Wednesday, October 20, 2010

This blog is closing down...

Shodan- The Beginning Not the End is closing down transferring to Shodan The Beginning, Not the End

See you there!


Sunday, September 19, 2010

Part I: Sticking Your Neck Out

Apologies for not posting so much recently as we have been busy trying to sort out things for the future and we have been practicing Nijushiho and Gojushiho-Dai. I would like to write up a technical report on this later, but frankly at shodan I am not competent to comment on either of these kata really. I can write up how Ibusuki Sensei teaches them, but I am sure this will cause trouble!

Also we are very excited about Oleg Larionov (online name is Oleg Takumi)* who is coming on Sunday to film Ibusuki Sensei for posterity. Yuko and I have maintained a great friendship with Oleg over the years and we were very complemented that he wanted to interview Ibusuki Sensei for the record. As one of or the only (I can't verify this, so I won't stick my neck out) student of Funakoshi Sensei still teaching Karate, this man, we think, is an living piece of Karate history.

OK this blog is going to be in two parts. In this Part I: Sticking Your Neck Out... I will stick my neck out and relay some of Ibusuki's commentary on Karate. In Part II: Not Sticking Your Neck Out, I will talk about a simple revelation I had that is really helping me recover my form. But I'm so thick, and it's so obvious, you've probably guessed what it is anyway.

So this entry is all about sticking your neck out, and the next one is about doing the opposite. And what the hell, eh? When I see moronic statements like "Today I saw true oi-zuki." think these people need to get out more often!

Returning to Ibusuki Sensei, his opinions on Karate are bound to stir the pot and I am sure that there are many who won't welcome his perspective. Harry must be laughing his way all through the miserable northern winter though ;-).

In a nutshell Ibusuki Sensei feels that the JKA really destroyed Funakoshi Sensei's Shotokan Karate when it introduced competition.

Don't misunderstand, Ibusuki Sensei was personally retaught the Nakayama Sensei "instant orthodox" Kata and personally great respected Nakayama Sensei. But it ain't what Ibusuki Sensei learned!
However, Shotokan needed a brand, and identity, and standardization, so Nakayama Sensei basically stuffed what was a very different Shotokan into a rigid Japanese box.

Deforming Kata to fit Nakayama Sensei's ideas of what Japanese orthodox Karate should be, including the nonsense of having to end up in the same place is fine as a training tool for Ibusuki Sensei.

But he believes that much modern Karate is a very deformed and stunted version of the original art; that Shotokan Karate is really a different beast. In fact, Ibusuki Sensei finds modern Karate ridiculously oversimplified.
Main issues:
- The cult of oi-zuki and maegeri as ippon attacks. Karate is a fluid art, with many different attacks from different angles
- The cult of ichigeki-hisatsu: this is particularly wrong because keeping at multiple techniques was of primary importance. Without strong ippon waza, Karate is ineffective. However it is a distortion to teach the idea of ichigeki-hisatsu in a modern context. In fact, when it comes to using Karate in a modern context, technique should be mastered so as to cause the minimum effective damage.
- The cult of extreme hanmi and shomen that was introduced as a training tool by the JKA, but has been turned into some cult-like fetish that totally alien to original Karate...

...I myself have seen a picture of a supposedly perfect deep oi-zuki with hips NOT in shomen, that is advertised by some as a "true" oi-zuki. What is this, North Korea or something?!

But some of these are straw men easy to shoot down out of context, so I'll try to explain in more detail in a different post.

To escape from the rigid ideas of younger Japanese....this is why Ibusuki Sensei was so happy to see Andre Bertel Sensei back earlier this year. Ibusuki Sensei considered Asai Sensei as the most talented and innovative Karateka of his generation, and probably of post-War Shotokan. He said to me last week:

"I was very disappointed by the differences that emerged in Asai Sensei's JKA. Frankly, most people thought that Mr. Matsuno's JKA would win, because all the really talented Karateka were with Asai Sensei, while the other side were very good, but lacked that genius element."

So when Andre Bertel Sensei started running around showing Asai Sensei's techniques, it was like a breath of fresh air for Ibusuki Sensei (and certainly for Yuko and I).

OK, I have to get back to work, so the next installment will be a very different kind of beast...soemthing like a tortoise, I predict.
Yoroshiku, Paul.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Kicking Back with Nijushiho

Kicking Back with Nijushiho with Andre Bertel Sensei

We were very privileged to have a guest in the rather vertical form of David Kremin Sensei from Philadelphia, comes to Japan each year with his family to spend time...with his Japanese family. I am very honored to have another "guest" article from Andre Bertel Sensei on a wonderful new addition my Karate life, a certain Kata called Nijushiho...

OK, first of all to the first half last Sunday's morning session:

Because Kremin Sensei comes from a "non-traditional" background, in that he is an accomplished Tang Soo Do Shidoin and champion as well as an excellent Karate teacher, he has all sorts of insights into Karate from his Shotokan Sensei, primarily but certainly not exclusively, Okasaki Sensei. So it was a great pleasure for us to have him train on Sunday in Ibusuki Sensei's class. It was also a good opportunity to sweat some of the beer, ramen and french fries consumed in disparate bars, restaurants and hostelries in Tokyo and Yokohama visited by us over several days!

The Holy Trinity

Today's practice introduced something new: dealing with people who grab you from behind

a) rear empi, driving elbow back

b) rear empi, spin uraken

c) rear empi, spin uraken, gedan kick to the knee

In Kihon, one of Ibusuki Sensei's favorite moves is sonoba maegeri, yokogeri and ushiro-geri. But how to deal with someone grabbing you from behind. First of all a reality check- having been bottled from behind and severely beaten by baseball bats with the first blow I couldn't stop being from behind, I am acutely paranoid about people getting behind me. Apart from rear headbutting and heel smash on ankle, Ibusuki's Sensei's empi, uraken and gedan kick is a way to go. The first thing is that the empi is really about smashing back, don't use your elbow to poke in the ribs, smash and twist like you are berserk. The rear shove and attack should work as a loosener, then you smash head and knee. Ibusuki Sensei believes that in any attack you should have at least three attacks lined up to discourage your opponent along the idea of if the first and second don't get him, the third will. We didn't ask him about a fourth.

In any case, Ibusuki Sensei believes, and we all know this really, that ippon waza is nice if you can do it, and we all strive for that, but you'd better have plenty in the tank. To me it all comes back to jab, cross and hook. I love it when you see Kyokushinkai derivatives that...have reverted to ....boxing. Nothing wrong with that, but...! Hum!

In any case, Ibusuki Sensei calls this "three pronged" approach The Holy Trinity of Karate. He actually started laughing as he said that. Halleluja, Gloria in Excelis Dojo.


The great and highly pleasant surprise of the lesson was suddenly we did Nijushio, in stages, then gorei then individual with corrections. It was great! We were supposed to finish of the Heian Kata, but Ibusuki Sensei decided that we would do something to welcome David Sensei.

Key points

a) In the JKA in Nakayama Sensei's time, Nijushio was considered kata to be taught and perfected at 3rd and 4th dan and not really before

b) It looks easy but actually is highly subtle, requiring tremendous merihari (contrast) in speed and power

c) Other people might have different opinions, but Ibusuki Sensei said that he felt the most important points about this Kata where the rapid directional applications and shifts, in particular combination with naname waza.

d) Ibusuki Sensei always makes a point about who he thinks is a role model for kata and said that in his opinion the person who had really mastered it was Asai Tetushiko. For Unsu or Bassai Dai, sure, YS. For Kanku Dai, IS, but for Nijushiho, without a doubt he said it was Asai Sensei.

Of course, if you love Asai-Ryu Shotokan like we do, naname hoko is a joy- particularly in Kakuyoku Nidan- oh I do love that sequence. If only I could do the whole kata properly. Actually Andre Bertel has a clip from one of his renditions of Kakuyoku Nidan. Just that sequence brings a smile to my face!

The biggest technical point out of the session that came out of it was that in the Nijushiho taught by Nakayama Sensei you do not kick jodan. Your leg should be parallel with the floor at the point of kime. In Ibusuki Sensei's opinon, people who kick jodan are not only showing off, but making a nonsense of the kata, because the point is the lightening speed and brutality with which you switch directions and attacks in this but compact and ridiculously beautiful "dance."

So we went home and consulted the Asai Sensei video on this. (When I say the video, I don't mean this version, which is wonderful, I mean from the series Asai Sensei produced later featuring Amos and Yamaguchi Sensei assisting when he was Chief Instructor of the Matsuno JKA).

Having now "practiced" Nijushiho I am in total awe of what I saw. We were both struck by just how magnificent Asai Sensei's rendition is. Yuko isn't really one for showing amazement, but even she said "Wow!" Sure, I am almost certain that there are purists who could maybe achieve more crispness on individual moves. It's like this for me; hell, I am sure there are people who could make Heien Sandan look somehow better than YS. However, when you see YS do H.3 in the JKA videos, you are left in now doubt that YS version has megaton yield. And that chimpira hair bouncing up and down. Quite a performance.

Anyway, back to the subject at hand: When I saw Asai Sensei's version, after about ten years, I realized the elements of power transition and spin and fluid motion were just...out of this world. They took my breath away. After watching Asai Sensei's Nijushiho, I felt I really understood why they called him "the storm."

So I asked Andre Bertel Sensei about this and this is the reply I got:

"Asai Sensei’s explanation of Nijushiho:

According to my late karate teacher Tetsuhiko Asai the name Nijushiho is in reference to the 34 hidden and lethal applications within this kata. Of course the name Nijushiho literally translates as 24 steps… So this initially may seem rather unusual. Sensei admonished that traditionally there were 24 clean transitions in the original Nijushiho, which is still known as Niseishi on Okinawa (and by various other ryuha such as Shito-ryu and Wado-ryu, here is a Wado-ryu version), hence the name.

The second and deeper combative meaning is that there are 34 traditional applications, which come from the numbers one, two, three, four, six and eight (as in 24 multiplied by one equals 24, right through to eight multiplied by three equals 24). Hence, even the name Nijushiho itself has both omote and ura highlighting its advanced content…

And yes it is extremely advanced, and just like all of the other jiyu-gata, is usually far beyond the ability of those performing them, especially when considering the respective oyo/bunkai-jutsu. As Asai Sensei said “this is no problem if kata is merely for sports karate, as performance is all that matters, and therefore, kata are merely considered more advance, by their outward form. However, this runs in stark contrast to the JKA, which emphasizes form for optimal function.” Returning specifically to Nijushiho, Asai Sensei stated at the 1994 Gasshuku (in Gifu, Japan) “If Nijushiho is performed heavily, why not do Jitte or Sochin?” What he was emphasising in this case was `the loss of character amongst the kata’.

Asai Sensei AKA Nijushiho:

Asai Sensei truly loved Nijushiho, and as you will well know, it was the Shotokan-ryu kata he was most famous for. His heart, mind and spirit were immersed in Nijushiho, and when he performed it, "HE WAS NIJUSHIHO. "According to Mrs. Keiko Asai, Nakayama Sensei said just prior to his death “Mr. Asai is the only one who can execute Nijushiho properly”. The Nijushiho in Nakayama Sensei’s `Best Karate Volume 10’ is reflective of this.

My socho-geiko experiences of Nijushiho with Asai Sensei: During socho-geiko (morning practice), and when I assisted him in seminars, he never once failed to blow my mind with his performance of this kata.., and I can’t overemphasize the danger when he applied its actual oyo-jutsu. Often he would request free attacks and then `reactively’ apply the kata on me. If I did not attack hard enough or in a predictable manner he would get impatient and really `educate’ me. So I always tried to attack him with all of my energy. Even so, because of Asai Sensei’s extreme level, he sometimes thought I was holding back, and I’d cop it anyway! This was the case even less than a year before he passed away at 70 years old!

Spellbound by a legend: Anyway, performance-wise, seeing videos of him performing Nijushiho is mind blowing enough (if you comprehend authentic traditional Japanese karate), but everyone who saw Sensei perform Nijushiho right there front of them in person, just stood there gaping in awe… Totally stunned... In Tokyo I’ve seen today’s most senior instructors spellbound by Asai Sensei’s Nijushiho such as Mikio Yahara Sensei, Masao Kagawa Sensei, Akihito Isaka Sensei, Toru Yamaguchi Sensei and others.

Technically speaking Asai Sensei emphasised the importance of `action-integration’ and continuous flow of varying forms of power. Initially this was from Nijushiho and then later permeated throughout his karate-do. This fluidity and smoothness, as opposed to stiff, heavy and robotic movements were heavily influenced by his exposure to White Crane Chinese Boxing. Sensei primarily employed this art to return his technique to pre-competition `martial art karate’ as opposed to what he regularly referred to as "constipated motion". Another point worth mentioning here was Masatoshi Nakayama Sensei’s interest and exposure to Chinese martial arts and this cordially resulted in his full support of Asai Sensei’s way, and led to his position as JKA (Japan Karate Association) Technical Director..."

(Editors note: constipated motion ! Great! Having discovered Asai Sensei's Nijushiho, I realized that I lacked the vernacular to do credit to what I saw in the depth of the performance. I am starting to realize that Asai Tetsuhiko was loose at such a deep level that he was able to generate enormous power and vitality within his body. I perceive tremendous energy flow within his movements, which has been another tremendous discovery for me. The only other advanced Sensei I know devoted to such internal dynamics is Isaka Sensei through his slow motion training! Frankly, having seen Asai Sensei's Nijushiho, others look "stiff" both inside and outside...make sense? mmm....ok, back to Bertel Sensei...)

"...One special point that Sensei emphasized to me in Nijushiho was the lightness of his chudan yoko kekomi. I quickly discovered that his transmission of power was bone breaking… I won’t say any more… Let me just seriously emphasise `the lighter and more precise, the deeper the impact’. Another point with this technique, is that the kick can be done in three ways chudan yoko kekomi, gedan yoko kekomi (kansetsu geri) or as fumikomi. The fumikomi version alone is the original version, but the practice of the horizontal keriwaza will lead to a superior `up and driving down’ fumikomi from the hips/application of bodyweight. Ironically the yoko kekomi was added by Asai Sensei and his senpai, Okazaki Sensei. Another point was the haishu-uke or back hand block, which no one seems to do properly. A good hint I can offer to anyone is to closely study videos of Asai Sensei. After basic coordination of hands and feet note the forearm action, and the `special posture'. This is correct, not the kihon shisei. It is based on triangular power, which is a very deep subject, and can make all of the difference between a slap and a knockout!

I could go on and on about my teacher's Nijushiho all day as his execution was seamless and had such extreme technical depth. Add in the memories I have of oyo-kumite, many of which people have seen on the internet both photographically and in video, and you will begin to get a taste of Tetsuhiko Asai Sensei’s karate, which was literally spring-boarded by Nijushiho in the late 1950’s. There is much more to this story, and whilst I’ll always practice Nijushiho, when I do so I feel a great wave of total inferiority. From Sensei’s personal words to me on this kata, my direct study under him, having to attack him for application training, and just seeing him perform this kata.. I will never be able to call it my own based on this literally untouchable technical level, but will always be inspired by it."

--- So there you have it folks. For me, as a shodan, this Kata was revelatory of a whole new vista of Karate that I can now dimly perceive, but will I ever be able to appreciate this Kata. YS commonly says that to master the "simplest" technique, a Karateka must initially practice it 10,000 times. I figure at age 43, I might get round to completing my basic training for a nidan in the next ten years, which leaves me in my 50s to spend a decade trying to get to grips with Karate like this.

I would like to give my profound thanks to Andre for taking his very valuable time to provide those insights into not only Nijushiho but Asai Sensei's philosophy on this intriguing and impossibly beautiful Kata.



Wednesday, August 25, 2010

To Hanmi or To Shomen - Jun Kaiten vs Gyaku Kaiten...Let's Twist Again

Hanmi and Gendan Barai: Co-authored with Andre Bertel Sensei

Had a long conversation with Andre Bertel Sensei on Sunday about quite a few things, and as usual I learned so much it made my hair stand on end. Well, I happen to be bouzu at the moment... but let's not get lost in ironic translation, shall we?

Anyway one of the many interesting things that came up was the difference in ideas behind hanmi; specifically the importance and role of hanmi. Now I am not taking sides here, as there are no sides- only different and highly relevant perspectives on this technique. The point is, if you are going to execute a technique, make sure you do it properly.

So let's explore this- to Hanmi or to Shomen - Jun Kaiten vs Gyaku Kaiten

...or as you might say, Lets Twist Again...

The origin of this entry is in the Heian Shodan that Ibusuki Sensei says is the original Heian Shodan he was taught, back in the late 1940s, which had no hanmi. Ibusuki Sensei has quite an opinion on Shotokan hanmi as he sees it as something that was introduced by Nakayama Sensei and the JKA as a muscle and hip strengthening exercise.

What is clear is that rigid rules, and some would argue, some very rigid stylistic channels and mindsets were introduced in the JKA, whereas before things were literally and metaphorically more fluid and dynamic and, let's face it, less dogmatic before the 1950s. Of course they didn't make it up as they went along...

No Hami - Ibusuki: Practical Grab and Smash

So in Ibusuki Sensei's Karate, Heian Shodan has no hanmi, so it seems half way to Taikyoku Shodan. The reason for the lack of hanmi is the basic idea that there is no block in Shotokan- the block is an offensive weapon that should be able to stop your opponent, or be part of an immediate attack. In H.1 there is no block, you basically try to get inside your opponent as quickly as possible, preferably grabbling the leg and smashing through with a punch, headbut, elbow smash, whatever the distance, timing, dynamics call for. This means that you don't block with a hanmi and then counterattack, but that you go at your opponent straight in so you defend with one hand and attack with the other simultaneously.

Of course, this makes perfect sense: the hanmi gedan barai, gyaku-zuki combination, are you really going to use this in a fight? Ji-yu ippon kumite, for sure or perhaps ji-yu kumite, because the other person is doing Shotokan Karate with its well-known patterns of attack.

Extreme Hanmi - Yahara: Twist and Smash

On the other hand this idea of no hanmi Heian Shodan is total opposite of KWF Heian Shodan, in which extreme hanmi, to the point where the rear hip is lower than the front, with compression on the back leg, is paramount. In Yahara Karate, the oi-zuki is supposed to be the blow that knocks your opponent down and you want to generate power through compression in hanmi to do this. In fact basic KWF yudansha ido kihon is based on the principle of maximum and extreme holding of hanmi to the last possible instant before unleashing an oi-zuki. It's built into Isaka Sensei's slow training and built into ido kihon.

Taking this idea to the KWF limit, you'll often see in the black belt class kihon going right back to what you should have been taught as a white belt, correct movement through the hips. So in the KWF you will move forward in extreme hanmi until the last possible moment before the oi-zuki making sure you are putting your full body mass and power behind the punch.

No arguments with that, right. And Ibusuki Sensei doesn't believe it's "wrong" at all- he loves Yahara Karate because it's so damn fine!

But for Ibusuki Sensei, this is just YS "brand" to suit his own philosophy. And you have to look at things from different angles: what are the downsides?

Well certainly one potential disadvantage is the time wasted with the extreme chambering could have been used to rip your opponent up; you could say, don't waste time; if he gets his leg anywhere near you bundle him off balance by smashing into him as quickly as possible.

And for those of you who are like me, only slighty above feeble and all techniques are hanpa, the Ibusuki Way makes perfect sense. I haven't got the speed. I'd be an idiot to block a leg with an arm. I should get out of the way, tai-sabaki, grab the offending limb, and get inside anyway.

On the other hand YS extreme hanmi also makes sense to me. The decisiveness of the hanmi means that you have huge amounts of energy to quickly attack your opponent, and the power generated through the hips makes the block all that stronger.

Twist and Shout: Hip Vibration

One of the first things I was taught by Richard Amos Sensei was to always flick the hips away driving down and back when blocking with gedan barai. This is supposed to make the block stronger. This so-called double hip movement or hip vibration was built into nearly every move: for example sonoba chudan-tsuki would have us wiggling our hips like itchy snakes.

So this is where I hand over to Andre Bertel Sensei to get a professional opinion, and make some sense of it all: This is what he wrote:

"My late teacher Asai Tetsuhiko interchangeably utilised jun-kaiten and gyaku kaiten for all of his techniques. This brightly highlights a key fundamental difference between Asai–ha Shotokan-ryu and majority of other Shotokan methodologies in the karate world. Quite simply he did not believe in the unalterable gospel of form that is typically enforced by many organisations. What I am trying to convey here is that he didn’t have a `set in concrete method’, but rather used the method, which was best, at any given time.

For example sometimes Sensei would perform the gedan barai in Heian-shodan employing a `to the limit hanmi’ yet other times he would wind up in the opposite direction and rotate towards the technique finishing in shomen. Another method he employed and can be nicely illustrated is in the first movement of Heian-sandan and Heian-godan (hidari chudan uchi-uke). This double hip action is sometimes referred to as hip vibration as it is a coordinated combination of jun-kaiten and gyaku-kaiten.

Asking Asai Sensei about such differences in basic hip rotation and he explained to me that everything depends on the target of practice or the situation. He explained to me that (Please note I have paraphrased these):

(a) ==> Gyaku kaiten into hanmi is superior for halving yourself as a target, and countering most powerfully with the hikite;

(b) ==> Jun kaiten into shomen is strongest and faster for immediately going in and attacking;

(c) Hip vibration allows for a stronger defensive measure than just a standard hanmi but is not as fleeting. However it does permit the maximum counterattack from the hikite which is perfectly equal with hanmi and although not previously mentioned, the gyaku-hanmi, which naturally torques the body for lead hand/arm techniques and hiza-geri or mae-geri with the rear leg (for example Heian-nidan, Kanku-sho etc.)

I cannot emphasise enough that Asai Sensei stressed physical understanding of karate, and decisive adaptability, which he claimed is necessary for reliable self-defense. Therefore, how Sensei executed his techniques in kihon and kata, at any given moment, would depend on what he was working on. And in kumite, it would depend on how his opponents attacked, and how he reactively responded in accordance to the situation. Much of this of course depends on ma. What I personally learned from this was how restricted one is, if they cannot use their hips in all ways, because each way has its advantages and shortcomings."

The message is clear- Karate is not a broken record: it's poetry in motion- and you author the script to fit the audience.


The only thing is, keep your Kihon King- if you are not bothered, there is always Kyokushinkai or kickboxing and MMA.



Monday, August 16, 2010

Ibuki Tawara starts Blog in English

First of all, I would like to acknowledge that August 15 was the anniversary of the passing of Asai Tetsuhiko, a superb Karateka whose genius has created a worldwide following and whose legacy lives on in a wonderful new generation of Asai-ryu Karateka such as Andre Bertel Sensei and of course many others around the world. It's really impossible to overestimate Asai Sensei's impact on Shotokan Karate technically with his beautiful, flowing, dynamic and practically useful Karate. After mentioning Andre Bertel as a key part of the future of faithfully transmitting, rather than copying and miming his Karate and repackaging diluted elements, I would like to turn this blog over to another key part of transmitting the Karate of another master- Mikio Yahara.

So after a little to do with a hell of a lot, let's turn to another element of the future: Ibuki Tawara Sensei, who working with other excellent Sensei such as Bryan Dukas and Sid Tadrist Senseis (and of course Masamichi Otsuka Sensei), will play a key role in transmitting Yahara Karate.

Those of you who read this blog and are familiar with the KWF can't fail to know about Ibuki Tawara (Tawara Sensei) who is currently a kenshusei under Yahara Sensei (YS)

Well it is resoundingly agreed on by people who know far more about Karate than me and who are still training week in, week out at the KWF ShotoKan that Tawara Sensei is already developing into an awesome Karateka, even though he is only in his mid-20s. It's often said that you don't have to be a great Karateka to be a great teacher, and I thoroughly agree with that.

But it also helps IF you can really walk the walk as well as talk the talk. Right?

I first got to know a young bloke called Ibuki back about 5 years ago when he first started training at the KWF Honbu taking time out of Kokushikan University, where he was in the Karate Club. Remind you of someone?

Anyway, Yuko and I were genuinely impressed by this very
pleasant, modest, polite and clearly intelligent young man who had superb Karate. Don't misunderstand me for a minute. He's as tough as nails and can turn it on in an instant if he needs to.

It is no exaggeration to say that Tawara Sensei was born to be a Karateka- his uncle is Shihan Tawara, who is a superb Karateka from Nagano-ken who is just about the most modest guy you'll ever meet, and a super role model. About four years ago we were driving back across town from Nihonbashi with Kawasaki Sensei after a meal with YS and I asked Ibuki what his first memories were- he has no memories of before being a dojo!

It is also no exaggeration that everyone who trains with Tawara Sensei say that his Karate has grown from being superb to frightening, which is the result of week-in, week-out private training and teaching as a Kenshusei under YS. Not to be too harsh, it does seem that speed is more important than power as the pressure to accumulate plastic trophies and win competition gradually dilutes Shotokan. So when Tawara Sensei first came to KWF, his Karate was a bit sporty, if anything. It's safe to say that YS has beaten all this out of him!

Tawara Sensei wears his skills well. He has already developed the gravitas and maturity to command respect through his bearing and attitude and his super Karate.

But the other major thing about Tawara Sensei's attitude is that it's essentially positive. He wants to teach and to learn as much as possible. He is setting up is own KWF training sessions under the KWF and now I am 100% certain he will grow into being a brilliant teacher.

In pursuit of dealing with teaching and networking in today's technical environment, he has started his own blog in English. Don't expect any Pulitzer prize winning analysis of x, y, and z yet. But if any of you have an interest in being trained by this exemplary young Sensei, please do what you can to support him.

So as far as the future of Yahara Karate is concerned in the international dimension, Ibuki Tawara Sensei and Bryan Dukas Sensei and Sid Tadrist Sensei, the latter two being non-Japanese who train regularly with YS and really understand his Karate, are the way forward. I'd also like to point out that there are some wonderful people that I haven't mentioned in various countries around the world.

Anyway....back to writing about reentry capsule technologies and the International Space Station. Great!


Sunday, August 8, 2010

Koken and Gedan Harau

Well special Sunday night training with Ibusuki Sensei was just great, as we went back to basics, covered Heian Shodan, Nidan and Sandan as taught by Funakoshi Sensei, and revised Hangetsu. We also practiced Koken/Kakuto in Ju-Ippon Kumite.

The interesting thing about yesterday's session was Ibusuki Sensei breaking down some of my inbuilt conceptions about Karate. I won't say they are misconceptions, because the point is that Karate is not a cult to be practiced by robots ossing themselves to stupidity. It's evolved. There are are many copies. Of course I wouldn't want to single anyone out. The other side of the coin is how much of what I learned in the KWF is obviously "correct" (and great!)

In terms of through the looking glass, I do stress that I am only trying to honestly discuss my own lack of knowledge- what might be revelatory to me might me cringingly obvious to others. So apologies in advance.

Basics were the same as standard Ibusuki Sensei kihon (see last week) but 注意点 chui-ten were
a) Remember to cover the crown jewels when kicking maegeri- the course of the knee is always protecting the groin, otherwise, well, the resulting weakness can be a painful lesson. Ibusuki Sensei kicked me so that I just felt enough pain to remember the point. Thank you for that ;-).
b) As any competent instructor will tell you, getting your leg back is critically important, unless you are turning maegeri into oigeri and following through with a tuski, headbutt, elbow smash, whatever. In order to make things interesting, Ibusuki Sensei started trying to catch my leg. Once I'd been dumped on my arse a couple of times, I soon got back the hang of it. Key point- smash in and whip back!

狐拳/ 鶴頭 (koken/ kakuto) "fox fist/ crane head" Ju-Ippon Kumite
This was just great and quite revelatory to me on a number of levels, because (a) it's bloody good and (b) I am astonished how far "standard" Shotokan I learned has come from common sense.

First of all we loosened up breathing and exercising, loosening our shoulders by practicing whipping up and down and hitting each other with fox fist. Ouch! Nick Gardiner sometimes demonstrates this, and whipping is an elemental part of Asai-ryu Shotokan as demonstrated by Andre Bertel Sensei. But it's always quite shocking how much more painful getting hit by, and how much easier and faster it is to whip someone with koken/kakuto than seiken or shuto.

After warming up and getting the hang of what I can only call controlled whipping, we practiced two Ju-Ippon drills used as kuzushi-waza:

a) Uchi-age-koken, whip koken uppercut against face punch
This started off pretty formally as an adaption of age-uke gyakuzuki, except use koken against the jodan-zuki and smash into the chin with koken instead of gyakuzuki. The key point is almost that the move is sen-no-sen... the split second you see the attack you go to smash opponent. If linear isn't working, go in at an angle and use koken-haito and get inside, finish up with elbow smash or headbut.

b) Gedan harau, headbut against stomach attack
This was actually closer to a standard kuzushi-waza that I am sure would have made Enoeda Sensei light up like Christmas! Any attack to stomach is basically whipped away to throw opponent of balance then in and up like a ballistic missile and headbut launching up into the chin. Ibusuki Sensei said to me very politely "please refrain from being nervous and remember to deal with your" which, translated from a very polite and sage 80-year-old gentleman into south London English is ... well...I won't go there!

Commentary: Gendan Harau Part I
I deliberately used the term gedan harau as opposed to gedan barai because Ibusuki Sensei believes that gedan barai is not a block and it is not done in hanmi (more on this later!) At least that's what they used to do in Shotokan until the JKA changed things!

Until the low kyus, for beginners to get the kihon ugoki, gendan barai is fine being taught as a block. But almost as soon as some basic kihon movement is understood, then gendan barai should be used as a harau, and if possible as a kuzushi-waza. Basically you sweep the leg or grab it and then smash forward into your opponent with a rising headbutt or elbow smash, haito, whatever distance and timing in the split second you have works!

Heian Kata
Today was H.1-3 and revising of Hangetsu

H.1: Gedan Harau in Shomen = Taikyoku Shodan
As far as Ibusuki Sensei is concerned, Heian Shodan is Taikyoku Shodan, i.e. there is no hanmi. Secondly, as I was taught originally, the sequence is bang, bang-bang! for the three age-uke (all in shomen) and for the three oizuki.

Same as KWF/ JKA

One point I had forgotten is that the fist fumikomi stamp is preceded by a turn into the stamp. The second is that I have become so enamored with YS JKA version (as in the video) of H.3 that I tend to use snap uraken instead of going over the top.

Gendan Harau
Ibusuki Sensei is adamant that gedan barai if taught as a block to kicks is ineffective. He also says that the switch to hanmi from shomen was brought in by Nakayama Sensei for training purposes. Ibusuki Sensei said that gendan harau is to sweep away or help avoid a leg and it is stupid to try to block it- which is more powerful- an arm or a leg?

Or Pieter Van Wck.

However, teaching it as a block is ok for beginners just to find a rationale for them to use it. However the use of gendan barai is for decisively avoiding or sweeping and going inside an opponent. The other major point is that hanmi is weaker than shomen and creates unnecessary distance. In particular the KWF use of Hanmi is just YS brand and part of his philosophy but would be unrecognizable to Gichin Funakoshi. That's not a criticism of YS, just a fact.

Hangetsu Revision:
1. Avoiding Darth Vader breathing: Ibusuki Sensei said a very little noise is OK in the opening sequence.
2. Weak Stance: again, common sense to the rescue. Ibusuki Sensei pointedly said that Hangetsu datchi is very important to do strongly. He is very very reluctant to criticize others, but he said "Abe-kun's front leg is too much at an angle and easy to kick." I didn't say this folks. Don't shoot the messenger
3. The maigeri, gedan, tsuki and age-uke sequence is a sold bang-bang-bang-bang as taught to Ibsusuki Sensei before the JKA.

OK that's it for today! I think next week's post will be on "Why Shotokan and Not Krav Maga."

Paul & Yuko

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Vintage Armagnac

Vintage Armagnac

Well, well, well, like fine Vintage Armagnac coursing through the veins, a session with Ibusuki Sensei just makes you feel great. Today's session, the first session Ibusuki Sensei has taught since January, had quite a bit of background as we heard some stories from him about several things that might surprise many of today's Shotokan practioners, particularly those that have been brought up on a narrow diet of Karate.

Today's practice consisted of Ibusuki Sensei's version of Kihon, which brings us back to moves and combinations of techniques practiced pre-Nakayama Sensei/JKA, together with his own Kihon, and work on Kanku-Sho and Hangetsu.

"Today we'll do Hangetsu, because it is the last of the Kata; next time, we'll start from the beginning with Heian Shodan" said Ibusuki Sensei.

Before I go on to explaining the training a bit, I'd like to open with some of Ibusuki Sensei's philosophy and understanding of Karate, as related to us this morning.

Orthodoxy and Stupidity: Seiza is Punishment, Not Art

So Ibusuki Sensei believes Karate can evolve, but he is only interested in what works. The first point is that today he believes a lot of energy is misplaced. One example is adherence to traditions that are plain silly. For example Ifrah Sempai told us a story about how he knows a 92-year old woman who has won tremendous respect for her commitment to 修行 shugyo, aesthetic training. The lady in question was a devoted 茶道 sado (Tea Ceremony) specialist who would spend up to 7 hours a day in 正座, seiza, dragging herself along on her knuckles, perfecting and refining her movements. The result was that she developed huge 拳蛸 kendako that would make a Karateka proud.

Now I guess the vast majority of Karateka, and Karate-otaku reading this respect the Japanese concept of 道 do. And, well let's face it, a lot of us enjoy the masochistic elements of this, the idea of self-discipline, purification, idea of getting stronger, etc. etc. (As YS says, most people who belong to the KWF are 奇人変人, kijinhenjin, weirdos and cranks, in fact he regards it as a badge of honor!) So a lot of people might respect the idea of of our lovely old Japanese lady punishing herself for her art. How splendid, right?

"Nonsense" said Ibusuki Sensei. "Many Japanese people forget their own history. Seiza was originally a punishment forced on criminals and scoundrels to torture them. Later it was appropriated into various Japanese shugyo, particularly in the Meiji Era" (no doubt to control people!) Basically too much seiza is bad for the knees, lower back, circulation and only fools would punish themselves with some sort of blind devotion to seiza. So there you go!

Commentary on Shotokan Karate by Ibusuki Sensei:

1. Oi-zuki
- First of all, oi-zuki is almost useless in a street fight because its so obvious. In fact most of modern Shotokan as expressed in shiai or competition is useless because it's so obvious. Most street fights are decided at short range with headbuts, hooks, kicks to the knee, gouges and spinning and circular techniques "not the ridiculous jumping around and competition Karate of today."
2. No Kumite in Original Shotokan Karate Training
He said "Funakoshi Sensei said that he didn't like Kumite fighting because it immediately distorted Karate from its original meaning." Kumite was brought in by post-war Japanese students and Funakoshi Sensei was really unhappy about this.
3. 狐拳/ 鶴頭 (koken/ kakuto) "fox fist/ crane head" and forgotten techniques
Much of the Shotokan Karate today is a grossly simplified version of Shotokan as practiced before JKA. A major example is the forgotten use of 狐拳, "fox fist" which is also known as 鶴頭 "crane head" was often used for block and counter attack in Shotokan, but somehow got edited out. This is very interesting for us as we love Asai-Ryu 鶴翼 (kakuyoku) "crane's wings" kata.

(BTW, I've noticed some hillarious stuff out there, for example "Kakioku Shodan", which brings tears to my eyes just thinking about it. Kaki in Japanese is 蠣 which means oyster, or 柿, which means persimmon. The idea of the Okinawan peasants basing their self-defense strategies against arrogant sword-head Shimazu on flying oysters intrigues me. Or perhaps they chucked fresh fruit at them? I think I need an 泡盛 ;-)

...and oku means "deep" or "inside." So perhaps this is "profoundly philosophical oysters kata."

But it's lovely to see our first, and forever wonderful Sensei Richard Amos in the Kakuyoku Shodan video. Pity about the title though. And "Bonkai." What on earth is that?)

If you are angry, I am, in fact, half-joking.

4. A Block is an Attack
While blocks have become systematized and formalized, in original Karate the block was always designed to contain an attack.

I realize that many of these points will be known to more experienced Karateka and might be new to others, but I just wanted to get these main points in.

Today's Kihon
1. Maegeri, three-count and then two-count
- Main point: protect Crown Jewels at each point in kick, never open up knee. How many times have I forgotten this? Donkey!
2. Maegeri, yokogeri, ushirogeri, one-count
- Main point: any kick above chudan in a streetfight verges from risky to nonsense, attacking the knee and shin "discourage" opponents
3. Zenshin chudan hiji-uchi
Main point: smash into your opponent, it doesn't matter about looking good as long as you keep your balance low, then you can follow up with something very dirty
4. Zenshin chudan hiji-uchi kara ballistic jodan hiji-uchi
Main point: smash face, throat after winding or smacking ribs, through your whole body and centrifugal force into it. Basically take your enemy's head off!
5. Kibadachi kara uchimawari uraken
Main point- generate huge centrifugal force and whip out. A thug won't know what you are up to if you master this so spin and smash.
6, Kibadachi kara uchimawari uraken, gyakumari uraken
Main point: have a really smashing time!
7. Kibadachi kara soto-uke, instant snap uppercut choku-zuki
Main point: this is an "Ibusuki original", whip the soto-uke into a vicious punch to the throat or uppercut to jaw, nose, etc.
8. Kibadachi kara uramawashi uraken, gyakumawashi uraken, juji-uke tsuki
This one gets the blood going- the main point is turn the juji-uke into a throat attack- you should smash the opponent down.

1. Kanku-sho
Teaching Point: Original Kanku-sho kick is from conventional Kiba-dachi and chudan and, whump! go straight down: NOT the massive amount of leaning over and the theatrical spin you see today. Sports Karateka love making a meal out of this one, but none of this existed before the JKA.

2. Hangetsu
a) Breathing is deep, calm and dignified and NO NOISE breathing throughout the whole kata. First uke is inhale deeply 吸って sutte (inhale deeply) through nose and then tsuki is 吐いて haite (exhale) through mouth making NO NOISE. You can see that people who do not understand or have not been taught properly pass some sort of weird Darth Vader breathing off and on as Hangetsu. This is, in fact nonsense.

I asked specifically asked Ibusuki Sensei about "making noises" in Hangetsu and he looked confused by such a silly question. He said "Meat eaters who adopted Karate are very strong." And in his eyes was laughter. Bit of an evil glint, actually.

You can purse your lips a little, but a competent Karate instructor will be able to see that you are breathing correctly without you doing some sort of Darth Vader impression.

b) The final hiite (ryote hikite) is done exceptionally slowly and always keep your neko-ashi dachi as low as you can.

OK that's if for today folks. We are holding a dinner party tonight and yours truly is the chief cock. (Cock in Japanese means cook! None of your sarcastic comments please.) Meanwhile Yuko is across from me practicing Kanku-sho. She was deeply irritated by discovering some people think they are practicing kakioku shodan- "what are they, idiots?"

Well, Yuko, you tell me. I can't do Heian Shodan properly yet. Because as I am finding out, Shodan is only the beginning. ;-)