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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With the holidays coming up, there are a couple of things going on around the site that I’d like to keep you up on. This is just a quick little interlude between regular articles.
As a reminder, there is currently a contest going on. The fine people at MMA Zone offered up some pretty cool prizes to give away to fans of ikigaiway. In order to be entered into the drawing, all you have to do is leave a comment here on the site, on facebook, or on twitter (see the contest page for more details).
For anyone looking for Christmas gift ideas, a company I work with called Mokuso Martial Arts Supplies is running a pretty great deal. They sell custom fitted, high quality uniforms from the Tokyodo Company in Japan.
From November 14th, to December 1st, Mokuso is offering a 10% discount on the Tokyodo Dogi Line. Built on top of an imbedded 5% discount,this makes for a rare deal (15% off compared to the Japanese retail prices). Available on AT-Series, K(b)-10, HR-series, SP-1000 and the WKF-Series. Input coupon code ‘kerstfeest’ at checkout.
Also TBO Tech is running a special specifically for ikigaway fans. At the checkout for any purchase you make input the coupon code ‘ikigai’ for 10% off your purchase. This is a great chance to get a self defense item you’ve been thinking about for yourself or a loved one that needs a little extra protection.
I’d like to wish everybody State-Side a happy Thanksgiving – I hope you and your families have a safe and enjoyable holiday. To everyone not indulging in the turkey event, have a great week all the same.
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Don’t believe me? It’s true I tell you! The Okinawans had both grappling and wrestling. They called it tegumi, and if you do karate you do it too (whether you know it or not).
Imagine for a second a culture that, for as long as anyone can remember, has placed an emphasis on combat training. A culture that has acted as a sea-hub for various other countries that had their own ideas and concepts about fighting. A culture that was banned of its militaristic weaponry.
Now imagine that same culture saying…we will ignore your close fighting range. You go away now.
It simply wouldn’t have happened, and it didn’t happen. In fact, wrestling has been a part of Okinawan culture for much longer than what we now know as karate.
What Was Tegumi Originally?
Tegumi has often been described as a form of Okinawan Sumo. When people hear the term Sumo they naturally envision the Japanese variety, wherein two giant, rotund men push and slap each other out of a ring (which is an awesome event, don’t get me wrong).
Unfortunately, Okinawans have never been built the same way. They simply don’t grow that large. Okinawan Sumo instead resembled more of a wrestling match. There were no established rings or ‘dojo’ for tegumi matches; they happened more frequently wherever flat, safe ground could be found. In order to win, one participant had to trip/throw, control, and ultimately pin his opponent’s back to the ground.
As there were no Nintendo’s at the time, this activity was quite popular, especially among the younger men and boys.
How it Became More Than a Sport
As it was, tegumi was mildly useful from a combative perspective. However, the Okinawans were also in the process of developing a more serious combative method derived from Chinese influence mixed with indigenous ideas. They called it Ti (or te), and the wrestling every Okinawan boy grew up with was subsequently integrated into the larger whole.
Where the sporting aspect of tegumi was mostly about leverage and off-balancing (aspects the Okinawans would not discard), the combative tegumi began to integrate poking, pulling, proding, pinching, small joint locks, gauging, and all variety of other nasty things. Tegumi was dirty in-fighting because the Okinawans realized that only a portion of life protection combat involved punching and kicking.
To spice things up even more, they began to integrate their tegumi with tuite and kyusho (vital point striking). They realized that as distances closed from punching/kicking range to grappling range, there was a variety of unpleasant technique-series they could utilize to setup, off-balance, and incapacitate their opponents.
Why it Went Away
A few generations ago (around 1905) karate was beginning to make its way into the Okinawan school system. The Okinawan masters charged with teaching children realized that all the devastating and permanently damaging techniques true karate entailed would not be safe in the hands of adolescents. After all, it would be very tempting for children to use their techniques in times of anger, or pride, or curiousity.
Azato, Itosu, and the other caretakers of karate thus decided to de-emphasis the tegumi and kyusho aspects and focus more on the physical fitness elements of stancing, punching, kicking, blocking, etc. Funakoshi Gichin (of Shotokan) found himself in a similar boat when first introducing karate to mainland Japan (remember, Funakoshi Sensei was invited to Japan as part of a physical education program and began his teaching at universities).
The activity of tegumi as a sport still lingered amongst the Okinawan populace, but as a method of combat it began to fade away. Many of the students both in Okinawa and Japan grew up not knowing about tegumi, or that a wrestling/grappling component even existed in their karate art. That lack of training was passed on to their students all the way down to us.
Why It’s Coming Back
Not every karateka on Okinawa was involved in teaching the public school system. Furthermore, teachers like Azato and Itosu didn’t just teach school children. Multiple instructors on the island were able to maintain a few private students on their own and pass on the ways of kyusho, tuite, and tegumi. That generation was able to keep the traditions alive.
One man in our current generation has done significant work to bring about public awareness of tegumi, and his name is Patrick McCarthy. Anyone who talks about tegumi, including myself, is likely influenced by McCarthy Sensei’s deep research and investigation. McCarthy Sensei has even developed complex training routines based off of the trapping, locking, and off-balancing aspects he has discovered over the years.
Tegumi is receiving even more attention recently with the increased popularity in jujutsu, brazilian jujutsu, and mixed martial arts. Martial artists are realizing the power and importance of clinching and ground fighting and are taking more active steps in at least becoming competent in those arenas.
Where is Tegumi?
Hidden in your kata of course. That is, the core principles and applications are buried in your kata from times well before application was watered down for the school system. In order to start accessing tegumi applications, you first must take off your niceness-gloves. Instead of punching and kicking, you have to develop the mindset of gauging eyes, grasping the throat, twisting skin, fish hooking, etc. From their you’ll notice your techniques become more open handed and more flowing one into the next.
Examine the core principles of movement and how your body changes in relationship to your opponents. Don’t turn away from an opponent during bunkai, take them with you on a throw or takedown. Find out what happens if you go to the ground with them. Most of all, have fun exploring and keep an open eye for ideas from other people, whether they are from karate, jujutsu, or anything else.
My best on your continued journey!
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