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Monthly Archives: March 2013

Are we practicing Bujutsu or Budo? Does it matter?

Are you practicing karate as Bujutsu or Budo?  Do you care?  I hope you do.  I believe it does matter and we must ask this question to all karate practitioners and instructors.  Unfortunately, many of them do not care.  Even if they do, they either fail to understand the differences or they are too lazy to research about these concepts. Let’s look at the popular reasons for the people to pick up karate and practice: • Self defense • Health/physical conditioning • Stress reduction/mental wellness • Competition/tournaments All these reasons are good and respectable ones.  We must not pass the judgment on any of the reasons and to regard any of them is better than the others.  Though I am glad to see the people practicing karate for whatever the reasons, I have a strong concern with the current trend of tremendous amount of participation in the tournament activities, especially by the children and the youths.  In fact too much emphasis is put on winning.  The participants are told to do whatever necessary to win the matches.  The things they are encouraged to do are to use only the certain techniques that are easier to score, to bend the rules, to do illegal things (by hiding them from the judges), to change kata moves to look “fancy”, etc.  Their ultimate goal is to win without paying much attention to anything else and that is the essence of Bujutsu, martial arts.  The 16th century Japan was in a war period and they cared only the best swordsmanship in order to survive in a battle. Well then, what is different between Bujutsu and Budo?   I believe a half of the problem comes from many of us not having clear understanding of the differences between the two terms and concepts.  Most of us consider them as same or believe that they are inter-changeable.  This is the gravest misconception and it is where the serious problem begins. (read more...)     Shihan Yokota has published numerous articles and books:

Shotokan Myth #3 Silent Kiai

Kiai

When we think of Ki-ai what do you think?   If you are an old guy or a gal like me you remember that funny sound Bruce Lee made.  An amusing story from the past involves the men’s after shave called Hai Karate.  If you remember this then you must be at least 50 years old.  This product was advertised on TV in the 60’s and possibly in the 70’s.  Here is what the announcer said: ANNOUNCER: “Hai Karate aftershave is so powerful; it drives women right out of their minds. That’s why we have to put instructions on self-defense in every package. Hai Karate, the brisk splash-on aftershave that smoothes, sooths, and cools. Hai Karate, aftershave, cologne, and gift sets. Hai Karate, be careful how you use it.” Then there is a skit with a guy who has to fight off the girls who would try to grab him after using this aftershave.  Some of my friends must have believed that I needed this because for several years, each Christmas I would receive numerous bottles.  I really appreciated their genuine interest to help me out but I had to toss most of them because I could not use them up if I had lived to 100 years old.  Besides I did not like the smell.  I knew the aftershave would surely drive the girls wild or rather; it would have surely driven them away. I also have a very memorable incident with ki-ai which I would like to share.  I started karate 46 years ago (1963) in Kobe Japan.  Thanks to the following experience in my very first class I still clearly remember that wonderful day.  I can vividly picture this senpai, Tanaka (not the famous JKA sensei) in front of me.  He stood a little over 5 foot but he was a towering figure to us.  He slowly stepped up to the new students (me included of course).  We were brand new, excited and were dying to learn those deadly techniques.  He said very nicely, “You boys (no girls dared to join as it was thought to be too rough, but that was exactly the reason why I joined) have to learn how to say Osu.”  As the readers know, Osu is a very convenient word in Japanese that can be used for meaning “yes”, “no”, “maybe”, “I will try”, “right”, “sure‘ or whatever.  It could mean almost anything and, we were always happy to use it as we could sound like a tough karate guy.  So, we all said “OSU”!  The senpai then said “What?  I can’t hear you!”  So we repeated with a louder voice but that still did not please him.  He then said “you guys just don’t have spirit”.  “You are going to learn how to Ki-ai today and you will learn to show your spirit.”  Then, he gave a real LOUD Ki-ai which pierced through our bodies and sent shivers down our spines.  Then he smiled and said “OK boys you will Ki-ai without stopping until I return.”  We thought he would return in a few minutes but he did not come back until the end of the class, 2 hours later.  We were yelling “Ya” or “Tou” or whatever the Ki-ai we thought cool (we didn’t know Bruce Lee yet).  The senpai’s word was the command (plus he was looking at us from the other side of the dojo) so none of us would stop.  After 30 minutes or so we started to cough and lose our voice.  At the end we could hardly make any sound at all.  We left the dojo very quietly that day.  Incidentally, all the brand new students except one did not come back after the first day.  That was his way to separate the normal people from the crazy one (me).  My voice was gone for several days but I showed up at training the very next day.  I could only whisper on the following day and my mother did not seem to mind as the house was quiet for a change.  Thankfully the senpai did not ask me to Ki-ai on the second day but my training did not get any easier either.  He now told me to stay in Kiba dachi for 2 hours.  He kept on saying, “Lower! “.  When my legs gave out and I fell down, I guess I was too “low” so he said “Get up”.  It went on like that (very simple exercise but very looooong) and I am sure you can guess how the rest of the Japanese way of training or breaking in the new student went on.  I am still not sure if that senpai really knew what he was doing or if he was simply too lazy to figure out a more sophisticated training. OK, you’ve heard enough funny stories about Ki-ai.  Now more serious stuff… There are many articles on Ki-ai and most of the authors stressed the importance of doing Ki-ai and how to do it.  Some explained the meaning of Ki-ai and the others showed the relationship to breathing.  If that is the case, then you will ask why I am writing this used up and uncontroversial subject.  Well I am one of those people who do not like to take things for granted.  So today I want to take up the challenge and ask “Is ki-ai really important?” and “Is ki-ai necessary in karate training?”  You might say, “You must be crazy to challenge these things.”  Maybe the readers are correct and I may fumble nicely with this subject.  But I think it is a good exercise to investigate instead of just believing something because many instructors and the “experts” say it is so. (read more...)     Shihan Yokota has published numerous articles and books:

Winners of the All Japan Karate Championship KATA PT. V

Years 1998 to 2004 MALE/FEMALE KATA Division
Year # DIVISION 1st 2nd 3rd
1998 41ST MEN / WOMEN HASHIGUCHI YUJI / FUJIWARA MIYOKO IZUMIYA SEIZO / GUNJI MIYO TANIYAMA TAKUYA / NAKATA TERUMI
1999 42ND MEN / WOMEN TANIYAMA TAKUYA / FUJIWARA MIYOKO IZUMIYA SEIZO / OSHIMA HITOMI TAKAHASHI SATOSHI / NAKATA TERUMI
2000 43RD MEN / WOMEN TANIYAMA TAKUYA / NAKATA TERUMI IZUMIYA SEIZO / GUNJI MIYO SHIINA KATSUTOSHI / OSHIMA HITOMI
2001 44TH MEN / WOMEN SHIINA KATSUTOSHI / NAKATA TERUMI TANIYAMA TAKUYA / HIRAYAMA YUKO TAKAHASHI SATOSHI / AZUMA CHIHARU
2002 45TH MEN / WOMEN TANIYAMA TAKUYA / NAKATA TERUMI SHIINA KATSUTOSHI / HIRAYAMA YUKO KOBAYASHI KUNIO / OSHIMA HITOMI
2003 46TH MEN / WOMEN TANIYAMA TAKUYA / NAKATA TERUMI KOBAYASHI KUNIO / OSHIMA KAORU UBUKATA KOJI / ARAGAKI MISAKO
2004 47TH MEN / WOMEN SHIINA KATSUTOSHI / NAKATA TERUMI KOBAYASHI KUNIO / ARAGAKI MISAKO TANIYAMA TAKUYA / HIRAYAMA YUKO

Downloadable Kata Posters at KarateCoaching

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What a heck are Shihan, Kyoshi, Hanshi, Renshi, etc?

Many people ask me about these titles and today I want to give you not only the meaning of these Japanese words and the history behind them. First, I use Shihan in front of my name. It is not because I need or want to tell the world that I am a big sensei or a big shot. I retired from a high-tech company three years ago but I was in the industry for 30 years. During those years I kept my karate background secret or confidential from my bosses and even colleagues. I was not ashamed of my karate background but karate was (and still is) a very personal thing to me and I wanted to separate my business life away from my karate life. I used LinkedIn for my high-tech network and you can check it there but I used only my name. When I joined FaceBook 5 or 6 years ago I was still working for a high-tech company so I decided to use shihan as my first name and posted myself as Shihan Yokota.  Now that I do not need to keep my karate background secret anymore I changed the name on FB as Shihan Kousaku Yokota by adding my real first name. I could have dropped shihan but it became almost like my nickname so I kept it. That is all and I will not be offended at all if anyone calls me without this title. OK that is enough of an introduction.  Let me explain about those confusing Japanese titles. In my explanation I will add Soke and Kancho as a bonus. Let's start with shihan. First of all, shihan is not exactly a title. In other words, this is not something an organization would bestow or permit. Shihan (師範) means literally "to be a model" but it is only a formal word for sensei or instructor or teacher. So if you are teaching karate; for that matter any martial arts and non martial arts field, you can be addressed as shihan. However, it is customarily reserved for the senior instructors or teachers. For instance, if a Nidan or Sandan person at the age of 20's will not normally be addressed as shihan even if he or she may be the chief instructor of a dojo or a club. Since it is not a bestowed title it does not have the age or rank requirement. We would consider Godan and above as the senior ranks those sensei can be addressed as Shihan. On the same token, it will not be considered as impolite or rude if you address a senior instructor as sensei even if he is 8th or 9th dan. In other words, you can address me as sensei instead of shihan. There is one exception to the above rule. There is a bestowed title of Shuseki Shihan. Shuseki means "Top position" so it means the Chief Instructor of an organization. This is used only in a large organization like JKA, JKS, ISKF, etc as they have multiple number of senior instructors. If you are the only instructor in your dojo or an organization then you should not use Shuseki Shihan even if you are asenior rank instructor. On the other hand, Kyoshi, Renshi and Hanshi are bestowed titles. However, in general in karate (with JKA, ISKF, JKS, IJKA and WJKA) we do not use those titles. The only exception is Zen Nihon Karatedo Renmei (Japan Karate Federation or JKF). This organization is a non style specific organization and its members are Shotokan, Shito ryu, Goju ryu and Wado ryu. It is a member of WKF and I assume it also grants these titles. I do not know why they grants these titles but I suspect there is an influence from Kendo. The history goes back to 1895 when the martial arts organization called Dai Nihon Butokukai was established. They promoted various martial arts including kendo, judo, jujitsu, kyudo, and a few others. However, this organization was dismantled by the occupation force (GQ) in 1945. Even though the same name organization was established in 1957 it is not related to the original Dai Nihon Butokukai though they probably wish to claim as such as the prewar organization received a lot of respect and honor as it was sponsored by the Japanese government. The current organization is no longer well known or large in membership as it is only a private organization without any sponsorship from the government. Anyway, I find it interesting to meet so many Kyoshi in the Americas but yet not too many Renshi or Hanshi. According to Dai Nihon Butokukai or JKF, the ranks starts with Renshi and ends with Hanshi being the highest. So, Kyoshi is the middle rank and I do not know why I meet only Kyoshi among the instructors. For your information, let me list the requirements to qualify those ranks (by JKF): Hanshi (範士): 8th dan for more than 2 years, older than 60 Kyoshi (教士): 6th dan and above for minimum 2 years, older than 50 Renshi (錬士): 5th dan and above for minimum 1 year, older than 40 What is Kancho (館長)? You are familiar with Shotokan and the part of "kan" is the same here. Kan means building so the connotation is the dojo. Cho means the head or top (i.e. shacho: president). Kanazawa sensei uses Kancho as his title. I wonder if he wants to claim that he is the top of Shotokan which I do not know. This is a little mystery as his organization (Kokusai Shotokan Karatedo Renmei) does not end with "kan". The last one is Soke(宗家)and I find and hear about so many soke in the US. I laugh about this as I know they cannot be legitimate. Soke means a central family who carries a certain art as their family tradition. Though you can find such a family in some Japanese martial arts such as kenjutsu this tradition is more popularly with the non martial arts such as tea ceremony (sado), flower arrangement (kado), Japanese dancing (kabuki, noh, etc), Japanese music and instruments (shakuhachi, koto, etc). It is customarily carried by the same family of the founder but of course there are some exceptions. This is why I laugh when I see an American guy who claims a "soke" title for his karate. This means he had to create his own style which is possible but I am not sure how legitimate his style can be. Or there is another possibility which is more unlikely that is his Japanese master decided to hand over the title as this American guy was good enough to carry the style. Anyway, if you meet any one in the western world with Soke in front of his name do not trust him too much. Conclusion: As many of the readers can guess that Funakoshi sensei did not care for the titles.  He never accepted any rank for himself even though he granted those ranks to his students. Thus, I am confident to conclude he did not accept any worldly titles such as Soke, Hanshi, Kyoshi, Renshi or even Kancho which he could have and deserved. The only exception is Shuseki Shihan. When Japan Karate Association (JKA) was founded in 1948 he accepted to become the first Chief Instructor. Even with this title he resigned in 1956, a year before his passing. I understand that he wanted to remain neutral as JKA was having some friction with Shotokai in 50s when both groups claimed the ownership of Funakoshi lineage. Nakayama sensei and Asai sensei both held Shuseki Shihan positions. As far as I know they did not claim any other titles. Personally, I have no desire to claim any titles including Shuseki Shihan or even the dan rank from any organization.  Dan ranks are mass produced these days and they no longer prove any real skill level or proficiency but this another subject so I will not go into this now. I hope my short explanation of various titles was helpful and you have better idea about them. If you should have any questions about this matter feel free to send me any questions. I look forward to hearing from many of you. Portrait sitting and serious

Shotokan Myth #2 Hangetsu – A missing link to Naha-te Karate

In the #47 issue (May ’96) of Shotokan Karate Magazine, late Steve Cattle wrote an article on this kata, Hangetsu. It was a needed and educational article. The title was “Hangetsu the neglected kata” where he pointed out that this kata was most unpopular.  He claimed, “I feel it is a very neglected kata, generally because of the difficulty in performing the turns, the stance and its lack of beauty”.  He concluded that the biggest reason why this kata is unpopular to the difficulty of turns and its stance, Hangetsu dachi.  “The difficulty is in the turn, which is why I think it is neglected in competition as well as the actual stance difficulty”.   I agree with most of his claims but I am afraid he has missed some key points.  If you investigate the origin of this kata, you will discover the hidden history and the deep mysteries behind this unique kata. Even though Shuri-te and Naha-te do not share the same kata, Hangetsu (Seisan/Seishan) is one exception.  This kata is found in almost all styles including Wado, Shito, Goju, Uechi, Shorin, Ryuei, etc.  I will attempt to put the facts together and make necessary comparisons to come up with the answers to many questions.  By sharing those findings, I hope the readers will come to a new appreciation and understanding when he/she performs this unique and valuable kata. There is another article that is definitely worth reading is found in the issue #49 (Nov ‘96). The title is “Inside Tension Stances” and the sub title, “Sanchin-dachi, Neko-ashi-dachi, Hangetsu-dachi” by John Cheetham, the chief editor of this magazine. It is a 3 page article explaining whata those inside tension stances are and how they are constructed. It touches the subject that is not frequently touched and I recommend all Shotokan practitioners to read it if they have not. Unfortunately, the detailed information of Hangetsu dachi and it s very uniqueness were not mentioned or described in this article. However, I can not blame the author at all. He probably has a set of all karate textbooks such as Dynamic Karate, Karate-do Kyohan and Best Karate, but he can find only the steps of Hangetsu kata and not much else. In fact, we can find very little information on how to do this kata properly or on the details of Hangetsu dachi. The author wrote, “ – hangetsu dachi is described in most books and by most instructors as a longer version of sanchin dachi with all the same points as sanchin.” That is how it skips the detailed description of Hangetsu dachi.  I will attempt to bring out the hidden facts from the history and the comparison of this kata with the other Ryuha (styles) to fill the gap in this article. (read more...)     Shihan Yokota has published numerous articles and books:

Book announcement: Re-print of Karate Do Kyohan by Gichin Funakoshi

I am very proud to announce that KarateCoaching has access to the new re-print of Master Funokoshi's original book Karate Do Kyohan. KarateCoaching is working in cooperation with Tokon Martial Arts to fulfill your orders immediately. We can only highlight what a treasure this book in its full print is (not the shortened version that was published in the past) but we also need to mention that copies are limited so we highly recommend to place your order immediately as long as stock is still available. Please order through the website of our partner Tokon.com  
Karate Do Kyohan – Master Text for the Way of the Empty-Hand Written by Master Gichin Funakoshi – The complete original 1935 Japanese Edition Translated into English with all of the original photos and artwork 8.5” x 11” Format – Softcover Edition
This classic Shotokan Karate Master Text has been printed for the explicit purpose of providing an exact reproduction of the complete original 1935 Japanese publication, preserving a historically accurate archive replica in the English language, that now can be experienced and enjoyed by all who can appreciate its significance. This legacy, as is the true goal of Karate Do, is meant to be experienced with mind, body, and Spirit. Master Funakoshi's message is transmitted in these pages through philosophical thought, physical and mental practice methods, and most importantly, with manifest image. Each photograph of Master Funakoshi not only demonstrates the exact form and method of each technique, but is also an archetypal key to the spiritual path he followed and exemplified. This book is a comprehensive guide for the study of karate and is credited as the foundation document of the modern day karate movement. Inner strength and personal character development are stressed through an active daily regimen of physical exercise and martial technique. Kara-te Do Kyohan is Master Funakoshi's gift to mankind. An informed study will reveal that his focus in life was to share his knowledge and the benefits he acquired and experienced through a life of conscious self-discipline rooted in the principles of Karate Do. Gichen Funakoshi (1868-1957) was born in Shuri, Okinawa and, as a boy, began training with Yasutsune Azato (Shuri-te) and Yasutsune Itosu (Naha-te). Through many years of diligent practice these two styles were blended and became what is known today as Shotokan Karate.   A Look inside: picture51 copy   vpofb1 copy        

Winners of the All Japan Karate Championship KATA PT. IV

Years 1988 to 1997 MALE/FEMALE KATA Division
Year # DIVISION 1st 2nd 3rd
1988 31ST MEN / WOMEN HASHIGUCHI YUJI / MIMURA YUKI IMURA TAKENORI / NAKAMURA YOKO KAGAWA MASAO / KONO KEIKO
1989 32ND MEN / WOMEN AIHARA TOMOYUKI / MIMURA YUKI HASHIGUCHI YUJI / NAKAMURA YOKO KAGAWA MASAO / KONO KEIKO
1990 33RD MEN / WOMEN AIHARA TOMOYUKI / MIMURA YUKI HASHIGUCHI YUJI / NAKAMURA YOKO IMURA TAKENORI / AKIYAMA MIWA
1991 34TH MEN / WOMEN AIHARA TOMOYUKI / MIMURA YUKI IMURA TAKENORI NAKAMURA YOKO HASHIGUCHI YUJI / GUNJI MIYO
1992 35TH MEN / WOMEN IMURA TAKENORI / NAKAMURA YOKO HASHIGUCHI YUJI / KONO KEIKO AIHARA TOMOYUKI / GUNJI MIYO
1993 36TH MEN / WOMEN IMURA TAKENORI / NAKAMURA YOKO AIHARA TOMOYUKI / GUNJI MIYO HASHIGUCHI YUJI / AKIYAMA MIWA
1994 37TH MEN / WOMEN IMURA TAKENORI / NAKAMURA YOKO HASHIGUCHI YUJI / GUNJI MIYO AIHARA TOMOYUKI / OSHIMA KAORU
1995 38TH MEN / WOMEN IMURA TAKENORI / NAKAMURA YOKO HASHIGUCHI YUJI / GUNJI MIYO AIHARA TOMOYUKI / NAKATA TERUMI
1996 39TH MEN / WOMEN IMURA TAKENORI / NAKAMURA YOKO HASHIGUCHI YUJI / GUNJI MIYO AIHARA TOMOYUKI / NAKATA TERUMI
1997 40TH MEN / WOMEN IZUMIYA SEIZO / GUNJI MIYO HASHIGUCHI YUJI / NAKATA TERUMI TERASHIMA HISASHI / OSHIMA HITOMI

What are “Senpai” and “Kohai”?

  Here is Kanji for senpai; 先輩.  Sen, same in Sensei, means before or earlier.  Pai or Hai means fellow, buddy, comrade, associate, etc.  The literal meaning of senpai is a person or a fellow who joined before or earlier. Kanji for kohai is 後輩, a person who joined later or more recently. We use these terms not only in a dojo situation but also in any affiliation such as other clubs or associations and even in the work situation. Maybe, many of the readers have already known this much. Let's go into the fine points of these terms that may be confusing to non Japanese. The vertical structure of human relationship is very rigid and strictly enforced in Japan. This senpai status stays for the rest of one's life. What becomes confusing or hard for a westerner to understand is it goes beyond the dan ranks. In other words, even if a kohai attains a higher rank he cannot be a senpai. This kohai may sit higher position in a line up but he cannot change the status of kohai to his senpai. In Japan the following is commonly observed. A kohai will not  be allowed to take his dan exam before all his senpai take theirs. Of course, if a senpai quits a dojo or his training a kohai can take a dan exam and he could exceed his dan rank over his senpai.  But still his senpai is called as "senpai" when they happen to run into each other, say, in a street. This part is probably the biggest difference in the definition of senpai/kohai between Japan and Western world. Here, any student can take a dan exam without restriction or consideration to his senpai. A kohai can easily become higher rank and he will be called "senpai" because this word is considered as higher rank or senior rank or senior position. In Japan, you must be at least Nidan to be an assistant instructor who must go through minimum two years of instructor's training. These people are not called "sensei" but "kenshusei" or trainee. When he successfully completes his training and becomes Sandan then he will become "shidoin" or a certified instructor. Some of course becomes Sandan without going through the instructor's training and starts teaching. He may be called sensei but technically not shidoin as he is not certified by the organization such as JKA, JKS, etc. As these terms are many and confusing to the non Japanese people only the term of sensei is used in the western world. Often times the terms of senpai, kohai and sensei are used incorrectly (from the Japanese culture perspective) I feel strange but I go along with it. I feel the concept I just explained is too Japanese and it cannot be applied to the western culture.  I would like to hear what the readers think about this.  Also, if you have a question on any specific case feel free to send me your question. I will put up another blog later this week on the meaning of "Shihan", "Kyoshi", "Renshi" and "Hanshi".    

Shotokan Myth #1 Hikite

A good hikite is necessary to make a powerful punch.

Hikite is a Japanese word consisting of 引 “hiki” meaning pull or draw and 手“te”, a hand. When I started karate training in 60’s, my first instruction was given by a senpai and he showed me how to do chudan zuki from a natural stance.  I never forget him, Kato senpai.  He was barely 5 foot tall but was as fast as a lightening (as I remember him doing Enpi).   Anyway, Kato senpai said “Put your left hand out and set your right fist at your right hip. OK that is where you start a punch.   Now, draw your left fist to your hips very quickly and at the same time you punch with your right fist, like this.”  He showed me the impressive chudan seiken zuki several times in front of me.  Though it looked quite simple and easy to imitate, I found the turning of a punching fist was difficult and so was drawing the other fist to the hip (hikite).  He explained “You need to pay more attention to your hikite than to the punching fist.  The faster and stronger you draw your hikite so will your punch become”.  As it was my first day at karate training, his statement made a big impact in my head. A few months later, when I learned a kihon kumite of 5 attack (Gohon kumite), I had a problem with hikite again.  As we all know after the fifth block the defender needs to throw a counter punch.  As a defender, I kept my blocking hand out (rising block, down block, etc) as I delivered a counter punch.  My senpai said “No! No! No!  You need to do your hikite as you counter punch.  Your punch will be much stronger with a strong hikite”.  I thought I did a good counter punch but, no hikite was a big mistake which I had to correct.  To be honest, it was difficult not only because the coordination of two arms but more so because I was afraid to lower my block hand from jodan age (rising block) as the opponent’s fist was near my head.   I feared that his fist might hit my face but I later found the opponent was nice enough to hold his fist above my head. I suspect this kind of experience described above is very common for most of the people when they start karate training.  I must emphasize that the correction and change forced by that senpai were right thing to do and I would have done the same thing in the same situation.  In punching with a hikite two arms move to the opposite directions simultaneously.  This process must become as natural as two feet move in harmony while you are walking.  If you drag one foot behind and try to walk with only one foot, it will not be a smooth walk and the movement is not natural.  Walking mechanism is very natural to us and hikite mechanism can also be natural to karate-ka after a year of practice.  After it becomes a part of your natural move, no one thinks too deeply about it and you will have a powerful punch accompanied by a good hikite.  Here one has mastered a karate technique.  This is great.  We are all happy.  Now I can almost hear you say, “Well then, what is the problem?” (read more..)     Shihan Yokota has published numerous articles and books: