I recently had the chance to watch “Power Training” by Morio Higaonna. Higaonna Sensei is very well known (especially in the west) and is renowned for his severe, Spartan training methods. Featured in his dvd were different routines and methods one could use to strengthen the body (Hojo Undo).
Take a look at this quick video for samples of Hojo Undo training:
As you can see, jars, stones, and other tools from antiquity are used to toughen the body and create a more powerful practitioner. Along with this kind of Hojo Undo is “iron shirt” training, where karateka steel their bodies against powerful blows.
Here is an example of Takemi Takayasu taking some shots:
“Iron Shirt” gets a lot of press and airtime because it’s very impressive. Heck, I know I like to watch people get hit with bats. But it also makes me wonder – how much beating should we give our bodies for the sake of training? How much is healthy…how much is necessary?
When Everyday Life Gets in the Way
Hojo Undo methods of body hardening were created on Okinawa where the native populace had just a few main jobs – fishing, farming, craftsmanship, etc. Most of what they had to do in their day-to-day lives involved manual labor. A hardy body and toughened exterior were extremely useful for those conditions.
These days, especially in the west, small motor skills are much more prevalent in the workplace. Although manual labor jobs still exist (of course), more and more people find themselves typing, filing, writing, and operating other equipment that requires fine motor skills. If a career musician or computer programmer were to beat their hands against rocks, or thrust their fingertips into vats of pebbles, the consequences could ultimately hinder them instead of help.
It’s true that the results of body hardening can be very impressive, but the potential for arthritis, joint pain, and loss of coordination can hamper its value. I say ‘potential for‘ because these outcomes are not necessarily guaranteed – there is such a thing as right and wrong training with Hojo Undo (meaning don’t just go punching rocks). But, even still, it’s a gamble depending on your livelihood.
Usefulness in Modern Self Defense
Let’s say you’re willing to take the leap into difficult conditioning because you want to improve your self defense capabilities. I can understand that. But we need to examine the kinds of attacks you might run into in modern society.
First of all, hard body training is very useful against blunt attacks like kicks, punches, and even sticks. We saw in the above video that, given a moment’s notice, Takayasu Sensei can turn his body into a powerful shield.
Unfortunately, more common than bat attacks are knife and gun attacks. In those situations, hanging tough and taking the blow is a very bad idea and practicing that habit can lead to trouble. The time spent training iron shirt techniques might have been better used learning evasion, interception, and scenario-based self defense. Furthermore, chest shattering punches can be replaced by extremely accurate blows to weak areas of the body (nose, throat, groin, etc).
That being said, I really like some of the grip training that we’ve seen.
By using ishi sashi, nagiri game, ch’ishi, and kongo ken an impressive grip can be developed. Grip and the ability to generate torque through the arms/hips is immediately useful in any self defense situation. With a powerful enough grip and a knowledge of how to twist the opponent’s body, one can incapacitate or subjugate an opponent of any variety.
So…can toughening your body help improve your self defense? Yes, I think so. But you have to keep in mind its limits and what you could be giving up for it. Also remember that karate training is about reactions and instinct. Whether your reaction to a sudden attack is to tighten up and take it or evade out of the way will come down to how you train.
Strength of Body, Mind, Breath
Something I like about Hojo Undo practice (which I also think is generally understated) is the combination of body, mind, and breath. In order to succeed in such a rigorous training routine, the breath has to strengthen the body instead of using raw muscle. Furthermore, the mind has to be tough enough to withstand prolonged discomfort. Ultimately, these drills can bring all three aspects closer together.
This is useful, assuming you don’t have any existing joint injuries or internal conditions. If you do have a busted knee or heart problem, the excess strain can actually be detrimental to your health. Once again, personal assessment is the key. For those individuals who decide they shouldn’t utilize Hojo Undo for this particular purpose, kata such as Sanchin and Tensho can serve as reliable substitutes.
Listening and Pushing
After all is said and done, I think the most important thing to remember in this or any martial arts training is balance. As much as we want to push our bodies through austere practices like Hojo Undo, we also have to listen to our bodies and recognize things we are doing that might be healthy/unhealthy. What works for one individual might spell an early retirement for the next.
If you DO wish to integrate this type of training into your regiment, do so very very slowly. Do research on how to make/acquire proper equipment and find an instructor who has been doing it for awhile with only minor ill-effects. Assess your needs as a person in modern society and make your training work for you!
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As you might recall, there is a new Karate Kid movie in the works. It was recently announced that Jackie Chan has been slated to play the mentor, aka, Mr. Miyagi.
“Jackie Chan is in final negotiations to join the Columbia Pictures remake of “The Karate Kid.”… Set in an exotic Asian locale, the new film will borrow elements of the original plot, wherein a bullied youth (Smith) learns to stand up for himself with the help of an eccentric mentor (Chan). Chris Murphy penned the screenplay.” - Variety
Let’s all get together and have a John Madden, state-the-obvious moment: “Jackie Chan…here’s a guy who’s not even Okinawan…or Japanese.”
How can you have a Chinese man playing a Karate Master? The explanation is simple – the new Karate Kid will be set in China, rather than Japan or Okinawa. In order to ramp up the far-east drama, Will Smith and Company decided to shoot in Chinese locales that will include, but will not be not limited to, Beijing.
Will Smith explained his decision making process for choosing China:
“We’re making it with the China Film Group, so it’ll be based in Beijing,” he said of where the modern version of “Karate Kid” will take place. “Mr. Miyagi was originally Japanese, so there’ll be a Chinese adaptation to it.”
On the possibility that many will question how could Karate which is a Japanese martial art be brought to China, Smith reasoned that although karate was developed in Japan, it is based on Chinese fighting style, Kenpo. “Fortunately, karate is originally a Chinese art form,” he said, “so that’s the area we’re playing around in.” – Japan Probe
Will Smith is a cool guy, but unfortunately his excitement for this project has pushed him forward before doing any deep research of the subject matter.
Despite what Will says in his quote, Mr. Miyagi was not originally Japanese. He was Okinawan. If you recall in the second movie, Miyagi and Daniel travel back to Miyagi’s home town, Tome Village. This was a small farming/fishing village found near Kadena Airbase.
Pat Morita, the ACTOR who played Miyagi, was of Japanese descent. This is an important cultural note because everyone involved in the original Karate Kid production recognized that a Japanese actor was playing an Okinawan role. There was a distinct and respected difference. Anyone who has studied asian culture for awhile will know that Chinese, Japanese, Okinawan, Korean, etc. people don’t particularly like being called something they aren’t.
Second, Will Smith states that karate is “originally a chinese art form.” This is a gross simplification of the way martial arts developed in the east. Karatedo certainly was influenced by Chinese arts, but it was not a matter of direct lineage back to China.
Satunuku “Tode” Sakugawa and Kanryo Higashionna were some of the earliest recorded martial practitioners on Okinawa, and were also instrumental in the fusion of Chinese arts into indigenous Okinawan arts (then known as Te). Sakugawa reportedly learned from a Chinese envoy named Koshokun, and eventually would travel to China itself to pursue the ways of Chinese Kempo. Upon his return he continued mixing his new found knowledge with local arts and formed Tode (hence his nickname).
Kanryo Higashionna traveled to China as well and allegedly studied under a master named Ru Ru Ko. When he returned he worked to develop a new system that combined both hard and soft elements. It eventually became known as Naha-te.
From there, more and more generations continued to learn and mix different fighting styles as masters from different countries (Japan, Korea, etc.) visited/moved to Okinawa (or conversely, Okinawans visited/moved to other countries). “Bushi” Matsumura eventually instilled a sense of Japanese Bushido in his art through Jigen Ryu swordsmanship, along with elements of chinese arts, and become instrumental in the creation of Shorin-Ryu karate.
Take this confusing mishmash and multiply it by 100. That’s the true nature of how karate was created. Karate was not, and will never be, a pure chinese art form. Therefore, making a movie in China and calling it “The Karate Kid” is insulting to the rich martial history that each of the asian countries has woven over the centuries.
Jackie Jumping On Board
When it comes to the choice of Jackie Chan in this roll…doesn’t it feel a little forced? Jackie Chan is not the only Chinese actor in the world…couldn’t we have gotten Pai Mei from Kill Bill?
Just kidding, but I did love that character.
The angle they are taking with this movie throws out all concern for subtlety in favor of box office $$. Think about how neat a period piece could have been. They could have done a movie about Kanryo Higashionna traveling to a mysterious and intimidating China and seeking out the elusive Ru Ru Ko. They could have even taken creative liberties with the story because actual details are a bit sparse. Of course, if they did that, they couldn’t have used The Karate Kid name as a vehicle for Jaden Smith.
The more I see and hear about this movie, the more it concerns me that we will eventually see a box package of the original three movies combined with the horrible Hillary Swank remake and then this.
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Disclaimer: Please do not read, absorb, or look at the above comic.
Hello, I would like to talk about kata in a serious and mature fashion. Mainly I want to focus on the use of kata as a valuable resource for physical fitness. Through all the discussions about ‘how good kata is for street combat’ and if it ‘instills warrior spirit’ (And other such arguments), we seem to overlook one very important thing – there are few singular workout machines or methods that exercise the body like kata.
Q: What makes one workout machine better than another?
A: How well it can isolate specific muscle groups and how many different muscle groups it can work out. That’s value plus usability. The movements in kata are remarkable because they tend to utilize most of the major muscle groups for extended periods of time, which makes for an extremely effective exercise regiment (for free).
The stances of traditional kata come in many varieties and are often used in combination with one another.
Imagine how going in and out of these stances would work your quadriceps, glutes (that means a**), hamstrings, calves, and other minor muscles groups in the legs.
Furthermore, the tensing and relaxing of arm techniques constantly builds up biceps, triceps, and shoulders.
Just as importantly, in order to teach the body how to move as one cohesive unit, the back, neck, and abdominal region must work to tense, release, and control the body appropriately. This promotes good overall health without cost or dangerous over-exertion.
Strength isn’t the only factor – flexibility improves as well. In order to perform proper stance and technique, students must slowly teach their body how to bend and relax. Stretching is a big part of this process, but kata is where the actual technique is performed time and again.
Ask any trainer and they’ll tell you how important proper breathing is in an exercise program. Breathing during cardiovascular training is obviously critical to success, but the same is true during strength training. Where the breath comes from, the pace, and the in-out technique (through nose, mouth, or both) are all factors to consider. Kata, especially the aptly named “breathing” kata, put extreme focus on this.
By combining breathing with the tensing and untensing of the body, one can effectively perform isometric exercises where no external weight is being pushed or pulled. When watching kata such as sanchin, the real work doesn’t come from the simple steps and hand motions; it comes from focused internal contractions (and that can be a real workout).
One of the hardest parts about exercising is simply doing it. Motivation. A lot of people (myself included) go through self arguments like “why should I even bother? It’s a little late to start…I’m already in my pajamas…I think my back is sore…” and other excuses. Kata provides a very tangible, very motivating purpose for exercise. The combination of mental focus, self defense application, and physical activity makes kata seem like a gift rather than a curse.
Unless you are extremely gifted and focused like MizFit, you (and I) need these little tricks to keep going. It is extremely easy to slide into a kata workout, starting off very soft at walking pace until eventually you can naturally kick it into a higher gear.
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There are a lot of arguments for and against kata…and I’ve heard really good explanations for both sides. But one thing I’m convinced of is the value kata has in physical fitness. All we need to do is look back at the old stylists and remember that their training was based predominantly off of kata, kihon, and hojo undo (combined with good diet). Certainly we can take the hint and benefit too!
P.S. While I AM a cheerleader for kata here, I still see the value in heavy bag work, gym memberships, and the Bowflex. I’m just saying kata should get a wink and a nod for how useful it can be!
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