Category Archives: Ohana

“Amazing Grace” and a Life of Forgiveness a message from two funerals

Amazing Grace is a Christian hymn written in 1779 and is one of the most recognizable songs in the English language.  With the message that forgiveness and redemption are possible regardless of sins committed and that the soul can be delivered from despair through the mercy of God, the message has crossed over from Christian hymn to more popular folk music.

The author of this hymn, John Newton, lived a life that vacillated between sinner, soldier, sailor and Christian.  At one point, he deserted the British Royal Navy and began a career as a slave trader.  Newton rebelled against his captain and shipmates by crafting dirty songs and poems.  This insubordination landed him in chains, imprisoned at sea and eventually led to his own enslavement and was forced to work on a plantation in Sierra Leone.  Harrowing circumstances brought near death experiences to Newton, during which his faith in God grew to overshadow his propensity for debauchery and profanity.  He showed a new commitment to God and Christianity and began to craft poems and hymns. Newton’s poems emphasized his love for Jesus, the concept of eternal salvation, a wonder at God’s grace, and joy in his renewed faith.

“Amazing Grace” was a song that we sang at the opening of our dear friend’s funeral this weekend.  No one needed to read the written lyrics, the entire congregation sang the song from memory.  One of the amazing things at a Samoan service is that almost everyone in the church, from the Pastor to the attendees, can BLOW.  The song sounded beautiful, I think I even stayed on key throughout the verse, save for the times when tears were flowing down my cheeks.

The lyrics of the first verse are simple:

 Amazing Grace, How sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me
I once was lost, but now am found
T’was blind but now I see

The original song actually has multiple verses that emphasize a message of losing and regaining faith in God or living a less than pious existence throughout one’s life.  It talks of renewal.  It reminds us that no matter what our sins or or bad traits or less than holy actions have been, we can repent and accept God into our lives, for ever-lasting life in heaven.  I write these words as a person who took CCD classes throughout elementary school, not as a woman who attends Catholic Mass regularly.  The messages of living as a Christian are so pervasive in Western society that even receiving whispers and hints of the Word from when I was only six and seven years old have stayed with me.  And the notion that accepting Jesus into your life as Lord and Savior means going to heaven after death on this Earth.  I think one of the speakers or the Pastor said that our time on Earth is just borrowed and only God knows when we will be called.  Dear Pam was called very early from this Earth.  Her death leaves a hole in so many people’s lives and hearts.  And the testimonies and Pastor’s sermon stay with me, after attending the family service last Friday.

A theme that resonated throughout the speeches was one of forgiveness, don’t let petty disagreements fester, especially amongst family members.  The Pastor suggested that a wise thing to do would be to squash any fights or heal bad blood with your brothers and sisters.  No one intentionally wants to leave words unsaid to a loved one who dies.  Imagine the guilt and suffering that may grow out of that.  No one should hang on to petty disagreements, especially with a family member.  The Pastor’s words were to call your brother or sister and just say, “Let’s let that shit go.  Life is too short.”

In the last two months, I have attended two funerals.  Each service included testimonies from attendees and family members.  One service spoke to how the deceased a life in full service to his faith.  The other preached the message that life is short and we never know when God will call on us to leave our worldly existence on Earth.  Both messages have been playing in my head, over and over on a loop.

I have no resolution to these messages as of yet.  I am chewing on this idea of squashing petty shit with siblings and loved ones.  Maybe in a few days I will have worked out a game plan…

 

Amazing grace! (how sweet the sound)
That sav’d a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.

‘Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,
And grace my fears reliev’d;
How precious did that grace appear
The hour I first believ’d!

Thro’ many dangers, toils, and snares,
I have already come;
‘Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far,
And grace will lead me home.

The Lord has promis’d good to me,
His word my hope secures;
He will my shield and portion be
As long as life endures.

Yes, when this flesh and heart shall fail,
And mortal life shall cease;
I shall possess, within the veil,
A life of joy and peace.

The earth shall soon dissolve like snow,
The sun forbear to shine;
But God, who call’d me here below,
Will be forever mine.

John Newton, Olney Hymns, 1779

 

 

December: Two funerals and a Wedding.

Thirteen days ago, we boarded an early morning flight to Las Vegas.  Sounds like a fun way to spend a Friday and Saturday night, right?  The glitz and glamour of Las Vegas:  five-star restaurants, A-list nightclubs, first class casinos, that all sounds like a decadent way to pass the time with loved ones.  But no, our trip to Las Vegas was all about family.  We travelled there to support our hula ‘ohana who had lost a family member.  And we planned to take time out to visit our dear friend and Uncle who were in the hospital.  Needless to say, I didn’t pack the red stilettos and body con dress.

We arrived before 9am on Friday and were greeted at the airport by our Aunty.  She brought us to the house to pick up our Uncle who had just been released from the hospital.  His health has been shaky for a few months and he was admitted to the hospital for MRIs and other tests.  Uncle felt frustrated about being in the hospital again but the doctors feared that he had been experiencing strokes because he was passing out at work and falling down while on duty.  He is getting up in age and definitely needs to slow down but trying to tell a Grand Master in martial arts is not an easy feat.  This time, it seemed that slowing down was no longer an option, Uncle understood and had accepting it as his new reality.

Because we arrived so early, Uncle was sleeping when we walked in the house.  It took some time for him to completely wake up and his speech was slurred.  When we offered to take him and Aunty to their favorite casino for a buffet breakfast, that woke him up!  We all piled into the van and drove to Arizona Charlie’s, a local casino.  The breakfast buffet was simple but Uncle got his fill and more.  We caught up on our lives to date and shared plans for Christmas.  I was happy to share that Kanoe and I visited with Uncle Joe in Seattle and that he sent his love to them.  It is always nice to have time alone with the elders in the family.  They always share so many stories of training and tournaments in the past, we have to hold on to the values that they founded our martial arts schools upon.  Dojos aren’t supposed to be money machines.  We have a duty to teach our art to students and hopefully grow students who will continue to pass along the knowledge.  Tournaments and belt ranks are fun and somewhat flashy but we need to hold fast to our core values.  The martial arts are about Respect, Humility, Discipline, Leadership, Confidence, Self-Defense and Family.  Family is our foundation.  We are obliged to support our family in everything we teach.

And family was the main reason why we arrived so early.  After breakfast, we brought Uncle with us to the hospital so we could visit our dear friend and her husband.  She had been in the hospital since November because she needed to have a heart valve replaced.  The surgery went well but there were unexpected complications.  We wanted to visit her to show her that we love her and to see if there was anything we could do to support her husband, who is a lifelong friend of Butch’s.  It was such a nice visit, her husband’s daughter was there and Uncle stayed with us while we chatted.  She looked beautiful, the nurses had just washed her long, gorgeous black hair and she was sitting up in the hospital bed listening to music and chatting.  The men, except for Uncle, went for a walk to bond.  Apparently, that is code for going outside to smoke a cigarette.  We stayed in the room to talk.  Uncle shared that he had just gotten out of the hospital and that he just knew that she was going to going home soon.  Our friend’s daughter cracked jokes as she attentively tended to her needs – water, suction, all the little details and needs that pop up when one is recovering from surgery and a long hospital stay.  The nurses came in to check on medications, fluids, etc.  The doctor came in to make an adjustment to one medication and follow-up on tests that were being scheduled.  Everything seemed to be in order and we left to check into our hotel after a couple of hours.

That night, we just had a big dinner and hung out near the hotel.  The funeral was the next morning across town.  We definitely didn’t have a “what happens in Vegas” kind of Friday night that evening.

Saturday morning we grabbed a cab to the LDS church across town.  We made it just in time for to see Uncle S before they closed the casket before the memorial.   His students had travelled from Florida, Oklahoma, Texas, Colorado, all over the country to say their good-byes.  A few of my hula sisters from California travelled to the memorial because we had learned Maori songs and hula from Uncle S over the last twenty years or so.  We also wanted to support our Kumu Hula, his older brother, who was devastated by the loss.  The memorial was beautiful, filled with music and singing and testimony.  The family is blessed with God-given talent for music, especially singing and their dedication to their Church was evident throughout the memorial.  We went to the cemetery for a final good-bye and a few songs.  It was a lovely memorial for a very special man.

A week later, my niece/second cousin (as if Filipinos care about second or third cousin categories) married her longtime boyfriend.  They have a beautiful daughter together and they are truly dedicated to one another and their family.  I couldn’t attend the wedding but I felt comforted by the idea that life goes on, despite the loss that we had recently experienced.  Marriage and babies show us that life is indeed to be lived all in, every moment of every day.

And today, as we putted around the house this morning, we received a message from our friend in Vegas.  He said he had appreciated our visit when we were in town and that his wife had passed on to her next life that morning.  I called out to Butch, who was just sitting down to have breakfast.  I asked him if he had his phone.  He walked toward me and could tell I was about to share some shocking news.  I read the message to him as the tears welled up in my eyes and my voice cracked with each word.  I broke down and sobbed in his arms, it was not the sort of news I expected to hear about her.  He quickly called our friend and received a cliff note version of what had transpired.  She had passed away just a few hours before and we were all reeling from the shock.

I didn’t have a purpose for writing any of this down.  There are no breakthrough words of comfort that I have to share.  My heart is aching for her, for her husband and for her family.  She and I were talking in the hospital about how important it is for all of us to be committed to a healthy lifestyle.  She said to me, “Sis, after my husband being in the hospital for heart surgery last year, I never thought I would be here one year later.  This is no bullshit.  We have to be healthy and take care of ourselves.  Take care of your man.  You stay healthy.  Take care of your beautiful daughter because this hospital shit is no joke.”   She and her husband had a fierce love that no one could refute.  All she wanted was to be home with him.  We talked about how she would be home soon to recover and how great it would be for her to sleep in her own bed.  How much easier her recovery would be when she was surrounded by her own stuff and nurses and doctors weren’t coming in every hour to poke her and prod her and wake her up.  She just wanted to go home and be surrounded by her family, that became her goal.  We all need to think about what we really need to be happy and healthy.  The foundation of it all has to be family and at the core of the family it must be love.  Rest in Love, Sweet Pam.  We know you’re up in heaven watching over all of us.

What’s Your Ikigai (Reason for Being)?

Wikipedia lends the following definition:

Ikigai (生き甲斐, pronounced [ikiɡai]) is a Japanese concept that means “a reason for being.” It is similar to the French phrase Raison d’être. Everyone, according to Japanese culture, has an ikigai. Finding it requires a deep and often lengthy search of self. Such a search is important to the cultural belief that discovering one’s ikigai brings satisfaction and meaning to life.[1] Examples include work, hobbies and raising children.[2]

The term ikigai compounds two Japanese words: iki (wikt:生き?) meaning “life; alive” and kai (甲斐) “(an) effect; (a) result; (a) fruit; (a) worth; (a) use; (a) benefit; (no, little) avail” (sequentially voiced as gai) “a reason for living [being alive]; a meaning for [to] life; what [something that] makes life worth living; a raison d’etre”.[3]

In the culture of Okinawaikigai is thought of as “a reason to get up in the morning”; that is, a reason to enjoy life. In a TED TalkDan Buettner suggested ikigai as one of the reasons people in the area had such long lives.[4]

The word ikigai is usually used to indicate the source of value in one’s life or the things that make one’s life worthwhile. Secondly, the word is used to refer to mental and spiritual circumstances under which individuals feel that their lives are valuable. It’s not necessarily linked to one’s economic status or the present state of society. Even if a person feels that the present is dark, but they have a goal in mind, they may feel ikigai. Behaviours that make us feel ikigai are not actions we are forced to take—these are natural and spontaneous actions.

In the article named Ikigai — jibun no kanosei, kaikasaseru katei (“Ikigai: the process of allowing the self’s possibilities to blossom”) Kobayashi Tsukasa says that “people can feel real ikigai only when, on the basis of personal maturity, the satisfaction of various desires, love and happiness, encounters with others, and a sense of the value of life, they proceed toward self-realization.”[1][5]

My Ikigai is to stay active and perpetuate the rich API culture through my hobbies – dancing hula, paddling outriggers, and teaching karate.  Working out in the dojo taught me more about surviving and thriving in Corporate America as a single mom than any self-help seminar or MBA could have.  Recently, I opened a karate dojo as my passion project.  We focus on the values of Respect, Discipline, and Self-Confidence to help our students find their Ikigai.

Ikigai JaeRequiro

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#TeamTogisala #togisalashorinryu #fitlife #GirlPower #respect #discipline #focus #selfconfidence #selfdefense #dojoOhana #ikigai

lessons learned from a leadership journeys #diversity #leadership

I’ve been asked to speak at a conference this summer.  It will probably be my last national presentation as a leader at the Japanese car company where I have been employed for almost nineteen years.  As a diversity leader, I can make a presentation and share insights, stories, and experiences with attendees around career development or business strategies.  That is bland and dry as over toasted Wonder Bread.  The sound of the teacher from “Peanuts” would be echoing in my own ears as I spoke on that topic.  Blah, blah, blah, diversity, blah, blah, blah, business impact, blah, blah, blah, leadership, blah, blah, blah.  Instead, I want to tell a story.  I want to share some thoughts on standout moments and lessons learned from my leadership journey as a small business owner, karate instructor and brand-new Shodan.

The conference is by far my favorite event of the year.  It is an event designed to bring together multicultural women from corporations all over the globe.  It takes place in NYC and it provides an outlet for high-achieving and high potential multicultural women to be confident, courageous and take the next steps in paving the way for a stronger, more inclusive, and more trusting environment. The theme for this year’s conference, Race to Trust, reflects an intention to create a conference that inspires higher cross-cultural understanding and explores concerns among women that trust in the workplace is on the decline due to the current cultural and social trends.   My favorite part of this conference is meeting powerful and inspirational women of color from different industries and I have made several friends at the event over the years.

If I think about this opportunity as my last, I have to consider what my legacy will be.  My biggest accomplishment at the Japanese car company where I have been employed for almost 19 years are employee resource groups.  We started with 2 in 2001, just as pilots, while I worked with HR, Legal, and senior leaders to craft a policy that made all levels of the organization comfortable.  Now there are over 60 chapters across North America, with new groups being created in offices in Canada, Baja, and Puerto Rico.  I was dubbed the “Godmother of Business Partnering Groups.”  Where’s my fairy dust and magic wand???

However, I think that a presentation about 2016 would be more interesting to me.  We discovered that our dojo was operating without a business license or insurance for years, as we were told that we were losing the lease to our old studio.  I elected to become the small business owner created the S-Corp, purchased all the insurance and licenses, found a location, and continue my quest to become an instructor.  During the Summer of 2016, we taught karate in my backyard, on the stiff grass.  It wasn’t until late July 2016 that we moved into the new studio.

Now I am processing all of the emotions that I experienced last year to get the business launched.  All of this happened while I faced the end of my tenure with the Japanese automotive company where I continued to work full time, my daughter started her senior year of high school, and my boyfriend finalized his divorce.  Stress on top of stress on top of change on top of stress.  2016 weighed heavily on my shoulders…  more to come

#TeamTogisala visits www.thekaratedojo.com

 

Here is how Social Media works in a positive way. Sensei Brian Pena and Sensei Butch Togisala re-connected after twenty years thanks to Facebook. These two men competed throughout the 1990’s all over the world. Sensei Brian and his family visited California and Togisala Shorin Ryu during Easter break and, a little over a month later, Sensei Butch was graciously invited to attend the Carolina Martial Arts Open tournament in South Carolina.

On April 24, 2016, Sensei Brian Pena published the following announcement via Facebook:

“EXCITING ANNOUNCEMENT:

We are excited and honored to announce that multi-time NBL World Champion and Japanese / Okinawan Karate Legend: LELAGI ‘BUTCH’ TOGISALA of Torrance, California is set to be at The Karate Dojo in West Columbia, SC for a seminar, private lessons, and to receive a special award on May 14-15, 2016 to coincide with the Carolina Martial Arts Open.

Sensei Togisala is a Japanese Kobudo and Kata MASTER that holds the record of winning the NBL World Title in Japanese / Okinawan Kata for 5 straight years through the 1990’s until he humbly bowed out to his team member Marcus Young at the 1998 Super Grands World Games.

Please make plans today to meet, greet, and LEARN from a great friend of mine, and the single most prolific Japanese / Okinawan Karate & Kobudo competitor of the past 25 years – PERIOD.

Email me at Sensei@TheKarateDojo.com with Seminar interest or to schedule Private Lessons, and stay tuned in the coming days for further information.”

On Friday the 13th in May 2016, before the sun had risen, Sensei Butch and I boarded a flight to ATL to catch a connection to CAE.  There was a level of excitement in both of us bubbling and Sensei Butch had lots of questions regarding the weekend.  We knew that a greeting at the airport by Sensei Brian and a sushi dinner with some of his black belts were on the Friday evening itinerary.  So, we planned on checking into our hotel, resting a bit, getting our gi pressed for the weekend and just going with the flow.

I had cooked up a fresh batch of Kalua pork for Sensei Brian. He really enjoyed that when he was at our house for Easter.  A couple of pounds of frozen Kalua pork were one of my carry-on items. In addition, I packed some healthy snacks for the long flight across the country.  

Early morning flights usually mean a plane full of passengers who are either trying to sleep or overly sparked on caffeine.  We both attempted to catch some Zs after take-off, to no avail.  Because our seats were upgraded to Delta Comfort, we had access to free movies and he selected the film, “Invincible” starring Mark Wahlberg.  Sports-themed movies usually contain messages about hard work paying off, enduring monumental physical challenges, and overcoming adversity.  These themes were threaded throughout the film and I saw many parallels with what Togisala Shorin Ryu is experiencing.

We sat next to each other, sharing earbuds (yes, we looked like “that couple”) and enjoyed the inspirational true story of lifelong diehard Philadelphia Eagles fan Vince Papale. Coach Dick Vermeil called an open tryout to boost interest in the flailing Eagles.  Papale realized his wildest dream, survived try outs, and became a squad member.  The movie shows Papale’s tenacity, grit and heart in a mature and relatable way, beyond Disney’s usual animated fairy tales.

“Invincible” touched our hearts and there must have been quite a bit of dust circulating in the plane, as I had to keep wiping tears away.  No comment about Sensei Butch’s “allergies”.  The feel-good story focused on the importance of hard work and the responsibility of individuals to support their friends, neighborhoods and more importantly, their families. Competing in sports played a critical role in developing both of our personal core values around Respect, Discipline, and Courage.  He and I are athletes who have competed at various levels throughout our entire lives.  Sensei Butch leveraged his raw talent for karate and his incredible support from his father and surrogate father, Grand Master Sensei Richard Rabago, to “pull himself out of the ghetto.”  Disciplined training became a way of life and that led to a successful sport karate career that took Sensei Butch all over the world.

When a competitor sees someone who consistently performs at the level to achieve world champion status, that person impacts him/her in profound ways.  Sensei Butch has fans around the world and social media has connected him with other martial artists that used to compete with him. This is what brought Sensei Butch to South Carolina.

Friday afternoon we landed at CAE airport. Sensei Brian Pena greeted us with some of his senior students:  two of his black belts and one of his brown belts. The Karate Dojo welcomed Team Togisala with warm smiles, open arms, and deep bows of mutual respect.

We felt hungry but wanted to see The Karate Dojo before checking into our hotel. The facility was incredibly impressive. I had never seen a dojo as large as this one. The main floor also housed weight machine that looked more complete than most hotel gyms I train in while on the road. In addition, there is a smaller, more private training room and a large space perfectly equipped for child care and fun. But as impressive as the physical space was, even more impressive was the spirit and atmosphere inside the dojo. The floor, the walls, the equipment all looked pristine. But on the interpersonal level, everyone  from the  staff to the students showed immense respect to Sensei Butch. We heard, “Yes, Sir” and “Yes, Ma’am” in every response.  Such a simple behavior, using consistent and respectful manners, exemplifies the way a karate-ka should hold him- or herself.

Sensei Brian graciously allowed Sensei Butch to use his beefy, tricked out, and gorgeous Expedition.  He drove us to Downtown  Columbia, dropped the car off with the valet, and Sensei Butch spotted a man walking.  He told me, “Babe, that’s Coolio.”  I dismissed him and said, “Leave that man alone.  It is not Coolio.”  What would Coolio be doing in Downtown Columbia?  We checked in, unpacked, and grabbed a nap before dinner.

Friday night – sushi dinner in South Carolina.  That was not a sentence I ever imagined saying out loud.  We pulled up to a shopping plaza and found a restaurant called, “Inakaya Watanabe.”  Sensei Brian had reserved the private room with tatami mats and when we entered, there were two HUGEMONGOUS  sushi boats on the tables to greet us.  Sensei Butch felt a bit apprehensive about sitting on the floor throughout an entire meal but thank goodness, the tables were built over a sunk-in floor.  The food tasted fresh and I devoured the fresh yellowtail sashimi while Sensei Brian requested rolls like soft shell crab, chef specials and some terrifyingly hot roll with a mystery chili pepper of some sort.  Eating that hot scary pepper thingy roll was a rite of passage for Sensei Brian’s black belts.  Since I am deathly allergic to peppers, I did not have the opportunity to taste that mystery torture roll. Thank goodness.

 

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At the end of dinner, Sensei Butch presented a special gift to Sensei Brian.  We had a brand new set of rope kama made  by Tenth Degree Weaponary in Southern California for Sensei Brian.  Rope kama are Sensei Butch’s signature weapon and there are multiple videos of him swinging them in sport karate tournaments all over YouTube.  Sensei Brian appreciated the gift and we were delighted to present it to him.

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 May 14, 2016, Saturday morning, Carolina Martial Arts Open tournament day.  When we arrived at the The Karate Dojo, the building was bursting with competitors and their family members.  Sensei Brian treated both of us like honored guests in his dojo and asked for the opportunity to introduce Sensei Butch to all of the participants.  We didn’t know he also had a big surprise in store for Sensei Butch.

And then, Sensei Butch had me bring up another gift for Sensei Brian. It was a vintage heavy weight Team Togisala competition gi, complete with gashes in the back of it from Kama blades. I thought that this one of a kind, irreplaceable gift would be something that Sensei Brian would appreciate. Material gifts can’t beat sentimental gifts, in my opinion. We can all buy “things” but no one can replace memories and experiences. 

A wide variety of martial arts schools were represented by colorful gi and t-shirts.  The number of competitors could have felt overwhelming but the order and precision that Sensei Brian exemplified in running simultaneous divisions impressed me.  Sensei Butch and I split our time between walking the floor and resting and reviewing the seminar format together.  Jet lag crept in every hour or so, we tried to catch cat naps throughout the morning. While out on the floor, we met an enthusiastic competitor.  She cheered everyone on in the rings by yelling, clapping, and sending tons of positive energy.  I pointed her out to Sensei Butch and he said, “She’s an awesome hype man.  We should bring her to all of our tournaments LOL.”  Her enthusiasm was noted by others and pointed out to Sensei Brian.  He recognized her by presenting her with a special “spirit” award.  She found us at the end of the tournament and asked to take a photo with both of us.  Look how her spirit shines through in her smile.

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This tournament had numerous examples of how martial arts influences young lives.  The atmosphere felt supportive and loving and still competitive throughout the day.  It struck me that martial arts tournaments should always feel family-friendly, rather than cut-throat competitive.  We work to build character in our students through discipline, respect, courage, and fun.  Becoming a tournament champion does not have to be the outcome in order to build up our students’ character.  World Championships, trophies, black belts…none of that makes a Champion.   Students living their lives by showing respect for others, acting with integrity, and staying physically fit is the ultimate goal.  Martial arts training never stops.

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As the tournament wound down, I heard tid bits of stories of first-time adult competitors making their debut at the Carolina Martial Arts Open and examples of children showing love and support for one another.  Sensei Brian referred to his event as an “investment in the future.”  A father of one of the participants wrote a “thank you” note to Sensei Brian because his son was crying at the end of the  tournament.  This young competitor was overcome with tears of pride because his sister had won Grand Champion.  Sensei Brian recognized and rewarded this young competitor with a trophy, as well.  But in fact, what that young man gave all of us was a greater gift.  Love and support for our family members and dojo Ohana is the ultimate goal.  Sensei Brian encouraged all spectators to cheer for all competitors and the dojo roof was raised by all the positive energy and Aloha throughout the tournament.

Next up, was the karate seminar with Sensei Butch Togisala.  About 20 or 25 students attended the seminar on Saturday.  The game plan consisted of a brief stretching session to prep the participants for the first activity – stances.  Strong, low stances are a signature for Togisala Shorin Ryu and the foundation of our style.  Having a low base is critical to executing our kata correctly.  Sensei Butch selected Pinan Godan as the kata to teach during the seminar.  And we wanted each student to be able to learn the entire kata during the seminar, regardless of belt rank, and be able to perform it.  I will note that Sensei Butch thought I was being too strict during warm-ups but I protested that as I conducted a very short stretching session to prepare their hips and legs for doing basics, just as I do in our dojo every night.  But I digress..

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I have written about one of the mantra of our Sensei, the late Grand Master Sensei Richard Rabago, “Basics are Everything.”  The stance is the foundation for karate.  Not all Japanese karate schools take as a low of a stance as Togisala Shorin Ryu.  But I believe that the beauty in kata is taking a low stance.  It might be from my years of studying hula kahiko, my Kumu Hula taught us that our energy comes from our classmates and from the Earth.  Being connected to both improves the spirit or mana in a dance.  The same can apply to kata.  When the karate-ka applies the movements within a kata, it is a self-defense technique or offensive attack.

Sensei Butch began the seminar with running the participants through exercises to practice:  kiba-dachi (horse stance), zenkutsu-dachi (forward stance), and neko-dachi (cat stance).  We had students as young as six years old, all the way up to adult aged and yellow belts up to second degree black belts participating.  Everyone worked hard to adjust to the style of Togisala Shorin Ryu to learn a new kata, Pinan Godan.  This is a required kata for advancement to purple belt in our dojo but it isn’t taught at The Karate Dojo so it became a nice addition to their kata toolkit.  One of the black belt students in the seminar stated, “So very impressed with Sensei Togisala.  He captured my family with his calm yet strong patience.  He led a seminar with a 6 year old all the way to us older folks and NEVER lost our attention.  We all left not only being taught a kata but also being taught a lesson in humility and strength.  Thank you sir for graciously giving us your time and energy this past weekend!  Deep bow of LOVE and RESPECT!”

Personally, I learned a lot through the process of helping to teach our kata during the seminar.  In addition, it became clear to me that Sensei Brian teaches all of his students how to be Champions in life.  His dedication to teaching the martial arts is a gift.  Sensei Brian runs The Karate Dojo as a very special school, filled with exceptional students.  I humbly bow to him.

After the seminar, Sensei Butch and I went to the Club Lounge to relax with appetizers and a glass (or two) of wine.  He felt pleased with the outcome of the seminar.  We chatted with the lounge hostess, a student from USC (Gamecocks, not Trojans) and discovered something that Sensei Butch found amusing.  A big old school hip hop concert was held nearby and Salt N Pepa stayed at our hotel the night before.  They were hot during the early 90s, the height of my clubbing days.  Sensei Butch and I sang a bunch their songs, most of which the hostess had never heard of because she was an infant at the time.  And, unfortunately, it was revealed that Coolio was also staying at our hotel! BThat means Sensei Butch did see Coolio the day before and he reminded me over and over throughout the rest of the weekend that I blew a fantastic photo opportunity for him.  Ugh.

At dinner time, we walked about a mile down the road to a restaurant ironically named, “California Dreaming.”  It came highly recommended by the nice man sitting next to me on the flight from ATL to CAE, that recommendation was co-signed by our lounge hostess and others.  They were right!  We had a fantastic walk and a lovely meal.

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After dinner, we called Uber so we wouldn’t have to take the one mile walk uphill.  A tricked out GMC SUV on 22″ tins rolled up, bumpin’ some hip hop. We looked at each other and laughed. Our driver was so chill, we talked about USC (Gamecocks, not Trojans) being on summer breaks. Then we asked about the concert and I had to hear how I blew an opportunity for Butch to take a pic with Coolio. Again.  They both laughed at me about that. Every person we encountered in Columbia, SC was gracious and welcoming. We had such a lovely time.

On Sunday, Sensei Butch was in his element, working one-on-one or in semi-private groups with students on their kata.  His innate talent for performing kata spills over into the incredible gift in customization and teaching.  Sensei Butch excels at making subtle shifts to sequences and moves that suit the individual’s strengths to transform a dojo kata to a winning sport karate kata.  Let me have some of the participants speak for themselves.

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“What an incredible experience to be instructed by Sensei Togisala, honored to have the opportunity, I hope to see him again one day to Thank him once more (or a thousand more) for helping me with my competition Kata.  He is an exceptional man.”

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The photographs above are from a semi-private lesson with two black belts.  They perform the same competition kata but Sensei Butch provided direction for each of them to customize a section of the kata to make it their own.

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“Very cool to have met someone I’ve only ever heard about (and seen in kata videos).  Sensei Togisala embodies who a leader and instructor should be – knowledgeable, caring, and patient.  Respect!!”

Sensei Butch started the morning off with a private lesson refining a kata specifically for competition.

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In this private lesson, Sensei Butch shared a few tricks of the trade to make this Sensei’s competition kata really stand out.  His strength could be amplified with a few tweaks at key points in Go Gi Shi Ho, which happens to be Sensei Butch’s signature open hand kata.

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Three private lessons were with junior colored belts.  Each of these students worked very hard and earned a lot of praise from Sensei Butch.  He reinforced the importance of basic stances and precision in strikes for competition.  As intense and serious as all these photos look, there was plenty of laughter and smiles during these private lessons.  Best of all, each of them asked questions when necessary, took the gentle criticism to heart, and applied their learnings in real time.  It was a delight for me to watch.

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The last lesson for the day was a semi-private session with two junior blue belts.  Each of them paid close attention to Sensei Butch.  Their high energy sustained him as he closed out the long day of teaching.  These two are well on their way to a bright and shining career in sport karate competition.

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Sensei Brian’s Team Dojo will “Never Give Up.”  The future of karate lies in our children continuing to learn and train from experienced instructors and competitors like Sensei Brian Pena and Sensei Butch.  Being open to new lessons and learnings was my key take-away from the weekend. Hard work is nothing to shy away from in karate or in life. As instructors, we need to be open to receive the lessons that our students teach us every day. On behalf of Team Togisala, I send a deep bow of respect and gratitude to Sensei Brian Pena and all of his students, staff, and parents at http://www.thekaratedojo.com.  We were honored and humbled by the experience we shared with all of you during the 2016 Carolina Martial Arts Open karate tournament.  Sending much respect and Aloha to Sensei Brian Pena.

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