Karate Thoughts Blog


Contents   /   Email  /   Atom  /   RSS  /  

1650+ Posts... and Counting

Sheets of Wood

If have often read of seemingly amazing feats by Karate masters of old who could break or poke their fingers through sheets of wood. I remember reading that Kentsu Yabu broke seven sheets of wood with his fingertips during his 1927 visit to Hawaii.

I was speaking to a Karate senior who trained for three decades in Okinawa. He mentioned to me that "the sheets of wood in Okinawan were thinner than what we use today."

Okinawa was a very poor prefecture. The Karate masters were not poking their fingers through "two by fours" or plywood. I'm not saying that they were not strong or tremendously conditioned, just that we should not forget that they were human.

When I was in high school I went to a Karate demonstration. An instructor held up two pieces of wood that he planned to break. To show that they were strong, he banged them together -- and they broke.

You've probably been to a demonstration where a board simply would not break. I've seen demonstrators rip their knuckles and damage their hands trying in vain to break such an unbreakable board.

This just goes to show that you can't judge the strength of a board by simply looking at it. Some strong looking boards are weak and some normal looking boards are incredibly strong -- just like people.

Respectfully,

Charles C. Goodin

Rules Applicable To Karate

The techniques of Karate are used as a last resort. I have often written about this. If this "last resort" is reached, what rules apply to the use of Karate techniques -- what things are illegal, outlawed, or prohibited?

I know that this seems like a simple question. But even the most brutal forms of combat you might see on television have at least some rules. For example, I don't think any competition allows you to grab two of the attacker's fingers and split them apart. This is a very easy and useful technique, but pretty soon all the competitors would have mangled fingers.

In Karate, once the state of "last resort" is reached, there are no laws or rules. It is literally "kill or be killed," or very near that. You must defend yourself and loved ones. The attacker is not restricted by any rules, and you cannot afford to be restricted either.

My point is that unrestricted Karate is quite a different thing than competition Karate or children's Karate. This may sound severe and it is. Karate is a very serious thing. It is no less serious than carrying a gun or a knife.

When rules are applied to Karate, the techniques become less and less effective, and more and more dependent upon size and strength. Rule bound Karate puts women, older, and smaller students at a distinct disadvantage when attacked by a larger and stronger person.

Imagine if someone gave you a gun and told you that you could only use it to strike the attacker, like a hammer. You might as well not have the gun at all, or at least you should get a better hammer.

Rule bound Karate is a bit like having an unloaded gun and being allowed to only say "bang, bang."

If you practice rule bound Karate, your interpretation of techniques will be limited by the rules. The Karate elders of old had no such restrictions, and their techniques reflected this.

Respectfully,

Charles C. Goodin

Guest Post: Seize and Control

This Guest Post is by my friend and senior, Sensei Pat Nakata. Nakata Sensei is the head of the Okinawa Shorin-Ryu Karate Association in Hawaii. He was a student of Chosin (Choshin) Chibana in Shorin-Ryu, and also studied Ryukyu Kobudo under Sensei Fumio Nagaishi. When he was a young man, he studied Wado-Ryu Karate under Sensei Walter Nishioka.

- - - - - - - - - -

Seize and Control

Chibana Chosin Sensei often told me that the real fighting practice in Karate is in the Kata. This teaching is not unique to Chibana Sensei. In fact, it is universal for most Karate. In all of the traditional Karate Katas that I have seen, most of the techniques integrated 'seize and control'. This 'seize and control' within the techniques seem to have been lost, because of two main reasons:
  1. Most Karate teachers (including Chibana Sensei) taught that the a strong punch, kick, strike, and block were of utmost importance. Smashing techniques were in many cases reduced to striking techniques, thus losing the 'seize and control' that made them more brutal and combat effective.
  2. In tournament competition, grabbing and pulling (especially while executing a punch, strike, or kick) is prohibited, because of safety concerns. When Charles Goodin Sensei was looking at a tournament brochure on the illegal or 'outlawed' techniques, he commented that these were the effective techniques that one would use in a real self-defense situation.
Chibana Sensei constantly appeared to redo his grip before executing his Kata movements, but this gripping was in actuality the seizing of the opponent. Many of the old teachers did not show the seizing of the opponent, but in the explanation of the technique (bunkai) they revealed seizing as part of the technique and transition. In most cases the seizing is executed with the [striking] hand, after which [it is used to pull] into the following attack (kick, punch, strike, smash). This hand that seizes, pulls, or opens the opponent is called the 'shigoto no te' or the working hand, which is the essential part in delivering a decisive technique. Some techniques are executed to stun the opponent followed with a seizing technique. Other times a seizing technique is executed as part of a block ('uke').

Seizing an opponent is normally establishing control. To be victorious in an encounter, one must be in control, especially if there is multiple opponents. As the great swordsman, Miyamoto Musashi, points out in his 'Book of Five Rings', "one should move directly into the opponent. One does not make adjustments to the opponent, but lets the opponent make the adjustment to you. When the opponent does adjust, destroy him (cut him down)". Establishing control is one of the main fighting strategies in Martial Arts. This control is in the Kata (Classical Kata). Again, as Miyamoto Musashi said quite often in his book, "you must study this well".

Study well this 'seize and control'.

Pat Nakata

Vote, Vote, Vote

Elections here in the United States will be held next Tuesday. Whatever your political persuasion may be, it is important that you exercise your right to vote. I would say that voting is not just a right, it is a responsibility.

Karate is not political, at least not in a governmental sense. However, part of being a good Karate student is being a good citizen.

The people you vote for might not win, but at least your vote will be counted. You will have expressed your opinion. As the saying goes, if you do not vote, you should not complain.

I am a father of four children, three of whom are already adults. My wife and I encourage our adult children to vote. In Hawaii, it is very easy to vote by absentee ballot, so there is no excuse for not voting.

When I ask people why they do not vote, a common reason I hear is the fear of getting picked for jury duty (based on voter rolls). However, there are other ways that potential jurors are selected, and jury duty is an important civic responsibility.

So please vote. I am not suggesting that you vote one way or another, or for one candidate or another. That is completely up to you.

Respectfully,

Charles C. Goodin

A Lesson In Courtesy

I was at a dinner at a restaurant with a visitor recently. My wife was with us. Midway through the meal, my wife rose to go to the restroom. Our guest, who was sitting at the end of the table, promptly rose to his feet until my wife left the table. He also rose when she returned. I just sat there.

Sometimes we take things for granted. I do not think that it is too common here in Hawaii for men to rise to their feet when a woman leaves or comes to a table. But it should be. A gentleman should know this. I had let it slip but will not do so again.

On Friday I was at a meeting. In my capacity as an attorney, I belong to a committee that works on standard forms for real estate professionals. I sat between two ladies. I made sure to rise to my feet when they arrived and left their seats. I also offered to help them with their seats. This is something a gentleman should do.

So who was the guest who taught me this lesson in courtesy by his own actions? It was David Chambers, the publisher of Classical Fighting Arts, who visited Hawaii on his way back to his home in California after a visit to Okinawa. Thank you David!

Karate techniques and body dynamics are important. But being courteous is also important, and something we can do in our daily lives. The ideal of a Karate expert is to be a gentleman. See: Okinawa's Bushi: Karate Gentlemen.

Respectfully,

Charles C. Goodin

Tuck Your Koshi And...

I have often written about the posture necessary for power generation and speed in our form of Shorin-Ryu:

  • Lower your shoulders.
  • Squeeze your lats.
  • Tuck your koshi.
  • Slightly bend your knees.
  • Place your weight at about the center of your feet.
I want to add something about tucking your koshi. I have realized that when you tuck your koshi upwards (squeezing out the curve in the small of your back), you should also tighten your abdominal muscles and press them down. Your koshi tucks up and your abs press down.

From the koshi side, there is pressure upward from the feet, knees and thighs. From the abs side, there is pressure downward from the shoulders, back and lats. It is like squeezing a big rubber ball sort of (in a very simplified way).

With the body aligned and tensioned in this manner, it is possible to connect the upper and lower parts of the body. This is important, because almost all power comes up from the feet. If there is a disconnect between the upper and lower parts of the body, this power will be wasted or reduced.

So the tucking up of the koshi is met by the pressing down of the abs, creating tension and a useable connection.

It is a very simple thing, but also very important.

Once a student begins to learn how to generate whole body movement using the koshi, I think that it take about two years for the student to restructure or rebuild his body to accommodate and withstand such dynamics. The proper posture won't help much if your muscles and tendons are not properly conditioned.

Respectfully,

Charles C. Goodin

What I Notice First

I get to meet many Karate students and instructors. Here is what I notice and ask first:

  • Is he in good shape?
  • Does he act like a gentleman (politeness and courtesy)?
  • Who is his Sensei?
  • For how long has he trained?
If he is in poor shape, I will think that he does not train very regularly or well -- unless he is ill.

If he does not act like a gentleman, I will think that he does not train his character as well as his body.

Knowing who his Sensei is will help me to understand the type of Karate he is learning -- the style and emphasis.

If he has trained for a long time -- say 30 years or more -- I will know that he is very serious about Karate.

You might have noticed that I did not ask about his rank or titles. These are too subjective and tell me very little about the person. In fact, if he emphasizes his rank and titles, this will tell me that he is insecure and seeking recognition through his Karate.

You will also notice that I did not ask about tournament wins. I am simply not interested in such things.

I have just thought about another thing I notice -- fingernails. If he has long fingernails I will think that he has not been training regularly.

I'm sure that Karate seniors have their own list of things that they consider. Usually, the first consideration is politeness and composure.

Respectfully,

Charles C. Goodin

Ordering the Okinawan Karate & Kobudo Encyclopedia


This is a follow-up to my post about the Okinawan Karate & Kobudo Encyclopedia.

The book was published by Kashiwashobo in Tokyo, Japan. The encyclopedia is shown on the opening page of the company's website. There is also an order page specifically for the encyclopedia at:


The only problem is that these pages are in Japanese. I have not found an English page yet and automatic translation services are pretty rough. I would not want to base an order on such a translation. However, if you read Japanese, you should be able to order from the above page.

I believe that the encyclopedia is 15,000 Yen. I do not know how much shipping would be, but the encyclopedia is quite heavy.

This is a must have book for any Karate collection or library.

Respectfully,

Charles C. Goodin

One Good Punch

Did you see the last MMA match with Kimbo Slice? He got caught with a good punch and that was it. The match was over in 14 seconds.

Kimbo Slice appears to be a very tough fighter and I am sure that he is extremely strong. But anyone can be dropped by a good punch, even someone as tough as him. If he can be dropped, how much more so could I? I am only 5 foot 8 inches tall and 167 pounds. Plus I am 50.

And what if that punch had been to a spot that could have done permanent damage? A single punch can kill. On the street, a punch might stun or knock someone out and he could die hitting his head on the curb. It happens.

My point is that as Karate students, we have to realize that one good punch could drop us. We have to be on guard for this and not underestimate an attacker. Even a lucky punch could drop or injure us. With multiple attackers, the danger increases.

A person who fights a lot might win. But eventually, the odds are that he will be injured or even killed. That is why Karate techniques must only be used as a last resort, not lightly. This applies to the beginner and the most senior instructor alike.

There is another side to this. If we punch someone, they could be severely injured or even die. Even if we think we are holding back, we could do serious damage. Accidents happen. We are responsible for our actions. If there is no way to avoid it, we have to use Karate techniques. Then and only then can we justify the consequences.

I noticed that Mr. Slice seemed to be OK after the match and that he appeared to be a very good sport. I'm glad that he was not injured badly.

I enjoy watching MMA matches with my sons, but I always fear that someone might be killed or permanently disabled one day... I hope this never happens.

Respectfully,

Charles C. Goodin

How Many Times?

During this political season, I have been watching the debates. Sometimes a candidate will use a certain word or phrase so many times that it becomes almost comical. On talk shows or news programs, these repeated words or phrases are strung together to make an amusing video clip.

What does this have to do with Karate? Sometimes when I meet a Karate instructor or student, he will try to mention his rank as often and in as many ways as possible. "Oh, I am a 5th dan." "When I tested for my 5th dan..." "I used to be a 4th dan, but now that I am a 5th dan..." "Any time now I will be testing for my 6th dan, since I have been a 5th dan for a whole year." "Knock, knock. Who's there? 5th dan." You get the idea.

The same goes for titles.

When I hear this, my eyes must glaze over. I am not interested in rank. And a single mention is more than enough. If we exchange business cards and the person's rank is stated on the card, it does not have to be said at all.

The more rank is stated the less authentic it seems.

If you have a certain rank, you should try your best to hone your skills so that you will not let down the trust your Sensei has shown you. Your rank is not really yours, or at least it is not only yours. It is a statement by your Sensei.

When I meet people, I am more interested in who they train and have trained with and for how many years. I also am keenly aware of their age. Even if a person is junior to me in rank or years of training, I will respect the fact that they are older than me.

Respectfully,

Charles C. Goodin

Koshi Progression -- Heaviness

When I first started to learn how to use my koshi, I was naturally very excited. It became easier and easier to move very quickly in a short distance. Of course, my body hurt for a while, especially my forearms, and it took a while for me to strengthen and coordinate the muscles and tendons involved in the koshi mechanics process.

I did not figure this out on my own -- not at all. I was very fortunate to have a Sensei who could demonstrate and teach koshi mechanics to someone as stiff and clumbsy as me! And then he continued to coach and encourage me as I groped with the A, B, C's of koshi mechanics. I had no special talent, but I did wholeheartedly want to learn.

Once I could move somewhat consistently, the next step was to apply koshi mechanics to each and every movement in each and every technique and kata. Of course, this took time and is an ongoing process. But once you can apply koshi mechanics to one movement, it is possible to apply koshi mechanics to any movement. You can do this on your own.

But this is an ongoing process. Once a student can use his koshi and apply koshi mechanics freely to each and every technique and movement, there is still more to go. The process is not over. In fact, at this stage the student could probably not use koshi powered techniques effectively. The movements would look good, and be very fast and snappy, but they would not have stopping power.

The next step is extemely important. The student must learn to put his body weight behind each movement. The hands and feet cannot simply flail about. It is possible to use the koshi to generate an extremely fast movement. But if the mass behind the strike is small, the power generated will be minimal. You could, for example, use your body/koshi to power an uraken, but if you pull your weight back before the uraken strikes, you will only be hitting with the hand and arm rather than your whole body. The uraken will be very fast and will make a nice "pop," but it will only sting rather than drop the attacker.

A student can learn to move fast and light. It takes much more to learn to move fast and heavy.

Without koshi it is easy to make a heavy movement (a strike with your weight behind it). With koshi, it is easy to make an extremely fast movement (a strike without your weight behind it). The trick is to learn to move in a way that looks extremely fast and light, but is actually fast and heavy.

It is hard to explain this but easy to feel it when you are hit. I have been lucky enough to be hit with such a movement and even as I reeled from the strike I thought to myself, "how could such a fast and light looking technique feel so heavy?"

So the idea is to be able to flick a technique using the koshi that will be able to drop or stop an attacker. I can tell you one thing -- a light looking heavy technique sounds different. I do not mean the snap of the gi but the sound of the body itself. It has a much deeper tone.

I'm sure that there are other stages to the process and each stage has many levels that a student must discover and explore for himself. Developing heaviness is one part of the process. First fast and light, then fast and heavy -- to be able to look like you are just flicking but actually you are throwing your whole body behind the technique.

One last thing. Using koshi is easy. By this I mean that it does not require much physical effort -- like snapping a whip. Putting your weight behind a technique is also easy. It basically involves distance and timing (being close enough to the attacker to hit him with your weight and properly timing the shifting of your weight with the impact of the strike). Thus, moving fast (with koshi) and heavy (with proper distance, body shifting and timing), should also be easy. You should not have to try harder or expend more energy.

This is something to work on.

Respectfully,

Charles C. Goodin

Most Important Thing I Did Last Week

Last week was typically busy for me with my legal work, Hawaii Karate Museum work, teaching at the dojo, family matters, and I was sick with a nagging cold as well. Then there was the United States financial crisis. It was a pretty busy and interesting week.

However, everything I did last week seems trivial when compared to what happened on Thursday. That morning, as I was leaving for work I saw a 20 month child walking on the sidewalk and ran over and grabbed him when he was about 5 feet into the street. The child had somehow gotten out of his house unseen. I was so relieved and happy to return him safely to his parent.

I know that this kind of thing happens all the time. But if I had left for work just a little bit earlier or later, or had not been paying attention, things could have turned out very differently.

I have to tell you that my heart was pounding for 20 minutes. I have four children (aged 26, 22, 19, and 15) and I remember when they were little too. Accidents can happen even when we try our best to care for our children.

Coming to the aid of this child was the most important thing I did last week... and actually one of the most important things I could ever do. Events like this really put things in perspective.

Please watch out around you.

Respectfully,

Charles C. Goodin

Hawaii Karate Museum Collection -- Soon

All of the books being donated to the Hawaii Karate Museum Collection at the Hamilton Library of the University of Hawaii are boxed and ready to go. There are over 1,000 books and over 1,000 journals, plus many multimedia items (video, DVDs, film). Due to the schedule of the university's freeze-dry facility (all the books have to be freeze dried to eliminate any mold or mildew), the donation will probably take place the third week of this month (October 2008).

If you have any Karate or martial arts books that you would like to include in the collection at the time it is established, please contact me:

Charles C. Goodin
Hawaii Karate Museum
98-211 Pali Momi Street, Suite 640
Aiea, Hawaii 96701 USA

e-mail: goodin@hawaii.rr.com

Time is short, but I can still process donations received in the next two weeks. Older books (in English or Japanese) are especially desired. We will continue to list all books and donors at our Rare Karate Book Collection website.

Also, I wanted to let people know that once the donation is made and processed, and the books are indexed (an expensive process since so many books are in Japanese), books in the collection will qualify for inter-library loans, both in the United States and internationally. This means that Karate researchers and enthusiasts around the world will have access to some of the rarest Karate materials.

Thank you very much to everyone around the world who has donated Karate books to the Hawaii Karate Museum and supported our efforts.

Whats next? Even more work to preserve the history of Karate in Hawaii and the world.

Respectfully,

Charles C. Goodin

Last Resort Rationale

My last post, Grappling -- Not Just Throws, may have sounded a bit severe in terms of the techniques discussed. However, you have to remember that Karate techniques are used as a last resort only, to save life. They are not something to be used for petty disagreements, but in a life or death situation only. In that situation, the techniques used would be extremely severe indeed.

Respectfully,

Charles C. Goodin

Grappling -- Not Just Throws

We often talk about "grappling" so I thought I would look up the definition online at one of my favorite websites, dictionary.com:

"grap·ple /ˈgræpəl/ *** verb, -pled, -pling, noun
–verb (used without object)
1. to hold or make fast to something, as with a grapple.
2. to use a grapple.
3. to seize another, or each other, in a firm grip, as in wrestling; clinch.
4. to engage in a struggle or close encounter (usually fol. by with): He was grappling with a boy twice his size.
5. to try to overcome or deal (usually fol. by with): to grapple with a problem.
–verb (used with object)
6. to seize, hold, or fasten with or as with a grapple.
7. to seize in a grip, take hold of: The thug grappled him around the neck.
–noun
8. a hook or an iron instrument by which one thing, as a ship, fastens onto another; grapnel.
9. a seizing or gripping.
10. a grip or close hold in wrestling or hand-to-hand fighting.
11. a close, hand-to-hand fight.
[Origin: 1520–30; appar. a freq. of OE gegrǣppian to seize; associated with grapnel]"
In the context of self-defense, grappling essentially is seizing. We tend to think that such seizing is followed by a throw, but this is not necessarily so. In sports, such as wrestling, you typically have to pin your opponent. In Judo, you either have to execute a clean throw or pin your opponent.

But in self-defense, seizing can be the beginning of many things. You could seize and throw. You could seize and push or pull. You could seize and execute a locking technique. You could seize and choke. And, very importantly in Karate, you can do all or any of the above, plus you can seize and strike, poke, tear, rip, stomp, dislocate joints, break bones, poke vulnerable areas, etc. And you could always seize something... like the testicles. A handful of testicles will usually get an attacker's undivided attention (and there are other body parts you could seize with equal or even greater effect).

The point is that grappling -- seizing -- is not simply a matter of grabbing and throwing. In fact, in my experience, the strongest strikes are done when you have already seized and put your attacker into a weak position.

For example, if someone punches at you, you could block or avoid the punch and counter by punching him on the nose (just an example). That might work.

Or you could block the punch in a way that also rakes the attacker's eyes, reach around behind his head or neck with the same hand, and then punch him on the nose with your other hand. Your punch will be much stronger because you had seized and controlled him, and made it harder for him to avoid or slip your punch.

This is just a very simple example. You could have seized and put the attacker into a much weaker and more vulnerable position -- one in which, for example, he was bent over backwards (or otherwise twisted) with his neck exposed. This could be combined with dislocation or breaking techniques.

My point is that grappling is integrated with striking. They are not two things -- they work seamlessly together. Grappling, striking. Striking, grappling. One thing not two.

And again, the ultimate aim of grappling (seizing) is not necessarily to throw the attacker. If a throw is used, it makes no sense to simply throw the attacker in way that allows him to get back up. In the self-defense context, a throw should do considerable damage -- which is not that difficult a thing to do. If you have practiced any grappling arts, it actually is harder to throw someone safely -- you have to modify throws so that your partner will land nicely on his back rather than on his face, for example.

In addition, once seized, the attacker can be thrown into, onto, and/or through things (hard or sharp things, for example), or thrown off things (like a wall). The ground is just one place an attacker can be throw. An attacker can also be thrown into other attackers.

It also takes more time and energy, at least sometimes, to seize and throw an attacker to the ground than it does to seize and execute other types of techniques. It all depends.

When you put your hands together in the starting position for Naihanchi (and all kata for that matter, in my opinion), you may have already seized the attacker. A little flip of the wrist and turn of the body, and the next technique of the kata can be so much more effective.

I think that we have to broaden our idea about what grappling is. Mixed martial arts shows a great deal, but there are usually at least some rules even in MMA (thank goodness). Can you imagine what would happen if those extremely tough, extremely well trained, and extremely strong guys were allowed to strike and grapple (seizing in the broadest sense) without any rules at all? It would be... well it would be the old form of Karate (Tudi).

Some of you might be thinking, "this post does not sound like a Shorin-Ryu instructor." I think that it does -- at least the Shorin-Ryu with which I am familiar. And I have to confess that I studied and taught Kenpo Karate first (back in the 1970s when I was in high school and college). I am sure that this has positively influenced my views about the techniques we use in Shorin-Ryu. (Did you know that snap, crackle and pop are more than just sounds that a certain cereal makes?)

To all my Kenpo Karate (and related arts) friends our there -- Aloha, best wishes, and my respect from Hawaii!

OK, I have to add this explanation when I write about Kenpo Karate. My last name is Goodin, not Godin, and I am not related to the late Professor Walter Godin (athough I did have an uncle Walter in Florida, but his last name was completely different because he was my uncle's wife's brother). And my good friend, Professor Feliciano "Kimo" Ferreira, was one of Professor Godin's senior students. And the style of Kenpo Karate I studied did come from Palama, where Professor Godin also trained. I learned under the Professor Marino Tiwanak line (under Florentino S. Pancipanci at Hickam Air Force Base, and then under Edward Wallace and his daughter Julie at the old Moanalua quonest hut). I taught Kenpo Karate at Hickam Air Force Base, Foster Village, and Evanston, Illinois (there I was actually teaching a combination of Kenpo Karate and Shorin-Ryu). What a small world!

And if you can believe it, when I was in high school teaching at Hickam, I called my school "Goodin's Kenpo Karate" because I did not know about Professor Godin. How naive I was!

Respectfully,

Charles C. Goodin