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Aug 14 1996

A Message from the Editor

To all Uechi-ryu Practitioners:

Why did the Okinawan Uechi-ryu Karate Association split? The second most common question is, “How does this split affect my dojo’s relationship with the other side?”

I generally respond to these questions by relating the recent history of Uechi-ryu, as I recall it, from direct experience and by interpreting as best possible, the rest. Although the Uechi style was considered to be the last “one family” style left on Okinawa, there was a minor split before the one everyone considers to be first. A small, but senior group, decided to go it alone back in the 70’s. They now call themselves “Pwangainoon” association, but practice the style essentially the same way as the rest of us. I’m not sure if my information is correct, but I was told by Ryuko Tomoyose, that the split occurred over personality problems involving seniors.

Ironically, the second and by far the more serious breakaway group, was fueled by a personality conflict between Kanmei Uechi, successor to his father and senior members of the association. I was present at meetings on Okinawa just before the split and was in constant contact with Mr. Tomoyose during the first year following the break. Many unpleasant things were said by both sides, resulting in bridges between the sides being destroyed by words and actions.

The result of this break was a choosing up of sides by non-Okinawan practitioners. When the final tally was taken, many people chose to affiliate with the breakaway group and the popular senior members of the old association. There are quite a few stories about why I decided to stay with the family. Essentially, I believed it important to maintain the continuity of the Uechi family. It’s where I started and there were no compelling reasons to switch. It was my hope at the beginning of the dispute, that a reconciliation might happen. I still continue to hope that someday it might happen.

Ironically, the split did not happen because of the style itself. Most schools I visit, that found themselves with the other side, still practice the original Uechi-ryu, in spite of many “new” changes being introduced. . . designed, I believe, to give the other side an identity distinct from Uechi-ryu. There are legal problems on Okinawa that prevent the breakaway group from using the Uechi name, photographs and other elements that have become commonplace in non-Okinawan dojo. Visiting students and teachers returning from Okinawa say that no one really talks about the split any longer. These visiting students get the feeling that most of the old association members wish things might be magically returned to the way they were 20 years ago.

Outside of Okinawa, lines have been drawn between groups with a little more emphasis. Students and teachers from the “other side,” call me, a bit afraid to be talking with me, because their teachers point out that I’ve become the enemy. The student can’t understand how one day his school was working with me and the next day all contact was severed.

When students tell me they are visiting Okinawa, I tell them to visit all dojo, not just those identified as belonging to the Uechi Association. When they return, they call and say what a great time they had. No one asked them about joining their side and all dojo welcomed them to train.

In North America, I’ve taken essentially the same position. Yes, I encourage all Uechi dojos to become involved with NAC (Now IUKF). But not for political reasons. NAC addresses issues of importance to the students. I’m more concerned that students don’t get hurt in class than I do about whose patch is being worn on the gi. There are many issues to be addressed, regarding Uechi-ryu, that don’t have anything to do with the politics of karate. . .and I want it to continue that way.

NAC is concerned with standards of teaching and standards for operating a successful dojo. We want to see Uechi-ryu grow and prosper among an overwhelming number of non-Uechi styles that dominate the martial arts. NAC will accept any dojo that teaches Uechi-ryu. . .even if they don’t call it Uechi-ryu. All the policies contained in the membership guide are recommendations, but not mandatory. It is hoped that by working together, members will become better informed teachers and more knowledgeable people.

My Summer Camp is a prime example of the kind of activity encouraged by NAC. We get together, train together and share martial arts experiences. Instead of looking for differences, we look for ways to broaden our understanding of what we are doing. People whom three years ago were terrified at the thought of attending the camp and studying with “the enemy” are now our most vocal and loyal supporters.

Contact and communications heal all wounds. Nasty rumors and comments exaggerate and compound the differences. I have been fortunate to know and train under Grandmaster Kanei Uechi. He was a gentle person who never spoke a mean word to anyone. His physical karate was and is unequaled. Lets emulate the man we all acknowledge IS THE STYLE we practice and teach. Lets work together during the few years we have on this earth, to better ourselves and to help others through this art we call Uechi-ryu. Lets stop wasting time arguing over all the things that have absolutely nothing to do with what WE DO.

Thanks for listening, and
Bye for now . . .
George E. Mattson

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Aug 12 1996

George Mattson’s response

George Mattson’s response to a Uechi student who proclaimed that his style is closer to the original Chinese method than other Okinawan systems. Comment was made on the “Cyberdojo”:

To Karateka on the Cyberdojo:

I have enjoyed reading the ongoing exchange of viewpoints for the past six months, happily allowing others do the work. . . however, after the messages involving Uechi-ryu origins, style purity etc., I felt it necessary to jump into the fray:

The Uechi style as practiced today, technically can be traced back to Kanei Uechi, son of the man who first taught the style outside of China. The movements that evolved over the Kanei Uechi teaching years are quite different in subtle, but important ways than those taught by Ryuyu Tomoyose (Kanbun Uechi’s first student) in Japan. As I visit Uechi dojo throughout the world (including Okinawa), I notice many style changes, which, while maintaining the system’s essence, differ dramatically from what I originally learned on Okinawa back in the 50’s. As far as I remember, there never was a single version of Uechi. I used to drive my teacher crazy, asking him “which variation of a move is the correct one.” He would always reply, “…the one that works for you”.

Masters Kanei Uechi and Ryuko Tomoyose always stressed the benefits of Uechi-ryu that came from the correct practice of the art. The movements should be a journey, not a destination!

I see too many teachers of the martial arts who get locked into a “style” and never grow beyond simple technique. They lose the purpose for doing the movements . . . getting “stuck” defending an understanding of what they did 10 , 20 or more years ago, blindly working harder and harder accomplishing less and less.

The “ryu” or style is, I believe, unique to the Japanese culture and practiced by some in the West with an almost religious fervor. Instead of admitting that movements must relate to individuals and that the teachers role is to help the student in developing his/her individual style, many teachers tend to try and fit everyone into a template that the instructor builds through his/her “style.” If you don’t fit, your options are few! (Find another teacher or denounce your teacher and rename what you do to another “ryu” with you becoming the new 10th dan grand master!)

In China, where less emphasis is placed on pecking order, rank and style, a person can have many instructors and usually practices more than one type of movement. Instead of emphasis on styles and the ego related problems associated with the founder and his/her role with students, the Chinese associated what they were doing with different animals from which the moves are credited. The Chinese instructor’s role was one of a chef, rather than an assembly line worker. The Chinese instructor had many tools to choose from when accepting a person as a student. When Kanbun Uechi left China, he became a living “time capsule”, preserving through his dedicated and “ryu” obsessed students, the movements that were lost in China with time, evolution and assimilation. Uechi-ryu is still there, just in different packages.

During two visits to China as part of a project to discover our Uechi “roots”, I was pleased to find teachers and students who performed techniques that contained what might be called Uechi “signature” moves. Although it would have been great to discover a hidden away school in the mountains where “Uechi” Sanchin, as we know it, was still being practiced, such a possibility was a long shot.

It has been my experience that a style’s value is linked more to the teacher’s ability than any intrinsic superiority of movements associated with a system. I’ve always found dojo to mirror the attitude, intelligence, creativity, imagination and personality of the instructor. Uechi instructors, and probably representatives of other styles, who are bullies, will end up with a small group of equally dedicated bullies. These dojo provide a very small and questionable service to the community and certainly are unable to tap the underlying spirit present in the martial arts for the benefit of their students or the community which they serve.

I would like teachers of Uechi-ryu to look very carefully at how they present and teach the art of Uechi and not so much on the placement of fingers and toes. Understand that pounding on students in class may make for great entertainment for visitors but is unlikely to help your students or build enrollment. Get back to the essentials of Uechi. . . leave the circus acts to the carnival side shows and out of the dojo.

If we want to identify with something uniquely Uechi, I strongly suggest that teachers emulate the way the old masters taught and the way they treated their students. Masters Kanei Uechi, Ryuko Tomoyose and Seiyu Shinjo were powerful martial artists and were extremely influential within the Okinawan Martial Arts community. Yet they were humble, gentle and caring individuals who taught students how to tap their Sanchin energy and strength with probing touches that built confidence, strength and natural breathing. This is the Uechi “ryu” I would like to see preserved.

George Mattson

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Feb 11 1996

Tribute to “Bally”!

“Bally” 5/13/81 – 02/11/96

Susan and I had to “put down” our beloved “Bally” this morning. Those of you out there who ever owned and loved a dog will appreciate how hard this act can be. Owning a pet is a responsiblity and knowing when it is time to say goodby is a sad but important part of that role. Many of you got to know Bally during your visits to my home or during his frequent “walk-ons” in many of my instructional video tapes. We purchased Bally in 1981, just as our “Herman” was enjoying his last few months with us. A puppy will entertain and as in Herman’s case, actually extend the older dog’s life. Susan claims that during this period of time, Herman taught Bally all his endearing, entertaining and mischievous ways, so that when he passed on, we would not feel quite so sad. About a year ago our Vet told Sue that Bally was failing fast and that he would be lucky to last another month. We talked about getting another dog, but decided not to. But then a friend told us about a puppy that needed a home. We decided to let her visit Bally and if he didn’t object we would keep her. Bally loved her and welcomed the attention Tia gave him. They played together and Bally actually became stronger. We are convinced that Tia gave Bally another year of quality life. When Sue and I returned from the Vet’s office this morning, Tia greeted us at the door looking for Bally. Then she ran upstairs. About an hour later we went looking for her. We were not surprised to find her curled-up on Bally’s bed where she stayed most of the day, getting up occasionally to roam about the house looking for her brother.

Herman & Bally

Tia and Bally

 

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Jul 24 1995

“Living in the Now”

by George E. Mattson

An exerpt from his new book: “Dynamic Uechi-ryu Karate”

This passage in the book deals with the concept of “A mind like water” as it applies to dealing with violence. When Paul Verge asked me the question about how an average person reacts to danger, I felt this segment might help answer the question.

There is no reason why you cannot perform a kata, drill, exercise and spar without consciously thinking about what you just did and what you have to do! Get in the middle of your “self” and “live in the now”. My uncle Ed Radke was a Marine in the second world war. He was wounded during the battle of Iwo Jima when his unit landed on the beach in February, 1945. During the month-long battle that helped seal Japan’s surrender, 20,000 Japanese soldiers and 7000 US Marines died! I remember him telling me, years later, how he reacted on the first day. Naturally, everyone in his unit was scared and nervous. As the PT boats approached the beach, many of his buddies were in a state of shock. Some had never been in combat before. Ed had been in action, but this battle was different. He had the feeling that he wasn’t going to make it through the day. The sky was ablaxe with rocket fire from our navy. The enemy was strafing the PT boats with everthing they had.

What stuck in my memory was his vivid description of his first few minutes on the beach. Although many lives were lost during the landing, most of his unit made it to cover. Ed’s heart was racing and his mind was disoriented and sending mixed signals to his body. Part of him wanted to burrow into the ground and stay there until the end of the war. Another message told him to turn and swim back to the ship. He was convinced that his body was paralyzed, regardless of what direction he took.

A voice penetrated through the confusion and noise, yelling for the unit to move forward. In what probably amounted to only a few seconds, Ed remembers entering a void that stretched out those few seconds into what felt like an eternity. He had this complete and utter reconciliation with the situation. . . he was going to die! Simple, fact. He was a physically functioning dead man! Once this realization sunk in, a calmness overcame him that stayed with him throughout the battle. Once he accepted the fact that he was a dead man, there was no need to worry about getting through the day. He simply functioned, using the skills taught to him by the Marine Corp. and his own superb physical conditioning.

Once he entered this state of mind, he discovered a near superhuman effort possible. Everything he did was performed on automatic. His “thingking” brain was turned off! This feeling lasted until after he was hit and was picked up by medics. He lost the “no-mindedness” once he discovered that there was a chance for his survival! Then all the familiar feelings of fear returned.

Ed’s experience surfaced in my memory after my teacher told me the story of two samurai who were involved in a death duel. I forget the details of the fight, except that one of the Samurai was a vastly superior swordsman and should have won easily. The less experienced fighter, recognizing his battle was lost before it began, accepted the inevitable outcome. The superior fighter, knowing he was a better fighter, believed he would survive the fight. The superior Samurai was fighting in a tentative manner, obviously trying to get the match over, but without getting injured himself.

The other Samurai, not concerned about living, fought gallantly and was actually succeeding in gaining an advantage. Now the irony. . . Once the less experienced fighter became aware that he had a chance of winning this battle, his consciousness returned. He might get out of this alive! Now, functioning on equal emotional levels, the physically superior fighter easily killed his opponent.

I’m not suggesting that we face danger with the thought . . .”I am dead!” However, the same, no-mindedness that Ed experienced through fear and the inexperienced Samurai mustered through acceptance of the inevitable, we can learn through Sanchin. Like so many other strange and foreign phenomenon that we experience in karate, amny elude us until something happens to draw our attention to it, at which point we can begin to perfect it. Ed thought he was crazy when he entered the sacred “no-mind” zone, that martial artist spend many years trying to achieve.

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Jul 11 1995

Fight or Flight Syndrome

by George E. Mattson
An exerpt from “Dynamic Uechi-ryu Karate”
Peabody Publishing Company. Brockton, MA

Any stressful condition can trigger this syndrome. The danger may be emotional or physical in nature. The victim generally finds himself, usually unexpectedly, in a situation of extreme stress. Although the danger may be real or perceived as real by the person, his body will react in the same manner.

Through evolution, the human body deals with stress by directing the pituitary gland to release a hormone called ADRENOCORTICOTROPIC HORMONE. This process, in turn, triggers the adrenal glands to release epinephrine and various other hormones that speed up the heart rate, raise blood pressure and increase muscle tension.

As a karate student, you may experience this feeling while being tested in front of a group of seniors for your black belt or while participating in a karate match at a local tournament. Like your friends who do not study karate, you will suffer the effects of this syndrome to some degree, during the rest of your life. The sixty-four dollar question has to be whether karate training can help a person cope with the negative effects of this syndrome.

The “fight or flight” syndrome is quite controversial among karate enthusiasts. Some of us believe that through karate training, we are able to control this condition, or at least be able to function while under its influence. Others believe that this syndrome lies beneath consciousness and is part of the body that cannot be reached through any kind of training. These experts relate to studies performed on professional police officers who are trained torespond to danger, yet are unable to rely on any but the simplest movements during extreme danger.

As an example of this reaction, a study of law enforcement officers was made, to analyze their reactions under stress. They were to perform rather complex movements associated with loading a magazine into a pistol and firing it. These rather simple instructions are practiced on the rage until they become second nature to the law enforcement people and during none-stressful conditions present at the firing range, they are able to perform them flawlessly. Now add the element of surprise with a touch of stress and what happens. During simulated action involving exercise and other conditions that attempt to duplicate a realistic confrontation, these same officers had difficulty with many of the simple moves associated with loading and firing a pistol.

Even though the individuals involved with this experiment knew that the whole situation was staged and not really dangerous, their bodies responded to the stress, to some degree, as they would have under real life or death conditions. Only the most simple of the actions, performed with the major muscle groups could be counted on to work. Because of this study, many law enforcement agencies have modified their training, to include more realistic drills and practical exercises designed to reinforce those survival skills most likely to function during extreme stress.

I disagree that everyone must accept this fate, regardless of their training. I believe that karate training, specifically the “active” meditation found in Sanchin and other related karate drills, prepare the individual to cope with situations that normally produce a “fight or flight” syndrome.

I have been told that the instinctive nature of this syndrome precludes any attempt to control it. According to some experts, there is nothing that the individual can do to prepare himeself for a situation where primitive reactions take over, causing the paralyzing reaction that shuts down the individual’s ability to use learned skills. If a boxer, who “dukes” it out, thousand of rounds during extreme stress, is able to control (or perhaps use) his emotions and his hormonal output during a fight, then a mechanism must exist which maintains an equilibrium during normally stressful conditions.

If a gang member engages in frequent knife/chain/gun/club fights, he quickly overcomes any negative reactions to his fear. After a few successful fights, he may even enjoy the experience. In order to survive, he will have to count on all of his skills and the presence of mind needed to execute these skills.

I am positive that certain law enforcement officers have the ability to act rationally under fire and are able to utilize their learned skills while being attacked or while under extreme stress. What is different about these individuals and what separates them from their fright-controlled brothers and sisters?

Is there a commonality among people who are able to deal with extreme stress? Obviously the boxer might fare well in a street encounter with the experienced knife fighter, but I sense that he would be less prepared than he would like? After all, mixing it up in a ring with padded gloves and well defined rules is much different than his street match. Even though the boxer might be stronger, faster and have many more moves than the street fighter, I would wager that the brawler would feel more comfortable with his stress level than the boxer. After all, he is fighting in his element, with his rules and equipment.

With all our karate training, unless we have actually been there, we have no way to predict how we will react to a new stressful situation. I believe that it is important to duplicate stressful situations as part of the dojo experience. Tournaments certainly provides an element of uncertainty that connot be found in the dojo. After a few matches, the student will be able to function more comfortably, without the butterflies.

Outside of surviving an actual life or deathe struggle, there is no way to predict how a student will react in a real fight. And certainly, having survived one encounter won’t insure your success in the second or third fight. Bottom line is that we must hone our fighting skills through our marital arts training and ultimately, absolutely, believe in ourselves and our ability.

Role playing in the dojo and outside the dojo will help us experience the stress that accompanies an attack. Successfully dealing with these role-playing attacks will build your confidence. Uechi-ryu is a very practical system. The creators of the system, designed the movements for fighting around a nucleus of calm and serenity. Like the “eye of a hurricane”, the deadly and effective moves are released and activated around the gyroscopic and focused wellspring of power. The moves are simple and effective. No wasted effort or extraneous none-essential fluff.

The Uechi primary moves are designed to function, even when the body is under extreme stress. Here the experts concur with the creator/s of Uechi-ryu: “. . .in a life threatening situation, don’t count on complicated moves, only the simplest, basic techniques can be counted on to work. . .”

In Uechi-ryu we practice full moves in kata. In applications, we use what is necessary. A full circle block might take the form of a wrist movement in an actual fight. If the abbreviated technique deflects the attack however, then the strategy works.

Our kicks are low and simple. Kicks that can be counted on to function under extreme pressure. Although high, fancy kicks are the trademarks of some systems, many experts are critical of the ability of their practitioners to use these spectacular techniques when it really counts.

From “Dynamic Uechi-ryu Karate”, by George E. Mattson

Peabody Publishing Company

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