Monday, July 31, 2017

Weapons Bite


Something that is not often discussed is that weapons training with the original weapons are dangerous.

 

That means eventually the student discovers that the weapons bite.

 

At times that is simple to imagine,

 

The new student training with the nunchuck can strike themselves in the head.

 

When sai was a rather new study for me, one warm day I was practicing. Sweat happened

and when I went to do one movement,

my sai spun from my sweaty hand and then struck

my big toe in the middle with the handle.

 

I have known individuals who broke their rib with the side strike of a bo.

 

I have too many memories of kama accidents.

From simple cuts in practice,

To friends sinking their kama in their arm by accident.

To competitors who using a kama with a leader slicing their foot open leaving blood on the ground.

 

The tonfa can be spun and if the concentration fades,

You end up striking yourself.

 

Often instructors allow lighter training weapons to learn the student skills.

 

The older way was the actual weapon should be used.

 

The brutal logic was the bites are necessary. For they occurring is the only way you develop the correct respect for the weapon and learn to handle it safely.

 

Originally the weapons were not things to teach beginners or youth, to keep them busy.

 

Now I know very little about the Japanese sword. When I was a relatively new black belt I had to judge in a youth weapons division. One where a young man was shouting and moving around with impressive sword swings.

I judged just on the motion I perceived and probably gave a middle score. A friend, who was very knowledgable with sword, and an accomplished competitor in his own right awarded the young man a zero.

 

I realized he saw something I did not see.

 

Later I pressed him on that score.

What he explained using an unsharpened blade when he returned his sword to the scabbard his fingers were wrapped around the opening of that scabbard. The zero was because if that blade was live he would have cut off his own fingers.

 

Training with a fake sword, did not build skill,

Rather false skill that might one day kill him.

 

Somewhat later I moved to NH,

And I attended a local AAU tournament.

This time it was a young man dancing around with a sword.

He also had his fingers around the scabbard opening,

and if his blade had been live, he too would have lost his fingers.

 

Now I was just in the audience, but none of the judges really knew what to look for, and their skills reflected that lack of knowledge.

 

Training with real weapons is a risk.

 

One friend working on steel whip, had a move where he was spinning around, the whip wrapped itself around his neck, then he continued to spin till that spin caused the chain to fly off on a new angle.

 

Complicated, sure. One day when practicing he became distracted, This time is speed of spin was off,

The chain removed a strip of skin off his neck.

 

I had learned a 3 section staff form and was working on it when visiting Ernie in Pittsburgh. One of the movements was where with one hand I was to spin the 3 sectional staff over my head. Of course this time what happened is I spun the staff and struck myself in the head. Thunk! Lesson learned.

 

My instructor told me about another time, and a very dynamic 3 sectional staff form when he would spin the staff between his legs while he was lifting those legs up to allow the spin. One time he messed up on his timing and stead of stepping over the 3 sectional staff, struck is own groin,

Knocking himself out.

 

Even Okinawans experienced these moments.

 

I recall one instructor who was blind in one eye, because of such a moment when training with a kama with leaders.

 

The lesson is that weapons bite.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

The tale of the Red White and Black Obi


 


I stand with my friend John Kerker, I am wearing my Red, White and Black Obi.

I am simply a student of Tom Lewis

and of Charles Murray, who is also a student of Tom Lewis.

 

A Black Belt was just a Black Belt.

 

But as the years passed, and while I never joined another organization,

An instructor I respected suggested I should begin

Wearing a Red, White and Black Obi.

 

In his association it did not represent a rank,

rather the indication one was a instructor.

 

Worn with the black side out, it would just appear a black belt to others.

The colour sections were on the inside, representing a reminder to the instructor of their burden to accurately pass the system forward.

 

That appealed to me, and I began continuing that tradition in my school.

 

Along with that for many years I heard about the challenging program of the JKA in Japan had with their International Instructors Development program.

When selected they had to be at least a ni-day, and able to attend a challenging program for 2 years, karate, economics, etc.

 

Only those graduates would be allowed to become International Instructors.

 

Without details of the program, I supplied them in my mind.

Decades later I discovered what the program was, was different from what I had imagined.

 

But the inspiration, for me, that a course of training might produce more qualified instructors, that resonated with me.

 

I began to turn what an instructor should be upside down.

Eventually developing my program’s personal standards.

 

1. First the instructor candidate should be at least 15 years into their own studies with us. That puts them on the same page as far as the program goes.

They were then accomplished in our art.

 

2. There are many ways a black belt can study their art.

Becoming an instructor is but one of them.

They have to have a desire to pass the system onward.

 

3. The chosen candidate must enter a 5 year mentorship to appreciate the details of the craft.

That means they would follow students who are moving

Through their own various stages of training.

Experiencing the recognition of the students needs

as their training progresses.

Ideally they might follow a student forward into their own dan training.

 

4. It is not just enough to copy the same teaching style of their instructor. They must demonstrate their own approaches to the same material.

There is not one way to present material,

and allowing them to develop their own methodology actually helps them become the instructor.

 

5. The candidate must realize that there is no end to this study.

Different students present never ending changing needs.

 

6. And the journey does not end,

Simply becoming an instructor for the kyu program.

Leaves much more to successfully teach the dan program.

 

The parts you cannot see on the obi are the more important things.

 

The desire to pay it forward,

Better and Better.

To each generation.

 

 

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Those Old Tattered Patches

 
My seniors wearing the same patches.

Sitting here in Buckeye just going through some of the memorabilia I saved during the move. I just found some old patches.

 

When I was a brown belt, I bought a black gi at the old Asian World location on N. Broad St. in Phila. Knowing if I made black belt I no longer had to wear a white gi. So of course it was black.

 

That gi no longer exists, but I have two patches I saved from it. At that time the main patch was called the Mizugami, and it still is sewn on the black cloth of the gi.  At that day there was no internet, on any discussion there might be another name for the patch, It was what it was. The other patch from my uniform sleeve was my Tom Lewis Isshinryu Karate Club school patch.

 

I wore that uniform when I established my progam for kids at the Scranton Boys Club. At many tournaments competing against Cindy Rothrock, Gary and George Michak, Tristan Sutrisno, Ersest Rothrock’s students, Ron Martin’s students, Vince Wards students, Pat Burns students, Carl Long, students of many others. So many exceptional kata and kobudo competitors in those days. I cannot name them all, but many National Champions between them.

 

All of them made me work harder and harder.

 

Just a hunk of cloth in the end, patches of an earlier time.

Lewis Sensei in his office in Salisbury


Thursday, July 20, 2017

Correct Alignment

Long ago checking out the alignment of Young Lee.
 
I had been doing Yang Tai Chi Chaun for 15 years, then one day at a summer camp my instructor asked to see my form, It was 3pm and we went out in a dark field, where I began the form.
 
Now I lived a great distance from my instructor, and I know I was worried what he would think. But I entered the Yang form.
 
He stopped me a short while later and informed me I had a great deal to learn about tai chi. Then he placed his hand lightly on my chest and barely pressed and I fell down. Time and again he did the same to me, and I kept falling. It certainly did not do much for my confidence.

Then he told me his instructor had done the same thing to him after 15 years and he too fell.
 
What was wrong was not that I forgot the movements,  rather that I was not properly aligning my body during those movements, placing myself off balance ready to be dropped.
 
What he showed me was a system to look at how I was aligned during my movements. The adjustments were simple, then when he touched me the same way I did not fall.
 
The other benefit was there was increased power in my movements when I was properly aligned.
 
And nothing special was involved, just a way to look at what I was originally shown.
 
I also realized had I been training regularly with my instructor he would have shown my errors sooner in a hands on fashion.
 
Still knowledge learned is knowledge gained.
 
The next week I was back teaching karate and tai chi. Putting one and one together, I realized that the answer was two.
 
If it worked for my tai chi why would it not work for my students karate. So I started observing my senior students more closely. And I saw a times their movements were improperly aligned as the did their kata.
 
So, I shouted stop, walked over and touched their chest, and they lost balance and started to fall causing them to step swiftly.
 
The another and another, enough to form a pattern.
 
A person’s unbalance is the same as a weight (yea Bubushi, and the Isshinryu Code of Karate).
 
At core nothing different from making sure things are being done correctly, But small things often go wrong and this shows a methodology to realize what is wrong and understand why a change must be made.
 
An added plus, with kobudo kata, the weapon made the imbalance if present easier to find, because of the line of the weapon handling.
 
So a touch at the right spot exposes the students (and our own) unbalance. A teaching tool.
 
There is another point to make, gaining such knowledge allows one to see when an opponent is also unbalanced and where to attack that unbalance most successfully. That is a real plus, knowledge that is most useful.
 
 
Being able to find when an opponent is open to attack.
 
At the time I learned this, in 1993, I was no longer interested in tournaments. Coming to realize that I was really judging what other instructors were teaching most of the time.
 
But the thing is this new knowledge now gave a new tool to objectively score even forms I did not know from systems I did not understand.
 
An example, a student competitor, does a custom made form showing there gymnastic abilities. If their alignment during movement is off, their technique is less effective. So a way to objectively explain the scores I give.
 
Another example a strike in a form which is done just for the movement continunity, and not for power, is likely hiding improper alignment behind the strike, It then is weaker, less effective, a lower score then is more reasonable.
 
It the early 1980s I literally had a whole load of the nations best kata and kobudo competitors on the floor to compete against. A large part of their success went to their great alignment ability in their forms.
 
Let me use one example, I always could tell when the students of Ron Martin were competing. They always had superior alignment in their forms.
 
So it was a tool, a way to see what you are facing, a method to direct your attack, too.
 
Alignment, the gift that keeps on giving.
 
 
 

Teaching my advanced class, as time passed I became flawed, I used the time for my own training. Then not paying close attention to what the other advanced students were doing, over time there were often imperfection which became ingrained in their movements.
 
They were correctly practicing and at the same time deviations were occurring.
 
What I found when I understood the power of Energy Point Alignment, it placed a powerful tool at my disposal. It was no longer enough to just tell someone they had to make a correction. They could experience the weakness they were causing, how they were unbalanced. And the lesser power they were creating.
 
It gave them a reason to correct themselves. And that is power.
 
This works regardless of the system, for all systems of movement have their own unique alignment points.
 
And as you learn how to use this tool to understand what you are actually doing, you then begin to learn how to read others alignment in turn. Understanding what weaknesses they have presented to attack.
 

Jim Keenan

 
One of my greatest regrets of my recent move is the distance I find myself from my friend, Jim Keenan.
 
Jim is an Original.
 
Originally he studied Isshinryu Karate in the Pittsburgh Penna. area.
He went on to become a translator of Japanese and Chinese.
Studied the Chinese arts of Tai Chi and Bagua, studied Krav Maga from the arts founder in Israel as well as many other accomplishments.
 
His many visits were always interesting. For one thing when we watched Chinese movies, the old ones with English and Chinese subtitles, he would translate the Chinese, pointing out the dialogue in Chinese, did not match the Chinese on the screen, or the English translation shown.
 
Here is an old Black Belt article about  Jim.
 




 


Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Don't Change Kata


A long, long time ago, when I was young in the ways of the world (as a brown belt in 1978) my instructor, Charles Murray, told me “the first 20 years your art is a reflection of your instructor, and after 20 years your art is a reflection of you.”  I have found there is much truth in that sentence.

 

 

The question is can one delete a kata from your instruction, keeping in mind the adage “Do not change the system or kata”.

 

 

For simplicity consider the modern aspect where many change what they are teaching and/or rebrand it for their convenience, ad infinitum.

 

 

In the past (no matter how you define it) it is obvious teaching curricula underwent many changes as the instructors kept working on a better methodology for them. Of course in those days it was not open instruction, rather private sharing.

 

 

I am sure that adage is older than public instruction, but as karate became systematized instruction, that probably became more evident adage repeated many time.

 

 

Yet systems continued to spring into existence, and often the kata taught grew in number, though there must have been instances where some were dropped.

 

I might offer a suggestion, the intent might have been for the student, kata should not be changed. On the other hand that did not mean for the senior instructor things could not change, No longer a student, with a lifetime of experiences, it is only natural that they would apply their insight to what they taught. And also reminding students not to change anything. Which did not apply to them. LOL>

 

 

Everyone of us have pondered these issues. In my case the Isshinryu I was taught consisted of 8 empty hand kata, and 6 kobudo kata, which I had in 1979.

 

 

On the other hand I was alone and worked to train anyplace I could, gravitating to those instructors who had more to teach.  Whenever I was attending a class where something was taught, I just did my best to remember it. Along the way I studied several hundred forms from many systems. As incredible as it sounds I know instructors whose studies made my feeble attempts pale, having studied in excess of 400 Chinese forms.

 

You realize along the way it is impossible to grasp everything. Even more humbling you finally realize you cannot share everything, Almost no one has that much time.

 

 

I did not change what was Isshinryu for my students, however there are some other studies to allow them to have a taste of other systems and also allow nobody to realize what their studies consist of.

 

 

So if your growth reaches the point that a different way presents itself to you, then perhaps the time is ripe to follow that way.

 

 

Of course also admonish your students “Do not change the kata.”

 

 

Then you are preserving the tradition.






Everyone of us have pondered these issues. In my case the Isshinryu I was taught consisted of 8 empty hand kata, and 6 kobudo kata, which I had in 1979.

 

 

On the other hand I was alone and worked to train anyplace I could, gravitating to those instructors who had more to teach.  Whenever I was attending a class where something was taught, I just did my best to remember it. Along the way I studied several hundred forms from many systems. As incredible as it sounds I know instructors whose studies made my feeble attempts pale, having studied in excess of 400 Chinese forms.

 

You realize along the way it is impossible to grasp everything. Even more humbling you finally realize you cannot share everything, Almost no one has that much time.

 

 

I did not change what was Isshinryu for my students, however there are some other studies to allow them to have a taste of other systems and also allow nobody to realize what their studies consist of.

 

 

So if your growth reaches the point that a different way presents itself to you, then perhaps the time is ripe to follow that way.

 

 

Of course also admonish your students “Do not change the kata.”

 

 

Then you are preserving the tradition.

 

 

 

I had never wanted to be an instructor, obtain rank, or even learn more kata. Those things all just happened because I could not stop doing karate. Rank was whatever my instructors wanted my rank to be. I had the Isshinryu system shoved down me by 1979, my instructor’s version) and that was enough for me.

 

But one thing that was made clear to me was that a black belt didn’t say I can’t. And as I found places and people to train with, whatever they were sharing I just did my best to learn and practice. So things started to pile up. Some of it was different versions of kata I knew, from different systems.

 

On a different mission I did seek our tai chi instruction, I had a long separate interest, and it was totally happenstance that I studied with Ernie Rothrock. As time passed I approached him about learning some kung fu forms to judge them more fairly. I believe he was amused at a karate guy caring about learning and he began a different trip covering about material from 6 of so systems, Not to become an expert, just knowledgeable.

 

Almost at the same time I started competing against Tristan Sutrisno, and we became friends. When offered an invitation to come and train, I went and learned a 1930 version of Shotoran, Aikido, Kobudo and Indonesian Tjimande which he practiced.

 

And at that time I was a true karate gypsy, Goju, Wado, Shorin, Bando were all systems I explored.

 

No doubt it was too much to retain. As time passed I had to put a lot of it aside, focusing more on my responsibility as an instructor.

 

So I learned a little, too little. But the challenge remained how to better use what I understood.

 

A frequent claim is that things were better when there were fewer kata studies. Which also ignores many, many instructors made choices to increase the studies ever before the contemporary era.

 

So lets think about going backwards.

 

Was not one kata enough. Or even more minimalist just one movement. One movement to learn how to enter any attack movement and conclude the attack.

 

Is that not the goal of all our studies? I believe so.

 

Learning many kata offers more possibilities of learning ways to conclude attacks. What depth you want those studies to take, why that is where human inspiration comes into play.