Founded in 1997, the Kosho Kai Karate Dojo offers traditional karate classes for adults and children ages five and up. In addition to our traditional program, we offer Mini-Tigers classes for children ages three to five (not yet in kindergarten), women's self-defense, Kobudo (Okinawan weapons), and Koshiki (combatives).
Okinawan Seito Matsumura Shorin-ryu is an old village style of karate taught as a highly aesthetic art form steeped in cultural tradition and extremely effective for personal protection. Shuri-ryu is a stylized sport form of karate that is very athletic and competition oriented. The Kosho Kai Dojo curriculum includes both of these styles of karate in their unaltered forms. This dual approach to presenting karate results in a well rounded program which offers the best in fitness, self-defense, sport, authentic tradition, and fun.
Karate, the Japanese word applied in the early twentieth century to the Okinawan art of self-protection, has developed along three separate lines in accordance with the wants and needs of its practitioners.Those three branches of development are classical art, combat sport, and civil self-protection.Frank and Patricia Fink have collectively dedicated over sixty years to the study of this fascinating art.Their personal journeys have taken them through many phases, affording them the opportunity to thoroughly investigate the aesthetic, combative, competitive, and self-development aspects of karate.Together, they have developed a diverse and flexible curriculum that offers adult and youth students the ability to tailor their karate experience based on their individual goals.
By Sensei | October 18, 2017 at 12:03 AM EDT | No Comments
Over the course of my thirty-six year long martial arts journey, the focus of my training has shifted numerous times. Rather atypically, I first began my karate venture looking for spiritual truth. Granted, not the typical reason most fifteen year olds take karate, but then I wasn't a typical fifteen year old boy. Having become disillusioned by western religious practices and the luke warm, if not hypocritical, approach to Christian living displayed by my fellow youth group members, I turned to eastern mysticism for truth. Having been inspired by the humanity and wisdom exemplified by Kwai Chang Caine and his fellow Shaolin monks in the television series "Kung Fu", I decided to give martial arts a try. As fate would have it, I wandered into and enrolled in the best karate dojo in Illinois. Even after several years of training, I didn't find much by way of spiritual mysticism. What I did find was the practical philosophical world view of warriors throughout the ages: strength through benevolence, compassion through confidence. When I joined the Springfield Phil Koeppel School of Karate, I was not even aware there was a sport aspect to karate. Soon, however, I attended my first tournament. That was all it took; I was instantly hooked. I began what was to become a twenty plus year competitive career that took me all over the United States and to two foreign countries. The third phase of my journey began several years into my dual career as an Army military police officer and as a federal correctional worker. By now I was in my thirties and had tasted success as a karate student and as a tournament competitor. Nevertheless, I found that very little of what I had mastered was of much use in civilian law enforcement or real close quarter combat. Again fate intervened and I was given several training opportunities that expanded and informed my karate expertise. After throwing with throwers, grappling with grapplers, and boxing with boxers; after learning from police defensive tactics trainers, military combatives instructors, and some brilliant traditional martial arts prodigies, I returned to my base art only to confirm what I had suspected all along: old Okinawan tode-jitsu, the stuff our karate developed from, was a complete civil self-protection system complete with strategy, tactics, and a plethora of techniques. What had become known mostly for long range strikes originally subsided mostly on clench fighting, trapping, joint locking, strangling, throwing, and vital point manipulation. This realization naturally led me to the next stage, that of karate scholar. Since what I had been taught regarding karate's purpose and function was wrong, I wondered what else was inaccurate. I began to read books by leading martial arts researchers and discovered the two truths of karate history (see earlier posts on karate history). I became aware of brilliant research backed up by solid evidence and intriguing theories less supported but plausible nonetheless. I found myself consuming and contributing to internet resources and joining a growing online community of bunkai junkies and karate nerds. So, in short, I went from pilgrim to athlete to warrior to quasi-intellectual all in pursuit of mastery of the art I love. So what's next? To answer this question, I need only to look to my sensei. At nearly eighty years of age and with well over fifty years of training, he sets the perfect example of what a mature karate-ka should become. He still practices and teaches regularly. Not in the same manner he did twenty or thirty years ago for sure. Because back then he, like me, was trying to discover just what lies at the depths of this thing we do. Today, he merely does karate, the inevitable outcome being enhanced physical and mental health and deep personal satisfaction. The journey truly is cyclical. My hope for you is that your devotion to karate grows and changes shape as you pass through the various stages of your life. Karate is not a one-size-fits-all thing, and your journey will be uniquely your own just as you are a unique individual. You can never "outgrow" karate. Its capacity to serve and fulfill you is limited only by your commitment. Osu.
By Sensei | October 16, 2017 at 05:45 PM EDT | No Comments
We have a student who, with the terrific support of his family, has made a commitment to pursue elite status as a USANKF athlete. For those who don't know, the USANKF is the governing body for international karate competition in America. It falls under the WKF which is the world governing body. The WKF in turn falls under the IOC. Because of this young man's drive, I have been inspired to pursue certified coach status and get involved in not only his journey, but in this whole new (to me anyway) facet of the art I love. I have already taken an online course and submitted to a background check along with joining the organization. Next, we intend to affiliate our dojo with the association and begin the rigorous process of becoming certified officials, as this will only enhance our abilities as coaches. While interacting with this newly discovered branch of my karate family, I have been inundated with terms that are foreign to my "traditional" way of thinking. Referring to my student as an athlete and myself as a coach, for example, seems odd. In the tradition I came up in, we were discouraged from thinking of karate as a sport. We spoke in terms of life protection skills, character development, and cultivation of mind, body, and spirit. Nevertheless, we competed in tournaments every other weekend. I guess the irony was lost on me. The whole prospect of karate being in the 2020 Olympic Games is thrilling and frightening at the same time. I remember Master Trias' warning back in the late eighties shortly before he died. He watched as taekwondo went from being a complete martial art to a very narrow and specialized sport because of Olympic inclusion. He remembered all too well how the same thing had happened to judo in the 60's. It went from a multi-faceted art complete with two person kata, weapons training, self-defense, and kicks and strikes to just throwing and limited ground work. In both taekwondo and judo there were and still are holdouts who refuse to practice the narrower, more specialized sport forms of their arts and maintain the old ways. They, however, are a fringe minority regarded as an anachronism lacking relevance. I hold out hope for karate though for one reason. When the backers of judo and taekwondo succeeded in gaining Olympic inclusion for their sports, they were not yet fully formed. The organizers at every level had to rush to develop and enact common rules and competition formats. The haste resulted in a minimalizing of the sport to garner the buy in of all their constituents worldwide. Not true of karate. Karate has spent the better part of the past three decades evolving into a highly refined sport with a well oiled mechanism for both administration and athlete development. The future is indeed bright. I only regret that I gave up on karate ever being accepted after the many past disappointments and have nearly been left behind. Then there is the trepidation that goes with selling out my budo art for pure sport. I worried about this a lot. Then I read the most recent issue of USA Karate magazine on the USANKF website. I encourage you to take a look at it, but here are what I thought were the main takeaways. The editor-in-chief, Jose Fraguas, offers these encouraging words: "It is up to us to decide whether Karate will become just one of many physical activities or – in accordance with the hopes of many practitioners – remain a unique art. Full of expressive beauty, philosophy, and respect for one’s opponent, the true skill of the art and sport of Karate lies in knowing how to move the body and mind along a path that lasts a lifetime, consummated in the contentment of a job well done. Experience is the best teacher and Karate, in its instruction, adheres to this philosophy." Also, in terms of inclusion, chief executive officer, Phil Hampel, states that it is the goal of the USANKF to provide a fair process by which the very best athletes will represent Team USA Karate regardless of which organization they come from. As long as these positive attitudes and open minds prevail, I think I can make room in my brain for a contemporary sport vocabulary.
By Sensei | September 25, 2015 at 01:27 PM EDT | No Comments
Wow, next month already! Alright, so here we go:
Tatamae 1: Karate and kobudo were invented by peasant farmers and fishermen in Okinawa.
Honne: What few records that survived the WWII Battle of Okinawa prove that this is indeed a myth. They were in fact keimouchi, members of the Okinawan royal gentry. Early practitioners of todi-jitsu such as Todi Sakugawa, Bushi Matsumura, and Anko Asato actually served as castle security and body guards to the Ryukyu royal family and bore the title of peichin (knight). So where did this romantic idea come from? From the time Commodore Matthew Perry forced Japan to open trade with outside nations in 1851 through the years immediately following WWII, Okinawans have lived in relatively meager conditions. Furthermore, the Japanese who formally abolished the Ryukyu Kingdom and annexed Okinawa in 1879, spoke of it to American and European servicemen as a peasant nation. Consequently, the notion that there had ever been any aristocracy in Okinawa was generally unknown or unacknowledged. Westerners who learned karate mostly from Japanese sensei came to the understanding that this esoteric art was the product of a poor, working-class island people.
Tatamae 2: Karate came from China.
Honne: The kata that make up the Naha-ti and Tomari-ti sets are mostly of Chinese origin but did not, with some notable exceptions, find their way to Okinawa until the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Once imported, these Chinese chuan-fa (kempo) forms were underwent extensive modifications to conform to Okinawan physical culture norms and expectations. The Shuri-ti set is unique in that it appears to have been developed exclusively by Okinawans and to have been practiced there in an organized fashion for the longest time. There was much cultural exchange between Okinawa and China dating back to prehistoric times, and early Okinawan culture was influenced by Chinese and other Southeastern Asian societies. Most famously, China sent 36 families from the Fujian province to live in Okinawa in 1392. Presumably there were martial artists among them. It was also common for aristocratic families of the Ryukyu Kingdom to send their young men to China to receive a formal education. Many returned with martial arts knowledge. There are legends as well as documented accounts of Chinese martial arts masters visiting the island and leaving their mark on karate, e.g. Wanshu, Kushanku, Ryu Ryu Ko, and Chinto. Seeing where the Chinese influence on karate begins and ends is impossible, but it's clear that the end product is uniquely Okinawan.
By Sensei | December 02, 2013 at 07:21 PM EST | No Comments
Often in karate training we encounter the “real” purpose for combative movement that seems to replace the more basic application we were first taught.So what’s going on with that?Were we duped into believing something that was untrue, and if so, why?Was it because our sensei didn’t trust us with the real thing until we had proven ourselves trustworthy?Not at all.As beginners, we are given objectives we can understand.Only after we master this basic level of understanding can we successfully move up to a more sophisticated concept.Imagine trying to teach a four year old how to ride a bicycle without first giving him or her the benefit of riding a tricycle or using training wheels.The poor child wouldn’t even know how to pedal, let alone balance and steer.It would be too much to grasp in one step.So then, can the study of karate history follow these same rules?Not only can it, it does.To comprehend this, one must have a clear understanding of the difference between Western and Eastern cultures.Not a bad idea anyway when you think about it, right?Understanding the culture in which your art developed?In Japanese and Okinawan culture, as well as throughout most of Asia, there are two truths:honne and tatemae.Honne is the actual truth.Tatemae is the official or authorized truth.Tatemae is designed to preserve honor.It is often valued above honne.How can this be?Well, to understand this concept, you must first understand how Asian people think.We Americans value truth above all else.Most of us prefer to be told the truth even when it’s uncomfortable or even painful as opposed to being fed a lie.Asian cultures, on the other hand, value civility and honor above all else.To understand this, imagine asking an American or Western European directions to some place he or she did not know about.We would expect him or her to tell us that they didn’t know and to suggest we ask someone else, right?Well, many Asian people believe that being polite is more important than being correct.This is because for them, to not be of use to someone who asks them for help is to incur giri or obligation.And, not being able to fulfill their giri means losing face or honor which is unthinkable.An Okinawan, therefor, might proceed to give you directions even if they don’t know the way.A fellow Okinawan would pick up on subtle verbal and nonverbal clues, vocal intonations, etc. and would recognize it as face-saving tatemae.They would then go on to ask someone else for directions.These nuances would, of course, be completely lost on us Americans, who would ignorantly run off to find our destination only to get lost, and probably angry.So what does this have to do with karate history, you ask.There are both tatemae and honne versions of karate history.The tatemae was devised by many well-meaning sensei to give karate the most respectful of images.If you learn karate from Mrs. Fink and me, you will be taught the familiar myths and legends (tatemae) that inundate karate history.This is an important foundation from which you can participate in any informed discussion about our art’s origins and legacy.As black belts, however, you will be taught the truth that contrasts with many of these popular myths.Next month we will take a look at the top five tatemae myths and their honne counterparts.
By Sensei | February 10, 2012 at 06:39 PM EST | No Comments
Wow, last month was a doozy. I'll try to keep February down to two hundred words or less. So far no one has been bold enough to come right out and ask if it's my participation in karate for the past thirty years that has caused my hip problems. But I have sensed (or perhaps imagined) that it's been on the minds of many. It would be ironic, wouldn't it? Martial arts is supposed to keep you slim and trim and flexible and fast. In fact, there's no better fitness training (for a complete list of fitness modalities see January's article on fitness). On the other hand, I know many martial artists who have had joint replacements and many others who have permanent limps or disabilities presumably as a result of their training. As many of you know, I began experiencing problems with my left hip back in 2004, had arthroscopy performed on it last year, and just recently underwent a Birmingham Hip Resurfacing procedure. What's up with that? I thought martial arts was supposed to promote lifelong health and fitness? I have called into question my training methods. Do I stretch too much or incorrectly? Have I kicked the heavy bag too often? How about supplemental conditioning? Have I run too many miles in the Army? Maybe Crossfit did me in? As an instructor and leader, these are serious concerns for me. It would be unconscienable to train others to do things that would lead them to injury or early disability. Well rest assured that nothing I've done or taught to others has been inheritently unhealthy. As it turns out, my left hip accetabulum (socket), according to my surgeon, was extremely shallow. It was this malformity that led to the premature degradation of my cartilage. Only time will tell if my right hip suffers from similar structural shortcomings, but my left hip, once rehabilitated will be better than it was before. Good news indeed! Now, I can't speak for my colleagues who have been ravaged by similar maladies, but if I had to wager a guess, I'd say they too aggravated existing conditions that an otherwise healthy person would never have been afflicted with given the same type, frequency, and intensity of physical activity. So, fear not and train hard. I'll be seeing you on the mat soon.
By Sensei | January 28, 2012 at 05:13 PM EST | No Comments
January 28, 2012. I've spent some time as of late perusing the websites of karate and martial arts friends and brethren (and a few strangers), and I've noticed an emerging trend. That trend is to redefine arts and school curricula in terms of combat effectiveness in all situations. In order to do this, many have taken to combining skill sets from various disciplines. On one site, a senior instructor with a red belt (must be pretty high up there) explains on a video how his art combines karate strikes and kicks, judo throws, jujitsu joint locks, and jiu-jutsu ground techniques to attain a complete fighting art. This seems to be an increasingly popular method of training. Now, let me clearly state that there is absolutely nothing wrong with this approach. Nor is it new; I visited schools in the eighties that had similar syllabi. I do believe that the proliferation of MMA as a sport has awakened a desire for martial artists to "round out" their game, so to speak. Again, there's nothing wrong with that. For effective self-defense, one must possess skills at all ranges of engagement and in all types of situations. What's interesting about such proclamations is the assertion that arts such as jujitsu and its cousin aikijitsu don't contain strikes or that karate doesn't contain grappling techniques. In fact, when one researches the historical development of these combative (martial or civil) arts, one finds that they were originally complete systems with inclusive arsenols of percussive and leverage-based techniques. What separated them from one another wasn't the techniques they contained but rather the strategies they employed. Take jujitsu for example. Jujitsu was the hand-to-hand combative system used by samurai on the field of battle. Certain techniques such as atemi waza (striking technique) were of less value against an armor-wearing opponent than say nage waza (throwing technique) or shime waza (choking technique). Likewise, ne waza (ground technique) was not extnsively trained, for what more vulnerable situation is there for a warrior than a grappling match on the ground when there are spear weilding mounted cavalry about? In addition, professional warriors always carry backup weapons. Would you advise a juji-gatame (cross-body arm lock) against someone with a knife in their boot? This does not mean jujitsu did not contain strikes. On the contrary, jujitsu originally made judicious use of strikes to off-balance and set up one's opponent for throws and kansetsu waza (joint attacking technique). Similarly, ne waza was certainly practiced, but not for the purpose of submitting one's opponent as much as for getting back to one's feet or for drawing an edged weapon to finish the fight. On the other hand, the Okinawan art that evolved into karate was a civil self-protection art developed by aristocrats in a society where personal weapons of any kind were prohibited. This required a mindset and considerations entriely different from those of a soldier at war. The dominant strategy was to defend against all kinds of attacks, e.g. grabbing, striking, multiple-attacker, etc. and quickly rendering one's attacker incapable of furthering his assault. So why have these systems become identified solely by the techniques favored by their primary strategies? Why today do some schools of jujitsu and karate feel it necessary to mix and borrow to become more combat effective? I feel there are two reasons. The first is art-ification/sport-ification. As the Japanese martial arts became a popular worldwide obsession, their identities became more narrowly focused on non-survival objectives such as self-development and competition. Both of these pursuits favor specialization. For instance, judoka naturally spend most of their time working on nage waza (throwing technique) since that's the primary way to score points in a judo match. The other reason has to do with the strategy-based training methodologies of the systems. Japanese-style pedagogy is strictly structured so that students achieve high levels of proficiency in fundamentals before going on to learn more extraneous skills. Fundamentals are the skills that most directly enable the core strategy of the system. In jujitsu, it's the throws, chokes, and devastating joint destroying attacks that enabled the samurai to defeat enemy soldiers in combat. In karate, close-quarter blocks, traps, and strikes offer the best protection against a thug trying to steal your money. Too often, practitioners learn only the fundamental levels before going on to start schools and teach students of their own. They simply never become proficient with the supplemental techniques of their art. They, in essence, become specialists, not complete fighters. Make no mistake about it - real combat punishes specialists. A thorough examination of karate shows that it contains a plethora of choking, throwing, joint-locking, and ground fighting techniques secondary to and in support of the primary strategic emphasis on striking. Ironically, eclectic schools that purport incorporating skills from other arts do so at the expense of a unifying core strategy. They might very well come to identify a strategic preference for dealing with violent assaults and eventually allow the less important skills to deteriorate to a point of non-existence. It's at this point that they may identify their short comings and, once again, begin looking outside their art for help, thus starting the cycle over again. True classical or traditional arts taught by informed instructors contain everything you need for self-defense. What's the take away? Simple. When shopping for a school that offers effective, practical solutions to real violent encounters, try to identify if the instructors 1) recognize the need for all categories of offensive and defensive skills at every range of combat and 2) can describe their core strategy for self-protection (not simply a preference for kicking or grappling).
By Sensei | January 17, 2012 at 09:25 PM EST | No Comments
December got away from me, but I'm back on track now. Speaking of on track, hopefully everyone made a new year's resolution to improve the quality of their life in some manner. Maybe to get more fit, to read more books, or to spend more time relaxing, praying, meditating, or going to church. There is a possibility that whatever commitment you decided to make has already been broken due to any number of unforseen interruptions. Not to despair. I have a strategy that I use that you may find helpful. Instead of a new year's resolution, I make quarterly resolutions. This gives me the opportunity to measure my progress and reevaluate my goals. It never fails. I make a commitment to a new diet plan or workout routine. It goes well for a few weeks, then BAM, I get knocked off my feet by the flu or a bad cold. Or, I get snatched up for an unexpected training mission with the Army. Instead of abandoning my resolution, I simply use the beginning of the next quarter as a reset button. Often this allows me the chance to tweek what I was doing and make it even better. As martial artists, we owe it to ourselves to be in the best shape we can possibly be in. No matter whether your primary focus is self-improvement, self protection, or sport competition, karate requires us to be fit to fight. Many join karate hoping to get into better shape. Initially they notice improvements to their strength, stamina, flexibility, and body composition. Later, however, they hit a plateau and can't seem to make any gains. The truth is karate class two or three days a week is not sufficient to get us into the condition we need to be in. I highly encourage you to take up a supplemental conditioning program to help you meet your fitness needs as a martial artist. I would like to suggest some guidelines for practical and effective conditioning:
High Intensity. Your workouts should be fast paced and challenging. Lifting weights for fifteen minutes out of an hour spent in the gym is a waste of time. If you're not completely exhausted at the end of your session, you are not getting the maximum benefit from your time investment.
Variety. The best workout routine is no routine at all. In fact, routine is the enemy of true fitness. Being fit means having proficiency in all ten modalities of fitness: endurance, strength, stamina (no, it's not the same thing as endurance), balance, flexibility, agility, accuracy, speed, power (no, it's not the same thing as strength), and coordination. A good program will hit all of these while challenging you and keeping you from getting bored.
Functional. Keep all your movements functional. This means using muscle groups together in complex movements that complement the natural way your body accomplishes work. A general test you can use to determine if a movement is functional is if it causes at least two joints to work simultaneously, it's functional e.g. shoulder and elbow, or hip and knee. Isolation movements such as bicep curls develop muscles disproportionally to one another and retard coordinated and efficient movement; not exactly what you want in a fight. Or in any athletic endeavor for that matter. A little isolation work is okay, but for every isolation movement you do, you should do three functional ones.
Fun. The key to sticking with anything is having fun. If your perspective on working out is that it's boring, try something entirely new. If lifting weights is boring to you, try playing a sport instead. For many of us, karate (kata, sparring, bag and mit work, etc.) along with some running and body weight exercises is the perfect prescription. For others, lifting weights, circuit training, or a sport like racket ball does the trick.
Next, I would like to recommend three fitness options that we at the Kosho-kai have used and can attest to the effectiveness of:
Crossfit. Crossfit is the ultimate in physical fitness. It delivers high intensity workouts that cross all ten fitness domains. The workouts combine elements of gymnastics, running, and Olympic style weight lifting. The WOD's (Workout of the Day) are described in detail along with video demonstrations on their website www.crossfit.com. Most WOD's tend to be relatively short (eight to twenty minutes) but will take everything you've got to finish. All workouts are scalable to any level of ability and scaled versions are readily available on the Brand X link on the site. One drawback to Crossfit is the relatively large time investment required to master some of the movements and lifts which can be quite technical.
P90X. This is the brainchild of personal trainer Tony Horton and the marketing genius of the Beachbody Corporation. It combines elemets from weight lifting, body weight training, yoga, kempo, and plyometrics into one diverse and challenging program. It uses the concept of muscle confusion which basically prevents your muscles from adapting to the exercises by constantly varying the type and intensity of the movements. Unlike Crossfit, P90X demands little technical know how; you simply put in the DVD and follow along. P90X definitely delivers results, however, one drawback is the length of the workouts. They take between 60 and 90 minutes every day, five to six days per week. Mrs. Fink leads sessions nearly every day. Class size is limited, but the DVD's, workout room, and TV are available for any student's use any time the dojo is open.
Total Gym. If you've ever watched Mr. Norris and Miss Brinkley extoling the virtues of the Total Gym on their infomercial and wondered if it was as effective as they portray it to be, wonder no longer. I bought one at Sears five years ago for $290, and I can say it's been the best piece of fitness equipment I've ever owned. It uses a glide board that adjusts to seven different angles, allowing you to use from 10 to 70 percent of your body weight. Mine also came with a weight bar attachment which allows me to add up to eighty pounds of additional weight. The machine allows you to replicate any movement you can do with free weights or practically any other piece of equipment. There are several beginner, intermediate, and advanced workouts that are targeted to three fitness goals: weight loss, strength, and endurance. The Total Gym is in the fitness room of the dojo and is available to students any time Mr. Fink isn't using it.
Hopefully, these tips and suggestions informed and motivated you to step up your conditioning program. For more information about any of these programs, see Mr. or Mrs Fink. We'd be happy to help you establish and meet your own personal fitness goals.
By Sensei | November 10, 2011 at 05:34 PM EST | No Comments
This month's thought to ponder is focused on intermediate level students, those from orange to green belt, but can be just as valuable to beginners or instructors who teach beginners and intermediate grade students. In the first two Tomari kata taught in our dojo, Wansu and Anaku, there are several instances where we are taught to step forward while executing an uke-waza (blocking technique). Specifically, Wansu has seven occurences and Anaku has six. Likewise, the Pinan kata all prominantly feature blocking techniques simultaneously executed with forward steps. The first Goju-ryu kata, although less frequently (Geki-sai dai ichi contains two and Geki-sai dai ni contains three), also show forward moving blocks. What could be the explanation for this? When someone launches a punch at you or commits some similar aggressive action, our natural response is to flinch away and raise our hands defensively. Whereas this protects us from the blow, it does nothing to gain us any tactical advantage or protect us from the onslaught that is sure to follow. A far better, albeit less natural, response is to violently attack our aggressor's oncoming limb. And, the closer to the point of connection to the torso, the better. I recall the words of my Wing-chun Sifu, George Vance, "When you see movement, strike straight at it." The problem with our thinking in this matter lies in our interpretation of "uke-waza" as "blocking technique", whereas in fact it is more correctly translated as "technique to receive", i.e. think of all blocks in our kata as strikes instead. Our aim is to: 1. cut off the technique before it can achieve maximum power, 2. move inside the optimum range of the strike, 3. strike with enough force as to disrupt the attacker's balance, and 4. create an opening by which we can execute a counter attack. Through our kata we aim not to replace our God-given reflexes, but rather to enhance them by wiring a more efficient flinch-response into our muscle memory, one that puts us immediately on the road to a decisive victory. How do we do this? Why through repetition, of course. So, with that in mind, let's run it five more times!
By Sensei | October 06, 2011 at 03:53 PM EDT | No Comments
In many dojo, kata is practiced exhaustively, and bunkai is developed to "fit" the movements of the kata. Too frequently, the applications formulated are of the punch/block variety. It occurred to me long ago that many of the movements shown in kata are clearly not intended to be percussive techniques, but rather close-quarter fighting tactics such as trapping, locking, throwing, choking, etc. As many of you know, I spend considerable time cross training with functional martial artists, i.e. judo-ka, jujitsu-ka, as well as with law enforcement and military defensive tactics and combatives instructors. Most of these people wouldn't know a kata if it bit them on the hiney, but their understanding of combative movement and application is phenominal. The insight I've garnered from training with these folks has prompted me to re-examine my kata and "find" effective self-defense applications that, ironically, they seem to know better than we karate-ka. Since there is no one alive who can legitimately claim to be in possession of knowledge of the original intent of the founding masters, and since there are very few written records of karate history to defer to, modern sensei must act a bit like archaeologists or detectives piecing together the clearest possible explanation for kata and their meaning that we can. There is one school of thought that even suggests that the oldest surviving kata were developed as spiritual/meditative exercises and did not originally have combative application whatsoever. One particularly worthwhile essay on this matter is Nathan Johnson's book Barefoot Zen. Mr. Johnson asserts that nahanchi, sanchin, and tensho kata, which he collectively calls "key forms", were originally practiced by monks both as solo exercises and as partner flow drills. The exchanges were not for fighting or self-protection. Rather, they were meant to impart the ability to blend with and harmonize with energy instead of resisting it. In this way, it was believed, one could learn to transcend the forces of this world and reach an enlightened state. What do you think? Were kata originally developed for non-martial purposes? Did the old masters devise effective self-defense strategies and record them in the kata, or did they invent kata as general combative exercises and leave interpretation up to the individual practitioner? Please share your thoughts.
By Sensei | September 13, 2011 at 10:21 PM EDT | No Comments
Well, after some considerable technical difficulties, we are finally up. In the meantime, I managed to accidentally erase all prior posts. One that I recall was from a Mr. Shrewsberry, I believe his first name was Kevin (I apologize in advance if I got it wrong) who wanted to know more about the Mel Wise Award. He mentioned that he trained with Dr. Wise as a child living in Kansas in the 1970's.
Well, Mr. Shrewsberry, Dr. Wise, as you may well know, died from cancer in 1977. He fought and ultimately lost a valiant battle with cancer. He was such a well-regarded figure in the karate community that he instantly became an icon of American bushido. Those who knew him around the time of his death say that he kept his head up and his spirits high even while staring into the face of his own mortality. In 1979, my sensei, Mr. Ron Rollins, created the Mel Wise Memorial Bushido Award to preserve the memory of Dr. Wise and to honor karate-ka who embody the bushido ethic in their daily living. To date, there have been twenty-four recipients of this prestigious award. Only they may nominate and vote for candidates for the award. The award itself is hand-crafted from oak, and no two are exactly alike. It prominently features a full color image of Dr. Wise in a classic back layout kamei. Recipients of the award also recieve a patch to wear on their gi and a copy of the original proclamation written and signed by Illinois Governor James Thompson. Ironically, Mr. Rollins also died from cancer in 2009 and left the administration of the Mel Wise Award to me. I was, and still am, humbled by this gesture and sincerely hope to maintain the high standards Sensei set for this unique award.