Following on from my interview with Lori O’Connell, back in January, I’ve also had the privilege to review her new book, When The Fight Goes To The Ground (Jiu Jitsu Strategies And Tactics For Self-Defense).
Many people do online classes, but these are usually pre-recorded videos. If you have questions, you have to type them in on your key board and wait on the teacher getting back to you. And if you don’t fully understand their answer, you have to send another question and wait again.
Furthermore, the teacher can’t actually see how you are doing things yourself, so can’t pick up on fine details that you may not even know to ask about.
This is why I was quite intrigued when I heard about Shihan Kousaku Yokota’s idea for an Interactive Cyber Dojo.
So what is an Interactive Cyber Dojo?
I’m glad you asked me that!
Basically, it’s a lesson over Skype with video, one on one with Shihan Yokota himself. A private lesson with a genuine Japanese 8th Dan, author and direct student of Asai (10th Dan) himself . . . . . well I just had to give this a go.
My first hiccup was that I did not have a webcam on my PC. No problem, I borrowed my daughters Apple Mac, and we were off.
The lesson was on the kata, Junro Shodan. This is a kata created by Master Asai and is part of Asai Ryu version of Shotokan Karate. It is not in other versions of Shotokan, so this was of particular interest to me.
Master Asai introduced the Junro series for a couple of reasons. One reason being to put more emphasis on the Neko Ashi Dachi (Cat Stance). This stance was widely used in Shorin Ryu which was the main forerunner to Shotokan, but has been almost completely replaced in most Shotokan Katas by the longer Kokutsu Dachi (Back Stance). Master Asai felt that we should bring it back as it is a very practical stance from a combat point of view which we have nearly lost due to standardisation of Katas, largely for competition purposes.
Master Asai also felt that when it comes to spinning techniques, most Shotokan katas have a heavy bias to only spinning clockwise and wanted to address this imbalance. You can check out the Junro Shodan for yourself below:-
Master Asai is considered by many to be the greatest Shotokan teacher and practitioner that ever lived. This is why very many Shotokan Karateka from other organisations and lineage’s have been interested in learning his katas. Unfortunately many of these people do not have access to a dojo which practices the Asai Ryu version of Shotokan.
After a student in New York persuaded Shihan Yokota to try to teach him over Skype from California, Shihan Yokota realised that he could use this method to reach and help many other Shotokan Karateka (and other styles if interested) from all over the world. Those interested in learning Asai Ryu Shotokan and the Junro series of katas no longer had to be limited by physical location.
So having made the appointment, Shihan Yokota, he sent me the Youtube link to Junro Shodan (above) along with a step by step pictorial schematic so that I could prepare myself in advance. For a few hours before my class, I went through the kata, learning it from the video. By the time it came to the class, I was still far from perfect, but more or less had the sequence of movements. Throughout the class, Shihan Yokota corrected my stances and movements and picked up details that I would never have got from following the video alone.
As I reflected afterwards, this was a fantastic way to learn. Had I attended a seminar to learn this kata, firstly I would not have received the link to the video and step by step guide. OK, I could have used my initiative and Googled it, or searched it on Youtube, but you can never be quite sure how truly authentic the version displayed will actually be.
Had I gone to a seminar, I might have had to travel for several hours to get there and back. This time was much better spent pre-learning the kata from Youtube.
Furthermore, had I been at a seminar, I would have been one of many, moving at the pace of the rest of the class; rather than having one on one attention for an hour from an 8th Dan and the class moving at the right pace for me and me only.
Being at home, I was a bit limited for space and often had to shuffle around a bit to fit in all the movements. However, I felt that all the other advantages far out-weighed this minor disadvantage. As far as I’m aware, nobody else is doing this. I’m sure many will follow, but for now I believe that it is unique.
So how much does this one-on-one with an 8th Dan actually cost?
Well if you were meeting face to face, then the standard rate would be $150 per hour. However, through Shihan Yokota’s Interactive Cyber Dojo, it is a very reasonable $29.99. When you consider that sometimes you can pay almost as much to attend seminar and be one of about 50 or more people with no one on one, this is a really good deal. Plus you have no travel costs, no parking charges, no food or drink to buy while you’re out and being via Skype there are no extra computer/telephone costs either. For many people, this is actually cheaper all round then going to a seminar. I personally think that Shihan Yokota is being a bit cautious and setting his rate a bit low, so I’d recommend that anybody who is interested should book in quickly before he catches on and puts his rate up.
Karate Depot have asked me to review a makiwara (striking board) for them. But first, I would like to talk about what makawara training is actually trying to achieve as it not quite what most people imagine.
Personally, I like makawara’s. Some people argue that as they have so little give in them, your punch/strike has to stop after impact, rather than going all the way through the target – as you might do in a real combat situation. Therefore (it is argued) you are training yourself to “stop short”.
I personally believe that if you can slam your fist very hard into a target that barely gives and not damage or hurt yourself, then you have no fear of whatever you hit at all. You also develop so much impact that you don’t have to punch too deep to do damage. Besides you can practice punching/stiking deep on other pieces of equipment, that is not what the makawara is all about.
Some also argue that it is a stationary target and therefore less functional than focus mitts which obviously can move about. I’ll come back to this point shortly.
Although many see the makawawa as a method to harden hands, especially knuckles, Gichin Funakoshi says that the main point of using a makawawa is to learn correct alignment of the body when striking. Harding knuckles etc is secondary. Delivery of a good technique (be-it Karate or any other style) depends heavily on correct alignment of the body’s skeletal system. This in turn should allows you to become more and more relaxed in your technique as you advance through the grades.
How does correct skeletal alignment enable you to become more relaxed and why is this useful?
Firstly, correct bone/joint alignment absorbs the reaction created by the impact of your strike, transfers it to the ground, and then effectively bounces it back into the target again. With incorrect alignment, that part of the body will collapse and absorb much of this “impact reaction”.
This is the single most important function of the makawara, to weed out the bodies incorrect alignments and correct them.
This is best done with a training device that has little give in it (like a makawara). Focus mitts are better for accuracy training and for training reactions to a moving target, but they do not offer enough resistance to allow you to weed your incorrect alignments within your body. Neither training device (makawara or focus mitts) are superior to the other, they simply serve different functions.
As low grades, we can use a lot muscular strength to support our skeletal structure and stop it collapsing if there is any weakness (in the form of miss-alignments). However, as we progress, the alignment of the skeletal structure improves and can absorb the “impact reaction” with less support from the muscles. As we need less & less muscular support we can become much more relaxed. This in turn enables us to move faster, conserve energy and actually do more damage with less effort!
This really is one of the biggest keys to combat side of martial arts.
This is why Tai Chi is considered an advanced martial art. It is something that martial artists progress to, after a “harder” style has already taught them good skeletal structure. It is not a martial art to start with (unless you are only interested in health and well being, which is of course perfectly acceptable).
The slow relaxed movements of Tai Chi are partly to teach you to use your ki/chi (internal energy) which is of course a controversial subject that not everybody will agree on. However, on a more scientific level, the slow deliberate moves of Tai Chi do teach good skeletal alignment and good posture. Doing movements slowly without correct alignment and posture, you will be more likely to loose your balance than if you do it fast.
Tai Chi is therefore (on some levels at least), a continuation of the learning alignment and posture that starts with the makawara, but taken to a much higher level. I personally think that Tai Chi is much more than this, but this one aspect of it.
Anyway, this brings us back to the makawara and hopefully you’ll have a better idea of its deeper purpose and benefits now. The makawawa was traditionally a bail of straw, tied to a post set solidly into the ground. This is not aways practical today. However, you can get wall mounted versions like the Deluxe Makawara Board which I’ve been asked to review.
I found it very good. It can take a lot of punishment and is hard wearing. It’s also quite convenient as you put it up almost anywhere that you have a solid wall. As it can’t flex (like the traditional wooden post), it has a little bit of give in from the hard foam under the canvas cover. This foam does eventually get a little bit compressed from continuous blows, so I would suggest trying to strike different parts rather than just hitting the centre each time. This particular makawara is a bit larger than most others, so it does allow you to move your point of impact around about a bit. A good addition to any traditional martial artists training regime.
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.
I have to say that so far, I’m impressed with it. It has all the toughness and ruggedness of other traditional gi’s, but being made from soft brushed cotton, it is very comfortable. So even us big roughty toughty Karate types can enjoy a little softness in our training 🙂
Seriously though, it is comfortable. I don’t know if it due to hardness of the water in the area I live, but my other gi feels like cardboard when it is freshly washed. That stiffness soon comes out with ironing or a bit of sweat (I really should iron my gi more often – what can I say – I’m a single guy)!!
My new Karate Depot gi however did not have that cardboard feel when fresh from the wash, it was still comfortably soft and I did not have that “breaking in” feeling at the beginning of a session that I do with the other gi.
I find that with some gi’s, the trouser draw-string gets a little bit stiff and does not always slide very well when putting them on. This draw-string however is very easy to do up. It is however still very new, but I believe that it is partly to do with the soft cotton that it is made from.
The gi is still very big on me, I should have probably chosen the size down, but never mind. I’m hoping it will shrink in the wash. Anyway if you want to know what it actually looks like on, you see me wearing it in video in the video in this earlier posting.
The only very trivial down side I can see with this gi is that is that the post wash creases don’t drop out so well as they do with my other gi. Oh well, I guess I’ll have to get the iron out after all !
Damo Mitchell was born into a family of martial artists. His father, Paul Mitchell (who is my Karate Sensei & Tai Chi teacher) and his mother, Chris, introduced him to Shotokan Karate & Yoga at the humble age of 4.
His studies led him through many styles and various weapons, until he settled to focus on internal Chinese martial arts. Damo has travelled to the Far East to seek out the very best of teachers and has studied not only the internal marital arts, but Qi Gong, Daoist Yoga, Nei Gong (internal change) and a whole range of related disciplines.
Since 2005 Damo has been a professional martial arts teacher who spends his time travelling, teaching and writing. He founded the Lotus Nei Gong Association and has already had several books published. Having trained under him myself, I can honestly say that he is a phenomenal teacher with a remarkable ability for his age.
He has a new book coming out which is due for release on July 15th. For anybody interested in internal arts, this is to be highly recommended.
July 15th is the official release date for Damo‟s new book on Daoist internal practices. It is being released by Singing Dragon in the UK and the US. Students within our school have all noticed that there is very little information on Nei Gong available in English. This book will serve to fill the gap in information as it matches exactly the methodology taught by Damo Mitchell and his senior students in Lotus Nei Gong classes. The book contains an overview of the entire process of Nei Gong as it is understood by Damo as well as looking in detail at several important foundational practices. These include, aligning the body, developing a healthy breathing pattern through the practice of Sung and beginning to awaken the energy system. The book also contains a detailed explanation of the Ji Ben Qi Gong exercises which are fundamental to Nei Gong as well as numerous photographs of Damo performing the movements. A large degree of the book is dedicated to Daoist philosophy in order to show how arcane Daoist theory was the seed from which the internal arts of Daoism sprung forth. Towards the end of the book are various sections which discuss the abilities which can be drawn from Nei Gong practice and the start of the alchemy process which enables a practitioner to systematically break down their acquired nature and so “return to the source”. This book is available to pre-order from either Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com as well as directly from the Singing Dragon website. Some sites offer pre-order discounts as well. Release Date: July 15th 2011 “This book drills down into the golden core of the ancient Chinese art and science of internal self-cultivation known as “chi gong,” or “energy work,” and after reading it, you’ll understand why chi gong is the best way on earth to protect your health, prolong your life, and clarify your awareness of both aspects of the “Three Treasures” of life–mortal body, breath, and mind; and immortal essence, energy, and spirit. Known simply as “nei gong,” or “internal work,” this inner alchemy may be learned and practiced by anyone. Written by a dedicated practitioner who verifies scholarly research with personal experience and illustrates ancient theory with contemporary practice, this book provides the Western mind with a clear-cut introduction to chi gong that informs as well as inspires the reader to practice.” Daniel Reid Author of Guarding the Three Treasures
“Over the holidays I had a very pleasant experience watching one Shotokan bunkai DVD. It is called Inside Bassai Dai created by Sensei Charlie Wildish, UK. I found the bunkai in it to be realistic and easy to learn. He demonstrates how some of the techniques are applied. I was particularly pleased to see the application for double uchi uke (inside forearm blocks). He interprets them as a uke followed by a uraken”.
I have trained under a number of senior Japanese and British instructors in my time. But none of them have been as dedicated to exposing the political, social and sporting influences on Karate which have altered the way we train and consequently watered down Shotokan as a martial art as is Shihan Yokota. This is why his personal endorsement is very special to me. If he approves then it not only means that I can be satisfied with my DVD, but my whole understanding of Karate as a real martial art (rather than just a sport) must be moving in the right direction.
It will be very difficult to get closer to the true source and understanding of real traditional Karate today than the teachings of Shihan Yokota. This is why I am very excited to have this endorsement and why I thank him very much for it.
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: email@example.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.
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
I was particularly looking forward seeing this one as it was a fusion of the 2 styles. Having made my own DVD, blending Karate and Kung Fu, I was keen to see somebody else doing a similar thing between different styles. I wasn’t disappointed. But first, their promotional trailer:-
Grandmaster Kim (Hapkido) and Master Bae (7th Dan TKD) introduce the DVD, explaining that it is aimed mainly at TKD students to emphasis the self defence aspects of the art. The masters felt that with since TKD became an Olympic sport there is so much emphasis on sport that the original self defence aspects of the art are sometimes overlooked. Master Kim explains that TKD has the speed and power, whereas Hapkido has the flexibility, pressure point and joint locking skills.
The DVD is well produced with step by step break down of movements. It emphasises that the student should not just try to memorize the movements, but learn the principles behind them. This I think is the best advice from the whole DVD as by learning the principles, these masters are giving the student the tools to go away and work things out for themselves. It brings to mind the old saying, give a man fish and you feed him for a day, teach him to fish and you feed him for life.
I did feel however, that the DVD sold TKD a bit short. Being a Karateka, I am aware that Karate was dumbed down when it went public. The vast majority of Japanese masters learned the dumbed down version, which TKD was also based on. However, many Karateka who also studied Kung Fu, Aikido, JuJutsu and others arts (or went back to Okinawa) soon recognised that the techniques in those other arts were the same as movements in their own Karate kata, but the applications were far more effective than the dumbed down applications they had been given in Karate. Many of these Karateka have brought this knowledge back into Karate and accepted it as being the original meaning of the art (rather than being an imported part from another style).
I believe that TKD being largely based on Karate is in the same position. The pressure point, joint locking applications are not missing from TKD, they have in many cases (though not all before anybody jumps on me) been lost or forgotten.
When General Choi took Karate back to Korea and started to formulate TKD, he would have influenced by the indigenous Korean martial arts such as Hapkido. So for TKD exponents to look at a sister art such as Hapkido is an excellent idea for them to re-discover what should have been there from the very beginning. Don’t look on Hapkido as something different, look on it as something that helps fill the gaps and completes your TKD knowledge.
I would recomend it, a good Christmas present if you know a TKD exponent.
This DVD is just about Hapkido and compliments the Mixed TaeKwon DVD very well. But first the trailer:-
This follows the same step by step format as the previous DVD, with break downs, close and wide angle views, parnter and solo practice drills. It establishes the underlying principles of Hapkido first, then these principle are used over and over again during the self defence scenarios demonstrated. A very good introduction to Hapkido for anybody interested in the style. Also good for TKD and Karate people who would like to explore further some of the seemingly obscure parts of their own style.