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

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

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

So who is Shihan Kousaku Yokota?

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

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

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

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

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

Yokota is thorough in his research and explanation.  I therefore commend Shotokan Myths not only to Shotokan Karateka, but to all styles that have Shotokan in their lineage.

UPDATE:
You can now get this book from Amazon:-

In the UK

 

In the USA

Kata Bunkai for Nujishiho (Niseishi) Part 3

In the last video Keith I posted on this blog, we looked at the rather odd sequence near the end of kata Nujishiho (Niseishi), where the movements do not fit the usual way of generating power in Karate (or at least, not the Shotokan way of doing this kata) and the chambering position of the reaction hand is unusual too.  If you haven’t seen that post, then it might make more sense to read that one first, then come back to this one.

I had planed to show 2 applications to that sequence in the last post, but my SD card on my camera maxed out and I could only get the one application.  So here is the second one that I had wanted to show you.

I know that some other styles do this kata differently, so please tell us about it and let us know if you think this would work for your version.


[Nujishiho bunkai]

Kata Bunkai For Nijushiho/Niseishi Part 2

Nijushiho is one of my favorite katas.  I passed my 2nd Dan with it more years ago than I care to remember.  I posted about it’s opening sequence in September.   This time we look at one of the sequences towards the end.

The version of the kata that I describe is the Shotokan version which of course may be performed differently in other styles.  In the Shotokan version, this is an unusual sequence as we step into horse stance and perform an upper rising elbow strike at approximately a 45 degree angle, shuffle sideways and perform a punch (in direction of shuffle) at the same time as our reaction hand comes back to our ear (instead of the hip), then we shuffle back and perform a lower block.

The elbow strike is obvious enough, but why the shuffle/punch.  If we wanted to deliver a finishing punch, why not rotate the hips and put more power into it?  This punch is unique in Karate.  We have similar punches in the Tekki (Naihanchi) katas where perform and hook punch and later a double punch, both parallel to our horse stance.  But these punches in Tekki still have some hip movement (often referred to a hip “vibration”).  There is no hip vibration in this punch in Nijushiho.  The only thing that powers it is the speed of the arm and the shuffle, which although still fairly powerful, it is still weaker than most other Karate punches.

Why do we chamber our reaction hand by our ear instead of our hip?

The chambering by the ear could be for the down block to follow, but even that leads to more questions.  If you’ve just elbowed somebody to the head then punched them, they should not be in a fit state to attack you back, so you shouldn’t need to block.  And if you are blocking them, why does the kata then turn you in a different direction rather than finishing off the guy who has just attacked you?

Most of you will realise that blocks can also be strikes, so maybe this is a strike.  However, it is done as you shuffle away from your target.  Usually you move your body weight in the direction of the strike, not away from it.  So this lower block (arguably) is not likely to be either a block or strike in the conventional sense.

This would leave me to conclude that the unusual chambering position (by the ear instead of hip) may be doing something in conjunction with the unusual punch.  Have a look at our video to see what we think.

PS:  I did have another application lined up, but my SD card was full.  I’ll put that bunkai on another time.
PPS:  If your style performs this kata but does this sequence differently, then please tell us about it.

Nijushiho

 

Back To Basics With Al Peasland

Al Peasland (5th Dan with the British Combat Association, 3rd Dan Traditional Karate and internationally renowned teacher) wrote an interesting article on “Back To Basics”.  In this article he compares an experience he had learning to ski with how he teaches self protection.  He spent most of the time learning how to do “the plough” (position where the front of the skis point inwards, forming a triangular plough shape).

Al asked why they spend so much time in the plough position when it is not the way that they do “real skiing”.  The instructor explained that practicing the plough gives you control over the snow, when you have that, the rest of the fancy stuff can be mastered.  But without control over over the snow, the ability to ski fast, turn and (most importantly) to be able to stop; will be very difficult to learn.  When you see a good skier whizzing down a slop, skis parallel, twisting and turning around obstacles, you don’t see the plough.  Yet without learning the plough first, you would not see the speed and agility.

So (as Al explains) it is with martial arts and self protection.  Without learning the basic stances, basic techniques and sparring/drilling routines, you would not have a very a structure that you could use under pressure.

Although I am a further down the martial arts food chain than Al, I agree entirely.  People often talk of “muscle memory”.  However, muscles don’t have memory, only the brain does.  When you do a movement, any movement, or even a particular behaviour pattern, you fire a series of tiny electrical signals across the brain.  These are the parts of the brain that control that movement or behaviour.  When you repeat a movement over and over, those tiny electrical signals get stronger and the brain forms more links inside to carry the stronger signals.  This is called a “neural pathway” through the brain.  It is here, rather than the muscle that the memory of movement is stored.  The more we practice a movement over and over again, the stronger and bigger that neural pathway becomes, until eventually we no longer have to put in any conscious thought, we just fire the neural pathway and instinct takes over.

This is what we want when under pressure.  We want such strong, deeply rooted neural pathways, that we don’t need to think about how to punch/strike/kick etc.  We just want to be able to think this is it, action, and the rest just happens automatically.  The main difference between a master and a beginner is not necessarily their strength or physical prowess, it is the strength of these neural pathways, forged by years and years of repetition.

People often look for the quick fix (which is human nature).  Partly for that reason, pressure point fighting has become popular over recent years.  However, as I’ve said before, if you don’t know how to hit, if you can’t move with speed and accuracy, you will not be able to strike pressure point targets effectively.

Whatever your style of martial art, practice basics, basics then some more basics.  It is the only way to really be able to perform under pressure.  I promote the use of practical bunkai on this blog, but without good basics you will struggle to make them work.

I liken it to the foundations of a building.  The first thing the builders do is to dig a bloody great hole and fill it in with ugly cement and steel.  When the nice new shiny building is finished, you don’t see those foundations, you don’t see that hole and cement.  You only see the building on top.  But without that cement filled hole, the building would easily collapse.  So it is when you see a great fighter performing great athletic feats, breaking boards, fancy jumping kicks or annihilating an opponent.  You don’t see the years that the same fighter spent in a basic stance practicing a basic technique over and over again until he/she had a really deep foundation and incredibly strong neural pathways.

And let face it, if it was easy to learn in a few weeks, then all the muggers and predators would have done it to, so they would know what we know.  What sets us aside as martial artists is that we take the time to study and to evolve.  And in so doing we not only become better able to defend ourselves, but we become better human beings in the process.

Wing Chun: Finishing Quickly

Here’s a video where Keith takes the lead for a change (gives me a break) 🙂  Although Keith practices more Choy Lee Fut these days, his base style always used to be Wing Chun (which I trained with him for a while).  One of Wing Chun’s characteristics is its very fast multiple attacks, or as one instructor puts it; “be all over them like a rash”.

This is an effective fighting method.  However, during his time teaching, Keith noticed that sometimes people get a bit too focused on the rapid multiple attacks and forget to put in any real power into their techniques or to aim for good finishing targets.  This is not a criticism of Wing Chun, it’s just a mistake that sometimes people fall into.

Although emphasising fast close quarters techniques, Wing Chun practitioners can still develop a lot of power and finish fights very quickly, which is especially important with multiple opponents.  You don’t want to be caught hitting somebody 20 times, whilst their mates are trying to hit you too.  So in the following video, Keith reminds people of ways to use Wing Chun to finish a fight very quickly by being selective in your targets, rather then getting drawn into hitting them too many times, which sometimes ends up becoming very “slappy”.

Reveiw Of Focus Mitts

I’ve been asked by Karate Depot to do a review on some of their focus mitts for them.  I am under no obligation to give a falsely positive review, just my honest opinion.

To be honest, my first thought was “what can I say about focus mitts“.  After all a focus mitt is a focus mitt, they are not complicated pieces of equipment and as long as they can withstand the impact then they do their job!

However, Keith and I gave them a good thrashing to test them out and we both found something that we liked.  For me, it was the Velcro strap at the back to secure the pad to the wrist.  I usually find with focus mitts that when they get hit hard they tend to slip off and I’m almost “clawing” with finger-tips to keep them in place.  With the strap secured tightly around the wrist, this was very much reduced.  Simple but effective.

For Keith, he liked that fact that there was no little patch sown into the center of the striking surface, which sometimes splits the skin.

Only time will tell if they are durable, but they seemed tough enough.  Overall, we liked them and would be happy to recommend them.  Just click on the image to go their website.