Monday, December 19, 2005

Hanging Out With Onimitsu2004 Again

I spent last Saturday at Onimitsu2004's house when he was home from Hawaii visiting his folks in Texas for the holidays. It really was great seeing him again, as it's been roughly a year-and-a-half since I last saw him in person. And just like old times, we spent hours doing our karate together.

Unlike old times, he is now studying Pat Nakata's method of Shorin Ryu, thus being a Chibana Chosin method of Shorin Ryu (Kobayashi), as Nakata-Sensei was a direct student of legendary karate master Chibana. Nakata is also well-known among the Okinawans for being able to knock people out. Consequently, he would always use these terms like osae and backpull in ways I didn't understand. Or, he would come up with all these stories about Chibana which were pretty sweet. As time passed, he began to develop a physical understanding of these terms and gradually became able to do them with regularity. Whenever I saw the videos of the way he and Nakata performed the kata in their particular manner (which just looks kind of weird), I wasn't exactly skeptical, but I was very curious what it was all about. Last Saturday, I was able to feel the results. And as we say in karate, "feeling is believing".

I asked him to punch me (as I do many people) just to see how hard it is. Normally, most people (myself included) tend to punch in a manner that has a lot of surface impact but not a lot of penetration. Granted, I didn't block or even tense up to receive the blow (I normally don't), but he hit me far harder than all but a handful of people I've ever had hit me. I was doubled over for about ten seconds or so. I probably could've straightened up, but I was still in surprise at how hard it was. I was able to be just fine after that, but I felt him hit me in the chest and it felt like a mallet slammed me in the gut. He says I was supposed to feel it go straight in rather than drop, but since I kind of dropped too, I guess it was okay.

The rest of the time was spent comparing kata, explanations for various moves, and me trying to understand as much about all those terms Onimitsu2004 tosses around like leaves on a windy day. He would humorously sound like a someone from Hawaii whenever he tried to explain something in depth. He admitted that he couldn't help but adopt some mannerisms of his teacher when doing so. You could tell that not only is Nakata really good, but he is a good teacher as well, since Onimitsu2004 was able to explain things pretty well in person.

It really was like old times, although I found myself learning much more from him. All the same, I was able to hear many things that I have been told in my style (and Onimitsu2004's former style) of Shorinkan Shorin Ryu but didn't quite have it stick with me (stop looking down, "royal" posture, slow down more, etc.). All in all, it was a heck of a lot of fun. I look forward to the day that Onimitsu2004 comes out here to Goodfellow for Intel training next summer as there will be some overlap between my time here and his.

At the same time, it was almost kind of sad. There is a definite divergence between my karate and his. For now, I can see myself staying in the Shorin Ryu Shorinkan, but Onimitsu2004 will now most definitely remain a student of Nakata (and for good reason, too). His karate has become much more powerful like Nakata's while mine wants to become softer. I know I won't see him at a lot of the Shorinkan camps I go to. I seem to have chosen my way and he has chosen his. But you know, that's why I said "almost kind of sad", and not "kind of sad". In some ways, this represents the manner in which karate is supposed to evolve: along individual lines. If our karate remained identical, then it truly would be sad. I can see us decades down the road, sending students to each other just to see what "the other side" is about. And that is kind of cool.

After we did all our karate stuff, we went to a dessert party at someone else's house (which for a non-junk food eater like me simply involved a lot of talking and some fruit). After that, we went back to the house and sat around talking with his family, which was enjoyable as well. I'm sure Onimitsu2004 just loved all the stories that all parents love to tell about their kid when guests are over. I spent the night there and headed out the next morning. All told, well-worth the 8-9 hours of driving roundtrip.


Sunday, December 04, 2005

My Martial Articles Link Page

Index of Martial Articles

Most recent articles listed first

- Chibana Chosin Sensei: An Interview With Pat Nakata Sensei In March 2010
An interview with my instructor Pat Nakata Sensei about his instructor Chibana Chosin Sensei (taken from March 2010)

- 14 April 2013: Hawaii Karate Kenkyukai Session
Hawaii Karate Kenkyukai training session where we studied Kanegawa no Timbei, Wansu/Wanshu/Empi, Naihanchi Sandan, and Seipai

- Life After Sensei
Dealing with the death of my mentor, role model, and instructor Pat Nakata Sensei

- Hawaii Karate Kenkyukai Session: December 9, 2012
Hawaii Karate Kenkyukai training session where we studied Pinan/Heian Sandan and Godan, Kyan Bo no Kata Dai, and Gekisai Sandan and Yondan

- Aug and Oct 2012 Hawaii Karate Kenkyukai Sessions
Hawaii Karate Kenkyukai training session where we studied the Pinan/Heian Shodan, Nidan, and Yondan Kata, the Kyan Bo no Kata Sho and Kyan Sai no Kata Sho, and the Gekisai Shodan and Nidan Kata

- Hawaii Karate Kenkyukai: 10 June 2012
Hawaii Karate Kenkyukai training session where we studied Jion, Patsai/Passai, Nipaipo, and Saifa/Saifua

- Hawaii Karate Kenkyukai Session: April 15, 2012
Hawaii Karate Kenkyukai training session where we studied Seisan/Seishan/Hangetsu, Naihanchi/Tekki Sandan, and Anan

- Hawaii Karate Kenkyukai: February 2012 Session
Hawaii Karate Kenkyukai training session where we studied Seienchin/Seiunchin/Seiyunchin, the Kihon kata, Wankan/Okan/Matsukage, Kojo no Sai, and Wanchin

- Kime and the Hawaii Karate Kenkyukai December 2011 Training Session
Hawaii Karate Kenkyukai training session where we studied the Gekisai Ni(dan), Chinto/Gankaku, Jiin, and Maezato no Tekko kata. This was followed by an open discussion of “one-step attack” range and the walk-in, as well as kime

- Hawaii Karate Kenkyukai - October 9, 2011
Hawaii Karate Kenkyukai Session where we studied Niseishi, Naihanchi Sandan, Gekisai, Fukyuugata, and Wanchin

- Mrs. Diane Satoko Nagaishi Memorial Demonstration (Hawaii Karate Kenkyukai) - Guest Post by Pat Nakata Sensei
This is the 1-year memorial demonstration the Hawaii Karate Kenkyukai held for Mrs. Diane Satoko

- A Strong Testament to Willpower and Training: Hawaii Karate Kenkyukai - June 12, 2011
Hawaii Karate Kenkyukai where we studied Patsai, Seiunchin, and Kyan Sai no Kata Dai, as well as a personal anecdote on willpower and training that hits close to home

- Hawaii Karate Kenkyukai: April 10, 2011 (Guest Post)
Hawaii Karate Kenkyukai Session where we studied Patsai, Kanegawa no Timbei, and Sanseiru

- Special Kenkyukai Session: Pat Nakata Sensei Teaching Sai Basics
Hawaii Karate Kenkyukai training session where Pat Nakata Sensei held a seminar on the Kyan Sensei sai basics

- Special Kenkyukai Hawaii Karate Kenkyukai training session where Angel Lemus Sensei held a seminar on take-downs

- Hawaii Karate Kenkyukai: February 13, 2011 (Guest Post)
Hawaii Karate Kenkyukai training session where we studied Pinan Yondan, Pinan Godan, Maezato no Tekko, Gekisai San, Gekisai Yon, Tokumine Bo, and Wanchin

- Hawaii Karate Kenkyukai: December 5, 2010 - Ippon Kowashi and the Walk-in
Hawaii Karate Kenkyukai training session where we studied Pinan Nidan, Pinan Sandan, Tokumine Bo, and Gekisai Yon, as well as the concepts of Ippon Kowashi and the Walk-in

- Hawaii Karate Kenkyukai: October 31, 2010
Hawaii Karate Kenkyukai training session where we studied Pinan Shodan, Gekisai, and Wanchin

- Hawaii Karate Kenkyukai: August 22, 2010
Hawaii Karate Kenkyukai training session where we studied Kanegawa no Nichogama, Kanku, Chinto, Suparinpei, Unsu, Kishaba Juku Fukyugata Ichi, Yara Kusanku, and Seiunchin

- Hawaii Karate Kenkyukai: April 11, 2010
Hawaii Karate Kenkyukai training session where we studied Rohai, Chikina no Tunfa, Hamahiga no Tonfa, and Sokugi Taikyoku Sono Ichi

- Hawaii Karate Kenkyukai: February 28, 2010
Hawaii Karate Kenkyukai training session where we studied Anan, Gojushiho, Saifa, and Kanegawa no Timbei

- Closing Distance and Not Overextending: Musashi's "Body of a Shuko"
The importance of closing distance and not reaching out to execute techniques outside of range

-A Good Coach
Learning from corrections and correcting

- Robert "Snaggy" Naoto Inouye

A tribute to the memory of Snaggy.

- Chibana Chosin's Kata Curriculum
How Chibana Sensei came up with his teaching curriculum and the kata it included

- Present State of Training
Where I stand after a period away from Hawaii

- Rushing and Ego
How can ego affect your fighting? Rushing, that's how.

- Are Mistakes Necessary?
Mistakes and the active learning process in karate

- Terrain and Karate Training - Guest Post: "Dojo"
The views of my instructor, Pat Nakata, on the literal dojo environment and the effects on training

- Fighting Mentality
What it really boils down to

- The Worst Horse
Sometimes being objective is painful.

- The Strongest Move in Shorin Ryu
A technical answer to a rhetorical question

- Shallowness of Thought
Over the centuries, some things in martial arts never change. The presence of pointless debates is one of them.

- Hawaii Karate Kenkyuukai
A group for the informal study of the martial arts

- What Is Okinawan Karate?
As my views on Okinawan karate have changed over the years, I restate my views on the matter.

- Chibana Chosin Sensei DVD Review
My review of the Chibana Chosin DVD recently released and corrections I have to the historical inaccuracies presented

- Okinawa Trip 2007 Part 1 2 3 4 5 6
Multi-part series that details my week-long trip to Okinawa in April 2007

- Using Kata in a Fight: Keep It Simple
Article based on a post I wrote on Karateforums explaining one of the biggest guidelines necessary to keep your kata fighting-effective

- Meeting Up on the Mainland
Article about meeting Ed Tiller, a long-distance student of my instructor, Pat Nakata

- Putting Theory To Practice: Newton's 3rd Law of Motion
Article detailing through personal experience of knowledge of physics becoming understanding of fighting

- Paradigm Shift Part 2: Boxer Mentality versus Ippon Kowashi
Article about the "common wisdom" that it is impractical to train to end a confrontation with one technique and the reasons for it

- Clearing the Air: The Truth About Chibana Sensei's Succession
There are many claims regarding who was appointed as Chibana Sensei's successor to head Shorin Ryu (widely and erroneously referred to as Kobayashi Shorin Ryu nowadays). Read this article to find out the truth.

- Paradigm Shift Part 1: Search versus Pursuit
Article about the phenomenon of training in too many styles instead of refining what you already know

- Karatedo no Kokoroe
Post about Nakata Sensei's article on Chibana Sensei's calligraphy and guidance on karate entitled "Karatedo no Kokoroe"

- The Other Half of Training
Traditional Martial Artists were very serious about their physical conditioning and used specific kinds of workouts tailored not just to general fitness, but to martial arts.

- Hanging Out With Onimitsu2004 Again
I visited my friend Terry while he was home visiting his parents. This encounter led me onto my new path of martial arts study.

- Sometimes a Punch is Just a Punch, a Block is Just a Block, and a Kick is Just a Kick
This post actually contains an excerpt from my friend Onimitsu2004's blog and his post here which laments the trend of people overanalyzing their kata to the point. The comments included on the bottom of my post are more interesting than my individual contribution, which was merely to act as a signpost for this article.

- Training at Karate as a Martial Art
Focusing on the most important part of the compound word "Martial Arts"

- Lone Star State Karate & Kobudo Seminar 2005
Renshi Charlie Dean held his first annual karate seminar in November 2005 and we were graced with the presence of many great instructors. Here are my thoughts on the weekend.

- Character Development in Martial Arts
The Okinawan approach to character development is not the way it is currently spun in many karate circles.

- Not Just a Few Kata
My thoughts on the notion that the "old masters" only knew one or two kata

- Shorinkan Summer Camp 2005
Every year, Kyoshi Perry holds a "summer camp" which is more like a massive seminar that spans from mid-Thursday to mid-Sunday. Aptly dubbed "Little Okinawa", it is a gathering of high- level Shorin Ryu Shorinkan practitioners and high-level guest instructors who come to teach various concepts and techniques. It truly is wonderful to have that much skill in karate gathered together outside of Okinawa. This are my thoughts on the 2005 Summer Camp in North Carolina.

- A Few Days With Kyoshi Perry
My thoughts on the days I trained at Kyoshi Doug Perry's dojo during my second trip out there in North Carolina

- Random Thoughts on "Tradition"
As the title says, some random thoughts on what "tradition" means in karate

- The "Chambered" Fist
My thoughts on that "chambered fist" held by the side of the torso that you see in so many martial arts

- A Day With Shiroma Jiro
My thoughts and impressions of the seminar I was able to attend with Shiroma Jiro, an 8th dan in Shorin Ryu karate and a man who truly is oriented towards the strategy and tactics of self-defense

- Stances in Kumite
My response to the notion that one should not practice certain stances if they do not occur in sparring

- Learning Outside of Class
Just a brief exposition about the importance of training outside of class...not just for the extra time, but for the individual critical thought process.

- What is "Traditional" Karate?
My article relating how the term "traditional" in conjunction with martial arts almost never refers to the traditional way of doing karate, and what that means


Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Onimitsu2004 on Overanalysis of Kata

Onimitsu2004's latest post talks about how many people try to make their analysis of the fighting applications of kata too complicated. I don't echo all his sentiments exactly, but he makes many good points:

While it's heartening to see a new wave of martial artists launching themselves into analyzing the breadth and depth of kata, it's disheartening to see how they sometimes miss the point because they don't fully understand the science behind the moves in kata. After watching a series of videos, reading some posts on martial arts message boards, and remembering to some of my own early training, I've observed that the latest craze afflicting interpretation of moves in kata is the grappling craze. Every move of every kata can suddenly be interpreted as a grappling movement. Even more alarming is that these grappling techniques are passed off as "the next level" of development.

The more I look at kata, and the more I study the Chibana methodology, the less convinced I have become of grappling applications in certain places in certain kata that I have seen passed off as "advanced techniques." Yes, there are many places in kata where you are clearly grappling with an opponent. But in other places, sometimes a punch is just a punch, a block just a block, and a kick just a kick. I think instructors are beginning to read too much into movements or perhaps too little, not fully understanding the science of the movements. And, thus interpreting or inserting grappling imi when it is not the imi that is called for. And the problem with using the wrong imi is that you miss the proper bunkai (tautological, but true). If a move in a kata is just a punch but not understanding how a punch is to be properly executed in that move of the kata, you might interpret it as a throw instead. Both are diminished in execution; throwing and punching are not the same, and both have a different bunkai.

Read it all.


Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Training at Karate as a Martial Art

Chibana Chosin (1885-1969) was a true Okinawan karate master. Sadly, "karate master" is now such a trite phrase that it can never fully carry the same impact in a reader's mind that it should. Widely respected across Okinawa for his martial skills, he was considered among the last (some say the last) of the "old Okinawan masters" generation. I bring him up because I always have his quote pasted somewhere on my site, which goes as follows:

"In the old days we trained at karate as a martial art, but now they train at karate as a gymnastic sport. I think we must avoid treating karate as a sport - it must be a martial art at all times!"
His words still remain true to this day. They also highlight first and foremost the traditional goal of karate: fighting. That means not sport, or even a specific vehicle for character development(for more on this subject, see my article here). Lest there be any doubt, the quote continues:

"Your fingers and the tips of your toes must be like arrows, your arms must be like iron. You have to think that if you kick, you try to kick the enemy dead. If you punch, you must thrust to kill. If you strike, then you strike to kill the enemy. This is the spirit you need in training."
But what does it mean? What does it mean for it to be a martial art? The answer is simple enough. Don't let the "art" at the end fool you. It is a study of that which is oriented towards bettering one's ability in combat. Yet many people fall short of Chibana's ideal, even though they practice styles or methods of training that still retain a central focus on practical combat. And here is why: "training at karate as a martial art" is a much deeper phrase than an initial read might suggest. However you choose to cut it, karate is a combative skill. And when it comes to skills, as one of my coaches back in high school always used to say, "You're either getting better or getting worse. There is no staying the same." Doug Perry, the North American Director for the Shorin Ryu Shorinkan, has many, many sayings. One of them is "there's no substitute for training". He certainly wasn't the first to say this and definitely will not be the last. Put these two sayings together and you can only come to one conclusion: The only way to keep from getting worse is getting better through continual training.

Believe it or not, I did not just engage in some meaningless tangent to the discussion at hand, nor am I about to do so now.

Many martial artists have stated their reasons for studying the martial arts: social atmosphere, exercise, health, self-defense, tradition, discipline, character development, looking cool, etc. Realistically, it is a mixture of some or all of those aspects. Underlying most of these reasons is another: "because it is fun". However, there are many people for whom enjoyment (for any number of reasons as stated above) is a deciding factor for when and how they train. Even if a person states above all else their purpose is to become a better fighter, they may often "not have their heart (or head) in it today" or "just don't feel like it". In these cases, they usually do not train and prefer to do something else. In other cases, people's lives are very busy and there is not that much time to train, or if there is, they would much rather spend it doing something else. To put it in economic terms, they do not gain much utility out of training and therefore perform some other act that gives them utility.

Bear with me, I am almost there.

What kind of person "gains utility" from training no matter what their mood? A warrior. One warrior, Gurney Halleck from the novel Dune, admonishes the main character Paul Atreides with these words after the latter states he is not in the mood for training: "Mood's a thing for cattle or making love or playing the baliset. It's not for fighting." Chibana Chosin was a real-life warrior. He was known for doing things such as never entering a room before scanning it for potential enemies, even in his own home. If he had such intensity outside of his training, how much more he must have had during it!

Herein lies the difference between those who train for fun and those who train for skills. Too many people focus on how much fun they get out of training while they do it instead of how much they value the combative skill acquired. Don't get me wrong, having fun during training is acceptable and certainly helps the effort required for continuous training over multiple decades. I certainly do and recommend it. Yet whenever you feel yourself not in the mood to train, remember what it is you are training for: fighting skills. This is more than simply having "discipline", although it has much to do with it. It is continually making the decision to either be someone who practices karate or a warrior who trains at karate as a martial art.


Monday, November 14, 2005

Shorinkan Lone Star State Karate & Kobudo Seminar (and random thoughts)

This will be long, so bear with me (all the handful of you who even read this). It is partially a summary of a camp I attended this weekend and partially a collection of various thoughts I have about karate at this point in my life.

Last weekend I had the pleasure of attending the Lone Star State Karate & Kobudo seminar held by Renshi Charlie Dean, who did a great job in assembling a great amount of talent to attend the first seminar like this he has organized. The guest instructors who attended were Kyoshi Doug Perry , Kyoshi Chris Estes, Kyoshi Pat Haley , Kyoshi Eddie Bethea , Kyoshi Sean Riley, Kyoshi Noel Smith (all from Shorin Ryu Shorinkan) Hanshi Ron Lindsey (of Matsumura Seito...and where the heck is his website?), and Kyoshi Mike Arnold (the first teacher of a good many great karateka such as Chris Estes and Sean Riley). As is typical of camps of this nature, the amount of skill assembled was truly amazing. Many karate camps bring guest instructors and high-ranking people from various places, but it is truly rare for them to have this much talent in old school, combat effective arts like this. Like the Matrix, one has to experience it to understand what it is. Unlike the Matrix, the people assembled are more than just for show and have a deep understanding of fighting. I constantly get this impression, but the vast amount of people doing martial arts have no concept of the gradations of skill present among high-level practitioners. I have talked to so many people who believe their instructor is "the best" or "one of the best", but they have never met more than a handful of instructors to which to compare them to. I have had the unique opportunity to see a wide smattering of instructors (those I have trained with and those I have merely met or watched) and the difference between is striking, even between those who are "good" and those who are "great". Most people just can't comprehend it. But I digress...

I have said it before and I will say it again. One of the advantages of a large organization (there are certainly disadvantages in some respects) is the ability to have camps like this and to meet various people in and out of our system. Out of the fifty or so people which attended, there were a good many visitors from other systems which only added to the mix. But it really does help to maintain quality control. Our North American director, Doug Perry, makes a point to visit a good number of these Shorinkan camps every year and that really allows him to keep a handle on how good (or bad, like me) people are in his organization. But apart from skill levels alone, it really is a great social networking device to create relationships that will lasts over the many miles and years that everyone's karate career will take them. It is always nice to be in the presence of those who bring a smile to your face simply by seeing them. Having them be extremely deadly martial artists (no matter how cheesy that sounds) is a plus. As always, it was great seeing Kyoshi Doug Perry again, who truly opened my eyes at how deep the rabbit hole goes (I'm just full of Matrix analogies today...or is it Alice in Wonderland...) in karate. And all the other North Carolina crew, such as Kyoshi Chris Estes and Richard Church. But I'm going to end up naming everyone I've met in Shorinkan over the I'll stop. I would be totally amiss if I didn't mention that I got to see Kyoshi Sean Riley again. He was the instructor I met up in Colorado. Much to my eternal regret, we never knew he was outside of Denver until December of my senior year, so my time with him was quite limited. All the same, it really did change the whole direction of my martial arts career, and that isn't just something said for dramatic effect. He was the one who arranged my first trip out to North Carolina to train with Kyoshi Doug Perry (which was all free, including my hotel for the stay...of course I had to pay for my transportation out there, but Doug Perry refused to accept any money for tuition and bought me and Terry, who went there with me, a great many meals). That trip expanded further my awareness of the depth truly existent in karate and the ability to maintain cross-country karate relationships and development if I were so inclined (which I am). Much like I am greatly indebted to my first karate instructor Mark Staal, I am deeply indebted to Sean Riley. Bottom line: a great many friends and teachers there.

And now my thoughts on Hanshi Ron Lindsey. Like Kyoshi Perry, you can tell this man lives and breathes martial arts. There is a huge difference between those who have simply spent many long years practicing karate and those who have spent many long years learning and improving their karate. He is without a doubt one of the latter. I was greatly impressed with his skill and knowledge and his reputation as one of the best traditional Okinawan karateka and preserver of the "old ways". We were very fortunate to have him attend our seminar and he added a lot. Like a student of his I got to meet last August at the Shorinkan Camp in North Carolina (Phil Koeppel), he was excellent in efficiency and deadly tactics which are simple to do and hard to master. I only hope to get the opportunity to learn from him again in the future. He puts on a great many seminars which I wish to attend.

Like most all Okinawan karate instructors worth their salt have stated, he really emphasized the sad fact that the "old ways" are disappearing even on Okinawa although there is a small but hopefully growing presence of the "old ways" in America. He also stated (and I have heard this elsewhere) that one day Okinawans will have to come to America to learn the old ways. Nor did he hesitate to state that the vast majority of what is marketed and mass produced as karate did not work. Confirming again what I have heard from so many in the early generation of karate in America, he remarked that the youngsters of today (I still consider myself one) have such a unique opportunity in learning much of the old ways of Okinawa. We have the chance to learn them from people speaking the same language and who often had to learn the vast majority of their understanding themselves. As my instructor Sam Ahtye always says, people like me are so fortunate to be exposed to concepts they only were able to pick up after so many years of experience. I, for one, feel this unique opportunity is also a heavy responsibility. Many of these older karateka will not be here forever. Hanshi Lindsey joked that he was going to live forever or die trying, but the sad fact is, when they pass on the world of karate will not only be losing great people in the personal sense, but also in the terms of aggregate skill and knowledge. Paul Weed, who I've had the pleasure of meeting last summer during a Karateforums get together (ironically attended by myself, him and another individual who barely have a presence there anymore), likes to cite the death poem of karate master Hohan Soken: "I have taught you all I know.There is no more I can teach you.I am a candle whose light has traveled far.You are my candles to whom I have passed on my light.It is you who will light the path for others.Today I see around me the lights of Shaolin.The flame of tomorrow,My task is done, soon my flame will end.Teach the true spirit of karate-do and one day you may enter the Temple of Shaolin". Like any tradition, it runs the risk of dying out. And however lame this sounds, I want to ensure my life serves to stoke the flame of old karate rather than simply being a cheap candle bulb you can buy at Wal-Mart. These candle bulbs have the form of a candle just like modern karate and what goes around calling itself traditional karate has the form of old Okinawan karate, but they are never the same.

Finally getting to the seminar, I attended the seminar on fighting techniques given by Ron Lindsey, the various kata applications and fighting concepts seminars given by all the kyoshi (they rotated around), a seminar on a tekko kata (Onimitsu2004 would get on to me and say correctly they are tecchu being used in a tekko kata) and tanbo kata given by Doug Perry, the Yakusoku kumite class and a bo application class given by Pat Haley (who is great with weapons and their applications). There were a few other classes held but they ran at the same time others did. Despite this being the suppposed meat of this entry, I've not much to say other than I learned a lot...maybe I'll touch up on some actual tactics and concepts later. This post is way too long already.

Demonstration night was nice. Various kyoshi did various kata. I was actually voluntold to do a demonstration, so I ended up doing Hamahiga no Tonfa. I only messed up two or three times, but that was more the sequence of the kata rather than anything blatant like dropping the tonfa. Since most people didn't even know the kata, I guess I was somewhat safe...of course all the really good people were able to critique me on the basis of either knowledge of the kata or just knowledge in general, but I think I did "okay". Kyoshi Perry called me up to do it first (he was just calling off names from the list). He asked me if I was doing something, and then told me to be the first one (about one minute before the demonstrations started). I wasn't nervous or anything since I was doing what I do many times a week anyway, but I wish I had something greater to contribute. Anyway, that was obviously not the highlight of the demonstrations. Sean Riley did the Chinto kata in a mirror image (in other words, right and left directions and techniques were all reversed) and then did it completely backwards (as if someone pressed the rewind button after completion). Yeah, he's good. Chris Estes did the Takemyoshi no nuntebo dai ichi and Kyoshi Perry did Rokkishu after the audience pressured him to do something. Even people who visited from other styles who probably had no inkling they would be doing a demonstration (like me) did kata, so that was nice.

Another thing I gained from the camp was being introduced to the Shorinkan group in Austin (200 miles away) so I'll probably make a trip out there once a month or so. It'll be good to keep my kata in standard and prevent bad habits (different from personal interpretation) from creeping in. Having spent the last year driving twice a week to Sam Ahtye's dojo which was 114 miles away from me, I'll probably do more of the same albeit with much less frequency.

Well, this entry is certainly ending with a whimper rather than a bang. I suggest martial arts minded people check out Onimitsu2004's latest entry as he has apparently reached a great milestone in his growth in karate. I am envious and my blood burns to fight him once again when I think about how much training and development he has experienced. I guess that's just the Rohirrim in me.


Monday, September 19, 2005

Random Update

Karate-wise, I've made the decision to drop Matsumura Wansu, Ananku and Seisan. I've been doing them, but I've not spent enough time on them to make them worthwhile. I'll keep Matsumura Hakutsuru Sho, though. That feels more like a "gift kata" to me from my Matsumura Shorin Ryu instructor, so I want to maintain it. I figure I know way too many kata as it is, and I need to focus my efforts better...(I still have my opinion about the old masters only knowing "a few kata" though...see my article linked in the sidebar if you haven't read it yet).

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Brief exposition on karate and character development

People always talk about how the martial arts improves character. I think it CAN, and often does. However, there are some things to keep in mind historically. And read the whole thing before you get offended...or don't...I don't mind.

People always tend to quote Funakoshi as one who exemplified high character and great karate. They point to his statement here: "The ultimate aim of karate lies not in victory or defeat but in the perfection of the character of its participants."
I think that statement does at least two things which are not beneficial in my mind. First of all, it divorces karate from what it actually is: the technical science of personal combat. Secondly, it degrades one's quality of martial arts by ignoring the technical aspect and focusing on how one "feels" or how their character is.

I think the second is most tellingly told in the technical aspect of Funakoshi's karate. He did an excellent job of promoting karate to the Japanese mainland and was responsible for ensuring its viability throughout the world. But he wasn't that great of a fighter and most people on Okinawan had a very low opinion of his fighting ability. Furthermore, much of the technical aspects were lost in their transmission to the mainland. But does it have to be that way? Do you have to be only an "okay-at-best" fighter if you want to have high character? I don't think so. But to understand why, we have to understand the differences between Funakoshi's approach to character development in karate and the way it was approached before him.

Funakoshi's emphasis was something like this: Through your study of karate, you will perfect your character. The zen-hungry Japanese ate it up like takoyaki at a downtown stall in Osaka. The emphasis was shifted upon countless repetition of very basic techniques. Stances were changed to be more physically demanding and aesthetically pleasing-but a lot less practical in fighting. These changes were to impose difficulty on the practitioner and thus character development through overcoming struggle, hardship, and if you want to put zen into the equation (you must), the Self that is, but isn't. But is (As I've had several professors put it that way). This context has been totally lost on many practitioners, to the detriment of their karate.

Before, it was something like this: Karate is a venue to pursue character perfection, but it isn't always the outcome. You should focus more upon the perfection of character in all things, rather than making karate your vehicle. Unless you have character, everything is useless, whether it be your karate or your knowledge.

This is exemplified in the poem that went:

No matter how you may excel in the art of te and in your scholastic endeavors, nothing is more important than your behavior and your humanity as observed in daily life. (Teijunsoku Nago Oyakata 1663)

Therefore, it wasn't "from karate I improve myself", it was "from myself, I improve my karate".

It is a difference of approach and implementation. Those who say "I want to make karate my way of life, not just a martial art" are doing it "backwards", so to speak (not in the sense of value assignation). Those who say "I will perfect my character, and it will show through my martial arts" are doing it "forwards".

For those in traditions where it was the other way around, I know you might be offended. But that is an important historical context of your style and has to be addressed. Even if you don't make karate your vehicle of character development with these detriments to martial effectiveness, those before you have, and it shows in the teaching.

Doing it forwards means you can express your character development through your karate, but doesn't mean you have to do all those other things that will impair your karate. By choosing to express it or nurture it rather than solely develop it through karate, which is what one does when you make "karate your life", you can still gain improvements in character will maintaining your active improvement in combative ability. A semantic difference but an important one, as nurturing development means it is something that aids development yet the development would already be there.

Aristotle often said that excellent was a habit rather than an act. And he was right. Both of these approaches are in line with Aristotle's argument. It is all too easy with the first approach to do actions which only improve your character rather than both your character and your martial ability. Am I saying you can't improve the technical aspects of your karate using the first framework? Of course not. I think the benefit will only be less.

I suppose in the end neither approach is "wrong." If you achieve character development, that is a good thing. But I think it is useful to understand how history and context shapes this whole belief, and how that shift has changed karate (not only "spiritually" but "technically").

Friday, August 26, 2005

Yes, too many kata, but...

This is something I've been thinking about for a while. This post was prompted by a conversation I have been having with someone via pm from

We all recognize that we tend to learn a whole lot of kata, much more than the "old masters" did. At the same time, I can't help but feel a logical disconnect by the statement that the "old masters" really only knew very few kata.

I will use an example, Bushi Matsumura. Yes, perhaps I am padding my case by adding the genius founder of Shorin Ryu karate, but I can't feel that he is the only one to have learned so many kata.

1. He is known to have taught many kata.

2. On empty hand alone, he taught Seisan, Chinto, Kusanku, Passai, Gojushiho, Naihanchi shodan, Naihanchi Nidan, the various Channan kata (which Itosu modified into Pinan kata), male and female Hakutsuru, and Chinshu. That's at least 12 kata. This doesn't include kata he either did not teach (ones he made or learned in China or from local te traditions) or did not gain mass popularity. Nor does it include variations of those kata he himself knew or taught to his students or the various drills and exercises not included as "formal kata". That is still a sizeable number.

3. As far as weapons go, it is more difficult to ascertain which weapons kata he knew. It is known that he personally devised at least a sai, bo, and eku kata which bear his name. This implies he knew at least one kata for each of these weapons from other sources. A student of Sakugawa (or lineage, as there is debate over that), he had to have known at least Sakugawa no Kun. As a royal bodyguard he was skilled in the jo, the fan, and as many sources point to, Jigen Ryu swordsmanship. This means at the barest minimum, he knew 9 weapons kata. Because the bo, sai and sword are recognized as entire systems in and of themselves, I strongly believe he knew multiple kata for each of these, which pushes the number 9 to a much higher amount. In addition, the use of nunchaku was also known among Bushi of the period (albeit in a different form than we see common nowadays). But if we accept the number 9, which I think logic strongly argues against, we still have a sizeable amount of kata.

4. So we have by the strictest definitions of logic, Bushi Matsumura knew 21 kata, although common sense leads to the hypothesis he knew far, far more.

5. Yes, some styles like Uechi Ryu started with a very small number (3). Most of these are "younger" styles in the sense that while they come from a rich tradition in China, their current form is a relatively new one, hence there is little of the evolutionary build-up of kata. Even now there are 8 official empty hand kata in Uechi Ryu. This isn't to bash Uechi Ryu or styles with a small amount of kata, certainly not. I recognize the existence of those greats such as Motobu Choki who knew a limited number of kata yet were excellent fighters.

6. The establishment of standard curriculum kata is more of a modern concept of karate, as is the style system. Ironically, it was meant to preserve the older ways against encroachment by sport karate or other watering down effects. However, this requires people to learn a specific number of kata and any optional learning (which was freely done in the old days) is frowned upon by some as it takes attention away from the established set.

7. My thoughts are still mixed on this. On one hand, keeping a core set of kata and principles ensures the original framework is there (balanced by the fact that every generation reinterprets the kata to varying degrees with varying degrees of modification). On the other hand, there is a loss of personal modification of the kata which is the reason why we have so many version of the same old kata to begin with. Certainly every good karateka worth his or her salt has their version of the kata and the standard curriculum version. But it is often only the standard curriculum version that is passed down. Therefore an important burden is placed upon each instructor to maintain the difference in instruction and determining the delicate balance between doctrine and innovation. It is helpful to discuss these differences candidly with students who have matured in their martial arts to understand them (I think my current and past instructors have always done a great job in this). In the end, all karate is individual and nothing can change that.

8. In the end it all boils down to principles rather than techniques, anyway. A variety of kata is great for introducing awareness of different techniques which enhance improvisation and adaptibility to a broad range of circumstances. But the most important thing is the principles underlying those techniques so even if you know a lot of kata, you can avoid being bogged down by having too much techniques to study by focusing on the principles instead.

And by the way, if any of you know for certain there are kata Bushi Matsumura knew that I did not include (I didn't feel like doing too much intensive research on this and tried to err on the side of confirmation rather than conjecture), if you would be so kind, please leave me a comment informing me which kata it is. Or if you feel I'm totally off the mark, let me know too (I say as if there are a lot of people that read this).

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Kyoshi Perry's Shorinkan Summer Camp 2005

This past weekend I had the opportunity to make it to Kyoshi Doug Perry's summer camp for the first time. It was simply amazing for various reasons. I really enjoyed myself, getting to see people I've met before and meeting others for the first time. I was very impressed by the vast majority of teachers. There were also some I was not impressed with (who will go unnamed as this is a public site...don't want to hurt anyone's feelings/offend people for various reasons) but they were the vast minority. The instructors ranged from within our system (like Kyoshi Perry, Kyoshi Haley, Kyoshi Roberts, Kyoshi Estes, etc.) to gues instructors from other systems such as Hanshi Logue, the designated head of Taika Oyata's system. Sadly I was unable to meet up with my first karate instructor Mark Staal who is currently deployed. He originally planned to come, but Uncle Sam had other plans. His instructor, Kyoshi Gravelin did show up and I chatted with him for a while. I met Major Jason Perry, USMC (Kyoshi Perry's son) and he was quite impressive as a karateka. He is also working very actively on the US side on the issue of ballistic and theater missile defense in the Pentagon, which just so happens to be the topic of my thesis (Japanese theater missile defense). I wish I knew that about a year ago...oh well. I also picked myself up a nunte bo, which was pretty nice. Now I can do the kata without having to use just a bo as my proxy.

Just as general info, it was held at Camp Pinnacle. Humorously enough, it was the place where most of the footage for the movie Heavyweights (basically one about fat camp if I recall correctly) was shot. The weather was pretty nice some of the time while raining at others.

So, what did I do? I only went to a few seminars on learning kata. I went to a nunte bo seminar just to ensure I had it down from when I last came to North Carolina to see Kyoshi Perry a couple of months ago. I also went to the Rokishu class taught by Kyoshi Perry because he's just the man and it is always great seeing him doing it. I then attended 3 of the Tai Chi classes so I could start learning the Yang Style Long Form. I think it will help me loosen up even more. The rest of the classes I went to were more "concepts and principles" classes. I figure I can always learn kata from my instructor. Gaining concepts and principles from other instructors is something I can't just do everyday.

So, just as a brief rundown, I will simply list the things I went to. Note that for each hour, there were 6 different classes being held. These are just the ones I went to.


1200-1300: Kyoshi Pat Haley and Kyoshi Eddie Bethea gave a class about principles and concepts in Passai and Gojushiho kata. In this one, he remarked on the lack of people "locking down their stances" and was demonstrating a few commonly misperformed stances. For Terry, I think is most likely what you were mentioning earlier...

1315-1415: Kyoshi Chris Estes held a Takemyoshi no Nunte Bo class.

1430-1530: Kyoshi John Carria (Uechi Ryu) held a Uechi Ryu concepts and principles class. Pretty interesting. Liked to emphasize the simplicity of the system. He would liken it to simply pulling a gun out of its holster, shooting, and putting it back in. A pretty neat guy.

1800-1900: Hanshi Jim Logue gave a principles and concepts of application class.

1915-2015: Charles Dean gave a Tai Chi class introducing the Yang Style Long Form.

0630 -0730 Friday and Saturday Morning: Kyoshi Kimo Wall (Goju Ryu) gave a quick class on Hakutsuru, Sanchin, Tensho and kung li (I think that is what it was...). Like many of the instructors, an ex-Marine (he used to be Kyoshi Perry's spotter when Kyoshi Perry was a sniper...the saving of life went both ways many times I hear).

0845 - 0945: Kyoshi Kimo Wall gave a Thai massage class. Pretty interesting. Humorously dubbed as "Kimo Therapy" later on in the camp.

1000 - 1100: Kyoshi Phillip Koeppel gave a seminar on principles and concepts in Matsumura Shorin Ryu. I'm glad I went to it. Due to a typo on the schedule, it said "Matsubayashi Shorin Ryu", but he was actually a Matsumura guy who studied under Yuichi Kuda. Quite an impressive guy. True to Matsumura Shorin Ryu, he heavily emphasized tai sabaki (body change) and multiple blocks/strikes at once.

1115 - 1215: Class on Rokishu conducted by Kyoshi Perry. As usual, he is lightyears beyond any of us yet drops us little pearls of knowledge here and there.

1345 - 1445: Okinawa Kenpo Principles and Concepts by Hanshi Larry Isaac.

1600-1700: Charles Dean gave a Tai Chi Class. This one me, Mike and Gawain learned the first 16 of the 108 steps. Each step has different postures, so it was enough to keep us busy.

1830-1930: Me, Gawain and Mike sat out of the classes and brushed up our Tai Chi form. I was not particularly interested in going to the other classes as they were primarily learning new weapons kata and I didn't want to overload the brain.

1945-2045: Kyoshi Chris Estes and Kyoshi Jerry Taylor gave a karate principles and concepts class for the shodan - sandan level. It mostly focused upon tai sabaki while doing various responses to varying attacks. Quite interesting.

0845 - 0945: Charles Dean gave his last Tai Chi class. Disappointingly, most all of the attendees didn't go to his other classes, so we essentially started over from square one. On the other hand, it helped solidify the things we already went over.

1000 - 1100: Kyoshi Pat Haley gave a kobudo kumite principles class. He gave very, very practical applications and drills for the sai and kama against the bo and nunchaku against empty hand. He essentially did this at the behest of my instructor, Sam Ahtye (I remember him saying he asked Kyoshi Haley to give a seminar on it for the camp earlier).

1115 - 1215: I wanted to go to the Kikou level (Martial arts breathing level) seminar for Rokishu conducted by Kyoshi Perry, but he was adamant about it being only for those 35 and up. I keep forgetting Mike's age (I always think he's about 10 years younger than he really is) so he was able to go. Me and Gawain went over the Tai Chi set.

1345 - 1445: Kyoshi Haley and Kyoshi Luzzi gave a seminar for yudansha level concepts. Kyoshi Pat Haley took over the seminar, but since he is one of the best Kyoshi in our organization, that wasn't a bad thing. Lots of Gojushiho applications.

1615 - 1715: Kyoshi Perry gave a seminar on Sueishi no Kon. Quite a beautiful and advanced bo kata. This block was reserved only for "fun" and all the classes offered were on weapons kata not widely taught at all in our system. As it was Kyoshi Perry, quite interesting, as usual.

1845 - 1945: Kyoshi Luzzi and Kyoshi Williamson gave a class on Shodan-Sandan principles and concepts.

2000 - 2130ish: Demonstrations. There were quite a few demonstrations during this time period. The most memorable was Kyoshi Perry dancing the cha-cha and the shag with his wife Joy. He told us before that he would have "Something special. Not good, but special." He refused to tell us what it was, so when he changed out of his gi and into his shag dancing clothes, we were all greatly surprised. For those of you not in the know, he was a national shag dancing champion back in the day. It was quite a treat as he has never danced in front of us karate people like that before (only perhaps maybe a few steps at a time to demonstrate a linkage between dancing and karate). People literally pay him thousands of dollars to perform. He's pretty good...and at 68, he moves like he was 18 still. Other ones which stood out were things like Myles Luckert (age 14...) doing passai dai backwards. I don't mean mirror image, but he did it all the way forwards, then at the very end he went through it backwards. It looked like someone pressed the rewind button. Sensei Gordon Shell (current owner of Murasaki kobudo) did a self-created version of Naihanchi Sandan to the front with open hands. Obviously a tribute to Kyoshi Perry's creation of Naihanchi Shodan to the front. It looked very Kyoshi Perryesque. I was impressed. Kyoshi Kevin Roberts and Sensei Jason Perry did the yakusoku kumite. It was more like an "old times" presentation because they used to do it all the time when Jason Perry was growing up. There were a few other presentations. Last (and right after Kyoshi Doug Perry's demonstration), Kyoshi Chris Estes did his version of Hakutsuru. He had quite an act to follow, but did it very well. At the end, Kyoshi had all the war veterans and the past-and-present active duty military members come down to the floor for applause. It was a nice touch.

Friday and Saturday nights me and Joe Stitz (he was also there at Kyoshi Perry's when me and Terry visited his dojo last summer) went out with a lot of the "Hendersonville crowd" to a local Irish bar (Hana O'Flanegan's or something like that). It cut a lot into my sleeping time...I did talk a lot with Kyoshi Bethea on his views of fighting and tournaments and all that. Pretty interesting. He was of the mind that fighting (sparring, preferrably) was essential to creating a good fighter.

All in all, a great experience. I've no regrets whatsoever in going, no matter how busy I am now (why the heck am I spending time to write this?).

As Onimitsu2004 said, there is always the danger of being a kata collector. Here's my kata catalogue (not including things like yakusoku, kihons, fukyu kata, ones I've forgotten, etc):

Empty Hand
Pinan Shodan, Pinan Nidan, Pinan Sandan, Pinan Yondan, Pinan Godan
Naihanchi Shodan, Naihanchi Nidan, Naihanchi Sandan
Passai Sho, Passai Dai
Kusanku Sho, Dai
Hakutsuru So, Hakutsuru Tan, Hakutsuru Tan he (White Crane training drills, Matsumura Shorin Ryu)
Hakutsuru Sho (Matsumura Shorin Ryu)
Wansu (Matsumura Shorin Ryu)
Ananku (Matsumura Shorin Ryu)
Seisan (Matsumura Shorin Ryu)
Hakutsuru (Kyoshi Perry's version, I believe it is the Takemyoshi family style)
Rokishu (Kyoshi Perry's version, unsure where he got it from)
Yang Style Tai Chi Long Form (aptly named...I'm still learning it)
Another one I'll say if I get the "okay" to make it public (No, it's not some super secret society thing...)

Shushi no Kun (Yamanni Ryu - Shorinkan)
Sakugawa no Kun (Yamanni Ryu - Shorinkan)
Kubo no Kun (Yamanni Ryu - Shorinkan)
Sakugawa no Kun Dai Ni (Shugoro no Sakugawa no Kun)
Nakaima no Kama (Shorinkan no Kama Dai Ichi)
Shugoro no Kama (Shorinkan no Kama Dai Ni)
Shugoro no Tonfa (Shorinkan no Tonfa)
Hamahiga no Tonfa
Shorinkan no Nunchaku Dai Ichi
Tonaki no Nunchaku (Shorinkan no Nunchaku Dai Ni)
Nakaima Kenkou no Sai Dai Ichi (Shorinkan no Sai Dai Ichi)
Nakaima Kenkou no Sai Dai Ni (Shorinkan no Sai Dai Ni)
Shugoro no Sai (Shorinkan no Sai Dai San)
Shugoro no Eku (Shorinkan no Eku)
Miyazato no Tekko (Yeah, yeah, the correct way is Maezato)
Takemyoshi no Nuntebo Dai Ichi

Yeesh. Too many you know why I wasn't interested in learning any more kata at the camp apart from the Tai Chi form?

Sensei Richard Church asked me this weekend if I was going to do an entry on the pullout from the Gaza strip. I should. I've just been so late to the game I can't say anything that hasn't been said far better than I ever could...maybe in a few days I'll put a belated entry together...

Monday, June 27, 2005

A Few Days in North Carolina with Kyoshi Perry: Training with the Best

Hello all. It's been a while since I last wrote. As I mentioned in my last entry, I went out to North Carolina to train with Kyoshi Doug Perry, North American Director of my system and then to Montana for a gathering. This will be about my time spent with Kyoshi Perry.

Just like the time I went out to North Carolina with Onimitsu2004 last year, every day was extremely long, ranging from 10-14 hours in the dojo (around 8-12 hours of actual training). And just like last time, I had a lot of quality time with Kyoshi Perry and some of his senior students. Kyoshi Perry was much busier than the last time I saw him, especially as he was recovering from surgery (he didn't get Purple Hearts for nothing). All the same, he took a lot of time going over things with me and Myles, another visitor to the dojo. Myles lives in North Carolina so he's been visiting with much frequency the past nine months.

It would be a rather exhaustive and unentertaining post to simply list all the things I I won't. I did manage to pick up three kata: Miyazato no Tekko, Rokushu and Takemyoshi no Nunte Bo Dai Ichi. The latter thanks largely to the efforts of Sensei Sharon who introduced me to it, Sensei Mary who let me tape her and Kyoshi Perry who had the patience to continually watch us fumble through it until I memorized the gross (emphasis on gross) pattern. I did it several times during my previous visit, but Onimitsu2004 and I were certainly already laden with the other 4 weapons kata we were learning while there. Now...all I need to do is wait for Murasaki Kobudo to get more nunte bo in stock and I'll be all set. Meanwhile, I'll have to use my bo to practice it. I don't need anything to visualize the "tip" of it, but I do need a nunte bo so I can see where each of the tines are facing. For those of you not in the know, a nunte bo is a bo with a manji sai on the end. For those of you really not in the know, a manji sai is a sai with one tine facing up, the other tine facing down.

I made sure to jot down any corrections I could remember in my little note pad to add to my martial arts notebook. I suggest to any of you out there who are serious about your training to start your own if you haven't already. Needless to say, the corrections were many. Kyoshi Perry also introduced or further explained several subtleties which should be present in our kata. Everyone says their styles incorporate "natural movement". It's almost like a buzzword that has lost its value. However, natural movement was perhaps one of the biggest things he emphasized, along with various "Perry-isms" usually involving continuous movements and extremely tight (meaning small) circles. With Kyoshi Perry, it was definitely not the case of a simple buzzword. Interestingly enough, I found the nunte bo kata to be one of the most natural weapons kata I've done as the moves practically fell into place whenever I didn't think about them too hard, even during the first few times I did it.

In his book Martial Musings, Robert Smith wrote "Doug Perry, exceptional karateka and dancer, obviously resonates with music." I knew Kyoshi Perry was in the shag dancing Hall of Fame and a national champion, but I never quite grasped the meaning of that line until Tuesday of last week. Myles had just got his promotion to shodan in the Shorinkan system that night (he was already a shodan in another style but switched a while back). I was told it was tradition to do some interesting things in the yudansha (black belt) class after someone gets their shodan. And that they did. Kyoshi Perry brought out a cd with a song lacking a beat. "Light of the Spirit" by Kitaro, to be exact. He then told us all to do Rokushu (which me and Myles only learned the day exquisite extra-curricular kata not in our system) to the music. He told us not to do a "musical kata" but instead to do "kata to music". It sounds very esoteric and flaky at first, I'm sure. So we divided into groups and then proceeded to attempt with varying levels of ridiculousness to do so. Every once in a while, Kyoshi Perry would start doing segments of kata to the music here and there. After we had all been effectively out of our comfort zones, he then demonstrated what he meant and the only word for it I can use was beautiful. He then told us doing kata to music with a beat binds us because we wait for the beat to move. He said songs without a beat (think classical Asian music, although Kitaro is lumped together with "New Age", much to his annoyance) force you to become the rhythm and "kata without emotion is body motion". He then had us do Chinto to the same song which was a little easier, but I still was woefully far off from what we were just shown. Later on, I asked him about the music he used and he then took me to his office and had me listen to another Kitaro song, "Flight", which had quite a different "feel" to it. Watching him both on the dojo floor and later doing motions to the music as we sat in chairs in his office was a pretty moving experience. I'm usually someone who likes to really emphasize the scientific and biomechanical aspect of kata, but I must admit I almost felt something....spiritual. There, I said it. Of course, he was quick to remind us on the dojo floor and me in his office that he was a man who spent many, many years of his life in war and that this wasn't merely some flaky nonsense. I assured him that was the farthest thing from my mind. In fact, watching him do the kata to music even made some of the bunkai (application) more readily apparent to me, at least. But that wasn't the most important part of it. Kyoshi Perry always says he teaches kata on five different levels. I think I got to glimpse one of those rarer levels back then.

Anybody who knows me personally knows I like to eat extremely healthy. So, another thing I discussed with Kyoshi Perry, or rather, questioned and then listened to, was dietary supplements and vitamins. Kyoshi Perry, amongst all his other achievements, is something of a medical marvel internally. At age 68, he's still gaining muscle mass and bone density where most people his age lose it dramatically. The doctors say he's got the insides of an 18-year-old (give or take things like a gall bladder due to a particularly bad case of stomach influenza he picked up in Vietnam...of the only 7 cases of this occuring amongst U.S. troops, he had two of them...). He's also been told his heart and chest cavity are so strong they look like they belong to someone about 50 or 60 pounds larger. He attributes it to the fact he started taking dietary supplements and vitamins long, long before all the recent buzz about them. In fact, stuff like fish oil were the result of the regimen his boxing coach made him do (Kyoshi Perry started boxing at age 9). I then asked him what he recommended a guy like me take, and he pointed me towards Pharmanex and their Life Pak, Optimum Omega, Cordy Max and Overdrive as things I should take daily. All of the above are various things to promote health and strength. The Overdrive is an interesting thing. It is made of completely natural ingredients and you are supposed to take it an hour before working out. It makes you feel energetic and ready to go and when it wears off, you don't experience a "low" like you would from a sugar rush. Well, after he gave me a free bottle of Cordy Max and Overdrive I tried them and a mere twenty minutes later (I was not expecting it to kick in until an hour later so it caught me totally by surprise) I started to feel very energetic and all tiredness drained from my body. To put this in perspective, this was my last of the four days of training I spent there. By that time, I was almost hobbling around and quite exhausted, yet that went away after I took it. I have taken it several times, all to the same effect. It is definitely not a placebo effect. At any rate, I have to call up pharmanex tomorrow and set up my account. I plan to be on this earth a very long time, so while I do I may as well be healthy. I continually seek out the advice of those like Kyoshi Perry in doing so.

I must say my experience was extremely motivating. I currently plan to attend the Summer Camp in North Carolina come this August and anxiously look forward to meeting everyone again. In the meantime, I am going to redouble my efforts to be the best karateka I can as my only way to offer payment back to Kyoshi Perry and all those who helped me out. Yes, it sounds sappy, doesn't it? (Sensei Church, don't laugh please) But I will cut out some things which have been taking a lot of my extra time and focus on my martial arts and actually trying to be fluent in Japanese rather than merely being "okay" at speaking and reading (for future use when interacting with Okinawans...I should pick up the Okinawan dialect as well). As a motivator, I think I'll be translating these books I have on Okinawan karate into English.

Monday, June 13, 2005

Random Thoughts on "Tradition"

Just some thoughts I had while replying to someone about the traditional (sic) nature of the karate gi on

Someone said:
"Please explain to me how the gi "is a relatively new innovation in karate"?a version of the gi and obi used to be the traditional underwear for Okinawans and Japanese, and thats what they originally trained in. The gi has almost been around as long as the birth of traditional karate in Okinawa"

And my response:

Sure. "The gi is a relatively new innovation in karate." But, I suppose that isn't sufficient...

So...what date do you cite as the birth of "traditional karate"? And what do you mean by "traditional"? The term itself despite being thrown around even by everyone including myself has very little actual historical meaning.

The use of the gi in karate is essentially what Funakoshi borrowed from judo in the early 1900s, only in a lighter form.Kano Jigoro himself didn't create the standard judogi we see nowadays until 1907. Funakoshi's decision was partly based on his efforts to successfully market karate as a "budo" similar to judo and kendo and as such he adopted some of the formalities required to be accepted by the Butokukai. Another reason was it simply got rid of any class distinctions that may have been evident by what kind of clothes you wore when you trained with others. In those days, class distinction, though long abolished was still a very real part of people's attitudes and perceptions. For example, Motobu Choki always went out of his way to bully and badger Funakoshi (who he considered inferior to him in class and skill) partly because he was offended someone of his class (and skill) was chosen to represent karate's mainstream introduction to Japan.

At any rate, the sharing of martial principles and techniques on Okinawa between masters and other students was common even before what now is known as "karate" was fully introduced to the public. Any sort of particular tradition regarding uniformity of dress, particular training locations or customs and courtesies were more the personal preferences of individual teachers if they existed at all.

Before Funakoshi's decision and even after, many karate practitioners wore it shorts, pants or work clothes. Yes, I would imagine sometimes before the formal karate gi was introduced some of them maybe wore something vaguely resembling the gi you see nowadays, but it wasn't very common. In some cases, teachers preferred students to not wear tops just so they can see the structure of the student's body easier.

Yes, the general pattern of what a gi is has been around for a long time. I never claimed it wasn't. However, saying its use in karate is a traditional aspect (there really isn't much that can be called traditional other than kata) is a bit mistaken. I'm saying they didn't care at all what you wore while you trained until recently. There was never any sort of mystique, reverence, tradition or any other sentiment attached to what they wore other than perhaps the lingering stench if it wasn't washed in recent times. In fact, much attention must always be made not only to the similarities to and influences from Japan that Okinawan martial arts and culture has in general, but also its differences.

But who knows. Maybe in twenty or thirty years everyone in MMA will soon regard their shorts and t-shirts as a hallowed part of their tradition. They may even come up with the story that everyone started with a white t-shirt but over time they turned black with sweat, blood and dirt, signifying that they truly became a master. At such a time, I can only hope someone remains historically objective enough to point out how things actually were. Sadly, it isn't the majority of cases when it comes to the same things regarding karate and "traditional karate".

Monday, June 06, 2005

Monday, June 06, 2005

I've just been writing final papers for my classes in school and working out. Other than that, not too much new. Currently, I'm finishing up a paper about the colonial origins of the opium trade in Southeast Asia. It is interesting, as it goes into much more depth than the usual "British sell opium to China from India" line we all got in high school/college.

I started taking up an escrima/knife fighting class two Saturdays ago. Because of the seminar with Shiroma Sensei, I am very much interested in knife and gun self-defense. I'm not sure exactly what all styles it comprises. The teacher goes through various cycles of knife, empty hand and weapons. The teacher strikes me as pretty talented and certainly knows his way around a knife, which is my primary consideration.

My first class with him last Saturday was nice. We ended up doing some knife flow drill (possibly Silat?) where the person with the knife does about a dozen attacks and the defender...defends. I like this one because it is open-ended at the final move, meaning the attacker or defender can "win" depending on how well they respond. The focus was on body rotation without giving up any ground and blocks were performed softly with both bones of the forearm. From technique to technique, the defender was supposed to "ride out" techniques by matching the opponent's energy and subtly guiding his knife away from you. The drill was obviously more for flow than pure practicality, as all the attacker needed to do would disengage his hand and withdraw quickly and the defender would be left with a cut arm. Some of it was annoying, as I would push or pull to "feel out" one of my partners who then got up on a soapbox about the utterly passive nature of the defender in this aspect. He stated that when I was tense, he could use that to his advantage and cut me, yet when he tried, he could not. What he didn't realize is that I was the one actually manipulating him (crudely, I admit, I'm not some expert) by forcing a change in his energy, but whatever. Something about him just rubbed me the wrong way. He seems nice enough, but a bit to eager to "teach" when he isn't the best model to follow. I of course am perhaps guilty of the same thing, but I try to do it a bit more diplomatically. The instructor later on of course fell into the whole condenscending "Oh, you come from a very hard karate style so I'm sure you will have some trouble adjusting" line...which was a bit annoying considering the dual hard and soft nature of Shorin Ryu in all actuality. Regardless of how hard or soft I am (I consider myself aware of if not somewhat attuned to the soft nature of it all), he's got his facts a bit wrong. But I'm just there to be a sponge and soak up as much as I can, so I won't let any of that bother me. It will be interesting to see how things play out when it comes to empty hand...As some of them do (and the instructor teaches elements of) Wing Chun, I think they fall into the trap of putting it on some pedestal because Bruce Lee was supposedly good at it. But I digress. It is at least fun to have some focused knife training and a lot of my karate principles come in handy (as expected).

As for the future, pretty much all my papers and final exams will be done in a week from Wednesday. A few days after that, I will get to go to Kyoshi Perry's dojo and train there, which is something I look forward to. After that, I'll go to Glacier Park in Montana for the gathering. Unfortunately, it seems a bunch of the people backed out and now I'm the only one going except for the host...(I bought tickets and all, so I'm still going). Either way, I'm sure it will be an interesting time and a chance to learn from one of the guys who really has his head on straight.

Sunday, May 29, 2005

The Chambered Fist

EDIT: I've changed my views on some of the things in this article... I'll probably write an update at some point in the future... and by that, I mean a long time from now.

I am writing this entry in response to a discussion currently going on at KarateForums.Com.

We've all seen the classic karate punch, where the person brings one hand "chambered" to their side while the other hand punches. Or we've seen those ridiculous kung fu movies where the bad guy waves his hands around in the air while screaming, blocking air several times, chambers his fist and then attacks. So that's going to be the subject of today's discussion.

I've often asked instructors in other styles what the purpose of this was. They would tell me "This symbolizes your empty hand and you chamber it to the side because you are signalling your intention that you do not wish to fight but are prepared to if necessary." That, or simply "It is a chamber position" or "more power" without any deeper mechanical explanation. Even if I press them harder for information, those are the most common explanations. Of course I am very polite and thank them for their answers. On the inside, I tell myself "What a load of BS." Here's a hint for all you practitioners out there. If a teacher can not give you a convincing explanation for why it is they "chamber" a technique or even what the "yoi" or starting position is for in a kata (form), the odds are they honestly don't know. That, or they buy into simple schoolchildren explanations for their karate. There's way too much pseudo-philosophy floating out there that gets in the way of combative effectiveness.

The "chambering" was basically what they told everyone it was for. Keep in mind that traditional Okinawan (and Japanese) culture was very much centered on "in group" and "out group" relations. When karate was starting to be taught to the mainstream (in the early 1900s on Okinawa), there was a fundamental shift because karate used to be taught in very small groups of well-acquainted people or recommended students, not en masse. This then became the origin of large karate classes taught in military discipline fashion...They weren't exactly going to tell everyone all the in-depth meanings of everything, especially American GI's a half-century later who just got done devestating the island of Okinawa. They didn't even tell every Japanese or Okinawan the "good stuff" either. The mass production of karate meant less individual training time and less personal trust between teacher and student. Karate was always first and foremost a combative discipline. The deeper knowledge of which was not simply handed out to whoever showed up and trained. There are exceptions to this, but suffice it to say they were not always as open as many American instructors definitely are or as some Okinawan teachers are today.

Back to the chambering part...I do not see that as the true intent of the technique. It really does depend on the situation. In many of our kata, there are places where the hands do not automatically go back into "chamber" before performing the next technique. What's more, you have to keep in mind that with all techniques, they are set up a certain way but will be performed as the situation requires.

On to the explanation...I for one believe it is meant primarily to be a grab with the retracting hand and punch with the leading hand. It is basically a grab/parry that is performed simultaneously with a strike, which I believe technically what most of us are aiming for (simultaneous techniques along the vein of more Chinese styles).

This concept is also present on many of our "blocks" where the retracting hand/arm/wrist crosses over the blocking hand/arm/wrist. This is because the real intent is to grab the opponent's attack with the retracting hand while striking either the opponent's body (i.e. face), breaking whatever he attacked with (i.e. arm) or performing a throw (i.e. arm bar) with the "blocking" arm. There are those who say the retracting hand is there to let the person "be aware" that you can pull a person while punching if you want to. I disagree. The retracting hand is there because it is saying you SHOULD pull a person like that. It forms the heart and principle of many of the techniques of good Okinawan karate.

With this in mind, bringing the retracting hand to your waist is useful because it hyperextends the opponent's appendage, causes the opponent to lose their balance, and places it in a position where it is biomechanically strong for you to hold the opponent. It also allows more momentum into the system by making your opponent move towards you as you strike into him. At the most basic level, it also forms an easier connection between the hand and waist for most beginners, although that is probably the weakest argument for the fist chambering.

This also reflects a difference in the mindset of the practitioners. The most common detraction against the chambered fist says it leaves your face open, etc. In the more traditional schools, by which I mean traditional focus, mindset and training...NOT gi, hardwood floors, military discipline, etc., these techniques were meant to end the fight quickly. Therefore, pulling the hand back was because you were pulling the opponent into you and from that position you were simultaneously striking him/breaking something and most likely taking him down instantly to end the fight. It is my opinion that traditional karate is centered around getting in close and going for the takedown. Therefore a retraction hand technique was a set up for finishing the fight, rather than having an exchange of blows. You can see this in pictures of how most of the old Okinawan masters had their regular fighting stances, which were not one hand chambered to the side.

If you blindly chamber your fist to the side without having any idea what it is for then I will agree with those detractors who say it is useless. For them, it is.

Sunday, May 22, 2005

A day with Shiroma Jiro Sensei

Surprise! This'll be an all martial arts entry, just like the good ol' days. Writing about politics is fun and all but I could write multiple entries everday on the goings on if I had the motivation; it just gets exhausting after a while.

Yesterday I got up early and drove to San Francisco to meet Jeff, a fellow student under Ahtye Sensei. From there, we drove to Vallejo to meet up with Charlie, a senior student of Ahtye Sensei and then we drove to Elk Grove. There, Shihan Tim Evans was hosting Shiroma Jiro, 8th Dan in Okinawan Shorin Ryu. Let me give you a little background on Shiroma-Sensei...

Shiroma-Sensei's early training began at age 13 in Shuri-Te and Kendo at age 15. At age 20, at the death of his first master, he began to train under Hanshi Shugoro Nakazato, the head of the system I take. In the late 60s he also opened up a Thai boxing gym and a karate gym and basically he trained with an incredibly large number of people. As an interesting sidenote, the then-white belt Doug Perry (now Kyoshi Perry the North American director of Shorinkan Shorin Ryu) trained under Shiroma Sensei and was knocking out all his top students...At any rate, Shiroma-Sensei moved to the United States in the late 70s and has been teaching his "style" of Seishindo. His school is in Phoenix, Arizona but he travels around the US for seminars quite often.

When we arrived at Shihan Tim Evans' dojo, we got changed and introduced ourselves to Shiroma Sensei. He instantly showed himself to be a very friendly and very jovial man and he went on a humorous discourse about his iron cup he always wears after he discovered some of us (me included...) forgot to bring cups. When class began, he had us do a thousand punches and then started fielding questions about various things. Someone asked him to demonstrate applications for the kata and while he said he "was not an application man", he went through and showed numerous bunkai for various moves. He seemed to favor the short and quick moves rather than really elaborate techniques.

Watching him move was a treat. He moved and punched very similar to a boxer in many respects and had excellent grappling technique, yet I could still call most all of what he did as "karate". He then proceeded to demonstrate a lot of self-defense techniques against knives and guns which were very well-structured and believable. When demonstrating the use of the knife, his speed and accuracy practically screamed of beautiful, expert lethality and actually makes me want to take up some knifework. I was able to catch on very quickly to his knife and gun self-defense techniques because they were simple, yet effective if you did them properly and applied the necessary martial arts principles. I also liked them because the techniques they were to defend against were practical, common and deadly attacks, not the contrived downard strike you see in so many places (or In Living Color skits...). He has done much work with law enforcement and studied many cases of such attacks, and from what he says and hints at, has been in quite a few situations like that himself...

His other big thing was women's self-defense. I am usually a harsh critic of "women's self-defense" because most places that do them are not really good. However, I was quite taken aback as his techniques and explanations revealed his actual knowledge of such situations and were all very practical. He really has done his homework...One thing he really sought to emphasize was the difference between rigidly adhering to specific technique and the improvisation necessary in a real fight situation. As I think most experienced karateka agree with him, so his message was probably oriented more towards the lesser experienced folk (or those black belts who don't seriously think about these sorts of things).

The seminar was great and all, but the real fun was the dinner. Me, Sensei Ahtye, Charlie, Tim Evans, and his wife and son got to sit on a small round table at a Chinese restaurant with Shiroma Sensei. In case any of you people ever wonder where all these authors on karate history and stories and such get their info, it's usually in settings like these or when they go drinking at their homes, restaurants or elsewhere. We talked for a few hours as we ate and Shiroma Sensei would often pause and start to shadow box or demonstrate a technique in response to a question--all while sitting at the dinner table. He seemed to enjoy the fact that Tim Evans' son and I could both speak Japanese. He told us all many stories about his run-ins with gangs, how he dated the sister of a famous gangster, the vengeance of rats on Okinawa, experiences with Hanshi Nakazato and other things. Rather recurring in his conversation was his continual insistence that one should learn from as many teachers as possible and the individual nature of karate. He kept going back to the importance of an open mind and not closing yourself off to any learning experiences. He had a point, but I think all of us at the table kind of already shared that point of view before even meeting him. He tended to over-emphasize the rigidness of karate in comparison to other ways of fighting, but I think he was doing it more to make a point. While he claims kata is still more "meditation" for him, he never failed to quickly respond to any questions of bunkai. He was critical of practicing too many kata because you wouldn't be able to focus enough on them. All in all, it was a very enjoyable experience with a true master. Those are trite words very often used in these types of stories, but I found them very appropriate.

We split up around 9 pm. I would've loved to stay longer (Shiroma Sensei said he wanted to stay up all night and talk), but I had to get back (a supposedly 3 1/2 hour drive and I was someone's ride to San Francisco) so we drove back. Charlie and I mused about the seminar and the dinner and then dropped us off in Vallejo. It was still nice to talk to him as he's going to Japan for a month this summer in conjunction with his college to study Japanese. I of course recommended James Heisig's "Remembering the Kanji" book as it is the best book to learn the Chinese characters used in Japanese for a Westerner. Period. So I thought it would smooth sailing after that, but the 4 lane highway had 3 lanes closed so I had to take a detour (luckily I knew other ways), but it took forever for all 4 lanes of cars to merge into one...I got back around 1:30 am. Despite all that hassle, it was well worth it. Should any of you ever get a chance to train with Shiroma Sensei, I highly recommend it. He is definitely the real deal.

Update: Greg asked me to put up Shiroma Sensei's website, so here it is:

Tuesday, March 29, 2005


I finished the last of my papers Sunday. Unfortunately, the next quarter has already started yesterday. This still leaves me with much more time for other things though, like martial arts. I'm getting to learn the Hakutsuru kata (White Crane) that my instructor learned from Kyoshi Perry, which is very nice. It is a lot more "obvious" (at least to an experienced eye) in showing the open-handed grappling and lethal manuevers present in truly traditional karate. Much more Chinese in orientation.


Something I noticed as usually a stylistic difference between many martial arts styles is whether they turn on the heel of the foot or the ball of the foot. Last year I trained in Matsumura Shorin Ryu, and they avoided the heel of the foot like it was the plague. In Shorinkan, there is a tendency to turn on the heel (or the heel of one foot and the ball of the other). I believe they both serve useful purposes depending on the situation. Turning on the ball of the foot allows for very quick, agile movement more appropriate for evading at various distances. This can also be done by rotating on the ball of one foot while keeping the other foot more or less stationary. But when you turn in kata, you are most likely throwing, breaking or doing some other similar type of close-in fighting manuever, not just simply changing the direction you face. When throwing with a double ball of the foot turn, it puts a lot of stress on the knee. Therefore, turning on the heel is better for throwing or grappling purposes because it allows you to be rooted without stressing the knee. There is a criticism of turning on the heel that states you will be off-balance, but I think that is only if you do it incorrectly. By keeping your center-of-gravity centered (or in other places, depending on what you want to do), you avoid compromising your chuusen (center line) and the tendency to tilt backwards. Both methods of turning or rotation on the foot are useful in different circumstances. Try and think about what you do when you turn and why. Experimentation with both methods is always a bonus.

Keep training hard.

Note: Humorously enough, Xanga crashed the first time I tried to write this, so I had to write it again...that was annoying

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Obligatory Update

Time for the obligatory update.

I'm currently awash in writing papers at the moment. I've realized that the quarter system is way too short after having done the semester system back in college.

I've also dumped $2,000 and started my Roth-IRA (after months of saying I was going to do it). Time to think of the future, I guess. Since I'll be maxing out my contributions, that'll take a nice chunk out of my paycheck each month. Less random buying for me now (I swear, I was just helping out the economy by increasing consumption, that's all).

No real time to give any semi-profound observations on the martial arts, other than I've started to go through and mirror a lot of my kata (doing everything on the exact opposite side throughout the entire form). It really does let me see which moves I have a clear and distinct application for (other than just basic punch, block, throw stuff) and which ones I've merely been going through the motions for. I recommend all you people in my readership (meaning Onimitsu2004, I suppose) to try it out every once in a while. From what I hear, at a Shorinkan camp last month, Kyoshi Sean Riley wowed everyone by not only doing the Passai and Kusanku kata and then doing the mirror of them, but also doing them completely in reverse (as if someone was pressing the "rewind" button). That takes skill, concentration and effort. I suppose it is things like that which make the difference between a really good karate practitioner and a "kyoshi". Since it is him, he definitely has applications for all the moves...

And, back to the grind. I've got way too many papers to do (most of them being due on Monday, which also happens to be the same day I have two finals).

Update: My computer crashed and I lost some pages...there goes my motivation for the rest of the evening...