13 December, 2011

Ma-ai and a deeper level of martial arts

I read another excellent post over on the Classical Budoka: Fluid Space in Budo

When I read such great articles and posts from others, it makes me ask a few questions:
  1. Why bother writing when better people are putting out such awesome stuff?
  2. What can I learn from this to better myself
So, in response, here are some of my thoughts coming from that post.

The first thought was that there are many levels to the martial arts.  There are the surface techniques: throwing, stabbing, punching, kicking, grappling, slicing, bludgeoning coming from striking, grappling and weapons arts.  Without correct distancing and timing it is impossible to utilize any of those techniques effectively.  If you act too soon, your opponent will not be there - they will use a different attack.  If you are too late...well, it will not be a problem for much longer.  Wrong distance on a punch and it has no impact, or results in injury.  While my grappling experience is more limited, as is my weapons experience, I do know this applies as equally.  So the first level of ma-ai is in its usefulness.

The next level down is the use of ma-ai alone to conquer and achieve victory.  Mr. Muramoto provides a story about Miyamoto Musashi on this point, but needless to say there are several dozen such stories of martial arts masters winning through the force of their ki.  As suggested in the Musashi story, there is more to it than just ki - mental unbalancing through space and time manipulation.

I experienced this in a 12 hour seminar this summer.  We were doing a session on Ni Ten Ichi Ryu (Musashi comes in again - odd I didn't realize this until just now) and the particular waza involved closing the distance and controlling the uke through the timing and movement.  My Sensei asked how this was possible and at which point the uke lost.  I couldn't explain it in so many words, but I suggested a good kick would solve the problem.  My Sensei agreed in the sense that it was an issue of distancing and timing.  This incident came back to me upon reading the above post.

06 December, 2011

The Way is in Training

Just a quick link and lesson for the day:


My favourite line from this post:
So if you don't mind, I will just train.
The way is in training.  Training will never let you down.  Words spoken by wiser people than I.

22 November, 2011

Iaido and Karate

During an iaido seminar I went to a few weeks back, we were working uke nagashi.  Here is a link for those interested: Uke Nagashi - skip to about 25 seconds in, for some reason nihon-me is at the beginning of the video and is in pretty rough shape to boot.  But sanbon-me comes through clearly.

Anyways, during this seminar we were working on getting the angle of the cut correct according to where the opponent is standing.  To make a long story short, we didn't sit at a 90 degree angle to the opponent but rather more like 125 degrees.  This allowed us to check that we were cutting what was originally in front of us.

It got me to wonder and ask myself some questions about iaido and karatedo:
  • Where is your opponent?
  • What is your opponent doing?
And then further to that:

  • When will your opponent attack?
  • When will you counter?
There is a certain way in which we were practising uke nagashi.  In koryu, I am told that you block firmly and then cut.  In seitei, we were trying to "empty out" at the right time, similar to what I believe many aikidoka and jujutsuka are familiar with.  This requires not only great timing and technique and distancing, but total focus on each of those.  Otherwise, why would your opponent attack when they know they can't win?  It really drives home the lesson of knowing your forms, down into the very sinews and bones of your body.

Another thought I had was that in iaido, for the most part, the explanations are present.  But even these have been reverse engineered to a large extent.  I have yet to hear a complete and rational reason for sitting in tate hiza, a sort of half seiza position.  So in that manner, perhaps iaido and karatedo are not that dissimilar - some separation from the core art and intent has created a set of fantasy moves that may well have little purpose.  Dangerous thinking in a traditional mindset, but it bears on reality so I feel it is important to meditate upon.

Finally, this all brings me back to riai and karate.  What is a typical attack in karate?  What are we defending against?  Is it reasonable to practice defending against punches and kicks, or are we misguided in our intent?  It makes sense in koryu to work grappling as this was usable in armour - it would be very dangerous if you couldn't access your weapon due to an opponent restraining you and preparing to use a weapon against you.

This is all tied to the question of practicality in traditional martial arts.  Looking at aikido, you might ask why they train to defend against a downward chop.  But considering its basis in arts where defending against swords is normal, it suddenly makes a lot more sense.  Karate's forming arts are to a large extent hidden, and the question becomes what is the focus, and should there be only one?  What is the ideology of our defensive work.

14 November, 2011


This is just a quick post for a great post from Mr. Charles Goodin.  Everytime I read his blog posts, I am reminded of what a gentleman (or gentlelady) should do, how they should think, and how that character development from the martial arts shines through in people's interactions with others.

His stories are always a good reminder of who I want to be, and they remind me of Mr. Richard Kim's tales.  While Sensei Kim's stories were more historical and less allegorical, they both have a very strong element of morality and behaviour.  How a warrior should behave in society.

Anyways, here is a link to a great article: Speaking Ill of Others

My favourite quote that came from this would have to be:
You can't build a house by criticizing other houses.
How true and what a great way to think of my own training!  This is one of the reasons I enjoy the martial arts so much.  You are testing yourself against yourself - it doesn't matter what the next person does, it matters what you do and who you are.  I have nothing against competition (well, maybe a little ;) ) but I think that the development of the self is of the most value.

13 November, 2011

Meaning of Your Art

Another post - I want to make up for my own laziness.  It doesn't hurt that I am feeling unwell today and I have some time at home to spend on my indulgences.  I find that in my conversations and correspondence with others, and through reading blogs and listening to podcasts, I am always thinking and I hope this will let me improve my practice.

I cannot say this with enough emphasis or sincerity.  Mr. Wayne Muromoto's blog is simply awesome.  The depth that he has makes me feel like I am in the ocean.  It is humbling to be reminded how far there is to go and how much there is to understand.

Anways, for the post in question: The Meaning of the Meaning

It raised a great question for my own art - what is the meaning of Goju Ryu Karatedo.  This is a question that I need to think about a great deal.  My first reaction is the obvious - it is a synthesis of hard and soft.  Well thank you Professor Brain, that was insightful.

But seriously, I have been trying to think of the kata and the lessons embodied in those I know.  There is a theme of advancing into an opponent, inside their guard, striking to allow for grappling, then a  takedown and follow up strike.  This strikes me as too generic and too obvious, and I know there is more to this.  I know I am far from the answer as I feel far from the technical top of our system.  I suppose once I get started on suparinpei I will have a better idea, but looking at the rest of the kata I will strive to find the patterns and mental approach inherent in them.

I also wonder, since karate is (in my mind) a synthesis of crane and monk fist, how is a harmonious mental approach created from those (at least) two different sources.  And then with the Okinawazation of those techniques and forms, and then Japanification, and then (arguably) the Canadianization, what is the resulting school?  I have read (and written about) the change that an art goes through from teachers and environments - so what does the art I practice have?  Perhaps this is a personal question that cannot be answered for an entire style?  In reference to the aikido example given by Mr. Muromoto, everyone does aikido a little differently - perhaps they each have their own riai?

Food for thought, once again, from those with greater experience.

As a side note, I again love this aspect of the arts - being able to learn from the stories and instruction given to you.  It forces you to think and keeps your mental engine pumping.  How lucky we are to be able to practice these skills we love!

Smaller Updates and Food for Thought

I haven't posted in a while, and while I had honestly intended to release a few posts over the last month, I have found myself busy with other small projects and work.

Anyways, I wanted to post a few things floating around in my head recently.  There are several great posts,  two of which I really liked,  at Prevail Training:

Sport Isn't Fighting

Kit N Slick

What I thought was really interesting about the first post I linked is the idea of partner drills.  I think it is very easy, at least in my experience, to forget how serious you need to treat drills.  Just because you know the technique and you can apply it, it doesn't mean you should treat it lightly.  You are doing yourself a disservice, not to mention your partner, your art, your teacher and the lineage of people who have sweat and bled to bring it to you.  I should note that it is very tough to ever truly know a technique unless you have years or decades of experience, so just because you think you know it, doesn't mean you do!

To pull a quote from the post, I thought this was the most important aspect.  When working these sorts of drills (kakie comes to mind for my own art (a sort of partner based grappling drill to work various joint locks and takedowns)), there is (or should be!) an escalation of practice:
1) Consensual, cooperative drilling
Followed by:
2) Resistive, cooperative drilling
Followed by:
3) Resistive, non-cooperative drilling.
This sort of escalation helps build the skills and then the detail work needed to apply a technique.

Food for thought and I think this applies as much to sparring as it does to individual technique work.  Choose a technique or three that you have been working from a kata, and then see if you can apply it in a (careful and) serious manner - I will need to try more of this myself in the future.

The second article just reaffirms, in my mind, the validity of ancient martial arts, and is a good read.

27 September, 2011

Intuition and Learning

I was reading a great post over at Goju Kenkyukai entitled Stop Making Excuses.  I thought it was a great post, so please take a look over there.

But, as usual with good source material, it made me think.  In my usual disjointed style, here are my thoughts.

First, the use of Shu Ha Ri as a guide for the phases of a person's education.  It made me look up the definitions of both shu ha ri and jo ha kyu (with which I am more familar).

Jo Ha Kyu

My Sensei has always mentioned the importance of utilizing jo ha kyu when we are performing iaido kata.  There is a certain element of drawing in the enemy with a purposefully slow beginning, increasing the pace to be prepared for the attack, and continuing the acceleration in order to arrive on target before the enemy can react to save themselves.  There is also an element of Go No Sen to this, in that you appear to begin behind (you are actually so aware that you are well aware of the coming attack (or at least I should be)), then catch up to the present, then get ahead through body positioning, intent, focus, and application of a waza designed to accomplish this feat.

He has also mentioned this in our karate classes, although usually this is more from the point of warming up, or presenting techniques or forms that are correct (to the best of our ability).  The first time you do it, jo, you move more slowly, "remembering" the movements and techniques with your body and loading them into muscle memory.  You might make a few mistakes in a kata you haven't done in a while.  The second time, ha, you increase the speed, bring some elements of kime, speed, or power into play, while consciously correcting your form.  Finally, kyu, you are at your maximum of speed, power, technique and focus.  That is the form you would want to present at a grading, for example.

I raise this, as it is a related metaphor to that of Shu Ha Ri.  Although the meanings are different, the application and intent are similar.

Shu Ha Ri

Upon reading about shu ha ri, I found that it was much more apt to Garry's use than my own understanding.  But for the sake of discussion, the similarities are simple enough to see.

At the shu stage you are learning.  When learning a form it is necessary to go slowly to understand and learn the movement.  At the ha stage we are removing ourselves from the slow original, breaking away and trying to add in the sum of our education to date.  Finally, in the ri stage, you are at the peak, having transcended the previous attempts, achieving (hopefullly) perfection.

Alright, maybe its a big of stretch, but I don't think its too far from the mark.  At any rate, this is also a great way to view education, particularly from the context of the martial arts.  I have been thinking about this aside from the above, so I wanted to share my findings/thoughts.

There is a bit of a divide in the way in which Western thought and Eastern thought attempt to reach the same goals.  Any one who has read or visited an Asian martial art school, or trained with old masters of the arts, can attest to the importance of observation.

In the Western world, education is something to be questioned, analyzed and set out before everyone was discussion and understanding.  The empirical method has been the mainstay of modern scientific thought, and to a large extent this has affected the view of the entire Western world and its cultures.  Something needs proof, and answers are given to those who ask.  If I recall some lecture material from Sensei Richard Kim, this would be tied to the intellect - he would say this was public knowledge of the external world.  It is a valuable method for exploring and understanding the world we live in.

In contrast, we have the Eastern approach focusing on a more internallized and intuitive approach.  The student follows the path of their teacher, accepting that their wisdom is sounds.  After all, a teacher is one who has tread the path before - they know the pitfalls and has some meaure of wisdom with regards to what and how to view and use what the student will find.  Richard Kim would call this private or self knowledge.

Now, lets get back to the martial arts.  Are we learning more about ourselves on this path of insanity (what sane person prepares for a day that they hope won't come and might mean their death ;) ) or more about the external world.  I would have said, in my own naivety, we are learning about the outside.  After all, all philosophy aside, we are training to defend ourselves in the real world.  We want to come home safely, when all is said and done.

But the more I thought about it, especially after Garry's post, the more I realized that we are on an internal journey of self perfection.  That is the mastery which is the peark of the mountain we all climb.  And it really made me realize that this was a case where the West needs to listen, watch and take the steps that the East has done already.  How else can we learn and internalize the concepts we strive to understand to an unconscious level without developing the intuition and internal knowledge of ourselves.

05 September, 2011

Kumite vs Kumitachi

I have been thinking recently about the history of karate, the "invention" of kumite (in its various forms) and comparing it to the koryu practice of kumitachi.

First, lets break down both words.  My japanese is horrible, so if anyone can confirm/deny my translations, it is appreciated.  Kumi is a noun meaning a set, group or collection.  It has the implicit meaning of pre-built or pre-arranged.  Tachi means sword, and Te means hand/fist.  Kumitachi is often translated as a pre-arranged two person sword form/practice, and kumite is the same but for empty-handed combat.  The meaning inherent in each is a format to let the student understand the techniques being worked on in an environment which, while somewhat safe (at least to start), still adds in the variables and challenges presented by a thinking human.  The responses of the attacker, while arranged, are subject to distance, timing, correct execution while at speed and under duress, to name a few variables.

During a recent seminar, I had the chance to practice some kumitachi of Ni Ten Ichi Ryu (the sword style made famous by Musashi).  I really got into it, despite being banged around, and I found myself trying to emulate the feeling behind the techniques.  Oddly, this is something I have yet to experience in kumite, the karate equivalent.  I have tried to embody certain animals while sparring (crane and tiger, most often), but there was never the driving force of worry of injury.

While injury is prevalent in sparring conditions in karate, I think that most people do not take it as seriously, mainly because there is no clear weapon.  Even using a "soft" weapon like shinai, there is a greater sense of urgency, danger and realism that is often not captured in karate sparring.

I found this after recently working on footwork.  While the footwork was interesting, it was not a new concept and I found that I have been using similar techniques unconsciously.  I hope to attribute my use to over a decade in the arts, but perhaps it was mere fluke.  But this brought me to the realization that I wasn't getting as much out of my kumite as I did out of the kumitachi.  My partner was never in any danger of doing me serious harm - if they had been armed with any form of weapon, the intent and seriousness of my response would be altered.  I realized that this same intent was not mirrored by my partners - jiyu kumite (free sparring) was more of a game.  Indeed, the footwork we had been working was from a sort of "bouncing" movement common in sport fighting.  The term we use if yadi-yashi or yadi ashi, neither of which I can find as correct or adequate translations.

This led to another realization on my part.  I don't care for sport kumite.  While footwork, distancing, timing, stances, generation of power are all the same, the sort of in and out bouncing movement is entirely in-congruent with a realistic self-defence scenario.  My interests lie outside of that, to something which stretches to reach the mental state of ancient warriors of times past.  The ability to summon and maintain mushin (no-mind) and assert my ability to get home alive is the real goal.

This is the attitude that I will strive to induce and use in my own sparring from this point onwards.  But this leaves the question, what should replace traditional kumite?  Is it just a matter of intent?  Do we (karateka as a whole) need to work more realistic scenarios, pulling from our knowledge of kata?  While some may do this, I cannot say that this is my case.  I have yet to internalize the intent of kata and been able to apply it in a kumite fashion (perhaps due to the aforementioned sport-style).

A sobering set of thoughts, on my end.

05 August, 2011

Footwork, Timing, Distancing

After class on Wednesday night, and catching an article over at The Dojo Floor about feet (Foundations), I have been thinking about maai again.  And I came to a bit of a realization, tying in the martial arts as a whole, I think.

We were working a simple drill of exchanging techniques.  Basically the drill consisted of standing opposite one's partner, while both have their guards up and in a fighting posture/position.  Then each partner takes a turn jabbing to the head (kizami zuki), then each partner takes a turn following up with a reverse punch (gyaku zuki).  Neither partner is in range for the techniques, so movement back and forth is necessary.  The resulting exchange can get very quick if your partner is fast on their feet, or you a bit of a sluggard (I hope I wasn't!).

The drill can be endlessly adjusted to different techniques.  Among the most challenging is to include front kick (mae geri) or other kicking techniques after the punching.  Moving into and out of range for kicks after punching is not a trivial exercise.

What my Sensei stressed was the importance of moving the feet and the body in a coordinate fashion.  Being able to maintain ones balance and centre of gravity while moving, or to establish it quickly after a motion is of critical importance.

Another importance aspect is the timing.  You can easily develop a rhythm which is unrealistic upon the inclusion of kicking techniques or other movements.  This necessitates an understanding of how one moves and when, and how that is in response to one's opponent.

An interesting further drill to timing is adopting the opponent's timing, or creating your own, in order to break it.  What I mean is that the give and take of the exercise develop into a certain pattern and pace.  By being able to control that pace and own it, you control the outcome of the encounter much more readily.  I believe that this applies mentally as much as it does physically.

What does this boil down to?  Footwork, timing, distance - all combined.  Sounds like maai to me.  I am probably misusing the term to some degree, but I think this applies to all martial arts.  In the striking arts (karate, kendo, etc) I think that this is very obvious.  Hard to hit someone who isn't there.  But I think this also applies to more grappling oriented arts.  As I understand it, this idea of entering into the opponent's sphere of influence and controlling them from there is a subtle yet vital part of aikido, judo and jujutsu.  This seems like the concept of irimi (entering) is tied to maai (distancind + timing) in ways I have yet to express, but can feel on a physical level.

15 July, 2011

Fundamentals of a Martial Art

I have spent some time researching and thinking about some koryu and their approach to combat.  This is a topic of endless fascination for me as I find myself holding on to old, childish thoughts of "The Way Things Should Be", according to some primitive and deluded model.

Let's start with my delusions of martial arts from as early as I can remember.

Cartoons like G.I. Joe and shows like Kung Fu: The Legend Continues both were a formative part of my childhood, in some way or another.  Not that they were necessarily my favourite shows, but I think they formed the basis for what I thought the martial arts were and what they should be.  Most of all, how to learn them and how they were developed (somehow development got tied into how they were used).  What is the first thing that the "Good Guys" do when confronted with an enemy?  Drop their weapon to give their opponent a fighting chance!  Clearly using weapons was a bully's resort of choice - the good guys didn't need weapons.

Enter martial arts movies - Bruce Lee, Chuck Norris, Jackie Chan, Steven Seagal.  When the going gets tough, the tough use their bare hands.

So, in my mind, until the last year or so, I never really understood the formulation, usefullness and purpose behind the weapon arts.  They just seemed like something cool and superfluous.

But back to my original point - koryu.  Kenjutsu, jujutsu, iaijutsu - the list goes on.  What are the relations between them and how do lessons from one apply to the other.  I recently saw an interesting video (which I might dig up, if I can) in which a Sensei was showing the purpose behind some sword work through the use of empty-hands.  The subtle but critical arts of distancing, timing, entering and capturing balance, all within the "simple" movements of a downward cut. Another lessons learned.

The one thing I love about the martial arts is that you can learn sometimes as much from reflection while not physically training as from messing about with a comrade.


24 June, 2011

Injury and Mindfulness

As martial artists, we have heard the term mindfulness applied in many ways. Perhaps this is most important in the martial arts than any other physical activity, as our intent is to injure others, but we wish to practice the intent without fully completing the act of injury others (namely our training partners, those we are working with, etc.).

I recently experienced a total lack of mindfulness on my part. I have been reflecting on this the last few weeks. It has been a learning exercise on my part (after I finished kicking myself). I have come to realize that it was my lack of mindfulness which was the root cause of the incident.

When I was a junior and I read about how the senior student takes responsibility for actions of a junior, I found myself confused. How is that fair? How can a senior prevent the injury of the junior? Surely they must have control, but what about if the junior all but purposely takes the attack - how can the senior be expected to avoid such situations?

Fast forward many years to earlier this month. As I have mentioned in the past, I perform one assist a week at my dojo, under the supervision of my Sensei. There is another yudansha to help as well, but I am the senior amongst the two of us.

There is a student who is preparing for the shodan grading. This student is a strong candidate who practices diligently. He also recently when for a grading for Iaido, so he has a good mindset.

It was the end of my assist, with the black belt class beginning. We started with light sparring to warm up the black belts and cool down the remaining kyu belts. What this means is that a black belt would be paired with a kyu belt to spar. While each black belt was in charge of their own "fight", I was in charge over all. This was the first problem that I had - I paid less attention to my own match than that of others - a big mistakes in mindfulness of my immediate surroundings. One cannot sacrifice the close view for the far, or vice versa. See Musashi's "Go Rin No Sho" for a great quote on this.

I was sparring with the shodan candidate. He was giving some strong mae geri (front kick), which I also let distract me. Another fault! I cannot allow myself to be overwhelmed by simple annoyances or minor pains - I have been training over a decade, what is a little discomfort!? Again, the fraying around of the edges of my island of mindfulness can be seen.

Towards the end of sparring, I noticed that my partner was leaving his face open. I thought that I would teach him not to - please note that I do not mean this as in "teaching him a lesson" as a bully! My intent was to show that he was in range for a jab and didn't have the necessary protection. Another mistake! Why should I think that I can teach in the middle of a sparring session with a younger and more inexperienced fighter?!

What ended up happening, though, wasn't that my fist was in front of his face. I ended up jabbing to his face and hit him square in the nose. I forgot that he wasn't a black belt, he didn't have the reflexes of someone training for several years but only a few. I treated him as someone far above an ikkyu rank, and that was another loss in my mindfulness.

The result was him bleeding quite significantly. We immediately set about taking him out of the dojo, cleaning up the blood, giving him paper towel to help clot the blood - all of this happened at once. My Sensei looked after the student as other seniors cleaned up while I got dressed. I drove him to the hospital immediately and went into emergency.

The end result - no significant trauma, but I did break his nose. The only brass lining (not even silver) was that it was a minor fracture and did not dislocate the nose - only some swelling had occurred which made it appear worse than it was. All of this culminated from my lack of mindfulness of what I was doing and when.

I find myself always encouraging students to increase their own mindfulness, and here I am violating that same concept repeatedly to the detriment of another - if I hurt myself in such idiocy, that would be acceptable and a good lesson. For it to injure another, one preparing for a major grading no less, it simply unacceptable.

Another lesson from all of this was that I cannot expect others to be able to move and react as I would or as I do. Even those with more experience (another black belt) would not necessarily have been able to dodge that or reduce the injury - it is a sort of hubris, I think, to imagine that others should be able to perfectly perform the necessary defensive and evasive procedures under duress that I am not sure even I could do.

So I can see how and why the senior must be in control. This was a hard lesson for me as I almost always am incredibly careful with the techniques that I use against others. I would say I am one of the most careful seniors, taking few risks against my juniors. I would rather break my own nose than even knock the wind from my partner. But that day I failed and I failed spectacularly. My lack of control and mindfulness cost another person injury.

I should not that the student has since been to class regularly and is doing well. Despite a bit of post injury swelling, he is back to his old self, but I worry if I have introduced unneeded stress into his mind. That will come out in the training, and I hope will not leave undue concerns behind.

I found this a sobering and important lesson that I need to be learn intimately with my body, conscious and unconscious mind.

04 June, 2011

Arakaki Seisho and his Kata

My Sensei teaches many different arts and many different kata - he is a career Sensei and has a deep interest in a wide variety of arts.  While we are a Goju Ryu school, our history is such that we have influences from other schools.  And in the interest of preserving the kata and their varied applications, we preform not only their kata, but the many related kata.

For example, we have different versions for all of the core Goju kata - I had to have three different Seisan's for my Sandan (there were more, but I am not a hardcore, teacher-type student).  We also have several versions of non-Goju kata - Wanshu, Wanshu Dai and Empi (all in the same lineage).  As a person with some interest in the history of the arts I practice, it is fascinating to see the evolution and changes of kata between branches, teacheres, etc.  Don't get me started on Patsai - we have at least four, off the top of my head, and keeping them straight is an exercise in and of itself.

Anyways, back to my topic.  We had recently begun doing (re-doing for some of us) kata from Arakaki (Aragaki) Seisho - namely Unsu and Sochin.  I had Sochin for my Sandan, but hadn't practiced it in years.  In doing it again at this point I have started to see some different benefits.  What I had thought (at the time of my grading) was that this was another kata for depth but not breadth - a foolish assumption!  Now, especially after reading "Hidden in Plain Sight" by Ellis Amdur, I am starting to think more about this teacher in our lineage, as well as the intent behind his kata.

For those who don't know, or who may do the kata differently, Sochin has five techniques, in the beginning, three to the front and two to the back, which are the same.  But the method is interesting, and different from other breathing done in Goju (and in Shuri-inspired schools, I would imagine).  We inhale, compress the breath and energy twice in a manner that sounds like two terse exhalations, then let the effort explode into a basic strike.  This manner of breathing reminded me of the description in the above named book of Chinese exercises learned by some Bushi several hundred years ago that were incorporated into the highest levels of their ryuha.  Gathering the breath and energy, compressing it and concentrating it - while the application is different in karate, there is perhaps something behind this.  After all, Goju itself is known for its forceful breathing and dynamic tension.

I looked around for more information on Arakaki Seisho, and most of it is either based on the same source or agrees that he was a student of Louhan Quan (monk fist or arhat boxing).  His contributions to karate are mainly carried on in Naha-derived styles such as Goju, but Seisan is a well known kata which, while it has several major variations, is found in almost every style of karate.  Arakaki was Sensei to many of the most prominent teachers of various karate styles and most lineages can trace back to him in some way, at least indirectly.  If his style was based on Shaolin or other monk/temple exercises, it is quite possible that qi gong or some similar exercises were incorporated into that lineage.  It should also be noted that this may not exist in an unaltered form today, as I believe there are no Sensei on Okinawa teaching monk fist - all of Arakaki's students went on to create their own systems.

I should note that many karateka trained and developed methods across their styles.  Yamaguchi Gogen and Nagamine Shoshin would be a good example or more modern collaborative efforts in their creation of Gekisai/Fukyu gata.  So it is not necessary that everyone comes back to a single, easy to trace root.  I just find it interesting and intriguing that I think most can.

Anyways, I have been learning a new kata, called Annan.  It seemed to me to be a mighty coincidence that this kata has many monk-like postures (recognized as either wisdom or compassion mudras, I forget which) just after working on Arakaki kata. 

Edit: I recently found out the information I had googled was not correct, so I have removed it at the request of the original website author.  My apologies for any inconvenience - any spread of misinformation was solely my fault - and my apologies to the original author.

So all of this has me thinking more about the holistic nature of karate, the roots of the art, the founding styles and the teachers, the intent behind the techniques.  What I mean by intent is that one often sees in the Chinese arts that the movements are not just for combat, but also a means to increase vitality, stretch the body and strengthen the various systems (nervous, skeletal, muscular, those pertaining to the fascia and tendons (if there is a name for that, and you know it, pass it on!)).  If monk style is a founding aspect to karate, then it bares investigating and relating the modern approaches of those techniques to ours and seeing what has changed and what was missed and what was improved.  If not, this is at least an amusing mental diversion and a chance to study kata and methodologies in depth.

01 June, 2011

Iaido Seminar and Lessons Learned

I have been meaning to post this for over a week now.  Life never pauses I suppose.  Now there is a thought - if Life ever pauses, you don't need to worry, its all done.

Anyways, about the Iaido seminar.  First off, I have never sweat so much in a hakama.  And I have never focused so much on a single form - everything was wrong.  It is quite sobering to learn a second totally different martial art.  It keeps my on my toes, it gives my brain a different angle to attack a problem.  But now instead of testing out kicks when no one is looking (at the office, at home, etc) I find myself holding anything from a marker to a water bottle over my head in jodan gamae, practicing how to use my pinky fingers in order then stopping the "sword" with a pulse of my thumb at the bottom of the stroke.  It so simple when explained and shown, and takes so much concentration and effort to achieve.

Don't get me started on stances.  Having a traditional karate background, my stances were far too long and wide for the liking of the Sensei's at the seminar.

But I digress (as I often do, I suspect its a habit when writing about one's passions).

The morning started with a large group exercise going through all of the 12 forms of Zen Ken Nippon Renmei Seitei gata.  The afternoon, where I think I lost a few pounds of water, consisted of dividing into three rough groups (I was in the lowest, of course).

I learned an important lesson about Japanese culture which I really should have known.  If you don't say anything, sometimes that is best.  The Sensei leading us asked if anyone didn't know all the seitei gata.  I was the only one who raised my hand.  After the acting translator informed him (after I explained that I knew most of the forms, but not the last few very well), I was given over to another Sensei.  I made a joke about this later with everyone, saying that I was put into remedial sword work when they saw how bad I was, but everyone was quite surprised that I got such one-on-one instruction.  Looking back on it, I was quite pleased.  I made sure to personally thank the Sensei who did the one-on-one with me that afternoon, as I felt that I learned so much about Iaido as a whole (stances, arm, posture, movement, timing, the list goes on).

The final session consisted of breaking into groups again and working on specific kata and techniques.  It was quite beneficial to get the feel of the entire form (especially something like sogiri - five cuts that I find quite difficult as a beginner) as well as get specific hints and tips on the bulk of the Seitei gata.

It wasn't until the end of the day that I realized why I was sweating to much.  It was one of the hottest days we had in Canada, and the gymnasium in which we were practicing was essentially a giant tin-roofed shed - no wonder the heat was on!

Lessons learned: Stances!  It was too easy, as I got tired, to get into zenkutsu dachi or shiko instead of the smaller (and more efficient in my mind) kendo/iaido stances.  Karate stances do not mix well with sword techniques.

I also found that I had many questions for my Sensei after the fact: how to perform the noto (I saw some people using a more horizontal beginning for their noto and then turning the saya and iaito vertical as the noto finished), how to tie the sageo (this might have related to the koryu in which they were studying, but ours is looped around the saya and tied near the tsuba, where as the Senseis and others just had it across the hara on the opposite hip) - the details are many and varied and probably more than I should worry about at this point in time.  But the comparisons are interesting.

I am glad to have found in Iaido something so different and personally challenging - there is always something new to fix and adjust.  I am not saying it doesn't happen in karate, but when trying to learn something new, all of the "subtle" adjustments that you can do on the fly normally just seem that much more important and that much more difficult.

One more thing I realized was that in iaido (and kendo) and karate is that you never want to be flat footed.  I suspect this is true of every martial art.  You want to push your intent forward and don't give ground unless you want them to have it.

23 May, 2011

From Iaido to a new World

This past weekend was a long weekend in Canada (still is, as I write this).  As luck would have it, this was the perfect opportunity for an Iaido and Jodo seminar.

I may have mentioned that I am studying Iaido.  I originally started as this as a requirement for my upcoming (1.25 years still left!) yondan grading.  Since starting Iaido a whole different world of martial arts and living have opened up to me.  I previously had no idea what the true benefits of the weapons arts were.

Let me start with the story of my training before and after my first Iaido seminar.  Here I reveal the levels of my own ignorance! (I write that as if there isn't more ignorance still to come... :) )

I originally started karate as I thought it to be an immensely practical style.  After all, the most common attack anyone can launch is a strike using the hands or feet.  I think back to rough-housing as a kid, and this was always the first reaction.  So what makes the most sense than to study an art known for its punching, kicking, blocking and general striking techniques.

As I grew up and as I grew into my art, I found that there was more than just striking.  Some throws, locks and pressure point strikes.  Kobudo, which did exist alongside karate, was never really a part of class as much as it was another art.  Even today in my current dojo kobudo is taught as a separate program.

Fast forward to about two or three years ago, when my Sensei told me that we needed to have some basic Iai sword forms for yondan.  I didn't really see the importance of weapons arts.  I had done a little sword work before as a novelty, and some sai and escrima stick work, but nothing formal and nothing with any intent behind it.  It was just another aspect of training, as much as the pushups were.

As a side note to a rambling narrative, was I the only one who hated pushups when rising through the ranks?  My arms are tiny when compared to my legs or core, and I never thought I would get better at them.  Now I can crank them out with a decent amount of ability, although I still prefer to perform different types of pushups (wide, narrow, forwards, backwards hand positions) rather than tons of the usual.  I think it helps with general strengthening rather than bicep overload, but that may be the reason for my thin arms!

Back to the story!  So I was studying Iaido once a week with my Sensei, when he recommended coming to an Iaido seminar with his Sensei.  This Sensei is rather well known, highly ranked in Iaido and Jodo, teachers self defense at a university, and is a key member of the Canadian Kendo Federation, which in turn is connected to the All Japan Kendo Federation.  In short, he knows his stuff.

One question that kept circling my mind was how he taught self defense.  As far as I could tell, he had no training in a practical, empty-handed art.  It didn't really compute to me how weapons training could possibly help with defense when empty handed.

Then came the seminar.  And with it the understanding of what it means to train in a weapons art.  And the power and possibilities behind it.  And then the realization dawned on me.  I need to get another black belt in another art!  Oh no.  Oh yes.  Oh no.  Those were the three following thoughts.  Not that I was worried about starting at the bottom.  But a realization.  I can compare it to climbing a mountain, reaching a good height, and being proud of your accomplishments.  Then looking up, because now you can see above more clearly, and you realize that you are so far from the top.  You realize your hubris and insignificance.  What you thought was climbing to the clouds is only an ants journey to an elephant.  To reach the greatness of those who came before, it is a long and arduous journey indeed.

Anyways, this weekend was great.  I was only able to attend one day of a three day seminar, but I felt like those 8 hours of training were longer than the 12-hour trainings I have done in Karate.  My feet never felt so tired.  I gained a whole new level of respect for everyone in this art, and for the art itself.  And I realized how much more I have to learn.  I don't find it daunting.  I am thoroughly excited with the prospect of learning more.

If have I time, I will write up my experience(s) with the seminar from this weekend.

16 May, 2011

Training for Reality

I have been looking around at blogs and vidoes with regards to koryu, jujutsu and silat.  My interest stems from what the goal of these systems is - training for reality.  And I have seen a sort of similar approach to how they handle a given situation.

What is mean is that, in karate, the key points of training are fitness and conditioning, kata (solo forms), and sparring (pre-arranged and free-style).  I would like to be clear that sparring in this context does not mean point sparring - our dojo long abandoned that path.  The distancing and timing that you learn from sparring in a more realistic manner can be very enlightening, and I think this is something that karate shares with kendo.  But sparring, in any case, is a recent invention, and previously the kata and conditioning were the primary tools, along with some application of the movements.

Contrast this to silat, koryu arts or jujutsu, where a specific attack (or set of attacks) are launched.  The order and nature of the attack is understood, but the slight variations required to handle the attack at speed with intent to harm is very different from the approach found in karate.  I would like to think that karate can learn a lot from this approach, but the key item that I try to include in practice is intent.

In some ways, the application of kata are like the above - some pre-determined situation of attack(s) that must to countered or eliminated.  But what I find important to note is that the senior is usually the "kata-side" in such drills (contrasted to koryu where the senior is the opponent), and that we do not have an agreed upon and remembered opponent side to the kata which is practiced (this was missing for several decades, at least, in almost all styles that I know of).  Since my interest in koryu, I try to perform the attacker side for such drills, to put myself in the right frame of mind.  The Budo Mind is a curious thing...

DISCLAIMER: I don't think any art is the peak of the mountain - different strokes for different folks, as the saying goes.  But I do think I understand my own art to a decent degree.  I think I know what I want, and this has affected the way that I perceive my art, my training, and colours my view of others.  In addition, it brings me to examine what I know and what I can learn to cover what I perceive I need to learn.

One thing which I am concerned about is that karate is not a combatic discipline along the lines of others.  I feel pretty confident that this is not the case, but I want to ensure that what I practice is practical, realistic, and will keep my family, friends and myself safe from harm.  I liked a quote, I can't remember from where, but the gist was that "wherever I am, the people around me are safer from my being there".  If anyone knows the source, please remind me, at least so the credit can go to where it is due.

So, what it comes down to is, what is training for reality?  What is your training about?  Do you think it is practical?

06 May, 2011

Recovery & Injury

As far as many other martial artists go, I consider myself lucky to have had only very minor injuries so far (knock wood).  But I think the whole idea of fitness, health, and the martial arts are something which might be easy to forget.

I recently went to a physio-therapist for a shoulder issue and wrist issue.  The wrist has some nerve issue which is hard to help, but the shoulder apparently was slightly pushed forward.  Its like a mild dislocation.  I got it while trying to workout to get healthier and prevent injury.  A bit ironic!

But I think it is sometimes easy, as martial artists, to shrug off injuries.  We get a feeling for our bodies, and rely on the feedback to know what we can and can't do within a particular time frame or motion.

But if, like myself, one doesn't have a good working knowledge of anatomy, then I think its easy to ignore the minor ailments of training.  They can easily develop into something worse.

As a good example (of my own foolishness perhaps!) I will relate a little story.  About 2 years back, in preparation for a mudan's grading into shodan, we were doing some rougher sparring.  A bit more contact and such.  I wasn't as careful as I should have been, and when I performed mae geri (front kick), it was with a more upward intent than forward.  The result?  I broke my big toe, with an audible crunch/crack, on the mudan's elbow.

I thought it was just a pop or something, so I tried to work the toe a bit.  It didn't stop hurting, but it wasn't too bad.  So I took it a bit easier on my foot for the rest of class - another 2 hours at that point, as the mudan's class was leaving and mine starting.  To cut the story short, I eventually went to the doctor and got an X-ray.  Yes it was broken.  No there wasn't much to be done about it.  But you better believe I went stir crazy being unable to walk (which I enjoy doing, and at the time did a lot of), do karate or pretty much spend time on my feet or walk around at work.

A lesson in paying attention to my actions AS WELL as paying attention to my body was well learned that time.

The recent injury is not so bad, and far better than what others have suffered, so I am not complaining!  But I think that this has reinforced to me the importance of some knowledge of a more than superficial level.  This is what has sparked my own interest in herbal remedies, self massage and the like.

As a quick guide, for those who can't be bothered to google a more knowledgeable website, here are some tips that I use.  Don't use them yourself without consulting a doctor!  This is just what I feel is safe for my own use.
  • Inflammation - Ice is the key!  Don't try to move the injury too much.  Frozen veggies or fruit are useful for this.
  • Soreness - Heat is wonderful.  Massage is helpful and so is the "internal" massage that you get from using the muscle.  I wet a towel, microwave it for 40 seconds and then carefully apply.  Adjust timing to your own home food nuker.
  • General help after a workout is a firm massage of the feet - they take a lot of pounding.  Knees may also be in order.
  • When I feel a cold coming on, and I mean right away at the very beginnings of a throat tickle, I take a half glass of water with tinctue of goldenseal and echinacea.  A few drops of oil of oregano also go in.  Take with a zinc tablet for the full effect.
  • Arnica for bruising.  I used this around my toe (which when broken had turned several shades of blue, green, black and purple) and it helped a lot.  Also working it into the area is also a light massage, another beneficial effect.
  • I have been told that comfrey for sprains is great.  I haven't had a chance to try it myself, but check out the link below for more information.
Herbs for Martial Artists

Finally, some extra fitness regime outside of and different to your martial art of choice.  I take a class twice weekly with my wife - core strength, cardio, etc.  Using different muscles has been very helpful in my performance in class and has raised my confidence of ability significantly.  Keep in mind that stretching and body weight exercises also help your soft tissues like fascia, tendons, ligaments and other doctorly words.  A stronger body means easier recovery from injury, and reduced injury at that.

Anyways, enough ranting.  Good health!

05 May, 2011

It's just Pain

I wanted to relate a brief, insightful, and (to my mind) funny incident which happened at the dojo.

First some background.  Every week I have what we affectionately call (at my dojo) an assist.  What this means is that I am leading a class of mudansha youths and adults while Sensei oversees everything.  I should also note that it is not just me, but another yudansha as well, and that Sensei alternates between teaching the whole group (working on a given form, partner drill, self defense situation, etc), working with a few, or correcting my own instruction.  Overall, I think this is a great way for students to give back to the dojo and help Sensei with larger classes.  This is very important when it comes to the younger children's classes, but also useful for the older classes with which I am involved (take that Churchill!).  Those assisting get the benefit of adjusting and correcting their mudansha curriculum as well as experience in teaching classes.  Those getting assisted get the benefit of difference emphasis of the exercises.  In my case, I just hope I don't contradict what they have learned so far or give them too much wrong advice before Sensei catches me!

Anyways, the little incident I mentioned above occurred during my assist.  One of the youths tends to give up when things are hard.  It is not that the youth in question doesn't have the ability to continue, but rather this youth THINKS that they have reached their limit.

So we are doing a brief drill to break up class a bit, where everyone gets the luxury of using the wall to perform shiko dachi (think of a 'horse stance' popular in many styles, but with the toes pointed outwards at a 45 degree angle and the thighs about 100 degrees from the shins).  In keeping with the exercise I decided to perform the stance with everyone, sans wall, to encourage everyone that I am suffering with them. :)

Anyways, this youth keeps rising up, and Sensei keeps telling the youth to get back down.  What followed is a series of rising and being told the lower, the youth lowering, and the cycle repeats every few seconds.

At one point, Sensei (who is very good natured about such things, but shows a comical exasperation with such incidents), jokingly (and yet also seriously) tells us that "its just pain."  He told the youth, and everyone else, that you thought you were going to die, but you didn't.  Play the odds.

I thought this was very interesting as a life philosophy.  How many times have we all sweated through a tough drill, thinking its all I can give, and then pulled out a little extra from somewhere deep inside?  How many times did your body scream at you that you can't do this any longer, and yet your mind insisted that you could, so you did?  And you lived.  This happens everyday, 365 days a year, and yet we are all still here to think about it.  Play the odds, you probably won't die from one more pushup, no matter what your arms are telling you.  Its just pain.

While on the topic of pain, there is another funny and serious phrase my Sensei uses - "First Pain, then Anguish."  I think this is along the same lines as the above.

03 May, 2011

More about Wado Ryu and Shindo Yoshin Ryu

As a follow up a previous post, I found the following article very interesting.  This was one article from a Wado Ryu perspective which did not claim that Ohtsuka Hironori was a grandmaster of SYR, and so I thought it worth posting as some good food for thought.



I need to look further into this, as this provides some insight into how Karate and Jujutsu can be melded together into a cohesive whole.  The interesting aspect is that of striking arts and their usefulness (or lack thereof) on the battlefield against armoured opponents.  Clearly this is not the case today, so the usefulness of striking has increase dramatically.  But it led me to some further thoughts.

It also raises some questions I have seen around the internet with regards to Aikido's combat efficacy.  I recall a video of an Aikidoka going against an MMA fighter.  I cannot comment on the skill of either, but I think that the Aikidoka was a black belt by the way he moved and his comfort level with his own techniques.  I noticed that the Aikidoka used a lot more striking than I think the art emphasizes in most schools these days.  If I recall correctly, there is a quote from Ueshiba Morihei which states "Aikido is 90% striking" or something to that effect.

If I can dig more into the curriculum of Daito Ryu to see what striking was involved, this might answer some questions as well.  It is my understanding that Daito Ryu is based to some degree on sumo techniques (as Takeda Sokaku and his father both were considerable sumo fighters).  Sumo is known for its considerable "hand slapping" (similar to Teisho Uchi) techniques.

It should also be mentioned that early Karate teachers were also well versed in a knowledge of Okinawan sumo.  I recall something from Charles Goodin indicating this, and how this knowledge was assumed with a study of Karate (at the beginning of the previous century, not clearly as much now).  Much of karate's unusual  techniques would be clearer with a solid grappling understanding.

29 April, 2011

Karate's connection to other arts? What affects what?

As a student of martial arts, with an interest in the history, there are often interesting little links between people, places, forms and styles that I find fascinating.  What follows are some cool ideas that I have searched for, read about, googled and just plain wondered about.  One interesting idea is that Karate and Bujutsu/Budo form mainland Japan have collided and produced unique results.

The first example is Wado Ryu Karate, the child of Otsuka Hironori.  His background is mainly two-fold - a solid background in Shotokan under Funakoshi Gichin and a menkyo kaiden (I believe) from Shindo Yoshin Ryu (the main branch if I recall correctly, not the Takamura branch).  I have not had the chance to look as much into this, but it provides me with some mental fodder for what the combination of jujutsu techniques into a karate curriculum would amount to.  What would the reverse create?


The next comes from a few different articles I had read, one recent and another further back.  The links are below.  Basically there is the theory that Takeda Sokaku visited Ryukyu at some point in his wandering training.  He went to search for and challenge teachers of the local martial arts.  While there is no direct evidence of such meetings, the idea is interesting and at least a fun mental exercise.  I have yet to look further into this as well, but the ideas I find most interesting are the addition or modification of striking techniques into the Daito Ryu curriculum, and the inclusion of some wrist or joint locks into the karate curriculum.


Another idea I find interesting is whether any of the above may have not occured with karate, but with Motobu Ryu Udundi.  It is a very different art (from what I have read and seen in video) than traditional karate styles, and perhaps some of the flow and suppleness of ju- or aiki-techniques have something to do with this.
This all comes back to the koryu I have been reading so much about recently, as well as Aikido and Daito Ryu.  To what extent have spear techniques influenced staff techniques?  Has kenjutsu affected the jujutsu techniques passed down by Takeda Sokaku?

Well, I think that is enough mental mashing around for now.  Everytime I type Takeda Sokaku I spell it differently. :P

26 April, 2011

Breaking Kuzushi

When I first heard the term "breaking your opponents kuzushi" I was a bit mystified by the meaning.  My Sensei described this to us as destroying the balance than an opponent has.  The more that I read about kuzushi, the more the concept intrigues me.  While I am sure that I am butchering the intended meaning and usage from the Japanese language, I hope that my ignorance will be forgiven.  I am using this term as I have been taught, and my own lingual studies are still woefully inadequate.

Lets turn to history again (what a surprise!).  The best example I can think of is when Kano Jigoro was learning jujutsu, and with intense study had bested one or another of his teachers.  While his teacher wore the expression of surprise (and a little dismay), Kano explained that the key to his victory was kuzushi, and the ability to disrupt balance in your opponent.

The best description that I have heard for how to accomplish this was pretty straight forward:
  • From the front, you need to get their head over their knees AND their knees over their toes.
  • From the rear, you need to get their head over their hips AND the hips over their heels.

I am emphasizing the AND in both of the above descriptions, because this is something worth remembering for those trying to understand and learn the mechanical aspect of balance.  It is something that I emphasize when I am trying to get partners to work on a throw, to check that they are doing it correctly.

There are two important reasons for balance.  The first is the obvious for everyone with a grappling background - you get tossed ass over tea kettle!  The second is obvious for everyone with a striking background - the force you exert is equally relayed back to you, so without balance, you get flung back ass over tea kettle.  Same problem, similar result, different reasons.  But it all makes sense.

There is one final aspect to balance, and that is the mental.  If you are able to break the rhythm of your opponents attacks (perhaps more an issue in striking arts than in grappling/throwing - I don't know and I am assuming here), you are disrupting their intent.  If you continue to block, you keep the opponents intent and their are on their mental balance, and you are off.  If you react to the attack with a counter, you begin to get the opponent on the defensive, and that is the beginning of the end.

If you thought countering an attack was hard, try countering the counter, or countering the counter of the counter, or ... well you get the idea.

The point is that you need to keep your balance, physical and mental.  I won't say anything about emotional, as it helps to be crazy if you live the budo life.

21 April, 2011

Evolution of a Martial Art

Recently I am immersed in two great books by Mr. Ellis Amdur all about koryu, their history and the mental aspects of these arts.  One other thing that I have realized is that the martial arts are living entities that change over time, especially depending upon those who teach them.  The evolution of an art, as it is passed down, interpreted, absorbed in part into other traditions that survive where the main line does not - it is a subject of endless fascination for me, bring up so many disjointed ideas.

One example is that of the formation of judo by its founder Jigoro Kano.  After a lot of serious study as a young adult, he began the first aspects of judo at the young age of 22.  The art continued to change as he and his students were exposed to various techniques and aspects that Kano admired.  He wanted to take the jujutsu that he had learned and adapt it to modern life as he saw Japan change around him.  He removed some techniques from the various ryu, replaced them with others, changed the intent and focus of the studies, tried to include a "more Western" approach to the systematization of his curriculum.

Another similar example is that of Aikido and its founder Morihei Ueshiba.  Ueshiba took the lessons of Daito Ryu, as taught to him, and refined the concepts and techniques, specializing in some and removing others.  Of course, the spiritual and religious aspects of Aikido cannot be understated, and their inclusion is as much as part of the whole as any physical aspect of the art.

When I think of my own dojo, our organization has been collecting arts, forms and techniques for many years (decades, although this is before my time there).  But we don't seem to absorb, refine, and remove that which is deemed extraneous or redundant to our goals.  It seems rather the opposite - we are trying to expand our curriculum base.  While this sounds wonderful, let me tell you that it makes gradings difficult, as knowing three or more versions of a given kata, and being able to differentiate between them at will is very tricky!  Now add to this that over the course of several dan rankings and you can see an almost exponential number of variations to study.  Of course, the purpose of these variations is to present the differing applications of the techniques, but it is easy to feel overwhelmed.

And so, I wonder, is this the way it should be.  We try very hard to maintain the core kata, techniques and curriculum, but who am I to say what should stay and what should go?  How does one know what to focus on (for themselves, for their own repertoire) and what to discard?  Is it that you don't like those techniques, or have a different way to deal with those situations?  I think part of the answer lies in my own ignorance and the lack of completeness of my training.  I don't yet have the entire curriculum of Goju Ryu, so I feel certain this is one aspect of my misunderstanding of the above.

Further questions come to mind.  What does this mean for cross training?  How do you take techniques from totally different arts and integrate them into your own, while maintaining the original intent of your system?  This is incredibly relevant when it comes to bringing in concepts and practices totally outside the scope of your art.  For example, if I wanted to integrate Qi Gong into Karate, how exactly would I reconcile the two into a harmonious whole?  And if I somehow did that, what would I have - a hybrid recognized by whom, to what extent, for what purpose?

I recall an article or blog post, which I will try to dig up if I can find it.  It was about how one should not just add in, for example, a judo throw into karate.  That throw doesn't necessarily fit the intent of the style, and it probably won't fit the kata or application of any move that a karateka of that style would understand.  This is perhaps more applicable when considering jujutsu, where the multitude of  techniques for accomplishing a given type of throw or lock are incredibly numerous between styles, yet very different.  So in this sense, is cross training a hindrance, in that it tries to force a square peg into a round hole?  In many ways, the holes in karate are meant to be filled, but by what often remains a mystery.

There is an essay written by Ellis Amdur in the book Koryu Bujutsu by Diane Skoss.  He writes about how his Sensei in Araki-ryu told him that when he leaves for America, he (Amdur) would need to adjust and adapt the school for his students and his environment.  Call it what you will (Amdur-ryu, Amdur-ha Araki-ryu?) but it is now his expression of Araki-ryu.  It is a very romantic notion that I could be as good someday as recognized masters.  Perhaps that is another driving force in the martial arts.

Another idea, floating around amongst all of this, are stories and the practices of martial artists past.  Often then a teacher would send his students to other teachers, or friends from their days training together, in order to broaden their skills, deepen their understanding, and pursue the martial arts along their own path.  It seems that this practice is not as it once was - I don't think many would approve of introducing their students to a new art and away from their own.  There is a lot of ego in the martial arts, by necessity I think, but this is perhaps one of the drawbacks.

Everyone has their own strengths - some people pick up new techniques more easily than other people and other techniques.  Perhaps this is another side of what your martial arts become in the end.  They are ultimately an expression of yourself, your life, and your abilities as a human, artist and warrior.

20 April, 2011

Realism in Training

At my dojo, there used to be a regular tournament circuit that people would attend and participate in (this is before I joined, at least a few years prior).  That practice has since stopped, mostly because of a shift in the way we practice our sparring.

My sensei has us focus on singular items in our training, at times focusing on embodying a certain mentality, at others working on specific techniques, combinations or theories.  These include keeping tension in the legs in order to respond more quickly, trying to shift your intent to the evasive nature of a crane, and trying to sense the attack when it is imminent as opposed to reacting to it.

But overall, we try to have a more realistic sparring style, with the inclusion of throws, grappling work, etc.  We drill simple reactions to knife attacks and strive to treat them as a serious attack every time.  I find that this mental shift in training is what makes for a better experience, and it gives me some measure of confidence in my ability to protect myself.

Some of the items that I find the most interesting are what I have mentioned - mental embodiment of a style of response, treating everything as a serious encounter, evasive movement into a better position for your counter-attack, not defending but instead attacking the attack, relaxing the muscles of the arms to increase speed, sharpening your attention.

We also did a little review recently of the correct sparring posture to adopt.  Both feet facing forward, heels off the ground, bend the knees, one hand guarding at temple level and the other on guard at jaw level (such that the elbow protects the solar plexus).

Another key point I thought of was the fact that in a knife fight, you have to understand and accept that you will be cut - BUT - you don't want to get cut somewhere likely to be a grave injury.  The principle is similar to those of basic pugilism.  I would rather take a punch to the stomach than to the head - I have trained my stomach to absorb impact to a certain degree.  With a knife this isn't the case, but I would rather have a cut along the outside (non-fleshy part) of the arm than on the inside, and similarly there rather than my torso, and the same applies to the head.  Human nature is programmed to avoid blows to the head and groin before others, and this can be used to your advantage.  But it also means that you need to keep in mind what you are risking in any given situation.

Anyways, that is the end of another rambling post.  I just wanted to share some of the above disjointed ideas.

18 April, 2011

Healing Arts to suit Karate?

As I progress through the martial arts, I find myself accumulating the normal aches, pains and injuries that anyone in a contact sport acquires.  And I wonder if there isn't something that my training in the martial arts can help me with.  So I begin to dig into my memory of martial arts history, once again.

To start, historically, the Asian martial arts are probably based upon, at least in some way, the Indian art of Kalaripayat(tu).  This is a system native to India, and includes a variety of animal-based forms, a number of weapons, interesting unarmed techniques (and very acrobatic counters) - but of interest in this case is the healing aspects of the system.  Not only are there the usual conditioning exercises found with most arts, but also a system of ayurvedic medicines and massage treatments.

Then we consider the Chinese arts of Quan Fa and Gong Fu.  There are many well known herbal remedies that were used by martial artists to speed their recovery and increase their vigor.  Diet Dat Jow for those with some form of Iron Palm/Hand training is a good example.

In relation to this are the Okinawan arts, which owe a lot to their Chinese forebears.  In the Bubishi, there is a list of herbs and medicines that were intended to help heal the martial artist.  These have fallen out of use (to the best of my knowledge).  While some cunning work by Patrick McCarthy has uncovered the formulas, I don't think they are of much interest to the majority of people.

Then there are the internal arts to consider when it comes to health.  Tai Chi, Reiki, Qigong, to name a few, are all relatively well known in the martial arts community (at least) as health promoting and general healing arts.

As for myself, I have been looking more into herbal medicines recently.  The use of arnica-based creams for the average muscles strains and bruising problems is a good example, but not the limit.  I have also had a passion for teas, and the use of a tea to help calm the stomach or relax the body is also in my (incredibly limited) repertoire.  I try to monitor my general health carefully for signs of weakness or illness coming on, so I can take preventative measures.  I have found oil of oregano, goldenseal and echinacea to be very effective in this regard.  I have to urge others to be cautious with this sort of medicine, and to consult a professional and educate yourself a lot about this.  I am starting with a great book called Western Herbs for the Martial Artist which I recommend for those interested in the subject.

Beyond that, I have been applying simple self massage to my feet, legs, back and arms, as well as to my wife (after a strenuous workout), and have found the effects to be subtle but beneficial.  Working in the direction of tendons, around ligaments and muscles around the bones in a firm but gentle manner.  The relief is small but the mental aspect of helping yourself can be substantial.

What inspired today's post is an injury I sustained on the weekend, performing a simple ab workout I have done many times before.  As a result, I have a slightly inflamed shoulder muscle and neck muscle (you can tell I am a real medical professional here).  I forgot the most basic of first aid and health care - R.I.C.E. - Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation.  I didn't ice it right away, and its lingering a little longer than I would like.  Couple this with another post by Mr. Wayne Muramoto about health in the martial arts, and I am inclined to take a more broad view of my health.  I have decided to include some more basic weight lifting and simple exercises to increase the resiliency and strength of my supporting muscles.

Sorry for such a rambling post, I might clean it up later, but I wanted to post something about this tonight before I forgot.  So what complements Karate?  Conditioning to prevent injury and some massage afterwards!  I think many artists can benefit from something as simple as this.

15 April, 2011

Complete Martial Art

Recently I have discovered the interesting world of koryu.  I have been reading some books, with aims on reading more.  The first is Donn Draeger's book Classical Bujutsu.  The second is a compilation of essays put together by Diane Skoss, called Koryu Bujutsu.  I have just started reading Old School from Ellis Amdur.

All of these books are from well recognized authorities on koryu, and are oft-recommended books, and I understand why.  The views of martial arts, martial thinking and martial life are interesting at the very least.  I have found that my thought processes have changed as a result of trying to think about and understand the martial arts from the koryu perspective.

Along the line of books have been blogs, although those about koryu are few and far between.  Wayne Muromoto has a blog, the Classic Budoka, which is entertaining and informative.  In going through past posts, I came across an article on whether Karate could be considered a complete art.

Classic Budoka: Karate an Incomplete Art

The points he makes are solid - striking, grappling and weaponary all combine into a more complete whole.  After reading it, and given that the above books were already in the forefront of my mind, it got me thinking - what is a complete martial art?  I searched around the internet and found that the term for this in Japanese is Sogo Bugei or Sogo Bujutsu (depending on your definition of martial art).  From what I understand of this term (as it is applied to koryu) means that everything that a warrior would need know in order to practice his/her profession - the use of all common weapons and tools for all types of combat.  In the case of arts like Tenshin Shoden Katori Shinto Ryu, there are religious, mystical and health related arts included.  Some proficiency in almost every weapon (or at least the preferred weapons of your school) is required, as well as dealing with being unarmed.

The Chinese martial arts have a long tradition of including healing arts within their systems.  While not all styles are aimed in this direction, it is true that a great many famous martial artists have been doctors, herbalists, bone-setters and so-forth.  I recall that Jigoru Kano, when looking for a Sensei, went calling on bone setters until he found one who had a connection to a jujutsu ryu (or at least who admitted it).

So, after all of this is floating around in my head, I ask myself, is my training towards a complete martial art?  Am I looking to be a more complete martial artist?  Something about completeness draws me in.  So, then, what do I already have and what do I need to seek?

Given my training in Goju, I think I am on firm ground with regards to striking.  And Goju does have its share of grappling/close range techniques.  Couple that with our cross-training in jujutsu and some of the above is covered.  We also practice sai, and I have started Iaido.  The use of Tensho as a basis for health and well being is less obvious than other chi kung exercises, but my school includes some of that in our training as well.

Overall, I am not a complete martial artist.  But I am working on it, in my own way.  I wish there was a guide on how to do it, but I guess I just need to get out and figure it for myself.  If anyone actually reads this, maybe post a comment and let me know of your thoughts and experiences.

14 April, 2011

Animals of Goju

The Chinese martial arts are well known for their use of animals in the names and design of their styles.  One often sees this in movies where both hero and villain claim a mastery of eagle or dog kung fu.  It seems that animals provided the inspiration for many martial arts.  A great example are the five main animals of Shaolin kung fu: tiger, monkey, dragon, crane and snake.  Out of all of the animals of Shaolin, the one which is most important to a Karateka is crane.

White Crane is a well known style in southern China, and is one of the formative arts which has led to modern Karatedo.  But this is far from the only animal that is extent within the world of Karate.

The crest of Shotokan, for example, is a tiger, although I don't know of any direct connection with tiger kung fu from China.  Similarly, when I asked my Sensei about the animals of Goju, he said that our style, overall, is based on the dragon.  Not that it came from dragon kung fu - crane is still the basis.  But some of the influences for our style hearken back to a variety of locations.  Suparinpei, our highest form, came from the same temple as Hung Gar and similar Tiger-Crane kata and exercises.  So there is a connection between crane and tiger patterns and idealogies, and that has some bearing on the intent of our kata.

As my Sensei explained, our dragon comes from two animals - tiger and crane.  The core kata of Goju can be broken down, as follows:

Saifa - basic kata, learned when you first get to the temple - the "outside the gates" exercise.  Once you were there for a few years and showed that you were serious, you were allowed in to learn the "real" stuff.
Sanchin and Tensho - these are conditioning and breath-work kata.  They involve the circulation of chi, the focus of intent, and precise movements.  Rooting yourself to the earth is a part of this as well.

Now for the animals:

Tiger - Seiunchin, Seisan and Seipai - grounded, strong, powerful movements - you never leave the floor.

Crane - Sanseiryu, Shisochin, Kururunfa - can be more easily seen in the tobi geri in the first, the crane like dodging and ikkajyo in the second, and the quick hand motions of the third.

Dragon - Suparinpei - the combination of tiger and crane in its highest form (for Goju, at least)

Outside of my Sensei, I have never seen the animals or division referred to as the above.  There are a lot of theories about the origin of kata and their connections, but since this was unique I thought it was worth posting.

13 April, 2011

The Meaning of Os

Recently, as I was coming in to my weekly assist (teaching while under direction), I heard my Sensei describe the etymology for the term Osu, or Os.  This term is used throughout Karate, and perhaps in other arts, but I always understood it to be a very terse sort of grunt of acknowledgment.  The Western equivalent would probably be Yea, which is Yes with the ending chopped off.  The sort of thing you might say when lifting a heavy object and someone asks if they can open the door for you.

I had never before heard an explanation for this, and later I asked him to repeat the definition for my own edification.  He explained that the word is a compound of two other words, Oshi Shinobu.  For those with an understanding of japanese and the martial arts (my own comes solely from manga and deciphering japanese terminology, so take my understanding with a grain of salt), the term Shinobu should seem familiar.  It is a component of the term Nin (as in Ninja), and when applied to a person it becomes Shinobi (again, another term for Ninja).  But I digress.  Besides being an interesting linguistic diversion, what does this actually mean?

Shinobu means to persevere or endure - the original name for ninjutsu is the techniques of perseverence.  Oshi means pressure.  Together, the phrase would mean something like "to endure under pressure".  The contraction of these two terms becomes Osu, or Os as it is pronounced.  The way that my Sensei described it, it has a deeper meaning than to continue despite hardship.

For the samurai, failure to perform at a task meant death.  And not just you - your failure would have rippling repercussions - your family and your servants would also need to be killed.  Stories like that of the 47 Ronin served as a guide - you didn't want people around to get revenge for the death of their father or lord.  But what does this have to do with Osu?

What Osu meant, when uttered by a Samurai, was that whatever task had just been agreed to, it would be carried out under the strictest of penalties.  When your boss summons you in and tells you the project must be completed by Friday, no matter what, answering Osu is like saying "I will die before this task is left uncompleted to your satisfaction."

Pretty extreme.  But what does this mean for the average budoka?  When you enter the dojo, when your Sensei gives you instructions on what techniques to carry out, when your Sensei corrects you, you respond with Osu in a clear and affirmative voice.  You are saying that you will do as they have instructed without delay.  You will not do something outside of that scope.

One thing that I think people may take for granted is the seriousness of a budo.  While there may be an air of levity to training with friends, it is for safety at least and training at most that one remembers that your partner is putting their health (possibly their lives) in your hands, just so you can learn.  It is a thought that humbles me greatly whenever I bow to someone before we engage in any activity.

12 April, 2011

Every Journey of a 1,000 miles begins with a single step

After reading so many positive and interesting articles and posts on a variety of other blogs, I have decided to start my own.  I am hoping to unite my hobby (I call it a hobby, but its mostly a way of life) with another interest - writing.

I guess I should introduce myself.  I am a Canadian martial artist who has trained in karate for over a decade at this point.  I began in a synthesis of Shotokan Karate, Judo and Jujutsu.  I continued in a pure Shotokan school for a while until achieving my Shodan.  After my Shodan, I switched to a great Goju Ryu Karate school where the training consists of a broad Goju syllabus supplemented with Jujutsu and chinese-based methods and forms.  As a compliment to Karate, Sai is also taught to yudansha students.

I am currently a Sandan, with my Yondan steadily approaching.  As a part of Yondan (for my organization) some familiarity with Iaido is required so as a result I have started training in that art as well.  The subtle differences in Seitei gata and Koryu never cease to amaze and confuse me, but more on that later.

I hope to chronicle my training, my thoughts, and bounce around interesting ideas.  Maybe this will interest others as well, as feedback is always appreciated.