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.

But is it Bunkai? Part IV

It never was a simple as just a technique and how to use it. Skill development is a critical portion of training. Some aspects are a function of time, the longer you do something the better you become at it.

The simplest example I would suggest is how after about 10 years of work on a form you really begin to relax when you practice. Your body is working more in harmony, not fighting yourself, and you naturally drop your center. Those factors in combination likewise increase your power and your speed naturally.

There are training methods that also can factor in.

At this point in my narrative I’d been training 20 years in Isshinryu, about 15 years in the Yang Tai Chi Chaun (and other Chinese arts) and over a dozen years training with Tristan Sutrisno. Then one night at a summer camp, about 3am Ernest Rothrock pulled me away from the camp and took me in the middle of a dark field and told me to start my Yang form. While I saw him on a regular basis for most of my time I had been practicing on my own, and over the years felt I had developed some skill. Incorrect of course.

Within minutes Ernest tore what I was doing apart, showing me every error in infinite detail. To make his point he’d lightly touch me and I’d fall out of balance. He wasn’t striking pressure points, but showing I was ready to fall myself.

It was more than a little frustrating, getting so many corrections, trying to keep track of them instantaneously, but then he stopped and changed my life.

He now showed me what was required to do it correctly, the structural context of how correct body alignment for a technique increases power and focus, and how the slightest mistake contributes to the loss of power and ability.

It was no magic pill and now everything was all right, but a tool, not to change the art, but to know how to perform it better (and in turn become a superior teaching technique). It’s value in demonstrating in a direct way why the student MUST follow what you say, what they lose when they’re not and more importantly what they gain when they do.

Ernest explained how he had been training for about 15 years when this was explained to him, so I was getting it about the same time in my study. So of course I will take me the rest of my life to learn how to fully use it.

The interesting thing was it wasn’t just about Tai Chi. I saw the immediate parallels to Isshinryu and had an interesting time when I returned home to show my students what they were doing wrong so a touch could unbalance them, and how to change to perform their art truer and develop more power.

Follow then what such a toolbox offers.

If you can see what you’re student is doing incorrect robbing their power, in turn you can look at any movement and find the same issues. Knowledge of another system’s kata is irrelevant. You can understand the power of the alignment in any movement and learn how to recognize flaws that are inhibiting their power. No longer interested in tournament competition, it was interesting how this became a took that realistically could evaluate individuals performances.

That isn’t all, for if you can evaluate inconsistencies in another’s performances, defensively you can recognize where an attacker is weaker and more open to attack.

What is that skill worth, being able to recognize weakness in another’s technique?

So a few minutes standing in a dark field and a life time of work ahead.

A tool to use with all students, even beginners, to help shape their ability stronger.
A tool to use with other discovers to understand the principles behind their use.
A tool that is shared with advancing students when their basic skills are strong enough to allow them to stronger shape their own art.
A tool to allow myself to become stronger day by day.

For it’s not just about moving cleanly through air, it’s how to move more efficiently through an attack. Movement knowledge and application potential is not enough, its how to keep developing higher levels of skill.

While this may seem like enough it still was not more than the opening of the larger story to come.

Monday, September 1, 2008

But is it Bunkai? Part III

I think where I really started to understand what kata application potential could be was when I started thinking about what a minimalist system could be.

Of course if you’re good enough one technique can be enough to stop any attack. While I believed even a single punch was enough it would be another 10 or 15 years before I understood how correct that truly was.

I wasn’t content to just use the hundreds of techniques from my friends systems, but I had to prove my theoretical approach had merit. So I thought I’d try to find a system, that had the fewest possible techniques to counter any attack. It seemed an interesting exercise.

I had several basic principles to work with, a solid understanding of what a technique application could be, and an understanding that it needed to be explored against any attack. I called the later my unlocking principle, simply you needed to understand the technique as basic application:

1. An exterior line of defense against an attacker’s right attack.
a. Moving forward
b. Moving rearward
c. Turning clockwise into the attack
2. An interior line of defense against an attacker’s right attack
a. Moving forward
b. Moving rearward
c. Turning counter-clockwise into the attack
3. An interior line of defense against an attacker’s left attack
a. Moving forward
b. Moving rearward
c. Turning clockwise into the attack
4. An exterior line of defense against an attackers left attack
a. Moving forward
b. Moving rearward
c. Turning counter-clockwise into the attack
5. As a defensive move by attacking into your opponent’s rear

It was simplistic, lacking the other underlying principle dimensions that would come later, but an interesting way to know if you could make a technique really work.

Then to make it interesting I decided to choose those movements in kata and forms that seemed the least likely to have value. Just picking a punch lacked dimension to my way of thinking, might as well make it challenging.

Well it turned out it worked.

I started one Saturday morning on my driveway (during the summer’s my adults often meet at my house to train outdoors). I took the hammerfist to the hand technique from Goju Saifa kata and found my principle analysis really worked. If they stuck it out I could really take someone apart with those movements.

Next I decided to take a tai chi movement, Lu (or rollback) and really found it was a great way to put someone’s face on the ground in any circumstances, either interior line of defense or exterior line of defense. Especially with this study I began what I would eventually call the study of fractals of the movement. On the surface it seemed if you didn’t move fast enough with the tai chi pull back you’d really get nailed, well that’s only on the surface for if they’re really, really fast, they discover there is something else there that really disrupts their attack, and it works just as well with the head/neck as with the arm……

Now on a role, two movements, just to keep them guessing I figured I should have several more. I thought I’d really have some fun and use movement. Ernest Rothrock trains his advanced students in an obscure body of movement studies he at times refers to as Ghost techniques. I decided to take one and use it’s turns as a weapon, cutting out an attackers lower body from the rear. That’s where the concept name came from, they strike towards you because they know you’re standing before them, but when they get there you’re standing behind them.

I decided to finish with a more direct counter and because I wasn’t practicing tai chi for it’s martial aspects I decided that a palm strike would be my concluding technique. I was stuck between the brush knee and the Fair lady works the shuttles, finally deciding to include both of them.

An annual summer camp was coming up that was inter-discipline and I thought I might have some fun presenting this material. I was sure how I’d apply them but to take another group and share it with them and get results seemed a good test.

To have fun I thought I’d give the minimalist system a name – Smith Te, the system of 4 and ½ movements (counting the last two as 1 and ½ because both shared a palm strike.

To have more fun I gave the movements new names.

The hammerfist strike study from Saifa became ‘The Eagle Swoops Down’.
The pullback became ‘The Snake Retreats’.
The ghost technique became ‘The Ghost Departs’.
The brush knee became ‘The Bear wipes it’s Claws’
The fair lady works shuttles became ‘The Bear wipes it’s Nose’.

And finally I created a form with the techniques.

I had a lot of fun showing the application potential for those movements working to make my case they could stop everything. Afterwards a ex Marine, at least 6’6” came up to make a point he really didn’t believe it could stop his attack. I said ok, attack me. He came driving in with a hard right but didn’t complete his attack for some reason he felt it wasn’t a good idea to drive his eyes into my fingertips, for I was using the Lu (or my Snake Retreats) as my counter. He stopped getting the point as I reminded him, remember I said Snakes can also bite.

What I was learning if you really trusted your technique and really worked to apply it, it would stand up for you every time.

The next summer I added another worthless technique I was playing with, Sanchin Kata’s closing Mawashi Uke (or Tora Guchi if you will), finding a true minimalist system of one perfect movement study. I also renamed the system Smith Te II and slightly modified the form and renamed it ‘The Return of the Son of Magnetic Monster”, a tribute to Frank Zappa.

I never really did Smith Te after that (except as further tools in my toolkit), but continued the studies looking at ‘The Ascending/Descending Palm’, the variety of ‘X’ strikes (X Man, X Woman and X Child), studies in elbow (Etude in Empi), the study of hammerfist strikes (The Hammers of Doom), the Breaking Arm a study of many pieces, Flower Arranging and so forth.

Sure I had some fun when I shared them with a few friends schools, but more so I was starting to really understand what a technique could be used for.

I began to enter the study of Isshinryu kata technique applications using these underlying principles, was discovering that almost everything I studied with Tristan in aikido and Siliat was also already present in a deeper study of Isshinryu’s potential, and starting to get a grasp where this might go.

Then I discovered how much I was still in Kindergarden and what a glimpse of the big leagues would look like. Garry Gerossie dug my small program out of hte woodwork and totally helped refocus my efforts from that meeting.

But is it Bunkai? Part II

In 1985 I moved to Derry, NH, and while my studies with Ernest and Tristan continued, I slowly began to focus on my Isshinryu. Their arts were complete and credible, but I always have been committed to my original instructors. I knew I couldn’t spend the time to truly study those other arts the way they had to be studied and I didn’t want to be a part time student. I still used those deep lessons to understand how techniques worked.

Tris’s Shotokan blending Shotokan, Aikido and Tjimande taught me a tremendous amount about how techniques moved into an attacker, in multiple ways. The Chinese arts augmented the Tjimande and taught me how flow and softness were a necessary component of each technique too.

I believe I began my own study of Isshinryu applications as I worked on maybe 50 separate ways I could apply the opening of Seisan kata. This helped me formulate another rule, basically any technique should be able to stop any attack, whether it was an opponents right strike or a left strike, whether you were moving in our out, whether you performed it to the front or you performed it while shifting and/or turning.

This wasn’t an instant study, but piece by piece I worked at that for years.

In 1986 Dr. Yang Jwing-Ming published a very informative book, his Advanced Yang Style Tai Chi Chaun, covering his approach to analyzing tai chi technique applications, as well as his presentation of the Tai Chi Fighting Set, showing how one technique counters another as well as alternative counters to counters, etc.

To this day I’m unaware of anyone else showing a portion of their arts potential in such detail.

Now another rule comes into play, 5 years. If I find a book, a technique, a video or a great clinic of material, it normally takes me 5 or so years before I begin to know what to do with it. Dr. Yang’s book proved to be no exception.

He broke each technique down into a series of three general principles:
How to use the technique to down the opponent.
How to use the technique for grappling (chin na0 control of the opponent.
How to use the technique for cavity strike, or striking vital points on the opponent.

My own study of Tai Chi focused solely on the form execution, which is a very large study in its own right.

The day did come when I pulled out my book and tried a technique against one of my students attacks, and dropped them with it easily. So I grabbed another technique and the same happened. My studies with Tristan Sutrisno in tjimande (as basic as they were) did show me how to enter an attack and he had commented on the smiliarity to Dr. Yang’s book to his own practices, I was just confirming what I had heard but hadn’t experienced.

This led to me getting in trouble, after a tai chi class (with a small group of students) if I’d try karate applications I’d find I was hurting my students. Likewise after a karate class if I tried tai chi applications the same occurred. My students made the point I shouldn’t mix my arts with their bodies . I eventually understood what was occurring and was able to show greater control. The surprising thing was how much damaging power came from very simple tai chi technique. I wasn’t focusing on tai chi for self defense, but when I called on it, bang. I called Ernest up about one incident and he expressed surprise that he hadn’t told me not to use that on students, but we really hadn’t worked tai chi in that light.

None of this happened simultaneously, but as incidents and work spread out over years.

It was about 1990 I started to work out how viable my principles were. I hadn’t explored Isshinryu in a systematic manner, just bits and pieces that worked very well. Before I went further I needed to nail down my underlying concepts in application study.

I began to take the ‘dumbest’ techniques I found in kata (not restrictive to Isshinryu) and see if they would drop someone.

Boy did the fun begin!

If you don't write it down it didn't happen


One of the most powerful tools in my training arsenal is my notebook.

As my training and my travels to my friends schools deepened I began to realize much of what I was experiencing was a one time deal. I was a guest, training when I could in schools that offered deep material and I realized if I forgot what I experienced it might never come down again.

I worked out my own shorthand how to describe technique applications and kata and started taking notes.

I worked up some rules, first wait a few hours or do it the next day. If you can't remember something that long your notes' won't help you. First take the notes with accompanying stick diagrams to be followed with re-writing in greater detail.

So you go from experience to quick visual notes to more complete notes. These steps re-enforce each other allowing you to have a chance to remember the experience and re-create it later.

When video tape became available and friends performing clinics for my students were filmed I found unless you take the time to write up everything it is lost, but if you write it up it will last.
Video tape remains on the shelf, no matter how good the material shown was.

Clinics with great material are a problem. As an instructor at any time I have my students involved in their personal course of instruction with material that follows a pattern. Getting new great material doesn't mean we can practice it at that time. As a rule of thumb I find it takes at least 5 years before I can insert the best of the best into the program. I have to work on it to fully understand what I want to do with it, and the students training needs to be developed to the point where it fits where they are. Solid notes help you prepare.

The instructors who've visited me have shared dozens of forms, hundreds and hundreds of great techniques and applications. Only through notes have I been able to scope and understand what they've shown.

In fact to take those notes you get to watch those videos in detail, over and over, and you get surprised what you didn't see when you were on the floor.

You also need to take notes on what you teach. Analysis and on the spot choices continually find new answers or approaches to technique use. If you don't write it down, a month later the student asks "Sensei, can you re-do that great technique again... and you're lost because you've moved on and aren't there (the situation where the technique arose) at that time.

The power of those notes.

I can recreate techniques I was shown 30 years ago which have never fit my students needs.

I could re-create entire clinics in much detail if I choose, which I don't, but I could.

The time spent pays other dividends. Analysis of detail in one art shows me how the same techniques were already present in my Isshinryu, just not seen from that direction.

A decade later when that friend visits and sees your students working on a drill or a kata exercise tha they had forgotten they had shown you or knew you only experienced once, the look on their face is priceless as they see the reflection of their efforts.

On occasion when visiting a school or clinic when I get home I write my notes up and then send them to the instructor too. Allowing them to see what they showed through my eyes.

If you don't write it down it didn't happen.