Showing posts from 2013

The face of Azato

Gichin Funakoshi is well known as having had two teachers: Yasatsune (Anko) Azato and Yasatsune (Anko) Itosu.

As I pointed out in my previous article, the adjacent group photo shows Funakoshi (already a karate master in his own right) and some school students just before a demonstration to Prince Hirohito in 1921.  I have tentatively concluded (see my previous argument) that it is Funakoshi's teachers - Azato and Itosu - who are shown in the inserts (as was custom, particularly when you consider that the photo was used by Funakoshi in his 1922 book "Ryukyu kempo").

This leaves only one real question, and this is who is Azato and who is Itosu?

Having just deduced (with, I think, good reason) that the person in the right insert must be Itosu, it follows that the person on the left is Azato.  In other words, we have, for the first time, a reasonably identifiable picture of Anko Azato!

He is certainly quite distinct from the drawings we've previously seen  (see on the le…

The face of Itosu

Few karate masters have exerted as much influence as Yasatsune "Anko" Itosu (1831 – 11 March 1915) - the alleged creator of the pinan kata and possibly the naihanchi series; teacher of such luminaries as Gichin Funakoshi, Choki Motobu, Chomo Hanashiro, Chotoku Kyan, Shinpan Shiroma, Choshin Chibana and Kenwa Mabuni - among many others.

It would be fair to say that, while his legendary teacher Sokon Matsumura is regarded as the start point of the Suidi or Shorin school of karate, the real "father" of this school was Itosu.

I will let you read Tom Ross's excellent articles on concerning the man and his legacy.  I also invite you to read my article on the Channan kata and on the origins of Naihanchi.

But what did Itosu look like?  Is the picture to the right really him?

Until 2006 the only images we had of Itosu were drawings - and conflicting ones at that.  Specifically there were 3 main ones to be found on the net.

Two seemed quite similar, depi…

Nelson Mandela: the greatest fighter of all

It is strange that I was in South Africa on a training visit only a matter of weeks before the release of Nelson Mandela on 11 February 1990.  I am ashamed to say that at the time I had only a vague idea of who he was and what he stood for.

Moreover, what little I did know was largely inaccurate.

Like many whites living in South Africa in the late 70s and early 80s, the only information I had concerning Nelson Mandela was that he was a "terrorist" - and an unrepentant one.  I had heard that he had been offered chances for release on the condition that he renounce violence, but these he had refused.  On this basis, his continued incarceration seemed entirely reasonable.

I first arrived in South Africa on 30 November 1976, my father (a civil engineer) having gone there for work. I was to stay a total of 8 years in an environment that can best be described as "carefully stage managed": a kind of "Stepford Wives meets Truman Show" world of stately homes, m…

7 basic rules for pivoting


Readers might recall that last year I wrote a piece titled "A pivotal question" - an essay where I analysed where and when one should pivot on the ball of foot versus the heel.

In that essay I noted that most of the time we martial artists pivot on the ball of the foot.  Why?  Principally for two reasons: balance and "power".  This sentiment is echoed by Lucio Maurino sensei in the video below (one that is embedded in Jesse Enkamp's recent article covering this issue):

But really, judging by the comments on Jesse-san's article I really don't get any sense that people are aware of where and when it might be appropriate to pivot on the heel - which is something I've previously covered.  Some insist that it is never appropriate, while others insist on defending their own particular tradition.  But relatively few seem to accept that both ball of foot and heel are appropriate pivot points depending on one's objective.

Indeed it never cea…

The "battle stance" of xingyi

Stances: the foundation of traditional martial arts

Four years ago, almost to the day, I wrote an article about the function of stances in traditional martial arts.  At the time I was pleased to see that my piece met with a fairly universal positive reaction in traditional martial circles - regardless of style.

I suspect this is because almost all traditional martial arts share the same stances (more or less) and these are used  for pretty much the same pedagogic reasons:

You have a forward (or bow) stance, a reverse stance, a cat stance, a horse stance, a twisted stance and, from southern China and Okinawa, "sanzhan/sanchin" - an hourglass stance.  While there are a host of other less common stances, for the most part these constitute nothing more than minor variations of, or transitions between, the previously-mentioned stances.

The "odd man out": xingyi's principle stance

But what if there were a stance that seemingly "bucked the trend"?  What if t…

Teacher chi: the path to the "dark side"

In my recent article  on zhan zhuang I referred to martial arts teachers who start "believing their own hype" and the tendency this has to make the teacher's students more prone to becoming complicit (usually unconsciously) in the process.

This is something today's marital artists commonly call "teacher chi" (a term first coined, I believe, by respected uechi ryu karate instructor Dana Sheets).

In my experience, you often (though by no means always) see "teacher chi" in schools that test "pushing".

Now I want to be clear that in general I think tests of "pushing" are fine: solid structure can give you a good foundation for developing a strong push.  If such tests are presented appropriately, I have no issue with them at all.  An example of an unobjectionable "pushing test" is the yiquan one below.

Nonetheless, I think that the data gained from such a "test of pushing" is of limited value.  Why?

The first …

Zhan zhuang: grounding, structure, intention and qi


There is a tendency in the Chinese, and increasingly in the Japanese, martial arts to venerate “standing post” training - what is known as zhan zhuang (站樁 - literally “standing like a post”).  In particular the internal arts of China are known for this practise.  Even more particularly, the art of yiquan (意拳 - literally “concept fist”) focuses almost entirely on this as a martial training method.

Yiquan, which is also called “da cheng quan” (大成拳 - literally “great achievement boxing”), was developed by xingyiquan master Wang Xiangzhai (26 November 1885 - 12 July 1963).  One of his students was the Taiwan-based martial artist Wang Shujin (a master of xingyiquan, baguazhang and taijiquan who happens to have also been one of my grandmaster Chen Pan Ling's main students).

In Japan the yiquan tradition was continued by Kenichi Sawai, founder of the school of taikiken (体気拳 - literally “mind and spirit fist”).

So what is the point of “standing post training”?  Can it have any…