I'm so glad the restaurant is half a block from my apartment. *wry grin*
I promised to post the essay I wrote as part of the promotion, and here it is:
by Keith R.A. DeCandido
One of my favorite parts of a book to write and to read is the acknowledgments section. I'm always curious who it was that helped the author on his or her writing journey. The acknowledgments can be very revealing about the process of the book's creation.
Some authors refer to that as the "acknowledgments page," but I really can't do that, for rare is it that my acknowledgments can be confined to a single page (unless the typeface is really small…). One of my colleagues once joked that he was going to nominate the acknowledgments in one of my Star Trek novels for Best Short Story, because that one went on for several pages.
But publicly thanking and praising and crediting those who assisted me in whatever way—even if it's something minor, like helping me name a character—is important. Nobody ever works in a vacuum, and that's particularly true for writers, for all that we spend most of our working time sitting alone in a room with only a keyboard for company.
It's also a bit of a thrill to be so acknowledged. Every time I find my name in the acknowledgments of a colleague's book, I've been very proud to know that I was able to help a fellow author out and ease or assist in the creation of the book.
As with writing, so too with karate. In the three-and-a-half years that I've spent as a shodan, I've tried to learn as much as I can about who and what came before. The karate that I learn from Shihan Paul and the other black belts was taught to them by Shuseki Shihan William Oliver, who learned from Kaicho Tadashi Nakamura, who learned from Masusatsu Oyama, who learned from Gigo Funakoshi, the son of Gichin Funakoshi, the father of modern karate. I've read the autobiographies of both Funakoshi (Karate-Do: My Way of Life) and Nakamura (The Human Face of Karate: My Life, My Karate-Do), and watched the documentaries Fighting Black Kings (which heavily featured Shuseki Shihan Oliver) and True to the Way: A Portrait of Shuseki Shihan William Oliver on DVD, as well as various YouTube videos of Shuseki Shihan teaching, fighting, performing kata, and being interviewed.
Shihan Paul no more works in a vacuum as a karate teacher than I do as a writer: all those sources above show a lineage of karate instruction and of karate philosophy that I see every time I enter the dojo, from Funakoshi's humility and stressing the importance of never using your karate if you do not have to, to Nakamura's emphasis of the community of karateka and the importance of students helping each other.
Since attaining my black belt, the biggest change for me is that Shihan Paul has asked me to assist him in teaching children's and white-belt classes. I have also taught classes on my own whenever Shihan Paul or one of the other black belts assigned to teach a particular class has been away.
Teaching karate has been one of the most thrilling and enjoyable experience of my life. I have tried to take the lessons I've learned from Shihan Paul to heart—as well as those of other black belts. I have, at times, found myself emulating something that Senpai Gustavo has done in his class, or Sensei Clai or Senpai Joel or Senpai Cliff or another black belt.
Primarily, though, I take my cues from Shihan Paul, and not just because he runs our dojo, but because he is one of the finest teachers I have ever known. It's a particular joy to assist him when he's teaching the children's classes, as he has an excellent rapport with them. He never discourages kids, always showing them how to do it right rather than telling them they've done it wrong. But he also never stops pushing them, encouraging them to do more than they think they can, and never letting them get away with doing less.
Just as my acknowledgments tell people who aided me in my fictional journey, but the book is still mine, I try to make my teaching style be my own, filtered though it is through the lessons of Shihan Paul and my other teachers.
At our dojo's spring camp in 2011, Shihan Paul performed Kanku kata for us. On YouTube, there is a magnificent video of Shuseki Shihan Oliver doing the same kata, and you can see the influence of the latter on the former—but also that Shihan Paul has made the kata his, even though he pays tribute to his teacher in many of the ways he demonstrates the kata. This is the same approach I try to take as a teacher.
While I no more seek out acknowledgment from the students I work with than I do fellow authors, the thrill is there when it happens in either case. Several of the children who study at the dojo—and many of their caretakers—have expressed gratitude to me for the work I've done with them. And seeing the kids succeed has become important to me because I've helped to guide them, even if only in some small ways.
The best example of this was recent, and is truly the answer to the question posed by Shihan Paul in his assignment of this essay topic, to wit how has being a karateka changed me? There is a young man in our dojo who suffers from a muscular disorder. His flexibility is poor and he sometimes has trouble with simple physical tasks that most of us take for granted. He began studying karate as a way of helping overcome the difficulties that this disorder has placed in his path.
But he has taken to it with an infectious enthusiasm. Even though his body doesn't want him to do a lot of these things, he pushes himself to keep doing them. Few people kiai as loudly in class as he does, and he always raises his hand whenever Shihan or I ask a terminology question—and he often gets them right. I've taught some private lessons to him, and he also regularly takes the Friday night kids sparring class, which I have taught a number of times the past couple of years.
Earlier this month, there was a make-up promotion that included this young man, who was going for his green belt. Even though the promotion was at eight in the morning on a Sunday, even though I'd been out late the night before, I made sure to assist Shihan Paul with that promotion, because I wanted to be there to help him achieve his green belt. I took tremendous pride in his accomplishment and gratitude that I was able to help him in whatever way I could.
I look forward to continuing to train, continuing to teach, and continuing to honor those who came before me by encouraging and assisting with those who will come after.