Saturday, March 26, 2011

On being a Black Belt Part 3

Still Chugging Along

When Tom Chan joined my program about 1988 he brought his knowledge as a Uechi brown belt and I tapped it to study the Ueichi Sanchin and Ueichi Seisan kata. In Uechi Sanchin I found a very clean energy release in technique execution. Over the years that didn’t change of course but one day I decided to make a change to my Isshinryu Sanchin and began with natural breathing and full speed execution.

The difference from changing my Sanchin dynamics was astonishing. Completing Sanchin that way let me charged to roll. No matter how drained I was before, the new Sanchin execution enhanced my performance.

Then I took the next step and started working the application potential for Sanchin and in turn discovered a very clean way to tear into an attack and disrupt the attacker.

Of course that is a paradigm shift and one of the re-occurring lessons from my training. It can take years and decades to step beyond the original way you were shown something and explore other potential. That does not mean the original is wrong, just that there are multi layers at using anything, whether you do so or not.

I decided to shift my Isshinryu Sanchin paradigm as a result of my tests and the new way is all I teach and practice today.

The Rock and the Hard Spot

October 29, 2006 John Kerker, one of Harrill Sensei’s senior students and the Head Instructor of the Carson City Iowa dojo since Harrill Sensei’s passing had a clinic in Western Mass. The day was cold and wet and a horrible drive. The clinic was an eye opening experience.

For one thing it was proof of the ability of Harrill Sensei, not just that he understand how to use Isshinryu potential, but as a instructor he did transmit those abilities to his students. The true test of an instructor’s ability.

Where I only had a partial understanding of Harrill Sensei’s art from his clinics, and confirmation from him there was a lot he could not share not knowing those in attendance, I now understood it wasn’t from a question of their character, but from not knowing at what they could take physically.

Watching John’s presentation that day I realized I had never seen anyone hit anyone has hard over and over through the day, each strike dropping his partner. I was a pleasure to meet John and he clearly explained the fundamental use of makiwara in the Harrill Sensei training and the manner in which they worked their applications, exactly as shown during that clinic.

I left that day truly inspired and when I got home wrote up the notes of what was shown and then sent a copy to John.

The same weekend in October a year later, 2007, I found myself back in Western Massachusetts for another clinic with John Kerker. It was another wet and stormy day for horrible travel. On top of that I wasn’t in very good shape as for 6 months my arthritis had left me essentially hobbling. Again I could only be there about ½ of the clinic as my son was attending school near-by and I was taking him and his friends out to lunch later.

John’s clinic was great, but especially as he focused on one principle Harrill Sensei had been working on the last few years of his life. Again when I went home, wrote up my notes and changed what I was doing.

Over the next year I kept going back to that principle Kerker Sensei shared. It became a solid tool in our studies. At the same time a paradigm shift occurred in my own studies, simply I began to work on kata application potential more strongly.

Each subsequent October I’ve returned for those clinics, always gaining new understanding and being able to observe his teaching style grow. Though I could spend few hours with him, I’ve gained greater appreciation for his technique and how use of the makiwawa is the instructor. Literally his strikes can drop an opponent no matter where they hit, making exact targeting less a goal. Furthere more it’s made me review makiwara time I spent in the past and what I gained for those efforts. In those days with no understanding of what was occurring.

About a year ago I asked my students what changes they’ve seen with me over the years. The consensus was that before it was more locks and takedowns and now I hit.

The Black Belt – Quantifying Change

With very small programs such as mine the largest focus is always beginner and then intermediate training.

Although I don’t look at movement potential this way I strongly believe there is no movement within my Isshinryu kata that I cannot use to disrupt attack. This work has resulted in other changes. My essential class structure is that true kata technique application practice does not start until Black Belt. Then the Sho-dan works on a study of Seisan’s opening applied potentials and their underlying principles for six months or so. Only at that point does the larger study begin.

I began sharing kata application potential this with the you and kyu program from the first night. I now show a way or range of ways a movement can be used. But I don’t train my students on them, instead giving them a tactical reason to perform the movements the way I’ve shown.

For intermediate students when they encounter difficulty or make mistakes I often allow them attack me and let them experience the technique the way I teach them. Quite interesting looks on their faces when that happens and they ‘get’ that the movement is more than just moving through space.

I find when I’m teaching the students each new kata section I’m always seeing new ways the movement can be used. You reach a point of no fixed answers just open potential.

The past few years the instructor of the youth program moved to my senior student, Mike Cassidy. It is a pleasure to watch how his classes develop based on the pool of his previous training. We have the same base but he becomes his own person at the same time. He goes in directions I would not go, and that’s good for I get to observe what his teaching style shares. The art is so large nobody can do everything and many different choices still yield great results.

That has allowed me the time to focus on ‘technical’ corrections with the students as he runs the class. I’m also learning I have to slow down and also stop making corrections because the student’s level would turn too much of my points into a learning negative. In turn that is allowing me to watch and observe in greater detail how young people learn. I’m sure a future study will result from this.

The Black Belt – the Internet and the Scholar 2

From my beginning I always tried to learn more about Isshinryu and all the arts in general by seeking out books and magazines whenever possible. Along the way I collected over 3,000 magazines and 500 books. In the early 2000’s I destroyed most of the magazines, keeping a select few articles for future reference. Likewise about ½ of the books have gone into long term storage. I should get rid of them as their value is no longer needed by me, but I’m loath to do so, each one brings a certain memory and time of my life.

That leaves several hundred or so volumes for reference as I require.

I came to realize most martial publications are one time jobs, and many inexpensive books are now selling on ebay for huge prices. Once they’re published in most cases that’s it. Apparently there is little lasting profit in martial publication, except for Bruce Lee books bought by the General Public.

That then leads to private printings and distribution and even new presses lile Lulu that print one copy at a time when it is paid for, or even sale of .pdf copies.

Since I joined the internet generation I’ve built my own books and have dozens of binders with printouts of discussions, etc. all saved in plastic sheets. When I find material that is unique and I can use I print and save it, literally building my own books on topics as I wish.

Following Joe Swift’s suggestion I purchased some reprinted books directly from Japan, tomes by Mutsu and Nakasone, extremely valuable research tools. Furthermore Joe Swift and other friends like Mario McKenna and Patrick McCarthy have translated other works into English. Last year Mario McKenna’s translation of Nakasone’s “Karate-Do Taikan” was the most recent and perhaps personally one of the most valuable tools I’ve found.

Then YouTube started popping and suddenly everything one ever read about or wished about not was sitting there to watch. I’ve viewed over 50,000 of those video’s at this time. Many are of course awful, but some are incredibly in depth on every art, as much as a video record allows of course.

The hard work, the knowledge how to teach something, how to develop a student through lifetimes of layers of training, and many other points are not there, but you can still see what you can see, more than anyone when I started ever thought was possible.

McKenna Sensei suggested I start a blog and following his advice I began Isshin – Concentration the Art. Not for discussion but as a repository of what I’ve seen and learnt for my students future reference. Much of the material we do not have time to address in class, and much of the material from class that is referenced in a way that they can recall it at future times.

At times it even involves what I believe is original consideration. Last year I began doing research on Itosu for an article and in turn came to realize most of the 1920 and 1930’s publications on Karate in Japan were created by students of Itosu. Each of them had evolved into unique arts, but by taking Itosu as their instructor into account, gave more information that all of them shared, each work exploring perhaps a slightly different part of the same picture. A new way of piercing the veil of time.

Recently I started going through past discussions on the Bubishi section on Counters and Escapes. Old topics always get review and I’m seeing another way to look at the book, which I think may make a larger statement about the Chinese Martial Arts in the area where it was originally compited.

The Black Belt – What does it mean?

This is what this all comes down to, what does the Black Belt mean?

Dozens of days competing

7,600+ plus days training

Thousands of additional days thinking, researching, planning

Oceans of sweat

Hundreds and hundreds of students

Hundreds of books



Pain and Joy

What does the Black Belt mean? Just look in the mirror.

..... and the best part is just beginning

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