Friday, April 22, 2011

Embrace the Night – Night fighting kata

Young Lee competing with Kusanku Kata in 1992

Chochu had just completed the evening training with his instructor. Pulling his top over his steamy shoulders, he began the walk towards the beach on the East China Sea, near Tancha. Chochu’s father, head of the Tancha police asked his son to check the coast after the storm ended, to check for the too frequent shipwrecks on Okinawan shores.

The storm just ended, the sky was filled with clouds and occasional breaks allowing the moonlight to shine through. The air cold against the warm ground, with vast clouds of fog, made visibility frequently difficult.

The path through the woods from his instructor’s house on the edge of town was one he had traveled his entire life. Each tree and bush an old friend. The night and fog also familiar as his training was always held outside of his instructors’ home in the evening dark, rain or fair.

Passing through the woods his eyes were always scanning for movement when he could see outside of the shifting fog banks.

After a half hour he approached the beach, leaving the forest to stand on the hill overlooking the beach. Scanning the beach with the angry waves still smashing the shore, he wasn’t sure but it seemed there was some wreckage on the upper end of the beach around the bend in the shore.

Chochu made his way to the shore and began walking toward the bend. When he got closer the clouds parted and from the bright moonlight shining down on the beach he saw there was wreckage from a ship had washed ashore.

More so there were two bodies awash on the beach with waves caressing their legs.

As he approached they both suddenly sprang to their feet, pulled out knives and began running towards him.

Chochu immediately decide to flee and started running back to the forest with his attackers closing behind. Through the sand, up the hill and then running into the forest Chochu was not far ahead of his attackers.

He didn’t take the trail but began dodging through bushes, around trees and boulders, when the moonlight broke free he’d drop down behind a tree waiting for dark. As had been trained he would not give his presence away by moving when they could see him.

Breathing as silently as possible he waited until the pair began to move towards his location, then he shifted to the next tree which had a depression behind it and the entire location was in a deep shadow.

There he dropped completely to the forest floor, placing his face down into the ground.

Listening carefully he heard when one of the opponents began to move in his direction.

Curling up his left leg, he then snapped a kick out, striking a nearby bush setting it vibrating, and snapped the kick back into the shadows. By not peering out he set no pressure where he might be hiding.

Finally the opponent passed his position towards that bush.

Springing up his right foot struck behind the attacker’s thigh and then concluded by stomping down on the attackers’ calf, compressing his foot in the process. Beginning to fall, Chochu then spring behind the attacker’s shoulders, his arms grabbing the neck and ridding his attacker to the ground silently completing neck choke.

With very little sound his attacker was now face down in the same depression he was hiding in, and was unconscious. Finally he pulled the attackers top down a top the arms, restricting sudden movement should he recover.

Chochu then stood up slowly, walking his hands up the tree trunk to help reduce any noise from his shifting. The fog had fully enveloped the area, with a light attending breeze. Chochu closed his eyes and breathed and listened.

The second opponent was moving some distance away, unsuccessfully trying to find his friend. Hearing how he was moving Chochu decided it was time to attack.

Following his training he most carefully shifted his feet as he walked in order to minimize noise, especially if something was underfoot.

With the breeze blowing towards him he noticed an unfamiliar smell and realized it was his opponent. His training made him understand how we smell what we eat, and the attacker’s diet wasn’t the Okinawan diet, different spices perhaps.

Not sure of the distance Chouchu began a slow crescent stepping, carefully lowering each foot to make sure something wasn’t underfoot to guarantee a silent approach. With his hands he was using his instructor’s ‘feeling through the dark movement.

Finally with a right step his right arm felt a movement of air across his arm hairs. At that time his left arm ever so slowly flowed alongside his right till the moment his left hand would explode to catch the opponents left arm. At the same time his right forearm struck forward and the two hands together caught and overturned the arm dynamically. The right hand then circled back as they bent over and then drove its spearhand into the attacker’s armpit. This caused the attacker’s right leg to buckle and make them drop to the ground.

As they grounded Chouchu removed his right spear hand which circled up to the top of his head removing his hairpin from his topknot and completed its movement pressing that hairpin into the attacker’s neck.

There would be no following struggle.

Using their own clothing Chouchu bound them and then walked them back to Tancha and his father’s house.

Reaching home he called out for his father and wasn’t surprised when his father and his teacher, Kusanku Sifu, came out to see him.

Sitting his captures on the ground he explained the evening’s events to both of them.

Then two officers stepped out and took his captives away for questioning.

“Son I’m glad your skills prevailed in this trial. Kusanku Sifu what do you think?”

“It appears Chouchou is correctly learning how my art can be used!”

“Sifu, how long do you think the remainder of his instruction will last?”

“A lifetime for sure, but in my case I think only another year or two. It’s obvious he has learned the basics, but there are a lot of tactical studies and he still needs and more especially to learn how to make his technique more circular and effective.”

“He showed sound tactical development this evening, but it will also be a solid object lesson of the opportunities he missed. “

---------- the story ends but now the discussion begins

Starting with the assumption that old style training was done at night and outside at that, I think it is logical the development of karate kata was not focused on night fighting.

They lived a walking distance from their instructor’s home or training area. The fact was most of their training time at night gave them night fighting skills with I’m sure lessons or stories from their instructor.

In that case all their kata studies were for night fighting, day fighting, whatever was required. The kata were likely not placeholder for symbolic lessons. Moving and working in the dark was just life.

BTW, Night fighting does not mean fighting in the dark. It really means coping with a low light intensity environment, and one that may be changing too. At times it may be pitch black, at times it might be exceptionally bright. It may mean it is raining or worse, it may mean levels of fog.

Today with our ever present indoor dojo, cars for transportation we’re far from a walking population, and the ever present lighting in our town, on our streets and in our dojo made many of the earlier life lessons forgotten, especially those pertaining to low light intensity combat.

The concept of kata (one or all) focusing on night combat isn’t held by Isshinryu alone, but in the case of Isshinryu it comes directly from its founder, Shimabuku Tatsuo.

The story goes one night he was awakened by a sound in his home and got up to make sure everything was ok. Apparently walking through his home he realized techniques from his Kusanku would make reasonable methods for night defensive actions.

I don’t recall where I heard of this, likely the early karate magazine articles on Isshinryu, but the concept captured my mind. When I studied Isshinryu, use of kata techniques beyond basic applications was not part of the study.

In time I began to question how those techniques could be used through logical analysis. As I studied with other instructors and learned their own application studies, after about 20 years I was ready to work out my own answers for Isshinryu.

So, I first began working my understanding how Isshinryu Kusanku could be used for night fighting. Of course my technique studies were valid, even if too situational for reasonable usage.

Then in 2000 at a summer camp I was running the Midnight training. It was raining, I had my son with me, he was 14 months old and we were camping out together. I had him sleeping in his covered carriage as I taught Kusanku and it’s applications at midnight in the rain. There’s something satisfying at having a group drop to the ground with their hand and faces in the rain puddles as they perform the kata.

While valid it’s not a set of applications I focus on these days for the most part. A number of years later I met Harrill Sensei and began to see his logical analysis of Kusanku for an entirely different perspective on kata technique application.

So is Kusanku a night fighting kata?

Of course it is I’ve said so, and lived it in several different ways.

Does that tell us much about Kusanku? Not really for it’s also many other valid answers.

I truly believe the stories have value and should be practiced as one step of our learning. Today most of us are far removed from low light intensity situations. Even some of the principles in the story share lessons we should learn if only for the background knowledge.

In fact here’s a night fighting lesson from WWI infantry men. Your eyes take about 15 to 20 minutes to manufacture visual purple to give you night vision. Then a bright light will burn it away requiring another 20 minutes for it to return. In the battle fields of France Star Shells would drop at night to light the battlefield to see what’s going on. They also destroyed the night vision of the unprepared combatants. The smart soldier learned to immediately shut or cover one eye till the shell burned out. Then as darkness returned they retained night vision in one eye, giving them more night site.

Anyhow let me give you my story for Kusanku kata’s night fighting sections.

First your hands circle up and down indicating the moon at night.

The next section uses stomping the ground to create a noise and then shifting and striking towards an opponent that moves towards that noise.

There is a section where you’re feeling or searching through the dark trying to find an opponent, and then doing so explode on touch in a response to down them.

The sections of the kata where you hear the opponent and strike out then involves taking them down to the ground.

The sections were you drop to the ground, look both ways, jump up and turn 180 degrees and then drop back to the ground till you explode up into an attacker. This group of technique symbolizes the moonlight returning and you’re grounding to not create a silhouette for your opponent to see. Then you jump up making noise and again dropping to the ground. Finally when you’re opponent appears you jump up from the ground to conclude the opponent’s efforts.

So what do I believe, it comes from paraphrasing President Teddy Roosevelt “Speak (and step) Softly and Carry a Big Stick”!

Last night a noise awoke me from my sleep and checking around the house it came to me this stick form I practice could be use………………

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Plain talk about Aikido

Tristan Sutrisno working on Dave Piehota.
David Belsky observing.

While I’m clearly not an Aikido-ka, from my years training with Tristan Sutrisno I have studied his Aikido studies and observed his technique execution (far superior to my own) as well as his Shotokan and his Siliat tjijamde. The result is a far different view of those arts than most internet discussion as well as inspiration for my own studies forever.

Along the way I discovered how Sutrisno Sensei’s Aikido, based on his father’s studies in Japan in the 1930’s, related to the available Aikido literature. And Aikido is one of the most carefully documented arts in the world. The English speaking Aikido-ka in Japan long published the Aikido Journal detailing a ton of information about Aikido history, the differences between instructors, the comparison of Aikido to other arts, including hands on comparisons. Add to that I have too many books on Aikido, never met an Aikido book I didn’t like, and what I discovered was the training had received gave me the tools to work other aikido technique for study.

The Sutrisno training worked to develop the movement applied to hard focused strikes, and while the first step was very set for beginner development, it had the goal of working against random attacks. There is a lot of time between beginning study and advanced execution.

Many of the questions about Aikido can be used by taking them to their simplest form, dropping the mythology and seeing Aikido as technique period.

So let’s go.

History – Aikido developed by Usheiba Morehi based on his studies in several Japanese arts but primarily his study of Daito Ryu AikiJutsu was it’s core. Daito ryu is a very complex system with thousands of techniques that can take up to 40 years to learn. It was a private Samuari tradition and the empty hand practices derived from sword technique. Usheiba was a licensed instructor of Daito Ryu but not a full adept by any means.

While he started teaching Daito Ryu in time it turned into his Aikido practice. Pre-WWII the art was done solely for martial practice.

Aikido did not involve using the opponent’s force against themselves, that describes Judo. Instead Aikido was a methodology of using joint manipulation to become locks and projections, each using the pain induced to move the opponent. This of course often involves body shifting to create the opening for the aikido response, but it also uses the aikido response to move the opponent to the completion of the technique.

Aikido in the 30’s in Japan certainly involved training young men for military service. Atemi, IMO, became a method to compensate for less movement skill, to create an opening to allow the aikido technique time to work. Those Aikido groups coming from pre-WWII origins still retain the use of Atemi as a function al tool.

The conclusion of WWII were an epiphany for Usheiba Sensei. He realized that with atomic bombs aikido wasn’t needed for military purposes. Atemi was dropped, the smaller circular manipulations became larger circles and Aikido began to move working against focused attacks to working with a compliant uke and a general flow of an attack.

Aikido is not one thing with one correct description. Take a1,000 different Aikido schools and you’ll find a 1,000 different anwers for Aikido. Certainly different groups that hang together have similar purposes. Yes some Aikido is not done for martial purposes by design, especially as Usheiba aged he merged his own religious thoughts into his later teachings. You find a wide range of different aikido practices each coming from different era’s of Usheiba teaching from different decades.

Atemi – Atemi sounds very mysterious. The Aikido I was taught was fully integrated into Shotokan training and the term wasn’t used. As I began to read about other Aikido it took on the mysterious meaning of something special.

Actually Atemi is just striking the opponent to create an opening, and often just striking vital points like the throat to become a ‘stop hit’ to give time to enter an Aikido technique. For those practicing karate you’re just changing the name of your fist strike, period. Actually solid karate makiwara practice can yield much stronger attacking. Go train for 15 years with John Kerker and you’ll end up with a punch that will drop anyone no matter where your strike. In that case the Aikido followup is un-necessary unless you make a mistake (errors do happen).

Simply pre-WWII Aikido groups use Atemi. Post-WWII Aikido groups don’t because of Usheiba’s change for aikido’s meaning (he didn’t change the techniques just the way of practice).

A number of years ago the Aikido Journal staff in Japan translated and re-published Usheiba’s pre-WWII Aikido book ‘Budo’ and it clearly demonstrates atemi striking in Aikido practice (not that Usheiba with his superior movement technique really needed it.
When it was published I remember in Europe (where Aikido was controlled by Japanese instuctors trained in post-WWII Aikido) instructors banned their students from purchasing that book. To them it was not part of Aikido.

One of my favorite aiki strikes is a finger tip flow strike into the throat. A flow strike because I’m not using karate striking but flowing the fingertips forward and their incoming throat impales itself on my fingers. You get the most interesting results such as when they fly back 20 feet.

While Atemi has it’s uses it is not primarily the study of Aikido. I theorize that Usheiba having to train larger groups in Aikido in less time focused on Atemi as a way to make Aikido workable.

Yes Aikido is a skill art, most art are in the end. It does take years. Those who can do, those who can’t complain, period.

Aikido in use – every art has to start someplace. Aikido comes out of partner practice and the more skilled the partner the more skill you can build in yourself. It’s techniques can lock, can pin, can project, can break, can truly disrupt an opponent. Of ten the difference from basic practice to advanced practice is not the technique used but the angle it is applied, where one release point allows a skilled partner to move away, another release point for the same movement can dump them directly on the top of their head with very different results. Likewise changing the angle of a projection takes one from a standard breakfall to an unreal break fall with no logic requiring total body control to survive.

It is no wonder most demonstrations don’t include the high risk components, Aikido is not a art form that gives dangerous ideas to lower level students.

While there is difference in terminology between different aikido groups, one of Aikido’s simplest locks (Go Kyu) is not taught to beginners and seems to be reserved to much more advanced students. IMO the reason it’s easy to go to far with that technique and beginners not in control of themselves could easily damage each other, so wait till they advanced to learn something simple. (Note this is just my opinion, using logic to try and explain why some things appear structured a certain way. Perhaps Aikido groups teach it earlier?)

As Daito Ryu is a much larger art than Aikido, even partial study of a few Aikido concepts will provide good tools if they’re practiced sincerely.

Roy Suenaka (born in Hawaii) in his book “Complete Aikido” described how he became the first successful Aikido instructor on Okinawa. Earlier Japanese instructors met physical resistance which they couldn’t acquit and ending up leaving. Usheiba actually gave Roy a teaching license to allow him to try teaching there, and in turn when those with the wrong attitude showed up to bounce an Aikido-ka, in turn he rolled them out the door until his students own proficiency allowed the same results.

Note just because Senior karate-ka on Okinawa taught Karate was not for fighting, there are always those too dumb to understand, in Roy’s case they found out they were not as skilled as they thought. [Note Roy’s book on Aikido contains a great deal about his karate studies with Hohen Soken, too, about ½ of the book text].

IMO it’s clear the issue isn’t Aikido won’t work against certain attacks, the issue is whether the full training program properly prepares one to do so. Aikdo programs for different purposes are fine as long as everyone understands what they are studying. The Aikido Journal staff once tested their skills against a karate-ka and realized their method of training did not equip them for those attacks.

Weapons and Aikido – Some Aikido groups do include weapons training, all of which goes back to Usheiba’s own studies and especially Daito ryu where weapons techniques were the origin of the empty hand techniques.

I’m of mixed mind about those practices. Many of the uses demonstrated against tanto, jo, kintana are based on specialized attacks that truly advanced adherents would never use instead using attacks that would end the aikido-ka. In that sense they’re pretend. On the other hand working empty hand against the weapon is skill building, making you move faster and surer to become a force multiplier in one’s.

In fact my group has been able to link the Aikido skill building drills (the locks always end in taking the opponent to the ground for a pin) to the knife self defenses demonstrated in Nakasone’s “Karate Do Taiken” from 1938. The relationship is so similar especially as Sutrisno Sensei’s father studied in Japan at that time. Our techniques are using the punch instead of the tanto thrust, but the response is very similar.

Such studies with a weapon do teach how grasping the hand holding the weapon becomes a powerful force multiplier in its own right.

Then tie it to the Aikido 4 direction throw shi-ho nage being related to the Daito Ryu 4 direction cut. In fact I correlate the study of weapons, done with correct force for decades in Aikido, in Northern Eagle Claw and using Okinawan Kobudo with Karate actually strengthen the grip over the years, the harder you train the stronger your grab, all of which enhances those arts in many ways.

Aikido and Street Fighting – Actually who cares about something as minor as street fighters? On 38 years now and I’ve never been attacked. Of course I don’t hang in the streets, don’t do bars or go looking for trouble. There’s a reason the seniors always maintained these arts weren’t for fighting. That’s because they, when properly used, were to end a need for fighting, the opponent should be on the ground.

I practice many arts and will equally take a tai chi technique, an Aikido technique or a Karate technique and take your head off with it. I understand the fractals of how movement can be used.

Take irimi nage I can use the first ½ of the technique to set up the 2nd ½ of the technique, or I can use the first ½ of the technique to k.o. the attacker and let them drop. And it’s just movement from Chinto done with the same sequence, and it’s just the 3rd basic siliat tjimande technique I practice. The movement Irimi Nage

Now some arts take more time to acquire skill, and the same movement potential in another art doesn’t make the same skill easier to acquire. The time to learn something depends on the individual and the approach of the training program.

As no school of study I know of really worries about street fighting the pace of instruction matches what an instructor feels appropriate for their area of the world. More violent areas obviously suggesting different training needs, but to my best knowledge most arts don’t make those distinctions. But it depends, serious Krav Maga in Israel is build for specifically different needs, and any art can make similar modifications if needed.
Should the Aikido-ka use their training to avoid personal conflict? Sure who wants to break someone up anyway? We have moral and legal reasons not to do so, always tempered with serendipity’s requirements. If we gain confidence not to respond automatically we can hope to direct the aggressor’s mood another way.

If not they create an opening and the rest is correct practice.

As for what a particular Aikido school uses for their basis, that’s they’re responsibility.

I see Aikido as a tool, period. A technique that I can move from potential to actual use.

Aikido will not stop conflict but it can end it. You on the other hand can choose another answer if possible.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Dennis Lockwood

Dennis Lockwood as I always remember him.

Yesterday Dennis Lockwood departed this life.

I wish to extend my condolences to his family and friends. Dennis was a great husband and father. He was also a great Isshinryu practitioner.

When I started training in Mr. Lewis’ IKC dojo he was one of my seniors and instructors. There were lessons he shared with me I’ve continued to share with my students to this day.

Life required I move away from Salisbury long ago. With the distance involved for years I only saw him infrequently and the last meeting was long ago. But what I learned from him has stayed with me always.

I think the best way share in his passing is to recall some of my time with him.

Lockwood Sensei was unique in many ways. I remember the wide selection of gi’s he would wear, all of them made by his mother. When at a tournament he would often wear a custom referee gi, but many of the gi's were unique and personally I always liked his paisley gi best.

When judging he had a solid presence as the center judge that became my own model when I would judge.

Most of the things I recall are personal events during my Salisbury years, but the one story that I think describes Dennis’ attitude is one I’ve already shared and will do so again.


Long ago in pre-history when I was a yellow belt in Isshinryu at Tom Lewis' Isshinryu Karate Club in Salisbury Maryland, I was asked to help in a demonstration with the Self Defense techniques. I was to be the attacker, and Kathy, a younger green belt, was to be the object of my unwanted attentions.

Everybody knows the story. I do something and then go splat.

One Tuesday night, two men came to the dojo and asked to watch a class. Next to Sensei Lewis office there was a bench for potential students to do just that. They watched through the warm-up and opening drills. Then class split into kumite (free-sparring) practice, and Kathy and I moved off to the side to work on our demonstration.

I remember specifically drilling on our closing movement. I approach her from the side and place my arm around her shoulders. Whatever her response I end on the floor on my hands and knees. My right hand was clutching my left ribs, because she was then to do an instep front kick into my ribs (on my hand) and then follow up with a quick sweep of my left hand causing me to finish by falling face first onto the floor.

Practice makes perfect, right?

While all this was happening, the two visitors were starting to become obnoxious. Perhaps their nature, or perhaps assisted by a few brews, they began to speak loudly between each other about how much tougher they were.

The instructors, Dennis Lockwood and Al Bailey, were trying do decide on an appropriate response to their behavior when our demonstration went live.

I grabbed Kathy and of course next I was on the floor holding my side. She nailed my hand with her instep kick, nice and hard with a loud 'Thwack', but when she followed with the sweep of my hand she missed. Instead of sweeping, her foot traveled up underneath my armpit and she nailed my nose with her instep.

I remember reaching up with my hand and it coming away bloody. Now this was not an uncommon experience for me in those days learning how to fight. Safety gear had just come out and most of the time we didn't use it, and everyone simply accepted mistakes happened.

In this instance the two black belts rushed up to me (where I was on the floor) and Dennis Lockwood knelt down and whispered in my ear, "Victor, don't do anything."

The next thing I knew was they grabbed my feet and drug me across the dojo floor, leaving a trail of blood behind me.

I was pulled out the door, and both of them helped me to my feet brushing me off.

Dennis told me, "Wait here a moment, I have to go inside." And he left me with the other Black Belt to attend me.

He marched inside and walked up to the two visitors. "Gentlemen, we have an opening in our class for a new student, would one of you wish to join."

It was interesting to note how pale they looked as they quickly left the dojo.

With much laughter my instructors helped me to the bathroom to clean up the mess.

--- fin

A great description of Dennis’ life can be found at -

His dojo is the Isshinryu Karate Barn

Old Ocean City Road

Salisbury, MD 21801

(410) 742-3755

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Veni, Vidi, Vici

The short of it is that yesterday I competed at a local tournament, still able to step into the ring and perform after all these years.

That’s it so feel free to stop reading here. The event itself, the moment in time, now gone.

The story, well that’s another issue.

Perhaps the story started 37 years ago when I competed for the first time.

Perhaps the story started 33 years ago when Ron Martin judged me as a black belt for the first time.

No, that’s not it. The story started in late January of this year when Dr. Harper told me I have stage two diabetes and I had to make significant changes to my diet and exercise to survive.

The back story is not the issue, the fact is I simply stopped eating all of the junk that was destroying me, started walking at lunch (I’m now up to 2 miles) , eating less and monitoring my blood sugar three times a day.

It’s all had an effect. I’ve lost a lot a weight, but have more to go. I think my blood sugar is getting under control. I’m learning new lessons about diet, exercise and myself. The walking makes me stronger, but it also makes me weaker for my karate those nights, but I daily walk stronger and faster and I can do more with my karate at the same time. There is pain for the effort but pain is a old story for training, pain tells me I’m alive and improving.

No the story started after the Doctor’s prescription about changing my life. I knew I had to set new goals, find new horizons. Karate wasn’t enough. And the accumulation of things from age and arthritis which had slowed me down, well I’ve learned some of my problems were from the diabetes and my new changes were restoring my capability.

Restoring it but not making me young.

I decided I had to set one more goal and as a local karate group was going to have a tournament in April, once again I was going to try and compete, and more so I was going to do it with something new and challenging to me. I decided on the kata and set a goal that I had to be able to perform it correctly by the end of March.

The kata I picked was one shared with me by my friends. Joe Swift first shared it’s existence about 10 years ago. Mario McKenna translated the accompanying text and actually discussed my performance at a visit he had with me years ago, from his own experience training in the system of its origin.

I had worked the form over the last 10 years mainly because of technical features about it’s technique that attracted me, but the ongoing physical changes had made it’s practice take a step back in my study.

The reason I decided to compete with it was because of 5 challenging kicking techniques in the form, especially challenging for me.

The first night I ran the form I asked my students what they thought. I got no reply which I understand, but I had brought my video camera and had them film me. That was the only eye I needed. To say I was bad was an understatement. That record became a good point of where I had to travel from.

Early March I ran it for the guy’s once again. I know I had done a pretty fair job the previous Saturday, but once again when asked they would not reply and thankfully I had the camera with me. That video told the tale but I knew the answer for when I went home and took my evening blood sugar reading it was 35, dangerously low. The answer to that was to eat appropriately and I did so and watched my performance. I looked like I had no energy and guess what I literally had no energy.

One of the hardest lessons is how to eat and train. On Tuesday I was up to 2 miles walking, worked the entire day and then had two classes in the evening. I had to work out a better way to eat for training days. It still is a project but we’re learning about this and getting better. At this point I had a solid handle on the correct diet and correct blood sugar range, it’s how to integrate that knowledge for training is the next journey. You see it’s not about losing some weight, the diabetes isn’t going away. It’s about changing my life forever. My saving grace is my wife had been feeding me correctly all along, it was all the other stuff that made the difference, and my amounts being gradually cut back have been working.

So the next two weeks training and eating more for breakfast and lunch on class days made a difference. I showed my kata to my students at the end of March and they agreed I had gotten stronger.

I sent in my competition fee.

Now let’s go back those 33 years to my first meeting with Ron Martin as one of my judges. My last Isshinryu instructor had returned to the Air Force and I was training myself, a situation which remained for the remainder of my life.

As a shodan competing with Isshinryu at a tournament in Easton Pa. Ron graciously awarded me a score of 2. After the division I sought him out to inquire what I could have done better. Ron responded quite emphatically about my performance and my stances but then explained why he made that statement. In turn I started looking, I watched his students performance and the incredible stance work they used.

Next I traveled to Salisbury and closely watched my original instructor, Tom Lewis, and saw how correct his stance were. Continuing now that I had a template to observe what others were doing in their performance I continued to gather information.

The end result a lifetime of focus on one aspect of my art and my students art. I never trained with Ron, but we saw each other frequently in the years I was competing and attending tournaments in Pennslvania. Then I moved to New Hampshire in 1985 and my efforts continued. It turns Ron Martin had lived in Derry, long ago. His parents home is very close to where I live today. Several years ago he was up visiting Richard Bernard and the three of us had coffee together and I reminded him of that 2 and the direction his comments had to affect my karate. Now once again he was to be my judge.

Honestly this form is more than challenging, the slightest mistake in my takeoff causes me to flounder. I picked it because of the personal challenge. If I just wanted to do a strong job I would have selected one of the Isshinryu forms I’ve done for decades, all worthy. But I picked this to work.

It’s interesting how many things came back. I stopped competing regularly about 1984, having satisfied my need. After that time I only competed for fun and challenge. Isshinryu became more of a strong personal art for me and when I’d compete I’d take other of my loves. I’ve done so with Bando Staff, Northern Mantis, Northen Shaolin and Shotokan too. Isshinryu became very personal for my students.

But getting back into the grove I found myself improving for the old tools, the mental disciplines.

Going through the kata while walking or driving, sitting at the desk, all are as important as doing the form itself. The kata is just karate technique I’ve done for decades. The mind directs the body’s performance.

Long, long ago I discovered my performance was better when I had spent more and more time mentally reviewing the forms performance. Still the same. The kicks I had to perform required I had correct posture and my mental review how to shape my spine actually worked to make my performance match my ideal. How many times did I practice the form the last week, 6 times. How many times did I perform the form mentally, dozens and dozens.

The tournament setting is just the Void. I enter the Void, my will directs my body and I perform. If I perform correctly only I remain in the end.

To prepare for the day I first stopped my walking the two days proceeding the tournament. I didn’t need the recovery pain after those walks this time. I then decided to carbo load on Friday night and had a spaghetti dinner just like the marathoner’s do.

Saturday I awoke and had my standard breakfast and left for the tournament. I also had a snack with me.

Then I had to wait, a wait that would last 6 hours. Not knowing when I’d be competing I wasn’t going to go outside and have a quick lunch. Late morning I consumed my snack and the day continued waiting.

Finally my time came. I used an Eagle Claw Chi Kung drill to pull my mind together while the ring was being organized. An extremely useful skill, not magic but concentrating on the moving arms and breathing clears the mind and calms the soul.

My name was called. I approached the head judge, Ron Martin, announced my form and then stepped back and took a breath.

I made no mistakes. I maintained my balance and executed a strong form. I then stepped back.

I knew I did exactly what I planned to do. I and the form were one and then there was I.

My reward, well I received a medal placeholder and am very grateful for that, but my reward was the look in Ron’s eyes when I stepped back. That’s all I need.

The moment is gone. That challenge is past and new goals must be found as I create myself anew each day.

I think back on how one minute of one day out of a lifetime of days has so many memories and lessons connected with it.

I’ve only ever competed but to push myself, and after all these years it’s still the most valid reason to step on the floor.

Competition isn’t for others approval. It’s not for judges scores. It’s not for the applause of the crowd, but by taking the time to step on the floor, you put yourself in the place to push yourself to your maximum. In my experience whether in kata, kobudo or kumite, the same still applies.

Now this tale is done.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Multiple Striking

One of the Isshinryu basic techniques involves multiple striking, responding to an attack with five punches.
This is just basic overload theory, where you throw so many techniques that something can get through to conclude an attacker. The basic version of this involves 5 strikes to the same spot. If the opponent has conditioned themselves to take a strike, use of strike after strike on one spot looks for the time their body response breaks down. I often characterize such striking as layered striking, the use of strikes to break through the bodies outer layers.

There is another version that can use the five strikes to begin with the head and then move the strikes down the body working the centerline.

Another Multiple Striking approach is where one strike rolls into another strike.

I first learned this from Tristan Sutrisno with a series of five strikes flowing from one to the next. Years later I saw Toshihiro Oshiro Uchinadi video’s and he demonstrates a backfist flowing from a punch (the same beginning in the Sutrisno multiple striking series). A natural progression from a strike and then using the pull back to springboard to another technique.

The Sutrisno series actually is not done that way in defense, but shows how any of it’s technique can move into a following strike, and in its case involves 5 separate strikes. A similar multiples strike is shown by Oshiro with the Age Uke .

Such techniques are quite in keeping with the kata technique usage discussed by Shiroma Shimpan in Nakasone’s 1938 ‘Karate-Do Taikan” which I discussed at

[Question if you follow my blog and you haven’t availed yourself to buy a copy or Mario McKenna’s translation for sale at Lulu, you’re missing one of the true treasures on karate study.]

From a Chinese tradition Ernest Rothrock’s “Jing Do – short range striking” concepts follow a very similar approach.

There is no question that directed impact training to develop a strike potential is more important to make strikes work. Multiple striking is a directed back up plan just in case.

Sunday, April 10, 2011


The key ingredient to remain focused on your Martial practices for a lifetime is Passion.

You can’t explain to another being why you do what you do so they understand. All you can do is reflect your passion in what you live. Passion of course can be dangerous, especially if you let one passion consume your life. The key is Passion in balance.

I have Passion for my wife and my children. I have passion in my work. I have passion in the books I read, the movies I watch and in other aspects of my life.

But my martial passion is very special and most personal.

I’ve grasped ever y opportunity to train. Weekdays, Weekends, Holidays and Vacations.

I drive practicing kata. I walk at lunch practicing kata too.

I’ve stood in pouring rain in thunderstorms, lightening all around, learning a new bo kata.

I’ve trained at midnight in blizzards. I’ve driven through snow and ice. I’ve practiced outside in all kinds of weather, even tai chi in January at -20f. I joined one class and ran with them barefoot outside on the roads, stripping the skin off of the bottom of my toes to train.

I’ve taught thousands of students and even if only one shows up for class gear every effort to help them improve every time.

I early realized I might only have one time to get something and in turn have done my best never to forget anything I was shown. Hundreds of kata and forms, thousands of techniques.

I’ve competed to push myself, I’ve read hundreds of books, thousands of magazines, watched uncountable movies, all to try and understand what exists.

Passion is personal. I can’t share it with anyone, they must find their own way in that.

I’ve never been particularly good, but passion drives me to be more than what I am

It’s passion to respect all who’ve shared with me and remember their gifts.

In the end as it was in the beginning, it’s Passion!

Thursday, April 7, 2011

A Work in Progress

Victor Smith donning an old Gi for the first time in 20 years.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Aikido and the Internet

In 1975 I read John Brunner's "Shockwave Rider", a science fiction yarn about the power of the internet. Still a good story. I became enlightened to what the internet of today would be before there were PC's or even an Internet.

In 1981 I began training with Tristan Sutrisno and began studying his Aikido techniques derived from his father's studies in Japan in the 1930's.

In 1991 I purchased a copy of Morihei Ueshiba's "Budo" originally published in 1938.

In the YouTube years I found Ueshiba's movie "Budo" from 1935 available to watch.

But it takes experience and knowledge to pull what is there together, and the power of the internet.

What happened the movie Budo was filmed first.

Morei Usheiba – Budo 1935 complete

Then the book Budo created to serve as a study guide for his students. The book was roughly based on the movie.

Along the way a very good magazine, the Aikido Journal, started being published in Japan. I happened on their online site and browsing through their old articles discovered, a true gem, by Phil Davison An analysis of the 1935 film “Budo” featuring Morihei Ueshiba

If you print it out and view the movie following it's descriptions, the entire experience is greater. You have a clearer understanding of a historical masterpiece.