Sunday, February 22, 2009

Never get in the car with Anybody

It is an instructors burden to do more than just technique, guiding a student in sound underlying principles of self defense is often more important, and longer lasting than just learning how to strike.

One such principle is to make everyone aware not to get into a car with someone else.

Many years ago I had a young woman begin training. After her first class she wanted to talk to me and asked me how she could defend herself in a car when her date was getting too fresh. I looked at her and told her the question wasn't how to defend herself, but whether she should have gotten in that car in the first place.

This upset her a little bit and I responded that many times the troubling situations come from individuals you know, and often know well. The best defense, whenever possible is not to get into the car in the first place.

I tell children that when someone is giving them any reason to get into a car they should immediately start running and of course shouting 'FIRE' which will draw an audience.

Anytime someone opts to get into the car, defense is much more difficult.

Of course in today's world the same rule applies. The case of the financier that convinced all of the very rich to get into his investment vehicle and then have lost their shirts is the same principle.

The best defense isn't how to handle it once it's begun, the defense is to know what your options are and consider whether they're worth the risk.

Getting into cars with strangers is a no brainer.
Getting into cars with 'friends' is more difficult to undestand.
Getting into cars with someone who intends to do you harm is the ultimate awarness issue.

and if you get in, and................ , can you get out?

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Classic vs. Traditional

The designation of the era’s of karate study that I’ve described previously originated with Charles Joe Swift, the Mushikan Dojo instructor in Tokyo, Japan.

Those eras are defined by me as follows.

The Classical Era

The classical era is roughly karate on Okinawa pre 1900 or pre 1920 (I prefer the 1900 designation myself).

There were no styles or schools, just instructors. Later designations such as Naha-te or Shuri-te or Tomari-te had nothing to do with the instruction, but were the first attempts to try and classify something as an explanation for outsiders, and that was by tradition totally non-verbal.

Classical Karate had no organizations, no rank, no uniforms. Classical Karate for the most part even had no technical vocabulary, the hallmark of a closed society. The structure of the training was totally directed by the instructor and most agree it changed for each individual students needs.

The beginning of the end of the classical era was perhaps the movement to begin training secondary school students (high school) in karate as preparation for surviving the military draft. The defining event was the creation of Itosu’s Pinan kata designed for large group training by breaking the classical kata studies down to more digestible bites for the large group.

BTW most of the karate schools we’re aware of have nothing to do with Classical Karate. A few examples, there was no Goju in the Classical Era. Okinawan Uechi-ryu didn’t exist in the Classical Era, nor any of the other systems we know. There was just Tang Hand.

Even the origin of Tang Hand, whether built from older Okinawan traditions, whether imported from Chinese traditions has absolutely nothing documented to prove any of the oral histories. All late documentation is based on various oral traditions and logical proof, none of which are definitive.

The Traditional Era

The Traditional Era really began with the export of Okinawan Karate to Japan in the 1920’s. The early books published in the 20’s and 30’s, mostly attempts to document the validity of Karate for the Japanese martial establishment, were all trying to describe training in the Classical era. But as new instructor’s were developed the Traditional art took on new artifacts, new traditions, more structured approaches to training. Systems sprang into existence (Interestingly the progenitor of the Traditional period, Funakoshi Ginchin, never wanted his art to be referred to as Shotokan (a nickname adopted by his students) but wanted it to be more generic to keep ALL karate unified. Just a dream of course but that was his wish, and being good students all of his student ignored his wishes for many reasons).

When most talk of returning to traditional karate, think what they mean. Organization’s, Rank, Uniforms, formal dojo procedures, formal training procedures, etc. None of which really described anything in the Classical Era. In fact a lot of karate developed in the Traditional period was to work students through a University education and then to move out to conquer the world as Japan expanded. Of course that part didn’t’ work out the way they expected.

BTW the designations have absolutely nothing to do with the fact kata and type of study changed. The older tradition was karate moved as the instructor willed it. The admonishment continued (Never change the Kata) to the student, but all instructors, all the time always know that rule never applied to them and even when their instructor taught that to them, they were bound to ignore it, and they being good karate-ka did so.

The organizations arose, the JKA (Shotokan), Goju-Kai and all the rest. New arts formed Shito-ryu, Wado-ryu, etc. And more interestingly they immediately began calving, people breaking away and forming new organizations. The groups remain focused on themselves but Funakoshi once remarked attending an event and seeing styles and instructors (master) he never new existed. This knowledge wasn’t shared openly but was the harbinger of the modern era.

This period of time pre 1950 doesn’t really describe Okinawa’s karate, which continued in much of it’s Classical Era ways. But the influence of the Traditional began to enter, uniforms, more Instructor’s training youth in school clubs, styles beginning to be formed such as Goju, Tou’on, etc. The classical styles started looking wider than just their group training. Their efforts were interrupted by the Japanese war experience, ending with a huge percentage of the Okinawan Karate seniors destroyed, most practitioners unable to practice for years and the survivors, in a terribly depressed post-WWII Okinawa having to work to pick up the pieces. It is a strong testament to their art that they worked to preserve it.

The Modern Era

The modern Era begins approximately 1950, again which is arbitrary. This was the period of time the Okinawan’s got it. They understood the American’s were to return control of Okinawa back to Japan in 1972 and in turn worked to adopt many of the traditional styles trappings. Organizations formed, schools formed, Rank was adopted, Uniforms and other Japanesee style trappings started fitting into their arts.

Consider Miyagi’s Goju, an art which was modified from his Classical Era studies, he never awarded anyone a black belt. When he died his students all adopted the Dan ranking (which their instructor did not believe in) as were most of the Okinawan groups at that time. The idea of General Styles on Okinawa Shorin, Goju, etc. is a nice myth, but while a loose structure did arise, each dojo remained unique, similar and very much dissimilar to others in their group. And with organizations came the same calving.

The arts began to look outside. Instructor’s taught the Amerian military occupation force, who then exported karate with mostly no oversight or controls to much of the rest of the world. In similar fashion the Japanese variation of the Okinawan arts likewise were exported.

On Okinawa 1972 and Japan’s return to control meant a lot of work as Japan invested in the Okinawa infrastructure, and many karate-ka, now working no longer had as much time to train. But in the early 80’s a more starting event began, training young people began in Ernest. Today 75” of the practicing Okinawan karate-ka are youth.

As an example of the Modern Era I would submit Isshinryu. It’s founder Shimabuku Tatuso studied what are a combination of Classical era traditions (the arts of Kyan and Motobu) and Traditional era traditions (the arts of Miyagi and Taira) and developed one of the early Modern Era Traditions. He often shifted the shape of his art to the student in a classical tradition, but his art exported to the world, and all of the other factors continued for it to grow, calve, etc. After his death his art continued on Okinawa, but for the large part it became a new tradition.

The modern era as it exported world wide, began to realize there were no true lasting traditions behind many of the traditional trappings they assumed. The best example is that of styles calving and rank-flation. The world not realizing that this had really occurred from the origins of the original disporia into Japan, found out there were really no rules and in turn taught each generation of students to take a step further. So everyone’s a Master, everyone’s a Grand-Master, everyone can form a group, a system, a style.

Most claims of the past can’t be proven, so anyone can claim anything, true or not, and no one can really prove it.

The modern era contains arts such as Matsumura Seito (and all variations) by a Classical trained artist (Soken) who bypassed the traditional era living in South America and began teaching in Okinawan in the Modern Era. With of course all of the modern trappings but strongly suggesting that art was based on classical traditions. And after his death that art began calving, mutating (the only correct word for all arts changes), rank flation, etc.

Going on the listing is endless

The Current Era

Simply stated the Current Era is whatever happened in the past 10 years. It keeps moving forward and the truth is that it always is the most explosive time in all of the arts histories. Whether Current began 1890-1900 or 1940 to 1950, or 1980-1999 or todays 1998 to 2008, that is always currently correct.

The current period is always based on the prior Era’s and the one’s living in that era doing what they honestly believe is best for them. Frequently they reject the past and strike out in new directions.

The other unalterable truth is that the future will frequently dismiss their efforts having their own current concerns.

As an example do all of today’s Master Instructors, Renshi, Kyoshi, Grand Masters, etc. honesty believe in the future anyone will pay any attention to the distinctions they've made.

Long ago I defined a Master as anyone remembering their name 25 years after they’ve died, and a Grand Master as anyone remembering the name 50 years after they’ve died.

Few dispute that Miyagi, Kyan or Funakohsi (and all their contempories) have beome Grand Masters in our minds, and the next generation of greats are working to ward that status.

But, with millions of Masters alive today, the future, out of necessity, will just ignore their existence. Their students will make them but footnotes in their histories after all, because they’ve focused on their own master-hood.

I look on each ending generation fondly, admiring what they accomplished and have no problem with all of a generations survivors looking at each other, admiring each others efforts and referring to themselves as masters. They earned the right, they lived the art, did what they had to and in the end, earned the right to respect each other fondly.

Everything is a matter of scale.

South America

I’d like touch on one small aspect of this timeframe. There is one place that the older traditions may have continued with little change (or perhaps scaled less change) that of Brazil (and others in South America). Last year Brasil (Brazil) celebrated 100 years of Japanese/Okinawan immigration. Karate continued in Brazil almost the entire time, within their communities (and eventually to trusted Brazilian friens). They didn’t’ suffer WWII and it is extremely likely the Okinawan traditions there are among those remaining closest to the classical era. It was in this community Soken studied with while in South America those many years.

Of course they not exporting their arts, not looking for outsiders to get their knowledge, keeping true to older traditions totally lost in today’s world, keeping their mouths shut about what they do, we can only speculate.

I do however predict, someone will find a way to exploit this, and that’s what it will be, another with lineage un-provable claiming those traditions.


All history discussions become endless. The truth is none of this really matters, our arts take place on the dojo floor (or in the forest if you have it). Whether I like your art or approach or not is irrelevant, if you get out of your studies what you want. That is the truth for all of us.

Our arts are our lives, and how the future classifies our efforts it their headache.

Our goals remain classical, to break down that which stands before us.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

The Things we have in Common enable us to Communicate

I was browsing through my latest copy of BBC Music magazine (dedicated to classical music) and an editorial caught my attention. It was titled "The Things we have in Common enable us to Comunicate".

If I talk about striking, whether you're doing Matsumura Seito, Shotokan, Ueichi Ryu, Isshinryu or any other art we have enough common ground to begin to understand the topic. Yes our arts are different one uses finger tip strikes, one rotates the fist over, one rotates the fist partially over, one doesn't rotate the fist at all. Dedicated to our own studies it's easy to start arguing about which strike is stronger, faster, better and forget how much we have in common that even allows that discussion take place.

Taking any one point to extremes inhibits discussion by defining the terms through our own standards.

But in the case of a strike all of us are beyond just one correct answer, each of our differing strikes are launched to perform the strike function, its just that answer is different for each fist and shape of space.

An interesting example is which strike is stronger, has more power and then sticking to a point of view all other strikes are lesser than our version.

Reality however isn't that a strike must be the most powerful, there is solid argument that the strike must be the appropriate level of power for the desired result. I can make a case that the best strike might be the one with the least amount of power. Consider a situation where you need to drop someone, but it would be inadvisable to make it known that your best brick smashing strike did it. Instead a more subtle use of striking with the least power to the right point so the target collapses but you're delivered strike remains unobserved.

In such a case powerful training is required to develop a power strike, but more complicated training is also required to know when and how to choose how to strike.

As we discuss marvel at how much we have in common that permits communication. Enjoy our own specific practice, but enjoy the other's practices too.

Through communication we can share in our experiences and find growth in our arts.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Recreating the Itosu Eight Point Kicking Drill

It is frequently difficult to translate something written into action. The following describes a kicking drill I re-created from my reading John Sells’ original version of ‘Unante’.

Sells Sensei 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, similar to the Bando shin kicks but delivered with the ball of the foot.

3. Scoop Kick – A rising front kick to the groin delivered with the top of the foot.