Thursday, December 31, 2015

If It's Not Broke

J usually rides her bike to work, but since it's New Year's Eve I drove her, so she doesn't have to worry about the people who might have started celebrating early. A car offers a little more protection. We'd been watching some bunkai videos and J was critiquing them. She's never trained at an established dojo and has trained only to be as ruthlessly efficient as possible, so she's more critical than I am. We started talking about the false idea of an exchange during combat, or rather taking turns. Watch most UFC matchs and you'll see what I'm talking about. A fighter will get in a technique, a punch, a kick or even a combination and they'll all land, and he'll pause, step back, stop and see what the effect was. They do this even if the opponent is stunned, reeling, moving backwards and about to fall. They've performed their combination, so they stop and wait their turn.

We do this during sparring all the time. Wait, opening, strike, wait, opening, strike, attack, defend, strike, attack, defend, wait, opening, strike. Rarely is it attackattackattackattackattack. Drills are practiced this way as well. Attack, defend, counter attack, break. We are trained to stop after we've "succeeded" even if the result is not what we want. We are rarely taught to "shoot until they're down" as gunfighters are taught. They are taught to keep firing until the enemy drops, not when they hit a vital target or when they "should" go down. When me and J spar, I catch myself wanting to do different techniques even if the first technique continues to land. We learn to take turns, and we want to practice what we want to practice. It seems it doesn't work that way.

When we spar we need to continue to do a technique that is working, until it stops working. The kata changes techniques every few steps, but the kata is not fighting. In kumite, crossing hands, we don't get to decide what techniques we'll throw. We don't get to decide what techniques will work. If we did than fighting and self defense would be very easy. We'd decide to do x and x would work, no matter what happened. We need a plan of course and we need a plan for when the first plan doesn't work, but we don't abandon plan A when it's working just to shake things up.

I find myself when I engage in kumite doing this at times and I see it in others. We plan for failure and want to test the counter to the counter. I punch and it lands, I use the same punch and it lands and I think to myself "I need to practice something else" so I try a different punch or technique and it doesn't land and I've lost the advantage. We shouldn't give quarter, we shouldn't give the opponent a chance.

When a person attacks their first attack is their chance, they don't get a second. The first is their chance to put you down and their only chance. After this they shouldn't get another, and this is what we should train for. If technique A is working and it continues to work and stops the other from attacking while you pummel them than you shouldn't switch to technique B until technique A fails. We shouldn't train for an exchange, or taking turns.

If it's not broke, don't fix it.

Motobu Choki's Watashi no Karate-Jutsu by Patrick McCarthy Review

My cat is currently nuzzling me to death as I try and write this. Apparently she thinks that sitting down in front of the computer is proof that I'm bored and free to pet her. On to business.

Karate my Art or Watashi no Karate-Jutsu by Motobu Choki has been on my wish list since I discovered it at the International Ryukyu Karate Research Society website.

 It's translated by Patrick and Yuriko McCarthy and is more of a compilation of articles and essays than just a single book. It even includes a piece by Kyan Chotoku, amongst other high level karate practitioners. There are much too many to names to list.

I've wanted this book for awhile and even though the book itself doesn't cost that much the shipping from Australia is steep. It's hard to justify, for me at least, spending almost $50 on such a short book. It was however completely worth it.

If you don't know who Patrick McCarthy is and you practice karate, shame on you. You're obviously not doing your homework. There's a laundry list of awesome things about him including a tournament career, full contact fighting career, time spent in China, Okinawa and mainland Japan doing extensive research on the history, application and theory behind karate and the developer of an old-school style of karate based on his habitual acts of physical violence theory, two person drills and kata. There's more, much more, but I'll stop here.

The book is short, very short and I can't help but think of Motobu as a kindred spirit. If I were to write a book on how I practice karate it would probably be very short as well. Many things in karate need to be learned for yourself. Even if someone flat out tells you what to do, if you don't understand the concepts than you won't believe them. This happens to me when I read the Bubishi. I think "Well crap it was written right there all along. Why didn't I just do that from the beginning?"

Motobu's book has more guidelines than instructions. He's definitely allowing room for people to figure out stuff on their own. This also shows the more fluid and flexible form of karate that was practiced in Okinawa during the time he lived. It seemed inherently understood that there were no hard and fast rules for anything that your only loyalty was to yourself and not your "style" and that it was expected that you would learn, change, adapt and grow your karate to suite yourself rather than stick to a rigid curriculum designed by someone else that was supposed to have all the answers.

Also contained within the book are his two person drills, training tips and some of his theory on the Naihanchi kata with a step by step guide on how to perform the kata.

One thing I found interesting about his take on Naihanchi was that the almost infamous elbow at the beginning of the kata is explained as a punch. When I read this my mind immediately raced back to Jack Depsey's book Championship Boxing, where he explains the mechanics of the hook. Elbow bent with the first and forearm almost parallel to the body with the power coming from the rotation of your trunk. I imagined having a head or neck in the crook of my elbow where I'd have much more leverage than at my hand taking advantage of my body weight and not my arm strength and twisting a sharp hook into someone's temple. If the person backed up slightly out of my grasp, the attack would instantly turn into an elbow without reorienting or rethinking about it. Two for one. Sweet.

This also shows a profound difference between the tactics of old school Okinawan karate and modern karate. Old karate is halitosis range wrap someone up and pound the crap out of them until they drop type of fighting. Basically that your "block" should prevent the other person from reorienting for another attack. They should be off balance, out of weapons and defenseless, while you rain down hell on them. This is very different than the fencing type quick exchange chess match style engagements that we see in modern prearranged kumite where after your first three attacks are parried you find the opening and end it with one precise "killing" blow.

I will say that this book is not about self defense. This book is about dueling and brawling, or rather mutual combat. It's not a handbook on how to deal with sudden unprovoked aggression, and I wouldn't expect it to be. Having a 100 street fights under your belt makes you qualified for street fighting not self defense in a modern first world country.

Overall, the book is wonderful, insightful and illuminating. I'd recommend it to anyone with a serious passion for karate.

I will add as an aside that I was very nervous about getting this book. I always advocate that people use the scientific method and try to disprove their assumptions rather than look for confirmation. This is easy to say and harder to do, because it's unnatural. This book for me was something that could either reaffirm my views on karate or completely obliterate them. Motobu being a known fighter, who trained in the classical ways of karate, before they were classical, could completely prove me wrong, because he actually lived his karate. He learned, trained and fought during a time of kakidameshi before there were concrete styles of karate. He was also dedicated to the old ways. If there was anyone who could completely change my views on karate it was this man. I'm happy to say that my views still stand and my convictions are stronger, but it doesn't mean I'm right. It only means I haven't proven myself wrong.


Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Stuff and Things

Recently finished reading Facing Violence by Rory Miller, mostly because I've been a little under the weather and believe in letting my body rest and recoup though I hate having recover ground in my fitness progress. If that makes sense. Also picked up the Art of Hojo Undo by Michael Clarke, so I'll also have a review of that when I'm finished with it. I guess it's book review season on my site.

I've got a few different post ideas kicking around my head that haven't been put to paper, so I'll either have a review or a thought tomorrow.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Training, and a Review of Meditations on Violence

Strength training and kata with J followed by a game of Get Up. The game is pretty simple. One person face down on a mat the other person on top of them in any position they want. The idea is that the person on the bottom is in a very compromised position. The goal of the person face down is to get to their feet and escape. The goal of the person on top is to keep the other person from making it to their feet. Pretty simple. It's a drill for body mechanics and escape and not a fighting drill. At it's simplest form, the person on top uses their dead weight and just holds on forcing the other to manipulate them to escape. You can also ramp it up with actual fighting techniques that the person also has to deal with, but the main goal is always escape. It should go without saying that the person on the bottom is allowed to use controlled strikes and techniques to get free, but they shouldn't try and move to the mount or take the person's back for a rear-naked choke. They should fight toward the goal.

J is better at striking than escaping, and I'm better at escaping than striking. She bends my fingers back, gouges, hits sensitive places, but sometimes does this when she doesn't have to. I forget to strike when I can and focus on squirming out of stuff. Probably a bad thing. If the other person is more focused on trying to breath from a spear hand to the neck than he'll probably be less focused on trying to keep a hold of me.

Meditations on Violence by Rory Miller

Holy shit.

I love books like this because they increase my known unknowns. The stuff that you know you don't know. Unlike unknown unknowns, which are the things you don't know you don't know. Those are the things most likely to kill you. Like eating poisonous plants, or picking up deadly creatures, or believing that your knife defense skills work.

Unlike Facing Violence by Mr. Miller that I'm currently reading, it's not an instruction manual, or a road map. It's got a lot of the same information, but not all of the stories. Meditations is all the wet gooey icky shit best expressed through narrative.

"Gather around children, and I'll tell you the story of the first time I saw a man get his spine broken."
 (Not a quote from the book)

In a nutshell, like the sentence on the front of the book, it's about the difference between martial arts and violence. Martial arts for the most part is the fantasy that we play at, violence is what actually happens or the stuff that has happened. He explains the differences, the similarities and what we might do about it. Or as he puts it, the difference between a unicorn and a rhino.

I don't want to get into a lot of the nitty gritty details of the book, because I'm trying to convince you to read it. Just go read it. I bought it for less than $7.00 on my Kindle from Amazon. It's also on Smashwords I believe.

I will say that if this book doesn't scare the shit out of you, and make you think deeply about your training, your goals and your moral and ethical lines than you're either an idiot, or you've seen some really fucked up shit. 

Monday, December 28, 2015

BAB Training

Thirty minutes training with J. Five minutes of one step sparring with the metronome. Rory Miller type rules: each get a simultaneous movement per beat, full structure and movement, no targets are off limits, but slow implementation for safety. A few of his touch sensitivity drills. One of us blindfolded with a few points of contact. I call out a target and she touches it with a striking surface. Example, "throat" she touches my throat with her knuckles. Another blindfolded drill where she's blindfolded and she puts her hands on my shoulders, I initiate a strike in slow motion and she blocks based on what she feels.

I have a responsibility to be her worst nightmare, to show no mercy. I'm not going to drill her in the face full force, but I'm not going to limit my techniques or give her an inch. Today during one step, I had her curled up in a ball raining down blows on her. Controlled of course. "Okay you got me," she said. "You're not allowed to practice dying," I responded. She hit me in the nuts and then hit me in the neck with her forearm. Good girl. I won't come close to being the most vicious person she might meet, but I still have to try.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

A Small Karate Physics Lesson

Physics is very counter intuitive. The fact that us and everything around us is actually accelerating toward the earth all the time under the force of gravity is weird and strange. The only thing keeping us from falling through the earth is that the ground can absorb the combined force of our mass and acceleration. This is more commonly called weight. The moment that what we are standing on can't absorb this force we fall, like falling through ice, rotten wood or just anything.

Objects also have a limit to the amount of force they can take. There is an absolute threshold to the amount of force any specific object can absorb. After this threshold it either breaks, is crushed or is pushed. Basically it will deform. This force works both ways. If I punch a wall and the force is more than the wall can withstand it will deform in some way. If I punch a wall and the force is more than my fist can withstand it will deform in some way. They bend, break, buckle, shatter or if they can withstand the force nothing will happen. If my fist can withstand the force, but the wall can't I'll either push the entire wall backwards or my fist will go through it. I also can't impart more force to the wall than it can take before breaking. If it takes 10 newtons to break the wall than 10 newtons is the maximum amount of force it will encounter. Even if my punch had the power to put a hole in a wall that could withstand 20 newtons, if the wall I'm currently punching can only take 10 then it receives 10 newtons and my hand goes through it.

What this basically means is that no matter how big, strong, fast or proficient my striking is there is an absolute upper limit that I cannot cross without damaging myself. I could produce a lot of force jumping off the Empire State Building, but I'll splatter on the pavement. You can't out exercise physics. The strongest toughest man in the world still splatters on the pavement after jumping off the Empire State Building. Because there is this upper limit, one needs to be more concerned more with not losing energy rather than gaining energy. If I can only hit with 10 newtons of energy than I want to make sure that all those 10 newtons are getting transferred into my target. One way that you lose energy is through bad structural alignment.

Because the force of a strike works both ways, my own body can act as a shock absorber for the other person. If my arm is bent the wrong way, or if my legs aren't in the right position my joints will bend with the force of the impact and some of the force will be absorbed by my flexing joints. It's the same as jumping from a high place and bending your knees on impact instead of locking them out. Locking them out is more jarring, because you receive the full brunt of the impact. The same goes for striking.

Now if I strike someone and it sends them flying backwards, I've also wasted energy. Instead of the person absorbing all of the energy of my strike, some of the energy is just used to push the person backwards. I want the person to absorb all of my energy. This is where the hikite comes in. If I pull them into my strike, they can't bleed off the force by moving backwards their body has to absorb the impact or break. It becomes similar to stomping someone on the ground, because the ground won't flex with the impact, all the energy is either absorbed by the person or they break. It's why being stomped is dangerous and a killing blow in the Marine Corps Martial Arts Program. A hikite doesn't make you punch harder, it just means you don't waste the energy you were already using.

This is why structure, good structure, is what I think about the most. I want to hit with good structure, so that I don't waste any of the finite amount of energy that I can produce. I want to hit like a hammer, not a pool noodle. It's also why you strike anatomically weak parts of the body. The frontal bone of a person's skull can absorb more force than your fist, therefore you will shatter your fist if you punch it. A person's neck however cannot withstand as much force as a fist, so their neck gets crushed when you punch it.

At it's very heart, striking is about whacking people with geometry and physics.

A Karate Christmas

This Christmas like most Christmases I got martial arts books. Facing Violence and Meditations on Violence by Rory Miller, as well as Watashi no Karate-Jutsu by Motobu Choki translated by Patrick & Yuriko McCarthy.

I've already devoured Watashi no Karate-Jutsu and can't thank Mr. and Mrs. McCarthy enough for translating the book and the accompanying articles and essays that are attached to it. To me, it really shows the differences between the thinking and training goals of old style Ryukyu fighting traditions and modern karate. The one thing that I found immensely interesting was even during Motobu's time, kata was a bit of an enigma.

I'm half-way through Meditations on Violence and once I've read all of them I'll be doing a short review. Especially short when it comes to Motobu's book because it's very brief and I feel that if I write too much about it, I'll be undermining all the hard work of all the people that worked on it.

So far, they've all been awesome.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

The Vital Point Bunkai Test

Many times martial applications are developed based on how it could work and not based on how it could fail. It's very easy to develop interpretations on a best case scenario basis. There are so many different scenarios that can play out that it's easy to find one where your five step wrist lock of death analysis fits and puts an enemy on their butt, however, we not only need to know when a technique will work, but more importantly how it can fail and fail hard. A way to test this is by knowing your vital points.

Vital points work both ways and there are several that require almost no power generation or skill to damage and are severely debilitating. These points are the ears, eyes, throat and where the base of the skull and neck meet (we'll call it C1 from here on out).

A cupped-hand slap to the ear can cause permanent deafness and loss of balance. A finger in the eye can obviously cause severe pain and blindness. Any strike to the neck including a nukite can close a windpipe or cut off blood flow. A strike to the C1 vertebrae can cause death with only the momentum of the arm.

These are the baseline vital points that need to be defended and denied access while performing a technique. If your bunkai allows easy access to these vital points than it fails and should either be modified to meet this criteria or abandoned.

With this in mind, it's easy to see why many preparatory uke positions begin with one hand or the other up by your ear with the forearm blocking your neck. It's a smart standard operating procedure.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Kata with Intent

When I first started practicing karate, I was told that the techniques in kata would spring forth subconsciously when they were needed. It was supposed to be like magic, and I practiced kata like it was a prayer to the karate gods to make me strong. Practicing in this way never made me any better. I still fell back on the type of kickboxing techniques that we're so familiar with when we see people spar. My kata was empty. It lacked intent and was never linked to action.

Kata requires intent. We need to visualize or rather feel what we are doing for it to have any impact on our abilities. We cannot just blindly go through the motions and expect to make any improvement. An illiterate can copy a book it doesn't mean that they can read. Fast or slow each movement should down our opponent, protect ourselves from harm and allow us to escape.

Without this, kata is merely empty gestures.

Sunday, December 20, 2015


Belts are a big deal in the martial arts. There's always a conversation somewhere about what a black belt is or what it means. In most discussions about martial arts you can often find the comment "they're not a real black belt," or "our black belts have to earn it." Even in dojo where the phrase, "a belt is for keeping your gi closed," there's some sort of belt system. There's numerous arguments for why a belt system is needed, and most of them have to do with making it easier on instructors, who don't spend enough time with their students and dangling a carrot in front of students, so they work "harder."

It seems rather disingenuous to talk about how the belts don't matter and then have a belt system. Students should really work hard, because they want to work hard and learn. If they work hard, they get to learn new stuff and if they don't work hard than they don't learn new stuff. Simple really.

As far as making it easier on instructors, this is ridiculous. Instructors should know their students. They should know what they're capable of and a simple question like "who knows (blank) kata?" is simple enough to do to separate people into different groups. The question is usually asked anyway.

In my opinion, belts devalue skill, place emphasis on rank and make people cling to organizations and associations, so they can keep their precious black cloth. 

The only reasonable argument for belts is for sporting classification. For this you really only need white, brown and black. Novice, intermediate and advanced.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Karate Programming: The Software

This post really is very closely connected to the last one, but I've broken it up because it tackles a different aspect. Mostly conditioning, meaning operant conditioning. I'd also like to take the time to cite Rory Miller from Chiron Training as the source for the basic idea though the execution is somewhat different.

The next step in programming ourselves using karate is to condition our brain to react accordingly to the situation without having to run through a laundry list of techniques or responses. We are giving general jobs to the movements in our kata, which I believe are used generally to attack our opponents based on position and not necessarily based on our opponent's own attack. They can attack from the left, right, back, front, and laterally (coming in from the sides) and medially (coming down the middle).  To a lesser extent they can attack from above and below. This leaves about eight positions and a few basic counters and reversals, which is much easier to hold in our heads and condition than the thousands of different individual attack variations, which can be thrown at us.

We condition ourselves through partner practice by using trial and error, and employing the stimulus, response, success and failure pattern to ingrain it. This means for every situation we are given (the stimulus) we act (the response) and it either succeeds or fails. When we succeed our brain releases "feel good" hormones, which reward us, like when we do well on a test, or it punishes by making us feel bad, like when we do horrible on a test. The successes we will retain and reuse and the failures will slowly be weeded out and abandoned.

An example of this is the first set of repeated movements in Seisan. It's a middle block, punch, step combination, which is most beneficial for attacks where the opponent comes straight down the middle. The stimulus for your partner is any attack that comes down the middle. Grabs, punches, pushes, kicks, gouges etc as long as they come down the middle are neutralized and countered with the above movement. Your partner is not constrained by strict adherence to the movement, but is allowed to use it as they wish to reach a successful result. Each success or failure is allowed to stand on it's own. It's also important to note that your partner doesn't have to use the movement differently for each attack. If it works, they should keep doing it the same way. If it fails, they should try something different.

While you can be made aware of what plane of attack your partner is going to use, you should not be aware of the individual attack. This will keep you from preemptively preparing yourself for each attack. You won't know what your enemy may do, so you shouldn't train like you can read minds.

These are the general guidelines I use to train myself and my wife and they've been much more successful than any of the previous drills and exercises that I've tried to ingrain these techniques. I hope they're helpful to you in your own training.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Karate Programming: The Wiring

Practice doesn't make perfect, perfect practice makes perfect.

This is something I heard in the Marine Corps, and I think it brings up an important difference when it comes to how we build neurological pathways in our brain. This is how we learn most anything, but it applies to karate as well.

The more we practice something the more neural pathways we build in our brain for that activity. Our brain has a property called plasticity where it can adapt itself and literally change it's structure to make certain activities more efficient. The more we perform a movement the more efficient our brain becomes in interpreting and initiating the movement. Walking is a good example.

We may forget this at times, but walking is a learned skill. Children learn how to walk through trial and error until they can get the timing and weight shift correct to walk without falling. The more the children walk the stronger those neural pathways for walking become until they become almost unconscious movement. If we are in good health, we usually don't have to think about putting one foot in front of the other and we use our body's ability to sense position to guide our movements instead of sight. It is the cumulative affect of those successful steps that lead to those neural pathways being strong. If the unsuccessful attempts outweigh or are even with the successful attempts than the neural pathways remain weak.

Karate practice must be the same way. Deliberate, consistent and with intent over and over again until the principles of those movements build strong neural pathways. The more movements the longer this takes, the more inconsistent the techniques the more those pathways become diluted.

In karate, we use structure to defeat strength. Proper bone alignment and posture leads to good structure, which must be perfect every time. We want to obliterate our enemy with a strike, not break our hand or wrist. Each movement must conform to proper mechanics and structure. Practice must be conducted carefully to only build pathways for the most efficient and most useful movements and techniques and weed out all those that are sub optimal or redundant.

The next step is conditioning those movements through operant conditioning to hard wire the correct circumstances where each movement can be used. We've perfected the movement now we need to give it a job to do.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Karate Programming: the hardware

I've spent a little bit of time writing about this in other posts, but I figured I dedicate a couple completely to this idea. The idea is that you can program yourself. Your body and your brain are adaptable. It's how we learn, it's how we get stronger and it's pretty easy to do if you know how to do it.

Training your body is very easy especially when it comes to physical attributes. We may not all have the genetics to look like Arnold in his hay day, but we can definitely make ourselves better. The answer is steady increase in intensity at planned intervals. It doesn't need to be much of an increase. We're not Olympic athletes for the most part. We can throw out much of what professional athletes do, because we're not training for a big game. We're training for an unforeseeable event that we hope will never happen.

All you need to know is how your body adapts to exercise. When you workout your body adapts by overcompensating the recovery of your muscles for future stress. This over compensation period occurs one to three days after you workout. It's important that you increase the intensity of your workout within this time frame, so that the pattern repeats itself. If you workout after this super recovery period your muscles will have reverted back to their previous state because you didn't stress them again during the appropriate time.

This is all you need to know about exercise. Pick some exercises you enjoy doing and go for it, and you can forget everything you ever read in the muscle rags.

It's important to recognize that professional athletes have huge amounts of resources behind them including constantly evolving manufactured performance enhancing drugs, which change the way you train. Steroids for example almost completely change the way you lift. When you take steroids, which I don't and never have, all you need to do is get your reps in. You've taken out your body's natural cycle of recovery, adaptation and hormone secretion. Basically the more you lift, the bigger you get.

The mental aspects of karate training is where careful planning and knowledge of how we build neural pathways for skills come into play. I'll elaborate on this more in the next post.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

A Few Minutes a Day and Life as Training

I try and practice karate in some shape or form every day. Sometimes it's for a few minutes, sometimes it's for a few hours, but I always try and do something even if it's just doing sections of the kata while I'm cooking dinner.

I always let my mood and energy level dictate the amount of training that I do. It can be fun to try and push through the pain and train hard for a few hours, but if I find myself glancing up at the clock more than a few times than I call it a day. Karate has to be fun after all.

Today for example J and I did four minutes of training. I attacked her for two minutes and she attacked me for two minutes. The idea isn't to stay on defense it's just to learn how to counter off the cuff and end things in as few moves as possible. We also practiced our kata for a few minutes. This is sufficient for one day. A little kata, a little hands on training and you still have enough energy in case things go sideways during the day.

I try and make karate a habit in my day to day life. One way I use my life as training is by choosing to forgo power tools when I can and do things by hand. For instance, I'm currently hacking apart a giant maple tree that's lying in my front yard. It was threatening to topple over onto our house, so now it's in our yard. I'm using an axe and chopping away at it until it's small enough for me to use my little chainsaw to eat through the rest of it. Today, I spent an hour and a half at it. I also never use the elevator in buildings, park at the back of parking lots, walk whenever I can and choose to ride my bicycle when I'm able.

These are simple things, which can make you stronger without setting aside huge chunks of your day devoted to training.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

BAB training

Training with J went well. We took some time working through applying some of the kata movements, and began work on a new section. She's very comfortable with the first repeating set of the kata. A middle block/ punch combination that can be used in a variety of ways. She's become very good at jamming her forearm into my neck if the opening arises and more than once she put me on my butt.

She was less comfortable with the second section we worked on though that should change with just a little bit more practice. She just needs to remember to keep contact, so that you're aware of where your opponent's limbs are without looking. I was able to get her with a variety of circular attacks, but she was still able to perform the main application of the movement.

The funny thing is that she thinks that I've let her get the better of me, but she's been improving so quickly and adapting so readily to the new concepts that I'm scrambling to defend and counter with other sections of the kata, but once she's gotten the hang of those she'll be exceptionally hard to deal with. One of the signs that techniques are working as they should is they feel too easy. When you use structure, you don't feel muscular strain or the resistance that is inherent in other practices, so it sometimes feels as if you're doing nothing.

We finished up the session with five minutes of Rory Miller style one-step sparring. We use a metronome to tick off a steady beat and on each beat we each make one move simultaneously against each other. It helps you work to improve your efficiency since you have little time to adapt and readjust to your opponent making you do many things with a single movement.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Some thoughts on structure

I think I've mentioned structure, but I don't think I've actually explained what it is. Structure is basically just using the natural alignment of your skeletal system to facilitate power generation and conservation. You can lose energy in your techniques through shock absorption if your structure collapses kind of like jumping down from somewhere and bending your knees to absorb the shock. If you have good structure backing up your punches than you could extend your fist and someone could push on it and you wouldn't move. Your skeleton is supporting the weight that is put on it and transfers it to the ground, so your muscles don't have to do the majority of the work.

Here's an example you can try in the next ten seconds. Get down on the floor in a push up position with your arms straight and shoulder width apart. The bone structure of your arms keeps you up. You need to use very little arm strength to hold this position. You abdominal muscles will most likely give out before your arms do. This is an example of good structure as far as your arms are concerned. Now bend your arms, so you're about halfway to the floor and hold it. Your arms will get tired much more quickly, because you're using muscle to hold yourself up instead of your bones.

With proper structure you can throw almost your entire body weight into your techniques without much of any muscular strength, because your skeleton will support the technique not your muscles. This also brings up the concept of tension. First you don't need to tense at the end of a technique. Tensing your muscles at the end of a technique just makes you tired. It doesn't support anything. I'll prove it. Get down in the push up position again, but as if you were going to do knuckle push ups. Now straighten your arms all the way as before. Now tense your arms as hard as you can. You stayed put right. Okay, now relax your arms as much as you can without bending them. You still stayed put didn't you. You didn't need to tense at all to hold the position. It's the same with punching or any technique. You can relax and if you're structure is good it will still be devastating.

I've been thinking about structure a lot lately especially when it comes to striking. I've been thinking that testing your structure may be more important to powerful striking techniques and easier to achieve than whacking things like a punching bag. It goes back to perfect practice and is very similar I think to makiwara training. There are a few videos out there where people show you how to test your structure. Basically you pick a wall, extend your fist and lean on it like you're punching, if you collapse than your structure is bad, if you just lean there than your structure is good.

I've been kicking around the idea that maybe this should be the bulk of the training used to promote striking. Getting as much energy into the strikes you can land might be more important than getting as much energy into the strikes you want to land. Meaning you might not have three good feet to power a right cross into someone's temple, but you might have one foot to power your fist into someone's kidney. If we use structure to power our techniques than we should focus on strengthening our stances and knowing where we can generate the most power in all positions.

It's funny that I remember reading this somewhere when I was 16 in what was probably an article in Black Belt magazine most likely titled "How to get Monster Power" or something and how I remembered being let down that all it entailed was leaning up against walls. It seemed incredibly boring. Luckily I feel that I'm wise enough to know that just because something can be boring doesn't mean that it's useless.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

The Dichotomy of the Single Kata

Single kata practice requires a different state of mind than other types of karate. The kata repetitions, the focus on particular movements and the hojo undo make up the completeness of your karate. It becomes where your karate both begins and ends. There are no other kata waiting in the wings to begin polishing, there's no upcoming belt test, no ranking, no sensei to give you a different application now and then for a movement. There is only you and your kata. Deeper understanding comes, but the movements remain the same. It becomes both the journey and the goal itself. If one never has to use their kata to defend themselves, which is the best of all possible scenarios than the practice of kata becomes the culmination of ones training. The practice, the repetitions, the movements and the hojo undo, will impact your life more, if a tragic event never occurs.

This means one must be both satisfied with their practice and unsatisfied as well. They must be satisfied completely with the kata as it stands. Whether it be the first time, or the 10,000th time the kata will be the same but each is also different, each is new. One must also be unsatisfied with the level of their knowledge. One must ask the question why? Every movement becomes a study, a riddle that needs to be uncovered, learned and then perfected.

It becomes moving meditation and violence together, one inseparable from each other and supporting each other.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Bad Ass Babe Project

There are ups and downs to practicing karate with your wife. The upside is that you get to share a wonderful past time together and the downside is that it can be frustrating to have a person you outweigh by almost 80 pounds put you on your ass. In truth, she's also my student, and I've used her as kind of a guinea pig when it comes to training methodology. She had no martial arts training at all when we started this little experiment together, and really she's the reason I ever got back into studying karate. My opinion of traditional karate hasn't changed very much, but my opinion on whether you need a "qualified instructor" definitely has, so we decided to take it as a challenge and see what happens.

Over the years, I've used her to hone my teaching ability by figuring out the best way to try and transmit the techniques and concepts that I've been discovering in the kata. While everyone is different, it's very, very challenging to teach a woman who has had absolutely no exposure to this type of physical endeavor. Many boys at least have the experience of rough housing with other boys or their siblings and she's had neither. My rule has been that if a drill or exercise doesn't help her get better, or if she isn't able to apply a technique on me than I throw it out and look for something better. Techniques need to work on someone bigger, stronger and more skilled, otherwise, what's the point.

I've taken a different direction in our training recently by throwing out everything that is rigidly scripted. I group attacks with sections of kata, since many kata movements can be used for several different types of themed attacks, but I leave her to use her own judgment in how to use those movements. Sometimes her maneuvers work and sometimes they don't, but I leave room for her natural reactions and intuition. I've been taking this slow and working on each part of the kata individually.

The result so far has been very rapid improvement in both understanding and application. She's also enjoying it a lot more, because it makes our training sessions more of a game than just rote memorization. Infighting has become much more of a challenge for myself because her ability to adapt and find the weak points has become more natural leaving myself to adapt even faster.

I'm calling this new training experiment the Bad Ass Babe Project or BAB, and I'm going to use this as kind of a training journal for her.

So far, I may have created a monster.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Practice Slow to Move Fast

I've gotten faster over the years, not because I practice fast, but because I practice slow. Slow might be the wrong word to use because I've slowly sped up with time without me being aware of it. I practice as slowly as I need to, so I can perform each technique correctly.

I've often read that one must practice at full speed and power if they are going to increase speed and power, and I just don't believe it anymore. It makes sense on the face of it that one must practice fast to become fast like a runner pushing themselves harder during each run, but it is not the same thing. The runner gets faster through the building of strength, but the martial artist does not rely on strength.

Having a strong body is not technique, it is merely the expression of natural ability, genetics. If a strong body defeated technique than there would be no need for the martial arts. The gym would be enough. Moving fast to get faster would be like lifting weights to lift heavier weights. Speed and power for the martial artist comes from technique, the proper body mechanics used to trump genetics and prevail over strength alone.

Technique needs to be practiced correctly. Haste makes waste the old saying goes and it's true of karate. Practicing fast before the movements are understood and ingrained completely in one's self leads to sloppy ineffective movement. Perfect practice makes perfect. We need to be careful not to condition ourselves with incorrect body mechanics. Like sharpening a blade without a constant angle, no matter how much we run the blade over the stone it will be dull, warped and weak. The angle needs to be constant and correct for it to become a razor.

Over time one will become faster through diligent and methodical training, which will stay with them after the peak of their strength has faded.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Invisible Enemy

It's easy to get sucked into the idea that the imaginary enemy in kata is at the end of your fist. Many techniques are demonstrated at the very edge of your sphere of control, the imaginary space around you which you can impact. It's because our limbs move in a continuous fashion in most kata. We assume that because there is no re-positioning of ourselves to circumvent our opponents body or limbs that they must not be there. They must be on the very borders of our technique because we don't reset. We have to remember though that sometimes kata has no punctuation. The beginning portion of one technique can be the ending portion of another technique. The kata can be compressed to remove all the spaces and unnecessary movement. It's what helps us squeeze an entire fighting system into our brain without memorizing a textbook full of technique variations.

The next time you practice kata think about all the different places your opponent could be. Are they arms length, or are they so close you can smell what they had for lunch. Are you standing face to face, or are you behind them. Also think about what techniques you could use effectively in those situations. A technique isn't very effective if you're close enough to count their eyelashes.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Inoculation to Pain

I'm not a big fan of body hardening, but I do think it has a place in karate training, but not the way that many people pursue the activity. Most karateka that I know of that engage in conditioning exercises do so to make their bodies more resilient to damage. They harden their knuckles and arms, their throats, their shins and sometimes their testicles through striking them with various objects or having someone strike them. I've seen very impressive feats done due to this type of training. But, I'm dubious of how much it actually protects you. Even if all your nerves are dead you can still break. I think body hardening can be a replacement for full contact sparring. Let me explain.

The only real value that full contact sparring has in my opinion is intensity and pain. If you're a self defense minded individual, it serves little purpose being so beat up all the time you can't defend yourself. The safety equipment required makes most karate techniques impossible and all the safety equipment in the world can't protect you from a concussion. If you're sport oriented and know the date and time of your next fight then you can do some really hard training and give yourself time to recover. The drawbacks out weigh any of the benefits in my opinion. This is where body hardening comes in.

The fact of the matter is that fighting hurts. Especially in karate when your forearms can become a cyclone of death meant to destroy anything it touches. We need to inoculate ourselves to pain, so we're not stopped in our tracks the first time we get hit hard, or strike hard. This is where body hardening comes into play. Body hardening allows you to slowly build up intensity and control the conditions to minimize the risk of injury. It doesn't take much to bang your forearms and shins on a piece of wood a few times a day, and you don't have to worry about your partner rattling your skull by accident. It's a much simpler way to see if you can take the pain than finding someone you trust to rumble with.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

No Explanation Required

One hears many stories about those "olden days" of karate when men were men and karate was toudi. Something that comes up fairly consistently in what little stories we have is that karate teachers gave little to no explanation of kata and didn't allow questions. The pioneers of karate-do I think carried on this tradition of no explanation. It doesn't seem that this is possible, but I'm beginning to figure out that it makes a lot of sense.

When one is taught one kata there doesn't need to be a lot of explanation, not because the subject matter is small or that you'll just get it in time, though I think you will with practice and thought, it's because karate is like riding a bicycle. All the explanation in the world won't help a person learn to ride a bike. They just have to get on and try and only until you feel yourself balance and push the pedals do you finally understand what everyone's been telling you. Explaining to someone the myriad ways a kata movement can be used doesn't help. If they don't understand the abstract concept that one thing can be many things than they won't be able to use it. The way you make them understand is by attacking them.

The teacher attacks the student not with prearranged movement like yakusoku kumite, but rather creates the correct environment and opportunities for the student to use a particular kata movement. The student is not told what attack will be used. The student will then either succeed or fail. This continues until the student understands the movement by using it through trial and error with the correct circumstances for the movement. No explanation of the movement is required to learn in this fashion.

I'm not saying this is what happened, but it seems very plausible. It's almost a precursor to one step sparring and yakusoku kumite, but with real violence replaced with sport style attacks for the tournament platform. It's just one theory.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Back to the Bubishi

Every time I take a turn in my training, and I understand things a little more clearly I go back and read my reference material to see if my change in point of view changes my readings. Most recently I've picked up the Bubishi. It's the Patrick McCarthy translation.

I first read the Bubishi when I was 16 years old. I was a brand new karateka and like everything I'm interested in, I read absolutely everything I could find on the subject, cause I'm a nerd. I remember that first time reading it and going "okay, what does this have to do with karate?" I thought it was supposed to be an instruction manual. The history was interesting, but incredibly dry, so I didn't pay much attention. I mostly focused on the last section, which was about fighting tactics, but was mostly simple counters to violence. The small set of special circumstances that aren't always apparent in kata. Honestly, I just didn't get it at the time. It wasn't anywhere close to what I was currently practicing even though my sensei supposedly quoted from it. He must have been reading a different version.

I had read that several famous karateka cherished this book, and I really just couldn't figure out why. Surely there's more to karate than this. It was too simple. There wasn't anything mysterious in it, and it was incredibly short. In Mr. McCarthy's translation the bulk of the book is just explaining the book. The actual translated text is very short especially if you took out all the pictures.

Rereading it now, I suddenly get it. The Bubishi is almost like everything that you can't record in a kata. The principles and ideas behind structure, balance, power generation, where to hit, when to escape, how to train by yourself, how to make kata a tool for fighting. Karate I'm coming to figure out isn't all that complicated. You hit the meat at these weak points and it becomes injured. If there's stuff in the way you move it, and if you can disadvantage it, so it can't fight back, all the better.

I think in a way we are all kind of searching for that mythical answer of karate and sometimes we're not satisfied with the simple or the abstract. We want the complex and concrete and possibly a little mysticism. Without it, karate is just a bunch of hard work. Maybe that's why the Chinese call it gong fu.

Thursday, November 12, 2015


I mentioned this a little bit in my last post. Mushotoku is practice without the thought of gain or profit. It's a Zen concept that's applied more to sitting meditation, but I think it helps with just about anything.

I get grief for this concept for a couple of reasons. First it's Zen and some karate people are very anti-Zen, mostly because of Anko Itosu's 10 precepts, one of which states that karate did not come from Buddhism. I totally agree and he should know or did know, but this doesn't mean that we can't use Zen concepts and practices to make our karate better. I don't find activities and concepts mutually exclusive. I'd much rather find binding principles across disciplines.

The second reason I get grief for this is goals. You need goals. Goals are important, but many goals are abstract especially when it comes to karate. It's not like weight loss or weight lifting where there are clearly defined goals. Kata can be subjective and when practicing for self defense one should hope never to use it. This is where mushotoku comes in.

We should be able to practice karate for the sake of practicing karate. The goal should be the practice itself not the attainment of specific goals. Goals are great, but they can also be discouraging. Reaching and failing creates a negative lesson, trying gets you nowhere. Practicing and never using can make karate pointless. Why practice karate for self defense if the odds are very low that I'll ever need it? Besides, I have a gun. Basically it needs to be fun. You should enjoy the act itself. You'll keep practicing and as long as your mind is open, you'll keep learning.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Things you learn practicing one kata

The first thing you learn is that you have discipline. It's kind of one of those Catch-22 things that you really need discipline to learn discipline, because if you don't have discipline you'll never practice enough to have it. You learn that you have discipline because it's really, really, really, really boring. At the beginning.

The first year of practicing only one kata you're just going through the motions. You might as well be dancing. But I found that it's very important to practice mushotoku. This is practice without the desire for gain or profit. It's a Zen concept and people jump down my throat sometimes about this, because they believe that Buddhism has no part in karate. I agree, but these same people usually have the suffix Do attached to karate. Read Gichin Funakoshi, he makes a distinction between karate and karate-do.

The concept kept me going because with one kata it's all you have. There's no belt testing, no classes, no new kata to learn, no new movements to master. It's just that one kata that you've chosen to master and it happens when it happens, you just have to keep going.

You obviously learn patience. There's really no need to rush because you're not going to understand things in an afternoon, or a month, or a year. I personally didn't start getting a handle on what I was actually doing until after year two. You get an idea, but it's nothing you can put your hands on. It's just a feeling.

You can tell when others understand their kata. They're not just moving their arms and legs. They're not miming movements. They are actually doing something in their mind. They completely understand everything they are doing. Their body moves in concert. Not everything is fast, because not every technique needs speed sometimes it just needs leverage.

You learn that the kata is part of yourself. It's hard to explain, but you come to learn it very intimately. You own it, you don't rent it. It doesn't stop because you stopped practicing at the dojo. The dojo is not going to make you a karateka. You are going to make you a karateka. I think this is appropriate, because if you practice for self defense you're the one that's going to save yourself. Not your sensei, or the style, or even your technique because when you get right to the bare bones of it, it's just you and only you. The kata is just a reference point.

You learn that you can get good fairly fast. At least compared to how most karate dojo train. It's just arithmetic. A thousand hours of one kata is a thousand hours of one kata. A thousand hours of 10 kata is 100 hours per one kata. A thousand hours of practice is a little less than three years of study if you study for one hour a day. So if you practice 10 kata for three years you'll have one hundred hours of practice for each kata spread out over that time. You hit the one hundred hour mark at three months and ten days if you only practice one kata. Like I said, arithmetic.

You learn a lot when you only practice one kata, and the best part is you don't need to pay anyone to do it. You can do it in your backyard.

Monday, November 9, 2015

A simple karate exercise routine

I threw out my back a few days ago, and It's just now feeling well enough to do a little training. Kata only no exercising for me, which I hate. Exercise fills a different need for me than the karate. Some people feel that physical fitness and the martial arts go hand in hand that being a better weight lifter will make them a better karateka. I'm not picking on lifting it's just that "workouter" sounds weird. Exerciser? While physical conditioning is a must if you're an athlete, policeman, a member of our armed services or anything else that's highly active and intense, it just isn't all that necessary for self defense. If being big and strong was all you needed to overcome others than martial arts books would look more like exercise books. I personally workout to look good naked. Oh and the health benefits. I forgot about the health benefits.

There are benefits to being at least moderately in good shape for karate. You can train longer, you'll be less prone to injury, and you'll just be healthier. One of the true benefits of exercise on karate is weight. If you're a skinny guy, like I used to be, bulking up will give you more power. This has nothing to do with muscle power and everything to do with mass. If you have more mass, and you learn to put it in motion than you'll have more power. So if you want you can just sit on the couch and each junk food and it will do the same thing. But it's unhealthy, and you won't look good naked.

Here's a very simple workout routine that you can do to help both your karate and your body. You perform five sets of burpees with one kata repetition between each set. So it will look like this.

This is a burpee.

Kata (warm up)
1st set of burpees
2nd set of burpees
3rd set of burpees
4th set of burpees
5th set of burpees

Depending on how many burpees you pick for each set this routine will only take you about 15 to 20 minutes. When I've done this, I use the kata portion as a rest meaning I go slow. I like to practice kata slow anyway, but I don't go fast. If you want to go fast you can, but the burpees will kick your butt.

Picking the number of reps is the tricky part. I'd experiment a little, maybe start with 5 for each set. If you're really gung ho than you can do 10 per set. I'd wait at least a day between routines, but no more than two days of rest. For steady improvement, just add one repetition to a set each workout. So you'll start with 5-5-5-5-5 and the next workout will be 6-5-5-5-5 and the next workout will be 6-6-5-5-5 and so on.

This has worked really well for me in the past. It's basically just a version of interval training, but without all the timers and junk. I like it because it gives you a good workout, you don't need equipment and you can do it basically anywhere.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Disrupt the machinery

If you want to kill a car, you could spend a fair amount of time beating it with a crowbar until it was unable to run, or you could take a few minutes and cut the fuel line, disengage the throttle, remove the battery or foul a few spark plugs. It's much easier and quicker to mess up the small components that allow the car to run than trying to break the transmission or one of the axles. You disrupt the machinery.

Karate is about disrupting the human machinery.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

The Novice Test

You're sparring against a novice, and he's frustrating the crap out of you. You've been training for years, practicing all the kata, doing all the drills, exercising and hitting the punching bag everyday. Your form is impeccable, and you placed first in the last two kumite tournaments you entered. You know you're good, but this guy is connecting. He's trained for a month, he can barely perform the basic blocks and he's a goofy mess, but he keeps tagging you with this big-eyed expression of terror on his face. He's making you awkward, unbalanced and worst of all he's making you look bad. You don't want to admit it, but it keeps going through your head "he's not doing it right."

Sound familiar? Has this happened to you? Does it fill you with a little bit of fear? It probably should.

Usually after the guy has a few more months of training and gets his "form," you start schooling him. He telegraphs, hesitates, and generally tries the same thing over and over again. This usually puts your fears to rest for a bit, because you can tell yourself it was just a fluke.

This has happened to me a few times, and I took it as a big warning sign. My junk didn't work as good as I thought it did.

Let's be blunt. If you can't completely annihilate a pure novice, your karate doesn't work. I mean if everyone is following their dojo kun than you shouldn't be running around fighting other karate practitioners anyway. You'll be defending yourself against thugs that presumably don't know karate. Are we starting to see the problem?

You can even find quotes like this one from Motobu Choki “The techniques of kata have their limits and were never intended to be used against an opponent in an arena or on a battlefield.” 

This basically means that at the very least karate should work against the untrained.

This is a hard truth, and it's even harder to face. The dojo has a big sign on the window that says "Learn Self Defense." It has a long lineage. You've also put in a lot of effort. All the fees, the testing, the practice. You've got a black belt or you're about to have one. You've been told it works. Your sensei said it works.  It's all supposed to mean something. Worst of all, it's your identity, the core of your ego.

What do you do?

Do you ignore reality, or do you face it and do something about it?

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Kata is the shape of the weapon

We build our weapon through the kata. The weapon of the human body. The kata is the shape of the weapon, the practice of kata is the forging of that weapon. The number of positions that a body can make is almost unimaginable. To hunt through all of them to find the most effective movements and patterns for self defense would be time consuming and cumbersome. The kata gives us a platform to work from.

A person builds it and shapes it until it is as hard as steel and supple as silk. This is only the first step. The building of a weapon is not the application of that weapon. Once it's built it needs to be used, stressed, and abused to find the limits of its function. Only then can it truly be understood.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Those that think they practice

In karate, there's always a tendency to separate one's dojo from those other dojo that don't practice right. The mcdojo and the dojo, the modern and traditional, Japanese and Okinawan. All of them feel they are practicing the "correct" way. One big distinction I find is those that think they practice bunkai and those that don't. Take note that all of these schools usually accuse each other of basically being McDojo.

Those that don't practice bunkai are sometimes called Punch, Kick, Block, or PKB. It's pretty self explanatory in that they believe everything in kata is either a punch, a kick or it's a block to a punch or kick. It's just as ludicrous as most other explanations. These schools usually have as many kata or more as others and they practice all of them for rank testing. They usually call themselves traditional, just like every martial arts school in existence. Why they believe they'd need 20 different kata making up what they believe to be very different scenarios for what's essentially three techniques I'm not sure. This is usually the type of school that the "real" traditional schools hold their nose and point at. "They don't get it," the others say. I don't agree to this interpretation of karate either, but at least it's more consistent. Their training methods are clearly only focused on punching, kicking and blocking and while it doesn't match up to the kata, you can still be pretty effective with just punching, kicking and blocking.

The karate schools that usually poo poo the above type of school are the ones that think they practice bunkai. What's the difference between these schools? Almost nothing. They practice several different kata, usually around 20, and all their drills are focused on punching, kicking and blocking. The only real difference is their acknowledgement of different interpretations, sort of. This type of school will fawn over bunkai wizards, go to seminars and camps, and the grand master may at one time or another show the super secret meaning of one portion of the kata. Do they ever practice these interpretations? Almost never. The basic punches, kicks and blocks are the same as the above school. Even if a school recognizes a block as something better and greater, they still teach it the wrong way. The drills are still defenses against karate attacks and any different applications either don't work or are practiced so sporadically that they are of no use. Bunkai is usually just used as proof that karate works and that the kata aren't just meaningless dances. "See karate works because that other guy practices it that way. Now more air punching and high kicks," they say.

It's even worse when these schools save their garbage for the "advanced" ranks. They have to keep you coming through the door somehow. I've never understood the logic of spending four to five years teaching people the wrong thing, or in this case "the basics," just to turn around and basically say that what they've taught you isn't the real thing. You'll spend the next few years trying to train out all the bad habits you picked up. The high block you've been practicing at the wrong distance and for the wrong reason is really a limb clear and a strike, good luck retraining yourself.

The real amazing thing is that people are usually so brainwashed by this point that they don't even question it. If the same thing was done with any other subject, you'd just laugh.

Imagine if you were taught math the same way. You spend five years practicing how to write the numbers. They even teach you arithmetic, but 2+2=5 and 1x0= 10. Upon perfecting the "basics," you graduate to advanced arithmetic where you keep practicing as before except sometimes 2+2=4 and 1x0=0, but only sometimes. What would you learn? Basically nothing.

If a school is going to teach the application of kata, it should be done as the student learns, starting with fundamental concepts and building on them in a way that the student can use them creatively. All drills and exercises should tie back into those fundamentals and one should not have to learn one way and then unlearn it to learn the correct way.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Thirteen Fist Method

I've often been somewhat tempted to call what I practice Seisan Kenpo, instead of karate. It's pretty clear that I don't agree with most of the training methodology of karate overall. Mainly the study of many kata over the in depth study of just a few. Rather than having additive qualities, studying many kata in my opinion has a dilutive effect on ability. There is an argument that one can freeze because they don't know what to do and that one can freeze because they know too many ways to do something. I believe through practice and study that a single kata is a complete system. If one knows more than a few, the number of techniques one can study becomes rather hard to handle. I'm a big fan of the concept of "one and a thousand." One principle that leads to many different variations, but all one needs to know is the principle. I'm getting off topic.

I feel like there is enough precedent for name changing that I could do this with some confidence. Patrick McCarthy calls his stuff Kenpo, though it's old-school karate. Gichin Funakoshi himself changed the names of the kata, because he felt they were not relevant enough to keep, though this has strong political and cultural influences behind it. One could also argue that karate itself is the study of many kata and not just one kata. I know there are those that consider it essential that one be familiar with all the kata of karate to be a complete karateka. I also just like the sound of it. Seisan Kenpo or translated the Thirteen Fist Method, which sounds like a forbidden kung fu style, though 13 is a lucky number in many eastern cultures meaning something to the affect of infinite growth.

There's a few reasons why I most likely will not do this. First, I don't want to be the Grand Poo Bah of my own martial art. I am not the creator of Seisan merely a student of it, and I don't hold to the idea that one needs an instructor to practice karate. In a purely Zen slant of practice, one only needs a kata and some time and off they go to quiet their mind. I don't much like the idea of paying for that. It's almost like a tax on prayer. For practical application, I feel one needs at least a partner and preferably a group of people, so they are exposed to different training environments and tactics, but a dedicated partner is all they need. The second reason is Ed Parker's American Kenpo Karate. I've seen a few of his videos and like his personal presentation of it, but I don't much care for the offspring of his system. It's just a little too much fancy hand movement without a lot of depth. Fast hands don't make a martial artist. It helps, but it's not the defining characteristic. Third, my chief ambition is to influence karate. I want to make it acceptable for those who want to break free from the ritualism and caste structure of the dojo to practice and be acknowledged for their abilities and not the belt around their waist. Sadly if you don't have lineage, study, practice and logic counts for very little.

I'm not trying to destroy traditional karate. I believe that there are some good things about that kind of structure. I only wish to promote a freer interpretation of karate. If I have to change the name to do it I will, but I'm pretty sure people would just say "did you make that up?"

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Silent Evidence and the effectiveness of martial arts

I've been listening to Nassim Nicholas Taleb's The Black Swan, and in it he brings up some very interesting points about how we perceive evidence and our world. The book itself is about events that have far reaching implications and effects and how we can't predict them, but since I'm a martial arts and more specifically a karate nut, I see karate in everything.

One idea is that of silent evidence. I'll try and paraphrase the example given in the book. In the book a philosopher is shown tablets bearing the portraits of those that prayed to be saved from a shipwreck and lived. This is given as evidence that praying will save you from death by shipwreck. The philosopher asks "Where are the portraits of those that prayed and drowned?" So the idea is that the refuting evidence isn't around anymore to speak for itself.

Before I get into how this relates to the martial arts, I'm going to define what I mean as effective. When I say effective, I do not mean a martial art's effectiveness for fighting duels or the sporting arena. It can obviously be used for fighting with the effectiveness at about 50 percent. In a UFC bout, both participants are basically martial artists and there is one winner and one loser, so 50 percent, or a 100 percent success rate depending on how you look at it. I'm talking about effectiveness for self defense. This means keeping yourself safe from harm, or not dying.

Now you can almost always find evidence that (insert martial art) is good for self defense because Joe Martial Artist survived a violent mugging by using his super kung fu technique. I recently heard one of these stories except it was a street fight not a mugging, but it could have turned out really bad. You can find articles fitting this theme taped to most dojo walls. But, the idea of silent evidence tells us that the instances where Joe Martial Artist pulls out his super kung fu technique and gets stabbed to death will merely show up in the crime roll of our local newspaper as Joe Smith stabbed to death in robbery.

This means that we might never know whether any specific martial art, or martial arts in general, are effective or useful in a self defense situation.

This seems rather doom and gloom as if I'm bashing all martial arts. Well I am and I'm not at the same time. I feel that we should base the effectiveness of martial arts in the same way that we base the effectiveness of firearms. Mainly physics, and anatomy and physiology.

We know that a bullet has the capacity to kill someone especially if they are shot in the right place. The brain or heart. The kinetic energy of the bullet give it the power to damage. Martial arts should be viewed in the same way and just as seriously. With the correct movement a technique will generate the most physical force, or the force required, to damage anatomical weak points of the body or inhibit physiology. We can say with certainty that this has a very good probability of happening. What needs to be thought of as a gamble is the application of these techniques. We must therefore ruthlessly pursue those techniques that give us the best opportunity for minimal effort.

Martial arts for self defense should be viewed as a hedge against a bet that someone forces upon us.

Personally I think karate has an advantage in this regard because of the ambiguity of kata. It means we can do away with interpretations we find to be less optimal and adopt interpretations that are more optimal as we practice without changing the patterns of movement. Then all we have to do is retrain our frame of reference instead of retraining the movement patterns themselves. This allows for evolution, growth and creativity.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Social Violence

This is  a link to Marc MacYoung's website on violence, the martial arts and all sorts of good stuff. If you want a crash course in the different types of violence than this is the place to go, so I'm setting up a link on this post.

Please read it. It's frustrating to talk to people, who think that beating up a couple of fat drunks means that their skills work in a life and death struggle.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Does it work? It depends.

I read a comment on a YouTube video recently that went along the lines that traditional karateka knew for a fact that their techniques worked.

I always cringe a little when I hear things like this, or if I'm asked "what would you do if x happened?"

Unfortunately people have the mistaken belief due to marketing and hype that the martial arts, fighting, combat, self defense, etc is like learning how to fix a car. You read the instruction manual, you turn the screws, you replace the parts and you become a mechanic. Obviously there's more to it, but cars for the most part are static objects. They don't learn, lie, trick or adapt. They just wear down. Humans on the other hand are a completely different story. In the matter of activities where two humans interact things basically work until they don't and there isn't much you can do about it.

The number of variables is just too big. The variables of the environment, situations, the state of yourself and the other person or persons, not to mention the laws that govern the area you are in. Shooting someone in self defense in a dark alley is a little different than shooting someone in self defense in the middle of a crowded courtroom especially if you're not a cop. They'll praise you right before slapping the handcuffs on you. A good deed generally doesn't wash out a bad one in the United States.

This is sometimes difficult to understand, because we all started going to the dojo to become kung fu killers, mostly. Don't lie. You were thinking about it. I know I was. Generally techniques do work when the variables are right and the correct principles are applied. The difference between a slap and a palm heel is the application of principles not aesthetics.

So does traditional karate work? Yes and no, it depends. It depends on knowing the style's principles of movement, the strategies of each kata that you practice if you plan on using it's techniques, ingraining those principles and techniques in a non-prescriptive way and then practicing the application of all of those factors on a resisting opponent that knows exactly what you're trying to do and actively trying to thwart it.

Sadly I can count on one hand the number of traditional dojo that I know do this. Sadly they were none of the dojo I've practiced at.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Marketing, half truthes and being young and dumb

Karate fills a special little niche of hate in the heart of many martial artists. I think it's a combination of easy target, confusion, ignorance and the none functioning. It's not that all karate fits these requirements, but there sure is a heck of a lot of it that does. To paraphrase Marc MacYoung, "Do you practice the 97% of karate that is useless or the 3% that can break you in half like a twig?" According to him, the only thing that karate people have in common is that they'll answer yes to this question. I guess we can take comfort in the solidarity of our mass delusion.

I really think the problem is marketing. Old and new marketing and personally I put most of the blame squarely on Gichin Funakoshi. I'll talk about him later, but I'm still wading through all the bullshit in Karate-do Kyohan.

Karate has been marketed for a very long time as a one-size fits all kind of deal. It's supposed to turn you into the pinnacle of courtesy, patience, virtue, blah, blah, blah, etc. All of this while turning you into an unstoppable killing machine. Basically people think you can get the technique by focusing on the spiritual or rather the jutsu from the Do. Do to me is The Way, capitalized because it's a proper noun not a suffix. This means Zen. While one can be a side effect of the other, this is an accident and not the intent. Let's look at art as an example. If one chooses to paint for the sole purpose of personal enjoyment than they may become a great artist. It's usually beneficial to enjoy the activity that you're trying to get better at, but if your paintings keep turning out like your 3rd grade nephew's fridge art it doesn't matter. It's just for fun. There is no need to pursue, technique, theory, science, trial and error, history or experimentation to get better. Now on the other hand if you want to become a great artist let's say through painting landscapes, it may develop spiritual and therapeutic aspects, but the main goal is to get better. You will practice, study, experiment, consume history, learn new techniques and practice some more.

The problem comes when one thinks they are practicing the techniques, when they are really practicing The Way. Practicing technique means preparation. The training is for things to come. Practicing The Way means being in the moment, fulfilling the practice and the goal at the same time. Turning the wrench to turn the wrench, not to secure the bolt. Painting to paint, rather than painting to become great. The Way does not require understanding, but technique does. Many zen exercises are just repeating a mundane task over and over and over and over again until you are able to detach and see the world for what it is because your filter is currently busy performing that mundane task.

So what's this have to do with marketing. Well if we look at the time period of the popularization of karate, basically the time periods just before WWII and afterwards there are several factors that need to be addressed to understand why a person might twist the facts a bit.

One is the youth, both the soldiers of Imperial Japan and the orphans of the aftermath of the war. If you're trying to channel their aggression and their energy you want something that is highly physical, might calm them down a bit and something that won't seriously injure them. Young men get into trouble, mostly because they're stupid. Trust me I used to be one. The last thing you want is for a young soldier to get pissed and break another young soldier because they got mad, or give an orphan a dangerous instrument that he'll unleash on the unsuspecting public. So you take some martial arts, strip out all the dangerous stuff and put the emphasis on courtesy, virtue, humility, self esteem and all this good stuff that's good for society, but you don't tell them this is what you're doing. You don't get students especially the young rowdy ones you want to control by calling it a spiritual exercise you say it's the most bad ass, unstoppable, killing system ever devised by man and because they want respect, status and strength, they're not even going to question you about whether what they're doing is real or not because they don't care. They think they're going to become unstoppable killing machines. You'll even have all these wonderful stories about great martial artists who used their skills to seriously mess people up.

It's great marketing, a great business model and it keeps people coming back. It's why it's still here. It's why traditional karate doesn't line up with the stories. It's why Funakoshi himself in his autobiography says that karate is not the same as how he was taught it in his youth.

Luckily there are people now scratching their heads and thinking "Wait a minute. How could karate have survived the hundreds of years of secrecy before it's popularity if it's the same as what we do now, because what we do now doesn't work and people that have to stake their lives on their skills generally don't survive long if their moves don't work."

Now the caveat is that if you're practicing it for the Do, for personal enjoyment or spiritual reasons than you can do it any damn way you please, because it doesn't matter and you shouldn't stop. 

Thursday, October 22, 2015

There will be videos, at some time... maybe

Much of the stuff I'd like to talk about and explain requires video. The written word, as much as I love it, just isn't the best vehicle for this kind of stuff. It's like trying to teach someone how to walk through text.

Unfortunately one of the many drawbacks of being frugal and an independent practitioner is that you have to use what you have and take what you can get. Finding training partners and willing participants can be a challenge. Especially since I have to find them, convince them and usually teach them. All of this has to happen while leaving their ego intact to a certain degree. This is especially true if they're a karateka, because my general idea is that most of what people do is a complete waste of both time and money, under certain circumstances.

So my wonderful wife and training partner/ student will be assisting me at some point in making these videos. But I don't plan on demonstrating on her, I plan for her to demonstrate on me. I have about five inches and 70 pounds on her, so me demonstrating a technique on her doesn't really prove that much. I personally feel that techniques exist so that they can be used on someone bigger and stronger than you. Basically if it doesn't work on someone bigger and stronger than you, it's not the technique, it's just you being bigger and stronger.

She is definitely capable of breaking me if she felt so inclined, but getting her confidence to a satisfactory level to demonstrate is a different issue.

So hopefully, some time in the near future, there will be wonderful videos of her dropping me like a bag of rocks.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Sick and Loathing

I've spent the last three days hacking, coughing, sneezing, sleeping, hacking, coughing, aching and pining.

I don't like being sick. Not only because I feel bad, but I've seemed to have programmed my brain over the last few years to only be happy if I'm doing something. I've had to work myself into a semi state of exhaustion in order to relax and not fidget like a kid about to get his first haircut, and I've been couch locked the last few days looking off into my backyard at the wonderful practice space I've made for myself. It's not fun. The only things that seem happy about the arrangement are the cats, which have claimed me as their personal space heater since the house has started getting cooler. I can't really say cold, since 60 degrees Fahrenheit would be a warm spring day to our neighbors to the north, but when you've been living in the South East for the last eleven years 60 feels like someone stuck you in a freezer.

I guess I do get more time to harass people on the internet.

I've been trying to take the advice of Kris Wilder and Lawrence Kane, I listen to their podcast, but don't know them personally. Basically using the advice to try and recover rather than push yourself, so I've been reading books and watched a few MMA matches. I had to turn it off though, because sometimes I don't have the patience to watch them.

Watching those at the top of the rankings is usually a pleasure. It's not an accident that they're in the top five. They're a technician at work. But those other matches, all the other ones are usually like watching someone do transmission work with a hammer. Just keep hitting away despite the result hoping that it will work.

Don't get me wrong. I have a ton of respect for anyone who steps into a ring like that. It takes a lot of guts to not only risk pain and physical injury, but also face the fear of having your internal fantasy shattered along with it. Kudos.

Hopefully within the next day or two, I'll be able to run around like my normal happy self.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Power comes from your feet

In close range combat you don't have the time to speed things up to put more power into your strikes. You might just have a foot or even a few inches. Luckily boxing someone's ears is devastating and you don't need that much power. I digress. The point is that close range power has more to do with your lower body than your upper body. It's somewhat amusing when people thing that slighting changing the motion of their arms means that they are somehow not using arm strength for their techniques. Why are my arms so tired? It's because you're not using your mass and you get your mass moving by moving your lower body.

Gravity is your friend and hopefully soon I'll have some videos showing you how much of a friend it is. Basically by dropping weights on stuff and showing how devastating a little  bit of weight moving a short distance can be.

Have you ever noticed that there's lots of kata where you drop into a stance. Literally drop like a bag of rocks down from a higher stance to a lower stance, it's because gravity is your friend. Ever had a little cousin, niece or nephew who only weighs 60lbs or even smaller suddenly decide they want to be picked up so they jump on you and nearly knock you off your feet? This is what I'm talking about. Do you try and push a car by planting your feet and pushing just with your arms? No, you take a low stance, hmm I wonder if that's relevant, and you lean into it to put all of your mass behind it. It's the very same concept. You just use the structural support of your skeleton to keep yourself from collapsing, move just a tiny bit faster and presto, you can blast through someone twice your weight if you remain efficient in your movements.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Garden dojo

I recently had to have a tree on my property cut down. Leaving me with a pile of mulch large enough for me to bury my car in it. I spent a few days replacing all of the old mulch in my garden, but still had a giant pile left. I could have given it away, but I like using everything, so I set out to make a nice practice space in my backyard.

I started out by leveling a 15x15 portion of yard and framed it with rough wood to make a square and then filled it in with the mulch. All of this by hand with just a shovel, some buckets and about a week worth of time. It was a very long slow process. It was worth it though. I not only have a nice area for practicing kata, but the mulch provides a good cushion for throwing techniques, so I can get tossed on the ground all I want and be relatively unhurt.

Besides the cost of cutting down the tree, which had to go anyway due to the threat of it falling over on my house, it cost me nothing except time and effort. This will not be a permanent solution, because it will decay and I'm too cheap to go out and buy the stuff to preserve it. It  just means in a couple of years I'll need to replace it with something a little more permanent. Maybe ground up rubber if I ever have the money, which would be unlikely.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

What is karate?

It's a surprisingly hard question. It should be rather easy to answer. I guess the simplest and most realistic would be that it's a martial art that was developed in Okinawa. It's not even fair to call it Okinawa, Japan, because the development of karate was taking place long before the island chain was ever fully adopted into the Japanese empire.

There are plenty of people that are willing to tell you what karate is, if you pay them. They even claim that they'll be able to tell you how to do it.

Karate becomes rather abstract rather quickly once people start talking about it. There are so many ways to define what it is and what it isn't, and each explanation is nearly as valid as all the others because the creators are rather silent on the subject. If everything is valid, invalid, wrong or right than what karate is and isn't is of no real consequence.

I'm not exactly sure karate was ever supposed to not be abstract. Even the name karate is rather abstract. It seems simple. Stupid simple, but it gets rather complicated when you realize that the name is political, sneaky and not as clear as we might think. Kara means empty, te means hand. What's complicated about that. Well it get's complicated when you have books titled Ryukyu Kempo Karate Jutsu. Kempo means fist method, so empty handed fighting, so the title translated means as we understand the terms today as the Okinawan empty handed fighting method empty hand techniques. It makes more sense if we use kara in the original context meaning the Tang dynasty of China and Te referring to the indigenous Okinawan martial art. Karate being the synthesis of the two. So than it reads the Okinawa fighting method of the Chinese/Okinawan techniques. It can also be translated as the Ryukyu fist method of emptiness and Okinawan techniques. In karate do kyhon Gichin Funakoshi explains that the empty part of karate has some philisophical merit to it.

Karate teachers of old, before WWII, never seemed to explain anything to their students and never allowed them to ask questions. I thought this was strange at first, but I think they might have been on to something.

I think this abstractness can be both good and bad. It's bad because people tend to make stuff up to fill the holes in their knowledge. They don't know what something is, so instead of asking or better yet trying to figure out what it is, they just guess and leave it at that. I think the whole point of it is to figure out what it is on your own, without teachers. The teachers show you the proper mechanics, but you figure out how to use it. Like walking or riding a bike. You can't explain to someone how to ride a bike. You can tell them the steps, but until someone balances themselves and push the pedals there's no amount of instruction, drills or practice that is going to get them riding a bike until they just try and ride a bike. The more I learn about karate the more I feel it is the same. You can explain a move, but understanding is dependent on each individual person. The teacher's job is to foster an environment in which that person can come to understanding on their own.

I guess if something comes from within, it is futile to look for the answer without.

Monday, October 12, 2015

The Reactive Drill Fallacy

When watching demonstrations of bunkai, one usually sees a reactive drill. Actually most of the time when someone is demonstrating any type of martial or fighting technique it is reactive. The most common example is the defense against the punch. Someone tries to punch you, and you skillfully block, counter and then pummel. This is the usual order of these demonstrations. But this is wrong for a couple reasons.

The first problem is one of time. Action is faster than reaction. It takes more time to react to a person than the person who is acting upon you.

According to Rory Miller, a former corrections officer, tactical unit leader and all around intelligent guy, explains that you usually go through four steps to do basically any task. You need to observe, orient, decide and then act in order to do anything that isn't hardwired into you by operant conditioning.

First you must observe what is happening to you, orient to what is happening to you, decide what you're going to do about it and then act upon that decision. The other guy, the guy punching you, has already gone through the observe, orient and decide phases of this process and is already on the act portion by the time you start observing. The result is you get blasted in the face. If the punch is a complete surprise attack, the odds of you being fast enough to do something about it is very, very, very low. You basically need to know that it's coming before the punch is thrown, which is the second problem.

If you know that someone is going to punch you, why would you stand there and let them try? You should either do something to prevent them from punching or remove yourself from the vicinity by running away. Playing chicken with the person's fist is rather counter productive. If you react in time, you've only stopped that one attack, if you don't than you get injured, neither outcome prevents the person from attacking again.

You might be asking "If this is true, why do these applications work in the dojo and in the sporting arena?"

The reason is the same as the second example. You know it's coming. Most drills start out with someone saying something like "Defense against a high punch." You know what's coming, so you've observed, you've mentally prepared yourself for the attack so you've oriented to the situation, you're going to block, therefore you've decided. The only thing left to do is act. The situation becomes act versus act. Nevertheless, this is still wrong because in a truly defensive situation if you know it's coming you either escape or if escape isn't an option you preempt the attack and then escape. Very few drills start out with someone saying "Attack in a completely random and unpredictable fashion."

The same is true for the sporting arena. You might not know when your opponent is going to punch, but you have a pretty good idea that they will at some point punch. Your brain is already in red alert status, and you are reacting more to the telegraph or the tell than you are to the punch. If the person doesn't have a telegraph or tell than you get creamed. If you throw up the wrong block you might get creamed still. How many times have you seen someone throw up a hand by their head in response to a high kick only to have the energy transferred through the hand and into their skull despite the quick reaction time.

Within the insular environment of the dojo or gym, these reactive type drills seem like a good idea. People punch, I don't want to get punched, therefore I need a defense-against-the-punch technique. This ignores the circumstances of a self defense situation. The most important variable of a conflict that makes it self defense is that you didn't provoke or know the attack was coming. If you knew the attack was coming and didn't take steps to keep yourself safe by escape than it isn't self defense.

There is somewhat of a caveat to this, which is the defense against strangles, grabs and locks. While you are technically reacting to the above techniques, you are reacting to them after the fact. You are assuming that you did get surprised by the technique otherwise you never would have let the person get in position for them. They are rather counter measures or reversals to misfortune rather than the prevention of misfortune.

Unfortunately this is exactly how we get taught "defensive" techniques in many dojo and gyms.