Thursday, January 19, 2017

Thoughts on Kobudo

When I started in Isshinryu I was doing so for the chance to learn karate. When I was a beginner you only saw a senior instructor work on kubudo at times after class. They had their own classes which we were not at.


Aware of  Bo and Sai in the art, it really wasn’t something I had much interest about.


After moving to Scranton and beginning my study with Charles Murray it was he that introduced me to kobudo. He started teaching me Chantan Yara No Sai, then Tokomeni No Kon. He had his own ideas how training should proceed, and force fed me at a pace of almost a kata a month. That continued at that pace until he re-entered the USAF. All of the Isshinryu kubudo forms and the Bando Staff form – the Horseman’s form.


Then I was on my own, no books or movies to use. It made me work. I remember one time I began Urashie and ended Shi Shi. Having gotten mixed up in the middle. And more disturbing I could not remember the correct movements. It took me a week of hard work to get back to the right way.


One of the ways I forced myself to remember the forms, was I entered kobudo competitions. While I once competed with Chantan Yara No Sai as a brown belt, as a Black belt I began with Tokomeni.

But I realized I needed to push myself to do more. Then I made a choice to switch to Shi Shi. Of course then no others in NE. Pa. Were using that form. But it was so hard it really made me push myself.


I used it for the next 3 years, slowly improving my scores. One time for a mix I returned to Chantan Yara No Sai.


I practiced everything too. Finally for a year I was a consistent 4th place, which gained me no trophy, but that wasn’t why I was doing that.


Then to do something different I switched to the Bando Staff. Performing it several times. Then one day in Tamaqua Pa I gained first place with that Bando staff form.



For whatever reason I was competing, that was the last time I did kobudo. My practice had given me what I needed. From that point on practice was enough.



Now I started training many places, and many arts, with fellow competitors. A bit of that training was in Kubudo, but that was not why I was seeking places to train.



At that time I was also a student of Yang Long Fist Tai Chi Chaun. And one of the things I had to learn was the Tai Chi Sword form. It was exceptionally difficult as everything was developing skill with the wrist. I think that was the most difficult thing I ever studied.



I did have occasion to learn several other Chinese forms, A basic staff for,, a Short staff form and a much more complex 3 section staff form. Those were more than enough.



One of those places I trained was with fellow competitor Tristan Sutrisno. He appreciated my efforts and shared many things.



One of the first things shared was he form Chosen No Kama Sho.  He was teaching it to his brown belts then and had me jump in. Then the next week Chosen No Kama Dai. His kobudo forms built real complexity with the forms as they progressed. Never went further in Kama with him, they were complex enough. There was a San versions he used in completion. Way above my abilities, what I had was more than enough.



Then I had a chance to get the Bando form the Hidden Stick one day at the 1983 Bando Summer Camp. One of my seniors, Reese Rigby,


had a slightly different version but I never studied that. One day and an intense lifetime of work on it.



Then a few years later Tristan shared O’Sensei No Kon, Then No Kon Ichi, No Kon Dai and No Kon Dai Ichi. Each version with increasing skills. His own completion form was a different one. They were a lot of work to try and maintain.


And my studies included much, much more than Kobudo.



The day came when living in Derry, far from where I studied those forms, I made some difficult choices.



I would continue to focus on the Isshinryu weapons. Still maintaining the Tai Chi Sword. The Bando forms I had of course.

I would keep the Kama Dai form for myself, which meant I also had the Sho version



But I would discontinue some of my studies, having gained in the process.  I set aside the Chinese staff, short staff and 3 Sectional staff. I also felt the Isshinryu Bo I had and the Bando staff, covered more than enough bo potential, so I set aside those 4 Sutrisno Bo forms.



His bo forms were nice, this is the O’Sensei No Kon No Dai Ichi form performed by his student Dave Piehota.




Shortly after that time I began my students own weapons studies.


The more my own studies progressed, the more I saw other Okinawan forms, the more I came to realize that what I had was enough. Between the Isshiryu Bo and the Bando Staff, I felt I covered most of the movements of other Okinawan Bo styles. I am sure that is not correct, but close enough for me.


Again more time passed, and I came to see that kobudo training was taking time from the kyu studies, their empty hand forms were more important at their level, to me. I did want them to have some weapons focus, so I began sharing the Bando staff form, or ½ of the Bando stick as Additional Brown Belt Studies.


Then Brown Belts competing with the short version of the Bando Stick.


Time passes, and I now have black belts on the range of kubodo studies. Yet after much time many choose to leave, (plus 17 years into their Dan studies).


Another quirk, my friend shared that the Yang Sword Form I had learned was only ½ of the form. So more studies, and more swearing at my own efforts.


I took that occasion to focus with one of my senior students on my own needs. I especially refocused my efforts on kobudo, then I had a realization. I had long felt the Isshinryu kubudo was nothing like a complete kobudo system. From what I could see, systems such as Innoue’s kobudo in Japan were much more comples. I started to realize a different reason for those studies.


I see the kobudo as really complex studies. Where the real value was in decades of work with the weapons. The use of varied weapons was that they developed different handling skills. Bo- sai – tonfa- kama, even tanto.

I also realized as I watched my friend Ernest Rothrock develop over the years, that much of it had to do with the skills from the many weapons he used in training. A number to large to extimate.


Each weapon contributing different specific muscle strengths and skills. All of which took decades to realize, but then !


To me that became the dan purpose for kobudo. That it in time would become a major force enhancer to use in karate application studies.


We and I was not interested in pursuing kobudo for defensive purposes. More logical our skick studies already offered much of that need.


But to be able ot develop strengths to counter the negative effects of aging, to make our applications become more effective, That just made sense.


So in time I developed a course of action. Those to initiate the advancing kyu into the possibility. Those to develop the new black belt. Those to develop the dan for long term enhancement. Those for the few who needed a greater challenge.



Mike Cassidy performing Tokomeni



Mike Cassidy performing Urashie No Bo


The a separate category for instructors to keep developing new skills. Those choices would be kama and tanto. Dangerous to the individual, and most refined handling skills required.


And nothing ever learned to be set aside.


I realize others have done many things. I am sure part of that is do to availability and finances. The focus might be just on the Isshinryu kobudo. It might be with adding other systems of study. The decision is of course the instructors.


For, myself, I never had the time or resources to do so, teaching for fee never made that an option. Rather each teaching I learned, found me. But when something was shared I made a sincere effort to try and learn and practice same. Then made decisions about what I would do with it.

What I found is the more time that was spent on kobudo, it meant less time was spent on karate. The instructor must perform a balancing act blending the time for each. There is no simple right or wrong anser to me.  The instructor makes choices.

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