Thursday, December 31, 2015

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.