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.
 




Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Raising from Seiza


A friend of mine had a Math teacher, a long time ago, who would individually comment on the test results of each student. The guy was a great motivator, one of his classical saying was :

"Mr Smith,  there were to ways to solve this problem: The right way, ... and yours"


As we get older, it becomes increasingly important to save our energy and optimize its use.

Basically: apply the littlest effort to achieve the maximum effect.

Last February I hurt (again) my right knee: I was performing a classical Jujitsu move when my knee unexpectedly collapsed at an unusual and painful angle. 

Since then, I have avoided walking as much as as I used to (and I used to walk a lot). This considerably weakened the quadriceps of both my legs, and the my right calf. I am presently trying to slowly rebuild them by gently practicing my Iai from Seiza and Tatehiza positions. And here is a little trick I practice, which you might want to try.

At the end of each waza, you stand up from a half kneeling position : one knee is up with its foot flat on the ground, the other knee is on the floor.

Your position in this stance is important, you can do it the hard way or the smart way.

If instead of using a short stance to lift your torso vertically using mostly your quadriceps, you adopt a slightly longer stance and push forward with your back foot, you will be surprised how easier it becomes. You will raise almost effortlessly with more stability.



To do this, I take a stance about 6" longer than usual. You need to figure out what is good for you. 

Of course, if you are tough, you still can do it the hard way !


Thursday, May 15, 2014

Our Mundane World


This "Mundane World" is an expression we often hear, an other name for the "World of life and death" or Samsara. A world we should try to avoid because of its shallowness...

It is interesting to note that originally "mundane" means "of the world". So that really, the mundane world is the world of the world, or the worldly world...



Are we really meant to avoid the world of the world ?

Sitting in Zazen to experience nirvana, possibly reach great levels of spiritual accomplishments and why not save the world may seem like a worthy enterprise.

But in the end, we are rooted in this mundane world, there is no other world and this is where we are meant to daily operate.

"To return to the root is to find the meaning" (1). The mundane world, the worldly world, this is where the root is, and if we look for it in a different, non mundane world, we act just like a man trying to find his eyeglasses when they sit on his nose.



Friday, May 9, 2014

Nothing Lacking, Nothing in Excess


The Shin Jin Mei  (Chinese  信心銘  - Xin Xin Ming or Hsin Hsin Ming), Faith in mind, is a poem attributed to the Third Chinese Chan (Zen) Patriarch Kanchi Sozan (Chinese Jianzhi Sengcan  or Chien-chih Seng-ts'an)

One of the earliest Zen document we have, it is a beautiful and syncretic text, in which Indian Mahayana Buddhism is already deeply influenced by Chinese Taoism.

Multiple translations are available, but one of its stanza has been rendered as :

The Way is perfect like Vast Space, with nothing lacking, and nothing in Excess.

Here is a video of Masayaki Shimabukuro Hanshi, which I believe perfectly illustrate Nothing Lacking, Nothing in Excess...



Enjoy, Be inspired, Practice...

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Posture, Tension, Breathing


The whole attitude of a human being appears in his posture, in the relationship of tension and relaxation, and in breathing. Posture, tension and relaxation and breath can never be exclusively physical factors. They are integral functions of the person manifesting himself anagolously on the psychological and spiritual levels. 

For this reason, IT IS POSSIBLE TO BEGIN THE WORK ON THE WHOLE MAN WITH THEM. 

Karlfried Graf von Durckheim in Hara, the vital centre of man.




The capital letters are mine.

There is basically no need to master complex philosophical or intellectual concepts to progress on a path.

Diligent training (exercitium) in maintaining proper
  • Posture
  • Tension/Relaxation
  • Breathing
is fundamentally important and necessary. 

No amount of physical or intellectual technical expertise will ever compensate for a lack of mastery of these basics. 

Your zazen should be anchored in your lower abdomen, your breathing deep and calm, your spine kept gently but not stiffly erect.



In Sword Arts, you should cut from the same place, your grip should be firm without excessive tension (Right hand push, Left hand pulls), and your breathing should flow with your moves.




Practice




Friday, May 2, 2014

Outdoor practice



Now that the polar vortex left us, is a perfect time for outdoor practice. 4 of us met at Kiesel Park in Auburn, AL on Sunday (April 13) morning and trained for 2 hours. 

Here Travis Page and Jim Robertson practice Tsukekomi, the second waza of the Tachi uchi no kurai set of MJER.

Tsukekomi - 01


Tsukekomi - 02



Tsukekomi - 03






Monday, April 28, 2014

Rivers



Rivers form their course by means of a process of repeated erosion. As rain falls on a hillside, that rain gathers into a rivulet. That rivulet gradually creates a channel for itself, and gradually grows into a stream. Eventually, as the channel of the stream is deepened and widened by repeated flows of water, the stream becomes a river which develops well-defined banks and a definite course. 


In the same way, our actions become habitual. These habits become part of our personality and we take these habits with us from life to life in the form of mental formation or habit energy.

This is otherwise illustrated as “Watch your thoughts; they become words. Your words become actions. Your actions become habit. Your habits become your character. And your character becomes your destiny.”

Our actions in this life are conditioned by the habits which we have formulated in our past during this life, and possibly over the course of previous lives. 













































This is what practice is about.


Et oui...


Monday, February 3, 2014

Yukizure - Bunkai


Yukizure is the first waza of the Okuden Tachi waza set of the MJER Curriculum...

The Bunkai of Yukizure is that you are being escorted ("escorted" is the literal meaning of "Yukizure") to a place you don't really want to go by two guys you don't really like.  They may not be really bright, because they have left you with your sword.

One of them is on your right, the other one on your left.




While walking with them, you take a smaller step to be behind them, bump onto your left escort from behind, draw and cut the right escort's neck or left shoulder. This cut is one handed, it is Nukitsuke.  Immediately follow up by cutting the other escort with a two handed kirioroshi.

In this video taped on February 1st, 2014, at the Shindai Aikikai of Orlando, FL, Carl Long Kyoshi demonstrates the Bunkai of Yukizure.



If you are interested in learning Traditional Japanese Swordsmanship, the KNBK website provides valuable information about various aspects of the Art, as well as addresses of schools (dojo) licensed to teach Iaijutu in the USA and other countries.


Thursday, January 23, 2014


Jesus said somewhere : “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God."

What exactly is a Rich Man ? Generally, it is any human entangled with earthly, physical possessions. Basically, in our societies, Things that Money can buy.

If you have something other people don't have and wish to have, you are richer than them.

These things can be of different nature - they can be hard assets - house, car, land... they can also be less tangible. You can be rich of a knowledge or expertise of intellectual, practical or spiritual nature : Nuclear Engineering, Chinese poetry or Psychology; Karate, Watercolor painting or Ice skating; Yoga, Zen or Christian contemplation.

If it is easy to understand for most of us how craving for mundane things - so called hard assets - is going to be a serious hindrance on the way to enlightenment (to access the Kingdom of God).

But what is less obvious is that cravings and attachments to other riches, the intellectual and spiritual ones, are also going to be a problem.

It is however clearly taught, and rightly so, by various traditions.

In Zen we have Master Sengcan's Shin Jin Mei :

If you want to know the truth
Do not hold opinions for or against anything...
Do not search for the truth
Simply cease to cherish opinions.

For Christian medieval mystic Meister Eckhart the path to freedom is found in “unbinding the attachments that constitute one’s preferences, desires, or inclinations.” 

No matter the tradition you follow, you have to totally empty your cup before it can be filled.  Make room for the Truth to enter. Empty it fully, even of your willingness to empty it... 

The only way to do that is to try and try again: daily practice. 





Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Sitting Still


There is a story that tells of Meister Eckhart’s meeting with a poor man: “You may be holy,” says Eckhart, “but what made you holy, brother?” And the answer comes: “My sitting still, my elevated thoughts, and my union with God.” It is useful for our present theme to note that the practice of sitting still is given pride of place.





In the Middle Ages people were well aware of the inexhaustible power that arises simply from sitting still. After that time, knowledge of the purifying power of stillness and its practice was, in the West, largely lost. The tradition of preparing man for the breakthrough of transcendence by means of inner quiet and motionless sitting has been preserved in the East to the present day. Even in cases where practice is apparently directed not to immobility but towards activity – as in archery, sword fighting, wrestling, painting, flower arrangement  – it is always the inner attitude of quiet and not the successful performance of the ways which is regarded as of fundamental importance.

Once a technique has been mastered, any inadequate performance is mirrored in wrong attitudes. The traditional knowledge of the fact that it is possible for a man to be inwardly cleansed solely through the practice of right posture has kept alive the significance of correct sitting. The inner quiet which arises when the body is motionless and in its best possible form can become the source of transcendental experience. By emptying ourselves of all those matters that normally occupy us we become receptive to Greater Being.

It should be understood that the transformation which is brought about by means of meditation is not merely a change in man’s inner life, but a renewal of his whole person. It is a mistake to imagine that enlightenment is no more than an experience which suddenly brings fresh inward understanding, as a brilliant physicist may have a sudden inspiration which throws new light on his work and causes a re-ordering of his whole system of thought.



Such an experience leaves the person himself unchanged. True enlightenment has nothing to do with this kind of sudden insight. When it occurs, it has the effect of so fundamentally affecting and shaking the whole person that he himself, as well as his total physical existence in the world, is completely transformed.

To what extent the habit of sitting can impress and change us becomes clear only when we have taken pains to practice it. After a short time we find ourselves asking: how is it possible that such a simple exercise can have such far-reaching effects on the body and soul? Sitting still, we begin to realize, is not what we had imagined physical or spiritual practice to be. We are faced, therefore, with the question: “What is it we are really practicing if, although both are affected it is neither body nor spirit?” The answer to this is that the person who practices is himself being practiced. The one who is worked upon is the Person in his original totality, who is present beneath and beyond all possible differentiation into the many and various physical, spiritual, and mental aspects. In so far as we regard and value ourselves as incarnate persons, certain manifestations in our life move from their accustomed shadow into the light of understanding. Thus our moods and postures take on new meaning. So long as we think of body and soul as two separate entities, we regard moods simply as “feelings,” and look upon bodily attitudes and breathing as merely physical manifestations. When, however, the whole person is recognized as a “thou,” it is no longer possible to separate body and soul. Once it becomes a question of transformation, our basic moods, together with all the gestures and postures that express them, acquire new significance. They are the means through which we grow aware of, manifest ourselves, and become physically present in the world…


The so-called “peace” of the world-ego, illustrated by the bourgeois aim of a “quiet life,” comes about when all inner movement and growth have stopped. Of quite a different quality is the peace of inner being and the life which strives to manifest itself through it. This kind of peace can only prevail where nothing further interrupts the movement towards becoming. To achieve such an attitude to life is the aim of all practice and meditation; it can never represent a state of “having arrived” but is always a process of “being on the way.” Such practice, therefore, is by no means acceptable to all. There are many who throng to the so-called prophets who promise a cheap kind of peace to troubled mankind. But such “masters” simply betray man by hiding from him the real cause of his anxiety, which lies in the desire for transformation inherent in his innermost being.


From Karlfried Graf Dürckheim, Daily Life as Spiritual Exercise: The Way of Transformation,

This excerpt appeared in the  Parabola Fall 1996 issue, Peace.



Friday, January 17, 2014

Choun no Kun kata


Kaicho Mike Culbreth is teaching the first part of the Choun no Kun Bo kata to a group of Black Belts. 

Taped at the World Yoshukai Karate Kobudo Karate Headquarters in Dothan, Alabama on January 15, 2014. 







The BO (KUN in Okinawan language) is a 6 foot wooden staff.

The Bo kata taught in Yoshukai Kobudo are 

  • Bo kata shodan, 
  • Bo kata Nidan, 
  • Bo kata Sandan, 
  • Choun no Kun, and 
  • Choun no Kun Dai.

Bo kata Shodan, Nidan and Sandan were created by the late Sensei Koda to teach the basics of Bo to beginner students (before black belt). They essentially are selected parts of Choun no Kun .