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………………

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