Presented by Kenji Higashi
1470 Cypress Ave.
Hanover Park IL. 60133
Mr. George Mattson’s special training session was held in Chicago from March 26 to March 28, 2004. I met him on March 27 for the first time. He is one of the first Americans to learn Uechi-Ryu Karate from Okinawa, Japan and well known for introducing Uechi-Ryu Karate to USA. He is an author of a book titled Uechi-ryu Karate Do. This book was written in 1974 and the book is used as a basic text book for most of Uechi-Ryu Dojo through out USA.
In the book, there are many photographs of American persons practicing Karate. I was wondering which of the American person in the pictures was Mr. Mattson. There are many young and handsome men in the pictures, but time to time there are one tall and skinny person showed up in the pictures. I have to admit that somewhere deep inside of me, I had a bias opinion about what Karate body should be. So I made up my mind that the famous Mr. Mattson who is our highest teacher of Uechi-ryu Karate in USA must be very tough looking muscular person. I had ignored the tall skinny guy in the picture until I met real Mr. George Mattson. He was the guy! This was first lesson for me. Now I know Karate is for all body shapes.
He is tall and skinny, but very healthy. When he showed us his Kata, it was same sensation that I felt as I saw an original paintings of master artist. His hand movement and body movement are all in unity and very smooth. Immediately I realized that how lucky I was to be there.
As Mr. Mattson began the class, he asked us to move shoulders a little bit while doing Wa-Uke (Circular motion block). It was a little surprise for me, since I though we are not allowed to move the shoulders. As I tried the way he descried, it was much smoother and natural. I can make much better Wa-Uke. I realized the moving shoulders a little bit will give more power and smoothness. Later he emphasized to use hip a little bit for hit. I though this shoulder movement has same principal to the hip movement. It gives more thrust, power and smoothness. This is more natural.
He also taught us hammer hit. Most of us were hitting from the side of our body. If we looked at it, it was more like 90 degreed from target. But Mr. Mattson corrected that. He indicated to hit from Sanchin posture. Indeed this makes more sense. While hitting from 90 degree the side of the body is wide open, but with hitting from Sanchin posture, there is no opening. Also I felt more power doing the Sanchin posture. Throughout his training, he emphasized the importance of Sanchin and it’s application. This was one of the good examples of importance of Sanchin.
We exercised Katas and he asked us use hips to give more thrust. But he also warned us not to twist our body too much. It should be more natural when using hips. I felt there are fundamental principal in Uechi-ryu.
We were doing Kyu-kumite and he had to stop us twice. He showed us how to down block kicks. It was not like normal down block, but more like diagonal block. It was just good enough to protect the body yet ready to attack the opponent. He showed us this movement in Seisan. It was very important lesson but difficult to break old habit. I have to practice more on this block.
Time to time, he emphasized hitting center line. This gives unnecessary movement in both block and hitting. I realized it is also very important lesson that all form and kata is center around this principal.
Every time we did something wrong, he always go back to the Sanchin form. He explained the importance of Sanchin and it’s principal. If we are in Sanchin, we are targeting the center and we are more natural yet we can defend and attach at same time. I felt this is a work of art. This simple principal is basic and foundation of everything we do in Uechiryu-Karate.
He showed us several different ways to practice. Even simple as arm wrestling, he used the Sanchin principal and all sudden it became very good exercise. I did not know how much variation we can use if we followed the principals. He asked us to do three different way of Sanchin practice. It was very different, but the unique variation helps us to over come from our own mold. The most importance thing is to follow the principals.
As we are doing many variations in the practice, all suddenly Mr. Mattson asked us to do very slow practice. It was like a slow motion film. I remember when I took Gojyu-ryu back in 1983, my instructor who was Japanese constantly asked me to slow down and do kata like a slow motion pictures. Since then, my other instructors did not emphasize the slow movement, but after 20 years later, I heard same things from Mr. Mattson. The slow movement helps us to understand our weakness. I think this is very important especially when we do many variations from our Kata. It is very easily for us forget the principal and do our own way, but the slow movement will show us our mistakes.
White belt and Black belt
As we were practicing, Mr. Mattson indicated difference between White belt and Black belt practice. It is more important for White belt to understand the principal, but for Black belt, it is important to apply the principals. This difference will create different practice and expectation between White belt and Black belt. For White belt, they should learn the basics and especially Sanchin. As became higher ranks, we must became more relaxes and soft yet accelerate on each every movement end with power. This is difficult to describe, but all these are based on the principal we learn. This acceleration is naturally created by the hip or shoulder movement.
Principals versus Practice.
Since I was in elementally school, I have had opportunities to take various martial arts. First one was Kendo, then Judo, Gojyu-ryu, Tai-Kwan-do, Aikido-do then Uechi ryu. Unfortunately other than Uechi-ryu, I had to stop the other martial arts at around green belt level. Now I am in brown belt in Uechi Ryu, but if I call the between White-belt and Black belt level as a PRACTICE stage, all others were the Practice stage. In the Practice stage, it is important to understand Kata and each movement correctly.
However, since there were many Black belt participants in Mr. George Mattson’s Chicago seminar, he emphasized more on Principals. Maybe I call that PRINCIPAL stage. Black belt and above are the stage to apply the Principals. The exercise became more different and exciting. More variations in the Katas. But time to time we must slow down to correct ourselves. I believe I have learned very important lesson from the tall skinny American Sensei. If someday I have a chance to teach, probably I will mention about Sensei Mattson and things he taught me on this seminar.
Thank you for teaching me very important lesson.