Monday, November 19, 2018

You Breathe, You Live


With each breath you take….Life means breathing
When I began my studies in Isshinryu no special instruction was given to breathing.
I just mimic kata as I was taught it. Of course there were differences.
When I was taught Seiunchin kata, for ½ the kata it was done with dynamic tension in the movements, and with deep, hard breathing.
Then again learning Sanchin it was done with dynamic tension and hard, deep breathing throughout all the kata.
The remainder of my Isshinryu kata and kobudo kata, were done without a special breathing method, just breathing as needed.
** Note – this discussion is only intended for Dan consideration –
there is no logical reason to discuss this with kyu students  **
Then when I had reached Black Belt in Isshinryu, I took advantage of the opportunity to study Yang Tai Chi Chaun, and one of the basic practices, I was taught how to control my breathing timing my movement. A very specific instruction from Ernest Rothrock. Of course that was not the only specific instruction as additionally I was taught how and where to gaze during the form, and to also roll my head while I was gazing.
Together a more unique study that what I ever expected.
I did so when I practiced my tai chi. I did not follow that when I did my Isshinryu.
And yes I experienced a conflict between those studies during my Sanchin practice.
It was also during that period of my training, I trained with many other people. None of whom ever discussed specific breathing in their practice.
I digress a bit, for there was one other person who did so. Tristan Sutrisno explained at 3rd dan there were many fundamental changes for the adept of his Indonesian Shotokan family art. Among with was a switch to reverse breathing in study, for everyone still training at that level (of course instructors would continue to teach beginning students (kyu and up to 2nd day standard breathing).
This means where you inhale and exhale is reversed so you exhale and inhale in study and practice of the art.
I never studied that art to that depth, and am unaware of anyone else who describes that with karate. Though there are some tai chi systems that use it, but do not switch, either using regular respiration or reverse respiration when moving through the form.
As a point I did discover there is a case for special karate/aikido techniques to use reverse breathing.
Years later when my own studies into kata technique analysis progressed I began to realize that what a breath could be offered advancing possibilities.
Let me provide a simple example. As you get deeper into the topic there are many other options.
When I learned Seisan kata, it was taught like this.
1. Rei and inhale.
2. Step left foot forward with a crescent step, exhaling a portion of your air and executing a left side block. The  right hand chambers at the same time. Then chamber the left hand and then as you rapidly step forward with a right crescent step quickly exhale the rest of your air as you right punch.
3. Step right foot forward with a crescent step, quickly inhaling and then exhaling with left reverse punch.
4. Step left foot forward with a crescent step, quickly inhaling and then exhaling with a right reverse punch.
This can be defined as 4 separate technique series.
But the entire movement section can also be done this way.
1. Rei and inhale.
2. Step left foot forward with a crescent step, exhaling a portion of your air and executing a left side block. The  right hand chambers at the same time. Then chamber the left hand and then as you rapidly step forward with a right crescent step quickly exhale the rest of your air as you right punch.
3. Step right foot forward with a crescent step with left reverse punch  and on the same exhalation step left foot forward with a crescent step, concluding the exhalation with a right reverse punch.
Now the same moves but used as 3 separate applications.
A movement is capable of being defined as you elect, it does not have one answer. As the above two examples there are at least 2 answers, which an opponent cannot easily anticipate which will be used. That is the first reason to consider more than one answer.
This is not appropriate training for the kyu student. Rather for the dan student to begin to consider possible uses of their Isshinryu. While an exercise of changing entire kata breathing patterns can be done, that is not an optimal answer. Rather sections of kata should be explored and then considered possible alternate breathing drills. To make one move towards being totally unpredictable, so no one knows when you will chose to use those answers. There is no end  to considering those possibilities.
Then I have thought long and hard about the Sutrisno family practice of using only reverse breath after 3rd dan, and I believe I have uncovered a possible reason for doing so. It could depend on understanding what training has done to the operating system of most people.
As a more precise level than I believe most consider, the idea behind ‘ghost techniques’ enters the picture. ‘Ghost Techniques’ work on the concept that many people launch their attacks on the assumption they know where you are, and the ‘ghost’ uses that assumption against them, by being somewhere else. Because they assumed they know where you are (as they launch their attack), they are not looking actually where you are. This makes the ‘ghost technique work.
On a different level, most do not realize enough about what the old saying “The eye must see all sides, the ear must listen in all directions” means. The concept of Ghost Techniques works because many do not really look, and you turn their assumption against them. At another level one must not hear on automatic.
I believe the concept of reversing breathing resulted in understanding how people use their hearing in defense and offense. Hearing the inhalation, ‘knowing’ that the attack follows on the expiration, is an assumption. And if people are responding because their knowledge how people attack allows them to key off of their opponents breathing pattern, that can be a mistake, when you only use reverse breathing.
So hearing the inhale, preparing the body to expect the attack on the exhale, offers a factional opening into their timing and more so when the attack is on the inhale.
This is fairly complicated stuff.
I have never seen anyone else suggest this is something that can be used.
But I back my supposition after seeing how explosive my friend was, over and over and over. It is logical that was  a component of what I experienced.
This in no way completely addresses possibilities to looking at breath.

The worst thing

I am not sure where I saw this a few days ago, but the question posed was what was the worst experience you ever had while training/practicing karate.


It was not the effort, or the sweat, nor the calls to workout at midnight or in snow storms.


Speaking of snow storms, it was not all the times I waited in snow storms just in case anybody ever showed up to train, and thankfully they did not, all were much smarter than I.


It was never the pain. As when I am sure I experienced broken ribs from a strong green belt side kick when I was a beginner, and continued to train through the pain the next several months. Or as I slowly learned the lesson of pain, pain was your friend telling you something was wrong and you had to better learn how not to experience that. Then pain would pass quickly, leaving only the memory you were in pain, no longer the pain. So you learned to move past pain, acknowledge it, use it and  keep training.


It was not that I experienced difficulties that required operations. Actually returning quickly to karate training got me past those time more quickly.


It was not the death of students, friends or instructors, all of whom I loved.  Those are learning moments that we cannot control when death occurs. For it does, but our memory of their presence can remain with us forever.


But when my disabilities developed and I had to greatly reduce what karate I could to. That was among the hardest things  I experienced, but all my memories and my studies remain, still driving what I do.


The absolute worst thing was having to move away from my friends that I trained with.
Living so far away, we can no longer train together.


However, my memories remain, my study into the arts goes forward, and I still train as I am able. So perhaps those events are not the worst thing.


I remain the beginner, learning the lessons in my karate continue to go forward into life.

Friday, November 16, 2018

For those times when you need a laugh

This is what I look like when I am mad,
to borrow from Tennesee Ernie Ford,
"If you see me coming better step aside,
 a lot of men didn't and a ......... "


Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Just make a minor point

It is not my intention to assume what obi anyone should wear, rather just note many things have changed in the past 100 years.


There was a time no one on Okinawa wore any specific obi during their karate practice. It is generally assumed when karate migrated to Japan in the 1920’s it’s use was adopted (along with specific training uniforms) appropriated in principle from obi use in Judo. Different colors showing where a student/practitioner was in their practice.


But many practices developed in Japan finally were adopted on Okinawa too. It is generally assumed dan rank was first established on Okinawa during the 1950s. Then dan any kyu rank became the standard, that and group specific obi traditions.


And from the use in Judo, the senior instructor began to wear a red obi (or in some cases a white obi.) But more time passed, and the entire world began to adopt their own karate obi traditions.


Some on Okinawa even went to Obi such as Gold Obi. The groups developed their own standards on that.


This is just an example that even on Okinawa, the martial art of karate is constantly changing.


"Since Karate is ever-advancing it is no longer possible to speak of the Karate to day and the Karate of a decade ago in the same breath...Karate in Tokyo today is almost completely different in form from what was earlier practiced in Okinawa...

Precisely because it has its own life, do is subject to the inevitable cycle of growth and decline. It is ever-changing, but only in its outer form. The basic nature of do remains immutable."
Gichin Funakoshi from Karate-do Nyumon (1st published 1925)


Sunday, November 11, 2018

A closer look at what is often not discussed

It is not entirely clear to be exactly what the earlier art(s?) which were re-named karate exactly were used for. But it is very clear by 1870 when Japan took over control of Okinawa, removing the king of Okinawa to Japan, the original purpose of those art(s?) was no longer needed.


So the training became more of a preserving our class type of thing. Not changing what was studied, just no longer for an actual function. And they were not studying karate because the people needed self defense?


Itosu Anko came up with a new idea. Namely that a version of karate could be taught in the schools because Okinawan youth needed better preparation for eventual service in the Japanese military, not for karate, but to be able to follow orders for training. So something new was tried and it found a place. In time others took the same approach, sharing a bit of their karate with youth.


But that a new idea could work gave rise to other new ideas. Not the first, but a focused disporia of karate training to Japan gave rise to another idea. Karate could make a new purpose, to train young men attending university. Various forms of karate shaped into something that could be learned in a 4 year program began to take form. Those graduates of course moved on into many careers, and in turn eventually formed schools  based off of those karate experiences. First focused on developing instructors to run those 4 year programs, then developing those programs for the few who could continue that training.


It was a new form of the former Okinawan art, now a Japanese art.


But on Okinawa as time passed, new things were happening. Some instructors after teaching children took the Itosu Pinan kata into their programs.


Among Karate research groups other simpler forms were created and adopted in some programs. Feedback from the Japanese karate community convinced them that Karate should be renamed Karate to not offend Japanese sensibilities. Other projects were looking into the development of simple karate kata to be used of possible public karate training. (the 10 kata developed are seen in Nagasone’s Karate Do Koyhan.) but they were not formally adopted by Okinawan karate.


Then WWII occurred, and many things changed. For one thing almost the senior generation of instructors perished, both on Okinawa and on Japan karate took on new shapes for new reasons in each location.


And as karate continued to move into the world more and more changes occurred, even to this day. Each insistent their way is right.


And while service is paid to taking the time to read what the earlier instructors of these developing arts wrote, there is literally no real discussion of those writings. Each group goes on continuing to find their way, but I question how deeply they take the time to look at what was shared of the past.?

A brief suggestion of some of what has been written about prior arts and what earlier karate looked like.


“The Secret Royal Martial Arts of Ryukyu”By Kanenori Sakon Matsuo

Itoman Seijin (Morinobu’s) book Toudi-jutsu no Kenkyu translated by Mario McKenna


Funakoshi Ginchin: The recent translation of ‘Karate Jutsu’
The translation of the Karate-Do Koyan
Motobu's books: Japanese reproduction and Patrick McCarthy translation
Mabuni Kenwa, translations of his 1933-1934 publications Mario Mckenna
Kobou Jizai Goshin-jutsu Karete Kempo
Seipai no Kenkyu (including the first publication of Bubishi drawings)
Mutsu Mizho’s 1933 ‘Karate Kempo’ reproduction

(Nakasone Genwa’s 1938 ‘Karate Do Taiken’ reproduction and M. McKenna translation

One example of my trying to understand these offerings

Thursday, November 8, 2018

The one time I attempted to show Sherman Harrill one of my studies.

I never spent enough time with Sherman Harrill to really show him many of the things I trained in.


One time in Western Massachusetts, during a lunch break, I did show Sherman the first row of my Yang Tai Chi form. He was interested because he really wanted to explore the uses of those movements. Alas, that was not to be.


Another time, during his clinic on Wansu kata in 1997, during a break of his presentations I did show him a part of an Indonesian drill I had learned. Specifically it was  a series of counters against a  left lead head punch, and right reverse head strike followed by a left uppercut delivered in a rapid 1-2-3 combination.


I was not trained in the method but Tristan Sutrisno allowed be to observe him training hin senior students in the entire drill. The sequence was not very long for both sides, just 7 moves or so, so I acquired it. Observing that set I began to see where his fighting ability came from, and I was very interested.


Then when I returned home from that  trip I decided to try it out on my students the next Saturday morning class.  I showed to them and everyone began to do it hard and fast. It was painful. Then when we went harder and faster it hurt ever more.


So the attackers started pulling the strikes to avoid the pain, and it immediately got sloppier and sloppier. Not what I wanted to we put it aside into my notes.


About a year later I bought a VHS tape on Indonesian technique. Waching it I saw the same first three movements executed as an attack against three defenses working off of the same movement. I paid attention to that, but again something for my notes, not for practice.


Then at a summer camp Ernie Rothrock showed a simple way to stop a roundhouse strike to the head. He just steppd in and raised his hands before his face as he turned into the strike. I was chosen to be his attacker. It was very painful. Then ‘playfully’ he began to say “Karate Boy, is that all the harder you can strike?” So I attacked with a harder, quicker roundhouse strike to hie head. Again he did the same thing, and it hurt more. I tried again and again, and all I accomplished was to turn my arm into hamburger.


But when he explained what was happening, how the mere motion of raising his hands became my arm striking the forearm and the biceps tendon into those unmoving hands each time the faster I went, the harder it struck.


I started to understand what power was inherent in passive movement, which was behind those experiences. As a result I began to see new uses for kata kamae, as well as thinking of a new method to instruct that drill.


So we began with softer attacks and just used light slaps for the defense, to get used to where the contact was coming from. Allowing the attackers to get used to being struck in those places.


At the same time I began exploring different ways to use just those 3 defensive movements for the triple attack.


The original defense:

            1. against a left incoming punch, the left hand rotates right and strikes across the body with an open knife hand, the knife hand striking into the biceps of the attacker stopping the attack.

            2. Then against the right incoming punch the left hand rotates left and strikes back across the body with an another open left knife hand, striking into the biceps of the attacker stopping that attack.

            3. Finally against the left uppercut, the right knife hand strikes down into the rising uppercut into the biceps causing more great pain. (Alternatively both hands could also strike down into the rising uppercut, the left knife hand into the biceps the right knife hand into the forearm.)


A second approach uses the leopard paw.

            1. Against a left incoming punch, the left leopard paw,  strikes across the body, a strike with the finger fore knuckles. Strikes into the incoming biceps causing pain.

            2. Against a right incoming punch, the left leopard paw, then strikes with the forefingers of the leopard paw into that punch biceps, again causing pain.

            3. Finally against the rising uppercut that follows, both hands strike down with leopard paw strikes. The left paw striking into the biceps, the right paw striking into the forearm.

            The ridge of knuckles striking into the unprotected biceps or forearm as a ridge of knuckles, causing pain as a result.


Then the third approach using a punch for the strike.

            1. Against the left incoming punch, the left punch strikes across the body into the biceps of the attacker. But the punch strikes with just the middle knuckle of the fist. This causes even more intense pain as the strike is done with only a single point of the fist for greater penetration.

            2 Against the right incoming punch the left punch then strikes into the biceps of the attacker. Again the strike is done with the middle knuckle of the fist, becoming a single striking point for the pain.

            3. Finally against the rising uppercut that follows, punch down with both fists, each striking the rising biceps or the rising forearm with a single middle knuckle of that punch.


What happens, where you always striking into the exposed vulnerable area of an incoming strike, working against that strike from the space that strike contains. The first counter series uses the plane of the knife/ridge hand to cause pain. The second counter series uses the ridge of the fore knuckles the leopard paw creates in cause even more intense pain. The third counter series uses the single point of the fist, the middle knuckle, to cause again more intense pain, The single point of the knuckle focuses your defense into an even smaller strike into that most vulnerable place which has presented itself.


Principle involved: While the attack is focusing its force on the end of their fist, they present opening as that punch comes in, and you are moving into the opening their attack creats to attack them to what they have provided.


So I had worked all of this out myself, and of course showed my students. It was of course up to them to use what they learned. The complete Juru 1, which they learned they did get down, and this is discussing just the first 3 moves.


So as it turns out I took time at that clinic to show this to Sherman, going through all 3 defenses, explaining them. Sherman watched and then he offered a 4th option, just using the forearm for the counter strikes. (and I could see the logic, especially when attacked as you are very close to the attacker.)


I thought I might show him something new. Of course I had no idea, and never would, what Sherman may have worked himself. He had shown so many different things over the years. But he did instantly show there was also a 4th option.


Of course I did not explain every step of the motion involved.I was focusing on where the ending defensive strikes involved. This is Tristan Sutrisno performing the complete motion for  the first example defensive movement involved.


The complete Juru 1 follows
With Young Lee and Mike Cassidy:


Sunday, November 4, 2018

A Rememberence for Sherman Harrill

Sherman Harrill

Born: May 11, 1941

Died: Nov 04, 2002


While Sherman left us then

I offer this as a short memory of what he was.


In 1997 during a clinic

Exploring the uses of Wansu kata,

He would always take the time

To make a simple concept clearer.


For this technique

He first discussed the way the opening movement went.


Then he showed how it worked both left and right


Finally he demonstrated the movement of the technique series itself.



 At the clinics end Sherman  and Tom Lewis  got down with some of the attendees.



Gone perhaps, Never Forgotten