Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Yoshukai Karate Dothan Tournament


Last week end was the 35th edition of the Dothan Open Karate Tournament .

Attendance was great, good competitors in Fighting, Kata, Kobudo, some old faces, some new ones.

The 2 highlights of this event however were the presence of both Soke Katsuoh Yamamoto and Kaicho Hiroaki Toyama. 

Soke Yamamoto brought with him his new book : 



and signed it for those students who purchased it. 



He had come from Japan with his daughter and grand daughter who also competed in the tournament.



But the most emotional part of the tournament was the return among us of Kaicho Toyama. Last February, Kaicho Toyama fell very ill, victim of a sudden infection. For several weeks, we were not sure he would survive. 

After Multiple surgeries, Kaicho Toyama beat the disease, and he was among us for the first time this week end, signing on Soke's book for those of us who asked him to do so ! 







Mr Toyama's will to survive and overcome the disease, and the way his family helped him should be examples to us all. At times, we might feel miserable for having missed a plane or having been treated unfairly by life. The next times this happens, let us remember Kaicho Toyama. 


Iki o sakan no subeshi

(Keep High Spirit)


Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Abdominal Breathing - the Brick exercise


Babies don't breathe using their chests but their bellies. When we grow up, we gradually learn how to use our chest rather than our abdomen to breathe. The reasons why this happens are mostly cultural. It is important to re-learn how to breathe with our abdomen rather than our chest. The Brick is the first in a series of exercises designed to develop the practice of abdominal breathing

There are 3 goals to this exercise :
  • Teach you an easy way to breathe with your abdomen rather than your chest.
  • Train you to focus your mind in the tanden area (Bring your mind there)
  • Teach you to pay attention to the sensations in that area (Listen to your mind there)

1st ABDOMINAL BREATHING EXERCISE : The Brick

Lie on your back with your feet flat on the ground and your legs bent with your knees in the air.   Place an object the size of a brick, a woodblock or a phone book on your belly. The weight needs to be enough that you feel it, but not so much that you feel uncomfortable.

As you breathe in, make sure the brick rises.


 

When you breathe out, let the brick go down.

 


Avoid any chest moves when breathing in, avoid any contraction of the abdominal muscles when you breathe out.

 
Focus your mind on your Tanden : an area 1 or 2 inches under your belly button, and concentrate on how you feel when your abdomen expands during inhalation (breathing in) and collapses as a balloon emptying itself from air when you exhale (breathing out)


The Tanden


The Tanden is an area localized 1 to 2 inches under the belly button, and 3 or 4 inches inside. It is approximately the center of gravity of your body.

Note : There are actually 3 Tanden in the body, the Lower Tanden is the important one for our exercise.


Important points for proper practice :

  • Avoid any chest moves when breathing in
  • Avoid contraction of the abdominal muscles when breathing out.
  • Keep your mind concentrated on the Tanden area about 2” below the belly button.
  • Avoid muscular tension, try to keep your overall body relaxed. This will help you only concentrate on what you feel in the Tanden area.
 

 Tips :
You may practice on your bed or a couch, however, it is better to practice on a firm floor or exercise mat for it helps better feel what is happening in the tanden area.


Visualization : When you breathe in, it may be helpful to visualize the air flowing from your nose up to the tip of your skull and then back all the way down through your spine to your sacrum (the tail bone) to then fill up your lower abdomen.
 
When you breathe out, visualize the air flowing up through your sternum (breastplate) toward your nose.
 
 




(In this drawing, the subject is sitting in the lotus position:  such visualization can be  practised in any position)

Monday, October 13, 2014

Practical Exercises for Zen Meditation



I am just back from a zazenkai retreat at the Atlanta Soto Zen Center.

Michael Elliston Roshi, abbot of the center and founder of the Silent Thunder (Mokurai) had invited me to teach at this event.

In my presentation of actual exercises to help the practice of Meditation I put emphasis on the 2 following aspects of Zazen:
  • Focusing (Thinking of Non Thinking)
  • Relaxing (to help focusing) 

I introduced to my audience a set of physical practices inspired from Traditional Oriental Martial Arts and Medicine. (Tai Chi, Chi Gong, Taoist exercises...) which I have been using  for several years in my own practice.

These exercises are designed to improve :
  • Body awareness,
  • Breathing,
  • Balance,
  • Physical Relaxation.


I addressed in particular :

  1. How strength and mental energy follow Awareness and Mind. And how the Chinese concept of Chi explains this.
  2. How to channel awareness and one's mind to parts or points of the body to tame one's monkey mind.
  3. How to practice regular and reverse abdominal breathing to calm the mind.
  4. How Tai Chi can actually remove muscular tensions and joint pains during long meditation sessions.




In the next weeks, I will get into the details of my presentation.  Stay in touch ! 




Friday, August 29, 2014

Stances


At our last Yoshukai Karate Tournament of Panama City FL, I was asked to judge the Grand Champion Black Belt kata competition. The winners of 5 divisions - open hand or kobudo were competing against each other for the Big Trophy...

Among them was a talented young man who performed a remarkable open hand kata. I do not remember whether he won the price or not. All I know is that he should not have, and that I had know this from the first 2 seconds of his kata. 

How can I decide such thing so early in the kata ? Very simple, when this competitor bowed before beginning his otherwise brilliant kata, his toes went up from the mat. 

This is enough, if your toes go up, your weight is on your heels, a 5 years old child can push you backwards, and you will either fall down or have to step back. 

From the moment you begin your kata, you should be totally focussed, and not let any opening for a potential opponent. When your toes go up, you are totally vulnerable. This demonstrates your lack of awareness and fighting spirit. No Zanshin. Poor Budo. 

For your information and pleasure, look a this picture of Choki Motobu, performing a block found in our Yoshukai and Chito Ryu Nijusichi no kata.


Notice the Kibadachi stance, and how the joints of his toes are white. He is very strongly gripping the floor with his toes. Choki Motobu's idea of a good training session was to go down to Naha's entertainment district and pick fights. He was a born fighter and his karate was based on actual fighting. If anyone knew the importance of proper stance and posture, he was this one...

It does not matter how good you are with your arms. If your balance is poor, you won't have any power and you are only generating wind. Weak stances do weak Karate. Grab the ground.

Oh, and while I am at it, I believe this also applies to Zazen. Stay Grounded.







Thursday, August 21, 2014

Henri Plée Hanshi


The Father of European Karate Henri Plée Hanshi left us on August 19, 2014.



Henri Plée Hanshi was one of the rare Westerners to hold the rank of 10th dan karate masters. 

Born in Arras, France on 24 May 1923, he started his martial career with French Savate, Ju Jutsu, and Fencing. His studies were interrupted by World War II in 1940.

After the war, he learned Judo in Paris under Mikonosuke Kawaishi. He was the 96th French black belt and is now ranked 5th dan at Judo.

In 1946, he returned to French Savate, also known as French kickboxing, and trained and sparred with some of the best French fighters such as Rigal, Pierre Plasait, Cayron, and Pierre Baruzy. Despite quality of this training he was still feeling the need to go stronger and deeper, and was looking for something else.

In 1953, he discovered aikido, karate and kobudo with Minoru Mochizuki. This was the start of his karate career.

Minoru Mochizuki Hanshi


In 1955 he founded his dojo where he taught the four pillars of Japanese Martial Arts : Karate, Judo, Aikido, and Kendo. Henri Plée Hanshi instructed many black belts who, at a later stage, became the foundation of the European karate institutions, and are today some of the highest ranking karate masters in Europe. 


From 200 karate practitioners in 1961, Henry Plée's efforts have led today to more than 200,000 practitioners in France. The French government considers him as one of the greatest international experts in Martial Arts, and knighted him with the French Ordre national du Mérite in 2008.

Ranks

Karate

Judo

  • 5th dan, Judo.

Aikido

Kendo

  • 1st dan, Kendo, by Minoru Mochizuki.

Bōjutsu

  • 1st dan, Bo-Jutsu, by Minoru Mochizuki.
  •  
Henri Plée Hanshi 1923 - 2014.   
     
     
     
     

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Handcrafted Kobudo Weapons


Just a word to inform you of a new source for quality kobudo Weapons. 

Mr Sean O'Toole - who is teaching Kaicho Toyama's class while he is recovering from his illness - is now offering remarkably well done BO and NUNCHAKU.




Mr O'Toole's weapons are available in different kinds of woods : Oak, Mahogany, Cypress, Hickory.





These weapons are extremely well done. They are very beautiful and have a very nice feeling.  his BO have different sections : Round, Octagonal, Hexagonal, Octagonal to Square... 





The NUNCHAKU are corded with parachute cord and he can also make them to your specifications.

In a near future, he is going to make TONFA and BOKEN.


Mr O'Toole can be reached at otoole@edmisten.com

Sunday, June 22, 2014

I finally did it !


This morning I completed  a goal I had set about a year ago : Practice each waza of our KNBK curriculum 150 times each.

Well actually, I only practiced the waza I know. Advanced techniques such as Okuden Suwariwaza I never really studied enough to feel comfortable with them.
Also, these are just the solo practice waza : Batto - Ho (12 waza), Shoden seiza (11 waza), Chuden tatehiza (10 waza) and Okuden Tachiwaza (11 waza). Katachi are not included. 
I also had to limit myself to  the standing version of Chuden Waza as my right knee is not ready yet for Tatehiza.

But all together that makes quite a few waza, quite a few Nukitsuke, Kirioroshi, Chiburi and Noto ! With a total of 44 waza, that makes a total of 6600 waza.

Does it make me an expert ? certainly not, but it has helped me improve. I strongly believe that only the consecutive repetition of the same waza, times and times, allows you to become acutely aware of body positions, the muscles you actually use, the way you bend your joints... Develop muscle memory - And is the only way to get better by researching and fine-tuning your moves. In my personal case, I think I have to practice a move at least 12 times in a row to be able to really feel the details of how my body relates to it.

Most of us have heard the saying that every move should be repeated 10,000 times to be perfected executed. Where does this number actually comes from ? Is it accurate ?

Well, it comes from Chinese Taoism and it is not to be taken literally. In Taoism the "ten thousand things" means the Complete Universe, all that exists. So when you are told to practice each waza 10,000 times, what you are told really, is to keep practicing them for ever...

Nevertheless, I believe in progressing step by step, and in recording your progress. Every time I practice one waza 10 times, I draw a little line on a recording sheet. It is easy to do, and I invite you to follow me.


If all goes well, I will visit my friends Francis and Jean Luc, also my Kendo and Ju Jitsu Instructors in France next week. More to learn and enjoy. 



For those of you who cannot practice from Seiza or Tatehiza positions, the standing versions of the Shoden and Chuden waza are beautifully described in the Advanced Samurai Swordsmanship set of DVD by Masayuki Shimabukuro Hanshi and Carl Long Kyoshi.

In a next post I will elaborate on the healing aspect of this kind of practice on the joints.