I fade back to an earlier time.
Even kumite was different. When I began there was no Safety-gear (then probably an idea in Jhoon Rhee’s mind.) And the rules were often different. I remember my first tournament (in Baltimore at Mr. Condes tournament) where they allowed groin attacks because of the kung-fu guy’s were concerned the rules were too restrictive to their art, and the only people who successfully used the groin to strike were my friends from our groups dojo.
I recall another tournament which was old style, no protective gear was allowed (even mouth pieces and groin protective gear). And they checked each competitor in each division. The tournament floor was also bare concrete.
We just did our karate. No matter what the rules.
As for the time, there were few books. No movies in distribution showing the various styles, No internet, the closest thing were the few monthly magazines. Nothing like YouTube allowing you to find anything by a quick search. And while the concept of training with others existed, it was not a question most could pursue.
There was no concept of ‘Bunkai’ discussed openly anywhere. The thought of cross training was not discussed as an option because there was no term like that then.
I was a new black belt, my instructor, Charles Murray, returned to the Air Force, as an officer. My original instructor, Tom Lewis, was very far away, and though I visited there as often as possible for the most part I was very much on my own. Only somewhat different from what the original pioneers in our arts experienced, though of course people did know the arts did exist.
I quickly realized both how much my instructor’s had shared, and how little I knew at the same time. Besides continuing training youth through the Scranton Boys Club, I turned to the many open tournaments in the Pennsylvania area to push myself. Using the competition as an ‘instructor’ of sorts.
The completion in the Pennslyvania, New Jersey, Maryland area was of great variety. And many of the competitors were very skilled in a wide range of arts, eclectic to very traditional. And from the completion floor I began to make many friends.
In the fall of 1979 I saw Ernest Rothrock was opening a school in my town. And among the demonstrations was one for Tai Chi. I had read about tai chi in college and always found it interesting. So I attended that demonstration and liked what I saw. I stuck up a conversation with him and found he would be willing to teach me. I am sure I was as much fun to work with as a bag of cement, but I kept at it. I was not interested in Tai Chi for martial purposes , not was he interested in Tai Chi as a martial study for me. At that time, besides his schools, and his many studies, he was focusing on Northern Eagle Claw for his personal training.
So for two years I trained with him on the Yang form and Yang sword,
I was also visiting those schools that were in my area to train. Not for rank, not to learn those arts, not to change my Isshinryu because of any lack I saw. I had much free time after my daily job, so I trained about 6 days a week. Within the area I could travel there was no Isshinryu. I was completely on my own.
However something Ernest said to me, that ” if I was a black belt,
‘I could never say I can’t’”, and so I worked very hard to remember everything I experienced. Continual practice, beginning to take notes, realizing each experience might not be repeated so work to ‘learn’ everything I was shown. And along the way I experienced much.
After 9 months into my Tai Chi studies, I started other studies into the Northern Chinese Arts with Ernest, studying a vast array of forms. I was only interested in understanding the breadth of the Chinese Arts.
He taught them slow. Some took a year to learn. Of course in that process it did have some impact on my karate, too. What he showed me were not beginning forms of those systems, but advanced studies for the most part, or beginning studies where appropriate for me. This was not the course he taught his students. I came to understand, besides his focus, he managed to stay atop hundreds of forms. His schools leaving him great time to personally train. In that sense I hardly touched the surface of his studies.
Although I found similarities to my own system at times. I did not seek karate’s origins from those studies. Just a chance to sweat.
So training, teaching, studying Tai Chi and studying Chinese forms didn’t occupy all my time. So I began to train at other schools. Shotokan, Kempo Goju, Washin Ryu, Goshin Jutsu, Shorin Ryu and Goju Ryu schools among them. Always to be pushed and sweat. But I was learning not to say what I can’t do and working to retain whatever I saw. No I was not perfect, much I was not able to retain, but I was trying.
I began to realize how vast the martial experience was. While Ernest also began teaching me on another level, by privately asking me leading questions which in time I realized he simply could have shown me answers. I began to separate the different experiences I was having.
In those days no place I trained did they discuss ‘bunkai’. Certainly not with Ernest, of course now I realize he did not share application studies because I didn’t have the requisite skill, not that he didn’t have them. But he certainly laid the ground work for the possibility of applications.
When I made friends with Tristan Sutrisno, only there did I hear the concept ’Bunkai’. About this time the magazines has discovered the concept and articles were beginning to discuss this. During classes shared with Sutrisno Sensei he would question why no one else did this. In time I came to study the ‘bunkai’ for his Shotokan. What I found was ‘bunkai’ of a type unlike anything else I had heard about. His father studied under Funakoshi in Japan in the 1930’s, and their approach I came to understand is close to what other students of Itosu used to explain how to use Karate technique, but the Sutrisno methodology was significantly different.
Of course I began to take copious notes.
You may consider those years spent were cross-training. I was just training and doing my best to remember.
Did it have an impact on my Isshinryu? I suppose it did. But not for my students in those days. What it did was give me a reason to train at my Isshinryu with greater fervor.
While there is much more to my training. Let me make a point. What is seen as cross training, to me was more the opportunity to continue to push myself. If I had remained in the area of my original instructor, I would have done none of this. Nor would that have been to a detriment. It just changed the shape of how I continued to remain a black belt.
Over the years I did add small pieces of the studies to my student’s programs. To give them knowledge, provide different techniques to apply Isshinryu against, to make them work in different ways, to make them unpredictable. And of course at times give them reasons to hate me as they move into dimensions of movement for which their studies have not prepared them.
My students have the right to train anywhere they wish. They are adults after all. But few have the time. Here they might touch, Shorin Ryu, Goju Ryu, Pai Lum and Shotokan. At times even with my friends.
We all have the time to choose where we spend our resources. Did this help motivate me to work on my Isshinryu to even greater depth? Yes, often finding those techniques learned elsewhere were already part of Isshinryu, seen when you just change your perspective.
I never worried about mastering anything, just to keep working at it. As time changes what you do, you continually have to retrain who you are.
This was mostly a time before I gained greater insight into Isshinryu’s potential from Sherman Harrill, but that is another tale.