16 December, 2012

Fitness and Training Schedule

This is a post I meant to get around to fleshing out earlier, and now it feels a little out of date.  But I think the other blogs I link to are great resources and additional food for thought, so here is an abbreviated and modified form of the post I had intended to make.

I have been reading a sort of trend recently in blog posts and ideas.  I notice this once in a while - everyone seems to be thinking the same thing, or at least along the same lines.  I am myself no different, having a lot of food for thought after the grading.

At any rate, here are some posts are the importance of regular daily fitness and practice:

Course Plotted

It makes me think about doing Sanchin thrice a day, plus another kata to boot.  The problem is, since the grading, we have been focusing on new Chinese forms, othewise I would have my hands full with Suparinpei (probably the longest and most complicated form I have ever seen).

But I also want a softer result, so I have been thinking about Tensho, Bafa (a Chinese form I have been doing the last few years, with a strong similarity to Tensho - if I had a video of anyone but me doing it, I would post it), or Qigong three times a day, plusa kata like Kururunfa.  But then I realized I should just alternate between all forms.  This has also got me thinking about the order in which we practice our kata, and those used in other schools.  Perhaps another post on this in the future...


Again the importance of flexibility and relative bodyweight based strength.  I prefer to focus on calisthenics and yoga-like movements when I do my own workouts.  I used to do more of it, but for the last year I haven't quite found the time to do this regularly.  Its something I want to start up again with my missus - perhaps the local YMCA would be a good route.

Current Workout

Solo Training Regimens

Here are some good examples of regular training schedules.  I need to look at what basics I want to work, how often, and then ensure this is a part of regular training.  I think people tend to forget the basics when practicing, or at least I do.  I tend to work forms when I have time, but a good session of basic techniques wouldn't hurt.  This also raises some ideas for me in regards to why some techniques are not in our kata - answer is obvious - they came after!  So begins my quest to create a form where I can practice these techniques not in the core set.

Junbi Undo

I need to include some karate-focused health/fitness and conditioning into my own regular (outside of class) workouts.  Not just simply calisthenics.  This comes back to modifying my workout to include conditioning drills, but this usually means I need some equipment.  As I mentioned, I prefer minimal equipment.  Plus living in a condo limits the equipment I can have.  Perhaps a portable makiwara-type pad that I can tie to a tree and use at the park?  This bears further consideration and research.  If others have an idea, please pass me along a hint. ;)

Kitchen Kung Fu

Last but not least, I need to set a better regime for nutrition in place.  After the grading, I have relaxed my training a bit, and I felt somewhat lacking.  It doesn't help I had a recent birthday and my mom decided it was a great time to give me homemade, real cream, cake to take home.  As a rule, I don't normally allow myself much in the way of sweets at home, so I will be less tempted.  I have since tried to reduce all other forms of sweets that I partake in, but the Christmas season provides no end of opportunities to cheat.

*sigh* At the very least, I will start eating oatmeal for breakfast, ensure I have my daily apple/fruit, and focus on veggies for lunches and suppers (I find it easier to base my meals around vegetables to decrease the amount of poor choices I make).

01 December, 2012

Learning from other styles

Been reading a couple of books I got for my birthday.  All about Masami Tsuruoka and his karate and budo practices.  These weren't books I had asked for, so I was surprised to find out about him and his style of karate.  Not only was he the first karateka in Canada, but despite our difference in styles there is a lineage link between myself and him.  Which has got me thinking about the different styles of karate and how just by changing forms an experienced karateka can change "styles".  As Funakoshi is known to have said, there should be no styles of karate.  They are all the same at heart, despite forms. (Heavily paraphrased).  This gives me some hope in my own study of forms from other styles, as well as in other arts altogether.

Anyways, unexpected information, ideas - they come from everywhere.  One should never reject something entirely as a new source of information.  Look with open eyes, try to understand, then take what you like and discard what you find not useful for now.  You can always come back, or find something else.  This is the path to making your own martial style.

This was brought to the forefront by an article from Karate By Jesse:

20 (More) Things About Karate You Ought To Know

The points the really resonated with me:

1. Follow the old masters, but never let your lineage, style or history be a excuse to stop learning new stuff. The past is a place of reference, not residence.
7. When you’re a brown belt, you believe only half of what your sensei tells you. When you’re a black belt, you know which half.
18. What other people think of your Karate is none of your business. A tiger doesn’t lose sleep over the opinion of sheep.
 Those are just a few.  Really, the whole list was great and I can't recommend his site enough.  Some nice articles that really got me interested in exploring my art, and others, in different ways.

I appreciate the condensed wisdom of one or two lines that sum up a feeling, style, art, method or philosophy.  It gives me something to work backward from, and to dig into.  Sometimes the simplest things are those where you can find the most depth.

24 November, 2012

Building your Martial Practice

I have been thinking recently of expanding my own martial practice to include serious, dedicated practice in another disparate field of study.  And recent expansion in the curriculum of my school and in the karate program has made me wonder about the wisdom in picking up something new, and indeed of how new items could and should be incorporated into your practice.  And finally, what is the resulting practice?

For a few years now, the organization my school belongs to have been following the tradition of past karate masters and going to China to receive some additional training.  For those who are not familiar with the history of karate, it is strongly influenced by southern quan fa traditions, and many of the masters in the core lineage are known for having visited, trained at, and (according to oral tradition) mastered a given style.  Goju is not unique in this fact - all of the traditions related to Naha have similar stories of training in China and gaining some additional skill and insight in combat prowess.  The exact location for training by these past masters has been up for debate, as accurate records were not always taken or preserved (and in some cases destroyed by fires, wars and similar disasters of history).  So the reason for going there to train is multi-fold: historical research (go where they went) and increasing knowledge (seek what they sought) being the prime foci.

Anyways, so my Sensei, and several others, have been going around China and training at different temples.  Of note is training at the Songshan and Wudang mountain monasteries with the respective masters at each.  Oral tradition has indicated some training by Sensei Miyagi indicated familiarity and knowledge of Taoist systems, but nothing concrete.  The more we study and are shown, the more similarities we see with certain forms central to our style.

All of this sounds great, but what does it mean for those who don't go?  And what do we do with the new information?

In the past, masters of all styles have gone on journeys to test themselves against others, and sometimes to train under different masters.  They have incorporated that knowledge with their own to add new methods or forms into their existing system, or created a new style altogether.  Sometimes they have taken the principles and compiled them into something totally different, sometimes they took the majority and tried to keep it intact.

So far, we have been learning new forms directly transmitted to us.  These trips are short, only two weeks in length, so the time spent at each place is measured in days.  We work on the forms given so when we show them in a years time (or two) we can see what changes are needed and possibly learn something new.  So the majority of class time is spent learning new forms brought back.  For those who are more senior, this often means new forms that will become part of the curriculum at a much lower level.  This means that our art is expanding in breadth, but the depth is questionable.  Unless even more time is spent at the lower levels, how can they be expected to understand the content?  And what is the point of importing whole forms directly into our system?  Should the Senseis involved work to understand it themselves, and create something new or modified to suit our style while keeping some key lessons intact?

I don't have a clear answer to any of the questions I have posed, but it makes me wonder about the benefit of cross training.  I would love to hear the experiences of others, or links to similar stories and questions that people can refer me to.

At the moment, learning a whole art's forms and methods, so that I can teach them to those who know them only slightly less than myself, seems hypocritical and does not feel right.  I would only want to provide my experience and knowledge, not that which I have recently acquired and am still seeking to understand into my own repertoire.

Further questions that I have: when I start another art, what will this do to my core art?  Will it change?  Will I still be doing karate?  Will I create something altogether distinct?  Or will I just have a different personal style to my movements and tactics?

Grading results

Not a long post, and I am not one to boast, but I have officially received my grading results.  I have passed, and I am now a yondan, and sempai for the dojo.

I hope to have another, more interesting post out soon.  I have a few ideas rolling around in my head recently, and I just need to sit long enough to put them into digital written form.

Thanks to everyone so far.  I don't think anyone I know reads this blog, which is as I would have it, but I appreciate all of the feedback and posts from others.  It keeps my mind focused on my goals.

09 November, 2012

Effectiveness of your Martial Art

I just wanted to bring another great blog and author to light, as well as share a thought.

The Prevail Training blog is great for martial artists and those in the law enforcement profession that want to focus on a practical approach for officers.

The latest post about combat-proven martial arts provides some good food for thought.  Find the post here: Street Ready and Combat Approved

I don't want to say too much about this, except that it made me realize that it doesn't matter so much about who taught whom in your lineage.  It is important to have a good instructor with credible credentials who pushes you to beat your own perceived limits, but it comes down to your training, your ability and your experience.  Just because your teacher defeated ten attackers using a cocktail umbrella doesn't mean your training twice a week makes you just as efficient or practical.

Quote that sticks with me from the post:
So, examine your ideas about why you think you do what you do. ‘cuz when you face that moment, its going to be all about you.

It all comes down to us, our training and our mindset.

26 October, 2012

Dream on Principles

Just this morning, I had a dream which stuck with me long enough and which excited me enough that I wanted to write about it briefly.  First, some background about my current headspace.

I have completed my yondan grading, and with that I intend to spend more time with my wife and less at the dojo.  We have been thinking about doing something together, regularly, just to help keep fit and have fun.  So I have been looking into another martial arts school, a style I am not familiar with, that we could do together once a week.  So mentally I have been thinking about new schools and styles.

Additionally I have been listening to a new podcast (Hiyaa podcast - I heartily recommend it on iTunes) which features martial arts news, style histories (praticularly Chinese arts) as well as interviews with people like Ellis Amdur (mentioned in my previous posts and well known in Aikido and Koryu circles).  Any rate, back to the dream.

So I dreamed about visiting a koryu teacher.  I was interested in training at this school, and so the teacher was highlighting the aspects of study.  I was so excited this part of the dream seemed to run in high-speed.  While I can't recall what it is he was showing me, I recall him demonstrating and pointing to students doing weapons and certain aspects that I didn't like.  There were some good and interesting things, but the first few were not something I was keen to jump into.

At this point I woke up, and had a realization.  I have been doing a lot of research into styles, histories, techniques, etc in addition to my training because I am looking for something.  If I am to further understand my own art, I need to have another, very different frame of reference.  I need a style whose workings are laid plain, and whose focus is on principles instead of on abstract techniques.

To make my thoughts more plain, I have been often frustrated by my efforts at reverse engineering bunkai from our kata.  I also have a hard time figuring out where one technique begins and another ends.  I am further confused as to what I (should) think about the bunkai and the kata:
  • are they explicit examples of techniques?
  • are they idealized, are they training gross motor function?
  • are they showing principles?
  • where does one technique (waza) stop and the next begin?
  • when am I turning towards a new attack and when am I still dealing with the current one?
  • are there linking movements between techniques without martial application, or does everything have a martial value?
  • are there built-in chi building exercises which are hidden by the external movements?
  • when should the hard and soft come in, respectively?
  • should my techniques become softer and more subtle as I progress?
I want another art to validate my knowledge in karate.  Perhaps my own style will result from a fusion of the two, perhaps I will just change the subtleties of my practice, or perhaps I will find the new system preferable.  But I am coming to realize that without another strong point of view from which to analyze what I do and figure out why I do it, I will be at a great disadvantage.  After 15 years in karate (as a whole) and almost 10 in Goju, I need a change to bring in something fresh to my practice.

So the question becomes: what arts/styles will give me this additional experience?  This is as personal a question as any I can think of, but it comes down to what I feel interested in and what will give me the most benefit.  Any readers who have a suggestion or would like to chime in would be appreciated!

At the moment, my main choices are as follows:

A) To find and try to join a koryu group in my area.  I think it needs to be a larger system, with a focus on jujutsu while maintaining at least two or three weapons (preferably with differing ranges - daito, shoto and bo would be sufficient).  I think I would gain some valuable insight into a different mindset of training, some grappling focus, great work with principles, and refinement of handling weapons and working on ma-ai.

B) To find a quan fa school with southern Chinese roots and a focus on internal work.  Taking the principles of subtle movement and developing greater power through internal training is tempting.  Southern Chinese schools would meld more easily into my existing training as well (karate for one, and the imported Shaolin Quan and Bai He Quan we do as an aside).  Plus quan fa schools usually have at least a few basic weapons that are used in a very different manner than the more rigid, Japanese style of movement used in karate.  Despite whatever circular, soft motions I attempt to incorporate, the default is still hard and direct.

C) To find a school which has captivated my attention from videos, such as silat or kalaripayat.  There is a certain fluidity and directness in their application which I can appreciate, and they are both fairly well rounded styles.  I can only imagine the mindset and approach in training of these styles.  The trick is in finding something in my neck of the woods.

So I have a potential journey ahead, but I don't know where this will lead, if anywhere.  But the dream was as close as I will get to being taught in my meditations. :)

22 October, 2012

Post Grading Feelings and Plans

I apologize to followers of my blog.  You may have been wondering what happened to me.  I have mentioned in the past that I have been preparing for a grading for my 4th degree black belt.  I have been concentrating on my essay and working my partner and solo forms with some intensity.  I will probably post some of my essay notes/discoveries/points in the near future.

The grading was this past weekend and I did my shtick.  Regardless of outcome, I am glad to have done it and I look forward to hearing the results.  I think I presented an accurate representation of my skills and abilities, despite a terribly rough neck injury I got the day before.  So I think this was a success, at least for me personally.  I will be disappointed if I don't make it, but I think the journey was more important that anything else.  In many ways, I have been training carefully and with mindfulness for at least the last three years, and I think that the effort comes through, despite any mistakes.  A favourite saying I have now: Training will never let you down!  As Musashi said: The way is in the training.  Somethings just make more sense with more experience.

At any rate, I wanted to give a quick post on my feelings and what I want to work on.  Some things I was glad about, while others were less than stellar.

For the bad news first, I got caught with a roundhouse to the head, just above my eye.  It wasn't hard, but that was more luck than skill I suspect.  Later, another roundhouse kick got my head again, on the same side.  The head examiner stated that this was a mental problem, not a physical one, on my part.  I wince to think that this is how I will be remembered in my grading.  And while I felt quite upset with myself for such a large gap in my defense, I can't say anyone got the better of me despite it.  And it has since given me resolve to improve, with a definite and clear goal of what I need to improve.  I have to track down this gap - suki - and where it comes from.  Then tear down the foundation and rebuild it into a strength.  This coincides with my efforts and research into a different sparring posture (meotode - the old way of holding the hands) and hopefully will provide some additional insights.

I also had some trouble with a partner form we hadn't worked much but were called upon to perform.  It went well enough, but we had to do it twice because I mixed up a punching and kneeing combination.  We also increase our intensity a bit, which I think helped the form as well as our concentration.  Ironically I thought I had the form reasonably well before this...Lesson learned!  Training is the medicine, as usual!

The good news - I dodged two 'attacks' from other people doing their own forms.  One was a jo form I was walking around behind - the jo swung up, but I knew it was coming so I was able to dodge around and avoid injury.  The second was a grader next to me whose height and size, along with the particular form, meant he would invade my space (in particular my head, with his fist).  I caught this movement from my peripheral, recognized the form, and moved in time with the technique to avoid it.  Both of these were seen by the audience (and fellow dojo members and graders) and the examiners, and I hope this shows a better presence of mind than my lapse above.

On the side of so-so my iai embu was limited in space, since so many others were up for iai as well.  I believe I did a good job on all the parts I was worried about, but since my breadth is limited to seitei and a few koryu, I had to improvise a few forms out of seitei to make them with a koryu twist.  I am sure it was unrecognizable to anyone with a keen eye.  But we didn't have much time, and I didn't have to do many forms.  As a result I didn't have to do my less favoured iai forms, so I felt okay about that.  All in all, it wasn't the big deal I thought it would be.

So overall I have no idea of the outcome.  I hope the training shows through.  But despite this I am more interested in improving my new found faults.

09 September, 2012

Qigong in Karate

It seems like most of my articles begin with the phrase "I just read something interesting in X", and this will be no exception.

I have mentioned in the past the book Hidden in Plain Sight, by Ellis Amdur.  I enjoyed not only this book, but the author's style.  His ability to turn a phrase, his humour, and his experience in the martial arts make for compelling reading.

Any rate, I have been re-reading the book, particularly the part about the importance of Chinese methods in some early jujutsu schools.  He mentions that they would need to be exceptional for masters of martial ways (and indeed full-time warriors) to want to study them and include them in their own studies.  This leads on to discussion of what those might be, albeit vaguely - some combination of internal work and refinement.  He speaks of breathing exercises to build pressure in the body and make it able to respond spontaneously to any situation.  For lack of a better single word to define the concept, let us call it qigong.

In my other readings in preparation for my yondan essay, it had also been pointed out to me the importance and difference in breathing used in Sanchin.

So I find myself thinking about the evolution of qigong methods within goju.  Sanchin is clearly a form of hard qigong, but I am well aware of the need for a softer qigong.  White Crane itself has both soft and hard qigong, but has this practice been brought into modern Goju?

Some would argue that Tensho is supposed to be that softness, but the stance and body position don't make me think of a relaxed posture.  Perhaps others will prove me wrong, or say my practice is somewhat out of the norm, but I see Tensho performed with circular hand and arm movements, but often without different breathing than used in Sanchin.  I try to use different breathing, but some forms of Tensho have an inherently more forced breathing pattern.

I need to work further on this topic.  Particularly to see what White Crane and Five Ancestor qigong is like and how this can be of further use.  At least from a health perspective this would be beneficial.  And as Amdur notes, perhaps from a combative perspective as well.

Kote Kitae

In preparation for my grading this October, and I have been writing up a big essay.  I might post it once the grading is done and over, or at least some of the work that went into it.

Anyways, I felt the need to do a lot of reading and research for my essay, to support my thoughts and theories.  Among some of the reading I have been doing has been in the Meibukan Magazine.  I was lucky enough to trace down and find the existing repositories for this as I came late to the party (the website has since been taken down) but they can all be found here:

I was doing some reading in issue #7 when I came upon an article about Kote Kitae, and it brought back memories.  I remember having done some similar drills, imported from a lineage not our own (but definitely Goju in nature) - one was called Kote Kitate, another was Teki Kitae, and a third I cannot dredge up from my memory.

For those who haven't experienced this yet, Kote Kitae literally means Forearm Forging.  As you can imagine from this descriptive term, it involves a variety of bashing arms with your partner.  Painful practice, yet very rewarding - very much like makiwara work.

What caught my eye, and my interest, was the description of the drill as a flow drill, with implications of trapping and response reflexes being honed.  While the main use of the drill is a conditioning tool in karate (as well as many quan fa schools), the idea that this could be useful for combative purposes struck a chord.

I had just before this article read about Patrick McCarthy's approach to developing his Koryu Uchinadi system, where he mentioned using two person drills to instill combative principles and the kata as a format to reinforce the training while solo.  So the trapping and combative applications of this drill stood out to me and made me curious.

Further searches online revealed that for many people kote kitae is a conditioning drill first and foremost.  But then I found what I wanted - examples of people using them in a way that is more combat applicable.  Check out the following video at about the 24 second mark for an example:

This reminds me of a drill we do more often than kote kitae, called Quen Zho Futari.  This futari involves some very crane like stepping and some variation.  It was brought back from one of the organizations trips to China (I don't recall where, nor what style) but I found it very reminiscent of something I saw just today from Five Ancestors Fist Quan Fa.  That video is below.  The first drill is what I am talking about:

Which ties back into the article, which made heavy reference to Five Ancestor Fist.  Coincidentally my own research into the history of Goju kata has been pointing in this direction as well.

So I end up with the following thoughts:
What is the impact and likelihood that Five Ancestors is a part of Goju's history?
Are kata just vehicles for solo practice, and not intended as teaching vehicles themselves?
What drills do I want to practice to reinforce my combative training and how if at all will they line up with goju kata?

Again, more questions that lead me to search for what the masters before sought.

15 July, 2012

History of Goju Ryu Kata?

There was a great collaborative article a while ago between a few well known (in the right circles) karateka about the history and formulation of goju kata.




It is one of the better explanations for some goju forms beyond those in common with similar systems.  My own research and experience is not sufficient to make a judgement call, but the idea is interesting and definitely plausible, if not correct.

It also makes me wonder what happened to those times...how many people can say they train with others in different arts/styles and learn from each other?  Cross training forms and techniques with others of a similar skill in another methodology is fun and fascinating.

I think many Sensei wouldn't or don't encourage this sort of training.  Passing around students to learn different skills and emphasis, as well as bring those back to their school.  Everyone benefits.  But the naive greedy algorithm of a McDojo tends to discourage this approach, as do many legitimate schools.  "What would you need outside of us?  We have it all."

Confused or Suspicious?

Great post about the use of titles over at Ryoho Goju Ryu blog:


It got me thinking, however.  It would be safe to assume that most people using these terms do so on purpose, with some intention of proving themselves greater than they are.  "I am headmaster Grand Kancho of Watchamacallit Ryu."  Rarely, in my experience, does one with the goods have a need to proclaim it as such.  Somewhat suspicious...

On the other hand, I am sure I am guilty of using Japanese terms out of context or inappropriately.  I never thought that Sempai/Senpai was limited to a single student.  In our dojo, we have several Sempai and a few Kohai.  It is based on rank, partly, but also on sticking around and helping out and such.  I am sure this is not the intended or original use.  But like many terms in English, I wonder at which point modern usage overrides traditional use.  There are untold number of words that no longer have the same meaning.  Doom is one that comes to mind - look up the original meaning and you will be surprised.

Grading Preparation

I have been focusing my time and energy towards a fall grading.  I have been going in to the dojo about three times a week, for a total of eight hours a week.  I have been debating what additional training I can cram in before the grading.  I wanted to get together with an aikido friend of mine for a little cross training, but nothing has happened yet - conflicting schedules being a major cause.

Anyways, I have been reading and watching videos as usual, and have come across a nice little post on Sanzinsoo's blog.


Seemed to fit my own ideas.  The moral of the story - don't wait for the perfect time - that time is now!  Just go out and practice.


22 May, 2012

Knife Defenses in Karate

After my last post (more of a reference to another blog, really) I was asked about what knife fighting might mean in karate specifically.  I thought this was a good idea, and below are some of my thoughts, presented in my usual style - scattered and stream of conscious.

I titled this post Knife Defenses and not Knife Fighting as I believe there is a key difference.  Knives are not expressly dealt with within the karate curriculum (although some waza from the kata do seem to apply readily to knife defenses), and the weapon itself is not taught as it is in other systems.  As such fighting would seem to imply that the practitioner him/her-self would have proficiency and familiarity with the weapon and its application.

Some arts that come to mind are koryu that deal with shoto, and some jujutsu styles that deal with dagger usage and defense.  There are of course the many styles throughout Asia, particularly Eskrima/Kali, Silat, and Kalaripayattu.  These styles all include the use of and training in short bladed weaponry as a part of regular syllabus.  Karate does not feature this weapon - even if we are to include Ryukyu Kobudo into the mix, the closest karate comes is to the Timbe and Rochin, namely a short spear or primitive knife with a shield.  I should add that in my experience these latter weapons are not typical of most kobudo schools - usually karate kobudo consists of bo, tonfa, sai and maybe nunchaku and kama.  I know that in my school kobudo technically consists of bo, tonfa and sai.  Other styles are added to the weapons program for diversity.

My experience with the knife has been limited to a small amount of Eskrima many years ago, mainly in light use of the balisong, as well as knife defenses in my current dojo.  Our focus is on a dedicated attack. Once you are inside the danger zone of the knife, you need to finish the encounter and the opponent immediately and brutally.  It is the only way you can be sure you will have time to call the ambulance, as you will likely be injured.

The nature of karate, which in my opinion is aimed at striking to change maai to allow for a throw and finishing strike, presents a bit of a dilemma.  Closing in seems to me to be a poor choice of technique when facing a fast slicing or stabbing weapon of short range.

That all being said, I do believe that a karateka has options when working on knife defenses.  The first is the tool/technique tai sabaki, or evasive body movements.  This is often used in a sparring context but should not be underestimated as a tool for both offensive and defensive capability.  I think it goes without saying that being in the right place at the right time means the difference between a successful technique and a disastrous technique.  Primarily for a knife fighting situation I envision the need to avoid being "inside" the arms, that is between either limb, and rather outside or behind the attacker.  This puts one in the best position to control the weapon/limb as well as be in position for a counter attack.

Another piece of advice with regards to weapons comes from Gichin Funakoshi's book Karate-Do Kyohan, in which he states that the karateka should always imagine the opponents hands and feet as blades.  Any strike in training should be avoided and controlled, and in this manner does the karateka keep him/her-self safe from harm while allowing for optimal defense.  I think this concept readily applies to knife defenses from an unarmed perspective.  I would say, overall, that the basic karate axioms for dealing with any attack is:

  1. Control the attack
  2. Position for counter
  3. Counter and set up for finish
  4. Finish and get the hell home ;)

I think that we can safely breakdown #1 into a) defend against the specific attack (block, redirect, grab, etc) and b) counter strike to disorient or buy time or fill the gap between 1 and 2.

Finally, I did some searching for other's take on knife defenses from a karate point of view, and this is what I found:

This first video shows a couple of defenses, but I think the first one best illustrates what I mean by breaking down #1 in a) and b).  You can see evasive body movement (pulling back the torso), blocking and grabbing with a scissoring wrist technique (juji uke) and countering with a head butt.

Similarly I can think of a technique from the kata Shisochin, specifically the namesake of the kata - the four gates or four monk postures.  Please see this video, around 0:28 mark until 0:34.

We can see a redirection of an incoming thrust, the hand then sliding inside the attackers arm/wrist as a mild sticky-hands sort of temporary control.  Simultaneous to this is the palm heel to the face to disorient, buying time for further control of the weapon (preferably trapping the hand with it).

I also found something that worried me greatly and I think is a great example of a really poor choice of technique in general.  Please see the below link, down towards the bottom of the page is a picture of a karateka dropping to the floor to execute a roundhouse kick to the opponent's abdomen.

I can't think of a more worrisome position for a karateka - on the ground within range of a person who knows who to use a knife, all for the minimal gain of perhaps injuring the ribs?  With no further defensive recourse?  Even running away has been eliminated as an option.  Not my first choice even in a situation without a weapon.

Finally, I have an interesting video of knife defenses from another art.  I find it fascinating to see how this weapon is used and dealt with in a vastly different art from my own.

I would draw everyone's attention to a few points in this video.  First the evasive body motions, second the control of the weapon and the limb through simultaneous blocking/striking, third improvisation of a tool to help engage the enemy, and fourth the closing of range in a manner beneficial only for the defender and disadvantageous for the attacker.  The finishing technique is part throw/take-down and finishing strike.  I like this clip as I see it as embodying the same principles as karate's approach to self defense.

As always, I look forward to other's comments.  I know my own insights are somewhat lacking due to my lack of training in knives as a weapon.

23 April, 2012

Knife Fighting in Karate?

I read a great article today over at the Prevail Training blog about Knife Fighting versus Knife Defense.  I have capitalized those words because in the article a very good point about how this is treated in martial arts circles is made.

Article here.

I got me thinking a bit about what a karate response to a knife attack would be.  Always more questions without answer, but I believe each one leads closer to the answer of what is the spirit of my practice.

17 April, 2012

The Grading Process

With a grading looming before year's end, I find myself delving deeply into the philosophy of the combative arts.  I have been thinking about the nature of grading and its importance in budo and the benefits that it brings.

Don't get me wrong - I don't have a thirst to grade.  I find it stressful to some degree (pun intended) but I have been thinking about the nature of grading and it is an important stress.  Before every grading, our Sensei starts focusing on us - our techniques, basics, applications, forms, partner drills, fitness.  And this is an opportunity to revisit everything that has built up since the last grading and put it under the microscope.

What I mean is that in the time between gradings, we are stewing and try to absorb different methods of power generation, different forms, stances, strikes, techniques and generally come to a different and more advanced level of body awareness.  Sometimes we develop distancing, another timing, and still others the more intangible aspects like go no sen just from watching someone's eyes.  But it is all just a matter of keeping the water boiling, adding ingredients to the pot, and seeing what comes of it.  You gain a certain level of comfort with what you have learned, tweaking it to suit, and developing some confidence.

Grading time is the painful process of realizing how little you know, how much more there is to learn, and admitting that you have bad habits that you need to break through sheer will.  Been doing the kata with a certain emphasis the whole time, and now you find out it has to change.  You need to correct yourself everytime you do it, and you don't want to slow down again, but you need to force yourself to do it.  Face your secret shame, defeat your ego, and start again.

You begin the process of breaking down everything you know down to an instinctual level, and re-build it in a new form, incorporating the new and the old into something greater than what it was.  I see it like a building, with additions and wings and balconies added on hodge-podge.  Now you take apart all the materials and build anew, with a different design in mind and incorporating all of the additions you will need.

To strain another metaphor, preparing is like forging a blade.  You take the raw materials and create a rough shape, constantly refining until it is where you want it.  Then the final period before it is finished, you are put under great pressure, heat and it must be done in a short time frame.  The blade serves well, but over time gathers nicks and changes that must be totally undone through reforging again.

Opportunity knocks.  I must answer.  But the couch is comfie. ;)

18 March, 2012

Karate, Kata and its Interpretation

I have been reading and thinking again about what constitutes Karate, Kata and a Martial art versus an art for self defense.  I have touched on many of these previously, but here are some thoughts:

  1. Martial Arts versus Self Protection Arts
  2. Dissection of an art into three parts: techniques, tactics, strategies
  3. Where does the above leave karate?
For the first item, there is a distinction that many draw, rightly so, between koryu and gendai.  Here we are talking about martial arts whose intent was to be used on the battlefield, and self protection arts whose intent was to give a person a chance to make it home after a violent encounter.  Koryu, in general, have their roots, if not their entire syllabus, targeted toward and coming from battlefield experience.  Fighting in formation or singly against a defined enemy using the weapons of the day.  Gendai became more philosophical with a different goal, with many of the modern ones aimed at self perfection and some level of sufficiency with martial techniques.  The end goal of a martial art like Tenshin Shoden Katori Shinto Ryu was to produce a soldier who will live through a battle.  The end goal of a modern martial art like jujutsu was to have effective self defense for civilians who just want to survive (hopefully only) a single violent encounter.

The second item concerns the components pieces of an art: the overarching theme or strategy for all aspects of the school, the tactics used in individual applications of that strategy, and finally the techniques by which those tactics are carried out.  Koryu arts had the goal of getting around armour and that effected the targets they would attack and the techniques used with certain weapons to achieve that.  A given encounter might rely on a tactic of feigned slow response in order to make an opening which could then be taken advantage of, to reach a given target with a given weapon in a given manner.  There is also en emphasis on using terrain to your advantage - quite important when waging war on an incline.  Gendai arts generally have a much more open set of targets and techniques are designed to be used in an urban environment.  Flat sidewalks, floors, roads, rooms and modern clothing without armouring and without the use of default or battlefield weapons.  Couple that with a need to avoid litagation and you have a very different strategy or goal.

Finally, what does this mean to karate?  I don't know yet - my own thoughts are still forming on this.  But I begin to ask myself a few questions:

  1. Does it matter if karate is not a battlefield art?
  2. What do I want out of my martial training?
  3. What is the strategy of karate?  This is tied to the tactics that will need to be used and the techniques (all of which pay a vital role in interpreting kata!)
That last one is quite key - how can I interpret the kata I study (both Goju and Shaolin) without an idea of the perspective from which they come?  Chinese arts, on the whole, seem to come from a history of rebellion and combination of personal self defense with large scale warfare.  But where does that leave karate, arguably a derivative and further reinterpretation of quan fa?

I end up with more questions every time I think about this.  Perspective is difficult to reach alone, but perhaps all the more rewarding because of it.  I begin to get a sense of how the original masters of martial ways must have felt with their own training - where do I go from here?  What skills do I want to acquire? How can those skills be tied into a cohesive whole with what I know?  What changes need to happen to facilitate this?  I believe the answer to many of these questions were answered many times as teachers created their own styles or variations on existing styles.

23 January, 2012

Martial Art, Fighting Art, etc.

I have been reading and thinking a lot recently about the phrase or term "martial art" and karate's purpose.  From different sources I have heard the same things over and over: karate is not a martial art.  To understand that statement, we need to understand the distinction that many people make between a martial art and a fighting art.  In the Japanese traditions it would be the difference between bugei and budo.  The difference being made is the intent behind the system.  Bugei were traditional battlefield arts intended to be used by professional soldiers and warriors, whereas budo are the more modern civilian derivations of those arts with an emphasis on spiritual and personal development.  Both are fighting methods but they have different emphasis.

Here is a little something from someone more in tune with modern law enforcement needs and the combative training available from a modern and traditional point of view.


This has made me wonder - what do I want from my own martial abilities?  Do I want an art intended for self defense and self perfection?  Do I want to be a warrior with a variety of skills and weapons under my belt?  Do I want an art that is intended to protect others?

I know I want a complete set of skills, and I know that my own skills are far from complete.  But will mixing my own karate with something from a bugei bring me completeness?  Or will it be divisive to my training and the end result left with more holes than bridges?

--Post-Publish Edit--

Here is one of the articles I have been reading.


I have been reading a few books at once, and I can't find which one discusses something similar.

Resolutions and Training

Better late than never.  Here is more great advice from Mr. Charles Goodin:


I can't help but write Mr. Charles Goodin - he is so respectful and humble in his blog that I find it infectious.