"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.

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Why do we use Japanese terminology and other Asian customs when we practice a martial art?

Good question. My answer is mine from my perspective. I cannot speak to all those out there who may have differing opinions and perceptions. I see it on several levels.

First, is the one that makes a person feel like they are involved in something unique, mystical and authenticate. It doesn't matter that none of us has the training, understanding, cultural beliefs and life that would make us fluent in Asian ways. We tend to pick and choose to fit our own idea's and what makes it exciting and fun is what we do vs. getting deeply involved in the entire way, i.e. budo, culture and beliefs not to forget living as Asians. 

Second, there are those who use such things as a means of promotion. Not promotion as in belts but rather commercial income driven promotion. Knowing that many assume that adhering to such things Asian makes it true, authenticate and valid they use the terms and others accouterments to entice the uninitiated into signing contracts and paying big monies to achieve a black belt status with all that it may or may not entail. 

Third, is the egoistic reasoning that all things with power, prestige and cultish economic gain that boosts the pride and builds the ego along with overcoming low self-esteem issues so they dive in with a fervor unparalleled anywhere to give the perceptions and impressions of greatness, etc. 

Some will read this and be offended. Some will say, hey you use this stuff. Yes, I do, for my own education and to pass along material that I feel benefits the understanding of the heritage that rides with martial systems. Like anything worth learning you may want to encompass all aspects including the history, culture and beliefs of those who pass this stuff down to us. That in and of itself connects us to the past, present and prepares us for the future. Knowing the past means we learn from it and are able to NOT repeat mistakes past made. 

At one time I used the karate-gi, the obi's and some of the language and terms but not anymore. I am a westerner and American so I tend to try and teach that way but I do write about it so others can decide and absorb value as to their needs, wants and requirements. This is now more academia and if it gives us choices that are of value then so be it.

In closing, I am not Asian, Japanese or Okinawan. I am not fluent in either Japanese or Uchinaguchi so I won't try to use it except in making a point in some lesson. My gaol is to use such things to gain attention with the hopes that it will lead to knowledge and understanding for each person who reads my stuff. I enjoy reading, seeing or hearing terms and other things about martial systems so I can validate what it is and find answers to help me better understand what it is I do. 

Did the Okinawans develop their own belt system?

Apparently, yes. It may have been somewhere around the 1960's or so. There is not much documentation other than the word of a few but as to the system Isshinryu there are a couple of black and white photo's of Tatsuo-san wearing what appears to be a red belt with a gold stripe through the center. The photo of Tatsuo-san is dtd around the mid-sixties, i.e. 1966 - 68.

It would be nice to see the entire belt system from the Okinawans but alas all my inquiries have been, to date, ignored. The belt system seems to have fallen out of favor since the sixties and except on rare occasions the Okinawan karate systems seem to have remained with the generally accepted belt system based on those passed to us from the Japanese Judo system by Kano Sensei. 

Okinawan Dan System

1st - 3rd: black belt with silver strip in middle lengthwise
3rd - 6th: black belt with gold strip in middle lengthwise
7th - 9th: red belt with gold strip in middle lengthwise
10th: solid gold obi

1961 era development; not fully validated from any official Okinawan source to date.

Click for a larger view of this photo.
RyuTe RenMeiThese type of belts were issued by the Zen Okinawa Karate Kobudo Rengo Kai. In this case "Zen" means all, as in all of Okinawa. Shortcut, All Okinawa. This organization existed between 1965 through the middle 70's. The belts were characterized by silver or gold stripes. The silver was for 1st and 2nd dan and gold for 3 through 6th dan, all on the black Obi. 7th and up was gold on red. The size of the stripe increased with the rank. ~ November 7, 2010 at 2:00pm FB Wall

Why have weapons taken a back seat to empty hand?

A recent posting about karate and kobudo got me to thinking about that relationship. It comes to mind that chiefly and predominantly weaponry, as to historical, was the primary much like it is today in professional circles to include military. 

When we hear or read about how karate came to be we often think of the edict taking weapons out of the hands of the non-military folks. That makes me think that before such edicts weapons dominated. It was not necessary to use empty handed systems unless you were caught without a weapon or a person was disarmed leaving only their empty hands to save their butts.

Think about this, mankind began with nothing but their minds and bodies to survive and the development of groups supplemented that survival method. As mankind progressed and developed the mind they conceived of a variety of weapons to supplement the body and achieve greater survival of the tribe along with hunting for food, etc.

Then as progress continued we developed greater weaponry taking the empty hand and putting it in the back of the truck just in case. All our development continued in this fashion relegating the human body as a chief weapon for survival as a tool used only when weaponry were not available or lost or disarmed, etc. then and only then were the empty hands, feet, elbows, and other strategies and tactics necessary for survival. 

Even in the many militaries through out history were empty hand or hand-to-hand combative systems taught and trained. It was only, as to the Asian connections, in recent history did this progressive practice get turned on its ear.

The disarmament edicts left some humans in a precarious situation regarding survival. This meant empty hand type systems became necessary against other empty hand and sometimes weaponry as to defense or survival. 

Now, push ahead to modern times and we have weaponry only as military defense along with civil police protections, etc. Weapons may be in the hands of the non-professionals simply because of antiquated rights but in a lot of cases how that weaponry is used is often determined excessive force or is perceived as something very bad. This takes a normal defense situation and puts it on rocky ground that can result in both criminal and civil repercussions.

Today's empty hand has become even more important to survival or in most cases of modern times, defense and protection. Now even empty hand is becoming questionable as to how it is applied and to what degree of force is used for protection. The line is very find indeed and crossing it can happen in an instance.

Weapons have taken a back seat because of our needs of security balanced out with psychological, criminal and civil repercussions that act somewhat like a weapon and empty hand disarmament or at least restrictions when applied in civil and even military applications. 

Today's martial system that has weapons now has been relegated to a distant historically based practice for more an academic perspective vs. combative application. The use of such weaponry today even in a perceived self-defense situation may be perceived as excessive and unnecessary making it illegal, etc. 

It brings to mind when you train in kobudo do you give thought to "is this weapon a good one for self-defense as to self-defense law along with force law, etc.?" Do you ask yourself questions such as this as you train in kobudo?

Lastly, karate and kobudo are two separate distinct systems that are often mislabeled as karate. One is not required for the other. Both can hold their own as separate martial systems. That they can benefit one another in a holistic manner does not lessen their uniqueness and separateness but rather allow for greater understanding overall when combined. 

What is the very first thing you teach a newbie?

Tate-ken [縦拳] or the vertical fist in most Isshinryu halls. Why? Because it has become a symbol of the system since Tatsuo-san is believed to have been the first Okinawan karate master to actually recognize and use it in lieu of the more traditional twisting punch [転拳]

Then I asked myself, many years later, why do I bother teaching the tate-ken to newbie's? Why indeed simply because most individuals already know how to make a fist instinctively. Now, one might argue that making a fist and making one properly to be effective is behind teaching the tate-ken. I disagree wholeheartedly simply because as a newbie progresses to say the makiwara or use of the heavy bag it will become apparent to them whether the fist is properly used. This allows them to feel fully involved with the system of learning with greater feedback than articulating the tate-ken or any fist for that matter.

There is another reason as well. It may seem or be perceived as teaching down to the person since making a fist is natural and instinctive. It is something they have been doing since birth so why would you assume the person cannot make a proper fist. Then I take into consideration that it is more important to start introducing the fundamental principles of martial systems that are the foundation of the techniques, etc. used. 

Look at it like asking a practitioner to go-back-to-the-basics vs. fundamental principles. We equate basics as something a newbie does while most at this stage have earned a higher level. It can seem demeaning to the person when it is better to build on their efforts and progress in lieu of sending them back to the perceived beginning. 

It is better to introduce the newbie to the principles that govern the punch all the way from cocking at the waist (beginner stuff only as this will change in time) or chambering through the entire cycle keeping the body, arm and fist aligned and moving in a more economical and powerful way, etc. This will seem kind of simplistic but it is just an example to get the old gray matter thinking in a inventive and creative way.

I have trained for years, why didn't my training work?

When a fellow martial artist contacted me he was really down in the dumps because his years of training failed him in a moderately dangerous situation. He survived, I consider this to be a success regardless, but wanted to know why all that training and practice failed him.

There are many reasons and they may or may not be contributed to the training and practice itself. It may have been excellent stuff but if certain principles have not been addressed then it has a greater chance of not working. Remember that even those professionals who deal with violence almost daily suffer from things not working from time to time. It is like they say that everyone freezes, everyone. It happens for a variety of reasons and I asked my friend to let it go for now, relax and let himself off the hook. 

Once he accomplishes this then go back and self-reflect and self-analyze the actual situation. Try to discover why it happened to not work "this time." Then take it to someone who can stand outside of it and help you see what it was that may have caused the failure to work. You may find out that it could be something simple that happened to occur at the wrong time and has nothing to do with training, practice and the application of your martial art.

I like the quote below from a recent post at the Chiron blog by Rory Miller regarding conditioning, training, and play to make it work. 

Responses that have only been trained seem to require experience before they can be accessed under stress. - Rory Miller, Chiron Blog "Three Things."

p.s. this is not the full picture on this subject. it is just a glimpse and I recommend you find the complete story by individual research.