Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Karate Ni Sente Nashi

There is no first attack in Karate.

Funakoshi performing Naihanchi Shodan.
    I've written about this topic, in passing, in a few articles so far; but I thought it would be a good idea to create a separate post to directly address this important, yet often misunderstood maxim.  Funakoshi is often cited as the source of this quote which means: "there is no first attack in Karate"; but it is unclear if he is the originator, or just responsible for its popularity.  The author of this statement is, for our purposes, unimportant.  In fact, I think it is important to read it without regard to its author.  Reading something within the context of presuming to understand the author, beyond his writing, is always dangerous and results in analyses like: "knowing how Funakoshi felt about other things, I think he must mean this."  Rather than attempting to understand what Funakoshi means by the statement, I think it is more important to really understand what the statement means (regardless of Funakoshi's understanding of it).  Motobu clearly was familiar with the expression, and Funakoshi's connection with it, and he offered a different spin on it by saying, do not take it to mean that once the fight is imminent, one should wait to be hit.  One must take the initiative to defeat one that means you harm.  Some interpretations of Karate ni sente nashi translate it as "there is no initiative in Karate", and Motobu clearly states, Karate is initiative.  But are those two views opposing views?  I don't 
Motobu performing Naihanchi Shodan.
believe they are, and though Motobu certainly is intending to disagree with Funakoshi, I think they are in agreement.  Motobu himself did concede that if you take it to mean Karateka shouldn't run around starting fights you are partially correct, or at least, he agrees that you shouldn't run around starting fights.  But he, like myself, think that stopping your evaluation of the expression there is to stop short of understanding its actual message.  To Motobu (and others, like Mabuni and Nagamine), saying you shouldn't start fights is not even worth saying.  It is simply obvious.  Think of it like this, if the maxim was, "in karate, one should always open doors for little old ladies", Motobu would say: "Right.  No kidding.  You should be doing that anyway".  Is there an Okinawan maxim somewhere for non-martial artists that says: "At all times one should randomly attack people?"   I Googled it, and I still haven't found that maxim.  So what is the point of creating a maxim that is obvious, even to non-martial artists?  Karate training never aims to remove what you know, and replace it with "Karate everything".  There is no maxim on how a Karateka should brush their teeth.  No maxim concerning late filing of your taxes.  And when Karate teaches you how to strike and block, it never says ignore what you already know about fighting, it says "here is extra stuff you don't know, and that requires training to learn, and
builds upon what you already understand".  In one of the earliest written works on Karate, The Study of China Hand Techniques By Morinobu Itoman, he speaks at length about how effective Karate techniques are in conjunction with things like screaming at your opponent, or spitting at him, or dirty fighting (like biting or attacking testicles and eyes etc), sucker punches, head butting etc.  The intention is, whatever you learn will supplement and build upon what you know, not replace it.  So let's get to the meat of this.  What can we learn from Karate ni sente nashi?  
  1.  Karate is for defense only/Preemptive Strikes.  While I do agree that reading it to mean that you should use your Karate only for defense (or in other words never to attack) is a good start, I don’t think that is necessarily useful or informative, but still true.  This fact is necessary in the understanding of Karate ni sente nashi, but not sufficient.  For instance, it does not mean that you can’t strike first; it means you can’t attack first (or initiate the confrontation).  If I identify you as an opponent, you have already attacked me be it verbally, physically, or through implication or perceived intent.  I don’t have to wait for the bad guy in a ski mask with a drawn gun to actually shoot me before I take action.  Is that how you practice gun self-defense?  Do you wait to be hit by the first shot before taking action?  How do you reconcile that with “Karate ni sente nashi?”  The answer is clear: that is not all it means.  There was a famous incident involving Motobu.  Someone approached him in a restaurant and challenged him to fight.  The attacker was wielding a knife, and Motobu said: "I will not fight with weapons, especially a knife", to which the attacker insisted it was happening anyway, and Motobu said "if you are intent on this, then let's go outside."  As they headed to the door, Motobu kicked his would-be attacker in the back, avoiding a knife fight (or any "fight" for that matter).  Though he struck first, Motobu did not show initiative in attacking; he showed initiative in defending himself.  He knows that no matter how good his Karate is, he isn't about to be cut-up all over.  No one wins a knife fight.  Someone just lives a bit longer.  And it is important to know the distinction between a fight, and self defense.  Karate is not ever fighting.  It is self defense.  A fight is a contest.  Motobu said "I will not fight with weapons/knives".  He didn't say "I will not defend myself at all costs against weapons".  That is the true essence of Karate.  Motobu didn't fight that person.  He dispatched his enemy.  Motobu did not attack, the brandishing of the knife was the attack.  Motobu preempted harm coming to him.  Just like he said he would.  That is part of Karate ni sente nashi.                                                                                                                                                                          There are some critics of this reading, however.  Some people dislike the idea of allowing Karate ni sente nashi to be read in a way that allows preemptive strikes.  I think that the above serves to quell any argument that it is wrong to strike an attacker first, after the threat is clear.  
    One method of preemption explored...
    But another opposing viewpoint that has emerged is that you can't go around preemptively hitting people in every altercation.  They may say "do you know how many times a guy has approached me, posturing like he wanted to fight.  Everyone of those instances dissolved without physical violence.  Now imagine if I had just punched him preemptively.  I would be the attacker and he would be defending."  To me, that is simply a misunderstanding of what it means to preempt an attack.  Like I said before, learning Karate doesn't mean you unlearn everything else you know.  In this scenario, you are talking about someone that you weren't entirely sure was going to attack you.  And ultimately, he did not.  Do you know why?  Because you preempted his attack verbally.  That is still Karate.  You don't have to strike someone to win a fight.  You were not in a physical altercation at that stage.  You were having a verbal altercation with the chance of becoming physical.  By all means, talk your way out of it.  That is still preemptive, in fact it is essentially the highest expression of preempting a fight there is.  People ask me if I've ever used Karate, and I say "every time I've never gotten in a fight."                                                                    Some critics also hold that it cannot be read to allow preemptive strikes because it is impossible.  They would say that no violent attacker will let you know they want to harm you.  That they will surprise and overwhelm you when you aren't expecting it,
    A real-life example of a surprise attack.
    and they will cause you extreme violence with no intention of a fight.  They just want to harm you.  Well, yes that is true.  There are certain attackers that make no overture of their intent.  You can also have a bomb fall on your house, or die in an earthquake.  No Kata can prepare you for that which is entirely unpredictable.  Karate teaches you how to defend yourself in situations that are defensible.  Does that mean the statement cannot be read to mean one should preempt an attack?  Of course not; for two reasons.  First, In this surprise attack scenario, think of the statement as "since there is no first attack in Karate, I won't be attacking anyone, but at any moment I may be attacked by someone that doesn't practice Karate."  Your adversary here is not a person, but the threat of a violent person.  Funakoshi said, when you leave your house, imagine there are enemies awaiting you everywhere.  Outside is your opponent here.  So, is it not best to preempt?  Before someone surprise attacks you on a crowded bus by stabbing you in the kidney as they get off the bus, perhaps you should stand somewhere that you have a view of the entire bus.  Or if it's too crowded to safely assume no one will stab you, then you are obligated to wait for the next bus.  Don't walk around dangerous neighborhoods at night.  Have you not preempted an unpredictable attack?  Preempting can also mean removing yourself from situations of danger, as well as talking your way out.  Another criticism of the idea of preemptive striking is that an attacker will never let you know of their intent.                                                                    
    The aggressor is clearly showing his intentions here...
     That is an absolute fallacy.  In fact, the same people that say they have been in countless situations where someone seemed threatening, are the same that say no one will let you know their threatening intent.  So beyond that clear problem of their own logic, let's address people not showing their intent to harm you.  Certainly, as we discussed, there are cases where you cannot know there even is an attacker, in which case prevention (not being there) is tantamount to preemption.  But, I think it is far more useful for most of us to imagine more common situations.  An agitated drunk person on a subway looking for a fight.  Confronting someone that tried to take your girlfriend's purse.  Someone that thinks you bumped into them at a bar.  Confronting someone that is hitting their girlfriend.  Someone that thinks you were talking to their girlfriend and starts pushing you and talking tough.  Aside from random violence, gang violence, muggings, or a prison attack, most altercations tend to have the verbal phase which helps the attacker work himself up to the attack.  Or at the very least violent posturing, and chest shoves etc.  Sometimes those scenarios dissolve, and sometimes they do not.  Whether verbal, or physical, it is still best to preempt.  And that doesn't mean you have to hit them before they hit you.  You might miss.  They may be faster than you thought.  But even if they hit you, you will attack even stronger in response, thus preempting any real harm coming your way.  You can preempt by talking, by hitting first, or by hitting sufficiently to end the altercation.  
  2. Any misfortune that befalls the attacker is the attacker's fault.  Another very powerful aspect of this precept is that it describes a sort of contract that a Karateka enters into.  When confronted by an aggressor, that aggressor has tacitly entered into the same contract.  Our training teaches us how to respond to violence.  And in many cases, the response is necessarily violent and fast.  If someone pulls a knife on you, you don't slap him in the face and prepare to exchange blows like a tournament, you break his arm and run.  Someone punches you, you block and go for the throat, you don't take a stance and prepare to spar.  We train to attack vital areas as a means of defense.  We arm ourselves with natural weapons, and train to use them.  By attacking me, you agree that I can do anything I want to do, or have to do in order to stop you (whatever is necessary and sufficient).  If you punch my stomach, I will go for your eyes, because you will not have a chance for the second punch that may knock me out, or worse, your second punch might be a knife.  Motobu said, if you attack me with a knife, I will not be fighting you, and understand that by you attacking first, all bets are off and my conscience is clear to disable you, even if I hit you first.
    Attack a Martial Artist at your own risk...
     It is basically a moral license for a Karateka telling him that it is OK to use what he's learned without feeling bad, as long as it's always in defense.  There is no such thing as an extreme defense.  You have been attacked, and you are obligated to defend your life, however you deem necessary.  And, no matter what, you have the moral stance of "he started it."  
    Karate ni sente nashi is a lot like saying, "I don't start fights.  I finish them."  There is no first attack in Karate because when you do attack, it will be the final attack.  There is also no third attack in Karate, it should be done by then.  So, you are morally obligated by Karate ni sente nashi to use your art for defense only, and if you do, you should not feel bad about it since the attacker directly asked you to harm him by engaging you to begin with.  Had the attacker just left you alone, you would never have attacked him.  He did not leave you alone, so you responded.  And you can sleep peacefully knowing you did the right thing.  That is the moral importance of Karate ni sente nashi.                                                                                                                                                                                                         
  3. You are not fighting another Karateka in Kata.  To me, a very important consequence of Karate ni sente nashi is in understanding our Kata.  Kata is very difficult to interpret, and I feel that many Karateka mistakenly assume that "if I am practicing a Karate Kata, it must address fighting against Karate".  That makes a lot of sense from a certain viewpoint.  Here is how to do something and here is how to get out of it.  That is the slippery slope of Sports.  I haven't seen many old Jujutsu books address escapes from Jujutsu holds, but they all address using Jujutsu against weapons, and against Western Boxers.  Judo books however, do address reversals, and escapes from Judo techniques.  Why?  Because Judo is a sport.  It is the sport form of Jujutsu, meaning that it is intended to be used against Judo.  Only to the highest level students did Kano teach Kata intended
    Contemporary sport-versions of Martial Arts, like Judo,
     train to defeat each other in competition.
    for self defense against real attackers.  True Jujutsu is preserved in the context of those Kata.  What is interesting here, is that when Judo was formed, Kano held competitions to prove the efficacy of his methods.  These competitions were held against the existing Jujutsu schools of the time.  Who will better win a fight against a Jujutsuka?  One trained to get out of every known Jujutsu technique, or one who knows how to apply every Jujutsu technique as a means for defeating any 
    other known attacker?  That is the fallacy of modern Karate; that skill in Karate is determined against Karateka.  None of our traditional Kata are intended to fight against another Karateka.  For multiple reasons.  First, it cannot be against a Karateka because there were no Karateka.  Okinawans, prior to Karate as we know it, still had fighting methods.  Some trained, and some untrained.  If you were trained, you had the knowledge of what others on Okinawa might be trained with.  And you certainly know how the untrained would fight.  Much like we assume a cowboy swing to the kisser by an untrained fighter, Okinawa had their equivalent.  Karate, however, was something new.  Something being developed in secret to defeat all known methods, while at the same time, building upon them
    This is not what the original Masters intended their teachings for...
    and incorporating them.  Your Kata cannot be against a Karateka because, first of all, there were none. But also because, 
    a Karateka would not be attacking you without reason.   We just covered that a Karateka cannot initiate a confrontation, so he isn't attacking you for no reason.  And he wouldn’t have reason to strike you first (preemptively), because you as a Karateka wouldn’t initiate a confrontation with him either.  The power of the quote is not a moral or ethical assertion; the power of the quote is in understanding our Kata, and that it is not against a Karateka.                                                                                                                                                          
  4. Counter attacking  Another interesting lesson to learn from "Karate ni sente nashi" is that Karate is most effective as a counter measure.  If you insist on reading it simply as "there is no first attack", and insist on that meaning you can never strike someone first, that is still OK.  Here, while part of the meaning of the statement is to use Karate for defense, in this instance, it can be useful to interpret it to mean Karate is most effective when used to exploit your opponent's attack.  As in, wait for their attack and then eliminate the threat as quickly and effectively as possible by recognizing the openings they create by attacking.  In other words, Karate is only for defense for two reasons.  1. The moral implications (and most obvious rationale) that one should not seek violence or to harm others, and 2. That Karate is most effective when used in defense.  
    For a technique to have maximum effect, the attacker must completely commit to a powerful attack.
    This is really quite true in most, if not all, martial arts.  Aikido for example, relies upon the strength and momentum of the attacker.  A popular saying is that one should pull when pushed, and push when pulled.  What should one do if no one is pushing or pulling you?  You do nothing.  For two reasons.  1. No one is attacking you, so why would you.  And, 2. because your techniques are ineffectual until the opponent engages.  Same is true of Judo.  A technique will only work once your opponent is unbalanced.  And the best way to unbalance an opponent is through your reaction to their attack.  You can trip an advancing opponent, but not a stationary one.  You cannot block a punch until one is thrown.  You cannot put someone in a wrist lock until they have grabbed you.  Karate ni sente nashi also means, wait for your opponent to commit to his attack, and then use that attack to create the openings your counter attack will exploit to end the altercation.                                                                                                                                                                                     
  5. Be Ready Always.  I touched upon this earlier, but another interesting lesson contained here is that one should always be ready to be attacked.  As I mentioned, one of Funakoshi's other precepts (Karate ni sente nashi is only one of twenty precepts) is
    A contemporary spin on Funakoshi's ideals.
    "When you leave home, think that you have numerous opponents waiting for you."  Why?  Because that precept is derivative of "there is no first attack in Karate."  What you know as a martial artist, because of Karate ni sente nashi, is that without a doubt, you will not be attacking anyone.  Nor will any other Karateka.  Which means, anyone you encounter that is not a Karateka may attack you.  And understand that saying "you are morally bound to never attack" is equivalent to saying "no one else is morally bound not to attack."  Which is not to say they are morally bound 
    to attack you; but they are not guaranteed to leave you alone either.  So again, in the interest of preemption, assume they will attack you, and prepare to disallow that.                                                                                                                                                                          I hope that this sheds some light on the real power of the lessons from the past.  As I discussed in my Shotokan article, I take issue with people doing whatever they want and then trying to justify it by citing the old masters, with no actual understanding of what the old masters said.  Like Funakoshi said, Karate training is not just in the Dojo.  That means you should take Karate with you everywhere you go, not just practice it in the Dojo.  But that also means that, to mature, it needs to have the influence of other areas.  Just as you shouldn't leave your Karate in the Dojo, you shouldn't leave critical thinking, logic, and reason outside of the Dojo.  A true Karateka would understand that what Funakoshi means by this is more than "practice at home."  He means, when you read a philosophy book,apply what you learn there to your Karate.  When you read a science book, apply what you learn there to Karate.  If students read Funakoshi's Precepts nearly as often as they practiced stationary punching in the air, or as thoroughly as they worked on making their Kata snap, they would see how far from the man they credit as their founder they really are.  They have done as Funakoshi feared, and made
     An example of a sporting contest, not an example of the application of Karate Kata.
    Karate a sport.  The final reading of Karate ni sente nashi I will leave you with is this:
  6. Since there is no first attack in Karate, if you attack first, you are not practicing Karate.   Sport Karate faces two "Karateka" against each other and asks one of them to attack first, often rewarding that competitor. That is not Karate.  This is precisely what the 20 Precepts attempt to prevent.  Funakoshi was terrified that his Okinawan art would be corrupted by those that don't take the time to study it in a deep way.  This is why he criticized the emphasis on sparring with each other, because it would lead to training to fight each other.  I think it is distasteful and insulting to consider Funakoshi the "Father" of modern/Japanese Karate (which means Sport Karate).  He is nothing but the Father of being entirely ignored and misinterpreted, yet credited all the same.  Motobu criticized Funakoshi as only knowing the outer portion of Karate, not understanding its real depth.  If that's the case, what would he possibly have to say about all of us?

    Wednesday, August 6, 2014

    Shotokan Karate: What Happened?

             Gichin Funakoshi was a school teacher and Karate student from Okinawa, who introduced Karate to Japan and the world.  You and I are talking about Karate because of Funakoshi, and Funakoshi alone.  Kano invented belts, but Funakoshi put them in Karate, along with Kano's Kyu-Dan system.  Do you wear belts? You're welcome (says Funakoshi).  There is literally no Martial Artist as important to Karate as Funakoshi, other than the actual founders of Karate (whom he studied under).  So, why doesn't anyone practice the Karate he worked so hard to
    Funakoshi in his younger years.
    teach?  Not even his Taikyoku Kata?  I would say it's about one percent of schools that teach the Kata Funakoshi himself created.  Funakoshi was essentially the first person to write a book about Karate, even among the first few to think to spell it as "empty hand" instead of "Chinese hand". He literally gave us text books on Karate as he learned and taught it at his school, the Shotokan.  Funakoshi only taught his art as "Karate".  He did not teach a style of Karate, though if hard pressed he would refer to it as Shorei style or Shorin style, or a mixture.  But, after Funakoshi's death, his students insisted on referring to their style of Karate as the style taught at the Shotokan.  Or, Shotokan style Karate.  So, despite not wanting a style, he taught his Karate so specifically that a certain style emerged.  Though oddly, even then, that style looked absolutely nothing like what Funakoshi actually taught at the Shotokan school.  So let's begin with an overview of the differences between Funakoshi's "unnamed" Karate and Shotokan Karate currently practiced; to help us figure out what happened to Funakoshi's Karate.  

    • The stances changed dramatically  In Funakoshi's first book, or at least first surviving book, KarateJutsu, he demonstrates several Kata, as well as some basics.  His stances are all very high and practical.  While he had already begun to shift his Cat Stances in
    Kata to a modified Cat/Back Stance it is nowhere near the current idea of a Shotokan Back Stance.  His Karate still looked fairly Okinawan.  By the time of Nakayama's Best Karate series (pretty much the modern text books of Shotokan, and excellent books) Shotokan had come to mean something very different from Okinawan Karate.  The stances took on a much more Judo/Kendo inspired feel, perhaps owing to Kano's early influence and assistance.  It seems easier to convert people already familiar with those stances to Karate if you adapt it to use some of those same fundamentals.  And why not?  To the old-time Masters, things like stances didn't matter the way they do here (and now).  To Funakoshi, is a Cat Stance that different from his version of Back Stance?  But his Back Stance is closer to the Hanmi of Kendo than Cat Stance is.  If it helps your art get a foot hold with a public that has never heard of it, why not?  

  1. The various hand techniques are reduced to very few  This is true of most modern Shotokan schools, and not necessarily all of them, but no one really practices or uses anything other than Reverse Punch.  An occasional Ridge Hand, or Back Fist, but 90% of training is Reverse Punch.  Funakoshi's original writings mention a fair variety of hand techniques; Nishiyama and Brown's Karate has an awful lot of varied and very Okinawan techniques.  Nakayama's books preserve these techniques as well, even if they are presented in the way least like how Funakoshi would have taught them.  Why then, aren't they really being taught or drilled in Shotokan classes?  I've studied several different styles that claim to have Shotokan as a part or entirety of their system, including JKA schools, and other "pure" Shotokan schools, but no one ever does anything beyond Reverse Punch/Back Fist/Ridge Hand.  That goes for blocking as well.  Very rarely do
    Funakoshi demonstrating alternates to reverse punch.
    you see much beyond the very basics, and certain techniques seem bound to certain stances, like Knife Hand Block with Back Stance to Spear Hand.  Like you can't use Spear Hand any other time than from that position.  Or using Knife Hand Block from anything but Back Stance.  Never do you see Shotokan guys using Kakuto Uke.  Yet, Nakayama even taught it.  Here are the JKA's Dan requirements. Where are the Tiger Mouths, Ox Jaw Hands, Back Hands, Ippon Ken, Kakuto, Keito, eye pokes, throws, etc?  Funakoshi taught all of that.  His students taught all of that.  Where did it go?  Tournament Karate and point fighting are to blame for the overall lack of quality in Karate today.  The pioneers of point fighting were excellent at point fighting (and contact for that matter), but their point fighting was impressive because of their Karate.  Those guys trained in all of the real techniques, and they trained hard.  Then when they "played" Karate against each other they only used legal techniques.  The problem is, that became all that was important to anyone.  It shaped their idea of what to expect from Karate when they signed up, only training to be good at Tournament Karate.  The old methods are falling away from us, and the reputation of Karate as ineffective is based on this Karate.
  2. The lowness of stances  Funakoshi began demonstrating a trend towards this in his later years, reflecting the changes around him rather than being outpaced by them.  It was his son that was largely responsible for the initial changes that were perhaps best
    Funakoshi demonstrating the product of the University Clubs'
    influence on what would be known as Shotokan.  Compare
    to KarateJutsu above.
    exemplified by Nakayama and Nishiyama in their books.  As a direct result of the youthful vigor of the University Karate Clubs, a preference for very low stances and large, powerful movements developed.  Not to mention Flying Side Kicks.  But, we'll save those for their own article.  You can argue for or against low stances, but you can't argue that it wasn't a change from Funakoshi's original Karate.
  3. No Makiwara  Not in any Shotokan school I've been in. Funakoshi is a clear advocate of them, even including instructions on how to construct them.  But for some reason, most
    Funakoshi says punch these...
    Shotokan schools don't use them.  I suspect because it's unnecessary for tournaments, and/or fear of injury law suits.
  4. No Throwing Techniques  Perhaps with all of the MMA emphasis this is changing, but if so, it's people thinking they are "adding" it to Karate.  Throwing has always been a part of Karate and a part of all Okinawan fighting prior to Karate.  Also, Jujutsu, and even Judo predate Karate, so throwing was well known at the time that Karate was really becoming Karate.  But, again there is no real use for throwing techniques in tournaments, so they're nice to know, but...   Many people have learned their Karate without the concept of throwing, and then say it isn't effectual because it doesn't teach grappling.  Sometimes if something is missing it is because it is truly lacking.  But sometimes if something is missing it is because your training is not complete.  
  5. Breaking Things   Funakoshi deplored the idea of breaking tiles and boards.  He said "are we not disappointed that such things as the
    Not these...
    breaking of boards and tiles, or jumping and bouncing around, are recently mistakenly thought to be the essence of karate-do?"  Nishiyama's book shows him breaking boards, circa 1959, two years after Funakoshi's death.  Nishiyama was a direct student of Funakoshi.
  6. No Taikyoku Kata  Funakoshi created these Kata as an introductory Kata, yet very few schools have these Kata.  Granted, they aren't spectacular Kata, but when naming a system in honor of someone's teachings, one tends to include some of their teachings.  These were Funakoshi's legacy and they could very well have disappeared.    

  7. As someone that grew up with admiration for Shotokan, and grew up learning Shotokan Kata and technique, I was very disappointed when I started reading about Funakoshi and reading the various Shotokan books available.  I was disappointed that there was so much missing from my training that was so clearly part of the system only a few years prior.  I thought it was insulting to ignore it and act like it isn't a part of the teaching.  That was when I decided that I didn't want to study JKA Shotokan any longer.  I think they are truly excellent at what they teach, and I admire and applaud their training and instructor training programs.  There are also a lot of excellent full contact Shotokan guys.  But, for me, it is important to train and study what the Masters taught.  So to get closer to Funakoshi, I had to leave Shotokan behind.   My aim here is to draw attention to the fact that Funakoshi brought a lot more to Karate than he is often recognized for, and that it is the fault of Tournament Karate for removing so much of Karate's real content and reducing it to punch/block/kick.  It saddens me that Shotokan has gone down the very path Funakoshi feared and prophesied as a result of an emphasis on sport fighting.  Funakoshi said "When one becomes enthusiastic about sparring, there is a tendency for his Kata to become bad."  In other words, he will focus only on techniques useful for sparring and neglect the lessons of Kata, which are not applicable to sparring with each other.  And worse yet, that they will begin to think the movements of their Kata are for sparring.  Karate is Kata.  If your Kata is bad, your Karate is bad.  And that is exactly where Funakoshi's Karate has ended up: bad.  Training for the ability to be judged in point sparring, or on the beauty of the performance of your Kata as art, is about form over function.  The snap of the gi, the volume of the kiai, the pacing of your transitions for dramatic effect, the lowness of stances, big swinging gestures, all serve no purpose other than looking cool.  For many years Tae Kwon Do instructors would claim that it was a centuries old Korean art, and that the forms were ancient.  Then people started realizing it was just Shotokan Karate with a new back story, and some reworked techniques.  Likewise, a lot of Shotokan instructors like to re-imagine Shotokan's history and say things like "those techniques were removed by Funakoshi (sometimes Itosu) to teach school children so they aren't in Shotokan."
    Many argue that Karate lost its "intricate" or "deadly" techniques when they were removed by Funakoshi,
      We know this isn't true because Funakoshi shows them in his books, and they're in the books of his students as well, implying that he taught them.  Of course, if you buy a translation of Funakoshi's masterwork, The Karate-Do Kyohan, you will find that while Funakoshi himself demonstrates everything in the original book, the translator demonstrates everything in this book.  This is essential to not alerting a modern student to the fact that they are not learning Funakoshi's art.  They went so far as to remove a stance that Funakoshi included, the T Stance, and replaced it with a stance created for sparring, the Fudo Dachi (which is basically a Front Stance lead leg with a Horse Stance rear leg to help you bounce around and look tough and ready.  The kind of bouncing around that Funakoshi spoke out against along with tile breaking).  What would Funakoshi think of where his Karate has ended up.  Why is it that Funakoshi's teachings have been so changed and mutated and twisted, yet attributed to him nonetheless?  To me it is somewhat disrespectful to disregard so much of Funakoshi's teachings, and then cite him as your founder.  If you are a Shotokan stylist, and you find your school lacking in the things originally within the system, do yourself a favor and augment your training.  Fill in the voids, don't just blame Karate for it's shortcomings.  Study another system, or add to your system.  Read the Shotokan books written by the old masters.  They knew Karate.  What are you learning?  

    Saturday, August 2, 2014

    Some lessons I've learned from

    Bogu Kumite

    Kenwa Mabuni and Ryzaemon Matsuwara  practicing Bogu Kumite.

         The importance of training as realistically as possible cannot be overstated.  Experiencing the techniques we are practicing being applied to us is every bit as important as being able to experience applying the techniques to others; like Bruce Lee famously asserted, "boards don't hit back."  Certainly there is a benefit to hitting boards, makiwara, and heavy bags, but to feel what it is really like to hit an actual person is of the utmost importance.  As is knowing what it feels like to really be hit by an actual person.
    Even for Daniel, no Kumite, no Karate...
     I still remember the first night I practiced contact Kumite.  I had been training in Martial Arts since I was a child, in many styles and systems, but never once had anyone actually hit me.  I mean HIT me.  Sure, when I was practicing Shotokan, we had some prearranged sparring, and 3-step drills, and even some light Jiyu-Kumite, but never was there real contact.  Punches and blocks were full power, so there was forearm to forearm contact, but should an attack not be blocked, it was considered to be a sign of expertise that the blow should stop short of its target, so as to not hurt the defender, even in sparring.  But now, here I was learning old-school Okinawan Karate, and this was contact Jiyu-Kumite (free sparring).  Strategies that work great in tournaments or point sparring were immediately useless to me.  I used to fair quite well in sparring, but this night, my first night of contact Kumite, I was bounced off of walls with kicks, I had a rib cracked, and I was repeatedly dropped to the floor by well timed sweeps, among various other embarrassing episodes that evening.  And, worse yet, almost nothing I tried got through their defenses, or if it did, it was ignored and ineffectual, only setting me up to be hit more.  This made me realize the error of non contact training.  I had been convinced over the years that Kata and Kihon were sufficient for you to handle yourself, and that pulling punches was a sign of expertise and also a testament to the deadly nature of these attacks.  I think there is an unspoken implication in non-contact schools that the techniques are too dangerous to be used against a training partner.  So here are a few of the lessons I learned from full contact fighting, especially in Bogu (protective "armor" and head gear, originally similar to what Kendoka wear, but now are available in many varieties), that were completely missing from my experience with non-contact/point sparring.  Hopefully these points will help someone else along their path, as they have for me.   
    A typical modern mask for Kumite

    1. Follow up attacks:  In point fighting, only one clear technique can be awarded the point.  In order for the judges to see your strike and award you the point, there is a tendency to only throw one strike. Whether a counter to another strike, or a direct attack, a judge cannot score a flurry of techniques so that is not advantageous to a competitor.  Also, in Kihon practice this view is often reflected as well, as in practicing block/punch combinations like "rising block/reverse punch".  In contact Kumite, it is very clear what attacks went through, and the only judge is you and your opponent.  While a tournament judge might just call a clash, and award no points, a full contact fighter knows that when two techniques hit simultaneously the stronger or more well placed attack wins.  Point training also has the effect of making you pause after a successful strike.  While you expect someone to separate you and say "point" for your reverse punch to your opponent's midsection, your opponent continues attacking you.  What is the point (so to speak) of hitting your opponent in the abdomen and then stopping?  In a real fight, or contact Kumite, your opponent is going to continue attacking you.  You landed the reverse punch first, but your opponent immediately back-fists you to the face, followed by a face punch, followed by a sweep. This is life and death, not a game of tag.  Point fighting creates the dangerous attitude of "I got you" by rewarding a practitioner for being able to quickly touch their opponent before their opponent can touch them.  There is a pervading sense of "imagine that was a deadly blow instead of tapping you on the stomach".  You are rewarded for speed, not for efficacy.  A police officer is trained that if they draw their weapon, they must have the intent to fire.  And, if they fire, they fire until the opponent is dropped; not just one round.  No warning shots, and no wounding shots.
      Karate do yes, or Karate do no.  There is no Karate do 'guess so'...
       That is the essence of self-defense.              Do nothing unless you intend to do everything to save your life, or the life of those you care about.  Like the dialogue between Daniel-San and Mr. Miyagi: "Either you karate do "yes" or karate do "no." You karate do "guess so," [makes squish gesture] just like grape. Understand?" 
    2. Proper distancing:  The practice of pulling punches and kicks without landing them fully is entirely detrimental to understanding proper distancing.  Just as one can't expect to play violin by practicing
      Jimmy Fallon and Ashton Kutcher demonstrate
      excellent point-fighting technique.  Kutcher gets the point here... 
      piano, how do you expect to deliver strikes with efficacy if you only train in how to not hit someone? Even if you practice with heavy bags and makiwara, a moving target is even more difficult to gauge proper distancing, and striking a person is very different than hitting bags and makiwara as well.  Both physically, and mentally.  There is also a tendency for people trained to pull their punches to, more or less, attack their opponent's hands rather than their bodies.  That is to say, they are accustomed to a partner blocking their attack; so there is no intention of ever striking the defender.  And because of pulling punches in training, even if not blocked you tend to leave a cushion of space, so as not to make contact should he miss the block.  Think of children playing with toy swords, they are attacking with the intention of their partner blocking the strikes, so much so that what ends up happening is each kid attacks the other kid's sword, rather than attacking the other kid.  Why?  Because they are emulating movies, and have no intention of harming anyone;  they just want to replicate movie fights. Point sparring operates identically.  You want to hear "Ting Ting" as metal clashes with metal; not the screams of an opponent cut down by a sword.      
    3. Proper timing:  Closely related to the distancing point above, having good timing is very important for successfully defending yourself.  Not having proper distancing, and not having contact during training result in the inability to accurately judge when a strike will hit you (since you are used to people being further away, usually Maai, or a distance such that an opponent would have to take a
      step towards you to hit you).  Blocking too early or too late are both bad, and striking
      A lot of what Japanese Karate think of as Karate ritual or concepts
      are actually traced back to Kendo and Judo practice, and not
      present in Okinawan Karate.  Maai and other concepts are owed
      to Kendo as above.
      the proper target at the right moment is far more effective than just striking the same target.  For instance, you get a point when you strike an opponent's solar plexus whether they are breathing in or out at the moment of impact (or pulled impact as it were).  In full contact Kumite, or real life, you want to time such a strike to knock the air out of an opponent, and end the fight there.
    4. Targeting:  Chuck Norris described a tactic he used in which he would feint a punch to the face, and then land a reverse punch to the stomach.  While that would get you the point in a tournament, in reality it would open you up to counter attacks that a point fighter need not be concerned with.  Also, Bogu Kumite will quickly absolve you of any interest in punching people in the stomach.  While it is useful in certain situations, it will never drop someone, at least not while you are actually fighting (maybe a sucker punch), anywhere near as effectively as by attacking the face.  If you disagree, consider this: would you stand still, hands at your side, and let someone strike your stomach?  Now would you let the same person strike your face?  I bet most Karateka would say yes to the first question.  It's even a popular training method for body conditioning.  Many arts practice striking various regions to strengthen them.  But never the face.  When you practice point sparring, you are concerned with regions that earn points.  You attack those areas, and you defend those areas, and you ignore areas that are "illegal".  In contact training, you are always focused on vital areas.  You train to attack the legs, groin, throat, eyes, face, etc, and you train to defend those same areas as well.     
    5. Being hit:  Nothing can prepare you for what it is like to get hit in the face like getting hit in the face
      can.  Even with a full face mask on, the impact of being hit hard in the head is staggering.  Not only does it hurt a lot, it will temporarily confuse you and disorient you as well.  This isn't exclusively about head hunting either.  Even the experience of having someone side kick your thigh, or roundhouse kick your shin, or even the feeling when two people kick at the same time and smash shins together, is exactly the sort of things point sparring avoids, and real conflicts cannot avoid. In point sparring, you are rewarded for kicking above your opponent's head!  In Bogu Kumite, you learn quickly that there is a reason old-school Karate kicks are always aimed low.  
    6. Punching is nearly useless:  The bread and butter of point sparring is the reverse punch.
      Point fighters practice this...
       While some other techniques are still legal, such as ridge hands and palm strikes, those tend to be harder for judges to see when compared to a clear punch with a kiai, so those techniques are discouraged in training, or at the least, neglected.  As a result, the goal of a Sport Karateka is to have as many ways of quickly slipping in a punch to a non vulnerable area, with no intention of making contact. Other than a punch to the face, contact Kumite teaches you quickly that punching anywhere else is ineffectual, and even with the face, there are far better options than Seiken.  Traditional Karate has many different types of "punches" such as one-knuckle punches, fore-knuckle punches, hammer fists, etc., not to mention the other strikes!  Point sparring cannot "waste" time by
      ...though traditional Karateka pratcice these (among others)...
      training in these old methods.  To a judge, a regular fist, or a one-knuckle punch, or a fore-knuckle punch all look the same, so why waste time training these subtle differences.  A contact fighter knows why that isn't a waste of time after the first time a knuckle punch goes between his ribs.  And, a sport fighter typically doesn't get a point for a strike with the lead hand (not to mention it is again discouraged as not being clearly visible to a judge).  In real confrontation, or in full contact training, you often find that striking immediately with your blocking hand, and then following up with your hikite hand is far better than blocking with one hand and striking with the other. One of my favorite techniques is to block with a Kakuto Uke, followed by a Palm Heel to the temple or face with the same hand.  Very effective and immediate, while nearly impossible to defend against, as my block has pushed your arm away, removing your ability to use it to block my followup (which leads to more followup immediately).  And the Judges say...  No points!
    7. It is better to not attack than to have a weak attack:  Point sparring creates a safety zone where practitioners are encouraged to try tactics like hopping towards your opponent on one foot throwing light roundhouse kicks (that even if they made contact would amount to being slapped by a foot).  Sometimes this tactic can force your
      opponent out of the ring, scoring you a point.  Wild spinning kicks and other showmanship techniques are safe in this environment, and encouraged, as they please judges and crowds.  I'm not suggesting techniques such as spinning kicks shouldn't be used ever, but if it fails in a real fight, or even in full contact training, you will immediately regret the attempt.  If you slip or fall at a tournament while trying a fancy kick, a referee will stop the match and you will get up.  If it happens in a real situation, or contact training, it will decide your fate.  In Sport Karate it is OK to attempt some attacks that you don't "mean" in an attempt to read your opponent, or intimidate, or create an opening for your punch.That is never the 
      case in a real fight, or in Bogu Kumite.  By "testing" your opponent, you are creating vulnerabilities in your own defenses that will be exploited. When you throw that
      jab to the midsection to see where his hands move you will find that, unlike in point fighting where your opponent will react to a midsection punch to avoid losing the point, a full contact fighter will repeatedly punch you in the face while you "slip under his guard" and "land" that reverse punch that always gets you the point.  This is another lesson of "Karate ni sente nashi", or there is no first attack in Karate.  We discussed this ideal in my Bunkai article, but in this context, I think the phrase has another useful reading.  While part of the meaning of the statement is to use Karate for defense, in this instance, it can be useful to interpret it to mean Karate is most effective when used to exploit your opponent's attack.  As in, wait for their attack and then eliminate the threat as quickly and effectively as possible by recognizing the openings they create by attacking.  In other words, Karate is only for defense for two reasons.  1. The moral implications that one should not seek violence or to harm others, and 2. That Karate is most effective when used in defense.      
    8. Precision and timing are more important than speed:  The aspects that make for a successful Karate technique include Timing, Accuracy, Speed, and Strength; or what I like to call TASS (I've literally never called it that...).  These are akin to what is sometimes called the "Triple Constraint" of Quality: Time, Cost, and Scope.  That is to say that the
      quality of the 
      product will be affected by changing any of those three areas, unless at least one of the other areas are also changed.  Imagine you are given a month to create a product, with a budget of $100, that will perform 10 functions.  Now, imagine that the person ordering this product wants 20 functions.  In order to achieve this new goal, it will require an increase in budget, or an increase in time, otherwise the quality will be negatively affected.  The same is true of Karate.  It is crucial to identify the most important aspect to emphasize, realizing it is at the cost of the other attributes.  To a point fighter, power is absolutely meaningless as there is no contact allowed anyway.  Precision isn't terribly important because you are scored for hitting areas, such as the midsection, not specific points, such as the solar plexus.  Timing is of use in point fighting, but speed is by far the most important aspect for a point fighter.  Speed at the cost of power and precision.  For a full contact fighter, precision and timing are by far the most important.  You don't have to be overly strong or fast to poke an eye, or throat, or the groin; but you absolutely have to be precise, and strike at the right moment.  Speed, in many cases, is actually your enemy as a very fast punch doesn't mean a punch that will land in a significant target, with significant power.  Timing, when coupled with precision, is indistinguishable from speed.   
    9. One should avoid fighting if at all possible:  This is by far the most important lesson of Bogu Kumite training.  You will get hit hard and often, even if you "win" the match. In non-contact fighting, even the fighter that is defeated, has not been hit.  No matter how excellent you are, you will be hit nonetheless, and it will be in the face.  Having the experience of fighting full contact, you understand the potential for injury to yourself as well as the opponent, and you also have any notion of ending the altercation with a single blow completely eliminated from your mind.  Point sparring can have the effect of making people think they are really tough, and that a fight won't go further than hitting someone a couple of times in the stomach (or worse, even once).  
      After landing a weak punch, Daniel attempts to shake hands and end the confrontation,
      but Johnny is now embarrassed by getting hit, and is only more angry.
      The reality is quite different, and to stop a real attacker from continuing to attack you after you have hit them requires brutally effective techniques and the ability to execute them full power against another person.  There is no "OK, I got you man, now we're even", there is only incapacitating the opponent.  
    Until Shigeru Nakamura popularized full contact Bogu Kumite in the years after WWII, Karate training had been almost entirely Kata training.  Many masters of the time were at odds with Nakamura over this choice, stating that if one practiced the Kata enough they would be capable of handling themselves in a real situation, and that Karate techniques were too dangerous to perform against one another.  As I outlined above, it isn't necessarily the case that Kata training will prepare you for a real fight, if for no other reason than not knowing what it is like to continue fighting after getting hit in the face.  And, Nakamura argued that with the Bogu, the techniques could finally be evaluated through research and study under actual fighting conditions with real contact, but without injury.  Which leads us to the last thing I've learned from Full-Contact Bogu Kumite training: that some people will hide behind statements like "the techniques are too deadly", or "Kata is all you need to be a great fighter", because they have built themselves up in their own minds, as well as in the minds of their students or the public.  For a Karate Master such as that, being hit even once in the face, has the effect of diminishing his delusions of invincibility both in his own view, and in the eyes of his students.  In other words, some people have built up their image to such a degree that anything that may make them seem less awe-inspiring is to be avoided at all costs; they want to seem perfect.  Kata training alone leads one to ask themselves the question "are you tall?", to which someone trained in Kata alone would reply "yes, I am tall."  Bogu Kumite teaches us instead to ask "how tall are you", to which an experienced fighter would say "taller than some, and shorter than others.  I am six feet tall."  
    Shigeru Nakamura, founder of Okinawa Kenpo, creator of Bogu Kumite.
    While I do not think Bogu Kumite should be mistaken for reality, I do think that it goes a long way towards helping one understand what reality has in store for them. MMA is excellent in this regard, because those fighters train to understand what getting hit and hitting really feel like.  The drawback of course, is that it too is a sport fight where contestants are not concerned about being bitten, or hit in the groin, or having their eyes gouged, and do not train to prepare for it.  Karate training has always been and should always be about absolute life and death encounters, not competitions.  In any art, once you train to defend against your own art, you are in a sport.  The old Masters were always clear that for Karate to be effective, it needs to be a secret weapon against a villain.  Karate is like bringing a gun to a knife fight so to speak. It has never encouraged fair play, it has always been about eliminating an imminent threat as fast and as completely as possible.  True Karate takes place when you are drunk, walking to a train station at night by yourself.  It never takes place in a ring.  Choki Motobu understood this, and he was among the first (or at the very least, the most notable) Okinawans to really test his skill in real fights against untrained fighters on the street in combat; not in a duel.  Nakamura took the next step, and created a way that his students could approximate that experience in a more sustainable and scalable fashion.  Imagine hundreds of Karate students out looking for fights every night!  Okinawa isn't very large, and the people would tire of
    Choki Motobu
    that quickly.  Bogu Kumite was the solution.  Nakamura realized that by having students fight each other, there is the threat of training to fight against other Karateka, but this is tempered by the serious and realistic Kata and Kihon training of the time.  They were not training to become Bogu Kumite fighters, but rather used Bogu Kumite to understand the other elements that solo training alone cannot provide.  They would still practice and preserve the very dangerous techniques of Karate.  This isn't the case in point fighting schools, and in many cases MMA schools as well.  They train to win matches.  A sport fighter doesn't want to waste time learning techniques and strategies that aren't allowed in the competition, and they base their confidence solely on their performance in those competitions.

    So,  MMA is a wonderful tool for developing a realistic idea of combat, but it should not be an end in itself.  If the focus of your training is on saving your life on the street, then MMA style competition is excellent as a part of your overall training.  Bogu Kumite is the best way a Karateka can still train the more authentic Karate techniques without risk of serious injury, but still gaining an understanding of combat.  But here too it is important that one train to defend one's life in a real situation, and not slip into training for Kumite.  Point fighting is responsible for the overall decline of Karate in the last 40 years, as it has ushered in an era of people training for non-contact sports.  As a result, most of the authentic Karate techniques have been eliminated from their training, and they are more concerned with how they look to a judge than if they can handle themselves in a real situation.  
    This isn't what Kata is for...

    And another point of misunderstanding in the Karate community that really bothers me is the misunderstanding of Kata's place in relation to Kumite, or sparring, or competition.  Funakoshi, though not a proponent of sparring of any kind, still has incredibly valuable advice that, I feel, has been misinterpreted over the years.  Funakoshi said: "It must be emphasized that sparring does not exist apart from kata, but for the practice of kata, so naturally there should be no corrupting influence on one's kata from one's sparring practice. When one becomes enthusiastic about sparring, there is a tendency for his kata to become bad. Karate, to the very end, should be practiced with kata as the principal method and sparring as a supporting method."  Unfortunately, many Karateka misinterpret this quote entirely.  As one Shotokan website states, as an explanation of the preceding quote: "The original intent of kumite practice was to allow students to apply the offensive and defensive techniques practiced in kata against real, instead of imaginary opponents."  That isn't quite it (or, honestly, even remotely it).  When Funakoshi says "sparring does not exist apart from kata, but for the practice of kata" he is not saying sparring is there to use the techniques from Kata.  He is saying that if anything, sparring is only useful to help a student understand what the movements in a Kata are for.  Sparring is not separate from Kata, it is for Kata.  Kata is absolutely not for sparring.  He goes on to say that "naturally there should
    Motobu demonstrates what Kata is for...
    be no corrupting influence on one's kata from one's sparring practice".  In other words, forget the things you might "learn" from sparring, and focus only on the understanding of Kata through sparring.  Remember, your Kata contain real self defense scenarios, not sparring tactics.  That is what he means by "
    When one becomes enthusiastic about sparring, there is a tendency for his kata to become bad".  Karate is Kata.  If your Kata become bad, your Karate is bad.  This is the entire reason so many people are of the opinion that practicing Kata is completely useless to a fighter.  That is simply because those people, when they say fighter, mean a person interested in sparring with other Karateka.  That is why I urge that even Bogu Kumite, though better than alternatives, should not be mistaken for reality, nor should one train to be good at Bogu Kumite.  One should train to be good at Karate, and good at protecting one's life, and your Kumite will be good incidentally.  So to a point fighter, I absolutely agree.  Aside from making your Kata look really nice, with loud snapping sleeves for competition, the Kata do you no good at all.  There are literally no lessons to be learned about sparring with another Karateka.  When these Kata were codified, there were no other Karateka to be concerned with; they were inventing Karate!  So yes, Kata is utterly useless in fighting.  But fighting is utterly useless in self-defense.  Karate is not about fighting.  True Karate is self-defense alone.  What is your Karate for?  Self-defense, or fighting?  If your answer is anything other than "self-defense", you are not practicing Karate anyway. If you just like hitting people, take up boxing.  If you want to learn how to save your life when it matters, learn Kata, and practice Kata (never perform Kata...).  If you want to know if you'll be able to execute Kata techniques under stress, while dealing with the psychological and physical trauma of real encounters, augment your Kata with full contact training of some kind. 
          I hope that this has helped some people to understand the place sparring of any kind has in true Karate, and that without contact, sparring is useless to Karate; in fact it is detrimental.