Learning is Endless

The Basics are the Advanced Techniques

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Aside from the obvious beginning – I was born on a snowy day in February in a log cabin that I helped my father build – I’m sure most people don’t care about the vital trivia of my life.

I got into martial arts a long time ago by reading. I still have a copy of Super Karate Made Easy (copyright 1960, paperback, only 75 cents!!), from there of course to movies and TV. Oh, I should mention comics, especially those that had bullies throwing sand in my face at the beach.

Having doped out that the $2  x-ray vision glasses in the back of said comics weren’t going to work either; maybe I could learn to impress girls with my “James Bond” like cool.

Well, none of that worked out, and here I am about 35 years later, trying to describe the path that I am still on.

IMG_2010_1As a youngster, I always liked two things: logic puzzles, they used to call them “brain teasers”, and science, (plus its great collaborator, science fiction). Both contained subtleties of thought and had a grandeur of vision. Nothing was ever obvious, and if it was, it was only of minimal value. Obviousness was a small window that needed to be opened so that you could begin to see the vast world behind.

After starting regular study, and gaining some mastery of the basics, I started experiencing some nagging doubts and concerns. Basically, I knew I had to be missing something. Was the difference between low and high ranks simply that the black belts could kick higher and hit harder? If, instead of the form that I was doing, I just started doing a higher-level form, did I really need the ones in between?

How come some of the things I was doing made no sense in the context of fights that I had been involved in as a kid. After all, growing up in the “Hells kitchen” neighborhood in Manhattan as I did, you did pick up some of the basics of fighting.

I read voraciously to see if I could find any of those answers. When Gichin Funikoshi wrote that his teacher made him practice Naihanchi kata for 10 years before moving on to his next form– and I had learned it as a brown belt– I was certain there was a lot more going on. Something that few people talked about

And so, as they say, off I went.

This journey has carried me to many different styles and teachers. All of them had valuable things to say, and a generosity of spirit that allowed them to share their knowledge and experience with me. Later I will list some of them that were the most important to me, but all who have taught me something are teachers to me. There are just too many to list.

Lately, I’ve come to a time in my life where I fear that too much of this historical legacy is being lost. We have become inundated with the quick, easy, and obvious. There was a time when these were truly life and death arts– with all the thought, philosophy, and subtlety that implies. I would like to preserve as much of that as I can.

What I have placed here is just the beginning, a scratch on the surface really. It does however represent some of the lessons that have helped me.

I’ve seen many things in martial arts that have made me step back and say Hmmm. Things that I could never have pulled off. It has been both enlightening and disillusioning. But that is life, and martial arts have always been about how you approach life.

Have fun.

Richard Conceicao     September 2009


“Returning Wave” is the English translation for an obscure kick that occurs only twice in the Naihanchi (Tekki, Chulki) kata. As it is not very flashy and is not repeated in any other kata, it remains largely overlooked. A shame really, as it contains a wealth of uses, and can do unbelievable damage. That is all to the detriment of the modern practitioner who is only concerned with what looks good. It is wise to remember that beauty is as beauty does.