Shouri 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.
At 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?
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.
Practically 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.
The 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.
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.
A 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?
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.
The 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.
The 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."
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.
Honshū & Hokkaidō
The two species of wolf native to Japan until their extinction in the early