Monday, May 30, 2016

Tournament for a Master

Back in 1976 I attended a tournament held for Shimabuku Tatsuo at the Sunnyside Garden in NYC.

While I have no photos from that day I have vivid memories of the day.

I remember Sensei Lewis competing with Sunsu kata. Karl Hovey competing with a very dynamic version of Chinto kata, as well as many, many others in different divisions.

One brown belt competitor made quite an impression. He was called Quick Draw Mc Graw. Don't know if that was his real name, but he fought throwing repeated knife hand strikes toward his opponent. I never saw anyone else fight that way.

I met Don Nagle as the judge of my Blue Belt division.
I had a discussion with Steve Armstrong.
Lewis Sensei and our group had lunch with Long Sensei.

Also in attendance as guest of honor was Shimabuku Kichero. He also demonstrated Sunsu kata and Chantan Yara No Sai.

This is my certificate of attendance and the tournament rules for Kumite.

Derry the Adults

The group was more about training than taking pictures, but there are some bringing back old memories.





The Youth of the Derry Boys Club Over the Years




Sunday, May 29, 2016

It is Just a Front Kick


Memory is a funny thing, things just pop up for no reason. I just had such a memory.


About 20 years ago I had a phone call from someone in another system, Shorin based, and he was describing a clinic he attended in the Western United States. I used to work out with him 35 years ago, though we have long fallen out of contact since that time.


Anyhow the memory goes like this. At this clinic a very senion Okinawan instructor was present more as an observer. However at one point he allowed the group to pose questions to him. Someone asked about the Okinawan use of the roundhouse kick. His reply stunned everyone. He said “in all his years in Okinawan karate, he only used one kick.” There was no follow up to that response.


Now I assume he might have meant the front kick, which at even different angles of delivery remains a front kick.

The Front Kick II


My previous post on the Okinawan front kick, made me think of other things that should be said.


In my Isshinryu practice the front kick is done a variety of different ways”


          1, The front kick to the front

                   a. The front kick as a thrust kick to the knee

                   b, The knee strike to the front (lifting the knee of the front

                       kick in chamber as the strike)

                             i. done with constant acceleration forward

                             ii. done with constant acceleration upward

                             iii. done with explosive acceleration forward

          2. The front kick to the side.

          3. The front kick on your back on the floor into the opponents

              Descending reach

4. The use of the heel of the foot returning to chamber at the

    conclusion of the kick

5. The use of the shin of the front kick as an impacting surface.

6, Each step as a potential front kick

7. The front kick delivered at a 45 degree angle from the floor.

          a. Done with the thigh as the target

          b. Done with the side of the ribs as the target.


Then there are a range of targets to consider: 


          1. The toes

          2. The entire length of the shin

          3. The knee,

          4. The entire length and depth of the thigh

          5. The hip joint where the leg meets the hip

          6. The groin

          7. The abdomen and the sides of the ribs

          8. the solar plexus

          9. The armpit

          10. The chin

          11. Attacking the rear of the opponent, the entire body offers


          12. When striking with the heel

                   i. the back of the knees

                   ii. the back

                   iii. the groin from the rear


While I have done my best to be complete, I am sure I am missing some possibilities.


The use of toe kicks with the front kick.  Many Okinawan systems of training included use of the toes with a front kick. This is done with a variety of ways the toes is used and conditioned in different systems. Among them:


1.  the toes is a cupped position as in the accompanying Gojushiho

    front kicks. Useful for kicking into the armpit.

2. Where the toes are curled back and you practice conditioning the  

    big toe knuckle joint for striking. (I wonder if this is done any


3. Where the 2nd toe is crossed over the joint of the big toe for

    Added stability

4. where the big toe is conditioned by striking tires and walls as in

   Ueichi Ryu


I am sure this list is not comprehensive. The use of the makiwara for striking was also part of many of those practices. I understand all of these methods deliver a penetrating kick as to the thigh, abdomen, solar plexus and other locations.


I did not receive such training in my Isshinryu practice. We were taught to strike with the ball of the foot. This is also penetrating but not so much as with the toe tip kicks.


I would like to add a bit of reality here. I realize these may be part of your dojo practices. But I am not Billy Jack or training anyone to be like him. Specifically I would not remove my shoes (boots) before I would kick. In that light we use summer practice (and at other times) to specifically train with our shoes on.


As it turns out during my studies in Chinese Arts with Ernest Rothrock, one of my studies was the Jing Woo Association form Tam Tuie. The form is done in Chinese style boots with hard toes. The targets are toes, ankles, shins, thighs and groin. The method of tensing the foot to use with impact is also useful for our kicking with footware.


Effectiveness using shoes too.


Several specific kicking drills I use are a re-creation of the Itosu 8 point kicking drill that is described by John Sells in Unante. I consider it one of the best drills I have. It offers insight on kicking from the inside of an attack. I have not filmed it ever but I offer these notes.


Recreating the Itosu Eight Point Kicking Drill


Another good kicking drill, working on balance, was described to me by Joe Swift. It is the Mabuni 7 point kicking drill. I did film this one.


Mabuni 7 point kicking drill


Everything here supports that there is not such a thing as a simple front kick. It is a complex and vast study in all our arts, or so it is from my point of view.


Saturday, May 28, 2016

Thoughts on Borges and the Circular Ruins

Karate has undergone so many different changes, at times the better we understand the past the more it may suggest what we are experiencing today. Time seems to be cyclical, abet different too.
When organizations were created for karate transmission, there were many things occurring in Japan as a result of those organizations. Individuals seeking higher rank, individuals breaking from older organizations and creating new ones, as examples.
When karate began the new wave of Diaspora from Okinawan origins, there were lessons to be learned from what already had been learned in Japan, but were not commonly shared, that might have been useful to others to understand what was to happen again.
But instead they were not shared, and the same lessons would occur again and again.
I often think about those older days. At a time Okinawa was permanently Japan, there was no longer an Okinawan king, there was no longer a stipend for the older ruling families of Okinawa. That which would be known as karate was simply a class thing, and if you were not a member of the class you had no access to what became karate. It was not military training for the battlefield. It was not for civilian defense. It became more and more a way to preserve some privileges for some members of that class. It was yet to become an idea as a way to prepare the young for military draft participation, or even a way to strengthen the Okinawan people.
We look very hard at the technical details of those practices. We look very hard at the few who remained karate practitioners and instructors for their lives. Those who shaped what the art became.
But everyone did not become an instructor. What was the impact on the lives of the others? How long did they train before other responsibilities entered their lives?
Karate training would lead toward making correct decisions against an attacker. Did the training also lend itself to making correct decisions about how to lead your life? How did one balance training against family or work decisions. At what pace did those who remained active train against those other requirements? Did they turn to those who trained them to make those decisions?
From what I know we know very little of the answer to so many of those questions, and others.
Of course it was not about money. And it was not about establishing your own school, though there were no rules about that. I have one clue that was given to me the one time I met Shimabukuro Zempo in 1984 in Central Pennsylvania. ( A date that now strikes as Ironic, suggesting Orwell’s book). He was explaining on Okinawa there were maybe 3 Isshinryu dojo, 50 Goju Ryo dojo and perhaps 100 Shorin Ryu dojo [Not that those numbers were more illustrative than fact. And he was likely making a statement about Isshinryu in the process.]  But the telling point he made was “On Okinawa nobody wanted to train with a Ni Dan in Karate, instead everyone wanted to train with someone with 50 or 60 years training.”
This probably had a great deal to today’s experiences, when long time students (say 15 +) years into their own training, suddenly decide to stop training.
There are differences between sorting through beginners to find those who value the training and stay a while to become students (as regards 5 years training) to gain enough control of themselves to get into the training. Then one day after skill has begun to develop they stop training, and never return explaining why. That is understandable for they feel embarrassed that they had to decide and it is too much to explain. Not that one needs explanations. Rather you now miss the presence of a friend. At the same time it is perhaps from your training them they were able to make such a decision. In that you did not fail as as instructor, for making decisions is at core what it is about.
So as you sift through beginners, you sift through the practitioners you create, and occasionally you find those that are into training for life. Then fewer still develop to become an instructor.
Contrast that to today. Where you have gone with change and operate a school for a profession. The basic needs of people have not changed, they operate with the same needs. Of course your karate is not so much for a special group of people. And karate is not a new thing on the block. In fact most people after TV, Books and the Movies are incapable of understanding what karate is or why your version is different from others. Newer ideas occupy minds, karate is seen as old school.
Against those realities a different sort of beginner is attracted. People have greater time restrictions on their lives. They work hard, and are tired too.
We can only wonder what the past might tell us, but I doubt such information is available.
Change is the constant, Worldwide change. And as karate is everywhere, at different ways each and every place.

Friday, May 27, 2016

The Wheel Turns On Chinto Memories

It is said that time is a river flowing to the ocean, and at other times that time is a circle that repeats itself. I find both statements have truth to them.


I also like the definition of Isshin as the term “Concentration”.


Last evening all of those statements became clear to me.


It was an Ending


It was my next to last class, I was working with Andrea, a new junior black belt of my tradition.  As a parting gift, in part, I was showing her the opening of Chinto kata. It will be some time before she is shown the rest and I won’t be the one teaching her. But after class it brought back memories of when I was shown that same section.


When I was a student I have memories of a brown belt doing Chinto between to bo placed on the floor to symbolize a bridge.


Then it was August just before I was moving to Scranton Pa because of a new job. Lewis Sensei had just promoted me to green belt, and that last night he showed me the opening of Chinto kata. It was of course bittersweet for I was moving away. In Scranton there was no Isshinryu. I kept up my practice, but to train with people I joined Frank Trojanowicz’s Tang Soo So Moo Duk Kwan program and began that study.


When I got Chinto


The next summer I had a weeks vacation, and we returned to Salisbury for I was on a mission. I visited Salisbury and told Sensei I wanted to study more Chinto. So he showed me some more. The next night I visited another of the IKC clubs and there I studied some more. Then I visited Reese Rigby’s school in Dover and got another section. The following night I went back to Salisbury for the next class, and Sensei showed me the rest. Some how in those 4 days I learned Chinto.


Returning to Scranton, I returned to the Tang Soo study, but continued my own practice of Isshinryu, now including Chinto. That Labor Day I had a phone call from Charlie Murray. It was that he took a church nearby. Not giving him an option I started studying Isshinryu with him. His own version of Chinto was slightly different from the one I studied. He told me to remain the versions I studied in Salisbury, and just learn his versions for the kata that were to follow.


Then I made Black Belt and Charles returned to the USAF. My practice was on my own. I began to teach youth at the Boys Club in  Scranton. 2 of them, Roy Blackwell and Michael Toomey, made their own Black Belt ratings. But again after 5 years I had to move for work and that program ended.


Up the Hill, Down the Hill and Over the Bridge


Chinto did become a more interesting practice. The Club would close in the summers, but classes did not stop. I held them at nearby McDade park. There were hills, a bridge over a culvert and plenty of other space to train. We would do Chinto on the hills. Going  up and down the hill. It gave a lot of insight to how you could train the kata.


But the most interesting highlight of the park was the bridge that they had over a culvert (which was dry). It was about 6’ wide and provided a great place to practice Chinto. No one was in danger of falling off that bridge, but we used the practice to try and remain on the centerline of the bridge. In part a tribute to the bridge history of Chinto kata.


Relocating to Derry, almost immediately I began the program in the Derry Boys and Girls Club. Shortly thereafter I also began an adult program there. After awhile I was again teaching Chinto Kata.

The guys did Chinto Kata very quickly, It was as if Chinto was an energy pump, allowing you to go faster and faster. Then when I would admonish their speed, I would join in the practice, and it would go even faster. It was work to get everyone, myself included to slow down.

Here is the earliest record I have of the brown belt performance of Chinto, Young Lee from 1990

I also had the brown belts do Chinto in opposing directions. This was not for performance, but to engage their sight and hearing in their practice.


          . The Eyes Must See All Sides

          . The Ear Must Hear in All Directions

From 1989

This is where Chinto was at the newer 2nd dan Black Belt level in 1992

Now there are other versions of Chinto kata in other styles. Where Isshinryu’s version is descended from the Kyan Chotoke kata, and is done on a 45 degree angle, other styles go straight for their embusen of the form, and there is a Tomari version that goes side to side. But pretty much they have most of the same movements.


Chinto between the Walls


I found for many students that the 45 degree angle made it more difficult to learn the form. What I did was have them face off in the beginning on a 45 degree angle for the rei, and then to do the form straight between the school walls, better to allow them for their alignment of the kata. Then after they had some proficiency they would do the form normally. It has proven to be a successful way to teach the form.




I imagine I saw this in Salisbury, but performing Chinto while blindfolded is a good way to help the student understand the kata. I have even placed two bo on the floor for the performance of the kata, to help them remain in the center while they are doing the form.


Even Chinto between the Blueberries


In the summers, we turned to my back yard for the adult classes. Several unique training methods developed in time.


Outside I had a narrow path between some tall bushes. I used that space to work another story about Chinto Kata. That it represented a combat taking place on a narrow path. The pathway was not quite 2 feet wide.

I would have them attempt the form and they would end up in the bushes unable to complete the form.


Then I would do the form and stay in the middle of the path for the most part. There was one section where you are slightly off the center but the next turn returns you there.


Then I would ask them where I was different so I remained working the center line. I was making continual foot placement adjustments to do it there.


We also did Chinto Kata back in the area my hundred blueberry bushes would grow. Doing the kata between the lines of those bushes on most uneven ground also had lessons for everyone. Foremost understand the ground on which you are working the kata.


The Turns in Chinto Kata


The continual stance adjustments also started me thinking about what they meant. That taught me a great deal about doing the kata within a confined space. And, it lead to other discoveries.


The one thing that is most different about Chinto kata, in all its versions, are the continual use of turns in the form.Then doing the kata in a confined path to remain in the center so as not to be forced from the path, made me think about those turns even more.


I became convinced that the act of turning in Chinto kata, was also an application movement study that I followed. The performance in the tight space was a great tool to become more efficient at those turns.


Even discovery about Chinto when doing Tai Chi


One day at my Tai Chi group (we met for 18 years) an idea occurred to me about a Chinto application. We met on my driveway for the class all year long, from -20 to +115 as it was. I am sure being near that path I practiced Chinto on had something to do with it.


A new use for me of the opening of Chinto kata occurred to me. I grabbed John Dinger after the class and asked him to attack me, for I wanted to work on something. I told him I was going to do this in slow motion.


So he stepped in with a slow punch. I did the section of Chinto kata, and before I knew what had happened I knocked him out in slow motion. I helped him get up off the ground and apologized. I did not understand what had happened. So I requested he attack me again and I would go slower. Again I put him down and I did not understand why.

No, it was not that pressure point nonsense. Sherman Harrill had successfully proven to me the entire body is a pressure point to the well trained.


The long range practice of Chinto bears fruit 10, 20 and 30 years later.


Having students still training after 30 years, I continue to learn what long term practice offers the adept of Isshinryu. It is not as simple as just one level of performance. Seeing them progress in the kata year after year is enough of a reward.


Then several decades later we have Young Lee along and Rabiah doing Chinto


So the circle goes around again.


I learned the first movement of Chinto and I have taught the first movement of Chinto a final time.


Time for another road.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Self-Defense Techniques of Shaolin Red Fist

Self-Defense Techniques of Shaolin Red Fist (Part II) by Gene Ching (Xing Long).

Kung Fu magazine 2002 April, page 108-109


 Form vs. Function

When form and application is placed side by side, we clearly see how the fighting applications differ from the form. In combat, the stances are not nearly as wide as in the form, and  the hand positions vary. Even so the spirit of the movement is the same. This is the secret to unlocking forms – they are not to be taken literally. Forms are like sutra’s teaching the way of right action. Application is the action. Knowing the right action and doing the right action is connected, yet not the same.  Consequently practical teachings must be malleable, subject to individual interpretation, to fit any situation.


On a deeper level, forms practice serves a higher purpose beyond just self defense. While on the outside forms teach you how to fight, on the inside forms teach you how to harness your vital essence, your qi. Qi ‘by nature, is very difficult to explain how this process works. This requires some faith.


You cannot begin to penetrate Shaolin kungfu without awareness of fighting applications.  Even if you are practicing for qi cultivation alone, sine Saholin is a martial art, its qi always reflects combat applications.  Therefore, knowing the fighting methods is critical to understanding where to channel your qi.


 Fa├žade vs. Fighting

Interpreting forms into fighting hits even greater challenges with “hidden” movements. Occasionally, kung fu will hide its techniques within the forms. In this way, certain techniques could be kept secret from prying eyes, …  Although external position is changed, the hidden intention is preserved within the mind of the practitioner. 


A basis example is the palm strike. In forms, the heel of the palm is external focus point.  The fingertips are pulled back, creating a powerful isometric in the forearm that presses power deeper into the palms. But in application, the focal point can shift from a palm push to the collar-bone into a finger jab to the throat.



A study in Chinto

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Thoughts on Miyagi and Rank

I just ran across something Gary Gablehouse posted some time ago, a quote by Miyagi Chojun, Sensei on Martial Arts Titles.

"I believe that when Dan ranks are awarded in karate, it will inevitably lead to trouble. The ranking system will lead to discrimination within Karate, and karateka will be judged by their rank and not their character. It will create inferior and superior strata within the Karate community, and lead to discrimination between people."

Which is even more interesting when you think about what Miyagi Chojun did to move the study of karate forward.

 He studied and shared within the Okinawan martial arts community. He traveled to China to try and understand the Chinese Martial Arts, he was an innovator for his own style of karate training. He worked to gain recognition of the Okinawan Martial Arts in Japan, receiving recognition

From the Japanese Martial Establishment for his efforts and he observed first hand how the use of rank was working within Japan.

 I recall reading how Funakoshi Ginchin remarked how many with rank were coming forward at martial events. Individuals he had never heard of. I think it was within such context that Miyagi’s opinions were framed.

 On Okinawa, at that time, you were just an instructor, or a student or adept training. Rank was not unknown on Okinawa. Rank was a social function. Most or all of the karate-ka in the 1800’s were from noble families, it was something done with the structure of that society, Even when it was proposed for the schools I expect most of the students were from that stratus of society. Your family rank or status did not change because of your karate.

 Then when the export began into Japan, the structure was applied to be more Japanese in nature. After all I was for the University system that the art was taught, and there the structure of rank made it seem more like what individuals knew.

The idea must have appealed to many Okinawa’s as Miyagi had requests to grant rank to students. However he declined to do this with karate.

 When he died soon after the War, one of the first actions by his students was to ignore his suggestions and adopt rank.

 Now the tradition was when you became the instructor, as there were no rules written, you had the authority to make your own decisions. So changing to having rank in karate was not incorrect, just different.

 But is Miyagi’s suggestion was followed, how might the shape of karate be different today.

I just happened to run across this quote by the late Don Draeger in H.E. Davey’s book “Unlocking the Secrets of Aiki-jujutsu”. (which has a great deal to say about the Japanese martial arts.). Don Draeger was renowned as an authority on the martial arts of Japan.


As it happens it was sheer happenstance that I ran across that quote by Don Draeger. But I am not going to let chance stop me from using it.

It does seem consistent that Miyagi knew what the contemporary Japanese martial establishment was saying about the kyu-dan business developing within Japan. And that gave him reason not to go along with it. Also as he was from a family of distinction, it is reasonable to assume he didn’t find value in changing things.

That others didn’t see things his way also seems to be that they were concerned that the Japanese mainland was going that way and they felt that it would make sense to do it.

Of course speculation on my part.

The use of Kyu did IMO prove successful. It was a useful tool to develop beginners.

As for the rest, I recall Funakoshi started promoting people with one year training, back in the beginning of his time in Japan. Then things changed, I imaging to fit the then current Japanese University structure and then grew into what is today.

Setting that aside, the Okinawan must have been impressed at some level with what it showed.