Wednesday, December 26, 2012

The Surprising Efficacy of Hit Medicines

Bottle of  Hit Medicine
I believe that most practitioners of Okinawan karate know that hit medicines are/were used by most serious Okinawan karate masters. Higaonna shinshi and Hokama shinshi (and others) have advocated this practice to their Western students fairly vocally. However, Western karateka have been largely uninterested in the use of these medicines (unlike many Western practitioners of Chinese styles). It would seem that the general consensus among American teachers is that these medicines are unnecessary (if not totally ineffective).  I have used hit medicines on and off over the years, but I was really never sure whether they worked. The main reason for this uncertainty was that I have always been careful about avoiding over-training. This has been impossible over the last several weeks because I have recently been experimenting with different machiwara designs and that meant I couldn't stop hitting them just because my hands were getting sore.

 Over the last month and a half I have built and tested 5 different machiwaras with the aim of creating a moveable indoor machiwara which is fully capable of surviving the rigors of thousands of intense impacts to various surfaces on the board. This has been more challenging than I would have believed it would be. I was shocked when a very solid 1.5 inch thick machiwara literally snapped in two after only a week of testing, and I was then disappointed when a my next attempt (designed to be much more flexible) failed to supply sufficient resistance to my strikes. After three failed attempts I now have 2 movable indoor machiwaras which meet my design needs (I will post photos and design instructions as well as notes on what went wrong in the failed designs in a future post).

In the process of building and testing these machiwaras I have had to repeatedly slam my fists into bare oak with maximum power on a daily basis. I personally believe that machiwara training works best at only about 70% of full power (because it is nearly impossible to do a good structural "body audit" when hitting at full power), but to ensure these machiwaras were actually strong enough to withstand months (and hopefully years) of daily abuse I had to REALLY unload on them.

At first my hands were merely getting a little sore. However, after a few weeks of this hardcore design testing my hands started to become very painful and more importantly they also became bruised in the knuckle and finger areas and my *entire* hands eventually became quite puffy and swollen.

So, I found some of the hit medicine that I had used before and started applying it to my hands before and after testing my machiwaras. Much to my surprise and delight, I found that this would reduce the swelling in my hands within half an hour, and even more surprisingly I found that most mild bruising would litterally disappear overnight if I applied it to my hands before going to bed.

This really amazed me, and I am quite glad I decided to start using hit medicine again. I now realize that I can train much more vigorously than I had previously believed I could because I no longer need to take several days off for recovery if I over-train to the point of bruising and swelling.

I have now invested in enough herbs to make several gallons of this hit medicine. I'll post again at some point in the future to provide a recipe and detailed instructions about all of the stages in producing this medicine.

Once again the wisdom of the old masters has been proven to me, and I urge all my readers to carefully consider the older Okinawan methods and to be very cautious about dismissing old training concepts as outdated "old wives tales".

As my dad likes to say: "old wives tend to know what they are talking about" ;-)

Monday, December 24, 2012

Taira Masaji shinshi

In the past I've often mentioned 20th century Okinawan masters who played an important role in preserving "old style" karate such as Kuda Yuichi, Oyata Seiyu, Soken Hohan, Motobu Choki, Uehara Seikichi and others. Unfortunately all these wonderful masters have now passed on. However, there is an Okinawan master (who is still very much in his prime) who is currently doing much to spread a highly functional "old style" approach to karate. His name will already be familiar to many people who study Okinawan karate. It is Taira Masaji and I believe he is one of the most gifted of the living Okinawan masters. I also believe he will be remembered in history as one of Okinawan karate's true "greats".

"I would like to make one point in relation to bunkai practice, as you have mentioned that many instructors are “only now discovering bunkai”. I know of a number of experienced overseas instructors who have said that bunkai was not ever practiced in Okinawan dojo when they were there. They should be careful how they word those statements, as this might well simply reveal the level of karate that was entrusted to them by their instructor! Bunkai has indeed been an essential practice in Okinawan karate from its inception."
 - Taira Masaji shinshi

Here is a good interview with Taira Masaji shinshi:
Human Tornado

I highly recommend Paul Enfield shinshi's YouTube channel which has many excellent videos including (but definitely not limited to) many starring Taira shinshi. 

I am certain many people (at least the old fogies like myself) will remember Enfield shinshi as the rather athletically built uke/assistant in Higaonna Morio shinshi's Panther Video library.

I also highly recommend the videos of Taira shinshi available from Enfield shinshi's website:
Goju Karate Center Carlsbad

I've purchased videos from 2010, 2011, and 2012 and have been deeply satisfied with all of them.

If you want to improve your karate (and this includes people who study arts other than Goju ryu) I strongly suggest checking out Taira shinshi and his students.

Monday, October 1, 2012

One Minute Bunkai™

I'm sure many people are already familiar with "One Minute Bunkai™" on YouTube. It appears to be the creation mainly of Angel Lemus and a few associates. Lemus shinshi is a long time practitioner of Okinawan karate (Sukunaihayashi-ryu [Shorin-ryu], Goju-ryu and more) and has been sharing his understanding of kata and bunkai on YouTube for the last year.

I want to strongly recommend his channel as a very worthwhile source of information and inspiration. While there are other Okinawan stylists sharing excellent quality bunkai, Lemus shinshi (and company) are somewhat unique in that their videos are all completely free and the production quality is very high. Typically, videos teaching excellent quality bunkai will either cost you money (sometimes a LOT of money) or they will have very low production quality.

Here are three of Lemus shinshi's One Minute Bunkai™ videos on Naihanchi Shodan kata.

I self-deprecatingly offer my own YouTube video on bunkai for Naihanchi Shodan as a comparison (knowing full well that this comparison will not be very favorable).

While I believe all of these videos offer good bunkai, my video is not even in the same league as One Minute Bunkai™ in terms of clarity and production quality. So be sure to check out the One Minute Bunkai™ channel. You'll be glad you did.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Classical Tsuki Waza (Uchina Nu Chichidi)

This is merely my personal understanding of "old style" tsuki waza (Uchina nu chichidi [Okinawa no tsuki-te]) based mainly on the techniques passed on via the Machimura Suidi lineage of Soken Hohan shinshi but it has also been informed by training in other "old style" Okinawan systems. I do not claim to be an authority on body mechanics, but I do believe all the information in this article is accurate and does reflect an older and significantly more effective/efficient method of striking.

There are a number of significant differences between the tsuki waza of old style Tudi-jutsu and modern karate-do. Some of the changes were made for safety reasons (making the strike less dangerous for junior high school aged children) while others were probably made for aesthetic reasons. The modern karate-do punch is "squared off" and uses very straight lines. This results in a very aesthetically pleasing technique. Unfortunately the very characteristics that make the technique beautiful also make it mechanically less efficient. This is not to say it is ineffective, but it is less effective.

Machida has repeatedly proven that the modern karatedo tsuki is far from ineffective.

Some of these differences are rarely discussed while others are relatively well known. Among the better known differences are those related to the structural alignment of the arm:

1) The fist is rotated only to the diagonal position

2) The elbow is pointing down and is slightly bent

3) The fist is off-center and more closely aligned with the shoulder than the centerline

4) The fist uses a straight index finger allowing the fist to be very solid while keeping the hand and wrist relatively relaxed

5) There is significant ulnar deviation at the wrist

As I mentioned, these difference are relatively well known and have been discussed in various texts. In terms of online resources, I can recommend the following articles:

The key differences in terms of structural alignment with the torso and lower body are:

6) The shoulder is both extended forward and pulled down. The downward pull engages the latissimus dorsi muscles. When the elbow is pointing down, a forward extension of the shoulder can create better structural alignment between the arm and the torso especially with respect to the latissimus dorsi muscles. This foreward and downward stretch of the shoulder is called "gyame" in Uchinaguchi

7) The pelvis is rotated forward which minimizes the lumbar curve. This allows more efficient transfer of energy through the gamaku area

8) There is a very slight lean forward which helps minimize the lumbar and thoracic curves and also facilitates efficient transfer of energy through the gamaku area. This shifts the weight and center of gravity (tanden) slightly forward increasing the power of the blow as well

9) The cervical and thoracic curves are further minimized by pulling the chin back and pulling the top of the head upward as if suspended by a bungee cord

10) The gamaku area contains the "core muscles" which join the ribs (and lower back) together with the pelvis. These are engaged in the old style tsuki-waza thus creating a firmer structural support for the technique

11) The stance is slightly shorter and more upright than the typical karate-do tsuki

12) The rear knee is somewhat bent to accommodate the forward pelvic rotation

(click to enlarge) Modern karate-do tsuki waza

(click to enlarge) Classical (Machimura Suidi) tsuki waza

(click to enlarge) Illustration of the transfer of force from an imagined machiwara into the ground

(click to enlarge) Inefficient transfer of force from an imagined machiwara into the ground

A few quotes about the use of the gamaku area:

  • In the process of lowering your shoulders, tucking your koshi, and squeezing your lats, you can create a tension that is called "gamaku." But the name is not important -- the tension is what counts because you can use it.

  • Shuri-te practitioners employ gamaku, or shimegoshi. Arakaki describes it as “the moment a fist reaches a target, you employ gamaku so as to rapidly contract but not tighten the muscles between the lower ribs and the sacrum. Gamaku will put extra weight behind your tsuki and help stabilize your position, so when you hit a target, you will not be pushed back by a rebound from your own tsuki.”
  • Gamaku squeeze
  • Arakaki uses a clear illustration to describe gamaku. Imagine a balloon filled with water and placing it in a hand towel you are holding at each end. The weight of the balloon will pull down the towel and increase its tension. The position of the balloon in the towel is the sacrum and the ends of the towel are the ribs. It is important to imagine a water filled balloon rather than a solid object, such as a heavy metal ball.

  • One of the keys to striking in Matsubayashi is sinking or sitting down on techniques. In front stance when you "sink" your pelvic girdle is tilted forward slightly. For proper alignment of the spine relative to the hip girdle there appears to be a "lean", but due to the physics of the sinking this alignment requires a slight "lean." Simply leaning without sinking properly is improper technique. As far as koshi and gamaku in karate you move with your hara. Movement with hara requires development of gamaku through movement of the koshi. Once the gamaku is developed sufficiently movement is accomplished using gamaku and any movement of the koshi is a byproduct of using gamaku.