Wednesday, December 26, 2012

The Surprising Efficacy of Hit Medicines

Bottle of  Hit Medicine
I believe that most practitioners of Okinawan karate know that hit medicines are/were used by most serious Okinawan karate masters. Higaonna shinshi and Hokama shinshi (and others) have advocated this practice to their Western students fairly vocally. However, Western karateka have been largely uninterested in the use of these medicines (unlike many Western practitioners of Chinese styles). It would seem that the general consensus among American teachers is that these medicines are unnecessary (if not totally ineffective).  I have used hit medicines on and off over the years, but I was really never sure whether they worked. The main reason for this uncertainty was that I have always been careful about avoiding over-training. This has been impossible over the last several weeks because I have recently been experimenting with different machiwara designs and that meant I couldn't stop hitting them just because my hands were getting sore.

 Over the last month and a half I have built and tested 5 different machiwaras with the aim of creating a moveable indoor machiwara which is fully capable of surviving the rigors of thousands of intense impacts to various surfaces on the board. This has been more challenging than I would have believed it would be. I was shocked when a very solid 1.5 inch thick machiwara literally snapped in two after only a week of testing, and I was then disappointed when a my next attempt (designed to be much more flexible) failed to supply sufficient resistance to my strikes. After three failed attempts I now have 2 movable indoor machiwaras which meet my design needs (I will post photos and design instructions as well as notes on what went wrong in the failed designs in a future post).

In the process of building and testing these machiwaras I have had to repeatedly slam my fists into bare oak with maximum power on a daily basis. I personally believe that machiwara training works best at only about 70% of full power (because it is nearly impossible to do a good structural "body audit" when hitting at full power), but to ensure these machiwaras were actually strong enough to withstand months (and hopefully years) of daily abuse I had to REALLY unload on them.

At first my hands were merely getting a little sore. However, after a few weeks of this hardcore design testing my hands started to become very painful and more importantly they also became bruised in the knuckle and finger areas and my *entire* hands eventually became quite puffy and swollen.

So, I found some of the hit medicine that I had used before and started applying it to my hands before and after testing my machiwaras. Much to my surprise and delight, I found that this would reduce the swelling in my hands within half an hour, and even more surprisingly I found that most mild bruising would litterally disappear overnight if I applied it to my hands before going to bed.

This really amazed me, and I am quite glad I decided to start using hit medicine again. I now realize that I can train much more vigorously than I had previously believed I could because I no longer need to take several days off for recovery if I over-train to the point of bruising and swelling.

I have now invested in enough herbs to make several gallons of this hit medicine. I'll post again at some point in the future to provide a recipe and detailed instructions about all of the stages in producing this medicine.

Once again the wisdom of the old masters has been proven to me, and I urge all my readers to carefully consider the older Okinawan methods and to be very cautious about dismissing old training concepts as outdated "old wives tales".

As my dad likes to say: "old wives tend to know what they are talking about" ;-)

Monday, December 24, 2012

Taira Masaji shinshi

In the past I've often mentioned 20th century Okinawan masters who played an important role in preserving "old style" karate such as Kuda Yuichi, Oyata Seiyu, Soken Hohan, Motobu Choki, Uehara Seikichi and others. Unfortunately all these wonderful masters have now passed on. However, there is an Okinawan master (who is still very much in his prime) who is currently doing much to spread a highly functional "old style" approach to karate. His name will already be familiar to many people who study Okinawan karate. It is Taira Masaji and I believe he is one of the most gifted of the living Okinawan masters. I also believe he will be remembered in history as one of Okinawan karate's true "greats".

"I would like to make one point in relation to bunkai practice, as you have mentioned that many instructors are “only now discovering bunkai”. I know of a number of experienced overseas instructors who have said that bunkai was not ever practiced in Okinawan dojo when they were there. They should be careful how they word those statements, as this might well simply reveal the level of karate that was entrusted to them by their instructor! Bunkai has indeed been an essential practice in Okinawan karate from its inception."
 - Taira Masaji shinshi

Here is a good interview with Taira Masaji shinshi:
Human Tornado

I highly recommend Paul Enfield shinshi's YouTube channel which has many excellent videos including (but definitely not limited to) many starring Taira shinshi. 

I am certain many people (at least the old fogies like myself) will remember Enfield shinshi as the rather athletically built uke/assistant in Higaonna Morio shinshi's Panther Video library.

I also highly recommend the videos of Taira shinshi available from Enfield shinshi's website:
Goju Karate Center Carlsbad

I've purchased videos from 2010, 2011, and 2012 and have been deeply satisfied with all of them.

If you want to improve your karate (and this includes people who study arts other than Goju ryu) I strongly suggest checking out Taira shinshi and his students.