Monthly Archives: April 2014

Teisho-uchi anyone?

“Treasured for centuries by karate’s top masters, Bubishi is a classic Chinese work on philosophy, strategy, medicine and technique as they relate to the martial arts. Referred to as “the bible of karate” by the famous master Chojun Miyagi, for hundreds of years the Bubishi was a secret text passed from master to student in China and later in Okinawa. No other classic work has had as dramatic an impact on the shaping and development of karate.art84_03” Google Books

Of course, it is thought that many of our techniques did indeed come from China and was influenced by a number of martial arts, and what I notice quite often when I look at this text is how many of the original techniques were performed with an open hand.

 strikesI then wonder why we don’t see many of these in the Dojo anymore. My personal preference is to have my lead hand open when I’m in a Kumite position because I think it gives me more striking and defense options, and I also feel like I can generate more speed. When I am in close, in a hand-to-hand combat situation, I may have both hands open.


Have we gotten away from the open hand in the Dojo for safety reasons when sparring? Have we established that the closed fist is a better striking alternative?


Food for thought as I throw a few Haishu-uchi, Hiraken, Shuto and Haito at the Makiwara this week…

The Karate Onion

When I walked into the Dojo on Thursday night and saw Sensei Lee wearing his reading glasses and reading intently I knew we were in for some serious Karate teaching. He was reading from the book of Karate that he has compiled over his 40 years of training. His book is one of his prized possessions as it contains a plethora of everything Karate, including teachings passed on to him personally by Nishiyama Sensei, Tsuruoka Sensei and Katsumata Sensei.

Sensei LeeOn this night he had been going over his notes on the four dimensions of Kata: Dynamics, Form, Power and Transition, and it was time to pass these on to us.

For over an hour we studied Bassai Dai kata, where we looked at each of these principles. Sensei Lee used Bassia Dai to bring to life for us an understanding of each of these four elements of karate Kata, and he did so through the movements in the Kata as well as through Bunkai (Applications).With four words he opened up a world of Kata study, each in their own right worthy of deep study.

(Above: Sensei Lee)

·         Dynamics – The study of movement of the human body

·         Form – The shape and adeptness of your techniques including stances

·         Power – Power generation through understanding movement and focus

·         Transition – The space and time between techniques

Sensei Lee suggested that even as Black Belts we should now go back to the beginning (Heian Shodan) and start to see our Kata in the light of these four elements.

I went away from this class with two important thoughts in mind. First, we have a Sensei whose teaching ability matches his excellent Karate, and second, Karate is an onion: layered with new possibilities… truly a lifelong learning experience. You can’t beat that…

Flimsy Self-Defense?

Would your Karate really work? Look at what Jon Bluming (a 10th dan in Kyokushinkai karate by Mas Oyama, and a 9th dan in judo from the Kodokan) has to say:

Karate (and similar traditional martial arts) look great in the movies; they take a very long time to learn but don’t provide efficient solutions for violent confrontations in the 21st century.

Food for thought I think. Sensei Bluming goes on to say that traditional martial arts aren’t addressing the situational and environmental factors that come along with street confrontations. He says that training your whole life in traditional karate techniques, i.e., attacking with and defending against traditional ‘karate’ skills won’t save your arse on the street. Take for instance a guy coming at you with a bottle or stick, or rapidly swinging huge hay-makers at your head or trying to bear-hug the daylights out of you and shove you into a wall.

mqdefaultIn my ‘traditional’ karate class Sensei Lee often presents us with such realistic scenarios. He often gets us in a ready stance and throws out the ‘what if’ scenarios. What if a guy is swinging a knife? What if a guy is looking for a brick or a rock? He then throws out the possible combative solutions. We do a lot of in-close, hand-to-hand training that makes out Karate real.

In one sense, Bluming is right. If you think your block, punch, block punch will get you through a real word confrontation you’ve got another thing coming. Real combat is dirty – there are no holds barred. In my karate my intention is to study and train in traditional basics relentlessly in order to make them effective, but it is also to study kata applications and to practice in-close combat where you learn to deal with the unexpected.

If you’re spending all of your time defending and countering against a staged, traditional attack from a fellow Karateka, you’re living an illusion in terms of your ability to get yourself out of a real jam.

Have a look at Some Diedier Lupo Bunkai Here

The Dojo is no place for thinking…

Spiritual sage Thich Nhat Hanh said that “…if we know how to keep concentration alive, insight will come.”

mokuso1In the Dojo, we meditate briefly at the beginning and end of class to potentially clear our minds and to change focus to the task at hand. This is an excellent practice, and I’ve learned to spend the few minutes kneeling in Seiza to empty my mind in order to be a better listener when instruction begins.

But what about as the class ensues? When your legs are burning and you’re getting winded from doing Ippon drills? This is where training can wane.

If you’re looking at the clock, or thinking, god, that old back injury is killing me, or my legs are burning like crazy, you’ve lost focus and you’re missing the essence of the training opportunity. We get one or two hours in the Dojo at a time and we need to stay focused in order to be able to push ourselves to get better and to truly get the lessons taught.

I’m merely a student of the art myself, but I do find that breathing is a key to staying in tune with my training. When I get tired, I breathe deeply and consciously, or if I’m hurting I do the same. I try to breathe mindfully throughout my Kata repetitions, as well as when we are standing in Yoi listening to instruction.

Concentration, after all, is a portal to insight…There’s no place in a murky, restless mind for learning.

Thoughts on signature techniques

In a recent class we were discussing various Shotokan techniques, and it came around to what the ‘signature’ technique of Shotokan may be.  Some of course, say the Oi Tsuki, others say the Gyaku Tsuki, and others have different opinions again.

From the Senpai who was teaching us some shifting and attacking techniques, though, we heard a very interesting take on what the ultimate waza in Shotokan is. After training for thirty years, he was confident in suggesting that the most important part of our technique is the power we generate from the core: our hip rotation on a reverse punch, the driving forward momentum on a lunge punch, or the hip vibration on a back fist, as examples.

gyaku-zuki-strobeHis point was that power generation, from the floor, then through the hips and core, is where we turn a punch into a projectile of damaging energy. When a Shotokan student can bring timing, posture, hip movement, and drive from the floor together in an instant, the result is more than impressive.

The Senpai in question is a very unassuming man, gentle in his ways, and yet when he assumes a fighting stance he becomes a warrior, and when he moves he does so with a command of the Art. When asked the secret to making sure your techniques come from the core to create maximum power, his answer was simple… Repetition.

Study it, analyze it, understand it, and do it in perpetuity. Adeptness in Shotokan can be somewhat of a mirage, but know this… the benefit is in the striving, and every punch is progress.

Some things are better avoided altogether

If you’re like me you’ll watch an old episode of Kung Fu: The Legend Continues and you’ll be listening for a tidbit of Zen advice or a fragment of Martial Arts knowledge. Take this simple phrase, for instance: “Avoidance,  that is the first lesson in self-defense.” Kwai Chang Caine

Avoidance is something we all know about, and in Martial Arts it exists on more than one level. The obvious avoidance technique is simply not being there. For example, if you’re unfortunate enough to find yourself somewhere where the atmosphere is getting tense or tempers are flaring, one option may be to simply get out of there. Sometimes you simply adopt the stance of ‘it’s time to go!’ and remove yourself from the premises.  After all, you can’t lose a battle that you don’t participate in.

Then of course, there are the situations where the nearest exit is not an option. Avoidance then becomes the matter of not getting your block knocked off. In the dojo when your opponent is driving in with an Oi Tsuki, your plan isn’t usually to ‘block’ it. The plan is to shift – get out of the line of fire. We have one particular Senpai in out Dojo who is about 165 LBS, and yet he can deliver a strike with the speed and impact of a cannon ball. When training with him you realize that your only option is to get offline from his attack…in a hurry!

A better example is perhaps dealing with an oncoming kick. You’ll quickly learn that a sweeping downward block by itself will serve one purpose: to get your fingers broken. On the other hand, a defensive (or offensive) move in conjunction with a shift out of the way makes much more sense.

AsaiOf course, it is my thinking that if I’m aware enough and anticipate the attack coming, I don’t wait around to deal with it; I drive in and terminate it before it leaves the silo. As Sensei Lee often reiterates, your opponent can’t attack if they’re busy absorbing shock and pain.

(Pictured here, Asai Sensei avoids an Oi Tsuki and positions for a counter)

Perceive the threat, terminate the situation. That’s avoidance too, I guess.

Never Mistake the Stillness

Consider this statement: “There is movement in dead time and dead time in movement.”  

This was offered to us by Sensei  Bruce Lee one night in the Dojo when we were studying movement and shifting. He simply said it and invited us to give it some thought.

The dead time, the space, the silence that comes before, after or during a move or technique is where Karate happens. “Movement in dead time”, I believe, is recognizing a pause or break in the opponent’s rhythm and capitalizing on it, or you see a break in their defenses and attack.

The “Dead time in movement” isn’t as clear to me yet, but I have surmised this much. In all likelihood, our transitioning from position to position, or from ready stance to attack opens up a space in our defenses. This dead time is where we lose a battle. Sensei Lee stresses the importance of transition. We have to be ever cognizant of the vital fact that when we’re moving or shifting in order to deliver an attack we are open to attack ourselves. While moving, we have to have Zanshin, and maintain composure and posture – all the while moving swiftly.

This applies, of course, to Kata as well. There can be no dead time as dead time means you lose. There is a tempo in Kata, but at no point does the energy flow become lost or die. You strike, but as soon as the energy is expelled you transition again into the next movement. The ancient Samurai often stood as if they were still, but this was a feint; their internal energy was churning and they were completely conscious and therefore fully  aware. An opponent would misinterpret this stillness and lose his life.

Now, here is one for you to consider, grasshopper… Quotation-Zen-Saying

The Visitor

This week we had a visitor to out Dojo, a gentleman from a neighbouring club (Trinity Shotokan). On this particular evening we were being instructed by two Senpai (both 5th Dan) and there were about 5 other black belts ranging from 1st to 3rd Dan, as well as some coloured belts.

imagesOur gentleman karateka visitor – and I say gentleman because he was just that – fit in like he was a regular. The class was fairly cardio-intensive with a good warm up, some combination drills up and down the floor and some up-tempo Ippon. An excellent class as usual.

Toward the end of the class the gentleman green belt, who was past what most would consider retirement age and yet obviously in impressive health, thanked everyone for their help and said that he felt like he had learned a lot from the session with all the black belts.

As I was walking out of the Dojo into the cool April evening I thought about that: who we learn from in the Dojo, and I was reminded of something. We learn from every person in there. This green belt hadn’t started on his Karate path until later in life and yet he had as much enthusiasm as anyone I’ve ever trained with, and in class he was completely eager and receptive to the instruction given by our Senpai. A hunger for knowledge and a passion for karate are keys to fulfilling karate, and he had them.

A lesson for all of us: When looking for knowledge in the dojo, don’t just look ahead to the higher ranks… look all around you.

Quan Fa

In 1792 a Chinese fighting instructor, under name Kushanku came to Okinawa and taught Quan Fa, (Chinese Martial Arts), which many would argue formed much of the basis for the Martial Arts styles that followed.

Being interested in where my MA came from, I looked at some of the principles of Quan Fa and then looked inside my own style, Shotokan, to see if I came up with anything interesting.

One principle of Quan Fa is ‘Swallowing and Expelling’

Two fighting-related concepts come to mind here. In terms of ‘Expelling,’ the obvious is inhaling and exhaling (particularly in Kata like Hangetsu), as well as the sharp exhalation on our strikes / impact. Secondly, ‘Swallowing’ may denote the waza of bringing the opponent’s energy toward you – perhaps using something like a hooking block – and the subsequent force of a follow-up blow becomes the ‘Expelling’. According to the basic laws of physics, drawing or pulling the opponent toward you prior to delivering a technique maximizes impact. In Shotokan we often use the draw arm to grab and pull as we strike. This, of course, is also the Reaction Force concept in Taekwondo, a MA similar to ours in many of its origins and fighting principles.

image001.png@01CF549ETo think that when I’m doing Kanku Dai (a Kata named after Quan Fa’s Kushanku) I’m doing something that Okinawans did 200 years ago (and Chinese Martial Artists did eons before that) is intriguing.

The reason Martial Arts have stood the test of time? It’s real, and as the Mystic said, ‘Anything real can never be lost.’

Change? No thanks…

 “A change is good as a rest.”

karatePerhaps this stands true in a number of facets of life, but it doesn’t really fit traditional Shotokan. In our Martial Art we have the fundamentals, the steadfast building blocks of a solid, complete fighting system that has been passed down since the days before Karate came to Okinawa and then on to mainland Japan. Karate became an eclectic mix of the best components of all the fighting styles that came to the shores of Okinawa.

Karateka in those days trained six or seven days a week. They trained oftentimes one-on-one with a Master, or in a small group. Perfection was a moving target and their pursuit of it was relentless. Karate was honed, hardened where necessary and softened where they saw fit, to become something that worked. In its origin it was drenched in the Budo spirit and was used to defend against adept, armed warriors.

Since those days techniques have been polished perhaps, but never fundamentally changed. My Kata is essentially the same as Matsumura Sensei’s was in the early 1800s. With a karate lineage forged in the steel of the relentless pursuit of excellence, the only thing I’m thinking about changing is me.  

My hope is to evolve into someone that resembles the Karateka before me… nothing more.