Monthly Archives: May 2014

Outside the Strict Kata Mindset

Last night we did some Kata and some relevant Bunkai. One concept we were introduced to was changing something with a move, without changing the principle. For example, take moves 17-18 in Jion. We’re going from a right oi-tzuki, turning into the opponent with a gedan berai and a simultaneous high strike or block with the right arm. In this transition we are pivoting on the right foot.
JionNow, consider utilizing the technique by pivoting on the left foot. This gives you mobility options, including opening some space between you and the opponent, or a different opponent. Although we move in a different way, the principle in the Kata remains the same: using momentum, body weight and rotation to generate power for the defense or attack (after all, a gedan berai can be an attack as well as a defense, and in most instances should be both).
Nishiyama Sensei was once asked if, after more than 60 years of training in Karate, he had mastered it. His response was this: At this point, I feel I have a solid grasp of Karate.

No wonder we’re constantly learning something new in the Dojo.

Remember: mind open, fist closed…

Higher Principles

In reading a book called Power vs Force by David W. Hawkins I found an interesting segment on the Martial Arts. Here is one Quote: “Athletes in the traditional Martial Arts employ specific exercises to overcome any tendency toward egotism. The dedication of one’s skill, performance or career to a higher principle provides the only absolute protection.”
This relates directly of course to the concept by Funakoshi of the “perfection of oneself.” Dr Hawkins states that in order to reach any elevated goals, personal or in the Martial Arts, one has to have ‘lofty principles’ meaning that if you’re simply training to win fights or be better than someone else you can never truly master the Art. He states “True athletic power is characterized by grace, sensitivity, inner quiet, and paradoxically, gentleness in the noncompetitive lives of even fierce competitors. We celebrate the champion because we recognize that he has overcome personal ambition through sacrifice and dedication to higher principles.”
May sound a bit philosophical, but if we simply look around our dojos at Sensei and Sempai who have been training for years, one thing becomes clear: they overcame ego a long time ago and self-ambition is checked at the door. They are there to give back to those of us willing to learn.
They have done countless competitions and have surpassed many milestones in the Shotokan world, and now, fortunately for us, their intention is to awaken awareness in is – awareness that mastering any Art is about mastering oneself.

Learning…not from teaching

For part of the class last Thursdays’ class our Senpai didn’t teach us anything. Odd, eh?

CaptureYou see, what he did do was give us two Kata, told us to run through them and then pick one of them apart and look for application of the moves (bunkai). He then left us to our own devices and my partner and I did just that, and in doing so found a deeper understanding of Jion Kata.

In this exercise we went through the process of team work, investigation and discovery. By taking time to analyze the moves, we were able to compromise and blend our opinions and come up with what we felt was the usefulness of some of Jion’s techniques.

Karate – and Kata – is the process of discovery, and being given the opportunity in the Dojo to exercise your ability to analyze your Karate is an invaluable exercise.

Part of learning is utilizing what you already know to know more…

Timing…a new consideration

Last night Sensei instructed us on a higher-level concept involving sequential attacks. The ren tsukiconcept is one were we use the opponent’s body’s reaction to an initial strike, shock or surprise, to make the second attack a more effective one. Illustrations of this concept could be to use the jab as a ‘fake’ to set up the attack with the opposite hand. Another is to make slight contact with the opponent and then deliver the subsequent attack, this may be a ‘fake’ or ‘block’ (or even a grab) with the lead hand and then a devastating palm-heel strike or reverse punch with the other.

The key is timing.

In the fraction of time that the opponent is distracted by the initial technique, or is absorbing shock or pain from it (ex, a jab to the throat), you capitalize and deliver the second, more powerful technique.

So, the next time you’re doing the Ren Tsuki  in Kanku Dai you should give it some thought.  We have a Senpai in our dojo who can devastate you with the Ren Tsuki for two reasons 1) his first punch is like lightening and 2) his second is like a high-speed lead projectile. The time between his techniques is such that just as you’re reacting to the first punch you get nailed with the second.

Mastering a technique is important in Shotokan…but the timing of them is paramount!

Mindless Fighting

Here’s one for you to think about. In class last night Sensei Lee made a statement:

                “If you think Karate will save your ass in a fight, you’re wrong!”

As usual he had the attention of everyone standing in Yoi in front of him, and my mind quickly starting mauling over wheat he had said. What could he possibly mean? We trained hard in our classes and there are people I train with who could mesmerize you with speed and power.

Sensei left that for a moment and went on to have us do Empi Kata… again, but this time he wanted it done on our own time, and not simply with techniques but with spirit.

We bowed at the end of Empi and stood there recollecting out breath, and wiping our brow in preparation in for the next instructions. Sensei continued his thoughts:

“You doimagesn’t win fights with karate, or with techniques. You win with your mind, your attitude…with spirit. Be prepared in your mind…the techniques will come out of you. The plan is simple: get the job done.”

Oftentimes in the Dojo we are focused on developing muscle memory, strength and speed, and we aren’t remembering a simple fact of combat: karate is a mental activity, which sometimes means putting yourself in a state of not thinking at all. You can refine your skill with your hands and feet all you like but they will be rendered useless in a fight if you lose composure, overthink your next move, or if you don’t have a clear head.

So, the plan is? There is no plan…just get it done.

Karate: ‘Always On My Mind’

The headlines last week contained an interesting caption: Willie Nelson gets 5th degree black belt for 81st birthday. I’m not sure what ‘style’ of Karate the Redheaded Stranger does, or how adept he is at it, but I do find it impressive and encouraging that at age 81 he is still training. I guess it is in line with what Kenwa Mabuni Sensei said: “Karate-Do is a lifetime study.”

In one article Willie’s Dr. said that he had absolutely no doubt that karate was a significant part of the reason that Willie is still so active and so well.

resize“It’s just good for you physically, for your lungs.  The more you’re breathing, exercising, the better you’re going to feel. I’m pretty healthy at 81. I think a lot of it has to do with the exercise that you do. I think martial arts is one of the best exercises you can do. Mentally, spiritually, physically, everything. I’m sure that’s helped.” Willie Nelson

I was in the Dojo last night doing basics up and down the floor, sweating profusely, knees hurting, when I caught myself thinking. ‘I can’t be too hard on myself – after all, I am 42 years old!’ I quickly banished the thought because I knew it was a scapegoat. Karate isn’t age-dependent. In fact, mastery of my art usually comes much later in life. You don’t water your karate down because of age; you simply push yourself according to your physical ability – without cheating yourself.

Simply put, you’re never too young to start, you’re never too old to start, but you’re always  too young to quit.

Oss, Willie… All the best…

What’s in Shotokan?

image002The Grandfather of Karate, ‘Bushi’ Matsumura’s Shorin-Ryu was a composite of Kobujutsu (Bushi learned the Kon/Bo from Satunushi Sakagawa), Tomari-Te, Shuri-Te and Jigen-ryu (Samurai Sword techniques). Thus it seems that our karate was founded in a comprehensive mix of Chinese Gongfu, Monk Fist Boxing, White Crane, Japanese Sword Fighting, Indigenous Okinawan combat techniques and other weaponry from Fujian (China) and Satsuma (Japan).

Shorin is said to be the Okinawan pronunciation of Shaolin, and through Patrick McCarthy’s translation of the Bubishi, we know that Matsumura visited the Shaolin Temple to train on at least two occasions where he was further versed in weapons combat.

So, how important is it for us to look at this history in order to know what we have and where it came from? After all, in whatever we are about to partake of in our everyday lives we always ask the questions ‘What’s it made of? ‘ or ‘What’s in this?’

Matsumura taught Yasatsune (Anko) Itosu, who in turn taught the father of Shotokan, Gichin Funakoshi. Hidetaka Nishiyama trained under Funakoshi Sensei, and my Sensei, Bruce Lee, trained under Nishiyama Sensei.

Now that is a lineage that is made of the right stuff…

A study of history isn’t only intriguing, but it provides us with a point to where we can draw ourselves back. Understanding our history provides us with a mechanism to get our karate back on track if we see it diverging from what has been built and preserved for generations.

After all, if it works there is no need to change it…

Two sides to the same coin

5-2-2014 9-47-05 AMMas Oyama was a man who tackled raging Bulls with his bare hands – and won. Therefore it was interesting to me to read that he had a philosophy of balancing the hard and the soft, the Yin and the Yang, the internal and external components of karate.

In class last night there were many references to the hard and the soft, relaxed and strong. The punch: soft in the beginning to utilize speed and then strong at the moment of impact; strong on the out-breath and Kiai. The fist: like a stone on impact, but only the small knuckles tensed on route to the impact zone.  Transition or movement: the center (Hara) tense and strong but the upper body soft as to allow for speed in the movement. An attack: soft and relaxed until you explode in to the opponent with an intensity and attitude that Sensei Lee describes as “It’s a great day to die.”

Like a breeze that extinguishes a robust flame or a small brook will erode the side of a mountain, we can never underestimate the value of subtlety and softness in Karate.

Of course, there should never be a disconnect between our strength and our ease where we would have to ‘switch on’ in order to defend ourselves or to win a match. It is my thought that our karate is always at least simmering, and our awareness is such that we are prepared – inside or outside the Dojo – to deal with the task at hand.