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The practice of martial arts has come to be diverse in terms of the wide range of  arts and schools available and in terms of the population that is involved. Physical fitness and talent may only be required to a small degree, or they may be paramount to success. Students may be dedicated about conditioning, or they may be “weekend-warriors” whose primary physical activity is a class.  An instructor may be qualified in a technical realm but not be a good source of information in others, such as the nature of violence. The need for Evidence Based Practice (EBP) is just as high as in any other vigorous physical activity, yet appeals to tradition, history and authority and “experts” often lead students and practitioners to accept dubious information or ignore new information, which can have consequences on a number of levels. For this discussion, the practice of the various martial arts can be divided into two realms: recreational (i.e., oriented at self defense, fitness, cultural, etc.) and competitive (amateur or professional competition). Most of this discussion will focus on the recreational realm.

An extreme example of a lack of critical thinking and evidence-based practice can be found in  the cult of personality that has developed around Ueshiba Morihei, founder of the Japanese art of Aikido.

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Garry Lever has posted an excellent discussion on the roots of Goju Ryu over at the Goju Kenkyukai blog. This is one of the more sober looks at the history of any karate group out there. Karate in general suffers from the effects of unnecessary myth-making and mysticism; as a result the histories of different practices and individuals are badly garbled and left open to some pretty silly stuff.  I think Garry hits this one head on- forget trying to pin down direct sources and secret transmissions; it’s more likely that Goju Ryu has it’s roots with a bunch of guys who knew a few things about fighting skills, getting together in the park to train. Hmmm…now why does that seem so familiar?

Check it out there

If you watch closely you will see two short clips from the TKRI demonstrations at the Missouri Botanical Gardens this year. Nice job guys.

Note: I would like to acknowledge the enormous contributions of my teachers and training colleagues to my thinking on this matter: most notably Robert Miller in his essay “Modern Karate: A Reconsidered Pedagogy”; Dr. Gillian Russell’s essay “Epistemic Viciousness in the Martial Arts” and Harry Cook for providing a solid sounding board for my inchoate, all-over-the-place musings.

“Traditional Karate”: A Problem of Definitions

Over the past couple of years, an increasing level of conversation has developed amongst karate practitioners about what karate is. As practitioners of the fighting arts learn more about each other via books and the internet, and the rise of mixed martial arts has provided a yardstick for the superiority of this technique or that, the standard answers are becoming more and more inadequate. This process of reckoning is acutely noticeable on online discussion forums.  If you throw the question of “what is karate?” onto a discussion board, the replies will cover a very broad range of interpretations and practices. Some replies will take all facets of training and the contingencies of fighting into account and evaluate them carefully, while others will staunchly defend this major brand name or that as “the” keepers of correct tradition.” In an age where ideas and methods can be accessed at the click of a button and information is more available than at any other time in history, many karateka still insist on wearing blinders. Some who engage in these conversations become very distraught at the suggestion that their school of choice is not recognized by all as being the best (epistemic viciousness at its best), while others actively pursue new perspectives.

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A while back we posted an announcement about the creation of a karate section in the University of Hawaii’s Hamilton Library. Charles Goodin has been the impetus behind this development, and the collection consists of hundreds of volumes that he graciously donated from his personal library. Yesterday, Goodin posted several links to the library’s newly established Okinawa Collection. The most exciting feature is a collection of complete digitized versions of many old and rare texts by authors such as Mabuni and Funakoshi.

Visit his blog here for more information and links.

Thank you, Mr. Goodin!

Senior Goju Ryu exponent An’ichi Miyagi sensi passed away on Monday April 27th. Miyagi sensei  was one of Chojun Miyagi’s last and most notable students. As a teacher he  produced a legacy that includes Goju Ryu maestro Morio Higaonna. Our sympathies go to his family and students.

sensei_anichi

An interview with Morio Higaonna about his teacher is available here.          More information about An’ichi Miyagi sensei is available here.

I followed a link from one of our visitors to a site called Okinawa HDR. The site features some gorgeous HDR (High Dynamic Range) photography of Okinawan landscapes, people and culture. There are some jaw-dropping, vibrant and haunting images here, and it’s easy to spend and hour or more getting lost in them.

Check out Okinawa HDR here

This link takes you to the photos

Uechi Ryu pioneer Seiko Toyama has passed away at the age of 81. Toyama sensei was the last remaining practitioner to have trained directly under Kanbun Uechi. The first time I saw a video of him demonstrating kata I thought “wow, I can only hope that I’m in that kind of shape and moving like that if I ever get to his age.” Our condolences go out to his family and students.

toyama

Click here to watch a video of his performance of  Sanseiryu kata.

Part 3 of 6. Footnotes, references, and demonstration video clips will be posted in the last entry.

Exploratory Project
To make one of these makiwara for some hands-on investigation I used the diagram provided in Higaonna’s book as a model, and that is the design that I will describe here, installed outdoors. I have taken a few liberties as far as materials and measurements go, and have attempted to err on the side of caution when deciding upon the post’s diameter and the length of the cuts needed. The post should be of the following dimensions:  8’ long and between 4” and 5” in diameter.

Depending on your location, a suitably sized round post of treated lumber might be easy or difficult to come by (I was amazed to find that no suppliers in my area, a rural part of Virginia, carried these with regularity). You may be able to find one at your local lumberyard, especially in the gardening section during the Spring and Summer months. If that provides no results, call around: rural farm communities and farm supply co-ops may carry them.

If this search is fruitless, there are naturally available alternatives that have the added bonus of involving you in the process of making your training equipment.

Black locust is a quick growing hardwood that has strong natural rot resistant properties. In fact, locust posts are known to remain solid up to 70 years in direct contact with the ground (our landscape is dotted with grayed locust posts standing beside their decaying treated lumber counterparts). Red and Western Cedar are also naturally resistant to rot and bugs and will hold up for quite a while as well, but cedar is much softer than locust wood. Locust will resist impact and splitting as well as decay. The bottom line is that you should be able to hurl all types of abuse at it with no problems, and it will last in the elements for a very long time. Extra steps, such as cutting, hauling and debarking, make this option a bit more labor intensive than simply buying a post at the store, but the payoff is worth the trouble. Since I could not readily find a treated post, I decided to use a locust cut from my property. (Fig. A)

Fig. A

The log should be as uniform in diameter as possible; irregularities in the circumference will be magnified once padding is applied. If there are little knobs or angular protrusions where branches were cut, smooth them out with a drawshave or jack planer. Secondly, make sure that the log is sound and doesn’t have fractures in it from past damage, which could weaken the potential striking areas. A seasoned (well cured/dry) piece is preferable to a green one. Carrying the 8’ log through the woods makes for nice Sanchin training. You will also need to remove the bark from the log. A drawshave (pictured in Fig. B) will take care of this in short order. If you don’t have one of those lying around, a horizontally held machete or hatchet can be pulled  down the log to achieve the same result. Fig. B shows the debarked and smoothed log.

Fig. B

The next part is slightly more involved, regardless of materials used. In order for the post to be able to give equally from all sides, two cuts must be made into the log lengthwise, making an X shape when viewed from above (Fig. C). These cuts result in four flexible slats that each offer a resistance similar to a typical flat makiwara. For the 5″ diameter log pictured above,  I measured my cuts to be about 30 inches from the top end, or roughly halfway down the above-ground portion. Once the post was firmly in the ground I used a chainsaw to make the cuts, but found in later experimentation that securing the log horizontally at waist height makes for more accurate cutting– it’s also safer. I do not recommend this method for those unfamiliar with chainsaws and the requisite safety precautions. A sure hand is required, particularly since locust can give even a sharpened steel cutting chain trouble.  I recommend that a table saw with a guide be used for accuracy and safety’s sake.  If you are blessed with a willing building supply store, using the cutting services of the lumber department might also be a possibility worth looking into- it usually only costs a few dollars to have them cut something custom for you. Whichever route you take, keep in mind that there needs to be enough space between the slats to allow for them to travel and recoil when struck, so at least ¼ inch of wood needs to be removed from the cut (a chainsaw will do this in one pass). The slats will begin to splay outward slightly as the cuts lengthen (Fig. C).

Fig. C

Once your cuts are made, the slats must be tested for resistance. Too little is dangerous, too much is useless.  As with a tachi makiwara the wood should give under moderate static pressure. To test this, stand in a frontward stance and extend a reverse punch, placing the knuckles firmly against an individual slat. Pick up the front leg and lean into the post: the slat should flex inward under this pressure, but not collapse completely. You should be able to bounce lightly against it by lowering your back leg and pushing  forward (while still pressing the knuckles firmly against it).  Repeat all around the makiwara. If there is too little flexibility, i.e., the slat does not move at all, increase the depth of the cuts. Or, following a variant makiwara shown in Higaonna’s book, a piece of durable rubber placed in between the slats near the bottom of the cuts may resolve the problem by splaying them outward a little bit more and providing some shock resistance. An industrial rubber bushing or piece of an old bumper is a good candidate for this.

Click here to help out with an online survey about overseas interest in Okinawa.


"Try to see yourself as you truly are and try to adopt what is meritorious in the work of others. As a karateka you will of course often watch others practice. When you do and you see strong points in the performance of others, try to incorporate them into your own technique. At the same time, if the trainee you are watching seems to be doing less than his best ask yourself whether you too may not be failing to practice with diligence. Each of us has good qualities and bad; the wise man seeks to emulate the good he perceives in others and avoid the bad."
Funakoshi Gichin

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