Monday, May 25, 2009

Knife Self Defense Kata by Otsuka Hironori

From my study of the Sutrisno Aikido series, practiced against straight punches, technique number 9 parallels the Defense against the knife from the 1938 “Karatedo Taikan” by Nakasone Genwa we can find the ‘Tanken Dori Nana-Hon no Kata’ – Surface Knife Defense Kata by Otsuka Hironori. They are Ceremonial Kinfe Defense kata from Shindo Yoshinryu Jujutsu.

I share the following scans from that book.

The translation of the title of this section was provided by Charles Joseph (Joe-san) Swift, long ago and was greatly appreciated.

Sharp Things II - Knives

To begin to talk about the study of knife in any form it first helps to get a real strong dose of reality. Before you go further watch the entire following clip on what the blade can do.

The Edged Weapon Threat – Michael Janich http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9PWmRWjDhYw

Try to keep that in mind, the study of knife isn’t about glamour or looking good. Knife is a serious study in offensive and defensive potentials of the blade.

My primary focus has been Isshinryu empty hand and Isshinryu kobudo as I’ve written. I’ve never been particularly interested in inserting knives into peoples bodes. My father was a Pennsylvania Butcher after all and I was raised knowing what knives are used for. But I understood if you don’t understand how to use a knife you’re at a real handicap trying to understand how to stop one. My first answer for my students on what to do when faced by a knife is ‘Run like Hell’, and knowing what I know today I still consider that the best response……. But there are times.

When I started training with Ernest Rothrock in Tai Chi, I saw his students working Chinese knife forms in their studies, and for fun he worked with me to adapt the Yang Tai Chi sword form he taught me to Kukri after Charles Murray gave me one as a gift, but that was more an exercise than anything.

When I studied Bando Short stick, I came to realize it’s potential as knife study and that has remained a private practice for me. It’s not surprising considering the relationship between stick potential and that of knife. Dan Insanto’s “The Filipino Martial Arts” had clarified that relationship to me before I studied stick and all my efforts just confirmed what he wrote.
I was also training with Tristan Sutrisno during that time and towards the end of the 10 years he started sharing some of his knife studies. His arts consist of extremely logical starting points of study. Karate kata and kata technique drills to interlocked two person sets. Tjimande basics to forms to interlocked two person sets. Aikido multiple attack drills to aikido study. Bo and Kama studies where the forms build upon the previous forms with more and more advanced skills. The little I saw of his knife studies the more the pattern remained the same, and as follows the more impressive the actual skills sets involved became.

First I was shown 7 defensive response drills against attacks. Then he shared a piece of a knife kata. Very complex blade shifting skills and knife handoff techniques. There was never one technique that I was shown by him in any study over 10 years that wasn’t enough for a lifetime of study in it’s own right. Working on those studies I came to see a relationship between his Tjimande basics and them being done with a knife too, which he acknowledge in private discussion.

I was living quite a distance away from him and as time passed our time training together came to an end. I never stopped practicing, but aging, arthritis, etc. made some of his skills very hard to work less try to maswer. Then last year I found one of the video’s of him doing a clinic with my students and had forgotten he had drilled my basic knife drills at that time. As I was working a technique, behind me he was working variation after variation on those techniques, and the underlying logic of his arts made more sense to me.

The hardest skills were the continual knife shits from open to closed to open and the smooth handoff so it was impossible to ‘guess’ which had was striking with the knife. Other principle studies have also made me more fully understand his arts targeting at touch range where the knife functions.

Of course with Sutrisno Sensei what you really learn is you have no idea of the depth of his arts. A few years ago I discovered he was promoting his Siliat studies on the net, and watched his Siliat knife technique, even more impressive, fluid and flowing. No wonder he’s developed a following around the world on his arts.


Some time after discontinuing training with Sutrisno Sensei one of my senior students, Mike Cassidy, showed me how the aikido drills I had learned from Sutrisno Sensei were knife attack counters too. Those drills were about the first thing I had studied with him. You’re surrounded by a series of attackers and one after another you shift use an aikido technique to move and lock your attacker and then ground with them to finish the lock (in most cases).

What Mike had discovered was when you did the sequence grabbing the hand with a thrusting knife the technique was even more effective. For one thing it explained the manner in which some of the techniques were executed instead of other alternative movement choices, you were moving to keep a hand holding a knife away from your body at all times. (I don’t know if Sutrisno Sensei follows those choices but I’d never suggest he doesn’t or more importantly cannot use them as knife defense.)

Where the knife becomes an important force multiplier for the attacker, if you can get your hands on the hand holding the knife it becomes a great force multiplier too, generating pain in their fingers as their hold is used against them. Of course how you enter the space they provide when they attack is most critical, but the aikido technique study addresses that too.

Then somewhat later in time I obtained a copy of the 1938 “Karatedo Taikan” by Nakasone Genwa. It contains the ‘Tanken Dori Nana-Hon no Kata’ – Surface Knife Defense Kata by Otsuka Hironori. Ceremonial Kinfe Defense kata from Shindo Yoshinryu Jujutsu. (I don’t read Japanese and my friend Joe Swift provided a translation of that chapter title for me back when I obtained a copy of this work. Those techniques are eerily similar to some of the Sutrisno aikido techniques, of course as his father had trained in Japan in the 1930’s the similarities between different studies countering a Japanese style thrust attack must have been similar. (See the following article showing one of those techniques).

Of course Japanese style knife attacks only are one way the knife can be used. If you’re living in Japan where almost everyone was using the same style of attack, answers are more readily achieved. But in an entire world of different knife traditions defensive answers are not simple.

My choice is that only long training black belts work any knife defense studies and only instructors train in knife offensive studies. A small program cannot do everything, the instructor must pick and choose which are most appropriate studies for their students. If the times change the focus of the program must change, perhaps even to the extent that offensive knife studies are requird. Yet until that day occurs (hopefully never) the instructor training passes knowledge that may become useful.

Going back to that original video, the best form of knife self defense is running, IMO.

I often think most of the knife drills I’ve seen other schools do are more useful for building confidence, as long as the danger of the exercise is fully explained. But when I see kids flashing kama around I wonder if that is the case in to many places. Still my business it my program, not what others are doing.

Years ago there were several interesting books that addressed knife offense and defense training. While the books may be no longer available, the video record does make the same case.

First, the late Michael Echanis authored a series on martial weapons skills in 1978 under the series name of “ Special Forces/Ranger-UDT/Seal Hand-to Hand Combat/ Special Weapons / Special Tactical Series”. Both of them are interesting presentations of knife technique and defense that came from his study of the art of Hwa Rang Do. While these books are out of print I have found video’s that match much of their content. I turns out that he was just sharing basic Hwa Rang DO training, and what is shown is much of the content of those two books.

“Knife Fighting, Kinfe Throwing for Combat.”
Knife – Hwa Rang Do http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C_jBeDKdV64

“Knife self-defense for combat”
Knife Self Defense – Hwa Rang Do http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NcnQ_FPNm-s


Even more interesting is Daniel Inosanto – in his book “The Filipino Martial Arts” 1980 is an excellent presentation of the Filipino arts. That book covers an entire wealth of topics (all of which directly or indirectly apply to knife studies. I doubt the book is any longer available, but the following video’s show even more.

Inosanto – Empty Hand Knife Defense http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=18YasBIDjOY

Inosanto – FMA vol 1 Single Stick http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9TtP4x-sRew
Inosanto – FMA vol 2 Empty Hands http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T5HmdYkLdAE
Inosanto – FMA vol 3 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TUzlLFDYHTk

Inosanto 1983 - Stick and Knife http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mm5jgF5TuaI

If you search YouTube there is much more material on Inosanto available. I was once able to attend a clinic with him teaching knife self defense and against him the blades went flying. The clinic however was two hours of technique of no technique, for about every 3 or 4 minutes he taught another technique, hard to retain anything from the training, but the basic principles were in the book, and on the above videos.

For a different way to use double daggers in one Chinese tradition you might consider
Hua Quan Double Daggers (Shuang Bi Shou) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2GAUSyyDBmw

Of course this only touches the surface of training with the knife.

If one is required to use one, in offense or defense, might our skill be that of the Cook Ding referenced in “The Book of Chuang Tzu”.

“ I proceed with caution and keep my guard up, considering when I should stop and when I should move slowly. I move the knife just a little bit and that part is quickly separated, like a clump of dirt shifting on the ground. Then I life up my knife and stand up straight, pausing to look at all my work until I’m satisfied with it. Then I properly clean my knife and stow it away.”

Monday, May 11, 2009

Sharp Things I - Kama

If you’re going to really talk about ‘kobudo’ eventually you come around to blades of all sorts. Swords, Naginata, Kama, Knives. The Japanese men of course were into swords, and the Japanese women felt that was fine for they used the Naginata to carve up those playing with swords….yep I’m not above a bad joke. Of course if you’re going to play with people holding sharp implements having the longest reach can’t hurt either.

I’m going to start with kama.

My first memory of kama occurred at a tournament in NE Pennsylvania back in 1979. I was competing in the weapons division and one of the competitors showed up carrying kama. A friend of his who was also competing walked up to him and asked him where he learnt them and he replied he didn’t and he was just going out there to ‘fake’ a kata.

Even though a senior in his organization gave him a zero he took 3rd place overall (high and low scores being dropped in those days).

I was just a new sho-dan at that time and kama was not in my Isshinryu tradition. I didn’t know how to take what I saw but in time found kama was almost a ‘cult’ study, and I bet most of the forms crafted ones too. In those days with no reference information available, anybody saying anything was likely to be believed, especially if they evidenced some skill.

The first few years I was competing, and making friends with the other competitors, I met Tristan Sutrisno in Kobudo competition. He is a Shotokan practitioner (among other arts) and I recall the day he showed up with a bo, how many seniors tried to convince him not to compete because they told him everyone knows Shotokan doesn’t do weapons and he would embarrass himself. Of course he won first place.

Eventually he invited me down to his dojo to train and I discovered what you see at a tournament doesn’t begin to describe what one’s art was. He never taught me his system, but over the next 10 years tried to teach me what his senior students were studying. I think it was my 4th visit to his dojo when he was teaching several of his students Chosen No Kama Sho and had me jump in on the instruction. Then a month or so later he was teaching them the Chosen No Kama Dai form and again I went along for the ride.

I never experienced anything like this. The 2nd form built upon the first form using the same embusen, but an entirely different technique selection, more advanced in complexity. As my purpose was to train, I never really questioned his father’s original studies as to where these forms originated. Nothing I’ve discovered elsewhere used the same logical approach for weapons skill development.

Sutrisno Sensei practices Chosen No Kama Sho, Chosen No Kama Dai and Chosen No Kama Di Ichi. Each form builds upon the earlier version increasing skill and technique in the form. I only studied the first two. In the same manner his bo studies included O’ Sensei no Kon, O’ Sensei no Kon Sho, O’ Sensei no Kon Dai and O’ Sensei No Kon Dai Ichi. Each building on the structure of the earlier form, each with increasing skill difficulty. A far more thoughtful system of weapons skill development, and the emphasis is on skill, extreme skills.

Another trademark of these forms were many shifts between open and closed kama grips, and then shifting back again. With skill this makes it extremely difficult for an opponent to understand what is coming next. At the same time it is difficult to develop those skills, making it a coin with two sides. IMO most kama kata were based on direct usage and use simpler handling as their basis. I’m far from an expert in his system, but I believe this weapon shifting is a trademark of his short weapons studies.

So I was practicing these forms several years before Demura Fumio published ‘Kama Karate Weapon of Self Defense (sharing the form Kanegawa no Nichougama, a version of which can be viewed Kanegawa No Nichougama (Kanegawa no Niccho Gama)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FZO322gK2Io) .

I found my kama kata containing more than enough difficulty to last a lifetime of work, but came to appreciate some of the Okinawan kama studies too.

For a while Kama text publishing was a trend. Among them:

“Kusarigama the flashing art of the sickle weapon” by Tatadhi Yamashita, which did not contain kata but focused on application of the kama technique.,

“Kama” by Toshishiro Obata showing Tozan no Kama kata. Again a version of this can be seen at Tozan no Kama http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jWkC9SQLlyo

”Kama, Tekko, Tinbe and Surujin – Ancient Martial Arts of Ryukyu Islands by Motokatsu Inoue (also containing the Tozan no Kama). In turn this was an extract from Inoue’s larger work in Japanese “Ryukyu Kobudo” which detailed Kama Kata:
Kanegawa no Niko-Gama Dai and Toyama (Tozan) No Nichagama

I believe it takes real work to find in depth instruction in Kama arts. For one thing I strongly hold that they should only be studied with live blades, the danger is necessary to learn correct skills to avoid . I’ve found that the new study of all weapons means you will experience their bite, or their cut in this case. Unless you learn to live and respect that risk you endanger yourself, for a mistake with a pretend weapon is no big deal because there is so little danger, and accepting those pretend mistakes can really be dangerous if you then grab the live blade versions and the mistakes tend to more serious self injury.

The following are a selection of other interesting kama studies.
Kama kata (full power at 9:07)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HYQtwOVNrpA
Kina Kama – Kina Masanobu
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gC5M4fWO7uo
Anyu Uchima no Kama
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PHbN-tEGs_Q
Toma no Kama (Seidokan)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=63Cnigq5tnw
Oshiro Zenei kama kata
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W0NaPYcPE9s

I find all of them interesting, more directly Oshiro’s kata. For one thing it contains similar elements to those found in the Sutrisno family kama, similar and of course very different too.

Just as a note, there are different types of kama, and that controls how a form can be used too. Small lightweight garden variety kama (as found in all Okinwan households) are very dangerous in their own right. Then

Unfortunately with a dearth of serious instruction available, and the reality in today’s martial world there are truly no limits except those we create ourselves. And what we the modern martial artists have done (explicitly and implicitly)!

I think it was around 1981 or so when I saw George Chung of the West Coast Demo team in WilkesBarre Pa, performing a ‘kama’ kata. The kama held in the middle of the shaft, never changing and with his Tae Kwon Do kicking technique. I’m certain those were the origins of todays’ competition kama.

Take that add some baton twirling and a touch of gymnastics and you end up with

Excell Kama kata
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OYzp0pVxQEo

Not picking on them there are literally hundreds of YouTube examples of the same approach, better or worse. Of course their choice of handling technique is classical (Hohen Soken used it), but is done because it’s a safer way to do stunts and kicks with less chance of self injury.

And the perversity doesn’t stop there. Look what happens when you put them in the hands of a 6 year old beginner http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vqVnYD8xLfE

A weapon that slices necks, fingers, skin, etc. turned into something cute for the kiddies.

We all need to step back and think about this a bit.