Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Knife Self Defense

Another great Self defense segment by Shihan Mike Leverett and Travis Page from the Yoshukai Karate Dojo in Auburn

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Heavy Breaking

A very nice and impressive breaking demonstration by Shihan Paul Turner. 

Paul received his 6th degree Black Belt last Saturday May 15 in Dothan

Monday, May 17, 2010

Respect and Manners

We had a great Karate Seminar this last Saturday May 15 from 11:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. at the Yoshukai Dojo in Dothan. Our instructors were Sensei Toyama - 8th degree, and Culbreth, 7th degree, the 2 directors of our WYKKO Organization. This seminar, open to all Yoshukai Karate Black Belts was free.

We spent 1:30 with Sensei Culbreth on Sho no Kun Dai, took a short break for snacks, then spent another 1:30 with Sensei Toyama on Tensho Dai. After that, people who had tested during the last winter camp received their belts. Among them, Mr Turner and Mr Page received their 6th degree. Congratulations to them and the others who tested and passed.

Less than 15 people attended the seminar. This is surprising. Of course, some of us had other commitments, familial obligations, or simply are living too far and cannot afford to drive 4 to 5 hours back and forth on a Saturday for a 4 hours training session.

Still, some people drove more than 4 hours to be present – one of them even got a ticket while he was speeding back toward Dothan after he realized he had missed the exit on I 10 by 50 miles... Sensei Toyama himself drove 3 hours all the way from Pensacola.

No student or instructor from the numerous Yoshukai dojo located less that 2 hours from Dothan showed up. This was surprising, and unfortunate. It demonstrates a lack of interest in trying to improve one's Karate as well as a lack of appreciation for the efforts our directors put into training us. I have been part of several Martial Arts organization, and I can say without doubt that WYKKO is the best. In their constant effort to promote Yoshukai our directors have built a World Class organization, and wanting to improve it, they pay great attention to the wishes of students and instructors. They are also treating all instructors very well. The least we can do is to return their consideration by showing our respect and appreciation.

When a 7th and 8th degree Black Belt offer a free seminar, all instructors in a radius of 100 miles should be there. Choosing not to do so simply demonstrates a lack of respect and manners.

With such an attitude, how can an instructor ask a student to be dedicated in his practice ?

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Zen at War and Dr DT Suzuki

For some reason, this comment by Elliston Sensei on the previous post about DT Suzuki could not be directly posted - here it is. 

Thank you, Jiryu-san, for pointing this out. We need to exercise compassion in hindsight, as well as in the present.
It is arrogant, and an example of the victors writing the history, to pretend that if we Western Zen practitioners had been in Japan, we would have acted differently than the Zen practitioners who were there at the time, especially under attack. The Japanese people were thoroughly propagandized against the West, just as we were against them (remember the chimpanzee cartoons?). They were convinced that the invading forces would rape, pillage and plunder the country, completely wiping out their heritage, and that there would be no more Japan (who could blame them, looking at the imperial history of the West?). 

It is no wonder that every one of them resolved to fight to the death for the sake of their country. This does not excuse or forgive the many atrocities committed under the military imperialists, but it does not hold water as a criticism of Zen. It is a criticism of aggression and war, which according to Buddhism, derives from this personal, self-aggrandizing self, the one that sees differences between itself and others, always making itself look better at others' expense. Let's all take a deep breath and a long, clear look in the mirror.

According to Sensei, the Japanese people were amazed (and revolutionized regarding their view of Western culture and politics) at the compassionate treatment they had at the hands of our occupation forces after the surrender, and the generosity of the Marshall plan. Matsuoka-roshi took pains to clarify this in his writings, and Okumura-roshi delivered an eloquent explanation of this tragic situation in a Q&A session at ASZC, regarding Victoria's critique. We should listen to the people who were actually there, rather than engage in Monday quarterbacking.  

It is interesting to note that at the same time the world was crashing down around their feet (see Nagasaki and Hiroshima), the Soto Zen Parliament passed a resolution fully recognizing the absolute equality of nuns in the monastic hierarchy (see Paula Arai). What would we conclude from this? That the good-old-boy network of the senior monks caved, since everything was going to hell anyway? Or that they had the presence of mind to do what needed to be done, in spite of the extreme conditions of nuclear war? I would suggest the latter.
If it were not for our Japanese forefathers, we would not have been exposed to this precious dharma. Let us not be too hasty to condemn them.  


Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Zen at War and Dr D.T. Suzuki

Brian Daizen Victoria’s 1997 book Zen at War sent shock waves through Zen circles. Even those previously aware that the Japanese Buddhist establishment had supported Japanese militarist and imperialist policies before and during World War II were surprised  by  the degree of involvement Victoria reported on the part of  several Zen masters otherwise highly regarded and by the layman who did more than anyone else to bring Zen to public awareness outside Asia: Dr. D. T. Suzuki.

Zen at War was the opportunity to reappraise the sangha’s wartime complicity and prompted several great Zen monasteries to issue statements of responsibility and contrition.

These consequences, along with Victoria’s credentials inspired a high degree of confidence in his conclusions. 

So it comes as a surprise to find his account of Suzuki’s views convincingly refuted in “D. T. Suzuki and the Question of War,” a detailed study by Kemmyo Taira Sato. 
Although Professor Sato, who knew Suzuki in his late years, acknowledges the “great contribution” Victoria has made to discussion of Buddhist participation in World War II, yet he makes it clear that he was mistaken in his case against Suzuki.

Unfortunately, because Professor Sato’s study appeared in a little-known scholarly journal, The Eastern Buddhist, it did little to right the poor images of Suzuki’s character and political views painted in Victoria’s books.

Sato's article provides a fair and respectful understanding of the man who played such an important role in laying the foundations of Zen practice in the United States.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Kata Practice

Kenwa Mabuni (摩文仁 賢和, 1889 - 1952) was one of the first to teach Karate on mainland Japan and is credited as founding the Shito Ryu Style (糸東流), also taught by Masayaki Shimabukuro Sensei.

Here is what he has to say about the practice of Kata and other training methods (Kumite, Makiwara...) It is my belief that this applies to every Martial Arts.

Practice Karate Correctly
 by Mabuni Kenwa (1889 - 1952)
In karate, the most important thing is kata.

Into the kata of Karate are woven every manner of attack and defense technique. Therefore, kata must be practiced properly, with a good understanding of their bunkai meaning.

There may be those who neglect the practice of kata, thinking that it is sufficient to just practice [pre-arranged] kumite that has been created based on their understanding of the kata, but that will never lead to true advancement. The reason why is that the ways of thrusting and blocking – that is to say, the techniques of attack and defense – have innumerable variations. To create kumite containing all of the techniques in each and every one of their variations is impossible.
If one sufficiently and regularly practices kata correctly, it will serve as a foundation for performing – when a crucial time comes – any of the innumerable variations.

However, even if you practice the kata of karate – if that is all that you do – and if your [other] training is lacking, then you will not develop sufficient ability. If you do not [also] utilize various training methods to strengthen and quicken the functioning of your hands and feet, as well as to sufficiently study things like body-shifting and engagement distancing, you will be inadequately prepared when the need arises to call on your skills.

If practiced properly, two or three kata will suffice as “your” kata; all of the others can just be studied as sources of additional knowledge.

Breadth, no matter how great, means little without depth.

In other words, no matter how many kata you know, they will be useless to you if you don’t practice them enough.

If you sufficiently study two or three kata as your own and strive to perform them correctly, when the need arises, that training will spontaneously take over and will be shown to be surprisingly effective. If your kata training is incorrect, you will develop bad habits which, no matter how much kumite and makiwara practice you do, will lead to unexpected failure when the time comes to utilize your skills.

You should be heedful of this point.

However, the karate-ka must by no means neglect kumite and makiwara practice, either. Accordingly, if one seriously trains – and studies – with the intent of approximately fifty percent kata and fifty percent other things, one will get satisfactory results.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

The Fourth Form - 4 Winds Tai Chi - Group Practice

A video of the Fourth form of 4 Winds Tai Chi. In this form, as well as in the Long and Fourth form, we use the same defensive moves we used in the Short form, in the same order. These moves are executed on the Left then on the Right side, so we actually are performing 5 different defensive moves :
  • High Block (Jodan Uke)
  • Outside Middle block (Chudan Soto Uke)
  • Knife hand block (Shuto Uke)
  • Low block (Gedan Uke)
  • Inside Middle block (Chudan Uchi Uke)

In this 4th form, we insert counter moves after each one of the blocks - Arm or Wrist locks. 

 The Fourth Form was basically designed for fun, and practice of Actual Arm and Wrist locks. The defensive moves are practiced in the same orders as in the three previous forms, but the directions have been changed. It is a more "martial" form and can really be more appreciated with some actual knowledge of the waza which are executed. 

On a non martial standpoint, its practice is also aimed at improving  spatial orientation.

Monday, May 3, 2010

The Sensei

Here is an interesting article by Harry Cook, a British Martial Artist, Teacher and Author.

The Sensei
by Harry Cook

The expression "first born" used by Shakespeare could be easily translated into Japanese by the word"'sensei," a word used by Japanese martial artists as a title for their teacher or master. The word sensei is composed of two characters-sen, meaning previous or before and sei, meaning birth or life. 

A sensei therefore is someone who has been "born before" you in the system you are studying and is therefore senior to you, or in Shakespearian terms your "better." This is not the same as the western idea of a coach. A sensei can actually do what he teaches, he or she embodies the art, while a coach can teach you how to do something without necessarily being able to perform the skill him or herself. 

Teachers are accorded tremendous respect in traditional oriental arts. They are seen as the only real way to progress as without their knowledge, guidance and experience the student would almost certainly make serious errors and so be unable to master his chosen subject. The respect shown to a teacher is referred to in the Chinese classic known as the Li Chi (Book of Rites) a work which deals with both the form and associated morality of correct behaviour. We are told that "When you are in company with your teacher, do not go aside of the road to speak to others. When you meet your teacher on the road, run forward, and stand properly to salute him by raising both hands grasped together. If the teacher speaks to you, answer him respectfully. If he does not speak, retire." 

In ancient China the relationship between a teacher and student was second only to that of the relationship between a child and parent. The teacher was seen to be the living source of knowledge and as such was to be obeyed, not opposed. Martial arts practice tends to follow this pattern, although it can cause severe problems for Westerners who may view authority as something to be challenged or brought into question. Traditionally the sensei was not expected to answer to his students for either his behaviour or his teaching methods. His role was to create situations so that the student learned by experience; he was not expected to explain the intricate details of every technique-training was a thing of the heart, not of the mind. 

The methods used to educate members of the samurai class were especially demanding, as the purpose was to inculcate not only knowledge but also dignity and strength of character. Thus teachers were accorded a high level of respect. 

Etsu Inagaki Sugimoto was born into a samurai family in the middle years of the nineteenth century in the province of Echigo. Because it was thought that she was destined to be a priestess she was given a thorough grounding in the Confucian classics, and although she was only six years old she obviously enjoyed her lessons. 

The discipline was strict, and the lessons were held along very formal lines. She explains that, "My priest-teacher taught these books with the same reverence that he taught his religion-that is, with all thoughts of worldly comfort put away. 

During my lesson he was obliged, despite his humble wish, to sit on the thick silk cushion the servant brought him, for cushions were our chairs, and the position of instructor was too greatly revered for him to be allowed to sit on a level with his pupil; but throughout my two-hour lesson he never moved the slightest fraction of an inch except with his hands and his lips. And I sat before him on the matting in an equally correct and unchanging position.
"Once I moved. It was in the midst of a lesson. For some reason I was restless and swayed my body slightly, allowing my folded knee to slip a trifle from the proper angle. The faintest shade of surprise crossed my instructor's face; then very quietly he closed his book, saying gently but with a stern air 'Little Miss, it is evident that your mental attitude to-day is not suited for study. You should retire to your room and meditate." 

Her father explained to his wife the need for such discipline by saying "We must not forget, Wife, the teaching of a samurai home. The lioness pushes her young over the cliff and watches it climb slowly back from the valley without one sign of pity, though her heart aches for the little creature. So only can it gain strength for its life work.

Eugen Herrigel was a German philosopher who studied Kyudo (archery) under the great master, Kenzo Awa in the 1930s. After a long time struggling with technique Herrigel found himself in a situation common to all martial artists who train long enough; his teacher was not satisfied with anything he did and he asked sensei Awa to tell him how to do the perfect shot.
"One day I asked the master: 'How can the shot be loosed if I do not do it?'
'It shoots,' he replied.
'I have heard you say that several times before, so let me put it another way: How can I wait self-obliviously for the shot if I am no longer there?'
'It waits at the highest tension.'
'And who or what is this It?'
'Once you have understood that, you will have no further need of me. And if I tried to give you a clue at the cost of your own experience, I should be the worst of teachers and should deserve to be sacked! So let's stop talking about it and go on practising."

Fundamentally this is the function of a sensei : to create situations where the student arrives at understanding through his own experience. The sensei's role is therefore vital and transcends the teaching of mere technique, which is actually the province of the coach. Mastery in the real sense goes beyond technique and in the martial arts involves a struggle with the ego. Karlfried Graf Von Durckheim explains "However well-performed an action may be, however well controlled a technique, as long as the man using it is subject to moods and atmosphere, unrelaxed and easily disturbed for example when he is being watched, then he is a master only in a very limited degree. He is master only of technique and not of himself. He controls the skill he has but not what he is in himself.

To achieve this state the guidance of a sensei is vital, and once the student selects his teacher it is necessary for him or her to accept that the teacher does know what he or she is doing and also to understand that what really matters is practice, not talking, and that some of the most important lessons, especially in the martial arts, cannot be taught via the spoken word. 

One problem which constantly crops us is that often students have an idealized image of a sensei and when the reality does not match the myth the teacher becomes subjected to a great deal of criticism or abuse

Janwillem van de Wetering, a Dutch student of Zen warns "In these esoteric disciplines it is very dangerous to identify with another person, because if the other does anything which, in the eyes of the imitator, cannot be accepted or justified, the example comes tumbling down and breaks into a thousand pieces; and with the example, the image, the god, the whole discipline, breaks and appears senseless.

Zen master Hakuin was famous for living a simple and pure life. In the village where he lived a young girl became pregnant and, under pressure, she named Hakuin as the father. Very angry, the parents confronted Hakuin who simply said "Is that so?"
After the child was born it was brought to Hakuin who reared the child with great care. His reputation was in tatters but he bore all the criticisms and spiteful comments peacefully. After some time the mother told the truth to her parents and gave the name of the real father. Instantly the family went to Hakuin to apologize and to take the child back. All Hakuin said was, "Is that so?"
Hakuin was indeed a master of himself: ego, reputation, fame etc. were recognized for what they truly are: ephemeral, leaves on the wind. In the martial arts we often pay lip service to this ideal but what really seems to be important now is in fact the exact opposite: reputation, ego, and wealth. 

A difficulty when trying to find a genuine sensei is to keep a realistic and clear view of some of the individuals who pass themselves off as "sensei." When the martial arts came to the West after the Second World War there was a tremendous demand created for instructors. Allied to this was a growth of interest in oriental and other mystical systems of thought, and so the market for fighting systems with associated spiritual overtones was huge. 

When the television series Kung Fu was aired in the 1970s this market was fuelled by the antics of an imaginary half-Chinese Shaolin monk who rambled about the American West performing good deeds, somewhat in the manner of a peripatetic social worker. The success of this programme and similar fantasies such as the books by Carlos Castaneda all contributed to the popular image of a martial arts sensei: a cross between a Buddhist monk, a deadly fighter with super-normal powers, and a psychologist of profound understanding. Dr. Glen Barclay, Reader in History at the University of Queensland, actually stated that the martial arts are occult activities.

The effect of all this was to exacerbate an already confused situation. It is difficult enough to understand the martial arts, given the values and beliefs of an oriental culture, but when a sensei also has to be superhuman, then great problems arise, and some students, well meaning no doubt, projected their beliefs onto otherwise perfectly normal instructors. 

This process was given a tremendous impetus when Secret Fighting Arts of the World by "John F. Gilbey" was published. "Gilbey's" tongue-in-cheek account of secret fighting methods employed by superhuman practitioners is a most enjoyable read, but unfortunately many readers took it as a serious account of the martial arts, so adding to the myths already readily accepted as the truth. I remember being told in 1971 that Shotokan karate master, Kanazawa sensei had a sword that would fly out of its sheath to protect him if he was threatened, and that aikido founder Ueshiba sensei could literally step outside of time and dematerialize his body for seconds at a time to avoid an attack. 

Given this urge to trivialize the martial arts to the level of a comic, it is not surprising that various individuals emerged to provide the kind of "sensei" that some people were seeking. In Britain one individual claimed to teach an ancient system of Chinese-Okinawan karate and to be an ordained Zen or Shingon monk as well as having expertise in all kinds of oriental occult subjects. In his writings he refers to being a reincarnated karate master with access to lost or secret books-all in all a tale from Shangri-la! The sad thing is that many people were taken in by this, and some of them still feel very bitter over the fact they were duped. 

This is the problem : once a student gives his, or her loyalty to an instructor it may become blind obedience and belief. A fraudulent or unscrupulous instructor can manipulate this for his own ends, financial or otherwise.

Of course you must believe in your sensei, but at the same time you must never surrender the right to think for yourself. Western society stresses the rights of the individual and all karate students and instructors must be aware of that fact. The student should also remember that the teacher has rights and may choose not to live his life according to the student's expectations of how things should be. 
In closing, I would like to repeat the advice given in The Hundred Verses of the Spear: "If you feel that the teacher is a real teacher then give up your own ideas and learn." 

The full article and references can be read in the Dragon Times.