Karate-do: Body Mechanics

The body moves powerfully in a finite number of ways

Muscles can only contract or relax back to their non-contracted state. For example, the biceps and triceps work in conjunction to bend and straighten your elbow. That is all they do.

Though human bodies come in all sizes, we are all built the same. We all have two elbows and the corresponding team of controlling muscles. While some may have stronger muscles than others, these two muscles still simply bend and straighten the elbow.

karate-do

Understanding body mechanics means understanding how the human body was naturally designed to move and moving in a way that keeps it stable and balanced, utilizing its natural strengths to generate power, while at the same time protecting its inherent vulnerabilities.

Karate techniques seek to utilize these natural strengths while taking advantage of those inherent weaknesses in our attacker.

Principles of body mechanics include

  • Center of Gravity
  • Line of Gravity
  • Strong Foundation
  • Body Alignment
  • Balance
  • Coordinated Movement

The proper adherence to each of these principles should be part of every karate technique you execute. And this is not specific to karate. Every “legitimate” martial art in the world adheres to these principles. That is why most traditional martial arts share the same powerful movements. They may just apply them differently. Often, to the casual observer, this makes them look like different techniques.

Body mechanics in karate technique

The proper execution of a karate technique should result in two things.

  • The attacker should find himself off-balance, in a weakened position, and unable to defend against the strike should its delivery become necessary.
  • The defender should be in a strong and balanced position, safe, and with several options available for proceeding to the next level if it becomes necessary.

This is much like a defensive shooting scenario!

It’s just a bit off the subject, but it illustrates the point.

We have all heard the phrase “never take your gun out of your holster unless you are going to shoot someone.” Sounds cool, I know. But it’s essentially macho-cowboy bullshit.

Any trained shooter will tell you that there are two separate decisions involved in the use of a gun for self-defense. The first is to pull your gun from its holster. The second is to actually pull the trigger.

If you pull your gun on an attacker, and the attacker ends the attack and leaves, you have protected yourself without ever pulling the trigger. If the attacker ends the attack and you shoot them anyway, you probably are going to be tried for murder.

If however, you pull your gun on an attacker and the attacker continues the assault, you might now make the second decision to pull the trigger.

Back to body mechanics

Oh crap!

Look at this picture. What do you see? That is me about to be in some serious hurt. And yes, I was the attacker for the purpose of demonstration, and threw a punch.

I am off-balance and leaning back, my entire abdominal area is extremely vulnerable, and I have no viable weapons with which to defend myself.

Sensei John Kerker is essentially in what a karate practitioner might can a mid-level block position … balanced, stable, safe, and with several options to proceed should I try to continue the fight. For example:

  • Draw his left fist back striking my liver or floating rib.
  • Punch across with his right into my liver.
  • Take my rear supporting leg and drop me to the floor.
  • Punch down with his right into my quadriceps.

Or any combination of the above, and these are just the more obvious options. There are many, many more.

Some rules for beginning to understand body mechanics …

  1. All movements in karate should be natural, meaning they should not ask your muscles to do things they were not designed to do.
  2. Maintain good posture … even in karate.
  3. Economy of motion. The tendency is to make movements too big.
  4. Keep your center of gravity between your feet. Do not overextend.
  5. Never cross your own center.
  6. Never take your elbows above your shoulders.
  7. Never completely lock a joint.
  8. Most karate techniques mimic movements you make naturally every day. If something feels off, it probably is.
karate-do

Next post! Karate Basics

Karate-do: Classical vs. Sport

There are real differences between what I call “classical karate” and sport karate. Before you sign up, just be sure you understand what you are signing up for.

karate-do
Tatsuo Shimabuku / Makiwara

The intent here is not to disparage either version. I am only saying they are different, and you want to be sure the instructor will be teaching you what you are paying to learn.

Understand too, that I am focusing on karate. It is what I know. There are other martial arts such as Aikido, Jujitsu, and Kung Fu, each which may have a different focus in doctrine and technique. And, I have dabbled in Aikido, Tai Chi, Arnis, and Escrima over the years … really just enough to get me in trouble. But, also enough to understand that all these systems or styles often offer the prospective student the same choice … the classical approach or the sport approach.

Some would argue there is a third approach, one of seeking self -improvement. To me, that is simply an integral part of the classical approach, and unfortunately, these days is too often missing on the sport side of things.

In addition, the martial arts industry is very much a “buyer beware” industry.

Why the term “classical karate?”

I use the term “classical karate” in an effort to distinguish it separately because, from what I have seen, the term “traditional karate” has been kidnapped by suspect karate schools who have finally figured out adults aren’t buying what they are selling.

Often times, these are daycare centers masquerading is karate schools because they have learned that it pays much better. Schools like this typically have huge kids classes, but a noticeable lack of adult students.

This is because most adults are not stupid, and after a week or two, can figure out what they are being taught is nonsense. However, the unsuspecting parent who just wants a healthy activity for their children and doesn’t actually participate may never uncover the truth, and some may not even care.

Some of these instructors, in an effort to lure adults back, have gone back to white gis and greatly exaggerated displays of “traditional” behavior.

Just understand that seeing the students all running around in white gis and screaming “Ossss” all the time, does not mean it is a good karate dojo.

But, I digress …

Back to Classical vs Sport Karate

Classical karate is the original karate with a history that is over two thousand years old. It is a uniquely Okinawan art that was influenced by Chinese martial arts. Since Okinawa traded with China, Chinese officials would often teach their art to members of the Okinawan ruling and business classes.

The myth that karate was some kind of a peasant’s fight art is just that, a myth. Karate was taught to the eldest sons of upper class Okinawan families who often served as the palace guard to Okinawan kings. There were rare exceptions.

karate-do
Sensei Harrill demonstrates a technique

For example, Motobu Choki was the third son of Lord Motobu Chōshin, and as such, was not entitled to learn the family style of Te (an earlier name for karate). However, Motobu Choki was fascinated by the art and from an early age, began training on his own. He eventually was able to train with such karate legends as Matsumura Sōkon, Ankō Itosu, Sakuma Pechin and Kōsaku Matsumora. Motobu Choki was a strong advocate of proper makiwara training in karate. He was also one of the three notable karate masters Tatsuo Shimabuku, the founder of Isshin-ryu karate, studied under.

In those days, karate was a fighting art, a system of personal combat that was very much founded in scientific principles such as the laws of physics, a keen understanding of body mechanics, and the strengths and weaknesses of the human body.

Old-style Sport Karate

Sport karate primarily evolved as U.S. Marines were stationed on Okinawa and began seeking instruction from local Okinawan instructors. Due to the competitive nature of U.S. marines, they wanted a way to try out what they were learning on each other. To facilitate this, instructors like Tatsuo Shimabuku put their Marine students into what was essentially kendo armor, and let them go about bashing each other.

Voilà … you now have sport karate!

It is important to consider that the average tour for a Marine on Okinawa was a year to eighteen months. That is barely enough time to achieve a thorough understanding of the basics of karate, much less explore real application of kata techniques or advanced principles. Everything was rushed and there was little depth to the training because of time constraints and the fact that Marines spoke little Okinawan and the Okinawans spoke little English.

Modern Sport Karate

While the Marines certainly learned the kata of the system they studied, there was simply not enough time to explore what was in them. And, they probably preferred sparring with each other much more anyway.

Many of these Marines later returned to the U.S., opened karate schools, and taught what they knew and loved. Basic punching and kicking skills, with an emphasis on bashing each other in the ring.

That’s gonna hurt!

But to say that this is the sum total of karate is simply untrue. Fortunately for us, some Marines, such as AJ Advincula, went back for more, and others like Sherman Harrill followed the Kenpo Gokui (topic of a future post) and just kept working.

However for now, as a means to illustrate some of the basic differences between Classical and Sport Karate, I will list a few of the more obvious ones here.

Classical Karate

  • Emphasis on mastery of basics and exploring the application of techniques from kata.
  • All kicks are executed at or below belt level.
  • Strikes executed with many weapons including fists, forearms, elbows, specific knuckles. knees, heels, toes … etc.
  • Goal is to not lose the fight.
  • Because of the “no rules” nature of combat and the risk of injury during training, as well as the need for continued training partners, courtesy, control, humility, and respect for life become an integral part of training.
  • Most of the techniques practiced would get you disqualified in the ring.

Sport Karate

  • Emphasis on conditioning and developing good sport appropriate techniques.
  • All kicks must be above the belt. (Certain traditional tournaments allow limited groin kicks.)
  • Strikes executed with padded fists and feet.
  • Goal is to accumulate points to win the match.
  • Training is much like training for any sport such as boxing with a focus on developing techniques allowed under the rules of the game.
  • While these techniques can be effective in the street, you can’t train one way and fight another.

One of the fundamental building blocks of classical karate is an understanding of body mechanics. This understanding should begin to grow on your first day at the dojo. Therefore, it will be the topic covered in the next post.

Isshin-ryu Karate

For other posts on this topic, click here!

The Man from Nowhere

A young girl, a lost soul, redemption, and an epic knife fight! Who could ask for more?

In this 2010 Korean film, a quiet pawnshop clerk with a secret and violent past takes on a drug-and-organ trafficking ring in hope of saving the child who is his only friend.

man from nowhere

Written and directed by Jeong-beom Lee, this film stars Won Bin as Cha Tae-shik, an ex-special agent, and Sae-ron Kim as Jeong So-mi, the unwanted daughter of a murdered erotic dancer.

The plot …

Cha Tae-shik’s only connection to the world is a little girl named Jeong So-mi, who lives next door. Her mother, Hyo-Jeong steals drugs from a drug trafficking gang and hides the drugs in Tae-shik’s pawnshop without his knowledge.

The drug smugglers discover her theft and kidnap both Hyo-jeong and So-mi. Tae-shik is suddenly yanked back into the world he has been hiding from in a frantic search to find So-mi. In order to save the girl, he makes a deal with the drug-and-organ trafficking gang, but is set up to take the fall for Hyo-jeong’s murder.

So-mi is still nowhere to be found and the clock is running out for the little girl. And to make matters worse, the police are now after Tae-shik. With both the police and the gang after him, Tae-shik’s hidden past is slowly revealed, and it is beginning to look like he may be too late to save So-mi.

My thoughts …

I love this movie and have watched it several times. It is filmed in Korean, and I watch it with subtitles. I tried watching it dubbed in English once, and well, I just hate it when the moving lips don’t match the words. But, that’s just me.

There are a few places in which this movie is a bit tricky to follow, which is why I originally watched it a second time. I guess now, I have seen it four or five times over the years.

The martial arts action scenes are extremely well done, and near its end, this film boasts one of the best cinematic knife fights to ever hit the silver screen!

man from nowhere

The film is a bit graphic and for those who don’t like realistic violence, it may be a bit hard to watch. However, it is not overdone … just real. It will also take you through an entire gambit of human emotions. And for me, at its core, I think this is a terrific film about human redemption, although perhaps in a more secular form.

I used to stream this on Netflix, but it is no longer available from them, so I ordered a DVD from Amazon.com. I wanted to check out the epic knife fight scene again as research for a knife fight scene I am writing in my upcoming sequel to Serpents Underfoot, the sequel is titled Montagnard.

I understand The Man from Nowhere is now available to stream from Prime Video where it is Amazon’s Choice for Korean films. If you like realistic action, drama, martial arts, and foreign films, this is a movie for you!

Hey Baby: Tunes for Tuesday!

I am the Great White Buffalo and I play an American-made Gibson guitar that can blow your head clean off at 100 paces.

Ted Nugent

Yes, I am a Classic Rocker!

I have been a fan of classic Rock and Roll since I listened to my first Deep Purple album, Machine Head, at a friend’s house. I was probably in seventh grade. Smoke on the Water just blew me away!

I remember about this same time … I was maybe 12 or 13 … I assume my aunt and my grandparents had asked my parents what to get me for Christmas. And, I also assume they were told, “He likes rock and roll music. An LP record might make a really great gift.”

That year I received an Archies album and a Partridge Family album, which of course I had to play. When my grandmother asked what I liked to listen to, I played one of my albums for them. They were a bit taken back by Steppenwolf!

Cowbells? Okay! But I like a great guitar riff!

Of course, I also played (or played at) the guitar. I took lesson for a few years, but it was all “Moon River” and “Java” kinds of stuff. I wanted to ROCK! A few of us in the neighborhood formed a band and eventually learned to play bad versions of Taking of Business by Bachman-Turner Overdrive, Smoke on the Water by Deep Purple, Get Back by The Beatles, Baby Don’t Fear the Reaper by Blue Oyster Cult, and Riding the Storm Out by REO Speedwagon. Yes, we sucked … but it was a lot of fun.

I was inspired by several great guitarists over the years. These included Jimmy Page, Ritchie Blackmore, Joe Perry, Alex Lifeson, Slash, Eddie Van Halen, and Chuck Berry.

Another inspiration, and perhaps one of my favorites, was the Motor City Madman himself, Ted Nugent! I can still almost belt out a decent Cat Scratch Fever or Stranglehold. I even remember a little Hey Baby.

Hey Baby

As wild and crazy as Ted Nugent may be, I always admired his pro-Freedom, pro-Second Amendment, and anti-drug and alcohol messages. Of course, many would just argue he is already wild enough and just doesn’t need drugs or alcohol to be uninhibited. Uncle Nuge would argue the opposite is true. Drugs and alcohol will keep you from reaching your true potential.

You tell’em Ted!

Stranglehold Live 2017

And for all you Red Blooded Americans out there, here’s a little bit of

Just What the Doctor Ordered!

So, there you go! A patriotic, 100% red-blooded American guitarist who enjoys his life, his liberty, and his wild pursuit of happiness! He is definitely living the dream. We should all be so lucky!

As Ted Nugent would say …

I’m healthy, have a loving and adorable family, great hunting dogs, a gravity defying musical career and most importantly, fuzzy-headed idiots hate me.

Ted Nugent

How could it get any better than that?

Karate-do: Choose wisely!

There are essentially two mindsets when it comes to karate.

  1. Karate is a sport.
  2. Karate is a system of personal combat or self-defense.

And, we all know that Americans do love their sports.

While both versions of karate certainly do exist, the two conflicting viewpoints are not really compatible. One is a relatively modern interpretation of karate with its beginnings in the 1920s, and the other, what I call classical karate, can trace its roots, at least according to some sources, back to about 450 AD. They are very different in what they teach, what they focus on, and how they train.

There are rules in the sport karate ring. Even the more brutal modern extreme martial arts sports such as found within the UFC or MMA have rules. Do not misunderstand me. They are tough competitors and I take nothing from them. However, in the street, as on the battlefield, when it come to life and death, there are no rules. And the simple truth is that, you cannot train one way and fight another.

karate-do

These opposing views can create a real problem in understanding for those who are interested in karate-do, and much depends on why they are interested. Some want to be the next tournament or MMA grand champion. That is fine. However, there are also those who want to study the art of karate as practiced for generations on Okinawa. The art that was used by palace guards to defend the Okinawan Kings. The art of such karate notables as Seikichi Uehara, Sakukawa Kanga, Matsumura Sōkon, Itosu Ankō, Motobu Chōki, Chōjun Miyagi, or Tatsuo Shimabuku.

I have over 35 years of training in Isshin-ryu Karate. This in not counting a short time studying Uechi-ryu in high school and Tae Kwon do while stationed in South Korea during my enlistment in the U.S. Army.

The first 15 years of my training was with a dojo that subscribed more to the sport version of karate. We certainly practiced our kata to earn rank and even held self-defense and “bunkai” classes. But several critical elements were missing and that made any real understanding all but impossible. That being said, that dojo turned out some excellent tournament competitors, so if that was what you were looking for, it was a great choice for a karate dojo. However, my interests were really elsewhere.

In the mid-90s, I was reintroduced to Sensei Sherman Harrill and began to train with a group of karate practitioners who take the second view of karate. Eventually I became accepted as a student of Sensei Harrill’s and that has been the honor of a lifetime (anyone who has had a chance to train with him will understand what I mean by that). It was also an enlightening and often times, mind-blowing change. It totally changed how I train. what I train, my understanding of basics and kata, and my effectiveness in executing solid, well-focused karate technique.

A Series of posts on what I call “Classical Karate.”

Over the next few months, I will be posting a series of articles in which I will endeavor to identify the differences in sport karate and classical karate, and what that means to the practitioner. These posts will include true stories to help illustrate the points I am trying to make, as well as tips on what to look for in an instructor, training methods, kata and technique. My goal is to help anyone interested in exploring the art of Okinawan Karate make the best decision in their choice of a karate school based on what they want to achieve through their training.

I think this will be fun as well as interesting to anyone who has an interest in Okinawan Karate.

Isshin-ryu Karate

Smooth Sailing, Stephen Stormer

It is hard losing a friend. Unfortunately, it seems to happen more frequently as we get older. I met Steve Stormer through mutual friends and would see him at gatherings, holiday dinners, and on the occasional night out with the guys. A mutual good friend told me Steve was ill. Pancreatic cancer, I believe. Then, a few weeks later, he is gone.

We did have some interesting conversations over the five or six years I knew Steve. Stormer was a Vietnam-era U.S. Navy veteran and since I was an Army veteran (a bit later), we’d swap yarns about our time in the service. We also shared a common interest in the occasional good Tequila.

I only regret not having the time to get to know Stormer better. But, I will remember him as a good man, a friend, a fellow veteran, and a man with a great sense of humor.

I wish you smooth seas and a steady breeze, Stormer. Go with God.

You will be missed.

A Salute to an American Hero!

December 17, 2019 was a sad day. As a long-time dog lover, stories like these always touch my heart. I have had dogs my whole life. Beagles, Dobermans, Labs, Plott Hounds, mutts, and currently … an amazing German Shepherd named Sophie. You could not ask for a truer, more loyal friend than a dog.

And while stories like this do sadden me, I realize that these amazingly loyal and courageous dogs unhesitatingly put themselves between their human partners and danger. That is a true bond of unconditional love, and I suppose in some ways, may be similar to the bonds of brotherhood forged by soldiers in combat.

So, Rest in Peace Agent Bulder. Your loyal service and willing sacrifice will be remembered. Thank you for your service. You are a hero in the true sense of the word.

Below is the story as reported by American Military News:

Border Patrol K-9 killed Tuesday in shootout identified as Agent Bulder

Agent Bulder
Agent Bulder, a CBP K9 officer killed in the line of duty on Dec 17, 2019.
(US Border Patrol Special Operations Group/Released)
DECEMBER 21, 2019 | AARON MARTINEZ – EL PASO TIMES

Agent Bulder, a U.S. Border Patrol K-9, was the dog killed Tuesday during a shootout when a suspect fired multiple shots at law enforcement.

According to FBI El Paso Division officials, Agent Bulder was killed in the line of duty as he was helping law enforcement execute search and arrest warrants at a Northeast El Paso home.

U.S. Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives agents, along with FBI, U.S. Border Patrol Tactical Unit agents and El Paso Police Department officers, executed the warrants about 6 a.m. Tuesday at a home in the 4500 block of Capricorn Drive in Northeast El Paso, police officials said.

The suspect, who has only been identified as a 62-year-old man, confronted agents in the backyard of the home and allegedly fired several shots at agents.

Agent Bulder was struck by a bullet and died at the scene.

Law enforcement then returned fired and killed the suspect.

Officials said that the warrant was related to illegal federal firearm charges.

No further information has been released.