Karate Thoughts Blog


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1700+ Posts... and Counting

Angel Lemus' Seisan

My friend, Sensei Angel Lemus, has posted a video of his style's Seisan kata:


I believe that he films these videos with an i-phone.  I am amazed by the quality of the videos.  If only we had this technology when Kyan Sensei was teaching the kata at his home!

You can see many of Lemus Sensei's fine videos here:


Respectfully,

Charles C. Goodin

One of My Student's Recent Accomplishment

I do not have many students at this time.

One of my students has trained with me for about 7 years.  During that time he has earned a Master's Degree at the University of Hawaii, been promoted to the rank of Captain in the United States Army Reserve (he previously served in active duty as a Marine), and just this last week was accepted for a Master's degree program at Georgetown University.  These are just some of the things he has accomplished since I have know him.

Of course, I cannot take any credit for his accomplishments -- they are all a result of his hard work and dedication.  However, I have tried to emphasize that Karate is not just what we do in the dojo, nor is it just self-defense.  An important part of Karate training is applying the lessons we learn to our daily lives.

And, for me, Karate should not be the best thing that you do.  If you are good at Karate and bad at everything else, then what kind of Karate student are you?  But if you are great at everything else and good at Karate, then what a Karate student you are!

As a "Sensei" (I don't like to call myself that), an important part of my "job" is to encourage students to strive for the best in their lives.  Karate training is hard.  Life is much harder.  If you can learn to discipline yourself for the rigors of Karate training, then perhaps you can apply that same discipline to other aspects of your life.  If you can be polite and respectful in the dojo, then you can do the same in school and work.  Karate should help you in your life.

So when my student was accepted to Georgetown University, I celebrate that -- at least in part -- as a Karate accomplishment -- as part of his broader training.

What a job well done!



Respectfully,

Charles C. Goodin

Getting Into the Best Position

My eldest son practices Kendo, and has (on and off) since he was about 12.  He has been a member of Hawaii's team to the World Kendo Tournament three times.  I am sharing this to give you a feel that he is pretty serious about Kendo.

In fact, when he is at my house, he often goes through Kendo movements and stomps his right foot (like they do in Kendo).  I always have to tell him to stop because I am afraid that he will crack our marble floors.  I secretly think that he may have already done so.

Anyway, we often speak about Kendo and he always tells me about a new technique or strategy he is working on or just thought of.  I am always amazed because he has been practicing Kendo for a while.  Nevertheless, he always seems to have come up with something new.

Recently, he told me (I am paraphrasing) that he realized that Kendo is not as much about hitting as it is about getting into the best position to hit.

Now I have heard so many of these thoughts -- maybe hundreds over the years -- but this one made me think... Kendo is not as much about hitting as it is about getting into the best position to hit.

We talked about it.  It certainly takes skill to hit right in Kendo.  But most people who do hit are not in the best position when they do so.  As a result, their hit may be effective, or they may be hit themselves or countered.  There are a lot of considerations.  But when you are in the best position, your hit will probably be better and you will be in a stronger position.

I started to think about how this applies to Karate.  If Karate is about punching, blocking, kicking, etc., then it is certainly true that getting into the best position before we do these things is extremely important.  In some cases, getting into the best position could even make certain things unnecessary.

I am not very tall.  When I was a young student in Judo and later Karate, I was usually one of the shorter students.  As a result, getting in close was always a good strategy for me, and something I actively practiced.  Getting in close -- sometimes extremely close -- gave me an advantage and mitigated some of the advantage my taller partner/opponent might have had.

In Karate, we sometimes practice thousands of punches and kicks -- maybe tens of thousands over time.  But how often do we practice body positioning?  How often do we practice getting into the best position?  How often do we even consider it?

In any event, this is something that I thought about after speaking to my eldest son the other day.


Respectfully,

Charles C. Goodin

Prepping For... A Zombie Apocalypse

I have mentioned that I am a prepper.  Some people study martial arts for self-defense in the event of a zombie apocalypse (marauding hordes of helpless people made desperate by some disaster).

Self defense is indeed a very useful and necessary skill and ability -- one that requires training and practice.

But... before you can apply self defense against the zombies (whatever that term may represent), you have to survive the disaster.  First comes the disaster, then the zombies.  You are going to have to go through and survive the same disaster that produced the zombies.

Take a serious earthquake.  In the aftermath of the shaking, fires, tsunami, etc., there may well be desperate times producing desperate people who want what you have.  But you will not get to that point unless you survive the shaking, fires, tsunami, etc.  Are you prepared for an earthquake?  Do you have the necessary supplies (water, food, medical supplies, etc.)?  Do you have a disaster plan for your family?  Do you have a bugout bag at home, and a get home bag at work and in your car?  Heck, I know people with secret supply caches buried in secret bugout locations.

If you are not prepared, the odds are that even if you survive the disaster you might become one of the zombies -- a helpless person made desperate by the disaster.  Then, what would you use your martial arts skills for?

Respectfully,

Charles C. Goodin

Overview on Standardization

Going back to my original post on this this subject entitled:

Standardization of Kata/Kihon

Well, who was it that seems to have resisted the standardization process?  In the quote I cited, it was Chotoku Kyan.  How does he figure in the transition of the Ryukyu Kingdom to the Okinawan Prefecture?  His father, Chofu Kyan, was a member of the Sanshikan, the highest level of Ryukyu governmental authority under the King himself.  Chofu Kyan served Sho Tai, the last King of the Ryukyus, the one who was overthrown during the annexation.

In fact, Chotoku Kyan grew up in Tokyo as his father was assigned there to serve the King in his new position as a Japanese noble.

Chotoku Kyan had one of the closest and highest ties to the old Ryukyu Kingdom.  He resisted the standardization of Karate, as he learned and taught the "old way".  The "old way" was intimately associated with the Ryukyu Kingdom.  Standardized Karate was more tied to modern Japan and Okinawa Prefecture.  In some ways they were like oil and water.

Karate experts with ties to the Ryukyu Kingdom, such as Chotoku Kyan and Choki Motobu,  among others, were more likely to maintain the old way.  People without such ties were more likely to embrace the new form of Karate, which was a product of the modernization and assimilation process.

This may all seem like a historical footnote.   But it helps to explain how Karate came to be the way we find it today.  And it helps us to better trace its roots, to try and find the aspects of Karate that we lost during the standardization process.

Karate came to Hawaii in 1900 (or perhaps in 1896).  Karate in Hawaii was largely unaffected by these processes, at least until after World War Two.  In other words, Karate in Hawaii kept to the old way.

Respectfully,

Charles C. Goodin

Criticisms of Old Style Karate

Ironically, some people who practiced the standardized form of Karate (whether they knew it to be that or not), had their own criticisms of "old style" Karate.  Some of these that I have heard over the years include the following:

1.  That is "old man" Karate.  The person doing the old style Karate was old.  That is why his body position was mostly upright and his stances were natural and shorter.  He could not take the long, lower stances that had become popular in "modern" Karate.  His pace was slower, and again, more natural.  He was such an "old man".

Reply.  Old style Karate was geared toward personal effectiveness.  Exaggerated movements avoided because they were not very effective.  Natural movements were favored, because self defense was usually done in response to a surprise attack.  Defense and counterattack had to flow from a natural stance and body position/

The "old guys" were not moving the way they did because the were old, but because they were skilled.

2.  It was primitive, village, boonies Karate.

Reply.  Actually, the "old style" Karate was practiced mostly by people from the mid to upper levels of Ryukyuan society.  After the overthrow of the Ryukyu Kingdom, the formation of Okinawa prefecture, and the Meiji Restoration, people in all levels of the society could practice the "new" Karate.  Sometimes the attack against the "old style" high class people was to characterize them as just the opposite.  People who only knew the modern form of Karate wore a cloak of "modernness" and innovation.  New was good and old was bad.


3.  It lacked standardization and consistency, lacked a vocabulary, lacked a testing and ranking system, was not suited for demonstrations and tournaments, in short, it was not modern and professional.

Reply.  Japanese people really liked to be organized and consistent.  The "Japanese spirit" at the time celebrated standardization across the nation/empire.  Being different was bad.  Sameness required standardization and consistency.  If you wanted to be different, you would be hit like a nail that sticks out.

4.  The lack of standards described in item 3 above, was indicative of it being so "Okinawan".

Reply.  Okinawans were different, and the process of assimilation was very painful for many people.  To become "Japanese", one had to conform and modernize.  Karate was sort of like the Japanese response to Western boxing.  But to function in Japanese society, Karate had to be improved and standardized.  That way, a student anywhere could learn the same "Karate"... the "new and improved Karate."

5.  Two people would do the same kata differently.  In fact, the same person might do the same kata different ways at different times.  It was as if the "old style" Karate person could not remember the kata!  Probably because he was so old!

Reply.  Old style Karate was suited to the specific student, at least at an advanced stage.  A kata had many variations and emphases.  An advanced student would perform a kata in the way that best suited him.  And actually, an advanced student might vary the kata depending on who was watching.  I often do this!  Sometimes I leave things out, add things, change my body mechanics, change my timing, etc.  An observer might thing that I messed up (which does happen sometimes) or was just an "old man".  Sometimes a performer of kata might be "dumb like a fox!"  Some of the brightest Karate (and bojutsu) people might feign absent mindedness.


In short, many of the criticisms of "old Karate" were greatly affected by the time period during which Karate "came out" to the public and spread to mainland Japan and the world.  In addition to the timing aspect, there was the Ryukyu, Okinawa, assimilation aspect.  "Old Karate" represented the old Ryukyu society.  To be modern and admired, one had to go along with the standardization process.

Today, we are very fortunate to be able to appreciate Karate, and its practitioners, with an educated, open mind.

To me, what matters most is whether the way a person practices Karate works.  The basis of Karate is self-defense and this must underlay everything.


Respectfully,

Charles C. Goodin

Early Criticism of New Standardized Karate

Back in the early 1900's, some of the instructors and students who knew the "old" form of Karate, might have criticized the new standardized form of Karate as "children's Karate" or "baby Karate".

However, Itosu Sensei helped to introduce the new standardized form of Karate to the public school system of Okinawa for a reason -- at least in part to preserve the Ryukyu/Okinawan art of Karate in a prefecture that was administered and dominated by Japanese (who greatly preferred Judo and Kendo in the schools).  And Itosu Sensei had a certain respectable stature.

And when you think about it, the new standardized form of Karate was for children!

So if the old timers criticized the new standardized form of Karate, they probably did so quietly and realized that it was an expedient.  The good reason justified the standardization, at least at first.  After all, the school students could learn the new standardized version and later, when they became older, learn the old way.


Except that the new standardized form of Karate became prevalent and the old way became harder and harder to find.

But over the years, I have heard the new (1900) standardized form of Karate referred to as "children's Karate" or "baby Karate".  Or sometimes the critic would just make a hand motion to express "what can I say?"

But one of the most biting comments I personally heard was to the effect that the Karate people practice today is not the true, authentic Karate.  This was told to me by a long retired Goju-Ryu instuctor.  At the time, I felt a little hurt and insulted but turned the comment around:  "If instructors like you do not teach the true, authentic form of Karate, how are students like me supposed to learn it?"

But now, years later (that fine instructor, one of the most skilled I have ever met, has since passed away), I find myself agreeing with him more and more.

One last thing, many Okinawan instructors back in the 1920s and early 1930s felt that it was inappropriate to teach "authentic" (old style) Karate in mainland Japan or overseas (except perhaps to Okinawans), and that it was barely acceptable to teach the new standardized form.  Thus it was that early Japanese Karate students who visited Okinawa were largely either not received or were criticized by Okinawan instructors.  Chotoku Kyan was an exception in this regard, perhaps because he had been educated and lived for considerable time on mainland Japan.  He received and explained things to Miki Nisaburo and Mizuho Mutsu (both Japanese) from Tokyo Imperial University.  Mutsu visited Hawaii in 1933 (with Kamesuke Higashionna, an Okinawan).  See the Hawaii Karate Museum Newspaper Archive.


Respectfully,

Charles C. Goodin

Early Standardization -- Two Forms of Karate

When did formal standardization of Karate happen in Okinawa?  Arguably, the most important event was the introduction of Karate to the public school curriculum around 1900 (or so) primarily by Anko Itosu.  School students had to learn a simpler form or Karate -- something that could be learned in just a few years at school.  For this, Itosu developed the five Pinan kata (one for each year).  Whatever the kata (plural) that Itosu may have used to formulate the Pinan may have been, it is pretty clear that the Pinan kata share a uniform set of basics -- each kata does not represent a different style or teacher's influence.  They are the same basics done to five different patterns (kata).

Itosu and his senior students taught the kata in the school.  At this point, there were two forms of Karate -- the original one and the new standardized one.  Itosu and his students knew both, but the public school students only knew the new standardized form.

For someone like Itosu (or his senior students), learning the simpler kata and basics must have been really easy.  They probably could have done so in a weekend or two.  Compare this to the Naihanchi kata, Passai, Chinto, etc.  These kata could be practiced for years and years, and the student would still be just scratching the surface.

Do you think that Itosu and his students practiced the Pinan?  I don't think so.  I'll bet that they did those kata only enough to remember how to teach them to the school students.  Back at their home dojo (or whatever place that might have been), they only practiced the old way because that was the only effective and useful form of Karate.  The new standardized form was just for kids.

I remember reading somewhere that Yabu Sensei used to say that if your know the Pinan kata and the Kusanku kata, you should just practice the Kusanku kata.  Makes sense!  The Kusanku kata -- the original form -- was not modified by the standardization process.  When you practiced Kusanku, you were practicing undiluted Karate, rich with meanings.

I am sure where I am going with this.

Flash forward a few decades.  Generations of Karate students were raised on the new standardized form only and never had the opportunity to learn the old way.  Given enough time, the new standardized way became the only way, and eventually was considered to be the "old way."  If an 80 year old instructor practiced a form of Karate for his or her whole life, that form will seem like the "old" way, even if it was in fact the new standardized form of Karate back in 1900.

And when such a student practiced the Kusanku or other "old" kata, they were done the new standardized way.  They were essentially just the pattern of the old kata with the new basics replacing the old varied and variable techniques.

And that 80 year old would swear the he or she was practicing the kata exactly as he or she learned them -- thus they were the old, original forms!  In this, he or she would be correct -- they were the original forms that he or she learned.

We have to remember that a person who is 80 years old today, was only 24 in 1960.

Oh my goodness!  It seems hopeless!

But the first step to recovery of the old form is the recognition of the problem.  I do not expect you to believe me.  I certainly did not come to this opinion overnight -- it was one of those things that gnawed at me for years and years.  As I grew older and became more and more dissatisfied with the new standardized form of Karate, I began to recognize and appreciate the traces of the old form of Karate that I was lucky enough to see in some elder Karate experts.

One thing.  When it comes to age, I am only 58 -- still a Karate child.  My friend, Sensei James Miyaji tells his students that 50 years of Karate training is a good start.  I still have years to go to just have a good start!

More to come.


Respectfully,

Charles C. Goodin

Okinawa Karate Kaikan Flyer

Yesterday I met with representatives of the Okinawa Karate Kaikan and received the following flyer (in English).  I have provided it for your reference.  Click the small image for a pdf.

seinenkai.com/kaikan-flyer.pdf

Respectfully,

Charles C. Goodin

Standardization of Kata/Kihon

Today I was reading Shorin Ryu Seibukan Kyan's Karate (Coal Mountain Productions, 2014) by Zenpo Shimabukuro and Dan Smith, an excellent book.  I came across the following on page 27 (bottom):

"One of Kyan sensei's greatest contributions to Okinawan karate was that he kept the kata that he learned from these great masters without changing the basic movements for the purpose of standardization.  Many Okinawan teachers learned the pattern of the kata from different teachers and then standardized those kata to their own kihon.  Learning the pattern of the kata and then changing the kihon is one of the key reasons for there being so many variations of kata today."
This is one of the truest statements I have ever read about Karate.

I practiced Matsubayashi-Ryu for about 20 years.  Our second kata is Fukyugata Ni.  We learned that Shoshin Nagamine, the founder of Matsubayashi-Ryu, developed Fukyugata Ichi and that Chojun Miyagi, the founder of the Goju-Ryu form of Karate, developed Fukyugata Ni.  This was in 1940 or 1941.  See: The 1940 Karate-Do Special Committee: The Fukyugata "Promotional" Kata, by Charles C. Goodin (me).

Several years ago I got to see my friend, a Goju-Ryu instructor, perform their Gekkisai Dai Ichi kata (I believe), which is what we call Fukyugata Ni.  Anyway, I was surprised by how much his kata differed from mine -- both in form and meaning.

So... was I doing my Fukyugata Ni wrong or was he doing his Gekkisai wrong?   Since Chojun Miyagi developed the kata, and my friend was a senior instructor or Goju-Ryu, I had to conclude that his version was the original or closer to the original.

Upon closer examination, I realized that our Fukyugata Ni was essentially the pattern of his Gekkisai, but with his basic movements replaced by ours.  In other words, it appeared that we were performing the pattern of Gekki Sai with Matsubayashi-Ryu basics (kihon).  And at that, we were replacing the Goju-Ryu basics with post public school Karate (about 1900) basics.  Fukyugata Ni was a good example of a kata from one style being changed by standardization, just as Shimabukuro and Smith described.

From time to time, I have taught students from other styles one of the kata we practice in Kishaba Juku.  Almost inevitably, they perform our kata their way.  They perform the pattern of our kata using their basics.  Of course, the most important thing is to learn our basics, not just the pattern.  The pattern is just a convenient tool.  The basics -- the form, dynamics and applications of the movements -- are what really count.

If I learned someone else's kata, I would want to learn to move like they do.  Why should I learn their kata and still move my way?  That would be a waste of time.  I have too many kata anyway!

Later in the book, Shimabukuro and Smith write (on page 28):

Kyan's kata was thought to be "Inaka Di" or primitive, country methods.  The reason for the look of his kata was Kyan had kept the techniques as they were taught by his father, Sokon Matsumura and his other teachers."
I have also heard a Karate instructor's kata referred to "Inaka", "country", or "village", usually as a veiled insult.  Actually, the old way, the pre-standardization way, was the advanced way.  Now, I am extremely impressed when I have the rare privilege to see anyone who can perform basics or kata in the old way.

Zenpo Shimabukuro's father, Zenryo Shimabukuro, learned from Chotoku Kyan.  So did Shoshin Nagamine.  Some of the kata of Seibukan and Matsubayashi-Ryu have very similar patterns, but different basics.  Karate students of all styles might question the extent to which their own kata were modified by standardization.  [It does not help that just about everyone claims that their form of movement is the original!]

From with my interaction with senior Karate experts over the years, I firmly believe that the Karate masters of old were not using the standardized basics that we largely see today.  The key to understanding kata is the rediscovery of the old ways of moving.

And just doing or learning an "old" or "ancient" kata is not much help -- if that kata has already been changed by the standardization process.  Who knows if the Kusanku kata performed in many styles is done the same way that Mr. Kusanku originally taught it?


Respectfully,

Charles C. Goodin

A Lifelong Progression

This new year, I am reminded of something that my friend, Sensei Pat Nakata, often said:  There is a difference between practicing Karate for thirty years, and practicing Karate for one year, thirty times.

Karate training should not be doing the same thing, the same way, over and over, year after year, decade after decade.  Karate training should be a lifelong progression.

And I am also reminded of something Sensei Katsuhiko Shinzato often said.  He does not like to be seen in internet videos because he tries to improve each day.  Something he did yesterday will not look or feel right today, nor will what he is doing today look or feel right tomorrow.

Karate training should be a lifelong progression.  We should strive to improve each day.

Respectfully,

Charles C. Goodin

Okinawa Karate Kaikan

Earlier, I wrote about the Okinawa Karate-Do Kaikan.  I have learned that the name of the facility is the Okinawa Karate Kaikan.  "Do" is not part of the name.  I am just clarifying this.  I believe that the facility is set for completion in the fall of this year (2016).

In the coming months, I hope to have more information about the Okinawa Karate Kaikan and my efforts to assist with its museum annex.

Respectfully,

Charles C. Goodin

Clean Dojo?

In many martial arts schools, it is traditional to start the new year by cleaning the dojo.  I often did this over the years.

 However, I always say that your home should be cleaner than the dojo.  Don't get me wrong -- the dojo should be clean.  But you should not have a clean dojo and a dirty home.  Clean your home first -- then clean the dojo.

Someone who only cleans the dojo, but not the home, is sort of like a person who is pious only in church.

When you see a clean dojo, that should tell you that everyone in the dojo has cleaned their homes first.  When you see students practicing hard in the dojo, that should tell you that they have attended to their work and/or school work first.

Karate is something you should do well after you have done everything else you need to do well.  Being good at Karate and bad at everything else is not being good at Karate.

Happy New Year!

Respectfully,

Charles C. Goodin