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When is Fast Too Fast?

In Karate, it is generally better to be fast than slow. I believe this. When someone attacks you, you don't have time to respond. You have to be able to respond instinctively, without thinking.

When we practice kata, we have to decide how fast we are going to move. Sometimes we might move slowly, and other times fast. Sometimes we might move lightly, and other times with power. It all depends.

There are multiple ways to consider how fast we should move in a kata. You could look at how long it takes from the beginning to the end of the kata. You could consider how long it takes from the beginning to the end of each individual movement. You could also consider how long it takes to execute or throw the technique once you have moved into position.

I have seen kata performances where the student tried to complete the kata as quickly as possible -- like a race. The movements are all run together and hurried. This is sort of like a contest to say the Pledge of Allegiance as quickly as possible. I don't see any value in this. It would be like saying a prayer as quickly as possible so that you can eat sooner. I guess you could say that God can decipher what you are saying, but it just doesn't seem right.

In the case of kata, you have to ask whether a raced kata has any relation to self defense. Could the student apply the techniques as quickly as he is performing them?

This question could also be asked when the student races in each movement -- trying to move from the beginning to the end of each movement as quickly as possible. Say you are going to step forward with your right foot and execute a right punch. You could make a race out of this, even have a contest in your dojo. But does stepping and punching fast mean that you can punch well? How is your body shifting? How does your weight shift? Does your punch penetrate? Are you stable? How quickly you can get from Point A to Point B means very little in and of itself. It might be better than madly racing from the beginning of the kata to the end, but not by much.

I prefer to see speed in the execution of the technique -- after you have properly moved into position. Using the example of the step and punch, I would step into position using basically a walking pace and when my body shifting and weight shifting was just right, then I would punch very quickly. The punch itself would be fast. I would not just move from Point A to Point B fast.

But even then, you have to ask, "Is moving fast always the right way to execute a technique?" In the case of a punch or strike, I would generally think that speed is appropriate. More speed generally means more power (if done correctly). However, one technique can have multiple meanings (imi or bunkai). Say that a technique can be executed as a strike. That should probably be done fast. But stay that the same technique can be executed as a throw. Would the timing of the throw be the same as a strike? Probably not. You could move your hands fast, but that does not mean that you could throw an attacker that fast -- maybe you could, maybe you could not. So how fast you execute a technique depends on what you think that you are doing.

I suspect that in my form of Shorin-Ryu, there is a general rule that all movements in a kata are executed with the strike interpretation. By default, we will move with the timing of strikes, even if all the movements in the kata have multiple levels of application. This is just for consistency when we perform kata as a group, and also to hide the meanings when people are watching. When we perform kata by ourselves, however, we are free to move in accordance with our personal interpretations of the meanings of the kata.

So here is my point (at long last). I occasionally see people executing techniques so quickly that it could only be to impress people -- not to reflect a real application. A movement that is too fast might impress the general public, but not skilled Karate people. Such movement is like a jabbering person -- all talk and no meaning. My mother-in-law used to say something about a person talking like a monkey. We certainly should not move like monkeys!

Every movement must reflect its meaning, and the speed of the movement must also reflect the intended meaning. Speed has little or no value in and of itself. Hummingbirds are fast, but we certainly don't want to hit like hummingbirds!

I should add something. In many ways, I am faster now that I am 53 than I was in my 20s. This is because my body dynamics allow me greater speed and I am also wasting much less energy. However, just being able to move quickly does not mean that it is always appropriate to do so. We have to move in accordance with the intended meaning. This is something I observe in skilled Karate students.


Charles C. Goodin

A Guest Student With A Problem (Belt/Patches)

This is a story.

A guest student had flown into town and went straight to the dojo of Oka Sensei (a made up name), a very traditional and strict instructor of Karate.

The student walked into the dojo wearing his Karate gi and black belt.

Oka Sensei shook his head. "Go out and take off your belt."

The student followed the instruction and returned to the dojo without his belt.

Oka Sensei shook his head. "Go out and remove all the patches from your gi."

This was more difficult, but the student followed the instruction and returned to the dojo without his belt.

Oka Sensei shook his head. "I still see your belt and patches."

Now the student got angry. "Listen! I took off my belt -- a black belt I earned by the way -- and I took off my patches -- one showed that I am a shihan -- a shihan! -- and the others showed that I am also a kyoshi -- a kyoshi! -- and a sensei -- a sensei! I did what you requested. So what's the problem?

Oka Sensei shook his head. "Like I said, I still see your belt -- your black belt -- and your patches -- the ones that show that you are a shihan, a kyoshi, and a sensei. I see all of that and more.

"But how?" demanded the student. "I left my belt and patches outside!"

Oka Sensei shook his head. "No you didn't. You brought them into the dojo. You carry them around as if the belt is tied around your neck and the patches are sewn to your face."

The End.

I really like that last part -- "as if the belt is tied around your neck and the patches are sewn to your face." I should get a Pulitzer Prize for that one. Have you ever met people like that?


Charles C. Goodin

P.S. My wife likes to remind me that there is no Pulitzer Prize for Karate, no Nobel Prize either. She likes to keep it real.

Bunkai -- In A Crowded Elevator

I have written before about which techniques might work In A Crowded Elevator. This is also another way to analyze kata (bunkai).

Imagine that you are in an elevator with four big guys. I don't mean a big elevator, I mean a small one so that the guys are right next to you.

Now, how would you use the techniques of any given kata in this situation? You don't have an entire dojo floor. You don't even have the open space of a single tatami mat. You've got four wall and four big guys. I forgot, you also have a floor and ceiling -- and those four big guys.

I'm not sure how you might interpret your kata, but I am pretty sure that you would not be using long stances or high kicks in this situation.

You might think about this the next time you find yourself in a crowded elevator. I do.


Charles C. Goodin

Guest Post: Angel Lemus Sensei Teaching Takedowns

This Guest Post is by John Oberle, a student of Sensei Pat Nakata, and the author of the Bujutsu Blogger. This post also appears at his blog and is published here with his permission.


Special Kenkyukai Session:
Angel Lemus Sensei Teaching Takedowns

On [Monday] March 14, 2011, Angel Lemus Sensei was invited to teach a class on takedowns at the Halawa District Park Gym during Charles Goodin Sensei's karate class. This was fortunate timing, as our dojo was being refloored and we found ourselves without our normal training
location. While this was not considered one of our usual Kenkyukai training sessions held once every two months, it was a training event that all Hawaii Karate Kenkyukai members were invited to attend.

Angel Lemus Sensei is a member of the Board of Directors for the Okinawa Shorinjiryu Toude Zentokukai, a traditional Okinawan style with roots in the karate of Kyan Chotoku Sensei and Shimabuku Zenryo Sensei. He currently runs the Ninchokan Dojo every Monday and Thursday on Coconut Island and we have enjoyed his participation in the Hawaii Karate Kenkyukai for a couple of years now.

After Goodin Sensei led everyone in a warmup consisting of stretching and several executions of their first two Naihanchi kata, Lemus Sensei began his seminar. The general theme was initiating takedowns after blocking an opponent's attack. As such, Lemus Sensei demonstrated several variations of takedowns (Cael Goodin graciously agreed to be the uke), explaining the techniques, and allowing time for everyone to split up into partners to practice the sequences. Because there were many techniques and my vocabulary in describing them is limited, I will instead list just some of the principles that Lemus Sensei explained:
  1. It is always easier to hit the opponent first before attempting to grapple. This principle seems fairly self-explanatory; either you transition immediately to a grapple after executing a block or strike that does not put the opponent away or you intend from the beginning to use the block or strike as an effective distraction in order to initiate grappling effectively. This means you must be close to your opponent, so you can not back away or try and keep distance as the opponent attacks.
  2. Stances must be strong and utilized. When engaged with the opponent in close range, the legs can be utilized to disrupt the opponent's balance (kicking or applying weight, or both), to stomp on his feet so he cannot escape, or to set up the conditions for a lock. If a stance is floating with no real foundation, it can not perform these functions. Furthermore, during the conduct of the throw itself, one must be conscious of the stance in order to utilize it to deal with the weight of the individual.
  3. Never force a technique. When your attempts to execute a technique fail, don't get too absorbed in trying to make the technique work. Sometimes flowing on to another technique or hitting the opponent again just might do the trick in order to culminate with a takedown.
  4. Some useful tips.
  • When blocking, if you control the opponent's elbow, it makes it harder for him to hit you when you grapple. Aiming to hit the elbow while blocking can make the block more effective.
  • During a takedown, if you control the head, it can prevent him from turning out from a technique or attacking you.
  • Don't be afraid to slam an opponent's head into the ground during a takedown if the situation warrants it.
  • There is no such thing as "fighting dirty", so use all targets of opportunity.
  • When practicing takedowns, it is important for the attacker to execute a proper attack with proper range so that the defender can reasonably expect to get hit if nothing is done.
Lemus Sensei concluded with a brief demonstration on various flow drills meant to teach transition from one lock/takedown to another. These incorporated several of the principles that he had discussed.

In addition to Lemus Sensei representing the Ninchokan Dojo and acting as the lead for the training session, the following schools were in attendance with their students:

OSKA (Okinawa Shorin Ryu Karate Association, Pat Nakata Sensei)
Hikari Dojo (Okinawa Shorin Ryu Kishaba Juku, Charles Goodin Sensei)

Also observing:
Aikenkai Shotokan Karate Association (Shotokan Karate, George
Sasano Sensei)
Island Ki (Shotokan Karate, G. Hisae Ishii-Chang Sensei)
Rodney Shimabukuro Sensei
George Drago Sensei
Gary Miyashiro
A guest from Japan

We are thankful for Lemus Sensei volunteering to teach this special session. Those of us students in OSKA who were present (Alan Yokota, Steve Chun, Harold Hamada, Grant Kawasaki, Phil Gevas, and myself) were grateful to have a place to train for the evening and it was interesting to see things from a different perspective. I believe my teacher put it best in his statement: "I think it was a good experience for our OSKA students. As you know, we only concentrate on walk-in, Osae, and hitting. Thank you."

This is Charles again. I also would like to thank Lemus Sensei for teaching such an interesting and useful class.

A Bunkai Story

This is a story.

A Karate student who intensely studied bunkai, was walking down the sidewalk, when he was attacked by a street fighter. The street fighter grabbed the student by the hair with his left hand and punched him in the face five times with his right hand.

The student's Sensei happened to be nearby and ran up to help his fallen student. The attacker had already disappeared. The Sensei asked the student to explain what happened and the student related what was described above.

"I don't get it," exclaimed the student, "he used the same technique five times in a row!" "What kind of bunkai was that -- five punches in a row! None of our kata look like that!"

"Well," replied the Sensei, "it worked didn't it?"

The moral of the story is that you don't get points for creativity or degrees of difficulty in self-defense. If it works, use it. Good fighters usually don't use a wide range of techniques. They usually are extremely good at a few extremely effective techniques.


Charles C. Goodin

Bunkai Thoughts

I have been thinking a little about "bunkai." Here are some random thoughts.

When I was a young student, I never heard the word "bunkai." I don't think that a Japanese or Okinawan work was used to describe what particular movements mean. Instead, the instructor would usually just say, "punch (or kick or whatever)," and demonstrate an application for the movement he was teaching you. We did not ask, "What else does it mean?"

The applications I learned when I was a young student, reflected the fact that I was a young student. I do not remember ever seeing a movement explained in great depth and scope. The applications were usually limited and straightforward, such as a block or strike. I don't remember learning, for example, 25 applications for a single movement.

As I advanced in Karate, the applications I learned also advanced. I learned applications that were appropriate for my level at that time.

I can't remember when the subject of "bunkai" became popular. But when it did, people acted like it was always taught and was an old thing. I actually think that the meaning of movements were always taught, but as I described above, the meanings were taught in a way that was appropriate to the student's level. There was no comprehensive analysis of meanings, nor was there any effort to collect many meanings. Usually, the most practical, direct and destructive meanings were emphasized. If you asked an instructor about an exotic meaning, he would usually say, "punch," and let you have it with a "practical, direct and destructive meaning."

I was recently asked by a black belt in another style of Karate, "Is there really such thing as bunkai?" I answered that there was. He then asked if there are specific meanings for every movement or if instructors just make them up. I answered that there does seem to be pretty specific core meanings taught in Okinawan Karate, but that in some styles of Karate, it seems that people, in an effort to understand the meaning of the movements in their kata, watched every self defense and martial art video they could find and borrowed meanings. For example, a Karate movement may be interpreted as a Judo throw. However, modern Judo is a sport, and the intent is not to injure your partner. In old Karate, a throw would be destructive -- the attacker would not be able to get back up. So filling in a missing meaning with a Judo throw would not really be appropriate. Similarly, it might not make much sense to fill in a missing meaning in a Shorin-Ryu kata with a meaning from a Goju-Ryu video -- because the body dynamics and way of moving could differ. The best thing would be to find out what the Shorin-Ryu meaning is because that meaning would be consistent with the body dynamics and way of moving of Shorin-Ryu. Please don't get me wrong. Goju-Ryu applications are excellent -- for Goju-Ryu movements. Sometimes it is quite a stretch to interpret a Shorin-Ryu movement with a Goju-Ryu application.

The subject of bunkai has evolved in the last 20 or so years, it seems. First, people had to learn that movements have meanings. Then the scope of the meanings grew, as did the list. When grappling was popular, grappling interpretations in bunkai became popular. When kyusho (vital point striking) was popular, kyusho interpretations in bunkai became popular. NOw it seems that karate bunkai reflect the popularity of Brazilian Ju Jitsu and Mixed Martial Arts. Whatever became popular was added to the subject of bunkai, and the impression was given that such subjects were always taught going back hundreds of years. This may be so, but I believe that the most practical, direct and destructive meanings were emphasized in the past.

In my mind, if you have a choice of a simple application, you should use it. If you can strike, that is better than grappling because it is quicker. But if you have to grapple, then you should know how to do it. I have met some Karate experts who always seem to prefer a striking interpretation -- because they are extremely good at striking. If you have a chance to strike and get away, that is probably safer than grappling and getting away because in grappling you can get tangled up with the attacker. We usually assume that there is more than one attacker and even if it seems that there is only one, we prepare for another.

I have seen bunkai where a person blocks a punch and then turns to block another attack. This is usually to follow the flow of the kata. However, it makes no sense at all to me to block one attacker and then turn to block another attacker. If you did this, the first attacker would punch you in the back of the head! In my mind, each movement must seriously injure the attacker, and it is hard to do this with a single block (executed as a block). If a kata consists of a block, a turn, and another block, this does not mean that the application must follow that format exactly. When you block the first attacker, you should also strike him so that he will be incapacitated, then you can turn to take on the second attacker. I think that many people are way too literal in interpreting kata. Karate is self defense. In what kind of self defense would you turn your back on an attacker who is still standing and can continue to attack you?

Bunkai is an interesting subject. My personal emphasis is on becoming fluent in movement and applications.


Charles C. Goodin

Judging the Best Student

This is another story.

Two senior Karate instructors took their top students to be examined by a great Karate master. Under the piercing eye of the master, the two students (Sam and Sally) performed their kata and applications. After many hours, the master declared that he was ready to declare which student was the best.

"Technically," began the master, "these students are equal in every respect."

"So who is the best?" pressed Sam's instructor, certain that his student would win.

"Sally is definitely the best!" declared the master.

"But why?" asked Sam's instructor. "You said that they are equal in every respect."

"Technically," explained the master. "Sam is certainly strong. However, so is Sally -- and her skill is equaled by her reluctance to use it."

The moral of the story is that technical ability (destructive power) must be balanced by a reluctance to use it (reason and discretion). The open hand always covers the fist, until it becomes a last resort. Then the genie is let out of the bottle, so to speak.


Charles C. Goodin

A Lesson About Character

This is a story.

Two senior instructors of Karate were talking about their top students.

The first instructor said: "My top student is so good. He was won every major tournament, received honors and awards, can easily defeat several men, and is the strongest and best fighter I have ever seen!"

The second instructor just nodded as his friend spoke, and then replied, "If my wife and children were in danger, and I was away, I would want my top student to be there."

The first instructor looked down and shook his head. "I would want your student to be there if my family was in danger too," he conceded. "He has a good character and can be trusted."

What good are victories, honors and awards, and fighting skill if a student lacks a good character? Without a good character, Karate skill not only means nothing, it is dangerous.


Charles C. Goodin

My Son Taught Last Night

My son, Charles, who is the head of our dojo, taught class last night. Because he is an accountant, he has had a hard time attending class during the beginning of this year. It should be better after April 15th.

Because the class was small, I just followed along with the students. This is a rare pleasure for me as I am usually teaching. Following along as a student, I could appreciate my son's body dynamics, and the rhythm and flow of his movements. I actually started to copy the way he does certain Naihanchi movements... and liked it.

I told him later that I would now teach the movements his way... and say that they were my idea.

My son and I often tease each other this way.

If he misses a class and I teach, he will usually be at home when I return. He will always ask about who attended, what we concentrated on, etc. I will answer and then say, "The class took a vote and tonight was the best class ever! (because I was the instructor)."

Well, last night was indeed on of the best classes ever. I learned a lot from my son.


Charles C. Goodin

On the Dojo Floor

The other day I was listening to Rush Limbaugh on the radio. He was talking about his love of golf and mentioned that when he is out golfing, it is just good to be on the right side of the grass (I am paraphrasing).

The right side of the grass. If you think about it, whenever you are outside enjoying sports, taking a walk, or working in the yard, it certainly is good to be on the right side of the grass. It is much better than the alternative.

I feel the same way whenever I am in the dojo training. It is just good to be on the dojo floor. In fact, it is good to be in the dojo... as long as I am training. I actually hate to go to a dojo and not train. That would be like going to a nice lake and not fishing. When I go to the dojo, I want to train -- work out, practice kata, get sweaty, and learn something.

It is good to be on the dojo floor. Even if I have problems with certain movements or principles, that's OK... as long as I am training and working on it, it is all good.

I rarely listen to Rush Limbaugh, but I did agree with him that day.


Charles C. Goodin

The Most Important Thing...

The most important thing in Karate is whatever you are missing at the time.

Footwork is the most important thing, if you have poor footwork.

Stance is the most important thing, if you have poor stances.

Body shifting is the most important thing, if you have poor body shifting.

Weight shifting is the most important thing, if you have poor wight shifting.

Bunkai (applications) is the most important thing, if you have poor bunkai (applications).

Grappling is the most important thing, if you are poor at grappling.

Kime and kikomi are the most important things, if you have poor kime and kikomi.

Koshi (body dynamics) is the most important thing, if you have poor koshi (body dynamics).

Character is always the most important thing.

My point is that what is important, or appears to be important, depends on what the student is lacking at that given point in his training. If you are missing koshi, it will seem to be overwhelmingly important. But in the grand scheme of things, it is only one of many important aspects of Karate. Koshi is important, but without good footwork it will not work. Bunkai is important, but without proper body dynamics, it will be limited.

Everything is important in Karate. And character is always the most important and essential thing of all.


Charles C. Goodin

Still Blogging

I realize that I have not written about Karate for a while... actually, since the time of the Sendai earthquake and tsunami. I have not stopped writing, but I have been so saddened by the loss of life and destruction that I did not feel like it was appropriate to write about Karate at this time.

We are seeing a similar reaction here in Hawaii. Many Japanese tourists have canceled their travel arrangements because they do not feel that it is appropriate or respectful to enjoy themselves during a time of national suffering.

In any event, I will be writing more in the coming weeks.

The latest issue of Classical Fighting Arts is out. I wrote an article about Admiral Kenwa Kanna. I am very proud of this article, because it provides information about someone most Karate enthusiasts know little about, and yet he had a great influence on Karate before World War Two. I hope that you will enjoy the article and the issue.

There are some great photos in the issue, including one in the article about Kyoda Juhatsu that I had never seen. I would purchase the magazine just for that photo.

My thoughts and prayers go out to the many people suffering in Japan. When I was a child, I lived at Misawa Air Force Base, Japan, which is north of Sendai. In March of 1968, we had a 7.9 earthquake. I was at school, and will never forget the experience. The ground shook so hard that it was impossible to walk. When it settled down, the hall of my school looked like churning waves. I could not believe that cement could move like that. That earthquake was 100 times weaker than the one in Sendai. I cannot imagine how traumatic that must have been, and we did not have a tsunami (as I recall).


Charles C. Goodin