Thursday, January 21, 2010

Catching up and taking a little trip down the karate memory lane

Since I took a little time off from this blog, my son, Vitaly, started his own martial arts journey.

It started innocently enough. I'd read about a kiddie karate class at a local recreation center. It was close and the time was convenient. I really wasn't too worried about the quality of instruction.

You see, when it comes down to it, the basics of most of the existing styles of karate, kung fu or tae kwon do are pretty much the same. A front kick is a front kick, a reverse punch is a reverse punch and a horse stance is a horse stance. If he got those down, I'd worry later about how far I want to take him in terms of the applications and uses of those techniques.

When it comes down to it, the basics of Kung Fu (top), Karate (middle) and Tae Kwon Do (bottom) are nearly the same. The above photos show representatives of all those arts performing an identical technique, the reverse punch. The differences between those arts generally don't make themselves apparent until the more advanced stages.

Well, we lucked out. It turns out the instructor is Robert Hughes Sensei, 6th dan in Yoshukai. When Anthony Chan, my instructor in Jeet Kune Do and Filipino Tribal Arts founded Renegade Shaolin, Bob was our official representative for Japanese Karate.* Since I'd been acquainted with Bob for years, having met him through Anthony Chan and Jim Dorsen, a local MMA champion, I had no doubt that Vitaly would learn quality karate from that man.

During Vitaly's second class, Hughes Sensei invited me to take part. I didn't really want to and I certainly wasn't dressed for it having come in wearing jeans. But, in more than 30 years of martial arts training, I've learned that putting their friends and fellow instructors on the spot is a hobby of most senseis, sifus and sabum nims**.

I also knew it would be considered bad manners to be a bad sport and not to accept his invitation.

Today, I came prepared. I dug out the one karate gi I still own that still fits. Sort of. It's a blue, Hayashi 14-ounce heavyweight gi, size 6, that I purchased more than 10 years ago. It's definitely a top-of-the-line model.

I should mention that at one time, a size 6 gi was the largest you could get. It's designed to fit someone over six-feet-tall or more than 200 pounds or both. I'm not six-feet, but I'm definitely more than 200 pounds.

The pants fit well, but the jacket was a little tight across the shoulders. I couldn't even tie the ties on the right side, another incentive to lose weight. Still, even if I lose the gut, the shoulders will still be there.

Once again, at Bob's invitation, I joined the class. It had been years since I did anything that resembled classical karate. Though I still knew how to execute the techniques, it took a lot more out of me to perform them. The muscles and the nerves don't forget, but it sometimes takes the a while to reacquaint themselves again to old techniques.

Since I was standing next to my son, I wasn't going to quit no matter how winded I got. I followed along and did everything the rest of the white belts did.

Later, when he put the yellow belts through their paces, he asked if I would like to do the yellow belt katas. With a sumimasen, I begged off.

Afterward, Bob matched us up with his visiting brown and black belt students to brush up on our Japanese. It's nice to know I hadn't forgotten that, either.

I won't be giving up on the kung fu and Filipino Tribal Arts that have been the core of my workouts for more than 20 years. But doing karate brought back a lot of memories and I certainly look forward to taking part in Vitaly's classes again from time to time.

*In the late 1990's and early 2000's, Renegade Shaolin was an informal brotherhood of some local martial artists founded by Anthony "Chief Abbot" Chan. Other members included myself, my Wing Chun Sifu, Hunter von Unschuld, Dorsen and a local Muay Thai instructor.

**Korean title for a martial arts teacher.

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