Friday, November 30, 2018

Concerning our Stick Studies

I had a most unusual education on the Bando Stick form. A little bit here, a little bit there and then a whole lot of practice. So I am far from the greatest expert. But a little bit here, a little bit there and a lot of time working on what I had mount up to something in any case.


But this is not to concentrate on how I learned the form that I did.  Rather it is to talk about the idea of the stick technique itself.


Relatively basic in concept.  Sort of see man, swing stick at man, hit man and man go boom.


But what appears a simple strike with the stick is actually a much more variable event.

The stick itself may be made of many materials. Wood and Rattan are but a few examples.
Perhaps for practice rattan is simpler. Then the length of the stick varies by choice. It could be 6” long, a foot long, 1 and ½ feet, 2 feet and so forth. The intended use has more to do with the length involved, and of course practice with that stick, It could even be a iron bar.
What you practice with, becomes what is most familiar to you, But if you work a variety of lengths, you better understand how to adjust to whatever is available in reality. After all you control the vertical and horizontal how you will use your training.
When used you are taught there are 3 different striking surfaces in each stroke. Every stroke can each be done as butt strokes. They can be each done as blade (or the length of the stick) strikes. And they each can be done as tip strikes.
Thus when learning and practicing the form we use, there are 3 different version in play at every practice. You just have to be aware of the range of each strike for a different useate.
Interior strikes done with the butt. Extemely devastating when used in close range.
Interior strikes done with the tip of the stick, resulting in very penetrating longer range attacks.
Exterior strikes done with the blade of the stick, for smashing, shattering effect.
Thus the Stick form we use can be done 3 different ways, in fact becoming 3 different forms. One with butt strikes, one with blade strikes and one with tip strikes.
Of course there is a 4th way (and many versions) which mix up the strike being used. In fact that is the most common version I use, where all 3 strikes are used.
Of course basics should be touched on. And in fact there are no  basics, each of those strikes can conclude an attack.
We have a drill of 12 strikes (other systems use similar drills striking in a different order, or a different number of strikes, not the one we use). While we did it never got around to filming it.  All of those strikes can strike on other angles from what is being practiced, in reality of striking it can be very variable. But the set drill suffices for the building of skill. I offer some thoughts on those drills in previous posts below.
Another variable that can be addressed is using the stick in the form both in closed position (where the stick is held parallel to the arm), and where the stick in the form is in open position (where the stick is held away from your center). Thus there are more possible variables.
We even had a 2 person drill for that (which came from our Sutrisno family training.
 One person does a closed position high block as the other person cuts down with the blade of the stick. There is contact between the 2 sticks. Then the person blocking flips their stick from closed to open position and cuts the blade down. The person who had initially struck flips their open position stick to closed position alongside their arm, and as the other stick cuts down, they then block up. And again there is contact with both sticks.
Then faster and faster the strike and counter goes on and on.
What is being trained in skilled transition of the stick between open and closed position.
Thus the training provides a great deal of variability in training.
Useful when facing the unknown, you have answers for much from this training.
This is 3 of my students who were brown belts using the brown belt version of our stick form, The actual form is much longer, that is for dan study.
Subsidiary blog posts
** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** **
Bando form – The Hidden Stick
Sticks and Stones
A lesson in Stick Training


Tuesday, November 27, 2018

The Journey



When I began the study of Isshinryu karate in the mid 1970s that there were differences between Japanese karate, or the suggestion Okinawan karate was better than Japanese karate was never suggested or even discussed.


The study of karate at that time was much focused on tournament kata competition and tournament sparring, along with other training of course.


Then when you attended those tournaments in the NorthEast United States, you were faced with a wide array of opponents. There were Okinawan stylists (Isshinryu, Goju, Shorin Ryu and others), Japanese stylists (Shotokan, Wado etc.), Chinese stylists from a wide variety of sources, Tae Kwon Do and other Korean stylists, And systems that today would be classified as something else.


They all ran hard forms and there were incredible fighters from each of those systems. Always a different mixture. Always anything was possible.


You would hear rumors the head judges might have their favorites, but on the floor everyone just competed. No one on the floor ever discussed anything like style A was better than style B because of country of origin.


Of course those were the Open tournaments. I realize that styles remained closed like the JKA, TKD, Chinese styles and others. But as you didn’t see them you did not concern yourself with what you didn’t see.


Too soon I was on my own as a Shodan, one of the ways I kept pushing myself was competing against all of those people on the floor.


I also started training with many friends I made at those tournaments, and I started judging there.


I experienced a wide array of styles, originating from many locations.


Judging more of my experiences were from the Okinawan/Japanese types of systems. I had much more difficulty judging for example Chinese or the more modern creations of American karate. I did not have a wide template to understand what they were doing. Not for kumite, that was pretty much the same for all, but in forms.


I eventually acquired enough knowledge of many karate systems that I could judge them by their systems general standards. So if I was judging a Goju stylist, I knew enough about their forms to understand pretty much if someone had made a ‘mistake’. And I felt much about the same way for many of the systems I was seeing. Simply because friends had taught me those forms, of course only on one level of understanding.


Then one day, about a year in my tai chi study, I had an idea. I asked my instructor would it be helpful to learn some Chinese forms to be a more informed judge. No doubt partially as a way of having fun for his own reasons, he agreed, and for the next 5 years I studied some forms from a wide array of Chinese systems. Not that I became a Chinese stylist, but it did allow me to judge other Chinese stylists from a more informed opinion.


About 1984 I remember judging in a brown belt division, with an array of judges who I knew had no experience in those systems. We had a young man perform his form before us. To me, I could see he was very much learning the form, and judged accordingly. But as I watched the other judges score he got the highest scores. My assessment was that instead of being prejudiced against Chinese systems, deep down they may have felt that those systems were more authentic than karate and so judged accordingly. Of course just an impression, but other karate-ka who did much better performance in that division did not receive scores that way either.


Over the next decade I moved more and more away from tournaments. There were far more important things I wanted to do in karate that that.


A few years later I did see more and more emerging forms, clearly created to reflect tournament performance. They included more kicking, flips and gymnastics and I had a difficult time understanding how to fairly judge them. On one hand their physical abilities were evident in their performance, but I did not really understand the forms logic.


Then one night my tai chi instructor after 15 years of work, tore my form completely apart showing me how much I did not know. Then he showed my why that was so, giving me a method to correct that (and explaining his own instructor waited 15 years before he explained that to him).


I immediately found that method worked at understanding and a way to improve my students karate too. And all it was doing was reinforcing exactly what I had been originally been taught. I could see how it could work with all systems, but more importantly became a tool to understand errors made by an opponent facing you. In turn a tool to understand what those doing those ‘new style’ forms were doing, and then a way to judge them.


Of course by that time I was no longer competing or judging, and only attended a few tournaments. But it was interesting to make my own observations and compare my thoughts with the way the judges scored them.


Another thing is how my understanding of karate kept evolving over the years.


An example. When I began we did not work on applications of the kata. Nor in most of the schools/styles I trained with was that ever discussed. (No doubt I do not know everything in any of those schools/styles).


Then I ran into an instructor who was taught from childhood that was exactly what the art of his karate was for. And he had real trouble understanding why no one was doing so that he could find. Over the years he patiently explained much of his methodology. Not that I knew the whole thing, but I could see how it developed for the student with him.


For one thing the application of kata was not for kyu study, They had far more important things to work on. It was for dan study and in such depth that decades of new material would be presented. A far more challenging karate experience than most others seemed to present.


Then time passed and the in thing was the application of kata. And many started pushing that it was for everyone, all the time. A very different approach from what I had experienced.


Later still I met a man who returned from Okinawa and spent the next 40 years looking at every application potential for every movement and kata, in the Isshinryu system. And was most fortunate to learn a little bit of his art. After his time with us on this plain of existence, his senior student shared even more.


All of this is just a backdrop to what happened against my own studies over my years.


I viscerally feel that too often we really are unaware of what other systems are really doing, too soon we want to pigeon hole them into boxes labeled good and bad. And doing so IMO can lead to making assumptions that can be used against us.


The true depth of reality is really more than we can grasp.


We need to keep an open mind, as we work to make our art work against anything that moves in our direction.


It is a journey after all, one each of us must make.




Friday, November 23, 2018

Time – the big Secret

Time – the big Secret

Back in 1984 I attended a clinic with Shimabukuro Zenpo, just to see his karate. It was more than a bit different from my Isshinryu. Even more interesting than the karate, I was able to attend a party for him after the clinic, and had a chance to talk with him.


During our conversation a piece of it went like this.


Zempo was discussing the concept of rank when he made this statement.


On Okinawa no one wants to study with a nidan or a shodan. Everyone wants to study with someone who has been in karate 50 years.


I am sure there were many layers behind that statement. It was however relating to karate on Okinawa during that time 1984.  Things vastly change Okinawan karate since that time. For one thing that was about the time a small piece of karate was adopted for Okinawan gym classes. Things were and are constantly changing.


That in my mind sums up my point quite well.



When I earned my shodan I had been training around 4 years. Then too soon, alone and without an instructor in my area, I began to instruct the young to remain doing Isshinryu.


Of course being a new black belt I really didn’t know what I knew, but fortune smiled, and I acquired some wisdom as time passed.


I was teaching over a decade and a half, and had students training almost that long, when I began to realize something else. Skill in karate was not just learning any kata or solid execution of that form after being learnt. True skill for any kata began after a decade of work, hard effort, in that kata practice, Only then was it capable of being performed in a more relaxed execution (and I don’t mean slow). When the thousands of executions were really understood within yourself and the kata became more internalized. 
When your muscles no longer worked against each other, working in greater harmony. Then your center dropped and because of that your power increased. 
As an example I would offer what I call Kata Sho. Taught to the newest studengs, studied by everyone. It is extremely easy to learn. It’s use in class binds everyone together when they practice. And the practice continues after dan level training begins. Then you see more clearly the center drop, as it has been done so long, and the power during execution increase.


I saw that happening over and over again in my long term students. And as a rule no matter when you learned the kata, it still would take 10 years.


Somewhere along the way an idea arose that just learning the kata, being able to execute it well, were enough.


When I reflect on what pre 1900 pre-karate must have been like, when you were being trained for a role, of which that martial art. was only a portion of your responsibilities. Just the acquisition of the art was never the goal, Instead when you assumed your role alongside other family members and friends, they most likely shared their experiences in reality. And that sharing added to one’s understanding of their art. That and of course your own experiences added to one’s own understanding.


Your art did not reflect stripes on a belt, or any title. It was your life and would continue to grow, and your understanding with it over your life. In time you would share your own experiences with new members, and after a life of service, you might be called on to be an instructor of the young yourself.


The certainly observed what time offered those in the art. But this is something rarely mentioned.


And there is more than one way this occurs. For when kobudo (any kobudo at all) is added to the mix time again adds another dimension. That kobudo practice becomes another force enhancer to one’s karate. Over the decades of work, working those tools increase the power and dexterity available to one.


When age occurs, and of course it does to each in their own way, those decades of kobudo training add more to one’s karate to counter that aging. Creating a synergy between each study.


It is not easy or reasonable to explain this to new students (say those under a decade of their own experience). Such as, “Do this because in several decades it will then become clear.”


And it is not just in kata execution this applies.


Back when I was able to train with Sherman Harrill, he had absolutely great application studies on how to use Isshinryu. But too often, those trainings did not clearly fit into the program I was teaching at that time. (I am referring to the dan training program),


I carefully recorded what I saw, worked on it, but as a rule of thumb it would often be 5 or more years before I got around to others working it. Perhaps because it took me that long to be sure I really, really understood what I had seen. Perhaps it was just that time was a component to really understanding something.


Never as simple as seeing then doing.


By the way, in my time I studied with many great instructors. When I learned something of value I most often would take at least 5 years working on it, before I could decide to share it as one of my student’s subsidiary studies. Much I learned that never fit what I was sharing, for a wide variety of reasons, but when I did share it was most frequently after 5 or more years. Time again.


The same applies to martial literature.


I once read a great book on Tai Chi can compress 50 years of experience into it. But it then takes 50 years of work to really understand those lessons.


In my time I acquired a lot of martial literature.  Far too many times it was 5 years or longer before I really understood what it was saying. Again Time.


That Time is the great player is very clear to me. That it is so rarely discussed is perhaps more the realization that few will understand its role in the nature of the arts.


There is no magic pill to skip past Time. It is real, it exists and in its own Time you may understand.

Thursday, November 22, 2018

How I learned what Bunkai meant

I am very far from an expert on the Sutrison family version of Shotokan that he taught.

His father, a doctor, was drafted into the Japanese navy in Indonesia in the 1930’s, which then was controlled by Japan.


As doctor’s had to be officers, he was required to attend the Japanese Naval War College, and there he also studied what would become referred to as Shotokan, under Funakoshi Ginchi. There he also trained in early aikido from an instructor trained by Usheiba Morhei. Those studies and his own training in his native Indonesian Tjinamde I believe influenced his Shotokan he later taught on Indonesia, beginning after the war.


When I trained with Tristan Sutrisno, he shared many things, though I was never his student. Over 10 years he clearly explained what bunkai meant in his tradition.


Formally study of bunkai was not a kyu studies, there were many other subsidiary studies in place of this. First years building the skills used in the bunkai studies.


Bunkai was a dan study. It was based on the kata of Shotokan. Essentially their bunkai tradition was not exactly using the kata and learning how to apply those movements. Bunkai were a very different way to think of kata movements points as a beginning. An entirely different string of techniques to be used for defense. They had nothing to do with the kata per sae, or little to do with the kata.


I interpreted this to mean one could not know the kata and anticipate what the Sutrisno adept would ever do. For such training was meant to be private.


Then for each of their 5 dan levels, there was an entirely different bunkai to be learned and mastered. Which encompassed a huge number of possibilities.


I was not a student, and this was just generally shared with me, at his choice.


However one Sunday morning, when he had brought some of his students up to New Hampshire to visit me, he decided to teach them the first level bunkai for kata Bassai Sho.

Previously he had taught me this kata, though not these bunkai.


To make the point the photos that follow are from that training. Just one movement, and the bunkai follows.


Over the years I did learn a little more about his approach to bunkai, such as the 3rd and 4th level concentrated more on takedown and grounding potential within his system.

And I got some clues, that I have reason to believe the 5 level was involved in getting the greatest response with the least amount of movement used, but that is just speculation on my part.


When he explained bunkai to me, the term was not openly used in karate circles in the NorthEast. About a year later the magazines started using the term, then everyone began talking about bunkai. But from my studies, nobody else ever meant it the way he demonstrated it to me.


The possible exception was in the 1938 explanation on how kata technique could be used, was somewhat similar in a limited, very limited way.



So here goes, the opening bunkai (level 1) to Bassai Sho.

Allow me to insert a note here.
The bunkai version of the kata does not necessarily
follow the original version originally studied.
What follows is the first level bunkai for that movement.
I have left them at full size.

Remember this is just one movement bunkai from Bassai Sho.
There is much more, and more involved in the dan study
than just acquiring the knowledge or the bunkai.
For one must then master those applications,
only then when they were fully understood, for each of the system kata,
would the dan be prepared to begin NiDan study.
So being a Dan became a real commitment to train, and train and train.
Of course there was much, much more too.