Wallace Smedley’s Five Points on Self Defense

Wallace Smedley, author of the book Slapping Dragons has posted a great article regarding Five Things to Remember About Self Defense.

In this article, Wallace paints a realistic picture about the reality of self-defense, the role of awareness and avoidance, the importance of health and the potential legal and psychological consequences of acting in self defense.

Well worth a read.

Mario McKenna Sensei on Correct Practice

Mario McKenna on “Correct Practice”

Mario McKenna Sensei (guest on episode 13 of The Applied Karate Show podcast) on the importance of correct practice in karate and kobudo training:

So what is correct practice? Correct practice for beginners means focusing on fundamental exercises that create a strong base for more specific ones later on.

My former teacher, Masayuki Hisataka Sensei always emphasised that it wasn’t enough to turn up and train, but that you had to have:

  • Correct mind
  • Correct practice
  • Correct technique

Hisataka Sensei used always emphasise that the starting point was the correct mind. This mindset lead you to practice correctly, which was the only way to develop correct technique.

I liked that in McKenna Sensei’s post he emphasised that the three fundamental aspects of correct practice in Naha-te based systems like Gojuryu are junbi undo (preparatory exercises), kihon gata (fundamental kata) and hojo undo (supplementary exercises).

In the Shorinjiryu Koshinkai Karatedo practiced at the Kengokan Dojo junbi undo and kata are clearly common elements of our correct practice. The third element would undoubtedly be futari geiko (two person practice) exercises, including yakusoku kumite (pre-arranged drills) and bogu kumite (kumite utilising body armour).

It’s important to consider the foundations of your training. What are the fundamental aspects of your system?

The End of 24 Fighting Chickens?

24 Fighting Chickens is a long standing blog and forum that has served to challenge many of the common perceptions about karate’s methods, applications, practices and history. The publisher of the site, Rob Redmond kicked off the in 1995, at a time when the web was hardly known, and when karate related websites were few and far between.

Today marks the 18th anniversary of the site, and Rob has posted that the 24 Fighting Chickens is coming to an end.

I’m looking around, and I think we’re done here. Time to lower the flags of discontent, and move on to other projects.

I am saddened to see this, but wish to recognise Rob for his achievements in fighting the mainstream beliefs of karate. His efforts have caused many karateka, particularly those in mainstream Japanese styles, to analyse the roots and purpose of karate with more of an open-mind. I have agreed with many of Rob’s perspectives and opinions, and disagreed with others. I applaud his efforts to challenge people’s thinking.

Thanks Rob. Best wishes for your next endeavours.

The Rise of Karate Tourism

There has been a rise of what can be called karate tourism of recent times, driven by providers both on Okinawa and in the USA who arrange seminars, logistics, hotels, translators, etc. Former guests on The Applied Karate Show podcast Mike Clarke Kyoshi (interviewed in episode 4) and Mario McKenna Sensei (interviewed in episode 12) have both recently posted thoughtful articles on this trend.

Both of these gentlemen have done things the hard way – taken themselves out of their comfort zone and travelled to a foreign culture and sought and received admission to a dojo so they could train under a teacher who they saw provided value. They didn’t look for a third party to make the arrangements for them. In many respects the journey was as important as the goal.

Mario McKenna Sensei expresses his thoughts beautifully:

IMHO, if you’re using a company or service to arrange your travel, accommodations, and training on Okinawa or Japan, then you’re doing kanko (sightseeing).

There’s nothing wrong with sightseeing, but it is important that we don’t confuse it with true keiko (training). I’ve had the opportunity to undertake both in the past, and enjoyed different experiences in each.

In 1991 I moved to Japan for two years where I trained with the hereditary head of Shorinjiryu Kenkokan Karatedo, Hisataka Masayuki Hanshi. I had already been training in Shorinjiryu for 8 years by that stage, and had previously met Hisataka Sensei on several occasions. Nonetheless, I made my own arrangements (travel, work and accomodation), and armed myself with letters of introduction from our then chief instructors in Australia. Although I had sent a letter to Hisataka Sensei in advance, I made my own way to the dojo on my first day in Tokyo, and started my personal experience.

For the next two years, I had many wonderful experiences in budo. I was very fortunate to have others guide and include me in those, including people like Hisataka Sensei and Patrick McCarthy Hanshi (who I had met early in my stay), as well as other friends and colleagues I met in the dojo and at various events. This is the way of budo – it is not a solo journey, but one that you must undertake yourself in the company of teachers, seniors, peers and, eventually perhaps, students.

These two years were a personal journey, and involved many challenging events. For each challenge faced there was a corresponding personal victory. As another of my former teachers, Watanabe Shunji Hanshi likes to say.

Karate shugyo wa ningen shugyo. Ningen shugyo wa karate shugyo

Although hard to translate, shugyo can mean the “warriors quest or pilgrammage”, but I like the definition from the Shugyo Center that describes it as “dedicated and authentic physical and spiritual training”. So Watanabe Sensei’s quote means that something like “the dedicated and authentic physical and spiritual training of karate is the dedicated and authentic physical and spiritual training of being a human, and vice versa”.

In 2006, my wife and I had the opportunity to spend a few days on Okinawa. Although I had lived in Japan for two years and had researched the history and practice of Okinawan karate and bukiho (weaponry, a.k.a kobudo) for many years, this was to be my first visit to the island. I made the decision that there would be insufficient time to train in any meaningful way, and thus decided to be a tourist.

Of course, I would be more of a karate tourist, visiting historic sites and dojo that were meaningful in karate history, absorbing the culture and perhaps meeting a few key masters.

We didn’t consider having anyone else organise this for us. We arrived on Okinawa and checked in to our hotel. Then each day we visited various locations. Of course, we visited the Shuri Castle and surrounding areas, the Okinawan Prefectural Museum, the markets, Tomari waterfront, various grave sites and monuments and Kudaka Island (my former teacher, Hisataka Sensei’s name is pronounced Kudaka in the Okinawan language, and his ancestors were feudal lords of this island). We visited Hokama Tetsuhiro Sensei’s Karate Museum and dojo, and visited many dojo to pay respects. A highlight was meeting the late Nakazato Joen Sensei at his Kyudokan Dojo.

From a research perspective, this was a wonderful trip, and there was a mental/spiritual element of shugyo to it. But it was not a training experience – I made a conscious decision to have a tourist experience on that occasion. On my next visit to Okinawa, however, I will be looking at a trip that is predominately training. I will still do some tourist things (there are still many sights unseen for me on Okinawa).

Mike Clarke Sensei has a wonderful view on the nature of (Okinawan) budo:

Okinawan karate and kobudo are very special activities, and in my opinion, neither should be given away lightly

Karate tourism provides a “50,000 foot view”, but real karate happens on solid ground. Tourism has it’s place, but don’t confuse it with training. A true teacher will only give superficial instruction to tourists.

I agree wholeheartedly that karate tourism should not be seen as karate training. But it does have a place, and perhaps the big part is that perhaps a small percentage of those who undertake karate tourism will have their eyes opened, and will go back to one day explore more deeply.

Chiishi, Kettlebells and Strength Training

Following my earlier post discussing Joe Berne sempai’s article about the importance of strength training comes a thoughtful piece from Mario McKenna sensei [guest in episode 12 of The Applied Karate Show podcast) about the value of the chi-ishi for strength development in traditional karateka.

Chi-ishi on the right. Image by Dormis

Mario sensei compares the relative advantages of the chiishi versus tools like the kettlebell and Indian clubs, stating that chiishi are

heavier than Indian Clubs and allow the development of strength, but lighter than Kettle bells to allow more variation in the exercises that can be done. Chiishi design is similar to the Indian club which allows a greater range of motion. So to me I find Chiishi the “best of both worlds” as they say.

Mario sensei explains his own approach to strength training:

I alternate between modern weight lifting (barbell, dumbbells, & machines), body weight exercises and traditional weight lifting using Chiishi, etc.

I agree that body weight exercises are a staple exercise for the karateka, and in an ideal world I would alternate body weight exercises with traditional hojo undo equipment. I set out to do just that a decade back or so, and found that there was virtually no supply of products (in Australia), a very ill-defined training regime (outside select Gojuryu schools), a scarcity of instructors and a scarcity of books or videos on the topic. I wish that Mike Clarke sensei’s book The Art of Hojo Undo: Power Training for Traditional Karate was available then!

In my own search I came across the Russian Kettlebell. With an excellent training regime based on the approach from the pioneer of kettlebell training in the west, Pavel Tsatsouline (guest in episode 10 of The Applied Karate Show podcast), his books and videos and a ready supply of kettlebell products, I “got into the swing”. I undertook training (and later a kettlebell instructor course) with Don Stevenson.

I think that the kettlebell continues to be an awesome tool for a martial artists. The grip development, the off-centre centre-of-gravity, the range of compound exercises and the development of explosive power from the core make it suited to the needs of a karateka. These reasons are, as Mario sensei outlined, similar with hojo undo tools like the chiishi. But for me, the availability of product and the availability of quality instruction and instructional resources make the kettlebell my preference for strength training.

Joe Berne on Training Prioritisation

Joe Berne sempai (guest in Episode 15 of The Applied Karate Show podcast) has posted a thought provoking article about how you should prioritise your workouts when time is limited.

Joe makes several great points, and the whole article is well worth a read. But I particularly enjoyed the following:

I’d say you probably shouldn’t spend any time on actual karate unless you have more than an hour a week to train. That is, your first hour of exercise (I don’t mean the first hour on Sunday, I mean the first hour we’re counting) should be dedicated strength training. Keep your muscle and bones healthy. If you have 2 hours a week, still spend 1 hour of it strength training, but add in dynamic stretching and skill training sessions for the second hour. And, if you have it, the third.

It should be no surprise that I am a big fan of strength and conditioning training, particularly using kettlebells, and I suspect that my approach is similar to (but perhaps not as well develoepd as) Joe’s. The point Joe makes is that strength training should be the foundation – strong bones and muscles will help us prevent injury as we age. And then being able to move dynamically is the next piece of the puzzle.

I also like a key point in Joe’s article:

Try this conditioning trick: stand on a soft-ish surface, maybe a yoga mat or a wrestling mat or even an old futon. Fall to the ground – break it as well as you can. Then stand back up. Alternate falling to your left and to your right. Repeat for 2 minutes. You want to live long and be healthy? Be strong and learn how to fall without getting hurt. Don’t think it matters? Visit a local nursing home and walk around for 15 minutes. Then come back and we’ll talk.

Learning ukemi waza (breakfalling techniques) is not just a lesson for martial arts, but a lesson for life. Kind of goes with one of my favourite kotowaza (proverbs): nana korobi ya oki – fall down seven times, stand up eight.

The passing of Pat Nakata Sensei

Charles Goodin sensei of Hawai’i reports the sad news of the passing of Pat Nakata sensei:

I am very sad to report that my good friend and senior, Sensei Pat Nakata, passed away last week, on Thursday, February 7th. He was 68. Words cannot express my sense of loss and also my deep respect for and gratitude to Nakata Sensei.

By way of an introduction from my friend Mark Tankosich sensei I had the very great pleasure to have conducted an interview with Nakata sensei on episode 13 of The Applied Karate Show.

Nakata sensei was one of the early pioneers of authentic Okinawan shorinryu karate in America. He had had the opportunity to train with luminaries like Wadoryu founder Ohtsuka sensei and Walter Nishioka sensei. But his major influence was undoubtedly Okinawan shorinryu luminary Chibana Choshin sensei.

Every interview on The Applied Karate Show has been a fascinating learning experience, as well as an honour for me. The interview with Nakata sensei was special – he left an amazing impression of a man with quiet confidence, a lot of experience and a genuine enthusiasm for sharing his art.

I am very saddened to hear of Nakata sensei, and I wish his family, students and friends my condolences.

The Classical Budoka talks Dojo Variations

Wayne Muramoto Sensei talks about Dojo Variations:

And I think, too, of what my jujutsu sensei said once; that before dojo structures, martial artists used to train outdoors, out in nature, so they were in tune with the greater natural world, the “daishizen,” much more than we were. Handling a sword, maneuvering for a throw, handling a weapon, were part and parcel of their total world experience, as much a natural part of their lives as cutting firewood, knowing when it would rain or snow, intuitively sensing the lay of the land or knowing the changing of the seasons. In that sense, even the most “traditional” dojo is still a controlled environment at least one step removed from the roots of ancient martial arts, which came out of being embedded in nature’s own environment and rhythms

I’ve long been of the opinion that the dojo functions best as a home base, but that you need to get outside and train also – gasshuku (training camps) are one opportunity, but so too are everyday opportunities to train in the park.

In the karate tradition, few master had dojo, as such, before World War 2. Most trained in backyards, and even at the family tomb.

The dojo is a laboratory, but outside is where the real learning takes place.

From: The Classic Budoka | Dojo Variations

Mike Clarke Kyoshi Talks About Online Bullying in the Karate Community

Mike Clarke, Kyoshi on online bullying within the karate community:

Karate forums seem to be on the way out now, having been surpassed by the much faster Facebook and Twitter technology. Now, it’s possible to identify a target, and within moments have fellow pack members (friends) from all around the world, join in with the ridicule, sarcasm, and bile.

Tut….tut…karateka, if you want to be taken seriously, grow up!

Karate is meant to be about self-protection, and protecting those who need help. This sometimes mean standing up to bullies, and under no circumstances is it acceptable to participate in bullying. As a karateka. As a human!

Online tool such as Twitter (and even Facebook) can be a good way to communicate, share ideas and learn. Look any tool, it can be an aweful thing if used to hurt or bully others.

Hydration for Karateka

Refreshing glass of water by Bergius. CC: BY-NC-SA

Photo by Bergius. CC: BY-NC-SA

Karateka and author Chris Denwood, Sensei has penned a nice article on The Importance of Water for people in training – a topic I’ve written about before. Although there isn’t a universal recognition of this issue, some scientists believe that chronic dehydration is linked to a range of diseases.

75% of people around the world are chronically dehydrated.

This is amazing on the surface, when you consider that people are drinking so much – coffee, softdrinks, alcohol, energy drinks, etc. But how much is enough? Well some experts state that you should drink a litre of water per day per 25kg of body weight. I don’t know many people that would actually do that!

alcohol and many soft drinks actually steal water from the body and other beverages such as coffee require water from the body to be digested.

It seems like good, old fashion, natural water is the best thing. The 25 litres/kilogram guideline applies to water only. Other drinks are at best neutral, but most require you to add more water in order to be correctly hydrated. One rule of thumb is that every cup of coffee, softdrink, alcohol means you should add the equivalent quantity of water back into your system.

Of course, this is a base level – when we train hard we need to replenish the water lost through perspiration.

A recent piece in The Conversation pointed out that softdrinks in particular are a growing problem in modern society, and that the levels at which they are being consumed present a growing public health issue.

I’ve come to the opinion that it’s not just the sugars in softdrinks (which are bad in and of themselves), but the chemicals in diet softdrinks are also a factor in the obesity epidemic, and serve to reduce people’s satiety levels.

This is a double-whammy. As Chris said in his post:

In over a third of all people, the thirst mechanism is so weak that it is often mistaken for hunger.

So people have reduced satiety levels from drinking too much diet softdrink, and they are also dehydrated, leading to more hunger! Not a healthy mix.

In the old days, karateka were often not allowed to drink water during class. We were told that sweating was good for us. In the Kengokan Dojo, I allow regular “water breaks”hydration pauses”, and insist people have some, especially during hard sessions or when the weather is particularly hot! I believe every instructor should take the same approach.

So for all reading this:

  1. Make sure your base level of water consumption is appropriate
  2. Eliminate, or at least drastically reduce, the amount of softdrink you’re consuming
  3. Take regular hydration pauses during your training

Oh, and one more thing – if you’ve not subsribed to Chris Denwood’s blog, do yourself a favour and do so now. Or follow @chrisdenwood on Twitter.