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



Friday, June 15, 2018

A unique exercise in Multiple Striking

The striking I had learned in my Isshinryu karate was pretty standard, and most effective.


However when I first encountered a drill in multiple striking techniques I knew immediately I had to have it, made notes and practiced it and taught it forever.


Multiple striking is a training tool where one technique flows into another. The techniques are not exotic in themselves. But the potential of the training, IMO, is something else.


After a while I realized I had seen something similar in the Chinese training I was undergoing. Got out my notes, and yet another set of drills to use.


Then I remembered my original instructor, Tom Lewis, using something a variation from the  Isshinryu upper body chart that could be classified the same way.  First meeting with Sherman Harrill he too did something that could work the same way. Eventually I opened my eyes and found other examples in my Isshinryu, which required me to realize what was happening within that multiple striking paradigm.


Slowly I accumulated other examples, from other systems and from other instructors.  Each of them earned a place in the advanced training on use of multiple striking I taught.


The original drill I learned back in 1979 was from a Shotokan variation. This drill I show below is from an Indonesian Silat system.


All of the techniques shown are in karate too. What is being showed in how the movements can flow from technique to technique.


This is of course a drill. It is not suggesting you need to use all of it for a defense. But a way to build flow skill for technique use.

 King Caenap (Silat)

I discuss the concept of multiple striking on further blog posts.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Striking with the back of the empty hand


Part of the ‘magic’ of karate was the adept could strike out when unexpected. The fact they were trained was not obvious, allowing the opponent to face an unexpected response to their actions.
I was working on my tai chi palm training, which I often do these days. To more retain ability than anything else. So while I was doing so, my eyes observed the back of my hands as I exercised.
That brought many training sessions over many years to mind. Ones which worked on many open back hand strikes.
As single strikes they can slash down against the bridge of the nose, down against the orbit of the eyes where the back hand knuckles fit the face. Strikes by Sherman Harrill descending into the neck where the hand fits into the neck below the jaw, strikes to te temple, striking into the armpit, rising strikes into the groin, strikes into the solar plexus, descending strikes into the points on the upper chest, rising strikes into the under side of the jaw. Of course this is not a complete listing of possibilities.
Then there are the compound striking possibilities,
I am limited these days having no one to work with to make photos showing what I mean.
That being the case I turned to Bing pictures. I found almost nothing, which surprised me.
I could only find one photo which surprised me, and at that not exactly what I wanted either.
With all the internet karate technique discussion, now that I think about it, I don’t recall it having been a topic of discussion. Of course I do not know everything, perhaps just I haven’t heard of it being discussed. It may be a primary strike of your style. If so please excuse my lack of knowledge.
But for me I very much serves the purpose of something that an opponent will not expect.
I hope my students will recall when I used this, Others, may this serve as inspiration.
Top, bottom, inside, outside and more, definitely more options must be considered to really understand our tools.

An example with the late John Dinger assisting me.



Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Some thoughts on being an instructor

I was just a little old karate instructor, who ran an itty-bitty program for a long time. Perhaps because I focused on only having a very small long term program and then developed skilled individuals and was able to work with them for a long time, perhaps I saw things in a different light.


I was trained by many highly skilled instructors in many different arts, each way above my capability. I then had occasion for a time to compete against some of the best in the nation, and that competition taught me a great deal. Some of the instruction was given by those who knew how to develop higher levels of focus in your forms, once you had properly been prepared for it.


It gave me insight how to develop the individual towards their own potential.

The reality is even when people receive the same training at the same time, intense training, they are still going to remain different. Some will move to a different skill level in one aspect of their training, others with identical training will move to different levels in other aspects of their training.


All I ever wanted to do is share what I know with my student’s, and work to develop their potential to as far as they chose to take it, and hope they would exceed my own potentials. The students over time are the ones that choose where you can direct them. You can’t make them learn anything. It always is their choice.


If you succeed they can draw their best when they need it, and have acquired knowledge how best to use it.


Long,  long ago I learned a lesson from Cindy Robinson when my wife and I were giving her a lift home from a tournament in Central Pennslyvania. She had to stay for the finals that night to compete for the form grand championship. This was before she was recognized as a National Champion, back when she was a Region 10 champion. She explained that some of the judges were engaging in what was a regular psych war experience she recognized. They were telling her that she was not doing her best that evening.


Now the psych war exists because often those judges own students are competing against her, and there is often what is sniping talk to try and get into someone mind.


What Cindy said next, I have found to be extremely ture.


What the judges miss is every time every competitor competes, every one of them is doing their flat out absolute best. But reality is that every day our best ability changes, It never is exactly the same as before. Some time we move faster, sometimes we move slower, etc. That is reality. But it always is our best.


You see individuals more closely when the group is small. You can observe what can be done better, Of course you can always miss what is happening too, for your own best as an instructor varies too.


You realize that continuing correct practice move one to develop a higher level of performance that can be drawn on. And the better in practice, the more potential on tap when needed, as on a tournament floor or when someone is trying to cave your head in.


A different mission is to raise the individuals awareness how they can use those movement to interrupt an attack, and how to work around less than absolute best performance. But one wishes that is not the case.


I have used video to preserve the shapes of some of our performances at various times in the student’s training. Not to try and capture their absolute best performances. After all their work is to exceed where they have been, and those bests are just temporary points of time.


 Two students with identical training. One was slightly better with bo. One was slightly better with empty hand. But for most outside observers they were identical.


Then their training varied.


The one working bo, worked in different ways to develop his ability. 


The one who worked empty hand followed slightly different training for his ability. For one thing I had him watch as many Gene Kelly dancing movies as possible, paying specific attention to how his movement flowed from the way he used his hips in his dance. Especially when he was paired with skilled dancers.


Time and again each individuals wants, needs and individual effort over the decades, determines how they want their own karate to be.

I will close with a bit of Gene Kelly.



Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Time for the Drunken Fist

I was watching the movie The Forbidden Kingdom, when during the fight between Jackie Chan and Jet Lee I noticed when Jackie used the Drunken Fist in the fight.



The hand position I noticed was the one he used as if he held a cup of wine in his hand, even though it was empty.


When I was training with Ernest Rothrock,  I know he showed me that one time, though no version of drunken fist was in my studies.


Of course I have seen it used many times in kung fu movies, often by Jackie Chan.


I am not commenting on the use of drunken kung fu, just on that fist formation.


One evening years after I had been shown the hand formation, I started messing with it, trying to see if it had value for use.


I formed the hand formation of the thumb and index finger curved open as if holding a wine cup in one’s hand, and the other fingers curled closed.


Then I tried lightly striking with it in different ways.


I discovered various ways it could be effective. But the one that intrigued me most was when I was striking with the entire first section of the index finger as one unit, the striking surface the first bent knuckle and the finger aligned with the wrist. It formed a very hard striking surface when aligned to the wrist, even without conditioning for use as a strike.


A strike into the side or front of the neck, into the armpit, into the ribs on the line as shown on the bubishi,  into the solar plexus, into the groin, among other locations, would be quite effective. And unexpected by many when used that way.


Of course the ippon ken can be used just that way too. A bit different than just forming the ippin ken fist and striking with the bent knuckle, imo.


This just brings to mind other unusual striking surfaces that can be useful.


For fun watch Jackie Chan and Jet Li go at it.




Saturday, June 9, 2018

Unsubstantiated thoughts on Okinawa 1875 - 1905

So much of the past is simply not available to us. Either because it was not written down, or not available for us to see. I must start off I am sure I know too little about that which I write. However, providing you understand that, this might be an interesting exercise.


In particular I often thing about what the arts that became known as karate went through from the time between 1875 to 1905. There were vast changes occurring. This is not a historical record, just an accumulation of various facts I have picked up an one time or another.


Japan removed the king of Okinawa in 1872. Japan assumed control of Okinawa in 1872.


In 1879 In order to make the Ryukyus an integral part of Japan, although opposed by the hereditary lords of the Ryukyus, Meiji abolishes the Ryukyu Han and sets up Okinawa Prefecture.


Then in 1881 The Meiji government decides to preserve and utilize the old system of rule within Okinawa Prefecture.


Along the way the Japanese imposed Japanese as the language of the land.

The Japanese also took control of the education system


Now thinking about those days, a large part of the existence of the Pechin class was focused on defense of the king, and the government. That was certainly part of the reason the arts of that day arose.


That time the first part of the picture is the adepts of those arts (whatever name one chooses to use) was instantly made obsolete. There was no king to guard, and almost at the same time no government to correct.


Part of those arts was their secrecy. No one could say who they were from their dress, or their title. Now the ‘purpose’ behind their training evaporated.


Surely one can imagine at local festivals, which were always an Okinawan tradition, Senior instructors would have discussed these things occurring between themselves.


I can imagine a new purpose arising. To continue to offer training in those arts. Keeping their tradition of showing them to others within the Pechin, as a way to hold onto their tradition to bind themselves together.


As before those arts shared with students would be serviceable. And the older traditions would be retained. The art taught would be what was appropriate for the student. It might vary from person to person, but the idea of making them credible with the training would remain the core.


There was no reason to share beyond that. It would take a long time for credible ability to show itself. The training focus would always be that credible art.


The Seniors knew that over time individuals would explore their art in new ways that made sense to them. They also knew that beyond a core group, most would not go further, nor was there a need to do so. The purpose of providing a sizeable group who shared similar training would keep the Pechin together.


On a separate level, Instructors would have continued to explore their own understanding of their art. But that would rarely be shared, only someone who had proven their dedication to their art over the decades, and who also had continued to work out their art, might prove suitable for greater knowledge. And that would be or not be shared at the instructor’s discretion.


For the most part Okinawa was a walking population. Although the three main training centers (Shuri, Naha and Tomari) were quite close, their arts developed in individual manners.  Between friends who began training in different arts, sharing at times between themselves, or festival demonstrations revealing other arts techniques, some interaction took place.



In Okinawa the samurai class lost a major source of income in 1903, when massive peasant protest sparked land reforms and the abolition of peasant taxes that sustained the Okinawan Samurai class.


And the Pechin were not very prepared for that. Many were without incomes and had to resort to many things just to survive. I remember reading about a senior practitioner of karate reduced to pulling a rickshaw as a method to provide for his family.


The Okinawan society was undergoing many changes as a result of this. Funakoshi Ginchin wrote about some of them,


The use of karate to continue to bind the Pechin families together surely continued to be a major purpose.


So it is possible the when Itosu Sensei wrote to the Okinawan school board, he  was perhaps as concerned with using karate in a new way to protect the Pechin practice, as much as present an alternative of Okinawan training within the schools.


I do not believe he was proposing instructors should change how they were teaching their students. Just showing that a new type of karate instruction could prove valuable to Okinawa’s youth.


And in time, those changes became adopted by many others as logical tools.

Some did, some didn’t.


Another facet to consider was as time passed Okinawa was no longer a walking culture.


The first railroad with handcars was built in 1902.  In 1910, the railroad opened for the purpose of transporting sugar cane.  During the Taisho period (1912-1926), there was competition between private and prefectural government development of electric trolley and railroad systems.  By the end of this period, the prefecture completed a railway system that had three lines radiating from Naha: one to Kadena, one to Yonabaru, and one to Itoman. Okinawa Electric also extended its routes with a ‘state-of-the-art’ horse-drawn trolley linking Naha and Itoman.


Individuals now had a method to travel greater distances than before, one part of that was surely some surely used the railroad to travel to other places on the Island, to seek training.


I imagine the advent of better and public lighting had a place in those changes, too.


Change continued to take place, at it’s own pace.