Thursday, February 23, 2017

What was I thinking?

There's been more than one occasion where I've thrown up my arms and said "screw this" when it comes to writing my book on solo karate kata. I mean what the hell was I thinking? Well I was thinking I want to help people. Still it can be very frustrating, and even though I'm on the fifth rewrite, I am dedicated to getting this thing out in a timely manor. Unlike George RR Martin, I've actually been writing. The good news is that this rewrite is really focusing in like a laser on the principles of individual kata practice, the benefits and it's universal applications. Unlike many other explanatory books on karate this one doesn't skirt the issues or contradictions in karate. Many experienced karateka know intuitively what I'm writing about, but I think they've accepted the get to your armpit via the asshole method of getting to the core of karate. They know but can't put their finger on it.

Despite the reception it might get, I feel that it is my honor bound duty to get the book done and out, so I can move on with my damn life. I am fiercely on the side of the students when it comes to teaching. What is convenient for the instructor is irrelevant. What matters is what is best for the student, or the learner. So even though I might be tearing out what's left of my hair, I hope that the book will be at least a small contribution to the ongoing conversation that is modern karate.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

For Children

How would you make shooting a gun beneficial and completely safe for children?

I don't know what you would do, but I know what I would probably do. I'd take the ammunition out of the equation. The gun isn't dangerous, outside of being a crappy club, without the ammo. This is the only way to make this completely safe with children, without very close and careful supervision. There's no way in hell I would hand a bunch of loaded Glocks over to a group of five-year-old children. Now without ammunition there is really only so much you can do, so instead of focusing on marksmanship, I would focus on dry firing the gun. It would be about the meditative qualities of focusing on the fundamentals of marksmanship. Sight alignment, sight picture, breath control and trigger control. It would be about striving for the perfect synthesis between these four aspects, instead of hitting a target. Now without ammunition I wouldn't even need to use real guns. I could hand out toy guns with sights and still get the same effect. Now to keep a safe and competitive environment and so the kids don't get bored, I set up a duel using Nerf guns for them where the first one to get hit with a dart, even if both are hit, is the winner.

Sound familiar.

This is basically what happened to karate. Strip away everything except the principles without a goal or a map for application and focus on the derivative zen effects of the activity. Because it was taught to children, and kids would hurt each other just by accident if they were taught how to apply it practically.

Everyone now is pretty much just trying to put the pieces back together after it was consciously smashed in the name of progress.

Please help me spread karate to the masses. Share this blog post and help karate become the creative individual pursuit it was always meant to be.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Kata for Creativity

A single kata affords us an astounding amount of creativity, despite it being a fixed set of movements. The movements themselves are not representative of technique, they are rather representative of efficient and effective body mechanics for physical violence. Each movement is merely a template for producing kinetic energy in a useful manner. It is up to the individual practitioner how this energy is applied. Karate therefore becomes more about how you apply the kata, rather than how well you perform the kata. It also allows for the karateka's own personality, tactics and style. This is how kata is used creatively. There may be value in the calligraphy style zen exercise of kata, but the creative application of kata means you keep growing, you keep pushing yourself and keep learning.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Isolate Sections of Kata

If you want to understand a movement in a kata, you have to play with it. You need to isolate it from the rest of the kata and focus singularly on that action. Maybe for a few minutes, maybe for an hour or maybe for a month. Practice your whole kata at the beginning of practice and then pick a section, which you are going to work on without any preconceived idea of what you'll find and let your thoughts develop naturally on the movement. Practice outside of the lines of performance, move freely, repeat the movement in place, flow, go slow, go fast and go too fast.

When we practice the whole kata, we only get a short glimpse of each little part. Here and gone, here and gone. There is no time to "meditate" on each movement. There is literally no time to focus on the more important parts of the kata. Structure, body mechanics, power generation, force vectors. The parts of a movement that make it useful. The template for function. Without intimate knowledge of these aspects application is made much harder.

Structure, body mechanics, power generation, force vectors equal function. The formula. When we plug in the context, the position of you, the position of the other person and the environment, we get the application. Function plus context equals application. If we know the context, but don't know the function of movements we will fail. If we know function without context, we fail.

Breakdown the kata, breakdown the movement and study these different aspects until you don't need to think about them. This will come naturally like any learned skill. You think, think, think, think, and then you don't think. Think now, so you don't need to think later.

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Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Plans for the Future

I've got a few projects going on at the same time. The blog is one. I'm trying to keep up with this thing. The book is the second, which is making progress. Life got in the way, but it's my daughter, so who cares. You mean I need to stop working to spend a few hours playing with a baby. Sounds terrible. Not. The third project will be videos, which I had almost abandoned. They won't be bunkai videos for the most part, because I don't have confidence in technique based training. It will be a ground up teaching and study of the Seisan kata, but the principles can be applied to all kata. I'm not promising video quality as good as Karate Culture, because their filming is just awesome.

I'm dedicated to spreading karate, so I think that putting out the most useful karate instructional videos for the average person who wants to learn something fun and physical is the way to go. If you read the blog you know that I think most of karate is essentially ego and monetarily driven, which creates a huge amount of artificial barriers to what is an awesome system for transmitting a martial art. I want karate practice to be as common and as varied as Yoga, where people think nothing of heading out to the park to practice a kata, they learned on the internet or from a library book.

I'm basically hitting the mind, body, soul in three mediums. Book, blog, and video. Three prong attack. I don't want to leave someone out because they learn visually, emotionally or logically.

Monday, February 13, 2017

In Okinawa

I was just thinking today that I saw the best punk rock version of Brown Eyed Girl by a band playing in a downtown Naha bar. I wonder what ever happened to them.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

If you don't live your values

If belts don't matter? Take off your belt.

If rank doesn't matter? Stop using your rank.

If the uniform doesn't matter? Take off the uniform.

If karate is humbling? Make yourself humble.

If you don't live your values than they are worthless to you. They are merely talking points.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Make Training a Part of Your Everyday Life

Ever since my daughter was born its been harder and harder to set aside a few hours of the day to practice. I now have minutes of practice scattered randomly throughout the day. It's one of the best things about single kata practice that I can take a minute and run through my form. One or two reps here and there, or practicing a section while cooking. This has led me to do all sorts of things to try and keep my physical fitness and karate level up.

Keep weights around the house.

I'll keep a pair of weights or kettle bells at different stations in the house and every time I walk by I make myself do a set. You could do the same thing with calisthenics.

Elastic bands

If you get bored of the weights I sometimes keep a bicycle inner tube slung across me and use it periodically as a resistance band. They take up very little space in a pocket as well.

Make everything harder!

If you do chores around your house or some other banal activity, make it more difficult. Practice stances while you clean. Practice the footwork of kata while moving around the house. Lately I've been sliding a five pound plate onto my brooms, mops and scrub brushes to make cleaning the floor a resistance exercises.

The basic idea is to Mr. Miyagi-hack your day to day. Turn everything into an exercise. It also makes doing the boring housework that comes with life a little more interesting.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

The Artificial Barrier of Belts and Organization

Karate is an idea. No one owns karate and once you know a karate kata it can't be taken away from you. It's yours for as long as you remember it. This makes it open to everyone. It's not complex enough to hold a monopoly on the knowledge, because there just isn't that much to remember.

This can pose a problem if you want a monopoly on karate instruction, because nothing about karate necessitates a teacher. Remember kata was kept secret. Funakoshi recounts a person demonstrating a kata with all the windows blocked so no one could see him. Secrecy is one way to guard the knowledge, but now karate is everywhere. Every town, on youtube, it is open to the public. This means that other barriers of entry need to be put in place. This is where organizations and belts come into play. By making an argument to authority, and not skill, reason and experience, you force people to go to a dojo and get evaluated by your organization before granting titles etc. This creates an artificial barrier to practicing karate.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Technique is not the problem with kata

I'm writing a whole book about this so I'll be brief.

It is ludicrously easy to come up with a scenario for a particular kata movement to become a technique or series of techniques. I practice one kata and I probably had 30 different interpretations for the first movement set alone in Seisan. Think about that. One little movement with 30 different variations. I'm fairly convinced that there are infinite applications. It is easy to find technique, but when you use a technique based system of practice where you try to get to a point where you can ingrain an automatic response this becomes tricky.

Let's say you need a 1,000 repetitions to ingrain a technique. Thirty applications means 30,000 repetitions. Every different technique I discover is another 1,000. So if the interpretations are functionally infinite, how do you do 1,000 repetitions of infinite? It's impossible.

Technique is not the answer. It's a parlor trick for demonstration. Technique is the visible expression of the application of principles. The context changes, the technique changes, but the movement and the principles stay the same.

If you're trying to build a catalogue of techniques based on your kata practice, you are wasting your time.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Why Love Karate?

Hard question to answer. My journey in karate, like many people's, is almost purely circumstantial. I started because there was a dojo in my hometown, which was close by and I could afford the membership fees. A traditional dojo, whose curiculum mirrors programs designed to promote Japanese militarism and physical fitness rather than martial art study. People generally are also ferociously tribal for no real reason. Right now it's a hobby, which costs me absolutely no money.

The reason I love karate now is that it is democratic, meaning it can be practiced easily by everyone, and it can be used as an intuitive and instinctual form of physical combat. Anyone can learn a kata and start practicing at home. General principles can be followed, which make a kata a pretty brutal form of violence. We must remember that the kata survived till the modern period because they were easily transmittable, people were able to learn at night or travel abroad for a few years and become proficient. They also needed to work. All those, which practiced a bad kata, more than likely were either forgotten or lost because it got you killed. In violence, what doesn't work gets you killed. The kata we see are the survivors.

This is why I love karate, which is why I want to share it with people. You don't need a dojo, or a belt, or tradition or any of this stuff that decorates most places windows. You just need a little bit of space, some patience and a few minutes a day to play around with the kata.