Tuesday, July 16, 2019

A Personal Challenge not for karate but to force myself to get better.

I have always been an Isshinryu stylist and that has always been my core. Fortune allowed me to study with a group of extremely talented individuals and when I was showed something I always did my best to learn what I was  shown. Some of those things I shared with my students as subsidiary forms, but never at the expense of their Isshinryu.


I saw so much I had no reason to try and learn from videos or youtube, although on occasion I did make personal studies on a few of them. That was never my purpose.


But in 2012 I was sort of hit with a double whammy. My physician informed me I had diabetes 2, and that without changed that would mean ‘times up’. Then in another short time I was diagnosed as having colon cancer, meaning surgery would be required, and a whole lot more.


For the diabetes I made drastic changes to my diet, and began increased exercise. Which meant I started walking. First small walks daily, then increasing walks day by day. (I have never ceased that.) Then when I found out I had cancer I decided to do even more.


The pace of my karate had been declining for years (which I attributated to age). It was too easy to do so as an instructor, so I worked to pick up my game.


That was January of that year. I challenged myself to learn a form  I admired from you tube to compete in an April tournament. The form was the Gohakukai system Tomari Rohai Kata. I had a hard copy or the form Joe Swift had shared with me and that Mario McKenna had later translated the text covering the form and its applications. Part of it was beyond me, but I decided to take the challenge I set for myself


It was work,, a lot of work, to do what I could and slowly the form came together. I filmed myself several weeks before the tournament, and on the day of the tournament I successfully competed with the form (and it was better then). Which is all I wanted to do.


My work with the changes was successful and over the next few years the diabetes abated.

The cancer treatment and everything that followed was also successful. Through it all I kept to my new diet, and kept walking. Then life keeps moving on and my disabilities set in, and another round of adjustments followed.


It is not impossible that those disabilities were coming on much before and I never noticed them, attributing their appearance to aging. Who knows.


But I hold this form a special part in my heart as I faced what I faced in 2012.

Motobu Naifanchi and it's Bunkai

I discovered I had these very old scans of Motobu Choiki
Note on the pages the photos read left to right.



Monday, July 15, 2019

An Interview with Katsuhiko Shinzato - Kashiba Juko



Below is a translation of the interview with Shinzato Sensei published in Slovenian newspaper Dnevnik.


When it is a question of life or death there are no rules

Karate (empty hand) was developed as a self-defense martial art in an environment of a
hundreds of years long oppression where bearing arms was prohibited. Even though
Katsuhiko Shinzato (age 69) who has been practicing karate for over 50 years is not well-
known world-wide he has an exceptional reputation in Okinawa, the cradle of karate.

Contrary to other great Okinawan masters who are still alive and most of which went all
over the world Shinzato has for long decades, most days for six hours, practiced karate
and kept developing it away from public eye. The "western" world first got to know him
when his videos appeared on the web site Youtube after a report by the Okinawan TV. A
calm and modest man, Shinzato, who is approaching his seventies, is still vital and fit like
a 25 years old.

Mr. Shinzato, what brought you to Slovenia?

Already several years ago I enjoyed very much practicing karate with Borut Mauhler and
his karate students. I come to Slovenia again at their invitation and this time several of my
students from Okinawa accompany me. The purpose of this visit is the participation at a
several-day karate seminar of the so called Shorin-ryu style of karate (the most important
style of Okinawan karate that was developed in 1800 and is considered the predecessor of
the modern Japanese karate, Ed.) that has numerous karate participants from USA, France,
Israel, and Slovenia.

Not long ago an encyclopedia of Okinawa karate of which you were one of the contributors
was published in Japan. Can you tell us more about this work which is the first extensive
book in the world about the history of Okinawan karate?

I have been often asked to write a book on karate philosophy and training methods. A few
years ago I felt that it was time to sum up my views and insights of karate based on my
long karate experience. We started collecting information for the Encyclopaedia of
Okinawan karate and kobudo (martial arts using different weapons like stick, sai,
nunchaku, Ed.) in 2003 and last month the Encyclopaedia was published by Kashiwashobo,
a publisher in Tokyo. It covers the history of the traditional Okinawan karate personal
profiles of contemporary karate masters, commentaries on old karate written materials,
and a chronology of karate.

Among many historical documents that were destroyed in Okinawa during WWII were also
many written documents about karate. Did that cause difficulties in the creation of the

Because of a lack of historical documents on Okinawan karate, we had a difficulty
discovering the origin of Okinawan karate. Some are of the opinion that the present
karate originated in Okinawa and that it further evolved under the influence of Chinese
martial arts. Others believe that it was brought from China centuries ago and it was
gradually adapted to the Okinawan way of life. Both theories seem reasonable. 

However, the latter is more acceptable to me.

It took a long time to confirm the birth and death dates of masters from old times because
dates published in numerous books on karate differ. For example, Kanga Sakugawa (1786-1867), one of the key figures in a karate history, was an expert of Chinese martial arts. False speculations about his life and his relationship with his students have spread in the world. It has been generally accepted that he died at the age of 58 in China. However, he was supposed to have served, after he had supposedly died, as a royal officer on the Yaeyama Island which is a part of the Okinawan islands.

Books about karate and other martial arts are often full of myths and anecdotes about
incredible and superhuman powers of legendary masters. How much truth is in these

It is common that legendary heroes were described in incredible myths and anecdotes.
Similar is true for karate experts. Chojun Miyagi, the founder of the Goju-ryu karate (a
style of karate which is quite wide spread in the world) was known as a strong and tough
karate man. According to an oral tradition he was capable of crushing a piece of raw meat
in his hand (this is not possible, Ed.). His nick name was "shishitui' (the meat crusher). He
denied his supposed superpowers in an interview with an Okinawan newspaper in 1936.
In a way this proves that most anecdotes or legends about karate masters were invented
by people who idolized certain individuals as "supermen".

Okinawa is considered the cradle of karate. On the other hand Okinawan culture and
people are very peace-loving? How could karate and kobudo develop in such an environment?

How did karate develop through history?

Okinawan karate was developed as an art of self-defense, not as a combat martial art. On
the other hand, Japanese martial arts like Kenjutsu (the art of sword) or Kobujutsu (the art
of weapons) were created for attack, as fighting means for defeating enemies and for
protecting and supporting the military. This means that these are attacking martial arts in
the literal sense of the word.

Unlike samurai in Japan, royal servants in the kingdom of the Ryukyus (the old name for
Okinawa, Ed.) were prohibited to carry arms in the 15-th century. The Ryukyu kingdom
never fought any enemy until the Satsuma (Kagoshima) clan invaded Okinawa in the early
17-th century. The ban to carry weapons continued after the occupation by Satsuma and
lasted until the end of the Okinawan kingdom in 1879. According to a common belief
these historical events contributed the most to the development of karate in Okinawa.

It is possible that karate was practiced in the past in order to develop invincible spirit
against the oppression of Satsuma, but yet not to rise against their tyranny.  In order to
serve their master, royal servants needed a trained body and spirit. Karate is traditionally
understood as an art of self-defense and not as an attacking skill. This is the main
difference between Okinawan martial arts and those developed in Japan.

You have been practicing karate for over 50 years. What attracted you to karate in your

After World War II Okinawa was under the USA administration until 1972. The government
established a scholarship fund for young Okinawans as a policy of reconcilement. Almost
all young men, including me, hoped to get a scholarship for a study in the USA, which was
the dreamland for us. When I entered the University of the Ryukyus in 1957 I started
learning karate. After I finished my undergraduate studies I continued at a graduate
school in the US where I continued practicing it.

What is the optimal age to start practicing karate?

That depends on the goals of every individual. If one plans to practice karate as a sport in
order to get trophies, one should start as early as possible. For somebody who wants to
use it as means of self-defense there is no time or age limit to start practicing. As long as
one practices, one's knowledge should be enough to defend oneself effectively.

What insight about karate have you gained in your long karate practice and which teachers
have influenced you the most?

Like other martial arts, karate practice helps, through continuing practice, with the
physical and mental growth. The more we practice it, the more we can improve our
abilities. I believe that karate practice enables us to develop extraordinary skills which can
be used in a specific situation for self-defense even when our body ages. It is this
realization that "captured" me for karate practice until the end of my life!

The master that has had the greatest influence on me was Chokei Kishaba (1931-2000).
In honor of his unique training methods, we call our study circle "Kishaba Juku" (Kishaba
private school, Ed.) after his last name.

Is karate as popular in Okinawa today as it was in the past? How many karate dojos are
presently in Okinawa?

A surprising number, over 300 clubs or dojos. It is a fact that karate is much more
popular in Okinawa now than it was in the past. It is practiced for health, for pastime, for
competition, or as means of self-defense.

Is there a connection between Okinawan karate styles and China's martial arts?

It is rather easy to establish that karate's beginnings were in China. The names of all
katas (a form of defense against an imaginary opponent, Ed.) sound Chinese even though
they are not pronounced the same way as in China. The way they sound does
not resemble

Okinawan or Japanese in the least. Despite that it is hard to identify a
connection between the Okinawan karate with Chinese martial arts, at least as far as the
Shorin-ryu style is concerned. Karate has been changing through centuries, from
generation to generation, until it became in its appearance completely different from
Chinese styles of martial arts.

Is the present way of training karate different from the ways it was practiced before WWII?
If yes, what lead to these differences?

Before WWII karate was traditionally practiced as an art of self-defense while the modern
karate is practiced as a competitive sport. Originally karate was trained to acquire vital
skills in order to knock down an opponent with one deadly strike aimed at the most
vulnerable points of human body. This kind of strikes are prohibited in modern karate
which observes strict rules for safety. The traditional karate practitioners are always
exposed to risks while modern karate contestants enjoy demonstrating all kinds of fancy

Unlike the competitive karate which does not allow strikes to vital points of the human
body these very strikes are still practiced in the traditional karate. In a situation where it
is a question of life or death there are no rules. A traditional karate practitioner is always
aware of that. This difference develops two types of karate men, a calm fighter and
somebody who goes after trophies.

In Slovenia people are mostly familiar with the Japanese Shotokan karate style and with
newer, sport oriented karate styles. What is the most important difference between the
Okinawan karate and modern forms of karate?

Shotokan style is one of the derivatives of Shuri-te which started in Okinawa with master
Anko Itosu (1831-1915). Itosu changed the ancient katas for the purpose of physical
education in schools. All Shorin styles (belonging to the group Shuri-te and together with
Naha-te and Tomari-te form three different groups of schools of Okinawan karate, Ed.)
and also some other Okinawan styles developed from a Shuri-te version of karate. This
means that formally, as far as katas are concerned, Shotokan style is almost the same as

What then is the difference between them?

It is exactly by the way they are practiced and by their understanding of katas that the
older styles differ from the newer ones. While in Okinawa the practice of katas is
presented as an effective way to enable one for self-defense it is a question whether the
modern way of practicing katas makes this possible. On the other hand the Okinawan way
of practicing katas usually does not prepare for winning in sports karate, w hich
is the main goal in Japan. In Okinawa free sparring is considered as a verification of one's
understanding of katas which are the central part of training. Thus the emphasis is on the
understanding of katas and not on fighting.

Due to sport oriented karate styles and more and more popular fighting sports such as K1,
Pride, and UFC, many people are convinced that karate is useless as a combat martial art.
Is this true?

If we find ourselves in a life threatening situation we can use any attack or defense
technique learned through the practice of katas. In the show business of sports combat
these techniques which are effective in real situations are not allowed, due to strict rules,
and only officially permitted techniques can be used. Every show is a game in which one
"wins" or "loses". In real life, when it is a question of life or death, karate techniques
enable our body to react spontaneously for defense. I am convinced that the traditional
karate represents a separate category among all sports that you mentioned.

karate a well known saying is that "in karate there is no fist attack" ("karate ni sente
nashi"). How should a karate-ka react in a dangerous situation?

That there is no first attack in karate is a well-known rule. It is usually interpreted from a
moral viewpoint. It is expected from karate practitioners to never behave aggressively
towards others. This means that violence is not allowed in any situation. The question
then is how to react in a situation where we are attacked? One does not need to explain
that in case there is no other option, one can defend oneself to a degree which makes the
attacker give up his aggressive intentions. The same can be said about other martial arts.

Karate practice is unique among martial arts. A careful study of karate katas shows that it
is useful both for defense and offense. When attacked different kinds of techniques act
spontaneously where a defensive technique can automatically change into an offensive
one. Or, different strikes and blocks practiced in katas are useful and enable a natural and
spontaneous movement. A first attack cannot be the best form of defense against a well-
trained karate practitioner. As you know two attacking techniques cannot be executed
simultaneously therefore the attacker finds himself at a disadvantage. It is exactly
because of these practical characteristics of karate that all intentions of an aggressive
attacker turn out to be paradoxical.

Kata is one of the main practice methods in Okinawan. On the other hand, many people
think that the training of katas is completely unnecessary and useless. Are these claims

There are three steps one has to pass through in karate practice in order to be capable
enough to defend oneself effectively. The first step which takes a long time is to practice
katas in order to develop the body and to learn different striking and blocking techniques.
Katas are practiced at this stage in a square sequence of moves which can be compared to
Kaisho (the square style of Chinese handwriting or Kanji, Ed.).

In the second step physical capabilities and correct way of moving, necessary for self-defense,
are developed. The practice of katas at this stage is "roundish" and can be compared to Gyosho
 (the semicursive style of Chinese handwriting). If an individual is persistent he will be able to
arrive to the third step where he can move spontaneously and can use every move as a
defense or as an attack. Using our muscles, joints, breathing, and brain we can generate
an exceptional natural power and are at the same time ready for a fast and effective
(re)action. This means that the knowledge of katas at the highest level opens many
possibilities for reacting in dangerous situations. At this stage katas look like Sosho (the
Chinese handwriting that an individual develops through years of practice, Ed.).

For those who criticize the practice of karate through kata I could say that they are still far
from the third and final level of the knowledge of kata through which our body shapes to
the level at which karate can be used as an effective martial art.

The commercialization of karate which is present especially in the western world and also
in Okinawa is also tied to acquiring different degree belts, depending on an individual's
level of knowledge

As the saying goes, tastes are different. Some people who practice karate do not care
about any kind of ranking system or status symbols while others are not satisfied without
that. Different belt colors are of no help in desperate situations that everybody wants to
avoid. The business of karate is getting more and more popular. As long as there is
supply and demand, karate will also exist on the commercial market.

You are in Slovenia already for the second time. What are your impressions of Slovenia
which is rather similar to Okinawa? Due to its small size Slovenia has been like Okinawa
under the influence of bigger neighbors and yet succeeded to preserve its culture and

You can be proud to live in a country of such natural and cultural beauty. Even though we
live on a small territory, both Slovenians and Okinawans can be proud. With our friends
we share the enthusiasm for the kindness of Slovenians which reminds us of the Okinawan

Sunday, July 14, 2019

When thinking of the Toudi that became Karate this exercise may be interesting.

I believe it would be an interesting exercise to think about how far karate  moved from it’s true traditions. I intend to reimage karate as an American tradition based in 1880 DC, Washington.

Not to disparage the changes that took place as karate gradually became something else, but to better understand what karate moved to, distinct from its past.


Using the book  “Ryuku Oke Hiden Bujutsu: Karate, Bukijutsu” that time when Toudi was focused on the groups involved the use of Toudi for each group had a particular practice.


The martial artists (bushi) of the Ryukyu can be divided into five distinct groups.


First of all, the Shuri bushi, who were in charge of protecting Shuri Castle.
Next, the
Tomari bushi, who were in charge of domestic law enforcement.
Third ,the
Naha bushi, who were in chages of protecting the Chineese envoys (Suppushi) as well as the tribute ships sent from Ryukyu to China.
Next were the
Udun bushi, who were involved in the politics of the Ryukyu Kingdom.

Finally, the bushi of Naha’s Kume Village, who were in the service of Chinese imigrants.”


Thinking about that by 1900 their roles evaporated on Okinawa (except perhaps for the safety of the Kume Village). A different way forward presented itself, school karate, public karate and the export of karate to Japan (and other places from the Japanese disporia). Karate was changing and it big ways, it no longer had the true traditional purpose for the tradition of the bushi.

Let’s free think about this. Putting the arts in modern context, where the purpose of toude/karate was for the specific role of more modern groups:


Or toudi for the Capitol Police, responsible to guard the congress.
Or toudi for the Police, domestic law enforcement for the district of DC.

Or toudi for the Coast Guard, protecting our waterways of DC
and accompanying missions to other countries.

Or toudi for the Secret Service,  protecting the President.
And the DC community having their own toudi group for community protection.

In those days family groups were the members of those groups, and the toudi portion of their training began at an early age. But when they completed their study and were adults they began their professions. Professions where their duties were considerably vaster than just their toudi. Toudi just a portion of their roles, probably the smallest role, but of course most vital when needed.


Each group charged for a specific life mission.


The instructor(s) for each group would be drawn from retired members of that group who had successfully navigated their careers and accepted the responsibility to prepare the young members of those groups.


While these varied toudi arts shared some of the same characteristics and at times they would work together, they really had very different missions and often when they used their toudi skills, they were used in different ways.


They were not used to train the non family members. They were not used as training for the young or adults. They did not use their training to contest with others. They did not use their training for community self defense. They did not work on understanding their Toudi for other application potential. They did not receive rank, they did not work to become instructors. They did not use their training to be their livings. There was no one who wanted members outside of their group to understand their training, or to have knowledge of what they might do with their toudi and work against that.


Of course the wheel of time moved on, and other things occurred. Not better or worse, just different.


This exercise is just to allow you to understand what might have been involved in those days before the art became known as Karate.


** Of course being American I chose this example, it can be replaced with any other city from 1880 as makes more sense to you.

Sunday, July 7, 2019

I found an older comment on Hidden Techniques in my private Principles file

Interesting topic: hidden techniques. Of course it depends on what you mean by hidden techniques. What are hidden for some are openly taught by other system, provided of course you were taught them.


1.   I am sure there are explanations which were not shared at times. That doesn’t mean they weren’t there, just not shared.

2.   Or there were systems where techniques were shared at various levels of training. Until you reached those levels those techniques were not shared. Such as at 20 years of training. The need for those techniques may well have not been needed, except in the past, so no reason to study them. Want is not necessity, one can teach as one choses.

3.   Another tradition was planned extra movements between the kata sections. This was shown by the writings of Shiroma Shimpan and Mutsu.

4.   Other traditions did not share but the most basic applications, and you were encouraged to discover your own, but under the eyes of the instructor to guide them.

5.   Itoman shared many applications from Toude, which fit many of today’s karate traditions.

6.   There are family traditions which teach applications only after Black Belt.And those applications have nothing to do with the kata. Those are training tools, and the movement points are mnemonic devices to remember the actual techniques.

7.   Or you can define a technique as you will from a kata, and seek the skill to find each possible application there and develop the skill to make them work.  One of my Isshinryu instructors, Sherman Harrill, spent 40 years working makiwara so that each strike could,drop anyone no matter where he struck, and along the way shared 800 applications for the 8 kata of Isshinryu, and I only had a piece of his studies and work.


Whether there are instructor favorite applications, of course theoretically all you need in one movement, and the time to deliver it with skill to enter the attack and make it work. Of course that is the true secret of any technique.


Or perhaps you have two techniques, and then no one knows which you are to use.


I have a simple answer, any techniques which works is  real. If it drops an opponent it qualifies.


I have experienced several of these answers. Enough to know that each of them can work.


A system or practitioner may or may not share as they choose. They are under no obligation to provide you with answers.


For myself the past several months I have been working on the use of a kamae found in the Isshinryu SunNuSu (Sunsu) kata. Having realized ago that kamae tend to be most viscious when fit into an attack.


Are there Hidden Techniques”? Depends on what you define hidden to mean. Be sure you don’t confuse the question with understand the meaning of a movement, with the different task developing the skill to effectively use that meaning.


Thursday, July 4, 2019

Tradition the word often means something else all together.

Tradition is a powerful word, but there are many who give it attributes as seen through their eyes, which is not the same as reality. Not that I am an arbiter of history. Just one who keeps looking.

If we go back just a few years, there was no word such as karate. Perhaps many different words for different traditions on a very small island. To make thigs easier I am just going to select on word, and that is Toudi.

You and I were not eligible for that training, it was reserved for families serving the Okinawan king and the country. No one else was trained it it, there were not formal schools, others could not apply to be trained.

The art that was taught was to provide training for part of their family role, nothing more.

 There was nothing worn special for training, or to indicate the trained individual was so trained. The clothing they wore was just what was appropriate for their role in society.

 Once they were deemed adequately trained they were now allowed to perform the role their family needed them to perform. And while Toudi training was an important component of their role, there were other responsibilities that likely were learned on the job, or perhaps taught within their family.

 When they assumed those roles, the others they were assigned with, experienced in those roles, likely provided more guidance, encouragement and perhaps private acquired skills.

Toudi did not define their family responsibility, not did it confer rank.

The instructor(s) were not public instructors. They were older members of those classes who survived and excelled at their roles. They had gained the trust of the family(ies) by their service and in turn were trusted to pass their training onto their young, Most likely they were retired from their previous roles and also old .In fact Okinawan people live among the longest in the world because in large part to their diet. There is a saying 'that the best experts were the ones who lived the longest'. no doubt not accurate but.....

The start of what became karate resulted because Itosu Anko convinced the Okinawan school board to take a portion of those arts into the schools. A taste of how toudi actually began by instructing the young of those families.

But the rise of karate is not what this memory as about. And most of what is claimed to be tradition actually rose afterwards in very different times.

 I have a few blog posts which touch on this time…………. You might find them interesting.




Translated by Mario McKenna A chapter in the 1938 Nakasone book “Karate Do Taikan”

The book Mario McKenna translated
Itoman Seijin (Morinobu’s) book Toudi-jutsu no Kenkyu 

And occasionally some possible other sources, such as this

 “The Secret Royal Martial Arts of Ryukyu”By Kanenori Sakon Matsuo
“Ryuku Oke Hiden Bujutsu: Karate, Bukijutsu” translated by Joe Swift\

Monday, July 1, 2019

Thursday, June 27, 2019

Bunkai as Mario McKenna defines it

Bunkai as Mario McKenna defines it on his blog at http://okinawakarateblog.blogspot.com/2008/01/bunkai-vs-oyo.html . “The word "bunkai" does not mean "analayze" or "analysis" in the strictest sense. It literally means "to break apart.


I find it interesting how in Japan the term ‘bunkai’ came to mean the meaning of kata, or the application of a kata technique.


Thinking about bunkai as breaking things apart,