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.