Marine tradition holds that the Marine Corps was formed in a bar. The story dates back to November 1775, when two newly commissioned Captains, Samuel Nicholas and Robert Mullan, reportedly organized the first Marine Corps muster at the Tun Tavern, a popular bar in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. According to the tale, the two officers enticed potential recruits with mugs of beer and the promise of adventure on the high seas.
These recruits made up the first five Marine Corps companies that served aboard Continental Navy warships. Some historians maintain that a pub called the Conestoga Wagon was the more likely recruitment site; however, that is also a bar, and so, this tale remains a part of Marine lore to this day.
The National Museum of the Marine Corps in Virginia even features a restaurant appropriately named “Tun Tavern.”
Somehow, given the reputation of the US Marines as “life takers and heartbreakers,” this seems oddly entirely appropriate. I mean, how many other US military services can brag they were formed in a bar?
All joking aside, if you see a Marine today, wish them a Happy Birthday, and maybe buy them a beer!
I hadn’t gotten too far along on my Isshin-ryu Karate journey when I heard rumors of something called Master Tatsuo Shimabuku’s “Secret Scrolls of Kumite.” I envisioned Master Shimabuku walking over to a dusty intricately carved old chest in the corner of the dojo and opening it. After the dust had settled, he’d reach in and take out a dusty old cloth wrap containing a traditional scroll. With much reverence, he’d remove the cover, unwrap the scroll and share some of its ancient and mysterious knowledge with a chosen few.
Imagine my disappointment when someone told me they were just listed on the dojo wall in plain sight. The reason they were so secret is that they were very cryptic. Most Marines were not stationed on Okinawa long enough to get to a point where they would learn these techniques. A typical tour for a Marine on Okinawa might be 14 to 18 months. That is barely enough time to get a thorough grounding in a system’s basic techniques, never mind lessons from the “Secret Scrolls.”
From discussions I’ve had with my Sensei, Sherman Harrill, and others, It has become clear that these techniques were mostly taught to his Okinawan students. This was simply because they lived there and therefore trained long enough to have a base of knowledge sufficient to make practical use of them.
But we got lucky …
First, Sensei Sherman Harrill was lucky enough to be in Tatsuo Shimabuku’s dojo when he was teaching his Kumite techniques to a group of his Okinawan students. Sensei was drafted to be “uki,” meaning Shimabuku’s students practiced these techniques on him. I guess Master Shimabuku figured if they could make them work on a big, strong U.S. Marine, they understood them properly.
Second. Sensei Arcenio Advincula made repeated trips back to Okinawa. This was for several reasons. He remained in contact with Master Shimabuku’s wife and his second son, Shinso. He also visits his in-laws, having married Michi Nakamashi in 1961. And he continued to train and research Okinawan Karate and Kobudo. Because of his additional time on the island of Okinawa, Sensei Advincula did learn Tatsuo Shimabuku’s Kumite.
Sensei Harrill would often incorporate these Kumite techniques into his classes in the dojo, depending on what he was teaching at the time, and did not “separate” them out for special classes. At one point, he did compare notes with Sensei Advincula to ensure what he remembered from being on the receiving end of these techniques jived with what Sensei Advincula was taught. Once satisfied, they were both on the same page, he began teaching them more openly as Tatsuo Shimabuku’s Kumite.
One of the early seminars Sensei John Kerker did for us in Clinton, Tennessee, covered Tatsuo Shimabuku’s Kumite. John was Sensei Harrill’s Sempai and inherited the Carson Dojo when Sensei Harrill passed away in 2002. This seminar, held in March of 2005, was a real eye-opener for many Isshin-ryu folks who attended because they had not seen these “secret techniques” before.
So, what are these Kumite all about?
Essentially, they are keys to understanding Tatsuo Shimabuku’s karate. From my experience, they are multi-faceted in that they are solid techniques on their own. They also give examples of how Tatsuo Shimabuku viewed the techniques in the kata he taught, and perhaps why he modified them as he did when incorporating them into his system.
There are fifteen Kumite Techniques. The last five are knife defense techniques. I will list these below. When you look at the list, I think you will understand why they were “secret.” If someone did not actually show you what each technique was, you would be hard-pressed to figure it out on your own.
Also, several have multiple variations, so the fifteen expand to about forty-five if you look at the “official” variations. Personal variations are really only limited by your level of knowledge, your imagination, and, of course, the rules of body mechanics.
Tatsuo Shimabuku’s Kumite
The lefthand hold the right wrist
Outside block, punch inside
Punch back of the hand
Knuckle block for kick, counter kick
Hold arm, use against a punch
One handhold gi, grab, twist, kick
Full nelson, karate cut groin
Bear hug waist, hands-free, grab one finger, break, or hit back of the hand
Devil’s handshake, grab your fist, pull, kick.
Two-hand straight choke, break, grab adam’s apple
Straight stab, grab hand and writs, twist kick, trip kick.
Ice pick stab, block across, kick.
Straight stab, both hands up, karate cut block, kick.
Straight stab leaning forward, grab the hand with both of yours, pull. trap at elbow
Two knife straight stab, squat kick
Well, there you have them, or at least the primary fifteen. The Secret Scrolls of Kumite is not so secret anymore. I do think, however, you can see why a new Marine standing in Master Tatsuo Shimbuku’s dojo might look at this list and say to themselves, “what the heck is this?”
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One friend recently asked, “Are your books just stories?” She went on to comment that I think you put your finger on a difference when recently you mentioned that redemption would be an ongoing theme in your new book.
She went on to say that my stories are brutal and that she squirmed through both of them … and that she usually quits reading a book when she’s “not having fun” with it. But she found in this last one, in the midst of all of Montagnard’s mayhem, a redemptive thread that wound through the story. This friend did like the way I handled that thread.
My short answer is … no, they are not just stories.
But the complete answer is not that simple. I will attempt to explain by way of an example.
I enlisted in the U.S. Army in July of 1979. The Vietnam War ended in April of 1975. So I missed it by several years, and I count that as a good thing. But I was old enough to later have several really close friends who were Vietnam veterans. And several of my Drill Instructors in Basic and AIT were Vietnam vets. I also served with a good number of Vietnam veterans during my four years of service. And frankly, I was aghast at how these veterans were treated when they came home from doing what their country sent them to do. These veterans were not “for” or “against” the war in Vietnam. A distinction like that only works for civilians and politicians. These soldiers, airmen, marines, and sailors were just doing their job. I quickly became fascinated with the Vietnam War.
A war the soldiers won, and the politicians lost!
As I mention in the prologue to Montagnard, the truth is that the U.S. military defeated the North Vietnamese Army. The Tet Offensive was their last gasp. Later interviews with high ranking NVA officers revealed that they were stunned when the United States pulled out. The U.S. had won the war, but somehow the country didn’t know it. The American media had been feeding the American people a very different story, and far too many bought into it. Public support had dwindled. The American military won the war, but the media and politicians gave the victory away.
Sounds eerily familiar to me …
The Fake News is nothing new
Now there’s a controversial statement for you. But it is a fact. The Vietnam War is the first war where “journalists” were embedded with the troops. Some of them did a great job and honestly reported the facts. But, there were some with an agenda.
We all remember the village of My Lai and Lt. William Calley. The My Lai Massacre was pounded into our heads by the media. And I am certainly not defending that action. However, U.S. soldiers were not prepared for the kind of war we fought in Vietnam, and neither were the American people. This was a war where the smiling young lady selling you an RC and a Moon Pie that day would be trying to slit your throat while you slept that night.
The fact is that mini “My Lai massacres” occurred nearly every day in Vietnam, and atrocities were, sadly, committed by both sides. However, the vast majority of U.S. military personnel served honorably and professionally in a war that they were totally unprepared for and was unlike any war we had ever fought before.
The North Vietnamese Army and their allies, the Viet Cong, subjected the South Vietnamese and Montagnard peoples, and any U.S. service member they got their hands on, to savage brutality that makes the My Lai Massacre pale in comparison. But you would never know that from listening to the news media. I mean, after all, we had Jane Fonda over there being photographed with an NVA anti-aircraft battery and giving a secret message pressed into her hand by an American POW at the Hanoi Hilton to the prison’s commandant!
So what does that have to do with my books?
As I mentioned before, I had several good friends who were Vietnam veterans. I don’t know if it was my personality, my role as a martial arts instructor, or what, but people have always opened up to me. I guess I am just a good listener. Over the years, I learned about some of the things my friends experienced in Vietnam and how they felt about it afterward. And I saw, first hand, how much the betrayal by their own country when they returned home, hurt them.
So, when I read or hear a comment about Serpents Underfoot, by a Vietnam veteran saying something like, “It was so nice to read something that actually portrayed the brutally of the Viet Cong for a change, instead of simply hating on U.S. soldiers,” I feel really good about that.
I don’t feel like I embellish the violence or that it is gratuitous. But, on the other hand, I do not shy away from presenting violence in its “naked” state. I guess you could say I am not very politically correct. If so, I wear that proudly.
Real stories from real people …
One Vietnam veteran in particular, became a really close friend and fellow martial artist. He died a few years ago, succumbing to health issues stemming from several tours in Vietnam. I still stay in contact with his daughter and her family.
Scenes in both Serpents Underfoot and Montagnard are based on stories he told me of his time in Vietnam, where he served as a medic on Long Range Reconnaissance Patrols (LRRP) along the borders with Laos and Cambodia. Another of his stories will be a basis for part of the next installment in the JD Cordell Action Series I am calling Reciprocity.
While I am sure the stories have truth at their core, I do allow for a little literary license on his part to make the stories more entertaining for the telling.
But this is just a piece of my story’s puzzles …
I will share more in a couple of upcoming posts. In the meantime, if you love reading a great action-adventure story, check out Serpents Underfoot, or its award-winning sequel, Montagnard.
In celebration of Labor Day, the Kindle version of Montagnard will be on sale for only .99, so if you are interested in reading it, it would be a great time to buy it! And, should you enjoy the book, please take a moment to leave an honest review on Amazon.
The 2017 Best Sapper Competition just finished up a few days ago. The Best Sapper Competition was started in 2005 as a means for military members in the Combat Engineer skill areas to show off their training and skills. This three-day competition is open to Soldiers and Marines, E-4 and above. At least one competitor on each team must have earned the Sapper tab.
Organized into 50 two-person teams, the competitors compete in a 50 hour, fifty mile course, completing grueling physical requirements and many technical skill events. The competition is designed to not only determine the next “Best Sapper” team, but to also challenge and test the competitors’ knowledge, skills, physical prowess and mental fortitude. By the final day, the competition has been whittled down to the top 20 teams. My nephew, Staff Sgt Brendan Gilbert, and his fellow team member, Staff Sgt Jacob Brittian, made it to the top 20 … beating out 30 other teams. They finished in 11th place, which is quite a great accomplishment. We are all very proud of them … all of them.
To wear the Sapper Tab, a Soldier must graduate from the Sapper Leader Course operated by the U.S. Army Engineer School at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. The Sapper Leader Course is a 28-day course designed to train joint-service leaders in small unit tactics, leadership skills, and tactics required to perform as part of a combined arms team. The course is open to enlisted Soldiers in the grades of E-4 (in the Army, specialist) and above, cadets, and officers O-3 (Army, captain) and below. As students can come from any combat or combat support branch of the service, female soldiers are permitted to attend, but priority is given to engineering, cavalry, and infantry soldiers. The course is divided into two Phases
The first 14 days cover general subjects including medical, land navigation, demolitions, air and water operations, mountaineering, landmines and weapons used by enemy forces
The remaining 14 days cover basic patrolling techniques and battle drills that emphasize leadership. The subjects include urban operations, breaching, patrol organization and movement, and reconnaissance, raid and ambush tactics. It concludes with a three-day situation training exercise, and five-day field training exercise. These missions are a 60/40 mix of engineer and infantry missions. Each training event is graded and scored. To graduate, a sapper must earn 700 out of 1000 points in order to wear the sapper tab.
All of our military service members deserve our respect and gratitude. Events such as this demonstrate just how well-trained and dedicated they really are.