Dear Sensei Mattson,
I’d like to begin by first thanking you for your visit to Chicago to conduct the Friday night Dan testing, as well as the two day seminar. The lessons learned are indeed invaluable, and have truly shed new light on aspects of Uechi that mustn’t ever be overlooked or forgotten.
Such aspects boil down to the basics, combined with other fun and creative ideas found in our kata, bankai and kumite which you brought to everyone’s attention over the weekend. The basics should be important to all Uechi practitioners regardless of rank, duration of study, or skill level. For example, they should be focused on by everyone regardless of whether they are high ranking seasoned veterans, or white belts donning new uniforms for their very first lesson.
Much of what I gathered from the weekend all boiled down to such basics found in Sanchin. If an error is made in later kata, one can be assured that it’s (more than likely) being made in some part of Sanchin. To begin then, the foundations for proper breathing for example all start with good habits developed in Sanchin. I think students (myself included of course– and through no one’s fault but my own) get too distracted by too many concepts such as: do we breath on the strike, before the strike, a little air, a lot of air, etc; when in fact one should just be breathing naturally as one might do when swimming, running, walking, or even just talking.
My favorite example of breathing that you imparted to us occurred when you demonstrated the ability to have a conversation while doing Sanchin. In other words, I learned that if one is breathing naturally, one should be able to talk while doing kata and not be out of breath at the end of the kata, and perhaps in this case, not be out of breath while doing kata and conversing. Granted, some of this can be developed with proper conditioning and other exercise, but for the most part just doing Sanchin and breathing naturally will give a student all of the fundamentals necessary to breathe naturally.
I know that when it’s developed in Sanchin, proper breathing will find its way into sparring, and ultimately will give one an edge when faced with the real stress found in life-threatening situations. Sometimes it is breathe or die. Aside from proper breathing which I know I need to continue to develop, another concept that I learned over the weekend pertains directly to power and the ways in which it can be developed or harnessed. In sum, I realized that power is not developed by muscular strength or brute force– but by proper and efficient body mechanics.
For example, a major point that was stressed during the seminar (and is another basic foundation of Uechi) has to do with fluidity of movement and remaining tension free when performing blocks and strikes. I learned that the concept of tension free does not mean “loosey-goosey” for lack or a better term, nor does it mean to be weak or frail. To me it means to stay in Sanchin, to use a strong and rooted stance, to use the hips, to use the lats, and to develop it from the ground up. It also means stay athletic, stay ready, be poised, and yet remain flexible. I know that tension robs a person of his or her ability to be powerful regardless of the endeavor.
I know for example from playing golf that if my back swing or down swing has any tension in it whatsoever, I will have wasted all of my energy prior to that most pivotal and important point of the swing– the moment of impact when the club head meets the ball. Because I know that the power equals force times speed, one can conclude that power is notably gained with faster movements. Similarly, faster movements are only possible when the muscles are relaxed and not working in opposition to one another. Case in point: A skinny 155 pound Charles Howell III, the PGA golfer can hit a golf ball nearly 330 yards with his driver, and the big 270 + pound John Daily produces the same yardage off the tee.
The smaller man who can swing faster will hit the ball as far or farther than the heavier man who swings more slowly. (As an aside, I am a huge John Daily fan by the way. I hope he wins The Masters.) That said, my goal is to continue to stay as tension free as possible on my strikes (and blocks too) until the final moment of impact through the target zone. At that point (at the final moment of impact), I want to compress all of the energy (power) gained from what I mention earlier: speed, Sanchin stance, hips and lats all connecting and flowing and working in timely, synchronized, coordinated movements from the ground up. But yet, what is power without precision?
Ah yes, as the old saying goes, there’s a lot of long ball hitters off the tee, but too bad they’re all in the woods! Misdirected power achieves no real end. Perhaps it feels good—but in combat it’ll cost a person dearly. With that in mind…… precision of movement and targeting is another valuable lesson learned over the weekend. Accuracy, exactness, and targeting are all of the essentials that should be developed before concepts of power are really explored. (Perhaps I should have even mentioned precision first in this essay, but its positioning in this paper takes nothing away from the fact that it should developed before power in my opinion.)
Sensei, with regard to precision then, I really enjoyed the example you provided us when you said to imagine that we have long knives in place of our hands on each and every strike that we make through the target. I really love this imagery as it pertains to our strikes be they in kata or in sparring. This is something that I now constantly envision in my mind’s eye. It really makes me think of penetrating the target, and allows me to stay focused with each and every movement.
In sum, when precision is developed first and then applied with force, precision then becomes force in its exactness. And finally, some overall and general comments are as follows: When doing kata, I learned that it is essential and important to vary the speed and duration of movements from set to set. By vary I mean that kata should not all be done the same way over and over again. A great example that you shared with us is to do Sanchin slow and easy in one set, then in another set fast and hard, then in another set fast and easy and so on and so forth. Not only does this break students out the “mold” of doing things just “one way,” but it forces them to use muscle groups at different rates of speed and tension– or “no tension” as the case may be.
I feel that varying kata in such ways will help to develop smooth, free-flowing automatic performances in all kata, bankai and kumite. In terms of kumite—the same concepts should apply. Dan kumite or any kumite for that matter should never be done just one way simply because the real world dictates that “fights” are never just one way. Some kumite should be slow, some fast, some hard, some soft. The point is to mix it up while still maintaining the precision of movement described in the foregoing section.
The same holds true of sparring and even bankai applications like Seisan Bankai or Kanshiwa Bankai. I feel that mixing it up forces one to think outside of the martial arts box. In addition, I really am looking forward to adding new techniques and attacks to the aforementioned bankai and kumite as furtherance to thinking outside of that box as it is often stated. Moreover, this keeps Uechi fresh and alive with new ideas and techniques making it even more fun and creative. If we keep it fun and creative this will lead to longevity of study and commitment to excellence. Sensei Mattson, all of us would like to thank you once again for a wonderful, fun and enlightening weekend. I know that as we advance through the ranks, there will be even more to learn in the process of what I like to call a never-ending process. In other words, on-going learning gives rise to fun learning that should be perpetual and continual.
I also understand that the basics, the core, and the foundation of what we do as I described herein, must always continue to be focused on and developed as we progress in our studies of Uechi-ryu Karate.