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Dojo formality & customs

The dojo is a symbolic structure that contains specific meanings. The north side of a dojo is called the Kamiza (上座); it is the most important place in a dojo. Another term used for the north end of a dojo is the Upper Seat. This area is reserved for honoured guests and high-ranking instructors.

The south side of a dojo is called the Shimoza and is also referred to as the Lower seat. This is where the students usually sit. In Japan, there is a saying: There is no teaching from the south. This means the students should not try to instruct or speak to one another during class. It is poor etiquette to speak to one another during training unless it is to instruct by a Sempai. There is no need to discuss what you did, could have done or should have done during class. The south or lower seat is the area identified for training purposes and learning.

dojo-diagram

The East Side of a dojo is referred to as the Joseki or Upper Side. This is where visitors usually sit and watch practice. This is also where the instructor sits if an honoured guest is sitting at the Kamiza. The east is also the direction of the rising sun and is associated with enlightenment. Some dojo in Japan, bow to the east before and after training to symbolize the recognition and honouring of enlightenment.

The West Side of the dojo is referred to as the Shimoseki, or Lower Side. It is usually just a space or area of a dojo without specific meaning other than the fact that the sun sets in the west and the west symbolizes darkness, or the direction the dead take in afterlife.

The above relates to the formality, beliefs, and customs regarding the four sides of a Japanese dojo. However, even in Japan, the Kamiza, and the other symbolism in a dojo are arranged in whatever manner provides the best use of training space.

The role of a sempai

Seniors are generally considered those members ranked Blue-Brown belt or higher, although, anyone of higher rank is a Sempai.

Being a Sempai is an important role within the Dojo. A Sempai is a position of trust, honor, and responsibility.

Sempai should teach students how to bow, tie their obi, proper etiquette, and assist the Sensei with instruction.

Sempai should ensure that the Dojo remains clean.

Sempai should always be encouraging and helpful and should never criticize or tear down their Kohai (juniors).

Sempai should train frequently and harder than other students, thus setting an example.

Sempai should have the class lined up properly and ready for training when the Sensei steps onto the floor.

Sempai should be positive, kind, and display respect, thus showing proper budo.

Sempai should maintain dojo discipline and correct violations of etiquette or policy by taking one aside and instructing him gently and with respect. Never embarrass anyone.

Always research any question that a Kohai asks. When unsure of the correct answer a Sempai should never guess and should refer the question to Sensei.

Sempai should learn the names of all students.

Multi-Weaponed art of the Okinawa Kobudo Doushi Rensei-kai (OKDR)

The ancient history of Okinawa tells us a turbulent story, with violent political upheavals characterizing a major part of the now-peaceful island’s heritage. It was out of these days of unrest that the art of kobudo (the ancient martial way) was born, due to a necessity for peasants to defend their families or property by turning common, everyday items into weapons that could be used for self defense. In times of political strife, war faring weapons such as swords and spears were forbidden to the general populace, which left farmers and fishermen easy prey for armed bandits and pirates. To counteract the decrees than rendered them weaponless, Okinawans as well as the inhabitants of the other islands within the Ryukyuan chain became highly proficient in the use of implements such as water-bucket carrying poles, boat oars, and grist mill handles as means of self protection. Kata were eventually developed, usually named after a founder or village of origin, and various styles of kobudo came into being. One of these traditional systems is the Matayoshi style of kobudo practiced by Zen Okinawa Kobudo Renmei (All Okinawan Kobudo Federation), which is now recognized world-wide as a leader in the art that was so desperately needed and so carefully developed to preserve the well-being of the Ryukyuan citizenry.

The Zen Okinawa Kobudo Renmei has deep roots in the teachings of Shinko Matayoshi (1888-1947), who comes from a family that has one of the oldest lineages on Okinawa, and is distinctive in that every member has been involved in the martial arts to some degree. The unusually wide variety of weapons that are taught within the Matayoshi system evolved from the ability of Shinko Matayoshi to travel and learn all aspects of the art, as he spent a total of thirteen years studying in China, along with making frequent excursions to other areas to experience different cultures and learn about the weapons that were used for self defense. Shinko Matayoshi’s later travels were for the purpose of promoting his system, which became known as Ryukyuan Kobudo throughout Okinawa and mainland Japan. Today, Shinko Matayoshi’s work is upheld by his son, Shinpo Matayoshi (1923- ), who began training under his famous father’s instruction at the age of four. Like his father, Shinpo Matayoshi (as pictured to the right in his Kodokan Dojo in Okinawa training with a sai that is unique to the Matayoshi Kobudo system as it is angled differently from the more common type) travels extensively to promote kobudo, and founded the Ryukyu Kobudo Renmei in 1970, which was reorganized two years later into the Zen Okinawa Kobudo Renmei. Shinpo Matayoshi’s dojo is named Kodokan (Enlightened Way) in honor of his father, whose first name Shinko means “True Light.”

The differences between Matayoshi Kobudo and other systems result from, a strong Chinese influence, which came about from Shinko Matayoshi’s studies. Overall, the movements in the Matayoshi system are more relaxed and flowing, with both linear and circular strikes forming a smooth, fluid style. While the stepping movements within Matayoshi Kobudo are somewhat similar to those used in Okinawan karate, the stances are designed differently for very quick, light movements. For example, the foot positioning for the sumo stance (shiko dachi) is not as wide, and the front foot positioning of the cat stance (neko ashi dachi) is dissimilar from that used in karate and other kobudo styles. The Chinese influence also becomes apparent in bo (wooden staff) techniques where chambering of the close end of the weapon takes place outside the arm, rather than under the arm. Positioning the bo on the outside of the arm lends greater protection to the inner part of the body, and avoids the injuries that could occur when the bo whips around and snaps up under the user’s arm, striking vulnerable areas in the armpit and side of the torso.

The Matayoshi Kobudo system places great emphasis on the use of the bo, an implement said to be derived from the tenbib, which was a wooden staff that was slung across the shoulders in order to transport buckets of water on each end. The most popular type of bo is the rokushaku, which measures six feet in length and 1 1/4 inches thick at the center, tapering down to 3/4 inch at the ends. Other types of bo range in length from four to nine feet, and can be round (maru-bo), four-sided (kaku-bo), sixsided (rokkaku-bo), or eight-sided (hakkakubo). The most common bo kata are Shushi- No-Kon, Choun-No-Kon, Sakugawa-No-Kon, Tsuken-No-Kon, and Shiishi-No-Kon. Other staff-type weapons include the hanbo (threefoot wooden stick), jo (four-foot wooden stick), tetsubo (Iron staff), sansetsu-kon (three-sectioned staff), and the konsaibo, which is a wooden staff studded with iron nubs.

Many traditional Okinawan kobudo weapons were developed to defend against opponents wielding spears or swords. Implements such as the sai, which is a three-pronged metal truncheon, were often used in sets of two or three for the purpose of entrapping an attacker’s weapon and using the pronged ends in a jabbing, puncturing strike. Although the exact origin of the sai is obscure, it closely resembles an instrument that was used in China, and is also believed to have been derived from a farming implement that was used for digging furrows in the ground for planting seeds. A third sai was often carried behind the back in the belt sash (obi) as a replacement for a hand-held sai that was thrown at an opponent. The nunti is a threepronged weapon that is sometimes incorrectly referred to as a manji-sai, with one of the outside prongs facing in the opposite direction, toward the handle, and which often attached to the end of a bo. Other truncheon weapons are the juste and the tokushu-keibo, a collapsible metal instrument.

The nunchaku is a weapon made from a horse bridle strap and a tool that was used to pound grain or rice. In the Matayoshi system, the most common types of nunchaku have octagonal (hakkakukei) or round (maru-gata) wooden handles of equal length connected by a length of rope or chain. A vine (kanda) can also be used as a longer connector, in order to bind an opponent’s head and hands together in an “Okinawan Handcuff.” Matayoshi Kobudo instruction includes nunchaku with one handle half the length of the other, both handles half the normal size, three-sectioned and four-sectioned. The han-kei nunchaku, with the circumference of the handles halved, is designed for easier carrying and concealment, as both handles fit together smoothly.

Sickles that became useful weapons for self defense includes the kama, which has a curved blade, and the naginata, a curved blade, sickle like spear seven feet in length. The nagemaki is a heavier version of the naginata with a larger blade, while the rokushaku-kama is a sickle with a six foot handle.

Wooden implements played an important role in the history of kobudo, and tools such as the tounkwa (tuifa, tonfa), which were used as grist mill handles, served as effective weapons. The eku (boat oar) was a popular item in Okinawan fishing villages, and has a unique feature in allowing the defender to fling sand in an attacker’s face by holding the eku straight up with the paddle end down, and kicking the bottom out in a swift, forward and upward motion. There is also the abumi (wooden saddle stirrup) and the tecchu (“knuckle-duster”) made from yarn spindles.

Chizikanbo, made from wooden fish floats, is another weapon that is attached to the hands to aid punching effectiveness. The bokken, or wooden sword, was employed as a training device, while the kendo practice sword made of bamboo shoots (shinai) served as a conditioning implement.

Knife-like weapons that could be concealed within clothing and easily produced when needed are the kaiken (six- inch knife), juken (bayonet), and the tanto (dagger with a blade measuring eight to sixteen inches in length). Another device is the ninshokudai, or candles on an L-shaped, iron-spiked holder that was said to be carried by Okinawan women.

Chains produced large, heavier weapons such as the surushin (Manriki-gusari), which was weighted at one end, and the gekigan (ball and chain). The chigiriki is a weapon that has a three-to-ten-foot chain attached to an iron ball at one end and a staff at the other end. The nagegama is a retractable walking stick made from chain links.

Other items on the lengthy list taught in the Matayoshi Kobudo system include the halberd, a heavy, axe-like weapon with a coin-shaped blade. The tecchu is another form of “brass knuckles,” as is the tatsuko, which is made of metal and studded. The tinbay (timbei, tembe, timpei), which is a shield made from the shell of a giant sea turtle, proved effective for repelling sword or spear attacks, and was often used with the small dart-like weapon known as rochin.

It must be pointed out that the study of the multitude of weapons in the Matayoshi system takes place on a complete basis, and students are not encouraged to merely dabble in various areas in an attempt to “learn a little bit about each weapon.” The founding master’s principles are based upon thorough knowledge of the purpose and origin of each weapon, and it takes many years of dedicated training to become proficient in the use of a single item.

Matayoshi Kobudo has become very popular among practitioners of the major Okinawan karate styles, as it fits in well with empty-hand arts and rounds out a student’s martial training. One of the traditional Okinawan principles concerns the fact that Shinpo Matayoshi views kobudo as not only an art for self defense, but also serves as a means of obtaining and maintaining inner peace.

Lessons from Hanshi Chuck Merriman

Hanshi Merriman, 9th degree Black Belt,  attended EMAC’s National Black Belt Grading and Gasshuku, Oct. 23-24, 2009. The event was hosted by Sensei Brian Lowry,  Chief Instructor, Napanee Karate Club & President,  EMAC Canada. Merriman Sensei observed the National Black Belt grading, and was impressed with the spirit of the students. He taught seminars to Dan ranks, and  shared his lifetime experience in the Martial Arts. As the highest ranking person in North America in Jundokan Goju-Ryu, we are greatly  honoured!

EMAC SEMINAR – OCT. 24, 2009

Notes from the Merriman Sensei’s Black/Brown Belt Seminar and all-Belt Seminar taken by Richard E. Welsman, Sandan, Napanee Karate Club

ON TRAINING METHODS

  • Eiichi Miyazato Sensei did not train everyone the same way. He looked at the individual’s own size and abilities and trained them accordingly.
    • The application of technique will vary from one person to the next. As instructors we should not insist that only what works well for us should be the only way for the student to apply the technique.
    • Goju grows. Don’t change the kata but develop new ways to use the kata
    • Bunkai is the product of personal research. It is not static. It varies according to the person. Kata should be analysed and then utilized.
    • Kata is not about learning a routine. Professional dancers can learn it in a few minutes. For them it is just a dance. Learning kata is about internalizing what is learned and doing that takes a long time.
    • The cycle for the student is DEPENDENCE to SEMI-INDEPENDENT to INDEPENDENCE. (Shu Ha Ri)
  • It is a mistake to rely on physical strength because it will some day be lost. Life is a circle. When we come into the world we have no teeth and are bald and we finish the same way.
    • Train in the technique because it will work for all ages
    • There is a limit to how long physical strength alone will work
    • There are two kinds of strength; a muscular strength, and Ki,  an inner strength. It is the latter strength that will endure.
  • When training with a partner under the supervision of an instructor do not talk even to discuss what one or the other is doing.
    • There is only one instructor and he will speak. If you are talking you are not listening. If you are talking when you practice you are not focusing on what you are doing.
    • If one is having problems with the drill seek the instructor’s assistance. The student is learning and cannot correct another.

THE PURPOSE OF GOJU RYU

  • Be as hard as the world makes you, be as soft as the world will allow
    • Okinawans are the kindest and most gentle people in the world. They can be that way because they are strong people
    • Okinawan Goju Ryu  is not about blocking and punching, but about developing character.
    • Japanese Goju is designed for competition. Okinawan Goju is designed for self-defence.
    • Free sparring is not used at the Jundokan but I don’t think karate would survive in the United States without  sparring.

 ABOUT PERSONAL COMMITMENT

  • If a student quits I will not have him back. If he comes to me and asks for a break from training I will give it to him.
  • Everyone has a choice to commit themselves to training on a regular basis in whatever way they can arrange it.
  • Plan your training. Continuity is the key.
  • Personal research should be a priority because everyone can use their training differently.

HOW TO DIFFERENTIATE BETWEEN INFORMATION AND MISINFORMATION

  • Look for what is commonly held opinion among good instructors and authors.
  • To be polite Okinawans will respond to misinformation by saying That is a nice story’.

Added notes from Brian Lowry:

Thank you Richard Welsman for taking the time and effort to put this together. It was gratifying to hear Merriman Sensei speaking about so many of the things I have believed in and taught.

  • Patience
  • Continuity of Training
  • Inner Strength (Ki) grows as physical strength dims
  • Kata remains the same, while understanding grows
  • Make good decisions, and stick with them
  • Kindness should be part of your being.