It’s an honor to present this interview with Patrick McCarthy, 8th Dan and founder of Koryu Uchinadi.
McCarthy Sensei is one of the world’s leading investigators in classical martial arts. He has traveled to many countries and for decades has acquired knowledge and information from some of the top instructors in various classical arts, putting together an innovative system known as Koryu Uchinadi (ko=ancient, ryu=style, uchina=okinawan people, di=hand).
McCarthy Sensei is a noted practitioner of Okinawan Kobudo and Karate but is also a cross trainer, integrating modern ideas and techniques into his personal skillset. He has proven himself in the realm of competitive kickboxing as well as traditional tournaments.
The following interview grants us a peek into some of McCarthy Sensei’s ideas behind martial training, as well as some of the insights granted to him by his highly skilled instructors.
MA: McCarthy Sensei, what got you into martial arts in the first place and how old were you when you first started studying seriously?
PM: When I was nine years old a highly motivational documentary film was shown at my primary school. Produced by Josef Reeve, for the National Film Board of Canada, it was entitled, “Road to the Olympics,” and highlighted Canadian Judo Champion, and silver medalist, Doug Rogers. I joined the Saint John Judo club immediately after that.
MA: Could you provide a brief overview of your training history and main instructors?
PM: I have learned from many teachers over the years but I think those who most influenced me taught me to learn for myself; John Grosdanoff [high school wrestling coach], Tiger Thompson [boxing coach], Wally Slocki [kumite coach], Sensei Richard Kim [principal karate teacher], Prof. Wally Jay [jujutsu instructor], Donn Draeger [Budo culture], Sugino Yoshio [Japanese swordsmanship], Takada Nobuhiko [shoot fighting], and Kinjo Hiroshi [karate teacher]. If you’re interested, here is a Facebook link to some of the many sources I came into contact with during the Japan years. [Note: To learn more about McCarthy Sensei's background, visit his biography page here.]
MA: What was study like under Kinjo Hiroshi Sensei? Was his focus on sparring/kata/application/etc?
PM: Keeping in mind that I was already a 5th dan and 31 years old when I met O-sensei (who was then in his late sixties), learning under him could be likened to being a university student; the lecturer delivered the target lesson and it was up to me to do the required study (training) in order to achieve the required outcome. Following this, O-sensei would check my progress from time to time and make corrections as required. His focus was always upon technique, application and contextual premise.
MA: It is said that Kinjo Sensei is a great repository of karate knowledge. Has he spoken often of karate before the integration into Okinawan school systems? What were the major difference pre/post war, in his mind?
PM: O-sensei is always a great repository of karate knowledge (now nearly 92 years old). In fact, in addition to the many books he’s written, he’s currently in the process of writing yet another! To tell you the truth, all O-sensei ever talks about is karate; he’s still very sharp mentally and remarkably fit, especially for a man so advanced in age.
He always talks about karate in general and has spoken much about the old-days, the “old ways” and many of the authorities with whom he’s come into contact with along the way. Also, my wife Yuriko and I have had the opportunity to translate many articles, either by or about O-sensei. All of this has been quite insightful. He learned directly under Hanashiro Chomo, Gusukuma Shimpan, Oshiro Chojo and Tokuda Ambun. As these men were also the senior students of Itosu Ankoh, and the principal instructors to first teach karate in Okinawa’s school system, O-sensei has a lot of interesting stories about the old-ways. As I have also spent a lot of time studying the past, with a special emphasis upon the old-ways, I can tell you that this is one topic we’ve discussed many times over the years.
One of the biggest things that separate the past from the present, according to grandmaster, is method, organization and systematization. In the old days karate training was very personalized and never as stylized or as commercial as it is today. Also, most of the local Okinawan instructors were all friends of each other and frequently enjoyed “cross-training,” and social gatherings. Little emphasis was ever placed on competition whereas today it’s virtually the opposite; competition is everything! The idea of kihon [learning strikes, blocks, kicks, punches, and postures] separately before learning kata was unheard of; this was a new concept developed in the 1920’s and 1930’s. Old-school training, prior to karate being introduced into the school system was all about private/personal training, two-person drills and kata.
MA: One of the trademarks of Koryu Uchinadi is it’s two-person tegumi drills. Can you talk a bit about how you came to establish these drills and why you chose to name them in honor of Okinawan Tegumi? In what ways do you suspect they are similar/dissimilar to the ancient version?
PM: I first came across the term, “Tegumi,” while I was still residing in Japan and working on the Nagamine Shoshin book translation “Tales of Okinawa’s Great Masters” for Tuttle publications. The term is made up of two separate ideograms; Te – meaning hand or hands, and gumi/kumi, which holds several meanings, such as braid, construct, assemble, unite, cooperate and grapple. More interesting was identifying that the term was also kumite written backwards! Learning this I remembered that as a young kungfu student*, my sifu used the term, “crossing hands,” in the same way that swordsmen used the term, “crossing swords,” as a way to describe fighting.
Asking Master Nagamine about it, he told me that the original, and far more brutal practice of Tegumi had fallen quietly dormant during the end of Okinawa’s old Ryukyu Kingdom Period [c.1879]. Following it’s demise, a modified rule-bound version of stand-up clinch wrestling ascended from it called Okinawan Sumo. In spite of several efforts to popularize the more modified version, the new cultural recreation fell short of gaining widespread recognition.
Considering myself more than a novice history buff, and having spent considerable time in Okinawa, I was surprised that I’d never come across the term “Tegumi” anywhere before. One only need look around at the publications of that era to clearly see that the term “Tegumi” was not in use anywhere within the karate community. As I was also occupied with searching out the origins of various two-person strength and conditioning exercises**, used in old-school karate practices, you can probably now imagine why I liked the dormant term straight away. Having traveled to Fujian in search of what southern kungfu styles used these two-person hand practices, I’d learned a wide range of drills and was searching for a user-friendly name under which to deliver them to others. What better name for such two-person hand practices than Tegumi?
MA: You often suggest that kata are mnemonic templates that are “geometrically choreographed” to elicit understanding of techniques that can be used against habitual acts of physical violence (HAPV). Can you break that down a little more and explain what that means?
PM: As karate is a defensive tradition, what could be more important than learning to identify which acts of physical violence it was developed to defend against? Wouldn’t the ability to defend oneself be left entirely to chance otherwise? Only a naïve mindset imagines that all “fighting” is about standing toe-to-toe with an opponent! Even then, this approach concludes one has the luxury of facing their attacker! The KU approach varies drastically.
The original idea that karate is a defensive art presupposes that if an “opponent” was facing you, irrespective of whatever threatening gestures and verbal taunts were being made, unless you were literally set upon, the better (wiser) person also learned to evade the potential threat, hence preventing the need to harm someone. As such, the need to actually defend oneself arose only if and when an attacker actually seized a hold of you.
In civil/domestic circumstances***, “one against one, empty-handed unwarranted acts of physical violence” (HAPV) represents the contextual premise upon which the art of self-defense was originally forged. My research revealed that pioneers developed various engagement scenarios****, so that novice students could safely rehearse prescribed application practices. In KU TPAD [Koryu Uchinadi Two Person Application Drills], aggressive resistance serves as the catalytic mechanism through which learners are able to achieve functional competency. By bringing together various prescribed application practices into solo routines, something greater than the sum total of their individual parts appears; kata! In KU, this is how we see kata as mnemonic; i.e., a practice that culminates the lesson already learned in TPAD. Moreover, as creative mechanisms through which to express individual prowess, kata also serve a popular means of strengthening one’s overall mental, physical and holistic conditioning.
As such we believe that the HAPV premise crosses the boundaries of time, culture, and gender and therefore are as valuable now here in the West as they ever were in the beginning.
MA: One of your primary methods of exploring bunkai is reverse engineering using HAPV. Do you suspect that karateka of generations past spent far less time exploring bunkai because the applications were introduced first, with the kata then coming after to reinforce those already established lessons?
PM: I do, in fact. With few if any of the distractions, as exampled in today’s highly commercial-based traditions, old-school training methods focused much more upon prescribed application practices.
That said, tradition was never meant to be about blindly following in the footsteps of the old masters, or even preserving their ashes for that matter. In principle, tradition has always been about keeping the flame of their spirit alive, and continuing to seek out what they originally sought. This timeless message is how practices are kept functional, and it is why tradition should inspire learners, not inhibit them!
MA: When exploring bunkai do you have personal checks and balances to determine if you’ve let your creativity veer too far away from the core concept of the kata? How do you keep your imagination inline with the kata’s intent?
PM: Aggressive resistance is one “check” that helps keep us within the boundaries of reality. Another is simplicity; methods that require cognitive thought in the midst of unpredictability and all hell breaking loose, tend to be time-consuming and have little place in practical application. Finally, if and when the prescribed practice meets these criteria, its solo representation MUST still resemble the kata mnemonic. There’s a cute little saying we use in KU about ambiguity; “If it has feathers, quacks and flies, it’s a duck!” So too, if the said prescribed template (i.e., a group of self-defense techniques from the kata) meets the criteria, and looks exactly like what’s in the kata, then until someone is able to show me/us something “more functional,” I/we consider this, “the application!”
Incidentally, this does not suggest that the said template cannot be used in another context exactly the same way, only that the premise doesn’t have to be the same!
MA: Do you still practice kata in your personal training? What value do you derive from it these days?
PM: Oh, yes! I love kata…it is the true art of karate and I am very much inspired by its continued study.
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The IkigaiWay Facebook page has certainly grown and with it the amount of excellent interaction available there. I’m extremely excited to see technology bring us together and share in ways that were utterly impossible a few short years ago.
The Facebook contest was built to celebrate that sharing. I’d like to thank karatedepot.com and themmazone.net for their generous participation.The winners below were selected at random, placed in a generator when they met the requirements for each prize. I will be reaching out to the winners in order to get their shipping information, but in case you see your name and do not hear from me, you can contact me at ikigai108 @ gmail.com. Should a winner be unable to collect a prize, I will rerun the randomization program and select an alternate winner.
Here we go…
Prize #1: Bushido Apparel Green Insignia T-Shirt
Winner: Norberto J Torres
Congratulations Norberto! It’s great to have you as part of the site.
Prize #2: Rhino Equipment Bag and Gym Mat
Winner: Paul McKenzie
Great to see your name pop up Paul. No doubt your consistent participation gave you an edge.
Prize #3: Everlast Reflex Bag
Winner: Marshall Smith
I hope this helps in your training Marshall! Stay passionate about your martial pursuits.
Special Prize: ProForce Thunder Heavy Bag
Winner: Ariel (http://martialartspassion.blogspot.com/)
Thanks for all your support Ariel over on the Martial Arts Passion website. I have no doubt you’ll put this heavy bag through it’s paces.
I hope everyone enjoyed the contest, and if you didn’t win this time don’t worry, there will be more to come. I hope you hang around and continue making IkigaiWay a positive martial arts destination.
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We martial artists in the West sometimes gaze East with a sense of gratitude and wonder in our hearts. While we struggle with cultural differences and strive for legitimacy, we are also tempted to assume that the birth countries of China, Japan, and Okinawa are somehow above these problems. We suspect that while some modernization is occurring, by-and-large the classical arts are still alive and thriving.
Alive…yes. Thriving, perhaps not as much as we would hope. Globalization is a juggernaut and while some westerners choose to look into the deep past of Eastern countries, more and more Asian youth look toward our western way of life. They, like us, have tasted the convenience of technology, the pleasure of quick rewards, and the lure of fame and recognition.
Modernization is fairly evident on a national scale, but to understand how it is affecting the martial arts I would point you to the studies of a few notable artists who have been there and seen it.
Recently Mario McKenna posted a link to a very well produced documentary regarding Kung Fu (the ancient martial pursuit of China). The movie is entitled Needle Through Brick: The Vanishing Art of Traditional Kung Fu. It follows the path of a handful of Kung Fu experts, exploring how they came to learn their art and what they are doing to spread it. The film also examines the life of young, modern artists and how they perceive martial arts in the world they live in.
Watch more free documentariesIt’s very interesting to hear the younger Kung Fu players discuss the difference between traditional kung fu and sport kung fu, and how they actively choose sport. The older generation struggles to find ways in which to preserve their heritage while keeping new generations interested.
It seems that in China most of the more antiquated quanfa arts are pushed into the background and seen as twilight-year pursuits. Instead they are replaced by high flying acrobatics and stunts like those performed by Shaolin troupes. The athleticism and dedication is impressive, but quite devoid of the original martial applications.
Okinawa As Well
In an article entitled “The Okinawan Karate Myth“, Jesse of KaratebyJesse describes some of his findings during trips to Okinawa, and shares stories of the younger practicing generation there.
In the article Jesse introduces us to a youthful competitor referred to as Ushi Kun. Ushi Kun does very well at tournaments and attends a well respected karate school. His dedication to the art is unquestionable. However, he and his dojo-mates revolve their entire study around winning competitions. Things that are classical (like kobudo) or foreign (like boxing) are seen as uncool and even slightly embarrassing for anyone participating in them.
When Jesse attempts to interact with the students, bringing his traditional and diverse background, he is mildly mocked and tolerated as someone who “doesn’t quite get it”.
The main issue, as Jesse explains, is that Ushi Kun and his fellow karateka are not peculiar in their mindset. In fact they represent a healthy portion of their generation.
Not All But A Lot
Youth in Japan, Okinawa, China, and Western Countries are all beginning to look more and more alike. The sight of a 15-year-old absorbed into their cell phone, texting away is now a near global one (in the developed world).
Of course, this is not to say that no true classical arts can be found in their countries of origin. There will always be something uniquely authentic about the far East when it comes to budo pursuits. However, propagation of classical arts is now more about the individuals passing it on rather than the country of study. If a lineage is preserved well it will retain it’s value, even if it happens to cross the ocean and arrive in the hands of an occidental. If a lineage is not preserved well, it will be a sham in the hands of any proponent.
It may sound like I am opining about days lost and the misguidedness of youth, but that’s not my intention. Instead my goal is to reveal a more accurate understanding of how martial arts fit into current society. New generations face the same kind of obstacles as generations previous, and as technology increases so does the sheer volume of things to occupy people’s time.
Quick rewards will always be tempting, and exciting sport will always attract more people than tradition.
Ultimately it is up to each of us to decide where we would like to take our arts, regardless of our place of origin.
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