Here at the frontier, the leaves fall like rain. Although my neighbors are all barbarians, and you, you are a thousand miles away, there are still two cups at my table.

Ten thousand flowers in spring, the moon in autumn, a cool breeze in summer, snow in winter. If your mind isn't clouded by unnecessary things, this is the best season of your life.

~ Wu-men ~

Saturday, November 30, 2019

The History of Nippon Kempo

At the Ukraine site for Nippon Kempo, is a nice article explaining the history of this martial art. An excerpt is posted below. The full post may be read here.

Different martial arts are popular in our time. In particular, universal fighting system (UFS) which promotes a mix of fighting styles and bouts. But very few people know about Nippon Kempo (jp:日本拳法) system. It was the first system of the full-contact mix fighting in 1930s in the motherland of Samurai Japan. The founder of the Japanese hand-to-hand fighting which became Nippon kempo was Masaru Sawayama.

He was born on December 12, 1906 in the family of a noble Nakaoke Clan. He was a weak child. It was difficult for him to walk to school. This was till he was 13 (thirteen). At that time different kinds of Western sport began to appear in Japan: baseball, boxing, bodybuilding etc. Japanese young people became fond of these new trends. Magazines and books which made western sport popular came from Europe. Sports shops began to sell barbells, dumbbells, expanders and other sports equipment of exotic Western civilization.

Masaru felt the influence of such expansion and he decided to change – a man must be strong! He started bodybuilding and martial arts. And in some years he turned into a strong young man with a perfect body.

One of the founders of western ways of preparation of sportsmen in Japan legendary Dzigoro Kano (founder of Judo) had great influence on life and development of Sawayama Masaru. In 1904 Dzigoro Kano implemented and made popular the bodybuilding system of Yevgeniy Sandov. Dzigoro Kano was an educated man; he could go around the world and Europe and find different methods of training. He paid attention to bodybuilding system and he was the first to use barbells, dumbbells, and expanders in Judo.

In 1926 when Sawayama Masaru went to Law School of Kansai University in Osaka he was a perfectly developed young man.

At university he went in for judo and got the Fifth Dan (Shihan). He turned into the defender of all the weak; he many times stopped fighting students and local gangsters.

Sawayama Masaru was a skillful fighter, a good organizer and leader and the head of the university judo team.

At university Sawayama was interested in striking and kicking fighting techniques. He thought it was not used enough in judo and ju-jitsu.

Basis of judo training was randori – free bouts which had certain rules.

They let fighters develop useful skills such as reaction and feeling of distance, decide tactics, use techniques on fighting opponents. But randori rules did not let use strikes.

These rules made fighting safe and protected sportsmen from serious injuries. Fighters used strikes in vital striking areas only in kata. But Sawayama thought that using only kata technique did not let sportsmen master fighting on high level. Understanding of it made him start exploring old schools of budjutzu (jp: 武術:じゅつ) (martial arts) famous for sophisticated techniques of striking in atemi (vital areas). He spent a lot of time looking for ancient manuscripts describing these techniques and communication with masters living in Osaka in that time.

In 1920s several fighting systems such as European boxing, Okinawa karate-do and Thai boxing appeared in Japan. Osaka became the center of activity of masters of different martial arts systems. 

Thanks to this Masaru could attend trainings and master classes of different martial arts styles and schools. He could compare advantages and disadvantages of kicking and striking techniques. He came up to the conclusion that real martial arts like ancient bujitsu must include striking and kicking techniques, throws, reverse joint locks and skills to resist an armed person. Then he decided to create a synthetic applied fighting system of practical use.

After learning from master of Okinava karate and founder of Shitoryu karate-do style Kenwa Mabuni, Sawayama founded the Centre for Tode Study at Kansay University. Tode is the general term for martial arts of Chinese origin in Okinawa.

This organization became the main centre  for study karate-do in Kansay region. Masters of different fighting styles gave seminars and classes here. He invited the founder of  Gojiryu style Miyagi Chijuni and Chinese master of Bahei Tzhuan style Hu Siangui 白鹤拳, whose method influenced a lot Gojiryu and Shitoryu schools, to give classes at Kansai university at the beginning of 1930s. Their performances and teaching methods promoted growing interest of people in Osaka nearby districts to Okinawa martial art.

Mabuni used traditional Okinawa karate methods when he trained Masaru. Classes were individual, and kata was paid much attention. However, this approach did not satisfy the young active man.  

Together with members of Centre for Tode Study he began to develop the methods of study of striking and kicking techniques and free  full-contact fighting system. Sawayama put three goals:
  1. Avoid using atemi technique which its great ruining power with evil aims;
  2. Make atemi technique safe to protect fighters from injuries;
  3. Find the most efficient atemi technique.
Sawayama tried to achieve these goals in different ways which were not always successful.

On the first stage of his work Masaru developed and used three kinds of sparring: yakusoku-kumite, juiji-kumite, and senken-kumite. Later, they became one kind – jui-kumite. While yakusoku-kumite sparring (when the opponent says what he is going to do) students struck and kicked according to the instruction of the teacher. This made the activity relatively safe.

Jui-kumite is a free sparring. Sawayama described it as a kind of sparring when fighters use attacking and defensive techniques freely. However, attacker strikes and kicks and waits the opponent to use a protective technique. The main idea is to practice different protective techniques freely and counter-attack. It is go-no-sen method (skill to counter-attack after resisting opponent’s attack) with outlined roles.

At last, but not the least is sinken kumitte. It is a sparring with fighting swards which is a free bout with hikite. And it reminds sparring in modern WKF karate system with sun-do-me rules. This system of trainings developed in autumn of 1930 and became standard for Centre for Tode Study at Kansay University.

Active use of judo and jujitsu techniques in sparring made members of the Centre think if they did karate or if they created a new independent kind of budo which had the right to exist.

In autumn 1932 Sawayama Masaru, after seven years of studying at Law School, organized a meeting of the leaders of Centre for Tode Study: Yano Fumio, Yagi Suiti, Yamada Reniti, Nakano Mizuru, Kuroyama Takamaro, Takeiti Kazuaki and Tyadani Kintoshi. They declared the birth of a new kind of budo. They called it Dai Nippon Kempo (Kempo of Great Japan) and their Centre was called Dai Nippon Kempo Kai (Kempo of Great Japan Centre). Sawayama was elected President. It should be mentioned that all leaders of the Centre were masters of different fighting styles. Kuroyama Takamaru was a judo teacher of chief police department of Osaka. He was the best friend of Masaru and they together created the motto “Develop body and mind practicing judo and kempo to serve your country and people.”

This opposition made relations between Sawayama and Kenwa Mabuni complicated. However, the creator of a new fighting style and his teacher continued business relations. Mabuni followed his student’s thorough methodological search. He looked for new forms of sparring which made training process even more efficient.

Sawayama refused from basic kata practice and focused on free bouts. But experience showed that, firstly, sparring with restricted contact did not have real effect. Secondly, it did not make fighting safe because during the bout fighters could strike in contact by accident. That is why very soon after Dai Nippon Kempo Kai foundation its leaders began experiments with different kinds of protective clothes. Finally, they decided to use special equipment – bogu: helmet with bars for face protection (men), chest armour (dou), groin armour (matate), and boxing gloves (gurubu). This gear let strike and hit with all might, do throws, reverse joint locks in sparring and ground bouts. The main was that fighters could have full-contact strikes and kicks without serious injuries to the opponent. This became carte-de-visite of Nippon kempo.

Absence of weight categories, kicks in groin, training of special stamina and spirit are chief advantages of Sawayama’s systems. Systematic kumite practice is the way of fighting spirit development and control. It makes this type of exercise an important and efficient means of bringing up braveness.

Implementation of sparring practice in bogu let fighters use the widest range of techniques in the bout and have full-scale competitions. Sawayama’s students exchanged powerful strikes, did throws and reverse joint locks while standing and falling on the floor, continued to fight underground, skillfully using karate, boxing, judo and jiu-jitsu techniques. This kind of sparring was introduced to Dai Nippon Kempo Kai in 1934. This year the first official bogu fight tournament was held in main dojo (jp:  道場)of Kokai Association, members of which practiced Nippon kempo.

Sunday, November 24, 2019

Traditional Shotokan Karate

Below is an excerpt from The Shotokan Times on the question of "what is traditional?" Martial artists of any style would find this interesting. The full post may be read here.

Many masters, associations, and Karateka claim to practice traditional Shotokan. They usually do this in order to distinguish their Karate from what is called Sports Karate. A precise definition what traditional Shotokan Karate exactly means is mostly not give. The questioner is left in the dark about the “tradition” that makes Shotokan traditional most of the time. If one keeps asking what traditional Shotokan is many respondents have a tendency to use a rhetorical loophole. According to their opinion, traditional Shotokan is exactly all that, what Sports Karate is not. In other words: It is the exact opposite.

For some questioners such an answer might be sufficient because the have a vague understanding what distinguishes both types of Karate. Or they do not care much about the differences. They just want to practice.

For the community of practitioners and the art of Shotokan itself, however, a definition ex negativo is not sufficient at all. A clear understanding about the traits of Shotokan, a definition ex positivo, is necessary. Only then we will know how

  • to use and to work it out to its full potential,
  • to spread its values,
  • to create a common identity among practitioners,
  • to attract new students,
  • to show what is has to offer in comparison to other martial arts,
  • and to develop it further.

Unfortunately, the labels “tradition” and “traditional” do not help to illuminate and to  describe what Shotokan is about. Why is that? If we define the term tradition we see that almost everything can become a tradition. As the people in the Rhineland, which is the region where I life today, use to say: If you do something three times, it has become a tradition. A more precise definition can be found in dictionaries. According to Merriam Webster, a tradition is defined as:

“an inherited, established, or customary pattern of thought, action, or behavior (such as a religious practice or a social custom)”.

If we take this definition serious it has huge consequences whether we should call Shotokan “traditional”. Because sports can be and is already a “inherited, established, or customary pattern of thought, action, or behavior”. For instance, the first ancient Olympic Games were conducted 800 BC. Back then they were religious rituals with strict rules and ceremonial parts. According to the definition, they were traditions. The same goes for the International Olympic Games of the modern age. They date back to 1896. With more than 100 years of history one has to conclude that they have become a worldwide social custom. Even modern Sports Karate is already a tradition. The roots of the World Karate Federation date back to the 1960´s. Thus, it is only 30 years younger than Shotokan itself. In 2020, the WKF will introduce Karate to the Olympic Games. Sports Karate will then become a part of a more than 2.800 year old tradition of organized sports competition.

Shotokan Karate, on the other hand, was developed by Gichin Funakoshi in the 1920´s and 1930´s. And he did not develop it from scratch. He recombined Okinawa Karate styles and enriched them with some new ideas. But Karate itself is much older and has its roots in China. If we were consequent we must say that Okinawa Karate is more traditional than “traditional” Shotokan Karate.

To label Shotokan as traditional does not hold water. Because we must also understand that the term tradition is not a good quality indicator. A tradition might be outdated, inefficient, and harmful. Thus, we cannot conclude that every tradition is always good. Sometimes it is better to leave a bad tradition behind and develop something new. From this point of view, it is neither logically meaningful nor practically useful to say Shotokan is a traditional art.

But what is the alternative? We have already a better term at hand. It is Karate Do. Because Karate Do expresses that Karate is a way of life and a social philosophy. Shotokan Karate Do is guided by principles.  The most famous among them is the Dojo-kun. But there are even more. For instance, the 20 Precepts of Karate by Gichin Funakoshi. The first precepts states:

“Karate begins and ends with courtesy” (空手道は禮に始まり、禮に終る事を忘るな)

Thursday, November 21, 2019

The Evolution of a Martial Arts Teacher

Over at Kenshi 24/7 is a nice article by the author, George McCall on his evolution as a kendo teacher over the past several years. An excerpt is below. The full post may be read here.

A few years ago I wrote and published my high successful Kendo Coaching Tips and Drills manual, the first of its kind, and still – afaik – the ONLY publication of its kind in the English language. The idea to write a more advanced manual for instructors first came in 2008. It then took four years of keiko, experimentation, keiko, writing, keiko, editing, and more keiko before it was finally released. For the first time in my life something concrete had come from my study of kendo that I could be proud of.

Over 10 years have elapsed since I first put pencil to paper to plan out the chapters, and during those years I have continued to practise and teach kendo on an almost daily basis. However, I am not the same kenshi today that I was in 2008 or 2012. I have grown older, my family and job responsibilities have changed, and, importantly for todays topic, a couple of younger, very able teachers arrived at my school.

Chatting briefly to a European kenshi who came to the Kyoto Taikai this year, I pointed out that teaching in school is much different to teaching at an adult dojo: I have the students for about 2.5 years before they leave the club. Students, then, are forever rotating in-and-out, and their age-range is always 15-18 (whereas I am always getting older!).

All of this has had an impact on my way of teaching kendo. First of all, after the first few years of teaching a lot (the years I was writing the coaching manual), my basic keiko method was firmly installed in the club. This meant I eventually stopped having to to repeat myself over and over again: the first few batches I taught directly passed this on to their kohai, who passed it on to theirs, etc. The basic club “style” has thus become my style.

The continual rotation of students over a short period of time, and the realisation that not all of them will continue at university level, has deeply impacted how I instruct (for the first few years I was not attuned to the cycle). For example, if someone comes in to the club with experience, I don’t try to bend them in to doing kendo my way – I generally look for their good points and try to motivate them to improve by thinking for themselves. If someone starts in high school, I aim to train them in solid basics, with the aim of passing nidan before they retire from the club.

The arrival of younger teachers (one in particular is quite forthright!) kind of disrupted things in the beginning, until they themselves got used to me. Delegating large jobs to them (for example, deciding shiai members, or teaching the gasshuku) helped give them a sense of place and responsibility. I also encourage them to teach, though the basic kihon menu must stay the same (I also ban jigeiko on weekdays unless its before a shiai). I, of course, still lead the club, and do all the paperwork.

The rotation of students, the fixing of the club basic style, and the coming of younger teachers, has, over the last few years, led me to explicitly teach to the group less. Instead of trying to coach everyone at the same time, I now tend to focus on an individual students technical and spiritual/mental development, and leave the more general, wider comments to the young teachers.

Oh, and I can now concentrate on my own kendo more.

Monday, November 18, 2019

The Dao De Jing, #73: If You Are Courageous in Daring, You Will Die

The Dao De Jing is not only one of the world's great classics, it is one of the foundations of Philosophical Daoism. A free online version of the Dao De Jing may be found here. Today we have #73: If You Are Courageous in Daring, You Will Die.

If you are courageous in daring you will die.
If you are courageous in not-daring you will live.
Among these two, one is beneficial and the other is harmful.

Who understands the reason why Heaven dislikes what it dislikes?
Even the sage has difficulty in knowing this.

The Way of Heaven is to win easily without struggle.
To respond well without words,
To naturally come without special invitation,
To plan well without anxiety.

Heaven's net is vast.
It is loose.

Yet nothing slips through.

Friday, November 15, 2019

Educational Beatdown

At Active Response Training was an article about the phenomenon of the "Educational Beatdown;"  teaching a lesson through the application of violence.

Below is an excerpt. The much longer original post, together with the video referenced may be read here.

Food for thought.

Rory Miller and Marc MacYoung often talk about social dynamics and what they call an “Educational Beatdown.”  The best description of this phenomenon is found in Rory Miller’s article More About Violence Dynamics.  Rory says:

“Most of the people reading this will be comfortable products of comfortable homes with significant education and socialization. This is the norm in North America, where I happen to be writing. The norm is so powerful and pervasive that it can be very easy to believe that the values of middle-class Americans are universal. They are not. There are societies and sub-societies where violence is merely an easy way to solve problems; where a beating is considered as easy  and more effective than talking.

There are places in the United States where if you do something rude and improper you will get disapproving looks and people will whisper about you. They might snub you in the coffee room or not invite you to go bowling. And there are places in the U. S. where doing something that society considers rude will get you beaten without a second thought.”

The “Educational Beatdown” is the first thing I thought about when my friend Tim posted this video to his Facebook page.  It is footage of a reporter interviewing some folks in New Orleans about drugs, gangs, and violence.  During the interview, a man arrived and started making disparaging comments.  It seems he didn’t appreciate how the publicity generated by the interview might negatively affect his neighborhood.

His comments were out of line.  In that community, those comments were cause for an “educational beatdown.”  Such a beatdown commenced while the cameras were rolling.

Wednesday, November 06, 2019

Distilling Sun Tzu to Self Defense

Below is an excerpt from a post at Okinawan Fighting Art, which adapts the "Five Essentials" of Sun Tzu's Art of War to personal self defense. The full post may be read here.

Sun Tzu, The Five Essentials for Victory:

  1. He will win who knows when to fight and when not to fight;
  2. He will win who knows how to handle both superior and inferior forces; 
  3. He will win whose army is animated by the same spirit throughout all its ranks;
  4. He will win who, prepared himself, waits to take the enemy unprepared;
  5. He will win who has military capacity and is not interfered with by the sovereign.

You already understand and you probably already know that in a modern society there is inevitable changes to mandate how one provides security and safety for themselves, their families and the social structure or group to which his or her families belong. It is my expert provision in this article to expand on these essentials for victory as set down centuries ago how great Generals would successfully carry out the mandate of Heaven and his sovereign to gain victory agains all enemies both domestic and foreign. 

In our world of martial prowess where self-protection is provided we can readily detect a need to follow these ancient teachings while making allowances to our modern times. Therefore the above will be revamped to reflect those changes and mandates as set down by law, the legal system and those who enforce for the sake of societies protection, security and safety. 

There are “Five Essentials for Self-Protection.” 

Commentary: I don’t use the term victory because that tends to lead to certain dissonances due to our modern societies pension toward competitive sports where the dangers of grave harm and death are governed by rules that are sanctioned, mandated and set by society through its laws and legal systems. Even the use of self-defense if not fully explained can lead to mistakes in perceptions because it is used, generally, to explain actual defenses and it is also used, generally, to explain a legal definition since the legal system uses the term as a legal one. 

  1. He will achieve success who knows when to protect and defend and when not to protect and defend;
  2. He will achieve success who knows how to handle aggressions and force both psychological and physical;
  3. He will achieve success who knows how to protect and defend within the limits set by social legal laws and systems;
  4. He will achieve success who, prepared him/herself, waits to take the attacker unprepared; 
  5. He will achieve success who has martial capacity and is not interfered with by societies systems. 

Now, commentary on the five essential principles of self-protection.

Sunday, November 03, 2019

Vintage Video of Kam Yuen

Kam Yuen was the second martial arts coordinator for the ground breaking TV series, Kung Fu. He was a master of Tai Mantis, a style in the northern Shaolin tradition. He is also a doctor of chiropractic and continues to practice.

The video below is from the1970's. Enjoy.