Showing posts from August, 2008

The origins of goju-ryu kata: Part 2

Continued from Part 1 of this article.

Factors that might explain the “traditional” or “standard” history of goju-ryu

There is a tendency for martial artists to venerate the past and play down innovation. It is tradition that gives legitimacy.

In goju-ryu we are told that Chojun Miyagi passed down an art form established by his teacher Kanryo Higaonna. Yet everything indicates that Miyagi was an innovator and set the benchmark - not Higaonna, however skilled and knowledgeable the latter might have been. We know that Miyagi introduced tensho, his own sanchin and the gekisai. We know he performed his kata very differently from Higaonna, emphasising dynamic tension, closed fists etc. The art of goju-ryu was named by him. He is the one who is recognized as the "founder" of the system, not Higaonna. There must be a reason for this.

The "standard" history is not backed up by any technical or historical comparison with tou'on ryu, goju's sister art. Furthermore, Fuj…

Whole lotta shakin': pre-loading the hips

There is a tendency in some schools of karate today to perform a particular "hip load" on most kata techniques, sometimes known as "Yamaneryu koshi/hip vibration" after a particular school of kobudo which practises this method.

An example of this hip movement in karate can be found in the video below of Aragaki Sochin kata, performed by Aragaki Isumu, a descendent of the Aragaki Seisho and a student of the late Master Higa Yuchoku of Shorinryu:

The level of skill shown by Aragaki Isumu in using his hips is indeed high: many karateka cannot do this despite the fact that an ability to control one's hips is central to the practice of karatedo. I have certainly spent a great deal of time isolating and practising hip movement.

Yet I disagree with the particular direction taken by this school of "hip use". Why? As you might have gathered, my objection isn't to hip use per se, but its use in kata - and in particular its use for each technique. It is, in …

How is MMA different from "real fighting"?

I’ve often heard it said that while modern “mixed martial arts” type tournaments (including UFC and Pride) are not real fighting, they are “about as @#$% close as you can get”.

It is certainly true that these sports (which I shall collectively label “MMA”) have a far higher level of “intensity” than many traditional martial arts. And by reference to “intensity” alone, MMA is clearly closer to real fighting than, say, a taekwondo competition. Taekwondo competition is in turn more “realistic” in its “intensity” than an aikido competition, and so on.

So the question arises – is MMA “so close to real fighting that it might as well be the same thing"?

From what I saw as a prosecutor the answer is no - not in terms of its dynamics (what actually happens, how it plays out, what tactics and techniques are used, etc.). [Note: this is very distinct from saying "MMA doesn't prepare you for defence" etc.] Let me elaborate:

In my article “Civilian defence systems” I gave the exa…

Changing kata

Recently a colleague posed the following question:

Do you "purists" for lack of a better term believe that the small minute changes make that much difference? If miyagi stepped here rather than there, had his foot pointed this way rather than that or whatever will actually change the bulk of what the kata was designed to teach?

An interesting question. A lot of people adopt quite a "fundamentalist" view of traditional martial arts, where I think technical deconstruction reveals a great deal of "flexibility" in terms of how particular moves should be performed.

For example in shisochin there is a sequence of 4 moves where you do a gedan barai (downward sweeping block) followed by a teisho uchi (palm heel strike).

My brother Nenad demonstrates an "entering" application of the shisochin "teisho" sequence at our 1993 festival

In all but one instance (the 3rd) the "teisho" moves are evasive in the sense that you are moving away from a…

Variations in ude tanren - forearm conditioning

For most of my martial arts career I have known (and practised, on and off) the orthodox kote kitae or "ude tanren" - forearm conditioning. An example can be found here and below:

Master Higaonna Morio and Sensei Falcone practising orthodox kote kitae

A variant on the theme can be found here.

Without wishing to go into the merits or necessity of forearm conditioning to any great extent in this article, I would like to point out that I feel some conditioning is essential for karate blocks. While I admire the conditioning of many of my goju colleagues, I prefer a slightly "softer" approach which I feel is consistent with my approach to "blocking" generally.

Accordingly I have always wanted to combine ude tanren with movements that:
(a) apply the same movement that karate blocks apply (which to my mind is more of a deflection than a hard "blocking" movement (see my article "Why blocks DO work"); and
(b) actually condition the arm with the app…

Civilian defence systems


It was in the late '80s in South Africa where I first heard my teacher Lao Tze Bob Davies describe what he taught as a "civilian defence system". At the time I paid little attention. It seemed nothing more than another variant on the term "self-defence", perhaps with some extra resonance because of its contrast with the military training undertaken by conscripts in the apartheid regime's armed forces. However over the intervening years I have had occasion to consider this term in greater detail and I am finally starting to understand its import. I now see that the significance of "civilian defence system" is two-fold. It serves to distinguish what we do from military methodology; that much is clear. But it also serves to distinguish our methodology from sports.

The dynamics of sport or military fighting disciplines are significantly different to those of civilian defence. These differences have nothing short of a profound effec…

Why are my karate punches more like boxing punches when I hit shields and bags?

These questions were once put to me by a Shotokan karateka:

"I would just like to ask your opinion. When I use the kick shields, the kick take the same form on the shields as they do in fresh air. However, whenever I use the focus mitts or bag. I seem to use more of a boxing style punch.

By this I mean. jabs, straight right/left, and hooks. Now I know we can call them kizami-zuki, gyaku-zuki and mawashi-zuki. But its the way in which I strike the pad. Using the shoulder, plenty of hip and up on the balls of my feet. Also I breath through my nose. I feel very comfortable in striking this way and I can hit the pads/bags quiet hard.

However, this is contradictory to the way I train and teach karate punches. Shoulders down, using the back muscles. Same hip movement, but heel down pushing to the floor. And breathing through the mouth.

We do have access to makiwara. The Goju-ryu boys use these all the time. I have used one in the past, only for a short while. I do not use one now because …