Looking for corners – A weekend with my senpai
by Juan Luis Cadenas de Llano Bajo (2013)

The truth is that I don't live near my teacher, Barrett Sensei. In fact we are about 700 Km away from each other, which means that I cannot visit him as often as I'd like to, but just once a month, if I'm lucky. As time goes by I see this as a positive thing rather than a negative one, as it has forced me to make the decision of training or not training in Karate, to decide whether or not I spend part of my time practicing my Karate, without the need for somebody else to tell me what to do three times a week while I don't take responsibility for my Karate and just leave it in somebody else's hands. As I said, we gather together with Sensei hopefully once a month, except in August; "we take the month off" by Sensei's request. This year, as I wouldn't be training with Sensei in August, I thought about visiting my senpai, Garry, who lives in England. He is also a student of Barrett sensei's and my older brother in the dojo, but he is a sensei in his own right, and I must say he is a great inspiration to my poor Karate.

I think it is important to warn the reader that, as it is said in the introduction of the website, Shinsokai approaches Karate as Budo. This means that we are not a bunch of buddies who gather together from time to time for a good sweat and then go to the pub for some beers. There's a hierarchy; Budo were not created or intended to be a democratic thing. The atmosphere may be relaxed, friendly, and even funny at some points, but this doesn't mean that your sensei or senpai won't be there to point out the weakest points of your character, your mistakes, your lack of courtesy... always with a constructive spirit and nothing to do with the militaristic approach many relate to the Japanese arts. The fact is that we study Okinawan Budo. And as far as character development is concerned, keep on searching is essential... and an endless task I'm afraid. We do that with the help of our seniors, but doing our best trying to be aware of where we are and behave accordingly.

I have to say that sometimes I didn't like or agree with some of the things which were pointed out, but I think the attitude towards this must be healthy and with the aim of developing and perfect oneself, otherwise you may take it in a defeatist or acquiescent way towards those who "don't understand you and have no right to judge you". I know because I have experienced both of them. Now I just try to be aware and accept any criticism with a sincere thankful heart, and a spirit of improvement.

Such a long preamble to talk about a weekend with my senpai...

One of the aspects that still fascinates me in Goju ryu is the fact that absolutely everything in it belongs to a same body. There are not isolated areas which don't relate to the other parts of the art, and this soon became clear, from junbi undo training in which all the corrections I received were in the context of the universal framework of Goju ryu, to the video we recorded after our last training session on Sunday and recently uploaded to YouTube in which Garry and I perform kote kitae. You can tell that there's obviously more to it than just hardening the limbs; everything you can see in the video has a direct link to the rest of the system, whether this is perceived at plain sight or not.

Perhaps the most decisive aspect covered in the training was the introduction of a concept called yi (intention) in Chinese Martial Arts. Talking about concepts may sound like something relating solely to theory, with people just discussing about something, or something intangible. On the contrary, my lack of yi was physically noticeable on the spot, in my Sanchin kata (lack of connection between the limbs and the body as well as rooting, and a very important lesson about the generation of power in short range and how proper Sanchin training builds this) as well as in the rest of kata (not visualizing the enemy, how each kata has its own way of generating power and manipulating the opponent, the importance of what happens in between the movements – a vital aspect), and from there to my kakie and bunkai. It was the same with hojo undo although we didn't spend much time on this due to a pain on my back which Garry not only took into consideration and avoided to prevent further damage but he also took time to make it better with some stretching and shiatsu treatment. Nevertheless what I was shown and tried about hojo undo was enough to make me realize in which direction I must work with the tools, and this has little to do with muscles. Back to the lack of an element in your practice, if it is lacking in the foundation, it will be lacking in the rest of the building.

It struck me the feeling of helplessness when training sandan gi with Garry senpai as I felt I was going backwards even when I was the one attacking! This weekend I was reminded of the saying where the master only shows one corner, being the responsibility of the student to find the other three because, far from giving tricks or definitive solutions (do they exist?) what my senpai was giving me was a huge amount of things for me to discover by myself, not only about Karate but about aspects relating to the Five Elements Theory (applied to cardinal points and even to food) or the history of Karate and Chinese Arts. On Sunday we explored bunkai, not with a fixed formula and immediate answers. That day I was lucky to practice with Katarina, a student of Garry's who was coming over to train, and Senpai's approach was "let's see your ideas on bunkai, and then let's make them get better". And from there on... I was looking for corners all the time! Garry was kind enough to give me many interesting insights on bunkai for my new job as a doorman in a pub I am working at on some weekends.

It seems like a topic that martial arts can be practiced by all people, the weak and the old included, and this became apparent when I was practicing kakie with Katarina and it was me who was unbalanced and at a disadvantage, despite the fact that I'm stronger and heavier than she is. Rather than seeing this as bad or frustrating thing, it really showed me how much I have to progress.

I had guidelines and corrections in all aspects of my Karate, adding bricks over what was already built, but no doubt the most important thing is what I will be doing with all I've been given. In the Shinsokai we are required to take responsibility for our Karate and one should make the most of weekends like this and not take them for granted.

After training on Sunday we enjoyed a nice barbecue (but not completely trouble-free I'm afraid!) and I helped Garry Senpai remove some plants from his garden in order to get it ready to start working on the new appearance it will have. Tasks like this are traditional within the Shinsokai and they make me feel as nervous as I am when I'm in the dojo since I am far from being a handyman!

I want to express my gratitude to Garry Senpai of course, but also to his wife Emily and their little son Joshua, who welcomed me as an old friend and made me feel at home.

Juan Luis Cadenas de Llano Bajo
September 2013

“No matter how you may excel in the art of Karate, and in your scholastic endeavors,
nothing is more important than your behavior and your humanity as observed in daily life.”