Tuesday, June 28, 2011



Uchi - inside, within

弟 子
Deshi - pupil; disciple; adherent; follower; apprentice; teacher's student-helper

Uchideshi can more or less be translated to "live in student". Traditionally when students wanted to study Martial Arts, they would leave home and study at a dojo. They lived at the dojo and worked closely with their Sensei, working to build martial arts into all aspects of their lives. (There is a lot more to it than this, sometimes you had to get a letter of recommendation, and then the Sensei might make you do nothing but menial tasks like cleaning and cooking for more than a year to test your resolve. There is lots to it, but more or less, you studied, worked and lived at the dojo. Martial Arts was your everything.)

Since my post about find your passion and making a life of martial arts my goal, I have been doing quite a bit of research on the subject lately, especially into places that currently offer uchideshi programs. While my current plan/arrangement is move to OK to work for and train under Sensei Nick at Guinn Martial Arts, he has no existing uchideshi program, so we will more or less be making this up as we go along in hopes of being able to offer an uchideshi program to students in the future.

Here is some of the information I have found. (Keep in mind most of the these dojos are in the states, although some of them are owned/run by native Japanese practitioners, none of the dojos I looked into were schools in Asia. However, many of these uchideshi programs offered exchange or study abroad opportunities with schools in Japan.)

- Almost all of the uchideshi programs I looked into were for Aikido. There was one Karate school in Australia that has an Uchideshi program.

- Most Uchideshi programs allow students to live in the dojo, or very near by designated space. Rent is incredibly cheap, and sometimes includes food and amenities, such as laundry. Sometimes uchideshi are expected to share cooking expenses and responsibilities. Usually your privacy is limited, you have dorm style accommodations or a very small room with a common living area.

- Depending on the dojo, some uchideshi programs are very strict and rigorous. Some schools expect you to lead a monastic life style of meditation and practice. I found one program where you are only allowed to own clothes and martial arts equipment, and everything you own must be able to fit into a locker. Others give you time for a job and school.

- In general uchideshi are responsible for the upkeep of the dojo, assisting with administrative work, and once they are experienced enough assisting with teaching classes. Some dojos expect senior uchideshi to be responsible for new and younger uchideshi.

- Most schools have their uchideshi either attending class or practicing a very minimum of 14 to 18 hours a week. This is usually two to three classes a day and does not include special training time with the Sensei, cleaning, or administrative work. In addition students are encouraged to meditate, read and study martial arts related material, and bring the martial attitude into all aspects of their lives.

A lot of these aspects are keeping in line with tradition as I understand it. Obviously it doesn't work exactly the way it did in Japan back in the day, but the idea is generally the same.

One of the reasons I like the (traditional) Japanese culture so much is its so steeped in tradition. Everything has a purpose and a meaning and a specific way to be done. You dedicate yourself wholly to the perfection of your chosen art or path. You take pride in your work and constantly seek to make yourself and your work better.

Are there any people out there today who really understand what it means to devote your whole self to something? 

Do I?

I would say there are, but that those people are few and far between.

Maybe I'm just living in the wrong time period.

Either way it has been making me contemplate:
What does it really mean to be an uchideshi? What does it mean to live only for the study and perfection of martial arts? To put the needs of the sensei and the dojo before your own?

I feel like I experienced something similar to this when I attended art school. Since I went for a BFA instead of a BA I was in the classroom 30 to 40 hours a week instead of 15 like at a traditional college. You ate, slept and breathed art. Literally. I knew students that would get to school at 7:30 in the morning and wouldn't leave until the building closed at midnight. They had such passion and fire for what they were doing.

There were classes that made me feel that fire, but overall, just between you and me, if I had been an Illustration major, I would have had that fire for every class. Design is something I sincerely enjoy, but I prefer the more creative aspects of the job over the technical aspects. Could I devote my life to only art? I think so, if it were the right kind of art. Could I devote my entire life to martial arts? I know so. While I experienced maybe a taste of that kind of life at college, what does it mean to really, REALLY have that kind of passion, and to really live it?

My point is... actually... I'm not even sure what my point is or where I was going with this... Other than, I have been thinking a lot about what this life change is going to mean and how my perspective will change. This goes back to the bushido post I think. Deciding what values you want to live your life by and what kind of life you want your life to be.

Its a lot to think about. I know these things will change and grow over time as I change and grow. Sensei Nick and I have already started planning out a potential schedule and material to cover and such, which I may share if anyone is interested.

For now, suffice it to say I am excited, scared, nervous, and in general looking forward to starting this journey.  I will post more thoughts on what it means to be an uchideshi and related topics as they come.

If anyone is interested in any of the links or information regarding uchideshi programs, let me know and I will be happy to share what I have gathered.

Sorry for such an odd, stream of consciousness post, thanks for listening all, have a great week!

Friday, June 24, 2011

Traditional Weapons - worthwhile or a waste of time?

Two of my most very favorite things in Martial Arts are Kata and Traditional Weapons.

Kata clearly has a substantial amount of value as far as practicality goes. It is not just a set pattern of moves that look good together and is not a dance. Check out Way of Kata for more information about just how totally bad ass kata really is.

This leads me to my other favorite thing, weapons. Now, obviously we don't go around carrying katanas and sai daggers and tonfa in today's world. For a long time I thought weapons were something was really fun to learn and know how to do, but probably not something that would be incredibly practical.

However, last night, during my private lesson in Kempo, (I'm going to keep attending my current dojo up until the last minute when I head out for Oklahoma to join Guinn Martial Arts as an uchideshi.) my instructor said, "You know, I don't feel like going over anything specific today, lets just learn some bo staff! Everybody cool with that?" Which we all were.

So, in giving us a bit of a brief run down on the history of the bo staff and such, he went on to explain how it is his favorite weapon because it can be both classical and practical. He said many of the weapons forms are (at least in their school) more for performance than application. Especially in today's society. The chances of someone pulling out a Chinese board sword and attacking you are very slim. Or the chances that you have a katana, sai, tonfa, or kama on you to be able to defend yourself should you get attacked are also very slim.  But a bo staff.... doesn't have to be a bo staff per say. Could be a broom, or a shovel, or something similar.

Oooooh... how interesting. I'd never thought of that before.

This makes me want to look around my house and figure out all the objects I could use in lieu of a weapon. Which is perhaps a little silly of me, but if your life depends on it, you may have to improvise, so why not? If you know how to hurt someone with a shinai, the same technique may also work with... say... my umbrella. Which is a large sturdy umbrella with a solid supporting rod that doesn't slide down/compress into a smaller size. So when its closed its a similar size and shape to a shinai...  Hmmm.

Am I a little crazy? Maybe so. But. I prefer to live by the boy scout motto which is "Be Prepared!" I refuse to be a victim. I am always alert and ready when in public. Not necessarily in fight or flight mode, but just... aware. I try to be taking in my surroundings, noticing the people that are in the area, etc. I have a kubaton on my keys. What happens if some dude abducts me and locks me in the shed and I lose my keys? But perhaps there is a shovel near by? WHO KNOWS! You can never get hung up on the 'what ifs' because you will be at it for forever and never get anywhere. I'd rather try to have a small set of fault-tolerant techniques and be able to improvise in any situation. (This is what Mr. Miller refers to as 'having a decision stick')

Back to the point. Obviously this doesn't even begin to cover topics like knife fighting/knife defense, or what if someone pulls a gun on you, etc. That'll have to be another post for another day. Even so, I don't think weapon training is, by any means, useless. Even in today's society. Learn everything you can. You never know when it will come in handy.

Have a great weekend all. You can bet I'll be spending some time in the park this weekend working on what I picked up in class with my new, handy, home made bo staff. (Home Depot, Dowel rod, $10, FTW)

Thursday, June 23, 2011

I challenge you to keep an open mind

Recently I found out about a seminar that is being held in Lakewood by Mr. Roy Miller. WOW! He's coming to Colorado and teaching a seminar right in my town! How cool!?!? So I have been sharing this information with my friends in hopes of trying to get them to come with me. Two of my good friends from Kempo have expressed  interest.

However, when I brought it up after class last night, no one even blinked an eye. No one asked questions. No one cared. Everyone just got up and left.


As a martial artist, shouldn't you be looking for ways to improve, to learn more, and to try new things? This was kind of shocking to me. Don't ever presume that your school or dojo covers everything you will ever need to know or you are too good to learn from someone or something outside your normal circle of interactions. Everyone has something to teach.

I challenge all of you to keep an open mind when it comes to MA. (And life in general) Try new things. Step outside your comfort zone every once in a while. Go to a seminar. Read a book about martial arts. Visit a new dojo to see how they do things or try a different style. Talk to someone and see what their opinion is. Challenge yourself to try looking at things from someone else's perspective for once, and do so objectively without getting defensive or being judgmental. Try to learn something new or challenge yourself to learn even just one thing about a subject you know nothing about every once in a while.

I have a good friend that is always saying to me "Once the mind has been stretched, it can never return to its original size."

Keep an open mind. Don't lose your curiosity. Never stop asking questions.

Lakewood Seminar Information
Mr. Miller's blog

Sunday, June 19, 2011


What sort of values should a martial artist hold? What kind of attitude should they have every day?

In today's fast paced society, that people need to slow down, take a step back, and remember to treat each other as human beings. So many times I see rudeness and selfishness in the way people act towards each other, even if just at the grocery store or driving down the highway.

This is not at all to say people are all inherently bad. I was in Joplin visiting family two days after the tornado struck. I was overwhelmed by the kindness of the volunteers and strangers alike.

This may seem antiquated, but I think the tenants of Bushido are a good basis for the attitudes of any martial artist.

The tenants are:

What they mean:
Rectitude - correctness, rightness of principle or conduct, moral virtue and conduct. Knowing what is right and acting upon that knowledge accordingly.

Courage -  valor, bravery, possessing the courage to meet all of life's challenges head on with a resolute and moral heart, the ability to act or to do something even though you are afraid. 

Benevolence - having the desire to do good towards others, A feeling of good will to all, a magnanimous and compassionate state founded on the understanding that we are all the same and should be treated with the same respect regardless of station or situation.

Respect - to hold in esteem or honor, to show regard or consideration for, correct conduct and courtesy regardless of station or situation.

Veractiy - habitual observance of truth in speech or statement; the quality or fact of being honestuprightness and fairness, truthfulness, sincerity, or integrity, keeping one's word

Loyalty -  faithfulness to commitments or obligations, duty and obligation must then transferred to relationships in the dojo and all of life’s endeavors. We must also be loyal to our own goals, plans, objectives and the realistic path of attainment.

Honor - honesty, fairness, or integrity in one's beliefs and actions, a source of distinction: considered to be the sum – total of the previous six virtues. One practiced in and possessing the above listed virtues would certainly emerge from this disciplined lifestyle as an honorable individual. The self-esteem and honor of such an individual would be consistently above reproach. Like the samurai of old, a stain on one’s honor/name, should be a sense of great shame for the Budo–ka and avoided at all cost

Martial Artists have a responsibility to act with kindness and consideration towards others. Just because you know how to hurt someone doesn't mean you should, or that you have a cocky, self righteous attitude. Think about treating others the way you want to be treated. Martial Artists and non Martial Artists alike. 

Sunday, June 12, 2011

How to Select a School

In lieu of moving to a new school I felt that I should type up the information I got from Sensei Guinn about selecting a school to study at.

*note, you can also find a lot of really good information about finding a good instructor and a good school in Chapter two of Kane and Wilder's book Way to Black Belt. I highly recommend it.

When selecting a school:

Do research on different types of martial arts to see what you might want to learn and what you think would work for you. Do you want a striking art or a grappling art? Learn about several different types of arts before you make your selection. Pick one that appeals to you and go try it out. If you don't like it, you can always try another one. You can also look into the history of the martial art you want to study, and by learning the original context of your art you can learn alot about how it was used and what its strengths and weaknesses are. Some arts focus on footing and were created to work on slippery rocky hillside terrains. Other were designed for fighting in close quarters, alley ways of busy cities and such.

When looking for a dojo/selecting an art to study, be aware that schools with "jutsu or chaun" means "practical application" and will be (or should be) focused more on self defense application of the art. Schools with "do or go" means "the way" and will more likely be more focused on the spiritual aspect of the art. Keep in mind how you want to study before you pick a school. Neither is wrong, but (and I think Wilder and Kane mention this in their book, which is probably where I got this) They are just different means to the same end. With a Jutsu art you are studying the practical first and then reach the spiritual later as you understand and master the application, With a Do art you begin with the spiritual and then you begin to master the application as you understand the techniques. I might have that mixed up, but that sounds right. 

Once you actually go to visit, first and foremost look to the instructor(s):
-Is he/she knowledgeable?
-Does he/she know what he is doing?
-Do the students seem happy and knowledgeable?
-How does the instructor handle the class? Is he/she in control? Do the students listen? etc.
-Are the upperclassmen helping the lower classmen?
-Are the students working hard? Do they look like they are having fun? Are they happy? Do they seem fit? (If they are sweating, that is not a bad thing.)

In general, try a place for two or three months before you decide anything. No signing a contract right away. (Trust me on this, things may seem dandy at first, but the longer you are at some place, the more things you will find out about how the organization REALLY is) You should never have to pay for a trial class. If you do, they are most likely more commercial than anything, and you should probably stay away. Take advantage of as many free classes as they will allow you take. Never sign up for anything the day you go in. 

ALWAYS listen to your intuition. If you have a bad feeling, then get out. Don't stay, don't come back. I cannot stress this enough.  

If the instructor tries to tell you something that goes against common sense, it is probably wrong. Kris and Wilder also discuss looking out for cults as well. For example, "We break our bones so they heal up stronger than before!" ... seriously? You don't want to study at a place like that. Attitude is everything. Look at the attitude of the instructor and the students. You probably don't want to study some place where people are mean, harsh, violent, etc.

Make a journey of your training. Nothing learned is wasted. Even if you switch dojos a few times or try different arts before settling into what you like and what feels comfortable. Keep a journal. Take notes. Absorb all you can. Have fun. 

Thats it for now.

I have a busy time ahead, job searching and moving, hopefully I will have things sorted out by August at the latest, but I will try to keep posting in the mean time. 

Have a good week all!

~Samurai Girl Sahara

Friday, June 3, 2011

Finding your passion

I have always been drawn to Martial Arts from the time I was very little. I asked my parents to put me in Karate when I was in elementary school. I made it to yellow belt, but then due to some bad business practices the school was closed down. We didn't really have the money to transfer me somewhere else, so I had to quit until I was old enough to get a job and pay for my own training. I trained with Nick Guinn at Guinn Martial Arts while I was in high school, and I enjoyed his class immensely. At the time, I had no idea how lucky I was to be studying with him. Since high school I have studied at a few different dojos and under different instructors. It was never the same. I know all places are different, but I always had the feeling there was something fundamental missing from the instruction.

Once I graduated college I really wanted to get back to Martial Arts seriously, not just take a class here or there for a few weeks at a time. Since I was no longer in the same state as Guinn Martial Arts, I couldn't go back to that, and I hadn't been happy with the dojos I had selected thus far. (Don't get me wrong, Nippon-kan was actually really cool and very very traditional, which I LOVED, but I think I struggled to fit into an Aikido environment after having studied Aikijutsu the way I did in high school.) So, I turned to the one person I knew who actually knew what they were talking about and who I also trusted: Mr. Guinn. He gave me some excellent advice on selecting a school, (which, now that I think about it, I may write up in another post), and some style suggestions, etc. (If you're interested, you can find his blog here)

We'd been in touch off and on over the years, but started talking regularly... 8 months ago or more. In addition to advice for picking a school, he offered some good book titles if I was interested. I started reading and I was hooked. Not that I wasn't before, but it really added fuel to the fire.

I have had doubts about my choice of profession for a while now. Its not that I don't LIKE Graphic Design, but it doesn't make me want to jump out bed in the morning either. Since I started working out with a personal trainer in January, I have been strongly considering trying to take evening classes and get a certification to do that.

Through some very lucky timing of events, namely my brother's college orientation which I tagged along for, I was able to spend last weekend training with Nick back in Oklahoma. We're not talking like, an hour or two, or just a private lesson. It was 20+ hours of sparring, training, exercises, note taking, and really good discussions over the course of part of a Friday, a Saturday, and part of a Sunday.

It was... AMAZING.

If ever there was one in my life, I feel like I have found my calling. This is my passion. My bliss. I feel like I've always wanted to help others, and I have a ton of energy, and this is how I can wrap everything I love together. I can now say with a degree of certainty that I want to make a life out of martial arts and fitness. I have always returned to Martial Arts as often as possible throughout my life, I just never considered the fact that I could actually make a living out of it. Now, thats all I want to figure out how to do.

I cannot even put into words how excited I get when I get to learn something new, or its time to head to the dojo, or I go to the park to practice on my own. I want to share my passion with anyone and everyone! I want to help people feel good about themselves, I want to help them gain confidence, I want to help them learn to defend themselves and their loved ones, I want to help them get in shape, etc. I want to make a life out of being active, excited, getting other excited, teaching, learning, all of it!

People settle for what is safe, what is familiar or what is comfortable, safe, even if they are unhappy. The thought of that scares the shit out of me. I don't want to look around in 10 years, or 20 years and think "Where the hell has my life gone? What have I accomplished? Why am I unhappy?" Even if I am poor and living in a tiny studio apartment somewhere with only three sets of clothes and my martial arts Gi, I'd pick that over settling for the mundane and misery, any day.

At my college graduation the president of our school said, quoting from some author (I can't remember his name) "Follow your Bliss." That has stuck with me. The author was saying As long as you follow your bliss you will be happy and successful, because you're the only one who measures your success. And if you are happy and positive, the trend sticks and doors will open for you. So even if its difficult at first, or even the whole time, I'm pretty sure this is the life I want to choose.

I have no idea where to start, or how I'm going to make it happen, but I will find a way.

Since you have to at least have SOME *coughBLACKBELTcough* experience in the martial arts before you can teach, I think I will work towards things like getting certified to be a personal trainer, learning about anatomy, kinesiology, nutrition, leadership skills, etc while I am working towards becoming proficient enough in the Martial Arts to be able to teach.

That way, not only will I have a good grasp on whatever martial art I am teaching, but I will be able to understand how the human body works and supply my students with vital health/fitness and nutrition information as well. I don't see a lot of dojos working to supply their kind of students with that sort of information. It seems like martial arts is something you do in the dojo and forget about when you leave, you go home, eat pizza, drink some beer, kick back and play video games. And there is nothing wrong with that, but its not my life style. I want to be the very best martial artist that I can be. And I want my students to be the best that they can and want to be. So any way that I can help them with that is good news for me.

Its a start. Right now its more a dream than anything. But I will make it happen.


Get out there and find your bliss people. Make it yours. Do what you love. Don't settle. 

~ a very ecstatic Samurai Girl Sahara