Monday, September 23, 2013

Self Defense: Are we teaching False Confidence?

According to some of my readers, this subject is a pretty sore one. Most of the conversations that I have had are from those who took a basic course in Self-Defense at a local Y or a community center and found that the drills and techniques that were taught were useless when they were actually put to use.  (No offense to those who teach at the local Y or a community center... I help out with my organization and we teach out of a community center.)  The common story goes like this.

Ms. "A" notices that there have been an alarming increase in violence targeting young women and decides to take a self-defense course to familiarize herself with techniques that might help save her life.  The first few classes begin with promising lectures along with warm-up excersizes and simple scenarios.  As the classes progress, Ms. "A" has learned some basic punches, basic kicks, and some basic releases from arm grabs and attempted choke holds.  On top of that, she was introduced to the use of pepperspray and equipped herself with a "rape" whistle just in case she was being chased by an assailant.  Nearing the end of her self-defense program, she was introduced to stress management letures and more advanced scenarios, such as, actually facing against an assailant, which was her instructor. These advanced scenarios taught techniques such as eye gauging, groin strike, etc. and took many hours of drilling.  Completion of the course required demonstration of all the techniques learned, again being able to demonstrate against the instructor.  Ms. "A" finished the course with flying colors but felt that some lacked.  A few days later, she asked her boyfriend to act as an assailant and attack her.  Her boyfriend quickly overpowered her and this confirmed her lacking feeling.

If this story seems pretty similar, then we do have a problem.  Even for those training in the arts for many years, if you are not able to effectively use what you have learned then we haven't developed the ability to apply our training, which can already be contributing to a false sense of confidence.

How do we overcome this?  It is easy to say... "I know I can apply what I have learned..." but can you truly?  Unless tested, like those I have spoken to you here through either Google + or through my blog, through the School of Hard Knocks or School Yard/Neighborhood Justice, how do you really know that you can apply your techniques outside of the dojo?  Realistically, most common practitioners don't.

That's not a bad thing.  Depending on your system, such as mine... Okinawan Goju Ryu... Chojun Miyagi's philosophy was "Karate ni Sente Nashi" or in plain english... "There is no first attack in Karate." is taught until your ears bleed.  The reason why we focus on Kata and on bunkai is due to this original philosophy. The study of bunkai is what allows Goju Karateka to develop the ability to effectively apply in a real life scenario.  I believe this to be true in ANY Japanese Martial Combat system.  A simple system without the backing of repetition and understanding of muscle memory and execution is not going to be effective.  A self-defense cirriculum that is open to any Joe or Sue off the street may be more detrimental to them, especially if the courses are not backed up or supported with supplemental training of some sort.  Even in the Military or Law Enforcement, while they are taught basic hand to hand and self-defense while they are in Basic Training, there are other supplemental training that is available to them as they progress in their career.  For example... MCMAP for the Marines, which stands for the Marine Corp. Martial Arts Program and individual training incentives for Law Enforcement (to include Judo, MMA, Karate, etc. to become an instructor within the Law Enforcement agency).  For those... it is a matter of life or death... not some practice dummy.

This issue is something that hits the core of some practitioners.  Most of us don't go looking for a fight.  Some of us had to learn in order to survive. Some of us were encouraged to test our ability... but is that the correct way to teach especially if we are trying to develop someone's ability to defend themselves?  What is the correct way?  IMHO it is all relative to the person willing to learn.  It is a combination of more smarts than actual physical ability... especially in this day and age.  To me the wisdom of Miyagi Chojun rings true when I look at self defense... "Karate ni sente nashi..." Through this concept you learn restraint, control in difficult situations, and one can hold their head high knowing that in any situation they made the correct decision.

Now you might wonder how I got all those concepts from just that one simple phrase.  Simply, the phrase's meaning is deeper than one thing.  If I were to explain the literal meaning, then most believe that Karate to be a passive combat system, not believeing in offense and concentrating in defense.  However, traditional practitioners understand that this is not the case.  For most traditional practitioners... Defense is Offense, timing is everything, and this give you the advantage in most cases.

1.  Learning Restraint

From a Goju Ryu perspective, understanding that all Kata begin with blocking, symbolizes the fact that our forefathers understood that our ryuha focused on the ability to react against aggressive attackers, such as the oppressive Samurai from mainland Japan. Learning and honing ones skill to wait for the aggressor to make the first attack, a Karateka can read their oppenent and take advantage of their movement in mid-strike to move in to finish their opponent.  Some practitioners equate this to hesitation but I look to it as a strategic strike.

2.  Control in Difficult Situations, generally speaking...

As a Karateka, we are responsible for our actions at all times.  Sometimes we forget that.  Given time, we may be forced into a situation where we must act regardless if it is negative or positive.  Learning restraint is a key factor in learning to control ourselves in certain situations.  Regardless which avenue we choose, the point is that we did not let our emotions control our actions and that by controlling ourselves we did not make an escalating situation any worse.

3.  Knowing That You Made The Correct Decision

Learning restraint and not letting emotions control your actions are two key aspects of knowing that you handled yourself in the tradtion of a true Karateka.  A true Karateka does not have to falter to ego or has to prove that he or she is stronger than your opponent.  The main point is that in any given situation you are able to act with a good head on your shoulders and resolve issues than cause them.  You may use your fist, you may not... I don't want to sound cliche but if you do use your fists then I hope its the last option available.

I believe that these three points above need to be understood by a practitioner before teaching or learning self-defense. Self-Defense is not just a series of moves and techniques but a whole different frame of mind.  Powerful emotions may fluctuate, such as Fear or Anger, which can affect the practitioner's motives and disrupts the "calm mind / no mind" mushin of a true practitioner.  In a sense, we can not teach confidence no matter how hard we try.  The practitioner must acheive that on their own.  Like the story of Ms. A... through her own experiences she must find her own way of training to make sure that it is effective and useful to her. 

Confidence is only gained through a succession of defeats and successes.  Without defeat one cannot appreciate success, yet alone build on each success that one has acheived.

For those ups and downs... in training!


Thursday, August 29, 2013

USA: Karate Fragmented... National Organization?

Fragmentation of Karate in the United States... is this a good thing?  No.  But is this a reality?  Yes.  This issue of non-standardization is not a new argument in the Karate community.  This is actually an age old issue that is currently being fought in legitimate and illegitimate circles of Karate regardless of what Ryuha (style), Kaiha (group within a style, example Eibu kan, Seiwakai, Ichikawa-ha, etc.) you practice.  Here in the United States, we choose not to address it sometimes because we figure that standardization is a farce... that it breaks from traditional training. Or... another good argument for not wanting standardization is that it takes away from the "martial" aspect of the Karate and therefore makes the system inefficient because it concentrates on tournament fighting.  All good arguments in my eyes, however, I think we are not seeing the benefits from standardization.

"What benefits are you talking about?," the skeptic always asks me.  Well let me go into it so that I can keep the age old argument running in style.

First... my disclaimer... In the big scheme of things my opinion is just it... it is my opinion.  However, IMHO, a practitioner needs to train on different levels. 

  1. A practitioner needs to know if his or her technique is viable in a actual situation.  This kind of training must be done in conjunction with your normal training and I consider this to be a specialized portion of your training. (Mainly for advanced black belts. Including kyusho/atemi (vital striking) and takedown to finish.  Ippon Kime (not 1 point but 1 strike finishing Kime... can you finish your opponent with 1 technique) **Life or Death**
  2. A practitioner needs to know if they can control their technique and apply this control to the given situation to protect oneself and others. **Any Given Situation**
Again, my opinion before I talk about standardization comes from the above ideologies.

Standardization vs. Specific Training
I believe that specific training, especially for traditional "martial" training comes directly from what ever lineage you pull from.  This is where "dojo" techniques are passed down, specialization techniques which are just focused by your dojo organization are passed down to those who are capable.  The Japanese call this passing on the dojo's "Tokui Waza" or specialization technique.  Some dojos concentrate on the Tokui Waza as well as the traditional application of their Kata and only do so.  While this may be old fashioned, this is not incorrect, they are just practicing on what has been passed down to them.  Can this be standardized?  I do not think so... and here's why.

Take Jeet Kune Do for example.  This was a style that Bruce Lee developed.  While this style has lived on and still continue to produce students, has the system evolved?  Many believe, including myself, that while the system is viable, the system will not grow beyond what Bruce Lee left behind in his Tao, videos, books, and other material that is being coveted by the system's practitioners.  Meaning, that a lot of Jeet Kune Do's specialization died with Bruce Lee when he passed away.  While it began as a unique system, it will eventually stay the same as many of the schools we have here in the United States, masterless and unevolving.

However, take Kyokushinkai Karate for example.  While a different style of Karate all together, the system has evolved and continues to evolve because of 2 different thoughts.  1.  The Teaching of Sosai Mas Oyama, and 2. The will to train harder and to become stronger according to Oyama's focus.  While each Kyokushinkai Dojo maintains the spirit of Mas Oyama's teachings, each Kyokushikai has individuals who continue to produce students based on #2... students who have the will to train harder and become stronger.  With the help of MMA greats like George St. Pierre, Kyokushinkai Karate continues to grow and has contributed to the arguement that Standardization does work in certain avenues.  Even though Mas Oyama's passing, the spirit of #1 and #2 continue to grow and evolve. (there is a reason for this and I will post about in my follow-up to the Fighter in the Wind article... =)

I may speak about legitimate and illegitimate schools here in the United States, however, please do not take it the wrong way.  As I have explained before in my past articles, when I describe illegitimate schools, I do not mean that they have no merit.  What I mean is that the school is illegitimate because of circumstance.  This could have been due to choice or due to circumstance.  Part of my goal is to communicate to these schools and let them know that there is hope to connecting them with their original lineage as long as the instructors can leave the egos and the $$$ at the dojo door.  While my personal journey has just begun to connect with existing American Goju schools and systems, I'd like to open my doors to those who may have questions.  This is only possible with being a part of the largest national organization in Japan, the Japan Karatedo Federation (all styles, also known as Zen Ku Ren or Zen Nippon Karatedo Renmei). 

Although, I am only officially a member of Japan Karatedo Federation, Goju-kai, it is an avenue which can open up to JKF Shotokan, JKF Wado-Ryu, JKF Ryuei-Ryu, JKF Shito-Ryu, etc.  For those who are avid tournament goers, this group is what consists of the WKF or the World Karate Federation, which is currently the leading Global Organization leading to have Karate in the Olympics.  My point is that while the school in question may not have connection with any of these organizations, there may be a chance that looking to standardize with an existing national organization may improve your Karate through this training by reconnecting with experts and deepening your resources. 

To my knowledge, there are many schools that still focus on the fact that they were developed by some of the founding fathers of American Karate (example Peter Urban or even Ed Parker), many on the eastern seaboard... these schools have a forgotten depth that they can tap into.  Many schools have grown many generations of instructors and these organizations have taken on a life of their own.  Very close to how Karate grew during the after effect of WWII.  Again, this is not something I feel is negative.  I believe that this is something that needs to be harnessed in the United States... however, I truly believe that Karate, regardless of what style, needs to build their network and increase the possible resources that current instructors here in the United States can reach out to.  Groups like the USNKF, or other schools who are affiliated with the Japan Karatedo Federation (All Styles or even the individual style) or even others like the IOGKF or IKO can be a huge part of that resource pool.  Having instructors on both sides of the ball understand this so we can help each other out will be a great undertaking for US based Karate but I believe that one day we can do so.

Note to self... Standardized training doesn't mean learning "shitei" kata or having to tone down your Karate.  It is a method to combine your dojo's knowledge with other instructors and learn from those who are recognized by the global Karate community and have the ability to learn from them and use them as a resource.  Many dojos, mainitain their training on top of the training they receive from these National Organizations... many dojos like mine, require you to rank with both the dojo and the national organization.  They are here to keep you on your toes... not to take over what your traditional dojo training dictates.  The training may not always agree on certain aspects with your dojo training... but the training will help you see things from another perspective.

Keeping the argument alive.  Love to hear your thoughts... In training as always!

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Terminology: Translation Tribulations

I can already tell from some of the responses on Google+ that there are many non-Japanese practitioners who are frustrated with trying to learn a new martial art yet alone trying to learn with instruction in another language.  Wether that be Japanese, Chinese, Korean, English, Spanish, etc... I agree it can be a tweek to your brain.  Being Japanese born in the United States I can atest to that.  However, there is hope... and trust me... by learning the native terminology will also help you understand the deeper meaning of your style.

Now... first off, I know I do this all the time... there is really no mysticism behind deeper explanation.  Most of the time, we complicate things ourselves and when we train hard and ask questions of our senseis, we see that the answer/explanation is really deep but simple. 

My sensei gave me a really good example... A sensei's job is to carve or mold his or her students.  Look at a marble worker for example. He starts off with a large slab of marble and begins by using a large hammer and a large chisel to get the intial shape he wants.  Gradually, the tools become smaller and smaller until he shifts to precision tooling so he can begin to work on definition.  Our senseis are doing the same thing to us, kicking our butts with basics, gradually feeding us knowledge so that we can grow with our training, and finally working our minds and flushing out minor details with the execution of our technique.  In essence, our senseis are carving us and molding us to become better Karateka.  However, they don't have all the answers... some of the answers we have to explore and find ourselves.

You ever wonder why sometimes you try so hard to understand a concept, let's say being able to work your core, hips, and the ability to translate that into powering your techniques, and in the beginning learning how to work them is absolutely frustrating.  Asking questions isn't helping and the more you think about it the worse it got (maybe this example was just me...haha).  However, one day that light bulb goes off in your head (literally) and for some reason it makes complete sense.  Not only did it make sense but the execution was a lot easier.  I know that this has nothing to do with the title of this blog... however the spirit behind it is very much connected to it.  This is because sometimes we are not meant to try and comprehend the technique first... we must train and learn with our bodies... think of it as conditioning.  I know I'm going to get a lot of flak for this but you hear some teachers say sometimes "just do as I say."  I'm not defending this kind of teaching but sometimes we need to just mimic and just try to understand the mechanical components first before we get to the explanation... again... first we crawl, then we walk, and eventually we learn how to run... life's natural progression.

Now getting to the translation piece...

First of all, most of us thought... "how are we going to learn all the basic dojo terminology" rather than "how am I going to survive my future training..." especially those training in the traditional arts with native speakers teaching the courses.  Everything from counting, commands to be at attention, at the ready, to commands to stop, names of stances, and techniques.  Very overwhelming for anyone coming in with no foreign exposure.  First we might scramble and ask sensei if there is a packet or a cheat sheet you can use to learn the terminology. Next, ask our senpais for help, search the internet... and then finally... most of us either give up or for some of us lucky ones it just sinks in.

While I know it is a bear... it is important to learn the native terminology... especially if it is a Japanese art.  The terminology is based off of the Kanji or Japanese Characters which is based off the Chinese Character system to which some of the depth of the meaning comes from.  Take the characters at the top of this blog post.  That reads "ZANSHIN" which is literally translated as "where the heart remains." To us westerners this might not make any sense.  However, with your sensei constantly repeating its meaning, gaining experience, and constant immersion/training of your art, it starts to make sense.  Of course, you will need to have the drive to learn... when and if you do accept it then it will go off like a light bulb in your head and you will have one of those "ah-ha" moments and kick yourself because of the simplicity.  This "ah-ha" moment has been a reoccuring theme in my own training.

Don't be afraid to ask about the meaning behind a certain term or don't be afraid to ask to have it written down for notes.  Its better to ask and learn gradually than just dismiss the terms and/or learn it just in english. (us JAs - Japanese-Americans have Engrish or Japlish which is a type of pigeon english however even then it doesn't work as well as understanding the concept coming from the native language)  When you can understand the depth of terms such as Zanshin, Shin Gi Tai, Mushin, Ki Kan Shin, etc. rather than literal translation, it opens up a whole new dimension of your training.  Thinking and doing, philosophy behind different Master's approaches to Karate... especially Miyagi Chojun with his famous quote "Karate ni Sente Nashi."  To explore and do research on these terminologies by learning them in the native tongue first, I believe will help you understand the system and philosophy better rather than taking it for granted and you will see that it will help your physical training grow more deeply.

Open your mind and explore.

In translation.... Kay.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

The Senpai / Kohai Relationship... How does it work?

+Tony Vivolo asked me if I would do a piece on Senpai/Kohai relationships and how they are really supposed to work. This is a very good topic and I'd like to share with you what I know.

This system has actually been around in Japan since before the Segoku Period in Japan however it is not something that we are not familiar with.  In other parts of the world, there are Master and Apprentice examples that go back as far before since trade and commerce have been in existance. While the system is a lot different than the Senpai/Kohai system today... however the roots are not that different.

Modern day Senpai/Kohai system actually was improved and put into effect by the Shimazu Lords of the Satsuma Government (Kyushu - Kagoshima, Southern Japan) during the Meiji Period.  While there was a Master and Apprentice system in place for those who were born into a family within a certain trade (higher status trade such as swordsmiths, tea ceremony masters, caligraphy, ikebana, etc.), for lower castes... including Lower House Samurai, there really was no "mentoring" system that was different from the period's Master and Apprentice system.

With trade bearing from Okinawa, China, Korea, and with the Black Ships arriving along with the already existing Portuguese and Dutch, the Satsuma Government had already been working towards modernizing Japan, of course without the permission of the Shogun Family.  A good modern day interpretation of the incidents leading up to and through the Meiji Revolution and Restoration is a NHK period drama called Atsu-hime... which showed the political maneuverings of Shimazu Lords to get Japan to open its borders and catch up with the rest of the world. 

Due to southern Japan modernizing quickly, using the encroachment of the west as an excuse, they needed to be able to teach people very quickly on how to adapt and learn about western technology and ideals.  The funny fact is that this started mainly in the lower house samurai ranks becuase they were the ones who were the main work horses for the house lords.  In order to teach the ways of the new world quickly, the older and more experienced members would take it upon themselves to teach and mentor the younger inexperienced members coming on or those coming of age.  This broke all sorts of rules of ettiquette, however, with the Satsuma Government becoming more and more open minded to open trade and worldly views, while it took some time eventually this bode well with  lower castes as it helped to facilitate a core group of leaders who would not have come into their own if the strict Japanese caste system were to be in place. Famous pioneers such as Saigo Takamori, Okubo Toshimichi, and Sakamoto Ryoma are big players during this period of those who came from lower houses ended up as national leaders.

Today, the Senpai/Kohai relationship has been ridiculed by some modern day Japanese saying that it is a archane practice... however, it is still heavily practiced in virtually every social strata starting from Junior High to the work place.  Generations still give way to those who came before them because they feel that they can learn from those who are more experienced. The system has also given into some abuse of those who realize they can use the system to control their juniors. Juniors are reluctant to oppose because they don't want to stick out as a troublemaker. (Deru Kugi wa Tatakareru... the nail that sticks out gets hammered)

The abuse of this practice is something I highly oppose because it can lead to hazing and a brutal continual pattern that we have seen here in the United States, for example the Greek Franternity/Soroity system utilized by Universities and Colleges.  Also... we have seen this in High School sports programs such as American Football.  Currently, in Japan with the issues of bullying, we do hear about the abuse in the Junior High and High School systems.  Some of this does carry over to martial arts or sports especially when a Senpai has the authority and the strength to back it up... looking to abuse not foster a brotherly relationship.

It is my humble opinion that those who abuse the system do not understand the system's true intent.  In Karate we have this system because we use it to push each other.  Kohai's should have the will to try and exceed their Senpai however should still have the respect for their Senpais if they do exceed their Senpai's ability.  The Senpai should push their Kohai to exceed them and should applaud them if they do so.  The ability to share their knowledge and build cameraderie is the beauty of the Senpai/Kohai system.  The ability for Karateka to be able to push and support each other is my understanding of the true intent behind the system.  This system transcends being an instructor or a master because somewhere in the world there is someone who knows more and has more experience than you do.  Somewhere in the world, there is someone who is quicker and faster than you.  How do you become better, it is to rely on your seniors, your peers, and your juniors, regardless if you are a 8th Dan Hanshi and the founder of your system. 

In martial arts... no one is self made.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Kaishugata and Timing Part 3: Go-rei and Flow of the Kata

How many times have you caught yourself just practicing the steps to a certain kata?  Have you ever wondered why certain senseis count rhythmically during kata step practice, or does your sensei just count out the steps in monotone while you practice the steps in the dojo?  If you have ever wondered this, you are not alone.

In Part 1 and 2 we talked a lot of about the differences (mainly for Goju... but may pertain to your style of Karate) of Heishugata and Kaishugata.  In Goju Ryu, we always start with Sanchin, which is one of our main Heishugatas and close with Tensho, Sanchin's counterpart of the pair of Heishugatas.  In between we have 10 Kaishugatas which may or may not be familar to you or your style of study. Here, in this article, I'd like to discuss, regardless of which Kaishugata you study, that there is an important factor in regards to the Kata's Go-rei... or step counting is crucial to help your students understand the flow of a kata.

You may be already thinking... why would step counting be crucial to the flow of a Kata?  I'll be honest, I didn't pick up on this technique until I was in my advanced ranks.  This is probably because while you are still a novice, you are earnestly trying to focus just on the patterns of techniques and not so much the Bunkai or the application. 

Just a side note... if you are trying to figure out the Bunkai before you have learned the steps (trust me... this shows your enthusiasm but there is a gradual progression you should follow)... take a step back.  Learn the steps first then have a senpai or a Sensei gradually help you with the application... trust me... it makes a big difference.  First you learn to crawl, then to walk, and finally to run.  Natural progression.

However, Bunkai is the key.  If you do not understand the application of the Kata, then you will also have issues with the flow of the Kata.  Those who have a certain mastery over a certain Kata, understand that executing the Kata is not just on a set of monotone counts.  There is a living energy to the Kata... sometimes enough that you will have to focus on playing or executing the "pauses" or the non-active parts of the Kata so that the Kata flows the way it should be.

Many of you may know the Kata, Seienchin... this Kata is the 2nd Dan required Kata along with Sanchin and Tensho for JKF testing (Japan Karatedo Federation Goju-kai).  This Kata has a lot of changes in sequence combined with change in 4 corner (NW, NE, SW, SE) enbusen.  These transitions can easily be rushed through and the practitioner can move on to the next sequence without properly finishing the series of techniques.  I see this flaw in tournament quite a bit.  While this Kata is beautiful with its large flowing upper body techniques, for someone who understands the Bunkai or application of this Kata can easily see, feel, and anticipate the movements even just by watching someone else execute the Kata.  In Kata, Seienchin, playing the "pauses" are as important as the flow of the kata... the pauses help transition and make the kata more fluid rather than trying to push through sequences.  The pauses also help with breathing through the kata.  Learning this was the key to understanding this kata in more detail.

For those who do not practice Goju, take this back and practice with some of the Kihon (basic) kata.  Try to feel the flow of the techniques.  Remember, Kata should start with a block.  All Goju Ryu katas start with a block... and then transition to counter-attack.  This should give you the intial feel of the Kata.  Work with your senpais and your senseis to understand the flow and hopefully this will give you a better understanding of your choice kata.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Shihan Menkyo - Masters Licenses (Part 2)... Do we go too far in addressing Senseis with Shihan Licenses?

Have you ever run into a situation where the sensei demands that you call them by their Shihan Menkyo title?  Or even been told by your senpai or junior instructors to refer to certain senseis as "Shihan" "Renshi" "Kyoushi" or even "Hanshi?"  How about using these titles without understanding the full meaning of the title and using them constantly in the dojo?  Well this post is about this growing problem in Martial Arts that has been neglected or just ignored because of the lack of information on the subject. It is unfortunate because there have been talks, just recently, about Martial Systems and possible Martial Cults (thanks +Tony Vivolo) that possibly take advantage of prospective students or others who use these titles to economically gain from the general level of ignorance from beginner practitioners.

A proper sensei would be humble enough recognize that he or she doesn't need to put the additional pressure on their students to force them to call them something other than "sensei."  In Japan, I have never heard a single sensei within Kagoshima Goju Kai or even the Japan Karatedo Federation Goju Kai refer to themselves as other than "sensei."  Of all the great senseis that I have met and studied with, including Eibu Kan Soke (founder) 8th Dan Hanshi (JKF Goju Kai), Yoshihiro Hisanaga, Seiwakai great, 8th Dan Hanshi (JKF Goju Kai), Seiichi Fujiwara, and Okinawa Kyokai's 8th Dan Hanshi (JKF Goju Kai), Masataka Muramatsu, they only refer to themselves as just a plain instructor.  The only time is either in print, listing in CV, or when introduced at seminars,etc. Let me remind you that these senseis are currently leaders of Goju Ryu in Okinawa and mainland Japan.

Even in their own respective dojos, these instructors are not overly addressed as "shihan" or "hanshi."  While I understand, as a Japanese-American, that we try to use the title to give the honor to our respective instructors... but let me tell you through experience and observance, sometimes all this does is make the instructor feel uncomfortable, especially if the instructor understands the level of responsibility and the ramifications it holds if they choose not to follow the ideals and the spirit behind the Shihan Menkyo conferrment. (please refer to Part 1 of this post to see what each of the Shihan Menkyo titles represent).

So instructors out there... I ask you humbly... put yourself in the position of some of these greats.  These are the same senseis who do NOT tell or instruct you to bow to them, the same senseis who do not tell you what you can and cannot do because it is understood, the same senseis who teach and educate your regardless of what level you are and continue to push you to your limits without ever giving up, the same senseis who do not expect anything back from you except for mutual respect, dedication, and the willingness to learn... do you think that the same senseis want you put them higher on a pedestal? 

Instructors, put yourself in their shoes... if you crave the attention and crave the power that goes with the attention then... Naha, we have a problem.  (please read +Tony Vivolo's article on Martial Systems and Martial Cults)

Monday, July 22, 2013

Kaishugata and Timing Part 2

Kaishugata and Timing Part 2

In part one, I asked three questions... 1. Do you know what the objective of the kata is... What does the name of the kata mean? 2. How can I apply my techniques to meet that objective... Does the execution of my technique do the kata justice? and 3. How can I make the kata mine... Do I understand the objective and understand the bunkai of the kata?

These three questions have been the focus of my training for the past few years when focusing on kata.  While continuing to practice the basics or kihon of my style, I've really needed to look at the bunkai to understand how my kata is developing... and trust me it is not pretty.

In the past few of years, I've had a pretty enjoyable time working on my required katas. I would say they are my favorite within my style.
  1. Sanseiru = San Dan Kata = 3rd Dan Requirement
  2. Shisochin = Yon Dan Kata = 4th Dan Requirement
  3. Seipai = Go Dan Kata = 5th Dan Requirement
These kata are the precursor to the most challenging katas within Goju Ryu, which are, Seisan, Kururunfa, and Suparimpei (Pechurin).  However, these katas above (besides Seiunchin) tested your abilitly to comprehend advanced bunkai in Goju.  Once you are able to break down the katas and understand their purpose it is very enlightening and will help you when you go to execute said katas.

While there are many interpretations of the katas above, I'd like to share some thoughts on them through my experience.  PLEASE REMEMBER... I am not stating that my interpretations are the end all... if my interpretation conflicts with what you are taught on the above said katas... please do take my interpretations with a grain of salt.  We as karateka evolve through our own experiences and I just hope my insight gives you another perspective.  Also... while there are a lot of kata explanations out on the Web... 2 sources I would recommend for the essence of Goju Kata explanation would be 1. The Goju Ryu Bible (green book) issued by JKF Goju Kai and 2. In the event you can not find either two... then Wikipedia and have also a good listing and explanation of the 12 Goju Ryu kata.

Kata Chart

Sanseiru - 36 Hands - 三十六手
To me, this kata represents the ability to limit the mobility of my opponents.  The introduction of "kansetsu geri" is very significant because it is a very devastating attack for having the potential of being able to destroy joints and break bones. However, in order to execute such techinque in this kata requires correct posturing, stance, muscle tension, and the ability to quickly rebound from said technique and change directions.  Unlike Sanchin or Tensho, you'll have to be able to "pop" and "lock" in order for the kansetsu geri to be effective.  Many practitioners like to really show off their kick but most tend to "over thrust" and therefore find themselves in an awkward position when they move to turn.  Biggest problem is that their "jyohanshin" (upper body) and their "kahanshin" (lower body) are not in sync and the flow of the kata suffers from it. (mainly from not being able to properly use their core and their hips)

Shisochin - Four Directions of Conflict - 四向戦
The look of simplicity of this kata makes it the perfect kata to test future instructors to see if they have managed to master basic enbusen and attack angles. This kata heeds no yield to the practitioner.  It gives your instructor all the angle he or she needs to see you as clear as day.  Challenging points where hip rotation and core strength are a key are on both front and back progressions of the ura kake uke and the lower harai uke. Challenge comes from transitioning in zenkutsudachi (leaning forward stance)... where many people end up in kokutsudachi (reverse leaning forward stance) or a zenkutsu that is too long or one that the embusen is way off.  If this happens then the ura kake uke and lower harai uke can not easily progress to the grab and breaking of the arm.  Again, "jyohanshin" and "kahanshin" must be in sync in order for timing to come together.  This is a definite must if you understand the bunkai to this section of the kata. NOTE - One of Miyagi Chojun's favorite kata.

Seipai - 18 Hands - 十八手
My favorite kata. While it was said that this kata was developed in China by masters who wanted to weed out "technique thieves" by developing advanced kata, I can see why because you may easily learn the steps to this kata but may never know the depth of it.  This kata has many favorite techniques of mine, including multiple releases or escapes from being grabbed, not a groin strike but a "love tap" to the testicles, an arm break or submission from a standing position, and a finishing take down move.  However, but as I mentioned before, you would never understand that these techniques are incorporated into this kata without studying the depth and is carefully hidden within the "steps" of this kata. 

This kata focuses on embusen as well.  Without your embusen and the proper flow of kata (will be discussed along with go-rei (counting) in Part 3) it is very hard to get the timing of these techinques.  Again, upper body and lower body must be in sync (start to see the pattern??) in order for the techniques to be viable to ebb and flow.

I was told many times when I was younger that when I practice that "jyukusei ga tarinai" (and even now at times) meaning that I am not practicing with feeling, with intent, or application.  This means that I was only practicing the steps.  I'd be tired and only wanting to complete the kata so that I could go home.  That is when my senseis would push me.  They would come out and force me to think about the kata rather than to just think of the steps and that alone would help me get through the kata. 

***Warning*** I would urge caution if you are to use this methodolgy for your junior students... meaning becareful if you are going to criticize them for only practicing the steps.  They are still coming into their own... most just trying to memorize the steps... unless they are preparing for purple belt, brown belt, or Junior Black Belt... then hence they should start to understand bunkai and be able to execute the kata with intent and application.

With the requests coming through, this post looks like its going to be a continual thread.  In Part 3 I'll focus on counting and try to explain how the flow of katas is hard to teach for some instructors. 

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Late Night Conversation: 9th Dan and 10th Dan... Do they really exist? How does it work?

Late Night Discussion
+Johnpaul Williams, a close collegue of mine, and I were discussing the other day while reviewing part one of this post.  We were debating to see how much the general Karate community really understood how traditional gradings work and how the Shihan titles were mainly used for.  The discussion then evolved to how you would address those senseis with Shihan titles and (seriously) would we even use the Shihan title if we were ever conferred with one?  This then led into conversation about how 9th Dan ranking and 10th Dan ranking are ever achieved... does the Karate populace in general understand this?  Our guess was probably not because even regular Japanese people do not understand the ranking system unless they are involved in an organization that follows a ranking system.

Just a quick touch... the current belt ranking system used in Karate was developed by Jigoro Kano, the founder of Judo.  We have heard about the belt color changing from training (from white to black with blood sweat and tears), which is a nice story... but the truth was Japanese Martial Arts needed to be organized and therefore the Kyu/Dan system was born. 

Now, there has been some discussion about the difference between Shihan Menkyo or Shihan Menjyo... there is some history behind this.  Simply, the traditional system used to pass the protected techniques in scroll form to the highest ranking or most senior instructor as a tool for succession planning for the schools.  However, modern practices have relied on the conferrment of the Renshi, Kyoushi, and Hanshi titles, and unfortunately no protected scrolls passed down. (unless possibly the Bubishi for the Jundokan and Higaonna Goju organizations in Okinawa where we may see this happening, hopefully in the not so close future)

Traditionally, the only ranks above 8th Dan we see are only in the Kaiha dojos.  It is possible to see them because the Kaiha dojos are more local and have the local support of the student base which have a steady succession plan built in to keep their organizations growing.  However, on the Ryuha level, which is most likely on a national organizational level, it is RARE to see ranks higher than 8th Dan.  This is because the 8th Dan rank is the highest that ANYONE can achieve by testing for it.  Currently, according to JKF Goju Kai statistics, passing rate to achieve 8th Dan is lower than one percent.  In Japan, passing rate for 8th Dan in Kendo is less than 0.2 percent. Actually... there is a great NHK video on a Kendo Sensei trying to attempt his 8th Dan rank on YouTube... here's part 1.  If you watch this through... it may give you a better perception.  I know the video is about Kendo... but it mirrors Karate on the Japan Karatedo Federation level as well.

Now the misconception to us outsiders is that we are being discriminated against.  As a Japanese-American, I can see this as a big misconception.  Its not that we are being discriminated against, frankly its because we lack the understanding of culture.  The culture of Karate is deep.  Its not about just the punching and kicking, but there are deeper avenues and personal demons that come out when you are training at that level.  I never truly believed it until I experienced it for myself... but your "life experiences" do come out in your Karate and either compliment or hinders your training.  To a sensei who has been accepted into the 8th Dan community, they can see those "life experiences" come alive in your Karate and gives them great insight.

Getting back to the topic on hand, while it is not impossible on the Ryuha level, it has been known that 9th Dan has been conferred (again supported and lifted by the 8th Dan community) to a sensei who has been an extraordinary contributor to the organization.  And even more rare, the 9th Dan community conferring or lifting up a sensei to 10th Dan for the same purpose.  These conferrments above 8th Dan are very special and again very rare.  Compared to those which are awarded on the Kaiha level, the prestige and the level of recognition are on different levels.  A majority of the 9th Dan and 10th Dan ranking we see here in the United States are on the Kaiha or Dojo level and have not been recognized on a national level from organizations such as USNKF (United States National Karate Federation) or the JKF (Japan Karatedo Federation, All Styles).

I know that many of you feel the same way as I do... however, please be aware when you do see ads or other senseis which market their rank.  I believe that there is a time and place for such a thing, such as for Seminar or a Guest Speaking event.  But those who market stating they have obtained rank of higher than 8th Dan, I would be weary and confirm which organization awarded the Dan to the instructor. I hate to say it but, Karate is like a religion... you have to find a school that you match with and can believe in but also have to find a school where the leadership is strong and legitimate. 

For any prospective beginners out there... its alright to ask questions and it is equally alright to question the leadership without having to fear that you will offend them.  A good instructor will be honest with you regardless.

In training and late night talks!


PS... look for Part 2 of the Shihan Menkyo article about addressing your Sensei's by their Shihan titles... Does your sensei MAKE you call them by O'Sensei or Dai Sensei?

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Masutatsu Oyama - The Fighter in the Wind

Thanks to +Myriam Malengreau for introducing me to this film.  While I had done my research on Sosai Oyama and Kyokushin Karate, I did not really know his background before he became famous in Japan.  The movie, The Fighter in the Wind, is fictional portrayal of Sosai Oyama however it does touch on many points to which he is famous for.  For the hardcore Mas Oyama / Karate enthusiast, the movie did omit much of his actual Karate training in Japan, as many practitioners do not know that Sosai Oyama did have a heavy Shotokan and Goju Ryu background. (This is pretty evident if you look at certain Kyokushin Dojo Kata lists, which include katas such as Pinan, Taikyoku series, Higaonna Sanchin and Tensho)

While famous for his 100-man kumite and defeating raging bulls with a single strike, Sosai Oyama was known for his straight-forward no-bull sh!t attitude for training.  NHK, Japan's most prominent broadcasting agency, ran a few mini-documentary specials on Sosai Oyama following him on his seasonal training gassukus. (even if you are not Kyokushin Karate, I would check out some of these specials on YouTube... if I can find them again, I will insert them into this post.... for the time being here is a snippet of a YouTube vid that I found from one of the many videos on him.)

Also... for those who might be thinking about the 100-man Kumite... there was a video put up by one of the members on the G+ Communities that I thought was pretty interesting and that I had never seen before. Take a look at this and ponder if you have enought stamina and training to get through a 100-man train and put up the same numbers as Shokei Matsui did. (I know that there were a lot of people on YouTube that said that this was a hoax... but hoax or not... I dare those to try it. I know that this is a pretty amazing feat no matter what the rules are or how much those change from your style.)  BTW... the results from Shokei Matsui's 100-man challenge is pretty awesome.  If you don't get through the whole video... just skip to the end and just check out his results. If you are having trouble with the Japanese... please see his results below.

46 Ippon wins
29 regulation wins
13 draws
12 regulation losses

However... Out of a 100 matches... No Ippon losses.

Regardless... as a Goju practitioner, I needed to do more research on this extraordinary Karateka. What better way to do this but to talk to someone directly from the source. I have lined up an interview with one of the most prominent Kyokushin Karate instructors here in Los Angeles and will be asking questions about Sosai Oyama's training methods and how much of them are still being used today. Once I get approval and permission, I will post the findings of my interview to share with you the Karate Community.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Fatherhood and Training

How do you balance 1. Work, 2. Being a Father, and 3. Your Training?  This is a delicate equation that I am trying to balance and I am miserably failing on this account.  Let me tell you for any of you first time fathers out there you are definitely going to have to choose your priorities.  For myself, I have been concentrating on the first two priorities and thus have created this blog to fulfill at least my continuous training of the mind.  While, currently, I am not able to attend the dojo much due to my current obligations, I keep connecting with my dojo and the ever so humble and accomodating Karate Community to keep my mental training going.  But this is a big problem for me and I know it will be for you future Karateka fathers out there.

I had a good chance to connect with a good Karate brother of mine, +Johnpaul Williams, who is my sounding board when my head gets too loud.  He has 3 kids and has been training as long as I have.  My question to him was "how do you do it?"  His answer was simple... "just take him with you." I just laughed because the answer was just that simple.  It made sense but I'll have to find another way to get around the second issue I have.  Logistics.  I live in Anaheim, CA.  About five minute to Disneyland and about 2 miles west of Angel's Stadium. I work in Little Tokyo, Downtown Los Angeles.  My dojo is at the +East San Gabriel Valley Japanese Community Center (#ESGVJCC) which is located in West Covina, CA.  You Los Angelinos know what kind of traffic I have to contend with especially if I work a nine to five type of schedule.  It's not a friendly commute. Sigh.

My son Nathan, just turned 17 months, and I know I'll get some support if I took him to the dojo (which I need to find a way before my wife goes crazy)... but right now isn't the best time.  We're working on his potty training, he's staring to learn how to speak, and we are trying to keep him on a strict sleeping schedule.  My dojo opens it doors about 7:30pm and if we are willing to work, Hamabata Sensei will work us until we drop or he tells us to go home.  As you can tell, this would not be the ideal condition for an 17 month old child.  In turn, I think my wife would give me hell.

So I continue to look for options to balance out the 123 equation.  Eventually I will have to teach my own son or send him to Sensei Grandpa (Sakaue Sr.) for personal training before I get him in the dojo by 6 or 7... we're still a few years out.  You can see the big picture that I am faced with.  I know eventually I will figure it out but if you, those in the real world, have faced this challenge... I am all eyes and ears and would like to know your solutions.  So you dads out there... please hit me up and give me some ideas!  ONEGAISHIMASU!!!

In training and fatherhood.


Thursday, June 27, 2013

Shihan Menkyo - Masters Licenses... Are they truly what we think they are?

Recently, with my Blog going live, I have been getting a lot of questions through personal email channels asking about Shihan Menkyo or Master's Liceneses.  The inquiries have been eye opening to say the least and I hope I can shed some light from one who has been educated in the process of how and when they are awarded.

Now before I go any further, I would like to explain and express that this post is NO way in ANY shape or form disrespecting any practitioner who was awarded a Shihan Menkyo.  I just hope that they hold themselves to the level of professionalism, dedication, and example that the licenses represent and were developed to uphold.

So now we've got that out of the way...

What exactly are Shihan Menkyo?  Well most practitioners wonder what a Renshi, Kyoushi, and Hanshi mean and scratch our head when someone calls themselves a Shihan.  First let me tell you, Shihan and Shihan Menkyo stand apart... while they are similar they are used differently.

Shihan - 師範
The biggest misconception is that the title Shihan is regularly given out to someone who has earned a certain Dan.  In Japan, there are no entitlement issues because to receive a Shihan title is special... it is usually conferred upon you becuase you are an all around model sensei, usually hand picked to succeed or be a contingent successor of the kaiha or ryuha. The Shihan title is usually reserved for the highest ranked dojo sensei who can "educate" (there is a huge difference in the actual meaning behind educate and "teach") not only technique but can be the example not only in the dojo but in life.

Shihan Menkyo are usually used as a tool by Ryuha and Kaiha to setup a legitimate succession plan and are usually hand picked by the Soke (founder) or the surviving successors to keep organizational structure alive.  Most of the time, those with Shihan Menkyo titles will be those instructors who are at the highest ranks/quality and for SMALLER kaiha's (not ryuha) there are usually only one of each. (Hanshi, Kyoushi, and Renshi).

While most of us here in the United States look at Shihan Menkyo as one of the highest awards given by a certain Ryuha or Kaiha, the spirit behind, not the award, or more so the spirit behind the conferrment is what they stand for.  The Japanese sometime explain the awards with a little more flash than they should be because it is very difficult to explain what I am about to explain in english.  Sometimes, you are told that you are receiving the award (in reality it is a conferrment) for just your contribution however, this goes beyond what you have already contributed... but what you will continue to contribute for a lifetime.  In turn, it should represent the continuing hard work, continuing dedication, and the contiuous ability to lead by example.

Shihan Menkyo and their Meanings - Conferrment Responsibilities

Renshi - 錬士

"熟錬した人。  訓練したした人"

Renshi is a title that is conferred upon an instructor who has trained rigorously and thouroughly. A Renshi continually trains hard with the dojo members being an example for the Kyoushi, especially when the Kyoushi needs an example for the dojo student body.  A ryuha or kaiha acknowledges the contributions that the instructor made not only to his seniors but as a benchmark to his students and kohai.

Kyoushi - 教士


Kyoushi is a title that is conferred upon an instructor who has committed the technique to the body and one who can teach (not educate... big difference) others. A Kyoushi has gone through the thourough and rigorus training and has close to flawless technique.  Committing a technique to body is only done to through the countless hours of repetition under a Hanshi level instructor and building the highest level of muscle memory in order to teach the same technique according to the Hanshi's instruction (not abandoning his own interpretations) for the sake of the organization.  Usually a Kyoushi will become a Hanshi's right hand man and will be his tool to set an example for the dojo student body.

Hanshi - 範士


A Hanshi level instructor is one who has the ability to use the techniques he has learned and "educate" others while being example for the dojo student body.  While a Renshi still trains and the Kyoushi teaches, a Hanshi "educates" by showing examples of technique, opens the minds of karateka by introducing his or her interpretations of the set cirriculum and how they relate to traditional training.  Anyone can teach a technique but Hanshi's should have the continual ability to eductate a karateka so their karate grows and evolves.  This title conferred for the HIGHEST level of instruction... and it is recognized by the governing body... never self-proclaimed.

While many have observed their instructors rank progression and the conferrace of Shihan Menkyo, the one aspect that must be considered is that the recipients must continue to grow and be humble.  In the homeland (Japan), while there are many sensei who achieved Karate greatness, in my experience, I have NEVER heard of an instructor refer to themself as a Shihan or by their Shihan Menkyo title.  Even the great senseis just refer to themselves as just "sensei" and respect the Senpai/Kohai system and respect the honorifics they use to speak to someone of higher stature.  Like the Japanese language, certain main topics are just understood and there is no reason to highlight what is already known.

Here in the United States, it is pretty difficult for me sometimes because I do not see the reflection of the spirit of the Shihan Menkyo in some of the practitioners I have met. Most are self-proclaimed without the knowledge of how the Shihan Menkyo System or the Dan system works. (Are there such things as 9th Dan and 10th Dan?  That's for another post) and do not understand that it is not title that is simply given out, that it is a conferred by a larger group that recognizes the talents and contributions made to the organization(s).  This could be partially be at fault of cultural incompatibilities or the lack of translators that have the experience... but any sense I have seen this go to many instructors heads rather than remain humble and continue the legacy that they had started.

While I still respect them and hold them to esteem, I just bite my tougue hope someday, if I am ever conferred with the GREAT responsibility, that I can be that example for my karate flock.

Until then keep practicing hard to become the example!

PS... good talk with my Karate bruddah +Johnpaul Williams. I will have a part 2 of this topic about how you can over do it by calling your senseis by their Shihan Menkyo titles or Shihan... pretty good insight for next time.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Kaishugata & Timing Part One

Kaishugata & Timing

A little while ago we talked about what Heishugata is all about.  I know it was just an basic overview, to which you'll learn more and more as you advance with your own sensei as well as figure things out on your own by drilling, asking questions, drilling some more to develop your muscle memory and your breathing. However, Kaishugata is another thing.  Goju Ryu Black Belts, especially those who are training for your Japan Karatedo Federation (JKF) rank must also work on the required Kaishugata depending on their rank.

JKF Requirements Besides Sanchin and Tensho
  • Shodan = Saifa
  • Nidan = Seiunchin
  • Sandan = Sanseiru
  • Yondan = Shisochin
  • Godan = Seipai
  • Rokudan = Seisan
  • Nanadan = Kururunfa
  • Hachidan = Suparimpei
Now just so that I don't upset the traditionalists or the modernists, I'd like to put out there that I used to practice competitive kata however, now I focus mainly on Shinsa (testing) kata, which is more traditional as JKF Goju Kai is trying hard to bring it back to the roots by allowing the top Goju minds, including Jundokan, to study and deciminate the information back down to its branch organizations. 

Seiwa Kai USA has some good seminars they hold in the USA by inviting certain Goju senseis who really focus on the mechanics as well as take time to break down how they are currently teaching kata in Japan. Said guests to include, Saito Sensei, who is a top competitor in the Japanese National Karate scene as well as Seiwa Kai head, Fujiwara Sensei, who are both phenomenal in how they bring the topic of Kaishugata to the table.  I, myself, have been lucky enough to translate for Fujiwara Sensei and other great senseis who have visited through our sister Goju Kaiha, Seiwa Kai.

Eibu kan, under Hamabata Sensei has had the honor of learning from our Shihan, Hisanaga Yoshihiro, and let me tell you he has been an eye opener when we have the opportunity to have him visit our dojo.  Our dojo training becomes a one or two week seminar to go over all Goju Ryu Kaishugata and sometimes we feel that we can't soak up the information enough.  While it is difficult for many of the beginners to keep pace, our Black Belts assimilate the information as much as we can and then compare notes after each of Hisanaga Sensei's visits.  Shihan's teaching always include kihon mastery.  Without it kata is a disaster.  

Each Goju Kaishugata has meaning and purpose.  I believe that if we don't understand the spirit behind each kata, we will not understand the depth of each kata fully. Unlike Heishugata which focuses on tension, Kaishugata focuses on timing of the tension depending on the techniques executed.  Transition of movement or transition from stance to stance is very important... your embusen... must not be too shallow or must not be too deep depending on the angle of attack or angle of defense.  45, 90, 180 etc degree turns require accurate timing and "kime" however that "kime" can only be determined by the application of said tension at particular points during technique execution within the kata.  This is what makes Kaishugata different from Heishugata, where Heishugata continually maintains said tension mainly throughout the kata without completely losing it, and where Kaishugata you focus on tension at particular points.

My thought is this when practicing particular Kaishugatas.

  1. Learn what the objective of the kata is.  What does the name of the kata mean?
  2. How can I apply my techniques to meet that objective?  Does the execution of my technique give the kata justice?
  3. How can I make the kata mine?  Do I understand the bunkai of the kata?
Just some thoughts that go through my head when I work out any of the 10 Kaishugata in Goju Ryu.  BTW... breaking down bunkai is great!  What's even greater is when you sit down and learn bunkai from some of the current top minds in Goju as they show you how they interpret our katas.  I suggest if you can sign up for some of the upcoming seminars through Seiwa Kai USA or California Goju Ryu Association, I would do so just so that I can experience the mastery they bring to our art.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Kumite: A Story

Kumite:  A Story

What do you think about when you think about Karate?  When I was a child, I used to get all excited when I saw old Kung Fu movies or when there were Bruce Lee specials on during holiday.  All the high kicks, jump kicks, spin kicks and nunchuku kung-foolery had me on my toes and my father had me on lock down whenever I came close to putting my foot through the wall or my mother's favorite lamp. 

Growing up, I had all the delusions of grandeur thinking that I was bigger than myself.  This continuously got worse as I entered adolescence and noticed that I was capable and that I was bigger than everyone else in my age brackets whenever I competed.  The one thing that I lacked was confidence.  If my kumite started out strong and if I had my opponent on the run, I was very hard to beat.  However, if I had made a mental mistake or if I could not figure out my opponent, there were many a time where you could literally see me sink in quicksand and not be able to recover because my self-confidence was shot.

Luckily, I had very patient senseis willing to work with me and found ways for me to work on my self-confidence so that my kumite outings were more consistent with my ability.  However, this did not happen overnight.  My senseis really had to work on my perception on what Karate was really about. 

The problem was that I was a little man trapped in a big man's body... meaning that I wanted to do little man karate in a big body.  It didn't help that my senseis, Takafumi Hamabata (7th Dan Eibu Kan / JKF) and Katsuhide Kinjo (6th Dan Eibu Kan/JKF) are both mid to high 5 feet weighing about 140, respectively.  In contrast, I am 6 feet and weighing in about 250.  Coming from an organization that does not believe in churning out students that are cookie cutter versions of their senseis, I believe it was a major project for the both of them to try and figure out how to get me to become an effective fighter, both in and out of the ring (competitive and traditional).

Looking back, I believe that their solution was brilliant.  Taking a young karateka with self-confidence issues and focusing on a reactive style of kumite so that blocking was a primary factor in the style of combat was their answer to his many Karate issues.  Lessons and drills included many blocking and intercepting drills to negate offensive momentum, working on instinctual training by focusing on timing and jamming techniques, and finally the endless drilling and repetition back and forth on the dojo floor after class until my body learned how to react without having to think (developed mushin and my zanshin through repetition).  While this worked for this Karateka, I yet to test this similar style of training with my kohai because it may not be what is necessary for them.

I now can say that I have taken what was developed and have made it my own. I can proudly say that no one in my dojo has my exact style of kumite... and I can proudly say that my senseis do not want exact replicas of each other either... they would like to see more individual growth like myself and the other black belts in my class.  When I step out on to the floor, I have the confidence to say, "come and hit me... if you can..." and be in position to go toe to toe with anyone.  This is a good feeling to have.

Have you thought about how your senseis have drawn your Karate out of you?  Do you know your own story or are you still currently figuring that one out.  Sit down and think about it.  Your Karate is continuously being developed.  What is your focus?  Traditional or Competitive?  Both?  There is a lot to think about in developing your Kumite.

ps.  While my adolescent training in Kumite was mainly for competition, the training forced me to see application of kata better because of the defensive mind set I was trained with.  ALL Goju Ryu Kata begin with blocks... and that was the start of another chapter in my Karate life.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Heishugata & Tension

Heishugata & Tension

Most casual practitioners may wonder what heisugata and kaishugata are and how they help us develop our Karate.  Goju Ryu is unique in the fact that in the basic curriculum there are only 12 kata, of which, two are categorized as heishugata and the remaining ten katas are considered kaishugata.  Now, its only fair for me to list those, but many of you may already know which is which.

  • Sanchin
  • Tensho
  • Gekisai 1
  • Gekisai 2
  • Saifa
  • Seiunchin
  • Sanseiru
  • Shisochin
  • Seipai
  • Seisan
  • Kururunfa
  • Suparimpei (Pechurrin)
    • This kata is done differently than you see on YouTube as most are shown in competition.
    • Other ryuha such as Shotokan have developed derivatives to adjust to their style.
    • Called Hyakuhachiho but in competition may be announced as Suparimpei
While Goju Ryu may not have the impressive selection of kata choices that Shotokan or Shito Ryu offers, Goju Ryu focuses on the 12 above.  Other Kaiha (styles or organizations) within Goju may have developed other kata, training katas, or kata variants depending on the lineage (such as Gekiha (Shorei Kan) or Taikyoku Series (Yamaguchi) kata) but also focus on the above as well.  Many of the kata above, you will see in other Ryuha such as Seiunchin, Seisan, and Kururunfa, which are interesting variants to study.  One thing that I would like to point out is that none of those variants are incorrect, however, there is a depth of understanding the kata and executing the techniques intended by Miyagi Chojun and other Goju forefathers is where the deep understanding comes to life and makes studying the twelve Goju katas very meaningful.

When training kata we may or may not hear the terms Heishugata or Kaishugata.  The funny thing is that if you are at the level where Sanchin and Tensho are mandatory, then you have already begun your understanding of the difference.

Miyagi Chojun taught both Sanchin and Tensho as Heishugata.  While some instructors may breakdown Heishugata as "Closed Hand Kata," as a practitioner just learning Tensho may be confused when told that Tensho is a "Closed Hand Kata" especially when most techniques are open handed. 

The depth of the Heishugata inteded for pratitioners to understand is not if your hands are open or if they are closed.  Heishugata concentrates on the continuous tension required for the kata.  Sanchin was developed for the"GO" aspect or the HARD aspect in Goju, and Tensho later developed to represent the "JU" or the SOFT aspect of our art.  However, just becuase it is hard and soft, this alone doesn't dictate the reason why they are both Heishugata.

Between the two Heishugata in Goju, the best way to describe how tension is held to a beginner, is through the manipulation of tension and muscle memory to acheive a style of body hardening (I think of the image of how a hammer strikes an anvil or pistons when senseis check for tension).  Senseis will be looking at key areas including our core, gluts, traps, lats, quads, hams, all the way down to our toes to see where our tension lies.  A veteran will be able to harness the tension and sync it with their breathing in order to complete the execution of the kata, especially in Sanchin.

Tensho is a different animal.  While the techniques are mainly open handed, your body reacts similarly to that of Sanchin but different in the thought of tension.  While the central mass tension is very similar, arm and leg tension is closer to that one squeezing water out of a wet cloth.  Kiyohara Sensei explained it very clearly to me in Japanese.  He used two specific terms when describing tension in Tensho.  "Nebari" and "Shiboru" are the two terms he used quite often. In simple terms, "Nebari" tension has a viscosity aspect to it.  Think of your "sticky hands" training (if you don't know what "sticky hands" training is consult your sensei)  "Shibori" tension is more of a wringing, squeezing and pressing sensation.  Both types of tension in Tensho are important concepts that must be understood in order to understand the depth of the kata.

So fundementally, both Heishugata are designated by the continual tension that must be applied, learning how to intesify and learning how to relax without losing all of the tension to execute the kata is part of the training that permeates down to basics all the way through Kaishugata, where tension is adjusted to the flow and execution of the techniques involved.

If people are interested in learning more about the flow and applying tension in Kaishugata, please let me know.  I can have another post for that specific topic and we can concetrate on a single Kaishugata at time like if we were breaking down the kata during bunkai.