Thursday, April 26, 2018

Kama around the Okinawan household

I once attended a Kobudo clinic with Fusie Kise Sensei.
When we got to the Kama portion of the clinic.
He told us on Okinawa Kama was a usual household item,
Used to garden around the house.
The Okinawan people got them at the local hardware store.
This photo brings that memory to mind.

Eagle Claw



When you begin you learn your art according to the paradigm your instructor follows. And likely it was a good paradigm to follow, for the dojo he ran.


You follow it, believe in it, and then you begin to instruct it. Perhaps not with the same group of students, but adapt it to those you teach.


Then you have time, a lack of proximity to others in your system, so you begin to train with a lot of other people and see what they are teaching.


You focus on several of those instructors, training deeply in what they offer.

Not changing what you are teaching, but at the same time observing and thinking.


You come to realize you are addressing a different student population, than your instructors, An entire group of young people, who prove they can learn that paradigm well. But you become sensitive that the needs of the young are different than adults, and after 5 years of thinking, choose to teach the original art within a different paradigm using supplementary form studies, mostly to slow down the pace of instruction, giving more time for them to develop stronger cores for your arts use.


You further come to realize you won’t keep most of the students, and the most valuable lesson you can share is that they can learn through their own efforts.


Another lesson, those students who spend the 7 to 9 years to develop into strong shodans, almost 100% of them will leave you for their own life needs. Such as College, Military Service, Work, Marriage etc. Other instructors with extremely strong youth programs share they find the same with their students, even the most gifted who have been international competitors.

You contribute to the Warp and Woof of their lives but move on they will.

 And you consider other subsidiary kata studies to add more texture to their Isshinryu. Both giving them knowledge of how other systems operate, in part, and provide tools to work against in advanced kata application studies.

Then beginning an adult program I found I was working with a very different class of students. Teaching for no compensation,  I was not dependant on continuing student enrollment to provide for cash flow.

These were adults in every sense of the word. Responsible for their family’s finances, they would not be able to attend every class. They often had more important things to do, and should do them. At the same time they were committed to their own training, staying for decades. They could learn very well, but the regular absences did not make the old paradigm fit them very well.

I came to realize that I was probably trying to juggle multiple paradigms at the same time.


1. A youth program 7 to 12

2. A older beginning youth program 13-17

3. A much stronger advancing teen program 13-17

4. A young adult program 19-30

5. An adult program 25-55

6. A mature adult program 45-75

7. Advancing dan studies 25-75

I might have looked like the same program, but really each group had very different needs to make them work.

I should add I had another program, probably my most important program.

8. My personal development studies, never ending, no limitations

All of this required continuing effort on my part. 

One of the choices I made was all would study the same fort template. The initial subsidiary form studies for youth development, were covered for the adults as well.

The advancing subsidiary studies in Goju, Shotkan, Pai Lum really for use at dan study would be begun as advancing kyu’s for use decades later, Skilled execution use.

 Sparring was another item that fit some groups and was not possible for others.

 For the new youth I came to realize the stronger their base ability was the stronger use of sparring would be. So I choose to wait 2 years focusing on their core movement development before allowing sparring.

 Then advancing teens and the young adult group, providing they had the time to train, sparring was definitely a core study.

The adult were another matter, not having the ability to make every class, trying to teach strong sparring episodically as they had the time did not make sense. And my own studies into kata application potential and realization, provided another alternative.

I never found I had all these groups operating at the same time. The actual mixture changed as time progressed. Keeping everything focused became another requirement for my own study.

Being an Instructor does not mean mistakes no longer happen.


When I was a rather new black belt I used to travel and train with many different instructors in my area. Working with one of them privately, one Saturday morning, he was working on his Rohai kata that morning. And as he was working made a mistake in his form, causing him to stop.



Now if he hadn’t stopped I would have never known he made a mistake, for at that time I had no knowledge of Rohai kata. But mistakes to happen, but what came next was nothing I ever expected.



He said, “I am sure glad none of my students were here, I can’t let them see me making a mistake”. He went further on, being in charge it is necessary to be perfect before them.”



I had never heard that before. I have no idea if my instructors ever made a mistake before me, I was too focused on my own work. Never paid attention to whether they ever made one. But I had never heard anyone suggest black belts, instructors or instructors of instructors should be error free.



Time passed and the years rolled on, I taught youth and then adults.



I have made some mistakes in front of my students over the years. For the younger students, I explained being human we all make mistakes, but as martial artists discovering them means more work is necessary to get better.



For the adults, who trained with me for decades, I have forgotten some movements on forms, started one form and ended with another, started one version of naifanchi and ended with a different version of naifanchi ( long ago I had been taught both versions and can’t recall which was first) I only taught one version but my mind would play tricks. I used to have very good control, but there were times I nailed them in the face (abet with control not Kos. Still causing unintentional owies). They were continuing proof we all make mistakes to remind them of their own.



The art of making mistakes…. Hmmm the art of being a martial artist.



Assuming we survive them, they remind us we have to continue to work harder, so we don’t make them at the wrong time.



Full disclosure, one time at a tournament in Delaware I was comtpeting in a mid sized tournament, one where over 20 black belts were judging black belt forms. My instructor and seniors were among those judges.



I was competing with Shi Shi No Kon No Dai, and I was experienced with that form. When I was called, I felt in the grove and my form performance was doing very well. Then at one point in the form you drop to the floor to rise with a foreward strike the bo sliding forward between your left hand fingers.

Everything was so perfect, I remember rising and striking forward with the bo, However as I did so my fingers flew open when I did the strike. It was wrong, I knew it, my seniors knew it,



I did not pause and completed my form, I so wanted it to be a perfect performance before my instructor. But it was what it was.  And I was correctly judged by in instructor and seniors. Ever if the others on that panel did not know the form. And that is all I wanted, fair judgment.



Proving I did not know the form as well as I thought I did, and it was time for more work.


Mistakes will occur. How we learn from them shows the quality behind our at.



The instructor leads the way for their students.



Lead them forward.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Knowing where to stick your nose


My dog is a puppy, but a year old. Full of energy and inquisitive about everything.

When he first started walking with me he had to try and smell everything.

Here on the edge of the desert in Arizona each home is appropriately individually marked with appropriate front yards, each unique. And many of them have cactuses of different types.

Scout had to learn the hard  way not to smell them. Finding those stickers were sharp, and received a few shocks with attendant yelps.

 But as all young he learned, and stopped trying to smell those sharp things.

 Today when walking with me, he carefully approached a few of them. The cactus flowers are in bloom and there are different things to smell, but very carefully.

 In my own training I had many lessons where I felt the sting of my instructor or partner. Without doubt ‘the whip that instructs’ works.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

With Each Breath I Take…


I Breath,

Therefore I am


For the most part your breath is invisible.

Only with frosty weather do we see it.


When someone in injured,

Most first see if they are breathing,

And when not work to establish it again.


When I first studied karate breath was not discussed.


When learning Seiunchin kata.

We were shown about 1/3 of the movements with focused forced breathing.

The remainder of the movements were done with normal natural breathing.


Then when I learnt Sanchin kata,

We did the entire form with focused forced breathing.


Why that was so was not discussed with me.

So I followed instruction and trained, and trained and trained.



Several years later I had the occasion to learn Yang Tai Chi Chaun.

The reason was from studies into Taoist literature when I was in College,

I became interested.


The reality of those studies was very different from what I imagined.

There was almost no intersection at that time with my Isshinryu.

It was entirely a separate study.


The form was taught to me move by move, and it was done slow,

Much slower than I could do.


The form was broken into 6 rows of techniques.


And after I completed learning the movements of the 1st section,

I had to relearn it 2 more times.

Once with a special focus on breathing, inhalation or exhalation, with each technique.

Once with the eyes focused on a moving point,

 before the hands as the movement progressed.


What I discovered how integral breathing and eye focus,

were involved in balance.


There were so many interesting aspects to explore.


For the basics there are drills exploring stepping and breathing,

Drills holding a single position for a very long time,

Even the simple act of raising the arms then lowering them had their uses.

All of them ways to slow down, enabling one to enter the flow more efficiently.


Tai Chi is a unique fighting art.

Beginning slow, too slow to show it’s fighting relevance.

But after years of work it is supposed to be done faster and faster.

At speeds akin to other Chinese fighting arts.


I would surmise that correct techniques was far more important

In student development and only when correct, really correct technique,

Was present was it time to move forward into the full expression of the art.


Around 100 years ago,

it was decided that only the health aspects of tai chi would be the purpose,

and for many practitioners the other aspects were abandoned.



I did not attempt to combine my karate and my tai chi studies,

Keeping each a separate art in my practice.


But the decades of study did give pause to consider other uses for both.

In time I began to explore the application potential of tai chi.

In time I began to explore the breath use in karate.


Perhaps Yin and Yang,

Two sides of the same coin.


I began to understand the role of breathing in karate.

Step by step, inch by inch,

I made progress.


Structurally there are two aspects of breathing.

Breathing within a technique series.

Breathing between a technique series.

They are not the same thing.


They are independent of whether the breath is inhalation or exhalation.


There are technique series that are enhanced when exhaling.

There are technique series that are enhanced when inhaling.

Understanding the key when each is appropriate.


The speed of a kata is enhanced by respiration

when inter technique series is addressed.

There are inter technique series that are enhanced when exhaling.

There are inter technique series that are enhanced when inhaling.


Kata is but a tool to explore these potentials.

There is not one correct performance.

There are many possible correct performances.


Not for the beginning mind, the first 5 of 10 years,

But studies the advancing mind should explore,

 to understand the potential of kata more fully.


For example you are the definer of what a technique series is.


Inner technique breath might be one continuous exhalation,

Consisting of many movements made with a single breath.


Inter-technique breath, such as a single exhalation,

 is then done to control the speed moving between technique series.


You control the vertical and the horizontal.

You chose whether or not to use these potentials or not.


You decide whether using reverse breathing will confound

The opponent being able to key off your breath.


What you don’t explore

Is your choice.


So invisible,

So much potential,

With each breath you take.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Not a Master of GO



I played checkers and chess when I was a kid, but only in a casual way. I did understand what the games were about. Later I read about chess masters, and looked a bit into what they did. Can’t claim I got a lot from it.


Years later I became interested a bit in Japanese literature, and recall reading about a Go Master. Then I began looking into the game of GO. I found it fascinating and even bought a cheap set for my use. I learned how the game was played (a very small bit) and worked at it over the years a bit.


I found it described that if Chess was a battle between two sides, GO was a war between two sides. And in Japan there was master level play both in Chess (Japanese and world wide) as well as GO.


In GO you use either white stones or black stones and attempt to build structures which have a least two consecutive spaces that cannot be surrounded by the opponents stones. You are jockying for the most free spaces. And play proceeds one stone at a time. There is more that that but I believe that suffices for a brief description


I never went beyond light attempts to play.


Then now living, working and teaching karate in Derry, NH. A new opportunity presented itself.


I had a teenage Korean student, Young Lee, and spent a lot of time with him, helping him acclimate to American culture, for his parents had moved here from South Korea. One day our conversation turned to GO and he told me his cousins played it with him when he was a boy.


That gave me the opportunity I wanted, someone to play GO with. I didn’t understand how different he was taught to play it. It was speed GO, my best description. And in 5 minutes I had my head handed to me. Whatever I had learnt wasn’t enough to give him a challenge. My head was handed to me on a platter.

I would never become a Master of GO.

Just because I can



I go to an Okinawan Newspaper web site and translate articles about karate using Bing translate just because I can.   Karate is a very closed society, even one that spans the globe, very few outside of karate even know what it is about, or not about.


I look at what Okinawan’s are seeing about karate, just to have an idea what is being openly discussed there. It is interesting to see what is being shares, as well as what is not being shared there. Giving some perspective about what is being shared or not with the rest of us.


What I see is pride in what Okinawan’s are doing, promotion of karate for international cash flow perhaps, and more than a bit of illusion (watch what the hand is doing, so you don’t see what the other hand is doing.


I have knowledge of one site talking about their art, Motobu-ryu, and try and translate their thoughts, again not to study that art, but to see what they are interested in. It is most amazing that they share so frequently compared to what others share.


Then I have one Chinese site I regularly follow, one with dozens of new articles daily. I select one and attempt translation, just for a hit about what some Chinese are seeing.  Not very scientific, but again to just touch on what they are saying.


And as little as I touch, I am surprised how I find no others doing the same.


Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Eagle Claw Snake Strike

Within many systems there are specialized techniques safely tucked
away in their arsenal that you often do not notice because of their rare use.
They often require decades of conditioning to use them properly.
That would make many believe they are not useful.
But to those who pay the price
and train in them diligently they can be rare treasures.
I want to select one of the rarest techniques I have seen.
The Eagle Claw Snake Strike.
I am not a master of the movement. But I was shown the technique.
It took me over a week of practice before I could even regularly form the movement.
The only reason I know about it was one day I was watching a video of his instructor using the movement in a demo in NYC. I questioned him about the movement, and he explained how the fingers were formed for the move We did not go into other details.
On my own it took me about a week to get my fingers used to create the positions involved.
It was not part of then Eagle Claw I studied. And I never saw it elsewhere.
Then today I was viewing some Lily Lau videos. A different Eagle
Claw lineage and I recognized what she was showing. Of course it is
just one use for the movement, what I had seen years ago was another.
I thought this would be interesting.