Tag Archives for " karate "

November 15, 2013

Karate Instructors Injury Survey (KIIS)

Dear Karateka around the world. I want to ask anybody who has a true passion for Karate and has more than 10 years of experience to help collect data for this survey. Please read more below:

Dr. Alex Sternberg alex.sternberg@downstate.edu 516 652-3211 (cell) KARATE INSTRUCTOR INJURY SURVEY

Dear Karatekas and Friends, I am enclosing a detailed information sheet regarding the KARATE INSTRUCTOR’S INJURY SURVEY. I am asking for your help in publicizing and disseminating this survey among your members and readers. As my information sheet clearly states, this survey is completely anonymous and the privacy of all respondents are strictly protected. This project has been approved by the Institutional Review Board (IRB) at the SUNY College of Medicine School of Public Health toward my research and dissertation for a Doctor of Public Health degree. ( approval # 483426-1) Privacy and anonymity of all respondents is guaranteed by the IRB at Downstate and any correspondence may be directed to Dr. John Meyer ( HYPERLINK"mailto:john.meyer@downstate.edu" john.meyer@downstate.edu),the chairman of the Environmental and Occupational Health division at the School of Public Health. This survey is anon-partisan, non style, non organizational project, who’s only purpose is to gather information on the frequency and severity of injuries associated with long term karate practice. I hope to publicize this survey, with your help, among all US Karate practitioners and instructors, regardless of what style they practice or what organization (if any) they may belong to.   Background: During the past 20 years, we have heard with increasing frequency, stories about injuries and surgeries (not sustained at tournaments) among those karate-kas who have practiced for 10, 20 or 30 years and more. Such injuries seem to be connected with training and over use. Why is this happening and how much of a problem is this? What is the cause of such over use injuries and who is most susceptible? It is my opinion, that it behooves us in the leadership of our industry to investigate this issue. Many other sports, such as boxing, football, baseball and others, once made aware of preventable injuries sidelining their athletes, took steps to control and reduce such risk associated with their sport. We, in karate must also take steps to protect our athletes and future instructors. The first step is to survey American karate-kas to determine the prevalence of such injuries. My survey seeks to answer some of these questions and to investigate the magnitude of this problem. Please write an editorial bringing my survey to your readers attention with a plea for their cooperation in filling out my survey. Feel free to include my information letter and the link to the survey. Should you want to contact me for more information, I will be delighted to work with you in order to help you to help me. Thank you Dr. Alex Sternberg   For any more information, please contact me: alex.sternberg@downstate.edu Karate Instructors Injury Survey (KIIS) To enter the survey please click on this hyperlink: https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/KarateInjurySurvey
November 15, 2013

Kuro Obi 黒帯 (Black Belt)

When you hear the term “black belt” I am sure it means more than just a black colored belt to you. For the karate practitioners it means our pride and many years of hard training. For the non-practitioners it may mean an expertise in karate or a dangerous person which we think funny.

Kuro ObiBecause of the movie, Kuro Obi, this Japanese term has become well known to many of the karate practitioners. The movie was not at a Hollywood level but a JKA instructor, Sensei Naka, co-starred. I would say it is interesting to see a real Shotokan instructor playing in a karate movie. Here is the URL to watch the entire movie: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=urQQBsoTjfw

Whatever the color your belt may be, you certainly wear it every time you train. It is so much a part of our karate training, yet there are many facts about karate belts that you may not know. You might have wondered about something related to a karate belt in the past and maybe you are still looking for the answers. The subjects here are, more or less, only the trivia of karate but I think they are interesting. To some extent, it is important for all of us to know and appreciate some facts. For that reason, I hope this article will help you with your better understanding of karate and its culture.

The dan rank and the black belt system in karate is itself an interesting and a puzzling subject. We must look at the history to understand where this belt system came from. Many of the readers may already know that there was no belt system in the Okinawa karate that was introduced to Japan by Master Funakoshi. Did you know that Funakoshi adopted this system from judo? The founder of judo, Jigoro Kano (1860 – 1938) was a very educated man who was also very talented and successful in business and academic arena. Gigoro KanoFor instance, he founded judo in late 19th century (1882 to be exact) and within a short period of time the membership of his dojo increased to several thousand members. He was also one the first representatives of the Olympic Committee from Japan. I suspect he invented the dan system about the same time he created judo from jujitsu. As you may know that judo and Kano had a huge influence on Shotokan karate at the early stage of Funakoshi teaching in Tokyo. In fact, the name of the style, Shotokan, believe it or not, shows its influence. The name of judo headquarters was Kodokan and it was a very reputable name in the martial arts society in Tokyo at that time. Thus, Funakoshi adopted the “kan” (Hall or Building) part in Shotokan, probably, hoping to build his dojo as big as Kodokan. There was another reason why Funakoshi chose Shotokan for his dojo name. He believed in having one karate and did not want to create his style, ryu. There was only one organization, Kodokan, in judo and he liked it. This is exactly what he wanted to see with karate and he used Shotokan for his dojo and refused to use “ryu”. This is why Shotokan has no ryu at the end of its name like Shito-ryu and Goju-ryu. Some people recently (ignorant, I am afraid) are referring our karate as Shotokan-ryu which I do not think Master Funakoshi would appreciate or approve. Here is a link to Wikipedia on Jigoro Kano if you are interested in learning more about this interesting man: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jigoro_Kano

Red & White BeltOK let’s go back to kuro obi, Funakoshi granted the first dan diploma to a few of his students as early as in 1924, two years after he migrated to Tokyo. In the early period of Shotokan karate the highest rank one could attain was Godan (5th degree) as they followed suit to the system in judo. As the population of judo increased Kodokan expanded its highest dan rank to 10th dan. Thus karate followed the rule change and the highest rank in Shotokan is 10th dan now. In some styles of karate a higher degree wears a different color belt. A practitioner of 6th, 7th or 8th dan would wear a red and white belt. For 9th and 10th dan a full red belt may be worn. These belts are also the imitation from the judo policy. Obviously Funakoshi did not like this idea so he did not adopt it. The Shotokan practitioners only use a black belt for all dan ranks.

belt with stripesIn other styles, the stripes are embroidered on the belt to show one’s rank. It is true that you cannot tell one’s rank if his belt is plain. I personally do not like this idea to make the ranks visible. I do not wish to criticize the other styles but I do not like it. In fact, I like the idea of a black belt turning into almost white after many years of wearing. I am proud to wear an old belt as it shared my daily training for many years. Old beltI sometimes come across with a few Shotokan practitioners who wear a belt with the stripes. I am sure they are ignorant about our tradition. I want them to know that it is Shotokan tradition to use only a plain black belt.

Kendo is another budo that has a dan system and their highest rank used to be 10th dan rank. It is interesting that in the year of 2000 the All Japan Kendo Federation decided to drop the 9th and the 10th dan ranks thus 8th dan is the highest rank one can attain now in kendo.

What I will bring up next is one particular subject about the karate dan rank system that, I consider, should be discussed more frequently. This is something that you all know well but it has not been discussed openly.

In many of the sports or athletic events they have their own ranking systems. For instance, in boxing it is divided into many weight divisions or classes and in each division they have the world ranks. I am also aware that there are different groups such as WBC, WBA, WBO, etc. and each one has its own ranks but I will not go into this part for our discussion today. The point I wish to bring up is the fact that the ranking systems in boxing are fluid and not permanent. In other words, your rank whether it is first (champion) or 100 will not stay permanently (though such a record may be kept as the historical ranking). It goes down when you lose in a fight and your rank disappears when you retire from the fighting. This is not the case in karate as well as in all budo. Once a dan rank is granted a practitioner will have that rank permanently. He can get promoted but the rank will never come down. I am aware that ranking system of the sports (boxing, tennis, etc.) are different in its objective from the budo’s dan ranks. In fact, judo now has the competitors ranking system called World Ranking (by IJF) that is unrelated to the dan rank system. I believe a dan rank is given on the belief that this particular practitioner will continue his training so that his ability will not deteriorate, in fact, it is expected only to improve. But the sad fact is that many people do not continue their training and quit. Only a handful will remain and train throughout their life. In addition, at a certain age one reaches the maximum of his physical ability and the skill level may even come down despite the continuing of the practice. It is an honorable thing to receive a dan rank and we should be proud of it. At the same time, I feel that the integrity and the substance of the dan ranks must be there to mean anything to us. It is a big shame but there are too many bogus and self-promoted ranks. I can truly understand why Funakoshi sensei refused to receive any dan ranks.

Let’s move on to another interesting subject. Have you ever wondered why kyu rank starts from 8th (at some dojo from 10th) and the rank decreases down to one kyu as a student progresses? Once you reach Shodan or the first degree black belt, the rank increases as you get promoted. When I first joined JKA 50 years ago I wondered why I did not start from 1 kyu. I wondered why the kyu system would not take an increasing system like the dan system and of course I could not ask such a thing to our teacher. Many years later I found that the kyu system had been intentionally structured this way. Let me share the concept behind this system and hopefully you will see the logic.

The fundamental concept of martial arts is that a student is not expected to start a real karate training until you become Shodan (first degree black belt). Some of you may know or practice a custom of making a new Shodan to wear a white belt for a short period of time (a month or so). This custom is to let a new Shodan know that he is now starting a real karate training or he is finally at the starting point of real learning of karatedo. Until that level a student’s objective or a goal is to build the foundation and at the same time, reduce the bad habits or the “natural” ways of body movements.

Open handThis may be a difficult concept but is an important one. In other words a student will learn the basic karate ways or the conditions that are necessary to learn the real karate techniques. Open hand 2For an example, if you ask a street person to make a fist he can probably make something that is similar to a karate fist, seiken 正拳.However, if you ask him to show you an open hand he will show you something like Photo A (natural open hand, left above). You ask him next to put the fingers together, he will show you a hand like Photo B (right above) but never shuto 手刀(knife hand, Photo C below). Shuto handIt will require a little learning to make a shuto hand. It will require numerous repetition to “forget” your natural hand forms (A and B) and make this shuto hand (C) “natural” to you.

This is just a small example and the scope of the preparation (forgetting the natural ways) will extend to all those stances, body shifting, postures, breathing method, leg strength, ki-ai as well as the dojo etiquettes just to name a few. All the knowledge and the techniques, indeed, are necessary before a practitioner can “start” the karate training. Note: In a perfect world, all those “pre-requisites” should be learned in advance, but in a real situation the learning of these matters are done in parallel as he engages in karate training. This is why you start from 8th kyu and move up to one kyu as you get yourself prepared for the real karate training.

BeltDisplayAnother subject; we all know that a beginner starts with a white belt. Before he reaches a black belt there are many different colors such as yellow, blue, green, etc. When I started my karate training in early 60’s there were only two colors before black. They were white and brown. If I remember correctly I started from Mu-kyu (no kyu) and with the first exam I became 6th kyu. We were all white until we reached 3 kyu (brown belt). Now most of the dojos start from either 8th kyu or 10th kyu. Some dojo even give a stripe to show a half kyu advancement. In one dojo the chief instructor told me he would never advance a student by one full kyu. With the first exam a student will become 10 and a half kyu. With this system this student has to take 20 kyu examinations before he reaches 1 kyu to go for a black belt. I did not make any comment to this instructor (luckily he was and is not in the same organization) as he considered karate as a pure business. I am not here to make a judgment on making karate a pure business but I personally would not send my sons to his dojo. Each student is different in his development and speed of learning. Though it may not be good for a business but I do not like having so many examinations in order to receive more money from of the students (or their parents).

A popular question I receive is if the colors to the kyu ranks are fixed or if there is a universal order. The quick answer is no. The basic idea is to start from white (no color) and the belt gets darker towards black. At many dojo the next color to white is either yellow or light blue and I think it makes sense. However, some dojo start with a red belt for 10th and 9th kyu. Red belt 2It is indeed a very dark color but it is intentional. As we all know that the drop-out rate is the highest with the white belt. The instructors believe the red color belt will give more motivation than a yellow or a blue to the beginners and they will stay with the training longer. This may be true and that would be another business decision a dojo instructor needs to make. Incidentally I find it interesting because in judo and a few karate organizations, a red belt is allowed to 9th and 10 dan. In our organization, we have a guideline of the colors that are associated with the kyu ranks but it is not mandatory. We let the member dojo decide on the colors for the kyu ranks.

Here is another popular question. After having a lengthy absence or illness, say more than a year or longer, you may wonder if you deserve to wear your old black belt. You may not be sure what color of a belt you should wear when you return to your dojo. There is no universal rule on this subject and it is up to the policy of an individual dojo. Many dojos or organizations do not mind a member wearing his black belt even if had a long absence. Some dojos have a policy that a returned practitioner has to wear a white belt for a certain period of time. That length varies and again, it will depend on an organization’s rule or policy.

If you are a black belt but you had a long absence and today is your first day back. What belt should you wear? Ask yourself if you can perform just as good as you did right before your lengthy absence. If you are exceptionally talented and if you are confident in your performance, then you can wear your old kuro-obi. However, if you are an average person then you feel less coordinated and out of shape. You may even forget some of the kata. If this is the case, why not wear a white belt? Or does your self-pride or ego bother you? I would rather look as a great white belt than a very poor black belt. Believe me the color of a belt does not help you with your karate. It will not make you look any better or worse so why not wear a white belt for a few months until you gain back your coordination, your stamina, etc? Length of being a white belt depends on the length of one’s absence as well as that person’s ability to gain back to the black belt level. It can be only a couple of months to a half year. It will all depend on an individual and your sensei should be able to tell you when you are ready.

So, what do you think of your kuro obi now? Asai Dojo kunOne thing I can tell you is that even if your belt is black, it will not help you with your karate or make you look any better. On the other hand, if you wear a kuro obi there will be a certain amount of obligation and responsibility associated with your belt. For instance, you need to train not once or twice a week but every day. You must be in shape and lead a healthy life. Obesity must not be tolerated for a black belt. You also need to live by Dojo Kun and follow Niju Kun.

Do we need those big knuckles? 拳ダコは必要か?

Kendako-3 The big knuckles a karate-ka has developed on his hands are called “ken-dako, 拳ダコ” in Japanese. They are typically developed on the index and middle fingers. Typically, the young karate-ka would proudly show off the bulging and discolored knuckles as a proof of their “hard” training. It is almost like a war medal or a qualification badge. We all know how these knuckles were developed. They became big from the ponding, thousands of times on the piece of karate training equipment called a makiwara. The question I bring up today is if these big knuckles are really necessary for a karate-ka to be called an expert. The thoughts I share with you are purely my own personal opinions. I do not claim what I am proposing is correct but one thing I can say is that I have a very strong opinion about this subject. A makiwara has become an iconic training tool of karate. It seems that every dojo must have at least one makiwara post to claim its legitimacy. Most of the sensei of dojos I have visited almost always showed me their makiwara posts very enthusiastically. A makiwara comes in various heights, thicknesses, . and of many different kinds. I have already written a chapter on training with a makiwara in my book, Shotokan Myths. If you are interested in this subject please refer to Chapter 4 in my book (available through Amazon and Kindle). In fact, I must say that makiwara training is one of the most popular topics that the karate-ka wishes to discuss. I am the main contributor of Karate Coaching (www.karatecoaching.com), the worlds most advanced and comprehensive online karate instruction service provider. The editor told me that the demonstration clip of my makiwara training received the most attention. Makiwara-Funakoshi As a conclusion in Chapter 4 of Shotokan Myths, I wrote in essence that the senior yudansha need to graduate from makiwara training and move to the next level of training. I almost wanted to write that makiwara training was no longer needed for the senior practitioners but I decided not to. I was afraid my true meaning would be misunderstood by such a comment. It is true that many senior instructors including the world famous ones are believers of makiwara training. Those instructors include Funakoshi, Shotokan founder, Mas Oyama, Kyokushinkai founder, Tetsuhiko Asai, Asai-ryu karate founder and Higaonna, 10th dan Goju-ryu. It is well known that Master Oyama and Higaonna both have huge knuckles. I am not completely against makiwara training. Those masters are professionals as well as karate experts so those knuckles are well fitting and there is nothing wrong with that. After having written that I would still say “no” to the original question; “Do we need big knuckles?” I am sure many readers will wonder why I say this. Probably many of you will argue that by having big knuckles the practitioner’s effectiveness (destruction power) of his fists will increase. One karate-ka told me, “Sensei, a fist with big knuckles is like having a 44 magnum gun. If you have the untrained knuckles you cannot break the bricks or 10 tiles. A fist with the small knuckles would be a 22 pistol.” Even though I am not sure if the analogy is quite accurate, in essence I agree to what he was trying to tell me. Even then I still say we do not need a set of big knuckles in order to be qualified as a senior karate-ka. You do not need more than a 22 pistol to kill an assailant in a standard self-defense circumstance. Let me explain why I claim that we do not need big knuckles. • The biggest myth with huge knuckles is the following. The big knuckles are toughened to the point a fist with those knuckles can knock out any opponent. However, I must say that simply having big knuckles does not necessarily translate into a destructive or scary punch. In the case of a magnum gun it does have tremendous fire power no matter who shoots it. But you must remember it is a gun and a punch is a totally different story. In order to have an effective or devastating punch, one must learn how to punch correctly. A big and toughened fist can be a good tool or at least a scary looking one but it must be backed up by a punching technique to make it work or effective. If your punch is slow or delivered poorly then it will not matter regardless of the size or the hardness of your fist. In fact, if you want something for your self protection it is better or more useful if you would carry a baseball bat or a stick. If you are a professional karate-ka who can train 4 or more hours daily then it is not a problem to punch a makiwara for 15 minutes or even longer . However, I assume that the most of the readers can only train 2 or 3 times a week and each training period must be 90 minutes or shorter. In this situation I hate to see a practitioner spend the valuable 15 minutes pounding on a makiwara. Don’t you think spending that time on kihon or kata is better or more productive for your karate improvement? • Secondly, I do not think the idea of showing off the deformed knuckles bodes well with one of the karate-do values called humbleness. This is the same idea of not showing off one’s blackbelt to the public. When I was in a business meeting in Japan I used to hide or position my hands so that the discolored knuckles would not be visible. It was not because I was embrassed with the fists or felt ashamed of karate training. In Japan the people would easily know what my fists mean and I did not want to intimidate anyone. I may sound as if I’m exaggerating but it would be like placing a knife on a negotiation table. I do not think the sight of big knuckles will bring any pleasure to anyone who are non karate-ka. • The third reason is most important. As we advance in the skill level of karate we need to graduate from the crude punching and overt techniques to more advanced techniques. They are less visible and more like piercing or tapping techniques that are mainly aimed at the kyusho, the critical parts of thebody. The kyusho such as eyes, neck, ears and groin are typically soft and the toughened fits and hands are not necessary to deliver an effective attack. At those targets a fist, a knife hand, the finger tips and a wrist are all effective even if they are not toughened. In addition, once you learn the one-inch-punch technique you no longer need to smash your fist into an opponent to knock him down. Of course this is an ultimate technique but it is not magic and anyone can learn it. • Another reason why I discourage anyone from developing big knuckles is the ill consequence it may cause. I am afraid the deformed knuckles could result in an arthritis symptom when a practitioner gets old. I do not have the medical expertise nor scientific data on this so I would like to receive the input from the readers on this. • Lastly, I am sort of a romanticist. Frankly, I hate to see our fists deformed and making them look like those of a zombie (see the photo below). This is far from beauty and I detest it. Earlier I explained that the toughened fists are not necessary to deliver an effective karate technique. So, why would you want to deform your fists? Kendako-2 Karate is the genetleman’s art and this is exactly what Funakoshi wanted. For those reasons listed above it is my strong belief that the ugly fists do not fit in the art of karate-do. These are my personal opinions and the feelings I have towards Kendako. You are welcome to leave your opinions and thoughts on this subject. by Shihan Yokota More information about Karate (Shotokan, Shito Ryu, Wado Ryu and Goju Ryu) – visit the most comprehensive Karate website in the world and join the movement:KarateCoaching.com  

What are Internal system & External system?

I assume the readers already know that there are some categorization measures in martial arts. Each one shows the characteristics that supposedly differentiate one style from another, but the fact is that all the styles contain different amounts of the characteristics of both opposing personalities.  The categorization of a style itself will not bring any positive effect or a merit. The benefit comes only when we understand better about our style and to be able to include some training that will make our style more effective and meaningful.
asai (2) So, let us start with a few popular categorization methods. The most common one is probably the differentiation by the long distance 遠距離 and short distance 近距離 fighting styles. Shotokan is a good example of the long distance fighting system and Goju-ryu, on the other side, is of the short distance system. Asai ryu karate is based on the standard Shotokan, a long distance fighting method, with an addition of the techniques from a short distance fighting system; White Crane kung fu was incorporated by Master Tetsuhiko Asai. This categorization method is rather obvious and comparatively easy to grasp. I do not believe it needs further explanation on this categorization method.   Another popular categorization in karate is Shorin 松林system and Shorei 昭靈system.  Shorin represents the system with the light and fast techniques and this is exemplified by kata such as Enpi, Kanku, Gankaku and Unsu. Shorei is, on the other hand, the system supposedly designed for the larger built karate-ka for the powerful movements and the slower techniques. Jion, Jutte and Sochin are the typical kata of Shorei style. This categorization has been explained by many other writers in the past.  I have my doubts on the legitimacy of this categorization method but I will not touch on it in this article. One other popular categorization in karate is Naha-te 那覇手 and Shuri-te 首里手. Naha and Shuri both indicate the particular regions of Okinawa where the different styles of karate were developed and practiced.  Shotokan belongs to Shuri-te as our style came from the most popular Shuri-te style of Shorin-ryu 松林流. The most popular Naha-te styles are Goju-ryu and Uechi-ryu. The categorization I wish to focus on in this article is called Internal System and External System. As far as I know this categorization method has not been explained too well to the Shotokan practitioners in the past. Among the Chinese martial arts this categorization method is as popular as the Northern Style and the Southern Style. The Internal System and the External System are written in kanji as 内家拳 and 外家拳 which literally means “inside house (or family) fist” and “outside house (family) fist”. Most of the practitioners now explain the meaning of “inside (family) house” as the internal workings of our body such as breathing and the mental aspect of a martial art.  However, it originally meant “not staying with the family” or “not living in one’s house” but living in a Buddhist temple.  Therefore, a famous Shaolin Temple kung fu (Photo below) and its derivative styles (literally hundreds of them) are called 外家拳, “outside house fist”. Shaolin-kung-fu-227x300 Shaolin kung fu 少林拳法 refers to a collection of Chinese martial arts that claim affiliation with the Shaolin Monastery and the style generally emphasize long range techniques, quick advances and retreats, wide stances, kicking and leaping techniques, whirling circular blocks, quickness, agility, and aggressive attacks. Due to numerous Hong Kong movies, Shaolin Kung Fu is well known in the western world. However, there seems to be a lot of misconceptions and false beliefs about this fighting style. I suggest that the readers will learn more about it by reading the Wikipedia page:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shaolin_Kung_Fu The other group, “inside (family) house” or staying with the family means that a practitioner is not a professional monk. This is a group of the fighting methods that are not linked to the Shaolin Monastery.  The famous three styles of the Internal System are Tai chi Chuan 太極拳, Xing Yi Quan 形意拳 and Ba Gua Zhang 八卦掌.  They are classified as “inside house” fist.   Tai_chi-300x200Tai Chi Chuan (photo left) is a slow-motion and meditative exercise for relaxation, health and to a lesser degree self-defense. Tai Chi has gained enormous popularity throughout the world for its health benefits. In Chinese philosophy Tai Chi means the ultimate source and limit of reality, from which spring yin and yang and all of creation. There are many different styles of Tai Chi from a popular slow motion style mainly for a relaxation and health purpose to a style that has some explosive moves that is better fit for self-defense training. To learn more about Tai Chi Chuan check the Wikipedia page here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/T’ai_chi_ch’uan 形意拳-207x300 Xing Yi Quan or Hsing I Chuan (photo below) may be a lesser known Internal System or 内家拳 to the karate world but it is one of the best known internal martial arts and is recognized as the most effective fighting style. Xing Yi means “Shape Mind”, and Quan means “Fist”. The name derives from the style’s imitation of the movements and inner characteristics of twelve animals (dragon, tiger, eagle, bear, chicken, hawk, horse, monkey, snake, phoenix, swallow and alligator). The style was created by Marshal Yeuh Fei, a famous general of the Chinese Song Dynasty. One of the purposes of Xingyiquan training, like Taijiquan is aimed to improve Qi or Ki circulation in the body and to maintain health. The training is supposed to build up a level of internal Qi and this leads to the strengthening of both the physical body and the mental body. For more information on Xing Yi Quan read the chapter in Wikipedia:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Xing_Yi_Quan   Ba-Gua-198x300 Ba Gua Zhang is one of the three orthodox “internal” styles and the name literally translates to Eight Trigrams Palm. These trigrams are symbols which are used to represent all of the natural phenomena as described in the ancient Chinese text of divination, the Book of Changes (Yi Jing). Zhang means palm as Ba Gua Zhang emphasizes the use of the open hand in preference to the closed fist. Ba Gua Zhang is based on the theory of continuously changing in response to the situation at hand in order to overcome an opponent with the circular and smooth skill rather than brute force. Its embusen is very unique as it is built on complex circular lines and the techniques are delivered not to the direction of the moves but mainly to the center of a circle or a side of a performer (photo right). I personally like this style as its foot work is based on normal walking steps which I really think makes sense. The performer walks with fast steps in circular lines and deliver the techniques while he is “walking”. To learn more about Ba Gua or Pa-kua, read the chapter in Wikipedia:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Baguazhang Also, there are many good video clips of Ba Gua kata performance by some elder masters.  Here is a link to my favorite Ba Gua kata called “The old 8 mother palm” performed by Master Sun: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n8agvbyMDkU OK these are all Chinese style martial arts so you may ask “What is the relationship to our karate? “  We need to look at the other interpretation of Internal System and External System. You will see the relationship as we go over the key points of the Internal and External systems according to the second interpretation. I am aware each martial art and karate style has a characteristic of all the categories and the categorization including Internal and External System method any categorization does not clearly divide the styles. By learning the categories and the characteristics I wish to present the general nature of Shotokan and to show the whole perspective so that the readers can understand where our style sits.  With this exercise I hope we can identify the strength of Shotokan as well as the possible areas where it is lacking. The ultimate goal of this article is the knowledge and the better understanding of Shotokan karate and the possible improvement in training as the knowledge would, hopefully, reflect in the training menu. Let us start with Internal System or styles. This system’s focus is on the practice of such elements as awareness of the spirit, mind, qi (breath, or energy flow) and the use of relaxed leverage rather than brutal muscular tension. While the principles that distinguish internal styles from the external were described at least as early as the 18th century. Push-hands-2 Components of internal training includes stance training, stretching and strengthening of muscles, as well as on empty hand and weapon forms. In addition to the solo practice of the forms, many internal styles have basic two-person training, such as pushing hands. A notable characteristic of internal styles is that the forms are generally performed at a slow or normal pace. This is thought to improve coordination and balance by increasing the work load by moving slowly in low stances, and to require the practitioners to pay close attention to their whole body and its weight as they perform a technique. In some styles, for example Chen style of Tai Chi and Ba Gua, there are forms that include sudden outbursts of explosive movements. At an advanced level, the techniques are performed quickly. The ultimate goal is to learn to manage and control the entire body in every movement keeping relaxed with deep, controlled breathing, and to coordinate the body movements and the breathing accurately while maintaining perfect balance. Let’s look at External styles or System next. External System is characterized by fast and explosive movements. Its focus is on physical strength and agility. External System includes both the traditional styles focusing on application and actual fighting, as well as the modern styles adapted for competition. Shaolin quan have many Wushu (martial arts) forms both with and without weapons that include the aerial techniques and explosive attacks. External styles begin with a focus on muscular power, speed and application. They generally integrate their qigong (Ki training) aspects in advanced training, after the excellent physical level has been reached.   From these definitions to which group do you think that Shotokan belongs? I guess the answer is easy. Shotokan definitely has many characteristics of the External System. By learning more about the characteristics of the other system, we can identify the area where Shotokan may be lacking. I hope you can make your karate training more comprehensive by adding some exercises to supplement the missing area. So, where are the areas in Shotokan that are possibly missing? They are probably Ki or Qi training, the breathing exercises and the softer movements. Can you identify if any of these may be missing from your training syllabus? Breathing-21-172x300 For the breathing training Hangetsu is an excellent kata through which you can learn to coordinate the kata techniques with breathing. However, you may complain that this is the only kata that was designed for such training in Shotokan. You are correct about this, but once you learn the breathing training idea of this kata, you can apply it to any kata you may know. The best kata to practice the breathing method from the JKA kata line up may be Jion, Jutte, Nijushiho, Meikyo, Sochin to name a few. Regarding the breathing exercise and method, I have written an article on this subject so you are welcome to refer to that article which can be found earlier in this same blog.   Ki-exchange One other training that I consider missing in the standard Shotokan syllabus is Ki or Chi training. This is an important subject that needs to be understood by all the senior karate practitioners. It is also a deep subject that requires a lot of explanation. I also have written about this subject previously (What is “Ki”? and Ki exchange with a tree). If you are interested in the subject I suggest that you will read those articles that can be found in this blog. One more thing I wish to call your attention here, is that deep breathing is closely linked and is critically necessary to Ki training and exercise. Even if you do not understand anything about Ki, when you do your deep breathing exercise, believe it or not, you would be strengthening your Ki at the same time. As Asai sensei introduced a short distance fighting method to the standard Shotokan karate to make it more effective, you can add the exercises of the Internal System to your Shotokan training syllabus. By doing so, you will be expanding your karate system beyond the standard Shotokan into something more comprehensive that you can call an Internal and External System. I hope this article has raised enough interest in the readers and that you will go out of the box and consider to invest some time and energy to make your karate “better”. by Shihan Yokota More information about Karate (Shotokan, Shito Ryu, Wado Ryu and Goju Ryu) - visit the most comprehensive Karate website in the world and join the movement: KarateCoaching.com

What are ritsurei 立礼 and zarei座礼?

Rei  

Bowing, rei is a very important ritual and etiquette in our dojo but do you know the proper way of doing rei? I hear that in many dojo a correct way does not get taught properly. I also find the incorrect way of bowing is exercised in some of the dojo I visit. I will explain the correct way here so you can use this as your reference. I must clarify that what I describe here is the common etiquette exercised in the standard Shotokan dojo in Japan.

Many of the other styles and martial arts do their rei differently. I was a member of Kyokushinkai for one year and they do it differently. When I joined Kyokushinkai I was already sandan in Shotokan. I wanted to experience the full contact karate as I was struggling with the idea of non contact kumite. When I joined kyokushinkai, ignorantly I expected the rei method to be identical. I remember clearly how surprised I was when I found it was quite different. I will not go into their method as this article is written specifically for the Shotokan practitioners. If you practice aikido, kendo, i-aido, etc. you most likely have experienced different rituals.

In a Shotokan dojo, there are two situations for bowing. One is ritsurei from standing position and the other zarei from sitting or seiza. Let me explain both situations and start with Ritsurei as it is simpler.

Part 1   Ritsurei立礼

From shizentai stance (natural stance with the feet in shoulder length apart) with your arms and open hands extended on the sides of your body. I will explain using the illustration below (front view).

Ritsurei 4 photos

1) Bring right foot inward (hands and arms do not move). There is another method which is not as polite as the method above but it can be done as follow; bring left foot half way in first then bring right foot in to complete.

2) Make musubi dachi

3) Bow by bending from the hips with the upper body straight. Your eye sight goes down to the floor in front of you. Bend down about 30 to 45 degrees. In Japan there are many rules and the degrees of the bowing change depending on the situations. In dojo situation approximately 30 to 45 degrees is proper. It does not need to be any deeper than 45 degrees. An extreme deep bowing (close to 90 degrees) is very rarely done and it is used only in an unique and unusual situations such as apologizing in Japan. This is not necessary in dojo situation.  At the same time, the bowing must not be less than 30 degree as it will appear as disrespecting and impolite. (see the side view below)

4) After returning to the erect position, you will bring your right foot outward to make shizentai stance, at the same time you willcross your arms in front of you with your hands now closed. Ritsurei side view

5) Bring the fists to your front with a shoulder width apart as you assume shizentai stance.

                

Standing bow is not too difficult for the westerners and most practitioners perform well with this bowing ritual.

OnRitsurei with hands fronte common question I hear is the position of the hands.  Some people said “When I visited Japan most of the people put their hands in front of their thighs rather than the side (photo). It is true that this method is very common especially among the merchants and women.  I do not have a photo here but I remember seeing a photo of Funakoshi sensei bowing this way.  So, I do not think this is an incorrect way but I can say it is not very common among the karate practitioners.

 

 

I need to bring your attention to two common mistakes I see in the western world:

  •   Sticking your chin up and look up when you bow (photo right).
The child in the photo here is showing a common incorrect bowing that I see in many dojos. One western sensei told me that he teaches the stWrong ritsureiudents to keep looking at their opponents as it is dangerous to look down and lose the sight of the opponents. It sounds almost convincing but this concept does not bode well with the Japanese budo concept. I even saw a movie where a Japanese sensei was beaten up by a western karateka who attacked him in the middle of a rei. I laughed at the scene when I saw it. If this Japanese sensei was a real master then he could have seen the unexpected move of the opponent’s feet and detected an attack. To me it was not realistic and obviously the director was non-Japanese who obviously did not understand budo or Japanese martial arts. I hope all sensei of Shotokan will teach their students that rei is a ritual to show a mutual respect before a fight. This means the head will go down as you bow to show the respect.  
  • Slapping your hands on the legs before bowing
I see this action frequently done by the competitors in the tournaments. Maybe some people believe this would show some spirit but this action is considered impolite and we consider it silly. This behavior should not be taught nor permitted.

 

I will explain Zarei, seiza bowing in Part 2 which will be out in a day or two.

What is “Oss”?  「押忍」ってどんな意味?

What is “Oss”?  「押忍」ってどんな意味? Here is another Japanese culture lesson today.  We will take the same process of understanding the base meaning of the kanji that is used for this popular dojo word.  Then I will add the interesting cultural aspect of this unique word. This word is prounced and written in a few different ways.  Many write “Osu” or “Oss”, some pronounce it “Ous” and I write “Ossu”.  They are just different pronunciations and all of them are“correct”. O from “oss” is written like this,押 and it means to push or surpress.  The part of “ss” or “su” is written in kanji as 忍 which means to endure or persevere.  Therefore, these two kanji together, 押忍 symbolizes the attitude of suppressing your own emotions and endure the hard training or tiring toil or duty.  This word is commonly used by the budo practitioners such as karate, judo and kendo.  But it is also used by the athletes of the sports that are typically considered aggressive or macho such as baseball, football, etc. It is also typically used by the male practitioners or athletes in Japan.  This is because “osu” is also written as 牡 which means “male”, therefore many Japanese female feel uncomfortable saying “Osu”.  In many dojo they are allowed or even recommended not to use “Osu” and use the normal greeting words and also yes and no when they answer back to their sensei , senpai and colleagues.  As Judo and karate became so popular around the world, so did the word Oss/Osu.  The cultural part of the word being very male oriented, however, did not spread so many western female practitioners and athletes use this word. Let’s look at the history.  Surprisingly, the origin is not clear and there are a few theories. I share two of them. One theory is that this word was invented only in mid-20th century in the imperial Navy of Japan which supposed to have nurtured the spirit of samurai.  The way it happened was like this.  The Japanese for Good morning is Ohayo gozai masu. The soldiers were trained to do things in a hurry all the time in the navy including the greetings and responses.  Thus, supposedly, the greetings of Ohayo gozai masu was cut down to only “O” and “su” and became “O-su”.  The greetings for the afternoon and evening are different, of course, but “Osu” began to be used for all occasions including the answers whether Yamamoto Tsunetomoit is yes or no.   Another theory says it was invented by the samurai of Saga clan (佐賀

藩 in Kyushu island). Famous author of Hagakure(葉隠), Yamamoto Tsunetomo (山本常朝 1659 – 1719) w

as born in this clan and bushido was very strong and strictly exercised there.  Sup

posedly the young samurai of Saga clan in 18th and 19th centuries used “Osu” for their morning greetings.

  If you are interested in Yamamoto Tsunetomo, see Wikipedia about his biography: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yamamoto_Tsunetomo Hagakure was considered by many samurai as the spiritual guide to true bushido.  If you do not know about this famous book, Hagakure read the simple explanation in Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hagakure Many people asked me why there is only one “Osu” for both yes and no answers.  To be able to understand this you need to understand the culture of bushido or Japanese martial arts. The backbone of bushido is total obedience.  Read Hagakure and you will have a better understanding whether you agree or disagree with the fundamental concept of total obedience. Here in the western world, when a sensei says “jump” the students may ask “why” or say “no”. Of course, some of them may ask “How high?”  In a Japanese dojo, all the students without an exception would answer “Osu” and jump.  So, there is no need for a“no” answer in a dojo in Japan. I am sure many Western people would probably consider this act “stupid” or brain washed and unwise.  I want to emphasize that the purpose of the comparison of the cultures of the two different worlds is not to judge which is better or right, but rather to show merely the differences so that the readers will have a better understanding. I hope you now have a better idea of what “Oss” stands for and where it came from.  I also hope that you will appreciate this word better and be more conscientious when you say "Oss!".   Special thanks to Colin Watkin who provided the picture. You can find great articles on his website: www.hyoho.com

Interview with Shihan Yokota

Can we please start by asking you how you first started you karate training and why? (Kousaku Yokota)     My father was a Kodokan judo blackbelt, so he encouraged me to take up judo when I was in junior high school.  There was no judo club in my school so I went to the ward police station headquarters where the policemen were teaching martial arts (only judo and kendo).  I took up judo when I was 13 and practiced for 3 years.  I earned a junior black belt and won a high school championship. One day a short boy joined the judo club.  I clearly remember him to be quite strange because every time I threw him down on the mat he would spring up and gets in a strange stance (I think it was a cat stance now that I think of it).  Normally a new student would not jump up from the mat after being thrown down like he did.  I had never seen this unusual move.  After a few weeks I got to know him better so I asked him why he did this.  He said he practiced karate and he was taking up judo to learn how it was to be thrown so he could fight a judo man.  Up to that time I really believed that judo was invincible and greatest martial art so I said to him “So, you learned karate cannot beat judo, right?’  To my surprise he said, “Judo is great when some body grabs you but a judo guy cannot beat a karate guy if he is more than 3 feet away.”  I did not understand what he meant as I did not know the techniques of karate.  He explained and demonstrated what karate could do and I was very fascinated.  When I went into senior high school, although the Judo club tried very hard to recruit me, my mind was set.  I wanted to start karate.  Again, there was no karate club in my school so I joined a karate club at the main YMCA in my hometown, Kobe.  That dojo happened to be the headquarters of JKA (Japan Karate Association) of Hyogo prefecture taught by late Master Sugano (9th dan).   (SB)     Can you please tell us a little about Sugano Sensei, and your early experiences with him and karate? (KY)     Sugano Sensei was a big guy especially a man of his generation.  He must have been 180cm tall and weighed about 90 – 100kg.  When I first joined the club in 60’s, I was one of the lowly students so I did not have any interactions with him.  One thing I can say is that he flunked me when I took my first kyu test.  It is unbelievable that I could not even pass my first kyu test.  It is a long story so I will not explain how it happened. Sugano Sensei was independently wealthy.  He owned a bar and a tobacco shop that were very profitable.  After the evening trainings, he used to take us to his bar.  We did not drink any alcohol but we enjoyed the informal gathering with the other instructors.  At those get together, we could ask him some personal and karate related questions which we could not do at our dojo (it’s a Japanese tradition that the students never ask questions).  He told us that we should never pick up karate as a profession to earn living.  This is because by doing so, your students become the “customers”.  You would be afraid to lose the customers and your training methods would change thus the quality of your instructions would be compromised.  He had a big impact as I was thinking of becoming a full time instructor and living on this profession.  Actually, none of the instructors under Sugano Sensei’s command were full time instructors.  They all had some kind of jobs to support their families. As far as the karate is concerned I remember he had a very “heavy” punch.  His fist was like a hammer and when he hits you (in a demonstration) I did feel like a sledgehammer had hit me.  The impact went through my whole body.  He had a very scary face as well.  I don’t know the translation but his face looked like a Japanese “oni”, like a goblin or a devil.  He told me that the local yakuza (Japanese mafia) were afraid of him and I believe it.  Here is a not so scary looking picture of Sugano sensei. Unfortunately, he liked to smoke and drink.  After having some drinks he told us some interesting stories and some crazy things he did when he was young.  I would not go into this but I really enjoyed listening to his stories.  He had heart attack when he was in his 60’s so the doctor told him that he should not drink or smoke.  I remember him saying; “I would not like to live long if I cannot enjoy my life with my favourite vices”.  He passed away in 2002 at the age of 74.  Like Asai sensei he was not scared of dying.  He went like a samurai but in a different way. I want to add something here.  As I lost my original sensei in 2002, I was free to resign from JKA.  This is why I could transfer to JKS in 2002.   (SB)     You enjoyed a very successful competitive career am I right? Could you please tell us about some of the most vivid memories you have from your competitive years. (KY)     Though I did enjoyed the competitions when I was active in that aspect of karate, to be honest, I was not very active in the tournaments when I was training in Philadelphia during the 70’s.  I have treated karate as a martial art since then so my motivation was always beyond tournaments.  I competed in the US only a couple of years and got some good experiences. There were many good competitors in East Coast region so I enjoyed competing against them. As I was not getting enough training at Philadelphia dojo, I decided to go back to Japan to complete my Kenshusei training there.  I went back in ’81 and stayed in Hyogo prefecture for two years. Upon returning to Hyogo, I went back to Sugano sensei’s dojo and continued my serious training.  Even though my purpose of the training was not tournaments, I will mention about them as you are asking about my competition experiences. I entered the prefecture championship, which was elimination round for the national championship, a few months after my return.  Luckily I placed first so got a ticket to JKA All Japan Championship in Tokyo.  That is probably the most memorable experience out of my competition days.  I competed with the best competitors of the world in that era such as Osaka sensei and Yahara sensei.  They are my age group and they were in their prime time.  Also, this is the first time I witnessed, with my own eyes, Master Asai’s techniques in his demo.  I was truly impressed by his techniques as they were very unique and unlike JKA karate.  His arms are like whips and flew around so fast.  It was unbelievable and he left a tremendous impression on me. In 1981 I also represented my prefecture in Kokutai (All Japan Athletic Fair), which was held in Shiga prefecture.  It is like a miniature Olympics and karate was one of the new events.  Also, it should be noted that JKA joined WUKO hosted tournament for the first time.  It was memorable as I saw and competed against, for the first time, the top-notch karate practitioners of other styles such as Shito Ryu, Goju Ryu and Wado Ryu.  I was also exposed to the protective gears like Menho (face protector) and large fist pad.  I believe in not using any protective gears including groin cups so I did not like them.   These equipments allowed the techniques that were way short in distance (as you are not supposed to touch the face mask to win a point).  That was also the first time I saw a fighting style with a lot of hopping.  This kind of kumite may be popular in Shotokan now a days.  In 70’s and early 80’s our stance was low and pretty much stationary.  We moved our steps carefully and never hopped.  We believed in Ippon shobu and our moves are very similar to two samurai in a sword fight. I represented Hyogo prefecture in All Japan Championship in ’82 and that was my last event in my competition life.  I was 35 years old and many coaches were younger than me.  I returned to the US (California) in ’83 and never competed again.   (SB)     You mentioned you competed with the likes of Osaka and Yahara. Did you ever get the chance to fight either of these? (KY)     At the national championship, (read more...)   Shihan Yokota has published numerous articles and books: +Marcus Hinschberger

Shotokan Myth #6 Makiwara Training

Makiwara is a true tradition of karate and its training is a must for all karate-ka. The makiwara has been a fixture in karate dojos since its introduction to mainland Japan in the early 20th century. We have seen pictures of Funakoshi sensei punching one with his geta (wooden clogs) on. I have even heard that some of the modern day sensei would carry portable makiwara in their suitcases with them when they travel. The makiwara had been an important training tool in my karate life as well. Let me explain how I got introduced to this traditional equipment in my first days of karate training. At the first dojo I joined in the early 60’s (Kobe Shotokan Karate Club), I remember there were several makiwara posts, some were wrapped with straw ropes and some with softer pads. I also remember that those pads were no longer white or have their original colors, whatever they were. The pads I saw were reddish black, covered in dried blood. It was obvious that my senpai punched these posts over and over again even when their fists were bleeding. My senpai, Kato-san once said, “Now look. My fist is so strong I can punch like this.” He punched straight into a wooden 4 x 4 beam of the dojo. Bang! Bang! The beam shook but he felt no pain. (At least he did not show it.) Wow! I was very impressed. If he could punch that beam like that, he could easily kill me. Honestly, it really made me scared of this senpai and he won unconditional respect from me. So as soon as I was allowed to punch a makiwara I started the tradition with full might. My dohai (student who started at the same time) Nakai and I punched the makiwara hundreds of times every day. In a year Nakai had developed some very respectable calluses but I couldn’t. I was frustrated and thought I was not punching hard enough. No matter how hard I punched the makiwara, the calluses on my fists did not get larger. ( Later, I realized that this was due to my skin’s very rubbery and soft characteristics. Actually, these characteristics are very good for they also allow me to be flexible as well. ) Despite not developing any respectable calluses, I kept the makiwara habit for more than 15 years. I must admit that the resonating sound made by hitting a makiwara in a dojo was euphoric, especially when the rhythm is so close to that of my own heartbeat. I wondered if makiwara training is a true tradition and whether it was handed down for many centuries.We knew that the makiwara came from Okinawa but we have little documentation to support its history. I discovered, to my surprise, that this tradition is only 100 years old since its invention. It is believed that Matsumura Sokon (1809 – 1899) initially invented the makiwara and Itosu Anko (Master Funakoshi’s sensei, 1830 -1915) popularized it in the early 1900’s. Matusmura sensei took kenjutsu called Jigenryu of Satsuma. Jigenryu is a very unique style and their main practice is (read more...) Shihan Yokota has published numerous articles and books:

Shotokan Myth #4 Returning to the starting point in Kata

Must we really return to the starting point in our kata?

When we do kata is it really mandatory that we come back to the exact spot where we started?  I can almost hear your reply; “Yes. Nakayama sensei said so in Best Karate.“  You are absolutely correct.  He listed 6 important points for kata in that famous book: 1. Correct Order 2. Beginning and End 3. Meaning of each movement 4. Awareness of target 5. Rhythm and timing 6. Proper breathing For item 2 above, he clearly stated that “Kata must begin and end at the same spot on the embusen.  This requires practice.” If you are in a tournament this is absolutely a requirement, isn‘t it?  If you are off by, say, one meter, I am sure those careful judges will take some points off of your performance. Have you ever wondered why there is such a requirement?  Nakayama sensei did not explain why in his book.  Maybe it is such a natural thing and you may think I am wasting my time asking this.  But, I have wondered about this and foolishly investigated why for many years.  I was curious to know if the creators of kata (Itosu for Heian kata for an example) really designed all kata in such a way a performer will always return to the starting point.  After much investigation and direct questioning I concluded that this was not the case.  Someone changed the rule and created this new requirement of coming back to the exact starting point.  I wanted to find who was behind this and for what reasons.  This is a mystery and I wish to share my findings and my theory on this mystery with you today. If you are a Nidan and above, you must have learned Chinte and this kata could be your tournament kata, especially if you are a female practitioner.  We know this is a very unique kata (Chinte literally means “unique or strange hand”,) but do you realize it also has a very unique (strange) ending (three hops backward)?  I have researched for many years and asked many sensei about these ending steps.  For the longest time, no one could give me a believable bunkai for these “unique” moves with the feet in heisoku dachi and hands clasped together.  It had been a big mystery to me, as I could not figure out the meaning of these strange hops. The following is what I have found in the process of investigation.  One Japanese sensei, whose name I cannot reveal, told me it was for balance training.  Yes, it is indeed difficult to keep the balance with your feet and hands put together.  But if you think it through, it just does not make any sense as you wonder why they were put at the end of the kata.  After the final delivery of a kime technique (right gyaku zuki to chudan with ki-ai), we can expect a zanshin move as seen with the last step in Enpi.  However, why would anyone put three backward hopping steps that are not stable as a zanshin move?  Even if you buy this idea of having this balancing move there, why hop with two feet together?  Hopping with only one foot is more of a martial art move (like a tsuru ashi dachi in gankaku.)  No matter how much I considered the possibility, I cannot buy into this theory. (read more...)   Shihan Yokota has published numerous articles and books: