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1650+ Posts... and Counting

A Great Sensei (CPR)

My friend recently suffered a severe heart attack while conducting class in his dojo. He would have surely died if not for the quick actions of his students. One immediately called 911 while the other administered CPR until the ambulance arrived.

It was truly a miracle that my friend lived, but part of that miracle was the actions of his students.

You measure a Sensei by his students. My friend must be a great Sensei because his students were able to save his life. It is easy to have students who are strong, good fighters, high ranking, famous, etc. But how many Sensei can say that his students saved his life?

Could you administer CPR to your Sensei if he needed it? Could you administer CPR if your spouse, parent, co-worker, or friend needed it?

I have signed up for a CPR and AED ( automated external defibrillator) course. You can find CPR and other courses at the American Heart Association website.

Respectfully,

Charles C. Goodin

Kata Should Not Change Unless...

On the subject to kata, and whether or not they should change...

If my Sensei tells me to do a certain kata a certain way, that is how I will do it. If he later tells me to change it back, I will do so. If he tells me to perform the kata backwards, that is what I will do.

My Sensei is my Sensei. I learn from the kata, but they are not my Sensei. Kata are tools, not memorials. A kata cannot take the place of a skilled Sensei.

I learn kata from my Sensei and will perform the kata as he directs. Of course, this does not mean that I cannot study and appreciate other versions.

Respectfully,

Charles C. Goodin

Tearing Down Others

Sometimes you will meet a Karate instructor who has something bad to say about everyone. My friend and senior, Sensei Pat Nakata, mentioned to me that during his first visit to Okinawa in the early 1960's, he met an instructor who proceeded to say bad things about many other Karate instructors. Then he met Chosin Chibana. In contrast, Chibana Sensei was very courteous and had only good things to say about other instructors. Nakata Sensei was very impressed by this, and became a lifelong student of Chibana Sensei.

I'm sure that Chibana Sensei knew the strengths and weaknesses of the other Karate instructors on Okinawa, both in terms of Karate technique and character. However, he chose not to speak ill of others. And why would he want to say bad things about other Karate instructors to a visitor from Hawaii?

So why do some instructors say bad things about other instructors? I think that it is because they think that by tearing down others, they are building up themselves. Of course, just the opposite it true. We build ourselves up by training, not by criticizing others.

And even if a criticism is true, what good comes from it? Is the person criticizing others just because he likes to gossip? This, in itself, is a statement about his character.

I was raised with the saying, "If you don't have something nice to say, don't say anything at all."

Rampant criticism is bad. So is false praise. To say good things about another instructor, when they are not true, can be just as bad sometimes as speaking badly about him. Suppose a visitor hears your praise and becomes that instructor's student, only to find that he has a poor character and equally poor Karate technique. It would have been better to say nothing at all, and at least to advise the visitor to find out more about the instructor from trusted sources.

We have to be careful about what we say and how we say it. And remember that you cannot build yourself up by tearing down others.

Respectfully,

Charles C. Goodin

1925 Motobu Article Online!

Please see:


If you click on each page of the slideshow, you will be taken to very large images of this historic article about Choki Motobu. There is also a translation of the article. What an excellent presentation!

Respectfully,

Charles C. Goodin

Hawaii Okinawa Today: Hawaii Karate Parts 1 & 2

Now that they are both online, here are links to Parts 1 and 2 of Olelo Karate program:


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Thank you very much to everyone who helped with the production, demonstration, exhibition, and the whole event!

Respectfully,

Charles C. Goodin

Nekko Ashi Dachi (Cat Stance)

Most styles of Karate use nekko ashi dachi (cat stance) in one form or another. In some styles, the weight is distributed 90% on the back foot and only 10% on the front foot (with the heel raised). The percentages may vary.

The usual explanation for the cat stance is that it makes it very easy to kick with the front foot, since it only holds 10% of the weight. Obviously, it is difficult to kick if that foot is holding a lot of weight. You would have to shift the weight to the other foot first. Essentially, the cat stance is a stance in which the weight has been shifted to the back foot.

So I was thinking: if the cat stance is used for kicking with the front foot, how many times does this occur in our kata? I realize that everyone's kata may differ, but in my own kata sylabus, the answer is... never. At least I could not think of even one instance in which a kick was executed with the front foot from a cat stance.

For Kishaba Juku people, have I missed one? Even if I did, there certainly are not many cases of this.

So why? Why do we put 90% of the weight on the back foot and then not kick with the front foot?

Here is my answer. The 10%/90% weight distribution is just one of many states of the cat stance. The weight distribution changes depending on what you are doing.

Take the Pinan kata. They all start with a left cat stance (turning to the left with the left foot forward). I used to do this with 10% of my weight on the left foot (front) and 90% of my weight on the right (back) foot. When I first went to Okinawa in 2002, I was corrected. I now do these stances, initially, with about 40% of my weight on the left foot (front) and 60% of my weight on the right (back) foot. Depending on the movements, my weight might shift back and forth. In the second movement of Pinan Shodan, for example, my weight will shift to about 75% or 80% on my left foot (front) during the right strike.

Again, looking at the first movements of the Pinan kata, how many are followed by a kick with the front foot? None.

In fact, when there are kicks from cat stances in the Pinan kata, they are done with the back foot! That's right. You take a cat stance to kick with the back leg, which supports most of the weight. So you have to shift some weight to the front foot in order to kick with the back foot.

OK, there are places where you kick with the front foot, sort of. We do kick with the back foot from kosa dachi (cross stance). But the back foot in kosa dachi is like the front foot in nekko ashi dachi (cat stance). If you take a cat stance and bring your front foot back, you will be in kosa dachi. We do tend to kick from this stance.

So here is my point, if cat stance is for kicking with the front foot, then why is it not more common in the kata? If cat stance is not for kicking with the front stance, then why do so many people use a weight distribution based on such a kick?

Why, why, why? I feel that it is good to ask questions.

Of course, and I know you have been thinking it... all stances represent transitions. They are not rigid and fixed. As we move and shift our weight and feet, the stances will change. Rigid, fixed stances only exist in books because photographs are two dimensional representations of a split second in time. As we shift back and forth, we will go through many versions of a cat stance, and the stance will change or morph into others. As we shift and extend forward, we take zenkutsu dachi. As we twist or shift back, we take kosa dachi. As we stand straight up, we take shizentai dachi. We can take many stances in just seconds.

There is not a single, rigid, fixed cat stance. A 10%/90% distribution represents one of many possible versions of the stance. The weight distribution will depend on what you are doing.

So what are you doing? That is a good question to ask. Whenever you perform a movement in a kata, ask yourself what you are doing? Then ask yourself, how does your stance help you to accomplish this? Or does it?

OK, I thought about the nidan geri (double kick) in our kata. We do jump from a cat stance, but in nidan geri you kick with your back foot first, no?

And, as a last thought, of course you can always kick with your front foot if it is opportune to do so. Just because it is not common in the kata does not mean that you cannot do it. If you are in a nekko ashi doing a shuto, for example, you can catch the attacker with the shuto and then kick him with your front foot (or your back foot). You can do whatever works best. Kata are not meant to limit your arsenal -- but for many people they do just that!

Respectfully,

Charles C. Goodin

Hawaii Okinawa Today: Hawaii Karate Part 2 - Demonstrations Online

Wow, the new Karate program (Part 2) is online already. Please see:



Thank you very much to David A. Williams for notifying me of the upload and link.

I also want to thank my good friends (and seniors) at the Hawaii Karate Kenkyukai, and their many students, for demonstrating that day. I also want to thank Henry Isara, Steven Arashiro, and the good people at Olelo for producing and hosting the video. Our demonstration and all related events were dedicated to the memory of Mrs. June Arakawa.

Just a reminder, the program will be shown again on Saturday, May 21st at 5 p.m., on 'Olelo, Oceanic Channel 53 (in case you missed it the first time, like I did because I was at training).

Respectfully,

Charles C. Goodin

Something Else I Don't Like

I also don't like it when the formalities of the beginning and end of the kata take longer than the kata itself. Just do the kata already!

Disclaimer: Of course, students should follow the formalities required in their dojo or school. I just don't like exaggerated formalities... but that's just me.

Respectfully,

Charles C. Goodin

Parking Etiquette

After Karate training, the students and I walk down to the parking lot, where sometimes we chat before heading home. I have a student. Over the years I have noticed that if we get in our cars at the same time, he will always wait for me to leave first. He is showing courtesy even in the parking lot.

Karate is not just what you do in the dojo. What you do in the dojo should really just be the tip of a very large iceberg.

And don't forget that we don't only show courtesy to our Karate instructors and seniors. We should be respectful to our parents, elder family members, co-workers, fellow students, and people in general. Karate applies to all aspects of daily life.

Respectfully,

Charles C. Goodin

Yelling Kata Names

I know that I've written about this before, but I was watching some kata videos online...

I really don't like it when the strongest part of a kata performance is the yelling of the kata name at the beginning. Actually, I don't like even saying the kata name at the beginning of a kata. It seems so unnecessary and "loud". I would much rather have the kata speak for itself.

But it seems that some people really get worked up about yelling the kata name, even louder than the kiai during the kata.

I am working on a saying: "Less drama and more trauma." I realize that the "trauma" part needs some work. But when I watch a kata, I hate the "drama." I don't like yelling kata names, or taking a long time to bow at the beginning or the end, or theatrical, posed movements, or shaking hands and arms to represent power, or gi with patches or writing, or belts with patches or writing, or wearing jewelry during training, or colorful gi, or movie-like expressions, or stomping the feet just for sound, or snapping gi (made to snap), or raggedy old belts or gi worn for show, or loud, prolonged, screaming kiai. Perhaps another expression would be: "Less show and more go."

When I observe a strong kata, I think: "I really would not want to get hit by that person."

I also like the classic expression: "Walk softly and carry a big stick." Perhaps for Karate, it could be: "Walk softly and have a strong hit." Again, I am still working on these.

Respectfully,

Charles C. Goodin

Today -- Hawaii Okinawa Today Program on 'Olelo -- Okinawan Karate Part 2

This program will be on today:

Hawaii Okinawa Today, a cable program on 'Olelo, Oceanic Channel 53, will feature Part 2 of the program on Okinawan Karate, specifically the Hawaii Karate Kenkyukai's demonstration to celebrate the donation of the Hawaii Karate Museum rare book collection to the University of Hawaii. The program will premiere on Monday, May 16th at 7 p.m., and be shown again on Saturday, May 21st at 5 p.m. It will be one hour. Again, that is on Oceanic Channel 53.
Respectfully,

Charles C. Goodin

Matsumura Sensei Visits

This is a story.

Matsumura Sensei had a time machine too. In 1907, he visited his student, Anko Itosu, who was teaching his five Pinan kata at the Okinawan Teacher's College. Poof!

Matsumura watched as Itosu led the students through the five Pinan kata (which Itosu had created to teach in the Okinawan school system).

When they finished, Itosu eagerly asked, "Sensei, what do you think?"

Matsumura Sensei replied, with a Yiddish accent, "The kata I taught you weren't enough, that you had to create five more?"

Itosu was an innovator. If we copy him, are we to copy his specific kata, or copy his innovative approach to Karate training and education?

Oy vey!

Respectfully,

Charles C. Goodin

Imposter!

This is a story.

A dojo was having a demonstration. A hundred students were participating and there were hundreds of spectators. All of a sudden, Anko Itosu appeared... poof! Once again, he had used his time machine (which also has a built in English translator for people who are wondering).

The head of the dojo was so happy! With tears in his eyes he introduced Itosu Sensei, who was one of the leading masters of his own style of Karate (Shorin-Ryu). All of the students and the audience erupted with applause.

To celebrate Itosu's visit, the dojo head had the students perform the five Pinan kata. They did so in perfect unison, and then stood at attention, awaiting Itosu's comments.

"Eh," began Itosu stepping up to a microphone, "that's not how I designed the Pinan kata, I remember...."

Before he could finish his sentence the dojo head took the microphone from him and yelled, "Imposter!"

Before the security guards could arrive poof, Itosu Sensei returned to the past.

Respectfully,

Charles C. Goodin

Original Kata

This is a story.

A Karate instructor was alone in his dojo, practicing the Pinan kata, when all of a sudden, poof! Anko Itosu appeared.

"Hello," said Itosu Sensei. "I was watching you practicing the Pinan kata back at my home in Okinawa in 1903. Well, since I have a time machine, I thought I would visit you."

"Thank you, Itosu Sensei," exclaimed the instructor. "I practice Shorin-Ryu and we have preserved your Pinan kata unchanged from the time you created them!"

"Well, not quite," replied Itosu Sensei. "Here, let me show you how they are supposed to be done." With that, Itosu Sensei performed each of the five Pinan kata. He then explained the body dynamics for each movement and the applications.

The instructor was beside himself. He could not believe what he had just witnessed. His eyes filled with tears and he sobbed in gratitude.

Itosu Sensei smiled and said, "Well, I have to return to the past. I am just glad that you will now correct your kata and you can teach your students the proper movements, body dynamics and applications."

"There must be some confusion," said the instructor. "I cannot correct the kata. I would get in trouble with my own Sensei if I changed the movements. And I cannot teach your body dynamics for the same reason. People would think I changed styles. We have a fixed set for applications as well. I have to follow them. Otherwise, I would be kicked out of my association and I could lose my dan ranking and titles. Plus, for all these years I have assured my students that I was teaching the authentic Pinan kata. We perform them in tournaments. If I changed them now, they would call me a fraud. I hope you understand."

Itosu Sensei shook his head and poof! He vanished.

The moral of the story is this. Even if Itosu Sensei were to appear and teach his true Pinan, there are people who would not accept it because they are too invested/trapped in a structure or system that prevents them correcting their poor techniques. They would have too much to lose.

Poof!

Respectfully,

Charles C. Goodin

Why Kata Differ -- Interpretation

Here is a simple kata. Please try to visualize it.

  1. Stand in a ready position.
  2. Block to the left with a left downward block in a left long stance.
  3. Step to the left with a right forward punch in a right natural stance.
  4. Pull back and turn to the right and step forward with a right downward block in a right long stance.
  5. Step to the right with a left forward punch in a left natural stance.
  6. Turn to the front and block to the front with a left downward block in a left long stance.
  7. Step to the front with a right forward punch in a right natural stance.
  8. Step to the front with a left forward punch in a left natural stance.
  9. Step to the front with a right forward punch in a right natural stance.
Can you visualize it? Of course, this is a very simple, English description of the first few movements of Fukyugata Ichi (Promotional Kata One). See: The 1940 Karate-Do Special Committee: The Fukyugata "Promotional" Kata. Even if you do not know this kata, it is very easy to describe, visualize, and learn.

So here is the catch. Each of us will probably visualize this kata (as I have described it) using our own basics. The only movements I described were downward blocks and forward punches. Only two movements -- but we probably all do them a little (or a lot) differently.

We could all do the movements of the kata, but because we are doing our own interpretations of the movements, we are doing essentially different kata.

I once watched a video of my Sensei giving a seminar to Goju-Ryu students. No matter what he did, they seemed to interpret it in terms of Goju-Ryu basics. Their minds were translating what he did into what they understood (Goju-Ryu). My Sensei would demonstrate a Shorin-Ryu (Kishaba Juku) middle block and they would do a Goju-Ryu middle block. They were the same (in terms of the names of the movements) but quite different (in terms of the execution of the movements).

In our Hawaii Karate Kenkyukai, one of our members is a Goju-Ryu Sensei in the Seko Higa line. When we compare our Fukyugata Ni kata (which was developed by Chojun Miyagi at the same time and as part of the same process by which Fukyugata Ichi was developed by Shosin Nagamine), they seem alike (in form) but quite different (in execution). For example, after the first kick, we strike with the left elbow. So does my friend. Then we block down with a left downward block. They strike to the face with a backfist first, then strike down with something that looks like a hammerfist/sideways ura ken. We block -- they strike twice.

Now who do you think is giving a truer rendition of Fukyugata Ni? My school traces to Shoshin Nagamine. My friend's school traces to Seko Higa, a fellow student of Chojun Miyagi under Kanryo Higashionna. Could it be that we are both interpreting the same kata in light of our own basics? Of course. And, for the record, I am pretty sure that the Goju-Ryu people are doing this kata correctly, or at least closest to the way that Chojun Miyagi designed it. (I still like our way better, because I am comfortable with it, but I appreciate their applications, which I borrow at every opportunity.)

I have also had the opportunity to teach "our" kata in Kishaba Juku to other Shorin-Ryu yudansha from a closely related style. Essentially, we know the same kata, and I used to study and teach that style. You would think that this would be easy since we know the same kata. But no. It is harder than teaching the kata to someone who never learned it. Why? Because they see what I am doing in terms of what they know. I am not doing what they think they are seeing. They are seeing their own images projected onto me. I have to break this illusion and help them to see that I am doing something very different.

Learning kata is an interpretation process. Even if you learn from the source, it is extremely hard to see things as they are.

And that is just the beginning. Once you can see "what" someone is doing, you have to learn to see "how" they are doing it! Now that is really something.

Respectfully,

Charles C. Goodin

Kata Should Never Change?

I often hear that kata should never change. The people saying this, usually also say that they are practicing and teaching the kata exactly as they were created by their originators.

If that is true, something is definitely wrong! Take the Pinan kata. They are only about 110 years old, young by comparison to other Okinawan kata. These kata were taught in the public schools by Anko Itosu and his students and now are widely practiced in many styles of Karate.

But... each style seams to to perform the kata a little differently, sometimes a lot differently. So who is right? Who is wrong. If no one changed the kata, how is it that they are all different?

Obviously, kata do change. OK, I know the answer -- everyone else changed the kata, but we did not.

But even in the same style, kata are often practiced differently by senior instructors. Even one instructor may perform the kata differently over his lifetime. A little change here and a little change there, and soon the kata changes a lot.

I question the basic idea that kata should not change. Why? Since when are kata sacred things? I do not practice Karate for religious reasons. Kata are not like prayers to me. Kata are like tools to me.

Imagine a big toolbox filled with tools and some student putting it on an altar and worshiping it rather than using the tools for their intended purposes. That would be crazy.

Kata are tools. I do not mean that we should change them. The basic form of a kata should not be changed (unless the Sensei decides to do so, in which case the students will follow along).

But each movement in a kata is not a single movement. Each movement is an invitation of a range of movements and variations. How and where we punch, for example, depends on the attacker. We cannot follow the exact specifications of a kata. That would also be crazy.

Rigid, fixed, stuck, frozen. This is how it is when we have a strict interpretation of kata and movements. Kata should not handcuff us, they should free us to movements and applications.

How much of a kata translates into self defense? This is a very fundamental question. How much? What percentage or proportion? In some cases I have seen, I would say none at all!

Kata have no value in and of themselves. They are only valuable if they teach us a useful skill. So what if a kata "looks good?" An attacker won't care. And the odds are that you will not think of the kata when you are attacked. Actually, if you do think of the kata you will almost certainly get beaten very badly. When someone attacks, we have to react (basically without even thinking). No one attacks in the pattern of a kata. We have to be able to appropriately apply each movement of the kata, as needed, adapted to the situation at hand.

Kata should not change, but they have changed. We are missing the point when we elevate kata to items of religious worship. They are tools.

Respectfully,

Charles C. Goodin

Hawaii Okinawa Today Program on 'Olelo -- Okinawan Karate Part 2

Hawaii Okinawa Today, a cable program on 'Olelo, Oceanic Channel 53, will feature Part 2 of the program on Okinawan Karate, specifically the Hawaii Karate Kenkyukai's demonstration to celebrate the donation of the Hawaii Karate Museum rare book collection to the University of Hawaii. The program will premiere on Monday, May 16th at 7 p.m., and be shown again on Saturday, May 21st at 5 p.m. It will be one hour. Again, that is on Oceanic Channel 53.

Part 1 of the program featured my lecture on the early history of Karate in Hawaii at the Hamilton Library at the University of Hawaii. Please see: Hawaii Okinawa Today Episode 335


I hope that you can watch it!

The program is sponsored by the HUOA (Hawaii United Okinawa Association) and was created by Mr. Henry Isara, who came to my office earlier this week to film an interview. I was first interviewed by Hawaii Okinawa Today back in 1999. At that time, Mr. Isara was the cameraman and the interviewer was Wayne Miyahira (who passed away not so long ago). Mr. Isara now conducted the interview and edited the program. I really appreciate his hard work and dedication to Okinawan culture.

We all practice Okinawan Karate. Let's not forget to study the "Okinawan" in Okinawan Karate!

Respectfully,

Charles C. Goodin

Eh, Not So Good

This is a story.

A Karate instructor visited a great Karate master to observe the kata of the master's top student. The student performed each of the kata of the ryuha flawlessly. The visiting instructor sat and watched in awe. After the student completed the kata, the visiting instructor proclaimed, "That was the most magnificent performance of kata I have ever seen in my life!"

"Eh," replied the master, "It was not so good -- his character is better."

No matter how skilled we may become at the techniques of Karate, our character should always be better.

Respectfully,

Charles C. Goodin