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1650+ Posts... and Counting

Power Generation -- 99% and 1%

Whenever I watch a Karate student or instructor move, whether in a demonstration, tournament, during class, or at a special training, I always try to determine how the person generates power.

In 99 percent of the cases, or so, the person is using ordinary strength and ordinary movement, in the form of the techniques of Karate. Anyone who is willing to learn the form of such techniques could do the same with practice. With practice, a person could get faster and stronger, to a point. Then there would be little if any improvement -- ever.

In 1 percent of the cases, the person moves faster and easier than he should be able to, and generates more power than he should be able to. Something is going on. He is generating power in another way, and using that additional power to fuel his techniques. It is almost Karate "magic!"

That 1 percent makes Karate fascinating!

And you might expect that the well known and highest ranking instructors would all be in this 1 percent. I do not believe that this is true. Some are, some are not. And some of the people who can move like this are neither well know nor high ranking.

So it is important to keep your eyes open. You must not let your expectations cloud your perception.

It may seem strange to say, but I see this more often in Goju-Ryu and related styles than my own Shorin-Ryu. Of course, an exceptional person is not limited by style.

If you see one of these 1 percent people, you have an opportunity to try to "catch" their movement -- to see and feel how they are moving. Even a glimpse will give you a chance to improve your Karate. Honestly, if you can "catch" a single movement, you can apply it to all movement. It is like an infection.

I may have been off with the 99 percent and 1 percent breakdown. The actual numbers may be closer to 99.9 percent and 0.1 percent. Only one in a thousand Karate students or instructors move exceptionally (in my opinion). Even that may be optimistic.

Respectfully,

Charles C. Goodin

Form Over Substance

I am an attorney. Sometimes you hear the expression that someone has elevated form over substance. This means that the person has allowed the terminology or technical specifications of something to take on more meaning than its actual function.

It is easy to see this is modern Karate. In fact, sometimes we might wonder whether function is even a consideration.

When I practice Karate, I am always asking myself how I can use a particular technique. Often, there are many ways. There are also counters to the technique. There is a function and a counter function, so to speak.

I only care about the form of the technique to the extent that it contributes to the function. In other words, I do not care that it looks good -- I care that it works. In fact, I don't want a technique to look good. If a technique is done well, it might be hard for an untrained person to see it, let alone appreciate it.

I care more that the technique feels good. It will feel good to me, not to an observer. An observer cannot feel what I feel.

If the technique feels good, it probably means that I am moving well, and that movement will lead to the desired function. If I can move well, I can probably use the technique.

I tend to elevate substance over form. Form is important, particularly for a beginner. But form should not take on a life of its own. The form of Karate is meaningless unless it is paired with its function.

It is like speech. There is a world of difference between an intelligent statement and gibberish. Gibberish is still gibberish, even if the letters are formed perfectly.

Sometimes we say that a person's Karate is very ugly -- but you would not want to get hit by him. That is a real compliment. His form is "ugly" but his substance is formidable.

Respectfully,

Charles C. Goodin

Karate Builds Character?

Sometimes you might hear that Karate builds character. I disagree with this. Karate does not build character. Practicing Karate gives the student an opportunity to build his character. It is the student who builds his character.

It is impossible to estimate how many people have practiced Karate over the generations. Some have built good, strong characters. Others have not. In fact, some Karate students and even instructors have terrible characters! It all depends on the student (or instructor) and the environment in which he learns.

A Sensei cannot guarantee that all his students will develop a good character. He can try to get "bad" students to quit if they are unwilling to improve themselves. He can try to set a good example and encourage his students to work on their characters. But even then, you might hear of great Sensei producing "bad" students.

In the end it is up to each student. Each student must build his own character. The Sensei cannot do it. Karate cannot do it. It is up to the student. Practicing Karate gives the student an opportunity to build his character.

Respectfully,

Charles C. Goodin

Impressive Kata By 3 Little Girls

Last weekend, I gave an historic Karate photograph exhibit at Sensei Chuzo Kotaka's 48th All Hawaii State Karate-Do Championships at Manoa District Gym #2. See ikfhawaii.com. It was a very good opportunity to observe this tournament, which I believe is the largest in Hawaii.

Such a large tournament is a bit like being in an airport. There are announcements going on all the time. I don't know how everyone finds the right place to go, but they do.

Kotaka Sensei's family helped him, as did his students. On Friday, when the gym was being set up, Kotaka Sensei's students worked like a well disciplined army. Everyone knew exactly what to do, and did it.

The same was true the day of the tournament. It is like when you go to a really nice restaurant. Everything happens so smoothly that you are not aware of all the people working.

I was set up at the end of the gym, across from where the dignitaries were sitting. People were walking back and forth in front of my display. I had a table and chair and was near a ring where competitors did kobudo (mostly bo).

At one point, three cute little girls who studied Shotokan, came in front of my display and practiced kata. They were between the ages of 8 and 10. They were standing right in front of me, and would practice their kata perpendicular to the crowd. Thus, the people were walking back and forth and the little girls would practice their kata by moving out into the crowd and back.

It was the best! The girls would slightly adjust their timing so that they would not run into people, but they came very close. Many of the people walking were Karate students, but many others were parents and friends. They were not trying to avoid the little girls -- it was the girls who were avoiding them.

I enjoyed watching them immensely. I think that there should be an event for this. Have a mob of people walk all over a ring and have a competitor perform a kata without running into anyone!

I do not come from a tournament background. I have never competed in a single Karate tournament, and never intend to do so. While my way of doing Karate may differ somewhat, I respect the hard work and effort of all the competitors who came out for Kotaka Sensei's tournament. I am also very grateful to him for allowing me to display photos from the Hawaii Karate Museum.

I even got to see three of my good friends from the Hawaii Karate Kodanshakai: Sensei Joe Bunch, Sensei Lee Donohue, and Sensei Paul Ortino (who was visiting from Las Vegas). All three of these fine Sensei had students competing in the tournament.

Even now I smile when I think of those little girls practicing kata in a crowd.

Respectfully,

Charles C. Goodin

True Toughness -- Chemotherapy

My wife has now had four chemotherapy treatments for her breast cancer. She will have two more, the last of which is scheduled for right around Christmas. Usually, it seems that Christmas comes too quickly. This year, I can't wait for it to arrive!

I never knew anyone closely who went through chemotherapy. I did know some people who had it, but I did not understand what they were going through. Most of us hear that chemotherapy is very difficult. From my wife's experience, I can say that this is extremely true. The first week after chemotherapy is like being sick with the flu, back aches, weakness, dizziness, nausea, and other unexpected side effects all combined. The second and third weeks are better, but still hard. Then it is time for another treatment and it starts all over again.

When I attended the Okinawan festival earlier this year, I spoke to an oncology (cancer treatment) nurse who herself was going through chemotherapy for breast cancer. She said that although she had worked closely with cancer patients for many years, she never truly understood the pain and suffering they experience until she experienced it herself.

I know that I cannot truly understand my wife's suffering, and that of other chemotherapy patients. But what little I can understand makes me respect them deeply.

Sometimes my wife's sleep schedule is thrown off. Today, she woke up before 5 a.m. and could not go back to sleep. So she went to the kitchen and made food for the day. I am often awoken by the sounds of chopping coming from the kitchen. My wife is a great cook. And even if she can't eat certain foods because of her treatment, she will cook them for us.

My wife has not let chemotherapy get her down. No matter how hard it might be, she goes to work each day, cooks for our family, and plans all the family activities. She rarely takes naps, even when she is tired. She is always thinking about others, and never complains. She is even coordinating a fund raiser for our dojo.

I take naps when I am healthy and complain about little things, like a sore neck! So who is tough?

My wife is much tougher than me. She had four children by C-section and got back to work right away. Now with chemotherapy, she maintains a positive and cheerful attitude and does almost everything as normal.

It is funny. When you watch medicine commercials on the television, they often disclose a long list of side effects. With her chemotherapy experience, my wife sometimes comments, "those don't sound so bad."

A great fighter is tough. But a person who endures suffering without giving up is also tough.

Many people have written to me about their own relatives' and friends' experiences with cancer. Many have sent their thoughts and prayers. My wife and I appreciate this deeply. We send our own thoughts and prayers to other cancer patients and their families.

Here is something to think about. Just one of the chemotherapy drugs that my wife receives, costs over $3,000 per dose. That is just one drug given one time. I can't even think about all of the drugs that she is being given. We are very fortunate to have health insurance that covers the majority of expenses. A major illness or disease makes clear and urgent the need for comprehensive health care for everyone.

Respectfully,

Charles C. Goodin

Karate Orientations

Life and Death Karate sounds extreme and it is. Certainly it is not practiced by many people.

There are many different "ways" or orientations of Karate. They might include:

  • Children's Karate
  • Exercise Karate
  • Movement Karate
  • Sport Karate
  • Competition Karate
  • Performance Karate
  • Police Karate
  • Military Karate
  • Character Building Karate
  • Business Karate
  • Political Karate
Of course, there may be many others and combinations of the various orientations. My point is that there is not just one Karate -- there are many.

Each orientation is like a pair of glasses. The students in a particular orientation -- say exercise Karate -- view Karate through the lens of their own orientation. If such a student sees students sparring, he might ask, "is that a good exercise?"

A student in character building Karate (the general definition of "budo") might ask, "is sparring a good way to build character?"

A student in sport Karate might ask, "who is the winner of the match?"

A student in performance Karate (performing kata for show only), might ask, "why are they sparring at all?"

A student in "life and death" Karate might ask, "which student would survive the encounter?"

My point is that the student's perception will depend upon his own orientation. Different students will have different perceptions -- even of the same thing.

It is like comparing apples and oranges.

A student with a limited orientation will have a limited perception. A student with greater exposure to different orientations will have a broader perception.

The important thing to realize is that our own orientation will color our perception. I will view Karate through my eyes and experiences and you will view Karate through your eyes and experiences. What I do may seem strange to you and what you do might seem strange to me -- and yet we are both practicing perfectly legitimate Karate.

Five year old Karate is perfect for a five year old student! It is absolutely perfect and appropriate. It will not be the right thing to teach a 20 year old student, nor would it be right to teach 20 year old Karate to a five year old.

A grandmother (or grandfather) might only want to practice Karate for exercise, and that will be perfectly good for her (or him). A student who wants to participate in tournaments should find a school that specializes in the competition aspect of Karate. Each student must find a school that "fits" his or her desires and expectations.

Problems result when the student's desires and expectations do not match the school he or she selects. Some students, for example, might find themselves caught up in competition when they actually wanted to learn self defense. The opposite might also happen.

The longer I train, the more I appreciate different orientations of Karate. I might have my own orientation, but I can appreciate and respect others.

So how does this relate to Life and Death Karate? I guess that it doesn't really. Sorry about that. Writing about that subject touched a nerve, and I have not quite recovered from it. There are many different orientations of Karate, and that one. It does not mix well with the others.

Respectfully,

Charles C. Goodin

Why We Must Improve Our Movements

I had to write my last post (Budo Karate -- Life And Death) for this one to make sense.

When Karate is practiced as a matter of life and death (not for sport, show, health only, as a business, etc.), it is absolutely imperative that students improve their movements. Being pretty good or even second best is not enough. Second best will get you killed.

If you are going to jump out of an airplane, you don't want to have a "pretty good" parachute. Your life is on the line. You are staking your life on that parachute.

Karate is no less important than a parachute. You are staking your life on it --at least people who practice Karate as a matter of life and death do so.

Suppose you are practicing Karate so that you can compete in tournaments only. What is the consequence of losing? If you lose you simply do not win -- you can compete another day.

But if your life is on the line, what is the consequence of being unprepared -- of not learning to move the very best you can? I will let you answer that yourself.

If your life is on the line, you must take Karate seriously. Your life could hinge on each and every movement. There is no second chance, no calling a timeout.

Life and death are what is at stake in Karate.

Respectfully,

Charles C. Goodin

Budo Karate -- Life And Death

My good friend and senior, Sensei Pat Nakata, often speaks and writes about Karate as a form of budo. When I think about budo, I think about the Japanese martial arts, such as Kendo, Judo, Aikido, etc. So when Nakata Sensei mentioned Karate as budo, I have always thought that he meant that Karate is a form of Japanese martial art.

I generally disagree with this. Karate may be an Okinawan martial art that has been made to fit within the Japanese idea of budo, or martial art. But fundamentally, Karate is an Okinawan martial art with its strongest influences from China, not Japan. Thus, Karate is not a form of budo, except to the extent that it has been modified to become so. In Nakata Sensei's case, he practices one of the original forms of Okinawan Karate, Chibana Shorin-Ryu.

Karate was introduced to mainland Japan in the 1920s. Before that time, and particularly before the Ryukyu kingdom was abolished and Okinawa became a prefecture of Japan in 1879, the Karate masters in Okinawa did not try to characterize Karate as budo. Karate was the martial art of the Ryukyu kingdom. But once the Kingdom was abolished and Karate spread to mainland Japan, it was important to make Karate "fit" into budo. Otherwise, there was a real risk that Okinawan Karate would either disappear or be replaced by the new "Japanese" version. Even in Okinawa at the turn of the century (1900), Kendo and Judo were the most widely practiced martial arts -- not Karate.

But I have recently rethought what Nakata Sensei says about budo. I do not think that he means that Karate is a Japanese martial art. I think he means that Karate is "life and death," which is the essence of budo.

I know many Karate students and instructors. I'm sure that you do too. How many people can you think of who practice Karate as "life and death?" This means that in each and every technique, your life is on the line. There is no second chance. You will either live or die. There is no tie or disqualification. You are not worried about getting injured -- you are confronted with death.

When Nakata Sensei uses Karate, it is life or death. Either he will live and the attacker will die, or he will die and the attacker will live. Nakata Sensei is comfortable with this. He is prepared for it. I do not think that most attackers would feel the same way.

The attacker might be thinking, "I am going to beat you up and take your things." Nakata Sensei is thinking, "You are going to die."

I know that I am putting words into his mouth. I should say that this is what I think that Nakata Sensei is thinking. If I am wrong, it is my fault.

But I am confident that I am correct about his attitude about life and death. Budo means life and death -- not the inclusion in a list of Japanese martial arts.

People in the military face life and death each day of combat. If hand-to-hand combat becomes necessary, there is no room for maybe or hopefully. The soldier's life is on the line, as are the lives of his comrades. It is a matter of kill or be killed. In this situation, Karate would be used to live by killing.

"Budo" Karate is not the same thing as cardiac Karate, kiddy Karate, tournament Karate, sport Karate, movie Karate, or any other Karate. Karate can be practiced many different ways for many different reasons. Each way has its place and audience.

"Budo" Karate is a rare thing. Again, I do not mean "Japanese martial art" Karate -- I mean "life and death" Karate.

My Sensei here in Hawaii describes Karate as a terrible thing. I believe that this is what he is referring to. "Life and death" Karate is truly a terrible thing, something to be avoided unless there is no other option. Think about it. Is tournament Karate terrible? Is sport Karate terrible? Are they terrifying to the bone? I think not.

If it comes to it, are you prepared for "life and death" Karate? Are you training for that?

Respectfully,

Charles C. Goodin

Kachashi -- Koshi Dance

At the end of Okinawan parties or events, they often do a dance called kachashi. This is a very free and spirited dance. There is an example at YouTube at:


We sort of do a similar "dance" to teach koshi. We begin by teaching students to relax their arms (with their elbows close to their body) and wave them from side to side. We start in the gedan position but progress to chudan and jodan. Soon the students can wave their hands in all positions while moving their koshi from side to side (in a sort of rotary way).

When they can do this, we teach them to be able to throw Karate techniques from the rhythm of the kachashi-like movement. For example, the student might swing his arms in the gedan position and then throw a gedan barai. As he progresses, the student can learn to throw any movement. Essentially, all movements are either like a backhand or a forehand, and either directional movement is easily accessible from within the "dance."

More advanced students can "walk" while dancing -- and throw techniques while moving. Even more advanced students can learn to internalize the rhythm.

Sometimes we hear that there is Karate in Okinawan dances. Perhaps this is true, although I do not think that there is modern linear Karate in the dances. Any Ti techniques would probably be more flowing, like Aikido or Ju Jitsu.

I do know that koshi exercises can look a lot like some movements of Okinawan dances. Whether this is a coincidence or not, I cannot say.

Respectfully,

Charles C. Goodin

Koshi Infection

Tonight I guest taught at one of my good friend's dojo. It is a different style of Karate than mine, and I taught body dynamics for about an hour and a half.

Teaching and explaining koshi to students who generally do use it -- particularly to the extent that we concentrate on it in Kishaba Juku Shorin-Ryu -- has become one of my hobbies (for want of a better word). I get great joy when I see a student move in a way that is surprising to him. When a student can move faster, easier and with more power, he starts to smile.

It does not matter whether the student is a child or an adult. The result is always the same.

Tonight I told the class that I was trying to infect them with whole body mechanics. I meant it. Learning to use koshi is like catching a cold. It might start with a little sneeze but it gets worse! Koshi might start with one accidental movement, then two. Soon the student is infected with koshi!

If a student can do one movement correctly, he can learn to do all movements correctly.

When my own students move with koshi, I take it for granted. I expect them to do it. I am concerned when they do not.

It is fun for me to show koshi to someone who has practiced Karate for months or even many years, and did not know that there was a much easier and more effective way to move. It is a challenge for me to learn to communicate in a way that is understandable to students of another style. It is a challenge for me to design movement sequences or drills that can convey the basics and bridge the gap between our styles -- how can I get someone to "see" something they are not used to seeing?

Tonight I used the Taikyoku kata as a vehicle for teaching different principles. This kata is used by many styles, and is very similar to our Fukyugata Ichi (the first seven movements are essentially the same). Taikyoku is much simpler than the Pinan (Heian) and easier to modify. For example, I asked the students to replace all the stances in the kata with jigotai dachi. This is very easy to do. And actually, gedan barai in jigotai dachi or Naihanchi dachi is much more effective than in zenkutsu dachi, in my opinion, particularly a square shouldered zenkutsu dachi.

I used the Taikyoku kata to show how to pull the elbows toward the body between movements, how to pull the leg to set the weight and balance, and how to learn to move the stance with the body rather than step.

Just was we generate power with our core and channel that power through our arms and legs, we can move our body with our core rather than stepping like a robot.

Anyway, I enjoyed teaching tonight. If I can help even one student to use their koshi even once, I am happy. Tonight I saw many students move well.

I am beginning to imagine how my own Sensei felt when I first started to learn koshi dynamics from him. I was a "lost soul" in Karate and have been happy every day since then! Teaching others, even in different styles, is one way that I repay my Sensei.

Respectfully,

Charles C. Goodin

Karate -- A Minority Art, Part 10

The diet of Okinawans also differed from that of mainland Japanese. With respect to prejudice, the key food item was pork. Generally, Japanese did not eat or like pigs. Okinawans often had small pig farms and pork was an important part of their diet, if they could afford it. Of course, Chinese also ate pork as did other people in Asia and the Pacific.

But Japanese believed pigs to be unclean. Japanese in general ate little or no meat before the war.

In Hawaii, Japanese would often taunt Okinawans by calling out, "butta, butta" ("pig, pig").

I know many people here in Hawaii who grew up with metal pails hanging in a tree outside their house. Once a week or so, a person from a pig farm would come and collect food scraps in the pail. All of these scraps would be put together in a big barrel and cooked to feed the pigs. It was a hard job, but what a great recycling system! Today, we throw away our food scraps.

At Christmas time, people from the pig farms would bring gifts to the homes.

One of these pig farm owners was Chonin Sanra Arakaki, a Karate expert who lived in the Hilo area.

When I went to Okinawa, one of the most delicious dishes was soki, pig bone soup (a lot like oxtail soup). Just thinking about it makes me hungry!

But at the time Karate was introduced to mainland Japan (the 1920s), pork production and consumption was another basis for discrimination against Okinawans.

It is interesting to note that one of the big customers for pork in Hawaii during World War Two was the American military. The Okinawan pig farms prospered. As the pig farms prospered, many of the pig farm owners relatives would open markets and inns, which also prospered. Pig farms helped to improve the economic standing of many Okinawans here in Hawaii. Thus, something that was once a source of discrimination became a source of prosperity.

After the war, Okinawans in Hawaii raised money to send pigs to Okinawa. All the livestock in Okinawa had been eaten or killed during the war.

Respectfully,

Charles C. Goodin

Naicha, Yamatunchu

Mr. Todd Lambert, who resides in Okinawa, was kind enough to write regarding my description of the term "naichi." He wrote:
In the "Karate, A Minority Art, Part 8" post, the word "naichi" is used by Okinawans to refer to mainland Japan (hondo, or main island, in standard Japanese). The word "naicha" is used to refer to those from the Japanese mainland (yamatunchu was also used, and was less derogatory than naicha).
I believe that Mr. Lambert is correct. In Hawaii, I hear the word "naichi" used rather than "naicha," but that may be a local slang. The word "Yamatunchu" is used in a more formal sense.

Actually, I am half-naicha (my mother is from Fukuoka). I am a hapa shin-nisei (actually kotonk since I was born on the mainland).

I will tell you a funny story. Many years ago when I began working more closely with people at the Hawaii Okinawa Center, an Okinawan lady told me, "You mother is from Kyushu and your wife's family is from the Philippines -- that makes you Okinawan!"

Of course, she was joking, but the Okinawans in Hawaii are very accepting of "outsiders" who are interested in their culture. They are especially supportive of people who contribute to their culture. They have often told me, "If does not matter if you are Okinawan or not. If you are helping our culture, we want to help you."

My point is that terms such as Uchinanchu and Naichi (Naicha) may have reflected a much deeper cultural divide in the past than they do now. Some the most active people in the Okinawan community I know are Japanese. I am hapa (half/half). For two years, I taught the Karate class for the Okinawan summer camp for children. I may not be Okinawa, but the Karate I practice is (Shorin-Ryu).

Karate is one of the entry points to the Okinawan culture. See: Karate: A Window to Okinawan Culture.

Respectfully,

Charles C. Goodin

Congratulations To 50 Year Old Shodan

In the latest issue of the Hawaii Pacific Press (No. 480, November 15, 2007), there is an article about Walter Miyanari, who at the age of 50, just received his shodan. He trains under Sensei Kevin Funakoshi (son of Sensei Kenneth Funakoshi) in Mililani. The dojo is part of the Funakoshi Shotokan Karate Association. Mr. Miyanari started training in 2001 with his daughter.

Mr. Miyanari and I are about the same age. I can already feel many of the aches and pains of being 50. But I started martial arts training when I was only 7 or 8, and Karate training in high school. Nothing hurts when you are a teenager, and if you receive an injury, it normally heals very quickly.

Mr. Miyanari must have started training when he was about 44. It must have been a real challenge. Developing flexibility must have been a challenge. Even remembering the kata can be difficult. Children can remember kata easily. It already takes me weeks or months to learn new patterns correctly (luckily, I already know most of the patterns in my system and am running on memory!).

I felt very happy reading about Mr. Miyanari's accomplishment. It is remarkable. Mr. Miyanari has done something great, and so have his Sensei and the seniors in the dojo.

I am not impressed when I hear about a 50 year old being awarded a 9th or 10th dan. But to earn a shodan at that age, that is really something!

My compliments to Mr. Miyanari, Sensei Kevin Funakoshi, and Sensei Kenneth Funakoshi.

By the way, Sensei Kenneth Funakoshi was kind enough to send me a journal for his association's 9th world championships that were held last month in Crawley, England. What an accomplishment for a Hawaii Sensei! Funakoshi Sensei has students and dojo around the world.

Respectfully,

Charles C. Goodin

Who Is Better?

Who is better: an instructor who brings five (5) students up to the equivalent of a Ph.D level or an instructor who brings one hundred (100) students up to the equivalent of a high school level?

Another way to say this is who is better: an instructor who brings five (5) students up to 9th dan, or an instructor who brings one hundred (100) students up to 1st dan?

Of course, any measure is inexact and subject to wide variation, but you get the idea.

Let's just apply some simple math. 5 students times 9th dan equals 45. 100 students times 1st dan equals 100. So the second instructor would seem to win based on raw numbers. And he certainly taught more students.

But it probably takes 1,000 students to make one 9th dan. So the 5 9th dan are worth at least 5,000 students -- maybe many more.

The problem is really not with math. The problem is with the term "better." Is one instructor "better" for teaching higher students or more students? Is one better than the other, or are they just different?

What did their students do with the Karate they learned? If the shodan used it for good, then their instructor was excellent. If the kudan did not use their Karate, or were egotistical, then what good was it to teach them?

Did the students teach other students?

Did the shodan go on to learn more from other instructors? Did they quit?

So it all depends. You cannot simply look at the numbers. You cannot simply multiply the number of students by their rank.

One thing is certain -- while it is possible for an instructor to "create" 100 shodan, it is not possible for him to create 100 9th dan. The higher the level, the more time it takes, and the more students you need to get to that one who can attain the level.

For all the students I have taught over the years, I have three active san dan. To me, that is a lot! Each san dan could run his own dojo. Each san dan essentially knows the system and can recreate it. San dan is a major accomplishment. But san dan is nowhere close to 9th dan!

Next month I will turn 50. Honestly, I feel that I can now begin to really practice Karate. Up until now, I have been trying to learn. Each thing that I learned was added to what I already knew (or thought that I knew). From my teen years until now, I have been adding and adding. Even if my physical techniques have lessened and become more focused, my mind went on adding.

Now I can lessen my mental load too. Now I can focus on practicing Karate without excess baggage. So now I can really start to practice.

When I went to Okinawa earlier this year, I brought so much stuff that I could barely make my way from the international terminal at Kansai to the domestic terminal. I had too much for the cart and things kept falling off. I had bags slung over my back, on the cart, I pulled one behind me... it was terrible! I looked like a crazy person.

Can you imagine practicing Karate like that? Can you imagine practicing Karate while carrying too much baggage?

When I finally got to Okinawa and put my things away at the hotel, I felt so relieved!

Sometimes less is better.

Back to the original question. One instructor is not better than the other. They are different. It takes a certain type of instructor to run a big school and teach hundreds (or thousands) of students. It takes another type of instructor to focus on a smaller group and take the students to a very advanced level. They are just different.

What really matters is whether the instructors continue to practice themselves. If they don't, rank and titles will be empty things. An instructor who stops practicing (unless he has a medical reason) is like a fruit that rots on the tree.

Respectfully,

Charles C. Goodin

Movie Questions

When I started teaching Karate in the mid-1970s, people would ask me about things they saw in Bruce Lee movies. Sometimes I would get questions about the Kung Fu television program. Then there were questions about the Karate Kid series of movies. Later, children would ask about the Ninja Turtles, especially about their weapons, or maybe the Power Rangers.

Yesterday I gave a lecture and was asked if there really is such as technique as the five step death touch as shown in Kill Bill II. Ironically, that technique was used on the character played by David Carradine, the star of Kung Fu.

Oh well, the questions don't change that much -- only the movies do.

Respectfully,

Charles C. Goodin

Okinawan Hogen

A reader was kind enough to alert me to a website with a very informative glossary of Okinawan Hogen terms, including terms using in Karate. It is at the Okinawa Shorin Ryu Matsumura Kenpo Karate and Kobudo Association website in the Articles page.

I understand that Okinawan Hogen is called Uchinaguchi and that there are many dialects. Here in Hawaii, there is a resurgence of interest in Uchinaguchi.

Much of the terminology we use today in Karate was developed on mainland Japan (perhaps that is why we have some sword terms such as shuto and nukite). It would be very interesting to compare the origins and meanings of Karate terms in Japanese and Uchinaguchi. The meaning of a word tends to shape our view about it.

Respectfully,

Charles C. Goodin

Karate -- A Minority Art, Part 9

In looking up the meaning of "naichi," I can across an online article entitled Okinawa: the Acculturation of the Okinawans in Hawai`i, by Carrie Akamine.

I also found two other articles of interest: Assimilation Practices in Okinawa, and Treatment of Okinawans on the Mainland and Overseas.

As Karate students, it is important for us to learn about the Okinawan culture that produced the art, and the challenges facing the early Okinawan Karate Sensei who established the art on mainland Japan.

Respectfully,

Charles C. Goodin

Karate -- A Minority Art, Part 8

Almost there, promise.

At the time that Karate was introduced to the Japanese mainland, many Okinawans continued to speak the Okinawan dialect. We tend to call this Hogen, but Mark Tankosich has told me that "Hogen" refers to any dialect.

Hogen is not like an accent. In the United States, people in different parts of the country have different accents. Our Hawaiian pidgin sounds different than a Southern drawl and a Northern accent. However, we are all speaking the same language. If you can get through the accent, you can understand what the person is saying.

My wife was born in Hawaii. It is funny, but she has a very hard time understanding what people are saying in movies like Braveheart. Other local people have told me the same thing. I literally have to translate for my wife sometimes.

But the Okinawan dialect is not Japanese. Perhaps there are some similarities, but a person who speaks Japanese could not understand a person speaking Okinawan Hogen, or vice versa. They might as well come from different countries -- well I guess that Japan and Okinawa (the Ryukyu Kingdom) were different countries.

When Japan abolished the Ryukyu Kingdom and make Okinawa a prefecture, the people living there were required to learn and speak Japanese. This was not optional. In schools, Japanese was the mandatory language. Students speaking Okinawan Hogen were punished.

But in the 1920s, many of the older Okinawans still spoke Okinawan Hogen. Some could not speak or write Japanese, and some might have resisted Japanese as a sign of resistance and cultural pride.

Privately, I would think that most Karate teachers in Okinawa spoke Okinawan Hogen. But when they taught in the public schools, they would have had to speak Japanese. Thus, the teachers who taught in the public schools would have had Japanese language skills, they had to.

On the Japanese mainland, Karate teachers would have to speak Japanese. If they spoke Okinawan Hogen, they might as well have been speaking Martian -- no one could understand them except other Okinawans. Okinawan Hogen would have sounded like gibberish.

In Hawaii, the Japanese, who arrived here to work on the sugar cane plantations before the Okinawans, would tease the Okinawans by chanting "long rope, long rope." Okinawa literally means "long rope."

Okinawans call mainland Japanese "naichi." This can sound like "no blood."

Respectfully,

Charles C. Goodin

Koshi Fish

The basic principle of teaching students how to use koshi is this: the movement is taught in an exaggerated form for beginners but becomes smaller and more compressed/internalized for advanced students.

If beginners are taught the advanced form, they almost certainly will not get it. But if advanced students continue to use the exaggerated form, they will find that it is not effective for self defense (because it is too big and slow). The proper form must be taught to the student depending upon his level of advancement.

One of the problems in our system is when a student who is supposed to be advanced continues to use the beginner form. This could easily happen when the student learns the beginner form but then does not maintain contact with his sensei. Normally, the sensei will continue to work on the student through the progression of forms.

So what is koshi fish? Have you ever seen film of a fish swimming in the water? The fish sort of shakes its body from side to side in an undulating manner. It is a very relaxed and natural movement.

Now look at fast moving fish. Have you ever seen film of a barracuda? Sometimes it just lazily drifts in the water until it spots its prey. Then it explodes toward its target. In slow motion, you can see it shaking its body to generate power. The "shake" is like a tight series of twitches.

This is a good example of the koshi becoming smaller and more compressed/internalized for advanced students.

I saw a similar film of mako sharks chasing bait being towed behind a fast moving boat. The shark would accelerate in rapid bursts by shaking its body.

Now the barracuda and the shark would not get very far if they tried to generate speed using only their fins and tails. They do not generate power with their extremities -- they generate power using their whole body. The power of the core of their bodies is transmitted through their extremities (fins and tail).

So the next time you are practicing koshi, you might try shaking your body like a fish (a really fast fish).

Respectfully,

Charles C. Goodin

Kishaba Sensei on Bugeisha Cover

I don't do this often. If you search right now on ebay.com, someone is selling the 1998 issue of Bugeisha magazine (Issue 6, Summer 1998) with Sensei Chokei Kishaba on the cover. Just search for "Kishaba."

Respectfully,

Charles C. Goodin

Bunkai -- Qualified

I'm going to guest teach a Karate class soon, and I have been thinking about what to teach. I pretty much always teach body dynamics (because that is emphasized in my style of Shorin-Ryu) but I was thinking about teaching bunkai (applications of the movements of kata). I discussed this with the instructor of the dojo I am going to visit and decided upon teaching body dynamics, but not for the reason you might think.

I have reached a point where the bunkai I tend to teach is not suitable for children to see. To be frank, the applications are too violent and in many cases, deadly. There are things that children simply should not learn and probably should not see.

Karate is an effective art when the techniques are brutal. But would it be as effective if the deadly and terrible techniques were removed?

Think about it. Instead of kicking the groin, you would kick to the stomach. Instead of poking or raking the eyes, you would punch to the chest. Instead of dislocating the attacker's arm, twisting him around and breaking his neck, you would... I guess you would punch him in the chest again.

With the brutal techniques removed, Karate is not very effective. We have to realize that. Without such techniques, Karate is size dependent -- the bigger and stronger person would usually win. For those of us who are smaller and weaker, that means that we would usually lose.

I will not show certain techniques to children. I wonder if Itosu Sensei faced the same problem? When formulating the Pinan kata, do you think that he sanitized the bunkai for consumption by children? I'm pretty sure that he did. Then that sanitized version of Karate was taught to successive generations of students. It is no wonder that many Karate students today question the effectiveness of their techniques.

But still, there are things I will not show to children.

Respectfully,

Charles C. Goodin

Salute To Veterans

Today we honor America's veterans. My father was a career Air Force enlisted man and my wife's father was a career Navy enlisted man.

I started martial arts practice when my father was stationed at Misawa Air Force Base in Northern Japan. I practiced Judo and the base gymnasium. That is also where I first saw Kendo.

When we moved to Hickam Air Force Base in Hawaii, I started to practice Judo again. Later, I started to practice Kenpo Karate under Florentino S. Pancipanci at Hickam. He also had advanced classes at Schofield Barracks and Barber's Point. I next practiced Kenpo Karate under Edward Wallace at the CHA-3 quonset hut in Moanalua. That program was administered by the Navy.

I later taught Karate at Hickam Air Force Base.

In all the classes I took at military bases, there were active duty military personnel training and teaching. Some of the early Karate instructors after World War II were servicemen or government employees who had learned Karate while stationed in Japan or Okinawa.

My point is that my own martial arts training was thanks to the U.S. military. Countless other military personnel and their dependents around the world were able to learn martial arts thanks to the military.

Were it not for the military, I am pretty sure that I would have not learned martial arts and would not have formed the Hawaii Karate Museum.

I send my respect to the men and women who have served with distinction in the United States military. There is a saying that freedom is not free. Were it not for our veterans, we would not be free.

Respectfully,

Charles C. Goodin

Karate -- A Minority Art, Part 7

Another characteristic of Okinawans, asserted at the time of introduction of Karate to mainland Japan, was that Okinawans were dark. Much like the issue of hairiness, the idea behind discrimination based on dark skin color was that Okinawans were somehow less cultured or civilized.

When I was a child, I lived in Northern Japan at Misawa Air Force Base. I remember taking trips to the countryside with my family. Japanese women who worked in the fields would drive small motorcycles. No matter how hot it was, they would be covered from head to toe with clothing to protect them from the son. Literally every inch of their bodies, except their eyes, was covered. This was in the 1960s -- people were not concerned about skin cancer. They were concerned about becoming dark.

I have seen many photographs of how the early Okinawans looked here in Hawaii when they worked on the sugar cane plantation. Indeed, they were very dark. They look as dark as Filipinos (another group working on the plantations). Of course, anyone would become dark working long hours in the hot Hawaiian sun.

Hawaii and Okinawa are very similar. Both are very hot and sunny (Okinawa is even more humid).

My point is that people working outside in Hawaii or Okinawa would get dark. I am probably the only exception -- I would get burned! I would turn dark for two days and then my skin would peal off!

So were Okinawans darker than mainland Japanese? Some probably were and some probably were not. And if they were, so what? Today we would consider skin color to be irrelevant... wouldn't we? I certainly hope so.

Note:
Use sunscreen!

Respectfully,

Charles C. Goodin

41 Things To Protect Yourself

As Karate students, we spend a great deal of time practicing self defense techniques. Here are some practical things you can do to protect yourself:

  1. Carry a cellular phone.
  2. Let your loved ones know where you are.
  3. Install smoke detectors in your house.
  4. If you have smoke detectors in your house, make sure that the batteries are good.
  5. Make sure that you have a fire extinguisher.
  6. Wear your seatbelt.
  7. Make sure that the headrest in your car is properly positioned to help prevent whiplash.
  8. Drive slow.
  9. Don't use your cellular phone while driving.
  10. Use car seats for infants and young children.
  11. Get regular health check ups.
  12. Get into the best shape possible.
  13. Exercise regularly.
  14. Watch your diet. Eat healthy food.
  15. Properly dispose of expired medications.
  16. Speak to your doctor about your medications. Make sure that you take them properly. Some cold medications can increase your blood pressure which can be a real problem if you already have high blood pressure.
  17. Make sure that your health insurance is current.
  18. Keep matches and lighters away from young children.
  19. Avoid dangerous places (such as gas stations at midnight).
  20. When someone cuts you off on the road, don't yell at them or "flip them off." They might be armed.
  21. Make sure that your hurricane kit is properly stocked.
  22. Make sure that your bird flu stocks are sufficient.
  23. Have a NOAA weather radio.
  24. Have a home fire evacuation plan.
  25. Make sure that your home pool is properly covered and secured.
  26. Wear sunscreen.
  27. Make sure you have jumper cables in your car.
  28. Think before you speak, particularly if you are angry.
  29. Don't abuse alcohol or drugs.
  30. Don't smoke.
  31. Choose your sex partner(s) carefully and practice safe sex. Sexually transmitted diseases can kill you or make your terribly ill.
  32. In the ocean, don't swim in murky water or at night.
  33. At the beach, pay attention to posted warning signs.
  34. Don't swim alone.
  35. Don't dive into shallow water. (I did this and could have broken my neck.)
  36. Don't squirt lighter fluid into a fire.
  37. Tie your shoe laces before you trip.
  38. Don't overload electrical outlets or surge protectors.
  39. Change your passwords.
  40. Back up your files.
  41. Stop, drop and roll.
Learning self defense is good but being careful in everyday life is equally important.

Respectfully,

Charles C. Goodin

Karate -- A Minority Art, Part 6

Just a reminder. I am describing some of the factors that formed the basis for discrimination against Okinawans at the time that Karate was introduced by Okinawans to mainland Japan (1920s). For those of us in the west, these factors might not be obvious. It might be hard for us to see how one Asian group could discriminate against another when they pretty much look the same (to us). Of course, the underlying reasons for discrimination are seldom the ones asserted by the majority.

Japanese tended to think that Okinawans are hairy. You might be thinking "so what?" But in this sense, "hairy" means "primitive." Have you ever seen the Godzilla movie where a group of Pacific islanders awaken Mothra? I dare say that the impression of Okinawans was not too far from that.

Are Okinawans really more hairy than Japanese? Some are and some are not.

I get to go to many events with Okinawan people. One thing I and my wife have noticed is that many older Okinawan men have very thick heads of hair. Their hairs are thick and their head is full of hair! They have the hair of young men!

Next month I will turn 50. If you are a man of a similar age, you are probably thinking that a thick head of hair is a good thing. In fact, Americans spend millions of dollars each year on drugs to grow hair and for hair transplant surgery. We want thick hair! We do not want receding hairlines and bald spots.

So if Okinawans do have more hair, that should be a good thing -- not the basis for discrimination, right?

Times change and what people deem as desirable or terrible also changes. Saying that Okinawans were hairy was a way to say that they were primitive and less cultured than mainland Japanese. It was just another reason to justify prejudice.

Fortunately, today we are not so easily tricked into discriminating against our fellow human beings. We celebrate our differences. Don't we?

Respectfully,

Charles C. Goodin

Yakusoku Kumite

Yakusoku (promise) kumite is a prearranged sequence between two students. One student will usually attack, and the other will defend. Sometimes there is an exchange of attacks and defenses. But the main point is that the sequence is prearranged -- each student knows what he will do and what his partner will do.

Many schools have such patterns. The best example is probably with sets designed by Sensei Choki Motobu (the Motobu Choki Juni Hon Kumite). I have practiced various forms myself and often make informal patterns for my students.

But there can be a concern that prearranged sequences teach students how not to hit each other rather than how to properly defend. My good friend and senior, Sensei Pat Nakata, often mentions this. In his view, yakusoku kumite does not teach a student how to actually fight.

You might have seen this yourself. Let's say that a student is supposed to throw a punch to his partner's head and that the partner is supposed to execute a high block (jodan uke). After a while, you might notice that the attacker is actually punching over his partner's head, and the partner is blocking where he knows that the punch will be. The attacker is not really attacking and the defender is not really defending. Even within the prearranged sequence, there is no feeling of reality. The attacker is punching to miss and the defender is blocking a punch that would have never hit him!

It all becomes a pretty dance. Actually, audiences like this sort of thing only because they do not really understand Karate. To spice it up, the students might even throw in a loud, exaggerated kiai or two. Yakusoku kumite can become "performance art".

Of course, a real attacker will not punch to miss -- he will punch to hit, and you will not know where he is going to punch you. You will have to react to quickly changing circumstances. He might even punch, but pull back and redirect to another target. If you move in the robot-like manner of yakusoku kumite, you will certainly be hit.

My first Shorin-Ryu Sensei here in Hawaii was very good about this. When he hit you -- whenever he hit you -- you felt certain that he was going to actually hit you. You feared for your safety. You blocked because you knew that if you did not, you would be injured. He had a way of making all attacks real.

He could do this because he was very advanced. If beginners attempted this, someone would certainly get hurt. I feel that beginners need structured patterns to familiarize themselves with the attacking and blocking sequences. But as they advance, they need to be encouraged to move with more authenticity. They must not get lulled into sloppy, telegraphed, designed-to-miss techniques.

I believe that there is a place for yakusoku kumite. They are a basic form. But we must be aware of the risk that they can make us weaker rather than stronger, and poorer fighters rather than better ones. I agree with Nakata Sensei in this regard.

Real attackers make no promises, except that they will try their best to injure or kill you. You have to be equally committed -- actually even more so.

Respectfully,

Charles C. Goodin

Karate -- A Minority Art, Part 5

We are getting closer. But perhaps this is a good time to mention that there is no place for prejudice and discrimination in Karate. As instructors, we must be fair and open minded. A person should be judged based on his or her character and actions, not by the color of his or her skin.

Certainly, a person is not "bad" just because he is from Okinawa, nor is he necessarily "good." There are bad and good people from all parts of the world.

I think that there is a general bias in favor of Karate teachers from Japan and Okinawa -- that they are somehow superior. My personal experience is that there are good and bad instructors from both places. What is probably true is that there is a greater concentration of high level instructors in these places -- certainly more than in most parts of the United States. We are lucky here in Hawaii to also have a high concentration of high level Karate (and other martial arts) instructors.

But again, it is one thing to discuss discrimination at the time of the introduction of Karate to mainland Japan. That is history. It is quite another thing to continue to discriminate against people based on factors such as their country of origin, language, religion, skin color, gender, sexual orientation, etc.

Come on! As Karate students and instructors we must hold ourselves to a high standard! We must not tolerate discrimination. The same sun shines on everyone in the world.

Respectfully,

Charles C. Goodin

Karate -- A Minority Art, Part 4

There is something that differs between Japanese and Okinawans -- their surnames. Again, this is something that might be hard for Americans (or Westerners) to appreciate. The names "Tanaka" and "Miyashiro" might sound equally Japanese to us, but they might as well be pronounced "Japanese" and "Okinawan". When you hear the name "Higa", you know that the bearer is Okinawan.

While there are some Okinawan names that sound the same as Japanese names, they are usually written differently (in kanji). I suspect that this was done originally to make it easier to distinguish or identify the minority.

Some of the popular Okinawan names as we know them today, are actually the Japanese pronunciations of the the names. Miyashiro (or Miyagi), for example, are the Japanese ways of pronouncing the earlier name: Miyagusuku. The modern Higashionna or Higaonna was more pronounced Hijaunna (with a buzzing sound that I can't write). The Okinawans had their own dialect(s) that was very different from the Japanese language. In fact, Okinawans and Japanese could not understand each other. Of course, the solution was for the Okinawans to be required to learn and speak only Japanese.

This subject is much broader than I can cover. For my purpose, the point is that Okinawan names could be distinguished by Japanese. When Japanese heard or read the name "Motobu," they knew, without a doubt, that the person was Okinawan, a minority.

Funakoshi, Motobu, Miyagi, Mabuni, Yabu, Hanashiro, Higashionna, Higa, Itosu... these are all Okinawan names.

By the way, one Okinawan elder here in Hawaii asked me if I knew why so many Karate experts had the prefix "Cho" in their first names. A quick list came to my mind: "Chomo Hanashiro, Choyu Motobu, Choki Motobu, Chosin Chibana, Chojun Miyagi." He explained that the prefix "Cho" was reserved for sons in families that were closely related to the King of Okinawa.

Now wait a minute... these Karate experts were not only Okinawan but related to the Okinawan royal family? And the Japanese government abolished the Ryukyu Kingdom and forced its king into exile in Tokyo in the late 1870s? How would it look for these "Cho" people to be teaching a martial art in mainland Japan? Would it do to have relatives of an exiled King to be teaching a minority art on the mainland?

It is certainly something to think about.

Respectfully,

Charles C. Goodin

Karate -- A Minority Art, Part 3

I wanted to add something about height. I am 5 feet, 8 inches tall (actually a little less, but I will round up).

I think that I am taller than all of the Japanese and Okinawan teachers I have ever had, going back to when I started Judo at the age of 7 in Japan. I am certainly taller than my two Shorin-Ryu Sensei (although they look taller to me when we practice -- isn't that funny!).

When I have gone to Las Vegas with my wife, I think that I was shorter than many of the children there. I have a Karate friend in Belleville, Illinois (Jim Alexander). I think that he is 6 feet, 4 inches tall. I look like a child standing next to him!

My point is that even if Okinawans were somewhat shorter than Japanese (particularly before World War II), Japanese were generally shorter than people in America.

So why should short people discriminate against shorter people? The bigger question is why any people should discriminate against any other people. And yet, it has happened and continues to happen in the world.

I am taking pains to describe this to properly set the background for discussing Karate as a minority art in mainland Japan. Please bear with me.

I would like to add another point. Height does not matter in Karate. Believe me. When you face a very skilled Karate expert, you do not think "well, I am taller than him." And he is not concerned with your height. Karate is a height equalizer. In fact, a taller person has more to hit.

Of course, a taller person might have a longer reach. That is a consideration. And a more skilled taller person should defeat a less skilled shorter person. But a skilled short person is a real danger. That is one of the appeals of Karate -- that it is not size dependent.

Respectfully,

Charles C. Goodin

Karate -- A Minority Art, Part 2

So what are the physical characteristics that distinguish Okinawans from Japanese? As with any case of discrimination, there are usually characteristics that are emphasized by the majority group to identify the minority.

The usual list of characteristics are that Okinawans are:

  • Short
  • Stocky
  • Hairy
  • Dark
Having lived in Hawaii since 1972, I can say that I have Okinawan friends who are tall (not short), slim (not stocky), bald (not hairy), and fair (not dark). Okinawans are like all other people -- there is no "one" profile. I was struck when I went to Okinawa for the first time in 2002, of how much Okinawan children look like Hawaii children.

That said, I believe that you can see a difference between the elder Okinawans in Hawaii and the younger generation. The elder generation, particularly the ones who came from Okinawa or where born to that generation here, did tend to be shorter than we see today. This was almost certainly due to the diet of the Okinawans in Okinawa and here in Hawaii at that time. A poor diet usually results in lower growth rates. (Remember that before the war, Okinawa was the poorest prefecture in Japan.)

I went to a meeting for people from Itoman. One of my friends was in the group. Three people who were raised in Okinawa before the war shared their experiences. They all said that just about the only thing they ate in Okinawa was purple potato. Rice was a luxury item. Even finding wood for a fire took a lot of work.

Okinawans have the greatest longevity in the world, probably because of their meager diet (by American standards).

At that meeting, one gentleman shared how he came to Hawaii and worked as a dishwasher. He had to walk a long way to work, then work long hours. It was a hard job. But he said that even the lowest paid worker in Hawaii could still afford to eat a hot dog and musubi (rice ball). Even the poorest worker here was better off than he would have been in Okinawa.

So diet may have made Okinawans shorter, certainly by American standards.

But I believe that the physical differences emphasized in the prewar years were exaggerated. This always seems to be the case when prejudice is involved.

My point is that Okinawans and Japanese were not very different physically. The differences between them was more cultural (art, language, diet, clothing, hair styles, dance, religion, etc.).

And in any event, any physical differences (even if there were any) did not seem to affect the spread of Karate to mainland Japan and the world. The techniques of Karate work for all people -- not just Okinawans.

Respectfully,

Charles C. Goodin

Karate -- A Minority Art, Part 1

Karate was introduced to mainland Japan in the 1920s. It was then that Okinawan teachers living on mainland Japan started to publicly teach the art. Gichin Funakoshi is the best known of these teachers, but he was not the only one. Others included Choki Motobu, Kenwa Mabuni, Chojun Miyagi, Kanken Toyama, and Tsuyoshi Chitose. Of course, there were many Karate experts visiting and living on mainland Japan before the 1920s.

In the United States, when we think about minorities, we usually think about people of a different color. White people are the majority, and Blacks, American Indians, Latinos, Asians, and others are the minorities (of course, this is vastly oversimplified). You can see the difference between the groups, or at least some people think so. For the record, I am against discrimination. I am of mixed race myself. I am only writing this to make a point about the development of Karate.

From a certain point of view, all Asians are a single minority. But Asians are not just one group. People from places such as Japan, China, and Korea are distinct. And people from such countries are distinctly aware of their unique identities. This is even more true in their home countries.

My mother grew up in pre-war Japan. She is Japanese. One of her best friends was Korean. This was a problem. As a Japanese, she was not supposed to have a Korean friend. Japanese and Koreans did not mix.

Today this would seem strange, but in prewar Japan this was common. There was a great deal of discrimination against Koreans and other minority groups -- including Okinawans.

Although Okinawa formally became a part of Japan in the 1870s, its people were still viewed as a minority. They were not considered to be "Japanese."

Again, to people living in the United States today, this may seem strange. Today, Okinawans are viewed as being Japanese. But that is a little like calling native Hawaiians, Americans. It is true that Hawaii is now a state and people living here are Americans, but Hawaii's native people were here long before the United States was even a country.

In a similar way, the people we call Okinawans were part of the Ryukyu Kingdom long before they were considered to be Japanese. Okinawans were a distinct group. And even if we cannot see it, Japanese and Okinawans could see it before World War Two (and can still see it today).

I would say that the differences between Japanese and Okinawans before World War Two, were just as obvious to them as the differences between white people and black people in the southern United States in the 1920s and 1930s.

My mother was not supposed to have a Korean friend when she was a young girl. I am sure that there were similar sentiments about Okinawans. Just ask Okinawans who married Japanese at that time. It was a very difficult thing. Japanese were not supposed to marry Okinawans.

Again, this may seem crazy today. As Americans, we believe in equality of rights, that all men were created equal. But in prewar Japan, this was not the case.

So at the time that Karate was introduced to mainland Japan, the Okinawans teaching it were viewed as minorities. Okinawa was the poorest prefecture in Japan. Okinawans came to mainland Japan to work and make a living, to escape poverty -- not as cultural ambassadors.

Karate was a minority art in a land where the proper role of minorities was to conform and keep their place.

So how did this shape the early teaching of Karate on mainland Japan?

Respectfully,

Charles C. Goodin

Guest Post: For Who, and Why?

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.

Mark is the author of Karate Ni Sente Nashi: What the Masters Had to Say and Japanese Ego Negation and the Achievement of Self, which are hosted at the Hawaii Karate Seinenkai website. He has also published English translations of Japanese Karate articles, including Practice Kata Correctly, by Kenwa Mabuni.

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For Who, and Why?

As I discussed in "One Reason Why I Train," even though I have lived in Japan for quite a long time, I have continued to choose for my teacher a man who lives in the US. Because of this, I have no karate dojo that I belong to here in Japan. I simply train on my own (on the riverbank) most of the time.

After I left my home dojo in the States, I did no karate teaching whatsoever, until quite recently. Despite my teacher encouraging me to teach others here in Japan, I always (somewhat selfishly, I admit) felt that I would rather spend any time that I had on my own training.

Recently, however, a young man of 15 or so approached me and asked me to teach him. He was someone that I knew fairly well, and it was clear to me that he might not be a very good candidate for karate training. He is rather timid, not particularly athletic, and pretty easily frightened. "Would it really be wise to invest my limited time in a young man like this?" I wondered. "Will he be able to stick with it? Will he become skilled at all?" One other consideration that I also thought about was that his parents told me that he was having trouble dealing with the stresses of his (very competitive) junior high school.

In the end, I decided to accept the young man as my first student ever in Japan. Why? Well, first of all, I generally like this boy; he is a good kid. Secondly, not having any kids of my own, I thought it would be nice to have regular contact with him. But what really made up my mind for me was that I kept thinking, "This is the kind of person that karate can help most. Strong, athletic, fearless kids don't need karate; this kid does. If karate isn't for the weaker members of society, then who is it for?"

I have been teaching my student now for about a month or so. He is very enthusiastic about his training, and is making pretty good progress.

As I've taught this young man, I've been reminded of something that I first realized more than a decade ago, when I, myself, was struggling with some problems in life. I'm not sure that I can express it very clearly, but I have been reminded of my sense that karate training gives me (and others, I believe) hope. Hope that I can become a stronger person; not just physically, but mentally and spiritually. Hope that, with work, I can learn more about -- and improve -- myself. Hope that I can become more in control of my own destiny. In short, hope that, with work, I can improve my life.

Now, I certainly don't think my new student is thinking about all this intellectual gobbledygook. But I do believe that his karate training has begun to give him a little bit of extra hope about his future.

Mark Tankosich

Mark Tankosich's Guest Posts and Articles

These are Guest Posts and articles 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.

I am very grateful to Mark for sharing his thoughts and translations skills in the Karate Thoughts Blog.

Articles hosted at the Hawaii Karate Seinenkai website.

Boiling Water

There was a cook who needed to bring a pot of water to a boil for his recipe. However, every few minutes he would pour out half of the water and refill the pot with cold water. As a result, the water would never boil.

Karate is like this. You have to give the water time to boil. If you keep adding new things, you will only be lukewarm.

Why do some people constantly dilute their Karate with other things -- other kata, other styles, whatever is popular at the time?

If your Karate curriculum is sufficiently complete, it will "boil" if you give it enough time. However, if you have not learned a sufficiently complete system, no amount of heat will cause your Karate to "boil."

So what is "sufficiently complete?" This is hard to say. It is easier to say what is not. If your Karate does not provide good results, despite long term, diligent effort, and if your technique becomes worse with age rather than better, then you might have learned a system that is not sufficiently complete. This is easy to have done, given the many times in Karate history when the art was compressed or limited to teach school students, university students, military draftees, foreigners (with limited time to train), etc., and modified for tournaments. Each time the art was reduced, it became less complete and the chance of "boiling" also was reduced.

Let me give you another example. It is necessary to learn the alphabet in order to communicate in writing. However, repeating the alphabet thousands of times will not help you to form words and sentences, and to write freely. The alphabet, by itself, is not a complete system. It is a necessary part, but not the whole thing.

Alphabet Karate is not complete either. No amount of repeating it will yield transformational (boiling) results.

If you practice a complete system, give it time. With your diligent effort and sufficient time, you will be amazed at the results! Don't dilute your Karate. Give it a chance to boil!

Respectfully,

Charles C. Goodin

Kata -- Never Boring

I am easily bored. When I attended graduate school (business), I would bring thick religion and philosophy books to read during class. If I read a book, I could pay attention to the lectures. Otherwise, I would fall asleep!

But there is one thing that never makes me bored -- kata. No matter how many times I practice a kata, it is never boring. Naihanchi Shodan is thought of by some people as one of the most basic kata. Not to me! I can do the kata over and over, this week, next week, next year, etc. No matter how many times I practice that kata, or any kata, I find that I learn something.

How can I move more efficiently? How do the movements relate to each other? What are the applications? What are the variations? How is the timing? How can be movements be connected or separated?

Do you remember being a young student in biology class? A little drop of pond water looks like nothing until you put it under the microscope. Then... wow! There is a whole world in that little drop.

Kata are like that. I don't care how kata are scored in tournaments. I don't care how they look to an audience. When I practice kata, I am in that drop of water.

I am never bored when I practice or teach kata. Perhaps that is the reason I have never stopped practicing.

Respectfully,

Charles C. Goodin

Harry Cook's CFA Kata Article

The latest issue of Classical Fighting Arts is now out (Vol. 2 No 12, Issue #35). I spent some time today reading Harry Cook's article The History and Evolution of Karate-do Kata Part II. What an excellent article!

Many of us believe that kata is the heart of Karate. Some would go so far to say that without kata, there is no Karate. However, the depth of kata practice and the interpretation of the techniques in the kata vary greatly in Karate schools around the world. I think it would be fair to say that some people practice kata for their appearance alone, with no understanding of or interest in practical applications. My Sensei says that many people practice kata with the "fight" removed.

Cook Sensei has done an excellent job of presenting different views about kata. He writes: "[A]s martial artists we should be interested in the practical effect of the movements we perform, and the context in which they are performed, and if we look at kata in the traditional way we can discover a very valuable source of techniques and tactics."

I could not agree more.

I am very fortunate to know many senior Karate instructors. Having been on the receiving end of many of their techniques, I can say that there is a world of difference between an instructor who truly understands kata and on who does not. It is a bit like an ignorant person using a gun as a hammer. Kata teaches us how easy it is to aim and pull the trigger!

I write for Classical Fighting Arts but am also a big fan of its excellent articles. When I receive an issue, I don't read my articles, I read all the others (articles, interviews and translations). And I wish I could find the original of the photo of Chojun Miyagi and Gichin Funkakoshi that appears on page 25 of the current issue!

I hope that you will try to find CFA at the newstand, your local bookstore, or online at:


My compliments to Cook Sensei. I can't wait to see his next book, Karate Chronicles!

Respectfully,

Charles C. Goodin

How To "Kill" Karate

The best way to "kill" Karate is to standardize it -- to make all Karate students do the same things in the same ways.

Whether for tournaments, the Olympics, accreditation, promotions, titles, etc., standardization is the surest way to kill an art.

If I have 10 students, I will try to make each of the them the best they can be. They will not be the same, clones of each other. Each will be unique and their techniques will reflect their unique strengths and weaknesses.

My own small group of students will not be the same. How could students in other styles, dojo and other countries hope to be the same? And if they could, would it still be "Karate?"

Karate students are not formed in a mold.

Respectfully,

Charles C. Goodin

Picking The Place And Time

This is a story.

There was a great Karate fighter named Bob -- the best in the world. He had won every tournament and title. He was big, strong and fast -- a real fighter. He was also very conceited.

One day after winning another tournament, Bob went for dinner with some friends, one of whom was Sally, a nurse who worked at the local hospital. Brimming with pride over his latest victory, Bob boasted, "I can beat anyone, anywhere, at any time!"

"I wouldn't say that," said Sally. "I will fight you if you let me pick the place and time."

Bob almost spit his beer across the restaurant. He was shocked. "You're crazy!" he shouted.

"I'm completely serious," replied Sally calmly.

"You're on!" yelled Bob.

The days passed. Weeks passed. Whenever Bob inquired about their fight, Sally would say, "Not yet. Soon."

A year went by, then two. Bob forget all about the challenge. One day, as he was flying to a tournament on the West Coast, his jet suffered engine failure and crashed on takeoff. Bob sustained massive injuries and was rushed to the hospital.

Twelve hours later, as he regained consciousness, Bob found himself paralyzed, with countless tubes and wires connected to his body. As his vision cleared, he was reassured to find Sally by his side. He could not even lift his hand but summoned all his strength to give a weak smile.

Sally leaned forward and gently whispered in his ear, "here and now."

No matter how strong or powerful one might be, there comes a time when he can be beaten, if not by a person, then by injury, disease, or death.

Respectfully,

Charles C. Goodin

How Much Do You Owe?

Sometimes you might see a television commercial in which a person exclaims, "I own real estate worth over $1 million!"

Being an attorney practicing in the area of real estate, I always ask myself, "How much does that person owe?"

A million dollar property with no debt is really good, but the same property with two million dollars in debt is something altogether different.

When it comes to skill in Karate, I always feel the same (sort of). I am very grateful for the Karate I have been fortunate enough to learn from my Sensei and seniors. If my Karate skill is worth $1 million, I would say that I owe $10 million for it. My Karate is encumbered by the debt I owe to my Sensei and seniors. Without them, I would have nothing in Karate.

Of course I realize that we have to refine Karate by our own sweat and effort. We can only learn so much from our Sensei and seniors. But without them, we could not get to the point where our own sweat and effort could lead to refinement. Without our Sensei and seniors, we would be groping in the dark.

Before anyone gets the wrong idea, I am not saying that my Karate skill is worth $1 million. I am just using that as an example. Whatever skill I have in Karate is encumbered tenfold by my debt to my Sensei and seniors.

Also, when I use the term Sensei, I am writing it in the Japanese sense. There is no plural in Japanese. So when I say "Sensei," I mean all the Sensei I have ever had. I currently have two Sensei of Shorin-Ryu and have had many Sensei of Karate and other martial arts. I mean all that when I write the term "Sensei."

Being in such great debt, I will try my best to use my Karate for good and also teach to the best of my ability. I feel that there is no way to directly repay your Sensei and seniors. So the next best thing is to pay the next generation by teaching them. We repay our Sensei and seniors by teaching and setting a good example for the next generation.

Respectfully,

Charles C. Goodin

Things To Do When Promoted

Here are some things a student might do when he or she is promoted:

  • Thank your Sensei and seniors for teaching you.
  • Practice even harder, in all aspects of your life.
  • Help your juniors even more.
  • Don't talk about it.
Promotions should be accepted with a sense of humility and commitment.

And remember that if the student has the requisite skill, the promotion is simply a recognition of that fact. If the student is skilled, the promotion will not change that. If the student is not skilled, a promotion will not remedy that. Skill comes from hard work only, not pieces of paper.

As an instructor, I am always curious to see how a student reacts when he is promoted. How he reacts will reflect why he is practicing Karate.
  • If the student thanks his Sensei and seniors, then the promotion reflects his sense of gratitude.
  • If the student trains even harder, then the promotion reflects his desire to train.
  • If the student helps his juniors even more, then the promotion reflects his love the art and compassion for his fellow students.
  • If the student promptly or shortly quits, he was seeking the promotion itself rather than training himself.
  • If the student talks about it, then the promotion might reflect a sense of insecurity or desire for attention.
When it comes to promotions, it is best to get it and forget it. Receive it with composed gratitude and get back to work. Don't let the promotion get in the way of your training.

And don't forget that an attacker on the street won't know and won't care about your rank. Neither will a falling tree, a hurricane, a flood, or other natural disaster.

Respectfully,

Charles C. Goodin

Fighting Sideways

In general, we do not "fight" with our shoulders square to the opponent. I put "fight" in quotes because we really don't fight, we defend.

When our shoulders are square to the opponent, we are open to his attack. Our centerline (sechusen) is open and exposed (unless we protect it, and it is hard to protect the entire vertical centerline).

It is safer to fight sideways, or in a hanmi (slanted) position. While in hanmi, our body is slanted to the opponent, making it harder for him to attack our vertical sechusen. See An Introduction to Hanmi, Hanmi -- Correction, Hanmi -- Javelin, Hanmi -- Square Shoulders, Hanmi -- Joint Alignment, and Hanmi -- Look Up.

But there is another reason. Go through the motions of whipping something with a wet towel. Imagine it. You grab the towel and twirl it a little to tighten it, then you pull back and snap it to...

Your side. It is unlikely that you snapped to to the front with your shoulders square to the front. You likely snapped it to the side, because that is the most natural motion.

Our system of Karate utilizes a lot of whiplike motion. We whip in a way aligning our joints. Think again about snapping a towel. When you snap to the side, your joints are aligned: your ankles, knees, hip, shoulders, elbows, wrists... But when you snap the towel in front to you (standing with your shoulders square to the front) your joints are all out of alignment with respect to the line of the snap.

Fighting sideways makes a lot of sense when you use whip mechanics. It also helps to protect the vulnerable centerline of the body.

Of course, we are not limited to fighting sideways. We can generate power and move in any direction. But sideways is generally the best. You can also see this in the Naihanchi series of kata and in the applications demonstrated by Choki Motobu, who excelled at Naihanchi.

Respectfully,

Charles C. Goodin