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 Matsumura

Learning in the land of the red dragon

As much as I enjoy martial arts training I don’t think it does any harm to give my body a little break when summer holiday time comes around. The last couple of years a place called Tenby in Wales has been our destination for a great British beach holiday.

Tenby has got a fabulous set of beaches and despite being on holiday I enjoy going for a morning run down to the end of the south beach and back. At the end of the beach it starts to give way to the land as it slopes down from the coastal high ground. It’s here I take a few minutes to enjoy the view and have a bit of a stretch before setting off back down the beach.

On the second morning when I was stood on the higher ground after running the 1st length of the beach I started thinking about Chinto the shipwrecked Chinese martial artist and the kata said to be named after him. It’s a kata I’ve been looking forward to studying after reading about the story of him being challenged by the Okinawan martial arts master Matsumura.

The kata features some interesting techniques and standing there I thought about the moves and techniques and what some of their practical combative applications might be. I wouldn’t say I came to any concrete conclusions but looking at the beach I started thinking about the impact of the terrain on the ability of a martial artist to execute different techniques and also how that terrain could offer opportunities to disadvantage their opponent.

I’d also taken along a book on Phoenix Eye Fist Kung Fu I’ve had for a while but hadn’t had a chance to take a really good look at. Phoenix Eye Fist Kung Fu or Chuka Shaolin originated in South China. Okinawa’s position relative to China means that it had connections through trade etc. with China. When I’ve read about Okinawan martial artists who played a part in Karate’s evolution many had received instruction in Chinese fighting arts or had even travelled to China and studied there.

It was interesting to take a look at Chuka Shaolin and see similarities between some of it’s techniques and those of Karate. For example the book, The Secrets of Phoenix Eye Kung Fu by Cheong Cheng Leong and Mark V. Wiley, concentrated on the techniques contained in a two person fighting form. In terms of stances it showed the Horse Riding Stance and Hanging-horse stance. The Horse Riding Stance was just like Karate’s Shiko dach, known as horse stance, while the Hanging-horse stance matched Nekoashi dach, known as cat stance.

The similarity would certainly seem to support the transfer of fighting skills from China across the water to Okinawa and from there into Karate. I think it’s interesting that as a new student of Karate in your ignorance you believe it to be an art wholely originating in Japan. Then you learn about the nature of Japan’s relationship with Okinawa and then the influence of the fighting arts from other regions.

So taking a holiday from the Dojo hasn’t meant a break from my martial arts learning.

Have you learnt anything interesting about martial arts this summer?


Still keen as mustard

I’ve been studying Karate solidly for the last fifteen years and in the last couple of weeks I’ve felt as energised and excited in it’s learning as I ever have.

I think coming back to the club were I really started learning about Karate in ’97 has played a real part in that resurgence of energy. Prior to coming back I’d been part of a club that was on the decline with only a handful of members continuing to train and that probadly didn’t make for the most positive of environments despite everyone trying to do their best.

The ol’ club is in good health with lots of people really embracing Karate and exploring what it’s all about. It always had a really friendly family atmosphere and it’s good to be back in the midst of it.

I’ve always enjoyed reading books and magazines about martial arts to learn more but in the last couple of years I’ve really embraced Social Media and through it I’ve met new people who have opened my eyes to new ideas to explore about Karate.

I love the influence Karate has had and continues to have on my life.

  • It’s made me work hard to improve my flexibility and my strength to enable me to be as good as I can be.
  • It’s taught me a lot about learning techniques and working to refine and improve them.
  • I’ve learnt that being challenged but sticking with it can really help you become more resilient.
  • Ultimately it’s taught me that whatever I might think my limitations might be I can always move beyond them in some way.

I’ve taken a more circuitous path in my study of Karate than most students. Some students advance through to black belt level in 4 to 5 years of study. I’m currently working towards achieving the last rank of brown belt our club has and after that I really want to keep the momentum going and get straight into working towards the black belt grading. In our club working towards the black belt involves planning and teaching a couple of lessons and that’s just one of the new challenges I find really exciting.

In Karate we learn Kata, combinations of different techniques designed by the past masters to teach students the different combative principles. One of the new katas I’ll be learning is called Chinto which was put together to teach the combative methods a master called Matsumura learnt from a shipwrecked Chinese martial artist he encountered of the same name. Having learnt about the history of that particular kata I’m so excited about getting the chance to study it, it feels like I’ll almost be able to stand on the beach where the two fought, to feel a connection to the masters I’ve read about.

Looking around just a handful of blogs shows me that I’m not alone in having a passion that invigorates me. It makes me feel pretty lucky to have found something that really excites me and feels like a real complement to the rest of my life.

Long may it continue.

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?