A change is in the air – from Shotokan to Koryu Uchinadi Kenpo Jutsu

At the end of training this week, we finished about 15 minutes early and were asked to grab a chair and sit in a circle with Sensei and Dai-Sensei. As it sounded pretty serious, my first fear was that I had somehow broken yet another karate club. Turns out that while it was still a serious conversation we all had, it wasn’t about the end of the karate club. Rather, it was arguably a case of sowing seeds for the future.

When Sensei had us sit down for a chat, it was to announce that the club will no longer be teaching shotokan karate, but instead will be moving to teaching Koryu Uchinadi Kenpo Jutsu in its place. I’ve discussed Koryu Uchinadi Kenpo Justu before, owing to Sensei’s interest in the system and having attended some excellent seminars that Renshi Jason Griffiths has hosted in the past, so I’m not surprised that he has been working hard in the background to get his teaching certification and permission from Hanshi McCarthy to begin teaching Koryu Uchinadi Kenpo Jutsu. For him, having practiced shotokan for 22 years, found that while he loved the style, there were gaps that he felt were missing from making it an outwardly “complete” system. Having trained in hapkido, jujutsu, kobudo and kenpo in addition to his years studying karate, I can respect and understand his belief in this move, and his conviction moving forward with this decision, having discussed it with Dai-Sensei and some of our senior students as well, before presenting us with the news.

For me, the eye-opening thing was that Sensei has the conviction to put aside 22 years of shotokan training to move forward with this system – for me, I see that as a sign that there is real merit with the shift to Koyru Uchinadi. What is even more eye-opening is that Dai-Sensei, who has been a shotokan karateka for 35 years, has decided to put his black belt aside and join the rest of us in line to start afresh with Koryu Uchinadi.

My first reaction at the change was one of shock – I mean, I really enjoy shotokan, even though it traditionally had some big gaps as a system unless you knew how to dissect technique from kata (which I’ve found to really enjoy). However, having had the opportunity to train in Koryu Uchinadi, and having seen the extent of the syllabus, I’m very excited at the prospect of moving forward and broadening my experience with this system. I don’t even mind rebooting back to a lower grade – it’s a different style, and just as I went back to 10th kyu when I started learning pure shotokan vs the hybrid style I used to learn, I think it’s appropriate to go back to the start with a new syllabus. It’s not as though the past 6 years of training have been for naught either, as experience is experience, and having studied a couple of styles now, it will be easy to translate that experience in embracing this new style.

I think for those in the class that haven’t had the opportunity to experience some of the Koryu Uchinadi syllabus, the move is probably a bit more daunting – for me, having had the chance to train with Renshi on a few occasions, I have no qualms moving forward. It’s not like we’re moving to some dodgy “discount variety warehouse” style (Rex Kwon Do, anyone? :D), Koryu Uchinadi is an extensive, well-researched and globally organised style that offers an alternative view of traditional karate as most of us understand it today dervied from extensive practice and research on traditional Okinawan systems of self-defense. I also like how it offers an academic side as well, given its integration with the International Ryukyu Karate-jutsu Research Society founded by Hanshi McCarthy, and that the syllabus has been drawn from such a strong dedication to research into pre-modern karate.

I’m in no way suggesting I’ve discovered the “golden egg” with Koryu Uchinadi, but I’ve been very impressed with what I’ve seen/practiced and am looking forward to studying it as my main style of martial arts. I feel I will still get all of my base techniques/tools out of it, just as I have with shotokan, but with the broader syllabus that incorporates more close-quarters techniques, grappling, groundwork, throws, etc, I feel it will help close some substantial gaps in my ability as a martial artist, as well as emphasise the theory/research side which I also really enjoy when studying a Japanese martial art. I have also noticed that the style also contains a strong kobudo element, which means there will be an opportunity to learn traditional Okinawan kobudo within the broader framework offered by the style.

So yes, there are changes afoot, and I will miss some aspects of learning shotokan. However, I strongly believe this represent a great opportunity to study a very extensive style with extremely strong ties to traditional Okinawan martial arts, which has always been why karate in general has been of great interest to me. Once classes change over, I’ll have to go back and update the About page with some information on the styles I’ve trained in and include the shift to exploring Koryu Uchinadi Kenpo Jutsu. For those who aren’t familiar with it, check out the entry on Wikipedia for a quick summary, and there’s also the official website with stacks of information.

I guess for those who haven’t trained in the style or want to know more about it, I’m hoping the posts detailing my experiences will help others understand aspects of the system from the perspective of a newbie with a degree of existing knowledge of karate, as well as allow myself to use this blog as a platform for working through my experiences learning Koryu Uchinadi. I’m looking forward to getting into training and will start posting up my experiences of it as early as next week hopefully, assuming I don’t get distracted and forget to post about it πŸ˜‰

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On self-defense with a walking stick

Patrick over at Mokuren Dojo fired across an e-mail to me the other day about a post he wrote on tantojutso (a walking-cane adjunct to SMR jojutsu). Given the state of my stump at the moment (read more here), I’m currently using my walking stick where practical to get around the place, which meant Patrick’s post was eerily relevant to me πŸ™‚

In 2008 I experimented with learning some stick fighting principles as an adjunct to my usual karate training. While the style wasn’t a strict or traditional one (despite some traditional aspects from the various systems present thrown into the mix), it was focused on some basic stick fighting principles, incorporating eskrima/kali elements with the rattan, bojutsu, defensive techniques with the hanbo and jo, a little bit of yawara training and a walking stick style that had its roots within a French system. The aim of the training was to give the practitioner the tools and principles to defend oneself by using any varietal of stick or pole as a weapon. I feel that, despite only spending a small period of time training in it, that it succeeded in teaching me some basic tenets for defending myself with varying weapons. While the eskrima stuff was probably the most fun (and made cool noises when training πŸ™‚ ), the most relevant was arguably the walking stick techniques I learned.

The basic training showed how to use a hooked walking stick in a variety of ways. It demonstrated basic blocking and striking using various aspects of the walking stick, even down to utilising the different ends of the stick to achieve different ends. For example, if performing a thrusting strike, using the bottom of the stick concentrates the kinetic energy to a smaller surface of impact, giving rise to a variety of fast, poking strikes; however, depending on the walking stick, I found that this technique put excess stress on the shaft of the walking stick and required greater accuracy to achieve a worthwhile result. Going the other way, you can thrust using the hooked end of the stick, which is useful for creating more of a clubbing motion even when thrust. I found this to be quite effective given I found it quite intuitive to do a re-enforced two-handed thrusting strike with this technique from a utilitarian perspective, since I’ll normally have my hand on the hook and can easily use my other hand to grab the other end of the staff and use both arms for the strike. While the greater surface area means you get a different kind of impact than with the butt-end of the stick, it also requires less accuracy, which means it potentially has a greater degree of utility in a self defense scenario where the adrenalin or panic may hinder your usual level of accuracy.

What I found quite interesting is that it wasn’t too difficult to translate some of the broad striking motions and diagonal patterns of attack from eskrima to the walking stick. The difference of course is that a walking stick is generally longer than your average rattan… but that being said, if you’re familiar with short staff techniques (like jo or hanbo) and you have a longer walking stick, then you can also truncate your walking stick skillset with some of these other techniques (some of my favourite techniques from jo and hanbo were the trapping and joint-manipulation techniques, which I think would prove useful with a walking stick).

I guess it shows the level of inter-connectivity with different styles and the relationship between them. I have a feeling my Sensei would be pleased to know I joined the dots in my head and found the commonality in the tools he gave us πŸ™‚

It also demonstrates a strong focus on utility (something that’s a core focus on the posts at The Martial Explorer) and that, as a martial artist, you should be able to not only demonstrate the finer aspects of the forms you learn in class, but be able to take away those core principles and utilise them as essential tools in any instances of self defense, or if we’re getting a bit more philosophical, utilise those precepts as an approach to everyday life.

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Training round-up

Training this week was a little bit different – Sensei wasn’t able to make it, so we had training with Dai-Sensei (the Big Sensei), who is actually my usual Sensei’s father (and who I trained under during 2007-2008… which reminds me, I really should add a couple of posts to fill in the blank spaces between the old Gisoku no Jutsu and the new Gisoku Budo blogs).

Anywho, training was different, as it sometimes is when Dai-Sensei takes our class. This time, we focused on bunkai from some of the lower kata, which was good as I’ll be required to demonstrate it in my future gradings. Now, this is all well and good, but Dai-Sensei brought in some goodies to accompany training – kobudo weapons πŸ˜€ We had a few options to work with, including jo, hanbo, sai, nunchaku, tonfa, katana, wakizashi and kama. What Dai-Sensei was trying to demonstrate was the relationship/connection between open-handed forms and kobudo forms, showing how one complements the other and that your open-handed karate kata has forms the work well with weapons. More importantly, it demonstrated that the principles of attack/defense/counter in kata can be re-enforced by applying the same principles in kobudo.

But the best part of the evening was playing with these:

SaiImage sourced from Wikimedia Commons, original image by chris ?

πŸ˜€ πŸ˜€ πŸ˜€

Sai are awesome, and that’s probably because I watched too much TMNT as a kid πŸ˜€ Was great fun using them in class, and while I didn’t learn much that was all the useful due to the short period of time using them (though I learned a basic method for how to trap a Bo!), it was still so much fun πŸ˜€

It also brought to the fore my interest in kobudo, and that I’d really like to get into it down the line. Though I can imagine the look Wifey would give me if I came home with more stuff to complement some of the staffs I have around the place from when I started doing mixed-style stick fighting last year πŸ˜‰

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Okinawan kobudo

I’ve wanted to learn Okinawan kobudo for years now – last year I got into weapons training at my current school, which emphasised some aspects of traditional Japanese weapons, but in a system fused with other stick-fighting techniques to emphasise a practical approach to the syllabus.

Anywho, weapons classes ended at the end of last year, and I’ve been contemplating going the full Okinawan Kobudo route, either later this year or next year, depending on the whole time/money/availability of classes thing. I was reading up on a few things today that have really inspired me to start looking into it though – Hanshi Heilman’s guest blog on BBM “There Are No Stances in Kobudo”, BBM’s recent post “A Comedy of Errors, Form of Weapons”, and Matt’s recent blog on Ikigai “Holding a Bo – So Simple It’s Complicated”.

So yeah, it’s on my “to-do” list. Mind, it probably doesn’t help that I’ve been watching the original TMNT cartoon from the 80s of late. Y’know, the one where they say “Cowabunga” and stuff? It’s awesome. What’s even more awesome is that Wifey’s the one who bought it for me πŸ™‚

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