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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Friday, January 12, 2007

Clearing the Air: The Truth About Chibana Sensei's Succession

Many people make many claims about who exactly is Chibana Sensei's chosen successor in Shorin Ryu karate. What follows are the words of my instructor, Pat Nakata, a direct student of Chibana Sensei:

In 1965 when I spoke with Chibana Sensei about the future of his organization, he stated that his grandson, Akira Nakazato (not related to Shugoro Nakazato) would succeed him as the head of Okinawa Shorin-ryu Karate-Do Kyokai. The 4 senior instructors, Chozo Nakama, Yuchoku Higa, Katsuya Miyahira, and Shugoro Nakazato would be part of an executive advisory board to help guide Akira in his administration of the organization. Akira would then adopt the Chibana name and become Akira Chibana. For some reason Chibana Sensei's wishes were never carried out.

Instead, a meeting of Chibana Sensei's senior students was held. At this meeting Katsuya Miyahira was elected the President and head of the Okinawa Shorin-ryu Karate-Do Kyokai.

It is my sincere hope that over time, the truth of the matter will be well-known. Chibana Sensei did not appoint anyone other than his grandson to be his direct successor.

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Paradigm Shift Part 1: Search versus Pursuit

Over my years in training, I noted several things lacking in my karate, although I still remained convinced of the practicality of traditional karate. When my best friend and old time training partner Terry opened my eyes to what strong karate really meant, I began to undergo a radical paradigm shift as he began to teach me what he learned from Nakata Sensei during his time in Hawaii. Fortune has allowed me to start training under Nakata Sensei and my views on karate have continued their transitions.

The events of the past year as well as my previous personal journey in karate leads me to conclude that there are two kinds of traditional karate: searching karate and pursuit karate. What unites these two is their traditional focus on kata to gain effective fighting skill as opposed to other training methodologies or the mere existence of Japanese cultural traits, which is the main thrust of my article entitled "What is 'Traditional' Karate". While there are many differences between the two, I chose their names based upon the learning journey in each.

Searching karate lacks a definite and consistent methodology from which refinement can occur. As the name implies, the individual is searching for such a foundation, but because of a lack of serious fighting experience (common among traditional karate practitioners) and the lack of an instructor with true depth to teach them, they are left to fend for themselves. I have met many traditional karate instructors who firmly believe that every generation of karate practitioners reinterprets much of the kata they learn from their instructors, as transmission from teacher to student is often incomplete. This simply means that someone was being a poor student, a poor teacher, or did not have the opportunity to learn everything. Whatever the case, the results are unfortunately the same. Even if there is a consistent methodology, limited understanding causes it to lack "stand alone" quality as it is not fighting effective. This leads many to develop a mixed martial arts mentality. Their understanding of kata and fighting is shallow, so they must supplement it with knowledge of other styles, whether it be jujitsu, Chinese martial arts, or whatever the flavor of the week is. At this point, they only indulge in patchwork karate, even if they devotedly train their kata. The more one searches outside of karate to understand their kata, the more pointless it becomes to "remain traditional" and train with kata. In the end, their study of karate focuses more on "what" they are doing rather than "how".

This is in direct contrast to pursuit karate, which distinguishes itself through the potential for refinement. A consistent methodology providing context for every movement in every kata makes refinement possible. In other words, it is already known "what" is being done. What is important and what must be refined is "how". This perspective highlights the luck needed to find an instructor of true depth who can provide the necessary context. Context and refinement don't narrow one's scope; they widen it. Because the emphasis is on "how", technique collection from other styles is unnecessary. My instructor uses the analogy of being able to see the light at the end of the tunnel rather than groping around blindly in the dark. He half-jokingly states that the light keeps on moving whenever he gets closer, but forward progress is always made.

~to be continued in Paradigm Shift Part 2: Boxer Mentality versus Ippon Kowashi