Friday, August 1, 2014

Ruuchuu Buji

The kanji in the picture below are pronounced "Ruuchuu Buji" in Uchinaaguchi or "Ryukyu Bugei" in Japanese. The word Ruuchuu (Ryukyu) is used instead of Uchinaa / Okinawa as a nod to the Ryukyu Kingdom (Ruuchuu Kuku / Ryukyu Okuku), which existed until the late 19th century, and to show respect to the entire Ryukyu archipelago and its culture. The term "buji" (bugei) is the old Okinawan term for martial arts. Unlike budo, the word buji (bugei) has the connotation of pre-Meiji martial traditions focused primarily on a practical approach to functional fighting skills. The goal of the this of blog is to increase awareness of old-style practical Okinawan martial arts (Ruuchuu Buji as opposed to shinbudo karatedo) and to encourage their practice and preservation.

The picture shows a fist formation called Keikoken and is a type of foreknuckle strike. The thumb is used to properly brace the joints of the index finger allowing it to support/transmit a large amount of force. It is used to attack anatomically vulnerable areas of the body. The art of attacking especially weak anatomical structures is a sub-science of old Ruuchuu Buji called "chibudi" (tsubo-te). Interestingly, this fist formation was also used in old systems of health oriented massage which typically focused on a number of the same anatomical locations (chibu/tsubo).

© 2014 Ryan Parker (all rights reserved)
The fist is superimposed over the Mon (family emblem) of the Ryukyu Monarch, which is now widely used as a symbol for Okinawa and the Ryukyu archipelago. Sometimes called the Hidari-Gomon or a Hidari Mistudomoe, it was a symbol of Hachiman (a war deity) the tutelary kami of the Minamoto clan. According to The Chuzan Seikan, the first official history of the Ryukyu Kingdom, the Minamoto clan gave rise to the first Ryukyu dynasty via king Shunten, the son of Minamoto no Tametomo.

Minamoto and Taira refugees from the Genpei-gassen introduced sophisticated weapons, martial arts, and military strategies to Okinawa in the 12th century. This event marks the beginning of martial art and traditions in Okinawa. Traces of these very ancient martial traditions seem to still exist in Okinawan martial culture in the form of tuidi,  the weapons arts preserved in some Okinawan family traditions and Udundi, folk dances with weapons,  as well as various old plays about events in Okinawan history.

Friday, July 18, 2014

12 Suggestions for Effective Practice (Guest Post)

Today we have very special treat... This is the first guest post to appear on the Ryukyu Martial Arts Blog. It was written by Wesley Tasker several years ago for the Pekiti Tirsia International Newsletter, and he has kindly granted me permission to share the article here.

12 Suggestions for Effective Practice

“Practice is the best of all instructors." - Publilius Syrus
“I'm into scales right now.”- John Coltrane
When practicing either by one’s self or with a partner, there are several “responsibilities” that a person takes on. The first is to have a quality of practice that will help improve and/or maintain the current skill level in the given art. The second (which is applicable in partner/group practice) is to not give your partner (or yourself) bad habits and incorrect skills. The following is a list of 12 points that I believe will help with those responsibilities, and others that I am constantly stressing in class.

1 – Law of Beats
If we map a confrontation with music, we start with the initial attack as the opponent’s first beat. Within that beat (assuming we see it coming) we can move as well. So, let’s say that for the attacker’s first beat, he throws a haymaker. During this same beat we see it coming so we intercept. Now we are onto beat number two. The one thing you can be sure of is that the attacker will not stand there and let you tool off on them with impunity. On beat two, and all subsequent beats, you both get to do something – unless, of course, you did something to impede him. Some examples are attacking simultaneously as defending, using footwork, etc. Do not be lulled into the incorrect practice of an attacker who attacks once and then becomes comatose as you hit them with your best 24 strike combination. If practicing a more ambush-like scenario, remember that after you survive the attack – it is beat two and you have to expect something coming in and be prepared for it.

2 – Law of Equal Time Framing
I always stress that you should move in direct proportion to the speed of the person feeding the technique or practicing the drill etc. There is always something that gets to me when I see someone demonstrate a really fast counter to a very slow attack. This does not take much skill at all. If you were sparring and someone countered “just right”, but slow – and you moved as fast you could to counter. You got hit in reality. If they had gone even a little faster (which they could have) you would not have been able to move faster out of the way.

3 – Authenticity of Attack
I was at a seminar once and, while demonstrating a technique, I asked my student to throw a hard and fast punch at my head. He did. Later one of the participants asked me what would have happened had I not moved. I told them that I would have been hit really, really hard in the face. If you do not make your attacks authentic – you are training your partner to fail. You are also giving them destructive habits. This does not mean you have to try to cave their face in every time with a punch or stick strike. Even going slow, if they miss the block, your fist should push their face back. A slow angle one should follow through unless they stop it somehow. If you constantly lock out the stick as it reaches their head – you are not giving them realistic feedback no matter the speed. Pretty soon your partner is really good at defending against stick strikes that do not follow through and punches that would have never hit them. Now picture what happens the first time they spar or have an intense session with someone else…

4 – Plan A Comes First
“Plan A” is a term I use for the ideal of what we would like to accomplish in a confrontation. In a stick-fight Plan A is to hit the other guy while not getting hit our selves. That’s it… One’s technique becomes complex in concordance to one’s opponent’s skill. Things get complicated only because Plan A was thwarted – not because we want them to be. You don’t just walk up to someone during sparring, plant yourself at close range and then work on a specific technique. It should happen because you needed it to. Always revert back to Plan A whenever possible. I believe William of Ockham put it best when he stated, “Entia non sunt multiplicanda praeter necessitatem.” (Things should not be multiplied beyond necessity.) This very idea of Plan A is why I focus a lot on basic footwork and strikes on footwork, regardless of the weapon being used. The actual techniques, drills, etc. only come out when needed. Even then one should seek to return to Plan A as quickly as possible.

5 – Deal With Collaterals When Doing Counters & Re-Counters
This one is seen the most in Disarms. Let’s say that someone is doing a counter to the 1X1 disarm. The person doing the disarm does an inside deflection / parry and then adds a reverse 7 to the legs, an outside vertical to the head, and then brings the arm around for the disarm with the simultaneous 9 strike. The person countering waits until the actual disarm is happening and then counters. What happened to countering the “collaterals”? The reverse 7 and the vertical need to be addressed if one is truly countering the whole disarm. It would be like Lennox Lewis throwing a jab, right hand, hook, right hand at you. If you wanted to counter the last right hand, it would be unwise to just take the jab, right hand, hook. I would imagine a good time later, when you woke up, you could think about what you would have done…

6 – Drill Integrity
The drills we do in FMA were designed for a reason. That reason was to impart very valuable principles and concepts. A lot of times in training the authenticity of the offensive and counter-offensive roles in the drills get lost and they become nothing but lifeless stick clacking exercises. To keep a drill “authentic”, no matter what the weapon type, always consider rules 1, 2, and 3 and make sure they are functioning in the drill.

7 – Transcend & Include
In short, this simply states that whatever drill, pattern, and/or technique that you are doing – is only a vehicle that needs to be transcended and the skills it imparts included into your arsenal. One of the first pieces of advice Tuhon Bill gave me after passing my Mataas na Guro test was that I should “take the system apart” and just start flowing / fighting with the various sections (single stick, double stick, knife, etc.). He told me to break apart the drills and techniques and let them come out when needed and move beyond just rote memorization. This point is exemplified by Manong Florendo Visitacion who was fond of saying, “Learn the system, destroy the system, rebuild the system.” One can see this same methodology espoused by Magino’o Tom Bisio in an article for Black Belt magazine where he states that one must “Learn the drill, master the drill, dissolve the drill.” The rote techniques, drills, etc. of Pekiti Tirsia are profound, but they are not “it”. They too must eventually be dissolved and their lessons internalized in order for them to be truly functional.

8 – Work in Progressions
When one is learning a skill, it is best to work that skill in various progressive drills that vary in risk and/or predictability in order to truly functionalize that skill under pressure. It is counter productive to teach a student a #1 umbrella and then immediately gear them up for full contact sparring. There is a better chance of the student actually being able to use the umbrella under pressure if they have had sufficient time drilling it and have confidence in it.

9 – Pressure Test
This is the end result of 7 and 8. In order to make sure that your skills are “workable” one has to eventually either spar or drill in a more free style (or Juego Todo) type way. Or if you are concerned with certain self-defense skill sets, to use scenario work with what’s called “force on force” simulations. Either way, there eventually has to be “pressure” (or risk) in order to test out one’s skill sets.

10 – Teleological Knowledge
In philosophical terms, teleology is the “study of the ends or purposes of things.” One should always strive to know why one is doing even the smallest part of the art. Within the bigger picture of drills, technique, combinations, etc. it is helpful to know why and to what ends the given activity is meant for. That way one is not parroting the movements with no idea of what the goal is. Also, this point is here because I really wanted an excuse to use a big word…….

11 – Basics First & Last
This one is pretty self explanatory. Every system is built around a core set of basics that are cohesive throughout the curriculum, no matter how “complicated” or “large” it may seem. My friend Allen Hopkins (a Gracie Jiu-Jitsu black belt) always says that there are really only two Guard Passes – everything else is variation. This really exemplifies the idea that you always return to your basics. It is easy and sometimes alluring to get caught up in the more “technically fancy” drills and techniques – but in reality they are built on the foundation of basics. This is almost a variation of point number 4. Plan A is always rooted in your basics.

12 – Have Fun
Yes this seems obvious, but I believe there are three very important points contained in this statement. One is the obvious, enjoy your training. This does not mean that it’s always easy, or that you don’t get hit, slammed, etc. After all, as my good friend Mataas na Guro Jack Latorre said after getting hit by Tuhon Bill and Tuhon apologizing, “No need to apologize sir, this isn’t knitting.” If you dread your training each and every time – why do it.

The second is a point that is emphasized a lot by Tuhon Bill, especially when talking about knife work. He says he tries to keep the mood light and funny (even though the material is serious) because it is really easy to slip into a “cult of the knife” type of atmosphere. And let’s face it – no one I know wants to get into a knife fight, nor do they desire to seek it out. Most of us do this art for both martial (self-defense) reasons and art reasons – all the while having the maturity and experience to know that violence is best avoided and having left the adolescent fantasies far behind us.

Third, is that this point references safety. As a practitioner (and especially as an instructor) one should always keep safety in mind and make sure that the martial environment is as safe as possible without sacrificing the quality and intensity of training. Of course there is risk involved with martial arts, and sometimes at advanced levels you take away certain safety factors; but overall it is hard to have fun with a training dagger sticking out of one’s eye.

I hope that some of these points resonate as things already stressed in training, and perhaps one or two may be more crystallized ideas that are easily assimilated. There are more I’m sure…

Wesley Tasker teaches Ba Gua Zhang, Xing Yi Quan, Qi Lin Pai, and Pekiti Tirsia Kali at the  Somerville Martial Arts Institute and practices Zheng Gu Tui Na (Chinese medical orthopedic body work) and Die Da Shang Ke (Chinese trauma medicine) at the "Da Guo Tui Na Clinic".

Friday, July 11, 2014

10 Things Karate Must Do...

To Be Taken Seriously As A Martial Art

A while back I was in a discussion about karate and bunkai. Unlike most of my conversations on that topic, I was the only karateka participating. It provided an interesting window on how karate is viewed by long  term practitioners of other martial arts. The bottom line was that they could not take karate seriously as a martial art.

There were a number of reasons (all addressed below), however they didn't have much of a problem with the actual bunkai itself. Rather, they were critical of the way the bunkai was being practiced. In many ways a suitable alternative title for this article could have been "How to be a good Uke". (In the text of this article "Uke" always refers to the partner assigned the role of "attacker".)

Their main issues revolved around the fact that “no real attacker will throw karate punches”. So that seems like the place to start.

No “Karate Punches”

1) Defend against face punches, because nobody throws punches at your chest.

In real self defense most punches will be to the face. Usually starting on the left side of the face (because 90% of people are right handed). Nobody ever aims at the chest. Yet in class after class (and video after video) that is exactly what we see... It is EXTREMELY important to practice against what people ACTUALLY do in the real world. One can see from Motobu shinshii's books that he was aware that head punches were the realistic likelihood.

In real self-defense, anytime an opening strike is directed to the torso it MUST be assumed to be a knife/shank/pointy-thing attack. Nobody punches to the tummy as an opening gambit, so treat the hand like a knife (because it probably is holding one whether you see it or not).

2) If you aren't USING the "hiki-te" don't do it.

The hikite is the hand which pulls to the hip which is seen in many kata. In old-style karate this is usually meant to be some sort of limb control, usually trapping an opponent's arm. If you are not using the hikite for limb control DON'T DO IT. When Motobu shinshii wasn't using a hand he kept it in a center-line guard. This is a very good option, but not the only one. Using the free hand to cover one side of the head is another decent option. IMHO bunkai and self-defense practice should never include the one-hand-on-the-hip posture (if the hand on the hips isn't actively being used).

3) Uke should have his non-attacking hand up in a guard.

 Uke should keep his free-hand up protecting one side of the face (instead of having the hand on the hip). In the real world some attackers swing wildly without protecting their head. Others have more foresight and try keep their head protected while attacking... It is the later group that we need to understand how to deal with. So have the attacker keep his free hand up in a guard to protect the head. Oddly Motobu shinshii didn't seem to require this of his partners (despite being aware that the defender should never have one hand on the hip (unless it is being used). I am at a loss as to why he didn't insist on this with both defender and attacker.

4) Practice against wide punches. 

Karate heavily favors straight punches. So predictably karateka spend much time practicing against straight punches. However, in the real world a great many people throw rather wide punches (round-house punches, hay-makers, big over-hand rights, etc).  Therefore it is essential to spend a fair amount of practice time defending on the inside-line. In addition it is very important to practice methods of transitioning from the inside-line to the outside-line which is where much of Okinawan karate is meant to function. Motobu Choki shinshii's books show that he was well aware of this problem and practiced a significant percentage of waza from the inside-line

What not to do

No Zombie Attacks (Dead Kumite)

I borrowed the term Zombie Attacks from Dan Djurdjevic's excellent article: 
Attack of the Zombies

5)  Uke should always try throw a second (and third) punch.

People don't usually throw a single punch (although it certainly sometimes happens). Nor do they usually throw a continuous frenzy of punches nonstop without punctuation (although this too certainly sometimes happens). Rather people usually tend to throw punches in bursts of two or three punches... These bursts can come very close together, which subjectively can almost seem continuous but objectively there are usually brief punctuations when a beat or two are skipped (as the opponent evaluates relative position etc).

Real world experience and indirect information via anecdote and video footage of assaults and real fights, leads me to the supposition that the most commonly seen variants of the "short burst" are the two punch combination in the form of a left jab and right cross, and the three punch combination in the form of the big-right, big-left, big-right. The big-right, big-left, big-right combo tends to have more power and commitment than the jab-cross, but also travels a bit slower (due to the need to mobilize body-mass behind the punches which is not characteristic of a jab).

There are techniques in karate which are meant to automatically provide cover for a second and third punch.  Likewise there are techniques designed to "shut down" the opponent's offense before they throw a second or third punch. However wonderfully effective  these methods may be, the only way to see if they are working is to have your partner ATTEMPT a second (and third) punch. Without this actual feedback from an attempt to hit you with a second and third blow it is very unlikely that even the best techniques will succeed in the way they are meant to... So, the majority of one's training against a punch should be done with the partner intent on delivering a second and third strike... and actually attempting them.

6) Uke should attempt to parry/block your strikes.

In his summary of some of the wisdom passed on to him by Motobu Choki shinshii, Nagamine shinshii had this to say:

"The fact is that we should not assume any discontinuation of the opponent's movements since he would, in an actual situation, likely continue his movements, and perhaps emerge the victor. Our attitude in practicing prearranged kumite should, therefore , be based strongly on the premise that our opponent is likely to try to block our counterattack and continue to fight"

Motobu shinshii railed against  "dead kumite" (in this case "kumite" means "prearranged techniques") in which Uke fails to attempt to throw multiple strikes and does not actively attempt to parry/block the defender's counter-attack(s). In other words Motobu Choki shinshii hated seeing people train against "zombie attacks".

Learning how to exploit an opponent's natural defensive reactions (for instance by trapping and controlling an opponent's blocking hand) is an important aspect of self-defense and an extremely useful fighting skill.

7) Uke must throw techniques with penetration.

This one is totally self explanatory. Your uke must throw techniques with at least 3 or 4 inches of penetration past the surface of your  body. This changes the options that are possible and far too often I see people "blocking" punches that would never even make contact. This is totally unrealistic and creates a false sense of security. If you don't parry, the punch should connect and push you back a bit (using a safe level of speed and force of course).

Situational Realism

8) Start at close range.

You should spend a large portion of partner training working at a range where your partner does not need to step to land a punch. If he can't reach you without stepping he is too dang far away. This is the range most real assaults or altercations start at (and often where they end at).  At this range parries must be very economical and the use of tactile sensitivity is important to maximize accuracy in both offense and defense (meaning that some sort of contact should be quickly established and ideally maintained (although which parts of the bodies are in contact can be constantly changing).

Real self-defense/fighting happens within arm's reach. The other stuff is just full-contact dancing.

9) Start from a natural stance (must initially block inward).

It is very likely that you will be in a normal standing position when attacked. It is therefore very important to spend a large percentage of one's time training to defend from that position. If training at close range from a natural standing position, the initial parrying technique -must- be with an inward motion. It is literally the only option that will work against a quick strike (in that scenario, which as pointed out, is a very likely one).

close-range shizentai

10)  Occasional practice in regular clothes

This is important, because clothing can change how effective techniques are and which techniques are even possible. But psychologically it is important too, because you need to associate the skills you are building as something you have access to outside of "suiting up". I know people who pitch better in a baseball uniform than in a tee-shirt and shorts (which should offer greater freedom of movement). Why would that be? Because they only ever pitch in uniform.

However, practicing in your normal daily dress can be important for another reason. Doing so can help you evaluate techniques. Techniques that look quite reasonable when performed by, and on, people wearing a karate gi can easily fail to pass the "laugh test" when seen being done in regular clothing. If you have access to a camera or even just a webcam, film yourself practicing techniques in regular clothing. When you watch the footage ask yourself if it looks like you are practicing self-defense/fighting? Or does it look like you are practicing karate?

If it doesn't look like you are practicing self-defense/fighting then you almost certainly are NOT doing so.

I sincerely hope this article is received in the spirit it is offered, as advice for future practice, not criticism of anyone or anyone's current practice. We all need to look for ways to improve the way we practice, and friends can tell each other the truth, even when it might not be something they want to hear.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Tuidi in "old style" karate & Naihanchi (mini-post)

Here is a short entry from the Motobu-ryu Facebook page. This is the group headed by Motobu Chosei shinshii who is the son of famed karate master and fighter Motobu Choki shinshii. Motobu Chosei shinshii is the current headmaster of both Motobu Kenpo and Motobu Udundi. This entry discusses the existence of Tuidi [取手] within "old-style karate" and especially within Naihanchi series of kata. "Tuidi" [トゥィーディ] or "Tuiti" [トゥィーティ] is the Uchinaaguchi word meaning "seizing techniques" and refers to the old Okinawan joint locking art.

Thanks to Ulf Karlsson for finding this post and sharing it in the _Naihanchi no Kenkyu_ Facebook group. I felt many people here would likely be interested as well.

Notice how Motobu shinshii has established muchimi (adhesion) with his leg, is locking the opponent's right arm and is trapping his opponent's left arm. Such multifaceted control is the hallmark of an advanced and very sophisticated approach to tuidi.


Sunday, June 22, 2014

Iron Body Training Tool: The Steel Hitter (Tesutaba)

If you are interested in Hojo-undo (supplementary training) especially Okinawan iron-body training & impact conditioning, Chinese Iron Shirt & Golden Bell Cover training, or even such health, rejuvenation, and longevity practices as Bone-Marrow Nei-Gong & 99-Powers Shen-Gong, then there is a piece of equipment which is extremely useful (arguably almost essential) for all of these endeavors. It is the bundle-hitter... in particular the steel bundle-hitter (called a "tetsutaba" in Japanese)

And it's awesome...

These can be purchased from various martial arts and/or qigong supply shops for a variety of prices ranging from $80 at the lowest to well over $600 on the high end (and that is not including shipping costs which are substantial). Which I suppose is probably why so few people own and work with them...

But even if you are on a tight budget you needn't despair:

Did you see that? The rather attractive tetsutaba in the lower right corner says it is only $25!!

That can't possibly be correct...

 It is correct.

It is a Do-It-Yourself Tetsutaba built by Joseph Warner and posted to the Hojo-Undo Facebook discussion group.
Click to enlarge

The design it is based on is the brainchild of Matt Perlingiero. Matt has made a excellent video tutorial on constructing this device which is funny in addition to educational.

Here is Matt's video:

So... I supposed some readers are wondering what the heck do people DO with such a device...

Here is a playlist featuring a collection of videos showing the use of bundle-hitters in Okinawan karate's Tai-Tanren, Chinese Iron Shirt training, and health Qigong... (including a very long-winded video on throat conditioning by yours truly):
Click for the "Tetsutaba & Related Conditioning" playlist

I imagine there are a few of you out there who were hoping for something a bit more "esoteric" or from a more detailed TCM type of perspective. Well we can accommodate that. Here is a book on Bone Marrow Nei-Gong which is chock-full of esoteric jargon and Chinese medical theories (and actually is a fairly practical methodology when you get down to the actual core practices).

Monday, June 9, 2014

Seipai Kata (十八手型)

I am a member of a fair number of karate groups and I hear various kata discussed all the time, but I have noticed that Seipai is not mentioned very often... Which is odd because it is a very nice kata.

What makes it even more odd is that there is a real wealth of good quality information on (and applications for) Seipai available to karateka. This is not just a recent phenomenon, way back in 1934, Mabuni Kenwa shinshii wrote Seipai no Kenkyu (Study of Seipai). This book contains interesting insights on kata generally as well as some bunkai which go beyond the modern percussive "punch/block" karate so common in the 20th century including a few tuidi type techniques.

The original Japanese text can be downloaded here

Mario McKenna's English translation (which I highly recommend) can be purchased here:

A whole host of interesting YouTube clips exist. Let's start with Ian Abernethy (who's karate in these clips is uncharacteristically Okinawan in feel):

OK, that wasn't bad, both rational and practical... but lets kick it up a few notches and look at Taira Masaji shinshii doing some Seipai material:

Now a couple of his student Andrea Buttazzoni shinshii who is an impressive karateka is his own right.

Here is Garry Lever shinshii of the Shinsokai working Seipai waza on a wooden man dummy (tou).

Finally let's look at some more tuidi concepts and techniques based on the movements of Seipai

This one is from Dan Djurdjevic shinshii:

And another from Jesse Enkamp of KARATEbyJesse fame:


Friday, May 16, 2014

Systematic Exploration Of Kata Bunkai

I have enjoyed exploring bunkai in a systematic (and I hope reasonably comprehensive) way for a long time now... I have alluded to this in Facebook discussion groups, but I don't think I have ever discussed in detail the "formula" or "system" I use to do this. So, I think this may well be the first time I have shared it publicly. 

I ask you to keep this in mind, as this is very much a rough first draft of my thoughts on the topic.  Each of these "levels" could occupy many pages worth of exposition to do them justice. However, outside the context of building a body of knowledge with a student over the course of years, I don't think that additional level of detail will really be very meaningful. 

I have only systematically analysed the 3 Naihanchi kata using this formula... I suspect this can be done with most kata, but I don't want to give the false impression that I have done this with all the kata I know. 

These are the "levels" (used informally and very broadly) that I use to systematically explore the applications of a kata's movements: 


1) Understanding applications of individual techniques as standalone waza.

2a) Most of those waza can be done inside or outside.

2b) The same standalone waza at an increased level of detail (ie vital-points as targets etc).

3) Understanding that each kata movement has a relationship to the movement after it, in that the subsequent movement can be used to address an opponent's attempts to defend themselves (from your prior technique)

4) It therefore stands to reason that all movements (except the first) also have a relationship to the movement preceding it. In other words this level explores chains of techniques that are three movements long. This is highly pragmatic because you control one of the opponent's hands on the first movement, you control their other hand on the second, guaranteeing the third technique should be unimpeded.

5) It therefore necessarily follows that long chains of movements can be strung together (often the length of the entire kata), with the opponent attempting to defend against each technique, with you using the next kata movement to counter their defense. This illustrates how the kata is highly proactive in forcing an attacker's moments.

6) Most of these long chains can be worked on the outside and on the inside.

7) The same principle should also work on renewed offense or semi-continuous offense... as opposed to just countering an opponent's passive defensive movements (ie the opponent's blocks).

8) It is necessarily the case that each kata movement is only followed by a single movement in the kata. However, it would be enormously foolish to believe the kata designers gave you *only that single option* for a follow-up technique or a counter to an opponents defense and/or renewed offense. Kata is far more cohesive than that. The movements in kata like Naihanchi were carefully selected so that they work not only with the subsequent motions but *also* many other motions throughout the kata. At this level those alternate combinations are explored.

9) The next level of bunkai studies is to examine whether each of these "alternate combinations" (or alternate follow-ups) work on both the outside and inside, and whether they work against both a passive defense (blocks) and against renewed offense (this won't always be the case, but it usually is).

10) Naihanchi (and most likely other kata) is quite intentionally designed to contain counters to all of its own technique (gyaku-waza). At first this is done as standalone gyaku waza (counters to bunkai levels 1 and 2 above).

11) It stands to reason that if the kata has gyaku-waza to all its individual techniques it must also be possible to construct gyaku-waza for combinations of those same techniques (still only using the waza explicitly shown in the kata). These should be worked against all the levels 3-9

12) At this point, the kata should be comprehended a cohesive fighting style which is able to address a multitude of possibilities and eventualities. It is no longer a collection of waza. Nor is it merely a collection combinations. It is not even just a system of proactive control. It is a rational, systematic, and reasonably comprehensive fighting system (in, and of, itself).

13) Through the use of kakie and resistive free-fighting one should be able to express these all those levels spontaneously and in response to ever changing circumstances but still staying entirely within the kata (only using waza presented in the kata). This is going from understanding that the kata is a self-contained fighting system, to being functionally able to use it as a fighting system.

14) The next level is the extension of principles and technique within the kata beyond what is explicitly shown in the kata (ie implicit options within the kata). For instance, the kata shows one elbow strike. This level asks "what other ways can we use an elbow strikes, and what other types of elbow strikes can we use?". The kata shows a particular wrist-lock against a specific grab. This level asks "when else can we use that wrist-lock and against what other attacks?" Techincally other terms especially "henka"
might be better designations for this level of application principles. Other terms might also possibly be used such as oyo, findi, ura-bunkai and so on...

15) Exploring "extended principles" (or implicit techniques) in a way similar to the explicitly illustrated waza in the kata (ie levels 1-13)

I think this could potentially take a decade or more worth of study to fully explore.

Monday, April 21, 2014

A Hojo-Undo Checklist

It is my opinion that every serious practitioner of Okinawan karate should have a decent (if not fairly complete) set of hojo-undo equipment (called "kigu" 器具). Frankly, I think making frequent (ideally daily) use of this type of equipment is one of the things which sets the very serious practitioner apart from the endless legions of hobbyists. I also believe hojo-undo is one of the things which sets "old style" Okinawan karate apart from watered-down "modern karatedo".

Kakete-biki 掛け手引き  / Kakiya カキヤー


Chii-ishi 鎚石 (stone clubs) [ ]

Ishi-sashi 石錠 / Tetsu-sashi 鉄錠 (stone pad-locks / kettlebells) [ ]

Nigiri-game 握り瓶 (large weighted jars) [ ]

Makiage-kigu 巻揚器具 (wrist roller) [ ]

Tetsuarae 鉄亜鈴 (dumbbells) [ ]

Tan 坦 (wooden handled barbell) [ ]

Sashi-ishi 差し石 (large round stone with two handles) [ ]

Kongoken 金剛圏 (very large metal oval) [ ]

Tetsuwa 鉄輪 (iron rings) [ ]

Ishi-geta 石下駄 / Tetsugeta 鉄下駄 (stone or iron foot-weights) [ ]

Ishi 石 (large heavy rock) [ ]

Suburito 素振り刀 (heavy wooden sword) [ ]


Makiwara 巻藁 (flexible tapered punching board) [ ]

Sunabukuro 砂袋 (punching bag) [ ]

Kakete-biki 掛け手引き  / Kakiya カキヤー (one-armed dummy) [ ]

Taketaba 竹束  (large bamboo bundle) [ ]

Jari-bako 砂利箱 (container of pebbles) [ ]

Ishi 石 (slapping rock) [ ]

Ude Makiwara 腕巻藁  (round slatted striking post) [ ]

Tetsusabukuro 鉄砂袋 (iron shot bag) [ ]


Ko-taketaba 小竹束   /  Te-taketaba 手竹束  (small bamboo bundle) [ ]

Tesutaba 鉄束 (steel bundle hitter) [ ]

Mamebukuro 豆袋 (mung bean bag hitter) [ ]

Illustrations from the "72 Skills of the Shaolin" illustrate that Okinawan Hojo-Undo originated from hard Qigong and Chinese Iron-Body methods. It shows training with Ishi-sashi, Nigiri-game, Tan, Makiage-kigu, Ude-Makiwara, Sunabukuro, and Jari-Bako.

Hojo-Undo/Ko-Kiko (Supplementary Training/Hard Qigong)

Sunday, April 13, 2014

A Chinkuchi Makiwara Exercise

Chinkuchi (チンクチ [cognate to Kinkotsu 筋骨]) is an Okinawan word meaning "Tendons/Muscles & Bones". It refers to the last instant before contact is made when the skeletal structure becomes correctly aligned, all the agonistic muscles are very suddenly and sharply contracted, and the muscles which stabilize the relevant joints are engaged to an appropriate degree. It differs from kime in that it doesn't involve all muscles equally and depends on structural alignment and stability from connective tissues.

A chinkuchi exercise: Starting with the fingers in contact with the pad, without drawing the relaxed hand back at all, the goal is to punch the machiwara with enough speed, force, and penetration to send the plumb-bob smashing into the ceiling. If done well, enough mechanical energy may remain to make the plumb-bob ricochet back into the board a moment later.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Family Crests of Okinawan (沖縄の家紋)

I just wanted to draw the attention of readers of this blog to an excellent website on Okinawan family crests (Okinawa no kamon). Take a look around. These crests are visually interesting, and in some cases strikingly beautiful. See if you can find the crest of the family of the founder of the style of Okinawan karate you practice. 

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Okinawan Proverbs

Excerpted from:
_Kotowaze ni miru Okinawa no kokoro_ [諺に見る沖縄の心] (The Okinawan Mind in Proverbs)
by Zenko Shimabukuro

This is a set of proverbs that is found on many websites, which makes posting it again a bit redundant. However, I believe that the people who read this blog will find value in some of these and (if they have not seen these before) will appreciate having these posted here. Proverbs I that have heard in a karate context are highlighted.

Ataishi turu atairu.  - We get along well with those we can get along with well.

Achinee ya tankaa mankaa. - Business is a two-way street.

Aramun jooguu ya duu ganjuu. - One who eats plain food is healthy.

Ichariba choodee. - Once we meet and talk, we are brothers and sisters.

Uya yushi kwa yushi. - Parents and children teach one another.

Kaagee kaa ru ya ru. - Beauty is skin deep.

Kamuru ussaa mii nayun. - The more you eat, the more you gain.

Kuu sa kana sa. - Small things are lovable.

Kuchi ganga naa ya yakutatan. - A smooth talker is a good-for-nothing person.

Kutubaa.  Jin chikee. - Spend words as efficiently as money.

Kutuba noo ushikumaran. - A word can't be recalled once spoken.

Shikinoo chui shiihii shiru kurasuru. - Let's live helping each other in this world.

Shinjichi nu ada nayumi. - Kindness will never be wasted in any way.

Jin too waraaran kwa tu ru waraariiru. - We can laugh happily with our children, but not with money.

Chu uyamee ru duu uyamee. - If you respect others, they will respect you.

Choo kukuru ru dee ichi. - The heart is the most essential human quality.

Tusui ya tatashina mun.  Warabee shikashina mun. - The old should be treated with due respect.  Children should be treated with gentleness.

Tusui ya takara. - The old people are treasures to us.

Miitundaa duu tichi. - Man and wife are one flesh.

Nuchi nu sadamee wakaran. - Only God knows one's term of life.

Machushi garu ufu iyoo tuyuru. - One who waits patiently will catch a big fish.

Miinai chichi nai. - We learn by watching and listening.

Mii ya tin niru aru. - Our fates are as registered by heaven.

Munoo yuu iyuru mun. - Speak well of others.

Yaasa ru maasaru.  - Food is delicious when one is hungry.

Duu nu duu ya duu shiru shiyuru. - You know your body best.

Choo kani ru deeichi. - Common sense is essential.

Yii kutoo isugi. - Do good things quickly.

Chira kaagi yaka chimu gukuru. - Kind hearts are better than fair faces.

Yuu ya shititin mii ya shitinna. - Even if you hide yourself from the world, don't lose sight of your real nature.

Nmarijima nu kutuba wasshii nee kuni n wasshiin. - Forgetting your native tongue means forgetting your native country.

Ashibi nu chura saa ninju nu sunawai. - The more the merrier.

Acha nu neen chi ami. - Tomorrow is a new day.

Yikiga nu kutubaa shuumun gaai. - A man's word is his honor.

Mookiraa kwee michi shiri. - Once you have made a fortune, know how to spend it.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Karate's Most Effective Form

This page is meant to highlight resources on Naihanchi Shodan (and to a much lesser extent Naihanchi Nidan) which are designed to highlight its functional utility as a fighting method. This page only attempts to highlight resources which are compatible with my own approach to the kata. It makes no attempt to catalog resources relating to other approaches. This isn't meant to suggest that those approaches aren't valid in their own way. Rather it is just meant to present an internally consistent approach to the kata.

The first resource is the Facebook Naihanchi discussion group:

The footwork of Naihanchi is somewhat abstract and causes a great deal of confusion for many karateka in terms of bunkai (analysis/application). This article cover basic Tenshin (evasive body rotation) for Naihanchi kata focusing on practical applications of Kosa-dachi:

This video show many waza using kosa-dachi footwork similar or identical to that shown in the article.

The video below presents many trapping and striking methods as well as Naihanchi nu tuidi (Naihanchi joint techniques). It covers mainly single waza bunkai and doesn't address combinations.

The video below is meant to be an instructional video and all techniques are performed slowly and typically with a distinct staccato rhythm. This is merely a teaching/learning device. It should go without saying that once proficiency has been achieved, these techniques are to be performed very quickly and smoothly.

It introduces "bunkai rules," tenshin drills, combination bunkai, and slightly more complex trapping.

Here is a simple Naihanchi Flow Drill. This drill is intended to develop trapping and  flow, and to enhance one's awareness of the relationship between techniques in the kata:

Here is a video covering 5 movements from Naihanchi Nidan and a flow drill to practice those techniques. This portion of the kata illustrates how to address resistance encountered while trying to apply tuidi (joint techniques). Instead of trying to muscle the techniques, the kata shows how to reverse direction and co-opt the attacker's force while transitioning into a new technique. In other words it shows how to "go with the flow".

Angel Lemus shinshii's One Minute Bunkai™  video series includes a number of videos on Naihanchi. His insights into the kata should be considered carefully. I actually don't think of us as having different approaches to the kata. Rather we just have slightly different takes on the same approach. I think you'll see what I mean.

The One Minute Bunkai™  Webpage.

Next I want to draw the reader's attention to Chris Denwood shinshii. Here is his Website:

Here is Denwood shinshii's article on the key structural elements of Naihanchi kata:

He are a set of drills from Naihanchi Shodan exploring the ways the different techniques can be combined and recombined to maintain control of an attackers limbs and the encounter evolves. This is exploring the techniques in a way that is not bound by the order they appear in kata. This is an important stage in developing Naihanchi as a fighting method.

Here is a demonstration of Nahainchi kata followed by a simultaneous performance of Naihanchi Kitae and Naihanchi bunkai. Both bunkai practice and kitae practice are important training methods for developing the full potential of Naihanchi as a fighting system.

Here is another demonstration of the techniques of Naihanchi being recombined in a new order to explore how the relate to each other in the context of a fluid and evolving exchange of techniques at close range.

Here Denwood shinshii explains some power generation principles from Naihanchi in a very comprehensible way.

Here Denwood shinshii adapts Naihanchi power generation principles in a way that adapts the outer appearance of the strike somewhat, but utilizes some of the same core principles.

For comparison here is Shinzato Katsuhiko shinshii demonstrating Naihanchi Shodan kata with some very sophisticated body dynamics.... You can see that Denwood shinshii has presented some Naihanchi body mechanics in a way which is easier for people to digest, especially people without many years of training to draw on.

Finally, here is a link to a web site dedicated to Denwood shinshii's new book on Naihanchi kata (definitely recommended reading) including a free 20 page preview.

Coming soon, resources for Naihanchi Kitae 
and Naihanchi Kokyu-ho (Kiko/Qigong)

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Functional Applications From Naihanchi Nidan

Here is a video exploring a sequence of 5 movements from Naihanchi Nidan. This portion of the kata illustrates how to address resistance encountered while trying to apply tuidi (joint techniques). Instead of trying to muscle the techniques, the kata shows how to reverse direction and co-opt the attacker's force while transitioning into a new technique. In other words it shows how to "go with the flow".

Nagamine shinshii's Naihanchi Nidan is very similar to the version in the video below 

I think the slapping wrist lock may be new to some people. The slap lock is actually fairly easy once you learn it but there are a few key points to keep in mind.

I used some clip art to try illustrate these key points below.

The force of the slap is focused (with a heavy feeling) on the opponent's fore-knuckles on initial impact and your finger are allowed to curl over the hand. The palm heel of your right hand and thumb of your left hand press against the back of the opponents hand. As your left hand rotates to apply this thumb pressure it also causes the pink side of your left hand's grip to press against the inside of the opponent's wrist. The opponent's fingers must not be allowed to uncurl. The combination of these causes the wrist to buckle and fold in on itself. Be very careful, the fact that the fingers are forced to remain in a fist (ie hand isn't allowed to open) causes the strain on the connective tissues in the wrist to be greatly increased (as is the pain and potential for injury).

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Oyata Seiyu shinshii (circa 1980)

As I have mentioned here before, I believe Oyata Seiyu shinshii was instrumental in the preservation of many nigh forgotten aspects of the Suidi (Shuri-te) family of Okinawan martial arts. Far more importantly, he triggered an awareness of the deeper combative value of Okinawan martial arts kata (Tichiki / old-style Okinawan bunkai) beginning in the early 1980s.

This awareness rippled throughout the karate community and Oyata shinshii can be credited to a large degree with triggering what has been called the "bunkai revolution" of the 1990s.

I personally believe the awareness of practical bunkai that Oyata shinshii initiated was of similar importance to the work being done in promoting functional Okinawan bunkai by Taira Masaji shinshii over the last several years. [Obviously Taira shinshii has been doing this much longer than a few years, I am speaking more about the way he is currently engaging a much larger segment of the karate world]. (see Taira shinshii's videos)

I also personally believe that the martial arts of these two Okinawan masters (one of Suidi lineage; the other of Nafadi lineage) have far more commonality than is generally realized. I suspect this will gradually become clearer to the karate community as time passes.

The following video is apparently from circa 1980 which would make it quite early in Oyata shinshii's "spreading of the bunkai gospel".

The sound quality is poor, and it is often difficult to see exactly what is going on, but this is made up for by the quality of the content. In my opinion this should be regarded as a valuable historical resource and should be treasured by those intelligent enough to add it to their library.

I sincerely hope you find it useful.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Makiwara Misconceptions

"There are no karate men who do not use the Makiwara."
 - Nagamine Shoshin shinshii

This is the second article in my series on training with the Makiwara (Machiwara in Uchinaaguchi). The previous article provided a look at my indoor makiwara design to give folks some ideas about building their own. In this article I want to address what I see as the four most widespread  misconceptions which exist about Makiwara training. This hopefully will allow us to move forward into the instructional articles with a minimum of inaccurate baggage...

Misconception #1:  Makiwara is mainly about hand conditioning.

Okinawan martial artists have a gazillion conditioning methods (most of which they inherited from the Chinese) so they hardly needed to invent a new one. Moreover, I am not convinced a makiwara is ideal for that function anyway. Conditioning is a side benefit but not the -main- purpose. The two things that set a makiwara aside from all other punching-posts and punching-bags are:

a) Progressive resistance


 b) The forceful "spring back" (the makiwara returning to its original position)

Progressive resistances means the harder you hit or push the device, the more resistance the makiwara offers. This makes it ideal power development. Heavy-bags, Chinese style punching posts, and wooden-man dummies (devices which Okinawans also used, which are usually called sunabukuro, ude-makiwara, and kakete-biki) simply do not offer any progressive resistance and are therefore inferior for developing power.

The "spring back" forcefully pushes your arm back a spit second after impact. This makes it ideal for solo training of "immovable body" skills. In so-called “internal arts” like Tai-chi and Aikido they spend much time and effort practicing remaining immovable while a partner forcefully pushes on their arm (actually this skill is part of Okinawan shime/kitae training too, but that is another topic). A makiwara allows you to practice this same “immovable body” skill but without the need for a partner. You just do a progressive "body audit" by mindfully paying attention to joint after joint, feeling for any "give" or movement. You do this "body audit" from the hand all the way through the body to the feet. Eventually you can hit the makiwara with a hard shot that bends it well back, but results in zero discernible push-back (the makiwara remains bent and no motion can be seen in the body until the practitioner -chooses- to release it). So while the makiwara does condition the hands, conditioning was never its *main* function.

If the device does not offer progressive resistance and a forceful “spring back” (which can be used for kinesthetic feedback) then that device is NOT a makiwara.  This leads me to the next misconception…

Misconception #2: The devices which cause arthritis or joint damage are types of makiwara.

In truth, the devices which are most commonly associated with joint damage which are *called* makiwara are NOT in fact actually makiwara at all (I think the most common example would be punching a 4x4 post).

An iron-shot filled wall-bag is not a makiwara. A wall mounted pad/target is not a makiwara. A clapper style wall device is not a makiwara. A post in the ground is not a makiwara. A thick inflexible board is not a makiwara. If it doesn’t bend backwards several inches when struck and then immediately spring back to its original position (if not impeded) then it is SOME OTHER type of punching device and is not a makiwara. Because genuine makiwara DO bend when hit, they are very unlikely to ever cause joint damage (when struck by a normal healthy individual).

This is not to say you can’t injure yourself on a makiwara. You most certainly can…  but you won’t wind up with badly damaged hand joints. Wrist injuries are  another issue but they are avoided with good form. I’m not saying all of the other devices will damage the joints (or cause arthritis) if they are -used correctly- .

I am just saying that the makiwara gets blamed for injuries that were actually caused by completely different punching tools which are only erroneously CALLED makiwara.

Misconception #3: Hand conditioning is about calluses.

As already mentioned, conditioning is only a secondary goal to power-development and developing a rooted structure. Although it is secondary, it -is- still a goal. However, conditioning has little to do with calluses.  Body conditioning is about strengthening bones (via bone remodeling) as well as strengthening dense regular connective tissues containing closely packed bundles of collagen fibers.  These connective tissues include fasciae, aponeuroses, ligaments, and tendons. All of these tissues remodel according to imposed demands and bulk mechanical properties like modulus, failure strain, and ultimate tensile strength can be significantly increased over time with consistent training.

Creating callus does little to strengthen anything of any importance. Callus is a bit harder to rip so it can prevent some skin tearing. However, callus is generally less flexible which can actually make tearing more likely in the case of rotational force (violent twisting while in contact) so it is a bit of a mixed bag… Hitting a makiwara without callus feels like the skin is getting pinched between two hard objects (because it is). This pinch is annoying but far from debilitating. In my mind discomfort (to a degree) is good because it develops mental toughness. However I’ll admit I was glad when the pinch stopped being felt. You don’t need to have a lot of callus for the pinch to be dulled or eliminated. 1/5 of an inch is probably plenty. Lemus shinshi has mentioned that many Okinawan teachers do not want to advertise their martial experience, and choose to remove the accumulation of callus as it develops. This is probably a good idea IMHO. If somebody knows you are dangerous they are likely to attack you with a tire-iron to the back of the head rather than punch you in the jaw!  The subject of callus removal segues nicely into the next misconception…

As you can see, the hand is largely normal looking after callus removal

Misconception #4: Makiwara hand care is mostly about hit-medicines.

Hit-medicine is only one of several things you should have available to care for your hands. An emery board will remove the callus efficiently with no pain and leave your hands mainly normal looking. It also will remove (mostly anyhow) what I call “perma-scab”. If you look at a serious makiwara person’s hands you will often notice a small scab-like sore in the middle of at least one knuckle. These take months or even years to go away. However, an emery board will remove this perma-scab and the surrounding callus pretty effectively. Once removed, you should apply “new-skin” to the area to prevent the perma-scab from re-forming. “New-skin” is my second essential tool in the makiwara hand care kit. When you get the inevitable skin tear, just remove the skin that was detached with a nail-clipper (it NEVER will reattach in my experience so get rid of it right away) and apply pressure with a paper y towel until the bleeding stops. After that dab the area every few minutes (you want to remove the liquid which accumulates and will turn into a scab) until the area remains dry. Then apply the new-skin in a thin layer to the whole area (including a little past the tear itself) and blow on it to speed drying. Add a second (and possibly a third) coat the next morning. At that point you are GOOD TO GO. No need to miss any makiwara training!! It belongs in every makiwara kit.  Next, I recommend using a good hand lotion once in a while to prevent the skin from drying and cracking. This is especially true if you live somewhere with really cold winters.

Regarding hit-medicines, I believe much of the value of applying them comes simply from the act of thoroughly massaging the hands and knuckles before and after training. Just the massage (without any medicine) will speed recovery time a great deal. In terms of the medicinal value of hit-medicines, their main significance seems to be their remarkable anti-inflammatory properties. The reduced swelling, reduced bruising, and faster healing are all (IMHO) directly the result of the anti-inflammatory effect.

I use the "Golden Lotus" 34 herb formula as my hit-medicine of choice. I was quite impressed with the reduction in swelling which took place very quickly and also the increased speed in bruise healing (which was less dramatic but still impressive). The same formula is also available from Shen and several other suppliers but this supplier was recommended to me by Rod Morgan.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Another Great Loss: Toma Shian shinshi

I was deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Toma Shian shinshi on May 30 2013.

The last several years have taken a sad toll on the karate community, especially with respect to "old style" karate. Many of the masters who made it their mission to preserve nigh forgotten aspects of the art have passed away. Thankfully they were largely successful and left a legacy of competent practitioners to carry the torch forward.

Toma Shian shinshi was perhaps best known as one of the first Okinawan teachers to teach the Okinawan art of tuidi in real depth to Westerners. Tuidi, also spelled "tuite", but usually spelled "toide" in Seidokan, is the ancient Okinawan joint locking art. It probably traces back to 12th century Okinawa. Here is a playlist I created to highlight Toma Shian shinshi's interesting approach to this art.

From The Bubishi Karate Do Organization Newsletter edited by Katherine Loukopoulos

Toma Shian Sensei of Seidokan Karate Do passed away on May 30th, 2013

“Toma Shian sensei, Kancho of Zen Okinawa Seidokan passed away on May 30th, 2013. Born in 1929, Toma Sensei was an expert in Shorin Ryu, Okinawa Kenpo and Motobu Ryu, Toma Sensei was a charismatic teacher and mentor to students throughout the world. He will begreatly missed.”
Photo Courtesy and Text: Cezar Borkoski

“Dear Seidokan Members,
First, I would like to take this time to thank everyone who took the time to pay their respects to Sensei Toma “Head Master of Seidokan Karate.”

As I read through the comments it made me realize that it made no difference if you met Sensei only once or if you met him many times. For most, it was a surreal moment that people would never forget. It makes me so proud that Sensei Toma gave so much to the people he loved the most.

His guidance over the decades has helped everyone accomplish his or her dreams at one time or another. Each student requires different needs at different times. Sensei Toma knew that when many of us didn’t. In many cases the answers he provided wasn’t the same for all, which sometimes confused even the best students.

When I look back at the Gate 2 / Awase dojos… it all makes sense in how he taught his children. It was much like the same as we teach our own…. be flexible…. and knowing one size doesn’t fit all.

Again, I’m so glad Sensei Toma gave his children power, speed, skills but more
important “memories” to last a lifetime and beyond. ”
Contribution Story and Photo Courtesy: Ron Nix Sensei

“I first met Toma, Sensei, during the 1960s on Okinawa aboard Kadena Air Force Base where regular karate events were held. I also visited his Gate 2 Street dojo just outside Kadena AFB. He ran a very tough dojo and was a good friend of Shimabukuro, O Sensei. He was always a friendly gentleman and a superb karate master who became the head of Seidokan.”
William R. Hayes, Major, United States Marine Carps (Retired)