Some upheaval stirred up. Not in my domain but rather from another domain. The upheaval has taught me more valuable lesson from Sensei. He told me a story about a seed. How it breaks through its nut shell, makes its way through boulders and dry hard soil, and finally the surface, growing up into sunny new world. But the challenge does not stop there…
Here’s his gardening wisdom:
When the Gardener plants a seed in good soil and waters it, it begins to grow. First it must soak up the needed water, expand, and push through the hard seed shell. This is painful, difficult, and exhausting work. Did you know of the plant’s nervous system? This is the most painful stage of a young plant’s life! Many seeds just give up and die before sprouting.
This was when you decided to leave the old association, based only on words made many miles away by me, a stranger. You could have just quit karate (“died”) or “stayed in the shell”, but you didn’t. You “soaked up” my words and essays, and decided to break through the shell.
Then the seedling must push up blindly toward the surface of the soil, not knowing what lies ahead, or how far it might be to the surface. Hopefully the soil has been softened and moistened by the Gardener, and hopefully there are no rocks and stones in the way. But despite the greatest efforts of the Gardener to prepare the way, sometimes there are, and the new seedling has to wind around them or push them out of the way. To a tiny new sprout, sometimes even a grain of sand is like a huge boulder! But it must push on, or die.
This was your final decision and preparation, your commitment to making the trip to Okinawa, your arrival, and the anxious hours before actually beginning your work.
It was like holding your breath as you swim through an underwater tunnel, with no way back – how much further, how much further, when will you reach the end and break the surface, how much further…?
Now the tender new sprout reaches the soil’s surface and breathes in the fresh air and begins to absorb sunlight! What a joy! The gentle breeze, the warm sunlight, the uncountable stars at night as the tiny new shoot sleeps and grows using the day’s stored energy. But it is still tender, and easy to injure. It must be protected and nourished through this critical stage of development.
This was your training here on Okinawa, and your realization that all I said to you was true. This was your beginnings of study with me and your fellow students on the Nagahama Dojo, and the encouragement you got whenever you made progress and growth in the system. This is the excitement you felt when you first met Toyama Sensei and finally had an opportunity to perform for him, and met his approval for your performance. This is the culmination of your studies in one short month that cemented your resolve to “plant your roots” in UechiRyu. You have seen the sunlight and now you strive upward toward the source of your energy and growth. And this is my commitment to take care of your development, and see that you have all possible opportunity to reach your potential.
The promise and commitment of the Gardener to the plants in his care. So it was from Toyama Sensei to me.
Now the plant is growing with strong stem and branches, new leaves and increased absorption of sunlight and water. It’s well-formed root system digs deep and cannot be pulled up easily. The bark on its stem grows tougher every day, and stronger each week. Small bugs can no longer assail it. Birds are no longer interested in pulling it from the ground for use in building their own nests – the “sprout” has become too tough. However, not having seen even one season of growth yet, it is still in its youthful stages of development and needs the attention and ministering of the Gardener. There are still some plant-eating animals that can cause mischief – but the Gardener gives what protection he can until the plant is a full-grown tree, which will take some time yet.
The plant is far from mature enough to produce fruit for creating more like itself. That will naturally take several seasons. But it has the start that few of its kind have in the wild, unattended and surrounded by weeds and rocks that stunt its growth and rob it of vital nourishment. It can look down now at its beginnings in the soil, and laugh at what once seemed to be huge boulders and heavy barriers in the way of its growth; they now seem like tiny grains and pebbles, and small light twigs. They no longer bar the way; they add to the nutrition of the soil and the protection of the roots. And so those things that once caused pain and fear are to be appreciated.
My greatest challenge came two days ago when I received a feedback from Sensei about our video performance. Suddenly, I realized the greatest challenge is lying within the concept of the system. It is the hardest to teach to a student. Although I realize most of the concept taught by Sensei on Okinawa, I find myself have not completely absorbed. Even if I have absorbed, I am not able to apply the concept through kata.
The concept in Uechi-Ryu Zankai is simple but rather complicated to understand and to apply. For instance, applying “yawarakasa” and “binkansa” at the same time. Not to mention applying both together with “chikarazuyosa”. For all these three elements, they need a mind with opened senses, to be able to feel and to control every muscles and bones. A better understanding and the capability of manipulating body central of gravity are vital in the process of learning, understanding and applying.
This may not sound too difficult for me due to my prior understanding of bio-mechanics and kinesiology from the cross training of karate which I received many years ago. I also would like to thank those teachers who cross trained me and helped me to understand the concepts (of other styles). Without them, I would have been struggling harder by now.
I have taught my students how to move and how to do kata, alright. Yet, I have not been able to realize the conceptual model in their understanding and application. This is the greatest challenge in my entire karate coaching career.