Monday, December 12, 2016

Naihanchi vs Seisan

The biggest difference I've found between the structure of Seisan, which I practice regularly and Naihanchi is how they show the relationships between movements.

Seisan is grouped in clumps of roughly three repetitive movements. The kata demonstrates how to move continuously with a single movement. One can ignore the lines of performance and go on to infinity and never have a definitive break. "Block," punch, move for instance. What is not demonstrated is how the different movements relate to one another. Kata is linear merely for presentation. It is impossible to have a non linear sequence of presentation. Unless you're some sort of N dimensional space alien.

Naihanchi on the other hand ignores how movements can be used continuously and instead demonstrates how the individual power movements can be linked together. Take the back hand to elbow movement in shodan. It begins with a step and then carries forward into the movement. One merely has to shift their weight and step forward again with their left foot to carry the same movement forward again. Step forward again and you return to the original position. This is not shown, but soon starts to look like the crescent steps and weight shifts of more forward facing kata like Seisan. Instead it chooses to focus it's attention on the movements being related and linked to one another, hence a mirror. Left and right.

What does this mean? Nothing really. Just be aware that the kata does not demonstrate linear application and that a kata cannot demonstrate everything at once even if you should be able to respond with any kata movement at any time.

The idea that a 100 year-old kata can predict what a living thinking human being can do is ludicrous and suggests that we're are all merely automatons.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

The Relativist Hell Hole

Since I stopped writing in this blog, I've been writing a book, which is temporarily on hold since the birth of my daughter. Hint: practicing let alone writing about karate is really hard when you have a one month old.

One of the biggest challenges about writing a book about karate is the giant pit of relativism, which is right at the center of it's practice. This is mostly because karate is both Art and Tool, and many if not all don't have a very clear distinction between the two. Art is relative and subject to taste. Tools for the most part are not. Screw drivers suck as hammers. The modern calligraphy type practice of kata performance is Art and therefore relative. Because of this it's very easy to get sucked to one side or the other or give concession to the artistic aspects and diluting the practical.

I'm caught between deconstructing modern paradigms and just giving people good robust tools, so they can practice karate on their own. The latter is easier and probably much more beneficial. I believe most dojo goers are so wrapped up in the status building of the dojo that they will automatically dismiss anything I write out of hand.

All of karate is ultimately relative just because it is an idea like all martial arts. There is personal style, personal preference, personal tactics and strategy and all of it can spring from kata, because kata is really just mechanics. One can practice in their underwear at three in the morning without any thought of practical application and have lots of fun doing it. Nothing wrong with that. This type of thinking however is a bottomless pit of roads taken and not taken. It is basically an absence of thought. If everything is relative than nothing is concrete, so we might as well say screw karate and go drinking.

This is the pit.

Karate as a practical and robust defensive system cannot be subjective. It has a real goal, breaking people. People break more easily some ways than others and it's not that complicated. Physics applies to everyone. It's easy to forget though, because so much of karate is built on myths. The myths have become karate instead of just interesting sidebars.

Hopefully once my daughter gets a little older work can commence and it won't involve me tearing out the rest of my hair. I know what to write, I'm just finding the right words.

Sunday, May 29, 2016


Of the karateka that I know of who are worth anything, they all have one thing in common, they can think. It's a rare attribute, and it's something telling about the nature of karate practice in general that this is the exception rather than the rule.

I don't think karate has anything to do with it. I think these are just exceptional people, but what does it say about traditional karate when we have to go to a seminar to learn karate when we are usually already paying a sensei to teach us karate?

There are a lot of things that I've been wanting to write about on the blog. It won't fit in the blog format though. It's too much information and it needs to be polished into something that is a little more accessible than it is right now. It has to do with thinking. There is a complete cognitive side to karate, which can make it intuitive, instinctual and automatic without memorizing technique. A way to make applying karate kata as easy as having a conversation with a friend. Right now I'm just searching for the right words. This is what I'm working on right now. I don't know when it's going to get done, and it might never, but I think its something that needs to be shared. Mostly because I think karate should be open to everyone. Kata offers a wonderful platform for self learning, and individual practice that is just not available in other arts. It provides a way for a person to take karate as far as they want to.

Until then this is now the end of the blog.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Study is Not Use

I like to study karate in the context of sudden violence, or predatory ambush. On the receiving end of these things. This doesn't mean we need to apply it in this fashion.

Statistically the attack from an ambush predator as it applies to me is very low. Six foot, two hundred pounds and aware of myself. I'm usually the person smaller people watch, and not likely to be harassed too much. I'm much more likely to engage in a monkey dance, but since I'm out of my twenties I don't care enough about other people's opinions to engage in one. Violence for me is pretty low on the probability scale until I get much older. Karate doesn't do me much use in this department. The books I've read on the subject usually point out that prevention is the best medicine and the type of fighting skill that is taught in most dojo just doesn't apply. Mostly because you're usually trying to run away.

So what do I use karate for? I use it to relax, work my brain, to stay healthy and moving. The health benefits from karate will have a larger impact on your life than the fighting stuff. Diabetes and heart disease are more likely to kill you than a sudden street attack. We don't technically use karate for anything. We study karate and studying isn't exactly using. This is okay though. Sometimes we take karate a little to seriously. I take karate seriously as well, but its just a hobby, like 99% of all karate practitioners.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Do You Really Know Your Kata?

Here's the question.

How much do you really know about your kata?

Many people simply practice the pattern of performance, but is this really "knowing" the kata. If I write my ABCs out a hundred times a day do I know the alphabet?

Do you know how to transition without wasted movement between different non adjacent parts of the kata?

Do you know how to use a single movement continuously?

Can you practice the kata with one hand?

Do you know the point at which the structural integrity of a movement breaks down?

Do you know how to use a movement wrong?

Can you use kata movement spontaneously and creatively during partner practice?

Have you absorbed kata to the point that you don't even think kata, you only think move?

Monday, May 16, 2016


I like Michael Clarke's style that is his flare for karate. I like his uncompromising spirit. I like the fact that he advertises on his blog that karate is a self learned art. What I don't like is his ambiguity.

I don't believe that anyone can actually pay for karate. I don't pay for karate. I haven't paid for karate since 2006. Do I have a "black belt" sure I have one that holds my pistol up. Oh wait, it's made of leather, not cotton. No I don't have a black belt. This whole blog is about not paying for karate. I don't think you should pay for it.

The problem with "learn this on your own," or "the equipment will teach you the lesson" is that people are not you. The self learner can read books, do research, contemplate karate, but the person who needs permission will not. The person who doesn't want to go against the grain, go against convention by not spending money, by not seeking out the expert, by not putting on white pajamas will look at ambiguity and say that it is too hard. They are untrained. They don't know what they are looking for or at or what they want, and all too often the difference between the legitimate dojo and the illegitimate dojo is that after black belt one teaches them something and the other teaches them nothing. By this time it's too late. $10,000 or more invested and a whole lot of time and people will not be willing to say they made a mistake by going to the wrong dojo.

People are all to willing to pay for what you can't pay for, success, love, happiness. You can't pay for these things, but modern advertising thrives on these ideas. If you say you need a dojo, people will find the first dojo that meets their expectations, usually based on television and movies. If you say they don't need the dojo, but don't offer alternatives than they will be driven to the bad dojo anyway. If you say that you can't buy something but don't show people how not to buy something than people will try and find a way.

What's the difference?

Reading Time

Reading a book on Propaganda. It's not a how-to manual, but I'm guessing it could be used that way. I'd also need a newspaper, a radio station, canvassers, a television show and posters to be effective, so I doubt I'll be able to implement any of it effectively, so you can relax. It's just recreational reading.

I can't help but see parallels between the modern traditional paradigm of training and some of the methods the book talks about. Bushido was a concept invented with the facade of budo to try and sway the Japanese people towards a more militaristic nature. The fantasy of the Samurai Spirit applied to everything. This is my limited understanding of it at least.

It has been theorized that karate was shaped to prepare people for the Japanese draft. In fact almost all Japanese martial arts under went some sort of transformation and were controlled by a governing body that said what was and what wasn't a Japanese martial art. It's not much of a leap to think that the very nature of practice was changed to promote the propaganda of bushido. It all seems very militaristic in nature. I would know I was/ am a Marine. People standing in rank and file, bowing to a commander, following orders without question, a strict rank structure and hierarchy and a subservience to "tradition." Sounds almost like boot camp to me. In fact besides the bowing almost exactly like boot camp. Hmmmm...maybe something fishy.

This of course could be my complete imagination, but it would explain a few things. The church like qualities of the dojo. People question, but they still follow. How many times have you heard that rank doesn't matter, but your sensei still shows up to the dojo in his cool uniform with the special belt. It's some things to think about.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

A Correction

In a past post, I improperly used the word kigu. I was thinking of the kongoken. Two different things, kind of. Kongoken is a part of kigu, but kigu is not specifically kongoken. Kind of a square and rectangle thing. I'm letting the error stand on the post, as a monument of my linguistic folly.

Side Note: I'm rereading Michael Clarke's The Art of Hojo Undo for a second time. I respect his karate practice though it would be pretty obvious to anyone reading my blog that I don't agree with him on a few things. This might just be linguistic as well. I'm currently re-evaluating some of the exercises in the book and coming at them from a different angle. Mostly that the exercises are to teach you to do work with your body, not to work your body. A subtle difference, but a large difference. Modern aesthetic weightlifting is aimed at stressing a muscle as much as possible usually through very inefficient movement. The movements in kata however are about using your body to do work in a very efficient manner. I find the hojo undo exercises to be much easier if I just treat them as if I were applying my kata. Basically just by using my mass and mechanics to move the weights instead of trying to lift them like a dumbbell.

Friday, May 13, 2016


I realize I get over excited at times. Hostile even. It's only because I believe that many modern karate practices to be deeply unethical. I find traditional karate to be very unethical at times. This is usually rationalized with the excuse of tradition. How many people study for years in the dojo and learn nothing? Instructors cycle through, no planned training, no explanation of a dozen kata, all the while the students pay for the classes, pay for the testing, follow directions, conform to ritual and bow to someone who is teaching them nothing. If anyone taught anything else in the same fashion, you'd want your money back.

Explain this to me

If a person has to examine other martial arts to understand kata than doesn't that mean that your karate dojo isn't teaching you karate? Why are you still paying to go to a dojo?

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

The Money

I've heard an argument twice now that really bothers me. It's basically that one can only teach martial arts if they earn money from martial arts that if they didn't earn money it would be impossible for them to teach. What? It's usually  put forth by people who own facilities, so I can see their stake in the matter, but they're still wrong. It's as if the world owed them money for teaching. Well, the world doesn't owe you anything. Besides this, if you will only teach for the money than how much do you really love what you do?

I know plenty of people who would love to earn money by doing what they love to do. Play music, write, teach, draw and any number of things, but they don't. They actually spend money doing what they love. These people still do these things. People teach, tutor, coach and guide for free on a daily basis, while working a full-time job and don't ask for compensation. Why does the world owe these other people a living?

Don't get me wrong. I'm a capitalist. You make money by exploiting inefficiencies. People are too lazy to crack open a book, learn and then push themselves, so they go somewhere where someone does it for them. They're too lazy to do something, so you invent a gadget that does it for them. It's all good stuff. It doesn't mean that because you have to do it for money that others aren't just as glad to do it for nothing.

People work two or three jobs at a time and raise kids, but these people wouldn't be able to teach martial arts if they didn't make a living at it? What a load of shit.

Easy karate

Karate is easy. People make it complicated, so they can sell you something.

Monday, May 9, 2016


He practices karate.
So he's a karateka.
No, he's a man who practices karate.

I love karate, and it definitely eats up a large portion of my thoughts, but it is not my life. My wife, my work and my family are my life. Karate is just something I do. If you walked into my house right now there would be no markers of my karate practice. No kanji on the walls, posters, sayings, no dirty uniforms. There would just be a mostly bare room with some weights and a bag of beans. My outside practice area could be confused for the future spot of a child's playground. The only markers I have of practice are continuously bruised arms, which no one seems to notice. Either that or they think I'm the victim of spousal abuse.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Buying the Martial Lifestyle

There is definitely a certain amount of tribalism in the martial arts. Well, a whole bunch of tribalism. The ego driven crap, which really pervades all aspects of the martial arts. People want to be part of a club, they want to advertise that club and want everyone to know that their club is better than all the other clubs. I'm not sure how I feel about this.

Harry Browne author of How I Found Freedom in an Unfree World promotes the idea that one should put their views and values out into the world, so that one may find like minded individuals. There is definitely something to this. One should be proud of their accomplishments. On the other hand, I worry about "branding." Consumer branding where we judge people based on what clothes they decide to buy or what soft drink they purchase. I see this same type of thing in the martial arts and it worries me. There are all types of clubs in the karate world. Sport, McDojo, Traditional, Practical, Combat, hybrid, etc. Whatever you want to call them. People are fervent in their support of one or the other and show their support by displaying or not displaying certain things. Rank, special gi, workout equipment, sayings and the like. Pick your ideology and there is a list of what you need to buy to show your allegiance. It's more troubling when a person with the super special dojo or style preaches the spiritual aspects of karate and how its supposed to help us defeat our ego.

People seem to get caught up in the aesthetics of it all. The dojo must look like we are transported to Okinawa or Japan, name your flavor. The makiwara must look like this, its function is to look like this. We be tying our belt like this, they be tying their belt like that. If we don't look like we're practicing karate than we aren't practicing karate. How can we show off our karate if we don't do this?

The internal aspects of karate. The parts that really count are not easily observable to the outside world. Part of shedding the ego is fighting the urge to come up with superficial markers of karate practice. It's not that people shouldn't know, they just can't know without stepping into your head or through their own dedicated practice. We can't show it off even if we tried. Instead maybe karate practice should become a collaborative effort instead of sensei and students. Free exchange of ideas without rank bound only by the practice of karate kata and nothing more.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Wrench and Tear

I've been working on my grip lately. The wrist roller, a spring thing (not sure what it's called), and a bag of beans, which I toss and catch.

Each movement has multiple uses. Gouging, tearing and grabbing is something that can be done at almost any time. A strong grip cannot be achieved with just structure. It's one of the few things, which actually takes strength. It's probably the reason that hojo undo includes a huge focus on grip strength.

It won't put down a person, but it can hurt. Digging your fingers like iron claws into a throat, arm or just anything is a bonus, which can off balance a person. I heard a story recently of Chokotu Kyan where he faced a judoka. He grabbed the judoka by the cheek with a clawed hand, kicked out his feet and followed the poor sap down to the ground with an elbow. He definitely wasn't playing around and who would have expected someone tearing out their cheek with a hand.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016


It's always more fun to practice with someone else. To spar, or work things out, practice some unscripted drills. It's important, but this doesn't present itself all the time, and it's easy to make the excuse that training without a partner is worthless. It's not fun. Practice, however, is practice. It might not be a live resisting person, but it will help. The more familiar you are with yourself, your capabilities and your karate the better you will be.

I used to be roommates with a member of the Marine Corps Boxing Team. This was his job. He spent most of his time doing roadwork, shadow boxing, hitting the bag, skipping rope and pad work. The basics. In comparison, sparring made up a very small portion of training.

The basics can be trained at any time and pretty much any place. There is always an avenue of karate that you can practice and improve. Besides, didn't you want to be a martial artist. This is what they do. Hone their craft. End of story.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

It's Sad Really

There's a lot of lip service that gets paid to kata practice, but even in the traditional karate circles I'm not sure how much attention it truly gets. It's sad really. The facade of kata practice.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Good News and a Deadline

I wasn't able to say so before, because I hadn't told all of my family, but I will be having a baby. Well not me personally, but my wife. This is why even though I've desperately been wanting to post on the blog I've been having to hold off to spend my time on a rather intensive project or rather projects.

This has been the reason that I have not been keeping up the blog. I'll post little things, but a guy's got to do what a guy's got to do. I'm not dropping off the radar for no reason.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Narrow Thinking

It disturbs me when people feel like they must put rigid labels on the martial arts. Labels are needed for a means of identification and transmission of ideas, but the labels are not the things themselves. Is something really art if it is one way and one way only? Is following a set of directions and checking the box art? Does personal preference for a personal art not come into the equation? Must I conform to your ideas to practice my art?

Monday, April 11, 2016

Bad Karate

"You have to be careful if you don't know where you're going, because you might not get there."

Yogi Berra

I believe the idea that karate is not for physical violence is an excuse for teaching bad karate. If you make karate something strictly spiritual, or mental with no regard for the serious implications of violence than you can make it as confusing, nonsensical and crappy as you please. If someone learns nothing, gets hurt, or it fails when people need it most, you can always cover your butt by saying "karate is not about fighting." Students can spend decades adrift in an ocean of misinformation, and never learn what they came for, because they didn't know what they were supposed to learn in the first place.

You've got to be very careful if you don't know where you are going, because you might not get there. Yogi Berra
Read more at:
You've got to be very careful if you don't know where you are going, because you might not get there. Yogi Berra
Read more at:

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Goodbye for Now

This is goodbye. I will no longer be actively updating this blog. I'm sure the five people that read this will be heart broken. I am not quitting karate, nor am I changing any of my practices. I've only under taken a rather large project that is going to take some time to complete and I need to focus all of my attention on it. It has the capability of helping more people than this blog ever could and just might help myself as well.

If you need or want to contact me you can reach me at If you're ever in North Carolina, drop me a line and we'll do some training.

So for now, farewell and remember the only thing keeping you from practicing karate is yourself.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Exercise and Efficiency

I was thinking the other day about how exercise can teach us some bad lessons about efficient movement. Not all exercise, because obviously some weight lifting movements are based on how to efficiently get as much weight up as possible by using your whole body. I'm talking more about body specific exercises, or what might be called aesthetic exercises. These exercises make us strong, but they don't teach us how to use our strength.

Using structure and body weight to power technique is about using gravity and the natural sweet spots of your bones and muscles to perform work, while using the least amount of chemical energy possible, fuel. It's about using the least amount of muscle necessary. It's harder to fight if your tired and generally dropping your whole weight on someone will get more done than punching with just your arm. Many exercises on the other had excel at being exercises because they are inefficient. To maximize the benefit of many exercises, you move in a way that stresses the muscles the most. It is literally the point of exercise to stress the muscles to stimulate their growth. In a real way, these movements strengthen the muscles, while showing us the exact opposite way to use them.

Is this an argument against these types of exercises? No, but it could be. It's only to bring up the point that we need to be aware that what goes into training something and what goes into using something can be different things. We have a tendency to confuse effort with effectiveness. We feel strong when we use muscle, because the only other time we might feel strong is when we're in the gym. Weights make us strong right? In reality, a movement is usually very strong if we feel nothing at all, because it's efficient.

More principle articles are on the way. They just take longer to put together. Cheers.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Playing Monopoly

Using the same strategies you use to win a sporting match to defend yourself is like trying to use the strategies you develop to win a game of Monopoly to become a real estate tycoon.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Small Aside

Because of the nature of the series I've been working on, I've been spending a lot of time just thinking and examining. One thing I've realized is that while many people write about how what you learn from karate gets expressed in the rest of your life, I do the opposite. I don't apply karate lessons to life, but life lessons to karate. The order really isn't important, because the importance rests on making connections between topics to increase an overall understanding of everything, or life as it relates to ourselves. Is this karate training, life training or something else? It's something to meditate on.

Monday, March 14, 2016


The way I practice karate has been described as super traditional since I only practice one kata. About the only thing that Motobu and Funakoshi agree on is that people used to practice only one kata, or at least established a firm foundation in one kata before continuing on to another, so I guess it's fair to say that it's a traditional practice, but this isn't the reason I started practicing one kata. I don't practice this way because it's traditional. I practice one kata, because it's the only way I can practice karate.

I had no money, still have no money, to spend on classes. The greatest teachers in the world can live down the block, but if you have no money to pay them, they might as well be on the moon. I did know that people used to practice one kata that it was supposed to embody a complete fighting system and that there was no definitive interpretation to any of them. I decided that if people used to practice one kata and make it an effective fighting system for themselves than why couldn't I? I had a kata, some spare time and a drive to learn. This was how I was going to study karate, or I wasn't going to study karate at all.

Is it traditional if you practice a certain way because you don't have the money? Maybe, maybe not. I'm glad I went this route though. I've learned far more than if I'd gone the conventional way. I don't really care if it's traditional. It's not really about the labels. I'm not even sure if I really practice karate. It's just a convenient descriptor, because telling someone I practice Seisan requires too much explanation.

Thoughts on Analysis

My bachelor's degree is in English Literature. The degree taught me much and more about structure, narrative, rhetorical devices and language, but the over arching theme of all my classes was analysis. Analysis on the face of it seems rather simple. You're exposed to something and you give your opinion of it. This is what I thought analysis was, but it's more complicated than that.

Merely reading something and giving your own interpretation of the material is not analysis. Analysis is a tool. It is an activity to help you understand the material. It is not an end unto itself. Analysis is about looking at something through different lens, like putting a colored filter over a photograph. Some colors disappear, some are enhanced and this change in perspective brings attention to different aspects of it. In analysis these lens, are used to help shed bias, but also to take on the bias of another.

There is a theory of analysis in literature where you try and throw off all of your own bias, the bias of the author, the historical contexts of the work, or any outside factors and look at the work completely on it's own. It's an annoying and difficult prospect, but it helps you try and see things for what they are. There are other theories of analysis where you take on the bias of another person. My personal favorite is the Gay and Lesbian theory. I'm neither, but it's the only time I've read The Great Gatsby and enjoyed it by looking at it through these borrowed eyes. You borrow the eyes of another and you see what sticks, what changes and what fades away.

I try and use these same ideas to analyze my kata, and it's something to think about.

Saturday, March 12, 2016


I don't really like bunkai videos anymore. I used to like them a lot, but they don't really do it for me anymore. It's not really that they're bad, or that the ideas wouldn't work, but that they don't teach people to come to their own conclusions. They don't really teach people how to analyze kata for themselves.

I kind of think of kata as a spring board now, a template for possibilities and not so much as even different techniques. It's like a spring that gives rise to many different streams. The kata is the spring and the streams are the techniques, but the stream is not the spring.

I can come up with a bunch of drills, and techniques and variations of techniques and drills, and then make a flow drill to tie all of them together, but I don't think that would help people understand what a kata is in a helpful manner. A kata helps you build the tools to become a navigator. It's not a set of directions. If the directions are bad, or something goes wrong than there is no room to adapt. If you know how to navigate than you can come up with your own directions. You learn to adapt.

Practicing kata should start with identifying the principles that give rise to all techniques. Teachers should give students the analytical tools they need to find these answers for themselves. This way they can surpass the teacher instead of just following.

Some More Videos

Some more Rory Miller.

Friday, March 11, 2016


Noah Legel and the guys over at Karate Culture both put out some media on "fighting dirty." It's good stuff. There really isn't anything I disagree with in both their releases, but I think we all need a little bit of perspective. I kind of covered it in an earlier post, but I thought of a good example of what I'm talking about.

When I was in the Marines, there was a Wounded Warrior House on base, and I'd be assigned to cover events there. It was 2006 or 2007 and the house had just opened. There were two Marines there that had very traumatic brain injuries, so traumatic that they basically had half of their brain missing along with half of their skull. They walked and talked and were still basically functional though they needed some help. I also met those that lost limbs, were severely burned and blind.

I'm telling this story, because I've met several people that had very horrendous injuries in combat and survived. These are injuries where most people would have just died. This however isn't evidence against rifles, grenades and IEDs. These are highly effective and highly dangerous, but they don't work all the time. This is to say that if some people are so resilient that they can take a high powered round to the head and still live than what are the chances that your punches are going to work? It's not an argument against punches or any technique. It's just that some people are so tough that you're just screwed. It makes arguing about what's better having your hand open versus closed or whether hitting someone's skull is better than poking their neck rather moot, when you consider that even bombs don't work all the time.

Videos to Watch

I'm going to be posting some videos on here of some stuff I like, just to get some people exposed to what are hopefully new ideas and new practices. I hope it's beneficial.

No Such Thing

I've gone beyond good tactics and bad tactics. It depends on context. Some tools are good for some things and some are bad for other things. A wine glass is terrible for hammering nails, but it's awesome for holding wine. Does this mean that it's a crappy tool? No, it just means it's not a hammer.

You need to move beyond good and bad and understand that no matter what the context this stuff might not work. Solutions in the martial arts are fictional. It's only what may work, not what will work.

It's important to remember that even handguns aren't that effective, but if it's life or death, I'll probably put my money on my gun rather than my punches. The handgun is still much more dangerous whether it works or not.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Finding Strategy in Kata

As I practice it, kata is a collection of principles. These principles are largely concerned with generating force to do work in an efficient manner. In the most simple terms, it's teaching you how to move to achieve a goal. The goal generally being to keep yourself safe from harm by ending a conflict, which is not just pounding the crap out of someone but also escape. If you exit the conflict, you also end the conflict, physically at least. These principles however usually have a common theme. This theme usually pops up in different incarnations, but the result is generally the same. This is the strategy.

I'm going to give a sport example. Ronda Rousey is super awesome at arm bars, and she's super awesome at hip throws. They are her strengths. They work together to achieve the goal of winning the fight. She can slam someone with a hip throw and while they're dazed she can put them in the arm bar. An effective strategy for her would be movements that exploit these two strengths. Getting close, distraction, softening blows, etc. If she were to create a kata, it would most likely involve different ways to exploit these two strengths. It would have a theme. It would be a group of tactics that work toward her larger strategy.

The common theme that I see in my flavor of Seisan is the explosive use of linear body movement and unbalancing an opponent through what could be called opposing action to knock them down. There are other things that can be gleaned, but most if not all of the movements I practice have the potential to just drop someone on their butt. There are other types of movements or "techniques" that can be gleaned from the kata, but to me these are the major themes. All the movements either help me do this, or help me get in a position to do this. This is of course just my opinion.

In short if you find the theme, you can find the strategy. You'll find the themes by studying how the kata moves you to deliver energy and what that kinetic energy has the potential to do. It's sometimes better to figure out what the moves are not good for.

This is just how I've tried to analyze it, and what I've found useful to me.

Busting Logs

I've been spending a few hours each day splitting rounds of maple. They're from a tree we brought down in my front yard, and it's been a mission of mine to get it from fallen trunk to cords of wood for the last few months. All the rounds are finally sequestered in my driveway, so they're not an eye sore for the neighbors. I'm sure they're liking that. This activity has been my chief source of strength training for the last week, making it a point to spend a few hours on it each day. It was a thirty foot maple, so it's taking some time.

I'm using a sledgehammer, wedges and an axe to split the wood, though I have a chainsaw in my basement. I could get it done much more quickly with the gas-powered tool, but that's not the point. It's a challenge and a monster. Blisters, splinters, some blood and muscles so sore that sometimes it's hard to practice have been my rewards so far, plus dropping ten pounds. What I'll get in the end is more knowledge, more resilience, more strength and a ton of free fire wood. It's worth it to me for just the challenge and the accomplishment.

It seems simple enough on the face of it. Hammer wedge into stump, hit wedge with hammer and split wood. The logs don't know this though. Usually it's hammer, hammer, hammer, ping, and the wedge pops out like it was pushing against a spring. Probably user error along with lack of knowledge, but this is the kind of thing you have to figure out on your own. These are skill based tools. You don't just follow the instructions. These things build mental fortitude as well as physical. You need to work past the frustration, the pain and work toward progress. Swinging the hammer is the easy part. I know that sooner or later it will be routine. Once I've learned the weaknesses of the wood. It will take mindfulness and concentration.

I'm looking forward to what I'll learn.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Kata in the Dark

The only thing I miss about working third shift is walking out onto my driveway at three in the morning and practicing kata. I don't have much choice in the summer. The house hovers around 80 degrees and intense physical activity inside heats the place up even more. It's a nice test of will power keeping the house at that temp.

At that time of night is the quietest the city ever gets. Just the distant roar of cars on the highway and the insects. I don't know what it is about it, but karate outside and especially at night always felt right. The house can be distracting anyway. There are always chores to be done and the mind wanders. Outside it's just you and the critters and it's easier for me to concentrate.

Not a Warrior

I think it's important to say that the independent study of karate does not make you a fighter or a warrior. It makes you someone who studies karate. I know I dip my toe into self defense every so often, but this is more an encouragement for people to evaluate their own practices and not to unintentionally pick up bad habits. It's pointing out an alternative viewpoint. I try and practice my karate in such a way that it won't hinder me in a violent situation, but I'm definitely not relying on it. I try and focus on the fundamentals of my kata and how I can explore them. I work on what I can and try not to worry so much about the aspects that are out of my control. A parallel would be dry firing a pistol to work on fundamentals. It will help you improve your shooting, but it's not an answer to everything.

Independent study firmly places you in the recreational category of martial arts practice. There's overlap, but as I see it the only people who aren't playing around are force professionals. Police, military, prison guards and bouncers. The people who's safety depends on it routinely. Everyone myself included is just playing around. It's a serious issue, but it's also fun to explore.

Diligent, careful and thoughtful solo kata practice can help you build a solid foundation to work from. It's about building a tool out of your body. It doesn't mean you can apply it, but you can still study it. There are a lot more benefits from karate and single kata practice than just learning how to hurt people. This is okay. I believe this opens up a door for people to get interested and practice without feeling like it's necessary to engage in what is sometimes very time consuming and expensive training. It should be fun and thoughtful.

Showing My Own Bias

I definitely showed my bias in an earlier post on guards in karate. I've taken down the post, and I'm going to provide a little bit of clarification on the subject. I unintentionally skipped an idea that might have made things a little clearer.

Karate as I see it is an infighting system. It has a very particular range where many of the movements work best. This is chest to chest. It's much, much closer than many people practice their karate. In infighting there is no real guard. This is because offense and defense are not separated. They can't be because the distance is so close that a conventional guard no longer works. To stop an attack you have to break the person's balance and structure with your own attack. It's not about intercepting attacks, it's more about preventing them in the first place. It's not fool proof by any means, but neither is a conventional guard.

Infighting I believe is a better option for self defense. It's the range for which many predatory attacks take place, and a person is able to put all of their tools and techniques to use. Striking, grappling, gouging, throwing and locking are all options. This is opposed to longer range ballistic attacks, which limit the techniques you can use effectively. If you're beyond arms length from an unarmed opponent than you're relatively safe and should work toward escape or diffusing the situation.

To sum up karate for me is an infighting system, so there is no guard. Self defense and infighting aren't really separated in my head, so it was unfair of me to make such a blanket statement. These are of course just my opinions. I'll try to do better in the future.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Choosing a Kata

If you're already a karate practitioner and would like to change your avenue of study than the kata you choose will be rather simple. It's whatever kata you like to practice the most. In my opinion, there are no bad kata. There are some pretty wonky versions of kata out there, but even the worst of these can be fixed by paying attention to body mechanics and the principles of efficient movement. This means proper power generation, skeletal alignment, weight shifts and understanding how and why the movements work. It's a tall order. You'll have to do this type of stuff anyway, but it's easier if there aren't superfluous movements added to the sequence.

If you're new to karate than I would suggest that you choose one of the foundational kata like Seisan or Naihanchi. If you choose Seisan, I'd go with one of the simpler incarnations of the kata. There are many, many different flavors of Seisan and each put emphasis on different parts. Shito-Ryu, Uechi Ryu and Goju Ryu have fairly simple versions. There are a couple of reasons why I would suggest choosing a simpler looking kata. The first is that if you are new it will be easier to learn the sequence of movements. The second reason is that flashier or more complicated kata do not mean that they are more advanced. Each kata is a collection of principles and fundamentals. If you understand the principles and fundamentals, it's possible to create an almost infinite number of technique variations, so don't sweat about how they look.

I would also advise that you ignore any labeling of techniques in a kata. In my opinion, they hinder more than they help. Blocks are not just blocks, punches are not just punches, kicks are not just kicks. They have many different layers and uses, and labeling artificially constricts our thinking. They are blinders that we do not need. This makes the movements a giant black hole of sorts, but you need to have faith that everything will come together. Karate is more abstract than concrete, which is scary at first, but it prevents you from getting stuck in one frame of mind and allows you to be adaptable later on.

It's important to remember that just because someone learns a kata from a living breathing person doesn't mean that said person knows what they're doing. I've seen very terrible kata and technique from people who have been practicing long enough to know better. Why do I bring this up? It's because you're not going to do any worse learning on your own than going to many commercialized dojo. Take comfort in the fact that you can't do any worse if you were paying for it, so relax, practice and study hard.

Patience, practice and play are the key.

No Nonsense Self Defense

I'd like to turn people's attention toward this website, No Nonsense Self Defense, which I've added to my links. I've mentioned it before in another post, but I just wanted to repeat myself. It's full of great information on many subjects related to violence and self defense, and I encourage everyone to read it. I use this site as my bullshit meter. It helps me determine whether someone is trying to sell me snake oil. It's big, long and somewhat complicated so prepare to spend a few days glued to your computer reading all of Marc MacYoung's stuff.

Sorry if you recently tried to click on the link. It's now fixed.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Speaking Up

Karate is something so intensely personal, abstract and unique to each individual that it's almost pointless writing about it. I'm finding other karateka, who are much more skilled and knowledgeable than myself, with similar views and their overall attitude seems to be "why bother?"

This is understandable. I think I've written before that you can tell someone about certain aspects of karate until you're blue in the face, but until they have that moment of true recognition you might as well be talking to a tree. This isn't even considering trying to correct all the bad, useless and fantastical thinking that goes on in karate circles. There's much more self teaching that happens in karate than people are willing to admit or even think about. People don't like abstract ideas. They like concrete instructions and that's just something you don't really have in karate, no matter what people are trying to sell you.

The response to all this madness seems to be to step back into the shadows and just not talk about it. I've been tempted to do this as well. Why waste the energy? Why waste the time? Especially when I know it won't really make a difference. The reason why I want to keep writing is that silence is part of the problem.

I might be just another asshole internet warrior who doesn't know what he's talking about. I'm prepared to accept that title, but if I had the slightest hint about the alternatives to certain karate practices ten years ago than I'd be a lot further along. I'd have a place to get started and a lantern to help light my way. It wouldn't have taken me years to start asking the right questions.

Pressure Point Knock Outs

To paraphrase Rory Miller, if these pressure point knock outs were real than no one would survive a good massage.

I know you've probably seen the same videos as me. Some guy taps someone on the neck or the chin and they collapse like a boned fish onto the mat, and this guru has to do some sort of back rub to get the guy conscious again. This is stupid. People believe this stuff because they want the martial arts to be like magic. They want to power up like Dragon Ball Z, and turn into some ultimate unstoppable thing with their chi. Maybe not this exactly, but it's pretty close. I used to be one of these people. I wanted the martial arts to be magical and mystical. Some dojo don't try to refute this type of stuff. In some ways they encourage it when they say "you'll be able to unlock the kata subconsciously when attacked." It's playing on people's insecurities that they need an ultimate weapon.

I put this kind of stuff in the same category as the Loch Ness Monster, Big Foot, alien abductions, moon landing conspiracies and astral projection that is the utter crap category.

Edit: I'd also like to say that I don't care for pressure point fighting in general. Like I've said, I broke my arm riding my bike. Because of the adrenaline dump, I was able to pick the bike up, fix the chain and ride home. An hour later, I couldn't even lift it, so I find the idea of performing some type of vulcan nerve pinch rather dubious.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Skill Not Included

This is something that's been bouncing around my head for a little bit. Skill is not included when it comes to kata movements or even analysis of those movements. I think skill is a foreign concept to many people. We can watch a professional athlete, a musician or an artist and enjoy their skill and on a certain surface level we know what a skill is, but we don't necessarily understand it. Most of us are much more familiar with just following instructions on some type of electronic gadget, or putting together some sort of boxed furniture from the store. Insert dowel A into recess G, or after booting up, click on the setup icon and choose tint from the drop-down menu. I believe we confuse the two sometimes. We confuse skill with instructions.

Kata has more of a parallel with hand tools than it does with electronic gadgets. There is some degree of skill required with electronics, but hand tools don't even come with instructions and require a larger degree of skill, nuance and experience to be used effectively. They're harder. It's why people don't use them. Anyone who's ever used a chisel knows there's a big difference between knowing how to use one and actually using one. They're two different things. Angle, pressure, grain and tactile feeling play a huge role in the finished product. This is information that can't be passed through instruction personal or otherwise. Kata is the same way. It's the text book and the tool, but this doesn't imply skill. There is nuance to it gained through experience. Not just partner practice, but solo practice as well.

Skill is derived from understanding how the tool works at it's most fundamental levels. If we understand the tool, than we can use it to its full potential. In regards to karate, understanding the tool really means understanding ourselves. This requires more diligent study turned inwards than looking for answers without.

Friday, March 4, 2016

Push Hands and Constant Pressure

I like push hands as a training tool. It allows me to practice my structure against a person in a non-competitive fashion and practice many of the patterns in kata that are not only used for ballistic attack, but are also used to receive and redirect force and put you in a position to return force without changing positions. I don't want to have to stop and reset my position to manipulate someone. I want to be able to manipulate them from the position I'm currently in.

One thing I've learned while doing this is that you need to give constant pressure. This could be deemed sticky hands, but it's more than just keeping contact, it's keeping pressure. I want to bog down the other person, to throw off their balance and keep them reacting instead of acting. I want them to have to move, shift and reset to manipulate me, so that they're always a step behind me. Part of how I do this is using stances, weight shifts and stable arm positions to lean on them. The end middle block position is a surprisingly stable position for leaning on someone. If the other person doesn't use structure than they'll be bearing some of your weight. Proper stance integrity is essential when I do this because if the person suddenly shifts than I need to have my balance.

Another lesson is angles. Use them. Angles, angles, angles. When ever I read something or heard something where someone was talking about angles they always seemed to explain it like you were lunging at someone from a few feet away at an angle, usually a 45 degree angle. I think it can be a little more subtle than this. It's really the difference between pushing a boulder and rolling a boulder. Another example would be walking furniture. You push at an angle and then the other side at an angle or you tilt it at an angle and walk it back and forth. It's the same with a person. You don't want to push into the center of their mass you want to push at the angles and tip them.

Just a few thoughts.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Consumer Mentality

Our modern culture is a disservice to most of us in my opinion. Our consumer culture that is. The health, and safety aspects of it are wonderful. We for the most part are brainwashed by advertising. We all like to think that advertising doesn't effect us, but sadly it does. We are constantly bombarded with sales pitches to buy products and services, while each individual advertisement is for a different product, the message is always the same: "Buy this and your life will be better if not perfect." Notice that the message is almost never "buy this because it's a superior product."

All this advertising builds up in our brain and we're constantly given the impression that stuff = happiness. How many of us when we have a project that needs to get done immediately start looking for the tools that we "need" for the job? Television tells us that with the right tools any job is easy, so we buy the planer, the table saws, the exhaust fans and other various tools to build a bird house. We spend thousands of dollars trying to solve imaginary problems. We've essentially out sourced all of our thinking to merchandise. We are taught that almost any activity is so complicated that we need a specialist to do the job for us. It's supposed to be a convenience thing, but how many of us spend days waiting for equipment in the mail or spend hours driving around to buy something. We usually spend the extra time we have in front of the television anyway and pine after the lives of people who don't spend their entire lives in front of the television.

There's still cost in time however. Most if not all of us work for a living. If you work for an hourly wage you sell your time. "Time saving" contraptions still usually cost you time and money just in a different way. For instance you could spend a few days earning the money to buy a decent rotary tiller for your hobby garden. However, it would only take a shovel and a couple hours to double dig the garden and you'd have those days of pay in your pocket, plus a workout. Win, win. You could also choose to work less. More time for karate. Two hours of labor could literally save you days of work.

I believe one of the larger lessons of karate is learning to adapt and solve our own problems. If you outsource all of your problems you usually gain junk. If you learn and adapt, you get the job done and you also gain a skill.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

A Benefit of Single Kata Practice

One of the chief practical benefits for practicing a single kata is that it limits the number of "techniques" that you practice. This might seem like a bad thing, but if you lean more toward the pragmatic side of things this is actually very good. You want to ingrain movements really hard into your nervous system. The more you do a movement the stronger those neural pathways become, the more muscles can be recruited for a movement and the more efficient it becomes. Practicing a single kata checks this box for me.

With only a single kata, each practice session adds to this. Each repetition is another brick added to your defensive wall if you will. Practicing multiple kata can have a dilutive effect. You're not just building one wall you're building a bunch of smaller walls. Each time you practice one you're taking time away from another. It becomes a compromise in training and things need to be balanced out eventually. The single kata takes care of this by shifting your focus on one instead of many. You don't need to worry about training kata that may be acting at cross purposes.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Why Hojo Undo Equipment is Cool and Stupid

Doing supplementary training exercises in the old fashioned way is pretty cool as a cultural study. I've used these old tools and it's pretty neat to discover exactly which muscles these old karate tools are used to develop. These are usually the deltoids, trapizious, the lats and the forearms. The exercises are performed for endurance because power endurance exercises are the kind of movements you want for physical conflict, but besides cultural study these tools are not necessary.

"If you don't use kigu, you're not practicing karate."

Read this recently and it made me roll my eyes. Almost all of these tools were some form of heavy household object. They ground rice were locks for doors or were just heavy stones. They were whatever you could find that was heavy. A modern equivalent would be lifting milk jugs or bags of kitty litter. In a hundred years it would look pretty silly to come across someone lifting their ancient traditional milk jugs because that's the true way that poor old great grandpa used to do. Besides the fact that the kigu came from Hawaii in the 1920s. The author of the above quote knows this, but I think some people are confusing form for function.

These grand old karateka were looking for results. Remember that there were no organizations, no belts, no ranks (as we know them) and no syllabus. You practiced however you felt made you stronger and you learned from others. You used what came to hand. Skill was what was important and not the kind you showed off to your friends, but the type that got you home at night. I'm fairly positive that if you could drop an Olympic weight set off at Matsumora's house and showed him how to use it, he'd be all over it. It's a lot more versatile than a rock.

If something is not about what you do, but how you do it than that's called aesthetics. Function has it's own kind of beauty, but form by itself is empty. It's an illusion. What counts are results.

There are plenty of free exercises that can work these same muscles. They're called calisthenics. You can look them up online and they only need a body. Your body. But then you'd just need to work hard, instead of playing with cool toys. Granted many of these tools can be made very inexpensively, but five dollars in my pocket is better than some more crap filling up my house.

The practice of one kata is the same. If I can learn karate from one kata than why should I pay someone for 20 if one will serve? Should I buy 20 different cars just in case, or twenty different corkscrews, 20 different kinds of axes? People love collecting this junk, but skill and creativity counts for more than possessions.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Information at Cross Purposes

There's tons of information out there on any given subject that seems to contradict each other. People give information to people without the people who want the information truly understanding what they're asking.

Part of learning is not just asking questions, but knowing the right questions to ask. The cure is to ask questions and to keep asking questions and not to stop even if you're satisfied with the answer.

I see this all the time in many subjects from heating and cooling your house to physical fitness. Problems usually arise because someone has a problem, but instead of truly understanding it they go out and find a patch. The patch makes more problems, so they get another patch. It's like a massive game of telephone where the actual problem never actually gets addressed because it was never actually discovered, but you end up with a weird "fix" to the problem.

A recent example of this comes from bodybuilding. I'm not a bodybuilder, but I like to stay in shape to look good for my mate and everyone else. There's a lot of weird contradictory information about what it takes to get big muscles because of one piece of information that's usually lacking, because a question is never asked. Are you on steroids? Steroids almost completely changes the way you train, because they circumvent your body's natural processes. If you're on steroids you train a specific way, which is almost opposite to the way you have to train when you do it naturally. On steroids you work out for volume, so you do relatively low weight for lifting and do it a lot. If you're not on steroids and work out this way you will not see the same results, because you're not on drugs. However if you ask a bodybuilder what type of work out he does, he'll tell you and he's not lying, he's just not telling you the information you really need. I'm not on steroids by the way. I don't have big muscles either.

This happens in martial arts as well. Sports, aesthetics, combat, fighting, self defense, fitness and spiritualism have all been blended together to give us a bunch of information at cross purposes. Training for all of these is different yet many people think they're all the same. They model their training off of professional fighters, but don't understand that professional athletes train in a cycle with well defined training plans because they know exactly when they need to perform. It's on a calendar. In combat there are a huge amount of resources that go into each battle with each aspect of the larger military campaign assigned to a different type of unit, which each have their own individual goals and training. In self defense it's prudent not to push yourself so hard that you can't respond to a sudden violent attack. All that training doesn't do much good if you're limping down the road because you train full contact five days a week, and a half starved hobo just has to push you over to get your wallet, when otherwise you could have just ran away.

Technique for example is an illusion. There is no such thing. There are effects on the body. If I trip someone, it's not because I used my foot, hand, a chair or a fart, it's because the other person lost their balance. I made them lose their balance, but it's the result that's desired not how I get there. I don't care how I get there. However, if I train in a system where I need to learn a specific gesture or choreographed scene to get my next colored belt than technique is important. I will be tested on how I get to the result. The result is usually an assumed afterthought.

If the focus is on self defense than technique is less important than result. If the focus is on sport and who can do a specific group of techniques better than the other person than technique is very important. Sport is the cart before the horse. But, technique is important right? Nope, it's not. It's as if a soldier would stand up in the middle of combat and say "hey, time out guys. This dude didn't kill this guy right. He didn't use the right technique." Like they care as long as it gets done.

This is where these inane arguments about how long you should practice a technique for come from and when you've "mastered" something. As if there is such a thing. You practice until you die. End of story, let's move on to something more productive.

All this different information leads to a lot of wasted effort. Patches on patches on patches. People who train in techniques to get belts, because they believe they'll get skill, but all they have are belts and a dictionary as if owning a dictionary made you a writer. They add more technique to patch their kata because that's not real and then they add more techniques for different scenarios to patch the fact that they don't know how to use the movements they already have creatively to get results. They add more patches and techniques from other parts of karate to try and "understand" movements that they never sat down and studied to begin with as if being in a thousand one day relationships is the same as being in one thousand day relationship. Add to the fact that this is all just pissing in the wind when it comes to the complexity of violence and what it takes to survive the conflict physically and survive the aftermath mentally and spiritually.

The point is if you're a karateka sit down and look at what  you have right now. How can you use it? How can you abuse it? Do you really understand it? People survive in harsher environments with just a loin cloth and their wits. I think we can all learn to use what we have around us and inside us instead of looking for more imaginary fixes to made up problems.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

The Search Continues

There's a noticeable lack of any kind of decent martial arts instruction where I live. One instructor said it would only cost $10,000 for him to make me a black belt. Wonderful stuff. Another place has it's international headquarters in Boone, N.C. To date none of it's training facilities exist outside of North Carolina and Tennessee. I'm not sure they understand what international means. Maybe they meant, intra-national. It's some type of kung fu school, which is even more hilarious.

Every few months or so I check to see if there are any training groups in the area. It's a website that's basically designed to bring people with common interests together. I did find martial arts groups, but all were thinly veiled advertising. "Try three free lessons and let's show you how we can turn you into a master martial arts killer." It's depressing, sickening and frustrating at the same time.

The martial arts seem to be one of the only activities where the majority of people are completely devoid of brains. People seem to be able to gather rather easily for games of flag football and book discussions. There are even historical European martial arts organizations around, which are just groups of people messing around and seeing what works. Once you put someone in white pajamas and start playing karate well than you better pay up, shut up and stand in line. You want your pretty belt right?

For an activity that seems to pride itself on character building and is supposedly not about fighting, lots of people seem to need giant boosts to both their egos and their bank accounts by teaching fighting techniques. Oh wait, that's just marketing, most of these places couldn't teach you how to tie your shoes properly. It's sad really.

Of course what do I know? I have no belts or certificates and no dojo, because these can't be faked or worthless. They're just like legal tender or universities you know. I'm just some asshole who loves karate, but I don't pay a studio's rent, so it doesn't count. Right?

Okay, so it's another rant, but people should think long and hard about what they think they're practicing and what they're really doing and why they're doing it. Paying bills doesn't make you a karateka. It makes you a sucker.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Changing Gears and Getting Started

I'd like to try and switch gears a little bit with this blog and try and focus on its true intent, which is encouraging the individual study of karate through the practice of a single kata. While this has always really been the case, it's easy to get pulled into tiny little details regarding different types of practices and traditions. This usually involves a lot of critiquing, which can be fun and enlightening, but overall it can be very negative and exhausting. It does very little to encourage people in their own independent study. I'm going to try and remedy this as best I can.

There are many obstacles that can stand between a person and their ability to practice karate in the conventional sense. Time, money and location are the biggest three hurdles that keep a person from engaging in this very fulfilling activity. Money can be tight, a good place to learn can be far away and many people work odd shifts to support themselves and their families. Luckily kata can be both the textbook and the tool.

The study of karate can be achieved independently from any other person or organization with the practice of a single kata. It is however a very daunting prospect to undertake, but no more daunting than practicing at your local commercialized school. With diligent practice and an inquisitive attitude, it's possible to learn a great deal from one kata on your own. It's important to note however that because you are only focusing on one kata, you will not be learning a style, brand or type of karate. You will be studying your karate and it will be whatever you can make it. This is exactly the same as any other karateka, but you will not have the luxury of claiming status, legitimacy or the accomplishments of others through an established organization. There will be no cookie cutter template of acceptable practice, and there will be no one to hold your hand and point out any mistakes. You will be solely responsible for yourself. This is as it should be.

I am sometimes hesitant to characterize my own practice as karate, because karate in many ways is more of a combined cultural heritage made up of many kata rather than any single kata on its own.

To start, one must first find themselves a kata. You may already have a little background in karate and know a kata or two, but if you don't there are usually plenty of books available at your local library and there are thousands of videos on the internet to use as reference material. The Seisan and Naihanchi kata are fairly simple foundational kata. There are many different variations of each kata and there is no "true" version. Each usually just emphasize different aspects of the kata.

Even with personal instruction at a commercial dojo there is no guarantee that you will receive proper instruction. It's best to be patient, go slow, pay careful attention and practice. All the movements will feel unnatural and awkward in the beginning. This is normal. Keep calm and carry on.

To be continued...

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Play Fighting

It's easy to take sparring too seriously. Martial artists go through great lengths to try and come up with effective "fight simulations," for them to hone their skills and it can sometimes involve complex rule structures, target substitutions and extensive protective equipment. We want the real deal. Safety is always the biggest concern, but put a grown man and a few children together and they can play fight safely without much fear of injury without any sort of rules, restrictions or even a safety brief. "Well that's just play. I'm training for a FIGHT." True, but all animals learn through play.

Kittens learn to stalk, pounce and hunt through play. Full grown cats still play. Just get some string out and watch as their eyes go wide and see them start to pad softly towards it waiting to strike. Dogs play as well. They learn their social dominance games through play, which they later use to decide hierarchy in a pack setting. Even prey animals play through chasing and running, practicing the same tactics that they'll use to try and evade predators. To a certain degree, we do this as well when a father rough houses with his children. We all know how to play.

For some reason, humans need to be serious when we train to do serious things. But play is a good safe way to try and improve our fighting skills. Usually it isn't power or even technique that we need practice with, but adapting. Flowing with another person, learning to recognize openings and opportunities. According to Rory Miller, it's one of the four ways that help ingrain skills along with teaching, training and conditioning. Give it a try. Tell your training partner that you're just going to play around for a little bit. I bet you end up training twice as long and having twice as much fun.

It's also possible to play on your own. Just imagine you're playing with someone and try and flow from one thing to another without taking it too seriously.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Net Positives

Karate as well as other activities in general should have an overall positive impact on your life. By this I mean that an activity should have more upsides than downsides and preferably should be all upside and no downside. This can be tricky in today's world, which seems to promote consumption and specialists as a cure for all of our problems. There is hardly a problem out there that someone isn't eager to sell you a solution to whether it is needed or not.

Part of the reason I practice karate by studying only a single kata is because it makes martial arts a net positive in my life where it otherwise would run contrary to my other life goals, which is not acceptable. If I were to practice martial arts in the conventional sense, I could spend a couple thousand dollars at a minimum each year for fees, testing, uniforms, equipment and travel. I'd spend a few hours away from my family each week, and I would still have to spend time outside of the dojo training on my own. I would also most likely need to supplement this with my own fitness regimen. If I wanted to practice karate with my wife, she would also have these same expenses.

As it stands now, I spend no money that I don't want to spend on karate. I practice for free and can guide my study however I please. Karate and fitness are combined, and it's a fun activity for my family to do together. The money we save from not going to a gym or dojo can be put toward retirement goals and investments. As well as a fun physical activity, studying the single kata and the broader subject of violence on my own exercises my mind and creativity. Rank, recognition and "legitimacy" are small prices to pay especially when they mean so little to begin with.

One may say that learning the self defense aspects of martial arts from a competent instructor is an investment in my future safety. This may be true, but it may not be true as well. I've learned enough about violence, crime and self defense to know that no matter how good your training and no matter how good the system success is not certain. Common sense and the will to survive will serve a person better than the best training from the best martial arts master in the world. Money in the bank will serve me better to handle life's complications better than spending it preparing for something that may never happen.

My karate exercises my body and brain, it doesn't shrink my bank account, I spend more time with my family, and it doesn't impede my other goals. This is all upside, a net positive.

Empty Technique

On a certain level karate is about the perfection of technique, but this is a very small level in my opinion. While there are those that say that karate is not violence, I say that it is very much about violence, but because it is about violence that it draws our attention to the fragility of life. The pursuit of technique is empty. The pursuit of personal growth and improvement is full. It has the same shape, but is not the same thing.

A person can practice a movement or a kata one million times and while this may be the culmination of one's karate training it is not the goal. The goal is survival. It is not winning, or losing, fantasy, dreams, heroics or zen, it is living. Techniques, mindfulness, and determination can all play a role in survival, but if one survives without these things they've still achieved the goal.

The perfection of techniques for it's own sake stagnates into aesthetics and empty ritual. It becomes a picture of the thing, but a picture is not the thing itself. If one is attacked suddenly by a wild two-legged beast, does one want to strive toward perfect technique or survival? If our attention during training is drawn toward technique rather than overcoming, than where will our attention be during that dire moment?

Perfection of technique should be aimed at the perfection of survival, not the perfection of vanity.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Abstract Karate

The nature of karate is very abstract. People don't like the abstract. They want simple answers for complicated problems. They want lines, borders and categories that divide and classify things into easy to understand pieces. They want truth, when there is a very big possibility that there is no such thing and never has and never will be. What answers there are are vague shadows on the wall.

Kata is movement. There are many labels that can be put on this action ranging from combat exercise to meditation to ritual, but it is merely movement. It does not need a label or a meaning apart from this. It makes it harder to discuss in our modern times, but for a time of illiterates from where it was formed, they may have intuitively understood this better than we do.

I raise and lower my hand. A simple action, a movement, which can take on the shape of many things. A greeting, a handshake, shooing flies. It is all these things and none of them. I raise and lower my hand. We do this every day without needing to know the why or how. The intention and the results speak for themselves. I use the motion, which fits the context and nothing more. There are infinite context and one motion. Simple? Complicated? Both?

It doesn't matter. It's only movement. Nothing more, nothing less.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Looks are Deceiving

One technique that I love is a spine manipulation movement from Seisan. You put one hand on the small of a person's back, you put one hand on the person's chin and you push and pull while stepping forward. Even if you're really strong it's incredibly hard to fight. You feel yourself being crumpled backwards, but the leverage is so great that you just fold and fall. If you want to be incredibly damaging you step on one of their feet and instead of pushing on their chin you palm heel it then push. There's a possibility that you will break their jaw, neck and ankle and depending on the surface they're falling on their skull. If you do the technique nicely, you just tip them over.
All of these parts can be separated into their own techniques, but together you can have someone lying in a broken heap in the time it takes to take a single step forward. This is karate. The really cool thing is that most people think the movement is blocking a punch and finishing with an arm grab.

The movement done in the air looks like a open handed double block.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Using a Book for Kata Practice

I don't do this so much anymore, but one thing that really helped me get my movement down was practicing with a book on my head. Specifically a hard bound Thesaurus. One thing it does really well is pointing out excessive movement and movement at cross purposes.

Excessive movement is moving past your balance point, unnecessary weight shifts, and lifting up and sinking down while trying to move. These are the easiest ways to knock the book off. It's not the movement that makes the book lose its perch it's too much movement in different directions. To get the most out of using your body weight, you need to learn how to focus it's energy in any one direction without wasted movement. A good example of this is trying to use the crescent step, which is common to many styles and kata. With this type of movement, your feet move in this quarter moon fashion, but your center of gravity should move along a center plane. Your center of gravity should not wobble from side to side as you step. People however want to try and step in a heel toe fashion and shift their weight into the step after posting their weight on one foot and then sink into their stance. All someone needs to do is tap them to knock them over. By keeping your mass moving along the center, a person needs to fight all of your body weight plus your momentum to knock you over.

The book points out all of your little wasted movements and shifts, which serve no purpose. It must be remembered that the kata is a best case scenario for movement. It's the maximum bang for your buck as far as structure, acceleration and mass are concerned, but you need to be able to apply this in the sloppy environment of a fight through feeling and this can help. If you don't know what this feels like you'll always be guessing and this is a good first step.

But most importantly, have fun.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016


The better you are at karate the less you want to fight.

This type of phrase gets thrown around a lot not just in karate circles, but also in other martial arts as well. I believe it's true, but I'm often disturbed by how people interpret these sayings. I don't believe it has anything to do with becoming an invincible deadly karate monster. I don't believe it has anything to do with how strong you are, but about learning how weak you are.

There is definitely an aspect of not wanting to hurt other people, because of the consequences. Legal, moral and mental repercussions of a brief violent encounter can last the rest of your life, even if the rest of your life is the few minutes it takes to bleed out after the event.

Karate teaches a person how to break someone by attacking the anatomical weak points of the human body by using leverage, geometry and physics. The reason the weak points are attacked is because they are weak. They are easy to destroy even by accident and they can cripple. Who recovers fully from a torn ACL (anterior cruciate ligament)? No one. A karateka has these exact same weak points. Anyone with reasonable health and mobility can break these without any sort of special training.

Violent encounters are a gamble where death is always on the table. No matter how skilled, strong, fast, mean or well prepared you may be, you can still die. The United States has arguably the most powerful military on the planet. Yet, service members still die in combat, because violence can be a coin flip. What's the best way not to lose in a Casino? Don't gamble.

This is why the more I learn about karate, the more I avoid violence.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Karate Snobs and Secrecy

Guilty. Of the first at least.

There are definitely all kinds of karate snobs that range all over the spectrum. Even the biggest, clown wig wearing mcdojo hanshi sifu can be a snob, but let's be fair the snobs usually reside on the shiny hardwood floor side of things right next to their hand crafted Okinawa toilet paper. You know who you are. This can just be part of maturing through karate, but I think it sticks with some and it's just as much of a problem as a mcdojo.

I'll be the first to admit to doing this. My first dojo was very traditional, run by a very high ranking individual, who belongs to a very reputable karate organization in Okinawa. The dojo looked like many Okinawa dojo. Anything that wasn't super traditional to me was bogus. I'm still guilty of being a snob, but at heart I'm really trying to make people better. I want people to think, explore and learn. This requires permission and there are about 0 reputable karateka that I've heard of that do this.

They act like they're giving permission, but they really aren't. It's a giant "catch-22." It goes something like this.

"You need to explore what karate means to you under a qualified instructor."

I saw what you did there. Qualified can mean basically anything. Especially in karate. These people will basically call all karate bullshit, but then say that you have to find someone good who can teach it. Hmm, one of these things is not like the other. What kind of logic is that?

This is compounded by the fact that secrecy is still alive and well in karate. This is secrecy through omission. This is usually done for "moral" reasons. They don't want people to misuse it.  These karateka want to get to know you, feel you out for eight years and then start teaching you how everything actually works, but you have to get an invitation to their super secret dojo first. Sometimes they'll only teach the good stuff at certain times. My first dojo only taught good stuff at noon on weekdays. This makes a lot of sense if you live on a small island with very intense weapon bans, but means very little if you can go to your local Walmart and walk out with a shotgun in about 20 minutes, or a cheap utility knife at a gas station.

Karate takes a lifetime of practice. Wild slashing with a utility knife takes as much time to master as it does to get it out of the packaging. Which do you think is more dangerous?

These are great karateka and they'll be better karateka than I will ever be, but these actions push people to bad places. People are forced to pick the lesser of evils and then have to waste eight years before they figure out whether it's crap. They'll most likely be brainwashed by then anyway. Soft clap. Bravo.

I've got one thing to say to all of you.

"Fuck you."

The secret is that you have to do it all yourself. You have to learn on your own, you have to study on your own, you have to practice on your own, and you have to think on your own and most importantly you can't stop. You can't find a place you feel comfortable and stop. There is no stopping. There is only more doing. No matter how awesome your sensei is and no matter how great a teacher he is you still have to do the work. The sensei doesn't do the work for you.

The next secret is that it might not work and probably won't work, not because it's a bad martial art, but because you have very little experience breaking people. The kicker is that you're not supposed to get experience, because self defense is about keeping yourself safe. The criteria for success is not getting into fights.

Here's your permission from a non-reputable karateka. Go practice for fun. Find a kata you like and a little bit of space and practice, practice everything, think, study and think some more. You have to do the work on your own anyway. Cut out the middle man and keep your money. Practice for fun, fitness and problem solving. Kata is like a puzzle half the fun is figuring it out. Start slow there's no rush. It's literally supposed to take the rest of your life.

Here's a riddle for all the karate snobs:

If the worst mcdojo in the world keeps people out of trouble and keeps them out of fights, is it bad karate?

Saturday, February 13, 2016


Qualifications are a big thing in the martial arts despite most being completely worthless and some being only slightly worthless. Usually we like to talk about years of practice or hours of practice, 20 years, 30 years, 70 years, 5,000 hours, 10,000 hours, 30,000 hours. I've read recently that 10,000 hours was the master mark though I always go with the 30,000 hour rule, which would take about 90 years if one practices one hour a day. Ten thousand hours for me is proficient. It takes about 10,000 hours of education to get a PHD. 

More importantly does this matter? Not at all.

I don't really care about time spent training. I care about skill. If someone has been practicing half the amount of time I have and is super awesome than I want to find out what they have to teach me. The same as all the quacks that have 20-30 years of practice, who aren't worth bothering with.

If someone wants to try and get in that 10,000 hours of practice, go for it. I don't really care. They either do it or they don't, and they either learn something or they don't. It's up to them to do the work.

Only the people who are willing to continually learn, work, practice and play will get good at anything. The people who practice something hollow for 10,000 hours are only dangerous to themselves and doesn't impact me at all, so do what you like. I'll keep learning.

Friday, February 12, 2016

One Move

You should be able to take someone down with a single kata movement, no matter what they're doing.

Think about it.

Thursday, February 11, 2016


The dojo is not karate.

It's not your sensei.

It's not your organization.

It's not your style.

It's not your lineage.

It's you, a kata and what you can do with both.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Are You a Real Karateka?


The first question is a little easier to answer. The why part is a little harder to answer. The easiest explanation is that you go to a karate dojo, but even this answer gets murkier if you ask more specifics. The 20th degree black belt and the pilgrim to Okinawa are usually equally sure that what they're doing is the "true" way. The majority of people are pretty positive that there is a checklist of what constitutes karate, but it seems like everyone is working off a different checklist. People and other martial artists in general have a check list for karate whether karateka like this or not. Basically karate is Japanese, it is comprised of punches, kicks, blocks and doesn't work. The fastest way to piss off another martial artist is to say their stuff looks like karate. On the next Brazilian Jiu jitsu video you see on You Tube, write the comment "looks like karate" and sit back as the hate rolls in. This embodies the basic types of classifications and generalizations about empty handed fighting systems. They're divided by country of origin, technique, training practices, tradition and aesthetics. All of these lines look really blurry when we start to look at them more closely. For the sake of brevity, I'll talk about only a few general aspects.

Let's first look at the name karate. It means empty hand. Every good little karate kid knows this. It's also pretty common knowledge that the name changed to this from China hand or China Hand. Karate being a synthesis between the local fighting art of Te or Hand and Chinese fighting arts. But karate is Japanese, right? Is it?  Okinawa is now technically part of Japan, but it was its own independent nation and heavily influenced by China. Karate was adopted by the Japanese and changed to promote their needs. So is karate Chinese, Okinawan, Japanese or a mix? If we look at the name literally as Empty Hand then it would seem to encompass all of the unarmed fighting arts. Some have even claimed to trace the roots of the unarmed martial arts back to Alexander the Great, so wouldn't that make all martial arts European? Things are already looking pretty blurry.

These are mostly outside labels, but karateka have their own individual labels that they use to distinguish themselves. This usually has to do with technique, training practices, aesthetics and tradition. The entire basic argument behind all of these is "We don't do it like that we do it like this." You could say that karate is only stand up striking, until you find someone who uses karate on the ground. You could say that karate has mostly linear movements until you see a Goju Ryu stylist perform Saifa. You name the training practice, aesthetics or technique and you can find a karate stylist practicing it. Tradition is the biggest divider between karateka, which is basically saying that you belong to a different branching stream off of the glacier that is the past. We're all cousins and fairly close cousins.

So are you a real karateka and why?

Should you even care?

The most important thing for any martial art or self defense system is that it should enrich your life. It should get you healthier and not break you. It should be fun and not a chore. It should allow you the freedom to think as wide and as deeply as you wish.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Staying Positive, and Play and Movement

Staying Positive

It's hard to stay positive as a karateka. There are so few definitive answers in conflict already, but karate seems incredibly ambiguous as well. There aren't many definitive answers in karate either. Usually the days where I'm positive that I finally understand the essence of my kata are the same days where I feel I know the least and should stop kidding myself. There are plenty of other things that can make me feel negative toward karate. Tribalism, cults, fantasies, politics, egos and money to name just a few. It leaves a bitter taste in my mouth. I remember eventually that ambiguity is one of the things I like most about karate. If there is no right answer, there is no wrong answer, so I keep on practicing and stop worrying about it.

Play and Movement

In a very real way the kata tells you what you're doing. The kata teaches you about karate by making you move and speaking to you through that movement. You just have to learn how to listen. Learning how to listen involves playing with the movement and figuring out where your kinetic energy is going. Usually it's a combination of forward movement and dropping down into a stance using gravity. It's a feeling similar to falling, but you fall into a stable structural stance, like front stance if exploding forward. There's also rotational energy and using leg strength to push up into a technique.

Figuring out in what direction your energy is moving is key to understanding what you can accomplish with the arm and leg movements attached to each portion of a kata. Body weight, gravity and structure are what power techniques. It's what makes them work. How you move dictates what type of techniques you can use. So forget about what your arms are doing, while you practice and focus on your stance, your footing and where you feel your center of gravity moving or your hara.

The fun part.

This is really where play comes in. Practicing the kata as a kata is great, but it's a best case scenario situation to showcase use of body weight, gravity and structure. One needs to know how to apply them in a more free form fashion. Take a section from your favorite kata and play with it. Don't just repeat the movements like a drill. Change tempo, stance length, speed and direction. Make it a dance and just feel how your body is moving. Stretch a stance to it's limits. How wide can you get before you become unbalanced, how narrow can you get before the stance loses meaning, are you dropping or pushing, how quickly can you move between each position at random. Practice the stances, but keep them fluid, loose and mobile. We want good principles not aesthetically pleasing sculptures.

Don't be afraid to do things wrong. Doing something wrong can tell you more than doing something right. Structure and balance is particularly squishy meaning that it's more of a "within accepted parameters" concept rather than right or wrong. You want to find the limits of the movements, so you know how far you can stress your balance and structure. If you're off balance than you know how not to do it. Everything becomes a lesson.

Most importantly it comes down to thinking, feeling and playing.