Thursday, March 14, 2013


Makiwara practice is good for training koshi.  Most people think it's for toughening the knuckles to be able to execute a strong punch, but really that's secondary to how useful it is for koshi training.

Self Defense

The best self defense is to take care of yourself and learn to avoid things that can cause you harm.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Little Details

Paying attention to the little details is what makes your karate good.

You can train for years doing thousands of repetitions of kata and get a lot better. But, once you stop mindlessly doing the same kata over and over the same way, and start to pay attention to the little details, you will start to improve.

My 4 Foot Kata Practice Set

I have a space of concrete on one side of my pool that is basically 4 feet wide by 30 something feet long. I've devised a kata practice set that works perfectly in this space. It's the three Naihanchi kata, followed by Rohai, Passai, Chinto and Kusanku. It's a perfect advanced kata workout and it fits the area perfectly.

If you think creatively, you can always find a place to train.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

What makes us different...

Shinzato Katsuhiko Sensei, the head of Kishaba Juku, is always improving the way we train our karate technique. His Teacher, Kishaba Chokei Sensei, was the same way. This is one of the things that distinguishes the Kishaba Juku approach to karate training from some other styles or methods.

Many styles are very keen to carry on the traditions of their forbears without ever questioning that the way might need to improve or evolve. This is what "traditional" martial arts seem to be all about. You do it the way Sensei does it, he does it the way his sensei did it, and so on. Kata never change. Stances and techniques don't evolve. The style becomes static.

In Kishaba Juku, we look at karate as an evolving process. It's also a very individual way of training. Because of this, when you watch us do kata together, you will notice we don't all have the same timing and the moves may look different. In some dojo this would be a point for correction, but in ours it is just standard practice.

We do not have a big class, either. In fact, right now our class is very small. We could actually use a few new students, but I digress. Anyway, this makes the training very personal. It gives people the opportunity to learn based on their body type, personal needs, etc. If the class was big, I would probably have to change the way I teach. It would be more important for everyone to look the same.

The general training pattern does not change, however.  As beginners, students learn gross motor movements, techniques and patterns.  Intermediate students learn to coordinate the movements with the technique, become more connected, and make power and speed in their kata performance.  Advanced students put it all together and develop a flow that works for them.

Because Shinzato Sensei is constantly evolving the art, there is always more for us to learn. We are on a journey together.  There is no specific end, just training.

Saturday, March 02, 2013

On Learning the Bo

We usually practice bo every 2 or 3 classes. I believe it's a good thing for beginners to learn Bo. Many dojo wait until students are much more advanced to begin to learn bo. There are good reasons for this:
  • Beginners have a hard enough time learning empty hand technique
  • Beginners are just trying to remember the movements of kata
  • Bo is a weapon, and a teacher should feel enough trust that the student is not going to do something stupid like brandish a pool cue in a bar, etc
  • Rank requirements of different styles are rigid and Bo is not learned until much later
  • Etc, etc
As I said, these are good reasons.

There are also some very good reasons to learn bo early in training:
  • Bo is different to learn than empty hand kata
  • Using bo forces us to use both hands
  • The hand positions for Bo can translate directly into empty hand technique
  • Bo teaches us to judge distances differently than empty hand technique
  • Training with a weapon can help to eliminate the fear associated with being confronted by a weapon
  • and on and on...
Bo is a good first Kobudo art to learn. For one thing, it's a lot harder to hurt yourself with than the other weapons.

It's very easy to hit yourself with Nunchaku, drop a Sai into the top of your foot, or let slip a swinging Tonfa. I once heard a story from one of my training partners about a time when he was testing with sai and at a key point in the kata, he accidently let go of the weapon, it sailed through the air, and impaled itself in the wall above the head of one of the spectators. Imagine their surprise! I personally had an interesting time learning to swing nunchaku early in my training...this might be the subject of a future post. I have also had several friends hurt themselves severely with Kama. For this reason, I will only teach Kama to people who are Shodan and above.

It's a little harder to hurt yourself with a Bo.

The style of Bo that we practice, Yamane-Ryu, is very fluid and powerful. Yamane-Ryu kata are beautiful to watch.  We practice 4 different Yamane Ryu bo kata in our dojo, but we really focus on only 2: Shuji no Kun and Sakugawa no Kun.  These are excellent basic and advanced kata that will give the practitioner a lifetime of material to train with.

As a bo is a weapon, anyone learning the bo should know to be very careful when training in the dojo. If you accidentally hit someone with a poke from a bo, they will get hurt.  Training with any okinawan weapon should only be done when your Sensei says you are ready.

Dojo Principles

Courtesy - Respect - Perseverance - Good Character - Honesty - Courage - Cleanliness - Humility - Kindness

I used to teach a kids karate class at a small private elementary school.  It was a great experience and I really enjoy teaching children.  At the end of each class as we sat in seiza in a circle, we would all recite the following words:
  • Courtesy
  • Respect
  • Perseverence
  • Good Character
  • Honesty
  • Courage 
  • Cleanliness
  • Humility
  • Kindness
After this we would bow and class would be over.

We don't recite these words in my adult class since adults don't need to be reminded that these principles are important. Right?


For the last year and a half, or so, I've been trying to re-learn how to use koshi in my karate.

It's not that what I was doing before was wrong, it's just that what I was doing could be equated to gross motor skills vs. fine motor skills. Another way of thinking about it would be like the old shortwave radios that had a analog tuner that moved the dial around quickly between frequencies while another tuner was used to fine tune the frequency.

That's what I'm trying to do with my karate now...fine tune. Anyway, it took me 20 years to feel moderately successful with the gross motor movements, so I figure it will take me another 40 to get the fine tuning somewhat accomplished.

Check back here in about 20 years to see how it's going...

The Kata we Practice: Shuji Nu Kun

Shuji No Kun is the first okinawan weapon kata people learn at our dojo. This kata comes from the Yamane Ryu Bojutsu lineage as taught by Kishaba Chogi Sensei to Shinzato Katsuhiko Sensei.

Yamane Ryu is a very dynamic form of Bojutsu. The movements are flowing and alive.  Footwork is essential to gain an advantage for distance and timing, and this is evident in the way the kata employs foot switching technique.

We actually practice two different versions of this kata at this time. The basic version uses larger swinging techniques, bigger koshi motion, constant adjusting the bo to maintain a distinct "front" that is longer than the "back" of the bo, and holding the bo close to the body.  The more advanced version focuses on relaxed stances derived from naihanchi, holding the bo in a more 50/50 way, and pokes instead of swings.

It's fun to teach this kata to beginners because bo is so different than empty hand kata for the beginner.  It really gives them a chance to learn things from a different perspective.  In reality, Bo kata and empty hand kata really aren't that different, but it takes a number of years of training to figure out why.

Shuji no Kun is not an easy kata to learn, and to do it really well takes years of training.  I like to teach it to beginners who are working toward their green belt, but it is something that students will continue to practice through black belt and beyond.