Tag: Martial Arts

The not so secret “Secret Scrolls.”

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.

Sensei John Kerker demonstrating one of the kumite on me.

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

  1. The left hand hold the right wrist
  2. Outside block, punch inside
  3. Punch back of the hand
  4. Knuckle block for kick, counter kick
  5. Hold arm, use against a punch
  6. One handhold gi, grab, twist, kick
  7. Full nelson, karate cut groin
  8. Bear hug waist, hands-free, grab one finger, break, or hit back of the hand
  9. Devil’s handshake, grab your fist, pull, kick.
  10. Two-hand straight choke, break, grab adam’s apple
  11. Straight stab, grab hand and writs, twist kick, trip kick.
  12. Ice pick stab, block across, kick.
  13. Straight stab, both hands up, karate cut block, kick.
  14. Straight stab leaning forward, grab the hand with both of yours, pull. trap at elbow
  15. 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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Traditional Okinawan Karate: It’s a very small world.

This morning I had the opportunity to visit a traditional Uechi-Ryu dojo in Knoxville run by Sensei Bob Noel. I was invited by a former student who, since I moved to Raleigh, NC, started training with him. Lucas and I had discussed this over the years I was away, and Lucas had mentioned that he felt comfortable with Sensei Noel because of how he taught and that the things he had learned from me about body mechanics and technique allowed him to understand what kind of an instructor Sensei Noel is. And I will say that Lucas chose well.

I have often stated that Okinawan systems of karate have more in common than they do have differences. Of course, the early karate pioneers on Okinawa had “favorite” techniques and preferred training methods that created differences. However, you must remember that Okinawa is a tiny island and many of the early masters knew and, at times, trained together. In fact, Kanbun Uechi (the founder of Uechi-Ryu) and Tatsuo Shimabuku (the founder of Isshin-Ryu) were good friends and often trained together. Add to that the fact that good technique is determined more by body mechanics than anything else, and you should be able to see the logic in my statement

Adding to the visit’s pleasure was that I learned that Sensei Noel grew up in Williamstown, MA, which borders North Adams, MA. I studied Uechi-Ryu for a brief time while still in high school in North Adams with an instructor who was one of Sensei Frank Gorman’s students. It bothers me that I can’t remember my instructor’s name. I only remember that he also played guitar in a local band called Steele. But it turns out that Sensei Noel trained with Sensei Gorman at Williams College while we worked there.

Then I discovered that Sensei Noel was in Boy Scout Troop 70 in Williamstown. I had a good friend, Camden Pierce, for many years who was in Troop 70. Don Gilbert (no relation) was the scoutmaster of Troop 70 at that time. I was in Troop 88 in North Adams, and Douglas Filkens was our scoutmaster. Camden and I did a lot of backpacking and canoeing together over the years. And we had an annual New Year’s Eve campout on the top of Mt. Greylock, which is the tallest mountain in Massachusetts. It was cold, and the snow might be up to your armpits, but it was a blast. I guess we did that three or four year in a row.

Sensei Noel has an efficient and straightforward approach to how he teaches and a deep understanding of his art. Lucas did a great job of choosing him as an instructor.

It really is a small, small world when you are dealing with those who practice traditional Okinawan karate.

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Be A Sheepdog

Too many people in America act like sheep.

Did this title strike a nerve? I hope so! Too much is at stake here to be worried about political correctness. If a few people are so insecure that a few words trigger a total psychological meltdown on their part … too bad. We are reaping that which the “no individual responsibility, everyone gets a trophy, you can’t play tag on the schoolyard at recess, helicopter parenting” mentality has sown in our country. There are just not enough blankies, puppies, and cups of warm cocoa to go around. It is too bad, and I hope the pendulum begins to swing back the other way soon … before it is too late.

We desperately need a few more sheepdogs!

Why do I say this? Well, step back, clear your eyes, and take a good look around. America, the greatest nation on this planet, is being attacked by a coordinated and well-funded radical left movement, and we are in real danger of losing our country.

This post has been stewing in my brain since the first presidential debate. Yes, the event was a complete catastrophe. I think both candidates performed like two spoiled 70-year-old toddlers. President Trump came on way too hard and aggressively. The endless whoppers Joe Biden told were utterly unbelievable. And Chris Wallace? Well, Wallace should probably move over to MSNBC or CNN. The most fabulous “moderator” in modern history quickly lost complete control of the debate, and his bias was blatantly evident.

Here are just three examples:

Proud Boys

Chris Wallace asked President Trump to go on the record [again], and denounce White Supremacy. President Trump answered that he had already done so numerous times.

In fact, President Trump had just recently announced a plan to prosecute both Antifa and the KKK as terrorist groups. The last time I checked, the KKK was a white supremacy group.

Of course, that was not the answer Chris Wallace wanted, so he pressed harder. President Trump asked exactly which group Biden and Wallace wanted him to denounce (which was a tactical blunder on his part). Biden replied, “Proud Boys.” Trump answered by telling the Proud Boys “stand back and stand by.” I don’t know, maybe Trump should have said, “stand down.” You know how we love to parse words these days.

Here is my problem. Did Chris Wallace then turn to Joe Biden and ask him to denounce Antifa or BLM? No, he did not.

Yes, the Southern Poverty Law Center and the ACLU consider Proud Boys a violent right-wing hate group. However, they believe that almost all conservative organizations are violent hate groups. They are both incredibly left-leaning, after all.

Side Note: Did you know the ACLU was initially a communist organization? It was. I read the memo where they announced the decision to change their name because too many Americans really disliked communists. A copy of the memo was available on the internet at one time. It may have disappeared by now.

After President Trump’s “stand down'” request, Enrique Tarrio (hardly a WASP name), leader of Proud Boys, is reported to have stated, “That’s my president.”

Picture from NBCMiami.com

FYI: This is Enrique Tarrio. He is Afro-Cuban. Enrique is the national leader of the Proud Boys, which includes a large number of Black and Hispanic members. The media reports that Proud Boys is a white supremacy hate group. However, the truth is the group is anti-Antifa, anti-rioters, anti-communism, anti-socialism, and anti-looters. They are pro-law enforcement and pro-USA.

Aside from Enrique, could some white supremacists be lurking among the ranks of Proud Boys members? Of course, there could.

Now, here’s a hard question for you. Can you be honest with me! Could there be black supremacists included in the ranks of BLM? Hmmm.

Antifa

Biden laughed, saying that Antifa doesn’t exist – that Antifa is just an idea. Ok, Joe! If Antifa is just an idea – it is one that uses real bricks, clubs, Molotov cocktails, fireworks, and other ideas to threaten, intimidate, and destroy Americans and American businesses. You should get out of your basement more often, Joe.

Photo from therightscoop.com

I mean, we could say that the Waffen-SS was just an idea as well. Of course, they murdered millions. But here’s the rub. Did Chris Wallace press good old Uncle Joe on this comment? Nope!

So, Antifa attacks Americans, burns American businesses, beats up American journalists, and yes, sometimes accidentally set themselves on fire with Molotov cocktails.

Who do the Proud Boys clash with? Antifa! Maybe if law enforcement was allowed to do its job, other Americans wouldn’t have to step in to help.

BLM

I have a real problem with this one. I will tell you upfront, I am not a racist. You certainly don’t have to belive me, but it’s true. My family is one of incredible diversity. I just believe all lives matter. In my opinion, if you have to put a color in front of “lives matter,” you’re a racist.

But BLM is not about race at all. If they were, they would care about all the black communities being destroyed by BLM’s “white” useful idiots. They would care about the Black on Black crime in our big cities, the shooting of innocent children in drive-by attacks, , the fatherless children, the drugs, the poverty, and the millions of Black lives and families being ruined every day. But they don’t. That is because BLM is a Marxist movement. They just use race to achieve their goals.

Photo from freewestmedia.com

You don’t believe me? Have you read their mission statement, their charter, or any of their handouts? Incidentally, you can’t find any of this on their website anymore. It was there, I saw it! But, they recently scrubbed it all clean. I guess some people were beginning to take notice, after all.

Here, let me help!

Read these quotes carefully. They look innocuous at first glance. But what do the words actually mean?

We disrupt the Western-prescribed nuclear family structure requirement by supporting each other as extended families and “villages” that collectively care for one another, especially our children, to the degree that mothers, parents, and children are comfortable.

We cultivate an intergenerational and communal network free from ageism. We believe that all people, regardless of age, show up with the capacity to lead and learn.

We see ourselves as part of the global Black family, and we are aware of the different ways we are impacted or privileged as Black people who exist in different parts of the world.

Handout 1 – Black Lives Matter Document Set

You won’t find these statements on their website anymore. I wonder why? And I am sorry, but there is a massive difference in the knowledge, wisdom, understanding, and leadership abilities of 16-year-olds and 50-year-olds. Wisdom is accumulated through experience, which requires time.

BLM leaders have even admitted in several interviews that they are a Marxist organization. This isn’t new news, but it may indeed be news to you. This guy really sums it up very well in his video, which also includes a historically accurate portrayal of Fascism.

Yes. The lunatics are now running the asylum. “Protected groups,” long separated, isolated, protected, and coddled by the Democrat Party because they were “useful” as voting blocks, have escaped the plantation, and joining together in “collective” entitlement thinking, are burning down the house.

In short, some groups of really unpleasant people with an incredibly dangerous left-wing agenda are running around this country doing bad things to good people. The Dems don’t want to stop it! Why? Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that both the DNC and BLM raise money through ActBlue. Antifa doesn’t need ActBlue because they have George Soros, who seems to have bottomless pockets.

So, who are you going to call?

When a group of BLM protesters decides to drag you out of your car and beat you to a pulp, or an Antifa mob decides to burn down your small family-owned business because you have an American flag hanging out front, who are you going to call?

Well, the way things are going, you might as well call the Ghost Busters! Combine the radical left’s push to defund or eliminate the police with the backstabbing and “stand down” orders from radical left politicians like Bill de Blasio and Ted Wheeler, and you have a severe problem. The cops won’t be there. Or, even if they are, good cops will be reluctant to act out of fear of being falsely charged with a crime for doing their job.

You may find yourself completely on your own!

There is a reason gun sales have surged since March. And a large percentage of these sales are to first-time buyers. People are scared and want to be able to protect themselves and their families. And I do not blame them one bit.

We all think – it won’t happen to me. However, I was accosted not too long ago in a grocery store by a twenty-something punk who looked like prime Antifa material. He didn’t like my patriotic t-shirt. Fortunately for him, he did not push things too far. I am pretty confident he would have had a terrible day. He simply saw an older man … and did not know he was picking a fight with a veteran who served with the 101st Air Assault Division, and who is also a trained bodyguard, a 5th-degree blackbelt, and who carries. Of course, I am glad he decided to stomp off muttering curses rather than escalate things. The fact is … you just don’t know.

Become a Sheepdog

Are you buying a gun?

Don’t just buy a gun. Learn to use it proficiently. Go to the range regularly. Take classes. I train regularly to stay proficient at certain skills.

  • Can you get your weapon out of its holster quickly … and without having it taken from you in the process (weapon retention)?
  • Can you shoot accurately from any position?
  • Can you shoot well one-handed … right and left (what if your “shooting hand” is injured)?
  • Can you reload or rack your pistol one-handed?
  • Can you shoot when breathing hard?
  • Do you know when not to shoot!!
  • What do you do if you are involved in a shooting incident (I recommend joining USCCA)?

Get in shape

Join a gym, run, bicycle, dance, hike, do yoga, lift weights, but do something. You don’t have to be a super athlete. After all, you are not training to fight eighteen rounds. Most serious self-defense situations are actually over pretty quickly.

Study a serious martial art

We are not talking sport karate here. When your life or the life of those you care about is on the line, there are no rules. The driving need is simply not to lose. A back fist to the forehead or a jump spinning roundhouse kick to the head just isn’t going to work. There are dojos out there that train martial arts as they were initially intended – a system of personal combat, and not as a sport or a pathway to some kind of omnipresent supergalactic oneness. Find one, join, and train seriously.

On the upside, those dojos usually cost much less to join than Supreme Ultimate Grandmaster Billy Bob’s Karate Super Center and Health Food Emporium.

OMG! You’re advocating violence!

No, I am not advocating violence here. But I do believe that you, as a free and law-abiding American, have the God-given right to protect yourself, your family, and your livelihood from injury or the wanton and idiotic destruction of radical left-wing rioters that are determined to destroy America. That right, clearly enunciated in the Declaration of Independence, is guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights. That is why the left wants these documents gone and forgotten.

Also, this is not about being paranoid; it is about being prepared

Of course, you may choose not to protect yourself. That is certainly your right as an American citizen. However, you do not have the right to deprive me of the means to protect my family and those I love.

I would also add that when you are sitting in your car, and Antifa thugs are smashing in the windows with sledgehammers and threatening your family with Molotov cocktails, it is a little too late to make that decision to be prepared.

So you decide … it’s your choice; sheep or sheepdog?

We can always be a bit more prepared than we were yesterday. No matter your age or condition, you can do something to improve your ability to protect yourself and those you love. Make that first step in your decision to be a sheepdog and not a sheep. America needs you to step up.

Lights, Camera, Maybe …

A Montagnard movie? How exciting!

While it is way too early to crack open a bottle of champagne, I am indeed discussing the possibility of a movie based on the book Montagnard with a film production company.

I have been talking to the CFO of an independent film company I was introduced to by a mutual friend. He was receptive, so I sent him a synopsis of Montagnard. He looked it over and pitched it to the CEO. Now they are both interested in the book and researching the possibility. How about that?

These are exploratory discussions on the feasibility of a movie at this point, and there are obstacles to overcome. There could be a thousand reasons why the deal falls apart. To make it this far is motivational by itself! I am excited.

A mentor advised me to proceed thoughtfully but with zero expectations. I think that is a great plan. And precisely what I intend to do.

By the way …

I have experimented with another book trailer, this one for Montagnard. Take a look and let me know what you think. I am trying to decide if I like the idea of these book trailers or not.

Trailer

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Karate-do: Basics

Advanced techniques are nothing more than applying a thorough mastery of the basics.

I remember meeting Sensei Sherman Harrill for the first time in 1983. He was a guest at Wheeler’s School of Karate in Powell, Tennessee. I had just been discharged from the U.S. Army and had a red belt (equivalent to brown in most systems) in Tae Kwon Do. But I was not too happy with Tae Kwon Do.

Not being overly flexible, I was looking for a style that didn’t require me to be like Gumby. I discovered Isshin-ryu Karate. Sensei Harrill taught a few classes I attended at the dojo … and then disappeared. I did not know enough about Isshin-ryu at the time to understand exactly what was going on, but the man really impressed me.

I again saw Sensei Harrill sometime later at an Okinawan Karate-do Union seminar where he did a bo bunkai session. He took the first movement out of the bo kata, Tokumine No Kun, and spent two hours astounding us all by what he could do with just that first movement. Bo’s went flying everywhere, and many fingers were pinched or smashed. It was glorious.

I did not see Sensei Harrill again until the mid-90’s when he and Sensei AJ Advincula gave a benefit seminar in Michigan for Sensei Don Bohan, who was battling cancer. By this time, I was a black belt, had my own dojo, and thought I knew something about karate. However, to put it mildly, when I saw what he was doing, my jaw hit the floor. I had never seen any karate instructor anywhere do anything like what he was doing. It didn’t matter who you were, how big you were, or what you knew. You hit the floor when he put his hands on you. It was the kind of karate you read about in karate history books but never saw on the dojo floor.

What was the difference you might ask? I quickly came to learn it was a thorough understanding and mastery of the system’s basics. Prior to that time, I had trained with just three other world-class instructors who had that same kind of mastery of their art, and who were true masters. They were Remy Presas (Arnis), Joe Lewis (Full-Contact Karate Champion), and Wally Jay (Small Circle Jujitsu).

All advanced techniques are made up of combinations of basic techniques.

If this is not true where you train, I suggest you hunt for another dojo, dojang, or school.

And I am not just talking about the basic Charts I and II of the Isshin-ryu curriculum followed in most Isshin-ryu dojos. Understanding basics, body mechanics, stances, distance, timing, etc. transcends any particular art or style. It is the key to real success in any technique, method, or system.

I remember returning to a dojo I had not visited in some time. Upon entering, I spotted one of the head instructors on the floor going through Isshin-ryu Chart 1. He was performing the techniques precisely the same way I was shown when I was a brand new white belt. How’s that for consistency? Great, huh?

I’m going out on a limb here and say, “No, not really.” If you are still practicing the basics today the way you did 20 years ago, what did you learn? Could you not have improved them over that period. Twenty years and this man had never gotten off the porch (most serious Isshin-ryu practitioners will know what this refers to).

Here is an analogy. I remember in elementary school being taught to write. We were given lined paper and shown how to form the letters. You’d make a row of A’s, a row of B’s. a row of C’s. etc. Do you still write that way today?

Before you say, “but that’s how I show a new student …,” I am not talking about working with a new student. I am talking about your own personal workouts (which is what this guy was doing. Sunday morning workouts were restricted to black belts).

A difference in basics …

The first year I brought Sensei Harrill to Tennessee for a seminar, it was great. Friday night and Saturday, I got mercilessly pummeled in a very instructive sort of way. However, I loved it. Each pain, each loss of breath, or loss of balance was a light bulb going off in my brain. It was effortless, almost casual on Sensei’s part, but totally disruptive to me. And there was nothing I could do about. They were all simple techniques. However, they were executed in a very advanced manner; nothing like I had ever experienced before.

Sunday after the seminar, we had several hours before I had to get Sensei to the airport for his flight back to Iowa, so we hit the dojo to train. I remember it being just Sensei, Charlie Taylor, and myself. But one or two others may have been present.

Sensei asked, “What do you want to work on?”

I replied, simply, “Whatever I have to … to understand what you do.”

The sad but straightforward answer was that I had to start over with how I did my basics. Many trained with Sensei over the years, mostly at seminars, and would sometimes mimic his techniques successfully while at seminars. Often, however, this was with cooperative attackers.

But they never changed the way they practiced back at their own dojos. Therefore, they could never really make the techniques their own and would eventually give up. It’s just the same old adage: You can’t train one way and fight another way!

We went through Chart I, one technique at a time. First, I would demonstrate a technique from the chart. Sensei then showed me how he did it and why. He never told me what I was doing was wrong, but there was no question in my mind after we finished each technique which way was better, and more importantly, WHY!

You cannot learn basics from a book, a website, a blog, or even a videotape or DVD. You need practice time, one-on-one interaction with an instructor who understands all of these things, and enough repetitions to create CORRECT muscle memory.

However, here are a few tips that might help

  • Stand on stakes
  • Never violate the principles of body mechanics
  • As your understanding progresses and your basics begin to smooth out, your hands should start to NOT cross the body’s center line.
  • Always use crescent steps when you move forward or backward (or even sideways).
  • Each technique is a whole-body movement.
  • The “snap” in the “snap punch” comes from your waist (Understand that the knot in your obi is not just to tie your belt around your waist. Pay attention to how it moves).

If the knot’s not moving, you’re not doing it right.

Sensei would always say, when sizing up a new opponent or training partner, watch the knot on his obi. It will tell you whether you want to let them hit you or not.

Isshin-ryu Karate Charts I and II

Practice at least 10 repetitions to each side, several times a week.

Chart I

Chart II

  1. RFF / RH Straight Punch
  2. RFF / RH Upper Punch
  3. LFF / LH Straight Punch
  4. LFF / LH Upper Punch
  5. RFB / LH Low Block – RH Reverse Punch
  6. RFB / LH Mid-Level Block = RH Reverse Punch
  7. RFB / LH Open Mid-Level Block – RH Gouge (Nukite)
  8. RFB / LH Open Arc Sweep – RH Upper Punch
  9. RFB / LH Upper Block – RH Reverse Punch
  10. RFB / LH Bridge of Nose – RH Reverse Punch
  11. LFF / LH Low Block – 3 Punches
  12. LFF / LH Mid-Level Block – 3 Punches
  13. LFF / LH Strike to Mid-section – RH Strike to Base of Neck
  14. LFF / LH Palm Heel Block – 2 Hook Punches
  15. RFB Bear Hug Break
  1. Bend Forward / Touch Floor
  2. Back Bend – 5 Exhales
  3. LH Hold Right Heel – RH Push Knee Down
  4. Leg Stretch
  5. Front Kick
  6. Cross Kick
  7. Angle Kick
  8. Side Kick (Heel and Edge)
  9. Side Kick (Ball of Foot)
  10. Squat Kick
  11. Toe Rip Kick
  12. Knee Smash
  13. Knuckle Push-ups
  14. Side Twists
  15. Breathing

Note:

  • In Chart I, 5 – 15 repeat to the other side.
  • In Chart II, 3 to 12 repeat to the other side.
  • RFF = Right Foot Forward. LFF = Left Foot Forward
  • RFB = Right Foot Back, LFB = Left Foot Back
  • RH = RIght Hand, LH = Left Hand

Remember, simply practicing does not make perfect. It takes proper practice to make things perfect. If you practice incorrectly 25,000 times, what have you gained?

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

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!

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

Pareto’s Rule and Isshin-ryu Karate

I was doing a little spring house cleaning and came across a few old articles from the time when I ran a karate dojo. This was from 1994 until 2007. These articles appeared on the dojo website or in our dojo newsletter. I thought a few of them were fairly interesting, so I will share them here. This first one deals with Pareto’s Rule and Karate. An old student of mine, Lynn Hodges, wrote this article.

Pareto’s Rule and Karate

rule

One of my older students, Lynn Hodges, after a night of working on the basic techniques of our system and the development of Chinkuchi in the techniques, went home and could not sleep until he had written these thoughts down to get them off his mind. This article is the result of that mind purge.

Ramblings and Reasoning on Pareto’s Rule and Karate
by Lynn Hodges

In many business and non-business situations, the Pareto Principle, also known as the 80-20 Rule, emerges as a statistical constant. Dr. Arthur Hafner* provides a succinct overview of Pareto’s work:

Vilfredo Pareto (1848-1923) was an Italian economist who, in 1906, observed that twenty percent of the Italian people owned eighty percent of their country’s accumulated wealth. Over time and through application in a variety of environments, this analytic has come to be called Pareto’s Principle, the 80-20 Rule, and the “Vital Few and Trivial Many Rule.”

Called by whatever name, this mix of 80%-20% reminds us that the relationship between input and output is not balanced. In a management context, this rule of thumb is a useful heuristic that applies when there is a question of effectiveness versus diminishing returns on effort, expense, or time.

Sensei Sherman Harrill often said “There’s not much I can’t handle with a good mid-block and reverse punch!” This suggests that the 80-20 rule might be at play in Isshin-ryu Karate. 80% of situations can be handled by 20% of our techniques. The key is figuring out what 20% are those ‘vital few.’ While the remaining 80% of our techniques would never be called trivial by any serious karateka, most would agree that there are techniques that rate as the most effective or at least the most fundamental in our empty hand arsenal. In conflict, we’d choose these vital 20% of our techniques about 80% of the time.

What are the vital few? That is the key question for karateka, and especially the Sensei. Logically, the basic physical moves must be part of that 20% since they underpin all of the techniques. These would include the sweeping step, the stances, the launching of the punch with hips rotating, the “opposite reaction” force, the Isshin-ryu fist and the fundamental bio-mechanics of balance, leverage and movement. Since the basics of Isshin-ryu karate also include punches, blocks and kicks, those are likely in the 20% and are described by the upper and lower charts. Therefore, it could be argued that the basic physical moves and the upper and lower charts make up the vital 20%.

Mastery of the vital 20% does two things. First, it allows us to handle 80% of the conflicts where we rely on karate for self defense. Secondly, it stages us with a firm foundation to engage the remaining 80% of the empty hand and weapons techniques that comprise our martial art style. Perhaps that is why the old masters insisted on learning the vital 20% first. One recalls stories of a single stance being the single lesson for a whole year!

Unfortunately, since the basics and charts are fundamental and seldom spectacular, a beginning karateka is anxious to rush through them, and get into the ‘real karate’ seen as the kata or sparring and competition. Reflection on the importance of these vital 20% will bring the serious karateka back to them for betterment and mastery. As one masters the basics and engages the remaining 80%, a lifetime cycle of continuous improvement begins. What we observe as “Improvement in the vital 20% results in considerable improvement in the remaining 80%!” It’s Pareto’s Rule at work in the dojo 

How is that for a scientific look at the built-in efficiency of karate techniques?

While most often talked about in the business world, Pareto’s Rule applies to many other aspects of our lives. This 80-20 rule seems to very accurately reflect the effort, performance, and efficiency of many human endeavors. Think about it! Where can you see Pareto’s 80-20 rule in effect in your life?

Read other great posts here! I like to blog on a variety of topics and I do try to avoid politic. This is not a political blog. So, I do apologize if it sometimes sneaks in.

Also, please be sure to check out my military action thriller, Serpents Underfoot, and my collection of Adirondack Bear Tales! Both are receiving great reviews and both are available in both Kindle and paperback formats! I would love to hear what you think about these two books.