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.

 

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!

Advanced Karate Bunkai Course (Open To All Styles)

karate kata bunkai jutsu
karate kata bunkai jutsu

This course is another opportunity for interested martial artists to spend three hours studying the analysis of Shotokan Karate’s massive potential as a method of dealing with realistic acts of violence.   Many martial artists tend to spend the majority of their time training in grading related material and as such do not develop enough realistic Martial skills.  My Sensei, Paul Mitchell 5th Dan, has devoted much of his 30 years training studying practical martial Arts and he is happy to pass on his knowledge to any interested party regardless of style or discipline.  All grades welcome however juniors are required to be minimum 4th Kyu/Kup unless training with a parent.

It is on Sunday, 27 May, from 11:00 until 14:00.

Adults £15.00, Juniors £12.00.

The Venue is the Sports Centre, Wells Blue School, Wells, Somerset, UK (please bring a packed lunch).

To book your place please e mail: shotokankaratewells@hotmail.co.uk or telephone 01749 670105

For more info, please check out the Facebook Event Page.

Diaphragmatic Breathing In Martial Arts

Diaphragmatic breathing is used in many traditional martial arts, but I don’t think that all martial artists completely realise the full extent of how important this really is.  It actually helps us on a number of different levels.

But first though for anybody new to martial arts (or this concept) lets have a look at what diaphragmatic breathing actually is.  Most adults breathe into the top of their lungs and as they do so their shoulders and collar bones rise slightly.  But with diaphragmatic breathing, the diaphragm (which is a large internal muscle at the base of the lungs) is used.  This pulls down on the lower part of the lungs, opening up the whole of the lungs and thus pulling in more air (hence more Oxygen).  When breath is pulled in this way, the shoulders and collar bones do not rise.  However, as the diaphragm pulls down it displaces the lower torso organs and the stomach area in particular is pushed outwards.

Young children and animals naturally breathe this way.

Many people say that you “breathe into your stomach”.  This is of course not physically possible, but that is how it feels.  And sometimes looking for a feeling will help you to get the correct technique, even if it is not actually possible.

So lets look at some of the many ways in which diaphragmatic breathing helps us:

Technique

As above, when you pull the breath in with your diaphragm and it feels as if it is going down to your stomach (otherwise known as hara or dan tien).  This is where your centre of gravity is, so by having your focus on that part of your body, you can start to move more fluidly.  When you movement is generated by your centre of gravity the rest of your body follows naturally, whereas if you lead with shoulders or upper torso (which is common with beginners), you drag your centre of gravity which will slow you down and compromise fluidity.

When you inhale with your diaphragm it has a relaxing effect on the rest of the body.  Again this helps with the fluidity of movement as it helps to remove tensions from the rest of the body.

When you exhale rapidly from the  diaphragm, it allows you to generate rapid muscular movement to drive your strike/punch/kick into your opponent.  As the diaphragm is connected to the core muscles, it also assists with the over stability of your body and your ability to absorb any reaction force to the impact of your blow.

Masking Intent

In a conflict situation the last thing you want is for your opponent to know what you are planning to do and when you plan to move.  It is instinctive to inhale before launching an attack.  As mentioned above, most untrained people breath into the top of their lungs and their shoulders and collar bones rise up.  When you see this, you get a warning that you are about to be attacked.

Even if you did not know this fact and your conscious mind does not notice, your unconscious mind will notice and give you that intuitive feeling that something is coming, giving you that tiny fractional bit more time to prepare or react.

When you inhale with your diaphragm your shoulders and collar bones do not rise so you don’t give away this little warning signal, so your opponent has less chance to react or prepare for it.

Calming the mind

Much is written these days about the effects of adrenaline, especially by those who are into reality based martial arts, and that is a good thing.  One of the effects of adrenalin is that breathing becomes short and shallow.  Oxygen tends to be pumped into the limbs ready for fight or flight, but the brain receives less oxygen which blunts the ability to think a way out of the situation.  This can even lead to panic or freezing up.

Diaphragmatic breathing should be practiced during pressure training.  That way when you are in a real street conflict situation you are more likely to be able to maintain diaphragmatic breathing rather than resorting to the short shallow breathing.  This in turn allows you to draw in more oxygen which will allow you to function better both physically and mentally.  It will keep you calmer.

If can use this to keep your calm when you are facing a violent assault, you can also use it in other areas of your life (problems at work, exam nerves, relationship tensions, even just stressed when stuck in traffic).

intuition

This is tied in with the section on calmness above.  As mentioned earlier, the unconscious mind can pick up a lot of signals that the conscious mind misses.  This is when we have a feeling of intuition, when we just sense or feel something but don’t really know how or where this knowing comes from.

However, a mind that is in a state of panic will not access this intuition as well as a calm mind.  This is why you can sometimes fight/spar with a very experienced person and they just seem to read you like a book and know what your moves are almost before you do.  They respond with what seems almost supernatural reactions.  But what you notice from anybody with this ability is that they stay completely calm throughout, allowing themselves to access this intuition.

Health

Firstly, we need oxygen to live.  Oxygen has great healing properties and can even kill cancer cells.  Diaphragmatic breathing pulls more oxygen into the body then just breathing into the top of the lungs.

Also, toxins always gather in the body, including in the lungs.  Those who only breathe into the top of their lungs do not clear the toxins from the bottom of the lungs.  People who are used to diaphragmatic breathing will pull the breath right down to bottom of the lungs and clear these deep rooted toxins.

Congratulations To Paul Mitchell On Attaining His 5th Dan

I would like to say a huge congratulations to my friend and Sensei, Paul Mitchell, on attaining his 5th Dan.  Those who know and train with him will not be surprised as Paul has an enormous depth of knowledge and ability.  Although I have trained for a number of years, only 3 of which have been with Paul, he has had a huge influence on my outlook and direction in Karate.

Paul, (who also teaches Tai Chi), holds regular applied Karate seminars and Tai Chi course which are open to none club members.  These are well worth attending for anybody who wants to gain a deeper understanding of either of these arts.

Paul is currently working on his own book, which will be a “must buy” for all Shotokan Karateka.  More about that when it gets closer to being published.

He is pictured here being presented with his 5th Dan certificate by Pete Manning, Chief Instructor of the Traditional Shotokan Karate Association.

 

Do Our Training Methods Damage Our Bodies? (Part 2)

This post is following on from another posting that I wrote back in October 2011 about how some training methods introduced by the Japanese into Karate can be damaging to our bodies.

Going back further in Okinawan Karate history before Karate was introduced to Japan, they had the interesting concept of Shu-Ha-Ri, which I have discussed before.  However, to recap:

Shu:    means that you copy your master as closely as possible, to learn his techniques in as much detail as you can.
Ha:    means that once your technique is up to a good standard, you have the freedom to make subtle changes to suit your own physique and experiences.
Ri:    means that you have mastered the techniques to the extent that they are a natural part of you.  At this point the student may transcend the master.

This is not a far cry from Bruce Lee’s famous quote: “Absorb what is useful, reject what is useless, add what is specifically your own.”

The “Ha” part in particular tells us that it was expected for the advanced student to adapt their Karate to suit themselves.  Although there is a certain amount of leeway for us to do this today, we are still in the main confined to what our seniors tell us is our style.  We are not free to change our kata’s to do (for example) a Front Kick rather than a Side Snap Kick which we might struggle with.  Can you imagine the masters of old raised with the concept of Shu-Ha-Ri, insisting that their student continue to do a technique that damaged their joints, simply because it was always done that way?  If you want to train in the traditional manner, rather than a “traditional style”, then maybe you should consider making little changes to suit your own body.

To quote Matsuo Basho a haiku poet, we should progress:  “Not by blindly flowing the footsteps of the old masters, but by seeking what they sought”

There are a number of examples of Shu-Ha-Ri in modern martial arts.  I hope martial artists of other styles will forgive me for focusing on Shotokan Karate, but it is the style that I’m most familiar with, (though I’m sure other styles have similar examples).

Those of us who have trained in Shotokan Karate over the decades have instinctively known (especially in the early days) that something was missing.  Not just in the unrealistic bunkai that was taught to us by our Japanese masters, but sometimes technically in the art.  We would see films or read magazine articles about masters doing great feats with seemingly no effort, yet we were encouraged to put more and more effort into our training (overly exhaling and tensing to create kime) as we progressed.  That seemingly mystical ability to generate masses of power with little effort, derived from pure technique which we thought we would attain as we progressed, seemed to become more elusive as we rose through the grades.  Very few senior Sensei in those earlier days seemed to be able to show us anything except more of the same.  As my former Sensei, Graham Mead used to say, “ We were ending up with 2nd & 3rd Dans who were really just very good brown belts”.

However, over the years things have gradually changed and mainly for the better.  Sport science has obviously shown that fast movement requires relaxation rather than more tensing.  The emphasis on deep stances has relaxed (though Shotokan stances are still deeper than many others).  Little things like bending the back leg slightly in Zenkutsu Dachi (front stance) relieves the tension on the lower spine and hips has replaced the straight back leg which was common years ago.

These all help to reduce the damage to our bodies that many early practitioners suffered from.

The availability of many other martial arts have allowed exploration to fill the gaps and bring some of the answers back into mainstream Shotokan.

Master Hirokazu Kanazawa, 10th Dan and founder of the Shotokan Karate International, also studied Tai Chi.  When he taught around the world he would often have Tai Chi seminars alongside the Karate seminars.  His Karate has become much more softer and more relaxed than most others and he has inspired many Shotokan practitioners of all associations to take up Tai Chi (including me).

The Late Master Tetsuhiko Asai, 10th Dan, lived and taught in Taiwan form many years.  During this time he also studied White Crane Kung Fu, Dim Mak (critical nerve points) and Qi Gong.  He placed great emphasis on relaxation and using the body like a whip.  He was the founder of the Japan Karate Shotorenmei and brought his own special influences to bear on the Shotokan world.

These influences along with many others have led Shotokan Karate to become very varied depending on which association or instructor you train with.  Some versions are quite relaxed like the original Okinawan Karate making it a healthy art to practice, whilst others are still quite stiff like the early post war Karate which can be damaging.

Taekwondo too has also changed significantly over the years and now has many variations.  Some associations for example have introduced a sine-wave movement into their step to also create a more relaxed manner of moving.

Please add any other examples below of how any martial art has been adapted to make it healthier to train.

Do Our Training Methods Damage Our Bodies? (Part 2)

This post is following on from another posting that I wrote back in October 2011 about how some training methods introduced by the Japanese into Karate can be damaging to our bodies.

Going back further in Okinawan Karate history before Karate was introduced to Japan, they had the interesting concept of Shu-Ha-Ri, which I have discussed before.  However, to recap:

Shu:    means that you copy your master as closely as possible, to learn his techniques in as much detail as you can.
Ha:    means that once your technique is up to a good standard, you have the Continue reading “Do Our Training Methods Damage Our Bodies? (Part 2)” »

Are Traditional Martial Arts Any Use To Somebody Who Is Being Bullied?

My on-line friend Colin Wee, 6th Dan TKD, has proposed an Anti-Bullying Blogging Carnival.  As I used to be bullied a lot back in far distant school days, I thought this was a good idea, so this is my contribution to the Carnival.

The obvious answer the title question is of course, YES, traditional martial arts can help somebody who is being bullied; but there are some limitations that need to be taken into consideration.

For somebody just starting their training, traditional martial arts can take quite a while to learn up to a proficient standard.  Something like Kickboxing is simpler and can be learnt to a proficient level considerably quicker.  Confidence is quickly gained when hitting an actual target (like focus mitts or punchbag).  Traditional martial arts may have more depth and include a much greater range of techniques and capabilities (grappling, pressure points, grab releases, etc); but the emphasis on perfecting technique makes them more difficult and slower to learn.

For somebody who is being physically bullied NOW, taking up traditional martial arts alone may be a bit slow to produce results.

Another factor which is much more important however is the pre-fight build up and the emotional response to the threat of violence, which is often overlooked in traditional martial arts.  A fight can be won or lost before the first punch/kick is even thrown by one person intimidating the other and undermining their confidence.  Bullies routinely use this tactic as part of their build up; be it name calling, threatening, minor pushing around; all testing the response and intimidating their victim into a feeling of helplessness and fear.  This loss of confidence and fear leads to hesitations and even freezing at a critical moment making it even easier for the bully to dominate in a physical conflict as the victim can become too scared to even fight back.

Simplistically put, the bully psyches them-self up, whilst the victim is psyched down.

Some instructors who have been in a number of altercations in their younger days assume that the pre-fight stage is a matter of common sense once you know how to fight.  It may be common sense to somebody who has actually had experience at real fighting.  But it is not common sense to somebody who has not been in that position before and hasn’t had that experience.  It certainly is not common sense to somebody who has been routinely bullied and has developed an ingrained behaviour pattern of backing down and acting passively when threatened, they just don’t know anything else.  When under this type of pressure, blood goes to the limbs (for fight or flight) and away from the brain.  Therefore the  brain does not think very clearly and relies on instincts and experience.  If the last experience when being bullied was to act passively, then the chances are that they will act passively again.  Not always, sometimes they snap and go for it, but in most cases they will do more or less the same as before.

Many years ago, whilst rising up through the coloured belts in my Karate, I trained hard, was naturally flexible and had good technique for my grade.  However, when sparring or entering in a competition I would often not do very well, even when I was faster, sharper and had better technique than the person that I was facing.  I realised later that it was because I was not very aggressive and had a passive nature.  Yes, I was bullied a lot at school and no, I didn’t really stick up for myself.

So if I was not doing well in the relative safety of sparring and competition, what would have happened if I’d been involved in a street fight?

Many traditional martial arts give little consideration to the pre-fight stages of the conflict and how to deal with it emotionally or psychologically.  Many systems do include pre-arranged sparring routines which can be used to work this area and include emotional intensity/pressure.  When you face somebody who is going to come in at you fast and strong and if you don’t block, side step or evade, they’ll take your head off; then you do get used to dealing with the adrenaline and fear but it can take a long time.

Shortly after passing my black belt I was sparring with my Sensei.  Whilst he obviously got the better of me, I stood my ground quite well and made it work for it.  He said to me afterwards with a little smile, “what happened to that green belt that I used to be able to kick all around the dojo”?

Traditional martial arts training had made a big difference to me mentally and emotionally and by the time I had obtained my black belt I had overcome much of my limitations caused by my passive nature.  However, it had taken me nearly 4 years to get there.  For somebody who is being bullied NOW, that is a long time.

This is why I am in favour of reality based training which uses scenarios to de-sensitize people to the threats, abuse and taunts, and teaches them to function even under the effects of adrenaline and fear.  Humans always learn much more quickly when in an emotional state, which is why reality based training gets very quick results and change that freeze reaction to an active response.  As mentioned above, when under pressure the brain losses blood and relies on experience.  If you can simulate a realistic experience where the victim takes action (be it assertive verbal behaviour to dissuade an attacker, or actual physical fighting back), then that becomes the default experience the next time that person is in that situation.

One of the first times I did this kind on training there was a young lady who was a reasonably high grade in Taekwondo.  When the trainer (as part of the training scenario) venomously called her a “f***ing bitch”, she started to cry.  She had obviously been through some abusive experiences in the past, but her traditional martial arts training had not prepared her to emotionally deal with this simple abuse and she went straight into the old ingrained behaviour pattern.  However, she continued the exercise and learnt a new response to take away with her, so I applaud her courage for sticking with it.  She took a bigger step forward that day than the rest of us.

I would warn however, that although learning under heightened emotional pressure produces quick results, it also hard-wires the response.  So if you overcome the “freeze” response but swing wildly, then the wild swinging could become your hard wired (and not very effective) response.  This is why I believe that scenario based training (reality based training) is very beneficial, but it should be used sparingly and should NOT become the default training method.  Traditional martial arts are the best way to obtain the best long term results, but if you don’t have the time, then you need a little extra.

Martial Arts Perth

Shotokan Karate Magazine: My Article & Letter From Reader

I am honoured to have recently had a second article published in Shotokan Karate Magazine.  The article entitled Using “Whip” Technique, is available on this website for those who do not subscribe to Shotokan Karate Magazine.  Although it primarily relates to Shotokan Karate, it should be relevant to other styles too.

I have recently received an email from the editor John Cheetham informing me that the article has been well received and forwarding a letter from a reader.  I thought this letter raised some interesting points.

I have therefore responded to this letter and asked John Cheetham’s permission to reproduce the letter and my response here on this website.  John has kindly agreed, so here below is the readers letter:-

Dear John, I read your magazine (issue 111) with great pleasure, as always!
Time over time you manage to find interesting aspects and trigger discussions that are of great value. I thank you for that!

In issue 111, the article by Charlie Wildish especially caught my attention!
Even though I am just a humble 1st kyu, I have often thought about this method of whipping the techniques.  I found it to be very fast, and also I felt as if it took less energy to perform.

However, I was only really able to perform this somewhat successfully with a Gyaku Zuki (Reverse Punch). I have not really been able to apply the whipping effect in other techniques. Therefore, I wonder if you could ask Charlie to go into more detail of how to apply this for other techniques, including kicks.

The other thought that comes to my mind is that of possible injury during training.

First, I am thinking about how easily I could hurt my own joints due to the fact that I am performing such extremely fast movements with less tension on my muscles. What I am trying to say is that it is probably very difficult to fully control the movements and the stopping point (moment of impact) every time.  So I fear for my elbow.

The other worry that I have is with respect to injuries due to possible blocks that are performed against my whipped technique. In order to perform the whipping effect, I have to keep my arm ( e.g. Gyaku Zuki) extremely
relaxed. I hate to imagine, what a hard block, such as Soto Uke would do to my arm and elbow at that point (i.e. before I maximize the tension at the end).

Maybe these are stupid questions, but as, I too, am getting older, I am continuously thinking of ways to train healthily. As you get older, every
injury takes longer to heal, and coming back after a pause of training due to injury gets harder.

If you don’t want to publish this, I would be very grateful to hear your thoughts on this via Email. And also, maybe you could forward my questions to Charlie?

Thank you and best regards,
Frank Kretzschmar
(Bad Soden, Germany)

And my response to Mr Kretzschmar:-

Dear Mr Kretzschmar

Thank you for the positive feedback about my article.

Starting with hand techniques, you should be able to apply the whipping feeling to techniques other than Gyaku Zuki (Reverse Punch). The main points are:

  • Focus on generating movement from the hips.
  • Keep the torso as relaxed as possible so as to allow the hips to slightly lead the shoulders, thus creating the wave effect through the body (the wave culminates in the whip). 
  • Keep the hand/arm from moving as long as possible until the “wave” reaches the shoulders, then the hand will feel like it is being thrown rather than having to thrust it forward.

One of the easiest techniques (other than punching) to feel the “wave” is Age Uke (Rising Block), so maybe focus on that for a while till you have it, then put it into other techniques.

Kicks can use the whip too, but it is a bit more difficult. As power comes from the hips, it helps to pull the foot in as close as possible to the hip before releasing it to the target, (hence the emphasis on raising the knee).

Creating the wave through the body is about sequence. You will probably have to practice this slowly if it is not coming easily; but first raise the knee and bring the foot in as tight to the hip as possible without creating too much tension. Then move the hips/foot as one unit, then release the foot when the hip nears the completion of its movement. If you’re interested, I have actually produced a DVD which might help you understand this a bit better at: http://bunkaijutsu.com/store/

This is just brief overview (which I might expand on later).

I understand your concerns about the lack of muscular tension to protect your joints, but ironically you are less likely to damage your joints this way. With this relaxed technique, the joints actually open up lightly letting more fluids in which actually keep them lubricated. This is a Tai Chi principle. When somebody uses too much kime/tension, they actually pull the 2 sides of the joint together which more likely to create wear and tear. It also makes for a less efficient punch as the fist is actually being pulled slightly back by your own muscles rather than releasing all of the energy forward into the target.

The other factor is that when you have good structure, the reaction to impact is easily absorbed by the body’s skeletal system as the bones are in the correct alignment. For a fuller explanation of this, please see my article at the back of SKM Issue 110.

As for hard blocks like Soto Uke (Outside Block), the original function of this technique was not to block straight punches. Just try sparring with a club mate for a while where one can only do straight punches and the other can only do classical blocks (Soto Uke, Uchi Uke, age Uke etc). You’ll find that the blocks simply don’t work. On top of that, in a real self defence situation, you are more likely to be attacked by swinging haymakers rather than straight punches. The creators of Karate centuries ago (who had to fight for their lives, rather than points) would not spend so much time creating “blocks” that don’t work – to defend against attacks that are not likely to used.

Therefore (coming back to your question), the only time you’re likely to be blocked with a full Soto Uke (Outside Block) is when you’re doing pre-arranged sparring when you can if you deem necessary brace yourself as you know when its coming. Having said that, even without using the whip technique, the arm should still be relaxed when moving (only tensing on impact) and the Soto Uke should intercept it before it reaches that impact (or its too late – you’ve already been hit). Therefore, with respect, you should be used to being blocked with your arm relaxed.

I do not think that you are asking stupid questions at all. Quite the opposite, as we get older we are wise to take our age into account, it would be stupid not to 🙂
I am luckily that my own Sensei, Paul Mitchell, is very aware of this subject. One of his sayings is “young people should use the full dexterity of their bodies, older people should do it properly”. An example of what he means by this is that high kicks are good for youngsters to develop their bodies, but not effective for self defence, so older people should keep their kicks to a practical height (doing it properly for self defence).

I hope this answers your questions to your satisfaction.

Best Regards

Charlie

Please leave your own feedback below if you found this useful, or if you would like to add your own knowledge to my answer.  I always welcome input from others.

“Sinking” In Your Stance At The End Of A Technique

In many martial arts we are taught that on the climax of our technique we should “sink” into our stance.  I will admit that if my knees are sore, I sometimes find this quite difficult to do.

But firstly, why do we do it?  “Sinking” at the climax of out technique is a way improving our skeletal structure and helping us for form an immovable “root” to the ground, thus enabling us to more efficiently absorb the reaction energy to any impact from our blows.  Or more correctly, we don’t absorb the that reaction energy as it tries to go through our structure, finds the immovable ground, and is rebounded into our opponent again (so he gets it twice).

So why do a lot of people struggle with it?

Although you obviously have to bend your knees more in order to sink, if you focus on bending your knees then ironically it will probably not come easily.  It’s a little bit like doing a squat, the more you bend the knees, they more you intuitively tense your legs to absorb the weight!

In some styles  such (as in the early versions of Shotokan exported from Japan) there was an over exaggerated exhalation/tension in order to produce kime (focus).  I remember being taught to tense the whole body including the legs, which will obviously make it them a bit more resistant to bend, in order to sink further.

Also, if you have knee pains, you intuitively tense the muscles around them in order to prevent your knee bones/cartilage/ligaments/tendons/etc from moving about too much (hence less pain).  I know this from personal experience.  But this tension makes it difficult for you to bend the knees more and sink.

The best ways to “sink” into your stance is by getting the right feeling rather than focusing on a physical movement itself, because focusing on physical movement tends to make you focus on muscles, hence – tension.  Some say it is like “falling down a hole”, but obviously you stop yourself before going too far.

Different things will work for different people, but I’d like to share something that has worked for me.

We are usually taught in most martial arts to “breathe into your stomach” (or hara/dan tien).  This is of course not actually physically possible as the air we breathe in goes into our lungs and can’t get passed the diaphragm to our stomach.  Our diaphragm moves down and displaces our internal organs, so that it feels like we’re breathing into our stomach.  In fact it’s a visualisation that we use help get the right breathing technique.  It is however a very popular visualisation which most of us are taught right from the very beginning.

We can however build on this.  When you want to sink in your stance as you exhale, try to visualise the breath leaving the stomach through the legs, to the feet and out into the ground.  If you focus on the breath going down (rather than your weight going down), you should find it relatively easy to sink slightly without unnecessary tension.  The whole process becomes much more relaxed and natural movement which is what we should be aiming for.

I actually learnt this through Tai Chi, but have applied it to my Karate.  Of course, once your body gets used to the correct feeling, you can drop the visualisation as your body will know what you are looking for, but it is a useful tool to help get that feeling in the first place.