Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Kata - The Science of Proper Mechanics.

Trying something a little different. It seemed a more direct way of expressing what it is I am trying to say in this particular post and was much faster than just writing it out.
This is an unscripted video of thoughts off the cuff after training the concepts I talk about, just some thoughts on some more in-depth aspects that make even the most basic of things within Karate-Do that much more interesting and there is carryover, no matter what style or system a person studies they might, I hope, find something useful here.

The main points, Shin, Gi, Tai... Kata and Karate are about more than just fighting and, if done correctly and trained thoroughly, have health benefits stretching beyond violent confrontations in the street.
The fighting aspects are basic, the deeper stuff begins when one starts to look at even the slightest use of one single motion and, linking it all together, finds the truth in each portion followed by an understanding of the overall whole.

Most times, if you look at some of the videos online, they are often lacking in depth of motion, they never seem to touch upon these things.
There ARE exceptions... Bunkai is not just about how to apply something in a fight, but proper motion, proper focus, proper intent.

Friday, August 26, 2016

The Spirit of Okinawan Karate.

I once met an individual of Korean decent who was a Firefighter in his spare time,  but had taken a part time job with our Organization for the summer travel season.

At the time I was the Shift Lead for an Organization which sent Students abroad on International Education Oriented Trips all over the World and I was tasked with training this gentleman in our procedures and Case Management,  so we spent a lot of time chatting.

At some point this individual noticed our display for Japan, complete with the image of the Red Rising Sun, at which point he began talking about Korean sentiments towards the Japanese,  remnants from the occupation in World War 2.
Many Koreans,  evidently,  view that symbol in much the same way as most view the Swastika, a symbol of racist ideology, racial superiority,  and oppression.

Today we think of Japan in a very different light,  but it is true that, not long ago, Japanese Nationalism was aligned with Hitler because they shared similar ideals and identical aims.

Today we see Dojo that practice Okinawan Karate using Japanese customs, terms and phrases,  philosophy,  and practices; right down to the Gi and belts that are worn.

Many Dojo have displays of Samurai Katana, walls lined with Bokken on Weapon Racks, Shomen in similar fashion to Shinto Shrines, ect.
Little to nothing in this,  aside from the actual Art, seems to actually be Okinawan and this is not surprising considering the great lengths to which Japan went in order to suppress Okinawan language,  culture,  and Religion in order to make Okinawa more Japanese.

Most forget what happened to many Okinawans at the end of the war and it is a wonder the Okinawans would welcome assimilation at all, considering their treatment as second class citizens in their own country,  but many did promote assimilation, including many Karate Men of the time.
One could speculate on their motives, but who is to say?

The Japanese utilized their Education System in order to indoctrinate many of their colonial territories and it seemed to work,  even now there are not many Sensei who are knowledgeable in the Okinawan aspects of the art they practice and teach.

This is no fault of their own,  nor their Teachers,  many of whom grew up in an Okinawa that spoke Japanese and had adopted many of their customs.

Okinawa has somehow remained unique from the Japanese mainland and retained much of their identity, along with their close family/ancestral ties and Shamanistic Matriarchal Religious Practices and Customs.

The Okinawans have a concept called Mabui which is similar to Western concepts of Soul,  Spirit,  and Mana; it is the essence of a person and, according to their beliefs, it can be lost through various forms of trauma.
It is, they say, the reason for depression and anxiety,  among other things.

To regain one's Mabui can be as simple as sleeping in one's own bed or as complex as to require the services of a Noro Priestess in a Ritual depending on the severity of the loss.

It would seem that the Mabui of true Karate has taken a very serious hit along with the rest of the Okinawan spirit that is only now beginning to mend after many generations.
Maybe this is not even true as many seek out Karate in Okinawa only to find, what I term, tourist Karate as many great Karate Men have either died or left,  and then died in an adopted land.
Furthermore,  it begs to question,  is the Karate we now have the true Martial Way of Okinawa?
It would seem much has been fabricated and, fabricated in such a way,  as to make it more Japanese than Okinawan.
It makes sense when looking back on their culture as these are a spirited and,  traditionally,  long lived people who defeated the Mongols and were willing to fight to the last man against the Satsuma Samurai until their King begged them to remember that life was a jewel.

Would they not,  after all they have endured, guard closely the Mabui of ALL their cultural ways?
Their economy had suffered greatly, but many forsaw commercial opportunities that could support their families by teaching Karate, which capitalized more on the Japanese notion of Bushido and Bujitsu than it did on Okinawan culture,  for that is something sacred to them.
Even to this day outsiders are not allowed to even view Okinawan spiritual rituals,  this includes Japanese living in Okinawa.

There are many mysteries I do not think we will ever be fully privy to.
Do I feel that the form of Karate we have received is authentic? Sure,  but it's spirit has been swapped out and guarded against further transgression.

Below is a link to an interesting read,  one among many.
I hope you find it informative.


Saturday, August 20, 2016

The Price and The Way.

I was bored and began browsing some books in my Kindle while at work; mainly looking for study guides for an upcoming exam,  but soon decided to search "Karate" to see what came up.
That lead to this article, which may not be pretty and may very well offend a lot of people out there.

I love Karate and have tremendous respect for my Teachers,  even after all these years, as jaded as I have been with certain aspects of the whole thing,  I still love it.
That being said I would like to talk about the side of things that often gets overlooked in all the romanticization and infatuation.

I have been fortunate in my Practice to have learned from the people I have,  however long or brief a period with each,  especially my Teachers,  Michael Dascenzo Sensei and Charles Sensei.
I trained hard,  learned much,  and trained more,  but not for the sole purpose of "getting somewhere" or "gaining something" and Dascenzo Sensei would often lament the Politics and Business of Budo.
Todd Sensei was never about talking,  Politics,  or Business, lamenting or otherwise, he just loved to train and the rest never entered the equation.

These things have caused rifts between Teachers and Students for a very long time and will continue to do so for a long time to come,  save for those few, like Todd Sensei, who could care less because they love what they do so much that the training is all that matters.
One day that may not be the case,  but who knows?
I have a sinking suspicion that the reason my Teacher retired from Teaching at such a young age has,  at least in part, to do with the Politics, views,  and Prejudices of some within the Organization that had some influence on the way of things,  but that is only part of it and is his business.

I write this because I took notice of the overall price range of books on Martial Arts, Zen, and assorted related topics,  taken with the prices of Dojo Tuition,  Testing Fees,  the cost of professionally crafted equipment, and Organizational dues.
Martial Arts is Big Business, nothing wrong with that considering how the world works,  but some are more costly than others and people are always aiming to be the top dog,  whether they deserve it or not,  so they try to get in with the person at the top and prevent others outside their clique from doing the same.
Some promotions have very little to do with skill and some Seniors in the hierarchy have spent more money, with very little blood and sweat in the mix, to get where they are and they are more interested in position and influence than training.
Unfortunately these types tend to be the majority in most groups,  although not always,  and some Sensei have been able to strike a balance with little sacrifice to their integrity.

This is not only true of Martial Organizations,  but every Institutionalized Group on the planet; ever notice the cost for a Spiritual Retreat? Whether it be Buddhist or otherwise,  they tend to target a certain demographic for monetary gain and even within these one will find the same sort of hierarchical structure with the same type of people seeking to boost their own egos.

Often people break away for whatever reason and some of these breakaway groups turn toward an almost cult-like worship of their founder,  even and especially within the Martial Arts.
Self promotion and self aggrandizement are often the norm.

The bottom line is never missed,  with many living like Kings and Queens from their gains.
There is nothing wrong with this so long as one is honest about it and practices true to their teaching,  with respect to their Teachers.
There is often too much bickering back and forth,  like barking dogs through a fence,  and it calls into question the actual value of what is being taught as it is supposed to produce better individuals.
Maybe not the Teaching,  but the Teacher. If they cannot practice what they preach,  should they be preaching? If they could not get where they are by following their own principles then why are they asking it of others?

It is a fact of life,  I suppose,  and one can take heart in the fact that there are sincere people out there from whom you can learn, their training and attitude speak for themselves.
Having written all this I must say that I mean no disrespect to anyone and I understand that this is the world we live in,  at present anyway.

I am a member of an Organization,  because I respect my roots and they are my family,  but I train to train,  it has nothing to do with which patch I wear.
I am friends with,  and train with some very sincere people here as well,  they just happen to be members of a different Organization,  but Karate is Karate.

My Sensei has been like a Father figure to me,  his lessons constantly guide me,  every day.
Todd Sensei is like an older Brother,  and I take his example to heart.
Roseberry Shihan is like a Grandfather, who always provides deep insight without speaking a word,  even in his sneaky attempts to get doughnuts when he knows he can't have them.

Kris Wilder is like an Uncle, Gene Villa and his crew are like cousins,  all very good people... Politics and Business can never destroy that.

Good day.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Truth in the Center.

In the center one must find all aspects of the self and merge them before they can proceed.
To sink into the body with mind and spirit, an opening and offering of oneself to that which is greater still,  yet deep within all things...  All else drops away.

This zero point is the beginning and end of all Budo which cannot be ignored or brushed aside.
This IS Kata, this IS Karate, anything less is watered down,  spiritless,  empty.

Those who go on and on about hating Kata or that Kata are useless or boring have missed the point of Kata and their many layers.
It makes sense now when people like Kayo OMG and Roy Kamen speak of Bunkai being only the tip of the iceberg as Karate is much deeper than that.

I once witnessed a Haka Dance performed by,  of all people, a Mormon Missionary and it seemed to me to be nothing more than a jumble of shouting, moving,  and stomping around... Nothing to write home about,  right?
True,  until you witness it performed by someone who throws everything into it,  then it becomes frightening...  At that point I realized what was missing from the first performance.
That was not a Haka Dance,  it was missing the spirit and,  thus,  was missing the desired effect resulting from a proper Haka Dance.

It does not matter how mean you make your face look,  how rigid or built your body,  or how loud you Kiai... Without the spirit,  found in the center before all else,  and forged through fire properly,  all you have is a jumbled mess of moving,  stomping,  and shouting..

Good Day.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Moment to Moment.

It has been some time since my last posting on here as things had become a bit hectic with family issues, still are, but feel things have calmed down enough to start posting again. 

I had wanted to post some things on Youtube for my Children to follow due to the distance that now lay between us so as to remain ever more active in their lives and ensure something is passed to them, but it would seem that is not allowed in the present mode of thinking in the Organization through which I have membership.
That is okay, there are a number of different alternatives that can be explored in that regard to ensure they are able to access what I have to offer them, from Karate to Artwork to Practical Living, whatever the case may be, the Internet is a VERY big place and, what is more, the world is even bigger, so notes and drawings could also serve as a medium. 

In the old days the catch phrase used to be, 'focus on the now,' which is a great catch phrase for its' practicality because you cannot practice Martial Arts of any kind and be successful unless past, future, and all manner of other distractions falls away and you bring your mind to one point in the present moment. 
People often use various Japanese, Chinese, or other Asian Language words to describe various aspects of this as though they were some mystical type of experience... Perhaps they are, but they do not really need to be. 
For me, it is enough to realize full awareness within the moment and to be able to direct intent... Qi/Ki is nothing more than an experience of directed intent and full awareness, not some mystical energy that can knock someone out from across the room... It is synonymous with Pneuma and Rhuak, both of which refer to Breath in a Divine sense. 
This is lost on most people and they may still put it off as some sort of Mystical Mumbo Jumbo, but does not matter because everyone has their own insights into the experience and that is fine, it adds richness to the phenomena as a whole. 

Getting back to the present moment thing... While it is necessary, it is also necessary to be mindful of each step and to be mindful of the future while being aware of lessons learned in the past, all of which come into play within the present moment as well.
This is not just a Martial Arts perspective, this is a perspective to maintain in all aspects of life... Do you know what you REALLY want to do? Do you know the REAL reason behind your training??

What about posterity?? What if you were to die tomorrow? What would you be leaving behind that could serve to better future generations?
The present moment is a tool to ensure all of this is taken into account to the highest degree and completely accomplished... The key?? Live each moment as if it were your last... It sounds like a cliche, but it is very true.
Working each individual aspect of technique helps to focus and hone the mind, body, and spirit so that it can be effectively employed in this manner, as one unit, in all aspects of life... 

Monday, April 11, 2016

Changing Tides.

Each day I pass old empty buildings where Karate Schools once operated, empty, vacant, with signs in them that read 'Nai Black - For Lease.'
There is even an old Jujitsu school that once taught Brazillian Jujitsu up on Francis that is closed, the paint still in the window, chipped and worn, but not faded.

Maybe it is a sign of the time, but this is supposed to be a time of economic growth, or maybe that is just a symptom of commercialism, who can say?
It just seems as though the community is becoming smaller and smaller, while some schools are adapting, moving into smaller spaces or into places off the beaten path, away from main roads, some even closing their doors due to the death of famous Teachers and no one taking up the torch within the area that an entire Organization once called home.

This leaves only some of the most hard core people left standing and, with time working the way it works and age setting in, it makes one wonder where these places will be after their respective Teachers pass on or retire, whether a Senior of theirs will pick things up or whether their Students will scatter to the wind?
Some of the best training is not found in fancy Dojo or commercial settings, some of the best training might be found in s School Cafeteria or a Rec area set up in a Church practically in the middle of nowhere and they do not really advertise other than word of mouth and do not make profit from what they do.
These people are sometimes the first people hit when things go south, but, more often than not, they are usually the ones able to keep going because they can adapt, they do not have to worry about what others worry about, but these types of Programs and Schools are very rare and often hard to find if you do not know people who know people.

One such School is actually facing the fact that they are no longer going to have a place to train come May, but they are pushing on through the summer months by training in parks, as I do, although they face a hardship of possibly losing Students over the Winter Months if they do not find an indoor place to train.
They host a wide variety of Programs from Tae Kwon Do, Krav Maga, to European Broad Sword, and their Chief Instructor is also a Student of Jujitsu at Newborn Cascao Jujitsu up on Monroe under James Weed.
They cater to youth, primarily, and host a program for Home School Children and this is one of the Classes that faces shut down as they transition.

I remember when the Dojo on Callow shut down, it was a sad day even though many of the Students continued, for a time, at a local Fire Department under Jeff Iller Sensei, but the Program did not last long and Iller Sensei went on to other things.
The Dojo had been my childhood, my home, for a very long time, even when I was away, it was still my home and, even though it is now a Tattoo Parlor, that building still holds a special meaning for me as an adult.
I know that buildings are buildings and things change, all things end, but it if there is something good offered by something and a Child, or anyone for that matter, gains something from it then it should continue for as long as possible.

Check out Mount Spokane Martial Arts on Facebook and if you know of a place in the Spokane area that they might be able to call home let them know, it would be a shame for these people to have to call it quits, especially with the dedication their Chief Instructor has shown, not only in Teaching, but in continued learning... A true example of Sho Shin, or Beginner's Mind.

Thank you.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Foot Work.

Lately I have been thinking about Footwork versus Stances after going over some basic Aikido footwork in the eight directional diagram.
There is a basic 'Guard' called Hanmi one takes up and moves through at various points, but really no stances, just Footwork.

This is where Karate is confused, I feel, because there was the imposition of standardization from outside which inhibited the natural way of doing things, thus, things became more rigid and we ended up with various names for things in order to accommodate standardized syllabus.
The Japanese love their Standards and the Okinawan Karateka were very keen to be seen as fully assimilated to Japanese Culture rather than be shunned, some of them even receiving payment for their loyalty and efforts to promote assimilation into Japanese Culture and Customs.

This is not meant to be an Anti-Japanese rant, that is there to light the way back in order that we may understand just what it is we are doing as, obviously, the way of Aikido is a Japanese way based on Japanese Standards and is NOT as rigid as Karate had become, thus leading one to feel that the Okinawans were a bit over zealous in their efforts.

What happens when we remove the word 'Dachi' and replace it with something like 'Ashi' similar to the way Aikido utilizes terms like 'Ayumi Ashi' to describe a principle of motion, like stepping, or Tenkan for turning, or Irimi for stepping inside, or Irimi-Tenkan for stepping inside with immediate turn??
What happens when Sanchin Dachi is no longer seem as a 'thing' but a 'process??' Does this take away from Karate or add a deeper level of understanding?? Most would cry foul because it is 'not a traditional way of looking at it,' to which I argue it is a deeper level of understanding a VERY traditional concept.

What happens when Zenkutsu Dachi becomes just a long forward shift and you look at it more in terms of, say, Irimi??
Saifa, for example, has an example of where it is utilitzed as Irimi with partial Tenkan into what we, presently, call Musubi Dachi before dropping into Shiko Dachi.
Drop the 'Dachi' and find another way to describe these movements as less static and rigid, more dynamic and alive, more to do with the movement of the Center, or Hara, and not so much as 'fixed positions.'

Sensei once said someone about the 'formless form' and had pointed me towards a book called 'Kodo: Ancient Ways' written by Reverend Kensho Furuya, a Zen Priest and Aikido Sensei.
This was my first introduction to the idea of Shu, Ha, and Ri... One learns to emulate, one learns to variate/deviate, then one breaks free and is no longer bound by outward forms, but internal Principles that have become their own.
In this way ALL ways become one way and there is no differentiation because they all apply to one another to varying degrees based upon the manner in which they are applied by each individual.