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.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

The Goju Ryu Eibu kan Organization

The Goju Ryu Eibu kan Organization - Who is Sakaue?

A recent search result in my daily blogger analytics sparked the idea for this post.  Many practitioners or web goers who are interested in Goju Ryu Karate in the United States (or around the world - as I have seen inquiries from Canada and Russia) may be asking what is Goju Ryu Eibu kan or who is this Sakaue who maintains an individual blog about his personal travels in studying Goju Ryu Karate?  Before I get into "Who is Sakaue?" Let me give you some background on how Goju Ryu Eibu kan settled here in Southern California.

Uniquely, Eibu kan has multiple roots extending from Shorei kan and Yamaguchi Goju Ryu due to our extraordinary instructors. 

Shihan's Visit by Eibukan Goju Ryu
Takafumi Hamabata, Kyoushi
7th Dan Eibu kan
7th Dan JKF
Goju Ryu Karatedo Eibu kan, Chief Instructor

Shihan's Visit by Eibukan Goju Ryu
Katsuhide Kinjo, Renshi
6th Dan Eibu kan
6th Dan JKF
Goju Ryu Karatedo Eibu kan, Senior Instructor

Hamabata Sensei hails from both Shorei kan and Yamaguchi Goju Ryu and has taught Goju Ryu Karate in Southern California, mainly through the East San Gabriel Valley Japanese Community Center in West Covina.  Kinjo Sensei comes to us through Okinawa, where he learned Goju Ryu Karate through his high school club.  Both Senseis are currently under the tutelage of many different Goju Ryu and Goju Kai Senseis in Japan but mainly through Eibu kan's Founder, Yoshihiro Hisanaga.

Shihan's Visit by Eibukan Goju Ryu
Yoshihiro Hisanaga, Hanshi
8th Dan JKF
Kagoshima Goju Kai
JKF Goju Kai, Okinawa Region Kyushu Prefecture Chairman
Goju Ryu Karatedo Eibukan, Soke

The three instructors above are the lifelines to Goju Ryu Eibu kan in Southern California.  Along with our sister Goju Ryu organizations such as Seiwa Kai (headed by Vassie Naidoo Sensei - Santa Monica, CA) and Okinawa Kyokai (headed by Ramon Veras Sensei - Houston, TX), Goju Ryu Eibu kan is one of the leading dojos supported by instructors from the Japan Karatedo Federation (JKF) to promote traditional Goju Ryu Karate here in the United States.

Shihan's Visit by Eibukan Goju Ryu
Kinjo Sensei, Left; Hisanaga Shihan, Center; Hamabata Sensei, Right

While Eibu kan is a small dojo with roughly 30 active Karateka, our roots grow deep as one of the earliest Goju Ryu dojos developed in the United States.  Where Eibu kan is relatively unknown, the reason being was that it was taught as Goju Kai Karate at the East San Gabriel Valley Japanese Community Center since the mid to late 1960s and at most demonstrations it was only publicized as "Karate."

Now going back to "Who is Sakaue?" again... I am Sakaue, however, the story you want to hear is about my father, Masato Sakaue, not to be confused with Masataka Sakaue, who is my uncle and a principle instructor at Covina Kendo Dojo also which is also being taught at the East San Gabriel Valley Japanese Community Center.

Just a little background... (sorry no pic... like Saigo Takamori, he doesn't like to take pictures much)

Masato Sakaue, Renshi
5th Dan Eibu kan
5th Dan JKF
Goju Ryu Karatedo Eibu kan Advisor (Ret)

My father grew up in a small town called San Dimas, CA (some of you may know it from the movie Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure... yes it does exist) after my father's family immigrated to California from Kagoshima, Japan.  During the 1960s, the Japanese-American community was still very small, especially for Post WWII Japanese-Americans, and many gravitated to Japanese Community Centers.  There families gathered and exchanged knowledge and helped each other and coincidentally is where he met Hamabata Sensei.

Both Hamabata Sensei (and Albert Ige Sensei, another Eibu kan Instructor) and my father took lessons under Kiyonori Ikumura Sensei, Shorei Kan (who was Hisanaga Sensei's Kohai, at the time it was unknown) until he was recalled to Kagoshima, Japan.  The recall to Japan was so abrupt, that Ikumura Sensei was to leave a sole black belt at the time to take over his classes so that training could continue without his presence.  While there were no issues with training continuing, the fact that there was no true authority figure to help guide their training left a fundemental worry that my father could not ignore. To quench that worry, my father traveled to Japan to re-established connection with Ikumura Sensei.  That meeting led to Ikumura Sensei introducing his senpai and the founder of Eibu kan, Hisanaga Sensei, to my father.

Hisanaga Sensei's tutelage has helped evolve the organization's Karate to what it is today.  While still training using traditional methods, Eibu kan's instructors has found an equilibrium to develop their karatekas not only with the traditional methods but training using those methods as the foundation as we learn from some of the top Goju Ryu Karate minds from Japan.  Through our collaboration with Seiwa Kai and Okinawa Kyokai, we have had the honor with training with the late Tasaaki Sensei and his successor Fujiwara Sensei as well as Shiomi Sensei, Muramatsu Sensei. and Kiyohara Sensei... all high level Goju Kai Instructors in Japan.

So, "who is Sakaue?" He was one sensei of many who were acting as a catalyst in developing Goju Ryu Karate in Southern California.

Kay Sakaue
5th Dan Eibu kan
2nd Dan JKF Goju Kai
Goju Ryu Karatedo Eibu kan, Instructor

Monday, May 13, 2013

Gaming and 残心 - Zanshin, a creative conversation.

I recently had a really good conversation with a friend of mine who is an avid gamer.  He is very creative and is very dedicated to his work.  Now when I say gamer, many of you may think video games.  My friend +Jim Sandoval maintains a blog on blogger that covers many different styles of games however he focuses on the lost art of narratives, which in turn is mainly played on pencil and paper with the occasion of some sort of dice rolling. Now as I begin my rambling, you may also be wondering how one of the most difficult concepts in Martial Arts has in common with gaming?  I was wondering the same when +Jim Sandoval approached me and wanted to do a little Q & A. 

+Jim Sandoval has been working on certain concepts to bring armed and unarmed combat to life in his game and has been studying Eastern Combat Philosophy.  Historically game systems never quite got combat right for the avid gamer/practitioner, like myself, and was left to confusion and frustration at the outcomes.  The nature of these games have recently (well for my circle of friends since the mid-late 1990s) began to focus on more realism and the creative narrative as rules and creative discipline have evolved from the introduction of basic Dungeons and Dragons box sets (modules - OG white box) that were released in 1974.

As a gamer...
  • You would roll initiative (to establish combat order)
  • Determine your attack
  • Roll your dice
  • Determine if you hit or miss
  • If hit, then apply damage and effects
  • Wash, rinse, then repeat.
As you can see above, this has been the basic order of operation (with some creative differences for different game systems) and there is really no room for realism.  Gamers today have also evolved from these types of simple systems and want more.  +Plus Ten to Awesome on G+ or is a good place to start if you are like me, a practitioner of Martial Arts and an avid gamer to see deeper of what a narrative gaming styles can evolve to be, rather than the dry dice rolling paper and pencil RPG.

As a Martial Artist (in a dojo or gym setting... very important... not everyone street fights)
  • Will pay respects and bow before squaring off with his or her opponent.
  • From the moment of acknowledgement or when "hajime" is announced you are already into Seme (pressuring your opponent).
  • Your Seme will lead to adjusting your Ma-ai (distance from your opponent) and will respond on how your Ashi Sabaki (footwork) will kick-in.
  • Depending on your Kamae (guard), you may or may not be able to take advantage of your opponents Suki (weakness in guard or open areas).
  • If you are trained well enough, the above may be mute as your Mushin (no-mind) has kicked in from "Hajime!" and has become instinctual.
  • Highly trained Martial Artists have already developed the "Kakugo" or resolve when it comes to combat and will use it to harness their spiritual (not religious) drive to translate it into executing their techniques.
  • Techniqes exchanged will continue unless both opponents "reset" or the aggressor continues a relentless offensive wave of techniques.
  • Either way, opponents will have to fight to see who's Zanshin is stronger to see who can control the fight to see who will emerge as victor.
The above is just a fraction of what might shoot through the brain of a Martial Artist if they were analyzing a combat situation. And to differentiate the fact, I mentioned that it was in a dojo or gym setting... real life scenarios are much different as they can lead to life or death/safety situations.

My discussions with +Jim Sandoval revolved around just the basics, focusing on two different Martial Arts (Kendo and Karate - one armed the other not), walking through the combat exchanges (offensive and defensive) and the difference between "action and reaction" or "active and reactive" styles and motions.  Furthermore, we had some deeper conversations about how "situational awareness" in a Western Combat Philosophy was similar to Zanshin, to where I added that Zanshin was "situational awareness with extreme focus" without allowing your focus to dissolve once your have acted.  Eastern Philosophy works off of kanji or Chinese characters a lot and this was important in describing Zanshin to +Jim Sandoval.

As many of us practitioners understand... Zanshin's literal translation is "where your heart/soul/spirit remains." Broken down in Japanese, the first character is "nokoru" or to remain and the second is "kokoro or shin" which is the spirit tied to one's mind. In practice, our Zanshin must be strong throughout executing our techniques and through combat so that we are in focus and aware (in tune) with our on-going situation until we are out of harms way.  Our Zanshin is never in a off position.  Think of it as a proximity alarm that triggers our instinctual training... our "no mind" to protect us from danger.

You may be asking.."how do we train our instincts or how do I develop my Zanshin?"  This, my friend, is  another topic that needs to be addressed when Zanshin can be explored and discussed in its natural form.  I'll put another post up for that specifically.  This post was specifically to show that our traditional training has permeated and has peaked interests in areas outside of the Martial Arts arena and with gaming, MMA, and other industries looking at Eastern philosophies, they will be looking for more explanation or an in depth conversation of how it translates into their world. #zanshin

Friday, May 3, 2013

三戦 - The Three Battles (Sanchin)

三戦 - The Three Battles (Sanchin)

Goju training is deeper than you think.  Even as we train, we may not know the how deep our technique goes.  Kata Sanchin is one good philosophical example within the Goju discipline and maybe I can help you understand why Sanchi is so important.

Sanchin is traslated into "3 Battles."  The three battles in Goju is the representation of the continuous battle between your body, mind, and spirit.  While Kata Sanchin has zen buddhism (zazen to be specific) aspects of training, it is practiced not only to strengthen the "GO" or hard aspect of Goju but bring the three elements of training together in alignment.

Breathing, posture, muscle tension, basic technique, stance, and movement... there is a lot to deal with when practicing Sanchin.  With help from your senpais and your sensei, working to improve your muscle memory in the correct fashion will help you develop your body.  The mind and spirit are another story. 

I have always equated the development of my spirit to the development of my self-confidence.  I have always looked at the improvement of self-confidence to be the culmative successes of short-term and long-term goals. These successes, no matter how small or how large, affect who we are and affect our perspective in life.  Our failures only amplify the successes we achieve. 

Your mind is the hardest to develop.  For practitioners, this is undoubtedly the most frustrating to develop as well because it ties both your physical attributes as well as your spiritual ones.  Our mind, our consciousness, is the start.  How many times while training have you thought, "wow... I would like to learn that technique?" And how many times have you gathered enough courage to attempt that technique only to utterly fail in your first attempts? 

This is becuase our minds are the gateway to bigger and better things.  When our minds touch something that touches our heart... then passion is born.  When passion is born... we physically get involved.  As a good friend told me... this is a cycle... Wash, Rinse, Repeat.  This cycle, regardless if you succeed or fail, is one of the most natural cycles that we as humans face.  It applies to many different things and can be experienced at different levels of intensity.

While it is easy to "ingnite" your mind through passion, keeping or maintaining that passion is the hardest to do.  This is where it gets difficult to train your mind. We have a natural tendency to travel the path of least resistance and find ways to make things easy for ourselves.

Thinking, moving, and developing your personal faith (religious or just personal resolve... doesn't matter) is easily done when focusing on the aspects individually.  Even when praticing Kata Sanchin, it is very simple to learn, memorize, and understand the basic concepts of this basic kata.  However, the Kata does not come "alive" until you have learned how to bring all the aspects together.  Kata Sanchin teaches us this and was developed as such. 

While Kata Sanchin has the most simplest of movements in all 12 Goju Kata, It is definitely the most difficult technically.  This is because of the demands on the body.  Simple (basic) movements means that the karateka must show his mastery of the techniques.  With demostrating mastery of basic technique, your body and breathing must be in sync with the natural flow of the Kata.  Any practitioner will tell you that this more difficult that it seems and can be quite frustrating as many have experienced light headedness from trying too hard.

There are many aspects beyond what I have explained above that need to be mastered by the body (zazen) and the body alone. The mind and spirit fall into balance when that can be accomplished (which is developed simultaneously).  You cannot make progress with Kata Sanchin unless you hone all three aspects together.  It is the continuous battle between the three aspects that helps us find our own unique equilibrium.