Tuesday, October 06, 2015

The Suffragette That Knew Jiu-Jitsu

This month the film Suffragette will be released that depicts the struggle for women's right to vote in the UK which officially began in 1903. As the movement for voting equality picked up steam in the form of protests and civil disobedience, there was the inevitable presence of harassment and violence that these women had to endure. When the police rounded up the suffragettes to be thrown into jail, many of them resorted to hunger strikes, were released to recoup, only to be re-arrested for the original "crime" of demanding civil rights. To prevent this game dubbed "Cat and Mouse", one of the movement's leaders — Edith Garrud — taught her followers the art of jiu-jitsu to be used against the police and male vigilantes who stormed their demonstrations and meetings. Garrud, who learned self-defense from her boxer husband, was also schooled in Bartitsu from Edward Barton-Wright and later jiu-jitsu from Sadakazu Uyenishi, one of the first jiu-jitsu instructors to teach outside of Japan.

In addition to jiu-jitsu, Garrud taught her entourage — who came to be known as The Bodyguard — to conceal Indian clubs (a weapon resembling an oversized bowling pin) under their hoop skirts to use in case their grappling skills failed them during clashes with police or hooligans. Garrud and her movement prevailed, taking a break to help out in the effort to win the Great War, and getting a portion of voting rights for women (over 30) in 1918. By 1928, full rights to the vote (over 21) were finally implemented.

Later in life Garrud would continue to teach jiu-jitsu and became a stage and film martial arts coordinator. Not a bad life for the 4-foot-11 suffragette who refused to quit. She died in 1971 at the age of 99.

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Saturday, September 26, 2015

Heaven and Hell

There was once a powerful samurai warrior in Japan, he was a leader of men and very faithful to his country. He would think nothing of giving his own life if it meant helping his emperor or country.

This warrior was used to battle and he had killed many men and so he was beginning to wonder if there was a heaven and a hell and if so how could he get to heaven and stay clear of hell.

He was concerned that he may not be allowed into heaven due to the fact that he had killed so many men this lifetime.

He had heard of the famous Zen master Hakuin and was told he could show him how to get to heaven. He decided to go and meet him and traveled long and far to find him.

After many days of gruesome travel over mountains and rough terrain he finally found the master. The warrior was doubtful when he met master Hakuin, he looked just like a simple peasant and the warrior really wondered if this simple man could authentically answer his question.

After all this travel it would be pointless to go back without asking the question and so the strong warrior asked Hakuin if indeed there was a heaven and a hell, and if so how could he get to heaven and avoid hell?

Master Hakuin being a very wise man, answered the question in a way the warrior would never forget.

Master Hakuin replied, "Who are you?" to which the warrior replied, "I am the chief samurai warrior of Japan and I work directly with the emperor. I am the leader of all samurai in Japan."

Hakuin laughed and said, "You a warrior? You are nothing but talk. You could not save yourself, never mind our emperor. Don't waste my time. Go!

At this the warrior was deeply offended and was immediately angry, he drew his sword ready to kill this peasant man in front of him, but just before he made the strike, Hakuin shouted. "Stop!" and continued, "This is hell." The warrior stopped and put his sword back in its sheath and Hakuin smiled as he said "And this is heaven."

The samurai got the message; the master had shown him how his anger was his own hell and his alert consciousness was his own heaven.

He realized that heaven and hell exist within us, it is always a choice as to how we respond to life.

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Sunday, September 20, 2015


Here's a clip of Joe Rogan talking with biologist Rupert Sheldrake about threat awareness in the martial arts. Rogan lamented the ineffectiveness of certain "self-defense martial arts", quoted Musashi, and extolled the virtues of expanding human potential resulting from a lifetime pursuit in the martial arts. But he largely sidestepped Sheldrake's important question of whether someone could be trained to develop an intuitive sensitivity to threatening intent. Although not a practitioner, Sheldrake delves briefly into the aspect of threatening intent in his book The Sense of Being Stared At from the martial arts perspective. The following involves an investigation of a so-called ancient technique called to-ate — attacking someone without physical contact from a distance:

In order to rule out the possibility that the person attacked was responding to visual or other sensory clues, or to suggestion, the researchers kept an "attacker" and a "receiver" in sensory-shielded rooms, three floors apart. The "attacker" was a Chinese qigong master. They videotaped the receiver, and measured his skin resistance and his brain waves, by means of an electroencephalograph (EEG). In a series of trails, the qigong master directed to-ate at the receiver at times randomly chosen by the experimenters. In many of these trail periods the receiver visibly recorded and showed alterations in EEG and skin resistance. The results of these randomized, double-blind trails were highly significant statistically, indicating that the to-ate involved an "unknown transmission"; that is to say, a form of transmission currently unknown to science. From the point of view of the qigong master, what was being transmitted was ki or chi.

I must warn you that Sheldrake is not without controversy in the scientific community as some of his theories are held as quackery or the stuff of woo. However, the previous example was actually in reference to a 2000 study conducted by medical-imaging researcher Mikio Yamamoto at the National Institute of Radiological Sciences in Chiba, Japan.

In the past I've trained with the blindfold prop with limited success. Maybe my psi abilities are subpar. There are blind practitioners in grappling styles, such as I've posted about, but striking arts for the most part require physical sight to work. Not everyone agrees, though. Ninpo exponent Glenn Morris recounts testing for rank while blindfolded that involves avoiding a strike from behind delivered by the master wielding a shinai (light bamboo practice sword):

I crawled forward, sat on my heels in seiza [seated-kneeling position], closed my eyes and reached out with my feelings to connect. The first surprise came as I encountered "nobody home." Hatsumi [the master] was in mushin [state of no-mind] and I was in deep s---. As far as my body was concerned, no one was behind me. (There is more than one level of disappearing in this art and sometimes you don't connect things until you experience them. I had expected to be able to feel him.) I watched the white light behind my eyes and waited, saw a flicker in the phosphorous, and rolled. The sword smacked into the floor where I had been kneeling. Victory.*

The historian Donn Drager discusses the subliminal sense a medieval Japanese warrior would acquire called kan-ken futatsu no koto, a type of intuitive "seeing" that enabled him to deal with an opponent laying in ambush, or in a more practical example, "to step instantly over a log, body, or rock lying out of sight behind him in the path of his backward movement." Draeger maintains that this skill is developed through meditation and tireless practice. I still train and even meditate. But I won't be donning a blindfold in the dojo anytime soon.

* Glenn Morris 1993. Path Notes of an American Ninja Master. North Atlantic Books.
Donn Draeger 1973. Classical Budo. Wheatherhill, Inc.

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Sunday, September 13, 2015

Tales from the Western Generation

I finally got around to reading Tales from the Western Generation: Untold Stories and Firsthand History from Karate's Golden Age written by the author of the blog Ikigai Way, Matthew Apsokardu, a longtime practitioner of Okinawa Kenpo. In this expansive work, Mr. Apsokardu explains how the martial arts came to prominence in America followed by interviews with some of the first generation of American karate teachers who had an impact on the arts' development in the US during the formative period of the 1950s, 60s and 70s.

Of course as an Isshinryu karateka I was happy to see a section devoted to my style which included a Q and A with Hanshi Ed McGrath, Shihan Nick Adler, and Sensei Marilyn Fierro, all of whom I've had the privilege of training with or receiving rank from, especially Shihan Adler.

One of the things I like about the book is that the author allows us to look under the hood of his writing methodology, as it were: what parts were deemed important for inclusion and why certain persons were selected to be interviewed. Sections include "The Burgeoning Karate Scene in the U.S.A.", "Opening Doors, Breaking with Tradition", and my favorite, "The Use and Abuse of Storytelling". Highly recommended.


Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Bad Schools

I received an email yesterday that's a doozy. Here's part of it:

My school's the f*&%ing sh!+. We don't play tag like a bunch of (expletive) when we fight. We're (popular style) and everyone knows our rep. If you want respect here you have to pay for it in blood.

The above is actually in response to an article I wrote in 2007 about sparring injuries. This person went on to rant about how protective gear was ruining the arts and, frankly, the rest of what he wrote was so incoherent I'm not even going to bother reproducing it here. However, what he did say about his style in particular is true: It's known for its emphasis on heavy, knockdown fighting.

I like keeping the training experience "real" as long as things don't get out of control. On the other hand we all know about McDojos that have 8-year-old black belts, binding contracts, and sparring sessions that resemble pillow fights. Still, other schools are so "traditional" they don't even spar! Yet another "sensei" from my area has to close and reopen his school periodically due to some very bad press because, well, he's a cult leader.

This is why when people ask me to critique styles, I'll decline. A style is not a living and breathing thing; it's a theoretical construct. I always advise those really interested in studying the martial arts to go visit schools in progress and observe the behavior of the instructor and students. Many schools do indeed have some kind of a "rep" — for good or bad. And you don't need to be an expert in anything to tell the difference.

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Monday, July 27, 2015


Years ago we had a young man train at our school who had lost his arm in a terrible accident when he was a child. We modified the forms and syllabus to accommodate his disability. Sometimes having a disadvantage urges one to overcompensate in other ways available; in psychology this is called sublimation. He had great spirit, I give him a lot of credit. Rising up to this kind of challenge takes courage. When this fellow had to move away from the area I gave him a copy of The Art of Peace, a collection of philosophical musings by Morihei Ueshiba.

Anyway, the following strip made me think of him. Again, sometimes so-called shortcomings are gifts in disguise:

(Click on image to expand)

(h/t: Rational Comics)

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Sunday, June 28, 2015

Magazines From Yesteryear

When it comes to my martial arts reading material I like books. And blogs, of course. Magazines never really appealed to me, but I did find a collection of memorable magazine covers that I think you'll appreciate.

The guy in the middle is one Jason Lau, a Wing Chun practitioner. He's for real, apparently, but I have my doubts about this move of his.

This man needs no introduction. And no, this image was not photoshopped.

William Shatner, 1974. This issue of Fighting Stars went for a cool 75¢. Acting gigs were scarce for Bill in the 70s, so to keep himself busy he trained in Kenpo Karate. Cap't Kirk was still no match for Mr. Spock.

More proof that Tae kwon do is purely a sport!

(h/t: Miriam L. Blackburn Life)