Monday, October 25, 2010

John Kerker

This past Saturday I attended a clinic with John Kerker at Clarence Whitley's dojo in Chicopee Mass. John is a senior student of the late Sherman Harrill, and today heads the dojo Harrill Sensei began in Carson, Iowa.

I've been attending this clinic the past five years and enjoy the insight shared from a great Isshinryu tradition. John shares his training in the application of Isshinryu kata and with decades of work on the makiwara the impact he delivers in his strikes has to be felt to be believed.

Words don't do these clinics justice so I'm sharing a brief video clip of John explaining one application series. There is much more involved than just the movements shown, for one thing John delineates between the application skill study and the way these movements would be used to eliminate an attack, but I am pleased to show something of his technique.

File this under, you should have been there!


Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Mushrom in the Fall

Sometimes the photograph is enough of a reason!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Breaking a Memory in Three Pieces

Section One – The Salisbury years

Breaking was not part of my training when I began studying Isshinryu in Salisbury Maryland. We did, however, attend many open tournaments and in those years we saw Black Belt divisions for demonstrations and breaking in addition to the standard kata, kobudo and kumite.

Watching those breaking competitions I worked out a basic rule, great complex breaks that work in the homo dojo rarely work in competition. Of course then there were the horror examples. At a huge Bando sponsored tournament in the brown belt breaking division a young man was attempting to smash his forehead through 5 or 6 cinder caps on concrete blocks on the floor. He prepared and struck and nothing broke. Again he prepared and tried again and likewise failed. He kept continuing until blood started streaming down his face from his forehead splitting open. Finally it took two judges to pull him off his attempt.

Other tournaments had a one try for a score rule. If the one try didn’t work you got 0, if it worked you received a score.

My instructors would have the black belts break at local demonstrations. Then in the spring of 76 I was asked to assist my seniors in a demonstration to be done I Baltimore at a full contact event. Our demonstration was to be held in the ring between two fights. My part was to hold Al Bailey at my shoulder height with Reese Ribgy holding his feet at the same height. A stack of cinder caps was placed on his stomach and Dennis Lockwood was standing on a chair with a sledge hammer. He smashed down shattering the cinder caps, Al wasn’t broken and walked away with a smile. For my efforts I received dinner and my blue belt and my leg ended up in a photo of the break in Official karate two months later.

Section Two – Tang Soo Do Moo Duk Kwan training

When I moved on for work in September 1976 to the Scranton Penna. Area I discovered there was no Isshinryu in the area. I knew I had to keep training and discovered the strongest school in Scranton was Frank Trajanowicz’s Scranton Karate School, teaching Tang Soo Moo Duk Kwan was the answer. I started training at one of his satellite schools and my first night studied 4 hung (forms). Several months later I had my first test in the martial arts (Mr. Lewis’ program didn’t use testing), and as a white belt I had to punch through my first board, which I did. I was then graded to 5th green, and every quarter there was another testing and another breaking requirement, none of which was terribly challenging for me.

The next year Trojanowicz Sabomnim held an open tournament and all his students were to compete in every available event, which included belt breaking divisions. I was entered in the Red (Brown) Belt division. At school everyone was practicing their breaking techniques. Most were working jumping, jumping spinning and spinning kicks. As I was more floor bound I was working on a front kick followed by a back side kick. Just before the tournament we were given our boards. I was to front kick through three boards and back side kick through two boards.

The day of the competition all of my fellow students performing their more complex breaking techniques kept missing. On the other hand the first time I tried multiple breaks my foot smashed through three board with my front kick, and my back side kick did the same with two boards. I won first place.

Remember my earlier observation fancy breaks which work in the calm atmosphere of one’s home school are prone to fail when the stress of competition is added.

Side note Trojanowicz Sabomnim broke the neck off of a full whiskey bottle for his demonstration break that evening.

Several months later I did learn one more breaking lesson. One night he called me to the front of the class and told everyone he wanted me to put my head through a cinder cap. He had one wrapped in a towel, showed me how to hold it and how to perform the break.

So I stood their holding the cinder cap and suddenly broke it with a forehead strike. Everyone clapped. The next morning I woke up with a great headache and swore I would never let someone do that to me again.

There was one more break that I experienced in my Tang Soo Do training. During one testing I was helping hold a board that a young man was going to break with a spinning back kick. He missed the center of the board and instead hit dead center on my middle finger. Yep the first digit broke (I could bend it) and I ended up in a splint for several weeks.

The lesson wasn’t the danger of holding boards, but that the young man never said a word to me, offer an apology or anything.

There’s a lesson there somewhere.

Several months later I let my two year contract lapse. For a year I had been training in Isshinryu again with Murray Sensei and I enjoyed Isshinryu, my first love, more.

Section Three – Youth

Breaking was never a focus for my youth program, but I had a fiend with a lumber yard. Once a year he’d give me a stack of boards and I’d take them to class to let the kids try and pop them with a forearm strike. And they did taking the broken boards home as a souvenir.

Unfortunately the program gave me the lesson that I’ve never forgotten since those days.
My senior student stopped training to play football in his senior year. Football finished and he returned to class. We were getting ready for our annual presentation to our parents and he and his two brothers were finishing the show with a self defense demonstration, where they were stopping his messing around.

I was planning on doing a simple break to ‘Ooooh’ the parents, I was going to break a single board with my forehead, to show that you can break things that break and that the stunt has nothing to do with karate.

Unfortunately my returned student who was to hold the board started pleading with me while we were suiting up that he wanted to do the break. Now he was large and strong, knew what to do, and unfortunately I let him break me down and agreed he could do it.

The youth demonstration went fine, as they always did. There was the normal titter from the crowd when the first student performed their kata with a youth kiai. Then I would give my description of what the kiai would become in time and suddenly cut one loose with the parents slamming back into their seats, never again to doubt what was happening.

Finally it was time to wrap things up and I told them about my student taking the fall off to play football and that I decided he should do the next demonstration, breaking a board with his head. .

So the student comes forth, I’m holding the board and he begins his break, but I noticed something different, instead of his forehead moving through the board I saw his face doing the break.

Note: Always find out first if the student wants to do something to impress a new girlfriend in the crowd!

Yes he did the dreaded face break and the board broke. So I was standing there trying to move things along, describing our closing self defense demonstration, when out of the corner of my eye, I noticed blood streaming from his nostrils.

So I’m trying to down play things with ‘accidents happen’ before the crowd, trying to get him to go back to the locker room to clean up, finding he didn’t want to leave and I had to force him to do so, and changing the demonstration to use another brown belt to replace him.

Of course I got what I deserved for not doing it myself!

There was no serious problem, but lots of lessons learned.


I never really used any breaking in my programs from that time on. Never felt it had much to do with training anyway. I figured out if I could smash through three boards as a red belt, that was enough in any case.

Except for the stunt breaking sometimes seen on ESPN, I don’t think there is much done anymore, but I no longer attend tournaments.

Breaking has a few rules:

    1. You only break things that can break. You don’t try to break for example ¼” plywood and if you meet someone who can do it please call them ‘Sir’, or appropriate title.
    2. Any object you break will cause you some effect and/or pain.
    3. Any object you can break can also not break if you do it incorrectly, and that can also cause damage.
    4. If you have a reason to break things in public, tone down your techniques unless you’ve mastered it 100% of the time. A simpler break that works is much better than a more complex break that fails.
    5. Any break can be faked by doctoring the substance to break. Most of the time it is impossible to observe it and know if it’s true of false, unless you personally test the material ahead of time.
    6. Accumulated head breaks that work will cause brain damage from the repeated concussions. It’s your brain.
    7. Finally if you break someone it is always correct behavior to apologize in any case, even if it is intentional!

Sunday, October 3, 2010

On Pain

Rarely discussed, Pain is an important part of long term training. The word itself covers a very wide range of events from a prick of your finger on a nettle or a stubbed toe to life ending injury and everything in between.

Pain is our body sending us a message, one that we are still alive (liberally borrowed from the Destroyer series of Murphy and Sapir) and need to find a way to resolve that event.

Pain instructs us that we have done something wrong and we need to listen to our pain to learn from our error.

Pain being struck during Kotekitae drills limb striking and torso striking), Pain from sparing, Pain from exertion and lactic acid buildup in your muscles, Pain from falls and other impact events. Building for accommodation to pain, to not let it be observed. Watching for pain reaction to learn where to attack. Pain from body illnesses.

When you step away from life threatening or serious body injury pain, you discover something interesting. You experience pain, as from a toothache, but you can’t remember the pain, you only remember that you had pain such and such a time. Training then to transcend the ‘owie’ because it will pass and move through it to keep executing.

Pain may be a reason to quit training, or it may be a place to move beyond feeling pain to keep training working harder.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

PICK A YEAR - 1981


I was practicing my art for about 6 years. Sometime during that time I likely reached my 1,000 days training.

I was teaching the youth program at the Scranton Boys Club, and holding an annual youth karate tournament.

I would have just been completing my Yang Tai Chi training after 2 years of instruction by Ernest Rothrock and only had decades of work ahead of me. I was working on the Northern Shaolin form ‘Dune de Kuen’ under Ernest’s instruction (I started studying forms with him to be able to judge kung fu fairly at the tournaments) and actually began preparing that form for competition the next year in a kung fu division.

I was regularly competing in tournaments in the Pennsylvania area to push myself as I no longer had an instructor training me. I’d have to compete against (in on special order) Gary and George Michak, Cindy Rothrock, the guys from Shorin No Tora, Bob Nenow, Tristan Sutrisno, and outsiders like John Chung and others on occasion. Too many to name each of them good.

I was visiting dojo in David Brojack’s Kempo Goju, one of Hidy Ochai’s students, Goshin Jutsu Kyu Juo, Carl Long’s Shorin Ryu and started training with a tournament friend and fellow competitor Tristan Sutrisno. There were many others too.

So in addition to work. I was training/teaching nights a week, on Saturdays I’d train in 2 or 3 schools over 8 hours, and then on Sunday I was lost because I had no where to train. BTW my wife was coaching swim teams and working 6 to 7 days a week, I had infinite free time in those days.

I had my Isshinryu, was trying to understand what that meant, and had the chance to learn, contest and stretch my abilities.

Boy was I just a beginner.