You Are Never Too Old To Learn Uechi-ryu Karate
It was at the Summer fest 2010 I met George Mattson for the second time. I had studied Uechi-ryu karate with George in 1965 and 66 in Boston, but stopped because, like many of us, work, travel and family took priority. Surprisingly George remembered me (still has great memory) and encouraged me to look up Darin Yee as I live in Plymouth where Darin teaches. I was 74 at the time and not to anxious to take the beating I remembered from years gone by. In your 20’s it’s great fun, not later in life. I lived in CT for many years and studied under John Spencer for a few months, again family and business took priority. So I had good memories of the people I met and the unique “hard-soft” philosophy imbedded in Uechi-ryu. So why not give it a try again (third time never fails, right?).
While I did not remember much of my kata from past years, some of the drills from instructors like Bob Fulton still resonated. Yet I had been away from karate for so long Darin was dealing with a green kyu and not a “retread”. This made it easier for both of us. I was totally uninformed and he didn’t have to explain why his technique was different. At this point I must emphasize that Darin teaches Uechi-ryu karate and not some variant. So it was easy for me to get back in the groove. Easy but painful because a 70 plus year old body doesn’t bend the way it did 50 years ago.
As I worked out and I have been going to the dojo an average of five to six times a week (one of the blessings of being retired); more of my past training in Boston started to surface. I was able to see the different interpretation Darin has of Uechi-ryu versus what I remembered. Not that it was different but Darin has many more variations to our understanding of movements.
Darin’s instruction places more emphasis on (1) be flexible, don’t take the opponent’s punch or kick, but deflect it or guild it and attack quickly (2) use the turning of your torso and shoulders to generate the power which is transferred to your arms and legs (more torque) and counter attack (3) every movement in kata is either an attack or defense and I should envision how to use each technique. There are no wasted moves. Uechi-ryu is a fighting style not a show style.
In class, Darin has us do three versions of each kata. He uses the Chinese mythological characters or animals as metaphors. First kata is like the dragon. Slow and focus on footwork, balance and breathing. We work on the perfection of each movement as only moving slow will allow. Second (of the same) kata is like the crane and move at middle speed. Focus on even and smooth movements not only within the move (block and punch) but transitioning to the next move. For example in Kanshiwa, our first move is to our left but then moving at the same rhythm to what would have been the right. The third kata is like the tiger. It combines the first two but adds the power and speed characterized by this animal.
Another example is the way Darin does the wa-ucki. In the 60’s, I first learned to move my arm in a circular manner with torso facing forward. We now rotate our torso and raise our arm (as a block). This combination is done simultaneously so it is still circular but the power is coming from the rotation of the torso and is transferred to the (blocking) arm. Which is stronger your arm or your torso? The block is actually easier, faster and takes a lot less effort.
Slowly over almost two years of constant practice and associated sore muscles, I could feel a big change in my physiology. While I had been in good shape before starting, I now noticed that I moved quicker, had more pep in my movements and I believe it improved my reflexes. So I guess I can keep cutting the grass for a few more years.
In retrospect, I have concluded there is a big market out there of people like me who have an affinity for karate, the time and money to pursue it. But, given our late age, the hard pounding, board breaking, straight through attack is not going to work. Darin’s process does not negate or alter the principals of Uechi-ryu but re-interprets them in such a way as to produce a more effective fighting technique suitable for all ages.
John R. Joseph