Friday, June 22, 2018

The Dynamic Sphere and Alignment

As time passed and I experienced more things I began to see how all the arts, while different, were also inter-related.


My earliest training was Isshinryu karate since 1974.
Then I studied Yang Tai Chi Chau since 1979.
Followed closely by Sutrisno Shotokan, Aikido and Tjimande over 10 years.
And there were many other studies of shorter duration.

One time during my initial Isshinryu instruction, my instructor, Dennis Lockwood, was going to use me as his uke. What he was going to do was a hip throw during the demonstration. When he first practiced it with me, and he went to do it, a course on wrestling I took in college kicked in and instead of being thrown, I lowered my center below his and he was the one thrown.


I much later  realized what happened. The middle of a technique is the exact instant it can be reversed. Then when I lowered my center his attack was reversed and worked against him. Of course it was not my intention to throw him, I am sure I was as surprised as he was. But it did teach me something useful too.


Back in my beginning years I purchased a copy of “Aikido and the Dynamic Sphere”.

I was not or have ever been an aikido-ka. But years later learned some aikido that was shaped for karate instruction. Covering many of the aikido basics integrated with karate.

Eventually I remembered that book on my shelf, and discovered the aikido I studied allowed me to work many of those techniques. This was well before the YouTube days where everything seems to be available.


In that context I learned some aikido, it’s purpose was more to train one how to use the space surrounding any attack and then to apply a specific response. That is why the skills I acquired made understand other techniques easier.


But that books many drawings of use of the sphere around yourself in time made greater sense.





An interesting Aikido example is this one, which also melds into something I was shown.





One of the aikido lessons I was shown by Tristan Sutrisno is as follows:





I believe these two examples show the way they are using the sphere around them.


One late night at a martial arts summer camp, my Tai Chi instructor, Ernest Rothrock, took me to a dark field and asked to see my tai chi. I started doing the Yang form I taught him. After a short time he stopped me and began showing I was doing every thing wrong.

He had me begin again, then with the slightest touch or tug, I went falling or flying in the direction he touched me. There were so many corrections, after 15 years of work I realized I was doing nothing right.


Then he stopped and explained what I was doing wrong,  First, beginning his own instructor had also waited 15 years to share this. At the same time, living a long distance away from him also had something to do with it I am sure.


What was happening is my body was not correctly aligned with each technique. Nothing magical, just I should have been doing what I was orignialy shown. But on my own practice, I did not notice small mistakes I was allowing to occur, and each of them opened me to counter-attack, or at the same time made my own tai chi attacks less efficient.


Then what he explained to  me was an alignment point framework to insure my movement were correct. It was extremely simple, and when I used that concept, the same light touches and tugs no longer worked for him.


I could feel the difference, and of course he then proceeded to give me hundreds of corrections. Driving the nail in how much work I needed.


It was hard to get to sleep later, thinking about what occurred.


After that summer camp I returned to my own program. Then I had one of my senior students do Seisan kata. He did it well, but after a time I noticed he was slightly mis-aligned by the concept I had been taught from my tai chi.


I stopped him, told him to hold his position, and lightly touched one of the alignment points as I had been shown. That slight touch unbalanced him.


I realized I was on to something. Using it I now had a better way to make corrections to everyone. From the rawest beginner, to the most senior students, it was a way to make them feel what I was telling them.


I was not doing anything but showing the correct way they were always shown. But now they could feel why it should be done that way. They could feel how doing it wrong could be used against them. And how misalignment could rob their technique of power.


This was not done continually, with the newer students to occasionally make a point why things were done that way.


Then as a tool for dans to understand how to improve themselves.


I learnt it for my tai chi, but found it useful in my karate instruction.


Then further reflection I came to realize every system had their own alignment. It became a way I could evaluate other performances, even ones where I did not know the form.


Simply stated if the alignment shown for a technique shown could be attacked because it showed incorrect, then that performance was less perfect. If they showed more alignment with their technique, Then they were moving toward more perfect performance.


I was not judging tournaments anymore, but I did observe what others were doing.


A small example. The newer trends were newer created forms showcasing the performers strengths. I observed many might place their power in their kicks, but just throw out powerless strikes, for movement flow. Those strikes often without power. Alignment theory heightened where they were incorrect.


 But further thought went into it. If they had weaker techniques because of misalignment, the flip side was those misalignment points were also the places open to strong attack to demolish what they offered.


I came to realize there were two sides to this tool Where one was incorrect to show where to strengthen them. But if one’s attacker as in any way misaligned that showed exactly where to attack them.


Look we aren’t perfect. Imperfections creep in, and in conditions extremis we are more likely to make mistakes. Which is why constant practice is a way to have stronger technique to work with.


So many different things were starting to come together.


Other things I learned over time.


One of the Sutrisno Aikido teachings was how to do a wrap the wrist lock to control someone by their arm. However, he also showed how easy it could be neutralized by just moving the wrist being grabbed slightly to the side. Then no matter how much they worked at it, it would not work.


That does not seem like much, but when I moved to NH, a friend invited me to a martial arts clinic. Dr. Yang Jwing-Ming was presenting some of his Chin-Na technique. After a time he had us partner up, My wife partnered with my friend. As it was he was having some difficulty doing the small wrist lock. And Dr. Yang asked my wife to do it to him so my friend could watch. Of course he did not know we had learned this from the aikido we were shown, My wife performed the wrist lock on him, correctly, and placed some force to it, Dr. Yang dropped to the ground.


An aside, later my wife took a 6 month clinic with Dr. Yang, and I got painfully to be who she did her homework on.


A number of years later we were hosting a clinic with Sherman Harrill, and he was showing how to do the wrist wrap on John Dinger. I gave John a nod, telling him yes, he should surprise Sherman with the counter we had learned. John did so, Sherman got a funny look on his face but immediately countered that with something else. Proving don’t play games with Sherman LOL. I then offered an explanation to Sherman what was done.


It turns out that when the founder of Aikido, Usheiba Sensei, would send out new International Instructors around the workd, the last thing he would teach them was how to neutralize the locks and projections they had studied, I assume to know in case some student got rambunctious.


I am not saying neutralizations are not part of Aikido. Rather at different times and in different organizations things may have been taught at different paces. For one thing the Tomiki Aikido had aikido kata neutralization studies as part of their art.



But in time I came to see how all of the above came together.


And the best realization I could use is that we are all performing with a dynamic sphere.

This is not something mystical.


Take karate at attacker surrounded by his dynamic sprehre, attacks an opponent surrounded by their own dynamic sphere.


The point their sphere’s meet is the same point  the attack moves through.


Anyone attacking is surely trying their best to put power into what they do. The defender is likewise probably trying to do their best in response.


Then using alignment unintentionally being misaligned probably means a weaker attack. When they untended it to be their strongest technique.


The defender also being misaligned means a weaker response.


Mistakes offer a road map where further attack or counter-attack would be successful.


Of if the attack was a grab, misalignment offers further opportunity for defense.


A simple touch of a limb attacked, draws the defenders body into stronger alignment, weakening the attack in the process.


Simple examples for what is a dynamic process to acquire.


We are within that Dynamic Sphere, no matter what our art.







Tuesday, June 19, 2018

The Bushi No Te Isshinryu Rank Standards

Now concerning Bushi No Te Isshinryu, I am no longer in charge.

Over the years for various reasons I adapted the following rank structure,

I was still primarily and Isshinryu program, that always my core.


But I addressed issues like:


1. Supplementary kata for beginning youth, to slow down what they had to learn, and build stronger skills for their eventual Isshinryu studies.

2. The requirements were the standard for everyone, but adults tended to move through the beginning kata as a faster pace.

3. I incorporated various mandatory supplemental kata from numerous systems so long term students could gain a larger understanding of what other systems did, in part.

4. I squarely face the reality that my students had friends in many other karate programs and their friends were black belts often after 2 years. So I reset the youth ranks, adopting junior black belts. That did not change the youth time to reach full shodan, which remained 7 to 9 years. It also did not increase the number of students remaining training either. Just a small acknowledgment of what they were accomplishing.

5. Kobudo training was for the most part something for dan study.

6. My own studies (senior) were not for others.

7. Instructor was not a dan rank, they had different challenges to keep their minds working.

8. Effectively there were 2 dan ranks, Ni dan and San dan, both lifetime studies in their own right. The day by their own effort determines how far they go.


 #  Youth rank    Kata           Adult rank          Kata source


 1       White         Sho             White                  Shorin Matsubayshi

 2       Purple        Kyozai                                    School Kata on Okinawa

 3       Orange       Annaku      White                   Shorin Kyan

 4       Yellow        Seisan         Yellow                  Isshinryu

 5       Blue            Saifa           Yellow                  Goju Ryu

 6       Green         Seiunchin   Yellow                  Isshinryu

 7       Brown        Naifanchi   Blue                     Isshinryu

 8       Brown        Wansu        Blue                     Isshinryu

 9       Jr. Black 1 Chinto        Green                   Isshinryu

10      Jr. Black 1           Lung Le Kuen Brown            Pai Lum

11      Jr. Black 2           Kusanku    Brown                  Isshinryu

12      Jr. Black 2 Nijushiho   Brown                  Shotokan

13      Jr. Black 3           SunNusu    Brown                  Isshinryu

14      Jr. Black 3           Sanchin      Brown                  Isshinryu

15                         Bando Staff         Brown*      Bando

16                         Bando Stick 1      Brown*      Bando

17                         Bando Stick 2      Black 1      Bando

18                         Matzan Tildur     Black 1       Tjimande

19                         Kusanku Sai       Black 2       Isshinryu

20                         Tokomeni No Kon Black 2    Isshinryu

21                         Urashie no Bo     Black 2      Isshinryu

22                         Wansu No tonfa  Black 2      Victor

23                         Chantan Yara no Sai 

Black3        Isshinryu

24                         Shi Shi No Kon no Dai

                                                          Black 3       Isshinryu

25                         “Chia Fa” tonfa  Black 3        Isshinryu

26                         Gojushiho            Black 3       Isshinryu

27                         Tanto Drills         Instructor   Sutrisno

28                         Kama Drill          Instructor   Victor

29                         Chosen No Kama Sho

                                                          Instructor   Sutrisno

30                         Chosen No Kama Dai

                                                          Instructor   Sutrisno

31                         Tomari Rohai     Senior         Shorin

32                         Aragaki Sochin   Senior         Shorin

33                         Seipai                   Senior         Goju

34                         Yang Tai Chi Chaun

                                                          Senior         Yang

35                         Yang Tai Chi Sword

                                                          Senior         Yang

35                         Bassai Dai            Optional     Shotokan

36                         Suparimpei                   Optional     Goju

37                         Sanchin               Optional     Ueichi

38                         Seisan                  Optional     Ueichi





Sunday, June 17, 2018

Joe Brague


I never knew Joe Brague well.


But he was a presence from the first time I started attending tournaments as a black belt in Pennsylvania.


At first I saw him as one of the Senior judges. Later I learned he was the instructor of Gary and George Michak. Extremely strong competitors in the region. In fact later Gary went on to be in the 20 twenty in the nation in kata, kobudo and kumite divisions at National karate tournaments.


I remember the first time I met him, it was at a very small local Cherry Blossom tournament where I competed as a black belt for the first time. As the tournament wound down I entered the men’s locker room to change. Joe was inside with a group from the tournament, just talking with them. When I entered he was trying to make a point to the others, he turned to me and asked if I could help him demonstrate something. I agreed to help, having no idea what was coming next.


Joe put his hands on my neck, the next thing I remembered was I was coming to on the floor and  Joe was talking to the group, I imagine explaining what he did. What I heard was him describing the carotid artery choke he placed on me, and how it worked. But not much of the detail. Then Joe helped me to my feet, I changed and left. Wondering a bit what had happened.


[On a separate note I began to gather information on that choke. From a variety of sources over the next few years I began to understand what happened. For example one way it was used by a Russian Judoka against an American Judoka in the Rome Olympics to end the fight they had almost before it started. Eventually from those sources and some of my own work I worked out an entire methodology for that technique. It was a potential to use or not of course. It contains risks, and rewards if done correctly.]


I never pursued his system, just understood that apparently the Zen Budo Kai group was a confederation of schools that were standup at the local tournaments.


One other memory was a time I was going to compete up at Hidy Ochai’s tournament in Binghampton New York. The Michak brothers were there competing too. Now I was never a threat to their abilities, we just recognized each other as we competed against each other in the same divisions. So there I was putting on my safety gear, preparing for kumite.


As I was warming up, Joe came up and said “Victor, I see you are going to spar. Would you like some assistance to warm up.” I said yes and got into my fignting position. Before I could move, Joe just slapped me in the face. He told me “you need to wake up before you spar these guys.”


I have no reason to believe Joe was doing anything but trying to help me. At the same time I will always remember that unexpected slap.


A number or years later I can be seen in that photo with Joe, judging some division together.


I just have these two memories of him in action, especially when I was totally unprepared for what occurred next.


Shortly thereafter I moved away from that region, and later got away from the tournament scent for the most part.


But I also never gave Joe a third chance.



When I first saw the Ueichi Bushiken strike


Many today with YouTube and other tools but a finger touch away do not realize what karate was 40 years ago.


Literally karate was almost what you instructor(s) shared with you.


There were few sources of other information with much depth available. Perhaps what was not documented would remain unseen by others outside of a tradition.


This probably extended to where you lived in the world too. One example I had heard through the magazines of Goju’ Superimpe kata, but had never seen it. It would be perhaps 10 years before I did see it, to understand what was being discussed. Perhaps not a big deal to many, but in those times that was mostly ‘kept’ knowledge, at least where I lived.


For what you could not see was always something that could work against you.


Now I was aware of Uechi, had even seen George Mattson’s book which had their Seisan kata in it, but never saw much in detail. Living in Scranton Pa for a decade, there just was not Uechi around the area.


Years later (probably when I was about a dozen years into my own training) I had 3 guy’s join my adult program. 2 of them former Ueichi Brown belts. They took to Isshinryu very, very well due to some similarity in the basics of the systems. I always encouraged them to take time before or after class to continue to work on the Ueichi technique. Not what I was teaching, but people should continue to work on what they learned.


One Saturday morning before class I watched Tom  Chan work on his Ueichi Seisan kata. Watching closely I noticed something I had not noticed previously. I then asked Tom to repeat his Ueichi Seisan kata. He did, and at the moment he did the movement I had observed I asked him to stop.


I questioned were those movements thumb strikes? He was astonished I had noticed that, and he explained that is what they were. Technically the Uechi Boshiken strike.


After all the people I had trained with, I knew how to observe. And that observation opened up a new line of study for me to consider.


In time I had Tom teach me Ueichi Sanchin and Seisan. Aware of how they formed much of the basis for Uechi-Ryu. I was not trying to be a Uechi student, just looking to explore what they had, Then decades of further practice and study for myself.


A number of years later Tom took me down to Massachusetts to George Mattson’s karate shack, Unfortunately he was not there that day, but Tom wanted to work out there, he had been a Buzz Durkin student and had heard of that location. As he was working in with them, with no difficulty on his part, after a while I heard the next kata would be Seisan.

I asked those instructing the group if perhaps I might join in, and they agreed.


I think they were somewhat amazed when I was able to follow along,


I wasn’t Ueichi by any means, but what Tom had shared was spot on.


And it is always a good feeling when you can mystify others……


Today you can Google Boshiken, or find it on YouTube quite readily. There are few ‘secrets’ today.


Of course reading about something, or viewing it is not the same as what is required to make it work, a different dimension from just looking.


It is too easy to look and then believe you understand. Looking you rarely realize there is just as much which cannot be seen. Even though seeing can be helpful. It never can replace a skilled instructor.


So began another string of study for me. Something obscure for many.


Boshiken. Tameshiwari 試し割り Uechi Ryu 上地流