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When I posted a photo of Master Asai (right) on Facebook, someone commented that Master Asai’s butt sticks out. The same person commented that Master Kase (France JKA) also had the same posture. I cannot write about Master Kase as I know almost nothing about him and his karate. But I believe I can present my theory on Master Asai. I will, hopefully, be able to shed some light on why he stands that way. I believe there is a good explanation for his posture. I have studied Asai karate for over 10 years and had a very close training relationship with him for the last few years of his life, between 2003 and 2006, the year he passed.
Before I go into my theory, I would like to take this opportunity to introduce Tetsuhiko Asai. Of course, most of the readers already know who Master Asai was. He was a world renowned Shotokan master who traveled around the world and awed everyone with his almost magical techniques. I am well aware of his abilities but I want to speak about Master Asai because I have a compelling reason. This will also explain as to why I started my organization, ASAI. Some people have blamed me for taking advantage of his fame by naming the organization using his name. On the surface indeed it does appear so. Hopefully by reading my explanation the readers will understand that I have a much deeper motivation to keep his name and his karate alive. Let me explain…without any exaggeration he saved my karate and in essence my karate life (I will explain the details later). I owe him so much and now it is my turn to pay it back to the karate world since I cannot do so to him. It became my conviction to spread and share the karate I learned from Master Asai. As long as I live I do not want anyone to forget about Master Asai. I want the name of Asai to be remembered. This is the exact reason why I created the organization, ASAI (Asai Shotokan Association Interantional). We are not an organization that just happened to pick up a famous name or to be part of a fad, we are an organization that intends to do the following:
Give everyone access to the Asai Karate System
Provide a home for karate ronins
Make the dan grade examination available to all organizations and styles
Unite all karate practitioners regardless of the organizational differences
Improve the karate skills of all members
Preserve the discipline of Dojo Kun
Pass the legacy of Master Asai on to the next generation
Let’s look at the history of Master Asai from his birth to his last day. I could write something from my memory but I think it is more accurate and complete to quote from the page of Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tetsuhiko_Asai
Here is the direct quote from the Asai page (I took out the reference numbers, under bar and different font colors):
Asai was born on June 7, 1935, in Ehime Prefecture (on the island of Shikoku), Japan. He was the eldest of seven children. As a boy, he trained in sumo. In addition, his father (a policeman) taught him judo, kendo and sojutsu. When he was 12 years old, he witnessed a fight between a boxer and a karateka (practitioner of karate); the karate combatant was able to disable his opponent with a kick, and Asai was impressed.
In 1958, Asai graduated from Takushoku University, where he had trained in karate under Gichin Funakoshi, Masatoshi Nakayama, and Teruyuki Okazaki. He trained hard and was allowed to sleep in the karate dormitory. At Nakayama’s recommendation, he entered the JKA instructor training program and graduated from the course three years later.Asai won the JKA championship in kumite (sparring) in 1961, and in kata (patterns) in 1963. He was overall JKA champion in 1961, having come in first in kumite and second in kata that year. Asai became the first instructor to introduce karate to Taiwan. Through the second half of the 1960s, he taught karate in Hawaii for five years, among his students included Kenneth Funakoshi.
Over the years, Asai advanced within the JKA, and was appointed as Technical Director. Following Nakayama’s death, the JKA experienced political troubles and divided; Asai and colleagues (including Keigo Abe and Mikio Yahara) formed one group, while Nakahara Nobuyuki and colleagues formed another group—which in 1999 was officially recognized as the JKA. In 2000, he founded the International Japan Martial Arts Karate Asai-ryu and the Japan Karate Shoto-Renmei. Apart from the ranking of 10th dan in Shotokan karate, he also held the ranks of 3rd dan in jodo, 2nd dan in judo, 2nd dan in jukendo, and 2nd dan in kendo.
Reflecting on relations between JKA instructors who had graduated from Takushoku University, Asai said, “We all pretty much get on nowadays, contrary to our official stances and federations. In saying that, some of us don’t, but isn’t that life? … I am happy to say that most of the deep rooted rivalry has gone amongst my peers. I think that the passing of Mr. Enoeda, Mr. Kase, Mr. Tabata and Mr. Shoji and so forth has brought many of us back to reality. Obviously this is not limited to Takushoku University, it is all about us international karate pioneers getting very old.”
Asai’s health deteriorated with age, and he underwent liver surgery on February 10, 2006.He died at 2:50 PM on August 15, 2006, leaving behind his wife, Keiko Asai, and their daughter, Hoshimi Asai. More than 2,000 people attended his funeral, which was held on September 1, 2006, at Gokokuji Temple in Tokyo. Asai received the rank of 10th dan posthumously from the JKS, and was succeeded as President of the IJKA by his widow. Since that time, IJKA in Europe has apparently separated from K. Asai’s IJKA. In 2013, Asai Shotokan Association International (ASAI) was formed by a former student of Asai, Kousaku Yokota, to teach Asai’s style of Shotokan. http://asaikarate.com/
In the past I have already written about how Master Asai saved my karate life. I suspect that many readers may have not read it yet so I would like to share my short explanation here.
I had been a lifetime member of the JKA and I was a godan in the mid 90′s after having practiced shotokan karate for more than 30 years and my age was approaching 50. At that moment I keenly felt that I had reached my plateau with my karate training and I could not find any challenge or pleasure in any further training. I visited different senseis and went to seminars given by the masters such as Kanazawa and Tanaka but none of them could inspire me. As a result I decided to retire from karate in 1997. This was a big move as I had always believed karate was part of my life. But I decided to do so because I could not find a way to improve myself any more. So, I decided to study Ki and hoped I could find a solution in this art.
I found a job in Tokyo where I lived for 2 and a half years and during this period I did not wear my gi, not even once. I entered a famous Ki school called Nishino ryu Ki dojo in Shibuya. To make a long story short I could not find my answer in Ki training. I came back to California in 2000 and decided to teach karate in San Jose. At that time I had already given up on improving my own karate. In 2001 Asai sensei was giving a seminar in the area and I participated. Of course, I knew Asai sensei from my JKA time and had met him several times in the past. I also had witnessed, with my own eyes, the impressive demonstration he performed in the JKA’s All Japan Championship (1981 and 1982). But until I participated in this seminar in 2001 I only considered him as one of the shotokan famous instructors and nothing more. This seminar event happened 5 years before his passing so he was in his mid 60′s. By observing his techniques and moves very closely I was simply dumbfounded by his agility, flexibility and speed. I knew immediately that he was the answer to my question of “how can I improve my karate when I am in my 60′s?” It took me a year before I finally left the JKA and became a follower of Master Asai. My close association with Master Asai was only five years before he left us all too young. He knew so much and I just did not have enough time or occasions to ask all the questions I had. I can never claim that I learned all of his techniques. He knew more than 100 katas and I have only learned 25 Asai katas. Despite this I feel I learned enough that I can share this knowledge and the techniques with all shotokan practitioners especially the advanced (technically and age wise) karateka. His karate was different and my karate became different from the standard shotokan karate. It is different because I feel my moves are more natural and smoother. I guess I have to ask the readers to watch me either in person or in the video performance to see if they think that this is true. I am convinced that the benefits to the karateka of all styles and all ages are great. I can never replace or duplicate all of Asai sensei’s techniques but it is my lifetime mission to share what I know and what I can do. This year I am 66 years old and I plan to do this for at least the next 34 years (God willing) so I will be around and so will ASAI. OK that is enough about my karate life.
If you know Master Asai’s karate you agree that his karate was not only great but it was different. You can see him in action and right away you will see the definite differences. His moves and techniques are more circular and smoother compared to the linear and somewhat ridged techniques that many Shotokan practitioners exhibit. You may ask “why his karate was so different?” this is quite difficult to explain. How did he develop his karate? The answer to this question will give you a hint to the original question regarding his butt position.
He became the Technical Director of the JKA in the 80′s but before that time, there was a very important stage of his karate life, specifically between 1965 and 1975. The JKA had dispatched him overseas to teach karate starting in Hawaii. After completing his assignment in Hawaii he went to Taiwan in late 60′s. I heard that Master Asai had some exposure to other styles of karate and even to some kung fu styles while he was in Hawaii. He was always looking for something new to try and to learn so it is easy to guess that the diversified martial arts found in the islands of Hawaii would have given him many opportunities. However, when he was sent to Taiwan he got into an intensive training with a kung fu (White Crane) style. He became a close friend with a kung fu expert, Master Chen whose sister would eventually become his wife. Master Asai was already a karate expert so Master Chen did not treat him like a student but a martial arts partner. I heard from his widow that they exchanged their techniques all the time whenever they met. Master Chen would show a new or an interesting technique one day then Master Asai would master that technique almost instantaneously which impressed Master Chen greatly. Obviously he received a lot of influence from White Crane kung fu.
OK so you may ask “what has this got to do with the butt of Asai sensei?” I believe there is a strong relationship and let me share this new idea with you.
There is an interesting finding I made as I did research into the martial arts of Japan and China. What I found is that there is a difference in the pelvis positioning between the two categories. In other words, among the Japanese martial arts the correct pelvis position is to tucked up or the tail bone to point downward. On the other hand, in the Chinese martial arts the pelvis is positioned upward or pushed out. The visible difference is minor but if you examine closely you can see the difference.
Let’s look at the photos of Judo, Kendo and Iaido.
What do you see? Can you detect the pelvis positioning? Especially in the Judo photo (far left), we can see the tucked under pelvis position. By the way, this photo is one of the rare historical ones of Jigoro Kano, the founder of Kodokan Judo (on the right, taken early in the 20th century).
Not convinced? Look at the two photos of Sumo. Even though those sumo wrestlers are big and “fat” their pelvis position is down and tucked under. I put fat om quotation marks because the fat contents of many of the sumo wrestlers is much lower than we think and they are medically not fat. Regardless of this point, I hope you can see the pelvis position better as they are without any clothes except for their mawashi.
Next, let’s look at the photos from the Chinese martial arts and see if we can detect any differences. Here are three typical kung fu photos that are in horse stance or a similar stance.
By checking the pelvis positioning of these female performers do you agree that all three are sticking their pelvis backward and not tucked in? Of course, I showed you only a few photos so you may not see the clear differences between the Japanese and the Chinese. However, the difference is a common knowledge among the senior martial artists in Japan. I am afraid not enough research has been done yet to investigate why there is a difference in the basic concept of the pelvis positioning between the two groups.
Now what I dare to present here is my hypothesis for the difference. The base of the Japanese martial arts is kenjutsu, the sword fencing. Unlike some of the light weight kung fu swords a Japanese katana is quite heavy. If you happen to practice Iaido you know what I am talking about. Obviously, it will be very difficult to swing it around quickly let alone jump with it. Therefore, the fighting style of the samurai was almost with no moving around. The posture was very straight with their legs almost fully extended and the backbone straight to support the weight of the sword. You may have seen this in a Japanese samurai movie in which two samurai face each other in a duel with almost no moving until the decisive attack at the end. In this situation, it makes sense to keep the pelvis tucked under to support the body weight and to assist the forward movement (remember the first move in Bassai dai?). Judo and Sumo are also the same. In those arts kicking is prohibited and there are almost no jumping techniques in these arts. They need to stand firmly on the floor rather than jumping around thus the tucked under pelvis gives more balance and stability in their stance. On the other hand, in kung fu, especially the Northern styles there are a lot of kicks and jumps. To jump and to rotate the body quickly from the low kiba dachi stance I find it easier to do so with the pelvis pushed back. Please try it and see if what I am saying makes sense.
Another thing I need to bring to your attention is the difference we see in zenkutsu dachi between karate and kung fu. The first two photos are from kung fu and the last one on the right is by Yoshiharu Osaka, JKA instructor. You can clearly see the pelvis is pushed backward in kung fu front stance while Osaka sensei had definitely tucked in his pelvis.
This again comes from the difference in the concept or the use of the stance. In other words, in kung fu the moves are not always to the forward but can be to the side, back or in rotation. As you can see with the very Shotokan technique of Osaka it is a strong oi zuki going straight forward. For this move tucking the pelvis in and aligning the fist with the rear foot with the straight backbone bring the most powerful technique. Karate punch is “ikken hissatsu” or one punch one kill while kung fu attacks are multiple and each punch or an attack may not be a “sure kill” technique.
As a bonus, I will share with you another interesting point. Take a look at the photos below.
The first two photos are from Okinawan Shorin ryu. Master Chibana, the first photo, doing Bassai is somewhat keeping his pelvis tucked, but the second one shows that the pelvis is positioned more toward the back. Regardless of the pelvis position, you notice that both of them are leaning forward similar to the kung fu practitioners shown earlier. The next two photos, third and the fourth, are showing a technique from Bassai dai. They are by Shito ryu and by Shotokan respectively.
You can assume that the original Okinawan karate kept some of the Chinese influence but when karate was introduced to Japan it changed with the influence of the Japanese martial arts. In the Japanese martial arts such as kendo and even in karate we are taught to have our upper body always straight and never to crouch forward or lean to the sides. I suspect the influence to our karate in our posture came mainly from Jujitsu and Kendo. The posture of Judo practitioners has changed drastically after it was inducted in Olympics in 1964 but that is a different subject that is not related here directly so I will not discuss it here though it is a very interesting subject to think about.
So, you can probably easily guess what my theory for Master Asai’s posture is. You probably want to conclude that the kung fu influence he received in Taiwan changed his posture. However, maybe to your surprise my theory is slightly different. Master Asai was known for his Tenshin (body rotation) techniques but at the same time he was known for high and low techniques. Low means a technique he ducked for example under a kick. High means he jumps around the opponent and hit him while he is still in the air (see the photo below).
I do not believe he learned those techniques from White Crane kung fu or any other styles. The characteristics of White Crane kung fu is the open hand techniques and whipping techniques (coming from the fast wing flapping). I can easily suspect that he took those techniques in and made them into his signature techniques. However, jumping and ducking under, I believe, were his own creation.
Look at the famous photo (right) of him fighting Mikami sensei (JKA Louisiana) in the JKA’s All Japan Championship in 1961. Mikami (left) is delivering a beautiful long distance Oi zuki, very much a Shotokan technique. To this attack you can see Asai on the right jumped to dodge it (I wish I could have been there to watch it). This shows he was already jumping in his early karate career (he was 26 years old in 1961). He was a very creative martial artist and I understand that he has always tried different things and ideas that would work for him. He was a small man, even for a Japanese, (a little over 160cm and less than 50kg) so he needed the techniques that would overcome his “handicap”. He found the jumping and Tenshin techniques. To jump and to rotate his body quickly having his pelvis not tucked in worked better for him. He probably developed his unique posture early in his karate career but his peculiar pelvis position was not that noticeable then. With many years of training including the kung fu techniques his posture became more prominent and noticeable.
Finally, here are two more photos (below) of Master Asai at two different stages of his karate life. One on the left is a young Asai in his 20′s and the right one is a legend in his 60′s.
What do you think? It is true that he went to Taiwan and he had a close encounter with White Crane kung fu, but there were, I assume, many other Shotokan practitioners who went to China and Taiwan. In fact Master Nakayama was stationed in China for several years during WWII. Only Asai picked up many ideas and techniques from the Chinese styles. This proves my point that his body was far more adaptable to the Chinese method because of his own unique training and his own style.
I am not sure if my theory about his pelvis position has successfully convinced you but one thing I can tell you confidently is this. Master Asai needed his pelvis position in that specific way to deliver his unique and fast techniques. He was the one and only true master of Asai-ryu karate and his posture is a signature of his style.
I look forward to hearing your thoughts and ideas especially if you are a sports scientist or your expertise is in kinesiology.
Today I will discuss about the art of shaving.I am not joking about the art part of this activity most men need to engage in it daily. Yes, I am very serious that there is an art to the handling of a razor.If you happen to use an electric razor then this may not apply as well as a regular blade razor. One high ranking western sensei commented after he heard about my idea, said that “Shaving is only shaving and there is no art in it”. I am afraid he does not understand the depth of the art that could extend to small actions such as shaving. Here is a photo of my razor (left).It is a popular brand and an inexpensive two blade razor. I do not know how long you can keep using the same razor but a friend of mine told me his razor lasts barely one month before he tosses it. Believe it or not, mine lasts for more than two years (yes “years”) and I suspect that is probably longer than the time of most if not all of the readers. The razor I am showing here on the left is more than a year old now and is a little dirty but it will continue to give me a nice shave at least one more year. My beard is stiff and coarse so my razor gets normal use. I use the same razor for a long time, certainly not because I am stingy. I do throw one away, but only when it stops giving me a good shave. Any razor can last that long if you use it correctly. Needless to say that I am not sharing the art of perfect shaving so that you can save money. I am sure that may not motivate you enough to read this article. Then, why am I doing this? Let me tell you that the techniques that are used in a perfect shaving are connected to the core concept and the techniques of martial arts, certainly including karate. Now I hope this statement will capture your attention. My claim may be difficult for some of you to believe right now so I ask that you continue to read till the end of this article. At the end you can decide if what I am telling you makes sense or if it is a bunch of BS.
Obviously the razor I have is something I bought in a common drug store and it must be very similar to the ones you use. So the difference is not the tool itself, but it is the method or the technique that is different. The first secret of perfect shaving rests in how you hold a razor. Pic 1 (left) shows a standard holding method which I suspect similar to how you hold yours.The way I hold my razor is shown in Pic 2 (two finger method, below right). I hold the end of the handle only with my thumb and the index finger.This is an expert holding method and I know it will be very difficult for you to get any shaving done with this method. To start the perfect shaving lesson I recommend that you hold the razor as depicted in Pic. 3 (three finger method, below left) where you will hold the end of the handle with your thumb and the middle finger and put a small pressure on the back of the handle with the index finger. Once you get used to this method of holding the razor, believe it or not, you will have a better control of the razor with this method. Just try it!
Before we go into the actual technique of shaving, let us look at other arts and physical activities that are both Japanese and non-Japanese. Here I wish to elaborate the correlation of the holding techniques between the razor and other tools.
The first one is the Japanese writing brush.After looking at some of the artistic Chinese writing I am sure you agree that you will see an art when you look at the brush writing with beautiful strokes (an example on the right).
So, how do you hold a brush? Onestandard holding method is shown with Pic A. You keep the brush vertically and write the letters. The holding method here is similar to how you hold a pen or a pencil so you are not surprised with this. However, when you go into more artistic or sophisticated writing an artist may hold a brush in the way shown with Pic B. Isn’t this similar to the holding method of a razor I suggested earlier? Interesting, isn’t it? （Pic A left, Pic B right)
Many of the readers probably like Japanese food such as sushi and tempura, and you may frequent Japanese restaurants. There you have an option to eat with a knife and fork or a pair of chop sticks, hashi or ohashi.
Pic C Pic D Pic E
The degree of skillfulness with chopsticks seems to indicate how much a person likes the Japanese food. If you are a first time visitor you may have to resort to a crude method (Pic C) so you can eat (survival mode, I guess). Eventually you will develop the skill of holding a pair of ohashi in an acceptable manner (Pic D). Take a look at another photo (Pic E); this is a photo of a Japanese tempura chef, a professional in the art of Japanese food. Notice that he holds the very top part of the chop sticks. We just saw the way to hold a brush pen and here is a way with a pair of chop sticks. Wouldn’t you agree that to do a fine job with a small tool it is better to hold it at the end and work it from the end? I hope so but it is ok if you are still not fully convinced. You can experiment with a pair of chop sticks, a brush pen or a razor. They are all cheap and very common so the experiments are easy to do.
While you are experimenting with these small tools I want to move on to other tools that are somewhat larger and heavier. As I am trying to tie this subject to the martial arts let’s look at a Japanese sword, the katana.
Now I confess that I have never learned Iaido or Kenjutsu. Thus, I am not an expert in this matter. However, I have trained with Kobudo weapons such as Sai, Nunchaku, Tonfa, etc. thus I know that the fundamental method of holding a weapon is similar. Here is a photo showing how to hold a sword. Notice the front hand (photo right). Pay very close attention to the thumb and the index finger. As you can see they are not holding tightly, a key point. By the way, do you remember when you first learned how to make a fist when you joined a karate club? If the instructor taught you correctly he must have told you to start bending the little finger first and tightly, then the ring finger then middle finger (see hand photo, left). After those three fingers are held tightly you will bend your index finger last then complete a fist by placing the thumb over the index finger lightly. I hope the instructor told you to squeeze the little finger and the ring finger tightly but not so tightly with the middle finger and even loser with the index finger and the thumb. Of course, this is a fist you make at kamae or yoi. When you punch an opponent or a makiwara you will tighten all the fingers but only at the impact time and the fist will be held loosely again after the impact. The concept here should be similar or the same when handling a sword. Hold a sword tightly with the little finger and the ring finger. The middle finger is here to give support. The index finger and the thumb are used for managing or handling the sword. If you are a kenjutsu or iaido expert and if my understanding of a sword holding is incorrect please let me know. However, I assume I am correct as that is the way in my kobudo training.
I want to bring in another interesting fact with a very popular sport called golf. The photo (right) shows how to hold a golf club. I am not an expert in this sport either. I suspect some of the readers may be very experienced in it and they can tell me if what I am saying here is correct or not.I understand that you are supposed to hold the club tightly with your left hand but not as tightly with the right one. As you can see in the photo, you are to hold the club ever so gently with your right hand. Take note that your thumb and the index finger are positioned very similarly to the right hand that holds a sword (photo shown earlier). Is this a coincidence? No, I don’t think so. Though the motion of the arms are quite different between those two arts (I am daring to call golf an art as it can be), the basic concept of holding the tools, a sword and a golf club is the same. This suggests an art of swinging a long object in a precise manner requires the same physical positioning and control.
I believe the basic concept of holding other long objects, such as cue stick (billiards), a violin and cello bow must be the same or similar as the mechanism of our body is the same no matter what activities we may do (see the photo left). Here the little finger is not used much to hold the bow as it is not heavy. I suspect it is used more for a balance and the control of the bow. If you are a violin or a cello player maybe you can send me your comments if my understanding is correct or incorrect.
As the golf swing is totally different from a sword handling let me bring out another art (?), Chopping wood or cutting. I believe this will be an excellent comparison as its mechanism quite resembles that of sword cutting. The wood cutting activity is not very popular in the warm regions of the US such as California but I understand that it is a very popular and important part of normal life activity in the cold countries such as Canada, Norway and Sweden. I love to hear feedback from those who chop wood regularly after reading my article.
So here is the tool, an ax (right). The weight distribution is different but its average weight is closer to a real sword than a bokken (wooden sword) or shinai (bamboo sword) used in kendo. A while ago I had thought this might be an interesting subject to investigate if there is any co-relationship of this activity to kenjutsu, the art of Japanese sword. So, here is what I found. The wood cutting I am discussing here is not used to cut down a tree but to chop a large wood piece into the smaller pieces for a wood burning purpose.
After identifying the tool, we need to discuss how to hold the tool which is a part of the art and I have mentioned this before. It is important as it will help you get the best or, should I say, the most efficient cut by holding the tool correctly. What do I mean by “best” and “most efficient” cut? It means you hit the center of a wood piece every time and cut it in one strike. Of course, you will not miss any chop as it is a waste of your energy. “Best” also means that you will not get tired even if you continue to cut the wood all day long and moreover the efficient activity does not give you a sore back, shoulders, legs and arms. If you can do this then you can say that you raised this activity to an art level and it will no longer be a chore but something you will enjoy doing. OK so you understand the objective. Let’s go back to holding an ax. Some people hold it above a shoulder like the photo above. The stance shown in the photo right is called hasso no kamae, one of the main kamae in kenjutsu. So, you may want to believe that holding an ax in a similar way is the best. I am sorry but I do not believe that is the case for chopping wood.
It is very obvious when you think of how you will cut the opponent with a sword. The typical sword cutting line is diagonal. Why? Obviously it is better to cut one’s neck than hit him right on top of the head. So, in most tameshi giri (cutting demonstration) you see the bamboo stick or a bounded straw stick positioned in a vertical manner and the demonstrator cuts it diagonally (Photo left). But do they not have a tameshi giri with the sword cutting straight down? Yes, in fact at one of the shrines in Japan, Nakamura Jinja, a demonstrator cuts a cinder block (Photo below right).
OK if you cut it straight down how would you hold a sword? It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that you hold it straight up above your head. In one of the famous kenjutsu styles, Jigen ryu (popular in Kyushu), they practice the sword swing by striking a log like we punch a makiwara. The only difference is the log is held horizontally (Illustration left) while our makiwara is up vertically as you know.(Note: this kenjutsu training method is believed to be the origin of makiwara that was invented in Okinawa.) Now notice the position of the sword in the drawing (left) as it is important and I wish to go further on this particular subject. If the kamae of kenjutsu is in this manner, am I suggesting that we should hold an ax in the same way? Yes, that is exactly what I am proposing. I know it is a daring proposal as I am not a sword expert but also have never studied kenjutsu in my life before. In addition, my experience in cutting wood is very limited. Then, how can a person of an amateur background in these fields like myself propose something like this?
Am I just guessing or BSing? I certainly hope not. I am quite confident about this and I am explaining how it should be performed from the understanding of kinesiology as well as the budo requirement that demands the most effective body movements. What do I mean by the most effective body movements? It simply means a technique must not only be fast, powerful and accurate but also it must also be most energy efficient. In other words, swinging a sword only with a brutal force is not considered a budo approved movement. The beauty or the art part of kenjutsu comes from an efficient body movement that utilizes the minimum amount of muscle power leveraged by the help of gravity and balance/off balance mechanism. I have already written a separate article on balance/off balance mechanism under the title of Unstable Balance so I will not go into this area at this time.
Here let us look at some of the examples of the inefficient or poor wood cutting techniques. First, look at the photo on the right and compare to the illustration above; how a Jigen ryu sword practitioner would hold a sword. Very similar, isn’t it? Let’s examine this guy’s kamae on the right. The stance is good as the feet are placed about a kiba dachi distance. However, holding position of the ax is not the most desirable as it is not held straight up and the handle is leaning backward. Why is this bad? From this position he needs to lift the ax to the highest level before he can bring down the ax to the wood which is an unnecessary move. He needs to use the muscles of the shoulders, back, arms and all other related body parts. Therefore, he needs to hold the ax upright like a kenjutsu drawing (earlier illustration). This is a very accurate drawing as it shows the man holding his sword vertically. The sword itself is quite heavy despite it is not top heavy like an ax. Holding it vertically like this is most efficient.
If you look at the next photo, Pic F (a young guy on the left), you quickly realize why this kamae is not in accordance with budo method. You can easily guess that this person will run out of his energy after 30 minutes of wood chopping. In addition he will probably wake up next morning with soreness in his shoulders, arms and back. OK what is wrong with the guy in Pic G (below)? It is obvious as you can guess he will have a sore back. As he chopped he leaned his upper body forward. He was in fact too far away from the wood piece. He used lot of his arms, shoulders and back muscles to bring the ax down. After one hour of this exercise he will have a bad pain in his lower back and possibly in his right shoulder when he gets up the very next morning. Let’s look at Pic H (a lady with a hat). How is she doing? She is doing much better, isn’t she? I assume at her kamae she had the legs stretched and she brought the ax down using its weight and she went into a shiko dachi as the ax hit the wood piece. Comparingher to the man in Pic G her right arm is much closer to her body (good point #1) and her hands were closer to each other (good point #2). Of course, I do not know if she held the ax straight up at her kamae but her chopping action is much more effective and energy efficient. If she did not bend her back that much I would call her wood chopping art an expert level. If she continued chopping all day she will have the pain in the lower back the next day. In addition, her feet are pointing outward (shiko dachi) which means the falling energy would dissipate to the other direction instead of focused to the target, the wood piece. Apparently she is not a Shotokan practitioner so unfortunately she did not know the benefit of kiba dachi.
In the photo (Pic I on the left) you can see an excellent kamae with a naihanchi stance (a bit shorter than kiba dachi) with the knees slightly squeezed inward and the ax handle seems to be held up very vertically. The hands are held with some distance but I assume she will bring them closer as she drops the ax down. Yes, she will almost literally drop the ax as she will not use too much of her arms and shoulders muscles when she chops the wood piece. In other words, what she will do is to just let the ax fall towards the wood piece. During the process she will use her hands and arms only to guide the ax so that it will hit the wood piece accurately. The photo on the right (Pic J) shows exactly how you want to drive the ax through the wood by bending your knees deeply as you can see in this photo. You notice that the wood cutter’s stance looks like an excellent kiba dachi. You also notice that his back is not bent forward too much and that his hands are held closely together. I can assume he just did an expert level of wood cutting by leveraging the gravity of the ax. As a result he used a minimum amount of his strength or his energy. Using this method he can probably cut the wood pieces all day long without getting ever tired and he will not have any back or shoulder aches the next morning.
When you become a real expert you can get down to this depth shown in Pic K (on the left) and use the full gravity of the ax as well as the body weight. Look how straight his back is. He will not have any backache afterwards for sure. He can continue to chop all day long without getting tired. Of course you must have the strong legs to do the expert level of Pic K but most people can develop their technique to Pic I and J level.
What do you think of this method? If you regularly cut wood I would like you to try this and get back to me if this method made any difference in your activity.
The budo method of efficient moves can apply to almost all the bodily functions in our daily life. I suggest that you will re-evaluate how you walk, sit, drive (read my article of “Jidosha Dojo”), play golf, play any musical instrument, etc. and see if your moves are in accordance with the budo method. Wouldn’t you agree that most of the time we can tell if a driver is an experienced one or a student driver by looking at the way he sits and holds a steering wheel?
We have digressed a lot so let’s go back to the art of perfect shaving. You heard that the method of holding a tool is important. You saw the pictures of how a razor can or should be held but you would wonder if this is the end of the technique. No, I have not covered the actual technique of perfect shaving yet. Holding a razor correctly is only a start.
Finally, let me explain the shaving method. Not to disappoint you but it is quite simple. You remember that you need to hold your razor very lightly with two or three fingers. Now here is the secret. You will go over your face with it like you would pet your face with a feather. It almost sounds like a commercial. In fact, there is a company with that very name that produces razor blades for the older type razor (right). Using “Feather” for the company name, I suspect that the founder of that company must have known how to shave correctly. However, you may complain that you can’t shave your beard well if you do it as I explained. That is true but that is exactly what is expected. The idea here is not to chop the beard from the root with one stroke. You are expected to go over the face surface many times and to cut the beard little by little in a gradual manner. Why is this necessary?
Both shaving methods; crude or artful will give you a shave but the artful method will not cut your face. After shaving have you ever had to put the pieces of tissue on your face to stop the bleeding? I suspect you have. Now is this a big deal? It should be if you claim yourself a martial artist. I do not know about you but I consider it as a part of self-defense. Maybe my definition of self-defense is much broader than yours but it includes preventing or avoiding all accidents from a simple shaving cut to a serious car accident. I also include avoiding sickness and illness as a part of my self-defense objectives. From this perspective, a perfect shaving will not draw blood and moreover it will not give you a skin irritation or a rash after shaving. If you shave close to your skin with much force the blade will shave not only your beard but also your skin. Even if you do not shave off your skin the root of your beard will be pulled with your shaving action and that causes an irritation as your face skin is very sensitive. You can check this by applying some after shave on your face. If it burns your face skin then you shaved too hard.
Even if you do not agree on the self-defense part, just think of a consequence of having the cuts and the rashes on your face daily. I certainly think that will age your face skin much faster. I guarantee that a perfect shaving will help you stay looking young and healthy. It is up to you to decide if this benefit is good enough to motivate you to learn the art of perfect shaving.
This is about a small mystery that some western instructors have wondered about in the past, so I want to share my thoughts on this unique point in Heian Shodan.
The question is the 4th movement, migi jodan tate mawashi kentsui uchi. No, I am not talking about its bunkai. The question is why we do not have this technique after the first gedan barai, the first movement. In other words, some of these western instructors thought an identical technique of jodan kentsui uchi was missing between move #1, left gedan barai and #2, right chudan oi zuki. By having this technique here Heian Shodan would become truly symmetrical and complete, wouldn’t it? So, was this technique forgotten or taken out by mistake? Let us check the old textbook, Funakoshi’s Karatedo Kyohan 空手道教範. I am sure you will find the same result; this “missing” technique is not there. Let us check Pinan Nidan (our Heian Shodan) in Shito-ryu and Shorin-ryu. I find that the questioned technique is not there either. We must conclude that this kata was created that way by Master Itosu 糸洲 (in the late 19th century). If this is the case, then there is a bigger puzzle. Why did he purposely skip or neglect a technique there and made this kata unbalanced? A hint is the key word of “symmetry”. This is a very western concept of beauty, correctness or completeness. On the other hand, in Japan, believe it or not, we consider it totally opposite.
The Japanese people do not consider symmetry and perfectly balanced geometry correct or beautiful. They even consider them wrong and ugly. I know most of the readers will have an issue with my statement and perhaps disagree with it.
Let me show you some examples.
Pic 1 Pic 2
One of the Japanese arts that has been exported to the world is Ikebana 生け花(the art of flower arrangement). Picture 1 is not a diagram of kata enbusen. Would you believe this is from a textbook of Ikebana? It is to show the basic structure of the flowers or how they should look when they are arranged. Pic 2 shows the actual flowers and the arrangement and you can see the arranger has used the off balanced and unsymmetrical format as instructed in a textbook. I do not know anything about Ikebana and I have never taken any lessons but I can explain to you why this must be this way as I know the mentality or the sense of beauty the Japanese perceive. We know that nothing in nature or anything natural in this world is symmetrical. In other words, anything that is symmetrical is artificial which the Japanese consider imperfect and not pretty. Ikebana, the flower arrangement is an artificial decoration using the thing of nature, the flowers. Of course, the flowers themselves are beautiful and the flower arrangement, the artificial deed, must not destroy or decrease the beauty. To keep the beauty of the flowers the Japanese choose to arrange them in an off balanced and unsymmetrical way. Does that make sense?
Here is another example. Take a look at the tea cups below. Another famous Japanese art is Sanoyu, the traditional tea ceremony.
Pic 3 is a tea cup used in Sado 茶道. See how the shape is purposely uneven and not round and far from symmetry? Even the design or coloring looks almost like it was done with some errors. I do not have the price list on this but I am sure it is as expensive if not more than a perfectly shaped Royal Worcester tea cup shown in Pic 4.
Pic 3 Pic 4
The concept of beauty is the same. We cherish what is natural and not artificial or perfect looking shape. I am not comparing the beauty here or who (Japanese or westerners) are right or better. I am simply showing you the different concept of the Japanese that is deeply embedded in their hearts and even in their life style.
Here are two photos of kimonos. One on the left has a general design of natural scene. The flowers on the left and right sleeves are designed differently. Look at the design of the photo on the right. The imbalance or difference between left and right is very significant. I believe this concept is quite different from that of the western world particularly that of the traditional concept.
Interestingly, the ukiyoe 浮世絵 (photo below) the artists of the Edo period (17th and 18th centuries Japan) such as Utamaro and Sharaku had much influence on the western artists who are classified as the impressionists of the 19th century.
Some of these famous painters include Monet, Renoir, Cezanne, Matisse, Pissaro, Gogh and many more. The academic painting method was to draw as accurately as it is perceived by a painter but the impressionists “violated” the rules as they put more emphasis on the feelings and the impressions they get from the real objects and scenes. I assume, these painters came to realize that it was impossible to copy the reality perfectly with their brushes. The Japanese artists knew this for many centuries and they perfected their impressionist painting style in the Edo period.
I can go on and show you many more examples from the Japanese culture but let me share with you only a few more examples that are much bigger than a flower arrangement or a tea cup. When you visit Japan many of you wish to visit some exotic Shinto shrines as they look very Japanese and the pictures of yourself ina gi in front of a shrine looks great (though the Japanese visitors may not appreciate it). Almost all of you are not visiting there to pray but just to marvel at the beauty of the structure and maybe the famous statues of A-un 阿吽. I would say this is a perfect example of showing the concept of ying and yang. A-un literally means an inhalation (阿) and exhalation (吽) of breathing. The term is also used in Shinto and Buddhist architecture to describe the paired statues common in Japanese religious settings, the Nio 仁王 (photo right) and the komainu 狛犬 (guardian lions, left).
The concept of A-un is very interesting and deep. If you wish to learn more, read on this subject in Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A-un
The concept of imbalance or unsymmetrical extends to the concept of building a large structure such as a shrine. Here is a blue print of a shrine that was built more than half a century ago (Pic 5). The main part of the building is symmetrical but you can tell the whole building is not as you take a look at the structures that extend to both sides of the main building. The right structure is completely different from that of the left. Let’s take a look at a blue print of a church (Pic 6) and see how it is planned to be built. Here is one from Saint Thomas More Church in Darien, Connecticut. I thought it was an interesting coincidence that the Japanese shrine’s name is Dairen and the location of the Church is in the town of Darien Connecticut. The similarity certainly stops there. If you can find the original photo on the web, you can expand the blue print of the church. Even from the photo below you can see that it is beautifully symmetrical. The right side structure is almost a perfect copy of the left or vice versa. The only difference is probably the restrooms (one on the left is the Men’s and the one on the right is the Women’s).
Pic 5 Pic 6
Now, do you agree with my conclusion for the imperfection of Heian kata that it was placed on purpose?
I can almost feel how Itosu felt when he created Heian Shodan more than 100 years ago. It would had been a very boring kata if it did not have that one particular technique, jodan kentsui uchi. In other words, that move was a little spice to this kata. In fact, you will find, if you examine Heian closely, that some of the key techniques are being practiced only on one side (for instance, chudan nukite in Nidan and Sandan). You will find this not only in Heian but in all kata. You may want to review all the kata you know from this perspective and you will discover that none of them are perfectly symmetrical. You would probably think, “OK I understand the concept of the beauty by the Japanese people, but this is karate kata. Shouldn’t the kata being designed so that we can practice these techniques on both sides?” This is true, isn’t it? Your puzzled thought is understandable but the Okinawan masters had the answer. Master Itosu and other masters created kata purposely unsymmetrical to remind us that the students must practice gyaku kata (mirror image). Unfortunately, the practicing gyaku kata has not been exercised by all Shotokan dojos. In my dojo all brown belts are required to practice gyaku Heian kata and one of those kata will be required at their kyu exam. I also ask the black belts in my dojo to practice gyaku kata of all 16 Shotokan kata. Tekki may not be too challenging but try Bassai dai and Kanku dai in a mirror image. If practicing gyaku kata is not a part of your training syllabus, wouldn’t you want to include at least gyaku Heian kata and get the most out of these kata?
Many of you agree that karate practice does not stay only in a dojo. Where do you practice outside the dojo? Some of you are lucky to have a big back yard or a large garage where you can do your practice. Some may go to a park or a school gym. What do you practice at those places? You can certainly practice kata and kihon. Can you practice kumite? Yes, only if you can find a partner. But most of the time you will have to practice by yourself so no kumite.
Today I propose an idea of training in your car that includes makiwara and kumite practice. I call this “automobile dojo”. No, I am not proposing that you buy a bus or a big van to train inside. This idea does not include a loud ki-ai to the driver who is in the car next to you, or pounding your fist against the steering wheel to toughen it, or swinging your back fist to the passenger side head rest, either. In fact, what I will share with you will not propose any techniques and movements that are not related to driving itself. What I am proposing is only your normal driving but I will ask you to incorporate karate training to your driving and I will describe what and how.
Many people drive to and from work daily. Some of you may spend more than an hour in a car each way. This means you spend more time driving than training in your dojo every week. Wouldn’t you agree that it would be wonderful if you can add those hours to your karate training? You may say “I sometimes think about kata or other karate techniques but I cannot continue thinking about it because I am too busy driving”. It is true, and it may be too dangerous if you were day dreaming or paying attention to something other than driving. What I will explain is completely different from what you are probably expecting. In fact, what I suggest will improve your driving performance if you follow it correctly.
There are several different training syllabuses or menus. Let me share some of the main ones that you can include in your driving habit.
Menu #1: Distance practice
One thing you must remember is that your car is an extension of yourself. Now, this is a very important concept and I want the readers to fully understand this. So I will spend some time on this subject first. You already know that a meek person may feel braver when he is in a large truck than when he is in a smaller car. In his big truck he will not be intimidated by a small car even if its driver may be a big and muscular guy. This is one example of a concept of a car being an extension of yourself, but, I am not talking about this emotional feeling that can be created by what kind of a car one drives. What I am talking about is connected more to the physical aspect of your body when I say “extension”. In fact you must believe that the end of your body does not stop at the tip of your finger or your skin but it goes or extends further. It is true that there is a certain amount of space around you that you would consider a part of your “territory”. I am sure you have encountered a situation in your life more than once when a person passes you in front of you without saying “Excuse me”. I suspect you felt somewhat offended or invaded by this person or his act. If the distance between you and him was 100 meters or even 10 meters, you would not have cared. But you felt it was a very close distance so you expected a common courtesy of “Excuse me”. Why did you feel that courtesy was needed? It is simply because we all have a space around us that we feel it is “my” personal space or territory. In fact, there is a study called proxemics; the study of the cultural, behavioral, and sociological aspects of spatial distances between individuals. The amount of this distance varies a lot by the personal feelings and also by the cultural custom. In some Asian countries the distance tolerance is very close. For instance, a person behind you will stand very close to you when we are in line in Japan. I have been living in the US for many years so I often find myself feeling uncomfortable in the subway ticket line or a post office line when I visit Tokyo. Even within a same country the distances vary if you are in a city like New York or in a small village of a wide open state like Idaho. Of course, the distance tolerance is much higher in NY and a visitor from Idaho will probably feel very uncomfortable in a crowded New York City subway. If you are interested in learning more about proxemics you may want to access the following site; http://proxemics.weebly.com/index.html
So there is a space you recognize that is a part of you or you consider your space. What I will ask is to go further with this feeling. If you drive a small car in your daily life and if you have to drive a larger car you will feel uncomfortable especially when you have to park or drive through a narrow road or a bridge. You would feel even more uncomfortable or insecure if you have to drive a big van or a truck. This is a good example of body extension when you drive. An experienced bus driver or a truck driver has no problem even with a parallel parking and driving through a narrow bridge. He can “extend” himself to the outside of his bus or truck and knows exactly how far he (or his truck or bus) can or cannot go. He has the longer body distance than we (small car drivers) do. This is definitely a learned skill and a professional truck driver must go to a special school for this. This extended body distance ability can also apply to the use of a weapon such as a sword, a bo and a nunchaku. I will not go into this subject here as we are focusing our discussion with automobile driving right now but I am sure the readers can guess how it applies. We also talk about a long distance fighting method which is the characteristic of Shotokan karate compared to a short distance fighting method such as Goju-ryu. I believe the training method I will share will help both fighting styles but I think the benefit is bigger for the Shotokan practitioners as it will expand the territory or space that will be controlled by you.
I will present two types of training here that you can use to train in your car. One is automobile makiwara training. The other one is automobile kumite.
By automobile makiwara training I am not suggesting you to run into a post or make a makiwara with an old tire (though it is nice to have one). It is only a metaphor and I am suggesting you to pay more attention when you park your car in your garage or in a public parking lot. Your training is not to hit the front or the side (particularly the passenger side) of your car on anything around you. This is totally opposite of makiwara training as you are not supposed to hit anything in automobile makiwara training but it is still a distance practice. You must be able to extend yourself to the outline of your car. The obstacles in your garage or other parked cars can be your “partners”. If you are skilled in this training, your car will stay scratch free for many years. In addition, you will be an expert in parallel parking. Check your skill and see if you need more training or not.
In automobile kumite, I am not proposing to bump your car against another or attack the other cars or drivers. In fact, it is better called “automobile taisabaki” as you keep the correct distance from all the cars around you. The first thing you must do is to stop being a tailgater if that is your habit. I will discuss more in Menu #4 but having sufficient distance between you and the car in front of you is very important. It may be easier on a highway or a freeway but it will take much more practice and close attention in a busy city street but that is the best kumite situation for you. In a dojo kumite you typically have only one opponent. You are lucky if your sensei puts you in a multiple opponent kumite but I am sure you will not usually face more than 2 or 3 opponents. On the other hand, what you can train on here is the distance training with many opponents (cars) around you, not only the ones in front of you but also the ones beside you and even behind you. I will talk more about the rear side training in Syllabus #3 as it requires a different technique. We will focus on the cars in front and beside. You will have at least three separate distance training here. With the car or cars in front of you your training is to keep the same distance with it or them. If it or they slow down check how soon you will react to the difference in the distance. The driver in the car in front of you may not pump the brake to alert you. Your training is to detect the distance difference by visual observation. This visual check from a car that is running at even moderate speed of 30 or 40 miles per hour will help you with your eye judgment in real kumite. The training with the cars on your sides will require more than a distance practice so I will further explain this in Menu #2.
Your training with the cars on your side or sides is to develop your alertness for a car that may turn into yours by mistake or cut in front of you without warning. If this happens you need to be ready to either swerve away or put on the brakes to avoid an accident. This is almost a training of reading the mind of the drivers in other cars around you. If you have a mind set for this training then you can develop a skill to detect a movement by the other driver and you can almost read his mind if he is thinking of turning in or not. A lot of time your car may be in a blind spot of the other driver and this is a dangerous moment. If you are alert then you can avoid an accident. Certainly, you need to pay attention to the other cars that may get into the blind spots of your car. You must not depend on a rear view mirror when you change lanes or turn corners. You must turn your head and verify with your own eyes that it is clear to the side you are turning into.
You must also be alert to the car in front of you. There are three cases; (1) a car or cars going the same direction, (2) coming towards you, (3) waiting at an intersection to cross the street. Let’s look at case (1), the same direction. You must always expect that the driver in front may have a sudden need to brake hard and stop. If you have a sufficient distance this action will not bring you into a scary situation but being ready all the time will give you a faster reaction and you will not need to brake hard yourself. This (not braking hard) will alleviate the possibility of getting hit by a car from the back. To avoid this type of accident it is better to have several separate pumps on the brake to let the other driver know that you are putting the brakes on. I will go further on the driver who is driving behind you but here again you must not assume that this driver is alert and is a safe distance away from you. Paying attention to the back is very important though you may not be the cause of the accident but who wants to be in an accident regardless of who is at fault.
In the case of (2), coming towards you, you also need to pay full attention as this driver may decide to turn in and cross the street in front of you. It is amazing but sometimes the driver in that car does not see your car or he may misjudge the distance and timing. You need to be ready for any sudden moves by a car that is approaching you. Do not assume the driver in that car will see you or will make a safe and proper judgment. This can apply to case (3), a car that is either merging into your lane from another lane or a car that is waiting at a cross street or an intersection that may suddenly get into your lane or cross the street in front of you. The key point here is “Never underestimate your opponent or situation”.
All these situations are taught at a driving school but we easily forget. Paying attention all of the time for all possibilities and be ready for them is the martial art mind. Driving a car is a perfect training opportunity to train and develop this attitude or mindset and after the training hopefully this will turn into an ability of being able to perform almost unconsciously.
Even though it will not be your fault when you are hit from behind but no one wants to have an accident so you must learn to keep the distance with the car that is behind you. If a car behind you likes to tail gate you the best option for you to change your lane. If there is no other lane then stop and let him pass you. This is common sense but not too many people follow this advice. What some people do is to step on the brake to scare the guy behind you. Sometimes it may work but other times it irritates or angers the other driver and may develop into a more dangerous situation. So, I strongly advise you not to use a braking action to your tail gating opponent.
There is another exercise you want to do for your backside training. A rear view mirror becomes very important here. Of course, I am not referring to its use to put your lipstick on or to fix your hair. This is to watch out for a police car. Most of the time you get caught by a police officer that was trailing behind you. By training this ability you will have less chance of receiving a traffic ticket and your automobile insurance will not go sky high. Seriously, a karate expert must not receive any ticket not just by observing the rear view mirror but by observing all the traffic laws and keeping them.
This training is a part of automobile kumite. When a careless or impolite driver may cut right in front of you, do not honk or get upset. What you need to do is to let off your accelerator so you will slow down and allow more space between your car and his. As the driver in front of you is either careless or impolite he is not a safe driver. Pay more attention to this car and exercise Syllabus 2. When you are having a bad day this small incident may upset you. Of course you need to train your feelings so that you will not let the feelings dictate your reactions. In addition, you need to work on Syllabus 2 more so that a surprise move by a car next to you will not happen. If you can detect the feeling that this car is getting into your lane, you will let off the accelerator a little and make a space in front of you.
There is another situation when you need to control your feelings. You either cut in by mistake or drive too safely (slowly) and get another driver angry. If you offended another driver by cutting in by mistake then the best thing to do is to signal your apology. Most of the time the other driver may be upset but he will forgive you if you wave your hand and apologize. However, there may be a driver who gets so upset and who needs to show his anger by retaliating. This person may want to pass you quickly and cut in front of you. If this happens the best thing to do is to go slower and let this person pass you. Keep the distance from this person and the best strategy is to ignore this unhappy driver. There are many unhappy or upset drivers who are looking around for an emotional outlet. You do not want to get caught by a person like this. There is no reason for you to be a target of this negative feeling and you should not let this person risk your safety as well as that of your loved ones.
This is a very good training to keep yourself calm in a conflict situation. Interestingly a person becomes impolite or rude in a non-face-to-face situation like a car incident. This seems to be truer with a male. If you happen to meet him in a supermarket or in a library this person may offer to open the door for you or may say “After you” to let you go first. This non face to face situation in traffic encourages a person to be less polite or considerate. This situation is probably less common with a woman. Whether you are a man or a woman, avoid those impolite people and keep a good ma-ai from those people who are looking for a trouble.
Menu #5: Driving with minimum brake action
Now I will complete my article with the most challenging training syllabus for Jidosha Dojo. The idea is simple and clear but doing it correctly and safely can be very challenging. Driving with minimum braking action is fairly easy on a freeway where you have a little traffic. You can set your car on a cruise control and just drive. However, once you are in a town or a city and if you have to drive on a city street it will not be so easy. Why am I adding this as a syllabus? Is this something a retired person with a lot of time but not enough excitement wants? No, this syllabus will require a lot of mind work and discipline. One is distance perception involving the other cars, traffic lights and other traffic signs and obstacles. Another is time perception when to step on a brake and when to release it. You will also have to fight against your desire to speed up some times but you will need to make a judgment if that is required or advisable. In the end your driving will improve and your car will perform very smoothly. The passengers in your car will not feel any jerky and quick stopping movements. They will also feel very safe as your car just glides through the traffic like a flying carpet. It is true that some of the drivers behind you may not like the way or the speed you are driving. Your driving style may be different and unusual. They may honk or yell at you. I advise that you will let them pass you quickly so you can keep you smiling.
There are, of course, other syllabuses you can incorporate in Jidosha Dojo training such as breathing, stretching, reaction, etc. But if you get good at these five exercises I listed here your car performance will change and you will drive differently. It will certainly be much safer. You will most likely avoid receiving any traffic tickets. You will have much less chance of getting involved in a car accident. Initially you may find it challenging but once you get used to it or when you master the art, you will enjoy your driving much much more. In addition, you will realize that the Jidosha Dojo training will help you with your karate in both physical and mental aspects.
One thing I can confidently say is that what I am proposing here will increase the safety of your driving experience even if it does not help you with your karate. Another thing I want to add is a controversial statement. If you claim that you are a karate or martial art expert then you must be able to prove this by your driving history. A diploma that may show a high rank is not good enough for a true qualification. One qualification a karate expert must produce is a clean traffic history and record since the time he began to call himself a karate expert. I consider what I am stating here is very fair. However, I wonder how many karate experts can share their driving history to satisfy this qualification.
Whether you wish to try out my training ideas or not, Jidosha Dojo, is your choice and I do not expect all the readers will do it. But think of your life without any accidents and traffic tickets. Isn’t it worth giving it a try even for a short period of time and see if it will make any difference?
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 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 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:
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 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.
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?
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.
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
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Many people ask me about these titles and today I want to give you not only the meaning of these Japanese words and the history behind them.
First, I use Shihan in front of my name. It is not because I need or want to tell the world that I am a big sensei or a big shot. I retired from a high-tech company three years ago but I was in the industry for 30 years. During those years I kept my karate background secret or confidential from my bosses and even colleagues. I was not ashamed of my karate background but karate was (and still is) a very personal thing to me and I wanted to separate my business life away from my karate life. I used LinkedIn for my high-tech network and you can check it there but I used only my name. When I joined FaceBook 5 or 6 years ago I was still working for a high-tech company so I decided to use shihan as my first name and posted myself as Shihan Yokota. Now that I do not need to keep my karate background secret anymore I changed the name on FB as Shihan Kousaku Yokota by adding my real first name. I could have dropped shihan but it became almost like my nickname so I kept it. That is all and I will not be offended at all if anyone calls me without this title.
OK that is enough of an introduction. Let me explain about those confusing Japanese titles. In my explanation I will add Soke and Kancho as a bonus.
Let's start with shihan. First of all, shihan is not exactly a title. In other words, this is not something an organization would bestow or permit. Shihan (師範) means literally "to be a model" but it is only a formal word for sensei or instructor or teacher. So if you are teaching karate; for that matter any martial arts and non martial arts field, you can be addressed as shihan. However, it is customarily reserved for the senior instructors or teachers. For instance, if a Nidan or Sandan person at the age of 20's will not normally be addressed as shihan even if he or she may be the chief instructor of a dojo or a club. Since it is not a bestowed title it does not have the age or rank requirement. We would consider Godan and above as the senior ranks those sensei can be addressed as Shihan. On the same token, it will not be considered as impolite or rude if you address a senior instructor as sensei even if he is 8th or 9th dan. In other words, you can address me as sensei instead of shihan.
There is one exception to the above rule. There is a bestowed title of Shuseki Shihan. Shuseki means "Top position" so it means the Chief Instructor of an organization. This is used only in a large organization like JKA, JKS, ISKF, etc as they have multiple number of senior instructors. If you are the only instructor in your dojo or an organization then you should not use Shuseki Shihan even if you are asenior rank instructor.
On the other hand, Kyoshi, Renshi and Hanshi are bestowed titles. However, in general in karate (with JKA, ISKF, JKS, IJKA and WJKA) we do not use those titles. The only exception is Zen Nihon Karatedo Renmei (Japan Karate Federation or JKF). This organization is a non style specific organization and its members are Shotokan, Shito ryu, Goju ryu and Wado ryu. It is a member of WKF and I assume it also grants these titles. I do not know why they grants these titles but I suspect there is an influence from Kendo. The history goes back to 1895 when the martial arts organization called Dai Nihon Butokukai was established. They promoted various martial arts including kendo, judo, jujitsu, kyudo, and a few others. However, this organization was dismantled by the occupation force (GQ) in 1945. Even though the same name organization was established in 1957 it is not related to the original Dai Nihon Butokukai though they probably wish to claim as such as the prewar organization received a lot of respect and honor as it was sponsored by the Japanese government. The current organization is no longer well known or large in membership as it is only a private organization without any sponsorship from the government.
Anyway, I find it interesting to meet so many Kyoshi in the Americas but yet not too many Renshi or Hanshi. According to Dai Nihon Butokukai or JKF, the ranks starts with Renshi and ends with Hanshi being the highest. So, Kyoshi is the middle rank and I do not know why I meet only Kyoshi among the instructors.
For your information, let me list the requirements to qualify those ranks (by JKF):
Hanshi （範士）: 8th dan for more than 2 years, older than 60
Kyoshi (教士）: 6th dan and above for minimum 2 years, older than 50
Renshi （錬士）: 5th dan and above for minimum 1 year, older than 40
What is Kancho (館長）? You are familiar with Shotokan and the part of "kan" is the same here. Kan means building so the connotation is the dojo. Cho means the head or top (i.e. shacho: president). Kanazawa sensei uses Kancho as his title. I wonder if he wants to claim that he is the top of Shotokan which I do not know. This is a little mystery as his organization (Kokusai Shotokan Karatedo Renmei) does not end with "kan".
The last one is Soke（宗家）and I find and hear about so many soke in the US. I laugh about this as I know they cannot be legitimate. Soke means a central family who carries a certain art as their family tradition. Though you can find such a family in some Japanese martial arts such as kenjutsu this tradition is more popularly with the non martial arts such as tea ceremony (sado), flower arrangement (kado), Japanese dancing (kabuki, noh, etc), Japanese music and instruments (shakuhachi, koto, etc). It is customarily carried by the same family of the founder but of course there are some exceptions. This is why I laugh when I see an American guy who claims a "soke" title for his karate. This means he had to create his own style which is possible but I am not sure how legitimate his style can be. Or there is another possibility which is more unlikely that is his Japanese master decided to hand over the title as this American guy was good enough to carry the style. Anyway, if you meet any one in the western world with Soke in front of his name do not trust him too much.
As many of the readers can guess that Funakoshi sensei did not care for the titles. He never accepted any rank for himself even though he granted those ranks to his students. Thus, I am confident to conclude he did not accept any worldly titles such as Soke, Hanshi, Kyoshi, Renshi or even Kancho which he could have and deserved. The only exception is Shuseki Shihan. When Japan Karate Association (JKA) was founded in 1948 he accepted to become the first Chief Instructor. Even with this title he resigned in 1956, a year before his passing. I understand that he wanted to remain neutral as JKA was having some friction with Shotokai in 50s when both groups claimed the ownership of Funakoshi lineage.
Nakayama sensei and Asai sensei both held Shuseki Shihan positions. As far as I know they did not claim any other titles. Personally, I have no desire to claim any titles including Shuseki Shihan or even the dan rank from any organization. Dan ranks are mass produced these days and they no longer prove any real skill level or proficiency but this another subject so I will not go into this now.
I hope my short explanation of various titles was helpful and you have better idea about them. If you should have any questions about this matter feel free to send me any questions. I look forward to hearing from many of you.