I’m fortunate enough to find myself writing this post from Ocean City, Maryland. We are in a hotel called the Marigot and the accommodations have been stellar. During my stay here, I’ve ridden some waves (and been wiped out by some too), eaten some great seafood, and watched a bunch of people from our 11th story balcony. Is there anything more useful for a writer?
Yesterday, while chilling out on the balcony, I spotted two guys standing side by side…and bowing. I lifted a karate eyebrow and paid closer attention to them. Right before my eyes the two began performing kata seiunchin! I was pleased.
Allow me to apologize for not snapping any pictures of them, I was watching too closely to think of it at the time. It was actually a bold move on their part – they chose the middle of a crowded, public beach in the middle of the day to practice their karate. No doubt they were receiving some sidelong looks from people all around, but they proceeded anyway. Kudos to them.
Seiunchin is not practiced in my style of karate, but I’m familiar with it from my interactions with other martial artists and some of the video/book material I’ve encountered. It is an excellent kata utilized by styles such as Goju-Ryu and Isshin-Ryu.
As the two beach practitioners proceeded through the movements, I noticed the trademark deep stances and transitions used to undermine and off-balance opponents. Check out this video of Tatsuo Shimabukuro demonstrating the pattern -
As you can tell by Shimabukuro’s smooth movements, this kata can be done as mobile meditation, much like a tai chi chuan form; but it can also be “hardened” with more emphasis on hip movement and sharp strikes.
The strong sanchin dachi (stances) worked very well for the sand on the beach, as it did not dig the exponents in too hard, but provided a solid base.
The two beach karateka were helping improve each other’s technique, but I believe they were missing one very important part of training on the beach – the rhythm of their surroundings! Sensei Bill Hayes discusses beach training in his book My Journey With The Grandmaster and explains that Eizo Shimabukuro would use the sounds, sensations, and timing of the beach to adapt his kata. They would train the power of their kiai overtop waves and storms, and allow each step of their kata to be strengthened or relaxed by the flow of the waves.
Of course, the karateka I was watching couldn’t afford to rip kiai, lest they be escorted away by lifeguards. But I still think the point for them, for myself, and for anyone else considering beach training, is to try your best to forget the technique itself, and realize how it interacts with everything around you!
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This is a big-secret-revealed kind of post. The question – What are the two deadliest fists of karate?
Is it the seiken, or two-knuckle fist?
That would be a good guess. The seiken is used very heavily in most karate styles and can be an utterly devastating weapon. But that is not one of the two.
Is it the shuto, or knife hand?
This technique is also very common and embodies karate’s empty handed nature. The ridge end of a shuto strike can often be found breaking boards and roofing tiles in exhibitions. Unfortunately, this is also not one of the deadliest fists.
It must be the ippon nukite, or single finger?
The ippon nukite uchi, or single finger strike, can be extraordinarily unpleasant when used properly. The Bubishi refers to it as the “one blade of grass hand,” and anything that poetic has to be good. Used for jabbing into vital areas such as the eyes, ippon nukite is formidable…but not one of the two deadliest fists.
So what are the two??
Distancing and Timing.
The dual fists of distancing and timing are more deadly than any hand or foot formation ever devised by man. Now, I know what you’re thinking – “Matt, you cheated. You didn’t tell us you were going to use metaphor.” That’s true, I did cheat a little bit. But we learned something about fists anyway, right?
Distancing and timing are such an effective combination that the fanciest flying kick and the most bulldozing punch are helpless against them.
A practitioner who properly utilizes distance is able to maintain a zone of safety around himself/herself by avoiding attacks and cutting angles. When that same practitioner uses timing, he can then evade and intercept attacks as they happen. A person who masters distancing and timing can place themselves at the perfect distance away to strike their enemy, while knowing how much their enemy must move to strike them back.
While in that perfect distance, the expert exponent of timing can read his opponents intentions of attack – when the decision of attack is made, when the body begins to move, and when the body finally executes a technique. A proper counterattack can be made while the opponent is making decisions, while they are initiating attack, while the attack climaxes, or while the attack recoils and the opponent prepares his next attack.
It becomes a matter of when, not if.
Much more on distancing and timing later…because they REALLY ARE that important.
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I never had the chance to personally train with Seikichi Odo Sensei. This is very regrettable. But don’t we all feel that way about those seniors who have passed before us? I bet there are men who Odo Sensei would have loved to train with, but never got the chance. Luckily, I have had the chance to study with excellent instructors who spent extensive time with Odo Sensei, and who patiently entertain all of my inane questions. I have also had the luxury of pouring over tape of Odo Sensei training. Here are some observations for those inclined to learn more about those who came before us.
In these days of martial arts mayhem, it can be very difficult discerning who to trust and listen to. For example: who am I? Who cares? I’m not anybody of significance. But Odo Sensei was someone who was respected globally for his skill and contributions to the martial arts. He was commonly cited as one of the greatest weapons practitioners of his era. As Judan and successor to Nakamura Shigeru, Odo was responsible for the proliferation of Okinawa Kenpo. That’s significant.
Odo Sensei was also renowned for having a kind spirit. Of the many stories I’ve heard about him, they all revolve around the positive influence he had on training and growth.
One of Odo’s trademark characteristics was his penchant for courtesy and saving face. If a student were to ask him if they were doing a technique “right,” Odo would rather simply say yes than suggest they were doing something poorly. But if a student were to ask how Odosan did a technique or advice on ways to improve it, then he would feel comfortable teaching and transmitting knowledge. By behaving in this way, Odo Sensei not only taught students technique, but also ways of communicating with diligent reshiki.
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Odo Sensei’s techniques seem a bit odd to modern eyes. His body is very relaxed and his motions seem almost lackadaisical. These days many people fall into two camps – the traditional karate/taekwondo stances and strikes, or the free-range mma and judo scrap…neither of which resemble Odo’s “casual” approach.
Relaxation is key in arts such as Aikido, but even so-called hard arts utilize it at high levels. Odo Sensei was constantly integrating his karate to such a degree that his movements became the natural body language of his every day living. The focus of his strikes and techniques were sharp upon impact, but they were surrounded by motion that was so well practiced that it seemed nonchalant.
Here is a video of Odo Sensei engaged in one of his favorite activities – teaching.
It’s brief, I know. Unfortunately youtube footage of Odo Sensei is limited. Here he is teaching hakatsuru (or white crane) kata, a lesser known Okinawan form.
To me, Odosan embodies the unpretentious unity of martial arts into every day life. His karate was an expression of who he was, not of who he could hurt. While I’ll never know him personally, my pursuit to better understand him has led to deeper learning of Okinawa Kenpo. Isn’t it interesting how true teachers never stop teaching, even after their time on this earth is spent?
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