Wednesday, December 30, 2009

A Line in the Sand

We live in the Now, always. Yesterday a memory. Tomorrow a hope.

We also draw a line and stop and start a new year (whether calendar year or birth year or other event). The new year a mnemonic device to give some meaning to the endless progression of Now.

One year ends and we take stock in new life and death, accomplishments and delays, success and failures. Then the new year begins and once past we're back in the ever present Now.

Teaching a free program, the economic times leave almost nothing available for excess (whatever that was I haven't seen it in a decade). They have an impact on students though as it takes money t drive to attend even free training, but we've been pretty stable on that level.

One friend in another area of the country had to close his program after at least several decades of training. There wasn't one cause but the unsettled economic times greatly contributed to his student decline.

The death of a dojo I find as saddening as any thought. I've been fortunate not having any family losses this year, but friends haven't been so lucky.

In fact I've reached the age where I pay attention to news stories about younger individuals deaths too.

The year's been good for my karate. Fighting age's deterioration I find my decades in tai chi very much the way I MUST warm up for training. When I can't do so injury frequently occurs, small nagging pulls and strains, but I fight the fight as best I can.

My ongoing study into the application potential of karate technique continues with many new training ideas.

I was also privileged to train once again with John Kerker and his in depth knowledge of Isshinryu application. A few short hours once a year, but always driving into my studies.

My programs, youth and adult, have moved forward this year too. People come and go, but we're working towards a new approach to sharing the youth program and I look forward to seeing how it takes.

Likewise the adult program has moved from a brown belt level into sho-dan level training. The group is so small, everyone having to shoulder adult responsibilities training occurs when possible, but they don't stop and progression remains constant. In fact two new Ni-Dans this year, their moving into personal adult focus at a Dan level for life.

The instructors continue to make solid progress too.

So as the year ends, YouTube tells me I've viewed about 40,000 videos the past several years, absolutely nothing martial has escaped my view.

Translations such as Mario McKenna's new translation of Nakasone's "Karate-do Taikan" are more impressive becuause it actually fits our studies too.

So the line in the sand is drawn (or will be) and then the sand shifts, the wind blows, the rains come, the tide moves in and out and line or not remaining it continues to be NOW.

May all enjoy the Now of their New Year with great sucess for 2010.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

The Art of Attack - an Inquriry

Last evening I saw in the news the Pope had been attacked and knocked down as he was going to deliver Christmas Eve Mass. Recently a couple attended a White House dinner without invitations. Ex-President Regan was attacked in 1992 while receiving an award. It is likely very few people in the world have security as that of the President of the United States, or the Pope in the Vatican. But these few instances show that even effective security can be breached.

There are underlying principles behind those occurrences that can work be used to craft a more effective attack as well as be used for a more effective defense. A consideration in our martial studies should be the study of strategy and tactics in both offensive and defensive situations. They’re really flip sides of the same coin.

Article 13: The Eight Precepts of ChaunFa from the Okinawan Bubishi (1) states: 7. See what is unseeable and 8. Expect what is unexpected. I would restate it for this discussion as: what you don’t see or expect can get you. Offensively you want to find a way to be unseen, to set up your attack so it can’t be countered, Defensively you want to extend your awareness to see the attack coming and drive through it to end the threat.

Considering the assault on ex-President Regan April 13, 1992 when an anti-nuclear weapons protester accosted the former president

I remember reading about this when it occurred. It was discussed that the attacker moved through the auditorium and across the stage to first grab the award from it’s perch and throw it to the floor and then step forward to dislodge the President as the video shows.

I think what happened is he never paid any attention to the President, such focus would have drawn the attention of the President’s guards. If he was just keeping his focus on the award, nobody was guarding it and slow measured movement would have been unconsciously ignored. Then reaching the award the rest comes into play.

The couple slipping into an un-invited White House event is another example. They were known, some plausibility for their presence must be assumed, as they looked the part of attendees, and in the end they got close enough to shake the President’s hand.

Take a look at last night’s assault on the Pope where A woman jumped the barriers in St. Peter's Basilica and knocked down Pope Benedict XVI as he walked down the main aisle to begin Christmas Eve Mass on Thursday.

Surely everyone in attendance was reviewed as to their carrying obvious weapons, and of course her being a woman was probably a threat discount in some of their eyes too.

On the plus side none of the above carried out serious violence in those incidents. But the potential was clearly there.

Now it’s time to go to work, what are the underlying reasons their entry into each situation worked, how could it have been stopped, how was it unavoidable?

When facing an attacker if we assume they’ve been properly trained and prepared, it is likely we will be unable to respond. If they are improperly trained and prepared, that doesn’t make them less dangerous, but they’ve entered our event horizon so that we can choose to respond. Can we turn the table and not raise our hands to begin ‘fighting’ but find a way to be a target and use that opening when they attack to in turn make our response below their perception horizon?

So how do we use this?

More to come.....


(1) Bubishi – the Classical Manual of Combat – translated by Patrick McCarthy page 187

This also became the Isshinryu Code of Karate adopted by Shimabuku Tatsuo.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

A Christmas Trip to Okinawa on Me

It's the season for sharing and if you are like me, and no trip to Okinawa is on your horizon, allow me to give you a free excursion to Okinawa, by using Okinawa BBTV .

It is not a newspaper, or a news feed, but a site that shares a great deal of informaition on Contemporary Okinawa. Some of their article links are there forever, others are posted and in a month or two disappear to be replaced by something else.

The site allows you to explore Okinawa's flora and fauna, its sea life and birds, its shores, young women bikini interviews, their festivals, competitions, food, geography, music (Okinawan classical and Okinawan Contemporary - including one time a great rock band Stinky Hole), it's dance, bull fighting, sumo competition and even karate.

While most of it is written in Japanese, there is even a section for English speakers and even includes instruction on how to speak Okinawan hogan dialect.

They have an interesting selection on Okinawan Karate at

I even see a current section on Kyudokan Practice with Syoute-Tsuki and Group Prctice videos shown at

The site is literally filled with links that you can explore and visit many of Okinawa's wonders.

You find a people who love to get together in festivals, very akin to our country fairs, as well as perform exhibitions on many arts with presentation groups similar to the Mummer groups of Philadelphia Penna, who compete and demonstrate each New Years day in parade.

They even share footage of the invasion and occupation of Okinawa during WWII, a most pivotal event in their contemporary history.

If you're like me and want to try and understand Okinawa's roots of Karate trying to cultivate a greater appreciation of this beautiful island and its most interesting people, to understand how their past shaped their present and future, this can only assist your journey.

This site is prepared by the Okinwans for the Okinawans themselves, but they are also sharing it with all of us too.

May your browsing OkinawaBBTV bring you much happiness this Christmas Season.

Merry Christmas!

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Thanksgiving - Giving Thanks

Thanksgiving is much more than time spent with the family or eating a big Turkey dinner. It is a time when we should remember to give thanks.

Many years I held a turkey trot, or rather a early morning work out on Thanksgiving, having fun with Chin Na techniques not part of our normal study. It was a time when my adult students lived closer to our dojo. But times change, and our arts focus changes too.

Over my years I've been touched by maybe a thousand students, hard as that number is to realize for I only see them as faces one by one. You share their time with you, and much harder you share their decision to move on to something else, a very important and necessary decision in thier lives. I remember to give thanks for that time.

You share death, something you were never taught. During my years in karate you lose a child, you lose a parent, you lose a former student, you lose a student, you lose an instructor.

Karate is after all a shared group experience, intermixed with your life, family and friends and students. We train hard, focus intensely at times, but in the mixture of isshin and zanchin that possess us we never are really prepared that such losses accompany our studies.

May we all give thanks today for our blessings, for those who've shared the lines of our lives, for the memories that we retain of our departed friends.


Thursday, November 19, 2009

The friendly Ghost!

For many years I’ve followed a Halloween ritual for my youth students of practicing some ghost techniques the class before Halloween.

Always a brief description of how they incorporate magic to learn how to be somewhere else when being attacked. The class then followed a series of shifting drills of increasing complexity to let the class have some fun

This year, however, most of the class were new beginners with only several weeks training. They’re still in the stage of not knowing their right foot from their left foot. I didn’t want to drop the idea and decided to take it down to a much lower level.

Essentially I decided to have them shift to the side to make a school yard push attack miss. I quickly found out that trying to have them raise their hands to parry was too much so I took it down to its base. An attacker steps forward with their right foot and makes to push them with both hands. Their response was to shift to the left side and turn slightly towards the attacker in a cat stance.

I had them practice the shift a few times and then I went down the line with my lightest touch to their shoulders. To a person they stood there and watched me touch them, and they didn’t move.

I realized as an authority figure they didn’t understand they weren’t to stay there. So I kept working and in a while when I came in with a push they had shifted to the side.

On Tuesday night, after two weeks I told them I was really going to push them into the wall or over and attacked them one after the other with speed. To a person each one shifted away before I even got close. Enough skill development to begin to show them how to use their hands for a 1-2 parry movement with the shift.

More than an interesting exercise at making them into a ‘ghost’, it started me thinking about our advanced studies (where direct ghost techniques are only a very small part of the studies) and years of work understanding how to use kata technique to break, down, smash, etc. an opponent. But very little time making sure we can successfully walk away.

Except under very defined conditions, do we really have to demolish an attack? Certainly if the attack is life threatening towards us or others, there is justification to go full out, but if someone’s messing around, unstable in their life, etc. is our response to really use our karate each and every time.

I think we have to do some solid thinking about practicing sound alternatives, now to have the option to disappear and be somewhere else, when that makes the most sense.

Just a small piece of ghost technique potential, but something to consider.

Friday, November 13, 2009

The Ghost Departs

The Ghost Techniques cover a wide range of evasion studies. Several of my friends have requested a more detailed explanation so I would like to discuss one way to avoid an attack. This will be focused on the use of the lower body during the evasion, the first layer of training. One method of evading a striking attacker.

I suggest using a standard attack for basic training, in this case an attacker step into you with their right foot and throws a right lead hand strike to your solar plexus. This creates a nice linear attack to use for basic training.

The evasion pattern would be as follows:

1. As the attacker starts their attack towards you, you step forward with your left foot and place it slightly past their in stepping right foot.

2. As you’ve done that you start shifting your head and body 90 degrees to the right.

3. Conclude that movement parallel to their striking arm, as tight to their arm as you can get it.

4. Then turn your head 90 degrees clockwise to face the same direction their arm is striking.

5. As you perform step 4, take your right foot and step back. This is 180 degrees from your starting position and your right foot faces the same direction as their striking arm.

6. As this is being done your torso turns 90 degrees to the right so it lines forward with your face.

7. Shift your weight back on your right foot and then draw your left foot back, behind you as you continue to face to the direction they’re striking.

8. You then commence to step backwards, one foot after another, somewhat akin to a moonwalk.
At this point you’re several steps behind your attacker moving from them.

The timing involved is as they’re striking you’ve shifted alongside their arm, and as their strike concludes you’ve begun stepping back. You have ‘vanished’ from their vision to the front, and each subsequent rearward step moves you further away from them.

Defensively if they are capable of turning and attacking you, you have the option of dropping your weight and exploding into their direction without having to turn as they’re then doing.

The motion must be practiced till it is natural and you can flow into it.

The key points are:

First, regarding being able to shift parallel to their striking arm. In my experience even experienced karate-ka often find that when they step out and turn in they’re not comfortable by being parallel to their arm and so their left foot stays away from the attacker’s line of attack. You need that closeness in order to shift most quickly and not be as obvious to the attacker.

Second, the right foot stepping back is a crucial movement to master. The swifter you can do so the quicker you vanish.

Third, the moon walk, an amusing description, really shifts you behind and away from your attacker. The smother you move the greater the distance.

Only after you can perform this movement correctly, should you begin to consider the use of the upper body to assist the evasion.

Frequently I will use a ‘Kamae’, such as from Isshirnyu’s Wansu or Chinto kata as I step in, not to strike their arm (and trigger a response from them) but to meet their arm with your arms as they rise to form the ‘Kamae’ as their arm passes towards your original position. This rising movement will softly redirect them away from you as you then begin your retreat. In similar fashion the opening of an Aikido Irimi-Nage can be used or a basic Siliat Tjimande similar to a movement in Isshinryu Chinto Kata.

The next step is to examine a wider ranges of attacks to determine which ones this works with. Examples would be the ‘boxer’ shuffle, roundhouse attacks, etc. Other angles of execution can be explored too.

May you become skilled and learn to disappear.

Remember what you don't practice you cannot do!

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Conversation with a Ghost

A long, long time ago when I lived in a different land one of my friends Ernest Rothrock shared with me one of his advanced students training manuals. Within that manual was a description of a training series of Ghost Techniques. In turn it was 5 years before I began to work out what they may have been following those notes and discovered a new twist in my martial studies.

I do not know their genesis, but the idea of the Ghost Technique is interesting, how to move so when your attackers attack reaches were you were standing, you are somewhere else.

They were just a series of movements to shift around an attacker such as you wanted to be directly behind them when their attack was complete, to completely disappear from their sight, or more directly, become a Ghost. The underlying principle was very simple you were to use Magic to disappear.

Magic of the mundane sort, not of Harry Potter’s studies.

I came to realize that Magic was not just for Ghost Techniques, but was the true basis of martial study. The Magician misdirects your attention so you watch one hand and not see the other hand move.

Okinawan Karate in its essence was an art of self defense, how to disrupt an unexpected attacker. It was not crafted to just work in a ring against an aware opponent, too often what Karate is focusing on today, the better ring fighter, or the street fighter wading into the street fight, instead of ways to break an opponent so no fighting is ever required.

Let me simplify this a great deal. Suppose I teach my students an art with one technique, now to break the nose of any attacker 100% of the time. Nobody would attack you if they knew you would be breaking their nose because of that attack. The attacker attacks those they can dominate to destroy. If they start doing so and their nose is immediately broken, it was because of Magic, their awareness did not include the ability that their prey was the hunter. They start the attack and their nose breaks by magic, no matter how that magic is performed.

In actuality my instructors have always been Magicians. As a brown belt sparring with Charles Murray I was never able to touch him once no matter how I attacked, he was always ¼” out of my range, but at any time he could walk all over me. A year after I made my black belt I visited Florida and Charles and I took the time to work out together and my first move nailed his nose, in that case Magic allowed me to do what he knew I couldn’t do – one time. Of course after my Magic was another story. Magic is the only way to describe Tristan Sutrisno ending up standing atop my shoulders before I finished trying to punch him.

The secret is not just training and skill, though the magic doesn’t work without those components, the secret is the way of misdirection, exactly as the stage magician does to the audience.

A person who attacks, does so because they know where you are and are so sure of that knowledge very frequently their attack shifts to an ‘automatic’ attack, not relying on their senses to target properly. Understanding that allows one to shift, move, etc. so you’re not there. It might be as simple as just shifting back a bit so their focused attack just hits air. It may be a movement shift to move outside of their attack laterally. It may be movement patterns in any direction to evade, entangle or counter an attack.

When you think about it a block itself is magic, you’re removing their attack from it’s intended target.

This brings to mind what is the focus of our Karate when we understand the use of magic in all situations?

Our kata studies have thousands of applications and we spend years learning the raw movements and then crafting how they fit many different attacks. That is the shape of how our karate can be used. But that is training, is that the purpose we should be choosing.

There are so many ranges of what an attack may be. Someone beating up another person leaves one set of focus to respond. Someone attacking use when we don’t expected leaves another.

But Okinawa through many instructors and words as in the Bubishi, would suggest we work to use our senses, or eyes and ears, to not be caught unawares. If that is the case and our awareness shows the attack unfolding is the correct response to sing Tennessee Ernie Fords words from ‘Sixteen Tons’. “If you see me coming better step aside, a lot of men didn’t and a lot of men died. One fist of Iron, another of Steel, if the right one don’t get you then the left one will!” Certainly one aspect of our studies leads us to wish that we respond thus.

Perhaps the crafted skill we develop can be better used to evade, to disappear intelligently and avoid the attack and fighting.

Personally I consider fighting the lowest level of our abilities. I concede there is logic in demolishing or destroying an attack under many circumstances. The difference is being unable to do so and thus having to fight derides the skills we work to develop. As a person I do not have a right to ‘punish’ an attacker, even though I do have the right to demolish their attack (which has many levels of meaning all appropriate situationally).

I think it is far better to become a ghost, whenever possible.

The first time I tried using one of Rothrock Laoshi’s Ghost techniques, when my student finished striking I was standing 10 feet behind him watching with amusement his astonishment that I was no longer before him.

In many cases, especially with our newest students, lower level Ghost techniques studies make a great deal of sense, how to learn to evade an attack, how to use their attack focus to allow them to retreat at a direction their attacker isn’t watching. How to not be there.

I’m not going to give a step by step look at my studies, just a suggestion how to use the magic. I find it very useful to look into your eyes, show a grin on my face and suggest “Come on Karate boy hit me, come on really, really hit me…… got it in you?”

And then disappear!

For the record, I’m an aging, slowing, decrepit karate-ka and I know you’re all younger, faster and better looking………………..come on Karate-boy..

My next post will discuss several basic ghost technique studies for training the newest youth students.

Monday, November 2, 2009

ZEN COMBAT - Jay Gluck - Ballentine Books 1962

Here is a glimpse of the Japanese maratial arts from Jay Gluck's "ZEN COMBAT", originally published in 1962. Note the price on the cover to see how much things have changed.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

AXE HANDLES poem by Gary Snyder

AXE HANDLES by Gary Snyder - North Point Press 1983

One afternoon the last week in April
Showing Kai how to throw a hatchet
One-half turn and it sticks in a stump.
He recalls the hatchet-head
Without a handle, in the shop
And go gets it, and wants it for his own.
A broken-off axe handle behind the door
Is long enough for a hatchet.
We cut it to length and take it
With the hatchet head
And working hatchet, to the wood block
There I begin to shape the old handle
With the hatchet, and the phrase
First learned from Ezra Pound
Rings in my ears!
“When making an axe handle
the pattern is no far off.”
And I say this to Kai
“Look: We’ll shape the handle
By checking the handle
Of the axe we cut with---“
And he sees, And I hear it again:
It’s in Lu Ji’s Wen Fu, forth century
A.D. :Essay on Literature” – in the
Preface: “In making the handle
Of an axe
By cutting wood with an axe
The Model is indeed near at hand.”
My teacher Shih-hsiang Chen
Translated that and taught it years ago
And I see: “Pound was an axe,
Chen was an axe, I am an axe
And my son a handle, soon
To be shaping again, model
And tool, craft of culture.
How we go on.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

The Slow and the Small

Running a very small adult program these past 25 years has helped me understand one of my personal goals, to try and understand karate instruction prior to 1900, a time when everything was small and personal.

When we were driven in our training to prepare for our sho-dan, that pace was fun, always pushing yourself as hard and as far as you could go. I'm sure at that time that was what I thought the goal of an instructor was, to have a group that could move at that pace forever.

Reality however becomes very different.

Of course we don't live on a small island and all our students are not in walking distance from our program. Today even for a small program students may have to fly home from working in another state, deal with late work hours, or frequent times when they're not available for training from work.

What I've found in the last quarter century, except for a year when there were just two of us training regularily, the rest of my classes have never had the same members there two classes in a row. That doesn't mean the group has quit, but that they're adults who have to balance many issues to maintain their training.

As an instructor you prepare for a class with a specific lesson plan in mind, and then often depending on which students are present, may or may not be able to use it and have to flow to plan 'b'. I find in time my lesson plan isn't for a class but what I focus on for a quarter of the year at a time, and find a way to touch that training over that period again and again.

I've experienced the death of a very good student and then over the next year the departure of most of the older group members, perhaps taking the experience to adjust their personal goals, each of which training over 15 years.

Then the program slows, the most seniors training at a more and more advanced level till slowly new members feret out the existence of the dojo, and suddenly you're in a beginning adult program.

Students really are the ones who control what you can do in a program. As an instructor you can only teach those who are willing to train. You have no control over how they deal with life's ever present reality, the fact that everything else in life is conspiring to stop your training, you can only always be there and teach.

Then slowly over 5 years, as you and your senior students focus on the group, you shift from a white belt program to build towards shodan instruction.

Which is where most of my program is right now.

Begin the shift to dan drilling studies, working on principles behind technique application, working on a very different range of drills for new movement flow, laying the ground work for dan training, and you're still moving at slow speed.

Balancing the groups needs, you most senior students needs and your own desires.

And knowing under the best of circumstances, if no corners are cut, it will be another 5 years before the program fully engages the training you enjoy most.

The program is small and personal, the instructor must go slow meeting the students needs foremost.

Helps one gets older and slower I guess, but for the upcoming joy when fists will collide and the arts potential can be realized.

The smaller the program in fact means the slower the instructors wishes are realized.

If long ago you were an instructor and have one student, if their time passes for any reason and you have to begin again, consider the slow of that instructors flow.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

More from "The Sword & The Mind"

More from “The Sword & The Mind” written by Yagyu Munenori

Page 67

Three Types of Beat

You and your opponent striking each other simultaneously – that is one kind of beat.
Striking the opponent from below as he raises his word – that is another.
Striking the opponent from above as he lowers his sword – that is still another.

We consider being in tune bad, being out of tune good. When you and your opponent are in tune with each other, he can use his sword better; when you are not, he can’t. You must strike in such a way as to make it hard for your opponent to use his sword well. From below or from above, you must strike without keeping time with your opponent. In most cases, allowing yourself to be in tune with your opponent is no good.

Slow Beat versus Quick Beat;
Quick Beat versus Slow Beat

If the opponent moves his sword in slow beat, you must move yours in quick beat.
If the opponent uses quick beat, you must move your sword in slow beat.
Hear again, you must use your sword so that you will be out of tune with your opponent. If you allow yourself to be in tune, the opponent will be able to use his sword well.

An accomplished No chanter chanter off beat, so that an inexpert drummer cannot play the drum well as accompaniment. If an accomplished chanter is coupled with an inexpert drummer, or an accomplished drummer with an inexpert chanter, it should be difficult to chant or play the drum. When the same is done in a sword fight, it is called the art of slow beat versus quick beat, quick beat versus slow beat.

When an unaccomplished chanter chants slowly, an accomplished drummer will not be able to play the drum quickly, however lighthearted he may try to be. Again, when an accomplished chanter chants lightheartedly, an unaccomplished drummer will be left behind, unable to play the drum.

An accomplished bird-spearer shows th ebird his spear from a good distance, making it sway gently, and when close, quickly slides up to the bird and catches it. The bird, enchanted by the swaying rhythm from the spear, flutters and flutters his wings, trying to fly away, but unable to do so, ends up caught. The point is to stay out of tune with your opponent. Out of tune, you can step in. You must contemplate even things like these.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

from The Sword and the Mind

The study of karate takes place on the dojo floor, or the spot outside where true training occurs. Karate does not have a vast tradition of sharing the strategy and tactics to make the training work in conditions extremis. For the most part it probably consists of oral tradition shared between instructor and student, and tactics studied on the dojo floor.

With the exception of the Bubishi (which is of Chinese origin) and a small selection of various instructors concepts, there is not consistent body of knowledge to consult.

Allow me to quote from “The Sword & The Mind” written by Yagyu Munenori translated by Hiroaki Sato, Published by Overlok Press in 1985.

A brilliant collection of Japanese sword lore, on the tactics involved. While written for the sword, the principles apply to all confrontation.

Consider in all things there is a first move, an opening. Or the passage that follows beginning from page 68 in the aforementioned work.

Understanding the Startup Rhythm”.

In dancing or in chanting, if the performer doesn’t know the startup rhythm, accompanying him will be impossible. In swordmanship, too, there is something like a startup rhythm. You must correctly grasp how your opponent may use his sword and what tactics he may employ in order to see his ultimate intention. When you do, you are like a ‘No’ dancer or chanter who is well acquainted with the startup rhythm. Once you know your opponent’s moves and behavior well, you can work on him freely.

Six Approaches

1. Strike back as the opponent strikes.

2. A difference of three inches.
[Mitsuyoshi; “When two combatants face each other with swords crossed, the victory is said to be with the one who manages to move his sword forward thre inches ahead of the other.”] {victor smith – this does resemble the technique of Motobu Chokoi. Watch the following video at exactly 3:50 you’ll see the crossed arms before a contest, straight out of Motobu’s own book.)]

3. Steal within a distance equal to the opponent’s height.

4. Mark the opponent’s elbows when he olds his sword in the upper position.

5. When a ‘wheeling’ moves is employed, mark that part of the sword grip between the two fists holding it.

6. A distance of three feet. [Mitsuyoshi: “You must concentrate on moving close to your opponent so that the distance between the tip of your forward foot and that of his is three feet or less……If it is further thatn three feet, you won’t be able to strike your opponent with your sword."]

These six approaches must be learned and explained orally in actual exercises with oyour master. So they are not detailed in writing.

If despite your initial feints and double-dealing, your opponent remains unalarmed and sticks to his waiting stance without making the first assault, you must steal within the three-foot distance, and move close to your opponent. When, when he cannot contain himself any longer but takes an attack stance, allow him to make the first strike, and while he is doing so strike him. Unless your opponent strikes first, you will not be able to win. And unless you learn not to receive a hit when your opponent strikes, you cannot allow him to strike at you. You must train hard to master these things so that you may fearlessly move close to your opponent, have him strike at you, and win. This is the attitude known as sen-sen (initiative above all).

Four Other Approaches

1. Taikyoku, or “great deception,” [Mitsuyoshi explains that kyoku, deception, is a technique of winning that lures the opponent to strike frist by showing an apparent weakness.] along with “initial’ moves’. To be orally transmitted.

2. Zanshin, or “maintaining presence of mind at all times.” Applicable in both ken and tai stances. [ken – attack stance, tai – waiting stance] To be orally transmitted.

3. Dodging the short sword by a foot and five inches. [a “foot and five inches” refers to the width of the shoulders but the meaning of the phrase is not clear.]

4. Ken-Tai in taking an initiative. Remember to hold your body in an attack position, your sword in a waiting position.

Not one of these can be mastered without having it explained in actual exercises with our master. These approaches are difficult to explain in writing.


Yagyu Munenori lived from 1571 to 1646. These words to back over 300 years but they remain relevant in today’s studies. I have experienced them on the floor with my own instructors and agree they must be lived not read. Still they point towards an important level in our arts.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Instructor III

It was in 1985 I started thinking seriously about what it should take to develop an instructor.

I was about 10 years into my own study and had to move from Scranton, Pa. to Derry, NH for work. The prior 6 years I had continued my own training, developed a program at the Scranton Boys Club and brought students to Sho-dan in my program. I had both competed and in turn ran a number of successful youth karate tournaments. I also trained as hard as I could with different friends in many arts.

Almost immediately moving to Derry, I restarted my program at the Derry Boys and Girls Club. Beginning anew I made some structural program changes to the program, using some of the additional experiences I had acquired from my friends, not to create a new system, but a new way to approach developing Isshinryu karate-ka.

It was at that time I started thinking about what should be required in developing an instructor. I had read of the JKA’s International Instructor school training, but there were no details and I’m sure I had a very idealized version in my head. I understood it involved more than just the study of karate and came to think of it as subsidiary training and knowledge to scope the development of karate training.

One does not sit down and develop an instructor training program, such a program should obviously be the product of many instructors and disciplines, as well as many decades of study. What I did though, was look at the library I had begun to acquire and wonder what would make sense to pull together to provide as study and work material for an instructor trainee.

My wife, Maureen, assisted and together we pulled together a wide range of material, including anatomy, physiology, history, etc. The end result was a very thick volume and with the assistance of a friend was reproduced and bound, and shared with my friends.

Everyone agreed it was a valuable effort of material useful in instructor development.

Today I cannot find my copy, I know I have one somewhere, but I have accumulated too much and no idea where it may be. I’ve contacted several of those I gave copies too, but alas, they likewise no longer posses it, or can find it.

There are important lessons there. Books alone do not make an instructor. I had no need of my copy because I had all of the source material at hand, to use when I need it.

If a training program had been developed with the book then it may have retained a purpose. But that wasn’t my intent at that time.

Of course this was before I knew of the historical antecedent of the karate instructor’s manual, the Bubishi, which is a text on medical matters, anatomy, strategy, technique, etc.

A valiant effort for 10 years training, but there were many lessons to come.

Technical note: This was written listening to the Velvet Undgerground ‘Heroin’.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Instructor II

I was a spanking new black belt in 1979 when Charles Murray left his church and returned to the USAF. I was left with the small youth karate group he had started and a church that wasn’t interested in my continuing the program. Over the summer I continued to hold classes at nearby McDade Park and worked with the Scranton Boys Club to begin a karate program.

While I had stood before a class and taught, I quickly discovered being a karate instructor was far different. Except for the few students who joined the program from the Church, the new students who started mostly left over the next three months. I was teaching at the pace I had been trained, that of preparing for Sho-dan examination, beyond most of the students initial abilities, and the class size quickly dropped.

I wasn’t just teaching, but getting uniforms, patches and learning how to teach young people. I also had no one to turn to for advice. My original instructors were many hours away from me, there was no one else in my area doing Isshinryu, and the other programs there were not a source for me to draw upon.

Thankfully I had a resource to draw upon, my wife. She trained with me, initially down in Salisbury, Md. And her background was a physical education instructor, though she was coaching swimming and diving through the Scranton YMCA at that time.

She explained to me a great deal about teaching young people, mostly to understand how to ‘hear’ what their abilities were and to begin teaching to those needs, and many other details about being a teacher. The largest shock was to come when she shared some of her college texts on coaching junior high school girls swim teams. I found material about coaching and teaching a specific sport more advanced than all of the karate books I had found, and to this day nothing has really changed that either.

Now I was teaching for only one reason, to keep practicing Isshinryu myself, in turn I only taught the Isshinryu I studied, just at a more appropriate pace for my students. It was then, and would always be the study of Isshinryu karate, not a game program or a babysitting program. Games such as various sorts of races would be incorporated, but my original instructor also did the same with his adult classes one or two times a year, just to keep one’s mind fresh and open.

I think the biggest lesson I learned was my pre-conception if you offer a Karate program all the teenagers were going to flock to it. That was not the case and never has been. The Boy’s Club isn’t a cool place to go when you mature, and most often you get the younger students. I learned a great deal how to listen to the students needs.

Among the lessons I started learning (all of which are only the most general rules):
  • Students train for their own reasons, and when those reasons change they leave. Frequently they are your better students. The instructor must keep their distance when that happens and focus on those who are training.
  • Students who have the most difficult time as beginners frequently are the ones that learn most, having learned how to overcome they can progress further. Conversely, those who are most natural beginners don’t have to learn how to work, and later when the studies become more difficult, not having learned how to learn just move on to something else.
  • Young women frequently are much better beginning karate-ka than young men. In kumite they are also often better fighters.
  • Friends that start together, often progress together, but then leave together.
  • As students progress into advanced kyu training, you need to work to keep their intermediate studies from backsliding.
  • As students progress into advanced training, mistakes in earlier kata crop up with astonishingly frequency, perhaps 30% of them make the same mistake in the same kata, all of which they studied the same way. It leads me to question if there is a physical tendency in some nervous system to interpret their training into something new.
  • Tournaments only appeal to a small percentage of your students. Among the reasons, cost, time involved for the families and the fact that young people get lost in the overall tournament scene. I held 3 youth only tournaments drawing good crowds from NE Penna, charging only $5.00 to compete, and made sure every young person left with a certificate of attendance. Many years later returning to Penna. I had many karate-ka coming up to me thanking them for that gesture helping them remain involved in their own programs.

Among the biggest lessons was my original purpose. The Sho-dan primary focus must be on their own training to progress. I had unlimited time as my wife was coaching swim teams every evening, so in addition to two Boys Club karate classes a week, I sought out other places to train, from people I would compete against in tournaments. I made many friends had many hard workouts, learned a lot, but still continued to focus on my Isshinryu too. Tournament competition in kumite, kata and kobudo was the best way to focus on my Isshinryu having to train myself. Training the kids started me focusing on small details they needed and in turn helped me in my own practice.

The other side of training hard with several other instructors was you learned what they were teaching. I never intended to learn their systems, but my studies in Tai Chi, Chinese arts, Shotokan, Shorin Ryu, Goju Ryu, Tjimande, Aikido and more (I had lots of friends) gave me some scope of what existed outside of Isshinryu (frankly a whole lot of good stuff in their own right). I was competing against the instructors or their students, and many others, and learned the value of pushing yourself to exceed the best.

In turn I was able to apply that, age appropriately to my students. I can only say this in 30+ years of teaching I’ve never had a student in the program let me down and when called to always rose to the occasion. I’ve also found in some small way this had an impact on many of their lives. I was only teaching Isshinryu, but they were learning that they could learn, which should be the only reason adults share with youth as teacher, as coach or as supportive parent.

During that time from 1979 to 1984 I was learning hard how to improve my own ability, and it came down to attention to small details such as Stance and focus, as much as anything. I began to consider all I was learning and challenged myself how I could prepare my Isshinryu students to do better Isshinryu.

Of course in all these issues I had no one to turn to, no one with my same experiences. I had learned that as an instructor the one person I must listen to is myself. That lesson was hardest.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Video suggestions from my friends

I recently solicited suggestions for favorite videos from a network of friends who I periodically share my ongoing video research. The internet is offering an incredible wealth of martial references to view.

There is no right answer as to what is best, except your personal choice, but my friends suggestions, serious, playful and even beyond, are worth watching.

Kushanku – Nishime Sensei
Kushanku – Shimabukuro Zenpo

Taiwan 1964

Yaraguwa no Tonfa Nakamori
Karate de Okinawa
Nihanchi Katsuhiko Shinzato
Sanseiru – Tohyama Seiko

Nao Morooka – Shitoryu
Okinawan strengthening – Takemi Takayasu

Megadeth – Holy Wars the Punishment Due
Aikido Shoji NIshio
Wansu Kata – Uechi Sensei
Taiwan theater martial arts

Five Deadly Venoms Part 5 of 11
Unsu Michael Milon
Yanqing Tui

Drive: Battle Scene
Ginchin Funakoshi Kihon Kumite
Gijushihio by Dave Piehota

Seisan – Shimabuku Tatsuo
Seisan – Kanei Uechi
Seisan Bunkai – Isshinryu
Chinto Bunkai – Isshinryu Mark Radunz

Sueyoshi no Kon Dai – Murakami Katsumi

Wu xing ba fa
Silat golok Seliwa
Heroes of the East – Crab Vs Crane

Meitetsu Yagi – Seienchin
Suparinpei – Miyagi Anichi
Kyudokan Jion


Among the more serious contributors to the internet sharing you can always view Patrick McCarthy’s video sharing at and Mario McKenna’s video sharing at .

May these offerings bring you a great evening.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Instructor I

Another day and more unsolicited email messages show up in my inbox. Several Martial Arts organizations marketing groups are always trying to sell me information about becoming a better instructor. Of course from what I teach and how I teach it they information is useless to me, except to keep me current with the latest martial school trends. I do pay attention to try and understand the landscape, always watching and thinking.

I started my own program almost immediately after reaching my sho-dan in Isshinryu. Unequipped for the role of course, I had never studied karate to become an instructor, I only wanted to learn karate and get better. As events shaped my karate experience I began teaching to remain an Isshinryu practitioner, and had to work to define what my program would be.

For one thing I started out teaching a youth program through the Scranton Boys Club, for free. My program was the first one to bring girls into the Boys Club for membership. As I learned how to be an instructor, the hardest way, I tried to focus what I wanted my program to represent and settled upon trying to move into a pre-1900 approach to individual training. Always the most important focus was that between student and instructor.

In my past 30 years of teaching, perhaps in some ways I’ve succeeded. In other ways I was way ahead of the bell curve, such as seriously teaching a youth program, years before it even became a reality on Okinawa. Back in the days when everyone thought I was out in space training youth, almost all telling me I should be spending my time with adults to do real karate. I tried to tell them what the future would hold if they wanted to keep their programs going, but few thought I was serious. Of course today there are very few commercial schools in any art that would be open without the income that their youth programs generate. Then again my focus wasn’t money, for I’ve never charged for my instruction. My payment was being allowed to continue training and I’ve been very well paid at that.

I plan to do a series of articles on my personal insight into instructor development. Not to guide other programs, but to share with my students in what we practice.

Still to begin I think it very important to realize that ALL of us, trying to link our programs to the karate of the past must realize, what we’ve turned into is very different from Okinawa’s origins. Very different!

Karate pre-1900, as far as I’ve been able to piece together, was before the dojo, perhaps just a back yard or an empty field or clearing in the forest. I’ve been unable to piece together much information about how many students an instructor had, how frequently they trained, what their drop off rate may have been, and without information to discuss those items is mostly speculation.

Karate pre-1900 was a walking student population. The student(s) lived a walking distance from the instructor. Of course in that world time, the populace walked, there weren’t cars, or much other available transportation. Walking distance might be 10 miles for the most possessed student, but still I suspect a neighborhood type of distance in many cases.

The stories seem to indicate that unless it was from a family or friend obligation, a prospective student had to work to be accepted. That might represent being turned down repeatedly, or having to present oneself for many months showing one’s true interest before being accepted. It suggests a small student population that worked very hard to be accepted, and in turn willing to stay training.

Just supposition, but for a successful instructor today (defined as one who keeps their school open for years), with thousands of new students, who didn’t stay even to sho-dan, for the handful who move into fuller training, I’m sure those older instructors would look askance as to what a good instructor meant.

I’m not suggesting right or wrong, just the world keeps turning and change happens (entropy is the universal champion after all). But it is difficult to truly consider the modern instructor an inheritor of the older traditions.

The body may move the same, and the same steps must pass in a students studies, but the wrap around of today, hardly allows an instructor to focus on their program in the same way as when there were a handful of students.

The change of course is world wide, and includes Okinawa too. Can you consider any pre-1900 instructor would have considered running a world spanning organization with students they never taught, as a part of their art?

Trying to understand the trends of the past are useful to help us shape our art and our responses to guide our students into their own futures.

In my case I had to work out how to develop a youth program for a small group of students that would require between 7 to 9 years of training to qualify for sho-dan, and then of course they would leave us forever, and separately develop an adult program that is I believe very close to what a pre-1900 model of training may have been.

I will continue exploring what developing an instructor should represent in subsequent posts.

Monday, July 13, 2009

On Translation and Kata

I was reading the translator (Louis Swaim) introduction to Yang Chengfu’sThe Essence and Applications of Taijuquan”, only to be surprised by the following comment. “…Traditional Chinese books were not punctuated, and it was the reader’s job to parse the sentences, determine which clauses were subordinate, and to match up subjects and predicates.”

Though in modern times punctuation has been added to Chinese, Japanese and Korean, in the older form it was the readers analysis how to group the concepts expressed, using the context of the subject in discussion. In the older works, ..”Chinese writers did typically did not attribute…quotations. They were simply run into the writer’s text with the expectation that the reader would recognize them and know their significance.’

I’m sure many reading this are wondering what type of person reads translator’s notes. Language and its study has been a long interest of mine, and having translated a few martial works from French into English, having experienced many of the difficult choices even an amateur translator must face, this comment by Swaim helps understand the difficulties we all have accepting modern translation accuracy.

Any of us who had Freshman English in college likely spent time interpreting what poetry was saying. I felt it was an open door to understand when the work leaves the author’s hands it no longer is under their sway. It makes me remember the bit in Rodney Dangerfield’s movie “Back to School”. Having an assignment to do a paper on a book by Kurt Vonnegut, he hired Vonnegut to write the paper, which ultimately drew an ‘F’ because the professor felt the paper missed entirely what Vonnegut was writing.

Of course if one was a direct student of Yang Chengfu, the book would have been a memory aid because its context would have directly come from Yang. But for everyone else we might always wonder if the parsing that was made conveyed what Yang Changfu meant.

The key is we never know for sure. As a result of this I often take years and years to understand the place of a book in my martial studies. I need to place it in context.

The funny thing is it strikes me that kata is a work of literature from a point of view. Kata movement sequences are a vocabulary of the kata concepts. Unless you trained directly with the founder, you’re always trying to understand it’s potential (from the founder’s point of view), and ultimately you must place that potential in context of an attack opening.

Of course it matters not what the originator meant if you form an operating context for the book and/or the kata. In that way you’ve made their work yours.

This is not a simple quest. I recognize many underlying principles that work with kata movement, in turn dozens and dozens of technique answers that can be used against various attacks.

A more compelling story might be to read Douglas Hofstader’sLe Ton beau de Marot: In Praise of the Music of Language”. In it he conveys many issues, but prime among them are his efforts to translate a simple poem by Clement Marot.

From his effort, his wife and many friends and acquaintances he published dozens of answers, each correct and each different from the original, all attempting to convey the simple thoughts of Marot.

Translation, the study of kata, and many other things are inter-related, it is up to us to find how.

In closing I leave you Marot’s poem for your own efforts.

A Une Damoyselle Malade

Ma Mignonne
Je vous donne
Le bon jour.
Le sejour
C'est prison :
Puis ouvrez
Vostre porte,
Et qu'on sorte
Vistement :
Car Clement
Le vous mande.
Va friande
De ta bouche,
Qui se couche
En danger
Pour manger
Confitures :
Si tu dures
Trop malade,
Couleur fade
Tu prendras,
Et perdras
Dieu te doint
Santé bonne
Ma Mignonne.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

We are known by our passions........

The following will make no sense to anyone not a follower of the Destroyer universe, but today it's lack of continuing presence led me to post a few words.

If you have not been a follower of the Destroyer universe, why you've missed 3 decades of enchantment and wonder...................................


I am created Shiva, the Destroyer,
the dead Night Tiger made whole by the Masterof Sinanju..... ..
what is this peace of Dog meat that stands before me.......... ......... ..............

memories of the way things used to be..

o'glorious anniversary

it is the day
the day, the bee and the sun
bee sees sun
sun seeks flower
bee seeks flower
bee flying in sun
bee landing on flower
bee seeking sweet nectar

flower died
bee flew.
sun sets
Sinanju gone

the key to the sun source
breathing to fullness
not bending the elbow
respecting little father

there is Sinanju
all else is less
now Sinanju fades to myst

the master returns home
is it next sending the children to the sea?

the world churns
money not gold molds away
only the tribute kept Sinanju alive
but the most foul have wreaked their havoc
let loose the dogs of war against the Destroyer
and Sinanju is not a army

Sinanju is but one idea
a fixed point in the mind
that training and correct breathing
creates one more in tune with the universe

Chiun noted he looks forward to meeting God to discuss God's balance
it is an appropriate thought

Sinanju taught me that correct technique is everything
that and to bring Victory home in your Teeth created..... ..... SHIVA
respect for sunshine and bee
the balance of a great song
the gentle tapping of the middle finger on the wrist

i see no sunshine
i fear death for the first time
a companion we do not want
but can not remove

Where john carter, lord greystoke, doc savage, tom swift sr and jr, and tom corbett reside may be the destination for our friends

mysts of the past
the void


i am shiva i am
shiva i am i am i am
i've been created many times before
need one more not to close the door

there is a story the masters of sinanju require their tribute first

in the end it's all about the benjamins... ......

i was created shiva....
but who is the true destroyer?

written by my fell hand,
in this year with slight summer
new hampshire
where the old man in the mountains went away

the cool air chilling me to the bone

i who wanted to be shiva

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Seiunchin Kata - Bushi No Te Isshinryu

Young Lee performing the Bushi No Te Isshinryu Seiunchin Kata.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Isshin and Zanshin

from Trevor Leggett’s “Zen and the Ways”

Page 156

Isshin (one-heart) means to throw oneself wholly into the action without any other thought at all. Zanshin (remaining-heart) means some awareness still remaining. Some of the texts (victor note – of the Way) give both, some of them do not mention zanshin at all, and some of them mention it but say that the heading ‘zanshin’ means that there must be no zanshin.

With a spear, isshin is to commit one’s body wholly to the thrust; in a judo throw, it means to throw one’s body and heart at the opponent. If the action is technically defective, or the opponent more skilful, it will miss; then one is generally in an unfavorable position. On the other hand, the more impetuosity and immediacy and completeness of the movement may have so upset him that he cannot utilize his momentary advantage.

Still, in theory might it not be better to take into account possible failure, and keep something back in order to be able to adapt it/ But then, the one-heart will be broken into two: one saying ‘everything into the throw’ and the other ‘what if it fails?’ The latter is called a fox-doubt, and it infects the physical movement, to cause hesitation.

Similarly, if the attack is successful, must new isshin be formed to deal with a new opponent?

The schools which speak of zanshin take it as an awareness which is wide and unmoving, and which contains the isshin. The immediate awareness is thrown into the action, and yet something remains, unconscious? conscious?, which can handle a failure or even a success. This is zanshin. It must not be consciously aimed at, as that would split the ‘one-heart’.

In a sense the one-heart is the ji or particular technique, and the remaining-heart is the ir or universal principle which manifests in particular situations but is not exhausted in them.

'Isshin is the unity of the wave, zanshin is the unity of the water. Isshin defeats an opponent at a tme and place, by a technique. Zanshin is awareness of the whole process of defeating opponents, and wider than that, defeating them with minimum harm to them, and wider than that, for a good purpose and wider than that…'

In this verse, zanshin is referred to as ‘water holding the moon’.

Friday, June 26, 2009

'Not Setting the Mind' from Trevor Leggett’s “Zen and the Ways”

'Not Setting the Mind' from Trevor Leggett’s “Zen and the Ways”

'Not Setting the Mind' from Trevor Leggett’s “Zen and the Ways”,  Page 158

The mind turns in accordance with the ten thousand things:
The pivot on which it turns is very hard to know.
Zen verse (much quoted in the Ways)

Like many of the Buddhist verses and aphorisms, this verse about not letting the mind get set, but keeping it freely turning on a pivot, seems vaguely ‘wise’ but it is soon abandoned in practice. A fencer comes out without setting his mind on his opponent’s technique or his own and his movements become slack, so that he gets hit on the head at once. The calligrapher goes to write without letting is mind be set on the proper way of writing the character, the result is a sprawling mess. It is true that in this last case, he may persuade himself that he has written well, in an unorthodox manner; but the archer who has missed by a mile has no such refuge. One of the advantages of the martial wasy is that the result is so immediately apparent. In any case after a few failures the whole attempt is abandoned.

As the classic says, ‘those who are not training in a tradition will find it hard to understand.’ The teacher has to supply one or two concrete examples from the particular tradition. Here is one from the judo tradition.

In Tokugawa times, one of the big Jujutsu schools lost three of its best men, killed at night in the street. In each case there was only one mark on the body, a stab in the abdomen, slightly to the right side. It was guessed that these killings were done by a member of a rival school, with which there was a feud on, but the puzzle was ho these three highly skilled men could have been killed by one clean stab. If they had been overcome by numbers there would have been other marks, a single man, even though armed, could hardly have finished the fight with one blow, especially a thrust to the abdomen which is easily checked.

The experts finall worked out how it had been done. There are only two effective ways of using the stabbing knife (1) from below to the abdomen, and (2) down from above on to the neck and shoulder. Skilled Jujutsu men were well practiced in the defense to both of these attacks. An expert could tell which attack was coming by observing the position of the attacker’s right hand: if the thumb is in front, the attack will come down, and if its to the rear, the attack is upward. Before the blade is actually visible, the defender’s body is already moving into the defensive reaction.

The other Jujutsu school discovered how to make use of this fact. Their man was holding the knife reversed; his left hand holding the hilt and the right hand holding only the sheath. This right hand had the thumb prominently displayed – in front. So the defender was moving to intercept a downward blow, but when that came it was being made with the sheath, while the blade moved upwards unopposed.

This is an example of getting the mind set on one thing, namely the position of the opponent’s thumb, which in the ordinary way is the key to the situation. Does this mean then that the thumb is not to be noticed? No. It is to be noticed, but not at the expense of the whole situation. As a matter of face, the opponent’s posture was not the normal one of a man about to draw a knife with the right hand. The opponent is holding the knife in fact with the left hand, and he will have to advance his left foot to use it. If we look at the posture in the third set of pictures, we see that from the very beginning the knife-man has his left foot level with his right foot, whereas in the normal case it is well back. An experienced judo expert, who does not let his mind become set in the thumb position, will find something ‘unusual’ in the situation, and will correspondingly keep a freedom of action. He will not be tied to a mechanical defense reaction.

Followers of the Way should consider how technical excellence in a particular point gradually becomes mechanical, and creativity is lost. Technique, like logic, can only operate by ignoring certain aspects of a situation as insignificant; it works well in nine cases out of ten, but in the tenth case the disregarded aspects are in fact decisive. In the tenth case, absolute reliance on technique, or logic can be disastrous. The mind becomes set on them, and cannot adapt. Technique is to be utilized, but it must not be the master, as it does when it is worshiped by a mind set on it.