Monday, 28 April 2014

More "Ti"

Here is a video  showing some Okinawan "Ti" stick fighting and other techniques. Fighting with sticks, farming implements, bare hands and any other available objects was all part of the development of "Ti" on the islands after prohibition on arms by the occupying Satsuma forces. Though this is stick fighting, the principles and techniques are fundamentally the same for karate, for example the techniques at 1:34.

Thursday, 24 April 2014

The Transition to Martial "Arts"

As Professor Takeshi Yoro of Tokyo University has pointed out, “Japanese weapons are peculiar things. Although designed to kill, the functionality of Japanese weapons was hardly enhanced at all over the centuries. Instead, they evolved into works of art.” The classical Japanese sword remained unchanged since the Kamakura period (1185-1333). Firearms, introduced in 1543, did not become more destructive, though they did become increasingly ornate. 

This coincided with a general shift towards conflict resolution without the use of force, destruction or swords. Gradually, as peace descended on Japan after the Battle of Sekigahara in 1600, the warrior classes looked to retain their martial skills at a level of readiness even in peacetime, refining them into art forms in the process, and at the same time investigating the more philosophical and spiritual aspects of their disciplines. 

"The original meaning of the Chinese character used to write “bu () was a depiction of men boldly marching ( or ) into battle with halberd (in hand. However, the interpretation of this hieroglyph came to be universally interpreted by Confucian scholars in China after the Sengoku period as meaning “to stop () fighting ().” The transition from a meaning of violence to one of peace was facilitated by Neo-Confucian scholars during the Tokugawa period (1600-1868), an epoch of social stability."

Thursday, 17 April 2014

Ishi Sashi

The Gojuryu Karatedo Yoyogi Ryushinkan Dojo is equipped with ishi sashi.

These training tools are hand-held weights in the shape of padlocks, traditionally made of stone.  They can also be made out of iron, in which case they are referred to as a “tetsu sashi.” According to some sources, this tool most probably has its roots in China, where similar methods are referred to as 'stone chain training' and have been used for centuries.  Ishi sashi are used in the hojo undo (補助運動) supplementary conditioning exercises.

Use of the ishi sashi will increase strength in the fingers, wrists, elbows and shoulders.  One exercise with ishi sashi to grip and hold throughout the performance of Sanchin and Tensho to reinforce execution of the various techniques found in those kata, particularly the mawashi uke at the end. This training will also help to develop the ability to root the arm movements firmly in the torso, so that the entire body core, including the lower back, is used to block, pull and strike.

Additionally, ishi sashi can be hooked over the feet to strengthen the legs for kicking and kneeing techniques.

Here is a site with advice on making your own hojo undo traditional training equipment – though plenty of patience and trial and error will most likely be required.

Friday, 11 April 2014

The Roots of Gojuryu

Karate is thought to have developed from fighting systems originating in China. But how did it get to Okinawa?  In 1392, over 500 Chinese emigrated from Fujian Province to Naha in Okinawa, introducing Chinese culture to the people of the Ryukyu Islands.  In 1756, the Qing Dynasty military envoy, Kusanku, said to have been an expert in the Chinese martial art Ch’uan Fa, was dispatched to Okinawa.

After Shimazu Iehisa of the Satsuma clan in Kagoshima invaded the islands in 1609, all weapons were confiscated from the local people. This prohibition on weapons lasted 250 years. The study and training of unarmed combat was therefore conducted in secret as the Satsuma authorities intensified their clampdown.

Higaonna Kanryo
Though the full history is unclear, over time karate (literally "Chinese hand") evolved in Okinawa from its esoteric and secret beginnings to become a widespread practice.  By 1904 public demonstrations were commonplace and two main “styles” had emerged, named after the areas in which they were dominant: Naha-te and Shuri-te (including Tomari-te). Higaonna Kanryo was prominent in Naha-te, while his student, Miyagi Chojun, founded the Gojuryu style. 

Miyagi Chojun
The lineage of Gojuryu is, therefore, from Chinese Kung Fu. This can be seen, for example, in its emphasis on developing Ki (or Qi) power through breathing techniques, as well as the traces of the White Crane style found in Tensho and other kata.

Test your knowledge of (or find out more about) Gojuryu karatedo with this video

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Gripping Jars (握り甕)

The Gojuryu Karatedo Yoyogi Ryushinkan Dojo is equipped with Nigiri game (握り甕) or gripping jars, which are essentially used to strengthen the power of the karateka’s grip.   The jars are gripped around a lipped rim with fingers and thumb, and the practitioner moves in varying stances and turns, especially sanchindachi and shikodachi, also strengthening the arms, shoulders, back and legs.

Nigiri game are one of the simple, traditional devices, made from wood and stone, used in hojo undo (補助運動), the supplementary conditioning exercises designed to develop strength, stamina, muscle coordination, speed, and posture  Nigiri game can be filled with sand to adjust the weight as required. Nigiri game is pronounced “Knee-Gee-Ree-Ga-May” – hard “g” and short “ee.”

As the linked article observes (and paraphrasing slightly), while modern karate emphasizes strike, kicks and punches, GoJuRyu and the more traditional schools have always included a wide variety of techniques, such as locks, throws, chokes and pinches. 

If conflict breaks out, one’s opponent should be brought under control with the minimum of activity, and striking an opponent should only be considered as a last resort.  “A powerful grip around the throat, groin, or the softer inner areas of the arms and legs, has a way of focusing the aggressor’s mind in ways that a punch or kick never will.”

“Far from obsolete, developing a potent grip provides one more opportunity to bring violence to a quick and decisive conclusion, a principal that lies at the very heart of traditional karate.”

Saturday, 5 April 2014

Training Mindset (修業の心得)

This is the training mindset (修業の心得) of the Gojuryu Karatedo Yoyogi Ryushinkan Dojo. 
Below is my rough translation:

Be humble and polite
Train appropriately for your physical strength (not too hard, not too lightly)
Practice earnestly and think deeply about what you are doing
Be calm in mind and free in action
Take proper care of your health
Live simply and modestly
Do not be conceited or too proud
Persist in training with unyielding spirit and patience

Here is a link to a site that provides translations of various "Kun," philosophies and mindsets from the different schools of karate.

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Breathing (呼吸)

Breathing or kokyu (呼吸) is a key component of Gojuryu karate and is emphasized heavily in training. It has even been said by some teachers that breathing is everything.  Breathing is especially emphasized and practiced in the fundamental kata Sanchin and Tensho.

The illustrations above indicate how the breath is perceived or "imagined" to enter and exit the body, beginning and ending in the tanden and abdominal area, where the muscles are tensed to control the breath.  Thoracic breathing, using the the intercostal muscles in the chest, should be avoided.  

Initially, breathing is done very consciously, inhaling through the nose and exhaling through the mouth, making a harsh, rasping noise in the process.  The throat and nasal passages are constricted to slow and control the breath.  Inhalations and exhalations can be short or long, or any combination thereof.   For  Sanchin the breathing is strong and loud, for Tensho the breathing is calmer and quieter, the ying to Sanchin's yang.

For all other kata, however, breathing should become silent and natural, adapting to the flow of techniques.