Sunday, July 29, 2018

Accuracy, above all else Accuracy

Musical Kata

Musical Kata


From 1978 through 1984 I competed, judged at, attended open tournaments in the old Region 10 (Basically Pennsylvania).


There was nothing like the internet or yourtube in those days. Martial arts videos were just starting to be sold as a business, and probably the greatest source of information were the karate magazines.


What was traditional was either what your instructor told you was traditional, or what the judges of the day considered traditional arts. And of course the times, as always, they were a changing.


Events that used to be competed in were being set aside. New ‘traditional arts’ were constantly being born.


Today many would balk at the designation ‘traditional’ being applied  to some of those arts. But that was then and this is now. Things were different.


Some of the changes were laying the groundwork for what is modern karate today.

Some were very traditional. Some were something else again.


One of the things that started in those days (at least as far as I was concerned) were the inclusion of musical kata.


I had never heard of that, but in the magazines they talked about Jhoon Rhee’s attempts at using his TKD forms with classical music.


Here is a video of that form.  Jhoon Rhee Form to Exodus


 Perhaps more geared toward the National events than the regional kata.


Solid forms were like this one from Jean Frenette of Canada.

Some that I saw were custom built forms to match the music. Others just performed a kata with some music being played at the same time, which occasionally matched the form  and at times did not match.


The very best form I ever saw was one Gary Michak performed to the Superman Theme.\

He even did it one time for the youth attending a youth tournament I ran.


It was perfectly choreographed to the music. Unfortunately, though bright in my memory, I can find no copy of it anywhere. The music was extremely stirring as was his form.

Superman theme- John Williams


Having not see where this type of competition went I just found this video.

But to me there are more frentic efforts.


Best musical forms of all time 1st to 10th



When I was a yellow belt Lewis Sensei was preparing the yellow belts for a local karate demonstration. He drilled and drilled us in how he wished us to perform Kata Seiunchin.

And it was to be done with the song  “the Hustle’ playing in the background.



 We did the demonstration, and no there is not video of it.


But for the next 20 years whenever I did kata Seiunchin, that song would resonate in my mind. At the same time for that 20 years Seiunchin was my favorite kata.


Then things changed, I had been an instructor for a long time, and no longer had a favorite form. They were all my favorites.


I remember one time when I had 4 adult brown belts training, and a local tournament was coming up, I challenged them to do our stick form in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle outfits to the movie theme song, and if they did so I would grant them immediate black belts.

Unfortunately they did not rise to the challenge.


So much for an attempt to interject some fun into their lives.


Then continued in the regular training order.


Of course I was serious. There are too few times in our lives when we can do something just for fun.


Years later I had chance to give  Ernie Rothrock a break during a clinic.


My son and I performed Kata Seiunchin together. Now I did not practice with my son, but I had a group of advanced kyu students that drilled in a group performance of Seiunchin Kata. And of course I had taught the group the timing.


Here is our performance.




Afterwards everyone congratulated us for staying together, I don’t think they believed me when I told them we did not practice together.


Of course when we did the kata the music from the Hustle was rolling around in my head.


I never taught anyone else that way.









Thursday, July 26, 2018

The Weakest Possible Technique

Karate did not have a single purpose, but too often we do not think of what the range of those purposes could have been.


The most obvious was it’s potential for self defense, or perhaps guarding someone and the use to eliminate an attack.


I do imagine that there were a greater range of purposes than just those we focus on.


In my range of studies I have experienced some of those uses, which lie outside of the box of conventional thought. Enough of them at times I wonder how many things there were  considered and trained for.


In that light much discussion is given to how to develop the most powerful technique, such as the most powerful strike. Of course that certainly has it’s place in karate study.


But at times I wonder whether any of us consider how to develop the weakest, most slight technique to conclude an attack. One so outlandish that it does not draw the attention of the target to defend against, and that when delivered there is no longer a fight.


Perhaps more important a technique that remains unnoticed by those observing you.


Something worthy of being called the empty hand.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

A Shearing Plane of Force

The first way I saw karate it was as a percussive art, Strikes and Kicks.


Then one time when I first started training with Tristan Sutrisno, I saw simple exercises he was first shown as a boy when he was 4 in Indonesia by his father. In time I realized they were not just a child’s exercises but were the basis for extremely effective martial technique in their own right.


I came to see such movements in a different way from the percussive manner of karate. To me they became use of a shearing plane of force against an attacker.


Further study I began to realize they were present in everything I studied. Where I studied tai chi just to do tai chi, not for martial use, I came to realize these motions were in tai chi.


They were in karate. They were in karate.


When the eye opened I saw they were present almost everywhere. But it is easy to define an art from one perspective;.


An extremely effective demonstration of how this can work can be seen here.


Or course this does not explore all of the potential uses of the Shearing Plane of Force.

How To Learn as a Black Belt seeing things one time.

I was 5 years into my Isshinryu study. Two of those years I also studied Tang Soo Moo Duk Kwan. I had been the student throughout, always doing what my instructors required.

Now I was an instructor of youth, still training myself, and alone.


I attended tournaments as a way to push myself. Learning of course how much I didn’t know, and how the lack of sparring partners was inhibiting my own study.


So I began to accept offers from others I met at tournaments to visit their schools.

And as it turned out, the one thing I was interested in, having someone to spar with, was not what I encountered. Only one of those schools used sparring as a regular practice.

Most of the other schools never sparred when I was there.


Not my intention, as I never became their student, but I paid attention to what was being studied, and along the way began to learn new things.


That led to what was probably the most important skill that I ever developed.


Learning how to learn, very quickly.


I very quickly realized I was seeing interesting things at time, and things I probably only had that one chance to see, and then attempt to learn.


As a student learning involved much repetition under the eyes of my instructors, them giving many corrections.


But now it was different. I wasn’t the one being taught. When I saw something interesting I was not the one being taught. Nor was I in a position to receive reinforcement on what was being shown. I was encouraged to participate in those classes, but from friendship.


This was before availability of video recording (or availability of movie camera’s for me) . I just had my senses and my memory to rely on. Very quickly I began taking notes of what I was shown. Then when possible, would work on that material on my own. It might have been a move, a form application, a form or something else.  Whatever I got was an improvement of 100% from where I was before. And even if not identical to what was shown, if I made what I retained work, that was good enough for me. I wasn’t trying to get that system.


Then I began training in Yang Tai Chi Chaun with Ernest Rothrock, later venturing into the study of Chinese forms. I saw many of his students tests and classes.  That formed some context of what he was teaching. I never attempted to learn his system, my own studies were quite engaging.


But one Saturday afternoon working on my Tai Chi, at  his main school, I observed him preparing for a demonstration. I saw one move where he just appeared to walk thourgh an attack and then go to the floor, his legs entangling his opponent taking him down. I was very intrigued never having seen anything like that before.

It was nothing I studied with him. When I went home I took out my notebook and made some notes on what I thought happened. Working out how I would do so. I had no adults to practice with and it just became a private study.


 When I visited other schools, I was the guest, and no one ever asked me to teach.


About 8 years later, a group I used to belong to was having a group training session at my school. Ernest was there and that move was one of the things he taught that day. I fully understood what he was teaching, from my notes, I had worked out the essence of what he did, and I discovered I could do it too.


Which brings up another thing about clinics or occasional learning situations.


Many times no one remembers when they were shown, just that they did whatever was done that day. Unless you are the instructor and can instantly insert the movement/form into your curricula, the movements with regular practice becomes instant vapor wear.



Another time this became a thing was the first time I went to train at Sutrisno Tristan’s dojo. During the class he had his students perform what he called a kyu aikido drill, 8 movements long. For 15 minutes I watched his students work on their technique. One person in the middle, surrounded by 8 attackers, who attacked one after another. Basically the defender used their technique to take their opponent to the groung, going to the ground yourself to control them then rising into another attack, either that or entering the attack to project the attacker to the ground.


Then he turned to me and asked if I would like to try it (of course I was being ‘tested’ as to what I could do). I was able to do the entire 8 defenses they were working on in order.


Later I learned 4 more of the defenses (12 of 20).


That was the only time I did that there. Many years later were he was up in Derry to do a clinic with my students, he saw my students working on that drill. He turned to me and asked when I saw that. I told him on the first night I visited.


He then went on to address current changes he had made to the drill (with him there were always different levels of practice) He did not explain why, and of course more work for me.


But it was at that 2nd class, I saw an entire different level of techniques, ones I have never seen since, but I learned and have my notes, never to be forgotten.


One of those movements stands out.


On the street, the two individuals are just walking past each other.


The movement used was extremely quick, the bodies passing each other shield others from seeing what happens. And after the strike you just walk away as their body drop to the ground.


I am not interested in giving further description. I have shared what happens with my senior students.


This is an entirely different class of technique from what most consider the use of karate.


I only saw it one time, that was enough, as I had learned a bit about how to learn.


But a single lesson. One that would be repeated so many different times in many other settings. You either get it one time, or you don’t.


I was not perfect but I have had my moments.


At times I learned diverse forms from one instruction period.


I remember when I learned a Northern Mantis form at one clinic. Then worked on it forever making it mine.


Or the time at a Bando Summer Camp I was shown the Bando Short Stick form one morning, And a lifetime later I still had what I was shown. Perhaps it was or was not the entire thing, I don’t know. But what I got works, the 100% ahead rule in any case.


The most severe test was later when I met Sherman Harrill. That first day he showed so much, and I retained 27 applications from what was shown that day in my notes. A year later Garry Gerossie shared a video he had made of the day, and there were probably 150 applications shown.  I was not perfect, but satisfied that what I got passed my 100% test of things I did not know before.


Then I worked and worked harder and harder to retain more and more of what Sherman Shared.


5 years after his death I finally met John Kerker, and or course that was amazing too. As time passed I would attend his clinics for about ½ a day, then having a 3 hour ride home after. That evening I would pull my notes together and then send John a copy of what I remembered I had experienced.


You control the vertical and horizontal of your life.


You decide how much you can learn, you must make the effort to retain what you see.

Even if only one time.


Anything you retain in a 100% improvement from where you were before.


And how you use that knowledge is of course up to you.


As time passed, when I attended a fantastic clinic with oodles of valuable movements, all of which made it into my notes. It would often take 5 or more years before I realized where to place a portion of that material into my program. And there would be just as much didn’t fit. After all the program has its’s own logic of existence.


I always learned, even if some of what I learned didn’t fit what I was teaching.


Tuesday, July 24, 2018

440,000 individual views to my blog.

I really am not sure what to make of it.

I started my blog for my students, those who spent decades with me.

1. I wanted to preserve memories of my journey where their art originated.

2. I wanted to remind them or specific lessons to help them remember so many things we worked on.

3. There were so many things I studied, that were impossible to pass along, no one had that much time after all. Some day some of those might make sense to them or their future students.

4. The vast range of things I studied, wrote, translated, etc. never had a place in our classes together. I wanted to preserve them in case some future student of theirs would find them useful.

5. At the same time I was more than willing to let anyone else interested see what was there. They would not have had the floor time behind the writings. If any of them put the effort into making these words a part of their reality, then they certainly deserved them. And those who just want to read, that’s ok too.


There is not a specific structure to my writing. These posts meander around just as I experienced all of it in life. My instructors certainly shared a very specific order to what they taught, but my memory skips around and  I wanted anyone who was following these writings to feel the same experience.


Of course there is a great deal more that is not shared on my blog. Those memories, thoughts, experiences I pass along privately to my students. Unfair perhaps, but that is how it is.


And I have no shortage as to where to go next.




Monday, July 23, 2018

Thoughts on watching the ISKA 2018 World Karate Championships

Just watched the annual ESPN telecast of the ISKA World Karate Championships.

Once again I saw nothing resembling the karate I studied and loved.


But the idea of it takes my mind back to the beginning.

Before Karate when the art was Ti or some other name.


When the art(s) incorporated practices no longer studied, develop to meet conditions of their world. When you could not chose to study Ti, you had to  be recommended, be a member of the proper class of people. As to how young you were, how much you practiced as an adult, when one became an instructor. All these things are unknown, a distant past.


There was one rule, for the instructor there were no rules. Their charge to prepare their students for the current conditions allowed them to alter training and the art as they saw necessary. And their’s was a small community on a rather insignificant island after all, so seniors probably shared some ideas at times.


Then one instructor, Itosu Sensei, pushed a different idea, a portion of Ti, could be usefully used to train the young in school. Things changed and a result changes were felt across the karate world, small as it be.


Then more change and Karate of a sort was exported to Japan (and other locations around the world) and a new karate took hold. Students were told not to change the kata, where the instructors changed things as they saw fit.


A great war happened. Japan lost and Okinawa and Japan were occupied. Some instructors were able to fimd a living by training foreign students (occupuying military) and the 2nd karate exporia began.


Those short term students returned home, and no one told them that one needed 20+ years of training, not knowing better they recast what they understood to become a new karate tradition.


The rest of the world noticed and began going to Japan and Okinawa. Karate organizations began exporting instructors around the world.


New traditions arose. New groups and new ideas of what karate could be.


Each organization put their own imprint of what was karate, and as there were no rules, each of those different imprints often held true.


Japanese karate got the idea world wide competition would be the future. And worked toward that end. Other groups around the world, with slightly different ideas followed suite.


Then some got the idea to incorporate gymnastics and stunts into their version of the art.


The Chinese development of modern Wushu competition added another twist. Then even influenced Koreans in how they presented their own TKD>


Everything fed off of each other. As well as groups that held to their original training.


Okinawa noticed everyone else was controlling the picture, so the changed and got many of their instructors to follow suit. They pushed their own version of World Championships.


And they also followed world wide change and got their kids into the act. No doubt their own flavor of what appropriate karate could be. Some aligned with them and their changes.

Some did not.


And today we have a continual ‘war’ between everyone as to what karate is. Each group claiming their stake in the outcome.


So ISKA sponsors, instructors of ISKA karate, announcers proclaiming how traditional they are, as they flip and stunt their way through group kama or bo forms, becomes the norm.


And it remains a brave new world, where the old rule, that there are no rules, continues to describe reality.

Sunday, July 22, 2018

The Strike - Isshinryu


I guess it best to start at the beginning.


That end of the summer I started college I was at the beach with my family. I bought a copy of Bruce Teger’s book on Karate and read it. That was probably the first I had ever heard of karate.


In college I remember buying some issues of Black Belt magazines, but I recall more stories in there about Judo than anything else at that time.


Then one of my college roommates began the study of Shotokan at Temple U, under Okasak Sensei. As his roommate he taught me something about striking and blocking in order to have someone to practice with. But in no way was I a karate student.


Along the way I gained some understanding that there were different karate styles with different traditions, but what they were I had no idea.


Then as a young married man I was working construction in Salisbury Maryland. One day one of the other men there talked about a Karate Barn outside of Salisbury. So that night I went to take a look. That evening I observed a class. Went back the next night to talk to the instructor, and I found myself accepted to be a karate student the next class.


I knew nothing about Isshinryu or what the training was. I just showed up, went through the warm up stretches and drills, then I was handed to two green belts, along with several other beginners. They showed us their Chart 1 and Chart 2. That took the rest of the class.


I was shown how to strike (it was different from the way my friend in Shotokan did it, but I had enough wisdom to not discuss that). I don’t recall the method of punching was ever named, just strike here or strike there. I was shown how to do it.


Nobody in class ever talked about what other styles did, or why there were differences. We just were pushed to do what we were shown better.


When attending tournaments you realized that only Isshinryu was punching the way we were using. But that made little difference to us, we just used what we had.


About that time I also started following the karate magazine of those days, and acquiring what books I could find (few on Isshinryu). Ot was probably there I first saw out strike was called a vertical strike, and read if its superiority of other styles of punching. But I was never told that in training. And I didn’t pay much attention to those magazines. As far as I knew karate was karate, there was not much distinction about Okinawa versus Japan as I recall.


While I had occasion to train with many people, I never had any problem adopting to whatever fist strike they used. At times that  training went deep and I observed them hit very hard with their strikes too. I never felt any way of striking was superior.


Then again as I always went there to learn, I never had the chance to let them feel my strike either. They were always deep in to their own studies, and were not sharing because they had any interest in Isshinryu..


But while I learned many useful things, I never neglected my own Isshinryu studies either. For one thing I was teaching Isshinryu.


As opposed  to many of the articles I was reading about Isshinryu, I never really thought their point the vertical fist of Isshinryu, was superior. I realized what was important was how well the individual trained in their own art, and could artfully exercise it was most important.


Time passed and though I was still teaching Isshinryu, I incorporated many subsidiary studies, to challenge my students even more and to give them knowledge about part of what other did, to prepare them for the reality out there.



So there I was 20 years into my own training, believing 20 years of work meant I knew how to strike with my Isshinryu fist. Then I met Sherman Harrill and boy did I get schooled.


I of course was blown away at the diversity of application potential for Isshinryu, Sherman demonstrated. But it took time to learn some things. Sherman explained it this way. “Most people needed to attend several of his seminars before the began to realize what was happening.”


I am not sure if it was the 3rd of 4th seminar we had with him. I was allowed to record them, but those recording are difficult to watch after all he was sharing application after application and the mind makes it difficult to focus on what is going before you eyes.


My students used to meet the day after those seminars to talk about what they had learned from working with Sherman. I remember that Sunday morning. We were comparing the marks that remained on our bodies after being struck by Sherman. For one thing to record exactly where that strike took place, after all we had the marks on our bodies for reference.

Sort of like those pictures from the bubishi perhaps, showing striking points.


But Tom Chan (who had been a Uechi student prior to switching over to us.) who made the best observation. Sherman knew Tom had a Uechi background, enjoying working with Ueichi people, he used to spend some time with Tom talking about Ueichi too). Anyhow Tom observed that when Sherman struck him, it was not with the flat fist, rather with the standing ridge of knuckles, just a few degree difference.


But that made a big change in the way we looked at Isshinryu. The strike contained its own force enhancer by using the fist to strike that way.


That made an incredible difference with the way we used our strike there after.


For one thing a student doubting our strike, when lightly struck with the vertical knuckle fist could experience more ‘pain’ from a strike,


In practice this did not change for most kyu students, but as they became brown belts it was shared more, and became a trademark of the dan striking used.


There was so much more I got from Sherman, later to be reinforced from John Kerker too.


To summarize what I learnt:


What is known as the vertical strike is more than that.

Actually the strike can cant from say 11 o’clock to 1 o’clock,

The body is not really vertical and better strikes into a body can vary for greater effect.


Then again a different way of looking at the vertical strike,

Is not just a strike with the first two knuckles,

Rather shift the strike a few degrees over and become a strike with the vertical ridge of knuckles (a very powerful force multiplier and only a slight paradigm shift.


Of course there is much more I learned too.


For one thing Sherman was a big proponent of  Makiwara as the ultimate force enhancer behind his Punch. We were struck too many times to doubt that.


That reality is something each instructor must address or not in their own practice, With the use of the Makiwara, the punch becomes more devastating. Yet there are varieties of practices, which such is not an option, and they can work too, abet in different ways.


Perhaps the lesson is not that words are so necessary. The proper words do not always tell the whole story. Rather they can tell part of the story, and long experience fills in the rest.