The Essence of Karate


By Sensei N. Lagrasta,
Classical Martial Arts Centre Shelburne

“The ultimate aim of karate lies not in victory nor defeat, but in the perfection of the character of its participants ” … Gichin Funakoshi

What is the whole point of martial arts training? What value does it really have? Why do I want my child to train in the first place?

These are some of the many questions from inquiring parents and students alike that we get all the time at the Classical Martial Arts Centre here in Shelburne.

There are many “styles” of martial arts, just as there are many different types of sports. Our primary style is known as “Karate-do” or “Empty-hand way” translated from its Okinawan/Japanese origins. We also train in traditional “Kobudo” or the Okinawan/Japanese art of weapons.

What differentiates Karate from other “sports” is that in it’s classical form, Karate is not a sport at all; it is a conceptual way of thinking, of training, of acting, and of understanding yourself in a way that no other “sport” can really attain.

It is a study of the human body, of the mechanics of movement, in tandem with the power of both the mind and the spirit that few other activities even begin to understand.

One of the most important questions one must ask is, what is it that you want for yourself or your child in your training? Is it learning to defend yourself? Is it to enter competitions and win trophies, or even to become an Olympic athlete? Is it to learn discipline and self respect?

Any and all of these are valid reasons to train. If for example you wish to train in order to enter competitions, there is absolutely nothing wrong with that; but if competition becomes your main focus, then your main focus becomes winning or losing, and thus the art then becomes a sport.

The focus in Karate should be on the perfection of yourself, by continually training hard and trying to improve your understanding of the correlation of your body, mind and spirit through the art itself– NOT through having to beat or overcome someone else.

The wonderful thing about Karate is that the only person that you really have to overcome is YOU! Oftentimes, you are your own worst bully! How many times have you or your child said to yourself “ I can’t do this?” Therefore, in many ways, the only enemy you really have to overcome is YOURSELF!

We often say here at the dojo, THE WAY IS IN THE TRAINING.

Karate is not a sport; it is a way of life. It is not about winning or losing, it is about learning valuable life skills such as courtesy, respect, empathy, and kindness. It is about self confidence, of understanding oneself, and learning how to defend yourself. In karate we study violence in order to better understand to not participate in it and how to handle it when it does present itself.

This is valuable knowledge and life skills that we believe every man, woman or child should have and would benefit greatly from.

This is the essence of Karate.


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CMAC Seminar June 9th to 10th 2012, Grey Highlands

CMAC Seminar held on June 9th to 10th, hosted by Sensei J. Bassels and Sensei C. Dixon at Mr. Lagrasta’s farm in the Grey Highlands.

There were several hours of intense training in Classical Arnis stick fighting by Sensei Bassels, as well as Tai Chi and Bagwa instruction by Sensei Dixon.  This really shows the wide range of martial arts available through the organization, and was attended by about 30 students from the Yume Da Po dojo in Mississauga, the Beaches Dojo in Toronto, and the Umaka Dojo in Shelburne.

The weather was beautiful and the training was outdoors with a breathtaking view of rolling farmland.  A very nice break from the city for alot of people, and a wonderful way to unwind and get in some very intense training in the process!

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Like We Need Another Excuse…..

As Christmas approaches once again, I can’t help but notice that the holidays have become less about giving, family, friends and being together and more about spending, buying, and yes, “CONSUMING.”

Increasingly I hear the term “consumer” being bandied about; consumer economy, consumer pricing, even consumer holiday.  In Canada, Boxing Day has traditionally been our “consumer holiday,” as if that was something to celebrate or even participate in.

This year I couldn’t help but notice how “Black Friday,” the US equivalent of Boxing Day, is being touted here in Canada as well.  This year it fell on Friday November 25th.

It seems that one “consumer holiday” is not enough in Canada, we need another excuse, right? I think a more appropriate term for us should be “conned-sumer!”

Who came up with this term in the first place? What is a “consumer” and why do we let ourselves be called that in the first place?

To “consume” means to use up or destroy.  Is that how you wish to be labelled – as a destroyer of things?  The very word itself denotes images of rats being let loose in a grain warehouse – “consuming” anything and everything in their path.  Just look at some of the images from “Black Friday” from our neighbors in the South…

Lining up for hours or even days outside of stores, then pushing and shoving their way in to be the first to engage in a veritable orgy of spending and purchasing. Fights break out in parking lots and line ups, then like misbehaving children people literally fight one another in the store over the last remaining trinkets or gew gaws.

That’s a “conned-sumer” if I’ve ever seen one!

The corporations of course wring their hands in glee as they witness us acting like a bunch of mindless lemmings, and even encourage this behavior by offering a too-good-to-be-true deal on that newest electronic gizmo then only having 5 in the store while dozens of people are left to duke it out.

Even the term “Black Friday” and “Boxing Day” seem ironically appropriate – the “Black” describing the greed and the animal like behavior, and the “Boxing” describing what you have to be prepared to do in order to get what you lined up for!

Yet the thing that amazes me the most is how many people not only participate in this nonsense, but how they react when you tell them how silly they are being.  What’s the matter, they say as they look at you quizically, don’t you like to get a good deal? Don’t you LIKE Christmas?

In all honesty this used to be my most favourite time of year, with all the lights and the snow and the decorations and special music…but as of late it has lost much of its magic and has been replaced by a sense of disgust and foreboding.

What have we allowed ourselves to become? A bunch of spoiled, petulant children scuffling with one another over useless things because, well, we’re SUPPOSED to – that’s what the retailers tell us anyhow!

This really began to hit home on me a couple of years ago when spending Christmas Day at a relatives house. Now, my family celebrates Christmas with giving gifts as well, but nothing prepared me for the veritable onslaught of presents that we encountered when we arrived; you could scarcely notice the Christmas tree under the mountain of gifts that were under the tree, almost all of them being for my relatives two young children.

As they opened one gift after another after another, which seemingly took an entire afternoon and the better part of the week, I observed their reaction; they would open a gift, give it a barely cursory glance, then immediately put it down and continue to the next, and the next, and the next….I don’t think I ever received that amount of presents throughout my entire life, let alone what those two kids received in that one day. There literally must have been several THOUSAND dollars worth of gifts – per child – under that tree, yet when all was said and done, they went through their stash, picked out one toy to play with and the rest were forgotten quicker than last spring.

Then, after receiving all of these wonderful gifts, they woke up extra early the following morning to get into line in front of the electronics store to buy MORE things as, tragic as it was, they didn’t get EVERYTHING that they wanted!

Of course, when I commented on how many presents they had and why would they want to line up at a store the next day to buy MORE stuff, they gave me this “Don’t You Get It?” look that is reserved only for less than “cool” and “not with it” silly relatives.

And what about the true spirit of the holidays-that of sharing good times together with family and friends?  What of helping people in need? What of the joy of spending the holidays with the people we love, and of sharing and compassion and of good will towards all men and all that stuff?

Think about that this holiday season – how can I NOT be a “CONNED-SUMER” and what can I do to make Christmas a truly special and fruitful holiday? How about not going so crazy on the spending? Twelve year old kids REALLY don’t need laptops and Blackberries. And how about donating your time or money towards charities, or calling people you haven’t talked to in awhile?

Well, I suppose that a 60 inch LCD TV for under $500 trumps that all…

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The Journey

A short story by Nick Lagrasta


Happy Birthday to you, happy birthday to you! Happy birthday dear Grand-pa-pa,
happy birthday to you!”

Dozens of faces, both young and old, surrounded
the old man as he sat at the head of the table. He did his best to sit upright,
but years of pain and hard work had taken their toll on his once broad shoulders
and strong hands, now stooped and knurled like an old tree.

He smiled a toothless grin, his grey- blue eyes desperately trying to focus on the cake in
front of him. It was a lovely thing, a vanilla cake with white and red frosting.
Vanilla was his favorite, even though he couldn’t taste much of anything any
more. The cake was emblazoned with numbered candles that read “1-0-3,” the
candle light shining off of the eyes of all those around him as they sang,
rejoiced and smiled.

His two eldest children, Claudia and Alexander, who were both in their sixties, stood on either side of him with one hand around his shoulder and the other holding the cake.

Their children, and their children’s children, along with many other friends and other family members, all cheered as he drew a long breath, made a grand show of wishing for something, then blew out the candles in one withering whoosh.

“Happy 103rd birthday, dad!” his daughter exclaimed, hugging him and kissing him on the cheek. His son did the same, and then there was a rush of well wishers from all

“Grand-pa-pa, Grand-pa-pa!” exclaimed Melanie, his son’s youngest
grand-daughter, her curly blond hair cascading back over a beautiful blue dress.
She too had blue eyes like her great grandfather, and the same mischievous smile
that he had had in his youth.

“Tell us a story again, Grand pa-pa! The one about when you used to fly!” In her excitement, she jumped up and down, flapping her wings up and down like a bird.

“Come now, Melanie,” her mother Joyce said, steering her away, “you know that Grand-pa-pa doesn’t like to talk about the before time any more. Besides, he’s getting
tired, and…”

“No!” The old man suddenly exclaimed, in a voice louder than
his weakened body belied. Then after a moment of silence, he continued.

“Since when have I been one that didn’t like to tell stories? Come,
children gather around, what story would you like to hear?”

Suddenly, a dozen voices rang out with excitement, for they all loved hearing Grand-pa-pa’s tales of the before time, when he was young and all the adventures he
had in a world that seemed so strange and dangerous and far away.

“Tell us about aero planes, Grand-pa-pa!” yelled one.

“Tell us about tele-visers!” exclaimed another.

Mon-ee! Show us the thing they called mon-ee! That’s really funny, Grand-pa-pa!”

Melanie piped in again. “Did you fly, Grand-pa-pa? Is it true that you
could fly in the air like a bird?”

“Whoa now, one at a time!” The old man laughed, a loving smile on his withered face. An unruly piece of white hair stood up on the top of his otherwise bald head, giving him a clownish appearance.

“Yes, it’s true. We could fly, in machines we called airplanes, that flew so high..” he paused for a few seconds for dramatic effect, “…that we looked down on the clouds!”

Another great grandchild chimed in, “And you used to all sit a room and watch a glass tube called a tele..tele…”

“A television! Yes, for hours we would sit and watch images on a glass screen, sort of like watching a play, only it was in your own living room twenty four hours a day!”

“That sounds really silly, Grand-pa-pa!” And all the children laughed hysterically, as if it were the funniest thing that they ever heard.

“Imagine,” said Jeremy, 12 years old and with a face full of freckles, “staring at a piece of glass for hours at a time! What was the purpose of that?”

“So it could SUCK YOUR BRAIN AWAY! AHHHH!” Replied the old man, gesturing with his gnarled hands like a crazy bear.

“But who did the planting?” Asked Maria, his daughter’s youngest grandchild “Who harvested the wheat, and the vegetables, and-”

“Who milked the cows?” Interjected Linda, Maria’s older sister, then added “I hate milking cows!”
“That’s just it,” replied the old man, pointing with his finger, “OTHER people did that,
and you paid them money to do it instead of having to do it for yourself!”

“What’s money, Grand-pa-pa?” Several children said at once, a puzzled look across their faces.

The old man reached a withering hand into his sweater pocket, fished around a bit, and pulled out a crinkled, dark green piece of paper. He unfolded it carefully, and then held it out in front so the children could all see.

“This,” he said, “is money!”

There was a stunned silence, then after a few seconds, the children all broke out into a
raucous laughter.

“That’s a piece of paper, Grand-pa-pa!” Shouted Melanie through fits of laughter. “How can that be worth anything?”

“You see, children…” the old man continued, his voice suddenly serious, “in the
before time, this silly piece of paper that we called money was what our entire
lives were built around. Everything – the land around us, the trees, the water
flowing in the river, the very earth itself was given a value, and this value
was money.”

“For example,” he continued, “the forest was not valuable because of the trees that were home to many birds and animals, or the rich soil that could be used to sustain life, nor the rocks that supported it all from underneath. These were just “resources” that we could use for ourselves, and use them we did; we cleared the forests for their wood, and after we destroyed the forest, we turned it into farmland to grow our crops, and when we were done with that, we got rid of the farmland and built houses and roads and buildings so
that other people could move in and use even more or our natural resources from
farther and farther away. Until…”

“There was nothing left?”

“Exactly.” His smile seemed to fade away, and tears began to well up in his eyes. Now the entire room was silent as he stared at the images of the past that seemingly only he could see.

He swallowed, and a lonely tear broke free and ran down the side of his withered cheek as he seemed to regain his train of thought, then continued.

“Yes, we could fly in the sky. And we could talk to people thousands of miles away. We could replace people’s hearts with new ones when they got sick, and we could build cities that stretched farther than you could ever imagine. We even landed on the moon!”

The silence was palpable, and his old eyes seemed to burn through everyone in the

“But at what price? WHAT PRICE? You see, there is a price for everything – nothing comes without some sort of cost. And we paid, and paid dearly in the end for our way of life. We pumped out every last drop of oil that we could out of the ground and burned it mercilessly until we could find no more. We polluted our air. We destroyed our oceans. We razed our once bountiful forests and turned them into concrete and asphalt deserts, and all for the sake of this!” He shouted, shaking the twenty dollar bill in the air for emphasis. He
tossed in on the ground in disgust.

“All that mattered were things. How many things can I buy? How many things can I own? The newest, the best, the most beautiful! And in our stupid quest for these useless things, there was a price: Wars. Disease. Starvation. We lost our oceans. We lost our land. And
ultimately….. we lost ourselves. And that is something that we must never allow
to happen again!”

The silence stretched, and the only thing that could be heard in the room was the tick tock tick tock of the pendulum clock on the wall. Outside the window, a soft winter snow began to fall.

It was young Melanie that finally broke the silence.

“Grand-pa-pa, why are you so sad? Things are better now, aren’t they?”

The old man choked back some more tears. “Yes, little one. Yes they are. Now we realize the true value of what we are is not in what we have, but in what we ultimately become.”
He held out his arms, and the little girl lovingly jumped into his lap and gave
the old man a big hug.

“Life is a journey, not a destination; and that journey begins and ends…” He smiled, putting his frail hand over her heart.

Everyone in the room clapped, and there were tears of joy and laughter and smiles.

“How did you get so wise, Grand-pa-pa?” Melanie asked in her lilting young voice.

“Well, let me show you,” he replied, and gestured to his son, “Alexander, get me the book.”

Alexander nodded, and then left the room. Several moments later he returned with a weathered old scrapbook and placed it on the table in front of his father. The old man grasped it in his trembling hands, and as the children all gathered around he opened the
cover and began to slowly flip the pages.

There were newspaper clippings, pictures and magazines articles. One newspaper clipping read“Economic Collapse; Is This the End of Capitalism?” The other read, “War in the Middle East; Iran Detonates Nuclear Bomb in the Straights of Hormutz.” A magazine article screamed, “Swine Flu Claims 1 Millionth Victim.”

Page after page outlined the decline and subsequent collapse of a once bright and mighty civilization, the most powerful nations the world had ever seen. Once bristling with technology only dreamed of in books of science fiction, it was slowly but inexorably brought to its knees by greed, corruption, and the depletion of the earths resources until it resembled the 19th century Victorian Era more than it did 21st century Buck Rogers that
everyone was expecting.

The transformation had been slow and painful; billions had perished in the wars, famines and outbreaks of disease that inevitably follow the collapse of empires, but freed of all of their technological contrivances and baubles, the people who survived were happier
now. Grand-pa-pa liked to call it, “The New Renaissance,” and always liked to remind everyone that they were living history now and that in the future, people would look back and marvel at the transformation that had occurred.

And then there were the pictures, pages and pages of faded memories and dreams and loved ones that had come and gone. One showed a beaming bride alongside a smiling groom. “Grand-pa-pa, who is that?” Melanie asked.

“That’s me, when I was young. And that’s my sweetie; your Grand-ma-ma.”

“She’s so beautiful!” She replied, astonishment in her voice. “Where is she now?”

“She’s in heaven, waiting for me.” He said haltingly, and then added, “She died a long time ago, just after the War….” His voice trailed off, lost in thought. He turned the page.

The next picture, faded and wrinkled, showed two middle-aged men in neat, white Karate uniforms, both wearing black belts and striking a fighting pose towards the camera. The
man on the left they immediately recognized as their Grand-pa-pa. The man on the
right was a huge, imposing figure with a barrel chest, a shaved head and a goatee. His eyes, dark and piercing, seemed to jump right out of the page.

“Who is that, Grand-pa-pa?” This time it was Jeremy who

“That…was my Sensei. My Teacher – the one who has gone before.” The old man nodded his head, as if he were bowing to the picture.

“He looks scary!” Exclaimed Melanie, and then added, “What happened to him?”

The old man drew a deep breath and smiled. “Well, he had this wonderful Dojo in Mississauga (that’s what we called the city where we lived). We lost touch just after the War started and things started to collapse. I heard rumors, though; some people said he moved to Tibet and opened a Dojo there. Others said he got killed in a parachuting accident.”

“What’s a parachute?” Jeremy asked.

“It was something people used to use to float to the ground after they jumped out of an airplane.”

“But why would anyone want to do that?”

The old man laughed. “I don’t know, I asked him that myself many times. Why would anyone want to jump out of a perfectly good airplane?”

After several moments of laughter, he continued. “No, he didn’t pass away in a parachuting accident. As a matter of fact, I know that he’s still alive somewhere, even today.”

“How do you know that, Grand-pa-pa?”

The old man’s face softened for a moment, as if seeing something only he could see.

“Because he visits me sometimes. In my dreams. And in my dreams we’re both young again and back at the Dojo. Most of the time we train together, but sometimes we just talk.” He could see the skeptical look in the children’s eyes, and then added matter-of-factly, “It’s a trick he learned from his own sensei, apparently.”

He tapped the picture with a wrinkled finger, and continued. “You asked me how I could be so ‘wise.’ Well, it’s because of a lot of things, but mostly because of my martial arts and
all those years of hard training. You see, it was because of this man that I learned what I learned – that strength comes from within, not from this.” He clenched his fist and held it in front of the children, and his hand somehow no longer looked weak and crooked but deceptively strong and hard.

“He taught me that life is a journey, not a destination; and we shared that journey together, if only for a short while. And he taught me what one person could do if they tried and never gave up, and that change starts from within and spreads out, like a pebble in a pond….” He paused, and then slowly closed his book. “Perhaps I’ll see him again, just like I’ll see your Grand-ma-ma.” Then he whispered, almost inaudibly,”…soon.”

The old man grew tired and his children, seeing him hunching over in fatigue, announced that it was time for Grand-pa-pa to go to bed. After many hugs and kisses and best
wishes, the party was over and the guest of honor departed for his room.


That night, on January 25th 2069, the old man fell into a deep sleep. And in that
sleep, he began to dream, a dream move vivid than any he had ever had.

And in that dream he was standing at a doorway, which he immediately
recognized as his old Dojo, and it was just as he remembered it; the hardwood
floor, the bokken and the sai and other martial arts weapons stacked neatly in
racks, and the pictures on the wall of those who had gone before, the martial
arts masters who had shaped the art over the years.

There was a class in session and the old man knelt in the doorway, waiting for permission to enter as was customary when one was late for class. His sensei was facing him and sat in
front of the Shomen (the alter) in Sazen, or meditation position. The rest of the class, a dozen of so students of various belt ranks, sat in a perfectly straight line with their backs to him in meditation also.

After a few moments of silence, his Sensei opened his eyes and smiling, said “Come on in, and join us.”

The old man stood, trembling and unsure, then bowed and stepped into the Dojo. He then noticed that his body was no longer aged and bowed and decrepit, but young and vital and strong. His Gi shone white, and his black belt was tied firmly around his waist.

He recognized all of the students as they turned to look at him, and had to
restrain himself from crying out in joy at seeing all of his old friends and
companions smiling at him. He stood there, frozen for several seconds and unsure
of what to do next, when Sensei finally broke the silence.

“It has been a long time.” The sensei’s voice, like the rest of him, was so forceful and
dominating, yet belied a tenderness and understanding. Kime was the
first word that went through the old man’s head.

“Yes Sensei, it has.” And the old man bowed deeply.

“And how are you feeling today?”

“Wonderful, Sensei.”

“We have all walked up the mountain and shared a journey together once before,” continued the huge man with the black belt, addressing all of his students. Then he turned to the old man. “It is time to begin another. Are you ready…… Grand-pa-pa?”

The old man took a deep breath, and he could smell the familiar smells of that place, and he could see every small detail as he glanced around the room; the paint on the wall, the
sweet scent of the burning incense, but it was the pictures on the front of the dojo that caught his attention.

The pictures of all the grand masters of the art were placed high on the wall, the ones who had gone before, and were held in the highest esteem by the practitioners of the art that followed. Their pictures were placed on the front wall of the dojo only after they had passed away, in reverence of their contribution to the art.

The old man then noticed that a picture of his own Sensei was on the far end of that same wall, and it was at that moment that he finally understood.

“ So are you ready, Grand-pa-pa?” His Sensei asked again, smiling knowingly.

Choking back tears, he finally replied, “I’ve been ready for a long, long time,

His Sensei smiled and placed one hand on his shoulder, then said, “Then let’s begins this journey together. But first,” he added, a mischievous grin on his face, “let me see you do your Seiunchin…..”

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Life is a Kata….

The sun began its slow ascent into the new day, breaking the night sky with a faint
sliver of yellow light. Soon, the jungle would be alive with all manner of
sounds from seemingly every conceivable corner.

A herd of water buffalo stood grazing in a vast field just beyond the jungles
edge, and it was there that the tiger crouched, hidden amidst the shadows of
the leaves. She peered out intently, only her golden eyes moving, scanning the
herd for her prey.
Beside her the leaves rustled. It was her cub, all of six months old and on his
first hunt. The mother tiger growled almost imperceptively, and the cub
immediately understood to be still and to be quiet!

He gazed at her supine form, crouched in the tall grass, and marveled at how
her muscles rippled as she shifted slightly this way or that, and how her coat,
like his own, blended perfectly into the shadows of the jungle.

The cub looked nervously at her and then peered at the unsuspected prey not 50
yards from where they lay, unsure of what to do next. He tried to imitate his
mother’s every move, every nuance and every detail, and yet felt so clumsy and
unsure of what to do next. She made it look so easy; hold your front paw like this, she
would show him, or don’t swivel your head when you are scanning for prey, use only your eyes – the animals will see you move if you don’t.

He remembered her bringing home rabbits and small deer that she had brought
down (some of which were still alive!) and her patiently watching as she
instructed him on how to pounce on his prey and make the kill. Attack like this, she would show him, and bite here, not there.

It was fun for awhile, but then it just got so, well, boring! He could hardly
wait to get out there and hunt for real! Now that would be exciting!

The time had finally come, and despite all of her training and patience, he
still felt so unsure and maybe even a tiny bit afraid, and still in enraptured
awe at her perfect form and flowing grace.

The mother’s eyes locked on a target less than 100 yards away – an old water
buffalo with a bad limp, possibly due to an injury or an arthritic leg. The
tigress gave her cub an almost imperceptible glance, and the cub knew right
away….it was time.


Half a world away and several hours earlier, the world was beginning to come alive in Southern Ontario. One by one, the stars in the night sky began to disappear as the sun began its slow journey beyond the horizon.

The hunter gazed out through the forest’s edge, peering into the encroaching
light as the darkness slowly dissolved the forest into strange shapes and

Beside him, his son was putting the finishing touches on their blind and had
spent the last couple of hours cutting branches and tying stakes in order to
hide themselves from their prey. Their spot was carefully chosen, a small hill
overlooking an abundance of deer tracks near the forest’s edge where the
elusive animals would come out to feed in the morning.

Now they sat in silence, their breath condensing in the crisp autumn air,
waiting for the world to awaken. Already they could hear the plaintive cries of
the Canada Geese far in the distance, the quacking of ducks, even the gobble of
a turkey from somewhere in the forest behind them. In the near darkness, every
sense seemed to be heightened and every sound seemed to be so much sharper and

The son marveled as he gazed at his father, camouflaged from head to foot and
staring intently at the lightening sky. In his left hand he held a long wooden
bow, and on his back was a quiver full of arrows. Motionless, he seemed to
blend right into the forest itself.

All of ten years old, the son had seen his father shoot that bow many times
with deadly proficiency, and each time it was like seeing a work of art in
motion; how his father would face the target at just the right angle, then lift
his bow and draw back the string in one smooth, fluid motion, his forearm
muscles taught as steel cords. Even though it was heavy hunting bow with 70
pounds of pull, enough to kill a grizzly bear he would say, he made it seem so effortless.

At the same time, he appeared to draw some kind of fierce concentration from
deep within himself that seemed to bore holes straight through the target, and
when he released the string, the arrow would jump into flight and arc right
into the bullseye each and every time. It was as if he willed the arrow to hit its mark, and
that was what he always said; “Don’t aim your arrow, just know where you want your arrow to go and it will go there.”

He made it look so easy, yet there was so much to learn about shooting the bow
and hunting deer that the son felt overwhelmed by the enormity of it all.

In his mind, he tried to go through all of the lessons his father had taught

Always pay attention to wind, and make sure it is in your face; the deer will smell you from a long ways off.

Always anchor your drawing hand to the same place each and every time.

Don’t fight the bow – let it draw itself in one easy motion.

Tilt the bow slightly to the right; this brings the arrow closer to your eye.

Don’t move when the animal is looking at you, draw the bow when it’s looking away.

And most importantly…..

….when you make a kill, always ask for forgiveness and pray for the spirit of the deer, and then thank God for this gift that He has given you…..

The son remembered all the lessons he had to endure up until this moment; all
of the seemingly endless hours of practice, and the frustration he felt after
missing his target; His father patiently showing him how to hold the bow, how
to place his feet, how to knock and how to release an arrow. Don’t pluck the string! Follow through! Relax and breathe!

Being young and impatient, many times the young boy had asked his father why can’t we use one of those new compound bows with sights and releases, or why
can’t I just use a gun, that would be easier wouldn’t it?

And each time his father would reply, learn to hunt with this (holding up his bow) and learn to hunt with this (pointing to his head) before you learn to hunt with anything else!

The hunter cocked his head and listened intently, then looked over at his son
as he pointed in the direction that the noise was coming from. Seconds later,
the son heard it too; something was walking towards them! A shadow, then a
flash of antlers. A huge Whitetail buck stepped out of the forest less than 50
yards away, and the son’s heart pounded so hard he thought it might explode
right out of his chest!

His father nodded, silently placed and arrow on the string, then took a deep
breath and silently exhaled.

Get ready, he whispered….


Katas are ridiculous, redundant and boring. They serve no purpose. Nothing but “air
karate.” Ballet.

This seems to be the mind set today. Who needs stupid Kata? We just want to get
in there and fight! Now! I want to learn this now, right away, not have to
bother with this silly kata nonsense that takes forever to learn and that my
sensei insists is so important!

What a dork!

Yet, imagine in the story above if there had been no mother tiger or father
hunter teaching their cubs/sons to hunt. Just get out there and do it! How
successful do you think they would be?

That’s why really, when you look at it, life itself IS a Kata.

We all need a teacher, a sensei, one who has gone before, in order to teach us all of the subtle nuances and tips that we need to learn, well, life. That sensei
could be a mother tiger teaching her cub how to survive, or a hunter teaching
his son how to shoot a bow, or of course, a sensei teaching you the finer details of the martial arts in a dojo.

No one, and I mean no one, is born with any intrinsic knowledge of how to do things like hunt, eat with a knife and fork, drive a car or learn martial arts. Katas are the basic building blocks, the alphabet of the martial arts from where all works are made and all
the words can be put together.

Whether it’s the KATA of hunting water buffalo or the KATA of deer hunting or
the KATA of Saifa, we all need to begin from the basics and work our way up from there, an admittedly slow and arduous battle, but well worth the work and worthy of our time and patience.

And how do I know this?

I, like the clumsy tiger cub or the unsure young hunter, learned this and many
other lessons like it from someone who has gone before, and continue to learn to this day.

And I really wouldn’t have it any other way….

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The Mountain and the River

A long time ago, there was a great mountain.  It had been there for as long as time had been, unmoving and stoic, reaching high into the heavens. To look upon it was to gaze at strength and power, for who could ever move something so big as a mountain?

Far away at the other end of the valley stood another mountain, only it was a mountain of ice and not rock.  Now because the world was always changing, the mountain of ice  began to slowly melt, shedding pieces of itself as the air got warmer and the world was shrugging off another ice age.

After many years, the huge mountain of ice, and others like it, melted and formed huge lakes.  Many rivers of melted water fed into this lake, and as it began to grow larger and larger, it finally overflowed its banks.  At first it was just a trickle, but then more and more  rushed over the bank until a torrent of water was  rushing down the valley right towards the mountain of rock.

Now because the mountain was so hard and so strong, the water could not go through it, so it wound its way around the mountain instead.

After many many years, the water formed a mighty river, and because it did what water is supposed to do, the river flowed through the valley, around the mountain, and made its way to the sea far, far away.

Over time though, the water from the river slowly but surely wore away at the base of the mountain, and carved a cavern out of its base. After more years than anyone could remember, the river had gone right through the mountain and out the other side, in its relentless search for the sea.

But what had happened? Was the mountain not stronger than the water? Did the water defeat the mountain?


There was no argument between the mountain and the river.  The mountain did what mountains do – that is, stand majestic and powerful, unyielding  and unmoving, reaching towards the heavens.

The river, too, did what rivers always do – that is, flow towards the sea.

The river yielded to the power of the mountain, and the mountain too, yielded to the power of the river.

Though it appeared that there was a battle going on over who would be the stronger, there really was no battle at all; there was only harmony and balance as the mountain and the river danced together, yielding yet unyielding, powerful yet soft.

This is the true path of the martial arts; it is not about being the mountain, stoic and strong and unyielding in its power. Nor is it about being the river, rushing and pushing everything in its path. It is about being both, in balance and in harmony.

Too often in life we are convinced that we must be the mountain; never giving in, never yielding, standing strong and not taking anything from anybody, and our own egos become our “argument.”  How dare they do that to me! Who do they think they are treating me like that? I’m not going to stand for this!

Or perhaps you think life must be like the river – rushing noisily along, pushing everything in its path, and once again our own egos become the argument;  Get out of my way! I don’t have time for this! Who do you think you are?

Remember, there is no competition between the mountain and the river – they were merely doing what the creator meant them to do, yet they existed in harmony with one another, the hard and the soft, the Yin and the Yang, in spite of their great differences.

Now imagine the world if we could all live like that………

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Umaka Dojo Opens September 6th 2011!!

The Umaka (Firehorse) dojo is finally up and running!  Classes will be commencing on Tuesday September 6th 2011 at 5pm.  Click on the Schedule section to see the full schedule.

Features a beautiful 2000 square foot training area complete with padded floor, martial arts training equipment, changeroom with showers, and a meditation area to relax and contemplate after class.

View some pictures of our dojo below:

Come and be a part and experience the Classical Martial Arts tradition!

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