Friday, July 26, 2019

The Dojo Is My Universe


When you look out of your eyes at nature happening out there, you're looking at you. That's the real you. ⁠— Alan Watts

In a recently published research paper titled Sense of Coherence and Connectedness to Nature as Predictors of Motivation for Practicing Karate, 127 karate practitioners were examined to determine the connection between nature and motivations for training. The gist of the paper is that mental health and a sense of well-being is associated with karate training done in a natural setting. It's not surprising that people enjoy practicing outdoors on a nice day. Male and female trainees were observed and findings showed that feeling emotionally connected to the natural world was important for the physical fitness objective for both sexes. The study was undertaken, in part, due to a "pandemic of physical inactivity" and also because...

Martial arts belong to a particular group of sport disciplines which are very rarely practiced outdoors, especially when it comes to tournaments and competitions. Therefore, carrying out at least some parts of the training process in natural open spaces is justified, which would make it possible to use natural environmental elements as part of the training. The idea of harmonizing the training of martial arts with nature is also hidden in the well-known Japanese calligraphy of old warriors under the name “Sekai-dojo”―My “dojo“ (my gym), is my universe. All budo (martial art) students eventually realize that their behavior has changed and has been greatly influenced by the martial art discipline they practice. They become more conscious, braver, more careful, more attentive, and more respectful of others. They are able to better acquire natural principles in their philosophical context. They are able to exercise greater willpower, frankness, and generosity. This is followed by the next step: Introducing these virtues into ordinary life outside the dojo (gym). After this happens, the whole world becomes a large, wide dojo. Research shows that this attitude is particularly visible in athletes who engage in traditional forms of karate, which place an emphasis on values. Outdoor physical activity also provides more opportunities to achieve states of mental relaxation, which is so important in fighting sports that some even consider it fundamental.

The study goes on to show the relationship between Eastern philosophy and traditional martial arts. The connection to nature, however, was highly correlated to physical fitness goals associated with karate training. The paper also delves into the different goals of men and women for training in karate.

It's an interesting work that examines the karate way, it's unison with the natural environment, and ultimately, the path to overcoming one’s weaknesses.

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Friday, July 05, 2019

Neat Tricks

Eric Shahan, a martial arts practitioner who specializes in translating classic Japanese texts into English has translated a treatise on acquiring supernatural powers in a new book, Twelve Rules Of The Sword, that was passed down verbally from a 17th century samurai school. Among other things, the rules for prevailing in combat involves saying two prayers and writing Sanskrit characters on your palms. Could be a tad time consuming when the heat is on. But supposedly the book also discusses some practical strategies for combat, similar to those found in The Book Of Five Rings, which deals more with the psychology of fighting than physical techniques. Training, attitude and situational awareness, while paramount in the martial arts, are far from magical concepts.

In Okinawan karate, performing the kata Sanchin over and over is supposed to develop otherworldly stamina and strength. The ancient form, of Chinese origin, is akin to a dynamic-tension routine that was hawked in comic books by bodybuilder Charles Atlas in past decades. It's a slow motion punch-and-block sequence that mimics pushing and pulling a heavy weight with isometric contractions and forced breathing. Entire books have been written on the single topic of Sanchin. The kata is a staple in many schools of karate, especially Goju-ryu. Its founder, Chojun Miyagi, made his students perform Sanchin many times each day, with the idea that it would transform them mentally, physically, and spiritually. Miyagi himself was built like a bull and purportedly could perform superhuman feats. In one public demonstration in 1924, he...

[T]hrust his hand into a bunch of bamboos and pulled out one from the center. He stuck his hand into a slab of meat and tore off chunks. He put white chalk on the bottom of his feet, jumped up, and kicked the ceiling — leaving his foot-prints on the ceiling for all to see. Spectators hit him with long bo (staffs) with no effect. He tore off the bark of a tree (with his fingers). And with his big toe he punctured a hole in a kerosene can...He did many more feats which had to be believed.*


These types of feats today are rare. Most modern demos involve crowd-pleasers like self defense moves and board breaking. Gymnastic feats like tricking or parkour (the latter which is derived from military obstacle course training) flood the internet. Most recently we have the Bottle Cap Challenge, originally uploaded by Farabi Davletchin, a champion taekwondo fighter from Kazakhstan. The trick involves setting up a bottle of some beverage roughly chest high, and executing a variant of a spinning hook kick which grazes the pre-loosened bottle cap, spinning it off the top while leaving the remaining bottle untouched.

Everyone seems to be getting in on the action with their own clips, including famous martial arts actor Jason Statham (see above). Pretty impressive for a guy over fifty. If Chuck Norris were a bit younger he would have a go at this. Hell, maybe I'll give it a shot. Still, Miyagi would probably outdo everyone with his barefoot hole-in-the-kerosene can move. Then again, Miyagi also said at the conclusion of his demo, "Karate is a total commitment. I have not done anything that someone else cannot do, or, for that matter, you. There is no halfway measure. Either you do it or you don't. Nothing is impossible."

Indeed. There is no magic.


* Richard Kim 1974. The Weaponless Warriors. Ohara Publications. (Originally written by journalist Tojuda Anshu.)
† Want to feel old? Norris will be eighty next year. Can you believe it?

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Monday, April 01, 2019

Won't Get Fooled Again


I like a good laugh just like the next person, and for the last few years I've been running a gag blog post every April Fools' Day. In a weird twist of fate (and a bit to my chagrin) a few of my most popular posts are the ones tagged 'humor' and I don't think people are looking for laughs. My blog is subtitled Martial Arts, Philosophy and The Art of Living but most people aren't putting that into their search engines. Viewers want to know how to register their hands as deadly weapons, where they can learn Iron Crotch Kung Fu, and have info on some guy from Italy who holds black belts in 22 styles. You get the idea. Not really humor, but extreme and even bizarre stuff is what often piques people's interest in the martial arts. 'Body hardening workouts' and 'How to karate chop bricks' as search phrases find their way to my blog more often than inquiries into the loftier aims of martial arts, such as character, spirit, or even self-defense.

This site actually started life as part of a monthly newsletter for students at a karate school I used to train and teach at nearly twenty years ago. When the school closed I found another, but my days of writing a column were gone, so my wife suggested starting a blog to export my articles to. At the time I had a couple of dozen, and I wanted to keep future material philosophical in nature; writing posts on the traditions and history of combat systems, including references to authors that were experts in Japanese Martial Arts, such as Donn Draeger and Black Belt magazine contributor Dave Lowry.  After about a year of blogging, I acquired a modest online following.

To expand my newfound readership and to keep things interesting I began to lighten things up with the Top Ten Most Annoying Things in the Martial Arts and The Way of Spock. Later I uploaded videos from Enter The Dojo, a comedic web series starring Master Ken, a delusional instructor who hawks his self-proclaimed street lethal fighting system. In time I began to revise my humor into reservations I had for arts like The Drunken Style and dubious claims such as the ability to knock people out without touching them.

Several years ago I found and posted a video that featured someone performing so-called ki enhanced throws and takedowns on his students that looked suspicious, to put it mildly. The demonstrator came from a martial art I was familiar with. I had previously attended a one-day workshop in this style given by an active member of the NYPD that showcased brutally effective techniques, minus any of the woo nonsense in the video, and I mentioned that in my article. My point was that the video I put up was a grossly inaccurate and unfair representation of an otherwise legit style that was being peddled by a conman. Soon, my article in its entirety ended up on a very popular martial arts forum (with a link back to my blog) where many of the commenters were actually sympathetic to the "master" in the clip. Some of them claimed to have trained under him.

The comment section on this forum became a train wreck of believers versus realists. Rage ensued on both sides. The critical thinkers there had my back, but soon I began to receive threatening emails from wack jobs, including the chief instructor of a school. Somebody else derided my style (as if that mattered), and another promised God would retaliate for my flagrant disrespect. No, I argued, you cannot drop five people simultaneously with the flick of the wrist. Apparently I was the bad guy for pointing this out. It amazes me how certain "martial artists" don't like to have their fantasy bubbles burst.

The clip below features a similar demo with a different guy from the one I originally posted, now long removed by the owner. If you've never seen this before, brace yourself for a display in breathtaking stupidity:



Bear in mind that this is intended to be taken at face value. It's ridiculous, of course, so most of us can't help but laugh at this. Humor can be a way to cope with inanity, but in the form of satire (e.g., Master Ken) can be an antidote for credulity. I see it as providing a public service. So today if you can, goof on someone to enlighten them —  but do so with the best intentions. Happy April Fools' Day!

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Sunday, March 31, 2019

Pre-faded Black Belts For Sale


Whenever you see a worn and frayed black belt on a martial artist, you're looking at the symbol of maturity and experience. Well, what if you're a newbie black belt holder, but you just want to give the impression of someone who's been at it for many years?

Fear no more, you no longer have to bleach your black belt or tie it to the rear bumper of your car for a week to get that cool effect. An online company now has Vintage Black Belts that you can order to your preference. That's right, pre-faded, worn out looking black belts for the martial arts enthusiast who doesn't have decades to reach the level of a grandmaster — but just wants to look like one. It's like cauliflower ears or calloused knuckles for the fashion-conscious.

From the website (via translation):

Black belts that are seen in old conditions / often used / so that the parts turn white.
There are aging rates of 25%, 50%, 70%, 90% and 100%.

So these are martial arts belts that have been artificially aged in incremental stages of wear and tear. Apparently there is a market for this. Amazing.

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Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Are All Fighting Systems 'Martial Arts'?


When I was a kid, the term martial arts meant fighting forms designed for self-defense that had distinct Far Eastern roots. We all came to know that judo, karate and kung fu were martial arts. In time, non-Eastern forms would be included, such as Krav Maga, Sambo, and Capoeira. Recently, a thread on reddit asks if Mike Tyson was one of the top martial artists of the last century. It really begs the question: Is boxing a martial art? For some, this broadens the definition of martial arts too much.

Of course, some martial-art styles don't engage in contests. Iaido, a Japanese sword-drawing art that utilizes pre-arranged solo forms, is one. Others such as Aikido is strictly defensive in nature. Traditional Aikidoka do not engage in contests like in sport Jiu-jitsu or Judo. In Karate, point-style matches are scored where strikes — particularly punches and kicks to the head — do not make full contact. Adherents would be foolish to think that training exclusively this way would prepare you for the real thing. It would be like thinking that playing flag football could get you ready for the NFL.

Bruce Lee, Miyamoto Musashi, et al., have said that in the martial arts the way you train is how it happens in real life. Musashi was a 17th century duelist who faced over sixty men in his life. Lee, who died in 1973, had a combat resume that's a bit sketchy. Joe Lewis, one of the great full-contact fighters who briefly studied with Lee, said in an interview that while Lee was a great teacher with a wealth of knowledge, he was not a fighter. Lewis is using the term fighter in the same way you would call a boxer a fighter. Lewis himself was a fighter of course, as was Bill "Superfoot" Wallace and Benny Urquidez, other karatemen who later became full-contact kickboxers.

So should all fighting systems be regarded as "martial arts"? Martial arts have roots in militarism. Are members of US Navy SEALs and Special Forces martial artists? Indeed, the Marine Corps has created a martial arts program dubbed the Ethical Marine Warrior, which has a philosophical core of honor, courage, and respect. Certainly, these are virtues that are consistent in the Japanese budo, the traditional martial arts and ways.



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Sunday, December 23, 2018

Cannabis Infused Jiu-Jitsu


Jiu-jitsu competitors have found a new way to get smashed on the mat — a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu tournament where getting high on pot is a requirement. With recreational marijuana sweeping the nation state by state, it was only a matter of time for the next step in sportive martial arts events to happen. This is not a joke or a lark.

From the promoters' blog:

High Rollerz hosted a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu competition where fighters must smoke marijuana before grappling up. The winner took home a pound of weed.

While we know athletes from various sports smoke marijuana, whether using CBD to treat ailments or to reduce pain after a tough match, perhaps nowhere is marijuana usage more prevalent than in MMA. As UFC commentator Joe Rogan has said, “A tremendous amount of UFC fighters smoke pot. A massive amount. […] More UFC fighters smoke pot than don’t smoke pot.”

But it’s still surprising to learn that High Rollerz hosted a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu competition where fighters must smoke marijuana before grappling up. Organizers estimated about half the tournament was “pro fighters.” And the prize? A pound of weed, which is an estimated worth between $4,000-5,000.

Marijuana has some interesting affects on the central nervous system of users, none of which seem conducive (at least to me) to being an effective fighter. Unlike alcohol which loosens inhibitions such as aggression, pot (and other cannabis derivatives) is a drug of peace inducement. But according to proponents of these BJJ weed-smoking tournaments, marijuana has transcendent properties that help enhance focus, the ability to relax, and being in the "zone" where executing techniques happen spontaneously and effortlessly.

All kinds of positive research have been done on the medical benefits of marijuana. But I think you would be hard pressed to find a competitive fighter from another art who would extol the virtues of weed. Not all BJJ practitioners are on board with smoking dope before a match, as illicit drugs (including true enhancers, such as steroids) are antithetical to the spirit of martial arts, where practitioners are obliged to be good citizens and role models to look up to.

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Legalize It


Nunchucks are back!

Well, they never really went anywhere. But if you happen to live in New York, you are now legally cleared to carry them. New Yorkers are no longer prohibited from possessing the time-honored Okinawan weapons, courtesy of a ruling rendered by a federal judge on December 14, 2018. The story goes that in 1981 a martial arts trainee, Jim M. Maloney, was arrested in New York City following a public demo with the dreaded nunchucks. Unbeknownst to Maloney, nunchucks (or 'chuka sticks') have been banned in New York since 1974. After graduating from law school years later, Maloney began to draft a challenge to the now-decades long New York state ban on nunchucks.

Cops in various municipalities have included nunchaku (Japanese, lit. 'twin sticks') for years as part of their restraining arsenal. A while back I posted about a nunchucks certification program offered for police in California. Nunchucks are currently banned in several states.

Following the kung-fu movie craze of the 70s, nunchucks fever swept the land, with users brutalizing themselves on more than one occasion. I can't blame lawmakers for regarding them as a problem at the time, but times change. With the ban lifted, I don't see an army of nunchaku wielding maniacs tearing up the countryside. It's an interesting ruling in an era of the politicizing of citizens' rights to keep and bear arms of various stripes.


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Sunday, June 10, 2018

Anthony Bourdain: Profile Of An Enigma


Anthony Bourdain, a celebrity chef and martial artist, has left this realm by his own hand. His death hits me hard, I suppose, because he was from my generation. But also the senselessness of it. A culinary savant and a de facto anthropologist, he traveled the world treating his television audience to exotic cuisines and cultures. I wasn't a huge fan, but the few times I caught his show, Parts Unknown, it left me invariably hungry. Bourdain took equal pleasure in watching the creation of a fine meal as he did in eating it in front of us.

He began studying jiu-jitsu when he was 58. He called it "physical chess", and the idea of being a beginner at something and learning a new skill at his age enthralled him. He competed in his art.

A down-to-earth, affable guy, he struck me as someone who wasn't overtly alpha, but not shy to speak his mind. He was famous, admired and charismatic. He was a gifted writer. What more could a man want?

He leaves a young daughter and a legion of fans. Anthony Bourdain — gone at 61. For reasons unknown.

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