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. :)


  1. Hello, have you considered aikido? If you pick Iwama style then there will be about 50% weapons. Your wife may enjoy it since there is no advantage to being stronger. All depends on what's available near you though.

    1. Thank you for your comment, AikidoShoshin. I must confess despite my own interest in aikido I don't understand the various styles very well and I must correct this! I hadn't considered Aikido but I will do some research and see what I find in my area. Have you done any cross training yourself and do you recommend any particular schools/sub-styles over others?

  2. My initial training was in aikijutsu/daito ryu type aikido as I got older I found it physically too dangerous/demanding for me although I did manage 15years! I also trained with an aikikai aikido club for 5 or 6 years at the same time and that has beautiful big movements. Most recently I have been studying Iwama style and I am enjoying the very systematic approach to weapons training although the attention to detail can befuddle my brain sometimes- I think it is good for me! At a high level all the styles are incredibly similar but for beginners Iwama insists on more precision, aikikai more on timing but if you are interested in weapons I would recommend Iwama style. Very much depends on the teacher too! Good luck in finding something suitable- I ope you will keep us posted on how it goes.

    1. Thank you again for your comment and swift reply. I will look further into all of your input - it sounds fascinating to see differences in a core style. Thanks!

  3. I've always wanted to read a good analysis or grouping of the different types and schools of martial arts. I have a sort-of "map" of them in my head which starts with striking, grappling, and ground work. Of the striking schools, there are primarily kicking (tae kwon do) and ones that are more with the hands. There are highly stylized and more fighting styles. In short, I'm impressed by how you talk about the different styles and schools and would like you to point me towards, or to write, good articles that cover this area.


    1. Thanks for your comment, BBat. I think it would be (even more) presumptious of me to provide information and classification of other arts - that which I have done so far is my own limited understanding through watching videos and reading articles. My recommendation, if you are looking to do this for your own interest, would be search on youtube and check out some good books based on recommendations from school websites.

  4. Hello. This is a great post and, at yondan, you definitely have the insights to make the most of training in a second discipline. I would simply say that in terms of the best karateka I've ever seen, they almost always took either iaido, kendo or judo as a second art. The precision of Iaido seems to do something to your mind and the way you use your muscles that maximizes your karate, the bokken or shinai in kendo gives you a much better sense of timing and distance in karate and judo simply gives you more comfort when the range breaks down and you can no longer strike effectively.

    1. Thanks for your comment Kamil. I have been studying a bit of iaido as preparation for the grading, but in many ways I find it limited. I would like to work more with a partner than just in a form - I can do sai forms, for example, with the same effect. Judo is a good idea, I will need to research it some more. I hadn't considered kendo, I also had a feeling it was too much a sport and I would like to focus on more self-defense oriented styles, but you make a good case for ma-ai work.
      BTW: I am not a yondan yet - no official announcement from the head table. ;)

    2. Yes, I definitely felt the same about kendo. I figured the competitive aspect wasn't going to be helpful. But I was talking with a long time aikidoka and he told me that his aikido improved 100% after taking kendo. He said the difference was night and day. The speed of the shinai gives you a proper appreciation of when you have to move and when you don't and how much of someone's speed is their step and how much is their hand, something that aikidoka never really develop. The full armour is expensive, so that's a consideration but I'm starting Kendo at the local Japanese Cultural Centre in January.

    3. Good point. I can see how a shinai sailing at your head is good impetus to get moving. :)
      Incidentally, check out this video if you haven't already. Kendo in its purest form, IMO.

  5. First off, congratulations on going through the grading process. It's never easy, physically, mentally and emotionally. As you said, it's the journey that counts. Well done for getting this far.

    I don't know that you're at a cross roads, but you have identified questions you need answers to. I suspect you will not truly switch or move away from your chosen at, at this stage, it, and it's teachings, are a part of you. For this reason, my humble suggestion would be to focus on something considerably different from you current path. Something too similar may not allow your questions to be answered, or may not be different enough to truly open your mind to different concepts. Aikido comes to mind, so does Ninjutsu if you can find a qualified teacher. Ån internal art such as Qigong (chi kung) may be helpful as you can take many of it's energy work and apply it to any martial art.

    If not, I might suggest something that doesn't involve kata or traditional drills. Krav Maga might be an option, or a military combative stye.

    One of the harder things to do once you've reached a certain level is to try something different enough that you feel awkward and like a beginner again. I believe that it is in this uncomfortable state that we often make the most progress, on several levels. Good luck on your search.

    1. Thanks for your congratulations, Journeyman, they are appreciated.

      It is odd - only since grading have I felt more connected with my art as you state - I am a part of it and vice versa.

      Your words about not quite at a crossroad are close to the mark - I am not sure where I am, but it isn't a precipice...yet.

      Thank you for your suggestions as well. That makes two for Aikido. I am already undertaking some self-study on Qigung but perhaps some guidance is in order. I hadn't considered Ninjutsu - not for many years have I thought about its training, considering much of it to be exaggeration, but this bears consideration based on your comments.

      Outside my comfort zone - that is a very good point. Food for thought.