"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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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. 

Is the Okinawan system of karate representative of Japanese Budo?

This question is difficult to answer. The Japanese started to influence Okinawa around 1600 when the Satsuma Clan invaded the island. The particulars of that invasion along with the resulting effects and influences is not well documented. It would seem that the Satsuma Samurai and their cultural belief system would be present and have influence on the locals but as to whether the Okinawans adopted any or all of that cultural belief is open to debate.

When we talk about Budo we are often referring to the Japanese culture. In the 1600's budo as a warrior way was till active but it was not to far off in the future that the more feudal era aspects would start to wane whereby the more spiritual and self-improvement, etc. type model was created and promoted to keep the spirit of the ancient budo alive while diminishing the more combative aspects. 

The term itself may have come from those changes toward a more acceptable form of martial practices. The term bushido is more a modern, i.e. about the late 1800's and early 1900's, term as well in the effort to explain the Japanese samurai feudal era type culture. It may have been very important to the Japanese to maintain their warrior like culture but with the influences of modern times some changes had to occur. The Japanese are well known in the abilities to absorb other cultural things of other peoples and then "make it their own."

As I understand "Ti or Toudi" of Okinawa I suspect and speculate that it was more a protection system for unarmed Okinawans yet I question how many since it would appear, with the lack of documentation this remains speculation, that it was practiced more with the affluent Okinawans as used by the Courts of the King of Okinawa. 

Regardless, it seems to me that Okinawan Ti or Toudi now referred to as karate was like most nations hand-to-hand combatives - a last resort. Weaponry was and is the preferred method of combat or fighting. Human's naturally want to distance themselves from the type of close up conflicts and when you consider their cultural nature being one of honorable and gentlemanly manners who tended to avoid major conflicts, i.e. such as invasions by say China and Japan, by a more diplomatic approach - adjusting and absorbing the conquering group - which may answer why such a small island country could have developed a relationship with the giant of a country, China, creating a solid trade oriented relationship over a possible dictator driven running of the island by Chinese. 

Actually this way of life by the Okinawans made it easier for both parties when the Satsuma Clan came to invade. As time passed and the King's influences waned then those upper echelon Ti/Toudi masters began to allow more Okinawans to train and practice karate. Since weaponry, other than implements of every day use developed into kobudo, was banned the empty-hand or the hand-to-hand system grew and expanded making it a more civil type of defense vs. combative type. This seems to me indicative of other martial systems through out the world so gives a certain amount of credence to this theory.

So, in the end I would not consider Okinawan karate as a budo. When I see today's modernization toward a more sportive perspective then I tend to move far away from the "bu" aspects. I would consider most Okinawan karate as supotsu-do or sport way of practice and training. The combatives or defensive aspects are much smaller if actually taught at all. 

Yet, most still use the Japanese inferences of budo to expand the excitement and glitzy way karate is practiced today. Using budo in most practices of karate today is nor truly acceptable in the strictest terms but could be applied if the spirit of budo as explained in my mind may still apply with caveats, i.e. unless it is used as self-defense and combatives (i.e. military implementation of martial arts systems today as in the MCMAP).

Will folks stop using such terms? No, as a matter of fact those types of terms and their resulting advertisement oriented use will expand to bring in more participants and, of course, their pocketbooks. I accept it and always take the usage with a grain of salt simply because a persons perception in relation to reality is not always accurate (read Rory Millers excellent post on "Knowing and Believing." http://chirontraining.blogspot.com/2013/06/knowing-and-believing.html

This is what I believe at this moment and at this time of publication/posting and believe wholeheartedly when I get more data will possible change this belief into another belief.  

When did it become a standard to earn many grades vs. learning one very, very well?

I can't answer this question. I was lucky in that my sensei spoke often of learning our system very, very well before doing anything else. I can say I have one particular flaw in that I did familiarize myself with other systems but stayed with my "one system" for these past 40+ years, i.e. since 1976. Even today I find interesting things to do with my practice and I can say that often it is the familiarization of other systems and the way they do things that have inspired me in my practice. My system is still the same but different in interpretation today vs. 1979.

I have no idea why it become vogue to suddenly require more and more credentials, i.e. black belts in many systems, where the resume' tend to seem impossible. I, my view here, spent a considerable amount of time trying to learn my one system adequately let alone trying to learn many systems with many requirements different than my system in a time span that seems impossible. 

Most of those guys who do have a "few" additional credentials tend to have a few, i.e. credentials in say karate, jujutsu, and kobudo for instance. Some well rounded knowledge that covers the stand up striking to the grappling to the ground work that seems to be fighting or combative methods. Having a dozen black belts in karate or some other system seems <you fill in the description here>.

I am not saying those who do have so many grades in so many systems are not experts and proficient its just I can't get my head around how long it takes, today, to get a black belt, i.e. about four to six years, yet I read about some who are not yet in their forties desplaying black belts in a variety of systems, i.e. four to six in some cases, where the math just does not add up.

Yes, once you learn a system really, really well the next one "seemingly" is easier and faster but do those take into account the fundamentals of that system or is it they just add a bunch of forms to their own system and use the current systems name and grade to add to their own system. Seems like a bit of familiarization vs. full and complete knowledge of a system to me. 

I do think that martial artists should enhance their parent system with things that would teach them to counter things like grappling, tuite, or ground fighting, that is part of familiarization, right?

Sometimes I wonder how they decide what to use in a fight or in self-defense since the mind has so much to choose from to counter something in an attack. Isn't the KISS principal more important so when the proverbial stuff hits the fan the choice is there, not the freeze - mostly.

Then again, what do I know. I can barely hold my own in karate. This is just my opinion :-)

Will martial arts provide me the self-defense skills I need?

It's possible but highly unlikely. Today's martial arts are so far removed from their roots in Budo that the majority of martial arts are sport oriented. The fact that those thought of as Budo or self-defense are in truth misguided attempts to label something as self-defense when in reality it is not self-defense. 

This is pretty much a blanket statement since there are many factors involved in self-defense, i.e. for example whether self-defense is for a social conflict vs. an asocial predatory attack. 

One factor that speaks to me regarding the validity of self-defense is one's mind-set. In most martial arts today they speak easily of such things as budo, warrior mind, etc. but actually do not practice what it takes to achieve such levels of experience and proficiency. If it were so then they would be lining up outside the recruiting facilities for police, fire, emergency medical, corrections, and military - to name a few professions that make violence and conflict a part of the job. 

We spend so much time worrying about rank, authenticity, ego, titles, and a resume that the ancient masters would have been stunned by if they were to encounter such things in their day. Then there is the need to get validated by the birthplace of karate, Okinawa, through methods that remove the need for effort, diligence and reality. You don't think that the Okinawans are not commercializing these trips to visit the Okinawan masters for karate are not oriented toward continued attendance and economic gain? (I will admit that there are methods to achieve the goal of authenticity through Okinawan masters but if your reading it in an ad somewhere I would have my doubts) It does remind me of the often encountered "clubs" that use martial arts as a foray into social gathering, drinking and partying.

Martial arts can provide you many things toward a self-defense model. The fundamental principles of martial systems are actually the same principles that one would want to achieve in any other non-Asian martial art system used in self-defense. Leaning to get hit, learning to move, learning to hit properly with speed and power, etc. all of these plus some others as applied to martial arts contribute greatly to learning self-defense. 

If your martial arts does not teach you about all aspects of violence then it isn's teaching you self-defense. If your martial arts are not teaching you about the psychological aspects of violence in self-defense then it isn't teaching you self-defense. If your martial arts are not teaching you about legal and medical aspects of violence in self-defense it isn't teaching you self-defense. If your martial arts are not teaching you about verbal self-defense then it isn't teaching you self-defense. If your martial arts are not teaching you about how to recognize an attack and working with deescalation then it isn't teaching you self-defense. If your martial arts are not teaching you the difference between self-defense and fighting then it isn't teaching you self-defense. If your martial arts is simply spouting out quotations from ancient texts such as the go-rin-no-sho or the art of war along side self-defense techniques then it isn't teaching you self-defense. If your martial arts testifies that it is the only and ultimate method of self-defense then it isn't teaching you self-defense. ...

If your martial arts is skipping all this and more and taking you straight to the self-defense techniques of self-defense then it isn't teaching you self-defense. 

See, self-defense is not about showing you an attack method and then teaching you one way to counter that attack like many self-defense courses. It is complex, chaotic and confusing. If you doubt this visit Marc MacYoung's "No Nonsense Self-Defense" web site. As you read you will find a plethora of links within articles within links that has the unerring ability to convey the complexities of self-defense to the reader. 

How often does physical fighting come along in my life?

Honestly, rarely if ever. I am talking about the every day person who lives in a fairly safe environment. That means most of us. The one's who get into a physical fight meet some pretty simple requirements. They often have imbibed in some form of mind altering substance be it smoking marijuana or drinking beer, wine or whiskey. Add in a mixture of ego, pride and male testerone and then your moving like huge leaps toward physical fighting. 

If you are not putting yourself in some form of lifestyle that opens the door to conflict then your not going to find much physical fighting outside of sport events, competitions and martial arts dojo/tournaments, etc.

How Often am I likely to get involved in physical combat and conflict?

Honestly, rarely. The only time you, in all likelihood, will use any of your skills of either/or martial arts or self-defense is in a dojo contest, a tournament or other sportive event involving martial arts, etc. As to conflict, your going to find a lot of conflict in your life but it is really your choice whether that conflict ends up getting physical. You will not go one day without some form of conflict and how you deal with it will hugely effect whether physical conflict enters the picture or not. 

Iken [意見]

The characters/ideograms mean "opinion; view; comment." The first character means, "idea; mind; heart; taste; thought; desire; care; liking," the second character means, "see; hopes; chances; idea; opinion; look at; visible."

The word iken kokan [意見交換] of which the characters/ideograms mean "exchange of ideas; exchange of opinions." The third character means, "mingle; mixing; association; coming & going," the fourth character means, "interchange; period; change; convert; replace; renew."

What I am attempting with all the writings I provide is to give my opinion an various subjects with the hopes that others reading will reciprocate by giving their opinions so that we exchange our opinions and ideas coming to a greater understanding of the subject - martial arts and self-defense, etc.

What is the best weapon for self-defense?

Well, your going to start thinking about things like guns, knives, or maybe martial arts weapons. Some might consider anything of weight and mass that you can find in your environment. Then there are those martial artists who practice self-defense saying I would use this or that technique. In my perception all of those don't meet the best weapon title. 

What is the best weapon for self-defense? Your mind and your mind-set. All the weaponry in the world will do no good at all unless you have a proper mind-set. You might ask me, well explain yourself. That would be a huge post because I would have to gather all the data from all the sources and compile a terse version from those to explain and then list that bibliography at the end for further research. 

Let me just say that you can get an idea of what I am saying by reading all of Rory Miller's books, all of Marc MacYoung's books and the various blogs and web sites of these two professionals. Then go to their seminars, etc. if you can. They also have a variety of video's available on the subject of violence and self-defense. 

I may be wrong here as to my perception but what I gleamed from all of that and my meager experience and knowledge is that your best weapon for self-defense is your mind and mind-set. 

Are you a Professional?

No, I am not. I served as a Marine from 1972 to late 1981. I was not a combat veteran, I was not a police, fire, EMT, bodyguard, or other such job.

I did work black box type work for the Navy as a civilian. I did work as a physical security professional for the Navy Security Force, I was a special weapons mechanic, I did work a type of security at a classified site for the Navy. I handled security materials as well as being a radiation control technician.

Those are the only things of significance I have done in the last thirty plus years and none of them spells out the type of professional I often mention on my blogs and through any self-defense materials I present.

I have practiced martial arts since I was young, got serious in 1976 and still practice and train with self-defense in mind even today (today, not so rigorous as when I was younger with more piss and vinegar in my system).

So, to answer the question again, No, Nope, Nadda, Not even close. If you want to learn from a professional there are many out there you can go to.

I guess you could say I am a "geek" now. Oh, and I work with computers as a tech, qa tester, release analyst and now administrative services. Geek, yep that sounds about right :-0  ;-)   :-)

Oh, the fact that I am even answering this question tells that I am not a professional. Most professionals already know that I am not by my writings and I know the person who asked the question is not a professional because a professional, or an operator as some call it, would not ask - they would know already without asking .... yikes :-[

Can Okinawan Martial Systems be Classified as "Koryu?"

Koryu [古流] 

The characters/ideograms mean "old school (of art); old style; old manners." The first character means, "old," the second character means, "current; a sink; flow; forfeit." 

Koryu relates to the ancient traditional or classical martial arts. The old/classic dojo is to study the arts of classic combat, including the use of weaponry and was a primary goal of samurai training. It is an old tradition that is carried on in its original form, i.e. as close to the original as humanly possible.

My post today regards the use of the term "koryu." Can it be used to symbolize the art of karate from Okinawa? Can the current systems and styles be classified under this term? Is the referenced traditional system of karate called "Ti" or "Toudi" of old Okinawan be classified as a koryu of Okinawa? Is this term exclusive to the ancient arts of Japanese martial systems? 

First, the term koryu as to the sources I use for terms, characters and ideograms says that it means "old school; old style; old manners." If I were to go with this stand alone definition per those sources then I would say that as long as one used the term in conjunction with the words "Okinawa or Old Okinawan or Ancient Okinawa" then it would apply especially since Okinawa was and is a territory of Japan. 

I am not saying that everyone could or should use the term. I am saying "it could be applied just like the terms traditional and classical." It seems logical and yet I suspect that those who actually practice and teach Japanese Koryu systems would disagree. 

I would also provide for consideration the following from the site "koryu.com" as to what koryu literally means, i.e. "Koryu literally means "old flow" and is used in Japanese to refer to old styles, schools, or traditions (not necessarily only in the martial arts)."

If I used this exclusively toward my theory of Okinawan martial systems then I would say that they are considered "Okinawan Koryu." What I noticed on the koryu.com site is the inclusion of the word "bujutsu" as in "koryu bujutsu." This is how that particular site classifies "Japanese Classical Martial Arts."

The site does postulate that koryu bujutsu are those arts that actually came into existence when actually used on the battlefield. When they speak of classical traditions the tell us that they were developed by and for bushi, the warriors of Japan. They also have a "sort of lineage" that runs back through each head master to the founder of the system or tradition. Apparently it is important to establish the "stream" of the tradition, a single flow from one head master through its practitioners and to the next generation. In addition the waza or techniques of a koryu system must keep its battlefield essence, context or characteristics and that the design of the original remain intact for battlefield use. 

Then the question remains, if this is a true definition, meaning and context of koryu the does the Okinawan system actually meet those standards to be considered a koryu system, i.e. traditional/classical combative systems? 

Or are we to assume that since Okinawans seldom fought on the battlefield, i.e. I am not sure we can count the battles fought on ships transporting goods from various Asian countries through and to Okinawa while fighting off pirates, etc. Even the so called battles against the incursion of the Japanese in the early 1600's. 

Then there is the social structure that seems to be part and parcel to koryu systems. The site states, "In the true traditions, culture and technique are part of a cohesive whole that includes the head master, traditional licenses, and a unique code of behavior." Do Okinawan traditions of Ti or Toudi have these three traditions? 

I can only speak from my limited perspective, knowledge and understanding. Okinawan karate as it stand today in the West would not meet these and other standards, none of them regardless of what is professed by the leaders of those systems. On Okinawa there are a few Ti traditions that could possibly meet these standards so I would possibly assume they could be considered Okinawan Koryu. 

Finally for this exercise we come to the student-teacher relationship that seems to be unique to the Japanese Koryu systems. You need to have had direct contact, through your sensei possibly, with the head master or other fully licensed instructor. The social structure of student and teacher is considered the core of the systems social structure and technical transmission. The practitioners are actually taught on an individual basis geared toward that unique individual so the training and teaching will thus be different as from practitioner to practitioner. There are no "dan" or "dan'i" systems and when a practitioner is ready the license is grated by that systems head master.

In this part I feel none of the Okinawan systems including the Ti or Toudi systems are to be considered "koryu or Okinawan Koryu." None of the Okinawan martial systems have a licensing system, they all use a dan-i or dan grade system. That system of dan grades is not all encompassing of any system or style but from dojo to dojo and sensei to sensei is more of a personal system of grading. 

Then in most if not all systems I perceive work on a class structure of many practitioners working together similar to school systems where the individualized teachings may be there in a more simplistic form and the class teaching environment dominates so this would exclude those systems form Okinawa Koryu type status. It is just the loss of the stream or connection to the original founders that seems to be missing. There are claims of those who trained with said founders but without the stream of licenses, students and teachers all the way back to the founder it is just a personal unsubstantiated claim. Okinawan's, especially due to WWII, lost any and all of their historical documents, what there was of it in the first place, due to the devastation of the war on Okinawa. 

My personal conclusion after this short, terse, discussion or posting tells me that no one who practices an Okinawan martial system can make use of the term koryu even with the designation of Okinawan. The necessary criteria can not be met. We will have to remain with the some what convoluted and disjointed term of modern, traditional and classical martial systems. 

Truly, the definition that is given at the koryu.com site by those best known as Western Koryu practitioners, teachers and knowledgable of koryu is the one that defines it completely and wholeheartedly. Even tho the definitions provided by translation sources provide the more terse definitions that would lead some to think it applies to Okinawan karate or martial systems, it does not appy as the additional accepted definitions that go back to the origins are the true meaning of koryu. 

Please take a moment to visit the koryu site, i.e. "A Koryu Primer" by Diane Skoss, and get the full picture. The definitions provided are pretty exacting and other sources I have researched support this one fully and completely.