Why lead with the left?

Did you ever wonder why so many martial arts train with the left side forward? Did you ever wonder why some people just cannot seem to take a punch to the body? Well, check this out:

Video courtesy of www.youtube.com/@KentoBento(©)

The liver is vulnerable on the right side of the body just below the floating ribs; it is also vulnerable straight into the solar plexus, just below the xyphoid process of the sternum.

There is a reason behind everything you are taught; even if you do not realize it.

And the wheel turns on...

I regret I must report the passing of Inoue Kyoichi today; 10th dan Kancho of Yoshinkan Aikido.


Rest well, sensei.

What is a "Shock" Punch?

I have often been asked about the legendary/mythical/magickal/fake/bullshido "Shock Punch" which transfers energy into the target without penetration...

Would this not be ideal? One could strike an armored person or a hard, bony target and not injure yourself doing so: "I send my ki into the enemy and he is vanquished" - yeah, right.

Thing is; it is real. What it is NOT is "magick" or "fake" or "bullshido"; it IS frequently misunderstood or poorly taught or poorly performed.

In the following video Wing Chun Master Loi (Macao) explains the Wing Chun Fist, what I consider the epitome of a "Shock Punch".

The Secret of a "Shock Punch":

Tension at the moment of impact followed by immediate relaxation

It has nothing to do with "pulling back" or "withdrawing"; it is simply instantaneous tension and relaxation.

One should always be relaxed when one launches a technique (waza) and only tense the muscles at the point of impact; this allows the body to move freely and therefore quickly. One applies tension at the point of impact to harden the striking surface and to avoid damage; but it is relaxation which determines if the strike gives penetration or simply transfers energy. Master Loi points this out at around 40 seconds in the video (-1.43 on the FB timer).

Anyway, here it is, folks, in plain English (Okay, Chinese with subtitles):





The Blade

Eric Pearson Sensei of "The Nameless Dojo" in Austin, Texas teaches Daito Ryu aikijujutsu, Tomiki Ryu aikido and Matl Ryu judo in the muteshokai style.

He said something recently that is an expression of commonality; and which made an impression on me. I think this would be helpful in explaining where Hirakawa Ryu comes from.

A basic explanation for Hirakawa Ryu waza (techniques) is:


(ken muto tou itsu "The same with or without a blade")

Daito Ryu emphasizes making a connection between combatants; Hirakawa Ryu emphasizes creating a flow between combatants. As time passes I am more convinced that these are the same...

Anyway, Pearson Sensei on knife work:

"I was hanging out at a Chinese restaurant with George Ledyard and Howard Popkin. The conversation turned to knife work. I mentioned that a lot of my practice is knife work.

George asked me a strange question..."what type of knife work?" My thought..."what does he mean? Pointy end in bad guy!"

Thinking about it, universally aikido people suck at knives. My 1st Daito Ryu teacher, Ikuo Ota, taught all aiki technique is based on the blade. I have spent almost a decade now focused on working aiki-tanto. I have been trying to patch up the sucky knife work of the rest of the aiki world.

My answer is I do Aiki knife. In my practice the blade has to obey the principles of aiki. Or, if my partner has the knife it makes my angles and timing shit hot. The knife is used to amplify training.

I am not trying to be a 'slash master'. Musashi looked down on that. I am trying to be a 'cut the guy down down to floor in one cut'. aiki-age, aiki-yoko, and aiki-sage all in one cut. kuzushi upon cut. Blade or not...the motion is all Aiki.

After years of training I find very few things in kali, silat, eskrima and Systema knife we have not covered and discovered. We just got there through a different path.

I'm not claiming to be world class - but I dont suck. Really I am claiming the blade is my teacher. She is mean one.

A really mean one."


And The Spinning Wheel Spins...

Stanley Pranin (July 24, 1945 - March 7, 2017) of Aikido Journal passed away on March 7, 2017. Another turn of the wheel.

To tournament, or not to tournament? (Not even a question)

Some thoughts on tournaments and why we need them as martial artists.

It really boils down to this:

  • When we train in the dojo we have training partners:
    A partner is there to help us learn basics (kihon), to work on technique (waza) and to develop our abilities. A partner (good partner, anyway) should not be trying to hurt us, or overpower us, or even win. I know some of you will say "but what about free sparring (kizu kumite)?" and my response is "do you have rules for free sparring?"
  • When we end up in any combat we are up against an enemy.
    All situations from playground fights up to and including open warfare have no rules and the person we are up against has no interest in us, or our welfare, or our skills.
    All they care about is taking us out, winning at all cost. If we are hurt or killed they do not care. This is a far cry from dojo training, and most martial artists are not even close to being ready for this reality.
    So obviously we fill that gap with tournaments and competitions.
  • At a tournament there are rules for safety but our competitor is an opponent;
    falling somewhere in between the dojo and the realities of combat. While they are (typically) not trying to maim or kill, they are also not interested in making us look good or helping us learn. Their entire purpose is (should be) winning the individual competitions and thus the entire tournament. This puts far more pressure upon us as martial artists than anything we experience in regular training but it is very valuable if we are ever called upon to actually fight for our lives and safety; or for the lives and safety of others.

Back in the old days, martial artists would simply go out and get into fights. The old stories of dojo challenges, street brawls and ambushes did happen. Even when I was young, strangers would come into our dojo and issue "challenges" where the goal was to injure or kill anyone who took up the gauntlet. I am talking about America, the good old U.S. of A.

This lawlessness has all but died out thanks to the proliferation of attornies and the ever-present threat of the lawsuit. I mean, sure: you could win a fierce victory over a weak opponent or a charlatan but then the vultures descend and you are left with nothing except possibly some jail time.

So, how do you find out if your skills are good enough? How can you tell if you are being trained properly?

What lets one know that the "Super Whammer-Dyne All Powerful Chumba Wumba style" one is learning from the "Great and Powerful Eternal Goomba" REALLY IS superior to all forms of traditional karate?

I bet you know what I am going to say. I will not even say it... Moving on.

There are two basic types of tournaments:

  • Closed tournaments, restricted to a single form or style of martial art (e.g., Tang Soo Do or Judo)
  • Open tournaments, where competitors may come from any style or form of martial art

Closed tournaments are typically well controlled in regard to relative ranking of opponents and in regard to rules and expectations (scoring) and therefore give an opportunity to test personal skills against opponents at ones own skill level. This is a good indicator of personal progress and can clear away personal illusions caused by cautious and "polite" training partners in the dojo.

Open tournaments are much more "wild and woolly" in nature, as registrants are typically taken at their word as to ranking in their style. Some disreputable and dishonorable individuals routinely shed two or three belt levels so that they can get an easy victory over less skilled opponents. Also, while there are rules the enforcement is left to each judge and not all schools play fair in this regard. However, the open tournament is invaluable for testing ones self against other styles of martial arts. In this manner, you can build up a knowledge of how other styles fight, learn to recognize the training an enemy has had (in the unfortunate event of actual combat) and develop a response to those realities. Just do not expect to win at an open tournament.

Practice makes...

I was watching a video from my friends at Shinju Dojo in Vancouver, BC when I heard something imminently sensible:

"Practice does NOT make perfect; Practice makes permanence"


If you practice something a thousand times and you do that thing wrong, you will always do that thing. Wrong.






I am feeling particularly lazy this month

THIS. Go read THIS.

That is all.



“Culture takes three to four generations to develop, but only one to be lost,” - Ota Shosuke

Budo, the warrior way, is a culture in danger of extinction. Not three, not four, but countless generations have gone before us. Always seeking, probing, developing, practicing, and then passing along to the next generation what meager learning is had or what little understanding is gained. And so, we progress.

However,  overwhelming arrogance and a self-centered image of our place at the top of the world has taken the place of humility and a picture of ourselves as one link in a great chain.

Look at other, more recent disciplines such as Taekwondo or Isshin Ryu karate, both founded in the 1950's and both in more or less the third generation.

Developed out of Shotokan karate, Taekwondo began as a discipline for armies, used on the battlefield to devastating effect.  Watching the 2016 Summer Olympics and seeing what Taekwondo has become makes me doubt its future. And now, there will be an International conference to determine how to "fix" Taekwondo. I am not saying it will no longer exist, nor am I implying there is no one teaching the true form because I personally know better. But I doubt it will remain a martial way other than in small pockets and isolated groups. It is a spectator sport now, like boxing.

Isshin Ryu karate, the brainchild of Shimabuku Tatsuo, is another example. I personally know a first-generation student of Shimabuku Sensei; he is an upstanding man and extremely skilled martial artist. Yet most of the lower-ranked proponents of Isshin-Ryu ignore what he teaches because "it is not the way we do it". Amazingly enough, there are films of Shimabuku Kaiso performing the Isshin Ryu kata and waza in different locations and different years. These films have been digitized and are widely available on YouTube where anyone can watch them. I can point out details to the first-generation student or his own students and typically receive "that is right" or "I never noticed that but yes". More than once a student has gone back to the first generation asking questions based upon things I have said and have then changed their practice. Outside of that group I get "no, not right" or "we do not do it that way in Isshin Ryu" or "that is a bad film" (even though the waza are consistent across years and location changes). Incredibly, I have been told on more than one occasion that the founder of Isshin Ryu "didn't know what he was doing".

Martial artists are already beginning to sneer at Taekwondo, most have only seen the "Olympic" style and have no idea what is really behind it. Okinawa is the birthplace of karate and also the birthplace of Isshin Ryu but I have met Sensei from Okinawa that will not even discuss Isshin Ryu or acknowledge it as a form of karate.

Please do not think I am singling out these two arts, either.  Take a look at all of the different Shotokan Karate organizations; only one of which I consider legitimate. And yes, I know of at least one "Shotokan" instructor who is actually part of the ISKA (International Sport Kickboxing Association), has no lineage in Shotokan (his actual response was "what's that?") and received his rank from "MOMMY". Yet, there he is teaching away like he has all the knowledge in the world.

These modern times may well signal the end of the martial way.






When one fears failure so much



That they never begin,



Then one truly fails



And creates what they dread most.




Finding the "Sweet Spot"

Just a reference to a video I found very informative, and a quick note:

We have all heard the old adage about measuring your sword by hanging it at your side so that the kissaki is just above your ankle; no?

Well, if you do that then the monouchi (sweet spot) for cutting is more or less at the thickest part of your calf muscles. No fooling.




About Fear, About Pain

I attended a regional tournament (Tae Kwon Do) a few days ago, and while there was a lot going on and I met any number of old friends, there are a couple of things I would like to discuss. I post this as a direct response to an incident or two I observed at the competition


"Fear creeps up on you from behind, grabs you and holds you back" - Hirakawa sensei

This is, quite literally, true. Fear comes from the amygdalla, part of the limbic system of the brain which controls emotions, and the limbic system sits in the middle at the back of the brain just above the brain stem.

Fear moves forward from the back of the brain, on both sides of your head, and squeezes your vision. Your sight becomes narrow and extremely focused, until you cannot see anything other than what you fear. Fear drags you backward, away from the thing you fear. Fear makes you run away.

Everybody feels fear; from the lowest kyu rank to the most senior Dan rank. No matter what art you practice, at some point you will feel fear. What matters is how you handle it.

"So how DO you handle fear?"
Quite literally by "facing" it. Turn your face directly toward the object you fear, open your eyes as wide as you possibly can and LOOK at it. Then you take a breath, exhale and MOVE... toward it, at an angle, sideways, any direction except away.

Simple, no? Too easy?
Well, there is a reason why most warrior cultures practice some form of enhanced awareness training. When you open your eyes and look at something you shift activity from the limbic system (primitive brain) to the occipital lobe of your cerebrum and just like that you are back to being a thinking person instead of a reacting animal. Also, "Run away" comes from the limbic system; but a decision toward a deliberate movement comes from the frontal lobe of the cerebrum (you know, that "thinking" thing again).


Pain rises. From the heart to the head, pain rises. In order to catch the pain, ...you have to clamp down at the very instant you feel it. Do you understand? The very instant. Pin it with your teeth" - Roland Deschain, son of Steven

Yes, pain rises. Right along the old spinal cord, pain rises. And where does it end up? At our old friend the limbic system (remember him? old Mr. Primitive Brain?).

Everybody feels pain; from the lowest kyu rank to the most senior Dan rank. Just wait until you jam a steel splinter half an inch underneath your thumbnail (no, seriously - wait as long as you can before doing that. Trust me). What matters is how you handle it.

"So how DO you handle pain?"
Here is a thing most people miss - there is more than one neural pathway to the brain. In fact, there are faster neural pathways than the spinal cord. Have you ever touched something hot and jerked your hand back off the (whatever) before you even felt the pain? Then the pain hits - a slowly swelling feeling that builds up until it can be overwhelming. After many years as a practicing blacksmith I can tell you all about those burning sensations.

The interesting part is that you know you have been burned before the pain gets there. This is because the myo-fascial sheath actually serves as a sensory organ and a neural pathway straight into the brain.

So pain rises, and you can feel it coming. You cannot make it go away, but if you clamp down hard enough and at the right time you can control it. "Bite the bullet", so to speak. Or your mouth guard. How does it work? again, it puts the cerebrum in charge instead of the limbic. A hard exhalation and tensing of the abdominal walls helps as well; just one more deliberate action the cerebrum has to manage before the gibbering monkey "back there" can take charge again. A powerful kiai just when you are hit in combat gets it all done at once, you know.

If you are lucky, you can clamp down on the pain and control it long enough for it to fade away. If you practice, you can control it long enough to keep on fighting.


And Another Turn...

Another turn of the wheel.

Martial Artist Master Garry Dyals passed away today.

Once more I say Rest in Peace my old friend.

I wish the wheel would turn more slowly; it will not.

Who Can Teach Me?

Who can teach me?

This has become a sensitive subject in these times of fast internet, YouTube, eBooks and book stores. I have been approached countless times by persons who tell me they are "black belts" or "masters" of this or that martial art; only to find their instructors have been internet videos, eBooks or video games.

These individuals quickly find out their "skill" and "mastery" are simply a sham but instead of learning the lesson provided I am accused of "cheating" or "trickery" or "deliberately embarrassing them" as they pout away back to their solitary practice of "excellence".

Okay, to be fair - "deliberately embarrassing them" is usually pretty accurate. Also to be fair, I have seen exactly one case where the "master" admitted his lack of skill and went on to train in a proper martial art.

But, to answer the question I say "find a sensei, in a real dojo, in an organization with an established heirarchy of senior instructors, in a martial art that has been around for more than a few years". You will not find adequate core knowledge anywhere else (MMA, McDojo or "martial art my uncle made up").

Why can I not learn from the internet?

The short answer is that you cannot properly learn from the internet because the tools you need to learn are rarely provided in any given video (and never all at once). Back in May of 2015 I spoke of the difference between the beginner and the master; nothing has changed since then.

As a beginner you will not understand and actually cannot even see the small details presented in a YouTube video. The properly trained individual does see and can take final note of the minor nuances which are the difference between effective technique and quick, clumsy death.

I am often assailed by cries of "that doesn't work!" or "this is bull!" or "these guys are charlatans!" in regard to YouTube videos; or by the flood of "training versus reality" videos. Now I will firmly agree there are any number of frauds, fakes and scams floating around the internet. However, in many cases what I see is a poorly executed technique from an inadequately trained performer being touted as "bad" when really it is the sloppy and ill-prepared demonstrator at fault.

Someone is feeding the frauds though. Maybe they received their own training from the internet.

I understand it just fine! (Sure you do).

This month I have been substitute teaching for a sensei who had to be away for the month. Rather than attempt to teach the style of his particular ryuha I have been introducing his students (mostly kyu ranks) to some advanced concepts of martial arts (musubi, ire, hyoshi, things like that). During my second session I had a mixture of new attendees and those who attended the first session; I advised those from the first session to also apply those concepts as best they could. Imagine my surprise when one of the new guys (8th kyu) turned and said "I know all about it; Xxxxx (also 8th kyu) taught me everything".

Now, any truly advanced martial artist will tell you these are some of the most complex and difficult concepts to master, but an 8th kyu student understood it well enough to teach it after one whole hour of training.  Hmm.

Perhaps the problem is once again the lack of concept caused by lack of experience. Or perhaps they should make a YouTube video and enlighten the rest of us...



Oh, and do not teach something (anything) until the person who taught you gives permission to do so. You are not in a position to judge your own understanding.



And... Vocabulary

Some Terms you may hear from me:

(narabu) - "Line Up"; When your sensei says this, get yourself in line

準備 (junbi) - "Prepare / Get Ready"; Should be self-explanatory (ask if I need to elaborate)

(kiwotsuke) "Care / Carefulness / Caution / Attention"; This is the same as AchTung! in Germany or Avertir! in France or Heads Up! in America. THIS DOES NOT MEAN "Line Up"!!

る  (kamaeru) "To stiffen / To become formal"; This means to stand at attention.

(rei) "Bow"; Just what it sounds like.

正面(shyoumen ni rei) "Bow to Front"; Show respect for your dojo

(ritsu ni rei) "Bow to Teachings"; Show respect for your ryuha

先生 (sensei ni rei) "Bow to Teacher"; Bow to your sensei and show a bit of respect.

(o taga i ni rei) "Bow to each other"; Show respect for your partner





The Wheel Turns

Once again the wheel turns.

Martial Artist Grand Master John Tompkins passed away today.

Rest in Peace my old friend.



The Invisible Warrior

First, let me relate a couple of recent things.

The first occurred when a kyu rank (karate) tossed a casual head-high kick at a young woman outside of their school. I am reasonably certain he was trying to impress her, or me, or both.

He got a reaction from me, but I doubt it was what he expected.

"Stop that; never do that again. The only two places for your karate are in the dojo where you train, and in defense of yourself or others. Ideally the rest of the world should not even know you practice martial arts until you are forced to use it"

How much does that differ from the ways of our modern world?

The second happened somewhat differently. I recently enrolled Caitlin in taekwondo at Impact America Martial Arts, run by my good friend Scott Wilkinson Sabom. It is a new experience for me, sitting behind the railing in the parent viewing area and watching someone else train your loved ones.

Anyway, the other day a student was struggling with their uniform and I made a suggestion to the parent. The father seemed grateful for the help but another parent (not involved) snapped "what do you know about it?". I will admit I was tempted to answer her question with a full-blown, detailed explanation of exactly why I "know something about it" but after a moment of thought simply smiled, shrugged my shoulders and walked away.

Let us look at a couple of ancient examples of the warrior: Okinawa, the birthplace of karate; and Japan, a nation dedicated to defense against outside threats.

Throughout the history of Okinawa from the Ryuku Kingdoms through the Japanese occupation and into modern times the prevailing attitude was one of hidden strength. Students trained with Masters in private and often in secret; concealing their ability from all. The Ryuku Kingdoms disarmed their population, which had no effect on visitors or government officials. When Japan occupied Okinawa their first act was to reinforce this to a much greater extent.

Being able to fight was necessary to protect ones self but in any unarmed fight against armed opponents the element of surprise gives huge advantage. So, humility and hidden strength became the way of the fighter.

Japan, on the other hand, had a very stratified social structure for most of its history. The most common example of this is the Samurai; although there were other far more numerous warrior castes in Japan. Samurai stand out because they were the "nobility" of their ages. But, there were far more born to Samurai but without lands, materials or wealth than with. Many more "have nots" than "haves" if you will and yet all had the responsibility of the samurai. In many cases these men were little more than thugs, most sought employment with other more powerful Samurai families. Most wanted to improve their status and so developed a gaudy, "look at me" lifestyle.

The truly powerful Samurai often did not want to be noticed; when you are in power you develop enemies everywhere. This is true whether you are good or evil; if you are good then the evil men you stop will hate you and plot your downfall and if you are evil then the good men surrounding you will despise you and plot your downfall. And so, those with the most power also trained the most dilligently in their martial skills while presenting an air of "invisibility".

Consider wrapping your own self in this martial artist's "cloak of invisiblilty"


Thoughts on thoughts on Neko Ashi Dachi

Just read this article by Jesse Enkamp. Not saying he is wrong (exactly) but there is more to it.

Read the article but as you read here are some points to consider:

  1. There are two axes of rotation in the human body. Assuming proper posture, these extend horizontally through the points of the hips and vertically through the top of the head, down through the base of the skull and straight down to the floor through the tail bone. Where the two axes cross in the abdomen you find your center of balance, hara, "one-point", Svadisthana, take your pick.
  2. The human body works best when the top of the head, shoulders and hips are parallel to the ground and the spine along with both legs is perpendicular to the ground. In general, this will place the points of the shoulders, points of the hips, center of the knees and center of the ankles directly on top of each other on both sides of the body (heiko dachi).
  3. Front facing stances require the horizontal axis of rotation (through the hips) to be perpendicular to the target direction (zenkutsu dachi); while...
  4. Side facing stances require the horizontal axis of rotation (through the hips) to be parallel to the target direction (shiko dachi; chiba dachi). These stances are solid and inflexible; power stances.
  5. Offset stances require the horizontal axis of rotation (through the hips) to be at an angle to the target direction (kokutsu dachi, neko ashi dachi); these stances are fluid, flexible but weak; movement stances.
  6. The universe works in circles and spheres and multiples of three more often than two. The circle is the strongest structure in nature. When the circle is divided by multiples of 3 it is strongest; when divided by multiples of 2 it is weakest. 120 degrees is the strongest angle you can hold; 180 degrees is the weakest.

Simple test: stick your arm out at 120 degrees (shoulder through the upper arm to elbow; elbow through center of the wrist) and have someone try to push your arm aside. Resist as much or as little as is needed to hold your position. Then, straighten your arm completely so it is horizontal to the floor and repeat the test. Do this again with your arm bent at 60 degrees and 90 degrees (shoulder through the upper arm to elbow; elbow through center of the wrist). See which is strongest.

So what does this have to do with kokutsu dachi/neko ashi dachi, you ask?

Simple: these stances will be at their strongest (and so will you) when the horizontal axis of rotation is level to the ground and at a 120 degree angle to the target direction. If you look at the images of "perfect" alignment in Mr. Enkamp's article you can clearly see this relationship.

BUT, you can take it one step further... if you examine the bend in the legs (both legs, all three of Mr. Enkamp's pictures) you can see they are also being held at a 120 degree angle. When you lift the front foot to rest on the balls of the foot, it changes the angle of the leading leg so you withdraw it slightly to restore both the 120 degree angle of the legs and the level aspect of the hips.  (Even further) If you look at the last 2 of his photos you will see the angle between the raised foot and the calf is also 120 degrees...

If you maintain the 120 degree angles and the level aspect of hips and shoulders you will develop a cat-footed stance that is at once both stable and agile.

But, what do I know?




At present I find myself constantly bombarded by things like this:

Well, not to be derivative but "I've got some bad news for you, sunshine"... 

The simple truth is that we love to see people happy and succeeding so long as they are not competing in our game, or if we have already achieved what they now have. Because...

Life is a journey AND a competition.

For most of human existence life has ALWAYS been about competition. Since the dawn of man's time upon this world we have fought for food, shelter, and living space. Our very presence is a result of countless millennia spent

  • competing against predators larger than ourselves,
  • competing against food animals larger than ourselves,
  • competing against the elements for shelter and safety,
  • competing against sickness and pestilence, drought and blight,
  • and finally, competing against other humans who would rather take than build for themselves

Do not fool yourselves into thinking anything has changed: The competition continues even now!

What is business, if not a codified and regulated competition for supremacy?

Back in the old days, victory meant you got to live another day and continuous victory meant you eventually got to breed and preserve your line. Now, we compete for money and victory means enough to live on; continuous victory means becoming wealthy enough to stop competing...

Those who would rather take are still out there, too - most of us simply push that competition off locally onto our police forces; nationally onto our military. And then complain bitterly when they "fail" to isolate us from the competition that is life.

Competition is essential... where we do not have it, we will create it.

Competition is a fundamental element in the human race; when we do not have competition we invent it. When we cannot find competition or it is removed from us we wither on the vine. Do not believe me? Find some pictures of West and East Berlin during the cold war and look at the people's faces.

Martial arts training gives us humans that which we absolutely need, but most are loathe to acknowledge.

Martial training is often divided into method (-jutsu) and way of life (-do) and this can be thought of as learning how and why to compete (and win).

Proper training helps us develop the ability to defend ourselves, as well as win in life. This is good.

I love to see people happy and succeeding in their martial arts training.



The Makiwara is one of the least used, most misunderstood tools in martial arts training. Please review the following video; then we will discuss:

First, did you notice the shape of the makiwara?

This is not just a slab of lumber stuck into the ground (although that is what you commonly see in America). It is tapered, narrow, relatively thin and mounted to the wall in a spring-loaded base. The tapering shape allows the makiwara to flex with the force of a strike, giving but ultimately returning.

The spring-loaded base and the taper also makes the makiwara very lively; much more so than the ponderous swing of a heavy bag or the shudder of a free-standing water-filled bag. Pull your strike back, or the makiwara will give you a smart rap on the knuckles as a reminder!

Notice the string and weight hanging behind the makiwara? This is the "standard" if you will; strike the makiwara hard enough to move the weight (hopefully making it strike the wall behind) but also fast enough to get your hand out of the way before you get smacked.

This will lead you to develop speed and accuracy more than strength; but since Force = M.V2 you can quadruple your force for the same body mass by simply doubling your speed, with the added benefit of being able to strike again quickly (as demonstrated by Onaga Michiko sensei in the video; at the 2:25 mark).

Now do not get me wrong, mudslugging is powerful too but it relies entirely upon body mass and muscular strength. This is great so long as you are equal to or bigger than your opponent but you do not want to be smaller.

Second, the taper (which is NOT linear) provides "progressive resistance".

In other words the harder you hit the makiwara, the harder it will resist you. In a nutshell, the makiwara is good for all levels of power.

Heavy bags only offer a fixed resistance; therefore what one person strains to move another can move easily (and with little training value). You only need one makiwara; it will accomodate any size of student up to its breaking point.

In addition, the spring-loaded base and progressive resistance of the makiwara can be used to develop muscle resistance and the "immovable body" without having a partner to work with. Just push and hold. Do not let go. Keep holding..

Third, striking the makiwara does not hurt.

That is, so long as you use proper form. I am not saying it is impossible to damage oneself using makiwara, but really there is not much danger. On the other hand, sloppy form gets pretty quick feedback.

Striking a proper makiwara hurts less than striking your average heavy bag, and contrary to American belief it is not all about toughening up your hands.

Of course, if you have been pounding your hands into a 2 X 8 buried in a hole then I understand where you got that idea.

Rethink the makiwara.

P.S. -   those cheesy, cheap wall mounted stubby boards with a spring behind them are NOT makiwara. No matter what the manufacturer calls them.



Things Change

I have heard a number of students complain to their sensei lately. The general topic of these complaints has been "you MADE me learn this one way, and now you changed it."

Well, Sunshine Things... Change (Everything changes and nothing stands still - Heraclitus of Ephesus around 500 BC)

Now, do not get me wrong. Sometimes instructors make mistakes and a well-placed question can bring that mistake into focus. But far more often change is deliberate. When your instructor changes how you do things it is usually for one of several common reasons:

  • You were doing it wrong in the first place and he just now caught you at it.

    I see this a lot because students are lazy; if you want more height to your side kick (yoko geri) then you can either:
    • Stretch hard, work hard, improve your flexibility and increase your muscle strenth (a lot of hard work); OR...
    • Drop your knee, roll your hip forward, turn your shoulders away and perform a kind of half-baked back kick you call a side kick

    Needless to say, most students take the second route and then go "Hey, look how high I can kick now!". Then they are upset when their sensei changes it.
  • You were taught to perform a certain way because you physically could not do the technique properly. Ever see a baby who just learned to walk? Smiled at the stiff-legged, stumping, falling forward gait that almost always ended up back on hands and knees? Yeah, you used to walk that way too. Because you could not do anything else.

    Sometimes you are taught to do things the "baby way" so that you can learn a better way further into your training.
  • You were taught to perform a certain way because the technique served a different purpose then. For example, I am questioned from time to time about the long stances taught in shorin ryu and shotokan karate, also in taekwondo. Typically this comes up when the lower ranked students are using these stances but the dan ranks do not.

    The reason for this is simple: Forcing beginners to use long stances makes them stretch. It also makes them align their bodies properly and causes them to build muscle strength in the legs.

    Experienced pratitioners use shorter stances more like what is seem in other styles because they are looking for mobility, stability, speed and tactical position. They should already have developed minimum strength and flexibility standards.
  • Sometimes, your instructor simply learns a better way to teach. Or, needs to take a different approach to how they are teaching you.
  • Sometimes, the way that your particular art form is done changes. All martial arts, including the koryu, are a constantly evolving living entity.

I guess the whole point of this is "change it had to come; we knew it all along" so embrace change. Learn a different way; do not get hung up on "what we always did".

And please stop whining about change;

the whole purpose of a martial art and/or martial way IS changes.



奥さん - Wife. "Mrs. Inside"

A young friend, student of a student of mine, recently married. It was a beautiful wedding (as those things go) and all, but now she has become "Mrs. Inside"...

So what does this mean?

as a kanji means "inside", but it also means "that which is hidden from the world". The kanji itself is made up of two components 米: Rice AND 冂: an upside-down box plus the radical 大: big/huge/great.

In modern times this has come to mean "wife" or "homemaker" or even the derogatory and insulting "house mouse" but the reality is that okusan is the keeper of the family treasures, the holder of those things the world does not know, the guardian of the family secrets.

We use the same kanji when describing the hidden teachings of Hirakawa Ryu: 奥伝: esoteric or hidden teachings.

In older times, okusan remained at home when the men went to war. This does not mean they were any less than those men but rather, they were expected to defend the home against all odds - fighting and dying if needed. Men marched off to fulfill their duty leaving all they held dear in the hands of okusan. The harsh reality is okusan was considered greater than the men; given the higher responsibility.

So, my young friend, you are now the great keeper of the rice which is hidden under a box; the holder of your husbands personal secrets, knowing what is hidden from the world.

Did you think this was going to be easy?


間 (ma) is a noun that means interval, or space. But more appropriately it means the emptiness which defines the things within itself. Interestingly enough, ma is NOT the same as 空 (aku) void (as in Musashi's "go rin no sho"; or as in "Aku, the shape-shifting Master of Darkness"). Emptiness is not the same as nothingness.

We most often encounter the concept in the term 間合い (ma-ai), a noun that means interval; distance; break; pause. But it also means suitable time; appropriate opportunity; and ALSO means distance between opponents in kenjutsu/iaijutsu/kendo/iaido/aikido/aikijujutsu. But there are other phrases which can more accurately define the different levels of combat. In the Hirakawa heiho we use the following terms:

広い間隔 (hiroi kankaku) - a wide interval of separation.
This is a wide gap, before combat begins. At this distance you have a lot of options; fighting is not one of them. In real terms this is the distance in which intentions are set. If you plan to fight you decide at this distance. In the dojo before or after kumite/kumitachi begins you will see the participants each back up 5 steps; this is to establish hiroi kankaku before and after the training exercise. In a real sense, the battle begins at this great distance.

一刀 一足飛び の 間隔 (Ittou issokutobi no kankaku) - fighting distance
(lit. "one cut, one step interval of separation")

Moving forward to the point where a single step separates the participants, the physical combat begins. A single step separates life and death. Participants are testing, feeling out each other, trying to discern their opponent's intent while trying to conceal their own. This is the point of engagement.

近い間隔 (chikai kankaku) - a close interval of separation
At this point swords have crossed, the last step has been taken and the outcome has been decided, one way or another. This is the end of combat.

So by now you are asking "why do I care?".

Well, way back in June of 2012 I wrote about 制空圏- seiku gen, your area of control. I also noted "in any fight when attacking you must first move your opponent into this space". Much later, in August of 2015 I revealed the "Ultimate karate Secret" and also listed the three kigamae:

  • 施行攻め ("shikousemu" Lit. "perform going attack") Giving; and

  • 受け攻め ("ukesemu" Lit. "receive attack") receiving; and

  • 待ち攻め ("kichisemu" Lit. "waiting attack") waiting.

Can you guess how these relate to the concepts of interval?


So now let us relate the concept of "receiving versus blocking" and the concept of "area of control". You establish your area of control; so far, so good. You can stand there and block, defending your area, until you drop dead from exhaustion and you cannot win. The best you can hope for is your opponent gets tired first and then goes away.

If, however, you elect to receive your opponents attack and by receiving move your opponent into your area of control then two things happen: You can counter-attack at will AND you have control of the area your opponent is in. All in all, I would say that is a much better position to be in.

What does nuki uchi mean?

Sometimes these subjects come easily, flowing out of discussion in another place. This bit of knowledge comes courtesy of Eric Pearson whose question was quite literally "What does nuki uchi mean?".


nuki uchi ( 抜き打ち) is to draw from the scabbard and strike in a single motion; as nuki tsuke ( 抜き付け) is to draw from the scabbard and cut in a single motion.

Generally, cutting has a sliding or slicing component to movement of the sword where striking does not. This is the same as slicing versus chopping in the kitchen (if you cook).

Thus, a strike is more powerful/definitive/committed but requires a withdrawal and reset of the blade. A cut is weaker but is not a singular technique, so that additional cuts or strikes can quickly follow.

This is the true difference that defines nuki uchi. Your initial posture; the angle or direction when drawing the blade; and target area of the body; are essentially irrelevant.



Progression in Kumite / Kumitachi

Way back in June of 2012 I defined these terms and in July of 2012 I elaborated on them a bit.

Recently I attended a National tournament (different martial art) and while there I spoke to three young students under Gary Jones sabeom about sparring combinations. I gave them a "rule of thumb" which upon further consideration may not have been clear. So I will try to clear this up now.

First, the rule of thumb as presented to the students:

  • If you throw a single technique in sparring or in a fight, you will NEVER hit your opponent. Because, if your opponent is worthy of your time then they will always see and avoid any single technique.
  • If you throw two techniques, this is better than just one but will gain you nothing other than a moment of breathing space as your opponent retreats twice.
  • If you throw three techniques, then you might occasionally be able to strike an opponent who is unskilled or unwary or distracted.
  • If you throw four techniques in a row, you can usually strike your opponent with one of the four techniques.
  • If one throws five techniques in combination one is almost always going to strike your opponent.

What may not have been clear is how to get to this point. I was NOT advocating they should run out into the ring and begin counting techniques.

The mental and physical development needed for throwing multiple techniques is accomplished using kumite or kumitachi. Most martial arts teach kyu (gup) ranks to perform ippon, nihon or even sanbon kumite . But sparring sets (kumite) should not fall by the wayside once you reach your Dan ranks; although far too often this is exactly what happens...

  • Dan ranks from shodan through nidan (first and second degree black belts) should practice sanbon kumite, both pre-defined sets and also building their own combinations of techniques that work well for them.
  • sandan and yondan (third and fourth degree black belts) should be practicing yonbon kumite, adding an extra technique to each set (pre-defined and self-defined).
  • godan through shichidan (fifth-seventh degree black belt) should be working exclusively on gohon kumite.

The development of these sparring sets will allow the martial artist to build a natural, continual series of attacks which are effective in the ring and devastating in actual combat. Sparring sets are an effective teaching tool that should not be discarded by instructors.

Edit: I am adding this from an on-line discussion of this note.

"I found this issue in my Tae kwon Do days. the biggest problem we found was people would develop and practice specific 4-5 move combinations which if you got to know that person's style you would be able to recognize the combination and avoid all of it or counter it with your own. When my brother and I would spar (for instance) it was almost comical because we would be going full speed and force with neither of us able to hit the other."

My answer:

Yes, this often occurs between students at the same dojo/dojang. There are two reasons for this and the first is that you practice for so long against the same persons that you learn what they favor. Just because you can do this in the dojo does not mean that a competitor in a tournament or a criminal in the street will be able to do the same.

The other is the tendency to develop a small set o
f combinations and then rely upon those combinations instead of building new ones in an ongoing fashion. This is why students should be limited to a fixed number of techniques (3,4,5, etc.) but be required to develop new combinations at a steady pace. About the time that a student has exhausted the possibilities of 3-technique combinations they will rank up, add one more technique to the string and open up an entirely new array of options.

Training at full speed is a GOOD thing! Way back in November of 2104 I addressed the need for full-on, full-power training.



Carry On.

I ran across an article that was wordy but also enlightening. I am going to boil it down to a few simple points (if I can).

"Everything Happens for a Reason"
"You will be a better person for it"
"GOD has a plan"
(ever-popular among the slingers of platitudes)

These are some of the most powerful, most ridiculous and most hurtful things anyone can say to another; especially when that person is hurt or sick or grieving. My advice to all who say such things:


Every single one of those platitudes (and all other similar platitudes) is an attempt to deflect life by placing blame: Typically on the person who is suffering. None of those platitudes offer a single shred of comfort (to anyone. ever). Take your self-righteous self on down the road and leave them alone because you are not helping.

MOST of what happens in life is a random occurrence. We have all seen pictures of signs that say "Everything happens for a reason, and the reason is usually stupidity" and that about sums it up.

Far better thing to realize (and say):

"Some things in life cannot be fixed. They can only be carried." (Megan Devine said that, I think)

Do not tell people you "feel their pain"; that is nonsense. A friend lost his father-in-law recently; a man who was kind and gentle and an important part of his family life. I would never say "I feel your pain"; I would be a liar. I have lost people dear to me though, and WILL say "I understand your pain". Another friend was recently in a pretty bad auto accident; not seriously hurt but very banged up. I cannot feel his pain either (but I certainly understand it).

Quit telling people "I am here for you"; this implies action and unless you can make it go away you cannot be here for anyone. The best you can do is to "be here WITH you" and that is worth more than any futile action or platitude. Just a silent presence.

Humans need to grieve. Stupid platitudes and placing blame short change that need; demands for "action" or "growth" or "taking responsibility" deny the need altogether.

Allow your friends their grief; and allow yourself the same gift.


On the Origins of Black Belts

Hirakawa Ryu uses both menjouhoshiki and kodokan-type ranking systems. I added a kodokan-type ranking system to our jujutsu waza and every new student starts there. I did this for two reasons - the first is when we visit other dojo my students needed some visible display of skill (rank) to prevent the arrogance of some other kyu ranks from interfering with the training; and also because new American students just gotta have a color belt. Our other disciplines still use menjouhoshiki and I will NOT consider teaching those disciplines to students below shodan in Hirakawa Ryu Jujutsu. I will not accept an outside student below the rank of yondan and even then they are subject to stringent evaluation.


The old Ryuku ranking system in Okinawa for karate styles was similar to the modern aikido system, you were a white belt or you were a black belt. If you were a white belt you were a student and if you were a black belt you had learned all there is to know of the style. You would typically only learn 5-7 kata in all but you would learn everything there is to know about each kata before you went on to the next and spend roughly 5 YEARS on each.

Koryu in Japan used the menjouhoshiki or certificate system, a set of written records for each student detailing what they had learned. This was kept in the dojo and only made sense when compared with the school documents; e.g., Dan Bernardo has learned shoumokuroku waza jyuuichi would only makes sense when you could look at the shoumokuroku waza and see what that actually is (migi nanamegiri followed by hidari gyaku kesagiri if you are wondering).

Kano Jigoro created the kodokan ranking system when he opened the Kodokan (a live-in training center for judo) more or less as a visual aid to the instructors to show what each student was capable of or should be training for. And let us be honest about it, whether or not they will: The kodokan ranking system was designed to match the ranking in "mutsubaka's peasant army".

Funakoshi Gichin adopted Kano's kodokan ranking system for shotokan karate (contrary to popular belief, Kano and Funakoshi were friends and Kano had Funakoshi teach at the Kodokan more than once). As such he is called the "Founder of Modern Karate".

Later when Taekwondo was codified, they took much of it from shotokan including the kodokan ranking system. There was a great push to hide the origins of TKD and to legitimize it as a traditional Korean martial art but the fact remains that TKD (as developed originally by Choi Hong Hi, e.g., ITF) is essentially "Korean Shotokan".

The kodokan ranking system fits the modern mindset quite well and is especially perfect for the American mindset (instant gratification) but it is vital we remember that within kodokan-type systems shodan (first degree black belt) was and is merely a beginner. At the Kodokan this meant simply that a student had gained enough skill for Kano himself to bother talking to him.

Shodan in kodokan-type systems means you have finally learned enough basics to be worth teaching. As far as skills go you can barely find your boots, let alone lace them up properly.

Unfortunately there is also the subconscious expectation of being like the old Ryuku yudansha; "I know it all" and just as unfortunate is that some people promote themselves as such; even going so far as opening a dojo and teaching what they really cannot understand themselves.

Finally, i will leave you with this and allow you to evaluate yourself...

The parable of "A Man of Tao (Do) and a Little Man":

A student once asked, "What is the difference between a man of Tao and a little man?" The sensei replies, "It is simple. When the little man receives his shodan, he can hardly wait to run home and shout at the top of his voice to tell everyone that he has obtained his black belt. Upon receiving nidan, he will climb to the rooftops and shout to the people. Upon receiving sandan, he will jump in his automobile and parade through town blowing the horn, telling one and all about his skills as sandan".

The sensei continues, "When the man of Tao receives shodan, he will bow his head in gratitude. Upon receiving his nidan, he will bow his head and his shoulders. Upon receiving his sandan, he will bow at the waist and quietly walk alongside the wall so that people will not see him or notice him".



Feeding the Skeleton

体術 - "taijutsu", the classical form of martial arts. This word is formed using two kanji: 体 which is "tai" or "karada" and means body; and 術 which is "jutsu" or "sube" and means technique / method / means.

What is interesting about the firat kanji "tai" is the component parts: 一 "ichi" (one) combined with 木 "moku" (tree) and the radical 亻 "ri" (human). The essence of this kanji is "everyone at one tree" or "everyone climbs the same tree".

There is another etiology for this kanji though, which says that the radical is NOT 亻 "ri" (human) but rather a contraction of 化 "ka" (take the form of); which gives us "everyone takes the form of a single tree".

Interestingly enough, there is another perfectly valid form of this word, with the same meaning:

體術 - "taijutsu", the classical form of martial arts. Perhaps this is not used as much because the initial kanji is such a bear to draw, but it does give us another perspective. This kanji is composed of 并 "hei" (put together) with 豆 "tou" (beans) and the radical 骨 "kotsu" (frame, lit. skeleton). So, "put together beans on the same frame", or more generally "building upon the same structure".

So what is taijutsu? It is the means by which everyone climbs the same tree, or the methods used when everyone takes the form of a single tree, or the technique for building upon the same structure.

It is interesting that 体 and 體 (both are read as "tai") ALSO mean "body". The implication is that the classical form of martial arts begins with the body. taijutsu is a part of all martial arts and indeed, a part of all human physical activities from baseball to ballroom dancing (or ice dancing). Some heiho include taijutsu as a separate form of study, Hirakawa Ryu among them.

I will give two examples of our taijutsu principles and also the approximations used in various martial arts to start someone along the way. Some of you have heard these from me before, some have seen this demonstrated and there has been mention of these in past notes.

But first, let us pick apart the kanji 骨 "kotsu" (frame, lit. skeleton). At the top you have 冂 "kui" (an upside-down box) and inside of it 口 "kou" (mouth). Just below that you have 冖 "peki" (a 'wa' shaped crown). At the bottom you have 月 "gatsu" (month or moon). This kanji is put together more or less to depict or draw a human skeleton. What do we end up with? That is correct: a talking head ruling a lower body.

One of the most interesting insights can be garnered from the moon kanji 月 "gatsu"; if you look at it closely you will see six points aligned in a grid. These equate directly to the points of the shoulders, the points of the hips, and the center of the ankles. Below that you see the feet. One of the core principles of taijutsu is the alignment of the points of the shoulders, points of the hips and center of the ankles. All three of these points should align vertically on both sides and each of these points should be level horizontally from right to left.

Karate and TKD approximate these alignments by saying you should "stand with your feet one shoulder width apart" or "there should be the length of your foot between your ankles" and these are close enough for the beginner, but the more advanced practitioner should be aware of the actual basis for these rough approximations.

Also, note that the shoulder width is to the points of the shoulders, NOT to the outside of your biceps/deltoids. Ever watched a karateka or karatedeshi prepare for their kata and then the very first thing they do when they begin is pick up their feet and move them closer together?

And the other thing: "intent comes from the eyes, control from the shoulders and power from the hips"; or more simply put "the hips will always follow the shoulders". Watch an ice dancer making turns and jumps: you will see them turn their shoulders into a spin or a jump and when they wish to stop turning or rotating they will turn their shoulders away from the rotation.

Disagree? Go try to do yoko geri (side kick) while turning your shoulders away from your target. Now try something as simple as mae geri (front kick) but turn your shoulders so that they are not squared up to your target. Line three people up with targets, stand in front of the center target, and front kick all three targets without moving your shoulders away from square. Now do it again but this time move your shoulders slightly to the left, square and then slightly to the right (or vice versa if starting to your right side).

We approximate this by telling students to "look at your target" or to "keep your hands in front of you" or to "point both of your hands at the target" but what we really mean is "the hips will always follow the shoulders".

Back on May 3rd of 2105 I wrote of helping a young man improve his kata by changing one small thing. Now you know what I changed; and I did so by telling him "point both of your hands at the target".



Pride and Prejudice

I heard this in a dojo last week:

"You go, GIRL! Kick his butt! He's just a BOY! Grrrl Power!"

These statements and any other like them will not be tolerated in my dojo or at any place where I am teaching.

Why? Because I will not tolerate prejudice and bigotry in any form.

Not bigotry, you say? Not prejudice? Empowerment, you call it? You may call it empowerment but I call it intolerable.

I will take the exact same statements and change exactly three words:

"You go, BROTHER! Kick his butt! He's just a NIGGER! White Power!"

How do you like it NOW? Still think it is not bigotry? Is this not prejudice in your eyes? Go ahead and tell me it is empowerment.

There is not a single Sensei I know who would allow the second string of statements in their dojo/dojang, but I heard them actually cheering for the first string of bigoted, irresponsible, hurtful garbage. Can someone tell me how it is different?







The Hirakawa Guide to Understanding Woman

Understand that in the very traditional ryuha we are taught social, personal and physical interaction between the sexes. In modern western culture it is "politically incorrect" to even notice a difference between the sexes, let alone interact with the opposite sex. It seems everywhere you go there are groups insisting at once that there is absolutely no difference between man and woman, and also that woman should be afforded deferential treatment because they are different. The alarming tendency to ignore the differences between man and woman is a symptom of a broken society and to ignore those differences in the dojo is an almost certain invitation to disaster.

I am going to paraphrase this and do some interpretation for you, since I learned this in Japanese under a different cultural bias.

First, Understanding

If you (man or woman) have ever said "you cannot understand a woman(man) so do not even try" (or some similar foolish catch-phrase) then you are correct. No, that is not a typographical error; the quickest way to ensure a lack of understanding is to deny the possibility. Trust me, this type of thought process IS nonsense.

If there is to be any understanding at all it must be between individuals. This is without regard to sex, or race, or creed. Classifying groups of people and lumping individuals together based upon a single characteristic is simply muddy and unclear thinking - slipshod and haphazard.

If you wish to understand a woman, understand the person. If you wish to understand a man, understand the person. Until you get past this hurdle you will never understand anyone.

Second, Acknowledgement

Men and women are different. This is a fact, get over it. All the rhetoric in the world cannot change this. Adapt your teaching methods and adapt your style to suit this indisputable fact.

  • Men have larger bone structure overall and tend toward greater physical stature; women are generally smaller and lighter. Go take a look at the most heavily built up bodybuilders in the world, male and female. At the absolute peak of bulk and muscular development the woman is still smaller than the man (I chose Iris Kyle and Ronnie Coleman).
  • Men are built for much more powerful short-term exertion while women are capable of much longer endurance.
  • Women have wider and flatter hips than men; this is to accommodate childbirth and as a result a woman's stances will be both wider and more shallow than a man of comparable height.
  • A woman's center of balance is lower than a man's; typically a man's center of balance is 2 inches below the navel (or, the point where a line through the spinal column and a line through the points of the hip crosses). That same point on a woman is generally 4-5 inches below the navel. This is also because of the differences in the hip girdle, and for this reason a woman is very well suited for spinning or turning techniques that a man struggles with.
  • But the biggest difference is that of perception, which will be the next point.

Third, Perception

A man looks at the world. All of a man's primary evaluation falls mostly upon the eyes and then the ears. This is how a man perceives the world. A woman feels the world; her primary evaluation is based upon the sense of touch.

Don't believe me? Well then what does a man say when he goes on the defensive? That is right: "what are you looking at? You looking at me? You looking at my girl? Keep your eyes to yourself!". Tell me I am wrong.

What is the first thing a woman says? How does "keep away from me! Don't touch me! Back off, buddy! Keep your hands to yourself!" sound? Slightly familiar?

By now you are asking "Why does this matter?"

The first day a man spends in the dojo starts with looking, seeing you and your training, evaluating that he is not being threatened and from that point on anything goes. Touching, grabbing, punching, throwing, it is all good. Bring it on!

A woman is in a slightly different position. Not only is touching a primary way of evaluating the world, but it is also a primary sexual stimulus for a woman. No matter what she sees or hears, whenever you touch her you are committing an act of intimacy and right or wrong a woman is going to feel vulnerable.

A woman is not "timid" or "weak" or "lacking self-confidence"; each and every time you or another student touches her she is facing a primal fear. "Primal" means "built-in, instinctive, cannot do anything about it, not going to go away, cannot be ignored" and simply saying "get over it" will not do.

Your female students must build a level of comfort and trust each and every time they train with someone new, or are shown a new technique that involves physical contact, or reach a higher level of training.

It is your job as sensei to provide the foundation upon which that trust is built, and you cannot ever misuse or violate that trust. Nor can you allow those who work under you to do so. How you do this is entirely up to you, but do it you must.

As an example and from my own life: There are women and (girl children) who are in my life on a personal basis. Hugs (and jumping on my back, and plowing into me at full speed from a dead run, and hanging on my arms) are a normal occurrence. Although harmless, I do not allow this behavior when I visit the dojo where they train; not because I "do not like them anymore" or because I am embarassed by them, but because other female students who do not understand our relationship outside the dojo may be made uncomfortable.

Consider this.


Reminiscences (ramblings of an old man)

A couple of notes about Sensei -

Modern martial artists look upon the Showa, Taisho, and Meiji eras as "long ago", "history", and "ancient history"; Sensei was born during the Meiji period (1894) and was trained by men born in the Shinto and ShinShinto.

I in turn was trained by a "relic from the past". Feel like having a sword fight? 

Hirakawa Sensei was raised on a daily basis to use a sword as a weapon against people. I would take his word over damn near anyone else but I don't have to, he proved himself more often than you can imagine.

However, you did not know Sensei and never can. Your loss as well as mine, even if you do not know it.

About different swords and handling and all that stuff -  

At one time I had trouble adapting to different blades. I could make my blade do exactly what I wished and the next one in line would be all over the place; I became frustrated and complained (loudly) about the sword that handled "like junk". That was when I was essentially told that the sword was not wrong, it was me:

"Handling is the work of the swordsman and not the sword. A swordsman who complains of his sword handling poorly is incompetent. Any who think otherwise are fools." - Hirakawa Kotaro Sensei

Years of practice later, I realized that any tool is going to be what it is and that if I wanted to accomplish anything I would have to adapt myself because the tool was stubborn and would not change, no matter how much I wanted it to do so. This applies to hammers or swords; they are what they are. Some hammers feel better in my hand; they all hammer and can be made to form metal, ne?

Ultimate Karate Secret Revealed!!

Now that I have your attention...

Way back in September of 2013 I talked about the difference between "low block" (gedan barai) and other "blocks" (age uke, uchi uke, shuto uke, etc.) in Japanese martial arts and why I feel it is important to look at the original language when discussing technique.

I am now about to reveal the biggest, most devastating secret in modern martial arts (shhhhhh):



No, not a single one (let the screaming and mud slinging commence).

First (wrong)  response I ALWAYS get:

"There are no blocks in karate because every block is a strike!"

- uh, no.

Sorry, there are only three 気構え ("kigamae" Lit. "mood posture", "attitude") in martial arts:

  • 施行攻め ("shikousemu" Lit. "perform going attack") Giving; and

  • 受け攻め ("ukesemu" Lit. "receive attack") receiving; and

  • 待ち攻め ("kichisemu" Lit. "waiting attack") waiting.

You have to pick one; you cannot be two at the same time. Three is right out. I will note the ability to quickly change your attitude is a very useful skill but you can only be one at a time.

And yes, these do correspond directly to the three Jian of Chinese Kenpo styles.

Oh, and if you are wondering why this might be the same in Taekwondo and other Korean arts, I refer you to this article provided by Dan Bernardo sabom.

Now let us look at the actual names of the ("waza" Lit. "technique" or "skill") and see if we can discern which kigamae they should belong with:

Upper "block" is 上げ 受け "age uke"
Knife Hand "block" is 手刀 受け "shuto uke"
Forearm "block" is 腕 受け "ude uke"
Inside Forearm "block" is 内 腕 受け "uchi ude uke"
Outside Forearm "block" is
(Inward crossing "block")    
外 腕 受け "soto ude uke"

Did you notice something about all of those "blocks"? They all have that word in them - "uke". Which seems to imply they are part of "ukesemu", the receiving attitude.

In English the word "block" is defined as:

block bläk/ v.intr. Sports

  1. To obstruct the movement of an opponent by using one's body.
  2. To stop or deflect a ball or puck by using one's body.

But "receiving" means:

receive rĭ-sēv′ v.tr. Sports

  1. To take or acquire; get or be given.
  2. To catch or get possession of (a pass or a kicked ball, for example).

And "uke" means "receiving". Same definition.

Way back in April of 2013 I talked about the origins of karate. While it is true that the successor styles of naha te tend to rely upon physical strength, shuri te and tomari te styles never have done so.

It is also true that all modern forms of karate preach the use of karate for the "little guys", as a means of "self defense for the weak". How can this be so? Can you have it both ways?

Strength and endurance are important and all martial artists should strive to build their own bodies, but your own strength relative to an opponent is more or less of no consequence as soon as you stop "blocking" and begin "receiving".



Sword Knowledge - Habaki

There is a growing trend in production katana for the habaki to be very small and precisely fit the curvature of the blade. There is a growing trend toward believing this is right, or normal, or proper. BUT unless a blade exhibits o-funbari to begin with you cannot make the habaki follow the curvature of the blade and still serve its purpose.

In addition to creating a tight seal at koiguchi it is the function of habaki to align the blade inside the saya vertically and horizontally such that the actual blade "floats", resting upon the habaki and kissaki inside the saya while no other part of the blade touches the wood. This is the main reason why katana can go for decades without need of a polish. Sometimes centuries.

This is accomplished by the oversized nature of the habaki at the base and it's relationship to the koiguchi ana.

Did you ever look at a traditionally polished katana and notice an area of the mune near the kissaki that is given a very matte cross-polish?

Conventional wisdom says this area indicates the place where the kissaki is no longer fully hardened. But we know better than that; we can SEE where the hamon turns back in boshi; exactly where the hardness stops. It is typically nowhere near the end of the cross-polishing.

Others will tell you this is so the kenjutsuka can always tell where the tip of the sword is. I do not think so; hold your sword out in front of you and actually LOOK for that area. Stare hard at it. Now move the sword (but do not lose sight of that area). Probably not. Besides, we already know where the tip of the sword is - right there at the end of it.

Proper fit of saya to blade is such that the blade slides into saya on the burnished spine and when the habaki seats the blade rests upon the habaki and upon the boshi (just about where that cross-polish is). What is the first thing you feel when thumb unseats habaki just prior to nukitsuke? That is right, you feel the blade drop down onto the mune inside the saya.

A couple more quick tests for proper fit:

Immediately after popping habaki out of koiguchi, say maybe 1/8 inch, you should be able to press down gently on the tsuka and feel the kissaki rise up and tap the top of the saya.

Once habaki clears koiguchi completely you should be able to move the blade left, right, up down and twist from side to side (again, gently) with free play in all directions.

Simple, no?

On the value of things...

This knife sits in a cabinet along with my most expensive blades:


Why, you ask?

Well I will admit this particular blade is gaudy. And cheap. And not historically accurate in any way. Not functional. Not good steel. Gold plated plastic fittings, fake plastic same grip, stainless alloy blade (not sharpened, nor can it be).

But WHY? Why does it sit beside blades rare and priceless in a place of honor? Whatever could possess me to place it with the sword of my Sensei?

Why I value this blade is a function of why I have this blade. You see, 20 years ago a 13 year old student gave this to me. She saved her allowance and all the other money she received for months on order to buy this for me. You can get one these days for about $40.00; 2 decades ago an uninformed public was willing to pay much more for this type of thing.

But all of that is beside the point. She saved all she had and went without things she wanted in order to gift me with a thing she believed I would treasure. And in that she was correct. 20 years have gone by; she is 34 years old now and probably with children of her own. I have not seen her in many years but her gift remains safe in my cabinet.

The value of a thing is not always its intrinsic worth, but resides in the meaning you attach to it.


"Well bless your heart"...

Did you ever see/hear a Sensei from Japan or Okinawa look an American in the eye, say "sou desu ne?" and smile?

This is the equivalent of a Southern Belle saying "well bless your heart!" to someone.

For those not from the South, this is the same as saying "boy are you stupid, but you just cannot help being yourself". To put it in polite form.

Another Curse

In November of 2013 I posted about a curse warriors must deal with.

Recently I have recognized another curse of modern life: The curse of honor.

A friend (okay, I will be fair and say "a friend through martial arts", so not really a close personal friend) has suffered heavily in the past year for his personal relationships. In pondering this I realized he was, indeed, cursed with honor.

We live in a society where the rules are more or less "whatever it takes to get what you want" AND "I DESERVE (whatever I want)" AND "it is only wrong if you get caught".

You see, we live in a society where honor has lost its meaning. Honor is not taught to our children at home or in our schools any more, there is no one individually or as a group to hold any of us up to a standard of honor, and there are essentially no consequences for a breach of honor.

In such a society it falls to the individual to develop their own sense of honor and I firmly believe training in a traditional martial art is one of the best places to do just that.

There is another edge to this sword though; martial arts schools which do not include personal development and traditional values (really only training gyms) most often produce nothing more than trained thugs and "streetfighters". This is one of my biggest problems with "MMA" gyms.

Now, do not get me wrong here because I am not saying every gym is like that. I have seen boxing trainers climb into the ring and dish out some hellacious punishment to students who damaged the honor or reputation of their gym. And you absolutely did not want to do something dishonorable around my High School gym coaches.

By now you are asking "how is this a curse though?". I am getting to that.

You see, lacking any knowledge to the contrary the mirror by which we humans judge those around us is our own self. So my friend being an honorable man continually judges others as being honorable and trustworthy. And our society being what it is, he keeps on being disappointed.

That is the curse of honor. And yes, I do wish you all be cursed with this.

Small things...

The difference between the "Master" and the "Beginner" is actually very small. I realize this is shocking to some, but it is true nonetheless.

Funakoshi Gichin, the Kaiso (founder) of Shotokan Karate, has been quoted as saying "Victory and Defeat are determined by attention to simple things"

In traditional ryuha one hears of okuden or hidden teachings (奥伝 - okuden, lit. "transmit the heart" or "interior tradition"). One may expect these things to be great secrets (how to smash your enemy like The Hulk while sipping jasmine tea) but in reality these tend to be small things ("balance your weight like this" or "shift the grip on your jo to this"). For this reason Western martial artists sometimes feel let down, or cheated, or "ripped off" when they finally learn the carefully hoarded wisdom of generations. Upon consideration you might realize these small things have been carefully hoarded through the ages because these small things have kept your predecessors alive.

Several of the TKD schools in my area have intramural or "Pod" tournaments and I always try to attend when possible; I get to see friends, watch good competition and a different style of martial art. Two tournaments ago I had a young Black Belt ask me to watch his pattern (kata) and give him any feedback I might have. At the end, I changed one small thing - his hand position when performing a spin heel kick. Right away he noticed a difference in both his balance and the "feel" of his kick. At the next tournament (this past Saturday, May 2nd) this young man made a point of finding me to tell me he had been working on the change, that his pattern (kata) had improved to the point others were noticing it, and that all of his kicks were getting better. One small thing...

Speaking of kicking and small changes, a few weeks ago I was working on soto geri (side kicks) with another Sensei and one of his students. We were kicking a hanging heavy bag, both of them were getting about a 30 degree swing on the bag. After I changed their upper body position slightly both of them were getting 80-90 degree swings with each kick. Yet the student remarked it felt "like I am not using any power at all". One small thing...

On a sad note, at Saturday's tournament another Sensei related that a student for which we both held high hopes had decided to quit. It seems she was "not learning anything new". Her Sensei (correctly) pointed out that both he and I had given her several things to work on for improving her technique and developing her skills, and also that she was not even trying to implement those things; so she was not ready for something new. She has decided to go and "do something else"; perhaps the understanding of small things is beyond her.

Pay attention to the small things, the simple things. All great things are built of many small things.


Regarding gripping a katana and "shibori".

"shibori" originated as a term describing how weavers in Japan would wring the dye out of silk cloth as it was being made. Unfortunately, while the term directly translates to "wringing" there is a major difference between "wringing" in Japan and "wringing" in America.

Americans wring cloth by twisting it up in a spiral (and the act of twisting into a spiral is called "wringing"). In Japan, the cloth is twisted first, and then once it is tight wringing begins by squeezing the cloth along it's length. So, "shibori" only begins once the cloth is twisted as tight as it can move. Another translation for "shibori" is "contraction; squeezing; choke" and that is more of what we are referring to. I prefer the term "te no assai"; "crushing hand".

Properly done, shibori is a crushing or squeezing of the hands, a tensing of both arms and with a very slight inward pressure of the wrists; all done at the same time. WHEN you do this will depend upon your particular school and possibly your level of training.

"But I am left handed..."

For the left-handed kenjutsuka: The way that the sword is worn does not change, nor the way the sword is drawn or held. Kihon do not change, nor do waza. The sword was worn on the left and drawn to the right because of a social more, and all schools of kenjutsu are built around that ingrained social requirement.

This is extant in our own society now; left-handed drivers do not get to drive on the left hand side of the road (unless you are in Britain). Auto dealerships are prohibited from selling right-hand drive vehicles in the United States.

There are many techniques in many ryuha (especially koryu) designed for left-hand forward, and all of the techniques can be mirrored right to left. Nukitsuke can even be performed left-hand forward by simply grasping the tsuka near kashira when beginning.

But when you think about it, kenjutsu (and any style of two-handed sword work) is really bilateral by its very nature. No real need to differentiate.

What does change is the way the waza are performed and the emphasis placed within them by the kenjutsuka. Right-handed swordsmen have a natural bias toward counter-clockwise movement while left-handed swordsmen move clockwise. Because of the dominance of the left hand control of the blade is shifted more toward the kashira, and left-handed swordsmen tend toward a more circular sword movement during kumitachi.

"don't try to jujutsu it..."

It has been remarked that you never see judo/jujutsu/aikido demonstrated full speed, or against force (or as the MMA guy puts it "active resistance"). I have explained many times that if you are unskilled at these arts you will be hurt unless you go slowly and gently. I usually get the "it does not work anyway" response.

I recently attended a self-defense seminar by a hachidan karateka (8th degree karate black belt) where he actually said "don't try to jujutsu  it, or you are going to get hurt. Jujutsu doesn't work". I had to stifle a laugh because he then proceeded to demonstrate a very poor and rough version of a beginning jujutsu kihon waza as the "better alternative".

3 Monkeys (no, not those 3)

Remember the story of the three monkeys? This is a story about three monkeys. And "bullying".

Back in the 1930's a lab researcher was working with three monkeys; one large, one medium-sized and one small. Only the medium monkey solved the puzzle, so the researcher rewarded the monkey with a piece of fruit (call it a banana).

This, of course, made the other monkeys angry but the large monkey took immediate action. Running to the other, the large monkey shoved him down and took the banana for himself. The small monkey looked on as the medium-sized monkey jumped around, howled in anger and threw things (poo) around the room. This, of course, did not result in the large monkey giving back the banana.

All of the howling and outrage went on for quite some time as the medium-sized monkey got more and more worked up; it all ended when the enraged medium-sized monkey ran over to the small monkey in the corner and proceeded to beat the living crap out of him.

The NEXT time around when any of the monkeys solved the puzzle, the researcher gave all three monkeys a banana. This worked out well for the big monkey; he got three bananas. Needless to say that the researcher got to clean up poo again and the little monkey got another beating.

Round three came along and the researcher once again gave the banana to the much more capable medium-sized monkey, but this time he gave the small monkey a stick. The results were more or less the same, except the medium-sized monkey ended up with a severe headache to go along with his bad attitude while the little monkey was much safer if not unscathed (the medium-sized monkey was bigger, after all).

Round four comes along, the same sequence happens (large monkey has become lazy, he can simply TAKE) and medium-sized monkey wins the prize. The researcher gives the medium-sized monkey a banana and the small monkey a stick. This time the medium sized monkey rushed over to the small monkey and immediately took the stick away. But to the researcher's surprise, he did not attack the small monkey but instead went after the large monkey with the stick. He had learned how to deal with HIS tormentor from his former victim.

The researcher learned something as well, from then on he distributed a stick along with the banana. An unexpected result though; none of the monkeys ever had to use the stick again. They all learned that it was present and what the consequences would be if it were used.

Despite all of the public service announcements and F/B memes and "Promise Groups" and educational seminars, bullying will NOT go away. It is a fact of nature that all species establish a social and economic order within themselves; typically through threats, intimidation and actual physical violence.

With the human species one of the prime weapons in our arsenal are words ("words are weapons, sharper than knives").

So what can we learn from the three monkeys?

Answer (part 3)...

Lynn Young Sensei had a question; Here is the THIRD part of my answer.

Two things happen when you (any human) is startled: Your modern brain (neo-cortex) goes into shutdown and your primitive brain (amygdala) takes over; and as a result of glandular secretions coming from the amygdala your muscles go into major reflex response. In simpler terms "fight or flight" takes over and your fine motor skills go to pot.

When this occurs, you body will subconsciously react in the way you have trained your muscle memory. If you have trained yourself to run away, then you will try to run and if you have trained yourself to attack then you will attack. If you have not trained any muscle memory at all then you will stand in slack-jawed immobility as you are ploughed under by your attacker. You will do instinctively what you have taught yourself to do.

In this respect the stock answer ("you fight the way you train, so train the way you fight") is 100% correct. The problem lies with knowing exactly what you are training to do and why.

The second thing that happens: When startled, YOUR FINE MOTOR SKILLS GO TO POT. It is all well and good to practice fancy grabs and holds and joint locks and disarms in the dojo but in real life - uh, no. You can try for your fancy wrist grab but I doubt it will work. Instead, you should train for macro movements; this means large circle jujutsu instead of small circle. Take a look at krav maga; most all of their techniques are macro movements. If you are in a startle-response situation that is just about all you can pull off.

In a lot of cases modern self defense training is built upon false or obsolete assumptions. Back in the 1920's it was all well and good for Sergeant O'Malley or Corporal Clancy to stand around smacking his nightstick, causing Johnny Rotten to slink away down the alley in fear. Not going to happen these days, my friend.

Lots of folks have figured out the cops are typically too far away for anything except paperwork and body bags; funny how they never seem to credit criminals with the same knowledge. Most criminals and thugs HAVE figured out the cops are not around, and they also know that if they cut you or shoot you then everyone is going to concentrate on saving you rather than catching them. The new paradigm is "kill first, rob second". Another rule of thumb for criminals is "rolling drunks is easier than mugging, mugging is easier than a stick-up, sticking someone up is easier than bank robbery". That one HAS been in place since the days of O'Malley the beat cop.

DO NOT expect a criminal to walk up, pull out a weapon, wave it around and say "dis is a stick-up, yah see. give me allayuus dough, yah mug". Probably the first time you see a weapon is when you are cut or shot by it. So train for that scenario instead of the one where you calmly grab the gun, twist it out of the bad guy's hand and then hold him with his own gun until the cops arrive.

Final thoughts for this response:
1. Training to prevent being startled by an opponent is the best way to develop zanshin (the remaining spirit). This is "situational awareness" in modern terms. If you are not startled, then you CAN use all of your higher-level training to your advantage.

2. Training to handle sudden changes in your situation is the best way to develop jikishin (the direct spirit). Saseong McNeely calls this "stress innoculation training" and it is.


3. Training to develop confidence and conditioned responses is the best way to develop mushin (the null spirit). This is all up to you, and if you are wondering "how" then you did not read the first installment of this discussion.

Answer (part 2)...

Lynn Young Sensei had a question; Here is the SECOND part of my answer.

So I have rejected the stock answer "you fight the way you train, so train the way you fight", but I am about to paraphrase this and say: "You fight the WHY you train"...

We have touched on this before, but it is very relevant to the question at hand. So why do you train? I have heard many reasons given for training in the martial arts, ranging from "something to do" all the way over to "I want to change everything in my life". I have held discussion with other Sensei as to why we teach the martial arts and this is also relevant.

I primarily teach martial arts as an expedient and efficient way to defeat any opponent, and I firmly believe if you are teaching for any other reason then quit. Unfortunately, I am in the great minority outside of Asia.

Students have said they were training for "physical fitness", or "cardio", or "to become a better person", or to "learn discipline" (ewe rack disciprine), or for a myriad of other reasons. So far as I am concerned all of these reasons are wrong.

Bugei - 武芸 (literally "martial" and "the cultivation of") consists of both bujutsu - 武術 (lit. "martial" and "art") AND budo - 武道 (lit. "martial and "way"). We instruct and are in turn instructed in the martial way as we teach and learn the martial arts. One is "why"; the other "what". However, the sole purpose of the techniques and skill sets we teach is to develop martial skills, which of necessity are warlike in nature.

If you are training to develop cardio, I sincerely hope you get the chance to run away because that is what you have trained yourself to do. If you have trained yourself solely for physical fitness then congratulations because you are well conditioned to sustain the beating you WILL receive in a fight. Not wanting to rain on anyone's parade either, but the "better person" usually ends up hospitalized or worse.

If, however, you have trained yourself to effectively defeat an opponent then you will likely survive. If you have a decent instructor then you will also have the cardio and physical fitness you need to win. If you train long enough to realize the martial way then you can be the better person and let your opponent live instead of killing. But first you have to get there.

I realize this is not popular and many will vilify this point of view, but this dichotomy is very real and has been recognized for centuries:

"The Samurai is an unfortunate instrument for being a guardian of peace he is taught only the ways of war; Charged with protecting life he is trained to kill. The way of the warrior is death."

So why DO you train?

Question (and answer in 3 part harmony)

Lynn Young Sensei had a question; Here is the first part of my answer. Depending upon the response we get I may have more to say.

Regarding a knife attack reality video, Lynn Young Sensei asks:

"Everyone shares these clips saying this is what it looks like are you ready? How are you training?.

On one side the attacker really does a good job and selling what would happen. Now here is the problem I see with training this way.
What is the defender supposed to do? If you really want to stop this attack you have to stop the guy. Meaning knock his block off or stun him. How do we do this in training?

Take the knife out of the equation. Lets say this same guy attacks the same way but pounding the mess out of you. It's really no different. He would beat you to death. I just feel like clips like this are really one sided. I hope I am making sense."

Thanks for always asking the easy question, Lynn.

I could pop off with the stock answer "you fight the way you train, so train the way you fight". The problem with this approach is as you said, someone is getting hurt. The real answer has to be much more complex.

Traditional martial arts training has been developed over many centuries to answer just exactly the question you ask, and the answer lies in the hierarchical nature of traditional martial arts.

One uses kata (poomse, patterns, call it as you will) and/or ippon/sanbon/gohan/jiyu-ippon/kaishi-ippon kumite/kumitachi to train the body with muscle memory and conditioned responses. One uses jiyu kumite/kumitachi to develop speed, accuracy and timing. In all of these one must perform their own training against someone at least three ranks higher than themselves or there will be no progression.

Hirakawa Sensei was 86 years old when I began training with him and I could not so much as lay a finger on him unless he stood still and let me, which typically resulted in me falling upon my little head again. When I received my certificate of competency I was managing a whopping 20% (give or take) success rate and two months before he passed away at 94 I had made it up to a rocking 40% success rate (more or less). I improved because my opponent (Sensei) was that much more skilled than I was, and would press me just as hard as he possibly could without permanent injury. I had to get faster, I had to get stronger, I had to hesitate less as time went by (because I really do not like being smacked upside the head with a bokken).

Another rambling reminiscence from an old man: Not too long ago I decided to practice gohan kumite with a 5th kyu student. All I did was stand there and block the attacks while encouraging the student to go faster and strike harder. By the time we were done the student was going just as fast and as hard as they possibly could and I was blocking at the last possible instant without getting hit (I do not like being hit any more than you do). I also watched the expressions and body language go from fear, to excitement, to enjoyment, to understanding of the techniques we were practicing. I sincerely doubt this would ever occur had they been practicing against someone of their own skill level; only by forcing them to work as hard as possible while allowing them to work without concern for my safety did we achieve this highly desirable result.

Think about it: White belt kata are not taught by other white belts and white belts should not practice kumite/kumitachi against other white belts. It serves no purpose.

If you wish to learn then find someone higher ranked to train against. Remember that helpless, frustrated feeling from the first time you had to spar someone much better than you? Remember that desperate desire to land "just one hit"? Find someone that makes you feel that way again and train against that person. If you progress past that feeling then move along and find someone else who brings it back again.

By the same logic, one should strive not to refuse training against lower ranked students. It is your job as their senior to correct their technique, press them as far as they can go and help them progress. However, do not allow this to harm your own development. Unless you have been specifically directed to train a lower rank it is always permissible to say "not now, I must see to my own training".

What he said...

Every now and again I run across something SO imminently logical I just have to repeat it. This is from a discussion about a serious sword injury to an amateur while attempting an extremely dangerous technique he had seen a master swordsman perform flawlessly:

I know this probably sounds terrible but, can you really blame them? :lol: To tell you the truth of what's on my mind, no one ever got anywhere by following orders.

Sensei Tom Urso wrote:
They are absolutely to blame. If one attempts an extremely dangerous task with little to no understanding of said task, the logical outcome would not be positive. Sword are not toys but extremely dangerous weapons. As with any weapon, a mature approach is 100% required for its instruction in order to prevent horrible repercussions.

To tell the truth, if a student of mine does not follow my instruction, then they are no longer welcome in my class. Why such as strict rule? Because immaturity has no place in the training hall as the risk for injury or even death is too great.

If people wish to swing a blade with no instruction, that is their choice; however, there is no justification for immature, unsafe behavior. I apologize for being so blunt but there is truly few things sadder than avoidable grievous injury or death.

Question after question...

"In aikido and judo I was always trying to make a person take a step. Now as I am developing a aikijujutsu approach I am trying to get people to float or sink with little ability to move their feet. This is what i believe the Tai Chi Classics refers to double weighting. It is a useful concept to chase. How do you affect a person's weight on their feet?"

Hirakawa Sensei said "Every person wishes to control the flow of events around them. The person moving upstream against fast water wishes for stillness; the person in a stagnant marshland wishes for running water. The person facing a tsunami wishes for ANYTHING else. However, when you give them their desire it usually turns out they cannot handle it.

So the thing to do is give them what they want when they do not expect it."

I also say...

...never give an attacker the opportunity to strike you again. The only time I "turn the other cheek" is when the spinning backfist is on its way to your fragile little skull plates.

Hirakawa Kaiso said...

"The timing between life and death is no more than a heartbeat; The distance between life and death is no more than the width of a sword blade" - Hirakawa Kotaro Sensei

Paths and Trails

A training metaphor I like:

Everyone thinks training is a linear path, "from here to there (eventually)" but it is more like a winding pathway around and up the mountain. As you follow the path, you continually end up right back where you started from: The same old scenery, doing the same thing over and over. It is sometimes easy to miss that even though we are in the same place again, we are just a few feet higher up the mountain. Sometimes the trail switches back and it seems as if we are now going backward but every turn brings us a few feet higher toward our goal. Thing is, when we finally reach the top (our goal) and look back, it seems so very far from the beginning. Then we look ahead at the next winding path and the next mountain, sigh and start climbing in circles again.

Dishonest Training

A recent discussion of Ogawa Ryu Kenjutsu (along with other recent events) has brought to mind another subject: Dishonest Training.

I believe dishonest training stems from a lack of knowledge, or a desire to be "accommodating", or from an overwhelming desire to be "the winner". I see dishonest training time and time again.

In the case of the Ogawa Ryu video under discussion we saw an example of honest training where shite would stop his attack after torite made a crippling or fatal strike. Another sensei questioned the honesty of the training because while he had knowledge of the weapons in use he lacked understanding of the techniques.

During a recent knife training exercise I was told by my sparring partner "I won, because I cut you more". Problem with that was the very first strike I made completely removed his ability to continue fighting or even hold onto his "knife". This is an example of "dishonest training from a lack of knowledge". I explained the situation and the cut I had made to him, and then we continued. Once again, I made the same initial cut and once again he ignored it, continuing to fight on. Sure enough, at the end of the round I was told once again "I won". This, then, was dishonest training from an overwhelming desire to be "the winner". This was kind of like Monty Python:

King Arthur [after slicing one of the Black Knight's arms off]: "Now stand aside, worthy adversary".
Black Knight: "'Tis but a scratch".
King Arthur: "A scratch? Your arm's off".
Black Knight: "No it isn't".
King Arthur: "What's that, then?"
Black Knight: [after a pause] "I've had worse".
King Arthur: "You liar".
Black Knight: "Come on ya pansy".

I recently saw the third kind of dishonest training in a jujutsu session I was holding. I was developing a seminar at a friend's dojang and some of his students were picking up some free training in Hirakawa Ryu jujutsu. One of the essential practices of jujutsu (and judo, and aikido, and aikijujutsu) is taking away the opponent's balance yet when even the slightest pressure was applied the "aggressor" was simply flopping down onto the ground. This is dishonest training from a desire to be "accommodating". The problem with this type of dishonesty is that their partner feels they have learned the technique, understand it and even worse, can use it properly in a self-defense situation. The unfortunate conclusion is one usually finds out their lack of skill when it is really critical and ends up hurt, maimed or dead.

There is another end of this as well, and that is safety. In a different jujutsu training session an overly enthusiastic student managed to dislocate my shoulder for me. It is up to the instructor to strike a balance between safety and proper training.

So when you train, are you honest with yourself? Are you honest with your partner? And are you honest with your students?


The true curse of the superior warrior:

"First he will outlive his friends.
Then he will outlive his enemies.
Finally, he will outlive his usefulness."

On Peace and Strength

Thought for the day: When individual members of a society feel strong, that is when they promote peace. When members of a society feel weak, violence prevails.

It seems unlikely that Hitler would have risen to power had the German people not felt so weak and impotent following the first World War.

The greatest single thing that Tokugawa Ieyasu did after forming the shogunate was to reinforce the personal strength and value of the individual Samurai and to promote the idea that all persons in Japan had a place and a value.

So: is there a dichotomy between what we learn and teach, and the end result it produces? Talk among yourselves.

More Questions...

A question I am asked from time to time:

"Why should we learn a foreign language (Korean, Japanese, French, Tagalog, whichever) just so we can learn a martial art? What's wrong with English?".

"What's wrong with English?"; I am not going to open that can of worms. Not today. Well, maybe a little.

Another question I am asked from time to time:

"How does a low block work? Is your arm really strong enough to block a kick like that?". Like that little Non Sequitur?

The standard reply from instructors all over the US is "of course it is! You just have to (be faster/be stronger/be more powerful/rotate your hips/put your weight behind it)". In truth, unless you are a REALLY big and strong person, your puny little arm is no match for a full-force powerful kick from me. That is just not happening.

So why do we teach "low block"? Because if you teach it correctly it works and this is where knowing the original language becomes important.

Back to "What is wrong with English?".

Nothing per se, but the translations from other languages are often horrendous. Case in point, "low block". "Low block" came into Tae Kwon Do from Shotokan Karate; Shotokan Karate and othe forms of karate came from Okinawan karate, Okinawan karate came from Naha-te, Shuri-te and Tomari-te. So the origins are "Korean, Japanese, Japanese and Ryuku Japanese; the point is: English is not in there anywhere.

In English, Rising/High block, Outer Forearm block, Low block are all the same thing - types of blocks. In Japanese though, Age-uke (rising block) and Soto-ude-uke (outside forearm block) are uke (blocks? are they?) but "low block" is Gedan Barai. Not the same thing at all.

"Gedan Barai" is "low level sweep". Blocks are intended to stop something from moving but sweeps are designed to redirect something while it is moving. This is why "low block" works; because it is not really a block at all.

And this was not really a Non Sequitur at all, either.


Everything has a flow and everything moves in its own time. One of the keys to a successful combat strategy is to recognize the flow of a fight and then to slow down or stop the flow with your mind. Once this happens you can take control of that flow to your own advantage.


Even More Vocabulary

"sakki" is an abbreviation for "殺意き" (satsuiki) satsui = intent to kill/murder; ki = energy.

Sakki is the feeling or energy an opponent projects.

The skilled martial artist detects this by maintaining " 残心" zanshin, a state of continuing awareness (lit. "follow-through")

On MMA...

Mixed Martial Arts and how I personally feel on the subject.

First, let me say that the concept of mixing martial arts styles and techniques is very old. The Samurai trained in many different martial arts covering many subjects with devastating effect. In Okinawa it was not uncommon for a person to move from town to town throughout their life for the specific purpose of learning the local martial art style. The same can be said for China and India. In my own life I have changed styles many times, learning new techniques, variations and new applications of old techniques.

The difference, I think, is that I (and my predecessors) learned each of these martial arts as a discrete entity, separate and whole. This is in stark contrast to the current crop of "mixed martial arts" styles where an instructor claims to have "extracted all of the best and useful techniques" from many different styles and "combined them into a single devastating style". My questions for them would have to be "who told you?" and "what makes you think you could possibly know all of the best techniques?".

Seriously, I trained up to second degree black belt in Tae Kwon Do under Master Rob Ellis and Grand Master McNeely. No fooling. I can tell you that I know "all of the best and useful techniques" in Tae Kwon Do but GM McNeely can demonstrate at least a dozen other highly effective techniques I may have never even seen (let alone being able to perform them). That is just one example.

Can I say I know all of the best and useful techniques in Hirakawa Ryu? Yes, I can. I know because Hirakawa Kotaro, the former head of Hirakawa Ryu, said so. If I were to say to you "I know all of the best and useful techniques in kenjutsu" then I would be a liar. The difference is at once subtle and all-encompassing.

Rules of Control

The following primarily applies to jujutsu, aikijutsu, taijutsu, aikido, judo and similar arts but can be applied to any martial art. There are rules about controlling another person or thing, and the rules are simple enough:

Rule 1: If a thing (or person) has balance and is motionless it is impossible to control.

Rule 2: If a thing (or person) has balance and is in motion, it can only be controlled if the balance is taken away.

Rule 3: In order to control a thing (or person) one must remove the balance and also impart movement if there is none.

Rule 4: Effective control of a thing (or person) must continually degrade balance while redirecting and increasing motion.

Rule 5: When increasing motion makes it impossible to effectively control a thing (or person) then you must relinquish control.

I have demonstrated these principles to many of the kyu ranks in the form of specific techniques. Take a moment to review your style and also these additional techniques in light of these rules.

Origins of Karate

On the origins of karate:
那覇手 - Naha te originated around the Naha area of Okinawa and was noted for its general reliance on strength of body. Successor styles to Naha te include Shotokan, Goju-ryu and Uechi-ryu.

首里手 - Shuri te originated around Shuri, the old capital of the Ryukuu Kingdom in Okinawa. Shuri te was noted for its general reliance on speed rather than muscular strength. Successor styles to Shuri-te include Shotokan, Shito-ryu and Shorin-ryu.

泊手 - Tomari te refers to a tradition of martial arts originating from the village of Tomari. Tomari te relied on flexibility and speed to a greater extent than even shuri te. Successor styles to Tomari-te include Motobu-ryu and Matsubayashi-ryu.

Valentine's Day 2013

It is time for the Valentine's Day Special - "Love, Hate and the American Way."

Have you ever noticed that America is a land of extremes? Very few people "like" things; they "LOVE" them (or "HATE" them).

It seems to me both love and hate in American culture are weak, watery things with no substance. In most of the world Love and Hate are far more powerful and far less common. The very weakness of these expressions in America precludes us from understanding the viewpoint of our enemies, and it also convinces the world that we as a people are shallow, inconsequential beings.

In Japan (at least in the Japan I knew) one would never say "I love.." or "I hate.."; one's actions and bearing would demonstrate those feelings so much that speaking the words would seem gauche and self-aggrandizing. If I love you, you should know it. If I hated you then you would already be gone from this world.

Both love and hate are primal, extremely basic emotional and mental states that encompass the very essence of our being. Or they should be, anyway. There is very little in this world I love and all I love are creatures of one species or another; no objects. There are many "things" I like (and many persons) but not a long list in the love category.

So I ask you - do you REALLY "love" Coca-Cola? Does it spur your thoughts, occupy your mind and does it's absence create an almost unbearable longing in your heart? Really?

On Hatred - Hate is a black thing, dark and fierce and as powerful as the world. Hatred consumes the mind as much as love (or more); There is very little in the world WORTHY of my hatred (although much I hold in contempt).

So do you REALLY "hate" broccoli? Does its very existence offend your soul? Will you destroy broccoli at every turn until it is completely, utterly driven from the world? Will you put your life on the line in order to rid the world of broccoli?

Something to consider as you go about your day; and in the spirit of Valentine's Day - "わたし は あなた すき です"

As an aside - the phrase "I ABSOLUTELY hate ______" is totally ignorant; Hatred IS an absolute.

Asked and Answered

I have a question that I have been debating in my head for quiet some time. The question is this. How do you know it's time to leave a Federation for good. How does one do so? It's just I feel there is just too much injustice and drama for me to allow myself to be associated with this federation. How do I get my point across while respectfully leaving?
Thank you”

An interesting question. I will answer both parts in order.

As a Christian I would say when you still your mind and still your heart the small voice you hear speaking will be the holy spirit of God and he will tell you the truth.

As a Buddhist (Shoto Zen sect) I would say that when one meditates, clearing the mind of all thought and emotion, one may experience satori whereby the truth of a situation will shine clear in your mind.

As Sensei I would say "if you are asking the question then you already know the answer and the correct path. Stop being a coward and walk it".

Leaving an association is based upon your ties to it in the first place.

If it is simply a matter of money and name then stop paying the money, rip the patch from your uniform and move on.

If you have strong ties to many individuals in the association then you may wish to tell them in person that you are leaving and why. It may help to resolve some of your issues, but expect to lose some friends.

If your connection to the organisation is a personal connection to the head of the group, then a personal letter explaining your action, the reasons therefore, and expressing your remaining feelings (and respect, if any) to that person would seem to be in order.

Why? Tradition...

"The core methods of kenjutsu are those of a weapon long disused, and one of the primary reasons we practice kenjutsu is the idea that we are forging a link in an unbroken chain; a chain that runs backward in time for hundreds or thousands of years.

At the front of that chain is an anchor rooted in tradition, and at the end of that chain we stand. With that chain at our back we can face forward into the future without being swept away by the rushing tide of history and change. Break it, and we are lost."

Carrots, Eggs, or Coffee?

Carrots, Eggs, or Coffee; "Which are you?"

A young woman went to her grandmother and told her about her life and how things were so hard for her. She did not know how she was going to make it and wanted to give up. She was tired of fighting and struggling. It seemed as one problem was solved a new one arose.

Her grandmother took her to the kitchen. She filled three pots with water. In the first, she placed carrots, in the second she placed eggs and the last she placed ground coffee beans. She let them sit and boil without saying a word.

In about twenty minutes she turned off the burners. She fished the carrots out and placed them in a bowl. She pulled the eggs out and placed them in a bowl. Then she ladled the coffee out and placed it in a bowl. Turning to her granddaughter, she asked, "Tell me what do you see?"

"Carrots, eggs, and coffee," she replied.

She brought her closer and asked her to feel the carrots. She did and noted that they got soft.She then asked her to take an egg and break it.

After pulling off the shell, she observed the hard-boiled egg.

Finally, she asked her to sip the coffee. The granddaughter smiled, as she tasted its rich aroma. The granddaughter then asked. "What's the point,grandmother?"

Her grandmother explained that each of these objects had faced the same adversity--boiling water--but each reacted differently.

The carrot went in strong, hard and unrelenting. However after being subjected to the boiling water, it softened and became weak. The egg had been fragile. Its thin outer shell had protected its liquid interior. But, after sitting through the boiling water, its inside became hardened.

The ground coffee beans were unique, however. After they were in the boiling water they had changed the water.

"Which are you?" she asked her granddaughter.

"When adversity knocks on your door, how do you respond? Are you a carrot, an egg, or a coffee bean?"

Think of this: Which am I?

Am I the carrot that seems strong, but with pain and adversity, do I wilt and become soft and lose my strength?

Am I the egg that starts with a malleable heart, but changes with the heat? Did I have a fluid spirit, but after a death, a breakup, a financial hardship or some other trial, have I become hardened and stiff?

Does my shell look the same, but on the inside am I bitter and tough with a stiff spirit and a hardened heart?

Or am I like the coffee bean? The bean actually changes the hot water, the very circumstance that brings the pain. When the water gets hot, it releases the fragrance and flavor. If you are like the bean, when things are at their worst, you get better and change the situation around you.

-Author unknown

Hirakawa Kaiso said...

"Handling is the work of the swordsman and not the sword. A swordsman who complains of his sword handling poorly is incompetent. Any who think otherwise are fools." - Hirakawa Kotaro Sensei


下さい - "kuda sai" or "please". DID YOU KNOW that the root kanji of this expression 下 (kuda) literally means "below" and さい (sai) literally means "lower"?

To say "please" in Japan is to acknowledge that you are below the person you are asking, and cannot provide the requested service or object for yourself. Most Japanese people feel that Americans say "please" far too often, demeaning and abasing themselves while simultaneously acting as if we are superior to everyone else.

For example, if you say "please pass the salt" at the table you would be considered to be groveling or demeaning yourself. IF you say "pass the salt" and the person you ask says "Say Please..." then this becomes a demand for groveling before you can have salt. In a formal dining environment in Japan (with superiors from work or with strangers, etc.) you may say "塩下さい" (salt, please) but in an informal or family dining environment you would simply say "塩" (salt) as the salt is there for everybody to use and it is expected that you would simply share with your family and friends.
Get the picture?

Or should I post a link to Jar Jar Binks ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nDwQJ64UpFQ )?

Master Kim says...

"Know that a thing or an action which may seem of little value to oneself, may be a priceless treasure to another." - Ashida Kim

That's right, I quoted Ashida Kim. Truth is truth wherever you find it.


On flexibility...

Some terminology I use when discussing stretching and flexibility:

Full Range of Motion - this is exactly how for the human body can possibly move in any one direction. This will vary based upon sex and body type but little else affects it.

Functional Range of Motion - this is exactly how far the human body can possibly move in any one direction AT ANY GIVEN MOMENT IN TIME. This will vary based upon fitness level, age, current or past injuries, fatigue and mental attitude. This can never exceed full range of motion and usually is far less.

Flexibility Limit - this is the limit inside the individual's functional range of motion where the muscles involved can function normally. A simple example: the height where you can make a side kick and hold it there is your flexibility limit for a side kick.

Elasticity Limit: this is the region inside an individual's function range of motion but beyond the flexibility limit. In this range it is the ability of the muscle and connective tissue to stretch and rebound (be elastic) that allows you to make a kick or strike. Using our example, this is the height where you can "fire off' a side kick but you cannot hold it there. range, height and some power but little to no control.

Some concepts about flexibility using my terminology:

The ideal flexibility is when your full range of motion, functional range of motion, and flexibility limit are exactly the same. This should be your goal in flexibility training; there should never be any reason to "take a bounce".

You CANNOT increase your flexibility limit unless you perform your stretching routine beyond that limit and inside the elasticity limit.

Flexibility stretching MUST include both relaxation and strengthening actions in order to be effective.
- The individual must start at their flexibility limit and then push past that limit into the elasticity limit. When this happens the muscles will tense up and resist and you must wait (20-30 seconds) for the muscles to relax again before proceeding. This is what I mean by 'relaxation". Often one finds that there is more elastic range available after the muscles relax, and you can repeat this process a number of times before you actually hit the elasticity limit or the end of functional range of motion.

- When the individual reaches their elasticity limit, they must then strengthen the muscles at that range. This is done by tightening the muscles and pulling against the stretch. It is better to pull with about 1/3 to 1/2 of your strength than to pull as hard as possible, and this should be repeated 2-3 times with about a 20-30 second rest period in between.

- You eased into a stretch; ease out of it. Never just "let go". Take your time, muscles need to relax on the way out of the stretch just as much as they did getting into it, the 20-30 second rule applies here as well.



I generally try not to get upset when I hear nonsense being repeated as gospel, or when I hear opinion being repeated as fact, or when I hear someone who HAS knowledge and understanding misspeak and therefore literally DESTROY the ability for another to advance in their training.

This is pure nonsense.

Master Liu says...

Working on the Samurai sword is very different because your body position has to be very still. It's a much quieter way of fighting. - Lucy Liu

"Very bad form, Master Pan!"

例式 - reishiki - regular ceremony; established form
礼式 - reishiki - etiquette; manners

Two different pair of kanji; two similar meanings. Both should apply to the dojo. Many see the application of etiquette and formality as inconsequential or unnecessary, dismissing it in favor of "getting on with it". While this may function okay or even well with a small group, anything over about 10 people becomes both unwieldy and dangerous. It is my opinion that formality is of the utmost importance, should be the first thing taught and should be reinforced constantly.

Let us face the fact that the dojo is a dangerous place, no matter what measures are taken to promote safety. No matter what style you practice, the dojo will have others training at the same time. Their focus is on what they are doing, not what you are doing. Much of what they do is dangerous, to themselves and to the others around them.

The dojo is a place to focus on performing dangerous techniques, learning and improving. If everyone is focused so strongly on their own training, how do we ensure that we are not injured? The answer, of course, is れいしき (reishiki).

By following set forms for entering, leaving, beginning and ending training sessions, passing another 武道 弟子 (budo deshi, martial arts student) or 武道家 (budoka, martial artist) inside the dojo, asking for and receiving attention from the 師範 (shihan, instructor) or 先生 (sensei, you figure it out), etc. we train ourselves mentally and physically to deal with the dangers around us while not distracting others to their and/or our detriment.

Quiet (but not stillness)

It has been very quiet for a while now; I wonder if everybody is hanging out and waiting for my next words of wisdom. I hope not.

Still, I have been quiet as well; pondering a question that has arisen in my mind. The other day a Ju Dan in another style called me “Sensei” and this unlocked a lot of difficult feelings on my part: Concern, questioning (e.g., how could I deserve this title?), and not a little panic.

Why concern?

Perhaps because I feel as if I am just beginning to grasp the principles my Sensei taught me.

Perhaps because my body fails and I no longer feel capable of properly teaching anything or anyone. Not that it has been a bad body, but the things I have been through in my life have taken their toll.

Perhaps because the time and space that separates me from those I have taught and studied with prevents me from any sort of a regular training regime.

Why question?

Sensei ( 先生 ) literally means "born before" and implies one who teaches based on wisdom from age and experience. So why does a 10th degree Black Belt who is decades my senior feel the need to call me this (I think in part it was because of the way I reacted; apparently it is a bit fun to needle me about it)?

Why panic?

Perhaps because in 1987 a lot of things changed for me. I was injured and had to leave the military for good; all of my comrades in arms were gone; I was newly divorced (and bankrupt); I left Japan for probably the last time in my life; and Hirakawa Sensei passed on leaving me alone. In many ways I closed the door on that chapter of my life and relegated those things to my past. It is no coincidence that when I began studying martial arts again I chose a Korean style.

Now it seems as if that door is being forced open and all those things are coming around again. Have you ever really listened to the lyrics of "Zombie" by Dolores O'Riordan and the Cranberries?

Perhaps because I remember Hirakawa Sensei very well and realize it is doubtful I can live up to his legacy.

Perhaps because the term “Sensei” brings with it a sense of inescapable obligation; obligation I resent because I feel unable to properly fulfill it.

So, think before you call me Sensei. I do not know what it means to you but it opens up a whole new can of worms for me. If you do, be prepared for what goes along with it.


Sanbon kumite

Elaborating upon "三本 組手 - sanbon kumi te" a bit.

The first thing you need to decide is what makes up a "thing" that you wish the 弟子 (deshi, students) to perform. This can be any combination of stance and hand technique, made by 取り手 (tori te; receiving person) in response to an action from their 仕手 (shi te; attacker). You must also decide what action the attacker makes to prompt that response. This is done 3 times and the actions are performed in succession by both partners.

So, "front punch -> high block; reverse punch -> high block; front punch -> low block" is sanbon kumi te (techniques listed as paired actions for attacker and receiver, 3 sets).

"front punch advancing to front stance -> low block retreating to back stance; rear leg (turning) round kick advancing to back stance -> high block retreating to middle stance; front leg front snap kick, shift to a front stance and reverse punch -> slide forward middle stance to middle stance to avoid the kick, palm block to deflect the punch, ridge hand strike to the opposite side of the head" is also sanbon kumite although two of the "things" had 3 techniques and the rest of them had 2.

I hope this has cleared things up instead of confusing the subject more...


構え- Kamae - "position, posture, base" - refers to the entire position of the body
立ち- Tachi (dachi) - "stance, lower posture" - refers to the position of the lower body only

More Vocabulary

組手          - kumi te - 2 person kata (e.g., sparring)
一本 組手 - ippon kumi te - 2 person single action kata (e.g., one-step sparring)
三本 組手 - sanbon kumi te - 2 person 3 action kata (e.g., 3-step sparring)
基礎 組手 - kiso kumi te - 2 person kata based on regular kata (lit. basic sparring)
自由 組手 - jiyu kumi te - 2 person unstructured kata (e.g., free sparring) (lit. "as it pleases you sparring")

Uchi deshi, omote deshi

内弟子 - uchi deshi "family student"
表弟子 - omote deshi "public student" (literally: "outside student")

Back in the day the omote deshi received training available to everybody for a fee; uchi deshi were the insiders and learned "the good stuff".

In these modern times I find this concept has fallen into disuse; all students are "omote deshi" and in many instances the persons teaching in modern dojo are also "omote deshi". They teach what they were taught by rote, without any understanding whatsoever of the reasons why or what purpose techniques serve.

"Uchi deshi" was something to strive for; you did not qualify for this training just because you were a relation, and you could aspire to this level of training even if you were a total stranger.

In many ways it has become incumbent upon the STUDENT to decide what level of training they receive; the student must decide what they desire most, train for it and if the instructor cannot provide this, then they must decide to move along and find a better master. I personally feel this is wrong; but how to fix it?

I say...

When one decides to undertake martial arts as a way of life, the only way to fail is to quit. Growth may occur slowly but it will happen as long as you persevere.


制空圏- seiku ken; seiku gen

Means "empty sphere control" or "empty air sphere" or "mastery of the air system".
This concept has occurred a number of times in anime series, which does not make it any less valid.

The concept is simple - in any fight you establish a "zone of control" around yourself and then only defend that space. Any attack coming at you that does not enter this space you can ignore; any attack that enters this space must be countered.

Also, in any fight when attacking you must first move your opponent into this space or allow them to enter; to do otherwise gives your opponent an opportunity to read your intent and to counter you and also prevents you from defending your space, effectively breaking your barrier.

Tsune budo, rei budo

常武道 - tsune budo
例武道 - rei budo

The first means "always martial way"; the second means "habitual martial way".

How many of us take off our "martial way" along with our gi or dobok? How much of our training stops at the door of the dojo or dojang?

We should look at everything we do every minute of the day in the light of our martial training. Try that for one hour. Then for one day.


A lot of buzz has been going around lately regarding "atari"; which is translated to mean:

" (N) (1) hit; (2) success; (3) guess; prediction; (4) affability; friendliness; (5) sensation; touch; (6) bruise (on fruit); (7) situation in which a stone or chain of stones may be captured on the next move (in the game of go); (8) bite (of a fish on a hook); strike"

Everyone focuses in on the definition "hit" and assumes it means "when you hit your opponent"; this is not so. Atari as it applies to Martial Arts is more like the last definition: "Bite of a fish on a hook; strike". On top of that, it does not refer to what the fish is doing, but to what the fisherman does.

For those of you who do not fish, when a fisherman feels the strike of the fish on his hook he instantaneously jerks back on the line to set his hook into his quarry. If his timing is correct, he catches the fish. If not, the fish gets away. In old Japan, fishermen sat in the surf on chairs, with fishing poles and with hooks that had no barb. When a fish would strike the fisherman would jerk the fish out of the water by the hook and toss it over his head onto the beach, where it would be collected and stored. There were no barbed hooks, no fighting, no reeling, and only one chance to get the fish before it spat out the hook and swam away.

Atari in martial arts is what you do at the moment your opponent acts. if your timing is right, you win the exchange. Otherwise, you lose. IT also encompasses "guess; prediction" and (if properly executed) "success".

Hirakawa Kaiso said...


    * A sword takes an edge, or it does not.
    * A sword KEEPS an edge, or it does not.
    * A sword cuts well, or it does not.
    * A sword endures, or it does not.

These are the ONLY things that matter" - Hirakawa Kotaro Sensei