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

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"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.

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What criteria classifies karate as traditional? UPDATE

I was pointed toward a site governed by a senior karate-ka on Okinawa who had just gotten the Okinawan karate governing organization to declare Isshinryu as a traditional system and this is the criteria they used to determine that standing.

Traditional Okinawan Karate-do:

1. Existed for at least fifty years.
2. Maintained its original forms as taught by Tatsuo Shimabuku Sensei, the founder, with no variations.
3. The bow, ritsu-rei, at the beginning and end of kata must conform to the Okinawan traditional manner taught by Shimabuku Tatsuo-san.

Kind of makes my interpretation a bit much do you think? I would comment that no. 2 is a bit restrictive and does not promote the "shu-ha-ri" concept and practice. I think it needs more clarity especially for westerners who don't normally intuitively understand the underlying meaning of things Okinawan, Japanese or Chinese.

What criteria classifies karate as traditional?

First, its origins must be established as from Okinawa. [Okinawan is the birthplace or cradle of karate therefore the system and/or branch much have direct lineage to an indigenous system of karate.

Second, it must be a system/branch of long-established standing. [This means the system/branch must be a time-honored one with a traditional history that speaks to the culture and beliefs of Okinawan's and specifically regarding its history of its indigenous original system called either "Ti or Toudi."]

Third, it must have been developed and created in accordance with traditional Okinawan methods. [As far as can be determined most of the current systems were created from Ti by adepts who reached the level of "HA, i.e. shuhari system," and are on the verge of reaching the "RI" levels.]

Fourth, it must be derived from an inherited pattern of thought or action. [I can see this as the spiritual connections through the Okinawan belief systems, i.e. Confucianism, Shintoism, Buddhism, Zenism, etc. as derived from ancient Chinese classics to include their classics on martial arts.]

Fifth, it must be a custom: a specific practice of long standing. [what is considered a long standing practice? I would classify this as being a minimum of fifty years of practice as to the customs of the Okinawan's]

Sixth, it must be a system or branch of a system that is a part of the Okinawan culture which is passed from person to person or generation to generation, possibly differing in detail, as is customary per the system of shuhari, from family to family, such as the way the Okinawans celebrate what westerners refer to as holidays.]

Seventh, it must be a living transmission of the message of the founder/originator of the system or branch of a system of martial arts. [not a dogmatic adherence but a reverence and transmission of the systems/branches master to all the decedents that are practitioners of said system/branch of system. This must also honor the system of shuhari with "adherence to SHU to all new practitioners through out time."]

Eighth, it must transmit and practice the set of norms, values and beliefs contained in the culture of the Okinawans and passed down from generation to generation.

What is the greatest responsibility of the Sensei?

To provide "proper guidance" to the practitioners under his or her tutelage. To inspire and insert within each individual a sense of honor and spirit to prevent the systems subversion into the depths of improper application resulting in death, in the unnecessary use of karate. It is the polishing of the spirit to develop the true strength - to maintain presence of mind.

What is the basic law of self-defense?

First, you should read the force laws for your state, county and city. But, in the meantime I found this quote in an article by Mr. Rory Miller that can give you a fundamental definition to get you started, i.e. "The basics of self-defense law, going all the way back to English Common Law, can be summed up: You may use the minimum force you believe is reasonable necessary to safely resolve the situation.

Be careful here. There are caveats to this statement and this is why is is imperative to anyone practicing martial arts or any means of self-protective measures of physical and emotional violence to know, understand and teach/practice with force law as a basis of said teaching and practicing.

Mr. Miller provides, see last post link to article, a bit of meaning behind such terms used above as "may," "minimum force," and "reasonably necessary." Do not assume the quote above is applicable to all laws for I feel those laws are complicated and convoluted when coupled with violence and all it entails. This is why there are "experts" in violence and force law - no one person necessarily knows both sides of this coin either.

I am not an expert, this is just an opinion and theory.

What is an expert in karate?

You would expect the question, "When will I become a master in karate?" Master in the Asian sense is just another word for Sensei which is another word for teacher. This is not necessarily a meaning of "expert."

The second part that needs consideration is, "Who and what criteria says expert?" An expert can be a person who has a comprehensive and authoritative knowledge of or skill in karate. Having or involving such knowledge or skill he or she provides "advice" on "handling" the particulars of the discipline and in this particular case "karate."

So, if you have special knowledge or ability and can perform skillfully the you are an expert. You are an adept: having or showing knowledge and skill and aptitude; technical: of or relating to or requiring special knowledge to be understood; skillfulness by virtue of possessing special knowledge, etc.

There is no point where one leaves the realm of a "layman" and enters into the realm of "expert." In the wold of martial arts everything remains up for grabs and it therefore becomes an individual determination as to whether one is either an expert or not an expert.

I am testing soon, what if I don't pass?

First, I don't like testing for a variety of reasons. But, the question is a good one for most practitioners so I will answer it the best I can with one caveat, it is my personal opinion - mine alone.

I have never in my entire thirty-six years witnessed a test failure. I believe that one who is, in a classical/traditional fashion, invited to test has already proven to sensei and the dojo they are capable and will pass. One reason is this and another for the more commercial versions is it is income. You pay for the test, you pay for the certificate, you pay for any accouterments like patches and you pay the governing organization.

Think of it this way, in most western training facilities if not the money then the money from enrollment and attendance. If you failed for some reason you could conceivably stop training and attending - lost income. Your friends and associates may follow your lead and stop training and attending - lost income.

This could be even worse if most followers felt you were an exceptional practitioner and you failed. Failure, especially if in front of the entire clan, can leave an impression of a lack of self-esteem, i.e. I am not going to go in front of these friends so they can see me fail.

You get the picture. If you are to test soon, go with it, have a solid and hard practice/training and let the chips fall where they may. Keep your mind in the moment and give no thought to anything other than what you going to do at that moment.

Now, I feel many of you may have guessed that I have actually skirted the question completely here so let me truly answer it now. Roadblocks are gift. When we encounter adversity we should look at it as an opportunity. A way to develop our character and stimulate ourselves to greater efforts. In the yin-yang holistic monism of the universe we would not exist if not for both adversity and prosperity where the ebb and flow of one and the other make us human.

A test failure is an opportunity for the individual to show what their hara is truly made of, their spirit and their intestinal fortitude.

What is real karate? What makes it real? What can we do to keep it from not being real?

Question One: What is real karate?

Answer One: I believe real karate is that traditional/classical form practiced on Okinawa. I am not speaking of the sport aspects or the school driven version but the combative version once referred to as "ti or toudi." If the system or branch practiced in the west, here in the USA, etc., is derived from the "ti or toudi" versions which can be referred to as shuri, tomari or naha based then it is real karate. This is a loaded question and answer because to be traditional/classical fighting system means removing all the layers to find all of it. Most of what is practiced in the west today is nor real karate - my opinion.

Question Two: What makes it real?

Answer Two: Read answer one.

Question Three: What can we do to keep it from not being real?

Answer Three: By practicing it as it was meant to be practiced. Not be remaining in a dogmatic remain unchanged and identical to what Tatsuo Sensei taught except to keep the fundamental practice the same for future generations but to add to that foundation to crate a unique and individual perspective/context for your practice and no one else's.

This type of discussion goes on forever and I believe that these answer are not all encompassing but rather the type that work like a zen koan where you contemplate on the idea's and then allow the intuition of your mind to bring out more .... much more .... and if you can do that successfully then you don't need to ask these questions unless you want to inspire the younglings in the dojo :-)

These are three questions asked on the "Talk Isshinryu Forum" by Lundy Guyton Sensei, San-dan Isshinryu Karate-jutsu-do.

Does the martial arts teach us self-discipline?

In a word, no. Often promotions use "learn self-discipline" as a part of the sales pitch but no one can teach another person self-discipline. It is something that you develop within your self. I can't give it to you and none of the Sensei can give it to you. We can demonstrate it, we can explain what it is and we can provide a person examples that would teach them the concept but true self-discipline cannot be taught.

The systems we practice take a bit of self-discipline to master and the practice of a martial system is one way to teach yourself the self-discipline necessary to master it on a personal level. Self-discipline is how you control yourself, the willpower you display in doing things. It is a matter of making yourself do things when you should, even when everything screams in your mind to skip it this week. Self-discipline means self-control. It is doing what you don't want to do when your mind  and feelings are telling you to do something else.

It is developing a trait that says, "I will restrain my behavior or emotions (self-control), activate myself (self-motivation) and direct my personal path, way or road through life (self-determination).

I explained it somewhat here. Now ask yourself, do I have greater self-discipline? Likely, not, but you did show some discipline in reading the entire post when the monkey brain was screaming in your ear, forget this crap ;-)

Self-discipline = self-control + self-motivation + self-determination

Is kata a workout routine?

No, the sweat you get when practicing kata along with the resulting better health and fitness is merely a byproduct of the practice of kata. I get into semantics a lot with changes occurring daily. In this instance I cringe when someone attaches a label, "workout," to kata. This is often done in fundamental techniques, i.e. what most call the "basics," to get a "workout."

I once conducted a session in the training hall where I did a bit of a warmup session then went right into kata. The recipients were a bit miffed later and stated kindly, that was a lousy work out. I feel they got into the mind set that karate, basics, kumite and kata are a means to "work out, sweat, and get into shape" type system.

So far from the origins and purposes of karate-jutsu-do. Labeling, as I have written on in the past, can get you thinking incorrectly when you practice, train and apply karate-jutsu-do in life.

No, karate and all its many facets are not a "work out" or "work out system" or "work out routine" for getting into shape. It is a way of life with many benefiting traits that just happen to include being healthy, mind and body, fit and strong. That is both physical and mental strength, fitness and health.

Maybe this is why kata lost its originality, its bunkai and its application to conflict. Maybe this is why it went the sport route. Maybe .....

Are Belt Tests simply "glorified hazing?"

The inspiration for this post comes from the blog, Martial Views by John Vesia Sensei of Isshinryu in Long Island New York. You can read it here. : http://www.martialviews.com/ titled: Black Belts and Red Flags.

He makes some great points of which I agree on all and feel in addition his terming it "glorified hazing" fits in most cases I have witnessed over the years including some of my own in the early days.

Some of the things required for today's martial systems in promotions to black belt seem to simply provide a false sense of accomplishment. It is this false sense of accomplishment that bothers me.

Why? Because martial systems traditionally are meant to provide one protection in physical conflict. All other things aside including moral spiritual development its core is still to train/teach a person to fight. In that light giving folks the false sense of accomplishment in fighting sets them up for failure.

Granted, most will never get into a conflict requiring martial skills but it only takes one person to suffer the consequences of such training and practice. I have covered this enough in other posts so will no go into any greater details.

It is imperative martial systems teach reality and it they insist on testing then it should fall into that same category, reality. This "100 man kumite" for an endurance and/or shugyo approach is in my opinion a group ego trip to do the monkey/gorilla pound your chest and display by power trip vs. real and authenticate strength of character and reality based proficiency. You don't find any of what is necessary in a group setting where one performs and others grade - it is self-reflecting grades that count, yours and yours alone.

As Vesia posts, fostering "indomitable spirit" is not a public validation process but rather a personal one inside yourself. All the yelling, kiai'ing, endurance exercises and practice are great to build the body strength and endurance but I can tell you from experience that simply having strength and endurance will not get you through a violent conflict. It is only a small part of a whole that is required to achieve not-dying.

" ... if you insist on hanging on to your myths because they are more comfortable to believe in, people will suffer." Sgt. Rory Miller, Chiron Blog: http://chirontraining.blogspot.com/2012/04/layers-of-complexity.html

Last Question: How would we know if it were glorified hazing or realty martial training?

How do I find a person expert in bunkai? Kata? Kumite? Sport tournament? Combat?

This question was asked and answered in the recent Classical Fighting Arts periodical, i.e. Vol. 2 No. 22 (Issue #45). I really appreciated the answer they would give, "Any legitimate karate teacher should be capable of teaching a complete system, regardless of the style."

I want to go a bit further in explaining that answer. Unlike such disciplines as medical where one can be a specialist/expert on just one aspect of the entire/whole medical field, i.e. a ear, nose, throat doctor; a urologist; a pediatrician; a general practitioner, etc. the system of martial arts is that one system that is so interconnected and reliant on each part as a whole it cannot be adequately separated into specialties as kata person, free-style kumite person, etc.

The martial systems we have that are classical/traditional to today's variant are still and always will be a "whole system" that is comprised of those many parts that make it whole or "one." In order to teach a system adequately and completely one must learn and instruct/mentor/teach all facets of said systems from the fundamental principles of martial systems all the way to the combative/defensive/protective applications.

In my humble opinion if you find a teacher who teaches/specializes in teaching only kata then the system is going to be incomplete and that teaching may not be whole in and of itself either since even kata is broken down, atomistic, into parts for teaching and learning that must be re-assembled by the individual into a holistic "whole system" to have it "work." I would avoid that and continue to seek out a whole system of learning the martial arts.

Even today many teachers are "lacking in cohesive expertise" since many never learned "bunkai" or "fundamental principles of martial systems" from their instructors therefore are unable to pass those gems of knowledge to their students. In their defense many today are working diligently to fill in the "gapping holes" in their knowledge and expertise - this is really, really good for the systems.