Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Then and Now - Insights from Tasaki Sensei

The following excerpts are from an interview with Shuji Tasaki, who occasionally supervised special seminars at the Gojuryu Karatedo Yoyogi Ryushinkan Dojo, as did fellow Gojukai master Motomasa Mayama, also mentioned in the full interview, and who personally instructed me on many occasions.

Shuji Tasaki was born in 1933 and was well known as one of Gogen Yamaguchi's students back in the late 1950s, winning the very first All Japan Karatedo Gojukai Championship in 1963, when it was a much more brutal style of competition than today. He left Gogen Yamaguchi's organization in the early 1970s to form his own Seiwakai. Currently, he is Hanshi of Gojuryu Karatedo Seiwakai and one of the most senior members of the JKF Gojukai.

What was training like in those days?
Compared with now, it was hell. Lessons now are now more scientific. The first 8 - 10 months were of building the basics intensively and physical strength to be able to use the techniques as a good foundation. No karate techniques were taught in the first 10 months.

You won the first Goju Kai tournament. What are your views of tournaments then and now, and how do you feel about the change? 
If trained in Goju Ryu dojo kumite you can continue karate after reaching middle age. Point kumite fighting would not result in this. If you lose your speed you lose your karate. By application, Goju dojo kumite gives you the edge, as it is not dependent on your youth. In karate if you step back you lose everything. Side stepping is good, younger have speed, older are slower. Therefore you must step in to receive. If you train only in modern karate, once you are passed 30 years your karate is over.

What place do you see Karate having in the modern world?

Primarily, spiritual and mental strength. The real value today is that, without karate, in this world of trifling things and conflicting values, it is hard to survive. It takes endurance to deal with things with a definite purpose and target.

Tuesday, 30 December 2014

Paul Coleman Demonstrates Applications

Paul visited us at the dojo earlier this year. This grainy but highly instructive video from way back demonstrating a variety of applications is well worth watching. Paul demonstrates each technique twice, firstly in slow motion for ease of understanding, and then at full speed.  It shows his command of technique and also some of the qualities that make him such a good instructor. We wish him and his family well.

Sunday, 21 December 2014


Starting with Gekisai Daichi, Goshi Yamaguchi, son of Gogen Yamaguchi, founder of Goju-Kai, shows the Bunkai applications of the various Goju kata.  It is worth repeated viewings. 

Saturday, 13 December 2014


Yame! (or stop!) is the instruction given at the end of the performance of a kata or when two sparring partners are to cease action.  In the latter case, the sparring should stop immediately the instruction is given to avoid unnecessary injury. Even when an action is finished, however, a state of zanshin readiness should be maintained, with the seika tanden, or lower abdomen, tensed and the mind fully focused. 

In kata and other practice, there is a simple (though not absolute) rule for transitioning from the final stance (e.g. shikodachi, nekoashidachi or zenkutsudachi) into the yoi no kamae and closing “rei” bow: reverse the direction originally taken going into the stance. For example, when coming out of shikodachi or nekoashidachi (as shown), move the front foot back into musubidachi. When coming out of zenkutsudachi, move the back foot forward into musubidachi

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Gojuryu and Gojukai

What are the differences between Gojukai and Gojuryu?  On the surface there are many, mostly stylistic, but in truth they are essentially the same.  Because of the system of personal teaching common in Japanese traditional arts, lineage is often complex to discern. Gojuryu (literally "hard-soft style") refers to the karate developed in Okinawa by Miyagi Chojun under and after the tutelage of Higaonna Kanryo.  This style employs many traditional tools and techniques known as hojo undo (補助運動), or supplementary conditioning exercises, that distinguish it from most other styles of karate.

Yamaguchi Gogen
Miyagi Chojun's disciples included Miyazato Eiichi, Miyagi An'ichi and Yogi Jitsumei, and their students in turn included the likes of Aragaki Ryosei, Higaonna Morio and Yamaguchi Gogen. Although all are practitioners of the Gojuryu style of karate, Yamaguchi Gogen and his family established Gojukai (literally "hard-soft group") as an association in mainland Japan and introduced karate tournaments as a sport, a concept that for many years was anathema in Okinawa. As Wiki states: 
After graduating Ritsumeikan University in Kyoto in 1934, Gōgen designed and introduced Jiyū-kumite, known today as sport and tournament fighting. In 1935 he officially formed the All Japan Karate-dō Gōjū-kai Karate-dō Association (which later split into the JKF Gojukai and the J.K.G.A.)

Yamaguchi Gogen did much to popularize karate and cut a very distinctive figure, wearing traditional Japanese attire and his hair long. Some of his students are still active in karate, and several have taught seminars at the Gojuryu Karatedo Yoyogi Ryushinkan Dojo in the past, including such luminaries as Shuji Tasaki and Motomasa Mayama.

Friday, 28 November 2014

Senior Open Tournament

The 21st Tokyo Senior Open Karate Tournament will be held on Sunday, November 30 at the Shinjuku Cosmic Sports Center, a short walk from Takadanobaba station and across Toyama Park (3-1-2 Okubo, Shinjuku-ku). Categories include kata and kumite, with different divisions according to age.  Members of the Gojuryu Karatedo Yoyogi Ryushinkan Dojo will be participating, as will some of our friends from dojos in China and elsewhere.  

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Kamae 3 - Mugamae

Following from Musashi Miyamoto's words in "The Lesson of Stance/No Stance," we see the ultimate and ideal kamae in karate is the mugamae, or "No Posture."

As Morio Higaonna Sensei writes in his “Traditional Karatedo – Okinawa Goju Ryu:”

“In the ultimate posture known as mugamae (literally “no posture”), tension should be released from the shoulders, with the arms hanging relaxed at the sides; breathing is under conscious control; and all power is concentrated in the tandenMugamae is considered the ideal kamae because in one’s relaxed and unconcentrated state an opponent cannot focus upon one’s intent or readiness.” 

Friday, 7 November 2014

Kamae 2 - Other Forms

Other forms of kamae, or “Combative Posture,” include neko ashi no kamae and morote chudan sanchin no kamae (pictured top left and below right respectively). The many and various forms of kamae are combinations of stances and low, middle or high hand positions, with the hands closed or open, and so on, depending on the situation as well as on the individual’s physique. 

However, kamae should not be thought of as static poses. Rather, they should be taken up momentarily, allowing for speedy and fluid movement to the next stance, posture or technique.  Placing too much emphasis on assuming the kamae would give an opponent time enough to launch an effective attack. Therefore, the essence of the kamae is more important than the form; that is to say, the key is to be in a readied state of mind.

One is reminded here of the "The Lesson of Stance/No Stance" from Miyamoto Musashi's classic "The Book of Five Rings" (the quote here from the translation by William Scott Wilson): 

"What is called Stance/No Stance means that there is no stance that you should take with your sword at all. However, as I place this within the Five Stances, there is a stance here. (e.g. According to the moment, if you want to lower your sword a little from the Upper Stance, it will become a Middle Stance.) This is the principle in which there is a stance and there is no stance."

A similar principle  holds for kamae in karate.

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Kamae 1 - Yoi

Kamae is the state and posture of readiness adopted before, during and after (see zanshin) the execution of techniques, be it in combat or kata.  There are various readiness postures that combine different stances and hand positions. The basic kamae is in musubi dachi, with the left hand placed on top of the right hand, palms down and covering the groin area.

Note: To correctly execute the yoi hand position, turn the palm of the right hand up and place the first knuckle of the middle finger over the center of the left palm. Then bring the hands into contact and turn both simultaneously inwards so that the palms are facing down. This will attain a symmetry and balance of hands and, therefore, posture. 

(And remember to tuck your thumbs in - I couldn't when the photos were taken due to injury!) 

This basic kamae musubidachi, created by Miyagi Chojun Sensei after years of study, is designed to enable one to move quickly into any defensive or attacking action.  Concentration is placed on tensing the muscles in the lower abdomen (seika tanden) while relaxing those in the shoulders, the focus of the mind remaining clear and unattached.

Friday, 31 October 2014

Dojo Closed for Culture Day

The Gojuryu Karatedo Yoyogi Ryushinkan Dojo is closed November 3 for Culture Day (文化の日), a national holiday in Japan.  The holiday originally celebrated the birthday of the Emperor Meiji, who was born on this date in 1858.  The national holiday was reintroduced in 1948 to commemorate the post-war constitution established by the occupying US forces, which is still an issue of debate even today.

With the Dojo closed, students should at the least do some stretching and practice sanchin kata.

Friday, 24 October 2014

Website Difficulties

The website of the Gojuryu Karatedo Yoyogi Ryushinkan Dojo is experiencing technical difficulties and not currently available.  We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause and hope to have more details in the future.  In the meantime, I will continue to provide information, updates and comments through this personal blog.

Autumn Shibuya Tournament

Karateka from the Gojuryu Karatedo Yoyogi Ryushinkan Dojo will participate at the Shibuya Autumn Tournament on Sunday, October 26. The tournament is open to all dojos in the Shibuya area, so there are many different styles on show, with competitors coming from school and university clubs as well as regular “machi” dojos.  Unlike the spring tournament, which features additional "master" and "senior" categories for older participants, the autumn event format is limited to kata and kumite for children or adults.  

The tournament is held at the Shibuya City Sports Center at 1-40-18, Nishihara The center is 6 minutes from Hatagaya station on the Keio New Line, and 15 minutes from Yoyogi-Uehara Station on the Odakyu Line.

Tuesday, 21 October 2014


Shikodachi is a stance seen in sumo wrestling, and appears in many of the Gojuryu kata.  It is used for pulling opponents down or off balance, as seen in saifa and seiunchin. It's also ideal for getting beneath an opponent's guard to deliver strikes, whilst minimizing body exposure. Shikodachi is one of the lowest stances and it requires a lot of practice and endurance to develop a strong and stable stance.

Key points to observe for shikodachi are:
  • The feet should be at the same angle to each other as in musubidachi - around 90 degrees; any wider and the stance will not be stable
  • Weight should be evenly distributed between the legs
  • Knees should be bent almost to a right angle (leave a very slight slope down from the thigh to the knee) with the knees turned outwards and the inner thighs rotated upwards
  • Looked at side on, the top of the head, shoulders, hips, knees and feet should be vertically aligned with one another
Here is a helpful diagram for the feet positions, center of gravity, etc (it is available with further detailed explanations at this website);

Friday, 17 October 2014

Circular Movement

As symbolized in the mark of the Gojuryu Karatedo Yoyogi Ryushinkan Dojo (shown below), one of the outstanding features of this style of karate is its use of circular movement, especially when blocking. As this site puts it: 

The martial art of Okinawan Goju-ryu as developed by Chojun Miyagi is a true combat art, not at all suited to modern day sport karate competition. Goju-ryu is a counter-attacking system based on a synthesis of hard linear type techniques with softer circular movements. Goju-ryu’s circular blocking actions and evasive body movements not only deflect and/or absorb an opponent’s energy, but serve to wind up the body like a spring in order to unleash the art’s explosive counter-attacks.  

For example, when an opponent starts an attack, a circular movement can be used to forestall the blow, depriving the opponent of his or her power.  If a punch is fast but not very powerful, it is possible to block it directly with a straight movement. But it is much more difficult, if not impossible, to block a fast and powerful punch directly. Therefore, such a punch must be blocked or diverted with a circular movement. This may include rotation of the wrists and forearm as well as the hips in order to deflect the attack. The feet, too, are moved in a circular (or elliptical), sliding motion, whether moving forward or backward.

Sunday, 12 October 2014

Dojo Closed for Health and Sports Day

The Gojuryu Karatedo Yoyogi Ryushinkan Dojo is closed October 13 for Health and Sports Day (体育の日), a national holiday in Japan.  The holiday was introduced in 1966 to commemorate the first Tokyo Olympic games held 50 years ago, and now takes place on the second Monday of October.

With the Dojo closed, it is recommended that students at least practice some warming-up stretches and loosening exercises at home, and then run through sanchin kata three or more times, initially focusing on posture and form, then abdominal muscle tension and breathing, and finally performing the kata at full strength.

Saturday, 11 October 2014

Goju Ryu Kata

The kata taught and practiced at the Gojuryu Karatedo Yoyogi Ryushinkan Dojo are as shown. Sanchin kata is listed as kihon, or the fundamental kata.  The “kaishu kata” (applications) are

Gekisai Dai Ichi
Gekisai Dai Ni
Seiunchin (or Seiyunchin)

Tensho, the “soft” counterpart to sanchin kata, is listed at the end.

For beginners, fukyugata (or “no grade” kata) can also be taught. According to Wikipedia:
“In 1940, Hayakawa, governor of Okinawa, assembled the Karate-Do Special Committee, composed by Ishihara Shochoku (chairman), Miyagi Chojun, Kamiya Jinsei, Shinzato Jinan, Miyasato Koji, Tokuda Anbun, Kinjo Kensei, Kyan Shinei, and Nagamine Shoshin. The goal was to create a series of Okinawan kata to teach physical education and very basic Okinawan 'independent style' martial arts to school children. This type of kata is not traditional Gōjū-ryū kata, [but] "promotional kata," simple enough to be taught as part of physical education programs at schools and part of a standardized karate syllabus for schools, independent of the sensei's style.

Nagamine Shoshin (Matsubayashi Shorin-Ryū) developed fukyugata dai ichi, which is part of current Matsubayashi Shorin Ryu syllabus; Miyagi Chojun developed fukyugata dai ni, which is part of current Gōjū-ryū syllabus under the name gekisai dai ichi. Some Gōjū-ryū dojos still practice fukyugata dai ichi."

Note 1: Seiunchin is generally considered the initial kata for black belt level and is thus taught to brown belts (2nd and 1st kyu).  Gekisai Dai Ichi, Gekisai Dai Ni and Saifa are taught to white, yellow and green belts (9th through 3rd kyu).
Note 1: Gekisai Dai Ichi and Gekisai Dai Ni are also referred to as Gekisai Ichi and Gekisai Ni.

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

The Naming and Philosophy of Goju Ryu

In 1930, Shinzato Jin'an, a student of Miyagi Chojun, the founder of Goju Ryu, gave a demonstration of kata at an All-Japan Martial Arts Tournament celebrating the emperor's coronation. When a master of kobudo (traditional martial arts) asked him the name of his karate style, he was unable to answer, for at that time there was still no need to have names for the various "schools" in Okinawa. When Miyagi Chojun heard about this, he decided that a name would be beneficial in order better to promulgate his style of karate throughout the world.  He chose the name Goju Ryu, meaning "hard and soft," based upon the "Eight Precepts" of traditional kempo (or kung fu) and which are found in the Bubishi, the classic Chinese work on philosophy, strategy, medicine, and technique as they relate to the martial arts. (For more, see here)

The Eight Precepts in Chinese (right to left)
The eight precepts are:
  1. The mind is one with heaven and earth.
  2. The circulatory rhythm of the body is similar to the cycle of the sun and the moon.
  3. The way of inhaling and exhaling is hardness and softness.
  4. Act in accordance with time and change.
  5. Techniques will occur in the absence of conscious thought.
  6. The feet must advance and retreat, separate and meet.
  7. The eyes do not miss even the slightest change (see the unseen) .
  8. The ears listen well in all directions (expect the unexpected).

Based on these precepts, I think it is important to see that the cyclical unity of opposites is not limited to hard and soft alone, but extends to in and out, strength and suppleness, motion and stillness, advance and retreat, seen and unseen, and so on.  This reconciliation of opposites has a common expression in oriental philosophy as Yin and Yang.  For more on this idea, listen to philosopher Alan Watts here

Friday, 3 October 2014

The Power of Goju-Ryu Karate

The power of hard and soft, strength and suppleness, speed and steadfastness. 

Monday, 29 September 2014

The Essence of Okinawan Karate-Do

Shōshin Nagamine was a Japanese author from Okinawa as well as a soldier, police officer, and karate master. He wrote two books, The Essence of Okinawan Karate-Do and Tales of Okinawa's Great Masters. Both have been translated into English.

Although his style is not Gojuryu, the Essence of Okinawan Karate-Do contains plenty of interesting and useful background, insights and terminology. The Table of Contents alone makes for a highly informative glossary.

Friday, 26 September 2014

Aragaki Misako 新垣美佐子 2005 Kata CHAMPION

I should have posted this a long time ago - Misako Aragaki of the Gojuryu Karatedo Yoyogi Ryushinkan Dojo, taking the gold medal at the 48th All Japan Karate Championships in 2005.  Misako-san’s kata starts from 3:14.  Amazing execution and one of the nicest people you could meet.

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Zanshin 残心

Zanshin is a term used in Japanese martial arts. It refers to a continuous state of awareness or alertness, particularly one’s posture, balance, stance, concentration and attitude after a technique or kata has been executed.

The literal translation of zanshin is “remaining mind," though the simplest interpretation is perhaps “staying focused."

Just as in the kamae state of ready awareness at the beginning of any action, zanshin means being continually aware of one's surroundings, prepared to instantly react – a state of mental alertness and physical readiness to meet any situation - including further attacks. 

Zanshin, as considered from the perspective of Aikido, is given a more detailed and interesting explication here.

Friday, 19 September 2014


There are many terms used in karate and other martial arts.  Sometimes different terms are used to refer to the same thing, such as juji uke and kosa uke, or the same term is used differently according to the art, school or style.  Often, Japanese, Chinese, Okinawan and other dialects are the source, and this can add to the confusion. But ultimately, it is the technique and results that are important, not the correctness of the nomenclature. Here are two links (dictionary and glossary) to assist in understanding karate terminology, but you will find other terms used depending on where you train.

Thursday, 18 September 2014


“Feet first” is good advice in karate, as without a firm foundation most techniques will lack real power.  But when moving, it is very important that it is done with the “koshi” rather than the feet.  As this site states, “All good martial techniques arise from the koshi.”

Koshi” is the Japanese term for the hips, roughly the pelvic region between the abdomen and the top of the thighs.  It includes the seika tanden described in a previous post and is essentially the body’s center of gravity.  When moving, the “koshi” should be tensed and lead the way - the legs will automatically follow.  

One way to practice this, for example, is in shikodachi, by first turning the waist toward the front before moving forward; this can be most easily practiced at the beginning of both the Saifa and Seiyunchin kata. 

Sunday, 14 September 2014

Yakusoku Kumite

Here is a video of Higaonna Sensei demonstrating applications of technique in the yakusoku kumite style. Yakusoku kumite is one of the forms of ippon kumite, where one practitioner attacks using a single, predetermined technique, such as chudan oitsuki or chudan maegeri, and the other karateka blocks and counters accordingly. For beginners, the counter attack usually takes the form of a single strike, but as the practitioner's level advances, the responses become more complex and varied, ideally incorporating applications from the higher-level kata. This should be the approach of all yudansha or black belts.  In the video, the techniques are demonstrated once slowly and then again naturally and swiftly. 

Sunday, 7 September 2014

Muchimi 2

If you don’t stick to the opponent when blocking and defending, you are not in control. Either you are in close, or far away.  In between, you don’t have control. So when you are close, be sure to stick. Muchimi is also related to kakie, as explained in the excerpt from an interview with Morio Higaonna Sensei that follows below. So one of the best ways to develop muchimi "stickiness" is when practicing kakie.

"When we block, we shouldn’t use force. “Muchimi” means that before your adversary attacks you already have to be in control.  It also means that before the blow arrives you must read it and curb it. In this way we can take hold of the opponent’s arm and push him back. If this is done after the opponent has used force, the result is a clash of forces. We must lessen the blow before force has been applied. If we push before the blow arrives, the distance between you and your adversary is reduced. This is why the most effective blows are the short ones. In order for them to contain energy our breathing needs to be correct. The Masters of old used to teach that once we had blocked we had to pull and get in closer. This, in Okinawa, is called “Kakie”. But also in China this technique was expressed by a sound like “kaki”. And once you had gotten closer, you followed on with a technique called “Kou” (leaning). By blocking in this way, we pull the opponent and we attack by following the arm. And this is done at great speed, like a whip. If we follow the arm, it doesn’t matter how our opponent moves, we will find him."  
Morio Higaonna Sensei

Sunday, 31 August 2014


In August, Lo-san visited us from her dojo in Shanghai.  She has been training at both the daytime and evening sessions every day at the Gojuryu Karatedo Yoyogi Ryushinkan Dojo during August in order to improve her kata and pick up a lot of useful tips and advice for when she returns to China. In one month, Lo-san has worked very hard and made great progress.  On Friday night there was a farewell party for her as it was her last day at the dojo.  However, we hope she can return again soon to train with us or even take part in tournaments. We wish her well back home in China!

Friday, 22 August 2014

Muchimi 1

Muchimi is a unique quality of traditional Okinawan karate by which a heavy, sticky feeling is incorporated into any body movement.  Good examples include the movement of the arms during kakie and the opening hand techniques in the Seiyunchin kata.  The ultimate aim is to maintain control of an opponent, for if you don’t "stick" to the opponent, you are not in control. 

Muchimi is not achieved with muscle power alone or with stiffness or tension. On the contrary, the muscles should be relaxed.  Muchimi is not something that can be verbally explained, but is learned through practice and application.  A metaphor often given to aid understanding is to imagine oneself moving in a giant vat of honey or glue – strongly, slowly, smoothly, and with great power, deliberation and economy.

As is often the case, some hints regarding this concept can also be found in Miyamoto Musashi’s “The Book of Five Rings, as seen in these two quotes:

The Body of Lacquer and Glue
The heart of Lacquer and Glue is that when you have come close to the body of your opponent, stick to it without separating…stick to it with strength - head, body and feet.

Applying Glue

Continue to apply swords as if you were applying glue, and close in.  The heart of this stickiness is to make it difficult for your swords to separate, but you must be mindful not to use too much strength…do so with great tranquility.

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Bowing in Seiza

The appropriate way to bow to the front of the dojo in seiza at the beginning and end of training sessions, as well as at other times, is to place both hands palm down on the thighs, fingers pointing inwards at 45 degrees. The left hand is placed on the floor first at the same angle, then followed by the right hand. Finally, the head is brought down so as to be between the hands, but not so far as to touch the floor.  Seiza is performed as indicated in a previous post., and the whole process is, as always, done in a state of readiness or kamae. In other words, being continually aware of one's surroundings rather than merely looking directly at the floor.

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Visit by Jaromir Musil

Last week the Gojuryu Karatedo Yoyogi Ryushinkan Dojo was visited by our old friend Jaromir Musil from the Czech Republic.  Jaromir is OGKK chief instructor in Europe and teaches at the Nidoshinkan dojo in Brno.  His profile is available here.  Jaromir is traveling in Japan to enjoy some of the sights, and then on to Okinawa to train with the OGKK. We hope he has an enjoyable visit, good training in Okinawa, and wish him a safe journey home. 

Monday, 11 August 2014

Dojo Summer Holiday

The  Gojuryu Karatedo Yoyogi Ryushinkan Dojo is closed this week for the Obon summer festival in Japan.  Obon is Japan's version of the Buddhist festival of the dead.  Though the festival often takes place mid-July in the Tokyo region, most of Japan closes up in mid-August for several days. The dojo will reopen August 18.

Friday, 8 August 2014

Rating a Dojo

Despite the title, "59 Signs Your Dojo is Awesome" provides many interesting pointers for what to look for in the ideal venue for training in karate and other martial arts. The only one I might slightly disagree on is #53 - you are there to prove something, but only to yourself.  

The Gojuryu Karatedo Yoyogi Ryushinkan Dojo definitely fulfills all criteria.

Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Visit by Paul Coleman

The Gojuryu Karatedo Yoyogi Ryushinkan Dojo was delighted to receive a visit this Monday from UK karate teacher Paul Coleman.  Paul is chief instructor at the Oxford Karate Academy, and he and his companions dropped by to pay their respects to Aragaki Kancho on their way back from the JFK Goju-Kai Championships in Sendai and the Seiwakai Seminar in Akita Prefecture. Paul trained at the Yoyogi dojo back in the 1980s and currently holds the rank of 7th Dan in Goju-Kai karate. A BBC Oxford news feature showing Paul in action and explaining his philosophy can be found here. Aragaki Kancho commended Paul as an excellent teacher of karate.  We wish him and his companions well and a safe journey back to England. 

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Way of the Warrior

From 1967, Higaonna Morio was chief instructor at the Gojuryu Karatedo Yoyogi Ryushinkan.  Here is a BBC documentary from 1982 on Gojuryu Karate featuring Higaonna Sensei.  From 20:25 to 24:22, he explains in some detail about the breathing techniques used in Sanchin kata, as well as how to correctly check and guide someone who is performing the kata. All in all, there is much to learned from studying this video repeatedly.

Thursday, 17 July 2014

More on "Shiboru"

In Monday's class, Aragaki Kancho, the head of the dojo, taught us how to execute the mawashi uke block used, for example, at the end of the kata Gekisai Dai Ni.  One part of it consists of a kake uke, or "hooking block," where the hooking arm is then twisted by rotating the forearm and pulling the elbow down into the side of the body. Aragaki Kancho said that the correct term in karate is "shiboru" or "wringing" - as in wringing out a wet cloth or towel.  The pectoralis major muscles are tensed at all times, as, of course, is the tanden. The block is executed while "dropping" into nekoashidachi, so the pulling or throwing down of one's opponent uses the entire weight of the body and not just the arms.

This is definitely an oral tradition!

Saturday, 12 July 2014

Kiai (気合)

Kiai (気合) (pronounced "key-eye") is a compound of ki () or Qi, meaning energy or life-force, and au (), meaning harmony. In Japanese martial arts it commonly refers to a sharp shout made during the execution of a technique. Most kata feature several points where such a kiai shout is performed simultaneously with the technique. There are no specifically designated sounds, though Japanese dojos generally use single, elongated syllables beginning with a vowel. .

Although sometimes described as a kind of “battle cry,” kiai in daily Japanese also refers more widely to "fighting spirit," "giving one's all," "getting psyched up" and other such states of motivation, determination and commitment, in any field, not just martial arts or competitive sports. 

Kiai can be used to focus energy, startle an opponent, and even intimidate. The physical aspects of a kiai are often thought to teach a student proper breathing technique when executing an attack.  Correctly executed, that is to say by simultaneously and rapidly contracting the abdominal and other core muscles, kiai can also protect the lower body, shield internal organs, and provide solid abdominal support for striking techniques. Mental imagery is used to teach the practitioner to imagine starting a kiai in the tanden; as with breathing, it should start in the diaphragm, not the throat.

Donn Draeger, in his 1973 book on Classical Budo wrote:
“A well-made kiai produces a characteristic sound that makes the ears ring: it seems to come from a source deep within the trainee, and not merely to be caused by the vibration of his vocal cords. The tonal fidelity of the kiai is much like the unforgettable, deep-seated rumble of a lion at bay. The kiai indicates the degree of integration of mind and body in the execution of a technique. It is an unfailing source of information for the master, who thereby knows the trainee’s level of achievement.”

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Kneeling in Seiza

Kneeling in the seiza position is done at the beginning and end of all training sessions, and is also the correct and respectful way to sit when watching or observing activity in a dojo for extended periods.  However, as with all aspects of training, it is important to have the right attitude of readiness or kamae as you kneel. 

When going down and arising, make sure the toes are curled under the feet against the ground, so that one can quickly spring up or even execute a maegeri front kick from the kneeling position. While fully kneeling, the big toes are often crossed. 

Thursday, 3 July 2014

More Dojo Etiquette

Here are some further aspects of etiquette to be observed when training at the dojo.
  1. Remove all items of outer clothing (hats, mufflers, scarfs, gloves, hoods) before entering the dojo.
  2. Always shout "Onegaishimasu" upon entering.
  3. Having entered and removed your shoes, put down your bag and other items and bow to the Shinto altar at the front of the dojo.
  4. Remove earrings, rings and other accessories or cover with tape or a band-aid if this is not possible.
  5. Having changed into your dogi, kneel in seiza and bow to the altar again.
  6. Go up to and greet everyone in the dojo, preferably in order of seniority, by bowing and saying "Onegaishimasu." 
  7. Keep your dogi and other equipment in good, clean and presentable condition.
  8. Bow before and after using makiwara and other equipment.
  9. When watching or listening to someone explain or execute a technique, do so with an interested and respectful attitude.
  10. Repeat 5 and 6 at the end of training, but this time saying "Arigatou Gozaimashita."

Tuesday, 1 July 2014

Goju-Kai All-Japan Karatedo Championships

The 40th JFK Goju-Kai All-Japan Karatedo Championships are scheduled to be held on July 26 and 27. The event will take place at the Sendai Gymnasium, an indoor sporting arena located in Sendai, Miyagi Prefecture, Japan. On July 24 and 25, the JFK Goju-Kai will hold a seminar especially for karateka from outside Japan, with black belt testing taking place on July 25. The seminar and testing will also be held at the Sendai Gymnasium. 

Prior to that is the JFK Goju-Kai Seiwakai Seminar in Japan that takes place every year in Omagari in Akita Prefecture. The dates for that are July 16-18 and July 20-22. Here is a video from last year's Seiwakai seminar.

Friday, 27 June 2014


Some years ago, a Zen priest would visit the Gojuryu Karatedo Yoyogi Ryushinkan Dojo every month and instruct the students in the practice of Zen meditation. Although this is no longer a part of the regular curriculum at the Dojo, it is still important for students to work on the mental aspects of training, including the discipline of Zen "sitting."  The practice of zazen shares many aspects with Gojuryu training, such as a focus on tensing the abdominal muscles, and deep breathing techniques.  In fact, Sanchin kata has been described as a sort of "moving meditation."  

A practical and relatively clear manual on Zen training in English is "Zen Training - Methods and Philosophy" by Katsuki Sekida.

Thursday, 26 June 2014

Morote Chudan Kamae

The morote chudan kamae in sanchindachi is one of the most common starting positions found in Gojuryu kata and kihon training. It forms the basis for the Sanchin and Tensho kata and is also found, especially at the beginning, in the Sanseru, Shisochin, Seisan and Suparinpei kata. The term loosely translates as "both hands mid-level readiness." 

The key points to observe are (1) the elbows are tucked inside the body line while the hands are extended slightly outwards at approximately shoulder width; (2) the distance between each elbow and the chest is the width of a fist; (3) the fists should be at shoulder height; (4) the wrists are straight; and (5) the elbows are turned inwards slightly by turning the little fingers towards the body. 

The stance is sanchindachi as detailed elsewhere in this blog. Posture, especially the back, should be straight, with the top of the head in line with the spine. The chest should be neither convex or concave, and the abdominal and lower back muscles should be tensed. There should, however, be no tension in the shoulders. The feet grip the floor and the legs are turned inwards with the knees pointing towards the center line of an imaginary opponent.

This "turning inwards" of the elbows, forearms and upper legs, along with the tensing of the tanden and lower back muscles, is known as "shiboru."

Friday, 20 June 2014

Why Martial Arts is Good for Kids

Here is an article on why practicing martial arts can be good for children, especially in a secure environment such as the Gojuryu Karatedo Yoyogi Ryushinkan Dojo.  Reasons include becoming more active, developing focus, stillness and resilience, gaining self-confidence and self-respect, learning to connect their minds and bodies, and learning how to breathe properly.  Additionally, they might learn something about conflict resolution. As the article says, "The bottom line is that almost any child can and will benefit from participation in the martial arts." Classes for kids at the Gojuryu Karatedo Yoyogi Ryushinkan Dojo are held twice a week on Wednesday evening and Saturday afternoon.

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Chiishi Training for Feet

Here is a simple but effective training exercise using chiishi to increase the gripping ability of the toes. This will both strengthen sanchin dachi and increase leg muscles for kicks. Grip the chiishi handle between the big and second toe and then raise the leg as if to execute a maegeri front kick. It is best to use chiishi with thinner handles for this exercise. And as with practicing kicks, always raise the knee belt-high or above.

Friday, 13 June 2014

Mushin (無心)

Mushin is the essence of Zen and a key component of Japanese martial arts. The term is shortened from Mushin no shin (無心の心), a Zen expression meaning “mind without mind,” also referred to as a state of “no-mindedness.” That is, a mind not fixed or occupied by any thought or emotion.  Zen master Takuan Soho spoke of it as a mind that does not "stop" or fixate anywhere, and is without distraction.  

"The mind must always be in the state of 'flowing,' for when it stops anywhere that means the flow is interrupted and it is this interruption that is injurious to the well-being of the mind. In the case of the swordsman, it means death. When the swordsman stands against his opponent, he is not to think of the opponent, nor of himself, nor of his enemy's sword movements. He just stands there with his sword which, forgetful of all technique, is ready only to follow the dictates of the subconscious. The man has effaced himself as the wielder of the sword. When he strikes, it is not the man but the sword in the hand of the man's subconscious that strikes."

In the Heiho Kadensho (兵法家伝書), Yagyū Munenori's treatise on swordsmanship and strategy written in 1632, it is stated that any obsession with winning is an illness of the mind and makes the warrior unable to think rationally. Yagyu Munenori advocated that a warrior have nothing in his heart and be as translucent as a mirror.  This is Mushin, or the state of “no-mindedness,” and maintaining Mushin was the main theme of his Shinkageryu psychological teachings.