After a weekend of karate with yodan Craig Walters, a thank you, no matter how heartfelt, never seems like enough. His latest visit to the Twin Falls dojo was no different. Following hours of instruction over two days at the end of this past March, we gathered at our instructor Jesse Clark’s house on Saturday evening. Eventually, we dined on what Craig of all people would cook for us, with help from Jesse’s wife, Megan.
In other words, he guided, demonstrated for, and shared with us elements of his personal practice and understanding of our art, revelations from his nearly 40 years of incredibly diligent training and real-life application, only to wrap up by preparing us food (and for a much larger group than originally intended). And that process was as guided by precision as his shotokan.
To say that he is a gracious person borders on silly, it’s such an understatement. Over the two days, I served as one of his demonstration partners. With a complement here and a feigning of concern for his safety there, all in good humor, he would rattle my insides with the initial open-hand technique of tekki shodan and make me wonder whether I should have put in my mouth guard beforehand. Earlier, he had thanked me for not “hurting” him with my roundhouse. I had thanked him for not chucking me across the room when he caught it and spun me. It was clear for anyone to see that he was taking it easy on me, and yet he would be the one to make sure he had not forgotten to bow to me for helping him demonstrate.
Our practices on Friday evening and during the day on Saturday saw us working our way through footwork, or “waking up the feet”, as Craig referred to it; striking patterns; discussions of where the advantages lay in a confrontation with an opponent (get your hips lower than theirs); sanbon kumite, during which he directed us to chase our opponent down on the second attack and reminded us that it should feel dangerous; basics (ever important); and kata, including his specialty, tekki sandan.
Even before we started moving through actual karate techniques each session, he was certain to point out where we could improve our posture and so on during warm-ups, something I’ve seen the best of our ranks ensure on other occasions. Every period of mokuso, meanwhile, was an opportunity to work on keeping our breathing from being detected, while forming orderly lines served as another chance to confront hesitation and indecision so as not to be a victim.
In a tone that was so Idaho and so California at the same time, as if “The Dude” Lebowski had always been in actuality from the Potato State, he calmly encouraged us to improve our mental practice by trying unfamiliar things he had taken care to explain to us, faulting himself if the lot of us weren’t quite nailing it.
There were turns that reminded me of salsa classes I took years ago, the difference being our gis and belts and bare feet, our relaxed arms floating out and in, hands slapping against our bodies like the beads of pellet drums as we changed directions. We repeated combination patterns that deliberately stretched our minds and pushed us to become comfortable with the awkward; we considered expressions of continuous movement and constant flow of power throughout a kata; and we slowed it all down, in part to take an honest look at how (or whether) we were pulling it all off.
I appreciate that there isn’t all that much that’s obvious about Craig, once you begin hearing about him or listening to him, or otherwise getting to know him. He’s interesting, plus he’s as close to something of a modern-day warrior as anybody gets anymore, not to mention he’s really freakin’ good at karate. It’s a way of life for him, and it shows. What a shining example he is of the positive feedback loop between the practice of our art and daily life.
Craig will be the first — and the only I’ve personally encountered — to tell you he knows nothing. It’s a wonder, then, that such an individual can be so impactful in improving the technical know-how and general practice of Shotokan Karate of all who are open to it.
A persistent message from the weekend was his emphasis on each of us staying true to our personal projects, regardless of who visits our dojo and what they advise us to do or not do, never mind their rank. It was something he reiterated on Saturday night before we all left Jesse’s and went home.
Fair enough, Craig. But then, please allow me to express our gratitude for showing up and having a hand in furthering us all along, no matter where we’re at in our pursuit of those personal projects. And, instead of a mere thank you, I’ll leave you with this: I believe I speak for us all when I say that you’re one of the best we’ve got, and it’s always an honor and a privilege to learn from you. We look forward to any future time we get to spend in your company. All the best.
Philip Valenta, ikkyu
Twin Falls Dojo