Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Keep Calm and Kata On

kanji for "kata"
"You could never do that in a fight!"

"Its an antiquated teaching practice!"

"Time would be better spent learning techniques!"

I've hear all of these things about kata and, they usually come from people that don't do kata as part of the martial art.

    For those who don't know, kata is the Japanese word for "shape" or "form."  In martial arts, it is prearranged set of movements designed to teach techniques, principles, and acclimatize your body to the movements necessary for your martial art.  When the general public thinks of someone practicing karate, they probably think of someone performing a solo kata.  My particular style of aikido, Chendokan Aikido, doesn't have a lot of that type of kata, and in fact, I don't know how you could teach aikido with kata like that.  Half of the idea of aikido is to feel the motion from your partner and react to that.  We do have weapon kata for jo (short staff), tanto (knife),  and ken (sword).  What aikido does have, and many martial arts if you look, is two person kata.  We practice specific movements, from specific attacks in a formalized pattern.  Sounds like a kata to me, and I think that many martial arts have this type of kata.  In fact, in our system, this type of two man kata, is much more prevalent than the solo kata, but they are kata none the less.
    Kata can have many benefits...if it is done mindfully.  If you are going through the motions, then yes it is pointless, and you might as well be dancing. In fact, anything you do without intent behind it, really is pointless.  Here are a couple of things to keep in mind as you perform your kata.
Motobu Chooki performing kata


    On the jujutsu side of our art, we do have kata, so I asked my instructor what he thought the point of kata was.  He answered, "It's was a way to practice martial arts by yourself."  I've always liked that answer.  Kata should allows you to run through the ideas, movements, and theorem of your art.  It can be a way to practice your art when you're away from the dojo.  When you're on vacation, or snowshoeing in the mountains (see, or whatever, you can do your martial arts.

Fluidity of Movement

    One of the major benefits that I've found in kata is control of my own body.  I picked up a saying from my friend Chris who picked it up in the US Air Force.  He says "Slow is smooth.  Smooth is Fast."  I tend to agree with that statement.  By working on fluidity, you relax antagonistic muscles, and over time, learn to be faster. 


 Power Generation

    Notice I don't call it Strength Generation.  Strength and Power can be different things.  I've found that in aikido, many of the most powerful throws I've ever been able to do, require the least amount of strength.  Kata allows for experimentation of how to generate power.  Two man kata is much more useful for this, but solo kata can accomplish this as well.
    As part of the idea of power generation is the idea of breath control.  Many kata have certain ways to breath during specific motions.  Aikido teaches to breath out on throws, and breath in while receiving the attack.  This creates a whole body motion of the throw.  Karate, or other hard style systems have similar breathing rules.  The whole breathing regulation thing is also a side handed trick to learn a way to keep calm in a stressful situation.

Discovery of Bunkai

  Bunkai is the martial meaning behind the kata.  In the same kata, the same movements can be interpreted several different ways.  The mystery of discovering the bunkai one of the "fun" aspects of martial arts.  I think it signifies a certain level of internalization, of understanding, when you can explain the bunkai in a logical, rational, realistic self-defense manner.

Doctrine, Strategy, and Technique

Iain Abernathy in a two man kata
    If a kata is legitimately useful, it should embody the doctrine of your martial art system.  (See our podcast Episode IX for the definitions)  It should do this by exemplifying the various strategies of your art, i.e. the stances and movements that allow you to use the different techniques.  It can often do this through the different techniques presented in the kata.  But you job at the performer, is to work backwards from the level of technique to the level of doctrine. 


    Kata can be as valuable a tool as you want it to be.  It depends on your mindfulness and attention to details.  If you are serious about your martial art, you should be able to visualize the techniques and the resistance as you perform the kata.  It can also be a form of relaxation exercise.  Kata should be more than just physical techniques.  Breath control, stance work, fluidity of movement, and power generation should be in every kata.  However, it should not be a substitute for live training.  It  should be a part of your overall training.  So "Keep Calm and Kata On"

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Refined taste in martial arts

I prefer beer tasting to wine
    When I think of refined taste, I think of wine snobs who get so specific in their tasting, that they can tell the year or vineyard.  They seem to be making up terms to describe these flavors that only the members of their exclusive club have access to.  My lame ass just says "It taste like grapes."  But now, I've started to develop that high level of "taste" for my martial arts. 

    When I was in high school, and even through college, as I studied science, or even math, there was always that section in the beginning of the chapter that talked about how Louis Pasteur showed that non-living matter cannot create living matter, or how Charles Darwin discovered/described the principles of evolution,  or about Newton discovering/describing calculus.  I always glossed over these parts.  The names and dates ran together, and were not important to me.  Same thing with most of the history classes.  Did I really care about the wives of Henry VIII? (Sorry to all my UK readers).  Just give me the discoveries they made, I don't care about the scientists, or how they came up with their ideas, just tell me the ideas were.
    Some time after I graduated college there began a change in me.  Now that I wasn't a student by profession, I could go slower with my absorption of knowledge.  I began to enjoy the who and the how.  Now I'm fascinated with Darwin, what his observations were, and how he put them together into his theory of evolution.  He exemplifies how scientific genius is suppose to happen.  Now that I teach science to High School students, I keep trying to impress upon them, the importance of these scientists, and their discoveries and how amazing it was to go from the state of not knowing to enlightening the world of how a scientific principle works.  And all I see in their faces, is a mirror reflecting my me own face when I was their age (god, I had just typing that phrase).
"Are you not entertained?"
    The same thing has happened in my martial arts studies.  Way back when I was a young impressionable 18 year old (ughhh) starting my journey in martial arts, all I wanted was the techniques.  I didn't care about the philosophy or the people that created the arts.  In fact, in my first martial art, Yamagata ryu Bujutsu, I never even learned who or what Yamagata was.  Now that I've been doing this for long enough to have the physical mechanics of techniques pretty well down, I can work on the refinement on my martial arts.  Somewhere around 4th kyu (green belt), I really started to want to know what the art of aikido was, and how it had come about.  I started voraciously reading about O-Sensei and his physical philosophy which is called aikido.  After I read enough to get a feel for what aikido was, I started reading more about other arts.  I went back and started reading about the other great masters.  Funikoshi in particular surprised me.  His ideas seemed to express what I considered unique philosophies in aikido.  In hindsight, I shouldn't have found this surprising, but I had preconceived notions of what karate was.
    Now, after many years of training, I can spend my mental and physical energy in the subtle details expressed in the similarities and differences in the arts.  I'm now able to appreciate the subtle movements of Karate kata (I really hadn't before).  I can appreciate the slow, flowing actions of Taiji, or the unbridled aggression of Krav Maga. I can appreciate the similarities of all of those aspects in my own martial arts.  But, at the same time, my Aikido and Jujutsu have become much more similar.  Especially as I start to make my aikido a practical martial art.  I enjoy the (very) subtle difference in attitude and approach each art represents.  And that's what refined taste is, an appreciation of subtle differences.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Episode IX-Good, Bad, I'm the Guy with the Podcast

 Martial Thoughts Episode IX-Good, Bad, I'm the Guy with the Podcast

Download the Podcast HERE

Recorded: 4/18/2014

Intro:  Theme from "Enter the Dragon" by Lalo Schifri


  New Twitter Account: @martialthoughts
    Contest: Follow on Twitter, and tweet me your subtitle for Episode X
Win this book!
    Sun Tzu's the Art of War
    Moses Powell Memorial Seminar Nov 7th-8th

This Week in Martial Arts: 
  April 20th, 1989-Kickboxer's International Debut
  Jean-Claude Van Damme
    Reboot of Kickboxer (Trailer)
  Radar Films
  Steven Fung

Listener's Letters
  Episode VII
  Hong Jia/Hung Gar
  Shaolin/Siu lum

Discussion Topic: Doctrine/Strategy/Techniques
  Living the Martial Way
  5 Martial Books you should own
  Samurai Archives Podcast
  Battle of Nagashima
  Tae Kwon Do
  Brazilian Jujutsu
  Kote gaeshi

Scott Levin's Fight
  Combat Jujutsu
  Sport Jujutsu
  Kyokushin karate
  Atemi ryu
  Muay Thai

  B. J. Penn Documentary

  Star Trek
    (Suds of) Kahless
    Game of Thrones    (Fire and Blood Beer)
    The Walking Dead    (Beer)
    Tin Man Brewing Co.
    Holy Mackerel Beer
    Mama Mia Pizza Beer

    World of Warcraft
    Perfect World Entertainment
    Swordsman (Trailer)

  Karate Cop
    Arnold (Schwarzenegger)
    Andrew who gave us the compliment @NeedToStretch
    Hiyaa Podcast
    Iain Abernathy (Podcast)
    Lawrence Kane/Kris Wilder (Martial Secrets Podcast)

  Willie Nelson
    GongKwon YuSul
    Tae Kwon Do
    Tang Soo Do
    Karate Elvis

  Kung Fu  Intro
    Nick at Nite
    David Carradine
    Legendary Pictures
    Bill Paxton
    Baz Luhrman
    Black Swan  Trailer
    John MacLaughlin
    Moulan Rouge  Trailer
    47 Ronin  Trailer
    Sheriff of Nottingham
    Dungeons and Dragons: Oriental Adventures

  Fight Church Trailer
    Celebrity Death Match
    "I kickass for the Lord" = Braindead Clip
    Benson Henderson
    John Jones

  Steven Seagal
    Above the Law  Trailer
    Steven Seagal: Lawman
    Steven Seagal's Album
    Doctor Philip Chenique
    Episode I-The Phantom Podcast

Contact Information
Twitter Account: @martialthoughts
Email: martialthoughts@gmail
Atemicast Youtube Channel

Outro Music: Voodoo Chile-Jimi Hendrix / Gayageum ver. by Luna

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Review of "Secret Fighting Arts of the World" by John F. Gilby

    This could be the greatest collection of deadly martial arts techniques ever collected!  This could be the greatest martial arts travel book ever logged!  This could be the greatest expertise in martial arts ever assembled in one place!  It could be...if it wasn't a joke.
    This book was written by John F. Gilbey, the pseudonym of author Robert W. Smith.  It was originally intended to be a parody the martial arts book from the time (it was originally published in 1963).  The bad part is, there was a large portion of the readers who didn't get the joke.  Granted, when it was first published, there were very similar books discussing "the dreaded death touch!" and this book is written in a very serious tone, so I think the dry sarcasm was lost on many. This book does start off with the death touch as well, but slowly the techniques demonstrated to the author get more and more bizarre and ridiculous.  The names of some of the chapters demonstrating the techniques should have given the readers a clue.  To give you a couple examples, we have Strangle of the Thug (referring to the Thugee cult), Parisian Halitonic Attack, and my personal favorite The Macedonian Buttock.  I also like how he references the illustrious author Robert W. Smith in one of the chapters.  Despite the parody nature of the book, it does have germs of wisdom in there.  The Melange of Mayhem chapter gives you examples of how to be unpredictable in fighting situations.
    As long as you're in on the joke this book is a good read.  Its chapters are broken down by the specific fighter, and their specific method of fighting.  It is supposed to be the tales of the author's travels to find the greatest fighters who solely specialize in one particular dangerous technique.  Overall, it was a good read, but it was written in an academic manner, I think the parody aspect was lost on many readers.  I have to give the book 2.0 Ninja Stars because if it was a good parody, I think more martial artist would have gotten the joke of it.  Still, if you're looking for a good quick read, and you can understand the joke, then have at it.  It's worth a read once, and then pass it on to friends.  By the way, if you look around online, there are still some fools, who think the techniques are real, and talk about how they have used some of them, which would be ridiculous ...unless they're keeping the joke going on purpose.  In which case, they're brilliant.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Amateur Fight Review and Thoughts

    On Saturday April 12th, 2014 I watched an amateur fight event called Aggressive Combat Sports Florida PKB Fight Nights.  I'm not much of an MMA fan (I have nothing against it, in fact I have deep respect for it, it's just not my gig), but there were two reasons I wanted to go.  One, it was sponsored by the Atemicast network, and two, one of the people I train jujutsu with, Scott Levin was fighting in the event. What follows are a couple of observations I made through out the evening.

Types of Fights

    This event featured many different rule styles for their fights.  There were a plethora of  styles including Point Kickboxing, Sport Jujutsu, and Combat Jujutsu.  They each had their own restrictions on the targets available to them and the different ways to deal with takedowns and grappling.  Each has their own sporting vs. reality compromises and considerations.  And they were all entertaining to watch.

Honor and Respect

    There were several different schools which were putting up fighters in the different style matches.  After all of them (save one that I saw) the fighters were hugging (in that manly way) after the match, and congratulating each other.  A couple of times it looked insincere.  And then there were the Muay Thai schools.  I was floored by their respect for each other.  After each bout, the competitors went before their opponent's coach and bowed to them.  One guy did a full prostrating bow to their opponent's coach.  I guess after all the showmanship I see in the UFC, I wasn't really expecting the humility and respect, so kudos to them.


    Many of the early fights in the evening were kids.  And I don't mean "I'm old and calling anyone younger than me a kid," I mean some of them were under 10 years old.  This gave me an uneasy feeling.  There is nothing wrong with fighting in a sport context.  It is a comparison of training and skill versus training and skill.  With the kids, there was no skill demonstrated.  It was all aggressive windmill strikes, and they relied completely on their protective armor for defense.  I didn't see any martial sport or martial skill what so ever.  The training might very well have value, but I didn't see any value in the competition part of it.  There could be something I'm missing, and if you have a different opinion, please let me know in the comments.

Scotty Levin

    My friend Scott (who is 52!) fought in a Combat Jujutsu format.  There were no head strikes, and any ground fighting was stood up after 30 seconds.  He knows he's never going to make the UFC, or do anything professionally with this.  He just wanted to test himself.  This was his second amateur fight, and he did great!  He made weight of 195 when he normally walks around at 215 to 220.  He won the fight, and then heartily ate his victory pizza.  Congrats to him.  I hope I have to courage to do that when I'm his age.


    This event was held in a club.  By itself that wasn't so bad, but there was no real ring, which by itself isn't horrible.  There were mats on the ground, and coaches and trainers acted as the ropes to let the fighters know when they were going off the edge.  Again, by itself not horrible.
    There were two things wrong in terms of safety.  First, there was a stage and columns surrounding the dance floor were the mats were located.  It would have been very easy for a fighter to fall, of get thrown into one.  To make it worse, a couple of the columns had wooden shelves sticking out to put your drink on.  All I could see was a fighter's head crashing into one and knocking him out.  Which brings up the second safety point.  One fighter, intentionally or unintentionally, got slammed on his head/neck, and was knocked out cold.  It was at that point I realized there were no medical professionals/EMT's on sight.  I think that's a major flaw with this event.  It is unwise, unsafe, and gives a bad name to amateur fights when the fighter's safety isn't the prime concern.  I really hope the kid who got knocked out went to the ER to get checked up.


    First, the good points.  I did enjoy the event, it was nice to see the sportsmanship demonstrated by the fighters, coaches, and trainers, and I liked seeing my friend compete and win.  I'm still iffy on whether or not kids should participate if fights.  I don't know if there is any benefit in it.  I'm not saying that there is or isn't, it just doesn't feel right, and I have to figure out why.  The bad part was the lack of safety for the fighters.  That just outright scares me.  If combat sport wants to make itself seem legitimate, it should really be concerned with the safety of the fighters.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

10,000 is good, but I can do better!

    I just hit 10,000 page views!  For something I just kinda started as a whim, I think that's pretty good.  I've been doing this since May, so just under a year, and that means that's roughly 1,000 a month!  Thank you to all my readers who have held good conversations with me.  I hope to provide more informative and (martial) thought provoking columns. 
    If you are a podcast fan, we do have the Martial Thoughts Podcast where myself and a couple of friends talk about martial arts and martial arts related material.  I've been lucky enough to have a couple of very several interesting guests, including martial arts bloggers (Mathew Apsokardu), podcasters (Dave Jones), and authors (William Dockery).  Any reader who has contact with someone who you think would make a good interview, please feel free to introduce them to us.  Katy provided introduction to her Stav instructor Graham Butcher and it turned out to be a great interview.  It doesn't have to be a big name martial artist, just someone who is interesting, or doing interesting things.  I know there are enough people out there who would be cool to talk to, and who have something interesting to say.  Because in the end, this whole internet thing, is supposed to be about spreading information, and communicating.  And that's my goal for this as well.

What a martial arts belt IS and ISN'T

     I have a drawer with a nice collection of martial arts belts.  Some are thicker belts, designed to hold a sword better, some have stripes sewn on them, some are solid colors, and one I have is brown and black.  I've studied 4 distinct arts in my time in the martial arts, and I have a good collection of these things that are supposed to mean something.  I've written before about what a shodan (black belt) is, but what do the belts themselves mean?

History of the martial arts belts

     Martial arts, historically, didn't have "belt ranks."  Again, my area of knowledge comes from Japanese martial arts, but I imagine, other arts have similar situations.  If you have knowledge of other arts, please post in the comments and let me and others know.  Originally in Japanese martial arts, there were "license" presented to students.  Eventually if you were a good student, and learned all the basics enough, you received a license which said you had learned the curriculum.  You would receive a menkyo.  This was sort of the equivalent to the idea of what a shodan is supposed to be.  If you continued, eventually you received a menkyo kaiden, or license of total transmission.
Kano Jigoro, the original black belt
    The idea of the kyu/dan ranking actually comes from go, the "chess-like" game.  The colored belts come all the way from the antiquity of 1883.  Less, than 150 years ago.  The colored belts were introduced by Kano Jigoro in 1886.  At first, the belts remained the same color, he just awarded students a shodan.  They didn't look like we think of them until 1907, and at first there was only white and black.  When martial arts started being taught internationally, then the colors started showing up.  Then other Japanese arts adapted the practice, and finally other Asian martial arts adapted it as well.

What a belt should be

    Belts signify different ranks.  That's all they should do.  They are a visual symbol showing different levels of knowledge gained, and skills performed.  The different ranks are ways of breaking up the huge amount of information that is "martial art" into smaller digestible bites.  In some people, maybe competitive people, the belts could be a goal to themselves, something to aim for.  "What do I have to know to get my next belt?" And that's fine too, if that helps you learn.

What a belt shouldn't be:

Who are you hiding from with these?
A money making opportunity
    I understand the testing fees, but I've also seen McDojo abuse the idea.  You know, where you have 15 belts, so that you test every three months,  and have to pay the fees to earn the next belt.  Your rank testing shouldn't be based on a calendar schedule.  It should be based on an ability schedule.  If you have people promising you a black belt "in just 2 years" then you should immediately be wary.  They either don't care about your proficiency (or their art), or they don't care about you (just your testing fees).
A bragging right.
    The belt is for you.  It only matters to you.  No one else (should) cares if have a green belt in Shotokan karate.  In fact, if you leave you art and and study a new one, most schools request that when you start again with a white belt.

A superior rank. 
    There are some cases, where I've seen a person get a belt, and assume he was now superior to those with a lower rank than him.  Again, the belt doesn't denote rank as far as a command structure, only knowledge and skill performance.  It doesn't even mean fighting ability, or self-defense ability.  It says you can perform those skills represented in your art, at a certain level of proficiency.  If it does represents a command structure, watch out for cultness.

The end result.
    My Dad had a great piece of wisdom that I want to share.  I once told him (as a kid), I want to live to be 80 years old.  He told me that was stupid.  What happens when you get there? Are you going to stop living?
    A belt ends up being a mile marker, not the journey itself.  I can't tell you how many people have achieved a shodan, assumed they knew everything in the system, and left.  No belt means "I've arrived at the pinnacle!" It means "I can see the top of the next mountain."

    No belt should mean anything to anyone but you.  You are the one who sweat into it.  You are the one who bled onto it.  If it works as a visual representation of a step, then yes it means something to you.  It does not denote superiority, or lethality, or any of the other things that people attach to them. 

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Picking out the BEST martial art?

Picking out the BEST martial art

Royce Gracie
    Living in most parts of the developed world any would-be martial artist usually has a plethora of choices of arts to study.  There seems to be a martial arts masters and grandmasters living on every other street corner.  So how do you choose a martial art?  There's lots to consider in the choice.  What follows are some  guidelines to the categories of martial arts are kind of grouped into, besides country of origin.  Because that really is only the cultural trappings of the art itself, it has little to do with the art itself.

Martial Art/Martial Way/Martial Sport

"-do" Way of
    The first thing you should think about is your goal in taking a martial art.  There are three general categories of arts that are called martial arts.  The first is a martial art.  These tend to be more focused on the martial aspect of their techniques.  They tend to be more useful in self-defense, but they are also becoming harder to find, and there is little immediate reward.  They could also be based on specific historical situations that may not be as relevant today, such as kenjutsu.  Most people are not going to be involved in a sword fight in the near future.  In Japanese martial arts, they tend to have "-jutsu" as an ending, such as jujutsu, kenjutsu, or hojojutsu.
    The second type is a martial way.  They are usually derived from martial arts, but their main concern isn't the martial aspect, but the personal development aspect of martial arts.  They can be useful in self defense, depending on the training method, but that isn't the main goal of the art.  Aikido is a great example of this.
"-Jutsu" Art or science
    Martial Sports are again, usually derived from some original martial art, and martial skills are demonstrated, but because of the rules of competition, self-defense isn't their main goal.  The winning of competitions against another martial sports practitioner is.  Putting your abilities and skill against another person's skills and abilities.  Personal development may or may not be part of the goal depending on the art.  Tae Kwon Do, Kendo, and even Judo all fall into this category.  Though honestly Judo fall into both the martial way, and martial sport categories.
    These categories are artificial creations, and many arts don't nicely in these categories.  But they establish the goal of the martial art, and they are all viable, depending on what it is that you are looking for.

Hard or Soft
    The second category most martial arts are lumped into is hard or soft.  A hard art is one whose techniques rely on meeting force with an equal or larger force.  They tend to focus more on the overt physical abilities of the practitioners.  When dealing with a punch, a typical hard reaction is a block, forcing the punch up, and counter-punch.  Shotokan karate, Tae Kwon Do, or Escrima would be good examples of hard arts.
    A soft art is one where the goal is to not overtly resist force with force, but to redirect any energy or force coming towards you.  Dealing with that same punch, a soft art will redirect the punch without stopping the energy of the punch, and then usually perform an attack, joint lock, or a throw.  Aikido, Bagua, or Taiji are all good examples of soft arts.
    Now, those categories being established, there no arts that are 100% hard, or 100% soft.  And soft gets a bad rap in the West.  It is our ideas that martial arts is about strength and/or skill overcoming the bad guys' strength and/or skill.  14th Century German wrestling and swordplay measured their skills with the same idea, they just called them strong and weak techniques.

    The end result is whatever art you pick, it only matters that you enjoy it.  Because the best art is the world is the one you do, and enjoy the most.