Sunday, May 9, 2010

Itosu’s Reflections – “Watson Look for the smallest details!”

From ‘The Ten Lesons of Toudi’ by Anko Itosu “The techniques of Toudi – entering, deflecting, releasing and seizing- have been passed down through oral techniques.

When I received my copy of McKenna Sensei’s ‘An Overview of Karate-Do”, his translation of Nakasone Genwa’s “Karate-do Taikan” it may seem I broke my rule of waiting 5 years before I knew the books value, but I had already purchased an original copy a decade before so I was actually 5 years over my standard time frame.

The section that startled me most was Shiroma Shimpan’s chapter ‘Karate-do Kata and their Meaning’. He didn’t try to show how a section of a kata was being used but rather the answer how to use a technique. Consider the wisdom, if you can use a technique you can use it that way from every kata. There seems to be a rule to it too, it’s not what you see, but what was shared.

Let me pick one defining idea, the purpose of blocks were to destroy an attacker, in and by themselves.

Sort of the opposite of thousands of articles and discussions in the contemporary era how worthless blocks are.

More telling for me because for one thing I’ve been using a variation on that theme from Rothrock Ernest’s sharing Chinese Short Range striking principles with me 30 years before, and then reinforced by the Shotokan bunkai principles of Sutrisno Tristan and the application studies of the late Harrill Sherman and his student Kerker John.

Again note Itosu’s 1908 letter never mentioned kata or bunkai. Probably kata was interchangeable with Toudi for him and felt everyone he was writing to already understood it. Likewise there was no term for bunkai in Toudi and it’s eventual development to explain karate to Japan was still to come. But transmission how to use toudi, was a personal one from instructor to students, and he also discussed that the instructor would make the decision whether movements were for defensive use or exercise (my interpretation of Itosu’s comments).

Now Shiroma’s explanations are akin to the concept Demura Fumio explained as ‘kakushite’ or ‘hidden hand’, secret extra techniques used in a kata section. Looking at the kata for decades won’t give them only direct transmission.

We of course aren’t Itosu’s students, but his students descriptions of karate begin, in my opinion, to really fill in the gaps about what karate was.

As I’m starting with ‘blocking, let’s begin looking at Mabuni Kenwa’s comments:

From Patrick McCarthy's Ancient Okinawan Martial Arts 2 Pages 23 and 24- Mabuni Kenwa’s - 5 principles of blocking

1. Rakka (dropping flower) intercepting an attack by dropping down onto it with such force, that if it was a tree being struck all the leaves or flowers would fall from it's branches.

2. Ryu shui (running water) the ability to respond to changing conditions with circular movement. In the same way that flowing water naturally confirms to its path.

3. Kusshin (up and down) using vertical movement in order to subjugate an adersary).

4. Teni (changing position) thre principles:

i. initiative
ii. combative engagement distance (ma-ai) and
iii. the space between oneself and an opponent necessary for subjugation by shifting and pivoting (tai-sabaki).

5. Hangei (countering) the principles of brief but intelligent responses also encompasses the capability to overcome an adversary with or without physical confrontation.

That covers a wide range of activities, paralleling instruction I’ve received from many sources, but hardly how we see blocks defined in many modern karate texts.

A Kuden (oral transmission of principles and applications) privately shared by Charles Joseph Swift.

Uki ya Shimi (Uke wa seme!) Blocking motions can also be used as attacks.

This runs counter to blocks don’t work. Is there any validity to it?

From ‘An Overview of Karate-do” Mario McKenna’s translation of Nakasone Genwa’s “Karate-Do Taikan” page 100 Shiroma Shimpan’s’ Karate-do Kata and their Meaning’.

“In kumite or kata, the right and left hands are free to execute shut-uke. When your opponent punches with his left hand you can perform a right shuto-uke and block the opponent’s punch on the inside of his arm (figure 012). In figures 012 and 012 the non-blocking hand held in fro not the solar plexus to defend against the opponent’s next attack whether it is a punch or a kick.

From this position, you can shift from the block and attack your opponent as illustrated in figure 014

[Note, as I’m using a scan from my copy of Nakasone’s ‘Karate-do Taikan’ I’ve renumbered McKenna Sensei’s translation to match the original drawings.] [Note, as Japanese is read from right to left the progression of the drawings follows the same visualization.]

Though not from Itosu lineage, Motobu Choki makes similar claims, further bolstering that karate developing on one small island, was more universal between it’s different instructors.

From “Motobu Choki – Karate My Art” translated by Patrick & Yuriko McCarthy Page 31

“15. The blocking hand must be able to become the attacking hand in an instant. Blocking with one hand and then countering with the other hand is not true bujutsu. True bujutsu presses forward and blocks and counters in the same motion.”

I must note it’s not just outside knife hand blocks, but inside or outside, closed or open hand, the principle remains the same. In fact Funakoshi Ginchin shows us the same principle.

Funakoshi Ginchin – Karate-do Kyhon 1935 scan page 111

[Note, as I’m using a scan from the 1935 Karate-do Kyohon’ of Funakoshi Ginchin. Note, as Japanese is read from right to left the progression of the drawings follows the same visualization.]

This is not limited to the Itosu lineage of karate. Very simply if you strike an outside block, say as the opening of Seisan or Hangetsu, you should finish the attacker by using the same hand flowing from block into strike. A much faster response than the Seisan/Hangetsu side block then reverse punch (though Patrick McCarthy in his book on Okinawan kata suggested an older performance of that section used a simultaneous block and strike. Now was he referring to the principle of Shiroma, or using both hands to block strike together. Of course either works but this helps scale application potential.

From another of Itosu’s students Chibana Chosen another blocking principle is being used.

Notes on Chosen Chibana’s Karate – ‘A Karate Odessey’ an interview with Sensei Pat Nakata in ‘Classical Fighting Arts’ vol 2 No 14 Issue #37.

“Chibana Sensei (70 years old) blocked my fake (nagashi zuki) which buckled my knees and dropped me to the ground as if I was hit by the punch.”

“Chibana Sensei used a forearm block (uchi-uke [block from inside outward] in Shorin Ryu), The Chibana Shorin-Ryu uchi-uke is the ony uchi-uke that I know of that ends at about a 30 to 35 degree angle. All of the other karate schools I have seen end with their uchi-uke in a perpendicular position. Chibana Sensei’s uchi-uke used the bones of the wrist area.”

From Charles Goodin’s blog ( ) where Nakata Pat is talking about Cibana’s use of basic technique I find this description totally describes the block described above. “Most of the time it seemed too simple; close the distance (osae [press in]) and destroy the opponent with a single technique.”

Compare how Chibana’s forearm block fits Motobu’s description ‘Rakka’.

I’m also reminded of another concept Nakata Pat shared “100 % Application” which I interpret here as use of the block to conclude the attacker.

We can also see Motobu’s description of Ryu Shui from Funakoshi Ginchin

Funakoshi Ginchin – Karate-do Kyhon 1935 scan page 109 and 110

[Note, as I’m using a scan from the 1935 Karate-do Kyohon’ of Funakoshi Ginchin. Note, as Japanese is read from right to left the progression of the drawings follows the same visualization.]

And their personal animosity aside, Motobu Choki also weighs in on this.

From “Motobu Choki – Karate My Art” translated by Patrick & Yuriko McCarthy Page 31

19. When punching to the face, one must thrust as if punching through to the back of the head.

Concluding thoughts

There are a few more installments to follow. It is to big a topic for me except to peel back the years and suggest we can find much more. All that has been written has not been made available in English to this date, further texts may agree or disagree with this suggestion.

Yet if you take the book off the shelf and take one technique you aren’t using and find you can drop an attacker with it, haven’t you gained immeasurably?

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