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The big knuckles a karate-ka has developed on his hands are called “ken-dako, 拳ダコ” in Japanese. They are typically developed on the index and middle fingers. Typically, the young karate-ka would proudly show off the bulging and discolored knuckles as a proof of their “hard” training. It is almost like a war medal or a qualification badge. We all know how these knuckles were developed. They became big from the ponding, thousands of times on the piece of karate training equipment called a makiwara. The question I bring up today is if these big knuckles are really necessary for a karate-ka to be called an expert. The thoughts I share with you are purely my own personal opinions. I do not claim what I am proposing is correct but one thing I can say is that I have a very strong opinion about this subject.
A makiwara has become an iconic training tool of karate. It seems that every dojo must have at least one makiwara post to claim its legitimacy. Most of the sensei of dojos I have visited almost always showed me their makiwara posts very enthusiastically. A makiwara comes in various heights, thicknesses, . and of many different kinds. I have already written a chapter on training with a makiwara in my book, Shotokan Myths. If you are interested in this subject please refer to Chapter 4 in my book (available through Amazon and Kindle). In fact, I must say that makiwara training is one of the most popular topics that the karate-ka wishes to discuss. I am the main contributor of Karate Coaching (www.karatecoaching.com), the worlds most advanced and comprehensive online karate instruction service provider. The editor told me that the demonstration clip of my makiwara training received the most attention.
As a conclusion in Chapter 4 of Shotokan Myths, I wrote in essence that the senior yudansha need to graduate from makiwara training and move to the next level of training. I almost wanted to write that makiwara training was no longer needed for the senior practitioners but I decided not to. I was afraid my true meaning would be misunderstood by such a comment. It is true that many senior instructors including the world famous ones are believers of makiwara training. Those instructors include Funakoshi, Shotokan founder, Mas Oyama, Kyokushinkai founder, Tetsuhiko Asai, Asai-ryu karate founder and Higaonna, 10th dan Goju-ryu. It is well known that Master Oyama and Higaonna both have huge knuckles. I am not completely against makiwara training. Those masters are professionals as well as karate experts so those knuckles are well fitting and there is nothing wrong with that.
After having written that I would still say “no” to the original question; “Do we need big knuckles?” I am sure many readers will wonder why I say this. Probably many of you will argue that by having big knuckles the practitioner’s effectiveness (destruction power) of his fists will increase. One karate-ka told me, “Sensei, a fist with big knuckles is like having a 44 magnum gun. If you have the untrained knuckles you cannot break the bricks or 10 tiles. A fist with the small knuckles would be a 22 pistol.” Even though I am not sure if the analogy is quite accurate, in essence I agree to what he was trying to tell me. Even then I still say we do not need a set of big knuckles in order to be qualified as a senior karate-ka. You do not need more than a 22 pistol to kill an assailant in a standard self-defense circumstance.
Let me explain why I claim that we do not need big knuckles.
• The biggest myth with huge knuckles is the following. The big knuckles are toughened to the point a fist with those knuckles can knock out any opponent. However, I must say that simply having big knuckles does not necessarily translate into a destructive or scary punch. In the case of a magnum gun it does have tremendous fire power no matter who shoots it. But you must remember it is a gun and a punch is a totally different story. In order to have an effective or devastating punch, one must learn how to punch correctly. A big and toughened fist can be a good tool or at least a scary looking one but it must be backed up by a punching technique to make it work or effective. If your punch is slow or delivered poorly then it will not matter regardless of the size or the hardness of your fist. In fact, if you want something for your self protection it is better or more useful if you would carry a baseball bat or a stick. If you are a professional karate-ka who can train 4 or more hours daily then it is not a problem to punch a makiwara for 15 minutes or even longer . However, I assume that the most of the readers can only train 2 or 3 times a week and each training period must be 90 minutes or shorter. In this situation I hate to see a practitioner spend the valuable 15 minutes pounding on a makiwara. Don’t you think spending that time on kihon or kata is better or more productive for your karate improvement?
• Secondly, I do not think the idea of showing off the deformed knuckles bodes well with one of the karate-do values called humbleness. This is the same idea of not showing off one’s blackbelt to the public. When I was in a business meeting in Japan I used to hide or position my hands so that the discolored knuckles would not be visible. It was not because I was embrassed with the fists or felt ashamed of karate training. In Japan the people would easily know what my fists mean and I did not want to intimidate anyone. I may sound as if I’m exaggerating but it would be like placing a knife on a negotiation table. I do not think the sight of big knuckles will bring any pleasure to anyone who are non karate-ka.
• The third reason is most important. As we advance in the skill level of karate we need to graduate from the crude punching and overt techniques to more advanced techniques. They are less visible and more like piercing or tapping techniques that are mainly aimed at the kyusho, the critical parts of thebody. The kyusho such as eyes, neck, ears and groin are typically soft and the toughened fits and hands are not necessary to deliver an effective attack. At those targets a fist, a knife hand, the finger tips and a wrist are all effective even if they are not toughened. In addition, once you learn the one-inch-punch technique you no longer need to smash your fist into an opponent to knock him down. Of course this is an ultimate technique but it is not magic and anyone can learn it.
• Another reason why I discourage anyone from developing big knuckles is the ill consequence it may cause. I am afraid the deformed knuckles could result in an arthritis symptom when a practitioner gets old. I do not have the medical expertise nor scientific data on this so I would like to receive the input from the readers on this.
• Lastly, I am sort of a romanticist. Frankly, I hate to see our fists deformed and making them look like those of a zombie (see the photo below). This is far from beauty and I detest it. Earlier I explained that the toughened fists are not necessary to deliver an effective karate technique. So, why would you want to deform your fists?
Karate is the genetleman’s art and this is exactly what Funakoshi wanted. For those reasons listed above it is my strong belief that the ugly fists do not fit in the art of karate-do.
These are my personal opinions and the feelings I have towards Kendako. You are welcome to leave your opinions and thoughts on this subject.
by Shihan Yokota
More information about Karate (Shotokan, Shito Ryu, Wado Ryu and Goju Ryu) – visit the most comprehensive Karate website in the world and join the movement:KarateCoaching.com
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
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
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:
Makiwara is a true tradition of karate and its training is a must for all karate-ka.
The makiwara has been a fixture in karate dojos since its introduction to mainland Japan in the early 20th century. We have seen pictures of Funakoshi sensei punching one with his geta (wooden clogs) on. I have even heard that some of the modern day sensei would carry portable makiwara in their suitcases with them when they travel.
The makiwara had been an important training tool in my karate life as well. Let me explain how I got introduced to this traditional equipment in my first days of karate training. At the first dojo I joined in the early 60’s (Kobe Shotokan Karate Club), I remember there were several makiwara posts, some were wrapped with straw ropes and some with softer pads. I also remember that those pads were no longer white or have their original colors, whatever they were. The pads I saw were reddish black, covered in dried blood. It was obvious that my senpai punched these posts over and over again even when their fists were bleeding. My senpai, Kato-san once said, “Now look. My fist is so strong I can punch like this.” He punched straight into a wooden 4 x 4 beam of the dojo. Bang! Bang! The beam shook but he felt no pain. (At least he did not show it.) Wow! I was very impressed. If he could punch that beam like that, he could easily kill me. Honestly, it really made me scared of this senpai and he won unconditional respect from me. So as soon as I was allowed to punch a makiwara I started the tradition with full might. My dohai (student who started at the same time) Nakai and I punched the makiwara hundreds of times every day. In a year Nakai had developed some very respectable calluses but I couldn’t. I was frustrated and thought I was not punching hard enough. No matter how hard I punched the makiwara, the calluses on my fists did not get larger. ( Later, I realized that this was due to my skin’s very rubbery and soft characteristics. Actually, these characteristics are very good for they also allow me to be flexible as well. ) Despite not developing any respectable calluses, I kept the makiwara habit for more than 15 years. I must admit that the resonating sound made by hitting a makiwara in a dojo was euphoric, especially when the rhythm is so close to that of my own heartbeat.
I wondered if makiwara training is a true tradition and whether it was handed down for many centuries.We knew that the makiwara came from Okinawa but we have little documentation to support its history. I discovered, to my surprise, that this tradition is only 100 years old since its invention. It is believed that Matsumura Sokon (1809 – 1899) initially invented the makiwara and Itosu Anko (Master Funakoshi’s sensei, 1830 -1915) popularized it in the early 1900’s. Matusmura sensei took kenjutsu called Jigenryu of Satsuma. Jigenryu is a very unique style and their main practice is (read more...)
Shihan Yokota has published numerous articles and books:
When we do kata is it really mandatory that we come back to the exact spot where we started? I can almost hear your reply; “Yes. Nakayama sensei said so in Best Karate.“ You are absolutely correct. He listed 6 important points for kata in that famous book:
1. Correct Order
2. Beginning and End
3. Meaning of each movement
4. Awareness of target
5. Rhythm and timing
6. Proper breathing
For item 2 above, he clearly stated that “Kata must begin and end at the same spot on the embusen. This requires practice.”
If you are in a tournament this is absolutely a requirement, isn‘t it? If you are off by, say, one meter, I am sure those careful judges will take some points off of your performance.
Have you ever wondered why there is such a requirement? Nakayama sensei did not explain why in his book. Maybe it is such a natural thing and you may think I am wasting my time asking this. But, I have wondered about this and foolishly investigated why for many years. I was curious to know if the creators of kata (Itosu for Heian kata for an example) really designed all kata in such a way a performer will always return to the starting point. After much investigation and direct questioning I concluded that this was not the case. Someone changed the rule and created this new requirement of coming back to the exact starting point. I wanted to find who was behind this and for what reasons. This is a mystery and I wish to share my findings and my theory on this mystery with you today.
If you are a Nidan and above, you must have learned Chinte and this kata could be your tournament kata, especially if you are a female practitioner. We know this is a very unique kata (Chinte literally means “unique or strange hand”,) but do you realize it also has a very unique (strange) ending (three hops backward)? I have researched for many years and asked many sensei about these ending steps. For the longest time, no one could give me a believable bunkai for these “unique” moves with the feet in heisoku dachi and hands clasped together. It had been a big mystery to me, as I could not figure out the meaning of these strange hops.
The following is what I have found in the process of investigation. One Japanese sensei, whose name I cannot reveal, told me it was for balance training. Yes, it is indeed difficult to keep the balance with your feet and hands put together. But if you think it through, it just does not make any sense as you wonder why they were put at the end of the kata. After the final delivery of a kime technique (right gyaku zuki to chudan with ki-ai), we can expect a zanshin move as seen with the last step in Enpi. However, why would anyone put three backward hopping steps that are not stable as a zanshin move? Even if you buy this idea of having this balancing move there, why hop with two feet together? Hopping with only one foot is more of a martial art move (like a tsuru ashi dachi in gankaku.) No matter how much I considered the possibility, I cannot buy into this theory. (read more...)
Shihan Yokota has published numerous articles and books:
Are you practicing karate as Bujutsu or Budo? Do you care? I hope you do. I believe it does matter and we must ask this question to all karate practitioners and instructors. Unfortunately, many of them do not care. Even if they do, they either fail to understand the differences or they are too lazy to research about these concepts.
Let’s look at the popular reasons for the people to pick up karate and practice:
• Self defense
• Health/physical conditioning
• Stress reduction/mental wellness
All these reasons are good and respectable ones. We must not pass the judgment on any of the reasons and to regard any of them is better than the others. Though I am glad to see the people practicing karate for whatever the reasons, I have a strong concern with the current trend of tremendous amount of participation in the tournament activities, especially by the children and the youths. In fact too much emphasis is put on winning. The participants are told to do whatever necessary to win the matches. The things they are encouraged to do are to use only the certain techniques that are easier to score, to bend the rules, to do illegal things (by hiding them from the judges), to change kata moves to look “fancy”, etc. Their ultimate goal is to win without paying much attention to anything else and that is the essence of Bujutsu, martial arts. The 16th century Japan was in a war period and they cared only the best swordsmanship in order to survive in a battle.
Well then, what is different between Bujutsu and Budo? I believe a half of the problem comes from many of us not having clear understanding of the differences between the two terms and concepts. Most of us consider them as same or believe that they are inter-changeable. This is the gravest misconception and it is where the serious problem begins. (read more...)
Shihan Yokota has published numerous articles and books:
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: