Saturday, January 31, 2009

Kotekitae an art to Isshinryu Body Pounding

A student in Lewis Sensei’s dojo, I received my introduction to Kotekitae. In his tradition it is a two person drill banging arms and striking into your partner’s body with power.

You begin with light striking and as you progress with your partner you strike harder and even harder, as far as each of you can go.

To someone outside of the traditions is appears brutal, but it is based on several underlying principles.

1. You don’t really remember pain, the mind doesn’t work that way, instead you remember you were in pain, and if there is subsequent damage you experience those pains, but the actual pain is gone once the practice subsides.

2. Teaching that pain (of the non-damaging sort) is something you can bear through to move beyond.

3. Kotekitae instructs how to train your body to strike back with itself when you’re hit, blunting that force a bit.

4. It also instructs how to hit the shape of the body before you. Both partners share impact with each other, learning how to read the impact of their strike into another body. It is possible this is the most important aspect to Kotekitae, later to be bolstered by the advancing study of the use of karate technique. Learning how to fit a space with the correct strike shape and power is very important.

When I was a beginner, a group of us really worked on taking and giving those strikes. That drilling really was a real part of pre-class practice, and as the months progressed we understood how we could go toe to toe with the drills.

The body and arm pounding isn't to toughen up the body and arms, IMVHO. Instead it's to condition them to strike back by tightening at the moment of impact, creating a counter force to lesson a strike.

There are still striking methods that can go through that body counter force, and methods of striking that use that conditioning to set one up for follow-up strikes. But those specifics aside, Kotekitae has is uses.

While I’ve seen various arm pounding and body striking drills I've never seen the combination of techniques from our dojo anywhere else.
The two person drill, with both people facing each other in horse stance, hands in chamber on both hips,. Both partners are simultaneously executing this pattern.

[note the area to strike on the opponent is as you are looking at them. The direction 'right pec or right pectoral' refers to their left pectoral from the opponents point of view, and the right is from your point of view.]

The Kotekitae Drill

1. Right mid-inside strike to your opponents mid-inside strike (as in block) to your opponents right mid-inside strike.
2. continuing with the right, right lower strike (as in block) to your opponents right lower strike
3. continuing with the right, right mid-outer strike (as in block) to your opponents right outer strike
4. now continue with the Left mid-inside strike (as in block)
5. continuing with the Left , Left lower strike (as in block) to your opponents left lower strike.
6. continuing with the Left , Left mid-outer strike (as in block) to your opponent left mid-outer strike.
7. Then right vertical standing punch to the opponents upper right pec.
8. left vertical standing punch to the opponents upper left pec.
9. right flat knuckle slap using the standing fist (with the palm side of the knuckles) tothe side of the opponents abdomen.
10. left flat knuckle slap using the standing fist (with the palm side of the knuckles) to theside of the opponents abdomen.
11. right vertical standing punch to the opponents lower right abdomen.
12. left vertical standing punch to the opponents lower left abdomen.

- ** Repeat again

Training with a partner, start off soft and up the power each time through, till you and/or your partner reach their limit. In time you'll be surprised how far that limit extends.

Striking into the large muscle groups of the pectorals, the sides or the front of the abdominals you focus on how breathing and tightening those muscle groups at the moment of impact lessens the damage of the strike. Timing is critical. If you tighten too early, the force of their strike will cut straight through that tightened muscle mass. If you tighten too late, the force of their strike will cut through those soft tissues. Learning how to tighten at the moment of impact with correct breathing develops the bodies ability to strike into a strike countering that force.

Another two person practice associated with this drill was to condition the abdomen to take roundhouse strikes, and the side of the body to take side kick strikes. Each with specific practices in those drills for safety, but using gradual increase in striking power for the same purpose.


1. The purpose of karate training is not to take strikes, especially if your attackers is holding a weapon. Kotekitae is a subsidiary training that may be useful and most probably has more to do with learning proper striking ability.
2. Always strike (as in block) with the meat of the arm (inner or outer) and never the wrists.
3. Never strike on the opponent’s centerline. Your body strikes are to the large muscle masses of the pectorals, the side of the abdomen or the lower abdomen.
4. This is inappropriate training for those younger than 15, or those who are reaching mature years. When in doubt of the students needs, always err on the side of caution.
5. This is a committed practice, not a part time exercise. Without long term practice, the true value of Kotekitae is lost. The level of Kotekitae for the individual student depends a great deal on what they want the shape of their own study to become.

Karate practice is multi-dimensional. Kotekitae is not necessarily a life time training practice, but studied hard for a few years in adult training can offer long term understanding how striking works. Deep study into kata application builds upon the base Kotekitae provides and there the power levels grow more intense, but the same underlying principles remain intact.

Two of my students, John Dinger and Tom Chan demonstrate several of the Kotekitae techniques.
John was a great karate-ka, his passing in 2003 remains a great loss.

Disclaimer: I am aging and quite decrepit these days. This was my past but even as time’s ravages are felt, that former basis still provides a lot to work with.

Future related topics:

1, Single person Kotekitae.
2. Two person impact kicking drills to condition against kicks..
3. Striking practices to strike through kotekitae conditioning using multiple and layered striking.
4. Breathing practices to counter the counter striking

Friday, January 30, 2009

Walking Karate

When I thing about Karate's past, the pre-1900 era of training, there is so much that shaped those days we cannot recreate.

1. You lived within walking distance of your instructor. Even with my very small group nobody nobody lives in walking distance. Some of my students drive up to an hour to train. Driving shapes a different entry into training than the Okinawan's experienced.

2. Walking at night to train, there were no electric lights and unless you carried a lantern or other light source, only the light from houses you past. You had to be more aware of your environment, what you were walking over, conscious of threats, a chance to focus on some of the training tales your instrutor shared.

3. You didn't go to a dojo, rather your instructors house or another traning area, and likely frequently outside. Over the years, during the summers I've used this with my back yard for the adult group. There's something unique working on techniques when the evening bats first begin their flight overhead. The onset of low light environment training pushes your senses in ways no dojo can approximate.

4. In that past there was no training uniform, and if the weather was warmer you removed your clothes to preserve them and practiced in your scivies.

5. You sought out your instructor (or your family did), and frequently you had to prove your interest and focus before training began. There were no walk in students. Because of your choice your instructor was the single source of your training. If you made significent strides in training when time passed, perhaps your instrutor would seek out others to train you, or not.

The only traditions were what your instructor taught you. There were no books, no on-line chat groups, and only rarely friends who were undergoing other training to share or not.

Karate was not about trying to re-create the original kata.

Karate was just the practice of karate your instructor directed.

Think about that the next time you walk to train.

Saturday, January 24, 2009


Back in 1979 I had the chance to study Yang Tai Chi Chaun with Ernest Rothrock at his new Scranton, Pennsylvania school. I was a new sho-dan in Isshinryu but had a long curiosity about Tai Chi and when I saw his performance of the Yang form, I knew this was something I would enjoy studying.

I had no purpose for the study but to do Tai Chi. It wasn't to replace Isshinryu. It wasn't to explore the martial potential of its study. It wasn't to be able to wax about Chi. It was just for it's own sake.

Once the study began with 1/2 hour private classes once a week it did occur to me that there might be another reason for the practice. It occured to me that one day I may be too old to do Karate and I could always to Tai Chi.

Over the past 30 years it remains just the study of tai chi, but it's also become much more. I came to understand how it's basis was the basis for great karate practice. I came to touch the chi in my practice, a non-verbal experience that I don't describe in words, but I first experienced practicing with Ernest on a New Years day, running the form side by side, or had one of my karate instructors notice something too when I showed him what I was doing.

But the experience is not in words. Ernest and I don't sit around and share Chi lessons, in fact when we see each other all the talk is purely physical description of how to become more efficient in my motion. The rest might take care of itself.

I came to realize how the hardest part, Yang Tai Chi Sword, actually was the most important part to help me focus my technique together and led to finally understanding the relationship of kobudo training to karate.

I even came to see the relationship of tai chi and karate practice, but it's so subtle, so non-verbal that it might be best expressed as two circles gently intersecting, but when it does interesting things occur.

I have reached the age where I am getting too old for much of my karate practice, things accumulate over the years, but I'm also getting too old for some of my tai chi too.

Age is an equal opportunity destroyer in the end.

Tai Chi has become a way to preserve my karate, and as decrepit as I become it's practice preserves so much of everything for me.

Perhaps the best way to describe all of this is in the following picture. My wife looked out the back door on Thursday morning at sunrise and grabbed her camera to capture the moment.

That moment is my karate practice, my tai chi chaun, my friendship with all.

The non-verbal experience.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Who's in Charge - I don't know - third base

Yes that is a variation on the old Abbot and Costello routine, but it is something for the instructor to remember as well.

From the outside it certainly looks like the instructor is in charge. The instructor stands before the class and tell everyon what to do. It really is far more subtle than that.

I teach a very small adult program, hardly more than a handfull of students, the most were 10 years ago. My model isn't the modern dojo, but the concept of what pre-1900 karate instruction may have been like, on a personal one to one level.

The program has it's rewards, the foremost is that my dan's have stayed an average of +15 years after their sho-dan program before they move on.

At the same time I've never had two classes in a row with the same people, and that slows down some aspects of training.

An instructor can only do what their students allow them to do.

We're not living on an island 45 miles long, with students that can walk over to the house to train. I'm sure it was easier in those days to tell the family bye after dinner I have to train for hours every evening for the rest of my life. They did't have jobs that require them to work many hours, to travel everywhere, and all of the other disruptive factors trying to make the student move on. They didn't have electric power, movies, television, etc. and lived in communities where everyone knew what everyone else was doing too. In fact training with an instructor probably held a very different status for the student than today.

If you can't give your students a program that will focus their interests on training then other factors will take over and they will move one. That is what is right for them.

What the instructor can do is make the students study unique. If every class is different from every other class, forever, then a student never becomes bored, or knows what happens at 8 o'clock every time.

Personally I try to adopt the concept of the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, that the more you know about one aspect of the art, the less you know about others, and work to make every class a unique, once in a lifetime experience of study. So the student knows that missing a class is missing a unique, never to be repeated training experience.

The student is still in charge, they must show up for training to take place, but the content is the instructors, part of the eternal balance.

And now back to shoveling show in New Hampshire, about another foot yesterday.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Sometimes it's just nice to stop and watch the snow fall.

Winter in Derry, New Hampshire USA.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Ice and Snow in 2009

Last Friday afternoon it was about 15 degrees f and I was clearing some snow off the edges of my driveway. The sun was out but it didn't help the temperature.

When I finished I started my Yang Long Fist Tai Chi Chaun 108 practice. Such time, freezing temperatuers, such place, on top of ice and snow, make for great tai chi workout, even if you're somewhat restricted by gloves, heavy overcoat and winter boots.

I've been doing it this way for 20 years in the winter.

When I practice it's of utmost importance to keep your mind on your technique. Tai Chi is not moving meditation, it's very focused training in a slow flowing speed (unless you're working it at faster speed). It did bring back many memories when I finished about friends, and of course training.

As an Isshinryu instructor I find tai chi a perfect complement to my training and study.

I do not mix tai chi with karate for my students. Those who have an interest have to seek me out to train separately Tai Chi Chaun.