I’d like to share a story given by Bill Hayes Sensei. Pardon any paraphrasing.
One time Hayes Sensei was training with his instructor Eizo Shimabukuro on the kata Passai. This kata is known for its power generation and its sweeping motions that feel for the opponent and almost reach out to him/her.
After training, Shimabukuro mentioned that this kata was like fighting at night.
The statement caught Hayes Sensei’s attention who thought he had gained some valuable insight into the original impetus for the form. Brave Okinawans, he decided, must have crept along during the night and dispatched their opponents using the passai kata! Certainly that explains the ‘feeling’ and ‘scanning’ hand and foot work.
Some time later the topic of Passai came up again, and Hayes Sensei engaged in discussion about how the kata came from night time fighting.
At that point Shimabukuro peered into Hayes Sensei’s eyes as if to see if there were any lights on.
“No, no”, he said. “Not at night. Like at night.”
Many times things can be lost in translation, especially when it comes to the mysteries of kata. In this case Shimabukuro Sensei was never suggesting that Passai kata was specifically for night time fighting, or that it was born from it. Instead he was trying to express that the same sensations and abilities you would rely upon at night are summoned and utilized via training in the Passai system.
Consider this: at night, you would not be able to see well. Therefore, when you make contact with an opponent, you must maintain Muchimi, or stickiness. Once that contact is made you can instinctively know where each part of your opponent’s body is. Essentially, should it be necessary, you could fight blindly.
This is an important concept to remember when considering the adrenaline dump that occurs during combat. Humans acquire tunnel vision when under extreme stress, which means you will have much less visibility (even during broad daylight) than you are used to. Therefore you have to rely on proprioception and touch response to first acquire your target and then properly eliminate him/her.
It’s important to remember that kata were not created for one specific environment or circumstance. That would be far too limiting a form of practice. Instead the concepts that are contained within each kata are omni-useful and work in harmony with the concepts of other kata.
The translation for the term Passai, which is frequently stated to be “penetrating the fortress” or “extracting from the fortress”, is not to be taken literally. The name may have a poetic connection to breaking down the barriers of an opponent, but it was never necessary to have an actual castle involved.
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The past two weeks have been busy times for me. I managed to sneak in a week-long trip to Colorado and Utah with the girlfriend in order to check out some amazing towns and natural landscapes. Upon return I immediately rolled into the IKKF’s 26th Annual Training Gasshuku.
I’d like to highlight a few of the events that took place during those times, especially the ones relevant to martial arts. In the coming weeks I will be creating a series of posts inspired by either my trip or my time at the IKKF Annual Training. Hope you dig it!
Hitting the Rockies
Colorado is a state of great beauty and great microbreweries. The GF and I were certain to partake of both throughout our travels. We flew into Denver and visited the nearby town of Boulder (also known as the Republic of Boulder for it’s uniquely hippie ways). We then embarked on a multiday mission to check out some of the outstanding mountain towns of Colorado and even venture out into Utah to visit Arches National Park.
Our first stop was in Glenwood Springs, where it just so happened two fans of Ikigai Way lived and taught martial arts. Through the magic of the internet we were able to get together and have a drink. Imagine karateka of different styles (I Okinawa Kenpo and they Shotokan) sitting amicably at the same table!?
My thanks to David Light and his student Jamin for reaching out and helping make my visit to Glenwood all the more special.
Arches was the next stop on our tour after we made our way through the mountains, and the sheer size and intensity of the geography there was more than I had ever seen before in my life. Some of the rock structures defied gravity and explanation.
If you ever find yourself out Utah way, try your best to stop in at Arches. Many of the landmarks can be reached by driving, and there is as much or as little hiking as you want in order to get a sense of the place.
After our all-too-brief time in the desert we moved back into the mountains where the lush pine forests of Steamboat Springs awaited us. Interestingly, as we drove past many ranches, I noticed an unusual gateway at the entrance of each one. They consisted of two rudimentary logs sticking upward out of the ground, connected across the top by a third beam. They came in a wide variety of designs and sizes, but each kept the same basic pattern. It struck me that the same symbol was often used in Japan and Okinawa in the form of the Torii Gate:
Certainly the ranch gates are not used to invoke any Shinto rites or rituals, but passing through the gate is significant in both cultures. They both developed the wooden form independently, and I gained a certain amount of pleasure from seeing such a thing spring up unexpectedly by the side of the road.
When we got to the town of Steamboat we visited the Fish Creek Falls. Sadly I didn’t get a chance to do any waterfall meditation as it probably would have killed me.
Ultimately, after our multiday excursion, we came back to Denver and flew home. I had a day’s rest before annual training which gave me a small chance to prepare for the painful and valuable “festivities” to come.
Hitting the Mat
IKKF Annual Training is the yearly gathering created by my instructor to bring together a bevy of highly qualified practitioners of various styles to help expose students to different methods of learning and understanding. Individuals such as Chuck Merriman, Patrick McCarthy, Forrest Morgan, Bill Hayes, and Miguel Ibarra (amongst others) have all shared their knowledge over the years, which has always proven valuable and insightful.
The learning this year was excellent and the training intense. Our school (The Heilman Karate Academy) had three students up for testing, two for shodan and one for sandan, all of whom passed with exceptional skill. I was very pleased by their efforts and results.
The ‘man of the hour’ for the whole event was Jody Paul Sensei, who achieved the rank of 9th Dan in his style of Okinawa Seidokan Motobu Ryu.
Paul Sensei provides a unique glimpse into karate’s old ways as he was one of the first westerners ever to be accepted as a direct student by Seikichi Uehara of Motobu Udun Di, the “palace hand” style of karate. Paul Sensei also studied extensively under Seikichi Odo Sensei and Shian Toma Sensei.
His insights and abilities are truly unique, and it has been a pleasure learning from him over the years.
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MA: Were there many cultural barriers to overcome in order to integrate into Okinawa and dojo life? Any communication difficulties?
JL: At the time I was in Okinawa, it was still under American administration and many of the locals worked on the bases. Most of them could speak English and were used to the Americans. There was a large number of Military and US Civilian workers in Okinawa, so the locals were used to that.
When I first started in the dojo, Sensei didn’t speak much English and some of the Okinawa students didn’t, but as I stated before, several dependent kids were fluent in both languages and there was no problem with communication. After a month of so there, I began to learn a little Japanese and Sensei began to speak English to me directly.
I suppose it was probably more of an advantage, than disadvantage that my first lessons were in Japanese. I had to use my eyes to visually understand what I was being taught rather than having to hear the words and try to watch at the same time.
MA: Could you share an interesting or funny anecdote that reveals a sense of Oyata Sensei that people might not have heard before?
JL: We did several demonstrations while I was stationed in Okinawa and they all included breaking. As I had observed during my first demonstration as emcee, the breaking was a little different than I had witnessed or read about. Boards were broken across the outstretched arm, leg, stomach or back rather than breaking a stack of boards.
Logue Sensei Withstands the Board
Sensei and I were doing a series of demos for a company in Koza that was selling time-shares in Florida to American Servicemen. As part of the presentation, they hired Sensei to do a karate demo a couple of times a week.
So, after class, we’d drive to Koza and he and I would do the demo. Sometimes he asked me to do an empty hand kata or weapons kata. He also threw me around with some self-defense and then we’d do the breaking. He would break a two by two across my out stretched arm, leg, back, and stomach. One particular night, he was breaking one across my right arm. Smack, it didn’t break. He tried again to no avail, then he tried the left arm, my back, my stomach and then my leg, still the board did not give.
His face began to redden in anger and he placed the board against the wall and kicked it only to have it push him back. Without saying word, he walked outside and broke the board across the corner of the building. I believe that I could feel the building shake under the power of this strike.
He walked back in smiling and laughing. “sometimes board no break”. As we drove back to the dojo we laughed about it as he explained, “It’s okay board not break. If it break every time, everybody think fake!”
MA: When you returned to the United States in 1971 and ultimately opened your first dojo in 1973, what kind of challenges did you face at that time? What was the general perception of karate and how did it manifest itself through the students you first attracted?
JL: When I returned from Okinawa, most of the local dojos were either Tae Kwon Do or American Free Style. I wasn’t used to this concept, so I kept to myself. I found a few dojos to visit and was seeking others to spare with bogu; however, this was when the “safety chop/kick” was in vogue and no one was interested in really getting hit.
I noticed there were not very many people doing weapons except for Nunchaku popularized by the Bruce Lee movies. I tried to get some interest in the weapons, but it was so foreign to most everyone that again no one was interested.
On one of my trips back to see my parents, I noticed a dojo advertising Okinawan karate. This turned out to be Ridgely Abele and he invited me to come teach at one of his camps in the mountains of North Carolina. There I was sort of back in my environment where I met many others who trained Okinawan karate. Through these seminars I met others such as Doug Perry Hanshi, Bill Hayes Kyoshi, Phil Koeppel Kyoshi, Kimo Wall Kyoshi and many other influential Okinawan karate practioners.
Doug Perry, Jim Logue, Kimo Wall, Bill Hayes
MA: How did you manage to maintain an active relationship with Oyata Sensei after you came to the states? Was it difficult to continue your learning?
JL: After I returned to the states, I was stationed at Fort Hood, Texas until I got discharged. At that time, I was corresponding with Albert Geraldi, Bill Wiswell and Greg Lindquist as we worked on forming the American Federation of Ryukyu Kempo.
We maintained some contact with Oyata Sensei, but could not train directly with him. From 1972 until 1977 when he returned to the US, training was on my own except for an occasional meeting with the former students mentioned above. When Oyata Sensei was in the States, his students made a 8mm film with all the basic empty hand kata that we used as a guide for our continued training:
When Oyata Sensei returned to the States, he spent a couple of weeks with me refreshing what I had been taught in Okinawa and introducing me to new concepts. My students and I traveled to Kansa, where he lived; staying a couple of weeks each time and he drove to South Carolina a few times for more personal training.
In 1981, I hosted a seminar at my dojo and I invited several friends I had made from other Okinawa systems. This set off a wave of seminars for Oyata Sensei and we also began to hold summer and fall camps.
I’ve managed to train with Sensei at least every three or four months and sometimes more often since he has been to the states. I always go to the summer and fall camps early to get a heads up on the training that will be conducted so that I can better help him teach. I also travel to many of the seminars he does across the US.
MA: Were you surprised when kyusho became such a focal point surrounding Ryu Te? Has it been difficult preserving Oyata’s kyusho while “magic kyusho” (no touch knockouts and things of that nature) continues to gain popularity?
JL: Karate in the US had become stagnate, there was nowhere for it to go. The only emphasis was on the sporting side of karate and it was moving further away from the old ways of life-protection. The introduction of tuite and kyusho jitsu has been good for karate overall, in that it’s sparked a new interest in finding the meaning behind kata other than the kick/punch definition that most have.
Unfortunately, some have found a way to “fool” everyone into false knowledge through “magic” tricks. It hasn’t changed the real meaning of tuite or kyusho jitsu, but has hurt in that people try to associate themselves with Oyata Sensei, saying they learned his “secrets”.
People are really gullible believing that a life-time of study can be learned by attending a few seminars. There is no magic button as people think and those that teach these things are no more than “snake oil” salesmen.
MA: What emphasis is placed on weapons in Ryu Te? Is it seen as a companion to karate, and when is it introduced to students?
JL: Oyata’s first lesson consisted of training with the bo and other weapons. It’s my belief that weapons and empty hand go together. The same principles and concepts apply as far as footwork, angles, shifting and etc. If you watch the way the hands move using the weapon and imagine using only the hands, you can see no difference in empty hand.
Ryute Eku and Nunti
There are differences in how each type of weapon is used. i.e. Bo and eiku are used differently even though they are long weapons. Just as a fork and knife are used different to eat, so are the weapons. Of course, as with any tool, the weapon multiplies the strength and power of a blow.
MA: Ryu Te seems to have a strong contingent in Poland. How did that come about?
JL: One of our members, Petior Ciecwerz (aka, Peter Polander) who lives in Bethesda, MD is from Poland. He was on their national Judo team when they were still under communist control and he also trained in Shotokan. After moving to the US, he sought out Oyata Sensei after hearing about him. He has a small organization in Poland and travels back and forth conducting seminars and camps. Many of the Polish contingencies also travel to the US for training.
MA: What was the impetus for writing “Ryukyu Kempo History and Basics” and what were your goals for this book? Is there a place where readers can purchase your book and Oyata Sensei’s RyuTe no Michi?
JL: One of my students, Robby Collingwood, was attending graduate school at Emory University in Atlanta, GA. He began teaching a college credit course in karate that had to have a text book to get accredited. The book initially was intended for use in this course.
After others in the association learned of the book, they wanted to use it as a basic training manual, so it was published as such. It was never really intended to be a public document although it has become so to some extent.
The “blue book”, as it is often called, is no longer being published for several reasons. The name “Ryukyu Kempo History and Basics” doesn’t reflect the name change to the system, and I have gained much more knowledge and experience since the initial publication. I’m in the process of updating the book as “The Essence of RyuTe – Legacy of Okinawa’s Ancient Warriors.”
MA: It seems as if you have maintained Nakamura Shigeru’s tradition of contact sparring with kendo-inspired bogu gear. What is your sense on the importance of sparring, and why have you chosen to continue the use of the original equipment?
JL: Sparring and pulling punches is like target shooting using blanks. Your technique might be good, but you don’t know if you really hit the target. Likewise, getting hit with a full power blow lets you know, without injury, how it feels to really get hit.
There are limitations to any type of sparring: gear confinement, limiting strikes to ‘point zones’, etc; however, being able to move at full speed without limitation (and reacting to the same) trains the reflexes much better than never being hit or never being able to hit.
I know some say, “We do full contact, but don’t need the protection of the gear. We can take a full power punch or kick.” Over my many years of training, I’ve run across many who say such things. It has been my experience that after they received properly placed kicks or punches; they quickly change their mind about that.
Like kendo is to sword fighting, so is bogu to kumite. No one wants to be cut with a live blade and no one wants their ribs broken from a punch or kick.
MA: If you had to list just a few highlight moments or accomplishments regarding your propagation of karate in the U.S., what would you include?
JL: I think helping Oyata Sensei with his seminars and conducting seminars of my own. It’s surprising how much you learn about what you’re teaching when you have to teach others. Teaching beginners is much different than teaching experienced martial artists. Beginners are a clean slate and you teach from the bottom up. With experienced practitioners, you often have to overcome built-in prejudices in order to get them to overcome preset ideas.
I find you have to be a little more diplomatic and “politically correct” when you teach experienced people. You can’t tell them they are wrong about their approach to a particular technique or they will not listen. You must approach it such that you get your point across and they must decide whether it makes sense to them or not.
I learn as I teach. I watch how people move and how they approach a technique. I’m not trying to learn what they do, but to better understand what I do. I think by sharing these ideas that we all gain further knowledge into that which we study.
I would like to extend a great thank you to Logue Sensei for creating these very thoughtful and meaningful responses.
To learn more from Logue Sensei, check out the project entitled “Tales From the Western Generation”. This book features extended content with Logue Sensei as well as in-depth interviews with other senior karateka.
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