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Guest Post: Training is Training

This Guest Post is by my friend, Mark Tankosich, who has dan rankings in both Sho-ha Shorin-ryu karate and Zen Nihon Kendo Renmei jodo. Along with the martial arts, his passions include the Japanese language. He currently lives and teaches in Hiroshima, Japan.

Mark is the author of Karate Ni Sente Nashi: What the Masters Had to Say and Japanese Ego Negation and the Achievement of Self, which are hosted at the Hawaii Karate Seinenkai website. He has also published English translations of Japanese Karate articles, including Practice Kata Correctly, by Kenwa Mabuni.

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I have the privilege of belonging to a jodo practice group that meets once a month. It is run by my instructor, and by the next most senior teacher in the prefecture. I'm not sure if there is any formal rule regarding membership, but the group consists of people who are, to one extent or another, advanced practitioners. Among the most consistent participants are a man and a woman who often work together for the two-person kata practice. In their mid-seventies or so, it goes without saying that, while their technique is excellent, they no longer move with the same ease, power or speed that they once did. What IS the same, however, is their ceaseless hard work and effort.

Several months ago, at a gym where I used to lift weights, I began regularly seeing a young woman. She looked to be in her late thirties, and was working with a personal trainer or coach of some sort. While I and others were doing typical weight-training sorts of exercises, she was practicing tasks like standing up and walking without assistance. When I saw her, I guessed that she must have had a stroke or some unfortunate accident that left her with a disability. She was worlds away from bench-pressing or deadlifting impressive poundages of weights, but she sure as heck was working hard.

My best friend of more than 30 years is also a karate practitioner who belongs to my "home" dojo in Pittsburgh. A couple of years ago, when he was lifting weights, he suddenly felt that something wasn't right. It turned out that, for some unknown reason, he had permanently lost the hearing in one of his ears. Ever a fighter, he adjusted remarkably quickly to his hearing loss. Unfortunately, his balance was also pretty severely affected. Some everyday activities -- let alone karate practice -- became difficult for him. As part of his rehabilitation, he had to do "simple" exercises, like looking up and then down repeatedly. Not exactly a "fun" workout for a man who had been doing karate for thirty-some years, and weightlifting for even longer. But he did what his rehab therapist told him without fail.

What is the point of these stories? Well, at some point, having witnessed what my friend, the jodo-ka and the young woman were doing, it hit me: Training is training. No matter what the specific "exercise" is, ALL training takes the same character, strength of will, determination, and willingness to accept being temporarily uncomfortable so as to improve yourself in some way. Working to rehab an injury or practicing within the limits of advanced age may not be as "sexy" as perfecting a fancy-looking kicking technique or squatting 800 pounds, but it DOES require the same internal strength and quality of character.

Now 51 years old, I have sometimes thought about how I will feel as I grow older and older, and lose some of my (already modest) strength, speed and flexibility. Here's to hoping that, as I age, I'm able to remember that training is training.

Mark Tankosich

Shinzato Sensei in Book and DVD


Sensei Katsuhiko Shinzato appears in a relatively new book and video. You might be able to order it many places, but I found it at the Budovideos website. Here is the link:


Several other Karate senior instructors are also in the book/DVD. There is a nice section at the end of the DVD focusing on Shinzato Sensei and his methods of moving. That section was filmed at his dojo.

Respectfully,

Charles C. Goodin

Hawaii Self-Defense Laws: What You Can and Cannot Do

Aloha,

There is going to be a panel discussion about Hawaii Self-Defense Laws: What You Can and Cannot Do, on Thursday, April 1st, 2010, from 6 to 8 p.m., at the William S. Richardson School of Law, 2515 Dole Street, Honolulu, Hawaii 96822, Classroom 1. This is a very important subject for martial arts instructors and students.

Hear from experts in the field on the use of self defense in criminal cases, featuring Professor Virginia Hench, Sergeant Christopher Park, Deputy Prosecutor Don Pacarro, Deputy Public Defender Jerry Villanueva, Deputy Public Defender Edward K. Harada, and retired Circuit Court Judge Victoria Marks.

Free and open to the public.

Here are links to two posters:


I would like to thank Edward Knox, a law school student and martial artist, for letting me know about this panel discussion. I will try to attend (but I teach class that night).

Respectfully,

Charles C. Goodin

Kanji In Knot

What does it mean when a student wears a belt (a black belt usually) with kanji (Japanese characters) in the knot?

Sometimes a student will get a belt with nice writing on the ends. As the student grows (taller and/or wider) the belt will seem to grow smaller and smaller, until the ends become short and the writing is in the knot.

To me, this usually means that it is time to get a new belt!

It is not good to be attached to things like belts and patches -- better to be attached to family and friends.

I remember hearing a saying that a student's knowledge is in his belt. Really? It seems to me that the student's knowledge should be in the student. Without knowledge, a belt will not help -- with knowledge, a belt is not necessary.

But kanji in the knot?

Respectfully,

Charles C. Goodin

Blocking Faster By Not Turning

Say you are going to turn to the left and block. We can use the beginning of Pinan Sandan as an example. The stance is not relevant. In a nutshell, you are facing the front and turn to the left with a left middle block (outward).

Some people will do this: (1) turn to the left; (2) cross the arms; and (3) block.

This way is pretty slow because it takes time to turn to the left. In addition, when you turn, you could be hit because there is a delay between the turn and the block.

Some people will do this: (1) turn to the left and cross the arms at the same time; and (2) block.

This way is faster. But still, you could get hit when you turn because you do not block until you have competed the turn.

Some people will do this: (1) cross the arms; and (2) turn to the left and block at the same time.

This way is faster still. But it takes time to turn the body.

I would do this: (1) cross the arms; and (2) block to the left without turning.

I would rather block sideways. I do not like turning with my shoulders square -- at most, I would turn in a hanmi position. I do this for the first movements of all the Pinan kata. I do not turn my body to the left -- I just block to the left. My shoulders remain facing the front (mostly) and my tanden (belly button, essentially) is rotated about 30 degrees (from the front).

My head turns to the left, but my body does not. I am basically "turning without turning," a phrase I first heard from Sensei Toshihiro Oshiro at a seminar here in Hawaii.

By the time most people will have completed the turn of their body, I will have completed the block (and its recoil). I should add that my "arm crossing" in preparation for the block is minimal, and in some situations, I will block without any cross or preparation. I will just block from where my hands are.

As I wrote about recently, I would generate power for the block by compressing through my body rather than compressing by rotating outside of my body. As a result, I do not have to turn my body back and forth (zig zag). I can pulse the power from my right side, through my left, generate compression, and direct this to the block -- all without turning.

This is what I do (among other things) to block faster.

I always tell my students that if they turn and then block, they will be hit. Minimally, you have to at least turn with the block. By the time you get there, your block has to be done.

And then you have to be ready to change directions.

Respectfully,

Charles C. Goodin

Pulsing Koshi

OK, if you read my post on Smaller Koshi, you have probably realized a problem -- if you have a certain koshi movement and just make it smaller, you will probably generate less power. It is not just a matter of taking a movement and making it smaller.

If you know Fukyugata Ichi, you know that the first movement is a downward block to the left (in zenkutsu dachi). If you don't know the kata, you start off facing the front and turn to the left where you make a left downward block. I know that it is not as simple as that, but please just accept for purposes of this discussion that you turn to the left and block down.

When a student is learning how to use koshi, I will teach him to vigorously twist his koshi to the left to help generate power. Actually, it is not just a matter of twisting to the left -- you actually anchor your left side of the body so that when you twist to the left, you are turning into your own left side, and as a result you create a great deal of compression. If you just twist to the left, without anchoring or locking your left side, it will be like a washing machine agitator. The twist will just bounce back and forth and it will be pretty much impossible to direct the power. You will just be swinging.

Twisting the koshi and swinging the body is nice but it is also slow. By the time you are done with your koshi movement, you will already have been hit (perhaps more than once).

The reason a student learns to twist or swing his koshi is not to generate power but to generate compression. Power comes from compression. Once you compress, you can direct power as you like.

So you twist the koshi to develop compression. It generally follows that if you twist the koshi less, you will generate less compression, and thus less power. You could twist the koshi faster, but there is a limit to that. Once you reach your maximum twisting speed, that's it.

So what can you do?

Instead of generating compression by twisting (rotation around the body), you can generate compression by pulsing (sending a wave through the body). Instead of twisting and squeezing in an arc outside of the body, you take a shortcut by squeezing through the body.

In Fukyugata Ichi, you start facing the front. If you twist your koshi, your hips rotate to the left. If you pulse your koshi, your hips no longer rotate -- instead, it is as if your right hip is pressed through your body toward your left hip. You are squeezing directly from one hip joint to the other, thus creating compression... and then this compression is directed to your downward block (or whatever).

From the outside, it will appear that your koshi movement is much smaller. You could pulse inside the gi or even inside the body. An observer might be amazed because he will be thinking that you are not moving at all or that your rotation is so amazingly small. In actuality, you are not rotating... so in this regard it is sort of a trick. Rotation has been replaced by pulsing.

Moving in this manner requires "lining up the joints." You pulse from one joint on a straight line to the other. This can be from one hip to the other, from one shoulder to the other, or pretty much from any joint to the other. If they are lined up correctly, a pulse can travel through several joints.

And as you pulse (create a body wave) you are also squeezing the wave -- compressing the wave. It is sort of like squeezing a tube of toothpaste. If the toothpaste is stuck, it might explode out under the pressure of your squeeze.

So as you pulse, you are also squeezing.

And as you do this, you are also blocking the wave to that it will build up and you can explode it in the direction and with the technique you desire.

Pulsing, squeezing, blocking, directing... pow!

So you can have a much smaller koshi movement with the same or even more power as with rotationally generated compression. But it is not just smaller, it is fundamentally different. Instead of rotating around the body, you pulse through it -- and your movement is inside your body. I call this a "pulse" but some people call it a vibration. When I asked Shinzato Sensei what it is called in Japanese, he said, "perhaps you might come up with the term." I think this is his way of saying that what it is called is not as important as being able to do it.

And pulsing is much faster.

Getting back to Fukyugata Ichi, if you pulse, you do not rotate and you do not turn to the left. You still block to the left, but you turn without turning. You just slide to the left and block... pow!

Respectfully,

Charles C. Goodin

Smaller Koshi

I was training recently with some friends when two of them mentioned to me that my koshi looked like it was getting smaller. These two friends (my seniors) teach Goju-Ryu. I had to admit that I also thought that my koshi movement was getting smaller.

For some people, koshi means hip movement. In Kishaba Juku, we feel that there is much more to it than this, but it is true that one part of koshi movement is hip movement.

When I first started to learn from Sensei Katsuhiko Shinzato (in 2002), I had no real hip movement, at least not a systematic one. I guess that I would say that my hip went forward with the block or strike (and this was after about 25 years of studying and teaching Shorin-Ryu, and reaching a body dynamics roadblock that left me frustrated, desperate, and ready to quit unless I found an answer). Shinzato Sensei spent the better part of our first day together trying to get me to relax and move more like a whip. How hard it must have been for him! One reason I am pretty patient with my students is because Shinzato Sensei was so patient and encouraging with me. I must have been one of his most difficult students ever!

In order to teach students how to move their hips properly, and in a broader sense to learn to generate power using their whole body in a coordinated manner (essentially "koshi"), Shinzato Sensei and most instructors of Kishaba Juku start off by teaching a large, exaggerated hip movement. I am sure this is so that students like me will have a chance to first see and then copy the movement.

It would be easy for a new student to assume that the way the instructor is showing hip movement is the way he normally moves. This is usually not true at all. I know for certain that Shinzato Sensei can move with a very compressed movement, so much so that an normal person might not see it at all (just see the results). But for his students, he will demonstrate koshi movement appropriate to each student's level. In other words, he can demonstrate large, exaggerated koshi, as well as very small, compressed koshi, and everything in between, and sometimes more than one koshi "flavor" in the same kata or even the same movement.

Ten students can learn from Shinzato Sensei and each can rightfully say that they saw something different. And the next time they train, it might be different still.

For the last 8 years, I have works very hard on body dynamics. Honestly, I have worked harder on it than I did in graduate school (for business) or in law school, and those two programs combined took only 7 years. So after 8 years of hard work with instruction and guidance from Shinzato Sensei, and my own students to experiment on and teach, I have come to a point where, indeed, my koshi movement is getting smaller.

Perhaps one day it will be gone completely!

But then, when someone asks how I am moving, I would still have to show them the initial exaggerated movement (so that they could see the form and rhythm). IF YOU TRY TO COPY THE SMALL, COMPRESSED FORM OF MOVEMENT, YOU WILL NOT BE ABLE TO GENERATE POWER AND MOVE QUICKLY. YOU HAVE TO MOVE FROM THE LARGE TO THE SMALL.

Of course, this is something I am still working on and will continue to work on. I joke with Shinzato Sensei that I am chasing him, but it often feels like I am crawling and he is running. But I am very grateful to him for being the example I can chase after. Despite my shortcomings, I know that if I am chasing after him, I am moving in the right direction.

With koshi, sometimes less is more.

I am reminded of two sayings. To move inside the gi (meaning your body movement is inside the gi -- movement cannot be seen outside of the gi). To move inside the body (meaning your torque is contained inside the body -- movement cannot be seen outside of the skin. With these, the movements look the same, but... pow!

Respectfully,

Charles C. Goodin

Being Sure About Kata

I want to state a point that should be obvious. In order to truly learn and benefit from kata, you have to know the kata so well that you do not have to think about it at all. You have to be able to simply begin the kata and then just move.

If you are thinking about each move, about what comes next, about whether you are making any mistakes... your performance of the kata will be hesitant and choppy. You will, at best, be doing each movement, perhaps as a sequence, perhaps as just a bunch of movements strung together.

When you really know the kata well, you don't have to think about it. It is like riding a bike. At first, you are just trying to keep your balance and steer straight. But when you know how to ride, you can enjoy the scenery. You don't have to think about steering or pedaling -- they become natural movements.

There are times, when I perform a kata, that I don't know what I am doing. It is as if I start the kata and then find myself at the end. The kata just happens by itself. There is no real sense of time or direction. I would like to say that each movement just flows to the next -- but there really is no sense of separate movements. It is not as if I am doing a kata with 25 or 50 movements. It is as if I begin the kata with the idea about which kata I am going to perform, and then it starts so flow, almost like a liquid, and then it is over.

Sometimes I wonder what I did. But usually, when I perform a kata this way, it is the best (for me). The movements are not broken or hesitant.

But until you know the kata pretty well, it is impossible to do such things. Until then, you are doing movement 1, movement 2, movement 3, etc. Until then, you are just trying to steer straight and not fall of the bike.

When you know the kata really well it is still possible to do wrong movements, or to begin one kata and end with another. Then that is great! Then, even if it is wrong it is right!

Respectfully,

Charles C. Goodin