Thursday, January 28, 2016

Grapplers vs. Strikers

There seems to be this long running debate since the UFC became popular about which is better, striking or grappling. It's basically a style war. Like style wars, it's completely idiotic. The style doesn't win the fight, the fighter wins the fight. Despite this it doesn't seem to stop internet warriors from arguing over the primacy of each, so I'll weigh in and give my opinion.

First of all, I don't identify with either. What? You're a karateka, so aren't you a striker? No I'm not a striker, I'm a karateka. If anything I'd call myself a stand-up grappler. Wrestling is deeply rooted in Okinawan culture and it had a profound impact on the development of karate. It doesn't just have striking and grappling. It is striking and grappling combined. Locking, throwing, breaking, hitting, all at the same time.

Striking and grappling are artificial divisions and from a practical self defense standpoint absurd. One shouldn't limit themselves to just one weapon. To quote Miyamoto Musashi "A warrior shouldn't have a favorite weapon." There are times when you need striking, there are times when you need grappling and there are times when you need both.

Grapplers do tend to do better in competition against strikers. There's a very good and simple reason for this. Grapplers can play harder than strikers. This isn't to say that strategies based in striking don't train hard. They train very hard, but in a different way.

A striker for the most part can't go all out during training with a partner. The concussive impact of a good striker can penetrate armor and protective equipment and still cause damage. Just look at the NFL and their problems with concussions. The point of striking is to cause damage and that's exactly what you don't want to do to your training partner. Strikers can only go all out on inanimate objects.

Grapplers don't have this problem. Grapplers can play at full force and intensity. Every training session can be completely dedicated to an all out rolling session and the chances of injury are relatively low. They get more hands on training, because when it comes right down to it grappling is less dangerous. A grappler basically has to ignore the tap to hurt someone. A striker just has to screw up his timing and targeting, which is easy to do with two fast moving independent bodies. This is because grappling, especially the sport kind, is about submission not damage. Their opponents give up, they aren't put down.

This isn't an argument for or against grappling or striking. Like I said, I don't identify with either. I'm a karateka. Each has it's uses and it's place and neither is an answer to all conflict. You might not be able to grapple if you get attacked in a bathroom stall and you probably don't want to shatter your drunk friend's knee so you can take his keys away from him. If you want to be able to perform better in more situations you should train to strike, grapple and do both at the same time.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Modern Violence and Karate

The key to understanding old school karate and their training methods is violence. Not the type of violence that most people are aquainted with, such as movies, television and sporting matches, but social and asocial violence. Violence is what links the past and the present.

The past is filled with such extreme violence that in comparison the conflicts of today look about as dangerous as chamomile tea. Any injury could become infected and lead to death, or cripple you and cause you and your family to starve due to lack of income. The stakes were much higher in the past. They didn't have many of the safety stops that we enjoy in the first world, such as medicine, law and order, and welfare. However, the criteria for surviving in those conditions are very similar to surviving a violent conflict today. Avoidance and ruthless efficiency.

Even old manuals on civil self defense arts mention the importance of avoiding conflict and escape. Along with behavioral rules to be respectful, to mind your manners and to keep your mouth shut. It's not empty character building. It's how you stay out of fights and survive. If you're nice, respectful and courteous to everyone you meet, the conflicts you have with people drop significantly. According to Marc MacYoung, the best indicator that you're about to be attack is you're being an asshole.

The physical part is very similar as well. The opponent should be downed in one move. The longer the conflict goes on the chances of injury and death go way up. Attack and defense must be simultaneous and you must have a handful of moves ingrained so deep that you act automatically.

Reading about modern day violence is what made me understand karate the most. I suggest that if you want to study karate more deeply you look to modern texts on violence, social behavior and crime. It's a bridge to the past.

Keep in mind that this is not an endorsement of karate for self defense. Karate can be used for self defense, but it must be remembered that karate was developed during the 19th century in Okinawa. The moral, ethical and legal ramifications are different for that time period and environment than the time and place we live now. Know your laws.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Don't Be Hampered by Form

Being constrained by form does not just mean following the embusen or the order of movements. It also means being confined to an idea of there being a beginning and end to movements and a stylistic expectation of how they should look.

Kata movements are portrayed as having a definite beginning, middle and end. Punch comes in and I start the beginning of the movement, move to the middle portion and then end the person punching me. There's nothing inherently wrong with this, but this ties us to the form, because there is no beginning in kata.

It should be understood that there is no beginning, middle or end to any kata movement. This implies that there is time. Time to move through these steps and the absence of resistance. The world is never this clean or clear cut. There is no time there is only now. There is no pause and reset to get into the right position, so you can begin your technique at the "beginning." There is only the position you are in and what you can do in that position.

Every little bit of kata should be seen as a snapshot in time. A snapshot in conflict. This is where the "technique" begins.

One should also not be hampered by the stylistic demonstration of movements in kata. What is important is the principles behind what make those movements work, anatomy, physiology, geometry and physics. A middle block doesn't need to follow a certain path. It can be fluid and adaptable to suit the needs of the situation.

One needs to give themselves permission not to be pretty, but to be effective.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Letting Go

One should let go of perfection, technique, planning, analysis and thinking while sparring. You need to learn to trust your own body and only think attack.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Kata in the Cold

It's been snowing for the last two days and it's below freezing outside, but I went outside to practice anyway. I practiced the kata for about twenty minutes stamping down the snow and adjusting to the difference. Then I spent a few minutes striking the pounding post.

It's always good to practice in varying weather conditions and terrain. It's easy to say you have a stance locked in when your bare toes are gripping the dojo floor, but it's harder to say when your leg muscles have to lock in a stance while sliding on snow and ice to keep yourself from falling, while wearing boots. It's a different feeling. Different terrain calls for different stance depths and there needs to be a certain amount of adaptability when dealing with uneven footing. These are things most don't talk about in the rigid uniformity of the dojo.

It's also good to be uncomfortable. Can you practice with the wind throwing snow in your face? Can you stick it out until your body heat compensates for your thin clothing? Can you keep going after your shoes are soaked and your fingers are numb? Questions that need answering.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Direct Action

I like to practice direct action in my karate. Direct action is only acting on things that you have direct control over. You can't control your opponent's actions, but you can control your own. It's acting on the openings that are presented to you and acting on them instantly, not waiting for the openings that you want. You can't control the opponent. Direct action is movement that breaks down an opponent despite the actions of the threat. I don't like to gamble as to whether an opponent will react the way I wish him to.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Quiet Days

I haven't had much to write about lately. I have a few ideas swimming around in my head, but nothing concrete enough to put down. I've finished installing my striking post, which I placed next to our outside practice area. Once all the soil and rocks have settled, I'll be using it regularly and I'll probably have a post on it. Other than that I've been experimenting with open palmed variations on Seisan and the idea that every forward and backward movement should have some sort of purpose with no wasted movement. Basically always hitting, pulling or gouging with both hands.

Monday, January 18, 2016

The Box

We don't need to think outside of the box.

We need to throw the box away.

Videos Coming Soon

I recently came into the funds to purchase a camera, so sometime in the near future there will be videos. I'm not exactly sure what we'll film, but most likely it will be a few principle videos, some infighting and maybe some application testing where we pressure test different techniques that we've seen to see if they'd work. It's not going to be anything too serious, and we'll just try and have some fun with it.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Ippon ken, tsumasaki-geri and spear hand

These techniques had always kind of confused me when I first started practicing karate. I'll use the English terms for ease of understanding. I'm speaking of the single knuckle fist, the toe kick and the spear hand. All of which seemed like kind of a dangerous proposition. Wouldn't they just break? After a few years it dawned on my why these techniques were trained and why you wouldn't just break yourself. I'm sure many did.

First on the breaking part cause it's shorter. The answer is structure. With the toe kick and the spear hand the striking surface is supported by the phalanges around them. The bones are kept in line with the supporting structures of the large bones to which they are attached. The single knuckle fist is supported in a similar fashion, but different configurations depending on style. The trick is that you have to get the alignment perfect, or at least within acceptable parameters. Hence the conditioning exercises. I don't really believe that kicking wood or stabbing tires makes your fingers harder or toes harder, but I do think it tests your structure. If it's wrong you'll definitely know it, hence the slow build up of these techniques. The callouses and such are just by products of the training.

Now why would one want to do such a thing?

Simple. Smaller surface area. Imagine you have a staff. It's a pretty good all around tool. If you stab someone with it, it can get the job done through impact. Now if you put a point on that staff you have a spear. The smaller surface area at the top with the same force behind it allows it to penetrate and cause more damage. It's the same basic principle.

This has a couple of advantages. The first is if you can get all your energy behind one of these strikes like the toe kick or the single knuckle punch you're going to obliterate the point that it touches. Maximum damage. The second advantage is that because it does have a small surface area you can use less force and get the same effect as a punch, or a kick. Motobu Choki recommended the single knuckle punch for when you were too close to punch properly.

Like the spear hand, these are soft target strikes and do have their own limitations due to the skill required to use them effectively, but the thought of someone launching their entire body weight behind a single knuckle punch into your solar plexus is a scary thought, or worse a toe kick into your testicles. They might just rip apart.


Saturday, January 16, 2016

History and Tradition

I read a lot of karate books and books about violence, because I'm essentially on my own. Books become my teachers. Almost all of the old karate books have a section on history. Patrick McCarthy's Bubishi has an entire section on the history of the work before it even starts for context. There are a few things that all of these books agree on.

  1. There is no orthodox karate
  2. No one really knows what the movements mean
  3. Old karateka practiced few kata
  4. There are many variations of kata and none are "correct"
  5. No one truly knows the history of karate 
  6. There were no styles in the traditional sense just local flavors
  7. Karate has evolved and changed
I find it troubling that it's almost the opposite of the modern karate paradigm. Uniformity, lineage, usually at least 15 kata, styles and tradition.

I believe economics is the answer to this, but who knows.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Everything and Nothing

The martial arts are weird and especially karate, because we talk about them as if the martial art or the technique does all the work when really it's you who does the work. Technique is just the movement of our bodies. The martial arts are like an idea, real and not real at the same time. They are everything and nothing.

The same thing goes for kata. I like to call kata the shape of the weapon, because it's easier for me to think about it with this filter. Kata is very abstract and this gives it a handle of sorts. It helps me picture what I'm thinking about. By shape I don't mean the embusen, I mean the actual movements and all the parts of the movement. If I could take a photograph of a movement with a low shutter speed, the blur of movement that the camera captured is the shape. It's not the beginning or the end that is important. It's only a guide. It's me who does it, not the kata or karate. There are plenty of ways to interpret kata movements. There are definitely different legitimate ways to look at the same movement. There is no right or wrong. There is only movement. Because of this, kata essentially becomes everything and nothing. Because it's nothing it has the capacity to be anything, because it can be anything it's essentially nothing.

This ties rather well into the idea of mushin no shin, or mind without mind. Thought without conscious thought, or no mind. There is me, my opponent and that is it. My resolve against theirs. Everything else is irrelevant.

Makes me think of the union of mind, body and spirit in a more tangible way. Interesting.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Makiage Kigu

The makiage kigu is a wrist roller. I know my high school weight room had one of these, so it's not exactly an original Okinawan invention, but it's super easy to make.

You basically need a stick, an old broom handle or a dowel. I used part of an old wooden closet rod. You cut it so it's the same length as your shoulder width for the most part. Drill a hole in the center and tie a rope through the hole and tie the other end to a weight. I used an old five pound plate weight that I had.

I won't explain how the exercise is done, because you can just YouTube it. You basically just hold it out in front of you and wind the cord up by rotating the handle like you were rolling up a newspaper.

I have to tell you that I thought 5 pounds was going to be too light. I was wrong. It's not too heavy, but my forearms are screaming by the time I've brought the weight up and all the way back down again. It's definitely going to be great for grip strength.

Grip strength definitely makes things a lot easier. Karate wise a good grip is essential for hikite, grappling, gouging and possibly finger strikes like the nukite. It makes a lot of none karate stuff easier too. I spent a significant amount of time moving furniture for relatives over the weekend, and it was pleasant having the hand strength to grip at all those weird points you end up grabbing when you move shelves, couches, nightstands and tables.

I recommend anyone add this to their training regimen mostly because it's cheap and easy to make, takes up little space and improves strength and health.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Nostradamus Kata

"If I grab his testicles, he'll grab my wrist and then I'll apply the wrist lock."

"If I trap him here, he'll have to attack me with an overhand right, and I'll be ready for it."

I hear statements like this fairly often. I read them and for a fair amount of time I believed them to be pretty good interpretations of kata. The taking advantage of "natural" reactions or flinch responses. It all sounds well and good, but it's betting on an assumption.

In Dirty Ground by Lawrence Kane and Kris Wilder the authors describe a story where a hoodlum was walking down the street smashing up cars with a bat. One of them runs out to confront them because his car is next on the smashing list. There is an exchange of words and the hoodlum is about to attack and they think "the bat is basically the same as a sword, I'll use one of my sword defense techniques and take the kid down." Well the kid threw the bat and he got a crack on the head.

The moral of this story is that people don't do what you expect. The same goes for these examples. An adrenalized person might not feel you crushing their testicles or just might not care and you're waiting for a wrist to lock that isn't coming. They might have other plans than an overhand right. A competitor might do that, but someone else might just flail violently and overwhelm you. Pick you up and slam you on the pavement perhaps.

This is Nostradamus Kata. The idea that a kata hundreds of years old can predict what a living breathing human being will do in response to anything is ludicrous and dangerous. I believe the people that made the kata, the fighters, thugs, warriors and peace keepers would have kept this in mind.

The only thing you have control over in a crappy situation is yourself.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Kata = Movement + Transfer of Kinetic Energy

The above equation is the most useful way to think of kata. It allows it to be adaptable and versatile. It is just moving yourself in a way that leads to the most efficient transfer of kinetic energy. I'm not talking about ballistic attacks like punching and kicking, but throws, locks, chokes and all the other good stuff.

This is why bunkai is so important, by this I mean analysis, not application. The transfer of energy remains the same in the kata despite the size of the practitioners, but the size of the practitioners does have an effect on how they will be able to apply that transfer of energy. I'll explain. A 6' 7" person trains in head punching. Everyone they punch at will most likely be shorter than them, because they are so large. Their head punches are going to be different. Now a 4' 5" person might not want to throw head punches at all. They might not be able to effectively reach a Threat's head and would be better served by groin punching. They both can practice punching, but how they apply it will be different. Now apply that to every technique in a kata and every variation of a kata technique. The bottom line is some things will work for some people that won't work for others, but they can apply that transfer of kinetic energy in another way that serves them.

With this in mind, an interpretation of a kata movement for specific encounters becomes relatively useless. It already was for different reasons, but this is yet another.

Analysis brings on a whole new importance. It is self discovery. It is finding what works for you within a template of proven effectiveness. (Generally the fighting traditions that survive did so because the fighting traditions that taught crap got all their followers killed. They endure, because they worked.) It is the same as finding the best way for you to use a sword, or a gun. What works for you will be different especially when it comes to unarmed combat because our bodies are not the uniform products of an armorer.

With this in mind we can keep the emphasis on ourselves. We don't have to memorize something that might not work for us. We'll discover what works for us through patience, practice and play.

There are many paths up the mountain, but the view is the same, but first you have to climb a fucking mountain, so get climbing.

Monday, January 11, 2016

More BAB Training

J got a little overwhelmed today. We worked angles of attack and conditioning defenses against them. Getting grabbed from behind is a fear of hers so she dropped back into feral flailing mode a few times, while I dragged her to the ground. She got better though. J did the same thing for me, and I had to keep reminding myself to work toward the goal. If there's an opening for escape, I need to take it and I started to. We followed it up with a few minutes of infighting. J threw me a few times, but she still gave up once. We'll need to work on that some more.

All in all a good end to the day. A little tired, a little dirty and a little wiser.

Bunkai is not Application

Contrary to the popular definition of bunkai it does not mean application. Bunkai means analysis. Thinking.

Webster Definition: A careful study of something to learn about its parts, what they do, and how they are related to each other.

Personally I think what trips most people up is careful study and that it's an independent activity outside of the classroom.

More on this later.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Is It a Good Dojo?

Good dojo are very hard to find. The best dojo are usually found in dusty corners of community centers, taught in the gyms of college campuses by volunteers and in people's backyards or garages. They are taught by those whose motivation is other than monetary and just love teaching and their art. I wish I could tell you how to reliably find these places, but sometimes the information you need is on a piece of paper pinned to a bulletin board somewhere that says "Karate classes 8:00 pm $10.00."

This post is about how to tell a good school from a bad school. Good schools may be hard to find, but it's easy to tell if you've got yourself a good one and possibly a great one. It's not from certificates, belts, junk on the walls or the equipment that they have. (Beautiful equipment is unused equipment) All you have to do is ask one simple question: What are you going to teach me?

The answer you should get is very simple. The simplier the answer usually the better, but not always. It depends on how much the instructor likes to talk. Here's an example of a good exchange.

Future student: "What are you going to teach me?"

Karate instructor: "Karate."

Sounds a little weird doesn't it. What about fighting, self defense, discipline, honor, humility, fitness, confidence and all the other stuff painted on glass windows on almost every dojo? Well, all of that is just marketing.

All of those nice things that martial arts are supposed to "give" you is all just junk to get you in the door. It's a sales pitch, so the dojo owner can keep the lights on. Is it a bad thing to market? No. Is it a bad thing to lie? Yes. Any martial art is not going to give you or instill any of these things. These are qualities you either already have, or find within yourself. You already own them.

Learning a martial art is about exploring a system of combat from a snap shot in time. This snap shot in time can be very different or very similar to where you live now. Unarmed conflict in 19th century Okinawa has the potential to help you out now, in certain limited circumstances. Medieval Japanese battlefield arts will be less helpful.

This is a good rule for finding a good dojo, but finding a good place to learn self defense is much more complicated. If you want to figure out that I'll refer you to the experts.

Google these names and you'll hit the ground running. They're not the end all be all of self defense, but they know way more than most and they'll lay down a lot of ground work for research.

Marc MacYoung and Rory Miller. Google them, read them and then explore.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Why sets of three?

There are a lot of theories out there about why many kata are done in set's of three. The most logical one I've heard is that the odds of being attacked by a right handed person is higher than being attacked by a left handed person. This definitely sounds like a sound theory, but I'm always suspicious of this. I don't like categorizing things that small.

If you've read my article on Karate Culture, than you'll know that I believe that kata movements are designed more to deal with the angle of attack than any particular specific attack. I believe some movements of Seisan are best for attacks that come in medially (down the middle, or center line) and other techniques are best when they come laterally (hook punches for example). This is the way I train at least because it's easier to train and condition. It's just a few general angles instead of a thousand. I've always been a little stumped however when it comes to the sets of three. Why three? Why not just two? I'll put forth my very thin theory.

Motobu Choki gave the advice, as many others do that you should train your left side twice as much as your right side. If you do two left side heavy movements for every one right side heavy movements than you get three. Left, right, left. I've also noticed that the movements in my kata, which are repeated in threes are predominately, left handed movements. Left chudan uke/ right thrust, right chudan uke/ left thrust, left chudan uke/ right thrust. While you could say there are more right punches in that sequence, the uke techniques are more complex movements. I also don't really consider the thrust (tsuki) the primary element of that movement.

It's definitely not a rock solid argument, but it's something to think about.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Rant: Bad Training ( I warned you)

Let me tell you a story.

When I was in the Marine Corps, we were encouraged to not raise our hand at the rifle range for help when we had a malfunction. You'd think it was to encourage you to clear your own weapon malfunctions, which is partly true, but not the reason they encouraged this. The reason was that people had gotten their hands shot off in combat because their weapon malfunctioned. They didn't know what to do, so their brain made them do what they had always done when they had a malfunction and didn't know what to do, they raised their hand. Goodbye fingers, hello having the nickname "Lefty."

I'm going to put this in a little bit of context. The average none infantryman in the Marine Corps, which is basically the entire Marine Corps, spends about one week on the shooting range to qualify with their service weapons and hopefully earn some points toward a promotion. Of that week, most of it is spent waiting, waiting to shoot, raising and lowering targets for other Marines in "the pits" and waiting. You might spend 30 minutes in all on the firing line a day, actually firing your weapon and most of that time is spent waiting. Waiting to shoot or waiting for everyone else to finish shooting. For the entire week it's only 2.5 hours of trigger time, maybe. Of that 2.5 hours, you might have three malfunctions or none. If your rifle is in really bad shape (they don't give the good ones to the desk jockeys), or you've decided to not spend any time cleaning your rifle, you might have a malfunction that makes your rifle completely inoperable and you can't fix it. Basically you might spend two minutes raising your hand, so someone can help you fix your rifle, usually a range coach.

This means that this insignificant amount of time in a fairly none stressful environment can cause you to injure yourself in an environment that has almost nothing in common with it besides being surrounded by other Marines and having a rifle. It takes a few minutes to ingrain this habit and it can cripple you when it counts. What do you think is going to happen when you do thousands of repetitions of a bad habit every month?

I hear all the time people say "this is for fighting not self defense, when we're defending ourselves we do X," but they never practice X. They also say "if you can't find a good school just pick out the good stuff from the ones you can find, or train at most decent school."

This isn't possible. You can't switch gears like that and you can't magically undo all the bad stuff you're practicing in class because you don't like it. If you're putting in the repetitions and the training than your brain doesn't care. It doesn't care what you "know."

Training has to be done carefully, it has to be done correctly and it has to be done in the correct context. Bad training can get you killed, crippled or send you to jail. Nothing is ever going to be perfect, but you shouldn't knowingly or unknowingly ingrain bad habits if you plan on staking your life on something, and you shouldn't tell other people to settle or give up when their life might one day be on the line.

Monday, January 4, 2016

I know I just did one, but I'm doing another

I've decided that it's time to start crawling into other people's heads through their blogs. The wonderful thing about blogger is that if you comment on a blog and have a blogger profile than people can back track to your blog where you can find another comment from someone else and then read their blog. I've already found four I'd like to comb through.

Have I mentioned that I'm a gigantic nerd?

The other cool thing about blogs that I figured out by doing research and articles on other subjects is that many times blogs and networks of blogs act as communities for different topics. If you ever want an idea of what it's like to have a disability than search for blogs. You'll learn more than you ever thought about or wanted to know.

What does this mean? It means the links portion of this blog might start getting very long. Just a heads up. And the writers of these blogs will suddenly be scratching their heads and thinking "why are people reading my blog again?"

Mental Training

I've read that doing things you hate is good mental training. This also includes doing things that scare you, but aren't dangerous. Public speaking for instance. I don't like doing certain things, but it was very hard to come up with something that I truly hate doing. I was coming back from the grocery store the other day and saw two young women running together on the sidewalk and chatting and I thought to myself, "I really hate running." I then realized what I had to do, and honestly wished I didn't have to do it.

I used to run all the time when I was in the service. Five-mile runs were common almost every morning whether it was raining, freezing, snowing or all three. I wasn't bad at running either. I just hated every single second of it. The slow plodding, the burning lungs, the cramps, aches and all the saliva that builds up in your mouth from trying to suck in as much oxygen as you can until you can barely breath, and knowing the whole time that you're completely fine and could probably even go faster. It's hell. If I'm going to work my cardiovascular system, I'd rather ride my bike. I can go for a few hours and relish the burn in my thighs. It feels like flying to me.

Today I went for a run. It was terrible, but I've already decided that I'll go for another one on Wednesday. I don't have to run, but if the point was for it to be easy and enjoyable than I'd just sit on the couch and play video games.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Application Assumptions

I don't watch as many bunkai videos as I once did, but I still watch them from time to time because I don't like closing my eyes to others. I read bad karate books along with the good ones, as well as books on wrestling, boxing, judo, tai chi and different styles of kung fu. There's usually something good in them no matter how terrible some might be. There's always truth in movement. I did this more when I was trying to find the applications to Seisan. I was positive that there was a set and definitive list of responses, but I'm less sure now. What I thought the movements meant at the beginning are different than how I practice them now, and I'm sure they will be different a few years from now. The movements stay the same. I just find new ways to use them. Reading all these books and watching all these videos, I've noticed some themes when it comes to karate theory.

Many people make a few assumptions when interpreting the kata. The combatants are face to face, the movements are primarily defensive, the movements primarily manipulate the arms, the techniques require several steps.

It makes sense for a few of the applications or even the majority of applications to be for being toe to toe with an opponent, but being in front of the opponent is not the only orientation. An opponent attacking from behind is usually considered, but rarely is it considered that you will be behind the opponent. I'm not saying that you've launched a sneak attack on someone, though in 19th century Okinawa that seems like an option, but that during the turmoil of combat you end up behind the enemy. Unlike today's sporting matches, all the targets on the back are legitimate areas of attack. Kidneys, spine, neck, knees. There's no referee to penalize you for breaking "the rules." Grabbing someone by the chin and driving your knee into their back to bend them backwards and off balance is something you might want to do.

The next assumption is that the movements are primarily defensive. Karate Ni Sente Nashi is the saying, but it's not in the Bubishi. A preemptive strike is a legitimate tactic, especially in a dire self defense situation. If you're waiting for them to attack first than you should probably use your energy escaping. Even Funakoshi suggested a preemptive strike in Karate-Do Kyohan though he was talking about self defense for women. When we look at boxing how much of it is defensive? Hook, jab, cross, uppercut, bob and weave, and block. Only 1/3 is defense. A movement that downs your opponent quickly is a surer defense than any block.

The applications navigate the opponent's arms is the next assumption. The applications block, move, lock, parry and manipulate the arms. "When the opponent grabs you here do this, when the opponent punches here, move the arm this way and then attack" etc. Half the kata supposedly is spent moving the arms around so that you can deal a single devastating blow. Manipulating an opponent's arms impacts them the least. A person can still function for a short amount of time with a broken hand or even a broken arm. I broke my arm two years ago myself. I flipped my bike after a car pulled out in front of me, rolled and came up laughing. I thought I was fine until an hour later and I couldn't move my arm. Before that I was able to pick up my bike, fix the chain and ride home. If I pull and push on someone's shoulders, it can break their balance and make it hard to attack me. Grabbing someone by the hair and the chin and yanking them around has a big impact as well. When you think about the kata, try different contact points. Grab a person's head, their torso, their leg or their shoulders. You might be surprised what you find. 

Multiple steps are often used as well. I've seen almost entire kata sequences used to explain how to maneuver someone into a single wrist lock. This is called choreography. You can squeeze out a surprising number of strikes in a short amount of time in some kata. In one sequence of Seisan, you have the opportunity to hit someone five times before you take your next step. Back fist, reverse punch, upper cut, back fist, toe kick. Each one loads the hip or the legs to generate the power for the following strike. You can use the movement to cause damage, while you "block" instead of just sweeping an arm out of the way.

These are things you need to think about when analyzing your kata. Experiment, try things. Ask yourself how you could use the same movement behind them, or to their flank, or how you can make every little movement a weapon. If something doesn't work you've wasted a few minutes of your time, but if you find something new that works it can change your entire outlook on kata.

Asking Stupid Questions

Every once in awhile you ask a stupid question. There's no such thing as stupid questions they say and even if there aren't you can still ask a good question in a stupid way. You can be annoyed, or peevish, angry and you can let your emotions blind you. I asked a question in a stupid way the other day. Luckily the person I asked didn't just tell me to stop being a whiny bitch and deal with it. I thank him for taking me seriously even though I could have asked more tactfully.

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Searching for Karate

I spent a little time reading over some of my first posts and decided that I should give a better explanation to the purpose of this blog. While it's a place for me to record my training and a place for my ideas to coalesce, it's also about self discovery and hopefully offering a little bit of motivation. Let me start by trying to explain the name of this blog, In Search of Karate.

You might be asking yourself "why not do a quick google search?" or if you're really old school "why don't you flip through the phone book?" If you're too young, they're those yellow things that mysteriously appear on your doorstep, which seem to be forgotten there and then turn into mush. There are plenty of people out there teaching karate, claiming they teach karate and are all too happy to tell you what karate is in exchange for money. There's Wikipedia and other sources that will explain exactly what karate is supposed to be and plenty of people writing blogs like this telling everyone what they believe true karate to be. No matter what the setting each person needs to decide what karate is for themselves, what karate means to them. It can be fighting, self defense, fitness, spiritual development or any combination of all of these. It can even mean hanging out with friends and meeting new people. Just going to a school is the easiest. There have definitely been times where I've wanted to throw up my hands and say "screw this, I'll just find a school and get some colored belts and have fun playing at martial artist." I've done it in the past. It's what brought me to Seidokan when I was in the service. Going alone is hard. Even when one has a teacher, some things are impossible to teach. A lot of karate is about feeling. Until you feel your body moving in unison, all of it moving towards a single point with all your weight behind the technique than every time someone says that "power comes from the hara" than you won't know, won't listen, won't understand until that first time when recognition hits and you'll know what your sensei was talking about. Until then you just think you're doing it right, you won't know. No matter how many times you hear that kata is everything, you won't understand that it is the tool, the textbook and the teacher. Karate is a search and a journey.

This blog is also about motivation, encouragement and giving people permission. Paying for a class and standing in front of a sensei is not the only way to practice karate. You don't need uniforms or belts or someone telling you what to do. As far as I'm concerned all you need to practice karate is a kata, patience and discipline. Anyone who practices a karate kata practices karate. It takes patience to learn the lessons and discipline to keep at it, but this is all you need. Too many believe that karate is only practiced at a school that if you're not paying a class fee than you're not practicing karate. Karate is not a credit card or your electricity. It doesn't require a monthly payment to practice. It just takes practice and your only payment is sweat. I want people to know that when there's a will there is a way especially when karate is concerned. I want people to know that they have permission to practice karate however they want.

This is what this blog is about. It's about discovery, practice and most of all asking why.

Friday, January 1, 2016

Karate Resolutions

First post of 2016, so I should obviously write about New Year resolutions. Resolutions for me obviously.

First on my list is making some hojo undo equipment and dedicating some time in my fitness routine to them. Mostly the chishi, body conditioning (because fighting hurts), the nigiri game and makiage kigu (wrist roller). I already have the ishi sashi. I like building stuff, and I'm a big advocate of DIY.

I'm also planning on making a makiwara and striking post for testing structure. I've had makiwara in the past, but they keep breaking. The last one lasted about a second before it snapped. It was old wood.

Me and J are also planning at some point to make videos, and we're planning on participating in some local martial arts tournaments.

The tournaments might be surprising to some, but it's just another way to test our karate. It should be fun, give us a little bit of stress and give us a little bit of a challenge. After all the essence of self defense is not being touched and playing a game of tag is a pretty good way of testing that. It's also a chance to meet people.

Other than that the plan is to keep training and keep learning.