exploringkarate

I've been a keen karate student for 16 years, Shukokai and Shotokan, but there still seems to be no shortage of things to learn and explore. I'm hoping this blog will allow me to share my experiences and hear other martial artists thoughts.

Archive for Gichin Funakoshi

Searching for Shukokai (2) – Mabuni and the best of two towns?

I was chatting to Sensei David and another Sensei, also called David (so no possibility for confusion there then :-)), after training last night and we touched on Shukokai’s relationship to the Shotokan style. Now I’m not entirely sure why but for some reason my early assumption was that Shotokan was a parent style to Shukokai.

In one of my early posts, Following the footsteps of masters, I mentioned the geneological tables in Robin L. Reilly’s ‘Complete Shotokan Karate’ that showed that Shukokai is more of a sibling to Shotokan. The founder of Shukokai Chojiro Tani was taught by Kenwa Mabuni and Miyagi Chojun. Miyagi Chojun was taught by Kanryo Higaonna (and he followed Higaonna’s path in spending some time studying fighting styles in China) and Kenwa Mabuni by Higaonna and Anko Itosu.

Certainly before I started to learn about the history of Karate I saw it more as a Japanese martial art. Learning more about Okinawa’s  geographical and historical relationships with Japan and China has given me a better understanding of Karate’s evolution and it’s influences.

When I read about the personal histories of Higaonna, Mabuni, Chojun and Tani I find it interesting to see how their studies exposed them to the different styles of Chinese and Okinawan martial arts. We’re told Higaonna was a master of the Naha-Te style of Karate and Itosu the Shuri-Te style. Reilly provides the following characteristics of the two styles.

Naha-te

  • combined Chinese hard and soft techniques
  • used rational, dynamic movements
  • emphasised breathing, flexibility and strength

Shuri-te

  • an exoteric system
  • emphasised speed
  • combined techniques with rational (practical) movements

In ‘The Essence of Karate’ Gichin Funakoshi writes about the styles using their later names Shorei-ryu (Naha-te) & Shorin-ryu (Shuri-te) and discusses what he sees as their strengths (which I’ve written about in ‘Funakoshi’s Essence of Karate No.2′). Which brings me in a round about kind of way to the title of this post (Naha-te and Shuri-te were named after the Okinawan towns from which they originated). That, in a very crude sense, Shukokai is actually more of a step sibling to Shotokan as it enjoys the influence of both the Naha-te style, through Mabuni’s and Miyagi’s studies with Higaonna, and Shuri-te, through Itosu’s teaching of Mabuni.

In my search for what the Shukokai style is all about it’s interesting to be learning more about key figures in it’s development. I know the history behind the martial arts we study, and the insights it can provide, is valued to differing degrees by it’s students and I’m not making any kind of judgement on whether one way or another is best. Personally I am interested to find out more about the masters who have shaped Karate and in particular the Shukokai style to get a deeper idea of what the style I study is all about.

Searching for Shukokai (1)

I’m a bit of a bookworm and whenever I pop into a book shop I’ll always have a browse in the Sports section to see if there are any martial arts books I haven’t managed to get my paws on yet.

I think this thirst for martial arts knowledge moved up a gear about the same time I decided to widen my Karate training by going along to a Shotokan club to see how that style differed from the Shukokai style I’d being studying. The Shotokan style seems to be pretty well represented in terms of book publication and I’ve picked up a few in recent years. Perhaps it helps when the founder of the style, Gichin Funakoshi, was a prolific writer, and every credit to him for sharing his knowledge so that it is still available all these years later.

Having returned back to my Shukokai roots I really want to learn more about the history of the style, the people involved in shaping it’s development and it’s particular traits.

My initial research didn’t produce quite as much information as I would have hoped. That old favourite Wikipedia did give me a quite a good start and amongst other things gave me Chojiro Tani’s name as the founder of Shukokai, his teachers Miyagi Chojun and Kenwa Mabuni and Shigeru Kimura as one of his pupils. I looked into Kimura a little and found a few YouTube films I enjoy watching. But there didn’t seem to be quite as much depth of information available that I’d found with Shotokan.

I was catching up with one or two of Iain Abernethy’s great podcasts while enjoying the views on the way to Sheffield on the train and he mentioned an interview he’d done with Haruyoshi Yamada. It’s a great interview and provides some really good insights into both Shukokai and it’s founder Tani.

Every time I read it I find something new to think about. Some of the things I really like are:

  • the mention that Shukokai is a dynamic style. Sometimes you can get a bit wrapped up in the more aesthetic side and lose a bit of that dynamism.
  • the fact that Yamada was drawn by word of mouth to see what Tani was about, it just seems timely when a previous post of mine was thinking about the importance of giving a good service which leads to your students being evangelical about what they’re being taught.
  • the mention of Tani’s logical analysis of Karate and his teaching of the applications of Karate.
  • the focus on how the techniques felt to the individual.
  • and the emphasis on going forwards and not letting the opponent dominate you.

And those are just a handful of the things I really enjoyed. It really feels like this article is a good place to restart my research of what Shukokai is all about so expect future posts about my search for Shukokai.

If you’ve taken a look at the article I’d really like to hear what are the stand out points for you? Or if you’re a Shukokai Karateka and have some nuggets of knowledge to share I’d love to hear all about them.

Funakoshi’s Essence of Karate No.3

Funakoshi starts by talking about a number of masters who had skills enabling to achieve great feats. Like the fantastically named Makabe the Birdman who he recounts could leap, from a seated position, and plant a kick on the ceiling 8 foot above. He recognises that everyone has natural strengths but he regards a focus on practising feats of skills they enable an avocation, a distraction or diversion, from the true meaning of martial arts. Which I suppose raises the question of what is the true meaning? In this Chapter Funakoshi doesn’t address it explicitly so it’s left for us to ponder.

That feels like a question that we could all have a very different answer for based on our experiences. If practising feats is a distraction, and the practise of feats isn’t something you see mentioned in the lessons or texts of masters or indeed practised in your own clubs then is it a logical step to say that true meaning of martial arts has it’s roots in the training we do, basics, kata, kumite etc. I think so.

So what have I found so far in such training. Well initially it’s a challenge to the body and mind in learning the techniques. Developing the strength, flexibility, stamina, body awareness and muscle memory etc. to execute techniques individually, in combination and in response to opponent’s movements. Developing the mind to overcome the bodies weakness to keep executing when fatigue starts to set in and developing the resolve to keep refining techniques. Then developing the thought processes to move beyond being a student who lets his sensei drive his learning to be somone who searches for his own understanding.

I think that’s were the true meaning lies, in working to perfect the mind and body and gaining so much more than the ability to deliver a strong punch or kick.

One of the stories he tells is of the master Matsumura and his wife Tsurujo. He explains how they met from her being a truly great martial artist and challenging him as she sought to test her own skills. I wonder why he includes this story. I think Funakoshi wanted to provide an equally strong female role model to show that Karate is for everybody.

The story of Matsumura and Tsurujo also mentions the towns of Shuri and Naha. He describes how the redlight district of Naha was the place were young students would go to test their new fighting skills. I’m intrigued why the karate styles of Shuri and Naha differed, see Essence of Karate No.2. Perhaps the reason why will reveal itself.

What do you think? What’s your true meaning of martial arts?

Inspiration comes from many places…Azerbaijan!

I work on a computer at work so for a long time it just wasn’t a big priority to have a computer at home. But since getting online properly at home last year I’ve enjoyed having the internet available to me to find useful resources about Karate.

I’ve really enjoyed looking through the wealth of videos on YouTube from all styles of martial arts but particularly those about karate. I’m sure we’ve all seen videos that really inspire us to work that extra bit harder as we aspire to emulate the skills we see.

I found a video of kumite between Keinosuke Enoeda vs Hirokazu Kanazawa and it really seemed to show the full range of techniques available in karate being executed in a way I hadn’t really seen before. Sure I’ve practised the techniques in class or read about them in books but to see them being used so fluidly was a real lightbulb moment.

A couple of weeks ago a karateka I met and was fortunate to train with at a seminar called Pete Watson shared a link to one of his kumite bouts and again I found it really energising to see that fluidity of following the feints with the ura mawashi geri. Now if I can get even partway to executing that kick with the control and precision Pete does I’ll be very happy but seeing it done well makes me want to work harder.

Finally a few days ago Pete also shared a link to a video of Rafael Aghayev, a karateka from Azerbaijan, which I thought was fantastic. The speed of his attacks are just breathtaking and what I take away to want to incorporate more are the fluidity of his punching attacks and his use of takedowns and grappling and taking control of the bout in general. In a similar way to the Enoeda vs Kanazawa footage it’s inspiring to see the whole range of karate techniques being used.

At the moment I’m referencing Funakoshi’s Karate-do Kyohan in working on a combination to demonstrate as part of my next grading and it includes some great sections on grappling. It just seems to fit really well that I can see those techniques being used so effectively whether it be decades ago or now in the present, and be it by karateka from Japan, Azerbaijan or closer to home down the motorway from good old Liverpool.

Funakoshi’s Essence of Karate No.2

Funakoshi mentions two styles of Karate in the first chapter, Shorin-ryu & Shorei-ryu. He describes how Shorei-ryu sought to be supple in body and strong in mind with Shorin-ryu strong in body and supple in mind.

In Chapter 2 he looks again at these two styles. He felt the Shorei style with fine technical skills and agility was superior fighting at a distance while Shorin was stronger close in particularly taking hold of an opponent.

Robin L. Reilly’s Complete Shotokan Karate also mentions the terms  Naha-te, Shuri-te & Tomari-te and it appears the terms Shorei-ryu and Shorin-ryu came from these. It looks like the founders of todays modern karate styles were influenced by masters of both Shorin and Shorei. For example Anko Itosu, who taught Funakoshi, is refered to as a master of Shorin-ryu/Shuri-te and Kanryo Higaonna, teacher of Chojun Miyagi and Kenwa Mabuni, Shorei-ryu/Naha-te.

That said having studied both Shukokai and Shotokan it certainly feels like each style is influenced to this day by one of these old styles. Shukokai does feel more agile and supple through it’s slightly higher stances like Shorei-ryu while Shotokan feels more muscular like Shorin-ryu. As Funakoshi states, Karate should have a combination of both of these styles, and I certainly feel I’m a better karateka for experiencing the approaches of both styles.

It seems to make sense to me that to be a more complete student of karate I’d want to be able to combine flexibility, agility and precise techniques with strength of body and a capability to control and manipulate an opponent.

 

 

Funakoshi’s Essence of Karate No.1

I’m reading a couple of Karate books at the moment, Iain Abernethy’s Bunkai-Jutsu and The Essence of Karate by Gichin Funakoshi.

The Essence of Karate is a slim little book and I’ve been reading a chapter and then having a think about what it’s important messages were. I read a chapter last night and Funakoshi was quite explicit at the end in setting out what he wanted martial artists to take on board.

I thought each chapter would provide good inspiration for blog posts so I decided to start reading again from the first chapter. The initial chapters set out how Karate originated so I was a little disappointed there didn’t seem to be an explicit idea to take away from the chapter.

In Chapter 1 Funakoshi writes about how Bodhidharma traveled from India to China and taught the priests of a Shaolin monastery. It seems that he was frustrated at his lack of progress which he felt was due to their poor physical strength. He came to realise that strength of mind and body was important to enable their studies.

I’m sure getting fitter is one of the things new students to Karate have in their minds as one of the benefits they’ll receive from their studies but perhaps it’s only later you start to realise that it extends further than just being able to do reps of punches and kicks. And for me it’s the development of mental strength, that wasn’t something I was looking for when I walked into the dojo, that is something I value greatly.

I’m not a priest but in my own way I’m looking for enlightenment. I want to be as good a person as I can be and my karate studies have given me strength of mind and body that help me every day to live my life. And perhaps Chapter 1 is giving me another lesson. Karate doesn’t yield all it’s benefits at a first hasty glance, it rewards it’s students who embrace it’s many facets.

Senseis, senseis everywhere (and that’s a good thing)

I wrote a post recently about how I’d started to identify some of the karate masters who have played important roles in shaping the two karate styles I have studied, Shukokai and Shotokan. And in reading some of Gichin Funakoshi’s books you start to get a feel for the environment in which they lived and studied.

I contrast that with the availability we all seem to enjoy now of a wide range of different martial arts clubs and instructors often within walking distance. But we also have a rich feast of information from other martial artists to enhance our knowledge. I can listen to podcasts by Iain Abernethy and Kris Wilder, follow the tweets of Pete Watson (@pistolpetewato), Rakesh Patel (@KataCombat) & Steve Hodgkinson (@HealthandCombat), to name just a few and read blogs like needtostretch & ZZ Ninja to see how other martial artists are approaching their studies. And of course I have my pick of videos on YouTube of katas being performed and having their bunkai demonstrated.

The challenge I have at the moment is working out what to do with all this information. To find ways to incorporate it with my karate training and improve as student of martial arts. To take the time to work through new ideas and principles.

And also a question will some of the highly skilled martial artists we follow now in time become regarded as masters in their own right?