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1650+ Posts... and Counting

Okinawan Army Service

It is well known that the physiques of some of Anko Itosu's students was one of the reasons that Karate was allowed to be taught in the Okinawan school system. Students such as Kentsu Yabu and Chomo Hanashiro, had distinguished themselves in the Japanese Army. The Japanese administrators of the Okinawan School system were convinced (by Itosu and Kanryo Higashionna, apparently) that Karate training would improve the conditioning of the students -- and just maybe make them better potential soldiers.

Here is the irony. Many of the young men who came to Hawaii from Okinawa, did so to avoid military service. When you speak to the elders here, many readily admit that this was the reason.

You have to understand that Okinawans were second class citizens in Japan in the early part of the 1900s. The Ryukyu Kingdom had been abolished in 1879. A prolonged period of forced assimilation followed. Okinawan conscripts to the Japanese military likely faced prejudice and the least desireable, most dangerous assignments.

Thus it was that many Okinawan young men sought their fortunes in places like Hawaii (as well as the mainland United States and South America). Some of those who came to Hawaii also brought Karate with them. In 1927, several were reunited with Yabu Sensei, who was on the way back to Okinawa from California, where he had stayed for eight years. He stayed here for about eight months, and taught Karate on Oahu and Kauai.

Yabu was also known as Yabu Gunso ("Sergeant"), Yabu Chusa ("Lieutenant"), and Yabu No Tanme ("elder"). Admiral Kenwa Kanna was also in Hawaii during Yabu's visit. I wonder if any of Yabu's students had come to Hawaii to avoid military service? Perhaps we'll never know.

Respectfully,

Charles C. Goodin

James Mitose's What is Self-Defense?



The Hawaii Karate Museum has just acquired What Is Self Defense? (Kenpo Jiu-Jitsu), by Professor James M. Mitose. Written in 1947, the book was published in 1953. This may have been the first Karate book published in English, and was certainly the first Karate book ever published in Hawaii.


We just acquired the "Two Man" cover (above, left). The title page of this version is above, center. We believe this to be the first version, published in 1953. We already had the "Mon" cover (above, right), believed to have been published later that year. We are very happy to now have both versions of this important book!

We have reviewed two copies of the "Two Men" edition (the other belongs to my friend, Professor Kimo Ferreira), and they differed from each other! Since the book was privately published, it is possible that there were differences from one copy to another.


Mitose appears to have taught a mixture of Ju Jutsu and basic, application oriented Karate. The makiwara section of his book is remarkably similar to the makiwara section of Choki Motobu's Watashi no Karate Jutsu (1932). The photograph of Motobu (with crossed arms) that appears in Mitose's book is from Watashi no Karate Jutsu. Motobu is described as "The great master of Karate Kenpo." The photograph of the "Master of Karate Kenpo demonstrating the breaking of tile, five pieces all at one punch" appearing on the same page is from Mizuho Mutsu's Karate Kenpo (1933). The "Master of Karate Kenpo" is none other than Kamesuke Higashionna, then of Toyo University. Higashionna's mother lived on the Big Island. He taught Karate there at various time before and after World War II. The photograph of "Daruma Before Emporer Wu or Butei" is also from Mizuho Mutsu's Karate Kenpo. Mutsu was originally a student of Gichin Funakoshi. However, he and Kamesuke Higashionna later became students of Motobu. They came to Hawaii in 1933 at Motobu's urging.

Mitose deserves recognition for several reasons. First, he openly taught his Kempo/Kenpo to students of any race. Karate in Hawaii at this time was generally restricted to the Okinawan community. Mitose also emphasized practical applications rather than kata. While this was common in Ju Jutsu, most Karate schools in Japan at that time were kata oriented. An exception to this was Motobu's Daidokan Dojo, which was also application oriented. Finally, Mitose's book is arguably the first Karate book ever written in English. Although he did not use the term "Karate," his art would certainly be characterized today as a form of Karate.

Do you know of any other 1953 versions of this book? If so, please contact me.

My start in Karate was actually in Kenpo Karate. I began studying in high school under Florentino S. Pancipanci and Edward Wallce, both of whom were students of Marino Tiwanak of the CHA3 Kenpo organization. I taught Kenpo at Hickam Air Force Base, and later began the practice of Shorin-Ryu while still in high school. Today, I teach the Kishaba Juku form of Shorin-Ryu, but am still influenced by my Kenpo training.

Respectfully,

Charles C. Goodin

Koshi -- No Koshi

In the Kishaba Juku form of Shorin-Ryu that I practice and teach, the koshi is used to generate and direct power (it is actually more complicated than that). Except when a person is an advanced expert, the movement of the koshi is noticeable. An expert can "hide" the koshi motion within his gi or even within his body -- and still generate tremendous power. But, for the most part, our koshi motion is visible.

Many times, when people from other styles have observed my kata, they comment, "We used to practice koshi but they stopped teaching it." One of my Shotokan friends mentioned this to me more than once.

Shotokan in Hawaii began with Kiyoshi Aihara, who came from Waseda University. He was followed by Kanazawa Sensei, Mori Sensei, and Asai Sensei. Each of these sensei, while teaching Shotokan, taught their own way. I am not sure when koshi was taught or discontinued.

If you practice with koshi, it is easy to see when another person is using it. In some cases, a person might use large but uncoordinated koshi. The result is poorly focused power. In other cases, a person might have a smooth koshi but not know how to "set" it. This looks like jello. An advanced student of koshi will look like a "steel whip" or "iron silk." Someone who has internalized koshi completely will look like he is not using it at all -- but the power will give it away.

It is much easier to use no koshi -- to move with the arms and legs alone. But there is a natural limit to the power that can be generated without koshi. It takes much longer to learn Karate using koshi -- but the limits are also set much higher.

If you were going to learn Karate for three years, I would suggest that koshi should be skipped. Just learn to move cleanly. But if you are going to learn for 10 years or longer, I would suggest that you learn koshi.

A three year student will not have reached his limits. Thus, non-koshi movement will be fine. A 10, 20 or 30 year student will have already reached his physical limits. Unless koshi movement is learned, training will become more and more frustrating, especially as the aging process sets in.

The Kishaba Juku system was not developed for beginners. It actually started as an advanced training group. Most of the "students" were already yudansha and instructors, some quite high. My point is that the system was developed to address the needs of people who, because of their age and years of training, had already reached their limits using "ordinary" mechanics. For them, it was koshi or else.

I do not know why some styles used to teach koshi here in Hawaii and then stopped. I can say that it takes longer to teach a student when koshi is part of the curriculum. It is one thing to teach 20 students how to use koshi -- it is quite another to teach 500 students. In addition, children do not need to learn koshi as much as adults -- again this is because they have not reached the limits of ordinary mechanics. But if the child will train until adulthood, it is worth the investment of time and effort to teach koshi.

The prime candidate for koshi is an advanced student who has learned "ordinary" mechanics, hit his limits, and is so frustrated that he feels like quitting Karate altogether. This was me when I met my sensei. I was literally a drowning man gasping for air.

Koshi was what I needed to re-energize my Karate training. Actually, it did not re-energize it as much as it required me to re-engineered it, and in the process reset my limits.

Koshi is not the ultimate answer. A student who can use koshi still has to learn how to apply techniques, how to move, how to protect his centerline, how to shift weight, how to float and sink and bounce, how to "stab" and "poke", how to transfer power, how to move freely in any direction, how to see the attacker's movement before it begins, etc.

When I was a child, I played with balsa wood gliders. Karate without koshi is like that. Karate with koshi is like a balsa wood plane with a propeller and rubber band. That's an interesting analogy -- koshi as a propeller. Koshi does help to "propel" movement. There are simply things you can do with koshi that you cannot do without.

For me, the choice is not koshi or no koshi, it is koshi or no Karate.

See: Koshi; Rabbit Koshi; Koshi Wo Hineru; Approaching the Whip.

Respectfully,

Charles C. Goodin

Robotic Karate

I was watching a Karate DVD earlier today. As you can tell, I watch a lot of these. Anyway, my daughter happened to walk by and said, "Dad, that guy looks like a robot."

My daugther is a dancer. She has danced for nine years, and has a very good sense of movement. Even my Sensei suggested that we might try to learn something about footwork and weight positioning from my daughter.

My daughter thought this person looked like a robot. I started to think about it. Actually, many Karate people I have observed looked like robots. I am not talking about beginners. I am talking about quite advanced people.

Should Karate look robotic? Think about the best receivers in football, the best golfers, the best dancers... none of them look robotic. The best athletes are "poetry in motion." Did you ever watch Jerry Rice leap over defenders to catch a football? No robot could do that.

Shouldn't that same fluidity of motion, of timing, of relaxation and concentrated strength, be present in Karate?

We are not robots.

Respectfully,

Charles C. Goodin

Observing Demonstrations

Whenever I observe a Karate demonstration, whether live, or on a video or DVD, I pay special attention to the way the performer generates power.

All styles are different. Even people in the same style can move differently. Techniques vary widely. Comparing one technique to another does not make much sense.

But it is fair to question power generation. How does the performer generate power? Is it all from his upper body? Is it just from his arms and legs? Does power from his lower body transfer to his upper body. Does the power come from the inside and radiate outwards? Does he use his whole body or just part? Does he use his koshi? Is he intentionally hiding his power generation or using a basic method because he is in public?

Now here's the big question. Is the power he generates more than the sum of his parts? In other words, do his body dynamics give him an advantage? Is his power somehow boosted?

Sometimes I see a large person generate very little power. In constrast, a small, slight person might be a virtual dynamo. Why? How?

In Kishaba Juku, skilled students and instructors generate power using their koshi as something of a central processor and transfer point. Power is generated using the whole body, and is directed as desired.

Other styles might generate power differently.

Good is good and power is power. Again, the question is how?

Another question I ask is how I would defend against the type of power generation being used by a person I am watching. This is a really good question when observing Goju-Ryu experts. They move very differently than Shorin-Ryu practitioners and generate power differently as well.

Which generates more power per square inch -- a sledge hammer or an ice pick? I guess it depends.

I should add that I can't always figure out how a person generates power. I do not understand all methods of generating power, or even many of the ways.

But our focus should be on power generation. Techniques are only ways of generating and transferring power. The more we recognize this in others, the more we can work on it ourselves.

Respectfully,

Charles C. Goodin

Gust Post: Drum Technique - AKA My Favorite Supplemental 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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Remember the 2nd Karate Kid movie where Mr. Miyagi taught Daniel San that the secret of his Family's Karate could be found in that little drum?

Well, there are a lot of koshi ideas represented in that drum.

I personally have kept one in my Dojo since I started teaching and use it regularly to describe a couple of the principles of using koshi to make and direct power in Karate techniques.

While the drum can't possibly convey all of the concepts inherent in the study of koshi, there are several principles that I think it can help to illustrate:
  1. Alignment - the handle that you hold on to to spin the drum with can represent the centerline of the body
  2. Dynamic compression - the drum head is taut but still flexible. This represents the compression of the koshi.
  3. Relaxed arms connected to the lats directed by the koshi - As you spin the drum in your hands you can see the way the arms move in relation to the type of rotation applied. Simple horizontal rotation in one direction, say to the left, will move the right "arm." Compound rotation such as to the left and quickly to the right and both move. The quicker the spin and return to "Neutral" (drumhead facing forward), the faster the arms swing out in a whiplike "Koshi Motion."
There is much more to koshi than this, of course, but the drum can help illustrate some points.

Want to know more? "Ask Drum!"

Bill Lucas

Bunkai -- Right, Left

When considering the applications of a technique (bunkai), one guideline is that the technique should work for both a right and left attack.

Take a right middle block. If the attacker throws a right punch, we can use this block. If he throws a left punch, we can also use this block. The block does not change depending on whether the attacker throws a right or left punch.

This is extemely important. When we are standing facing an attacker, we do not know what he is going to do. We do not know whether he is going to throw a right or left punch (or some other technique). What we do know is how we are standing, our body orientation, our surroundings, and what blocks/strikes we can do best in that position.

We will not choose a specific block based on what the attacker does. There is no time for that level of detail. We will, instead, defend our zones (lower, middle, upper) with our best block/strike. I use the term "block/strike" because our defense might be block, might be a strike, or might be a combination of the two. Who knows?

But what we should know if that our defense will work against a right or left attack. This requires us to practice against both attacks in the dojo. We would not switch our defense at the last minute. That is a sure way to get hit, especially if the attacker throws a fake.

Respectfully,

Charles C. Goodin

Formalities

I am working with Graham Noble on an interview of Sensei Pat Nakata, who first trained with Sensei Chosin Chibana in 1962. Nakata Sensei mentioned that at that time, students were not required to bow when entering and leaving the dojo, at the beginning and end of class, or at the beginning and end of kata.

When I went to Okinawa in 2002, I also noticed that there was much less emphasis on bowing formalities. I saw students who entered and left the dojo without bowing, which would be considered improper in a Japanese dojo.

Connecting my obervations with Nakata Sensei's, I started to think, "were bowing and other formalities added to Karate on mainland Japan?"

I think that the answer is in the affirmative. Such formalities were followed much less in Okinawa. Today, if they are followed, it may be as a result of Okinawan instructors copying the way things are done on mainland Japan. If they do it in Japan, Okinawans should do it too. Right?

It is a little like the term "oss." Okinawan sensei generally do not use it. However, if they teach enthusiastic Japanese or foreign students who expect them to say "oss", they might end up doing so. See Os - Osu.

Courtesy is essential in Karate. Okinawa is known as the land of courtesy. However, there is a big difference between the feeling of courtesy and the technical formalities of courtesy. Bowing is a formality. It is more important that the student feel courtesy -- merely learning to bow correctly is unimportant (because it can be done without the right feeling).

The ranking system, titles, the gi, belts, and much of the formalities of Karate were created, added on, or adopted in mainland Japan. People who learned there probably assumed that they were always part of Karate, but they were not in Okinawa (until they were copied).

Even the kanji for the name "Karate" was different in Okinawa. In Okinawa, "Tang (or China) Hand" was used. In Japan, this was changed to "Empty Hand." Today most people use "Empty Hand" and assume that it has always been used. But it was not popular until the 1930s. Before that, "Tang (or China) Hand" was used almost exclusively.

Why eliminate "China?" Okinawans were very close to China -- that is where and from whom they learned Karate. Japan fought wars with China. How could "China Hand" be taught on mainland Japan? In fact, how could "Okinawan Hand" be taught? Okinawans were a distinct minority in a land where the majority ruled.

My point is that we should not assume that the things we take for granted in "Karate" came from Okinawa. Many things, including a focus on formalities, were added on mainland Japan. I am not saying that this is right or wrong, merely that we should be aware of it.

Please also see Bowing in a Circle, Parts 1 and 2.

Respectfully,

Charles C. Goodin

Karate -- An Okinawan Cultural Treasure

Karate is many things to many people. But we should not forget that it is first and foremost an Okinawan cultural treasure.

Last Friday, I gave a Karate history/culture lecture to an Okinawan Studies class at a local college. Every time I give such a lecture, whether at a college, a cultural center, or even a dojo, someone invariably asks, "Is Karate Okinawan? I always thought it was Japanese."

While it is true that Okinawa has been a prefecture of Japan for well over 100 years, Karate developed in the old Ryukyu Kingdom. It might be difficult for some teachers from Japan to give much credit to a Kingdom that was formally abolished and absorbed. After the annexation, Okinawa became one of the poorest prefectures in Japan, one of the reasons so many Okinawans migrated to Hawaii, the United States and South America.

Today, far more people practice Karate outside of Okinawa and Japan than inside. Each of us -- whether Asian, American, European, African, Australian, etc. -- has the chance to preserve Karate as an Okinawan cultural treasure. Karate does not exist in books, photographs, weapons or artifacts. It only exists in the lives of the students who practice it.

As such, this cultural treasure is inside each and every of us. Style or system does not matter. The roots of all forms of Karate are in Okinawa. We are, or could be, ambassadors of Karate. What a great responsibility! People will see the art through us and by our actions.

Okinawan elders in Hawaii have often told me, "If you want to study Karate, you should also study the Okinawan culture." I give the same advice to all my students.

Study the culture that produced this treasure you carry inside yourself.

Respectfully,

Charles C. Goodin

Age And Rank

There is a connection between age and rank. For higher ranks, there is usually a minimum age and a minimum number of years of practice and/or years since last promotion. The age and year requirements are minimums and prerequisites. A person is never entitled to rank merely because of age or years of practice.

Karate is a skill. As with any endeavor requiring skill, some people are more skilled than others. A singer who has practiced singing for many years does not necessarily sing well. This makes sense. But in Karate, there is a general belief (or misbelief) that a person who has trained for many years is skilled. That may or may not be true.

Age does not entitle one to rank. Age entitles one to respect befitting that age. Rank and respect are two different things.

When I studied Aikido, my sensei was a 6th dan. There was an elderly gentleman who was, I believe, a 1st dan. He was older than my sensei but had not studied Aikido as long or as intensively. My sensei respected the gentleman as a person and also respected his age. However, the elderly gentleman respected my sensei as his sensei and senior in Aikido.

My point is that a person could be 60, 70, 80, or even 90 years old and still have a kyu or low dan ranking. It all depends. There is no shame in any rank. The only shame is not to deserve one's rank.

While age does not entitle one to rank, age can be required for rank. I do not think that it makes much sense to promote a young child to 1st dan. I similarly do not think it makes much sense to promote a 20 year old to 8th dan. Such a rank may be more appropriate for someone who is at least 60 or 65, or even older. Advanced rank requires maturity.

In my dojo, a student must be at least 17 in order to earn a 1st dan. If he or she starts very young, this may require many years of practice. An adult could earn shodan in fewer years. For example, one of my students trained for 12 years before earning shodan. He started training at the age of 5. Thus 12 years were required before he reached the age of 17. By that time, he had already taught many adults who earned 1st dan before him.

Of course, rank is very relative, and to some extent, irrelevant. It seems to be a necessary evil in this modern world. There was no ranking system in the "old days." At some point in the past, Karate instructors began to promote themselves and each other, following the format used in Judo and the early Dai Nippon Butokukai.

I think that a student should accept rank with a sense of responsibility and a willingness to train harder. That's all.

But it is important to keep in mind that rank depends on ability. Ability may or may not come with age. It all depends on the student.

Age itself is deserving or respect -- but not rank.

Respectfully,

Charles C. Goodin

More On A Poor Demonstration

When we see a poor demonstration of Karate, we have to ask ourself, "what level is this person?"

Beginners will naturally make mistakes. Even after 10 or 20 years, a student is still learning the basics. If such a student gives a poor performance, often the only thing needed is more more time and practice. We should say, "good effort... keep it up!" You would not criticize a cake for being undercooked when it has only been in the oven for 20 minutes!

But sometimes the reason that a person performs poorly is because they have always practiced poorly. Many years later, they become the instructor -- faults and all. In such a case, more time and practice are not what is needed. A cake with the wrong ingredients will not improve, even if you cook it longer.

Again, I am not saying that we should be critical of others -- if anything, we should be critical of ourselves.

It is hard for a Judo instructor to rise to a high level if he does not understand Judo. You cannot fake a throw. A poor instructor of Judo will always be thrown (quite easily) by a skilled instructor.

In Karate, it is possible for instructors to rise to a high level in isolation. Without contact with other seniors, faults are not corrected. Once a certain high level is reached, it is almost impossible for an instructor to correct himself.

One senior instructor here in Hawaii mentioned to me that it was better in the "old days" because instructors could not just talk -- they had to be willing to accept challenges. Just as in Judo, you cannot fake Karate techniques with a skilled opponent. You can either do it, or not.

When you correct a beginner, he is usually very grateful. We actually cannot correct a senior. It would not be appropriate. Even that person's senior might not want to correct him. It is a Catch-22 situation.

The important thing is to open to corrections -- to be willing to always learn and improve. As soon as we think that we "get it," we become fixed and frozen. It is like the Emporer's New Clothes. We will think we are magnificent, when actually our faults are plain to see.

We must always maintain a beginner's mind and heart.

Respectfully,

Charles C. Goodin

A Poor Demonstration

Last night I watched a video of an instructor giving a Karate demonstration. In all honestly, I have to say that it was one of the poorest demonstrations I have ever seen. You've probably seen your share of poor demonstrations over the years too.

It is easy to criticize another person's performance. But nothing good comes from it. The better question is "what aspects of the performance were poor, incorrect or improper?" If we can identify this, then we can learn something. And the more imporant question is whether we have any of the same faults. If so, we should be grateful to the other person for helping us to realize this.

It is extremely difficult to compare styles. What is right in one style might be wrong in another. The same movement in a Pinan kata might be practiced three different ways in three different styles.

But I have found that good is basically good, irrespective of style. A truly skilled person is rare in any style. A truly skilled person in Shorin-Ryu is just as rare as a truly skilled person in Shotokan or Goju-Ryu or Kenpo Karate. Style is not as important as the commitment and insight of the student practicing it.

Seeing a poor demonstration should wake us up -- should make us review our own movements and body mechanics. It can also help us to appreciate how difficult Karate can be for people. What if the demonstrator's student joined your dojo? By seeing the teacher, you could better understand the student.

We've all seen poor demonstrations. We've probably also given our fair share of them. I know that I have.

Respectfully,

Charles C. Goodin

If Can Can... Again

On July 22nd, I wrote a post entitled If Can Can... At that time, there was a water main break that prevented us from using our facility for Karate class. Today, there was another water main break -- the third in a short time.

But the saying still applies. If can can, if cannot cannot.

Tonight we cannot use our facility, but that is not the end of the world. We are very fortunate to have such a large and convenient place to train.

We only started training on Monday evenings this month. Since then, we have missed a couple of classes.

One good thing is that I now how more time on Saturdays. My wife commented that our yard is getting very nice since I have more time on weekends to tend to it. I must have been doing a poor job before if the difference is so noticeable.

We should try our best at whatever we do, and not let little inconveniences get in our way. We should always keep a positive attitude and use occassional breaks in training to rest or do something else productive.

If cannot do one thing, do something else.

Respectfully,

Charles C. Goodin

Which Urinal?

This post is mostly for men.

You enter a public restroom at the airport, a hotel, or theater. There are five urinals against the wall to your right. All are vacant. The one closest to you is #1 and the one farthest away is #5. Urinal #5 is in the corner (next to the back wall) . All are vacant. Which urinal do you select?

If the select the closest one (#1), people entering and leaving the restroom will pass by you (behind you), and someone might stand next to you in urinal #2.

If you select urinal #2, people could stand next to you in urinals #1 and #3. People could also walk behind you.

If you select urinal #3, people could stand next to you in urinals #2 and #4. People could also walk behind you.

If you select urinal #4, people could stand next to you in urinals #3 and #5. People could also walk behind you.

If you select urinal #5, only one person could stand next to you (in urinal #4). The fewest number of people could pass behind you, but you would be next to a wall (to your left).

So which one do you pick (assuming they are equally clean, they all work, etc.)?

Urinals #1 and #5 are best in the sense that only one person could stand next to you. But urinal #1 is exposed to more potential traffic. And urinal #5 offers the poorest access to an escape route. But some people prefer to fight with their back against a wall to prevent a second attacker from sneaking up from behind.

Actually, in many restrooms all of the urinals are against a wall with the enclosed toilets behind them. This means that as a person stands facing a urinal, there is a door or doors behind him. Who knows who might be hiding behind a door -- an armed attacker?

What does this have to do with Karate? Everything. When he enters a public restroom, a Karate expert will always evaluate the risks, escape routes, wall placement, etc. He will check to see if there are troublemakers in the restroom.

One of our most vulnerable times is when we are standing in a public restroom using a urinal. What if a person wanted to stab us in the back? We could be looking the wrong way and our hands would be... occupied. What if the two people standing next to us were working with the attacker?

There was a scene in Terminator #1 in which Arnold Schwarzenegger's character entered a bar and was looking for clothes. Of course, he was supposed to be a robot. Using his robot eyes, he scanned the people in the bar looking for someone whose clothes would fit him. Through his eyes, we could see a computer grid superimposed over the people.

In a somewhat similar way, we must constantly scan our surroundings to be on guard for potential threats. Whether in a public restroom, a parking lot, or a line at a fast food restraurant, we must be on guard. We have to use "Karate radar," especially when using a urinal.

Respectfully,

Charles C. Goodin

Guest Article: Inside Out

This Guest Article is by my friend, Angel Lemus, of the Zentokukai Okinawa Shorinryu Toude Association. Angel was a writer and editor of Bugeisha, one of the finest Karate journals ever published. He teaches at the Ninchokan Dojo, in Los Angeles, California. This article was submitted, partially in response to my post, Kuzushi -- Breaking Balance.

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Printed in American Samurai 2002

Inside Out
Martial Arts and Sports: Can you tell the difference?

By Angel Lemus

Two Definitions from Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary:
Sport
Etymology: Middle English, to divert, disport, short for disporten
Date: 15th century
1 a : to amuse oneself : b : to engage in a sport
2 a : to mock or ridicule something b : to speak or act in jest : Trifle
3 [2sport] : to deviate or vary abruptly from: Mutate

Mar·tial
Etymology: Middle English, from Latin martialis of Mars, from Mart-, Mars
Date: 14th century
1 : of, relating to, or suited for war or a warrior
2 : relating to an army or to military life
3 : experienced in or inclined to war : Warlike
In today's busy world we see more and more emphasis on sports competition everywhere we look. In the past we were limited to the basics - Olympics, or amateur/professional sports (Baseball, Football, Boxing, Tennis, Golf etc). Recently, clever marketing has brought us things like the ultimate fighting challenge, survival shows, extreme everything, and even remote controlled robot wars with instant replays and sports announcers - 100% unadulterated total entertainment.

There is nothing wrong with most competition or sports, they foster discipline, hard work, teamwork, and the pursuit of excellence. Historically, tests of physical prowess in the form of athletic skills (combative and non combative) have been in practice for centuries. The Olympics for example have noncombative events like running and jumping, and some that stem from martial combat, like wrestling and the javelin throw.

The middle ages had the famed jousts where knights simulated life and death collisions on horseback. But the Roman Empire which brought us the Gladiators (from the Latin word gladius: sword) was the real ultimate fighting challenge where mortal combat and sport came together in their purest form. It was certainly no sport for the gladiators (as we define a sport today); in most cases it was a fight to the death. But it was a sport and pasttime to the spectators who watched it from the stands of the Coliseum in Rome like we sit at home today watching a pay-per-view fight.

In today's modern world of martial arts practices we find two main branches. On one side you will find the traditionalists who do not compete in tournaments and practice martial arts employing old time training methods, principles and focus mainly on self defense. And on the other side you have the modern sports practitioners, who train just as hard and sometimes even harder, but have an altogether different motive that is driven by competition, winning and ranking. There are of course those who fit somewhere in the middle of these two extremes, but this article is not about these folks.

That being said, what makes these two groups different from each other? Is it that one group competes and the other does not? The answer is not that simple, and involves complex physical and psychological perspectives. Kata, which is the "old testament" of Karate teaching, will be the focus of comparison to illustrate some of these differences. We will explore sport kata as it is done for competition, and martial kata as it is done to develop real life combative-survival skills.

Before I begin, I need to stress that this is not an article bashing sport karate, for I have nothing but the utmost respect for those who compete, and for their dedication in pursuit of excellence through that medium. Many years ago I was heavily involved with competition in sports karate and I loved it. The purpose of this article is to inform, clarify and enlighten, especially the young new generation of sports karate practitioners who may not be aware of the other side.

Worlds Apart

Sports karate and martial karate look very similar to the average onlooker who has not had the opportunity to be shown the differences. Focusing on karate, you will see similar stances, kata (prearranged forms), teaching and practicing methods. Most similarities therefore are "external" in nature, things which can be seen by others or by the practitioner if he/she were to look in a mirror.

In a sports oriented school where the teaching is based on tournament competition, the teacher's primary end goal is to have the student perform the kata in such a way that permits onlooking judges to clearly see every single move and have the time to discern and evaluate each posture. They look at the visual elements of the stance (width, height, foot positioning, body posture etc…), with less emphasis on how they got there and what happened between each posture. This is very important, for if the kata were to be done any other way; too fast and/or fluid without the pauses we typically see today, judges would have a hard time evaluating the kata. The established criteria for judging mentioned above, would not be applicable and presumably the performer would get a lower score than someone who was purposely stopping to show each move.

Let's explore some of the fundamental principles that differ between sport karate and karate-jutsu (martial art).

A Balancing Act

Sports balance is like a triangle, extremely sturdy and immovable at the point where a practitioner is demonstrating a stance in a movement in kata. Why is this so? Because of the need to pause and stop all movement in order for judges to have a good look at you. Sports karate, and the way sports kata competitions have developed over the years, have created a unique "language of movement", a dialect from it's parent, martial kata. This dialect uses extremely low and wide stances which are impressive to look at, and certainly demonstrate physical discipline in this area. But does it translate the original intent? The answers would have to be "not really".

Martial balance in kata practice is the total opposite, it should feel wobbly or in a state of flux where the practitioner feels as if about to fall over in the direction of the next movement. Moving this way emphasizes no pauses or abrupt stops in kata like it's sport counterpart. This does not mean that there are no pauses in a martial kata, there are, but even in pauses one would be slightly off balance, ready to fall into the next movement.

Martial kata practice focuses on the internal feel of the movement, as opposed to sport kata which is to focus on how you look externally to the onlooker or judge.

According to Oshiro Sensei, some of the most senior instructors going back one or two generations feel that if they or their instructors were to compete in kata today they would loose because they would look wobbly and/or give the perception that they did not have good balance or timing. If you were to see some of the old film footage of Okinawan masters doing kata, most of them look somewhat fragile and off balance in their demonstrations and not very powerful at all. One could easily assume this is so because they were very old at the time that motion film cameras were available to shoot their performances, and that they were much more dynamic and powerful at a younger age. But according to those who trained with them this was not necessarily the case. They looked the way they did on purpose because they had no reason to stop/pause or be forceful. They were not performing for competition or to be judged by anyone.

Are there really stances in Karate?

We have heard at some point or another that stances are for fighting. This statement is both true and false. Let's look at the true part; yes there are positions like front stance, cat stance, etc… these are modern day teaching tools to introduce new students quickly to certain postures and to attach a name to each so that they can be quickly memorized. But learning a bunch of postures does not convey the meaning of what they represent, especially when it comes to a combative scenario in which the combatant is never in one place for more than a fraction of a second at a time. The best example that can be given is in tournaments today: when was the last time anyone saw someone in the sparring division use a cat stance or a cross legged stance?

You will hear some say that stances are for balance, or being rooted to the ground so you can deliver a more powerful strike. Oshiro Sensei points out, that "one does not need, nor should be rooted to anything in order to deliver the most powerful of strikes, it is totally the opposite." So what is this secret message that stances are trying to tell us? Stances by themselves do not tell you anything other than a weird way to position your feet and hold your body up.

"The secret of stances is not to be in them, but to move thru them".

When you look at it this way, stances become almost invisible, or part of the background of a picture where you are focusing on the "subject" or foreground object. The point of focus in martial kata or combat is the intent and effectiveness of the move which you are doing, the punch, block or kick and to react into the next scenario. Therefore stances should not be emphasized in martial Karate.

According to Oshiro Sensei, in the "old days" teachers would tell the students "follow me" as they demonstrate kata. They did not have names for the individual stances nor did they have books, handouts, and lists like in today's dojos. The teacher had an internal sense of movement from one point in the kata to another and knew what body postures would translate his body weight to deliver the next strike. The student had to follow the teacher and learn by moving in a flowing manner to the timing and tempo of the kata. Old time training was like an "apprenticeship" program where one learns a trade, and learns it to be the successor of the teacher or master.

In sports kata, the emphasis in weight distribution in stances is over emphasized in comparison to martial kata. In martial kata, movement through the postures is more neutral and flowing, so that an onlooker could not follow your footwork, therefore predicting your next movement would be difficult.

As you can see, it is literally like night and day when comparing philosophies in the way sports karate and martial karate use stances. If you competed in any tournament today and did not emphasize and "illustrate in picture perfect form" the stances, nor did you pause long enough in them, the judges would clearly think that you are not disciplined and poorly demonstrating each "frame" of the kata, thus you would get a low score.

On the other hand, in the kumite or sparring part of the tournament, the same judges would totally ignore stances and pausing. In total contrast, you are expected to move constantly, and move extremely fast. The end goal has nothing to do with the way you "looked" getting that point, the only important thing is that you got the "point".

So why is it that we do not see tournament competitors fight like the way they demonstrate kata? If kata is supposed to teach us how to fight, it should look and feel very close to the actual fighting, should it not?

There is yet another aspect of stances that is not addressed in sports, which is that stances by themselves are weapons no different than a fist is used to strike an opponent. A stance can be used to break not only the opponent's balance, but also his leg joints (ankle and knee). A stance can also be used to block an attacking kick. Stances are also the devices used by many of the grappling arts (Judo, Jujitsu Aikido) to throw the opponent off balance. All these elements are parts of martial karate and are completely overlooked by sports for obvious reasons of safety (and of course litigation).

The difference between sports and martial kata

"Kata is fighting"
"In kata, you are fighting multiple opponents coming at you from multiple angles"

We have all heard these explanations over the years, but neither is 100% accurate. Kata is not really for fighting when you are doing it. And you are certainly not fighting multiple opponents. Kata was not really designed that way. In order to really fight, you need to have someone "REALLY" trying to hurt you, so it is by definition, impossible to say that you are fighting in kata. You are definitely pretending, but not really fighting.

The primary lesson in kata is to teach you how to "move" properly. The word "move" is very important in this context because if you are to learn how to move for the purpose of fighting, it should be smooth, fast and fluid without unnecessary pauses. Why has sports kata become so different from martial kata? A lot of it has to do with history and cultural differences. Two of the main reasons kata has lost much of it's meaning are: 1) the opening up of karate to the general public and teaching of karate to children in public schools; 2) the adoption of military training tactics and attitudes into karate teaching by the Japanese universities in the early 1920s. In both of these instances, the old time master-disciple relationship and individualized instruction was lost. Oshiro Sensei states that much of the "jutsu" or martial destructive techniques where never taught to this generation of students because of the emphasis on competition.

In addition, the teaching in large numbers (especially young kids) prohibits individual attention. Techniques are broken down by the numbers so that everyone is doing the same thing at the same time and the teacher can see better (much like general military training). So kata practice became a move "by the numbers" practice and it's original fluidity and smoothness was lost over time. Teaching "by the numbers" is OK when first teaching the sequence to a beginner, but once the sequence is learned it should not be practiced this way any longer. Continuing to do this is detrimental to the student's ability to learn fluid transitions between each posture. Many schools today get stuck in the "by the numbers" method of practicing kata and you see beginners and high ranking black belts moving the same way. Thus you see little to no difference between an advanced practitioner and a beginner.

Another misconception about kata is the notion of there being beginner and advanced kata. This is not really the case. There are long and short kata, and there are some with more complex movements than others, but what makes it look basic and advanced is not the kata itself but the person doing it. In sports competition today, since there is very little distinction between junior's kata and senior practitioner's kata (they both move and look very similar due to the stop and go movements), we find that what are "deemed" advanced kata are being taught to junior practitioners (even those under black belt rank) in order to be more competitive.

The REAL difference between an advanced kata and a beginning kata is never the kata itself, but the person doing it.

Other factors which make sports kata very different from martial kata is that in sports, there is attention payed to your overall presentation; the way your gi looks, your facial expressions when you kiai, the number of kiai, how strong you look on the outside. None of these things matter in martial kata, for all these are show and presentation factors. In martial kata all that matters is that you (the person doing the kata) understand the principles of movement, power transfer from the inside to the outside (your opponent) and the psychological state of mind in a real combative scenario. It is a very introspective process where the "outside" is of little importance to the person practicing martial kata.

Unfortunately the mass propagation of karate to the world, which was a good thing, had a very detrimental side effect, the degradation of its understanding. Thus generations have been practicing kata "by the numbers" and each new generation who remains in this context of practice gets further and further away from its original intent and understanding.

What is power?

Power in martial arts is a very misunderstood concept. In western society the general concept of power in an individual is having big muscles and/or being big in size. Sports karate in general, having no real way to focus power (never hitting anything or using the art for it's original intent) has over time, focused power externally. An example is; while performing kata, the tightening of the muscles all over the body and the general stiffness that implies kata being an isometric exercise which shows off how "powerful" the performer is to the onlooker (or judge). By tightening the body, the practitioner keeps his energy within his/her own body. Let's put this in a combative context to illustrate the problem; if you are stiff when impacting a target, the energy transfer will be minimal since it is being held inside of the hitter's the body. Of course someone punching this way can hurt another, but the amount of damage would increase tremendously if the technique were done properly. This way of dealing with power can be labeled as "outside to inside"- everything is going back into the practitioner.

Power in martial kata is the total opposite. Again it does not matter how one looks to the onlooker, the only thing that matters is what happens when impact is made to the opponent or target. One should look soft and very relaxed on the outside, in fact, the weaker you look the more powerful your strike will be (is this REALLY true?). This is definitely not a good recipe for sports kata, for if you did your kata this way in tournament you would be seen as lacking kime (focus) and of course judges would give you a low score. This way of dealing with power can be labeled as "inside to outside", everything is going out to the target.

Inside out

The goal of this article is to point out some of the differences between sports and martial karate and to plant a seed of curiosity within the reader to explore deeper into the martial aspects of the art and not to accept anything at its face value. Again, there is nothing wrong with sports, but to call a sport a martial art is misleading.

No one competes in sports karate forever. Unfortunately many dedicated sports karate competitors hang up their belts permanently when their competition days are over. The personal study of karate as a martial art, liberates one from the limitations and restricting rules of sport. Thus, knowing that there is more to karate than sports and competition, perhaps the end of the sports phase can lead to a new beginning and a rediscovery of the art in it's original form.

End

Author Information:

Sensei Angel Lemus is a Shorinji-Ryu Karate practitioner and co founder of the Okinawa Shorinji-ryu Karate-do Zentokukai, an organization devoted to preserving the Karate of Chotoku Kyan. He is also a member Sensei of the RBKD under Shihan Oshiro and teaches in West Los Angeles, California. He can be reached at nincho@comcast.net.

References:

Shihan Toshihiro Oshiro is a widely recognized authority on the history and techniques of traditional Okinawan martial arts, and with his dojo, he is dedicated to the preservation and propagation of Matsubayashi Shorin-ryu karate and Yamanni Chinen-ryu bojutsu. He the Chief Instructor in the USA for the RBKD (Ryuku Bujustsu Kenkyu Doyukai), an organization dedicated to the research and development of Okinawan Martial Arts, Sensei Oshiro is considered the premiere National Martial Arts Weapons expert in the United States.

Oshiro Karate Dojo was founded in 1981. The dojo is located in San Mateo, California For more information visit http://www.oshirodojo.com

Guest Post: More on Float, Sink, Swallow, Spit

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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You certainly have been a very prolific writer on your blog and my students and I have been enjoying your posts. I read the post on Float, Sink, Swallow and Spit (September 12, 2006) with interest. I too have heard these terms before in Chinese martial arts, but didn't really delve too deeply to try and find out what they meant. Thanks for relaying the definitions per Harry Cook.

Interestingly enough, we have these concepts in Kishaba Juku, too, although they are not categorized with the same terms. If I get your meanings for each of these: Float equates to rising power as in moving from low block to high block like in Fukyugata Ichi. Sink equates to dropping power or seating the koshi such as we do when we go from high block to low block in Fukyugata Ichi. Swallow sounds like what we refer to as "All blocks suck" or the motion of pulling a blocking or parrying technique back in toward the body. Spit just sounds like what naturally happens after one of the other three. Rising power, dropping power and "blocks suck" are terms that Paris Janos has used over the years that I have trained with him.

When we were in Okinawa, Shinzato Sensei discussed "Floating Koshi" which is a totally different concept from "Float" as described in your post. He described this as a way to press down into your stance, then bounce off the compression in order to change stances or direction quickly by "floating." He demonstrated this by pushing a ball down on the dojo floor, then taking his hand off the compressed ball. This let the ball bounce or float off the floor. We worked on this for a number of hours.

Anyway, keep up the great posts!

Bill Lucas

Hawaii Karate Museum Interview

Several weeks ago, a reporter and camerman from Okinawa visited me at the Hawaii Karate Museum. The interview has just been posted at the OkinawaBBtv.com website at:

b04022035_lequios_goodin.htm


I really like the interview because there are Japanese subtitles. I cannot speak Japanese, so it is strange to see Japanese characters as I speak!

The raw URL for the broadcast is:

b04022035_lequios_goodin.asx


Respectfully,

Charles C. Goodin

More On Kumite

Let us assume that Karate techniques are defenses or counters against a street attack -- by that I mean they are designed for civilian use. Karate techniques are generally not designed as defenses or counters against Karate techniques.

So how do most of practice -- by attacking each other with Karate-type punches and kicks.

In modern kumite matches, two Karate students try to score points on each other, without being scored on themselves. They attack each other using Karate-type punches and kicks. The first to score usually wins.

But Karate is not an offensive art -- it is defensive. So to attack using Karate-type punches and kicks is a bit out of place. And to defend against such an attack is also problematic.

My point is that there is a big difference between defending against a street attack and defending against an attack by a Karate student or expert, or an expert of another martial art. I am not suggesting that a street attack is weaker, slower, or less deadly than a martial arts attack -- simply that they are different. For self defense, we need to practice defending against the types of attacks we are most likely to encounter.

So how would a Karate expert defend against an attack by another Karate expert? In my opinion, he would react as if the other expert were armed. In other words, there would be no holding back. It would be treated as a life and death situation. This is one reason why the masters of old did not fight with each other idly. A match was taken very seriously with the recognition that it could easily result in serious injury or death.

Was there a form of Karate or certain techniques designed for use against other Karate experts? That is an interesting question.

Respectfully,

Charles C. Goodin

Guest Post: Transferring Power

This Guest Post is by my friend, Angel Lemus, of the Zentokukai Okinawa Shorinryu Toude Association. Angel was a writer and editor of Bugeisha, one of the finest Karate journals ever published. He teaches at the Ninchokan Dojo, in Los Angeles, California.

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Subject: The principle of transferring your power/energy to your opponent.

This principle is also called "atifa" in Okinawa and it is applied equally with the empty hand as it is with a weapon. Its goal is to transfer all the energy generated by the body (internal and external) in the form of a massive shockwave that explodes and penetrates deeply into the opponent's body. In empty hand practice this can only be achieved when understanding and applying the aspect of "relaxation" from a martial perspective. Tai Chi and internal Chinese arts do this all too well. Okinawan Karate done correctly functions the same way as the Chinese internal arts.

As the weapon (hand, fist, foot, etc.) travels towards the opponent the entire body is super relaxed, and at the moment of impact commonly referred to as "kime" the body goes from a state of contraction (closed) to a state of expansion (open), the breath is exhaled, the body becomes one solid unit, the mind's "intention" is released towards the opponent, thus it "LEADS" the Ki/Chi into the intended target. All this happens in the time it takes one to sneeze, then afterwards one resumes the complete state of relaxation where the body again "closes" and the breath is inhaled, following the "natural" cycle of mother nature, being one with it, not going against it.

Using a weapon is very similar, you never clutch the weapon with a death grip, you hold it lightly in your hands applying only enough strength in your fingertips to hold it so it does not fall out of your hands, and so your opponent does not knock it out of them either. You hold your weapon in your fingers not your palms, therefore you have the ability to use your wrists. You then allow the weapon to travel through the air using its own momentum and impetus, the weapons master just assigns a pattern (technique) to it and guides it towards the target the same way a forward spotter on the ground in today's high tech military paints a laser beam on a target while the smart bomb heads towards it and accelerating to very high speeds using nothing more than the earth's gravity.

Being on the receiving end of techniques executed this way is an experience that leaves one in a state of complete awe. For there is very little one can do to stop the shockwave from passing through ones own body. This not only rearranges ones internal organs, it transmits a potent wave which can be described as being shocked by a high voltage electrical charge. This type of technique is the kind that causes massive internal injuries, with little external evidence. There is a basic level of Karate understanding and execution which is what practitioners naturally do in the early stages of training say the first 5-10 years. It takes a very, very long time to get to the point where this stuff starts to sink in. Everyone needs to find a teacher that has this skill and study from him. It may not be ones original teacher, but the time always comes for one to leave the nest, especially if well is dry, and find one that still has water. Anyone can learn this given the proper teacher, instruction, and training routine, and of course the ability to relax not just the body but most importantly the Mind.

Angel Lemus

Kumite -- All The Same

Some time ago, I watched a tournament here in Hawaii. Students of various styles competed in kumite. I thought to myself, "this should be interesting to see Shotokan, Shorin, Goju, Wado, and other stylists compete."

Amazingly, at least to me, everyone sparred just about the same. The Goju people looked like the Shotokan people who looked like all the others. Why was this?

My suspicion is that the rules shape the performance. If people can only do certain things, they will all tend to do those things. The Goju people probably would prefer to grapple and counter, but that was not allowed. Again, when everyone has to play by the same rules, they will all tend to look the same.

Think about dinosaurs. There used to be a dinosaur that looked a lot like a porpoise. The porpoise form is a good one, whether the animal is a dinosaur, reptile, or mammal. In this case, the rules of nature favor a certain form.

Kumite rules, however written, will favor certain forms. One of my friends is a Kenpo instructor. He mentioned to me that in certain tournaments, boxing type punches would never be scored -- only clean reverse punches. The Kenpo student could knock down his opponent with a clean jab or cross but no point would be scored. The Kenpo student either had to learn to punch the way that the judges wanted or find another tournament.

Of course, there are good reasons for rules in kumite competitions. Safety is always the most important concern. But as the rules become more and more rigid, the kumite becomes less and less effective as a method of practicing for self defense. Kumite become its own thing rather than a tool. Students train to win at kumite rather than practicing to survive an attack.

I was first exposed to kumite in a Kenpo Karate dojo. As such, we were allowed to takedown and a light punch or kick would not end the match. The idea actually, was not to win the match, but to practice realistic techniques. We also learned to take and slip a hit.

In Kenpo, we also practiced many pairing off drills. These were practical, self defense oriented sets for grabs, punches, club attacks, knife attacks, etc. This emphasis influenced our kumite. We realized that "scoring" meant very little if the punch or kick could not have "dropped" the opponent (if we had deepened our focus).

Kumite should give us practice in spontaneous self defense.

Respectfully,

Charles C. Goodin

Bo -- Spear?

Sensei Pat Nakata recently gave me an Okinawan eku (wooden oar) with which to practice. Before I begin to learn his eku kata (in the Ryukyu Kobudo line), I have been using the eku while practicing the Yamani-Ryu bojutsu kata: Shuji Nu Kun, Sakugawa Nu Kun, and Shirataru Nu Kun. I learned these kata from Sensei Katsuhiko Shinzato. They constitute the curriculum of the traditional Yamani-Ryu system.

Of course, these kata are designed for the rokku shaku bo (six foot wooden staff). But I noticed something interesting while using the eku. If you begin the kata with the blade end of the eku down (in the right hand), all of the cuts and thrusts of the kata are with the blade, whether right side forward or left side forward. This means that all of the sliding hand shifts with the bo/eku are designed to keep the cutting end forward.

This would make sense if the bo kata were based on yari (spear) or even naginata techniques. But it would not make much sense if the bo kata were based on bo, since bo are symmetric -- there is no difference between the ends. But here, apparent pains were taken to ensure that the same end of the bo is used for all of the forward cuts and thrusts.

If you begin the kata with the blade end of the eku down, you also end that way.

Compared to other "Karate" based bo kata and systems I have viewed, Yamani-Ryu seems to have obvious yari origins. I understand that yari techiques were incorporated into the Jukendo (bayonet attached to rifle) system practiced in the Japanese military. Some of the techniques I have seen in Jukendo books also resemble Yamani-Ryu bojutsu techniques. Could it be that they have the same origin -- sojutsu (art of using the yari)?

Shirataru Nu Kun is particularly interesting when using an eku. There is a "scooping" technique throughout the kata that resembles the sand flicking technique of other eku kata. Of course, the scooping technique can be a take down/leg sweep, but the similarity to "sand flicking" is noteworthy.

I like the eku -- it can be swung like a bo but can also cut like a sword.

Respectfully,

Charles C. Goodin

Movements That Don't Make Sense

What do you do when there is a movement in a kata that does not make sense to you? Here is what I do (not in any order).

  1. Ask my sensei what it means.
  2. Ask my Karate friends in other styles what it means.
  3. Check out meanings in books, videos, DVDs, etc.
  4. Think about similar movements in our system in other kata or drills.
  5. Think about similar movements in other martial arts.
  6. Sleep on it.
By sleep on it, I mean that I sort of put the movement on the side and continue to practice it in the hope that it will one day make sense. There are many movements that did not make sense to me at one time, but did make sense later. This was particularly true when I started to learn the type of body dynamics taught by Sensei Katsuhiko Shinzato in the Kishaba Juku Shorin-Ryu system. With poor body dynamics, my understanding of movement was more limited. When I could move with more power and less effort, some movements became much more effective and useable.

My point is that our appreciation of movements grows as we do. Don't dismiss a movement too early, particularly when you have only trained for a few years. Give it time.

A movement might not look like a takedown, unless you realize that you are holding the attackers ears!

Respectfully,

Charles C. Goodin

Float, Sink, Swallow, Spit

Sensei Harry Cook, and his family and students visited our Hikari Dojo last night. We enjoyed learning from him and meeting his students. They are returning to England tonight.

One of the concepts he mentioned was that of "float, sink, swallow, and spit," which come from the Chinese martial arts, particularly the White Crane system. While I have seen these terms used in Chinese martial arts and mentioned by various Karate instructors, I must admit that my own sensei have never used these terms.

To demonstrate "float," Cook Sensei had my second son, Charles, grab his neck and attempt a choke. Cook Sensei blocked my son's hands upward. This "floating" motion countered the choke.

To counter a grab, he slapped my son's hands down -- sink.

When pushed, he absorbed and redirected the attack -- swallow.

Finally, when striking my son, he demonstrated the concept of "spit".

Float, sink, swallow, spit -- many Karate movements can be categorized using these terms.

That said, it seems to me that much of Karate is "spit, spit, spit, spit." We tend to hit a lot.

It is good to study concepts from other martial arts to better understand Karate. However, we have to be careful as each art has its own emphasis, strengths, and weaknesses. In Judo, the saying is "maximum efficiency with minium effort." This also applies to Karate, but the emphasis of Judo and Karate differ.

When generating power using the koshi, it is possible to compare the feeling to wringing a towel. This will make sense to someone who understands koshi from physical experience, but could confuse a person who has not personally experienced it. In the Japanese tea ceremony, I understand that there is a part where a hand cloth is wrung. This is sometimes referred to in Kendo, as a comparison to how the shinai (bamboo sword) is held. If we describe koshi mechanics by comparison to the tea ceremony, it might make sense to some people but not to others.

I wonder if a similar situation exisits with "float, sink, swallow, spit." Do these terms have deeper meanings? Are they shorthand for concepts that are taught and explained in depth in the Chinese systems?

I think this way about many of the concepts we see applied to Karate. In Cook Sensei's case, his physical demonstration of the concepts made them much clearer to me and my students.

The next time I see Sifu Andrew Lum (a well known Tai Chi and Kung Fu instructor here in Hawaii), I think I will ask him about "float, sink, swallow, and spit."

Respectfully,

Charles C. Goodin

Kuzushi -- Breaking Balance

If you look at photographs of Karate being demonstrated, whether on the cover of magazines or in books, you will almost always see two people standing straight up at close to arm's length. The attacker punches and the defender blocks. They are still standing there, straight up, at about arm's length.

Such depictions do not properly represent Karate movements. They do not show kuzushi -- the process of breaking or unsettling the attacker's balance. Judo students understand that you cannot simply throw your opponent using brute strength. You must first lead the opponent and break his balance. Then, throwing him will be relatively easy. Judo experts can sometimes throw with just a flick of their wrists, because they have already broken their opponent's balance.

We must do the same thing in Karate. When we block, we must also work to break the attacker's balance. This is usually accomplished by entering and tilting his sechusen, or centerline. We cannot simply stand in front of the attacker and exchange punches and blocks. There is no advantage in this. When we block or strike, we must put the attacker into a disadvantageous position, usually one in which he is off balance or unable to block our counterattack.

One way to break the attacker's balance is to enter and crowd him, pushing his upper body back. If, at the same time, we step on his foot or trap his knee, he will end up tilting back at an angle. Try punching when you are tilting back, particularly with your weight on your heels. It is very difficult to generate any power.

We can also push him back or to the sides, pull him forward, twist him using joint locking techniques, etc. We can break the attacker's balance in any direction we choose depending on where and how we wish to counterattack, or where we want to throw or position him (throw him into a wall, for example, or place him between us and another attacker).

It is necessary to block the punch but that it not enough. Simply blocking a punch invites another one. But if we combine our block with kuzushi, then we put the attacker in a weakened position and position ourself for a counterattack. Of course, many blocks can also be used as an effective counterattack either by themselves or in combination.

My sensei once showed me a way to practice where you bang your body into the attacker's body. One reason for this is so that you can punch or strike very hard. You are punching through the attacker's body, not merely striking the surface. The other reason is so that you will be able to break the attacker's balance.

As a former Judo and Aikido student, I would say that most Karate students do not have very good balance - unless they also practice grappling arts. Lacking good balance, it is natural that most Karate students would not think much about breaking the attacker's balance. But it is essential, particularly for a defender who may be smaller and weaker than the attacker.

Before you can break an attacker's bones (hopefully this could be avoided), you have to break his balance first. Then it might be possible to end the conflict with a throw or take-down, which is often more humane than a striking technique.

Respectfully,

Charles C. Goodin

Constant Improvement -- Videos

My sensei, Professor Katsuhiko Shinzato, is very kind to allow himself to be filmed by his students. You can see several film clips of him at:

http://www.okinawabbtv.com/culture/karate/index.htm#


When I pointed out the above film clips to him, he mentioned that he felt a little uncomfortable about them because he felt that his technique had improved since then. Honestly, I think that he would feel the same if the video had been taken yesterday -- he would feel that he has improved since then too!

One of the things I have noticed about my sensei is that he is constantly seeking to improve himself. He is never content or satisfied. For students, it can be hard to keep up with him because he never keeps still. He will experiment with techniques. Sometimes he will vary the movement of a kata and have us practice it for a while. Then he might change it again, or even change it back.

I am confident that my sensei will be seeking to improve himself every day of his life. While he is an instructor -- one of the finest I have ever had the good fortune to meet -- he is first and foremost a student of Karate. He improves himself by constant training. He has never allowed himself to merely teach -- even when he teaches he trains as hard or harder than his students. And he is 67 years old.

He considers the aging process to be a challenge and is seeking the optimum body dynamics and techniques to allow him to vigorously train for his entire life.

We should never be content with what we did yesterday. We must seek constant improvement.

Still, I would be happy to be able to perform like my sensei did yesterday... or even ten years ago!

Respectfully,

Charles C. Goodin

Avoiding Injuries

One of my posts, Busted Up, was about being careful to avoid injuries during Karate training. One of my friends, a former Aikido student, recently reiterated this to me when he said, "We have to train to avoid injuries." This means that avoiding injuries must be part of our training strategy.

There are two times when injuries often occur.

The first is when we are feeling really good. At such times, we push ourselves too far and injuries result. We have to know our limits and stay within them -- or just push them a little. Going too far, particularly as we reach our 40s, 50s and older, will almost always lead to injuries. And the older we get, the longer it takes to recover, particularly from joint injuries.

I have found that there is another time when injuries are more likely -- during weapons training. I injured myself by using a sai incorrectly. I ended up needing rotator cuff surgery. My friend, who is consideraly senior to me, recently injured his shoulder too -- again while using sai.

Unlike the bo, sai concentrates power in a much smaller, and relatively heavier, area. The momentum generated can be tremendous. My friend was injured while he was momentarily distracted, and I was injured by going overboard.

I should add that there is a third time when injuries are likely -- during grappling. It is very important to carefully control grappling and to ensure that the participants know how much strength to use, when to stop, and how to signal that they are in pain (usually by tapping out).

Control is one of the most important aspects of Karate training. Safety must always come first. And we must design our training to avoid injuries.

Respectfully,

Charles C. Goodin

Top Karate Reseacher -- Guess Who?

I can say with confidence that one of the top Karate researchers and writers in the world is right here in Hawaii. Can you guess who it is?

Sensei Harry Cook, his wife, son and daughter, and several students, are visiting our islands. I met them on Tuesday evening at the dojo of my good friend, Professor Kimo Ferreira. I had the pleasure of observing Professor Ferreira and Cook Sensei conduct class. Cook Sensei taught an impressive combination of Shotokan and Goju-Ryu techniques -- including lots of headbutts. Professor Ferreira demonstrated Kempo Jutsu knife techniques that still have my head spinning.

If all goes well, Cook Sensei and his students will visit our Hikari Dojo on Monday evening. For my students, please don't miss this opportunity.

Respectfully,

Charles C. Goodin

Karate-Do No Kokoroe

I want to give readers advanced warning that there will be an excellent article in the next issue of Classical Fighting Arts. Before you think... what a conceited writer... I did not write the article. In a way, the article was written by Chosin (Choshin) Chibana, who penned a calligraphy. After his death, his wife gave it to his student, Sensei Pat Nakata.

Nakata Sensei kept the calligraphy tucked away for decades. One day he showed it to me and I said, "what does it say?" He explained that it was Karate-Do No Kokore, essentially the heart of Karate. I asked Nataka Sensei to translate and provide commentary on this unpublished treasure.

As if that were not enough, at about the same time I was contacted my an 80 year old gentleman who lives here in Hawaii. He had lived and worked in Okinawa for many years and, in fact, trained under Chibana Sensei. He asked me if I could like some photographs!

To accompany Karate-Do Kokoroe (the calligraphy itself, translation, and commentary), we will publish a complete photo sequence of Chibana Sensei performing Naihanchi Shodan. It was photographed in the back of a grass roofed building adjoining his home in Torihori... in 1952. Many of the later photographs of Chibana Sensei show him after he had become ill. These photographs show him in his mid-sixties, the prime years of a master.

Whether you subscribe to Classical Fighting Arts or purchase it at a bookstore or newsstand, please don't miss the next issue. I've read the article at least 10 times, and learn something every time. For those of us who were not fortunate enough to learn from Chibana Sensei, I'm glad that we have the opportunity to learn from his words (and kata).

Respectfully,

Charles C. Goodin

One Year, Twenty Times

I am paraphrasing a story my good friend told me. An instructor went to a dojo and met a student there. The instructor was younger than the student, and the student looked at him rather suspiciously. Finally, the student said, "I want you to know that I have practiced Karate for 20 years!"

The instructor smiled and replied, "No, you've practiced Karate for one year, twenty times."

In other words, the student had not advanced at all. He had been doing the same thing for twenty years -- practicing at only a first year level. It is a little like planting a tree and coming back twenty years later to find that it is only one foot high. Karate students should not be bonsai!

There is a natural progression to Karate. There is a lifetime curriculum. Karate is as deep as it is broad. Learning kata and techniques is only the beginning. A student will also learn how to apply each movement in different situations and to generate power dynamically using his or her whole body. Karate enables a student to move in an extraordinary manner, and to do so for his or her entire life. Karate students don't slow down at 50 -- that is when they are just getting going!

Ask yourself how many years you have practiced Karate. Have you practiced for twenty years, or for one year twenty times?

Respectfully,

Charles C. Goodin