Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Learning to Soar with Eagles

A long time ago I was a new black belt, which meant I was at the bottom of the heap. I was also on my own without any instructor nearby.


So I really worked on my Isshinryu, continued the youth program Charles Murray had begun in his church, taking in into the Boys Club of Scranton.


I also had a lot of free time, after work. My wife was working at the YMCA evenings, so rather than sit home and watch TV (remember that was when you used rabbit ears and antenna() I began to travel and train with the many people I was meeting at tournaments in the Penna. region. Mostly to have adults to work with.


I gained some idea of what other people were doing, then when I saw that style in tournaments it meant more. Prior to that tournaments were just an opportunity to compete and get a workout with people I didn’t know.


I had developed an interest in Tai Chi when I was in college, and I wanted to give that a try. Not for martial reasons, just because.


So there I was, finding private  lessons with Ernest Rothrock. I suspect I was as much fun to work with as a bag of cement. I had no transferable skills from karate to tai chi.


Ok, I had one skill, a big one. Never quit what you start. I didn’t and eventually I learned a bit.


Although I had seem kung performers at tournaments for years, I did not pay much attention to them, as I was there to compete.


But beginning the first time I had to compete in the same division as Cindy Rothrock, her then husband would later be my tai chi instructor, Chinese forms instructor, and friend and mentor, I was now noticing the Chinese competitors.


In the fall of 1979, after finding I had to judge Kung Fu competitors in tournaments, I began to realize I did not know what I was judging. Of course the judge does not have to know to judge, but I wanted to do a fair job for everyone.


Now the tai chi form is long, and it alone would take me two years to just learn. I knew there was no way to even do a credible job learning kung fu, but I had no desire to do that, I was more than content with my Isshinryu.


So one evening I approached Ernie and asked him if I could learn some kung fu forms, just to know more about what I was judging.


I knew he knew a lot, my tai chi lessons were teaching me that, and I knew he was teaching Pai Lum (at that time) but I had no idea what he knew.

Not everything, but a hell of a lot I didn’t know.


So he said, fine, that would be an additional ½ a week for you and what do you want to study?


Realizing I knew what I did not know replied – No idea what do you thing I should learn?


He then turned to a list of maybe 300 forms on the wall and said – Pick One.


I had no idea what any of them were, so I said  - I have no idea, what do you suggest?


So he picked one, a Northern Shaolin form (Sp? We never got around to spelling them) Dune De Quen.


And I began another impossible form study.

Not even in the system he was teaching his students. It was a black belt equivalent form in Shaolin. As the weeks progressed I would see his students peering as he taught me. Mostly to see what he was showing me.


Dune De Quen was a long form (I eventually began to wonder if there were any short Chinese forms). I believe it took me 8 months to learn the entire form. (a year or so later I did enter a Chinese division, with coaching from Ernie, and did a credible job for someone who is not a kung fu stylist,


I now had a patterm, tai chi class in Scranton, kung fu forms class in Scranton. Form practice time in Wilkes-Barre Saturday afternoons. All the time training many places, teaching and always working out.


Form followed form, Pai Lum forms, Tai Tong Long forms. Sil Lum forms, 3 section staff, and others.


I knew on Sundays he would travel to New York and study Eagle Claw with Shum Lung. He even took a trip to Hong Kong with his teacher. The name impressed me and I asked him what that was.


He explained that Eagle Claw was an old system that eventually joined the Ching Wu Association. There it had 10 common association forms before the student began the Eagle Claw.

So having big eyes, I asked him if I could study an Eagle Claw form. Ok begging was involved as by this time we had become friends. A lot of begging.


Eventually he told me he would ask his instructor, and the answer came back yes.


 What he told me is that he would teach me the form Hong Kuen.


Then he explained it was one of the 3 major forms of the system It contained all of the empty hand techniques of the Eagle Claw system. It was a moderately long form, of 10 rows of techniques.


The longest form Lin Kuen had 50 rows of techniques. They were shorter but covered every possible variation of the clawing techniques.


There was much much more to Eagle Claw, in time I became aware of it, but that is beyond this article.


Now in those days, there was no internet, no youtube, nor access to the Chinese books on the system, and I did not read Chinese so they would have been little help.


So you learned one little lesson at a time, and worked to retain it.  The whole form took me about a year to get down, and that would only be the beginning of the training for that form.


Eagle Claw takes its names as the shape used by the hands for the Chin Na which are the core of the system. It is a northern system, and contains a great many things.


I did get the form. And continued on to many other studies. But understand that the words that I got the form are not the same as the works I was proficient of the techniques of the form and could use all of them.


I think perhaps I was an experiment for Ernie. He knew I could remember long forms. I was a chance to try to teach what he was learning.


Many years later he did switch his students over to Eagle Claw. Waiting first to become an accredited instructor in the system (which took him 25 years of work, and the most complex examination I have ever heard of.)


I did accomplish what I set out to do, become more knowledgeable of the Chinese systems.


And having some knowledge made me realize how bad so many of the judges were, I don’t mean intentionally bad, just they did not know what they were judging.


Let me talk about one brown belt I was judging in in Central Penna. Karate and Kung Fu were in the same division. However most of the judges gave the higher score to the kung fu competitor. But he evidenced far less skill than the karate brown belts in the same division. I realize I was just one set of eyes, but it was clear to me the others did not know what they were seeing, and assumed because the style was kung fu it was superior to karate. (and many times the reverse had occurred in the Black Belt Divisions which amounted to the same thing.)


I was not on a crusade to save the world, A few years later I became disenchanted with the whole competition process and moved what I did away from that.


After moving away from Penna, without others to train with, I  chose to stop most of my Chinese studies, but for several forms and my Tai Chi.


Now as it happened today I discovered some really interesting information on Eagle Claw on youbube, but you have to know what to look for, and where to look.


Among my discoveries there is the beginning section of Hong Kuen, just as I learned on my first night.


Here is that section.


Sunday, January 29, 2017

Okinawa is so much more than just Karate and Cities

Okinawa is so much more than just Karate and Cities.
If you follow this group, you will find some incredible photos of Okinawa
This is just a random sampling of what I have seen.


The Uniform is the most importat thing

A long time ago I saw this article, in a magazine dedicated to making some money on the Kung Fu craze of the 1970s.
Not only showing some dubious Kung Fu,
but showing it would work in street clothes.
And what a suit at that.
I thought it was too important not to save.

Being properly dressed and shod make the Art after all.
Are you dressed for everything?

Saturday, January 28, 2017

KUWA = Okinawan Kobudo- The Hoe

Matayoshi kobudo Kodokan.
Kata: Kuwa no te.



Kuwa [Wikipecia]


The hoe is common in all agrarian societies; in Okinawa, the kuwa has been also used as a weapon for as long as there have been farmers. Compared to garden-variety hoes, the handle tends to be thicker and usually shorter, both due to Okinawan stature, and the fact that much of the agriculture takes place on hillsides where long handles would be a hindrance. A classic shape of blade is a simple rectangle of steel with a sharp leading edge, but may also be forked with tines.

  • Kata Matayoshi No Kuwa Nu De


Friday, January 27, 2017

"And then there was One"

Of course I borrowed the title from a tv show.


It occurred to me that much of what we think of as our traditional arts is quite different from what they were in the past, and that applies to many arts. So I am going to review a few memories.





When I began kicking in our Dojo was first the kicks listed on the Lower Body Chart on the wall.


But I quickly learned from kumite in the dojo, there were many, many more. Of course everything required those kicks on that chart was a big goal for everyone.


But Lewis Sensei encouraged you to kick to whatever potential you had. And those I saw most frequently were the dojo greenbelts ,their range was very large.


One that was popular was the back turning side kick also called the spinning back kick. The  guy’s were very good with that.


One of my friends Buddy Sommers, made it his speciality. And literally spent hours before the heavy bag working on his kick. He developed great control. He could blast you with the kick, and not knock you down at the same time, because he choose not to do so.

On the other hand it did not do him any favors in tournaments. There most often when he used it, the judges rulled that all spinning kicks were ‘wild kicks’ not eligible for scores as being controlled. But his use always was very controlled. Just the judges did not choose to believe that.


Then moving, spending two years in Tang Soo Do Moo Duk Kwan, then training with Charles Murray my own kicking developed far beyond that I originally had.


I used the same approach to kicking, the chart was most important, and wildly important for the Dan examination. But I also encouraged my students to develop their kicking ability as far as they could. And they did.





I remember one day I learned am important lesson, just because something is in a book, that does not mean it is true,


When I was a beginner my father gave me his copy of a book he had picked up. Nakasone’s “Dynamic Karate”

I knew it was about Shotokan karate, and was aware Isshinryu was a different sort of karate, but in those days I did not know what was different between different styles of Okinawan vs. Japanese karate.


One of the kicks described as I remember it (my book is packed up and unavailable for me. It also was different from what today’s internet searches show up. But as I recall it was the Reverse RoundHouse Kick. What the photos looked like as I remember was sort of a crescent type kick where the hower leg and foot struck out to the outside. As where a right kick would strike out to the right as it was thrown. Of course who knows if I interpreted the photos correctly.


The closest I can find to the kick I remember is a little like the following diagram. But the kick would hot be to the front, rather with the ball of the foot turned out to the right side.

Then I found the kick

 So one day I decided to do it before Tristan, to show I knew something.

He saw my kick and just told me “That kick is not in Shotokan.’


And of course I disagreed , citing the book Dynamic Karae.


There on he told me “My father studies with Funakoshi Sensei in the 1930’s and that kick was not in the art which is as my Father taught me.

I later learned that the organization Funakoshi founded had sent students (such as his son to other Karate instructors) (and Nakiyama to China, to study those arts.) bringing new ideas in the new JKA.


So I was confronted with a reality different from what I had presumed.


It time I read of how the Japanese Shotokan sent out various peoples to collect information about other instructors and arts to research and decide if they were to be included in their art. Apparently at the time Sutrisno Sensei’s father trained, that kick was not part of what became the JKA.


And as there was no clear mechanism of sharing information of changes or why they were adopted, to former still practicing students/instructors I can understand why such variances occurred.

Of course the question as to whether changed are good or less than good remains.



Different art and a different time.


Agaain this is from my memory, and I am not certain the kick I am going to describe was the one mentioned from the past, But the central idea of change remains.


Today it is taken that the Korean arts have a common kicking core, among them the spinning side kick (or back turning side kick).

Jhoon Rhee, commonly is referred to as the father of American Tae Kwon Do. He certainly was the most famous early TKD instructor in the states. Instructor, Innovator, Movie Star are all titles with describe his contributions.


However Tae Kwon Do is noe one system, rather a title applied to a variety of different Korean systems which banded together under General Choi, long ago.


And Jhoon Rhee’s art was the one Choi taught.


So as the story went, there was no spinning back kick in the art Rhee originally taught. It was in this Country where he first saw the Spinning Back kick being used  by another Korean TKD competitor, from a different TKD style.


But it was certainly added to his style with great effect. And many other styles adopted it too, and not just TKD.





So change occurred, and many times, in many arts, time after time.

No doubt this happen more in the modern era, with improved communications, public tournaments and demonstrations, Movies and Books.




Nor were my students immune from this. One of them Young Lee, I believe impressed by some movie, began to add a different technique to our club. One where he would run up a wall to do a side kick. Back in his younger days he taught this to several of the other teenage students too. It did not last the test of time and aging but is a small example of change occurring.




So a series of memories to bring me to the central story, one about Okinawan Karate.


Now I heard this 2nd hand, and can offer no proof, but it seems reasonable to me. I trust the individual who experienced this, that is enough for me.


As the story goes out in Reno, quite some time ago, there was a Clinic on various arts. One of those present was a very senior Okinawan instructor, who was mostly watching what was being taught that day.


Then a time came where he was going to answer some practitioner questions.


Some instructor had a question about the round house kick. The instructor thought a bit then answered, with the assistance of a translator.


In all my years of training I have only learned and used one kick, and the roundhouse kick you mention, was not that kick?


As I heard it, there was no further explaination.





Now I am going to take that statement and engage in some speculation..


If there was only one kick in his karate what might that be?


The first kick that comes to mind, is the front kick.


Most possibly the first kick for all of us.


Yet not necessarily the front kick execution of today, which is varied from instructor to instructor.


As an Isshinryu stylist I am partial to the front kick as done by Shimabuku Tatsuo.


Here is an example of what I mean.





Note how he fully chambers the kick first, raising the knee, and only then delivers the kick.


Just a front kick. Let’s think what that means for a few seconds.

What can se do with a front kick as that.


Sever possible front kick targets in no particular order:


1. The Abdomen

2. The Jaw

3. The Groin

4. The Hip Joint

5. The side of the torso

6. The Solar Plexus

7. The inner thigh.

7.a. The knee (front, side, or rear)

8. The Lower leg (straight on)

9.The lower leg from the outside using the return of the kick.

10 The lower leg from the inside using the return of the kick.

11. The ankle

12. The instep.

13. The foot.

14. The toes.

15. The head.

16. Lead Leg front kicks to the side.

Perhaps enough for now, I think we can come up with a few others with no effort.


Having addressed targeting let us consider the ways the front kick can be delivered.


1. With the toes in a variety of ways.

2 With the ball of the foot.

3. Striking with the heel.

4. Striking with the toes then a heel thrust.

5. Striking with the ball of the foot then a heel thrust.

6. Several ways of using the toes of ball of the foot to both enter the abdomen above the groin and then slide down with the toes, or the ball of the foot raking down the groin.

7. Use of the chamber of the knee as a knee strike a variety of ways.


Again I am sure there are more varieties to be found.


So with so much variety to be found within the simple front kick (and I realize the term simple is incorrect). Why the need for other kicks?


I suspect the answer is a simple as someone said to themselves wow!


Then worked on what they saw, eventually adding to what they taught.


In the past with less communications available, the instructor was free to teach whatever they thought appropriate. The goal of developing new students, nad no concrete set of rules to follow.


Change does not imply it is bad, just new ways continually being added.  If effective for you then it is fine.


On the other hand I am feeling more and more that what once was, does not mean that was less either.

Perhaps we might still find value in One.