Monday, April 27, 2009

Sticks and Stones

A long time ago in a different world……… The Burmese fighter was in the middle of melee, friend and foe mixing it shoulder to shoulder when his sword was knocked loose from his hand as the group surged. No time to look down for his sword, his hand slipped inside his sleeve and he grasped as short stick, extracted it and continued to fight.

Not so long ago (about 1992) in New Hampshire……… Mike Cassidy walked out into the competition ring in weapons competition…his hands empty. A murmur went through the crowd… ‘he’s not carrying a weapon’. He bowed to the judges, stepped back and as his form started he pulled a short stick from his sleeve. Another of my students, Young Lee, found the same reaction when he performed the form in 2006.

The purpose of the form is not for competition, though competition has its uses in the full cycle of training.

Almost from it’s origins in the states there was a strong link between Isshinryu and Bando, no doubt because a number of Isshinryu karate-ka shifted into Bando. When the American Bando Association held their summer camps Isshinryu karate-ka were invited and paid attention to what was shared. One of my seniors Reese Rigby picked up the Bando Staff form (The Horseman’s Footsoldiers Form) and the Bando Stick form (the Hidden Stick).

In 1982 I had the chance to attend a ABA summer camp, and as I was studying the Bando Staff form, from my instructors, and working on part of the Stick Form, I considered it a chance to learn more. One of the opening training sessions had Dr. Gyi having all us work on stick impact training. Two would hold a large limb between themselves and the rest were striking that limb as hard as we could. The point was made to deliver impact you had to practice impact, and in turn the impact training was strengthening the inside of the hand to form a stronger fist. (In turn the motion that the stick makes when held for the downward stroke, is the same motion that the Bando stylist uses for their vertical strikes.)
A synergy in training, similar in the training the use with their kukri knives too.

I am not a Bando stylist, but made a few friends that weekend discussing common training practices.

On Sunday morning I rose early to practice and one of the Bando instructors, remembering me from the night before stopped to watch me work on the portion of the stick form I knew. He asked what I was doing and when I explained, he told me the version he taught was somewhat different. As all of the Bando instructors were going into the woods for private Bando training he called two of his brown belts over and told them they had to teach me their form. For the next two hours they shared their stick practice, explained the use of each technique as they were taught.

As I left the four hour drive home was non-stop practice of that form in my mind, and the beginning of practice for the rest of my life.

The form uses butt strikes, blade and tip strikes, hides the stick behind the body for several attackers, contains disarming techniques, throwing techniques, striking techniques, breaking techniques and many other forms of nastiness.

Its use is not restricted to the stick, you can hold any object in your hands and use the same techniques, a book, a rock, a crumpled can, or you can use it with a piece of rope or chain held in both hands. Without something to use, it is an efficient method of empty hand defense too.

While sharing similarities with many other stick fighting systems, it is not geared to stick fighting, rather close range self defense.

It can be used with sticks of any length from pen to 3 foot lengths. I suspect it’s origins were about a 10” length, and while we use many different sizes at different times, the rattan length in the video is what we most commonly use for practice.

I don’t have any video showing our technique applications, but another system which studies stick is HawRangDo, and the following video shows similar stick applications to those found in our study. Sticks – Hwarang Do

A form shows a range of potential, but never shows all of the potential. The best overall study of stick’s underlying principles I’ve found in “The Filipino Martial Arts as taught by Dan Inosanto”, written by Dan Inosanto, published by Know Now Publishing Company in 1980. Unfortunately I doubt it is currently available, because most Martial Arts publications are shortly out of print.

In it Dan Inosanto does more than just show techniques, but demonstrates how the shortened arc, or body angling add ‘flavor’ to the technique. IMO this is something often missed in most weapons study, that just considers kata. Having read this prior to my stick studies enabled me from the beginning to see those options for future study.

As we move through time, the direct relevancy of kobudo with many of the traditional weapons is lost. Though effective you can hardly carry Bo, Sai, Kama and many other choices around in the world to have them on hand if……. On the other hand the study of stick offers many choices. A stick does not set off a metal detector. Any object you practice with can be used the same way, whether a pen or ruler you can carry, or your car keys or the empty coke can in your hand offers increased effectiveness in defensive effort.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Kobudo - is one system best?

Before long in any internet discussion on kobudo the discussion often turns to which style of study is best, who’s doing the ‘real’ kobudo, and the flip side what’s wrong with system ‘A’ and frequently ‘All Other Sytems’.

There’s a simple answer, whatever you study is best! Then the burden on you is to prove it.

There are very big differences between different methods of weapons study. I’m sure each became what they are because each instructor did their best to train their students and/or themselves. Can we step aside from our personal loyalty to find an answer?

I’m going to refine this topic for the sake of discussion to Okinawan Bo. So who has he BEST Okinawan Bo.

Looking at this logically, first we must understand all weapon study is that of using the weapon and the body as a force multiplier.

The Bo hit’s harder than our hand can.
The Bo strikes further than our leg.
The Bo can strike through a focal point where our body will pull short because of pain.The Bo combined with the bodies knee release and twisting motions and alignment principles (among others) has increasing potentials.

But we cannot forget the original purpose of the Bo. It wasn’t to strike other Bo hard.
Bo was crafted to break fingers and toes, smash feet, break arms and legs, demolish the solar plexus, spear into the armpit or eye, split open the head and all sorts of other singular and compounding mayhem.

From it’s origins, the best Bo must be the most compelling application of viscous response in defense and or the best destructive technique in offense.

Of course today most of the Okinawan (and other) weapon studies are antiquated. The chance that you’re going to be attacked anywhere by a Bo wielding attacker, and you happen to have your own Best Bo on hand are infinitesimal at best, leaving such attacks only to our imagination.

I think when we think of efficiency and/or best in a system most of us have set those destructive potentials aside, for the better I’m sure.

But using the Bo as a force multiplier opens interesting question about best. Best isn’t necessarily the fastest, or the most powerful strike, unless you’re only looking at such issues.

If attacked best must surely include, how you shift either away from an attack, or shift to enter the attack. Whether you respond as an automation, just using what you’ve drilled, or whether you can shift, target appropriately and respond in fashion.

With the force multiplication of a weapon, the truth is the best answer may be the least powerful attack, one that strikes the precise point to end the conflict without further escalation. Is it better to strike so hard as to break their arm, or to strike so precise as to fracture their fingers?

In weapons study I think too often we’re so divorced from what the weapon was designed to actually do, we forget that just kata execution is only a part of weapon reality. Isn't it a most curious discussion to determine which system of study is the msot destructive in it's potential?

How a weapon, the Bo, is applied is a layered study. At one level there are two person drills such as Bo vs. Bo.

One example - Ryukyu Kobujutsu – bo versus bo
or even when the bo is the bad guy - Ryukyu Kobujutsu – bo versus sai

I see their value is learning to enter the space of an attack, abet focusing not on the attacker but the other weapon for safety.

Another layer of Bo versus Bo is Bo Kumite –Nakamoto Masahiro – Taria Shinken lineage

Here I see the angles of entry and technique completion as the focus.

Interesting how the parallels can be seen to Seikichi Uehara - Kobudo Entry

A far different Bo application comes from the late Sherman Harrill. One of his students, Mark Radunz has recently shared several application concepts on the use of Isshinryu Bo technique. Isshinryu Bo Bunkai – Mark Radunz

Harrill Sensei covered some of the same material in the late 1990’s at a clinic in our school, but I never had the chance to study Bo with him in a more formal setting. I have seen enough to realize what his students continue to this day.

I must admit, the scope of my program rarely allows us to use many these studies (both Isshinryu and others) beyond kata training. That depends on the students of the season, where their training needs lie, more than my own interests.

I truly believe in my own studies because of those instructors who shaped each lesson into my training. More so discovering the long term benefit to all of my Isshinryu practice from hard weapons practice for years.

But my own belief doesn’t take anything away from being able to appreciate the skill from others.

I hope all of us never need to find out who is best, and can use our training to increase the total value of our studies.

Here is a brief selection of Okinawan Bo to consider.

Chogi Kishaba –Yamane Ryu Bo Principles
Shirotaro No Kon – Oshiro
Tsuken No Kon
Tokumine no Kun – Shimabuku Tatsuo
Shi Shi No Kon No Dai – Shimabuku Tatsuo
Kina Masanobu
Ufugusuku no Bo
Yamanaka – Chantanyara no Kun
Tara Shinken (not exactly Bo, but…. Taking what there is)
Nakama Haruka Bojutsu
Chinenshikiyanaka no kon – Yoshimura-McKenna
Nakamoto Mashahiro – Tsukensunakake no Kon
Taira – Sakugawa no Kon Sho
Yoshimura Hiroshi – Oshiro No Kon
Shimabukuro Zempo – Tokumine No Kon

Which is better, why mine of course……

Friday, April 10, 2009

My Isshinryu and Weapons Study

I don’t speak for all Isshinryu, only my own practice from my instructors training.

It has been sufficient to keep me training over 30 years now on the Isshinryu weapons kata.

A brief look at my own Kobudo studies

My the last day of Isshinryu weapons instruction was when Charles Murray taught me Shi Shi No Kon in April 1979 as he was packing to return to a career in the USAF. He was teaching me in his backyard, then a line of thunderstorms would come in and as the rain and lightening began he would go inside to continue to pack.

I remained outside in the rain, lightening and thunder working on the form, concerned only that I could get it. Then it would start raining again and he’d go back inside and I’d still be out there working in the rain. I had trained with Charles about a year and a half, a large part of my instruction was the Isshinryu weapons kata, then he was gone and I was alone.

In our two years together I studied the Isshinryu Bo, Sai and Tonfa kata.

I knew just practicing the weapons kata was not enough, so for about the next 5 or 6 years I regularly competed in Open tournament weapons competition in my area. Having to compete against some of the better open weapons competitors in the states at that time forced me to work harder, if anything competition is an intense training exercises.

During that time I also studied with an number of different friends on Bando Staff and Stick, Yang tai chi sword, 3 sectional staff and other studies in Bo, Kama and Tanto.

In all it was to be about 8 years into my own study before I began teaching weapons on a regular basis.

From my study and observations I developed an underlying set of principles about how I would teach Kobudo.

● Foremost, Okinawan Kobudo (Bo, Kama, Sai, Tonfa) isn’t really studied for use, anywhere. Weaponry continues to have a role in the world’s development (good and bad) but the chance you’re going to need to defend against the kobudo weaons (much less using them in turn) is very small. The value of kobudo, on the whole, is not for practical use, I believe other reasons answer why these practices still exist.

At the same time, other weapons studies (Knife, Stick) still retain street potential.
All of these studies have elements in common as well as differences to explore.

● I was not going to teach Kobudo to the youth I trained. I felt their time would be put to better use working on our kyu empty hand studies. I have observed in Kobudo age is a significant factor in good weapons technique, and that older karate-ka had an advantage over younger karate-ka, simply because they had stronger muscle and connective tissue development. My observation is that even strong youth Kobudo competitors are often using modified technique, which I believe is dictated by their bodies development.

All of my students, younger and older, are of the permanent part time variety. There is not enough time to do everything that could be studied and I’m satisfied the method in which I instruct has shown worth in how they’ve developed.

● For adult training I include one weapons kata as a requirement for Sho-dan preparation. I’ve varied which kata depending on the students interests. It may be Isshinryu Bo or Sai, Bando Staff or Stick.

● I’ve found Kobudo study extremely important for advancing dan studies. In fact in time we often spend ½ of our time working on weapons. I find the very long term study of the weapons kata builds a varied set of physical skills applicable to all kata technique applications studies. I’m referring to 10+ years training.

Each weapon is an entire system of study as complex as the karate you study. The Bo, Kama, Sai, Tonfa, Stick, Knife, etc., while sharing some underlying principles of movement, each use different skills to be developed. That range of skills, as developed, increases the students empty hand potential. Example: Grabbing an arm and pulling it down eventually becomes grabbing an arm and pulling it down as if you were striking down with the sai, and the difference in acceleration of the arm affects the control and openings created into an attack.

Long term skill development can only be understood when those skills develop.

● While I find the dan student study of Isshinryu’s weapons kata invaluable, I don’t necessarily find that they must study all of the kata. The system as I teach it is a complex study and based on not setting anything aside but continuing growth in all. For additional study I find most dan students are training for their own needs, and only a few are training for the fullness of the art’s potential.

What I use is a core of study kata covering stick, staff and either bo or tonfa is very sufficient for long term growth. It’s not that I’m not willing to teach everything, but if the student doesn’t choose to remain on top of all the material they’ve studied I’d rather have them focus on a core that still reaches towards the same goal, advancing studies.

For the few the entire curriculum is available, spread over say 15 or so years of study, with kama and knife studies only available for our developed instructors.

● The core weapons study has a more important benefit than the power development of the weapon. As an instructor it’s an invaluable guide to developing advanced students. I don’t accept now you know the kata and all you have to do is practice for the rest of your life.

Many of the skills I choose to develop are found within the weapons kata studies. The weapons extends the visual line of the students technique, allowing small errors to be magnified and noticed easier, and working to correct them in the weapons kata eventually transfers into the empty hand kata study too.

Among the many skill components are:

Bo – coordination of both sides of the bodies technique as for chambering and striking simultaneously. Sai – a variation on the Bo principle above, but the weight of the weapons separately in each hand takes the body alignment needs to further levels of refinement.

Tonfa – extremely useful in grip development with precision. A very difficult instrument to use with precision as only your palm controls the spins. Long term study increases the hands potential to fit the shape of an attackers body with precision.

Kama – very different skill sets depending on which kama study you are using. Very heavy weight kama that can dismantle a car, very light weight kama, or light weight kama with continual shifting technique as I teach.

Bando Stick – probably the king of the weapons I teach simply because it’s so adaptable. Our study is not stick as a weapons to weapons fighting system, but as a back up weapon for defense against random attack. Certainly both studies have common values, but there are also differences. The stick can move through metal detectors undetected, something to consider as our times continue to change. It can be studied in various lengths, and at times we work with different objects, a soda can, a book, a pencil, a rope and others to show how the study works with all of them uniquely. It also has the side benefit if you can’t put something in your hands, it becomes an empty hand art of worth too..

Bando Staff - A very different system of movement from the Bo, closer to Chinese staff studies and originally designed for fighting horseback riders. Where the Okinawan Bo we study concentrates on using the weapon in the middle, the Bando staff works all sections of the length, offering a wider range of striking. It also incorporates many of the movement styles of other Okinawan Bo studies not in Isshinryu Bo, allowing our final range of potential to become more interesting.

There is quite a bit more to discuss. Always too much to do and too little time.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Kobudo II

When we think about Kobudo today perhaps we imagine a day when that weapon in our hand had an actual purpose, either in sudden attack or sincere defense. Perhaps….

Yet today, in many cases that time has gone. The instrument still retains that older potential, but except for special circumstances, they no longer fit the landscape of attack or defense.

Never in decades of Bo, Kama, Sai or Tonfa practice have I expected to ever really need those skills.

The weapons are now mass produced to standards that likely had little bearing on the original versions. When Charles Murray trained in Okinawa in 1971 he saw Bo that were close to 2” thick, and if we followed the older standards of Bo they would be at least a ½ foot to a foot over our head.

Rather than be concerned if one system of study is more original than another, whether this kata is an older version or a new one, whether the weapon is perfectly balanced or just one hand crafted with all the imperfection that may have meant, let’s look at a few issues beyond those discussions.

Each weapon is a complete study in it’s own right, it’s own complexity and with it’s own underlying principles of usage. Kata, with all the depth that it offers, two person drills with the added skills of learning to control a point in space hardly would have touched what would be involved in actual usage.

The study of weaponry first begins with the understanding that you’re using the weapon for a force multiplier. It hits or strikes harder than your hand or foot. It may be shattered, but it does not feel pain, yet it can translate force delivered to it to become a source of pain for the wielder too. In fact it is a fulcrum between the wielder and the target.

Other aspects of force multiplication are present too. The use of the body to move the weapon more effectively is another force multiplier. The swinging, the torque and twist of the body, the knee release and even the movement forward, reward and/or around the target all become other force multiplier concepts, that in turn combine with each other.

There is so much more than just wielding the weapon. There is the strategy and the use of tactics involved.

One example is the study of the angle of entry into an attack

The link to the YouTube Seikichi Uehara demonstration, looking strange to many of our eyes, may well be a study of angles of entry into attacks.

It's interesting how much isn't being discussed isn't it.