Friday, July 30, 2010

Requirements of a Master

I was recently thinking further on what requirements make a Master of Karate. Then it occurred to me who better to state them than Mas Oyama?

Mas Oyama once stated “Well, an old Budo-Ka once said that 1000 days of Karate training makes a beginner, 10,000 days makes a master.”

I’ve just entered my 37th year training and how would I stack up compared to Oyama Sensei’s comments.

I’m a permanent full time part time martial artist. Family, work and other considerations have always come first in my own practice, especially teaching for free, the best I can make out I’ve only trained 7,600 or so days in those years. If I had been able to train 5 days a week I still would be shy only having completed 9360 days or so.

As near as I can make out I made my 1,000 days in 1980 (during my sho-dan years). That was when I became a beginner. At my current pace I’m sure I won’t make 10,000 days. Just a reality not an indictment.

Of course I’ve been thinking about my art 365 days a year in that time. That gives me 13,140 days in my own mind, but what the heck I’m aging, losing it and am proud to have made it to beginner.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Do You Have Time for a Story?

Last year Brittani returned to training after a 15 year break. She trained in our program at the Boys and Girls Club in Derry for several years when she was much younger. The most telling part of the story is that she didn’t lose anything, after a week it was as if her training had been un-interrupted.

She’s now a blue belt and has to move to the West for a teaching job, difficult times make for challenging responses, and of course she’s leaving us, too.

Tuesday last I took the time to tell a story to my adult group.

It was about a young man who had to move away from the town he was living for work. He also had been a blue belt and on his last class his instructor promoted him to Green Belt and started teaching him Chinto kata. Then he moved away to another state, another town for a job and a location with no Isshinryu in the area. He continued to practice his Isshinryu and joined the best program he could find….

Well the story goes on as I was that young man, but it shows how each of our lives can run on parallel tracks at times, and there are martial lessons to learn from the past that help all of us in the future.

With a strong tradition of Oral Transmission of the arts stories were an important part of everyone’s learning. Among the stories are those giving explanations about how the kata were designed to be used.

In today’s world of ‘instant knowledge’ and ‘my art is always better than yours’ the stories about the kata are often met with extreme skepticism, and used as proof karate is built on a house of cards.

After all fighting in rice paddies or with ones back against the castle, fighting on bridges or hills, fighting ninja after dark are just ‘wrong’ to the skeptic.

I hope they continue to believe that because they miss the point of using such stories.

Living in New Hampshire I can’t explain the origins of those stories, who began their telling, why were they used. On the other hand I can explain how I find use for them. The study of karate after all just is the study of karate. After working with many students I find they all learn at their own pace and how to insert a kata technique into attacks to disrupt the attackers is among the most complicated part of the study. The stories to not help anyone acquire the skill to use the study, but they can be used to shape the students interest and focus in training.

Naifanchi Fighting with your back against the Castle or Fighting in the Rice Paddies

It’s obvious the lateral movement of the form first suggests the attackers are only coming from 3 sides. Suggesting this would be of use to a castle defender has a certain compelling logic to it.

Kata is not a static training tool, except when you first learn to follow it’s movements. In practice you can shift in any direction against attacks coming from those directions and still utilize the kata techniques.

More telling is to take the time and first look at an Okinawan castle such as the following.

Katsuren Castle Okinawa

At least from this view it doesn’t seem likely to have many defenders with their backs against the castle. And for any castle the purpose of the walls are to help the defenders, who are staying inside, fight off an attack from the outside. Of course this is just one castle, but if the Castle.

I would not use the defense of a Castle explanation, but what about the one with rice paddies.

For one thing what most of us think of as rice paddies are not the way rice is farmed on Okinawa.

So we first look at an Okinawa field of rice.

Rice on Okinawa

Ok, so maybe not stepping over rows of rice in rice paddies, but you still could be fighting stepping over rows of rice in a field.

Thankfully I don’t think we have many actual stories about actual Okinawan rice fights do draw upon. But I could update the story to use Naifanchi stepping to fight at a construction site on floor with mats rice before a floor pour. While you can walk across the mats of rebar, if you were fighting that could be dangerous by sliding off the rebar. But you could step across the rebar into the open spaces.

Still I wouldn’t teach Naifanchi for that purpose.

What the stepping across the rows of rice paddies does is help the student understand the stepping movement that I want them to use in executing the kata. I want them to set as if they were having to step over those rows of rice. Using that image to help shape the technique to come.

Of course this segments into my next kata story.

But first a plug for developing correct kata execution. While the technique applications of Naifanchi are powerful I do not believe they should receive any precedence over any other kata technique. I see that correct execution of any technique should be able to stop any attack, and training to develop the technique and the means of entering any attack to use it is the true study.

Of even more bizarre practice years ago I had a tree felled and cut up, the trunk into 1 foot thick sections. I piled a group of them across the bottom of my driveway, and they were never level but were in play if you walked on them. I used to use them for Naifanchi kata practice, helps develop more precist footwork.

On the other hand I see Naifanchi kata as being critical to develop one’s body to more correctly perform the Spinning low strike section of Chinto kata. The development of one’s center from correct Naifanchi (as of course I define it in my system) makes more powerful movement in Chinto, and one’s center requires more precise development of the lower body, correct chambering and correctly timed knee release I technique execution.

So onto Chinto.

Chinto - the fight on a Narrow Bridge or a Narrow Path.

On first take it makes sense, there were stories of Karate-ka having fights on a bridge. In fact one variation I have heard has kata Chinto being used to conclude a ninja jumping at you out of a tree at the bridge’s end. The story should not be interpreted as Chinto is for bridge fighting, but it’s movements could be used in such restricted conditions.

Chinto is interesting because the three basic variants are using similar technique. The embusen between those lineages is more the difference than the techniques.

The Itosu lineage does Chinto on a 12 o’clock to 6 o’clock line.

The Kyan lineage does Chinto on a 45 degree angle from 10 o’clock to 4 o’clock.

The Tomari lineage does Chinto on a 9 o’clock to 3 o’clock line.

Yet the bridge does not use those angles, instead it is how you would orient yourself on the bridge to begin the techniques that sets the line.

A Okinawan bridge

My study finds Chinto among the most advanced Okinawan kata. The more so because one of it’s primary weapons, the use of turning, is so often obscured when people work the applications of the kata.

A bridge on the other hand does not seem to indicate turning is an important consideration, because the bridge is to cross the body of water or the deep canyon.

As I use the story for my students I go beyond the use of the kata for fighting on a bridge or narrow path. I then urge them to consider what that would mean. Safety would be to remain on the centerline of the bridge, for being forced to the outside might mean you could be pushed off the bridge.

To do this you must perform Chinto using very tight turns. In Isshinryu’s Chito you move off the centerline for one section but then return for the rest of the kata. That concept of working the centerline also helps you focus on the turns at a more precise level, crafting a stronger tool for the eventual study of turning as a weapon.

Actually in my Scranton days I used to take my students to McDade Park outside Scranton, where there was a small bridge over a culvert and have them perform Chinto keeping to the centerline of the bridge. I recall my instructors in Salisbury, Md. Placing two bo’s on the floor to represent a bridge as you would practice the kata. On occasion I’ve also done the same. In my Derry years, with many summer outdoor training sessions on my property I’ve had students perform Chinto on a very narrow path between several bushes, and in the rows between the blueberry bushes in my back row.

It’s fun if they have problems staying in the center to watch them see me do it that way exactly.

Precision in movement is the key to learning how to use the act of turning as a weapon.

Note in the aspect of turning Chinto can be paired with Goju Seipai to make a complementary study of turning technique.

Kusanku – the night fighting kata

At some level the idea of Kusanku being a night fighting kata often drives others to excesses about the value of these stories. Why would anyone design a kata to fight at night? The techniques of Kusanku can obviously be used at any time. And of course the Ninja variations of the story get even more ridiculous.

Actually the story explained how to use Kusanku technique to feel your way through the dark and if touching an opponent how the following technique would be used to respond to that touch. Of how to make sounds in the total dark to cause an attacker to move to that sound and in turn use that as an opening to dispatch the attacker. It told of a partly cloudy night, at times obscuring the moonlight so you could move more freely and at times moonlight shining would cause you to drop to the ground to try and obscure your silhouette from being seen. Of all the stories this suggested the largest application potential.

You have to step back a bit and think about Okinawa in the past, in the origins of Karate development.

In the past karate was frequently taught in private at night. In those days there were not electric lamps to light a path or road. Moving through the dark to your training location was a reality and moving in the dark (with ever changing conditions, footing, weather, etc.) was not the same as taking a stroll in the daylight.

At night youth messing around might be in the prowl. Animals, bad weather conditions, and other miscreants might be around. I remember reading instructions from one senior instructor if a group of people were moving towards you in the night, you should hide and let them pass, then quietly follow them to see if they were going to harm someone else, where you should then attack them from behind to end their violence.

Actually that story ties well to part of the Kusanku tale.

If we truly think about Karate’s past, fighting in a low level light environment was a specific set of training to experience.

Yambaru forest at night

For most of us today’s training is devoid of experience in a low level light environment, where the eye’s visual purple must extend sight potential and your other senses come into play. Hence in Isshinryu’s Code of Karate (from the Bubishi) the eye must see all sides and the ear must listen in all directions.

The eye seeing all sides not just referencing peripheral vision but using it to register movement detection. Likewise the ear must listen in all directions referencing awareness of sound from an approaching attacker is important to not be attacked without warning. The night by shutting down much of our normal sight allows these other uses of our senses to flourish.

In Isshinryu as our story has it one night our founder, Shimabuku Tatsuo, woke up hearing something in his house. He didn’t find anything amiss but realized that some of Kusanku’s technique could be applied to the dark environment. He is not alone in this thought, the Kashiba Juku group uses all of the kata in their system to explore their night fighting potential. Likewise a Shorin stylist on the West Coast in the 70’s, Steve Fisher, used to have two different versions of Kusanku a day version and a night version. I never saw him and they may have just been the Kusanku Dan and Kusanku Sho kata with different naming, but the concept of Kusanku used for night fighting remains.

Coming from the era with no studies in kata applications, when I began my own application studies I choose to explore how Kusanku could work in the low light environment. Years later attending a Bushi No Te summer camp in the Poconos with my 18 month old son, I ran the clinic at midnight teaching Kusanku from my night fighting applications. It was raining on and off, my son was asleep in his stroller sheltered from the rain, and between rain, fog and mud, I gave what I consider one of the unique Kusanku presentations I’ve ever done.

More than just exploring how Kusanku might be used, the story actually shapes how we execute the kata in our practice. Most specifically the section where we move forward with stepping knife hand strikes we use them as ‘feeling in the dark motions’ trying to feel an opponent in total dark. When the hand touches an arm, it rolls over with ossae (pressing power) and the following movement is the attack to conclude them.

Concluding thoughts

I find it extremely useful to share the kata stories with my students. They don’t begin to explain that any movement can have dozens of uses or might take year to learn to apply in fullness. The can be used to help shape why specific physical performance is being taught, and in turn help the student remember how to perform that kata.

Use of the stories does not limit the technique application potential study.

The stories also help keep alive the oral transmission traditions of our art and help us retain our wonderment of ages past.

As I started this I was describing the story of my moving to Scranton and how it related to Brittni’s moving West. My last night I was promoted to Green Belt. My story does not repeat itself. Brittni did not get promoted in her story because it is not her time, which time will tell out.

The story behind the story isn’t that both of us were blue belts on or last night in our dojo, but that each of us had to move on not knowing what we would find, and it was up to use to make personal choices and up to fate to, to decide how our lives would move forward.

In my case as I look at it, God took a personal hand in my life. Charles Murray received appointment to pastor at the Providence Full Gospel Tabernacle about 5 minutes from my house. Little over a year after I moved there he entered my life to train me to Sho-Dan and then press the rest of the Isshinryu system into me and then leave town to return to a career in the USAF.

It’s certainly hubris on my part to believe God sent him there just for me, and his story is much more complex and important than my karate studies. But this is my story after all and I shape it as it makes sense to me.

Brittni’s story is just beginning and one day she will tell it herself.

Believe in the stories, use them as you will and do share your own so they’re not lost.