Neurologists and psychologists suggest that the human brain is designed to pick up on patterns. This tendency helps us make sense of the space around us, and the world in general. It’s also how we arrive at many superstitions and decisions. I buy what the psychologists are selling there. In fact, I like noticing when this phenomena is at work in my own life.
One great benefit of Okinawa Kenpo as a style is the diversity of kata that we have available. It allows me to see core karate concepts expressed in a variety of ways. Unfortunately, there simply is not enough time in the day to explore them all adequately. I’ve been thinking lately that it would be nice if I selected one to focus on, and really put my full self into it.
And thus, the pattern recognition gears began to turn…
Event #1 – Explanations
A few weeks ago I had the privilege of leading a few black belt students through the kata Gojushiho during a class. As we practiced the physical form of the kata, I also did my best to field questions regarding the specifics of technique and the causes behind them. I realized that although my answers were adequate, they were hardly exceptional. This concerned me.
Event #2 – Destinations
About 2-3 weeks ago I attended a training seminar by Kyoshi Bill Hayes. Amongst the myriad of things to learn there, I saw on one of his charts that he simply had written:
“Gojushiho – Chinesized”
I wasn’t exactly sure what he meant. Unfortunately the matter left my mind shortly as I tried to stay in the moment and retain what Hayes Sensei was presently talking about. I also forgot to ask him about it before the end of the day. I didn’t kick myself for my negligence until later.
Event #3 – Questionations
On my facebook group for ikigaiway, I have a few videos posted of myself doing material. They are basically there just to reassure members that I’m not completely full of it (although I mostly am). One of the videos posted is Gojushiho kata (here):
A kind member commented on the video and asked me about the form’s history. I relayed to him this:
“I’d like to give you a short answer now, and then a longer answer in an article format. So, as of right now: This kata was given to me by Bruce Heilman of Okinawa Kenpo (9th dan). He was taught it by Seikichi Odo, the top student of Shigeru Nakamura and non-familial successor to Okinawa Kenpo. Our style has two different Gojushiho kata, ichi and ni. Ni (the one shown here), was given to Odo by Seike Toma, who in turn was given it by Chotoku Kyan (some say indirectly). If you trace both Gojushiho kata’s back far enough, you arrive at Bushi Matsumura of the Shuri-te.”
* * *
This series of events was enough to spur me into a complete commitment to the kata. Prior to this Gojushiho was already one of my ‘favorites’ and I had given it adequate attention. But I decided adequate was no longer adequate.
My goal now is to pursue the kata as deeply as possible. I intend to explore history, movements, bunkai, tichiki, and overall significance. One way I’m going to do that is by performing the kata at least once a day. This constant repetition will keep it both in my conscious and subconscious mind, and help lead me to more significant discoveries. You probably won’t hear about this topic again for awhile, but don’t worry – I intend to bring it back in a much fuller format once I think it’s appropriate.
Do you have a Gojushiho kata in your system? If so feel free to include your personal thoughts on it here in the comments section.
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Bob Patterson over at Striking Thoughts must be absolutely thrilled. The much anticipated “Lawman” has finally premiered.
For those of you not paying constant attention to the activities of Steven Seagal, shame on you. You SHOULD know that he has been working on a new series called Lawman, aired on A&E. In the series Seagal reveals that he has been an official deputy for Jefferson Perish Louisiana for the past 20 years. In between making martial arts movies he serves as a real life cop hitting the streets.
The series is set to focus on Seagal and the Jefferson Perish crew taking on bad guys ala COPS. When they aren’t on patrol Seagal takes the time to help fellow officers in learning shooting, combat, tactics, etc.
Is Your Interest Piqued?
I know what you’re thinking. Isn’t Seagal a bit on the old and fluffy side for this kind of work? He doesn’t think so, and it seems like his police brethren are willing to hang on for the ride. If you’d like to see the first two episodes for yourself, the magic of the internet will provide:
A&E did the smart thing and posted the episodes online. They must have realized that the viral value of a show like this is going to be significant, and online chatter is what makes shows like this and Deadliest Warrior a success.
The first episode, The Way of the Gun, focuses on Seagal’s shooting capabilities and (of course) some street busts. The second episode, The Deadly Hand, shows Seagal running the officers through some basic Aikido and then (you guessed it) some street busts.
It’s a surreal experience watching this show. Anybody who follows Seagal knows he has a bit of an ego trip going on, and while he is indeed skilled at aikido, he excessively takes on the ‘master’ role. As I was watching I could tell the other cops humored him for the sake of the show.
That being said, Seagal does show off real skill from time to time. His shooting is undeniably good and his aikido is still effective. One thing I noticed, and was disappointed by, was that he never seems to run during chases. Seagal-Running is a classic part of his movies, but his larger self doesn’t seem too up for it anymore. Through clever camera work it seems like he is in the thick of every arrest though.
When I first started watching Lawman, it felt weird. I wasn’t used to what I was seeing. By the end of the second episode however I actually started getting into the groove of it…a little. I think I could stay tuned for a few more episodes to see where they go with this. I would like it if they deemphasized the “busts” because that is where things seemed most forced. Forced drama, forced Seagal-activity, forced Seagal-advice, etc. His cutaways in helping the officers I thought were more genuine and interesting.
A&E gets another high five from me. They included a game on their website called ‘Firearms Qualification‘ that puts you in the hot seat (watch the first episode and it’ll make sense). Hold on to your hats because it’s actually kinda fun.
You go through three rounds of slick shooting and try to accrue a high score. Each round relates to events in the first Lawman episode.
I tried it out three times and got a high score of 108 (which makes me a Zen Master under Seagal Ryu shooting). Think you can top me? OHH we shall see.
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It’s important not to leave your martial arts at the dojo door. All too often the training floor and ‘real life’ serve as different worlds, never touching but allowing people to transition back and forth.
The problem with such a separation is that training becomes something abstract. Something that exists while wearing a white gi, colored belt, no shoes, and a well established sense of space. The experienced practitioner will realize that it is crucially important to take concepts, both mental and physical, out of the dojo and into day-to-day activity.
Acquiring a mindset that follows the martial way involves honing the natural abilities of perception and preparedness. Today I’d like to focus on one little matter that many people overlook – footwear.
The Old School
Most martial arts training is done barefoot. Why?
The answer is a two-parter. First, a lot of training (both now and back then) took place indoors. This is more true to Japan than Okinawa, but true for both nonetheless. For Japan, most techniques required secrecy from other clans. Therefore it was prudent for them to train behind closed doors in buildings with high windows. In Okinawa there was a lot of backyard training done during earlier generations, but things ultimately moved indoors similar to what we see today. And, as is still a part of Asian culture, people take off their shoes when entering a building to avoid tracking dirt and damaging flooring.
Second, people simply didn’t have a lot of money to spend on shoes, so they went barefoot. The main shoes of the common class were predominantly Geta and Zori, both of which were designed for environmental needs.
the zori are the very standard sandals you see in the black and white photo above. Geta are of wooden construction and involve raised platforms. Due to the changing weather patterns of Japan, individuals used geta to stay out of snow, rain puddles, and mud while gaining an element of traction in those slick conditions.
The martial tradition of no shoes (or at maximum sandals) is still with us today and is an ingrained part of traditional training. We shouldn’t, however, assume it is the ultimate option in footwear for real life. After all, don’t you think low ranking Japanese soldiers would have loved water proof hiking boots with traction soles and a lightweight steel tip toe?
The New School – Embrace Your Options
You and I are part of the new school, and we have more options that we know what to do with. Every mall contains 20-30 shoe stores with walls of shoes spanning the gamet of casual, hiking, work, dress, running, skateboarding, and who knows what else. They are all specially designed to optimize performance and comfort for various activities.
A lot of people think that bare feet provide the best feedback to the ground, and they’re right. Unfortunately, most ground these days involves some sort of concrete, hardwood, or blacktop. As good as bare feet might be for gripping grass and earth, they are not particularly good for negotiating loose gravel on a sidewalk. In fact, that’s a really quick way to get your soles torn up. In our modern day world, the best option is the scientifically designed rubber found on the bottom of most sneakers. After all, people don’t drive their cars on bare rims for a reason.
Thinking Self Defense
When considering real self defense or life protection, shoes are where it all starts. How you interact with the ground is going to greatly effect what you are capable of. As discussed previously, the most important factor is what kind of grip your shoe soles will give you. If you spend all day on the beach, I give you my bare foot blessings, but for the rest of us we have to consider different surfaces. Furthermore, we have to consider the day-to-day dress we have to wear for responsibilities such as work, weekend excursions, dates, etc.
Some people worry that shoes will hinder kicking, but I think the opposite is true. In classical Okinawan karate, there are a lot of toe kicks that are used to penetrate vital points. It can take many years to develop the kind of conditioning required to make toe kicks work. However, if you happen to be wearing shoes with a decent sole (or steel toe), you can immediately begin to penetrate without damage to your feet.
Other more typical kicks benefit as well. Good shoes protect both the instep and ball of the foot while providing a solid base with your support leg.
What about other shoes though like high heels? We can’t all go around in hiking boots all day. Heels and other less stable shoes come with the added responsibility of knowing their strengths and weaknesses.
On the plus side, heels offer a great resource for stomping and thrust kicking (especially to the feet, shins, knees, and even groin). The problem is that they are a real hassle to run in, and offer very little in the way of grip and traction. Furthermore, it can sometimes be difficult to kick them off when in a panic and hurry without injuring oneself.
Modern sandals and flipflops suffer from some of the same problems. They provide little in the way of traction and can’t really be kicked off to any benefit (as in to distract an opponent). In fact, as you twist and turn in a grapple situation, they will likely get caught up in your toes and create additional pain.
Every other kind of shoe can be analyzed in this fashion, and should be if you intend to wear them regularly. This includes kung fu shoes, Vibrams, Crocs, and Ugg boots.
Final Thought – Reverse It!
So far all we’ve talked about is bringing the dojo out into real life. What about bringing real life into the dojo!? Of course I don’t suggest you start wearing shoes on your training floor because that is both a faux-pas and destructive to the floor, but that doesn’t mean you can’t train outside. Find some open space and feel what it’s like moving around, trying techniques, and gripping one-another in a non-dojo environment. Heck take it one step further and wear street clothes.
You may be interested in what you find, and at the very least it will be a fun change of pace!
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