Thursday, December 29, 2011

Continuing thoughts on Jion

I’m going to conclude my 2011 projects with another pass at Chromo Hanshio’s presentation of Jion Kata in the 1938 Nakasone Genwa text the “Karate-Do Taikan”.

I presented some comments earlier this year on blog at I don’t practice the kata, it’s not in the Isshinryu tradition, nor do I know anyone in the Kyudokan tradition which does so, but I think if I draw upon the insights from Nakasone’s text and Mutsu Mizhuo’s 1933 “KempoKarate” I can make some headway towards understanding Hanshiro’s comment “Budo is a living thing; naturally there are thousands of different applications and variations for each technique."

Before I go further let’s look at a Kyudokan presentation of Jion, seen from a different angle than the other video’s I’ve shared.

I have to admit when I first saw this form in the “Karate-Do Taikan” it didn’t do much for me. I saw it as a simple exercise in large techniques. Now I have a very different opinion.

Among the first things I see now are the form as a study in basic techniques for Karate Ni Sente Nashi. The kata using Mutsu’s concepts of Reactive Defense (such as blocks/parries while leaning away from the attacker) and Preemptive Striking (they strike first but your counter-strike hits before they strike you. Especially with the countering strikes being to the head not the center of the attackers body. Strikes to end a confrontation quickly with a head shot.

Take these two principles together and they’re designed to counter a multiple strike attack where the attacker intends a double tap to take you out. Leaning away with the block/parry creates a vacuum to pull the attacker towards you for their second strike. As they move into the space you created you enter that space too with your counter-strike.

You can review these principles with my earlier post on ‘There is no first strike in karate’ at

Yet I feel this only touches the surface of the thousands of applications Hanshiro mentioned.

I think it’s obvious that in addition to considering that these techniques can be used against any type of attack, there are innumerable add-on techniques for what is shows in the kata.

Consider the lunge strike to the head followed with a high block/strike. If you struck someone in the head what is the high block for? You might suggest that you’re using that block to clear away their strike. I would suggest that the missing technique would then be descending strike, an add-on to the movement not found in the kata. This would be a consistent study such as those also presented in Nakasone’s text by Shiroma Shimpan.

I’ve presented some discussion of Shiroma Shimpan on a previous post at

Such study might be the first step towards the thousands of answers Hanshiro suggested. I’ve touched similar answers with several of my friends arts.

I believe with this version of Jion Kata, we’re seeing older Okinawan traditions. As it was Itosu’s students who shared so much information in the past, it is logically consistent to draw upon those sources in our quest to understand earlier karate.

I’ve previously discussed some of these concepts in the following posts.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Concluding a Year – 2011

The nights are long and the cold finally arrives, but the solstice has passed and 2012 approaches. It’s a good time for some introspection.

2011 was a pivotal year in my training. First I was diagnosed with type 2 Diabetes. I had to come to grips with the effects I had been assigning to age were something I could fight. So I regained control of my diet, increased my exercise by walking and used my karate training to rebuild my life. I lost a lot of weight, my karate got stronger to the point I even competed in a tournament. Then the second act found me diagnosed with colon cancer and surgery required. If anything the regulation of my training made things much easier for me because I was healthier. Recovering from the surgery I started walking even more and turned to my tai chi and karate to rebuild myself, stronger than I’ve been for decades. But the third act required a combination of radiation and chemo therapy to the current fourth act of ongoing chemo therapy, all to help my body eliminate any further cancer possibility.

I’m now lighter than I’ve been in 30 years. Age has had an effect on my life, but my continuing training has been of incredible value. I was forced to set aside much of my kobudo training until recently, almost a six month stand down, and now find how much goes too quickly as I return to those disciplines.

On the Isshinryu front my major focus in 2011 has been SunNuSu and Sanchin kata but there are innumerable Isshinryu challenges ahead. Tai Chi and Silat Tjimande drills have become my major method of warming up for practice. I’m using the softer drills to prepare my body for practice. Tai Chi continues to provide depth for my karate studies, but not from similarity of technique, but in the way the entire body is used in technique execution and the relevance to what good karate execution requires.

For a most personal push I’ve used private study of Tomari No Rohai and Aragaki No Sochin. Both forms use a hip shift during striking that I now recognize as a method in Yang study these 34 years, but the transition from the Yang technique to karate striking is not a simple transition. It will be interesting to see what this study yields in future years.

As an instructor of two very small programs the year has been challenging.

For the youth program Mr. Cassidy is well transitioned as the main instructor and works at innovative ways to develop the Boys and Girls Club youth. Such a program has it’s ebbs and flows as students pass through but this year it’s again developed into a most robust group. Being able to step back and watch has been insightful always learning much about how students learn and allowing me to focus on the small details because I’m not running the class. We’ve moved the program to include youth black belts, though not changing the overall content and the true fun begins when you guide someone to taking more serious steps in their training.

The adult program has been a different experience. Keeping to an older standard of small instruction, you learn how your students are affected by the world and it’s economic pressures. Basically they’ve had to make choices requiring intense hours of work to keep their positions and that has had a effect on the time they can train. They remain dedicated students when they have the time, but the underlying lesson for the instructor remains what you can accomplish in your own studies is restricted to what your students can do. Among the causalities my ongoing study in application analysis, I’ve had to learn to set aside what I want to study to always focus on what the students need to study for the time they have. The student needs are far more important than the instructors.

Each student in the end defines how far their studies will go. The instructor is but a guide that continues to point the way but the student defines their path. That is how it should be, they should be developed to make such critical decisions and what their karate will become is among the important ones.

Among the more fascinating studies in 2011 has been my historical research into Nakasone Genwa’sKarate Do Taikan”, especially as I see how much of it parallels the many subsidiary studies from my friends. Essentially much which was published in 1938 has been part of my students studies for decades. When friends shared with me I was able to pick the unique and worked to include it in my studies, now I see those drills explain a lot about what earlier studies in karate represented. I have plans to work to use Nakanone’s book in our instructor development program. I find I’ve shared so much I forget what I’ve already touched. One of my current projects is to amend an earlier post with some additional material to make a more complete suggested understanding.

During 2011 I was most fortunate to spend some time will all of my primary instructors and other friends. I traveled to West Virginia and spent time with Tom Lewis, reminiscing on Isshinryu and friends. I spent time with Ernest Rothrock, received needed corrections on my tai chi and shared some insight with his students on the application potential of one technique. Tristan Sutrisno dropped by and shared some insight on knife studies clarifying older studies for me. Charles Murray had some old Super8 movies transferred to a dvd and shared many precious moments in his training, my instructors before my time training, a glimpse of the Agena dojo in 1972 when he was training there and some of his chinkuchi training on Okinawa. Later during a visit he shared the oral history of his time in Agena studying chinkuchi under Shimabuku Shinso.

I was also able to attend a few hours of John Kerker’s annual Isshinryu seminar at Mr. Whitley’s dojo in Springfieldm Massachusetts. Every time I see him I’m both graced to learn more of his art and blessed to gain further understanding of his instructor Sherman Harrill. This year was no exception and I had many, “Wow I can’t believe I didn’t see this before,” moments.

There is no way to include everything that made the year special. I spent time with other special friends too, including first meetings. Among the more frivolous things were other journeys. Superman finally took flight, Harry Potter kicked ass, Comic book movies remained fun, Sherlock and Watson danced most beautifully and Atlas Shrugged. It helps to keep the mind young.

Walking has become more than mere exercise, it is time to step away from the day’s events and spend time with oneself.

Now it’s time to start another day, new adventures, new studies, many projects on the burner to bring to market. Where does it go? I have no idea, but I long ago learned each year I’ve doubled everything I learned the previous year and I expect that’s not going to stop for a long time, if I can help it.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Chinese Studies

Once upon a time I studied the Chinese Arts with Ernest Rothrock Laoshi.

I already was studying Yang Long Fist Tai Chi Chaun with him and wished to understand the Chinese Arts better as I often had to judge Chinese forms. For a period of five years I studied various forms from him.

Through diligent research I've found close versions of those forms to share with my students. They are not 100% identical to my studies but are close enough to allow understanding of what I studied.

Northern Shaolin (Sil Lum)
Duen Da Chaun

Northern Mantis (Tai Tong Long)

Chin Woo
Tan Tui

Chin Woo
Gong Li Quan

Faan Tzi Ying Jow Pai
Shi Lu Xing Quan (行拳) is known as the "Walking Fist."

Saturday, December 10, 2011

In the Land of Dreams

Some of the arts I wish I had the time to learn..............


The Shaolin 'Wu Xing Quan' executed by Master Qin Qing Feng, better known as the 'Wu Xing Ba Fa', is the immitating style of the five 'basic' animal styles of Shaolin boxing. It consist of the Leopard (Pao), the Tiger (Hu), the Snake (She), the Crane (He), and the mythological Dragon (Long).

Yanqing Tui

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Tom Lewis and Dennis Lockwood in 1976

It was 1976 when Tom Lewis (my original instructor) and Dennis Lockwood (another of my instructors) gave a karate demonstration in Ocean City, Maryland. This footage was preserved on Super8 by Charles Murray.

Understanding Shiroma Shimpan

As I keep working my way through my copy of Nakasone Genwa’s “Karate-do Taikan” I find myself resolving an interesting mystery that I’ve been living through for over 30 years, namely what can we understand from karate’s past about the older way of the hand. All of the books published in the 1930’s are sharing material that had been very closely held about what karate was.

Among my most interesting discovery is a link between the kata ‘Aragaki no Sochin’ of Aragaki Isumu which may be found on YouTube, to the kata ‘Aragaki no Sochin’ described by Mabuni Kenwa in Nakasone’s book and finally the use of karate techniques described by Shiroma Shimpan also in Nakasone’s book.

A number of years ago when I first discovered Aragaki Isumu’s ‘Aragaki no Sochin’ I was struck by the power of his technique and the unique movements he showed. Since that day I’ve found 4 more performances of him showing that kata and uniquely each is different from each other. Logically there may just be multiple versions of the kata, or it may be that he does not share the complete kata in public (a well known Okinawan tradition). Be that as it may, together they provide an interesting insight into a kata performance.

When I first saw it I tried relating it to the Mabuni Kenwa ‘Aragaki no Sochin’ in my copy of Nakasone’s book. I couldn’t read the Japanese but it was apparent that the Mabuni version was similar but many of Aragaki Isumu’s movements were not part of the form. Today the version of Mabuni’s Shito Ryu students remains faithful to Mabuni’s documented version. Finally when Mario McKenna’s translation of Nakasone’s book became available I could read the kata description and the bunkai of it’s movements which he shared. A very good kata but different in many senses.

As to which ‘Aragaki no Sochin’ came first or was the more authentic I have no insight or interest. Both are complete. But it was finally from Shiroma Shimpan use of karate techniques explained in Nakasone’s book, that I have been able to piece together a logical framework explaining the kata. [Note: logic does not mean a ‘real’ relationship, just a relationship that works in understanding karate’s past, IMO.]

One of the underlying principles I define from Shiroma Shimpan was that karate technique could contain extra ‘unseen’ techniques such as following a ‘block’ with a strike from the same hand. I’ve been using similar principles from the teaching of one of my friends Ernest Rothrock for decades and all of my students do too. Shiroma just added an expanded vocabulary of techniques for use to draw on. Nor do I believe he shared everything he knew, but enough to make a serious effort in understanding.

What I’ve been able to piece together was similar techniques are in the Sochin of Aragaki Isumu’s performance. Logically the Mabuni style Sochin might be the ‘base’ form and the Aragaki Isumu Sochin might be the ‘expanded’ form. Finally I realized that the Aragaki performance was close to the techniques of Ernest Rothrock’s ‘Jing-do’ studies. Then the Aragaki performance may be a further example of Shiroma’s principles. One that you can watch in action.

The Aragaki technique application potential are not better than Mabuni’s application. Just different, yet, the potential in understanding may be significant.

There is much more taking place in Aragaki Isumu’s performance than the additional techniques, but that is an other story.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Quiet Time

It's interesting keeping a blog on my martial studies.

At times articles of interest just bubble up.

At other times training, thought and work take precedence and quiet prevails.

Research is not a straight line topic as in just read a book and you know what is next. Instead you have to read and live what you read, try and practice too.

Right now I'm brimming over with thoughts on Nakasone's "Karate-do Taikan', how much of it already exists in my subsidiary studies to my Isshinryu program because of facets of their arts as shared with me by Ernest Rothrock and Tristan Sutsisno, and the relationship between Mabuni Kenwa's "Aragaki No Sochin" from the Nakasone text to the "Aragaki No Sochin" of Aragaki Isumu and the description of the use of Karate Kata technique by Shiroma Shimpan from the Nakasone text.

I've started the slow process of adopting Mario McKenna's translation of Nakasone's text or "An Overview of Karate-do", for our instructor development program, in that we're doing many of the training practices Nakasone shared might as well tie them back to the 1938 descriptions too.

In a bit I'll follow with my Sochin to Shrioma Shimpan analysis.