Thursday, December 25, 2008

Happy Holidays!


Wishing everyone all the best this holiday season!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Banana Tree Makiwara

I have some banana trees in my back yard. They only occasionally get fruit, maybe every other year, but the bananas are really tasty. Anyway, about this time of year, after the first frost, some of the leaves start turning brown. It is right about now that I start using the brown leaves as makiwara for my bojustu training. Banana leave make excellent targets for practicing bo thusts and also the pulling motions we use in Yamane Ryu bojutsu. Also, because the brown leaves are tucked away under some of the green leaves, it makes practice that more challenging.

While I was practicing these techniques this morning, I also discovered another useful training device...I have an Iron plant stand with circle hooks that are just a little bigger than my bo. These are excellent for practicing thrusts. The object is to poke the end of the bo through the hole with precision and accurate technique. Starting very slow and progressively getting faster.

Training opportunities are everywhere!

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Be Natural

Kishaba Sensei said that good karate has 3 elements: Speed, Power and Grace.
I try to keep these elements in mind every time I do a kata or a waza.

One of the things that helps enable these 3 elements is natural movement.

Shorin Ryu karate has a strong focus on natural stances and natural movement. We spend much of the time in our kata in natural stance. Foot placement in our stances is much narrower than other styles. When we step, it's a natural step, not a "c" step. Even moving from a high (natural) stance to a low (front) stance, the movement should be natural.

In order to have natural movement it is important to find the connection between the lower and upper parts of your body. If you move the lower parts with different timings than the upper parts, movement is not natural. Only when you can find a balanced connection between the upper and lower parts will you have natural movement in your karate.

Of course, natural movement is easy in the things we have done our whole lives. Activities such as walking, running, writing, eating--these are all very natural things. They are so easy, we rarely have to think about them to do them.

In order to obtain natural movement in karate, we look to the kata we practice. The kata allow us to train our stances to be natural, to train the movements of our arms to be natural, and to train the connection between our lower and upper parts of our bodies to be natural.

Through repetition and introspective practice of kata we can obtain natural movement in our karate.


I enjoy sparring. I have sparred for as long as I have practiced karate. The karate student can gain many benefits from sparring. The most obvious benefit is aerobic exercise. Just a few minutes of vigorous sparring burns more calories than practically any other activity. Also, sparring helps the student overcome fear of contact and it helps to learn timing and distance.

Despite all these great benefits, sparring is not a regular part of the curriculum at Tallahassee Karate Club. Why not?

Because sparring is not as realistic as practicing kata. Kata are a framework for karate. They are a framework for how to move, how to block, how to strike, how to learn distance and timing, and most importantly, how to train your body to work together as a whole.

Also, with kata, one can practice to throw techniques as fast, hard and realistic as possible. In sparring, we must control our techniques in order to avoid injuring our sparring partner. If someone gets injured too often in training, they won't want to train, and that is counter-productive.

Karate is a self-defense art. I do not consider sparring as an exercise in self-defense. Once again, I look to kata to learn self defense concepts and techniques. Real self-defense techniques are very dangerous and must be practiced carefully to avoid injuring a training partner. Karate should only be used in a life or death situation and the techniques are not practical for application in sparring for this reason.

So, sparring is good, it's fun, it's aerobic, but it can't replace Kata for it's practicality and effectiveness as a tool to teach realistic self-defense.

Sunday, September 28, 2008


Originally uploaded by The Mad Dance Dad.

Naginata to the head (Men!).
This is Carol.

Asian Festival 2008

Originally uploaded by The Mad Dance Dad.

I attended the Tallahassee Asian Coalition's Annual Asian Festival on Saturday. This is (I believe) the 5th year of the festival. It get's a little bigger and better each year. It was a beautiful fall day and I really enjoyed the food and entertainment. This picture is of a friend of mine who trains with the local Chinese Martial Arts Center.

On the martial arts end of things, there were demos from the chinese martial arts center, shurite karate, filipino martial arts club and the naginata club. One of our students, Carol Strickland, is also a member of the naginata club.

To see more pictures please go to:

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Kishaba Juku Seminar in Slovenia

I would like to wish all of my Karate friends and our Sensei, Shinzato Katsuhiko, all the best at this year's Kishaba Juku seminar in Slovenia.

I wish I could be there!

Please have a great seminar and take lots of pictures and video!

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Guest Post: Naihanchi

This guest post is from Carol Strickland, Shodan, Tallahassee Karate Club.

Knowledge and skill are necessary elements for us to be able to understand. A student who really understands must be able to explain, interpret, and apply what they have learned.

We are taught the Niahanchi katas are known for teaching power. I have been told the only kata I really need to learn is Naihanchi Shodan to understand how to make this power. It is said Niahanchi must be practiced over ten thousand times to understand it. But what does the word understand mean? Understand means to be able to transfer what you have learned to new and sometimes confusing settings. After learning how to make the power we must take our knowledge and skill and use it in different settings on our own before we can say we understood what we have learned. We will have to learn to transfer our knowledge and skill from Niahanchi to other kata to fully understand how to use this power.

As students we must have knowledge and skill to be able to transfer and gain an understanding. When students transfer knowledge many times they misunderstand, and teachers need to remember that mistakes signify an attempted and plausible but unsuccessful transfer. This is why feedback is so important when students are trying to understand. The student must remember to accept the feedback and criticism without being defensive. This way they can gain the knowledge and skill they need to have a true understanding.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

My Tai Chi

I learned Tai Chi a bunch of years ago. I was thrilled to find some videos of the form I learned on You Tube.


Karate on the Beach

I like to practice karate on the beach. Besides being a totally different terrain to practice on, beach training allows me to get into the moment of the kata. If I close my eyes and listen to the surf crash and smell the salt air, I can almost create a picture in my mind of old Okinawa, practicing alongside one of the karate masters of old.

If you do practice on the beach, I would recommend a time that you won't attract too much attention to yourself. Early in the morning, around sunrise, the majority of people on the beach seem to be runners, a few fisherman and surfers. This is a good time to practice as most of them won't stop and gawk or ask quetions and interupt your training. They are too busy with their own activities to care what you are doing.

In general, I don't like to practice in public, because I don't like spectators. If people do stop and watch, I will generally stop doing karate and just stretch or walk.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

The Kata we Practice: Fukyugata Ichi

The most basic of kata, but as advanced as you want to make it. This is how I usually describe Fukyugata Ichi.

Fukyugata Ichi is the first kata that brand new beginners learn at our dojo. As kata go, Fukyugata Ichi is very easy to learn. It follows a very simple pattern and the movements are easy and linear.

Beginning students learn to simply move from place to place and coordinate hand movements with foot movements. Fukyugata Ichi is an excellent tool for teaching this skill. The symmetry of the kata allows right handed students to learn how to use their left side and vice versa. The kata makes use of low (front stance) and high (natural stance) stances. The transition between these stances teaches the beginner to be flexible in their movement and begins to teach the basics of distance. Fukyugata Ichi also teaches beginners basic applications of blocking and striking.

As students progress and become more comfortable with the movements of the kata, the practice of the kata can progress to a more intermediate level. At this level, the student learns to coordinate the upper and lower parts of the body using exagerated koshi and big arm movements. By using rotational koshi movements and rising and dropping of the transitions between high and low stances, the intermediate student learns to make power in their techniques. Applications become more complicated and incorporate hikite and in-between movements. The student focuses on learning to isolate the practice of kata for speed, power and gracefulness.

There is no set time period for a student to move from the basic level to the intermediate level of practice. This is an individual thing and needs to be cultivated by the teacher.

Fukyugata Ichi offers much for the advanced student, as well. At the advanced level, use of koshi is much less noticable and internalized. Use of hand movement is whittled down from big motions to very short motions that are coordinated with foot movement. Applications are more subtle and natural. Speed, power and gracefulness are practiced together. There is no wasted motion and performance of the kata looks relaxed yet quick and powerful.

Again, there is no set time period for transitioning from intermediate to advanced practice of Fukyugata Ichi. This is an individual thing that depends on natural ability, diligent practice, careful introspection, good instruction, and personal choice.

I have included the last point, personal choice, because some students may not feel they are ready to make the jump from beginning, to intermediate, to the advanced way of doing kata. As the teacher, it is my job to oversee the student's progress and encourage them to make the transition at the right time. The actual transition is always up to the individual.

Fukyugata Ichi is the most basic of kata, but with practice, it can be as advanced as you want to make it.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Lunge Punch

This was from our recent promotion demo where 2 people demonstrated for green belt and 2 people demonstrated for their first stripe. It was a good promotion demo. I say "promotion demo" because, this is how I look at it. People pass and fail tests. Promotion demos, however, are only given to people who are ready. Unlike a test where people have a chance of failing, it is very unlikely anyone would fail a promotion demo, because they don't do it until they are truly ready.

Sunday, April 27, 2008


One of the sure things about practicing the martial arts is that every practitioner is eventually going to hit a plateau.

For some, a plateau may occur after they get their black belt. For others, it may be after they feel that they have reached a goal they were shooting for, like having confidence that they could defend themselves, or maybe meeting a weight loss goal. Plateaus can truly happen at any time. Some students may reach a plateau after their first test, others may not plateau until long after they are a black belt.

Reaching a plateau can cause a student who has been very excited about his/her martial art to suddenly feel disenchanted with the process. Some students may even quit.

The wise student looks beyond the plateau to the long term benefits of practicing. If the student perseveres, he will be rewarded over the long haul.

Home Dojo

Having your own personal dojo space at home is important to staying motivated to train between classes. All you need is an area that is big enough to do a kata and maybe a few supplemental training devices you can make yourself.

Just follow these steps and you'll be ready to train in no time:

Step 1: Pick a place to train
Finding the right place at your home to train will be a key factor in whether you actually make use of the training space or not. If you have a room that you can dedicate to only karate training, fantastic, but this is not necessary. In the past, when I did not have a dojo to train in, I used my garage as my dojo. Garages make excellent dojo, but be prepared for the weather and bugs.

Your personal dojo should have the following elements:
  • Enough room to practice kata
  • No safety hazards
  • Privacy from observers
Step 2: Outfit your Dojo
To practice karate you really don't need anything but the space and the time. You may, however, wish to outfit your dojo with a few supplemental training devices to enhance your training experience. Here are just a few...

  • Mirror
  • Interlocking mats
  • Free standing bag and/or makiwara
  • Small, free-swinging target such as a tennis ball on the end of a clothes line

Step 3: Pick a time to train
This can actually be more difficult than finding a place to train in your home. Try to find a time when you will have as few interruptions as possible. If you live somewhere with a hot summer climate, you may wish to pick a time later in the evening or early in the morning when it's cooler. Maybe you're a morning person? If so, then get up extra early and train then. A night person? Train before bed. Have some time at lunch? Maybe lunch is the right time. The point is, pick a good time you can be consistent with.

Step 4: Just Do It!
Now that you have created your personal training space, and found a good time to train, it's time to start training.


Sunday, April 13, 2008

In it for the Long Haul...

Karate is an skill that is best acquired over time. Being in a rush won't get you there any quicker. Learn all you can and always be prepared to begin again.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Flexibility: Part 1 - Body Flexibility

Getting and staying flexible is probably one of the most important things you can do to have and maintain good karate. It's good to arrive at the dojo a few minutes early and stretch. After class is over, you should take a few moments to stretch again.

When you're at home, watching TV, sit on the floor and stretch.

Stretch all parts of your body as often as you can.

Don't over stretch, though.

Here's a good article I found with some accompanying videos on stretching...

Taking Notes

Taking notes about karate training is very important.

My Sensei suggested to me a very long time ago that I should always keep a notebook with me when I go to the dojo or karate training events so I can write down the important thoughts. I have tried to follow this advice ever since. I usually have one with me at all times and I try to capture as much as I can about what I learn.

I find years later that these notes are invaluable. They provide me insight into the stage of development I was experiencing at the time. They also help me remember details about a technique or principle I may have forgotten or since then. Sometimes, they even help me to make a leap in understanding or a small revelation.

I usually don't write long detailed entries about a subject, but rather organize my thoughts by bullet items or short statements where I try to get to the heart of the matter. Then, I try to supplement these with sketches and stick figures.

I always write in the first person and try to note other things that were happening at the time in the world. This helps me remember the time-period better than a date, although I still date each entry.

Sometimes I don't finish an entry because I got busy with something else in my life. Then, a few years later as I'm reading my entries, I will try to complete the entry as best I can from memory. I read my entries often and write notes about how my understanding of the subject has changed. I think this is very helpful.

I have pages in my karate journal that I have left intentionally blank to put pictures relevant to the event. I have the pictures, but I just haven't put them in yet.

Don't get me wrong, I may sound like I'm very disciplined at journaling, but I'm not. I have far too many journals, notebooks and sketchbooks that I have started to write in but then lost only to be found again years later in a box or on a shelf. As I said, I don't always finish an entry or a thought.

The important thing is that I always have one with me when I'm training in case I need to write down a thought.

Thursday, February 14, 2008


Arches are strong. Observe the cables of a suspension bridge, the arches under a Roman aquaduct, or the curve of a bow being pulled just before the release of an arrow.

Angles and straight lines are not as strong as arches. A tall straight tree will easily break from a strong wind.

When doing kata, cultivate the arches in your stance, in the position of your arms, in the motion of your whole body.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

New Students

We've had several new students join the class recently. I just wanted to welcome you and say I'm glad you joined our class! You are helping to keep our art alive in Tallahassee!

Monday, February 04, 2008

Guest Post: Learning from Injury

This post comes from Donald, a green belt at our dojo. He wrote this a couple weeks before he had surgery on his toe. I thought it was good and wanted to share it. Donald is recovering from his foot surgery and back at class training once again after a short absence.

When things are going well, I have a tendency to take them for granted - whether it be my studies, my work, or my Karate. The same holds very true for my body. I just don't notice things when they work well, and when they don't I seem to be unable to remember how things were when I was well. Due to a recent injury, my ability to participate in Karate class has been limited. This is not a first, nor will it be the last - but it is the first time I have learned something about Karate from my injury, well, consciously anyway.

I have been injured several times in my Karate studies - mainly while taking another style. They weren't anyone's fault, things were just done improperly. I have broken toes, cracked ribs, and bruised a bone pretty badly, but I continued to attend class to at least watch and learn so
that I could practice harder when I got better. My current injury is to the big toe of my left foot, I can put very little pressure or torque on the toe without being in severe pain. At first, the most obvious repercussions occurred to me - keeping others from stepping on the toe, as well as keeping myself from bumping into things or pushing it the wrong way. As a result, I find myself paying more attention to my surroundings, being more cautious, thinking things through more and moving more gracefully to keep from bumping that toe against anyone or anything - all principles of good Karate. While at class tonight, I even had some principles from kata occur to me to be applied from this injury.

I have learned lately that Karate is not just taught or thought of on the mat or in the dojo, but is a way of life, of being. I have now also learned that Karate is not just something done while healthy, but is something that can be learned from our infirmities too. Just as my injured toe has taught me about weight distribution, each little tendon in my foot, and movement; so too can other ailments teach us about our Karate - be they temporary like broken bones, or more permanent like a weak knee or asthma.

Nonetheless, I look forward to being well again, so I can practice further what I have learned.


Sunday, February 03, 2008

The Kata We Practice - Naihanchi Shodan

At Tallahassee Karate Club we practice a number of empty-hand kata (forms). Kata are sets of pre-arranged self defense techniques combined with movement in a pattern. Kata have been practiced in Okinawa for hundreds of years as a method to transfer karate knowledge from teacher to student.

The first kata that a student learns in our Dojo is either Fukyugata Ichi or Naihanchi Shodan. If a student is brand new and has never done any kind of martial arts before, they start with Fukyugata Ichi. If they have any experience, Naihanchi is first.

Naihanchi Shodan is the first of 3 Naihanchi kata. The Naihanchi kata are very different than the other kata as their pattern is to move back and forth along a line instead of moving in multiple directions.

Naihanchi is a deep kata that teaches the student most of the principles they will need to be able to apply in all their other kata. By tucking the koshi and feeling the connection between the waist and the lats, the student can begin to learn to make power without relying on the turning motion inherent in other kata.

The Naihanchi stance, which looks like riding on a horse, builds a strong base and teaches the student to grip the floor with their feet. It is excellent for physical conditioning as it builds strong leg muscles.

We often practice Naihanchi very slowly, combined with circular hip and arm motions. To the outsider, this may look a little like Tai Chi and not karate. Practicing this way helps the student to analyze each movement in a critical way to understand where the power points occur, how to make a connection between the bottom half and the top half of their body, and how to improve their overall body dynamic. Then, when it is performed fast, with full power, the student can retain this wisdom in their performance and make power in all the right places.

Besides being an excellent vehicle for using the whole body to make power, Naihanchi is an intensely practical kata. There are so many obvious self defense techniques in Naihanchi that a practitioner could train in this kata exclusively for their entire karate life and never get bored. Straight on block and strike techniques are easy to find through a little analysis and grappling techniques appear easily with a little closer examination.

I hope you will find as much enjoyment in this kata as I have over the years!

Click to watch a video of Shinzato Sensei doing Naihanchi Shodan

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Old Days

Old Days

Yes. I did actually fit into this red Gi top 25 years ago!
Not sure what that posture is, though...

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Happy New Year!

A New Year is a chance to start anew, make resolutions, and prepare for the year ahead. None of us know what will await each new year. We only know that we should meet each day fresh and live for that day.

Happy New Year, 2008!