A Forgotten Use Of Hiki-Te (Pulling Hand)

When I first started Karate, most people, especially our Oriental masters, would teach that the primary function of the Hiki-Te hand (the one that pulls back to the hip) was to increase the power of the other hand going out in a punch/strike/block.  This is undoubtedly a useful training method for beginners as it helps to teach them to rotate their hips and as such this explanation was not questioned very much in the early days.

However, with the advent of Mixed Martial Arts/Cage Fighting and the Internet, such ideas have come under more and more scrutiny.  Boxers, Kickboxers and other such stylists can generate powerful blows whilst still keeping the other high as a guard to the head.  When experienced Karateka (and other traditional martial artists) start to experiment, they find that they can too.  Hiki-Te is simply not necessary for generating power once good technique is established. Continue reading “A Forgotten Use Of Hiki-Te (Pulling Hand)”

Karate For “Perfection Of Character”: Truth Or Just Part Of The “Marketing”? – A Historical Perspective

“The ultimate aim of Karate lies not in victory or defeat, but in the perfection of character of its participants”.
Master Gichin Funakoshi.

Gichen Funakoshi

The above words by Master Funakoshi, founder of Shotokan/Shotokai have been widely quoted, but I wonder if that was what his teachers had in mind.  Gichin Funakoshi had a number of teachers, but the main ones were Yasutsune Itosu and Yasutsune Azato.  Both of these had (prior to teaching Funakoshi) been body guards to the King of Okinawa.  In this role, they could have been faced with superior numbers of armed men, whilst they themselves were actually unarmed due to Japanese law.

If you had to face a superior number of men, they had weapons whilst you did not; which do you think you would be most interested in:

  1. Victory or defeat?
  2. Perfection of character?

Continue reading “Karate For “Perfection Of Character”: Truth Or Just Part Of The “Marketing”? – A Historical Perspective”

Do You Train To Win A Fair Fight?

A little while ago on the BunkaiJutsu Facebook page, I put on the following quote by Gichin Funakoshi:-

“When there are no avenues of escape or one is caught even before any attempt to escape can be made, then for the first time the use of self-defence techniques should be considered. Even at times like these, do not show any intention of attacking, but first let the attacker become careless. At that time attack him, concentrating one’s whole strength in one blow to a vital point, and in the moment of surprise, escape and seek shelter or help. It is most important to be on guard without becoming excited and to act with presence of mind throughout the situation from the beginning and even once the situation is in hand.
When delivering the one blow against the attacker, the importance of using one’s whole strength and being especially accurate cannot be overemphasized”.
Gichin Funakoshi, from his book Karate-Do Kyohan,

It generated quite a bit of interest and comment, so I thought I’d explore it a bit further.  What is easy to over-look here is that it shows a very different ethos and approach to how we are taught in most traditional martial arts today.

Gichin Funakoshi demonstrating on a makawawa

Today if we do any sparring, we face each other from outside of striking range, bow, take up our fighting stance, then start inching towards each other until we start to exchange strikes/kicks.  Basically, its all about having a “fair fight”.  It’s sport.

Even when we practice bunkai (applications) against more street style attacks such as haymakers, in most clubs, the attacker usually start out of striking range first, then moves into distance with the haymaker.  Again, this partially reflects the “fair fight” mentality; as if two guys have agreed to “step outside and sort it out”.

Note, I did say “partially” as I do realise that somebody could randomly swing at you, ready or not.

Even in that step outside scenario there is the concept of an even one on one fight.  I know it’s not always adhered to as one may pull out a weapon or mates my join in, but the concept is still there, and most traditional training seems to buy into it.

What most traditional martial arts do not train for the guy being right up in your face shouting and swearing, then head-butting you.

The old Okinawan masters did not practice sport.  Several of the old Okinawan masters are recorded as saying that Karate is mainly for defending oneself against untrained thugs (rather than matches with other trained martial artists).

Funakoshi always taught that fighting (even a “fair fight”) was wrong and should be avoided if at all possible.  He taught that Karate was mainly to make you a better person rather than a better fighter and as such if you were set about, he advised that the first course of action should be to run away.  That way nobody gets hurt.

On the few occasions that Funakoshi was forced to physically defend himself, he felt that it was a personal failure to have gotten into that situation in the first place, or for not having handled it better.  I personally think he was a bit hard on himself, but that’s just my opinion.

So if you hold true to the philosophy that you should decline any fights and run away if you can, then what do you do if you are cornered and have to fight whether you like it not?  The person picking on you is usually doing so because he/she thinks you are an easy target.  Are they looking for a fair fight?

No!  They’re looking for an easy victim.

So should you be expected to fight fair against somebody like that?

No, you shouldn’t have to, because you shouldn’t be put in that position against your will.  You didn’t pick the fight and you didn’t agree to have one.  Self protection is about defending yourself from harm, it is not about having a fair fight.

Should you step back into your fighting stance and warn them, “back off, I do martial arts”?

No.  That warns them to be more careful.

This is the scenario Funakoshi was talking about.  Let them bluster at you and become over confident, then hit them with a pre-emptive strike to a vital point.  Then run!

This is the way that modern Reality Based Martial Arts train.  Don’t you find it a bit strange that people talk about Reality Based Martial Arts as if it is still quite new, when Funakoshi was talking about it decades ago?

To my mind, it suggest that most of today’s so called “traditional martial arts” are not that traditional.  It isn’t what Funakoshi taught!

Do Our Training Methods Damage Our Bodies?

We so often hear that martial arts are good for our health and well-being, but is this always the truth?  I would say in the main . . . . yes.

However I do feel that there are exceptions.  All to often you hear of the more mature warriors amongst us having hip or knee operations.  Many (who are not professional teachers) have to give up training all together.  So if martial arts are a lifetime study (as is often said) how come the people who are left training over the age of 50 is such a small percentage.

Funakoshi, who introduced Karate from Okinawa to Japan, said in his latter years that the Karate being trained at that time in Japan was very different to the Karate of his youth.

The Karate that Funakoshi would have learnt in his youth in Okinawa would have had a very strong emphasis on combat effectiveness.  It also had a strong emphasis on health.  Many masters were originally introduced to Karate training in their childhood because they were sickly children and Karate was seen as one of the best ways to improve their health.

So what happened to Karate after Funakoshi introduced it to Japan in the 1920’s?

At that time, having relatively recently been forcibly dragged out of centuries of isolation, Japan was modernising very fast.  As such the Japanese saw the modern weapons imported from the West as the way to go and saw the old martial arts as obsolete except for physical and character development.  Furthermore, Japan’s militaristic character at that time, especially during the build up for the war, meant more emphasis on toughening up and strengthening up quickly, rather than looking to the longer term health.  Physically gruelling training was good for the spirit!

Emphasis on real combat was not really necessary in traditional martial arts as Japan was far more focused on how to use the newly found power of guns, warplanes and battleships.  The subtleties of Okinawan karate would be dumbed down to make it more acceptable to Japanese popular ideas of the time.  A more physical emphasis was required.  Dumbing down also made it easier to teach to large classes.

Funakoshi focused on teaching in Universities which meant introducing Karate to the higher strata of Japanese society (hence more respectability for Karate).  It also meant that as Karate was now being taught to relatively large numbers and as students left University and moved on, they did not form the deep relationship that the Funakoshi and his peers would have formed with their masters, so the transfer of knowledge would not have been quite so deep.

Unfortunately many of Funakoshi’s top students lost their lives during the war.  By the end of the war, Funakoshi was in his late 70’s and although still training himself, was getting a bit old for regular teaching, so to a certain extent the surviving students had to work it out for themselves.

Furthermore the occupying American’s banned martial arts training.  During the war, the Japanese had displayed a ferocious fighting spirit which for obvious reasons the Allies wanted to curb.  The Japanese had to make a case that Karate was not a real martial art, but more a way for self development.  As such, they got permission to train.  However, traditional weapons like the Bo, Tonfa, Sai etc were dropped from the syllabus as the Japanese realised that they would really be pushing their luck to ask permission to train weapons (of any kind) as well.  Karate was dumbed down even further.

With Funakoshi’s influence diminishing and most of his most knowledgeable students gone, Shotokan began to evolve (or devolve depending on how you look at it) into a forceful system with a heavy emphasis on the physical side.  This led in part to the stances becoming longer and deeper placing more stress on the lower body joints.  If you look at any photo’s of Funakoshi demonstrating technique, he is always in a fairly high stance.  Shotokan was mainly derived from Okinawan Shorin Ryu (created by Yasutsune Itosu).  If you go to Youtube and search for “Shorin Ryu kata”, you’ll see that most of their movements are done in a higher stance than modern Shotokan.

Just compare the Shorin Ryu and Shotokan versions of the same kata below:-

Shorin Ryu

Shotokan

A large group wanted to hold competitions which Funakoshi vehemently opposed.  However, after Funakoshi passed away in 1957, the movement to introduce competition went full throttle ahead and the first All Japan Championships were held that year.  Again the emphasis on being fit, strong and athletic grew with the short term goal of winning competitions rather than longer term goal of life long health.

Okinawan Karate was would have expected most fights to be at relatively close range (which is how most real fights are) so it would have geared its techniques that way.  But the new competition fighting where neither fighter was allowed to grab their opponent necessitated a longer range of fighting.  This in turn necessitated being able to take long steps, to cover relatively large distances.  This again creates more stress on our bodies and joints as we get older and was absent from the original Okinawan Karate.

High kicks (which had barely existed in Okinawan Karate) become much more common place, putting even more stresses on the body (especially hips and knees).  Again if you watch Shorin Ryu kata on Youtube, you’ll see less emphasis on kicks.  Furthermore, you won’t find Side Snap Kicks anywhere.  In Shotokan kata where we use a Side Snap Kick, Shorin Ryu uses a Front Kick).  Not only that, but the Shorin Ryu Front Kick is usually no more than groin height.

Side Snap Kick is one of the most difficult kicks of all for people who have hip and knee problems.  It is also not nearly as practical as a Front Kick in most real combat situations.  So why did Side Snap Kick replace the Front Kick in so many Shotokan katas and why did it end up usually being done at head height rather than groin height?

Well at that time, the Japanese had very little understanding of bunkai (fighting applications of the kata).  Not only that, most of them were not really interested either.  Kata competition was becoming very popular too and that was the driving force.  Kata had to look good.  The head height Side Snap Kick looked much better than the mid level Front Kick.  Many techniques performed in Neko Ashi Dachi (Cat Stance) in the Shorin Ryu kata were changed to a much longer deeper Kokutsu Dachi (Back Stance) in Shotokan kata.

Much of this has improved over the years and many branches of Shotokan has change quite radically even in the time that I’ve been training.  When I first started, we had to keep the back leg straight when performing any technique in Forward Stance.  This put pressure on the lower back and hips.  Now the back leg is slightly bent, relieving the pressure.  This and many other modifications have greatly improved the way that we train today.  In many ways many schools of Shotokan have become much “softer” in their training (and I softer as in how technique is performed, not as in “taking it easy”).  However, many still train the old way and many styles (Japanese & Korean) which are derived from Shotokan still bear some of those old hallmarks.

Training can be great for health, but if you are not careful, it can be damaging to your body, especially hips, knees and lower back.

Review: A Killing Art – The Untold History of Tae Kwon Do

I have to confess that I haven’t read this book, though I would like to when I get the chance.  My brother-in-law, Martin who is a 2nd Dan TKD has read it and has highly recommended it.  Then I saw a review on my friend Bob Patterson’s Striking Thoughts blog, so I thought I would copy it here for my TKD readers.

It is along similar lines to Shotokan’s Secret, by Dr Bruce Clayton, which is the only book that I’ve ever finished and then read again almost straight away.  Both books explore the history behind the arts in question and expose many of the so called “truths” behind the “official history” of these arts.  I do believe that it is helpful to get behind the myths of the art and get to the truth.  It helps give a bit more of an all round understanding and appreciation of the art(s) that we practice.

As with Karate (which at one stage deliberately sought to hide it’s Chinese influences) so some in TaeKwonDo have hidden some its history.  In particular, that it was mainly based on Shotokan Karate with hardly any influence from ancient Korean martial arts as is often claimed.  It’s all in the marketing and there is an element of this in every style.  Whereas Shotokan’s Secret revealed how Funakoshi and other Okinawan masters had been economical with the truth of Karate, so General Choi and other Korean masters have been economical with the truth of TaeKwonDo’s past.

The way I look at it is that our arts today are what they are.  Whether they come from Japan, Okinawa, ancient China, ancient Korea or Disneyland, the arts are still what they are.  They will not be any different just because you discover that they had different influences to what you have been told.  Besides, understanding the actual influences go a good way to understanding the full potential of the art.

Anyway, here below is Bob Patterson’s review from his Striking Thoughts blog:
(Note:  The Striking Thoughts blog has since closed).

 

Alex Gillis is a university instructor, journalist and author of A Killing Art: The Untold History of Tae Kwon Do. He has studied the art for 25 years in both ITF and WTF styles. Much like many of us who have studied Tae Kwon Do, he has heard fantastic stories of Tae Kwon Do from his instructors and other Taekwondoists. In this book Gillis grants us access to interviews and information from the early pioneers of the art. Along the way he also debunks a lot of the fantastic claims and dubious history that surrounds Tae Kwon Do.

Simple fact: Tae Kwon Do is not thousands of years old nor did it spring from the Hwrang warriors. Rather, it’s a derivative of Shotokan Karate that Choi originally learned while in Japan during the 1940′s. Nor, for that matter, is Choi the sole inventor of Tae Kwon Do.  We have the art of Tae Kwon Do because of a poker game. The young and hot-tempered Choi Hong-Hi lost all his money on a game of poker and enraged a local wrestler by throwing a bottle of ink at him.  This loss forced Choi to flee his village and later learn karate.

The books starts before the Second World War when Korea was occupied by the Japanese and Choi was a young man ready to set off to Japan to complete his education. From there we follow the story of Tae Kwon Do from Choi’s experiences of WW II, to the Korean civil war to the war waged between the ITF and WTF Taekwondo organizations. No political detail is spared as we learn how far Choi would go to keep control of his beloved ITF.  Along the way we also learn how pioneers like Jhoon Rhee and others helped to develop the art.

Alex Gillis has written a biography of Tae Kwon Do and a gripping thriller that’s as worthy of a movie as the story of Ip Man! Included are Choi’s brushes with death and his involvement with the Korean CIA. What is also quite disappointing is the shear corruption and greed associated with Tae Kwon Do. As Gillis notes: “I am stuck on the path of Courtesy, which instructors in small gyms around the world know well but which is largely ignored by Tae Kwon Do’s leaders.”

The history of Tae Kwon Do is rightly titled ‘A Killing Art’ because it was created at a time when the martial art was used on the battle fields of Korea and Vietnam by the U.S. and South Korean military. This book is essential reading for karate players and taekwondoists and should be mandatory reading for both ITF and WTF styles.

 

 

From UK
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What is Stav?

By Graham Butcher:

Charlie kindly asked me to contribute to this site after our Stav demonstration in the Martial Arts Festival which was held in Bath in May 2010. After a gap of a few months I am very pleased to do so. Members of Ice and Fire Stav were honoured to take part in the Festival and since Stav is a relatively unknown training system it gave us a valuable opportunity to showcase our practice. I am also grateful for the opportunity here to explain more about Stav and shed more light on its unusual origins.

Stav was brought to the UK by Ivar Hafskjold see in the early 1990s. Ivar grew up in postwar Norway where he learned the family tradition of body, mind and spirit training from his Grandfather and elder uncles. Stav had been passed down through the family for many generations but was being lost simply because the post war generation were
finding better things to do such as studying at university etc. There is a similar trend in the orient today where Japanese and Chinese young people would frequently rather play baseball than learn traditional Bushido or Taoist arts. Ivar however had a serious interest and learned as much as he could from his uncles and Grandfather but there was a limit to what his elderly mentors could teach him on the practical side of things. So in his early 30s he went to Japan where he remained for 14 years and during that time made an intensive study of Japanese martial arts.

Stav literally means “knowledge of the rune staves” and these 16 symbols are the basis for the system. See: http://www.iceandfire.org.uk They are used most directly as posture, breath and meditation exercises which we call the stances. When performed in their basic form the stances look very much like a simple Tai chi form. The more advanced versions use chants to enhance breath and raise energy levels and these are comparable to Chi gung forms. If you daily practice Stav then your Stav practice is to do one version or another of the Stances every day and these are a sort of Kata. The runes have all kinds of uses beyond the relevance of this article but one of their purposes is to reveal the Web of Orlog. This simply means the underlying reality of a situation. The web is made up of lines. These may be lines of a structure, or lines of effort and energy, or simply lines of intent. In a combat situation there are lines which connect you to the opponent and vice versa. There are lines that matter and
those that don’t. When attacked we need to be aware of the lines of force which can hurt us, so avoid or divert them. Also the lines which are of no importance and simply ignore them. When countering we are looking for the line or lines which will collapse the attacker’s web and neutralise them. This means more than just hitting someone on a vulnerable spot, although that can be pretty effective. We are aiming to take the line through the body and thus disrupt their balance and take them down.

In order to develop an awareness of the lines repeated cutting practice is used.
Actually cutting wood with an axe or sax (Scandinavian equivalent of a machete,
Anglosaxon; Seax) was probably the traditional way of doing it and this is a very effective way of learning to take a clean line very accurately. But we also do the kind of cutting training that comes from Ken jutsu or the striking exercises which come from Jo jutsu. These Ivar learned during his 14 years in Japan where he attained 4th dan in both these arts. We now use the axe and full length staff rather than boken and jo but the principle is still the same. This weapon practice teaches us to work with the lines outside the body while the stances teach us to use them internally.

The third element of Stav training is practising drills which teach the five principles of Stav. Ivar teaches five simple exercises with the staff defending against attacks with sword or axe which he learned from his grandfather. These are our traditional Kata and it is the application of their lessons which makes Stav effective.  I’ll briefly outline the five principles: The first one is called the Trel or slave principle and this one teaches you to back off from a situation where you have no real interest in getting involved. The second is the Karl or freeman principle which is about keeping people out of your space. The third is the Herse or warrior principle which is about enforcing your will on an opponent and taking them under control. The fourth is the Jarl or priest principle which is where you deal with the attacker by disassociation. The fifth the Konge or king principle which is where you take them down simply because you can, or take the consequences. Over the past 20 years we have developed a number of two person drills with different weapons and unarmed which teach the five principles. These are effectively short kata with very direct applications. In all
training we are looking to work with the web and this very often means using one
stance or another, or combinations of them to provide techniques and to interpret the technique according to the principles we are working on.

This has created a very satisfying martial training system to work with and it provides a very practical selfdefence training system too. This works because we learn how to act in a conflict situation before we need to worry about what we should actually do.  Supposing the classic: “Who the **** do you think you are looking at?” scenario starts to develop? If it is none of your business and there is nothing to prove then you adopt the Trel mindset which is solely concerned with avoiding getting hurt, this means being firm and confident but strongly communicating the message that you are not going to fight and simply removing yourself from the situation. If grabbed or punched your response would simply be to put sufficient distance between you and the attacker to render any further attack pointless. Once your tormentor has proved his point that
he is “the man” and you are “not worth it” then hopefully he will cease.

If the scenario is someone trying to force their way into your home or other space for which you are responsible then you need to operate on the Karl level. This basically ensures that an intruder doesn’t get past you. Again you hope that confidently communicating the message that they are not going to be allowed to come in will do the trick and most of the time it will. If they do try to force their way in then shifting your body so that you can block their head and lead foot simultaneously will prevent their entering, once momentum is checked then pushing them outside and shutting the door or calling for help should be possible.

If you do have some responsibility for keeping order, such as being a policeman or a doorman then you are in the Herse role. In this case the key is to make sure that an opponent knows that you have the authority to order them to leave or detain them. If you can communicate this effectively then you will probably manage the situation just fine. But if you do have to get physical then the person should be taken off balance and controlled as decisively as possible. You should of course also have some way of summoning back up as soon as possible.

In the case of dealing with multiple opponents or you have greater concern than the fact you are being attacked, dealing with a casualty for example, then you are probably in a Jarl role. This means you are allowing your sub conscious mind to deal with the attack while your conscious mind focuses on more significant matters. This can be very effective but does require a well trained mind set.

Back to the idiot who was bothering you in the first example. He doesn’t back off when you made it clear you didn’t want to fight him, his mates are blocking your escape , no one around is likely to help you so what have you spent 20 years studying martial arts for anyway? The Konge attitude is: “ a minute from now he is going to be very sorry he picked on me, or I will realise that I might as well have being doing embroidery rather than sweating in a dojo.”

It should also be clear that it is your responsibility to be honest with yourself as to which principle you can realistically get away with any given situation and switch principles when necessary. They are essentially options for choices, you make the choice, you live or die with the one you make.

It should also be clear that although the concepts can be explained in a few hundred words it takes years of correct training and regular practice to get to the point where “seeing” the lines and using them instinctively becomes second nature. I will look at some of the ways we train for this in subsequent articles.

Courses are held regularly at various venues, the next one is near Salisbury on the 5th of February: http://www.iceandfire.org.uk/train.html

And if you would like the opportunity to train with Ivar himself then we hold the Stav Summer Camp in July: http://www.stavcamp.org

 

Shihan Kousaku Yokota’s New Book – “Shotokan Myths” (More Than Just Shotokan): Part 2

Recently I wrote about Shihan Kousaku Yokota’s new book, Shotokan Myths.  Well now it is available for purchase (details below).  I have had some private correspondence with Shihan Yokota and there was one thing in particular that he said that I consider very important and I wanted to share with everybody. With so many “reality based” martial arts and the rise of mixed martial arts, many people have questioned the effectiveness and validity of the traditional martial arts.  Many Japanese masters have been secretive or aloof and have not bothered to explain the finer points, keeping Westerns on a rather superficial level.  I’ve seen some Japanese masters teach up in Scotland, UK, where they actually pretend that they can’t speak English properly when you know full well that they can (from people who have actually visited the masters own dojo).

I have to say that I do not believe this of all the Japanese masters, but certainly some are like it.  Yet here we have a Japanese master at the very highest level who is not only wants to teach all that he knows, but is actually concerned that if he does not, that Karate will become obsolete.  As I said before, although the book has “Shotokan” in the title, it should be of interest to other styles as well, especially those with Shotokan in their lineage.

Anyway, here in Shihan Yokota’s own words (and with his permission to reproduce it):

“I want to share the knowledge so that the western karate practitioners will see the “light” so to speak. There should not be so much of mysticism about Karate. Almost all the things can be fully explained. But it was easier for many “masters” to keep them as mysterious or “secret”. The fact is many “masters” did not know the answers or have the ability (or motivation) to explain them. Many Japanese instructors are afraid to speak up as that would reveal the inability of those masters or the organizations. It has been more than 60 years since shotokan karate was introduced to the western world. I believe it is about time somebody to speak up and let the western practitioners know it is ok to ask and challenge what you read or learn from the Japanese masters. Without this quest we cannot hope to improve karate and it will end up in a museum some day. Ossu”

ISBN #978-1-4568-0709-2 (Hard cover) US$29.99
#978-1-4568-0708-5 (Soft cover) US$19.99
You can order your copy now from the publisher, Xlibris:
• Phone (Toll Free): 1-888-795-4274
• Fax: 1-610-915-0294 or 1-610-915-0293
• E-mail: orders@xlibris.com
They will ship internationally (shipping charge will apply).

Extra note:  I don’t know about other countries, but shipping and handling cost quoted for posting to the UK are extortionately high.  I have asked Shihan Yokota to get Xlibris to confirm.  However, Shotokan Myths is also available from Amazon in paperback or hardcover where S & H costs should be more reasonable from there.

UPDATE: You can now get it from Amazon:-

In the UK
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Shihan Kousaku Yokota’s New Book – “Shotokan Myths” (More Than Just Shotokan)

Shihan Kousaku Yokota, 8thDan Shotokan Karate is releasing a new book, Shotokan Myths, which should be available from mid December.

Firstly, I would like to say that so many other styles have spawned from Shotokan, that this book should be valuable to a far wider audience than just Shotokan Karateka.

So who is Shihan Kousaku Yokota?

Yokota is an 8th Dan with 46 years of Shotokan Karate experience. He specializes in Asai ryu karate which is based on JKA style Shotokan with some White Crane Kung Fu blended in.  He also practiced Okinawa kobudo (nunchaku, sai, tonfa, 3 sectional staff and 7 chain whip).

I have read some of Yokota’s articles in Shotokan Karate Magazine where he wrote about how a number of myths have developed over the years and become ingrained into Shotokan folk lore (and from there into numerous other styles of Karate and TaeKwonDo).  He exposes many of these myths in an intelligent and well informed manner, explaining historical, social and practical reasons why certain practices have been introduced and how they have come to be accepted as “traditional” Karate practices, when in fact many of them are relatively new to the Karate world.

So on a blog that focuses largely on practical applications (bunkai) to traditional martial arts, why would we be interested in myths and the historical/social reason surrounded their coming into being?

Well simply put, if we know what is “real” from what is not, then we can make more informed decisions.  We tend to look how to apply our katas/patterns/forms, but knowing the influences that effected them can change the application.  For example, in one article in SKM, Yokota examined the myth that all kata’s should start and finish in the same place.  This was never a requirement for the Okinawan masters.  However, when Funikoshi took it to Japan, Karate started being taught to much larger numbers of people.  There was not the same small close group of master and only a few special students.  Therefore the students had to be given a way to measure their own performance.  Having katas finish on the same point that they started gave a form of measure (for example, consistent stances length in both direction).  To achieve this, some of the katas had to be adapted.  Most Heian/Pinan kata’s today follow a capital “I” shape.  However, originally the shape of the kata was more like a double headed arrow.  For example, in Kihon kata (or Heian Shodan/Pinan Nidan/Dan Gun), after doing the 3 stepping punches, instead of performing a 3/4 turn (270 degrees) it would have been a 5/8 turn (225 degrees).   This made it difficult to return to original starting position, hence changing it to the “I” shape that is so familiar today.  Many people interpret this movement as a throw.  But knowing why the change came about, gives us the clue that we do not have to spin round quite so far to execute that same throw, actually making it a bit easier to apply!

Other changes have been made to standardize katas to make them easier to judge in competition.  Knowing these things may alter how you perceive the application that put to this movement next time you examine your kata.  This is why knowing fact from myth is important to being able to practically apply your katas.  It is not just an academic exercise in learning history (though this can be very interesting in its own right).

Yokota is thorough in his research and explanation.  I therefore commend Shotokan Myths not only to Shotokan Karateka, but to all styles that have Shotokan in their lineage.
You can now get this book from Amazon

 

New DVD: Inside Bassai Dai (Kata Bunkai)

Keith and I are very pleased to release our new kata bunkai DVD, “Inside Bassai Dai”.  For those not familiar with Bassai Dai, it is a very central kata in many Karate systems and is often used for black belt gradings to 1st Dan.  This is fitting considering it’s author is the Okinawan master, Soken Matsumura who is a very pivotal character in the development of Karate.

Matsumura was one of the prime movers in developing linear technique (previously, Okinawans practiced primarily Chinese based circular techniques).  He also taught Azato and Ituso, who went on to teach Funikoshi (who introduced Karate to Japan and hence the World).  So Matsumura’s impact on Karate is enormous.

Matsumura’s master was taught by a Chinaman and Matsumura is known to have gone to Shaolin to do some training.  It is therefore appropriate that I am working with Keith (a Kung Fu exponent) as it takes us back closer to Matsumura’s original influences.  It also makes this DVD a bit unique.  There is also a free DVD on Kicking Tips being given away with it.  Anyway, it’s been getting some great endorsements and is available at our store with full details if you want to check it out.

“This DVD delivers a down to earth and realistic look at the often misunderstood Kata of Karate.  Simple to follow and easy to understand.  It is great to see Charlie Wildish incorporating my ABC system of manstoppers in to his karate, it is must have principle for any serious combat martial artist.  Good work Charlie”.

Kevin O’Hagan:  7th Dan Combat JuJutsu, 6th Dan British Combat Association.

“This DVD is a must for any true Karateka who is interested in uncovering the essence of Bunkai, and understanding the true meaning of Kata.”

Mark Winkler:  6th Dan Wado Ryu Karate, Qualified Systema Instructor

 

Is Kata (Forms/Patterns) Without Realistic Bunkai “Organized Despair”?

Bruce Lee once famously referred to the way that many traditional martial artists train as, “organized despair”.  The full quote is reproduced below for you:

“Instead of facing combat in it’s suchness, quite a few systems of martial art accumulate “fanciness” that distorts and cramps their practitioners and distracts them from the actual reality of combat, which is simple and direct and non-classical. Instead of going immediately to the heart of things, flowery forms and artificial techniques (organized despair!) are ritually practiced to simulate actual combat. Thus, instead of being in combat, these practitioners are idealistically doing something about combat”

So, are our katas/forms/patterns “flowery forms and artificial techniques“?

Whilst some undoubtedly are, I don’t believe that all of them are and I think that it helps to look at a historical perspective.  When Bruce Lee made that statement, martial arts were very new to the West and they were not as well understood then as they are now.

Traditionally masters would teach a small number of students and the students would have to gain the masters trust before being taught anything of consequence.    However, when fully accepted the student would learn a full system of self defence which would include kicks, punches, locks, throws, breaking bones/joints and much more.

So when Karate was introduced into the Okinawan school system, would you want the school kids knowing how to break each others bones?

Funikoshi took Karate to Japan at a time when Japan was building up for war and saw unarmed martial arts as obsolete, except for personal development.  Do you think Funikoshi who wanted to gain acceptance for his art challenged this stance?

When the Americans occupied Japan after the war, they banned martial arts.  To get permission to train, the Japanese had to play down the martial aspects in favour of sport and self development.  This is the version that the GI’s learnt and took back to America.

The Chinese community in Bruce Lee’s day, were very reluctant to teach Kung Fu to non-Chinese.  When they did finally open up to the Western public, do you think that they would teach mass audiences their best techniques?

Even Ip Man who taught Wing Chun Kung Fu to Bruce Lee is believed to have held back information from Bruce Lee because Bruce was not a full blooded Chinese.

The bottom line is – a lot of information was held back for one reason or another and in Bruce Lee’s day, many people did not have much clue about what the katas/forms/patterns were for.  With Bruce Lee’s very pragmatic approach and with information held back by even his own teachers, can you blame him for seeing it as “organised despair”.

Although so much has opened up today and is continuing to do so all the time, there are still very many people (and whole associations) still caught in trap of not knowing what there katas movements are really for.  So we go back to the question, is Kata without realistic bunkai, just organized despair?

Undoubtedly kata WITH realistic bunkai is a much better way to train.  It brings the katas to life.  However, there is always the old maxim, that before you can control somebody else (in a fight), you must be able to control yourself.

This is where I believe that kata will always be useful.  The turns and spins in different directions; landing with co-ordination, speed, power and crispness are excellent ways to learn that control of yourself.  You will learn more control and co-ordination with kata than you will by pounding pads or punchbags.  You also learn form, structure and principles of movement that you can apply to other things.  That is not to say that pounding pads/punchbags is not useful, because obviously it is.  However, I believe that kata training in its own right does have something to offer martial artists of all styles, even without good bunkai.

I do not suggest that kata training kata should be pursued at the detriment of other aspects of martial training and I agree with Bruce Lee, that in itself kata does not prepare you for actual combat.  However, as part of an fully rounded taining system I do believe that it plays an important part.