Thursday, January 31, 2019

Why, How and When of Kobudo Part 1


Historically Okinawa likely always had it’s weapons traditions.


Those with tuide for the positions held by the Samurai families. Those within other family traditions. Those in village traditions. Those whose work used many things, such as those who fished, those who cared for horses or those who tilled the fields.


As tuide became karate, some of those karate traditions also had weapon traditions, and others did not. There was not an apparent kobudo across Okinawan karate.


An example might be Funakoshi Ginchin, the karate he taught did not include a kobudo tradition, at the same time in Japan he would demonstrate bo tradigion, too. He got that from is father as a family tradition. And he supported his students acquiring kobudo traditions, being Shinken Taira.


As to what the kobudo traditions were encompases a variety of different traditions.


In Shimabuku Tatsuo’s studies he leared a bo kata from Kyan Chotoku, as well as sai studies. The chose to receive other kobudo training from Shinken Taira,  And then as his art grew shared some of those studies with his students, apparently different sharings at different times. He very clearly saw the study of his karate including a kobudo tradition.






Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Two Hours

 There is an oooold saying, “When the student is ready, the instructor will appear”.


I realize that sounds like something from an old Zorro movie, or perhaps an older zen koan. But that is exactly what happened to me.


I was a black belt in Isshinryu. As part of the training I received I had the Isshinryu Kobudo kata forced into me by that time, one exception. Bo Shi Shi No Kon No Dai was taught 3 months later.


Then I was alone to maintain my practice. And practice I did, over and over. There were no books or You Tube at that time, I had no access to the movies that were available. And one time I started Urashie and ended up in Shi Shi by the finish. It took me a week to work that mistake out. So I began to use tournament competition as a place to force a higher level of practice. Many of the competitors were national champions or regional champions. They proved to be good sharpening stones for my own practice.


Taking advantage of offers made by instructors at those same tournaments I began traveling to train with them on occasion. And when shown something I did not know, I did my best to learn and then practice what I was shown.


Those opportunities were in many systems. Among them I spent 2 years learning 1 form, the Yang Tai Chi Chaun form. So many forms and among them a variety of weapons forms.


But the most unique experience also proved one of the most lasting ones for me.


When I was training with Charles Murray, one time he went home to Deleware to visit his parents, When he returned, I discovered he spent time practicing with Lewis Sensei, and also visited one of his friends Reese Rigby. Reese had also acquired Bando staff and stick. That visit he had taught Charles the Bando staff form he knew, and in turn Charles taught it to me, more to have someone to train with. It became another form for me to study.


Later I visited Lewis Sensei and stopped to train with Reese, who was also one of my seniors. And he drilled me over and over on the Bando staff, working on fine details.


Reese was a strong regional competitor himself. Often for variety mixing Isshinryu Urashie with the Bando Staff form. And often when he was in a tie experience, would use the Bando Short stick form.


One of my later visits in 1982 he showed me the opening to the Bando Staff form one time. I hardly could be said to know it, but I had long gotten into practicing what I was shown. No idea if I was practicing it right or wrong, just working on what I retained.


So in those years I guess the clearest thing I was learning was that I could retain something in short order. I was doing that over and over again, in many diverse systems of study.


The reason those Bando forms were studied by Reese Rigby is that Lewis Sensei had many Bando friends, and his students attended Bando Summer Camps and learned those forms there.


So in 1983 when I was invited to one of those Bando Summer Camps, because of Lewis Sensei, I chose to go and participate. It was a great experience, I participated in more than several dozen different training sessions there, All are still sharp in my memory, bando, arnis, isshinryu with Don Bohan, and many others.


That Saturday I made friends with one of their black belts, we talked way into Saturday night swapping experiences.


Then Sunday morning I awoke early, To clear my mind I practiced the bando staff form I knew as well as the piece I had of the short stick form. I did not realize I was being watched by that same black belt I met the day before. He asked me how I knew those forms, so I explained how that happened. He was getting ready to attend a private Bando black belt session way in the woods with Dr. Gyi. But he made a point that I really did not have the Bando Stick form.


So he grabbed two of his brown belts and told them to teach me the stick form. Then he left for his own training.


I do not had the slightest idea who his name was, or the name of those two brown belts.

But teach me they did. Move by move, constantly showing me how each of those movements was applied at the same time. After an hour they took a break. At the same time Dennis Lockwood’s daughter Anna, came up to me and asked me if I could teach her the Bando Staff form I knew. So I did so as a mental break, realizing that doing so would help me move what I was shown into Long Term Memory. The most necessary component of learning.


Then back to the short stick instruction. Another very intense hour.


Too soon they were done. I never saw them again or their instructor.


Whatever I had I had, and went off and worked on it. The camp closed and all the way home I kept going through the movements during my 3 ½ hour drive. Then getting home more practice. And the next day, and the next.


No one but myself cared if I had it. No one to correct me. Later that year I once again visited Reese. He showed me his, I showed him mine. They were close and also different. Each of us agreed we would keep to our own way.


From that practice I came to appreciate the form more and more.


For the next 5 or so years I just practiced. Then developing an adult program and when having students that reached brown belt, I shared a short version of the form. By that time I realized I did not want to overload the students, I already had many suppremental forms they also studied, But I considered the form so important for them I saw that a short pirce of the form would be significant for them. The remainder would be one of their earliest black belt studies.


The more I worked and taught the form, the more I realized that it could be performed with literally anything in one’s hands, A stone, a stick, a knife, a staff, a sword. Literally anything you could place in your hands could be used, and that the empty hands could also be used, another empty hand fighting tradition.


Then in 1993 one of my students walked out into a NH tournament floor in the weapons division. As he walked forth I heard mummers in the audience at that tournament, “He does not have a weapon with him.” He announced himself and his form. Then as he began his stick dropped from his left sleeve into his hand, It had not been seen before. The audience gasped. Then I realized what the form could truly do.


I did not teach stick to children, that was never the plan. But those young people who reached black belt after the average 7 to 9 years, were no longer really children either.


One time did a one off with the kids. I was hosting a New Years Eve sleepover training session for the kids at the club, To give their parents a night off.


And that time I gave a brief clinic of how a rolled up newspaper could be used for self defense. I long realized you could show almost anything, then not having it a part of their class, would just become a one time experience. Of course that session was also a real experience that could work. I had gotten the idea long before from an acquaintance in Goshin Do, who would tell when a brown belt working in NYC used to always carry a rolled up newspaper with him, just in preparation for any attack. That idea worked well with the short stick technique. But that one training session aside, I never again shared that with youth.


So did I get it or not. Never again trained with anyone from Bando, so I could not say. Sufficient that what I got worked  for me for decades and became a core black belt practice in my group.


Full version I taught

Brown belt level


1993 3 Brown Belts Hidden Stick brown belt level

Paired Hidden Stick


Monday, January 28, 2019

There is more than one way

The reality is that there are many different paradigms about how Isshinryu is taught, and interestingly each of them works to make their students become effective.


Of course the base for most of us is what the Marine’s experienced at Agena and then influenced their efforts as they became instructors. Probably as close to we can get to what was Isshinryu Prime exactly what was taught by Shimabuku Tatsuo.


Along the way many others were taught necessitating many changes, each of which meant that Isshinryu was not exactly the same as originally taught. I do not believe that weakens Isshinryu, just addressed each time that there are other paradigms that formed.


One of the concepts I first experienced when I began training with others outside of Isshinryu, not all of them by any means, but enough to spark my interest. Those practices I came to put under the term Multiple Striking. I found it in many places, even some from Okinawans, from Shotokan, from Chinese  systems, and some from my own efforts.


I do believe, when possible, the original Isshinryu using extensive work with various makiwara equivalents is probably the strongest answer.


But there are other ways to retain Isshinryu and use other principles which can also work.


And I have shared a few of them. Of course knowing me, a bit more than a few. But these were all things I taught those who trained with me, as well as a bit more.











It is something most of you probably have not experienced.

When first I moved to Scranton, Pa. for work, it also meant that I was no longer near my instructor, Tom Lewis’, dojo. Nor was there any karate to speak of close by where I was living.


The only place I could find offering martial training anything like karate was a program teaching Tang Soo Do Moo Duk Kwan. I joined that program, they knew I was an Isshinryu green belt, but none of them cared about my Isshinryu, ever.


I continued my Isshinryu, alone.


A year later serendipity played its role and one of my seniors, Charles Murray, move to that area and with him I was able to train further in Isshinryu.


Then too short a time later I was once again alone.


I tackled it several different ways. I participated in open karate tournaments in Region 10, where I lived, to push myself in Isshinryu, I began training with many people I met at those tournaments to have adults to train with, no matter what the training they offered. I also began teaching Isshinryu to the young. I had the time, the availability and literally no distractions as I was not from that area.


At those tournaments I did meet others in Isshinryu, but they were not my lineage. Some were friendly, some were more dismissive as I was not their lineage of Isshinryu, a few were very dismissive for that reason too. In any case as none of them were nearby did any read bonding occur.


Then as I went forth to  train with others, just to have adults to work with, I found out I learned also, not as a conscious choice, but I acquired quite a bit of knowledge about many systems nonetheless. Goju Ryu, Shorin Ryu, Shotokan, Goshin Jutsu, Washin Ryu and more (from a separate study of some Chinese systems). As I was called on to judge at the tournaments I was also competing at, I found I could judge many competitors not just on what I observed that day, but also knowing something about their systems, was able to include knowledge of what they were to do in that system. Nothing I ever wanted to do, it just occurred.


But with complete honesty not one of those I trained with ever expressed one iota of interest in my Isshinryu, ever.


Each step forward, such as when I choose to begin teaching youth, with many who told me that was not wise, or true karate, I was alone in my choice.


In maintaining my Isshinryu and all of the other things I discovered I retained, I was also alone.


And when I chose to expand my program offering supplemental training, at many different levels, for many different reasons, I was also alone.


But time passed I developed students into adepts and then I was not so alone.


Till the time came to retire from active instruction, and once moving again, I waw once again alone.


Still, much weathered, I still practice my art(s) alone,


As I began, still I continue, Alone.




Oh one small afterthought. While I learned many things along my way,  at a most personal level I used that knowledge to work on how to trounce such for my own part.


Also Alone……..



I remember as a brown belt Charles suggesting to not let others make my choices as to how I trained. Many different levels to that set of discussions. It may have been on the greatest lessons I learned.


Saturday, January 26, 2019


 It is quite possible we do not really know what we know.


So much has been written in books, magazines and in the internet, repeating the same ‘truths’ that the endless repetition itself becomes a ‘reality’ or current lever of abstraction, not based on reality.


Consider that when Funakoshi and Mabuni began sharing a paradigm of what they studied with 4 year university programs, that was something new. They proved that was possible, and trained many who would then go forward in the Japanese society, reinforcing that such things were possible. Quite different from what occurred on Okinawa.  Especially proving new ideas could take hold.


I agree I don’t know enough, but from my incessant reading on Okinawan karate history for much of the past 100 years, there was never a focus on Karate systems, just the instructor who shared. That slowly changed more after the war.


Consider Miyagi Chojun. He was trained by Hiagonna Kanryo, engaged in further studies, taught mostly individuals and some school karate. For most of his time he trained to what he felt the individual needed, not teaching most everything. Towards the end of his life he changed his mind. Also he never promoted anybody to black belt. Then on his death hos students got together, trained each other in their varied kata studies. And as a group awarded each other dan levels, and from their efforts Goju became a system akin to what it is today. So as we think if a system it was more constituted that was about the mid 1950’s.


And Kyan Chotoku never taught a system, just karate. As was normal on Okinawa his students, some of them, became instructors some time after his death. Those that formed schools named them differently. Viewing those schools you can see a bit of commonality which relates back to Kyan, but also veering in different directions, eventually each of those groups becoming systems.



Then Shimabuku Tatsuo followed much the same path. Like so many others he incorporated kata from several of his instructors. Considered and passed on his own ideas what was necessary. He was willing to take on short term students and adjust his art for the short time they were with him. He was continually considering what was the best way to present what he say, which I believe he got from those who trained him.


Realistically he could not really know those short term students would be inspired to spend the rest of their lives doing his karate. He really had no idea that a world spaning organization was needed to consolidate his teachings, then what attepts were  done to do so, did not face the reality that there was so little in place to do so. Each of his students had the grasp of what was his Isshihryu they had seen. That they would perpetuate the name to be a ‘system’ was not the Okinawan karate Shimabuku had experienced.


Each of those instructors, with different experiences, faced very different realities when they came back home, Many of them were instrumental in founding Karate in America. And each based off the paradigm that they experienced. Often joining with other karate’s in America forming new, different traditions. But for the most part they kept the name Isshinryu, forging the idea that Isshinryu was one system, and in doing so creating something quite new too, IMO>


That there are many different paradigm’s using the name Isshinryu is what I have experienced. I know so little, just what I have experienced.

1.      The Paradigm I learned from Tom Lewis and Charles Murray
2.      The Paradigm I worked on myself to study kata application potential.

3.      The Paradigm I created to incorporate various subsidiary kata studies from many who shared with me and became the Isshinryu paradigm I taught.

4.      The paradigm that Sherman Harrill and then John Kerker shared from their studies together.


That is a brief suggestion of what I have seen, and I realize there is much more Isshinry that I have experienced.


I have learned not to consider others paradigms as anything but what they represent. There can be many correct answers, based on many different things, and still being effective at the same time.


To me it is clear Okinawa paid attention to what Shimabuku Tatsuo accomplished and also learned from that. Perhaps not so pubically but the reality he created left lessons.

Friday, January 25, 2019

Training with Shinso (Ciso) and the Nukite Strike revised

Training with Shinso (Ciso) and the Nukite Strike revised




Allow me to offer some things my one instructor, Charles Murray, learned on Okinawa back in 1972.


He was a new black belt under Tom Lewis, and was an airman who was stationed on Okinawa. While there he trained in Agena at the dojo of Shimabuku Tatsuo as frequently as possible. There were only several other Americans training there at that time, because the Marines had their own dojo on their base.Then the majority of those that trained were Okinawans who came to train on their way home after work.


I can only relate this how he explained to me, mainly after reaching my own shodan. He described how Shinso spent time with him, training him in chinkuchi. But my time with Charles was too short after  that to be able to be trained that way myself. And I did not believe I knew enough to train that way myself.


Basically the Isshinryi in which I was trained followed a different paradigm, the same one Charles had been trained in.


When his schedule permitted he spent as much time training at the Ageno dojo as possible.

And when he described the dojo he included a specific description of a makawari for training nukite.


It basically consisted of 4 walls with a tire innertube (rubber) stretched across it. The Okinawans trainng there would strike it with their nukite strikes.


Now one evening Charles listening to Shinso describing how he would handle an attacker with his Isshinryu, made claim that his primary weapon would be the nukite. I believe Charles showed some misbelieve at that, saying something he did not see that to be an effective answer.


 Almost in reply to my thoughts, Shinsho struck me twice. With his first blow, a nukite (spear-hand thrust), he temporarily paralyzed my arm; with the second blow, my leg.


The manner in which he formed the Nukite strike was different to me. His fingers seemed to be of equal length, allowing them to strike as a single line of fingers.


He then explained that I needed to change the way I formed the nukite. As my fingers were longer in the middle, I should bend them so they appeared the same length. They also should be held open to accommodate this structure. This would allow them to strike as if a single unit.


It could be possible that was behind the nukite use you have been describing.


Believe it on not. Charles trained me and has never give me reason to consider otherwise. I know he maintained his chinkuchi training over the decades.


Many years later he found these videos of his training on Okinawa. They are not the best, but  they are what I have.


Charles in 1972 practicing chinkuchi with his Seisan kata.


Charles in 1972 practicing chinkuchi with his Sunsu kata.


In my years I worked out different answers. Different time, different place, different circumstances. I was satisfied with what I did. But that never gave me reason not to believe what he experienced.



 Other related blog posts: