Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Guest Blog - Shodan

Shodan... it's better the 2nd time !


LeafBeltSM.pngYou might ask... what's that all about?


Well... this is the 2nd time I have  trained from white belt to black belt.

I had a 30 year "gap" in training, so believe me, given my age and health, it was a lot harder,  but also so much more gratifying!

 This 2nd time around, however,  I think that I have learned so much more  about the martial arts, and about myself...  as a person.

Prior to writing this piece, Sensei Guest (Kai-Shin Karate) asked that we write a little bit about what it means to us to grade to the rank of Shodan. (part of this writing came from what I submitted.)

 Now ..."it's better the 2nd time"... may seem like a strange thing to say, but I believe that I have somewhat of a unique perspective and appreciation that probably only a very few other martial artists have experienced. It means a great deal to me to train at this level, because I have some challenges, as I will try to explain in a moment.  But before I do, allow me to say ... that if you  really want to reach Shodan and beyond, or any other goal you may have... don't let anything stop you from training and progressing.

I would encourage you, as the ubiquitous Nike slogan used to say to us... JUST DO IT!

As I relate to the unusual title, I would first like to acknowledge my Senseis and say that I consider myself to have been very fortunate throughout my martial arts training. Why ...? While I have put a great deal of time and effort into my training...  it's because I have had opportunities to be exposed to such excellent instructors and learn from expert teachers as I trained.

Hindsight is a great thing...  whether you look at a recent event, or something  farther back in time.  It was only after the fact, that I  could fully appreciate my Sensei's expertise.

I'm skipping ahead, a little out of chronological sequence....

Sensei Quoi Wong2.jpgStarting with  Sensei Quai Wong of Wong's Karate and Kung-Fu Society,  and his primary Instructor,(during my time, there) Sensei Dave Doucette... that became my benchmark .

It was the excellent training that I felt I received at Wong's which I would hold as the standard as I was looking for a martial arts club for training.

Now, I can say that through Sensei Walthers's Snow Tiger organization and Sensei Monty Guest's association, Kai-Shin Karate,  once again I find that level of training... this time with  Sensei David Dalley at Bancroft Martial Arts, and Sensei Michael Chapman, at Kai-Shin Karate, "North Branch" Haliburton, ON. .It's a far cry from my introduction to karate all those years ago.

When I first started training in karate, I began at the behest of my cousin Jim, back in 1975. We were best friends, and I guess around 20 years old at the time. There was a local karate club  just down the road a bit from Jim's place in Scarborough, so we both ended up going there. I had never been too physical before, so starting out was very demanding of me physically...but  I LOVED it! ...and I seemed to have some natural ability.

The club itself didn't last too long... though I managed to grade to yellow belt. It closed... almost as fast as it opened. I think it was a total of  3 months before, one day  we showed up and the doors were locked. There was a note left on the door. We understood it spelled the end of our training there.

Undaunted... it didn't matter ... I loved the training... and was hooked! Sadly, my cousin...  whom  had introduced me to the art...  didn't want to continue with karate training anymore.  I was disappointed. My newly-found sport became my main focus ... thrilled about something I really enjoyed ...  I took up karate in earnest. 

After I got caught "short" when that first club I went to folded, I went on a quest to find a club that was the "right one" for me... I really wanted to train in karate! It was not as easy as I expected to find.

I knew in my heart that I wanted to get some "traditional" training... I had heard that if you went to some clubs and signed up for their top program, you were  "guaranteed"  a Black Belt. I don't know how accurate that was, but I wanted a place to train where you can't "buy" your belt, you had to earn it on merit.

My quest began as I went to a karate club that had taken over an old Vic Tanney's  Health Club facility. I was looking forward to this... big floor area, weights,  indoor swimming pool, saunas, nicely tiled and spacious shower rooms, with therapeutic hot tubs. BUT...Unfortunately, as it turned out - not very good karate training!

There was a young Black Belt instructor on the floor, as well as the owner, a Black Belt who was a bit older... fortyish.  I was happy at first, working hard and making progress. I think I got up to orange belt  .... Then, there was a moment when I knew I had to go elsewhere...

The young instructor was asking his sensei for some clarification. The sensei walked on to the floor ... smoking a cigarette.  I remembered this so clearly because I was flabbergasted by it.  He continued to demonstrate a technique, a side kick I believe... and all the while smoking. That's what I didn't  want! That did it for me... I started my search again.

2012-04-14 18.26.523.jpgI was determined to find a "good" club... and was lucky enough to find Wong's.  When I started, I thought I was in fair shape, but I quickly saw that I would have to "up my game" if I was going to do anything.  Man, I trained hard!

I was working Canadian National Railways at the time an unscheduled, on-call position, so I had to be on-call even when I went to karate class.  I had to do a lot of juggling to make things work. Nevertheless, it worked out well. I usually came  3-4 nights/week to train.  We didn't go to tournaments then, as Sensei thought they were too political. We did train very hard though.

Well, exactly 4 years and 3 months later, I was given my black belt. I did not have to go through a formal grading. I don't even remember if Sensei Wong had even told us in advance. It seems that one day, it just came about... Sensei made the presentation of our Black Belts along with a beautiful certificate under the auspices of "Shoshin Nagamine, 9th Dan President of the Okinawa Shorin-Ryu Karate Association,  Naha, Okinawa .. . and stamped "QUAI WONG" over the script "issued through Canadian headquarters of Wong's Karate International" ...  What a day that was!

I really loved training at Wong's. Everyone was friendly...great camaraderie. (last year I was invited to the 50th Anniversary of Sensei Wong's teaching. ) The workouts  were tough, but they produced results.

I was 25 years old when I received that black belt... and my confidence went "through the roof." It's hard to explain , unless you've been through it... but to put that black belt on for the first time...WOW! You have the realization that you've accomplished something that most people will never achieve. Recognition that you've achieved a certain competency. Myself... if someone had asked me a couple of years earlier, I would never have thought I was even capable of reaching this level.  Then...AMAZING ...I AM a Black Belt! It's like no other feeling!

A few month after I received Shodan, I got married and around that time, I had moved and started a new job which demanded a lot of my time. Sadly, it was eating up all the time I used to take for granted when training. Now I did not have time to travel to Wong's. So I started looking for a club close to my new residence.... but I just couldn't find one that had the same "feeling"

SWM Budokan 2011.jpgTime can be so cruel if you are not fully aware... and at that time - I was not... so life marched on.

I didn't do any martial arts training from the age of 26 to 55... and only moderate exercise. At  55, I found myself  30 years older, 40 lbs heavier from when I last trained... and now trying to handle a physical movement disorder called Parkinson's Disease... which, by this time, had plagued me for the previous five years.                                                                    

I had been up here in Cardiff for a couple of years by then, looking after my elderly parents. Just by chance, I was looking in the local "rag" and I saw an ad for Bancroft Martial Arts. Why choose now to start training again... as a white belt? I don't know. Maybe it was the challenge. I still had a passion for karate.

I recalled a maxim..."it is not the colour of your belt that defines you as a martial artist is your journey through the training".  I went down the next time they were open.... had a quick look and signed up on the spot.

I never gave Parkinson's another thought. But when you rely on physical movement to perform in martial arts, you quickly see what the constraints may be. Medication controls it, but exercise seems to expend it more readily. Nevertheless, I enjoyed Bancroft Martial Arts... but I quickly realized that for me, only training 1 night/wk would not be sufficient.  

It was already hard for me to get back in some kind of form. I wasn't the best at having the discipline to train at home, so if I wanted to progress, never mind get back to Shodan level, I needed more floor time. So, it was again fortuitous, that I would attend my first shiai (Jiyu-Shin's tournament) and meet Sensei Chapman.

I would classify his teaching style as "old school"...which I like. I recall telling my Sensei at the time, Sensei David Dalley, that I liked the fact that Sensei Chapman makes contact with me when demonstrating technique. Sensei Dalley laughed and said, "oh, you like to be hit!" Truthfully, I think it is not for everyone, but I do feel it adds some realism.

Initially my plan was just to train with Sensei Chapman for the summer since Bancroft would be closed. But I liked him,  his style, and the training so much, I joined and became a club member. What I really learned to appreciate about  my training this time around is the quality of training, the depth of experience and knowledge that my instructors (Senseis  ... Chapman, Guest, Walthers, Dalley, Lord, and Dodd) have and share.

This level of training can only really appreciated when you see what else is out there that supposedly passes for training. I often shake my head and wish there was some way to convey that message to the members and help them understand... HOW LUCKY they are to have such experienced teachers of this caliber!

And now...  I am graded Shodan, for the 2nd time. It's been hard work... no doubt about it, with more hard work ahead. I know I still have a lot  to learn. In fact, now the learning begins on a deeper level. even as we are new students once again.  I do think I've learned even more this time around. I have a greater appreciation for the martial arts in general. I am grateful to be able to physically participate...even though not as flexible as I was once.

I love kumite above all else.  I understand the need to be consistent in our practice of the basics and kata, all of which can help make me a better fighter. I still have Parkinson's, but I am happy to feel both physically and mentally stronger than I was before ( I weight train now which I didn't do before) Despite not being as quick as I once had been, if we are engaged  in sparring... I hope my opponent doesn't underestimate me ... too much!   :)


I hold my instructors and fellow students with great respect. I honour the Masters of our tradition (both Past and Present) with the greatest reverence for the art that they are passing down to us... and the privilege of entrusting us with teaching this art...  with the highest degree of integrity, honesty and tolerance... to all who come to earnestly seek the training!


Respectfully...  in the Warrior Arts,

     Christopher  McCargar


  1. Congratulations on your accomplishment!! Sensei Chapman was my very first instructor way back in 1979.

    1. Thanks for your comments, Julie. I feel fortunate to have met Sensei Chapman... he's been a great teacher for me.

  2. Thank you! I'll e-mail Sensei McCargar and let him know.

  3. Wow! What a story! Thanks for sharing Christopher!

    1. Thanks for taking the time to read it, Gary

  4. Sensei Chapman is real in the "old school" sense. His Karate is honest and straightforward. Anyone who has a chance to train with him is lucky.

    1. When I was in Ryerson RTA, I did a 16 mm doc on martial arts and Sensei Wong was kind enough to feature in it. When we took the raw footage back for editing, we discovered that Sensei Wong's kicks (that's out and then right back to the starting point) were clocking in at 1/8 of a second; his punches clocked in at 1/12 of second (that''s right back to the starting point). 1/12 of a second is the speed of a rattlesnake's bite! More importantly, he told me that being a Sensei isn't just about teaching on the floor. It also involves listening to students, and caring about their lives.

  5. Unpacking the meaning of the phrase 'old school'.. now there's a job...

    Sensei Chapman is really attentive to a ruler for measuring angles and tape for marking lines are as essential in his club as gloves.

    I enjoyed being on the floor at your grading in March; it is always a challenge to spar with you and it can be very beneficial to be 'underestimated' .... Especially in the ring!!


    1. Thanks Sarah... Yes, you're quite right. While intended as a self-effacing remark, being "underestimated" can definitely serve to be a great advantage.


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