From the time that Grand Master Donald H. Nagle designated me as his successor, moments before his death, I have gotten e-mails at my home from disgruntled students of Isshinryu. No, they werenít about my acceptance of my Masterís wishes, although I got a few of those, after the young gentleman who had originally created the web site for Sensei Nagle and crashed it within days after Senseiís death, due to an altercation with Master Passero, When I spoke to him about desecrating the memory of my Sensei, his answer was to put on his new web site, sacrilegiously and supposedly, dedicated to the Master, after defaming Isshinryu, a letter asking, in itís title, ďWhy do we Need a Grand Master?Ē That obviously got the chat rooms going and I did get a handful of letters. I will discuss that in another letter on this site.
What I wish to discuss, in this letter, is the mail I get from karate-ka who tell me their problems with their Sensei's, or their schools and very often about the refereeing that cost them a win in a tournament. Depending on how upset they are, I answer their mail and try to explain to them, life, as it is! Often, the mail regards how long they have been at their present rank and how down they are about it. One of the points I make is that, as I mention on my web site, I was promoted to Roku-Dan in 1968 and was promoted to Hachi-Dan in 1988, without ever being a Seichi-Dan. The reason was that I never asked for a promotion, never electioneered for a promotion and would never suck up to anyone for gain, either in karate or business. I realized that there were other students, buzzing around Sensei like gnats and they were being promoted over me, but it didnít matter. I had a different relationship with my Sensei. I was one of his originals and fought for promotions. As a Sensei, I brought my students to tournaments and shias to fight. When I went to Senseiís dojo, I worked out with my troops. In June of 1988, I was at a tournament and during a lull, asked one of my black belts to kumite with me. Sensei had been watching me and realized that I was still fighting with the same enthusiasm. I became a Hachi-Dan that month and in 1997, only nine years later, I was made a Ku-Dan. What I am expressing here is that I truly enjoyed fighting and teaching Isshinryu and didnít involve myself in politics. Before he passed on he told his sister, Mr. J.H. Kim and Mr. Passero, at his bedside that he wanted me as the head of Isshinryu. As a student, you should simply get on the deck, do what you are told and work hard, giving your best. If you are being passed up for promotion at shias and you feel that you did well, ask your Sensei, up front, if there was something wrong with your performance. It is a Senseiís responsibility to aid the student in every way possible, to maintain the students progress. Iím sure that 99% of the Sensei's will understand your request and speak to you sincerely about what holds you back and hopefully, they will offer advice and, as I do, work with the student on the specific problem. If the Sensei then sees you working hard and making progress with the former problem, he will eventually promote you.
It can also be, that the Sensei simply has something that bothers him about your overall characteristics. In other words, he just doesnít like you on a personal level and whatever you do; you will not attain rank in that dojo. If that were truthfully the reason, it would be best to find another Sensei. Before you do that, however, I should tell you that I have a strong affinity for loyalty to your Sensei and the students who show respect in the dojo. That said, you might not have been wise in picking out a teacher, since, just as in high school and college, there are good teachers and bad teachers. There are also students who are simply whiners, who donít like whatever a teacher wishes them to do. They are like the barracks lawyers or complainers in the Armed Forces and they hurt all of those around them. They are bad for morale and infect a good school. It is like allowing a bully in the dojo to whip the lower rank students. I had a new black belt in one of my dojos, who was tearing up and hurting the brown and green belts when he fought them. He even alluded to the fact that he would like to fight me. I refused him several times, until I realized he would not change on his own. I accepted his next hint and knocked him stone cold. While he lay there, I continued with the class. When he woke up, he found us ignoring him and going on with our training. Later, I took him aside and discussed his annoying temperament with him, telling him that there is always someone who can beat you, somewhere.
When you choose a dojo and have done so by checking the background of the teachers in the dojo, you should then act like an adult, children being the exception. From the first moment of your first class, keep your ears and eyes open and your mouth shut. This will allow you to absorb the Senseiís instructions. Try to stay relaxed. If you are out of shape, it behooves you to diet and exercise to become fit. Your personal health will benefit from such a regimen. You will also find that you are more capable of doing all that is asked of you, by the teacher. Listen to the teacher and observe the brown and black belts, because there may be one among them that you can emulate. Your duty is to be on time, be dressed and ready before your Sensei takes the deck. Stretch out before class, so that you need not hold back when the exercises start. Keep your gi clean, cut your finger and toe nails, so that you will not scratch anyone and possibly cause them an infection. Remember, you are in a dojo and expected to forego any high jinks or fooling around on the deck, someone might be injured, accidentally.
In the mind of a real and devoted karate-ka they are in the dojo to gain knowledge, attain awareness of all around you, align your mind to those around you and become a better person, who happens to be able to defend themselves. Being aware of your surroundings and having an excellent defense, capable of defying attack by multiple opponents, will give you the assurance that you need not prove yourself to anyone, by fighting, when you could just as well, walk away. That is the real sign of confidence. I have been able to do that on occasion. I remember an occasion, on Christmas eve, going to midnight Mass with my wife and children. I slowly pulled up and stopped, putting my flashing lights on. At that time, a drunken young man drove into the back of my car, not once, but twice. I had a large car and all he damaged was the front of his Volkswagen hood. When I got out, I asked if he knew how to stop his car. He took offense and got out of his car, with a friend running around from the other side of the car. I told them to calm down and started to turn to my car and let my family out, when the driver cold-cocked me on the side of my head, into my ear. It didnít hurt, but I spun toward them. Across the street, there was a man who turned out to be an off-duty police officer and he got out a phone and, as I discovered later, he called the precinct house. By that time, I had told the two drunks to get back in their car. The driver was wearing a wedding ring and I told him he would be better off going home to his family for Christmas eve. However, a police car pulled up and asked what happened. The off-duty policeman told what he saw. They cuffed them and asked us to follow them to the precinct. They were kept over night, and as I didnít press charges he was home for Christmas. Perhaps he caught hell from his wife. On another occasion, I was jumped by four young men, while I was working in the field. One of them had a pipe up his sleeve and caught me above my right eye, cracking the bone above my eye and my cheek bone. Since there were four of them and they had used a weapon, I felt justified in defending myself. Three of the four wound up in the hospital and the police and detectives who responded to a call from a tavern near the scene, arrested and cuffed them before they were put in the ambulances, with a policeman in each ambulance. I had a concussion, but I was still angry. When the detective asked what happened, I stated that I simply defended myself. Since I was in a business suit and overcoat, with a briefcase on the hood of my car, he assumed I was attacked and he said, ďAnd a fine job of defending yourself, you did.Ē This situation was the direct opposite of the first one. First, they were really drunk, only one of them struck me and when I confronted them, they stopped and said they were sorry for what they did. Plus the fact that it was Christmas eve and I was with my family. In the second instance, these were thugs who may even have killed me if I couldnít defend myself. There is a code spoken in most dojos, that we must avoid confrontation if it is at all possible. That takes courage. I was a Marine Officer and I am proud of that connection, so for me, walking away requires a definite, thoughtful commitment. But these are the rules that you must adhere to, if you are to be a karate-ka and have pride in the heritage of those who came before you. While the Japanese have a heritage of Bushido and pride in the Samurais of the past, giving their nation a martial core belief, the Okinawans are a unprepossessing people of humility and gentleness, viewing their karate as what it was meant for, self defense, in the face of a threat of physical harm or death. Without that circumstance, they are a tranquil nation, who delve into the mysteries of the kata and look at their karate as a puzzle to be solved, knowing that the puzzle is too deep and the passages too diffuse, to ever fully complete the quest for knowledge.
This is the attitude to hold to your heart. As you become older and hopefully wiser, you will become more fully engaged with the katas. This is where the karate-ka separates himself from the street people who look to take advantage of weakness. You are the strength that the weak depend on. You have a responsibility, to yourself, your dojo and your Sensei. You must be a knowledgeable adult in every sense. We expect and will tolerate nothing less.
In conclusion, your attitude as a student or non-teaching certified black belt, is under scrutiny by the dojos Sensei, as well as, the other students who are involved in your proper behavior, or the lack of it, on and off the deck. The reputation of the dojo, The Chief Sensei, the aiding black belts and students within the school. Your behavior, at tournaments, for instance, can reflect on the aforementioned individuals, as well as your martial art, Isshinryu, or other art. Therefore, when you make a commitment to a particular art and choose your school, your responsibility to gain confidence, stature in the community, a pleasant manner under trying circumstance, moral fortitude and unassailable honor is a pledge which you cannot break, under the threat of dismissal. Being dismissed means more than being removed from the dojo rolls, it, in fact, means that you have failed yourself and infected the path of your life with a lack of will, determination, self centered outlook, which will shape your future unless you determine to change your attitude. For attitude is what you will be judged by, until the last moment of your life. It is the measure of the man or woman. Conversely, a good, strong attitude, that propels you to face the challenge of life, on and off the deck, you will be assured of success in all that you undertake. All of this is within your grasp; it depends upon the manner in which you attack the barriers that confront you. If you have the correct spirit, challenges are a pleasure to overcome. It is why I progressed in Isshinryu, because my soul and mind were thrilled with what I could accomplish with hard work and dedication. It is your choice. Choose the right path.
Ed McGrath, Hanshi, Isshinryu