Saturday, 25 April 2015

Pause for Thought....

Chojun Miyagi sensei...in a keikogi
One hundred and twenty seven years ago today, the man in the photograph was born. His legacy to the world was to leave a system of combat and moral education so that others may discover, and expand, upon that which he himself had sought during his lifetime.

Since his passing his research has largely been forgotten; swept away by a tide of claims and counter claims made by individuals and groups who would claim Mr. Miyagi (and his karate) as their own. It's a sad indictment on all concerned, that they have neither the personal integrity nor moral courage to accept ownership of what they are doing today.

Meitetsu Yagi sensei...and 'that' keikogi again!
Please...don't read the previous paragraph and construed that I'm calling into question Yagi sensei's integrity or sense of morality...I'm not! The photo is here merely to illustrate how the man, Chojun Miyagi, has been turned into something of a deity in the minds of many these days. What I am saying, quite unequivocally, is that constructing myths and legends is unhealthy, and as far as appreciating budo is concerned: a mistake.

By all means be inspired by some of the things Miyagi sensei achieved, but remember, he was a man first and a karateka second...just like you and me. On this, the 127th anniversary of his birth, it's good to think about him and be grateful for the efforts he made during his lifetime....but that's it!

"People, like sheep, tend to follow a leader - occasionally in the right direction."
                                                                                          Alexander Chase

Monday, 20 April 2015

The Rarity of Haura in Karate...

With Seikichi Kinjo sensei when we were both members of the Jundokan
Unless you're into Japanese men's fashion, you may well be asking yourself what exactly is 'Haura'; and what, if anything, has it to do with karate? Well strictly speaking it has nothing to do with karate, or any other martial art that I know off, but the idea of Haura is, I believe, very relevant to budo.

When Japanese men dress in formal kimono there are usually few adornments to be seen; with the exception of the Mon, or family crest, which appears on each sleeve and on the back of the Haori jacket, there is little to distinguish one kimono from another...and that's where Haura comes in.

Making use of Haura, "Hidden Brilliance", is an act that requires a degree of sophistication, not to mention humility; for it would never do to boast to another of what lies just below the surface. The value of Haura is in knowing the reality of the matter, rather than putting that reality on open display.

Karate dojo often display Haura, karate academies never do! 
Karateka often go out of their way to display their status; different coloured belts, and even when the belt is black, gold bars to mark the number of dans or titles. Badges and patches proclaim style or school or association or club....something to set you apart from others, and in doing so, begin the implied dialogue of who is better and who is worse?

How powerful a lesson it is to discover something about someone you have known (or thought you knew) for years, and to learn of achievements and accomplishments that others would have been shouting about, and yet they said nothing. Is such a thing even possible now? Has Facebook and Youtube seduced you into revealing all? While Twitter and Instagram pimp your thoughts to the world, what becomes of your private self?

The most impressive karateka I ever saw in Okinawa were not the well known names who can boast many thousands of followers around the world, but the men and women who have been visiting the dojo for most of their lives, practicing their karate, polishing their skills, and nurturing their character. Outside the dojo, their karate remains hidden; not for them the glare of notoriety and fame.

Haura...hidden brilliance; it's a concept few karateka seem able to appreciate......

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Murder...well not quite!

Combat drills with Garry - Juanlu looking on
My second day of training with the Shinsokai took place at the Uraniwa dojo. This is the private dojo of Garry Lever sensei, a young man who is, in my opinion, one of the leading karateka of his generation anywhere in the world. Where most look outside themselves to collect 'karate' techniques, Garry looks inside, towards his own character, and in doing so has discovered something ancient and of enormous value.

Conditioning exercises isolated various tendons & muscles used in karate
Most of the training that day was spent in pairs, helping each other condition various parts of the body, bringing muscles and tendons into play in ways that are often missed in daily life, and yet provide strength and protection in times of conflict. Each exercise took it's toll, but not just physically, mentally too! Why so many continue to believe that karate is merely a set of postures and movements to be remembered is beyond me!

Victor (from Spain) and me working the hips and triceps
Okay....so 40 years ago I would have coped better than I did, but even though my body had a problem dealing with the power being generated by my partners, my mind was still more than happy to keep going......but it was difficult at times. Ah the mind...you have to remember that this is where you live, and so you had better be happy with your home; otherwise your karate is never going to amount to much.

Richard & me..."Armpits and elbows - not the shoulders!"
Changing partners throughout the training gave everyone an opportunity to 'feel' the power of others with differing body types to your own. I use the word 'power' deliberately, for it was not mere muscular strength that made the difference here; there were other forces at play and you ignored them at your peril. The targeting of muscles and tendons was immediate and often uncomfortable....painful....murder!!!

Leading by example - why do so few karate teachers do that these days?
My two days training with the Shinsokai passed quickly: too quickly! I learnt a lot, I smiled and grimaced in equal measure, sweat, pushed hard at times and at times stood back to take a breath. I relished being in the company of authentic karateka whose only concern was to practice the art of karate in a way that linked them to those who had, so long ago, undergone similar training ; such an approach to karate is very rare these days.
 

Sunday, 12 April 2015

Two days with the Shinsokai...

Impact training with the Tonfa
Following on from my visit to the Shinken dojo in North Devon, my next training opportunity came as a guest of the Shinsokai; a small but dedicated group of karateka lead by my closest friend, Richard Barrett sensei. As the first day of training involved kobudo, a hall was rented to provide enough space for everyone to practice without fear of hitting each other....(a wise move with me in the room)  The training involved individual kata practice as well as impact training and kihon bunkai.

In the background Juanlu from Spain - in the foreground Garry Lever from England 
My focus was on (re)learning the kata Hamahiga-no-tonfa, a kata I was first introduced to almost 30 years ago but had let slip from my training. I have to say, tonfa are not my favourite weapon, and that's an understatement. Nevertheless, they are a part of the kobudo taught at the Shimbukan dojo, and as such I feel obliged to have at least a working knowledge of how to use them. As Richard's kobudo heritage comes from both the Inoue and Matayoshi lines, I saw no harm in asking him to introduce me once more to a long forgotten kata.

Richard Barrett sensei leading the way
The training wasn't all kobudo, time was also given for everyone to work on the kata of goju-ryu, with Richard moving around the dojo offering encouragement and providing corrections were necessary. I was asked to do the same, but did so only sparingly as I had no desire to impose my opinions on others; the standard of karate was good and I saw no reason to 'teach' just for the sake of it.

Working with Katarina on Shisochin kata
With the training over for the day we retired to Garry's home to freshen up before going to a nearby restaurant for dinner. The food was delicious and the conversation punctuated with laughter and good-hearted banter. For me, the day had been a great opportunity to catch up with my close friend Richard, and spend time with Garry once again. A big highlight also, was to finally meet Juanlu and Victor from Spain, as well as Katarina. I have been corresponding with each of them for years, but this was our first time training together.....

Next time, day two......murder at the Uraniwa dojo

Tuesday, 7 April 2015

Good Training...

The Shinken dojo, North Devon, England
Part of my time in the UK was spent back in the south-west of the country, in the counties of Somerset, Devon, and Cornwall. It's a less populated region, although that changes dramatically during the Summer months, when millions of people from all over Britain cram themselves into the area in an attempt to enjoy the wide open spaces....oh the irony of it all!!!

Revisiting the small coastal town of Ilfracombe on the North Devon coast, where I lived prior to moving to Australia in the late 1980's, I spent a happy few hours in the company of a couple of fellow karateka, Glyn Jones sensei and his student Craig. Glyn is a student of Shigatoshi Senaha sensei of the Ryusyokai, and he and his students travel to Okinawa regularly to receive instruction. It was in Glyn's private dojo at the rear of his home, the Shinken dojo  that the training took place.

The weapons rack at the Shinken dojo
Informal, but no less informative because of that, the training took place in an atmosphere of sharing and investigation; noting the differences between the two schools of goju-ryu, it became apparent that the differences were superficial, and the common threads that held my karate together were also present in Glyn's. I left the dojo feeling refreshed and grateful to my hosts for taking the time to spend some of their day with me.

Glyn Jones sensei and me....happy after a little training

Next time....training with the Shinsokai.

Friday, 3 April 2015

Rest in Peace...

Mirakian Sensei
It was with some sadness that I learnt of the death of Anthony Mirakian sensei.

I never met him, but I did have two lengthy conversations with him on the telephone back in 2008 when I was conducting research for my book on hojo-undo.

My sincere condolences go to the Mirakian family, his friends, and his students.  

Rest in peace sensei.

Thursday, 2 April 2015

The darkness that surrounds us....

The recent eclipse over the UK
There's a darkness upon me that's flooded in light
In the fine print they tell me what's wrong and what's right
and it comes in black and it comes in white
And I'm frightened by those who don't see it......
The Avett Brothers

These past few weeks have been spent in the country where I grew up, but that said, it was hard to recognise it at times. Over populated and dirty, England seems to be struggling under the weight of political ineptitude and a society that has bought wholeheartedly into the myth that you can have what you want in life, not because you can afford it...but just because you want it!

The first dojo kun at the Shinseidokan offers the following advice: "Live within your means". Now, while I'm aware that some of you reading this may wonder what it has to do with the learning of karate, to me, it's so obvious a statement that any explanation here could be interpreted as condescending; so I'll leave it to you to ponder, and wish you well.

In the past month I have witnessed karate training at it's most extreme - powerfully inspirational, and shockingly bad. Granted, I interacted with only a small number of karateka, but I truly believe the people I did come into contact with represent their 'kind', and in doing so, were authentic examples of how wholesome and beneficial karate training can be, as well as the utter waste of time it is to put on a dogi and play at being a karateka.

More of my recent antics in the U.K. to follow...............   

Wednesday, 4 March 2015

Practice, Sharing, Learning.....

It's Autumn here already -  the mornings are getting cooler!
As the evenings begin to draw in and the sun takes it's time clearing the distant mountains each morning, it's not difficult to appreciate that the easy training weather is coming to an end for another year. Winter will be arriving in my neck of the woods soon, and even though I won't have to deal with the kind of snow and temperatures many of you reading this have to deal with each winter, never the less, cold is cold.

This will be my last post for a while, I'm going to be in England soon and don't like to travel with technology in tow, I find it gets in the way of experiencing fully my new surroundings and the people I interact with. So the lap top is staying at home. I'll try to remember to take photos, and if I get the time, and have access to a computer, I'll try to post something too, but please...don't hold your breath.

While I'm in the UK, I'll be meeting up with some great karateka, sharing their training, practicing together, and, I'm very sure, learning lots. I'm looking forward to making the memories and experiencing the kinship that exists between karateka who look upon their training as something not to be exploited for cash, or diminished by vanity. To be in the company of such people is reason enough to travel to England.

Tuesday, 3 March 2015

Witness for the Defence........

One strike - one deflection - one chance!
Punch, block, punch, block, punch, block, punch, block......the rhythm of a typical karate class today is a bit like this; training by the metronome chant of the instructor.  Training by numbers, karate being drilled to within an inch of it's life, and by so doing, rendered all but useless for it's main purpose...defending the 'self '. Self-defence, and defending the self, are not the same thing, at least not the way I see it.

Self-defence is the stuff tough guys teach you in exchange for a wallop of money, and you return home believing you're now safe to walk the streets at night. Defending the self, is staying away from such gatherings and quietly getting on with your training. Self-defence will tell you what to do if you live where you're likely to face knifes, and guns, or gangs of youths ready to do you harm; defending the self, will prompt you to move to a better neighbourhood.

The promise of self-defence will entice you in to your local karate club, whereas, defending the self will encourage you to keep walking.  Self-defence will tell you that you "need" to protect yourself, defending the self will make it clear who and what from. The difference in the two approaches to defence may not seem important...until you consider this....one way parts you from your money and guarantees nothing in return; and the other way guarantees you'll be just fine, and allows you to keep your cash.

Friday, 27 February 2015

The Sound of One Hand Slapping..!

A keisaku in action
Oh boy...did I get folks excited with my recent post featuring a couple of emails and a dumb question. It seems like the Internet karate community are just waiting for something to become indignant about. I haven't witnessed such vitriol from "karateka" since I expressed my disgust at the behavior of the serial pedophile and karate historian, Harry Cook. Had he faced a keisaku a few times, perhaps he would have chosen a different path than the one he took.

Karate, at least the majority of the stuff you see today, seems to be pursued by thin-skinned tough guys; folk who get angry when they find something they don't agree with or can't understand. People who need their hands held and have to be told how to train, how to think, and what everything means.....like kindergarten kids! But don't mention that to them whatever you do...or they write emails and call you nasty names and threaten all kinds of retribution....from the other side of the planet!

To clarify the meaning of my email reply to the dumb question, it was a 'slap'; and a good slap is what every serious karateka should be getting from time to time. If you have never been on the receiving end of one, then I'm sorry your teacher isn't interested in you enough to teach you properly; perhaps they were never slapped, and so never learnt much  about karate beyond how to kick and punch. When you look at the caliber of the average karate instructor these days, that shouldn't come as a big surprise.

"Are you still here?"
I'm not talking about physical brutality here, the slaps I'm referring to have to do with confronting you at the very core of who you 'think' you are; of shaking your attachment to what you 'know for sure', and clearing some of that egotistical wax that blocks your ears, and stops you from listening to yourself when you're playing the role of a karate student or (heaven forbid) a sensei. In the learning of karatedo a good slap every now and then is not only useful....it should be welcomed.

Of course, if you've never been slapped you have no right at all to slap others...oh no! This level of training is not for the coward. The sound of one hand slapping should be as familiar to you as it becomes to the people you teach......