I’m very pleased to present this interview with Ann Marie Heilman, senior practitioner of Okinawa Kenpo Karate and Kobudo. Heilman Sensei has spent over 45 years training and leading the way for women in the martial arts.
In addition to being a skilled martial artist, Heilman Sensei is a formally educated psychology and special needs professional. She has been an important figure in teaching martial arts to at-risk children, abused women, and other individuals in volatile circumstances. She plays an integral leadership role in the International Karate Kobudo Federation and the long operating Heilman Karate Academy.
It was my pleasure to converse with Heilman Sensei about her past training experiences, views on women in the martial arts, and her responsibilities as a senior practitioner. Please enjoy the interview!
MA: Thank you again Heilman Sensei for agreeing to do an interview here. Let’s start at the beginning – when was the first time you set foot in a dojo or training environment?
AMH: I was a freshman at Albright College and Hidy Ochiai was a senior at the time. He was offering Judo Self Defense classes at the local Y. I was really interested in that, and had some personal safety concerns because one of my family members was being released from the state hospital (mental and behavioral problems). I signed up for it, hopped on a bus, and went down to the Y once a week for self defense training. This began in 1966.
The content of the course focused on street awareness and defense techniques (where to hit, how to hit, how to throw, etc). The basis of the class was on Judo methods, which I found challenging as a smaller woman.
It was a very good experience because Ochiai Sensei had endless patience with us. He always encouraged me to continue, even when the program was coming to an end. I was never sure if his encouragement came because he saw a spark of passion in me for the martial arts or if he thought I was so bad I needed lots more extra help, hahaha.
MA: Where did your training go from there?
AMH: As I mentioned Ochiai Sensei was a senior, so after his time was up at the university I had to seek training elsewhere. One day when I was in my dorm room a friend of mine named Rick Ulrich walked in and invited to take me to a local dojo operated by George Dillman.
I had no real knowledge of what karate was, but Rick and a few other friends were involved. I remember my first class there I had to go through something called a kata named “taikyoku one”. I remember thinking – this is kindof…odd. And I had a lot of problems with it. Coming from an inner city school I had almost no experience with gym classes or sports. To do something in a coordinated and physically organized fashion like that was hard.
MA: Were you tempted to quit at first due to the difficulty and unusual nature of the exercise?
AMH: I don’t think I knew at the time how hard it was for me and how bad I must have been. I didn’t know that I was struggling.
MA: Could you talk a bit about the curriculum at the Dillman School?
AMH: At the very beginning I didn’t realize that what we were doing was different from what other people were doing. However, over time I realized that our style of practice was connected to Isshin Ryu Karatedo. In time the name changed to Okinawa Kempo due to influence from Daniel K. Pai, however the content of the class didn’t change. Our training consisted of Isshin Ryu forms and sparring as well as some self defense.
Things were very tournament oriented at that time. I remember going to a national tournament in Indianapolis in 1969, which coincidentally is the first time I met one of the major figures in United States martial arts – Robert Trias.
MA: What was the climate of martial arts training like at that time?
AMH: Truthfully it was a very macho kind of environment. Practitioners were mostly men and the martial arts were still heavily connected to the military (considering the individuals who were bringing karate back from the East). There were so few women that we were a sort of novelty.
All the women I knew in training at that time were white belts. It wasn’t until I attended a tournament that I actually met a black belt woman named Bobbi Snyder. She was competing in the same ring as us because there was only one ring for women (white through black belt and regardless of age). Bobbi took first place in our kata division, and my roommate Linda took second.
Competitor Bobbi Snyder executing a self defense routine and her preferred performance kata, Chinto:
Linda and I were convinced this woman (Bobbi) was going to be standoffish and /or aggressive, but when we all met in the locker room after the competition she immediately joined us in conversation saying how glad she was to meet us. She really encouraged and supported us in our training and said how she was looking forward to watching us gain rank and skill.
She was a student of Glen Premru at the time, a very well known karateka in his own right located in Pittsburgh.
MA: You met your eventual husband, C. Bruce Heilman, at the Dillman School. Could you talk about that meeting?
AMH: I had been training at that dojo for about a year before Bruce came to town. He was from the Pittsburgh area but was serving an internship near Reading. He was already a Shodan under Hank Talbot when he arrived, which was in a style of Jujitsu developed by Dewey Deavers that featured a healthy mixture of tripping, throwing, and striking methods. The Deavers system was known as a hard knocks style that integrated ideas from other methods, including karate. As such, when Bruce arrived in the Dillman school he was honored as a black belt. Of course, he had to learn the kata before being recertified in our style.
When we first started we were side-by-side students. Of course, he had an unusual natural gift for these sort of things and it didn’t take him long to become one of the instructors there. He was a savant for kata and a very good fighter.
We were married in June of 1971, only about 9 months after meeting.
MA: Could you discuss how you eventually began to train under Robert Trias Sensei?
AMH: We reached out to Mr. Trias who we had known from tournaments for a number of years and expressed our interest in learning from him. He directed us to connect with his regional director, who as it turns out, was Hidy Ochiai. Since Bruce was a Nidan at that time Ochiai Sensei decided to test him, and subsequently made Bruce fight all the black belts in his dojo for hours. Bruce was loving it, and afterward we all went out for dinner and had a great time. Ochiai Sensei was instrumental in helping us with our East Coast training and keeping us connected to Trias Sensei.
Bruce and I established our own school in 1972 in the Reading area. For a few years we were focused on building the school and teaching while still learning from the USKA (Trias Sensei’s organization) members in the area. It was in the late 70s and early 80s that we actually studied with Trias Sensei directly.
It was also at this time that we participated in many seminars and got to meet some of the great American practitioners of the time.
MA: Could you talk about what training was like with Trias Sensei? How was it different/similar to what you did before?
AMH: It was really excellent, he was as good as his reputation suggested. Trias Sensei provided us with fantastic training and helped us understand what made karate work (or not work). He had keen insight into functionality, fighting, and kata interpretation. He was one of the best of his time.
One thing he pointed out to us fairly early was that we were not doing Okinawa Kenpo, even though that is what we were self-labeled through the Dillman School. He suggested that we travel with him to Okinawa in order to meet the headmaster of the style , Odo Seikichi. Of course we were a bit taken aback by this revelation, but Trias Sensei’s honesty and knowledge were part of his value as a teacher. He was rather strict in this regard; he told us that if we wanted to keep calling ourselves Okinawa Kenpo that it was our duty to meet the head of the style and learn his ways.
It took a few years for us to gather the funds and make arrangements, but in 1983 we eventually went with Trias to Okinawa, which turned out to be a huge turning point in our martial arts careers.
MA: You mentioned earlier that you, as a woman, were something of a novelty in the dojo. Could you discuss if that feeling persisted through the 70s and early 80s in the Trias Organization and martial arts world in general?
AMH: Trias Sensei himself was always very giving and open and honest. He would tell you what he thought you needed to do, but not in a hurtful way. Training within that organization was something that I found to be fairly inviting with a productive mindset during training.
MA: What were some of the problems you noticed in general (perhaps not specifically things that happened to you) for women of that era?
AMH: I think one of the biggest hurdles was the mindset of martial arts being “A good ‘ol boys club”. It was a time when women in general were struggling to gain a foothold in the business world. It was very difficult in the martial arts to get respect…you had to prove yourself. The men didn’t want to judge us, and only men judged.
One of the true stories of Bobbi Snyder was that she was very rankled by this idea of women being unable to judge. One day she walked up to a corner judge, tapped him on the shoulder, and informed him that he had an emergency phone call on the line that he needed to attend to. When he left, she promptly took the vacant judging spot. Naturally there was no phone call to be found.
She ended up judging and refused to give the flags back.
Another issue was actually finding space to compete. We only ever had one ring, and often it was pushed to the side away from the regular competition near the bleachers or even under the bleachers. By the time I was nearing black belt we really had to take a firm stand to be respected. I was innately a shy person so this was difficult for me.
It should be said that there were some really good men at this time as well, supportive and fair. I remember Ochiai Sensei was an instructor with a mindset of equality from the first time I met him, and even when I visited his dojo in later years he always had female students.
Another very important matter is that gay men and women of the time had very little protection in society, so they needed to learn how to protect themselves badly. Therefore, since there was a contingent of lesbian women in the martial arts, a stereotype developed amongst men that all women martial artists were lesbian. This developed into hurtful and derogative behavior toward women of both orientations, straight and gay alike.
It’s my pleasure to present this interview with Rory Miller. Mr. Miller is a rare and valuable resource for martial artists, law enforcement officers, and civilians alike looking to improve their understanding of violence.
Rory Miller has seventeen years of experience working in maximum security detentions, booking, and mental health facilities. He has been able to take that experience into the “classroom” where he has conducted many training sessions for professionals and civilians. Mr. Miller has developed a unique voice in the self defense community and is widely regarded for his ability to transmit not just technical knowledge but also insight into the emotional and psychological nature of violent acts.
Mr. Miller recently sat down for a video Q&A that explores some of his background and ideas regarding violence in the modern world. He discusses his early days studying judo and jujutsu as well as learning about physiology and taking his experience into the world of law enforcement (warning: some explicit language):
I was able to ask Mr. Miller some questions myself, aimed more toward his experience with traditional martial arts and what he’s learned that could help other TMA practitioners. Please enjoy!
MA: In the martial arts world there is sometimes a feeling of needing to “prove” one’s fighting skills and style by engaging in real combat, even sometimes seeking it out. This brings up an interesting conundrum – is seeking out real trouble necessary, and can it be reconciled with the ethical tenants in most arts of using violence only as a last resort?
RM: If you want to prove your fighting skills, or if you want to test yourself, there is boxing, judo, MMA, etc. These are fantastic. I think martial sports, particularly MMA, has evolved to semi-safely measure strength, speed, endurance, adaptability, intelligence, and skill. If that is what you are asking, no– there’s no need to seek trouble.
That said, until you get in trouble, you’ll never really grasp that it is a different problem than fighting skill.
It’s hard to explain. Everything physical you get from a martial sport will help you in a shitty situation. The only real problems are mental– the assumption that unexpected violence is the same as a match; the mindset that you must ‘win’ a ‘contest.’ The idea that it is a fight. The reliance on time to prepare or the expectations of what will or won’t happen…It’s not that one is right or wrong or that one is more intense than the other. My first use of force at the sheriff’s office was a skinny addict gang-banger. After training with college-level athletes for most of a decade, he felt like he was made of cheese.But, because you are taking it farther, under higher adrenaline, with both more chaos and fewer ‘knowns’ there are some things you will learn in real trouble that you simply can’t learn anywhere else. Some of it will validate your training, some will discredit it and a lot will explain some things that are useless for sparring work great in an ambush.
MA: You have experience in classical jujutsu as well as law enforcement. What lessons from jujutsu have you found most applicable to your law enforcement? On the flipside, what have you taken from law enforcement that helped you in jujutsu?
RM: I had the luck of starting with extraordinary trainers. My first judo coaches, Wolfgang Dill and Mike Moore were conditioning monsters who made it clear this was physics, not mysticism. So I spent most of my early career with college athletes, going hard, trying for perfect body mechanics– and they insisted it wasn’t real judo unless I could fight out of my weight class. That, especially expected and required to compete at least one and usually two weight classes up, was crucial. Jujutsu under Dave Sumner was another level. It wasn’t just a mixed martial art in the sense that it had take-downs, strikes, grappling, locking, gouging… it was also completely integrated. Strikes were part of the takedowns. One motion could simultaenously lock, strike, and throw. The o-soto-gari outside leg sweep that I learned in judo was modified by simple adjusting the angle of two limbs into a technique that took exactly the same amount of time, had the same throw, but also collapsed the trachea and blew out the knee.
So what I got from the classical JJ, was fantastic body mechanics, extremely efficient motion, an ability to deal with fast complicated attacks and a familiarity with damn near everything a bad guy can do.
What I got from working Corrections was perspective. Judo was a sport and jujutsu pre-dates the concept of force law so needing to justify each force incident made me understand the ethics. The fact that so many things happened so fast taught me to trust and understand how my subconscious works under stress. One physically obvious perspective shift– the hardest part of a judo match is getting into position for the hip and shoulder throws. It’s a chess match of timing and ruthless speed. I once had someone tell me that those throws were worthless in a real encounter because “you never turn your back on an enemy” and it made sense at the time. Thing is, though, that real enemies jump on your back. Not only was something that was deemed ‘worthless’ actually effective, the part that was hardest in training was given to you in real life.
MA: Your life experiences have helped you in understanding real life violence. In what ways have you helped traditional martial artists break bad assumptions or habits they have developed during their training which may actually get them hurt?
RM: No one understands real violence. Anything I’ve done is only a piece. You can be the most experienced doorman in the world but you will know nothing about how an infantry soldier feels or what a rape victim has experienced. You can be the world’s foremost expert on domestic violence and know almost nothing about predatory criminals or gang culture. It’s a big animal. I’m just a former jail guard. I know some things, like criminals, pretty well. Job circumstances required most incidents to be handled without weapons, which is closer to what most martial artists train. But outside of that, there are tons of things I don’t know. Currently a few of us are trying to coordinate a group of people with expertise in different parts of this subject. Can’t share details right now but it will be first hand information available nowhere else.
Martial artists break their own assumptions. I do help with some things. People tell you, “There are no rules in a streetfight,” but at the same time if you get a call from school saying your eight-year-old stabbed a kid who pushed him on the playground, you know well that he broke one of the streetfighting ‘rules.’ The model in “Facing Violence” and “Logic of Violence” help explain that there are different types of violence with different rules. What is completely appropriate for a home invasion is ridiculously overkill for taking the keys away from a drunk friend. Once the martial artists see the context, actually look at the problem, they can make informed decision about where their system fits. How to apply it and when not to. If I’ve done anything for the martial arts community it is simply describing the problem, creating a lexicon so we are talking about the same thing and introducing a few drills. Making it useful will always be on the students, on the people who adapt the knowledge.
MA: One piece of advice you provide is not to keep training generic, but to actually think about the kind of threat profile a person may face. For individuals who have never attempted such a mental exercise, could you give some basic advice for how to implement that into training?
RM: Yeah, but you probably won’t like it. The “Logic of Violence” DVD, by the way, is an attempt to video the class that covers this.
There are only a handful of types of interpersonal violence. I’m going to leave domestic violence out of this, because it’s a big subject and easy to confuse. Basically, social violence is about group dynamics and centers around membership, territory, status and rules. If a stranger comes to your house to tell you you are a crappy father, you’ll get angry. And, because of the group identity, often your victim will get angry, defend you and attack the police. Insiders versus outsiders. Territory and status range from, “What are you lookin’ at, asshole?” to “You lookin’ at my girl?” Rules enforcement violence ranges from a spanking to an execution, from a look when someone is rude to “I’m gonna teach you a lesson, boy.” All of these are predictable and avoidable.
Predatory violence breaks down two ways– resource predators need money, usually for drugs and they want it as quickly and safely as possible. A process predator wants the joy of causing pain and making someone beg.
So with the exception of relations you stay in (one of the reasons I avoid DV here) the social violences are avoidable. I’ll go so far as to say that if you want to use your mad martial arts skillz against a social level of attack (which most closely mirrors the dueling or sparring paradigm) you actually have to be an ass to trigger it.
For predatory violence, you are targeted when you have a resource the bad guy wants (money, say, or sex or even the kind of face that a bully thinks he can make cry) and he thinks he can get away with it.
Basically, and this is the part most martial artists don’t want to hear – the average guy who is really into martial arts will be or become fit and alert. They become the kind of person who will never be targeted for the things they train. Not unless they are asses or actively seek it. And even then, it won’t be the perfect fantasy. A drunk college kid in a Monkey Dance, maybe.
The people who most need the training are the ones who won’t seek it. That’s both cause and effect. Women are targeted for more predatory crimes, and more horrible ones, than men. Geriatrics are more vulnerable to bad guys than young athletes. Your victim profile if you are a young, fit martial athlete? Damn near nothing, unless you are stupid, arrogant and/or socially inept. Stupid people can and will get in trouble despite any amount or quality of training.
MA: The phrase “I’d rather be tried by twelve than carried by six” is common and popular in martial arts circles these days. The main idea is that worrying about legalities and levels of force will result in a cluttered mind and ultimately a lost fight. Could you discuss your take on this?
RM: If it were a binary choice, I’d have no problem with the phrase. But it is not a binary choice. Would you rather stab yourself in the leg with a knife or hit yourself in the hand with a hammer? How about neither To keep it simple, and I will try not to rant – we all know that there are potential legal consequences to a force decision. Every reasonably intelligent adult knows that. Since they already know, they will worry. So the question becomes which will make you freeze less: a worry where you are ignorant or a worry where you aren’t? Knowing and training with respect to SD law is just common sense. Anyone who says it clutters the mind or limits your options or… is probably entirely ignorant of what the law actually is.
My experience is that almost everyone who says that phrase is ignorant of self-defense law, doesn’t teach it, and needs a quick soundbite to make ignorance sound like a reasonable choice.
That said, something to think about: I don’t teach SD Law as a decision making class. With a few (predictable) exceptions, all reasonably good citizens will make good choices. But these will be so fast and subconscious that it is kind of silly to pretend that there is a flow chart. You teach the class first to find glitches. If anyone has problems with the law (and if you present what the law actually says, that is very rare) you can find a point where they will freeze and you can work on that. The focus on the class is on articulation. How to explain a decision that may have been super-fast and subconscious. To put it simply, criminals practice lying to the police and civilians don’t practice telling the truth. Practice matters and a skilled criminal can convince people you were the bad guy. You need to be able to convince people that you were the good guy. And you need to know when to talk and with whom.
MA: Over the years you have developed a skill for making small joint locking work on even big, non-compliant opponents. What do you think is key when utilizing these kinds of techniques?
RM: The biggest key is ‘gifts’. I never put locks on people. They hand me the lock and I finish it. My judo coaches used to say that there is no way for a human to stand or move without being vulnerable to a throw. You just had to recognize the vulnerability and apply the right throw with ruthless speed. It’s the same with locks. A bent elbow hands you the shoulder lock. A straightening arm hands you the elbow. In a scuffle people put their open fingers in the palm of your hand all the time. Should have a video about this coming out from YMAA later this year.
MA: You’ve always trained your body hard and have experienced years of physical contact incidences. While most martial artists won’t experience your level of rigor, are there any pieces of advice you could give (now looking back) on how to avoid injury?
RM: Not really. Everyone that trains hard eventually winds up as a little bundle of injuries. Play hard, pay hard. The people that like playing at that level generally don’t listen when the old guys say, “You’re gonna regret that in a few years.” So, I would say all the same things and the people who need to hear it won’t listen. Memory loss from concussions, blurry eye from a gouge, arthritis in the broken fingers, hands go numb when I sleep from all the shoulder dislocations, even light training in a massive knee brace… may seem like a heavy price at the end of my forties. But I’m in my forties, so, yay. If you’re training for fun, injuries aren’t fun. If you’re training for health, joint problems down the road are counter-productive. If you’re training for a deeper understanding, micro-concussions are a problem.
One piece of advice: train your body to its limits. As far as you can go without injury. Train like a strong young athlete. But train your mind and techniques like you are old, decrepit and sneaky.
MA: You’ve built out an excellent catalogue of resources to help citizens and martial artists understand the law and violence better. Individuals just getting acquainted with your work may not know where to start. Could you provide a brief description of soem of your books/dvds and who they might benefit most?
|“Violence: A Writer’s Guide” is an introduction to the world of violence. To the parts that people don’t understand. The parts that books and movies get wrong. Not just the mechanics, but how people who live in a violent world think and feel about what they do and what they see done. $13.49 (subject to change)|
|“Meditations on Violence” is a core dump. It is a big psychic vomit. At the end of an interesting year for the first time, things weren’t processing. Martial arts training had always been a mental sanctuary but it wasn’t working. So I started writing just to get things out of my head. Kris Wilder sent it to a publisher. If the readers want a pretty raw, emotional contrast between the world and the training hall, this is a good place to start. Book – $14.03 (subject to change)|
|“Facing Violence” is an expansion of a single section (two paragraphs?) of “Meditations on Violence.” Violence is not just the fight. It has a purpose and a lead up and a context and consequences. “Facing” delineates those and gives some advice on what to do about it. I think it is the most practical book I’ve written. DVD – $24.95 (subject to change)|
|“Force Decisions” is probably the most important book I’ve written and the one no one will read. We live in a very safe liberal democracy, where officers are authority figures in a culture where it is acceptable to question authority. A place where we try to solve or limit the problems of crime and violence by making a profession that specializes in facing those problems. And the line of misunderstanding between the officers and the citizens has gotten dark. I had no problem with citizens questioning my force decisions. I was using force on their behalf. But I did have an issue if the objections were emotional and suggested no better options. So, “Force Decisions” is a book for citizens on how and why officers use force. And few will read it, because they have already made an emotional decision about whether cops are good or evil and will never dare get some facts that might change their beliefs. Book – $13.21 (subject to change)|
|“Scaling Force” was Lawrence Kane’s concept. Most martial arts (or SD derived from martial arts) actually use a very limited range of options. Karate punches and kicks don’t really have good options for calming down Uncle Bob at Thanksgiving dinner. Pure shooters are only equipped for deadly force encounters. Locking specialists may be surprised if the threat is not feeling pain… and so on. So we wanted an introduction to the options everyone should have skill in, from presence and verbal up to deadly force. The chapters on presence and verbal, by the way, are pretty unique. Book – $12.86 (subject to change)|
MA: “The Dream is damned and Dreamer too if Dreaming’s all that Dreamers do” – Is this a quote you developed or that you found somewhere else? Why did you choose this as the motto of your blog?
RM: It’s the only thing I’ve ever written that I think qualifies as poetry. The basic truth is that no one becomes amazing by sitting on his ass, watching videos, reading books and listening to podcasts. You want to become extraordinary, you have to go do stuff. That simple. If all you do is dream and you never work, you contribute nothing to the world.
MA: My audience consists of mostly traditional martial artists. Are there any parting words you’d like to leave them with to help nudge them onto a path of real life protection?
RM: Explore. Be curious. Play. Don’t be surprised if some of the old stuff you don’t use in sparring turns out to be critical in ambushes. The old stuff arose in very violent times and most of it was good. Things fall apart in the misunderstandings and the training methods And take a look at how you train. If your art is truly designed to be efficient, shouldn’t your teaching methods be equally efficient? If it takes years to get good at something effective, that is almost always an indication it is being taught inefficiently.
This is a continuation of the interview with Ronald Lindsey, Shihan. Lindsey Sensei is a senior in Matsumura Seito karate of the Hohan Soken lineage. Lindsey Sensei is a military veteran and author of Okinawa no Bushi No Te, a comprehensive examination of karate history and Matsumura Seito concepts. In Part 1 Lindsey Sensei discussed his early experiences on Okinawa, Hohan Soken’s students, Matsumura Seito history, and more. In Part 2 Lindsey Sensei continues discussing his experiences with seniors like Kuda Yuichi and Odo Seikichi, and what it was like bringing karate back to the United States.
In this video Lindsey Sensei demonstrates a series of Matsumura Seito fighting concepts:
Q: You’ve seen Matsumura Seito spread out over the course of a generation. What do you think of the developments and changes or lack thereof?
What you have to understand is that Okinawan teachers and culture did not have a longing need to preserve a style 100% as it was. Instead they follow a principle known as suhari.
Suhari (su-ha-ri)….su means that the first time period (5 years, 10 years, time varies with the individual) you emulate your teacher and try to make everything exactly like him or her. Then the “ha” is another time period. During this time it is natural for you to make some changes according to what you need and can do as long as it doesn’t violate the principles of the ryu. The “ri” is when everything becomes automatic and it just “boom” happens. Really Suhari is the natural way of doing things.
This used to really bother me. I knew my kata were drifting from what I learned in Okinawa, which was natural since I was built different than an Okinawan. Over a period of time my kata became my kata although I try to keep them like Soken Sensei did, especially in principle the kata will change some what. Anybody who says they are doing Hohan Soken’s kata are not really telling the truth. They think they are, but kata drift according to what their body can do the best. This is not to mention the age factor which also alters the kata. When Hohan Soken died, his style died. The principles and how they can be applied are still alive, but my kata became uniquely mine and so it is with all karateka.
Q: How did you come to meet Yuichi Kuda Sensei and did you train extensively with him?
I knew him in Okinawa and trained with him; but, I really started studying under him when I got directly involved with his organization (we were all Matsumura Seito). Kuda SEnsei blended Okinawa Kenpo with Shorin Ryu Matsumura Seito to found Shorin Ryu Matsumura Kenpo. I actually switched from Fusei Kise’s kata to Yuichi Kuda’s kata one afternoon; my senior student Charles Tatum and I switched once we saw how Kuda was teaching and performing his kata.
Fusei Kise is a brilliant tactician and his fighting techniques are very good. Kata-wise he does a bit of blending, and shortcuts, and his own “thing”. On the other hand Kuda Sensei was very precise and his teachings were very precise. He was not as flamboyant and flashy, but nevertheless he had really good fighting techniques too. Kuda Sensei was a bigger physical person than Sensei Kise which suited me well since I am also a big person.
It’s important to note that although there were differences between their methods, at a high level they were executing very similar concepts. When you hear these heated arguments about small details, this teacher did it such and such a way vs. the way of another teacher, it really misses the point of what the teachers were doing. They are merely executing Suhari.
One thing I think a lot of people are missing in their training is the experience of seeing the old masters train on their own. When teachers like Kuda Sensei and Kise Sensei trained on their own it was different then when they taught classes. They would ad lib and add different timings, alter techniques and other similar principles.
In the old days kata was a live thing, not meant to be set in concrete. It was a set of principles that could be tweaked and used to explore and teach and learn. In addition, using the concepts of the kata the teacher would optimize it to each individual. He would walk behind and around you and make mental drawings of your procedures and how you stand, etc. and how it could be optimized to you. Their methods would make you stronger just by correcting your kata.
Q: When you returned to the United States did you begin developing a school and association right away? If so, what were some difficulties you experienced at the time?
I noticed in the United States that there was a lot of focus on getting quick promotion. There was a big mindset (and still is) of wanting to get a one up on someone else. The problem with a lot of organizations is that they are not really organizations, they are cults. I did not do that.
We had a quality standard and I wanted people to meet that standard. Rank has a tendency to devalue over time and become worthless if there are no high standards being met. I tended to bring Okinawan Sensei over and we held a large camp to spread the cost and make it affordable for everyone involved. Not too many other people wanted to do that because they wanted extended personal time with the sensei instead of sharing that time. There was a lot of ego involved with spending time with the sensei. All of these ego trips made it difficult to teach traditional karate.
Q: When did you meet and train with Odo Seikichi Sensei? Could you talk a bit about your experiences with him and what you were able to learn from him?
I met him when I was on Okinawa and trained with him for a while there. I got to the point where I was ready to test for Sho Dan in Nago (the location of Nakamura Shigeru’s dojo), but I was already a black belt so I couldn’t see the point in getting another one.
When I trained with Odo Sensei I wasn’t so concerned about emulating his physical technique specifically, but I liked his mental attitude and the way he treated his students. He would encourage you and would always be in good spirits. He said things like “don’t try TOO hard”, or “take it easy”. One thing he really liked to say was “kill him a little bit”, and that meant to slow down, learn the technique right, and focus on quality over raw speed or power. He was a true gentleman.
Q: How did training on Okinawa when you were there differ from what individuals might experience nowadays?
One very key difference is the military factor. If you were in the Army, Marine Corps and Navy in Okinawa you had to take, twice a year, a combat proficiency test. You trained continuously to get ready for that test which was of course getting ready for the act of combat. We started our work day way before dawn. We conducted the army ‘daily dozen’ and then finished that with a 4 mile run. After that we went to work for the US Military; at the end of our military work day, we repeated the Army Daily Dozen and the four mile run. Then we went to karate training for a number of hours. We did this five to six days a week. If you were in the Marine Recon you did a 20 mile run every day.
Going over to train in Okinawa now is less strenuous. Today visiting students don’t get up before dawn and undergo vigorous work outs before day light. Their training is different from what we did some 40 to 50 years ago. We lived a Spartan lifestyle.
Okinawan GIs (American Service men during the 1950’s, 1960’s and early 1970’s) were on the island at a special time. There were masters on the island who trained directly with older masters who were, in fact, Samurai (Shizoku). What was learned by them and initially passed down to us was the old art. That time is now gone. According to men like Kuda Yuichi and Nakaza Seiei there is more old karate now in the United States then there is in Okinawa, tucked away with the Okinawan GIs. Okinawa Sensei are now much more focused on business and sport karate. There are just a few teaching old karate and you’d be hard pressed to find them.
Q: In a lot of modern dojo we often hear the term “oss” or “osu” used. Did you detect a lot of that on Okinawa?
We never heard it on Okinawa. It was not said on Okinawa when I was there. I asked Kuda Sensei about it one time because we had a number of Shito Ryu people at one of our camps and they were doing a lot of oss-ing. Kuda Sensei said it was ok if they wanted to do it and that it just meant “hi”. I also asked Shimabukuro Zenpo, Tomoyose Ryuko, and several others all of whom said that it was not a term the Okinawan masters used.
Q: You recently released a book called “Okinawa no Bushi no Te”. Could you tell us a little bit about this work and what readers might gain from it?
The book started to be written shortly after I got back from Okinawa in 1970. I started gathering historic material while I was in Okinawa because I wanted to learn the history. I am somewhat of an amateur military historian. In my civilian job I was in the agricultural extension service, which meant I wrote thousands of newsletters and newspaper articles and pamphlets. I have written a lot of stuff over the years. Previously I had written a karate magazine for a while called “Maishin Shorinji” which was all educational. I tried to steer clear of politics and saying bad stuff about anybody because there is nothing to be gained by doing this. I tried to focus on history. Of course, there will be people who will disagree with my history and findings, and that’s totally fine. The thing about Okinawan history is that it greatly depends on who you get it from, depending on how they slant that history, and what they want you to know. All you can do is present the facts as best you can.
So I had all this material, boxes and boxes, some of it was no more than slips of paper or research notes. I got it all out and sorted into subject matter piles and reduced it down and organized it. Then I took that information and created something coherent. The book itself is divided into two main parts: first is history. I go into who the Bushi class were that developed karate and kobujutsu. Then I discuss the warriors themselves, including Matsumura Sokon and his lineage down to Hohan Soken.
The second half of the book is called “My Walk with Matsumura”. This involves more of my own personal history on Okinawa and in Matsumura Seito. I broke this second section down into four major strategies that in my opinion are essential to the learning of any martial art. These are:
* Kokoro no heiho – proper mental attitude and spirit.
* Minari no heiho – strategy of appearance. This is about what the kata is trying to teach us.
* Maai no heiho – strategy of combat distance.
* Chushin no heiho – strategy of the center.
I include a lot of little stories about warfare and how these strategies have been used and how they relate to kata and martial arts.
I never like to get too bogged down when I’m writing. I kept the book simple and wrote it to be what it is: an old man telling stories in a way that you can read and understand and retain. It is user friendly.
Q: Where can people go to get this book?
Generally I will autograph the book and write a little something in there. I try to get the book out the day after I receive an order.
Q: What could you tell the next generation of karateka to help them preserve the essence of Okinawan karate and kobudo as you have come to understand it?
In terms of passing the arts to the next generation…there are a lot of people who studied in Okinawa but have not contributed much after they left the island. They have not produced high quality students, or they have taken long extended breaks in training and then come back and want you to treat them with respect. Hell…they have moved back toward a beginner, not forward! Maintaining training and contributing to the next generation is key to becoming a true karate senior.
In terms of advice, I would have to say this – you cannot learn every kata invented, so don’t try. Find a school and learn the core curriculum. Knowing 25-30 kata does not mean you know 25-30 times more than a person who knows less kata. We (including myself) have made the mistake of trying to learn too many kata. Learn a few kata well instead of many halfway. Be stubborn and do not quit.
Thank you very much Lindsey Sensei for your great insights and stories!
To hear more from Lindsey Sensei visit “Tales From the Western Generation”. This book contains extensive interviews with a number of senior karateka.