Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Taking flight, the jumps in goju-ryu....

Chojun Miyagi sensei's "Outline of Karate'
I was watching a short video clip of my friend Garry Lever at a recent demonstration he did in London for the annual 'Okinawa Day' festival. After a breathtaking revelation of a hitherto secret bunkai from the kata suparinpei, (I was so impressed) a second clip sees him perform the kata seipai...in which he performs a jump!

I've said it before, but I'll say it again here, I consider Garry to be one of the finest karateka of his generation (anywhere in the world), so it came as a bit of a surprise to watch him leave the ground at one point during his performance of the kata. My surprise came about because I don't leave the ground during this kata...so I was fascinated. If you click on the "Shinsokai UK' link you'll be able to first watch the secret bunkai, and then select his kata performance from the other video clips that come up afterwards.

Watching Garry got me thinking about jumping in relation to Goju-ryu. There's the obvious leap upward in suparinpei of course, but where else? At the end of saifa maybe? With the maegeri at the beginning of sanseiru perhaps? I've seen a kind of backward hoping done from nekoashidachi in seiyunchin, and a forward leap in to shikodachi in seisan too....but I've always wondered why Eiichi Miyazato sensei never taught me to jump in these kata?

I'm not talking about right and wrong...so don't even go there; I'm actually pondering the notion of diversity.

Sunday, 28 June 2015

Before Shureido...

Yuchoku Higa sensei (L) training in karate as a young man
The first time I went to Okinawa, in Early 1984, I discovered the Shureido 'karate' store. Back then it was a tiny corner shop, with just a few keikogi in the window and an assortment of other karate and kobudo related things; that's when I met Nakasone san for the first time. The shop itself stood about half way between the present store and Kokusaidori.

Over the following thirty-years Nakasone san's business has grown, and I'm very happy to say he has prospered. Over the years Shureido gi's, at least in the minds of many Westerners, have become a bit of fashion statement; and I've often walked in the store to find small mountains of gi's and obi's all ready for export. Some of the stuff people have put on their obi (in kanji of course) is quiet amazing...."Shihan", 'Kaicho", "Hanshi"; it makes you wonder what planet some of these people live on? 

Back in the day...before karate was swept up in the pantheon of Japanese martial arts, the Okinawans would simply take their shirt off, or strip down to their under garments before training. There were no outward signs to gauge another's level of skill, no badges or belts...if you didn't already know them, you only discovered how good your training partner was after you engaged with him!

It's okay, in my book, to wear a keikogi and obi, still, they're not really necessary...but if you think they are, have you ever stopped to ask yourself why?

Saturday, 20 June 2015

Not all it should be..!

Gichin Funakoshi sensei and students, and kigu, and weapons
These days, karate and kobudo are seen as two separate and distinct martial arts, but I'm not sure this has always been the case. As far as I can tell, learning to defend yourself empty handed or with a weapon, was once one and the same thing; the core idea being that you learnt to defend yourself, and in the learning, developed a clear picture of who you are as a person. After training this morning, I got to thinking about the role marketing plays in the dissemination of Okinawa's fighting traditions, and how the strategy of separation is working so well.

Chojun Miyagi sensei and students, and kigu, and weapons
Modern day karateka are addicted to kihon, kumite and kata (but mostly the first two), however, not so long ago there were other elements involved: weapons training and kigu undo. Take a closer look at the two photos and you'll see weapons and tools (kigu) distributed among the students...a coincidence perhaps? How many of you reading this believe you have a connection to the karate of Funakoshi or Miyagi sensei, and yet never pick up a tool or a weapon.

So, when you go training...is everything as it should be?

Thursday, 18 June 2015

Are you long or short sighted?

Demonstrating kihon waza back in 1975
Back in the day everything was better, I was faster and stronger, karate was tougher, and only the strong survived....well, not quite. You see, looking back on former times is something you do through a particular lens; it's the one with a rose coloured tint to it.

If you use another lens you'll get a more realistic view, and what you'll see will be far more educational and beneficial to your development than anything you might imagine you saw before. The lens you're looking for is the one marked 'honesty', and what it reveals is often unpleasant...but that's exactly what make its use so necessary.

To see - look!
In the study of karatedo you will hear a lot about 'living in the moment', it's good advice. But you also need to look to the future and be mindful of the past, for without an appreciation of the 'bigger picture' you are in danger of becoming lost in the detail of what you're doing now.

Now then....where did I put my glasses..?

Sunday, 14 June 2015

Go West Young Man......

Ippon kumite training with Stuart at the Shinseidokan, Western Australia c1995
Next month I'll be returning to Fremantle in Western Australia, for the first time in 18 years; I haven't been back to WA  since relocating to Tasmania in the 1990's. While there, I'll be taking three days out to train with Shinseidokan students at Stuart Fulton's dojo. I'm looking forward to seeing Fremantle and Perth again after such a long absence.

Of course, it hasn't been 18 years since I've trained with Stuart, or the other students who live in WA, they have made the long flight across country to visit me numerous times, and because of that, my trip west next month is more like visiting with family than teaching students. We will share our training, together, for that is the Okinawan way, to train together like brothers (and sisters), rather than follow like children.

It's a great curiosity to me; that so many Okinawan karate followers train with a Japanese mentality...

Sunday, 7 June 2015


Exactly what is a "first attack" in karate?
Every now and then the question of "first attack" becomes the topic of conversation for karateka...I'm not sure why; I mean it's not like the majority of karateka these days are having fights anyway. Truth be told, I wouldn't be confident at all learning how to fight from the people who plaster themselves all over YouTube demonstrating their bunkum, whoops! Sorry, I mean bunkai.

As a karateka you need to remind yourself often that karate is a defensive art, an art of self protection. So, if you're looking for a truly effective 'first move', you could start by not putting yourself in harms way, by not working on the doors to test yourself, and by not seeking other work that involves the potential for physical conflict.

If a disagreement with another turns physical....as a karateka, you have already lost!

Wednesday, 3 June 2015

From little things big things grow...

Another cold and misty sunrise over the dojo
After a couple of 'warmer' mornings, when overnight temperatures stayed a few of degrees above zero, this week, Jack Frost has returned to sprinkle his icy dust over my part of the world once again. He's not an altogether unwelcome visitor, but his calling card is sometimes a little hard to deal with.

One of nine trees in the dojo garden - but the only bonsai
I stood for a moment in the dojo garden this morning...I wanted to take in the silence and the stillness that surrounded me: I wanted to "be in the moment". As I did, my eyes fell upon the bonsai next to the entrance; a mighty pine tree that is big in all but size. Like the other (big) trees in the garden, it withstands the heat of summer and the cold winds that blow; it stands steadfast against the frost and ice....and yet.

Other trees will grow bigger but may never be complete
The trees reminded me that size can be deceptive, it can distort reality. Of all the trees in the dojo garden, the bonsai is the oldest, the most mature, the tree that has experienced far more life and endured many more seasons than the taller and younger trees that surround it. What kind of tree (karateka) would you chose to be in the dojo garden? One of the taller, less mature specimens; or the less noticeable, but vastly more experienced  bonsai?

Pausing in the dojo garden this morning....I was alive!

Friday, 29 May 2015


Sharing a joke with Mike Mancuso sensei of New York
Checking my email this morning I saw a message had arrived overnight from Mike Mancuso sensei, my sempai at the Jundokan, and one of Miyazato Eiichi sensei's earliest foreign students. As a young serviceman back in the 1960's, Mancuso sensei found himself  in Okinawa: alone in a foreign land and a long way from home. Miyazato sensei accepted him as a student, and the dojo became his home away from home.

The Jundokan dojo shomen
Since I withdrew from the Jundokan at the end of 2014, I have continued to maintain contact with a number of sempai and kohai from the dojo, friendships that continue to be important to me. It saddens me that, especially Western students, can't seem to part company with a dojo or organisation without descending into acrimony; it says a lot about the lack of maturity people have when such circumstances arise.

The Jundokan entrance
In the twenty-two years I was a member of the Jundokan, I saw many visitors come and go, I saw many lessons given that were missed completely, and witnessed examples of foreigners behaving with great dignity as well as with outrageous bad manners. When Miyazato sensei was alive visitors behaved badly only once, and members received few warnings...that's not the case these days, and that's a big part of why I'm no longer a member. Friendship transcends affiliation, but affiliation is of little value if  it's not with like minded people.

The urge to belong is powerful...but its not always healthy!

Tuesday, 26 May 2015

What's the point of kata..?

Keiji Tomiyama sensei - my former Shito-ryu sensei
One day, I asked Miyazato sensei why different schools of karate use the same kata? His smile, although not obvious, was nevertheless unmistakable to people familiar with his view on such things; he gave me his answer then moved the conversation on to another subject. Never one to overstate his opinions, Miyazato sensei spoke from his heart.

That conversation made me think about the role kata plays in the learning of karate...can a single kata, performed in several different ways, still provide insight in to the principles it was designed to preserve? If I perform the kata kururunfa alongside my former shito-ryu sensei, apart from the obvious physical differences...are we still working on the same principles?

It's interesting isn't it...that so many karateka defend their way of performing a kata, even criticise the way others perform theirs, and yet remain ignorant of why they do what they do themselves. Platitudes like "Kata is the soul of karate" fall from the lips of many karateka who have only a passing relationship with them. It begs the question, if you're not prepared to study your own kata, why be so quick to criticise others?

If you don't understand the principles in the kata you practise....educate yourself!

Sunday, 24 May 2015

Terms & Conditions...

This morning as I walked to the dojo
Over the past two nights the temperature here has dropped below zero, it makes for spectacular mornings, breathtaking sunrises.....and cold feet! "This is not the Okinawan way"...I said to myself as I walked toward a dojo I knew would be cold.

Crossing this little bridge each morning is significant
Leaving the 'everyday' of your life behind to engage with karate or kobudo, is no easy task, and few manage to achieve it. I say that, because I believe that so many who think themselves to be karateka are actually engaged in some other activity; it's a pastime that presents few challenges and leads, inevitably, to a dead-end.

Whichever path you take, it should lead you somewhere worthwhile.....