Tuidi – Okinawan Karate Tools

If you’re going to master Kumite, you’d better know how to fight inside and out.

Growing up in a small outport, when the spring ice started breaking up and got too ‘slobby’ to go ice panning on, we were constantly reminded: ‘Mind yourself around the ice! Keep your distance!’ Otherwise meaning stay off the ice for fear of mother’s wrath!

In Karate, keeping your distance is fundamental to the Art – Maai, or engagement distance as Jesse Enkamp refers to it, is fundamental in competitive Karate.  Staying right on the peripheral edge of where you need to be to engage your opponent is critical. Stray slightly inside this edge and you’re in the combat zone; slip slightly outside this edge and you limit your attack possibilities. A concept from Kendo, correct Maai is life or death – no different than engaging a knife attacker.

TuidiHaving said that, enter Tuidi, an Okinawan term for fighting techniques used in close. We Shotokan people never want anyone to get too close to us or to grab us in an altercation, but in case someone does, you have to have a few tools in your toolbox. After all, if we look at Kata, every move is an engagement move: attacks and destructive defenses, the stuff that happens when you cross the invisible combat line.

Seizing someone’s neck, an arm lock and break, or dislocating an opponent’s shoulder aren’t pretty, but neither is losing a real battle. We need to get to know our Tuidi.

Once again, Karate imitates life: fundamentally most important is what happens on the inside.

Karate Infusions…Feed the Pond

I recall a time when the Dojo I was in had 50 participants, and the seminars and competitions on the weekends (there was one somewhere in NL nearly every weekend) had hundreds of participants. I grew up in a very small rural town and yet there were a dozen young guys my age doing karate. It was the thing to do.

What happened?

streamI can’t help but wonder – as traditional Karate people – have we held on to the old so dearly that we haven’t made room for anything new. Has the adage that karate must never change gotten boring? Has the fear of allowing karate to evolve under our watch cost us in the long run? How is it that something that is so good for us on a multidimensional level, young and old alike, faded so much in recent years? How is it that that karate practitioners with 10, 20 and 30 year’s experience no longer don the Gi or step foot in a dojo? Chibana Chosin, said to be the founder of Shorin-ryu, had this to say:

“Karate, as it is transmitted, changes every few years. This is a common phenomenon. It happens because a teacher must continue to learn and adds his personality to the teachings. There is an old Okinawan martial arts saying that states that Karate is much like a pond. In order for the pond to live, it must have infusions. It must have streams that feed the pond and replenish it. If this is not done then the pond becomes stagnant and dies. If the martial arts teacher does not receive infusion of new ideas and/or methods, then he, too, dies.”

The very mention of evolving or changing karate scares the daylights out of many traditional Shotokan Karateka, but should it? Can’t we improve on something that is already very good with subtle infusions of wisdom and experience from around the world? We can still separate the wheat from the chaff and teach karate principles that are solid. We better understand the biomechanics of human movement now, so how can we not evolve and make our karate even better – not to mention easier on the body!

As an example, something as simple as a slightly higher stance or lower stance can both be taught with the principle of balance at its core. Fundamentally, the two Sensei who teach these are no different, and both have valid reasons for their preference – we can learn from both. As we progress, I think we need the varying teaching styles and opinions and explanations of technique. Then we adopt and build what works for us – there is a certain appeal in this.

Basically, if you know any real karate, I don’t need to know your politics, I just want to know what you know.

In the end, we don’t need to tear down the old dojo – maybe we just need to open it up and let some fresh air in.

Like Gord, Get Behind Something

gordon

 

 

 

 

 

Karate is a one passion of mine, and music is another, so when I heard Gord Downie passed away – although we’d been expecting it – I hated to hear that it had happened.  The Hip brought us Canadian music at its finest, and Gord brought us a message: Get Behind Something.

Gord tackled huge issues like the treatment of indigenous youth in the North and was relentless in his pursuit of fairness and justice.  Trying to shape a better future for young people is not only admirable, its essential.

We’re in an electronic age where there’s plenty of access to negative energy and paths to troublesome futures. But like Gord, some of us can make a difference.

So, here is a shout out to all the Karate Sensei and Sempai who helped shape my future over the years.  I am grateful.

And to those still teaching Karate, I applaud you. Karate that teaches respect and confidence is a force against that negative energy. You’re giving kids opportunity to grow and to make good choices. You’re getting behind them.

Godspeed, Gordo, and Sensei and Sempai…for the sake of our youth, keep it up.

 

What Now?? Just Breathe…

Sometimes there is almost a synchronicity in the works for anyone trying to understand a Martial Arts concept. Yesterday for instance I came across an interview with Sensei Toru Shimoji and in it he spoke about Breathing and about Ki Sense. I found it so interesting that I emailed him to start a discussion. And in Sensei Shimoji fashion, I got a response the same day with a superb response about breathing.

breathe-martial-artsLast night, as I assisted in Sensei Power’s junior class, he started the class with a talk on the importance of breathing to control emotions, and he showed the kids a video on the same. The kids were enthralled and all wanted to talk about how they experienced anger and how they liked to try to deal with it.

I went back to sensei Shimoji’s email this morning and this portion particularly stood out to me:

“Emotions have a powerful influence in our Ki usage. Conversely, the concentration of Breath Energy will influence our emotions. They are linked, interdependent and interrelated and interactive.”

We know that breath energy influences our emotions, so teaching kids that they can use their breath to control what they are feeling (and reminding adults) is a lesson that can go with them through every aspect of life. Whether breathing in competition to settle your adrenalin, or breathing at work or school to clear a muddled mind, we can all benefit from a few mindful breaths  (three concerted breaths, several times a day, reduces stress by a significant amount).

After all, life is 90% how we react to it…I can’t think of any occasion when ‘Just Breathe’ wouldn’t be a good response.

Karate – It’s Time

Years ago, after a hiatus form Karate, I put on some gym shorts and a tee shirt and went down to my rec room. I didn’t bother to google the Heian Katas or the grading sequences – I just stood in a natural stance, put one fist out, one back, and did a few slow punches.

And, to my amazement, thoughts came back like rainfall into a stream after a long drought. ‘Keep your elbows in; get good rotation on your fist; punch from the hip; eyes forward; posture correct.’

I was doing karate again.

Karate MouseAfter a few weeks of this I decided it was time to get over myself (and the excuses in my head) and get back in the Dojo.

The next week I was going up and down the floor with some old Dojomates and wondering why I had waited so long to go back. The bad knee that I thought would sideline me was hurting but became part of my training; yes, I was out of shape, but sitting at home wouldn’t help that; nope, I couldn’t remember even the Heian katas but it sure felt good to go through them again; reservations about feeling out of place disappeared the second I walked in – the dojo judges no one.

By the end of the first class I had a good sweat going and a clear mind.

While not training, what I had missed out on was a place where there is no unhealthy competition, no feelings of trying to be better than someone else. The dojo is a place where you work at becoming better than your current self: gaining a clearer mind and a stronger body along the way.

Karate is good medicine – no negative side effects.

What is worth defending

Dan Inosanto said that Love is the highest art – in ancient times it wasn’t about self-defense. It was about training hard to perfect a Martial Art that allowed you to defend your mother, your father, your children or your tribe: it allowed you to literally preserve life.

Times have changed…somewhat. In my everyday life I don’t think too much about having to defend myself or those close to me. But, there are still scenarios when you’re faced with doing so. Take for instance a situation where a man intentionally kicked the walking stick away from a visually impaired teenage boy. Would defending the boy be a righteous use of force? You’d better believe it would, and I wouldn’t think twice. There is no higher form of humanity than that of defending those who need it most. Fortunately though, these heinous acts of cruelty aren’t that common in these parts.

Perhaps then we can rethink self-defense a little.

MNK_LOGOLooking beyond the physical ability to defend against an assailant, self-defense is self-preservation and can be about maintaining composure when someone offends you. It can be about diffusing heated situations without the use of force. It can be taming your own demons like anger and fear – learning to handle these is probably more important than deflecting a punch to the face. We can take it a step further and say that sometimes we need defense against our own, cluttered minds. Martial arts has been called moving Zen, and a predominant philosophy is Mizu No Kikoru, a mind like calm water.

Physically of course, there’s the whole idea of defending yourself against ill health by showing up to the dojo every week and breaking a good sweat.

I think it’s safe to say that karate as self-defense is about creating greater peace – inside and out.

Pondering Posture

 “Some say the eyes are windows to the soul. This may be true, but posture is most assuredly the reflection of one’s spirit. It tells a story, more eloquently than words ever could, of your strength, your resolve, and your confidence. Posture is an essential element of warrior bearing.” Forrest Morgan

There are times when we all walk into the Dojo and something triggers us to elongate the spine and stand upright. You can feel the difference – you even feel better. But 3-4 moves into a kata and it’s gone again. We all know that subtle weaknesses in your posture (Loosely translated from Kamae in Japanese) take away from your karate’s look and feel.

It’s easy enough to maintain good  body position for a few moments, but not so easy to keep it, even though (as Morgan stated above) a good posture makes our Karate stronger, it aids our determination, and it bolsters self-assurance: feel like you look good and you look good. Besides that, years of karate without paying enough attention to correct structural alignment will mean physical issues down the road.

mc_ship_9148-1_640Technically, in movement and transitions, if you’re starting out with common posture idiosyncrasies such as your head tilted or shoulders forward, you’re already at a disadvantage. It’s like sailing into a storm with a negative sidebend in your mast.

An invaluable exercise is to run through a kata you like while your Sensei is watching for posture irregularities and pointing them out.

Another important point (that I tend to forget) is that you don’t need to muscle though your techniques or your kata in order to eliminate Kyo (dead time or openings). Eliminating Kyo has more to do with subtle tension and intention than it does might. Strong-arming your techniques typically means your posture takes a nosedive.

So, warrior…karate is posture is karate.

Sensei Toru Shimoji Seminar: New Friends

On the weekend I watched Sensei Toru Shimoji interact with my daughter as well as with other kids of various ages in the Karate dojo.

Sensei Shimoji is a former student of the likes of Sensei Hidetaka Nishiyama, and is well known in his own right as an elite Karate teacher, and what I noticed was that age didn’t matter. In this seminar, he paid as much attention to the littlest ones as he did to the more adept, older ones.

He was the vessel, they were the cups, and everyone got an equal share.

He corrected them, he complimented them, and he taught them the same karate principles as he taught the adults, but in a way in which they could relate. He’d fix a back stance (sometimes over and over) and he’d tie a belt; he’d demonstrate and he’d observe; he’d offer suggestions and clap at their successes. The kids were being molded…and they loved it.

My daughter’s observation was this: “He is such a nice man! And his Karate is epic!”

Kids were learning about respect, about the movement of energy, about body mechanics and camaraderie. The teachings were coming from a stranger to NL form Atlanta, Georgia, and yet it felt like they’d made a new friend who genuinely cared about where they went form here.

This new teacher was talking about calm in the midst of chaos and about exuding positive energy. He was teaching principles such as setting a goal to help someone else get better.

Some of this might seem lofty to some, but the fact is that they were getting it. They did their Kata, Kihon and Kumite demonstrations with pride and with a remarkable thread of technical ability.

The building of character through Karate is no cliché – and what better place to start than with the kids, the next generation of the Dojo…and of society.

 

Lao Tzu: Whoever is soft and yielding is a disciple of life

Screenshot_20170612-141439“The hard and the stiff will be broken.”

Another good example of how karate mirrors life. We all know that Shotokan is known for bone-crushing power, and we also know that the stiff and tense fighter is slower and less able to adjust to an opponents varying attacks. Power alone is good if you’re fortunate to land the right technique at the right time – if not, your finished – you’re one-dimensional.

There’s not much chance of changing your mind against an attack if you’re going at your opponent with teeth clenched and every muscle tensed like stone. Besides that, half your energy has been expelled before you get near the target.

On top of that, as we age, conserving energy gives us more stamina. We use energy where we need it: at the right point of Kime.

The trick is to not relax yourself out of the fight, but rather to keep Zanshin (continued awareness). You can keep your muscles on alert without having them on fire.

I like this from Jesse Enkamp:

“Your mind and body are two sides of the same coin.

  • A strong body cannot exist without a strong mind.
  • A flexible body cannot exist without a flexible mind.
  • A relaxed body cannot exist without a relaxed mind.”

He feels that trying to relax is like trying to go to sleep.

Clear your mind (breathe), and then be aware of all of your body (up, down and center as one Sensei puts it).

In my training I’m trying to get energy to flow between movements, rather than going through techniques like I’m a suit or armor.

Tension in the mind is tension in the body…and that can hurt.

Shotokan Karate is living proof that in order to carry on a tradition that survives, and never waivers far from its roots, you need teachers who are not only dedicated, but knowledgeable. I think knowledge goes beyond knowing karate, and a good Sensei is able to cover three important concepts: instill confidence; teach good karate; and stoke your interest to study the art and know more.

inoue_yoshimi_handwritten_karate_notes

I was recently watching Sensei Inoue Yoshimi online. He was using a chart in his class to discuss particular karate principles. His thought is that the focus needs to be the point where balance, speed and timing intersect, and goes on to say that your timing is only as good as your adeptness with balance and speed. He uses a Venn diagram to illustrate this. How’s that for intelligent karate!

 

This got me thinking about my own training.

Sensei Bruce Lee’s Venn diagram may look like this (Sensei Lee effectively teaches that Spirit is something your karate can’t be without).

Sensei Bruce Lee Venn

 

 

 

Sensei Brian Power teaches his students concepts that look like this.

Brian Power

What they are all teaching is that there are a number of karate principles that have to intersect – really come together – in order to get your karate to the next level. This is a cognitive as well as a physical challenge.

In NL we have intelligent karate – we have Sensei that are like information taps that are flowing karate right from the source.