"The Author, it must be remembered, writes from his own standpoint!"
My personal "Interpretive" Lens!

Do You Have A Question?

If you have a question not covered in this blog feel free to send it to me at my email address, i.e. "snow" dot here "covered" dot here "bamboo" AT symbol here "gmail" dot here "com"

"One thing has always been true: That book ... or ... that person who can give me an idea or a new slant on an old idea is my friend." - Louis L'Amour

"Ideally, your self-defense will never get physical. Avoiding the situation and running or talking you way out - either of these is a higher order of strategy than winning a physical battle." - Wise Words of Rory Miller, Facing Violence: Chapter 7: after, subparagraph 7.1:medical

"Read not to contradict and confute; nor to believe and take for granted; nor to find talk and discourse; but to weigh and consider..." - Francis Bacon

Warning, Caveat and Note: The postings on this blog are my interpretation of readings, studies and experiences therefore errors and omissions are mine and mine alone. The content surrounding the extracts of books, see bibliography on this blog site, are also mine and mine alone therefore errors and omissions are also mine and mine alone and therefore why I highly recommended one read, study, research and fact find the material for clarity. My effort here is self-clarity toward a fuller understanding of the subject matter. See the bibliography for information on the books.

Note: I will endevor to provide a bibliography and italicize any direct quotes from the materials I use for this blog. If there are mistakes, errors, and/or omissions, I take full responsibility for them as they are mine and mine alone. If you find any mistakes, errors, and/or omissions please comment and let me know along with the correct information and/or sources.

Reader's of this Blog

Why does the fist travel up the outside of the body?

In Isshinryu, my system of practice as example, the vertical punch stays aligned with the outside of the body (see snapshot). When executed in the basics and the kata, most executions, the fist seems to move, rise up, toward the outside of the bodies of both the person executing it and the adversary as they stand facing, i.e. during two-person drills. Granted, this may not be the intended targeting yet when you watch video’s or actual demonstrations this is where you see punches go as to paths. 

Take a look at the top view I attempted to draw as to the pathway of a vertical rising punch seen in basics as kata.

The question comes up rarely because when taught the practitioner, being a novice and even student, tends to blindly accept that this punch is done this way because ….

In my view this is inadequate and missed a very important lesson taught through both basics and drills. Much of bunkai is molded to fit certain applications rather than reality. Yes, the rising punch when applied in appropriate situations for appropriate actions is a good thing. It is not the end all thing as often assumed in training and practice. It is about how to use a basic, fundamental concept, to achieve a better, reality based, application once you pass the basic/novice teaching and learning levels.

Explain dude, this is confusing you might ask, well it is about taking the more educationally modeled basic applications and moving them toward a more realistic practice. Here is what I am aiming at:

The rising punch as depicted in the snapshot of Tatsuo-san, although not a basic or kata based other than in this pose for sanchin [couldn’t find or create an adequate and accurate rendition], simply demonstrates the proper, fundamental, way to perform the punch with not further explanation as to how that punch is actually applied. This is due to the educational modifications of kata, etc. for the educational systems implemented early 1900’s and not reverted for more progressive practice and training. 

In reality, the pathway of the punch, if done with proper kamae, results in the person applying the punch moving off-center of the adversary so that the punch is actually applied to the centerline of the adversary. This is the simplest bunkai for this post. See second snapshot below.

One of the major bunkai that is not readily present or observable for both basics and kata are the shifts necessary to move off center of an adversary while maintaining our centerline to achieve an application of a technique like this one, i.e. to achieve maximum efficiency and application while providing a type of Loop (OODA) reset to the adversary, etc. 

To apply this technique and follow the principles the practitioner must move off the adversary’s centerline and often at about a twenty degree offset to the right and forward (not depicted in snapshot) as the rising punch is redirected toward the adversary’s centerline, i.e. the solar plexus, while the shift and turn of the body keeps the practitioner’s centerline toward the adversary’s centerline while taking the adversary’s centerline off causing a reset of the, observe and orient, loop thus providing time for the practitioner, etc. 

If you view the makiwara basics below you will notice that when punching the makiwara the practitioner has their body shifted to one side and the other for proper punch application in relation to the practitioners body as the makiwara represents the centerline of an adversary and so on. 

This is to depict the positioning of the vertical rising punch as executed in basics and kata drills, etc.

When normally practiced, the fist path is directly forward as if the punch is going to hit a target of the adversary's shoulder/arm vs. the centerline solar plexus.

In this version, the practitioner shifts to the left so that the punch will strike the adversary's centerline/solar plexus, as only one possible target, taking their centerline away from the adversary while maintaing the integrity of the punch, body, alignment, etc., to achieve greater power to the target, etc. Keeping to the fundamental principles and exploiting the adversary's OODA, i.e. reset the loop to OO levels to gain and maintain the advantage and so on ….
Addendum dtd December 15th, 2015 at 9:59hrs:

Take a look at the Makiwara video at about 5:19 minutes to see the shifting movement I mention in this article:


Then take a look at a video made by Andy Sloane Sensei, Go-dan Isshinryu as well as Isshinryu Historian:


If you cannot see the above from Sloane Sensei take a look at his FB Wall to find it:


Remember, all bottles are good, they all serve a purpose.

“How accurate are dan gradings as a sign of progress?”

Caveat: This is my post and my views and my perceptions, not Clarke Sensei’s. The quote above as a question on his site under a photo inspired my post today, nothing more and nothing less. Don’t read into this post as anything Clarke Sensei says or writes or does not say or doesn’t not write or believes or does not believe - it is my perspective and perception and any inferences are mine and mind alone.

First, as a sign of progress is more or less dependent on the individual, the dojo, the Sensei, the Senpai and so on for those unique individuals. It is a personal matter that often gets projected to larger groups with differing perceptions and perspectives and there lies the rub and the fuel that ignites flame wars. 

Second, their accuracy is a misnomer and driven by a social dynamic and actually this distracts from the accuracy and signatory toward progression because, once again, it is a personal journey and thus a personal individual unique thing for that person as to his association toward his seniors in the dojo. Specifically it is a personal relationship with him or herself with the sensei of the dojo. No one else and no one else should be involved or concerned. This is why the wearing of the belt may need to remain a dojo thing rather than a symbol to be recognized by anyone outside that dojo. Only the individual as they grow in depth and breadth in their “personal” practice and training can see within themselves their level of progress toward mastery of the system or style or “Way (doah as in “Do”).” 

Granted the second statement requires clarification because when a novice is learning they are still ignorant to the system and its ways until they reach a certain level of academia and physiokinetic proficiency, understanding and knowledge. It is only when they begin to deviate from the path they follow according to the teachings of the dojo and its sensei that they begin to realize and recognize their self-discovery, self-realization and self-analysis that allows them to determine the accuracy of the level or grade as appropriate to the progress they are achieving. This is the tricky part simply because external influences in the dojo and in the martial communities will influence their thought processes on this especially as it pertains to the human instinctual need of a group dynamic as discussed in human survival instinctual teachings that are group and societal dynamics. 

Third, the practitioner must then have achieved a level of maturity that will allow them to join others outside their dojo while allowing for a return to the bottom to gain acceptance in dojo and communities or groups or tribes that have “different” needs, beliefs and requirements due to different perspectives and perceptions. It is important that the practitioner have as their understanding and belief that such differences and changes have nothing to do with their progress to date along with the level they personally feel and achieve in relation to the new dojo, tribe of social group. 

When you try to create a grading system to recognize and symbolize progression in a martial system you open that system to the incongruities of human nature and differences. It then pits one person against another as well as one group against another creating a divide between like-minded folks in an overall community under the heading of martial arts, martial systems, or martial styles. 

One persons treasure may be another persons junk and that goes for gradings and levels as that disparity under differeing community dynamics tends to create. This is why any attempt to achieve a larger governing community or association tends to fail or at least fall way short of this most personal aspect to the martial arts. 

The uniqueness of human qualities, perceptions and beliefs leads us to recognize this and yet humans still try to assign “things” that will allow them to be managed or governed or controlled where control, government or management is not appropriate. This is why I personally believe that ranking, grading or levels of progress must be a dojo and only a dojo thing. That is why I believe, even at the dojo level, that requirements that are both … and … are best served if derived from the principles that underly all martial systems rather than the specifics created by each individual system or style. The only reason there are systems and styles is the human need to gather into groups or tribes for a perceived survival need but principles transcend all this human intervention through ego and pride based requirements. 

So, in closing, the accuracy of dan levels or grades as to any sign of progression must be kept personal between the individual and the sensei. Even in the dojo it must be an ideal that is fostered at every part of training, practice and instruction even if that means only a white belt is worn no matter the grade or level of any individual so that any hierarchal perception and perspective is achieved through experiences found in practice and training, i.e. the proverbial philosophical symbolic saying of “shown on the dojo floor!”

- Photo caption Shinseidokan Dojo blog by Michael Clark

What is Self-Defense?

What is it and how does that definition apply to the martial arts (emphasis on Okinawan karate, my system of practice)? In the past I have attempted to answer this question with some success but in reality the questions answers have changed drastically. 

In MA/SD the emphasis is most often on the technique, i.e. here is an attack and you need to learn this to counter it, etc. This is no where near true self-defense, as I understand it. Note: remember, all this is my perspective, my perceptions as to experience, training and practice all subject to validation through reality/real life experience as such.

So, lets answer the topic title question first, “What is Self-defense?” In order to fully understand what SD is you have to gain knowledge of all the area’s that involve and affect conflict and violence as it applies to SD - and that is also a narrow view port to the entire spectrum of SD, Conflict and Violence (just take a look at the terse, incomplete/not comprehensive, list in the below bibliography for more). Responses are my personal opinions on the quotes and do not reflect the teachings of Rory Miller or his books.

If you are in MA for SD then consider the following as quoted from, “Meditations on Violence,” by Rory Miller:

1. Donning a black belt, stepping in front of a class to teach, you are seen as an expert on violence.

Response: The simple truth is that many of these experts have no experience with violence.

2. Fair, does not happen in real life, not if the bad guys have anything to say about it and not if the professional good guys do, either.

Response: Almost everything within the teachings of “MOST MA” are based on mutual agreement, safety, and a sense of fair play. Fair play does not exist in real life.

3. If there has been little conflict in your life, your character, your identity, is mostly fictional.

Response: As Mr. Miller will say later in his book, most of what we know about this subject comes by “Word-of-Mouth” and often that comes from what we are exposed to as to media, etc. i.e., television, news as to TV and Internet, movies and other entertainment stuff.

4. Survival is very much a matter of guts and feelings and smells and sounds and very, very little a subject of words.

Response: This kind of describes those reality based things that are not taught in SD. SD tends to be mostly about words as to conveying the teachings along with what one feels are correct responses to conflict and violence - most often techniques against specified and specific techniques - and feelings that are not validated by first hand experience applying SD in real life, etc.

5. Take the information in this book (referencing his book meditation on violence) and treat it skeptically as hell.

Response: Take that to mean all his books, all his works, all his teachings and all his experiences simply because they are “HIS and NOT YOURS.” What works for me may or may not work for you and that goes the same even from an expert and professional such as Mr. Miller and so on. This includes other media outlets such as video’s, seminars, classes, the Internet postings, and so on to INCLUDE any and all the stuff I put out from my end - especially my stuff cause I ain’t no professional and ain’t no expert. 

6. Physical Response to Violence - not about effective technique but about what makes a technique effective

Response: Don’t take any direct and seperated quote as gospel but rather as a small part of a whole because this quote by itself means a good deal but know that avoidance, etc., are far more important - in my mind - than learning ROTE techniques against ROTE attacks, etc.

7. Martial arts and artists, and even people who fight for real on a regular basis have also only seen a very small part of this big thing. Often, the best know one aspect very well, but that is only one aspect.

Response: To my mind this statement simply emphasizes that SD, Conflict and Violence is HUGE and COMPLEX and NO ONE can teach you everything and every method to defend against it. Even the professional who provides us this window toward a complex and difficult subject will readily admit that what they experienced was only a narrow view of the entire picture. One reason I have several of these guys works in my library and under my studies, they all have benefits according to their personal experiences and beliefs, etc. 

8. Violence is complicated as HELL (my emphasis all caps). Just “ONE PIECE (my emphasis again)” - Interpersonal violence - you would need to understand physics, anatomy and physiology, athletics, criminal law, group dynamics, criminal dynamics, evolutionary psychology, biology and evolutionary biology, endocrinology, strategy, and even moral philosophy.

Response: Wow! See what I mean. It is a wonder that more folks are not hurt or killed by conflict and violence than what occurs today. I cannot think of one person I have met over the last thirty-eight years or so that can meet those credentials and teaches self-defense or martial arts, not one. I can’t claim them for sure although I am working on understanding them a bit, a small bit. I suspect that Rory Miller may have actually truncated the list for brevity and to get the point across that it is really, really COMPLICATED. Just read his books then read Marc MacYoung’s book INoSD and then realize they are just touching the surface of this subject. 

Note: Although my efforts so far was to answer the original question the following actually does that for me as a quote from the book used to create this post.

9. Self-Defense is recovery from stupidity or bad luck, from finding yourself in a position you would have given almost anything to prevent. It is difficult to train for because of the surprise element and because you may be injured before you are aware of the conflict. The critical element is “To overcome the shock and surprise” so that you “Can act,” to “Beat the freeze.” Self-defense is about recovery. The ideal is to prevent the situation. The optimal mindset is often a conditioned response that requires no thought (for the first half-second of the attack) or a focused rage

Response: I can say that little to none of my martial arts training was geared toward any of the above in regard to self-defense or even fighting other than maybe the school yard scuffles, social stuff, we all experienced in our youth. This may not be a complete and comprehensive explanation to what is self-defense but it does provide a good picture to compare to what we are all taught as self-defense. 

Response: If we are truly going to study a martial art toward self-defense then we have to take into consideration all that these professionals provide as to the world of conflict and violence. It is NOT what we think it is and it is NOT what we perceive as to our narrow exposure to experiences we may have encountered in life. Very few are exposed to long-term conflict and violence. Even the professionals who are required to step into harms way experience a very narrow view of conflict and violence as dictated by the professional description of their jobs be it military vs. police vs. corrections vs. professional protection vs. bouncers and so on. 

Every time I study the subject and re-study previous studies I find new and different views and teachings and that has not gone into the actual reality based training and practices they recommend if one is serious toward self-defense, etc. Yet, our society is flooded with folks who are “Experts” in the field of teaching MA/SD. 

Just remember, when in a MA/SD training enviroment remember what you read in Mr. Millers publications then consider some of these quotes about black belts and the next one:

“Martial arts try to do more … Some studios promise self-defense skills and tournament trophies, discipline and self-discovery, fitness and confidence, and even spiritual growth and enlightenment.” These are different skills and they are trying to teach them from one profession, one view, one perspective and one perceptive view. “Not one of them is like dueling, sparring, or waging a war.”

Bibliography (The above post are my thoughts and mine alone, the below are simply sources that influence my thoughts on this subject):
Miller, Rory Sgt. "Meditations of Violence: A Comparison of Martial Arts Training & Real World Violence" YMAA Publishing. 2008.
MacYoung, Marc. "In the Name of Self-Defense: What It Costs. When It’s Worth It." Marc MacYoung. 2014.
Goleman, Daniel. "Emotional Intelligence: 10th Anniversary Edition [Kindle Edition]." Bantam. January 11, 2012.
Miller, Rory. "ConCom: Conflict Communications A New Paradigm in Conscious Communication." Amazon Digital Services, Inc. 2014. 
Miller, Rory and Kane, Lawrence A. "Scaling Force: Dynamic Decision-making under Threat of Violence." YMAA Publisher. New Hampshire. 2012
Miller, Rory. "Force Decisions: A Citizen's Guide." YMAA Publications. NH. 2012.
Miller, Rory Sgt. "Facing Violence: Preparing for the Unexpected." YMAA Publishing. 2011.
Elgin, Suzette Haden, Ph.D. "More on the Gentle Art of Verbal Self-Defense." Prentice Hall. New Jersey. 1983.
Elgin, Suzette. "The Last Word on the Gentle Art of Verbal Self-Defense" Barnes & Noble. 1995
Morris, Desmond. “Manwatching: A Field Guide to Human Behavior.” Harry N. Abrams. April 1979.
Elgin, Suzette. "The Gentle Art of Verbal Self-Defense" Barnes & Noble. 1993.
Elgin, Suzette. "The Gentle Art of Written Self-Defense" MJF Books. 1997
Maffetone, Philip Dr. “The Maffetone Method: The Holistic, Low-stress, No-Pain Way to Exceptional Fitness.” McGraw Hill, New York. 2000

Why are folks so focused on belts in MA?

Think of the belts and the colors as symbols. Humans gravitate toward such symbols as a "Symbol of belonging." That belonging is connected to human survival in a tribe or clan. Although modern times would indicate a loss of that need nature has not. Look to how humans tend to gravitate toward groups of all kinds just like karate-ka tend to gravitate toward a style or system that seems to match their personalities. This is why associations tend to be there along with such affiliations toward a dojo, style or system. We humans have a long way to go to rid ourselves of the trappings of ego, pride and survival as you find in tribes or clans. One of the first things many new tribes do is associate themselves with some symbolic representation that makes that tribe or clan "Unique," and so on.

Also, within any tribe or clan survival depends heavily on maintaining a hierarchy where everyone has a role to play that is inter-connected with that tribe or clan - for survival. Tribal members will look up within that hierarchy to increase their status and importance thereby a belt system in the dojo fundamentally does the same for that dojo's members.

What are the benefits of a cooperative uke vs one that is not (Cooperative vs. Resistive Tori/Uke Model)?

A question asked by a Mr. Milner on the Karate Friends FB Wall dtd Tuesday November 4, 2014 at 6:30 AM. This was my comment to him on this most excellent question. 

This is a pretty darn good question. I believe there are benefits in everything within a system of martial practice. As to the specific of a cooperative uke vs. resistive uke I believe both are critical tools for an MA in order to train the mind for defense. I feel strongly that a cooperative uke is the stepping stone to the resistive uke thereby creating the knowledge necessary to take it to the third step in a more free style practice with partners that include kumite, sport but more importantly the defensive aspects of MA.

For me the defensive aspects are primary along with the philosophical, theory and physiokinetic aspects making my practice and training holistic. 

Back to cooperative vs. resistive uke. In order for beginners and novice practitioners to gain the knowledge and encode it into the depths of the mind a cooperative uke is very much needed. I believe once a certain drill is learned adequately in this cooperative uke model then for that drill, that drill alone while newer drills remain in the cooperative state the tori must begin to experience resistive uke in such drills. This actually takes the tori/uke relationship a bit higher since this type of resistive uke training is actually fluid where both parties will actually take on the roles of both tori/uke. 

It is also my feelings that the tori/uke training model go back and forth between cooperative and resistive along with sessions that will actually take it more toward a reality based training model. Finally, the time when you pass from the tori/uke cooperative and resistive training models is when you take your defensive training to a group that can provide a “Reality Based No Bullshit” type of training where stress induced adrenal flooding occurs so that the encoding of the lizard brain will assimilate such training and superimpose that over the more human instinctive reactions. 

Finally I also recommend that the cooperative and resistive tori/uke model also introduce practitioners to the SD model, i.e. the full spectrum of self-defense as presented in the knowledge shared through the efforts of people like Rory Miller, Marc MacYoung and others, i.e. their books listed on my bibliography page here: http://isshindo.blogspot.com/2013/11/bibliography.html

Most of all, since you seem to prefer the resistive uke model for training, I would recommend the above simply because you are pushing your preferences on others by insisting (it seems that you are insisting from the way you describe your feelings, I could be wrong and if I am I apologize) to remain in resistive uke mode. Remember, as a Sensei or Senpai the dual cooperative relationship in MA is about learning and teaching each other equally and that means although you may be at a level where remaining in resistive uke mode is adequate for you the partners who train with you may still need to work the cooperative uke mode. Either way, even if it feels like the cooperative uke mode is not needed in your personal feelings that model still has a ton of stuff to teach even if it feels like it doesn’t - let it happen and I guarantee you will suddenly get this “Oh crap” feeling one day and gladly get that feeling that all of it was worth it. 

The benefits of cooperative tori/uke is it provides time and experience to teach and learn how MA fundamentals work, i.e. the fundamentals principles of martial systems (theory - physiokinetics - techniques - philosophy). It also benefits practitioners by laying ground work and experience that allows them to have some knowledge for the body, mind and spirit to tap into as they gravitate toward the resistive tori/uke models and is one reason why using both consistently and diligently contribute toward encoding it deeper than simply knowing the moves. 

The benefits of resistive tori/uke is to teach the mind and body how to extract what has been learned in a more fluid and opportunistic manner, i.e. in other words break the patterns in a kata two person drill type rhythm and allow the lizard brain to pull and parcel different appropriate responses without thought, instinctively. This benefit also is about preparation when the training goes the distance toward the reality based training and finally puts the frosting on the cake when you add in the SD knowledge and training for civil self-defense. 

When a Kyu Asks “What does it mean to be a black belt?”

Black Belt is a relative term dependent on the dojo and the Sensei. In my view “Sho-dan” is merely a sign of a novice in the martial arts with a particular emphasis on the system or style that awards that grade. As a kyu you are a beginner. In my view a person who remains diligent and steadfast in training and practice is recognized when they receive a first level yu-dan-sha. It is a sign someone is serious about being a martial artist and it is a sign that the person is ready to really buckle down and begin to study and learn MA.

It is NOT a sign of mastery, it is a sign of seriousness, dedication and diligence to become a mere “Novice” in the system or style practiced. It means they have achieved a level of fundamental basic understanding so that this base can be used to build the full system as symbolized in the “Shu-ha-ri and Shin-gi-tai, etc.” of said system/style. 

It is NOT a level or grade that gives one the perception or belief they are ready to teach the system/style, far from it. It is a level that allows at the discretion of the dojo Sensei to assist in teaching and practicing the kyu levels of go-kyu to ju-kyu (fifth kyu to tenth kyu only). Ni-dan usually assists with Ik-kyu to go-kyu levels. 

Black belts don’t take up a personal dojo until at least San-dan levels and the caveat is they should remain connected with their Sensei or at least Sensei of Go-dan or higher for guidance until they too reach Go-dan level. 

In reality one should get to a point where the belt and color are the lowest common dominator in training and practice because a mind to set on “winning and accumulating dan grades” is less focused on those aspects of fundamental principles of martial systems they tend to lose site of the systems/styles ultimate goal, i.e adhering to the principles of theory and philosophy while supplementing the principles of physiokinetics and techniques. 

Traveling the road of a martial system starts out with such goals but a black belt means they have transcending those egoistic and pride driven goals for something way more personal. 

Considering the question in general it is best to recommend one forget the black belt and simply get back to learning and achieving proficiency in the fundamental principles of martial systems, i.e. those principles that transcend any individualized symbolic meaning of a system or style in particular. 

What is Self-defense?

Wow, what a huge, huge, huge question. At my level of understanding I am not sure how to answer that but here is a start. First, Marc MacYoung tells you what SD is in chapter three of his book, “In the Name of Self Defense (462 awesome pages long),” starting on page 55 and goes on through to page 91. Take a notice that he writes to the answer and it takes at least thirty-six page - an that is just a basic fundamental explanation. In reality his entire book is describing the answer to “What is self-defense?”

I guess to answer this question my only true answer is to get his book, read it, study it and then continue to seek knowledge as to what is self-defense. Then, start taking on the study of all those fundamental components of SD and study them to gain even more insight into what SD is because as Mr. MacYoung and Mr. Miller have stated along with a lot of other experts or professionals on this subject, “It’s complicated.” 

MacYoung, Marc. "In the Name of Self-Defense: What It Costs. When It’s Worth It." Marc MacYoung. 2014.
Goleman, Daniel. "Emotional Intelligence: 10th Anniversary Edition [Kindle Edition]." Bantam. January 11, 2012.
Miller, Rory. "ConCom: Conflict Communications A New Paradigm in Conscious Communication." Amazon Digital Services, Inc. 2014. 
Miller, Rory and Kane, Lawrence A. "Scaling Force: Dynamic Decision-making under Threat of Violence." YMAA Publisher. New Hampshire. 2012
Miller, Rory. "Force Decisions: A Citizen's Guide." YMAA Publications. NH. 2012.
Miller, Rory Sgt. "Meditations of Violence: A Comparison of Martial Arts Training & Real World Violence" YMAA Publishing. 2008.
Miller, Rory Sgt. "Facing Violence: Preparing for the Unexpected." YMAA Publishing. 2011.
Morris, Desmond. “Manwatching: A Field Guide to Human Behavior.” Harry N. Abrams. April 1979.

Links to purchase bibliography from Amazon here: http://martialartlibrary.blogspot.com

Are Kata Full Fighting Systems?

In a recent posting on the Ryukyu Martial Arts (Research and General Discussion) FaceBook wall a person made the statement, " … each kata is a fighting system and curriculum in and of itself.’ Of course, there is more to his statement but this post is about this one perspective or perception, are kata actually a fighting system and curriculum in and of themselves?

In my very personal opinion, “Kata are NOT actually fighting systems or system as to each individual kata practiced both today and in ancient times. Kata are NOT a curriculum, i.e. lessons and academic content as would be taught in a specific course or program. I can see why one might consider them to be curriculum but in reality they are more of a teaching tool to convey certain concepts and principles that underlay the physiokinetics and techniques of a martial art. In addition, theses concepts and principles are indicative of all martial systems regardless of symbolic titles of style or the system themselves. In other words the concepts and principles are the same and immutable in every single system, style of type of martial art be it Kendo, Judo or Karate.

One glossary provides that “curriculum typically refers to the knowledge and skills students are expected to learn, which includes the learning standards or learning objectives they are expected to meet; the units and lessons that teachers teach; the assignments and projects given to students; the books, materials, videos, presentations, and readings used in a course; and the tests, assessments, and other methods used to evaluate student learning.”

Kata practice and training are the teacher rather then the guide for the teacher. Kata are those controls that allow a teacher to provide concepts and principles through the practice and training of said kata to emphasis and train both the body and mind to adhere to the fundamental principles of martial systems, i.e.:

Universality, Control, Efficiency, Lengthen Our Line, Percentage Principle, Std of Infinite Measure, Power Paradox, Ratio, Simplicity, Natural Action, Michelangelo Principle, Reciprocity, Opponents as Illusions, Reflexive Action, Training Truth, Imperception and Deception.

Breathing, Posture, Triangle Guard, Centerline, Primary Gate, Spinal Alignment, Axis, Minor Axis, Structure, Heaviness, Relaxation, Wave Energy, Convergence, Centeredness, Triangulation Point, The Dynamic Sphere, Body-Mind, Void, Centripetal Force, Centrifugal Force, Sequential Locking & Sequential Relaxation, Peripheral Vision, Tactile Sensitivity, Rooting.

Techniques vs. Technique, Equal Rights, Compliment, Kobo Ichi, Economical Motion, Active Movement, Positioning, Angling, Leading Control, Complex Forces, Indirect Pressure, Live Energy & Dead Energy, Torsion & Pinning, Speed, Timing, Rhythm, Balance, Reactive Control, Natural & Unnatural Motion, Weak Link, Non-Telegraphing, Extension and Penetration.

Mind, Mushin, Kime, Non-intention, Yin-Yang, Oneness, Zanshin & Being, Non-action, Character, The Empty Cup.

Kata are not meant to be fighting systems because the kata practiced today are actually either directly or modified version of the educational kata taught in the early 1900’s on Okinawa and Japan. These kata are based on sport competitions rather than combatives or fighting. Add in the complexities of both fighting and combatives the actual techniques, combinations one derives from the patterns, patterns, rhythms, cadences, etc. all are geared toward the more social types of both competitions and perceptions of violence/conflicts.  It does not mean that they are not adequate in teaching toward a goal of self-defense (rather use the correct term vs. fighting - which is illegal, SD is admitting to a legal justification of an illegal act, etc.) Combatives, to my mind and perceptions, are those hand systems used by military in combat situations and have no use what so ever in a civilian system. 

Kata are the tools that allow a more tactile approach to teaching how the body should move, how it aligns itself properly to apply techniques properly and how to develop a body, mind and spirit that will allow it to achieve its goals toward application of principles. Most kata are missing to many aspects of reality to achieve a fighting/defense system but they go a long way to train the body and mind in those principles used when you add in that reality part that is mostly missing in MA training. 

Now, if you are saying kata are not fighting systems but a form of moving meditation that conveys other more esoteric aspects of the fundamental principles to be a traditional WAY discipline for the training of the self as a means of improvement toward enlightenment then I would concur and accept that kata are that type of method toward enlightenment, etc. 

Note that this post is not a complete and comprehensive explanation as to why kata are what they are vs. what they are not because one would have to write an entire book, of which many martial artists have already done, and even that book may not convey the full picture of the kata toward teaching and learing a martial art. 

Lastly, kata are a great tool and provide a huge spectrum of examples toward teaching, training, practicing and learning that are unparalleled in most disciplines that are physical today. Regardless of what your personal perceptions are as to kata, don’t discount them entirely because you may or may not perceive value in their use, they are useful in many ways no matter what you believe they are and used for and so on. 

Is Karate Stagnate?

I was working out and training this morning when a thought occurred to me, “If karate-ka observed your kata today they would flame you for not adhering to certain basic and fundamental practices such as the enbusen line.” It made me think of those days when I worked construction building houses so very, very long ago. It goes a bit like this:

You start our building a house with blueprints and specifications. This is much like being exposed to basic techniques often called the upper and lower basics. It extends into the kata that are like blueprints where the drawings outline certain patterns in the home such as wall configurations and placements, etc. This is similarly or symbolic of the enbusen lines. 

As you practice as a homes construction begins you deal with a ton of logistics such as materials, workers, costs, construction techniques and of course the design of the house. This is similar or symbolic of such things as the fundamental principles of martial systems, i.e. structure, posture, power, etc. You are getting my drift here, right?

Now, once the construction is completed the home sits on the lot. It has a foundation, walls, roof, doors, windows, etc. but not much else. This is the state of today’s martial arts practice in particular “karate.” It is like we are happy with the home so we continue to check out the construction and go over the blueprints and so on to make sure the home is solid and long lasting but we are not truly living in that home because it is missing something, a something that makes that home, a home.

Most, if not almost all, seem content to play with the home as it is and often leave it every training session just like it was when they first entreated it after construction was completed. They are so thrilled to have a home and to have one built by a particular designer, i.e. “this home was designed and built by Tatsuo-san (using the karate system I learned as an example ergo Tatsuo Shimabuku Sensei).”

Now, as I understand Isshinryu history, Tatsuo-san always told his graduates (those leaving a tour of duty on Okinawa) that they must continue practicing and learning before they assumed a certain level of proficiency as indicated by a silk certificate he presented. This is tantamount to giving a new home owner their front door keys and saying, here you go, it is all yours, do with it as you feel you should.

We all took what we were taught and accepted the house as it appeared after that construction but we assumed that to change that house in any way would be disrespectful to the designer and the builder. This is where most karate gets stuck, it stagnates. It is also the reason why so many start out training and practicing in karate but soon, very soon, stop. 

What I propose is one must practice and train following the blueprints and design specifications but when all is done and open to move in the practitioner must “move in” and then practice and train until they are inspired by the house, the property and the neighborhood (i.e. the culture and beliefs system of Okinawa along with their personal culture and belief systems) so that they may begin to “decorate” it to fit them and their life practices. This is part of the budo of bujutsu. 

We decorate by playing with basics, kata, kumite, reality based training models, and as a simplified example we break the enbusen line; we break the patterns and line of the kata; we break the drills from their patterns; we break the drills used for self-defense training so that we reach higher levels of proficiency that is not tied to any particular pattern because such patterns tend to stagnate and freeze us when we try to apply them to life’s challenges. 

To decorate the home is to add curtains, purchase and arrange furniture that fits each room’s functionality and we put gardens of bushes, plants, flowers and such to create a new and greater house that comes from all the designer’s and builder’s vision into something unique. 

In Isshinryu, this is exactly how Tatsuo-san created the house of Isshinryu. If he had stayed steadfast and dedicated to what his teachers has taught him so long ago Isshinryu would not have been built (born). He did just what I suggest above but he took it one step further than most can, should or will do, create a new system and name it - that is not the point. Making a new system and naming it simply fogs the mind and clutters the arts in general but creating something unique and applicable to yourself is a good thing. 

As with history, we should be respectful to those who came before but we should also extend that respect into admiration by creating ourselves not in the image of that master but in our own image of what we aspire to be as a human and as a karate-ka. 

Karate today is stagnate and to achieve mastery of a life time of practice, training and applications is to break free of those chains and practice, train and apply something that is unique to you, the individual. It is about decorating your house of karate with all those things that tie directly to the true essence of all martial arts and to life, the fundamental principles of martial system - the one corner stone of building that does not change nor should they be changed. 

Is the Okinawan system of karate representative of Japanese Budo? Addendum Mon Apr 14, 2014

Now that you are up to date with my perceptions I can now say, "I was wrong!" In the new book, Karate 1.0 by Andreas Quast I have come to understand that Okinawan Systems of Karate may just be representative of the Okinawan versions of Japanese Budo. Much like the Japanese, the Okinawans had the tendency to take things of value from other cultures and absorb them into their own. This, apparently, includes Budo. 

The Okinawans, it would seem, had a very militaristic way of life up to the early sixteen hundreds when the Satsuma Samurai took control of the security of its outer most territory, Okinawa or the LooChoo Islands. 

I don't believe that modern karate as practiced in the 1900's and now this century are representative of Japanese Budo but I do believe historically that the influences are there. I really want to strongly suggest getting this book because it has blown a few holes in what "I believed" were a part of the legacy of Okinawan karate or Martial Arts. 

Why did the more traditional forms of martial practice require years to learn just "one" kata?

Ahhhh, a very good question and one I will answer with one caveat, it is my theory because there is no proof or historical record to truly answer this question. Here is what I believe:

The collection of kata we are required to learn in modern martial arts didn't begin until the mid to late 1900's. In the 1600's to the 1800's karate was actually referred to on Okinawa as "Ti (pronounced like tea)." This indigenous system was separated by distance between villages such as Naha, Shuri and Tomari. It may have been even more exclusive to smaller villages but as of the 1800's these villages were known and promoted in the 1900's as the three main factions of Ti. 

Those Ti masters or experts tended to teach and "know" one, two or maybe three kata. We all have heard the legends that those elders tended to require several years to learn and master one kata. The stories or legends even stated in one system the kata that is known today as "sanchin" is the first kata that must be mastered and that it took three (guessing the time window here) years to master. I imagine this is how the question came into being.

Why indeed, does it take several years to master one kata? It comes down to an attempt to understand what comprised that one kata in those years before the mass effort to bring karate into the school systems per WWII needs of Japan, maybe even earlier. Before Ti came to the lower classes of Okinawa the exclusivity of practice, training and applications were held close to those who practiced. It might even explain why such traditional requirements as "introductions" or "recommendations" were required to even get a chance to learn the system of some Ti master. 

Then you have to understand some of the teachings that may have been withheld from the Western mind either by the intention of the master teaching the military or by exclusion as things transcended from the ancient traditional methods to more modern methods of a school system, etc. Things were toned down and many intricacies were removed to ease the learning processes of young adults in the school systems. 

In addition the traditional method of learning a martial art as explained by the levels of "shu," "ha," and "ri" dictate that what is and was introduced and taught to those young adults was true to this model or method, the strict lessons of the level "shu." Because of the difficult and tumultuous situations of war and other influences of being a country concurred by first the Chinese and then by the Japanese in the 1600's the levels of "ha and ri" were lost and/or forgotten except by the masters who many we lost when they died during the war. 

To attain a level of "ha" and "ri" requires that the practitioner learn much more than the mere basics but the actual principles that are the foundation of all martial systems. This is how we begin to learn the need to study one kata for a length of time as told in the legendary stories of Ti practitioners of Okinawa.

Principles are many, although limited by the fact that they are finite principles due to physics, etc., and to learn them each and then to bring them into a "one whole and holistic" practice takes a lot of time. In addition to learn and apply kata and its technique(s) means you don't just learn the patterns but each and every individual nuance of each technique and combination derived from kata practice. To achieve a "ha and ri" level requires the ability to instinctually apply not only the obvious kata application but the nuances underneath them as a separate and unique entity so that the mind and body along with spirit can apply any principle instinctually and in the moment as needed by that moment to work. 

Try taking your first kata and mixing, matching and modifying according to any given situation even in training with the other more theoretical and philosophical principles being applied. Losing the pattern and rhythm of a set kata is difficult without first coming to know, understand and apply each minute atomistic quality of said kata from any direction or dimension according to the fluidity of any given moment. This takes a lot of work and only a few will actually make the effort necessary to reach these levels while others accept today's rendition of karate or Ti in a sport oriented fashion where kata are dances and fighting abilities are reduced to who can "tag" another target for a "point." 

This does not even take into consideration how today's martial systems are encumbered by societies "rules and requirements." To achieve a level of understanding and application means opening the mind and leaving the rules in the dressing room. Not many can achieve this in today's litigious societies or if you prefer today's commercialized societies. 

It does take several years to truly master one kata when you apply "ALL" the requirements but to achieve the level of "shu" that is merely a ghost of a system it doesn't take much and there lies the reasoning behind learning many kata, many systems and achieving many levels of many systems of black belt status. 

Then again, all this is my theory as to why it takes much time, effort, sweat, blood and tears to learn just one kata. Who is up to the challenge?

Can you learn how to fight or defend using drills only, no sparring, etc.?

This is a subject open to debate and that debate will always continue regardless of the answers either I provide or others provide. It is just the way this subject is and that will always differ depending on the perceptions of each individual practitioner. 

Drills are a great teaching tool. The military have used drills and drilling since time began. It is one tried and true way of training the military who have yet to achieve experience in battle. What changes is the individual combatant when they start to accumulate experience then those drills become lost in the reality of battle, fighting and today defending. 

In today's martial arts rarely do practitioners get to test their drilling practices in live fire, out on the streets in a violent situation or even in the sport side rife with rules and requirements under the auspice of safety, etc. 

How do you know your drilling and practices will work if they are not tested in the heat of battle? You don't. Drills were created by those experienced combatants long ago so that novices, inexperienced, can learn some foundation or basics to work with when they do enter into harms way. That transitional phase is crucial to combatants, especially military, because that is the point where the greatest loses are experienced. 

I remember a Viet Nam veteran Marine I worked with when speaking of newbies who arrived in country and how they would be treated a certain way until they accumulated enough experience that they might survive without causing their fellow Marines to possible die along side them. Ignoring the good or bad to this one can see that the initial period of entering combat is critical to both the newbie and the veterans - for survival. 

Is it conducive to lasting past that initial period to rely solely on those drills, i.e. the drills and kata of martial arts, steeped in patterns, combinations and rhythms to teach a person how to survive violence without providing some means to get closer to reality? In modern times and I suspect even in the past those who trained in such a manner instinctively knew that they needed to do something that would enhance the teachings of drilling and kata, etc. 

In ancient times it was not hard to gain experience in combat for the times provided many opportunities to test your skills. Japanese tales abound with how samurai would challenge one school or another to test their skills not to forget that during those feudal years they got to test their skills in combat. Today, we seldom, if ever, get to test our skills in true violent defense.

Is is possible relying solely on drills and kata to achieve fighting ability is less that optimal? Is it possible that one does not voluntarily go into a scenario like fighting, etc. as a part of human survival instincts thereby making the idea of drill effectiveness more acceptable? What happens when a violent adversary does not adhere to the patterns and rhythms of your drill? What do you think your mind does when the adversary is not following the drill or kata? Is going into a training regimen beyond drills and kata resisted because it would mean leaving the comfort zone of your perceived safety and security? 

I have learned over the years that many traditional marital arts believe and rely heavily on drills and kata for their combative or defensive skills. I have learned over the years that many martial arts consider competition and kumite sufficient for their combative or defensive skills. How will any of them discover the validity of what they learn and practice if they don't learn through experience in violent encounters? 

Even if martial artists are exposed to reality based training regimens how will they encode it into instinct if they don't do some sort of repetitive training using what they learned and still not know for sure if it will work for them until they experience violent encounters where they can utilize the lessons learned. This how will always be a bane of contention and my theory is that the only way to truly find out if what you train will work is to test that training by the fire of combat - just like the military in combat. 

In closing, the answer to this question resides solely in the hearts and mind of each individual martial artist. No matter what I say, what others say and what is professed as the ultimate defensive system it will only have meaning when that individual finds the truth through combat experience. 

I have a youtube video doing my kata, can you take a look and tell me if I have chinkuchi?

First, you can not "see" chinkuchi manifested in kata or kumite. There is no way to determine a person is or has chinkuchi and/or principles through a video. Two, the only way to determine if one has chinkuchi or principles applied is to feel it through training on the dojo floor. 

It is too limiting to see chinkuchi or principles applied through video since there are aspects that occur that are not perceived through the lens of a camera or the human eye. We can be fooled into thinking something is chinkuchi or principles. 

Take sequential locking and releasing. You can not see that and to think a strong muscle it appearance in performing karate denotes chinkuchi/principles is a mistake.

If you want to know if you are practicing correctly get on the training hall floor with one who is proficient/has expertise and determine it as you practice. 

Even then to observe chinkuchi takes someone who has pretty much mastered it over a long time of practice and who has also taught it over time. It takes an ability in perception that most karate-ka cannot or have not developed.

Even so called karate masters with high rank fail to understand the concept of chinkuchi and principles (one cannot live without the other) because they never developed the full spectrum (some manifest individual aspects of the whole and assume that is it but that fails in reality).

Am I an expert on chinkuchi/principles? 

No, yet I have a greater understanding to know that I cannot determine if one has it unless we train together over time on the training hall floor. Then maybe and mutually we karate-ka can determine the level and completeness we have gained in chinkuchi/principles.

Sparring, what is its value?

Sparring is not combat or even fighting. It has value but the extent of said value toward self-defense depends a lot on the context and intent of the sparring model. I do believe that sparring, as it exists currently, is more a dueling model, a social type fighting means of practice and training. Much like I expressed toward certain two person predefined drills. 

Sparring consists of a different emotional involvement. Both parties are willing participants. The model allows for getting a feel for the others fighting skills. In a lot of cases both parties are fairly equal in skill and ability. What happens if one or the other actually take it outside the dueling model and take it to some extreme fast and chaotic model that would test the others resolve and ability to handle it, both mentally and physically? What would happen if the role of tori were to not follow any protocol and that the tori would be bigger, stronger, and more skilled? What would happen if suddenly, without warning, you had the biggest, toughest and most skilled person in training attack someone outside of any context of sparring, etc.? 

Sparring is a great essential exercise to get novices outside their comfort zones. It can be used in a manner to stress the mind while stressing the body as well by taking it to a level of shugyo or austere type training, i.e. where the participants go until they drip and drop exhausted, spent and pretty much in a daze? Is this even possible?

Remember that the techniques necessary to defend against violence may not be as applicable during sparring, and vice versa. 

Pearlman, Steven J. "The Book of Martial Power." Overlook Press. N.Y. 2006.

Why don't all dojo have fundamental stance/movement basics/warmups?

In Aikido they do something referred to as a walking kata. It teaches footwork, posture and body movement. In karate, my system in particular, does not focus directly on such fundamentals. It seems to promote all the proper fundamental principles of martial systems as given in the book of martial power and considering the importance of such things in the overall scheme of martial arts, combative arts and/or self-defense I wonder why it does not exist.

Take a look at the post over at Patrick Parker's blog, "Mokuren Dojo." 

When I viewed his video I began to wonder why this is not, in some form, a part of the fundamental basics, i.e. in Isshinryu they use the upper and lower basic techniques as a warm-up/training for those basic techniques that are supposed to train a karate-ka in things like proper stances, transitions when done in a movement or walking manner, and kamae, etc. I just wonder since things like posture, body alignment and movement, etc. are so important that karate communities/dojo's don't focus on the assumption, movement and transitional aspects of just the stances along with incorporation of the fundamental principles before going into basics such as hand and foot techniques. 

Consider this theory, the assumption (although very brief in delivery of combinations, etc. and often on the move type stances) of stance or kamae while applying various techniques seems to detract from the importance of said stances. I feel that the stance and the Earth contribute a good deal to the transference of power to the adversary. 

Then I think of those maneuvers that require us to move, out of the way or off center of the adversary, while applying appropriate principles/techniques are not given more due diligence at the novice levels. I watch the walk, Aiki Tai Sabaki in the video, and can see how that would be of benefit in laying out a solid foundation for the art as well as for self-defense principles. Watching this video shows me movement beyond what most karate dojo practice in basics, i.e. the forward and backward straight line model. Is this why many karate-ka get stuck in that straight line model vs. something more adaptable to self-defense?

In my later years as a teacher I did move toward adaptation of stances, movement, etc. without hand techniques to keep the novices focus on proper stances with applied principles of martial systems because in my previous years observed many students lose site of proper stances, etc. and having to struggle with it later when changes are much harder. 

Some will speak up and say, that is what the basics are for as well as the kata but I find that so many are caught up in other aspects, i.e. applying hand and foot techniques, that they lose site of this part and then struggle longer to gain a modicum of proficiency. Over taxing the mind seems counter productive to me and when someone is learning the martial arts as a novice, i.e. absolutely no previous experience at all, then it seems to end up confusing or more difficult then it has to be. I attribute this to expediency vs. slow deliberate progress. 

It is great when you finally get to the "more fun stuff" in martial arts but without a solid foundation in principles/techniques you end up with useless stuff that may look good but may not work especially in the fight. 

What do you think?

Why are there so many styles or systems of karate?

Simply, a personal signature on the one single form of Ti or Toudi that is Okinawa Ti. Ti is the term used to designate and denote a singular form of empty handed defense that today is referred to as karate, i.e. formally China-hand and currently empty-hand. The various styles and systems such as Isshinryu, Gojuryu, and Shorinryu, etc. are those designations given by individuals who have reached a level of mastery in Ti/Toudi that they feel the need to name their own personally formed system that is ti/toudi but with a personal signature or essence that makes the distinction that this person is responsible for this way of practicing, training and using Ti/Toudi. 

In a nutshell, my view, is this is merely a form of ego driven recognition and in modern times a means by which one differentiates a teacher and style from others with promotions as to a particular personality of the person and style as unique thereby bringing more students and income into the dojo. Cynical, yea a bit but with a smidgeon of truth. 

Lets look at this a bit historically. At first there was only Ti/Toudi. Then to distinguish it was to separate it from one another as to location ergo why Ti took on names such as Tomari-ti, Shuri-ti and Naha-ti. To distinguish is actually a need for man to differentiate and make unique something that was previously shared by all. 

As time passed and as it became more available to all Okinawans there came a further need to differentiate, distinguish and make unique the jutsu of ti into systems/styles that were associated with individual masters of long standing especially since the three main villages slowly were absorbed into many that is Okinawa, i.e. Goju-Ryu, Shorin-Ryu, Uechi-Ryu, Isshin-Ryu, and so on. 

Even today in modern times those original "styles" soon branched off into more unique styles and systems associated with new and more prolific masters to differentiate between just karate and the special karate's that you would need to fight and defend or worse compete. There are not a long list of variations within a system like Shorin-ryu, i.e. 

Shōrin-ryū Reihokan[8]
Shōrin-ryū Shidōkan normally called Shidōkan or Okinawan Shidōkan
Kobayashi Shorin-ryu
Shōrin-ryū Seibukan
Okinawa Seidokan Shōrin-ryū normally called Seidokan
Shōrin-ryū Kyudōkan normally called Kyudōkan
Koporyu Shorin-ryu
Okinawa Shorin-ryu karate Shinkokai
Chubu Shorin-ryu[10]
Matsubayashi-ryu (also translates to Shorin-ryu)[10]
Shorin-ryu (Shaolin)[10] also known as Shobayashi.
Ryukyu Shorin-Ryu[10]
Rendokan Shorin-ryu
Seibukan Shorin-ryu
Matsumura Seito Shorin-ryu

Even in the singular style/system of Isshinryu there are many different factions of that system yet to be renamed into new more individualize unique systems/styles except those who merely added to the name Isshinryu, i.e. Advincula's Isshinryu, Long and Wheeler's Isshinryu, and Nagle's Isshinryu - all three practiced and taught differently with small variations, etc. 

In the end there is absolutely nothing wrong with this as long as the practitioner/participant knows this and understands that in reality there is only one system of karate called "Ti" and that all of them are fundamentally the same except for that unique signature on Ti used by the dojo sensei for teaching, and often renumeration sake, today's karate of Okinawa. In the end all systems and styles of martial systems rely on the same exact fundamentals, the fundamental principles of martial jutsu or in this particular case, "Ti."

Addendum dtd Friday February 21, 2014 at 15:15

It is also stated in an article written by an Okinawan karate master that his belief is that styles were adopted by Okinawans due to the historical influences of Japan's martial systems that rely heavily on a hierarchal system, etc. Because Okinawa was absorbed by Japan and Japan dictated this along with influences through the interactions of Okinawan masters and Japanese martial arts, i.e. Funakoshi Sensei, etc. this came into being, i.e. styles and systems. 

Ti is Ti or Toudi. The principles of martial systems are the concrete foundation of all variations of empty handed Asian combatives. Putting a unique stamp on a personal version is just that, a symbol or stamp or title to differentiate a personal belief and view of a singular system of Okinawan Toudi.

How do I know if I am practicing a Martial Art?

First, you have to understand what a martial art is and that is not so clear. Second, martial arts actually includes all systems of combatives/fighting and this includes our systems here in the America's as those in Europe, etc. A martial art is a system with traditions and associated cultures and beliefs of combat practices. 

Third, you have to differentiate between what is considered classical/traditional martial arts and then those that are more modern. In my perceptions very few of what we term as martial arts is truly a martial art. But then again the "art" part does differentiate those that are born of the jutsu. Jutsu referring to the technique, method and skill used to fight, combatives. 

Does this include self-defense? Yes and no, because self-defense is always a part of combatives and combatives are about offense and defense with a stronger emphasis on offense, i.e. where in combat you are trying very hard to make the enemy die for his beliefs while you live to promote yours by combat. Self-defense is further muddled by the restrictions, i.e. the laws, etc., imposed by society that is increasingly disconnected from what is violence and what is perceived violence along with what is necessary to survive violence. 

I guess the reality is that martial arts of old now encompasses those activities that are more toward a symbolic venue geared to satisfy the need to be proficient in combatives while not actually causing damage and death. I guess it is now a matter of degrees. Yet, I feel strongly that martial arts are either bu-jutsu oriented or sport oriented with symbolism toward bu-jutsu or sport oriented with emphasis on competition and winning trophies, accolades and egoistic pride building. 

If I were to follow my perceptions and beliefs as to martial arts then most of what I have seen and experienced in modern marital arts in not truly martial arts. It is a bit like the label "karate." Karate is often used to label many systems that are not karate. Where does all this misconception come from, from media events such as television and movies where reality is often sacrificed for drama. Even those industries are misled by today's view within the martial arts world. We are so blinded by what is perceived as to looks we tend to think things that look good and impress observers is what works in combatives. Here again lies the crux of this issue, what is violence and how does violence manifest itself in all its forms - and there are many forms to know about.

So, how do you know if you are practicing a martial art? Well I guess in the end it is how you perceive things, what you believe in and what makes you feel comfortable (note: if you are comfortable with your martial art you have to ask why you feel the comfort because violence and classical martial arts involves a lot of discomfort - an enjoyable, sorta, discomfort.). 

This is one of those questions you will have to consider, analyze and change as you grow in depth and breadth of practice and training. It is one of those things that is personal and causes a lot of discourse as to personal views and beliefs. If you cannot look at yourself, your practice and your system with an open mind, if you find you resist vehemently then maybe your stuck in a false belief - usually a sign when you resist in the face of truth, facts and reality. 

Then again if you are comfortable, having fun and have a solid social connection with your dojo mates then it matters not - except if you encounter violence and it fails to work for you. When one thinks martial art they assume it is a means of self-defense when it may not be exactly what you assume or expect. Even those who truly practice a martial art may find things not working as intended. 

Convoluted and Complex Topic!

When should one retire from teaching marital arts?

In a recent article at the Kowakan Blog titled, "Paragons of Health: I Think Not," brings up some relevant points in the practice and teaching of martial systems (in this particular example Okinawan Karate). His post made me think, when is it prudent to stop the leadership role, one that requires health, fitness, knowledge and experience, etc.?

I will use myself as an example. First, as we age (I am closing in by months to my winter years, i.e. 60 years) things change in the body and mind that we may or may not have control over. I have meniere's which is an inner ear thing causing vertigo and my status is the problem remains lingering with bouts where I lose more balance and then gain it back with about 98% most times. Should I teach?

There can be many factors involving a sensei who reaches toward their winter years. There can be many factors that crop up suddenly that will affect a person health, fitness and well-being that could effect their teaching abilities. How you handle those and incorporate them into your training, practice and teaching matters - they matter a great deal. 

Physical disciplines like martial systems require demonstration to supplement the whole teaching model. It means you must be able to demonstrate. It does not mean you have to keep up with younger, healthier and more fit practitioners but you must be able to demonstrate. You must lead by example and your health, fitness and demeanor to include how you walk, talk and the aura you project by the spirit and physical is important.

I liken sense to the military leadership I came to understand as a Marine. Your life depends on the what, how, who, when and other factors of those who would lead. The examples you set by the actions you take mean a lot, a lot. If a Marine goes fat, lazy and becomes unhealthy no matter the past credentials they lose a huge amount of credentials with those who have to do. This applies to all of life but no more so than in the military where your life depends on others of like minded military presence, etc. 

If you are not going to maintain your health, fitness and mind/body for your age as appropriate and if you are not going to maintain a level of expertise and continual update and change to your knowledge and experiences then you should consider relinquishing the mantle of sensei. 

I stopped teaching a few years back and now remain healthy, fit and knowledgable through personal practice and training. I keep researching and theorizing and working it out in my practice (as much as possible without a partner, etc.) to maintain a certain level of knowledge and expertise. I do realize that the lack of working it out with others, i.e. sensei, senpai and kohai, etc., limits my growth but I realize that as I enter the winter years and due to certain uncontrolled issues of mind and body I would not benefit practitioners on the dojo floor so I am kind of retired from teaching.

I am not overweight nor infirm to the point that I cannot do my martial arts but it may lack what I perceive is necessary to give a full and complete system of martial arts over to those who would follow. I relegated myself to an advisor in a academic form with emphasis that one must take all I provide to the dojo floor to work out with a sensei/senpai before melding it to their practice and training. 

An important, a critical essence that is teaching and practicing is knowing when to adjust to the aging process and knowing when to step down as a sensei on the dojo floor. A very difficult thing to detect within yourself. Like many things, it takes hard work and a lot of self-reflection.