Thursday, January 18, 2007

Paradigm Shift Part 2: Boxer Mentality versus Ippon Kowashi

When reading all the stories about the old masters of karate fighting in real situations, you notice one thing: the fights didn't last more than a few seconds. Yet if you notice the way most people train, whether it is karate, mixed martial arts, boxing, or whatever, they train specifically to exchange blows and use all sorts of tricks. Certainly, they don't preach that one should take a long time to win, but looking at their approach, multiple techniques and combos are viewed as necessary. This exemplifies the notion of having a "boxer mentality" versus Chibana Sensei's concept of "ippon kowashi" or "one technique, total destruction."

The boxer mentality stems from simply tradition, a more sport oriented focus, the belief that it is better to be safe than sorry, or the outright refusal to believe a fight can be ended with a single technique outside of good luck and proper circumstances. In most cases, it is a combination of this last reason with one or more of the others. For these people, combos or advanced techniques are a must because the basic techniques simply aren't strong enough or effective enough to win a fight by themselves.

In traditional martial arts circles, there is disillusionment with the idea of ippon kowashi. Sadly, many of the schools that do believe in it grossly overestimate their skills, which only contributes to that disillusionment amongst the greater martial arts community. Many rational martial artists notice their techniques lack the power needed for ippon kowashi. In brutal honesty, this lack of power comes from having an instructor who couldn't or wouldn't teach them how to generate it properly or simply the student not being good enough to learn it (but usually the instructor is to blame). As a result, these rational martial artists begin to believe martial arts techniques must rely on speed and involve a heavy emphasis on esoteric pressure points, complex grappling, or whatever the flavor of the week is. Unfortunately, this overly eclectic approach, while useful for exposure, causes seriously dedicated martial artists to do everything except work towards an advanced understanding of basics. Much lip service is paid to the idea of keeping things "simple" and sticking to the basics, but few instructors actually do this. Then again, few instructors ever teach ippon kowashi, let alone teach it properly. At most, there is a philosophical idea of ippon kowashi, but only in terms of giving full concentration to each technique, as if each technique was a killing blow. Consequently, for most people who do not believe in ippon kowashi, it is a self-fulfilling prophecy and their techniques will lack the degree of power necessary to pull it off. In order for them to fight effectively, they must use the boxer mentality as their approach.


By contrast, Chibana Sensei's Shorin Ryu karate was all about ippon kowashi. His karate wasn't merely ippon kowashi in the philosophical sense, but had the ability to defeat opponents with one technique. Ippon kowashi isn't the result of mystical sounding pressure point techniques or any sort of spiritual ki. Instead, it is the application of such intense power that an opponent cannot stand against it. By mastering the closing of distance and proper timing, his use of ippon kowashi made him the most respected karate instructor on Okinawa. If the opponent kicked or punched, his block would literally floor them. If they did nothing or tried to guard themselves, he would open them up and destroy them with a single punch. Such a power seems legendary, and in a way, is. However, this kind of power is not unattainable nor is it merely an exaggeration or a fond myth. His teachings were passed to my instructor Pat Nakata and are the foundation of how we train.

Before I trained under Nakata Sensei and before my friend Terry showed me ippon kowashi was possible, I was firmly in the boxer mentality crowd. Even still, my attachment to the way I was doing things was so great, it wasn't until after I trained with Terry for an extended period that I was able to get over the hurdle of my ego and recognize that the doubts I had about my own training were indications that my training methodology was seriously lacking. After seeing the profound improvement in Terry, I made the firm decision to come to Hawaii so I could train under Nakata Sensei. I literally thank myself for doing so every day.

Ippon kowashi is the result of refinement rather than being a technique collector. To obtain ippon kowashi, you must have an instructor who can generate that kind of power and can teach how to do it. I've learned that such an instructor is exceedingly rare. Equally necessary is being able to learn it. I facetiously joke with Sensei about him one day revealing to me the hidden scroll of all his knowledge, but that is because we both know there are no secrets, no hidden techniques. All it takes is an understanding of timing, body mechanics, and continual training. You gain this from doing kata, hitting the bag, and practicing a few walk-in drills. Nothing more, nothing less.

When fighting, there is no waiting for the opponent to attack. There is no letting the opponent determine the pace of the fight. If he attacks, you destroy what he attacks with and him in the process. If he blocks, you destroy what he blocks with and him in the process. If he does nothing, then you destroy him regardless. That is the mindset needed to match the technical skill to actually achieve those results. Fighting with ippon kowashi requires total commitment. Total commitment fully accepts life or death as the outcome of a fight and requires supreme confidence, which can come only through training and experience. Confidence without skill is merely bravado. Skill without confidence can't be utilized.

Back to Paradigm Shift Part 1: Search versus Pursuit

~To be continued in Part 3

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9 comments:

Rick said...

My teacher, Takao Nakaya, told me that his teacher, Chozo Nakama, emphasized one-strike sparring, and did not like kumite forms or sport sparring.

While we did some sparring forms and freestyle sparring, when it came time for testing, it was all about one-strike techniques, and whether you could do it with tai-sabaki or simultaneous block/counter.

Bujutsu Blogger said...

My instructor said he had long conversations with Nakama Chozo from time to time. He did mention that Nakama was known for his simultaneous blocks and strikes.

I might go and visit Nakama's son when I go to Okinawa with my instructor in a few months.

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Rick Roberts said...

I want to congratulate you on your Blog in general and this article in particular. It is insightful. I am completing my 20th year as a shorin ryu instructor and dojo owner under Hanshi Nakazato's Shorinkan. I think that you are very correct in your assessment that most karateka do not understand or achieve Chibana Sensei's ippon kowashi. As an instructor in 21st century North America, it is difficult to impart this concept without living in a warrior environment. As an instructor I understand the concept and the philosophy and I can personally train with it in mind. But how do we gauge the effectiveness of our teaching? Most of our students are not mentally or emotionally prepared for this concept. Most do not have a life experience where such a concept is conceivable. This is a significant challenge for the instructor to overcome.

Bujutsu Blogger said...

I thank you for your gracious words.

All I can think of is to lead by example, the terrible and awesome burden of any Sensei.

By showing students that ippon kowashi is possible, they can believe it is at least possible. A coherent methodology with clear and concise terms rather than aesthetics or vague description causes them to believe it is possible for them.

With training comes confidence, and with confidence comes strength of commitment and execution.

The more training is focused on fighting, the more warrior mentality can be fostered. The less external distractors and motivators there are, the less excuses a student has to avoid facing the question of will what they do truly work in a fight or not.

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