Thursday, August 17, 2017

This morning thinking outside the box

This morning I spent some time thinking outside the box.


Being disabled I spend a lot of time working on what I can make work. This is very important to me.


I decided to do some kata outside this time using my double sticks.

I have seen their use in Okinawan kobudo referred to with different names. Tichu, Tikko and Jiffa. They may mean different things, of perhaps just different spellings of the same concept, a small hand held stick that may have had its origins in Okinawan Hairpins.


For myself, they are just sticks with some twine in them for a better grip.


My friend Mario McKenna put it this way.


Tikko is a versatile weapon that really needs no independent kata of it's own like Maezato no Tikko that we use in Ryukyu Kobudo. So, using another form like Sesan will undoubtedly work.

The way I learned it from Minowa sensei, you're essentially delivering a vertical fist strike with the Tikko acting as a force multiplier. The only caveat is that the strike is vertical and doesn't use the two primary knuckles for impacting. Because you're using the Tikko, the fist impacts flat onto the target (a big "no no" in Karatedo) . The other point is that the thumb rests on top of the handle of the Tikko to stabilize it.

So I performed a version of Seisan Kata I have worked up for myself.

Then I had an inspiration, and used the two hand held sticks

With my first row of my Yang Tai Chi form.

Somewhat similar to the sword version, yet a version for the double sticks.

This worked out well, so I ran it several times.

I liked the feel of the flow from this paring.


Then I shifted to a version of Naifanchi kata, for the two sticks.

And that also worked well.


Now I just need some poor soul to step and and attack me,

So I can prove what I am doing is works.



I am not trying to duplicate anything else, just use what I know.




Forms referenced using a similar implement

Tokushin No Tichu – Tokumura Kensho

Maezato No Tikko

Jiffa Kata Hairpin 1 and 2


When in the Desert

I always maintained

that if I found myself living the middle of a desert,

I would not stop teaching karate,

I would just teach the rocks.


Now, that I am uncomfortably close to that desert,

I find I was right

I am teaching rocks karate.


Of course the rocks are in my head,

Not that is a difference.





Wednesday, August 16, 2017

The Art of Becoming Invisible

I got an early start this morning, it was still dark when I went outside to work on my Tai Chi. The darkness inspired me so I then did what Kusanku is possible for me, Then I ended with Tomari Rohai. Far from correct performances, but I do what I can do.
The temperature had not cooled, they still expect it over 100 later today. But uncharacteristically the humidity has dropped quite low and that makes the air feel cooler.
Then I got ready and went out for my morning walk.
“I have become a desert creature.” I remember that line from one of Frank Herbert Dune books. And perhaps the same might be said of me,
For this morning I observed something move and then took a photo.
It does appear something Herbert might have described in Dune.
For it was a rabbit, almost invisible, in its background.
Which in a way ties into those tale about Kusanku kata,
from one point of view.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

When a memory occurs what you may remember is a gift.

Just had a flashback of an old memory. One of those things which I only saw one time.


I was visiting a friend, with a very varied background.

This morning I awoke and he was working out in his back yard.


First he was working on his rolling techniques in his back yard pool. Using the water to slow his rolls down allowing him to work on his technique. Over and over he rolled, each time working on getting the technique he was using more efficient.


I was certainly nothing had seen elsewhere, and went a ways toward explaining where some of his technique originated.


I was just in the house waking up and watching out the kitchen window.


Later I got a cup of coffee and went out to watch him.


What he was doing was also something I have never seen anyone do.


This time he was out of the pool practicing a kobudo kata. Now his studies were very different from mine, but this was something I have never seen anyone else do.


He was doing a kata for sai and kama.  The left hand held a sai and the right hand held a kama.   As his form progressed it became more interesting. Each hand was performing separate movements, the sai movements true to the sai, the kama movements true to the kama. They were distinctly separate but the form integrated both perfectly.


Then he observed I had come outside and he ceased the form.


It was a one shot observation.


Many knew him from his tournament competition.  Which meant they had no idea what he was teaching.  Something extremely different from their arts.


What I realized watching him that morning, was I had no idea of the scope of his art.  No tournament, class visits, personal experience were what his art was.  The reality was much greater.


I have had other experiences with friends in other arts, and the more I saw there too, the more I realized the less  I really knew.


So as a rule of thumb, assumptions based on observations, books, video tapes, etc. were likely not the true reality of those artists.


A bit of un-learning we all can use productively.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Hinging on the Winds of History

I have seen the number  of 90.000.000 million people are practicing some form of karate around the world today. Now that number may not be correct, but it makes a point about how widespread karate has become.



What  is more amazing when you go back to 1900, just a short while ago, the number man have been a few hundred, I have seen no numbers to suggest any number is correct, just conjecture on my part.



But 1900 ad, the practice of karate was a privilege that might be extended only to members of the right class of people on Okinawa, Shown at festivals, that would be about it.  It was not thought as something appropriate to teach to the young in schools.


Then there are four pivot points that we can point too, when things changed that made a difference.

(Ok, there are more that 4 things, but let’s keep this simple to start)


1.  Itosu wrote his letter to the Okinawan school board, and they paid attention to his proposal.


As Okinawa was under Japanese control since 1870, the Japanese certainly were controlling what education there was in Okinawa. It is not hard to imagine they might have not paid any attention to Itosu’s ideas and so the concept went no where. Karate was not introduced at the teachers college, and karate programs were not supported to be developed in the schools.


That would have meant many of that generation would not have been exposed to karate and in time gone on to become instructors.


2. When Prince Hirohito toured Okinawa, perhaps he was not interested in seeing a karate demonstration. And when one was proposed  for Japan, he also might not have been so inclined. In turn Professor Kano might not have been interested, preferring what his own practice of judo offered.


A result of these events not having taken place, the opening door for Funakoshi, Mabuni, Miyagi, Motobu and all the rest that followed might not have happened. Japan was a country on a mission. They were conquering all of their world, their University students being trained to become Administrators, Officers and the like. There is every reason to believe they would have not had an interest in a quaint Okinawan practice.


So no preliminary foothold in Japan.



3. Then the winds of war intervened. The outcome might have been the same, but though different choices, the invasion of Okinawa could have been bypassed. The was might have gone in a different direction. A decision to bypass Okinawa as too costly to the main invasion of Japan could have been made.


The vast destruction might have not taken place on Okinawa. The karate seniors might have survived the War.


They could have not agreed to the changes those who were interested.

Then they might have seen no reason for uniformity, organizations, adopting training uniforms as opposed to tradition. Seeing no need to keeping track of students progress via rank.


Their art might have been retained only for those of the right Okinawan rank, never to be shared with others. That had been their traditional model.


4. And the decision might have been made not to station troops on Okinawa. Then going so far as granting Okinawa independence from everyone in 1972, not returning them to Japan.


Leaving the Okinawans in complete charge of this minor cultural heritage.


Of course it did not happen this way, but it is not unreasonable to consider it might have been.


And karate remaining Okinawan.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

The lesson sharing karate with the young


One evening many years ago, I had another group of beginners,

The first night I mostly tried to explain what Isshinryu was and what they would experience in class as time passed.


Of course I did not expect they would remember most of what I said, handouts for some of it would leave with them for their parents to understand.


Outside of a few things, the remaining class time after my introduction would be allowing them to watch the others, more advanced, in class.


Along the way there was a standard practice, where I would shout 10 pushups, and they would observe all the other class members do them.

I then explained that class was not meant for punishment time,

But at times when someone would lose concentration,

This was not like school.


They would be given some pushups which no one really liked, not as punishment but to make them focus on class.


 And of course I explained that was dangerous for me because

That would also work to make them stronger,

and able to one day defeat me.


Then as we were the Boys and Girls Club I explained if that did not give them their focus back, they would not be punished,

but sent downstairs to play,

as we did not want their lack of focus to affect others who want to train.


And over the years that was the result very, very few times.


This time the father stayed for the 2nd class.

When it was over he took me aside saying,

“I have had previous karate training,

Do you know you are actually teaching them karate?”


I responded: “Sure, I am teaching karate, that is all I was trained to do.”


I understood his comment. Obviously they had visited many other ‘karate programs’ and observed something very different for the youth instruction.


Of course when I began, really nobody was giving kids karate instruction. Almost all programs were adult programs.

There would be an occasional article in some magazine about youth instruction, and individual instructors often allowed some kids to attend class, but the instruction was not addressing kids needs per sae.


When I would walk around Scranton at lunchtime, I saw tons of dance studio, which were geared mostly for young women taking dance classes. It made me think, something similar was possible for young people.


When I approached the Scranton Boys Club with the idea of a class, it was new ground.


Instructors I met, from all over the place at tournaments,

Thought I was crazy for teaching kids.

They most often said “Karate is for adults.”

When I tried  to tell them teaching kids was the future,

Non of them wanted to believe me.


Of course at that time I had no real idea of what I was getting into.

I had three brothers who had begun with the program Charles Murray had tried in his church, that program ended when he returned to the USAF.


A new shodan, I began teaching just as Charles had trained me.

After three months, I only had the three brothers left in the class.

My wife, a trained phys ed instructor, gymnastics and swimming and diving coach, suggested some ideas I should follow.


She also shared her Junior High Girls Swimming Instructors Manuals from college. Books that were far more advanced for teaching teenage girls than any karate book in existence, at that time.


So I began with another group of boys and paid attention to what they needed, and the program became successful. My program in time convinced the Boys Club to admit girls in the program. That was a success too. In fact year by year the girls won more trophies at the few tournaments we attended, and led to our hosting youth only karate tournaments.


Of course I continued to learn as I progressed. My original thoughts were I was going to get lots of high school kids.


That was not the case, only those who had a deep interest in karate choose to enter the program.

Then there were the incidentals, such as awarding certificates when students got promoted.

One day I had an idea, and when promotions happened, only belts were awarded. In all these years no one ever asked for their certificate.


It would take the average young person to 7 to 9 years to make shod an in our program. It has occurred but only if they have a real desire to learn our karate. Of course by that time they are mostly through school and then them move on in life and leave.


The average young person, who finds they like the program, stays an average of 2 or 3 years. All of them are involved in many activities. Many are on multiple teams at the same time.


I know many instructors have found this out. Students come and go on their own needs. It is easy to get invested in students training, and then face the disappointment when kyu or dan students choose to do something else.


I had to do some unlearning. For what I discovered is that my students were not going to be lifetime karate-ka. It time most of them would move on.


I began to think on that, what I remembered was what things were like when I was young. Many adults gave their time to conduct summer programs in the town park, or be a baseball coach, a choir leader, youth fellowship program leaders and many other activities. They put sharing activities with the young as having more value to the town than there own free time.


What I was doing was using karate the same way those adults did. To share with the young. To give them tools to help them better decide what to do with their lives.


It wasn’t that everyone should study karate for life, but that they learn the more important lessons. That they will learn from their own efforts. That they learn at their own pace, from their own effort.


A more important lesson than learning a kata.


You are having an impact on their lives, and if that impact allows them to eventually choose other than karate is the right thing for you, then you were successful.


Adults kids, no difference.

While most adults who reach shodan stick around an average of 17 years or so, in time they will make other choices.

If the knowledge you shared helps them know to choose other things, they you succeeded with them too.

In the end long term karate tends to be for those who make the very personal choice to keep training.


If they also choose to assist sharing the art, that is fine too.


 Myself with instructors Mike Cassidy and Young Lee




Thursday, August 3, 2017

Kusanku Kata and Night Fighting

When I learned Kusanku Kata from Charles Murray it was explained that certain of the movements were for night fighting.


1. The opening circling hands could mean making a circle like the moon.

Also a reference to the Bubishi code “the blood circulating is like the sun and the moon”.


2. The section where stomps were being made to the ground, could mean distracting noise made in the dark, to your rear, could draw the opponent to the sound allowing you to strike them in the dark as they moved toward that sound.


3. The section where you are moving forward with the knife hands, done slowly is use of the movement in searching out an opponent when you are in the dark. Then when you feel their arm, you explode with the following movements to complete your defense.


4, The section where you drop to the floor means when the moon appears and your opponent might see you, instead you drop to the floor, turning your head both ways, seeking the opponent. Then you explode up and change directions and continue searching. When the enemy is seen you explode from the ground and take the fight toward them.


from the Kusanku kata of Charles Murray 1980
All of which seemed most reasonable when they were explained to me.
As the story went one evening while suddenly waking up from sleep, Shimabuku Tatsuo realized that the movements in Kusanku Kata might be used for night fighting.
And perhaps that was what occurred, Certainly there is evidence that Shimabuku Sensei did the kata just this way.
Of course there are detractors who do not believe this story. Considering the use of Kusanku Kata for night fighting a fantasy.
Let’s take a step away.
A short 100 years ago, karate training was done most private, in the instructors back yard, or at a location in the forest. And logically the training would have been done at night for the most part.
Inhabiting that low level light environment, would have been something the Okinawan was used to at that time.
No one can tell me what was experienced in training on Okinawa, except by inference, prior to the time electric lighting was introduced, and that time probably had much to do as anything with how karate transmission took place. To my best knowledge there is no record as to what actually happened in those days.
At one time I read some Oklnawan instructor’s advice. Though I have not been able to find it since.
As the story went the instructor explainedif beset by toughs at night,
hide in the brush. When they couldn’t find you sneak after them quietly.
Then if they waylaid anyone else, you could attack them from behind.”
An interesting solution.
Low level lighting intensity in combat has always been a concern for militaries since antiquity. There is every reason to believe Okinawan gave advice to their students for such situations too. That those ideas might be applied to kata is within acceptable possibilities.
That does not mean the only use for those kata techniques was for fighting only in specified situations. Strictly speaking all kata technique can be used in the day or the night. Rather it was the device of employing a kata as a mnemonic to share specific lessons the instructor believed in.
One Okinawan group, the Kashiba Juku, does something similar. They approach all of their kata 3 diffeent ways. One for ‘normal’ practice, one for use of the techniques in ‘drunken’ practice, and one for the use of the techniques to be used for ‘night or low level lighting’ combat situations.
Apparently the dream of Shimabuku Tatsuo was something not outside the Okinawan experience.
There are also thoughts that there was an Okinawan version of Kusanku for day fighting and one for night fighting, I believe that idea originated when a talented West Coast kata champion, Steve Fischer, back in the 1980s would compete with a version on Kusanku the Moo(night) kata, and another Kusanku the Sun (day) kata. I remember reading about him in the karate magazines of those days. I expect that was more for branding two different Kusanku versions for competition, and in time gave rise to the idea of Kusanku night fighting.
There is sound reason, IMO, to continue this practice.

from the Kunanku kata of Young Lee 2004

Principles of Sherman Harrill

Unpacking my books, files and records from many past years, I came across a technique that I got from Sherman Harrill long ago (probably 1985 of 1986). But it was good advice and still worth remembering.


The attack in question was a Double Chest Push.


Where you attempt to push up with both your palms, but their arms adjust an the push attempt does not work.


What Sherman showed was when you push up with both fists, their arms rise, and you have countered the attack. Allowing further response if necessary.


Of course there are many other  responses possible. This solution allows you to respond with less force. And then choose to follow up or not as you deem fit.


Another gem from Harrill Sensei


1.     “You can always Punch Your Own Palm”  june 10, 1995.  

2.     Working on Wansu applications, Harrill Sensei made a point, without looking you can always punch your own palm, even without looking.

3.     He then used this principle to strike into an arm, where you only had to place your hand on the other side, and 100% of the time you’d strike the arm, aiming for the hand……


Still other Harrill Sensei memories


Against a straight punch to your middle, throw a counter straight punch over the top of his punch. Use of a Reverse Punch to counter a reverse punch by punching right over the attacking punch’s forearm. Your forearm performs a wedging deflection during your own strike.


Against a hook punch (thrown from a natural stance) followed by a left straight punch, counter with the inside hook punch of your own, and then a straight punch over the top of their other arm straight punch (wedging that punch downward).


Another counter against a hook punch, use any arm technique to block against the punch moving in, This causes their mind to move towards that push, allowing you to kick against their inner leg then slide the kick up into their groin.


Also against a roundhouse punch, throw a straight punch to the attacking shoulder. You can also punch into the biceps. This punch may rise and then punch down into the shoulder too.