by Harvey W. Liebergott (Originally published in T’ai chi Magazine. (Vol 23.No2)
This article is in PDF, click here to read it.
Simon Lailey discovered Superempi during his journey and studies in China. He introduced the kata to the rest of the world in the mid 90s during his visit to Boston and his interview with me, followed by his Summerfest seminars that year. The interview and demonstrations were published in the new video magazine, issue # …View full post
I have been going through my DVD archives this week and discovered quite a few that you might wish to add to your collection. I will post one of these historic videos every week that I will offer for sale. 1985 WinterFest held on Okinawa Over 100 teachers and students …View full post
Permanent link to this article: http://uechi-ryu.com/on-understanding-form-and-function/
Aug 24 2000
by Mike Murphy
“In deference to the ways of bujutsu, a master of budo is one who had never used his skill.” Unknown
Budo is an entity that cannot be touched, heard, or seen; “a journey of the mind and the spirit, and ultimately, the soul,” according to martial arts author Dave Lowery.1 It is a conceptual and cultural phenomenon that has evolved in Japan because of centuries of martial arts training in China, Okinawa, and Japan itself. Budo is the transformation of the practice of combat techniques (bujutsu) to seeking perfection in movement through the martial arts. It has evolved by combining the martial arts dogma from the aforementioned nations and the influential doctrines of the various Eastern religions/philosophies.
The indigenous fighting systems of Japan and the influence of the various religious philosophies of Buddhism, Zen Buddhism, Confucianism, Taoism, and Shintoism resulted in the eventual development of budo. Without these influences, it is doubtful that the concept of budo would have spread globally the way it has, and doubtful it would have survived the results of countless crises, such as the mass destruction of that geographical area by World War II. Moreover, it continues to grow and develop because of the intense dedication of the people that have struggled to keep it alive. How did the different martial arts and religions change the physical and philosophical training of the Japanese practitioner?
The answer is as complex as it is speculative. The native forms of martial arts in Japan slowly evolved to a point where they became less militaristic over time. The arts grew as they changed from bujutsu (martial arts) to budo (way of stopping conflict or martial way) and became a search for perfection in motion while incorporating some of their militaristic methods of the past. The difference is that bujutsu is a martial designed for combat purposes, used in a time that necessitated the warriors to always be in a state of readiness, while budo is a martial “way” practiced for self-development.2 Although its name and meaning have changed as social conditions have changed, its status in modern Japan has been solidified.
By the unlikeliest of paths, the development of budo has become an international concept in the world of martial arts practiced by millions in all nations.3 According to the Journal of Asian Martial Arts, budo more commonly translates as a martial arts system which “includes almost any fighting art, but especially those associated with the Eastern cultures.”4 It places emphasis on moral development through discipline in the aesthetic form. The techniques of budo are derived from principles which in turn are based on philosophies. These philosophies came out of the Eastern religions and the observance of nature. They have formed from the concepts of each religion; each one adding to the next, creating a geographically unique system of martial arts. The martial arts historian, Michael Finn, further defines budo as “a classical fighting system in which the emphasis is on victory in combat, but which has the secondary motivations of self-perfection through training.”5
In either definition, the concept was intended to be studied and developed throughout one’s lifetime, and which through the discipline of form, the individual began to understand more about themselves, later coming to an understanding of their relationship to other aspects of their environment. In other words, the emphasis in budo is on the path of the training and not the destination, as in bujutsu. In a society where individualism was almost non-existent, budo training offered the practitioner a chance to not only experience it, but to understand it. As the noted budo master Sato Shizuya of the Kokusai Budoin in Japan states, “[b]udo serve[d] as the irritant and catalyst for the individual’s positive evolution.”6
With individual change and self-awareness, budo became a method of self-expression: and expression of the true self that never stopped. Budo then, was not only a physical art form but philosophical in nature, and became a way of life the more a student practiced. As an art it may be best expressed by this quote from an unnamed contemporary martial arts master in Okinawa: A teacher who has mastered his medium has evolved a philosophy from such an experience, and whether we agree or not, his thoughts act as a catalyst on our own: he had contributed to the dynamic ideas of our time.
Rarely do such concepts get written down clearly so students all over the world may read that which is the ultimate expression of those concepts. He continues with: It’s not the mere technique that is important rather, the technique as a vital medium of expression, a way to get in touch with the most vibrant aspects of existence. It represents a way of life, a way of working, a process which leads one to discover ways to fulfill oneself and to make a special resonance available to others.7
Whereas the results of bujutsu were demonstrated only in actual combat, the results of budo could be seen in everyday life. Although not as noticeable as bujutsu’s influence on Japan, it has survived and flourished in the rich Japanese culture to an extent that cannot be entirely measured. Bujutsu brought the warrior into a confrontation with life and death, and pain and comfort, while budo practitioners were concerned with the matters of the soul. According to Dave Lowery, it (budo) “requires moral stamina along with visceral and emotional courage. It demands a social conscience as well as physical endurance.”8 Consequently, in order to appreciate budo’s development, the separate martial arts histories of China, Okinawa, and Japan will need to be related, as well as the influences of the different philosophies of the Eastern religions in order to see how they came together to create a concept that changed the way the Japanese trained the martial arts.
Copyright 2000 by Mike Murphy
Permanent link to this article: http://uechi-ryu.com/the-concept-of-japanese-budo/
Jul 28 2000
By David Elkins and Rik Lostritto, Ph.D.
Stones have historically been lifted for single repetitions, multiple repetitions, timed repetitions, carried for distance/time, thrown forward and backward, rolled, and simply held for time. Oh yes, they have also been broken into little pieces with heavy sledges (not always voluntarily.) Their use has almost always promoted greatly increased strength in the lifter. Seldom though has man tampered with the stone’s natural attributes. Man sees rock – man lifts, carries, throws, rolls, or bear-hugs rock. Nothing much was done to the rock with the exception of changing its resting place. The exception to this generalization has been the use of stone in martial art training. Needless to say, martial artists historically have also applied themselves to the “natural” routines performed with stones that were enumerated above. Dragon, Tiger, and Crane: Uechi-Ryu Karate, At The Crossroads Of Kung-Fu And Karate by Sensei Rod Mindlin contains photos of Okinawan “power” stones that were lifted in traditional ways to develop and demonstrate controlled explosive strength.[i] Sensei Morio Higaonna of Goju-Ryu, in The History of Karate, described his grand teacher, Sensei Chojun Miyagi, as challenging himself daily to lift heavy stones near the shore on his way to school. Miyagi’s top student, Jin’an Shinzato, worked as a police officer in the city of Naha, Okinawa. It is said that “while he was patrolling, if things were quiet and he chanced upon any large stones, he would remove his cap and uniform top and exercise, thrusting the stone above his head or out in front of him.”[ii]
Several innovations, arising in coastal southern China and later transported to Okinawa, reflect the martial artists’ modification of the stone itself – the “tan” (‘primitive barbell’) the “chishi” (‘stone lever’), and the training stones of Pangai Noon/Uechi-Ryu karate. There are other methodologies devised for martial arts training that employ stone, for example, its use as a medium in iron palm training, but these are largely devoted to conditioning the body and extremities to withstand and deliver powerful blows with impunity. This article will focus upon the use of stone to consolidate the Sanchin posture and build great strength.
The ancient implement most similar to the Pangai Noon/Uechi-Ryu training stones is the “Nageri Game” or “Kan” (‘gripping jars.’) These are not made of stone but traditionally were earthenware jars with a pronounced lip at the neck of the jar. The lip would be grasped with thumb tucked so that the medial aspect of the thumb was touching the lip of the jar. The remaining four fingers would then grip the jar in a claw like fashion.
The jars would be used in daily training in Sanchin training and a small amount of water or sand would be added periodically for progressive resistance. The use of “Kan” remains unchallenged in its supremacy for training the “Bushiken” (‘coiled thumb’) which is employed frequently in Pangai Noon/Uechi-Ryu combative application; however, there is no rival to the stones for building staggering finger strength.
This remainder of this article will focus upon the history, construction, and use of the training stones of Pangai Noon/Uechi-Ryu karate – a matched pair of rectangular stones weighing between 50 and 250 lb., in which recesses have been chiseled to allow access to the extended fingers. The stones are then lifted and carried with extended arms through the pattern of kata Sanchin, the root of Pangai Noon/Uechi-Ryu karate.
THE TRAINING STONES OF PANGAI NOON/UECHI-RYU KARATE
What is unique about Uechi training stones is that they encourage the practitioner to improve the integrity of their Sanchin posture; they supremely tax the musculature of the shoulders, forearms, hands, and fingers; and carrying them demands iron will and concentration to correctly navigate the kata. Each of these dimensions provides direct carryover to combative activity. Carrying the Uechi stones is part of “shugyo” (‘austere training’.)
Most fighting traditions are predicated upon the establishment of proper body structure early in the training sequence. Proper structure is not to be confused with rigid immovable postures in actual combat. Still postures are actually employed as a separate training sequence. These postures may be performed with soft (relaxed) or hard (dynamic tension) energy. The establishment of proper karate or gung-fu body structure is not, however, confined to posing still postures. It is essential in any unarmed close range combat system that certain structural criteria are met. These qualities are enumerated in the ancient literature of most Chinese martial arts and have been transmitted through the ages largely via proverbs, poems, or song – the classic oral tradition. The overriding justification for the establishment of correct body structure is that of adding skeletal alignment to the practitioner’s attributes such as strength, speed, iron will, etc.
Using the stones in the prescribed manner contributes to the development of holistic strength in that the entire neurological and musculoskeletal structure of the body must be employed. If incorrect structure is used, or if resolve waivers, the routine simply doesn’t happen: the lumbar spine will give way, pain in the shoulders will occasion the early abandonment of the movement, the stones will bang uncomfortably against the thighs, and last but not least, the fingers will collapse and stones will crash down on your feet. All of this is not to say that the skillful application of the training stones is a walk in the park. Like other “real” movements– movements that best occasion growth–any session with the stones is an opportunity to test oneself in body, mind, and spirit.
CHAU TZU HO
When reading this article, two important facts should be kept in mind. The first fact is that the use of these training devices has never been reported in the western martial arts literature. It is similarly doubtful if the training stones have been described in Chinese or Okinawan literature. The second fact is that as far as the authors are able to ascertain, the fabrication and regular use of the training stones in the western world has thus far been confined to their respective dojo.
The origin of our training stones lies in coastal Southern China in the ancestral villa of Sifu Chau Tzu Ho. Chau Sifu was a charismatic figure that taught a variety of Chinese boxing styles and was the teacher of our grand teacher, Uechi Kanbun. Uechi Sensei studied with Chau Tzu Ho for ten years before opening his own training hall and ultimately becoming the patriarch of our karate family.[iii]
We know historically that Chau Sifu died in 1926. Since the time of Chau’s death, the stones have not been used for their original purpose. Rather, they were rediscovered, in the relatively poor and remote area of what once was Chau Tzu Ho’s ancestral compound, in an upside down position serving as the pillar supports for a stone laundry table!
The original stones had shallow finger grip holds chiseled into the granite about two thirds of the way up. They are designed to place a weight load on the fingers from the tips to no further than the first joint inward. Carried from the side while stepping, and with the elbows slightly bent, they work every tendon in the hand, forearm and upper arm up to the shoulder. From historical photos, it is likely that the original stones were at least one-foot square and at least 1.5 feet tall.
That is 1.5 cubic feet of granite per block. Given the density of granite, that corresponds to about 250 pounds per block!
The training stones are but one component of the Uechi-Ryu curriculum. They are used in the manner of Hojo Undo (supplementary exercises) of our sister Okinawan style, Goju-Ryu. Goju-Ryu Hojo Undo requires the practitioner to use primitive equipment to strengthen the body for the performance of kata. Both systems have their origins in the Fukien Province of southern China and both systems consider their kata to be the heart and soul of their practice. Of the various kata of the two systems, none approaches the significance of the first and most important kata, Sanchin (Three Battles.) Even though the Sanchin of the two styles are radically different, their significance is paramount. The training stones provide the practitioner an opportunity to consolidate Sanchin training much as heavy walkouts and quarter squats allow the power lifter an opportunity to consolidate their squat training. The relationship between the training stones and Sanchin is inexorable and will be made much clearer in the next section.
Use of the stones may begin when the trainee is sufficiently familiar with the Sanchin form to walk through the steps without coaching. This is usually accomplished after several sessions of training. At this time, the trainee is able to begin a lifelong study of the multidimensional facets of Sanchin. Care should be taken in supervising younger trainees so that appropriate levels of resistance are employed. Instructions will be given in the fabrication section for making special stones for younger or deconditioned trainees.
As mentioned previously, doing Sanchin with stones is deceptively simple in appearance.
We approach the stones and “Rei” (‘bow’) showing humility and in effect thanking the founders of the art and the stones for the lessons they are about to teach us.
From the initial approach simply pick up the stones and stabilize them. When stability is achieved and you feel rooted to the ground, you are ready to walk. To walk in Sanchin posture: maintain the correct upper body structure; straighten the front foot by pivoting on the ball of the foot so that it is pointing straight ahead, lift the rear foot and step through with a small ellipse in toward the imaginary line that bisects the body; bring that foot through to the lead foot position and place it to rest adducted at a 30 degree angle with the heel on a plane with the toes of the rear foot. This is the stepping pattern.
Stepping slowly with the stone weights also fosters the development of correct karate posture–a strong erect spine that is balanced over the coccyx and smooth flat steps in which the feet glide along the floor. Arm and hand tendon strength coupled with correct posture and movement renders one much more effective in the martial arts. The number of forward steps is optional. Classic Sanchin features three steps forward, turn, three steps back, turn, and three more steps forward. Following that we turn to both sides and then the front to close. Before that, however, we must learn the Sanchin turn.
Sanchin turn is performed by pivoting inward on the ball of the rear foot (which had been pointing straight ahead) so that it actually reverses direction and becomes the new front foot. The heel of the pivoting foot now points toward the toes of the forward foot. The front foot slides directly across and becomes the new rear foot.
To practice this maneuver, simply stand in Sanchin and pivot first to the rear and then to the front. You will traverse the length of the room in this manner at which time you may turn and continue turning until you reach the point of origin. Regardless of your motivations, you may never forget Sanchin turning.
Upon arriving at the final step of the three directions you have now walked, step in the direction of your front foot. Which foot is leading will depend on which foot stepped out first as you began Sanchin. Let’s say the left foot is leading. What follows is a rather complicated description of a relatively simple maneuver. Imagine explaining a sneeze to a Martian!
Control the movement of self–control the movement of the stones
Control the enemy–control yourself.
Thus, the stones enrich our karate training. Not by making it easier, but rather by making it much more difficult.
Why carry stones while doing kata? After all, you will not have stones in your hands when facing a testing board for your next promotional, nor will you usually (however unfortunate) be carrying stones in combat application. We carry the stones because they help us push the envelope of our perceived limitations. They help us to become very strong physically and mentally as they transform our usual curriculum by making it much more difficult. And carrying the stones in Sanchin accomplishes these laudable goals within the context of performing Sanchin, a similar skill activity that we must constantly polish.
Granite can be expensive and are difficult to machine; particularly if you want two pieces of identical weight. Therefore, we have chosen to reproduce the basic design of the granite stones using concrete or cement. The satisfaction of making them adds to the pleasure of using these novel and attractive training stones. Much effort has gone into faithfully reproducing the essential features of the original granite stones.
If you want heavier or lighter stones you can adjust your form design as needed. However, please remember that when lifted, the stone will rotate so that the center of mass moves directly under the finger grip hold. In other words, a too short stone will rotate right off your fingers and onto your foot when you try to lift it. The height of the grip hold also needs to be considered. So, be mindful of proportions if you change the design to suit your weight needs.
Also, while cement and concrete are extremely strong under compression they are weak under tension and bending loads. Therefore, do not make your stones too long and skinny lest they break easily. While on the subject of breakage, be sure to use the rebar pieces as described in the drawings. In the event of a structural failure, it may save your foot.
Do NOT use fast setting concrete to make these stones. Construction grade concrete may be used for these stones, but the result will not be as visually appealing. Shop around for good clean decorative concrete with small and smooth aggregate filler. Pure Portland cement gives a beautiful surface finish, but cement is brittle and weak compared to good concrete. However, cement allows the smoothest grip area with no exposed pebbles to loosen during use.
If you wish, you may make your own mix from cement and the aggregate filler of your choice in a one to one ratio. The aggregate adds strength and works best when it varies in size from sand grain to pebble size. You can add concrete coloring additives to the mix. Black gives the most stone-like appearance. By using creative aggregate and color selections, some very interesting and beautiful results can be achieved.
Figure 1 shows the overall dimensions of the finished block (6″ x 5.5″ x 21″). The hand grip is high enough (3″ from the top) so that a six foot person can pick it up without bending at the back at all. Note the position and length of the 1/2″ rebar pieces. In the finished product they are not visible. The 1×6 pine base protects floors and saves the bottom of the block from chipping. The screws in the bottom of the wood are counter sunk and placed through the wood BEFORE the concrete is poured.
To make the desired finger grip impression in the wet concrete will require the positive mold depicted in Figure 3.
The grid scale is 1/4″ per division and you can use the drawing as a scale template. The 1×6 pine backing provides a reference surface so you know how deep to push the mold into the wet mix. The exposed screws are absolutely necessary to take the mold out AFTER the mix hardens. We suggest that the entire mold be sanded very smooth and then painted with molten wax or heavy silicone oil to ease its later removal. It can then be re-used.
NOTE: The grip mold is only 4″ wide and the 1×6 pine will be 5.5 inches wide. Please be sure to place the grip mold in the CENTER of the 1×6 board before you screw them together.
At this point, prepare the appropriate amount of concrete mix.. Be careful not to make too soupy a mix; follow mixing directions. Pour about 2 inches of wet mix into both molds and place the rebar pieces as described. Finish filling the molds right to the top and smooth them off by scraping off the excess with an 18″ long board which has a nice clean edge.
Put the grip molds carefully in place and touch up the surrounding surface as necessary. The wood molds will want to FLOAT OUT of the wet mix so you will have to carefully weight them down while the concrete sets. Don’t weight them down so much that the grip mold gets shoved in the mix too deep or you will never get them out. You can figure out a combination of boards and weights to get things where you want them. Have some extra pieces of 1×6 pine 18″ long and a few bricks handy. Once the hand-grip molds are in place, you can texture the exposed front surface of the block with a whisk broom and light strokes. This adds a more natural appearance of stone.
Although most concrete and cement instructions say it will be ready to use in 24 hours, you may break the stones if you take out the finger grip molds too early. Concrete continues to strengthen substantially for days, even weeks. Wait two or three days; then tap out the finger grip molds carefully. Then remove the frame screws and carefully disassemble the molds to remove the almost finished stone.
Stand them up and using coarse to medium sandpaper, round off all edges and other defects. This improves appearance, prevents cuts and actually inhibits cracks from developing If you are using these on a fine floor such as a karate dojo, an optional clear coat of WATER-BASED urethane will keep grit from falling loose.
MAKING CHISAI (SMALLER) STONES
shows one design for a lighter set of stones with a modified hand-hold area made from a 6″ long piece of 2 x 4 wood, two lag screws (1/2″ x 5″ long) and two flat washers. The stone portion of these stones are 12″ tall by 6″ wide and 4″ deep and when finished will weigh just about 22 pounds each.
Notice that the bottom edge of the 2 x 4 wood piece is angle cut along its length. This angle cut is necessary to keep the stones from sliding off the fingers during use. This cut is best done using a table saw, but it can be done using a hand saw just as well. Sand the wood pieces smooth and ease any sharp edges and corners. We recommend leaving the wood bare and unfinished.
Pre-drill the 2 holes for the lag screws to avoid splitting the wood. Use a drill size which allows the threads to bite properly into the wood around the holes. Put the washers on the lag screws, apply some carpenter’s or white glue, and secure the screws into the finished wood pieces. Wipe off excess glue and allow them to dry overnight. NOTE: It is important that the lag screws be threaded along their entire length so that they grip the wood and concrete/cement equally well to prevent loosening later on.
When you pour the wet mix into the molds, simply lay the wooden hand-grip assemblies into position as shown in Figure 5. The concrete/cement will harden around the exposed ends of the lag screws. For these smaller stones only one piece of rebar is used per block, but it is still used! The wood base is also recommended as shown in the figure.
You may be tempted to use empty cardboard boxes (shoe, cereal, etc.) as the frames for smaller stones. This can work but the sides tend to bulge from the weight and wetness of the concrete/cement. Reinforce the long sides at least with wooden pieces on the outside of the box. The wooden base will keep the bottom surface flat.
The authors have no experience using these wooden hand-grips on stones heavier than 35 pounds. Exercise forethought and caution if you choose to use this grip design on heavier stones.
SOME FINAL SUGGESTIONS
The training stones of Uechi-Ryu Karate are a unique and highly effective modality for supplementing the curriculum of any traditional karate or gung-fu style. They build useable total body strength and contribute to the iron will fostered by practice of kata Sanchin. Their regular use builds body structure and physical attributes needed in effective close range unarmed combat. Their use will provide many benefits not the least of which is the development of extraordinary finger strength. They are relatively easy to fabricate and an economical addition to the home gym.
Because these stones are carried on the side of the body, and the weight is pulling almost straight downward, there is minimal strain on the supraspinatus tendon of the rotator cuff. If you experience excess strain on your neck or back while carrying the stones, your posture is incorrect. If any part of your body besides your fingers, hands and arms feels strained, back off on the weight and check your posture using a mirror.
The spine must be straight, the chin pulled slightly in, eyes straight ahead, hips tucked under, and stepping must be done with a cat-like gliding movement.
Try to keep the weight from swinging fore and aft as you step. Keeping the elbows slightly bent and keeping the weight from getting behind your legs will help this. Another benefit of keeping some muscular tension in the elbow and shoulder is that it helps to minimize excessive pulling on the head of the humerus which would tend to de-stabilize the shoulder joint. In other words, do not let the arms go slack; tension on them works the tendons and protects the shoulders from excess downward force. Also try to keep the weight from bumping into your legs as you step. This is as much a design feature of a well-proportioned block as it is proper technique.
One more caveat: start with lighter weight stones and move upwards in weight carefully. You should be able to step through ten to twelve slow steps with the stones before fatigue/failure sets into your fingers. If the weight is too heavy to step properly, work on your posture and/or back off on the weight for a while. Consistent and careful training will lead to a hard and strong body through old age!
The authors would suggest two injunctions in using the stones. Handling the stones is addictive – don’t overdo it! The stones occasion the use of seldom-used tissues in even otherwise strong trainees and tendonitis is always a danger. Secondly, never, never drop the stones – in ascending order of worst-case scenario, the floor, your foot or the stones will break!
[i] Mindlin, Rod Dragon, Tiger, and Crane: The Story of Uechi-Ryu Karate at the Crossroads of Kung-Fu and Karate p 47 Rod Mindlin Productions, 1995
[ii] Higaonna, Morio The History of Karate p. 123 Dragon Books, 1995
[iii] Mattson, George Uechi-Ryu Karate Do pp. 7-14 Peabody Publishing, 1965
Permanent link to this article: http://uechi-ryu.com/the-training-stones-of-pangai-noonuechi-ryu-karate/
Jul 27 2000
by Stanic Milos
This article is in PDF, click here to read it.
Permanent link to this article: http://uechi-ryu.com/okinawan-bubishi-what-did-karate-look-like-before-1900/
Jun 30 2000
by David Elkins
Sandan, Uechi-Ryu karate
I’m intrigued by the similarity between the Olympic hook grip and a Uechi-Ryu karate hand structure called the Bushiken (coiled thumb). It’s ironic that the same hand structure serves two masters as diverse as those of lifting and karate.
Let’s explore the similarities and differences between the hook grip and the bushiken. One supports the lifting of massive weight and the other is a delivery system of one of the most lethal strikes in karate.
GRIPPING THE BAR
There are several ways that one can grip a barbell when lifting. These variations are particularly relevant to the pulling motions of clean, snatch, power clean, power snatch, hi-pull, pull from blocks, bent row, deadlift, etc. You get the picture….the movements that are characterized by coach Bill Starr as “defying gravity.”
· The most common configuration is the parallel grip. This is just what it sounds like–both hands address the bar palm down. This is the “weakest” grip as both thumbs are oriented in the same direction (remember how to get out of a grab? Go against the weak link in a grip–the thumb.)
The advantages of the parallel grip are that it strengthens the grip and forearms to a greater degree than the other two varieties. It is also safer than the reverse grip as I shall explain in next section.
· The next most common is the so-called reverse grip in which the hands are configured one/palm up and one/palm down.
This grip is stronger than the parallel grip since it eliminates the weak link of parallel thumb placement. It does, however, suffer the disadvantage of allowing one to lift the bar only in a limited range of motion. It’s greatest utility is found in the performance of the deadlift. It supports prodigious weight; however, there is a cost. Such a structure may cause the spine to torque to accommodate the configuration of the upper extremities. Coach Louie Simmons advises us to reserve the reverse grip for strength contests. He suggests compensating for the bar’s tendency to “windmill” by placing the foot corresponding to the hand in the curl grip out an extra inch or so when preparing to lift.
The reverse grip structure is common to the so-called Yin/Yang hands of Uechi-Ryu and many martial traditions. In martial arts this hand structure usually “hides” a meaning of either placing a very secure grip upon the upper extremities of an opponent to perhaps pull him into a kick, or a grappling maneuver in which the opponent’s body is rotated to take-down or vertebral fracture.
· The least common is the hook grip. In this grip used by Olympic lifters, the hands are parallel and the thumbs are wrapped around the bar prior to closing the fingers. This grip will allow the lifter to hoist much more weight than the parallel grip in a greater range of motion than the reverse grip. This is a variation that is made for the karate-ka (practitioner.)
An additional advantage of the hook grip is that while you are lifting, you are building one hell of a strong bushiken! Go easy at first as the grip can hurt if you’re not used to it — the bushiken will always hurt!
GRIPPING THE THROAT
The Bushiken is formed by holding the hand out as though to stop traffic; tensing the first and second joints of the fingers so that the hand is concaved with the fingers touching each other; and then tucking the thumb against the edge of the palm so that the knuckle is underneath the index finger and the tip under the middle finger.
The finger structure described above is the foundation for bushiken and can be modified to fit the anatomical configuration of whatever target the practitioner strikes. The fingers may be open, closed, begin closed and then open, or begin open and then close. These variations will be clear when applications are presented.
The exact placement of the thumb can also vary depending on the target to be struck. The knuckle and last segment of the thumb are used in striking. The bushiken is effective against both hard (the head) and soft targets (the throat, pressure points on the torso, the kidneys, the testicles, and the vulnerable inner aspects of the upper and lower extremities.) The bushiken can also be employed as the “encoded message” of an iron palm open hand slap. A well-placed, bushiken-powered slap to the temple by a trained practitioner is entirely capable of rendering its recipient unconscious.
The bushiken hand structure is found in almost all Uechi-Ryu kata (forms). A good way to conceptualize the bushiken is to imagine your open hand as a mallet striking, and the thumb as a ball peen hammer in the center of the mallet.
It is important to realize that the strike is only the beginning of the impact of bushiken. Once the strike has been made, the thumb and remaining digits move in a pincher fashion to rip and crush whatever they encounter.
APPLICATION AND VARIATION OF BUSHIKEN
“WHY YOU #@^**&!, I’ll TEAR YOUR HEAD OFF
Your opponent punches at head height with a looping right hand (a very common occurrence in a real fight.)
Strike into the centerline (the imaginary plane that connects the core of your body to his) with your left hand. Your strike will describe an egg shaped path and strike upwards into the chin. Don’t strike straight out — allow the trajectory of your strike to have an elliptical shape so that contact is made from underneath. This strike although simple in appearance and execution, represents a high level concept: that of simultaneous attack and defense. When you defend with this movement, you have both blocked his strike and returned fire all in one motion
“THE GIFT THAT KEEPS ON GIVING”
Our attention thus far has been exclusively on the first phase of the bushiken strike, the impact of the palm heel and coiled thumb. There is more to discuss though — the bushiken is “a gift that keeps on giving!” The tensed fingertips strike the nose, cheeks, and/or eyes either simultaneously with, or immediately following the impact of the palm heel/coiled thumb. The exact location of the finger tip strikes is a function of two variables: the length of your fingers and the degree of lethality your attack demands.
“IS IT SAFE?”
Remember these chilling words of the infamous Dr. Mengele in the movie “Marathon Man?” Alas, if you are the recipient of the bushiken strike, the pain is not yet over. The third and final phase of the strike is a ripping/tearing motion. A hand conditioned by the kata and ancillary exercises of Uechi-Ryu karate, or hook-style lifting is capable of causing massive trauma to flesh.
Although the movement involving the bushiken is now complete, the attack is not necessarily over. Your adversary may be in an altered state of consciousness or just plain mean. Any number of follow up sequences may be used to finish off the opponent. The description provided above only addressed use of your left hand. No one wants to engage in combat with “one hand tied behind their back.” Similarly while you are deploying the left hand consider any number of strikes possible with your right hand or elbow. Various options of kicking or knee attacks are also possible if you have successfully trapped your opponent and are using the ripping motions of the bushiken to bring his head in a downward trajectory.
In conclusion, even if you have no aspirations to Olympic style lifting, consider using the hook grip. Its advantages are threefold. It will allow you to lift greater weight that the conventional parallel grip. It will strengthen your fingers, hands, and forearms to a greater degree than the reverse grip. And finally, its use will cultivate the bushiken, the coiled thumb of Uechi-Ryu karate.
To that end, give pause should you ever find yourself inclined to hassle a lifter. He or she may be a trained karate-ka, in full command of the hook grip, the secret weapon of mayhem.
Permanent link to this article: http://uechi-ryu.com/the-hook-grip-secret-weapon-of-mayhem/
Mar 08 2000
By Gary Gabelhouse
It is a corrosive factor that can destroy the integrity of even the most hardened steel. It has been described as a cancer that’s spread can quickly become out-of-control. Barry Diller, the Chairman of the Board of the Fox TV Network once told me in a meeting, “When you find it in your company, you must hunt it down and kill it quickly–kill it totally, and kill, by firing, those who spread it.” It drove a wedge between my teacher and his teacher–and caused a rift beyond span, regardless of the love and years of training together on the floor. What is this terrible thing? Politics. Politics has done more to arrest the growth, evolution and development of the martial arts than any other thing–including world war. Politics.
Source: Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary 10th Edition . . .
politics \ n pl but sing or pl in constr [Gk politika, fr. neut. pl. of politikos political] 3 a: competition between competing interest groups or individuals for power and leadership b: activities characterized by artful and often dishonest practices
The purpose of this paper is to analyze politics in the martial arts and identify its foundations in the hope that such understanding will enable us, as martial artists, to create and execute strategies that minimize politics in the martial arts.
In the John Wayne movie, True Grit, Wayne’s character was in need of crossing a river, in order to either catch or get away from bad guys, I can’t remember which. In talking with the Ferry man, the river pilot said, “Listen. I’ve been everywhere…I’ve seen everythin…I’ve DONE everything…that’s hows I knows peoples so miserable.” As one could analyze from the comments of the Ferry man, politics, as human misery, has a number of facets and is resultant of a number of different human conditions.
In my development of this paper, I tried to focus on the mechanism of the disease of politics, and tried to avoid analyzing the symptoms. From my analysis and research, and in my opinion, the recipe for politics in the martial arts includes the following key ingredients:
The establishment of a kyu and dan system or its equivalent, in each of the martial arts;
The desperate living conditions of all Orientals after World War II;
The availability of money from U.S. servicemen and the U.S. Military’s exporting to the Orient the concept of payment for martial arts teaching;
The evolution of desperate need to greed and financial ambition on the
part of some Oriental martial arts teachers;
The narrowness of self concept of early practitioners, with its resultant, extreme
reliance on martial arts and the resultant ego demands;
The transition of primarily ego-based motives of Western martial
artists to motives based on financial ambition.
These six factors weigh heavily in the development and spread of politics in the martial arts. While martial arts politics certainly existed to some degree prior to World War II, it was more isolated and revolved around the honest dislike between two practitioners, rather than the dishonest machinations of a number of Ryu Ha leaders.
The establishment of a kyu and dan system or its equivalent, in each of the martial arts…
Many of the martial arts find their beginning in India. Here, during the time of Gautama Buddha, the Kaestrya or warrior class engaged in vajramukti or thunderbolt striking and encased their art in the Nata and pratima (equivalent to kata, chuen, quan, h’sing or forms). It is thought by many, that what are now the martial arts, were transported to China from India by Bodhidarma around 525 A.D.. When the Muslims began their invasion of India, purging the land of Buddhism and its devotees and priests, these arts, along with their religious underpinnings, were scattered–taken not only to China, but also to Southeast Asia and perhaps even the Ryukyu Islands (Okinawa) and Japan. As early as the 1300’s China began to trade and, in fact, have expatriate Chinese living in the Ryukyu’s. Karate–the martial art born from the Naha, Shuri and Tomari area of Okinawa–had no ranking system until recent time.
As a case in point, Okinawan Goju Ryu Karate-do, as founded and taught by Chojun Miyagi, had no ranking system. There were no kyu or dan ranks recognized–only students and Instructors. For example, and according to a 1983 interview with the late Seikichi Toguchi, under this system, Higa, Sensei received an Instructor’s Certification from Miyagi, but no black belt or rank–not even a 10th Kyu! Toguchi clearly stated that Miyagi, Sensei gave no rank ever to any of his students. From the 1983 interview, Toguchi says, “If anyone says they received a black belt or any rank from Miyagi, Sensei, they are lying.” This tradition of no rank was felt by some to be holding the development of Karate back. While the Dai Nihon Butokukai, Japan’s preeminent Budo organization did recognize Okinawan Goju Ryu as an official style, the lack of ranking as in Judo and Kendo, were considered by some to be problematic.
According to Toguchi, in 1952, and in the absence of their teacher, Miyagi’s senior students got together and formed the basis for an organization that would award ranking. After his return to Okinawa, the students presented the plan to Miyagi. “Who would award the black belt degrees?” asked Miyagi. Replied his students, “Since you would be President of the organization, you would, Sensei.” Miyagi stated he could not award a black belt degree and that only a member of the Royal Family could do so, and that such was the business of the Dai Nihon Butokukai. Miyagi scrapped the plans of his students and returned to his traditional teaching and training.
Upon the death of Miyagi in 1953, most of his senior students began to teach and some began to award rank. Up until the mid to late 1950’s some, such as Toguchi, issued Instructor’s Certificates rather than dan ranking as we know it today. By the early 1960’s these Instructor’s Certificates, however, were transitioned to the rank of Yondan.
While Judo and Kendo had ranking systems in place for decades, ranking in some martial arts such as Okinawan Karate did not have any such ranking systems in place until the 1960’s. In the karate of Chojun Miyagi, you were a student or an Instructor. If you were a student, you knew where in seniority you fell as a function of your time in training.
The reason why this factor of dan ranking is so important in considering politics in the martial arts, is reasonably obvious. In a system where you are either a teacher or a student, there is hardly anything that offers leverage to money and ego. Such a simple system of teachers and students does not offer as much opportunity for exploitation as does the dan ranking system. More on this to follow.
The desperate living conditions of all Orientals after World War II
Okinawa, Japan, China and Korea were ravaged during World War II. One must consider that not only was the military of Japan defeated, its economy was decimated. Simply, the citizens of Okinawa and Japan were often homeless and without adequate food and safe water. Likewise, the living conditions of the Chinese and Koreans who suffered under Japanese domination, was just as bad, if not worse. The postwar Orient was a time of significant human hardship.
Martial arts, with the exception of Sumo, were outlawed by the U.S. occupation force. Martial artists and the grand old masters of karate were no different than anyone else–they required food, water and shelter–things that were lacking in the late 1940’s throughout the Orient.
Times were so desperate that, in many cases, even the old Masters of martial arts did not resume teaching until some years after the war. Chojun Miyagi, for example, did not begin to again have regular classes with his senior students in his Garden dojo until 1952–a seven year hiatus. Even in the early 1950’s the people of the Orient were in extreme need. This situation set up the unhappy need-based and economic relationship between Oriental martial arts teachers and Western students. This leads one to evaluate the next factor in the creation of martial arts politics . .
The availability of money from U.S. servicemen and the U.S. Military’s exporting to the Orient the concept of payment for martial arts teaching;
Imagine the surprise of the Oriental teachers, as they found they could be paid much-needed money in return for their teaching. Prior to the occupation of Japan by the American military, the concept of payment for teaching was not developed. Certainly, many of the old masters did recognize the importance of extending service to your sensei, and some, such as Chojun Miyagi, actually supported their teachers. Yet the concept of paying for teaching was, as yet, not founded in the Orient. One did service or kept one’s teacher out of giri or duty and honor–not as a form of reciprocity for the teachers’ lessons. Chojun Miyagi’s students would make gifts to their teacher at Obun or other holidays. Yet, systematic payment for instruction was, for the most part, a concept exported to the Orient by Americans.
Some Oriental martial arts teachers seized this financial opportunity as a means to ensure the survival of their families. Such actions are difficult to find fault with. However, this alien concept played an important role in the development of politics in the martial arts.
Wanting their servicemen to become proficient in all things martial, it was natural that the Military Officers urged and incented G.I.’s to learn martial arts from the Oriental teachers. As an example of this, the U.S. military instituted a punch card system on the island of Okinawa. The Oriental Sensei were instructed to punch a serviceman’s card for every lesson or training session they completed. The Oriental Sensei would then receive a fee for each card they completed. The military officers also intimated they wished their servicemen to have accelerated training and promotions. Some of the Oriental teachers saw this as a conflict and did not participate in the system. Others, however, saw this as an opportunity to get money that was in scarce supply in the postwar Orient.
The evolution of desperate need to greed and financial ambition on the
part of some Oriental martial arts teachers;
While many Oriental martial arts teachers did not participate in the military-backed pay-for-teaching, and others participated in an earnest manner in order to get much needed money to support their family, some Oriental Sensei abused and began to take advantage of the system as they relented to human greed and/or financial ambition.
Some Sensei would take a G.I.’s card and punch it a number of times, even though only one class session was taught. Sometimes the Sensei would punch the card numerous times, as the G.I. stopped by the dojo and didn’t even train. Basically, some of the Oriental teachers saw such fraud and quick promotion as means to make a comfortable living. This activity began taking place in the mid to late 1950’s–the time of many alleged and acknowledged fast promotions of Western martial artists.
The narrowness of self concept of early practitioners, with its resultant, extreme
reliance on martial arts and the resultant ego demands;
This factor, in my opinion, accounts for more of the “why” of politics in the martial arts than anything else. However, this factor touches on the sensitive and very personal issue of what we really see when we look into the mirror of our heart.
I came to the martial arts very late in my life–starting to train Goju Ryu when I was over 40 years old. Before that time, I had successfully raised a child to adulthood, remained married to the same woman for nearly 20 years, was a successful educator and curriculum developer, had successfully started and run my own business, had authored books, been a professional musician and achieved a fair degree of success with regard to expeditionary climbing. Not touting myself as a renaissance man, I was well rounded and had a large body of life experience. I could and can define myself by many things and in many ways.
Many acquaintances who are heavily involved in the martial arts, in my opinion, are not well rounded. In fact, they tend to be very narrow in defining their self concept. They tend to define themselves as martial artists, and little else. Their obsession with the arts has limited their self concept. Instead of seeing the martial arts as a lens that all else in life is reflected through, they look at the arts as an end. They tend to define the martial arts as a noun rather than an adjective or adverb. And so, their self concept is narrowly defined as not much more than martial artist.
Such narrowness of self concept results in an unusual amount of reliance on the martial arts. Martial arts alone must shoulder the burden of defining a life. This reliance begets unhealthy need, as opposed to choice. The karateka or judoka needs to be a great martial artist rather than choose to be a great martial artist. This need sets the martial artist up for a lifetime of searching to be whole, trying to fill the many different gaps of human frailty with only one thing–the martial arts.
Therein lies that which gives form to and nurtures politics in the martial arts. The martial artist NEEDS to identify themselves and hence, be identified as a great martial artist. With such a consuming need, this individual will go far beyond normal human idiosyncracy in order to be affirmed. No wonder that rank, as one very obvious indicator of achievement, is so important to this individual. Rank can become so important, the needy martial artist will breach their honor in order to get rank and buy it at extravagant cost if it’s offered for sale. Others jump to and or dishonestly claim lineages that would identify them with true masters of the arts. We all know the stories of the Shodan or Nidan who climbs on a plane, trains for a couple of weeks and comes back with a Godan or Rokudan–some $1,000 poorer–claiming as a lifelong teacher an individual with which they spent ten or twelve hours. It is most pitiful and a waste that such an individual has narrowly defined themselves and painted themselves into a corner of mandatory ego-building based on a need to affirm their life.
So, some of the early Western practitioners were obsessed with their art. They were narrowly defined individuals who needed to achieve higher and higher rank and be associated with masters of their art. They found willing, financially ambitious teachers who sold them rank and set up a pyramid scheme otherwise referred to as being the USA representative for a Ryu Ha. They became Yondans in less than a year. They had an insatiable need for higher rank and higher visibility. They lied, cheated and bought the trappings of power, without realizing the real power of the martial arts themselves. Some of these early Western practitioners offered a fertile garden for martial arts politics.
The transition of primarily ego-based motives of Western martial
artists to motives based on financial ambition.
Oriental martial arts teachers evolved from having an honest and clear need to make money in order to support themselves and their families, to a different position of having financial ambition driven by greed and avarice. Their motives for selling their art to willing Westerners changed from need to greed–honesty to abuse and dishonesty.
And so, the motives of the early Western practitioners began to change, as well. Western martial artists had created such a presence in the 1970’s and 1980’s, some felt they no longer needed their Oriental teachers. They did this sometimes, not as a healthy growth of confidence in their own arts, but for the reason to cut the Orientals out of the value chain of martial arts economics. The martial arts landscape in America in particular, and, in fact, world wide, saw the proliferation of organizations–with some Oriental Kancho and Sensei tenaciously trying to maintain control, and Westerners who sometimes stood on the shoulders of true masters in order to pick the fruit of economic success in America.
Some Western Sensei, born of dishonest promotion by dishonest Oriental teachers, carried on the tradition of their art in the same manner amassing significant wealth, in the name of Budo. Politics played to restrain those who would take power or money from these Kuchi Bushi became commonplace. Politics played in order to claim false lineage in order to cash in on true masters, became all too prevalent. Pocket Ryu or the way to your pocket became a popular Ryu Ha. Politics, more than anything else, has robbed martial artists of realizing their true potential through Budo, and has, in fact, distorted what Budo is to the martial artists of the next millennium.
In summary, the postwar, Oriental martial arts teachers, in desperate need of money to live , found they could sell their art to Westerners who, lo-and-behold had the money and appeared willing and able to part with it. Some Oriental teachers, with financial ambition, recognized that the ego needs of their Western students were easily met by rank, and that these Westerners would pay good money for that rank. Rank, created by Orientals for completely different reasons, was a most convenient means to generate cash from Westerners. Then, these narrowly defined Westerners, with only their art and their rank to show for their life, desperately had to keep their balloon-like egos inflated with further promotions, and false lineage. In some, this ego-based human condition evolved into a way to amass both power over others and money. Through the politics of restraint, condemnation, false claims and dishonesty, these early Western practitioners–products of Oriental martial arts politics, have themselves sown the seeds of politics and dishonesty amongst their students, who unfortunately, will probably keep the tradition of politics alive in the martial arts community. Ego and money–pride and greed–are the very roots of politics in the martial arts. Where now are the virtues of Bushido and Budo? They are in one’s heart . . . or they are not.
STRATEGIES TO LIMIT POLITICS IN THE MARTIAL ARTS
Understanding the basis for politics in the martial arts allows us to develop strategies to limit its growth in our generation. Below are the typical types of political paradigms, their basis and strategies for countering such form of political activity:
Political Paradigm: Claiming Dubious Rank
Major Basis: Narrow self-concept with an incessant need for affirmation, hence, rank.
Strategy: We should be encourage our students–especially those with significant martial arts skill- to be balanced and have broad interests and activities outside of the martial arts. Strive to put in place a self concept that is multifaceted. Also, we should encourage our peers, seniors and remind ourselves to be balanced and have other facets of our self concept other than the martial arts.
Political Paradigm: Claiming Dubious Lineage
Major Basis: Same as above. A narrow self concept requires the individual to feed inordinately from the sole facet of self concept. Claiming Dubious Lineage is an activity that is used to attempt to prop up a person with a self concept that is too narrowly defined.
Strategy: Same as above, plus another. If you are claimed as lineage, falsely by someone, quickly and publicly deny that claim. Do so in writing and through other forms of communications. Make no moral judgements–just deny the claim, stating that there has, perhaps, been a mistake–but be crystal clear as to what is true. In other situations, such as the claiming of your teacher’s lineage, I believe silence is, probably, the best strategy. One should try to become directly involved in only things that directly impact the self and/or your students.
Political Paradigm: Outlawing Contact With Individuals, Organizations or Systems
Major Basis: Insecurity and fear of losing power or control over students, and/or fear of losing money to another.
Strategy: We should teach our students to keep blinders off. We should encourage them to experience other elements of the martial arts either by visiting other dojo or training with other-style students. If we are secure in our art, our teaching and ourselves, we will not need to program our students to become zealots. Zealot students constitute a weak base within a dojo. Also, integrate elements of other systems, as long as they work and reinforce your technique. After all, Chojun Miyagi, the founder of Goju, collaborated with Nagamine Shoshin, a Shorin Ryu Sensei in the development of the Gekisai Kata. As well, Gokeni, a Chinese Boxing practitioner, was key in the development of Miyagi’s Goju Ryu curriculum. So, be open and friendly to other systems–support their tournament and activities. Never degrade another system. Be courteous. Be nice. Be secure.
Political Paradigm: Condemnation of Individuals, Organizations or Systems
Major Basis: Insecurity and fear of losing power or control over students, and/or fear of losing money to another.
Strategy: The above strategy applies not only with regard to outlawing any contact, it applies to making negative judgements of people, organizations and styles, as well. Zealots define themselves, not only in the deification of their own belief set, they also define themselves by condemning and judging all else. We should avoid supporting zealot behavior in our dojo or organizations and support respect our students’ ability to evaluate and choose for themselves.
Political Paradigm: Labeling Individuals, Organizations or Systems As Not Traditionally Correct or Valid.
Major Basis: Insecurity in one’s own technique and self doubt of one’s own curriculum or system.
Strategy: Teach only what and how your were taught from your teacher and then build on that tradition without diluting, changing or detracting from your teacher’s curriculum. Be clear to students what of your teachings are the same as your teacher’s, and which are your additions. As long as your students feel secure they are on a correct path, and especially if you know in your heart that you are, you will likely not spawn students who will decry others as not being valid or traditionally correct.
My father taught me much in his own way. He taught me to invest my money and myself into experiences. I can remember him saying, “Then, no one can ever take that away from you.” He also taught me a kind of fearlessness as he often said that it is impossible to fight right. Such simple wisdom is the very basis for these strategies to limit politics in the martial arts. We should teach our students to be balanced and multifaceted individuals who define themselves through many things outside the arts. We should teach our students to keep blinders off and trust in their own strength–and never become a zealot, whose way is to condemn and attempt to limit others, only to limit their own growth and health as an individual. And, as my teacher would say, do a little, often. Eventually, mist and raindrops do sculpture vast and beautiful canyons.
Copyright 2000 by Gary Gabelhouse. All rights reserved
Permanent link to this article: http://uechi-ryu.com/the-evolution-of-martial-arts-politics/
Nov 11 1999
by David Elkins, Sandan, Uechi-Ryu Karate
When people discover that I train and teach karate they invariably get around to asking: “why do you train” and “does that stuff really work?” These are the polite variations on the theme. Other versions consist of statements like “my friend Bubba took two years of karooty and some truck driver beat the snot out of him” or “when you can block a bullet let me know and I’ll think about training.” After almost twenty years of fielding these questions I still find them challenging–especially the question of why, in this era of rampant violence and easy access to weapons, one would train in the martial ways.
Unlike a good mystery writer, I’ll give away the ending now. The title of this article was taken from Harry Crews’ 1971 novel and ultimately defines the essence of karate. I’d like to share the reasons why I continue to train and address “does that stuff really work?” As we go along the way we can look at what is spiritual about learning to fight.
It is more difficult to explain why I train karate than why I lift. My couch-potato friends can vaguely identify with my motivations to lift heavy things…. well, not really. More often than not they imagine my lifting workouts to be something like they read about in the latest edition of Gentlemen’s Awesome Buff Fitness. More often than not I don’t correct them. I’ve learned from experience that whatever communication gap may exist when discussing strength training with non-trainees is multiplied exponentially when discussing karate training. Imagine a good, high intensity strength workout then add the ingredient of trainees punching and kicking a variety of inanimate objects and each other–how would you explain that? On second thought, remembering the ambiance of some of the gyms where I’ve lifted, perhaps that’s not such an unusual occurrence!
Most people begin their karate training in hopes of learning to defend themselves. In other cases, people have very specific motivations (such as one of my friends who wanted to kill his garbage man.) My situation was that I was afraid of my own shadow. How did I get there? Trust me, you wouldn’t want to ride that train. Fortunately, karate training seems to give us what we need. There is a saying in Japanese, “the nail that stands up will be hammered down.” This saying is descriptive of how karate training tends to level extremes–those who come to karate as fire-breathing dragons are soothed and those who are afraid learn courage. I learned self respect and courage. This reflected not so much a physical change in me as one of the spirit.
During the first several years of my training I could have been alternately been mistaken for Frankenstein’s monster or someone playing a child’s game of freeze tag. Years of accumulated tension contributed to my appearance as the creature lurching spastically when first trying to walk with his new set of limbs. Fighting, however structured, invariably brought on a response of system shutdown and immobility. Fortunately, I didn’t give up and over time it all got better.
It would be simplistic to say that I continue to practice karate because it gives me confidence to defend myself (more on this in the “does that stuff really work” section.) Self-defense is a complex issue and it would be seriously incorrect to assume that enrolling in the average contemporary karate school will automatically lead to your ability to defend yourself in today’s world.
It is true that I continue training for self-defense, but only partially. I learned, as Goju-Ryu karate pioneer Peter Urban put it, to “fight real good” a long time ago. I know about and adhere to a continuum of awareness, and I trust what Gavin DeBecker calls “the gift of fear” (that little voice inside that tells you when you’re really in danger.) Self defense is a extremely important reason to begin training and to continue actively training, but as one progresses, it is not the most important reason.
The statement “self-defense is not the most important reason” may be misleading as karate is self-defense. If I lost interest in self-defense, I would devote my life to another pursuit. I’ve walked out of many an otherwise fine dojo and kwoon (Chinese martial art studio) because of their minimal emphasis on the realities of self-defense. I know that there are no short-cuts, no free lunches, and that contemplating my Qi (intrinsic bioelectrical energy) will not help me to win a fight. If I have a choice of redemption in sweat or enlightenment I will choose sweat every time. Sweat may lead to enlightenment, but seldom does enlightenment lead to victory in a real fight.
At this point it may be helpful to realize that there are two fairly distinct approaches to teaching karate and that over the years, many karate styles have changed. Okinawan karate was originally called Karate-Jutsu (China Hand Art.) At that time, karate was a combat art. Over time it changed via introduction of the curriculum into public schools and universities, the development of sportive application, adoption of a ranking system, and loss of some of the vitality of its martial roots. Following the example of Judo, it became known as Karate-Do (Way of the Empty Hand.) Karate-Jutsu sought combat efficacy whereas Karate-Do seeks perfection of character via the medium of karate training.
Here is the critical distinction: training to prevail in a violent encounter (Jutsu) can lead one to “the way”–the Do in Karate-Do. Training in “the way” will not necessarily prepare one to survive a violent encounter. Most commercial karate dojo in this era are much more focused upon “the way” than the combat art of karate. I do not like this trend. Payton Quinn sums up my feelings nicely when he states “My objection to those who crowd the dojo with their interest in the art alone (that is, the “art” as they see it; not in its self-defense application) is that they dilute the wine…I am not talking about insufficient skill, but of insufficient spirit.”
In real karate, training for self-defense never ceases, nor does it lose its status as the raison d’être of karate. Remember, karate is self-defense. Training self-defense in advanced practice, however, becomes more and more a cultivation of the spirit. You will understand this concept completely if you relate to an analogy of the jazz musician. Musicianship (technical mastery of composition and performance) never ceases as an objective of the jazz musician, but at the highest level of the art, it is assumed, and expressing emotion through the music becomes preeminent in importance. Similarly, at the highest level of karate practice it is assumed that you know your “chops.” What is of paramount importance in one’s development at this time is that their spirit (will) become stronger and stronger. This can only be accomplished through shugyo (austere practice.) This is a thing of the spirit.
There is an aspect of potential violence which is completely under my control, and that is my own. In karate we call it the “beast” within. I learn through karate training that acting out anger is seldom justified, and when it is, it should be taken very seriously. The beast must be both cultivated and controlled. Many ancient martial paintings show a warrior riding the back of a tiger or dragon. That is taming the beast.
Unlike a video game where I might “kill” hundreds of people and animals and never experience the consequences, in the real world I know what it feels like to hurt others and to be hurt. I know that I am entirely capable of administering hurt at any point along the “ass whup” continuum. I certainly know what it is like to be hurt. I also know what it looks, feels, and smells like to see my training partner in pain because of something that I’ve done in anger. I am likewise aware of the legal consequences of my behavior in and out of the dojo (karate school, literally–place of the way.) Like noted self-defense expert, Payton Quinn, I decided early on that I didn’t ever want to live in a prison setting. Payton wisely admonishes “…If you would like to stay out of prison, understand this–either you are in control of yourself, or someone else is.” Having made these points, controlling my own anger and potential for violence is also not the only reason I continue training. Much as in the case of the ability to defend myself, that was accomplished years ago. Also, as in adopting values such as courage and self-respect, learning to accept and control my anger was not really a physical thing, but rather one of the spirit.
There are a variety of other reasons that I continue to train. I’m addicted to the sights, smells, and sounds of the dojo. I love to teach and to write about the martial arts. I have found fellow karate-ka to be my lifelong friends and surrogate family. Albert Schweitzer said “At times our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us.” I feel that way about my karate seniors and to a certain extent continue my training as a sign of respect for them. These reasons, however compelling, would not independently keep me in the dojo. There is another reason, and it has to do with walking around strong.
In “Life in the Loft–Part IV” (Milo, October, 1994) Dr. Ken talked about a feeling that accompanies regular, intense strength training. He called it “walking around strong.” It’s a feeling that you have met and conquered the enemy and that you are ready for any challenge that life may provide. This feeling is also a product of good strong karate training.
But who or what is the enemy that is to be conquered? Is it the iron, rock, steel, or your karate brothers and sisters? Perhaps it’s the coach or your Sensei (karate teacher. literally–one who has gone before or who has already seen the way). I would suggest that the real enemy is none of the above, but rather oneself. This is yet another way in which I see karate as a thing of the spirit.
Who has to be motivated to go to the gym or dojo when they are tired, injured, bored, or frightened? Who is responsible for staying on course, not only during a single workout, but in their unswerving devotion to productive routines or the dojo they have chosen? Who determines if their coach’s advice or Sensei’s direction is heeded or discarded? Who is involved directly in the second by second decisions to persevere or quit in the course of a heavy set or kumite (fighting)? It’s none of the aforementioned…it’s me and you.
You and I are the enemy. The enemy is the part of me or you who is subject to temptation not to train, not to remain focused, not to remain open to coaching or your Sensei’s direction, to indiscriminately lash out when frustrated and angry, and to quit when the going gets tough. It is the “beast” within. We all have this aspect to our selves and we all have to deal with it. Successfully confronting the enemy in karate as well as lifting helps one to walk around strong. It is the primary reason that I continue to train even after I learned how to control the beast within and fight “real good”.
When we think of walking around strong it is easy to focus only on the physical. This would be a serious mistake. We use a physical medium in both lifting and karate to sculpt a sentiment of walking around strong, but that feeling is not entirely based in how strong or tough we are. It transcends the physical and is truly a thing of the spirit. Let me provide several examples. Think of the solitary figure standing in defiance against the row of tanks in Tiananmen square during the Beijing uprising of 1989. That person evidenced walking around strong the likes of which most of us can only dream about. On the other hand, consider the cowardly soldier in Saving Pvt. Ryan. He did nothing while his buddies died yet he was armed. In this case he had the potential to take and protect life, but was unable to act at all because he had no idea what it meant to walk around strong. Consider also the story of Harold Connolly featured in Milo (June, 1998.) It is unthinkable that one would not be moved by Harold’s courage and tenacity. This story contained a few comments about Harold’s PR’s, but was mostly a testimonial to his triumph of the spirit. Despite physical challenges that would have put most of us down, he walked around strong. Thus walking around strong is also a thing of the spirit.
It depends. Respected karate historian Patrick McCarthy tells us that the arts we study were not created to combat professional soldiers, law enforcement personnel, or fighters. They were largely created to allow unarmed individuals to deal with the unwanted habitual acts of violence of those who were untrained and/or unprepared for the response of a trained karate-ka (practitioner.) Admittedly, a portion of our roots are derived from aspects of both military and civil combative systems such as the those of the insurgents of the Ching dynasty and the various so called Chinese temple arts, e.g., Tiger, Dragon, and Crane Boxing styles. However, it is important to remember that the antecedent systems were largely those of armed personnel. Even the devastating unarmed Defendu concepts taught to W.W.II OSS operatives by Fairbairn, Applegate, and others presumed the concepts would be used only as a last resort by those who had, for whatever reason, temporarily lost the capacity to use firearms, edged, and improvised weapons.
Tour De France winner Fausto Coppi once responded when asked how one becomes a great cyclist “ride a bike, ride a bike, ride a bike.” Similarly, in order for this “stuff” to work in the real world, dojo training must approximate the real world to the extent that safety allows. We might rephrase Fausto’s response as “hit, hit, and be hit.” I do not allow my students to punch to the side of their opponent’s body as this ingrains striking the air next to an enemy. Instead, body conditioning allows powerful strikes to the body that are not pulled. Trainees get used to what it takes to deliver a powerful strike and what it feels like to be struck. In a real fight, you will be hit…period. If you aren’t prepared for the physical and emotional impact of being hit, you will fold when it counts the most.
All of the training mentioned takes place in an atmosphere of mutual respect. Each trainee participates at the level of intensity for which they are prepared. I would not expect a green belt to perform at black belt level. Mutual respect does not mean blind deference to rank. No one in the street cares what rank you hold. Juniors must exert every effort to actually hit their seniors when training. If not, both lose out in the training. The junior is deprived of learning to hit hard and accurately, and the senior is deprived of having to deal with their attack. To this extent, karate training, like a world class gym or lifting team is a group effort. Teamwork makes the training come alive.
When thinking about “does that stuff really work” an important variable to consider is that most real fights are decided by preemptive (who hits first) strikes and are over in a matter of seconds. Want to see some real world fights? Don’t look to the ring or the martial arts “kick-up” films. To see real world fighting go to a seedy bar, hang out on the streets late at night, or rent the videos Goodfellas or Casino and check out Joe Pesci’s fight scenes. In both movies he strikes savagely with a fury that is hard to comprehend for those who haven’t been there, and in less than five seconds his enemy is hors de combat. We’re not talking bloody nose or “I give,” but rather, at best, time in the hospital with tubes and machines performing vital bodily functions. Later, if there is a later, will feature surgeries and rehabilitation. This is real fighting and it is not the focus of the curriculum in most karate schools.
Real fighting in today’s world frequently involves weapons and multiple assailants. Under these circumstances the flowery curriculum of many contemporary karate (as well as other major style) schools does not address real issues and to that extent does their following a great disservice. Usually, such misdirection is not based in malice or deception, but rather in response to the litigious nature of our society and simple economic survival. Sensei must be sensitive to the relative severity of training acceptable to the modern practitioner or risk closing their doors. Learning complex movements based upon choreography in the dojo is a pale shadow of striking the makiwara (forging post) 1,000 times, practicing body conditioning, and engaging in hard and heavy two person “slammer” drills. The first is beautiful to behold– the second wins fights.
Real karate training teaches universally applicable concepts that govern energy and movement. Understanding these concepts of energy and motion is gained through daily practice of the kata (forms) of a system. Understanding kata is vital but not sufficient to create a good fighter. The practitioner must also be tempered physically through hard training to give and receive physical punishment. Additionally, the fighter must have gained an iron will which will not allow the possibility of surrender or defeat. This is also developed through hard training. The title of Randy Strossen’s article about HG champ Alistair Gunn in the June, 1998, issue of Milo sums it up nicely…”It’s Not the Size of the Dog in the Fight, It’s the Size of the Fight in the Dog.” This too is a thing of the spirit.
We’ve spoken of iron will, physical attributes, and structure from the kata that mold correct technique. It is important when questioning “does this stuff work” to rate these variables in some kind of hierarchy of importance.
Iron will, physical strength, and correct technique (technique may be correctly defined as both overall form and specific movement(s)–these are the necessary qualities of a good fighter. The arrangement is not random, but in descending order of importance. This may come as a surprise since many people intuitively regard technique as preeminent. When you first begin lifting you hope to get strong, look strong, or in rare cases, actually improve your overall health. Beginning trainees usually have at best a hazy notion of how to actualize those goals.
Upon entering the world of the karate dojo most people want to learn to protect themselves. Most assume this goals will be met by learning technique. This naive assumption is promoted and supported by various aspects of the martial arts establishment. Some dojo promise to teach more “techniques” than the competition. Kids are asked “what techniques did you learn today” by well meaning parents. This view of karate as technique is reminiscent of the attitude in the US in the early part of this century toward the newly introduced Asian fighting arts as they were portrayed to the populous as a collection of “tricks”–sneaky tricks at that!
Technique is important, but perhaps more so as a vehicle for spirit forging. An analogy may be made to lifting. No one will deny the importance of learning proper technique to maximize effort and minimize injury. However, all other things being equal, who wins contests? Usually it is the competitor with reasonable technique (although not always) AND fiery spirit. As fight commentators frequently say “it’s come down to who wants it more.” In fact, if you subscribe to the tenants of high intensity lifting, each training session is an exercise in the development of iron will. Any single max effort undertaken is only a expression of the spirit cultivated in each and every training session. So it is in karate. Just as in a hard 20 rep set of squats, karate training provides more opportunities to quit than can be imagined by the uninitiated. And exactly as in the case of a hard 20 rep set of squats, completion of the set (or ones karate training) usually is more dependent on spirit than muscle.
The reader will note that not much has been said about “sparring.” This is not an omission, but rather a reflection of my opinion of the limited value of sportive application in karate. I do think that it is important to spar, especially in one’s early karate development. Nothing prepares one to fight better than experiencing another person coming at them with “bad intentions”. Unfortunately, the practice of tournament style sparring has some very serious drawbacks to those seeking a karate-jutsu perspective. This difficulty inheres in our tendency when under severe stress to perform exactly that which we have trained.
Sparring is a wonderful outlet for competitive urges. It hones reactions and promotes accuracy and control of technique. It also teaches fair play and restraint, two qualities that have no place in a fight in the real world. Once a student has accomplished the progress possible through sparring experience, I prefer to direct them to hard and heavy two person drills where the more lethal techniques of the kata may be trained with relentless forward pressure. Devotion to competitive sparring at this stage of development is counterproductive. When I make contact with my enemy, the last thing I want to have ingrained in my neuromuscular memory is detaching to signify the scoring of a point or because I don’t want to make the other guy look foolish. I really don’t want to be thinking about excessive contact. There are no points in a real fight and there is no fair play in a real fight. If contact is insufficient, I may be quick, but I will surely be dead.
Remember, when we discuss fighting, we are not talking about someone who sees the world as a series of potential fights, but an individual who appreciates the consequences of violence and engages in violence only when necessary to protect themselves or those less capable. There is no shame in running from a fight. My brother-in-law, Jose’ is fond of saying, “never bring a knife to a gun fight.” If I find that I’ve brought a knife to a gun fight and the slightest chance presents itself, I’ll run like hell, and I hope you would too. However, when it is necessary to fight, I aspire to be like the android’s hand in Terminator I–pursuing its objective despite having been severed from its body. A well trained karate-ka, as any fighter tempered in the fires of hard training, should be like the android’s hand: unrelenting until the threat is no more.
So, “does that stuff really work?” You bet, providing the practitioner has embraced a system of karate that acknowledges the realities of combat by stressing the establishment of “iron heart.” This is done through hard training that features plenty of contact, both striking objects (such as the makiwara) and being struck (body conditioning.) Additionally, the practitioner will have trained in a system that is direct and uncomplicated. Remember, in a real fight the enormous output of the endocrine system will tunnel vision, diminish other sensory input, and inhibit fine motor movement thus rendering all but the simplest and most over learned movements virtually unusable.
Our imaginary karate-ka will not hesitate to use preemptive strikes when he/she knows it’s about to hit the fan. They will attack relentlessly with constant forward movement and they will anticipate multiple assailants. If they find themselves in a “gunfight holding only a knife,” they will not hesitate to escalate force to match or equal their enemy (or they will run.) They are comfortable fighting at any range and going to (and quickly getting up from) the ground if necessary. They will demonstrate an iron will that has been forged in the fires of hard training. To beat them you will have to kill them. Under these conditions, does this stuff really work? You bet it does! And it doesn’t work because of a collection of techniques, the belt that you wear, or your tournament prowess. It works because it is a thing of the spirit.
Copyright 1999 by David Elkins. All Rights Reserved
Permanent link to this article: http://uechi-ryu.com/karate-is-a-thing-of-the-spirit/
Jul 13 1999
SANCHIN AS A MIND-BODY EXERCISE
By Paul Giella, PhD
This paper represents an effort to combine the author’s extensive study and practice in two areas that have been of major interest over the past thirty years. A student of Uechi-ryu karate under Sensei George Mattson since 1967, the author has always been known as more a proponent of the ‘do’ form than the ‘jutsu’. As a practicing psychologist, the author has extensive knowledge and experience in addressing human emotional distress. In this paper a bridge is constructed connecting the essential and fundamental karate exercise with important principles of psychological wellness.
Anxiety may be the most ubiquitous human emotion, virtually universal in human experience. Anxiety is the name given in this century, but not the only name by which this common human phenomenon has been known. Stress, worry, concern, alertness, vigilance, awareness, fear and terror and probably other terms as well have served to convey some of the nuances of this emotion along its continuum from mild to extreme.Without anxiety, we imagine, life would be perfectly tranquil and harmonious. “Don’t worry, be happy!” goes the Jamaican saying, and it is a common fantasy to imagine or believe that a life without worry or concern is even remotely possible. Everyone I have ever known has had to come to terms with some degree of anxiety as a condition of being alive.
Evolutionary scientists trace the origins of anxiety to the precariousness of life itself. We have life, and we are aware that it is fragile and vulnerable, and that it requires constant care and protection if it is to continue. This is true on an individual level as well as on a social group level and even a species level. For the purposes of this paper, I am confining myself to the individual level.
However life originated on this planet, it eventually diversified itself over the eons of evolution, to greater and greater degrees of differentiation and specialization. The familiar Darwinian model teaches us that survival is determined by adaptation to adversity. Survival of the fittest is the overarching principle on both the species level and the individual level. We compete with each other, that is; with other individuals and other species, for dominance and survival. Those that fail to adapt fall by the wayside. This fundamental fact of life means that strife and conflict are guaranteed to continue to exist, since they are the ultimate testing ground of fitness. Life without this challenge may be pleasant to imagine, but would not be in the service of advancement.
What does this have to do with Sanchin, or even with anxiety as a day-to-day human emotion? All of us have to come to terms with its many manifestations in our ordinary lives… there is no such thing as a stress-free life… so we are individually best off if we come to terms with this reality by developing mechanisms to deal with it.
Evolutionists trace the physical/mental phenomenon we call anxiety to a time in the history of the species when the struggle for survival was much more obvious and direct. If we look only at the last million years or so, a tiny fraction of time in evolutionary terms, we go back to a time when there were relatively few humanoid creatures struggling to survive in a highly inimical environment. (See Ehrenreich’s Blood Rites for a very well thought out exposition of the long evolutionary journey from primitive survival terrors to modern-day social anxiety). Our forerunners had to deal constantly with threats of annihilation from any number of directions. Weather, scarcity of food, fear of predators (who outnumbered these early humans by manifold) must have made life very precarious indeed. As we evolved, humans learned to group together for mutual benefit and to divide their social roles into greater and greater degrees of specialization. As specialization increased the social structure also grew much, much more complex and diverse. We learned to dominate many of the external threats (weather much less of a concern to us in most situations, wild predatory animals not a common threat in downtown Boston, nutritious food available to most on a consistent basis) the most overt and acute forms of fearfulness settled into the background of our consciousness.
Overt fearfulness gave way over the millennia to the more vague, derivative form we know as anxiety. In fact, the best definition of anxiety is a freefloating and nonspecific fearfulness; a disquieting sense of impending threat that cannot be clearly named. If there were a lion loose in my community I could quickly identify the source of my fear, and I would be able to deal with it directly by the age-old mechanism of fight-or-flight. Once the lion is dealt with, captured or killed, or I am safe behind locked doors, the fear subsides. Not so obvious or easy when the provoking cause of my distress is too murky to identify. Modern psychoanalysis teaches us that anxiety is a complex emotion, the culmination of many, many factors impinging on the individual, from their real and current life to long forgotten experiences from the early part of their life, and even the inherited pre-programmed and ancient fears that effected the species in its earliest days(Jung’s so-called ‘racial unconscious’). Our modern life is both highly complex and so ‘protected’, in a sense, that it is difficult for the individual to grasp just what the root causes of anxiety are. Yet we all have to deal with it to differing degrees.
How does anxiety manifest itself in the individual? It is both a physiological as well as a psychological phenomenon. The physical signs include: muscle tension, shallow, rapid breathing accompanied by a feeling of choking or not getting enough air, sweating, palpitations, dizziness, shakiness. Interestingly, these are many of the same physical signs that Sensei Canna has identified with the “chemical cocktail” that is called forth in a situation of threat. The threat is not so readily identifiable in our daily lives, but the physiological reaction still occurs on a mild, background level. For example; we would all recognize the threat if a stranger pointed a gun at us and demanded “your money or your life”, but it is much more subtle when the ‘threat’ is a combination of a hundred intercurrent factors (your health concerns, your job deadlines, your children’s issues, your finances, your national politics, the dreams you had last night… and on and on). So we live in a state of perpetual arousal.
Benson, in his familiar work The Relaxation Response describes the ‘kindling’ syndrome, in which the long term affects of these aggregate stresses lead to measurable negative health effects such as high blood pressure, digestive problems and psychological changes. The immune system can be compromised (indeed, a new field of study has emerged known by the tonguetwisting name psychoneuroimmunology to explore the interaction between stress and health.). The longer these stresses affect us uninterrupted, the more sensitive (not the less sensitive) we become to their effects on the mind and body. So it becomes important (critical, for those who are predisposed to psychoneuroimmunological hypersensitivity) to address this through a variety of lifestlye management practices.
Benson and others are proponents of meditation techniques such as yoga and TM, which have proven anti-stress effects. There is ample research evidence that virtually all forms of physical activity serve to alleviate stress to some degree.One would be hard-pressed nowadays to find a doctor who does not advise patients to incorporate exercise into their lifestyle.
While there are many forms of exercise, it is my contention that karate, and Sanchin in particular, is directly suited to address this problem. It addresses many of the components of stress/anxiety through one mechanism.
Jacobson developed the now well known set of exercises known as deep muscle relaxation. One sits in a well balanced position in a comfortable chair and proceeds slowly through a series of progressive clenching and relaxing movements of all of the body’s large, voluntary muscle groups. Beginning with the feet and ankles one clenches for several seconds as tightly as possible, all while breathing deeply and rhythmically with a focus on blowing the anxiety out of the body. One works his way up through progressive sets of muscles through the legs, torso, arms/shoulders, neck and head.The eyes are closed and the breathing is regular and deep. This is followed by a few minutes of quiet meditation, still focused on the breathing. These techniques have been taught to anxiety disorder patients since the 1970′s with some good success (especially among those who practice them faithfully and conscientiously).
One problem, though, with these exercises is that they are essentially passive. Much like the sitting form of Zen meditation one seeks to still the mind and the soul by practicing a form of profound stillness. Many students of Zen have found this task to be too challenging, as the natural wandering of the mind proves difficult to overcome. Mattson recounts, in The Way of Karate, the legend that Boddhidharma himself made up a Sanchin-like exercise for this very purpose; to help young monks focus on an active, as opposed to a passive, form of meditation. In my view, it is not simply the passivity of the Jacobson exercise that is problematic, but the essential aimlessness of it. It does not address the fundamental source of the anxiety, even though it does effect the result of it (the muscular tension and constant hyperarousal). I am not suggesting that there is no value to the passive forms of meditation. Zen, Yoga, TM and other techniques have met with notable success for some populations. But those that are temperamentally predisposed to a need for more active expression do better with the moving forms. And there are those who gain from practicing both forms.
It is not simply the fact that Sanchin is active that gives it its value, but the special nature of the activity itself.Recall that anxiety is, at its fundamental root, a derivative of primordial fear, or of the activation of the fight-or-flight response without the opportunity for discharge.It harkens back to the basic life-asserting struggle for survival that is universal and timeless. Since Sanchin addresses the fear of annihilation by physical threat it strikes more directly to the heart of the matter. It provides a more direct route to dealing with the feeling of personal vulnerability than the passive forms do. (One might even argue that the passive forms paradoxically increase the sense of personal vulnerability by promoting softness.)
Sanchin contains may of the elements of the deep muscle relaxation exercise. The voluntary muscle groups are rhythmically clenched and relaxed in coordination with a regular and forceful breathing pattern, which serves to break a pattern of chronic hyperarousal and muscular hypertonus. One cannot be both relaxed and tense at the same time, and Sanchin brings these two diametrically opposed states under much more direct conscious control. The repetitive interchange and shifting back and forth between muscle tension and muscle relaxation combine with the breathing to lift one out of the anxiety feeling of passive vulnerability to the sense of being more fully in charge or in control of the physical self. As with the other forms of meditation, the separation of the practice from the ordinary day-to-day is an aid in its effectiveness. We go to a special place (the dojo, or ‘way of study place’), change into a special uniform, perform to special commands, join with the ‘group mind’… all in the service of achieving an elevated sense of spirit and a deeper mental clarity… similar in effect to the other techniques, but with the added benefits of aerobic exercise and self-defense practice.
Since the Sanchin exercise also contains the promise of a practical application of the movements to self-protection, it simultaneously provides an enhanced sense that one can deal with a physical threat. Therefor, one feels less vulnerable. Jerome Frank, in the 1970′s book Persuasion and Healing, speaks at length about the importance of the so-called placebo effect in all forms of medical treatment. Placebo, from the Latin “I will please”, refers to the importance of the healer offering the patient something that carries the promise or enhances the hope that the method will bring about the therapeutic effect. It is critical that the healer believe in the real effects of the technique, and that the patient either believe it also, or accept it on faith. Placebo is not a sham or a bluff… there must be some context in the cultural worldview which gives credence to the method, otherwise it will not serve to put the subject into the healing frame of mind. This is thought by many to be an essential, a sine qua non, of healing or learning of any sort. (See the writing of Andrew Weil for a more contemporary exposition of this idea.) Regarding Sanchin, it is essential that both the student and the teacher believe that that there is direct value to the exercise in enhancing personal strength and diminishing fear based on a subjective sense of weakness. Sanchin accomplishes this in a number of ways. There is the obvious increase in muscular strength that comes with prolonged practice. There is the critically important belief that the movements themselves are not random or haphazard physical movements just for the sake of exercise but rather directly applicable self-defense techniques which, when done correctly and repetitively over a long period of time will give the practitioner a significant physical advantage in a fear-inducing confrontation. Were we to practice movements which we knew to be ineffective we would lose a significant element of the mind-body mix.
There is also the physical Sanchin ‘test’ itself. To my thinking, it remains important that the student train to withstand a fairly vigorous test of the body’s integrity. Not only does this insure that the muscles will be properly conditioned to clench or focus fully and forcefully, but an element of “stress inoculation” will be introduced into the exercise. Stress inoculation is a term used by psychologists in the treatment of clinical anxiety states. It involves exposure of the subject through a graduated series of controlled steps to the anxiety provoking or phobic stimulus. The subject practices the relaxation response techniques in the midst of the mini-situations that invoke the underlying anxiety in controlled dosages. When they can handle it comfortably at one level, they step up to he next, and so on, until they are able to confront the actual fear-inducing situation in vivo. For example, a patient with a phobia of driving on the highway would start by learning the relaxaton technique and then practice it while exposing himself to closer and closer approximations of the driving situation itself. Eventually, he would practice while driving on the highway itself. As exposure and comfort level increase the phobic response, acute anxiety, diminishes to the point where it is no longer clinically significant. The Sanchin test has to be a real threat, at least to some limited degree in order to be a credible aid to learning. Too easy, and there is no element of anxiety to confront. Too hard, and it is not a test, but a retraumatization that can actually set the student’s progress back (just like if the phobic patient tried to drive on the highway too soon and experienced a panic attack). The skill of the teacher lies in knowing the degree to which the student can handle the physical test; there must be a challenge in order to engage the student’s full effort. But it must not be overdone, certainly not on a regular basis, because there is the danger of convincing the student, on an unconscious level, that he was right to think himself weak and vulnerable. We will never know how many students have quit karate for another sport because the practice was not challenging enough, or because they have been scared off by an overzealous sensei.
We should ask why it is that these elements of stress inoculation, or relaxation response training, or active meditation need to be practiced over and over, day after day, for years or for a lifetime. Why would it not suffice to “learn” Sanchin to the point where one “knows” it and knows he is strong and capable of self-defense… and then stop practicing? The answer is important and multifaceted. It is realistically impossible to achieve a life with out at least some degree of threat to survival. It appears to be part of the human condition to have to deal with threat throughout the lifecourse. The need to restore a sense of inner balance is an ever-renewing one. Having achieved inner balance on one day does not guarantee that it will hold to the next. We need a reliable method of restoring inner harmony when ‘the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune’ have disrupted it. We need an ever-renewable technique to cope with the ever-repeating phenomenon of stress. As an example from everyday life; how many of us have started the day with a sense of tranquility only to have it ruined by some road-rage driver gesturing in a crude and threatening manner, or being talked down to in a humiliating manner by a superior at work? Over and over for the next few hours we replay the scene in our head, imagining what we should have said or done… the scenario becoming more Hollywood with each viewing. Then we get to the dojo for a vigorous workout and the significance of the event just seems to melt away. Inner harmony is not a static state, so we need to constantly work to restore it.
It is also important that the exercise remain imperfectable. When is one’s Sanchin good enough? Never! Even the most senior teachers continue to work on the subtleties of the form in an effort to generate just that much more speed or power. The belief that one has not exhausted the full potential of the exercise serves the dual purpose of keeping one working at it and also perpetuating the belief that the anxiety reducing potential of the exercise has not been fully tapped. When one does continue to experience some small degree of anxiety, despite performing the exercise at a high degree of proficiency, one places hope in the belief that there is room for further growth, with the implied promise of greater effect. It is therefore important that students always believe that there are teachers or more advanced students who can teach them something new. The final ‘fallback’ fantasy in this regard is the belief that the “ancient masters” knew the secrets of perfect inner harmony, which we could share if we only perform our exercises the way they did. There is always room for improvement. Mattson’s first diploma reflected this with the phrase “…the path of no limitation”. Whether the Sanchin exercise really can potentially eliminate all insecurity is less important than the belief that it can. As noted above, it is important that both the teacher and the student share this belief in order to benefit from the placebo effect. We can contrast the accepted doctrine of Uechi-ryu with that of some other styles or teachers. Over the course of his career, Bruce Lee took to referring to kata as “organized despair”, and he ceased to believe in its value, dropping kata training in favor of other types of drills. Rabesa mentions a conversation with Joe Lewis, who told him that kata practice is viewed mainly as a beginners’ exercise, used to establish a foundation then eventually supplanted by sparring and bag work. While there may be some practical value to the views of Lee and others, there would be a loss of the ‘mind’ aspect of this important mind-body exercise. Uechi-ryu has always held as a fundamental tenet that kata training – Sanchin training in particular – must be practiced indefinitely. The possibilities for new understanding are endless. An example from everyday dojo life will elucidate this point. How often is the flow of the class interrupted by a debate among the senior students on the “correct” interpretation of a move? Someone points out the utility of a movement against a specific attack, the second person invariably adds “but what if there are two attacks?” or ” what if attack X is followed by attack Y?” This line of reasoning can, and often does, go on ad infinitum and reflects the subtle anxiety that lies deep within us all. No teacher ever responds “it does not matter how you do it, since it does not work anyway”… teachers encourage students to continue to explore the ‘hidden meaning’ of their moves. This leaves open the promise of future confidence, if not the actuality of it in the present.
The imperfectibility factor also reflects the fact that the extreme subtleties in variations of the form, the speeds at which it can be practiced, the emphasis placed on the interplay of hardness and softness, form an exercise so complex that a number of lifetimes would not suffice to integrate them all. We adopt as our shared value the paradoxical belief that the exercise is fundamentally imperfectible but still must be studied with some hypothetical future perfection in mind.
If I have made the case that Sanchin is a true mind-body exercise for the average karate student, what about its usefulness in a clinically impaired population? Could Sanchin replace counseling or medication for individuals whose anxiety states have significantly constricted their lives? My experience as a psychologist working with hospitalized patients has not been encouraging in this respect. I have not found that the anxiety is too extreme to address with the exercise, but that it is most difficult to get them to commit to a disciplined and regimented program. Medications offer a quick fix, and they are effective in the sense of immediate symptom relief. This trap is very seductive, and the average clinical anxiety patient dreads the onset of another panic attack so strongly that it becomes a monumental task to get them to forego medicines in favor of an exercise that takes months or years to do effectively. One might think it a useful compromise to start with pills during the start-up phase of the exercise training with the goal of eventually backing off the medicines. This is, in fact, the program in the best cases, but those are usually in persons whose anxiety has never reached the truly crippling stage. Persons with mild to moderate clinical anxiety appear to benefit the most from a ‘behavioral’ program. The old adage that says that ‘the rich get richer’ seems to hold… those who are already disposed to activity, and whose anxiety is not outside of the grossly “normal” range, seem to be the most receptive and most responsive to a long term self-improvement program. ( Standard professional practice requires that I avoid dual relationships with my patients, so I could not teach them karate myself, but I do continue to discuss the benefits and refer to a good sensei when I have a patient who I think would benefit.)
We could drop the concept of ‘clinical pathology’ and discuss Sanchin as an element of wellness-oriented lifestyle management for the average individual. Wellness is now understood not as a static state, but as a mode of living. When Liebergott says in response to the question “have you ever used karate?” “I use it every day” I believe this is what he has in mind. There is emerging research evidence that a belief system is helpful to optimum immune system functioning. This can be seen in religiously-oriented individuals as well as those who have adopted other worldviews that place their experience within a larger context. At this point, the mind-body connection also starts to take on a spirit element as well. Spirit is a difficult concept to define, but seems to suggest an enhancement to the sense of the self as interconnected to a larger whole. Living in harmony with this whole appears to promote psychological and physical health. Karate-do, the “do” implying a way of life, resonates intuitively with these ideas. Karate without the “do”, that is, without Sanchin practice, has its utility as pure “jutsu”, but falls short of the overall wellness-oriented ideal.
As a purely practical training exercise Sanchin is well known to increase the physical strength and self-defense capability of the practitioner. In this paper I am describing its additional benefits as a mind-body exercise which addresses a number of related human concerns around self-protection, self-development, health maintainance and stress reduction. While not unique in this regard, it is particularly well suited to certain personalities. For those willing to put in the long hours and do the hard work Sanchin adds real value to the management of their lives.
Benson, H. The Relaxation Response. Wm. Morrow and Co., 1975.
Canna, V. Internet Forum: Self-Defense Realities and personal communication, 1998.
Ehrenreich, B. Blood Rites: origins and history of the passions of war. New York: Holt, 1997
Jacobson,… deep muscle relaxation exercise, reference unavailable.
Frank, J. Persuasion and Healing.
Jung, C.G. Man and His Symbols. London: Aldus Books Ltd., 1964.
Liebergott, H. Scissors, Rock, Paper. Brockton: Pea body Publishing Co., 1996.
Mattson, G. E. The Way of Karate. Rutland, Vt. And Tokyo, Japan: Charles E. Tuttle Co.: 1963.
Rabesa, A. personal communication, 1999.
Weil, A. Spontaneous Healing. New York: Knopf, 1995
This paper is respectfully submitted to the Promotion Board of the Uechi-Ryu Karate Association, North American Chapter, in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the rank of Rokkyudan/Renshi.
Milton, Massachusetts July, 1999
Permanent link to this article: http://uechi-ryu.com/paul-giellas-thesis-for-renshi/
Mar 27 1999
by Mason Costa
Copyright by Mason Costa, 1999 All rights reserved
Permanent link to this article: http://uechi-ryu.com/uechi-ryu-karate-do-general-tips-techniques-tactics/
Mar 22 1999
by Bryan Lowe
When I was about six years old, I saw the film Karate Kid. I guess you could say it changed my life, for it was this (albeit somewhat cheesy) 80′s movie that sparked my interest in the martial arts, and inspired me to take my first Karate lesson.
I’ll admit when I first stepped into a dojo, it wasn’t exactly what I had seen in the theater. This of course, initially disappointed my young spirit. I had really wanted to learn a crane kick. Instead of seeing students dodging dangerous swinging metal objects as I had watched in Karate Kid, I merely saw students performing punches and kicks aimed at imaginary targets. Despite this initial setback, I persevered (something I would learn so much more about as my studies continued). The more I studied Karate, the more I realized it wasn’t just punching and kicking, the deeper I found myself in my addiction to the martial arts the more it taught me about myself and life. Karate became a vital force in molding me into the person I am today.
At it’s core, Karate isn’t about self-defense, but instead self-completion. It teaches people how to learn, how to work, how to live. In martial arts it is necessary to always work with control in order to bring out the best in oneself and one’s partner; if partners are too aggressive with one another, someone is likely to get hurt, but if the partners do not challenge each other enough, neither will improve. This principle also applies in life. One must find a balance in how aggressive one should act in “real life” relationships. I found that everything I learned in the dojo was applicable outside of it as well.
One principle philosophy in my style of martial arts, Uechi-ryu Karate, is a balance between hard and soft; people should be “hard” enough so that they will stand up for what they believe in, but “soft” enough to compromise and be open minded. Throughout my teenage years this has proven to be one of the most important qualities to master, for temptation is lurking around every corner. Another important philosophy from karate is the eight virtues of black belt: modesty, courtesy, integrity, compassion, self-control, gratitude, perseverance, and indomitable spirit. these virtues are what martial artist strive to attain in their lives, and I do my best to apply these attributes in my everyday life.
Although the outward benefits of being a black belt, may at first seem materialistic and superficial, an extra line to fill on your college aps or an achievement to brag to your friends about, its real significance goes much deeper. The black belt encourages you to set a good example, to be a role model both in and outside of class. Having a black belt adds a responsibility of acting like a black belt, of behaving responsibly, working diligently, and outwardly projecting and living by the eight virtues of black belt and the student creeds.
I could continue listing these philosophies, but that would be rather hypocritical to what karate is really about. As my Sensei, Mr. Durkin, often reminds my fellow students and me, “Karate is not a talking art, but a doing art.” Listing off countless philosophies and each one’s meaning would be futile, without “doing” these philosophies, without living by them. A deep and potentially meaningful statement on paper is weak and feeble, but when applied in life, it has supreme power and importance.
Studying martial arts has not simply taught me how to rattle off creeds and codes, even a parrot can do that. Uechi-ryu Karate does not spawn parrots, it creates people, real people, meaningful people, people who can think, learn and discover for themselves. Just as life can not be learned from a book, the secrets of Karate can’t be revealed in a one page essay. Only through living, through taking risks can its real meaning be found. It is interesting that the majority of Karate’s lessons aren’t learned in the dojo at all. So I continue studying Karate each and every day I live, I learn. this is the true study of Karate, living and learning.
Bryan Lowe has been a student at Buzz Durkin’s Uechi-ryu Dojo for 8 years. He is a senior at Philips Exeter Academy and wrote this essay as a school project when he was sixteen.
Copyright 1999: Bryan Lowe. All rights reserved
Permanent link to this article: http://uechi-ryu.com/being-a-black-belt/