Karate Thoughts Blog

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1700+ Posts... and Counting


My wife is Filipino. Her father, who studied Kenpo Karate under Professor Marino Tiwanak, knew Raymond Tobosa, a noted Escrima professor. My father-in-law and Professor Tobosa used to see each other at Filipino cultural events.

One day, Professor Tobosa came to my wife's family's real estate office. My brother-in-law (who also studied Kenpo Karate, Shorin-Ryu, and Aikido) and I were there. The subject turned to martial arts and after describing what we studied, Professor Tobosa asked us to get a ruler and try to stab him.

I don't know about my brother-in-law, but I figured that it should be pretty easy to do -- after all... I studied Karate and Professor Tobosa was much older than us!

Well, no matter who I tried, Professor Tobasa would flip the ruler and the next thing I knew, he would be cutting me with the ruler. There was no way for me to cut him!

That was many years ago. Now I realize just how skilled Professor Tobosa was. I am sure that were he living today, I still could not cut him with a ruler or anything else for that matter. If I had a knife and saw him, I would throw it away and run in the opposite direction!

I have great respect for the Filipino martial arts and the great teachers, such as Professor Raymond Tobosa, who taught and teach the art here in Hawaii. We students of Karate can learn a lot from Escrima. In particular, I admire the speed and flowing movements of Ecrima. We should flow as well in Karate.


Charles C. Goodin

Night Techniques

One thing is very different today than in pre-War Okinawa. They did not have street lights, particularly in the rural areas. When it was dark, the only light was from the moon and stars. On a cloudy or moonless night, it was pitch black.

Some Okinawan kata contain night fighting (defense) techniques; that is, techniques designed to overcome nighttime limitations or to exploit them.

The first movement of Kusanaku, for example, is the shield the eyes. When you do this at night, it helps you to see a little better. When the hands come together after making a circle, there is a slight clapping or tapping sound. This might be to attract the opponent's attention and lure him into an attack.

Whe we drop to the ground in Kusanku, this is so that we can better see the opponent, lit by the night sky. It is easier to see from the ground and it is hard to see looking downward.

There are night techniques in other kata as well. In Rohai and Passai, we search with our feet. When we feel the opponent, we instantly strike. In Rohai as well, we search with our left hand and then punch with our right. At night, you must feel for the opponent.

I remember an Iaido kata where we reached out and tapped the ground with the sword. This was to attact the opponent. Then we cut to that spot.

Some people have "loud" kata. They are always making a loud snapping sound with their gi. Obviously this would be a disadvantage at night as it would give away his position.

At night, it is also difficult to keep your balance. You could easily step into a hole or trip over an object. This is one reason why we lightly brush the ground as we step. We do not lift our feet, generally.

Try practicing your kata in the dark. Be very careful, and make sure that the area is safe. See if you notice techniques that lend themselves to the darkness.

I learned about these things from Sensei Katsuhiko Shinzato, Sensei Pat Nakata, and Mr. S. Sunabe.


Charles C. Goodin

Are You Prepared For Bird Flu (H5N1 )?

How prepared are you for an outbreak of bird flu (H5N1) in your area? One aspect of this involves preparation for the disease itself. The other involves preparation for the potential disruption of services caused by the reaction to the disease.

In 1900, there was an outbreak of plague in Honolulu. In order to stop the spread of the disease, local health officials decided to burn some buildings where infected people had resided. The fire got out of control and Honolulu's entire Chinatown was burned to the ground. See: Honolulu Responds to the Plague.

A disease is bad enough but the response to the disease can also cause loss and suffering. One of my friends told me that his grandparents' business was destroyed in the Chinatown fire.

In Hawaii, we tend to prepare for hurricanes. Almost everyone has at least some plan and supplies to deal with hurricanes. But no one I have spoken to has prepared for the bird flu -- no one at all. Most people prepare three (3) days of supplies for hurricanes. In the event of a pandemic, the disruption of services could be much longer. In addition, after a hurricane we can go to stores for supplies as long as the stores are open and we have transportation. During a pandemic, people will be reluctant to go out in public for fear of contracting the disease.

I think that it is prudent to store supplies for at least seven (7) days. This may be too short, but at least it is a start. I have read that it is prudent to store one gallon of water per day for each person. That means that I should store seven (7) gallons of water for each person in my family. Again, this may be very conservative. I went to the store to purchase water jugs. I found a seven gallon container (very convenient) and purchased eight (8) of them (one each for the seven members of my family plus one extra). That was just about the store's entire supply!

I wonder what would happen if each of Hawaii's 1.2 million people (not including the tourists) went out and purchased water jugs? I think we would run out very quickly. Thus, it is important to purchase supplies well in advance of their need.

In Hawaii, we have cute little birds called kolea (Pacific Golden Plover). In late April, they leave Hawaii and migrate to Alaska. Our kolea have just left. There is concern that they could possibly return with the H5N1 infection after contracting it from other migratory birds. No one knows for sure if this will happen. Whether by infected birds or infected travelers, it seems likely that the disease will one day arrive in Hawaii.

Again, how prepared are you for an outbreak of bird flu in your area?

Here are some websites that provide useful information. Of course, there may be sites that provide better information for your specific country or area.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention - Avian Influenza (Bird Flu)

Pandemicflu.gov -- Individuals and Families Planning
Pandemicflu.gov -- Hawaii page

Hawaii State Department of Health

The State of Hawaii Pandemic Influenza Preparedness and Response Plan (in pdf)

At HonoluluAdvertiser.com:

Geography May Hinder Isles If Bird Flu Strikes

Migratory Kolea Face Avian Flu Challenge

Isles Key In Bird Flu War

Hawaii In Bird Flu's Path

Hawaii Builds Defense for Bird-Flu Outbreak

We Must Prepare Now For Flu Pandemic

At StarBulletin.com:

Tourist hub leaves isles vulnerable to bird flu: The state prepares for an unlikely but potentially deadly strain of virus

Isles amass tools to halt pandemic: Nearly $3 million worth of gear is ready in case of an influenza outbreak.


Charles C. Goodin

A Rare Person

It is a rare person who says what he means and does what he says.

A person who says what he means is honest. You do not have to wonder about his motives or intentions. If you want to only say what you mean, you have to be very careful about what you say.

A person who does what he says can be counted on. If he says he will do something, you can count on it being done. If you plan to do what you say, you also have to be very careful about what you say. Can you really do it?

I know many people who I can count on. I also know many people who rarely follow through with what they say. If they say they will do something, I think that there is only a 25% or maybe at best a 50% chance that they will do it. Perhaps they will forget or something will come up. Or prehaps they never had the intention to follow through when they said it.

What kind of person are you? Even if you don't know, your friends and co-workers do. They will already have decided whether you are person who says what you mean and does what you say.

You should be able to trust and count on a Karate student.


Charles C. Goodin

Circle Bowing Part 2

This post is in response to a general question I received about Bowing In A Circle. It made me give the subject some more thought. The original post reflects what we do in my dojo, which I realize is not the norm in traditional Japanese dojo (my dojo is Okinawan based).

When we line up, we do so in no particular order. We just line up in a circle. There is no special place for the sensei or the seniors. The dojo members are dispersed pretty randomly. We do not do a separate bow to the sensei.

My sensei is very informal. He teaches at his home in Yonabaru, Okinawa. I like his attitude and approach. I have tried my best to create a relaxed, but focused, atmosphere in my dojo. I am not attached to any particular ritual. Perhaps one day we will bow in a square for a while so that we will not become attached to the circle.

I have a small dojo and am not part of a larger governing association. As such, I have a great deal of freedom with respect to my curriculum, methodologies, ranking structure, and protocols.

I respect each dojo's right to follow the protocols and rituals that they prefer. If I visited a dojo, I would respect its protocols.

In the past, when we did all bow together to the front of the dojo, I never thought that we were bowing to the Emperor or any such idea. If I thought that, I would not have done it (I have nothing against the Emperor, but I am an American). If that is how the practice originated, I do not think I would follow it, even if I replaced it with a different rationale (such as bowing to the spirit of the art or past masters). I would not bow to Okinawa's King either, nor would I make the students bow to God because I respect each student's right to believe or not believe what they want.

So we bow to each other as a sign of mutual respect.

This may seem off the subject, but in our parties here in Hawaii, we often do cheers by giving a "banzai!" At one party a few years ago, a person told me that his father (who was attending the party) did not like banzais because he had close friends who died in the Pacific during WWII. Since then, I have not done banzais, even though I am half-Japanese and used to like to yell "banzai" during parties. I can yell pretty loud. I know that our idea in Hawaii is to simply wish "long life" but I can respect how some people might be troubled by the practice.

My wife is Filipino, so we can always yell "mabuhay!"


Charles C. Goodin

Towel Makiwara

We all like to hit wooden makiwara (a wooden striking post wrapped with rope or leather), or even logs and stones in some people's case. The main feature of a good makiwara is that it kicks back when you hit, requiring you to properly punch and brace yourself for the returning shockwave.

But wood (and stone) are not the only good things to punch. Sometimes I tell my students to hang a towel and strike it like a makiwara. Of course, it does not kick back, but it does give you a good target for focusing your strike. Also, since it gives, you can target beneath the surface (just like when striking a person).

When I travel, I sometimes use the curtains as a makeshift makiwara. In class, I often target the student's gi, which is very similar to a curtain. Sometimes I target the student's skin or flesh, but usually not the bone. Hitting a variety of makiwara helps you to get the feel for targeting different anatomical structures of the human body.

When I practiced Kenpo in high school at the CHA-3 quonset hut in Moanalua (my teacher was Edward Wallace, a senior student of Marino Tiwanak, and his daughter Julie), I remember that the teachers used to tape a piece of paper to the wall. The paper would be taped at the top and would lie flat against the wall. We would try to punch and strike the paper without hitting the wall. If you hit it just right, the paper would lift off the wall. If you struck too deep... ouch! It did help us to develop good control.

I know that it sounds crazy, but in high school I could strike and kick my students' eyelashes and ear lobes. I remember occasions when I punched students on the eyeballs and teeth: my knuckle touched the liquid film on their eyes and teeth but did not strike the surface. I am not suggesting that anyone try this; in fact, I advise against it. What I am saying is that practicing your focus on makiwara, towels, curtains, paper, etc. can give you much better control. And developing good control will make training safer.

Thirty plus years later, my control is not quite as good. Particularly when I use koshi in my techniques, I have to make sure that I step away from my partner before I strike. Sometimes the koshi has a mind of its own and is difficult to control. I also tend to strike my partners with a loose fist or relaxed hand. This way, if I have hit too deep there is a little leeway and time to adjust.


Charles C. Goodin

Guest Post: Memories of Taira Shinken

This Guest Post is by Mario McKenna of the Okinawa Karatedo Kitsilano Dojo in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. Mario is an instructor of Tou'on-ryu Karatedo and Ryukyu Kobudo. He is the English translator of Kobo Jizai Goshinjutsu Karate Kenpo (Kenwa Mabuni, 1934) and Seipai no Kenkyu Kobo Jizai Karate Kenpo (Kenwa Mabuni, 1934). His article Okinawa Kata Classification: An Historical Overview appears at the Hawaii Karate Seinenkai website. Mario also has an excellent Karate Blog.

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When asked about his days training under Taira Shinken, Minowa answers with bright eyes and a wide smile underlying the respect and admiration he has for his teacher. Minowa described Taira Shinken as a true gentlemen in both word and deed. In fact Minowa felt a little embarrassed at times that his teacher would speak so gently and politely to him and the other students often referring to him as, "Minowa-san" (his family name with the polite suffix meaning "honourable"). He was also amazed at the example Taira Shinken showed him and his fellow students through his daily life.

Even while suffering from stomach cancer, Taira continued to teach and practice Kobudo although he was clearly in pain at times! In fact on several occasions Minowa recalled that after demonstrating a Kata, Taira would toss the weapon to the floor and would sit down immediately to rest; having given his all to the Kata's performance. Taira's manner and example left a deep impression on Minowa who has strove his whole life to live by the example set by Taira.

Minowa described Taira Shinken's teaching style as highly individual. He commonly would "tailor" the Kata to the personal style of the individual he was teaching. This characteristic teaching style of Taira therefore increased the variation of the same Kata between his students. However Minowa stressed that among Taira's students in Okinawa, the variation was relatively minor and that the largest variation in Kata and execution of technique occurred with Inoue Motokazu who lived on the Japanese mainland and saw Taira Shinken infrequently. Minowa also stressed that Taira's tendency to "tailor" technique to the individual was not an uncommon means of instruction on Okinawa and had quite a long tradition. The relative consistency of Kata and technique between Taira's closest students on Okinawa was also due to, in part, to the years of training they had spent together under Taira and the relatively close ties they maintained after Taira's death in 1970.

During Minowa's training under Taira Shinken, it is interesting to note that there were no yakusoku kumite (prearranged fighting sets) except for the Bo vs. Sai and the two man Bunkai (analysis of Kata technique) for Sakugawa no kon sho. Individual techniques did exist for certain weapon combinations (eg. Bo vs. Tonfua) which were largely based upon Kata techniques, but there was no systematic or organized weapon sets. For Minowa Sensei, a lack of yakusoku kumite (prearranged fighting sets) for the weapons meant that students could not learn how to use and apply the weapon in a realistic (although controlled) setting. In addition there were no Kata for the Tichu (small tapered triangular wooden rod), Yonshaku Bo (4' staff) and Sanbon Nunchaku (three-sectional-flail). Again a lack of kata for these weapons meant that systematically teaching the weapon to students was difficult because there was no organized means to do so, i.e. Kata.

Therefore Minowa began to develop Kata for those weapons which lacked them several years after his return to Amami. Although Minowa had been thinking and experimenting with ideas for both Kata and Yakusoku Kumite, it wasn't until 1986 that he began to formalize his ideas with the help of Yoshimura. The result were Katas for the Sanbon Nunchaku, Yonshaku Bo and Tichu which were developed between 1986 to 1988. It was also at this time that he began to make prearranged fighting sets for each weapon, although he predominantly focused on these fighting sets beginning in 1988 to the present.

Minowa, like his teacher Taira Shinken, is still seeking out and learning new Kobudo Kata from other teachers in order to preserve them. He has recently for example, visited the dojo of Shorinji-ryu master, Nakazato Joen, to learn a Bo kata. Although at present he has not introduced these new kata into the teaching syllabus. At 36 Katas, the syllabus of the Shinshu Kai is already quite lengthy.

Mario McKenna

Wondering About The Itosu Photo

As mentioned previously, a photograph of Anko Itosu was discovered by Sensei Hiroshi Kinjo and recently donated to the Okinawan Prefecture. Please see the February 28, 2006 Okinawa Times newspaper article (in Japanese) describing this and Sensei Patrick McCarthy's and Yuriko McCarthy's English translation of the article entitled Photo of Itosu Ankoh is Found (in pdf format). The translation of the newspaper article appears at the Ryukyu Karate-jutsu Kokusai Kenkyukai (International Ryukyu Karate-Jutsu Research Society) website and is linked here with permission of Sensei Patrick McCarthy.

Sensei Patrick McCarthy and Yuriko McCarthy have recently translated a second article entitled Itosu Anko Okina: The Restorer of Karate (in pdf format), by Hiroshi Kinjo. This article was published in the March 20, 2006 edition of the Okinawa Times newspaper (in Japanese) . It also appears at the Ryukyu Karate-jutsu Kokusai Kenkyukai (International Ryukyu Karate-Jutsu Research Society) website.

I have wondered why a famous sensei, such as Anko Itosu, was not featured in more photographs. Of course, for most of his life he lived in the 19th century (the 1800s). But he had many students, some of whom where or became pretty well known themselves. He seemed to have means. He was not destitute. I have seen photographs here in Hawaii that were taken in Okinawa before 1900 so taking a photo was possible. It seems that there should have been more photos of Itosu Sensei. Shouldn't his students have asked to take a photo with their respected sensei, particularly at the classes they taught with him at public schools?

Perhaps there is a reason for this. A few years ago, I interviewed Sensei Kiyoshi Aihara. He studied Karate under Gichin Funakoshi (who studied under Itosu Sensei) at Waseda University. At the time of my interview, he was about 70.

Aihara Sensei showed me several photos taken at the Waseda University Karate Club. But I did not see any of Funakoshi Sensei. So I asked him, "Did you take any photographs with Funakoshi Sensei?"

Aihara Sensei instantly blushed. He looked like a bashful young boy. "No, no, no," he explained. "I would never ask to take a picture with my sensei."

Today, we think nothing of asking our sensei to pose for a photo (or video). But in the early days, students would be very reluctant to impose on their sensei in any way. After all, many early students would not even think to ask their sensei a question. It simply wasn't the "Japanese" way, particularly in the strict martial arts environment.

Even here in Hawaii, many seniors have related to me that they never asked their teachers any questions as it would have been inappropriate to do so. Back in the pre-War era, they just listened and did as they were told.

A student might also appear arrogant by asking to take a photo with his sensei. His sensei was of a much higher level, not a peer. The student had to know and keep his place.

I can only speculate, but perhaps this explains why the recently discovered photo of Itosu Sensei shows him with Judo and Kendo students, and school officials, rather than his own Karate students. We may never know, but after all these years, it is certainly nice to have a face to go with the illustrious name of Anko Itosu. It will be easier now to imagine him watching us, across the decades, as we humbly perform his Pinan kata.


Charles C. Goodin

Line Of Power

For any technique, you must be able to trace your line of power. By this I mean that you must be able to trace a line from your striking point (knuckles, elbow, tips of toes, etc.) to your koshi to your supporting foot and into the ground.

Imagine a giant tree that is struck by lightning. You could trace a burnt streak from the point of contact, down a branch, down the trunk of the tree, and finally into the ground.

When you strike, a returning shock wave will travel back down your line of power, much like lightning seeking the ground. If you are not properly supported, your strike will lack power and collapse. This returning shockwave will only take an instant so it is not necessary to support your strike any longer than this.

It is a good exercise to trace your line of power from your striking point through your body down to the ground. However, by this time, it is too late. It is more important to be able to plan your line of power from the ground up through your body to your striking point. You must learn to pre-position your supporting foot/leg to be in the most advantageous place from which to throw/unleash and support your technique. This is one of the advanced aspects of Karate -- to be in the right place at the right time with the best body posture and alignment for the desired technique.

It helps a great deal for your line of power to be somewhat straight (or curved). A zigzag line of power generally results in a loss of power. The way to straighten your line of power is to line up your joints from the ball of your foot, to your ankle, to your knee, to your hip, to your waist, through your koshi, through your lats, to your shoulder, to your elbow, to your wrist, to your knuckles, to the joints of your fingers (for example). This is referred to as body alignment rather than posture.

When you stomp your foot, a shockwave is sent up your body. If you tap the ball of your foot in a somewhat springy manner, this shockwave can be used to generate a wave up through your line of power. Now, if you can boost this wave at each of your joints (as described in the last paragraph), what starts out as a small wave can become a very strong one by the time it reaches your striking point. The wave will become larger in your trunk and then will become compressed as it travels down a narrower channel (your arm for example) to your striking point. As the wave is compressed, it will accelerate.

But the starting point is to become aware of your line of power -- trace it, pre-position it, align your joints, and support it.


Charles C. Goodin

Guest Post: Speed, Power, Grace: Pick 3

This Guest Post is by Bill Lucas of Kishaba Juku of Tallahassee. Bill has been very supportive of me ever since I became a student of Sensei Katsuhiko Shinzato in 2002.

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In my career life, I am the manager of a software engineering team for a state government agency. Developing software for state government is an interesting occupation, full of daily surprises, unexpected course corrections, legislative mandates, customers with high expectations, and many other lively activities. Delivering quality software within a reasonable time frame and meeting the business requirements of my customers is a constant challenge. Our Bureau Chief has a saying written on his whiteboard: "Good, Fast, Cheap, Pick 2." He likes to remind customers that they can usually only pick, at the most, 2 of the 3 items. Life is an exercise in compromise and software development is certainly no exception.

Kishaba Chokei, Sensei, had a saying that karate must have Speed, Power and Grace to be considered good. (I am paraphrasing, of course) Karate techniques should be quick enough to reach their intended target before the target can reach you. Techniques must be delivered with sufficient power to inflict appropriate damage to the intended target. And, techniques must be delivered in a way that utilizes the whole body in a graceful, interconnected way leaving the practitioner free to move in any direction and perform technique after technique.

Without Speed, Power and Grace working together, Karate is lacking.

You can see these forces working together in many sports and performing arts. Ballet is a good example of Speed, Power and Grace working together to produce the perfect Grand Jete. Another example is the execution of a perfect swing to yield a home run in Baseball. Without any one of these three elements, the ballet jump would fizzle and the bat swing would foul.

Koshi is the guiding force that brings Speed, Power and Grace together to make the perfect karate technique. Moving from a tightly compressed center and rotating in multiple planes like a gyroscope, Koshi directs the power, controls the speed and enables gracefulness for truly great karate.

Here's an exercise you can try the next time you practice Kata:

Perform a kata with speed only. Don't try to put any power in the techniques. Don't worry about how good it looks. Just try to get from point A to point B as quickly as possible. Next, try the same kata with power only. Make as much power as you can. Don't worry about being fast or beautiful in your execution of the kata. Then, repeat the kata with gracefulness. Be smooth and artistic. Flow like water and don't try to make it powerful or fast. Finally, combine all 3 elements together in a final performance of the kata. Analyze what body dynamics you had to employ to make it feel right. Repeat this practice frequently and you will make amazing progress.

For your Karate, don't compromise. Pick 3!

Bill Lucas

Black Belt

What does it mean to be a black belt? Somehow, there is something wrong with the question itself.

I don't think that Itosu Sensei had a black belt. There was no dan/kyu system in Karate at that time. Black belts and colored belts are a relatively modern invention/convention, borrowed from Judo. I know of many seniors in Hawaii who never had any belts at all.

But today, we seem to accept the black belt as a sign of accomplishment -- a marker that separates beginners from what... advanced?

If you ask many sensei to rate the level of first degree black belts in their system, each will probably give a different answer. Personally, I would say that a shodan gets about 10% of the art. That means that upon receiving his shodan, a student has 90% to go. I could be wrong with these numbers. It could be that 5% is more accurate. But of course, it depends on the student, the sensei, the dojo, and the curriculum followed.

The age of the student also makes a big difference. A 7 year old shodan's understanding will differ from a 35 year old shodan's -- shouldn't it?

I say that shodan marks the beginning of being a serious student -- not teacher, sensei, or senior -- but student. It means that you are starting to walk the path.

In my experience, two things happen when a student makes shodan. For some students, shodan was their goal. Having attained this goal, they can now quit. I would say that about 20% of my students have quit within a relatively short time of earning their shodan.

For the majority of students, however, shodan marks their beginning. It now becomes very difficult to quit. Even if they do quit, they will always be and feel that they are Karate students.

I had a friend. Because of work and family, he had to stop going to class. He mentioned to me that his Karate bag was packed and placed in the corner of his office. Every day, he would look at the bag and think, "Will I go back to class today?" He did this for years. Every day for several years, he thought about going back to class. It ate at him. Day after day, month after month, year after year. When would he go back?

This doesn't happen when white belts or green belts quit. But once a student becomes shodan, and remains in the dojo (does not quit right away), he or she is hooked.

Shodan means that the student is serious about practicing Karate. After that, it seems that one dan per decade is about right. An 80 year old 8th dan is someone to admire. A 20 or 30 year old 8th dan is something else. Wouldn't it be great if 10th dan was reserved for 100 year old sensei? Perhaps, health and longevity would be more emphasized.

I have three college degrees (B.A., M.M., and J.D.). I don't think that anyone thinks of me in terms of these degrees. No one says, "All the people with graduate degrees line up on this side of the room and everyone else line up on the other." We are much more likly to do this with Karate students. "All the black belts line up here..." Perhaps this is because we do not wear our college degrees around our waists.

What does it mean to be a black belt? Perhaps there is something wrong with the question itself. Perhaps instead we should ask, "What does it mean to be skilled at Karate?" and "What does it mean to be a good person?"


Charles C. Goodin

Take A Vacation

Once in a while, it is a good idea to take a vacation. Enjoy yourself and pay attention to your spouse or significant other. When you are in the dojo, you should not think about work. When you are on a vacation, you should not think about the dojo (except in the sense that the dojo is daily life). Enjoy life. Every moment is precious.

Sometimes a few days of rest helps your body to recover from the physical stress of training.

I think that this advice is very good so I am going to Maui this weekend with my wife. I will be back Monday! Have a great weekend!


Charles C. Goodin

Practice, Practice, Practice

I am writing this blog to my students, but it will apply to all students of the art.

The key to success in Karate is practice. A student who practices diligently will improve. It may take time and it may take effort, but with practice success is assured. The student who practices the hardest, for the longest time, gains the most. Chotoku Kyan is an example of a sensei who emphasized the value of practice. Despite his small stature, he became one of the most skilled sensei of his time. He used to say that if one student practiced three time, he would practice seven times!

Some students learn very quickly and do not seem to need practice. Actually, these students need practice just as much as other students. Their understanding may be shallow and in time, their weaknesses will catch up with them, especially when they are asked to teach.

As a sensei, I can tell when students have practiced at home or when they actually are coming to the dojo to practice. It is very obvious.

We always say that the student should practice at home and come to the dojo to learn. The dojo is not a place for practice -- it is a place for learning, questions, and corrections. Also, a student is in the dojo for only a few hours each week. He has much more time to practice at home.

Let's say that I teach the first few movements of a kata to a group of new students. The next few days, one student practices the movements 20 times each day. In three days, he will have practiced 60 times. Let's say that another student does not practice at all.

The next class, I will review the movements. The student who practiced might need some corrections but will be ready to move on to the next sequence. The student who has not practiced will not be ready to move on and may have forgotten the beginning movements!

The student must be willing to practice at home and come to class ready to learn.

There is a saying that "practice makes perfect." I would say that through diligent practice, a student devotes himself to the pursuit of excellence. This is a lifelong pursuit.

Practice, practice, practice.


Charles C. Goodin

Anko Itosu Photo

In exciting news for Karate students and researchers worldwide, a photograph of Anko Itosu was discovered by Sensei Hiroshi Kinjo and donated to the Okinawan Prefecture. Please see the February 28, 2006 Okinawa Times newspaper article (in Japanese) describing this and Sensei Patrick McCarthy's and Yuriko McCarthy's English translation of the article entitled Photo of Itosu Ankoh is Found (in pdf format). The translation of the newspaper article appears at the Ryukyu Karate-jutsu Kokusai Kenkyukai (International Ryukyu Karate-Jutsu Research Society) website and is linked here with permission of Sensei Patrick McCarthy.

Kinjo Sensei, a student of Chomo Hanashiro (who in turn was a student of Anko Itosu), donated about 3,000 historic Karate items and books to the prefecture.

I would like to thank McCarthy Sensei for making the translation available.


Charles C. Goodin

The Chibana Project Blog

I would like to recommend an excellent blog for those readers with an interest in traditional Karate. The Chibana Project is a blog written by Terry Garrett, a student of my good friend and senior, Sensei Pat Nakata. Nakata Sensei is a direct student of Choshin Chibana, who in turn was a student of Anko Itosu. Chibana Sensei, in my opinion, was the leading instructor of his generation. When other instructors had questions about kata and their meaning, they would go to Chibana Sensei for the answers.

Terry has done an excellent job of documenting information about Chibana Sensei. Despite Chibana Sensei's importance, there is relatively little written about him. He appeared in the 1938 Karate-Do Taikan, but did not write a book himself. His legacy must be preserved by fine people like Nakata Sensei and his student, Terry Garrett.


Charles C. Goodin

Otomo -- The Sensei's Escort

Otomo means friend in Japanese. When I was in Aikido, I learned that the student who accompanies the sensei on visits or trips is called the otomo. He or she is the student who carries the sensei's bag, opens doors, and sees to the sensei's needs. The otomo is usually one of the senior students.

The otomo must be very alert. He must respond to the sensei's needs before asked. He walks behind the sensei, but must move ahead to open a door in such a smooth manner that the sensei does not have to stop. The otomo has no time for his own needs. He must be focused solely on the sensei. Needless to say, the otomo must also be prepared to defend the sensei -- even though the sensei has superior skills. The otomo must anticipate and prevent (or intercept) an attack.

In meetings between two seniors, it is possible that both will have otomo. The otomo will usually sit or stand behind their sensei and say nothing at all during the meeting. Even if the other senior or a host asks the otomo if he needs anything, he will usually refuse in a polite manner. The otomo is not there to carry on a conversation or enjoy the food. He is there solely to provide for his sensei's needs.

This may sound very subservient, particularly to those of us in the United States. It sounds like slavery. In my opinion, it is not that way at all. Honestly, the otomo is in training to become a sensei. By following the sensei and observing firsthand his actions and interactions, the otomo learns invaluable lessons. In addition, the otomo learns to be totally aware and focused on his duties. It requires incredible focus. It is budo in the real world outsude the four walls of the dojo.

If there is a meeting between a sensei with an otomo and another sensei who does not have an otomo, the one without an otomo will utterly ignore the otomo. This may feel awkward to an otomo who does not know what to expect. However, to that sensei the otomo is almost invisible. This is not arrogant. It is simply how otomo are viewed (or not viewed).

I heard somewhere that when Choki Motobu meet with Jigoro Kano, Kano Sensei brought a student. I assume that this student was an otomo. At some point during the meeting, the student made a face at Motobu, at which point Motobu told Kano that he better control his student or Motobu would. This must have ended the meeting and caused bad feelings. It could have been that Motobu did this to show his displeasure with Kano. By blaming the student, Motobu could end the meeting. However, the otomo should have been exceptionally careful to give no offense. He was not there to make faces or show his emotions. He was there to escort his sensei. If the otomo did make a face, even if only slightly, he failed his sensei and caused him embarrassment.

Today, I find that very few students understand the role of the otomo. It is not something spoken about very much. Only the oldest sensei seem to still practice the tradition. It might be more common in Kendo, Iaido, and Aikido, than in Karate. However, I feel that acting as an otomo is an important part of the traditional training of senior students.

When I practiced Aikido, I would often come to class early and wait in the parking lot for my sensei. When he arrived, I would greet him and carry his bag. As I recall, he would carry his bokken or jo (in a case) and I would carry his bag.

One day he told me, "you know, you should not be doing this." "Seniors should."

I was only a junior student in Aikido, but already a yudansha in Karate. I said, "well Sensei, there are no seniors here to meet you so until they come, I will carry your bag if that is alright with you." When he nodded approval, I was so happy.


Charles C. Goodin

The Term "Sensei"

I am only 48. Most of the sensei I know are older than me, some in their 80s. Something I have noticed is that most of them call me "sensei" or "Goodin Sensei." This is because I am the head of my own dojo -- certainly not because I am on the same level of these senior sensei in terms of rank, title, knowledge, or experience. They are showing courtesy to my position as the head of my dojo. The position itself deserves a certain degree of respect.

I went to lunch today with four sensei -- two ninth dan (hanshi) and two eighth dan (kyoshi). Everyone called everyone else "sensei." We only used last names when we needed to distinguish which sensei we were talking about. For example, I might have said, "Oh, Nakata Sensei just came back from Okinawa."

Then Nakata Sensei might have replied, "I was just talking to Goodin Sensei about my trip."

My point is that even very high sensei will refer to heads of dojo, no matter how young and no matter how small the dojo may be, as "sensei."

This can sometimes creates some awkward situations. Sensei Bobby Lowe and Jimmy Miyaji, for example, have many students who have trained much longer than I have. They are my seniors in training. And yet, they generally will not be referred to as "sensei," unless they have their own dojo or possibly their own classes. You could have a 7th dan who assists a 9th dan in a dojo. That 7th dan might not be referred to as "sensei" while a 2nd dan with a dojo would be.

It is important for younger sensei, such as myself, to always remember that titles such as sensei do not indicate seniority with respect to other students/instructors. Even though I may be the sensei of my dojo, I am still junior to many other students in other dojo -- and I should act accordingly. If I fail to do this, I am being a poor sensei and a poor representative of my dojo.


Charles C. Goodin

Bowing In A Circle

In every Japanese dojo in which I trained, we began and ended classes with group bows. To begin class, the sensei would sit or stand in front of the class and we would all bow together in the direction of the front of the class (where the shinden would be if we had one). Then the sensei would turn and we would bow to him. To end class, we would bow to the sensei first, and then he would turn and we would all bow again in the direction of the front of the class. In other words, the group bow (including the sensei) began and ended the class.

I don't think I ever asked who we were all bowing to. I was a child when I studied a Judo in Japan. Later, I think that I just followed along. Somehow, I came to understand that we were bowing to the "spirit of the art" and/or "to all the sensei who came before us, an unbroken line going back to the beginning of the art."

When I visited Professor Katsuhiko Shinzato in Okinawa, I noticed that his students started and ended class by forming a circle. Shinzato Sensei was in the circle too. There was only one bow -- everyone bowed to each other. There was not a separate bow to the sensei.

The next year, Shinzato Sensei visited my dojo in Hawaii. We were still bowing the way I described in the beginning of this post. Shinzato Sensei privately asked me, "Why are you still bowing to the Emperor?" He explained that before World War Two, all Japanese budo (martial arts) classes bowed to the Emperor, the figurative head of the Japanese nation (or empire).

He further explained that in Japanese society, each person knows his or her place in a vertical hierarchy from the very lowest person rising to the Emperor himself. Japan was a vertical society.

Okinawa, in constrast, was more of a horizontal society. Even the King of Okinawa (prior to the abolition of the kingdom and the annexation of Okinawa as a prefecture of Japan), needed help during the frequent typhoons that struck the islands. Everyone had to help everyone. While there were social classes in Okinawa, the society was more horizontal.

Thus, Shinzato Sensei's classes did not bow to the Emperor -- they bowed to show mutual respect to each other. Shinzato Sensei did not stand or sit at the head of the circle -- a circle has no head. Each location is equal.

Once I understood this, I immediately adopted this practice in my dojo. I like the idea of bowing out of mutual respect to everyone in the dojo -- from the sensei to the newest student. I also think that it makes the dojo more relaxed. We still maintain decorum and act politely, it just feels less militaristic (particularly in the pre-war in Japan sense).

In the United States, we believe that "all men are created equal." I don't think that you can get more horizontal than that. So this is why we bow in a circle.

See Circle Bowing Part 2.


Charles C. Goodin

Guest Post: Kansha

This Guest Post is by my friend, Mark Tankosich, who has dan rankings in both Sho-ha Shorin-ryu karate and Zen Nihon Kendo Renmei jodo. Along with the martial arts, his passions include the Japanese language. He currently lives and teaches in Hiroshima, Japan.

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I'm sure that there must be many different ways that martial arts classes are ended in the various dojo around the world. But, in my experience, it is pretty much universal that one part of the ending ritual is a bow to one's teacher and fellow students.

This bow is, of course, a show of respect for the others who have taken part in the class. Recently, though, at the end of one of my jodo classes, I became very aware of what I think is another important aspect of the bow: kansha.

Kansha, which probably best translates as "gratitude," is a pretty big part of traditional Japanese culture. One should, ideally, have (and show) kansha for everybody in one's life who has given one sewa (help, support, favor, etc.). Thus, at least traditionally, a person feels kansha for the parents who feed and clothe him, the teachers who teach him, the boss who hires and supervises him, and even the older brother who looks out for him. In fact, just about everyone in one's life can, in one way or another, be the object of kansha.

So, getting back to my jodo class, one day, as I bowed to my fellow students and sensei at the end of the class, I very clearly felt how fortunate I was to be a part of the dojo. I was, of course, glad to be learning new techniques and skills, but it was something much more than that. I'm sure it had to do with the feelings of loneliness and isolation that I still sometimes experience living in this foreign country, but at that moment, I felt true kansha for all that I'd received from these people who were part of the class.

It's a little hard to express in words, but because of the other members of the dojo, I had a place to go where I could laugh (and sometimes almost cry) with others. A place where I could share my interests in the martial arts. A place where I was accepted and respected for who I was. A place where I felt that I truly belonged. A place where I experienced a sense of community.

Ever since the day that I had this realization, every time that I bow at the end of class to my sensei, sempai and kohai, I make a conscious attempt to remind myself of how grateful I am to them.

It may be a little more difficult to appreciate your own feelings of kansha at the dojo if you are living in your own country among the friends, family and culture you have always known, but you might want to give it a try. The next time you finish a class, you might want to think about how fortunate you are to be a part of your dojo.

Mark Tankosich

Burning Fewer Calories

A positive result of becoming more efficient as you advance is that you can use much less energy to produce much more power. My estimate is that efficient (whole body, koshi driven, whiplike) mechanics requires only 25% as much effort (less in some cases). You will not get as exhausted during training -- however, will not burn as many calories either.

If you were doing 20 kata before using exhausting mechanics, you will not burn as many calories doing the same number of kata using efficient mechanics. To burn as many calories, you will have to do more kata or more exercises.

My observation of my sensei, Professor Katsuhiko Shinzato, is that he does just that -- he trains non-stop during class. Once, I asked him to perform a single kata so that I could film it. After he finished the kata, he kept going. Five or six kata later, he said, "Oh sorry. I was enjoying myself." He simply does not stand around, except when observing or correcting students. At 67, he is a dynamo. He is how I want to be!

Efficient mechanics makes it easier to move. Keeping in shape once you learn efficient mechanics is another challenge. I think that it is helpful to supplement your training with kobudo, weights, and/or exercises to tone your body and work specific muscle groups. Bojutsu is probably the best supplementary excerise possible as it provides a great core workout.

I took my second ballroom dancing class earlier this week and continue to be amazed by the body tone and grace of the instructors, most of whom are in their 70s! I think that their secret is that can dance all night long -- and get an excellent workout in the process. That may be the secret for all of us.


Charles C. Goodin

Guest Post: Koshi Wo Hineru

This Guest Post is by Mario McKenna of the Okinawa Karatedo Kitsilano Dojo in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. Mario is an instructor of Tou'on-ryu Karatedo and Ryukyu Kobudo. He is the English translator of Kobo Jizai Goshinjutsu Karate Kenpo (Kenwa Mabuni, 1934) and Seipai no Kenkyu Kobo Jizai Karate Kenpo (Kenwa Mabuni, 1934). His excellent article Okinawa Kata Classification: An Historical Overview appears at the Hawaii Karate Seinenkai website. Mario also has a Karate Blog.

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Rotation of the koshi (torso/pelvis) is important to the generation of power in general. The whipping of the hips is another matter and has to be approached with a lot of caution. Certain techniques/kata in Goju-ryu lend themselves very well to this type of motion such as Seipai. To this list I would also add Kururunfa. However, I have seen many practitioners do these kata with no connection between the whipping motion of the hips and the resulting technique. It seems quite empty and wasteful.

Another observation that I have with this whipping motion is that it appears to be done from a stationary position, which is not always possible when fighting someone. In this case I feel non telegraphed whole body movement is superior in some instances - at least for me. This is not to say that I do not do these whipping motions, but just that I am very conservative about when and how I do them and how I impart them to my students. Just my 2 yens worth of ideas.

Heading back to the kotatsu and my cup of ocha....

Mario McKenna

Won't Ask, Won't Tell

Older Japanese men in Hawaii can be very hardheaded and difficult to understand (unless you understand their ways). This is particularly true of the nisei in Hawaii who were taught old style Japanese values by their parents but also learned to function here in English and pidgin in the then Territory of Hawaii. Among the strictest of the Japanese were the budo (martial arts) teachers. These teachers of Kendo, Ju Jutsu, Judo, Aikido, and Karate were even more old style and many remain so today.

We sometimes say in Hawaii that an old style Japanese man is samurai. There is a joke that a particularly difficult man is not samurai but daimyo. The most hardheaded of all is shogun!

There is an expression I heard many times in private from my older sensei: "If I have to ask, I won't ask. If I have to tell, I won't tell."

I will give you an example of the first part. Let's say I am outside mowing the yard and my wife asks me why I don't ask my able bodied sons to help. I would then say, "If I have to ask, I won't ask." Older Japanese men never like to ask for help -- from anyone. They don't like to complain either -- about anything.

Now let's consider the second part. Suppose a student is bowing incorrectly and this student is my senior. I speak privately with my sensei and mention the bowing issue. He says, "I know he is bowing wrong, but if I have to tell him, I won't tell." And to make it worse, I cannot tell the student either because he is my senior. So nothing gets done, unless another senior (senior to the student) gets involved. But often, the seniors are not aware of their duties in this regard. Bowing is just an example. The student could be doing something more seriously wrong.

So if your sensei needs something, he won't ask, and if you are doing something wrong, he won't tell. This makes perfect sense to me because I have seen it so often over the years during my training. To tell the truth, I do the same thing and I am only a 48 year old shin hapa nisei (new half second generation Japanese).

I want to repeat this because it is so important. If your sensei needs something, he won't ask, and if you are doing something wrong, he won't tell.

Let's say that you offer to help your sensei. He'll probably say, "no thanks." Let's say that you ask your sensei if you have done something wrong. He'll probably say, "no." It will be up to you to ask in such a sincere and insistent (but polite) way that you will overcome your sensei's tendecy to hold back (see: Enryo Suru and Please Correct Me).

Another thing you might do is to ask one of your seniors. He or she might be in a better position to advise you about helping your sensei or correct you if you are making a mistake. If they do not know the answer, they can consult the sensei and ask for advice.

But the threshhold is for you to be sensitive to and aware of your sensei's needs and about your own behavior. Training hard is not enough. You have to constantly examine yourself under a microscope.

My 16 year old son recently went on a Kendo trip to Canada. One of his sensei took the group. I told my son, "You have to be helpful. You must not let adults carry bags if your hands are empty. You must not let women open a door. You have to help the person before they even realize that they need help. You have to be aware at all times."

After the trip, I spoke to my son's sensei. She complimented my son on being so helpful and attentive. She was shocked that a 16 year old would act like such a gentlemen.

But that's the point! What good is being able to hit someone in Kendo if you don't have good manners? How can you see an opening in Kendo if you can't see an adult standing at a door with her arms full?

You have to look at yourself under a microscope and look at your sensei and seniors with a telescope. You've got to see it all.

You must help your sensei before he even realizes that he needs help. You must foster a relationship in which your sensei feels comfortable correcting you. In these ways, you will progress in your training, both in Karate and daily life -- which in the end, are the same thing.


Charles C. Goodin

Okinawa Karate News

Two new articles were recently published online. One is a short article I wrote and the other is an interview:

These are published by the NPO Okinawa Karatedo Kobudo Support Center. As you can see, this is its 6th newsletter. They also publish in Japanese, Spanish, and French. The above articles appeared earlier in Japanese. See:
I like this publication because it presents interesting information and an occasional historic image. A few months ago it published an excellent photo of Kentsu Yabu.

I hope that you enjoy reading it.


Charles C. Goodin


All the empty handed kata I practice have specific places where the student is supposed to kiai. Practically speaking, kiai means to yell, but the larger idea is to focus and project energy, strengthen the body, and startle the attacker. The kanji for kiai are the same as in Ai-ki-do but in reversed order. Ki means energy and ai means to coordinate.

A student visited me once. At the correct place in Naihanchi Shodan, he yelled out "kiai!" I mean that be actually yelled the word "kiai." I thought it was a bit humerous and it turned out that his sensei had learned the kata from a book and had taken the command to "kiai" literally.

There are different types of kiai. When we yell (as in the two kiai in Naihanchi Shodan), we say something like "a" (like the letter "A"), "to", "yo", "ho", or any number of sounds. The sound does not matter. However, it is important to keep the mouth closed or nearly so. Yelling with the mouth wide open is an invitation to injury. You could bite your tongue, your jaws could crash together, your teeth could break, or someone could poke a weapon (such as a bo) into your mouth.

It is funny when you see a Karate celebrity on the cover of a magazine, obviously delivering a loud kiai with his or her mouth wide open. It is a bit like Tom Cruise in The Last Samurai. Every time he drew his Japanese sword you could hear the sound of metal ("swing"), just like a western sword. Japanese swords simply don't make that sound. Ideally, the draw is silent. The sound was almost certainly an added sound effect. A kiai is not a sound effect. It is a sound and energy technique.

When you kiai loudly, you should project it to the far side of the dojo (the opposite wall). It should have a piercing character. In fact, Sensei Morio Higaonna told me that the word for kiai in Hogen in yagi which literally means "voice arrow."

But not all kiai are loud. A kiai can be silent. The body will compress but no sound can be heard. Or the kiai can be more like a hissing sound during which time the air is squeezed from the lungs. We do this a lot in the Kishaba Juku form of Shorin-Ryu. The compression coincides with the use of the koshi and the creation and transfer of power.

Squeezing out the air during a technique is exceptionally important. A person who does not do so looks a bit like a half filled jug of water sloshing around. A person who holds in his breath is also more susceptible to injury, both from strain (the blood pressure will rise) and the possibility of explosive release (assisted by a well placed and timed punch).

Why do kata have one, two or even several specifically placed kiai? It think that it simply for kiai practice and theatrics. You could kiai all the time, none of the time, or selectively. In my dojo, we often do not kiai (yell). It really does not matter as long as the student knows how and when to do so.

In tournaments, a kiai might be very impressive. A student could even flunk a test in some dojo if he or she failed to kiai at the right place. Some dojo teach kata in an extremely rigid manner -- the idea being that all students must be able to do the same kata in exactly the same way, including the kiai.

When I studied Aikido under Sensei Sadao Yoshioka, he occassionally spoke about Kiai Jutsu, the used of kiai as a weapon. He said that his first sensei, Yukiso Yamamoto, was one of only a handful of students who learned this in Japan. Yamamoto Sensei was a Ju Jutsu/Judo instructor before converting to Aikido when Sensei Koichi Tohei visited Hawaii.

I am not sure where I learned this, but I was taught to visualize drawing in all of the energy (ki) of the Universe behind you and projecting it in a narrow beam in front of you. The energy was supposed to project from your eyes, as well as via your voice.

Except for startling someone, I never saw a kiai have a physical effect absent physical contact. I suppose it is possible, but I doubt that it would be as reliable as a simple punch. I believe that the benefits of kiai are purely physical.

I did hear stories, however, of my Aikido Sensei killing a gekko (small lizard) with a kiai. He may have also killed or stunned a cat. But I did not see this. I know that I almost killed my aunt when I was a child. She was walking down some steps in front of her house and I was hiding in the bushes. When she got close I jumped out and yelled! I was told that I almost gave her a heart attack. I was not a Karate student at that time.

Kiai can also refer to one's strength. We say that a person with a strong kiai is capable of doing anything. But we must also interact with the world around us. Thus Aikido Sensei Gary Omori told me that he was always taught "First kiai, then maai." Maai refers to your interaction or spacing.

Even though it can be an almost trivial aspect of kata, the kiai is actually a very interesting practice in the martial arts. In Karate, I think that the Hogen term "yagi" best captures the feeling I get during a kiai. I wish that there was also a kiai term for "breath squeeze out."

Perhaps we could call Karate... Kiaite or even Yagidi (Voice, Arrow, Hand). Hmmm. I like that better than "Empty Hand."


Charles C. Goodin

Step and Punch

A new student is taught to step and punch -- to step forward, shifting weight, and then to punch after the foot has settled. But if you think about it, the power of the punch is lessened by the amount of power that was lost by the stepping foot. Any weight on the front foot is weight that could have gone into the punch.

In my dojo, we practice 18 empty handed kata (19 with Tensho). Imagine stepping and punching (or blocking, striking, etc.) in all those kata. So much power is lost.

Thus, when a student is a little more advanced, we teach them to step and punch at the same time -- both the end of the step and the maximum extension of the punch are at the same instant. In this way, less power is lost by the stepping foot and more is put into the punch.

For even more advanced students, we teach to punch and then step -- the step is a slit second after the punch. In this way, maximum power is transferred by the punch.

It is therefore possible to practice kata three ways: (1) step and then punch; (2) step and punch together; and (3) punch and then step. Of course, there are many other ways to practice kata. I am only considering the timing of the step and punch here.

These three methods can be done in an exaggerated way, so that there is a noticable gap between the step and punch. They can also be done in a compressed way, so that the gap is very difficult to notice. But even if the gap is small, the difference in power is great.

The three methods also involve timing adjustments to the use of the koshi. The koshi must be timed to retract, extend and recoil (reset) at the proper instants based on the stepping/punching method used.

When I lead class, I generally let the students use the method they desire. Sometimes I will direct that they use a specific method so that I can observe their timing and mechanics. When I am demonstrating a kata, I will usually use the step and punch method so that beginners can follow easier. When I move naturally, I almost always use the punch and step method.

The use of these methods is also affected by combinations. A double punch might be timed so that the first punch preceeds, is simultaneous with, or follows the step -- or the timing can be placed on the second punch (or technique). Again, the koshi dynamics is also affected.

Punching is very fast. Stepping is very slow. By pre-positioning weight, the slow part of the step can be somewhat avoided, resulting in a technique that appears to be much quicker (even though it actually takes the same overall time if you take into account the pre-positioning time). The pre-positioning of weight is often hidden in a body shift (taisabaki).

Step and then punch; step and punch together; punch and then step. Save as much power as possible for the punch and pre-position weight (through body shifting) to make the punch lightning fast when thrown. Now apply these various methods throughout all the kata and techniques you practice.

This was taught to me by Professor Katsuhiko Shinzato and my dojo has been happily working on it ever since. It certainly makes training interesting and challenging!


Charles C. Goodin

Character 1, 2, 3

In recent weeks, I've received several compliments that by focusing on character, this blog brings out the "deeper" and "advanced" aspects of Karate. While I am very honored, it made me think: is the subject of character "deeper" and "advanced?"

None of my sensei ever taught character issues separately from the physical aspects of Karate training. Character was neither deeper nor shallow, advanced nor basic. Character was first, second and third, taught at all levels, all the time. It is like the saying about the ocean -- it is salty everywhere. See: On Effort, A Good Heart, Humility & Ego, Being Considerate, Like a Rice Plant, Proper Bowing, and False Courtesy.

In the same way, character development is an essential, all present, and inseparable aspect of Karate. Without it, Karate is nothing more than an athletic activity -- but one in which the participants learn a potentially dangerous skill. Only a student who is sincerely working on character development (for his or her entire lifetime) can be trusted and entrusted to use the destructive aspects of Karate as a last resort only. See: Last Resort.

Advancement in Karate is often measured by more advanced kata and more complicated and demanding techniques. Ranks and titles come along with advancement, as does increased responsibility in the dojo. But a truer measure of advancement is how one conducts himself in daily life -- every day, every minute of every day. Standing on a dais with Karate dignitaries is not the measure of advancement, nor is the color of ones belt, be it white, black or even red. See: Ratty Belts, and Ratty Belts 2.

A truer measure of your advancement is how you act the next time your child does something that could anger you -- will you blow up or remain calm? Will you be aware at that moment? Will you be aware that you are being aware?

How will you act during an emergency? In Hawaii we face the risk of hurricanes. How will you act when the next one hits? Will you be calm and focused on protecting life and property?

The next time you win an award -- any award -- will you bathe in the glory or rededicate yourself to the pursuit of excellence?

Somehow punch, kick, block and strike seem less important than these questions. But it is exactly because of the physical and mental discipline of punch, kick, block, strike, and the myriad techniques that comprise Karate that you will have the self-discipline and strength of character to face these and other challenges. Character development is not a mental exercise alone. Your character is cooked in the oven of Karate.

Character is not advanced. Character is not deep. It is first, last and in between -- gedan, chudan, and jodan -- omote and ura.


Charles C. Goodin

Guest Post: Special Training

This Guest Post is by Bill Lucas of Kishaba Juku of Tallahassee. Bill has been very supportive of me ever since I became a student of Sensei Katsuhiko Shinzato in 2002.

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Some of my fondest memories of karate training over the last 20 years involve weekend workouts, or "Special Training." During these workouts, people from other Dojo would come to our Dojo and train with us or we would travel to their Dojo to train with them. It was a special time that we could all get together for a couple hours, train intensely and learn from each other. Usually, the day ended with a cookout at someone's house or dinner at a local restaurant. Dinner conversations ranged from catching up with friends to Sensei relating stories of his training time in Okinawa to reminiscing about previous special trainings.

Generally, the host of the event would be the Sensei for the Dojo, but many times a visiting Sensei would "run" class. Training topics varied but generally focused around things we never seem to get to during the normal class schedule or new material. Learning a new Bo kata outdoors, breaking class, "Naihanchi Points", Sexy Walking (don't ask me to explain that one), orange plunger koshi discussions... all are memorable special training topics. Some of my favorite special trainings occurred shortly after someone returned from a training trip to Okinawa full of new ideas and different ways to train. Most times the information we received at these sessions became the subject for constant study for the following 6 months or so until the next special training.

Over the years, I have also attended many Karate "Seminars" with touring Masters and Grand Masters. Some of these have been better than others. Generally there is a nominal fee attached which is necessary to pay for the Masters travel expenses. I have learned much from seminars, but the quality of instruction generally lacks the kind of personal touch of Special Training. Consequently, I don't seem to be able to retain as much from seminars as I can from special training.

Our new Dojo in Tallahassee is having its first Special Training this weekend. I know we will start to build friendships that will last a lifetime and probably learn some good Karate, too!

Bill Lucas

Humility & Ego

Sensei Pat Nakata often mentions to me that the essential aspect of Karate is not simply courtesy but rather humility. You do not bow your head out of politeness alone, but more so out of a sense of humility. See Like a Rice Plant, Proper Bowing, and False Courtesy.

That said, the martial arts has its fair share of egotistic people, and naturally, those with the biggest egos tend to have something to brag about (high rank, high titles, tournament successes, wealth, physical prowess, big organizations, thousands of students, etc.).

Please don't get me wrong. I am not saying that success in the martial arts makes a person egotistical. Most of the "high" sensei I have meet are also the most humble and unassuming. They generally ignore their own success and status, or treat them as trivial. They are the most down to earth people you could ever hope to meet.

However, there is a type of martial artist whose ego feeds upon success. Such people are literally the monsters of the martial arts, and their appetites for fame and recognition are insatiable. Their sentences often start with "I...."

I know that it is a cliche, but there is no "I" in Karate.

I cannot change other instructors and it is not my place to do so. Everyone has their own life to live. However, I am responsible first for myself and also for my students.

As an instructor, I must be very careful not to feed or encourage my students' egos. It is one thing to build up a student's confidence -- that is proper and necessary. It is another to stoke the student's ego.

The structure of the martial arts is part of the problem. If we emphasize promotions, the student will naturally feel proud and somewhat superior as he or she advances. I think that is why all of my sensei have downplayed the importance of rank. When I received my first black belt (in high school), my sensei literally tapped me over the head with it and said, "put this on." It was no big deal. I was happy, but there was no fanfare.

Of course, I have only trained in "non-commercial" dojo. Most of the ranks I received were without charge. This might have been different if my sensei were charging hundreds or thousands of dollars. I suspect they might have made a bigger deal about such a promotion.

In Hawaii, we would say that "it's no big deal." It is a big deal if you make it one.

I met a young man at a seminar. He mentioned to me that the proudest moment of his life was earning his shodan. As part of his test, he had to fight his way out of a circle of senior black belts.

Sounds a bit dramatic to me. I hope that the young man has other moments in his life that will surpass his promotion, such as the birth of a child, marriage, spending time with an elderly parent, helping the community during a disaster, serving ones country.

Karate tends to produce saints and devils (figuratively). It is our job as instructors to avoid producing the latter. You don't put out a fire by dousing it with gasoline.

And when it comes to rank, remember that the most senior people in Karate had no rank at all. Rank is a relatively modern invention.

The best way for us to instill humility in our students it to display it in our own actions.


Charles C. Goodin

Guest Post: Judging Yourself

This Guest Post is by my friend, Mark Tankosich, who has dan rankings in both Sho-ha Shorin-ryu karate and Zen Nihon Kendo Renmei jodo. Along with the martial arts, his passions include the Japanese language. He currently lives and teaches in Hiroshima, Japan.

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I have been living in Japan for more than 13 years, but I continue to be a student of the American who has taught me karate since I was in college in the United States. I believe I've been his student for about 25 years or so now. Since this man, Sensei John Hamilton, lives in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, I don't get to see him very often. But, along with the training opportunities that come with my visits back to my hometown, I also get to practice with him when he visits me for a week each year here in Hiroshima. One of those visits took place just last week.

My "second" martial art is jodo, which I am learning from my Japanese teachers and seniors here in Japan. Since I have great respect and affection for both my American teacher and my Japanese sensei and sempai, I decided to throw a party in my home last week so that they could get to know each other.

As you might expect, my Japanese guests were curious about my American teacher, and vice versa, so I ended up showing some video tapes of both. Mutual admiration was expressed by everyone, and some new friendships seem to have been born.

What I want to mention here, though, is something that Sensei Hamilton said in an interview that appeared on one of the videos that I showed at the party. Of course I had seen the tape before, but watching it again reminded me of his words. In essence, they were as follows:

"The only way to judge yourself is against yourself. There will always be those who are not as skilled as you. Comparing yourself to them will only lead to arrogance and false pride. There will also always be those who are better than you. Comparing yourself to these people will only lead to frustration and depression. Judge yourself against yourself. Ask yourself, 'What was I yesterday? What am I today? What will I be tomorrow?'"

For me, these words carry much wisdom, and I've resolved to renew my efforts to follow them.

Mark Tankosich

Plastic Flowers

There is a saying... "It looks like a flower but it does not smell like a flower."

I have heard this applied to Karate students. The student kicks, punches, blocks, and performs kata like a Karate student but something is not quite right. It is like a flower with no smell -- a living flower should have a fragrance.

What is the Karate student missing? The answer is sincerity. A sincere student is like a living flower. Without sincerity, a student can be nothing more than a plastic flower -- an imitation of the real thing. Plastic flowers don't grow.


Charles C. Goodin

Blog Lecture Assignment

Tonight I gave an assignment to three of my senior students (Dexter, David and Charles). I asked them to read this Blog and be prepared to give a lecture in an upcoming class. They can select any topic discussed here and can expand upon it as they desire.

I will gradually ask more of my students to do the same.

I am hoping that this will not only encourage my students to read this Blog, but will also give them the opportunity to speak before the entire class. Public speaking is very difficult for some people. In fact, many are terrified of it. Addressing a class filled with fellow Karate students is a good way to practice public speaking.

I am an attorney by profession and have taught seminars to hundreds of real estate agents at a single event. I did not take speech in high school or college. What helped me most was my Karate training and teaching (I began to teach my own class at the age of 17). Addressing 300 professionals is not very different from lecturing 30 Karate students. Whenever I would begin to feel anxious or insecure when I taught a legal subject, I would remind myself that it was no different than lecturing in the dojo.

It is my hope that all of my students will become instructors -- all of them. I am specifically teaching them with that objective in mind. This Blog assignment is also directed toward that objective. Lecturing is an essential skill for a sensei.


Charles C. Goodin

78 Year Old Sensei

On Monday, I started training in a new class which meets in the cafeteria of a nearby elementary school. The sensei is a 78 year old man.

I was so impressed by him. He was light on his feet, had good muscle tone, and had a great sense of humor. I should add that he had an excellent sense of rhythm.

He was one of the most fit sensei of his age that I have ever met!

The new class I am taking is ballroom dancing.

I am taking the class with my wife, my eldest son, and his fiance (they plan to marry next year). I think that there is something very healthy about ballroom dancing. Perhaps it is because it is low impact compared to Karate training. Perhaps the music is relaxing. I don't know. But I certainly hope that I am in as good shape as our 78 year old instructor!

Movement is movement. Our Karate dynamics can improve when we study any form of movement.


Charles C. Goodin

Meeting Your Sensei

I am always meeting sensei. You might think that I mean sensei like Morio Higaonna and Professor Katsuhiko Shinzato.

No, what I mean is that when I meet a Karate student or instructor, I am meeting their sensei. When I meet Higaonna Sensei or Shinzato Sensei, I am meeting them, of course, but I am also meeting their sensei through them.

When I meet Sensei Pat Nakata, I am also meeting Choshin Chibana. When I meet Sensei Bobby Lowe, I am meeting Mas Oyama. When I meet Sensei Jimmy Miyaji, I am meeting Richard Kim. When I meet Sensei Alan Lee, I am meeting Tomu Arakawa.

And when I meet student Joe Smith, I am also meeting his sensei, whoever that may be.

Many times I am so impressed by the person's sensei. I think to myself, "what a fine sensei this person must have had." I admire the sensei's technique, etiquette, culture, and composure through the student. I am always impressed, for example, by the courtesy shown by the students of Sensei Henry Seishiro Okazaki.

On the other hand, I meet some people and wonder what kind of sensei could have taught them? I rationalize that perhaps the sensei did not have the time to complete the student's training.

When you go out in public and especially when you meet sensei of Karate or any martial arts, please keep in mind that they are meeting your sensei through you.


Charles C. Goodin

Bowing - Don't Slap

Some small points about bowing. See: Proper Bowing.

When you bow, you should place your hands lightly against the sides of your legs (or on the front of your thighs in some styles). You should not slap your hands against your legs. This would be rude. A bow should be very composed and quiet.

You should also complete the bow before stepping in any direction. Some students begin to step while they are still rising. The bow is not complete until you are standing straight. It is important to maintain zanshin (an attentive mind at the end of something) at the end of the bow. Don't let your mind run off and don't run off yourself.

Many times when a student steps before the bow is complete, his or her hands swing forward. This should also be avoided.

In my dojo, we look at the partner's feet when bowing. We do not look at the partner's eyes. This would be considered rude. While looking at the partner's feet (or ankles), we maintain peripheral vision so that we can see him (in the rare case of an attack). To look at the partner's eyes could be interpreted as a challenge.

Be sure to follow the etiquette taught in your dojo. I understand that in Kendo, however, students are taught to look at the partner's eyes. This is considered proper and polite.

Take the time to bow correctly. It will reflect positively on you.


Charles C. Goodin

Blue Lightning - Prof. Rick Clark

Last Friday, I had the pleasure of meeting Professor Rick Clark, who braved a thunderstorm during his vacation in Honolulu to visit the Hawaii Karate Museum. Prof. Clark is the head of the Ao Denkou Kai and the author of Pressure Point Fighting: A Guide to the Secret Heart of Asian Martial Arts, and 75 Down Blocks: Refining Karate Technique, both of which are in our Rare Karate Book Collection. He has taught seminars worldwide.

I had a long talk with Professor Clark about pressure point applications in Karate kata. He kindly donated a copy of his 2004 two DVD set: The Pressure Points and Applications of Naihanchi I. I thoroughly enjoyed the DVDs and recommend them. If he taught a seminar in Hawaii, I would be the first to sign up!

I am fortunate to get to meet many senior martial artists. In addition to be extremely knowledgeable about his art, Prof. Clark was friendly, articulate, humorous, and humble. If you bumped into him on the street, you probably could not tell that he had a lifetime of experience in the martial arts. But as soon as he touched your hand or pressure points, you'd know for sure.

I was already a big fan of Prof. Clark's 75 Down Blocks. The Bible teaches that if you give a man a fish you feed him for a day, but if you teach him how to fish, you feed him for a lifetime. In a similar way, many Karate books teach techniques. 75 Down Block teaches you how to analyze kata using the down block as an example. It helps you to understand all kata. I joked with Prof. Clark that he should write books on other blocks or strikes. I hope that he does. I also hope that he makes more DVDs.

Prof. Clark is a rare martial artist -- as humble as he is skilled, and as articulate as he is soft spoken. He pushes all the right buttons -- pressure points, that is.

My thanks and respect go out to him.


Charles C. Goodin

Correcting Your Sensei

Generally, don't.

I attended a seminar where senior instructors were visiting from Okinawa. One of the visitors taught a kata which apparently differed from the way it was taught at the host dojo. One of the students turned to the host sensei and said (in a loud voice), "you taught us wrong!"

This certainly is not the way to correct your sensei. Actually, you really cannot and should not correct your sensei. It is not appropriate for a student to do so, particularly in front of other students. What the sensei teaches is the right way. He can change the movements, the order, the bunkai, even the names of the kata. The sensei is the sensei.

If you have questions about what he has taught (and why he has taught it), it is best to ask him very politely in private (or at least at the side of the dojo). It might be that the sensei has made an error and will correct it. It is more likely that he is working on a certain topic and is using the kata to make a point to the class before him. The kata are not written in cement -- they are flexible tools for developing a wide range of Karate skills.

You should never say, "you made a mistake." Instead, you might say, "Sensei, I am a confused about the movement you just taught. I had been doing it differently and want to do it correctly. Shall I do it the way you just taught?"

He might say, "no, I just taught it that way for the beginners." Or, "yes, now I want you to try the movement this way." You will never know unless you ask (very politely).

In Japan and Okinawa in the past, students generally did not ask questions because it was considered rude to do so. Students would simply do as instructed. They might discuss a movement among themselves, but would not ask the sensei. Of course, some openminded sensei would entertain and even encourage questions even back then. It all depended on the sensei.

If you are going to ask a question, the main thing is to do so politely and in a way that will not embarrass the sensei if he has actually made a mistake.

I was filming my sensei performing a bo kata. It seemed to me that he was doing it a little bit differently each time. Because I was trying to make a record of the kata, I asked about the discrepancies. He answered (I am paraphrasing), "yes I do tend to do the kata differently depending on how I feel at the moment."

For a rigid thinking person, this answer would be difficult to accept. In my case, this was a perfectly acceptable answer and explained a lot about how my sensei views kata. He does not have a fixed interpretation.

He added, "you might try the kata this way or that way." "You might teach the entire sequence to beginners, and as they advance they can be more flexible in their inclusion of certain techniques."

You should also be careful because if you do "try" to correct you sensei, you could be viewed as rude. You should make sure to frame it as a polite question rather than a correction. It is exceptionally important for you not to look like you are questioning the sensei's skill or competence.

If you make it seem that you do not like or accept the "new" movement, your sensei might feel that you are attached to the "old" method and not teach you anything new... ever (or at least for a long time).

I was practicing Iaido and made a certain cut. The sensei came up to me and corrected the movement. I (stupidly) said, "sensei, I have been doing that cut that way for many years." He replied, "yes, I thought it was time to correct you." I felt about two inches tall.

When your sensei teaches you something, keep your eyes and mind wide open. Try not to miss anything. It may be a once in a lifetime opportunity. Literally, there are some things you might be taught only once in a lifetime. Don't miss the moment by comparing what is being taught now to what you learned before. There is plenty of time for comparison and reflection later, and any polite questions you have can be answered best in private.


Charles C. Goodin

Things Not To Do in the Dojo

In the Hikari Dojo you should not:

Become angry. You should remain calm and collected at all times.

Curse. You should always speak in a polite manner.

Talk loudly, unless you have been asked to lead a group or count. You should always maintain composure.

Speak negatively of another martial artist or martial art. See: Something Nice To Say.

Daydream. You must concentrate on training and maintain a heightened state of awareness.

Have dirty fingernails or toenails. They can cause infection of you accidentally cut another student.

Men should not have long fingernails or toenails. They can cut another student. You should have a fingernail cutter in your carry bag.

Drink alcohol or come to the dojo after drinking alcohol.


Chew gum or eat candy. You could choke on them.

Wear shoes or slippers. They should be lined up neatly outside the dojo or placed in your carry bag.

Wear a dirty or stinky gi. You should be considerate of others.

Wear jewelry of any kind. They could cut another student or get snagged, injuring you.

Wear make-up. It can run and get in your eyes, distracting you.

Horseplay. Do not play around in the dojo. Do not throw balls or ride bicycles or skateboards in the dojo.

Pick up another person's weapon unless you have first obtained permission.

Come to the dojo if you are ill. You might infect others. Return to the dojo when you have fully recovered.

Come to the dojo if you are taking medication that makes you drowsy or unbalanced (dizzy). Return to the dojo when are healthy.

Continue training if you feel ill, especially if you are short of breath, dizzy, feel like you have to vomit, or feel like you have to use the restroom. You should step out and ask the sensei for assistance. All students should be watchful of any students showing any signs of illness or imminent collapse.

Come to the dojo if you should be working or doing homework. You should only come to the dojo after you have attended to all other responsibilities.

Think about work or school -- concentrate on training. Leave the world in your slippers.

As students we should always try our best.


Charles C. Goodin