Saturday, 25 January 2014

Miyazato Sensei

The video link a couple of updates ago for the blog on kakie is from a series of videos by Morio Higaonna, one of the best known and revered instructors of Okinawan GoJuRyu Karate. He used to teach at RyuShinKan dojo in Yoyogi.  This blog will sometimes link to his videos on YouTube accordingly.

However, the lineage of the RyuShinKan dojo karate is from Eiichi Miyazato Sensei, the late head of JunDoKan in Naha, Okinawa.  Miyazato Sensei was a student of Choujun Miyagi Sensei, the legendary founder of GoJuRyu. So RyuShinKan has a direct link to the origins of Karate of just three generations.

Miyazato Sensei shunned the limelight, and in that sense was a true Martial Artist.  For a little more information on a somewhat complex relationship, see this link to Miyazato Sensei’s last interview.

A photo of Eiichi Miyazato Sensei above the RyuShinKan emblem

Thursday, 23 January 2014

The Purpose of Kakie

The purpose of kakie is to develop a “sense” one’s opponent’s oncoming strike through the use of touch. By continually pushing and resisting against an opponent’s arm, the body grows accustomed to the “feel” of an oncoming blow. By repeatedly reacting to these motions, with blocks, deflections and counter moves, and accumulating these actions until they become habit, one becomes ready at the exact instant of contact of a strike to respond in a similar way, without thinking, without the intervention of mind.

Kakie, in a slightly different form, is used in Tai Chi, showing the fundamental similarities between all Martial Arts, no matter how different they seem on the surface.

During Monday’s class, Kancho, the head of the dojo, told us that kata must be thought of a form of kumite – this means that we should never forget what the purpose and meaning of kata are, lest they become simply ritual movements. One should perform kata as though fighting imaginary opponents, in a strong frame of mind, visualizing each move as a block, strike or throw.

Sunday, 19 January 2014

The Meaning of Goju-ryu and RyuShinKan

What is the meaning of GoJuRyu? Well, literally Go means hard and Ju means soft – it is the Ju in Judo, which literally translates as the “Soft Way.”  Ryu means style or school. But what is this "hard and soft style" of Okinawan karatedo?  Well, I think it means developing an incredible hardness or toughness of the body (and mind) and then using it in a very flexible and pliable way.  

Our dojo’s name is RyuShinKanKan means hall or dojo, but the Ryu in this case is a different one from the above and means Willow tree.  Shin, on the other hand, means heart or mind. The Willow is tough and resilient and cannot be uprooted even in a typhoon. It has a strong trunk and firm roots into the ground. Yet in a slight breeze, the willow sways gently, allows the wind to pass through and offers no resistance. The heart and mind of Willow, this is the practice of GoJuRyu at the RyuShinKan dojo.

The RyuShinKan Dojo Emblem

Friday's training featured kakie - two students facing each other and pushing back and forth with their right or left hand/wrist against the other's (see link for a demonstration).  An interesting remark made by our teacher was that kakie is a form of "communication" between students to "sense" each others' movements and develop appropriate responses.  For many students, however, kakie becomes just a contest of strength, and in the attempt not to be "defeated" nothing is learned. For me, this is a very important point.

“Today is victory over yourself of yesterday; tomorrow is your victory over lesser men.” 
― Miyamoto MusashiThe Book of Five Rings

Monday, 13 January 2014

Why Karate? Why Martial Arts?

There are many reasons for doing karate in a Machi or town dojo in Japan.  Firstly, it is an excellent way to learn the Japanese language and get to know regular Japanese folk from all walks of life. More importantly, perhaps, karatedo is one of the Ways, a multifaceted art that combines physical, mental, spiritual, psychological and philosophical development through training, discipline and introspection.  From a health and fitness perspective, karate will keep you agile and in shape.  As a contact “sport” and form of self-defense, it will provide confidence, strength, stamina and endurance.  As an art form it helps develop balance and fluidity of motion.  With its use of controlled breathing, “Qi” power and meditation, as well as its close relationship to Zen, it will enable you to cultivate mental powers, concentration and insight, while providing much food for thought from a philosophical perspective. It will also enable you to go much more deeply into Japanese culture, as one of the traditional “Ways” along with Tea Ceremony, Flower Arranging, Brush Writing and the other Martial Arts.

In short, karate is an endless journey of discovery about your own physical and mental limitations and how to overcome them. The deeper you go, the more interesting it gets.

A final reason is longevity – there are several practitioners at the dojo over the age of 70, though you would never guess that from the youthful sparkle in their eyes and the ease of their movement. Mastering a martial art truly keeps you young in body and mind.

There was no practice at the dojo today as it is a national holiday in Japan - Coming of Age Day. So for me, push-ups, sit-ups, sanchin kata and a little meditation at home. 

"You have power over your mind - not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength"
Marcus Aurelius

Friday, 10 January 2014

Martial Arts as an "Oral Tradition"

A further word on the esoteric nature of dojo instruction – it reminds me a little of Leo Strauss and his readings of Plato, Al-Farabi, Machiavelli and Hobbes. He claimed that, because they wrote potentially dangerous political tracts, which were never meant to be understood by their political enemies or even the unprincipled common masses, these philosophers disguised and hid their true meanings within their texts, to confuse the uninitiated and challenge the adept. 
Similarly in karate, many techniques are hidden within the moves of the kata, hinted at only in the smallest gestures that,when understood, represent multiple applications, often radically different from the kata themselves.  These "secret" applications are only taught to students who have earned the respect and trust of the teacher over many years of training – the explanations being whispered out of earshot of newer students.  Sometimes the true teaching takes place in bars after training, when the student has proved his or her ability to hold liquor and probably won’t remember much the next morning anyway.  For the teacher, the transmission of knowledge is an oral one and must be strictly maintained.  Therefore, teachers do not merely consider whether their trusted student has demonstrated enough sense and ability to handle the knowledge itself, but whether he or she will also have the ability, when they finally become a senior teacher themselves, to employ the same principles and to recognize to whom the learning can (or should not) be passed onto for future generations.

“The heart of Direct Transmission is handed down by receiving the true Way. It is essential that you train thoroughly and make it a part of you.  This in an oral tradition.”
Miyamoto Musashi’s “The Book of Five Rings

Wednesday, 8 January 2014

Bunkai and Kagamimochi

Monday's class was taken by a sensei well versed in Aikijutsu, so as we ran through some of the kata (Saifa, Seiyunchin, Shisochin, etc), we also practiced the Bunkai, or applications, on each other, with particular focus on the various ways of breaking an opponent's grip on one's arm.  There will be plenty more on this subject in the future, but the interesting point for me was that there are always at least four or five, probably many more, ways of applying any single move in a kata, and many of these applications are deliberately hidden. You must either figure them out by continuous practice and trial and error, or else be taught directly by someone who knows.  There is a very strong sense of this in the dojo and in Okinawa GoJuRyu in general: that not everything is for popular consumption, and that many techniques must be kept obscure and not taught openly.  This "esoteric" aspect is something to be gone into in more depth in future blogs, but it makes sense given how dangerous some of the knowledge can be.

Continuing last time's aisatsu theme, as you enter the dojo, there is an Shinto altar on the right containing a deity - this must also be greeted.  At the start and end of each session, everyone kneels before the altar at the front, and after closing their eyes briefly in concentration, bows to the altar, then to the Kancho or head of the dojo, and then to the instructors and each other.  As you leave the dojo, you can greet the god in the traditional Japanese way - bow twice, clap twice, and then bow once.  However, I have not seen many people go this far.

At the start of the year, the altar has kagamimochi, a traditional New Year decoration consisting of two rice cakes and a bitter orange, placed on it. This practice, according to wikipedia, was introduced into martial arts dojos in 1884 by the founder of judo, Mr. Jigoro Kano, and is now widespread throughout Japan.

Monday, 6 January 2014


Today was the first day back at the dojo, so there was a lot of aisatsu, or greetings, for the New Year. Akemashite Omedetou Gozaimasu. Kotoshimo Yoroshiku Onegaishimasu.  But greetings are very important in dojo etiquette, to show respect. And to show respect one must greet (and bid farewell) to everyone individually.  You might think greetings have nothing to do with martial arts, with strength or with combat, so it is worth quoting Shotokan karate master Hirokazu Kanazawa at some length:

Karate, as a whole, begins and ends with the “greeting” (aisatsu), as a sign of respect for one’s opponent. In kumite, if one respects one’s opponent, there is no need for fear. And kata also begins with the greeting. When the right and left hand are brought together in greeting, this signifies the unity of ying and yang, purity and impurity, strength and flexibility, and the mind sees everything clearly without discrimination.  At the same time, the greeting is a peaceful sign indicating that one bears no weapons. On the other hand, however, the greeting is also a type of image training, showing constant preparedness to confront opponents coming from any direction.

“In essence, the “greeting” is the feeling of being one with the universe.”

Sunday, 5 January 2014

Back to School

So the RyuShinKan Dojo training commences January 6. Training at the Dojo in Yoyogi is twice a day, three times a week - Monday, Wednesday and Friday. There are also kids classes on Wednesday afternoon and Saturday.

RyuShinKan Dojo practices the traditional Okinawan GoJuRyu style of Karate-do. This blog will relate the training session and also look at related aspects of karate style, history, terminology and philosophy.  Everybody has much to learn and something to teach. Hopefully that includes this blog.

Welcome aboard.  I'll sign off with a favorite quote from one of Japan's legendary BUDO or martial arts swordsmen.  

"Consider yourself lightly; consider the world deeply"

Musashi Miyamoto - The Way of Walking Alone