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.

Friday, February 5, 2016

In the Name of Reality

I went on a certain forum the other day and after spending about twenty minutes on it I could feel my brain twisting into a knot. I've forbidden myself from going to this forum for this very reason. I had joined it looking for other practically minded karateka, but I found a lot of the same fantastical thinking that I've found other places. It's amazing how heated arguments can get about things, which don't matter in the name of reality.

Many karateka replace one brand of fantasy for another. Instead of fighting off 10 ninjas at the same time they're countering a lapel grab with a 15 step wrist lock of death. It makes my head hurt. People obviously can practice however they want, but I'd rather they didn't piss on my leg and say it's raining. It's this or they're collecting thousands of scenarios and techniques just in case. They want to be ready. How much time do they dedicate to each of these individual techniques and scenarios? Probably not much. It's like having a gun safe full of rifles that you've never fired.

Apparently practicality means something different to other people. Practicality apparently means spending 5-8 years learning the patterns of a bunch of kata, spending a few more years deciphering applications and scenarios from each of these kata, sorting through all those applications and scenarios for the techniques you like the best and then putting together a training plan from there. It makes me wondering what these people are paying their dojo fees for. Wasn't the point of joining a dojo, so you didn't have to figure this junk out for yourself?

It makes my eye twitch. The same traps, same gi just different kata explanations.

Eye of the Storm

I like infighting. Infighting is something you don't really hear a lot about in the martial arts except for maybe boxing. Infighting is being in the eye of the storm and thriving in the chaos of conflict. For some reason, I've always gravitated to this range of fighting despite being fairly tall and lanky. Infighting is fighting at a range so close that you can smell what the other person had for lunch. It's fighting by touch instead of sight. It's striking, locking, gouging, kicking and throwing all at the same time within the same movement and dropping someone on their ass.

For me karate is an infighting system. It's where it all works. If you're close enough to kiss than the movements work. Back up a step or two and everything falls to shit.

Embrace the chaos. It's your friend.

Simultaneous Attack and Defense

Maybe 99 percent of martial artists that I come into contact with have no idea what it means to combine attack and defense. It's sad because pretty much 100 percent of karate techniques are attack and defense combined.

Usually when I read someone's work on this subject, they talk about a simultaneous block/ strike combination. A person punches and you block the attack and launch your own at the same time. This is not exactly the same thing. Attack and defense combined means that when you attack you hamper the other person's ability to attack. This is hard for people to understand with karate because they believe it is a strict striking art like boxing. It is not. The simplest example I can give of attack and defense together is a simple shoulder throw. The throw itself protects you from harm because it's really hard to launch an effective counter attack while you're sailing through the air. The attack and defense cannot be separated. Another example would be just getting a person off balance. If I put my foot behind someone's heel and then push, it will trip them. They may not fall, but they'll have to spend a half second reorienting before they can counter. While they're trying to reorient, I attack again. I'm preventing an attack in the first place. It's much easier to avoid attacks that are thwarted before they even start. Defense becomes more about prevention than reaction. Prevention is the best medicine.

Preventing an attack can be lots of things however and it's pretty easy to practice and it's the most annoying thing in the world if you get caught on the wrong end of it. Moving off line can prevent an attack because your opponent has to reorient himself to attack again. Grabbing someone by clothing and jerking them around while you pummel them in the head works really well also. An overwhelming flurry can be attack and defense as well. The opponent will have trouble attacking if he's too busy trying to defend against your flailing. It's not complicated.

Your opponent should only get one attack and that's the one you don't see coming. After that, well fuck'em, he had his chance and he blew it. It's your turn now and they don't get another because you don't let them have another.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Prove It

Here's a challenge for all the bunkai wizards out there.

I want a video where you demonstrate your kata applications in live fire. It doesn't have to be full contact, but I want you practice with someone who knows what you're doing and does his best to stop you.

If the technique works, it will work.

I'll prove it can be done with my first video.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Striking Post and Limb Control

I'm somewhat surprised by how much I'm enjoying the striking post, and it's added an interesting element to my training. It's basically an immovable object. It seems strange, but I actually prefer this. Some of the postures in Seisan require making contact with the forearms, shins and feet at the same time and you need something sturdy to practice these types of techniques with any force.

It's also made me pay less attention to limb control than I used to and I think this is a good thing. Limb control is shown mostly as moving someone's arm to open up a target. This is a wasted action. More than likely there is a target open for attack without moving a person's limb. If I attack that, I don't have to move anything except my own body. If I do move someone's limbs, I don't want to just move it out of the way. I want to put it in a position so it can't be used to attack me, or I want to use their limbs to lever them off balance. Preferably I'll do both at the same time.

The striking post helps me remember to fight the whole body and not just focus on navigating limbs. It's another example of direct action I guess.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

The Failure of Modern Karate-Do

Modern Karate-Do was never meant to be a practical self defense art. This is because of the Do or Tao, however you want to say it, which places the emphasis on spiritual development, Zen. Though a serious student of Zen doesn't call it that because it is The Way or Do. The serious applications of karate are not an essential part of this path of study. Despite this the practice still fails as a spiritual study because the techniques were not the only things that changed. The practice changed as well. This is where it went wrong.

Zen is sitting meditation, or zazen. It is posture, breathing and awareness. This is all. It's a simple exercise that sets a person on the path. You sit, you pay attention to your posture and breathing and let your thoughts go. Kata, a single kata, fills the same function as seated meditation. This was how karate was taught classically. This was how all the "founders" learned karate. Gichin Funakoshi spent ten years on the Naihanchi kata alone. Karateka learned other kata after they had a rock solid foundation in one. The parallel between Zen and karate is repeating a mundane task over and over and over again. It's repeating a single task as a foundation that slowly seeps into other aspects of your life. This is the aspect of karate that leads to self awareness, and it's one of the major changes the founders made.

I believe the founders misidentified the root of this spiritual development to karate itself instead of the repetitive act of a single task. They believed practicing all of karate would give you the desired result even though no one had practiced it this way. There was no reason to doubt this, but I think the results speak for themselves. The reason for this is they forgot about thinking.

Thinking is the big difference between meditation and none meditation. I'm not talking about ignorance or stupidity or knowledge, academic thinking. I'm talking about being present in the moment and focusing on what you're doing. Full commitment and intent on the task. Practicing several kata keeps you thinking all of the time. You think about your form, what you're doing, whether you're doing it right and whether you need to do it more. You're thinking about grading, testing, making your sensei proud, what you're going to learn next and the other students. Your focus is on everything except the moment. There isn't much to think about with one kata. Your focus is on one thing and your movement. The movement becomes as natural as breathing. The only goal is to practice the kata, so you practice the kata fully committed and intent, because there isn't anything else to think about. This is what leads to spiritual growth, not karate. One could do the same thing washing dishes.

We've had more than 60 years of modern karate-do. It has not created a legion of self aware people, who can become fully intent and committed to the moment. It has created a legion of people arguing about where your big toe should be pointed during a kata performance and how many years it should take before you tie different colored belts around your waist. Spiritual development has been the excuse for lousy karate, but modern karate-do lacks the characteristics to develop any spirit.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Simplicity Over Complexity

I see much more complexity in karate than efficiency. I think this is a backlash to the kind of punch, kick and block interpretations that people are so used to seeing. Karate can't be too simple anymore. I fear that it's only been replaced by overly complex maneuvers and frankly just as preposterous situations. Just because something is complex doesn't mean that it's better.

There are straight forward, effective and robust movements in every karate kata. It's okay for karate to be simple as long as it's effective.