Thursday, December 25, 2008

Should Children be Black Belts…..or more interestingly should anyone?

An ever popular question in Isshinryu discussion and across the internet is the one raised here, should Children be Black Belts. The question is rhetorical because each program actually does whatever they will (as the only true rule about karate is there are no rules).

So we like to hear “We do award children black belts”, or “We don’t award children black belts” or “We give them ‘pretend’ black belts”.

For the record training young people for 30 years now I’ve never awarded a child any rank, I only teach karate-ka, not children, not men, not women, just karate-ka. The content I teach everyone is the same, adjusted for their ability whether they’re 7, 17, 27, 37, 47, 57 or 67. I don’t give the young access to more than two classes a week and the average time for them to reach sho-dan is 7 to 9 years (my son started at 7 and he reached sho-dan at 18). But I have no restrictions and if the student’s merit calls for sho-dan examination they would receive it, just because of what the past has done does not restrict my future.

The two very best sho-dan examinations I’ve ever attended was the day Tom Lewis’ 11 year old son Rob and Dennis Lockwood’s 12 year old daughter Anna took their examination. They had the technical skills, they had literally tons of kumite experience in tournament against their own age groups, and at 13 Anna took first place in black belt weapons at Harold Long’s tournament whooping all of the ‘old’ men competitors.

Young people have the potential and can develop the ability. That they’re normally not pressed into combat situations (in our country) really isn’t a important consideration, for does the 57 year old sho-dan candidate have the ability to be pressed into combat either. It always depends, and in turn is just a dojo objective, not a ‘universal’ operating principle.

One of my friends who teaches a very complex set of Chinese arts about 15 years ago changed his standards for their sho-dan equivalent from 6 years training to 3 years training. I questioned him about that, whether he was weakening his art and his reply was if it motivates more of those people to reach 6 years training (as the course content at 6 years hadn’t changed) he was creating more competent students.

I understand his logic because it hits on the key idea about what a black belt is, IMO.

The entire concept of black belt is fascinating; it is one of the most powerful tools we have in the martial arts, capturing the students mind and is a driving force in its own right. Unfortunately that can be limiting too if the focus is only on the cloth, or the number of strips it can maintain.

If reaching sho-dan drives the student to keep training and push for greater knowledge and ability is it important what the age requirement is?

I guarantee you if you teach young people you will loose almost 100% of them to life as they grow up. Perhaps a few will stay around for a lifetime of training, but statistically I bet they’re a very small % of students. Dangling their own dojo and an income before them is hardly justice because the more important thing is they must keep pushing their own training. But school, military service, work, marriage and all of life’s other offerings are and will be more important for most.

The training you offer them becomes a piece of their lives, and only when they can control their life can they give a lifetime to training. That’s part of the reason I don’t let the young train more frequently because they’re not in control of their lives, their parents are. But if they stick the 7 to 9 years they’ve reached that decision on their own, even if it means shortly after sho-dan they MUST move on.

The entire topic started me thinking and I did a small bit of research through the CyberDojo.

There is no evidence that Kyan awarded anyone a black belt, he never even gave a name to his system of teaching.

It is also well documented that Miyagi would not award anyone a black belt even when his students kept the pressure on to receive them. Even though the Japanese martial establishment had awarded him the highest title of the Okinawan’s teaching in Japan, he didn’t equate that to dan rank. The speculation is that he was against the Japanese meddling with the Okinawan arts.

The development of gi and dan ranking occurred in Japan as Karate transplanted there pre WWII and changed the art structure to match Japanese sensibilities. It does not seem to have had the same penetration back on Okinawa. I imagine the old Okinawan training of people doing sanchin in their undies had much to do with removing their clothes to keep them clean and dry, and not having a gi production infrastructure to provide alternatives.

It appears that after WWII it was Japanese influence that caused the Okinawan groups to start using dan ranking. All of the students of Miyagi appear to have ignored his wishes and Goju developed dan ranking. Likewise group after group did so.

Shimabuku Sensei adopting rank was no different from every other group, but as I don’t believe he belonged to any of the groups, he had no obligation to follow their standards of what rank meant. It meant whatever he felt it meant.

Which takes us back to whether Children can be black belts. In Shimabuku Sensei’s environment children didn’t study karate (where today on Okinawa 75% of the karate-ka are children – previously documented on the CyberDojo too).

So we see things change, they always do. We each felt the importance of reaching sho-dan and how it drove us in part and can use it to effect for our students. Hopefully we work with those same students to understand sho-dan is irrelevant, the true value is that we keep training, studying and working forever.

Long ago I wrote that I always felt the true black belt examination was not the sho-dan test, but whether after 5 years that black belt was still training hard, and after 10 years and after 20.

IMO, if promoting young people to sho-dan helps their growth in the art, then it’s a good idea for those programs.

A more interesting question for anyone with a long term program is of your adult students what is the average time they keep training after acquiring sho-dan?

My program is small so this may not be fair, but currently the average adult reaching sho-dan has stayed training over 15 additional years. They still leave, but they’ve had a fair run.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Silent Night Holy Toledo...........

Silence is gone starting this Christmas Eve, my internet access has been restored. It's been a very challenging two weeks, in the mildest of natural disasters here in New Hampshire.

Not a fun time, but helps give pause to how we survive when things are falling apart.

May everyone enjoy the Holidays and once I've had a chance to reenter the internet I have more to chat about.

Here is a photo from the local newspaper of my home street the morning after the ice storm struck.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

On Ice

Right now the Ice Storm that hit New Hampshire 7 days ago has left me without power, heat and of course internet access the entire time.

Still unsure when any of the above will be restored.

As the season is on us, I wish all of you a Merry Christmas (or substitute the holiday of your choice as needed) and best wishes for a Happy New Year.

I will return! Victor

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Giving Thanks

Thanksgiving Day (a holiday in the United States) is a good time to stop the normal movement through life and spend time with family and friends. They are the center of our lives.

I think today of decades of enjoyment practicing my arts with so many friends, being able to share with so many students as each found their own voice in life.

From that first Bruce Tegner paperback on Karate, to Rich Durich my college roomate and his own studies in Shotokan with Okasaki Sensei at Temple, to starting Isshinryu under Tom Lewis, Dennis Lockwood, Al Bailey, Marvin Jones, Reese Rigby and all the rest in the Salisbury, Md. area.

To Frank Traojanowicz and his Scranton Karate School and their Tang Soo Do studies.

To Charles Murray and his personal instruction to my Sho-Dan in Isshinryu.

To my Pennsylvania years, training with David Brojack (Kempo Goju), Carl Long (Shorin ryu Honda Katsu in those days), many times many fellow tournament competitors.

To my beginning path in Yang Tai Chi Chaun with Ernest Rothrock, and then his continuing studies in many Chinese arts and our lifetime friendship. Words cannot express how he shaped my existence.

To my studies in Shotokan, Aikido, Kobudo and Timande with Tristan Sutrisno, the friendship he displayed sharing so much of his arts over the years, profoundly influencing my own studies.

To my friends in New Hampshire: Bill Johnson (Tae Kwon Do), Richard Bernard (Goju and Shorin Ryu) and Garry Gerossie (Isshinryu).

To uncountable students (both past and of course current) through the Providence Full Gospel Tabernacle, the Scranton Boys Club and the Derry Boys Club. Sharing with them was never just about karate, but showing how they can learn and grow by their efforts. Karate was just the way we spend our time togegher.

To those individuals who went a little bit further into dan studies with me:

Roy Blackwell, Mike Toomey, Maureen Smith (foremost wife and educator extradionare), Cindy Robinson, Young Lee, Mike Cassidy, Dennis Driscoll, Andrew Ware, Tom Chan, Jed Kukowski, Luke Hodgkins, Paul Thorington, Chirine Abi-Aad, Paul Harper, Claudette Macomber, John Dinger, Victor Michael Smith, Rabih Abi-Aad. Their studies have always enriched my life. (and yes it may be that Marc Fryberg is pushing on that door too)

Then there are those friends who've reached out over the internet

Joe Swift who has more hats than I can begin to mention, friend, husband, meteorologist, tranlsator, and of course martial artist supreme! Instructor of the Mushikan Tokyo Dojo, author and tranlsator of many martial texts working extremely hard to allow the world to see beyond language barriers.

Kevin Matthews, a real fluffy bunny who's infrequent phone converstaions keep us chatting way too long.

Chrisopher Caille (creator and owner of, who had the vision and the will.

Patrick McCarthy translation collaborations and fast martial fellow (someday may we meet).

And Mario McKenna (Canada), and Fernando Camara (Brasil), and Fred Loese (Cambridge, Ma), and Rommney Taylor (Buffalo, NY), and Steve Wilson (Colorado), and George Donahue (someplace) and then so many, many, many, many others from Bunkai Unlimited, Pleasant Isshinryu, the Original Isshinryu List, the Cyber Dojo, Isshinryu4U, Koshi-people, Prisshin, Sabaki, forums, eBudo forums, Uechi Ryu forums and of course more.

Paul Williams, the real funkydragon who created my original website.

BTW I havn't forgotten anyone, though I may be too choked with emotion at this instant to be able to pull the appropriate names forth (How's that for covering any omissions!).

To all who share (Past, Present and future) this is but the beginning.

To YouTube and the over 10,000 martial video's I've watched to date (beats sleeping) sharing a world of experience and sweat equity.

To the authors of the 500 books and thousands of magazines I've read over the years.

No matter how hard I try I can't mention everyone and everything personally.

Today as I give thanks, you're all included.

God Bless you all!

Monday, November 10, 2008

Furthering the ‘Bubishi’ Section 4

Another vision

The Okinawan arts are much more than just a practiced set of techniques. The kata which preserve the techniques and show some of the methods to connect their use to movement don’t define the Okinawan arts either. In my opinion it is something less noticed, less frequently discussed, the concept of strategy and tactics behind the arts usage.

With this small collection of articles the Okinawan seniors saw another art documented in ways the Okinawan’s didn’t use. I don’t doubt senior students were instructed in their instructors strategy and tactics about using their art. Okinawan karate, however, was using a not-literate verbal form of transmission. That they could possess, share and even discuss these outside theories likely opened some of the new doors karate was to take.

For one thing the Bubishi paved the way for the Karate text.

[Note Hokama Tetsuhiro in his ‘Timeline of KarateHistory’ lists Okinawan articles published about Karate prior to Funakoshi Ginchin’s first book. I haven’t read them but it would seem they were discussing the Okinawan arts with an Okinawan population who had some idea of Karate’s existence. I’m using his timeline as a source for some of the following information and dates.]

Funakoshi Ginchin took the lead in 1922 with his ‘Ryukyu Karate Jutsu’ (republished in 1925 as ‘Rentan Goshin Karate Jutsu’. He did more than prepare a text for his students, he openly shared a portion of his Karate with the world (in those eyes Japan). He also included sections from the Bubishi: “Eight Important Phrases of Karate”, “Treatise on the Ancient Law of Great Strength” and “Methods of Escape” and left them in their original Chinese without offering translation.

Then Mobobu Chokoi published ‘Okinawa Kempo Karate-jutsu’ in 1926.

In 1930 Kyan Chotoku wrote an essay on training.

In 1934 Miyagi Chojun wrote ‘Karate-do Gaisetsu’. It was a very good year for Mabuni Kenwas published two books ‘Goshin Karate Kempo’ and ‘Seipai No Kenkyu’. The Seipai book includes a number of articles in Chinese from Itosu Anko’s copy of the Bubishi, including 28 of the 48 self defense techniques from the Bubishi. There is no question the cat is out of the bag about the Bubishi’s secret existence.

The publishing floodgate was open.

In 1935 Motobu Chokoi published ‘Watashi no Karate-Jutsu’.

That same year Funakoshi Ginchin published his ‘Karate-do Koyan’, an expansion of his earlier works, still including his Bubishi sections in Chinese, an interesting contrast with his support of re-naming Karate from Chinese fist to Empty Hand kanjin.

In Patrick McCarthy’s recent edition of the Bubishi he goes into some detail about how other portions of that work were incorporated into the Karate-do Koyan too.

I think it may be fairly claimed the existence of the collection of articles on an obscure Chinese art may have spawned Okinawan karate-ka to do the same with their arts.

But more than just the books, specific articles by Motobu Chokoi, by Kyan Chotoku and others on strategy and tactics in using karate most definitely are links to similar articles in the Bubishi.

When Karate moves beyond exercise, when Karate moves beyond Do, when Karate moves beyond Jutsu and into the force of one’s life, are how we consider it’s use with our personal strategy and tactical thinking not the way?

To go from the unknown author of the Bubishi, “If an adversary bites you, attack his throat right away”, to Kyan’s “When facing an opponent, take care not to play into his strategy. Some use their feet while punching, or pretend to grab a hand. Others use fists while pretending to throw a foot attack. React according to voice and noise. Never relax”, back to the Bubishi “The ears listen well in all directions” to Motobu, “One must develop the ablity to read, ‘at a single glance’ how much striking power any one person has.” To an instructor who had been a Marine, “When you’re knocked down by surprise when you get up, take them apart and then run before the Shore Patrol arrives.”

This is where I think I can see the effect of the Bubishi moving to Okinawa had on part of the development of Okinawan Karate.

I write this surrounded by many texts. If this was an article I’d footnote everything to make it easier for those interested. But I have no obligation in this forum to do so. I’ve drawn on the following books to prepare this.

Bubishi – The Classical Manual of Combat – translated by McCarthy Patrick
Bubishi – Martial Art Spirit – Translated by Penland Kenneth
Funakoshi Gichin
Karate Jutsu – translated by Teramoto John
Karate-do Koyan – translated by Ohshima Tsutomu
Hokama Tetsuhiro
Timeline of Karate History – translated by Swift Joseph
Motobu Chokoi
Karate My Art – translated by McCarthy Patrick and McCarthy Yuriko
Collection of Sayings by Motobu Chokoi – translated by Swift Joseph
Shotokan Karte
A Precise History by Harry Cook
Kyan’s ideas on training and actual fighting from Miki Nisaburo’s
“Kempo Gaisetsu”

Furthering the ‘Bubishi’ Section 3

Looking at the structure

So we start with a collection of articles about some Chinese system of training that at some indeterminate time in the past came into the hands of several Okinawan karate instructors.

Articles that are indistinct because unless one was trained the same way as the author, they can only lead to conjecture to their meaning and use in that art. On top of that they are written in Chinese with terminology that was localized to a specific set of trainings.

What impact did they have on the continuing development of Okinawan karate?

I believe that is an important question to consider. Whether we can interpret the modern translations to useful studies in our contemporary arts is one thing, but did their existence actually shape the development of Okinawan karate, and if so how?

The Bubishi text contains history, sections on injury and wellness treatment, information on strategy and tactics, codified instructions on how to specifically attack and destroy an opponent from several different methodologies and an analysis of attacks and defensive strategies in the Chinese arts.

There is not enough information contained there in to hand to someone and then have them teach themselves the arts involved. At best the information may be a guideline into study, if we no longer posses the original training behind these notes.

As far as I know, the sad truth is how the Bubishi was used on Okinawa remains closed to most of us. In fact I hope my thoughts will help inspire others to discuss these topics more fully.

What I do know is that the modern translations into Japanese, French and English have led directly to analysis of the martial implications of the 48 self defense technique drawings. This is of course natural and this line of study should be encouraged, if only for the analytic development it spawns to those who undertake that journey.

When looking at the Bubishi, we’re drawn to the illustrations which seem less daunting than the accompanying text. Surely those who possessed this text on Okinawa would have been done the same.

I approached a friend and instructor, Ernest Rothrock from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA, about the nature of the techniques shown. He took the time to show how they compromised the basics of many different Chinese systems. It was very interesting to see them from that perspective too. As his focus is on the Northern Chinese system of Fann Tzi Ying Jow Pai (Northern Eagle Claw) it became clear that this was more than just a Southern Chinese system training document. Many systems contain the same basic studies which are overlaid with their specific systems doctrine. That these techniques are found in Northern Chinese systems and most likely Southern Chinese system, shows their portability. Thereby it is just as logical they would fit within the Okinawan systems movement potential too.

What seems more important to me, today, is that we not look at just the pieces that fit our interests, but at the entire body of knowledge the Bubishi presents.

Yes the author involved kept notes on the history of his art, but Bubishi also contains a great deal of information about Chinese medicine and the use of Herbs in treating medical conditions, It contains information on Striking the Vital point (where not to strike, where and when to strike, vital points by the hour, and the delayed death touch by the hour. It also contains descriptions of the results of fighting by technique analysis, and of course more not simply catalogued.

We have no information if this material came from one author or it was material gathered from numerous sources. That said it is simpler for logical analysis to consider the Bubishi having one author.

Much of the Bubishi is focused on medical treatment, a listing of the herbs being used without the instructions about when to administer them, how to prepare them in detail. It seems to indicate that the author had deep enough training that the how and where wasn’t needed for the notes. Many of those treatments were for very serious attacks described elsewhere in the Bubishi.

It does seem inconsistent that the purpose of the Bubishi was to be used to destroy when there is so much information about how to heal, from that day’s medical knowledge. Does it make sense that one would spend so much time to learn how to heal and at the same time train to destroy?

I suspect the articles on where not to strike, the vital points during 12 hour intervals and the delayed death touch at 12 hour intervals may have been common martial studies across many systems. Their inclusion may have been for medical purposes, the theory that one must know what was done in order to develop a specific remedy.

In fact if you extend that concept of knowledge for defensive medical treatment, if those techniques were common trainings in other systems, that knowledge could form the basis of defensive theory in the martial art too.

Say you understand someone will strike under your right arm between 1am to 3am, knowing what they’re focusing on allows you to construct pre-emptive defensive techniques first. All in all you’re always better if you know before hand what someone else is planning to do.

I am of course skeptical that things were ever this easy, but it may represent a consistent way to look at all of the Bubishi.

For the articles on fighting techniques, such as Grappling and Escapes and of course the 48 Self Defense Diagrams also lend themselves to a text of defensive strategy and techniques, medically and martially.

It is from this analysis that I can suggest an impact on the Okinawan arts.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

From the Mabuni Kenwa book 'Seipai No Kata' published in 1934.

Furthering the ‘Bubishi’ Section 2

Don’t think of the Bubishi as a book.

When I first started comparing the English editions of the Bubishi I was struck how many differences there were. It was not clear that there were different Bubishi being used.

The chapters were in different order among other changes. It was obvious the Patrick McCarthy Bubishi translation had been restructured to make the book fit a more logical form, but what the contents of the various Bubishi versions represent, the differences as well as the similarities hasn’t been discussed.

Certainly as the work was hand reproduced, some copyists may have dropped material because they weren’t interested, or other factors may have caused the changes (such as spilling one’s milk on a page so it ended up unreadable).

On Page 21 of his new edition Patrick has helped clarify this when he explains, “..the original document I received from the Konishi family was unbound and in random order allegedly as received from Mabuni Kenwa.”

Now I have something to work from, it is likely the Bubishi wasn’t preserved as a book to sit on the shelf, but it was a series of working documents to be used by the author.

In my own studies I have dozens of notebooks around me, with articles I’ve written, notes I’ve taken from studies, notes of technique application studies I’ve made without end, friends articles as well as other articles of interest. Personally I preserve each sheet in a sleeve protector, which allows me to pull various portions of different notebooks out and create new working tools as I require.

I save them to use not to sit on a shelf.

It helps understand the Bubishi a little more. It always felt as if was the personal notebook of an instructor or senior student, preserving notes for future use. The details behind the notes were unnecessary their own training was the key.

The Bubishi. a collection of articles that were used.

This is an important key for my new understanding on the Bubishi.

Furthering the ‘Bubishi’ Section 1


Ten years ago I began a slight study on the Okinawan Bubishi by comparing the Ken Penland and Patrick McCarthy translations and speculating on the role that work played in the development of Okinawan Karate. That original study discussed on the CyberDojo discussion group led me to worldwide contacts, ever interesting Bubishi resources and even the chance to translate Roland Habsetzer’s book on the Bubishi from French into English for personal research and to share with friends.

I live in New Hampshire in the United States of America. I don’t travel to Okinawa, nor are my instructors Okinawan, leaving me to my own efforts in this study. I don’t teach the Bubishi or require it for my students study. I also don’t read Chinese or Japanese.

That leaves logic as my primary tool in this study. Logic is never truth in itself, but it is a useful tool in analysis. So it’s logic and of course a lot of help from my friends.

The art I practice, Isshinryu, includes the Kempo Gokui, aka ‘the Code of Karate’, which comes from the Bubishi, in Patrick McCarthy’s book it is Article 13. The Eight Precepts of Quanfa. Its use is an active part of many Isshinryu karate-ka’s studies and provided additional incentive to my efforts, for the Bubishi had touched Isshinryu too.

In 1993 when I first saw the Penland translation, and then the McCarthy version, what struck me was this should be of value to students of the Chinese arts foremost. It displayed a range of studies that few today associate with the martial arts, especially the amount of material focused on Chinese medicine and treatment of injuries and illness.

Past that point though, the question was there, how was this work used by instructors of the Okinawan arts? Most of the questions that came to me remain as open today as when I started but I’ve never stopped thinking about them.

About a year ago Patrick McCarthy asked me if I would like to contribute a commentary on the Bubishi for the upcoming publication of a new edition of his translation.

While I’ve never met Patrick, our mutual interests in understanding the Bubishi allowed me to translate Roland Habsetzer’s book ‘BuBiShi, encyclopedie des arts martiaux’ from a copy he shared with me.

That act of translation from skills learnt 40 years before when studying Francais in high school and university is a true study in humility. Not being a translator I even discussed with George Donahue, then of Tuttle Press about the role of the translator in shaping a work into another language.

So when Patrick requested I might contribute to his new edition, it gave me reason to go back through my studies as I prepared my contribution. Doing so also allowed me to take a look at the Bubishi with the insight of all I’ve experienced in the past few years.

I ended up with more than just that contribution. I started seeing a way to consider the Bubishi differently than I had before.

Then a month ago the new edition went on sale. In addition to the original material Patrick has added additional commentary, photographs of the Bubishi, etc. Reading the details of how, who he studied with, where he studied and how he translated was more than just interesting, it provided me some more material in my growing understanding.

I propose to discuss some of these thoughts, share them on my blog and on various discussion groups around the net, and see what discussion may come from this attempt.

Finally on a personal note, there is an additional value in purchasing the new Bubishi edition, it no longer calls itself ‘the Bible of Karate’.

For some background internet reading I would like to suggest the following url’s

Enter the Bubishi - Victor Smith at
Part 1
Part 2

Bubishi – my original analysis still on a greatly degraded site

Analysis of the Okinawna Bubishi – Fernando Camara

Mario McKenna – No Mention of the Bubishi Here.
On the development of Tensho

Bubishi – Russ Smith comments

Okinawan Bubishi – Stanic Milos

Monday, November 3, 2008


Vote, a very simple thing to do.

Just show up at the polls and perform your civic duty. Vote for those who you believe in.

That's all, just show up and vote.

thank you,


Thursday, October 30, 2008

Ghost Techniques for the Season

This time of year with my seasonal Ghost Technique seminar for the children I teach always brings focus to one of the more subtle aspectsof the arts. The art of not being there.

The concept of Ghost Techniques was shared from Ernest Rothrock's teachings. It's based on a combination of movement and the opponent's perceptual lack of awareness. While sounding exotic, it actually is something experienced many different ways.

Some examples:The boxer using slips, bobs and weaves, to dodge around the opponents strikes. This works because the opponent is striking where they KNOW the boxer is, and not being there is used to their advantage.

Before one says boxing isn't karate, Mutsu's 1933 work Karate Kempo extensive section on karate applications begins with just those techniques, methods to slip, and dodge strikes.

One of my original Isshinryu instructors, Charles Murray, had worked this into a fine art. He would keep a 3 foot circle around him and whenever anyone touched it would either slide back so their attacks would not be on target, or conversely explode when they touched the circle to flow over and through them. Charles taught me another Ghost technique, how to use a drop side kick against an attack, yet another Ghostly variation.

Those two examples are where aware opponents knowing they're fighting each other, use this special spatial awareness to their advantage.

In my Tai Chi studies sometimes you simply step back to create a void to draw the opponent inside.

This can be shades of a great JapaneseSamuari flic "Sleepy Eyes of Death", where the sword technique made an opening the opponents would strike into because they knew he was open, only to die. Of course this is always easier in the movies.

A far different example is from the teachings I experienced with Tristan Sutrisno. One time he disappeared from my strike to end up standing on my shoulders. When you're on the receiving end you really do belive in ghosts. His aikido drills would as frequently shift to remove himself from an attack, and in his Siliat Tjimande he would ground himself, dropping beneath the opponents attack to strike from below.

More specifically the Ghost techniques of Ernest Rothrock (a very small subset of his instruction) consist of specific movement drills to disappear from an attack, to shift so you end up behind your opponent. The opening study is against rigid attacks to learn the shifting patterns, but then extension against more random attack follows.

A more modern terminology would be the use of body shifting and movement to evade an attack and to in turn use that movement to place yourself ina more advantageous position.
But if you're opponent knows where you are, and really believes they'll strike you there, it is possible to disappear before their eyes, and…………

So as the moon darkens, thoughts of the ghost drift by as Halloween approaches. May you always not be there when necessary.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

The Salisbury Tales – part seven Green means Go!

I was several months past a year at the Salisbury Dojo when towards the end of August I was laid off from my construction job. While the money had been sufficient for our living I could see the future should be doing something else. We finally decided to try Scranton, where my wife parents were living and traveling there I found work in a bank to start as a teller.

That meant a very hurried trip back to Salisbury to pack up and move our household. It was such a hectic time. Several weeks earlier we held a party for the dojo at our rented home and now I had to leave them. Thursday evening I left off the packing and returned to the dojo to explain to Mr. Lewis and everyone we had to move.

One of the sad realities in our world is as important as karate can be in our lives, it cannot be first place. Many times being able to move for work to support the family is far more important. Our country is far different from an island 45 miles long, and how we make our livings are very different today too.

That class was very bittersweet. I loved the training and then Mr. Lewis started me learning Chinto kata, just the opening section, but I thought he was doing it as a going away present. Then at class end I was called up before the class and promoted to Green belt.

There are no words to describe my emotion at that point of time. Suffice it in time I came to realize what promotion really meant. It was never a completion or passing a test, but it was opening newer and harder challenges for me to try and live up to that promotion. The longer I go the more that has become my personal path.

As I’ve gone back 36 of so years writing this, so many old stories opened themselves for me, ones I had put to rest long ago. Now I realize how my study of Isshinryu was first and foremost the classes training, over and over, but it was so much more living an Isshinryu texture in doing so. Karate wasn’t just being a student, but it was participating in more than the dojo, but in an Isshinryu community and if my training was to continue I would have to establish that texture one way or another in any future studies because it had become something very important to my life.

My trip up to Scranton established that there was no Isshinryu and in fact no karate in the Scranton area at that time. I had no idea what I could do but practice what I had worked to learn.

Returning home meant several days more packing and then me following my wife in the car as I drove the UHaul north.

The night was dark as were my feelings. Friends I had made being left behind as I was driving into darkness, the light behind me.

When Mario McKenna suggested I start a blog I thought I’d begin with my passions about karate. When it occurred to me that perhaps many haven’t had a beginning year like I had experienced, it might be of interest to describe it, but taking the time to return to those days has been very personal.

Yes my Salisbury days were over, and you really can’t return home again, but I did go back.

As to how I returned to Isshinryu study, why that’s a tale for another time, I will state that it was literally God’s intervention that brought me back to Isshinryu and made me a black belt. Who was I to reject the movement of his hand across my life.

As I drove on in darkness I only knew somehow I had to return to Isshinryu study.


Friday, October 24, 2008

The Salisbury Tales – part six The Salisbury Blues

Later that spring I reached Blue Belt and my wife Yellow. Kata it was Naihanchi (Naifanchi, Nihanchi alt. spellings) and Wansu time.

Class remained focused about ½ kata and ½ kumite. Then in a blue moon Sensei would start class by calling out games and that’s all we’d do, run races, wheelbarrow races, etc. It kept us from becoming stale.

I continued to travel and was training 3 or 4 days a week, focused on my studies but now aware of what some of the seniors were doing. One of the guy’s went up for his black belt examination, the only testing Mr. Lewis held, but the actual testing was not open and none of us knew what it represented.

The club also participated in more tournaments, of course only a portion of the club were attending. I remember Karl Hovey’s in Virginia. A huge tournament by Bob Maxwell held outside of Washington DC, with maybe 50 seniors judging the black belt forms at the same time. There were no ties in that division. As we traveled far to attend them, we were almost always early, and that day arrived around 9am but my division wasn’t called till almost 7pm. Made for a very long day.

Aaron Banks had organized a full contact league and was holding a tournament in Baltimore. Mr. Lewis’ had been contacted to provide a demonstration between two of the fights. The IKC black belts were going to do a breaking demonstration and they spent a lot of time preparing for it. I was asked to contribute to the extent that they needed help holding Al Bailey horizontal at shoulder height. A stack of cinder caps were placed on his stomach and Dennis Lockwood would break them with a sledgehammer while standing on a chair.

The day of the event we drove over to the Baltimore Civic Center. One of the demonstrations involved I believe Frank DiFelice taking kicks to the groin and four simultaneous strikes to the throat. He had a very deep gravely voice. Four of Mr. Lewis’ black belts were asked to deliver the strikes for his demonstration. They followed Mr. DiFelice’s instructions how to strike, but they weren’t pulling things either. It was interesting to watch in practice as well as done in the ring. I never volunteered to learn those skills.

Our demonstration time arrived and I watched the dust fly as those cinder caps broke.
The day was far more eventful because of the fights. In an earlier contest one competitor tried to block a kick with a low block and broke his arm. Then in the main event Butch Bell (a student of Ron Collins) was to fight the league middle weight champion, Kasim Dubar. Bell was in the ring and very focused. Dubar was talking to the press outside of the ring, and then entered to showboat high kicks. When the fight started Bell didn’t kick he just waded into Dubar with hard punches and in a flurrey dropped Dubar. He recovered and rose to continue fighting. Again Bell just tore into him, backing him into the corner and then delivered maybe 15 of the hardest body shots I’ve seen. He stepped back and like a board Dubar fell forward, not breathing. The Physician wasn’t ringside, being back stage to treat that broken arm and only the quick response of the judge, Johnny Kuhl from NYC saved Dubar’s life. The highlight of course was Mr. Lewis taking everyone out to dinner on the way home, me spending time with the black belts.

Funny what you remember. Later that year in August the latest issue of Official karate covered the event and I had my picture in the magazine. Of course you could only see my obi the way the break was photographed, but it was still me. You don’t get bigger time than your obi in Official Karate.

So training, traveling and training, tournaments, events in the arts one evening Mr. Lewis asked me to come into his office. I saw that Charles Murray was in there with him. Mr. Lewis explained to me that Charles was going to be home from college for the summer and was planning at teaching a self defense course at a hotel in Ocean City, Maryland. The IKC black belts were going to help him with the demo and would I help too. I replied “Sure.” Then he told me that they wanted me to spar with Charlie for the crowd.

Was my goose sunk, and for the next several weeks all that was on my mind was I was going to have to fight Charles Murray.

Just as Mr. Lewis had trained in Okinawa in 1959, Charles had received his Sho-dan and in the USAF was stationed in Okinawa in 1971 and trained with Shimabuku Sensei during is tour. I heard stories about how he was a ferocious fighter, as a teenager he faced Howard Jackson, then the top middleweight fighter in the US and almost fought him to a draw. When Charles was home from college and would drop in to work out, he’d take the strongest brown belt and work them over. If one of the black belts from his generation of IKC would show up, you’d just watch in amazement as they’d tear into each other.

And I was selected to fight Mr. Murray in front of a crowd and all my instructors across the Eastern Shore. I had no idea how to do it. The entire time before the demonstration nobody said another word to me about it.

The day arrived, the crowd on the beach front of the hotel was huge and there were over 20 IKC seniors present. I think I also did Seiunchin kata. When it came time for the kumite demonstration I was putting on my safety gear and Charles hadn’t worn any before and I had to show him how to put it on,

I was standing there, all of my instructors watching me facing a non stop fighting machine. Mr. Lewis shouted “hajime’ and I did my best to tear into Charles………I don’t remember much of what happened. Later I heard some of the instructors were aghast that I jumped into him and he proceeded to work his techniques up and down my body. I think they felt he was going to destroy me. Someone told me they tried to tell Sensei we have to stop the fight before he kills Victor, but Sensei let it go.

I wasn’t hurt and just remember fighting and being nailed often as I was trying. A blue belt trying against a 2nd dan. It seems they never thought to mention that for demonstrations you just play and I guess I was chosen to make Charles look good (as if he ever needed help). Aside years late Charles showed me he had a movie of our fight. It looked pretty much as I remember, one of the spectators at a ringside table had a great time watching me getting pounded.

So I got out with my skin intact, Charles, a year later would graduate as a Minister. There’s a lot to his story, sometime I’ll share a bit of it that I know.

The rest of the summer I remember preparing for an IKC shiai (the size of a small tournament itself) working Wansu hard and always training.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

The Salisbury Tales - part five As the Yellow Belt Darkens

As I recall all of these events in my first year of training I can see how the beginner retains events from their special time of newness.

It was a time of training, more training and tournaments.

Always new adult beginners and the experiences they offer. One night we were being drilled in basics by Mr. Lockwood and one of the new beginners was having trouble with their uppercut drill. As Mr. Lewis’ dojo had a wall of mirrors, Mr. Lockwood told him to go back to the corner and work on his uppercut facing the mirrors, practicing hitting himself in the jaw. A short while later Mr. Lockwood looked up and an amazing expression formed on his face. I turned my head to see that beginner practicing striking himself in the jaw with his uppercut.

I realized I wasn’t very good in kumite and as Mr. Lewis’ students had formed their own Isshinryu clubs over the Eastern Shore of De., Md. and Va. I began to visit those schools on off nights for more training. The first visit was to Reese Rigby’s club, then held in a church in Dover. I asked him if I could train and told him I knew I need more kumite practice, so of course I got what I asked for. When we got to kumite I was assigned to a green belt named Bill. In the middle of our fight he came at me with a jumping kick, and out of reflex I swept my left hand up under his legs. He ended up horizontal to the floor and dropped, hitting like a rock. I thought I had killed him but it turned out he was also a black belt in jujutsu and just did a hard break fall. Still, for whatever reason, when something works it’s a good night. I did get more kumite practice too.

My wife’s indoor volleyball league concluded and she decided to join the Isshinryu program too. I never saw anyone move through the white belt program faster. Of course since she was a physical education instructor and having watched me practice for months, her overall knowledge of training helped her.

One Sunday she came to the club when I was cleaning and I tried to show her how to spar. She leaned forward and ended up with a black and blue eye, a tradition that continued for years. When we sparred, somehow something happened such as she’d kick me and in turn hurt her ankle (hospital visit) or punch me and sprain her wrist (another hospital visit) and I ended up being the ‘brute’ hurting her.

When it came time for her first kumite, I could see some of the other’s faces showing we have to take it easy on Victor’s wife….alas. Her first move was normally to bust anyone in the mouth with a backfist strike… not just a phys ed major, she had two older brother and….

That spring I went to NYC with a group of the club to attend the tournament at the Sunnyside Gardens to raise money for a memorial for Shimabuku Sensei. It was a gigantic Isshinryu affair. There’s quite a backstory about the event, but that’s not my tale to tell.

Sunnyside Gardens was a hall Professional Wrestling events were held in. The day of the tournament when you stepped out of the locker room and took two steps your white gi turned black. It was the dirtiest tournament floor I’ve ever seen. The tournament officials were moving around the floor with hammers driving nails down so we didn’t step on them.

I gather most of the seniors in the Isshinryu system were there, and Shimabuku Kichero flew in from Okinawa for the event too. My yellow belt kumite division was run by Don Nagle. I met Steve Armstrong and discussed with him for a few minutes, a recent article he had in Black Belt magazine. We had dinner with Harold Long between the tournament and the evening show.

All participants received a very nice certificate to remember the event. A friend of Mr. Lewis’ Karl Hovey who was originally from Okinawa gathered up all of our certificates and went to ask Shimabuku Kichero to sign them for us, but that didn’t work out and they weren’t signed.

The most memorable things I remember are the huge gathering of Isshinryu seniors present. A brown belt from MYC with the nickname Quick Draw McGraw wining his fights by throwing a flurry of knife hand stirkes. I rememberMr. Lewis taking 2nd place in Men’s Black Belt Kata, and at the evening show watching Shimabuku Kichero going through Chantan Yara No Sai. A night at a hotel while the Black Belts attended the Black Belt evening festivities, and of course a long ride home to Salisbury the next day.

A month or so later George Iberl was hosting a tournament in York, Penna. As my family lived 10 miles from their my wife and I went up for the weekend. Of course she had to win 3rd place in Women’s White Belt Kata. It was quite a well attended tournament, and like many in those days there was to be an evening show.

The star attraction was Bill Wallace who would be hosting a clinic on kicking the next day, but the most memorable performance was that of Ted Volrath. Volrath Sensei lost both his legs in the Korean War in service to our country. Later he studied Isshinryu and proceeded to give a self defense demonstration that included him leaping from his wheelchair while taking down his assailant. In his demonstration he described how he had a role in the movie ‘Pusher’s Die Hard’, and his wheelchair had been custom built for the role. He was on the stage talking to the crowd seated below when suddenly he grabbed the armrests on both sides and pulled them up. Two double barreled shotguns popped up and shot off blanks. The entire crowd dropped back into their seats.

Volrath Sensei was not going to let a handicap stop him from being a karate-ka, but that demonstration had a cost. He had landed hard from that leap and injured himself, later going to the hospital.

The clinic with Bill Wallace the next day was sparsely attended, but he paid no attention to that. Bill Wallace had the nickname ‘Superfoot’ and lived up to it. Not only were his kicks superfast, he could kick innumerable times without putting his foot down.

The clinic was 3 hours long and for over an hour he pushed us in just stretching, drill after drill, and that was the easy part. Next came the kicking.

Bill Wallace had injured his right leg long before and only kicked with his left leg, but his flexibility was such he’d raise his knee so it against his chest, and his raised leg and standing leg were almost in a straight line. He only threw Side Kicks, Roundhouse Kicks and Hook Kicks, but in any combination without end.

His leg was literally as controlled as his arm, He could slowly raise his leg to brush your hair back off of your forehead, or he could tell a strong black belt competitor exactly which kicks he was going to throw and you’d see them helpless to stop them.

The remainder of the clinic was kick, after kick after kick, the most intense kicking drill I’ve ever done. The longer we kicked the lower our legs went till they were down to the ground and Bill would walk around growling like a DI to raise or legs and kick harder.

A very intense demonstration combining unique personal ability and lifetime intense drilling.

Bill Walace wasn’t perfect, he has been beaten, but you had to go a long way to do that. It was about that time he switched over into PKA full contact style fighting, and made quite a name for himself there too.

Monday, October 20, 2008

The Salisury Tales - part four They Call it Mellow Yellow - quite rightly!

One day I was promoted at the end of class to Yellow Belt. Lewis Sensei followed his instructor’s traditions and you didn’t test for belts. When you were ready to begin training at a new level you found yourself asked to come up before the class and you received a promotion, with no idea it was coming that evening.

I always find it interesting how such promotions carry greater obligation. You haven’t achieved anything, rather you are challenged each and every promotion to work harder and live up to the responsibility of the new rank.

Kihon still remained Kihon. Kumite meant you could fight harder and in turn ‘they’ could let you have it even harder. You also began a new kata study.

In Isshinryu this meant Seiunchin kata.

About ½ of the kata was done with tension and hard breathing, similar to Sanchin breathing, and about ½ of the kata was done with normal speed and breathing. The Isshinryu Seiunchin kata is a variation of the Seiunchin practiced by the Goju stylist. For the most part they cover the same material and the movements have the same application potential, but Isshinryu’s Seiunchin is just that, Isshinryu’s.

Among the changes the Club was getting ready for a karate demonstration at the local Civic Center. I just related one small back story of that preparation.

Mr. Lewis decided to form a Yellow Belt team doing team kata using Seiunchin for the performance. There was one slight stylistic difference for the performance from the Dojo Seiunchin, and we were going to do it to music. The group practiced the kata over and over, and then the music was added. It was to a mid 70’s song, ‘The Hustle’.

To this day when I practice Seiunchin kata I hear ‘the Hustle’ in the background.

Because of that deep drilling Seiunchin became my favorite kata for the next 20 years, till I reached the point I no longer have favorites, I fully respect all of them. But other lessons learned were the values to imprinting a group flavor to the kata. To this day I maintain kyu group study of Seiunchin kata, following the same timing and flow of that day. I find there is a strong return on the effort of group practice, getting all of the students on the same page, setting them for eventual application study using that timing and flow with the Seiunchin technique tool kit.

I had begun to pay for my club dues by cleaning the dojo every Sunday afternoon. It allowed me to spend time on my training for an hour or so and then get down to work. So I was now in the dojo 3 days a week, and having the key I could open the dojo up for class as soon as I got there during class nights.

Kumite also took on a different practice. Jhoon Rhee had begun manufacturing and selling SafeT gear for the hands and feet. We all bought some because we expected it was going to be required in future tournaments. The funny thing was, those Green belts I wrote about seemed to strike and kick harder with the foam rubber pads on their hands and feet.

On the other hand I had discovered a new weapon. Even though I was working as a construction laborer, when I warmed up I ended up with a gigantic pool of sweat around me and had to run and get the mop to clean it up before class could proceed. In turn when anyone kicked me, especially when they did so hard, when they put their foot down they fell as we had a polished tile floor I was cleaning each week.
I was far from an adequate fighter, but that one secret weapon could drop everyone.

Working with the Safe T gear we prepared for an upcoming tournament in Lansdowne, Pa. The day came when we drove up as a group. I competed with Seisan kata, but when they announced the kumite division and covered the rules I remember there was a change from how we were training, probably no head contact allowed at all. At the time I didn’t know how the rule difference could work considering I had trained differently.

Of course today, I would recognize forget the rules and just fight. Then I didn’t know what to do, none of my instructors were nearby and when my fight was called I was thinking far too much… enough said.

It was a time of work, more work, sweat and pain and so much more.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

The Salisbury Tales - part three You had to be there!

Long ago in pre-history when I was a yellow belt in Isshinryu at Tom Lewis' Isshinryu Karate Club in Salisbury Maryland, I was asked to help in a demonstration with the Self Defense techniques. I was to be the attacker, and Kathy, a younger green belt, was to be the object of my unwanted attentions.

Everybody knows the story. I do something and then go splat.

One Tuesday night, two men came to the dojo and asked to watch a class. Next to Sensei Lewis office there was a bench for potential students to do just that. They watched through the warm-up and opening drills. Then class split into kumite (free-sparring) practice, and Kathy and I moved off to the side to work on our demonstration.

I remember specifically drilling on our closing movement. I approach her from the side and place my arm around her shoulders. Whatever her response I end on the floor on my hands and knees. My right hand was clutching my left ribs, because she was then to do an instep front kick into my ribs (on my hand) and then follow up with a quick sweep of my left hand causing me to finish by falling face first onto the floor.

Practice makes perfect, right?

While all this was happening, the two visitors were starting to become obnoxious. Perhaps their nature, or perhaps assisted by a few brews, they began to speak loudly between each other about how much tougher they were.

The instructors were trying do decide on an appropriate response to their behavior when our demonstration went live.

I grabbed Kathy and of course next I was on the floor holding my side. She nailed my hand with her instep kick, nice and hard with a loud 'Thwack', but when she followed with the sweep of my hand she missed. Instead of sweeping, he foot traveled up underneath my armpit and she nailed my nose with her instep.

I remember reaching up with my hand and it coming away bloody. Now this was not an uncommon experience for me in those days learning how to fight. Safety gear had just come out and most of the time we didn't use it, and everyone simply accepted mistakes happened.

In this instance two black belts rushed up to me (where I was on the floor) and Dennis Lockwood knelt down and whispered in my ear, "Victor, don't do anything."

The next thing I knew was they grabbed my feet and drug me across the dojo floor, leaving a trail of blood behind me.

I was pulled out the door, and both of them helped me to my feet brushing me off.

Dennis told me, "Wait here a moment, I have to go inside." And he left me with the other Black Belt to attend me.

He marched inside and walked up to the two visitors."Gentlemen, we have an opening in our class for a new student, would one of you wish to join."

It was interesting to note how pale they looked as they quickly left the dojo.

With much laughter my instructors helped me to the bathroom to clean up the mess.

The Salisbury Tales - part two The Green Machine

When you’re a beginner you spend more time watching the group ahead of you than the more senior members. You can imagine yourself becoming a green belt, where as a brown or black belt were beyond any comprehension.

In the Salisbury Dojo when I began there were an incredible group of Green Belts. They were all strong karate-ka and could fight like Demons.

As a White Belt I was target practice for them in kumite. Being larger I think they felt I was their private kicking bag and I’m sure I had cracked ribs for a few months for a time each breath I took contained some pain. In fact most beginners didn’t last more than a few weeks, feeling how far they had to go, that and the pain likely caused them to move on, quickly.

But those that lasted were a driven bunch. Many of the white belts would show up as soon as the dojo doors opened about 45 minutes before class. We’d spend our time working hard on the Charts, Kata or Mr. Lewis’ unique Kotekitai drills, both single and partner training. With that was abdominal kicking with top of the foot round kicks, and body side kicks too..

Starting soft we gradually picked up the pace and impact to those areas of the body which can be conditioned to take a strike. In turn the Green Belts would use that conditioning to work us over harder.

I had been training a few months and the school was going to attend an open tournament in Baltimore. Tournaments then were large affairs with many different systems in attendance. The tournament director announced several rules changes because of Chinese stylists in attendance. Ground techniques and groin techniques both with control would be valid scoring techniques in the tournament.

Watching our green belts competing they were the only competitors anywhere on the floor who were using ground kicking techniques to finish fights. One of the guy’s was so good when the judge would shout ‘hajime’, and by the time he finished speaking our green belt would have his spinning back kick in his opponents mouth, with control. Something I had experienced many times.

My own tournament beginning was more circumspect. I still had little idea what I was doing, and when I faced my opponent and started fighting, he scored his first point against me by kicking me in the groin. I’m sure it was more because of white belt skills than because of practiced groin attacks. Then we continued fighting and the fight concluded the same way a groin kick. I’m sure the judges had a different idea what control was, that last kick left stars in my eyes, tears streaming down my face from the pain. It made for a long drive back to Salisbury.

Training with those green belts was interesting, but they also introduced me to an important fact of training, in time most move one. In their case it was often for work or careers in the Coast Guard. Their developing skill in karate wasn’t enough reason to not do what they had to do to live.

I was still very new in the art, but that was one of the lessons that would not change. No matter how important karate was in someone’s life, it was still only a part of life and never the most important part.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Bubishi - The Classical Manual of Combat

A new edition of "Bubishi - The Classical Manual of Combat" has been published by Tuttle.

This new edition contains more material by Patrick McCarthy about his efforts to translate the Bubishi. It is hardbound and makes a fine addition to any Martial library.

I've had a minor passion for some time about the Bubishi and it's role in developing Karate on Okinawa. Shortly I will be discussing some of my thoughts on this too.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

The Salisbury Years - part one

In the early mid 70’s I was working as a construction laborer at Salisbury State College, helping construct a new Physical Education complex and one day heard about a Karate School outside of town. When I got off work that night I went there and found a barn that was a custom karate school on the inside. It was Tom Lewis’ Isshinryu Karate Club.
I watched a class and was invited to join the next class, so $15.00 for monthly dues in hand I started studying Isshinryu Karate.

I had some previous exposure to Karate. One of my University roommates trained at Temple with Okazaki Sensei in Shotokan Karate and he used to teach me how to block and strike so he could practice on me. At the time I started Isshinryu one brother was training in Go Su Kwan in NJ (SL Martin), another was training in Tae Kwon Do in Md. in a Jhoon Rhee school, and my youngest brother and sister were studying Shotokan in Penna. To me it seemed as if was finally my turn.

Classes were twice a week in Salisbury, the program was run as a Club. Mr. Lewis had begun his own training on Okinawa in the last 1950’s and had been teaching in his home town since 1966. To my instructors, my first year would have just been another year and a new wave of students. To me it was the opening movement for my life and contained so many incidents that I’ve never forgotten.

The First classes

We all begin at the beginning. In my case my first class after about 20 or so minutes of warm up was an introduction the Isshinryu’s upper and lower body charts. A systematic study of basic techniques, blocking and striking, as well as lower body kicking.

I didn’t have a uniform, it would be months before that occurred. I wore sweat pants and a t shirt.

The second class I learnt the opening of Seisan Kata. Rei and open, step left foot forward into Seisan Dachi (Front Sance) with a simultaneous left side block followed by a right reverse punch, then right foot steps forward with a left reverse punch to continue with the left foot stepping forward with a right reverse punch

The third class Mr. Lewis announced kata practice and stepped back. The entire class I repeated the opening section of Seisan Kata over and over and over and over and over. When I concluded I was standing in the middle of a six foot puddle of sweat on the tile floor. During the entire class there were no instructions or corrections. Everyone was observed I assume to watch what they were really putting in their own training. It was never explained though years later I learned that Shimabuku Sensei rarely taught in a class setting and would observer student’s efforts, rewarding correct performance with new material.

The fourth class I got my introduction to kumite and was assigned to fight a young female green belt almost 10 years younger and maybe 100 pounds lighter than I was. I had no idea what I was doing, and she proceeded to drive me backwards all around the dojo blasting me in the mouth with roundhouse kicks. No preparation, no advice either. I didn’t have a clue what to do, just had to experience it. Kumite would continue as a regular part of training. When you fought the other white belts you tried to do something, when you fought the seniors you tried to survive.

These were the pre-safety gear days and class sparring rules were no head contact and light body contact. I would observe from the bottom women were not called foul if they hit a man in the mouth and as you advanced no contact to the head was often you nailed them but they didn’t snap back, and light body contact…… well.

Mr. Lewis’ students had moved on through the years, opening Dojo’s from Wallops Island Virginia to Dover, Delaware, and many other locations on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, Delaware and Virginia. There were a core of Senior Instructors with Mr. Lewis (such as Al Bailey and Dennis Driscoll) and a continuing changing group of drop ins from the other dojo. Everyone took a hand in the instruction and we quickly learned that there were many small variations in the kata which were our practice. You picked up to remember which instructor taught which version for when they saw you again they expected you to do it the way they showed you. We never heard a discussion about the ‘right’ way to do kata, rather the focus was to do the best with your version possible.

Class quickly became a focus after warmup’s and drills of about 50% kata practice and 50% kumite. Only occasionally were situational self defense drills worked. Classes followed a general order but not fixed one. Once in a while you’d jog around the dojo to a USMC running cadence. Several times a year you’d show up for class and spend the entire time playing games, such as races, wheelbarrow races, etc.

There were no testing’s, instead there was training and the surprise when you were called up at the end of class for a promotion.

We trained hard. Many beginners quickly left because of the level of contact from the beginning. There was little besides training. We didn’t receive lectures, nobody was derided from other styles or within Isshinryu. Your karate was what occurred on the floor. You knew who had skill and you worked, step by step to get it yourself.

But the events that occurred in that year… more to come.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Sai perspective

I began my study of Kobudo with Sai when I was training with Charles Murray, back about 1977. When he studied on Okinawan in 1971 at Agena he learned the Isshinryu version of Chantan Yara No Sai kata at the Agena Dojo, under Shimabuku Tatsuo.

My Sai came from a visit to Asian World of the Martial Arts in it’s old location in Philadelphia on North Broad Street. Most would recognize my Sai as one of the most common versions commercially sold. Solid chrome plated steel with wide tines and decades of dents. Well balanced but not perfectly so, with the years they’re perfect to me.

I remember in Fumio Demura’s book on Sai , the book showing photographs of different Sai types. Charles brought a pair back from Okinawa in 1972 for Mr. Lewis, they were small almost dagger like. He told me how on visiting a Goju school he saw the students throwing their Sai into a tree for target practice.

There is another Isshinryu Sai kata Kusanku Sai . It was created by Isshinryu founder Shimabuku Tatsuo using Isshinryu’s Kusanku kata for it’s base and adding a piece from one of his older Sai kata, Kyan No Sai, was designed to be done with three Sai. Towards the end of the kata, one Sai is tossed into the ground and the third Sai pulled out of the obi to replace the one thrown. It is likely the toss to the ground was not to throw it through someone’s foot, but was done for safety in the dojo, where the original use was likely like the Goju students practice.

I imagine it very rare today when one would be called upon to use Sai in self defense. On the other hand long, hard study of Sai is a great compliment to empty hand karate. The techniques really work to increase power in striking and blocking, simply from the weight of the weapon in your hands. The practice also builds grip strength over the years allowing you to transfer that power when grabbing in kata technique application practice.

From my experience all Kobudo study is most useful for the adult. It takes the potential of adult strength, developed ligaments and tendons all working together to build advanced skills. Younger students rarely have the best mixture of the above and frequently their kata execution is modified to take their current ability into account.

For those systems which incorporate Sai studies, they are well worth the long range development which might result.

Saturday, October 4, 2008


I’m sure it was in 1979 at a Cherry Blossom Karate Tournament in North Eastern Pennsylvania when I went into the locker room to change at the end of the tournament. A senior instructor, Joe Brague, was talking to a number of the competitors and turned to me and said, “Victor, come over here I want to demonstrate something to them…” The next thing I knew was I was on the floor regaining consciousness.

Brague Sensei demonstrated a carotid choke on me and I went down. That’s what happens. The pressure on the carotid sinus causes the heart to stop beating and the loss of blood flow to the brain causes unconsciousness in maybe 5 or 6 seconds.

That’s all you slowly count to 6 and you’re unconscious before you get there.

That was enough to get me looking into how chokes were performed.

In one karate magazines they demonstrated a technique that would set up that choke. I tried it out on a senior student and saw how it was working, so I started working my way through logical means of setting that choke. Eventually I worked out about 5 or 6 choking techniques.

This was one of two different choking sequences, the other being the trachea choke, which takes longer to set (say 20 seconds) and can be far messier to deliver.

A few years later at a summer camp I was asked to give a clinic, so I told them I was going to show how to choke, but when I started showing the techniques the camp director rushed over and asked me to stop, that it was too advanced for the students.

Are such studies too advanced? I teach youth and certainly do not teach them how to choke, but understanding the reason you must instantly break a choke is not beyond youth needs either.

Choking has always been a part of Judo. I remember an Olympic contest where the American judoka was contesting with a Russian judoka. They locked up and shortly it was over, the Russian went for a collar grab-choke and simply choked out his opponent.

But chokes are a layered answer. A while ago Police Science thought that teaching Police chokes would be a humane way to control assailants. You wouldn’t have to strike them, you’d just render them unconscious. Potentially true, but forgetting an important item, a Police officer trying to restrain a subject has likely been bodily threatened by them, and has their adrenalin rushing, in turn in less than in perfect self control. A carotid choke held say 20 or more seconds can be life threatening. A Georgia State Trouper explained at a clinic how frequently good ideas in Police Science end up wrong when the full picture comes into play in practice.

Tactically a choke is one way to finish an response to an attack. Shift, parry, strike, etc. till control is required and a carotid choke is certainly a logical way to finish that control, assuming one is in enough control to only do what they wish.

Chokes to the neck (carotid or trachea) have serious side effects. The neck can be dislocated or broken under some circumstances; the axis might be fractured against the atlas in such circumstances with paralysis a result. (under no circumstances take my medical technical opinions as accurate, they are only intended to generally refer to a complex set of dynamics that one should responsibility reach with a Doctor for accuracy).

Yes under the right circumstances they may be performed to show human frailty, but under no circumstances does ever going beyond a second or two to show the potential, are the potential risks worth going further.

While frequently demonstrated, it is always irresponsible to ‘safely’ put someone out.

This knowledge should not be hidden. The most important value is showing everyone never let anyone touch their neck. In fact if someone must know when it is most important that they react without thinking further, anyone placing their hands on their neck, anyone attempting to place their hands on their neck, or anyone seeing a strike coming towards their neck, gives immediate license to respond and make all of the above not happen.

Perhaps it best stated the neck is the gateway for strongest control of our person.

And of course the study of how chokes can be set has a more important value, how does one counter those attacks.
The paradox of our arts asserts itself. To become most technically efficient at neutralizing an attack, we first have to be able to deliver that attack with force, focus and speed.

So when having turkey and someone asks who wants the neck, it might give you something to think about.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

The Itosu Eight Point Kicking Drill

It is frequently difficult to translate something written into action. This is an example of my development of a successful kicking drill.

I remember reading John Sells’ original version of ‘Unante’. He described a kicking drill on page 50:

“Itosu did not personally favor high kicking or techniques, he is known for a
unique exercise called the “8-point kick”. This is called for the trainee to practice
kicking at targets representing the floating ribs, solar plexus, junction of the legs
and torso, groin and inner thighs in rapid succession.”

Finding that interesting, that evening I started to set up a kicking drill following those sequences. Here is what I tried.

Beginning facing a partner, both in natural parallel stance with both arms upraised, allowing free access to the target.

1. Right squat kick to the opponent left floating ribs.
2. Left squat kick to the opponent right floating ribs.
3. Right front kick to the opponent solar plexus.
4. Left front kick into the opponent left hip.
5. Right front kick into the opponent right hip.
6. Left scoop kick (with the top of the foot) to the opponent groin.
7. Right front kick into the opponent left thigh.
8. Left front kick into the opponent right thigh.

It can be done by one person against a static partner, or it can be done by two partners who alternate kicks. i.e.:

Partner 1. Right squat kick to the opponents left floating ribs.
Partner 2. Right squat kick to the opponents left floating ribs.
Partner 1 Left squat kick to the opponents right floating ribs.
Partner 2 Left squat kick to the opponents right floating ribs.

Continue with the rest of the drill.

This drill promotes inside line kicking techniques

1. ‘Unante’ by John Sells – published by W.M. Hawley 1995
2. Squat Kick – An Isshinryu kicking technique with the ball of the foot, about ½ front kick and ½ roundhouse kick. The support leg flexes (into a squat) first. It really is a front kick delivered from the floor at a 45 degree angle.
3. Scoop Kick – A rising front kick to the groin delivered with the top of the foot.

Saturday, September 20, 2008


The recent discussion on Charles Goodin’s “Karate Thoughts Blog”, , on the role of ‘Kamae’ is quite interesting. My own studies into the ways karate technique may be applied might offer another answer.

When I began my study of Isshinryu, none of the instruction really involved use of much karate terminology, nor were there many answers beyond the basic descriptions of how a technique might be used, as a tool for beginners to move spatially more correct.
In our kata there are opening postures, closing postures and occasional postures where you hold them for a short instant before continuing with the kata.

A number of years later in books and magazines I read of those pause points being defined as ‘Kamae’ and thought that must surely be the answer.

At that time I came to see them as pauses in a response flow, perhaps to draw the opponent forward for the following kata technique, or as a response in the break in the attacker’s flow and pausing untill they move again.

When I really began my own analysis of how karate technique could be used, and understood there were no rules what a technique really was, I mostly saw the ‘Kamae’ posture as a deflection technique to open the path for the following technique. Those answers are good, but, there is an other answer that I find more provoking.

To disrupt an attack, don’t use ‘Kamae’ as a pose to draw someone in, use ‘Kamae’ as an attack to interrupt their attack. You don’t turn it into an attack, you just form ‘Kamae’ exactly as in the kata and let the chips fall where they may.

One example is found in the Isshinryu kata Wansu. After a right side kick the right foot is put down forming the left Isshinryu front stance and both open hands are raised before your body forming a ‘Kamae’ (the left open hand – fingers up- in front, the right open hand – fingers up- in front of your solar plexus.

You are standing minding your own business and somebody starts swinging a right punch at your head. You step back with your right and form your Wansu ‘Kamae’. That step back adjusts your centerline to cross their attack say 15 degrees to the left. Your stance is exactly that of the kata, you raise your hands, you release you knee to sink into the stance and their biceps smashes into your formed left open hand. You watch their surprise as their biceps impales itself on your hand, and the harder and the faster they’ve swung the more intense is their response.

There are a number of underlying principles here.
1. When suddenly attacked stepping back is a natural reaction to give you more time.
2. Their biceps striking into your vertical knife hand allows the attacker to realize how much pain a biceps attack creates (I had previously learned this from my Chinese and Indonesian studies).
3. The more correct your alignment, the less they will be able to breach the wall their attacking arm’s biceps ran into.
4. The rear hand is insurance, it keeps the technique alignment correct, if there is a follow up attack it is in perfect position to respond naturally.

Note I’m keeping this focused on one answer, there are multiple answers, for interior lines of defense, exterior lines of defense and even surrounding lines of defense, just selecting different targeting.

Then as you investigate advancing principles, such as if your back was against the wall, you can discover the same result with the ‘Kamae’ can be used without stepping, just re-centering your technique with attendant knee release, and the same alignment.

Before one rushes out to try this it is important they have been properly instructed in the technique formation and have trained long enough to really have faith in the technique.
Faith, the crux of the spirit of karate, is the most important ingredient in making a technique application work.

I was teaching this technique just this morning to my own advanced students. They strike and got a funny look on their face when they ran into my ‘Kamae’, but when trying it themselves, no matter how detailed the explanation was given, the pressure of another body moving in, even in slow practice mode, most often means they do something else than their kata technique. They shift their right hand towards the attackers body, or perhaps they shift too far to the left and strike into the inner elbow, both answer which allow their attacker to blast through. In fact for one demonstration, talking instead of correctly doing, I shifted my gaze to one of the other instructors as I was talking, and that strike was on my jaw. Even the placement of the eye’s affects alignment.

I would suggest, properly executed, ‘Kamae’ is a most violent way to interrupt forward momentum of an attacker.

I have only looked at one possibility, the potential of even this one ‘Kamae’ bears much more study.

Final underlying, driving principle:

If you can’t take a technique from your kata and break your attacker (figurative as well as literally) you have to work harder.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Bu is it Bunkai? Part V Advent of the Internet

It was about 1997 I joined the internet community, originally AOL and the dial up modem. It opened a new dimension to my martial studies, meeting people around the world, sharing ideas, challenging each other.

I does not replace training or a qualified instructor and is faulty as a research tool because it’s difficult to vet with accuracy shared claims.

Time has shown time after time much that has been written in the past 40 or so years is subjective and if there was a fault in the original writing, it’s likely been copied down book after book.

A good example of this is the description of a lock across the carotid artery will cut the blood flow to the brain and cause unconsciousness. Sounds reasonable until you work with a Surgeon and have it explained the reason the person blacks out is because of loss of blood to the brain from the lock, rather it is because the carotid sinus performs its function from the lock, registers a spike in the blood pressure of the carotid artery and in turn triggers the heart to stop beating, the real cause of the lack of blood flow and consciousness.

The truth is a lock across the carotid artery doesn’t impede the brain because secondary arteries deliver enough blood to maintain sensuousness. In neck surgery a patent is frequently kept conscious even when the carotid artery is shut down for the surgery.

Yet because there are many books out there talking about the ‘blood choke’ too many times information is just copied and not researched for accuracy.

Trying to understand the history of karate is as difficult for the same reason. Especially as most karate developed in an environment where nothing was documented and the main transmission was oral teaching and direct experience (your instructor hitting you to prove it works).

This does not mean there is no value in what has been written, but it is best not to accept the published word as accurate. Even if it base on oral history it is reasonable to accept it provisionally, unless other information comes to the surface at a later time, and if so everything should be re-evaluated in the light of later discovery.

Taking the time to work the net has been beneficial and provoking.

1. I have met people from all over the world and we have shared and continue to share, through the CyberDojo,,, and many other discussion groups including private ones I host on Isshinryu and the study of Bunkai with a very small group of instructors.

2. Various discussions have helped frame my studies, providing better levels of abstraction describing what is behind karate technique application. Examples would be the use of fractals of techniques as complete techniques themselves, or the use of the bodies force multipliers such as the knee release, or using my body alignment studies to explain how centering both increases power and can be used to neutralize attacks.

3. At friends request I have translated French translations of Mabuni’s first two books from 1933, with ‘bunkai’ for Seienchin Kata and Seipai Kata (though I prefer Mario McKenna’s translations from the Japanese myself), Roland Habsetzer’s work on the Bubishi and large parts of Kenjutsu Tokishi ‘Histoire Du Karate-Do’. It is humbling to learn how much work the act of translation entails and in turn I appreciate my friends efforts more.

4. Finally the video sharing represented across the internet, especially bye sharing groups like YouTube has place almost everything imaginable at your fingertips. With so much not available, the remaining question is what isn’t being shown, which for every art is the 99.994% not seen.

Of course the more you can see the more questions which will follow, and the journey to find the answers to some of those questions is to follow.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

But is it Bunkai? Part VI

It was a Saturday morning in June in 1995 when I met Sherman Harrill. I was due to fly out to a business conference in Reno the next day.

Sherman was very down to earth, he described how he and my original instructor were students in Okinawa training under Shimabuku Tatsuo. After his tour in the USMC, he returned to farm in Iowa and train, boy did he train, and saw how Shimabuku Tatsuo’s Kumite (40+ situational self defense techniques) came from kata applications. That was enough, that and the rest of his life working on understanding his system.

I had no idea what to expect and was floored when we spent the rest of the day working on applications from Isshinryu kata. He was teaching at an intense frantic pace, technique after technique. In a while it became a blur before your eyes, where to hit, how to move and when to enter the attack. The first meeting your mind numbed with the sheer number of applications.
Then when you were getting spaced out he’d do something so incredible, so always there but totally missed, new areas of surprise and direction came from them. One of those answers was a way to strike into the arm that a while later I realized was also the manner in which the tap ko’s to the neck were delivered, and hidden in plain sight… which were not no touch, but hard driving strikes you didn’t see…Then a little later against an arm grappling counter, he used a flurry of Naifanchi lower body stepping to demolish the opponents lower legs.

And more amazing as the day lengthened he’d get stronger and stronger, dive deeper and deeper into how kata can be used, till even in the locker room changing he could not stop.

The next year I helped host a clinic for Garry Gerossie to bring Sherman in, and it drew Isshinryu karate-ka from across New England. Sherman asked me what I’d like to see, and because my adult program were all long term students I requested he show applications from Chinto, Kusanku and SunNuSu kata.

Harrill Sensei spent the first several hours on just the first move from Chinto. (This became a theme for many of the following clinics I attended with him, he would spend 2 or 3 hours on a kata’s first movement before he’d move on, and you’d realize he could have spent a very profitable day on just that movement).

It wasn’t just movements against attacks, it was how to strike, when you got hit this way the following would occur, but if you get hit the other way on the same spot, you got a different response. His art wasn’t just based on fitting movements into an attack, but practicing actually striking your partner. (After clinics the next day various students would show up at my house to show the marks and discuss what that strike accomplished.). It was most definitely not non-touch karate.

Sherman was using a lot of the logical tools I had worked out, but where I was just getting into them, he had been working them hard for decades.

He wasn’t just an Isshinryu phenomena, he’d training with Uechi, Goju, Shorin stylists and show them how his applications worked with their techniques. He spent a month on summer in South Africia sharing with karate-ka there too.

Harrill Sensei’s clinics were not the Isshinryu he practiced, they were the portion of the Isshinryu he practiced that he was willing to share with non students. In fact they were more encyclopedic studies on some of Isshinryu’s kata application potential.

I was never Harrill Sensei’s student. I could not travel to Carson, Iowa, and to me being a student is more than just attending a clinic or two. Garry Gerossie was his student in my area and our meeting was from Garry’s invitation. He was a mentor, even in the small part of his art he’d share. I probably only attended about 14 clinics with him, maybe 50 or 60 hours, but they greatly inspired my own studies. Each time I ended up with dozens and dozens of new applications, and in turn drove me into further study.

Eventually he’d explain in general how much he had to hold back at open clinics, for the people weren’t his students, he didn’t really know what they could take, and a lot of the deeper explanation was not given.

Those times were almost always one way. On those rare occasions when working with him on the floor I’d go, well here is what I would do, and show 3 or 4 variations I was using, Harrill Sensei would always have another answer. One time when my students had been working on how to neutralize locks with our body mechanics studies, Sherman was showing a lock from the Isshinryu kata applications. My student, the late John Dinger looked at me and I gave a nod. When Sherman applied the lock on him, John neutralized it to his amazement. Of course that amazement froze him and Sherman just moved to another answer and John once again was on the floor.

Time was too short. On November 4th 2002 he left us. One of my students, John Dinger, had died that July and the loss of Sherman a few months later greatly affected me. I became driven and so I compiled each note, each technique, I reviewed all of the video tapes Sherman had allowed me to take and created the Sherm-Pedia.

What I discovered was he had shared 800 applications from Isshinryu’s 8 kata as well as many of the underlying principles behind his applications. He always maintained the techniques were not the key, the principles were for if you understood the principles you can always figure out the technique applications.

That is what was driving me from our meeting. While I could go to my notes and recreate clinic after clinic, there was much more value from the answers I keep finding. I do use those notes, but more for inspiration or remembrance.

I’ve trained with 5 exceptional martial artists.
Tom Lewis – Isshinryu
Charles Murray – Isshinryu
Ernest Rothrock – Chinese arts
Tristan Sutrisno – Shotokan, Siliat Tjimande, Aikido
Sherman Harrill – Isshinryu

Each of them is dedicated and awesome in different ways, experts in their arts, but as I remember Sherman Harrill, his love of Isshinryu, his never ending quest to fully understand what could be done with his karate is truly inspiring beyond his great accomplishment.
I can only speak of how Harrill Sensei affected me. After our initial meeting I joined the internet community and from time to time did some writing. Harrill Sensei was a big supporter of my efforts, he’d find sources for me from his friends for my study. I retained copies of many of our online discussions.

To fully understand his art you must study with his students, such as John Kerker who currently runs the Carson, Iowa school. You won’t find video clips of Harrill Sensei’s technique on the internet. Those who were fortunate to have copies of his studies keep them close.


I have to place this all in some context. After I created my Sherm-pedia, I sent a copy to John Kerker in Carson, Iowa, explaining why I had compiled it and wanted to give him a copy. John wrote back thanking me and told me after reviewing it, it looked about right though there were another 400 or 500 applications Sherman worked.

I have no trouble believing that at all.

More importantly the past 2 years I’ve had the occasion to meet John Kerker at several clinics held in Western Massachusetts for a few brief hours. I more fully understand how much Sherman was holding back as he had explained to me. For one thing while I thought I had seen Sherman hit hard (but with control), watching John in a private setting with people who trained with him, I have never seen anyone hit another as hard as John was doing. He explained in some detail how he was taught himself and many things started to click. Sherman would always explain, at least once in a clinic, all of these studies were well and good, but if pressed he’d just punch. After hearing John’s description of their Makiwara training, and seeing him strike, I fully realize how the true ultimate technique of karate is just that, the punch, crafted to the highest degree, and as John described, Sherman only worked one pressure point. One that started at the top of the head and extended to the bottom of the feet. A punch so powerful one strike anywhere would end the fight.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

But is it Bunkai? Part V

It was right after that weekend, my focus shifted almost entirely to my own Isshinryu practice and my ongoing tai chi study and teaching. When you’re truly on your own, no association, no instructors, no rules, you have your past and your integrity for your future direction.

In small steps I worked deeper into my own art. One of the rules I discovered, how a different way of looking at the picture, changed the perspective of what was possible.

I worked further on how any of the Isshinryu technique could be expanded application wise by adding Ernest Rothrock’s Jing Do (Short range striking) drills.

I re-defined technique with a new tool ‘ Take the Next Step’. What defines a section of a kata for application when there are no rules. Seisan kata opens with a side block followed by a reverse punch, or a deflection and a strike – good percussive responses. Dr. Yang always includes the potential to ‘Down the Opponent’, well it turns out all karate has an automatic way to do that, simply take the next step of the kata.

Simply put define Seisan’s response to an attacker’s right strike as stepping in with a deflection block, followed by a reverse strike to their solar plexus, then take the next step, the right foot forward as a sweep past the opponents lead leg to drop them.

No matter which application you choose for a technique, the next step is a guaranteed drop…..

I could take any strike in a kata and change it to Tristan Sutrisno multiple striking.

In effect making anyone knowing my system in the dark to which response I might utilize.

Then one day doing Chinto kata lighting struck, and I discovered the opening was the same Sutrisno Aikido No 7 I’d been doing for 15 years, and the application was just 100% the aikido technique in turn.

Another principle came from that, we continually limit our potentials. If we’re told a movement has a beginning application potential, that sticks in our minds for decades till we move on and see other potentials that were always present.

I came to realize a tremendous amount of Aikido is present in Chinto Kata, likewise much of my Siliat Tjimande basics were Chinto Kata too.

This was towards the end of our tournament days, but one evening I had a call from Garry Gerossie asking if he could come to visit. Garry was an Isshinryu instructor in Concord those days, and he had met me a several tournaments I think.

He dropped by to train, saw some of what I was teaching, in turn demonstrated some of his practice. Afterwards he told me I was doing the same thing as his instructor, Sherman Harrill from Carson Iowa, and that I should come up to Concord in a few weeks to meet him at a clinic Garry was hosting. I also found out that my original instructor was a beginner alongside Sherman in Okinawa in 1959.

That was to prove the opening to the wider picture.