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.