Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Advantage of Traditional Karate & Kobudo

What gives a martial arts practitioner the advantage over many others including opponents who are larger?

It is the constant, weekly training in martial arts along with training in proven methods - methods that have allowed many karate-ka over the past centuries survive aggressive attacks often unscathed. One of the effects of practice leads to mushin - that karate state of mind that allows muscle memory to do the thinking for us. But in addition to learning to react to aggression without thinking, karate teaches us secrets on how to increase acceleration in blocks and strikes, how to strike with the maximum, possible striking force, how to focus strikes for maximum effect, where to strike to provide the most pain, or to knock out the attacker, and how to develop shitai kori or body hardening. Karate does not give anyone invincibility, but it does provide an upper edge along with physical fitness and muscle. 

The weekly practice of kata - or karate forms, helps build these characteristics as long as the practitioner trains properly. Personally, I practice kata ever other day - as this seems to give me maximum benefit. But I also add weight training, body hardening, kobudo, and teaching to this regimen on other days and some on the same day to balance out my exercise routine - my normal routine has me training 6 to 7 days a week (which I have done for much of the past 50+ years).

If done improperly, training in kata can also have negative effects - so it is very important for a student to train in kata under martial arts instructors who understand kata as there are many sport martial artists who practice kata improperly leading to harmful effects.

I taught martial arts and self-defense at the University of Wyoming for more than three decades and I tried to emphasize hitotsuki hitogeri philosophy and training - striking an attacker with focus at pressure points to end an attack in one strike - as you never know what the attacker intends or what is coming next. For those students who made it to yudansha (black belt) at our University of Wyoming hombu dojo as well as our affiliated dojos, I could see the power literally with every block, punch and kick.

While teaching karate and kobudo at the University of Wyoming, I was very proud of our students and after we affiliated with Juko Kai International, our power, technique and body hardening methods continued to improve. But then, one day, things changed.

One of my out-standing shihan, who had tremendous technique wanted my permission to attend a tournament. I had no problem, and I felt he did not need my permission - he was an individual with his own mind, but still it was nice of him to ask. I was proud when he and a couple of other students  returned with gold, silver and bronze medals in essentially every event they entered with the exception that they had all been disqualified in kumite for striking too hard - actually, this made me even more proud than the medals they had received in kata and kobudo.

Unfortunately, I didn't realize at the time what this was leading to. I thought this would be a one time event, but it continued and our students continued bringing home medals - and it was about this time I retired from the university and moved the Hombu dojo to Chandler, Gilbert, Mesa Arizona and left the University of Wyoming dojo to the same shihan who was into tournaments.

Later, I returned to the University of Wyoming for a series of clinics and then I discovered what tournaments do to a martial artist. It was sad. My shihan had good intentions, and his technique was nearly flawless when I left, but all of the tournament preparations left the students at UW without focus. Where had the focus gone? I believe the tournament preparations focused on no focus and more on performance. Tournament fighters were not allowed to strike with focus or power, and kata had to look more like a ballet than shadow boxing. I felt like I had been staved in the back and I lost my temper - but now I realize I just should have moved on and considered the UW dojo a loss.

So, when a person practices kata - they must focus every technique. Sometimes they need to do kata with as much power and focus that they can generate and other times they need to slow the kata down (but still with full or near full focus and power). Most good karate schools on Okinawa focus every single strike and block in kata. On Japan, they do the same, but they add ma - or timing, which can also cause some problems. On Okinawa (the source of karate), the students learn to visualize each self-defense (bunkai) technique while they practice kata.

University of Wyoming Campus Shorin-Ryu Karate Kobudo Kai 2003
So, as you train or 'shadow box' with your kata, and if you feel your technique lacks power and your imaginary opponent walks away laughing at you, you need to generate a lot more power and focus. And you need to do this each time you practice kata - the only thing you should ever change is acceleration of strikes and blocks - the focus must always be there and kata should never look like a tai chi form. One day fast, another day slow - in this way, your muscles learn to react fast with power, but also they learn to recognize each individual technique. And remember, how hard you train and how hard you strike will carry over to the street when you are attacked. If you train like tai chi, this is how you will defend yourself. If you punch like Bruce Lee, you will defend like Bruce Lee. This is also how you should train in kata bunkai (individual self-defense applications built in kata) - full focus and power. Unless your uke (partner) is well-trained in shitai kori, you don't want to hit him or her with full power during these exercises, but you can definitely strike the air adjacent to them with full force - just make sure it is off to their side and not directed at them - and don't wear gloves as these give your muscles improper feed back.

Now back to size. Karate can give you a distinct advantage. Remember the story of David and Goliath in the Holy Bible? Think it was a fable? Recently archeologists discovered artifacts in Israel, including a Hebrew text about this battle. The 1993 and 1994 discoveries indicated a Philistine giant name Goliath, an 9 foot 8 inch man, was defeated by a small Shepard boy named David in the 10th century BC. Goliath was wearing armor, about 120 pounds in weight, along with his sword and other weapons, and likely was a frightening figure - but can you imagine how slow he moved? He would have had gigantism and not only would have had awkward movements, but also poor vision. David could have ran circles around Goliath until he took one of his chalcedony projectiles (flint, agate, jasper) about the size of a golf ball and accelerated this rock to about 80 miles per hour striking Goliath in the forehead with a kinetic energy of about 90 joules - enough to kill him. An example of BC kobudo.

In martial arts, one can develop extremely powerful and fast strikes. So fast are some that they can accelerate a strike faster than a snake. And rocks and bricks are no match for focused strikes. And there are examples of martial artists knocking off horns of bulls with shuto (karate chop) and puncturing fuel cans with their toes.