John Johnston Is Awarded His 7th Dan

Pictured above is John Johnston being awarded his 7th Dan Shotokan Karate by Geoff Thompson and Dev Barrett at Dev Barrett’s Dojo in Coventry which is the hometown and birthplace of these 3 great men.

Dev Barrett is a former world champion kickboxer from the old school era when there was only was one world championship, unlike today were we numerous champions.

Geoff Thompson 7th Dan is the co-founder of the British Combat Association, author of 40 books (published in 20 languages), five multi-award-winning films, three stage plays, hundreds of articles (many published in national magazines and broadsheets) and a BAFTA award winner.

 

Dev Barrett 7th Dan said “Congratulations to John, a great Karate-ka who’s time has been more than served for this award.  John is genuine, experienced and knowledgeable and it was an honour to be involved in his presentation”.

Geoff and Dev are lifelong Friends of John’s.  Geoff Thompson said, “John Johnston is one of the few remaining giants of Traditional Karate.  He is a power house.  All of my formative training was under the auspice of this great teacher.  I owe him the world.  If you can get to train with him, you won’t regret it. I highly recommend him”.

If you are interested in taking up Geoff’s recommendation, then Sensei John Johnston is putting on a course at Dev Barrett’s Dojo on 1st December 2012.  Part of Sensei Johnston’s teaching style is to encourage people to find what suits them best rather than being prescriptive.  As such, this course is open to all grades of any style (not just Karateka).   The only restriction is that it is for adults only due to the content.  For full details see the poster below.

See you there!

 

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Martial Arts: A Mental Rehearsal For Success

In neuro-linguistic programming (NLP), they have a technique called Mental Rehearsal.  This is where we know that we have a particular situation coming up and we rehearse/visualise how we want it to go in our minds a number of times before the actual event.  It could be a grading or a competition.  Or it could be an everyday life event like a works meeting where we have to make a presentation or a job interview.

It is often said that we only use about 10% of our brains.  I think it would be more correct to say that we only consciously use 10%.  Our unconscious minds control many of our behaviours and automatic responses, but can be accessed with various techniques.  The strange thing about our unconscious minds is that it does not know the difference between what is real and what is imagined.  For example, have you ever been watching a scary film and found your heartbeat increasing or your breathing getting shallow and quick (effects of adrenalin).  Then the villain jumps out unexpectedly with a burst of dramatic music and nearly jump out of your seat.

Why did you react like that?  You know that you are safe in your home, watching the TV, on your sofa right?.  You know that it is just a film with actors so it’s not real, you know that the villain cannot hurt you in any way whatsoever.   Yet you still had a physical and emotional response!

Or should I say your conscious mind knows those things.  Your unconscious mind thinks it real, so your body reacts accordingly.  Then your conscious mind reminds you where you are and you calm down again.

This is just one example of how much the unconscious mind controls us without us even realising.  So if you can deliberately access the unconscious mind and use it in a positive way which helps you, then you have a very powerful tool.

Mental Rehearsal is using visualisation.  Of course as it is our visualisation we control the outcome, which (if we’re doing it right) will always be successful.  Having succeeded many times in our minds, when we go into the real event we have added confidence because we’ve already done it a number of times (and remember that our unconscious mind thinks that we’ve done it for real).

In our basics and even more so in our kata/forms/patterns, as well as practicing the physical techniques, we should be visualising taking on multiple assailants and winning.  Yes, there are many arguments about the realism and effectiveness of the applications (bunkai) to the movements.  That’s a topic I’ve discussed many times elsewhere.  But as we perform those movements with our bodies, we should be training our minds to expect many victories in many situations.

Now I’m not suggesting that if we perform a lot of kata that we can become cocky and happily take on a whole gang of would attackers because we’ve defeated multiple assailants in our minds many times before.  But kata with correct visualisation is a tool for focusing the mind and will so that they work in conjunction with your physical movements rather than undermining you with doubt and fear.  It will help you to develop an indomitable spirit.

It is similar in pre-arranged sparring routines.  Again there is a lot of argument over how practical these are and again that is not subject of this post.  But as with kata, alongside the physical techniques they provide a good mental training aspect too.  We don’t need to visualise as we do in kata as we actually have a real person facing us.  But we still get the chance to work the mind and put in full mental ferocity into our block/parry and counter.  When we get adept at it and can block/parry and counter accurately, it is also worth noting that the defender “wins” each encounter.  So our unconscious mind gets used to the idea that we always win when attacked and expects to keep getting this outcome, even if it is a bit messier in a real life situation.

It could be argued that if the defender is training to “win”, then is the attacker training to “lose”?  I would say not really as the attacker’s only real objective is to complete the technique to make the defender work.  This again the attacker usually succeeds at!  Pre-arranged sparring is primarily an exercise for the defender.

It has been said many times by many masters both from the past and modern day that fighting is more mental than physical; yet this is seldom explained in any depth.  The physical aspects are obvious.  Although many traditional martial arts methods are quite indirect and even impractical sometimes from a real combat point of view, they do contain many elements of mental preparation and expectation of success (mental rehearsal for success).

“In combat it is absolutely vital that the correct mental attitudes are adopted.  It will not be the most technically competent person that wins the fight but, more often than not, it will be the one with the strongest mind”.
From Ian Abernethy’s book :  Bunkai Jutsu The Practical Application Of Karate Kata (Chapter 2: Performing The Katas)

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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.

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?

I don’t doubt that self development/perfection of character has always been part of the training, but I do doubt that it would have been the main focus when your very life could be on the line.  However, it helps to have a look at what was happening in Japanese society when Funakoshi went to Japan and what Funakoshi’s own goals would have been.

Funakoshi travelled to and demonstrated Karate in Tokyo, Japan in 1922.  At that time Japan was modernising very fast.  Japan had been almost completely isolationist under the Tokugawa Shogun until being forcibly opened up by the American fleet in 1853.  This humiliation led to the overthrow of the Shogun and the reinstatement of the Emperor in 1868 (Meiji Restoration).  From this point on, Japan under the Emperor eagerly and hungrily absorbed whatever it could from the West, not least of all in terms of weapon and armaments.

Having found that raw recruits with a few hours training could easily shoot and kill a charging Samurai with several decades of training, it is understandable that traditional martial arts were being seen as obsolete from the a real combat point of view.  The rival clans and warlords had lost their power which had shifted from clan Samurai to the new Japanese military forces answerable only to the Emperor and Japanese government.   Japan was moving ahead more and more as a single formidable unit and developing it Imperial ambitions overseas.

From August 1894 to April 1895 Japan had fought China for control of Korea and had won.

From February 1905 to Sept 1905, Japan fought Russia over Korea and Manchuria and again came of best.

Parallel to this, it is interesting to note that after the death of the King of Okinawa (exiled in Tokyo since the Emperor regained control of Japan), Yasutsune Itosu started to teach Karate publicly in Okinawan schools in 1905.  He was then 71 and this was the first time that he’d taught publicly.  By 1905 Okinawa had been much more integrated into being part of Japan rather than just an occupied territory.  An ambitious Japan had military conscription and it had been noted that youths with Karate training had better physiques and took to military training better than those without Karate training.

So what were Itosu’s motives behind this sudden change in policy and teaching this previously secret art to the public for the first time?  It is hypothesised by Bruce Clayton PhD in his brilliant book, Shotokan’s Secret, that the bodyguards would have had some kind of oath of secrecy to the King of Okinawa.  When the king died in exile, the oath was no longer binding so Itosu was free to teach publicly.

Gichin Funakoshi demonstrating on a makawawa

 

As Karate trained youths performed better when conscripted, arguably this sudden expansion of Karate training was to prepare young men for war.  This may sound horrifying to us today, but that was a different society with different values and unquestioning loyalty to the Emperor was an important social value.

So bearing in mind that traditional martial arts were seen as obsolete from a combat perspective, and that you don’t really want school children damaging themselves too much in a playground brawl, what do you suppose was the emphasis of the teaching?  Most likely the emphasis would have been to toughen up young men physically and mentally.  Not for self defence in the usual (Western) sense of the words, but so that they could be physically and mentally tough when fighting with bullets, bombs and bayonets.  Being mentally tougher to serve the Emperor without question (and without mercy to the enemy) would have been “perfection of character” under those societal conditions.

But before we condemn, the British Empire (and other colonial powers in their day) committed many atrocities to build their empires.  We also taught our you men at school similar “values” to protect “king and country”.  This was considered normal and patriotic at that time.

Later in 1922 when Funakoshi travelled to Tokyo, many Japanese martial arts had already transformed from their combat form (Jutsu) to self development form (Do).  Judo had been created from Ju Jutsu, Aikido had been created from Aiki Jutsu and so on.  Furthermore the Japanese tended to look down on the Okinawans who they saw as a bit primitive and backward, so for Funakoshi to gain acceptance of his Okinawan art, he had to go with the flow of Japanese martial arts and emphasis the “Do” as well.

Funakoshi’s main sponsor in Japan was Jigoro Kano, creator of Judo.  Kano also worked for the Ministry of Education and represented Japan as the first Asian member of the International Olympics Committee (IOC), so he was a very influential ally to have.  As Kano had changed his combat Ju Jutsu into a sport and a Do, Funakoshi would have been obliged to do similar things with Karate.

That said, I do believe that Funakoshi took the self development side very seriously and was very genuine in his beliefs.  Unlike his teachers, he had never been a bodyguard, facing superior numbers of armed men.  Furthermore, there are hardly any records of Funakoshi getting involved in any real fights.  This goes back to his early years too, when he would have likely learnt the combat emphasis of the art.  In later years in Japan, Funakoshi was challenged many times by Japanese Judo and Ju Jutsu exponents, keen to show that their art was superior to this strange new art from backward Okinawa being introduced by this diminutive Master.  But Funakoshi consistently refused all challenges as he believed that it would be dishonourable to himself and his art.  It is unlikely that Funakoshi declined out of fear.  Funakoshi’s master, Itosu, at the age of 75 had been challenged by a Judo expert who thought that Judo should be taught in Okinawan schools rather than Karate.  Having dispatched his opponent (who was about half his age) with just one punch, Itosu applied first aid and left.

Funakoshi would have probably been able to do the same and gain respect and credibility for the effectiveness of Karate at the same time.  It could have been a good way to speed up Japanese acceptance and gain more students, but Funakoshi was adamant that he would not lower himself.  So this (and many other stories) would indicate that Funakoshi was indeed a man of great integrity and honour.  He did not just say that Karate was about self development, he lived according to what he taught.

In his autobiography he recalls how just after the Second World War ended Japan was in chaos and people were starving.  On his way home, he was accosted a by a younger man who tried to rob him.  Funakoshi was in his senior years and very short.  As the young man swung at him, Funakoshi easily evaded, then grabbed and squeezed the other mans testicles.  Most of us would say fair enough the young man deserved it.  But as Funakoshi reflected he realised that the young man probably had a family to support and acted out of character in shear desperation.  He was overcome by a terrible feeling of guilt and shame that he would have caused this man excruciating agony when he was already in such desperate circumstances.  Not many of us would have been so generous to a man who had just tried to mug us.  Most of would have proudly recalled the story of how we gave some young thug what he deserved.  Funakoshi was truly a man of great character and honour, no doubt his Karate training had a great deal to do with this.

 

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Conflict De-escalation: The Broken Record

One method of de-escalating a conflict is an old technique called “the broken record”.  It can be used when somebody is being confrontational and is intent on picking an argument with you, which you don’t want to get sucked into.

Just to be clear, this is primarily for use for verbal altercations, which have the potential to escalate, rather than when somebody is trying to actively pick a physical fight (though it does have some applications there too).  The idea is basically to repeat a simple phrase over and over, rather than responding to the other persons verbal attacks.  You answer like a broken record stuck in the groove (might be before some people’s time for those born in the digital era  :) )

In most cases if you try to answer the verbal attacks the aggressor will simply try to shoot down your answers and come back with more and more verbal attacks.  Often he/she will have no interest in discussing the matter and finding any resolution, they simply want to belittle and/or intimidate you.  So why waste your time and energy explaining your point to somebody who has no interest in reasoning and no interest in listening other than to find a new line of attack?  They are only interested in looking for more ammunition from whatever you say to use against you.  So why give it to them?

A recent incident reminded me of this.  Whilst driving through a roundabout, myself and a car behind me were both taking the opposite exit and going straight ahead.  He tried to pass me on the roundabout and when I continued straight ahead he felt that I’d cut him up.  He tooted at me and not wanting any trouble I ignored him.  Then he continued to drive too close to my car  in an unsafe manner, trying to intimidate me.

I saw in my mirror a very young lad who looked like a strong gust of wind would blow him over.  He gesticulated several times angrily with his hands and I ignored him.  There was also a young lady beside him.

When we came to the next roundabout, I just figured that this was not worth it so I made a complete circle on the roundabout so that he could get ahead of me and be on his way.  This seemed to work and away he he went.

However, when he realised that I was now behind him, he pulled into a lay-by to wait for me, then pulled in behind me when I passed.  I kept an eye on him as he followed me for several miles down the road.  When we reached the city I pulled of into a side road where I was working and stopped to check the map.  He followed me into the side road, passed me, turned round then drew up next to me with his window down.  I wound my window down.

The conversation went something like this:

Young driver:  “What’s your problem then”?

Me:  “What do you mean”?

Young driver:  “Cutting me up on that roundabout”.

After a brief explanation/discussion, it quickly became clear that he was a boy trying to act how he erroneously thought men behaved.  I’d guess that he was trying to impress the young girl who sat silently looking very uncomfortable throughout the whole incident.

Me:  “OK, you’re a big man, you’ve made your point.  Now move along”.

Young driver:  “It’s not about that.   You ought to learn how to f***ing drive”!

I could have pointed out that I’d been driving since before he was born, that I’d driven all over this country and on the continent (where they drive on the other side of the road), that I’d driven big vans/small lorries and hardly ever had any accidents at all.  But in his youthful wisdom he’d have just rubbished all that and probably told me that I whatever I’d done before, I was a bad driver now or that I should know better!  So why waste my breath and give him more ammunition.

Me:  “Just move along”.

Young driver:  “You just can’t admit that you’re wrong”!

I could of explained/argued that I was not in the wrong and corrected him, but he wouldn’t have accepted any of it and just argued that I was in the wrong.  So why waste my breath?

Me:  “Just move along”.

Young driver:  “You’re just a knob” (British slang for part of the male anatomy).

I could have returned the insult, because if he got physical he was clearly no match for me.  But he would have continued to give even more abuse; then what do I do, continue hurling yet more and more abuse back at him?

Me:  “Just move along”.

At this point, the young driver did move along.  He probably felt satisfied that he’d given some older guy a piece of his mind (not that he had much to spare) and impressed the young lady with how tough he was.

OK, with hindsight there was a couple of things that perhaps that I could of done better.  I could have simply apologised right at the very start, even though I didn’t think that I was in the wrong.  It’s only a matter of pride, but it saves time and energy.  I could have probably left out the comment about “OK, you’re a big man, you’ve made your point”, as that was unnecessarily provocative.  But then it’s always easy with hindsight.  And yes, I admit that I did let my pride get in the way a bit!

But the most important thing is, I just kept repeating a simple phrase in a nonchalant manner so that no matter how hard he tried, he was not able to escalate the confrontation or use anything else against me.  He very quickly ran out of things to say.   Wanting to beat the other person in an argument is only a matter of ego and as martial artists we should be above that.  I could probably have argued with him for a good half hour.  I might even of won the argument, but so what if I did!  How would it improve my life by spending a lot of time and energy getting one up on a cocky young lad with no real life experience?  The best result for me was simply to get rid of him quickly and efficiently without taking up too much time or energy and the broken record was the best way.

Whatever phrase you use will depend on the situation.  It just has to be something that they can’t take anything from and use against you to escalate things.

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Kata Bunkai for Shorin Ryu Pinan Shodan (Heian Nidan)

This is something that has been discussed on my Facebook page before, but I wanted to go into more depth with it.  Most traditional martial arts have been dumbed down.  Karate applications (Kata bunkai) were dumbed down when the Okinawans decided to introduce it into their school system in the late nineteenth century.  This dumbed down version was taught to the Japanese and from there to the Koreans.

Kung Fu too has suffered.  The Chinese were at first very reluctant to teach martial arts to anybody who was not full blooded Chinese.  Later it was realised that it could be quite financially lucrative to do so!  However, in the main they still held back a lot from Westerners.  It is known that when the legendary Master Ip Man was teaching Wing Chun to Bruce Lee, he held back some of the more advanced secrets because Bruce Lee was not full blooded Chinese.  If Bruce Lee was not taught the full system, what makes any Westerners think that they have been?

So moving on to the point of this post, I want to look at the end sequence of Shorin Ryu’s Kata (form/pattern), Pinan Shodan, as evidence of how Kata has been changed by people who most likely did not understand the meaning of the moves.  In particular I draw your attention to the end sequence which finishes with a Downward Block (Gedan Baria) followed by an Upper Raising Block (Age Uke).

You will notice that the performer goes into a fairly a low stance for the Lower Block, but very deliberately rises up when he performs the Raising Block.  Now if he was in fact actually “blocking” a punch, then it would make sense to move his head away from the punch.

It makes no sense at all to “block” a punch by pushing it upwards, as you move your head upwards at the same time.  If you don’t completely clear the attacking punch, then you are moving your head right into the firing the line.  In fact you probably end up with your throat in the position where the original attacking punch was aimed, which is even more dangerous.

If this so called Rising “Block” was actually an upward strike using the forearm to smash up under the chin and into the neck (which many martial artists now accept it as being), then it makes much more sense for the whole body to rise up.  One of the principles of linear Karate (such as Shorin Ryu) is that the techniques are powered by the momentum of the body movement.  In this case, the body momentum is clearly moving upwards and would be a great way to power an upward strike.  If you look at the above video closely again, you’ll note that as the performer executes the Raising Block, he actually steps through in a relatively low stance and only rises up at the end of step as he actually executes the technique.

The other consideration (which has been discussed many times before in very many places) is why would a Kata finish with a “Block”?  It means that your attacker is still able to continue attacking you.  Viewing this technique as a “strike” makes more sense as you can incapacitate your attacker and the fight/assault is over.

Now fast forward Shorin Ryu as it develops into Shotokan Karate.  The Downward Block and Raising Block sequence are performed at the same level without the performer raising up as he performs the Rising Block.

So why did this change?

It changed because the Japanese did not know that this technique was actually supposed to be a “strike” and it is not in their culture to question the master.  If you view this technique as a “block”, then there is no advantage in rising up as you execute the technique (in fact it would be a distinct disadvantage as mentioned above).  So as with many other movements within Kata, there was a lot of standardisation.  The heights of the stances were standardised so that the stances all stayed the same height throughout.

Of course many styles have been derived from Shotokan, so this is very much the norm in the majority of the Karate world today.  This is why I always encourage martial artists of any style to look at their Kata/patterns/forms with a questioning mind.  Also, don’t get hooked into looking for why your style is superior to others; instead look at other styles (especially your styles predecessors) to find out what has been changed and why.

The Japanese changed a lot of the Okinawan Katas because they did not understand the true meanings.  The Koreans changed a lot of their patterns to make them “more Korean” (hide the Japanese influences).  I don’t know so much about history of Kung Fu forms, but I do know some associations that train a very large number of forms yet barely scratch the surface of the applications.

Always question and always think for yourself!

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