O Que É Ki? 気とは何ぞや? (Parte 1)

Este é um assunto profundo e complexo. Há um grande número de livros escritos em japonês sobre o assunto, mas infelizmente os artigos e os livros em inglês ou outras línguas (não-chinesas) são raros. Tenho pensado em escrever um artigo sobre esse assunto por muito tempo, mas sempre hesitei, pois ele é muito intrincado. Eu pretendo escrever um artigo mais longo e mais abrangente no futuro, mas para este blog vou cobrir principalmente a parte que está relacionada ao karate e sua relação com a respiração.

Ki exchangeOK, vamos começar. Para muitos dos leitores, Ki pode ser um conceito misterioso e possivelmente duvidoso vindo da Ásia, mas esse não é realmente o caso, e eu gostaria de lançar um pouco de luz sobre o assunto hoje. Em essência, Ki é “a fonte ou a energia que dá a vida”. Em outras palavras, é algo que está nos permitindo viver. Enquanto você estiver vivo, você terá Ki em você como um ser vivo. Quando você morrer, acredita-se que o seu Ki retorna à natureza. Todas as coisas vivas, como animais, insetos e plantas que estão vivos têm o seu próprio Ki. Na verdade, nós japoneses acreditamos que até mesmo matérias não-vivas e objetos na natureza, como pedras, montanhas, lagos, rios, chuva, relâmpago, nuvem, estrelas, etc., têm o seu próprio Ki dentro deles. É por isso que temos feng shui (風水), um sistema chinês de geomancia que busca usar as leis do Céu (astronomia chinesa) e da Terra para ajudar a melhorar a vida ao receber qi ou chi positivo. O termo feng shui se traduz literalmente como “vento-água” em português. Se você estiver interessado nesta arte, você pode conferir na Wikipédia, onde se explicam a sua história e as teorias. O conceito básico vem de diferentes fatores naturais, como por exemplo a ideia de que as direções, e coisas tais como montanhas, rios, etc., possuem diferentes energias. Combinações diferentes têm um impacto positivo ou negativo nas pessoas. Os orientais, particularmente os chineses, levam isso muito a sério, e o feng shui torna-se um dos fatores decisivos quando escolhem uma casa. Isso é muito popular mesmo com os chineses que vivem nos EUA e provavelmente também na Europa.

EinsteinDe qualquer modo, acreditamos que tudo tem a sua própria energia e sua vibração única (波動) chamada Ki (). Este é um conceito profundo, considerando que a física moderna (relatividade especial e geral) veio a perceber apenas um século atrás que tudo no universo é constituído de energia, e a estrutura fundamental assume a forma de vibrações (ondas) criadas pela energia. Mesmo se você não sabe física quântica, você conhece a famosa fórmula de energia de Einstein, E = MC², que ele anunciou em 1905. A equivalência massa-energia é o conceito de que a massa de um corpo é uma medida do seu conteúdo de energia. Neste conceito, a massa é uma propriedade de toda a energia, a energia é uma propriedade de toda a massa, e as duas propriedades estão ligadas por uma constante. Assim, o conceito chinês de 3000 anos não pode ser considerado totalmente infundado ou inacreditável.

Embora o conceito de Ki estenda-se a tudo no universo, vamos olhar apenas para o Ki que está relacionado a nós, as pessoas aqui neste artigo.

Quando olhamos para o nosso corpo, encontramos ondas e padrões diferentes. Os mais óbvios que todos conhecemos são nossas ondas cerebrais. Outro é a pressão sanguínea, que muda em padrões gerais ao longo de um dia. Há outras condições físicas não tão visíveis ou perceptíveis, como a temperatura do corpo e o nível hormonal, que também variam durante um dia. Um ritmo circadiano é algo que você vai notar somente quando viajar uma longa distância cobrindo diferentes fusos horários. Segundo a Wikipédia, um ritmo circadiano é qualquer processo biológico que exiba uma oscilação endógena, induzível por fatores externos [no original em inglês: entrainable oscilation – N. do T.], por cerca de 24 horas. Esses ritmos são conduzidos por um relógio circadiano, e ritmos têm sido amplamente observados nas plantas, animais e cianobactérias. O nível hormonal de uma pessoa muda ao longo das horas e é ligado a um ritmo circadiano, e você pode precisar de uma ajuda de comprimidos de melatonina para ser capaz de dormir durante as suas viagens ao exterior. A maioria desses ciclos e ondas estão intimamente ligados às marés, e ao fato de termos dia e noite.

Assim, Ki é a fonte de energia em nosso corpo que pode afetar as ondas e os ciclos de nossas funções corporais. Todo mundo tem seu Ki, então como podemos aumentá-lo? Na verdade, existem duas maneiras de aumentar a energia em seu corpo. Uma delas é o que todas as pessoas fazem todos os dias, comendo e bebendo. É uma fonte externa. É por isso que sua dieta é importante para a sua saúde. A outra fonte é interna, e trata-se do Ki, que foi descoberto ou reconhecido alguns milhares de anos atrás na China. No mundo ocidental, o Ki não foi descoberto ou reconhecido. Em vez disso, os tratamentos na área mental foram desenvolvidos pela psicologia moderna, notavelmente por Freud e Jung. Ela surgiu apenas a partir de meados do século XIX. Se você sofrer de depressão, o seu médico lhe dirá que você está com uma disfunção na sua química cerebral, então ele recomendará que você tome uma medicação para melhorar o seu humor. Por outro lado, um mestre ou médico em Ki lhe dirá que o seu Ki está fraco (e apontará uma ou mais áreas específicas do seu corpo onde falta o Ki, ou onde o fluxo de Ki está lento ou bloqueado. Ele pode sugerir tratamento com acupuntura ou moxabustão, juntamente com exercícios respiratórios. Esses tratamentos estimularão o Ki local e isso proporcionará um fluxo melhor por todo o corpo. O médico de Ki também pode dar-lhe alguns medicamentos, mas não constituídos por produtos químicos, e sim principalmente por ervas e ingredientes naturais. Esse tipo de remédio é tomado em forma de chá ou sopa.acupuncture

A diferença entre os tratamentos e diagnósticos das duas escolas ocorre não apenas na saúde mental, mas também na física. Quando você tem dor nas costas ou se você sofre algum tipo de alergia, você pode recorrer à acupuntura, moxabustão e/ou tratamentos com ervas. A acupuntura () é famosa mesmo no mundo ocidental. moxaO cautério de moxa ou simplesmente moxa () é provavelmente menos conhecido, mas é um tratamento médico muito popular para muitas doenças na Ásia. Lembro que minha avó costumava colocar uma boa quantidade de moxa sobre os ombros e costas para aliviar suas dores de cabeça, nas costas e as causadas pela artrite. Caso você não conheça a moxa, você coloca fogo em peças que se parecem um pouco com uma vareta de incenso. Ela queima muito lentamente, e na verdade chega a queimar a sua pele, e esses estímulos dão um choque ou injetam uma energia para o ponto de Ki que precisava dessa energia. Eu já experimentei, então eu sei que queima. Eu também experimentei acupuntura, e eu prefiro esta em relação à moxa. De qualquer modo, existem tratamentos médicos mais radicais utilizando Ki. Um deles é a anestesia de Ki e o outro é a operação de Ki. Você pode ter visto os vídeos sobre esses tratamentos. Eles são todos relacionados com Ki e seu fluxo. Eu não vou entrar nesses tratamentos específicos, pois eu não tenho nenhuma experiência com eles e o meu foco neste artigo não é nas aplicações médicas do Ki. Existem alguns relatos extraordinários desses tratamentos, então você pode procurar os vídeos e outros relatos caso esteja interessado.

Eu acredito muito na medicina ocidental moderna e em suas conquistas, então eu não pretendo desconsiderar ou falar mal dos seus tratamentos. Para encontrar um sintoma de câncer, você deve ir a um hospital e tirar um raio-X. No entanto, na área da prevenção, em doenças leves e, especialmente, numa fase inicial da doença, eu acredito, tratamentos naturais e treinamento de Ki podem ser uma escolha melhor e que faria mais sentido adotar. Eu quero enfatizar que eu não sou um médico, então eu não estou qualificado para dar um conselho ou recomendação nessa área.

Tai_chiAcreditamos que nosso corpo é conduzido ou preenchido por ondas e ciclos. Quando eles estão fora de sintonia ou desequilibrados, nós entramos em uma situação ou condição chamada de doença ou enfermidade (física e mental). Assim, os povos antigos criaram várias formas de fortalecer o Ki e manter os padrões estáveis ​​e em equilíbrio. Os métodos incluem o Chi-gong ou Kiko (気功), Yoga, meditação Zen (座禅), Tai chi chuan ou Taijiquan (太極拳), juntamente com alguns estilos de kung fu e algumas outras artes marciais, como o Aikido (合気道).

Eu pratiquei Kiko estilo Nishino em Tóquio durante três anos (1997 – 1999). Eu incluí as experiências que tive no dojô Nishino no meu livro recente, Shotokan Mysteries, por isso não vou repeti-las aqui. Digo apenas que o treinamento envolvia principalmente relaxar os músculos com exercícios de respiração profunda. Permitam-me observar que o Tai Chi pode ser um excelente sistema de construção Ki, mas só quando é ensinado o seu método de respiração correto. Trata-se de uma arte marcial interna praticada tanto pelo seu treinamento de defesa quanto por seus benefícios para a saúde, mas apenas mover-se lentamente não vai garantir a construção de Ki. Isso deve ser feito com um exercício de respiração adequado e em harmonia com os movimentos corporais. Na verdade, considerando apenas o objetivo de construção de Ki, o Tai Chi é um método melhor do que o treinamento de karate. Vou explicar mais adiante por que eu digo isso.

Zen meditation 1Chi-gong, Yoga, meditação Zen e Tai chi chuan são em essência os exercícios de movimentos lentos que estão intimamente ligados à respiração profunda. Você pode se perguntar por que eu incluo a meditação Zen na construção de Ki. Eu percebo o sentido do questionamento, já que não há ações corporais na meditação Zen. Pode parecer que não há movimentos uma vez que os braços e as pernas ficam parados. No entanto, a meditação Zen, se praticada com respiração profunda, requer uma grande quantidade de movimentos com o seu pulmão, diafragma, músculos abdominais e músculos internos. Ao respirar profundamente você vai fortalecer o diafragma e os músculos internos na região abdominal inferior chamada de Tanden (丹田), que é considerada fonte de energia ou armazenamento de Ki.

 

What are Internal system & External system? 内家拳と外家拳とは何ぞや?

I assume the readers already know that there are some categorization measures in martial arts. Each one shows the characteristics that supposedly differentiate one style from another, but the fact is that all the styles contain different amounts of the characteristics of both opposing personalities.  The categorization of a style itself will not bring any positive effect or a merit. The benefit comes only when we understand better about our style and to be able to include some training that will make our style more effective and meaningful.

 

asai (2)So, let us start with a few popular categorization methods. The most common one is probably the differentiation by the long distance 遠距離and short distance 近距離 fighting styles. Shotokan is a good example of the long distance fighting system and Goju-ryu, on the other side, is of the short distance system. Asai ryu karate is based on the standard Shotokan, a long distance fighting method, with an addition of the techniques from a short distance fighting system; White Crane kung fu was incorporated by Master Tetsuhiko Asai. This categorization method is rather obvious and comparatively easy to grasp. I do not believe it needs further explanation on this categorization method.

 

Another popular categorization in karate is Shorin 松林system and Shorei 昭靈system.  Shorin represents the system with the light and fast techniques and this is exemplified by kata such as Enpi, Kanku, Gankaku and Unsu. Shorei is, on the other hand, the system supposedly designed for the larger built karate-ka for the powerful movements and the slower techniques. Jion, Jutte and Sochin are the typical kata of Shorei style. This categorization has been explained by many other writers in the past.  I have my doubts on the legitimacy of this categorization method but I will not touch on it in this article.

One other popular categorization in karate is Naha-te 那覇手and Shuri-te 首里手. Naha and Shuri both indicate the particular regions of Okinawa where the different styles of karate were developed and practiced.  Shotokan belongs to Shuri-te as our style came from the most popular Shuri-te style of Shorin-ryu 松林流. The most popular Naha-te styles are Goju-ryu and Uechi-ryu.

The categorization I wish to focus on in this article is called Internal System and External System. As far as I know this categorization method has not been explained too well to the Shotokan practitioners in the past. Among the Chinese martial arts this categorization method is as popular as the Northern Style and the Southern Style. The Internal System and the External System are written in kanji as 内家拳 and 外家拳 which literally means “inside house (or family) fist” and “outside house (family) fist”. Most of the practitioners now explain the meaning of “inside (family) house” as the internal workings of our body such as breathing and the mental aspect of a martial art.  However, it originally meant “not staying with the family” or “not living in one’s house” but living in a Buddhist temple.  Therefore, a famous Shaolin Temple kung fu (Photo below) and its derivative styles (literally hundreds of them) are called 外家拳, “outside house fist”.

Shaolin kung fuShaolin kung fu 少林拳法 refers to a collection of Chinese martial arts that claim affiliation with the Shaolin Monastery and the style generally emphasize long range techniques, quick advances and retreats, wide stances, kicking and leaping techniques, whirling circular blocks, quickness, agility, and aggressive attacks. Due to numerous Hong Kong movies, Shaolin Kung Fu is well known in the western world. However, there seems to be a lot of misconceptions and false beliefs about this fighting style. I suggest that the readers will learn more about it by reading the Wikipedia page: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shaolin_Kung_Fu

 

The other group, “inside (family) house” or staying with the family means that a practitioner is not a professional monk. This is a group of the fighting methods that are not linked to the Shaolin Monastery.  The famous three styles of the Internal System are Tai chi Chuan 太極拳, Xing Yi Quan 形意拳 and Ba Gua Zhang 八卦掌.  They are classified as “inside house” fist.

 

Tai_chiTai Chi Chuan (photo right) is a slow-motion and meditative exercise for relaxation, health and to a lesser degree self-defense. Tai Chi has gained enormous popularity throughout the world for its health benefits. In Chinese philosophy Tai Chi means the ultimate source and limit of reality, from which spring yin and yang and all of creation.

There are many different styles of Tai Chi from a popular slow motion style mainly for a relaxation and health purpose to a style that has some explosive moves that is better fit for self-defense training. To learn more about Tai Chi Chuan check the Wikipedia page here:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/T’ai_chi_ch’uan

 

形意拳Xing Yi Quan or Hsing I Chuan (photo below) may be a lesser known Internal System or 内家拳 to the karate world but it is one of the best known internal martial arts and is recognized as the most effective fighting style. Xing Yi means “Shape Mind”, and Quan means “Fist”. The name derives from the style’s imitation of the movements and inner characteristics of twelve animals (dragon, tiger, eagle, bear, chicken, hawk, horse, monkey, snake, phoenix, swallow and alligator). The style was created by Marshal Yeuh Fei, a famous general of the Chinese Song Dynasty. One of the purposes of Xingyiquan training, like Taijiquan is aimed to improve Qi or Ki circulation in the body and to maintain health. The training is supposed to build up a level of internal Qi and this leads to the strengthening of both the physical body and the mental body.

For more information on Xing Yi Quan read the chapter in Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Xing_Yi_Quan

 

Ba GuaBa Gua Zhang is one of the three orthodox “internal” styles and the name literally translates to Eight Trigrams Palm. These trigrams are symbols which are used to represent all of the natural phenomena as described in the ancient Chinese text of divination, the Book of Changes (Yi Jing). Zhang means palm as Ba Gua Zhang emphasizes the use of the open hand in preference to the closed fist. Ba Gua Zhang is based on the theory of continuously changing in response to the situation at hand in order to overcome an opponent with the circular and smooth skill rather than brute force. Its embusen is very unique as it is built on complex circular lines and the techniques are delivered not to the direction of the moves but mainly to the center of a circle or a side of a performer (photo right). I personally like this style as its foot work is based on normal walking steps which I really think makes sense. The performer walks with fast steps in circular lines and deliver the techniques while he is “walking”.

To learn more about Ba Gua or Pa-kua, read the chapter in Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Baguazhang

Also, there are many good video clips of Ba Gua kata performance by some elder masters.  Here is a link to my favorite Ba Gua kata called “The old 8 mother palm” performed by Master Sun: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n8agvbyMDkU

 

OK these are all Chinese style martial arts so you may ask “What is the relationship to our karate? “  We need to look at the other interpretation of Internal System and External System. You will see the relationship as we go over the key points of the Internal and External systems according to the second interpretation. I am aware each martial art and karate style has a characteristic of all the categories and the categorization including Internal and External System method any categorization does not clearly divide the styles. By learning the categories and the characteristics I wish to present the general nature of Shotokan and to show the whole perspective so that the readers can understand where our style sits.  With this exercise I hope we can identify the strength of Shotokan as well as the possible areas where it is lacking. The ultimate goal of this article is the knowledge and the better understanding of Shotokan karate and the possible improvement in training as the knowledge would, hopefully, reflect in the training menu.

Let us start with Internal System or styles. This system’s focus is on the practice of such elements as awareness of the spirit, mind, qi (breath, or energy flow) and the use of relaxed leverage rather than brutal muscular tension. While the principles that distinguish internal styles from the external were described at least as early as the 18th century.

Push hands 2Components of internal training includes stance training, stretching and strengthening of muscles, as well as on empty hand and weapon forms. In addition to the solo practice of the forms, many internal styles have basic two-person training, such as pushing hands. A notable characteristic of internal styles is that the forms are generally performed at a slow or normal pace. This is thought to improve coordination and balance by increasing the work load by moving slowly in low stances, and to require the practitioners to pay close attention to their whole body and its weight as they perform a technique. In some styles, for example Chen style of Tai Chi and Ba Gua, there are forms that include sudden outbursts of explosive movements. At an advanced level, the techniques are performed quickly. The ultimate goal is to learn to manage and control the entire body in every movement keeping relaxed with deep, controlled breathing, and to coordinate the body movements and the breathing accurately while maintaining perfect balance.

Let’s look at External styles or System next. External System is characterized by fast and explosive movements. Its focus is on physical strength and agility. External System includes both the traditional styles focusing on application and actual fighting, as well as the modern styles adapted for competition. Shaolin quan have many Wushu (martial arts) forms both with and without weapons that include the aerial techniques and explosive attacks. External styles begin with a focus on muscular power, speed and application. They generally integrate their qigong (Ki training) aspects in advanced training, after the excellent physical level has been reached.

 

From these definitions to which group do you think that Shotokan belongs? I guess the answer is easy. Shotokan definitely has many characteristics of the External System. By learning more about the characteristics of the other system, we can identify the area where Shotokan may be lacking. I hope you can make your karate training more comprehensive by adding some exercises to supplement the missing area. So, where are the areas in Shotokan that are possibly missing? They are probably Ki or Qi training, the breathing exercises and the softer movements. Can you identify if any of these may be missing from your training syllabus?

Breathing 2For the breathing training Hangetsu is an excellent kata through which you can learn to coordinate the kata techniques with breathing. However, you may complain that this is the only kata that was designed for such training in Shotokan. You are correct about this, but once you learn the breathing training idea of this kata, you can apply it to any kata you may know. The best kata to practice the breathing method from the JKA kata line up may be Jion, Jutte, Nijushiho, Meikyo, Sochin to name a few. Regarding the breathing exercise and method, I have written an article on this subject so you are welcome to refer to that article which can be found earlier in this same blog.

 

Ki exchangeOne other training that I consider missing in the standard Shotokan syllabus is Ki or Chi training. This is an important subject that needs to be understood by all the senior karate practitioners. It is also a deep subject that requires a lot of explanation. I also have written about this subject previously (What is “Ki”? and Ki exchange with a tree). If you are interested in the subject I suggest that you will read those articles that can be found in this blog. One more thing I wish to call your attention here, is that deep breathing is closely linked and is critically necessary to Ki training and exercise. Even if you do not understand anything about Ki, when you do your deep breathing exercise, believe it or not, you would be strengthening your Ki at the same time.

As Asai sensei introduced a short distance fighting method to the standard Shotokan karate to make it more effective, you can add the exercises of the Internal System to your Shotokan training syllabus. By doing so, you will be expanding your karate system beyond the standard Shotokan into something more comprehensive that you can call an Internal and External System. I hope this article has raised enough interest in the readers and that you will go out of the box and consider to invest some time and energy to make your karate “better”.

 

Do we need those big knuckles? 拳ダコは必要か?

Kendako 3The big knuckles a karate-ka has developed on his hands are called “ken-dako, 拳ダコ” in Japanese. They are typically developed on the index and middle fingers. Typically, the young karate-ka would proudly show off the bulging and discolored knuckles as a proof of their “hard” training. It is almost like a war medal or a qualification badge. We all know how these knuckles were developed. They became big from the ponding, thousands of times on the piece of karate training equipment called a makiwara. The question I bring up today is if these big knuckles are really necessary for a karate-ka to be called an expert. The thoughts I share with you are purely my own personal opinions. I do not claim what I am proposing is correct but one thing I can say is that I have a very strong opinion about this subject. A makiwara has become an iconic training tool of karate. It seems that every dojo must have at least one makiwara post to claim its legitimacy. Most of the sensei of dojos I have visited almost always showed me their makiwara posts very enthusiastically. Makiwara FunakoshiA makiwara comes in various heights, thicknesses, . and of many different kinds. I have already written a chapter on training with a makiwara in my book, Shotokan Myths. If you are interested in this subject please refer to Chapter 4 in my book (available through Amazon and Kindle). In fact, I must say that makiwara training is one of the most popular topics that the karate-ka wishes to discuss. I am the main contributor of Karate Coaching (www.karatecoaching.com), the worlds most advanced and comprehensive online karate instruction service provider. The editor told me that the demonstration clip of my makiwara training received the most attention. As a conclusion in Chapter 4 of Shotokan Myths, I wrote in essence that the senior yudansha need to graduate from makiwara training and move to the next level of training. I almost wanted to write that makiwara training was no longer needed for the senior practitioners but I decided not to. I was afraid my true meaning would be misunderstood by such a comment. It is true that many senior instructors including the world famous ones are believers of makiwara training. Those instructors include Funakoshi, Shotokan founder, Mas Oyama, Kyokushinkai founder, Tetsuhiko Asai, Asai-ryu karate founder and Higaonna, 10th dan Goju-ryu. Mario_Higaonna_striking_stoneIt is well known that Master Oyama and Higaonna both have huge knuckles. I am not completely against makiwara training. Those masters are professionals as well as karate experts so those knuckles are well fitting and there is nothing wrong with that. After having written that I would still say “no” to the original question; “Do we need big knuckles?” I am sure many readers will wonder why I say this. Probably many of you will argue that by having big knuckles the practitioner’s effectiveness (destruction power) of his fists will increase. One karate-ka told me, “Sensei, a fist with big knuckles is like having a 44 magnum gun. If you have the untrained knuckles you cannot break the bricks or 10 tiles. A fist with the small knuckles would be a 22 pistol.” Even though I am not sure if the analogy is quite accurate, in essence I agree to what he was trying to tell me. Even then I still say we do not need a set of big knuckles in order to be qualified as a senior karate-ka. You do not need more than a 22 pistol to kill an assailant in a standard self-defense circumstance. Let me explain why I claim that we do not need big knuckles. • The biggest myth with huge knuckles is the following. The big knuckles are toughened to the point a fist with those knuckles can knock out any opponent. However, I must say that simply having big knuckles does not necessarily translate into a destructive or scary punch. In the case of a magnum gun it does have tremendous fire power no matter who shoots it. But you must remember it is a gun and a punch is a totally different story. In order to have an effective or devastating punch, one must learn how to punch correctly. A big and toughened fist can be a good tool or at least a scary looking one but it must be backed up by a punching technique to make it work or effective. If your punch is slow or delivered poorly then it will not matter regardless of the size or the hardness of your fist. In fact, if you want something for your self protection it is better or more useful if you would carry a baseball bat or a stick. If you are a professional karate-ka who can train 4 or more hours daily then it is not a problem to punch a makiwara for 15 minutes or even longer . However, I assume that the most of the readers can only train 2 or 3 times a week and each training period must be 90 minutes or shorter. In this situation I hate to see a practitioner spend the valuable 15 minutes pounding on a makiwara. Don’t you think spending that time on kihon or kata is better or more productive for your karate improvement? • Secondly, I do not think the idea of showing off the deformed knuckles bodes well with one of the karate-do values called humbleness. This is the same idea of not showing off one’s blackbelt to the public. When I was in a business meeting in Japan I used to hide or position my hands so that the discolored knuckles would not be visible. It was not because I was embrassed with the fists or felt ashamed of karate training. In Japan the people would easily know what my fists mean and I did not want to intimidate anyone. I may sound as if I’m exaggerating but it would be like placing a knife on a negotiation table. I do not think the sight of big knuckles will bring any pleasure to anyone who are non karate-ka. • The third reason is most important. As we advance in the skill level of karate we need to graduate from the crude punching and overt techniques to more advanced techniques. They are less visible and more like piercing or tapping techniques that are mainly aimed at the kyusho, the critical parts of thebody. The kyusho such as eyes, neck, ears and groin are typically soft and the toughened fits and hands are not necessary to deliver an effective attack. At those targets a fist, a knife hand, the finger tips and a wrist are all effective even if they are not toughened. In addition, once you learn the one-inch-punch technique you no longer need to smash your fist into an opponent to knock him down. Of course this is an ultimate technique but it is not magic and anyone can learn it. • Another reason why I discourage anyone from developing big knuckles is the ill consequence it may cause. I am afraid the deformed knuckles could result in an arthritis symptom when a practitioner gets old. I do not have the medical expertise nor scientific data on this so I would like to receive the input from the readers on this. • Lastly, I am sort of a romanticist. Frankly, I hate to see our fists deformed and making them look like those of a zombie (see the photo below). This is far from beauty and I detest it. Earlier I explained that the toughened fists are not necessary to deliver an effective karate technique. So, why would you want to deform your fists? Kendako 2 Karate is the genetleman’s art and this is exactly what Funakoshi wanted. For those reasons listed above it is my strong belief that the ugly fists do not fit in the art of karate-do. These are my personal opinions and the feelings I have towards Kendako. You are welcome to leave your opinions and thoughts on this subject.

What part of your foot do you use when you turn?

In the past I have received questions from many people, in essence asking something like this; “When we turn, what part of our foot should we use as a pivoting point?” 転身2They specifically asked if they should turn on the ball or on the heel of the foot when they make a body rotation. We all know it is very important for all karate practitioners to be able to turn quickly and smoothly. In fact, I consider this an independent technique. Today I will attempt to provide a short essay to describe my understanding of this technique. I would like to hear back from the readers whether they agree or disagree or don’t care.

Now before we talk about turning, we need to pay attention to and understand two important concepts; “center of mass” and “center of gravity”. They are different but for our discussion they are interchangeable. I will quote some parts from Wikipedia to explain the definitions of the center of mass and the center of gravity.

balance

In physics, the center of mass, of a distribution of mass in space is the unique point where the weighted  relative position of the distributed mass sums to zero. The distribution of mass is balanced around the center of mass and the average of the weighted position coordinates of the distributed mass defines its coordinates. Calculations in mechanics are simplified when formulated with respect to the center of mass. In the case of a single rigid body, the center of mass is fixed in relation to the body, and if the body has uniform density, it will be located at the centroid. The center of mass may be located outside the physical body, as is sometimes the case for hollow or open-shaped objects, such as a horseshoe.

centre-of-gravity.1

A center of gravity (Wikipedia again):

In physics, a center of gravity of a material body is a point that may be used for a summary description of gravitational interactions. In a uniform gravitational field, the center of massserves as the center of gravity. This is a very good approximation for smaller bodies near the surface of Earth, so there is no practical need to distinguish “center of gravity” from “center of mass” in most applications, such as engineering and medicine.

So I have a choice for the term and I will use the center of gravity in my discussion. To shift the body even to take a simple step, you need to shift the center of gravity. Believe it or not, you cannot simply stand up from a chair if your head is prevented from shifting forward. Try the following experiment; have your friend sit up straight in a chair and you place the tip of your index finger on his forehead and prevent him from leaning forward. Challenge him to stand up and see if he can. You will find that it is impossible for him to stand up normally until you let go of his forehead.

 Bones of the footFirst of all, do you know exactly how your foot is constructed? If you don’t know how your racing car is constructed you will never be a world class race car driver. The principle is the same with our body though our body construction is much more complex and precise than a racing car or even the most advanced jet fighter. Here is an illustration of our foot. You probably had some idea that the bone structure of your foot looked like this. However, I suspect you have not paid close attention to the finer details of the bones that make up this precise mechanism called the foot. The human foot and ankle is a complex mechanical structure containing 26 bones, 33 joints, 19 muscles and tendons, and 107 ligaments. The precise numbers are not important. What is important is the you realize that your foot is made of a very complex construction. The muscles and the ligaments are around these bones so that you can make numerous precise movements with your foot. One of those precise movements is walking. It is not possible to do a simple walk without the harmonious workings of the muscles, tendons and ligaments of our feet. I am always so impressed and truly thankful whenever I study the mechanism of our body. Don’t you agree that it is really a work of a genius and that our body, indeed, is a master piece?

 ASIMO (1)Believe it or not the first human like robot that could walk like us became possible only in the year 2000. A robot called ASIMO (Advanced Step in Innovative Mobility, photo right) was designed by Honda and introduced in October 2000. I wanted to mention this because the precise mechanism of bi-pedal walking is unique. Bi-pedal walking (and leaving the front legs or hands free) was necessary for the Homo sapiens to set themselves apart from the other primates. Bi-pedal walking can be easily perceived as a simple body movement but it is incredibly complex and difficult to be imitated by a machine. I have covered this topic in one of my books so I will not repeat it in this article. The point I want to emphasize is that we must never think light of the abilities of our body that were given to us.

 Dance turnBack to the original question…What part of our foot do we use when we turn? My answer is that there are basically three different ways to turn and the part you will use will depend on the situation. One situation is a turn in position or an in place bodily rotation (photo left). In this case you will line up the center of gravity through one leg (pivoting leg), hips, torso, and shoulder area and all the way up to the center of your head. If you can line up all these parts as straight as possible then your turn can be smooth and fast. This turn is often used in dancing, figure skating and gymnastics to name a few. A body rotation technique can be found in various karate katas such as; Kanku dai, Gankaku, Junro Yondan, etc to name a few. If you are familiar with these katas you will know which parts of the kata require the rotation. In these cases, you need to use the part that is directly below your shin bones. Again take a look at the illustration of a foot (below). 

Foot bonesYou may have a misconception that the lower legs were made up of only one bone. Actually, there are two bones; the tibia and fibula. There are two so that you can rotate and move your foot just the same as we have two bones in our forearm to move and rotate our hand. As shown in the illustration they are not positioned in the center of your foot. The ankle is the point where these bones are connected and we now know the ankle is located nearer to the heel than to the toes. We also notice that there is an arch and that the foot is concaved inward in the midsection of the foot. This means there is no protruding point directly under the ankle to turn on. This makes it extremely difficult to turn at the best point, directly underneath the ankle. So most dancers use the heel part or the contact point of the bone called calcaneus. However, it is difficult to keep the balance if the rotation is complex or multiple, so as an alternative they can use the ball of the foot, the area underneath the third joints of the toes. Turning on the ball of the foot requires much more precision but we have the tools (joints and muscles) to control the turn and balance with the front part of the foot. The area of the ball of foot is rather large (illustration below).

the-ball-of-the-fooThe senior professional dancers would use only one spot (the best spot will be under the middle toe though some may choose under the big toe because it is usually the strongest toe) but the inexperienced dancers may float the spinning point across the foot which results a slower and a poorly balanced turn.

 For an in-place rotation, the area underneath the ankle is the most recommended spot as it gives the best balance for the simple rotations that are found in most of the kata. However, we have discussed and pointed out that this method is the most challenging and most difficult one to use. I propose to the readers as the best alternative is to use the heel. I recommend the readers should try to bring the turning point as close to the spot directly under the ankle.

Sorry to have started with the most challenging technique. There are two other turning methods that are easier and you are probably already doing them. To turn as you are moving forward (for instance the left gedan barai move after the first ki-ai in Heian Shodan), you will want to use the ball of the foot. As I have mentioned earlier the center of the foot (third joint) is the best specific pivoting part in the foot. In a standard Shotokan dojo I suspect that you were taught to keep our body up right when you shift your body. As you advanced in your training, you might have found that it is better to lean your upper body slightly to the direction of your turn. By doing this you found that you can move faster and smoother. The first move of Bassai dai may be an excellent example. Even though an excessive amount of incline would be counterproductive, you want to incline slightly towards the turning side. Let’s take an example of the move I mentioned above in Heian Shodan after the first ki-ai. You want to incline slightly to the right as you turn from the right zenkutsu to left zenkutsu gedan barai. Football turnIn this turning you may use a different part of your foot. It is still the ball of the foot area but maybe closer to or at the edge of the right foot. This requirement is the same with any other physical activities such as football. See the player in the photo right. He is inclining to his right as he makes a quick right turn. If you can expand the right foot area of the photo you can see that the runner is turning on the ball of the right foot and at the little toe side of his foot. Football has much more complex running and foot movement requirements in its play than in the karate kata. Thus, we cannot adopt the steep incline they use but the concept or objective of quick and smooth turn is the same. This will require a fine aligning of your foot to the leg bones. You may ask why. Take a look at the illustration of the leg bones (left). Leg bonesJust to line up the leg you have to pay attention first to the hip joint, then the knee joint and the ankle in addition to the numerous other small joints in your foot. This is only in your leg. For the entire body, you have the joints of many other parts of your body but for our discussion let’s focus on the leg area alone. What is the key for a good turn? Simply put, the fewer joints you use in your body alignment the easier you can keep the balance and turn smoothly. It does not take a rocket scientist to understand this logic. Let’s look at a top which you must have played with when you were a child. It can demonstrate a beautiful spin or rotation. 独楽As you know the axis is straight and short. But imagine if the axis was long and made of several pieces that were not lined up straight. How about if those pieces are not firmly connected? Can such a top spin? That is almost how our body is constructed. Now you know why it is difficult for us to spin. Look at the illustration of the foot again and you can see that the bone structure of the heel area is much simpler. The front area that covers the toes is much more complex. This is natural as we normally walk forward and less frequently backward. Then, can we do a turn moving forward using the heel part of our foot? Yes, it is possible so you can. You may feel more stable by turning on the heel, however, turning on the ball of the foot will give you a much faster turn.

Then what is the third method? You can easily guess that it is a turn as you move backward. Remember the third move of Heian Shodan? After the second move (right chudan oizuki) you will step back with your right leg and turn 180 degrees to make right zenkutsu with right gedan barai. What part of your foot do you think that you will use to do this turn? Yes, this was an easy question. Most of you probably said “heel”. As you step back it is natural and easy to shift the center of gravity to the heel. One word of caution on a heel use. The heel area (calcaneus) is a simple bone structure and it is a blessing in one way. At the same time, it can make your turn more challenging. The heel area is simple without the joints and ligaments. This means you are unable to do the fine tuning that can be done with the ball of the foot area. To master the heel area turning, you will need to do a lot of practicing and learn how to be stable and well balanced during the turn.

 Asai demo jumpTo be able to execute the most effective body turns in your karate, you need to be able to manage all three different turning methods. A turn may look simple but the mechanism to deliver the most effective turn certainly is not. A good turn is important in all athletic games. So I’m sure you’ll agree that it is also extremely important in karate if you happen to be serious with perfecting your techniques. Shotokan is labeled as a linear or straight movement martial art. If you look at our kihon it may look linear but when you observe the expert Shotokan practitioners perform we all witness our karate is filled with circular techniques and body movements. Asai ryu karate is a great example of this as it adopts many tenshin (body rotation) techniques.

Did I give you too much information? Maybe so, but it will make more sense to you as you read this article several times. You may think this information was written only for the advanced practitioners or the instructors. Even though I want the instructors to read the information written here, I was also thinking of the beginner and the intermediate level practitioners. It is better for the beginners to learn the techniques correctly at the early stage of their training. As you known once you form a habit it will be very difficult to change or correct later. The ability to turn correctly is much more important than most practitioners give a credit for. When you play basketball, football or tennis, isn’t a superior turning ability important and necessary? If so, then why not in karate? To improve your karate you know that you need to practice all three K elements of karate; kihon, kata and kumite. Regardless of which K element you may be practicing, one of the key requirements for your improvement is that you master the techniques of perfect turning. Good training.

The art of perfect shaving

Today I will discuss about the art of shaving.  I am not joking about the art part of this activity most men need to engage in it daily. Yes, I am very serious that there is an art to the handling of a razor.  If you happen to use an electric razor then this may not apply as well as a regular blade razor. One high ranking western sensei commented after he heard about my idea, said that “Shaving is only shaving and there is no art in it”. I am afraid he does not understand the depth of the art that could extend to small actions such as shaving. ShaverHere is a photo of my razor (left).  It is a popular brand and an inexpensive two blade razor. I do not know how long you can keep using the same razor but a friend of mine told me his razor lasts barely one month before he tosses it. Believe it or not, mine lasts for more than two years (yes “years”) and I suspect that is probably longer than the time of most if not all of the readers. The razor I am showing here on the left is more than a year old now and is a little dirty but it will continue to give me a nice shave at least one more year. My beard is stiff and coarse so my razor gets normal use. I use the same razor for a long time, certainly not because I am stingy. I do throw one away, but only when it stops giving me a good shave. Any razor can last that long if you use it correctly. Needless to say that I am not sharing the art of perfect shaving so that you can save money. I am sure that may not motivate you enough to read this article. Then, why am I doing this? Let me tell you that the techniques that are used in a perfect shaving are connected to the core concept and the techniques of martial arts, certainly including karate. Now I hope this statement will capture your attention. My claim may be difficult for some of you to believe right now so I ask that you continue to read till the end of this article. At the end you can decide if what I am telling you makes sense or if it is a bunch of BS. 

Obviously the razor I have is something I bought in a common drug store and it must be very similar to the ones you use. So the difference is not the tool itself, but it is the method or the technique that is different. The first secret of perfect shaving rests in how you hold a razor. IncorrectPic 1 (left) shows a standard holding method which I suspect similar to how you hold yours.  The way I hold my razor is shown in Pic 2 (two finger method, below right). I hold the end of the handle only with my thumb and the index finger.  This is an expert holding method and I know it will be very difficult for you to get any shaving done with this method. ExpertTo start the perfect shaving lesson I recommend that you hold the razor as depicted in Pic. 3 (three finger method, below left) where you will hold the end of the handle with your thumb and the middle finger and put a small pressure on the back of the handle with the index finger.  Shaver holding 3Once you get used to this method of holding the razor, believe it or not, you will have a better control of the razor with this method. Just try it!

Before we go into the actual technique of shaving, let us look at other arts and physical activities that are both Japanese and non-Japanese. Here I wish to elaborate the correlation of the holding techniques between the razor and other tools.

The first one is the Japanese writing brush.  After looking at some of the artistic Chinese writing I am sure you agree that you will see an art when you look at the brush writing with beautiful strokes (an example on the right).漢詩 1

So, how do you hold a brush? Onestandard holding method is shown with Pic A. You keep the brush vertically and write the letters. The holding method here is similar to how you hold a pen or a pencil so you are not surprised with this. How to hold a brush 1However, when you go into more artistic or sophisticated writing an artist may hold a brush in the way shown with Pic B. Isn’t this similar to the holding method of a razor I suggested earlier? Interesting, isn’t it?OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA (Pic A left, Pic B right)

   

                             

 

Many of the readers probably like Japanese food such as sushi and tempura, and you may frequent Japanese restaurants. There you have an option to eat with a knife and fork or a pair of chop sticks, hashi or ohashi.

Holding ohashi wrongHolding ohashi correctly            How to hold chop sticks by a chef

                      Pic C                                         Pic D                                             Pic E

The degree of skillfulness with chopsticks seems to indicate how much a person likes the Japanese food. If you are a first time visitor you may have to resort to a crude method (Pic C) so you can eat (survival mode, I guess). Eventually you will develop the skill of holding a pair of ohashi in an acceptable manner (Pic D). Take a look at another photo (Pic E); this is a photo of a Japanese tempura chef, a professional in the art of Japanese food. Notice that he holds the very top part of the chop sticks. We just saw the way to hold a brush pen and here is a way with a pair of chop sticks. Wouldn’t you agree that to do a fine job with a small tool it is better to hold it at the end and work it from the end? I hope so but it is ok if you are still not fully convinced. You can experiment with a pair of chop sticks, a brush pen or a razor. They are all cheap and very common so the experiments are easy to do.

While you are experimenting with these small tools I want to move on to other tools that are somewhat larger and heavier. As I am trying to tie this subject to the martial arts let’s look at a Japanese sword, the katana.

Now I confess that I have never learned Iaido or Kenjutsu. Thus, I am not an expert in this matter. However, I have trained with Kobudo weapons such as Sai, Nunchaku, Tonfa, etc. thus I know that the fundamental method of holding a weapon is similar.刀の持ち方 Here is a photo showing how to hold a sword. Notice the front hand (photo right). Pay very close attention to the thumb and the index finger. As you can see they are not holding tightly, a key point. By the way, do you remember when you first learned how to make a fist when you joined a karate club? If the instructor taught you correctly he must have told you to start bending the little finger first and tightly, then the ring finger then middle finger (see hand photo, left). 拳の握り方After those three fingers are held tightly you will bend your index finger last then complete a fist by placing the thumb over the index finger lightly. I hope the instructor told you to squeeze the little finger and the ring finger tightly but not so tightly with the middle finger and even loser with the index finger and the thumb. Of course, this is a fist you make at kamae or yoi. When you punch an opponent or a makiwara you will tighten all the fingers but only at the impact time and the fist will be held loosely again after the impact. The concept here should be similar or the same when handling a sword. Hold a sword tightly with the little finger and the ring finger. The middle finger is here to give support. The index finger and the thumb are used for managing or handling the sword. If you are a kenjutsu or iaido expert and if my understanding of a sword holding is incorrect please let me know. However, I assume I am correct as that is the way in my kobudo training.

Golf club no mochi kataI want to bring in another interesting fact with a very popular sport called golf.  The photo (right) shows how to hold a golf club. I am not an expert in this sport either. I suspect some of the readers may be very experienced in it and they can tell me if what I am saying here is correct or not.  I understand that you are supposed to hold the club tightly with your left hand but not as tightly with the right one. As you can see in the photo, you are to hold the club ever so gently with your right hand. Take note that your thumb and the index finger are positioned very similarly to the right hand that holds a sword (photo shown earlier). Is this a coincidence? No, I don’t think so. Though the motion of the arms are quite different between those two arts (I am daring to call golf an art as it can be), the basic concept of holding the tools, a sword and a golf club is the same. This suggests an art of swinging a long object in a precise manner requires the same physical positioning and control.  

how-to-hold-violin-bowI believe the basic concept of holding other long objects, such as cue stick (billiards), a violin and cello bow must be the same or similar as the mechanism of our body is the same no matter what activities we may do (see the photo left). Here the little finger is not used much to hold the bow as it is not heavy.  I suspect it is used more for a balance and the control of the bow. If you are a violin or a cello player maybe you can send me your comments if my understanding is correct or incorrect.

As the golf swing is totally different from a sword handling let me bring out another art (?), Chopping wood or cutting. I believe this will be an excellent comparison as its mechanism quite resembles that of sword cutting. The wood cutting activity is not very popular in the warm regions of the US such as California but I understand that it is a very popular and important part of normal life activity in the cold countries such as Canada, Norway and Sweden. I love to hear feedback from those who chop wood regularly after reading my article.

So here is the tool, an ax (right). Ax no mochi kataThe weight distribution is different but its average weight is closer to a real sword than a bokken (wooden sword) or shinai (bamboo sword) used in kendo. A while ago I had thought this might be an interesting subject to investigate if there is any co-relationship of this activity to kenjutsu, the art of Japanese sword. So, here is what I found. The wood cutting I am discussing here is not used to cut down a tree but to chop a large wood piece into the smaller pieces for a wood burning purpose.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAfter identifying the tool, we need to discuss how to hold the tool which is a part of the art and I have mentioned this before. It is important as it will help you get the best or, should I say, the most efficient cut by holding the tool correctly. What do I mean by “best” and “most efficient” cut? It means you hit the center of a wood piece every time and cut it in one strike. Of course, you will not miss any chop as it is a waste of your energy. “Best” also means that you will not get tired even if you continue to cut the wood all day long and moreover the efficient activity does not give you a sore back, shoulders, legs and arms. If you can do this then you can say that you raised this activity to an art level and it will no longer be a chore but something you will enjoy doing. OK so you understand the objective. Let’s go back to holding an ax. jigenryu kamaeSome people hold it above a shoulder like the photo above. The stance shown in the photo right is called hasso no kamae, one of the main kamae in kenjutsu. So, you may want to believe that holding an ax in a similar way is the best. I am sorry but I do not believe that is the case for chopping wood.            

It is very obvious when you think of how you will cut the opponent with a sword. The typical sword cutting line is diagonal. Why? Obviously it is better to cut one’s neck than hit him right on top of the head. So, in most tameshi giri (cutting demonstration) you see the bamboo stick or a bounded straw stick positioned in a vertical manner and the demonstrator cuts it diagonally (Photo left). 試し斬りBut do they not have a tameshi giri with the sword cutting straight down? Yes, in fact at one of the shrines in Japan, Nakamura Jinja, a demonstrator cuts a cinder block (Photo below right).ブロック斬り

OK if you cut it straight down how would you hold a sword? It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that you hold it straight up above your head. In one of the famous kenjutsu styles, Jigen ryu (popular in Kyushu), they practice the sword swing by striking a log like we punch a makiwara. The only difference is the log is held horizontally (Illustration left) while our makiwara is up vertically as you know.  (Note: this kenjutsu training method is believed to be the origin of makiwara that was invented in Okinawa.) Jigenryu illustrationNow notice the position of the sword in the drawing (left) as it is important and I wish to go further on this particular subject. If the kamae of kenjutsu is in this manner, am I suggesting that we should hold an ax in the same way? Yes, that is exactly what I am proposing. I know it is a daring proposal as I am not a sword expert but also have never studied kenjutsu in my life before. In addition, my experience in cutting wood is very limited. Then, how can a person of an amateur background in these fields like myself propose something like this?

Am I just guessing or BSing? I certainly hope not. I am quite confident about this and I am explaining how it should be performed from the understanding of kinesiology as well as the budo requirement that demands the most effective body movements. What do I mean by the most effective body movements? It simply means a technique must not only be fast, powerful and accurate but also it must also be most energy efficient. In other words, swinging a sword only with a brutal force is not considered a budo approved movement. The beauty or the art part of kenjutsu comes from an efficient body movement that utilizes the minimum amount of muscle power leveraged by the help of gravity and balance/off balance mechanism. I have already written a separate article on balance/off balance mechanism under the title of Unstable Balance so I will not go into this area at this time.

Makiwari kamaeHere let us look at some of the examples of the inefficient or poor wood cutting techniques. First, look at the photo on the right and compare to the illustration above; how a Jigen ryu sword practitioner would hold a sword. Very similar, isn’t it? Let’s examine this guy’s kamae on the right. The stance is good as the feet are placed about a kiba dachi distance. However, holding position of the ax is not the most desirable as it is not held straight up and the handle is leaning backward. Why is this bad? From this position he needs to lift the ax to the highest level before he can bring down the ax to the wood which is an unnecessary move. He needs to use the muscles of the shoulders, back, arms and all other related body parts. Therefore, he needs to hold the ax upright like a kenjutsu drawing (earlier illustration). This is a very accurate drawing as it shows the man holding his sword vertically. The sword itself is quite heavy despite it is not top heavy like an ax. Holding it vertically like this is most efficient.

Worst kamaeIf you look at the next photo, Pic F (a young guy on the left), you quickly realize why this kamae is not in accordance with budo method. You can easily guess that this person will run out of his energy after 30 minutes of wood chopping. In addition he will probably wake up next morning with soreness in his shoulders, arms and back. OK what is wrong with the guy in Pic G (below)? Makiwari 1It is obvious as you can guess he will have a sore back. As he chopped he leaned his upper body forward. He was in fact too far away from the wood piece. He used lot of his arms, shoulders and back muscles to bring the ax down. After one hour of this exercise he will have a bad pain in his lower back and possibly in his right shoulder when he gets up the very next morning. Let’s look at Pic H (a lady with a hat). Makiwari black beltHow is she doing? She is doing much better, isn’t she? I assume at her kamae she had the legs stretched and she brought the ax down using its weight and she went into a shiko dachi as the ax hit the wood piece. Comparingher to the man in Pic G her right arm is much closer to her body (good point #1) and her hands were closer to each other (good point #2). Of course, I do not know if she held the ax straight up at her kamae but her chopping action is much more effective and energy efficient. If she did not bend her back that much I would call her wood chopping art an expert level. If she continued chopping all day she will have the pain in the lower back the next day. In addition, her feet are pointing outward (shiko dachi) which means the falling energy would dissipate to the other direction instead of focused to the target, the wood piece. Apparently she is not a Shotokan practitioner so unfortunately she did not know the benefit of kiba dachi.

Let me show you some photos, I believe, that demonstrate expert wood chopping.Makiwari

In the photo (Pic I on the left) you can see an excellent kamae with a naihanchi stance (a bit shorter than kiba dachi) with the knees slightly squeezed inward and the ax handle seems to be held up very vertically. The hands are held with some distance but I assume she will bring them closer as she drops the ax down. Yes, she will almost literally drop the ax as she will not use too much of her arms and shoulders muscles when she chops the wood piece. In other words, what she will do is to just let the ax fall towards the wood piece. Finish cuttingDuring the process she will use her hands and arms only to guide the ax so that it will hit the wood piece accurately. The photo on the right (Pic J) shows exactly how you want to drive the ax through the wood by bending your knees deeply as you can see in this photo. You notice that the wood cutter’s stance looks like an excellent kiba dachi. You also notice that his back is not bent forward too much and that his hands are held closely together. I can assume he just did an expert level of wood cutting by leveraging the gravity of the ax. As a result he used a minimum amount of his strength or his energy. Using this method he can probably cut the wood pieces all day long without getting ever tired and he will not have any back or shoulder aches the next morning.         

zanshinWhen you become a real expert you can get down to this depth shown in Pic K (on the left) and use the full gravity of the ax as well as the body weight. Look how straight his back is. He will not have any backache afterwards for sure. He can continue to chop all day long without getting tired. Of course you must have the strong legs to do the expert level of Pic K but most people can develop their technique to Pic I and J level.

What do you think of this method? If you regularly cut wood I would like you to try this and get back to me if this method made any difference in your activity.

The budo method of efficient moves can apply to almost all the bodily functions in our daily life. I suggest that you will re-evaluate how you walk, sit, drive (read my article of “Jidosha Dojo”), play golf, play any musical instrument, etc. and see if your moves are in accordance with the budo method. Wouldn’t you agree that most of the time we can tell if a driver is an experienced one or a student driver by looking at the way he sits and holds a steering wheel?

We have digressed a lot so let’s go back to the art of perfect shaving. You heard that the method of holding a tool is important. You saw the pictures of how a razor can or should be held but you would wonder if this is the end of the technique. No, I have not covered the actual technique of perfect shaving yet. Holding a razor correctly is only a start.

Finally, let me explain the shaving method. Not to disappoint you but it is quite simple. You remember that you need to hold your razor very lightly with two or three fingers. Now here is the secret. You will go over your face with it like you would pet your face with a feather. It almost sounds like a commercial. Feather shaverIn fact, there is a company with that very name that produces razor blades for the older type razor (right). Using “Feather” for the company name, I suspect that the founder of that company must have known how to shave correctly. However, you may complain that you can’t shave your beard well if you do it as I explained. That is true but that is exactly what is expected. The idea here is not to chop the beard from the root with one stroke. You are expected to go over the face surface many times and to cut the beard little by little in a gradual manner. Why is this necessary? 

Both shaving methods; crude or artful will give you a shave but the artful method will not cut your face. After shaving have you ever had to put the pieces of tissue on your face to stop the bleeding? I suspect you have. shaving-cutsNow is this a big deal? It should be if you claim yourself a martial artist. I do not know about you but I consider it as a part of self-defense. Maybe my definition of self-defense is much broader than yours but it includes preventing or avoiding all accidents from a simple shaving cut to a serious car accident. I also include avoiding sickness and illness as a part of my self-defense objectives. From this perspective, a perfect shaving will not draw blood and moreover it will not give you a skin irritation or a rash after shaving. If you shave close to your skin with much force the blade will shave not only your beard but also your skin. Even if you do not shave off your skin the root of your beard will be pulled with your shaving action and that causes an irritation as your face skin is very sensitive. You can check this by applying some after shave on your face. If it burns your face skin then you shaved too hard.

Even if you do not agree on the self-defense part, just think of a consequence of having the cuts and the rashes on your face daily. I certainly think that will age your face skin much faster. I guarantee that a perfect shaving will help you stay looking young and healthy. It is up to you to decide if this benefit is good enough to motivate you to learn the art of perfect shaving.

 

 

                       

  

 

  

 

                 

    

        

 

A Small (?) Mystery of Heian Shodan 平安初段の小さな(?)謎

This is about a small mystery that some western instructors have wondered about in the past, so I want to share my thoughts on this unique point in Heian Shodan.

The question is the 4th movement, migi jodan tate mawashi kentsui uchi. No, I am not talking about its bunkai. kentsui tate uchiThe question is why we do not have this technique after the first gedan barai, the first movement. In other words, some of these western instructors thought an identical technique of jodan kentsui uchi was missing between move #1, left gedan barai and #2, right chudan oi zuki. By having this technique here Heian Shodan would become truly symmetrical and complete, wouldn’t it? So, was this technique forgotten or taken out by mistake? Let us check the old textbook, Funakoshi’s Karatedo Kyohan 空手道教範. I am sure you will find the same result; this “missing” technique is not there. Let us check Pinan Nidan (our Heian Shodan) in Shito-ryu and Shorin-ryu. I find that the questioned technique is not there either. We must conclude that this kata was created that way by Master Itosu 糸洲  (in the late 19th century). If this is the case, then there is a bigger puzzle. Why did he purposely skip or neglect a technique there and made this kata unbalanced? A hint is the key word of “symmetry”. This is a very western concept of beauty, correctness or completeness. On the other hand, in Japan, believe it or not, we consider it totally opposite.

The Japanese people do not consider symmetry and perfectly balanced geometry correct or beautiful. They even consider them wrong and ugly. I know most of the readers will have an issue with my statement and perhaps disagree with it.

Let me show you some examples.

Ikebana blue printIkebana 4                            

                     Pic 1                                                                                              Pic 2

One of the Japanese arts that has been exported to the world is Ikebana 生け花(the art of flower arrangement).  Picture 1 is not a diagram of kata enbusen. Would you believe this is from a textbook of Ikebana? It is to show the basic structure of the flowers or how they should look when they are arranged. Pic 2 shows the actual flowers and the arrangement and you can see the arranger has used the off balanced and unsymmetrical format as instructed in a textbook. I do not know anything about Ikebana and I have never taken any lessons but I can explain to you why this must be this way as I know the mentality or the sense of beauty the Japanese perceive. We know that nothing in nature or anything natural in this world is symmetrical. In other words, anything that is symmetrical is artificial which the Japanese consider imperfect and not pretty. Ikebana, the flower arrangement is an artificial decoration using the thing of nature, the flowers. Of course, the flowers themselves are beautiful and the flower arrangement, the artificial deed, must not destroy or decrease the beauty. To keep the beauty of the flowers the Japanese choose to arrange them in an off balanced and unsymmetrical way. Does that make sense?

Here is another example. Take a look at the tea cups below. Another famous Japanese art is Sanoyu, the traditional tea ceremony.

Pic 3 is a tea cup used in Sado 茶道. See how the shape is purposely uneven and not round and far from symmetry? Even the design or coloring looks almost like it was done with some errors. I do not have the price list on this but I am sure it is as expensive if not more than a perfectly shaped Royal Worcester tea cup shown in Pic 4.

湯呑

Royal Worcester tea cup

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                      Pic 3                                                                               Pic 4                    

The concept of beauty is the same. We cherish what is natural and not artificial or perfect looking shape. I am not comparing the beauty here or who (Japanese or westerners) are right or better. I am simply showing you the different concept of the Japanese that is deeply embedded in their hearts and even in their life style.

Here are two photos of kimonos. One on the left has a general design of natural scene. The flowers on the left and right sleeves are designed differently. Look at the design of the photo on the right. The imbalance or difference between left and right is very significant. I believe this concept is quite different from that of the western world particularly that of the traditional concept.

      Kimono 2Kimono design     

                                              

Interestingly, the ukiyoe 浮世絵 (photo below) the artists of the Edo period (17th and 18th centuries Japan) such as Utamaro and Sharaku had much influence on the western artists who are classified as the impressionists of the 19th century.

浮世絵Seascape


 

Some of these famous painters include Monet, Renoir, Cezanne, Matisse, Pissaro, Gogh and many more. The academic painting method was to draw as accurately as it is perceived by a painter but the impressionists “violated” the rules as they put more emphasis on the feelings and the impressions they get from the real objects and scenes. I assume, these painters came to realize that it was impossible to copy the reality perfectly with their brushes. The Japanese artists knew this for many centuries and they perfected their impressionist painting style in the Edo period.

 I can go on and show you many more examples from the Japanese culture but let me share with you only a few more examples that are much bigger than a flower arrangement or a tea cup. When you visit Japan many of you wish to visit some exotic Shinto shrines as they look very Japanese and the pictures of yourself ina gi in front of a shrine looks great (though the Japanese visitors may not appreciate it). Almost all of you are not visiting there to pray but just to marvel at the beauty of the structure and maybe the famous statues of A-un 阿吽. I would say this is a perfect example of showing the concept of ying and yang. A-un literally means an inhalation () and exhalation () of breathing. The term is also used in Shinto and Buddhist architecture to describe the paired statues common in Japanese religious settings, the Nio 仁王 (photo right) and the komainu 狛犬 (guardian lions, left).

Koma inu

1niou 

The concept of A-un is very interesting and deep. If you wish to learn more, read on this subject in Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A-un

The concept of imbalance or unsymmetrical extends to the concept of building a large structure such as a shrine.  Here is a blue print of a shrine that was built more than half a century ago (Pic 5). The main part of the building is symmetrical but you can tell the whole building is not as you take a look at the structures that extend to both sides of the main building. The right structure is completely different from that of the left. Let’s take a look at a blue print of a church (Pic 6) and see how it is planned to be built. Here is one from Saint Thomas More Church in Darien, Connecticut. I thought it was an interesting coincidence that the Japanese shrine’s name is Dairen and the location of the Church is in the town of Darien Connecticut. The similarity certainly stops there. If you can find the original photo on the web, you can expand the blue print of the church. Even from the photo below you can see that it is beautifully symmetrical. The right side structure is almost a perfect copy of the left or vice versa. The only difference is probably the restrooms (one on the left is the Men’s and the one on the right is the Women’s).

Dairen Shrine

St Thomas More Church 

                             Pic 5                                                                                             Pic 6  

 Now, do you agree with my conclusion for the imperfection of Heian kata that it was placed on purpose? 

I can almost feel how Itosu felt when he created Heian Shodan more than 100 years ago. It would had been a very boring kata if it did not have that one particular technique, jodan kentsui uchi. In other words, that move was a little spice to this kata. In fact, you will find, if you examine Heian closely, that some of the key techniques are being practiced only on one side (for instance, chudan nukite in Nidan and Sandan). You will find this not only in Heian but in all kata. You may want to review all the kata you know from this perspective and you will discover that none of them are perfectly symmetrical. You would probably think, “OK I understand the concept of the beauty by the Japanese people, but this is karate kata. Shouldn’t the kata being designed so that we can practice these techniques on both sides?” This is true, isn’t it? Your puzzled thought is understandable but the Okinawan masters had the answer. Master Itosu and other masters created kata purposely unsymmetrical to remind us that the students must practice gyaku kata (mirror image). Unfortunately, the practicing gyaku kata has not been exercised by all Shotokan dojos. In my dojo all brown belts are required to practice gyaku Heian kata and one of those kata will be required at their kyu exam. I also ask the black belts in my dojo to practice gyaku kata of all 16 Shotokan kata. Tekki may not be too challenging but try Bassai dai and Kanku dai in a mirror image. If practicing gyaku kata is not a part of your training syllabus, wouldn’t you want to include at least gyaku Heian kata and get the most out of these kata?

kata mirror image

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kuro Obi 黒帯 (Faixa Preta) traduzido por Samir Berardo

Quando você ouve o termo “faixa preta”, tenho certeza de que significa mais do que apenas uma faixa de cor preta para você. Para os praticantes de karate significa o nosso orgulho e muitos anos de treinamento duro. Para os não-praticantes, pode significar grande habilidade em karate ou uma pessoa perigosa, o que nós achamos engraçado.

Kuro Obi

Por causa do filme, Kuro Obi, esse termo japonês tornou-se bem conhecido por muitos dos praticantes de karatê. O filme não estava no nível de uma obra de Hollywood, mas um instrutor da JKA, Sensei Naka, co-estrelou. Eu diria que é interessante ver um verdadeiro instrutor de Shotokan atuar em um filme de karatê. Aqui está a URL para assistir ao filme inteiro: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=urQQBsoTjfw

Seja qual for a cor de sua faixa, você certamente a usa todas as vezes em que treina. É uma parte muito importante do nosso treinamento de karatê, contudo há muitos fatos sobre as faixas de karatê que talvez você não conheça. Você pode ter se perguntado sobre algo relacionado à faixa de karatê no passado, e talvez ainda esteja procurando as respostas. Os assuntos aqui são, mais ou menos, apenas curiosidades de karate, mas eu os considero interessantes. Até certo ponto, é importante para todos nós conhecer e apreciar alguns fatos. Por essa razão, espero que este artigo o ajude a entender melhor o karate e a sua cultura.

O sistema de dans e de faixa preta no karatê por si só é um assunto interessante e complexo. Devemos olhar para a história para entender de onde veio esse sistema de faixas. Muitos leitores já devem saber que não havia sistema de faixas no karate de Okinawa, que foi introduzido no Japão pelo Mestre Funakoshi. Você sabia que Funakoshi adotou esse sistema a partir do judô? O fundador do judô, Jigoro Kano (1860 – 1938), era um homem muito instruído, que também era muito talentoso e bem sucedido nos negócios e na área acadêmica. Por exemplo, ele fundou o judô no final do século XIX (em 1882 para ser exato), e em um curto período de tempo o seu dojô já contava com vários milhares de membros. Ele também foi o primeiro representante do Japão no Comitê Olímpico Internacional. Eu suspeito que ele inventou o sistema de dans por volta da mesma época em que criou o judô a partir do jujitsu. Como você deve saber, o judô e Kano tiveram uma grande influência sobre o karate Shotokan no período inicial do ensino de Funakoshi em Tóquio. Na verdade, o nome do estilo, Shotokan, acredite ou não, mostra essa influência. O nome do edifício-sede do judô era Kodokan, e era um nome de muita reputação na sociedade de artes marciais em Tóquio naquela época. Assim, Funakoshi adotou a parte “kan” ( – salão ou edifício) em Shotokan, provavelmente, na esperança de construir o seu dojô tão grande como o Kodokan. Havia outra razão pela qual Funakoshi escolheu Shotokan como nome do seu dojô. Ele acreditava no karate como uma coisa única e não queria criar seu estilo, seu “ryu”. Havia apenas uma organização, a Kodokan, no judô, e ele gostou disso. Isso é exatamente o que ele queria ver no karate, e ele usou Shotokan como nome do seu dojô e recusou-se a usar a expressão “ryu”. É por isso que Shotokan não tem “-ryu” no final do seu nome, como acontece em Shito-ryu e Goju-ryu. Algumas pessoas recentemente (ignorantes, eu sinto em dizer) estão se referindo ao nosso karate como Shotokan-ryu, o que eu não acho que o mestre Funakoshi apreciaria ou aprovaria. Aqui está um link para a Wikipédia sobre Jigoro Kano se você estiver interessado em aprender mais sobre esse homem interessante: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jigoro_Kano

Red & White BeltCerto, voltando para Kuro Obi: Funakoshi concedeu o primeiro diploma de dan para alguns de seus alunos já em 1924, dois anos depois de ter migrado para Tóquio. No período inicial do karate Shotokan, a graduação mais alta que se podia alcançar era Godan (5º grau), uma vez que eles estavam acompanhando o sistema do judô. Conforme o número de praticantes de judô aumentava, o Kodokan expandiu o grau mais alto para o 10º dan. Assim, o karatê seguiu a mudança e a graduação mais alta no Shotokan agora é o 10º dan. Em alguns estilos de karate, um grau mais elevado usa uma faixa de cor diferente. Um praticante de 6º, 7º ou 8º dan usaria uma faixa vermelha e branca. Para 9º e 10º dans, uma faixa completamente vermelha pode ser usada. Essas faixas são também imitação do sistema do judô. Obviamente Funakoshi não gostou dessa ideia, por isso não a adotou. Os praticantes do Shotokan usam apenas uma faixa preta para todas as graduações de dan.

belt with stripesEm outros estilos, listras são bordadas na faixa para mostrar a graduação do praticante. É verdade que você não pode adivinhar a graduação de alguém se a faixa não possui marcações. Eu, pessoalmente, não gosto dessa ideia de tornar o grau do praticante evidente. Eu não pretendo criticar os outros estilos, mas eu não gosto. Na verdade, eu gosto da ideia de uma faixa preta tornando-se quase branca depois de muitos anos de uso. Tenho orgulho de usar uma faixa velha, pois ela participou do meu treinamento diário por muitos anos. Às vezes eu deparo com praticantes de Shotokan que usam faixa com listras. Tenho certeza de que eles não conhecem a nossa tradição. Quero que eles saibam que é tradição do Shotokan usar apenas uma faixa preta lisa.

O kendô é outro budô que tem um sistema de dans, e sua graduação mais alta costumava ser a posição de 10º dan. É interessante que no ano 2000 a All Japan Kendo Federation decidiu abandonar as graduações de 9º e 10º dans, assim o 8º dan agora é o nível mais alto que se pode atingir em kendô.

O que vou discutir agora é uma questão particular sobre o sistema de dans do karatê que, eu acredito, deveria ser discutida com mais frequência. É algo que todos vocês conhecem bem, mas o assunto não tem sido discutido abertamente.

Muitos esportes ou eventos esportivos possuem seus próprios sistemas de classificação. Por exemplo, o boxe possui muitas divisões de peso ou classes, e em cada divisão existem os rankings mundiais. Também estou ciente de que existem diferentes grupos como WBC, WBA, WBO, etc., e cada um tem suas próprias listas classificatórias, mas não vou entrar nessa parte na nossa discussão hoje. O ponto que gostaria de considerar é o fato de que os sistemas de classificação no boxe são fluidos e não permanentes. Em outras palavras, a sua classificação, seja ela primeiro lugar (campeão) ou 100º, não se manterá permanentemente (embora o registro possa ser mantido como ranking histórico). Ela é rebaixada quando você perde em uma luta e desaparece quando você se aposenta dos ringues. Este não é o caso no karatê, assim como em todo o budô. Uma vez que a graduação de dan é concedida, um praticante terá aquela classificação permanentemente. Ele pode ser promovido, mas não rebaixado. Estou ciente de que sistema de ranking nos esportes (boxe, tênis, etc.) possui objetivo diferente do sistema no budô. Na verdade, o judô agora possui um sistema de classificação de competidores chamado World Ranking (pela IJF), que não está relacionado com o sistema dans. Eu acredito que uma graduação de dan é conferida na crença de que o praticante que a recebe irá continuar o seu treinamento, de modo que a sua habilidade não irá deteriorar-se –  na realidade, espera-se que ela apenas melhore. Mas a triste verdade é que muitas pessoas não continuam a treinar e desistem. Apenas alguns permanecem treinando durante toda a vida. Além disso, em uma certa idade atinge-se o nível máximo de capacidade física, e depois disso a habilidade pode até mesmo decair, mesmo que se continue praticando. É uma coisa honrosa receber um nível de dan e devemos ter orgulho disso. Ao mesmo tempo, eu penso que a integridade e a substância das desses dans devem estar lá para significar algo para nós. É uma grande pena, mas existem muitos praticantes de graduação falsa e auto-promovidos. Eu consigo entender realmente por que sensei Funakoshi recusou-se a receber dans.

Vamos passar para outro assunto interessante. Você já se perguntou por que a classificação dos kyus começa a partir do 8º (em alguns dojôs do 10º) e então diminui até o 1º kyu conforme o estudante progride? Depois de chegar a Shodan, ou o primeiro grau de faixa preta, a classificação aumenta à medida que você é promovido. Na época em que eu iniciei-me na JKA, há 50 anos, eu me perguntei por que não começar a partir do 1º kyu. Eu me perguntava por que o sistema de kyus não era crescente como o sistema de dans, e é claro que eu não poderia perguntar algo assim ao nosso professor. Muitos anos depois, descobri que o sistema de kyus foi intencionalmente estruturado dessa forma. Deixem-me partilhar o conceito por trás desse sistema e você deverá perceber a lógica.

O conceito fundamental das artes marciais é que não se espera que o aluno inicie um verdadeiro treinamento de karatê até tornar-se Shodan (faixa preta de primeiro grau). Alguns de vocês podem conhecer ou praticar o costume de fazer um novo Shodan usar uma faixa branca por um curto período de tempo (cerca de um mês). Esse costume é para fazer com que um novo praticante faixa preta saiba que agora está começando um verdadeiro treino de karate, ou ele está finalmente se aproximando do ponto de partida do verdadeiro aprendizado do karatedo. Até esse nível, o objetivo ou meta de um estudante é formar a sua base e, ao mesmo tempo, reduzir os maus hábitos ou as maneiras “naturais” de movimentar o corpo.

Este pode ser um conceito difícil, mas é importante. Em outras palavras, o aluno vai aprender as formas básicas de karatê ou as condições que são necessárias para aprender as verdadeiras técnicas de karatê. Por exemplo, se você pedir a uma pessoa da rua para fazer um punho, ele provavelmente pode fazer algo semelhante a um punho de karate, Seiken 正拳. No entanto, se você pedir para a pessoa lhe mostrar uma mão aberta, ela irá fazer algo como a Foto A (mão aberta natural, na imagem acima e à esquerda). Depois você pede que a pessoa junte os dedos, e ela irá mostrar-lhe a mão como na Foto B (acima e à direita), mas nunca uma shuto (mão em faca, na Foto C, abaixo).

É necessário um pouco de aprendizado para fazer uma mão shuto. É preciso muitas repetições para “esquecer” as suas formas naturais de mão (A e B) e tornar essa mão shuto (C) “natural” para você.Open hand

Open hand 2

Shuto hand

Esse é apenas um pequeno exemplo, e o objetivo de preparação (esquecer as formas naturais) se estenderá a todas as bases, deslocamentos corporais, posturas, métodos de respiração, força nas pernas, ki-ai, bem como as etiquetas no dojô, apenas para citar alguns exemplos. Todo o conhecimento e as técnicas, de fato, sã

o necessários antes que o praticante possa “começar” o treinamento de karatê. Observe: em um mundo perfeito, todos esses “pré-requisitos” deveriam ser aprendidos com antecedência, mas em uma situação real, o aprendizado desses aspectos é feito em paralelo conforme o praticante se envolve no treinamento de karatê. É por isso que você começa a partir do 8º kyu e então progride em direção ao 1º à medida que você fica preparado para o treinamento real de karatê.

Outro assunto: todos nós sabemos que um iniciante começa com faixa branca. Antes que ele chegue à faixa preta há muitas cores diferentes, como amarelo, azul, verde, etc. Quando eu comecei meu treinamento de karatê no início dos anos 60, havia apenas duas cores antes da preta. Eram a branca e a marrom. Se eu lembro bem, eu comecei em Mu-kyu (sem kyu), e com o primeiro exame tornei-me 6º kyu. Nós éramos todos faixas brancas até que chegássemos ao 6º kyu (faixa marrom). Agora a maioria dos dojôs começam a partir do 8º kyu ou 10º kyu. Alguns dojôs até mesmo incluem uma listra na faixa para indicar um avanço de meio kyu. Em um certo dojô, o instrutor-chefe me disse que nunca avançaria um estudante um kyu completo. Com o primeiro exame, um aluno torna-se 10º kyu e meio. Com esse sistema, esse aluno precisa passar por 20 exames de kyu antes de atingir o 1º kyu para então tentar a faixa preta. Eu não fiz qualquer comentário a esse professor (felizmente ele não estava e não está na mesma organização), pois ele considerava karate puramente como um negócio. Eu não estou aqui para fazer um julgamento sobre a atitude de fazer do karate apenas um negócio, mas eu pessoalmente não iria mandar meus filhos para aquele dojô. Cada aluno é diferente em seu desenvolvimento e velocidade de aprendizagem. Pode não ser bom para os negócios, mas eu não gosto de ter tantos exames com a finalidade de receber mais dinheiro do dos alunos (ou os pais deles).

BeltDisplay

Uma pergunta popular que recebo é se as cores para os níveis de kyus são fixas, ou se existe uma ordem universal. A resposta rápida é não. A ideia básica é começar do branco (sem cor), e a faixa vai tornando-se mais escura em direção ao preto. Em muitos dojôs, a cor depois do branco é o amarelo ou azul claro, e eu acho que isso faz sentido. No entanto, alguns começam com uma faixa vermelha para 10º e 9º kyus. É uma cor na verdade muito escura, mas é intencional. Como todos nós sabemos, a taxa de abandono dos estudantes é mais alta na faixa branca. Os instrutores acreditam que a faixa de cor vermelha dará mais motivação do que uma amarela ou azul para os novatos, assim eles continuarão treinando por mais tempo. Isso pode ser verdade, e seria mais uma decisão de negócios que um instrutor dojô precisa tomar. Aliás eu acho interessante, porque no judô e algumas organizações de karatê, uma faixa vermelha é permitida para 9º e 10º dans. Na nossa organização, temos uma diretriz para as cores associadas aos graus de kyu, mas não é algo obrigatório. Permitimos que o dojô associado decida sobre as cores que irá adotar.

Red belt

Aqui temos outra questão popular. Depois de uma longa ausência ou doença, por mais de um ano ou mais tempo, digamos, você pode se perguntar se ainda merece usar sua antiga faixa preta. Você pode não ter certeza de que cor de faixa deveria usar quando você retorna ao seu dojô. Não existe uma regra universal para esse assunto, e a decisão cabe à política de um dojô específico. Muitos dojôs ou organizações não se importam com o fato de um membro usar sua faixa preta, mesmo depois de uma longa ausência. Alguns dojôs possuem uma política de que um praticante que retornou recentemente deve usar uma faixa branca por um determinado período de tempo. A duração desse tempo varia e, mais uma vez, vai depender de regra ou da política de uma organização.

E se você é um faixa preta, mas teve uma longa ausência e hoje é seu primeiro dia de volta, que faixa deveria usar? Pergunte a si próprio se você tem o mesmo desempenho no karatê que tinha logo antes do seu período de longa ausência. Se você é excepcionalmente talentoso e se você está confiante em sua performance, então você pode usar o seu velho kuro obi. No entanto, se você é uma pessoa mediana, então você se sentirá menos coordenado e fora de forma. Você pode até esquecer alguns katas. Se este for o caso, por que não usar uma faixa branca? Ou será que a seu orgulho-próprio ou ego lhe incomodam? Eu acharia preferível parecer um excelente faixa branca em vez de um faixa preta muito ruim. Acredite em mim, a cor de uma faixa não lhe ajuda com seu karate. Ela não vai fazer você parecer melhor ou pior, então por que não usar uma faixa branca por alguns meses até que você recupere sua coordenação, seu condicionamento físico, etc.? O período de tempo para ficar com a faixa branca depende da duração da ausência do praticante, bem como da sua capacidade para atingir novamente o nível de faixa preta. Pode ser apenas um par de meses ou até metade de um ano. Tudo vai depender do indivíduo, e seu sensei deverá ser capaz de dizer quando você está pronto.

Então, o que você acha do seu kuro obi agora? Uma coisa que eu posso dizer é que, mesmo que sua faixa seja preta, ela não vai ajudá-lo com seu karate ou fazer de você parecer melhor. Por outro lado, se você usar um kuro obi, haverá certas obrigações e responsabilidade associadas à sua faixa. Por exemplo, você precisa treinar não uma ou duas vezes por semana, mas todos os dias. Você deve estar em forma e levar uma vida saudável. A obesidade não deve ser tolerada para um faixa preta. Você também precisa viver pelo Dojo Kun e seguir Niju Kun.Asai Dojo kun

 

Jidosha Dojo 自動車道場 (Automobile studio)

Many of you agree that karate practice does not stay only in a dojo. Where do you practice outside the dojo? Some of you are lucky to have a big back yard or a large garage where you can do your practice. Some may go to a park or a school gym. What do you practice at those places? You can certainly practice kata and kihon. Can you practice kumite? Yes, only if you can find a partner. But most of the time you will have to practice by yourself so no kumite.
Dojo bus
Today I propose an idea of training in your car that includes makiwara and kumite practice. I call this “automobile dojo”. No, I am not proposing that you buy a bus or a big van to train inside. This idea does not include a loud ki-ai to the driver who is in the car next to you, or pounding your fist against the steering wheel to toughen it, or swinging your back fist to the passenger side head rest, either. In fact, what I will share with you will not propose any techniques and movements that are not related to driving itself. What I am proposing is only your normal driving but I will ask you to incorporate karate training to your driving and I will describe what and how.

Many people drive to and from work daily. Some of you may spend more than an hour in a car each way. This means you spend more time driving than training in your dojo every week. Wouldn’t you agree that it would be wonderful if you can add those hours to your karate training? You may say “I sometimes think about kata or other karate techniques but I cannot continue thinking about it because I am too busy driving”. It is true, and it may be too dangerous if you were day dreaming or paying attention to something other than driving. What I will explain is completely different from what you are probably expecting. In fact, what I suggest will improve your driving performance if you follow it correctly.

There are several different training syllabuses or menus. Let me share some of the main ones that you can include in your driving habit.

Menu #1: Distance practice

Little man syndrome truckOne thing you must remember is that your car is an extension of yourself. Now, this is a very important concept and I want the readers to fully understand this. So I will spend some time on this subject first. You already know that a meek person may feel braver when he is in a large truck than when he is in a smaller car. In his big truck he will not be intimidated by a small car even if its driver may be a big and muscular guy. This is one example of a concept of a car being an extension of yourself, but, I am not talking about this emotional feeling that can be created by what kind of a car one drives. What I am talking about is connected more to the physical aspect of your body when I say “extension”. In fact you must believe that the end of your body does not stop at the tip of your finger or your skin but it goes or extends further. It is true that there is a certain amount of space around you that you would consider a part of your “territory”. I am sure you have encountered a situation in your life more than once when a person passes you in front of you without saying “Excuse me”. I suspect you felt somewhat offended or invaded by this person or his act. If the distance between you and him was 100 meters or even 10 meters, you would not have cared. But you felt it was a very close distance so you expected a common courtesy of “Excuse me”. Why did you feel that courtesy was needed? It is simply because we all have a space around us that we feel it isproxemics diagram 2 “my” personal space or territory. In fact, there is a study called proxemics; the study of the cultural, behavioral, and sociological aspects of spatial distances between individuals. The amount of this distance varies a lot by the personal feelings and also by the cultural custom. In some Asian countries the distance tolerance is very close. For instance, a person behind you will stand very close to you when we are in line in Japan. I have been living in the US for many years so I often find myself feeling uncomfortable in the subway ticket line or a post office line when I visit Tokyo. Even within a same country the distances vary if you are in a city like New York or in a small village of a wide open state like Idaho. Of course, the distance tolerance is much higher in NY and a visitor from Idaho will probably feel very uncomfortable in a crowded New York City subway. If you are interested in learning more about proxemics you may want to access the following site; http://proxemics.weebly.com/index.html

So there is a space you recognize that is a part of you or you consider your space. What I will ask is to go further with this feeling. If you drive a small car in your daily life and if you have to drive a larger car you will feel uncomfortable especially when you have to park or drive through a narrow road or a bridge. You would feel even more uncomfortable or insecure if you have to drive a big van or a truck. This is a good example of body extension when you drive. An experienced bus driver or a truck driver has no problem even with a parallel parking and driving through a narrow bridge. He can “extend” himself to the outside of his bus or truck and knows exactly how far he (or his truck or bus) can or cannot go. He has the longer body distance than we (small car drivers) do. This is definitely a learned skill and a professional truck driver must go to a special school for this. This extended body distance ability can also apply to the use of a weapon such as a sword, a bo and a nunchaku. I will not go into this subject here as we are focusing our discussion with automobile driving right now but I am sure the readers can guess how it applies. We also talk about a long distance fighting method which is the characteristic of Shotokan karate compared to a short distance fighting method such as Goju-ryu. I believe the training method I will share will help both fighting styles but I think the benefit is bigger for the Shotokan practitioners as it will expand the territory or space that will be controlled by you.

I will present two types of training here that you can use to train in your car. One is automobile makiwara training. The other one is automobile kumite.

Makiwara tireBy automobile makiwara training I am not suggesting you to run into a post or make a makiwara with an old tire (though it is nice to have one). It is only a metaphor and I am suggesting you to pay more attention when you park your car in your garage or in a public parking lot. Your training is not to hit the front or the side (particularly the passenger side) of your car on anything around you. This is totally opposite of makiwara training as you are not supposed to hit anything in automobile makiwara training but it is still a distance practice. You must be able to extend yourself to the outline of your car. tight_squeezeThe obstacles in your garage or other parked cars can be your “partners”. If you are skilled in this training, your car will stay scratch free for many years. In addition, you will be an expert in parallel parking. Check your skill and see if you need more training or not.

In automobile kumite, I am not proposing to bump your car against another or attack the other cars or drivers. In fact, it is better called “automobile taisabaki” as you keep the correct distance from all the cars around you. The first thing you must do is to stop being a tailgater if that is your habit. tailgatingI will discuss more in Menu #4 but having sufficient distance between you and the car in front of you is very important. It may be easier on a highway or a freeway but it will take much more practice and close attention in a busy city street but that is the best kumite situation for you. In a dojo kumite you typically have only one opponent. You are lucky if your sensei puts you in a multiple opponent kumite but I am sure you will not usually face more than 2 or 3 opponents. On the other hand, what you can train on here is the distance training with many opponents (cars) around you, not only the ones in front of you but also the ones beside you and even behind you. I will talk more about the rear side training in Syllabus #3 as it requires a different technique. We will focus on the cars in front and beside. You will have at least three separate distance training here. With the car or cars in front of you your training is to keep the same distance with it or them. If it or they slow down check how soon you will react to the difference in the distance. The driver in the car in front of you may not pump the brake to alert you. Your training is to detect the distance difference by visual observation. This visual check from a car that is running at even moderate speed of 30 or 40 miles per hour will help you with your eye judgment in real kumite. The training with the cars on your sides will require more than a distance practice so I will further explain this in Menu #2.

Menu #2: Perceiving the other drivers’ intentionsParistraffic

Your training with the cars on your side or sides is to develop your alertness for a car that may turn into yours by mistake or cut in front of you without warning. If this happens you need to be ready to either swerve away or put on the brakes to avoid an accident. This is almost a training of reading the mind of the drivers in other cars around you. If you have a mind set for this training then you can develop a skill to detect a movement by the other driver and you can almost read his mind if he is thinking of turning in or not. A lot of time your car may be in a blind spot of the other driver and this is a dangerous moment. If you are alert then you can avoid an accident. Certainly, you need to pay attention to the other cars that may get into the blind spots of your car. You must not depend on a rear view mirror when you change lanes or turn corners. You must turn your head and verify with your own eyes that it is clear to the side you are turning into.

You must also be alert to the car in front of you. There are three cases; (1) a car or cars going the same direction, (2) coming towards you, (3) waiting at an intersection to cross the street. Let’s look at case (1), the same direction. You must always expect that the driver in front may have a sudden need to brake hard and stop. If you have a sufficient distance this action will not bring you into a scary situation but being ready all the time will give you a faster reaction and you will not need to brake hard yourself. This (not braking hard) will alleviate the possibility of getting hit by a car from the back. To avoid this type of accident it is better to have several separate pumps on the brake to let the other driver know that you are putting the brakes on. I will go further on the driver who is driving behind you but here again you must not assume that this driver is alert and is a safe distance away from you. Paying attention to the back is very important though you may not be the cause of the accident but who wants to be in an accident regardless of who is at fault.

In the case of (2), coming towards you, you also need to pay full attention as this driver may decide to turn in and cross the street in front of you. It is amazing but sometimes the driver in that car does not see your car or he may misjudge the distance and timing. You need to be ready for any sudden moves by a car that is approaching you. Do not assume the driver in that car will see you or will make a safe and proper judgment. This can apply to case (3), a car that is either merging into your lane from another lane or a car that is waiting at a cross street or an intersection that may suddenly get into your lane or cross the street in front of you. The key point here is “Never underestimate your opponent or situation”.

All these situations are taught at a driving school but we easily forget. Paying attention all of the time for all possibilities and be ready for them is the martial art mind. Driving a car is a perfect training opportunity to train and develop this attitude or mindset and after the training hopefully this will turn into an ability of being able to perform almost unconsciously.

Menu #3: Watching your back practiceWatch-your-back

Even though it will not be your fault when you are hit from behind but no one wants to have an accident so you must learn to keep the distance with the car that is behind you. If a car behind you likes to tail gate you the best option for you to change your lane. If there is no other lane then stop and let him pass you. This is common sense but not too many people follow this advice. What some people do is to step on the brake to scare the guy behind you. Sometimes it may work but other times it irritates or angers the other driver and may develop into a more dangerous situation. So, I strongly advise you not to use a braking action to your tail gating opponent.

Cop-In-Rearview-MirrorThere is another exercise you want to do for your backside training. A rear view mirror becomes very important here. Of course, I am not referring to its use to put your lipstick on or to fix your hair. This is to watch out for a police car. Most of the time you get caught by a police officer that was trailing behind you. By training this ability you will have less chance of receiving a traffic ticket and your automobile insurance will not go sky high. Seriously, a karate expert must not receive any ticket not just by observing the rear view mirror but by observing all the traffic laws and keeping them.

Menu #4: Controlling your emotion practicebut-you-didnt-have-to-cut-me-off-gotye-in-a-car

This training is a part of automobile kumite. When a careless or impolite driver may cut right in front of you, do not honk or get upset. What you need to do is to let off your accelerator so you will slow down and allow more space between your car and his. As the driver in front of you is either careless or impolite he is not a safe driver. Pay more attention to this car and exercise Syllabus 2. When you are having a bad day this small incident may upset you. Of course you need to train your feelings so that you will not let the feelings dictate your reactions. In addition, you need to work on Syllabus 2 more so that a surprise move by a car next to you will not happen. If you can detect the feeling that this car is getting into your lane, you will let off the accelerator a little and make a space in front of you.

There is another situation when you need to control your feelings. You either cut in by mistake or drive too safely (slowly) and get another driver angry. If you offended another driver by cutting in by mistake then the best thing to do is to signal your apology. Most of the time the other driver may be upset but he will forgive you if you wave your hand and apologize. However, there may be a driver who gets so upset and who needs to show his anger by retaliating. This person may want to pass you quickly and cut in front of you. If this happens the best thing to do is to go slower and let this person pass you. Keep the distance from this person and the best strategy is to ignore this unhappy driver. There are many unhappy or upset drivers who are looking around for an emotional outlet. You do not want to get caught by a person like this. There is no reason for you to be a target of this negative feeling and you should not let this person risk your safety as well as that of your loved ones.

This is a very good training to keep yourself calm in a conflict situation. Interestingly a person becomes impolite or rude in a non-face-to-face situation like a car incident. This seems to be truer with a male. If you happen to meet him in a supermarket or in a library this person may offer to open the door for you or may say “After you” to let you go first. This non face to face situation in traffic encourages a person to be less polite or considerate. This situation is probably less common with a woman. Whether you are a man or a woman, avoid those impolite people and keep a good ma-ai from those people who are looking for a trouble.

Menu #5: Driving with minimum brake action

142991_pollute_ALS_Now I will complete my article with the most challenging training syllabus for Jidosha Dojo. The idea is simple and clear but doing it correctly and safely can be very challenging. Driving with minimum braking action is fairly easy on a freeway where you have a little traffic. You can set your car on a cruise control and just drive. However, once you are in a town or a city and if you have to drive on a city street it will not be so easy. Why am I adding this as a syllabus? Is this something a retired person with a lot of time but not enough excitement wants? No, this syllabus will require a lot of mind work and discipline. One is distance perception involving the other cars, traffic lights and other traffic signs and obstacles. Another is time perception when to step on a brake and when to release it. You will also have to fight against your desire to speed up some times but you will need to make a judgment if that is required or advisable. In the end your driving will improve and your car will perform very smoothly. The passengers in your car will not feel any jerky and quick stopping movements. They will also feel very safe as your car just glides through the traffic like a flying carpet. It is true that some of the drivers behind you may not like the way or the speed you are driving. Your driving style may be different and unusual. They may honk or yell at you. I advise that you will let them pass you quickly so you can keep you smiling.

There are, of course, other syllabuses you can incorporate in Jidosha Dojo training such as breathing, stretching, reaction, etc. But if you get good at these five exercises I listed here your car performance will change and you will drive differently. It will A-Happy-Drivercertainly be much safer. You will most likely avoid receiving any traffic tickets. You will have much less chance of getting involved in a car accident. Initially you may find it challenging but once you get used to it or when you master the art, you will enjoy your driving much much more. In addition, you will realize that the Jidosha Dojo training will help you with your karate in both physical and mental aspects.

One thing I can confidently say is that what I am proposing here will increase the safety of your driving experience even if it does not help you with your karate. Another thing I want to add is a controversial statement. If you claim that you are a karate or martial art expert then you must be able to prove this by your driving history. A diploma that may show a high rank is not good enough for a true qualification. One qualification a karate expert must produce is a clean traffic history and record since the time he began to call himself a karate expert. I consider what I am stating here is very fair. However, I wonder how many karate experts can share their driving history to satisfy this qualification.

Whether you wish to try out my training ideas or not, Jidosha Dojo, is your choice and I do not expect all the readers will do it. But think of your life without any accidents and traffic tickets. Isn’t it worth giving it a try even for a short period of time and see if it will make any difference?

What is Kuro Obi (Black Belt)? 黒帯とは何ぞや?

When you hear the terKuro Obim “black belt” I am sure it means more than just a black colored belt to you. For the karate practitioners it means our pride and many years of hard training. For the non-practitioners it may mean an expertise in karate or a dangerous person which we think funny.

Because of the movie, Kuro Obi, this Japanese term has become well known to many of the karate practitioners. The movie was not at a Hollywood level but a JKA instructor, Sensei Naka, co-starred. I would say it is interesting to see a real Shotokan instructor playing in a karate movie.

Here is the URL to watch the entire movie: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=urQQBsoTjfw

Whatever the color your belt may be, you certainly wear it every time you train. It is so much a part of our karate training, yet there are many facts about karate belts that you may not know. You might have wondered about something related to a karate belt in the past and maybe you are still looking for the answers. The subjects here are, more or less, only the trivia of karate but I think they are interesting. To some extent, it is important for all of us to know and appreciate some facts. For that reason, I hope this article will help you with your better understanding of karate and its culture.

The dan rank and the black belt system in karate is itself an interesting and a puzzling subject. We must look at the history to understand where this belt system came from. Many of the readers may already know that there was no belt system in the Okinawa karate that was introduced to Japan by Master Funakoshi. Did you know that Funakoshi adopted this system from judo? The founder of judo, Jigoro Kano (1860 – 1938) was a very educated man who was also very talented and successful in business and academic arena. Gigoro KanoFor instance, he founded judo in late 19th century (1882 to be exact) and within a short period of time the membership of his dojo increased to several thousand members. He was also one the first representatives of the Olympic Committee from Japan. I suspect he invented the dan system about the same time he created judo from jujitsu. As you may know that judo and Kano had a huge influence on Shotokan karate at the early stage of Funakoshi teaching in Tokyo. In fact, the name of the style, Shotokan, believe it or not, shows its influence. The name of judo headquarters was Kodokan and it was a very reputable name in the martial arts society in Tokyo at that time. Thus, Funakoshi adopted the “kan” (Hall or Building) part in Shotokan, probably, hoping to build his dojo as big as Kodokan. There was another reason why Funakoshi chose Shotokan for his dojo name. He believed in having one karate and did not want to create his style, ryu. There was only one organization, Kodokan, in judo and he liked it. This is exactly what he wanted to see with karate and he used Shotokan for his dojo and refused to use “ryu”. This is why Shotokan has no ryu at the end of its name like Shito-ryu and Goju-ryu. Some people recently (ignorant, I am afraid) are referring our karate as Shotokan-ryu which I do not think Master Funakoshi would appreciate or approve. Here is a link to Wikipedia on Jigoro Kano if you are interested in learning more about this interesting man: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jigoro_Kano

Red & White BeltOK let’s go back to kuro obi, Funakoshi granted the first dan diploma to a few of his students as early as in 1924, two years after he migrated to Tokyo. In the early period of Shotokan karate the highest rank one could attain was Godan (5th degree) as they followed suit to the system in judo. As the population of judo increased Kodokan expanded its highest dan rank to 10th dan. Thus karate followed the rule change and the highest rank in Shotokan is 10th dan now. In some styles of karate a higher degree wears a different color belt. A practitioner of 6th, 7th or 8th dan would wear a red and white belt (photo above). For 9th and 10th dan a full red belt may be worn. These belts are also the imitation from the judo policy. Obviously Funakoshi did not like this idea so he did not adopt it. The Shotokan practitioners only use a black belt for all dan ranks.

belt with stripes

In other styles, the stripes are embroidered on the belt to show one’s rank (photo left). It is true that you cannot tell one’s rank if his belt is plain. I personally do not like this idea to make the ranks visible. I do not wish to criticize the other styles but I do not like it. In fact, I like the idea of a black belt turning into almost white after many years of wearing. I am proud to wear an old belt (photo below) as it shared my daily training for many years. I sometimes come across with a few Shotokan practitioners who wear a belt with the stripes. I am sure they are ignorant about our tradition. I want them to know that it is Shotokan tradition to use only a plain black belt.  Old belt

Kendo is another budo that has a dan system and their highest rank used to be 10th dan rank. It is interesting that in the year of 2000 the All Japan Kendo Federation decided to drop the 9th and the 10th dan ranks thus 8th dan is the highest rank one can attain now in kendo.  

What I will bring up next is one particular subject about the karate dan rank system that, I consider, should be discussed more frequently. This is something that you all know well but it has not been discussed openly.

 In many of the sports or athletic events they have their own ranking systems. For instance, in boxing it is divided into many weight divisions or classes and in each division they have the world ranks. I am also aware that there are different groups such as WBC, WBA, WBO, etc. and each one has its own ranks but I will not go into this part for our discussion today. The point I wish to bring up is the fact that the ranking systems in boxing are fluid and not permanent. In other words, your rank whether it is first (champion) or 100 will not stay permanently (though such a record may be kept as the historical ranking). It goes down when you lose in a fight and your rank disappears when you retire from the fighting. This is not the case in karate as well as in all budo. Once a dan rank is granted a practitioner will have that rank permanently. He can get promoted but the rank will never come down. I am aware that ranking system of the sports (boxing, tennis, etc.) are different in its objective from the budo’s dan ranks. In fact, judo now has the competitors ranking system called World Ranking (by IJF) that is unrelated to the dan rank system. I believe a dan rank is given on the belief that this particular practitioner will continue his training so that his ability will not deteriorate, in fact, it is expected only to improve. But the sad fact is that many people do not continue their training and quit. Only a handful will remain and train throughout their life. In addition, at a certain age one reaches the maximum of his physical ability and the skill level may even come down despite the continuing of the practice. It is an honorable thing to receive a dan rank and we should be proud of it. At the same time, I feel that the integrity and the substance of the dan ranks must be there to mean anything to us. It is a big shame but there are too many bogus and self-promoted ranks. I can truly understand why Funakoshi sensei refused to receive any dan ranks.

Let’s move on to another interesting subject. Have you ever wondered why kyu rank starts from 8th (at some dojo from 10th) and the rank decreases down to one kyu as a student progresses? Once you reach Shodan or the first degree black belt, the rank increases as you get promoted. When I first joined JKA more than 50 years ago I wondered why I did not start from 1 kyu. I wondered why the kyu system would not take an increasing system like the dan system and of course I could not ask such a thing to our teacher. Many years later I found that the kyu system had been intentionally structured this way. Let me share the concept behind this system and hopefully you will see the logic.

The fundamental concept of martial arts is that a student is not expected to start a real karate training until you become Shodan (first degree black belt). Some of you may know or practice a custom of making a new Shodan to wear a white belt for a short period of time (a month or so). This custom is to let a new Shodan know that he is now starting a real karate training or he is finally at the starting point of real learning of karatedo. Until that level a student’s objective or a goal is to build the foundation and at the same time, reduce the bad habits or the “natural” ways of body movements.Open hand

This may be a difficult concept but is an important one. In other words a student will learn the basic karate ways or the conditions that are necessary to learn the real karate techniques. For an example, if you ask a street person to make a fist he can probably make something that is similar to a karate fist, seiken 正拳.However, if you ask him to show you an open hand he will show you something like Photo A (natural open hand, left above). Open hand 2You ask him next to put the fingers together, he will show you a hand like Photo B (right above) but never shuto 手刀(knife hand, Photo C below). It will require a little learning to make a shuto hand. It will require numerous repetition to “forget” your natural hand forms and make this shuto hand (three photos right) “natural” to you.

This is just a small example and the scope of the preparaShuto handtion (forgetting the natural ways) will extend to all those stances, body shifting, postures, breathing method, leg strength, ki-ai as well as the dojo etiquette just to name a few. All the knowledge and the techniques, indeed, are necessary before a practitioner can “start” the karate training. Note: In a perfect world, all those “pre-requisites” should be learned in advance, but in a real situation the learning of these matters are done in parallel as he engages in karate training. This is why you start from 8th kyu and move up to one kyu as you get yourself prepared for the real karate training.

Another subject; we all know that a beginner starts with a white belt. Before he reaches a black belt there are many different colors such as yellow, blue, green, etc. When I started my karate training in early 60’s there were only two colors before black. They were white and brown. If I remember correctly I started from Mu-kyu (no kyu) and with the first exam I became 6th kyu. We were all white until we reached 3 kyu (brown belt). Now most of the dojos start from either 8th kyu or 10th kyu. Some dojo even give a stripe to show a half kyu advancement. In one dojo the chief instructor told me he would never advance a student by one full kyu. With the first exam a student will become 10 and a half kyu. With this system this student has to take 20 kyu examinations before he reaches 1 kyu to go for a black belt. I did not make any comment to this instructorBeltDisplay (luckily he was and is not in the same organization) as he considered karate as a pure business. I am not here to make a judgment on making karate a pure business but I personally would not send my sons to his dojo. Each student is different in his development and speed of learning. Though it may not be good for a business but I do not like having so many examinations in order to receive more money from of the students (or their parents).

A popular question I receive is if the colors to the kyu ranks are fixed or if there is a universal order. The quick answer is no. The basic idea is to start from white (no color) and the belt gets darker towards black. At many dojo the next color to white is either yellow or light blue and I think it makes sense. However, some dojo start with a red belt for 10th and 9th kyu.  It is indeed a very dark color but it is intentional. As we all know that the drop-out rate is the highest with the white belt. The instructors believe the red color belt will give more motivatiRed belt 2on than a yellow or a blue to the beginners and they will stay with the training longer. This may be true and that would be another business decision a dojo instructor needs to make. Incidentally I find it interesting because in judo and a few karate organizations, a red belt is allowed to 9th and 10 dan. In our organization, we have a guideline of the colors that are associated with the kyu ranks but it is not mandatory. We let the member dojo decide on the colors for the kyu ranks.

Here is another popular question. After having a lengthy absence or illness, say more than a year or longer, you may wonder if you deserve to wear your old black belt. You may not be sure what color of a belt you should wear when you return to your dojo. There is no universal rule on this subject and it is up to the policy of an individual dojo. Many dojos or organizations do not mind a member wearing his black belt even if had a long absence. Some dojos have a policy that a returned practitioner has to wear a white belt for a certain period of time. That length varies and again, it will depend on an organization’s rule or policy.

black-belt-is-a-white-beltIf you are a black belt but you had a long absence and today is your first day back. What belt should you wear? Ask yourself if you can perform just as good as you did right before your lengthy absence. If you are exceptionally talented and if you are confident in your performance, then you can wear your old kuro-obi. However, if you are an average person then you feel less coordinated and out of shape. You may even forget some of the kata. If this is the case, why not wear a white belt? Or does your self-pride or ego bother you? I would rather look as a great white belt than a very poor black belt. Believe me the color of a belt does not help you with your karate. It will not make you look any better or worse so why not wear a white belt for a few months until you gain back your coordination, your stamina, etc? Length of being a white belt depends on the length of one’s absence as well as that person’s ability to gain back to the black belt level. It can be only a couple of months to a half year. It will all depend on an individual and your sensei should be able to tell you when you are ready.


So, what do you think of your kuro obi now?One thing I can tell you is that even if your belt is black, it will not help you with your karate or make you look any better. On the other hand, if you wear a kuro obi there will be a certain amount of obligation and responsibility associated with your belt. For instance, you need to train not once or twice a week but every day. You must be in shape and lead a healthy life. Obesity must not be tolerated for a black belt. You also need to live by Dojo Kun and follow Niju Kun.

 Asai Dojo kun