Tag Archives for " Shotokan "

Was bedeutet der Begriff „Sensei“?

Was bedeutet der Begriff „Sensei“?

Wir wissen alle, dass Sensei als „Ausbilder“, oder „Lehrer“ übersetzt wird. Diese Übersetzung ist korrekt, also besteht darin kein Problem. Ich bekomme einige Fragen bezüglich der Qualifikationen, welche einen Sensei ausmachen. Hier scheint es einen unerwähnten, oder unerklärten Bereich zu geben, welcher für Rätsel im Karatetraining sorgt. Ich mag Rätsel nicht, deshalb werde ich mein Verständnis für den Begriff „Sensei“ mit Ihnen teilen. Ich hoffe, dass es Ihnen bei der Beurteilung, oder auf der Suche nach einem Lehrer helfen wird. Lassen Sie uns zuerst die Schriftzeichen für „Sensei“ betrachten (先生), welche uns zu einem besseren Verständnis dieses Begriffes verhelfen könnten. Vielleicht erinnern Sie sich an unsere Betrachtung des Zeichens „先“ in dem Wort „Senpai“: Es bedeutet „fortgeschritten“, „voraus“, „älter“, „zuerst“ usw. Aber was ist mit „生“? Dieses bedeutet „Geburt“, oder „Leben“. Insofern bedeutet es wörtlich, dass jemand früher geboren wurde. In anderen Worten heißt es, dass dies eine ältere Person ist, als Sie selbst. Es verrät jedoch nichts über das Alter, oder die Fähigkeiten dieser Person. Interessant, nicht wahr? Die japanische Auffassung besteht also darin, dass man von denjenigen lernt, die älter sind als man selbst, da sie angeblich mehr Erfahrung haben und daher sind sie weiser. Diese Auffassung dürfte nicht allzu sehr überraschend sein, wenn Sie sich an die japanische Vorstellung des zeitlichen Vorranges erinnern, unabhängig davon, ob Sie damit einverstanden sind, oder nicht. Seiza formal without background Nun sagen Sie: „OK, ich bin 50 Jahre alt und mein Ausbilder erst 25, also genau halb so alt wie ich. Kann er mein Lehrer sein?“ Um diese Frage zu beantworten, müssen wir die Auffassung von Zeit auf Karate-Verhältnisse umstellen. Nehmen wir an er hatte vor zehn Jahren mit Karate begonnen und Sie erst vor fünf Jahren. Er ist Ihr Senpai im Karate. Wenn er regelmäßig in Ihrem Dojo unterrichtet, dann ist er Ihr Sensei. In einem Dojo zählt der Altersunterschied nicht und der zeitliche Vorrang hängt davon ab, wann man mit Karate angefangen hat. Ob dieser Sensei reif genug ist, um geachtet zu werden und in der Lage ist, Sie auf einem Weg im Leben zu führen, ist eine andere Geschichte. Eine weitere Person fragte mich: „Mein Lehrer ist erst Nidan. Ich dachte, dass ein echter Lehrer Yondan, oder höher sein sollte. Als was sollte ich ihn nun ansehen?“ Meine Antwort ist: „Er ist Ihr Sensei.“ Jeder, der im Unterricht vorne steht und diesen leitet, gilt als Lehrer, unabhängig von seinem Grad. Ob dieser qualifiziert ist, zu unterrichten (durch ein Zertifikat berechtigt), oder nicht, ist eine andere Frage. Außerdem macht eine Lizenz zum Unterrichten nicht sofort einen guten Sensei aus. Ich kenne einen Nidan, der diesen Grad seit 30 Jahren trägt. Sein Training und seine Unterrichtserfahrung übersteigen womöglich die eines jungen Yondan. Ich habe auch schlecht geplante Anweisungen von älteren Leitern (7. und 8. Dan) gesehen. Der entscheidende Punkt besteht darin, dass der Lehrer begeistert genug ist, um das Wissen und die Kenntnisse, die er besitzt, zu teilen. Wenn Sie etwas von ihm lernen können, dann ist er Ihr Sensei. Wenn Sie kein Bisschen von ihm lernen, dann können Sie jederzeit das Dojo verlassen und sich ein anderes Dojo, oder einen anderen Sensei suchen. Wir erwarten von unserem Sensei mehr zu sein, als jemand, der uns nur beibringt wie man schlägt und tritt. Das ist wahr, denn der Karate-Do ist mehr als nur Schlagen und Treten. Sie haben Glück, wenn Ihr Sensei Ihnen mehr als das beibringen kann. Können wir das von einem Sensei erwarten, der 25, oder 30 Jahre alt ist? Manche könnten sehr reif sein und viele Jahre des Trainings hinter sich haben, doch die Meisten davon sind zu jung und ihnen mangelt es an diesen Eigenschaften. Haben Sie also keine falschen Erwartungen von einem jungen Sensei. Seine minimalen Verpflichtungen als Übungsleiter bestehen darin in der Lage zu sein Karate-Techniken beibringen zu können. Das bedeutet, dass er diese Techniken zeigen und erklären kann. Auf der anderen Seite besitzen nicht alle fortgeschrittenen und älteren Lehrer diese Eigenschaften und Qualifikationen. Reife und Weisheit kommen nicht unbedingt mit dem Alter. Viele von ihnen verlieren ihre Form. Wenn ein Übungsleiter übergewichtig und nicht in Form ist, um eine Technik vorzuführen, dann betrachte ich diesen nicht als verantwortungsvoll. Mir gefällt das, was Musashi vor einigen Jahrhunderten sagte. Er sagte, dass jeder, außer ihm selbst, ein Lehrer für ihn ist. Ich folge dieser Idee. Meine eigentlichen Lehrer (Sugano und Asai) sind tot und beerdigt. Ich glaube aber, dass mein jetziger Lehrer jeder ist, der in meinem Leben auftaucht, egal ob er eine Kampfkunst ausübt, oder nicht. Ich möchte etwas von jeder Person und allen Erfahrungen in meinem Leben lernen (sei es gut, oder schlecht). Das ist meine Philosophie und ich erwarte von den Lesern nicht, dass sie mit dieser einverstanden sind, oder sie akzeptieren. (Fazit) Wie Sie sich Ihren Sensei aussuchen ist Ihnen überlassen. Jeder von uns hat unterschiedliche Erwartungen und Zielsetzungen im Training. Ich hoffe, dass Sie einen Sensei haben, mit dem Sie zufrieden sind. Wenn nicht, dann hoffe ich, dass Sie einen finden, mit dem Sie zufrieden sein werden und von dem Sie eine Menge lernen können. Wenn Sie ein Sensei in einem Dojo sind, dann ist die minimale Anforderung an Sie die korrekte Lehre der Karate-Techniken. Das bedeutet, dass Sie in Form sein sollten, um die Techniken, die Sie unterrichten, nicht nur erklären, sondern auch vorführen zu können. Ergänzend dazu hoffe ich, dass Sie mehr als nur die Karate-Techniken aufbieten. Viele Ihrer Schüler erwarten dies von Ihnen.   Optional disclaimer about the genders: Yokota-Sensei verwendete in dem englischen Original die geschlechtsunterscheidenden Begriffe „he/she“ im Bezug auf den Lehrer. Im Englischen ist das machbar, doch im Deutschen wird es durch die zahlreichen Artikel und Wortendungen zusätzlich erschwert und führt zu einem schwer lesbaren Text mit vielen Schrägstrichen und Klammern. Ich habe mich in der Übersetzung dazu entschlossen, den Begriff „Lehrer“ auf das männliche Geschlecht zu reduzieren, was keineswegs zu einer Dezimierung des weiblichen Geschlechtes führen, sondern lediglich dem Zweck der Textkürzung und Lesbarkeit dienen sollte.  
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.

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.

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

The Shotokan Tiger

The Shotokan Tiger

Sports competition, although spectacular and with great appeal for spectators, represents only a small aspect of Karate, because it is not the competition with its victories and defeats that is at the forefront of our efforts, but the intense and consistent training, the analysis of the intricate and complex movements in Karate with the goal not only to command mind and body, but also to bring them in harmony. Time and again, the great old karate masters, and not only the Japanese, focus on the educational value of our martial art when insisting on having Karate taught as “Do” (path). The term “Do” means something like “path through life” or “path to shaping one’s life” and includes the path to self-perfection. Thus, Karate is closely associated with the spirit of Zen and influenced by the Bushido - the code of honor of the Samurai warrior. The goal of all martial arts of the Samurai is to incapacitate the enemy with lightning speed and preferably in one move (Ikken Hissatsu). Even today, this objective is still at the basis of Karate. First of all, this is an inhumane and destructive objective which demands without fail a commitment to the moral value system of a mature personality. Thus, Karate instruction has the great task and challenge to teach the student to recognize and understand his responsibility and to teach him to always keep one’s emotions under control. Strength and superiority should manifest themselves in assertiveness and confidence. To avoid hubris and arrogance, the karate student must learn respect, courteousness, modesty, yes, even humility: as a sign of absolute respect towards others and as proof of his self-control. The tiger crest – the Shotokan Karate emblem we all know – illustrates very well the goals and intentions of Karate-do. We see a tiger depicted within a circle. (Design by the Japanese artist Hoan Kosugi, a friend and student of Funakoshi Gichin). Shotokan Tiger 1 Both elements of the image – the tiger and the circle – are of particular importance. For that matter, the tiger represents the animalism, ferocity, courage, unrestrained combativeness, primal power and absolute determination. To fight successfully requires learning to fight like the tiger. However, the tiger is not depicted unrestricted, but shown in a circle and thus constrained. In turn, the circle represents reason and the human spirit. To fight victoriously and honorably requires control of one’s emotions and calmness. The circle (i. e. the mind) encloses the tiger thereby taming it. Reason and the human spirit prevail over the animalistic powers, rule and control them, in order to harness them if needed. In my opinion, the nature and the objectives of Karate-do can hardly be more clearly illustrated than with the example of this small emblem. However, it also becomes transparent, how closely very genuine karate instruction remains tied to the spirit and the atmosphere at the dojo. These, in turn, are determined and decisively shaped by the paragon and the example of the karate instructor teaching there. Bernd Hinschberger Karate instructor   translated from German into English by Sabine Becker

Shotokan Myth # 5 Kime

Kime – Trademark of Shotokan karate

  The readers will agree that perfect kime is what we dream of when we do the oi zuki or gyaku zuki. Bang boom! Look at Enoeda sensei’s tsuki (photo on below)  Yes, this is Shotokan. Indeed, the powerful punches and kicks are trademarks of Shotokan karate.   When you look at Shitoryu kata, their performances look smooth and fluid but their techniques look “weak.”  The Gojuryu kata have a lot of neko ashi dachi and sanchin dachi, and although their arm movements are circular, these movements, just like their stances, look short and do not have enough kime. (Note: I want to emphasize that I am in no way trying to bash any styles at all.  I am simply comparing the general impressions of shotokan and other styles.)  If the impressions above coincide with yours, then you want to ask, “OK, so what?”  Hold your breath, here is a shocking statement: Kime (more precisely, encouraging it) is probably the most harmful action for most Shotokan practitioners while training, particularly for beginners. I am aware of the graveness and controversial nature of my statement.  However, I am convinced that all instructors and serious practitioners must be aware of and understand well this prevalent problem in Shotokan training.  Despite the risk of being misunderstood, I dare to write this article as I believe this knowledge must be expressed publicly.  So, please read on to catch the true essence of my statement. I want to emphatically state that I am NOT identifying kime itself or having a correct kime in your techniques as a problem.  If you are capable of producing a good and correct kime and you feel your overall movements are fluid, then this may not be an issue.  What I wish to convey is that the overly tensed body that kime creates is the problem. (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:

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:

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".    
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