Sunday, January 30, 2011


You’ve trained your best technique thousands of times and when you’re pressed to use it serendipity sets in and you make a mistake.

Murphy's law as: "Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong".

Finagle's Law of Dynamic Negatives Anything that can go wrong, will—at the worst possible moment often restated as “Murphy was an optimist!”

We all make mistakes and I believe how we prepare ourselves to deal with them when things are not optimal is an important part of our training to consider. It is not enough to train to take advantage of your opponent’s mistakes, but how to compensate for ones you make too.

In taking your focused technique and working it against as many different attacks as possible, by taking your focused technique and practicing it with different footwork, moving forward, moving backward, moving on angles and turning you can build up a comfort factor to learn how to make it work no matter what happens.

In my training with Tristan Sutrisno I studied a small number of his vast two person sets from karate and siliat training. They were taught with precise technique execution for both sides of the two person set, but as skill and speed increased eventually mistakes occur. The left strike is used where the right strike is called for or the right kick is used where the left kick is called for, Sutrisno Sensei made it very clear you can’t stop the practice because your partner made a mistake, instead you had to make your response work no matter what attack was used.

Sutsisno Sensei’s answer is the key to fight serendipity, to move past the Oooops and succeed.

Here is a simple training drill I just made up to help make this point.


Step 1 – Right Foot Forward Right Lead Hand Strike

Step 2 – Left Foot Forward Left Lead Hand Strike

Step 3 – Right Foot Forward Right Lead Hand Strike followed by Left Reverse Hand Strike

Step 4 – Left Foot Forward Left Lead Hand Strike followed by Right Reverse Hand Strike

Step 5 – Right Foot Forward Right Lead Hand then Left Reverse then Right Lead Strike

Step 6 – Left Foot Forward Left Lead Hand then Right Reverse then Left Lead Strike

The following are the counters for those incoming strikes


Step 1 – Right Foot Backward Left Outside Middle Block

Step 2 – Left Foot Backward Right Outside Middle Block

Step 3 – Right Foot Backward Left Low Block followed by Right Low Block

Step 4 – Left Foot Backward Right Low Block followed by Left Low Block

Step 5 – Right Foot Backward Left Outside Middle Block then Right Low followed by Left Low Block

Step 6 – Left Foot Backward Right Outside Middle Block then Left Low followed by Right Low Block

At this point the attacker and defender reverse roles and continue

Take a partner and practice this, slowly and exactly at first. Then when you get used to the drill pick up the speed but when a mistake happens whichever side you’re on keep on working and make your technique succeed!

Certainly there is much more involved but this is a starting point into a lifetime of effort!

Saturday, January 22, 2011

The Joy of multiple snow storms in New Hampsire

Snow, glorious snow. Storm after storm what you see is our driveway after a 2' storm last week and two 6" storms this week. Shoveled by hand. Next week another storm expected probably between 12" to 16". The Joy of New Hampsire!

Friday, January 21, 2011

2 + 2 = 3

When we learned our addition tables it was pressed on us there was a right answer for doing addition.

1 + 1 = 2

2 + 2 = 4

So the “+” sign means total the numbers. Very logical for if I have two apples and you have two apples the sum of those apples is four.

But tomorrow you wake up and the universe requires a new way to express mathematics and the language of addition is changed. Now we find that:

1 + 1 = 1

2 + 2 = 3

1 + 1 + 1 = 1 specifically (1 + 1) + 1 = 1

2 + 2 + 2 = 4 specifically (2 + 2) + 2 = 4

Because we had been raised with a certainty that the mathematics of addition worked one way this change would seem very strange and destabilizing for we couldn’t do addition as we have been able to do so for our lives.

The numbers look the same (and in themselves remain the same as before, but the “+” is now working strangely. Ignore the reason the underlying rule has changed for now “+” means “add the two numbers together and then subtract one”. Once you understand the rule things make sense and of course you have to reprogram yourself that then language of mathematics has a different meaning for the old concepts.

So 3 + 3 + 3 + 3 + 3 = 11 specifically ((((3+3)+3)+3)+3) = 11

A small object lesson on how changing the underlying concepts of a language yields different results.

(thanks Ludwig Wittgenstein for the inspiration for this –

quiz - Do you know who Ludwig Wittgenstein is?)

The underlying lesson is the same in the martial arts.

You’re taught a technique and given an explanation for it’s use. That of course is fine and you can use it that way forever. But when you change the underlying principle you have modified the language of your art and you end up with a new way of looking at the universe.

And that is one small step towards a larger multi-verse than you knew existed before.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

The Year that Was - 2010

A brief review of my efforts in 2010 might help answer a question I continually ask, “Have I worked to double my understanding of my art in the past year?”

I also believe it helps to see where you’ve been to help guide where you’re moving to.

I have to temper this with the frailty aging has brought to my own practice. Karate is my friend not my occupation. Its practice fits the space of my life that I’ve been able to carve out and much of that is focused on my students first.

The youth program at the Derry Boys and Girls Club continues. It is extremely rewarding to take on a new group of beginners and watch them become a functioning group of students in short order. I always hold that is because of youth students of all ranks sharing class time.

We’ve slightly modified the program after our standard years of talking about how to strengthen the program. Our underlying standard for developing a sho-dan is unchanged and it takes the average youth 7 to 9 years to qualify for sho-dan. On the other hand it is necessary to acknowledge the outside world where schools promote their youth to black belt in a year or two, and our youth are attending schools with those kids too. So their friends make black belt and they’re a yellow belt (and perhaps a stronger technician).

We wonder if this affects student turnover into other activities, so we’re going to 3 degrees of youth black belt, moving advanced rank ahead of the adult structure, yet after 3rd degree youth black belt they’re at exactly the same qualifications as sho-dan in Bushi no Te Isshinryu. It will be interesting to see if this makes a difference in the long run?

To work for this program modification we’ve added another beginning kata. Our program begins with Kata Sho (an Isshinryu modified version of Fyukugata Sho). What I’ve done is now add Kyozai (an Isshinryu modified version of the Kata created on Okinawa for School System’s physical education). It’s structure is similar to our first kata, but contains new techniques. This was done to accommodate the kata studies for youth sho-dan. They go Sho, Kyozai, Annaku, Seisan, Seipai, Seiunchin, Naifanchi, Wansu and Sanchin.

What I’m realizing is that there is another sound reason for the change. Although we teach an essentially free program many of our students who begin in September do not return after the following summer, and the leading reason for that is their families are moving away, followed by they’re moving into other activities their friends are doing.

The primary purpose of the youth program is not to teach karate, but to use teaching karate as a way to help youth understand they can get better at anything by trying harder.
Most of them will move on in their lives and not stay with the program. In this we are satisfied they learn how to make choices for themselves. The ones who stay the course do so because they have found a personal reason to keep at the training.

On the other hand those who depart will have studied solid karate and learn how to perform Sho and Kyozai with crisp technique. I think this is going to help us realize our primary purpose better than ever.

Last year I had two students return, now to the adult program, who hadn’t trained with us in 15 years. Within 2 weeks it looked as if they had never stopped training. Truly a testament to what correct training builds inside one. One of them Brittni VanCuren left in August to move out west to teach 2nd grade to Navaho students at a Catholic School. She dropped in over Christmas Vacation and her karate, only with self study, had improved. She was ready to start the study of Chinto and receive her Green Belt.

Finally Mike Cassidy has fully grown into the role of the youth program primary instructor, leaving me to be the old guy who is a nuisance always pointing out things to improve for the student. Working within our shared structure it is most pleasant to watch Mike’s approach to classes and training, and he is preserving the role or using the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle in class preparation, each class being a unique event never to be repeated. Structure in non-Structure.

On the adult program it remains very small and personal, what I always wanted a program to be. Not an exercise class but an intimate study and expression of our karate.
We’re not looking for students, they have to work to find our program exists, but we don’t exactly discourage them either, trying to give them a very realistic view of what our program does do and if they’re looking for something else try to steer them towards a good choice.

All of the adults have to find a place for the training midst their family responsibility, work responsibility, etc. Those training are best described as part time students who never stop. Progression is at their pace based on the time they can spend.

I’ve always maintained the true black belt test is, Are you still training 5 years after you received your black belt. Everything in the world is finding reasons to keep you from training, but you are the one that has to find the reason to ignore those forces, when possible.

Following a methodology I learned from Tristan Sutrisno we don’t start class with warm up exercises and just focus on the study of karate. I have changed this on our Saturday morning program, where I now begin with some basic Silat Tjimande techniques. Ostensibly to warm up, for they really are a good way to open up all the joints, but always flying under the weather as we’ve recently been focusing on Chinto applications they’re finding those techniques are totally within Chinto’s application potential.

Personally I now use my Yang Tai Chi practice (empty hand and sword) for my warmup for karate. The gentle flowing nature helps me prepare for training.

Over the year I’ve continued my personal focus on studying technique application potential, finding new answers almost every class by applying a constant set of principles. There appears to be unlimited ways to apply a technique and make them work.

One of the year’s major events was the time I spent in October with John Kerker. From our short meetings I’m gaining further insight into what Harrill Sensei created, again more understanding of the underlying principles of his art. I don’t think that would have been possible without these sessions with John.

Certainly I am only a reflection of the parts of their arts my friends shared with me, but as a total they are very interesting.

All of our adult group continue to progress. If anything it brings to a head many considerations I’ve had about old time karate on Okinawa. Among them the instructor can only go as far as those who train with them permit by continuing training.

In the end we are what we train. In fact our program must do more than just teach technique and application. It has to work to develop each student’s ability to make decisions, and if they make decisions that cause them to move on, you must not be disappointed in the loss but happy that you’ve helped them understand their path through life.

As my group is small, at different times our focus on developing the current students vastly changes the nature of our studies. A decade ago we were very deep into our adjunct kobudo studies. Then people moved on and new students replaced them and the program refocuses on the current students. After years of work, we’re just beginning on adding more kobudo focus on the program, the students needs are reaching that point again. In my book long term study of our kobudo practices is critical to develop advancing empty hand skills, merging the power for the weapon to become the same power for an empty hand application.

I also had the chance to meet Patrick McCarthy in August and get a chance to see some of his students advanced skills and his teaching methodology. Most unique and worthy even if not in the direction of my own path. Unfortunately a long time ago I realized I cannot do everything….

In 2010 my ongoing research efforts continue to make progress. Among the continuing surprise is discovering what the world is sharing, mostly on YouTube. To date I’ve watched in excess of 50,000 videos on the arts. The outstanding and excellent and also Brand X and a lot in between, on every art I’ve ever heard of (and more than a few I haven’t heard of too). I continue to share my viewing finds with a select circle of friends everywhere for their own observation. Even a decade ago such access would have been impossible. And even with what I’ve seen I continue to find new good information. This does not detract from my other efforts, it’s just a subsidiary practice I follow.

I’ve made some interesting observations on Itosu and his students writings in the 1920’s and 30’s. I’ve also documented some of the principles behind kata application studies that I use on my blog, Isshin – Concentration the Art . My blog is first and foremost a reference library for my students studies..

March –
Discovery of a long forgotten yang demonstration

April -
Itosu Anko – new Direction for Toudi

May -
Itosu’s Reflections – The Game is afoot Watson
Itosu’s Reflections – Watson look for the smallest details
Itosu’s Reflections- It’s not BUNK…I say Watson

June -
Crane Takes Flight

You’re Grounded -

August -
Meeting Patrick McCarthy
On the Theory of Countering Locks and Throws

September -
Thoughts on Old Style karate

October -
John Kerker
December - The Use of Kata Technique – the Opening of Seisan kata
Section 1
Section 2
Section 3
Section 4
Section 5
Section 6
Section 7
Section 8
Section 9

All in all I’ve made some forward progress in 2010 and I think I’ve left some room for 2011 too.