<![CDATA[Isoshi Kai Karate - Ōkami Sōkutsu]]>Wed, 13 May 2020 11:01:04 -0700Weebly<![CDATA[Victory Lies in the Scabbard]]>Fri, 29 Jul 2016 01:09:17 GMThttp://isoshikai.com/332kami-s333kutsu/victory-lies-in-the-scabbardShouri wa saya ni ari ( 勝利は鞘にあり。). Victory lies in the scabbard is one of the many precepts covered by Sun Tzu in his “The Art of War”. It is a phrase with some deep connotation. It speaks to the ability of ending a conflict before one can erupt. This isn’t limited to the conventional battlefield however. This principal has a powerful significance in the martial arts, and it’s a concept that isn’t at all difficult to wrap our minds around.
When Taisho first came to me for training he brought with him like many of us a history of dealing with difficult people and the persistent shots at his ego in attempt to draw him into a physical altercation. Be the attacks verbal or physical Taisho was prior to darkening the door to the dojo by no means a soft target. He merely wanted to explore another avenue by which he could learn to handle these situations in a different way. After a couple years of training things began to change for him. Recently we briefly discussed how things had changed concerning how Taisho had progressed regarding his conflict resolution skills. He said that he still doesn’t come across as an aggressor nor is he a pushover, but when a bully attempts to roust him he stands firm and shows the bully that he won’t be pushed around and is thus more capable than the bully is willing to handle. This makes the bully disengage and leave Taisho alone. The conflict is then averted without a punch having to be thrown.
When I myself was growing up I had a bully problem. I was really small for my age and abnormally skinny. In fact it could be said that I was small enough to stand next to the car and hide behind the antenna, and I was very shy. These made me an enticing target. It had taken a few years of training before I noticed that things were changing for me. I noticed that I was having fewer and fewer conflicts with the bullies that usually plagued my daily activities and interactions. I’d like to say it was because word was getting around school and the neighborhood of my prowess as a martial artist and that I was now a force to be reckoned with, but this was simply not the case. What had happened was I began to change spiritually. I began to develop confidence. Because of this I no longer carried about with my head down. I stood and walked erect. I spoke with confidence, poise, and conviction. So it wasn’t that I intimidated my bullies, not by any means. It was that I was no longer a soft target. This removed me from thoughts of targeting me at all. Because I no longer displayed an inviting demeanor of the frightened rabbit I was no longer a tantalizing target for those who seek harm to the weak for the bolstering of ones own ego.
Probably the best example of Shouri wa saya ni ari I can provide comes from a memory involving Tadeshi Sensei many years ago while I was in Japan. At the time I worked part time in a bar near the Hinodecho district of Yokohama in my off time while stationed at Yokosuka. Tadeshi Sensei was short in comparison to most American men measuring at about 5’6” ish and was very slim. He is what I would call an observer of the human element, which is another way of saying people watcher. Periodically he would come into the bar and just observe the way different cultures interacted. On one particular evening he was sitting at the bar across from me sipping a glass of orange juice. The bar wasn’t yet busy but the crowd was beginning to filter in. There was one customer that wasted no time making sure everyone knew he was in the building. He was very large, very fit and very obnoxious, but he was wearing a really nice cowboy hat. He also seemed to be well on his way to inebriation. As the night drew on the cowboy got more and more aggressive with the staff and patrons, and it wasn’t long before he placed Tadeshi Sensei in his sights, as he seemed the ideal target for his rousting. While he was making a poor attempt at dancing weather intentional or not he slammed into Tadeshi Sensei from behind, spilling his orange juice all over the bar. Tadeshi Sensei made eye contact with him and then turned away shaking his head and asked me to pour him another, to which the Cowboy interrupted. “Orange Juice? You mean a screw driver, right?” Tadeshi Sensei didn’t look at him but replied in his broken English. “No, I mean orange juice.” The cowboy scoffed back. “Orange juice? What are you some kind of karate expert of something?” Tadeshi Sensei didn’t reply. I could feel tension rising so I chimed in. “Actually in a manner of speaking, yes he is. He teaches me karate.” Informing the cowboy did the opposite of what I had intended. I had hoped that by satisfying Cowboys curiosity that he would be done with it and walk away. I was wrong. He instead closed the distance to Tadeshi Sensei to within just a few inches of his face and my first thought was oh no, Sensei is going to kill this poor idiot. Before I could interject Tadeshi Sensei had already stood up. The cowboy not seeming the type to leave well enough alone taunted at Tadeshi Sensei. “I’ll bet I hit you thirty times before you land a single hit on me.” Tadeshi Sensei maneuvered to an empty bar table and motioned for Cowboy to join him. All the while Cowboy continued to attempt to provoke this seemingly weak old man into a fight. Tadeshi Sensei waited with a very disconnected expression upon his brow until Cowboy finished his feeble attempt at intimidating him. Tadeshi Sensei stood in front of Cowboy with the bar table between them and never broke eye contact. Tadeshi Sensei then admitted to Cowboy. “You probably would hit me thirty times.” Then with what sounded like a thunderclap Tadeshi Sensei punched a hole through the table without averting eye contact with Cowboy. All conversation in the bar stopped immediately and all eyes were on Tadeshi Sensei and the now flabbergasted Cowboy. Tadeshi Sensei then pulled his fist back out of the jagged hole through the table and held up his index finger before the still shocked Cowboy and then said. “But if I hit you just one time.” Tadeshi Sensei then walked back to the bar and waited for me to pour him another glass of orange juice. Cowboy wasn’t a problem for Tadeshi Sensei or anyone else for that matter after that. In fact, Cowboy bought Tadeshi Sensei orange juice for the rest of the night.
More often than not violence breaks out because of ego. Like the example of Tadeshi Sensei and the Cowboy all too often there are those who will indiscriminately attack your ego in attempt to rouse a physical response. Some time after the orange juice incident I asked Tadeshi Sensei if he thought he could have defeated the Cowboy had he not backed down. Tadeshi Sensei replied by telling me that it didn’t matter and that he was happy the altercation defused without having to come to blows because in a fight someone always gets hurt. So long as there is another way to resolve the conflict without violence and we make the conscious decision to take that route then we show mastery of an aspect of our craft that few are even aware of. Before we give into our baser instincts and allow our egos to get our selves or someone else hurt remember that violence begets violence. There is almost always another way. Shouri wa saya ni ari.
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<![CDATA[Kata, is it right or wrong?]]>Thu, 02 Jun 2016 01:02:29 GMThttp://isoshikai.com/332kami-s333kutsu/kata-is-it-right-or-wrongAt some point we’ve all seen kata performed some place or another. Either in your dojo, at a tournament or perhaps in a movie or cartoon; chances are you’ve seen it. I’m sure we’re all also guilty of being over critical when watching a kata performed in whatever venue we witness it in. But there are times when seeing it done that we watch the performance and think or say out loud, “what the heck is he/she doing? That’s totally wrong!” But are we actually wrong in our own preconceived notions of how a particular kata should be performed or demonstrated? Do we fully understand the context from which the practitioner is pulling the techniques before us?
As a You Tube junkie I have seen just how over critical the vast majority of viewers can be to the videos posted by practitioners of various disciplines. There are scores of armchair black belts spewing insults and recommendations to the participants of the posted videos. Everything from, “you’re doing it wrong” to “that looks like crap” to “that bunkai doesn’t make sense” has been posted to a whole host of video comments thereon.
So lets examine kata from the viewpoint of karate. Kata or Form is a collection of techniques chained together into a pattern for the practice of karate. There is no distinguishing the various schools and styles of karate. As in with Kendo and Judo of years past, these various schools and styles are known by the names of the owners of the respective dojo.  In all budo, not just karate, the interpretations of the art by those who are training differ according to the interpretations of their instructors. Moreover, it goes without saying that variations in expression are characteristic of each individual. So, in general no two karateka will have the same interpretation of any given sequence within a stated kata. This does not mean that one is right or wrong. Merely that the perspective of each practitioner is different.
With regard to karate (including Isoshikai) if they were to be classified, they would fall broadly into one of two categories: Shorin-ryu or the Shorei-ryu. Shorei emphasizes the development of physical strength and muscular power. In contrast, the Shorin is very light and focuses on speed and dexterity, with rapid movements to the front and back. Both of these styles will develop the mind and the body. It’s important to stress here that there is no one great, grand, glorious, end all-be all style. No one style is better than another. It is the individual practitioner of the style that will make it good or bad. Any claims to the contrary are arrogance, ignorance or preconceived notion.
With that out of the way, we can examine the bunkai.  分解 (Bunkai) Literally means analysis or disassembly and is a term used in Japanese martial arts for analyzing kata and extracting fighting techniques from the kata. The extracted techniques are called 応用変化技 (Oyou henka waza), which means applied variations of technique. The key word in the translation there is variations. This implies that there is no one-way of doing things. One mans gedan barai is another mans low block and another’s hammer fist and yet another’s throw. It’s all about the individual perspective and probably more importantly the context in which the technique is applied.
So let’s imagine that we’re watching a kata demonstration. The practitioner is moving through the series of techniques and it just looks “wrong” to you for one reason or another. What makes it appear incorrect? Perhaps the karateka moves through the first four steps of Heian Nidan and the sequence appears to be completely short or rushed. Maybe it seems as though the techniques look inappropriate to the application to which you yourself are familiar. To be fair, that’s not for you or I to judge. This is why context is important to bear in mind while the karateka moves through the motions. (S)he is performing the set in the context that they were taught. The first four techniques may be demonstrated as a trapping and throwing technique instead of the strikes that most karateka are familiar with. Of course it’s also entirely possible that the student is not yet familiar enough with the kata to be performing it in this venue. This opens a whole other can of worms. It’s been my observation that all too often instructors will teach kata to their students too quickly in order to move on to the next in the curriculum before the student has fully understood the techniques within the kata in order to collect a testing fee every three months. Therefore the standards of excellence are diluted in order to pay the bills at the dojo. This results in students with a very vague understanding of a great number of kata instead of the student having a full understanding of only a few kata. It’s quality over quantity.
One area in particular that seems to miss the mark of what kata is supposed to be is in the media. This is to no fault of their own. Over the past decade there was a sharp increase in Extreme Martial Arts (XMA), which thankfully seems to have died off a bit. In their kata (if we can even call it that) demonstrations consist of spectacular aerial flips and twists are showcased with a lot of yelling, spinning and flashy kicks while clad in some interesting albeit eccentric uniforms. Regardless of how impressive the acrobatics anytime I see these demonstrations the only thought that occurs to me is “this is wrong”. Its reminiscent of gymnastics and cheerleading but with weapons and martial arts uniforms. Of course it’s entertaining to see. I just can’t wrap my head around how this is supposed to be applied to any context of the combat arts.  And the point therein is that it’s not supposed to be. It is purely for aesthetics and to demonstrate the athletic prowess of the contestants.
Still I suppose it’s my own ego or maybe even arrogance that forces me into a state of frustration when I see kata performed as a side show circus event or even the kata being performed by karateka whom clearly have no real working knowledge of the sequence of techniques or their applications. While my students have heard my self and my partner say too many times to count; it doesn’t have to be pretty. It only has to be effective. However, when it comes to kata there is a rather blurred line with that respect. There is an unwritten rule that pretty much says that the kata should be at least a little esthetically pleasing. Regardless, it’s not my place to pass judgment nor is it anyone else’s for that matter. Weather the kata is performed right or wrong through my perception is irrelevant. The point here is to be ever mindful that no two schools will have the same standards of excellence and all techniques are subject to individual elucidation. As a spectator we can all have a lesson in humility and patience if we can just keep our own ego in check and remember that there may be something going on therein that we’re not privy to.
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<![CDATA[The Kata]]>Mon, 02 May 2016 00:49:08 GMThttp://isoshikai.com/332kami-s333kutsu/the-kata Do you practice your kata and often wonder what the real meanings are behind the form? It is general practice in most dojo to learn one kata form, pass a grading then learn another kata. This is probably due to competition sport oriented training where the emphasis leans more to kumite sparring and a perfect performed kata form.
A long time ago, before karate was introduced into the school systems and certainly before karate obtained a sport side, training was solely kata based. The karate kata were passed from teacher to student along with the bunkai which are the methods and principles of a complete self defense system. The kata would contain everything we require to effectively defend ourselves within a civilian environment.
Karate kata were basically a physical model of an effective fighters methods and principles. A way of recording the creators fighting systems. Unfortunately, with the way karate progressed from the 1900's onwards, most of these methods and principles went to the grave along with the kata’s creators.
Today, by reverse engineering kata, we can try to gain an understanding of the fighting system that the creator wanted to record. When performing kata we need to develop our visualization skills and concentrate on the transition of movement rather than the perfect finished technique. An alternative opinion would be to look at kata as a collection of methods and principles rather than techniques.
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<![CDATA[The Lost 95%]]>Tue, 05 Apr 2016 00:47:35 GMThttp://isoshikai.com/332kami-s333kutsu/the-lost-95Practically all Martial Artists include kata or forms practice as part of their training. The question asked by the vast majority is, "Why?" Certainly many practitioners omit forms practice as they feel it is a pointless exercise that does nothing to increase fighting skill; "I hate kata. I'd rather spar!" is the most common claim made by many a misguided junior grade (and sadly a few senior ones).
Without an understanding of the information and techniques included within kata, hyung, taeguek, poomse or forms (as I am of a karate background I’ll approach this from my personal stand-point), martial arts are a very limited art. How many karate clubs include close range striking, grappling, throwing, joint locks, chokes & strangles and ground fighting in their practice? The answer is all of them! But very few realize it as they leave such methods hidden away within the katas. Karate was developed to be complete and effective method of civilian self-defense. Karate, as it is practiced by the majority of people, is at its best at middle to long range. However, most fights start close up and almost always include some form of grappling. Are we to assume that the past masters got it wrong? The founders of our arts were able fighters who fully understood how real fights occurred. If you ignore the methods included within the kata you are only seeing a very small piece of a very large puzzle. The majority of today's karate training revolves around techniques developed for use in the sporting environment. The original karate techniques, as recorded within the kata, are the ones for use in real situations against violent and untrained attackers.
In order to value kata it is necessary to understand why the founders of the arts developed them to begin with. The kata is the vehicle through which the combative techniques and principles of a particular master or style are transmitted from generation to generation. Karate is a physical skill and hence a physical method of recording these combative techniques and principles needed to be developed. More often than not, it was not the pioneers of particular fighting methods that brought about the katas, but their students. A good example of this is the kata 'Jin-Do' (or 'Gankaku' as it is referred to by Shotokan Practitioners). Jin-Do (From Chinese pronounced “Chinto”) was a Chinese martial artist and sailor who became ship wrecked on Okinawa. Finding himself stranded, Chinto began to steal in order to feed himself. Once the King got wind of this situation he sent Sokon Matsumura, a legendary karate master who was employed by the king as a bodyguard to dispose of Chinto. A fight ensued during which Matsumura found himself for the first time equally matched. Matsumura befriended Chinto and took care of him for the remainder of the time he resided in Okinawa. Being impressed with each other’s fighting skills they exchanged much information and upon Chinto's departure, Matsumura formulated a kata - named after the originator of the methods it contained - to ensure Chinto's methods were recorded and passed onto future generations. Many other katas were also developed by an individual's students in order to record what they had been taught (Kushanku, Wanshu, Sip Soo, Lo-Hai, etc.)

Katas were developed to ensure that the most effective methods of a particular individual or style were not lost. Contained within many kata is a complete system of fighting. In 1926 Choki Motobu, who was one of Okinawa's most feared fighters, wrote, 'The Naihanchi, Bassai, Chinto and Ro-hai styles are not left in China today and only remain in Okinawa as active martial arts' (Okinawan Kempo page 26). The key word in the preceding quote is 'styles.' This infers that Motobu believed all the kata listed to be systems in their own right. The katas were not intended to be used together - although there is no reason why they could not be - but were all intended to be used as a standalone fighting system. This is a very important, and often over-looked, fact.

It is also important to understand that the techniques recorded within kata were designed for use in civilian self-defense. Kata applications were not intended to be used in a sporting context or on a battlefield against a trained warrior. Kata deals with likely attacks from violent and untrained aggressors, not attacks from other martial artists. In a real situation we are highly unlikely attacked with complex maneuvers or high kicks therefore it’s highly unlikely that a master would have spent much time developing methods for dealing with such attacks. We have a far greater need for defense against wild swings, head butts, tackles etc. The vast majority of real fights also take place at close range and hence the vast majority of kata applications are also for use at that distance. Techniques such as close range strikes, throws, takedowns, chokes, strangles, arm bars, leg locks, finger locks, wrist locks, neck breaks, ground fighting etc. are common place within the katas. These methods are rarely removed from the kata and practiced in the majority of modern dojos. If we wish to practice karate as the complete art that its pioneers intended it to be, then we must study our katas in sufficient depth and include all aspects of the art in our regular training. So why did these methods fall from grace in the first place?

The first thing to bear in mind is that the kata were closely guarded secrets. In his book 'Karate-do Nyumon' Gichin Funakoshi states that an elderly Okinawan karateka once contacted him as he wished to pass on a kata before he died. Funakoshi was unable to go and asked that the kata be taught to Gigo (Funakoshi's son). Gigo was taught the kata in a locked room with shuttered windows. The old man told Gigo that in his lifetime he had only shown the kata to one other person, and when he did he had crucially altered it. This tale helps to illustrate the level of secrecy that originally surrounded kata and its instruction. A kata would only be taught to students who had proved themselves worthy, and only after it had been practiced for a sufficient time would the master then reveal the hidden techniques that the kata contained. The katas were put together in a way that was deliberately meant to conceal the techniques within them (the very fact that the opponent is not present is often enough to hide a movement's meaning). This was to prevent the casual observer from learning the methods of a particular master or school and then devising counters or using the skills in a dishonorable fashion.

In addition to the fact that the kata were closely guarded secrets, it is also important to take into account the changes in approach that karate instruction underwent in the early part of the last century. In 1901 the great Karate Master Yasutsune Itsou placed Karate onto the physical education program of the Shuri Jinjo elementary school. As it stood Itsou believed Karate to be too dangerous to be taught to children and set about disguising the more dangerous techniques. As a result of this disguising of techniques, the children were taught the katas as mostly blocking & punching. This enabled the children to gain such benefits as improved health and discipline from their karate practice without giving them knowledge of the highly effective & dangerous fighting techniques that the katas contain. This is significant as the majority of modern Karate uses Itsou's terminology and hence the labels attached to various techniques may well have no relation to their intended use. When teaching the katas to his adult student's, Itsou would give full instruction in all the highly potent techniques that the katas contained (when the student was trusted and ready). The main difference between the adults and children's training would simply be a matter of approach as opposed to any change in subject matter. Katas can be practiced for health or for fighting skills - the katas are the same but the approach is different. In his writing, Itsou reminds us to be clear as to our intentions. In 1908 he wrote, "Karate katas should be practiced with the idea of whether it is for physical training or for its practical use." This new labeling of techniques undoubtedly mislead many as to the true applications of many kata movements.
A third reason as to why the applications of the forms are not widely practiced today is the shift in emphasis that Karate underwent when it was introduced to Japan. The Japanese required a number of refinements if Karate was to be widely accepted by them. There had to be a standard training uniform (a lightweight Judo gi was adopted). A method of competition had to be devised. And, most significantly of all, it was requested that the more unpleasant aspects were omitted as the Japanese felt much of Karate was excessively violent. The eye gouging, throat crushing, testicle seizing and other such unpleasant (but highly effective) methods were further hidden away within the katas and no longer taught openly. This led the great Choki Motobu to proclaim that the karate of Japan was "imitation Karate, not much more than a dance."
All the changes kata have undergone has in no way diminished the effectiveness of their content. It is simply the way in which the katas are approached and the misunderstandings that surround them that are of concern. Today many Karateka simply practice their katas to pass grading or win trophies, and hence are only concerned with the kata's appearance. The primary purpose of kata is to enable us to inflict pain upon our aggressors in response to unprovoked acts of violence. Some people do not care for this view and talk of how the performance of a perfect kata can be an end in itself. A Rolls Royce that does not start up may look beautiful but it could not be described as perfect because it cannot perform the task it was designed to. Likewise, the Katas were designed for use in combat and hence I fail to see how a kata that cannot be used in combat can ever be described as 'perfect' regardless of how visually pleasing it may be. This is why I cringe at the thought of the XMA that has swept the United States. Gichin Funakoshi in his book 'Karate-Do Kyohan' states, "Once a form has been learned, it must be practiced repeatedly until it can be applied in an emergency, for knowledge of just the sequence of a form in karate is useless." We should remember that the katas are a means to an end, and not an end in itself.
Hironori Otsuka (founder of Wado-Ryu) wrote in his book, 'Wado-Ryu Karate', "Martial arts progress from kata to kumite, kumite to combat and so on. Kata is a fundamental aspect of martial arts and hence is unyieldingly important." Here we are told that Kata should progress to kumite and then to combat. I feel that this is crucially important, as many karateka do not permit the use of kata techniques during sparring. Obviously the neck breaks, eye gouges, seizing of the testicles should be omitted, but what about the throws, chokes, strangles, traps, sweeps or locks? By omitting these techniques from live practice we do not get the opportunity to develop the skills and attitudes needed to execute the techniques in a live situation. Also, if we do not test our understanding of the kata's applications in a live environment how are we to be sure that they will work? The application of the katas has become more popular of late (but still not anywhere near as popular as it should be) and thus many people are revisiting their katas with renewed vigor. This has lead to a flood of 'applications' for various katas being proposed. Often these 'applications' are far too complicated to be of any use in a live fight. On a compliant opponent everything works! Learning the martial arts is a slow and methodical process. It would be foolish to throw lower grades into 'all-in-sparring.' First they must learn the kata to a sufficient standard, and then utilize the kata applications in prearranged sparring, before finally using the katas methods in live sparring. That which is quickly created is quickly destroyed - the whole process takes time if worthwhile skills are to be achieved. Certainly all instructors should utilize their kata applications in live sparing - how else can they have any confidence in them?

The katas contain a vast amount of martial knowledge; Striking techniques, attacking vital points, Grappling, joint-Locks, Strangles, Ground fighting techniques, Chokes, Throws, Takedowns etc. The amount of martial knowledge contained within the katas is staggering. Not only do the kata provide the techniques but, more importantly, they also include the principles upon which the techniques rest. The key thing is to understand "why" the techniques work. Try to get beyond the simple memorizing of individual techniques and endeavor to fully understand the principles of combat upon which the katas are based. Principles are far more important than techniques. Principles can be applied in an infinite number of ways, but techniques are very specific and are therefore limited. You should aim to be an adaptable and versatile fighter. Endeavour to fully understand the principles and learn how to fight in accordance with them. While initially this understanding will be on an intellectual level, you should aim to integrate these principles into your subconscious (this being the main purpose of kata practice). At this high level the body will instinctively act in accordance with these concepts and hence make the karateka extremely formidable. By concentrating on the principles, and the various ways in which they can be applied, a single kata becomes an inexhaustible supply of martial knowledge. Master Rick Lindsey used to encourage me to adapt and experiment with the katas techniques while ensuring the principles remain constant. in his book 'Wado-Ryu Karate' (Pages 19 &20) Hironori Otsuka tells us, "It is obvious that these kata must be trained and practiced sufficiently, but one must not be 'stuck' in them. One must withdraw from the kata to produce forms with no limits or else it becomes useless. It is important to alter the form of the trained kata without hesitation to produce countless other forms of training."

If you only understand specific techniques you will be unable to apply them should anything alter. Grasp the principles and you will be able to adapt any technique - in line with the principles upon which it rests - to be of use in an infinite number of situations. Choki Motobu, one of Okinawa's most feared fighters put it very eloquently when he said, "One must learn how to apply the principles of the kata and how to bend with the winds of adversity" (Tales of Okinawa's Great Masters by Shoshin Nagamine Page 96).

Without a thorough understanding of the katas we are left with only a fraction of the karate syllabus. The commonly used techniques (kicks & punches) take up around 5% of the information available. If we wish to practice karate as its founders intended then we must study the katas in sufficient depth, utilize the kata's techniques in both pre-arranged & free sparring and strive to understand the principles upon which the katas rest. In this way karate becomes a complete and brutally efficient martial art. Within kata we have the chance to learn from the past masters and perhaps gain a little of their skills - It would be foolish in the extreme to ignore such a marvelous opportunity.

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<![CDATA[Finish What You Start]]>Wed, 02 Mar 2016 01:40:16 GMThttp://isoshikai.com/332kami-s333kutsu/finish-what-you-startThe primary goal of any beginner or intermediate student of karate is usually to attain the coveted black belt. The black belt represents technical excellence, high ethical standards and the ability of a student to endure a strict and rigorous training regimen. To those “in the know,” people with black belts are seen as being more than just average practitioners. They are rightfully seen as being highly disciplined and skillful proponents of their art. So what are the steps that any beginner can take now to ensure a successful path to black belt?
Tip #1: Define what the black belt means to you personally.

There is an expression that goes “if you don’t know where you’re going, you will probably end up somewhere else…” By defining what the black belt means, you now have specific reasons to become one. You must take full ownership of your chosen goal if you are to achieve it. Your instructor and fellow students will be more than happy to encourage you along the way but the responsibility of reaching your goal lies squarely with you.
Tip #2: Set a realistic period in which to reach your goal.

It typically takes three to four years of regular training to attain the level of 1st degree black belt. If you say you are going to do it in one year then you are probably being overly ambitious. Likewise, if you set a timetable of eight years to reach the goal, then you are probably not stretching yourself enough. Find out what the minimum time is and what the average time is, and set your goal somewhere in between the two.
Tip #3: Break your overall goal down into smaller content goals.

“A mile is a trial, but an inch is a cinch.” You cannot possibly learn everything that you need in order to become a black belt at once, so it is very important that you break down the overall syllabus and content into smaller bite-sized pieces. Fortunately, this has been done for you already, as each belt level has specific required content. Get a copy of the grading syllabus and focus on what you need now instead of what you will need six months down the road.
Tip #4: Understand exactly what content you need to learn.

You need to know exactly what is required of you at each level. Again, you should refer to the grading syllabus and any student resources that are available. Take note of what is taught in class, focus primarily on what is needed for your next belt, and not just on what is fun. Knowing your required content is like having a detailed roadmap to your destination. If you know where you are going and you have the directions of how to get there, then you are more likely to arrive at your chosen destination on schedule.
Tip #5: Get to know the black belts in your organization and ask them how they were successful.

“Hang around with the winners” is excellent advice. A black belt is somebody who has already achieved the goal that you are striving to reach. They obviously know what it takes to get to the destination otherwise; they would not be wearing it. Do not be afraid to approach the black belts in your organization and find out what it was like for them during their journey to black belt. They will more than likely have lots of great advice that will be very helpful and will be more than happy to share their own personal success stories as well as the challenges they faced on the journey.
Tip #6: Go to class on a regular basis.

“90% of success comes from ‘showing up.’” There are no short cuts. Consistent and persistent practice will lead to positive progress and growth. You must make your weekly karate classes a priority and a necessary discipline in your ultimate journey to becoming a black belt. Books and training videos can be great tools, but you cannot learn everything you need from a book or a DVD. You need a qualified instructor who can guide you along the way and who will give you appropriate feedback.
Tip #7: Practice at home.

Repetition and practice are keys to success in anything you do, especially in karate. Going to class on a regular basis is essential, but practice at home is also highly recommended if you are to make it to black belt within your desired timeframe. Practicing at home allows you to work on the things that you know you need to practice more and gives you a chance to digest the content that is given to you each week in class.
Tip #8: Read books on karate and your style and do some research on the Internet.

There is nothing wrong with going out and buying a good book on your chosen art or style or buying DVDs that detail different training methods. Research on the Internet is also a good idea. Your instructor should not be your only resource when it comes to your karate. You need to take full responsibility for your success and nowadays there are so many great resources out there that do not cost much and that offer very valuable tips and advice to improve your training. Take advantage of them as much as possible.
Tip #9: Find a training partner who shares the same goal and push each other to the next level.

There is nothing more motivating than a bit of friendly competition. Try to find someone in your class who is at a similar level and ability and team up with them through your common goal of becoming black belts. Together you will be able to push each other through the tough times, celebrate with each other on each successful step forward, and keep each other focused on the result of your efforts.
Tip #10: Never give up on becoming a black belt.

Karate success can be summed up in three words… “Begin and Continue.” If you are vigorously implementing the previous nine tips then tip #10 should be a no-brainer. However when the inevitable doubts as to whether or not you will be successful in reaching your goal rear their ugly heads, just remind yourself of one immutable truth. Giving up on your goal guarantees failure. Persistence, on the other hand, will lead you to your desired result. If you are steadfast in the value of reaching your goal then giving up will never be a viable option.
These then, are the top ten tips for becoming a black belt. If you follow this advice and train hard then it is inevitable that you will attain the coveted black belt. There are no hidden secrets or special training methods just clear goals, consistent practice and hard work. In addition, one more thing – enjoy your journey on your way to success and the black belt, because if it is not fun and enjoyable to you, then none of the rest of this advice will fall into place.
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<![CDATA[A Good Instructor but a Bad Person]]>Tue, 02 Feb 2016 01:32:07 GMThttp://isoshikai.com/332kami-s333kutsu/a-good-instructor-but-a-bad-person I don’t know what it was that I had seen or heard that inspired me to ask this. A few days ago I posted a question to a social media site asking for thoughts and opinion regarding the prospect of learning the martial arts from someone who while having technical excellence in the craft as a technician and an instructor was also what we would characterize as a “bad person” be he a complete jerk, wife beater, pedophile, drug abuser, etc. The responses were varied for yes and no, but it was the reasons for the answers that I found interesting.
We all expect that our instructor be the resident subject matter expert when it comes to our martial training and education, but how important is his character? Let’s face it. In todays society a truly good martial arts instructor is few and far between. In the area I reside now there are several martial arts schools. When I came to the area I really only wanted to find a place to train. Don’t get me wrong, the back yard is fine for regular practice but I missed having facilities and the human element of other students when engaging in my practice. I checked out all of the classes in town and when just looking at the school websites I didn’t see any that really offered anything to grab my interest and when going to observe and talk with the instructors I didn’t talk to any that I could consider a real teacher, but perhaps I am a little jaded.
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So let’s pretend you want to take up karate. A man operates the only school in your area that you believe to be extremely technically proficient and knowledgeable. He’s highly regarded as a martial artist and as an instructor. You’re ready to sign up next Monday but then you are told by some of his students that he makes regular sexual advances at the female students, or constantly makes inappropriate comments, or bullies people in class or in public. The inappropriate behavior or unsavory habits of the instructor do not detract from his ability to effectively teach. So while his conduct beyond the confines of the dojo is completely unacceptable to you, would you still sign up? Would you proceed in aligning yourself to him in attempt to absorb only the technical excellence of the craft and hope to be unaffected by his seeming unsavory character? Or would you pass and hope for the miracle of another school opening up across the street by Mr. Miyagi?

There is no right or wrong answer to this question because everyone’s personal standard of what is acceptable and what is not will vary from person to person.  When I posed this question to a social media site I received a lot of feedback. Unfortunately there was a common thread of misunderstanding in the example I posed when asking the question. The most common answer I received I think was either out of misunderstanding (and the readers were correcting me) or they were the ramblings of individuals whom were just wanting to throw in two cents but merely ran circles around giving an honest opinion of the matter due to fear of offending anyone or being challenged in their opinion. An answer like beginning with “depending on the person” does not tell me what you would do. The point I wanted was to know what YOU would do if you knew that the prospective instructor is a “bad person”. In other words, just how important is character when it comes to selecting an instructor of the martial arts?
I did receive a lot of historical references of past masters of our arts with regard to some of their more incongruous conduct out side of the dojo. To that I say thank you for refreshing our memories that even back in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s nobody was perfect. People of all calibers are still human. As an instructor myself I can tell you that I have made several seriously bad decisions that affected the perception of those around me as both a person and as a martial artist. Motobu and Kyan were infamous for antics such as picking fights to test their skills and whoring in the red light districts, yet both men are thought to have been two of the greatest karate instructors in history.
So would it be fair to say that as long as the inappropriate behavior doesn’t interfere with the training at the dojo I don’t care what they do? As long as their character doesn’t adversely affect his ability to teach or my ability to learn, I don’t care. Of course it’s also commonly said that we check our social life at the door of the dojo before we enter, and it could be argued that the same goes for the instructor. We’ve seen some state that the instructor isn't supposed to be a role model or sage, but more a technical coach and that beyond learning the techniques of the art we are immune to the character flaws of our Sensei. What do I care if Sensei binge drinks, smokes, uses recreational drugs, cheats on his wife, dates his students, picks fights, or swindles parents with black belt club memberships? What does it matter if he’s a complete jerk or egomaniac? How does that affect his ability to teach? The short answer: It doesn’t.
However, to assume that aligning yourself to an instructor who’s personal character and reputation rest in murky waters will not affect you is foolish at best. For better or worse those whom we align and associate with affect us on both personal and professional levels. To put it bluntly, your name whether you like it or not is associated to the dojo in which you train and it’s not limited to the reputation of the technical teaching that goes on within it’s walls. Unfortunately, you don’t get to make the distinction of who gets to make that association or how it is done.
Always be acutely aware that perception is always in the eye of the beholder. Be true to your self when engaging in martial practices and always be aware that it’s human nature for us to emulate those around us.  Although we may be able to disconnect the unsavory character traits of our instructors within the confides of the dojo we are still affected by it never the less. Be very clear with regard to what it is that you as a student want. If your perspective instructor has some habits that you would never your self entertain or partake in then you may want to hold off on aligning your self to such a person. However, if the behavior is that which you feel isn’t a big deal then what will it matter if you join? At the end of the day the most important opinion is yours, but bear in mind that whatever choice you make the general population will see your choice and develop their own perception of your choice which despite all attempts to remain disconnected will affect you both personally and professionally.
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<![CDATA[Big Rocks and the Jar - A Return from Hiatus]]>Sat, 02 Jan 2016 02:29:47 GMThttp://isoshikai.com/332kami-s333kutsu/big-rocks-and-the-jar-a-return-from-hiatusA master wanted to demonstrate a concept to his disciples. He takes a large-mouth jar and places several large rocks in it. He then asks the class, "Is it full?

"Unanimously, the class reply, "Yes, Shihan!"

The master then takes a bucket of gravel and pours it into the jar. The small rocks settle into the spaces between the big rocks.

He then asks the class, "Is it full?"

This time there are some students holding back, but most reply, "Yes, Shihan!"

The master then produces a large can of sand and proceeds to pour it into the jar. The sand fills up the spaces between the gravel.

For the third time, the master asks, "Is it full?"

Now most of the students are wary of answering, but again, many reply, "Yes, Shihan!"

Then the master brings out a pitcher of water and pours it into the jar. The water saturates the sand. At this point the master asks the class, "What is the point of this demonstration?"

One bright young student raises his hand and then responds, "No matter how full one's schedule is in life, he can always squeeze in more things!"

"No," replies the master, "The point is that unless you first place the big rocks into the jar, you are never going to get them in. The big rocks are the important things in your life... your family, your friends, your personal growth. If you fill your life with small things, as demonstrated by the gravel, the sand, and the water... you will never have the time for the important things."

So, what are the "Big Rocks" in your life? Spending time with your children, your parents or your spouse? Taking the seminar or class to get the information and perspective you need to succeed? Making the time to set goals, plan or evaluate your progress? When you are hassled because there is no time, remember the story about the Big Rocks and the Jar!
We apologies for an absence in blog entries. In life, we all have big rocks we must first place in our jars. Every master and disciple of Isoshi Kai recognizes the importance of these big rocks teaches patience with ourselves and each other in making the time for them. Please continue to look for new blog entries from our masters.
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<![CDATA[Heian Kata]]>Wed, 02 Dec 2015 02:11:40 GMThttp://isoshikai.com/332kami-s333kutsu/heian-kataThe Heian kata, originally known as Pinan kata, were developed by Anko Itosu from old Okinawan kata, particularly Kanku Dai (Kushanku), for teaching high school and university students karate forms. During the transitional period of Gichin Funakoshi introducing karate to mainland Japan, he renamed the kata to Heian. Both Pinan and Heian kata loosely translate to "peace and calmness" or "peace and harmony".
Itosu introduced the Heian kata into the school systems of Okinawa during the 1900’s and they still form part of the curriculum in many styles today. The Heian kata consist of five separate kata and are the building blocks of more advanced kata in the school systems. It is usually because of this reason that many practitioners regard the Heian kata as merely gym or preparatory kata and not a fighting system within itself. Some even believe that the Heian kata were developed solely for children.
Perhaps another view could be although the Heian kata served to bring karate into the schools and universities of mainland Japan, the very roots of their origin would indicate that Itosu developed the Pinan/Heian kata as an effective fighting system and the methods and bunkai passed to him from his ancestral teachers formed the foundations for these kata. So rather than interpreting the Heian kata to be basic exercises to prepare Karateka for more advanced kata, they could well be the building blocks for effective bunkai, methods and principles. Like all kata, the key is to study to gain an understanding of the principles and methods behind the kata.
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<![CDATA[TaiKyoKu Kata]]>Mon, 02 Nov 2015 02:15:32 GMThttp://isoshikai.com/332kami-s333kutsu/taikyoku-kataThe Taikyoku series is a series of kata in use in several types of karate. The name Taikyoku refers to the Chinese philosophical concept of Taiji. The Taikyoku kata were introduced by Gichin Funakoshi as a way to simplify the principles of the already simplified Pinan/Heian series. The embusen, or pattern of the kata's movements, are the same as in Heian shodan. Students of karate systems that use the Taikyoku kata series are often introduced to them first, as a preparation for the Pinan/Heian kata. Gōjū Kai developed five of its own Taikyoku kata, based on the Shotokan kata and retaining the I-shaped embusen.
Like the Kihon kata series the three Taikyoku kata are designed to build strong fundamentals and an appreciation for basic techniques. These three basic kata represent Isoshi Kaikan Karate-do in its simplest and purest form.
Taikyoku Shodan (Taikyoku first level)
Emphasis on basic low blocks/strikes, stepping middle punch (Oi-Zuki), moving through the center and building strong and low front stances (Zenkutsu Dachi), proper basic breathing and application of kiai and hip rotation.
Taikyoku Nidan (Taikyoku second level)
Emphasis on basic High blocks/strikes and stepping head level punch, moving through the center and building strong and low front stances, proper basic breathing and application of kiai and hip rotation.
Taikyoku Sandan (Taikyoku third level)
Emphasis on basic low blocks/strikes and stepping punch, back stance and inside out middle blocks, side punches, moving through the center and building strong and low front stances and horseback stances, proper basic breathing and application of kia and hip rotation.
"The sequence of Taikyoku Nidan is identical to that of Shodan except that in Nidan, all punches are upper level instead of middle level attacks. In Taikyoku Sandan, the down blocks along Lines 1 and 3 of Taikyoku Shodan are all replaced with inside out middle blocks (ude uke) executed in back (kokutsu dachi) stance, and the threefold sets of middle level front attacks along line 2 become sets of high blocks, the remaining movements being identical to Taikyoku Shodan."
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<![CDATA[Going to the Ground]]>Fri, 16 May 2014 00:12:20 GMThttp://isoshikai.com/332kami-s333kutsu/why-dont-we-go-to-the-ground We have all heard the question asked by many a MMA fighter, "Why don’t you like to go to the ground?" It’s a fair question. Usually when listening to the MMA enthusiast and traditional martial artist debate over the topic the MMA practitioner will be quick to point out that statistically most fights end on the ground. 
There are other statistics that can be thrown in to debunk the above-mentioned theory but that is not the current topic of discussion. There is no doubt that having a good ground game is in its own right an essential tool to be kept with the rest of the learned curriculum within any dojo.

To answer the question appropriately one must do a little homework. If we look into the history of combat a little less then 200 years ago in Japan, Korea, or China, you will understand why for the most part Traditional Martial Artists do not like to go to the ground whether they realize it or not. It all comes down to the method by which duels and ground warfare were fought in that time. At that time duels were for the most part to the death, and they were fought with weapons. Any time someone went down the odds were overwhelmingly against them as from that front they were now vulnerable to the potential finishing blow of their opponents sword, hammer, spear, halberd or some other weapon. The tactical disadvantage they faced from the ground was substantial. The same was especially true on the battlefield in much the same way it is on the battlefields of today. Getting knocked to the ground or taking an opponent to the ground left the warrior in a very precarious position and vulnerable to fatal attack from another opponent. The short of the long is “if you got to the ground, you die”.


In that regard
, yes, statistically most fights end on the ground; because at that point being on the ground means you lost.  We train to stay on our feet, providing the greater tactical advantage to deliver the finishing blow. 
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