I happen to be one of the healthiest persons I know and have met in my life. I am 71 years old this year and I rarely get sick even at my age. In fact, I cannot remember when I caught a cold the last time. I do not suffer from any allergies either. So far, I have never suffered a serious illness in my life like an appendicitis or a gall bladder infection. I even surprise myself that I can stay healthy despite of all the international travels I do around the world with the different local water and variety of dishes in different countries.
It did not happen by an accident. First of all, I must have received the healthy genes from my parents. My father lived to 85 and my mother to 88. They were healthy most of their lives but they got sick like a normal (?) person. That is, of course, not the only reason why I can stay healthy. I follow some heath rules that are keeping me healthy. One of them is of course practicing karate and exercising Ki but that is not what I will present here. There are a lot more things I pay attention to, but today I want to share the main ideas (7 tips) that I exercise daily to keep me healthy. I believe in those ideas and I can tell you that they work for me and should work for you too.
I feel confident that exercising the seven things that are described below will be good for your health, however, I must emphasize that this is not a medical advice as I am not licensed nor professional in the medical field. You need to evaluate what you read here on your own and make your own judgment if anyone of these ideas is good for you. Perhaps one or more ideas may not work or bring any benefit to you. On the other hand, there is nothing to lose so why not try? If you find that any of them is a viable choice then there is one thing you must do; you must keep doing it at least for 3 months. You must commit and have that much of patience if you want to see any positive result.
Here are the seven tips to improve your health and keep you healthy. There are fundamentally two types in the tips. One is something very simple and you can exercise immediately. The other will require more time and some planning. Let us start with the ones that you can do immediately and easily.
Breathe through your nose
This one is probably one of the easiest ones to do out of all the tips here. We all breathe but most of us do not pay attention to how we breathe. One important tip I share is that be sure to breathe through your nose at all time. I am particularly talking about inhalation and it is ok if you exhale through your mouth especially when you are exercising. If you know that you snore or keep your mouth open while you are asleep, you can try to sleep on your side though it is almost impossible to control your body position once you fell asleep. The reason why you want to inhale through your nose is simple. If you inhale through your mouth you are not only taking in air but also all those germs. On the other hand, if you do through your nose, its passages will filter a lot of them. Even if you do not take care of your breathing while you are asleep, by paying attention to this while you are awake will have a positive result.
Once you believe that you are regularly breathing through your nose, you can add the deep breathing to your daily exercise. To be able to do the proper deep breathing it will require some training. Without such training it will be difficult to reduce your breathing cycle to 2 per minute or less. However, you can always start from 4 or 5 breathing cycles per minute. I have already written an article about this subject and its health benefits. If you want to learn the precise way to do deep breathing, read my article on “Deep breathing” which can be found in Karate Coaching blog.
I am writing a separate essay on how to improve your breathing. Breathing is an “ignored” subject in karate training. It has many benefits and it should be discussed more and in depth. I hope to complete it by middle of October. I will make an announcement when this essay is posted.
#2 Mental or mind set
Positive thinking, smile and laugh
This could be a controversial subject but I dare to add this because I believe in the positive results that can come out of these ideas. This tip is also very easy to exercise and can be done immediately. However, it may require some mind switch.
I recommend positive thinking not because it will surely bring you some rewards (though it may) but rather it will give you more positive feelings or healthier outlook in your life which will result in good health. It is a used up cliché but when you smile the world will smile back at you. In fact, the how the world is perceived by you is only a reflection of yourself.
Laughing will give you not only a better mental health but also a positive effect on your body. There is a group of doctors who believe laughing can cure cancer and there are many clinics that offer this alternative cancer treatment. Look at the following site and read about laughter therapy by Cancer Treatment Centers of America: http://ww2.cancercenter.com/treatments/laughter-therapy/?source=ROOGLORG&org=true
Even if you are not suffering from cancer you can get the health benefit from your own laughing therapy by renting a comedy DVD for your weekend entertainment. Try to have a meeting with your friend who is funny so you can laugh more instead of staying home and being bored.
One thing I can tell you is that we Asian believe in the holistic approach to our body. I am sure you understand this as I assume the readers are karate practitioners. We train karate not only for our physical health or improvement but also for our mental and spiritual health and improvement. Therefore, by having positing thinking, smiling and laughing more we will not only improve our mental health but it will surely have the benefit to our physical health.
#3 Body and physical exercise:
I am aware that training karate five or even three times per week is difficult for many readers. The challenge is the same with the idea of going to a gym or a YMCA facility to exercise or swim every day. So, I am advising you two things you can do daily without a membership at a health club.
Most of us drive or ride a car daily. When you park your car in a parking lot, do you not look for a space that is closest to the store or an entrance? Do you drive even if a store or your destination is closer than a mile (1.6 km)? It is recommended by many doctors that we should walk 10,000 steps daily. Take a look at this site and learn more about the benefits of walking, The Walking Site: http://www.thewalkingsite.com/10000steps.html
I recommend that you will walk to a store rather than driving your car so that you will be walking more. If it is too far then use a public transportation so that you will walk to a bus stop or a train station. Strong legs or the foundation is one of three Asai karate requirements (namely flexibility, balance and foundation) but it is also necessary to have a healthy life style.
Look at a baby and you are amazed of its flexibility. As we get old we become less flexible. I heard the slang for adead body is “stiff”. To avoid being stiff too soon I recommend that you spend only 5 minutes of your time right after you get up in an easy flexibility exercise. There are many, in fact a few hundreds, joints in our body and hip joints is typically emphasized as important in karate. A practitioner who can kick high is admired. There is more important group of joints than the hip joints for the health. It is a group of back joints or the spines. I will not go into the details of the exercises I do. I only tell you three easy exercise that are good for the starters. One is to bend your upper body forward and backward. The other one is to bend sideways. The last one is to rotate your upper body while you stand (or sit) in a fixed stance (shizen tai is OK). Do those exercises one to two minutes each. That will be a great way in the morning to start a day.
Everyone must sleep and this is another important physical function and activity. This is also a complex subject and I can go into the improvement ideas on how well you sleep but I will save it for the longer version of this article. In fact, it is difficult some times to control your sleep so today I will give you two ideas that you can exercise to improve your health.
All of us have only 24 hours a day and many of us daily spend more than 8 hours, one third of our day (lives) sleeping. Do you know that the sleep cycle comes every 90 minutes? So by using this cycle you can shorten your sleep and attain a more efficient way to sleep. For instance, the five cycles of 90 minutes gives you a sleep of 7.5 hours. If you feel you need 8 hours of sleep then try to set the alarm clock at the time you will have 7.5 hours of sleep instead of 8 hours. If you get used to sleep only 7.5 hours, I suggest you try for 6 hours. The sleep amount is totally up to what you are used to and it can be changed. I can operate normally with a daily sleep of between 4.5 hours and 6 hours. When I am not busy then I sleep 6 hours and I will cut down 90 minutes off my sleep when I have some urgent matters or when I am in a different time zone. We all have only 24 hours a day so why not gain some time by staying awake (your active life) a little longer? What you need to do is to sleep soundly. The quality of your sleep is far more important than the pure quantity.
If you cannot reduce your sleep time, you can try this. Be sure to fall asleep before midnight. Between midnight and 2am is the time when we have the deepest sleep and it will make a big difference when you wake up. It is also good for your health to have a steady schedule to go to bed and wake up. Our body is controlled by Circadian Rhythm whether you like it or not. Most of the people with the odd shifts like a doctor, policemen, pilots and stewardesses tend to experience physical malfunctions. Take a look at Wiki on this subject and learn about it if you do not know: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Circadian_rhythm
One of the most important factors to keep you healthy is diet and this is also a very controversial subject. You already know that you need to eat right, etc. If I write what is the correct diet then this article can be very lengthy so I will write a separate article on this important subject. Today I will list four suggestions that you can easily do.
I suggest eating less than what your body wants. In Japan we have a popular saying, Hara hachibunme. This means 80 percent of the stomach and our ancestors were advising us to eat somewhat less than what you think you want to eat. My diet consists of yorgurt in the morning, some rice for lunch and a bowl of soup or a dish of salad. I am not a vegetarian but I eat very little meat and I do not need it. Though I am Japanese I do not like fish so I have a little desire to go to a sushi restaurant. I have a funny story about a sushi restaurant but I will save it for the long version of this article.
One thing that will help you while you are trying to eat less. By chewing your food more you will take more time to eat your meal and you will feel more satisfied with what you eat even with less amount. It takes some time before the signal from the digestive system reaches to your brain. If you eat quickly then you will always eat too much as your brain does not get a “stop” or satisfied signal. In addition, well chewed food will digest faster and better which is good for your health. How many times should you chew? It depends on the food but minimum 50 times per your mouthful. If you swallow before 10 to 20 times you are eating too fast.
Reduce microwave oven use
Our life is busy and I know a microwave oven is a useful kitchen tool. However, if you study how it cooks the food you will understand why I suggest you to reduce the use of this machine. If you need to defrost something frozen then take it out one or two hours before cooking. If you want to heat up your cold soup do not be lazy and use a microwave oven. It take a little more time but your soup will retain the important nutrients if you heat it up with a regular range.
Drink good water
Every day you lose water through your breath, perspiration, urine and bowel movements. For your body to function properly, you must replenish its water supply by consuming beverages and foods that contain water.
So how much fluid does the average, healthy adult living in a temperate climate need? According to Mayo Clinic, the Institute of Medicine determined that an adequate intake (AI) for men is roughly 3 liters (about 13 cups) of total beverages a day. The AI for women is 2.2 liters (about 9 cups) of total beverages a day. For further information access the following URL: http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/water/NU00283
I am sure you already know that you should drink sufficient amount of water as advised above. I want to add that the water you drink must be both clean and good. As I suggested earlier, do not use a microwave oven to heat up the water for a cup of tea or coffee you drink. I will include more details about this subject of water in the longer version of this article.
More than 2 thirds of all American people are either overweight or obese. I consider it as an epidemic and will touch this subject slightly in the final part.
OK here are the last two tips and these are much more difficult to control or exercise. For most readers Tip #6 is not an issue, I hope. If it is then it will require much more time and commitment but for your health benefit I hope you will consider. I know Tip #7 will apply to many practitioners because I visit many dojos around the world and have seen both the practitioners and the instructors. OK let’s start with #6.
#6 Smoking and alcohol
I do not have to waste our time to debate on the ill effect of cigarette smoking. Everyone knows including cigarette manufacturers that smoking harms nearly every organ of the body. It causes many diseases and reduces the health of the smokers.
US government office of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention emphatically states “Smoking causes death”. If you are interested in learning the details of its ill effects to your health read here:
Most of the karate practitioners especially the instructors I know are non-smokers. But I have met some practitioners who were addicted. I want to use this article to suggest that they will stop smoking. If you are an instructor I would like for you to think of the poor image you are projecting to your students through your daily action. Unfortunately in the past, many Japanese sensei have demonstrated this bad habit. Sadly my sensei in Japan, Master Sugano also had this unhealthy habit which surely shortened his life. He was in his early 70’s when he passed. He had a few heart attacks and his doctors warned him but he did not stop smoking and drinking. As it is an addiction we all know that it is hard to kick but there are many methods including the drugs and acupuncture to help you to do it. It can be done if you are serious and decide to kick this addiction. What it takes is a commitment and I hope you will make that important commitment today if you are a smoker.
Alcohol drinking is not as harmful as smoking but large consumption could result in many diseases. My suggestion is to minimize your alcohol intake and keep your brain safe and stay healthy.
There is a myth that drinking alcohol kills brain cells. The medical research determined that it does not kill brain cells, however, it can damage them. Here is an article published on July 9, 2012 in News Medical which describes further:
According to a recent article in Scientific American Mind, drinking alcohol does not kill brain cells although it can damage them. Specifically, it can damage the dendrites of neurons. Dendrites are specialized protrusions of neurons which bring information into the cell body. Thus, damaging the dendrites can cause problems in the relaying of information between brain cells. This damage particularly occurs in the cerebellum, which is the part of the brain concerned with learning and motor coordination.
According to Dr Petney, however, this damage is not permanent; yet it can cause changes in neuronal structure. Dr Petney also stresses that losing entire brain cells isn’t necessary to disrupt brain function. In fact, brain cell damage will also have a disrupting effect.
So, perhaps the question we should really be asking is not does alcohol kill brain cells, but what damage does drinking alcohol do to the brain?
Here is a link to read the entire article in News Medical:
To learn more about the ill effects of alcoholism read Alcohol Alert from National Institute: http://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/aa63/aa63.htm
#7 Body weight
Healthy body weight
This is another controversial topic but we must not ignore this subject it is a global epidemic. According to the 2012 report by FRAC (Food Research and Action Center), two thirds of U.S. adults are overweight or obese. This means more than 66% of the adults in this country are facing health problem. For the full reading of this report go to the following site: http://frac.org/initiatives/hunger-and-obesity/obesity-in-the-us/
I brought this as the last tip because it takes much longer time and a lasting commitment. Here is a chart provided by Herbalife that shows the recommended weight in relationship to your height. Body Mass Index (BMI) is the standard measurement of choice for many health professionals (chart right). BMI is based on a weight to height ratio. Take a look and see if you fit in the correct weight range. The chart is a guideline, of course, as each one of us are different in our built and ages. If you are way off from the numbers shown in the chart then I am sure your doctor will advise you to lose weight so that you can avoid the negative implication you may face from over-weightiness.
Let me give you my current statistics at the age of 71. My height is 5 foot 7 inches or 170 cm, The body weight is between 70 and 74 kg or 155 and 163 lb with my waist size at 30 inches or 76 cm. I feel best when I am around 72 kg or 160 lb. According to the chart on the right, I am at the border line of healthy and overweight. With the consideration to my age, I think I am within the healthy region of BMI.
I have written an article in the past about the subject of over weightiness among the karate practitioners. I did not mean to disrespect them but my article upset many karateka particularly the senior instructors. This, I considered, was the proof that overweight problem is so pervasive that some people truly believed they were healthy even with a pot belly on them. My stance for an instructor of karatedo is that we have an obligation to be a model by how we behave and that we stay in shape. By staying in shape the instructors can continue to perform the karate techniques. The instructors are not truly qualified unless they can correctly demonstrate all the karate techniques even if they claim that they know how to teach them.
Keep the weight steady
If you are in the proper weight range or successful in coming down to the range (congratulations), there is one more thing you need to do. Finally, your ultimate task is to keep it steady not only for a few years but for the rest of your life.
The figures I shared earlier about my height and weight have been very steady and not changed over last 40 years. It definitely takes a commitment of long time to achieve this but I consider it well worth my effort.
You must ask yourself, how serious are you with your wish to improve your health and find yourself healthy when you are in your seventies and eighties? Master Funakoshi wrote the following as one of Nijukun: Karate is a lifelong pursuit. If you made your decision to pursue karatedo then why not try to be healthy for the rest of your life?
In this essay I plan to present one serious but un-noticed or forgotten problem in modern day karate training. What I am referring to is a diluted or misdirected objective in the kumite (sparring) training in most traditional dojo. I consider it very serious and wish more people would pay attention to this. However, not too many practitioners would even care to know about this. Currently, karate is enjoying lots of popularity and will most likely become even more popular after the event in the 2020 Olympics. So naturally, not only most of the practitioners but also many instructors are very happy about this. They believe karate is progressing well and karate is even “advancing”.
I am a budo karateka, thus I am seriously concerned. I am not simply opposed to karate being included in the Olympics but the problem is even deeper seated. I am afraid the current trend would ruin the budo or true karate that was handed down from our forefathers for many centuries. On the other hand the popularity that we are seeing lately is a process to make karate a useless or ineffective “martial art”. In Japanese we call this a tiger with the fangs pulled out. In fact, what we see in what we call sport karate is a sports event and cannot be considered a martial art.
OK enough of the introduction. Now I need to explain further the subject itself. I am referring to a technique that is called in Japanese, ateru gijutsu (当てる技術) or waza (技). It literally means a technique of hitting the target. I am sure you would agree that an attacking technique, either punching or kicking, is ineffective if it misses the target. It does not matter how fast or strong that technique may be, that technique is “wasted”.
I suspect that you have experienced in your kumite training that it was difficult to land your attacking techniques on to the precise target. I also assume that you have experienced that your techniques were either too far from or too close to the target. This is a technical problem and it can be solved if proper training were implemented and practiced. So, you may ask, “Then, what is the problem here?”
OK let me explain. I am aware that the problem is not very obvious. So, we must go beyond what it seems superficially. I will cover the reasons why we have these problems and how we can solve them as we progress in this essay. I hope to reveal the core of the problem that sits deep inside of traditional karate.
Regarding the subject of hitting a target we must first cover the important subject of the targets themselves. As most of the readers already know what the targets are in kumite, they may think it is unnecessary to discuss this topic. Though, it may seem unimportant, it really is an important topic to discuss.
This is an important subject as I understand that most karate students do not learn the true targets. You may consider my statement as nonsense or groundless. I am aware that you have learned what the targets are from your teacher and you are very clear about them in your kumite training. They are, of course, jodan, chudan and gedan.
Here is the illustration of target areas you learn about in your karate training. You will most likely agree that jodan means any part above the neck line or face. Chudan is between the neck-line to the belt or the mid-section. Then gedan is all the area below the belt line but typically the groin area. It looks very simple and clear, so we don’t see any problems here.
Unfortunately, the very understanding of these targets themselves is technically incorrect or at the best, inaccurate. More importantly, we sadly lack the understanding or appreciation of the critical points of the body or kyusho (急所). I will touch on this subject later in this essay.
Let me explain the problem by taking some examples of the differences between martial arts fighting (including street fight) and a typical kumite training conducted in a standard dojo of traditional styles.
For jodan or head level target, what do we learn in our kumite training? We are taught to aim at, ambiguously, “face”. I am sure you will agree that we do not pay much attention to the details of the jodan target. In a tournament kumite, if your jodan oizuki (straight punch) touches the opponent’s nose or even its vicinity if not too far off, you receive a point.
However, if you are familiar with street fighting or boxing, you know that hitting your opponent on his nose or the mouth may not result in a knock-out. It may cause a nose bleed, a tooth or two might fall off, but he will still be standing up.
There are other specific spots that are known to produce a knock out. The well-known spots include under the chin, the corner of the jaw and a temple. If you are a boxing fan, you have seen the knock outs and witnessed the effective spots in the face/head area. Most common knock out punches in boxing come in either an upper cut under the chin, hook punch on the jaw (photo right) or to the temple. And in boxing those are the targets they aim to hit. Why do we have this difference in our training? We will discover this as we progress our discussion in this essay.
Let’s continue to chudan or mid-section target training. As we agree, most of the chudan attacks executed by the practitioners, as I have observed, are aimed at the general mid-section area. This is the area that is well protected by the strong abdominal muscles, rectus abdominis. There are many critical areas in the chudan area such as solar plexus, sides of the ribs, kidney, arm pits, collar bones, etc. You can see these and other critical spots in the kyusho chart shown later. Strangely to a budo practitioner like me, those precise spots or areas are rarely explained or focused on in the standard kumite training in our dojo nowadays.
In addition, we practice chudan nukite (spear hand) in our kihon training and we also find this technique in many kata including Heian nidan, Heian sandan, Kanku dai, etc. However, this particular technique is rarely used in our kumite training. For chudan, we almost always use chudan gyakuzuki (reverse punch, image left) or oizuki (stepping punch) for arm technique. In fact, even for attacking jodan area, we rarely use open hand techniques. We need to discuss later why this is so.
Gedan area is even more notable. Though, groin attack is an effective one, attacking this area is not allowed in a tournament and even in the regular kumite training in most dojo. Groin is not the only spot in gedan, there are other spots in gedan that are effective in a street fight. They include the knee, the shin and even on top of the foot. You know this because you will feel great pain when someone stomps on your foot, especially if it was done by a woman with a high heel shoe. Kicking the knee from the side or from the rear, as well as from the front when the knee is not bent, will cause a great deal of damage and it will certainly cause some serious damage to the opponent. Kicking or hitting the shin area also causes great pain. There are other kyusho areas in gedan but I will not list them here as I feel I have listed enough examples. Once again, all these areas in the lower half (below the hips) of the body are taught very little in most of the dojo. Even if those spots may be taught in your dojo, your sensei will most likely not allow you to attack those spots or areas in your kumite training.
Up till now, I have illustrated that the targets we refer to in our kumite are at best vague and they are, in fact, inaccurate or even incorrect. Many of us lack the knowledge of the critical spots and correct (and real) distancing in our kumite training.
OK, I believe I have spent enough time on the problems relating to the targets in our kumite training. Now we must ask, “Why do we have this problem?” There are two structural or fundamental reasons or causes for these “flaws”. The causes are A) sport karate and B) sundome (寸止め) concept.
A) Sport karate
- Sport karate does not mean only tournament karate. The problem does not stop there. It includes our regular dojo kumite training because in most cases we must perform kumite under certain rules or restrictions. Tournament kumite has more restrictions and limitations. This means the practitioners are prohibited from doing many techniques such as kicking the groin area, or stabbing the eyes with the finger, as an instance. There are many other techniques that are prohibited and I do not think I need to list them all here as I am sure you know them. I find it ironic that those techniques are considered “too dangerous”, whilst karate is supposed to be the martial art to kill. We, the old timers used to say about our punches as “Ikken hissatsu (一拳必殺, one punch can kill you)”. Unfortunately, this concept seems to be long forgotten now.
This is not just an occurrence that is strictly limited to karate. The unavoidable fact is that the permitted targets have to be set as a rule, a natural result when a martial art becomes a sport. Look at kendo (剣道), the art of Japanese fencing. They have only 4 targets that are permitted and where you can receive a scoring point. They are men (面, face), do (胴, body), kote (小手, wrist) and tsuki (突き, thrust to throat). This means a kendo practitioner does not receive a point when he hits other parts of the body such as arm, shoulder, leg, etc. When you think of a fight with a real sword, cutting a shoulder, arm or leg of an opponent is a very effective strike. In fact, trying to cut the opponent’s shin was one of the most popular attacking techniques by the ancient samurai. You can easily imagine, trying to cut someone on the head was less favored as the head is a more challenging target. The opponent’s sword is right in front of your face and the head is where the eyes are located. Thus, you can easily see that the lower part of your body is completely unprotected as it is far from your eyes. Even though, in a real fight situation, attacking gedan area is an effective technique, it is not included as a legitimate target in kendo. I can discuss the similar situation with judo (柔道) and kyudo (弓道), the art of archery, but I will not do so in this essay as I think it is somewhat redundant.
I respect kendo as they are sincerely trying to preserve the samurai spirit and bujutsu (武術) in their attitude and spirit. Having said that I must also say that their techniques, by most of the practitioners, are no longer realistic or effective from the perspective of real sword fighting. You cannot blame them as this is what the rules do. The rules are there to protect the competitors. Otherwise, you will see too many serious injuries and that will not be accepted as a sport or in a commercial dojo. The rules are also necessary to make competition itself possible. Without them, it will be a life or death match where a loser ends up either maimed or dead. One of the important rules is a definition of the targets. By having the clear definition and agreement, one can receive a point in a match.
How about karate? In 1935, Gichin Funakoshi (船越義珍), the founder of Shotokan karate, published a book, Karatedo Kyohan (空手道教範) which is the first karate book published in the world and is now considered as the bible of Shotokan. At the end of the book, he added an illustration of all kyusho spots of the human body (photo right). It clearly shows more than a few dozen critical spots. Funakoshi believed karate was budo and taught it as so. In fact, he was against having tournaments (sport karate) until his death. The first all Japan karate tournament hosted by Japan Karate Association (JKA, Nakayama group) had to wait till 1954, the year Funakoshi passed.
Once it becomes a sport event governed by the rules, the kumite training in the dojo naturally followed suit with those rules and principles. As a result, spear hand techniques such as stabbing an eye was prohibited and not practiced. In many of the dojos these days, the practitioners regularly wear light gloves to practice kumite. This makes it impossible to make any other types of fist other than seiken (正拳, regular fist). Sadly, this is how ipponken (一本拳), hirken (平拳) and nakadakaken (中高拳) had no choice but to disappear from our regular training.
I am sure you agree that punching almost any part of mid-section is considered as a legitimate or score-able target. If a practitioner punches or kicks gedan, it will be considered as a foul and this technique also has disappeared from our kumite training.
Considering all those facts described above, our typical kumite rules had to come down to only two targets; jodan and chudan. We thought the limitation of kendo targets to 4 areas was bad but we have now only two targets. As we know, it is that way in tournament kumite as well. You only need to know those two targets or general areas in a match. Thus knowing the locations of not only the kyusho but all other critical points as well as non-tournament use techniques became unimportant or unnecessary in our regular training.
So I have discussed that not knowing the precise (effective) targets is one serious flaw of modern day karate training. I believe I have covered enough on the inaccuracy and vagueness of the targets. We need to move on to the next problem that is also pervasive in our karate training and I consider it even more serious.
- Hitting a target
Even if we find or know a correct target, it would still be a problem if we fail to hit it. It does not matter how strong or fast your attacking techniques may be, if you miss the target. More-over, if the power is weak or the distance is incorrect upon hitting the target, that attacking technique will not be effective or damaging.
I am sure the readers will agree that if your punch is too far from a target or if an impact when you hit is too weak, such an attack will have no or little desired effect on the opponent. We know that a punch or a kick must hit a target in a certain way so that it will have an effective (devastating or painful) impact on the opponent. The distance and the power are the two major factors that must be correct for an effective technique. It sounds straight forward and all of us know it, but at the same time, we also know that it is not that easy to manage or control them. I wonder why this subject is not discussed or taught much. I suspect it is because many of the instructors do not consider it necessary.
Therefore, I feel it is my responsibility to discuss this subject here and see if we can find a solution.
First, I must mention that a technique to hit a target accurately with the proper distance and power requires a specific technique and training. Sadly, this technique is forgotten by many and ignored by most simply because we do not see it as necessary, thus we train accordingly.
When we talk about landing your attacking techniques on a target, ateru gijutsu, some of you will quickly think about your hours of training on a makiwara board. Thus, you may object to my earlier statement and tell me, “Oh we punch makiwara every day so we are practicing how to hit a target”.
I do not deny the benefit of punching a makiwara board. Unfortunately, we must realize that makiwara training is only a minor part of ateru gijutsu. By punching a makiwara, one will learn how to strike a target firmly, but at a set distance. Most of the practitioners, however, do not learn how to acquire the correct distance while moving, at the same time, acquiring necessary impact on the target. This happens as the opponent is not a stationary target like a makiwara. He is constantly moving and shifting.
Because of this shortcoming, we witness, at least two flaws in a kumite situation.
One is the target is too far so your attacking techniques do not or barely reach the target thus resulting with no or little damage to the opponent. This happens mainly because you are not supposed to hit the opponent in kumite practice or in a match. In fact, if you make excessive contact, you will receive a negative point and in some cases you will instantly lose the match. Therefore, you tend to throw a technique that is a slightly short from the actual contact point. Even though the adjustment or a considered extra distance may be very minute, say a few millimeters, it may make a world of difference in a real fight. In other words, it may be a difference between a light contact with little damage or a total knock out. I will discuss this kumite rule of not hitting the target later in this essay.
Another common problem I observe among the fighters is the incapability of throwing an effective attack in a extremely close distance (a few inches away) from the opponent. In standard kumite practice, we are trained to throw a technique with a full arm or leg extension. If one finds oneself in any distance closer than those, one finds it difficult or is incapable of throwing an effective technique (both block and attack). It is hard to believe as we have learned the attacking techniques using the elbow, palm heel, fore-arm, shoulder, head, knee, shin, etc. in kata, but yet these techniques, commonly, have not been practiced or taught in our regular kumite training.
When you were too close and it is difficult to make an effective jodan (face) attack, in some dojo they teach you this. Maybe, you may have an experience that your sensei taught you to “punch through” the head by extending your arm next to the opponent’s head. Yes, in this manner, you can punch very powerfully and you can extend your punching arm fully. You also feel good as you imagine (falsely that is, I may add) that you have punched through your opponent head. I must say that it is highly debatable if this training method is beneficial or helpful. Regardless, what you are taught to do is simply punching only the air next to the opponent’s head. This means you missed the target on purpose and for this reason I am not sure if I can recommend this training method.
Now we need to ask why we have these problems. It does not stem from poor training alone. The sad part of the problem is few karateka realize there is a serious problem. It is also unfortunate that not too many instructors know how to fix the problem even if they find the causes. Regardless, we need to know the causes to understand the problem better. I wish to bring up two major ones that lay in the core of modern day traditional karate.
The first one is that the traditional karate kumite is based on sundome or non-contact system. Earlier in this essay I stated that we are not allowed to make contact, especially to the jodan area in our kumite practice. It is of course too dangerous to let the practitioners hit the face area freely and with full power. That will certainly result in many injuries and it will be impossible to have a safe kumite training session.
In order to combat this situation, the traditional karate styles adopted a non-contact system. This is the same method adopted by kenjutsu (剣術, an art using the real swords). Even though they practice with wooden swords for the safety, they had to adopt the non-contact concept (photo left) as you can easily guess it could cause a serious injury if you hit someone’s head with a wooden sword. kenjutsu and iaido (居合道, sword drawing art) believe in non-contact and they do not sanction any tournaments. Aikido is another art that adopts mostly throws but they also have hitting and kicking techniques. They also practice with no contact rule and they do not have any tournaments.
Once they allowed tournaments, many of the martial arts such as kendo, judo and karate had to introduce some safety measures. One idea was to soften the weapons using gloves and padding in karate, shinai (竹刀) or bamboo sticks in kendo, tatami mats in judo, etc.
The other safety measure is to wear some protectors such as bogu (防具) in kendo. Even though they switched the swords to bamboo sticks in kendo, it is still too dangerous to hit each other so they protect their jodan, chudan and the wrist area with the firm protectors. With the protectors, the practitioners can actually hit the opponents with full force but without any hesitation or worry about injuries.
Let’s look at the modern day sport karate. It has adopted the gloves and the protectors. If we have a sundome (non contact) rule then there shouldn’t be any contact or injuries? Theoretically that is true and we may wish it is possible. But in the reality of the tournament situation, we discovered that the tournament kumite encountered many “accidents”. Some of them happened due to the over excitement by the participants. The biggest reason was that it is extremely difficult for the participants to judge the distance to their opponents, in the fast and continuously moving kumite exchanges.
OK we understand why the art of hitting the targets became less important. Then, how can we fix these problems? Let’s look at two causes: sundome and sport karate.
Do we have to wear protective gear if we allow the practitioners to hit each other on the critical points of our body and in full force? This is how Kendo was invented from kenjutsu. In fact, we have a Karate style, koshiki (硬式) karate meaning “hard” style Karate with full protectors (photo left). Even though you can hit or kick in full force, you still have a problem of not knowing or practicing the kyusho areas that are important in martial arts.
We also have a full contact style such as Kyokushinkai (極真会, photo right below). It is a knock out style where the participants are allowed to kick and punch at full force with a few areas where you are not allowed to hit. The biggest handicap in this style is you cannot punch the face area and the groin area is also a prohibited target.
I think both solutions are good and all the budo minded karate practitioners should, at least, try them to enrich their kumite experience. You can learn how it feels to hit your opponent with full force and to receive the attacks on your body. This experience will most likely cure the problem of being too far with your attacking and counter techniques. Even if the experience does not cure the problem, the practitioners will know for sure your techniques did not reach or were off the target.
I also recommend that the practitioners practice how to punch or kick in shorter distances than the optimal one, closer than an arm length. Before you apply it in your kumite practice, you should use a makiwara and better yet, a heavy punching bag that can swing. You need to learn how to generate power while your arm or leg is still bent. You also need to become comfortable in fighting at a close distance.
I also recommend that you study the critical points, kyusho and remember them. Then, try to focus on aiming at those specific spots instead of general jodan or chudan area during Kumite practice. As I mentioned above, get used to fighting at a very close distance from the opponent. In that situation, you must learn the effective jamming (blocking at close distance) techniques, the joint locks, choking and take down techniques to complete the effective counter attacks in a short or close distance.
I do not deny the benefits of sport karate. I am sure it excites many of the young practitioners to compete and win in tournaments. In fact, most of the dojo need tournaments for their financial well being. If your dojo does not participate in any tournaments, most likely you cannot expect too many children and young students to join your dojo. As many dojo depend on the income from the youth membership, that would be financially a disaster.
Though it is not impossible, it is quite difficult to teach both tournament rules based sport karate and the killing techniques based budo karate in the same dojo. The focus and the concept of the techniques will be so different between the objective of scoring a point without harming the opponent and that of harming or even killing the enemy.
Even though the practitioners themselves can decide on pursuing the martial art way of Karate, it will be very challenging to practice this without an instructor who teaches this method. One needs to learn the kyusho points and learn the techniques to attack those particular points. Instead of using only the seiken (正拳, regular) fist, they need to learn how to jab or pluck with their fingers and to use more open hand techniques such as teisho (底掌, palm heel), shuto (手刀, knife hand), haito (背刀, ridge hand), etc. In addition, you need to learn and practice short distance fighting using the elbows and the knees. You may even want to learn the throwing or take down techniques as well as the pinning or ground techniques found in judo and aikido. None of these techniques are used in tournaments. In fact, some of them are considered as strictly prohibited and considered as a foul or penalty point.
As expected, the sport karate will become more main stream, naturally the instructors will focus on the sport karate techniques and ignore the martial art way. This means, I am afraid, there will be even fewer budo karateka in the future. However, I am not totally discouraged or have not given up hope that there will always be, even in a small number, some budo karate sensei. I believe this because there will always a few who have discovered the greatness and benefits of budo karate. That discovery will certainly help you fall in love with the karatedo that was created in Okinawa and handed down over several hundred years.
At the end, I want to mention another important topic that is also forgotten or ignored by most of the traditional karate practitioners. This is a technique of taosu gijutsu (倒す技術) which means techniques to knock down including take down. I wish to write an essay on this topic sometime in the future and will share it with you when it is completed.
Have you heard of Busaganashi or Buzaganashi? Unless you are a Goju ryu practitioner, you probably have not.
Here is a picture of the wooden statue (photo right) that is sometimes placed on a shelf in some of the Goju ryu dojo, particularly in Okinawa. This is Busanagashi. Then, what is it? The Goju ryu practitioners may know about this figure and of its legend. Most of the practitioners of the other styles most likely have never heard about this or let alone its origin and legend.
I think it is interesting to discover a page of karate history so I did some research to find its legend. Here is what I have found. In short, Busanagashi depicts the Bushin (武神), god of martial arts. Therefore, it is considered as a protective deity of the Goju ryu (剛柔流) karate, at least by some of the branches. It is similar to the idea of having a statue of Christ or Virgin Mary in a catholic church.
This god is called Buzaganashi (ブ ザガナシ ー) or Busaganashi (ブサガナシー) or Bussagami (ブ サ ー ガ ミ ー) in Okinawa. They certainly do not sound very Japanese, so we need to check the legend and see where this name came from.
There are supposedly two legends surrounding the story of the Busaganashi, the Okinawa version and the Chinese version. Both are basically the same. The two versions, probably, became slightly different as the story was passed down from one generation to the next.
Legend has it that in ancient China, a young single woman gave birth to a baby boy. With no father to take care of the baby, the woman’s family decided to abandon the baby in a nearby bamboo forest. After a few days, the baby’s family began to have a change of heart. They returned to the bamboo forest to see whether or not the baby was still alive. To their amazement they found that the baby had been cared for by the trees themselves. The plants grew over the baby for shelter and animals of the forest provided food for the baby to survive. Seeing this as a sign they decided to take care of the child as well as they could. They named him Busaganashi.
China, at the time, had a strict caste system in which it was very rare for an individual to escalate to a higher social class. However, every year there was an aptitude test that gave individuals a chance for social mobility. As a teenager, he scored remarkably high on the test, which gave him an opportunity to join the military. While in the military, he perfected his martial arts skills.
One day, when he was about twenty years old, one of the large towers caught on fire. The fire was too big for the city to put out with their meager resources. Seeing this, Busaganashi, using his dynamic breathing, which he had perfected, was able to put out the fire with a powerful breath. By doing this he saved the city and was given his title as the “Marshall of Wind and Fire” and became the symbol of martial arts.
But what are the origins and legends surrounding this deity or god? The Busaganashi is found in the well-known and most influential martial art book, Bubishi. This historic book is a Ching dynasty (1644-1911) Kung-Fu manual. It is, in fact, the most comprehensive military book in the Chinese history. Busaganashi means “my dear respected kung-fu warrior” but the formal name of the martial art god is the: “Grand Marshall of Wind and Fire.”
The Busaganashi is the local Fujianese and Taiwanese god of business, art, music and wealth. He is worshipped in martial arts schools as well as by musicians and interestingly, Chinese Opera performers. During the Ching Empire when Martial Arts were outlawed because of political unrest, many of the martial artists hid in the Chinese Opera troops. In Chinese Opera there is always the figure of a bearded warrior, and martial arts plays an important role on the stage (photo left). Because of the close relationship between opera, music and art in general and Kung-Fu, the Busaganashi became the patron saint of martial artists. This god can be found in shrines in White Crane martial arts schools in Fujian.
The legend of the Busaganashi is one that is said to be intertwined with the very essence of Goju ryu Karate, and closely tied with the founder of Goju ryu, Miyagi Chojun (1888 – 1953, 宮城長順, photo right).
In the late nineteenth and into the twentieth century when Miyagi was alive, pictures of Busaganashi were found everywhere in China, not only in kung fu schools, but also in restaurants and even in the market place. When Miyagi Sensei went to Fukien on one of his trips with his friend Gokenki to buy Oolong tea, he bought a scroll of Busaganashi and brought it back to Okinawa. According to Eiichi Miyazato (宮里栄一) Sensei, the founder of the Jundokan (順道館), Miyagi Chojun prayed to the Busaganashi picture every day.
In one of the Okinawa air raids during World War II, many of Miyagi’s possessions were destroyed. Unfortunately, books and pictures including his picture of Busaganashi were turned to ashes. Certainly Miyagi was very sad about this. Seeing this, one of his students, who had previously made a sketch of the photo, traveled all the way to the Philippines to have a wooden statue of Busaganashi made.
Though the student was fearful that Miyagi would be upset for having the statue made without his permission, Miyagi was so overwhelmed with joy that the karate master was brought to tears. He placed it at the deep end of the dojo in the Jundokan where it is told that it still sits to this day.
Now that you understand who Busaganashi is and also its legend. I want to share a few interesting photos. The first photo shown to the left was published in 1956 but taken before 1946 of “Miyagi Chojun and Kyoda Juhatsu” in the days of their youth. This photo is interesting as it is thought to be a Bunkai Kata and Kumite practice, supposedly, imitating the pose of Busaganashi. Yes, it does resemble it somewhat.
What is more interesting is a photo below right of Tetsuhiko Asai, the founder of Asai ryu karate. This photo was taken from a video clip where he was demonstrating the whip leg technique. When you compare this photo with the image of Busaganashi, do you not find a greater resemblance between them? Can it be simply a coincident? Can we believe that it is a proof that he might have become one of the martial arts deities or gods after he went to heaven? It is true that I am very biased about Sensei Asai, so it may be just my wishful thinking. But, who knows?
This may be considered to be an easy question but is it really? In fact, it can be very blurry with an unclear meaning. First of all, there are two different criteria. One is a legal death and the other is a clinical death.
According to USLegal, “Legal death refers to a situation where a person is considered dead under law. A person is usually considered legally dead after a legal pronouncement by a qualified person that further medical care is not appropriate. The specific criteria used to pronounce legal death are variable and often depend on the circumstances in order to pronounce a person legally dead. Brain death is an example of a scenario in which legal death is pronounced. In the U.S., brain death is legal in every state except the states of New York and New Jersey, where the law requires that a person’s lungs and heart must also have stopped before it can be declared that a person is legally dead.”
For a long time, we used to believe that the determination that a person is dead is that the heart stops. However, with the advancement of modern medicine, the line between life and death has become unclear.
LiveScience explains the definition of (clinical or biological) death. Here is an excerpt. “Despite its frequent use, the term ‘clinical death’ doesn’t actually have a consistent meaning, said Dr. James Bernat, a neurologist at Dartmouth College’s Geisel School of Medicine in New Hampshire. In most hospitals, the doctor in charge of a patient’s care makes the death determination, and there aren’t universal guidelines for when to make that call, he said.
Until the 1950s, death was considered to be the point when any one of the vital functions — heartbeat, electrical brain activity or respiration — ceased. Once one part of the system failed, then the others would soon shut down as well, the reasoning went.
But the advent of the mechanical ventilator, which pushes air into and out of the lungs, created a new category called brain death, Bernat said.
That led to a whole class of people with warm bodies and circul ating blood — who could even fight off infections or gestate a baby — but who had absolutely no brain function, said Leslie Whetstine, a philosopher at Walsh University in Ohio who studies the definitions of death.
To be declared brain-dead, a person must have irreversibly lost function in all parts of his or her brain. Doctors make that call by performing neurological exams to search for electrical brain activity, or blood circulation to the brain, as well as a test to see if the patient attempts to breathe when the ventilator is turned off.”
OK, you may say “Thank you for the explanation of death. But, I do not understand why you are discussing this on a Karate blog. What has this got to do with Karate or martial arts?” An excellent question. I am writing this essay to present that there is another definition of the death of a person.
I believe a person is not dead just because a doctor or a legal person defines him or her as dead. Yes, you may have a funeral and the body may be cremated or buried. Despite that a person continues to “live” as long as someone remembers him/her. My parents have physically passed away. But they live, at least, in me. There are other relatives who remember my parents. So, my parents “live” in their memory.
Do you not agree? If you have someone who was dear to you but passed. Does he/she not “live” as long as you remember him/her? I truly believe this. If a person is forgotten by all and no one remembers him/her, then that person is indeed dead for the last time. Some famous people agree with me. For an example, Samuel Butler (above), an English author said “To die completely, a person must not only forget but be forgotten, and he who is not forgotten is not dead.” I share another quote, this time by Tess Gerritsen (left), an American novelist and retired physician: “Only the forgotten are truly dead”. I am sure there are many others as I believe there is undeniable truth in the concept.
This was the very reason why I created an organization, A.S.A.I. (Asai Shotokan Association International), to remember my Karate master, Tetsuhiko Asai. Everyone who knew him agrees that Master Asai was a Karate genius and was one of the greatest Shotokan masters of all time. There are many videos of his actions and he had been featured in many books and magazines.
He passed away in 2006, 12 years ago. Many of the young practitioners, including some black belts, have never heard or seen him, let alone met him. He created many advanced kata. If these kata are not being practiced they will be forgotten. He is known for many unique and devastating techniques such as tenshin, whip arm or leg techniques, close distance fighting method, etc. If they are not practiced, they will also be forgotten.
Shotokan is based on the long distance fighting method such as long stances and techniques. He supplemented Shotokan with the short distance fighting techniques that he had learned from White Crane kung fu while on his stay in Taiwan. This bold change or improvement was dramatic. Many of his karate colleagues did not appreciate it because they could not master those new techniques easily. He had to leave his home, the JKA, to start on his own. He could teach his style only after he had become independent in 2000.
His contribution to karate can be felt and appreciated only when a person learns Asai kata and/or Asai techniques. What you learn is different from what you would learn in a standard Shotokan dojo training. Many of the techniques are challenging but at the same time exciting.
I am sure Master Asai wanted to see that his kata and techniques would be remembered, despite the fact that he might not have expected his name to be remembered. By having his name, ASAI as the name of our organization, I want both his techniques and name to be remembered for many years. I felt this was my responsibility to keep him “alive” by naming my organization with his name. As a result, he will “live” not only within myself but also in the heart of every ASAI member.
Many people (at least the Japanese people) remember clearly that Judo (柔道) was inducted into the Olympics in 1964 at the first Tokyo Games. Then at the 1988 Seoul Games, Taekwondo was allowed as a demonstration event, and then became an official Olympic event at the 2000 Sydney Games. Many karate coaches and the practitioners were very happy when they heard the announcement last year by the IOC (International Olympic Committee) that Karate was one of the sports events added to the 2020 Tokyo Games.
This means that as far as the induction into the Olympics, Karate is 30 years behind Taekwondo and more than half a century behind Judo. I know that WKF (World Karate Federation) and JKF (Japan Karate Federation) had tried many times to get karate in the Olympics but were unsuccessful until now. You would wonder why.
Some people may know that the main reason why Karate had to wait until now was that it has many different styles. On the other hand, Judo and Taekwondo are “single” styles. Judo originated from Jujutsu. Though Jujutsu had many different styles, Jigoro Kano (嘉納治五郎, photo left) made a new style, Judo and separated it from the other Jujutsu (柔術) styles. Though the Korean people want to hide or deny the historic fact, Taekwondo originated from Shotokan karate after World War II. Therefore, coming from a single source, it was easy to stay as one style.
For the Olympic supporters, this diversity of karate styles was a bad thing. It is mainly because the many styles have their own kata and different methods of execution of technique. Many readers know that we have four major styles in traditional karate; Shotokan (松濤館), Shito ryu (糸東流), Goju ryu (剛柔流), and Wado ryu (和道流). It was not surprising then, to see those four major traditional styles would be included in the 2020 Games. To resolve the problems of different kata between the styles, WKF picked a few kata from the list of kata of each style. This is called shitei (指定) kata meaning “appointed” kata. These kata are used during the eliminations before the competitors can do their own kata or jiyu (自由) kata.
The shitei kata are:
The first round; Kanku dai and Jion (Shotokan), Seishan and Chinto (Wado ryu). Seienchin and Bassai dai (Shito ryu), Saifa and Sepai (Goju ryu).
The second round; Kanku sho and Enpi (Shotokan), Niseishi and Kushanku (Wado ryu), Matsumura Rohai and Nipaipo (Shito ryu), Kururunfa and Seisan (Goju ryu).
First of all, I am not sure how these kata were chosen. As I do not know the kata from other styles (I know only Shotokan), I cannot compare the degree of difficulty between the kata. Therefore, I cannot say that the kata that were selected are fair for all of the participants.
In addition to those four major traditional styles, there are many other karate styles, though they may not be as popular or well known. Some of those styles include Shorin ryu (少林流), Uechi ryu (上地流), Ryuei ryu (劉衛流), Isshin ryu (一心流), and Chito ryu (千唐流). The practitioners from these styles can participate in the Olympic trials. However, to be able to compete in the kata elimination bouts, the other style participants need to know the WKF selected (Shitei) kata.
The problem was not only with the kata. When the possibility of karate being admitted to the Olympics, Kyokushinkai (極真会 Mas Oyama style), a full contact style, expressed their desire to be included in the kumite event. They (Kyokushinkai management) must have felt that they needed to be on the band wagon if they wish to be counted as one of the major karate styles. To prove that any Karate style can play under one umbrella of karate, JKF accepted them. Of course, Kyokushinkai had to promise that their competitors would abide by the non-contact rule in the Olympic matches. I was amazed when I heard this, as I am not sure how they will be able to do this. I am not even sure if that is even possible. Regardless, they promised to do this so that they can participate in the Olympics.
By observing these changes, we can clearly see one thing. WKF/JKF eliminated, at least minimized, the differences between the styles so that they can satisfy the requirements by the IOC. In other words, all the different styles can look like one style that is called “Karate”. If you are already involved in the WKF (World Karate Federation) tournaments, you may feel it is natural and this is already happening around the world. Many people will probably consider this is a “good thing” for Karate.
I agree that dropping the barrier between styles is a good thing for Karate. Learning the kata of another style may be also beneficial. On the other hand, I am one of the (most likely few) karate practitioners/instructors who oppose Karate being in the Olympics. I oppose from several different aspects.
- The first objection is its obese commercialism. I am sure I do not need to explain much on this subject. I have already written an essay about the bad effect of commercialism from the Olympics to Karate, so this is not necessary in this essay.
- The second reason for my opposition is degradation of the tradition, such as karate etiquette, budo (武道) manners, etc. In the Olympic karate, winning becomes the ultimate goal. I am afraid some competitors will cheat or bend the rules in order to win. I have written an essay on this subject as well, thus I will not repeat the discussion in this essay.
- And finally I wish to bring up the biggest reason for my opposition, which is the main subject of this essay. I am seriously concerned the involvement of karate in the Olympics will result in the degradation of the Karate skill itself. You may consider this claim to be an exaggeration but let me explain.
I am going to discuss how this change (the Olympics) will bring a serious detrimental effect on Karate. In fact, it is already happening, to some extent, at tournaments held by WKF, but the excitement and the commercial power of the Olympics will certainly increase this trend.
Here are my feared effects on both kumite and kata. Let’s start with kumite.
As I have mentioned earlier a full contact style (Kyokushinkai practitioners) are now allowed to participate in the kumite event. This is the biggest change in the fighting style example, but there are other cases. If you have practiced Goju ryu (photo right) or Uechi ryu, you are aware that their fighting styles are based on a close distance fighting theory. In other words, their main fighting strategy is when the opponents are within the arms’ reach or less than a meter away.
So, what’s wrong with this? First, let’s take the Kyokushinkai situation. The practitioners of that style, in their normal training, they hit and kick their opponents in full swing with the intention of knocking them down. They do not train to stop their attacks before the impact. They also do not train just to touch the opponent to get a point. If they make “excessive” contact as ruled by the WKF judges those competitors will lose through a foul. Therefore, they have to change not only their training routine but also the fundamental training method.
This is the same situation for the competitors from Goju ryu and Uechi ryu. Even though they do not train to hit the opponents in full power, their fighting method is also based on a close distance fighting. This is why they assume neko ashi dachi and sanchin dachi in their training. Goju ryu often use knee kicks and short mae ashi (front leg) kicks. Uechi ryu’s kamae is with open hand and the use of boshi ken (拇指拳) or thumb fist (photo left). They strike with the knuckle of the thumbs. They also use a lot of nukite, finger thrust. So these signature techniques have to be dropped for the WKF kumite tournaments.
In fact, when you watch these kumite matches you cannot differentiate the styles among the competitors. Surprisingly, the fighting style change did not happen only to the Goju ryu and Uechi ryu. Believe it or not, it happened to the Shotokan practitioners as well. In the 60’s and the 70’s when I was active in tournament kumite, we would never hop or jump as we fought. The change came to Shotokan when JKA joined JKF (WUKO at that time) in the 80’s. Kumite by the Shotokan practitioners changed from the strong Ippon attack to light and quick touching style. In order to win by the rules this was necessary.
So, what is wrong with this? You may say that those young competitors will retire at the age of 30 or so, then they can return to their original style and continue their own training so that the uniqueness of the style can be preserved. Or you may say that the competitors are only the young people so the old sensei can continue their own training to keep their style. This is theoretically correct, however, real life is different.
Here is a typical Shotokan dojo. I figure a typical dojo of Shito ryu, Wado ryu or Goju ryu is probably very similar. I bring up a Shotokan dojo as an example only because I am most familiar with this style. A typical dojo must have many child and youth members to survive (financially). Most of the large scale dojo with the membership of 50 or more must consist of 50% or more of youth members (younger than 18 years old). The parents of those young members want their children to be trained so that their sons and daughters have a chance to compete in the Olympics. Does this sound familiar?
In addition, I have been witnessing that many dojo advertise that they support Karate being in the Olympics, because that will attract the young people and potentially increase the membership of that dojo. Despite the fact only a few talented competitors will be chosen for the Olympics and the possibility of the participation is almost zero for most young practitioners, but it does not matter. Parents still want to see their children try for it. In many cases the parents have a stronger desire for this than the youth themselves.
This means two things. First, the daily training menu will be designed to match with the tournament karate. All the young practitioners will not be exposed to the unique fighting method of their karate style. Second, the senior practitioners who retired from competitions have to stay with the same menu and they need to help their kohai (後輩) for competition. Of course, the instructors will be too occupied with teaching youths so they will have almost no chance to train their retired students in the traditional way that they had learned when they were young.
So, it will be impossible for that dojo to either train the new students in the original or traditional way and to preserve that kind of training with the senior students. As the result, all the practitioners, young and senior in that dojo will continue to train only the tournament type of kumite. In other words, the unique short distance fighting method will soon disappear as it will be considered as “useless” or “infeasible” for Olympic kumite.
The situation is very similar here, but it is made even worse with kata problem. It is worse because it affects all of the styles. In kumite situation, the ill effect of tournament kumite may be less for the long distance fighting method styles such as Shotokan and Wado ryu. The serious ill effect will be felt among the short distance fighting method styles such as Goju ryu and Uechi ryu.
I am sure you can easily guess what specifically I am concerned about with kata training. Correct….most of the competitors will practice only the Shitei kata and maybe their favorite kata. For the Shotokan practitioners, they must be extremely good with Kanku dai and Jion first, then Kanku sho and Enpi. The foundation or essential kata for Shotokan include Bassai dai and Tekki. In addition, Hangetsu and Jitte are very important. Of course, the other kata are also important but I doubt the competitors will practice them. In fact, Hangetsu, Meikyo and Jiin are almost being forgotten in the daily training of many Shotokan dojo.
Even though those four Shitei kata are not complete they represent the core concept of Shotokan kata. How about if you are a competitor from Uechi ryu? The main kata are Sanchin, Kanshiwa, Kanshu, Seichin, Seisan, Seirui, Kanchin and Sanseirui. Seisan is the only kata found in the Shitei kata list. This kata is taken from Goju ryu so even if the kata names are the same I am not sure if the kata are performed the same. I suspect they will be different in the details even if they happen to be similar. Many Okinawan styles have kobudo (古武道) or weapon kata for bo, sai, tonfa and nunchaku. Definitely those kata and their training will be either forgotten or ignored in the dojo that focus on the Olympics entry.
I believe each kata is a module or a treasure box that contains the essence of karate techniques stored by the ancient masters. I honestly equate the loss of the kata as the disappearance of that style. It is my belief that the kata of a style are the soul of that style.
Sports karate is becoming more and more popular each year. The induction of karate into the 2020 Tokyo Olympics will certainly strengthen this trend. Its attraction is almost irresistible. Literally millions of young people will practice sports karate hoping that they will be selected to be one of the Olympic competitors.
The preparation not only for the Olympics but also for any of the major tournaments will mean a whole dojo effort. Even though it is possible to divide the dojo members between the tournament competitors and the traditionalists so that they would have separate training menus, I doubt it would happen in most of the dojo. I also doubt the retired sport competitors to drop their training menu and start the traditional way from scratch. They most likely will become the coaches and sensei to teach the sports karate to the young people.
The tournament rules will change the kumite styles and the fighting methodology. Those rules will force the competitors from all different styles to fight in one way. The close distance fighting will be lost among the Goju ryu, Uechi ryu and other Nahate styles if they join this trend.
In addition, we already know that many of the effective techniques in a real fight such as groin kick, eye jabbing, finger techniques, chokes, joint techniques, etc. have already been excluded. These techniques are already no longer a part of the regular training menu.
WKF chose a few kata from the major four styles. In order to compete in an elimination bout, a competitor must practice those kata. There are many other kata that are considered important in these styles. However, they will become less attractive and some will be completely ignored in regular training. If you believe as I do that the essence of the style we train are contained in those kata, losing any of the kata means the degradation of the style.
Let me give you an analogy that may be easier to understand. There are many different kinds of ball games around the world. In England and Australia a ball game means rugby. In most of the Latin American countries, it is soccer. In the USA, of course it is American football. There are many other ball games such as baseball, basketball, volleyball to name a few. Can you imagine if you try to combine them all to make one “ball game”? Even if it is possible to come up with such a game, there will be no more excitement in that game of a rugby or soccer.
Therefore, my conclusion in this subject is very simple and straight forward. Though the majority of the karate practitioners may consider sports karate is a good thing, I oppose the trend with all my heart. I do because I fear the soul of karate will be lost if the different karate styles disappear and becomes one style under WKF.
At the end let me share a quote by a Zen Buddhist, Taisen Deshimaru (弟子丸 泰仙 1914 – 1982). In 1967, Deshimaru went to Europe and settled in Paris. He founded the Association Zen Internationale in 1970, and La Gendronnière in 1979. He was much respected and published many books. By the time he died he had solidly established Zen practice in the West. He commented on budo (martial arts) and shiai (competition).
“Train the body and develop stamina and endurance. But the spirit of competition and power that presides over them is not good, it reflects a distorted vision of life. The root of the martial arts is not there.”
The short answer to this question is “yes”. I will share the reasons why I claim this and I hope you will see where I am coming from, even if you do not agree with me one hundred percent.
If you have participated in any of the seminars that I have held, you would have discovered that you had to go through some physical exercises after the warm up was finished. Many people find these exercises to be very challenging. Some people may think they are not necessary. In fact, I have received several criticisms about these exercises claiming they were harmful to our bodies. These criticisms came following the YouTube videos that I have shared, which show squat kicks, bunny hops, kicking from seiza position, etc (photos below). The critics claimed that these exercises could damage the knees. Others have also mentioned that these exercises were unnecessary for karate training even if the exercises might not be harmful.
In a way I understand why they think that way. However, many of us are missing one very important fact. I feel it is my responsibility to inform karate practitioners what we are missing. This short essay will explain why these exercises are necessary, not only for Asai karate, but also for all karate practitioners.
To understand where we are now, we must study the history. Do not be alarmed as we will cover only the superficial matters.
I am sure you will agree that the original karate was formulated several hundred years ago. Some claim more than five hundred years. However, there are few written materials to support the exact starting period. On the other hand, there is one book that describes the existence of Kenpo jutsu in Okinawa. The book is called Nanto Zatsuwa (南島雑話, photo left), and is comprised of five documents written by Satsuma (薩摩) Samurai, Nagoya Sagenta (名越左源太 1819-1881). Nagoya was exiled to the Amami Islands (then part of the Ryukyu Islands or Okinawa). During his stay there between 1850 – 1855, he recorded his experience in Ryukyu in the mid nineteenth century. It’s in this book you can find 2 drawings titled “Kenpo-jutsu” (拳法術).
So, we know for sure that Kenpo jutsu or karate had existed at least towards the end of the Edo period (17th – 19th centuries). This was of course before the introduction of a mechanized transportation system in Japan. This brings us to a very important fact that many people tend to forget. The people at that time had to walk everywhere.
Even though there are no documents to prove this, many scholars believe that the average Japanese person walked at least 20km, or at least 30,000 steps daily. So, what is the big deal about this? Well, we must compare this to the average number of walking steps made by modern day men.
The Walking Site recommends we should walk 10,000 steps daily. According to this site’s article, a sedentary person may walk only 1,000 to 3,000 steps a day.
Here is the link to the full article: http://www.thewalkingsite.com/10000steps.html
This means that we, the modern man, walk anywhere between one tenth and one thirtieth of what the ancient Japanese used to do. This must mean that our legs are not as strong as the people in those days.
Another big difference between the ancient Japanese and the modern man including modern day Japanese, is that we rarely squat or sit in seiza position. Those actions not only strengthen our legs but they stretch the ligaments of the knees, which results in stronger construction of the knee joints. In addition to this fact, when combined with the less walking life of today, this becomes the cause of the increase in the knee injuries among adults and also children.
These are only two major differences in physical ability between the average persons in the Edo period and the modern day man. Modern day sports science has been able to make some athletes into super humans, as we can see the in new world records in the Olympics. However, among the general population, the modern day conveniences make us “weak” and less physically capable.
So, this is the one major reason why we, the karateka, must engage in some of the special karate exercises. In Asai karate, we have more than 150 different exercises. The three major concentrations are in the areas of flexibility (below left), balance (below center) and foundation or legs (below right ) strengthening.
Let me explain briefly what those three concentration areas are.
Flexibility means the flexible movements of the joints. According to Student Doctor net, there are 360 joints in our body. Yes, the flexibility of all the joints is important, but we focus on a few major joints that are important in karate and all martial arts. One important area is the pelvis and leg (commonly called hip) joints. The other two major areas are the shoulder joints, and the spine or backbone joints.
When we play with a baby we realize how flexible he/she is. We seem to lose this naturally as our modern day “easy” life demands less physical work and that assists in the subsequent loss of flexibility.
Balance seems to be an odd one, as we are so natural and feel so well balanced when we stand up and walk. But just think of the roads that we now walk on every day. Most of the roads and the streets are well paved. The roads long ago were unpaved. They were filled with the rock and very uneven. In addition, now we have comfortable athletic shoes, with the thick rubber or sponge cushions. How long can you walk bare foot in the country side on an unpaved road? Most of us train in a dojo with a wooden or tile floor that is flat and has no obstacles. Therefore, we must train to improve our balance ability. We do not run bare foot on a country side road, we train in our dojo with a standard floor. But in Asai training we stand on one leg for a few seconds, with some arm (punch) and/or leg (kick) movements at the same time (photo right). If we can improve our balance standing on one leg and perform a technique, then our balance of standing on two legs will be improved significantly.
The third category of foundation strengthening, probably does not need much explanation. The foundation means legs including the lower body area called tanden, which plays the key role of connecting the legs to the upper body. Our legs are definitely weaker in general than the people of the Edo period. This means their expectations of the leg strength, mobility and movement were much higher then. They could probably continuously kick ten thousand times and more. They could jump up from seiza position to kiba dachi or zenkutsu dachi very easily and quickly. They could shift, turn, rotate and move much faster using their strong legs. In other words, their techniques were faster and stronger in general during the Edo period.
So, now you understand what physical areas we focus on to build our body in order to bring our physical condition closer to where we used to be. This conditioning of our body is called: karate body. It means that the body condition is now ready for karate training. Karate body does not mean, however, that it is a body with karate skills.
It is true that the science is advancing and the society seems to be becoming more advanced. More things are getting convenient and we can get or do things faster. However, we must not erroneously believe this advancement is beneficial to our body. Whether you want to believe or admit it, modernization has brought a lot of hazards to our life such as air pollution, tap water contamination, leakage of the radioactive material to the ocean, etc. Recently genetically modified food is a hot subject and many people fear of the negative side effects from food that has been altered and/or modified.
So, the modernization of the society does not necessarily mean a happy ending for human beings. One big concern should be our health and our physical ability. No matter how convenient our life may become, I am convinced that one cannot be truly happy unless he has a strong and healthy body. I hope you agree that mind and body are closely related, or should I say that they are inseparable.
Without considering karate training, I proposed that some basic exercises are necessary for us to stay healthy and you probably agree. Now, we need to think further as we are the karate practitioners. Why?
I have written many essays about the difficulty of karate techniques in the past. The key point is that karate is based on the most sophisticated and complex physiological and interpersonal conditions. I will not repeat the full explanation of this concept but let me give you a summary.
One of the simplest physical competitions is competitive running. You can compete under the simplest rules, that you must run the pre-set course without disturbing the other runners. Most of the track and field events belong to this category. The swimming competition is similar. The competitors must learn how to swim but the basic idea is the same as the track and field events. The gymnastic competitions also belong to this category. The mastery of the techniques itself is hard and challenging but the competitive concept is simple and not complex.
The games that require some tools are a little more challenging. The examples here are: golf, javelin, hammer, bicycle, ski, and skating. I am sure you can think of many others. Yes, it takes a lot of training and the mastery of the tool use such as golf club, bicycle, ski and skate. It can be very difficult and may take many years but the basic competitive idea is the same as the sprint or running. You do your thing without any disturbance or influence by or from the competitors. At the end, you simply compare the time, score, length, etc. to see which person did the best.
The second category that is more sophisticated includes the interactive sports: meaning that there is an offense side and a defense side. The examples are tennis, ping pong, hand ball, volley ball, baseball, etc. The competition is done either individually or by the teams. The idea, however, is the same between them. In this category, it is clear that one side is an offense side and the other is a defense side. The server of the tennis can take some peaceful (without getting disturbed) time to get ready to hit the serving ball and the competitor. However, this category is more complex because you or your team must react to the competitor’s action such as a served ball, a ball thrown by a pitcher, or hit by a batter.
The third category is the competitions that have no clear cut offensive or defensive sides, which makes the competition structure more sophisticated and complex. This group includes basketball, football, soccer, water polo, etc. In this type of competition either side can capture the ball, then that team instantly becomes the offense side. An offense side can easily become the defense side as soon as it loses the ball.
The fourth category is more complex as the competitors have to be offensive and defensive at the same time. This group includes boxing, wrestling, judo and even sports karate. Within the game or match time, the competitors must always be attacking and defending. In other words, a defensive move can turn into an attacking or counter attack technique.
Then the most complex system is the martial arts including the system of self-defense and other fighting arts including budo karate. The fighting arts (not sports versions) are much more complex than any sports you find in the Olympics. They have no rules such as game time, prohibited techniques, mats, ring, judges, rest, etc. Anything is possible thus it must be considered and prepared for. Failing means critical injury and possibly death. This is why training in martial arts takes so much time. Consequently, it requires much physical and mental ability.
Provided that you have agreed with what I have written above, we must realize that the ancient karate masters were really something very unique and rare. This is true and it is not an exaggeration that such a master was available only once out of a hundred million practitioners.
Regardless whether you agree with what I have written above or not, it is undeniably true that the kata we love and practice every day were created by those ancient geniuses. Even if those ancient masters were not super human, we all agree that they had developed extra ordinary level of physical skill. We understand that the techniques that were selected and enclosed in the kata were supposed to be the most important and common ones. They say that one can master the karate skills if we can truly understand the techniques from kata after repeating them thousands of times.
I am sure that those masters were physically more developed than the average karate practitioners. In other words, I believe that their legs were very strong, their ability of balance was excellent and their body was very flexible. There are other attributes to make one a karate master, but those three physical abilities are minimally necessary for the karate skill.
As a conclusion I want to summarize that there are two main reasons why I propose that all karate practitioners engage in the physical exercises that are practiced by the members of ASAI.
One is for the general health purpose. With the modernization and the convenient transportation vehicles and the tools our bodies are less able and weakened. The exercises we do would not be extra ordinary feats that require unusual ability for the people of the 18th and the 19th centuries. Of course, many millions of people go to the gym and work with the weight machines and or jog/fast walk for the health purpose. This is true and those exercises are great. However, the objectives of most men are to bulk up the muscles from lifting weights. Through running most people seek general conditioning and body weight loss. I am not completely objecting to these exercises, but I must say they are not sufficient and some are counter effective to karate training.
Most of the weight training does not include flexibility and balance training. In fact, bulking up the muscles typically make you less flexible. You may have a bigger calf or the leg muscles, but standing on one leg will continue to be challenging if you do not train for it. Jogging may give you some general conditioning but not necessarily a strong foundation. In other words, it will not give you enough strength to do a one leg squat or pistol squat.
It is true that being good at these three fundamental abilities will not guarantee you will be an expert in karate. However, they will help in your effort to improve your karate skill. This is the second and most important reason. Those ancient karate masters were, in general, physically more developed and advanced. Therefore, since this is the case, when performing the kata that were created by them wouldn’t it be easier to understand and appreciate them, if our physical condition or ability was closer to theirs?
I conclude that unless you are at their physical (also mental, though I did not include in this essay) condition, you will not be able to fully appreciate and understand those kata. Those special exercises may not bring you to the level of the ancient masters, but I guarantee that you will be much closer than where you are now.
I saw an article in one of the Mixed Martial Arts sites and it made me laugh. The title is “This master has TWO 10th degree black belts in MMA”. The article reads
“Shang-Men-Rem Prof. Gilberto Pauciullo (photo right) has hitherto unequaled qualifications in martial arts. His 22 10th degree black belts include five in Jiu-Jitsu alone, and one in mixed martial arts.”
Very impressive, huh? Well this is not the end of the extra ordinary story.
Believe it or not, the article introduces us to a more impressive (?) master in India who seems to be super human. The article continues like this, “However, the accomplishments are dwarfed by those of Grand Master Dai Soke Supreme Grand Master Dai Soke Prof/Dr. Jgdish Singh Khatri (PhD) M.A. (IGF): With 45 years of documented study of the martial arts, Supreme Prof/Dr. Jagdish Singh Khatri (PhD) M.A. (IGF) has earned 43 10th degree black belts, and two 12th degree black belts.”
Here is a photo of this very impressive martial arts master from India.
If you are bored and happen to have some extra time, you may want to read the entire article. Here is the link:
I am sure the readers are thoroughly impressed with these masters and some (maybe a few?) of you may even want to join their dojo. Now all joking aside, we know these characters are most likely bogus. However, it is also true that most of us would be impressed if a karateka has a dan rank from other Japanese martial arts such as Iaido, Kenjutsu, Jujutsu, etc. In fact, I respect those who are dedicated to martial arts and are able to master more than one art.
The mastery in multiple martial arts is not a strange thing in Japan. We are well aware that the samurai had to learn 18 different martial arts to prepare their fighting skills.
For those who are interested, those 18 arts are Kyu utsu (archery), Ba jutsu (horse riding), So jutsu (spear), Ken jutsu (sword), Eiho jutsu (swimming), Batto jutsu (sword drawing), Tanto jutsu (knife), Jutte jutsu (Jutte weapon), Shuriken (dart), Fukushin jutsu (needle spitting), Naginata jutsu (halbart), Ho justsu (rifle), Totte or Torite or Hojo jutsu (rope binding), Ju jutsu, Bo jutsu (stick or cane), Kusarigama (lock sickle), Mojiri or Mojigiri (gimlet or awl) and Shinobi or Nin jutsu.
Having said that I must bring up a very important fact that many of us are confused about and sadly misunderstand. There is a mystery or a trick of numbers. Depending on the situation, you can or cannot add some numbers. Many people get confused as they mix up the situation of can and cannot. Maybe my explanation here in itself is confusing. Let me clarify this by using some simple scientific examples.
Here is a photo of two glasses of water. For the sake of argument let us say each glass contains 50ml of water. Now, if you pour the water from each glass into one large bottle or a pitcher, how much water will it be there? It is simple, isn’t it? Yes, we will have 100 ml of water provided you did not spill any. This is straight forward and no one has a problem with it. This is the clear case where we can add the numbers.
Then, let’s think about another situation of this same water where we cannot add the numbers. Say the temperature of the water in each glass is 20 degrees C. What would be the temperature of the total water when you combine both glasses? Will it be 40 degrees (20 + 20) after mixing? I am sure you will say “No”. If it (additing the temperature) was scientifically true, then I can boil water (100 degrees) by adding two cups of water that are at 50 degrees each. I am sure you agree that this is not the case and these numbers cannot be added.
Let’s take another example. Here is a photo of two Alkaline 1.5-Volt batteries. If you use two batteries together, a flashlight will last twice as long than when using only one battery. The length of power, say 1 month or whatever, in other words, the amount of active time, is a case where the numbers can be added.
On the other hand, the voltage of each battery, 1.5V, is the number you cannot add if used in parallel connection. I am sure you expect the total voltage to remain at 1.5V even if you put two batteries together. This is the same no matter how many batteries you may put together. Even if you connect one thousand batteries the total voltage will never be 1500V. If you had believed that it did, you will be labeled as stupid or are ignorant of science. You will agree that this is the example of numbers that cannot be added. (note: the voltage can increase if the batteries are connected in series.)
I have explained that there are some numbers that can be added and some others that cannot be added. So far, I am sure you have no problem following me. Now, I suspect you can guess what I want to tell you next.
Correct. The numbers for the dan ranks cannot be added. We must understand this very clearly as this is where many of the people are being tricked. Let’s consider a situation that happens often. A karateka may earn a certain dan rank, say, Godan or 5 dan in one Shotokan organization.
This person may change their affiliation and the new organization may grant him also a Godan or 5 dan. In this situation he has two Go dan diplomas but he cannot claim that he has a 10th dan. I am sure you agree to this but we tend, mistakenly, to get impressed. This is the problem.
I explained the situation of the two ranks from two different organizations of the same style. How about if the styles are different, say Shotokan and Goju ryu, or Shito ryu, etc? It is true that it will take a lot of talent and dedication to earn dan ranks from two different styles. Despite that, we still cannot add the dan ranks. That karateka does not have a 10th dan.
This becomes much clearer if the dan ranks are from different martial arts. If you have a Go dan from Shotokan karate and say Ni (2) dan from Iaido or Jujitsu, even though you can joke that you have a 7 dan total but you will never be considered as a 7th dan karateka or martial artist.
There is nothing wrong with collecting the dan ranks. They definitely show the depth of that person’s dedication and possibly their expertise in martial arts. However, the ugly point I dared to bring out is the trickery of using the total numbers to impress others, while the total number may not have much meaning itself. In short, we do not need the high dan rank number to impress people. What we really need is the ability to perform in our martial arts.
If your objective of karate or martial art happens to be to impress others, then do so with your performance. Mine is different, however, and I believe the ultimate objective of karate (and martial arts) is the perfection of not only your karate performance but also your character. How about you?
It is not documented exactly when the first kung fu training started. However it is commonly believed that Dharma, or Bodhi Dharma (illustration right), a Buddhist monk in the 5th or 6th century is the person who transmitted Buddhism to China from India.
It is also believed that along with Buddhism he brought fighting methods with him.
Many people have wondered why a Buddhist, a person of peace, would introduce a “killing” method and then teach it to the monks, who also ascribed to peace at a Shaolin Temple in China. When you think of this, it is a small mystery.
Some people have speculated that the monks, before the introduction of kung fu exercises, were not in good physical and mental shape and would therefore fall asleep during the meditation or the recitation of the holy scripts. Therefore, Dharma taught them how to exercise and therefore this helped to keep them awake during long and arduous meditation sessions. It sounds almost convincing but I do not believe that was the case.
Others have speculated that Dharma needed some fighting skills to protect himself during the long journey from India to China. As you are aware there was no modern day transportation then. I do not believe he was lucky enough to have a horse or a donkey. Thus, he probably had to travel on foot most of the way. You can also easily guess that the security in those days was far from safe, especially when you had travel alone on a deserted path through the wilderness. He probably gave everything he had to the robbers, but I assume he had to fight when his life was in danger.
Ok, he needed the fighting skills, but why did Dharma teach this to the monks? Wasn’t he supposed to teach peace and love?
Well, we must remember that the governing emperors of the ancient kingdom of China often prohibited Buddhism. When the monks refused to discontinue their religion and its activities, the emperor sent soldiers to threat and kill them. In addition, in those days, groups (some were huge) of bandits were very common and they raided the villages. When the villagers escaped to the temple, then the monks would have to fight to protect not only themselves but the villagers as well.
I am pretty confident in this historical background. The fighting methods were necessary and in addition they must have discovered that the physical training brought much health to the monks.
Those two reasons seem to make sense, so we may think that we have found the answers to the small mystery. However, I do not think these two reasons were the only ones to explain why Dharma chose to teach the fighting arts. I think there was a hidden reason. This is my hypothesis. No one has proposed this idea before so I may receive some push back and possibly criticism, but I have a strong feeling my hypothesis is correct.
According to the stories about Dharma that have been handed down to us, he was an enlightened person. If he really was an enlightened person then that means he really knew the meaning of love, or agape, just as Jesus Christ did. If this is the case, I suspect he realized that the ultimate status of martial arts, is the same as that of religion.
Dharma must have believed that training kung fu with right mind would help the monks to reach the ultimate status or enlightened. This may sound like a far-fetched idea, but I do not think it is unheard of. If you have trained or studied Aikido, you are well aware of the founder, Morihei Ueshiba (photo below).
I share two quotes from Ueshiba.
- “All life is a manifestation of the spirit, the manifestation of love.”
- “Aikido is the Art of Peace, the power of love.”
I have also heard that Jesus Christ had owned mystical skills to fight off possible attackers. This fighting skill is, suppose secretly, and transmitted to a small group of the Christian monks in Europe. I am not a scholar or historian of Christianity, and I do not have any documents to substantiate this. Maybe some of the readers who are Christians may have some documents or knowledge about this.
Then, many of the readers would wonder why the reaching of an agape state is the ultimate goal of martial arts. This is a natural question and it is a challenging one. As I have not reached such a state myself, I can only guess why it is so.
Here is my hypothesis.
I must go back to the general concept of Ki, or Chi in Chinese. It is the life force coming from the energy and the vibration of nature including human beings. If the vibration in your mind and body is in harmony, then you are healthy and you feel good. If the harmony of the internal vibration goes off tune or lose the harmony, you will be sick and you do not feel well. I am sure most of the readers will agree to this general concept.
Then, what has this got to do with martial arts? If you train karate, for instance, only for the competition and tournament, your focus and attention will be only with your physical ability and techniques. On the other hand, if you are into budo karate, you will train not only the physical aspect of improvement but also the mental and spiritual aspects.
You will reach the ultimate level of martial arts only when you maximize the improvement in all three aspects; physical, mental and spiritual. In addition, these three aspects must not improve independently, but rather must show the unity and harmonization.
In Buddhism, they try to reach this state through by Zen meditation. Even though they may look like not having the physical aspect as they are simply sitting and meditating, that would be a big mis-understanding. The long hours of meditation require much physical discipline. Think of sitting in a lotus position for many hours without moving. You must have the flexible hip joints and strong seika tanden as well as the back muscles. You also need to have the training in correct breathing.
In Zen meditation they aim for empty mind. In budo karate, we also aim for empting our mind, while at the same time our body must move quickly and continuously as well. When a martial artist reaches this ultimate state, his body will move without thinking. At the same time, he realizes that he has no enemy. He will be filled with love for all mankind. If an ill intended person approaches him to harm him, that person will not be able to move in front of him. This martial art master will emit such a magnificent aura and strong Ki, he will disable any of the attackers.
Ok you may reject this as a silly fiction that can be found only in a cheap martial art novel or a movie. You must remember that only one or two persons in the world with the population of six billion can reach this state. And I am not talking that this state can happen in a year or even in a decade. I am talking about at least one life time. This is like looking for a true miracle, or a real saint.
Bodhi dharma was so dedicated, that more than one thousand five hundred years ago, he traveled alone in the wilderness for thousands of miles to transmit the teachings of Buddhism from India to China. No one would or could do this before him, though a few might have tried. If he could travel in the dangerous journey for many months and maybe years, he had to be enlightened, and had the ultimate level of martial arts. He really was an enlightened man and only one out of the millions who have reached the ultimate level.
So, I will come back to the original question. Why did he teach kung fu to the Shaolin monks? Now I am sure the answer has become very self-evident. Whether you believe or agree with my hypothesis, you cannot deny that the martial art that one Indian Buddhist monk brought to China resulted in, later years, the beginning of unique empty hand martial art in Okinawa islands that was called Te and now Karate.
I am sure you were shocked and may even be offended by this title. Of course, I chose this title to catch your full attention. I expect I will get a lot of push back on this title but give me a chance to explain why I think it is better not to explain when we teach karate.
If you happen to have or have had a Japanese sensei, I suspect you have noticed that your sensei does or did not explain too much in his karate class. Many people may blame the lack of language skills such as English. It is true that many Japanese sensei are or were not fluent in the local language whether it were English, French, Spanish or whatever. Regardless of the language ability, I emphasize that this is the basic attitude of the Japanese instructors. I can say this not only because of my personal experience in karate training as well as teaching but I wish to present that there is a very good logical reason.
Before I go into the explanation of this logical reason, I want to share a little background of the Japanese word of “to learn”, manabe (学ぶ). This word’s origin is manebu (まねぶ) which means to imitate. So, the original concept of “to learn something” for the ancient Japanese was to imitate the teacher. This is why we have a saying of Shu Ha Ri (守破離). Many readers may already know the meaning of this. It is a concept that describes the stages of learning to mastery.
To understand this concept let me quote the explanation by an Aikido instructor, Endo Seishiro.
“It is known that, when we learn or train in something, we pass through the stages of shu, ha, and ri. These stages are explained as follows. In shu, we repeat the forms and discipline ourselves so that our bodies absorb the forms that our forebears created. We remain faithful to these forms with no deviation. Next, in the stage of ha, once we have disciplined ourselves to acquire the forms and movements, we make innovations. In this process the forms may be broken and discarded. Finally, in ri, we completely depart from the forms, open the door to creative technique, and arrive in a place where we act in accordance with what our heart/mind desires, unhindered while not overstepping laws.”
This is the key point. So, the main idea is while you are learning or at the stage of Shu, all you are expected to do is to repeat and imitate. This means you repeat the same thing without trying to be different or thinking.
In fact, this idea was even more prevalent when I was in school some fifty to sixty years ago. I remember that we, over fifty years ago as the karate students, never asked any questions not only to our sensei but also to our senpai. We knew that we were not supposed to ask any questions during a training session. Without any exaggeration, the only word we could use was “Oss”. If we had dared to ask any questions about techniques, kata, kumite or anything else, they never gave us any answers. They would have come back, instead, with a sharp statement such as “Keep your eyes open” or “Watch more carefully” or “Practice more”, etc.
When we had a question that we believed was important, we, only once in a while, dared to ask. However, it was important that we needed to pick the right moment. Regardless, it always had to be after the class is over. We waited till we went to a restaurant or a café after training, if we wanted to ask something. In a casual environment while we were talking about some social and casual subjects, we used to slip a question or two into our conversation. Regardless, I remember it was awfully difficult to ask our sensei about a technical question. Even though the situation in Japan may have changed somewhat since those days, I am pretty sure that this basic concept has not changed much in Japan. I suspect you would consider this as a terrible learning situation. You are half right but missed the point in the other half. Let me explain further.
Do you think this “barrier” would prevent or slow down the students from learning? I suspect it is considered so in the non-Japanese countries. If you are a karate instructor (I imagine many of you are), I am sure you try to explain a lot about the key points about the techniques and many things about karate. I have watched many classes taught by both Japanese and non-Japanese instructors in the classes outside of Japan. I found that non-Japanese instructors spend much more effort and energy in verbal communication.
The Japanese instructors tend to speak less and to demonstrate more. This is partially due to their weakness with the foreign or non-Japanese language. Regardless, we (the Japanese instructors) feel uncomfortable when we see that the non-Japanese instructors are spending so much time with great enthusiasm on the technical matters, especially on the difficult subjects. My intention is not to bash those instructors but I feel they are almost in love with themselves or in the ecstasy of showing their knowledge. I apologize if I offended anyone about this but this is my true impression and I am pretty sure many of the other Japanese instructors will agree with me.
OK, we must agree that there is a difference in the teaching styles because of the difference in culture. In fact, many of the Japanese instructors believe that giving too much explanation is bad for learning. As I had already mentioned that many of them lack the language ability, but it is still the same even in Japan where we have no language difficulty. It is probably a big mystery to the readers to find that the Japanese sensei do not believe in much explanation. You might have noticed this before but you most likely did not know why. You probably ended up guessing it was just because of the language problem.
Let’s investigate why the Japanese instructors prefer to explain less. First of all the most important reason comes from a cultural factor. Believe it or not, we do not value verbal understanding too much when it comes to learning anything but especially when it involves a physical or technical skill. This comes from the belief that words are imperfect and they are unable to describe anything in full and adequately.
Further, probably shocking to the western people, we do not believe in logic too much. We avoid people who like to argue. In fact, have you noticed that most of the Japanese people are poor at making speeches and presentations? In school we never learned how to speak eloquently. Using a joke to relax the students in the karate teaching in Japan is almost unthinkable and impossible for a Japanese sensei (excluding those who have been living abroad).
We consider it is almost impossible and unrealistic for a student to understand a physical thing (something that happens inside of your body which is very personal) fully with a verbal explanation. The instructors feel that a student must learn physically with his own body by repeating a technique thousands of times. In other words, a student must feel and “know” it with his body.
The Japanese martial arts instructors tend to give little explanation during their class because they believe explanation results in a long period of time of not doing anything and is not that good for the students mentally as well as technically. As they put less value in thinking they encourage you to keep moving and repeating the techniques.
In addition, the instructors expect that most of the students, initially or at least during the first few years, would not understand, not only about the karate techniques, but also the concept of kata, kumite, bunkai, etc. In fact, they consider this is a necessary step or stage.
Think of a situation where an instructor spends a lot of time and energy to explain something difficult such as ki, breathing method, gamaku, muchimi, etc. Then, the students may gain some understanding about this subject. So, what’s wrong with that? If the students understand something, didn’t the teacher complete his duty well? Yes, that is how it will be regarded in the countries outside of Japan. The Japanese instructors think that even though the students may feel like they had gained some understanding, it was not a true or full understanding. In fact, the students were unable to demonstrate “that something” even if they thought they understood it. We consider a pure mental understanding a dangerous state as it does not comply with physical understanding in most cases. We fear that those students were not ready and premature “understanding” would only harm their natural development of their karate skill.
Let’s look at another easy example. How about swimming, which is also an acquired skill? You cannot swim unless you learn how, especially a difficult swimming method such as the butterfly stroke. Let’s take a student who happens to be so novice he does not even know how to float or is afraid to put his face in the water. If he is impressed with Michael Phelps (right) and this student asks his swimming instructor how to swim the butterfly stroke like him. Of course, you do not want to crush their excitement or interest, but an instructor in Japan would not spend time to explain how to do a dolphin kick, etc. He will tell him like this, “Yes, Phelps is great. I will teach you how to do a dolphin kick once you learn how to float.” Once the student learns how to float, they may realize they have to learn other important things such as how to do a dog paddle, how to hold their breath while their face is in the water, etc.
As you know karate skill requires much more complex physical and mental techniques. In the water, as long as you can float you can save yourself even if you cannot swim the butterfly stroke. However, in a life or death situation or even in a street fight, failure to perform a technique could mean a serious injury possibly even death.
As I have mentioned earlier, we do not rely too much on verbal understanding and communication when it comes to learning a skill. We put the value on “physical understanding”, instead. This is exactly why the instructors demand our students to look closely or imitate them as much as possible. This is not only true in karate or martial arts but also in other arts. You can find the same method in teaching carpentry, cooking, brush writing, zen study, etc. When you become an apprentice to a master carpenter, your boss would never teach you any carpentry skills, at least for some years if not never. It is your job to “steal” such skills by watching your boss. This is the same in cooking such as sushi (photo above). Why does sushi taste better in Japan? It is not because the fish or rice is better. It is because the sushi chef has been properly trained for at least several years before they can begin to prepare and serve the food (sushi) to customers.
Another good example is a zen monastery where they train the monks by having a very strict and harsh (as the secular people see it) daily schedule. First of all, the monk candidates have to beg to be admitted by the temple by waiting at the entrance in a half sitting position (photo right).
This challenge is called Niwazume (庭詰 photo below). Literally, it means “staying in the garden”. In the early morning, you need to arrive at the gate of the zen temple you wish to join. You have to stay there half sitting and bowing down to show your desire to join. You will continue this position 9 to 10 hours that day. During that period, the monks in the temple will ask you to leave. Sometimes, they will even drag you out (but gently) of the gate. However, this is a part of the ritual so you must not give up if you are determined to become a monk at this temple. You will have to continue your request to be admitted by sitting at the front entrance all day long. After the long day of sitting, they will admit you to come in to eat dinner and stay overnight. But this does not mean they were admitted. Then, the next morning you need to restart this waiting at the front entrance at 4 or 5 am. This harsh ceremony or patience testing ritual lasts two or three days.
However, this is only the first step of the entrance examination. If you can sustain these few days of waiting at the front entrance, they will let you in and ask you to show your interest in joining the temple by sitting in zen meditation all day long (about 12 hours a day). This second test will last one week. After succeeding in these two tests, a monk candidate can finally be admitted to this temple as a regular training monk. After this he will start a zen monk life that is filled with zen meditation and work around the temple.
Here is a typical daily schedule at Sogenji in Okayama Prefecture:
3:40 a.m. Wake up
4:00 Morning service (sutra)
5:00 Zazen (meditation)
8:00 Niten Soji (daily cleaning)
8:30 Samu (cleaning)
1:00 – 2:00 Bath (1st group)
2:00 – 4:00 Samu (garden work)
4:00 – 5:00 Bath (2nd group)
9:00 Kaichin (lights out)
Even though I am writing about karate teaching, I spent a lot of space explaining about zen monastery rules. This is to show that they consider doing is much more important than the words. As you know zen is a religion in which they seek to be enlightened. During the hours of zen meditation, a monk will try to reach the enlightened state of mind. However, during the meditation he will encounter many questions such as “What am I?”, “What is the purpose of my life?”, “How can I be enlightened?”, “Why there is good and bad in this world?” etc. The monk master is supposed to have been enlightened so a training monk seeking an answer may ask such questions of the master. The master will never explain anything or even try. He will simply say “Do not think” or “Get busy”. He demands the monk to do things and discourages thinking. During zen meditation, a monk is supposed to empty his mind but it is very difficult. However, by spending many hours just sitting, he learns how to do this. He may see the light when he is engaged in garden work, hall cleaning, chanting sutra, etc. rather than when he is thinking in meditation.
So, these examples illustrate the Japanese instructors believe in the value of demonstrating the techniques with their own body and much less in the explanation using words. You will see the same tendency in Japan not only in karate but also in other martial arts, such as kenjutsu, iaido, kyudo, aikido, etc.
Lastly, we must consider the fact that karate skill (not just the techniques but the total structure and system of empty hand fighting) requires one of the most difficult physical skills. You may not agree with this statement but this can be theoretically proven as sound and correct. Thus, the Japanese instructors believe it is almost impossible to explain the most critical part of the techniques, thus they will tell the students “Practice more”.
Then, is this approach of not explaining better than the method found in the western world? My quick answer is “It all depends”. I believe this practice of not explaining method can be an excuse for a Japanese instructor so he can hide his ignorance or lack of knowledge. If he has to face all kinds of questions, the instructor will be forced to study and learn more. So, in this sense I like the western method.
On the other hand, karate skill development comes in a gradual ascending form or in slow progression. In other words, you need to go one step at a time which means your body needs to be trained. Understanding or believing that you understand a technique is totally different from being able to do that technique. A proper understanding comes at a right time after repeating the technique thousands of time. Trying to understand these things in your head before that proper time may not only act as worthless self-satisfaction but also could become hazardous to your sound karate achievement.
The similar effect is found when a student learns an advanced kata before his level. I have seen a brown belt doing Unsu in a tournament. The instructor of this student is responsible and should be blamed for this ignorant action. We must all know that karate achievement is similar to building a house. If the foundation or the walls are weak, the house will not be able to withstand an earthquake or a storm. Life time karate training is more like building a skyscraper of 50 stories or taller, the importance of the solid foundation and the firm structure becomes even more critical.
When you teach karate in the western world, it is important and necessary to include some verbal explanation. Karate training must mean being truly physical but at the same time, thinking must be encouraged.
The instructors must remember that they need to be very careful in determining how much explanation is appropriate and necessary. It is because too much explanation can not only be wasting valuable training time but also harmful to the students who are not ready mentally and/orphysically. This can be equated to a situation where an instructor teaches a black belt kata to a color belt student or to engage a beginner in jiyu kumite (free sparring).
The skill level of a karate instructor should be determined not only by his karate skill but also by his teaching skill including knowing how much explanation is appropriate. This is what I believe. What do you think?
(Here is the content of the interview in English. The Russian translated content is also posted in the Russia category of this blog.)
Shihan Kousaku Yokota was a student of Sensei Sugano, an assistant to Teruyuki Ozakaka and a student of Asai Tatsuhiko, as well as an instructor at the ISKF headquarters and devoted more than fifty years of his life to martial arts. He wrote several books about karate. In this exclusive interview for the site budokarate.ru we will talk with the shihan about his Way, views on modern karate and much more …
- When did you started to train karate, and why?
I started my training in Karate in 1962 when I was 15 years old. Why I started karate involves a story which I must explain.
My first experience in martial arts was with Judo. My father was a black belt from Kodokan (the headquarters of Judo in Tokyo). I think he got his sandan while he was attending his university in Tokyo. When I graduated from the elementary school and was getting into a junior high school, I told my father that I was interested in martial arts. In fact I wanted to do Kendo or Kenjutsu but my father said I should pick up Judo so I did. The police station of our ward had a Judo program for the children. One policeman was our sensei. He was big and strong. He impressed us so much we were convinced that the Judo was the best martial art.
After two years of training, one small young man (maybe he was an university student) joined the club. As he was totally new I could throw him easily. He was polite and very enthused. One thing I noticed about him was he would jump up right away after he was being thrown down. He was like a toy that was designed to hop up. When we are thrown, we normally rolled over into all fours (hands and knees on the floor) before we stood up again. However, he jumped up from the supine position (lying on his back) without rolling or using his hands.
We all thought he was strange but did not ask him why, until he told us that he was leaving the dojo after about one year. So, after the last training I walked with him to the nearby station where he took a train to go home. During our walk, I asked him why he decided to quit after only one year. He said that he was really a Karate practitioner and wanted to learn Judo’s throwing techniques as well as the floor work (holding and pinning techniques). So I asked why he would quit as Judo was more devastating martial art than Karate. At that time, I had very little knowledge about Karate. Besides, we saw a movie called Sugata Sanshiro in which a Judo guy wins in a match with a Karate guy. So, we believed Judo was much better as a martial art.
Surprisingly, he told me that he would tell me the truth as he was leaving the dojo. He said he respected Judo and learned a lot from Judo, but he definitely believed Karate was more effective in a hand to hand combat. I strongly objected and told him that I threw him many times and he could not do anything to me. He told me that was because he did not use his Karate techniques. At that time, I truly believed that I could grab and throw him before he could do anything. So, without a warning I grabbed (or tried to grab) his jacket to throw him. At that moment, to my great surprise I found myself knocked down on my back and staring at the guy who was standing over me with a shocked face. I did not know what had happened. I felt something hit me very sharp on my belly. The guy quickly apologized and helped me stand up. Apparently he kicked me in the belly and knocked me down. As the distance was so short and I was not expecting anything like this so I did not see his leg to move. It was like a magic.
He told me that he did not kick me too hard, only enough to knock me down. In fact, he said he was surprised that I fell as his intention was not to knock down but only to push me away from him with a kick. He told me that he could have kicked harder to break a few of the ribs and to finish me with a punch to the face after the kick. He totally convinced me with this demonstration that Karate can be more effective in a hand to hand combat. I really wanted to learn Karate but I had to stay with Judo and wait one more year until I graduated from the junior high school.
- Who was your teachers? How long did you train with each one of them, and what influence each of them had on your technique and vision about karate?
I consider that I have three teachers.
The first sensei is Sugano sensei, my first sensei who was the co-chairman of Japan Karate Association, 9th dan in Kobe Japan. I trained under him for 26 or 27 years. He was a big and strong karateka. I learned how to generate power by watching him. He was also brutal in his training. He used to open the windows in the winter time even when it was snowing outside. Then, in the summer time he shut the windows and turned off the fans. The floor became very wet with our sweat thus very slippery. He told us to go faster and we used to fall down especially we had to do the kicks. It was so hot in the room we felt like we were training in a sauna or steam room. We felt like passing out many times. By the way we trained we learned not only how to keep the balance but also to be tough and enduring. He passed away in 2001.
The second teacher was Teruyuki Okazaki, ex-chairman of ISKF, 10th dan. I was one of the assistant instructors at the headquarters in Philadelphia. I trained under him for about nine years until I returned to my home in Kobe in 1981. Okazaki sensei was an excellent karateka and his basics were almost perfect. He was known for his beautiful yoko geri so we all tried to imitate that kick.
When I was training at the Philadelphia dojo, I remember that our kumite was very severe and contacts were allowed. Seeing a bleeding nose was almost a daily event. The students did not quit even after this brutal kumite training. This was in the 70s when Bruce Lee became very famous. We had a waiting list of more than 100 at this dojo. Many of the students wanted to be like Lee, I think and did not want to quit.
My last sensei is Tetsuhiko Asai, the technical director of JKA in the 80s and the founder of JKS, 10th dan. I trained under him only five years since he passed away in 2006. However, he had the biggest impact on my karate and I am still following his way of karate. I call it Asai ryu. After he became one of the instructors in JKA, he was dispatched to Taiwan to teach karate there. During his stay he picked up White Crane kung fu. His karate was definitely different as his move was more circular and fluid. He also created more than 100 kata as he felt the standard 26 JKA kata was not enough. He was flexible and agile even when he was in his 60s so he became my model who I wish to follow and imitate. I plan to train till the day of my last living day and to promote Asai ryu karate around the world.
- Kata is probably the most arguable exercise in karate. Some say that kata is anachronism, others that kata is most important part of karate, but had a hard time explaining why… Can you explain why the kata is so important? Is it not possible to learn how to fight without kata?
OK there are two questions.
- a) Why the kata is so important? B) Is it not possible to learn how to fight without kata?
Let me tackle with the first question. This is a very heavy question and it requires complex answer. Therefore, I have written an essay about this subject, and placed it in my 3rd Shotokan series book, Shotokan Transcendence. As it was a 19 page essay I will not repeat the whole concept here. I will share only the conclusion, that is, we need to train kata to achieve the maximum result in open hand combat. If you are interested in finding the reasons why, please read Chapter 5 under the title of “The reasons why we must preserve our kata”.
The second question is also answered in my essay. The conclusion is yes you can learn how to fight without kata but only to the street fighter level. If you wish to go beyond, you need to train in kata. You will find the details in the same chapter.
- Is there some predetermined bunkai in modern kata, or that’s a field for personal research for each karateka?
First of all, we must know that the possibility of bunkai is infinite. In other words, it can change depending on the circumstances of all variables in the fight. There are some standard or popular bunkai for each kata, but we must not be trapped in them. They are only one example of many or infinite possibilities. As you cannot study or train the infinite number of bunkai situation, one needs to train more to understand the other possibilities. The level of bunkai understanding will also change as one improves his karate skill. Once you achieve the total understanding of kata after repeating it thousands of times, he will be able to use the techniques in kata in any possibilities regardless of the situations and the circumstances. It sounds contradictory but we must practice kata without thinking of bunkai so that we can achieve the skill level that allows all bunkai.
- You are running organisation called “ASAI”. Can you tell more about it?
I am very happy to do so. First ASAI stands for Asai Shotokan Association International. I chose this name because we want to promote budo karate and to remember the name of Master Asai who changed my karate. I was a member of JKS, the organization Master Asai created in the year of 2000. I was a member of JKA for 40 years (1962 to 2002) and I did not want to resign but I had no choice. In order to follow Master Asai’s karate I joined JKS in 2002. I stayed there even after his passing but resigned in 2009 as I felt that JKS was not paying sufficient effort to follow Asai style and feared that his name will be forgotten. After leaving JKS I felt I needed to establish my own organization to accomplish my objective, so I started ASAI five years ago. Our objec
tive is to promote budo karate and also to add the Asai ryu karate to standard Shotokan karate.
What is unique about ASAI is that we focus on budo karate. This means we do not agree with the current trend of karate becoming more and more sport that is promoted by World Karate Federation (WKF). We believe in shobu ippon kumite so ASAI has its own tournament rules which is very similar to the rules JKA used to have. We fear that the watered down karate often found in the WKF tournaments will ruin the true essence of karate and karatedo. This is a sensitive subject so I have a lot to say but I will refrain myself from doing so in this interview. I expressed my opinion and the reasons in another book of mine, Karatedo Paradigm Shift Chapter 14, “Want to win vs do not want to lose”. In this chapter I described what will happen to karate after karate begins its history in the Olympics.
We are also totally non-political, because we consider the segregating politics that are common among the organizations is the cancer of karate. The best way to improve our karate as a whole is to keep the doors open and we exchange our knowledge between the practitioners. The secrecy and the segregation were the products of the
The biggest benefit this organization provides to its members is the direct access to Chief Instructor (me) and also to our Shihankai board. We have a board of 7 senior (6 dan and above) instructors around the world (2 in the US, 2 in EU, 1 each in Japan, Middle East and S. America). With these members combined, you are talking about more than 300 years of karate experience. If any of the members have any technical questions they can ask me and I will get back to them directly with the answers. If I am not sure or unfamiliar with the questions, I contact the Shihankai board to access their knowledge. I know quite a few Japanese karate organizations but none of them provide such a service.
Another unique benefit for the ASAI members is the Online Dojo training and online dan examination. This is something very new and unknown, a lot of people are skeptical and negative. I wrote another essay on this subject and you will find it in Chapter 8: “Is internet dan examination valid?” of Karatedo Paradigm Shift. I have explained about Online Dojo training as well as the online dan examination matters in this chapter.
- We’ve been talking about kata. What was the reason for Asai sensei of creating so many kata?
There are two schools on the number of kata one should learn.
One is to learn and train a few kata intensively. The famous advocate of this school is Motobu Choki (1870-1944), an Okinawan master who competed with Funakoshi in teaching budo karate in Tokyo. He believed in practicing only a few kata, he was popularly claimed that the only kata he had practiced was Naihanchi (Tekki in Shotokan), even though it is documented that he knew other kata. He believed that by mastering a few fundamental kata like Tekki, one can attain all the techniques one needs in a fight.
The other school is to learn and train as many kata as possible. Definitely Master Asai was for this belief. His thinking was the techniques found in the 26 JKA kata are not sufficient. As we all know that Funakoshi changed the stances in many kata. The most critical one is neko ashi dachi in all Heian and some advanced kata. As Master Asai considered neko ashi dachi is critically important he adopted many kata with this stance. He also found the tenshin (body rotation) moves in those 26 kata are not sufficient. In the JKA kata, only a few reverse body rotations are found such as Gankaku and Ji-in. In addition, he felt more open hand and the elbow techniques should be practiced. So, what he did was to make a kata with a certain emphasis of one or two types of techniques. For an example, Rakuyo is a kata with various types of enpi (elbow) techniques, Seiryu is a kata of whip arm techniques, and Kyakusen is a kata with many different kicks including ushiro geri and whip kicks. He feared that by practicing only a few kata, your training will be limited to them. By practicing many different kata one can learn and practice wider variety of techniques and combinations. I agree with him so I added 30 or so more Asai kata in addition to the JKA kata in my kata raptor.
- Don’t you think there is too much sport in modern karate? Everything most people do is for sake of sport. Many techniques never used in competition, and almost forgotten, such as mikazuki geri, shuto, haito, elbows, knees etc…
I agree with you 100%. We believe in budo karate. In our kumite we are not practicing to get a point but rather to achieve a killing technique. I have already stated my position with karate being included in the Olympics. I know we will be a minor group but we will continue to preserve the true essence of budo karate that was brought from Okinawa.
- Is it good idea to use researches of modern sport science in shotokan or knowledges developed by karate masters in the past century is enough?
This is an excellent question. I feel we can always learn something new from different studies. Therefore, I am for using the researches of modern sport science and kinesiology. At the same time, I must warn that many people blindly believe in the modern day science. We must realize it is only one way of understanding the universe including our body. We must not believe that science is always correct and has no limitation. As I stated earlier science is only one way and it can be helpful in understanding some things.
At the same time, we must not be little the teachings and understanding of the ancient masters only because they are old or came from the last century. The genuine truth remains as the truth no matter how old it may be. In many cases, we do not make enough effort to evaluate and discover the true meaning of their teaching. We must spend as much if not more in the study of the old teaching by those ancient masters.
- JKA masters of 50-60 changed shotokan karate drastically. How do you think karate should develop in the future? Maybe there is already some trends regarding this questions?
Yes, it is true that JKA changed Shotokan karate, especially with their kata in the 50s. This is because Nakayama sensei wanted to organize the first All Japan Karate Championship (which came to reality in 1957). Nakayama sensei also inherited the hard and long stance karate from Gigo, the son of Master Funakoshi.
Consequently, some moves in the current kata do not make sense or cannot explain with a doable bunkai. The best example of this problem is the last three hops of Chinte. They added these three hops backward so that the kata performers can return to the starting point. I do not agree with the changes to the kata as they can change the meaning of the techniques as well as the purpose of the kata. I also do not agree with sanbon shobu (3 points matches). Karate is based on one punch sure kill concept. The objective of kumite match became just getting a point these days.
Funakoshi sensei was against the idea of making championship with karate. He passed away in 1957 so JKA could start its annual tournament in that year. I am sure he was against the idea for the same reason I am very much concerned.
Unfortunately, the same thing is, indeed, happening right now. Because the Olympic commission accepted Karate to be one of the events in the 2020 games, JKF (the Japanese branch of WKF) is changing the kata and kumite. There are many changes and I will not list them here but these changes are not good for karate. They are doing this to please the Olympic committees who are interested only in the commercial side of the event. If you look at what had happened to Tae Kwon do, you can easily guess what will happen to Karate if it becomes the regular event.
- Do you practice some other styles of martial arts?
When I started Karate more than fifty years ago, I practiced Goju ryu karate for one year. I also practiced Kyokushinkai (full contact karate) for one year in the early 80s to get an experience of full contact kumite.
I also have picked up Kobudo in the 70’s. I have practiced Nunchaku, Sai, Tonfa, Sansetsu kon (3 section staff), Kyusetsu bin (9 chain whip) and Nanasetsu bin (7 chain whip). I think working with these weapons help understand the movements of our body. Shotokan, unfortunately, dropped Kobudo as the main syllabus. I recommend all the karate practitioners to pick up at least one weapon of their choice to their regular training.
- At the end what can you tell to all who loves shotokan, and who cares about its future.
Thank you for asking this. I am very happy to have this opportunity to express my strong belief and desire with the readers who love Shotokan karate.
First of all, if you love Shotokan karate I must ask you to stay non-political and keep you mind open. The politics or narrow mind should not stop you from associating with the practitioners and instructors from other organizations or styles. We must keep our mind flexible so we can learn something new from everyone.
I love Shotokan but I do not claim Shotokan is the best karate style. Frankly, there is no such a thing as “the best style”. We have only the karateka or instructors who are either bad, good, better or best in their style regardless of the styles. Shotokan practitioners can learn from other styles and other martial arts such as Judo, Kendo, Kenjutsu, Jujutsu, etc. Let us keep our mind open and be willing to learn all the time.
Secondly, I hope all the readers will continue to train (mentally and physically) in the art of karate. Karatedo means the way of life which means practicing Karate not only in the dojo but also in our daily life. I am 70 years old now, but I spend 3 to 4 hours to train my body every morning. This is essential to improve and to keep the water hot as Funakoshi sensei told us in his 20 precepts.
I look forward to having an opportunity to meet you and train together one day in the future. Oss
Here is the link to the actual interview site at Budo Karte Russia: