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.