Sensei Joe Bragg

2nd Dan – Okinawan Shorinryu Karatedo
Assistant Instructor

Through out life we strive to reach a higher understanding of life. Through the experiences of others, we define our own paths in life. So much time is spent learning from what other people experience. Martial arts is a way to make life fuller. Most think of martial arts as a way to learn to defend, or fight. When in fact that is the lesser of lessons taught.

Life affords use the ability to improve over time. Such as life, one starts out knowing very little. Like a chilled learns to crawl be for walking. So it is in the training of a young student. In most forms of martial arts blocking precedes punching and kicking. Even though each style has their own versions of each technique they perform the same function.

An interesting challenge for my instructor was to teach the preciseness of these techniques to a student that has little sight. For the student this provided a challenge that would build confidence. Looking back on one of the first times that I spared with my instructor, there was fear more than any thing that kept me from performing at my best. Sparing would be the greatest challenge for me. Even if it were possible to teach this, would the student be able to use this to defend against an actual attack? To this day it takes a tremendous amount of concentration to do well at it. Although through the years of practice I have reached some level of confidence. As for if I would be able to use what I have learned in an actual fight, one hopes that they don’t have to find that out.

“The Path to Black Belt”

Through out life we strive to reach a higher understanding of life. Through the experiences of others, we define our own paths in life. So much time is spent learning from what other people experience. Martial arts is a way to make life fuller. Most think of martial arts as a way to learn to defend, or fight. When in fact that is the lesser of lessons taught.

Life affords use the ability to improve over time. Such as life, one starts out knowing very little. Like a chilled learns to crawl be for walking. So it is in the training of a young student. In most forms of martial arts blocking precedes punching and kicking. Even though each style has their own versions of each technique they perform the same function.

An interesting challenge for my instructor was to teach the preciseness of these techniques to a student that has little sight. For the student this provided a challenge that would build confidence. Looking back on one of the first times that I spared with my instructor, there was fear more than any thing that kept me from performing at my best. Sparing would be the greatest challenge for me. Even if it were possible to teach this, would the student be able to use this to defend against an actual attack? To this day it takes a tremendous amount of concentration to do well at it. Although through the years of practice I have reached some level of confidence. As for if I would be able to use what I have learned in an actual fight, one hopes that they don’t have to find that out.

I started karate not for a way to learn to fight. This was an extra. It was to learn not to fight. I did not know this at first but as time went on, even the threat of a fight became less likely. This became more obvious as my training went on. I learned to focus on finding ways to circumvent a potentially violent situation by remaining come. The one thing that lets a situation get out of hand is the lack of control. This was the control that I needed to cope with the continuing harassments. This would test the self-control that was a part of what was taught in karate.

I spent much of my youth being the target of harassment. Either because of how I looked. Or perhaps the fact that my eyesight was not as good as others thought it should be. I learned over time that people tend to lash out at what they do not understand. And over time the people that I went to school with did start to understand. I learned that the best way to stop the harassment towered me was to make people understand.

I look back on the past eleven years and can see that there is much that must be learned over time. People have often asked me why study something that many find to be violent in nature. This is a misconception, it is only in how one uses what is tough, and that defines its nature. People see the elution of a mystical supper human person that fights every were they go. However like most things that we see on TV, this is not true. Most of those that study the arts and have learned more than how to fight are the ones that don’t fight. So in a strange twist the best way not to fight, is to learn how too.

I started in the martial arts in pretty much the same way as anyone else. I saw the cool things that were on TV. Having seen this, I went to my father and seed that I wanted to start karate. My father gave a response that for lack of better words caught me off guard. He seed “if this is what you want, I hope that you know why.”

The gravity of that statement did not hit me for several years. At the time my family knew an instructor that was jest going into business by starting his own school. So I started my training. He taught some of the things that I expected to learn, but there was something that was missing. Perhaps it was purpose or something that jest did not fit or a filling of something that had no words to describe. For a time this lead me away from the commitment that I needed to fill complete. In that span of time I went on with life filling empty.

This filling affected everything that I did. Of all the achievements that were made, during this absence from karate felt worthless. I even went as far as to reject my friends for no reason. I started trying to do things in school to keep occupied. Things like sports, and working computer labs. Finely I ended up at a community center were my current instructor was teaching. He helped me start to fill the gap in my life. I don’t know if it was hem or the fact that I was back doing what I love. I ask my self this every day. Is it the act of learning that drives me or is it the fact that it is a challenge that has so much to offer.

Through the people that help teach or that of my fellow students that were there to support me, I found that this was what helped build the confidence that would allow me to do things other wise thought to be unachievable. With school and all the other things in my life the dream of reaching black belt, had started to fall out of sight.

During this time I rebelled against everything that meant anything to me. I think there was times that by changing were I lived would change me. This was arrogant presumption on my part. Changing ware I lived only opened the door to more problems, on top of the ones I already had. Though I was not studying karate at this time, the values that were instilled in me from those times would eventually help me solve some of the problems that I had.

During the time that I was away from karate I found focus by practicing the techniques or katas and move that were tough to me. This is probably what prompted my return to karate. Through life we run into events or problems that are beyond our control. Though the fact that one can get back on track shows the devotion to complete what was started.

With a strange twist of fate or destiny, I was given the opportunity to return to the area. Having the support of friends that I once went to class with made coming back to karate much more easer. This person suggested that I come to class one night. Strange enough I was not nervous. This was because deep inside I wanted to return. And for once I felt at home. Having had a long time to practice what I had learned helped to reinforce the things that would follow.

I pushed my self much harder than I probably should have. With the dream of some day becoming a black belt, and not tacking the easy way out. With work as a constant, it proved to be a challenge to even get to class. Thanks to the help of sensei Dan and Renshi, I was able to continue to come to class. The school became my family, not only a place to practice karate. Having returned to karate and having a good job, I started to work toward the goal of black belt. At this time I had not realized that reaching black belt was jest to be the beginning of were I hope to be.

Not only did I return to class. I started to help in the children’s class. For a blue belt, this gave me the opportunity to see through the eyes of my instructor. The first lesson that I learned was that teaching was not as simple as it looked. To teach class was a new experience for me. I had tough things to people before, but for some reason it proved to be more of a challenge to me. It could have been do to my eyesight.

This made me have to focus even harder when teaching. The more I teach I come to find that people for the most part look at me, not as a person with low vision. But as a person that’s capable of giving something back to the school. This has opened my eyes. For the first time in my life I can stand before a class and teach with ought thinking that people are making fun of me because of my eyesight. I’m sure that there is some that do, but because of the confidence that I have gained it no longer matters.

Teaching affords me an excellent opportunity to show that even a person with a disability can do great things. I had avoided using such words as “disability” because the word invokes the idea that the person cannot do something. Teaching tends to require more than saying this is the moves or this is how it is done. For most of use we have trouble accepting something based on the statement “it jest is”. We require a more detailed reason. So to teach something the teacher must not only know why something is done a serine way, they have to explain it. This brings back an exercise that we do in class. We have to take a kata or drill and brake down each move. Explaining it in such detail, so that someone with his or her eyes closed can perform it. Need less to say it proves much more difficult to do than it looks.

Through teaching, I have started to notice the mistakes that I had been making. These are mistakes that would have gone unnoticed. Not really big ones, but mistakes nun the less. So teaching is kind of a way to learn from your self. Some times I cutch my self, saying some of the same things that were seed to me. Things like punch to the center of the body. Every time that I say that, it sends a shiver down my spine. When I started helping teach, I had to remind my self that teaching is not bossing people around. It is working together to learn something. When teaching you have to understand how the person or persons learn. Children need more repetition to pick up a skill, than an adult. Though this is not always true, in fact there are no guidelines on how to determine this. As it has been tough to me, teaching comes from years of experience. You can’t learn how to teach from a book or a how to video.

I have gathered more from looking back on the first few times that I led class. I was probably more nervous than that class was to have someone else teaching. One can’t say if they got use to me, or I got use to them. The people at the school became more than jest fellow students. They became more like another family. Going to class has become more than a chore, it is like getting together for a family reunion. I have few friends that are true. Most of which are other students at the school. This makes trying to help teach a class much easer. It is more like helping your brother or sister with there home work. I think that I spend more time with them than I do with the other people that I know from work and other places. We go to tournaments and I can see that our school tends to spend more time with each other. I think that is why we do so well.

We learn from each other as a hole. In class if one person makes a mistake, when the correction is given we all gain from it. This helps build all of use and reminds use that we are not perfect. We do not frown on others for their mistakes for that reason. Instead we help one another to be all that we can be. Sounds like a motto from the army. And like the army we strive for teamwork and unity. The one being part of something grater, there to help in good times and bad. One has no idea what that fills like. When you have someone to turn to, that can give advice or guidance. The martial arts are based around discipline. But in that discipline we find the unity.

My friends ask me why do I spend so much time at karate? I tell them that they would have a hard time understanding the answer. Perhaps it is not that they would not understand the answer. It would be the fact that I would have trouble putting it into words. If you do something that makes you happy then why not spend as much time as possible at it. Going to class is not a chore; it is an opportunity to be with friends. This probably why they are jellies. Some think that I should be more committed to work. This may be true to a point, but how can one be committed to something that dose not give the plusher that karate can. I would rather be without work, than give up on karate. That would be like cutting the root of a plant to make it shorter.

So pursuing onward, at this point I have gained my blue belt. The expectations of those around me grow. There is little room for mistakes or omissions. I have to be a role modal for the lower ranks. It is both a good filling and a burden to be what is expected of a higher rank. It means that I should not expect more from those around me than I can perform my self. So by encouraging others to excel so I must. In the time that I started back to the school I have seen so many come and go. Thinking to my self that I am glad to still take class. And on the other hand I hope that some would return. This makes me think of what went through my fellow students when I left and the came back.

Now over half way there, that is strange to say. Half way to black belt, but jest beginning the journey that is be for me. Having my green belt, I started in the advanced class. This was to be a new experience for me. The class is strict and requires more out of me than anything else. To be in a class with black belts affords me the opportunity to see were I will be soon. I say this with confidence because the only way to achieve such a level is to know that you can do it. Not to think you can. Watching the black belts in class and training beside them told me that I was on the verge of reaching my goals.

Class became harder but it made me stronger. This class was not restricted by the rules that were required in the lower classes. This is more of the traditional level of training. You are reminded of mistakes by a more physical action. This makes you remember not to make that mistake again. The grater the mistake the grater the punishment would be. Though it is not punishment, it is the training of discipline. You may walk away from class sore, but you would remember your mistakes. And would most likely not make them again. Mistakes could range from in proper technique to looking away from your target. In this class you are taught to trust your self. Class may be harder but the rewords are grater. This class is also for learning how to teach material to the other classes. The things that are taught in class are on a black belt level or very close to that.

Through the time in the new class, I had the opportunity to go to one tournament that mint a grate dill to me. This was the Commonwealth State Games. In this one I had to compete against a fellow student. This was a challenge for me to push to be better than the person that I trained beside in class. A lot of things went through my mind at that time. Even though I knew that I would be in his division it did not hit me until we both got up to perform our katas. Though I did put forth all the effort that I should have. It seamed to work out to wear he scored jest a little better than me in two of the divisions.

In some ways I wanted to beet him, but it was better in the since that we got the score that we did. This tournament was the first time that I went against a black belt. This made it intrusting because I had no knowledge that it would work out that way. The match went better than I thought it would, I lost any bit of nervousness once the match began. The fight was tided two to two, and the best man won. No it was not I, but I did learn a good lesson. So you could say that we both won, though we both lose.

I continue to work hard in class to learn all that has been taught to me. Class has become a place to practice what has been taught. Not jest a place to learn new things, there are times when you need to slow down. When you need to take time to improve on form and Tec nick. There was a time when all that I wanted was to learn new things. When I should have spent more time on what was all ready taught. In trying to get a head we tend not to focus on the little things. In karate this is a common mistake, what you learn is based on what was already learned. So for example if your stance is bad, it dose not mater what moves you perform. They will not be good. I have learned that when building a house, the foundation must be sound or the house will crumble. It is the same with karate. If you don’t block well, then the block would fail and it would not matter how well you can strike. Looking back on my training I have learned that I at one time wanted to know more than I was ready for. I did this on some katas and had to slow down completely understand it.

As I worked my way up in rank, things like this became more obvious to me. This now helps when I help teach class. I can tell when someone is trying to learn more than they are ready to learn. I can remember when I was told to slow down and learn a small part at a time. That saying “hind sight is 20/20” must be true. So I now say what was seed to me. “Don’t rush through things, take the time to do it right the first time.” This could apply to day to day life as well as karate.

You must take the time to build the roots of your karate, in order to have good karate in the future. One thing is the continuous practice or the lower level material. Having been in karate for over ten years, I have practiced the basic katas for years, like Kihon katas. This is the basic form, thus it should be practiced until it is an instinct. This is something that dose not require thought or preparation. One should get to a point that all the material that is learned can be performed as well. You have to take that and be able to break it down to step-by-step instruction. If this is reached, then you could say that you know that material.

Knowing something is what is seed by many who jest learned it. When teaching something, I have found that when you ask if someone knows a kata or move. They tend to not think and blurt out “yes”. Then when you ask them to perform it they have to think about it. At that point you have to go over it again, until they don’t think about it. Then encourage them to practice.

I tend to say from the prospective of teaching, because some day I hope to be one. Some times the best way to train is to put your self in the place of a teacher. Looking at how you do a kata or drill, as if you are teaching your self. To be your own worst critic, can be one of the most useful tools. This helps prepare you for what your instructor may expect of you.

The ones that train at home are the ones that tend to push ahead, or are the ones that get pulled forward. In the last few mounts I have started to push my self harder than I think in the past. Perhaps it is the nearing of completion of the first step in my journey to be the best that I can be. In the same time frame I have watched some of the people that at one time could have gone on to become black belts. For some reason the goal slipped from their grasp. I hoped that they could be were I’m at.

At one time this was a fear of mine, that I would loose focus of my dreams and stop coming to class. As my past has shone, there has been ample times for me to stray from the path to become what I hope to be. I do understand that they may have had good reason to take some time to get their lives straight. But to not come back, it would appear to me that all the hard work that they put into learning had gone to waste.

This may have been one of the reasons for me to come back to class several years ago. I could not see throwing away the work that I had put into my training. In my case this was probably more than the average person. It took me more time at first to get the basics down. To lose this would mean having to start from the beginning. To think of this, it would be hard to say that I would have stuck with it.

To be honest the higher that I’ve gotten in rank, the more philosophical I’ve become. This is not to say that I don’t enjoy a good sparing class. I think that I have found more to karate than what one may see. I ask more questions about how and why a move may be performed. Instead of jest following blindly, perhaps this is what should go through my mind. Not questioning the instruction to do something, but trying to see the reason behind the move. This may be the reason behind having an opposite to a kata, to answer the questions of the more advanced student.

We have learned the “CODE”, the “CREED”, the “MOTTO”, and the “OATH”, what better way can one finish the path to black belt but by sharing what it means to him. As a lower belt, it is probably jest another thing to learn to earn their next rank. When I reached my green belt, about half way to black. I started giving thought to the words that I spoke from memory.

The “CODE”, this is the basic rules of conduct, and if followed can keep most situations under control.

“I will never use my hands or feet without just cause.” This is the biggest thing that is taught. This means that what the things that you learn is for self-defiance. Not to start a fight. This is at the hart of all that I have learned in class.

“I will never accept or challenge anyone to prove my skills.” You don’t need to show off your skills to make friends or to boast to your pears. You don’t have to prove anything to anyone but your self.

“I will avoid all arguments.” The best way to prevent a potently violent situation is not to let it start. The better person will walk away from a situation, be for fighting. Some may call this being a coward. This is the name given to the few that think be for they act.

“I will think of the other person’s well being if forced to defend myself.” When someone attacks a person, they often don’t know what they are getting into. You may reach a point in your training that would allow you to cause great harm to someone. With that skill, it becomes your responsibility to control the amount of force that is used.

The “CREED” is more of a way of saying that this is how it is. It helps to define when it is time to use what you have learned. It states what you have and when to use it.

“I come to you with only KARATE – Empty Hands.” This tells the world that you are the weapon of self-defense. In this day and age it could be seed that it is more of a frame of mind.

“I have no weapons.” This means that you can defend without the use of a weapon.

“But should I be forced to defend myself, my principles, my honor, or my family.” This gives the general things that would need to be protected.

“Should it be a matter of life or death or right or wrong,” This is the specific state of the situation. It is when defense is needed, not necessarily karate, but some form of action.

“Then here are my weapons, KARATE, my empty hands.” The choice to not use a weapon, but the one that your hands have become. A weapon that cannot be taken from you.

The “MOTTO”, this statement is for deep thought. A reminder of what should be strived for in any conflict.

“The Ultimate good lies not in winning a hundred battles, But in overcoming an enemy without a conflict, through love.” I think that I caught on to this one first. It stays in my thoughts day after day, a reminder that the solution to a situation is never violence.

Now we come to the “OATH”, an oath is the higher level of a promise. It should be the closes thing to your hart. The driving force behind everything that you do.

“I WILL TRAIN MY HEART AND BODY FOR A FIRM, UNSHAKEN SPIRIT.” This means that you need to condition your heart and body, to be prepared to carry out what your spirit demands of it. This goes for both the physical and emotional stress that would be exerted.

“I WILL PERSUE THE MEANING OF KARATE – DO.” Through training and the pursuit of wisdom, you seek to better your self. Continuously reminding your self that you never stop being a student, remembering that there is always room for improvement.

“I WILL FOLLOW GOD, AND NEVER FORGET THE TRUE VIRTUE OF HUMILITY.” This focuses on the fact that we are only human, and that we are going to make mistakes. But by learning from them we become better.

“I WILL OBSERVE THE RULES OF COURTESY, RESPECT MY SUPERIORS, AND REFRAIN FROM VIOLENCE.” We must be kind to others, having respect for what they are. We should show respect to those who teach use, not only in karate but also in life. People like our parents, and family, that take the time to guide use.

“I WILL LOOK UPWARD TO WISDOM AND STRIVE FOR INNER STRENGTH.” Look up to the ones that you respect, and learn from them. Then build the strength that is needed to make the right choices.

I think that the last part of this speaks for it’s self; it states the extent of the oath. It brings back the fact that it takes hard work to reach the goals that we set for our selves. It reminds use of the deepest purpose of karate.

“ALL OF MY LIFE, THROUGH THE DISCIPLINE OF KARATE, I WILL SEEK TO FULFILL THE TRUE MEANING OF PEACE.”

I look forward to my black belt test, with enthusiasm. To face a challenge like this makes all the years worth it. All the good times and the bad, helped to forge a person with confidence and self control. The two things that I was probably lacking the most.

I would like to thank all those who have helped me get as fare as I have, and Kyoshi for the time and interest that he has given me. I could not have gotten this close with out the help of the sensei around me.