig and being that I was in the southern Calif. community for three or four days every week during my stint depending on semester worked, this, in fact, necessitated that I rent an apartment. It was either this or live out of a motel room. I opted for the apartment.

The place I rented was a former garage detached from the main house that was situated in front. The garage had both an upstairs and down. My apartment was on the ground-floor level. At any rate, it had a kitchen, bathroom and main living space, which, seconded as a bedroom. Nothing unusual there - that’s typical for studio apartment-style living. The apartment was small, yes, but it had all the comforts of home.

It was during the fall of 1987 to almost summer 1988, so, we’re talking quite some time ago.

At the time, I also happened to be practicing karate-do at not only the college, but also in Santa Monica at the International Shotokan Karate Federation dojo (training facility) located in that extremely well known seaside town.

Meanwhile, the drive to and from my home in Fresno each week got rather tiresome, rather quickly, in fact. The redeeming part of the commute, on the other hand, was that gas was affordable – none of this $4-plus per gallon stuff.

Sometime between the beginning and middle of the spring semester, I got out of my apartment contract because on more than a few weekends, someone (or someones) had helped themselves to one garage-turned-studio-apartment – mine!, presumably courtesy of whomever had an extra key and presumably free of charge, I might add. My guess is the landlord left entry keys with the occupants of the house in front. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know the place one calls home (even if it’s their home away from home as in this case), had been frequented by one or more uninvited guests multiple times, in fact. Upon my return, I would find my personal effects not exactly as I left them. So, what I did was I alerted the landlord and to remedy the situation I requested that the locks be changed.
Backtracking a bit, when I first moved in, I was issued two keys: one for the deadbolt lock and the other for the lock placed on the door below that.

I thought this was going to take care of the problem. Was I ever wrong! Instead of the locks being changed, here’s what was done. The key I was already issued that originally unlocked the bottom lock could now not only open the bottom one but could also open the top, deadbolt lock too. Like that’s really going to help! Imagine what my reaction must have been when I learned this. Pure disbelief!

To add insult to injury, it was suggested to me (and I won’t say by whom) that I pretend like I’m leaving for Fresno for the weekend but instead of doing this, I should park my car far enough away from my apartment, walk back to the apartment without being spotted, ninja- and stealth-like, if you get my drift, make sure all the apartment’s interior lights remain off, and when the unwelcome intruder or intruders showed up, surprise! Hit ‘em in the head with a baseball bat! Of all the hair-brained ideas I’ve heard, this has to take the cake!

So, with that said, and having had just about enough, I moved out. The nerve of some people!

In hindsight, if nothing else, this makes for a good story. Trust me when I tell you I couldn’t make this stuff up. Fictional writing just isn’t my forte.

And as for the landlord and the one offering the less-than-sagely advice, well if you really must know, I’ll clue you in; I am now shaking my head from side to side.

Copyright © Alan Kandel. July 25, 2012.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Studying Martial Arts To Learn How Not To Fight

by Alan Kandel

I have heard it said once that the greatest karateka (student) is the one that never has to use the karate skills learned in a real-life application. Maybe not these words exactly, but something to that effect.
This is a profound – and sound – thought. Think about it. One spends time – the better part of a lifetime for some – in study, learning one or more martial arts and then never, ever getting to apply any one or a number of techniques learned in martial arts training in real life? If this sounds counterintuitive, it’s not really.

Learning martial arts shouldn’t be for the purpose of testing out learned techniques on the street. To the contrary. Studying martial arts to learn how to avoid physical confrontation – that’s where it’s at! It is this ideal that martial artists should pursue.

Okay, but a person might be thinking: “What if there is just no other option – and that option being – to call upon and use what has been learned in the dojo (training hall or facility), expressly to render null and void what would otherwise be an unavoidable physical altercation?” All right, let’s expound for a moment.

I have heard and read about instances where people who have learned such martial arts skills have applied them in life. Some were with malicious intent, unfortunately. On the other hand, there are those times when the combative-art skills were resorted to only as a last resort and in doing so the actions were completely justified as in an act of self-defense, in other words.

Two such accounts were from students I once instructed.

According to what was shared, the techniques applied were summoned because no other method of conflict resolution proved effective and thus were used as a last resort. And that, from my perspective, is how it should be.

Still, I can’t help but wonder in the situations that my former students found themselves in, if working out whatever differences or disagreements there were could have been achieved with words alone. I really can’t say because I wasn’t there when the conflicts transpired. What I can say is that I will make the assumption based on what I was told that the two former students used good and sound judgment and the actions taken were the correct ones.

Aside from all this, there is good news and that is the situations were diffused and no one was seriously hurt. Yet, I am fully aware that working through differences using discussion rather than force is far better and the more preferable way to resolve conflict in my opinion.

Simply put, my whole message here is summed up thusly: Seek perfection of character, respect others and refrain from violent behavior. If others are respected and character perfection is sought, violence doesn’t happen.

Copyright © Alan Kandel. July 22, 2012.

Monday, July 16, 2012

The Art of Kata Competition and Communication

by Alan Kandel

How we say things can make a positive or negative impact. We see this all the time. Sometimes there is no impact, that is, the reaction (or lack thereof) may be indifference regarding what was said, that is to say, the person on the receiving end might not care one way or another. Sometimes what we say can elicit an emotional response or reaction. Sometimes nothing needs to be uttered at all - body language speaks volumes.

In case you haven’t already guessed, all this has to do with communication and how we communicate. The way in which we communicate can make all the difference in the world in terms of whether what it is we wish to get across is understood or misunderstood.

I present two hypothetical situations below. The purpose of doing such is to show how two different methods of communication are effective in getting given messages across.

Hypothetical situation #1:

Say a contestant in a karate match is competing in the kata (or form) event. Now say a mistake in the kata is made. The contestant is unaware that a mistake was made.

Now comes the scoring part of the event and the contestant learns the results. The presented scores provide an implicit clue as to how the kata was performed. Nothing further needs to be communicated unless the competitor feels compelled to ask others what prompted the score or others feel obligated to share what constructive criticism they can.

Hypothetical situation #2:

Now say a contestant in a karate tournament is competing in the kata event and proceeds to announce the name of the kata but does so incorrectly. Once again, hypothetically, the head judge repeats the kata name back to the contestant only does so using proper pronunciation. The response from the judge was an explicit one. (I don’t know that this has ever happened but it is entirely possible that it may have on occasion).

In both hypothetical situations, it was noted by judges that mistakes were made and for each occurrence judges used different approaches to convey that mistakes were made. In the first scenario the mistake was addressed using scorecards and in the second scenario the mistake was corrected through use of the spoken word.

One final word; Sometimes there is nothing more frustrating than tying to explain something only to have the person on the receiving end not understand what was being explained.

Don’t think effective communication matters? Think again!

Copyright © Alan Kandel. July 13, 2012.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Pearls of Wisdom: The Nature/Value of Experience

by Alan Kandel
Why is experience important?

As active participants in life, we are schooled, period – no ifs, ands or buts. It’s one of life’s so-called “facts.” Moreover, we encounter many people as we navigate our ways through life. That navigated or charted path is also referred to as the journey. Along that journey, we arrive at many a fork in the road where decisions, some critical (most not, thankfully) must be made. Armed with proper information the decisions made can be informed ones or lacking proper information, decisions made can be, well, for lack of finding a better way to put it, a shot in the dark. All of this can be summed up in one word – experience.

As humans, since we are experience-driven beings, the experiences we have act as lessons or teachers. They help guide us. But, more than that: They can help shape us into and help make us who we are.

Furthermore, as for the experience itself, the experiences experienced in life are the result of either happenstance or deliberateness. But, what exactly does this mean?

Situations involving happenstance as a life event – or life-changing event – and one that occurred by chance, is where the situation just happened. Hence the term “happenstance.” The long and short of it, though, is that the situation happened and, by virtue of that, it’s an experience.

On the other hand, experiences based on deliberateness are trial-and-error experiences. To give an example, a person decides they want to enroll in a martial arts training program. Before taking the plunge, so to speak, a meeting with a potential instructor and/or instructor designate could take place. The purpose of this is really quite simple: It’s so the perspective student can assess whether or not a particular program and/or instructor is right for them. Sometimes a perspective student may just want to observe the training going on before them before actually meeting with the perspective instructor and/or committing to that particular training program. Or, a perspective student, at the instructor ‘s invitation (it really depends on the situation) can join the class on a complementary basis (the duration of which is decided between the student and instructor), the purpose of which enables the perspective student to gauge the whole experience and decide whether it’s right for them or not.

Regardless of initial approach taken, if the student senses that the martial art is the correct one, the setting is appropriate and the instruction is satisfactory or superior, all this can be influential in the student joining. Not just this, but the way in which this new student is received by others in the class can also influence the new student’s decision to sign on or not sign on. This process is also referred to as “testing he waters.”

What this has all led up to is that experience is one of the best teachers and being that this is the case, there is definitely value in that.

Above and beyond this, if we are able to share such experience and help others in the process, better still.

Experience: Don’t pass on it; pass it on!

Copyright © Alan Kandel. July 4, 2012.