People come to a Uechi dojo for a multitude of reasons. IUKF teachers are trained to help their students achieve their short and long range goals. IUKF teachers are sensitive role-models for their students. The IUKF dojo provides a helpful environment for learning the ancient art of Uechi-ryu karate. IUKF teachers complete extensive training and tests to qualify as a Sensei. The most important aspect of their training is learning how to run a successful dojo. Although part of this training involves administrative and business policies, IUKF teachers are taught how to build a dojo by providing expert, sensitive and quality instruction to their students.
Only by motivating their students and helping them realize their goals, will a successful dojo be possible.
Although students have different reasons for studying Uechi-ryu, IUKF is able to collectively help achieve these goals through instruction and practice culminating in the earning of the coveted Black Belt. Through the physical and mental discipline involved, students tap an inner strength they may not have fully used. With the help and understanding of their teacher, students learn to become goal oriented. They also learn how to achieve their goals through hard work and dedication. IUKF teachers instruct by example. IUKF teachers have a zest for life. They think positively, seek challenges, try new experiences and accept set backs as learning opportunities. Uechi-ryu karate is a microcosm of life. Succeed in the dojo and you will succeed in life!
Each student will have different reasons for learning Uechi-ryu. Each will have his/her own goals. And every reason and goal is valid. IUKF instructors are trained to appreciate each student's unique and individual motivation for joining their dojo. A consistent and universal thesis governing all IUKF instructors is to provide the very finest karate instruction to all who attend their classes. Every student is vital and important to the teacher. The happiest day in any teacher's life is the day when a student earns his/her black belt. The student's goals are the teacher's goals. Only by turning out successful and motivated black belts will the dojo prosper. The lives of student and teacher are bonded by this unique and necessary dedication. When teachers and students understands what the Black Belt represents, using this definition, we see that the achievement of Shodan, Nidan etc. is a journey, not a destination. This is an exciting concept, because you don't have to wait to benefit from your training. You are a success when you set your goal and take your first step toward it.
IUKF as an organization, provides the tools and instruction necessary to the dojo for growth and prosperity. IUKF only selects the most qualified teachers to open IUKF dojo. These teachers must have a love for the art and a commitment to pass on to others, that which has made their lives so successful. Uechi-ryu is philosophy, art and physical science. Embodied in the physical movements are the cumulative experiences and skills of masters going back hundreds of years. Our role as teachers and students is to explore, learn and pass on to others the art, philosophy and science that we have had the good fortune to inherit. Our personal world and the world around us will be better for our discovering, studying and teaching this wonderful thing known as Uechi-ryu!
Why choose "Traditional" Dojo?
Anyone following the Uechi-ryu Forums know of the turmoil and oft times confusion surrounding the term "Traditional" as it refers to the martial arts. Among martial artist, there is a group that recoils at the sound of such a misunderstood and misrepresented term. Even those who claim to be "Traditionalist" don't have a clear understanding of what they are talking about, preferring to fall back on catchall phrases such as "I just do what my teacher tells me to do!" or "It is what Kanbun Uechi (or substitute the person's most senior teacher) did and I want to do it the same way.
Although there is nothing wrong with students practicing their martial arts for whatever reason they chose, they should be aware of what they are doing and how it fits in the complex fighting art's world.
Adding to the confusion, experts in related but nontraditional activities, will point an accusing finger at the "traditionalist", pointing out with statistics and articles how traditionalist are lacking in their (obviously superior) particular skill or mind set.
"What would you do it attacked by five knife wielding thugs in an alley" type questions. ". . .Of course, if you took our three day course in Connecticut jungle knife fighting, you would know what to do and you certainly wouldn't need to do those stupid kata and drills"!
Uechi-ryu and the other "traditional" systems, must focus on identifying strengths within our programs that justify the many years of time and energy we expect from our students. Each system must develop a model in which students and teachers will feel both comfortable and adequate when confronted by those who need to justify what they are doing with the need to be little other methods.
What has been and is still needed, is a solid and well thought out definition for the traditional martial arts. A meaning and value for what is done that will stand the test of time and condemnation of critics.
Following is my attempt to organize a template for Uechi-ryu, as practiced by the IUKF.
Although I strongly believe that the model which I'm presenting holds true for all martial art systems, I share this information based on my own experiences, based on nearly 50 years of training and teaching Uechi-ryu.
The IUKF Traditional Model:
1. Rank is the glue that holds the martial arts together. Even if some systems don't use the belt system, they have other methods of grading their members, giving them status based on a combination of years training, ability and mental/emotional stability.
Destroy the value of the rank and the organization weakens.
2. Since rank is so important in the traditional martial arts, I have focused my model, based on these symbols of achievement.
3. White Belt to Shodan:
a. A time to build the foundation of the system. Emphasis is placed on building healthful exercise habits, basic drills for strength, timing, confidence and technique.
b. A time to focus on the goal of making Shodan (1st degree black belt). The curriculum for these first 2-4 years is on building as perfect technique as possible, in all areas required for passing the black belt test.
c. Conditioning is very important for this first phase in a student's training.
d. Self-defense is an important part of this phase of training, but more so in the "mind set" and awareness areas than in the actual fighting area.
e. Free fighting, which is an important element of the first black belt test, will be graded on technique more than on brute power or scoring points.
f. Technique in all areas of the test will consist of total body health and condition; endurance and ability to perform under pressure
g. Accuracy to the highest degree in the performance of all aspects of the test. This is stressed more than power.
h. Attitude during training and during the test. The mind set of a warrior, calmness under fire and absolute willingness to complete tasks and goals.
i. Ability to accurately perform all parts of the Shodan test. By this I mean that in a traditional dojo, members strongly adhere to the premise of learning the "core" system as it was passed down to them from whatever source that dojo follows. This is the "link" that defines and preserves the traditional system.
j. Ability to understand a number of the more compatible and system- friendly fighting systems that are not emphasized in the core system. By this I mean that the person working towards his/her first major goal in study, should be exposed to a number of methods of fighting and coping with self-defense situations, based on the individual's potential abilities, health, needs, desires and time. The purpose for this familiarization" of methods is to help the person determine new goals for training and specialization for future ranks.
4. Nidan - Godan Ranks (2-5th degree black belts)
If Shodan is the technique perfection rank, Nidan through Godan is the physical perfection ranks. Not only do we expect to see a continued improvement in health and physical fitness at these ranks, but we are now interested in seeing how the candidate has assimilated the core system into his/her personal martial art's methods. Building the core system up to Shodan then becomes a matter of translating those techniques into practical and effective methods.
The IUKF test board has built "innovation" and "personal assimilation" into the 2-5th degree tests. We now expect to see creative and practical applications in all "cooperative" drills.
We expect to see less focus on perfection of technique in kata and physical performances, and more emphasis on accuracy of applications. We expect to see more emphasis on the transmission of power than on the manner in which the technique is delivered, which was the primary objective at Shodan level.
Every candidate for these higher ranks has the option of practicing a specialty discipline, (Kobudo, grappling, etc.) with the idea of strengthening the candidate's core system. Our intention is to build on the core system, not replace it.
5. Senior ranks: 6 - 9th degree black belts:
Because of the time frames involved, IUKF does not emphasize the physical development of the candidate as much as the contributions to the art these individuals have given. However, because these individuals are role models for the organization and its members, maintaining an active and full martial art's life is an important criteria for these ranks. Maintaining a healthy and fit body is also an important part of these ranks.
6. Master ranks: Renshi - Hanshi
Although many organizations do not differentiate between a Renshi" and a 6th degree black belt (Rokyudan), IUKF takes these titles very seriously and its members don't simply sew on a gold bar when passing their 6th degree black belt test. There is a committee that works with all master rank candidates, helping them select a subject and method of presenting their master's thesis to the committee. The primary goal of these thesis's are to improve the core system or some aspect of the IUKF overall program.
Summary: Although I have not dwelled on the Emotional/Mind/Spirit components of the traditional system, it is very much a part of the "Do" (Way) in martial arts. This subject is very personal and generally understood by all. Unfortunately, it has been neglected and ignored in the past and must be revitalized as a critical component of the traditional martial arts.
People who enter a traditional martial arts dojo are as unique and individual as snowflakes. No two are alike and no two have exactly the same motivation for practicing. People who enter the dojo, because they feel a need for self-protection, may, after a year or two, have entirely different goals and needs.
IUKF recognizes this fact of life and instead of attempting to mold all individuals into a copy of whatever model the teacher may see as necessary, we attempt to work with everyone as individuals and match IUKF components to suit the needs and potentials of the individual.
We must understand the importance of the "core" system and how IUKF utilizes this model to help all students achieve their goals:
1. Teachers must explain the purpose of developing and perfecting the "core" system. Although strenuous in nature, the program is not something that the average, healthy individual is unable to complete.
2. The core system is essentially the "basics" of the system. Lots of repetition of physical drills and sets. Intensive work in the understanding of concepts and uniqueness of the core system.
3. Work towards understanding the reason why perfecting the basics is so important to the new students as part or their goals of achieving Shodan.
4. Understanding the difference between "eclectic" self-defense methods and traditional systems.
5. Understanding the importance of familiarization of specialization programs that are compatible with the traditional system.
6. Understanding the differences in training methods and philosophy for future ranks opposed to what must be accomplished for Shodan.
I use a wheel to describe the IUKF model. The core of the wheel is the basics of Uechi-ryu. The spokes represent the many possible specialties and emphasis the Nidan candidate can select to learn, that brings something of value to the core system. these as it relates to the individual, based on interest, ability and time.
This is where the IUKF has been headed for the past twenty years. Often we will see moments of genius in our candidates and teachers, times when everything seems to be headed in the same direction. Other times, we stumble and take a few steps backward in our quest. Our goal is to not be deterred at these setbacks and only focus on the desirable achievements that amazingly, greatly outnumber the disappointments.
This then, is IUKF and its statement of purpose. There are, naturally, students who will not want to spend years working on perfecting basics in the name of traditionalism. There are programs that recognize this market and will give the consumer anything they want and in the time frame they want it in.
The traditional martial artist believe that what is done in a dojo is a valid method for both short and long term practice. There are many other benefits that accrue that cannot be quantified and rationalized. There is the fraternal benefits of belonging to a good dojo. There is the interesting and often-time enjoyable exercises and physical conditioning. Many of us would have long ago found an excuse to stop working out had it not been for the encouragement of a skilled instructor and the anticipation of yet another great workout that gets us off the couch and into our dojo.
Finally, I want to encourage the seniors in our traditional martial art community to get involved in the promotion and preservation of what we are doing.
The traditional martial arts have been around for hundreds of years and will continue to go on for many more hundreds of years. Although some organizations define what they do in a much more rigid manner, IUKF has elected to define its philosophy based on the aforementioned model. We will preserve the core and build on it, based on current knowledge, science, needs and available resources.
The "Way" is the Quest, not the destination. Lets enjoy the journey.
George E. Mattson