Saturday, 28 May 2016

King Wu and the Virtues of Okinawan Karate...

Another great book by someone who knows!
Some time ago a friend of mine sent me a PDF of his new book. To be honest, I'm no great reader of e-books, kindle editions, or PDF's; but when something comes in from Andreas then I just know it's going to be worth sitting in front of the screen. It's well known that I'm no great fan of karate history. I'm no academic nor do I want to be one, but that doesn't mean I don't admire the academic approach some take to researching the martial arts of Ryukyu.

Although the story of King Wu's role in establishing the virtues the Okinawan karate is explained in a very easy to follow way, that does not detract from the avalanche of information that falls from almost every page, all backed by countless references to sources that leave nothing to chance, Andreas takes the reader on a journey into the distant past of China, and with great attention to detail delivers them, centuries later, to the shores of Okinawa and the mind of one of karate's giants, Matsumura Sokon.

If you are at all interested in the karate of Okinawa beyond mere kicking and punching, then I highly recommend you get yourself a copy of  'King Wu Once Buckled on his Armor'....

Tuesday, 24 May 2016

Going it alone...

Rob, about to set off home after Sunday morning training.
This past weekend I had a friend from N.S.W. visiting the dojo. It was a long way to travel to practice karate, expensive too, and it's not like Rob isn't already an accomplished karateka. So, you may well ask, why would anyone do such a thing? Well if you want specifics you'll have to ask Rob that question, but from my perspective, he was doing something that is entirely necessary if you want to add any depth to your understanding of karate. I'm not talking about visiting me (heaven help us!) no, what I'm talking about here is stepping out of your comfort zone and being prepared to take whatever comes as a result.

Had Rob turned up with ten of his closest friends and training buddies, I doubt he would have discovered much over the weekend that was of any use to him; and certainly, I would have had less of an opportunity to help him look in the right direction. So, for me, overcoming the apprehension connected with being a 'stranger in a strange land', is a necessary element of discovering your true nature. How different Rob's approach to karate is compared to the, fly-in fly-out, holiday makers visiting Okinawa (and now the JKA in Tokyo), and how sad that some of you reading this will have already taken the easy route, the path of comfort and convenience that is proving so popular these days.

Karate has always been a solo activity sometimes done in the company of others
I'm not sure what value Rob got from his visit, again you would have to ask him that question; but for me it was good to see him again, and to see how much progress he has made since we last practiced together in Okinawa a little over two years ago. It was great to practice with him again, to socialize a little and to meet his lovely wife for the first time. Rob trains mindfully and with great diligence, and makes no excuses for any of his physical shortcomings. It's refreshing to meet a karateka who didn't issue a whole menu of reasons for why he couldn't do this or didn't know that. Rob owns all of his karate, the many good parts, as well as the few poor bits.

It was a pleasure to have him visit to dojo and to share a little training...


Friday, 20 May 2016


Read it and see if you can see yourself
I watched a fascinating documentary recently about something called, "The Dunedin Study". It's a scientific study being run by the University of Otago, and is following a large number of people from birth to death. The study has been running for a few decades now and is producing a great deal of interesting data; some of which reveals that almost 'all' adolescent males break the law, and a large number of female adolescents do too. Why the world is not full of criminals is due to a number of factors, but prime among them seems to be that most people grow out of their 'idiot' stage before being caught by the cops.

The link between the study and my latest book is interesting because, in part, it covers similar ground. I was never the most badly behaved kid in the neighborhood, but I was far from being the nicest. When I grew older, I was never the best fighter on the streets, but I was bad enough to go to prison for the damage I inflicted on others. I was never the brightest kid at school, but I was smart enough to recognize that something had to change in the choices I was making.

Over the past few months, I've been posting snippets from chapters one, two, and three, but here, I'm only going to provide a quote by Vince Lombardi (1913 - 1970) from the forth and final chapter. It's pertinence to life, and karate, should be evident, but if it's not, then perhaps a moment of stillness will allow you the kind of internal dialogue required to reveal it......

"The difference between a successful person and others is not a lack of strength, not a lack of knowledge, but rather a lack of will." 

Sunday, 15 May 2016

Don't forget to find time for stillness......

Meitoku Yagi sensei explaining how to work with a chi-ishi, c1955
This image was captured in 1955, the same year I was born. I've always liked it for a number of reasons. It illustrates a continuity of training that is still in place today. It shows there is no need for a fancy dojo with changing rooms, showers, or a 'members lounge'. There are no lines of students training in unison; mastering the choreography of karate while missing out on the essence of it. And the tools being used here, look at them....they're home made!

The prevailing mentality, with it's focus on wanting and acquisition, has produced a world of expectation, I pay, you give me what I want. But there have always been things in life that money just can't buy...karate being one of them. You can buy the trappings of karate, sure; indeed, many of you reading this already have. But all you got for your money is an image, an image that is in truth two dimensional and of no value whatsoever.

In the relentless search for powerful techniques and knowledge, it's the simple act of being still that often proves too difficult for many. Being still is not the same as stopping. Being still encourages communication between your body and your mind, and it opens the way to good health. But if all you want from karate is the physical stuff, then chuck the idea of stillness in the bin and continue to do what you've always done, it's obviously serving you well.

Remember: 'Go' and 'Ju' = the understanding of opposites........

Friday, 13 May 2016

Yesterday...I killed someone!

Thinking can be helpful...but sometimes a hindrance too
Yesterday I got rid of someone, he no longer exists. I hadn't seen him for a while, but when I spotted him again I knew there and then I had to act. I had to act because otherwise he might have come back into my I killed him! Okay, hold your horses....I haven't murdered anybody, I just deleted the idiot from my computer. I rounded up the file I had relating to him and pressed the delete button...whoosh...there he was: gone!

You may wonder why I had a file on the guy in the first place (?) Well, as a writer I keep all sorts of files and folders on people, institutions, and events that may prove useful when I'm writing. It's not all negative though, in fact, most of the information I retain is so I can cite positive examples of a particular point or principle I'm trying to articulate in a magazine article. Often, people express themselves very eloquently.

But, I also keep examples of people expressing their hate for me and others. I keep the threats and the malicious words they issued, and should the law ever become involved I'll have the paperwork that will hold folk to account should they decide to deny the things they've said. I've never considered the guy I deleted a physical threat, but it occurred to me yesterday that he still had a tiny presence in my life (via the computer file) because I had failed to remove him from it. Once I'd had that thought, I was obliged to act.

Thought followed by action, it's the essence of budo....

Saturday, 7 May 2016

Karate was better when...

Okinawan karate teachers  photographed in Japan...

Karate was better when it was small. When it was dojo based. When few people practiced it. When even fewer stuck with it all their life. When there were no ranks or styles. When you had to be patient in order to learn. When no one set a goal. When students cleaned the dojo.

Karate was real when sensei worked for a living and taught karate for the love of it. When you were laughed at for claiming a level of ability you clearly haven't got. When students didn't make excuses. When all there was, was the training. When no one attended 'meetings'. When grading panels didn't exist.

Karate was something special when faceless men didn't pull strings. When there was no money to be made. When integrity was valued more than celebrity. When people took responsibility for themselves, When there were no 'champions', and no one made dvd's.

Karate has always been better when you discover it for yourself....

Tuesday, 3 May 2016

The test of a man's character....

Perhaps the most humble of Chojun Miyagi's students - Seikichi Kinjo sensei
There are a number of video's on YouTube claiming to show the 'last remaining students of Chojun Miyagi' but Kinjo sensei isn't in them. And followers around the world of Morio Higaonna sensei love to show their collective ignorance of goju-ryu history by announcing that Miyagi sensei's 'last remaining student' just happens to be part of their see the pattern here, right? It's all to do with trying to establish a history that never was, and facts that never were.

Kinjo sensei with his teacher and seniors (back row, far right)
Some of the students in this photo went on to become heads of their own organisations. Beginning small, with just one dojo, other dojo followed in Okinawa, and then overseas. Directly behind and on both sides of Miyagi sensei, you can see Eiichi Miyazato, Meitoku Yagi, and Seikichi Toguchi sensei's, all of who were a good ten years older than Kinjo sensei, and destined to become household names in the goju-world.

Kinjo sensei never did head an organisation, but that didn't stop him training his whole life from the age of sixteen. Born in May 1933, he became a student of Miyagi sensei in 1949. After his teacher's death he followed Eiichi Miyazato sensei, only withdrawing from his Jundokan dojo several years after Miyazato sensei passed away in December 1999.  I had the absolute pleasure of receiving instruction from Kinjo sensei on many occasions and was always struck by his deep sense of humility.

After training this morning I found myself thinking of Kinjo sensei, and as I did, the words of Abraham Lincoln came to mind..."If you want to test a mans character, give him power." Kinjo sensei could have built himself an empire, but he didn't, he could have made a big fuss about his connection to Chojun Miyagi, but he didn't. He could have made buckets of money handing out belts and titles to those who are hungry for them, but he never did that either.

Regardless of what you think you know or who you got it from, when it comes to teaching karate, nothing surpasses teaching by example!

Thursday, 28 April 2016

A good teacher will....

My long-time friend, Sunagawa Hisao sensei, helping a student find a 'feeling' 
I read something recently that made me stop and wonder..."A good teacher will push you from behind rather than lead from the front." What I wondered was this, why would a 'good' teacher do either? Why would he/she feel it was necessary to push at all? Why would he want to have students who are happy to be 'lead'? And why, if the students are serious about learning, would they wait around to be 'pushed' or 'lead' by their teacher?

It made me wonder about the way folk like to structure karate, and divide it into those who know and those who don't. It's a construct that serves the people in the 'know' camp very well, for they now have a 'point of sale' through which they can pass karate on in dribs and drabs, and drip-feed their followers regardless of their ability to absorb the training. While this may be a good business model, it has little to do with passing karate on to the next generation.

Experience tells me that the longer you need to be pushed, pulled, lead, or drip-fed, the less likely it is you will ever come to understand karate beyond the kicking and punching bit. I believe a desire to help (sparingly) is okay, but a desire to teach, that's not so good. It distracts the mind from ones own practice and strokes the ego; and if left unchecked becomes down right unhealthy for the spirit. It's not uncommon for good karateka to loose themselves in a fog of good intention, but we all know where that road leads.

I still believe the best way to help someone become a good karateka, is to provide them with an example of what that looks like. Anything more...well, that's something for you to wonder about.

Tuesday, 26 April 2016

Things that are hard to come by...

With Hokama Testsuhiro sensei, at the tomb of Miyagi Chojun - 2011
As you age there are a number of things that become increasingly hard to come by. The level of physical fitness you once had, an ability to recover quickly from injury, and the boundless energy that fuelled the twenty year old body you once wore. But ageing isn't all bad, no sir! In fact, given the choice, I wouldn't swap the body I'm living in now for the one I was renting forty years ago...not if it meant losing all the experience I've accumulated since then. It might have been good years ago to have potential, but it's much better knowing you have lived up to it.

Never overly ambitious by nature, nor prone to the same desires most others share, I have long ago exceeded my dreams as far as karate is concerned. And because of that, I've been free to just be a karateka rather than live my life playing the role that so many have chosen, that of leader.  It has always seemed a strange ambition to me, to want to be a leader, for it insists that you accumulate others to follow you. Dependency on others has never felt like a smart thing to do. Others following your example is one thing....but you should never encourage others to follow 'you': it's not healthy.

It's hard to come by karateka who just practice karate, it's difficult to find men (or women) without ambition, it's rare to meet someone who has come to know who they are...but it has always been worth trying to find them. I don't see much evidence of sensei anymore, only instructors. I don't see much evidence of students either, only followers. I see 'fans' and folk who want to be 'liked', I hear excuses and I see those who should know better accommodating those who don't. Integrity has all but slipped if karate's 'way' isn't difficult enough.

Of all the things it's hard to come by in the study of karate, perhaps what's missing 'stillness'.

Sunday, 24 April 2016

Oh dear...!

The last thing my sensei said to me was, "Follow your heart."
Once again the kuchi bushi have been busy overnight. I would have thought it obvious that I too ask myself the questions I posed in yesterdays post. Apparently, that wasn't as obvious as I thought for some of you. Nevertheless, if all you know about me is what you've read, then I guess misunderstandings are not only possible, but inevitable. Still, it's interesting how some of you feel the need to share your hatred with me. Interesting, because when you reach out to someone, for whatever reason, it says more about you then the person you're trying to connect with.

I'm aware also that people are often disappointed when they meet me for the first time. I should be taller, I should have more students, more dojo, more to say (boast about), more of just about everything in actual fact; after all, this is what they 'expect' when they meet someone with the external trappings of karate that I have accumulated over the past four decades. The last guy they met with the same rank as me (and often less) had several students in attendance, opening doors and buying beers for him. He was a 'somebody' and he and his acolytes weren't shy about letting them know. Me, I have none of those things...I'm just a karateka who practices karate.

My new book, Redemption, is poised to hit the shelves as I write this. But I'm already thinking about my next writing project. A tale of fantasy wrapped in comedy, with a rich vain of irony running throughout. I'm thinking of calling it, "Idiot Emails: a word to the wise from karate's keyboard warriors" can be in it if you like, what do you think? I'm kidding of course, wild horses couldn't drag me to spend any more time thinking about these folk than I'm doing right now. I'm posting this only as a pointer to readers who may still believe the world of karate and kobudo is a purely wholesome place to's not! Hence the need to populate your karate world with people who inspire, and furnish it with experiences that help you grow.

For some, this blog is a good thing, for others it's an intense source of irritation. I get that!