Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Learning to Fight from Old Men...

Morio Higaonna sensei at 70 years old - sanchin kata, Makishi 2008
Struggling to get through the final few cards during training this morning, a thought popped into my head..." I'm 60 now, why am I still doing this stuff ?" I told my self to 'shut up and get on with it!'...and carried on. As many of you know, I frequently use a deck of cards to work my hojo-undo; each suit representing a different kigu, with the number on each card I turn over dictating the amount of reps I do. It's a great help when motivation is scarce, or I just want to train hard without the complication of 'thinking'.

So...at 60 I'm getting a bit long in the tooth, but then I thought of the sensei I have learnt from, and they have always been older than me. Miyazato sensei has now passed away, but Higaonna sensei is still very much alive and training, and the same is true of both of my Shito-ryu sensei. So, what is it about karate that allows you to keep training into old age, when other fighting arts see their practitioners call it a day as early as their 30's?

Boxers don't box and wrestlers don't wrestle once the flush of youth has passed, and yet the Asian martial arts produce old men (and women) with fighting abilities that seemingly contradict nature. If a 60 year old boxer can't handle a 20 year old boxer, and a 55 year old wrestler is easily beaten by a grappler half his age....how come there are so many karate sensei out there able to drop a student to the ground in front a class whenever they feel like it?

A couple of things to consider here...the psychological impact of 'role playing', and the reality that most martial arts training is now closer to 'choreography' than 'karate'. Remembering techniques has taken precedence over developing a feeling for them, while adherence to a syllabus has become the main conduit through which karate is passed from one generation to the next. People now 'learn' karate from someone who 'teaches' it, and so there is little need for an experienced karateka to 'transmit', through their daily behavior, something that a student (if they have prepared themselves sufficiently) is able to 'receive'.

I'm not sure why you learn to fight from old men, or 'what' it is you think you're learning to fight, but for me, all my sensei had something about their nature that I admired. None of them have been perfect human beings, but then I've never been interested in seeking perfection: only contentment. With age comes experience, from which it is possible (if you're properly prepared) to receive something of value that you might take and carry into your own life.

It might not suit you, but it's always been reason enough for me....

Sunday, 22 November 2015

Changes...and a comment on kata.

With Andreas Quast, half way up the ishi-tatami in Okinawa, c2007
I've made a couple of adjustments to the links on the left of the posts, the changes only reflect name changes, not the web sites your are taken to. I could provide a hyper-link to both here, but that might encourage laziness, so if you want to know more go to the list and see what's new.

Of particular interest is the latest post on the Ryukyu Bugei site. A skilled budoka, as well as gifted writer and eminent researcher, Andreas shines a light on karate's compromise to sport, and it's steady march, I believe, toward cultural and spiritual poverty, and eventual irrelevance.

You may believe sport has a role to play in karate: I don't. I believe that sport-karate has a role to play in sport: not karate.

Wednesday, 18 November 2015

Thoughts on training with weapons...

My kobudo teacher, Akamine Hiroshi sensei, posing for my lens with sai 
When I began to practice Okinawan kobudo again, in 2007, I rather naively gave little thought to politics. I was excited to be back working with weapons; and so with no thought to the ambitions of others I began to learn. I soon discovered that behind the fine words and platitudes, kobudo suffers from the same cancer as karate...the desire in many individuals to "be somebody!" As such, it wasn't too long before I had a problem. Thankfully, Akamine sensei knew me, I wasn't just a name to him, and so my connection to the Shimbukan dojo remains.

My relationship with kobudo is not focused on gaining rank nor does it involve collecting as many kata as possible, it simply involves practice. In the past I've been invited to take a promotion test here in Australia, and more recently in Okinawa, but on both occasions I have politely declined. This may sound strange to some of you reading this, but I don't want a 'rank' in kobudo, for me it would take away the joy I get from picking up the various weapons I practice with. Besides, I already have enough dan ranks in karate to last a couple of lifetimes, so what good would another one in kobudo do me?

The naivety I mentioned earlier in relation to kobudo blinded me for a little while, I had the idea that kobudoka, being smaller in number than karateka, would be somehow less politically motivated or dollar driven, but I was wrong.  It seems there is nothing good and wholesome left in the world of budo, that someone, somewhere, isn't already tying to make a dollar out of. I'm grateful that Akamine sensei has no desire to be an 'important somebody' in the world of Okinawan kobudo; actually, it's this very fact that attracts me to his teaching, for his skill is undeniable, and his company a pleasure to be in.

Many folk forget, importance (celebrity) and skill don't always go hand in hand, indeed, there are a great many highly skilled budoka in the world that few people ever hear about. Men who can wield a weapon in a manner that makes the collecting of an Okinawan rank appear pointless. The man you are about to be introduced to has no 'rank' in Okinawa kobudo, and yet he has mastered the sai to an extraordinary level according to the tradition that he follows. There are few things unique in the world, and even less that is new; the sooner you get your head around that fact, the sooner you have a chance of appreciating your training for what it is....not part of an institutional activity: but something deeply personal.

Enjoy the video.......

Sunday, 15 November 2015

What's your opinion..?

It's not the original Shurei mon, but it's the one you all know.
I was at the reopening ceremony of Shurijo in 1992. I stood and watched the island's most senior budoka display their art, and many others who had yet to achieve greatness do the same; I walked around the grounds and buildings marvelling at the work that had gone into the rebuild. This was after all a brand new building and no mere restoration; the older palace had been completely obliterated in the Spring of 1945.

I often think that Okinawan karate has experienced something similar to Shurijo, and the once age old foundations upon which the art stood have been replaced by a modern facsimile. What is often seen today as 'karate' looks in many ways similar to the karate of old, but in truth the similarities are only skin deep. With all kinds of superfluous movements and dubious techniques now embedded in 'traditional' karate, it can be difficult to spot a bit of authenticity.

The morality too, that was once absorbed during the learning of karate, has been replaced by opinion; and heaven help us, but everyone these days has an 'opinion!' Karate, once pursued by individuals as a means to better themselves, is now a trading house with buyers and sellers shouting over each other in an effort to get their message heard. In the ongoing conversation of karate, the Internet has made it possible for 'opinion' to replace personal experience.

I saw a photograph recently of a well known Western 'karateka' posing in front of the replica Shurei mon. He was in full regalia posing in something that resembled the kata sanchin, pulling a face that suggested he needed a laxative, armpits wide open, chest bursting forward like a swan, and his legs wide enough apart to park a small family car between his knees.

My initial thought was...."I wonder if he knows it's fake?"

Friday, 13 November 2015

Choices made - dicisions taken...

The door may be open, but the 'way' is never straight.
Since I last posted in August, I've been clearing the way for a number of big changes. All the choices were weighed against the alternatives, and all the decisions that needed to be made have now been taken. After 18 years living in Tasmania, surrounded by mountains and vineyards, my wife and I are returning to live in Western Australia. The reasons for doing so are many and varied, but suffice to say, it's a move we believe it is wise to make sooner rather than later.

I've long understood that 'attachment', to places, possessions, even ideas, is at the heart of unhappiness. So, when life puts before you an inconvenient truth, it is often a sense of attachment to the status-quo that opens the door to discontent. In life, just as in karate, timing is important. Move too soon and your lack of preparation can leave you stranded, move too late, and you can quickly become overwhelmed by what comes next.

All choices involve rejection, you get that...right? By choosing one way you reject all others. It is important therefore to choose with care the path you take through life, as well as the people you share your life with. A good choice provides a good outcome, a poor choice, just the opposite. The difference between the two is found in how well you understand yourself. I see my training as a way to continually introduce myself to the person I'd like to be.

Thank you for sticking around over the past three months of inactivity on my part. I have been busy, just not with the blog. Over the coming posts I'll bring you up to date on the good bits going on, as well as the events that have left me feeling a little deflated.

Wednesday, 26 August 2015

501 - Intermission....

Kyu Do Mu Gen - Investigating the Way is Endless
I've 'borrowed' the image above from a book published some years ago by Eiichi Miyazato sensei, I'm sure he wouldn't mind me doing this...he was a stern, but forgiving teacher.

This is a time of change for me, 'Kanreki', a time for my wife and me to take on new challenges and look in new directions; as the saying goes, 'Researching the way is endless' . But, exactly what is the 'Way'? For me, it's how I live my life, not only my karate practise. Karate/kobudo, although hugely important to me, are not all that I am.

As a recent post has indicated, there are a lot of 'karate' blogs on the net that are far better than this one, a number of them are listed on the left; please, if you haven't already, take the time to read what these budoka have to say, because the points they raise are important.

I'm going off line for a while, I have important choices to make and big changes to organise. My personal training will continue as usual, as will my investigations in to karate and kobudo...I just won't be discussing it here. I'm leaving the blog up as a resource, and will post again when the choices have been made, and the changes put in place.

I began posting six years ago, and want to thank you for supporting the blog in such numbers (10.000 plus, page views each month) from very early on; I'm grateful and humbled by your interest and will end by wishing you all the best for your own training.

Sunday, 23 August 2015

Post 500...

The Shinseidokan dojo kun - things that I believe in
This is post number five hundred, a little milestone that has crept up on me without notice. Now that I have noticed, I've been giving some thought to what to do about it; stop, or carry on? Certainly, there are enough readers of the blog each month to make me a very wealthy man if it cost a dollar every time you stopped by...and having contemplated resorting to 'AdSense' to earn some money from the blog, I'm inclined not to take that idea any further.

Still...it's interesting, the way the use of the Internet has lead to a sense of entitlement for many who spend their lives on it. Miyazato Eiichi sensei told me a story once, actually a couple of times, about two fighting cocks he once owned in his younger days. Back then, pitting animals against each other was a common pastime in Okinawa. Today only the bull fights remain, but I recall being invited to the once popular 'snake -v- mongoose' contests a number of times during my early visits to the island; thankfully I always managed to get out of going.

Here's a short version of my sensei's story:

Miyazato sensei once owned a number of fighting cocks, and of them, two in particular showed great promise. He decided to 'train' each one differently. The first he fed only the best corn and feed he could find, and made sure it never went hungry or wanted for anything. The second, he fed only when he felt it needed feeding; he gave it no special attention, and pretty much left it to fend for itself.

The fist bird grew big, with powerful leg muscles, a broad back and chest, and strong, sharp, talons. The second bird was lean and mean looking, had no shine to it's feathers, but a murderous look in it's eyes. One time Miyazato sensei had to go to Japan on business, he was gone for a week. On his return he was informed that one of his prize fighting birds had died. when he went to look he discovered the dead bird wasn't the one he was expecting.

The bird that died was the one he fed regularly, not the one he kept lean and mean. It was a big lesson for Miyazato sensei, and he would often speak to me about having to fend for myself; "If I give answer, you go home and forget; better you learn for yourself through training." The bird that lived had only ever fended for itself, that's all it knew how to do, while the first bird had grown dependent on another to keep it alive.

The parallels are clear, to me at least, of how so many karateka rely on others to 'feed' them, while only a few are prepared to look after themselves. With this, my five-hundredth post, allow me to ask that you stop depending on others for everything; or just like the bird that died, your karate too is heading for the same fate...

Thursday, 20 August 2015

Vanishing Point...when what you do becomes who you are.

Me, in the days when fighting was a joy!
I've had a week of fighting, well, not me really, but my wife. As some of you already know, my wife suffers with MS (Multiple Sclerosis), it's a degenerative auto-immune disease that attacks the brain and spinal cord. For a lot of the time we manage quite well, but sometimes our 'unwelcome guest' stops by and moves in, and we have no choice but to accommodate it. It's a fight I know we can't win, but that hasn't stopped  us fighting. It has taken a while, but we're getting better at minimising the impact MS has in our life.

When I was younger, I enjoyed a good fight. I took pleasure engaging others and seeing what happened. Of course, such violent stupidity lead to a lot of time in police cells and, eventually, in prison too. But I grew up, I discovered karate...and that's when a whole new fight began. I had an article published in the UK recently talking about coming to terms with the disparity between fighting and learning karate; here's a sample............

"When I became a karateka, in January 1974, I stepped into a world I knew nothing about. I knew a lot about fighting, winning, losing, hurting people, and being hurt in return: of dealing with post-fight adrenaline dumps, awareness, and even the concept of sen-no-sen...all be it under a different name. However, I knew nothing much about self-discipline; nor did I appreciate the human attributes of  patience, consistency, and humility. The dojo was a strange place to be back then, because I was being challenged to put my 'self' to one side and adopt ideas and a code of behaviour I wasn't at all sure would serve me well in a fight. My freedom to engage who I liked, how I liked; to take the first hit if it allowed me to grab the guy and shove his head through a shop window or throw him into oncoming traffic, was stifled by learning to stand, move, and block (defend myself) in ways that filled me with no confidence at all.

I quickly discovered that karate was wrapped in morality, and it's ethical borders presented me with many problems; 'Karate ni sente...what!!!....you have to be kidding me: right? And who the hell came up with the idea of 'Bowing to your enemy'? From my limited perspective on karate back then, such ideas were a total nonsense. Morality gets in the way of fighting, I believed it then and I believe it now; but that's the point, for karate without morality leads to boorish behaviour, and if left unchecked: brutality. If your karate training is authentic, then morality is not only present during training, it dominates everything you do in, and out of the dojo."

Fighting in the street, and sparring in the dojo, are are not the same thing, and even the highly trained fighters in a cage or ring have rules and safety measure in place to prevent serious injury. Real fighting, the kind I once enjoyed, comes wrapped in belligerence and spite. It stems from a willingness to go the distance without concern for the consequences; it has no sense of fairness attached to it, no morals.

I'm sixty-years old, I've been a karateka for forty-two of them...these days I face a different foe than in my youth; the kind that can be held at bay but not beaten. Confronting life, and all that it brings, I've discovered through karate a smarter way to fight, and a better way to live...

Saturday, 15 August 2015

Like grains of sand through an hourglass, so too...yadda, yadda, yadda!

Perth skyline on a winter's day - July 2015
I posted recently about my departure from 'mainstream karate' some years ago, the email I received out of the blue yesterday (below) will give you a good idea of why I've left most of the karate world behind. I'm pretty sure I've made my opinion clear on the state of karate in the world these days, and why I have little interest in what 'others' are doing, but just to make myself crystal clear once again; please understand that there are only a very small number of karateka/budoka on the planet who interest me.

I'm sure there are thousands of wonderful budoka around the world that I don't know about, but of all the people I have met, come into contact with through my work, or come to know of through their writing over the past four decades....only a very small number of them have captured my interest and gained my respect. Perhaps this sounds a little harsh...but it's the truth!

So....to the (unsolicited, unwanted, and unedited) email I received yesterday:

Hello Michael,

You may remember we emailed a bit back and forth some years ago when you wrote a scathing article in Blitz about fake martial arts 'masters' in Blitz magazine.

Many of us were fairly certain that the person you were writing about was Mr Tony Jackson.

Mr Jackson has recently released a book:

http://www.amazon.com.au/Journey-Karate-Student-Anthony- Jackson- OAM-ebook/dp/B0138YIDSU/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1439510758&sr=1-1 

It defames and slanders so many decent people. Even Silvio Morelli.

I have written to Amazon and the publisher, Xlibris, to have it banned. But, so far, with no success. Amazon has since been heavily promoting this garbage on Facebook. People have been downloading it and buying the physical version. I know some people who have it.

Mr Jackson writes a FANTASY version about his so-called teachers and masters in Okinawa and Japan. Many of us have Googled these names and they just do not exist. Some, with contacts on Okinawa, have asked the locals and nobody in Okinawa knows any of Mr Jackson's masters either.

Lots of people have been defamed including a guy in Adelaide who Mr Jackson names and accuses of having 'inappropriate' dealings with underage boys and girls. he makes it very obvious. They are truly disgusting and false statements designed to hurt that person in the worst way possible.

Mr Jackson has misquoted others to make himself appear legitimate.

He has also been up to his old tricks - appending names and signatures of senseis Yogi and Gakiya to high-rank certificates. you may remember he went to court over forging Denis Purvis's signature around 40 years ago. Gakiya and Yogi were shown one of the certificates and both deny that they signed any certificates. I also contacted an acquaintance on Okinawa who is a cryptologist in the US navy. He stated within seconds that the certificate I copied to him via Facebook text that it was a complete forgery.

Anyway, Just letting you know that Raindee, Hanshi, Kancho, Professor Tony Jackson OBE is hurting a lot or reputations with his idiotic book. So you were 100% correct with what you said in your Blitz article. You should have named and shamed him.


Gary Simpson

PS: Mr Jackson is also claiming he is a General in some sort of Filipino army. And, just in case you are interested, I've attached a small selection of his pages.

Okay, so here are my thoughts. I could care less what Mr Jackson is up to, I could care less about Gary Simpson's opinion of Mr Jackson, and I certainly couldn't give a flying fig about an ebook that retails for less than $3.00. I'm not a member of the "Budo Police" okay! So if you have a disagreement with someone...sort it out, don't look to me for support or endorsement.

I'll let you decide about the content of the email (above) and the book in question; you can come to your own conclusion about the people involved, take sides, or simply move on and invest your time and effort into something that brings you a bit of joy and contentment. I get stuff like this a lot, from all over the place...stop it, you're worse than an Nigerian email scam! If this kind of rubbish forms a part of your karate...you really do need to ask yourself why?

Hey! Maybe you like this kind of crap?

Tuesday, 11 August 2015

The Structure of Karate.....

School kids practising kata at Shurijo
A couple of weeks ago I was asked how much kata was "structured" in to my classes? I have to admit, it was about then that my interest in continuing the conversation took a turn for the worse, and being the grumpy old man that I am (just ask anyone who knows me), our 'chat' ended very soon afterwards.

Why? You may well ask. Well, for some years now I've had a problem with 'mainstream' karate and the people who live there, and rather than try to change 'that' world, I made a conscious decision to leave it behind. It took a while to separate myself from the kind of 'thinking' that I'd been educated in, but eventually I managed to make the break.

There is no formal structure to my training, I do what I have in mind to do; that said, studying my kata is always at the heart of it. Working with the various kigu too forms a big part of my time in the dojo, and I never go more than a day or two without connecting with kobudo....I believe it's important to have the weapons in my hands often.

As for helping the students, I only help them to help themselves...